A Post about Writer’s Block

December 15th, 2018Posted by Nancy

I saw yet another writer saying “there’s no such thing as writer’s block” on Twitter today.  I almost replied … but I mostly just lurk on social media and so I thought I’d write this post instead.

I’m not sure how all these other writers define writer’s block.  Mostly they seem to assume that it’s really just bad habits, lack of discipline, laziness, or – in the most charitable cases – emotional or mental illness issues.

So what would you call something that afflicted the writer of three novels who suddenly found herself unable to write?  Who dutifully put her butt in the seat in front of her computer and ground out words even though each one felt as if it were broken glass leaving scars?  Who ending up weeping on the couch as many times as not after said sessions and then did it again and again and again?  Who felt as if her imagination had become a desert and her creativity a long tunnel down which each idea, each word had to be painstakingly dragged only to end up lying lifeless and hideous on the page?  Who could not make a decision and who no longer had faith that she knew what lay over the horizon of her story?  Who could not simply switch to another story because she had no other stories?

She did all the things one is supposed to do in such cases. She went to therapy.  She went to writing and creativity experts. She tried and tried and tried until one day someone she loved told her she could stop, because she was just damaging herself and he could not bear to see her so unhappy.

So she stopped.

After a few years, she would  start again and eventually finish that novel but she never regained the pleasure in writing she had once had.  It was now duty, though to what she couldn’t tell.  It wasn’t her living or even really her avocation anymore. She had gotten over defining herself as a writer years before.  She’s still writing, slowly, painfully, and she still doesn’t know why.   Her imagination is still an arid place, incapable of supporting more than one thing at a time.  The words still come from far away, dragged down the tunnel.  She still has trouble making decisions.  But she still forces herself to do it, though she knows the number of people who care if she does is very small.

What would you call that, if not writer’s block?

Maybe it’s just me who wants to call it that, because what is blocked can be unblocked and what is constricted can be set free.

But it’s not laziness or lack of discipline or bad habits.  It might be an emotional/mental issue but if so, no therapy could fix it.  And there are days I’m just not in the mood to have the most painful experience of my life treated with condescension.

Maybe I should have said something on Twitter after all.



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Nanowrimo comes and goes…

December 4th, 2018Posted by Nancy











Another year, another 10,000 words in November.  To be precise, another 10,027 words, which is 6 words more than last year’s result. (This is not at all suspicious or reflective of the fact that I grind out enough words to make the target and no more. Not at all.)

Efforts were spread out between the narrative of the three main characters which means I had the fun of writing third person past, third person present, and second person.  The biographies of the characters continue to take shape, though the overall plot remains as fuzzy as ever.

There are days I wonder why I bother but then I remember I’m 3,000 words from having 50,000 and resolve to polish off the next bit by the end of 2018.

Of course, all of said words might be hacked out of whatever the final version of this turns out to be, but now I’m just bringing everyone down.

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More Books about Music and Life

November 13th, 2018Posted by Nancy

This is definitely my year for reading books by musicians.




My Own Devices: True Stories from the Road on Music, Science, and Senseless Love by Dessa (one of my favourite musicians ever) is about love, about trying to cure love with science, about family, about writing, and about the life of being a musician.  Who knew that in Denver rap artists need to have oxygen tanks on hand so that they can get enough breath to push out all those words? It’s also full of ideas that made me think and gave me home for my own artistic journey.

“Living as an artist is fundamentally speculative; there’s a permanent uncertainty about where you’ll be hired next and how long that work might last. But really that’s true of most parts of our lives; the pension, the marriage, the mortgage are all friable, all fallible. We don’t own much, and what we do own we certainly can’t keep indefinitely. Every breath is borrowed by the lungful; you can’t save them for later or hold a single one for long. And even a chestful of air is too much cargo for some trips. Some places you have to go empty.”

I’m trying to apply that last bit to my current writing: to go into it empty of expectation and self-criticism and doubt.  To go into it empty to that’s there some space for the ideas and the words to fill.



