July 13, 2015

"yes, I'll be a writer, of course"

We've been doing a lot of organizing and decluttering, as well as finally combining (and maybe even thinning?) our book collections -- which is a post unto itself, really. But one of the things I came upon was an old diary I'd forgotten about.

I was obsessed with Lucy Maud Montgomery as well as very into the notion of a lockable diary, so it should have been the perfect gift except that it looks like this:

Augugh! It's so ugly! But it seems I took one stab at writing in it...although apparently only to write about other, better notebooks. This is also seemingly where I experimented with the notion of stream-of-consciousness writing as simply containing a lot of commas:

There is lots of stuff in here that makes me smile. My main thought, though, was what on earth is a Jimmy-book?? But in the middle of the night I remembered that that's what Emily Starr in Emily of New Moon calls the notebooks her Uncle Jimmy buys her. I can't remember exactly how they're described, but I pictured them as large square-ish hardcover notebooks with creamy blank paper. The red memo I mention is a little spiral notebook -- inspired by the girl detective Abby Jones in Patricia Reilly Giff's Loretta P. Sweeny, Where Are You? -- where I used to record various facts about any mysteries I managed to uncover.

June 30, 2015

Everything You Know Is Wrong

The more precise writer in me almost called this post Commonly held beliefs that I suspect of being untrue, but I suppose it's a little less interesting that way. Anyhow, here is where I randomly begin dismantling bogus advice that has come my way.

Never pluck the top of your eyebrows - WRONG

Okay, so maybe you shouldn't *start* at the top and most of what you'll want to remove is below the brow line, but the idea that there are no stray hairs creeping upwards to threaten the sanctity of the forehead has nothing to do with my reality. However, I used to see it printed in magazines like Seventeen and YM Magazine over and over again. Maybe it even appears in magazines not aimed at blond American teens. Pluck wherever you want. Only YOU can prevent forehead hair.

Never keep your coat on inside in the winter - WRONG

The logic of this one is all about relative heat, I guess (?!), but no matter what your mother told you, you will not feel colder once you go back outside even if you leave your coat on. It is just plain warmer to keep the warmth you generate with an extra layer of insulation around you before venturing back into the cold! Do you know how sometimes once you're cold, you just can't get warm again? Well, once you're warm, it's much easier to just stay warm. And I don't know much about science, but I'm sure it will back me up on this one.

Write what you know - WRONG

Do I need to dignify this one with a retort? Many of us know much more than what we've simply lived or been taught. The joy of writing (for me, anyway) is in imagining, dreaming, learning, and discovery. If I had to only write what I know, I would stop writing today. 

June 26, 2015

End of June

I'm ignoring (for the moment) all my half-written drafts about events I've done and books I've read. A blog is about what's going on now, so here's what I've been up to:

  • playing with the baby
  • reading books about decluttering (maybe one day I'll even actually DO it)
  • feeding the baby
  • eating fudgsicles
  • obsessing over the baby's sleep schedule
  • marveling at the baby's cuteness 

That's about it! Some of these things take up more time than others...mostly, the last one!

January 16, 2015

Canada Reads 2015

I haven't mentioned it here yet, but Bone & Bread is on the longlist for Canada Reads 2015!

The list was announced in December, right at a moment when I was on the point of bursting into tears after a very hard night with a four-week old baby, trying to recover from dehydration, having not slept for over 24 hours and expecting a house guest to arrive within the hour --- to a very messy apartment I had not yet managed to tidy up. It is definitely no exaggeration to say that regardless of what happens next, the appearance of my novel on the longlist felt like a gift that arrived at the perfect moment. It made me think of what Sara Crewe says in A Little Princess: "The worst thing never QUITE comes." ***

But now there are only a few days left before CBC announces the final five books, which means there are only a few days in which to savour the possibility that Bone & Bread might be selected. So this is me, savouring:

Ahhhhhhh.  Mmmmmmm.

