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Toronto SfEP Mini-conference

sfep, red letters logo of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders

The Toronto SfEP November 5–6 mini-conference will be my ninth conference in thirteen months in four countries, half of those at the mic. I have been somewhat of a perpetual student all my life (I think I’m in grade 46), but why do I gravitate to these professional development opportunities so often? More to the point, what keeps me going back to certain ones?

Last year, I wrote a summary for the SfEP member newsletter, Editing Matters (Jan/Feb 2019), sharing my reflections on the sense of community and inclusion I felt at the Toronto branch’s inaugural mini-conference. I believe I was uncharacteristically soppy and talked about hugging people a little tighter upon each meeting…but it’s true! While I enjoy seeing colleagues at annual events, picking up on past conversations and updating them on local industry developments, it’s pretty rare to feel like you’re meeting up with friends at some of them.

Now, I’m about as introverted as they come, but that’s about managing energy, not sociability. Yes, I get excited by discussing punctuation, but at the more intimate mini-conferences, I also get to know how kiddo’s first day of school went, how dog obedience class is going, and what the latest purple purchase was. Freelancers don’t just trip upon collegiality, we create it through our connections online and we foster it in person. I’m looking forward to #SfEPTO19 for the PD but also for the relationship-building, because there’s no laborious networking going on there.

Like last year, there will be international speakers, both on the day of the mini-conference (November 6) and for a workshop the day before. Tickets are sold separately but many people are opting to attend both.

Malini Devadas (Australia) will provide the afternoon workshop (November 5) on beating the freelance feast-or-famine scenario and overcoming the pitfalls that we all sometimes face in money matters and income development.

The one-track full day will again cover a range of topics. Paul Beverley (UK) will show the best macros to start with, explain which are the essential macros for all users, and offer pointers about a wide range of macros. Jennifer Glossop (Canada) will share her vast expertise in working with fiction (and non-fiction), in particular techniques to uncover the missing narratives. Erin Brenner (US) will address how to edit quickly and knowing your resources and tools to speed up your work. Heather Ebbs (Canada) will present an editor’s guide to indexing. Amy Schneider (US) will help us customize our workspaces with templates.

We’ll be at the same lovely, wheelchair-accessible venue and, if we haven’t overdone it on the excellent catering, in the evening we’ll chat and exchange ideas and tips over more food at the pub across the road.

For info on how to register for this event, SfEP members can go to the link on the SfEP mini-conference page; non-members should email the organizers at, indicating that they would like to attend. Non-members will be notified after October 15 if there is a space for them.

Join me for the famous SfEP camaraderie and the top-notch learning opportunities. Both the atmosphere and the program will bolster your business life, whether you’re a newbie or an experienced editor. You’ll leave the boutique event richer in skills, ideas, and connections. And if there’s a Twelve-Step program for conference addicts, maybe I’ll see you there too. 😉

My Masterclass Guest Post

ALT: image from @LouiseHarnby’s tweet, showing a circular vignette black and white photo of Vanessa on a reddish background image with an index and of the post’s title, Self-Publishing Masterclass: De-Mystifying Book Indexing With Vanessa Wells. Tweet says “A humorous guide to the art of indexing!” with a link.

I was honoured to be included in my colleague Louise’s website and self-publishing masterclass.

Art at Yonge & St. Clair by Zebra

I didn’t know whether to post this under the TO or arts blog but wanted to highlight this public-art project by Alex and Fay. This is on til November 30.

Photo provided by Zebra.

Many people may never set foot in a gallery space. Art can be viewed as intimidating, or as something without reach. Something that may make us feel alienated, finding it hard to comprehend and the topic of buying art is a complete separate topic – something that is considered only wealthy people can do.

Our goal for this project was to bring art to unexpected spaces and in particular, everyday spaces. We wanted to interrupt the greyness of the everydayness with colour and beauty, spark imagination and creativity.

ZEBRA wants to bring art a little bit closer to people, making it accessible, within reach, less intimidating…and at the same time, contribute to bringing people and the community together, provoke discussions, and provide a platform for emerging artists to display their work, outside of the standard boundaries such as gallery spaces.

Link to interview about this project:


Co-founded by Yifat (Fay) Ringel and Alexandra Correia, ZEBRA brings artful experiences to the public in public spaces. ZEBRA is a public art consultancy and management firm, taking charge of all stages of public art installations from conception to implementation. Additionally, ZEBRA curates and produces art exhibitions and festivals. They also create platforms such as workshops, talk series and team building events with an art flavour, to expose art to people in an everyday setting. ZEBRA engages processes that bring the worlds of creativity and commerce to enhance the experience of place through art.


THE WARD MUSICAL: Songs and Sounds of a Lost Toronto Neighbourhood

If you try to imagine your way back into the early 20th century streets and laneways of The Ward — the dense immigrant enclave razed to make way for Toronto’s City Hall — you might pick up the sounds of newsies and peddlers hawking their wares, the clanging of the area’s junk and lumber yards, and shrieking children playing on the Elizabeth Street playground north of Dundas.

Those streets would also reverberate day and night with a jumble of languages — Italian, Yiddish, Chinese. The dialects and accents of these newcomers were considered to be not only “foreign,” but also proof (to the keepers of Toronto’s Anglo-Saxon morality) of the area’s worrisome social and physical failings.

But despite the fact that many mainstream Torontonians saw The Ward as an impoverished blight on the face of the city, the neighbourhood resonated with energy and culture and music — evidence of the resilience of the stigmatized newcomers who settled there in waves from the late 19th century onward.

Photographers recorded fiddle players and organ grinders with their hurdy gurdies, playing as mesmerized children listened. After their shifts ended, one 1914 account noted, labourers whiled away their free times playing mandolins or concertinas as they sang rags and the Neapolitan songs so popular at the time.

“When sleep in crowded rooms seems all but impossible,” journalist Emily Weaver observed in The Globe and Mail in 1910, “the people of ‘The Ward’ are astir till all hours, and the Italians amuse themselves by singing in their rich sweet voices the songs of their far-away homelands or dancing their native dances to the music of a mandolin or guitar in the open roadway beneath the stars.”

Some residents brought music into their homes. In a 1955 memoir about growing up in The Ward in the 1910s, Marjorie Johnston recalled the day her father brought home a new gramophone and three records – all British dance hall standards. Years later, she wrote, “I have a nostalgic memory of a cozy little parlour with fashionable red paper on the wall, a hanging lamp of ruby glass, and a little girl on her father’s knee listening to that record pouring forth from the brass horn.”

The Ward’s sound was sacred as well as profane. Celebratory music could be heard at weddings, bar mitzvahs, baptisms, and confirmations. On days of worship, the area’s synagogues and black churches (the Agnes Street Bapist and the British Methodist Episcopal) resonated with liturgical music – gospels, hymns, cantorial songs: a medley performed in religious buildings located scarcely metres apart.

In a telling example of The Ward’s social dynamism, several Jewish businessmen in 1909 bought the black church at the north-east corner of Dundas and Bay and turned it into the Lyric Theatre, which performed Yiddish plays and concerts. (After the Lyric let out, the theatre-goers would head over to Altman’s, a Yiddish bakery at Elizabeth and Louisa, for a late-night snack; the City Hall parking permit office is located at that spot today.)

The location of Altman’s

Music could also be heard in factories. Joseph Shlisky, a young Polish Jew forcibly brought to Toronto to perform in a cantorial choir, was singing at his sewing machine in the Eaton’s factory one day when Lady Eaton overheard him. Enchanted, she offered to pay for his musical education. Shlisky later made his way to New York, where he went on to be one of the great cantors of his generation (A socialist choir of Eaton’s factory workers formed to perform Yiddish folk songs with political inflections).

Meanwhile, at Central Neighbourhood House, an immigrant settlement agency on Gerard St. near Bay, the staff in 1915 set up a community music school for children as a means of improving their civic education and social development. The school produced concerts featuring the sort of Western classical music considered, at the time, to be crucial to the Canadianization of foreign-born children.

By the 1920s, the Chinese residents who had settled in The Ward began to establish community organizations, such as Gee Tung Tong Club and the Ship Toy Yuen Dramatic Society, specifically to perform highly ritualized Cantonese operas in halls on Elizabeth and Dundas streets, as well as the burlesque theatres on Queen Street, which weren’t allowed to mount peeler shows on Sundays.

Besides these informal street-level sounds, The Ward was ringed by major commercial performance venues (e.g., Massey Hall, Shea’s Hippodrome, the Pantages and Victory theatres, etc.) that played a critical role in connecting Torontonians to international musical trends, everything from dance hall and vaudeville to opera and Klezmer. The performers walking those boards were locals, too. One Chinese dramatic society rented the burlesque theatre at Queen and Bay for operas on Sundays, when the strip tease dancers weren’t peeling.

