Halifax to the max: a master’s residency experience

Oh goodness, I am lost for words. This doesn’t happen often folks!

I have just come back from a ten-day trip to Halifax, Nova Scotia. I have never been to the East Coast of Canada before, and the scenery, history, and welcome from Haligonians was astounding. I’m smitten.

The trip was prompted by the summer residency of the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction program at University of King’s College. The program is offered in partnership with Dalhousie University, which means it benefits from a whole whack of different amenities but also retains the charms of a small institution. King’s is the oldest chartered university in Canada. Established in 1789, it is the oldest English-speaking Commonwealth university outside of the United Kingdom. It was originally based in Windsor, but after a fire ripped through all the buildings, it was relocated to Dalhousie campus at the corner of Oxford Street and Coburg Road.

I could write and write and write about this all day long, but likely best to just show you some photos from the experience.

Woman stands in front of old stone building with sign in background saying "University of King's College"

Arrived! Yes, I look a bit bedraggled after a red-eye flight from Vancouver to Halifax, but happy I managed to navigate the bus system with ease to arrive on campus.

Stone building at Dalhousie campus with beautiful boxwood hedges out front.

Dalhousie and King’s campus did not disappoint. Tons of history preserved so well.

Dorm room with a bed, desk and small bureau for clothes.

My first dorm room ever. I never lived in student housing through undergraduate studies, either at home with my parents or in my own place. It was fantastic being on campus throughout the residency as classes were just exhausting (they crammed a lot into my brain in those ten days!), but let’s just say shared accommodations are probably best experienced in your 20s.

Bound book featuring student signatures and names as part of King's Matriculation tradition.

Being an old institution, there are several traditions at King’s that I have never experienced as a student before. One is called “Matriculation,” where students sign a book in the Library. If you are an undergrad, I believe they do a whole ceremony around signing and officially matriculating at King’s — a bookend companion to the convocation ceremony, I guess. There was no pomp or circumstance when I arrived, though, but I got to sign the book all the same. Once things fill up a bit more, they hire a professional calligrapher to write out everyone’s names. Super formal and fancy.

Wall of small paintings at the Halifax Public Library

One of our last nights we visited the Halifax Public Library for a reading. They had a wall filled with art. The public library in a town says so much about its people, and Halifax’s new building was stunning. Very modern but actually cozy.

Simone Blais in a pub holding an aperol spritz

What writing workshop would be complete without a beverage? End of day libations were much needed after all that learning and creativity.

Under the surface

Yes, this space has been a little quiet. Please don’t take the radio silence for stillness. Things have been moving at break-neck speed behind the scenes!

I am currently working on my master’s degree – a joint program from University of King’s College and Dalhousie University! So far, it has been incredibly challenging and yet wildly rewarding. I can see growth in my writing and the lens through which I see words and the world.

It has meant scaling back on client work, unfortunately, but I know I will offer just so much more value to my clients once this journey of exploration and learning is complete.

Stay tuned as I announce new projects and my own writing in the coming months.

BIG is an IPPY medal winner

Great news on the publishing front. BIG: Stories About Life in Plus-Sized Bodies has earned international recognition from the publishing industry.

The Independent Publisher Book Awards awarded BIG a silver medal in the anthology category. Read the listing of quality publications on the IPPY Awards website.

This was a really phenomenal project to be part of, and it’s great to see it is still getting traction amongst various groups.

Grateful for the simplicity of storytime

This year, I find myself more grateful than ever at Thanksgiving. We are seven months into the pandemic, and this moment in time has extended from what we thought would be a few weeks of working from home into months, if not years, of precautionary measures. I am exhausted just typing that out.

The learnings have been abundant. We focused on the important things like health, shelter and basic income, while using technology to connect with those we love. Each day was a lesson in taking stock in what’s important.

I think that’s why I misted up a bit when I saw this YouTube channel recently. Oskar Mose Adventures is reading children’s stories to help kids go on exciting adventures by encouraging them to use their imaginations and creativity.

I had a lot of memorable assignments as a reporter, but getting to cover toddler storytime at the local library was just what the doctor ordered for a rough day at the office. And it’s like these videos hit the rewind button on life for a bit, when our biggest worries involved how to mix paint colours during art time.

Check out their channel – I’m sure things will be a little lighter after hearing Oskar’s dad read a story or two.

From the vault: Olympic fever hits Tri-Cities

This article was originally published on the front page of the Coquitlam Now on Feb. 12, 2010.

It starts with a rumble, a muted clamour in the distance.

