writing workshops

Park N Ride is a clever idea that in no way overestimates its own success. After 10 minutes of circling and a quick plea to the universal creator, I found the only parking space left in the Clareview lot and proceeded with haste to the terminal. The speed was due to my need of a washroom rather than a lateness issue. I was going to be anally early as is my wont when I do anything for the first time.

But the ladies’ washroom was “out of order” and a quick survey revealed that in typical Canadian fashion there was but one single washroom per gender in the entire station. Canadians continue to astound me with their bladder control. It’s ninja-like. Public washrooms are almost considered sissy up here because Canucks possess infinite capacity – unless there is alcohol involved and then their lack of modesty allows them to whip it out or drop trou and squat nearly anywhere.

Realizing the Men’s was the only game going (because a bouncy train and a full bladder equals a bad idea), I hopped in line behind an older gentleman with a backpack.

“Ladies first,” he told me when I explained the situation. “Ladies are always first.”

This was not my first encounter with the homeless on mass transit, but I have always found them more helpful, generous, and polite than the average commuter.

Fifteen minutes from Clareview Station to Enterprise/Bay, providing too little a frame for my nemesis “motion sickness” to set in, and I found myself in the heart of ugliness known as Jasper Ave, the heart of the city. There is absolutely nothing attractive about downtown Edmonton. It’s pre-SkyNet wasteland waiting for the apocalypse. I found a Second Cup (Canadian answer to Starbucks) with ease and passed a bit of time (chronic time anal syndrome side-effect) sipping chai and finishing the new Star Trek novelization, admiring the clever way that all previous canon was so neatly swept away for the new branch of the franchise to reinvent itself. And yes, I should wait to see the film before reading the book, but I have a fondness for Alan Dean Foster, and in the way of the anniegirl nothing is spoiled by spoilers. It merely provides more food for thought and comparison. I read the ends of novels first, always have, and find myself none the worse for my oddity.

On the way to the university, I had another homeless encounter.  A woman, I think, this time turned to me as we waited for the crossing signal at an intersection. Smiling and chuckling a bit, she motioned towards the traffic and said something rather quickly. It was lost in a combination of construction din and tires gripping asphalt. I smiled and chuckled back, as it seemed polite to do so, and this seemed to please her.

I ran the smokers’ gauntlet before entering the building and was immediately sucked into the campus bookstore to the right where I purchased two pocket-sized notebooks to replace the one in my purse that is nearly full and two novels, one of which was written by my instructor.

“Brown noser,” Rob teased when I spoke to him right before class. He wanted to know when I got into the city to be sure I was okay, no problems.

“I just want to know her writing style,” I said. ” See if she is any good. I’m not going to tell her I read it unless I like it. I can’t fake praise for crappy writing.”

“I’ve noticed that about you.”

While I was browsing and lounging in the break-room after our conversation, I noted several middle-aged women with notebooks and pens flying. It’s not fair to presume but Women’s Writing Week seems aimed at the dilettante housewife with delusions of novelist. I got the impression initially from the course selection which highlighted mostly poetry, journaling and memoir courses, the “arts and crafts” section of the writing world. It’s like “mommy-blogging” which I mostly avoid. The majority of women (and men) I read blog more about themselves than any fruit o’ the womb they might have.

When I got to class, the instructor, Lynn Coady, confessed that she titled her course a “bootcamp” to attract the serious about publishing crowd and I noted that two of the ten of us were younger than Mick (formerly MK).

More about the class tomorrow.

I am still bone weary. I just do not bounce back from sleep deprivation. My body refuses to push the envelope anymore. It’s a direct result of years of getting by on 4 or 5 hours a night while carrying the weight of my small existence around on my back, stooped like a Chinese peasant tending rice paddies.

Since I know it can take weeks to get myself even again, I will have to modify my plans for the next three months a tiny bit. Yes, it’s the new quarter, and I am laying out the calendar.

April will see me finish Night Dogs. Thanks to Rob’s plot insight, I have plugged the gaping plot hole in a plausible manner and can now continue. Night Dogs will be the story I workshop in June when I have plans to take a course on revision at the U of A’s Women’s Writing Week. The revision class is the only one I found that was not fluff, and it bothers me a bit to support a program that equates women’s writing with “journaling” and poetry only but so be it. It’s the only game going and I need to take a class.

