Melanie lobstersI wonder if friendships are made in heaven? Or maybe it’s that when you make a new and fast friend, there’s something heady and heavenly about it.

I’m not sure how Melanie Chambers came into my life, but if memory serves, it was a few years ago via the TMAC listserve (Travel Media Association of Canada). As we both teach travel writing, I remember sharing information and exchanging ideas via email and Skype. We’ve since kept in touch, albeit sporadically. But you know how it is when you admire someone from afar—you want to meet them in person!

We did try to connect two summers ago when we were both in Newfoundland. Although we were on the same coast for a few days, for various reasons it didn’t happen.

3smFast forward to March 15th of this year, when, by chance, I came upon Melanie’s blog which eventually led us to launch the JULY PROJECT. (More on that if you scroll down to my March 21 post.)

Last week, after a 23 hour drive from Toronto to Halifax and a short sleepover, she landed on our doorstep to visit for a few days. BOING! The moment Melanie stepped out of the car, I knew we were kindred spirits. You know how it is … feels like you’ve met some old soul you’ve hung around with and loved all your life. (We’re both Scorpios so that may explain in part why our personalities are in sync.)

Mind you, I’m 70 and she’s 43. Cripes —I could be her mother. But I so appreciate her energy, how savvy she is, her passion for travel, and her big heart. I’ve also read a lot of the stuff she writes and have huge respect for her skills and how she approaches story.

Better dial down the rah-rah factor before I get schmaltzy.

2smWhile Melanie was here, we went  on a couple of shopping sprees to the “French Boutique” a.k.a  Frenchy’s second hand clothing stores; I introduced her to rappie pie (a singularly unappealing Acadian dish, but oh-so-tasty); she accompanied me on a last minute photo shoot at Hug Your Nanny Goat Cheese, and we fit in some relaxing campfire chats with Barrie. Melanie also did a couple of 40-something-km bike rides and  went swimming in the Tusket River in front of our home (which I likely won’t be doing for another month!)

IMG_6225smOh yeah. We also got some work done; mapped out our approach and some content for the JULY PROJECT. It’s a whopper. (Details later!)

This week I’ve been working on the 31-day itinerary and realize how much her visit meant to me. I’m still processing the significance of it all. I also realize that I yearn to have this kind of “prime time” with old friends, so I’ve invited them to accompany me on some of the July excursions.

Stay tuned!

moon 1I read recently that the source of crafts, science and arts is the power of reflection. So I’ve been doing a wee experiment and sitting by the river first thing in the morning with my cup of coffee … and, well, reflecting. Especially on the art (or craft) of writing in general and the July Project in particular.

The standard definition of the word (OED) is “serious thought or consideration.” So in the spirit of trying to improve my writing, and becoming more attentive–with the goal of seeing through the heavenly visibles to the heavenly invisibles as Mary Oliver so aptly said–I’ve been reflecting.

The problem is that there are a lot of distractions here early in the morning. The bluejays start barking at each other as soon as the sun comes up; the chickadees try to outdo each other with their mating calls; psycho squirrels run circles around each other and the geese seem to choose that time to honk their little hearts out. Big Bertha the beaver paddles between the marsh and the island oblivious to the “surround sound” that envelops us both.

moon 2So after a few days of taking time out at dawn to reflect, I switched to dusk/dark, thinking things would be quieter and therefore easier to give “serious thought or consideration” to the task at hand. Not so. As I watched the full moon seep over the horizon three nights ago (which, in itself was a HUGE distraction!) two Bared owls held a great whoo-whoo conversation for over  an hour, and the peepers were downright deafening. As well,  I couldn’t resist the urge  to take some photos. When I wasn’t click clicking away, I simply gawked at the moon’s reflection on the river.

So I’ve not progressed very far with my own reflections. But the sights and sounds have been most entertaining. Magical, actually.

Meanwhile, I’m getting pumped for Melanie Chambers’ visit here next week.

corner-mbikeAs you know she’s my July Project pal and writing buddy and we’ll be doing a daily journal/blog … she, centered in TO with a side trip to Algonquin, and me, here, in Southwest Nova Scotia. We’ll be yakking about the project, planning our approach, and fine tuning some  of the ins and outs.

