Marnie Woodrow

Paris: Encore Une Fois

It’s strange to think quite seriously that you might never see a place again. Might never walk its streets or hear its sounds (high heels on cobblestones, car horns honking, the wind), smell its signature aromas (soap, perfume, urine) again in your lifetime. At 20 I was cocksure I would return to Paris with the love of my life on my arm, and so I have. Our honeymoon has been a dream and a half. But sitting here in the silence before the city truly awakens, sipping good strong coffee in our apartment in Le Marais, I’m not sure I will ever see Paris again. I am no longer 20; I am not Rockefeller and there are too many places on the list. Rather than be sad about it, I am philosophical, perhaps because of all the time we’ve spent sitting in cafes watching la foule. It is a beautiful city, hard on newcomers and the elderly—as many cities are—a city unlike any other.

One night we walked for three hours without a map, which is the recommended way to see Paris, simply by wandering and trusting her. Strolling and having faith that she will show you what you need to see of her narrow lanes and main boulevards. It was exquisite. In spite of it being autumn it seldom rained and we wore light jackets. There was a hot spell each day at around 4 p.m. and the cafés filled with people determined to enjoy conversation, a drink or a coffee, time away from work and time in the last burst of sunshine for the day. We saw people reading books and walking, and three times as many texting and walking, a sad worldwide development. In our ten days here I have not once missed my cell phone. I used it as a camera and thrilled to the fact that it would never ring and interrupt our promenades.

We did not see everything we meant to see, and that is as it should be, because other unexpected sights and experiences stepped in. I surprised myself at how much French is still tucked into the recesses of my aging brain, how many words and phrases I still know. We shopped for food in the local marches that we cooked in our tiny apartment kitchen. Listened to French music with the windows open. Heard the woman across the courtyard sobbing, “Molly, Molly, je t’aime” into her telephone at top volume. Her windows were always open, too. We gamely rode the Metro and hiked many more miles, our eyes amazed at the incredible grandeur of palaces, churches, galleries. The Marche aux Puces isn’t as big as I remembered, but it is still a thrilling maze of treasures and oh, the faces of the vendors and proprietors. The faces everywhere: Paris is a city filled with characters, male and female, old and young. I marveled at the courage of the tiny beings navigating scooters across the cobblestones en route to the nearest park, not a helmet in sight.

If I never see this city again, I will dream about it often. The beauty of travel is that it generates rich memories that, god willing, can never be taken away from you. On days when work is not going well, or when the duller routines of life get on your nerves, you can float back to market stalls and pathways along the Seine, to the tiny bistro where you ate lunch and watched a rare rainstorm, elbow to elbow. And if this truly is le derniere temps a Paris, I am so happy that I spent it with you.

Catch and Release

The days leading up to publication of a book are strange days indeed. There’s joy and excitement, but also grief and anxiety in tiny, random bursts. Comparisons to childbirth abound, but quite honestly, the older I get the less sure I am that the analogy is apt. Or maybe it’s just because that would make me one of the world’s slowest novel-birthers.

“Where did this idea come from?” is a common question, and where my new novel, Heyday, is concerned, I can only say it was born of the realization that some loves never die. And I’ve been obsessed with roller coasters since riding my first one at Canada’s Wonderland at the age of 12. As the novel grew and morphed and shifted, it cast off certain characters and themes and gained others. What it retained through every single draft was the deep conviction that we travel through life with the gameness of roller coaster riders, willingly putting our hearts on the line for thrills and spills and potential danger.  Some don’t, of course, but they were not the ones who interested me. Bravery and courage interest me. So does the journey of forgiveness.

More than being like giving birth, publishing a novel is like catching a fish, studying its glitter and throwing it back into the water, hopeful for its future swims without you. It’s catch and release: you finally finish, you can’t wait to be free of it, and yet, once you toss it back into the world, you feel a sadness, a hope and a quiet pride that you did the right thing, spending all that time, all those sunny days indoors, hunting for that elusive fish in waters that were some days crystalline and other days pure murk. No one will ever care about that creature as much as you do. And yet, with luck, someone out there will catch it, appreciate the love letter tucked in its jaws, and find their own release in it.


