Category Archives: Writing

Not a Stellar Example, Doors and Letters During a Pandemic

Photo The Carillon

This photo of a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new business in my hometown of Steinbach was in the current issue of The Carillon, the regional newspaper where my column appears regularly. It was noted in the photo’s caption that social distancing was not being practised by either the city mayor or the local member of Canada’s Parliament. The two gentlemen appear front and centre in the photo. It’s great to hear that a new business is getting off the ground even amidst the pandemic, but if the restaurant wants to stay open and not be the source of a COVID-19 outbreak, it might be prudent for the patrons of the eating establishment to behave in a safer manner than their local political leaders. 

In the latest issue of the Canadian Mennonite magazine, writer Doug Klassen suggests the pandemic can inspire people of faith to find safe and innovative ways to open the doors of their homes and churches to their neighbours and the local community.  Klassen’s article is illustrated with gorgeous photos of doors taken by Jane Grunau, a former college classmate of mine.  

Door photographed while biking in Yangshou China

I also love taking pictures of doors.  Here is one of several blog posts I have done about the doors I have photographed. 

I have been writing weekly letters to my grandsons during the pandemic.  I know with school cancelled they have more time to read letters from their Grandma. I include photographs and stories about their Dad when he was a little, stories about their great grandparents and even great-great-grandparents and I ask them questions about things which they answer when we have our regular Face Time chats. 

The Letter by Mary Cassatt

I read an article in The Lily about an aunt who is writing letters to her new niece because pandemic travel restrictions mean she can’t go and meet her in person.   The Lily, a newsletter that features stories about women, also had a delightful article about a granddaughter who is exchanging poems with her 94-year-old grandmother through the postal service during the pandemic. 

Other posts……..

A Lament for Letters

An Open Door For Everyone

A Writing Inheritance From Two Grandparents

 

 

 

 

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Filed under COVID-19 Diary, Politics, Writing

Snowbirds, Little Free Libraries and Sharing Writing

Our grandsons were SO excited when we talked on Face Time on Thursday because they had just seen the Snow Birds fly in formation over their yard in Saskatoon. They told us all about the planes and what they looked like and how close they had seemed. The Snow Birds are out on a nationwide Operation Inspiration tour to cheer and encourage Canadians during the pandemic. 

I have been talking with the community outreach pastor at our church about whether we should open our Little Free Library.  I am the church librarian and take responsibility for stocking the Little Free Library shelves with books I have collected from a variety of sources. I also check the library weekly to be sure the books people have donated are ones that will appeal to our users. Currently, our Little Free Library is temporarily closed due to COVID-19.  

Our church’s Little Free Library

A CBC article this week says Little Free Libraries can serve an important purpose especially while public libraries remain closed.   I agree, but the Little Free Library organization recommends wiping down shelves, doors and latches regularly with disinfectant, ideally after every use. How would we facilitate that? I conceived the idea of the Little Free Library as a way to serve the community and I would really like to continue doing that now.  I just want to be sure we can do it safely.

I was talking to a friend on Wednesday who said she had wept while watching Michelle Obama’s Becoming on Netflix.  The former first lady’s grace and kindness and hope are exactly what so many people need to see and hear in these uncertain times. I know I have already written about the film which chronicles Michelle’s book tour last year but as my friend talked, I remembered something else that had really impressed me about Michelle.  

Michelle Obama with Kaitlyn Saunders an 8-year-old who told the former First Lady at a book signing that she wants to be a competitive figure skater. Photo by Jacquelyn Martin

There is a scene in the film where Mrs Obama is greeting people and signing their copies of her book.  I marvelled as she looked at each person with interest and warmth in her eyes, and asked them each a question about themselves so she could connect with them.  She only had about a half a minute with each person, but she made each one feel special and recognized and heard.  What a gift!

Margaret Sweatman photo by Jay Gaune from University of Winnipeg website

On Wednesday I took part in a ZOOM author sharing circle sponsored by the Manitoba Writers Guild.  Winnipeg author Margaret Sweatman shared a section from her book  When Alice Lay Down With Peter which has scenes that take place right around the time Manitoba was becoming a province, very appropriate since we were marking Manitoba’s 150 birthday this week. 

