Thursday, May 8, 2014

A writerly blog hop.

My lovely and talented writer-friend Adrienne Mason (Tofino) recently invited me to participate in a "blog hop." (No, it's not a funky new dance). The idea is that we introduce our own blog readers to the work of three writer friends (via their websites or blogs), and we each answer the same four questions about our work.   

Adrienne and I met in 2001 when we were both invited to participate in the 9-day Labrador Creative Arts Festival, a multi-disciplinary event which included numerous school visits and student performances.

It was a memorable time: an exhausting schedule of readings, flying across the white and watery landscape (in a plane that smelled of gas) to read in communities as far north as Nain, and having my work translated into Inuktituk by an elder. We also presented in Sheshashit, Northwest River, and Makkovik. Nain held an infamous title -- "Suicide Capital of Canada" -- at that time, and indeed, when the plane landed and we disembarked, a sense of despair and despair's twin -- desperation -- hovered like an invisible cloud. The teacher who picked me up had to hot-wire his van. And I'll never forget the little girl who, after I had read from my picture book, The Bone Talker, shyly approached me and said: I wish you were my mommy."   

Adrienne Mason with camera, Goose Bay, 2001
Arriving in Nain, Labrador

Shelley in Goose Bay, tired but happy

Adrienne and I kept in touch and reconnected in both Saskatchewan and BC. Now I'm in Ladysmith, and she's just five hours away! Lucky me. To learn more about Adrienne's  impressive writing career and umpteen titles, please visit her sites
 and .


When I moved to Edmonton in February 2010, I immediately connected with the folks at the Writers Guild of Alberta. A Brazilian-Canadian writer I knew, Rita Espechit, was the Program Director at the WGA at that time. We met for coffee and she told me that there was a city writer I must meet, because we would "really hit it off." That writer was Anna Marie Sewell, who coincidentally lived just a few blocks from me in Alberta Avenue. And Rita was right: Anna Marie and I became fast friends. Mostly we got together to play guitar, piano, sing, go to readings, drink wine, speak Spanish, exchange plants, and talk in English accents. Such great times!

Anna Marie (she's "Anns" to me) is one of the smartest and most generous women I know, and perhaps one of the most daring:during her 2-year term as Edmonton's Poet Laureate, I saw her compose (on the spot) and perform an extraordinary spoken word poem based on a few words shouted out by an audience in St Albert, AB. This is genius.    

Anna Marie Sewell in her garden

Here's her bio:

Anna Marie Sewell is an Edmonton poet currently drafting two memoirs and working on music composition/playing skills. Recent highlights include opening for the mighty Joy Harjo, then hosting a roots jam with her and intrepid local poets; working with jazz pianist Joshua Jackson on a couple of gigs, the Roots Jam night and an 'artistic response' to the TRC; guesting at bilingual French/English night, debuting a homage to Lucille Starr's The French Song; presenting a suite of song and spoken word old and new, a tribute to cows and boys, at Edmonton Poetry Fest. AMS is the author of Fifth World Drum (Frontenac House, 2009), and instigator of various multi-disciplinary escapades, including last year's big production, A Poetry Map of Canada, featuring 15 Poets Laureate, 3 actors, jazz-tinged soundscapes, and an astonishing lack of choreography.

Check out Anna Marie's blog here:
So many years ago, I was a semi-regular participant at the Emma Lake Artists' Colony at Emma Lake, SK. (North of Prince Albert and very well-known, if ye don't know it.) I'd have a small or large cabin, a stack of books and paper, my mandatory 2-litre bottles of Diet Coke, a bathing suit for late day swims and runners for 10ks, and I'd  buckle down for a week or two of ferocious writing. Several of my books took shape at these retreats, and my one and only adult novel, Tell Me Everything (Coteau Books, now out of print), was most certainly born there.   

One year a Calgary fiction writer was in attendance and we clicked like puzzle pieces, we did. Aside from writing a poetic and original novel that should have been nominated for a GG (Kalila) and three riotously entertaining short story collections, Rosemary Nixon is an absolute hoot. Over the decades we've howled together in person and over many phone calls. I recently told her that the only thing between me and a straightjacket is good friends like her -- and it's absolutely the truth. Rosemary is the hardest working writer \ editor I know, and it's a wonder we've been able to connect so often in person over the years. I've visited her at her various abodes in Calgary, Spain, and Salmon Arm. We've met in Watrous, SK, and in Saskatoon. When I was invited to lead a writing retreat in Greece a few years ago but was otherwise committed, I thought only for a split-second who might be fabulous at doing that dreamy job: Rosemary Nixon.   

Rosemary Nixon in Okotoks, AB, 2010

Here's her bio:

Rosemary Nixon is an award-winning pre-eminent short story writer, novelist, and free-lance editor based in Calgary.  Her latest collection, Are You Ready to be Lucky? is shortlisted for ForeWords BOTYA Indie Book of the Year Award. She is presently completing her writer-in-residency at the Saskatoon Public Library.

