In The Woods has launched!

Yesterday, my writers group and I launched our third anthology. The first was called Sex Death and Grain Elevators, because any story told about the Canadian prairies supposedly needed all three ingredients. The second was called, Where In The World Is Carmen Manitoba? which contained stories about aliens and UFOs because in the ’70s the town of Carmen was the home of Charlie Red Star, a strange red light that traveled the highway into town, attracting UFO hunters from all over the continent.

Off The Wall presents In The Woods is the title of our latest collection of fiction, poetry, actual sighting reports and photos of the elusive Sasquatch. The book was self-published using the Espresso Machine at McNally Robinson Booksellers. The Espresso Machine is a wonderful new invention that creates a book for you in about five minutes, right before your eyes! The machine, located right inside the doors of the bookstore, has glass panels through which you can see the pages printed, the cover printed and bent, glue applied to the binding and the whole thing put together. It really is amazing to watch!

Anyway, here are a few shots of the group, ‘Off The Wall’ – at least, those that could make it to the launch – flaunting their stories:

Me! :)

Me! 🙂

I was chosen to introduce the group and read first, along with my Sasquatch buddy Sassy. 😉

Fatima DeMelo

Fatima DeMelo

A life-long resident of Winnipeg, Fatima recently rejoined the group, (she was a member back when it first started). We hope this will be the first of many pieces of writing from her. She currently works as a Library Technician for an academic library, taking pride in helping her students learn how to search for creditable information. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, going out for walks, and writing posts for her own blog at stacksandranges.wordpress.com

Evelyn Woodward

Evelyn Woodward

Before home schooling her three children, Evelyn’s writing revolved around research, following her graduation from Brandon University. She has come a long way from work she termed ‘not interesting for anyone to know about’ to an accomplished writer and one of the original members of the Off The Wall group. She has published three books, Caught in the Web, I Am The Gatekeeper, and The Way of the Kyma, available on Amazon.

Cas Courcelles was unable to attend because of travel plans that were made before our launch date was set, but she was there in spirit. Cas is a Canadian author who summers on the level lands and winters south of assorted borders. She wrote Harliquin Romances for a number of years under the pen name Samantha Day but has since branched out into the suspense genre. Her novel, Down Dark Deep, can be found on Amazon and you can find her on Twitter @cascourcelles.

Our camera shy member, Russell Corbet, was also unable to attend. After a thorough University of Manitoba education in dead languages, Russell embarked on several failed careers: double-naught spy, professional shark bait, day care provider and cult leader. He now lives somewhere in the Western Hemisphere with a mortgage, a minivan, no cats, and a sage plant. He continues to be bent on world domination. 🙂

Chris Rutkowski with his mechanical Sasquatch friend (behind & to the left).

Chris Rutkowski with his mechanical Sasquatch friend.

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Chris is a Canadian science writer and educator. Since the mid-1970s, he’s written about his investigations and research on Ufos, for which he is best known. However, he has been involved in many other writing and media projects for more than 30 years, including TV specials (The Monster of Lake Manitoba, 1996), planetarium shows (Moonlight Serenade, 1983, and Amateur Nights, 1989) and newspaper columns, (Strange Tales, in the Northern Times, Thompson, Manitoba,1984 to 1985). He has nine published books on UFOs and related issues, a collection of short stories and has contributed to many other volumes, both fiction and non-fiction. His recent works include A World of UFOs (2008), I Saw It Too! (2009) and The Big Book of UFOs (2010). In addition, he is a book reviewer for the Winnipeg Free Press, appears often on TV and radio, teaches courses on Writing and is currently president of the Manitoba Writers’ Guild. He is on Twitter (@ufologyresearch) and blogs at http://uforum.blogspot.com/

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Signing books for our fans.

We had a great time. The weather was lousy, strong winds whipping around buckets of rain, but that did not deter our family and friends from coming out to support us. We appreciate every single one of them! As well, we want to thank McNally’s for not only helping us through the process of getting the books printed but also for providing a space to launch the books and all the promotional stuff they did and will do. Wish you all could have been there, too. 🙂

September in Review

Whew! It’s been quite a month, leaving me little time to pop around to people’s blogs, for which I apologize! As for my own blog, in case any of you were wondering where I’ve been or what I’ve been doing, lately, let me bring you up to date.