After Margaret read from her book we could ask her questions. I had read her book FOX about the Winnipeg Strike and was glad to have the opportunity to learn more about how she had balanced fact and fiction while writing it. Later six participants read from our own writing. Such a lovely variety of pieces -a poem about raking the lawn, a memoir about a Manitoba woman sent to an asylum years ago, a story about a woman leaving an abusive relationship, a rather creepy tale about a very self-centred man and a story about the striking similarities between a photo and a painting. I read an excerpt from a series of stories I am working on about a girl growing up in the 1960s. 

I just submitted my novel Lost on the Prairie to a nationwide contest for emerging Canadian writers for children.  I am finding the pandemic is giving me time to do more writing and to continue trying to promote and find a publisher for work I have already completed. 

Other posts……...

Little Free Library

Love These Guys

The Winnipeg Strike – Fact And Fiction

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Filed under COVID-19 Diary, Writing

Parents Don’t Let Your Children Grow Up To Be Writers

Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be writers. That’s the take away from the latest report by the Authors Guild of America.  It examines the current lack of opportunities for writers. Writers’ incomes have dropped by nearly twenty-five per cent in the last seven years and more than half of people who earn their living by writing full time have an income below the federal level of poverty.

Christine Larson a journalism professor at the University of Colorado says the era where a relatively large number of people enjoy financial success as writers is coming to an end due to the closure of thousands of newspapers and magazines and the fact that e-books, sold mostly by Amazon, generally earn less money for writers than print books. Bestselling authors are still doing fine but other writers are seeing their source of income evaporate.  

I know first hand how incredibly difficult it is to get published these days. I have been in the journalism game for several decades so I am still able to earn money for some long-standing freelance writing gigs and their attendant connections, but in the new genre of children’s writing I have been exploring, I have hit a brick wall when it comes to publishing. 

This week I heard that Couteau Publishing, the Canadian company I thought was the best fit for my middle-grade novel set on the prairies, is going out of business. No wonder I didn’t receive any kind of response when I sent them my manuscript. Another prairie publisher Great Plains, to whom I submitted my manuscript, has reduced production to only eight new books a year across all of its various markets.  They were kind enough to send me a letter of rejection so I knew where I stood with them. A major Canadian publisher I approached about a picture book of mine that had won a contest for new Canadian children’s writers, said my book wouldn’t appeal to their American audience which makes up 60% of their customer base. 

I guess the good news is that you can publish your writing online, as I do every day with this blog and in that way, I can share my writing with a small audience.  To widen that audience, however, I would have to pay substantial fees to social media sites and the hosts of my blogging platform. I did meet a woman recently who is earning a healthy income from blogging but she must embed a great deal of advertising for a lengthy roster of businesses on her site and she goes regularly to blogging conferences and takes blogging courses,another financial investment.

I have started exploring the possibility of self-publishing for my children’s books, which is increasingly becoming the way authors share their work. This means writing will become an expensive hobby rather than a source of income but maybe that’s okay. 

I wasn’t really serious when I said parents shouldn’t let their children grow up to be writers. I believe everyone should be a writer, able to express their thoughts, ideas and feelings in writing for a whole variety of purposes both personal and professional. But writing as a career is becoming a much less viable way to earn an actual living. That’s just reality. 

Other posts…………

Well At Least You Like Writing

Relentless Persistence

Connecting with Rejoice

A New Writing Gig

 

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A New Writing Challenge

I became a member of the Winnipeg Friends of the Library Board this past fall.  I helped to found the Friends of the Library group in Steinbach many years ago and as I contemplated retiring from my part-time job at the University of Winnipeg I was looking for other ways to get involved in my community. The board has been a good fit and a good challenge so far.  Friends of the Library groups located in North America, Europe, Australia and South Africa fund all kinds of special programming in libraries. One of the ways I thought I could support the Winnipeg group’s work was by writing articles for their newsletter called NOTES which is printed several times a year. The most recent issue just came out and I wrote four articles for it.  Each provided an interesting experience for me.  

