Jennifer Neri's Blog

Back of every creation, supporting it like an arch, is faith. Enthusiasm is nothing: it comes and goes. But if one believes, then miracles occur. Henry Miller


There are some things we return to over and over no matter what age we are. It’s our comfort, our go tos, our ahhh time.


(photo credit:

At the top of my list of comfort activities is reading Gay Gavriel Kay. I’ve been saving his latest novel for a time when I really needed it, and that time arrived a couple of days ago.

As a child I believed in magic and secret groves and fairies and witches and warlocks and lions and tigers and bears, oh my.

I still do.

And when I read Kay I’m reminded of that.

His latest novel, River of Stars, is mesmerizing.


I devour novels, about every 3 days I’m reading something new. 7 days if it’s long or requires me to be gentle with it. This one will be a much much longer read. More like how I eat chocolate. I savour tiny morsels; a chocolate can last months (literally!) often until my husband can’t take it anymore and eats it when I’m not looking.

I can feel the dedication that Kay put into River of Stars, each sentence is like a breath.

As a writer, I’m astounded by his story telling capabilities.

This story is told across people in time, rather than across time itself. There are characters we meet only briefly, being in their POV for a couple of pages and no more, never to return again. And yet, there is no frustration in this, no sense of being cheated, because we have witnessed the character’s defining moment in the story and there is no need for more from them. They have shifted the current, and that was all they needed to do.

I don’t underline prose in my books. I don’t fold pages. I was tempted to do so, but realized I would highlight too much to be of any benefit. This is one I’ll return to again and again, if only to hear the lyrics within its pages.

Do you have a go-to author or novel(s)?


Did I write that? Well, I certainly can’t read it!

Not so long ago, someone asked me an unusual question: Since I spent so many hours a week writing on the computer, did I not miss seeing my own handwriting?

“I write by hand all the time,” I replied. “The trick is being able to read back what I wrote.”

I do write by hand all the time. Every day. Some days pass that I do more writing by hand than on the computer. Every note, every thought, every nuance–big and small, every detail, and every time I need to figure something out (which, trust me, is on a continuous basis) I handle by writing on paper. The only thing I do on the computer is the actual writing of the novel, which for me, is a small fraction of the whole process.

I have notebooks, spiral bound books, loose leaf papers, index cards, multi-colored index cards, sticky notes of almost every colour found in the rainbow, and a giant roll of plain paper that I use to map out time frames that I stick to my wall as needed. To top that off, I have a variety of coloured pens, highlighters, and pencils.

Unfortunately for my family, I tend to work in the dining room. It has great lighting, good acoustics (for my blaring music), is kinda on its own so the through-traffic is not that bad, and looks onto the backyard (with a window bench were I can sit and ruminate–yes, I do a lot of that too). This just means that I’m the only one who gets to enjoy this room, as most of the time it’s taken up with all the said paperwork, plus much more, including reference books, cups of water, a multitude of mugs holding tea and coffee at various stages, a tissue box, and the occasional remnant of a snack.

Before anyone asks, no, I won’t take a picture. Maybe one day when it’s cleaned out.

I don’t miss seeing my handwriting. In fact, sometimes the sight of it drives me mad! Especially when I have no inkling as to what in the world my scribbling means.

How about you: Do you every write by hand? Or do you do all your thinking in your head or on the computer? And most importantly, if you do write by hand–can you read your own writing? 


A lucky coin

I’ll share a little story I found unexpectedly in a book that Santa delivered to my daughter this year:


Our story began over a century ago when seventeen-year-old Egmont Harald Peterson found a coin in the street. 



He was on his way to buy a flyswatter, a small hand-operated printing machine that he then set up in his tiny apartment.

The coin brought him such good luck that today Egmont has offices in over 30 countries around the world. And that lucky coin in still kept at the company’s head office in Denmark.


This little success story was stuck in among the publication credits of a gorgeous children’s book entitled, A Flower in the Snow, a story about the joys of discovery, its loss, and re-discovery.


Sometimes it pays to read publication credits :).a flower in the snow


A flower in the snow.

A lucky coin.

I wish you each find your own in the New Year, and always.


Attitude check please

We are all writers (well most of us anyway) here, so I can be perfectly candid when I speak of the love/hate relationship that seems to come with the creative territory.

Those exhilarating moments when we just know–know–that we are doing what we were meant to be doing. When we sit, and are overtaken, and the story pours forth. Those moments when we are high, soaring, and nothing can pull us down.

And bam–we fall. And it hurts. And we want to go and hide in the dark and rip our manuscript into shreds after taking a big fat sharpy and blackening out every horrible word. And then, slowly, we begin to rub our behind, and think, okay, I can do this. Why am I being so hard on myself? There’s always a solution, a way out. I can fix my manuscript, I can make it work.