The air becomes electric, animating all those around.

It’s coming. It’s coming.

Necks crane and hands stuff down into pockets to fish out cameras.

Those lined up by the red tape in Port Coquitlam’s Leigh Square shift their weight, make room for more children at the front who look back at their parents for confirmation.

It’s just after 7:30 a.m. on Thursday, and Shaughnessy Street is jam-packed with a jovial crowd that grows denser the closer you get toward City Hall.

The throngs of young and old look like they’ve been doused in red, and many carry flags. Despite the rain, they are all wearing smiles.

Thousands showed up in downtown Port Coquitlam Thursday morning to watch the Olympic torchbearer stride through town, meet his fellow torchbearer under the bandshell and pass the flame on.

Nancy Tremblay’s six-year-old son, Cameron, stared wide-eyed at the Leigh Square crowd.

Her son has been waiting for this moment for months, and the anticipation has only grown as his school does art projects like making crafty torches and Olympic rings or devoting days to the red and white.

Tremblay says there was no way Cameron and his sisters, nine-year-old Mackenzie and 13-year-old Destiny, would have missed watching the torch come to town.

“They had to come. They were very excited. We got up really early for this,” Tremblay says, chuckling. The Olympics have come to hold deep meaning in their PoCo household. “It means a great sense of pride for our country and the athletes. It’s something my children will remember for the rest of their lives.”

The roar grows and suddenly, hands are thrown in the air as a helicopter hovers nearby, the occupants looking down to see a sea of waving mittens and flags as the likes of Doug Alward, Terry Fox’s longtime friend, run the torch into the city.

Decked out in the now-famous white tracksuit and red mittens, Mark Stoklosa jogs the final 300 metres past school children and Olympic fans to where city councillors and staff cheer.

Stoklosa and Port Coquitlam’s David Kam come together, their torches meet and the flame ignites to the delight of everyone at Leigh Square, to thunderous applause and screams. And just as quickly as the flame arrived, it departs Leigh Square, Kam hoisting his torch through more streets lined with child and adult fans.

They see local athletes like Chris Rinke, a wrestler who competed at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, and Brit Townsend, Simon Fraser University’s cross-country track and field coach, raise the torch aloft and move the Olympic dream along.

Commuters along Lougheed Highway witness preparations at Mackin Park beginning early, with stage and booth setup taking place long before daylight.

Rain falls gently on the heart of Maillardville, where scads of people dressed in red congregate for the Tri-Cities’ only community cauldron celebration.

Local politicians, fresh from the completion of early morning torch relays through Belcarra, Anmore and Port Moody, arrive at the park and jockey for position to watch entertainment on the stage. Port Moody-Coquitlam MLA Iain Black says 2,000 people showed up to watch the torch run through Anmore, dwarfing the number of visitors recorded on even the busiest summer day.

Black is dancing beside the stage, and he is not alone. More than 10,000 people are moving to the beat of music blaring from the sound system and the palpable buzz in the air.

It’s coming. It’s coming.

As the clock comes closer to 9 a.m., dignitaries make their way to the stage.

Chris Wilson appears at the edge of the park an holds the torch aloft, beaming as he walks down the middle of the crowd toward the stage.

He pauses on stage to drink the moment in, and then tilts the torch to his left, where the community cauldron ignites, causing loud waves of sound to run through the crowd.

It’s here. It’s here.

“It’s amazing. I have never thought that I would ever see something like this,” he says, thanking the community for its support and enthusiasm.

The former wrestler, who competed at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, now chairs KidSport Tri-Cities, which helps youths take part in organized sports.

“I think it’s really important for kids to find that thing they’re passionate about, that they love doing. And then they should work their butt off for it,” Wilson says, adding that kids should be encouraged to try everything from sports to arts and pastimes in between. “Everyone’s got a talent for something.”

Wilson steps down off the stage and makes a beeline to his family nearby, one daughter with a sign saying “Go Dad Go.”

“It’s an amazing morning,” Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart says. “This is the biggest crowd ever assembled in Coquitlam, and I tip my hat to you.”

Dancers take to the stage, delighting the crowd with Scottish highland, Korean, Chinese and Russian dance, before assembling together for a multicultural encore.

They make way for 19 Grade 10 students from Dr. Charles Best Secondary, all clad in white tracksuits. Led by school counsellor Kristi Blakeway, the Best Buddies group is to carry the torch on so other communities can share in the dream.

