Book Update #4

Sam recently posted an entry describing what’s on her writing desk. I love those kinds of lists and the moment where you look around and realize that all those things you have hanging around add up to tell a story.

It’s really cold here in Montreal, the kind of cold that hurts, even if you’ve mastered the art of layering and have warm boots and a big fluffy down filled parka. So, I’ve spent most of the weekend holed up at home working on writing. And here’s what my writing desk looks like right now.

Writing desk

I have a tiny desk in the bedroom, which is potentially nice – I could stare out a window if I wanted to. But I’ve never gotten comfortable there and have used it instead as a place to pile up excess books. I prefer to write at the kitchen table, where I can spread my stuff out, where I have nicer light and more breathing space.

So, what you see:
The glow of the laptop screen, of course. There’s some tea to combat the cold. Printed out versions of stories for when I can’t stand to look at the screen anymore. You can see a book peeking out behind the screen (I was rereading Franny and Zooey; I know, I know, how typical). And then, way in the back? There’s Archer, who is normally not allowed on the table, but was trying to get my attention. So there you go, Archer, you made it into the photo.

Oh, fudge.

In my last year of high school we were assigned to read Catcher in the Rye for English class and it really clicked. Obviously. I was angsty; I understood. Our English teacher had transferred from another school, and on his first day told us that he liked to incorporate drama elements into his English classes. Oh lord. Even though I had loved drama as a child (little known fact about me: I took acting classes when I was in middle school!), teenage angst had upped my melodrama quotient, but erased any love of drama of the theatre variety. Our teacher parcelled out sections of the book and made each of us read them to the class. This must have been hilarious to witness: kids putting on their acting voices and reciting Caulfied monologues? Oh lord, again. I remember one boy morally objected to Salinger’s use of profanity, but had gotten assigned a particularly f-bomb laden section. He replaced them with “fudge”. Can you believe it? Holden saying “fudge you”?! Amazing.

When I think of Catcher in the Rye, I think about how it’s one of the great unifiers of books. So many people have read it: people who have only read four books in their lives because they were forced to in high school, people who morally object to cursing, students of all social classes. We read it as part of my accounting firm book club a few years ago, even. And among all these people, you either hate it or love it, get it or don’t, and I’ve had many conversations with people on both sides of the fence. There aren’t many books that you can discuss like that.

I hold the Glass family a little closer to me. I don’t want to debate their oddities with the whole world; I’d rather bask in them by myself. I read the Glass family books one summer when my father was working in Greece. My mother and I visited him when I finished school for the year. He was living in a small town in Northern Greece. I was used to the dry, brittle landscape of Athens in the summertime, not the greenery of the mountains. I would lay in the cot set up for me, the door open for a breeze, the mountains visible in the distance, listen to my walkman and read about this family, all these kids and the things they said, so different from my life. And sometimes it’s the books you read when you’re on vacation and far away from home that stick with you the most. Franny and Zooey, Nine Stories, Raise High the Roofbeams, Carpenters and Seymour: an Introduction, those stuck and still cling.

January has been a terrible month for deaths and I’ve felt more sorrow for Haiti, for Paul Quarrington and Kate McGarrigle’s passings from cancer, than I have for ol’ J.D, a 91 year old who has not participated in society for longer than I’ve been reading his books. I can’t help but feel guilty for focusing on him, but for someone who’s favourite genre of anything is “coming of age” I don’t know how I could not. So, rest in peace, J.D. Salinger, and thank you.

Book Update #3.5

Work is busy this week and I’ve been exhausted at the end of the day, so progress on the stories is inching along, minutely, word by word, more in my head than on a computer screen. But, I feel focused again, which is a relief.

What I’ve been doing instead: Reading “Come Thou, Tortoise” by Jessica Grant, a book that has come recommended by many people and is proving to be a delight to read. I’ll write more about it once I’m finished. I’ve been interspersing my reading of the book with John Berryman poems. I’d never read him before, despite his major role in American confessional poetry (i.e. the kind I’m a sucker for). A few weeks ago, listening to “John Allen Smyth Sails” by Okkervil River, I realized I wasn’t quite sure who they were referring to. I’ve talked about my love for Okkervil River before, and the more I learned about John Berryman and corresponding his life to Will Sheff’s lyrics, the more I started appreciating the genius of this song. Berryman committed suicide in 1972, and the song is sad, but also wry, kind of like his poems. The throwback to Sloop John B. at the end is also beautiful and hillarious. I remember seeing them play this song live, and when they were done our ears were still ringing from the last part – it was loud, joyful, resolute, screamy – and we all kind of looked at each other like, holy shit. It was good.

