April 29, 2013

Ottawa, Walrus Talks, Blue Met, photo shoot...and after.

I wanted to start this post with talking about how great a time I had at the Ottawa International Writers Festival, but reading over my last post, I see I already did that!  But really, though, the lovely time just continued through the reading, the post-reading fun in the hospitality suite, my delicious breakfast in my room the next morning...even the nice chat with the volunteer who drove me to train station.  I was sad not to be able to stay longer to visit friends and attend even more of the festival!

In terms of the event itself, I thought it was stellar. Shyam Selvadurai read from his novel, and now I can't wait to de-smokify my hardcover copy and start reading.  And Cathy Buchanan gave an amazing PowerPoint presentation showing the background on the inspiration and real historical details in her novel.  She also very kindly gave me her own copy of The Painted Girls, as she'd heard about my fire.  I couldn't bring myself to turn it down because I'd been in the middle of reading it and was forced to put aside due to smokiness. But I was so excited and distracted by everything going on that I forgot to get her to sign it...doh!! But the bright side is that when I do get my books taken care of, I'll be able to pay it forward by giving one copy of this wonderful book to somebody else.

The festival venue...
(just down the street from my old high school!)

There were lots of familiar faces at the reading, including high school friends and friends' moms, and my writing instructor from Carleton (Rick Taylor)!

With Cathy Buchanan and Shyam Selvadurai 
at the Ottawa Writersfest

I got back to Montreal on Saturday afternoon, one hour before soundcheck for the Walrus Talks event, where I met so many smart people, including fellow writer-types Pasha Malla and Vincent Lam.  I really enjoyed all the talks, especially Rachel Giese's on adoption, and Will Straw's on French and English.  Jonathan Goldstein's was (as you might expect!) hilarious.  And although I have been anxious about my own talk for weeks, I think it went over just fine.  A number of people came up to me to speak to me about it afterwards...and only some of them were family members...so I'm really pleased.  (And even more pleased it is behind me.)

Later on, I gave a reading at Blue Met with other local writers (all happy new discoveries for me, as I hadn't read any of them before: Peter Kirby, Rae Spoon, and Barry Webster).  I wish my own reading had been a little more energized, but I was running on empty at that point.  When I got home just before nine that night, I was so happy to change into warm, comfy clothes and finally eat a real meal (nothing by canapes since breakfast) and watch SNL (a repeat, but we hadn't caught it the first time around, and it was hilarious). 

And Sunday was the photo shoot for Bare it for Books!  I slept in, made coffee, then walked down the street to the nail place for a mani-pedi --- an indulgence I spend lots of time thinking about but actually haven't done since my wedding.  (Strategically, it probably would have been a better thing to do before my two-day whirlwind of events, but I just couldn't find the time.) Then Dallas Curow came over and did my makeup (reading Dallas' makeup tutorials is one of my favourite ways to relax on the internet these days) before doing her genius photographer thing until we had some promising shots. Compared to apartment fires and public talks, the shoot was a breeze (and, ahem, breezy). Thanks so much, Dallas... you are amazing! 

A selfie before I took off the makeup. (Eyelashes!)

The rest of the day was equally perfect: a quick supper, an impromptu movie (Silver Linings Playbook), a Sens win, and watching music videos online. 

I feel almost ready to face the week...and work, and taxes, and the smoky apartment again. 

April 26, 2013

Rest and refuge in Ottawa at the Writersfest

I woke up bright and early this morning to catch a train to Ottawa. Got here in time to catch a great noon event at Knox Presbyterian Church --- John Metcalf, Nancy Jo Cullen and Tamas Dobozy talking about the art of the short story.  A nugget of wisdom from Tamas: the end is also the beginning, as it recasts the whole story in light of it.  Nancy Jo Cullen said she thinks of endings as a "breath" in the story...before it goes on without us. I like both ideas.

As soon as I arrived in Ottawa, I felt relaxed and welcomed.  Things at the Writersfest run like clockwork thanks to all the wonderful volunteers and organizers. 

