November 29, 2012

Cover love, ancient carols, and the holy baby Jesus

I was really overjoyed to see the response garnered by my cover here and on Twitter and Facebook.  A novel is such a long and solitary journey that it really is wonderful to be able to share a major concrete step along the way of it becoming a book.  It really does mean a lot to a writer to have a little cheerleading along the way! 

It has been another busy set of days.  My choir concert came and went, and I was so happy when it was over.  In all my semesters of being a member, this was by far the most chaotic – maybe because of the sheer number of pieces included.  I’ve never felt so unprepared, and I could hear from my own voice and the voices around me that we weren’t quite ready.  The sopranos were not alone in missing a bunch of entries.  Some of the strings were out of tune.  But my songs in the chamber choir performance came off without a hitch, and I didn’t do that awful thing that I’ve done every other concert – where I make a brand-new, horrible mistake that I’ve never once made before in practice.  So at least there’s that!

Interior of the lovely Saint-Enfant-Jésus de Mile End
(aka Holy Baby Jesus church)

It’s also nice to sing in a lovely, falling-down-around-the-ears church.  One of my favourite things we sang this year was Zadok the Priest.  I couldn’t tell from the title, but it’s a piece I once sang as part of a massed choir at the National Arts Centre when I was younger.  It’s strange and wonderful when the melody returns to you in a song you don’t consciously remember.  

Maybe the most beautiful of the songs we sang was Entre le boeuf et l’ane gris.  I love those old, old carols. 

Post-concert, we had beer and delicious Indian food and a gender-divide night with my in-laws, where the men watched the Grey Cup and the womenfolk dined at the table before delving into deep closets.  My mother-in-law was cleaning out her closets and hoping favourite outfits from decades past could find a congenial home. 

It was fun taking a trip down wardrobe history, but given my own pressing need to purge my closets, it may not have been the wisest idea.    But I did leave with an amazing collection of shoes and a purse I suspect will become essential.  I’ll share some pics when things are a little less crazy-busy. 

Next up: looming school assignments (somehow 60% of my grade has come down to the last 8 days of term…even though another 30% has yet to be graded), a birthday party, reviewing my copy edits, finally coughing up the dough to buy some winter boots (judging by yesterday's snow still clinging to the ground, I might have to do this imminently), catching up on emails (I hope), and rejoining a gym.  

Also, I should mention that if you are thinking of giving books for Christmas this year, you could scarcely do better than purchasing some homegrown Canadian literature from Freehand Books. (Mother Superior is in really amazing company at this press.) If you use the code freehand20%, it will get you 20% off.

November 23, 2012

My novel has a face! Well, two, actually...

Since it’s now up on both the Anansi website as well as on Amazon,  I think I’m allowed to share it:

The cover for my novel!

I can’t tell you who designed it (because I don’t know), but I think they’ve done a lovely job.  I worried, at first, that it doesn’t look very literary as a title, but it’s what’s inside that will have to carry that weight, anyway. 

I’ve always claimed to prefer covers without faces on them because I feel that they overdetermine things somehow, but these faces – well, these faces are pretty amazing.  They don’t look exactly how I imagined the sisters Beena and Sadhana Singh in the novel, but it’s pretty close, especially their expressions and the complex way they’re looking at each other.  If readers end up picturing them this way, that’s just fine.  And don’t you find that even when there’s a close-up photo or a drawing on the front of the book, characters always take on a life of their own inside your head, anyway?   I know exactly what Sara Crewe, Harry Potter, Esther Summerson, Fanny Price, and Emily Starr really look like…outside of illustrations, film or television adaptations….or I feel like I do!

It’s pretty surreal to see something you’ve invented start to take a physical shape in the world.  And eerie, too, to think of all the hours and hours (and years and years) I’ve spent working on it distilled into a single image that people will see (if I’m lucky) in the 11 seconds it apparently takes to make them decide whether or not to pick it up in the bookstore. 