The first of the month, we attended the backyard wedding of our close friends’ son. During the week that followed, I met with a friend (Sept. 3rd) before she headed off to Europe for the next six months, did a little photo editing for a retiree’s album (Sept. 5th) and attended my writers group meeting(Sept. 7th). In between events that week, I was dropping by the Manitoba Writers’ Guild to sort out their neglected library.

The following week, Hubby decided to replace the Master Cylinder in my car after I told him my brakes seemed to be getting a little mushy. I didn’t expect him to pull it out the day after I mentioned it (Sept. 9th), but he did. Unfortunately, he didn’t get the chance to actually replace it. His ankle (that he sprained a couple of weeks previously during the barn raising) was causing him pain and he decided to wait until it felt better to finish the job. While I waited for my car to be operational, I read The Fault In Our Stars and started writing my review of it, which I will post soon. It brought up a lot of memories, as I knew it would.

My niece set her wedding date for 2 p.m. Friday the 13th. As luck would have it, that was the exact time Hubby, The Estimator, needed to submit a tender for work and couldn’t drive me to the ceremony. I was frustrated because I had hoped to get my hair cut and nails done but, with no vehicle, I could not get where I needed to go without a long bus ride with several transfers. I attempted to do my own nails, trying to be patient between coats of polish so they’d dry properly. They turned out okay, but definitely not as good as a professional would have done. My daughter offered to pick me up and take me to the wedding, but that would have entailed her heading across town, in the opposite direction, to pick me up, then back across town to the wedding. Since I’d also wanted to get a dress for the reception, I decided to take the bus to the mall to find something suitable. Hopping on another bus and, after transferring downtown, I got to the right stop and walked the couple of blocks to Fort Gibralter, a re-creation of an historic site, set during the time of the fur trade in the early 1800s. In hind sight, I should have let Daughter bring me to the ceremony. They went to the wrong place and missed the ceremony completely! Good thing I’d brought the video camera and shot the entire thing for her and her dad to watch later.

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The reception was in ‘the haunted hotel’, what my niece calls the historic Fort Garry Hotel. It resembles a small castle and is over 100 years old. There is reported to be spirits roaming its halls and sharing rooms with guests. Niece was hoping to see one on their wedding night, but I believe she was disappointed!

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This picture of the Fort Garry Hotel is from the Wikimedia archive and linked to the hotel’s website, in case any of you thought it might be a good place to stay, if you ever visit Winnipeg.

Okay, on with the month. The day following the wedding (Sept. 14th), Hubby decided to put in the newly purchased, refurbished Master Cylinder in my car. He called me out to the garage to help because the location of the MC was tight and my hands are half the size of his. We struggled for about an hour to get the nuts over the bolts that hold it in place and another half hour to tighten everything. Then we bled the brakes. During the whole process, I realized to my dismay, that brake fluid would make great nail polish remover! 😩

Everything seemed fine – until I went to drive it on Monday (Sept. 16th)! The brake pedal only went halfway to the floor and it took all the pressure I could muster to get the darn car to stop! Something was obviously still wrong with the brakes. Hubby thought it was just a matter of having the MC bled better as well as the brakes on each wheel, a job that required a lift and a more able-bodied person to do it. He said I should take it to the local auto-body shop where our friend’s son worked, so on the Wednesday (Sept. 18th), I did. Wednesday evening, Hubby had to drive me to a meeting of the Resource and Development committee for the Manitoba Writers’ Guild and pick me up after the meeting ended because it’s a little scary downtown at night and I didn’t want to stand at a bus stop.

Thursday, Sept. 19th, the shop bled each wheel’s brakes but, in the process, noticed that the hoses to the two rear brakes were crimped. They felt they should be replaced as that might have been the reason the brakes were locking up. When that didn’t solve the problem, they informed me that it might be the Booster behind the MC. I authorized them to take it apart to see if there was something wrong with it. They found a crack and said they would order me a new one, which should be available Friday (Sept. 20th) in the morning. By mid-afternoon, I was getting impatient because my Creative Gathering was about to start and I still had no car to get me out of town to the place where it was to be held. At 3:30 they finally called and said the place that had promised to send them a new Booster did not actually have one in stock and would have to have one shipped in for an additional cost of at least $100 – and no other parts store in the city had one for my old clunker! They suggested they could send it out to be refurbished but it wouldn’t be ready for the weekend.

