Independent Writers’ Associations

20 05 2017

Pertinent article! Join your local IWA!

Looking Forward From the Past

When my father joined the ranks of indie-authors back in the early 1980s there were small and large publishing houses all over the place. On an earlier round a draft book of his, on the subject of children and play, had been picked up by one of those houses. He made no money from going what we now call the “traditional” route, but for the publishing house the money was available somewhere in the myriad of grants that the Secretary of State (a defunct federal department) made available.

My father’s indie-author project focused upon his experiences in World War Two. The topic did not fit into the funding criteria with which Canada’s large and small publishers were working.

Dad wrote his first draft by hand. My mother did the first round of typing. He then engaged a former secretary to re-type the manuscript from the beginning to the end. Photocopying…

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“If we are not sometimes baffled and amazed and undone by the world around us, rendered speechless and stunned, perhaps we are not paying close enough attention.” Ben Marcus

13 05 2017

“So You Want To Be a Writer” – excellent article by the Guardian. I love the Guardian. A voice of sanity in a baffling world.


Roméo Irené Pierre Vachon

5 05 2017

Such an impossibly romantic name! Such an impossibly romantic background – his father a famous pilot back in the day when pilots rarely made it to the parenting age. My uncle Pierre’s father‘s plane is in the museum of Science and Technology…

But it’s about my equally romantic uncle I’m writing today. One of my very favourite uncles, one after whom I named my son, one who always made me smile, and one who was a role model for me in so many ways. A man who was handsome and dashing in looks, charming in manner – in every sense the romantic hero.

My uncle passed away this week, at the age of 85. I am sad to lose him, but I know that his faith will see him safely to see his peaceful place – and I know that he lived a life full of adventures and love and gusto and appreciation and joy.

Camino-de-Santiago-800Uncle Peter (or Pierre as I eventually was brave enough to call him, after my years of poorly learned French) was a man who lived large. He, his first wife, Dorothy Anne, and my cousins were such a huge part of my growing up they feel like my family. Uncle Pierre did things I always dreamed of doing – walking the Camino – twice! Hiking and staying in monasteries, gaining thoughtful peace. Coming home to a home filled of laughter and caring. Raising his children in a bilingual household when it was not the standard of the time. Being a member of the United Eclectics!

I loved him so, but I don’t think he really got to know me until I was a grownup, when I was fortunate to have some deep conversations with him. He made me yearn: for philosophy, for religion, for walking, for peace. There are so few people that you meet who make you want to be better than you are. He had that effect on me.

When I was a kid, and all of us, a multiplicity of cousins and associated parents were staying at our Second Cousin Cousin Grace’s cottage on Cape Cod. I couldn’t sleep. No lecture from depicB9bhzysignated babysitter Pierre. He talked to me, and made me a sandwich of bread, butter, and brown sugar. It knocked me right out. (The other parents simply told me to get back to bed. I remember his unexpected kindness).

I think that was what I loved most about Uncle Pierre – his ability to be kind in unexpected ways. As with many men of his generation, he held himself a little apart from the silliness that is little girls. But he adored my mother and father, and they adored him back. He adored all of his children, and their crazy pets – the Vachons always had a dog of enhanced personality – and his love for my aunt was bright and visible. Growing up in a cooler house, I liked to see the joy between them.

One morning Pierre and Dorothy Anne arrived just as we were heading out to church, and so we told them to help themselves to breakfast and left them in the kitchen. What Uncle Pierre couldn’t have guessed is that my dad had been experimenting with rum in maple syrup, and had a jug of it, a fair bit too rummy, in the back of the fridge, waiting for some titration with more maple syrup. We arrived home to find the two of them giggling helplessly over crumbs of pancakes. “Chris,” said Pierre to my father, “I think your maple syrup has gone off a bit.”

Uncle Pierre taught my dad how to sail, one calm day on Lake Washington. We were renting a place on the lake and it came with a small boat. Dad was eager to try, so out we went, testing how to turn about and manage the sails and the rudder and everything. It wasn’t very exciting due to lack of wind, but the motor brought us in nicely.