This afternoon, I was initially supposed to go to a tea at the U.S. Embassy along with the other invited writers, an event I was excited about, but I was also invited to do a reading for All in a Day with (the very lovely!) Alan Neal.  And who can resist the call of the CBC?  

Then I got back to my hotel, finished and practiced my speech for the Walrus Talks event tomorrow that has been wreaking havoc with my nerves for weeks --- and promptly had a long, deep nap in this amazing bed.  

Just ignore the monkey pyjamas.

I'm sad to be missing the event right before mine, but I'm so grateful for the chance to recharge and de-stress a little.  Now to iron my dress, put on some makeup, and get ready for my event later.  Looking forward to meeting some great writers and catching up with old friends.  

Still life with iron and lint brush

See you in a bit, Ottawa?

April 23, 2013

high hopes and other things still standing

[I'm sorry for the slowness of this update, as I know people are concerned.  I've been writing this post since yesterday...I fell asleep in bed while writing the first part last night.]

Last night when we left the chill of the street in our pyjamas to go to the neighbours', there were massive amounts of smoke billowing out of all of our windows, and huge flames visible on both sides of the building on the second floor, including the apartment directly below ours.   It seemed unreasonable to hope for much, though as I lay awake trying to sleep, I did let some hope creep in around the sides.  Maybe the papers inside the filing cabinets would be okay.  Maybe the enameled cast iron pots would make it through.  

The third-floor windows are ours.

Here's the story on CTV, the Montreal Gazette, and the CBC (where I grabbed the video).

In the morning, I discovered my stepdaughter had been thinking the same way.  Maybe, she said, Blue Bunny (her beloved stuffed rabbit, companion since birth) would have made it through, somehow.  Maybe, I said.  But I don't think we should be too optimistic.   No, she agreed, he's probably burnt to a crisp.  

Well, he wasn't burnt to a crisp, through he was in a half-collapsed kitchen, smoky and waterlogged, and one trip through the washing machine still hasn't gotten the smell out.  But Blue Bunny lives!

Rescued friends.

In fact, though it looks like a tornado has ripped through the middle of our place, many of our belongings have been spared (although they all have severe smoke damage, and it remains to be seen whether it will be a) possible or b) economically feasible to have the smoke removed).  

Based on my blog post the night of the fire, Steph at Bella's Bookshelves started the most generous campaign to help me rebuild my library, but I am happy to say that somehow the books have survived, apart from smoke damage.  I am also touched beyond belief by all the supportive messages and offers of help I have received.  If I haven't had a chance to write back to you personally yet, please know your thoughts have made a difference in this stressful time.  

(Re: stress. It is possible I might have said something along the lines of 'This week couldn't get any more stressful"...between the two talks I have to prepare and give, plus three readings/appearances, a 24-hour trip to Ottawa, and a charity photo shoot...  well, anyway...I was wrong!  Thanks, Fate, for taking me up on that.) 

We were able to get into the building yesterday and today, and we grabbed a few things.  The acrid smell is terrible, though, and it is hard to breathe.  After a little while, my head hurt and I started to find it difficult to think clearly or make decisions.  At least half of the photos I took today were unusable and blurry.

The floor.  There's a carpet under there somewhere.

More of the living room floor.

The living room.

The kitchen.
More of the ex-kitchen.

I'm not sure how it worked out this way, given all the books we have (in my previous blog post I estimated 16 bookcases, but it is actually more like 20, though some of them are small ones), but none of them were touched by fire or water.  They seem to mostly have been out of range of the disaster, except for the smoke.  Anyone who has read Steph's blog post (I know the original post was re-shared several times without the update) and wants to help, I would ask you not to send me any books.  Your kind thoughts mean so much already, and right now, we are just coping with what we need to do to save the ones we have.  (Literary agent Denise Bukowski left a kind comment saying that it would probably be more helpful to me to buy a copy of one my books, and I certainly can't argue with that.)

More kitchen disaster, but with a bookcase still standing.

We had nine bookcases in the hallway. Only a few books fully trashed. Points for picking out the CanLit titles.

