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You're a better blogger than I, Gunga Din

Posted on April 1, 2012 at 1:15 AM Comments comments (2468)

You know what I love? Panel discussions. Is that weird? It's just so satisfying to put five or six smart people together and let them talk about something. And then there's audience questions! And (usually) laughs! What's not to like?

In fact, the only thing I like better than going to a panel is being on a panel. And of course, the best possible situation is moderating a panel. 

You know where this is going, don't you? On April 21st, as part of the North Shore Writer's Festival, I get to moderate a wonderful panel of bloggers at:

Here Come the Bloggers!

As you can imagine, I'm pretty geared--not just because of my nerdy love of moderating stuff, but also because these bloggers are so awesome. In some cases, there may be some truly dorky fangirl action going on. (Panellists, I aplogize in advance for possibly pawing at you.)

The whole festival lineup looks like a treat, frankly. If you're anywhere near North Vancouver, do come and check it out--it's more important than ever before to support and foster our local arts and culture community.

Intrepid Adventures

Posted on January 29, 2012 at 5:45 PM Comments comments (129)

Writing is a lonely business. January is a bleak month. Add in the post-holiday doldrums, and you’ve got a recipe for a crabby, dejected writer.

So yesterday was a real bright spot. I went and spent a few hours with the gals at Intrepid Pens, and emerged feeling better about my work than I had in weeks. Intrepid Pens, for those of you who don’t know, is a creative writing and reading group for women in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

I went there with some writing exercises and “lessons” in hand, but also with a new story to read and just some general ideas for discussion. I love presenting for a lot of reasons—I like to be useful, I like to hope that I can motivate or inspire people, and I like to swap ideas with like-minded individuals. But what I got yesterday was so much more. I can’t tell you everything, but let’s just say that I think I selfishly took more away than I gave. It’s not very often you find yourself in a group of people who are so generous with their support and their stories.

Here’s what I took away: Our stories are all we have. When we die, everything dies with us: our petty disagreements, our unfinished business, our grudges. But most of all, the history of who we are as only we can understand it. When we slip from this world, that unique experience, that one-of-a-kind mind goes with us. (I knew this to be true when my mother died. It made me realize how little I really knew about her life, and her experiences, because she wasn’t able/willing to share those things. In the absence of our shared battles, what was left?) All that we can truly leave behind for others are our stories. Our stories are how our children and our friends will remember us. We are obliged to share them as best we can, and as honestly as we can, and in the medium that makes sense for us. It could be writing, or painting, or talking, or whatever works.

Organizations like this one are the reason I keep on teaching and presenting and doing what I do, even when I get disillusioned in the dark of it all.

I urge you to learn more about Intrepid Pens and find a way to contribute: with your time, energy, connections, or money. It won’t be wasted. Thank you to the fine ladies of Intrepid Pens, and to Amanda, who puts the whole thing together and is the coolest. I should have been the one bringing you ladies flowers!

Oh, COME ON, Courier!

Posted on October 14, 2011 at 3:55 PM Comments comments (26909)


Had a lovely chat with Barry Link over at the Courier yesterday, and here's what he told me. Because the Courier is now owned by Toronto-based newspaper giant Postmedia, they were required to add a bunch of legal whatnots to a contest that had quite happily run for years with a set of rules about "five sentences long."

We can probably chalk this up to a series of unfortunate events: some dork in Postmedia's legal department adapted a boilerplate from a sweepstakes and sent it along, then it got overlooked at the Courier office (which Barry admits was a pretty big oversight) and was uploaded to their website, and then Jenn Farrell, cub reporter, totally freaked out. 

The good news? Barry assures me that the old rules still apply, that there are "no prohibitions" on the content of stories, and that there is, in fact, a panel of judges selecting the top three entries. Whew! I think the only main difference from previous years is that there is NOT a cap on the number of entries received, as in years past. Barry said this was because they've had to turn away writers at the Courier office and they don't want to do that.

The Courier will be updating the rules online very shortly, if they haven't as of this reading, and will be posting a correction in this Wednesday's edition of the newspaper. So there you have it! Will you be entering this year? 


I was really looking forward to entering the Vancouver Courier fiction contest this year for a number of reasons:

  1. 1. I've won it twice previously, so I like my odds.
  2. 2. You have to include a specific sentence (which they provide at the contest's outset) in the story you enter, and it's usually really wacky. I enjoy the challenge of trying to make something so weird fit naturally into a narrative.
  3. 3. There's a cap on the number of entries they accept (usually 125), and you have to drop it off in person. This results in some good early-morning weirdo cameraderie in the line-up outside the Courier office on entry day.
  4. 4. The prize money is pretty damn good, and it comes right before Christmas!
  5. 5. You get a full page of your writing in a local weekly newspaper, and people might actually read it, enjoy it, and find out who you are.
So yeah, lots of good incentives, right? I was all geared up for another crack at the contest this year. Then my new pal Carol gave me a ride home from Langara College last night and told me that the rules have changed. I checked it out, and I'm feeling pretty darn pissy about the whole thing.