So, this doesn’t qualify as a full book update, but it’s an indication of where my brain is at these days: a little scattered, a little tired, a little pensive.

Book Update #3

Still true today

Another relic from my parents’ place: I found this drawing in the journal I kept when I was 19 years old and started having consistent internet access (I know, I can’t believe I used to illustrate my diary. I had so much time back then.) This could have easily been drawn today, but the picture dates itself: look at that computer! It’s so big. The screen is a massive cube.

I mention email in that comic, but these days it’s probably Twitter. Email has now become more functional – a vehicle to make plans or discuss important things rather than send or receive idle missives.

So, let’s see what Twitter has revealed about my recent writing habits:

Ok, enough with the holidays, I really need to get back to writing.
2:43 PM Jan 2nd from web

I was stern and disciplined at the beginning of the new year.

Rewriting a story that’s 3 yrs old. I find myself grasping at the old story, but I’ve gotta kill that darling to really make it work. RIP.
4:00 PM Jan 10th from web

The stories I’m having the most difficulty with these days are the ones that are older and need to be rewritten. The new stories are fresh enough that I can play with them without getting bored. An old story, on the other hand, one that’s gone through various revisions already, is a different beast. An older beast, one that’s a little creaky, a little reluctant to change. I find myself gutting paragraphs and story lines I felt very strongly about at one point. It’s kind of vicious.

Listening to The National too much and feeling annoyingly swoony. Swooniness isn’t good for writing. In fact, swooniness = bad writing.
9:41 PM Jan 19th from web

This can sum up the state of my writing this week. I don’t know what it is – I made minimal plans so that I could stay home and write in the evenings, but I kept finding myself getting distracted by, say, laundry or vacuuming the dust collected underneath the sofa cushions (wha?) or, as noted above, by listening to music that inspires sappiness, which unfortunately doesn’t translate into good, robust writing.
So, I spend a lot of my self-imposed writing time procrastinating. I’m trying to reconcile that procrastination goes hand in hand with a healthy writing life, and if not a healthy life, then at least a normal one. We all do this. I can see you through the computer screen reading this blog entry instead of doing the writing you were supposed to do. Caught you!

I’m trying to comfort myself with the fact that procrastination is not simply avoiding writing. Rather, I’m giving my subconscious the space to figure things out on its own. I know this works because it happens to me at work. I will be trying to resolve an accounting issue and eventually my head will start to hurt from thinking about it so much. I’ll go home for the evening, get on with the rest of my life, and when I get to work the next morning, the answer appears as if by magic. But it’s not magic, it was the little monkeys in the back of my brain chugging along while I made dinner and tried to work on my book. This happens less so with my writing because I don’t think I detach from writing life the way I detach from work. I don’t necessarily give my brain the space to breathe. Maybe?

Ann M. Martin vs. Judy Blume

I have always been a “fan”, the kind of person who listens to the same song over and over, who will read entire bibliographies in a three month span, who will write fan letters, mail them off and hope for a response. I’ve learned that not everyone is like this. These days I indulge in the first two activities, but not so much the last. I don’t remember the last time I wrote a fan letter. Does one write fan letters anymore? I imagine that these days pre-teen girls write emails to the Jonas Brothers or send Myspace messages instead. There is probably a better chance of getting an @ reply on Twitter than there is of getting a letter that requires an envelope and postage. As a child I spent a significant chunk of time writing to my celebrity idols, researching their addresses in the back pages of Teen Beat. I wrote to Kirk Cameron and when I considered the chances of actually hearing from him, I hedged my bets and also wrote to Tracey Gold and requested a signed photo from the entire Growing Pains cast, which would be almost as good as getting an autograph from Kirk alone. I wrote to Alyssa Milano and asked her about her prom and I wrote to Tiffany a few times as well. What was it like touring with the New Kids anyway? I never heard back from any of these celebrities, not even a printed glossy headshot, and I’m sure I remembered to include a SASE. I don’t blame them; they were busy getting sucked into the Hollywood machine or finding their version of God. But, let me tell you who I did hear from: authors.