In utter despair, I posted my car troubles on Facebook. Almost immediately, the step-mom of the mechanic messaged me that she wouldn’t need her car for the weekend so I could borrow it. What a lifesaver! I thanked her profusely and, as soon as Hubby got home from work, which is usually an hour earlier on Fridays than any other day of the week, I started loading up the truck with all my crafting supplies. We arrived on her doorstep, expecting to see her, but her hubby opened the door with a confused look on his face. She apparently had not told him about the situation and there we were, expecting a vehicle. Since she was still at work and would not be home for at least another hour, he kindly offered me his beautiful new Camry Hybrid. What a lovely car to drive! Hubby told me not to get too comfortable with it, though. We cannot afford a brand new car like that!

I finally made it all the way out to Friedensfeld for the Creative Gathering. I was an hour and a half late arriving, but knew I had until midnight to get some crafting done, as well as the next day from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Shortly after I arrived, dinner was ready – a scrumptious lasagna with a Caesar salad and garlic bread. For these gatherings, the food is almost as important as the creative process! The photo below, taken by the owner of The Scrapbook Cottage and organizer of this twice-a-year event, features the venue after everyone left Friday night. Each table held 4 scrappers plus all their stuff. The tables were placed end-to-end with an aisle down the middle. I estimate there were about 130 crafters and eight or more helpers/cooks/servers – quite a big group! In the top right-hand corner is the stage and right in front of it is where my sisters-in-law and I sat.

Photo: That's all for tonight folks- see you in the morning:)!!

During each Gathering, one can attend classes on card-making, scrapbook layouts and other crafty things. There are also many sketch challenges where we are given a basic layout and an example, then we run with it. I made 8 Christmas cards, a thank-you card for my car lender, and a birthday card for my brother using the challenge sketches as a guide. (Photos to be revealed on a Crafty Wednesday, coming soon. 🙂 ) All-in-all, it is a fun event and gives participants the opportunity to concentrate on their craft and get inspiration from their fellow crafters. I was so happy that I had the opportunity to go, thanks to my dear friends. 🙂

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As much as I enjoyed my crafting event, it meant missing the opening ceremonies of Thin Air, Winnipeg’s International Writing Festival. I wasn’t too disappointed because I knew I had signed up to drive authors to and from the airport as well as to the various events around town and out-of-town. On Sunday afternoon (Sept. 22nd), Hubby drove me down to the Hospitality Suite at the Inn at the Forks, where the festival was being coordinated and I had to tell them I couldn’t accept my Monday driving assignment because my car was under repair. Fortunately, they were able to find a replacement. Late Monday afternoon (Sept. 23rd), I did get my car back and, in the evening, was able to drive myself downtown to ArtSpace so I could attend a board meeting of the Writer’s Guild.

On Tuesday morning (Sept. 24th), I picked up two authors from the airport and drove them to the hotel. I stayed around The Forks so I could help out with the School Stage performance at the MTYP (Manitoba Theatre for Young People).

After the School Stage performance, I went to the Millenium Library, the largest one in the city, to await the arrival of Jan Andrews, who wrote The Silent Summer of Kyle McGinley. (You may remember my review and interview. If not, click on the links.) As a result of the car fiasco, I had been unable to see her other readings. It was lovely to meet with her in person.

Wednesday morning (Sept. 25th), as I was driving another author to The Forks from the airport, I stepped on the brake pedal . . . and it went straight to the floor! I was glad I had left plenty of room between me and the car in front of me, which allowed enough time for the car to actually stop. What a heart-pounding moment! I tried to keep calm and prayed that the car would stop each time I needed it to and that we would get to the hotel in one piece. I don’t think the author knew the danger he was in, as I tried to keep the conversation light and not focus on the not-stopping part of our drive. Once I was parked in the parkade, I called Hubby & told him what had just happened. He said I should call the shop that had ‘fixed’ my car. I called and we arranged for a towing company to bring the car back to them, at their expense, and they’d see what went wrong. I hung around The Forks, helped out with another School Stage performance and waited for the tow truck to arrive. It was kind of sad to see the old beater being hauled away like that.

