Category: Writing

Gone writing


Writing this morning. Soccer this evening. Meals and children in between.

If you want to see me, or talk about The Juliet Stories, or blogging, or writing, come to the Waterloo Public Library tomorrow (Wednesday) evening, 7pm. I’ll be there.

Meanwhile, I’ll be here, working with words. Wish me luck.

Why I love doing research

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I’ve been doing research recently on the 1920s, particularly here in Canada. To that end, I pulled a few books off the library shelves purely for their photographs. I need to see something to feel like I really know it. (Even better to walk through it, smell, taste and hear it, absorb it; but I haven’t figured out how to time travel yet.)

A few days ago, I opened one of these books of photographs and thumbed through. I was looking to see what children would have worn on their feet in summertime (I’m guessing most went barefoot). And suddenly I was stopped cold and the hair on the back of my neck stood up. For real. I’d turned to a page that showed two photographs. One was of a large family posed around their car, in front of their stone farmhouse. The other was of a group of men working in front of a barn.

I knew that farmhouse. I lived in that farmhouse.

The caption said that George Black, of Ayr, Ontario was a farmer who welcomed technological advances. The caption went on to say that George Black had himself been an inventor who built a windmill on his barn that powered a lathe and a grain separator.

I knew that windmill. I knew that barn.

My family lived in the Black farmhouse from 1987 until 1991. The Black family had died out, and the farm had been bought by the neighbouring farmer who rented the somewhat restored farmhouse to us. We also had use of the barn and some acres surrounding the house. The house and barn were endlessly fascinating to us — filled with odd inventions, and relics from the past. We knew that the Black family name had died out with George’s children, and we knew that the house had last been occupied by two sisters who never married. We gathered clues from the things we found on the farm. My siblings and I made up a lot of things, too, for the purposes of thrilling guests. (It was a good house for ghost stories.)

But the one thing we never saw was a photograph of the family who had cleared the land and built this house and lived in it. And there they were, smiling out of an odd little book of Canadian history, published in 1988, which I just randomly happened to pull off the library shelf. The photo credit says “private collection,” so there’s no tracking it down.

I wonder. Have they come back to me for a reason?

(And I apologize: I don’t have a scanner and can’t illustrate this post with the photo; ghostly face discovered on chalkboard will have to suffice.)


Update: My dad has scanned the photos for me. Here is the family with their car, in front of their beautiful fieldstone farmhouse (which, if I recall correctly, was built in 1874). Wow.

Unexpected messages

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A nice thing has been happening recently. I open my email inbox and discover — a letter from an unknown person who introduces herself and says she’s just read The Juliet Stories, and that she had to write and tell me that the book moved her in some way. (And, yes, so far these messages have all been from women.)

I can’t really tell you how bizarre and lovely that feels other than to say that it kind of blows my mind. That people out there are reading the words in my book, and responding to those words. And I’m just here going about my every day work.

Here is someone who read The Juliet Stories and then wrote about it on her blog.

Another reader left a comment on my blog on Mother’s Day. She wanted to tell me that her 16-year-old daughter had brought her breakfast in bed that morning — along with a copy of The Juliet Stories.


This has been a very busy, short week. I’ve squeezed a lot into four little days, met a few deadlines, made some good contacts, accomplished some research, and even gone for a few runs. And cooked a few meals. And washed a few too many late-night dishes.

And it doesn’t stop just because it’s Friday. Tonight, I’ll be visiting a book club.

:: On Sunday I’m reading at an event called “Un/Certain Words” at the Grad Lounge in the Student Services building at Wilfrid Laurier University, starting at 7pm.

:: On Tuesday morning I will be in Burlington for Books & Brunch, hosted by A Different Drummer Bookstore.

:: And on the following Wednesday, June 6, the Waterloo Public Library has invited me to give a talk about writing, and “green dreams,” and The Juliet Stories. More on that last event soon, as details get finalized.

There’s more, but that gets us mostly caught up for now, I think. Must squeeze in two more errands before biking to get the kids for swim lessons. Happy Friday!

On readings, writings, and riding the big (metaphorical) waves

at the Starlight on Tuesday, photo credit Zara Rafferty
photo credit Zara Rafferty

 No, I’m not a real surfer. But life feels a bit ocean-like these days, rolling, never steady. I spent yesterday in Toronto. It turned out that parking was easier to find than anticipated, so that bike never left the back of my vehicle. (Although parallel parking on Queen St. West at rush hour was an exciting opportunity to test my driving skills.)