The first of Viv Albertine’s memoirs (Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys) was one of my favourite books last year. This year’s memoir, To Throw Away Unopened, is equally fascinating.  It’s driven by her relationshipp with her mother (who dies on the night of the launch for her first book) and her difficult past with her sister and non-deceased father.  Discovering the diaries of both her parents turns her past into a kaliodescope of shifting perspectives and motivations.  In between, she talks with her characteristic raw, fearless honesty about love, aging, love and aging, body hair, the joys of dumping various liquids on unpleasant men, and … um … the best way to poop. All of the chapter titles and quotes are drawn from women artists and reflect a core of rage at the limitations put on women for generations.

But she’s also very, very funny.

“I have lots of hair on my head and people often comment enviously on it, but what they don’t realise is that it’s also all over my body, like Mr Tummus, the faun with the legs of a goat from C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. Except I’m more like a goat with the legs of a faun. I dream about hair every night. ….  Last night, I dreamt I didn’t have time to go home before I went out, and by the end of the evening the hair on my upper lip and chin had grown into a thick tussock of pale-brown sea-grass and I had to hack it off with secateurs.”

Ok, I find that funny, though possibly it’s because I’m close to her age and know of what she speaks. She can also write bluntly about the confusion of loss.

“You have no idea how grief will take you. The same with severe illness, motherhood, any profound experience. You don’t know yourself. Others don’t know you. These events show who you are. And you’ll be surprised, shocked even. You’ll feel the way you feel when you’ve done a particularly offensive-smelling shit  – That couldn’t possibly have come out of me – and start to rationalise it  – Must be that bag of pistachios I ate earlier, or perhaps I am unwell. You can’t believe you could do something so foul and unrecognisable. Something so outside yourself.

Instead of feeling sad after Mum’s death I kept thinking how mean she was, how manipulative she’d been and how I’d been tricked by her. I had no control over my own thoughts. I didn’t know why I thought them. They surged unchecked through my mind like sewage in a flood.”



My recommendation: read them both now.


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Great Book Deal!

November 2nd, 2018Posted by Nancy

Halloween may be over but you haven’t missed your chance to score this incredible Story Bundle offer.  Seriously, you can’t go wrong.  Just $15 gets you:

  • Experimental Film. Gemma Files’ Shirley Jackson award winner. One of the most highly praised horror novels of the last few years.
  • October. A novella by Michael Rowe about the price of getting what you think you want.
  • Knife Fight and other Stories. A collection of David Nickle’s short fiction.  The title story is about a mayor who sounds a bit like an infamous character from Toronto’s recent past.
  • The Hair Wreath.  Moody, disturbing stories by Halli Villegas, winner of the Exile Carter V. Cooper Short Fiction Competition.
  • The Night Inside, a vampire novel by me
  • And 5 more wicked tales.

What are you waiting for?  Just click on link and get reading.  Ends November 5th.

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A Week of Celebration

October 23rd, 2018Posted by Nancy

Last week was a banner week for my good friend Sandra Kasturi and ChiZine Publications.  Both the Aurora and Sunburst Awards were announced and the tally for CZP and friends was impressive.

Sunburst Awards 2018

Best Novel:  The Bone Mother by David Demchuk (published by CZP)

Best Short Story:  “The Beautiful Gears of Dying” by Sandra Kasturi, from the anthology The Sum Of Us

Copper Cylinder Award, YA novel:  A tie between The Scion of the Fox by S.M. Beiko (a long-time CZP compatriot, editor, and designer) and Weave A Circle by Kari Maaren, whose songs have often made ChiSeries attendees laugh until we cry.

I was thrilled for everyone but the award for Sandra was special.  Without her encouragement and badgering, I would never have joined the Bellefire Club and finished Cold Hillside.  She has been so generous with her time and energy as a publisher and editor that her own writing comes more slowly than we’d all like.  When she sent “The Beautiful Gears of Dying” to the Club, we all knew it was something important.  She brings her poetic gifts and sensitivity to a story that is profoundly revealing about what it means to be human.

The Sunburst Awards were presented to Sandra, David, and Kari at the ChiSeries reading night but the celebrations went on much longer.  It was the best possible excuse for cake and champagne we could ever have wanted.

If you’d like to read this beautiful, heartbreaking story, you can find it here.  Or get the entire anthology, which is well worth your time.