So, folks, I’m crawling out of my deep dark hole, and as I was mixing my granola–yes, I homemake it, there’s almost nothing that pleases me more than the scent of cinnamon, oats, and vanilla–a sure way to tantalize me out of hibernation, I realized that one of the things I like most about writing is the fact that the learning never ends. That I can be an eternal student. I will never ever get bored, because there will always be something more.

Yes, I’m having to replot a large portion of my manuscript–which is the event that send me hiding in my deep dark hole–but I see the problem. Now I will find a solution.

I have learned.

And this, my creative friends, is nothing to wallow in self-pity about.




Really, it’s not very romantic at all…or is it?

I was spotted by some mommies when I was sitting with my laptop writing in one of our local coffee shops.


“Ohhhhh,” they said. “Look at you. You have the best job ever!”

I couldn’t stop myself–laughter poured out of me, until both ladies were looking at each other, questioning my sanity I could only suppose.

You see, people–non-writers that is–have a romantic notion of what it is to be a writer. They see me curled up alone at a table. My hair piled up in a high bun, a thick scarf wrapped tightly around my shoulders and neck, a large latte in front of me. They see comfort, coziness, self-indulgence. They imagine me spending my days idly writing to my heart’s content while the real world continues on with its demands.

They don’t see me screaming inside because I’ve rewritten a scene a hundred times minimum and it’s still not quite right. Or lying awake at night figuring out plot structures that have been evading me for what feels like eternity. Or when I get super grumpy (on an almost daily basis) because there is just not enough waking hours for me to accomplish what I aim to, because–yes, the demands of the real world still affect writers. And they don’t see me wondering what the &*^&* I’m doing this for–because it’s not like any money is involved. So, in a sense, it’s not a job at all.

They only see me doing exactly what I want.

And do you know what? They’re right.

I get to disappear into a world, one that lets me explore it fully. Nowhere else do I get to go inside people’s heads and know them as I do my characters. Nowhere else do I get to stop and look around, and decide what’s best, and what obstacles are needed. And nowhere else do I get to play with words and story.

I stopped laughing and said,

“It’s hard. Writing is not easy. But, yes, it’s the best job ever.”



Where did that come from?

When I first began this blog one of things that often came up was where stories come from. So many interesting ideas and theories were proposed. Too many to name, but things as simple as observation and as complex as genetic memory came up. Lately, it’s been on my mind again–maybe because I read this post here, by Pat–so I thought I’d bring it up, have a little fun!

One of things one of us mentioned was along the lines of this: that stories are threads out there, threads that we walk into without even realizing. I kind of imagine them like dandelion fluff, exploding, floating and landing and germinating in an endless cycle.

Many many agreed with this feeling. Stories, people, places, they just pop into our head and demand to be written. The problem is most of the time we need to ignore these stories due to time constraints. We pick and choose, listening to the strongest tale, the one that only we can tell, and let the others drift away for someone else to grab.

So, last night after I did my 30 minutes of editing, I watched Big Bang Theory–laughed–said goodnight to hubby and went to bed. I can’t fall asleep without reading, so I read the latest silliness (more on that another day) I have downloaded and fell asleep after reading this: One of the MC’s husband was shot and killed in an armed robbery at a corner store. The story was given to us by a neighbor explaining that the only person she knows who was ever killed was the father of X who goes to preschool with her son.

This morning my son comes to me and says he had a bad dream in the night. He’s still young, his nightmares usually involve people breaking his Lego and whatnot. I asked him to tell me about it. He said this: I was in the grocery store with dad and there was a robber and he started to shoot and because I was holding dad’s hand he got shot instead of me.

So there you have it folks.

Are stories floating around out there waiting for us to grab them?


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An empty crowd

We are surrounded by a crowd. I have always thought a team would huddle prior to a match–but there is no huddling here. There is a cheering, roaring, mass of people, singing for themselves and each other. There is an energy in the air that sparkles like lighting, fierce, determined to strike. There is an announcer who breaks in on the loudspeaker, and a hush descends. But it’s not a true silence, there can be no stillness here.

The swimmers line up, the youngest girls first; heat one begins with a shrill. And the yelling resumes. The cheering. I am shocked when it’s my son’s turn and I’m kneeling at the feet of the timekeepers shouting his name as loudly as I can. He reaches the edge of the pool and knows he’s not first–he came second and he’s unhappy, but he’s clapped on the back too many times to count, given high fives, and told what a good job he did. A minute later he’s smiling, already eager for the following swim meet a week later.

This is new for me: This is the first summer any of my children have joined a team. I was never part of a team for long; I played right forward in inter-city soccer when I was a kid, but I don’t remember it being long-lived–and more importantly I don’t remember this type of team spirit. When I trained professionally with a dance troupe there was no cheering, no unification among us. As an adult when I began to play a musical instrument there was no team.

