Coursera: The Craft of Plot A2

The second lesson of the course is on structure. Brando Skyhorse (the instructor) promotes a 5 act structure called the ABDCE structure.

A – Action (what draw the reader in, something physical the character is doing)

B – Background (essential info that determines how the characters will behave throughout the story)

D – Development (rising actions, plot, success and failures)

C – Climax (the largest rising action, narrative twist)

E – Ending

In less than 200 words we are to write a short story about a trip to the doctor – or what actions lead us to need to go to the doctor. We are to mark each of the structure points right in the story.

Here’s another cat story, but from a different narrative point of view. BTW this has never happened with me and my cat. I know better than to taunt her with treats, especially when I haven’t clipped her nails in awhile.

Owner came home late today, so I snaked around her feet as she put her coat away, meowing loudly until she gave me treats. (A) I get three treats every day, one on my cat house, and two hidden elsewhere. It’s a game, I hunt while she does whatever humans do when they get home from work. (B) Owner finally went to the cupboard and got the treat bag. I sat on the house while she waved it annoyingly just out of my reach. I swiped for it, scratching her arm. She dropped it and it rolled under the fridge. This was her fault and she should get it out, so I pawed at her leg until she got the wooden spoon. I hunkered down to watch her hunt; I was salivating for it! (D) In one quick motion she knocked the treat right at me. I pulled back suddenly, scraping my nose on the edge of the fridge and screamed loudly.(C) She picked up her phone – who was she calling at a time like this? When she pulled put the towel, I knew. We were headed to the vet, and I didn’t get my treat. (E)

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Coursera: The Craft of Plot A1

As someone who mainly writes poetry, I find developing a plot the most difficult part of writing a shorty story. I love setting up a world and developing characters, but struggle putting them through their paces or developing layers of events between them and the end goal. I can manage one layer most days, but that is not a good story. So I’m trying to improve my skills through Coursera.

I’m doing as much of the free Creative Writing: The Craft of Plot course as I can. I will be posting the finished assignment here as I without paying the fee I can’t submit it there.

In summary, the assignment is to write a short scene with a character who has a concrete want, and one weakness. Every other sentence should be a rising action (after the first sentence intro, and third sentence weakness). Then we’re provided a list of words to incorporate into those rising action sentences.

Because I was uninspired by the “concrete want” bit of this assignment, I wrote about my cat. Because obvs.

Tio the cat lived alone with her owner in a small house with a little yard. Frank, a big fat crow, would sit in the only tree in the yard and mock her from outside. Tio was an indoor cat, scared to go outside and Frank teased her incessantly for it – she hated him. Frank was cawing at her again today, calling her a “Tiny toothless tiger, just a furball with no fight”. “I’ll show him my teeth,” she muttered, “Stupid bird doesn’t know what’s coming. Today will be the day, I just have to trick Owner into letting me outside.” Tio turned her back on Frank, and took a catnap to refresh her brain. Her dream triggered a memory – a scary one with the worst kind of doctor, but it gave her an idea. The last time Owner took her to the vet was when Tio put herself on a diet. So Tio decided to pretend she was on another one, and didn’t eat a thing all day. When Owner returned and saw Tio’s bowl still full of Kibble, she immediately called the Vet.  Tio was pathetic aboard her arms, limp and sad looking. Her eyes were wide and black, with thin yellow rings of iris just barely noticeable. Owner wrapped her in a blanket for the not-to-happen carried. The house door finally opened, and Tio was ready to explode out of the blanket! That is, until she saw the concrete – it didn’t look very soft like the carpet she was used to. And the yard looked filthy, bugs and dirt and grass, but she could hear Frank cackling from the tree. She leapt anyway, stumbling on the unfamiliar terrain until her cat instincts kicked in and she was up the tree. But Frank had already flown away.

So, did I pass?

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A Letter to My Nephew

And to all my Christian, post-christian, post-religion, and all my lgbtq+ family out there. Take care of yourselves this season. Wishing you all the hope and revolution of the Magnificat.

To My Nephew,

December 4, 2015

She cried, you know, at your baby shower. After opening the brand-name stroller and seeing the names of all her coworkers on the card, and their warm eyes shining hopefully back at her, she managed to whisper a soft thank you. I didn’t realize it until then that all she ever wanted was approval, acceptance – basic love.