For my first article, I had the privilege of interviewing Carolyn Gray the current writer in residence at the Winnipeg Public Library and recently appointed editor of Prairie Fire magazine.  Carolyn and I  met at a local coffee shop and had a wonderful chat.  Among other things, I found out she was an accomplished puppeteer, shared her home with a Golden Retriever named Minnie and had recently completed a Masters degree in Fine Arts from the University of Saskatchewan. I also was assigned to write profiles of four new Friends of the Library board members, including myself.  I learned such interesting things about the people who sit around the board table with me.  I found out Rita loves the Bombers and the Jets almost as much as she loves ballet and the theatre. I discovered Kim loves to cook, is a marketing and communications consultant and has a family cottage.  The interview questions Chelsea answered revealed she loves playing board games and her favorite writer is a Japanese author named Haruki Murakami.  The editor of Notes asked me to contact the latest winner of Governer General’s award for English language fiction Joan Thomas to see what books were on her nightstand and write a short What Is She Reading piece. Joan was so gracious when I contacted her and quickly sent me a message about what she was reading. Finally I collected comments from folks who attended our group’s annual fundraising book sale at Grant Park High School. They were excited about their experience at the sale.  These were incorporated into an article by the book sale manager. 

I have all kinds of ideas about how we can make our newsletter an even better vehicle of communication with our members.  I am looking forward to perhaps implementing some of those ideas in the future.  In the meantime I am finding it interesting and challenging to be a kind of roving reporter for NOTES.

You can learn more about The Friends of the Winnipeg Public Library here.   And you can read the NOTES newsletter online here. 

Other posts……….

Five Wives by Joan Thomas

This Was Crazy Wonderful

Winnipeg’s Millennium Library

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Filed under Retirement, Winnipeg, Writing

We Never Stop Talking

One member of our writers group had just returned from a trip to Holland and he brought chocolates from Amsterdam for us to enjoy. Each chocolate wrapper featured a Van Gogh masterpiece.  

The talking never stopped! Last week the children’s writers group I belong to gathered at my home. Normally we meet at McNally Robinson Booksellers but the audience for a popular book launch was expected to flood McNally’s last Thursday so I invited the group to my condo instead.
Three members were missing but that didn’t stop the rest of us from having a great time exchanging personal news, reading pieces of our writing for the group to critique and sharing plans for upcoming writing projects we have just started or are envisioning. We discussed an article that provides statistics on the state of children’s writing in North America. It included facts and figures about the success and efforts of those of us who write for a young audience. We had a lively debate about the article’s findings.  

After the evening was over I thought about why I love my writers group so much. 

Jodi one of the members of my writing group signs books at the launch of her novel Family of Spies

My writers group inspires me. Hearing about the successful publishing track record of some members motivates me to keep trying to get one of my manuscripts published.

Larry who is a member of my writers’ group signs a copy of his latest novel Coop the Great for Mindi, another member of our writing group

My group makes me more accountable. I want to have writing to share every time we meet and that often gives me the push I need to make time for children’s writing in my sometimes hectic schedule filled with other writing assignments I’ve accepted.

At the Manitoba Book Awards with members of my writers’ group. Several members of our group had been nominated for awards.

I know I’ve become a much better writer because of the critiques I’ve received from my group. Recently I was getting ready to submit a manuscript to a publisher. My submission needed to include a query letter, biographical statement and synopsis. For two months I read those documents at each writers group meeting and each time my writing friends helped me improve them, till they were finally at a stage where I was ready to submit them.

Gabriele another member of writers group signs copies of her novel Broken Stone at her McNally’s launch

My writers group gives me confidence. Their praise and encouragement keep me believing that someday I too will get a manuscript published.
And finally, my group provides entertainment and friendship. Before we sat down at my dining room table last Thursday to ‘get down to business’ so to speak, there was time for a lively chat about our families, activities, travels and life challenges.

My writing group at our Christmas party last year

I realize my writers’ group enriches both my personal and writing life and I am so grateful for that!

