Someone asked me the other day how my blog got its name What Next?
I wrote the first post for What Next in July of 2011. Dave and I had just moved back to Canada from Hong Kong and had both retired from teaching
We had sold our house in Steinbach where we had lived for nearly four decades prior to moving to Hong Kong and had bought a condo in Winnipegwhich our son lived in while we were overseas.
I had promised my husband Dave that for the first year of our retirement I wouldn’t look for employment and we would have a year of what he called at the time ‘living aimlessly.’
So I thought of calling this blog A Year of Living Aimlessly.
When I told my daughter-in-law about that name suggestion she wisely discouraged me. She was pretty sure I’d keep writing this blog for more than one year, and knowing me she said she doubted I could ever live without an aim.
I thought of calling the blog Living Spontaneously since I’m the kind of person who likes to plan ahead, make lists and keep to a schedule.
In my retirement I wanted to be more open to being surprised by life and what might happen if I didn’t always plot things out ahead of time.
I wanted to try lots of new things.
It was my husband Dave who suggested I call this blog What Next? and I liked it immediately.
I wasn’t sure what the next stage of my life would look like.
Would I start some new career?
Would I study new things?
How would our family change?
Would we make Winnipeg our permanent home?
Would we continue to travel extensively like we had during our six years in Hong Kong?
What would be next?
I have started a couple new careers as a novelist and art gallery tour guide.
I also worked as a faculty supervisor for education students at the University of Winnipegfor almost ten years.
I have studied new things taking courses in art and writing and history both online and in person. I’ve taught some courses too.
Winnipeg has become our permanent home and I have made lots of new friends here- at the places I volunteer, at the church we go to, with the people in my writing group and with our neighbours.
Quite a number of our Steinbach friends have moved to Winnipeg as well which is lovely.
Our families have changed with the death and illness of parents and siblings, the birth of grandchildren and the marriages of nieces and nephews.
Save for the pandemic we have continued to travel extensively and have been to a plethora of places since I started this blog in 2011.
And I think What Next is still a good name for this blog.
Things in my life continue to change and grow more interesting and challenging and adventuresome.
This blog has changed too.
When I started in 2011 I had no subscribers. Now I have 720 who get a blog post from me everyday. And usually several hundred more access it through social media.
I am not sure how long I will continue to write this blog but I hope that for many years yet to come I will still be saying about my life…….. “What next?”
The Winnipeg Public Library just put out a call for the Writer- In -Residence position for 2023-2024.
The Writer-In-Residence receives a salary to help people across the province with their writing projects and to spend time working on their own writing.
At the annual general meeting of Friends of the Winnipeg Public Library last month I gave a talk about my experience with the Writer-In-Residence position.
“In 2011 I decided I wanted to try a new kind of writing. I had been a freelance journalist for over twenty-five years and figured it was time to stretch my writing muscles and try something new……… writing fiction.
I took courses, went to workshops, read books about fiction writing, and began penning short stories. I wrote dozens before I thought one just might be good enough to send to a literary magazine.
But I was nervous. I thought I needed a second opinion before sending my article away. I had recently learned about the Writer-in-Residence program at the Winnipeg Public Library and knew Joan Thomas, an author whose books I greatly admired, was the Writer-In-Residence for 2012. I sent her my story.
Joan could simply not have been nicer. She returned my manuscript within days with lots of great suggestions, she chatted with me over the phone about my story, she responded to every question I asked promptly, and when she said my story was ready to submit I believed her. I sent my story in and lo and behold it was accepted and published!
That was my first experience with the Writer-in-Residence program at the Winnipeg Public Library and it was first class. I went on to write more fiction and have just launched my second published novel.
Did you know that the celebrated Canadian author Miriam Toews was a Winnipeg Public Library Writer-In-Residence in 2003? Just the following year 2004 she won The Governor General’s Award, the Margaret Laurence Award for fiction and the Canada Reads competition for her book A Complicated Kindness.
David Bergen was the Writer-In-Residence in 2002 and went on to win the Giller Prize for his book The Time in Between and publish nine popular novels.
And Joan Thomas, who was so helpful to me during her tenure as Writer-In-Residence, would go on to win the Governor General’s Award for her book Five Wives.
During its long history, The Winnipeg Public Library Writer-In-Residence program has provided support to any number of authors who went on to become luminary Canadian literary figures.
As the editor of the Friends of the Winnipeg Public Library newsletter NOTES, it has been my privilege to interviewa number of the more current Writers-In-Residence.
During my interview with Carolyn Gray, in 2019, I discovered she was an accomplished puppeteer, had written the biography of local magician Dean Gunnarsson, and had a master’s degree in fine arts from the University of Saskatchewan.