The VANOC announcer declares Coquitlam an Olympic community as Blakeway’s torch is lit, and members of the school troupe descend the stairs and high-five the crowd as they wend their way out of Mackin Park.

The crowd, after offering its final hurrah, lets out a collective breath.

It’s gone. It’s gone.

And yet, it’s only the beginning.

Podcast interview about editing Finding Your Cape

As a writer, today is surreal. I’m usually quite happy to stay within the writing medium, comfortable hiding behind the words shown on a screen.

Mare McHale does have a way of pulling people out of their comfort zones, though.

The author of Finding Your Cape: How to Course Correct and Achieve Greatness When Things Don’t Go as Planned asked me to be a guest on her podcast, help her kick off the second season and dish a bit on the editing process. How could I say no?

So if you were ever curious about what my voice sounds like, feel free to listen to the snippet below. Check out the podcast episode link to our convo about editing and writing on a personal topic.


Listen to the full podcast

BIG featured in BC Bookworld

Well hello there! I don’t know about you, but I blinked and missed spring, summer and most of September. It’s proper fall now with chillier mornings – although there’s been no indulging in pumpkin spice everything… yet.

It feels like decades ago that BIG: Stories about Life in Plus-Sized Bodies was released by Caitlin Press. An essay I wrote was published in that book, and it has been a pleasure to see it create waves in the publishing industry.

It has now been featured by BC Bookworld, one of the most venerable periodicals to profile and review books in the province. Editor Christina Myers makes for a stunning cover model, don’t you think?

Cover of BC BookWorld with Christina Myers on the cover

Black lives matter: Decolonizing my book shelf

I have been quiet these last months, not due just to the pandemic. The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery felt like a gut punch. The violence perpetrated on these people, and so many others, is overwhelming – and kick-started some deep self-reflection.

The reality of racism is now being live-streamed to everyone’s homes. The tragically prophetic words from Will Smith, shared on the Late Show in 2016 and circling yet again, have been haunting me for months: “Racism is not getting worse; it is getting filmed.”

We are shown these images of police violence against Black people, but why do the stories stop there? Where is the everyday life of BIPOC people – the artists, entrepreneurs, financiers, volunteers and family members? It doesn’t take much scrutiny to see how film, television and books falls short of truly representing the diverse world of humans around us – a key component of mutual understanding and respect.

I see this in my home, as well. Looking at my bookcase, it’s painfully clear what an undergraduate education in English literature will yield: hundreds of books by old white dudes.

I studied “the canon” in university: Chaucer, Dickens and Hardy. Shakespeare’s early work prior to 1601, and then plays onward. One class devoted the entire semester to Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queen – the longest poem in the English language at 1,053 pages. I somehow escaped the Hemingway trap, thank heavens.

The studies upheld European male writers, predominantly British, as the standard to which all others must be compared. They were “classics.”

Were all texts exclusively by white males? No, but the proportion of texts by female, Black, Indigenous, Métis, Inuit, people of colour, and LGBTQ2IA writers is far less. This is not acceptable.

Perusing current course offerings at my alma mater, it appears this is starting to change. Indigenous authors are among the study options now, although as an elective. There are some studies of modern works, which touch on racism – but, as is too often the case, focused on the American context and the civil rights movement in particular.

In the last few years, I have intentionally purchased writing by diverse authors, and intend to buy even more in the future. Each writer provides me greater insight into families, cultures and perspectives that, as a white person, I have not been privy to. By expanding my literary horizons, I have read more about racism in Canada during contemporary times in neighbourhoods like my own. Bias, violence, discriminatory legislation and wilful neglect of our duty of care: stories by diverse authors put a human face to systemic racism.

Children’s author Mo Willems once wrote that, “If you ever find yourself in the wrong story, leave.” I offer this list of recommended books for white readers to leave the traditional English canon behind, and begin the process of decolonizing their bookshelves.

This is not an anti-racist reading list; these are not books by academic researchers designed to unlearn racism. As a white, middle-class woman, I don’t profess to be an expert in this field and I’m not suggesting the following is part of a “new canon” of BIPOC literature nor the only authors to read (I honestly struggled with limiting this list). These are stories – fictional and non-fiction accounts of human beings affected by the racist and colonial systems we find ourselves in today. I have an admitted bias toward Canadian authors (I will always love you #canlit). These are merely titles that diversified my reading, introduced new BIPOC voices and helped me understand complex struggles that marginalized characters face.