November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends!  I like the importance this holiday seems to have in the States, though a lifetime of television has given me to understand that it has a little bit more to do with nationhood and professional sports than our own modest counterpart here that seem geared only towards food --- and thankfulness.  But either way, it is one of my very favourite holidays.  Even when I haven’t been in a position to host or celebrate it in a family setting, I’ve made exceptions to my generic oh-no-not-a-potluck feelings to bring along pumpkin cheesecake or borscht or sweet potatoes or cranberry sauce to a gathering of friends.  I love cooking for Thanksgiving.  I even love the colour palette of the foods: orange, crimson, brown.  

Last month, we spent part of our Canadian Thanksgiving in the country.  We had a friend from NYC visiting, so we wanted to squeeze in some Montreal-time, too, so we only spent about 24 hours total in the country. 

It’s a month and a half later, but the weather right now doesn’t feel all that different from that weekend – one of the first chillier ones of the year.  The leaves were changing and just starting to fall.

Pumpkin pie colours.
The linden tree we were married at this July -- looking a little less majestic in October..

 Stowed pool noodles not quite resigned to the end of the season.

Long grasses in fire colours.

Too late now for these, but beautiful to see in late fall.

No need to open this on that overcast day.

 There's always a walk to the dock.

 Two men and a Chinese dragon.

Some of the day through the eyes and lens of friend and guest PW.  I hope he doesn’t mind me sharing some of his pics here – they’re so much better than mine and help bring back my memories of that weekend.  I want to remember: P playing guitar, P and D singing Neil Young's Coupe de Ville...before moving onto an endless, wonderful medley that would continue long after I went to bed.              

 The leaves pile up fast in the country.

 Sky and lake.

Wine on a weather-worn table before a chilly walk to the water.

Lake full of clouds.
 Coffee before a christening. 

Anglican services are almost like Catholic ones, except longer -- they sing ALL the verses.   Another thing to be grateful for.

Not everyone smiles in photos.

The priest (minister?) at the country church gave thanks for a long list of vegetables, which was one of my favourite parts, though it almost made me giggle.  Then I had to stifle a shocked yelp when he made an oblique joke about the more regrettable purposes for which carrots could be used, and I heard one of D's sister's make a similar noise behind me --- though it turns out this was mere sordid, city-folk presumption on our part.  (The purpose the priest was joking about had to do with hunting, as apparently carrots are used to lure deer.) Then D's sister's baby A. fell asleep during mass and slept through his christening as the congregation, laughing, surrounded him by the font.  It seemed to me to be a fortunate child who can sleep through a sacrament.  

Today I’m grateful for friends, for family, for writing, for projects I’m excited to work on.  For a job, for a place to sleep, for food to eat, for a home in a peaceful land. Happy Thanksgiving (again!)!

November 19, 2012

skip around the house

In a new stepparenting first, I co-hosted a pizza party for twelve kids this weekend.  In a stroke of genius on the part of parents in our neighbourhood, all the kids (currently ranging in age from 5 to 11) go to a rotating pizza party for the evening (from about 4-10 p.m.) while all the rest of the parents have a night off.  

Things were already underway by the time I arrived home from work.  The boys (not entirely without exception) were wrestling and playing death games.  One boy had a laser elbow that was pretty effective in dispatching with his enemies.  The girls, entirely without exception, were making decorations and giggling in the bedroom.    

There was hiding and yelling surprise for the birthday of one of the little girls in attendance.  There was piano-playing and tickling.  There were new hairstyles.  There was a raiding of the closet.  There was dancing and singing at top volume to Carly Rae Jepsen.  There was dancing en masse to Gangnam Style.  There was pizza.   There were Looney Tunes and strife-inducing cans of lemonade (only, alas, twelve…harsh times for little kids who wanted more than one and didn’t want to share).  There was the sung (birthday-related) injunction to “Skip around the house!  Skip around the house!  We won’t shut up until you skip around the house!” --- sung on repeat until the birthday girl and the whole troupe of singers skipped, indeed, all the way around the apartment.

