The things to do before writing

A short time ago, I made a resolution to write a weekly blog post every Friday. Even though I have broken this resolution several times already, this morning I decided to try again. But in between writing sentences, I suddenly felt compelled to do the following:

  • Check Facebook at least five times: once to read yet another tribute to Prince; once to read an article about why a lifelong atheist started to believe in God; three times to just scroll through the Facebook flotsam for anything of interest. (I swear Facebook was invented by the antichrist of Getting Things Done.)
  • Check Amazon and Goodreads to see if there are any new reviews of my novel “Free Love.”
  • Let in the dog. (Not my fault. She was scratching at the door and I couldn’t leave her to freeze in the cold.)
  • Clean behind the stove. (Also not my fault. For some incomprehensible reason, my retired husband, Bill, got the idea, for the first time since we moved into this house four years ago, to pull the stove out from the wall. He found spilled coffee grounds, greasy clumps of dog hair, miscellaneous stains, abandoned almonds, grapes that had petrified into raisons, and more. I couldn’t let him clean it by himself, could I?)

And now it’s lunchtime and I’m only partway through the blog. Then there’s grocery shopping, and walking the dog and … oh well, this all seems to be part of some strange ritual I have to go through every time I break the virginity of the empty page.*

*Wow! Isn’t that last phrase amazing? I’ve completely fallen in love it. When that happens it usually means it’s really bad and my editor would make me get rid of it immediately. However, I do not have a blog editor: hee, hee, hee.

The landscape of “Free Love”: Hamilton

Even though the protagonist in my book Free Love, Marissa, is a fictional character, I have given her some elements of my own biography (it was easier that way). In particular, when she was a young girl, she and her family immigrated to Canada from Holland, as I did. And  Marissa grew up in Hamilton, Ontario in the same era as I did: the 1960s.

Unlike Marissa’s, my family moved around a lot in Hamilton when I was growing up. There was one neighbourhood where I lived for a few years, starting from when I about 7 or 8. It was an inner-city neighbourhood full of working class families. Hamilton was known for steel production and just about everybody’s dad (except mine) worked for the steel company. It is this neighbourhood that comes to mind when I remember my childhood, and this is neighbourhood where I have placed the young Marissa.

I haven’t walked the streets, where young Marissa and I ran around, for more about thirty years. So when I was writing the scenes set in that neighbourhood, I relied on memory and imagination. But Mike Clark, an old friend in Hamilton and a photographer, was inspired to photograph it after reading Free Love. Much has changed from when I remember. It is more rundown and many of the big maple trees are gone. But the streets have that same gritty feel. Here are some of Mike’s photographs of Marissa’s and my old neighbourhood as it looks today.

IMG_0149Ford Street: “I turned the corner onto Ford Street, raced past the field and Mr. Smithers’house (making sure to keep my fingers crossed to ward off evil spirits) until I came to a stop in front of Nina’s grey stucco house across from the railroad tracks.”

IMG_0157The tunnel: “…when I got to the tunnel and peered into its gloom, it looked empty. Holding my breath against the stench of piss, I dragged my cart through the debris of broken glass and flattened cigarette packs.


IMG_0154The field: “Both the field and Nina and George’s stucco house that had stood on the corner were gone. In their place was a sterile apartment building.”


IMG_0151Yonge Street: “He jumped on a flatbed when it was still going fast, before it slowed down to take the turn into the Yonge Street underpass.”