Fight or flight? Concepts in Conflict


I hate conflict. That’s one of the reasons I’m a writer.

In real life, conflict is met by the fight or flight response. Depending on the situation,  I’m all about flight. I know, I know, I sound like a total wimp, but that’s the case. Yeah, I’ll fight for certain things, but like most people, I think, I prefer to avoid major conflict and confrontation.

Call me a mamby-pamby, call me a peacemaker, but don’t call me a conflict avoider when it come to the professional job of filling the blank page with meaningful and eloquent words. Stories, in all their myriad forms, demand conflict!

Where there are people, there is conflict.

It’s quite a concept, but once unpacked,  a concept that is perfectly true. I’m conflicted in these very statements. How can a conflict avoider like myself insist upon increasing conflict on the page?

Art may imitates life, but it isn’t life, is it?  It’s a reflection of life; a muddied, manufactured, crafted, drafted, redrafted, refined and repurposed reflection that mirrors our own humanity back to us. That, fellow writers, may be the secret.

We are allowed — indeed, encouraged — to invent on the page. We may be people- pleaser in our daily lives, but in our writing lives we can have characters who, frankly, don’t give a damn. We can occupy the skin of another, transform a version of our shrinking selves into a triumphant conflict fighter, all through the act of invention.

Come out  this Thursday, January 30th to Conflict and Catastrophe: Getting your Characters in and out of Crisis, at  Stratcona County Library and we’ll carry on the conversation. Bring a sharpened pencil or a laptop and we’ll experiment with raising the  the stakes, ramping up the conflict. Let’s  Mark it on your calendar now so there’s no conflict, except on the page!


First Writers’ Corner of the Year!


One of my duties during my time as Writer-in-Residence is to host Writers’ Corner events each month. Writers’ Corner hosts a friendly and supportive gathering with a different guest author each month. The guest author will give an author talk that provides writers at all stages useful guidance and will then answer your questions and offer advice. You can come and talk about your writing in a friendly and supportive atmosphere and listen to the suggestions of professional writers in our community.

This month I’m very excited to announce that we will be talking to journalist Mike Ross (pictured above) at Writers’ Corner on Sunday, January 26th at the Stanley Milner Library at 1:30pm. Mike Ross is the Editor-in-Chief of the online news and entertainment magazine Gig City. Along with that, Mike also writes for the Edmonton Sun. Before being hired by as the music critic for the Edmonton Sun in 1993, Mike Ross was a professional musician who toured the continent during most of the ’80s with various ridiculously-named bands that went nowhere. The three-time Dunlop Award winner has covered the local and international entertainment scene for the Edmonton Sun during three different decades, and continues to write major concert reviews for the Sun. His articles have also appeared in magazines like Avenue, Alberta Venture and Chart magazine. He received his (musical) education at Grant MacEwan University and learned journalism from the School of Hard Knocks.

I’m very excited to talk to Mike Ross because, based on the few conversations I’ve had with him in the past, he has a lot to say. Mike Ross is somebody that anybody who wants to be a writer should listen to because he is someone who writes basically every single day. He has a whole website to fill up with his words each day. For those of you out there looking to break into journalism or arts and culture freelance writing I’m sure that Mike has plenty of advice and groovy wisdom to bestow on you.

This will be my first Writers’ Corner event so I’m hoping that there will be a good crowd on hand to meet Mike Ross and also to meet the new Writer-in-Residence (that’s me!). Once again, Writers’ Corner will be on Sunday, January 26th at 1:30pm in the Southeast corner on the main floor of the Stanley Milner Library. It’s free to attend.

See you there!

Memory and Memoir: trying to cage the Shapeshifter.

Having a quick coffee with my youngest brother this morning, I gained new insights into the phenomena of collective memory and personal memoir, one of the things I’m writing, writing about, and researching and presenting as part of my work as a Writer-in-Residence at Strathcona County Library.

To boil it down, I realized perspective is everything and our memories, despite being shared with family members, are as unique as the markings on our own skin. What events struck and stayed with me, in those long, and decidedly dark, night of our shared childhood, flew off my  brother’s back or imprinted upon him  in an entirely different way. We may well have been raised by separate parents:  an odd fact, given the scant year and a half that separates our births.

But this is the mystery of memoir. As Betsy Warland so eloquently put it in her instructive book Breathing the Page, “Our memory is our material.”  And, perhaps our material is also our memory. In looking further into something I’m calling “the ownership of experience,” the who-sees-what-and-why, I’ve discovered there exists a different and more profound symbolic truth in the necessary inventions that support the unequivocally true memory (if such a thing exists). This is what shapes our writing, gives us the greater truth that underpins all good memoirs.  It’s as though in the writing we discover what it is we want to say. And, here’s, the rub: the inevitable  inventions around memory are as essential as the windy, vague, punctured, whirling memory bank itself.

Come to my first RWiR workshop, How to Write About Your Family….and Still Have One, Thursday January 16th at SCLibrary to engage in dialogue about this incredibly interesting topic and explore your own collective memories.

“One thing I do know for sure,” said my brother, at the conclusion of our enlivening  coffee conversation. “You’ve sure got the title of your workshop right. You’ve written about us, and you still have us.”

Reassuring, but, maybe, I’m remembering it wrongly and that’s not what he said at all.




Different voices, same song

One of the joys of this job — and I’m just discovering them as they unfold — is reading work outside my regular scope. I’m talking about the material that’s pouring in over the transom now that the job has officially begun: kids lit, fan fiction, post apocolyptic writing, even the odd poem. It’s great digging into the work and discovering the many genres, voices and styles out there.