Come the 1940s and 1950s, the locus of performed music in The Ward shifted north to the cafes and clubs of the Gerrard Street Village, where young people congregated at intimate venues featuring the folk and jazz musicians who later came to be associated with the Yorkville hippie scene.

This sustained urban symphony eventually drew to a close as municipal officials in the post-war period began expropriating and redeveloping The Ward to make way for hospitals, offices, and Toronto’s new city hall.

By that point, the area’s dominant sounds emanated from that quintessential instrument of post-war progress: the bulldozer.

“The Ward: The Songs and Sounds of a Lost Toronto Neighbourhood” will be performed at Lula Lounge on April 26. Co-presented by ERA Architects, The Metcalf Foundation, Coach House Books and Spacing, the show will feature a band led by David Buchbinder, Michael Occhipinti and Andrew Craig, playing music linked to The Ward and the period when it was Toronto’s most visible immigrant neighbourhood.

The line-up includes selections from a sheath of klezmer sheet music given to Buchbinder by Stella Barsh 20 years ago. Barsh’s grandfather had a band that performed in Toronto a century ago. Many were standards, but a good number of them seem to be original songs written and perhaps played in that lost neighbourhood. Stella Barsh attended the first workshop of the show at Soulpepper last spring.

The tickets are $20, and available at the Spacing Store (401 Richmond St. W.) or on EventBrite.

Interview with Countertenor Scott Belluz

Scott Belluz and Subiksha Rangarajan (as The Woman)   Photo courtesy of Domoney Artists. Used with permission.

In March, countertenor Scott Belluz starred in The Man Who Married Himself, a production by Toronto Masque Theatre in their penultimate season, which the Crow’s Nest website described thus: “Unwilling to marry a woman, a man fashions a lover from his own left side. He’s enraptured by her perfect beauty—a mirror of his own—until he discovers that this new woman longs for freedom and wildly desires another. South Asian and Baroque music and performance traditions meet in a stunning new masque based on a traditional Indian folk-tale. Powerful and timely, The Man Who Married Himself is an allegory of the female and male warring within as told by 2 dancers, 3 singers and 6 musicians.” The show was very engaging, with lots of gestural and sensual stimuli, as well as unexpected humour. As someone in the talkback said, unlike most folk-tales, which in general have a moral, the ending in this one is more fluid and open-ended.

Scott was good enough to spend some time answering my questions about his part in this event. (To read my first interview with him, please click here.)

VW: Why did you move to LA?

SB: I’m currently living out my dream of working in music supervision/licensing for the TV and film industry in Los Angeles. I took classes at UCLA to understand the legalities of music copyright, publishing and licensing and ended up landing a job with a music licensing company called Lip Sync. We represent a diverse roster of bands and solo artists whose music we pitch for placement in TV shows, films and commercials. As a self-diagnosed music junkie with catholic tastes, this job allows me to do what I love best: discover amazing new artists and align them with opportunities that will get their music heard. I’m really enjoying pursuing this work alongside my singing career.

VW: Wow, you are versatile!

I think TMWMH hinges on themes surrounding duality: LGBTQ identity comes to mind; also two-spirited Native views re: gender; Janus facing both the past and future; our fascination with amphisbaena (animals born with two faces) and with conjoined twins (I think the earliest record is from 1100 AD in England); even our language around deceitful people being “two-faced”: we are fascinated with the dual nature of humanity. My view of The Prince was as Alex Samaras said in the post-show talkback: that the newborn woman wasn’t really separate from him but still a part of him. How did you approach the role of The Prince?

SB: I try to approach the rehearsal process with few preconceptions regarding the character.  Gradually, during rehearsals, I make discoveries with the creative team and in relation to my fellow cast members which shape the character.  I’m not concerned with psychologizing the character as part of my preparation; my focus is on learning the music and text. While [composer] Juliet [Palmer]’s score took full advantage of my vocal range, I wasn’t preoccupied with duality or whether I was using my baritone chest voice vs. countertenor falsetto—for me it’s all MY voice, not two different voices.

VW: Did your portrayal change as you worked on the piece?

SB: It  evolved. The Prince often narrates his own story in the third person before jumping into the first person. While it’s a common trope in Indian music dramas, it was my first time encountering this device as a singing actor. The ambiguity of voice imposed by this device within the densely metaphorical text was an interesting challenge. Once I embraced the fluidity, it was liberating to move rapidly between points of view. Acting, for me, is just playing situations (not characters) and stringing together states of mind or being. My performance in this piece was underlined by that philosophy. By the time the show opened,
I was more concerned with showing universality than any specificity or minutiae which often defines a character. For me, The Prince transcends duality in [librettist] Anna [Chatterton] and Juliet’s treatment of the folk-tale, “The Prince Who Married His Own Left Side.” I began to think of him as post-gender and post-sexual, which allowed me to credibly traverse the story’s arc, and the wide vocal range as well!

VW: I think it’s also about greed/desire/need for control in our sexual relationships and, more broadly, in our lives; fashioning another to be an “improved” or desirable self/ partner: like Dorian Gray’s desire to avoid aging, the creation of a perfect beauty in Pygmalion, and the drunkenness of creating life in Frankenstein. Am I reading too much into this, or did you note these rattling around in your mind when you were moulding(!) your performance?

SB: Upon first reading the libretto, I was of course struck by the sheer number of familiar thematic references it evoked: Adam’s rib meets Pygmalion meets Narcissus. It’s difficult to say to what degree any associations with these stories may have filtered subconsciously into my performance. From the original folk-tale, Juliet and Anna fashioned something truly unique, layered with with meaning and metaphor, and resonant for today.

VW: I sort of felt, looking back on the other interview, that things haven’t changed as much as I’d thought or hoped. Eight+ years ago, we talked about internet dating etc., and it’s interesting how unsavoury aspects of love and marriage are present in TMWMH too, but now there are more expansive applications if we consider how things have changed, such as with Tinder and the mainstreaming of porn: there still remains this sense of men being unsatisfied with real women (and women still feeling like that, perhaps exacerbated by social media). We also talked about a sense of discomfiture around gender issues and male/female ascriptions to the countertenor voice. I thought it was interesting that someone else also brought up  social unease with the countertenor voice because of it straddling (our ideas of) the two sexes.

SB: In regards to discomfiture around gender issues, I agree that things have not changed as much as I would have hoped in the last eight years.  As a gay man who was bullied and harassed in my youth because I played piano not baseball and worshipped figure skaters not hockey players, I am deeply concerned by the number of people who daily live with undue “minority stress” as members of any marginalized group. 
It feels good to be making art which is contributing to this discussion and perhaps encouraging the eventual eradication of discrimination and inequality. If the countertenor voice challenges people to confront their unease and re-examine their notions of gender, so be it.

VW: I love Indian food, aesthetics, Bollywood and Bhangra, but my myth education never included any Indian stories. What’s something interesting you learned about Indian culture?

SB: I learned that the traditional Dhoti pants worn as my costume are still worn by men today in the villages of India. I never would have imagined that 4.5 metres of unstitched fabric wrapped around the waist, passed through the legs and tucked at the back could be so comfortable!

VW: Thanks so much for your time, Scott. I was pleased to be going to TMWMH, but I wasn’t expecting to be as moved as I was: this production was entirely charming and your performance was integral to that.

What’s up next for you?

SB: Next is Unsuk Chin’s Cantatrix Sopranica with Soundstreams Canada as part of this year’s 21C Music Festival! See you there!

More information about that event can be found here.

Photo courtesy of Scott Belluz.  Used with permission.

CD Review for WholeNote of Ensemble Scholastica’s Ars Elaboratio

Ars elaboratio Ensembe Scholastica ATMA ACD2 2755

These days, the kids call them remixes, but in the hands of musicolo­gist Rebecca Bain, the music on Ars elabor­atio is the product of taking plainchant and adding tropes from other sources to create new versions. This was not unheard of in the millennium that was not litigious about intellectual property and it was common because of a more flexible and oral, rather than notated, tradition of handing music down. Think of this as more serious Mediæval Babes repertoire with scholastic­ally informed liberties, which in that era were called elaborations.

The result is litanies, antiphons, poetry and scripture that are often mesmerizing and calming, especially with the addition of symphonia or, in the instrumental version of Claris vocibus, of organetto, a portable precursor to the pipe organ, played with one hand on the keyboard and the other working the bellows. The medieval pronunciation charmed this Latinist, although I may have heard some elision, as in spoken Latin poetry recitation, which may throw some listeners. And there are spots in the CD booklet that omit the original liturgical text that is discussed (e.g. the melisma on “mulierum” in Velox impulit) so that only the tropes can be followed, if that is your wont.

