Who Am I? Why Am I Here? (for Blogging U 101 – not existential crisis!)

I’m a writer who teaches and a teacher who writes. And I’m a twin from Newfoundland who has lived in a lowriter cardt of different places.

Toronto, Tokyo, Texas, and Newfoundland… to name just a few.

I’m an alum of The Banff Centre, The Humber School for Writers, The Bard Institute for Writing and Thinking, and The Damarsicotta Lake Writers Conference, all workshops where I was privileged to work with the finest of mentors. I’m a member of The Toronto Writers’ Centre and The Writers’ League of Texas.

This year I am on a Writing/Reading/Swimming Sabbatical.  Diving into it all, face and eyes, as we say in Newfoundland.

Some sabbatical highlights: Getting to read from my manuscript in progress at the Writers At Woody Point Festival in Newfoundland last August as well as participating in, and winning, The Muskoka Novel Marathon manuscript contest in July.

I’m currently writing and editing something in the neighbourhood of 3 novel manuscripts and one short story. Let’s see how this goes…

Book a Week Reading Challenge

I was going for 45 books this year, to meet a writerly challenge set out by some writing friends, but now I think, why not a book a week? That said, some books won’t be bloggable, because I might be too embarrassed to mention them by name, whether they were forced upon me by book clubs, or are part of the guilty ‘lite’ read shelf.

Please share any books you have recently read and loved! I’m always looking for recommendations.

What I’m reading right now: Bride of New France by Suzanne Desrochers

Here are a few of the books (spoiler free and with just a hint of the gist) I’ve enjoyed since taking up the challenge on January 1:

The Divinity Gene (short stories) by Matthew Trafford – inventive and wild – ‘fantastical and fantastic’

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks – the mystery surrounding an historical text and its conservator

Wild by Cheryl Strayed – memoir of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail to transcend loss

The Dinner by Herman Koch – mystery asks how far you’d go to protect your child

Someone Else’s Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson – set in Georgia, lilting and lush, smart and funny voice, unpredictable and bittersweet plot

Seven for a Secret by Mary C. Sheppard – captures the Newfoundland Outport life of youth before the highways and centralization changed everything


All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews

Between Gods and Far to Go by Alison Pick

The Orenda by Joseph Boyden

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

Sweetland by Michael Crummey

February by Lisa Moore

A Love Letter to My Writing Cohort, or as The Humber School For Writers called it: My Literary Coterie…or as The Banff Centre called it: My Future Table Mates for the Gillers…

❤ I’ve been lucky enough to workshop with some incredibly talented, award-winning writing mWriters I Met and Likedentors, (and they’re all Writers I’ve Met & Liked too) and at some point, I’ll write about them, but this post is a shout out to my many writing peers…who toil, like me, in varying degrees of passionate literary obscurity, and who make my heart beat a little faster just knowing they’re (you’re) at it too. On my last day in Toronto, possibly for a few months – before heading to Texas, naturally, I spent a good chunk of the day packing and repacking, and weighing my two substantial suitcases, but I also fit in two separate meals with writing friends I don’t see nearly enough. They’re both named Karen, and we met through the Humber School for Writers during our summer workshop in 2012. In both cases, we could hardly stop talking, we had so much to share.  On a day that could have been entirely devoted to fretting about my next up-close experience with clear air turbulence, and whether or not I’m abandoning the house looking like several luggage explosions have taken place, instead, I got to bask in the warm and bracing tonic that is the company of my extended writing cohort.  ❤

Humber claimed it would provide “Jet fuel for the literary mind,” and help writers “develop a literary coterie to assist in take-off.” They then paraded a panel of success stories before us, most of whom took 7 years to publish their first novels. We remind ourselves of this quite regularly. ‘We’ being key. Some alum I only see rarely, when they visit from other cities (Claire), but Humber is where I met my two Toronto writing partners, Emma and Sue-Anne. We’ve been meeting regularly, since 2012, to write and workshop. The deadlines, the close reading, the comraderie and the encouragement have made a huge difference to my writing practice.  Thank you! I’ll miss you and commit to trying some skyping critiques. There’s nothing like a writing partner to make you feel good or guilty, as the situation requires.  ❤