There was also bad behaviour, a maybe-not-accidental punch in the face and a throwing of somebody’s glasses, a sulky half-smashing of a cupcake (tough luck, no chocolate ones left!), a shredding and scattering of a styrofoam plate all over the living room (culprit still unknown), and at least one brief instance of crying after an unfavourable dance-off verdict for a little boy from a self-appointed pair of girl judges, who rushed to comfort him. 

A couple of times, I fretted that the loud music and stomping of little feet was out of hand… until I remembered that it was only 8:30 p.m. on a Friday night.  Fridays always feel long, and this was the longest ever.   But so much fun. 

Decorations to make a gaggle of girls proud.

Saturday was another rehearsal for the impending concert.  We did only one run-through of Bach’s Magnificat, which made me nervous, but there is still time to fine tune.  I’m reminding myself that we almost always feel radically under-prepared even at this late stage of the game. 

The rest of the weekend was packed with fun stuff.  Saturday was dinner and eventual dancing for E’s birthday.  It was so nice to see people I’ve maybe seen only once or twice since September.  Sunday was the most staggeringly wonderful, stomach-ladening brunch at K’s, followed by an afternoon matinee at the movie theatre downtown.  Then later, hairstyle-brainstorming with L for her impending visit to Rideau Hall.  All I can say is that my preteen and teen years were not well spent when it came to hair experimentation: with all my hair, I ought to have more skills by now.  We did watch a few instructive YouTube videos and learned...well, mostly that the people creating video tutorials for Regency-style hairdos are all a little odd. 

In other, vaguer news, a possibility on the distant horizon is making me feel hopeful about my ability to achieve a more manageable balance between work-work and writing work.   Looking forward to so many things about the spring, though it doesn’t seem fair to wish the winter over when it isn’t even here yet…

November 15, 2012

things to be glad about

Life is a little too busy to allow myself to get worked up about not finding time for writing.  To misquote Radiohead, I did it to myself, and that’s why it doesn’t really hurt.  Three more weeks and my class will be over.  My choir concert (and the end of rehearsal for the semester) is in less than two weeks.  This last fact is rather alarming given that I have yet to master some of the runs in three of the movements of the piece we’re singing. 

On Tuesday, I got my first Christmas cup from Tim Horton’s, which is a small thing but one that always makes me happy.  

In the picture-perfect Christmas, there's always softly falling snow.  And a giant coffee.
I recently picked up some Chuck Taylors and some moccasins, and my feet, if not my outfits, are loving the flat shoes.  I can get everywhere faster!  I can run up and down the stairs of the metro!  I'm fast in heels, but I take pleasure in the extra spring in my step.  And I know global warming is bad, but I’m glad I’m still wearing sneakers even though it’s November.  Having to trudge through sludge in hot, heavy boots is the very worst part of winter.
It only took me 15 years to finally pick a colour.

I’m looking forward to friends visiting the city this month and next month, plus some other fun outings on the horizon, and the promise of eventually getting back to two three four projects on the go.  (Never mind the problem of picking one and sticking with it…that kind of glum reality has no place in my happy, forward-looking daydreams.)  I’m excited about holiday movies (The Hobbit!!!), new books to read, warm sweaters, listening to new music (any suggestions?), and finding time to cook.  I’m even excited about doing more decluttering and organizing at home, and giving away some clothes and even (maybe) some books, so that I feel less panicked and dragged down by all my belongings.  

Mostly, it’s nice to slowly start to emerge from the enforced solitude of writing and actually see and talk to people. 

Oh yeah, did I mention I finished my major edits?  All that’s left is the copy editing and the proofing!

November 14, 2012

the power of words

It’s Anti-Bullying Week / Bullying Awareness Week this week (November 12-17).   It’s an initiative that began in the U.K., a place that seems a lot more proactive when it comes to issues of online harassment and cyberbullying.