Heyday will be published September 1, 2015 by Tightrope Books. The launch party is on September 15 in Toronto at The Gladstone Hotel.

On Your Bike

When my father died, I bought myself a mountain bike. That was 21 years ago, and it is no surprise to me that I am reluctant to part with my “ancient” bicycle. There is so much history in that frame, from intrepid transport through the streets of Toronto to hauls to Toronto Island to trail rides at the Dundas Conservation area and long morning rides in Prince Edward County, where I made my home for 5 years. The frame is tough, in spite of the fact that the bike isn’t fancy. The misery-inducing original seat has been replaced by a cushy gel seat, now patched with duct tape. I have been through more locks than tires and am happy to say I’ve only crashed twice (so far) on my little green stallion.

Biking has always had a special place in my life. My father had not been keen to see me learn to ride a two-wheeler when I was a child. Thankfully, after much coaxing from my mother, and the wonderful input of my Aunt Nancy and Uncle Joe, a bike appeared in my life. I rode that orange hybrid coaster-braked creation till the next bike came along, a purple 3-speed with a banana seat and tassels. Then came the grown-up “lady’s bike” which reminded me of the blue bike my mom rode when I was little. I took it all over Orillia, riding extra laps at the high school track and coaching myself up some of the city’s more intense hills. To work, to rehearsals, my bike was a part of my body and soul. My green mountain bike was the first bike I bought for myself, on Queen Street East in Toronto, back before Leslieville was “cool.” It has been hauled up countless flights of stairs in apartment buildings, it has carried me to a writing studio on Toronto Island and it owes me nothing. Miles and miles of morning rides through the fields and trails of Prince Edward County are my fondest memory of living there. When I am riding, all problems fade, all sorrows become a thrum in my veins. Just as I was the very first day I ever rode a two-wheeler, I am proud to hop on my bike and go where my stamina will take me.

I did not ride at all last year or the year before that. Living up north in Sturgeon Falls, Highway 17 was not exactly the most enticing place to trust the cycling angels, though I passed many brave souls doing just that. When we first moved to Hamilton, I was keen to ride but the first season slipped away before I could test the trails. But now, thanks to the TLC of our neighbour, Lewis, my old bicycle is back in action and ready to transport me as far as I dream to ride. Thanks to an extensive trail network, my unwanted hiatus from cycling is over.   Brantford, Ontario: here I come!

She doesn’t look like much (part of the appeal when you live in a city) but this bike is probably the best gauge of where my adult life has taken me, and the special feeling of liberty is sparked just by placing my hands on the handlebars once more. Sometimes I think of my father when I ride, about transcending anxiety and depression and seizing the essence of life in spite of raging fear. I think about my mother, championing my long-ago desire to ride. I think about the time and energy I wasted in the throes of an addiction and I ride harder, forgiving myself in tiny increments. I embrace the unique loneliness of the journey that is riding, that is recovery from addiction. And as I ride I remember the young girl who could not go over enough jumps, down enough snow-covered hills, around enough sharp turns for her thrill-seeking soul. I think about freedom, provided by two simple wheels and the health of my own heart and I am grateful. Oiled, washed and tires filled, she is ready for more adventures and so am I.

Ends & Starts

The completion of a long-term project is bittersweet. Moving toward publication means saying goodbye to imaginary friends with whom you’ve kept counsel for years. They are reluctant to go, these companions, but go they must. Where something ends, something new starts: it is a sort of law. There are rituals and rites that assist in the eviction: moving research books around, filing papers, shredding long-gone drafts and trying to justify keeping the various handwritten notes that turned into, or will soon turn into, a printed “product.” Long walks with new ideas help, and letting your heart turn toward a new notebook and pen with that inflated sense of hope that beginnings allow for.

There were songs that were like talismans during the writing process. For my most recent novel it was Antje Duvekot’s song “Coney Island” and lately, “Lady” by Stevie Nicks. These are songs I may not be able to hear again for a long time simply because they trigger the urge to work on that story, with those imagined characters. The new characters nudging in at the periphery will want other songs, other invitations.