Melanie’s also a biker and just came second in a big competition. She’ll  be doing a 37 km training run here (Tusket/Belleville area) with Beth Mooney on June 13th at 4 pm … let me know if you want to ride with them!

PS. One thing does come  to mind from my morning/night reflections by the river … I’ve decided to spend more time finding out about the stories behind the stories … and spend more time writing stories that I really really care about. This means I will have to work harder to find markets. So be it.

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111So off I go to bed last night feeling pretty chuffed about this “project” Melanie and I have agreed to embark on this summer. Through the night, however, I woke up with a start and couldn’t get back to sleep. So I made a cup of hot chocolate, and sat in front of the fire in a half-awake, half-asleep stupor. Suddenly it hit me. Holy crap!

What I’ve done is conveniently put everything in a box somewhere in my mind … adding ideas and storing it there until we start the July project. What was I thinking? Come the first of July I’d suddenly be attentive? Instantly, be ready to take risks and reveal myself? Magically become more human?  July was going to be marathon month. Not in terms of travelling physical distances perhaps, but the internal journey would be huge. Did I think I could simply walk in cold without rehearsing a bit or doing some warm ups?

Already I had started a list: spend time in a soup kitchen; invite myself on a swordfish boat; take part in some village socials; accept the invitation of a friend I’ve not seen for ages to come visit (she lives in an old house that was Yarmouth’s first hospital.)

Birchdale thumbI might find a secluded beach and swim in the nude. Or climb into a church belfry and ring the bells. I’d love to walk around one of our towns between midnight and 3 a.m. and see what’s going on and who’s around to chat with. Not your regular “touristy” things, but great  fodder for a travel writer!

Then a little voice in my head piped up: Yeah, but those are action items: places to go, people to see, things to do. Doing “different” things is not the same as approaching things differently. That’s part of the deal. You promised to do things differently.

That stopped me dead in my tracks. I took a couple of deep breaths and let that wee “aha” moment crystallize. Congratulations old girl. You’ve just had your first lesson in paying attention.  I finished the hot chocolate, went back to bed, and slept like a fish. (That’s what daughter Margo always said when she slept well because her gold fish never seemed to move during the night.)  So I’d say the journey’s begun.

PS. The photos posted tonight are from  Birchdale. One  of my favourite places on earth, and only 30 minutes from  where I live.

Oops. And I meant to ask, what does paying attention mean to you?  I need to add some tools to my “pay attention” kit. Please hop aboard and join in the discussion!


6SMFunny how serendipity steps in when you least expect it. A few days ago I read Melanie Chamber’s blog, Toronto boundMelanie is a travel writer and colleague whom I admire. Her title intrigued me, as I know that Melanie lives in Toronto. So what on earth could she mean by headlining her blog Toronto bound?

Melanie opens by saying, “When I’m away, I become someone else. Instinct and spontaneity return. Without the stress of work, without the familiarity locking me into habits and patterns, I listen to my gut, which means, I also take risks. I become more, well, more me!”

I found myself nodding in agreement. By the time I finished reading her post, I felt as if my friend had pushed me off the deep end of a pool. I had a choice: reach for my comfy (and safe) water—wings—way of doing things, or tread water like a mad woman for a few moments then push myself to learn a new stroke or two that might take me  to an inner island; a grand adventure to some uncharted territory.

You’ll see when you read her blog of March 15th, that she’s made a commitment to spend this summer at home in Toronto. Instead of trotting around the globe, she intends to scoot around in her own backyard. And, she plans on approaching things differently. At the end of her blog Melanie tucks in a wee challenge:  “Move. Take a bite of something weird, talk to someone, reveal yourself, take a leap of faith, and grow.”

Within seconds of reading her post, I impulsively fired off a comment which said, in part,  “Oh! Yes! Of course. Why not? Frikkin’ brilliant m’dear. You’ve inspired me to do the same. Right here in lil’ ole Yarmouth.”

