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Finding Your Material — and Billie Holliday

The question is, how does a writer recognize what is uniquely her material? Save herself from wrong turns, dead ends, dead writing? The subject has always been central to me—an obsession—and years ago, I was able to ask two very distinguished men how it had played out in their careers. One was John Hammond II, the legendary music producer and scout who discovered Billie Holiday singing in a bar when she was eighteen years old.…

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Flanny on the Danny

Walking out recently, being a flaneuse on the Danforth. A flanny on the Danny. At Pape, a pigeon flies down from a store awning into the path of people heading for the subway. Turning, it flies close to the face of one woman, who doesn’t even flinch, before winging around the head of a serious-looking young woman in glasses. I don’t think she even notices the pigeon, which has calibrated its trajectory neatly and cants…

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Need a Trick for Writing Screenplays?

I’ve been trying a new way to rewrite a feature film script. A bit of a trick. Steal it if you think it might be useful. A few years ago, I wrote the script on spec, basing it on a story I’d heard of a real-life death. It may or may not have been murder, and the prime suspect (who may or may not have been guilty) turned out to be sitting on a huge…

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So you want to Bird in Sedona

A day and a half in Sedona: it wasn’t much time, but our hockey team made the best of it. The pools, the hot tubs, the meditation classes and massages. Then there were the hikes. For me, hiking involves looking for birds and wildlife. That means I try to get out with a guide at least once when I’m travelling, hiking trails I otherwise might miss and hoping to spot elusive local birds. (Endemic species,…

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So You Want to Ride the Vortex

The landscape on the 90-minute drive from suburban Scottsdale to Sedona, Arizona, reminded me of  north-central Mexico, where you really shouldn’t drive casually these days because the drug cartels might take a notion to kill you. I lived in Mexico years ago and loved my pre-cartel travels, enjoying the barren hills, the cactus, the wide blue skies, deep culture and wonderful people. Now here we were in similar hills with no visible drug traffickers and…

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Warm Weather Hockey – 2

Our hockey team, the Beaver Dames, is known for off-kilter first nights at international tournaments. Back in 2014, arriving for the tournament in Reykjavik, we decided the thing to do after an overnight flight during which few of us slept was to get on a tour bus well past sunset (after a day during which few of us napped). Our goal: to search for northern lights in the mountains outside town. As a result, we…

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Hockey in the Desert (Part Two)

I may have mentioned that our hockey team met Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock at the luggage carousel at the airport in Phoenix, Arizona. Perhaps once or twice. Maybe attached a selfie. But that was only part of the team experience at our third international hockey tournament, which recently took our twelve skaters, goalie and two bench coaches (concussions) to Arizona, ready to follow-up on our glorious non-victories in Las Vegas last year and…

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Open Book — and Mike Babcock

I’m starting my post as Writer in Residence on Open Book with some ruminations about how to find material for your writing. That and meeting cute with Mike Babcock as my rec league hockey team landed in Phoenix to play in a tournament. We were at the luggage carrousel, and there was the coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs motoring by. Here’s an excerpt: When I was sixteen, I might have projected a story involving…

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Open Book Writer in Residence

For the next month, I’ll be blogging on the fabulous Open Book site about everything from playing hockey in Arizona last week to working with a voice actor on the audio book of Mad Richard. Today, the Open Book people have started me off with an interview, which you can find on on the site. Questions range from how I started writing the novel, my method of work and what what it was like to…

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Mad Richard – How Do You Know What It Felt Like to Live Back Then? – 2

In my last post, I wrote about researching a historical novel like Mad Richard. My serendipitious decision to pull Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy off the shelves provided a start. Barker was writing about a period closer to ours, the time of the First World War. Having been born in 1943, she knew a great many people who’d been alive at the time and even fought in the war, including her step-grandfather. She would have heard…

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