best Deadwood quotes


I’m late to the rumour that Deadwood might become a movie. Late, and extremely excited. Watching this show I used to press pause every five minutes to write down my favourite lines. Shakespearean syntax + facedown-in-the-gutter profanity = goosebumps-inducing dialogue. Here are some of the g-rated gems:

Truth is, as a base of operations, you cannot beat a saloon.

Hereforth, in a calamity, I’ll be sure to send for Jane.

Short of burning it all down, you got to trust someone.

I’d as soon as try to touch the moon as take on what a whore’s thinking.

I’m the simple type of man that, seeing lightning, looks for thunder, and finding thunder understands it as part of the same storm.

I don’t collude and I don’t cahoot.

You coulda just said “Amen,” Reverend.

He may have checked out short a useful amount of blood.

You do not want to be a dirt-worshiping heathen from this point forward.

Wild Bill Hickok: You know the sound of thunder, Mrs. Garret?
Alma Garret: Of course.
Wild Bill Hickok: Can you imagine that sound if I asked you to?
Alma Garret: Yes, I can, Mr. Hickok.
Wild Bill Hickok: Your husband and me had this talk, and I told him to head home to avoid a dark result. But I didn’t say it in thunder. Ma’am, listen to the thunder.


PS: The character of Calamity Jane, played by the inimitable Robin Weigert, served as a kind of personal archetype for me a few years back. I wrote about it here.


good art is contagious: students make fairy tales


It’s that time in the semester when I eat, sleep and breathe fairy tales. The students in the two sections of my Fairy Tales & Fantasies class have had some practice, by now, at identifying the common bloodlines from one variant to another and discerning how the different cultural contexts affect the stories. Class discussion is lively and insightful, particularly for the 8:00am start time.

They’ve also been making their own fairy tales. The Fairy Tale Redux assignment, worth 1/3 of their grade for the term, asks them to pick a tale, any tale, and re-mount it in whichever way they think will best illuminate something new about the story and show off their creative skills.

It’s harder than it sounds. There are time limits, adaptation challenges, group work frustrations, technical difficulties–and I insist they write an Artist Statement that justifies their approach on a theoretical and aesthetic level.

Sara Jo is a philosophy major who signed up for my course because she’s interested in knowing more about deep story structures in human psychology and culture. She is a gift to have in class: deeply curious, intellectually courageous, highly adept at thinking and speaking on her feet.

For her FT Redux, Sara Jo focused on Rapunzel. She wrote a free-verse meditation inspired by a specific claim in the Grimm Brothers’ variant: that Rapunzel sings from her window in the tower, and her song is what first attracts the Prince passing by in the forest. And Sara Jo decided to illustrate her poetry with hand-drawn tarot cards that capture the archetypal significance of key motifs in the story. What more can I possibly say about this?? You need to see it for yourself, right here:

as sibyl, she sang

Mad Miss Mimic book launch, High Park Curling & Lawn Bowling Club, Toronto, May 2015

How do I love thee, JT? Let me count the ways


Justin Timberlake is my boyfriend. Let me be clear: I’m not talking here about some childhood crush. Back in the NSYNC era I wouldn’t have recognized his name, and I had no idea Justin was ever a Mouseketeer. Nor did I care enough about Britney Spears to notice the gentleman on her arm, when they were a thing.

No, I only recently started dating Justin. I first noticed him in The Social Network: his sexy, spoiled-brat Napster maverick completely stole the movie for me. Wait, I thought, isn’t that guy a pop singer? Then came Friends with Benefits. Oh, man, who is this man who looks so comfy in his own skin onscreen? Who does this little song-and-dance imitation of Kriss Kross in a 5-second, comic scene and floors us with his talent?

Justin, I love your pedigree, now that I’ve been googling you. You were raised in front of cameras and you’re utterly at home there. Last night I stayed up late watching this making-of FWB video, and your costars say they’re deeply intimidated by your natural acting ability. Your director says it’s like working with Fred Astaire: you can do anything he asks, effortlessly. But it’s not just your talent I love; it’s the fact that you’re so clearly in it for the joy. The whole time, through all the bloopers and gag-reel material, you’re either laughing your head off or struggling to keep a straight face.

I love your attitude to music. Your songs are so silly! Gossamer-light lyrics and fluting, easy harmonies that offer perfect soundtracks to the Fred Astaire-esque mini-movies that are your music videos. You entertain, Justin, full stop.

What more could a girl possibly want in a boyfriend?

writing wild

writing wild

from Clarissa Pinkola Estes:

And so we go on, all us stubborn, liquored up on soul and riding the mustang of wild voice, go on. In some ways, there is no more to say than that, for practice, practice, living on the edges, creating past the edges is the writer’s center of work. And thus the next step in the practice is to practice, and daily.

notes to self

notes to self

Sometimes I go back in my notebooks and discover words to live by.
I don’t tear them out and pin them to the bathroom mirror, but I probably should.
These little jewels are notes from a voice class with Fides Krucker. As usual her words could be applied to all art practice not just singing.