The fire started just after 10:30 p.m.  We were watching television when we heard a very loud banging on the door.  When we went to see what it was, we saw thick smoke billowing in under our front door very quickly.  We woke up my stepdaughter, unlocked the back door and headed down the fire escape together.  The neighbours who had banged on our door were already out there. In a way, I'm proud that I did not stop to grab a single thing.  We all got downstairs in less than two minutes, and by that time, the smoke was coming out the back door.

Of course, in the long night when I was sure everything was gone, I had a pang about not saving anything.
Besides the obvious practicalities (wallet, phone, computer), here are the things of mine I thought about and wished I had been able to save: 
  • a painted book of illustrations from my wedding, made by my friend Kathleen, which I've been meaning to scan for months and months, in case anything should happen to it
  • some love notes from my husband 
Given that I have always been a pack-rat, someone who is extremely sentimental about parting with belongings, it interested me to note that these were the only things it really made me cry to consider losing, out of a whole overstuffed apartment full of stuff.  I'm going to try to remember this fact, going forward.

Some other things I really, really regretted the possibility of losing:

  • a necklace my husband gave me for our first anniversary
  •  a small David Milne watercolour that had been gifted to us
  • my childhood books
  • some stories I wrote when I was a kid 
But all of these things are fine.  We have lost nothing that matters, and all in all, we are unbelievably lucky.  Of the four units in the building, ours is the only one that is not completely destroyed --the two bedrooms are basically fine, except for severe smoke damage. Given the 90 firefighters it took to put out the four-alarm fire, it seems nothing short of miraculous.  They did an amazing job preserving what they could.  I am so grateful to be alive, so grateful to have somewhere to go (we're staying with my in-laws), and so touched by the outpouring of support from friends, family, acquaintances, and even strangers.  We're part of an amazing community.

April 22, 2013

Books and a blaze

I hardly know what to call this post or what to say.  It's after 4 a.m. and I'm in our neighbours' basement.  I can't sleep.  I am trying to type quietly on this wonderfully clicky keyboard to keep from waking my husband.

This morning I was worried about what I had planned to say to the Books and Brunch Breakfast audience at the Sheraton.

 Book & Breakfast: a wonderful literary tradition in Montreal.

The event turned out to be lots of fun, and I was so relieved to be slotted first so that I could actually enjoy what all the other writers had to say.

 Signing books afterwards.

But this was what happened later...

 A fire in our building. We were in the upper floor.

This is a photo I found on Twitter.  We are lucky to have escaped unharmed, and I pray that is the case for everyone in the building as well as the firefighters who worked to put it out.  We left with only the clothes on our back - no phones or car keys, and in my case no ID or wallet.  It is terrible to contemplate the possibility of losing everything we had, but compared to what we might have lost, it is nothing at all.  We are fortunate, too, that we have people who can take us in, and an empty apartment we're moving into in a few weeks.  It might stay unfurnished for longer than planned.

Thank you to those of you who have sent supportive messages on FB, Twitter, and elsewhere.  

There is the urge to grieve and be thankful at the same time.  I'm not sure what else to say right now.  We may know more tomorrow if anything is salvageable, though more likely it may take a few days before anyone is allowed in.

(I keep thinking of the books... how between us we had at least 16 overstuffed bookcases, and if the flames made it in, they'd go up in a flash.  And if they didn't burn, they'd be soaked through by the firehoses.) 

April 20, 2013

Bone and Bread in the blogosphere ... and Paragraphe's Books and Brunch

So I promised to catch up on all the lovely Bone and Bread coverage I've fallen behind on....

Kerry Clare has written a wonderful review of Bone and Bread on Pickle Me This:
"It seems fitting to say that this is a novel absolutely packed/plotted with ingredients: family drama, tragedy, humour, intrigue, politics. Truly, there is something here to appeal to every reader (spectacular writing not the least of it)..."
These are just a few of the very nice things Kerry has to say about the book.  I also love how perfectly she describes the messiness of the relationship between Beena and Sadhana, as well as Beena's lack of self-knowledge.   

