When less is (maybe) more


I just received an email from the presenter of a photography workshop I will be taking in August. It includes useful info about the wheres and whens of the various sessions, what he expects to cover, and what we’ll be doing.

It also included a list of what I need to know about my camera before I start. Much of which assumes that my camera is much more sophisticated than it is –  and that I am much more tech savvy than I will ever be.

The truth of it is that I will be using the most simple point and click camera, which has worked for me for the past few years – traveling, taking family pics and in my early ventures into street photography. And that any ‘post-production/editing’ work I will be doing will be with only the very simple tools supplied by iPhoto on my iPad and laptop.

I long ago gave up trying to understand f-stops, exposure, shutter speeds or any other camera-speak. Or trying to find my way around Photoshop. And assumed I would never need to.

Just as when I took up sketching and decided that I wanted to travel with only one sketch pad, two pencils, one sharpener and one eraser – I also eschew the paraphernalia of photography for reasons of economics, storage space in my small apartment, time to grapple with the learning curve of new tools and techniques, and ability to haul the stuff from one place to another on my arthritic back.

(In fact, when I go shopping for pants, I always take my camera to ensure they have a pocket that it will fit into. (MEC’s Sandbagger pants are perfect, with a thigh-height pocket with a zipper).

I am looking forward to the weekend of taking photos and learning from a pro. And I know there will be moments when I will suffer pangs of camera-envy along with a degree of tech-talk overload. But it’s the outcome that matters to me. That I have a good time taking pictures over the weekend, and bring home new insights, a few new skills in composition and technique, and a handful of photos that are about just a little more than they are about – a quality I look for in my writing, sketching and photography.



This is a fossil grinder in Morocco. He has been working at this trade for 35 years. 35 years of inhaling stone dust, with only a cloth covering to protect his face. ‘But at least he has a job,’ as one fellow traveler said. I did not buy any fossils…
Photo: L Peterson

Reverse Outlining: A revision tool that might work for you


The challenges of revision came up at yesterday’s critique group session, and again this morning on a Facebook page.

I developed my Reverse Outlining process a number of years ago as a way to dig into specific craft elements of the text of a manuscript of one of my kids’ books, and have since found it useful as a way to identify how a work in progress develops on the page, and provide info about what to do next.

While this  process was originally designed for fiction, I have had a couple of memoir writers use it successfully, too. You are free to use it, share it, and adapt the chart and the notes for your own use. If you are a professional editor writing coach, please ensure you credit me.

2018 Rev Outline chart

2018 Reverse Outlining notes

And if you find this useful in your work, please comment here, or drop me a 1-2 line testimonial which I can use to help pitch workshops in which I demonstrate how Reverse Outlining works.


Picture #4/66

Picture # 4/66

“Sometimes there’s no picture… no picture.” Thus spake Henri Cartier Bresson. And having spent quite a bit of time recently reviewing hundred of pictures posted on blogs and Facebook pages by street photographers, I see his point. Some pictures are just… well… pictures. If that. With little resonance, metaphorical heft.

No story.

I took this picture on a bus traveling through Rajasthan. A women engaged in what looked like a hopeless task. Sweeping an empty lane on a multi-lane highway as trucks and buses slowed down to pay the toll.

There would be no end to her sweeping, and the little she did would make no difference.

To me, it is a compelling instance of the infuriatingly complex nature of India. And I wished then, as I wish now, that I were a poet. I think then I might find words to describe the feeling I got when I saw her, and when I clicked the shutter.

But without the viewer knowing where she was, and what exactly she was doing, this picture is a ‘no picture’.

Just as on so many occasions I have a germ of a story, that is not a story. Until the second shoe drops. Until another element couples with the first germ to create something compelling and resonant.

Sometimes there’s no story.

Sometimes there’s no picture.

But we write it any. We take it anyway.

Because it was there. And so were we.

The Decisive Moment

A picture is like a Chekov story. A Maupassant story. There’s a whole world in it.
Henri Cartier-Bresson

HCB / Photo. Lens Magazine

I was a young teenager when I first came across Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photos. And not long after learned a little about the concept of  ‘The Decisive Moment’, the element that makes his photographs – and those of others working in the genre – so arresting.

I have watched this wonderful movie of Cartier-Bresson’s work many times. One in which his own narration conveys so much about his unique personality and provides insights into his philosophy and how he works.

Years later I discovered Vancouver’s own Fred Hertzog, and since then have often been arrested by spontaneous sightings of street photography in magazines, books and galleries.

Much as I enjoy taking pictures on my travels, they are more likely to be shots of familiar places and images that convey something of the spirit of each destination, rather than candid shots of people and places who live their lives on the streets of Guanajuato, San Francisco, Avignon, Jaipur, Fez, Winchester, Rome…

Version 2

Chinatown Lonely (LP)

Just once in a while, such as on a photo outing to Chinatown with a friend a few years ago when I went out looking for such images, I am gratified to find a few that fits the criteria of street photography.

For the past few months I have been preoccupied by the genre, reading biographies and manuals, and scrutinizing images by contemporary street photographers. I recently signed up for a weekend workshop in August with Vancouver photographer Ian Macdonald, and every day pore over new postings at the Street Photography in the World Facebook Page, trying to figure which images I find most compelling, and how the photographer has achieved the effect.

None of that has much to do with my previous preoccupation with writing. But with this new perspective, I have now unearthed a teen novel I began a few years ago called Shoot (as in cameras rather than firearms). And I have started a photo/essay project called 66. This will be 66 images – some of my own, others I run across, with some sort of accompanying text. Not for the purposes of publication. But for my own interest as I undertake this new journey of discovery.