Images have always had a powerful role in sparking story for me, and new images will slowly replace those currently residing on the bulletin board in my writing nook. I cut out words from magazines, and pictures and bands of colour to stoke the flames of new projects. Without knowing it, I have been building “vision boards” for books the whole time I have been writing them. And then there are the images from the book, dreamed up and lodged forever in the back of the brain. Where did they come from? Does it matter? Would we be any better off knowing where these urgent images push forth from? I doubt it. There is a certain mystery to the writing process that no one ought to mess with. Yes, yes, there are parts of the brain responsible for different aspects of writing/creating, but I’d rather not know their names.

You can feel a bit lost when a thing is handed over to the publisher. There are of course revisions and final revisions, a copy edit and a final proofread, all conspiring to help you let go a little more each day/week/month. But ultimately there comes that time when you are jonesing to move on to a new project. There’s an open secret about becoming bored with the drafting and re-drafting, and at some stage you want to be free of it, to let go and say, “This is what I made with what I had to work with.”

This is not to say that working on one thing at a time with extreme fidelity is always the right path. While finishing a draft of my novel I wrote two rough drafts of full length plays and am keen to have at them again. But until the novel found a home, continued work on the plays seemed like a betrayal of sorts. Now that I am free, the long walks and pondering sessions can take over the routine again. The brand new project can be allowed to percolate more ardently on a front burner.

It won’t be until I hold the novel in my hands as a book that the farewell is complete, but for now I am too busy letting the new “friends” in to become angsty about the necessary good-bye. Thirteen years is a long time to hang out with a bunch of invented people but it was worth it to be able to type the words The End on the private draft.

The Art of Play

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

Did Confucius really say this? Does it matter? It’s an amazing quote, and true. I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of play in work as the new year unfolds. I feel truly lucky to do what makes me happy, and to not spend time on things that make me miserable. OK, so we all have to do taxes and housework, but the core of my days is all about play because I have a low tolerance for boredom. I’ve never actually BEEN bored but I sense that certain pathways would indeed bore me.

I’ve been building two new companies, one on my own and one in collaboration with the super-talented and very generous actor and writer Joanne Vannicola. We are close to launching our new initiative, so I can’t say too much about it today. Suffice it to say it is built on a shared passion for play—and for the theatre. My own company is simply a home for something I’ve been doing for years, which is to offer and lead workshops driven by creativity. Nothing thrills me more than a room filled with heads bowed over a piece of new writing, or the sharing that goes on when writers (and those who walked in the room uncertain about writing as a valid use of time) muster the courage to read a few lines or pages out loud.

Out loud. That changes the game a lot, when we share. When we hear our own voices in rooms, on stages, it can be hugely transformative. It can make “work” impossible and play completely addictive and necessary to the soul. Because although we may age physically, we are essentially just children or at the very latest, teenagers, in our creative hearts. When the spark is lit, it’s playtime for the body too.

At a recent workshop on short story writing, one of the participants remarked on how physical I make writing seem. I guess I am invested and interested in the physical aspect of writing because so much of it is deceptively sedentary. But when you think of your brain as a muscle, your arm and hand as the connector and instigator of the messages pouring through you, writing IS physical. The stiffness and tightness we may experience as writers is usually extreme focus. We zero our minds in so tightly on the page that bodily tension is the result, and sometimes it is quite severe. Which is where the spirit of play comes in, and sharing those works out loud breaks the tension even as it seems scary at first. It’s like breaking through the surface of a lake after a long underwater swim. POOSH! You’re breathing again!

The other great thing about a spirit of play is that it is infectious. When Joanne and I have been planning our new company events, we’ve laughed ourselves silly and get twice as much accomplished in the process. Sure it helps that we speak the same creative language and share political and philosophical beliefs about art and the need for women to seize their creative mojo and run with it. But mainly what has been driving all our meetings and brainstorms has been a mutual belief, head to toe, in play. Inspiring others to play and be joyful in their “work” is a real privilege and we are so excited about the next few months.

I will add links to the two new ventures I am part of as soon as the websites are live. It’s been a playful and powerful start to 2015, and I hope you are finding work that feels more and more like play, too.