In May I will begin working on a novel whose idea came to me via a science article on Slashdot about solar flares and our planet’s scary dependence on electrical grids and gadgets. Rob listened while I outlined it as we drove and he answered my questions about what-ifs. He liked it. He is partial – to me – but if he thought the idea totally blew chunks, he would say so.

June is classes. Revision, drafting and the beginning of prodding Rob to write out his part of our story. The memoir is now a joint project. We will work on it over the summer with the idea that it might be a pitchable idea by the time I head to the Williamette Conference in August (where I am going to try to pitch Night Dogs for sure and hunt for an agent at least).

In the meantime, blogging is going to suffer, but I will continue – just not at my usual pace. I can’t say what my pace will be, but if you bookmark me or put me on your reader, you shouldn’t miss much.

If you are wondering about the trip, you can read about it here, here, here, and here – if you haven’t already.

Wednesday afternoon was spent unpacking, doing laundry and generally regaining our land legs. Slept in on Thursday  but as I mentioned, I am still whipped.

I finished up the presentation for the workshop on Saturday but I am not going to be practiced enough. Hopefully my teaching instincts will take over and all will be well.

Since I am too tired (I’ve mentioned that too much, I know), here are pictures from the trip to make up for the piteous Friday update.

Revelstoke Town Centre

Revelstoke Town Centre

Rob taking a photo of Mt. Robson

Rob taking a photo of Mt. Robson

Strathcona writing group last night was a small turn out. There were just three of us, but we had a nice discussion about online literary magazines and submitting. The two women who were there talked about their submission process and how they keep track of things. They are both published authors and one of them is an illustrator as well. It makes me a tiny bit jealous, but also determined to push on. I WANT to SEE my writing in print. That’s one of the drawbacks, we all agreed, to the online literary magazines. The majority do not have a print equivalent and there is something about having a printed copy to hold and show your mother (especially if your mother is like mine and can’t even open her own email). 

We read. They are mainly poets and very goods ones. My poetry always seems like a school assignment effort. I did take a poetry workshop one summer before I graduated from Iowa. I found the workshop technique a bit puzzling. I rarely thought about the meaning behind the things I wrote (I had done a writing workshop not long before the poetry) and was always amused by the things that the others would “read” into my work. Usually they were so far off in the left field that all I could do was say, “Right exactly. I was wondering if anyone would notice that.” Then I would go back to my apartment and reread my stuff and wonder if other writers just wrote and then co-opted the interpretations of others for future use. I remember the instructor was very impressed with my poetry. He encouraged me to submit them and sign up for  more poetry classes. Another smile and nod moment. I am not a poet. I don’t like reading it. I don’t even really enjoy listening to it. When people at writing group read their poetry, I have to really force myself to listen and not wander off mentally. I just wasn’t born with a poetry gene.

I read my new work in progress. I think I wrote about it on my wordpress site. Both women thought it was a very good start. I am such a compliment junkie. I love to have people read and listen to my work and give me strokes. On the other hand, I don’t care much for the opposite. Rejection. Which is what I found waiting for me on the email when I got home. It was from the Matrix, a lit magazine out of Calgary. I had sent them the first story in my Sci-Fi series at the beginning for December and I already knew that they had rejected it because their new issue is out already. It was bland. Obviously what they sent to everyone but they did include the link to their submission call for the next issue. 

Gallows humor. As a widow, I wouldn’t know anything about that.

Today there will not be much time for writing. I need to get to the gym and hustle home to clean up and get Katy ready for school.  I am meeting Rob at our Subjoint to pick up veggies wraps before heading to a financial planning meeting that his company is sponsoring for employees and their partners (Canada recognizes common law unions and same sex marriages). It’s all about retirement, and Rob and I are all about getting plans in place for that. It is expected to go until 3PM and then it’s hustle home to meet Katy’s bus and get supper started. Tonight I am going into town to sit in on  a planning session for a grief support group. I have always found the one size fits all approach to support groups of this nature a bit wanting and if I can input in the planning stages, perhaps I can alter that a bit. And perhaps not. My approach to grief is not, I have been vehemently told, a sound one. Whatever. Nothing ventured, as they say.