I took an online course on character development with Lauren Carter the Writer-In-Residence in 2020. Since her tenure was during the pandemic and she couldn’t come to an actual library office to work she told me her husband joked she was the writer in residence in their residence. Lauren has just released a brand-new book of short stories called Places Like These.
When I interview our Writers-In-Residence I am always so impressed with how many people they have mentored during their tenure and all the different kinds of writers they have helped.
Interviewing Anna Leventhal the Writer- In- Residence for 2021-2022, I found out she’d helped writers as young as thirteen and others in their seventies. They were working on a fascinating variety of projects including short stories, novels, personal essays, children’s books, poetry, and even an opera libretto.
For the last three years, I have had the privilege of representing Friends of the Winnipeg Public Library on the committee that selects the Writer-In-Residence. Our organization provides some of the funding for the position.
I have been so impressed with the number of candidates who apply and their quality. Many are very qualified academically with an impressive number of published works in a variety of genres to their credit.
Among our applicants,we’ve had novelists, essayists, poets, sports journalists, comedy writers, book reviewers, newspaper columnists, romance authors, editors, memoir writers, creative non-fiction authors, and playwrights.
Many have extensive teaching experience at colleges, universities and high schools and in other Writer-In-Residence programs. In fact, it is always interesting to me to discover that some of the applicants have been mentored by previous Writers-in-Residence at the Winnipeg Public Library. Most candidates submit very innovative ideas for how they will reach out to library patrons.
It is never an easy task to choose the Writer- In -Residence from a group of such excellent and diverse applicants, but the members of the committee are always very well prepared and have studied the lengthy application documents in detail. We each nominate our top three choices and then we have a lively discussion before settling on the most suitable candidate.
I really enjoy being a part of the Writer-In-Residence selection committee.
Recently a good friend of mine Mitch Toews announced the upcoming publication of his first book of short stories. I noticed he paid tribute in the announcement to four different Winnipeg Public Library Writers-In-Residence who helped him hone his skills as a writer.
Over the years the Writer-in-Residence program has nurtured so many aspiring writers.
I am proud of the support the Friends of the Winnipeg Public Library gives to the Writer-in-Residence program. It offers a valuable service that helps writers of all ages…. from many different kinds of life experiences and backgrounds to realize their potential and tell their stories in a meaningful way.”
I sometimes think about the amount of time we spend recording our lives. It is so easy to do now. So easy to take photos of everything we experience. So easy to write social media messages and blogs about our daily activities and all our ideas and opinions. I’ve been mulling this over in a personal way.
How are my experiences changed by the fact that I know I may write about them on my blog or in my newspaper column or for a talk I am going to give?
Sometimes my experiences are enriched because I am planning to write about them. If I am on a tour of a city or museum for example, I ask more questions, I think more critically, and I make a point of remembering things because I know I want to write about them later.
Particularly now that I am getting older I remember movies I’ve seen, books I’ve read, and art exhibits I’ve viewed, far longer and in far more depth if I take the time to write about them. But what am I missing while I am busy making notes about things and taking photos?
Would I enjoy the experience more, talk to more people, andrelish the moment more if I wasn’t writing and photographing?
What new things could I experience during the time I spend on my computer cropping and enhancing photos and writing and editing blog posts?
How does the fact that people know I may write about them affect the way they interact with me? Do some people avoid me and feel they need to be extra careful about what they say around me because they think I may write about them? On the other hand, do some people choose to interact with me because they hope I will write about them?
I know sometimes I choose to do things because I think they would be good to write about. I have often made a point of visiting interesting places because I want material for my blog. Would I miss out on those things if I was no longer writing in a public forum?
I receive lots of comments when I write online. That feedback makes me think about things I’ve experienced in new ways andask new questions.
It is convenient to be able to look back at my previous columns and blog posts to retrieve an idea or event that has relevance to something currently happening in my life.
Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living. For me writing about the things I’ve experienced is the way I ‘examine’ them. Writing helps me make connections, ask questions, and plan for the future.
Last week I hosted a Christmas party for my writers’ group at our home. I have been meeting with a group of Winnipeg writers for children and teens twice a month for many years now. They have been a wonderful source of encouragement and advice and valuable criticism on my writing journey.
We have continued to meet throughout the pandemic primarily via Zoom but it was nice to be together in person for a social event.Everyone contributed delicious food and we enjoyed a terrific meal.
We had a gift exchange and I received this lovely creative package from my friend Larry.
The card inside the gift said it contained the four things Manitoba writers needed to survive winter.
1. Warmth- represented by the pair of reindeer socks.
2.Sustenance- represented by a bag of chocolates
3. Inspiration- represented by the book The Writer’s Life by writing expert Julia Cameron
4. Words- represented by two empty lined notebooks
I thought the gift was very appropriate because I have received all those same things from the writers in our group.