I went up to the Hospitality Suite to wait for Hubby to pick me up after work. Shortly before he arrived, the shop called to inform me they’d found one of the gaskets, connecting the hose to one of the back brakes they had recently installed, was faulty and had cracked, leaking so much brake fluid that the pressure was reduced to almost zero. They replaced it and were about to take it for a test drive. Believing that the car would be ready by the time we got there, Hubby & I wove through rush-hour traffic and got to the shop in record time. The mechanic was still out testing the brakes when we got there. The guy at the front desk was surprised to see us, but he let us wait until the car came back to see what the verdict was. He also asked if I needed my car the next day. I informed him that I was scheduled to drive to two out-of-town locations and really needed the car to be ready. He was worried about sending me out on the highway in a car with brakes that had been acting up, so he got permission from the company’s owner to give me a rental car for the day. That would give them time to re-test the brakes and make sure everything was finally in working order. Hubby suggested, since they were keeping the car anyway, that they evaluate the condition of the emergency brake. That is something that will corrode if not used often, and since I have never needed to use it, they agreed to check it. The rental car was a lovely, fairly new, Volkswagon. Again, Hubby warned me not to get too attached to the vehicle!

Thursday morning (Sept. 26th), I was up bright and early, at The Forks just after 8 a.m. The author I was to drive was in terrible shape. He’d been up since 4 a.m. with a migraine and had been physically ill several times. He grabbed some oatmeal to go, hoping it would settle his stomach. I loaded his guitar into the trunk and off we went. We chatted a little at first, then he reclined his seat and I left him in silence to recover from his massive headache and nausea. It would normally have been only a 30 minute drive out to East Selkirk. I had printed out a Google map of the school’s location and had driven that particular bit of highway often, as it was the main route to our cottage. Once I turned off the highway, though, we ran into trouble. I didn’t realize there were two turn-offs to E. Selkirk and I had turned too soon. Using logic and a fairly good sense of direction, I’m proud to say, we finally arrived. It was a good thing we had allowed plenty of time to get there! By the time we arrived, the author had recovered enough to give an animated presentation of his poetry and got the young audience to participate by repeating parts of some poems and singing the chorus of one of his songs.

On the way back to town, my phone rang. The shop was calling to inform me they can no longer get a replacement for one of the three hoses to the emergency brake. I told them to just put everything back together. Since I never use it, anyway, there was no point to fixing it. We carried on in my wonderful rental car. The author asked me questions about the area’s history to which I happily answered to the best of my ability. I am always excited to present the town at its best. I dropped him off and grabbed some lunch before meeting my next ‘fare’.

OĂč est Tat Tsang? - NATHALIE FERRARI - JEAN MORIN

I found Nathalie Ferraris to be a wonderful French children’s author from Montreal. Nathalie was delighted that the students had read one of her books, OĂč est Tat-Tsang, about a fish – a treasured family pet – that went missing. The students had written summaries in French and they were posted on bulletin boards, one in the hall outside the library, the other in the classroom. The students were ecstatic to have the author in their class. They asked a multitude of questions, received autographed bookmarks, and had their pictures taken with her. It was such an enjoyable afternoon! 🙂

I regretted having to take the rental car back at the end of the day, but my car was supposedly all put back together and in working condition. The drive home was uneventful. Early Friday morning (Sept. 27th), I prepared and placed a pork roast into the slow cooker, headed for The Forks and drove another author to the airport. Back at The Forks, I grabbed some lunch before driving Nathalie to another French Immersion school out-of-town. The car performed admirably.

After the session, I drove her back to The Forks where she was to await her ride to the airport. I rushed home to finish making a thank-you dinner for the car-lenders. We ate dinner and played some Canasta. We girls won by a small margin then they headed home. I collapsed in my chair, ignoring the stack of dirty dishes. Hubby & I watched a bit of TV, then I fell asleep. Hubby woke me on his way to bed, so I dragged my butt off the chair and went to bed, too.

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Chez Sophie sur le pont is the structure sticking off to the right of the bridge in this photo (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Saturday morning (Sept. 28th) was a cool, wet autumn day. I hurried out to meet Hubby’s cousins for brunch at Chez Sophie sur le pont. You may recall my foodie post regarding this fine French bistro. I had been to the one on Avenue de la Cathedrale and had expressed my desire to try the one on the Provencher Bridge (sur le pont), so was very excited that it had been chosen as the location of our next Cousins Brunch. The food was just as delicious as the other restaurant and I was happy to recommend the sandwich I had previously tried. This time I tried the croque monsieur au saumon fumĂ©, a sandwich with smoked salmon, swiss cheese, onions and bĂ©chamel (a creamy sauce) and then the whole sandwich is encased in cheese and broiled. YUM! The soup du Jour was cream of carrot. While my one sister-in-law was not impressed, I thought it was delicious, although I think I liked the cream of sweet potato soup better.