Some fine moments from my day …

:: smiling at people passing on the sidewalk, some of whom seemed shocked to be making eye contact with a stranger

:: meeting another Snyder from Kitchener-Waterloo at Book City, and trying to piece together our geneological connection

:: eating Korean stew with my lovely little sister on Bloor street; and hanging out together, not in a rush at all

:: making an it’s-a-small-world connection with Daniel Griffin (who also read last night at Type)

:: mingling with the awesome crowd at Type Books before the reading, and putting faces to blog-names

:: being introduced by the lovely Kerry Clare

:: reading a story to a group of people who were really listening

:: getting teaching-creative-writing advice from Heather Birrell (who is a high school English teacher, and who also read last night)

:: finding all the dishes done when I got home

Some less-fine moments …

:: worrying about my dress

:: the chilly wind that swept Toronto all of yesterday

:: forgetting someone’s name during the book signing (AUGH! This happens virtually every time, and every time I curse my name-bank-blank-spot. This is how bad it is: I have literally blanked on the name of a family friend, known for twenty-five years, and seen on a regular basis. I don’t know how that’s even possible. And I hope it doesn’t indicate early onset dementia.)

But this is all to say: Life’s good. It’s messy and it’s good. It’s crazy and whirling and I couldn’t quite believe that I was up at 5am this morning for a spin/kettlebell class, and there’s dirt all over the basement, and I have a basket of laundry waiting to be hung, and no, I will never catch up on my emails — or, really, on anything at all, ever — but this is it. I wouldn’t want to be doing anything less. I love the doors open policy that brings five boys into my house on a Wednesday after school (and leaves behind sweaters not belonging to my kids; be sure to check our lost and found pile, parents). I love seeing my kids excited about moving dirt into new garden beds (yesterday’s major project, overseen by Kevin, bless him). I love lifting kettlebells over my head (is that too weird?). I love getting to read my stories out loud.

Keep the waves coming.

On gift-giving


I’m part of the Writers’ Union of Canada, and as such receive a trade-type magazine produced by the union called Write.

{confession: I’m not entirely sure why I’m part of the Writers’ Union, other than it seemed very exciting to join way back when my first book was published; I’ve stayed out of principle, despite the annual dues, because I want to be part of a writing community, even though I’ve yet to feel particularly at one with this community. Hm. Is this something I should be confessing publicly? Do others feel the same way?}

Long aside. My point is that yesterday I read an interesting article in the latest issue of Write. It appears not to be available online, so here is a mini-copy-and-paste of the parts that resonated with me. It’s written by Rosemary Sullivan (who was my professor in grad school), and titled: “The gift-giving culture: In defence of creative writing workshops.”

We writers were seduced for awhile into believing we could speak of culture as a product. We could speak of cultural industries, adopting the commodity model, and asserting that we contributed to the general monetary economy and should be rewarded. But books are not products that earn a market reward. They are works of art that are essential to our collective human experience, and society, for its mental and spiritual health, should sustain their creation in the sheer principle of self-interest.

{and here I shall skip backwards in her essay, because it makes sense to me}

We need to acknowledge that writers live in a different cultural paradigm: they live in a gift-giving as opposed to a commodity culture. … We are so deeply inside consumer culture that we cannot imagine a cultural paradigm other than that of private property. … But in a culture based on the gift (giving without assurance of return) … giving in itself creates a cycle of return. In a gift-giving culture, when you give, you create a moral debt that will be paid back when the circle of giving completes itself.

{this reminds me of Margaret Atwood’s Payback}

Well, what do you think? I’m drawn to the writing-as-gift-giving idea (at least for literary writing). If I bake a loaf of bread and sell it, I can work out a pricing scheme that takes into account labour and cost of materials, and what the market will bear, and I can hope to earn a fairly stable return for my investment. But if I write a book of fiction, there is no way to estimate in advance the cost of my labour (which is essentially time), or whether I will ultimately be producing something that anyone wants to purchase. As Rosemary Sullivan puts it:

There is no relationship, except perhaps that of luck, between the energy and thought put into a book, and the return the writer receives.

