dna : the stuff of life

dna : the stuff of life

2013 is almost done, and though I’m not one to wish away time, I’m getting anxious to greet the new year. A solid draft of novel number three, The Witches of New York is well in hand, and I’ve also started scribbling notes on a few new book shaped ideas as well as setting up a blog called Mutant Me.

The latter is a project that’s grown from a CBC radio documentary I wrote and co-produced a few years ago called “Daughter of Family G.” While the documentary recorded my initial steps towards undergoing genetic testing for Lynch Syndrome (a genetic mutation that predisposes carriers to colorectal, endometrial and various related cancers,) Mutant Me discusses the ins and outs of living with the results.

Although I’ve been writing through this journey on my own for over a decade, I’ve hesitated bringing much of that part of my voice/life into a public forum for a few different reasons. First, it’s taken me quite a long while to process everything that came with my test results. Second, I didn’t want to elicit fear, worry, pity or feelings of TMI in anyone – family, friends, readers or strangers. Last, but not least, the writing that’s come from this journey is a similar, yet different animal than my fiction. It’s come easy (and messy) on the page, but often with a heavy toll on my heart. It’s honest and raw- a strange collage of family history and medical statistics, nightmares and magical thinking. In a way, I suppose all the wandering around I’ve done in my head in the name of fiction has helped to shake this project loose. Now that it’s here, I’m not sure what will come of it. The blog is only the start, my leap off the edge. (And by taking that leap, I hope to help others find a few connections and answers of their own along the way.)

We’re living in a world of “new normals” when it comes to how we approach well-being and health. Genetic testing can open doors to preventative health care and screenings, but it can also be a Pandora’s Box filled with emotion, worry and what ifs. Still, through it all one thing remains constant, our need to put the bits and pieces of our lives (be they memories, words, medical stats, strands of dna, or even facebook statuses) into a fetching, natural, compelling order so that we might look back on them with wonder, understanding and hope.

Mutant Me is my way of doing just that. If you’d like to check out the blog, the first few posts can be found via the following links:

Mutant Me  – the homepage for the site, including more background on the project.

Daughter of Family G. – the story of how a 19th century seamstress’s story led to a 20th century medical breakthrough (plus a podcast about genetic testing)

Insides Out – preventative hysterectomy, how does one decide?

TWITs - “This week in tweets,” helpful health links, including a link to forms you can use to record your family medical history.


As always, my sincerest thanks for stumbling into my corner of cyberspace and for taking the time to read my words.

May your 2014 be filled with love, enlightenment, happiness and health!

There’s nothing quite like the first few days of university life. As a goofy, giddy frosh I managed to find my way to classrooms and the cafeteria, twist my ankle running down a flight of stairs, and make a friend for life.

Marta Pelrine-Bacon was a kindred spirit from the start. Even though she’d grown up in a small town in Florida and had never seen snow, we had more in common than not. She loved stories of magic and fantasy. Me too. She enjoyed staying up late and dancing to Howard Jones, Oingo Boingo, Crowded House, and OMD. Me too. She’d watched The Wizard of Oz at least once a year for as long as she could remember. Me too!

Marta, creepy Santa and me.

Marta, creepy Santa and me.

Yes, Marta is wearing a “Who Killed Laura Palmer?” t-shirt! 

At times it’s felt as if we’ve lived worlds apart. I lived in California for a semester. Marta joined the Peace Corps and went to Bulgaria. These days we connect by phone or internet since I live in N ova Scotia and she’s settled in Austin, Texas with her husband, son and three dogs. No matter the distance, our communications are still filled with talk of things that make our imaginations and hearts sing. Doctor Who, raising sons, embracing the creative process, and our passion/obsession for writing novels, (just to name a few.)

Recently Marta reached two HUGE milestones- she finished her last round of chemo after breast cancer surgery, and she became a published novelist! I couldn’t be prouder of her determination and her accomplishments. In celebration of her debut novel, The Blue Jar, I asked her to share a few thoughts about the novel and her work as a visual artist. I hope you enjoy the novel and her insights as much as I did!

The Blue Jar - a debut novel by Marta Pelrine-Bacon

The Blue Jar – a debut novel by Marta Pelrine-Bacon

From the publisher - After a party, sixteen-year-old Fran accepts a ride from Chesnie’s brother, and her life changes forever. She leaves her parents and her boyfriend to live with her best friend’s grandmother at the edge of a woods. In the woods, the girls practice a secret ritual to exorcise the memory of what happened that night. Would the magic work? Maybe, but not in the way either girl expected. Fran must do battle not only with her own demons but with Chesnie’s also, as she tries to forget that fateful ride home. But Fran still wants to keep her best friend, even as Chesnie becomes obsessed with revenge.


Q&A with Marta Pelrine-Bacon

1. Choose three words to describe Chesnie.

angry, loyal, smart

2. Three words to describe Fran.

thoughtful, creative, hesitant

3. If you could give any of the characters in your novel a book, which character(s) would you choose, and what book(s) would you give them, and why.

I’d give Paul The Truth about Unicorns by Bonnie Jones Reynolds because he reminds me of Harley (mostly because I had Harley in mind when I wrote about Paul). Harley loved one girl and got disastrously distracted by another.

I’d give Fran The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath because Esther and her journey reminds me of Fran. If Esther makes it through, then Fran can too.

I’d give Chesnie The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I tried to think of a book that was around in 1985, and though Chensie loves to read, nothing was coming to mind. The only book I could think of was The Hunger Games, probably because I just finished reading it. I think Chesnie would like and understand Katniss. And Chesnie would probably find the violence in the story cathartic.

