Previous Valentine’s Day Posts
April is the cruellest month.
There’s final papers, spring blizzards, sleep to lose, food to stress eat, and exams to study for (maybe even oral exams, if you’re a lucky student of the University of King’s College).
But it’s done. It’s over. I survived my first year of post secondary education at the oldest chartered university in North America.
I read hundreds of books from 2100 BCE to the 21st century. I read Plato, Dante, Shakespeare, de Beauvoir, Kant, Heidegger, and Arendt. I read until my eyes hurt and my brain stopped absorbing information.
During this year, as I squinted at the musings of many different dead white dudes mainly from central Europe, I began to miss the Canadian voice. The comforting, familiar humour, kind will, dependable dry wit, patriotism-inducing, big city buzz and small town silence of the Canadian voice is one I grew up with.
months years the amount of Canadian authorship I’ve consumed has dwindled, partly because I have less free time than I used to, and partly because I’ve been trying to get as many pretentious-sounding classic novels under my belt as possible like a good little history nerd.
I’ve never read a Margaret Atwood novel for Pete’s sake. What kind of monster am I?
Over the winter I decided that summer 2015 would be dedicated to reading Canadian-written books (with special effort to read Canadian authors who are women and/or people of colour and/or Atlantic Canadian).
I hope to conquer one book a week until the end of August–this should put me at around 15 books (taking away one week for when I’m in the UK, and another for to allow for
laziness the potentiality of day trips that will take momentary precedence).
Each week I’ll either write a blog, a series of tweets, or maybe EVEN A VIDEO WHO KNOWS? sharing my Canadian reading experiences. I don’t want to say I’ll be writing solid reviews for each one, but I’ll definitely share my thoughts about each little Canadian literary nugget that finds its way into my hands.
I also caved into getting an Instagram account, which I plan to be using as a visual extension of my blog. I’ll be posting what I’m reading as well as general attempts at making a square of pixels aesthetically pleasing.
I’ve compiled a tentative list of the authors I want to read, some for the first time and some to revisit, but none of these are set in stone, in part because I’m not yet sure what books I’ll have access to. I’ve already bought two books, but before I buy more I need to be reunited with my dutiful library card.
Sadly I am made of neither money or Canadian fiction.*
Do you have any reading challenges this summer? If you’d like to take part in the Canadian Summer Reading Challenge with me (or a more/less intense version of it), please send me a link to where you’re posting your progress, or leave comments/tweets to let me know what you’re reading and how you’re doing!
*If you’re a Canadian (especially Atlantic Canadian/woman/person of colour) author and you want to send me a copy of your book in exchange for a review, please send me an email at email@example.com or DM me on Twitter! 🙂
From December 1 to January 1, my 2013 anthology The Night is Starry will be $12.00 (plus shipping if you want it shipped).
They make great gifts for grandmothers and bookworms in general, and if you’re interested in supporting a local, self-publishing, university-student author, this is your chance! If you want them signed with a personal message, well, that’s pretty easy for me to do, and your grandma might find it cool she has a signed book.
This is the last batch of hard copies of this anthology I plan on having printed, and there are about 20 copies left. I would love to have them sold by the end of 2014 so I can move onto my next hard copy writing project.
Profit from these last copies of The Night is Starry will be going towards my trip to the UK in 2015 and towards the printing of my next publication.
If you’re interested in buying a copy (or more than one!) you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can arrange either a pick-up location if you live in the area, or have it shipped to you. 🙂
The Carpenter was a story I wrote as a Christmas present for my mother, and was inspired by our family camping trip in summer 2013. We were hiking in Kejimkujik National Park and were surrounded by these massive, ancient trees that blocked out the majority of the sky and towered far over our heads. My dad, forever the captain of Team DIY Carpentry, routinely stared up and with stars in his eyes would say, “Look at the beautiful lumber that would make/I could make an entire set of chairs out of that tree/Look at the wooooood.”
I commented on how instead of seeing the trees he saw lumber, and in my mind I saw a carpenter walking through the woods, and instead of seeing the forest he saw only furniture growing out of the moss. The carpenter intrigued me. How did he get there? What was he like? What was his story?