I was skimming an article on Backspace–The Writer’s Place a website for writers with delusions of being published. The article was an excerpt taken from the book, Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing by David Morrell. In it Morrell discusses his experiences with the wanna-be authors he encounters in writing workshops. He always begins these seminars by asking the students why they want to be writers, and he always gets the same teacher’s pet responses. The kind of answers that seem so obviously right that they are wrong on every level you can think of as a writer.


“I want to be a writer to satisfy my creative nature.”




Why not paint or sculpt or throw pots or dance or sing or decoupage Hallmark cards on styrofoam balls to give out as Christmas gifts? 


“I want to make a lot of money.”


Valid enough because Morrell has made his share. David Morrell is the creator of Rambo. He wrote the novel, First Blood, that is the second most famous of Sylvester Stallone’s franchises. He was also my American Literature instructor one fall semester while I was attending The University of Iowa. This was before the movie came out and I don’t think more than a handful of students in class knew that Morrell was a writer or had even heard of his book. I thought that the guy was a fair lecturer, and the fact that he was a published author with a book about to be turned into a Hollywood movie explained why I kept getting stuck with his graduate student correcting my papers and tests. She was notorious for being a hard-ass, and we all prayed fervently for our papers to end up in the tiny pile that Morrell actually graded himself. The only thing I learned from him was about reading, not writing. He had us read The Last of the Mohicans. I read it and afterwards couldn’t come up with one reason why such a piece of racist, misogynistic crap was a classic. I could’ve kissed the man for his first comments to us as a class about this book. He said, “Last of the Mohican is one of the worst books ever written, and if James Fennimore Cooper hadn’t had the good fortune to be one of the first American writers to make it big in Europe, we wouldn’t be reading it today.” You might be asking yourself what I learned, exactly, from such a blasphemous statement. Well, I learned that “classic” is not synonymous with “sacred” or “well-written” or even “readable”, and that was  a hugely important thing to know for an English major and future teacher. It freed me from preconceptions which in turn allowed me to one day liberate my students to think and decide for themselves.


Morrell believes that writers write because they have to, and I agree with that. Real writers write. It’s a compulsion. As much as I love you, my audience, I would write this blog without you. My vacation last week was a somewhat maddening exercise in finding things to do to fill the time I would have spent writing, and finding myself frustrated by the plethora of ideas that swirled around in my brain in the absence of this outlet. Everything I read was fodder for an idea. Every time I got near my computer, I was tempted to “jot a few things down”. It reminded me of my younger days when I could lose myself in a spiral notebook, churning out page after page. So what happened to that girl and those days, Mr Morrell might ask me if I were a student in one of his workshops. Nothing happened. Literally. I quit. Gave up on the idea of writing because a few people thought I wasn’t that good, and others questioned the sanity and sense of writing for a doubtful living as opposed to the certain living I could make teaching. And I wasn’t strong enough or sure enough of myself to ignore them. It’s still my Achilles heel. Even when I know I am right, I still wonder if the majority rules. It does, of course, but that doesn’t make me wrong about what I should do, have done or be doing.


There is that cliche about doing what you love, and the money will follow. I don’t think that it is necessarily true if you are depending on that money to pay the bills or put you in an enviable financial situation. Rob and I joke about me needing to hurry up and write that best seller, so he can retire, and we can build that little house in the mountains sooner rather than later on when we both may be to old to clamber around those peaks. Truthfully though, if money were an incentive to write, why then when I needed the money a lot more a while back wasn’t I moved to put finger-pads to keyboard? Where was my compulsion then?


What happened to awaken my need again wasn’t a lightning strike as much as a slow burn and once it caught fire was not controllable. I can’t imagine a scenario now that doesn’t include writing.  Teaching still occupies that fallback in my mind but I can’t see myself happy doing that again. I brought the idea of teaching up with Rob just recently and he likened a fallback career to a crutch that helps a person avoid their true passion. He’s right. Like Morrell is right when he tells his students that writers write because they can’t help themselves.