Growing up she showed this in unexpected ways. Or maybe not, with four other siblings; maybe she picked the only things not already taken. Your uncle Matt, was a volleyball genius in a small town, Uncle Nick was a high-energy and moody teen, Uncle James was a nerdy youngest child, and I was the student. Your mom liked life, wasn’t exceptional at anything obvious, though when I look back I can see her quiet, riotous Marian heart.

Or maybe because it’s Christmas, and I’m just thinking about Mary a lot. When Mary shares the news with her cousin, she starts by thanking God for being “mindful” of her. I think this is what your mom wanted. Not to be watched over, like how people pray, but to be considered as an appropriate option when the appropriate situation calls for it…and, to once in awhile, be chosen.

We grew up babysitting for church moms, neighbors and schoolteachers. Your mom always liked kids and babies. One day she took her babysitting money and bought a bag of Chupa Chups in bulk. She brought them to school and sold them at 300% markup until one of the teachers caught her. In that one lunch hour she made a profit of $50. She had wit and what my mother called “street sense” – this vision of how to work things, push buttons – make change.

She certainly knew how to push my buttons.

Before you came along, she worked with people with disabilities. She challenged the assumed communication and learning barriers. Where others declared people unteachable, she taught them to feed themselves. Where others declared people incapable of making decisions, she learned to read facial expressions and allowed the people in the room to play Anne Murray as much as they wanted. She used the right words to point out inappropriate record keeping, breaches of client privacy, and healthier practices. She was gracious, but revolutionary, as I imagine Mary was when she declared how He would bring down rulers from their thrones and lifted up the humble. Without even realizing it, she was an advocate.

She was married then, but not to your dad. I like to remember how your mom was at that workplace, but it means I have to remember him too. And I have to remember how she finally got the attention of our parents, and the years between when we had nothing to say.

When she’s ready, she’ll tell you all about it. But I’ll just say that I think this is when she lost that righteous fighting spirit – when she was pushed out, lost faith in the good fight, was barely able to fight for herself. As the bible rarely mentions Mary after the birth, the budding church pushing her away from her son, your mom felt no longer useful, as if her time as a person had passed.

I remember when she called me to tell me she was getting a divorce. I was at college and hadn’t talked to her since her last birthday. I don’t remember having any feelings about it – we barely knew each other anymore.

One year after, we came home for Thanksgiving and shared our old room. I had tucked my most current journal under the bed, just like I used to. The journal was a gift from her – a beautiful red leather paisley showing she knew me better than I thought. By the end of the holiday, she knew me a whole lot better as I caught her on the day we left, reading the last pages of my journal. We didn’t fight then. I was too busy gasping for air around the sudden tightness in my chest.

She was the first family member I was out to. After that, we talked even less than before – and never about the journal or what bisexual means. I barely had words for that myself yet and so I waited, waited for her righteous anger to expose me to the family, to finally have someone on the outside with her. But she did not. I can see, now, how she protected me, whispering quiet words of change in the ears of others. Like how we pray to Mary to lean over and whisper in her sons passing ear, to set ideas in motion. I’m still not out to your grandparents, and I don’t know that I ever will be. But your mom was the feller-buncher that removed groups of obstacles at a time, slowly maybe, but effectively enough that the forest of Christian conservatism was no longer so thick I couldn’t find my way out.

Years passed, she married your dad and found new work. And we didn’t talk about it. But then she had and lost your older sister. When she miscarried, I did what I always do – I wrote about it. I called her, shared the poem, but our hearts ached and we didn’t talk long. She always wanted children, twin boys she said.

He has filled the hungry with good things, but has sent the rich away empty.

I couldn’t think of anything good about this. She was neither rich, nor starving, not unloved but denied this love. And I struggled to remember if Mary had any other children. If she ever had anything that was just hers, or if this is the life that justice-seekers have. To give and give and give.

But he extends mercy from generation to generation.

And she had you, premature and tiny. So small I didn’t even know what to do with you when you came out for my wedding. I didn’t know how much I loved you then, or your mother. It wasn’t until she had you that we began to have visits that didn’t have us hurting each other with silence, words, or making decisions on top of each other. I saw the way she loved you, open and fierce, and that was the sister I remembered before the first marriage. She saw the way I loved you, goofily, giving and unguarded. And we saw how to love each other well.