It took me a long time to get around to writing this story, but I’m glad I did. It was a lot of fun to write, to imagine who the carpenter was and who he could have been if his life had gone differently. There’s still a lot I have to learn about the carpenter and what he did in those seventy years the story takes place in, but I’m almost more fond of him because I don’t know everything about him, and I think readers might feel the same way.
If you would like to read The Carpenter (it’s a very short read!) you can head over here where you can download it in essentially any format possible. Feel free to leave a review or a comment. 😉
If I’m a writer that means I’m a writer everyday, right? I don’t just don on the writer hat when I’m writing or doing writer things. I always wear that hat, right? Along with my human hat and chocolate addict hat, yes?
Of course, some days I don’t feel like a writer at all, just a stressed, unemployed student with hardly any time to read or write thanks to university preparation, job searching, and upcoming graduation. It’s been awhile since I felt like a “writer.”
Last week I was feeling particularly writerly, however. On June 12 I ventured with Zozie to Calabay Cafe in Truro to participate in a night of music and poetry, organized by local poet Chad Norman. The night featured local musicians Brian Porter, Dave Hayman, and Dale McCabe, and poet Paul Zann along with Chad and myself. Paul Zann is amazing reader. If I can ever read as engagingly as he can, I will be perfectly happy.
It had been awhile since I had done a reading in public, and I forgot how great it is to share poetry (and music) with people who enjoy it as much as I do.
Naturally I’m an introvert, and for the most part pretty quiet, but I love reading to others and hearing others perform. Whatever nerves I have (most of them being stamped out through seven years of 4-H public speaking) vanish when I start with introducing whatever it is I’m reading. Poetry is something I’m happy to share. I enjoy it. And it’s when this happens that I remember that I am a writer, not just an anxious, penny-pinching student.
And, to show you how small Nova Scotia is, two of the audience members were past graduates of my high school (one of who was a lovely gentleman kind enough to buy my book).
Calabay Cafe is beautiful, the staff is wonderful, and the chai lattes ARE TO DIE FOR (THEY ARE GLORIOUS CLOUDS FROM HEAVEN IN A MUG). I highly recommend stopping by — the chai lattes alone are enough to make me go back.
What else have I done to make me reaffirm the ownership of my writer hat?
I did an interview with Colchester Weekly, posted on the Truro Daily website.
I sold the seventieth copy of my book (which is currently out of stock, by the way).
I’m in the process of designing a bookmark.
I’ll be publishing something (it’s a surprise) at some point in the very near future.
And I’ll (hopefully) be able to spend some time this summer working on my YA novel.
Bonne chance, mes amis!
PS: Chad Norman is organizing the third annual RiverWords Poetry and Musical Festival for July 12th in Bible Hill, NS. I participated last year, and this year has a great line up. Spread the word and help support local artists. 🙂
i like to end things on a good note
but I don’t want to leave
in the middle of the symphony
and step on everyone’s toes
as I shuffle silently through aisles to indignant whispers
long before the curtain falls
—i don’t want to miss the ending to the show, the finale
but I can’t bear to hear the final note fade
or to see your final bow
One of those days when the rain clouds
Are so low I have to duck to keep my head out of them
And they cover the sun to make morning look like dusk,
Thousands of tiny liquid stars fall to quench the thirst
Of wilting July flowers and lost souls
I go outside, coatless, to be watered
Letting the screen door slam shut behind me
In a shower of mist and creaky hinges.
I follow the river-sidewalk to a bus stop bench
With peeling green paint and take a seat
In my star-soaked jean shorts.
I bury my toes in the five inches of turf
Between the bench and the sidewalk
A world for the surfacing pink worms to cross
Where they will shrivel and die when
The sun brings their hot-concrete Armageddon.
I absorb the tiny stars in my skin
And my arms and legs and hair become slick
With the gathering galactic water.
Before I never understood why florists spray
The flowers completely if the roots are the part that
Drink, but now I know.
The ricochets of rain pelting my face in the energy of
Each ping of every drop
I sit, covered in diaphanous liquid stars
And I imagine I glow in the gloomy darkness of noon
Someone else has joined me at the bus stop bench
To be watered too, I suppose.
He wears a coat with the collar turned up
And a faded Toronto Blue Jays baseball cap
With a frayed brim like laugh lines around a smile
That doesn’t exist anymore
The rain only touches his face and his hands, folded
On his lap over wet denim jeans.