The warmth of their friendship.
Their advice and guidance that has provided sustenance on my writing journey.
Their wonderful writing and publication success which has been an ongoing source of inspiration for me.
The words of encouragement they gave me to keep on trying till I too became a published author.
Not just Manitoba writers but all writers need warmth, sustenance, inspiration and words to survive.
I told the children in one of the classrooms where I made an author visit that a memoir written by my grandfather’s little sister Alma had given me the idea to write my novel, Lost on the Prairie.
A girl named Julia put up her hand and asked me why I hadn’t put that little sister Alma into my book. I told Julia I originally did have Alma as well as the rest of my grandfather’s nine siblings in the book.
However, during the editing process, it became clear there were way too many characters to juggle in my novel and I had to get rid of some. That meant six of my grandfather’s siblings had to exit the book. It hurt me to do that. Writers refer to the process of eliminating characters from your novel as “killing my little darlings.”
Each character a writer develops becomes real to them. As they write about the character they get to know them and love them, The characters become the writer’s ‘little darlings.’ So when a writer is forced to axe characters from their manuscript they sometimes say, “I’m killing my little darlings.”
In my next novel, which will be coming out in the spring, one of the main characters had two sets of grandparents. While working on the manuscript my editor and I agreed two sets of grandparents were too confusing for readers. That meant I had to axe one set of grandparents from the manuscript. I hated to “kill my little darlings’ even though I knew why it was necessary.
Of course there is always the possibility that a writer could include one of the ‘darlings’ they’ve been forced to kill in a future manuscript or project and thus bring them to life again.
I think I’ve always known I’m a morning person but this last week has proved it in spades. I am working hard at editing a manuscript and it is all I have been doing pretty much for the last week. It is a frustrating task as I try to reshape a story I’ve been working on for years in new ways. On Thursday night I read part of it to my writer’s group and their honest feedback made me realize I needed to go back to the drawing board.
At around 9 o clock when our meeting ended I began to rewrite things but nothing I tried worked. I went to bed but couldn’t sleep thinking about my writing problem. I hauled every book of a similar nature to the one I was working on off my shelf to look for inspiration and took my computer into bed with me. I looked back at notes I’d made on books about writing fiction. I got out the manuals from writing courses I’d taken and soon they were scattered all across the bed too. No help there.
I restarted my story about eight times and finally at midnight threw in the towel and went to sleep, my computer on my chest and all the books I’d referenced lying scattered around me.
Dave, my husband, who has seen me in this kind of state before had quietly chosen to spend the night on the spare room bed.
But I woke up in the morning, sat up and somehow I knew exactly what to do. The first section of the manuscript just flew down onto the page. And I was off!
Last night I was in a similar place, where certain problems in the text just wouldn’t untangle and I was ready to chuck the whole manuscript. But this time I was smarter and went to bed and right to sleep. And this morning………… voilà I knew exactly what I could do.
After nearly seventy years on this earth, you’d think I’d have learned my lesson and realized I AM A MORNING PERSON! Why do I even try to write in the evening?
One of the unexpected but amazing bonuses of my decision to try and become a published children’s writer ten years ago is the new friends I’ve made as a result. Attending workshops, joining a writers’ group, and becoming a member of a book club for children’s authors, has given me the opportunity to meet wonderful people I now count as friends. Jodi Carmichael is one of those friends.
Jodi is a member of my writer’s group The Anitas and she recently published a new book called The U-nique Lou-Fox. Jodi has created a charming quirky character in Louisa Elizabeth Fitzhenry-O’Shaughnessyand her story is equally charming and interesting. Lou-Fox is the name Louisa hopes to use someday when she becomes a Broadway playwright.
Louisa has a couple of best friends to hang out with, understanding and caring parents and a bunch of classmates who are participating in a dramatic production she is helping to write and direct.
Things get tricky however when her teacher at school gets sick and Lou thinks she may be the cause of her illness. Lou has a huge fight with her friends over the play they are producing together and there are complications in her mother’s pregnancy. Lou is about to become a big sister to a pair of twins. Lou also has ADHD and dyslexia so handling all those developments is extra challenging for her.
As a former teacher I could identify with the teacher in the book who is trying to learn as much as she can about ADHD and dyslexia in order to support Lou, but doesn’t always get things right on her journey to a better understanding of her students.
I know when I was in the classroom it was an ongoing process to educate myself professionally about all the unique challenges various students faced, whether it was ADHD, dyslexia, fetal alcohol syndrome, severe allergies, hearing loss, sight impairment, anxiety or a host of other issues. There was lots to learn and often not a lot of time to learn it.
