Category: Journal

What Does Your Bookshelf Reveal?

What Does Your Bookshelf Reveal?

The five shelves of my (main) bookcase are filled with books that represent various stages of my life. One bookcase, over a hundred books.

Starting at the bottom, the two lower shelves contain books about holistic nutrition—Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, The Real Vitamin & Mineral Book, The Vegetarian Myth, Staying Healthy With Nutrition—as well as anatomy books, such as Anatomy Trains, Ageless Spine Lasting Health, Trail Guide to the Body. These books represent my years as a Nutritional Consultant and a Bowen therapist.

On these two shelves, there is also a sprinkling of books exploring energy and spirituality—The Energy Healing Experiments, The Dark Side of the Light Chasers, The Intention Experiment, The Diamond in Your Pocket.

It is only in writing this blog that I realize spirituality is a common thread connecting one shelf to another. It is the consistent part of my Self that I carry from one stage of my life to the next.

After nutrition and anatomy, the next shelf is devoted to books about homeopathy. Various repertories, different versions of The Organon, Homeopathic Self Care, and The Banerji Protocols. Even Homeopathic Care for Cats and Dogs from when my mother’s pet was part of our lives.

One doesn’t read homeopathic books cover to cover like a novel. Yet I’ve consulted each book so many times, perhaps piece by piece, I have actually read it through entirely.

This shelf too has evidence of my exploration of the energetic with Shaman Wisdom, Shaman Healing. But overall, there are fewer spirituality books here. Perhaps because homeopathic medicine is wholistic and already encompasses the mental, emotional and spiritual. (Or maybe there just wasn’t room on the shelf?)

The next shelf up contains books about the writing process—The Artist’s Way, Thinking About Memoir, Braving The Fire. Other books on process, many barely skimmed.

There’s also a portion of “required reading” on this shelf. When one seeks a traditional publisher, a comparative analysis is part of the book proposal where you compare your manuscript to books of a similar nature. So these required reading books relate to Alzheimer’s, caregiving, to death and dying.

Solomon Speaks on Reconnecting Your Life and My Grandfather’s Blessing are two spirituality books that accompanied me on my caregiving journey. The process of writing was there with me because, as Marie Williams says in Green Vanilla Tea, “Writing provided refuge from the chaos.”

And finally we arrive at the top shelf of my bookcase. It houses my collection of author-signed books, as well as books that have particularly moved or inspired me. This shelf, I think, is the most revealing. These books have a story to tell and I don’t just mean the story contained in the pages.

I’ll talk more about the story of these books in my next blog. In the meantime, peruse the titles. What assumptions do you draw about the book collector? (Are assumptions truth?)

Now take a look at your own book shelf. Does it reflect who you are? What does your collection say about you? 

Pay Attention In Class

Pay Attention In Class

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my high school years. To paraphrase Dickens, “It was neither the best of times, nor the worst of times.” Which, I suppose, is writer-speak for ordinary or, as my son would say, Meh!

But one thing that stood out for me was English class. It was my favourite subject as far back as elementary school. Even in grade one, I enjoyed putting pencil to paper in printing class and for years kept my printing practise book. You know the kind—blue and red lines to measure full or half height of letters, with a shiny gold star in the corner.

Anyway, I’ve been racking my brain for the textbook used to study CanLit back then. If I recall correctly—and at my age the accuracy of any memory is questionable—and believe it was Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature by Margaret Atwood, the 1972 edition.

In it, Atwood examines themes in Canadian literature such as survival, nature the monster, and ice women vs earth mothers. It was my introduction to the poetry of Al Purdy, Irving Layton, Northrop Frye, and Earle Birney, as well as the concept of the mythological feminine categories of maiden-mother-crone, and Atwood’s theory on the overabundance of victims in Canadian literature.

That class and Atwood’s book led me to read Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel, Earle Birney’s poem “David”, Atwood’s novel, The Edible Woman, and her poem “Siren’s Song.” And those are just the works I can easily recall. (See previous comment on age and memory accuracy.)