Here's what's up:
  • • There's no longer a cap on the number of entries. (Okay, I can live with that--they've gotta make their money somehow.)
  • • That sentence is WAY too easy this year. (Seriously, now that I look at it, how could I have not known something was amiss?)
  • • There's this clause in the legal bafflegab that is meant to stop people from writing filth or hate speech, but also instructs entrants that their work must not “contain, depict, include, discuss or involve, without limitation, any of the following:…nudity, alcohol/drug consumption or smoking…sexual innuendo, crude, vulgar or offensive language and/or symbols…content that endorses, condones and/or discusses any illegal, inappropriate or risky behaviour or conduct…” (Are you kidding me? Oooh, risky behaviour! Smoking! I'm clutching at my pearls, I tells ya.)
  • • The winners (first, second, and third place) are SELECTED RANDOMLY. Yeah, you heard that right. You write a story, and enter it in a fiction-writing contest, and they pull three stories out of a FUCKING HAT and print them.
Here are the first two clauses of the "Winner Selection" section:
On or about November 14, 2011 in Vancouver, BC, three (3) entrants will be selected by a random draw from all eligible entries received during the Contest Period. Each entrant shall be eligible to win only one (1) Prize. The odds of being selected as a potential winner are dependent upon the number of eligible entries received by the Sponsors. Before being declared a Winner, the selected entrant shall be required to correctly answer, without assistance of any kind, whether mechanical or otherwise, a time-limited mathematical skill-testing question to be administered during a pre- arranged telephone call or by e-mail, to comply with the Contest Rules and sign and return the Release (described below).

(b) The judges, in their absolute discretion, shall select the Winners based upon the above criteria. The decisions of the judges shall be final and binding and may not be challenged in any way.


Why even bother having the contest anymore? (Yeah, I know the answer is "money".) So I guess the real question is, why bother entering? I'm sure many people who have entered before will enter again this year, with the (perfectly reasonable) expectation that their work will be evaluated on its merits by a group of qualified judges. And they are being misled. I was almost one of them. Sure, it's all there in the legal document, but if all you have is the registration form, you'll find no mention of how the winners are selected. Presumably, at least some of this year's "competitors" are going to print and sign their happy little form and drop off their entry without ever knowing they've been had.

Look, I've seen lots of contests where you have to write up a 250-word piece about how much Kleenex means to you, or whatever, and they do a random prize drawing for a trip to Disneyland. It's all made very clear and that's fine. But to have the nerve to charge a $15 entry fee under the guise of running a writing contest? That's what I like to call a real dick move.

On a purely selfish note, for those of us who've won previously, compromising the contest in this fashion really takes some of the shine off being a "winner". Until they realize their error, I'll be removing all mention of it from my professional bio. Otherwise, I might as well brag that I once won a hundred bucks playing roulette. At least with gambling, I know exactly what I've gotten myself into.


Wistful at the Window

Posted on September 28, 2011 at 9:50 AM Comments comments (163)

Today is Tuesday. I pull up stakes for St. John’s on Friday. How can this be? My father always said, of our two-week summer vacation in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, “The first week, you think you’ve got all the time in the world. And the second week goes by so fast you’re packing up the car before you even know what happened.” Truer words were never spoken, Dad.



Won't you come in?


Each day since Saturday actually feels like sand running through the glass. Every time I look at the clock, I shake my head in disbelief. Three o’clock already? But I just got started! There is still so much writing to do, so many books to read, so many strange little Landfall nooks and crannies to explore, both indoors and out. Much like the child who couldn’t bear to leave her holiday hotel behind, I feel myself digging in my heels. No, I won’t go—they can’t make me! I’m just getting good at this! I finally got Jake’s finicky old red radio to work like a dream—if that isn’t a sign to stick around, I don’t know what is. I’ve made friends, sort of, with that damn squirrel in the attic. I confidently walk outside in the dark (from one end of the house to the other, but still!).



Just whippin' up a little something...

Oh darn, there's just enough for me!


The clouds roll along the bay, always hurrying along like they’ve got somewhere else to get to. One looks like a cartoon whale, another is a triangle of salt cod, yet another is a flat-bottomed boat taking on water and sinking fast in the sky. Light breaks through at the most surprising moments. The sky is easier to understand than the water. It is a dark and shifting mirror of the sky, but reveals nothing. It sparkles like tiny sequins on blue satin, then turns flat and glassy and grey and makes strange patterns that seem to run counter to the wind. Things are happening under there, and I don’t know what they are. The boats go out and come in again, seagulls trailing like clouds of huge white flies.



Yeah, it actually looks like this here.