3180fbe356dc290e644f527d4efea652Uncle Pierre was a great teacher. So much so that my dad felt supremely confident, and the first chance he had, he took us all out in the boat on his own. Never mind there was a gale blowing up… We nearly drowned, except that my older brother conveniently let go of the sail line just as we were tipping over and we fluttered back into verticality, with only one head injury to report. I can still hear my dad laughing as he reported it all to Uncle Pierre on the phone the next day…

Pierre was at his wife’s side during her terminal cancer and supported her throughout. He also was stand-in family for many of the Warner (Dorothy Anne’s) clan, sharing his home with my lovely Uncle Cliff, rallying around to help where needed.

After Dorothy Anne died, he was also brave enough to love again, marrying the very sweet Margaret Graham. I haven’t met her in real life yet, and I love her already, just through the brief electronic chats we’ve had. I’m so glad they found each other after the loss of their first spouses – they had some time (not nearly enough) to travel and paint and laugh together.

200aa737d8ab4d7e90ecbcc1fc30eb7bI’ve been so blessed. I got to grow up in a life full of cousins and aunts and uncles that, barring the occasional one or two (there is always a worm in the apple!) made my world full of friends and people who supported me, who loved me unconditionally. We’ve lived all over the place, and we don’t see one another nearly often enough, but the lovelines are there and strong. I treasure them, and as with every family event, I vow to strengthen them even more…while knowing time, finances, illness, and life will keep us apart more than together.

Go with God, my dear “oncle Pierre”. I can’t walk the Camino, with my MS and general weakness in the heat. But I dedicate the next 500 miles of my walking to you. Once again, you are inspiring me to be better than I am. It might take me a year, or two. Or possibly more…how I will miss you. I will look for your kindness in the faces I see and seek quiet in myself as I walk.



The post-conference slump

2 05 2017

lacking_focus_koteckiI am a terrible person. I go to these writing conferences  (Iceland…..) and come home, alight with the possibilities in writing, and then I find myself committing acts of extreme procrastination so I don’t have to actually get down to it.

And yet, the conference makes me feel like I NEED to be writing. Ergo: guilt – that floating misery underneath the skin of every properly-raised Roman Catholic gal. And grumpiness from feeling guilty. And restlessness.


So I needle-felt some animals, do some embroidery, met up with friends I haven’t seen in ages, and even caught a horrible cold that has laid me low for the *(^^*)*^ 2nd time this winter and rendered me voiceless and dizzy. Hard to think with all that going on. I’ve even resorted to knitting socks. I don’t even know HOW to knit socks.

images-2And I volunteered for a facebook list on MS that is so incredibly busy I had to opt out again almost immediately, booked a cottage for June (ostensibly to write), plus volunteered for a festival where I have to camp and take tickets and such. It will be exhausting and fun and I’m looking forward to it – but it all isn’t writing.

Though, every experience gives me a character….And every character has a story…and I read things about strange little historical items like the hospital for the poor and ill nearby that saw so many deaths and has a tiny graveyard lost beside it. It calls for a story, a tale about the inhabitants, those with MS, MD, acquired illnesses…

But I have to finish what I have started, first. Like a magpie, my eye spins to sparkly new things, wants me to shift focus.

cough-till-lung-is-outOr maybe that’s just the ^#&$)Q^ coughing.

I’ve got to focus more, put my head in the game. Now that I’ve paid my taxes (a horrible weight on my soul since I owed), and organized my budget, got through the first days of the cold from hell, I should be able to push my head into writing. I can split my day, write half, felt half. Maybe I can even finish the socks. Need to stick my head into the bridle and pull forward.



28 04 2017

Every once and awhile a vision passes by me, on the computer or otherwise, that immediately starts my mind burbling. This is one, by drone photographer Gabriel Scanu, who is apparently all of 20 and blessed with an excellent eye.