Before I could digest what, exactly, I had committed myself to, my inbox pinged with an  email from Melanie.  Subject header: yes, and yes and yes!!!! The note went on to ask, “Ok … what about we do it together, starting on one day and do it everyday for 30 days? But, as travel a writer are you at home for 30 continuous days this summer?”

3smWe swapped emails and agreed to Skype at noon on the 20th.

The thought of actually doing this left me feeling lightheaded. Giddy. Much like a kid about to explore a cave for the first time, or getting ready to board a plane for Timbuktu. I was excited! I was going to do something new, perhaps even risqué. I was also anxious.

You see, awhile ago I read Mary Oliver’s book Our World.  At one point, Oliver talks about attention and what she learned by observing her partner, Mary Malone Cook (now deceased), whom she refers to as “M.”

Oliver writes, “Attention without feeling, I began to learn, is only a report. An openness—and empathy—was necessary if the attention was to matter. Such openness and empathy M. had in abundance, and gave away freely … Then  M. instilled in me this deeper level of looking and working, of seeing through the heavenly visibles to the heavenly invisibles.”

I was so struck by these words that I typed them out and taped them to the bookcase in my office at eye level. This kind of attention has been missing in my work of late. Sure, I write some decent stories, take decent photos. But I’m stuck in one dimension. My reportage has become slack. I’m not seeing in 3-D anymore. It’s as if my eyes have hazed over and my senses have dulled. Lazy? Tired? Bored? I don’t know. I yearn to see the “heavenly invisibles” but I’m not sure where to start or even how to go about doing this. Sounds trite, but I’m not sure I even know how to really pay attention anymore, and that’s a bit unsettling.

Then, just yesterday, I read an article in the Star (written by Jim Coyle on March 15) about Jean Vanier being awarded the Templeton Prize. Vanier has been my hero forever. The write up mentions how 15 years ago, Vanier said, “We have universities, we have schools of technology. But where are the schools for love? Who will teach us to love? Who will help us to come out from the frontiers that we lock ourselves behind?”

Although I’m not exactly sure what the connection is between Oliver’s comments on attention/being privy to heavenly invisibles … Vanier’s plea for humanity to come out from the frontiers we lock ourselves behind … and Melanie’s challenge to reveal ourselves, take a leap of faith, and grow … I do know there is a connection.

11smMeanwhile, here’s the lowdown:  after we yakked yesterday, we’ve both committed to taking the month of July to explore our own back yards, in ways we’ve not done before. For me, that will include going anywhere in the Tri-Counties, which includes Shelburne, Yarmouth and Digby. We’ll do field notes on a daily basis (journal/blog) for 31 days. Could be 50 words or 5000 a day. Matters not. What’s important is that we are committed to doing this, and doing things differently. Can’t define it more than that at the moment.

Right now, I have butterflies in my stomach. And I’m wearing a silly grin that’s about as wide as my ears.



I took these photos from my canoe on the Tusket River in front of our home around this time last year. The kaleidoscope mirror images had me mesmerized for a couple of hours. I look at these sometimes and wonder which way is up? Seems appropriate for this post. For sure on that day, I was privy to those “heavenly invisibles.”






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Jamie-Simpson-2-e1421867238153Jamie Simpson loves old-growth forests. In fact, he’s so smitten that he’s been searching high and low for them for many moons. The result is a narrative guide titled Journeys Through Eastern Old-Growth Forests, published byNimbus.

Simpson has a background in biology, forestry and law, and has worked as a forester, writer and advocate for sensible forestry practices. He has received several awards for his conservation work, as well as the Elizabeth May Award for Environmental Service, and the Environmental Law prize at Dalhousie University.

The 40-year-old is also the author of Restoring the Acadian Forest: A Guide to Forest Stewardship for Woodlot Owners in the Maritimes, also published by Nimbus. Here, Simpson chats about his love for forests in general, and old-growth forests in particular.

For the complete Q&A go here:

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Folks, although I love interviewing authors and celebrating their stories, other things have come up that have taken my time/attention. I’ve come to accept the fact that I’m never going to catch up with Author! Author! so I’m letting go of the guilt and moving on. Over the holidays I will be revamping this site and adding a couple of new features. Stay tuned!

