Happy birthday, Will!

shakes_bday_2009People often ask me to name writers who have influenced or informed my writing.  Hands down, that writer is Shakespeare. At last count, I’ve read 2/3 of his plays (all of the tragedies, most of the comedies, and a number of the histories) and all of his sonnets – some of these works multiple times, as I’ve taught many of them.  The bard’s words and rhythms infuse my own.  On several occasions, I’ve stolen directly from him:

  • a title as in A Winter’s Tale
  • lines of poetry (“by the pricking of my thumbs/ something wicked this way comes” and “’tis now the witching time of night” which I borrowed for In the Graveyard)
  • quoted lines used by characters such as Anise in Gravity Journal, who, as she cuts, cites Lady Macbeth’s famous lament:

    What hands are here? Ha! they pluck out mine eyes.                                             Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood                                                         Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather                                                    The multitudinous seas incarnadine                                                                      Making the green one red.     (Macbeth, II.ii.56-60)

I am an ardent fan. I marvel at his genius. I’d like to invite him to dinner or for a pint (my treat). But alack, he has “shuffled off this mortal coil” and “the rest is silence.”

You may find this interactive widget from Oxford English Dictionaries a lark!




Or you may find Stephen Marche’s book, How Shakespeare Changed Everything, enlightening (here’s a short overview.)




All jests aside, I do believe that reading Shakespeare makes one a better poet.  So often I am astonished by the number of poets who do not read poetry, the number of aspiring authors who do not read prose, the number of people who read neither.  Quite simply, as you no doubt know because you are reading this blog, a writer reads.  Widely.  Often. Across genres.

Today on Shakespeare’s birthday, in this month of poetry, it’s important we remember that poets in many places are revered and have been advocates for freedom, for the people, for social justice.  Some have been blacklisted or censored; some have been tortured or murdered. Why is that? Because a poet’s pen has power.

Today I remember these…
Ken Saro-Wiwa
Pablo Neruda
Victor Jara
Thomas McGrath
Langston Hughes
Pete Seeger
Dorothy Parker
Anna Akhmatova
Susana Chávez Castillo
Nadia Anjuman
Liu Xia
San San Nweh
and so many others…

Writing Quote:  “I keep reminding people that an editorial in rhyme is not a song. A good song makes you laugh, it makes you cry, it makes you think.” – Pete Seeger, American folksinger and activist (1919-2014)
Writing Tip: “If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.” – Dorothy Parker, American poet, short story writer, essayist (1893-1967)

Writing Prompt:  Take the lyrics to a popular song and rearrange them into Shakespearean sonnet.


  • Rhyme Scheme: ABAB/CDCD/EFEF/GG
  • Each line shoudl be 10 syllables long or 5 feet in length (pentameter)
  • The first two quatrains should be a question and then 7 lines of potential answers/reasonings
  • The third quatrain should be a twist
  • Include a rhyming couplet at the end that summarizes the sonnet as a whole


How much moola does a Canadian writer make?

Well, that’s a question, along with two others involving my age and my weight, that I always hesitate to answer.  Make-Money-Writing


I can say honestly that as a writer I certainly do not make the 2010 average for female Canadians.

But I make a living by augmenting my writing with other work, and I have a very rich life.  I travel extensively to tour or to work as a writer in residence.  Being an author has taken me back and forth across Canada and Canada’s North, to a number of states, across the pond to Helsinki, Finland; Bern, Switzerland; Istanbul, Turkey; and farther east to Hanoi, Vietnam and Doha, Qatar.  There have been many, many moments in my teaching and presenting career on which one cannot place a price tag.  I have been delighted and awestruck and humbled by encounters with readers, fans and eager younger and older writers.

WillWriteForFoodIt is, however, nice to eat.  I highly recommend such a practice.  Have you seen the price of food these days?

Others have weighed in on the reality of the Canadian author’s income.  Lesley Kenny’s excellent article, “Canadian Fiction Writers’ Average Income: reality cheque please!” (alas, in the officially defunct Descant magazine) is one such example. Even self-published authors have it tough as Alison Flood soberly notes in her Guardian article“Stop the press: half of self published authors earn less than $500.”  And in an earlier blog, I cited Camilla Gibb’s honest, if depressing, account, “The more you write, the less you make,” from a recent issue of the Globe and Mail.