The rocky hills across the water turn pink and orange and gold and then—honest to god—purple and green and silver in the dying light of the early evening. I fire up the oil stove for another night in, make a pot of tea, or decide to have that second beer after all. I work on a story on my laptop, or write in my journal, using what I imagine to be one of Jake’s weatherbeaten old pencils. I read and eat in the dusky light at the window until I have to put the light on. I listen to Neil Young and watch the sunset. Neil sings:


I’m thankful for my country home
It gives me piece of mind
Somewhere I can walk alone
And leave myself behind



Another day draws to a close...


The stars come out, shyly at first, like pretty girls on a dance floor, and then they’re all there in a blink. At first, I though the Milky Way was a cloud, it had been so long since I’d seen it. I phone a friend back in Vancouver, where it’s still light out and everyone is busy, busy, busy. I tell her about the stars and as I’m telling her, I see a falling one. I’m too excited to remember to make a wish. What the hell could I wish for, anyway?


Solitary (Wo)man

Posted on September 23, 2011 at 12:40 PM Comments comments (122)

It will probably surprise exactly none of you to hear that I’m not much known as a “rugged adventurer.” I’m the kind of gal who loves NOT camping, and whose idea of roughing it is staying in a hotel where the ice machine is on a different floor. So just being out at Landfall is a big deal. Being alone is, as goofy as it might sound, a huge act of bravery for me. As Ron, the cottage caretaker and all-around swell guy, said to me when he dropped me off, “If you’re gonna be out here, you’d better like yourself.”



Well, I guess that’s the problem, isn’t it? I’m not sure if I like myself enough to spend this much time on my own. My idea of relaxation is being surrounded by people. When I feel lonely in the city and have no one to talk to, I like to walk through a crowded mall. How can a person feel isolated with so many other strangers, so many bright and shiny distractions?



But as I near the end of the first of my two weeks here, I feel like I might be (kind of, sort of) getting the hang of this. The thing about being left alone with one’s own thoughts is that they won’t be ignored. Can’t drown them out with television or the internet or the sounds of the city, or shopping malls. And as uncomfortable as some of those thoughts might be, every once in a while a good idea floats through there. And my life is quiet enough now that I can actually hear it, and hold on to it. I didn’t start any brand-new material (other than a personal daily journal) until yesterday, but I think I needed all that time to just be able to hear what was going on inside my head. Once I got past the “Oh god, why are you here you can’t do this you’re not cut out for this you’re obviously a crazy woman who needs to be on drugs”, then it was time for an idea. And it’s a good one.




I started this entry to tell you about a brave little hike I did all by myself, with amazing high-up pictures and everything, but it turned into this instead. I guess I needed to get it out. So here are some more shots of “my yard”, including the walkway up to the cottage and the lovely little dell right out front.



One picture I wish I could share with you is the image of three very smart-looking blue jays who pal around outside my kitchen window every morning. I see them as I come downstairs, but they’re awfully camera shy. Once they spot me, they’re usually gone for the day. Until tomorrow.




Greetings from Newfoundland!

Posted on September 21, 2011 at 2:10 AM Comments comments (124)

I’m currently in the town of Brigus, on day three of my residency at Landfall Cottage (or Kent Cottage, as it used to be called.) This place is amazing. It’s so beautiful and peaceful here, and I hope to get lots of work done. I’ve found the public library, which is the only internet access I have, so I hope to post a couple of things during the next two weeks.

The cottage is about a ten-minute walk from the town (pop. 700), but those ten minutes take me smack-dab into the wilderness. I’m nestled in a little treed pocket in the rocks, with cliffs rising all around me—except for the front of the cottage, which overlooks the bay.

It’s actually been hard to write anything, because I keep staring out the windows in wonder. The weather’s been beautiful thus far, and I’ve been out in shorts and t-shirt sunning myself and picking blueberries like mad. It’s raining today, and I find at last that I’m able to stay inside and get some work done. I’m curled up by the oil stove, drinking my third cup of percolator coffee and listening to the rain on the roof and the rushing water in the gulley by the far side of the cottage. I hope it rains tonight, since the sound is so relaxing. There have been in the past three nights what I believe to be chipmunks cavorting on the roof, and they’ve woken me from a dead sleep and scared the bejesus out of me. So perhaps they’ll give me some peace if it’s wet out. The trees surrounding me are a popular hangout for some seriously huge crows (or are they ravens?) and blue jays. Neither is known for their melodious song, but it creates an interesting racket.

I walked into town yesterday and went to the one café/restaurant for a little human contact. I had their specialty: blueberry crisp with blueberry sauce, and a cup of coffee. Delicious, but so rich I postponed my dinner. On the walk home, I was taking photographs of the rocks and the path, and saw a fox! We stared at each other for a long while and I got a few shots, despite my trembling hands. I had to chuckle, thinking of how only the day before, I had been blithely clambering right where it stood, assuming I wouldn’t see any wildlife bigger than a seagull. And speaking of seagulls, when one flew low overhead, the little fox hopped up on its hind legs and made as though to snatch the gull right out of the sky. Cheeky bugger! I wish I had caught that with my camera.