(’66’? I am 66. And if I want to keep going – both with photography and the life itself – I can easily rebrand the project as ’99’.)

Back to work


In just over a month I turn 65. I am moving into Elderhood as graciously as I can. And perhaps not in the normal way of doing things, I am going back to work.

Not at the library, this time.

Last summer when I was planning my move to Nanaimo, I started looking around for a community of like-minded people. Having been a member of the Unitarian Church of Vancouver, which nicely mirrored and supported my values in both my everyday and spiritual life, I was hoping to find the same in my new neighbourhood.

shelter1I did. I was thrilled to discover the First Unitarian Fellowship of Nanaimo (FUFON), where I was welcomed in so warmly to its inclusive, open congregation.

And where, very early on, I discovered important work being done.

The Unitarian Shelter has been providing a non-judgemental welcome, a warm bed, hot meals, and companionship to Nanaimo’s homeless for eight seasons. This ‘low-barrier’ shelter, supported by the Fellowship’s congregation, the community, and with federal and provincial funding and a grant from the City of Nanaimo, will open its doors again in October offering a safe, warm and dry overnight environment for men and women from Nanaimo’s streets.

someoneAnd I’m thrilled to begin serving as the shelter’s Executive Director on August 1.

I won’t be making beds, preparing meals, overseeing the laundry, or cleaning the washrooms – other than on an occasional volunteer basis. That is best left to the Shelter Coordinator and his dedicated team of staff and volunteers. I’ll be ‘in the back’, helping build and maintain relationships with the FUFON congregation, funders, donors and volunteers and looking for new ways to spread the word about the shelter, generate funds, and build awareness of homelessness in our communities.

I am so proud to be doing this work.

And so very sad that in these times, it still has to be done.

“Do not avert your eyes.
It is important that you see this. It is important that you feel this.” 
Kamand Kojouri

After the deadline

Dressed for the weather in the Quantock Hills of Somerset.

Like many, it snuck up on me when I was not looking. And as deadlines go, it was a small one, for a 1,200-word article for Inspired Senior Living, a monthly magazine which is one of the few still open to freelance travel articles.

And I was writing about something I love to do – walking in the UK.

But I got the assignment in November 2016. Which I promptly ‘sidelined’ in my mind as the deadline seemed seemed so far away.

I did other things… mainly traveled, got involved in quite a bit of volunteer work, spent lovely times with family and friends here, and on the Lower Mainland. And on my return from an 8-week trip to Europe, somehow thinking the deadline was for Aug 1, pulled out the assignment email.

Turns out it was JULY 1, just three weeks away.

It’s been a long time since I wrote an article… you know what Mark Twain said, “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” It took an indorndinately lot of hours to draft those 1,400 words (yes, longer than assigned, but I think I am good as some of them are As You Go notes, which I hope aren’t included in the word count). Then, with no in-house First Reader, I needed a pair of fresh eyes – which I found in fellow Nanaimo writer Judy Millar.

Then the issue of pictures. The ones I had in mind had disappeared from my laptop. Or maybe were never there. I trawled through every directory, my two iPads, my external hard drive. And then remembered a thumb drive to which I had uploaded pictures from my previous computer.

But where was it? After two days of turning everything upside down in my house, it literally fell into my hands when I was searching through a closet I had already checked.

I had pictures.

Then I had to figure out how DropBox works – the favoured way of forwarding images to editors these days, I’m told, but had never used before. But thanks to the expertise of another fellow writer Julie Ferguson, I soon had that figured out.

So today both article and pictures were sent off, duly acknowledged by the editor, and I’m done.

And now I’m basking in the post-deadline glow. It’s done. It’s gone. And in August I will see just how those words and pics look on the page. 

Meanwhile, I hope to have dug back into another project which is my priority for the summer and fall. A project with no deadline, which means it could take forever.




Pitching in 140 characters


Picture books are devilishly hard to write. I continue to toy with them from time to time because I love the form so much.

I agonize over every word and phrase, read them aloud, and more often than not put them away in a drawer to ‘season’.

Ocassionally I send them out and watch as boomerang-like they return to me. Sometimes with an encouraging note. More often with a form rejection that I know REALLY means, “Please never bother us – or any other publisher or agent again – with such drivel.”

But being an optimist, I persist.

Tomorrow is Picture Book Pitch Twitter Day. And today I have been trying to condense a couple of story summaries into 140 characters. 140! If I thought writing a 300-600 word book was hard, this was pure agony. But worth it. In that it really helped me drill down to – what to me seems to be – the heart of the matter.

Even if the two stories I pitch tomorrow meet with only resounding silence, the effort of refining, revising and editing the pitches will give me tools I can continue to use as I continue my quest to place just one picture book story in the hands of young children and their parents.



It’s been a while…


… but I will be back in the classroom in July to present a four-hour workshop to members of the First Unitarian Fellowship of Nanaimo.

TRIBE – New anthology in the works


International Women’s Day seems the perfect day to announce a new publishing project.

‘Tribe’ will be a print anthology exploring the lives and experiences of older, single women and will include poetry, fiction, memoir, nonfiction, personal narrative, prose poems… about all and any topics that affect women. It will be published by LPwordsolutions in Nanaimo, BC.

Contributors will be paid a small honorarium and contributors’ copies, with 50%+ of any net profits from the book going to a women’s charity… determined with input from anthology contributors.

Please pass the word to any female writers you know who are:
a) single by choice or circumstance, and
b) over 55 years old.

You can download the writer’s guidelines from the Tribe blog here. Or if you have questions or comments please contact tribeanthology@outlook.com.

I am hoping to put together an editorial team to review submissions, and hoping to include line drawings in the book so will be looking for submissions from artists.