Taking This Show On The Road…

It’s no secret that I’m All Over The Map (Just check out my About page if you want to know) but my Writing/Reading/Swimming Sabbatical (based mainly in Texas) is winding down a little earlier than originally planned and to cap it off, I’m embarking on another few exciting trips before heading back to Toronto and my teaching life – A life I thought might wait until September, but since it won’t (it’s going to be starting up again on March 24), we’re closing off the Sabbatical with a bang (and a highly unfaithful ode to Shakespeare)!  I’ve got to fit a few days in Denver & Dallas, over a week in Austin, (for SXSW!!!) and finally home to Toronto into these suitcases…

Packing to wrap up the Sabbatical...

Packing to wrap up the Sabbatical…

But packing….

Ah, there’s the rub, for in this suitcase we call Big Red, (& her little sister)

What I’ve forgotten, or could not fit despite my toil,

To fill, to store, to bundle, to stow,

must give me pause…

Here’s hoping that anything I forget will be ok until May, when I’m back for a short stint to celebrate Birthday weekend with the husband.

Grandparents Are a Precious Unrenewable Resource

“Grandparents are a precious unrenewable resource.”

That’s how an uncle put it when I lost my second grandfather.

Somehow, I reached the age of 30 with 4 grandparents still living. And then at 40, I still had 3. There is no doubt that some magical thinking began to take place, because although my Nannies and Poppy were undeniably aging and growing weaker, it was still impossible to conceive of the world without them in it.

My twin and I were the much-loved result of an ill-fated union between two Newfoundland teens who found themselves working up on the Mainland after graduating. Our childhood was spent All Over the Map, moving from Toronto to Newfoundland, to Nova Scotia, back to Ontario, then for me, on to Quebec, Japan, Alberta, and back to Toronto. We attended 13 schools before finally graduating with 2 degrees each.

Our grandparents provided the continuity we desperately needed during our annual anchoring summers back on the island. Nanny and Poppy Stuckless and Nanny and Poppy Laing all lived in their little Lanes from the early days of their marriages until the ends of their lives. These were houses that they had built themselves and filled with their many children, grandchildren, and eventually great-grandchildren and beyond.

Grandparents and grandchildren get to take a delight in each other that is often lost in the daily grind of front line parenting. Our grandparents could be parental, but we always wanted to please them, never wanted to hurt them, and there was so much love and wit shared. When I lived in Japan, I spoke to my grandparents more than my parents even, and we all marveled at how I could be oceans away on that other island, and yet sound like there was nothing between us.

My grandparents and their generation in Newfoundland had an experience quite different from most Canadians. Things like cars and televisions came to the island a few decades behind the rest of Canada. Until their children were mostly grown, you could only travel between many communities by boat, and you survived the long winter by freezing and canning and jarring all you could manage to gather in the summer months, because no supply ships could get through. You dressed yourself and your family mostly in clothes you sewed or knit yourself.

When I think about my grandfathers, I think of the most manly men I know: men who built everything from scratch, fixed anything that was broken, caught anything they ate, drove anything that was mobile, skippered ships, and raised barns. But these were also the gentlest of men, men who loved to laugh and yarn, and men whose faces lit up just to see you walk through the door.

When I think of my grandmothers, I think of comfort and duty, and how for many years in Newfoundland, there wasn’t much time to rest or ‘have a spell’ as they said, because there was always so much physical toil. And yet, my grandmothers passed on their skills joyfully. For my Nanny Laing, my last beloved grandparent, and the one I lost just last year, knitting was both work and solace. Although we learned the act of knitting at their knees when we were about 6 years old, it was only in the last several years of my grandmothers’ lives that we began to knit ‘things’.

The photo gallery includes some pictures of those first deeply flawed knitted things, the most obvious example being my first ever pair of mittens. The first mitten was knit perfectly under the watchful eye of my Nanny Stuckless, who rarely needed a pattern and just gave me verbal instructions to remember. Alas, I was on my own for mitten #2 back in Toronto, and the result was in Nanny’s words: “just like a lobster claw!”

The small blanket I knit for my grandfather the year before he died. I remember noticing the mistakes I was making, but having neither the time nor the skill to fix the mistakes to get the gift ready in time for his anniversary. I didn’t mind them so much, though, since I knew that he would be able to see and feel that it was really me who had made this imperfect thing – and that some of those womanly island arts were being passed down after all.

When things on the island opened up and you could buy anything you wanted and drive without difficulty to a big town, some of those artisan and handmade things fell by the wayside for a while, devalued in the face of unlimited commercial options. Now, I think we appreciate again the value of the home made, rare as that is in our plastic world.

Without a grandparent left in the world, we inch closer to our own mortality. Poppy Stuckless, the first to leave us, would have been 101 this week. We raise a glass and eat his favourite Chinese food every year in memory.

I can tell you, they were hard to let go of and I miss my Nannies and Poppies every day; even more, the world with them in it was a less fearful and much brighter place.

Blogging 101 – Day 3 Checking out the Neighbourhood

Blogging U.


Today’s Blogging 101 task involved looking for new blogs to follow, both from other participants in this 3-week course as well as searching through tags that are relevant to me.

It was the type of task that could (and did) take you down a rabbit hole, and I’m sure I spent 3 times as much time as I planned on it, and still feel I barely dipped my toe in. Just by participating, over the last couple of days, not only have my own humble number of followers tripled, I have found blogs to follow, through the commons, some from people whose interests seemed aligned with my own (writing, reading, travel), or some who just stood out in a lovely visual/design/human sense. Here are some of the highlights so far:

















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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