(By the way, if you don't already read Kerry's blog, you really should.  Besides having what is one of my favourite all-time blog names ever, she writes about books and life and motherhood with so much wisdom and frankness and humour.  There is more than one book I've learned about via Kerry's blog, and her recommendations have never steered me wrong.)  

I also found this kind and thoughtful review by Robert Nathan on his blog Epic Word Quest.   

Some highlights:
"Nawaz’s debut novel asks what it means to come of age in Canada, to be different, and to be a woman in all its meanings: a daughter, a friend, a sister, a lover, a mother, and a working professional..."
"Nawaz is a talented prose stylist with a fluid voice."
There are lots of nice things about this review, but I think what I appreciate most are the criticisms Nathan includes (and there are a few) -- all of which I find carefully considered, fair, and useful.   

Other fun coverage of Bone and Bread on the 'net:

A Q & A with writer Will Johnson on his great Literary Goon site.  (Follow this blog!  Will updates a lot and it's always a great read.)  

Plus a couple of quick of questions over on Rover Arts.  Thanks, Rover Arts!

I've spent most of the day trying to get my thoughts in order for some talks I'll be giving soon.  (In the next eight days, I'll be giving two talks AND two readings...and posing for that charity calendar.  Please, please send me some de-stress vibes if you have any to spare.) 

Tomorrow, stress notwithstanding, I am thrilled to be participating in Paragraphe Bookstore's Books & Brunch event at the Sheraton, where I'll be appearing alongside Tyler Trafford, Michel Cormier, and (very!) celebrated sci-fi writer Robert J. Sawyer ... and eating breakfast!

April 17, 2013

Baring my soul...anxiety, renos, and Bare it For Books

Emails are languishing, coffee dates are being cancelled, my blog posts are backed up.  This is due to two things:  looming public speaking events for which I need to prepare, not to mention the photo below:


My anxiety over these public events (or rather, my very real need to set time aside to think about what I am going to say) is clashing with an increasing daily need to make difficult decisions (closets! tiles! flooring!) about EVERYTHING under the sun to do with the place we’re moving into. Our renovations are relatively modest, but nevertheless require a lot of attention.  Book promotion and home renovations are not terribly complementary activities, let me tell you. 

I also wanted to share a reminder about the Bare it for Books fundraising campaign for PEN Canada.  There are 63 hours left to contribute on Indiegogo!  There’s also a great article about it today in the Montreal Gazette.  I had a really fun chat with Mark Lepage about the project! 

The amazing Dallas Curow is going to take my photo for the charity calendar, and I’m so happy she agreed to do it!   I’m nervous about posing, but I almost have too many other things to be nervous about to get too worried just yet….

April 12, 2013

Winter in April and what I'm reading

It is actually supposed to snow tomorrow.  Snow.  15-20 centimetres.  

In a way, I don’t mind.  I’ll be able to bundle up in my full winter gear and not feel bad about it.   It has been cold for days, but the worst kind of cold, where the weather forecasts have only prepared you for double-digits until the night before.  The forecast giveth, and the forecast taketh away.

I’ve been missing the simplicity and warmth of my black shearling boots.  I never thought I would miss winter boots, which I guess means my careful selection process and expended ($$$) funds were well worth it.  It’s possible that what is making me grumpiest about this changing weather is my general confusion about how to dress to stay warm enough on any given day without the ability to rely on a giant parka. I hate being cold.  It's April, after all.  There isn't supposed to be any more of this: 

 A photo by T. from our knitting weekend

Enough about the weather. 

Well, I wrote all that yesterday.  It has now snowed, stopped, started again, stopped, rained, and it is now a light hail, I think.  Oh well.

Yesterday I finished reading Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.  A super-quick and easy read that I enjoyed…perfect for the subway.  It didn’t really light a fire under me to start running, as it isn’t really that kind of book (though I sort of hoped it would be).  I can really only relate to that kind of striving when it comes to writing, or the occasional personal pet project.

