Two things

I got some nice responses to my first Scrapbook entry of 2012, and I really appreciate it. Sometimes it’s funny having a blog and not knowing who’s out there, so it feels good to get little notes from the Internet world letting me know that there are real people out there reading these words. Thank you.

Two unrelated things:

1) Just wanted to point you in the direction of Carin Makuz’s blog, Matilda Magtree, where she was kind enough to interview me. Carin and I go back to the Humber days. Her site is worth keeping in your bookmarks – thoughtful and beautifully written with great photos as well. And she picks a perfectly appropriate meal to accompany my book.

2) When I was in Toronto over the holidays, I picked up a bunch of my old zines. I’m going to scan some of the less embarrassing pages for an experiment I’d like to do this year to teach myself the basics of e-publishing. In the spirit of the recently released Magnetic Fields song, here’s a sample of a page from melt the snow #5, created at the height of my Magnetic Fields fandom (click to get a larger image so that you can actually read the teeny tiny type).

Style sheets

Book Club Buddy is a great site where you can read interviews with writers and find out information about their books. I recently did a little interview with them and you have until Wednesday at midnight to enter a contest where you can win a free (free!) copy of my book. Head on over for details!

photo(I saw my book at the library for the first time ever on the weekend, so I took a photo.)

Recently Lindsey and Samantha posted fascinating entries about their short story collections: lists of characters, first sentences, word count, etc. I love reading these details – there’s something so satisfying about systematically breaking down a bunch of words into something tangible like that. I currently don’t have enough short stories on the go to do a similar sort of summary (the rough-rough-rough drafts slowly taking shape on my computer aren’t ready for it) and I’m still feeling a little too superstitious about my novel to talk about it too much (although the first sentence of the novel is from the story “Swimming Lessons” in Bats or Swallows and goes: My father drowned in the Aegean Sea, fifty nautical miles northeast of the port of Piraeus.)

Reading their lists reminded me of the style sheet for my book. I wasn’t familiar with style sheets until the late editing stages of Bats or Swallows, but I thought it was such a neat little document. It basically formalizes the little quirks used in the book to make sure they’re consistent throughout.

For example:

Special symbols
European Diacritics (é, è, etc.)

Numbers
all numbers are spelt out with the exception of:
5×10 foot and 10×30 feet in “Art History”
3:15 in “Bats or Swallows”

Canadian spelling (double vowels, consonants, etc.)

Special notes
TGAOTU and GATOU in “A Secret Handshake”
Supreme Being “A Secret Handshake”
Being Prepared in “Baby Teeth”
Straight Edge “What Counts”
Ways To Feel Better in “Bats or Swallows”
Letters capitalized, not spelled out: A, O, Z in “Hushpuppies” and O, W in “Swimming Lessons”

And then there’s a kind of glossary broken down by letter. My favourites are

F
Fair Isle
the Falls (Niagara)
FedEx
fetus
Fibonacci
Fourth of July
Francophone
freak-out
Freemason
fresh-faced
frosty

P
pancit
passive-aggressive
pay phone
photo shoot
polyamoury
pothead
Prime Minister
puffed-up
purple-tinted

S
Sanskrit
sceptical
sex life
sing-songy
shivasana
shoo-in
soulmates
spycam
squelchy
strip mall
subdivision
Swiss Army knife

It’s strange, but from these brief notes and lists of letters, you can infer a lot about the kind of things I write about in the book.

On Readings

reading

First some nice news: I made the shortlist for the ReLit award. Yay!

***

That picture above is from the first reading I ever did back in 2005. As usual, I was highly polkadotted. I did one or two readings after that, but it wasn’t until my book was launched last October that I started reading more. In the past few weeks I’ve done 3 readings: a story excerpt in a bar to a group of creative writing students, the opening 2 paragraphs of a story on the radio and another story excerpt at Drawn & Quarterly, a bookstore, followed by a casual panel discussion. I’ve come to the realization that despite the experience I’ve accumulated over the past few months, reading to a group of people still makes me… uncomfortable.