We were called Artists at The Banff Centre, where I did the novel workshop in September, 2014, and indeed, we carried the cards to prove it. The Banff Centre proved to be a perfect cocktail of literary and geographical inspiration, cushioned from the harsh realities of real life, alongside the most kindred spirits and the coolest kids. Time to do and time to be. Although we were divided by the type of writing we did, there was a lovely co-mingling with our joint readings and in the time we took to just hang out. In my group, we had far too much fun planning the seating charts for our tables in preparation for the day when we would at long last be shortlisted for the Gillers, but we also had moments of epiphany, hilarity, humility, and generosity that I won’t forget. I loved the whole group at Banff – there were no weak links – but my essential affection goes to the Grateful Bastards: Steph, Jen, and Janel, who made me feel like I got put in the coolest cabin at writing camp. Mention must be made of Ken, Mona, Deborah, and poets Jake and Chris, and short story tellers, Touer, Allison, and Terri-Lynn. And of course, the Daves. I apologize for not naming all of you, but know, I loved you too!  ❤

I never thought I’d start or finish a marathon, until I became a Muskoka Novel Marathoner. I was warned that nothing else would prepare you for a 72-hour novel writing marathon. The intensity of sleep deprivation, friendly competition, and constant immersion in story are responsible for some excellent writing as well as some near nervous breakdowns. Thanks to Tara, Emma, and Sue-Anne for taking the trip. And for being on the receiving end: Paula, Lori, Dawn, Karen, Pat, Dyoni, Shellie, Kevin, Ruth, Naomi, Kate, Cheryl, Sam and Dale. There are many more fellow writers – but we can only lift our heads for a few moments at a time, so I need to pretend I didn’t notice you all. What a shock and a privilege to have won the manuscript contest among such peers.  ❤

I put in the night shift at the Toronto Writers Centre, so I didn’t get to socialize with the regulars much, but the little bit I did let me know Amy who galvanized me with some really inspiring trailblazing.  ❤

At the Damariscotta Lake Writers’ Conference in Maine, Adelaide, Amber, Michela, and Kim made me want to be better than I was, while welcoming me as one of their own. We were a rare breed of educators who write; writers who teach.  ❤

And at the Bard Institute for Writing and Thinking, we were Focused Free-Writers, over 6 or so summer sessions. Thanks to Win and Matt for being the perfect antidote to pretty much everything on that first iteration, as well as my introductory literary crushes, and for several indelible impressions in the years to follow. There were many other writing friends along the way, but you were my initial cohort and I won’t ever forget the exhilaration of writing and sharing and reading aloud that summer. Here’s to another July workshop like Fiction: Memory and Imagination, 2005, one fine day.  ❤

And now, here it is 2015, and here’s a nod to a new writing partner I already appreciate. Lauren and I connected through the Writers League of Texas, and I look forward to spending more time sitting across the table from each other with dueling laptops and lots to share.

A 10-page story…

I’m doing this short story writing challenge with Emma, and reblogging her post about it – I couldn’t agree more with the surprising math of short versus long. Everything else I’m working on is in the hundreds of pages, so this is a refreshing change of page/pace. And yet… it requires quite a different set of tools. We’ll see if I can find that toolbox.

Emma L. R. Hogg

Last week I decided that I would write a short story and enter it into the Toronto Star’s Short Story Contest.  It seemed logical to me that since I’ve written a number of novels that surely I could whip up a 10-page short story in no time at all.

Not true.

What I quickly realized is that a short story isn’t 10 pages of a 200+ page story.  A short story is 10 pages of a 10 page story.

While some writers may shy away from the daunting number of pages in a typical novel, I learned that, in my case, it is just as frightening to fathom a complete story – with a beginning, a middle, and an end – in a limited number of pages. It’s like an artist who paints on a 10-foot square canvas and then decides to try painting on a 10-inch square canvas…

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Book Blog – Literary Intentions – A Book A Week in 2015 & You?

How many books are you planning to read this year? Will you log and record them like notches on your literary belt before the details of what you’ve read slip almost entirely from your memory? Pile-of-Books-2That’s my plan for this writing sabbatical year.

As much as I am always reading something, I love the fact that this A Book A Week (52 minimum) in 2015 challenge has me not only reading with more of a sense of deadline and purpose, but I’m also making notes of things that stood out, instead of just turning down the bottom corner of a page on a memorable passage that I will almost certainly never go back to. That’s kind of symbolic of how much of what I read I forget, and the scattered attention span and memory deficit of our internet heavy lives. I’ve always read several books a month, but to even remember their titles a few months later is a challenge in itself. I’m usually reading 3 or 4 books at the same time, and this challenge is helping me focus a little more closely on one (ok, two) at a time.

I’m also more self-conscious of the narrative nutrition (or lack thereof) of a given selection, given the writerly company I’m in. (Thanks to Amy Stuart for quantifying a reading challenge for the year!) For example, I just read a technical book on writing for the web – that I will definitely not be including in my 52 books for 2015, no matter how much it looks and smells like a book, and no matter how helpful it might have been in explaining some concepts to me. On that note, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of my guilty pleasure (ie – YA) selections don’t make it onto my official list, either – though those reads will probably push me well over the book-a-week mark to 52 on that less official tally 🙂

My current reading: (Books 2 and 3 on the list) The Writer’s Notebook II – Craft Essays from Tin House, and The Divinity Gene by Matthew Trafford, Short Stories of amazing inventiveness.