Returning to the city from an intense revision/editing retreat at Sparkbox Studio, I am noticing that even though I made excellent progress I don’t feel very awesome. Partly it’s sheer brain-exhaustion from wrangling a 350-page project into some kind of coherence. But it’s also the role I’ve been forced to play in relation to my work. A substantive revision uses certain of a writer’s muscles but not others:
I’ve had to be analytical, logical and critical so that I could solve problems in chronology, cause and effect and character development. But all this left-brain heavy lifting meant I had to leave my right brain on the bench. I had to leave aside the juicy, emotional, play-fuelled aspects of writing.

Right now I am deaf to the music of my story and blind to the sparkle of it. The logic is there but I am full of doubt about the art. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to this stage being over.

carrying on

Photo 2014-05-05, 3 32 04 PM

I made this card for my mom about 30 years ago. She brought it over to point out the painstaking detail in the cutting and pasting, the artful composition, how the tree becomes a frame for the girl. I have only the vaguest memory of making this card–no memory at all of writing the message inside: “Thank you for working so hard to be a good mother to me!” Photo 2014-05-05, 3 32 58 PM

My kids are more or less the age I was when I made this card. I force them to write letters to relatives, and their tortuous cursive looks more or less like this. It’s wonderful- and a little unnerving- to see time pleat before my eyes.



Talk about full circle! The kids recently helped me do some more white-paper-on-black cutting and pasting: I volunteered to make signs for my choir to show significant dates in its history.


And here I am, holding up the “25th” sign for our May 3rd, 2014 performance of “Carry It On”:

Photo 2014-05-05, 9 17 08 AM

the next book

It’s not just a blank page, it’s a black hole. A dark, swirling brainspace of sparkly ideas and jagged problems. I lie in bed at night too excited to sleep. I jot down phrases, quotations, character names, questions. I order more books from the library. I Google.

But I haven’t started writing. In fact, the very thought of starting writing fills me with dread. I will never, EVER be able to do justice to this fantastic idea. I’m not brave enough to begin. I am not a talented enough writer to write this story, period.

I’m too tired, I tell myself. After all, it was only last week that I hit ‘send’ on my completed manuscript. My agent hasn’t even read it yet. I will probably have a year’s worth of revisions to undertake. I won’t have time for this new project, anyway, I tell myself. Rest awhile, I tell myself. Take a break, get your head out of books, for a change! With my head out of the books I am happy for around forty-eight hours, and then I feel anxious and ill.

So here I am, back at my desk, staring into the black hole again–the sparkly bits, the jagged bits. It feels crazy to hurl myself in there without at least a spacesuit of some kind, some equipment with which to navigate. A ball of string to unwind, at least, to find my way back. But I’m going in anyhow. See ya.

young voices in fiction

Tom-SawyerIn a novel, what makes a narrator’s voice seem young? Well, vocabulary is an obvious clue–the use of kid slang, dancing around or misusing big, “grown-up” words.  Sometimes writers commit deliberate grammatical errors (“me and Katie got green lollipops”) or limit themselves to choppy little sentences (“Teddy bawled. Hard. Snot came out of his nose.”) in an effort to convey “young.”

But my favorite young voices in fiction are those that don’t differ all that much from adult voices when it comes to word choice and sentence mechanics. Instead the difference comes across more subtly and globally in the narrator’s “young” way of viewing the world. Whether the narrative POV is first-person or third, there’s a sense that the world is fresh and strange, that human relationships are mysterious to the point of being inexplicable, and that what’s imagined is just as compelling as what is known or learned.

Lullabies for Little CriminalsHeather O’Neill, award-winning author of Lullabies for Little Criminals, has this to say about creating a “young” world (through her 12-year-old protagonist’s eyes) rather than aiming specifically for a “young” voice:

Even though the novel is set in rooming-houses and the red-light district, it still exists in the childish realm of make-believe: a world in which plastic swans are real; cracks in the walls are spiders; and an old fan blowing in the corner of the room is the seaside.

In O’Neill’s novel it’s the gap between what (adult) readers believe about negligent parents, juvenile delinquents, drug dealers and pimps, on the one hand, and how the child narrator sees them, on the other (i.e., as great people) that generates much of the narrative tension. For O’Neill the key to a young voice is its relationship to risk:

The inability to properly identify danger exists throughout the book….Twelve is a beautiful and striking age. It’s when kids start talking big and thinking about how they could make it on their own: just like angels right before they are cast out of heaven. They have such innocent and dangerous ideas.*

I really like the phrase “innocent and dangerous ideas.” The pairing of a narrator’s innocence and a reader’s awareness of danger could apply to many great novels about children and young people.

*Heather O’Neill’s comments are found in the “About the Book” section of the 2006 HarperPerennial paperback edition, pg. 10.