Polished Hoe book coverThe Polished Hoe, Austin Clarke

This 2002 Scotiabank Giller Prize winning story is a literary masterpiece. They say writing an entire novel of dialogue is impossible, until the unforgettable Austin Clarke proves the declaration wrong. This story is heart-rending, and the tension between Mary-Mathilda and the police is tangible from the very first pages.

The Break by Katherena Vermette book coverThe Break, Katherena Vermette

Trauma touches generations like a drop in water: the ripples spread far and wide. Katherena Vermette’s novel follows a multigenerational Métis-Anishinaabe family dealing with the fallout of a shocking crime. The writing is also incredibly crafted, which has earned Vermette several awards.

Book cover of Brother by David ChariandyBrother, David Chariandy

Teenaged brothers navigate a world fraught with prejudice and poverty in suburban Ontario. This story of a new Canadian family is haunting in its tragic loss echoing, sadly, current events. David Chariandy claimed the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize for this novel.

Book cover of Keeper N' Me by Richard WagameseKeeper N’ Me, Richard Wagamese

What is our identity without our people? Richard Wagamese’s novel follows Garnet Raven’s experience of being apprehended by social workers at the age of three and growing up in the foster care system. He finds relatives as a young adult, uncovering his family’s rich traditions and community. This lovely tale is shaped with two points of view, adding to the mysticism and relational connection.

Book cover of Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya TalagaSeven Fallen Feathers, Tanya Talaga

Sometimes truth is more horrifying than fiction. Tanya Talaga’s research is a scathing indictment on society’s blatant disregard for human life and human rights. Children from First Nations communities are having to travel hundreds of kilometres from home to access education, only to be denigrated, abused and, in some cases, killed when they arrive in the host communities. Talaga’s book covers 2000 to 2011, when seven Indigenous high school children died in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Prepare to be chilled by the system’s response.

Roots, Alex Haley

Book cover of Roots by Alex HaleyIt has been made into a movie, mini-series, audiobook and a quandary for genealogists and historians. I read Roots: The Saga of an American Family at the age of 16, and I vividly remember wanting to rip my skin off as guilty penance for the sins of my ancestors. There has been much critique of Alex Haley’s research for the foundation of his book. But if you consider it historical fiction, the “could-be” story of how one person came to be in America, Roots unpacks a lot of baggage of what the characters’ ancestors may have endured.

And if you have gotten this far: consider purchasing a copy or two of these books and passing it along to friends. (All book cover images link to a national online book seller.) Buying books by BIPOC writers supports their work and encourages publishers to keep diverse stories coming.

Red pens are your friends: how different types of editing can help

Ever stared at a painting so long that the lines seem to move? This is what happens with words after you have written 60,000 of them and spent a few weeks rearranging them on the page. The lines blur, and then you can’t see the details in the story for the colourful canvas you have created. 

When I worked in journalism, I had an editor who said that the newspaper was the only type of business that involved making a mistake, printing 50,000 copies and sending them to your closest friends. There was even a retired English teacher in town who loved to pass his hours by marking up our work with red ink over errant punctuation or grammar, and mailing newsprint sheets back to us.

When your writing is scrutinized by that degree, you and the editorial team develop a lot of systems to avoid making mistakes in the first place. Editing happened at every stage of our publication process: writing, revising, fact-checking, copy editing, proofreading. If you had to change the story because of a late development, you returned to the beginning and ran through the stages again.

Editing isn’t just about catching mistakes, though. Yes, programs like Grammarly can help you craft an easy-to read email with fewer spelling mistakes. A real-life editor has the tools to chip away at all the extraneous bits in a story, whittling everything down to its essence to expose the story so much that a reader cannot look away.

Author and former publishing house executive Arthur Plotnik once explained the value of editing to be that, “You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what’s burning inside of you, and we edit to let the fire show through the smoke.”

What kinds of editing are there? There are four main types of editing, which depend largely on what stage you are in the writing process. 

Substantive Edit

This is the type of edit needed once you have emerged triumphantly from finishing the first draft of your manuscript and used that momentum to clean up glaring errors. You don’t know if the manuscript “works,” quite yet. In fact, you’re sure that some weird strand has woven its way through the pages, but you can’t see it and don’t know how to yank it out of your story.

If you are like many writers, the happy veneer of finishing a first draft has worn off, and you can barely glance at the work again without wincing.

I like to call the substantive edit the “ugly duckling phase,” when you can see the beginnings of something really special if you look past all those feathers and honking noises, but it is going to take a lot of time and work to get it looking swan-like.