The fascinating background to some of the elaborations contains some ballsy feminist stuff (praise of the chastity of innocent virgins aside), such as the one in Dilexisti iustitiam, in which St. Catherine of Alexandria kicks some male philosophical-debate butt. The approachable narrative in Sancti baptiste of “amice Christi Johannes” ([O] John, friend of Christ) reflects the presumed (relative) egalitarianism of the coeducational abbey of St. Martial de Limoges in the 1100s.

The acoustics of the Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours in Old Montreal lend them­selves to a lovely presentation of the organic nine-voice Ensemble Scholastica. Hildegard of Bingen must be pumping her fist in coelis.

This article appeared in the print and online version of the March 2017 issue of WholeNote Magazine.

Art in the TTC

Tuesday, February 14, 2017


January 21 – May 21, 2017


Tuesday, February 14
Public Art in the Subways
This map, created by The Artful City in collaboration with the Martin Prosperity Institute and presented in partnership with the Art Gallery of Ontario, is the first comprehensive visual view of public art in Toronto. It reveals important patterns of production, ownership, and networks linking artists over time.

Over the last 50 years Toronto’s public art landscape has grown dramatically, embracing new artists, mediums, policies and funding sources. However, this development has been concentrated in particular neighbourhoods and has prioritized certain forms of practice over others. This map shows who has access to the vast majority of the artwork and who does not. It also illustrates what type of work has received the most support.
We invite you to explore and help complete this evolving map by identifying areas in need of public artworks. What does public art mean to you? What can it look like in the future?

Community Gallery

The Community Gallery in the Weston Family Learning Centre is an exhibition and project space which provides a platform for artistic experimentation and dissemination. Focused specifically on the processes of making art, and those ideas which feed into contemporary artistic practice, the gallery seeks to take risks and push the boundaries of how work is traditionally represented within formal institutions. The space draws also on the voices of those groups, regardless of age, sex, profession, and socio-economic constraints, who are at once represented and marginalized within normal institutional channels. In doing so, the Gallery steps away from conventional definitions of what is meant by the word “Community”, seeking new interpretations and evolutionary paths for the possibilities of art-making. Visit for past projects in the Community Gallery.

The Artful City is a project uniting many of Toronto’s cultural and educational institutions who share a commitment to supporting healthy and imaginative cities. This cumulative research, as well as the public feedback collected over the course of the AGO installation, will be presented in May 2017 at the Public Art; New Ways of Thinking and Working symposium organized by York University’s School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design.

Organized by the The Artful City and the Art Gallery of Ontario
This exhibition is free admission

Above text and image from

This was a morning well-spent. Excellent seminar and field trip with diverse in-subway examples and little-known info about the artists and their pieces from the 1970s onwards.

Cheated a bit by leaving the subway to see Michael Awad in Telus House.

My CD Review for WholeNote of Voces8’s Winter

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My CD Review for WholeNote of Arvo Pärt’s The Deer’s Cry


Arvo Pärt – The Deer’s Cry Vox Clamantis; Jaan-Elk Tulve ECM New Series ECM 2466

A mixture of the new and old recorded here by Estonian choir Vox Clamantis, this CD includes the world-recording premiere of Habitare fratres in unum and the largely plainchant And One of the Pharisees, which had its world premiere in California in 1992. There is a variety of Pärt’s music here: from the innocence-evoking Drei Hirtenkinder aus Fátima to the ode to a gittern, Sei gelobt, du Baum. (Google the latter via!).

Serendipitously, I started my day reading St. Patrick’s fourth-century prayer, The Deer’s Cry, and the title track contains a purity I would compare to David Lang’s I Lie. The Alleluia-Tropus is different than my recording by Vox Clamantis with Sinfonietta Riga: at a decade’s distance, this a cappella version is 25 seconds longer and less dance-like, perhaps the liturgical pace being more fitting for the intercession of St. Nicholas of Myra. Most notable to me, however, was Summa, a tintinnabulous piece containing the Apostle’s Creed in Latin. While it is recorded here a cappella, as originally written, I only have the string versions of it, which convey swells of movement (indeed, I made a little film with it accompanying a murmuration); the choral is more plodding and deliberate in its affirmation of belief – I could picture Joan of Arc reciting it defiantly, atop the pyre as she awaits the lighting of the wood. The CD ends with Gebet nach dem Kanon, a fitting closing prayer to the collection.The liner notes are Pärtesque: sparse, multilingual and presuming knowledge of his work and litur­gical music history. But if you enjoy looking up information (e.g. the Russian scriptures have different versification at times: Drei Hirtenkinder is about the West’s Psalm 8:2), there’s a wealth of enlightenment available. Artistic director Jaan-Eik Tulve has applied the 81-year-old composer’s personal tutelage faithfully, and Pärt devotees will be enrap­tured, the faithful and secularists alike.


This review originally appeared on page 80 of the December 2016–January 2017 issue of The WholeNote magazine. You can watch the murmuration film to Summa here.

My CD Review for WholeNote of Symphonies by Artyomov

Vyacheslav Artyomov – Symphony Gentle Emanation; Tristia II Russian National Orchestra; Teodor Currentzis; Vladimir Ponkin Divine Art dda 25144
Artyomov – Symphony on the Threshold of a Bright World; Ave Atque Vale; Ave, Crux Alba National Philharmonic Orchestra of Russia; Vladimir Ashkenazy Divine Art dda 25143 (

Vyacheslav Artyomov was preparing for a life in astrophysics, but these two symphonies (parts of a tetralogy) are unlike The Planets, unless you think of them as uber-Holst: they cause a visceral reaction and suggest a metaphysical cri de coeur. My initial reac­tion to them was that they sounded like the soundtrack of some 1940s film noir or an original-series Star Trek episode – which is apt, since they embody mystery and the unknown. In his essay, Musica Perennis, the composer said “Serious music is created by the spirit for the Spirit,” and these twin-released CDs reflect his view of music as a mediator between God and man, but also as science. While I find the Threshold of a Bright World symphony more arresting than the Gentle Emanation, they are both accessible, and while Artyomov is often compared to Arvo Pärt, I hear a little more of Rautavaara.

The orchestration in Ave Atque Vale and Gentle Emanation is a little jarring due to the highlighting of the percussion parts. But Ave, Crux Alba, a choral (Helikon Theatre Choir) and orchestral setting of the Hymn of the Knights of Malta, returns to the majesty and mystery Artyomov is known for in his musical quest for spiritu­ality. Tristia II, based on the 19th-century poems of Nikolai Gogol and with spoken parts read by Russian actor Mikhail Philippov, carries on the potential-soundtrack feel and allows us non–Russian speakers to hear the cries of the artist to God for inspiration; the suspense in the middle tracks suggests Him mulling the petitions over.

Both CDs are in memoriam of the composer’s friend and colleague, Mstislav Rostropovich, and both have expansive liner notes.

This review originally appeared on pages 84–85 of the December 2016–January 2017 issue of The WholeNote magazine.

Membership Announcement

I’m proud to have been accepted as an Intermediate Member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP), based in the UK. It offers accreditation and training, and I am honoured to have the opportunity to add it to my sources of learning and membership.


CIVA’s post of my piece on grief

Making a Way with Grief

By Vanessa Wells

I spent the day deliberating the posting of this personal commentary; it’s not something I do. But I’ve been feeling depleted lately (physically, emotionally, spiritually), which has been complicated by feelings of grief for which I still haven’t attained closure.

The best information I’ve read on this topic tells me that it’s not linear, it’s individual in its course, it doesn’t adhere to a particular timeline…and it often doesn’t make any damn sense. I’ve come to accept that. But there are moments—they tend to strike in the early morning—when grief hits me like a Mack truck. This is both unexpected and annoying. I tend to be a morning person (to clarify, I don’t actually want to talk to anyone in the morning; that’s just when I have all my energy and optimism for the day) and then, wham, I’m suddenly crying.

To back up: I’m essentially an only child (I’ll spare you the long version of that story), and my dad died ten years ago. He’d been a private pilot in his retirement, so every time I see a small plane flying overhead (which is, fortunately, often), I say thank you and turn into a puddle. It’s dumb, but it makes me feel he’s close.

wells-3After my dad died of brain cancer, life’s next blow was for my mum to develop Alzheimer’s. She moved back to Toronto to be near me, and I spent the next four plus years interacting with, and daily caring for, her “not-self.” I’m sorry to say I was not always patient (anger=fear), but I did all that a daughter could do and kept her reasonably happy despite the insanity of that miserable disease.