I slide over and take his hat off, because I want him to
Feel the tiny stars like I do
He’s startled like someone should be when a stranger takes
Their hat off, and his glare of surprise is brown
Like a cinnamon stick.
He asks me what I’m doing
—You’ll be watered better if you let the rain touch your skin
But maybe he sees that I’m glowing so he takes his coat off
And a grin slowly spreads across a face with a freckled nose
I know he can feel the energy of the stars in his skin too
We sit at the bus stop bench in front of a sidewalk
That wriggles in happy fat worms dancing in the stars
But that will be shrivelled and dead this time tomorrow
And everyone else has umbrellas and coat collars and hats
And we have nothing between us and the rain
That feeds maps into our lost souls
(Busy busy busy like bees — I have some reviews coming up, and a couple rants to deliver, but for now here’s a poem I wrote in a moment of summer nostalgia. What do you miss most about summer? I’m pining for walks in the rain, can you tell?)
I make an effort to avoid you
Where once I might have sought you out
It doesn’t mean I don’t want to see you
It just means I don’t think it’s a good idea
And that everything will be better if you
Forget that I exist
It’s not that my mind is empty.
Far from it.
My mind is a blizzard, and every idea a snowflake.
Banks of ideas are depositing themselves into shelves of my brain, accumulating, growing, heaping into what I’m sure will become mountains, the kind you jumped off of as kids and scraped your jaw to pieces at the bottom of. Those kinds of mountains.
But catching a snowflake? You can hold out your hand as they fall around you, and take a glimpse as they settle on your mitten, but you can never make them last long enough to memorize their every detail.
You can take a shovel and dig at the mountain, but then all the snowflakes jumble together so you can’t tell one from the other.
You can take tweezers and pluck one up and put it on a glass slide stolen from the biology lab and keep it in your freezer. But then it’s not the same, not fresh, not pulsing from a recent exit of the heavens or electric from nestling with its brothers and sisters in the bank of snow.
So, you can see, my mind isn’t empty.
No, no, not at all.
I just can’t catch the damn snowflakes.
Sure, I have a WIP novel that has grown from a single snowflake to a tiny snowball. I have a small snowball for a themed anthology. I have a pinch of packed snow for another anthology.
But to build on them?
I can’t get the snow to stick, to wrap layers and build.
And there are so many options.
What to do, what to do?
The snow of ideas is overwhelming and underwhelming, like the fiftieth time a person from Hawaii sees real snow (though I’m not from Hawaii and grew up with snow) — weird and out-of-world, but by this point rather mundane.
Until I figure out what the heck I’m supposed to do with this snow before it gives my mind an eternal snow day, I’m going to curl up with a Christmas mug* of tea, a handmade quilt, and The Book Thief and let the snowflakes fall.
Advice from anyone with experience in snow-removal/nurturing?
*Christmas mugs = the best part of Christmas, after family dinners and candy cane hot chocolate.
I have a book problem.
I love to read. When people ask me what genre I favour, I usually laugh and reply, “A little bit of everything!” I read mostly classics and YA fantasy and and sci-fi and poetry and biographies and histories and the occasional romance. I read quotes and blogs and magazines and dictionaries. I read the backs of cereal boxes and labels on people’s clothes. I read some books that are popular and some that aren’t.
I like adventure and discovery and a strong female character. I like small towns and bookworms and tall, dark, mysterious strangers. I like star-crossed lovers and ill-fated relationships and I like reading about the banter between siblings. I like flirty things and daring things and weird things and sometimes murderous things. I like make believe worlds and real worlds, and I like wise, old mentors with beards and witticisms.
Prince Charmings with a dark side, collections of exotic teas, and funny uncles with top hats and awful comb-overs. I like scarves and rain boots (which sound so much more poetic than rubber boots) and something that won’t take a lot of energy to read but will still make me think about life differently. I like sexy things but think sex in books is a bit unnecessary. I like things that are realistic but don’t like reading about things that go against my strongest morals.
I like books that remind me of mellow music, elegant music, angst-ridden and pure sadness music. Books that remind me of bleached out photographs from the ‘70s and old radio shows and my childhood.