I enjoy myself, but mostly what I enjoy is everything about the event except my actual reading. Reading for the group of creative writing students was ideal: they were quiet and responsive, I had a gin and tonic before going on stage, the lights weren’t too bright and I loved listening to the others, all of whom are great examples of good readers (Jessica Westhead, Ian Orti, Dave McGimpsey). The radio show, an afternoon spot on CBC’s Homerun, was more nerve-wracking, but I had Katrina Best with me to diffuse anxiety. Neither of us knew we had to read on the radio until the last minute. In Katrina’s case, not until she was asked, on live radio by the host. She handled it like a pro and has the bonus of having an ultra smooth British accent. I sat in my chair, listened and was so grateful to a get a few extra minutes to figure out what I was supposed to read. And as far as bookstores go, Drawn & Quarterly is such a dream to read in. It’s small and cozy so you’re kind of hugged by beautiful books and there are always enough chairs for everyone. Plus I had a glass of wine before going up.

In general I don’t mind public speaking. It makes me nervous, of course, but not so much clam-up-and-faint nervous as hyper-butterflies-in-my-stomach nervous. You would think that reading would be more relaxing – there’s no real need to memorize your lines and you get to hold something solid and comforting while you’re up there. And while I do think that most writing is better experienced by reading silently to yourself, I understand the pleasure of being read to, of hearing the cadence and rhythm of words spoken out loud. What bothers me is that I’m not the best one suited to read my work out loud. My approach is to do everything I can to avoid “reading voice” – you know it when you hear it, that poetry slam lilt, the drawn out syllables at the end of each sentence – but I’m afraid that in retaliation I resort to an overly casual, conversational, vaguely Valley Girl tone instead.

I’m probably overthinking it, right? I’ll get more comfortable the more readings I do? Fingers crossed, for my sake and yours, if you happen to be listening.

Book update: ReLit, Fiction Funnies, R.E.M.

Despite these lazy summer months, book stuff persists – and I’m grateful for it. I was more worried about Bats or Swallows being greeted with thudding silence than bad reviews, and so every little nod to my little book always makes me happy, especially 9 months after it was first released.

1) Bats or Swallows was long-listed for the ReLit Award, along with many other lovely books. Yay! From the website, “the winner of the ReLit Award receive the ReLit Ring, which features four moveable dials, each one struck with the entire alphabet, for spelling words.” Cooool.

2) I’m excited about this reading at Drawn & Quarterly on August 17.

Reading in Montreal - Aug 17!(Isn’t the poster great?)

From the invite:

Fiction Funnies at Drawn & Quarterly
featuring Katrina Best, Cordelia Strube and Teri Vlassopoulos
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Drawn & Quarterly Store, 211 Bernard O
Doors at 7 p.m, Free!

Three fantastic fictioneers read, discuss role of humour in writing. Montrealer Katrina Best’s first book of short stories, Bird Eat Bird, recently won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book. It’s a funny, smart, offbeat and insightful collection that explores themes that are equally parts poignant and hilarious. Cordelia Strube, author of the Giller longlisted Lemon, is a Montreal native now living in Toronto. Her novel features a teenager trying to survive high school with three (sort of) mothers, one deadbeat dad, one cancer-riddled protege, one tree-hugging stepbrother and a 60% average. And Teri Vlassopoulos is the author of the short fiction collection Bats or Swallows, shortlisted for the Danuta Gleed Literary Award, stories told with grace, wit and a bold and original eye for comedic detail.

Here’s the Facebook event: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=165551930185370

3) This is due entirely to searchbots, but this entry at reference.com for R.E.M.’s song “Country Feedback” includes my book as a “related article”. It delights me to no end. (Humour me. As Michael Stipe might say, I need this.)

Face to face

Since returning from California, I haven’t had much time to breathe. A combination of work deadlines plus more traveling has left me sleepy, but all for good cause. Some fun stuff happened; I have pictures.