4. You’re a visual artist as well as a writer, what parallels do you find, if any, between your artistic process and your writing process?
They both have great moments of inspiration (“I know what to do next!”) and they both have moments of frustration (“Into the trash can you go!”). They both start with a piece of an idea, nothing fully formed, and I figure out each as I go. I’m always surprised at the results.

But I want to add that a major difference is when I put the work out in the world. Art, being visual, gets an immediate response. It isn’t easy to sell art, but it is easier to sell art than a story. Reading takes time. It takes a commitment in a different way. My art provides much more in the way of validation, which maybe I shouldn’t need, but it helps sometimes.

Marta's drafts become visual art.

Marta’s drafts become visual art.

5. You’ve been known to cut up drafts of your work to create pieces of visual art. Did you find the process painful or freeing?
Freeing. I mean, it was weird the first few times I took scissors to my manuscript, but I ended up enjoying the process, discovering how I could play with the words and manipulate the mood of a phrase just by taking it out of context. And literally cutting words from my stories made it much easier to edit my stories. I can cut a scene with scissors or the delete key.

 In fact, I keep thinking of ways to cut up my novel. I’m not sure what that means, but I have several ideas of ways to shape and cut the pages. I’ve made a curtain of paper loops from an old draft of my novel. I’ve made flowers. I hope to make a wreath and other odd things. We’ll see.

6. People often ask writers which authors have influenced their work…let’s change that up a bit.

Which people, what things etc. (outside of the world of literature) inspire you and feed your work?

 I’m glad you asked this question because I find inspiration in many things. I find inspiration in other art. A drawing I see on Etsy or Tumblr or in a coffee shop. A song—the lyrics or the melody. Sometimes a story on TED Talks or RadioLab inspires me. Interviews with other writers or artists, or interviews with anyone who tries to follow their creative drive—actors, musicians, or scientists.  Just a great conversation with a friend can give me an idea or motivate me to get to work.

I think the main thing is to be open to the unexpected.  For example, a while back I was driving home from work, and I passed a lot where a house had recently been torn down. A high chain link fence surrounded the space. Soon a new house would be built there. Anyway, I don’t remember the song on the radio, but something in the song and the vacant lot in a row of house made me think of a young man in a long coat—I have thing for long coats—climbing over the fence and jumping to the ground. I went home and started a short story about him.

I can’t wait to see what she does next!

You can learn more about The Blue Jar and Marta’s art and illustrations (she illustrates children’s books too!) at martapelrinebacon.com

And you can order the e-book edition of The Blue Jar, published by Plum Tree Books at Amazon.com

Marta with her creations at an art fair in Austin, TX.

Marta with her creations at an art fair in Austin, TX.




evening sky at Ross Creek

evening sky at Ross Creek

A stroll through an art gallery, an evening spent at the theatre, the sight of a glorious sunset – these things invite my mind to dance with abandon and wonder.

“Filling the well,” (the seeking out of new sources of inspiration) has long been a part of my artistic process and an essential part of how I find my way through life. Moments spent immersed in another time, place or space often bring clarity to whatever I’m grappling with in the present (writing-related or otherwise.) We humans like to make sense of things, to put ideas and events into perspective, to find order in chaos. The scientist spends her evenings fretting over new ways of looking at the universe. The doctor longs for pathways of treatment to mend the sick – better, faster, more humane. A mother wishes she could understand her daughter’s sudden change of heart. A father wants to fix everything in his home, in his life, in the world, but doesn’t know where to start. Who knows what solutions might arrive in the radiant pink of illuminated clouds or the words of a long dead poet? Time spent with wonder is never wasted.

One place I’ve gone, time and again to find such inspiration is the Ross Creek Centre for the Arts. No matter the occasion for my visit, I always come away filled with fresh thoughts and new plans. This past Saturday night was no exception. Beautiful weather graced the opening of Two Planks and a Passion Theatre Company’s latest productions – an inventive twist on Shakespeare’s As You Like It, and a breathtaking adaptation of The Iliad told around a campfire – setting the stage for the stuff of dreams.

Jamie Konchak, Jeff Schwager and Alexis Milligan in As You Like It.

Jamie Konchak, Jeff Schwager and Alexis Milligan in As You Like It.

As You Like It is a play that’s long been dear and near to my heart, from the moment I first sang Roger Quilter’s setting of “Under the Greenwood Tree,” to the weeks I spent helping to shepherd a production of it at the Chicago Waldorf School. It is a brilliant example of the Bard’s talent for mixing razor-sharp wit with profound truths. Philosophy butts heads with poetry. The forest of Arden beckons to those who are in need of escape. Identities (and hearts) are lost and found. At its heart, As You Like It is a conversation (between the players and the audience) about assumptions and love. Who is one meant to love? By what constraints? By tradition, by social standing, by gender, by lust, by the heart? Rosalind might argue, “love is love, whatever form she takes.” A timeless truth, indeed.

great stories are born by fire

great stories are often forged by fire

Build a fire and everything changes. Shadows appear, new voices emerge. The flames foster intimacy and the stories told around them reflect our darker, wilder, monstrous, fragile, heroic selves. A perfect venue for a telling of The Iliad. At a time when we still find ourselves wondering why we go to war, The Iliad leads us into a world where the gods, in their folly, can provide no good answers. When the chanting and marching and howls of lamentation have ended, we are, above all else, human. A father wishes to bring home the body of his son. Those left behind grieve the loss of friends, family, and lovers. Breath by breath, their sorrows, our sorrows, are the same.

This isn’t a review so much as an invitation. These fine players are my friends, and they have also been my muses. I encourage you to witness their stories and their talent.

Go to the mountain this summer. Fill your well.

floppy-hatted me, communing with the Bard.

floppy-hatted me, communing with the Bard.






For more info. on performance times and tickets, visit the Two Planks and a Passion website.



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