Speaking of which, my next workshop is on playwriting. Walking the talk, I am diving into revisions of my first full length play, percolating for a year now. With my novel finally complete, there are many many other projects in the hopper. And while revisions are intense, I love them, because they make the words roar forward. That’s a good feeling after a long period of creative frustration. I don’t believe in Writer’s Block but I do believe that sometimes, we can lose the art of play.




There’s nothing quite as gratifying as the sight of a stack of pages building beside you on the desk. Making good on goals is a singular feeling. We all deserve to feel it, and the only person who can give you that feeling is you. Sometimes the flow is temporarily blocked, but with the right coaching and feedback, most writers will overcome the nagging self-doubts and external messages that are most often the cause of what many call “Writer’s Block.” I do not believe in Writer’s Block one bit. I do believe there can be problems with the mind, such as an addiction or anxiety disorder standing in the way of true creative progress. And self-doubt, when shaped as a mantra, can indeed be debilitating. But the good news is, writer’s block is really just the mind preparing for a time of greater output. See it that way and you’re good to go for that next writing project.

In my 12 plus years of coaching writers online, I have worked with every skill level. I have coached playwrights, poets, short story writers, screenwriters and novelists. The common urge among them all is to tell a great story and not go crazy doing so. That’s where I step in, with honest and clearly-delivered feedback that is meant to inspire and encourage, not erode confidence and stump progress.

This February 1, 2015 I am launching a new session of RESOLVE TO: WRITE THAT NOVEL. The session is ten weeks in duration and each writer will create 10 pages minimum per week toward the realization of a draft of his or her novel. If you write more in a given week, bravo for you! The cost per session is $950 taxes included and includes 10 weekly deadlines (strict: you miss the deadline, you miss the feedback that week) and 10 rounds of detailed feedback within 3 days of sending in the pages. The best thing about this sessional online work is that you can do it at any hour that suits you, from anywhere in the world. Just meet your deadline at midnight on Sundays and you’re on track to meet your goal.

Please contact me directly to register for this session:  storycoach [AT] g mail dot com.

The price quoted above is a special rate valid until January 15, 2015  after which it is $1000. Due to the customized nature of the work, spaces are limited.

See you on the page!

Working with Writers

Working with someone on their novel, play, movie or short story collection is a powerful experience. It’s thrilling work, requiring a mix of delicacy and truthfulness that will bring forward the best results. In the fifteen years I have been editing and coaching writers, I have had the pleasure of holding published books in my hands at various intervals. Sometimes the journey to publication is swift and other times, more arduous. It depends on so many factors, and most of all, on the patience and perseverance of the writer. There may be champions along the way even as publication eludes us. There may be problems with a given book that take several drafts to iron out. Always the heavy lifting is done by the writer himself/herself, whether writing fiction or non-fiction, prose or scripted works.

When I have the thrill of holding the published work of an author I have coached or edited in my hands, I am mindful of all the solitary hours it took to get their full name printed on that cover. I hope for the writer that the finished work is as close to what he or she had in mind as possible, without regret or the kind of gutting compromise that can haunt an artist for years. That the sound of them is intact, that the kingdoms he desired to explore have the look and feel he dreamt of. As close as possible, in any case, for the final outcome is really up to the readers. How they experience the sound and vision of the writer and what they take away from all those hours of loving labour.

It’s an up and down process, reviewing one’s own work after publication. Most writers I know do not sit down and read their published books, except for the purposes of giving public readings. This may be because by the time a book is printed, the artist has moved on to some new project, and the characters pinned between covers must fend for themselves in the larger world. But before the publication process, which for so many is the be-all and end-all of the writing experience, there is the editorial journey.

Tough truths come out, but they can be delivered kindly. The most poisonous energy you can throw at a manuscript is sarcasm, and it has never, not in all my years as a writer, proved helpful. It is not about the writer being tough enough to take it. I wish I had a thousand dollars for every keen student who begged me to be “brutal” with them. They did not mean it, because no writer really wants to be savaged. Good practical advice delivered with grace and appreciation for the effort and vulnerability involved in writing stories down. To achieve best results (not to be confused with the corporate best practices mantra) there needs to be trust between editor and writer, between coach and creator. The final work is up to the author, and so at no stage of the game is the writing of a book really a “we” process. But it can be a less lonesome experience with the right person urging you on. Calling you on your crutches, giggling with you over repetitions that slipped through unnoticed. There can be laughter in the daunting process of editing a book, especially when the trust levels are high. It is a leap to choose and trust an editor or writing coach, to walk into a classroom and allow that individual at the front of the room to coax you to do more, push harder, test your resolve. Boost you with the compliments you DO deserve along the way.