Other posts………..

In Good Company

Family of Spies

A Writing Inheritance From My Grandparents

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Beer, Baseball and Literature- An Eclectic Evening

Guests visiting before the literary readings began

On Friday my husband Dave hosted a kind of literary soiree/beer tasting at our house. The theme was beer and baseball. Dave is the organizer of a bi-weekly beer club here in Winnipeg that visits a different brewpub in the city each time they meet. He invited the members of that club and their partners, plus a variety of other friends, to come to our house for a beer and baseball literary night.

Dave had done some decorating for the party- a series of photos of him playing ball taken by sports reporter Terry Frey- his award when his ball team was admitted to the Manitoba Baseball Hall of Fame and a sculpture of him as ballplayer by a former colleague Jack Tait

Dave has been a ballplayer since he was about four years old and continues to play ball at age 67, but I think part of the reason the evening’s theme included baseball was because a World Series game between the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals was being aired Friday night and Dave had it on in the background although the sound was muted during the party.

Dave chats with Andrew Unger one of the guest readers 

Five people shared pieces of their writing during the evening.  Roger Groening who has published the book Knuckleball, Andrew Unger who is the author of the blog The Daily Bonnet, Erin Unger who writes the blog MennoToba, our friend Mitch Toews whose short stories have been published in all kinds of different journals, anthologies and literary magazines and finally me.  Not everyone’s readings revolved around beer and baseball but a few did, including mine. 

Reading a chapter from my novel to the group

In between the readings, each of the fellows from the beer club who were in attendance introduced a special beer they had brought along for everyone to taste. Each explained why that particular beer had been chosen. The party went on till after midnight and I think folks had an interesting time meeting new people and hearing the readers share their writing.  After each reader’s presentation, the audience could ask questions. Some of the stories shared were humorous, some were sad, and some a little of both.

One guest had brought cheese from Wisconsin in the shape of a beer mug for us to sample

Dave provided snacks, one guest had brought delicious homemade cookies, another some interesting cheese and Dave topped off the evening with chocolate-covered treats from a famous Winnipeg ice cream parlour Sargeant Sundae.  

I think maybe the word I’d use to describe the whole evening would be eclectic. 

Other posts……….

Proestry

I’m on Mennotoba

 The Daily Bonnet Just Made Us Famous

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Creation Care and the Bible

This past week a set of reflections I wrote connecting environmental stewardship with seven different passages from the Bible was featured in the Menno Media publication Rejoice.

I used a description of a sculpture from the Winnipeg Art Gallery collection to reflect on how a previous generation handled an environmental disaster during the Dust Bowl. I linked it to the story of Elijah during a drought in his country. 

I talked about how my high school students and I learned some valuable lessons about the importance of caring for the environment when we visited the country of Borneo together. I compared it to the way Timothy learned valuable lessons from his mother and grandmother to get him through tough times. 

I recalled a Consumption Sabbath event I had attended in Winnipeg a number of years ago and remarked how it reminded me of a parable that Jesus told about two housebuilders and the admonition Jesus included to not only hear advice but to act on it. 

I described how a prayer ritual at a baby naming ceremony on the Hopi First Nation made me rethink our stewardship of the earth. I connected that with a story in Deuteronomy about people bringing their produce as offerings or gifts to the Creator. 

A reflection about the environmental causes of vision loss was linked to the story of blind Bartimaeus.  

I used a passage from a Psalm to illustrate the importance of preserving the songbird population which is in dangerous decline.

I rounded out the week’s writings by listing all the positive things I see being done right here in Winnipeg to respect creation. That was inspired by the passage in Philippians 4 that encourages us to look for things to praise. 

If you are interested in ordering the entire book which features Scripture passages and reflections on the theme of God’s Earth for each day in September, October and November, you can do so here.

Writing and researching the series reinforced my belief that it is imperative for people of faith around the world to work together to help address the current climate crisis. 

Other posts………

Connecting with Rejoice

A Week in Rejoice

 

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Filed under Religion, Writing