We’re still learning though, and now you’re at an age where you’ll start noticing the tension. I want you to know how you’ve healed us. How you heal your mom after every miscarriage with your head-rolling laughter and blueberry cheeks. How every time we visit and you’re around, we trust each other a little more. And I want you to know that she’ll fight for you even when you fight against her. That she’ll whisper for you like she did me, and destroy whatever forest you find yourself in to make your path just a bit easier than her own. And I’ll be there, behind you, behind her – to break your fall when you trip, to remind her to whisper and you to live.

But she will be the mindful one. The one that will always rotate around you – that even at the widest circumference, she’ll always be facing you.


Names have been changed, but I guess if you know me, it probably doesn’t matter.

The Magnificat: Luke 1:46-55

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Viscosity at Twisted Sister LitMag

The lovely folks at Twisted Sister Litmag just published a fantastic food issue with my fabulous writerly buddies: Kim (@foxyouverymuch) and Vanessa (@vanessalevpom), and me!

But beware, stories may include some gross (and awesome) descriptions, death and dying, food-porn esque descriptions. It’s a great issue and the folks at Twisted Sister like to keep things weird.

My little flash piece, Viscosity is an example of my favourite kind of thing to write. It’s a short exploration of the mundane, not too focused on plot or poetry, just light. Also, I love personification of ordinary objects. I think it’s fun and awkward to write.

So go, read all the foody-creepy things. Then follow Twisted Sister Litmag. You won’t regret it.



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Review: Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey

Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey

Authorial intent: To “Lay down our ideas, our neatly organized Bible verses, our carefully crafted arguments,…to really talk about womanhood, the church.” To have a campfire roundtable story-telling evening.

I don’t think she achieves this, other than telling her own story, but I do think she encourages women to have this conversation amongst themselves. And seeing as there is a set of book-club questions at the end, then if I had read it in that context, it would have made more sense.

So who is this book for?

Well, it’s not for me. So who am I? My husband, upon seeing what I was reading, said “That title is perfect for you”. But in reality, I’m someone who finds it easier to claim Feminist than Christian. I don’t attend church because it feels both suffocating and manipulative – but this is my own baggage. I quit attending in high school, and I made it through four years of bible college only going to church a handful of times. This also means that I’ve studied a lot of the texts from the bible, early church and modern day writers. I am a Research Analyst by day and a writer by sometimes nights. I am both detailed oriented, thorough and a rabbit trail chaser. I spend half my time at work chasing down every anomaly so I can explain exactly what’s going on, and I spend half my time writing deleting and then retyping the same word.

I come to the book with a fair amount of knowledge, probably more than who the book is for. I also come with a critical eye because I can’t help it. I see all the things she mentions in passing, and know she could have spent a chapter on each. My notes are full of “I wish she had addressed this, talked about this more, acknowledged this…”. The book feels introductory to me, but I do think it is for some people.

Like my mother.

And who’s she? She’s a homegrown prairie girl, turned church lady, turned main provider. She grew up doing church with her extended family, in cramped front rooms. She got married at 19 with a grade 7 education, to a man with a bad heart. She’s had to pick up the slack when my dad couldn’t work because he was too unhealthy, or got laid off. She continued to work to pay off debt, to put five children through private Christian school. She went back to school in her 40’s to complete her high school education, and then went on to get a college certificate. She’s become an equal in the marriage over time, even if this was not her intent. She critiques my fathers bible study plans and sermons, and taught alongside him in various ministries. She used to wave flags and sing loudly before she left the only church she ever knew to protect her family. She’s a woman who’s a Christian Feminist but would never claim the second part of that label.

It’s also for my father. He’s the person I yelled at and said “Why do you think your sperm gets to determine whether I become a pastor or not?!” when I came home after first term at bible college. He’s also the person who sends his kids job postings for jobs we are completely unqualified for, because he knows we are capable. He is also the one who teases me about feminism, but is proud that I learned how to do all the around-the-house fix-it things from him. It’s for people who don’t understand the word “Feminism”, but are feminists or have raised feminists themselves.

It’s also for them because it plays heavy on emotion, uses a lot of “christianese”, and for people who have memorized all the verses she has alluded to. It won’t convince any non-Christians that Christians can actually be feminist, and it won’t convince non-feminist Christians to become feminist. It will help those with feminist behaviours and beliefs to acknowledge how the label can apply to them.