Mum threw out and lost expensive items (including an engagement ring) and was difficult with me and everyone else trying to help her navigate what she would not admit was happening to her. Long story short, Mum’s plan—and her vow—was that she would “just go” {snapping of fingers} when she wanted and would not linger. Social workers and I tried to explain the drop-dead-on-demand scenario was very unlikely, but didn’t she do just that on Thursday morning in October of 2013; a massive stroke cut her down and she was gone within a day.

Fran: 1
Vanessa: 0

Anyway, as I said, I get hit with the whammies about my ten-year-gone dad and three-year-gone mum a lot. A LOT. It’s rough. I burst into tears at certain pieces of music, yet can’t bring myself to turn them off. It feels as though I must will myself through the grief yet again.

So, in an act of self-care, I resorted to the best cure-all: a purge and reorganization—ironic for someone whose total belongings fit into one room. I’d recently purged 20 years of teaching resources, but my 20 years’ worth of photography was crowding me, and I needed to unload. I planned to discard some art I had deemed unworthy but retrieved it in the end. Some was good, some purely emotional, but I decided to keep it to honor myself. Maybe my kids, in their own future mid-life crises, would be interested someday?

That was yesterday. This morning, feeling despondent, I was drawn to review a more difficult portfolio. Flipping aimlessly through the pages, I noticed some hand-written notes by visitors to an art show where I’d exhibited photographs a decade ago. I remembered a few of the notes, mostly complimentary. I even remembered one that said, “A little cold. I didn’t feel the tenderness.” (Funny then and funny today because I’ve never been much for portraying tenderness, tending more toward austerity and starkness in my work.)

wells-2As I continued flipping through, I uncovered a dear note from my daughter, and then I spotted a note that made my heart stop. It said, “I’m so proud of you. M.” (M. was my mother’s signature for “Mum” on notes.) I’d forgotten she had even been there during a visit from her home in British Columbia, let alone left me a note. Of course she would have written that, even though she never did understand my photos (which, God knows, she told me often enough!). I was on a huge purge and wouldn’t have taken the time to check each of those hundreds of papers, but I couldn’t believe I’d almost thrown those notes out!

wells-4I had been looking for a continued connection with my mum for almost three years, and here was this unexpected gift. It was exactly what I needed. I had just been reading five minutes earlier about spiritual development, and then this jumped out at me. My mum never really got “modern art” yet, with that note, she was validating me. That’s what parents do. They may not “get” their kids but they never stop loving and supporting them. No matter what.

With this bit of serendipity, I felt vindicated in reinstating my art and re-fortified for going forward without my mum and my dad. I’m not sure what this vignette might have to offer you, but I wanted to share my small story of grace. Grace is an undeserved and unexpected gift. And if this isn’t a time when we all need gifts like that, I don’t know when is.

Vanessa Wells is an editor and blogger in Toronto, Ontario. When she isn’t sweating over which camera to use, she’s watching films, reading or . . . reading. For more on Vanessa, go to Wells Read Editing or Beautiful Feet



My DVD Review for WholeNote of The Picture of Dorian Gray ~ a choreographed opera


Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen – The Picture of Dorian Gray Radley; Best; Bobby; Thiele; Hansen; Vinther; Skarby Riddell; Chorus of the Danish National Opera; Aarhus Symphony Orchestra; Joachim Gustafsson Dacapo 2.110415

The ideas behind this DVD made me curious because, as a longtime operagoer, I wondered how you could have an opera choreographed and with the singers offstage. The Picture of Dorian Gray succeeds on both counts and throws in more appealing aspects to boot. The Oscar Wilde story is rife with juicy themes around secrets, corruption, the role of art and, of course, the Mephistophelian premise of Dorian Gray selling his soul in exchange for eternal beauty and youth. The production of Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen’s opera has plenty of eye and ear candy that doesn’t discombobulate the viewer with unstaged singers as much as highlight them. Cutaways to singers in the orchestra pit are as intriguing as Met in HD backstage entr’actes. The transformation of the picture of Dorian Gray is effectively conveyed with video art, replacing the need for extensive set use, and the costumes range from modified period pieces to something out of Cirque du Soleil. Although I don’t have much knowledge of dance, I could appreciate this non-literal interpretation of the tale, which shared the dual role of representing the characters’ sung parts, which was stage director/choreographer Marie Brolin-Tani’s goal. Surprisingly, spoken lines and frequent Broadwaymusical-like interludes did not make me protest that this was not opera. The entire production somehow coalesces into a new multi-art genre, and whether that is due to the direction, choreography, score, artists or all of those, it was the type of offering CanStage might co-present. Hmm – must text Matthew Jocelyn…

This review originally appeared on page 75 of the November 2016 issue of The WholeNote magazine.

My CD Review for WholeNote of Stravinsky Choral Works ~ Mass and Cantata


This CD comprises works Stravinsky wrote after he was Orthodoxically reborn in 1926. The discretely composed parts of the Mass run from celebratory to sparse, and even the two Credos are contradictory: one is stalwart and modern, the other urgent and sounding slightly more like traditional English church music. The Choir of St. Mary’s Cathedral is joined by youngsters from the dedicated choir school, as the composer had intended the Mass to be sung. The blend is wholesome.

The Cantata is based on Middle English songs on Christian themes but likely with secular origins. Soloists Ruby Hughes’ and Nicholas Mulroy’s voices complement each other and so in turn do the choral Versus refrains of A Lyke-Wake Dirge, which recount the voyage of the dead from Earth to purgatory. The setting of Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day was new to me, as was the controversy of the inclusion by Stravinsky of the anti-Semitic middle verse, which is outlined in the liner notes. The a cappella Tres Sacrae Cantiones, some of the partially lost pieces of late-Renaissance composer Carlo Gesualdo, were “finished off” by Stravinsky, at a safe remove of 300 years!

Duncan Ferguson deftly conducts  soloists so that the two larger pieces are accompanied in the truest sense of that word; they go alongside their singing companions rather than merely support them. This would be a lovely addition for collectors of Stravinsky, jack-of-all-eras.

This review originally appeared in the November 2016 issue of The WholeNote magazine.

My CD Review for WholeNote of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra


Park Avenue Chamber Symphony/David Bernard. Recursive Records #RC2057001


Did Bugs Bunny ruin the Barber of Seville for you? How about Merrie Melodies’ The Three Little Pigs with Brahms’ Hungarian Dance #5? I have a particular eye/earworm of The Rite of Spring: I can never unsee the gorgeous choreography of Pina Brausch when I hear this piece. The Park Avenue Chamber Symphony’s recording is bright and clear and complements the rather dark storyline of the ballet. The First Part is a vital description of nature and leads with some urgency to the undeniable corporeality of the Second Part. The backbone of the piece, however, is Track 2, although I prefer my Augurs of Spring to be a little more heavy-handed than David Bernard’s version, such as the Cleveland Orchestra/Pierre Boulez’s take on it; I think this reflects Bernard’s interpretation, though, and does not make Stravinsky an inappropriate choice for this orchestra. (The Augurs of Spring always strikes me as a misplaced climax, though.)

The Bartok Concerto for Orchestra, known as a soloistic piece, also has a pure sound, which emanates from the musicians themselves and is perhaps also enhanced by the fine recording engineering. Again, the chamber symphony easily handles the piece’s gravitas with aplomb. Apparently, the movements’ tempi listed on the back cover differ from their historical provenance and this made me curious to hear it live under another baton: fortuitously, this will be possible when the TSO performs it on May 4, 2017 in a matinée, led by Peter Oundjian.

This CD offers two excellent examples of early 20th-century eastern-European composers who still captivate us technophiles with these elemental pieces that were based on European folk song.

This review first appeared in the October 2016 issue of The WholeNote magazine.


My CD Review for WholeNote of The Far West


The Far West opens with music evocative of Macmillan and Brickenden’s Celtic Mass for the Sea; in fact, not since that album have I heard a choral work that captures its subject with such well-curated and gut-punching text. This Choral-Canada winner is an homage to victims of AIDS, and it’s both achingly beautiful and horrifyingly vivid in its imagery as it paints portraits of Tim Dlugos, its post-humous librettist, and stricken friends.

Dlugos’ divinity training interweaves references from Bergman to AZT, so textual allusions to liturgical music and the Divine Office still match the different musical styles, such as the funereally resolved first movement, October, the expansive choral chords of Note to Michael, and the baroque-ish Heaven, latterly with lyrics from the Renaissance by George Herbert. Several times, the work evokes English staples, such as Parry’s I Was Glad or Fenton’s Veni Sancte Spiritus, and made me want to run back to my days of church choir with Tom Fitches.