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In Praise of Writing Dates

October 4th, 2018Posted by Nancy

It may just be the throes of first love, but I’m definitely enjoying my writing dates with the amazing, astounding, and inspirational Gemma Files.  We meet up at Balzac’s on Market Street, stake out two small side-by-side tables, set up our laptops and go at it, with breaks to discuss movies, plot points, and more.  I’ve gotten more done in three dates than I had in three months prior to that.  Some of that might have been to knowing the scenes I had to work on (as opposed to arriving without the faintest clue of what to write) but I’ll take what I can get!

Here’s looking forward to a productive end of 2018.  If I keep this up – and meet my Nanowrimo goals – I should break 50,000 words.  Now if I could just nail down the plot….

Also, the picture above is a totally accurate representation of us writing.  Yes, indeed.


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Things we did at the cottage

September 18th, 2018Posted by Nancy

Back from two gorgeous weeks in Haliburton, Ontario.  The weather was almost perfect and even the cool days were considered a relief from this sweltering summer.  We were swimming right up until the last day. However, the glorious weather meant I did not accomplish as much as I might have hoped on the writing front (sure, blame the weather for it). However, it was a banner year for reading, though the photo doesn’t do it justice.

The physical books not pictured covered being a Venetophile (No Vulgar Hotel, Judith Martin) and a book about synesthesia as research for the novel.

On the ebook side, I devoured everything from The Riviera Set (about royalty, artists, and Russian mobsters on the Riviera), Kelly Barnhill’s excellent Dreadful Young Ladies, a reread of The Picture of Dorian Gray, and The Ingenious and Diverting Letters of A Lady: Travels into Spain by Marie-Catherine D’Aulnoy.  All told, I polished off 22 books in 2 weeks.  Not bad.


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Things to do at the Cottage

August 30th, 2018Posted by Nancy

Well, of course, there are many things one does at the cottage (by which I mean, that WE do at the cottage).  Cycling, hiking, kayaking, swimming, lounging, eating, drinking … the list goes on. Sometimes even writing is done at the cottage.  But the major thing we do at the cottage is read. We read inside when it’s raining and down by the lake when it’s nice. We don’t watch TV at the cottage, so we read every night.  We each take up a bag of books (well, fewer now that a large portion of my reading is on my Kobo).   For the physical books, I pile them on a spare bed by category so I can vary my reading between SF, fantasy, horror, non-fiction, and anything else I brought along.

One of my projects this summer has been cleaning up the many pictures languishing on the computer or in the cloud.  In the process, I came across my annual “some of the things I read this holiday” shots from 2014 through 2017.  Not everything appears in each shot (see reference to Kobo, above) but I try to show a selection of what was interesting me at the time.


Cottage 2014 books


In 2014’s selection, you can see several of my main sources for books: CZP (bought at local events) and stuff acquired from the tons of free titles sent to the magazine publishing company where I worked.  Note my selection regarding the murderous ability of said work.  The Lost Upland (the subject of an earlier post) is about southwestern France, an area I visited in 2013.  I read the book at the gite we were renting and then had to get my own copy and read it again.

Glamour Lake 2015 books

CZP and work-acquired title show up again, supplemented by a book about Paris during the Occupation (borrowed from a friend), a book about unconventional women in Western Canada (bought in Banff), and The Vampire Tapestry by Suzy McKee Charnas, which I was rereading in order to write the introduction for a new, gorgeous edition from Centipede Press.

Glamour Lake 2016 books

More books from work, acquired before the day I was downsized (Lab Girl, The Idiot Brain), more CZP, and a catch-up on Lapham’s Quarterly, because I am usually at least one season behind.

It can take me awhile to work through the “To Be Read” pile, so in 2017 there’s one stray work book (The Regional Office Is Under Attack!), a few CZP titles, The Sum of Us, an anthology featuring a brilliant (and Aurora-nominated!) short story by my dear friend Sandra Kasturi, and the massive Bruce Springsteen autobiography.

What’s in my pile to be read this year?  Check this space to find out.

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Moose Fights for the Win!

August 17th, 2018Posted by Nancy

Wednesday night’s Mortified Reading event for ChiSeries was a smashing success, with most of the audience wiping their eyes to keep from crying (with laughter! with laughter!) as Madeline Ashby, Don Bassingthwaite, Kari Maaren, Sandra Kasturi, Brett Savory, Elaine Chen, Stephen Michell, David NickleGemma Files, Troy Harkin and I shared some of our best juvenile work with the crowd.