I think knowing there are others wrestling with the pages, trying to make sense of their world through writing, makes all of us feel a little less alone. We’re writers, uniquely gifted and compelled to put our myriad thoughts down on paper. Today I’m celebrating the fact that each voice is so unique and each piece of writing varied.

I’m glad to be reading and I’m hoping to meet some of you face to face Saturday Jan 11th. Come out to Strathcona County Library and say hello. We’ll have a cup of coffee and talk writing. I, personally, can’t think of anything else I’d rather do.

The Morning Show Circuit

This morning I was up early to go on the Edmonton morning news to tell people about the EPL and the Writer-in-Residence program. Hopefully some people saw me and now know a little bit more about me and might think about sending me an email or giving me a call to help out with their writing this year.

In a moment of extreme hubris I mentioned to the people at CTV Morning Live that I could write a short story about them during the time that I was waiting to go on air in the green room.

They accepted my challenge and I read the story in front of them on live television. A story I had just written minutes prior. I think it went over pretty well. See, that’s the thing about writing- it doesn’t always have to be such a serious endeavor. Sometimes you can just use your skills to get a rise out of people and to bring a smile to some faces.

Here’s what I came up with. Who knows, maybe CTV Morning Live Edmonton fan-fiction will become a big thing.


It was yet another frosty January morning in Edmonton and the people of the city were still in their warm beds and hitting their snooze buttons for the second, third, and maybe even fourth times. While the city was just starting to wake up, the members of the CTV Morning Live team had been at work for hours, preparing to inform and entertain their viewers.

Stacey Brotzel is staring into her dressing room mirror. She is calm and relaxed and her golden hair is as bright and vibrant as a prairie sunrise. She is preparing for the morning’s show. She looks into the mirror and practices saying the word “Chutney” over and over. “Chutney…Chutney…What exactly is Chutney?” Stacey Brotzel wonders. “Is it like marmalade? What exactly is marmalade? I think it’s made from oranges…”. Just then a producer knocks on the door.

“5 minutes Ms. Brotzel.”

“Thank you Chutney- I mean marmalade- I mean Mike.”

In another part of the CTV studios Jess Beyer is combing his hair. He is counting the strokes:

“997, 998, 999…”

“4 minutes Mr. Beyer.”

“4- Now I’ve lost count!”

Outside in the parking lot Rob Williams is sitting in his car, eating his birthday cupcakes and listening to Adele’s ‘Someone Like You’. A producer waves to him from the window. 3 minutes.

Rob Williams wipes the red velvet from the corners of his mouth.

In a secluded corner of the CTV studios, a producer is unplugging Kimberly Wynn from her charging station. Her battery is at 100% charge. The producer sets Kimberly’s Smile setting up to 10. She sets her Charm setting to 10. She sets her Effervescent setting to 10.

2 minutes ‘til showtime.

Back to Work

Today is my first day of work as the EPL Writer-in-Residence. I came in last week to get keys and email passwords and door passwords and microwave passwords but today is my real first day. It’s my first day because I actually have work to do. Official business. Today is the day I meet my first writer looking for a little help. I’m pretty darn excited about it. I’m so excited that I didn’t even mind taking the bus here this morning. I mean, I didn’t smile the whole bus ride, but I didn’t frown either. That’s a pretty big deal. This job is a pretty big deal. I’m expected to provide a certain amount of wisdom, guidance, advice, assistance, and mentorship to each person who comes into my office or contacts me over the email machine.

This post is all about work. The holidays are over now and most people are back to work. I want you to put me to work for you. I’ve got an office and a chair and internet access and a thermos full of steaming hot ideas to share with you. If you are looking for some help with your writing or just some advice on what to do next or just want to know what it’s like being a writer these days in the age of BuzzFeed.

You can find out a little bit more about me and the best ways to contact me HERE.

Call me, email me, tweet me. Let’s get together and work on you getting that Nobel Prize for Literature as soon as possible.


The Writer-in-Residence is IN


Lucy-van-pelt-1-A bit like Charlie Brown’s nemesis Lucy, with her lemonade/psychiatrist stand, comic book creator Charles Schultz nudged his readership towards radical communication and deeper conversations with each other.

Strathcona County Library and, indeed, the Metro Edmonton Library Federation, has done the same thing by establishing their Writer-in-Residence program as an opportunity for anyone to pull up a chair and have a conversation with either myself or downtown WIR Jason Norman about their writing. Aspirations, edits, problematic areas, post modernism, genre writing, graphic novels, dramas, publishers, or rejection slips, it’s all wide open {just like the view from my Sherwood Park office} and I’m keen to share ideas and energy with you.

A week Saturday is the “official” meet the Writer in Res here at SCL, but I just wanted to let you know, like Lucy,  the Regional WIR is In.

Drop a line, fire off some writing and lets get acquainted. /mm

January 11 Open House Invitation

We are still getting our new writers set up to post to this site, as well as adding upcoming events for 2014. In the meantime, please join us at the following event!

Open House poster - text appears below

Writer in Residence Open House
Sat Jan 11, 1-3pm
Strathcona County Library, Fireside lounge (on the second floor)

Drop in for a coffee and chat with our new Writer in Residence Margaret Macpherson!

Margaret Macpherson will be joining us from January through April, bringing with her a wealth of knowledge and experience. Margaret will be offering workshops and meeting one-on-one with writers of all skill levels to hone their craft and have some fun too!