I stayed for about an hour and a half, enjoying the company, but I had somewhere else I needed to be. I expressed my regrets and ‘flew’ down to the Park Theatre on Osborne to catch the last portion of the Thin Air Volunteer Appreciation Lunch. While I didn’t eat – I was still stuffed from my other lunch – I was able to chat with the other volunteers I had seen while working the School Stage events and in the Hospitality Suite. When it was over, I whipped around to my friends’ house to drop off the ticket I had purchased for the Stroke Recovery Association’s fundraising dinner. Hubby wasn’t interested in attending and since I had neglected him so much during that whirlwind week of volunteering, I thought it best to just stay home, for a pleasant change of pace. We caught up on some of the TV series premiers that had occurred during the week and went to bed at a reasonable time.

Sunday afternoon (Sept. 29th), I aimed for McNally Robinson Booksellers to attend a meeting of TWUC (The Writers Union of Canada). The Chairperson, Dorris Heffron, was in town and wanted to meet the members of the Prairie chapter of the organization. She discussed the history of the Union and what benefits were available, in case we were unaware of them. We actually did get a few people out to the meeting who were thinking of joining, so I hope we encouraged them to become members. After the meeting, our Chair needed a ride to a restaurant that was sort of my way home, so I gave her a lift. After this past week, I think I should get my chauffeur’s license!

Finally, on Monday (Sept. 30th), the last day of this unbelievably busy month, I spent the morning writing out this update. In the afternoon, I sorted, folded, and put away the clean laundry I had been neglecting. That evening, I volunteered to sell tickets at the door to a Guild event called In Dialogue. Poets Sue Goyett and Sarah Klassen read from their repertoire of work. I’ll go into more detail at another time, as this post is already too long!

Now you know just how hectic the past month has been. So, what did YOU do in September?

Crafty Thursday

Sorry, folks! I was too busy playing with Grandson yesterday to post about my crafting over the past week. We had a wonderful time, although the little guy will not sit still for more than a minute – literally! Even when he’s at the table eating, he does not have a motionless moment. I don’t remember my kids being quite that active, but then, I was a lot younger with a lot more energy than I have these days! There were a few extra-cute things he did that I’d like to share before we get on with things. One was the way he used the fireplace bellows as a guitar while he sang along, ‘strumming’ the brass decoration on the front of it. I think we managed to catch him in the act with the video camera, but he’d stop or turn away whenever he saw it in our hands. Another thing was his reaction to the cat’s laser pointer. If we brought the light close to his toes, he’d back away, obviously a little nervous about what the red ‘bug’ might do to his foot! Finally, he got up the nerve to ‘catch’ the dot with his hands. We’d turn off the light and say, “Yay, all gone!” He looked so proud of himself. 🙂

Okay, enough about the Grandson and on with the crafts. 🙂

Next Friday, the Manitoba Writers’ Guild is holding a fundraising event called Words In The Flesh. We’ve lined up a variety of local personalities to come and read for a few minutes. Not anything that the members have written, for the most part, but we’ve come up with a few selected passages that should amuse the audiences, like bits from ‘Fifty Shades of Gray’, children’s books, naughty parts from Carol Shields’ book ‘Larry’s Party’, etc. We also have a band lined up to play during intermission. It’s going to be very entertaining and we hope this event will draw attention to the writing community, maybe getting us a few new members in the process.

So, what does that have to do with today’s craft? Well, I volunteered to make the thank-you cards for the participants, incorporating local scenes into their design. I have made five of them, so far, with another five (at least) to go.

berries at MHV

Picture of rain dripping off berries, taken at the Mennonite Heritage Village

flowers at MHV

Picture of flowers taken at the Mennonite Heritage Village

Big House thank-you

Picture of the Big House at Lower Fort Garry

Skinner's thank-you

Picture of Skinner’s Restaurant at Lockport, Manitoba

St Andrews thank-you

St. Andrew’s Church on the Red River, Manitoba

Inside, I have created the thank-you part . . .