I think Jodi’s book is so important because there are many kids just like Louisa and they will be able to identify with Lou’s uniqueness and be inspired to recognize and appreciate their own strengths.
When I finished the book the word irrepressible came to mind for Louisa. It means full of energy and enthusiasm and that’s Louisa although she sometimes needs help channeling her irrepressible impulses.
My favourite character in the book was Louisa’s Dad who is so patient and empathetic as he helps his daughter navigate all the changes she is experiencing. How lucky Lou is to have him in her corner.
This is Jodi’s fourth book. Her first, Spaghetti is Not a Finger Food was released by Little Pickle Press in 2013. Forever Julia and Family of Spies came out with Yellow Dog Press in 2015 and 2018. I am so looking forward to the launch of The U-nique Lou Fox on September 28th. It was published by Pyjama Press.
Jodi has been so encouraging, affirming and helpful to me on my writing journey and her publishing success with a variety of imprints has been an inspiration. I feel lucky to have her for a friend and mentor. I encourage you to read her latest book but also the others she has published.
The setting was ideal. We relaxed in lawn chairs on the shore of Jessica Lake in the late afternoon and early evening. Waves lapped gently, and the sky was a stark blue canvas painted with a bevvy of interesting clouds. I could smell the pines. I was sipping crisp white wine and took my shoes off to feel the sandy soil beneath my feet.
And then my friend Roger started reading a charming and intriguing chapter from his latest manuscript.
We were at Proestry II, the second annual literary event hosted by our friends Jan and Mitch at their Whiteshell cottage.
Mitch who was celebrating the announcement that a book of his short stories will be released by At Bay Press in 2023 was an affable and accommodating master of ceremonies and introduced us to each of the folks who had come to share their work. There was such a variety.
Leslie read a humourous short story.
Marnie shared excerpts from her journal.
Wes entertained us with tunes by Leonard Cohen and Woody Guthrie
Phyllis introduced us to her poetry
I debuted the opening chapter of my latest work in progress.
Donna presented an excerpt from her first book.
Mitch interspersed his master of ceremonies comments with several readings from his own work.
Later there was time for visiting and eating.
I am already looking forward to Prosetry III next summer.
This puzzle is called Avian Friends but I ordered it because it reminded me so much of the title of Anne Lamott’s famous book about the craft of writing Bird by Bird first published in 1994. The title of the book comes from a piece in Lamott’s book that reads…….
“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table, close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’”
Anne’s father’s advice rings true for writing projects but also for almost any task that seems overwhelming. You have to start and take one step at a time and eventually the task will get done. That was certainly how I felt when I wrote my novel and how I feel when I am preparing to learn all the material for an exhibit at the art gallery or when I have to clean my whole house. But if I go ‘bird by bird’ it gets done.
Another thing I liked about this puzzle was the way the birds were pretty easy to put together they were so bright and unique in their colour and design but it was the pieces that connected them that took so long to figure out.
And isn’t that true? Figuring out how to bring together diverse people at work or in a family or figuring out how to take the diverse aspects of your life and bring them together in a way that is meaningful and manageable is always a challenge.
I loved the puzzle Avian Friends. But I would have called it Bird by Bird or Coming Together.
I am working on a new novel about a girl growing up on a farm in the 1930s who is impulsive, incorrigible and adventuresome. These traits often get her into trouble and lead to her older sister at one point calling her the black sheep of the family. I spun out the metaphor in a number of ways in ensuing chapters but one day when I was reading over what I’d already written it occurred to me that maybe the term black sheep might be considered racist by some.
So I checked it out and found……. a 2021 Readers Digest article that called out the term black sheep as racist. It had a quote from clinical psychologist Dr. Dee Watts -Jones. “Everyday language reminds African Americans in matter-of-fact ways that our colour is related to extortion (blackmail), disrepute (black mark), rejection (blackball), banishment (blacklist), impurity (not the driven snow), illicitness (black market), and death. Casting aspersions on black or darkness while praising white or light isn’t universal, and regardless of the intentions of the user of these expressions, such usage colludes with racism.”
Next I read an article by two Irish university professors Sharon and Frank Houghton published in the Journal of the Medical Library Association which begins with this statement, “This commentary addresses the widespread use of racist language in discussions concerning predatory publishing. Examples include terminology such as blacklists, whitelists, and black sheep. The use of such terms does not merely reflect a racist culture, but also serves to legitimize and perpetuate it.”
I found many other articlesthat confirmed my suspicion that it would be best not to use the term black sheep in my novel. It took me a couple of days to come up with an alternate description that I could spin out metaphorically but I did.
You will have to hope my novel gets published so you can find out what I used instead of black sheep.