This photo speaks to my wet-felting soul. I can see it evolving with tracings of silk for foam, with needle felted people and shadows after the base has dried. I love the contrast of the shadows on the sand and in the water, the view of a tiny kayak braving the waves. I know local artists who could paint this, beautifully.

There’s something about looking at the world from way way up that is consoling these days – being above the world on an impossibly sunny day, not even hearing the quibbles of the people below, the children whining for ice cream, the couples fighting… This photographer has given me a vision to think about, a respite from the worries around me.

It’s a pleasant thought to be above trouble and sorrow. It seems most everywhere I look in the past month, people are dealing with challenges, losses, changes that are unpleasant and require strength to manage.

Support-356x253I know artists and musicians who are dangling, unbought, while the world takes advantage of the Maude Lewis story and millions go into Hollywood coffers while the poor woman lived and died in pain and poverty. I was talking to a friend of mine who also finds this enraging. No one seems to feel the urge to donate to starving artists after the film, or to donate to the arthritis society, or to do anything other than buying reproduced Lewis art calendars (just the small ones, they aren’t too expensive), while our world, especially here in the Maritimes, is full of fresh new art, folk and other, that could use a loving touch, a new home.

I’ve been trying to buy a bit of art on my tight budget. I’ve been blessed with a few artist friends who started my collection, and I am meeting more all the time, thanks to the patient gallery owners that let me linger among the small pieces and put things on hold, or trade what I’ve made. I adore each and every one I’ve chosen, both for the beauty of the piece and for the fact that I know the artist.

Art brings visions to us, places and thoughts we have never seen, joy. I live in a smallish, somewhat dark apartment, but around every corner now I have a little spot of brightness, a view of an artist’s vision of life. They make me smile, every time I look at them.

I’d like to encourage everyone to spend a little on art, especially local art. It seems like an extravagance when bills speak loudly in the corner. But for a relatively small amount of money, you can bring beauty to the world, both your own space and in the artists’.

And couldn’t we all use a little bit of joy (and vision) these days?




seriously, the guy has a point

16 04 2017

An interesting post by one of my favourite writers.

I got metaphorically spanked a couple of days ago. Folks have been talking about the Fearless Girl statue ever since it was dropped in Manhattan’s Financial District some five weeks ago.I have occasionally added a comment or two to some of the online discussions about the statue.

Recently most of the Fearless Girldiscussions have focused on the complaints by Arturo Di Modica, the sculptor who createdCharging Bull. He wantsFearless Girl removed, and that boy is taking a metric ton of shit for saying that. Here’s what I said that got me spanked:

The guy has a point.

This happened in maybe three different discussions over the last week or so. In each case I explained briefly why I believe Di Modica has a point (and I’ll explain it again in a bit), and for the most part folks either accepted my comments or ignored them. Which…

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On being ravished, or why the Iceland Writers Retreat is simply perfect

11 04 2017

IMG_1475And now for the other side of the story, and why it is so likely that I will be going to the IWR again.

It’s hard to encapsulate this event. To say it was life-changing sounds trite and overblown, but it was so for me. When I went, it was with a mind set of failure, wondering why I had spent so much money (again) on the writing I never seem to get done properly.  It was, I thought to myself, the final kick at the can, the Y in the road. If I couldn’t tolerate the conference with my MS brain, then I knew all was lost and crafts would have me forever (not that that is a bad thing, precisely, but…).

And then I entered the vortex that is the IWR.

IMG_1443It is set perfectly in Iceland, an island. A place sufficiently different to make the visitor feel vaguely alien, set apart, unreachable by real life. Nature like the surface of the moon, isolating us together. A place where both other human beings and that nature are reachable and attractive, in the way that magnets are attractive. You are inevitably drawn to the poetry here – the visual, musical, otherworldly poetry.

It rains here. Rain is so much better for writing than any other weather. Mists swirled.