In the spirit of contined sharing, below you will find two excerpts from one of my fine works from 1967 (when I was 8 and using a nom-de-plume).  Get ready for ….. RAJAH.  No corrections to spelling or punctuation have been made (except for two paragraph breaks because otherwise it would make your head hurt).


The rumbling echoed through the mountain side as the circus train traveled through the Canadian Rockies. Inside Rajah, the male leopard paced in his cage. He hated confinement even though he had never been free. All he knew was that he wanted to be free, to fly like the birds he had so often watched his heart filling with jealousy. A restlessness had been haunting him ever since he had glimpsed the forests. Day by day this strange urge had been growing and now it was becoming overpowering. He snarled at the keeper as he passed. He lay down only to rise again and pace the cage. Animals often have a sixth sense and all the animals were moving restlessly about their cages. Rajah’s sense was tingling too. Suddenly the train turned a sharp corner sending Rajah’s cage sliding down the car. Simba, the clown lion covered his face with his paws. Then it steadied again. An audible sigh of relief came up from the animals. Drowsily Rajah lay down panting. Then he rolled back and went to sleep.

Out in the mountains a female cougar named Seena watched the train wind around the mountain. She stood on a ridge her slim form silluhouted against the moon. Then a male cougar approached her. Seena turned and licked his face. He looked down at the dissapearing train. Together they bounded down the hill, across the tracks and vanished into the forest. The train lurched along the track, making it impossible for Rajah to sleep so he settled for dozing at intervals. The minutes dragged into hours, the hours into days and still the train went on. Seena and the male kept tabs on it because unknown to the male Seena had detected the faint smell of cat.

As the train rounded a corner the engine conked out. The train swerved and crashed into the cliff. Immediately the air was filled with the sounds of terrorfied animals. The keepers ran from cage to cage releasing animals. Rajah had been hit on the head by a steel bar,stunning him. He staggered out the fresh air reviving him. This was his chance! His long awaited chance! With a quick glance at the frightened animals huddling together he bounded off up the slope.

******* we now move on to later in the story and meet more cougars *******

“Well lets go have a drink then we can go watch the bull moose fighting. Its Spring and there’s bound to be some action,” suggested Zelda.

“I haven’t since a good moose fight since last spring and I could stand a drink” answered Chanta thoughtfully. They started out across the clearing and when they had disappeared Rajah set off after them. He followed them to a small spring bubbling, cascading out of a rock in a miniture waterfall and pouring down hill in tiny rapids until it flowed into a larger stream. They drank a bit and sat together until they heard the clashing of horns. “Come on,” said Chanta,” lets get ringside seats.” After they had gone Rajah dashed out and gulped down a quick drink from the sparkling stream and went off the in the direction of the sounds. He saw Zelda and Chanta sitting together entirely unoticed by the combatents in the clearing. He snuk around to the other side of the clearing and watched the fight. A female moose or cow stood at the edge of the clearing and watched the fight delightedly. You see they were fighting over her. She wasn’t particularly pretty, ugly in fact but in the eyes of the fighters she was heavenly. The bull moose is a majestic animal with antlers sometimes reaching up to 6 feet from tip to tip. The two old scarred males stood facing each other in the clearing. The earth shook as they thundered down at each other. There was an ear-pilting crash as the giants antlers met and locked together. Then began a general pushing match each trying to push the other back. Rajah decided he had seen enough.


I packed it all in:  train crashes, weird romance, moose fights, hinterland who’s who information, a chase scene, a fight with hunting dogs, and more weird romance. I’m glad I saved it.


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A bit of Mortification for fun

August 8th, 2018Posted by Nancy

Last year, the good folks at the ChiSeries readings decided to banish the August doldrums by having local writers read from some of their earliest attempts at fiction.  The laughter was so loud that everyone promptly agreed that we needed another evening of writer humiliation in 2018 and it’s almost upon us.

Mark your calendars for August 15, 8:00 at the Round Venue in Toronto in order to hear selections from the horrifying stories hidden away in the depths of filing cabinets.  In my case, it’s an epic tale of escape, love, death and moose fights that I wrote in Grade 3.  Trust me, you do not want to miss this.

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