Author Insight with Conni Massing & Curtis Gillespie

The visit with Conni Massing & Curtis Gillespie on Saturday was amazing! Lots of information and  a ton of laughs!! If you didn’t get a chance to hear them, then mark May 26th, 2:30 pm in your calender, and join WiR Omar Mouellam at the Stanley Milner Library. He’ll be chatting wtih Curtis Gillespie and Judy Schultz about about travel writing.

Back to the Thursday visit…I thought other writers might be interested in some of the things they said about their process (right? The best way to learn you process is to hear about someone else’s…)

1) The question of paper or computer to draft their work.

Both Conni & Curtis use each method. Conni talked about the “moment” when an idea is worthy of its own journal, scribbling notes and lines between the pages, and then when the writing formally begins, to use her computer.

Curtis is a big computer guy (says he can barely read his hand writing) but for him, the paper stuff is a work in slowing down and being aware of what he’s doing.

2) How long does it take to come up with a draft of their work?

Conni’s average was 2-3 years, Curtis’ was 2-5 years.

3) How do they make time for their writing?

Conni: Writes first thing in the morning and does NOTHING else until she’s got her work in.

Curtis: Said it wasn’t about finding time because there’s always time. It’s about being disciplined to actually do it (which he is).


Celebrate African Arts: APAAD (African Poetry and Arts Day), SATURDAY, April 27, 2013

A landmark event showcasing the artistic talents of Edmonton’s African and African Diaspora communities, The African Poetry and Arts Day (APAAD) is a vibrant one-day free family festival whichbrings together high-profile national and local artists and community to celebrate multilingual poetry, performances, film and art. Multilingual performances will include presentations in Swahili, Arabic, Akan, Portuguese, Yemba, Maasai, Jamaican patois, French, and English to reflect the breadth of the range of tongues spoken across Africa and the African Diaspora around the world.

APAAD welcomes an inspiring roster of distinguished visiting guest artists, including: Vancouver based spoken word poet Jillian Christmas; Toronto Poet Laureate George Elliott Clarke; Vancouver-based author, playwright and performer Dr Valerie Mason-John (a.k.a Queenie); and Toronto-based Nigerian artist Komi Olaf.

The day’s events will include performances, workshops and presentations by: Mohamed Abdi, Mohamed Elgendi, Joseph Florent Feulefack, Alexander Francisco Fwallah, Robert Kpogo, Roman Gebre Mariam, Tololwa Mollel, Sam Bukambu, Yaa Serwaa Somuah, and Elsa Robinson. Visual art displays will feature works by Alison Clark, Latoya Farrell, Medgeen Guillet, Lorien Maheu and Brett Miles. APAAD will be emceed by Breath in Poetry Collective members Titilope Sonuga and Ahmed “Knowmadic” Ali.

As a family-friendly event, APAAD aims to stimulate interest and participation in African arts, while providing a constructive forum for artists of the African and African Diaspora communities to support each other’s work.

APAAD will be taking place on the heels of the launch – to which all are invited – at the U of A on Thursday, April 25, 2013, of The Great Black North: Contemporary African Canadian Poetry, the first Black Canadian poetry anthology in more than 30 years, edited by Dr Valerie Mason-John and Kevan Anthony Cameron.

Please see attached materials for the APAAD schedule, artist biographies and more!

For yet more info and answers to questions please contact Tololwa Mollel at:

New date for Travel Writing event

After some delay, the cancelled March 31st Writers’ Corner has been rescheduled for May 26th, 2:30 pm at the Stanley Milner Library. Please join me, Curtis Gillespie and Judy Schultz for a casual and informative discussion about travel writing.


Writers’ Corner with Travel Writers Curtis Gillespie and Judy Schultz

What to take with you and what to leave behind aren’t just the pressing questions of travelling but travel writing, too. How do you capture the essence of place? How do you write about a place that’s been covered a hundred times before and make it fresh?  How do you illustrate culture and discovery in words? Ask travel writers Curtis Gillespie and Judy Schultz.

A Governor General’s Award finalist and former Edmonton Journal travel editor, Judy Schultz divides her time between Canada and New Zealand. Her work has been published in Canada, Germany, England and the US, and her last book, Freddy’s War, won the City of Edmonton book prize for 2012.


The author of four books, including Almost There: The Family Vacation, Then and Now, Curtis Gillespie has filled the pages of EnRoute, Westworld and other travel publications with stories from China to Colombia. He has won numerous awards for his fiction and non-fiction and is the editor and co-founder of Eighteen Bridges magazine.