My favourite books are the ones that taught me something, whether it be a moral or an idea or a word or character development. Some of them are just pretty. They sit nicely in the nooks of my brain. Not all of them are deep, dark, disturbing novels, but some of them are. Some of them are light and fluffy and simply easy to read.
I like elements of Alice in Wonderland (“It’s a vegetable. It doesn’t look like one, but it is.”) and Pride and Prejudice (“They parted at last with mutual civility, and possibly a mutual desire of never meeting again.”) and Harry Potter (“One can never have enough socks,” said Dumbledore. “Another Christmas has come and gone and I didn’t get a single pair. People will insist on giving me books.”) and The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place (“Uncle had learned long ago that obeying a rule in fact but not in spirit was very hard on people who say we for I and who do not allow dogs on their premises.”) and Fade (“So he endured. Did not cry.”).
These are things I like in books.
I know it’s a tall order, and that’s why I’ve yet to find ONE book that contains ALL of these things. If I found a book with these criteria, I daresay it would be my favourite book of all time.
The books I turn to when I’m bored or feeling a little blah are the books I read and read again when I was a pre-teen: A Riddle of Roses and The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place and Walk Two Moons and Stargirl. They aren’t particularly deep and don’t leave me exhausted like Game of Thrones or Emma, but instead leave me refreshed, rejuvenated, in love with life again, and maybe a little poignant that life doesn’t turn out for everyone.
I love these books. I still read them, still love them.
I want to read books like those books, but for a YA/NA audience. Give me a 17 or 19 or 21-year-old Margaret Rose Kane of Outcasts or a Stargirl as a university undergrad, with the same tone of voice the original presented to my pre-teen self.
So, to suit my picky, aimless search for the perfect book, I think I may just end up writing it. I want the whimsical, witty themes of my favourite pre/early teen novels with more mature content. I want to read it and be changed but not scarred or exhausted. I want to laugh and maybe cry at its pages. I want funny uncles and dark prince charmings and adventure and feminism and bleached out photographs of the ‘70s.
These are what I want in a book.
And I’m taking matters into my own hands and writing a book I want to read.
I mean, to write a book and have it meet the standards I described as “my favourite book ever” is only a wee bit pretentious, but if I want a book like I’ve described, I imagine a couple other people out there would like to read it, too.
What do you look for in your own “perfect book?” Have you found it? Have you written it?
I’m trapped in this body. Cold metal forms my bones and joints, and the muscle and skin feel like a piece of rail road track to the touch of a soft hand. My arm is locked in an everlasting salute, my blind eyes forever fixed on a spot somewhere on the horizon. I ache. My silent, still heart aches. It burns to swell and grow and pulse. My eyes wish to weep and my arms desire to embrace and my legs want to run again. But that is not what I am meant to do.
In the winter the snow covers me, settles in my bent elbow and my shoulders, my eyelids and the tops of my boots. Blue jays are my only visitors. I can feel their tiny talons and feathers and imagine what it’s like to fly, and miss them when they leave. I am lonely, invisible to the people passing along the street. The frozen torch in my hand weighs the weight of a thousand slain soldiers, and their names inscribed in my cold heart are heavy, so heavy. I carry their memories in my mind, see their lives in my blind sight and hear their regrets in my deaf ears. I cradle them without ever embracing them, holding them, loving them, keeping them safe after death. I remember.
The spring brings warmth, and my metal skin isn’t quite so unbearable to touch. Rain washes away snow and I’m reminded of muddy French trenches in April – not my memories, but the memories of those inside me. Drawing on these remembrances I can see flowers bloom in my sightless gaze and feel arms around me, but I also relive dying moments, so many dying moments. Blood and muck and limbs and terror. They don’t mean to force these memories on me, but I must bear them, and they should be remembered. It is a lot to carry, but I would give this job to no one else.
In the summer I rust a little more, but stand just as straight. Teenagers sit at my feet and smoke stolen cigarettes and call at girls as they walk by, and there’s nothing more I would like to do than kick them with my solid iron boot. They don’t see what I see, blind as I am, or hear what I hear, deaf as I am. They don’t hold the memories of the dead and the gone. They don’t know that behind a layer of metal are the enduring moments of war and horror, barbed wire and gas masks, guns and boys and letters from home, letters they never got the chance to read. I am made of unread and unfinished letters, broken hearts and broken bones.