Like so many of you, I was sad and angered to hear about what happened to Amanda Todd, the teenager who committed suicide after aggressive bullying (both off- and online) from her peers.   The whole story is wrapped up in many troubling issues —not least of which is the double standard in our society that simultaneously encourages then punishes female teen sexuality — but no matter how you look at it, what happened to Todd is a tragedy. 

To mark Anti-Bullying Week, the 49th Shelf has posted great an Anti-Bullying reading list for kids and young adults.  

This month, my stepdaughter’s school is cooperating with McGill University’s Define the Line to study child awareness of online bullying, and I’m glad because they really couldn’t be learning it a minute too soon.  Kids of ten and eleven are already going online – even just to retrieve their homework assignments.  There are school-assigned email addresses for kids who don’t have personal accounts, and children send each other emails all the time.  It’s easy to imagine how one (just one!) cell-phone photo combined with an email forward could effectively ruin someone’s life…or at least make it very, very difficult for a few years.  I’m so afraid for the kids who will be growing up with Facebook.  I love social media, but it’s just an extra, tricky dimension to add into an already difficult high school experience.    

I was very active on the internet, such as it was, at thirteen, and I interacted with all sorts of people (some of whom I still know) on IRC and IIRC and newsgroups and BBSes, but I think I was lucky that none of my peers were on the internet at the same time, or at least not hanging out where I was.  I’m relieved that there were no such things as webcams back then.  

More than ever, it’s important to teach kids how to tell the difference between appropriate and inappropriate online behaviour, both so that they can stand up for themselves and for others, but also so that they know when their own behaviour crosses the line.  Harassment, stalking, bullying…none of these things are that many steps away from what we think of as more or less normal childish and adolescent behaviour (teasing, crushes, cliques, gossip)…but all of these behaviours hurt people, and all of them become a major problem if they are not left behind in childhood. 

Adults are the victims of bullying, too, and I know now from personal experience that online harassment can have a major impact on one’s sense of security and liberty, peace of mind, and quality of life.  But I’m grateful, as least, that in twenty years (wow!) of being online, the ongoing harassment I've been experiencing for the past 22 months -- via Twitter, email, comments to this blog, etc. -- has really been my only negative experience.  I’m grateful, too, that I’m not a vulnerable teen, and I know better than to put any stock whatsoever into bewildering and hateful messages sent by a stranger or acquaintance.  And I’m grateful that I have good friends who support me through the rough times.  I only wish all victims of cyberbullying and harassment were so lucky. 

As a writer, I spend most of my time trying to use my words carefully and with consideration.  This week, let’s teach our children to respect themselves, each other, and the power of words.  Sticks and stones AND words can hurt, and words on the internet can stick around for an awfully long time. 

November 12, 2012

where to land

I’m not sure exactly how I ended up seeing this post --- well, I know I clicked through on Twitter, but I’m not sure who posted the link.  But anyway... Jesse at Staircase Wit posts some great ideas about getting out of a reading slump.

I think we’ve all been there, even those of us work in publishing or who write for a living (or "a living").  There's always a question of where to land next.

But whenever I’m not reading, I’m not writing… and that’s a problem.  Reading is the single, main activity that inspires me to  pick up a pen or sit down in front of the computer.  It's the match that sparks the fire.

Apart from this (admittedly crucial) causal relationship, I’m not sure if this feeling is any different for writers than it is for readers.   It might be that like chefs or foodies, one’s tastes may have become more finicky.   Once you’ve tasted fine cuisine, the idea of digging into a plate of reheated frozen French fries is less appealing than it might have been before.  (Then again…when you’re hungry, food’s food.  And who doesn’t like frozen French fries every once in a while?)

Every once in a while, I put through a book order of a bunch of books I’m excited about, but then sometimes….a book isn’t what I thought it was (a good argument for browsing in one's neighbourhood bookstore -- or at least using the 'Click to look inside!' feature when it's available online).  The print is too small or the voice doesn’t grab me right away.  I thought it was going to be homestyle cream of leek and instead it's...powdered mashed potatoes.   

