September 23, 2009

Eden Mills Writers' Festival

Eden Mills!

I had lugged along my laptop with the intention of blogging throughout the festival, but although the Guelph Travelodge receives top marks in continental breakfast (mini fat-free yogurts! hard-boiled eggs!) and extremely friendly and helpful staff, its high-speed internet leaves something to be desired. (Namely, a wireless signal.)

So this is me trying to blog in a timely fashion for once and get it all down before I forget.

First of all, the village is completely picturesque. Old stone houses with gracious porches and lovely gables. And to make their gorgeous town even better, Eden Mills is going carbon neutral. To that end, all the writers received adorable little Mason jars of water in lieu of bottled water (though I forgot mine in town...still kicking myself).

I read at the Mill, a beautiful location on the river. It was a unique set-up, with the microphone on the opposite side of the water from the audience, who seated themselves on blankets and lawn chairs along a grassy slope. I liked the magical moment of walking over the little bridge, though I felt oddly apart -- just a little too far to see or hear how most the audience was responding. I was nervous and very happy I was in the first set because soon as I was done, I was able to relax and enjoy the rest of the day. Many of the writers I wanted to hear were reading at the same time, so I did a lot of hopping around between locations. And though the festival has apparently suffered rain the past two years, we had gorgeous sun the whole day.

It was wonderful to reconnect with writers I've met over the past year since Mother Superior came out (actually just about exactly one year ago now) or earlier at the Banff Writers' Studio. I was amazed by how many people I already knew when I arrived! It was also a pleasure to meet other writers for the first time. It's a unique kind of event where you can have a twenty-minute conversation about first sentences, or talk in an amorphous way about a novel-in-progress where people actually understand you instead of only nodding in an uncomfortable or confused way.

I also met some very fine writers with whom I'd only previously interacted in the virtual world: Rebecca Rosenblum and Zoe Whittall. (Get their books -- you will not regret it!) There was even a brief sighting of Julie Wilson of Seen Reading fame, who was reading as part of the Fringe.

Oh, and I met Stephen Henighan, who -- though reputed to be one-third of "the snarling dog-head of the anti-establishment shit-talking Cerberus of CanLit" -- turned out to be a total sweetheart.

What else? I drooled over the wares at the Biblioasis stall and met the charming Dan Wells. After lengthy deliberation, I had a piece of plum pie at the end of a festival dinner featuring no less than ten pie varieties. I drank $2.50 Budweiser and watched a football game with Paul Quarrington and Ray Robertson. I had a friendly exchange in the elevator with Lynn Johnston (yes, THAT Lynn Johnston!), though I was too bashful to introduce myself.

But my favourite part of the festival: the organizers and volunteers (100 of them!), almost all of them local to the town and extremely dedicated . They welcomed us upon our arrival (calling "Welcome, writers!" "The writers are here!") as we debarked from the school bus that brought us from Guelph, they fed us, procured coffee, and enthusiastically and intelligently discussed all of the books. The story of how the festival started is an amazing one of happy happenstance, and I am so thrilled that they are still keeping it going. And of course, I'm even happier to have been a part of it. I've already used the word magical once in this post, so I'll just

September 1, 2009

Questions and Answers

It's the first day of September, and the weather couldn't be more gorgeous. Autumn is my favourite season and one that Montreal always does beautifully. The fresh nip in the air coupled with weather warm enough to still be sweater-optional has me feeling positively tingly with optimism. The only problem is I keep feeling like I should be buying books and going back to school. I think working at the university was enough to keep this feeling at bay before, or at least sublimate it by helping students register for classes and schedule meetings with their advisors. Now I'm tempted to console myself by buying some new pens and maybe some new books, too.

I know, I know --- I was just worrying about all my unread books. Incidentally, I finished reading The Girls last week and it was really wonderful. Highly recommended. It was particularly interesting to me since it's about two sisters, just like my current novel-in-progress. Are there other Canadian sister-novels out there?

My 12 or 20 Questions is up at rob mclennan's blog now. I love reading these, so I was really happy to be part of it! I warn you, though: it's a dangerous place to lose time if you're prone to procrastination. I think it's wonderful what rob's doing with this. It's quite a comprehensive archive and shows no signs of slowing.

Oh, and the ReLit Awards shortlist was announced today, which means my hopes of a literary piece of jewelry have been dashed. But congratulations to all the shortlistees! And good luck winning the precious.