J. A. McLachlan Writing Workshop – May 30th

odf35120 JAMcLachlan

Writing Challenge – March 2015

A week or so ago there was a news story about a tunnel that was found in a wooded area near Toronto’s York University. The half-finished tunnel looked “professional” and much speculation about who dug the tunnel and for what purpose.

CBC News – Mystery tunnel found near Pan Am Games venue http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/mystery-tunnel-found-near-pan-am-games-venue-1.2968367

After the police held a media conference presenting the public with images of the tunnel and some of the equipment found near the tunnel. They asked anyone with knowledge about the tunnel / bunker to come forward.

A Toronto mystery deepens: Was it a tunnel or a bunker? http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/a-toronto-mystery-deepens-was-it-a-tunnel-or-a-bunker-1.2969751

A few days later two young men in there 20s ‘fessed up claiming to have been building the tunnel / bunker as the ultimate “mancave”. The conclusion almost seemed anticlimactic and perfectly Canadian as no charges were laid and the men politely declined to explain their motive for building it, simply citing they built it for “personal reasons”.

This is where you come in as a writer.

I want to challenge my fellow guild members (and people that may be reading this entry) to write their own version of events surrounding the tunnel. Maybe you have a different interpretation of what the tunnel was being built for. Maybe you can envision how the police interview went down about it, with the young men, or perhaps it wasn’t young men at all that dug it. Let your imagination run wild.

Write a short story of 1500 words or less about the “Toronto Tunnel”. It can be any style. Heck, I would even love to see some of our poets give us their take on it.  You can share it online at your own website/blog/Facebook page and link to it here in the comments. Or bring it with you to our next meeting and share it out loud with group.

Good luck and may the writing be with you.

Gail Anderson-Dargatz – Providence Bay Writers’ Camp

Registration is now open for Providence Bay Writers’ Camp on Manitoulin Island

Bring your fiction up to the next level in morning workshops with Gail Anderson-Dargatz and enjoy everything the island has to offer later in the day.

The camp runs July 19 to 24.

Workshop space and accommodation is limited, so book now. For details, see Gail Anderson-Dargatz website.

The Secret History of Words – Episode 1

Have you ever considered where certain words or phrases come from? I’ve always been curious as to the origins of such things and whether its the writer in me or the amateur historian I love going behind the scenes and learning a new dimension to words and phrases that I’ve been using all my life.

The study of word origins is more formally known as etymology (not to be confused with entomology – the study of insects!) and involves not only understanding how various languages shaped and changed words, but also a bit of sleuthing as you often have to weed out the common folklore that has grown up around some words and phrases.

It was suggested at a meeting of the Sudbury Writers’ Guild this fall we include a “Word of the Day” (or month) in the newsletter and I’ve decided to run with that but with the added twist that I’m going to dig into the origin of the word or the history of the phrase.

For the inaugural entry I randomly choose the word Doom. Maybe it had something to do with the gloomy weather outside my window as I researched this article in November. Coincidently there’s a connection between the words doom and gloom, but more on that in a minute. We often use the word doom to mean something awful or bad is going to happen. Someone is sent to their doom. Or someone might exclaim “We’re all doomed!”

It wasn’t until I actually looked up the word “doom” for this piece that I realized there was more to the word. The origin of the word comes from old Anglo-Saxon English word dom for “law, judgement, condemnation”. A book of laws in Old English was know as a dombec.

Okay, now this is starting to make sense. Doomsday is literally judgement day. So where did the expression “doom and gloom” come from?

For help with this I turned to Gary Martin’s ever useful website The Phrase Finder (http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/doom-and-gloom.html). Gary reports that the phrase “doom and gloom” is not as old as we think and can be traced to the late 19th century in the US where examples of it turn up in newspapers in reference to politics and financial stories. For it to enter common usage it needs something to elevate it and bring it before a wider audience. Gary’s research pinpoints the rise in popularity of the expression to a musical stage production from 1947 called Finian’s Rainbow by Harburg and Saidy that was later turned into a film in 1968 starring Petula Clark and Fred Astaire. In the play a leprechaun named Og repeatedly used the phrase as a lament.

“Doom and gloom… D-o-o-m and gl-o-o-m… I told you that gold could only bring you doom and gloom, gloom and doom.”

You can watch Tommy Steele as Og here on YouTube: http://youtu.be/JQfjFYV3ihc?t=4m40s

Have a suggestion for a word or phrase that you’d like to see featured? Drop me a line.