I was equally devoted to the writers of my favourite books as I was to the actors in my weeknight syndicated sitcoms. You couldn’t find authors’ addresses in teen mags, but you could find their publishers at the front of their books. I wonder what I wrote to these people. Something chatty, I think, like writing to an absent cousin or long distance lover. I picked up cues from Beverly Cleary’s Dear Mr. Henshaw, figured I could spill my guts about my life and my problems. I wanted to be a writer too. Do you have any tips? I asked.

My parents are packrats of the highest order and I’ve inherited this trait, except I’m lucky that they live in a big a house in the suburbs of Toronto where I can store my crap forever and ever and continue giving the illusion that I live in a carefully curated home in Montreal. One of my favourite things about visiting my parents is digging through these endless piles of papers, incredulous at the stuff I used to think and keep. This past weekend I opened a box in my old desk and found something wonderful: responses from two of my favourite authors when I was ten years old, Judy Blume and Ann M. Martin.

1990. I was in the fifth grade. I was going through a phase where I was shedding my less cool friends for the more popular kids. I was an asshole, forgive me. But I was reading the Baby Sitter’s Club and practicing personalities the way I practiced handwriting.

Middle school journal
Found in an old notebook, me trying out each of the baby sitter’s handwriting. Stacey’s writing, with the i’s dotted with hearts and slanted s’s and e’s appealed to me most, followed by Mary Ann’s flowy cursive.

I stole my favourite characteristics from each of the girls: I got a perm, but it gave me a triangle shaped head rather than the look of a New York sophisticate. I wore a black and white leopard print dress with fringe to class pictures. Claudia Kishi would approve. I was kind of Asian exotic like her, maybe? But I wanted to be a good student too, and nice, like Mary Ann. Nah, I just wanted her boyfriend, Logan. Either way, I paid close attention. I read Judy Blume a bit differently – she wrote about stuff I didn’t talk about out loud. At the time we weren’t quite open about things like wanting to have bigger breasts or getting our periods. We joked about it, whispered it at sleepovers, but we didn’t reveal how crucial it was. Margaret, on the other hand, was so brazen about these quiet desires. And friend politics were discussed perfectly in “Just As Long As We’re Together”. I understood. I wrote to Judy and Ann and one day I got replies from them.

JUDY BLUME vs. ANN M. MARTIN

You can click on the photos to read the letters:
anm - letter - 1 anm - letter - 2
Ann M. Martin

The form letter: On first glance, Ann’s letter looks genuine. It’s printed on a dot matrix, like she typed it up at her desk and then printed it out for me. Dear Teri, it begins, thank you so much for your letter! But, as you read on, it screams fanletter_template.doc. She told me she was born in 1955. At the time it made her 34 years old and she lived in New York City , unmarried, with a cat. She flipped through Name Your Baby books for name ideas, and her first book, Bummer Summer, took 3 years to write. Sure, great.

JB - letter
Judy’s letter came a few months letter when I was in the thick of grade six, March 1991. She didn’t hide the fact that her fans got the same letter. It was pre-printed, her picture with a copyright mark in tiny print along the side. Hi: she starts. She anticipates her questions. “Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself” is my most autobiographical book. Okay.

The brush-off: Ann hides it in a P.S. at the end of the letter (“As much as I love hearing from you, I must tell you that I just don’t have time to answer those letters.”) She included a photo of herself wearing a smart looking sweater and fake pearls, buried in a pile of letters.

Ann M Martin is so popular.
Okay, okay, we get it, Ann, you get a lot of fanmail.

Once again, Judy was more direct. After some pleasantries, she says in the second sentence: I wish I could write to you individually but then I’d never have the time to finish another book.