She goes on to argue that creative writing workshops and programs are a defence against superficiality, and provide writers with community, with networks of support. She says creative writing programs aren’t trying to teach people how to write, but how to be part of a gift-giving paradigm, as writers, readers, editors, publishers, etc.

I like the idea of being part of a larger collective conversation, through my writing. In a sense, that’s what this blog has become (for me). I’m still not sure I buy her argument about the larger purpose of creative writing programs — but then I’ve never been part of one. Maybe I would feel differently if I were. Anyone out there want to comment on this? I will be leading creative writing workshops for teens this fall, as part of my participation in the Eden Mills Writers Festival. What should I be trying to foster, there?

One more thing on the collective voice. In the past few months, I’ve been invited to contribute essays to four different proposed anthologies. This is hugely exciting; and it is certainly not monetary excitement I’m feeling. It’s excitement about being part of collaborative experiences, being asked to participate, and potentially adding my voice to the mix.

Which brings me around to a final thought on the gift-giving paradigm. Gift-giving is so life-affirming. To be asked to give is in itself a gift; especially when you are being asked to give of a talent, or to give exactly in the way you feel born to give. So when I’m asked to write something creative and literary and thoughtful, I’m thrilled. Really I am. Whoever is asking is recognizing that I (may) have something to offer, and I love giving it, whether or not I receive strictly monetary payment in return.

{note: this does not apply to the freelance writing/editing work that belongs to the commodity culture, and which I am truly grateful also exists}


News: I was interviewed by poet and new mother, Erin Knight, for a piece just published on Open Book Ontario about being a writer and a mother. Take a look, here.

May madness

sending happy vibes

When I woke up this morning, I remembered my dream. It seemed ominous. I’d been dreaming about sleeping. As in, I was sleeping inside my dream. I think that might define tired.

We’ve entered May, which is a month more packed with events than usual. So let me begin this post by telling you about some of them, in case you’re interested in attending/listening in/sending happy vibes. (I was going to say “send advice,” but it strikes me that advice is not at all what I want. I want happy vibes. Please.)

May 3 (tomorrow): If you’re in Guelph, listen in to a live (gulp) interview I’ll be doing with Dan and Peter who host a show called “Books for Breakfast” on CFRU radio. You can stream it live, or listen to the podcast later. You can. I won’t. I cringe when I hear my own voice. It sounds so different inside my head. My instructions are to pour myself a cup of tea, have my book handy, and pick up the phone when it rings at 8:30am tomorrow. I’ve arranged for the kids to be out of the house a wee bit earlier than usual.

Also tomorrow, immediately after the interview, I’m off to represent the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival. I’ll be leading writing workshops for teens at an enrichment conference here in town. I’m going to call this day: The Day of New Experiences. Which is much better than its alternative and less motivational title: The Day of No Napping.

May 7 (Monday): Guelph, the ebar, 7-9pm! I’ll be reading with Andrew Hood, and doing a little Q&A afterward with Dan from The Bookshelf. Look for me at around 7:20, according to the schedule I’ve got. Any friends from Waterloo interested in coming? I’d love to carpool with someone.

May 15 (Tuesday): Indie Night at the Starlight in Waterloo! Doors open at 7. There will be nine authors, brisk and entertaining readings, and books for sale. Heather Birrell will be there with her new book Mad Hope, and fellow Anansi author, Robert Hough with his new book Dr. Brinkley’s Tower. And many more. Should be awesome.

May 16 (Wednesday): Short Story Shindig at Type Books in Toronto! 7-9pm. I’m reading with Heather Birrell and Daniel Griffin, and our host for the evening is the most awesome Kerry Clare (who writes the best book blog on the block, Pickle Me This).

May 27 (Sunday): reading at Wilfrid Laurier University. Details to come. Apparently Congress 2012, a gathering of some 7,000 academics, is coming to Waterloo, and WLU is putting on a literary salon to entertain those so inclined.

May 29 (Tuesday): Books and Brunch at A Different Drummer bookstore in Burlington. Starts at 9:30am. I’ll be reading with Jay Ingram and Dennis Lee.


Note to self: find a more efficient method of posting this information on blog.

Meanwhile, onward. I started today with a good run with a dear friend in early morning light that was nothing short of beautiful. Pink sky, fresh light, new day. That’s the good thing about not sleeping. Being awake in today.

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