Ms. Bachynski’s Grade Two Class Story

I think people will be quite surprised with the twist in the story…

© Andrew Bacchus

© Andrew Bacchus


Once there was a cat named James. He had fluffly orange fur, floppy ears, and brown eyes. One day around lunch time, he decided to go hunting for a mouse. He left Ronald Harvey Cat School and pranced into the sunny, summer day.

The bright sunshine made his fur hot. James wandered around. Suddenly, he saw a mouse! It was tiny, with white striped fur, and a short tail. James raced after it.

The mouse hurried under a red motorcycle. James ran on top of the motorcycle. He took a spot on the seat and waited for the mouse to come out. After five minutes, James reached for an old, bumpy stick that was beside the bike. He poked around the black pavement to distract the mouse.

When it scampered out, James grabbed it with his claws.  He didn’t want to see its eyes, so he flipped it around, hoping it would faint.

Instead, the mouse got free and sped away to the smoothie store. James chased after it and quickly snatched up the mouse.

“Don’t eat me,” squeaked the mouse.

“Why not?” asked James.

“Because I’m your best friend!” yelled the mouse.

“Are you Thomisina?” questioned James.

“Yes. You didn’t recognize me because my fur changed colour,” Thomisina screeched.

They hugged each other for a long time.

“I can’t eat my best friend,” explained James. “Though I’m still hungry and with all that chasing, I’m thirsty, now,” James announced.

“Why don’t we get a burger and a smoothie?” suggested Thomisina.

So, that’s exactly what they did and headed to Mr. Papa Burger Restaurant.


Take a look at a partial list of the edits–this is what the story originally looked like. An amazing job with edits, don’t you think?

  • They gave the school an actual name
  • They told us exactly what James’ fur looked like
  • They used exciting dialog tags like “explained” and “screeched”


Anne Marie Sewell’s Final Performance

From Edmonton’s Poet Laureate: April 10th will be my final presentation to City Council as your Poet Laureate (though my term lasts til June 30th, and I’ve a few more tricks up my poetic sleeve before it’s over). For this presentation, I will offer a poem in response to the call from the Mayor of Regina, for all Canadian Mayors to honour National Poetry Month. I will be accompanied by the charming Grade Three class of Norwood School, who are at City Hall School this week. 

You are most welcome to join us in chambers, and also for coffee and pastries beforehand.

Coffee is served at 9 AM, our presentation takes place at 9:30.

An Answer to Omar’s Question

Last weekend my wro-bro Omar and I were talking about fiction versus journalism, the writing, the submission, and the pros and cons of each, and I said that one of my pet peeves with fiction was dysfunction masquerading as conflict.  Omar asked me to explain but we were just heading to the St. Albert Teen Poetry Slam and I didn’t get a chance. So, here, is my explanation:

When I teach character development, one of the other terms I use for conflict is “agenda.” All of us have an agenda. For example, in this blog, my agenda is to explain the difference between conflict and dysfunction.

Your characters have an agenda. How that goal manifests informs the tone and depth of your story. The conflict in your novel arrives naturally because the characters have agendas that rub against each other.

And this the is crux between a conflict and a dysfunction.

Conflict means no matter how much you talk, there’s no room for movement. Harry Potter & Lord V can have many coffees together, but at the end of their enchanted afternoon one of them still wants to destroy the world.

A mother wants her toddler to go to bed. The toddler ain’t going. That’s conflict.

Agendas rubbing together means someone has to bend to someone else’s will–it’s about growth and development. Sometimes it’s about devolution and destruction.

Dysfunction, on the other hand, is two characters fighting for the sake of fighting. It’s a character behaving badly or pulling a TSTL* because the author doesn’t know what else to do…it’s the girl in the horror movie running to the basement when she should run out the door, or the hero who wanders into the line of fire when the smart thing to do is call the police.

Dysfunction masquerading as conflict drives me crazy because it takes us out of story. We’re reminded these people don’t really exist because if they did, they’d have done the logical thing. It also treats the viewer/reader as though we’re too stupid to see the holes or to ask the salient question…and whenever I see it (heck, whenever I’m drafting a story and put it on the page) I feel sad for the writer.

As authors, we shouldn’t be afraid to have our characters do the smart thing. If they do the smart thing then we’re forced to write smarter…it leads to tighter plots, more developed characters, and a better experience for the reader.

And at the end of the day, shouldn’t that be what it’s about?

*TSTL – Too Stupid To Live