What prompted this trip down memory lane is the upcoming London Writers Society event, An Evening With Douglas Gibson in May. (I am on the organizing committee.)

As an editor and publisher, Gibson was a primary influencer of Canadian literature, including many of the authors I studied back in CanLit class—Margaret Atwood, Morley Callaghan, Alice Munro, Roberson Davies and many others.  

Having recently read Gibson’s Stories About Storytellers, I wish I could go back to class. I want to read all the great Canadian authors I missed the first time. But instead of returning to school, I have settled for compiling a reading list, formulated from Gibson’s entertaining tales, that I will place with my stacks of books-to-be-read. So many books, so little time. Sigh.

And, of course, I will be attending An Evening With Douglas Gibson to hear The Canadian Cartographer, as he is called, being interviewed by Terry Fallis, two-time winner of the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour. It’s sure to be a fantastic evening.

Hope to see you there!

(Tickets are only $15 in advance. Sponsorship opportunities available.)

Photo by Sam Balye on Unsplash   

A Writer’s Life For Me

A Writer’s Life For Me

January blogs, as an unwritten rule, tend to be buoyant and optimistic, filled with encouragement and guidance for a bright, new year. But as I searched my mind for something meaningful to relay, I realized…

Yeah, I got nothing!

No words of inspiration, no pithy words of wisdom.

Perhaps you, like many at this time of year, wait impatiently for new episodes of your favourite TV series after the holiday hiatus.

And while you wait, maybe you watch a replay of the last episode just so you can remember the plot, the characters, the details. But mostly you fill time waiting for something new to appear in the channel guide.

This blog is like that.

It begins with a review of my last year and the link to my January 2023 post where I made a rare (for me) resolution—to read The Making of a Story by Alice LaPlante, a tome of almost 700 words.

How did I do?

Well, I have NOT progressed very far at all—a mere 100 pages. Last year, I did suggest that perhaps it would be a 2‑year effort.

Whew! Let myself off the hook with that!

But why didn’t I make progress?

There are several reasons, actually. All of which, when added together, made me realize what a busy and fruitful year I had in 2023.

This will also give you a window into the life of a writer.

In January, my short story “Mercy, Mercy Me” was shortlisted in gritLIT’s non-fiction contest. In April, I attended the gritLIT festival in Hamilton, partaking in workshops, such as “Magic in the Everyday” hosted by Emily Urqhart which included a great Lynda Barry writing exercise. And also a workshop with Blair Hurley on the “Power of Revisions” about making edits with successive passes through the manuscript.

How many passes do you think an author does for each piece of work?

Answer: At least six!

In early May, my local writing group, the London Writers Society, hosted An Evening With Terry Fallis. It was our first such venture and I was an active member of the team that worked to make it the success it was. Later in the month, I attended the Creative Non-Fiction Collective’s Conference in Halifax. More workshops and, of course, some sightseeing.

Two—or was it three?—online workshops, including “How to Write Sex Scenes.”

Why? Well you never know when you might need to know that!

In 2023, I also released my mother’s book, Transformation: Autobiography of Beverly J. Vollmer. It was self published and involved editing, uploading files, interior design, cover design, marketing. And time. Lots of time.

In and around and after all the above activities, I sent queries to publishers for my own memoir, If I Could Remember, I Would: Teddy Bears & Brains & Caring For My Mother. A query involves writing a book proposal of about fifteen pages which must be tailored to the individual requirements of each publisher. I’ve received several rejections already, no acceptance letters. Yet.

Oh, I also wrote several authors requesting a blurb for the book. I’ve received two, with two more yet to come.

In 2023, I also did research for the historical fiction novel I am currently writing. Three months set aside for research only, no writing, became six months, with topics ranging from WWI, conscription, conscientious objectors, and various topics of the period—women’s rights, fashions, local London streets, businesses, by-laws, treatment of Spanish flu, homeopathy regulations, and so much more!