Meanwhile, here is a photo that I took in Battle Harbour this summer. It’s the second time I’ve visited this wee island and am totally smitten with the place. Working on a new photo gallery of Labrador which will be up by the New Year.


4. Zoo story CREDIT Magnetic Hill Zoo (2)Heading to the zoo! How about you?

Seriously, I’m giving a Travel Writing Workshop at the Magnetic Hill  Zoo (Education Centre) on Saturday, Sept. 27.

Participants can expect to be immersed into the world of travel writing. The workshop includes: an overview of opportunities, exercises to set practical goals, market information, how to break into travel writing (or expand your portfolio), tips for taking photos that editors want, how to sell more than one story from your  trip–and more.

Carmel Vivier, President of the SW New Brunswick Chapter of Professional Writers Association of Canada (PWAC), and member of Travel Media Association of Canada (TMAC), says: “I took this workshop from Sandra a few years ago and it was instrumental in me getting enough published credits to join TMAC.  Sandra has also presented other writing related workshops for our chapter and she is great in sharing information that will help your writing career–and take it to the next level.”

TIME:            8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

FEE:               $125 (includes HST)

INTERESTED? Contact me for workshop outline, or to register.

Would love to see you there. So would this tiger.




Maud cover smShameless self promotion here folks so bear with me. A week from today I will be hosting a book signing, reception as part of the launch of my wee book, Maud Lewis and the Maudified House Project–The Story Starts Here. It’s primarily a photo documentary of a special project initiated by the Friends of the AGNS here in Yarmouth, involving the installing of 11 children’s playhouses throughout the town that were painted by local artists. They are getting lots of attention and will be auctioned off this fall as a major fund-raiser for children’s programs and gallery events.

Aside from seeing 190 photos, readers will find some interesting information about world renown folk artists Maud Lewis, a few stories from people who knew her, and other odds and sods related to this amazing woman. The book also celebrates the importance of volunteers, and shows how a community can rally around a common goal and make things happen.  

As part of the launch, the Friends will be showing a half hour documentary about Maud Lewis filmed in 1965 and aired on CBC television titled “The Once Upon a Time World of Maud Lewis.” Showtimes 6:30, 7 and 7:30 p.m.

Once I recover from the launch, you can expect to see several new postings of authors as I have a dozen lined up between now and Christmas!




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Chad Norman profileMeet Chad Norman. He recently completed his 15th book of poetry, titled Masstown,  which celebrates the once-thriving dairy community just west of Truro, in Colchester County. Through his grandparents, Bert and Gladys, the poems lead the reader back onto the farm. But not just any farm. Masstown is a poignant collection showing memory at work, revealing “the way it was,” and lives lived on this multi-generational farm.

Chad Norman has been writing and publishing for 30 years. He’s a member of WFNS, the League of Canadian Poets, and is a former member of TWUC.


What is it about poetry that captures your interest? When did you start writing poetry, and why?

At one time I set my sights on becoming a musician/songwriter [and] began to hang around with “garage bands.” My friends, the band members would invite me to their garage gigs, to play, and quaff back their father’s apple and grape wines. Once I, and they, realized I was a “word man,” requests came for lyrics. At first, I never thought my lyrics would catch anyone’s attention, but I kept on writing. Eventually I  came to realize words were very important, and contained great power if placed in a successful way on an empty piece of paper. I came to know quickly the difference between lyrics and poems, but I certainly didn’t believe I was writing either, especially poems. When I did, around the age of 23-24, what captured me was how poetry could accomplish so much with so few words. And, without a doubt, I knew it was all about Imagination, Feelings, and how to capture Time. 

Chad Norman book coverHow do your poems evolve?

My poems evolve through what I call disturbance. Because I have to chase a paycheque by holding down a clock-punching job, when the rattle of the words begin, they have come to disturb that mundane pursuit. Another reason I was chosen to write and honour poems, is that I despise money. Hey! Don’t get me wrong, the disturbance can always lead to a few bucks, I don’t have a problem with that, but there is something about living and surviving as a poet which has very little to do with the “filthy lucre.” In terms of process, in most cases I have a few words jotted down in the notebook I pack around, or a very limited idea or image at the beginning. So, yes, many poems unfold, reveal, try to deceive me, or stand strong in confidence, as I write, and I get down what is in most cases a draft.