You can read my blog post on Book 1 – The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O’Neill here:  https://tenalaing.com/2015/01/09/book-blog-the-girl-who-was-saturday-night-by-heather-oneill-45-book-reading-challenge/

You can read about my Literary Intentions for 2015 – (My Writing Sabbatical Year) here: https://tenalaing.com/2015/01/01/writing-sabbatical-a-midpoint-check-in/

Book Blog – The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O’Neill – 45 Book Reading Challenge

Just finished The Girl Who Was Saturday Night, by Heather O’Neill. Without revealing too much, I hope: I expected to like it, and really did. I responded rather viscerally to the twinship – having a twin of my own. It was interesting to sThe Girl Who Was Saturday Nightee that fierce love and competitiveness played out from the perspective of fraternal boy-girl twins who’ve also known each other since “we didn’t have brains? When we were just heartbeats and thumbs?”

I found myself reading O’Neill’s English words with a French cadence, and feeling nostagia for a time in Quebec that I experienced first hand – though I lived in Quebec City and only visited Montreal. The idea of Separation and the looming Referendum were never far from conversations in the early nineties. Loved Nouschka’s voice, and although I found myself frustrated with some of her choices, often it felt like she had none… For someone who went to 13 different schools, it’s hard to imagine a girl who spends virtually her entire life on the island of Montreal. Despite the limitations (largely the men) in her life, Nouschka keeps pushing forward, creating opportunities for herself, while still loving the ones who stand in her way or hold her back. She even shows generosity toward her narcissistic father: “How lovely to be in a production of your life instead of being in your life itself.”

Finally, the imagery is so strong – as if Nouschka turns over every stone and has you crawl under it with her to see what’s underneath. I was squirming at points, imagining the smell of apartments filled with feral cats and crapped pants. Makes me want to reread Lullabies for Little Criminals.

Writing Sabbatical – A midpoint check in

Ok, clearly my writing sabbatical – which began in June 2014 and extends to September 2015 – has not involved any blogging. This blog has lain fallow long enough now that I’ve probably forgotten how to eveBook Mugn make a post. Still, here it is January 1, 2015, an inspiring and significant year in my little writing life, and so I’m going to carve out a few literary intentions for 2015 and post them here for good measure. I’m even attaching numbers to the words where I can, to make them measurable.

~ Read 45 books and keep a record of not only the books read but some impressions of my reading.

~ Meet my writing partners as often as possible to write and commune. Weekly if possible.

~ Write a minimum of 2 hours or 1250 words per day, 5 days a week on new manuscript.

~ Write at least one short story – for submission to contest (2500 words max)

~ Blog about the standout writing experiences this sabbatical year has held: Banff Centre, Writers at Woody Point, Muskoka Novel Marathon – manuscript contest win, Writers League of Texas events, Toronto Writing Group

~ Blog weekly, at a minimum.

~ Spend at least 10 hours per week editing completed manuscript.

~ Continue to swim 5 times a week – (it’s proven to be an incredibly rich story creating opportunity and, of course, it’s good for me)

~ Stop for a moment every day to appreciate the gift of this time, this year, this life.

Happy New Year! Bonne Annee!

Muskoka Novel Marathon – I’ve registered

I’ve walked and run for cancer, bowled for kids’ help, read for MS. But this year I’m following my personal passion. Yes, I’m writing for literacy. Adult literacy in fact. Though editing my current manuscript has taken years, I’ve signed on to write a fresh novel in a mere 3 days (that’s 72 hours – between July 12-15) with just a 1 page outline as compass. I’ll go forth with Anne Lamott’s descriptions of the oppression of perfectionism versus the liberty of crappy 1st drafts to sustain me. That and the company of 34 other highly caffeinated, creative, and competitive writers.

I hope you’ll consider sponsoring me in this endeavor, and supporting literacy programs for adults who cannot read or write.

The link to my donor page: http://www.canadahelps.org/gp/24406
The link to the marathon site: http://www.muskokanovelmarathon.com

A propitious post number (44) for this coming month.

Boarding School Memories Wrap Up

Here’s the edited version of my wrap up of remembering MacNeill House:

I love that they posted the picture of Tara and I in our Grade 13 prom dresses and the one of the ‘thinking caps’ we wore during exams! I’m a little sad that some of my favourite bits were cut from the writing, but given the nature of the publication, that makes some sense.