Guild appreciation

. . . and on the back, I have my ‘made by’ tag and identify what the picture is and where it was taken.

made by & photo ID

Each card is unique, as you can see, but they all have a base card of cream card stock. Each card’s dimensions are 5-1/2″ x 4-1/4″. I’ve used one of Cuttlebug‘s Fancy Frames to cut out a section for the photos to peek through. For others I’ve simply cut out a window the size I needed. I’ve embellished some with buttons, ribbon, brick-a-brack, and twine. On one I added a stamped, heat-embossed rose painted with my shiny paints. On another, I stamped flowers and stems, then glued on some Flower Soft flocking. There’s no limit to what can be done, depending on your store of embellishments and paper selections. 🙂

If you happen to be in Winnipeg on Friday, February 1st, around 7 p.m. and would like to join us for our literary event, Words In The Flesh, you can pick up your tickets at the McNally Robinson Booksellers at Grant Park Shopping Centre or contact a member of The Manitoba Writers’ Guild (call me!). We’re hoping it will be successful enough to make this an annual event. 🙂

Literary Manitoba

Symposium on Manitoba Writing

For those of you worried that I had dropped off the end of the Earth, or went on a Space Safari, or I’m lying on my death bed, I assure you I am very much alive on this solid plane of existence/on this planet  – although I am a little tired and overwhelmed by the literary world. As I mentioned in my last post a week ago, I’d be going to the Symposium on Manitoba Writing this week. It has been a little bit of a whirlwind trying to take in as many of our literary speakers as possible while still preparing and presenting a panel of my own.

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The Symposium kicked off on Wednesday evening with a screening of ‘Tramp at the Door’ and a talk about Lise Gaboury-Diallo, a local French Canadian who has been an important literary mentor to the Francophone population here, having written a number of critical papers, short stories and poetry. She teaches at the UniversitĂ© de Saint-Boniface here in Winnipeg in the DĂ©partment d’études françaises, de langues et de littĂ©ratures. For those of you who are not familiar with Canada’s bilingual history, Manitoba has a strong duality of languages and culture with many French communities in the province and in Winnipeg. Most of the first white folk that set foot on the prairies were French hunters and trappers and their language and culture has been painstakingly preserved here with French immersion schools along with dual-track schools and all Elementary schools are introduced to the language. Of the thirteen main publishers in Manitoba two of them are Francophone publishers; Les Ă©ditions du blĂ© and Les Ă©ditions du plaines. Most of this morning’s panels and readings will be about French writing and spoken in French, so I have taken the morning off (since I only married into a French family and am not fluent in the language!) in order to catch you up on my activities since Wednesday.

Instead of taking in the French film screening and talk, I went to the airport to pick up my co-panelist, Julie Burtinshaw, a fellow YA author, who flew in from Vancouver. I brought her to her Bed-and-Breakfast to check in, then we headed downtown to grab something to eat at the Free Press Cafe where we stayed to listen to seven ‘Under 30’ young people read their work.

Winnipeg News Cafe

The cafe is a unique little place in the heart of Winnipeg, right down the street from Artspace, where the Manitoba Writers’ Guild office and other art-related spaces are located. The Free Press cafe is owned and operated by our largest local newspaper chain and provides a live-stream variety of programs, hosting events like town halls, mini-concerts, book readings and more. It’s also a good place to meet the journalists, as they rotate in a variety of editors, beat writers and columnists week to week. They also feature culinary delights by the local restauranteur Domenic Amatuzio. I had the Manitoba Club sandwich accompanied with their house salad – both were wonderful. Julie said the Portobello mushroom sandwich was equally delicious! After we ate, we were delighted to hear the prose and poetry of Joshua Whitehead, Joann DeCosse, Adrian Werner, Bronwynn Jerritt Enns, Andrew Eastman Carlyn Shellenberg, and Michelle Elrich. Make a note of their names as I am sure one day, you will hear their names spoken in literary circles and say, I remember reading about them back in May 2012!

Thursday morning I arose early, bubbling with excitement thinking about the day’s activities. I picked Julie up at her BnB and we headed out to the Canadian Mennonite University. The university is a two-building campus linking the old with the new. The main campus is set in what used to be the School for the Deaf, built in 1921. It was the perfect setting to house the literary symposium, bringing to mind images of castles with huge libraries.

The day’s events began in ‘The Great Hall’. Writers’ Guild members greeted us at the door where we registered, grabbed a coffee (or tea) and a homemade muffin or two before the Opening Ceremonies. Victor Enns, co-founder of the Guild began by introducing us to ’30 Manitoba Remarkable Books’ as selected by website visitors. Both books of poetry and novels were included in the list with such memorable authors as Carol Shields, Margaret Laurence, Miriam Toews, Robert Kroetsch, Jake MacDonald, David Bergen and Sandra Birdsell, just to name a few. If you are interested in learning all the books that made it onto the list, let me know and I will post the list at a later date.