And Eliza Reid and Erica Green have pulled together those trailing mists and created magic.

The Iceland Writers Retreat is a big conference these days. On the last day, I saw people I hadn’t seen all week. Yet, it feels intimate, safe, friendly, warm, and oh so supportive. The group of fellow writers, from the professionals to the new, were to a person kind and willing to share.

Usually, at a conference, you will meet the designated asshole, the one 130902_a17742_g2048-600who dominates everything, who is filled with nothing but complaints. I didn’t meet that person. (unless it was me – gasp!)

The classes were small, with an overwhelmingly spectacular faculty: Meg WolitzerClaudia Casper, Chris Cleave, Esi Edugyan, Carsten Jansen, Bret Anthony Johnston, David Lebovitz, Paula McLean, Nadifa Mohamed, Paul Murray, Madeleine Thien, Hallgrimur Helgason, Viborg Davidosdottir, and many more Icelandic writers I didn’t have the pleasure to meet. They were so approachable they likely needed a long space in utter silence after they left.


Paula with mini-Bob


I am presently in love (in an acceptable way) with David L. as he offered me such reassurance and good cheer I feel ready to write on for months purely on that. Of course, some of my time will have to be spent on reading his lovely cookbooks. Bret was a no- nonsense writer and dropped pearls of wisdom threw rocks of wisdom, each veined with marble, each ready for use. Meg gave us our Wonder Woman bracelets of fiction writing. Claudia spoke wisdom about the publishing world and promoted Canadian writers, gods bless her. Paula gave us the idea of mapping out our character’s world, and using that to highlight what was important to them, and to us. All of them shared books they loved, useful books, ideas and stories. Suffice to say my reading list has grown another five feet tall!

IMG_1456All were hilarious and excellent teachers. Writing well does not necessarily equal teaching well, but however the two E.’s selected this group, the faaculty were masters of both. I never felt tired, or feared dozing, in their classes. All of us were deeply involved in every one. That is truly rare, especially in jet-lagged, well-fed folks. And we were very very well-fed. Yum. If I could have an Icelandic breakfast every morning, I could take over the world. But I digress…

I learned so much, from them and from other writers – like my fellow Dorothy from Australia, who spoke to me of how to work the trauma in my YA book and my cookbook class who told me to write the damn MS book and pull in the royalties.

I am smiling thinking of it all. Even our tour guide, the charming Sigurlin Bjarney Gisladottir, aka Bjarney, was a writer, a multiply published poet. Who can also cook eggs in a hot spring.

We were taken to meet the President of Iceland, Guðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson, a charming man who coincidently has translated several books by Stephen King! I pressed two felted mice on him for his daughters. I fear he thought them an unacceptable gift, but it was all I had to say humble thanks for the warmth and kindness of his country’s welcome.

IMG_1415We went to the home of Halldor Laxness, the Nobel Prize-winning author of Independent People. I’d read that book, and to see where he wrote it was beyond compare – to say nothing of his beautiful home itself, with its view of the mountains and its geothermal swimming pool, steaming gently in the frosty air. He walked every day, a pattern highly recommended by many of the other authors for jogging your brain into submission.


In the Laxness dining room


I’m taking that idea on. We have fog here as well…in all senses of the word.

I missed much of the fun of the retreat, as I ran out of energy early in the day and skipped the evening events. Instead, I had time for in-depth discussions with fellow writers, many of whom I hope will remain friends.

We were discussing dating at the lunch table one day and in my usual inappropriate way, I told my tablemates that I simply wanted to be ravished. The literary definition of ravish is: (ignoring the more violent ancient definition…)

fill (someone) with intense delight; enrapture.
“ravished by a sunny afternoon, she had agreed without even thinking”
synonyms: enrapture, enchant, delight, charm, entrance, enthrall, captivate

“you will be ravished by this wine”


I have been ravished by the Iceland Writers Retreat. I remain enraptured.

I will go again. And possibly again.



The Laxness walking forest…


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