I’ve mentioned the ladies I keep in touch with from the Humber program I took a few years ago, and last week I was lucky enough to meet a handful of them. Lisa McGonigle, author of “Snowdrift”, happened to be in Montreal for an Irish Studies conference at Concordia. She arrived while I was out of town and even though we had never met, I had no qualms about letting her stay at our place (and catsit our surly cat, Archer.) When I returned, the two of us met up for a drink here in the city and finally met in person. We laughed a lot.

photoGiggly after some wine

Then I took a train down to Toronto. I had been invited, along with a number of other alumni, to speak to the participants of the Humber School for Writers summer workshop. There were 13 of us in total, and it was illuminating hearing the various paths one can take towards getting a book out there into the world. Everyone advocated persistence, but there were also little blips of good luck, bad luck, strange detours and rejection woes along the way. I talked a lot about the importance of querying a publisher suited to your writing and how important it is to have a supportive group of people around you. I also quoted Lorrie Moore’s story “How to Become a Writer”, which has the best piece of writing advice: First try to be something, anything else. Ha.

DSC06775

But let’s talk more about that supportive group thing. My pal Darcie Friesen Hossack was also invited to the talk, and she took a plane all the way from BC to attend. I was overjoyed when I found out that we would finally get a chance to hang out, and like my meeting with Lisa earlier on that week, I was instantly comfortable around Darcie. Her talk at Humber was exactly what you would imagine from Darcie if you’re familiar with her writing: eloquent, wryly funny, ultra professional.

DSC06796Darcie at Humber

It was an absolutely gorgeous day in Toronto, and after strolling around the Humber campus, we headed downtown to meet even more members from our little mailing list. Five us crowded around a table in the patio of Terroni, ate incredible Italian food and spent almost 3 hours gabbing about writing and life. (And near death – Lynda, who is a pilot, had an impressive arsenal of terrifying/exhilarating stories about situations she’s encountered in the air). It was the perfect way to spend a summer night, and I hope to repeat it again soon.

DSC06818Lynda, moi, Darcie, Keri and Amy at dinner

DSC06799A cute photo of Keri and Amy

DSC06810We took photos of the food. Is that tentacle calling to you? It called to me.

Thank you, ladies. Truly.

Danuta Gleed recap

DSC06419

A few days after returning to Montreal from Cape Breton, Andrew and I hopped in the car (with our cat in the backseat because it turns out that this Siamese really enjoys roadtrips), and drove down to Toronto. The purpose of the trip was to attend the Writers’ Union of Canada dinner/dance on Saturday night where they would also be presenting the Danuta Gleed award, but I managed to fit in a few other events over the course of 48 hours: a viewing of Bridesmaids, some patio drinks, a visit to a charming café. I’ve never been to a more formal writerly event, and gladly took the opportunity to dress up a little. It was held at a hotel near our friends Soraya and Chris, so we got ready at their place, took a few photos and went on our way.

Continue reading

Danuta Gleed!

Mumm mumm

To be honest, most of the news coming from this part of the world on Monday was pretty glum (for my vision of Canada, anyway – apparently the “majority” of Canada thinks otherwise), but between all of the emotional election chatter, I found out something unarguably awesome: Bats or Swallows was short listed for the 2011 Danuta Gleed Literary Award! The award is for best first collection of short fiction, and I was nominated with some pretty fantastic folks, the most fantastic (in my opinion) being Darcie Friesen Hossack, who by now you’ve realized is a good friend of mine. I’m excited and honoured to have been nominated for this award, and I also think it’s a great nod to my publishers at Invisible. Also: it’s a good excuse to buy a new dress and go to a fancy party in Toronto at the end of the month.

Here are some links about the award:

Here’s a new review of the book from the latest issue of Broken Pencil, too. Broken Pencil know my zine roots well (possibly too well if you read the reviews of my zines hidden in their archives, which I considered linking to and then decided against), and so it was nice for them to acknowledge the transition:

It’s easy to see how Vlassopoulos has evolved from years of zine making and why she has come to fiction so seamlessly…Like zines, Vlassopoulos strings together a variety of images and narratives, cutting them rough around the edges but leaving a patchwork of characters with dark corners. It’s another one of Invisible Publishing’s emerging authors who so strongly capture the trends and hopes of unconventional fiction.

So, yes, bubbly all around!