Today a professional violinist who just came back from touring in Poland expressed how unified the orchestra is over there. How they cheer each other on before each show, how the crowd surrounds them at the end of each concert demanding autographs. She expressed to me how gratifying it is, how encouraging it is, to know that others treasure your art.

Writers, painters, illustrators, musicians, we do it alone. We have no crowd, no one cheering us. Most of our work is solitary, often times behind a closed a door, always behind a metaphorical one.

And yet, we need this gratification do we not?

Last week, Linda posted about this very topic in her post, Writing in a Bubble. When a few days later I was at my son’s swim meet and I saw the effect such cheerleading had on all the kids I was stunned. And I thought–how we do it all alone? How do we keep writing if we don’t have anyone behind us, cheering us on.

Yes, there is the gratification in the release, the voices that don’t stop shouting until we write them down, the stories that become so real to us we want to inhabit them all the time. But, it’s not always like that. There is work. Years of it. And most of us do it alone.

A few weeks back I was at a local coffee shop and a painter was hanging up her work. She told me she’d never had a vernissage, never joined a group, never put her work on display anywhere. And she’d been painting for her greater than thirty years. I wondered how in all that time she didn’t have a need to share what she created.

I know that as a writer, I am encouraged when others read my work, when I’m caught totally off guard by someone approaching me and saying they read X by me and loved it, or totally related to it. It feels good. It feels like I’ve connected with the universe in some small way, but in a way big enough to satisfy me. But most of the time that doesn’t happen. Most of what I write will never be read at all.

I’m left wondering, how do we as writers and artists, keep going at all alone, with only ourselves as our very own cheerleader?


an Aha moment!

Sometimes I think I’m indulging myself by writing. There’s so many other things that need tending to, and I don’t mean in my life, but in life in general. There is so much on this globe that needs fixing, sometimes I think, well, gee, here I am, writing – shouldn’t I be, dedicating my time to something beneficial instead?

I had a moment of this kind of pain a few days back when I caught the end of a documentary entitle No woman, No cry. From the filmmaker to the MD, I was taken with the amount of action these woman are taking to preventing global maternal death.

At the very end of the film, we’re brought into the director’s home, where she spoke about how her young children miss her, but she hopes she is teaching them about the connection they have with all beings.

This was my moment of, ok so, I’m writing. Huh. Maybe I need to reconsider.

Then my Aha Moment came. We are all interconnected. And that’s what storytelling, and all forms of art, is about. Adding to that connection. By dedicating myself to writing, I am strengthening the bond that binds everything and everyone. Without this, I believe there would be no desire to preserve.

I googled this film that had such an impact on me, and on the website there was a ‘share your story’ tab. Woman from around the world are posting their photos, telling their stories. These stories are unifying woman everywhere.

So, Yes! I’m writing. And you know, I think it is for the good of the whole.

I sound so cheesy to myself, so dippy, but a burden’s been eased now that I’ve realized I am contributing. All of us writers are.


what books mean to me.

My son’s elementary school is holding a bookmark designing contest. One child in each cycle will win a 10$ gift certificate from our local Babar Books.

There are two rules: 1. the design can only be in black and white. 2. That the design be somehow related to books, libraries, reading, etc.

My 7-year-old was lost. Seeing he was just getting frustrated, I decided to draw my own, hoping to inspire. Here’s what came:

An open book, with wiggles that looked like waves across the page for text. Out of the book was a creature jumping. Under the open book was a bed, and under the bed at the very bottom of the page was a setting sun with rays penetrating upwards. On top of the book I drew a heart, a cloud, and some sort of mythical creature. Then I drew a moon and some stars. At the very top corner in the left I drew a swing with a stick child swinging through the cloud and heart and creature. Then I added branches that descended and falling leaves that landed under the bed. The leaves turned into music notes and floated away.

It’s all about the imagination, I told my kids, the imagination books draw out of us. When we read a story, we each see it differently.

What this? I asked pointing to the creature jumping out of the book / water.

A mermaid, said the 4-year-old.

A dolphin, said the 7-year-old.

The baby did not answer :)

That is why I drew things that can look like one thing, or another, depending on who’s looking, I said. And it can change each time we look at it as well.

My 7-year-old drew monsters and people, of all sorts and shapes and sizes. He didn’t use this as his final product, he went with something much more cautious (the word BOOKS, and stick figures around it). My 4 year old drew exactly what I drew.

Books give imagination life, and let it loose. Writing, to me, is just and extension of that. When I am editing, I can get caught up in the logistics of things. I can forget that a line is perfect when it ignites one of our 5 (or 6) senses, not when everything is in it’s place. Sometimes everything has to be out of place to turn an idea into something tangible. Something that we can each hold in our own unique way.

Note: Cathryn Grant, will be visiting this blog Friday January 18th, followed by Teresa Frohock on Friday January 25th.


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