My historical research, in addition to online investigations, involved reading twelve books relating to the time period. When I decided to incorporate some family history, that of my grandparents, into the story, this segued into ancestry searches. Anyone who has ventured into their genealogy knows it is an endless, albeit fascinating, rabbit hole!

And, in September, the writing began!

It was exciting to finally dig into the story that had been percolating for months. Normally, I create a working title for a project, but this one I simply refer to as Book Three.

New to writing historical fiction, I enrolled in some workshops with The History Quill, a British company that specializes in the genre. “Get Started” and “Outline Your Novel” kept me busy from August to December.

We interrupt this program to bring you…

Just as I was digging into my writing, I had an opportunity to make a presentation at the Listowel Library on my mother’s book. I took the detour, reading From Page To Stage by Betsy Graziani Fasbinder with public speaking tips for writers. A 20-minute presentation took three weeks of preparation. But it was a success!

We return to the program currently in progress…

The final History Quill workshop, “Write Your First Chapter,” will be a form of edit and revise, as I’ve already written the first chapter. In fact, I’m now at Chapter 29, with nine more chapters to go, according to my outline. But outlines are sneaky and mine has a habit of expanding the further I get into the story.

Do you recall how many passes through each piece of writing?

That’s right—six!

So I’ve nine more chapters to write, plus six passes (at least) through the entire novel…lots to keep a writer busy in 2024!

Reviewing a year in the life of a writer has been a fulfilling exercise and I can perhaps offer some words of wisdom after all…

Look back at the year you’ve just completed, you marvelous, wonderful creature!

Look back on all you’ve coped with and survived through, you marvelous, strong creature!

And always, expect benevolence in the coming year.

Photo by Manasvita S on Unsplash

Pink & Green Wishes

Pink & Green Wishes

This will be my last blog of the year and, given that December is a month filled with traditions – Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas – it may seem at variance that this post concerns a pagan tradition.

Sheela Na Gig is a pagan goddess depicted by a feminine figure squatting in the birthing position as she grasps the flesh at the opening to her birth canal.

Sheela = female, Gig = vagina. Got the picture?

Symbols of Sheela Na Gig, with her marquis-shaped opening, often marked doorways of sanctuaries and ancient stone kirks. She welcomed those who wished to cross over her threshold into the darkness, as if going into a womb – warm and nurturing – for a period of contemplation.

I was first introduced to Sheela Na Gig by Janelle Hardy through a 10-day series of introspection and reflection beginning on the winter solstice. I instinctively return to it each December as the season of darkness begins.

But in autumn, I had a different experience of Sheela Na Gig.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I went on a Vision Quest in September. At one point, I found myself in my sacred circle lying on the earth and gazing into the treetops. I noticed where the outermost branches of one tree met those of another, forming a slit, with sunlight visible beyond. It felt like an opening of Sheela Na Gig but, rather than looking at her opening from the outside, I was viewing it from the inside out.

Since I was already in the dark womb of reflection (my Vision Quest sacred circle), I was shown a different perspective — the Light of Life and its rich, colourful dance of joy just outside the door. It was an offer – Here, this could be yours ! All I needed to do was choose it. To step over the threshold to live the potentiality waiting there.

So here I am. Choosing that. Choosing joy and light.

And as this blog travels the ethers of cyber space, I shine Light in your direction too and extend the healing mists – green and pink – of heart energy to all who need it, to anyone in fear, so you too may choose light and joy.

Till next year…

Turning Back Time

Turning Back Time

Spring forward, fall back.

The expression helps us remember to turn our clocks ahead in spring and back in autumn. Port Arthur, Ontario, was the first Canadian city to turn clocks ahead an hour. I did not find mention whether twin city, Fort William, also turned their clocks ahead. (By the way, Port Arthur and Fort William amalgamated in 1970 to become Thunder Bay, my home for 10+ years.)