Themes of reconciliation, despair and resignation are conveyed alongside word play with homophones and synecdoche. The first two tracks, settings of poetry by Paul Laurence Dunbar and Christina Rossetti, are complementary introductions to the cantata. If this review is more about the texts than the music, it’s because the poetry absolutely slays the listener but, while the words are the stars in this piece, Zachary Wadsworth has composed a votive in The Far West, and Lawrence Wiliford and Luminous Voices shimmer throughout.

This article originally appeared in the September 2016 issue of The WholeNote magazine.

Making Indexes Sing Out


Book Review

Ten Characteristics of Quality Indexes: Confessions of an Award-Winning Indexer by Margie Towery (ASI, 2016)


As a relative newcomer to indexing, I was interested in adding Ten Characteristics to my professional development work and my library. What delighted me was the tone of the content, which recommended flexibility, common sense and options. Margie Towery’s book goes beyond introductory lessons but remains accessible and helpful.


Her advice reminds us about basic issues in indexing such as parallel construction, clarity, conciseness and double-postings. But she also offers us broad choices (with useful illustrative examples) about deciding what does or does not go into an index—sometimes a daunting task for the newbie. I had the good fortune to read the book right before I got my most challenging indexing project to date, and it served me well. Some of the guide posts I bore in mind during that gig were: to keep in mind the less skilled or -experienced index user; to reflect the text but skilfully play with wording; and to point the reader to information without telling the whole story. This last point might seem in contradiction to her anecdote on page 85: “I once had a managing editor proofread my index for a lengthy, complicated text after which she emailed me to say that she really understood what the book was about from reading the index.” I kept this in mind as one of my goals for that behemoth; I didn’t regurgitate the text but really focused on teasing out the content to create a pertinent tool for the user.


Towery also offers more in-depth discussion on some topics that might not be addressed at length in indexing training courses. Comma reversals, getting subheadings to flow, condensing as a strategy for gathering headings, and “elegant additions” (pg. 96–98) were useful topics for me to consider. She also shared her “AIRS,” individualized Adjustable Indexing Rules (pg. 79-80), which are project-specific and acceptable when the indexer is transparent with the author and press about their reasons for implementing them.


She does, indeed, provide confessions as well as tips for indexer’s block, the editing stage and streamlining author queries, and two key elements are her lists on readability tips (pg. 109) and the process of index evaluation (pg. 116–117). Topics that I have seen debated extensively on indexing listservs were also part of the text, such as digestion and the treatment of the metatopic(s). Here again, she is not so much being prescriptive as using common sense (another of her subjects) and offering suggestions to approaches.


The one point on which I disagree with Towery is her take on index-users’ reactions. She writes:


Usability studies show that users don’t understand what [unruly] locators indicate. That’s the bottom line for me: If the meaning of unruly locators is unclear to users, then indexers shouldn’t be using them. [Janet] Russell adds, “Asking readers to experiment by looking up a stray locator and guessing the principle behind its selection is unfair to the readers and risks annoying them. Don’t tick off the reader.”[i]

(pg. 90)


One of the reasons my work life took on the shape it did was my sense of curiosity and passion for learning. I love to find several books on a given topic and broaden my knowledge by checking out every single locator in their indexes: to me, those unruly locators point me to new and exciting things, and if I am going to them blindly, it’s akin to opening a treasure chest every time I check out those mentions. Maybe the indexing gods will smite me for that or maybe I’m just a nerd. I’m just suggesting that while we should aim to manage unruly locators cautiously, we can’t know all the goals or interests of the index’s future users, and some exceptions may not be so much breaking the rules as offering up opportunities for readers.


In a job that involves intellect, skill, analysis and, indeed, common sense, it’s reassuring to have this additional resource on the desk to help us navigate the oft-deep waters of “it depends.”




The title of this review was adapted from a phrase on page 114 of Margie Towery’s book, with her permission.


[i] Russell, J., “Locators, Differentiating,” pg. 43–44.

Interview with Larry D. Sweazy, author of the Marjorie Trumaine murder mystery series

2016-06-16 22.44.03

I met with Larry on the eve of the ASI/ISC 2016 Indexing Conference in Chicago, just before the conference’s official reception. Just like in his novels, my walk to our meeting place was blustery and foreboding, but the welcome I received from him and his lovely wife, Rose (whom I recognized instantly from one of her accessories as a fellow cat-lover), could not have been more reassuring. After warning him that I was not attempting to stalk him (since I was also writing a review of his second book for EAC’s Toronto Branch blog, BoldFace, and summarizing his keynote speech the next day for the ISC’s upcoming edition ofThe Bulletin newsletter), we sat down to talk business: that of writing and indexing and how the two connect.

In the first book of the series, See Also Murder[1], there had been mention of a magpie, so I started by asking him if that had been a total coincidence: indeed, it was only by fluke that he had used a species that is the mascot of theIndexing Society of Canada, since he lives in Indiana and didn’t know our connection to the aviary collector.

I also was interested in his attention to detail about the prairies. My mum was a Saskatchewan emigrant, and many of his references seemed straight out of her life: hating the wind, a Mountie hat (my grandfather was in the RCMP), and people who keep their problems to themselves (I’m definitely stiff upper lip as a result of her influence). He did live in North Dakota (the series setting) for a time, so the environs had permeated him. A strong sense of place is pervasive in his writing and features in his other historical, western and thriller novels and short stories.

One of the most interesting aspects of Larry’s writing is his ability to create a credible female protagonist voice. I mentioned having heard a radio interview of Clive Greave (author of Everyone Brave is Forgiven) in which he was praised for his successful treatment of the same choice. It is remarkable to do this so convincingly and in an ongoing way (i.e. a series, not just a one-off book). The details Larry captures were striking: for example, in See Also Deception, he mentions the wind coming up and the women all grabbing at their skirts automatically. So real! The purse contents, menthol cigarettes, McCall’s-pattern dresses—it all works. While Larry did have strong women in his life as a youngster, he also credits good communication with his wife as another source of empathy for things he couldn’t initially know as much about, and he says it has made him a better person for that development: but, he adds, you have to have empathy for humans, not just women, and then you have to carry that empathy out into the world via the writing. Well, he’s got that down.

Another thing he has down is humour. As I said in my BoldFace review, I have no experience with the murder mystery genre, so I was surprised to trip across some laughs in a dark storyline. But what appealed to me was the subtlety as opposed to being hit over the head with guffaws. Larry was pleased that this was evident and said he felt it was important to respect the reader’s intelligence. Sometimes these were comments that just sounded like a conversation with your friend, others were funny because I heard myself in them. Apparently a laugh’s okay—perhaps necessary—when you’re talking murder, and while I don’t particularly enjoy reading humorous books per se, it was another thing that made my introduction to this genre easier.

I and others at the conclusion of his keynote talk asked about the writing and indexing process, their connection and how they affected Larry’s stories. There are clearly commonalities: you can’t very well expect to get repeat contracts if you procrastinate on getting (good) writing or indexing done. Both require discipline, which is helped by an organized approach. I could relate to his separating tasks into parts of the day, suitable to his psychic energy and his abilities, and to his being very literal in dividing up the time available by the pages required to achieve personal and work deadlines. A curious mind is facilitated by an orderly approach to life, and the ability to break things down into discrete elements and re-group them by their connections works for both key entries and key clues. He acknowledged the unravelling of the mystery with the process of indexing for Marjorie, too. Upon reflection, I’m sure my experience in private investigation was good training for my inquisitive mind and honed the skills I need for effective and systematic editing and indexing. We may love order and classification, but as indexers we need to be detail-oriented and able to see the big picture simultaneously.

Speaking of parts of the whole, I asked Larry what he envisioned the scope of this series to be—a trilogy? More? He couldn’t say for sure, but there’s at least one more coming: See Also Deadline, available May 2017. That’s good news. But the problem with discovering and glomming on to a new-to-me author is finding the time to go back and read the other stories they’ve produced. Social media and the advantages of the Information Age expose us to new pleasures more quickly and easily. The fallout means less time for other stuff; in my case, that usually leads to letting cooking go. Based on my Wine and Cheese award system (see blog sidebar), Marjorie Trumaine has caused a fair bit of order-in. Although not for too many days, since her stories are hard to put down.



[1] For those readers who are not familiar with indexing, “See also” is a conventional indicator to cross-references in back-of-the-book indexes; it tells readers that other closely related and additional information is available under another key word. “See” plus a key word indicates that the reader should look up a synonymous term that is actually used in the text, in case they have not chosen the indexed word to start their search with. Larry’s titles are little homages to the indexer’s work.