I also recently finished reading Diana Athill’s Midsummer Night in the Workhouse.  I wish I had put down my thoughts about this collection right away, but it probably enough to say that I really enjoyed it.  The style and the social mores are very of the era (I don’t know this for a fact, but I have a feeling most of these were written many years ago), but the intellect and observation of the writer are profound.  It reminded me of the power of well-balanced explanation in fiction.  Writers are so frequently exhorted to “Show, Don’t Tell,” but there is plenty to be said for telling when it is artfully done and when what is being communicated is complex and unique.

Right now I’m reading The Dinner by Herman Koch, which, so far, is the perfect follow-up to Athill.

This weekend I really need to start preparing for a few upcoming events, even though just thinking about them makes me nervous.  And nervousness = avoidance mode.  Wish me luck.

To spite the weather, here's a cheery, spring-y photo of some yellow in the kitchen, including some beautiful tulips Z. gave me at my launch, which lasted and lasted.

Hope everyone is staying safe and warm with all this sleet and ice and snow all over!

April 10, 2013

Bone and Bread in the National Post

Thank goodness for the National Post.  

That's a sentence that in 1997 I never would have guessed I would write.  

But the National Post Books Section and the Afterword blog make everything better.  (What on earth did I use to read to get me through the day?  There must have been something...? Bookninja, probably.)

Since the wonderful "Most Anticipated Books of (the first half of) 2013," there have been a few more articles and tidbits about Bone and Bread in the National Post:

There is this very nice article about me and Bone and Bread by Mark Medley. (I'm finding I get nervous or shy about these kinds of articles and tend to skim them very quickly, but looking over this now to share the link, I see that my editor said some extremely blush-inducing and hard-work-inspiring things about me in it.)     

Photo from the National Post

Photographer Tyler Anderson took this photo in the building where House of Anansi has their offices, at the end of the hallway in the freight elevator.  He makes the backdrop look unexpectedly gorgeous!

There is also a little piece I wrote for their feature called the "Story behind the Story," where I talk a little bit about the genesis of a particular excerpt from the novel.

And last, but certainly not least, a review of Bone and Bread by Emily M. Keeler.

On the flipside of all this happy internet stuff, I've been having some generalized internet woes lately. It was announced a few weeks ago that Google Reader is being discontinued, only a zillion years after I finally got it organized exactly the way I want it.  It's fine, really, because Reader created its own problems for me....I'd read blog posts on my phone and star/flag them to go comment later, but never did.   What I miss is the sidebar I used to have on my old Blogger design that showed when my favourite sites had a new update -- the most recently updated blog moving to the top of the list.  I wish there was a way to replicate this functionality in the "Pages" function I'm using now.  (I've tried pasting the code, but to no avail.)  

What is your favourite way to stay up-to-date with your favourite sites?  I'm thinking of going back to good old-fashioned bookmarking that I check up on every other day.  

The Facebook app on my phone has also stopped working properly -- it loads everything except for pictures, which makes for some very odd, contextless status updates.

April 7, 2013

Sunday night is not too late

It has been a bit of a stir-crazy, wheels-spinning weekend.  Nothing quite got off the ground.  Too much sleeping in, too much weather disappointment.  A general reluctance to spend an hour on the metro getting to where I wanted to be...and so went nowhere.  Nothing really worth complaining about, especially since it's all my own fault.  But in the past five minutes, at least, in a burst of frustration-fueled activity, I have managed to locate my chequebook, after a many-weeks search, so perhaps this is the start of a change.  The last few hours of the weekend will not be lost to melancholic feelings of futility. Rooms will be tidied!  Emails will be answered!  Things will be crossed off the to-do list!

Does everyone feel this way on Sunday night? I know it is technically the weekend, but it has to be the worst night of the week.

April 5, 2013

cover girl

On newstands now!