Why Zombie Poetry?

by Tom Leduc

People often ask, why Zombie Poetry? Well, because they’re easy pick in’s I say. They’re walking metaphors, or should I say stumbling, dragging metaphors. Zombie poetry is so much fun and full of interesting subject matter, I have trouble focusing on where the poems take me.

For instance, you can take anyone from this reality and Zombify him or her. I have one poem that describes what happened to an orchestra conductor after the zombie apocalypse, and have also created several poems that describe a roofer who was trapped on the roof of a church during the dawn of the dead and his fight to survive.

This summer I spent a couple of Saturday afternoons converting children’s nursery rhymes into Zombie rhymes, what fun. You can convert all kinds of famous poetry into Zombie poetry. I have re-imagined Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gently Into That Good Night”. Now it will be given a whole new life and re-introduced to a new generation of fans.

We can also write poems that challenge the moral or philosophical questions of a Zombie apocalypse. Would you be able to take down a threat? What if your loved one was involved, or your neighbour or even that bully from your childhood? Would you fight until the bitter end or would you give-up? Zombie poetry or story-telling can offer a place to explore these otherwise taboo subjects in a therapeutic way.

One of the most powerful ways to write about Zombies is to describe the way they reflect our own culture. We, as a race, are mindlessly consuming the planet. Our eating habits and our lifestyles are contributing factors to our possible extinction. The constant pressures of advertisers, tax collectors, and the needs of the people around us, in a way, mirror the constant threat of being attacked and eaten by zombies. We spend our days slaving away at our work, most of us lost within a giant corporation never really seeing any results, and in the world of Zombies you can spend day after day beating away at hordes of Zombies never really getting anywhere, they just keep coming. I write about this in my poem “Hordes Of The Dead,” but can be best captured in my poem “Zombie On The Inside.” My wife came home from an extra hard day at work one day and said to me that she “felt dead on the inside, rotting, not really alive anymore, as if [she] was missing out on life.” I replied, “ you feel like a Zombie on the inside” and instantly I understood what she was trying to say. I sat down and started writing, her words are the first two lines to the poem. The poem can be read from different perspectives such as someone feeling the way my wife did that day, such as an elderly person slowly losing themselves, or as someone who has been bitten by a Zombie as is now becoming one. Our culture is full of these kinds of examples, even the fans of Zombies consume everything Zombie, thus becoming the very thing they fear.

This is why I like to write Zombie poetry, because it can have so many layers to it.

If you would like to have some fun and hear some of my Zombie Poetry and see some short films, come out to Little Montreal on Elm St., Tuesday October 28th, 8 to 10 PM. Dress up and bring some non- perishable goods to support the Sudbury Food Bank.

Attention Young Writers of Sudbury

On Sunday October 26th, Sudbury’s Poet Laureate and our very own Writers’ Guild member, Tom Leduc is kicking off an exciting new adventure, The Young Writers’ Guild of Sudbury.

  • Find out how to enter contests, get published, self-publish and edit writing
  • Discover how to address and read aloud to a crowd
  • Learn to host an event like a poetry slam
  • Pick up tips and tricks and all the ins and outs of the writing craft from some of the most prolific and talented writers’ from right here in Sudbury.

The Young Writers’ Guild is a group of young people, ages 12 to 18, who meet monthly to share their common interest in all aspects of writing.

Imagine entering university with a portfolio of published work and the confidence to reach your goals. We have the tools and connections, we only need you. So come check it out, get involved and help create the kind of writing environment you want for yourself and the city.

Sundays October 26, November 30, January 25 @ 1 PM – Main Library (74 Mackenzie Street, Sudbury)

For more information contact Tom directly at: tom.leduc@greatersudbury.ca or 705-673-1155 x4761.

Click here for poster for event: Young Writers Guild of Sudbury – POSTER

Gut Wrenching – Not for Everyone

by Vera Constantineau

I’m entering a creative phase. I can feel it in the way I want to scribble down my observations. Everything inspires me to pick up a pen: the way someone steps off the sidewalk, the look in a person’s eyes when a car gets too close in the crosswalk, a woman’s hair shaved so close on the sides and flipped in front the way a man in the fifties who used Brylcreem would have done. Every visual is a potential writing gift.

I know I can write about these things and you will understand, because we’re writers. We all have flashes of inspiration, bursts of internal dialogue, the dream that delivers the exact word or phrase or clue we needed to finish a story that’s been nagging at us.