Here is the original version of the Wrap Up (Part 2):
(For Link to Part 1:) http://www.ourkids.net/blog/back-to-school-memories-boarding-at-branksome-24761/


So Branksome has pulled down MacNeill House this year, to make way for something newer and better, and in doing so, unleashed a torrent of Boarding School memories for this former career New Girl and her twin.

Our fears about entering our 11th school were unfounded. It turned out that Tara and I were warmly welcomed into the Grade 13 dorm, perhaps as a bit of fresh blood for a small group that had been living in close quarters since Grade 9. And like Switzerland, we fancied that we brought a measure of neutrality to a few longstanding grudges and rifts.

I don’t really know how it worked with day girls, but there was a lot of clique overlapping among boarders because no one could be too cool in boarding. You had to be at least tolerably civil just to stomach completing your nightly ablutions in close proximity to so many others. Sharing one bathroom among 25 girls was the ultimate democratizing agent. Tara and I were lucky enough to be accepted by the West Indians, the Weekends Away Girls, the Lifers, the Asians, the Misfits and the Cool Girls alike. Even the Head Girl, who was contractually obliged to spend her Grade 13 year in boarding, no matter how close she lived to the school, quickly became our friend.

There were two common rooms in MacNeill House, amply furnished with sofas, cable TV, a stereo, ping pong, and endless shelves of books, (internet was still a thing of the future) but we spent most of our down time sitting along the hallway, waiting near the only phone. Cell phones didn’t yet exist, and car phones were the size of cereal boxes. The one phone in our dorm was where we made and received calls (often to and from boys) and learned of the outside world. The line was long. We might sit for hours.

It was the late eighties, so things were changing. To the righteous indignation of the many smokers in our dorm, the school’s official Smoking Area had recently been abolished in recognition of its detriment to student health. We had never taken up smoking ourselves, but Tara and I watched in admiration as our dorm mates found ingenious ways to hide their newly illegal habit from the housemothers. Many girls cut cigarette-sized holes in shoeboxes, which they smoked into and then released out of the window when they were done. Some girls were even bold enough to sneak inside the housemother’s room (she was a smoker herself) for their evening puff, with the added challenge of escaping again without getting caught.

It’s no exaggeration to say that my year at Branksome led to my being accepted at every university I applied to. My average went up 16%. The two-and-a-half hours of required nightly study took care of that. We were meant to be in our rooms the whole time, but invariably, you would need to confer with someone about something confusing, and that discussion and rehashing of what we were learning in classes actually made for the best learning of all. It was quite a strict study environment, though, and any time you were caught out of your room (a.k.a. Room Hopping) during official study hours, there would be a stern lecture from the house mother. “No hopping, girls! No hopping.” I’m sure you can picture what we felt compelled to do next. Yes, I’m afraid it’s true. Any time we went to someone else’s room to study, we developed the practice of hopping there on one foot. While studying for exams, we had another ‘time-honoured’ tradition of wearing kerchiefs on our heads, knotted at all four corners, ‘to keep our brains in.’

Rituals are important in a Boarding School. We participated excitedly in some, like the Boarder/Day Girl exchange, where we lucked out and got to spend a week living in luxury and leisure with a wonderful day girl and her siblings – her parents were out of town the whole time! What timing that was. Other rituals, we approached with trepidation, like the yellow ‘Meat Wagon’ which carted groups of us to distant boys’ schools for dances. Still others we scoffed at initially, like the Father/Daughter Dance, only to find ourselves staring out our dorm room window in disbelief and regret, watching our dorm mates, just across the street from us, have an absolute blast dancing the night away with their dads.

Going to a girls’ boarding school didn’t result in us missing boys all that much. In fact, not including our own prom, I attended 4 other formals that year. When I had to refuse an invitation because there was no way I could afford the formal gown that would be required, half the girls who were lined up in the hallway waiting for the phone heard me, and piles of gorgeous prom dresses made their way to my room almost immediately, along with the instructions that I was to call the boy back and accept.

As I’ve said, I don’t really know what Branksome was like for day girls, new or established, and I have a hard time imagining Grade 13 there without the boarding. It was the defining element of our one year at Branksome. That was the year we became city girls, and learned to think about the globe, act in plays that felt like professional productions, and debate. Branksome belongs to that mystical time when we eased out of girlhood, but not too quickly. Since then, I’ve loved any drive down Mount Pleasant where I could point out the window of our old room, which we had kept open all that year and learned to let the roar of traffic lull us to sleep. It’s vanished now, along with the luggage room and the trunk of books I left down there, always thinking I would go back one day and collect them. I know they are building something new and wonderful, but I will miss that window to the world.