The personal touches: Ann signed her letter. See the smudge? 10 year old Teri was skeptical enough to lick her finger and test out the veracity of the pen ink. It was real. That was cool. But you know what was even cooler? I sent a story to Judy – I don’t remember what story it was, but I do remember including fiction – and look, Judy acknowledged it!

A note of encouragement from Judy Blume
Loved your story! she scrawled at the bottom of the form letter. And the writing matches the printed signature so she must have written it herself. If Judy Blume “loved” my story, maybe I had a chance of writing better stories, stories that would be loved by other people.

So, in the fan letter department Judy edged out Ann. Also, Ann’s envelope came with a little note from the post office: Postage Due: 10 cents. What a scatterbrained Claudia move! Luckily the post office waived the 10 cents and I got my letter regardless.

THE BITTER TRUTH

I will be honest, at the time these letters disappointed me. I remember the excitement of an envelope in the mail followed up by a feeling of “that’s it?” The problem with being a fan is that you will invariably be let down: your idol will never love you as much as you love them. How can they? They haven’t listened to your songs for an hour straight; they haven’t copied passages of your writing into their own notebooks. You will be disappointed until you grow older and learn that the best thing about being a fan is how having a deep engagement with a piece of art – whether it’s a song or a serial novel about a group of girls starting a slave-labour wage baby sitting club – gives your life a secret, lovely depth, how cultivating an inner life populated with fictional characters will stave off loneliness for an awfully long time. Twenty years later (seriously? twenty?), I’m thoroughly tickled by these responses from Ms. Martin and Ms. Blume, pleased that someone on their staff printed off a letter for some kid in suburban Toronto and dropped it in the mailbox.

But I don’t write fan letters anymore because I know better.

(I will, however, probably blog about you or friend you on Twitter. Old habits die hard.)

2010 plans

2010 is shaping up to be an interesting year. The book, for instance, and, in more recent developments, Andrew and I are going to be in Greece between May 2 – September 13. (I know! We’re psyched!) We’ve been talking about going to Greece for an extended period of time for the past three years, but only seriously started considering it last year. Job situations aligned and, more importantly, we decided that if we were ever going to do this, why not do it now. That’s what savings are for, right?

Why Greece? Because we actually have a place to live in Athens. Both of my parents immigrated to Toronto in the seventies, my father from Greece and my mother from the Philippines. Their families stayed in Greece or the Philippines and as a result I have a small family in Canada (just the three of us since I don’t have any siblings), but a larger family abroad. And one of the perks of having family in far flung places is that you always have a place to stay. No one is currently living in the apartment in Athens, so we’re going to take it over for four and a half months, a teeny one bedroom on the fourth floor of a building near the centre of Athens. It has a big balcony, an ancient, loud refrigerator and the same furniture my father had when he was a child.

I’ve spent a lot of time in Greece, but not for that long, and not as an adult (jeez, I guess I’m an adult now.) (That was an accidental reference to The Pursuit of Happiness). My Greek is passable, but I hope to improve it while I’m there. Andrew has managed to learn the alphabet, but a few months in the country will expand his vocabulary. What we really want to do while we’re there is concentrate on some of our own projects. I started working full time immediately after I graduated in 2002 – I’m curious about what kind of writing I can do with a large chunk of uninterrupted time. Andrew is going to focus on another photography project. We’ll travel as well, but for the most part we would like to stick close to Athens or within Greece and really get to know it. Greece is an interesting place right now – and by “interesting” I don’t mean “good”. Its national debt is at crippling levels and there have been rumours of bailouts, even talks of expelling it from the EU. Greece was in the news last year for the mass riots that occurred when a police officer shot a student. In short, the glory that came with the 2004 Olympics has dimmed. I’ve dealt with more than my fair share of infamous Greek bureaucracy myself and it’s infuriating (maybe one day I’ll tell you about the ordeal I recently had trying to renew my passport), but there’s also so much beauty in that country and I want to really immerse myself in it.

Anyway, you’ll hear a lot more about this in May once we’re actually out of the country, but we just finished booking our non-refundable tickets so it feels irreversible now, like, we’re really, really doing this! And I’m excited.