This morning, sipping coffee, I am delighted to have on my desk a copy of Shawn Syms’ short story collection, “Nothing Looks Familiar.” In years past I worked with Shawn in classrooms at U of T and online as part of my weekly deadline coaching structure. A dream student, Shawn always knew what to do with a solid critique, how to preserve his own unique vision and voice while re-drafting. He did not comply with everything I suggested and I deeply respected his artistry as he shared his work with me. The happy occasion of his first published work of fiction reminds me of the delicate balance between writer and teacher, writer and editor, those precious relationships formed as a book is being created. Toughness and delicacy are required from all parties, but the real “balls” belong to the writer who keeps going, keeps drafting and crafting and making his or her paper dreams come true.


FOOD WRITING WORKSHOP: Hamilton, November 16, 2014, SOLD OUT


To be held at the James Street Bookseller Gallery Space, 134 James Street South, Hamilton ON, these delicious and dynamic 3-hour workshops give writers a taste of different forms of writing in a supportive environment. $45 per session. Email goodcompanyworkshops AT gmail dot com to register or find out more.

Memoir Writing: Saturday November 8 from 1-4 p.m and Wednesday November 12 from 6:30-9:30 p.m.

Food Writing: Wednesday December 10 from 6:30-9:30 p.m. and Saturday December 13 from 1:00-4:00 p.m.

Short Story: Wednesday January 7 and Saturday January 10, 2015.

Playwriting: Saturday February 7 and Wednesday February 11, 2015.


Why Hamilton?

When we announced that we were moving to Hamilton, and then that we had moved here, a few people asked. “Why Hamilton?” Pure curiosity, and justified to some extent, since we came south from a small Francophone community in the north. The insinuation being, “Why not Toronto?” After all, I lived there for close to 20 years. Many of my friends are in Toronto, and work in arts and culture is possible there. But perhaps because of the Ford years and also because of the cost of living and the more hectic nature of that city, it no longer felt like the right place to call Home. And what we were looking for was home. In Hamilton, we have found that beautiful mix of big-city amenities and small-town friendliness that we craved.

Elle Canada recently referred to Hamilton as “Canada’s Brooklyn” and in a lot of ways, it’s apt. But then Hamilton is also its very own unlike-anyplace-else city, and comparing it would do no good. Might as well call it Ontario’s Winnipeg. The longer we live here, the more answers we have to the question, “Why Hamilton?”

Because newcomers are welcome provided you don’t mistake the city as an outpost of Toronto, which it definitely isn’t. Hamiltonians are friendly, conversant and usually delighted to hear that you have chosen their hometown as your own. There is tremendous civic pride and I expect the upcoming election to be as passionate as the Ti-Cat fans.

Because we can hear the roar of those Ti-Cat fans at Tim Horton’s Field very near our house on game days and it gives me a thrill every time I am out on the front lawn. I will have to see my second-ever CFL game very soon. It sounds like too much fun to miss.

The Hamilton Store, with its fantastic selection of locally-made goods and hometown photography. It’s also a great place to go and introduce yourself as a newbie for a warm welcome from the owner.

The coffee shops: those I have discovered, like Cafe Orange, Mulberry Street and Homegrown, and those I have still to visit. I like living in a city where coffee is a serious business, without the pretense that coffee is a Serious Business. Just a mug of black joe and a great atmosphere is all I ask, and there are many amazing cafes here.

Initiatives like Art Forms, a youth-focused arts organization that I am keen to work with this year.

The fries at Locke Street Bar. Quite possibly in the top five french fries I have ever tasted. They were yummy at the Locke Street Festival, another reason to live in Hamilton.