For years I've had daydreams of a book of mine being discussed on this show. Ideally, defended by some well-read indie rock musician... have you noticed that the musicians' picks often win?

I'm cherishing this fantasy even more this week because my mother has just discovered CBC Radio and thinks it's the greatest thing ever. Yesterday, she was telling me about something she was listening to about Twitter and reading 50 books in a year that she thought I would be interested in!

I know there are lots of thoughts among writers, not all positive, around the notion of the themes that have been used in the program over the past few years, or the public voting that happened, or pitting fiction against non-fiction, or against the very concept of one book winning at all...but I don't think these issues are all that serious. Of course we all agree that Canada should read more than one book, but the producers are doing their best to make a lively show that will engage listeners. Another thing I've been hearing lately is a call to include poetry. And I do think it would be amazing to have an all-poetry edition. Maybe with poets as the panelists... although I suppose that might, ahem, undermine the celebrity aspect somewhat. (Well, for people outside of the literary community, anyway.) On the other hand, how else are we going to turn our poets into national celebrities?! This show should definitely happen. I want to live in a country that idolizes its poets. Hmm, but maybe this just illustrates how writers think differently than radio producers.

So can a book really change Canada, or break barriers? I think...yes. reader by reader, absolutely. Why couldn't it? I have to admit that when the theme of "breaking barriers" was announced ("books that can change perspectives, challenge stereotypes, and illuminate issues"), I did think of my novel because I believe that Bone & Bread does just that, in more than a few ways. But then we already know that all writing that put you into another person's perspective builds empathy and compassion just by taking us outside ourselves. Really, I think reading as a basic act is transformative and illuminating, so any of these books could fit the bill. And though of course I'm gunning for my own, I think can imagine great discussions emerging around all these titles. I'm especially rooting for Eden Robinson's wonderful Monkey Beach to make it through to the shortlist.

If you want to vote for your picks (just for fun...I'm pretty sure this doesn't affects the selection of the books, which is up to the mystery panelists) or just see what's in the running, you can do so on the CBC site here.

*** I'm not so naive that I actually believe Sara's notion. I do know that in many instances the worst thing does happen, but sometimes I can't help but see the world through the lenses of my favourite books.

January 6, 2015

Books I read in 2014

The first thing you need to know is that I feel like a failure. I was ultra geared up and ready for year two of the 50 Book Pledge, and I didn't make it, mostly because my belated charge to the finish line --- armed with poetry collections and graphic novels --- was interrupted by the arrival of the baby in mid-November. Ah, well. I came close! 43 books in 2014. And it would be more if I counted all the Dickens and Austen rereads, or the reread of a bunch of Lois Lowry's Anastasia Krupnik series, after I found a bunch of them at the McGill Book Sale. Or if I hadn't abandoned quite so many books partway through...or gone travelling for three weeks in UK (awesome), instead of sitting around at home reading (typical). 

You can see what I read here. Or find me on Goodreads.

Here is the breakdown according to the same categories I assessed last year:

By genre*

22 novels
7 children's/YA
4 poetry collections
3 graphic novels
3 memoirs
3 non-fiction 
1 short story collection

Compared to last year, I read the exact same number of poetry collections and children's/YA (huh), and just one shy in memoir and graphic novels. I read three more short story collections last year, but then again I read a LOT of short stories in 2014 for the Room fiction contest and the Journey Prize jurying. Five fewer novels.

* Some of the books fall into more than one genre, e.g. a graphic novel that is also a YA book or a graphic novel that is also a memoir, but I've kept each book to one basic genre.

By nation

15 American 
9 Canadian 
3 English 
1 Scottish 
1 dual American-Canadian 
1 Australian
1 New Zealander
1 Nigerian
1 Dutch 

I think this must be the first year in my life where I did not read mainly CanLit! Interestingly, the same number of Americans as last year.