The days are easy here, but when night falls, it gets a little weird. I have this “thing” about dusk anyway—it’s my least favourite time of day. I just feel so sad and creeped out by twilight, even at the best of times. So here, I feel quite skittish and neurotic as the evening progresses. Each night, I plan to head to bed a bit earlier and wake earlier, so that I can make the most of the daylight and avoid the nighttime blues. There’s no television, internet, or telephone, but I have my books and my CBC radio to keep me company. Once I turn off the solar inverter, I don’t have a light in the bedroom, but I’ve rediscovered the joys of reading under the covers with a flashlight!

More to come soon. Thanks for reading. J. xoxo

Reading and Residencin'

Posted on August 9, 2011 at 5:50 PM Comments comments (7944)

Probably not the best time to be writing this, as I’m in the grip of pre-travel anxieties, but I’m hitting the road and doing some readings in Ontario and Newfoundland this September.

First up, I’ll be on the bill for the first LitLive reading of the fall season in Hamilton. I had such a great time at GritLit a couple years back, and I’m hoping to see some familiar faces at the SkyDragon Centre.

The following week, I’ll be heading to Newfoundland, a trip I’ve wanted to take for many years. I don’t have all the details yet, but I’ll be doing a reading at the Ship Pub on the evening of September 11th. Exciting!

After that, I’ll be heading to Kent Cottage, where I’m honoured to serve as the Landfall Trust’s Writer-in-Residence. Two weeks of glorious writing solitude, broken only by walks and talks in the community of Brigus. If you’re in the neighbourhood, please come and visit. I hear the nearest grocery store is quite a ways away, so if you bring food, I’m more likely to let you in!

Big Review Roundup

Posted on June 22, 2011 at 12:24 AM Comments comments (1963)

There’s nothing better than a book with good legs. Nearly a year after its publication, The Devil You Know is still being talked about, reviewed, and presumably, even read on occasion. That makes me sigh with delight. After all, you work on something for a few years, and then this weird thing happens where the “official” book press is only allowed to talk about it for a few weeks before and after its release. So, thanks, readers and reviewers!

First up: The long and thoughtful review by Joyce Nickel over at Belletrista. Gotta love someone who picks up a title on the recommendation of BC Bookworld! I’m really glad this review exists, not just for the usual selfish reasons, but because now I’ve got Belletrista in my bookmarks.

Next, an oldie but a goodie. It took me a while to find this one, but I don’t feel so bad, since the site is called Backlisted. See, everyone’s playing catch-up!

And then, I get paired up with boys. I’m cool with that, especially since they’re awesome. My pal Dennis E. Bolen (author of Anticipated Results) is the star of the show in Quentin Mills-Fenn’s review at Uptown. And over at The Malahat Review, I share the stage with the heavy-hitting author of Light Lifting, Alexander MacLeod, thanks to reviewer June Halliday.

Much later this summer, I'll be bringing my book to Hamilton, St. John's, and whoever else will have me. Stay tuned.

31 Flavours

Posted on May 23, 2011 at 3:46 PM Comments comments (115)

Hey, you should totally go bookmark That Shakespearean Rag. It's a damn good blog, and Steven W. Beattie is my new best friend, because he chose "Soft Limits", one of the stories in The Devil You Know, as a selection for his  "31 Days of Stories" series. Very cool! Don't just read mine, though, cos every entry is great and will most definitely turn you on to some terrific new short-story writers and reacquaint you with old favourites.

NEW! Style & Substance Writing Class

Posted on May 19, 2011 at 6:37 PM Comments comments (389)

Tuesdays, June 7 to July 26, 7:00 to 9:30 pm at the Alliance for Arts and Culture office: #100 - 938 Howe St., Vancouver

$275 for 8 weeks (Register before May 31 for $250 --save $25!)

Writing and revising can sometimes feel like assembling a jigsaw puzzle in the dark. Style and Substance, an eight-week course for working writers of all levels, will help shine a light on the process. Through engaging lesson plans, exercises, and focused group work, we will explore style and craft from a larger, structural perspective as well as at the paragraph and sentence level. Although the class draws from academic research on how readers read and interpret writing, it swaps a theory-heavy approach for real tools that you can use right away.

At the end of eight weeks, your writing will be more vigorous and confident. You’ll be able to indentify problems in your work, and know how to revise more effectively. You’ll also get tons of inspiration, exercises, and encouragement to keep you going long after the class is done!

If you've got any questions or would like to register for this course, please email me at farrell dot writer at gmail dot com. (Online payments are coming soon!)