Book Update #2

As I mentioned in my last update, my manuscript is due on March 1st. After that I will be working with an editor. When I think about it rationally, I have plenty of time. The bulk of the manuscript is essentially finished – I have 13 stories at various stages. Some of them have already been published, so I can set those aside. Others have been workshopped, read by friends, and have generally been knocking around my brain for enough time that I’m fairly comfortable with them and the rewrites I need to do. The remaining stories are very new, a little raw, written in the past 6 months, as recent as three weeks ago. But as long as the bones are there, I have enough time to work through them. Right?

One of my challenges is firming up a writing schedule. In the past few years my day job has ranged from consisting of soul crushing hours to, more recently, normal ones with certain busy periods. I remember the feeling of starting to work regular hours: I suddenly had so much time! It was amazing that I could come home, cook an actual dinner, work on writing or see friends on a weeknight. I would get so much writing done, I told myself. And I did get more writing done, but because I was never a write every day kind of person, not as much as I had initially hoped. So, in order to rework my internal writing wiring, I’ve been setting deadlines for myself, assigning different days of the week to stories or tasks, and it’s working, I think. I’ll um, let you know.

I’ve also been reading “The Best American Short Stories 2009″, edited by Alice Sebold. Soraya gave it to me for Christmas and it came at a time when I was thinking about what made stories work. I know thought has been put into the ordering of stories in the collection, but I prefer to treat best of anthologies as Magic 8 balls or tarot cards. I read stories randomly, trusting that it will lead me in the right direction. I know it’s kind of new age-y, but this actually works. I mean, I know it’s because a good story will always be a pleasure to read, but seriously, guys, sometimes it’s uncanny. I read Victoria Lancelotta’s “The Anniversary Trip”, a story about a married couple that travels to Paris with the husband’s mother, when I was rewriting a story about a couple that takes a significant trip of their own. I read Adam Johnson’s “Hurricanes Anonymous” when I was fretting about voice, and man, the voice in that story really rings out. I had so much luck with the 2009 collection that I dug out the 2006 anthology, which I had on my bookshelves and, judging by the uncracked spine, barely touched.

It’s my kind of hocus pocus.

Recommended Reading

As someone who works a day job at a desk staring at a laptop and as a writer who spends many of my non-working hours sitting in bed or at the kitchen table staring at my laptop, I take frequent breaks to read miscellaneous things on the Internet. Aside from the usual social networky suspects, many of those sites are listed on your right under “Inspiration, etc”, blogs written by people I know and like a lot or that I just simply think are inspiring, etc. For 2010, I resolved to update my blog more often rather than simply surf aimlessly, which is why I’ve updated 3 times in the past week, and I think other people felt the same way because there’s been a marked increase in the number of posts for me to read in my Google reader. I wanted to bring to your attention a few of them.

What Looks In is written by Darcie Friesen Hossack. In 2006 I enrolled in the Humber School for Writers Program. It’s a correspondence course where you work one on one with a mentor, sending your writing to them and getting feedback and suggestions in return over a period of about 6 months. Because it’s a correspondence class, everything is done via snail mail and email. What you get out of it depends a lot on what your mentor puts in, and results can sometimes vary. I was lucky to have Michael Helm as my mentor, and he was wonderful – kind, but challenging, and he gave me the best reading suggestions. The other hard part of doing a correspondence course is that you miss out on the interaction between your fellow students. But, again, I was lucky, and discovered that this didn’t have to be the case. I met Darcie, along with a handful of other great ladies, via the Humber message board and to this day we keep in touch, regularly sending emails, celebrating each other’s successes or commiserating if necessary. I’m excited that Darcie’s first collection of short stories, Mennonites Don’t Dance, will be released by Thistledown Press in Fall 2010. I’ve read a few of her stories already and they are staggeringly good; her writing is luscious and evocative and I can’t wait to read the entire book. Anyway, she has started a blog to talk about writing and her upcoming book, and you should read it.