All of this is glum stuff.  But I assure you there are creative ways to make a living as a writer.  Here are some ideas:

i.  Find another something to do to pay the bills.  Maybe you are a good copywriter, editor, blogger, social media writer, proofreader, event planner, publicist, newsletter editor…  Perhaps you write a mean brochure or a cookbook or textbook… Spread your wings and branch out with your writing, perhaps even as a freelancer.

of course, this may necessitate that you

ii.  Get another degree or diploma to complement (not consume) your life as a writer.  You might consider marketing and communications (MacEwan and U of A have some excellent programs), teaching, ESL teaching, or training in technical/ scientific writing.

iii. Pitch your writing to magazines – small, larger, largest, print and online.  Get some publication credits and make a few bucks on the side.

iv.  Once you have some publication cred, you’ll be eligible to apply for grants.  Apply for grants!  Learn how to write them and then write them well.  Submit!  Grants may be a lottery, but you don’t receive if you don’t try.  (Some sources to tap:  Alberta Foundation for the Arts, any Emerging Artists’ grants – at creative writing colleges or provincial organizations, Edmonton Arts Council).

v. Get paid when your work is photocopied or in library circulation.  Any Canadian who has published anything (even if it’s just a one-page article in a local paper) can apply to be a creator through Access copyright, or any Canadian who has a book in a Canadian library is eligible for Public Lending Right dollars (based on the number of “hits” of your book in libraries searched by the PLRC).  As Anna Humphrey wisely espouses about Access Copyright: “once a year, using a formula which, very roughly speaking, involves the number of pages you’ve published, relative to the number of pages other creators have published, divided by the total amount of money they collected, they send you a cheque. Is it a lot of money? No, not really. But depending on how extensively you’ve published, you can generally expect at least $100-$200 or more a year and that, my friend, is a lot more than you were getting before you knew about this. So go to their website today. Join! It’s free.”

vi.  Get paid for presenting.  Check out what others are charging according to their experience and numbers of books published, and then charge a presentation or workshop fee, according to your level of expertise and profile as an author.  Register with an organization like Authors Booking Service.  For more detail, see Anna Humphrey’s excellent blog, “101 Ways to Make Money as a Canadian Writer.

vii.  Put on an event(s).  Invite other artists, musicians, writers to participate.  Charge a modest fee.  Share the door.  Build a profile.  Have a ton of fun!

So yes, there are lots of naysayers and doomsdayers out there.  On my dark days, I crawl into the fetal position and bemoan the state of Canadian publishing and the perils of poverty as an author in this country.

But we have agency.  We have choice.

We could throw up our hands in despair or we could place them at the keyboard and keep writing.  That is what I choose to do.


If you have any wise ideas for making a living as a writer, please share!


Writing Quote: “There’s no money in poetry, but then there’s no poetry in money either.” – Robert Graves, poet and novelist (1895-1985)

Writing Tip:  Put aside thoughts of fame and fortune.  As Michael Crichton famously said, “when you start to think, Will this sell?, that’s death.”  Focus on the writing, writing, writing!

Writing Prompt:  Write a poem using three of the following words: euphoria, susurration, bruise, opine.



Score! Giller Prize winner Lynn Coady talk on March 11

I’m delighted to inform you that the 2013 Scotiabank Giller Prize winner Lynn Coady has agreed to do a reading/Q&A at EPL’s central branch, Stanley A. Milner library, on March 11. Here are the details. Hope to see you there!LC

Life After The Giller
In November 2013, Edmonton author Lynn Coady won the Scotiabank Giller Prize for her short story collection, Hellgoing. What’s life been like since for the novelist, journalist, and newly minted screenwriter? Join Coady for a Q&A with Elizabeth Withey, the Edmonton Public Library’s Writer In Residence. Coady will also read from Hellgoing.

When: Wednesday, March 11, 2015 at 7 p.m.
Where: Stanley A. Milner Library Program Room (next to the MakerSpace)
Cost: This is a free event. No registration is required.

Come On Baby, Light My Fire!

The weaAdam-and-Eve-e1346079003542ther outside may be frightful, but this workshop, Come On Baby, Light My Fire!,will hopefully keep you warm!  Join me this Tuesday at 7 pm at Strathcona County Library.

In the spirit of the season of love, the hot topic is desire. After all, sex and death are two of the greatest inextricably linked themes in literature. Desire is the key to how it all starts, and presumably leads to the end. Find out how this tension works in stories by the masters, and how to make it sizzle in your own.