Book review: See Also Deception, by Larry D. Sweazy

(Released May 2015)

By Vanessa Wells

Book review: See Also Deception, by Larry D. Sweazy

Full disclosure: I have never been into murder mysteries. No early Nancy Drews, no later Agatha Christies—frankly, I just felt like I would never be able to figure the mystery out and would feel kinda dumb, so I never embraced the genre. The only reason I was interested in the Marjorie Trumaine books by Larry D. Sweazy was that I’d heard they were written by and about an indexer.

I was a little skeptical about how the second book of the mystery series, See Also Deception, could pick up with a new murder only months after those of the first, but this fell by the wayside once I cracked open the book. In a nutshell, our newbie-sleuth heroine cannot accept that her librarian friend has committed suicide, and her indexer-character tenacity leads her to work the details of the case that are missed by the police. Fortunately, foreshadowing is well handled and carries the reader’s interest rather than handing over the solution to the murder on a silver platter. This is perhaps due to Sweazy’s writing habit of working organically and without complete pre-outlining, which lets the story unfold for himself as much as for his audience.

In his acknowledgments, the author says, “Indexing, like writing, is a job best done in isolation.” In See Also Deception, he has again succeeded in creating an atmosphere that highlights the protagonist’s isolation, both physical and psychological, despite the constant presence of her invalid husband and her community of Dickinson, North Dakota. The bleak feeling also works for the character and plot development that he tantalizingly creates for the reader.

Of course, the fun part for those of us editors who are also indexers is the author’s use of the indexing career and practices as a plot device. I could relate to his reference to Marjorie’s appreciation of the order on her desk and the issues involved in creating an effective index. But fun aside, his inclusion of partial indexes as her way of making sense of the case is absolutely essential to the story: a thriller featuring a doctor could hardly work if medicine wasn’t part of the plot and character development. I think it must also do the indexing industry good to have this kind of work introduced to and described for the general public, since we indexers are all too used to the “What’s that?” and “They still do that?” questions about our work.

On the more serious side, See Also Deception also examines the issue of assisted dying, which is very topical in Canada at the moment. Sweazy handles this difficult topic deftly, but in the interest of not providing any spoilers, that’s all I’ll say.

Finally, my husband (of an arts and advertising background) saw the book and said, “That’s a great cover!” Cover graphic design is not just a consideration for marketability; the visual appeal of this book (and the first in the series) did keep me returning to it—well, I fib a bit: it affected me only twice, since I finished the novel in two days. But it’s a nice little bonus.

Good fun: definitely put it on your beach reading list or, if you want to really immerse yourself in the atmosphere, save it til those long, dark winter nights.


This book review appeared on EAC Toronto’s BoldFace blog.

Why Can’t We See Our Own Typos?!

Fear not: even editors use other editors to proofread their own writing. Here’s one take on why you need a professional to catch them.


by Nick Stockton August 12, 2014  Retrieved from
YOU HAVE FINALLY finished writing your article. You’ve sweat over your choice of words and agonized about the best way to arrange them to effectively get your point across. You comb for errors, and by the time you publish you are absolutely certain that not a single typo survived. But, the first thing your readers notice isn’t your carefully crafted message, it’s the misspelled word in the fourth sentence.

What’s Up With That?
Each week, we’ll explain the science behind a strange phenomenon that you may be wondering about, or may be hearing about for the first time right here.
Typos suck. They are saboteurs, undermining your intent, causing your resume to land in the “pass” pile, or providing sustenance for an army of pedantic critics. Frustratingly, they are usually words you know how to spell, but somehow skimmed over in your rounds of editing. If we are our own harshest critics, why do we miss those annoying little details?

The reason typos get through isn’t because we’re stupid or careless, it’s because what we’re doing is actually very smart, explains psychologist Tom Stafford, who studies typos of the University of Sheffield in the UK. “When you’re writing, you’re trying to convey meaning. It’s a very high level task,” he said.

As with all high level tasks, your brain generalizes simple, component parts (like turning letters into words and words into sentences) so it can focus on more complex tasks (like combining sentences into complex ideas). “We don’t catch every detail, we’re not like computers or NSA databases,” said Stafford. “Rather, we take in sensory information and combine it with what we expect, and we extract meaning.” When we’re reading other peoples’ work, this helps us arrive at meaning faster by using less brain power. When we’re proof reading our own work, we know the meaning we want to convey. Because we expect that meaning to be there, it’s easier for us to miss when parts (or all) of it are absent. The reason we don’t see our own typos is because what we see on the screen is competing with the version that exists in our heads.

This can be something as trivial as transposing the letters in “the” to “hte,” or something as significant as omitting the core explanation of your article. In fact, I made both of these mistakes when I wrote this story. The first was a misspelling in a sentence that my editor had to read aloud for me before I saw it for myself. The second mistake was leaving out the entire preceding paragraph that explains why we miss our own typos.

Generalization is the hallmark of all higher-level brain functions. It’s similar to how our brains build maps of familiar places, compiling the sights, smells, and feel of a route. That mental map frees your brain up to think about other things. Sometimes this works against you, like when you accidentally drive to work on your way to a barbecue, because the route to your friend’s house includes a section of your daily commute. We can become blind to details because our brain is operating on instinct. By the time you proof read your own work, your brain already knows the destination.

This explains why your readers are more likely to pick up on your errors. Even if you are using words and concepts that they are also familiar with, their brains are on this journey for the first time, so they are paying more attention to the details along the way and not anticipating the final destination.

But even if familiarization handicaps your ability to pick out mistakes in the long run, we’re actually pretty awesome at catching ourselves in the act. (According to Microsoft, backspace is the third-most used button on the keyboard.) In fact, touch typists—people who can type without looking at their fingers—know they’ve made a mistake even before it shows up on the screen. Their brain is so used to turning thoughts into letters that it alerts them when they make even minor mistakes, like hitting the wrong key or transposing two characters. In a study published earlier this year, Stafford and a colleague covered both the screen and keyboard of typists and monitored their word rate. These “blind” typists slowed down their word rate just before they made a mistake.

Touch typists are working off a subconscious map of the keyboard. As they type, their brains are instinctually preparing for their next move. “But, there’s a lag between the signal to hit the key and the actual hitting of the key,” Stafford said. In that split second, your brain has time to run the signal it sent your finger through a simulation telling it what the correct response will feel like. When it senses an error, it sends a signal to the fingers, slowing them down so they have more time to adjust.

As any typist knows, hitting keys happens too fast to divert a finger when it’s in the process of making a mistake. But, Stafford says this evolved from the same mental mechanism that helped our ancestors’ brains make micro adjustments when they were throwing spears.

Unfortunately, that kind of instinctual feedback doesn’t exist in the editing process. When you’re proof reading, you are trying to trick your brain into pretending that it’s reading the thing for the first time. Stafford suggests that if you want to catch your own errors, you should try to make your work as unfamiliar as possible. Change the font or background color, or print it out and edit by hand. “Once you’ve learned something in a particular way, it’s hard to see the details without changing the visual form,” he said.

Freelancing: Dressing Up for the Occasion


Two years ago, Whitney Matusiak offered some good advice on BoldFace about wardrobe considerations for freelancers. Today I’m going to sing the praises of dressing up for working (mostly) at home. I am amazed at those who work in their jammies. Amazed in wonder, not judgment. The only things I can accomplish in my nightwear are scrolling through Facebook and drinking my first coffee.

My POV is about preparation, discipline, and focus. I am hyper-organized. I love lists. They are my modus operandi for life and work. In order to be productive, though, I must be “ready for my day,” and the physical must precede the psychological. (See the first point on Emma Gannon’s blog post about being self-employed.)

My dressing up for work at home is admittedly facilitated by having a largely neutral (read: black and grey) palette of similarly styled clothes: no hemming and hawing about what to wear. Once I know the forecast for the next day—our old apartment isn’t climatically smart—it’s easy to select tomorrow’s outfit. Boom—done!

My days-off wardrobe is what my husband would call urban bohemian, and my work clothes also focus on adaptable comfort. I even have a uniform that consists of a little black dress, a grey cardigan that was my mum’s, black stockings, and lace-up Doc Martens. This is my gettin’ ’er done go-to. My morning toilette includes hair product, eye makeup, and some jewellery.

If I dress as if I will be meeting clients and online colleagues in person, I find that I approach my at-desk work with more discipline and tenacity. Feeling pulled together allows me to interact with clients, even electronically, with confidence. It helps my presentation of self in everyday life as a business owner and not a hobbyist—as many of us freelancers are so often (annoyingly) characterized. Some days, I am only interacting with the snail-mail carrier, but if I am suddenly called out to an onsite client meeting or am needed for a Skype consultation, I’m ready.

And what about work at a client’s office? I might out-dress some folks in my formality, but with my walk-forever oxfords, some funky earrings, a scarf, and a hobo bag, my style keeps me approachable, comfortable, and adaptable to any curve balls the day might throw my way. I’d rather look overdressed than convey the wrong impression about my business practices. And I don’t leave the house without a purse-sized lint roller.