Girl on Wine is written by one of my best girls, Lesley. She’s my literary partner in crime, and whenever I go to a reading without her, someone will ask, “So, where’s Lesley?”. But, she’s also an aspiring sommelier. Until now this has meant that whenever we go out to eat, we’ll hand her the wine list and make her pick, or we’ll get her to help us figure out what wine to buy. For instance, this past Christmas, we had a big dinner with friends, and everyone bought a specific wine (a cabernet sauvignon from Chile, California or Bordeaux or a riesling from Alsace or the US) and we tasted each one. We didn’t do a proper tasting (let’s face it: when you have that many bottles of wine among a small group of people, things start getting a little… rowdy), but we tried, and it was a good opportunity to truly distinguish differences in wine, especially for someone like me, who often gets lazy and is satisfied with dep wine. It’s nice to have an excuse to drink something better. Her new blog has good information about wine for beginner winos like me, and more specific, detailed recommendations for those with a more refined palate.

Samantha Garner is a freelance writer and editor in Calgary and we’ve known each other for a loooong time, did a litzine together (I liked all of them, but Pinpoints #1 is one of my top 3 zines that I’ve ever been involved in, period), and this past year she did something very brave and started concentrating fully on her freelance work. If you’re in Calgary (or elsewhere) and need a freelancer, use her. But she also writes about language and grammar and literary things on her blog, so even if you don’t need her services, you should read her posts.

LalaLindsey is blogging more too, and that’s awesome, but what I want to tell you about is her book, You Are Among Friends: Advice for the Little Sisters I Never Had. This started out as a zine, and then she used Kickstarter to turn the zine into a book, which she’s distributing to women’s shelters, Planned Parenthood clinics and schools. You can buy the book too, and I strongly suggest you do. Sometimes I think about what life was like when I was in high school, how difficult it was to figure stuff out, to trust people or to stop myself from trusting people too much. Discovering zines, the Internet and indie rock helped me out a lot, but it was mostly indirectly. I saw girls in bands and thought, hey, I could learn how to play guitar. I read Sassy magazine and thought, wow, it’s cool that these models are a little different from the models in YM. It would’ve saved me a lot of trouble if I had Lindsey’s instruction manual, so if you have a little sister or cousin or neighbour who could use some advice on how to grow up as a girl in this world, buy it for them. Personally, I bought the book for myself. I mean, the advice she gives is directed towards teenagers (there’s lots of good information about sex, budgeting, what to do when your best friends starts dating a dude and ditches you), but the whole tone of the book inspires me, a thirty year old woman, and just makes me feel good about myself, so of course I would like it on my bookshelf. Sheesh, thank you, Linds. Many people were posting photos of themselves holding the book, so here’s my Internet meme of myself holding YAAF.
photo

Book Update #1

I haven’t written about something I got really excited about towards the end of 2009, mostly because it felt more like a 2010 event. Now that we’ve begun the new year, I thought it would be a good time to start writing about it here: in fall 2010, Invisible Publishing will be publishing my first book, a collection of short stories. I’m really excited about this, grateful to be able to share some of my writing with the world in a format that I love so dearly: a book.

The process of publishing a book is kind of mysterious to me. Despite my love of books, I’ve never bothered to learn more about the industry, although I have gathered some peripheral knowledge here and there with the advent of publishing blogs. I mean, I cut my writing teeth with zines, so when I think about things like layout and printing, I think first of gluesticks and photocopiers. Publishing a book with a press is new territory for me. I’ve worked with editors before, but never for anything over 30,000 words, so I’m curious to experience that relationship. I’m looking forward to seeing how cover art and book design is chosen, how books are sold to stores, how one goes about promoting a book. And I thought some of you may be interested in this as well, or at least interested in this process filtered through my perspective. This is also for my own benefit: I’ve been a compulsive self-documenter since I started my first diary in the third grade.

So, I’ll start at the beginning.

Invisible is a small Canadian press. The mandate on their website is simple and good, and something I can stand firmly behind: “Invisible Publishing is committed to working with writers who might not ordinarily be published and distributed commercially. We work exclusively with emerging and under-published authors to produce entertaining, affordable, print-based art. We believe that books are meant to be enjoyed by everyone and that sharing our stories is important. In an effort to ensure that books never become a luxury, we do all that we can to make our books more accessible.” Books they’ve published that I’ve enjoyed include Anna Quon’s Migration Songs and Stacey May Fowles’ Fear of Fighting and in the spring they’re publishing an anthology of Jeff Miller’s Ghost Pine, and you may recall that I had an essay included in The Art of Trespassing, which was edited by Anna Leventhal and published by Invisible.

