Some notes on a literary festival

The Blue Metropolis literary festival was held in Montreal between Wednesday April 30- Sunday May 4. I attended at least one event every day, usually with my literary outing date, Lesley, and it was fun, inspiring, overwhelming, etc.

April 30, 2008: Reading with James Meek, Nancy Huston and Donald Antrim. A good, solid reading. My favourite was Nancy Huston, who read excerpts from her recent English translation “Fault Lines”. I was unexpectedly taken by Donald Antrim, who I was not familiar with. He read from a hilarious work-in-progress. I found it surprising that he began the novel 6 years ago, but shelved it when the project became unwieldy. There’s something strangely comforting in knowing that a “real writer” can start a novel, get stuck, trash it and pick it up again after 5 years. You just sort of assume that once you have books published you write and complete things and they get made into books in neat 2 year spans or something.

May 1, 2008: An interview with Nancy Huston lead by CBC’s Michael Enright. Nancy Huston is probably my favourite “new” discovery of the festival. (“New” in brackets because she’s written dozens of books, is respected and well known, etc.) Caroline and Lesley had both glowingly recommended “Lignes de faille”, but I never got around to reading it. I was charmed at the reading the night before, but what really sealed the deal was this interview. They discussed things like the complexities of being an ex-pat in Paris (Nancy Huston was born in Calgary and lived in various parts of Canada and the Eastern United States before moving to France), the impact of childhood, the problems of language (trivia: Nancy Huston wrote her university thesis about taboo under the tutelage of Roland Barthes!) and more. The interview will be broadcast on the CBC sometime soon and would definitely be worth listening to. I would now like to read every one of her books. Okay, go. (One down – I breezed through “Losing North” this weekend; it’s similar in topic to the interview)

May 2, 2008: A panel discussion called “From manuscript to book: The publishers have their say” with Jon Paul Fiorentino, Robert J. Sawyer and Patricia Aldana. Jon was the more contemporary, indie side of things, Patricia covered children books (she works for Groundwood Press) and Robert was science fiction. It was an interesting panel and covered a lot of things I already knew, but didn’t mind hearing again i.e. submit everywhere, but know who you’re submitting to and why you’re right for them. Patricia was the only one who believed that people shouldn’t simultaneous submit, but come on, guys. We will simultaneously submit anyway, especially if you’re going to wait 6 months to give us rejection letters. Things got a little prickly when the topic of self-publishing came up. Jon valiantly defended DIY culture, much to the chagrin of Robert. Discussing it later on, Lesley made a good point that it really depends on the genre. A science fiction chapbook is probably weird, but a poetry chapbook is lovely. Anyway, it was an interesting panel.

May 3, 2008: A lecture/reading by Daniel Levitin, who wrote the book “Your Brain on Music” about the science behind listening to music. The lecture was fascinating and he talked about things like how the part of your brain responsible for movement is stimulated while listening to music, which is why in general we have to suppress the urge to dance or tap our fingers when we listen to a song we like. Admittedly, the lecture portion was too short, but he was eager to read to us an excerpt from the book that he will be releasing in the summer, which will deal more with the evolutionary side of things. After the lecture I realized that I hardly just listen to music anymore. I am always doing something – taking the bus, driving, doing the dishes – and I wonder how this has affected my relationship with music?

May 4, 2008: I spent the day at a workshop called “Pitching the Pitch” lead by Gerald Wexler. While I’ve done my fair share of research about the publishing world, the movie industry is a complete mystery to me. Over the past few months Soraya and I have written a screenplay, and now that it’s done, we’re not sure what to do with it. I was hoping this would clarify things a little. I have no experience in pitching, which was obvious when it came time for me to pitch my movie, but I got great suggestions from Gerald and the class. The respected (and um, dreamy) journalist/non-ficton writer, Adam Lebor, was in the workshop as well, hoping to get pointers on pitching his novel/movie. He had been on several panels at the festival and I didn’t expect to see someone “established” in a workshop with me. Similar to how I was surprised by Donald Antrim, I was shocked to find out that Adam’s novel is having a difficult time getting published. I assumed that, given his credentials, the book would be snapped up in a second. Oh, publishing. What a fickle beast.