January 29, 2016

Behind the scenes of Canada Reads 2016!

Okay, I think everyone I know knows this by now (along with a lot of people I don't know!), but
Bone and Bread was selected to be part of Canada Reads 2016!

You can click the image to go to the Canada Reads CBC page.

Cue massive, ongoing celebration!!!!!!!!!!!!!! My last post was about my love of book clubs, and Canada Reads is about as close as we get to a national one.

It has been a little over a week since my whirlwind trip to Toronto for the day it was announced, and although I think I have responded to everyone who sent me kind messages of congratulations, I want to say thank you again!! It makes it even more exciting to know that people are excited right along with me.

So here's the Canada Reads scoop. I found out a little bit ahead of the announcement that Bone and Bread was on the shortlist, and a little bit after that that Farah Mohamed was going to be defending it. I arrived in Toronto late on the night Jan. 19th. Just before midnight, I received an email letting me know who the other writers and defenders were going to be. I was extra curious because the smarties over at the Goodreads CBC Books group had been speculating for a few days about who the panelists might be, based on all the clues that had been dropped. (They actually got a bunch of them right!) If I had gone to bed early, the way I knew I should have, I wouldn't have read the email and stayed up for another hour Googling everyone! Really, the night before a photo shoot, one's only homework is probably getting a good night's sleep. Oh well. I guess that's what makeup and coffee is for.

The first of the other writers I saw after arriving at CBC were Michael Winter and Anita Rau Badami -- the two I already know! After hair and makeup, while we were waiting for the others to arrive, I was excited and suggested we take a photo in front of the lunch table:

With the lovely Michael Winter and Anita Rau Badami. 
(My expression here: nervous-face.)

Smiling! With two brilliant writers: Michael Winter and Anita Rau Badami.

Fun fact re: Anita Rau Badami -- we met a dinner party in Montreal!

Fun fact re: Michael Winter -- well, I kind of feel like every fact about Michael Winter is a fun one, but I have been a fan of his writing long before I started running into him at events and festivals in the context of being a writer myself. His novel The Architects Are Here is one of many books I read (and loved) while working on Bone and Bread, but he has such a powerful voice that there is a short passage present in the novel where I had put down his book and felt the spirit of Michael's inimitable style upon me. Of course, only Michael Winter sounds like himself and I'm sure this part is only detectable to me, but there are a few sentences in my novel that wouldn't be there, quite in the form they are, if it wasn't for him. So thank you, Michael!

Finally, everyone was there and it was time to take photos.

With Michael Winter, Anita Rau Badami, Lawrence Hill and Tracey Lindberg
Photo (along with most of the others here) by Laura Meyer of Anansi

I think it was Lawrence Hill (a former Canada Reads winner and therefore already a pro) who explained the right way to cradle your book for the photo -- so you don't cover up your name. Top tip! The professional photos are being rolled out by CBC in their various promotional materials for Canada Reads, which I will repost here as they become available.

At the photo shoot, I got to meet Farah Mohamed:

Thank you, Farah. You are amazing and 
I'm so happy you liked my novel!

Farah Mohamed is the founder and CEO of G(irls)20, an organization that empowers girls and young women around the world to create a new generation of female leaders. Having read about the organization as well as her many other professional accomplishments, I was more than a little intimidated to meet her, but she immediately put me at ease as she is incredibly warm and approachable and fun. She also seems like a fierce debater!

After the photos, we all had lunch. Later, we shot some individual videos (which I dread watching...quippy I am not. Also at that point, after touch-ups, I had so much makeup on that my face felt weird. I think I might end up looking scary in HD...)

I had a chance to meet the other defenders (Clara Hughes, Vinay Virmani, Bruce Poon Tip, and Adam "Edge" Copeland), who were all as lovely as you might imagine. I would say more, but it probably isn't my place at this point! But honestly, I am so impressed by the accomplishments of the five panelists, and (thanks mostly to Google) by what I know of their level of engagement with social and cultural issues, across their widely different fields. I was really interested to learn about their projects, and I'm happy that the show will shine a light on them, too. It seems as though CBC has put together a group of people with real character to participate in Canada Reads 2016. (Hopefully I won't be insecure enough to feel differently if any of them turn out to hate my novel! But probably I just won't listen...)

The defenders said a few times over the course of the day that they all got along so well that they were going to have a hard time fighting it out, and I can easily believe it. (And so I say: why fight? Just let there be a five-way tie this year!)

At one point over lunch, Tracey Lindberg and I agreed that amid all the other things to be happy about with Canada Reads, we were both extra excited about the free books:

I know other Canada Reads fans will be jealous of this sweet stack.
No library holds for me! Another awesome bonus.

All in all, an exhausting but wonderful trip to Toronto. It was so nice to meet everyone at CBC, and House of Anansi publicist extraordinaire Laura Meyer took such good care of me...even helping me make it to the Turner exhibit at the AGO before my afternoon flight home.  

So I will probably share a few more Canada Reads-related things over the next few weeks before the show happens in March. I beg your indulgence ahead of time! I will try to mix it up with a few other things, so it doesn't get too tedious.

Home again, wearing my CBC fangirl shirt.
Do I look as ecstatically happy as I feel? I think so!

January 6, 2016

A love letter to book clubs

One of the major activities of 2014 was visiting book clubs. (That's right: I have procrastinated on this blog post for over A YEAR. The last time I opened it to edit it was November 2014. Even more amazing: this is not even the oldest blog draft I intend to finally finish this year! My excuse is that I had a baby, who really is a pretty good...and awfully cute...excuse.)