Because whenever I go for a walk, I feel a peace and inspiration I was looking for in a hometown. The architecture moves from grand to gritty within blocks and I love the grandeur and the honest struggle. Yes, there are a lot of vacant storefronts in our neighbourhood, but for how long?

Because we live on the same street as the once-notorious murderess Evelyn Dick and I have yet to see a single tour bus. Curious people with books in hand, maybe, but no plaques and no buses.

Because of The Green Smoothie Bar, Ben Thanh and La Luna, my three favourite places to eat. Still exploring on that front. The other thing is, the grocery shopping is so awesome (Nations, Farmer’s Market, Starsky’s) I tend to cook and eat at home a lot. The range of cuisines is a relief after life up north, with all due respect to the chip stands of Sturgeon Falls.

James Street Art Crawls. Supercrawl. The amazing festivals in Gage Park.

Gage Park! Quite honestly the most serene park I have ever experienced next to the Villa Borghese gardens in Rome.

Food trucks like Karma Chameleon that serve delicious and audaciously vegan cuisine. (Yes, still obsessed with food.)

Ottawa Street, with its fabric and antique stores and Saturday market.

I could go on. I’m going to give Hamilton full credit for the happy completion of my novel. For stirring me with just the right blend of inspiration and calm that gets the job done when it comes to revisions. There were quite a few of those, and yet when we settled here in The Hammer, as some folks call it, I felt ready to type the words The End, marking the completion of a very long journey. I’m really excited about the Hamilton Arts Council’s panel discussion for writers and checking out Improv Night at The Staircase Theatre. There is so much art and culture here that we want for nothing.

It’s an exciting time to live in this city and we are only just beginning to get to know it…before you judge it from the Burlington Skyway, where the steel mills cast their grim beauty over the harbour, come take a closer look. Why Hamilton? Why NOT?


I am never asked if I would mind being identified as a blue-eyed writer, or asked if it is okay if the periodical in question refers to me as a female writer. Why not call us all ovarian writers, then? But we are more modern than that, aren’t we? Definitely never been asked if I mind being called a white writer, since the idea of it in 2014 would be preposterous and offensive, wouldn’t it? And to be honest, I have only been asked twice in my career if I minded being referred to as a lesbian writer. The first time, when it involved a caption under a photo of me holding a tray of stuffed peppers, I said that in fact I did mind being referred to as a lesbian writer. I was, in that context, the maker of some stuffed peppers whose photo was being included in the newspaper because of my writing and cooking passions. Looking back, I wish I had insisted on being called a lesbian writer. Why? For the same reason I recently agreed to being identified as a lesbian writer: it helps other people. How? In unseeable ways that I trust with all my heart. Nothing superheroic about it, just…it’s important.

I personally despise the terms gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, and all the fun reclaim-the-night labels that go with. I don’t like to include them in my “Hello my name is” self-introductions. But it all comes down to the news of a youth committing suicide, or someone I have never met living a life that harms their soul. Being out in this way does help, even as well-meaning people will warn you it “damages” your so-called “career.” Being yourself never damaged anything. The opposite choice has killed thousands, directly and indirectly. Being yourself sends a positive message to everyone around you. Everyone can relax: no one here is lying.

It is nothing new to say “I am out so that other people can/will come out.” But strangely, it is still a fork in many personal roads: to come out or not. So if I am asked if it is okay to label me just one more time, I am agreeable. Because there might be a 14 year old girl like I was, convinced in her small town world that she is the only lesbian alive, or worse, that she must not live because of it. Even in this age of social media and open talk, so different from my teens, there exists that girl, or boy. Times a thousand. If that girl or boy also dreams of being a writer, it is all the more important that gay and lesbian and bisexual writers be findable.  Slap a label on me if you like: it has never “scared off” the people who were meant to find my creative work.

My writing life has not been any more difficult because I am a lesbian. Long hours at the keyboard and bouts of serious self-doubt have been much more painful and testing. Revisions and the cutting of hundreds of pages after 7 years of trying to make them work: that is what makes writing life difficult, not who I fall in love with. My success on the page is up to me, not some unseen hand that, according to many, is secretly homophobic and will oppress. That is definitely garbage thinking. I used to be more adamant about not being placed in a category, but as with many other things in life, I am letting go of all the fixed ideas I had at 25.  Place me where you will: I will only ever just be me, over here at my desk, far away from the label machine…but willing to step up to it as needed.