Well, I know when I've arrived at instant potatoes I've gone too far (life lesson!), but I think you know what I mean.  It's good to have a few reliable ways to find something good (or wonderful) to read.  Mostly, I badger writers I trust into recommending something they've liked.  And I don't think the Booker Prize list has ever steered me wrong -- that's one sticker I trust. 

At the moment I'm reading a friend's wonderful MS.  Maybe I'm dragging it out a little because I'm not sure where I'll land next. 

November 7, 2012

how good life can be

The weather has changed here in Montreal.  Frost overnight, and hats and mitts are a must, though I still see people braving it out in layers of sweaters and leather jackets.  It is the season of cute toques and fingerless gloves.  Fur-flapped hats and fleece-lined wool mittens are still ahead of us.

Sometimes fingerless gloves are even required inside.
I am trying to live more in the moment and am probably mostly failing, although I am succeeding in moments here and there.   I am also trying to recognize certain patterns so that I can learn how to say no.  There is not an endless amount of time in the day.  Anything I take on in addition to work (evening class: I am looking at you!) is something that is going to take away from my writing, especially if it is accompanied by extra time commitments (homework, rehearsals, projects, interviews) that encroach on the weekend.  Things that actually make my life better: choir and knitting night.  Things that make it worse: take-home tests and freelance writing assignments involving anything besides books or fiction.  Going forward, I plan on organizing my life accordingly.  Free tuition and extra experience/income notwithstanding. 

Staying on top of everything that needs to be done doesn’t leave any time for living.  And that needs to happen, too!  Not just for me, but for the people I care about.  I need to leave more time for cuddling, cooking, laughing, listening, and planning.   Not to mention reading and writing. 

The other night I let go of the homework I needed to start, the emails I needed to send, the reading I needed to do, and the writing I hoped to get back to….and I spent time with my family, doing what they needed.  This is not such a rare occurrence that it needs to commemorated here (I truly hope!), but it was so enjoyable and so right that I want to remind myself of, well, how good life can be when you have time for it.   (I do recognize how bad this sounds….it depresses me to write it out that way, but this is the takeaway message.)

In other news, great news last night on the U.S. election front.  My favourite headline is this one from Jezebel:  

Team Rape Lost Big Last Night

November 6, 2012

A Scrivening weekend

Well, I didn’t leave the apartment this weekend, which is either a triumph or a failure – depending which way you look at it.  

A rainbow from a couple of weekends ago...when I did leave the apartment.

I tackled my messy room, and I am now officially someone who rotates summer and winter clothing in her closet.   With a few exceptions, all my dresses and summery tops are packed into a Rubbermaid bin and relegated to the top shelf.  I also have an ever-expanding tote bag full of clothes to bring to the next clothing swap I attend.

I also installed Scrivener on my computer – originally purchased as a gift for my now-husband over a year ago, but enough time has elapsed I thought I could safely take advantage of the extra downloads without compromising the initial gift intention.   (Actually, when I bought it for him, I didn’t even have a Mac…and the Windows version didn’t exist, though I think it does now.)  I spent Sunday reading the first half of a friend’s amazing novel MS and doing the recommended (but very long) Scrivener tutorial whenever I could find snatches of time (in between some food poisoning…ugh…) --- and it is totally mind-boggling what this program can do from a fiction point of view.  It has features for screenwriting, poetry, and miscellaneous projects, but it was designed with novels in mind.  And it is actually alarming to contemplate how much time I might have saved on my novel if I’d been working inside this program, although of course I can’t say for sure. 

I loaded up a couple of in-progress projects, just to see how I like it and how useful it turns out to be.  I’ll keep you posted and write more about its features later, if it turns out to become as essential as I suspect it might. 

I missed blogging Halloween (or rather, I'm not sure how comfortable anyone might be with me posting pics of them in their costumes!), so instead I'll leave you with my winning entry in my work's "Horror Dessert" contest.  And yes, that's the Provigo receipt from the cake right there in the picture. 

(I won't.)