This is the end product of the photo shoot with Guillaume Simoneau I wrote about here.  I was surprised when I saw the picture as I had seen a neat close-up picture he'd taken on his camera (my face next to one of the long, sesame-seed-covered wooden paddles they use for lifting bagels in and out of the oven), and for some reason I assumed the magazine would use that one.  But I love this and it makes me really happy it was taken inside Fairmount Bagel, which inspired the novel. (The photos inside the issue were taken at St-Viateur, which also makes a pretty unbeatable bagel).

I felt a little self-conscious when I went to buy a copy.  I picked up two, one for myself and one for my mom, and I was worried (why??) that the clerk would notice, but he didn't.  (Although Edmonton-based poet and writer Alexis Kienlen had someone ask her if she was the one on the cover when she picked up at copy!)       

But self-consciousness aside (which is mostly related to being designated as a "star" in large lettering...gulp), I am so excited about this!!  How could I not be?!  Quill & Quire is basically the only magazine I actually sit down and read from start to finish with any regularity.  When I was working hard to finish Mother Superior, I used to read the author profiles on the Quill site to give me motivation to get writing, and I daydreamed about having one about me there someday.  (Though I never once dreamed about the cover!)

Somehow, wonderfully, there has been so much coverage of Bone and Bread that I actually feel daunted and bashful about posting about all of it here, but I will try to catch up with mentioning everything over the next little while.

So along those lines, this is a very nice review/profile by Peter Robb that ran in the Ottawa Citizen -- my hometown newspaper!  

In other, regular life news, I am still knitting up a storm as my cold gradually (oh so slowly) ebbs away.  Last night's knitting group was hosted by J. at S's amazing studio and featured sparkling wine and chocolate babka from Cheskie's, among many other yummy snacks.  S. is a costume designer (right now she's designing for the opera!) who is also apprenticing to become a bespoke tailor, which sounds even more intense than you might imagine.  No pins!  And no electric sewing machines. 

Also, today at lunchtime I used my gift certificate to Paragraphe to pick up Swamplandia! by Karen Russell and The Dinner by Herman Koch.  Looking forward to starting one or both this weekend, and doing some real writing at last. 

April 1, 2013

Montreal launch and the four-day weekend

Thursday was the Montreal launch for Bone and Bread, and it went really well!  Thank you so, so much to everyone who came out.

Outside Drawn & Quarterly bookstore.

I met up with some writer friends beforehand, at Le Depanneur cafe, an hour before the Monday Night Choir performed in support of the launch.  (I'm not in this choir, though I've submitted my name to the long waiting list.)  Their set was amazing, and I cannot even describe how special it felt to have the evening start with music like this!  Below is a picture of them performing.  (This photo, and actually all the ones in this post were taken by amazing publicist K.)

Monday Night Choir performing at Le Depanneur cafe

Then we crossed the street to D & Q, where I read a couple of short sections of the novel.

A rare photo of me looking semi-normal while reading!!

This was followed by a fun Q & A with Drew Nelles, the editor of Maisonneuve Magazine, and then, deliriously happy that the public speaking part of the night was over, I signed books and chatted with people and generally felt like the luckiest girl on earth.  And we sold out of all the books!

The lovely peeps at D&Q also blogged about the night here.  

Chatting with Drew Nelles of Maisonneuve.

Post-reading, I've just been recovering.  My cold got worse after Toronto, and it was so bad just before the launch I actually had to miss a day and a half of work (which almost never happens), and it is in fact still going.  I have actually never seen this much green goo (yuck, sorry) in my whole life.

BUT...it's the four-day weekend!  One of the best things about the Easter weekend is that it always seems to sneak up on me and therefore feels like a surprise holiday.  In the past, I've used this weekend to write furiously, stay up late, and make a huge dent in a project.  Instead, I've been watching endless episodes of Homeland and knitting like mad.  (Shhh...don't tell my piles of laundry and taxes.)  I'm working on a new spring cowl that I'm looking forward to wearing with my leather jacket once the weather is warm enough.  And once I finish it.  I wonder which will come first?  Today the weather in Montreal is weird and windy.  I'm excited for a stretch of warm weather to come.

Hope everyone had a fun and restful long weekend!