Wrap-up/Kick off

It’s a sort of sad/happy occasion at the downtown library this coming December 11th, a pass-the-torch ceremony culminating in the announcement of two brand new Writers-in-Residence for the Edmonton Metro Libraries Federation.

But between saying good-by to the many wonderful writers I’ve met over the year, is an opportunity to hear the words of folks who have used our creative service in the last 12 months. My colleague Jason Norman and I have invited various “writers on the cusp of awesome” to share their work and their experience of working through the deconstruction of text with a trained professional. It’s not always easy and it’s not always pretty, but the results will be evidenced in some staggering readings.

Jason and I will also read, sharing a portion of the manuscripts we’ve been working on this last year in the lovely solitude of the libraries.

And, the best thing of all, an opportunity to be on the ground  when two new writers –with new energy, new ideas and new visions are introduced to the city and outlying communities. Writers Take Wing!

Come say good-bye. Come celebrate!

You’re Invited!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

7:00-8:30 p.m.
Stanley A. Milner Library, Edmonton Room
7 Churchill Square

I hope that you all can make it to this event. It is very exciting for me to be able to introduce some of the great people I had the chance to work with this year.It will also give me a chance to say thanks to you all for supporting my ideas and programs throughout the year and to the EPL for giving me this wonderful opportunity. I will miss this job dearly but I’m not done yet. There is still lots to do and there are a lot of people to help. I look forward to seeing you on the 11th to celebrate a busy and productive year and to help me welcome the next batch of lucky WIRs for 2015.


World Cup of Literature: Group E

Group E is made up of Switzerland, France, Ecuador, and Honduras. Here are the books that will be representing them:

Switzerland: Hermann Hesse, “Steppenwolf

France: Victor Hugo, “Les Miserables

Ecuador: Jorge Enrique Adoum, “Between Marx and a Naked Woman”

Honduras: Eduardo Bahr, “The War Story”

What is the deal with this group? I have no idea. Did you know that before Les Miserables was a movie it was also a musical? And before that it was also a book, did you know that? It is the classic tale of heroism, betrayal and redemption at a turning point in France’s history. The book has very little singing though.

Hermann Hesse is a former German turned Swiss citizen. He was a novelist, poet, and philosopher. Steppenwolf is a blend of eastern mysticism and western culture. It is Hesse’s most celebrated book and it looks like a wild ride. Let me know if you’ve read this one before.

Did you know that Jorge Enrique Adoum was Pablo Neruda’s personal secretary for two years in Chile? I didn’t know that before I looked it up on Wikipedia. Adoum’s novel, translated as “Between Marx and the Naked Woman” won the top literary prize in Mexico, which was the first time it was ever awarded to a foreigner. The novel was also made into a film in 1996 and was nominated for several Spanish language film awards around the world.

Finally there is Honduras. Little is known about Eduardo Bahr’s novel “The War Story” except that it is about the conflict between Honduras and El Salvador in 1969. He seems like a cool guy but Honduras beat Canada in qualifying last year and I’m still upset about it so I won’t say anything more.

My soccer picks: France, Switzerland

My literature picks: France, Ecuador


Diamonds in the rough


I’m from the Northwest Territories, the diamond capital of Canada. I don’t have a lot of diamonds, and, at this stage of the game, don’t really desire any. I do, however, know that writing, laying down that first awkward draft, is much like mining, bringing up to the surface the unlovely bits that, with spit and polish, revision, are gems.

I speak a lot about the reptilian brain, the subconscious that dictates the words, memories and ideas we chose when facing the blank page. We decide unknowingly and sometimes in the spur of the moment what to write and we learn about why we chose that particular word/image/idea in the act of revision.

I tell my students and clients there are gemstones in their writing and I don’t say this lightly. It’s work to get something on the page but you can’t fall in love with the unfinished rock, the chunk of text that surrounds the yet-to-be revealed diamond. The shale, the granite, the grey powder must be chipped away, the stone manipulated, tumbled, refined and then polished and polished again. It’s there. You have chosen to write about something for a certain reason and it may be a reason that is unclear to you. Trust the process. Mine your image, find the beauty beneath what first appears and  keep working it. As in all things, the light, the meaning, the reason for the writing will appear and dear writing friends, in has the potential to be very, very bright.

The World Cup of Literature

June is finally here and the World Cup of Soccer (in Europe they call it Soccer Football) starts on Thursday in Brazil. Some people say that it’s impossible to mix reading with sports. I disagree. More on that later.