When asked about writing, I will give the typical answer and say that I’ve been writing my whole life (i.e. that Nancy Drew ripoff I wrote in Grade 5 about a girl detective named Tracy Maguire, the weird “novel” I wrote in the eighth grade where one of the characters is HIV positive and, I don’t know, someone murdered someone somewhere, maybe the HIV positive character did it?, the time I tried to recreate the entire script for Clue, ignoring the fact that for the movie to have been made, a script was probably written for it, etc.). But I began seriously writing in 2005, and since then I have amassed quite a few stories, most of them embarrassing and not at all as funny to tell you about as that novel I wrote in the eighth grade. But in the past 2 years I had pared my writing down, felt more confident about my “voice” and wrote newer, better (to me) stories. I felt I had enough to create a cohesive collection. Because of the previous relationship I had had with Invisible from the anthology, at the beginning of 2009 I emailed them some of my stories, a CV, and asked if they would be interested in doing a book.

As things in the writing world go, time passes. La la la. You keep writing, you get rejection letters and emails, sometimes you get acceptances, you waste a lot of time on Twitter instead of writing, you plan a wedding. You know, life goes on. I heard from Invisible again in July saying that they were interested and that if I had more to show them, as well as any other information that they thought would be useful, to send it to them. I did, and then more time passed, and we spoke again in October and then in November and they confirmed that they were indeed interested in publishing a collection of short stories. This past December while I was on the East Coast, I met up with Robbie MacGregor of Invisible for lunch in Halifax and officially signed the contract.

My manuscript is due on March 1st, and I’m still working on it. I’ll write more about the writing process and the work I have to do until then in subsequent posts, but if you have any questions or are curious about anything relating to this, by all means let me know.

So, um, yay! A book!

To books in 2010!

Over the past 2 weeks, Andrew and I have logged about 4000 kilometres. We started in Montreal and visited various points in the Maritimes (Moncton, Halifax, but mostly Cape Breton where we spent Christmas) and then made a last minute decision to visit dear friends in New York City, driving through Maine (which always feels like the wilder, more remote cousin of Vermont to me) and Connecticut. In Cape Breton, we spent a lot of time doing what you’re supposed to do at Christmas: eating. And I relaxed too, and breathed in a lot of clean, country air, and I read Ghosts by Cesar Aira, a novella set in Argentina. It’s the holiday season in that book too, New Year’s Eve actually, and a Chilean family is living in a construction site that will eventually be luxury condos. Ghosts live in the building too, and they fly around naked and covered in dust and do things like chill bottles of wine for the humans and invite the oldest daughter to a party at midnight. I also started reading Charles Portis’ Dog of the South, and it’s an amazing thing, this book, funny and strange, all these details about characters who get into the weirdest situations (another man has stolen not only Ray’s wife, but also his credit card and car, and Ray sets out to track down the two lovebirds in Mexico), an aimless, sparkling road novel.

Once we left Nova Scotia, there wasn’t as much time to get absorbed in a novel, but whenever I go to New York City I make sure to visit The Strand, the bookstore famous for having over 18 miles of books. The Strand is overwhelming and always packed with so many people and there is something about seeing so many books that sometimes makes me wonder what the point is of ever bringing another book into the world because they’re all there already, shoved into talls shelves or piled on tables, and the prices! The discounts! But that feeling is fleeting and I will amble through and pick up books, put them down, pick up others and usually try to cap the amount I buy at 4 or 5. This trip I emerged with 2666 by Roberto Bolano, another Aira novella, Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace and a copy of Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem which I’ve read, but decided I wanted to own. These books, along with books I got for Christmas (Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Virgil’s Aeneid, 2009 Best Short Stories) and a book of essays about photography that I purchased at the Aperture Foundation gallery make up my reading list for the next few months.

I’m excited to read more books in 2010, to discover something that will make me feel feverish and excited or simply understood, that quiet, humming content you get when you read the right thing at the right time. Screw being overwhelmed by books at The Strand – we need all of those books, and more of them, because there are too many moments in our lifetimes and everyone else’s lifetimes that should be documented or reflected or heightened.