Generally, though, clock-turning wasn’t implemented in Canada until 1916. Even now in 2023, not all cities or counties change their clocks. In Canada, we used to fall back on the last Sunday in October. Then in 2008, we aligned with the US for the first Sunday in November.

All this, simply to say…I’ve been thinking a lot about time!

I am acutely aware of changing colours highlighting the change in time as we prepare the garden and pond for winter, store the deck furniture, and just generally begin to slow down.

In qi gong philosophy, this is a time for grieving. And for letting go. Releasing what no longer serves you — habits, emotional baggage, relationships, even old books. Also known as refinement, this period allows us to figuratively thin the weeds to provide more space and energy to grow what we truly want in our lives. It’s a time to refine our focus.

Where in your life might you let go? What no longer serves you? What’s holding you back? If you had more time/space, where might you place or increase your focus?

Take your time to ponder these questions over autumn and winter. Soon enough, it will be spring and time for new beginnings.

Alone in the Woods

Alone in the Woods

The writing life is often described as lonely and isolating. It can be, and yet last month, I chose to spend even more time alone – at Rosseau Sanctuary – doing some internal exploration of self. The tarp you see in the picture was my home for four days. While I often walk in the woods here in London, there’s something special about sleeping and eating and…yes, that too…in the woods. Something about connecting with Gaia and all the nature spirits!

Refreshing and healing. Alone, but not lonely.

Back in civilization, I’ve been invited to speak at the Listowel Library on October 19, 6:30 p.m. I’ll be talking about my Mom’s book, Transformation: Autobiography of Beverly J. Vollmer (1937-2022). I will be presenting at the library for twenty minutes, as will Ron Finch, former LDSS principal (about his mystery novels.)

The Listowel Banner also did a fabulous write-up. Mom had once worked as typesetter at the Banner, and it was lovely to see her honoured with that piece.

I continue to search for a publisher for my memoir, If I Could Remember, I Would: Teddy Bears & Brains & Caring for my Mother. Meanwhile, I’ve been requesting blurbs – you know, those quotes you read on the back cover or sometimes there’s a whole page at the front of the book. Here’s the first blurb I received. It’s from Nicole Breit, award-winning poet, essayist and Best American Essays 2017 Notable author:

In her beautifully crafted memoir If I Could Remember, I Would: Teddy Bears & Brains & Caring for my Mother, Donna Costa has accomplished something so rare and noteworthy: an imaginative work of literary distinction that is both a tribute to her mother and a precious gift to her readers. This book belongs on the shelves of doctors, caregivers and family members who have walked alongside a loved one living with Alzheimers.

Nicole’s Spark Your Story writing program was a fun and powerful course I took to learn modern forms for personal essays…different ways to write memoir. Learning these forms – for example, collage essays, diptych essays, hermit crab essays – helped me formulate several stories in my manuscript. It’s also how I was able to get my stories published in literary magazines and how I got shortlisted for two writing contests.

Does it sound like I’m tooting my own horn? (They tell me writers are supposed to get comfortable doing that.) Actually, I want to toot the horn for Nicole’s awesome writing program. It not only gets the creative juices flowing, it teaches you how to channel that into creative form.

I extend much gratitude to Nicole for all she taught me that has helped me grow as a writer.

Remember, if you’re out Listowel way, drop by the library on October 19. I’ll be donating a copy of Transformation to the library and will also have copies for sale if you’d like a personal, signed copy. And if you knew my Mom, I’d love to hear your reminiscences.

Mixing Metaphors

Mixing Metaphors

This weekend, my husband and I made pasta from scratch. Simple ingredients of egg, water, salt and flour – Red Fife being our current favourite. Rather than a rolling pin like his mother used, we had a stainless steel, hand-crank pasta machine that I borrowed from my sister years ago.

After mixing the ingredients, I had a small clump of dough that seemed barely enough to feed the two of us and I wondered how my mother-in-law managed to make homemade pasta for eight children, seven of whom were boys with hearty appetites. I kneaded briefly, then let the dough rest for thirty minutes.