Blue Met panel recap

IMG_3980

Here’s a photo of me peeking out between some folks in the audience at my Blue Met panel on Thursday. For a summary of what we talked about, a blogger has written about it over here: http://nascentnovelist.wordpress.com/2011/04/29/the-city-as-a-character/

If you’re looking for reading material involving “the city”, I talked about What We All Long For by Dionne Brand, Bottle Rocket Hearts by Zoe Whittall, Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O’Neill, The Tin Flute or Bonheur d’occasion by Gabrielle Roy and Lisa Moore/Michael Winter/Kathleen Winter’s portrayals of St. John’s. I mentioned an anecdote about D.H. Lawrence that I picked up from Geoff Dyer’s Out of Sheer Rage. And of course, my fellow panelists own books – Gail Scott’s The Obituary is about Montreal’s Mile End/Plateau area and Peter Dube’s latest, Subtle Bodies, is set in surrealist-era Paris.

Having never spoken at this kind of writerly thing before, I was nervous, but in the end was happy with how it turned out. I learned that it was a good thing I didn’t write down word for word what I wanted to talk about or else I would’ve just read off the paper, and I didn’t want to do that. I learned that a glass of red wine beforehand will make me feel less nervous. A last minute purchase of a new dress from H&M helps too. I learned that a conversation involving writers and Montreal will eventually turn into a discussion about what it’s like being an anglo writer in this city and I realized that because Montreal is the city where I first truly felt comfortable calling myself a writer, I haven’t faced the particular challenges that might come with growing up and being a writer here. I learned that if you’re at a book signing table sitting next to Bernhard Schlink, probably you will sign zero of your own books. I learned that despite being wired on adrenaline for the longest time afterwards, I will still wake up at 5:45 the next morning to watch the royal wedding. All great lessons, no?

Blue Met, next Thursday

In the past week or so I’ve done many things: participated in a mass sing along at a Pixies show, watched the Montreal symphony orchestra play Debussy’s The Sea, ate sublime Portuguese food and mediocre Indian, made homemade pasta, had kitchen table talks with the loveliest of houseguests, delivered the entire first drafty-draft of my novel to my writing mentor, attended a bachelorette party that involved sparkly red nail polish manicures and a stripper named Will Power, worked a few 12 hour days, and, after all of that, started developing the beginnings of a cold. Of course. So, I need a few days to rest, and hopefully an Easter Weekend trip to Toronto will do the trick.

But first I wanted to let you know about a few things:

1) Kim posted an interview with me over on her website. Thank you, Kim!

2) If you live in Montreal, I will be participating in a panel as part of the Blue Metropolis literary festival on Thursday April 28 at 8 pm. I’ve been attending Blue Met events since I moved to Montreal (for example.), and am looking forward to participating in one. The panel is called “City as Character” and it’s being presented by the Quebec Writers Federation. Here’s the description:

From Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles to Sherlock Holmes’ London, the city has long played an important role as character in some of the most fascinating fiction of the last two centuries. Following on that tradition, three writers consider how “the city” plays an important role in their recent work.

With Gail Scott, Peter Dubé, Teri Vlassopoulos. Hosted by Sherry Simon.

Duration: 75 minutes.

More details are here: http://bluemetropolis.org//2011_prog2.php?act=programme1§ion=festival&event=28

Hope to see you there!

Yay for Fresh Fish, KIRBC and YOSS!

There’s been some nice Bats or Swallows love in the blogosphere this week.

Kim wrote an incredibly lovely and thoughtful review of the book over at her blog, Fresh Fish and Foolishness. Thank you, Kim!

Over at the Keeping It Real Book Club, Jessica Westhead made a great video recommendation for Bats or Swallows. I love it!

Jessica just released a book of short stories called And Also Sharks, which I’m very much looking forward to reading. Speaking of Jessica and short stories, have you heard of the Year of the Short Story manifesto, created by her, Sarah Selecky and Matthew J. Trafford? The mandate of YOSS is simple and admirable: To unite fellow writers and readers everywhere in one cause—to bring short fiction the larger audience it deserves. Yes! I can support this wholeheartedly.

Here’s some short story love from my site and beyond:

And if you haven’t read my short stories yet? Details here. You can buy it in book or e-book form depending on how you roll. And if you roll “cheap”, the e-book version is under $5 and you don’t even need an e-reader to read it.