I stopped writing in June, just stopped.

At first I thought there was no reason. I thought that I was tired, mentally snuffed. In hindsight I think the stoppage was a little more specific than that.

I got an e-mail containing a link to a writing call. I often get such e-mails, no surprise there. This time though, when I read the fine print, the gatherers specified that in writing this submission, we, as contributors, should be gut-wrenchingly honest.

The phrase gut wrenchingly honest ran me off the writing track, slammed me hard against the imaginary bales of hay I have placed at my imaginary limits, a writers crash and burn.

I tried to settle on a topic for this essay call, tried to come up with an idea that was fresh and interesting, nothing. Or at least nothing I wanted to write about in detail. Nothing that required producing a dose of gut wrenching that would be considered effective on both the sending end and the receiving end. I stalled for weeks. During the stall I found it increasingly hard to observe in my usual way, even worse, I recognized the lack.

In 2013 I signed up for an online course in Nonfiction Creative Writing offered through the community college online network. I’ve taken more than a dozen courses over the past five years and I have been to many workshops. I am accustomed to tapping into my deep dark places, so imagine my surprise when I tried to complete my first assignment in this course and discovered I had developed a severe aversion to telling, what amounted to me, to be my secrets.

In hindsight I can see that this was gut wrenching honesty, round one.

The course came perilously close to memoir and I have always stepped gingerly around that topic.

This call for (gut wrenching honesty in our) submissions was for personal essays. I guessed I was not ready to spill blood onto a page for the benefit of a phantom reader.

Correction, I wouldn’t spill blood in large quantities. In Haiku and Senryu I have dropped my share of blood-load. Through Haiku I’ve dealt (honestly) with my mother’s death, the curse of my illegitimacy, cancer, and other topics, all of which definitely qualify as gut wrenching. I just couldn’t see myself drawing on the kind of details that would get me published in this particular magazine.

Until last week I remained snuffed big time—a snuffing of monumental proportion.

Then … I received a copy of Wah.

Wah is a Haiku journal from India with the sole purpose of developing a cultural exchange between Indian Haiku poets and poets in the rest of the world. The first of four poems they accepted was there, printed in English on page 41 and facing it on page 42, in Punjabi.

Getting this journal in the mail was exactly what I needed. I read through the list of contributors and found fellow Guild member, Irene Golas, as well as others I admire locally and in the broader world and I stopped feeling tired. I stopped feeling mentally snuffed. And Halleluiah, I returned to my favourite pastime, the observation of my fellow humans.

The writing process is not something everyone understands. I think only those of us who look past the surface and see past the green hair will truly relate to the crushing pain a good snuffing delivers.

If I am ever again called upon to deliver gut wrenching honesty I know exactly what I will say: Writing is hard.

Why I took the NaNoWriMo challenge, how I won it, and why you should consider it, too

I’m not going to get into the details, other than to say that NaNoWriMo is the shortened form of National Novel Writing Month. If you want to find out more about it, it’s history, what charities it supports (note: not registered in Canada at this time), and all that other writerly goodness, hie thee to NaNoWriMo.org.

Why NaNo?

I’m the kind of writer that likes to present herself with challenges. What would be more challenging than to write 50,000 words in a month? That’s a functional draft for most genres, and even if you’re writing something like fantasy or science fiction that allows higher word counts, it’s a lot easier to “write up” to length than to implement a scorched Earth policy to edit down.

As WANA founder Kristen Lamb says, life doesn’t reward beginners. It rewards finishers. Since nearly every first draft in existence is crap anyway, why not give yourself permission to get that crappy draft done so you can edit it into the work of art we all know it can be?

What does 50,000 words in a month mean? What does it “look like,” in workplace parlance?

I like to draw on my background as an academic and a corporate trainer for this. As with any exam or paper I had to write, or any project I have to manage, I look at the time I have and divide the work into equal portions, account for planned, and even unexpected events, and set reasonable goals based on that accounting.

I also like to do something called front-loading. I aim for a daily goal slightly higher than what I absolutely have to get done. If you’re ahead of the game, then an unexpected crisis (or utter exhaustion) won’t derail you nearly as much.

There are 30 days in November. 50,000 divided by 30 is 1,667 words per day. If you aim for 2,000 words a day, you give yourself some wiggle room.

How I won my first NaNo

Planning is critical.

I’m an unapologetic pantser, that is, I write by the seat of my pants. I don’t plot out my novels, identify my major turning points, etc. I just write. Having said that, my ideas are fairly well thought out ahead of time and I often know what the climax of my novel is.