This resting is an important step. It allows the flour to fully absorb the water and egg, which fuses the flavours. Resting also allows the gluten to do its thing – either relaxing the gluten so it doesn’t spring back like bread or strengthening so the dough stretches easily – depending on which explanation one finds online. Either way, the rest is necessary.

While the dough rested, hubby and I got creative and improvised some drying racks – a curtain rod between upper kitchen cabinets, with several plastic hangars strung across the pole.

After the rest period, I separated the dough ball into four smaller pieces and fed them, one at a time, through the pasta machine’s rollers. Using the dial, one is able to manually adjust the thickness of the pasta, the first setting being for the thickest noodles. With each successive pressing, the dial is turned to another setting, reducing the thickness between the rollers and, thus, the thickness of the pasta.

After the first press, I had lasagna-like noodles, which I carefully laid onto parchment paper. Adjusting the dial, each noodle was fed through a second time. The noodles were getting thinner, wider and longer, but also stronger. I needed another sheet of parchment paper, then another, as the pasta quadrupled and I began to understand how mia suocera could feed a large family from such humble beginnings.

Another turn of the crank. Roll the dough. Turn, roll and press. The repetitiveness was calming, almost meditative.

Handmade pasta cannot be hurried!

The first time I tried to make pasta, I thought I could skip all the settings and proceed directly to the thinnest level. Instead of dough that rolled out flat and smooth, it broke apart. Without the passage of time, without being subjected to the kneading and pressure from successive pressings, the dough lacked strength and integrity. It was weak and, literally, full of holes.

Writing a book, like handmade pasta, is a process that can’t be hurried. A story starts with simple ingredients – an idea, a character or two, maybe a theme or some hint of conflict. 

Then, let it rest.

This is where I am – at the resting stage – with my next novel. While the ideas are resting – some might say percolating, but that would be mixing metaphors – I research. For this story, that means World War I, conscription, home children, and all things circa 1918 – medicine, the city of London, Ontario, women’s issues, Spanish flu, clothing, politics.

As I research, the characters start to develop. I hear their voices. They visit my dreams. I feel their emotions fusing into a plot.

Next, I will press pen to paper, fingertips to laptop keys, to roll out the beginnings of a story outline. Perhaps some character development sheets with aims, motivations, backgrounds.

Press again, and the setting unfolds. Street names, a timeline of historical events.

With each pressing, words multiply into scenes, into dialogue, into chapters. Edit. Re‑write. Repeat. Each step is necessary to the final result. Without revision after revision, the story, like hurried pasta, would be weak, lack integrity, and be full of plot holes.

Some time in the future, I will enjoy the repast of a finished manuscript. For now, my plate is filled with homemade tagliatelli, covered with pine nuts, parmesan, and garden-fresh pesto – slow, healthy food brimming with quality and flavour.

Buon appetito!

Photo by Jorge Zapata on Unsplash

River Thoughts

River Thoughts

As I sit on a rock by the river—mist rising on the water, morning sun warming my face—I hear the tap-tap-tap of a woodpecker over my shoulder. A Downy woodpecker, no doubt, for they are common in these woods.

Judging from the softness of the tap, he is small, his sound barely audible beneath the squawk of blue jays and cat birds and the hum of traffic in the distance.

I turn and spy him in the tree, under a canopy of green, hidden from hawk predators above. Black feathers with spots of white, the absence of a cap of red indicates he is a juvenile.

He goes about his business, not minding the noise of the attention-grabbing birds.

Not minding that he is not yet marked with a red cap to prove his maturity to others.

Not even minding that he is not a red pileated woodpecker—larger, flashier, louder.

He is simply incapable of being other than what he is and, in that, he is content.

He focuses on finding insects and larvae in the cracks and crannies of the dead wood.

Or perhaps he is drumming to his friends “Come join me” or drumming his joy in being alive on such a glorious morning.

I turn back to the water.