First of all, there has been a lot of talk and snobbery in the social media sphere lately about YA literature and who should or should not be reading those types of books. I wrote a little bit about this subject on my other blog (yes I do have a life outside the library). You can read it here.

Secondly, my talk about the trials and tribulations of self-publishing is tomorrow evening at 7pm at the Riverbend EPL branch. Online registration is free and recommended. There are still spots available. More info here.

Thirdly, there is a great writer who exists in the world right now. His name is Shane Jones. I think he lives in Buffalo, or maybe Albany maybe? He is the author of Light Boxes, and Daniel Fights a Hurricane. You can check out his books from the EPL RIGHT NOW. His newest book is out today and it is called Crystal Eaters and it looks amazing. You can put a hold on it right now from EPL. I think Mr. Jones is one of the best young writers out there today. Check him out.

Lastly, like I said earlier, the World Cup starts this week. This is an exciting time for sports fans but it can also be an exciting time for readers as well. I’ve put a little something together I like to call the World Cup of Literature (please don’t sue). The World Cup of Soccer is a great time to learn about players from other nations so why can’t it also be a time to learn about writers from other countries? Right? Great idea, I know!

Today we will look at the first group of the tournament, Group A. Group A consists of:

Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, and Cameroon. Here are the works of literature that will be representing these countries at the World Cup of Soccer:

Brazil: Clarice Lispector, “Agua Viva

Mexico- Juan Rulfo, “Pedro Paramo

Croatia- Slavenka Drakulic, “S: A Novel About the Balkans

Cameroon- Ferdinand Oyono, “Houseboy

The first three of these books you can check out from the EPL. Juan Rulfo’s book is only in Spanish though. Sorry.

My picks for the two countries to advance to the round of 16 in the World Cup of Soccer are Brazil and Croatia. Brazil is too good and Croatia has really funny shirts. I think they will upset Mexico in the tournament. In the World Cup of Literature, however, I choose Brazil and Mexico. I am biased because I have read works by these two authors and haven’t read anything by the other two. If you think I’m making a bad decision then write to me and tell me why the other books should be given a shot. Use the comments section for good, not evil. Personally, I think Clarice Lispector is a brilliant short story writer. She will always have a place in my heart. Juan Rulfo’s short novel “Pedro Paramo” is a completely bonkers story about dead people. It is crazy good and weird and sad. Check it out.

Slavenka Drakulic’s novel S is about crimes against women during the Bosnian war. She gets points because she is the only living author in this group.

Houseboy, by Ferdinand Oyono is a critique on colonialism. Originally written in French and later translated. Oyono died in 2010.

That’s it for now. Tomorrow we will talk about Group B and also, please come to my self-publishing workshop/seminar thingie.


May is Mill Woods Month!


May is Mill Woods Month for me as Writer-in-Residence. I will be spending a lot of time at the Mill Woods branch of the EPL in May. It’s time to branch out. Get it? Branch. Out. Get it? Ok then…

On May 5th is my very first writing workshop for the EPL. Since it’s my first one I thought that we would get together and do some basic writing exercises designed to help you find the voice of whatever it is you’re working on, whether it be a short story or novel or anything in between. Please come with whatever it is you use to write. Pens, pencil, laptop, whatever. Come prepared to write and share some of it with the group.

Monday, May 5th. 7pm. Mill Woods Branch (2331 66st NW)

No sign-in required but space is limited to 15 human people.

Now I usually have office hours here in the Stanley Milner Branch. They are Tuesdays through Thursdays from 11-5pm. For a week in May I will be taking my office hours in the Mill Woods branch. So in case you’ve been putting off paying me a visit because it’s a little out of your way then May is the month to come see me. Dropping in is ok but it’s best if you email me (writerinresidence@epl.ca) and set up an appointment and you can even send a sample of your work along for me to read first so we can talk about it.

May 13-15. 11am to 5pm. Mill Woods Branch Office Hours

Come and pay me a visit on the south side of the river.

And Finally, My second writer’s workshop

Tuesday, May 27th. 7pm Mill Woods Branch

Think of this as phase two of the workshop I do earlier in the month. You can come to both or either one. We will be exploring similar techniques as the first workshop but this will be the perfect opportunity to see if your writing has improved over the course of the month.

Once again, please bring your writing instruments and come prepared to write and share your work with others and also provide some helpful feedback to others.

See you on the south side!