Even so, I had to give over my pantsing ways for NaNo.

I chose an older idea that I actually had written a chapter outline for. I had even written down some ideas for the opening chapters and inciting incident.

If you have research to do, do that in advance as well, or work out a system whereby you make notes for yourself for future research (e.g. 18th century dress for description of protagonist and love interest; Where was the post office in the original Copper Cliff? Herbal remedies and midwifery in frontier Canada.).

The point is to write. Get your ideas down. Try not to edit as you go. I say try, because I gave into the temptation and redrafted several chapters. Sometimes you have to because an idea or new direction will pop up when you least expect it and require some rework to proceed.

Having said all that, you will probably deviate from your plan for the very reason I just stated. This is true especially for the pantser, for whom all the planning in the world can be only the starting line, or jumping-off point. Prepare for the deviation, for the new idea that will not let you go, and figure out a way to address that serendipity.

Planning is never wasted, though.

I was fortunate last year, because I was on leave until November 17th. Knowing that, and that I had planned a visit to a friend for a few days in early November, I front-loaded big time, sometimes writing more than 3,000 words in a day to make up for the expected shortage of time when I returned to work.

Recruit your family and friends to help. Let them know how important this is to you, and ask them to help out with housework, cooking, shopping, or whatever other tasks you would normally do in the course of a week. Would they mind eating take-out a day or two a week (can you afford it)? Will the grandparents or a favourite auntie and uncle mind watching the kids for a few days? Can you negotiate a regular block of time that will, for all intents and purposes, remain sacrosanct for the month of November? Will you have to relocate for the weekends in the month to ensure your most productive writing days remain just that?

What other routines will have to change to accommodate NaNo? For example, I am going to cut down the frequency of my blogging, and do all of my blogging on the weekends, so I can just send out my posts on their assigned days. I’m getting in the habit of doing it this month, so the adjustment won’t be so big. I will probably be difficult to find on the interwebz for the month of November as well. Every second really does count.

What I learned and why Ima do it again

I’ve been writing, pretty much daily, for years now. It was good to have the time off to devote to the daily writing quota NaNo requires, but I can probably manage it working.

No, I’m not taking time off this year to do it.

Yes, I have a workshop I’ve committed to in the month of November. It’s just two days, but still.

Yes. I’m crazy, but in a good way.

I’m addicted to word count. I’m not draconian about it (i.e. no self-flagellation involved), but I’ve been tracking my output using a fantastic spreadsheet Jamie Raintree developed. I’ve learned that by not even trying, I can write anywhere between 12,000 and 18,000 words a month (including my blog posts).

I’m planning and researching this month like a good little do-bee.

Because of work, I’m adjusting my schedule to focus my efforts on the weekends because I know I’ll be lucky to get 1,000 words in on a weeknight. There are five weekends in November. It’s doable. It is.

I’m letting the housework go for the month (except laundry, ‘cause I don’t have that many clothes) and I’m not going to let it bother me. So there.

As I mentioned, I’m going to be less active on the interwebz and prepare my week’s posts on the weekends. If this doesn’t prove effective, I’m prepared to take a blogging/social media vacation. I’ll do it. I swear.

The feeling of accomplishment, of achieving that 50,000 word goal, of knowing that I have the working basis of a novel, can’t be beat. It’s a gamification of writing (the satisfying “ding!” of levelling up). NaNo will even give you a certificate you can print off after you validate your word count on their site.

Plus, you get all sorts of perks for being a winner: a discount on Scrivener software (which I purchased and am going to use for this new project), free or discounted publishing on Lulu and Createspace, and other writerly consumables.

Even if you don’t “win,” and really, your only competition is yourself, you still win. Say everything goes to hell in November and I only manage 20,000 words. That’s 20,000 words I didn’t have before. ThaMelanie Marttilat’s no reason to be ashamed. It’s pride-making, confidence-building, and craft-validating, in fact.

There will be people who will tell you that NaNo isn’t worth it. It so is. Don’t listen to them. They’re full of shit.

Agents and small publishers will tell you how they are inundated with crappy NaNo drafts in December. Um . . . jump the gun much? The point of NaNo is to get a working draft that you can revise, edit, and polish into a gem. That can take the rest of the year if you focus on the one project, more, if you write and work on several projects at once (as I—remember, I’m crazy—do).

In the immortal words of Larry the Cable Guy, Git ‘er done!