I hear Him with me; his tapping and his presence, they comfort me.

Photo by Jack Bulmer on Unsplash

When Writing is a Pain in the Neck (or Back)

When Writing is a Pain in the Neck (or Back)

 “If you sit at a computer all day,” a wise instructor once told me, “you are telling your body you want a shape to fit a chair…bent and crooked.”

Our bodies are designed for movement, but when we remain still and seated for most of our day, we are instructing our bodies to hold that shape and our body happily complies. Yet when our backs are stiff upon rising, we complain as if it wasn’t our own direction to the body that created the aches and pains.

Margaret Atwood, in her “Top 5 Writing Tips” on YouTube, advises writers “to pay attention to posture because writing/keyboarding is hard on the neck and back.” She suggests doing back stretches, getting enough exercise, and walking around. Frequent breaks, she says, are good for the back and other muscles – and can also help with writer’s block – so get up, take a walk, do some stretches.

As someone who practiced several modalities in holistic health prior to focusing on writing, I would like to expand on Atwood’s suggestions. Here are some ideas.

  • Books (I’m a writer. You knew there was going to be books, right?)

Natural Posture for Pain-Free Living: The Practice of Mindful Alignment, Kathleen Porter

8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back, Esther Gokhale

Both are excellent resources on how to sit, bend, stand and sleep for a healthy back. Also, when you read, prop up the book so you are not bending your neck forward.

  • Franklin Method

Last summer at the Sage Hill Writing School, I had the pleasure of trying the Franklin Method® which combines anatomical imagery with physical movements to create changes in the body and mind. This method is taught around the world, including at schools such as Julliard. It stimulates brain creativity by waking up the body and nervous system through the use of simple movements such as tapping, brushing, sponging, shearing, and shaking. Here are a couple to try:

Neck sponging (Hint: In addition to writing and keyboarding, two causes of head-forward posture are cell phone use and a need for corrective lenses.)

Eye refreshing

  • Tai Chi

Tai Chi is a low-impact exercise with slow, graceful movements that provide many benefits – muscle strength, flexibility, balance, cardiovascular health, and improved mood and cognition. There are long, medium, and short forms of Tai Chi, as well as different styles. While it takes time to learn, The Beijing 24 is a simplified form that can be done in 10 minutes – perfect for a writing break, especially on winter days when you may not want to go outside for a walk. There are several Tai Chi academies in London and the city also offers classes through its recreational programs. Once you learn the 24 moves, it is simple to do Tai Chi anywhere.

  • Qigong

Somewhat similar to Tai Chi, active Qigong (versus passive qigong) includes movements – sometimes meditative, sometimes energizing – which are repeated while standing in one spot. Try this favourite for a short break. Or this one describing the basic qigong moves.

In addition to incorporating stretches into your writer breaks, consider adding regular maintenance such as chiropractic treatments, cranial sacral massage, or Bowen therapy (aka Bowtech, Bowenwork.) Full disclosure – I practised Bowen for many years. I’m now retired from practice, but regular Bowen sessions are integral to maintenance of health.

Bowen is a gentle therapy originating in Australia and practiced around the world. It uses small moves on the fascia. Bowen addresses many health issues in addition to back pain. Movements to complement back procedures might include TMJ, pelvic, rhomboids, and psoas (the muscle becomes tight/shortened through sitting.) There is a handful of Bowen practitioners throughout London and surrounding areas.

So there you have it…some resources for writers who want to maintain a healthy neck and back. But don’t just read about it – put it into practice. Add an alarm to your cellphone or laptop, perhaps mid morning and mid afternoon, or whatever fits best into your writing schedule. And don’t ignore the alarm, even if you’re deep in the writing zone. Instead, jot down a few words and begin your break. You will remember the ideas when you return and, who knows, you may even tap into more ideas as you exercise, maybe because you are exercising.


Photo credit: julien Tromeur, Unsplash.