I try to think of how I would feel if a friend introduced me at a party, as “This is my friend Marnie, she’s a lesbian writer.” I would probably laugh. It would be weird. No one would ever introduce another friend as “This is Patty, she’s a heterosexual cellist.”  Maybe we should start doing so?  I think it would be hilarious, and socially healing, to label ourselves and everyone we love with the most obvious statements possible until the ridiculousness of it caused a kind of revolution. “My name’s Doug, heterosexual, OCD, survivor.” It has happened to some extent, but then the pendulum swings scary-retro and more young people die at their own hands. Women and men force themselves into lives that smother the spark of their sexuality, because of religion, isolation or sheer confusion. NOT funny. Or perhaps we could move backward in time and sticker everything: “Only lesbians can read this book.” “Only black males between 25 and 30 can read this book.” “Do not love this person, you don’t want a label, do you?” Cordon everything off so that it all looks more appealing. Interesting from a marketing standpoint but a little too close to historical realities. Hell, I’m just grateful that Canadian novelists no longer share shelf space with books on eccentric outhouses and maple syrup and the Queen. But if I was to be placed in a shelf-bound ghetto of Canadian gay and lesbian writers, I’d be in incredible company, with some of the most gifted plotters, stylists and observers of life in the country. I’d list them, but not all of them have chosen to embrace a label. But where you put me on the eventual shelf doesn’t matter at all when I am working on something new, putting in those hours and years. I write my books for you.

What to Read and Where to Write

I have a bookshelf that once belonged to the writer Elizabeth Smart. It sits in my writing nook beside my stand-up desk, made for me by my Prince Edward County friend, Bruce. The bookshelf has been through many moves, and needs a little help standing erect, as we all do from time to time. It is where I house my beloveds, the books I want close to me as I work, or as I gaze out the back window. There’s a vintage tin toy typewriter on top of it, and a selection of chapbooks I have collected over time. You get the drift, it is a special little corner of my world. This morning, I have renamed the bookshelf The Supernatural Shelf. I was checking out the rain, standing beside this shelf, when something made me turn to the toppermost shelf. To the Timothy Findley section of paperbacks from his days at Penguin. This in itself is not unusual, because his books are so positioned for easy visiting. But I have not read The Telling of Lies in years. Today it called out for re-reading. It’s a mystery novel of sorts, and like so much of his work, completely different from the other books he wrote. I have no idea why this of all novels spoke to me this morning, but I will heed the summoning and curl up and read a good chunk of it. When asked why I have so many books, this is the main reason I cite: re-reading them is a curious pleasure that is vastly different from starting a new reading journey. Old friends. Old loves returned to with new eyes.

Ironically, this writing nook is not where I actually write of late. As I close in on the final draft of my novel, the one that will soon go out into the world in search of a home, I find I want to work in the kitchen. Or facing it, at our big wooden dining table. The table is solid, the window lets in a gorgeous breeze now and then, and I can see the stove and fridge and the coffee pot when I look up from my labours. The trick is to forego the urge to make soup instead of writing…so much easier and with the promise of immediate gratification…

I am fascinated with where writers choose to write. At a recent workshop I offered, we discussed the where of writing at fair length. It struck me that it depends on personality where we write. And where we are in a project that determines which location works best. When working longhand, I want nothing more than to be at my beautiful stand-up desk, but when engaged in the tedium of re-drafting and fixing all that is meh about a longer work, I want the dining table. I want a big flat clear space where I can spread out my manuscript and see the flow of it. Very soon I will go back to my nook and begin something new, while also running downstairs to revise a play. I am lucky to have two places to work. And projects to be excited about.

Now to find out why The Telling of Lies was saying hello so urgently this morning. I think it might have something to do with going out on literary limbs. The timing would be right for such a “message.” I have no other way of knowing except to dive in and re-read. And then to assume my position at the dining table tomorrow morning at 5.

I wonder where you like to read and where you love to write?