Do you have role models? Poets or people you’ve loved/learned from in the past?

Throughout the years many poets taught me in many ways. Mainly it has been the women. I know this comes from when I was a boy and my mother took me to  tea parties. I sat there and listened to the women tell their stories, which were filled with emotions, harsh truths, and clear paths on how to feel. And I have learned a lot from, and appreciated visits with Dorothy Livesay, Gwen MacEwen, Anne Marriot, P.K. Page, Pat Lowther, and Anne Szumigalski, Al Purdy, Joe Rosenblatt, Fred Cogswell, Louis Dudek, Irving Layton, Doug Jones, Patrick Lane, to name a few. (Note: all Canadians!) Poets of today would include Paul Zann, Peter Sanger, Laurence Hutchman, Phil Thompson, Penny Ferguson, Carmelita McGrath, Leone Gom, and Susan Musgrave.

I would love to hear your views about finding the right publisher, and what’s involved.

Oh, boy! Being a poet, it comes down to, not the “right” publisher, but any publisher. At present it is a tough and draining game. I have dealt with a range of publisher and editors over the years. Some decent and helpful, others complete idiots. But, fortunately, during the past year and a half, I have found the publisher for me. We have enjoyed nothing but mutual respect. So at the moment, I feel like I am “in,” so to speak. At least, I feel as if I can approach my publisher with enthusiasm in regard to my next title, instead of feeling unconnected, and simply sending a manuscript out, led by nothing but hope. One must be prepared to really stand up for one’s manuscript! How do I know this? Because my latest book, Masstown, was rejected by numerous presses … it took me four years to sign a contract!

Chad Norman picking beansWhat is your biggest challenge as a poet?

The biggest challenge is finding the time and belief to keep on writing. At this point in my life, being 55, I admit there are dips in my faith, meaning I wonder if people actually care about poems, or poets. Over the years I have had little support from the ones I needed it from most. This has prevented me from celebrating my path as a poet. But, time and again, I overcome, due to a relentless ability to persevere. I learned a long time ago it will be up to me if anything happens for my poems, for my books.

What is the biggest reward?

Being able to read the poems aloud! And when someone comes up to you and says, “This is my first poetry reading, I never imagined I would have liked it so much” this is very satisfying. Also, when someone you’ve sold a book to tells you what they enjoyed about it. I always enjoy seeing a poem accepted by (and appearing) in a publication, and I really smile when a cheque comes with the complimentary copy!

Chad welcomes questions, so fire away in the comment box. Let’s get a dialogue going!


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Author! Author! is back on track. It was great to have Laura Best come on board to lead the brigade this spring. See her interview below and be sure to check out her comments for more insights.

There’s a great lineup ahead. Aiming to post interviews twice a month.  

6SMAlso, I’ve started uploading new photo collections. Click “Photo Gallery” on menu. The latest addition is a series of unusual shots titled “Reflections Tusket River” … taken a week ago from my canoe. The shot you see here is from that collection. Totally weird and wonderful. And, no, they have not been photoshopped. I don’t have that program, nor do I know how to use it.

However, for some photo shoots I use a technique called HDR which means high dynamic range. Anyway, I take three quick consecutive shots using the AEB (auto exposure bracketing) feature on my camera. One is underexposed by two f stops; one overexposed by two, and one on regular setting. Then I meld the photos together. This way, I get all the high and low tones possible, which gives the photos depth.

Normally, I would be using a tripod for this. Handheld is not recommended when doing HDR stuff as there’s a possibility of hand shake and “ghosting.” As I headed out in my canoe, it didn’t occur to me to bring a tripod. So these are not 100 percent without shake, but the ghosting is almost non-existent, and I’m thrilled with the results.  

This weekend I’ll work on a collection from Battle Harbour, Labrador.





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