Pantser On File

Pantser On File

Enroute to Peggy’s Cove from Halifax last week, my companion and I spotted flames in the roadside grasses. As tourists, we had not been following the local news. And even though we had driven through several patches of smoke-laden air, we were largely unaware that forest fires were burning in the province. But after seeing those flames and receiving cell phone alerts of emergency evacuations, we began paying attention.

Heading back to our hotel at the end of our day’s sojourn, we noticed a dark cloud in the sky over Halifax. Is it a storm cloud, we pondered. Perhaps an explosion in the industrial area? (Still in denial!)  But, as the saying goes, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. This one in the Tantallon and Hammonds Plains areas.

After consulting Google maps, we realized the affected areas were a 30-minute drive from our hotel in downtown Halifax. We were on the major highway at the time and not in serious danger, unlike residents of the subdivisions. Visible on the side roads and off-ramps were cruisers, lights flashing, blocking the roads and preventing traffic into evacuation areas.

I tell this tale not as an OMG-look-what-almost-happened-to-me — although I kind of just did that — but as a segue into this theme of fire currently burning in my life.

On returning to London, Ontario, I participated in a shamanic journey experience called Word Doctoring and working with the goddess Brigid who was a fire goddess. This was scheduled months in advance, but it’s interesting how it converged with my other fire experience.

Goddess Brigid, it is said, was born at sunrise, flames bursting from her forehead reaching to Heaven. She is the goddess of many things, including midwifery, healing and crafts such as writing, poetry and beer, and especially crafts involving fire — metallurgy, forging, glassblowing.

During one shamanic journey — a journey is simply an altered state of consciousness, induced by the rhythm of a hoop drum, somewhat similar to a dream state — I built a fire beside a billabong and invited Brigid to initiate me into Word Doctoring. I was put into and through the fire I had built. (The symbolism in journeying can be exquisite!) My skin did not burn. Instead, a fire was ignited in my heart as my physical heart, hands, and body became warm with the fire of Brigid.

Reflecting this morning about these experiences of fire, a childhood phrase popped in my mind:

Liar, liar, pants on fire.

Now, in writing circles, we sometimes refer to two different styles of writing — plotsers and pantsers.

Pantsers are writers who write by the seat of their pants — no outline, no planning, just write what comes. That is how I wrote my first two books, Breathing With Trees and If I Could Remember I Would: Bears & Brains & Caring For My Mother. (Note: After writing by the seat of your pants, you typically will need to edit with thought and planning.)

For my next historical fiction novel, I am abandoning my Pantser style — Pantser on fire — and going full Plotter. My weeks from June to September are carefully plotted out for week-by-week research into the period of 1918 — Spanish Flu, homeopathy, suffrage, military operations, children’s toys and clothing, women’s issues. It’s a time for gathering the kindling-facts for the fire of storytelling.

Next, October to spring is planned for character development — profile sheets, background, aims and motivation, internal conflict — setting outline, plot structure, overriding theme, timeline of events, chapter summary drafts. In short, it is thinking about all the literary devices before writing the story and is the opposite of the method for my other books where I only thought about these things after writing the first Pantser draft.

With Plotser style, the planning and details become sparks to ignite the writing. Plotser is like a controlled burn…intentionally set to manage the ecosystem where fire would naturally occur. It is meant to be a low-intensity natural fire, preventing complete burn-out. Controlled burns of forests help remove sick or diseased trees and prevent the fire spreading to other areas. Similarly, controlled burns help a writer stick to the issues and theme of the story and prevent plot-wandering in a direction away from the central burn. Plotser mimicks a natural fire with the writer controlling where and when an area will burn.

Plotser or Pantser — slow burn vs an out-of-control forest fire? I’m looking forward to the exploration of this new-to-me approach.


As of this writing, the Halifax area fires are 85% contained and not expected to spread. Five active fires continue to burn in other regions of Nova Scotia. The one at Barrington Lake is out of control.

May all be safe.

Photo credit: Landon Parenteau on Unsplash

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