Following Victor was a panel on publishing featuring David Arnason (editor of Turnstone Press), Anne Molgat, (director of Les Ă©ditions du blĂ©), Jared Bland (managing editor of House of Anansi Press) and Joan Thomas (frequent contributing reviewer to the The Globe & Mail as well as award winning author of Reading By Lightning & Curiosity). They discussed the current state of publishing and what they thought was in store for the future. Anne described how the industry is moving away from the Big Publishing Houses and writers were relying on the smaller houses to get their work published. David suggested that being published was a means for authors to get ‘authentication’ for their work, ‘like a PhD for writers’, which I suppose is true in some ways but that opinion negates the struggle of hard-working writers who choose to go the self-publishing, or e-publishing route. In my opinion, their words are no less important than those of traditionally published authors. One point that was brought up was the fact that the smaller publishers of Manitoba seem to be thriving while others in Canada are struggling. Could this be due to the incredible writing community and the support of our provincial government? I think that may be the case. I had the chance to speak with writers from other provinces who don’t have an organization like our Writers Guild (with the exception of Saskatchewan’s Guild on which ours was based) that supports, encourages and educates writers.

One problem they brought up  was that with the smaller publishing houses, there is a lack of marketing budget leaving the writer with the task of promoting their own work. Suggestions such as using social media – blogging, Twitter, Facebook, etc – was a good way to promote yourself. Book trailers and author-promoting videos on YouTube were good to create a ‘buzz’ about your writing. Here in Manitoba, McNally Robinson Booksellers does a fantastic job of supporting book-signings and book launches, puts prairie writers in their own section, which makes it easy to find local writing, and places our new books in prominent places. It has even brought in an in-store printing machine that can almost instantly print books in their library of on-demand titles. Of course, the publishers did not mention this new technology. I just thought I’d put that out there in support of such a great friend to the Manitoba writers. 🙂

Next on the Thursday agenda was a panel of Mennonite writing with David Elias, Maurice Mierau and Hildi Froese-Tiessen, a special session entitled Writing from the Margins – Farm, Forest,  Frontier with Fisher Lavell, Donna Besel and Sharon Arksey, and Readings by Chandra Mayor, Melissa Steele, and Lori Cayer. Since I couldn’t be in three places at once, I had a difficult decision to make. I chose to attend Writing from the Margins and was thoroughly entertained by the three women from rural Manitoba with their wonderful stories and personal histories. Those living on the fringes of urban life or in extremely remote areas have a difficult time being taken seriously as writers because they are nowhere near where all the literary ‘action’ is, but their stories still need to be told. For more information on all the speakers I’ve mentioned, please check out the Symposium information page here, which includes a brief bio of each one.

Lunches and dinners were included in the price of registration and were cheerfully provided by the cafeteria staff in the new building of the CMU. Although it was a bit of a walk, especially if you had a physical challenge like arthritis or torn tendons in an ankle as in the case of my co-panelist, it was a pleasant distraction from sitting and listening for several hours at a time. The varied menus included lasagna, bison stew and bannock, vegetarian sweet and sour meatballs with rice, and garlic sausage and salad. Then it was back to a literary fare.

First thing Thursday afternoon, Keynote speaker Marta Dvorak discussed how Manitoba writers and artists ‘are fine illustrations of an imaginative continuum on a planetary scale’. It was a scholarly account of her impressions of our literary history and culture. Afterwards, presenters read their papers on Poetry, Robert Steed, Urban Winnipeg and the Writing Community. By this time, Julie was feeling a little jet-lagged so we skipped out on the afternoon sessions and took in the used book sale instead. I picked up a half-dozen books that I hope will help in my future historical research, then I drove Julie to her BnB to relax before taking in the evening readings by David Bergen, Meira Cook, Struan Sinclair, Joan Thomas and Sarah Klassen.

I think I will end here. There are still some people I’d like to hear read this afternoon, and I might take in the finale tonight, a Cabaret evening at the West End Cultural Centre. On top of all that I have 80 emails to take in, mostly your blog posts that I have been neglecting because of all this literary activity. (Sorry about that!) Tomorrow, I’ll talk about Friday’s sessions, which includes my panel.

I hope everyone is having a great weekend, so far! 🙂