By gender
30 books by 25 women
13 books by 8 men


The first two books I read in January, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and The Dinner by Herman Koch, remain among the most memorable reads of the year. I also really liked Americanah

The last two fiction titles I read in 2014,  The Opening Sky by Joan Thomas and The Freedom in American Songs by Kathleen Winter, were also outstanding. I have so much love and admiration for these women, so while I might technically be biased, I truly adored these books and you should still run out and buy them immediately. And as many of you might know, sometimes it is harder to be completely transported by the writing of someone you know...and I was. 

Also, the Susin Nielsen books are wonderful. Strongly recommended for the young people in your life, or just, you know, you. 


The Happiest Baby on the Block by Dr. Harvey Karp was thoughtfully gifted to me by a friend and it was full of useful information that I have already put to use...and I can definitely endorse the basic premise and techniques outlined in this book. However, I feel like it was written for morons, or at least people with some kind of hyper-amnesia, like the guy in Memento. It really sticks with that principle of "Tell them what you're going to say, say it, then tell them what you've said," but it adds in "say it seven more times." It would be a lot better if it were condensed into about twenty pages written for neurotypical readers, or maybe just a large infographic. I cannot express the annoyance of having a newborn baby and precious little reading time that I then spent trying to power through this repetitive book that kept trying to prove a premise I was already willing to accept merely by picking it up. (Fourth trimester, yo.) That being said, thanks, Dr. Karp, for your valuable techniques!

And I didn't really love any of the Divergent trilogy, but the last one, Allegiant, was especially annoying to me in the way it ended. 

Best Discovery?

Well, I had a very relaxed stretch of reading after I finally picked up a book by Alexander McCall Smith at the library. I ran through a bunch of his Edinburgh-set mystery series (the Isabel Dalhousie books), which made for excellent light pregnancy fare.   

December 2, 2014

Two weeks old

Well, it looks like I won't reach my goal of 100 blog posts for this year, but I have the best excuse possible:

So far she is the cutest, sweetest little baby ever, and I am just stunned and elated that she is finally here. 

November 3, 2014

Judging the Journey Prize

I'm not sure if I've mentioned it here before or not, but I was on this year's Journey Prize jury! I still feel pretty lucky to have been selected. Lucky in a very peculiar, synchronous way: the day before I was asked to participate, I was actually idly wishing that I could be part of the jury. I was reading something about short fiction in Canada, thinking about how I hadn't read any short stories in a little while and how fun it would be to read all the best ones of the year. I even wondered if there was a way to go about being invited...like tweeting about it or emailing someone. But I did nothing except think it and the very next day when I got an email about it I basically fell off my chair in the office. (And yes, promptly began all manner of very earnest wishing...for a sudden million-dollar windfall, for perfect bangs, etc...but I'm still waiting on all of those.)

The Journey Prize Anthology 26

I wrote a little bit about the judging process in our collective introduction to the anthology (which you should go buy right now!), as well as in a more detailed Q & A with Brad de Roo just posted on the blog of Guelph's wonderful bookstore, the Bookshelf.

So I'd planned to write about it here, but I think I've pretty much covered it everywhere else. I'll just say, again, that it was a true pleasure and honour to read and discuss these stories by so many talented Canadian authors. I also feel really fortunate to have been paired with Steven W. Beattie and Craig Davidson, who are both very perceptive and fine writers --- as well as gentlemen and all-round good guys.

All still smiling after a long day of judging!

I've written about it before, but winning the Journey Prize in 2008 was truly one of the greatest things that has ever happened to me...and not only because it helped me to pay off my student loans many, many (many) years earlier than expected. The Writers' Trust does so much good work for writers in this country. Check out this week's profile in Maclean's, aptly titled "How the Writers' Trust of Canada Saves Authors," where you can also read excerpts of the five shortlisted books that are up for the fiction prize.

Tomorrow night all of the prize winners, including the winner of the Journey, will be revealed at the Writers' Trust gala, but before that happens I want to again congratulate all of the amazing writers who appear in the anthology. It was a privilege to read your work, and thank you for writing.