I visited many book clubs all over Montreal: the Plateau, downtown, Westmount, NDG, and even Nun's Island. I even took a suburban commuter bus to visit a book club at the Brossard Library! (As a lifelong pedestrian, I have an actual suburban phobia, so this felt like more of a triumph to me than it might otherwise seem to someone with a driver's license.)

A lot of it was a learning experience. I didn't set out to do book club visits -- it was just something that started happening, and I was flattered and happy to be invited. I'm proud to say that I experienced a lot more anxiety before the early visits than I did before the ones at the end. I struggled a lot with what I should charge (if anything), and while that is probably a whole other blog post in and of itself (why artists..who usually need the money more than anyone.. end up doing things for free that anyone in any other profession would charge for!), I consulted with other writers and did some soul-searching and eventually arrived at a number I could feel good about and which clubs were happy to pay. My only regret is not taking more photos.

The most amazing and humbling part of it was meeting so many thoughtful readers. Clever readers with questions and opinions and theories and insights. And sometimes even favourite sentences (!!!)

The fact is that as a writer, you are not necessarily the authority on everything in your own book. Yes, you can say whether the bagel shop in your novel is based on this one or that one (Fairmount, for the record) or whether your character has an eating disorder because you used to have one yourself (nope), but I like to let other people talk about what the novel is about. And I like to take notes. I've learned a lot this way.

My other favourite part (besides the always mind-blowing experience of having a dozen people discuss your characters as though they actually exist) was how inspiring it has been to witness so many friendships between women that have endured over decades and that have been enriched by books and their shared discussions. Many of the groups I visited have been gathering for TWENTY YEARS! They have seen each other through the births of their children, divorces, cancer...everything. Female friendship is where it's at, and I got a sneak peek at some amazing ones.

These visits were truly soul-nourishing. As a writer you spend most of your time working alone, and the majority of writing events (e.g. public readings and panels at writers festivals) are for an audience who is unfamiliar with your work. If you're lucky, a few people will pick up your book at the end. But getting to meet people who have made a point of reading your novel and talking about it...? It's a treat I hope all my writer-friends get to experience.

And speaking of treats, did I mention the snacks? These book clubs had some great snacks!

There were many groups in contention for being my favourites, but I think I have to give it to the club that did themed food to match Bone and Bread.

Bagels and cream cheese, of course!

And even more amazing:

Hors d'oeuvres just like the ones described
as being prepared and served at Sadhana's 
housewarming party!!!

And the most fantastic thing ever:

A school bus cake! Just like Sadhana and Beena
bake for Quinn for one of his birthdays in Bone and Bread.

And here are a couple of photos of me and this amazing book club --  one of the twenty-year ones, whose members were all terrific readers and who had a very lively and passionate discussion about the novel. I'm sharing two shots as the obliging husband who took the photo caught some of us with smiles in one and some of us in the other.

Is this really happening?

Feeling ever-so-lucky!

It really almost makes one think it is enough to have engaged readers, even without literary prizes. I know a lot of writers would agree. Of course, the one (prizes) often leads to the other (readers), so it takes you back to square one, a little bit. At any rate, a sincere and profound thank you to every book club that hosted me: you made me feel as though my work mattered, and there is truly no better feeling. And thank you to all the other book clubs (I know you're out there) who have chosen Bone and Bread for your discussions over the past two years. I'm honoured and privileged to have played a part in the conversation.

January 2, 2016

Books I read in 2015

2015 was not a banner year for reading for me. In retrospect, I should have embraced the way my reading patterns were looking early on (e-books versus paper) and adjusted accordingly. I didn't, and I ended up just reading a lot of mystery novels I'd already downloaded to my phone and not making much of a dent in my physical TBR pile. Oh well. Here is what I read by the numbers, following how I broke it down in 2014 and 2013. Not much comparative analysis is needed except to say that I read a lot less of everything. You can see what I read here on the 50 Book pledge page.

40 books

By genre

32 novels*
3 young adult
1 graphic novel
1 how-to guide
1 short-story collection
1 memoir
1 poetry collection

* 26 of the novels were straight-up mystery novels or thrillers....only six were what would usually be called literary novels.

By nation

7 Canada
2 Canada/U.S. (i.e. Canadians who live in the States, otherwise known as a distinction probably not worth making)
4 United States
3 U.K.
1 Japan

By gender

37 books by 14 women
3 books by 3 men

It turns out that almost all the books I read this year were in e-book format, either on my phone or on my Kobo. Only five of them were read on paper. This has got to be a new record for me in and of itself. But then again, this is the first year I've had an actual e-reader.

The books I flat-out enjoyed the most? Purity by Jonathan Franzen and Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. The latter I picked up with some trepidation as for a number of years I've been working on a project prominently featuring a modern-day plague, and it is always nerve-wracking when another writer publishes something that seems as though it might be similar to your own work-in-progress. But apart from featuring a plague, the works are (of course) totally different and Station Eleven is a brilliant novel you should definitely pick up if you haven't already. (It is also on the Canada Reads longlist alongside Bone and Bread...cue squee. Station Eleven is so well imagined and the writing is so clean and the book just seems to contain so much in all the best ways. Purity by Franzen also shares all those qualities.)

But the book that had the greatest (in every sense) impact on my life? The wildly popular decluttering book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. Really, I cannot say enough about this book. It has helped me get rid of bags and bags of stuff, and though I am still not anywhere close to finished, given how much stuff I started out with, it has helped me enormously and put me on the right path (I hope) to managing all the material goods that share my space.

Here's to a book-filled and even more decluttered 2016!