Best parts of the book?

But the best part of the book (for me) is the Further Reading and Notes. This is where I can find all the meaty books that I want. It is very interesting to me how well read Sarah is, and how gentle this little book turned out to be. I know my gut reaction is to be highly critical, and I want to shove all the texts in front of everyone I know and say “How can you even talk about women in the church it if you haven’t read ALL THE THINGS”. Sarah is much kinder, and makes the idea of a Jesus Feminist approachable by the ordinary, non-bible school-nit-picker.

But you actually want to know about the content.

I first thought her strongest chapters were “Patron Saints, Spiritual Midwives, and ‘Biblical Womanhood’” and “Narrative Reborn”, but when I reread it and forced myself accept the book for what it was, I think there’s a lot of good in here. Her attitude alone teaches me how I could better approach the subject in general conversation. My husband would agree, and say something like “Well I could have told you that you needed to be nicer!’.

In these two chapters are both stories of badass biblical women and birth stories. She brings context to what the description of these women in that time meant, and educates the reader on how important small phrases like “Daughter of Abraham” would have impacted the men listening. I love her storytelling of these biblical women, and her quiet acknowledgment (though I wish she shouted it out loud, repeated it over and over and over IN ALL CAPS) that “patriarchy, subordination and pain are part of the Fall. They were never God’s original intent”(91). And aren’t we always trying to move towards what Gods original intention for humankind was?

But her strongest work is describing just how Jesus’ interactions with women were revolutionary and how important it is to take into context just what those actions meant. (I also appreciate that she does the same thing with Paul’s writing to the early church, as he is often quoted more than Jesus or the gospels when talking about women’s issue in the church).

I also really love reading birth stories (thanks Kim!). I like them because I’ve learned how much faith a woman must have in herself that she is strong and capable, and can finish the task regardless of the surprises thrown at her. She really has to let go, and trust herself, and how important it is for her birth team to support her(whether that’s just her husband and a few strangers in the parking lot, or a doula, midwife and doctor). Isn’t this a perfect picture of the church? Have faith, trust, and find support (I know the analogy only goes so far). I love how she shares her own painful, joyous, amazing and heartbreaking experiences of birth. I hope that she has done the same thing but with her church experiences in her new book, Out of Sorts. I won’t ruin it for you, but you should all run to your local libraries, pick up the book and read her “Narrative Reborn” chapter.

I love that she also acknowledges all the motherly qualities that are missed when only men preach – and how there is a whole lot about God that is missed when we don’t acknowledge the creative, life-giving side of her.

Beefs. Because I can’t help it.

  1. If she was aiming to promote stories of the unheard. I’m not sure she’s achieved her goal. She says “could spend [her] life telling the beautiful stories of ordinary radicals” but instead tells the stories of straight or married women, the already in church circles, or leaves the descriptions too anonymous to determine if they really are an unheard voice, such as LGBTQ+, childless, celibate, divorced, immigrant, or women of colour. While she talks about how the feminist label can apply to people with a variety of beliefs, she only makes a point to acknowledge the existence of pro-life feminists in the Christian tradition, not pro-choice Christians – its an awkward avoidance as to not scare off her reader. In effect it alienates a whole lot of us who are reading the book to see if she’s got tips on being having both strong beliefs about women’s rights and having faith. The book is less of a sharing of a bunch of stories, than bits and pieces of her own story. That being said, I think she could write a great memoir – she promotes only a few stories aside from her own. Not that this is wrong, it’s just doesn’t seem to jive with what she sets out to do in the first chapter.
  1. The lack of interchanging gendering of God. If we’re talking about the creative side of God, why not say “she?” Afraid of losing the reader again? And the extensive use of “Abba” for God is frustrating, as for many women our dads are not good examples of love.
  1. Choice of Canadian content. And I mean one thing in particular. She spends a chapter, “Kingdom Come” on how God’s Kingdom [non-christianese reads: the world as God intended, always strived for but because of sin unattainable. Basically Jesus’ life.] is one of peace and justice, and will treat women equally. She talks about worldwide poverty and quotes UN statistics, but she doesn’t talk about the situation at home. This is a time to use your platform and bring attention to all the missing and murdered indigenous women (#mmiw) in Canada, to talk about the third-world condition of reserves, the overwhelming number of First Nations children in foster care, and all the ways in which we allow cultural genocide to continue in our country.