Substantive editing picks apart the structure of a story: exposition of plot/information, order of events, form, character development and thematic elements. If this stage of editing were a jigsaw puzzle, you would be flipping paragraphs and chapters around, figuring out where they best fit — and how the transitions work between patches of colour. It honestly is where the big picture of the narrative puzzle comes together.

Deletion is an important part of this stage, and can be difficult for many people. William Faulkner is famously quoted as having said that writers have to kill their darlings. Those characters, plot events, descriptions and formats we love? Yes, those are your darlings. The substantive edit phase is a great time to give those the axe – and having someone else put them under the blade is the best way to strengthen your story.

Stylistic Edit

You have a solid second or third draft of a manuscript which has been rewritten and revised into the order you know is right for your story. It’s a good draft, but you want to make it great.

Stylistic editing (also known as a line edit) makes the writing an enjoyable read: establishing the necessary voice and tone, clarifying meaning, refining language and diction. I tend to add some copy editing into this phase as well, depending on the client.

At this stage, I spend time asking “Does this make sense?” or “Would this character use those words, or say it another way?” A good editor is able to read the work completely immersed in not just the story, but the reader’s experience and expectations of the story.

Copy Edit

Your manuscript is now at the third-draft stage, having been read by someone else and extensively revised and refined. You’re actually starting to get sick of this project a little.

Copy editing covers accuracy, consistency and quality: grammar, spelling, punctuation, stylistic consistency, correcting information and asking questions to check accuracy.

Call it nit-picking if you like, but the devil’s in the details. Do you want the reader to stay in your story, or stumble on your missteps? Nothing pulls them out more than incorrect geographical references, spelling mistakes and misuse of punctuation. Having professionally trained eyes read your work at this stage is critical. This is often the work that corporations, large companies and organizations will hire editors to do, because they know polishing their written material makes a huge difference in the end product.


Your manuscript has been designed is ready for publishing, but you need one final read-through to make sure it is absolutely perfect. I can say from experience that spellcheck will only take you so far, my friend.

Proofreading examines the material after layout (once a graphic designer has put together its final format) to correct any errors in textual and visual elements. Design consistency, minor mechanical errors, page numbering, etc., are reviewed at this stage. It’s the final polish to getting your manuscript shining like a new coin.

Beyond the red pen

You can have a professional help you with one or all of these phases in the publishing process. Depending on your writing experience, it might be more valuable to have an editor work with you at the beginning, helping craft the piece into the shape you need it to take on. Or if you have a fact-based story and have been fastidious about revisions, maybe you engage someone for copy editing and proofreading.

But a huge added value that many editors offer is moral support. Writing is a maddeningly complicated art form, fraught with all sorts of traps and hang-ups. Having someone who can talk you through the low valleys and celebrate ascending those heights validates the emotional journey of writing. Sharing the trip makes it that much more enjoyable.

Creativity under attack: surviving quarantine as an artist

I see you.

The creative soul who usually spends days head down in a journal. Maybe elbow deep in paint or fingers dusty with smudged charcoal. Perhaps you prefer quick shutter speeds and wide lenses. The resonance of a guitar string strummed softly. Or rhythm moving through your body expressing pain past and present, like a warm song crying out in a cold night.

I see you.

This bizarre and tumultuous moment in history is supposedly ours, when artists have the time and space to create. The world has slowed to a crawl and actually begs us to stay in, be in our homes and keep each other safe. Remove distraction from the outside world and there should be ample room for art.

But I see you struggling. You feel this too intensely. The fear has snuck in so close you feel it like knotted twine wrapped around your chest.

You know at the heart of this threat is a microscopic enemy, a small viral protein packed with enough power to take away the things you treasure most: your parents, spouse, children, family and friends.

You may have already lost a job, or a business. Maybe even a home. But you barter with this invisible enemy that you would give up all those things three times over if only it would spare the ones you love.

You watched civilization fold like a musty army tent ordered to clear out. As the tent poles fell, you felt the air being sucked out of you, too.

This, all of this is the price one pays for seeing the world through artist’s eyes.

The creatives are trapped in the dark with monsters under our beds, even if they all are dressed differently. If the thread of human existence has taught us anything, it is that life will press on — the monsters will make way for artistry when daylight breaks.

So don’t worry about the dusty manuscript on your desk, the overdue rehearsal, the canvas devoid of colour. Your creative spark has not snuffed out – it’s merely waiting for dawn to reignite.

For now, feel as you must: lost, scared, anxious, timid, bewildered and discouraged.

But please promise me you will never feel alone.

Because I see you – and I’m there, too.

Resources if you need help