Of course, there are days when my work wardrobe model goes out the window, like if I’m feeling sick or have an appointment or a volunteer commitment requiring other types of clothes. But generally, if I show up to my desk in my uniform before nine, I’m likely to have a productive and satisfying day. If nothing else, my self-imposed sartorial strictness mirrors my ridiculously neat desk and organized office supplies. Minus the cat hair, that is. (See lint roller note above.)

Uptight, inflexible, over-the-top? Perhaps. That’s what 12 years in a school uniform will do to you. I wish I could still wear a St. Trinian tunic, but that might inspire literary shenanigans, rather than editorial clarity, consistency, and correctness.


This article appeared on the EAC Toronto Branch’s blog, BoldFace.

An Explanation of Various Types of Printers, Publishers and Packagers

If you’d like to self-publish but you’re getting confused about all the different types of printing and publishing companies vying for your project, here is a primer from Dick Margulis:

REGARDLESS OF WHAT COMPANIES CALL THEMSELVES OR SAY THEY OFFER, what we’re interested in is what the are and whether they provide the services we need. So let’s use our own bafflegab-free definitions and ignore the marketing materials.

A publisher is someone who puts money at risk to produce and market a book.

A publishing services company is someone who provides services such as editing, design, indexing, or proofreading to publishers.

A book packager is a company that prepares books for publication on behalf of a publisher.

A printer is someone who owns printing equipment and accepts customer files for printing.

A book manufacturer is someone who prints and binds books under one roof.

Offset printing is printing from metal plates hung on a press and is typically used for 300 or more copies of a book.

Short-run digital printing is using digital printing equipment to produce one or more copies of a book for delivery to the publisher (or to a fulfillment warehouse).

On-demand printing is using digital printing equipment to produce a single copy of a book for direct delivery to a retail customer on behalf of the publisher.

A print broker is someone who accepts a job from a publisher and then forwards it to selected vendors for the required services.

A vanity press is a company that combines the services of a publishing services provider and a print broker and overcharges for both, making it impossible for a publisher that contracts with them to make a reasonable profit. Otherwise known as pond scum.

Now, WITHIN A CATEGORY, it is possible to compare companies and evaluate whether one provides better quality or better services than another, and that can be a productive exercise.

There are book manufacturers who specialize in working with amateur publishers (high school yearbook staffs, for example) and have customer service reps (CSRs) who are adept at hand-holding. Some of these companies also do a superb job of book manufacturing. Others tend to cut corners.

In contrast, there are book manufacturers whose CSRs are nothing more than traffic managers (friendly, competent, polite traffic managers). Any technical questions are forwarded to a technician, and the answer that eventually comes back may or may not be clear. These companies work directly with professional print buyers at publishing companies and with professional book designers, customers who are expected to provide trouble-free files for printing and clear specifications for the job. Within this subgroup of book manufacturers, some companies focus on quality and some focus on price.

Similarly, with short-run digital printers, there are companies that specialize in book manufacturing for publishers, and there are others that specialize in church cookbooks, machinery service manuals, and programs for the local high school football awards banquets. And, oh yeah, if you have a book of your weekly newspaper columns from the local shopper, they’ll throw that together for you too. So, again, you can compare on quality and price.

You can read more about Dick’s creative services here.

CD Review: Noravank

02 Shoujounian   Noravank: Petros Shoujounian – String Quartets 3-6     Quatuor Molinari     ATMA ACD2 2737

Composed to mark the centenary of the Armenian genocide, Noravank’s title is derived from a homeland monastery that was Petros Shoujounian’s inspiration. Its 14 sections, divided into string quartets of three, three, three and five movements, are symbolically named after rivers and are based on liturgical chants.

Quartet No.3 was the most affecting for me, through its tiny echoes of melodies and treatments heard in Morricone’s Gabriel’s Oboe and Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel; it concludes with the provocative Dzoraget. The contradictions of Quartet No.4’s depressive second movement, the energetic third and Quartet No.5’s lamentoso first movement brought to mind the power of nature and the current plight of evacuated Fort McMurray folks – if that’s not the musical equivalent of theological proof-texting. The balance of Quartet No.5 and all of No.6 more overtly reflect the influence of eastern folk songs, both in the keys and the lilts they comprise. Another memory of song, from Chopin’s “Raindrop” Prelude in D-Flat Major No.15 Op.28, is heard in the onomatopoeic burbling waters of the Vedi.

This CD was suggested to me, a Pärt fanatic, as a possibly similarly contemplative recording. While these aren’t tracks for mindful meditation, there is an introspective quality to all the movements. Maybe the invoked theme of migration is apt, after all: fires, oppression, the liturgical life – these all involve movement and change. But this introvert was soothed rather than discomfited via the talent of the Quatuor Molinari, who commissioned this work that is ultimately about renewal. Fine liner-note editing and the eponymous cover photograph round out a very marketable product.


This article appeared in the June-August 2016 issue of The WholeNote magazine.

Tom Allen At JMO/ NYOC Benefit

Tom_Allen_1.jpgJeunesses Musicales Ontario (JMO) and the National Youth Orchestra (NYO) Canada have orchestrated Raise the Bar, a fundraiser on June 8, as part of their continued support of the next generation of professional classical musicians. Tom Allen will be hosting the intimate evening of music, cocktails and hors d’œuvres, and he’ll be joined by fellow alumni James Ehnes, Russell Braun and other award-winners in performance in the elegant Great Hall of U of T’s Hart House.

Since 1979, Jeunesses Musicales Ontario has provided emerging Canadian artists with concert tours as well as educational concerts for young audiences. Since 1960, NYO Canada has held an iconic reputation as Canada’s pre-eminent orchestral and chamber music training institute, providing the most comprehensive and in-depth training program available to our best young classical musicians.

We asked Tom Allen to comment on the organizations’ shared values, both as an observer and as the recipient of many advantages as a result of his involvement with them as a youth.

He noted that “…the work being done by Jeunesses Musicales and the NYO Canada doesn’t only nurture musical talent – it nurtures a benevolent and caring and enlightened society.”

His own experiences included the honour of being bass trombonist in the NYO in 1982 and 1985, and part of a resident brass quintet in 1984. That quintet went on to a professional career as the Great Lakes Brass, which he toured with from 1984 to 1990. He notes that “during those years we were helped considerably by JMC, who sent us on a couple of tours and helped us find rehearsal space in Toronto, as well” and that there were other benefits to him as a young musician: there was generosity in support and career guidance, as well as lessons not only in artistry and musicianship but also the universal and transferable life skills needed by emerging professionals.

He is still grateful for the connections and experiences he gleaned. Despite a climate of arts-funding restraint, he didn’t miss out on invaluable recording and performance opportunities. JMO and NYOC still nurture high-level playing and professional development. The NYO offers that experience and, likewise, “…because of those same economic forces, classical musicians in Canada (and everywhere else) must be more adaptable, more flexible, more inventive and quick-on-their-feet than ever before, and JMC supports and nurtures that approach. The two are both sides of a (more and more hard-to-come-by) coin.”

For more information visit


This article appeared in the May 2016 issue of The WholeNote magazine.


A few times a year, I offer pro bono work to non-profits, particularly Christian artists. Usually this is in the form of proofreading (not copy editing, generally) short documents such as simple websites, closed captions, press releases or ads. If you know of someone who could use a fresh pair of eyes before they publish, contact me well in advance to discuss my availability. If I can help out, I won’t charge but I will ask for recommendations to new clients and/or a testimonial for my website.

On occasion, I may be able to help with obituaries, too.

To see one take on why we all need a proofreader to check for typos (it doesn’t mean you can’t write!), read this article.

Cosmopolitan Toronto in Photos

Cosmo portrait

Documentary photographer Colin Boyd Shafer’s book Cosmopolis Toronto: The World in One City is a collection of photo stories about 195 people who have immigrated to Canada and settled in Toronto. Their portraits are accompanied by brief commentaries. But most poignant are the smaller photos which display each subject’s most treasured object, a memento which still ties them to their past and their origins.

Boyd Shafer’s portraits are candid but accessible and certainly illustrate the diversity of our city’s people and locales. With so many people represented, the photographer chose well to keep the texts brief: while lengthy bios would likely have been fascinating, he keeps the pace of the book clicking, so that it’s an excellent coffee table book and it echoes the mood of our ever-changing city.