What really frustrated me about all this, is that in the same chapter she chose a quote from N.T. Wright, “Jesus’s resurrection is the beginning of God’s new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven.” (p 167). As Canadians, we cannot be ignorant of our language or our history anymore. The problem with this quote is that Canada was colonized by snatching people away from their home while claiming good intentions – “colonization” is not what any version of heaven on earth should look like.

I don’t believe she is ignorant to it, she just chose to leave it out. And I have a hard time understanding how not even one line is about to it. If you can mention abortion in a Christian feminist book, you can mention the Highway of Tears or the Robert Pickton trials. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Google it. Or even better, read the Truth & Reconciliation Report, starting with “Honouring the Truth, Reconciling the Future”. Isn’t this what her book is asking the church to do?


Final Thoughts: I would buy it for my mom and it belongs in every church library.

And you really should read the TRC (I’m still working through it). Or for something easier to get into, read this essay on Canada’s Missing & Murdered Aboriginal women by Angela Sterritt

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On trying to get published

As a writer, the platform of a blog is a special space that provides what is often a lonely endeavour with a sense of community. We receive feedback fairly quickly once we’ve got our little space of the internet carved out, and cheer we  get a post viewed over ten times. I have hollered out loud when another blogger has shared one of my pieces online.

I just deleted almost all of my poetry from the blog.

I am trying to get my work published. Not because I don’t think I’m getting the coverage or response I deserve – I know that often times publication in a mag doesn’t mean interaction with your readers. It’s not because I need to be told I’m a legitimate writer or that others value my work. Artists and writers are often not valued during the lifetime. So why this pursuit? What has changed?

I joined an informal writer’s group and I’m learning it’s not selfish to be seeking feedback, suggestions, editing help or serious critique of your reasons for writing on a particular topic. Part of the seeking publication process is exactly this – getting feedback, pursuing publications and challenging yourself to write not just for you any longer, but a specific need or niche. I believe I have something to say, now how do I say it so that it is intelligible to this or that publications readers?

It’s an exercise in writing. It’s an exercise in perseverance and self belief. It’s about fine tuning the tools of words, imagery, symbolism, alliteration, theme…etc. etc. I am beginning to learn that without truly focusing on the crafting of words, we are limited in our ability to use them, to play with them. Once you know how to use words, then you can play with them to make the most impact. It’s like jazz. You have to know the scales to know how to improvise with them.

Part of seeking publication is that blogging your pieces, even unfinished, can often remove the “first publication” rights that many places seek and straight out ask you not to submit it. On the other hand, some places do accept pieces that have appeared on blogs, but then stipulate that you must take it down before publication.

So what’s really happening, is I have faith in myself as a writer, and a poet (even though my handle says otherwise), and I am being proactive in removing everything that, with a few revisions, I hope to publish.

This blog is therefore defunct. But you can follow my definitelynotapainter pursuits on Instagram and I am an active retweeter of writers and publications seeking submissions on Twitter!

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Getting my groove back

I don’t have writers block. In fact, in the last three weeks I’ve been more writerly-productive than in the previous 6 months combined. What I’m finding, though, is I’ve got a major distaste for photography right now. I’m not even finding photos by my favourite artists interesting or worthy of much more than just a glance.

So I’m on a journey to refund my joy of the visual arts. 

I’ve forced myself to start using my 2 year old empty Instagram account, so I can begin seeing what others find beautiful and noteworthy in their daily lives – as to force me to do the same. 

I’ve also pulled out my college acrylics, which have now gone so thick and lumpy, they are behaving more like bad oils. I had one spare canvas in the house, just a small 6×6 and found an old tutorial I had pinned ages ago. 

This week I am also going to finally download all my vacation pictures from my camera and actually look at them. I’m going to find three, edit and then print them off. Maybe I need physical instances of art to really start appreciating it again.

I am also going to go to an art gallery opening this month, get up so close to some pieces that I can smell them and see the brushstrokes. I need to take someone with me who will force me to stop and look, who reads art differently than I do. 

If at the end of this month long art journey I still want to throw out my camera, then maybe it’s time just to tuck it into the very back of the closet.


Ironic that last week I wrote a story with very little visual description – my writers group even called me out on it.

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