In these seasons I go unnoticed by all except blue jays and teenagers looking for a place away from parents in a world where war is a game on a screen. No one visits me, no one visits the memories I hold. We are alone in our reminisces.
There is one day in the year when I’m not alone with these memories, good and bad, beautiful and ugly. November eleventh. Every person around comes out and stands shoulder to shoulder, poppies bright over their hearts, their warm, beating hearts. I can feel them, and some of them are aching, too, the ones who remember. The weight of my torch throws out a glass circle and traps them all in my spell, and slowly I release some of the memories in my skin, my bone, my chest. I share with them the things we are supposed to never forget.
They all stand before me, taking in all the things I have to show them. They remember.
On this beautiful Thanksgiving weekend, let’s be thankful to all the people who’ve ever asked an author, “Is Mary Sue’s story based on yours? You and her are a lot alike!” Without those people, I would not be writing this.
In the dozens of novel ideas I’ve had and started (most of them not making it past five chapters with few exceptions) I have not based my main character on myself. They were all their own individuals with their own quirks and flaws and habits and experiences.
But people just love asking writers if their characters are based on themselves. It has happened to me, and you see it all the time in author interviews.
And once an author admits that yes, my punk-rock ninja boarding school heroine is based on myself, it doesn’t ring the same. Mary Sue is based on the author? Well, that’s, that’s….that’s cheating! Why couldn’t she just write a memoir? Isn’t that, you know, pretentious? Wow.
Suddenly people are treating the author the same way people treat those unfortunate souls who announce their love for One Direction. “Oh, well, I guess that’s your choice…but we’re not friends anymore. I’m deleting you from Facebook.”
Very not cool.
The next step up (or down?) from this is when writers take themselves and make them better. Thinner, more confident, usually with added combat skills and some steamy romantic interest. This is even worse in the eyes of people who find this out. It’s just…weird to most readers.
But here’s the deal. My characters are not me, nor are they better, stronger versions of myself. That being said, a lot of the times the easiest things to write are things I know best. “Write what you know” mantra. That includes certain circumstances and certain reactions. First hand experience is the most accurate way to present the same situation in writing, and I incorporate this into my storytelling. It could be something small, like a joke I shared with a friend, or a similar reaction to the wedding of Will and Kate.
There are aspects of my life that make for good reading. So why not include it? It isn’t intended to be a reflection of my life or the way I live it, but it makes my characters’ lives a wee bit more genuine.
But these are far and few in between. Great Aunt Emily in my WIP, for example, is a total figment of my imagination. I never had such a great aunt (thankfully). There are a few exchanges between characters that are snapshots from dialogue with a friend, and little annotations about things like rural life (e.g., the smell of manure in July) or the woes of going to a small high school.
Taking this another step deeper, I like telling stories that are “real” and “relatable.” I mean, who doesn’t? That’s the obvious goal of every writer. I grew up in a small town — a village, technically. The cow to person ratio is something like 6:1. You always get the “small town girl/boy” protagonist dominating YA stands, but this always bugged me; if they have their own high school, or more people than cows, then I don’t see it as “small town” simply because of my own experience. I relate best to 6:1 cow-to-people communities. I want to read about them.
So I’m writing one.
It’s not my life. I am not Ingrid Fletcher. Her story isn’t mine. We share similarities and some characteristics, but if I wanted to write my own story I’d write an autiobiography or start a hardcore diary. I’m a bit of a bookworm. Ingrid is 100x the bookworm I am. Ingrid is 100x shyer than me. Her friendships are different, her opinions are different, her habits and flaws are different, her deepest darkest secrets are completely her own. I’m just helping her explain everything to the reader in the most accurate way I can, without, you know, going skydiving so that one scene is all the more genuine.
No sir. I am not going skydiving for Ingrid’s sake.
Do you incorporate aspects of your own life to your writing? Is your protagonist a slightly different version of you?
Short stories were not normally something I could find enjoyment in or share a connection with. Often they appeared to have no meaning or leave me feeling confused about what had happened and why.
Short stories need to be quick and profound.