Learn more about Rosemary at: 

And finally, the questions:

1. What am I working on?

So many things, as usual. Firstly, I have a new collection of essays--I Wasn't Always Like This--being released this fall with Signature Editions in Winnipeg, and I'm expecting the editor to get back to me any day now with her editorial suggestions. In the meantime, I'm perilously close to completing another poetry manuscript. Go is a travel-inspired collection of work that also examines disorientation, and how the feeling of being lost and having to make one's way in a new environment is actually a desired state for some of us. I am also waiting to hear who Red Deer Press will select as illustrator for my forthcoming children's book, The Moon Watched It All, and when that book will be released

I have a huge backlog of work, including a collection of young adult short stories that hasn't been placed yet. It's called The Beginning of the End of the World (And Other Stories); the title story concerns one Canadian family's reaction to 9\11. The story was produced and broadcast on CBC Radio.

When I am ready to begin the next big project, I'll let you know.     

2. How does my work differ from others in its genre?

Since I work in so many different genres -- poetry, short fiction, adult novels, juvenile novels, children's literature, and creative non-fiction -- that's difficult to answer. What I can say is that I don't write for specific markets or for specific readers. I just write what comes, don't question the validity of being true to my own voice and ear, and hope that readers will relate and enjoy the books.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Well, there are a lot of things I simply can't do. Math, for example. Or cook. To have to prepare a meal for someone is to me almost more intimate than that other intimate act! I am fortunate that I discovered early on that writing was fun, exciting, and liberating, and that I seemed to have a talent for it.

I've never been married to a single genre. Some ideas and experiences are best expressed as poetry, others as an essay, or in prose. I'm most interested in the psychology of human relationships, so that is generally what fuels the fire, regardless of genre. People are just so damn interesting!   

4. How does my writing process work?

I am not one of those sit-down-at-the-desk-everyday-and-pound-it-out types; sadly, the "business" of writing eats much of my time, and I write radio advertising copy, real estate listings, and freelance for the likes of The Western Producer newspaper to pay the bills.

When my two children were growing up life was too busy to complete much writing at home, so I took advantage of annual writing retreats in SK, AB and, eventually, abroad. I required solitude and silence, and the formula worked well. I was a writing beast: in two weeks I might complete three short stories, for example.

I don't often write for younger readers, but the books I've had published for the younger set, Riding Planet Earth and The Bone Talker, came about in different ways than my other books. I wrote Riding Planet Earth in collaboration with a grade 6\7 class at North Park Wilson School (my son Logan's class) in Saskatoon. The process took three months, and the manuscript required another year of revising before I sent it to a publisher. Roussan Publishers in Montreal published it, and it was later reprinted by both Thistledown Press and Phoenix Books. The book is still used in schools, and I often take my bag of props (including a bra, a brick, and a leather jacket) when I'm invited to present from it to grades 6 - 8 students.

The Bone Talker was a "gift" book. The story came to me in the middle of the night, and I merely held the pen as the poetic tale about community spirit, the beauty of the prairies, and multi-generational friendships flowed through me. Probably a once-in-a-lifetime event to have a story given to me in that way. This book, of all my titles, has earned the most attention, with numerous awards (including the international White Ravens Award), publication in Braille, and great reviews across Canada. The rights were sold to South Korea. In schools I present this book (K-4) as a mini-drama, with an adult volunteer playing the role of the main character, Grandmother Bones. All the children are involved, and I recently wrote a song to perform (with guitar) at these school events. It's so much fun.

The Bone Talker presentation, Big River, SK, 2009

Poetry usually begins with a feeling for me. For the three years I lived on my own in Middle Lake, Saskatchewan, on summer days I often wrote with pen and paper in a hammock that overlooked the large floral and vegetable garden I designed (and spent most of my time in). Some people there called me the "gardening poet" ... others called me the "poet gardener." Birds of all sorts flew overhead, I'd have my necessary Diet Coke at the ready on a table beside me, and in the distance I could hear people enjoying themselves on the shores of spring-fed Lucien Lake. I wonder if I'll ever have such an idyllic "breeding ground" for poetry again?

A small section of my garden in Middle Lake, with hammock in the background.

Re-reading my favourite books, including the story collections by American writer Antonya Nelson and poetry written, often, by Saskatchewan-based poets (so many superb poets in the home province, including Jeanne Marie de Moissac, Dave Margoshes, Gerry Hill, Elizabeth Philips, Brenda Schmidt, Katherine Lawrence, Gary Hyland, Barbara Klar, Alan Safarik, Louise Halfe and Bruce Rice ... to name a few) always inspires me.

Walking, allowing myself to truly relax (doesn't happen often), and exploring new cities, towns, and countries all give me a creative kick in the pants.

Thursday, May 1, 2014



Ladysmith, I adore you.