And I do use the term ‘coffee table book’ as a compliment. In our harried urban lifestyle, it can be rare to have a moment to even sit down on a couch in front of a coffee table with free time. When we do, isn’t it a luxurious feeling to flip languorously through a beautiful book that is enlightening but not demanding? Larger-format picture books force us to turn the pages more slowly and thus to take in the contents with more attention and time. Everything in this book, down to the type and map outlines, makes our encounter streamlined and focussed.

I’d recommend Cosmopolis Toronto as a great gift: for yourself as a Toronto resident; for the bibliophile who seems to have every book you can think of; or perhaps most thoughtfully for a newcomer to Toronto, whether they’ve moved here from Fort MacMurray or France. You can learn more about the project of “Photographing the world, one Torontonian at a time” at

Cosmo cover

The Book Class


On my walk to a client’s office yesterday morning, I struck up a conversation with someone panhandling* because I remembered seeing him a month before; he was memorable because he was reading a book both times I saw him.

It’s amazing how books can bridge divides. We talked about favourite genres, books we’d read, wanted to read, should have read by now. He showed me a 1945 edition of Alice in Wonderland he had been given by a friend. This chap had a degree in Literature. He had received a few knocks in life, but his attitude was not woe-is-me. I suspect that part of his balanced view of his current situation was partially moulded by his love of reading. I certainly read to escape and perhaps he reads while holding out his sign to passersby so that he can escape that reality. He wasn’t sure he’d be back in the neighbourhood the next day, but I said I’d bring him a page-turner I had enjoyed and hopefully it would be left on the stoop for him if he didn’t come.

I felt sobered after that conversation, although I’m not sure why. I took my book to his spot this morning but he wasn’t there. As he had said the tenants were good to him, I left it with a note in a bag on the door handle asking them to give it to him as I wouldn’t be back for a few weeks.

But Scott did mention a book he’d love to have but hasn’t found yet. I know what my most rewarding Christmas gift is going to be this year.



I tried for several weeks before and after Christmas to find Scott again, so that I could hand deliver his gift. Eventually, I just put it in a bag on the doorknob of the stoop where we met, with a note asking the tenants to pass it on to him if they saw him. Maybe our paths will cross again later.


*The fellow in question himself described his activity as panhandling; this is no editorializing by me. He said that OW (that’s “welfare” for you non-Ontarian readers) doesn’t cover all of his monthly expenses and that he pans only when he’s stuck for money. He has a place to live.

The Metro: From ‘Ewww!’ to ‘Woo-hoo!’

20090708-Metro-Theatre from blogto.com

This week, I had the opportunity to meet with Matthew Languay, owner of Basecamp Climbing Inc., a rock-climbing facility which will open this fall in central Toronto, in the space that has been occupied by the former porn-focused Metro Theatre lo these many decades. There has been a lot of favourable media coverage about him taking this project on, the links to which can be found here.

Although I cannot participate in the sport myself, my interest is in the building because my grandfather, Carol C. Wells, had a significant interest in the property a hundred years ago when he was running Wells Bros. Amusements (see the introductory post about the blog’s name for more information.) Matthew was kind enough to share info with me about what he has discovered so far about the structure and what he has planned for it. We met over coffee in mid-town.

An avid climber with a mechanical engineering and climbing-wall building background, Matthew has been part of the interior demolition, so we shared photos and facts and put some visuals to the parts of my grandpa’s written memoirs that deal with the Metro. We will bring you his images and follow up as the building is renovated.

In the fall of 1913, Carol Wells met Mr.s Sher and Zimmerman, who were interested in converting a large store they had at Clinton and Bloor St.s into a movie theatre but were having trouble securing a permit. Grandpa Wells had experience in this, having established a successful business in projection engineering, supplies, repairs and installations. For his help, he negotiated a host of responsibilities but also perks, including working six days a week as the theatre’s projectionist.

Unfortunately, they opened on a very cold January 14th of 1914, and business did not boom: Carol felt it was due to Sher and Zimmerman only having one projector, while other theatres were now running continuous shows with two projectors. He convinced them to keep up with the times’s demands, and business picked up. Eventually, he transferred his permit to Mr. Sher amidst various negotiations. One condition was that Grandpa acquired part of the basement to partition off for a workshop and storage area, about 15 ft. sq., which Matthew photographed by chance, not knowing the background of it. While I don’t have the details about how this involvement at the Metro cinema concluded, it seems he may have left the arrangement as his business expanded in Toronto and across southern Ontario.

It is frustrating that I cannot find more details about my family connection to the theatre, not even its name at that time. It is also unclear why media often report that it was built in 1938, when it is unlikely another cinema was extant at the same intersection and its history started some twenty-four years earlier. If anyone can direct me to evidence about this, please contact me via this site.

basecamp8Photograph of the owner of Basecamp Climbing by Maxwell Summerlee

Matthew and I will share more info as his new venture develops! Personally, I’d like to have the marquee sign, with the ‘girl’ on the front, as a memento of the Wells Bros.’s connection to the cinema’s history. I’ll put a bug in the entrepreneur’s ear….


Interview: YA Fantasy Author Scarlett Van Dijk

Guardian Core pic

WRE: You have a medical career but you’re writing fantasy. What’s the pull?

SVD: Being a radiographer in a medical world, I am confronted with reality every day. I suppose part of why I read and write mainly in the fantasy genre is to escape reality.[pullquote]I read and write mainly in the fantasy genre to escape reality.[/pullquote] In my head, I have created new lands and worlds in which my characters face challenges that ‘normal’ people would never face in a ‘normal’ world.

WRE: How did your writing career start?

SVD: I began writing my first novel at the age of 13… but that was a flunk and a half. Even though that was a failure and writers block hit me hard, I would call that the beginning of my love for writing.

I began my first novel Sky Stone at the age of 15; this was when I first truly believed myself to be a writer. It all began with me listening to music, creating daydreams which gradually became a story begging to be written. I couldn’t refuse it.

WRE: The protagonist in your series, Skyla, is a strong role model for young women. What kinds of pressures do you think can be addressed with the lessons in your series?

SVD: Skyla is loosely based on myself during my teens. She portrays the ups and downs of teenage life for girls. Skyla, like myself, never believed that she belonged in this world, but then she discovered a land where she didn’t just belong but was needed. One lesson that I feel could be taught to other young girls who wonder about their place in the world is that sometimes your purpose finds you. You do belong and there are people that need you; just believe and give it time.

[pullquote]Sometimes your purpose finds you…[/pullquote]

Another lesson that I believe is important is to allow yourself to share the burden. Young people all experience stress as they transition from childhood to adulthood. Skyla suddenly finds herself with the fate of a land upon her shoulders, with the stresses and expectations weighing her down. She finds that she requires the help of the people around her, and that it is all right to let others help and guide her. Carrying the burden alone will only cause you more pain when there are others around who are willing to listen, give advice, and help where they can.

WRE: Do you have a sense yet of how many books there will be or are you going to wing it and let your Muse direct you?

SVD: Well, let’s just say that when I wrote Sky Stone I wasn’t intending for there to be a series at all! It was supposed to stand alone…and then here came Guardian Core. I have some vague plans for a third book in the Sky Stone series; however, I have decided to take a short break from this series and will work on a new novel which stands alone.

WRE: It’s a saturated market with lots of authors vying for readers. What advice would you share with writers, who are just starting out, about motivation and tenacity?

SVD: I believe it is important not to lose sight of why you began writing in the beginning. I began writing for the love of it and as a release. Don’t let criticism or a lack of sales discourage you from what you love to do. Just keep writing.

WRE: Your website has several concept images which informed your novels’ settings. Do you see your storylines as needing to be in the past or are the stories essentially timeless?

SVD: These stories are set in a land similar to that of the English/European medieval period. Branzia, the land in which the Sky Stone series is set, is cut off from the modern world and hence has not been able to progress at the same rate. Technically, it is therefore set in the present day but the technology of Branzia has not advanced.

My stories are not all set in a past-like setting, however: my latest work in progress, which has the working title of Nexus, is actually set in a future Earth.

WRE: Is there anything else you would like to share with readers?

SVD: Guardian Core, Book 2 of the Sky Stone series, will be released on August 2.

If you are interested in finding out more about the Sky Stone series, please head over to my website:

Sky Stone is currently available on,, and other retailers. Please check it out here.

WRE:  Thank you for chatting with me and I wish you much success with your launch!

Resources for Writers

There are lots of resources you can access for information while you are writing and revising. You can find: Print on Demand info; up to date Canadian permissions guidelines; style guides such as CMOS and dictionaries like Canadian Oxford or Webster’s for Americans; grammar checkers like this; and answers to these questions:

Why does editing cost so much?!?

Why can’t I just use the Word index generator for my book’s index?

Ultimately, you need a human to analyse the nuances of language, tweak subtly and maintain your voice. Computers can’t do that. Editors work alongside you.