The tone and topic in which you write a short story should be, in my eyes, dozens of times more powerful than a piece of 80 000+ words. It might not have a plot line at all, but simply be describing something: an emotion, an event, a person, some nameless thing that the reader never even gets to identify with. Short stories are supposed to make you think, question aspects of life that were previously thought to be established or unsettle concepts that need to be unsettled again. Many short stories are 500 words of dialogue attached to a character in a specific moment in his or her life. I can read novels for that and get their whole story. Give me a short story. Make me think.
I used to hate writing short stories. I loathed it. I never understood how you could get a beginning, middle, and end in so few words. How can you get action? Romance? Villainy? Betrayal? You have only a few hundred, or a few thousand, words to use to portray these things that so often make or break a plot and draw readers in.
But I’ve written my fair share of short stories over the years, little blips of characters or scenes that had no place in a novel but found their way into my head nonetheless. I’ve come to love writing short stories. It’s a bit like having a string of lovers. I can love each one, learn a bit about them, have my way with them, and move along to the next without feeling guilty I abandoned them in pursuit of something new and interesting. I don’t worry about what’s going to happen to them 25 years from now. I don’t feel bad about what happens to them because, frankly, I don’t know them well enough to care that much. They’re one-night stands. Exciting, pleasurable, non-committal.
In my recent anthology (of which you can buy a print copy by emailing me at email@example.com, or wait for the ebook edition later this season), I have a couple handfuls of short stories. I love them. They’re so fun. They’re dangerous. I can skip a beginning, an introduction to a cast. I don’t have to introduce anyone if I don’t want to. Anonymity is great. I can dive into the middle. The middle most likely isn’t the climax of the person’s life, or even their day, but it’s the middle of a moment that for whatever reason is worth writing about, and hopefully, reading.
My attention span isn’t the greatest. I get bored and distracted and look for something shiny to play with like a crow rooting through a pile of garbage. I’ve only completed one novel (I refuse to count the novel I wrote at age 13 because it’s shameful to read). I’m supposed to rewrite it within the year. It hasn’t happened yet, though I did do the majority of the outline. I started two novels this year. One made it to the 10 000 word mark and I’m still chipping away it — but slowly, slowly.
I just get so distracted. By books, by the internet, by writing short stories, by editing photos and reading blogs and sketching and sewing and and and —
See? I’m even distracted within this post.
But back to short stories.
I decided to start another anthology (to be released around this time next year if all goes well), this time a series of short stories all related to each other. I’ve written three of the pieces so far, and hope to write fifteen or so more. Fifteen more fleeting pleasures to be had. Fifteen more delicious and sinfully delightful one-night stands to experience.
Here I go, to a place where distraction can happen and loves abandoned. A world of short stories. A world of one-night stands.
I mean, it’ll get lonely after awhile. But I have my WIP novels. They are the strong relationships in my life, the ones that keep me together and challenge me, the ones I have to work out problems with. I can have fun with them, too, but…it doesn’t feel as naughty. 😉
Well, my face-to-face advertising skills aren’t the best, but it’s true. I did write a book. And I happen to be of the opinion that is pretty.
It must be working, too, because with the “official” release of The Night is Starry yesterday (though I’ve been selling books to friends and family since last week) I’ve sold 13 copies and have orders for 22 more.
I only had 32 copies printed.
Should I get 30 more printed?
These are the questions that plague me.
But the day is beautiful and fall is coming and it’s an excellent time of day to go lay under a tree and read Emma. Or perhaps write a short story for my next anthology. Or sew a dress. And make some tea.
What are you up to on this fine August day? 🙂
Covers are done, final edits are completed (I’m praying to the grammar gods that we didn’t miss any blatant errors), documents converted, and the manuscript will be sent off tonight!
It won’t be long now before the coil-bound version of The Night is Starry is available for purchase! A digital version will be made available later in the summer, and I’ll keep you updated on that.
It’s quite exciting, self-publishing for the first time, and it certainly won’t be the last! Already I’m bursting with new ideas and stories to share, and I can’t wait for Night to be published so I can start some other projects for you.
As for blogging, if you follow my other little place on the Internet (Let Them Grumble), then you’ll know that I’m on a blogging hiatus. It was simply taking too much of my time to both maintain a blog and really make progress on writing my novel(s), but with this website I’ll attempt to update you on forthcoming projects and perhaps the occasional personal ramble or two.
Happy reading and writing, and may all your adventures be successful!