If you choose to accept the NaNoWriMo challenge, I hope you get as much out of it as I did. More even. Moar!

And I sincerely hope that you got some writerly goodness out of my sharing my NaNo experience with you.

Writer love!


October is Writing Tip Month

Writing tips — much like inspiration — can be found almost anywhere. Every writer has thoughts on their craft and most are happy to share these. The late Elmore Leonard — author of numerous bestsellers, such as Glitz, Get Shorty, Maximum Bob, and Rum Punch — limited himself to ten. He wrote the following list to explain his writing and help others looking to improve their own work.


10 tricks for good writing:


1. Never open a book with weather.

2. Avoid prologues.

3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely.

5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. 

6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”

7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.

10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.


My most important rule is one that sums up the 10 — If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.


October’s meeting of the SWG will be based around writing tips. Members are asked to bring tips they’ve found helpful and share them with the group. (No limit on subject — structure, ideas, even scheduling/organizational tips are welcome — but please bring between two and five total. Thanks.)

Playwrights’ Junction Workshop – APPLY NOW

Participants in 2013-14 Playwright's Junction include (back row, from left) Line Roberge, Caitlin Heppner, Matthew Heiti (co-ordinator), Andy Taylor and Jan Buley, (front row, from left) Jesse Brady, Jordano Bortolotto, Marie Woodrow and Anne Boulton.

Participants in 2013-14 Playwright’s Junction include (back row, from left) Line Roberge, Caitlin Heppner, Matthew Heiti (co-ordinator), Andy Taylor and Jan Buley, (front row, from left) Jesse Brady, Jordano Bortolotto, Marie Woodrow and Anne Boulton.

Last year I participated in the Playwrights’ Junction workshop offered by the Sudbury Theatre Centre and led by playwright-in-residence Matthew Heiti and it was one of the best learning of experiences of my writing career yet. They’re currently taking applications for the 4th season of the workshop (Deadline is September 15th) and I want to tell you why you should consider applying.

 “But I’m not a playwright and have no intention of writing for the stage.”

When I applied last year I had no illusion that I was a playwright, but I didn’t let that stop me. Writing for the stage is a unique experience, but there is a whole lot of overlap between writing prose for novels as there is in writing for theatre. I went in with an open mind. One of the things about being a “new” writer is that we are often trying to find our voice. Part of that journey can be experimenting in different genres and different mediums.

Here’s just a few of the things I appreciated about the workshop and that helped me grow as a writer.

  • DIALOGUE – In writing prose for novels, you can spend pages setting scenes, describing character’s motivations, moods and backstory. In theatre a lot of what gets conveyed to the audience is done through dialogue between characters (or in some cases monologues). The workshop definitely helped me see dialogue in an entirely new light.
  • MOTIVATION – If you’re like me it’s easier to say “I will get around to finishing that scene tomorrow, after I’ve binge watched this latest season on Netflix.” than it is to get motivated to spend time writing something that isn’t flowing. The writing assignments we had in the workshop helped motivate me into writing to a deadline. It was surprising how easy it was to get the muse to cooperate when there was a looming deadline to turn in an assignment.
  • FOCUS – Writing for the stage has unique constraints that might seem limiting by some, but can actually be freeing as it forces you to focus your writing. Your writing becomes sharper when you have to do more with less.
  • FEEDBACK – As scary as it sounds to some people, getting feedback on your work is an essential part to improving your craft. Having people critique your work in the workshop helped me to learn what was working and what wasn’t in my writing. Almost more important was what I learned by critiquing other people’s work. I could see my own strengths and weaknesses as a writer reflected back at me in their own work.
  • SHARING – Writing can be a very solitary and lonely experience. We often toil at our drafts for weeks, months, years on end before they see the light of day. The writing workshop allowed me share my work with my fellow playwrights and the instructor. As part of our “graduation” we had one of our pieces read aloud by professional actors in front of a live audience. Getting a laugh for a line you wrote can be just the carrot you need to keep writing.

I can’t say enough about Matthew Heiti as the instructor. Matthew is knowledgeable beyond his years when it comes to writing both prose and for the stage. He treated us fledgling playwrights as peers and gave us this once in a lifetime look behind the scenes of what goes into developing work for the stage.

I am forever grateful for the experience of being a part of the Playwright Junction and I hope you’ll take the opportunity to apply.

   Click Here For Playwright’s Junction Info – Sudbury Theatre Centre

I’ll be in the audience cheering you on if you do apply.