May 2015

Writing Elsewhere

Let’s start with this! Nomfiction, a nonfiction anthology about food, is out now. My essay, Messy, is about pregnancy cravings (or rather, the lack thereof) and eating a crab boil on Tybee Beach last September. I can’t speak highly enough of this collection: the other essays are wonderful and moving. Working with Amanda and Troy was a pleasure too.


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In related news, Little Fiction/Big Truths is taking some of their writing to print: NOMFICTION (!), a fiction and nonfiction MUSIC anthology that’s currently under development, and a nonfiction TECHNOLOGY-themed collection that they’re seeking submissions for. You can pre-order your copy of the anthologies, and if you do it now, you can save 50% off the list price. I recommend that you do.

Exciting, no?

Now, looking back on the past month: in May we traveled!

We spent a week in Cape Breton, with its big skies and ocean and lakes and lobster. Clara was spoiled by her grandparents and I took time to finish another round of edits on my novel (so close!). Traveling is a kind of test when you’re with a baby, and Clara’s first flights went well enough. We swaddled her as if it was bedtime and she mostly slept, and when she didn’t sleep, the din of the airplane masked some of the fussy noises, and when that didn’t work, at least she made sure to give her neighbors gummy smiles so that they wouldn’t get too annoyed.


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A week and a half after we returned from the east coast, I loaded up the car so that Clara and I could take our first roadtrip to Montreal. I’ve done that drive along the 401 more times than I can count, and the only difference was that this time we stopped for wiggle breaks so that one of us could flail their limbs around and stare at strangers and get their diaper changed before falling back asleep in the car. Montreal was perfect, not just for the chance to catch up with best friends, but to meet the glut of new creatures that arrived since I moved away – babies, puppies! I also ate many foods I missed, and returned to Toronto with the spoils from visits to both the Atwater and Jean-Talon markets. We’ve been eating our way through them ever since, except for the dozen Fairmount bagels that are tucked away safely in the freezer.


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In Toronto the weather seems to have skipped straight from winter to summer, and we love it. Clara is now rolling like a champ – all that practice paid off – and her constant drooling yielded two tiny teeth poking up from her bottom gums. At first I could only feel their serrated edges with my finger, but now you can see them when she smiles or cries. Teeth! How do these things happen?


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Summer, part 5: A pause.

Vancouver & around

For a few days towards the beginning of the summer I truly thought I would get a lot of writing done, that I would somehow cobble together a rough-rough-rough draft of the novel I’m working on. But summer’s over and, oops, I am nowhere near that; I didn’t even come close. It’s okay, though.

I’ve had a kind of psychological shift in how I approach/think about my writing recently. When I decided to get “serious” about fiction, I was in my mid-twenties and I wrote almost maniacally to meet internal deadlines I’d set in my head. I wrote and wrote and wrote and I sent out stories before they were ready and I took workshops and classes and sometimes I was lucky to get published, and then, a few years later, I was so incredibly lucky to find an amazing publisher that believed in my stories and helped me form them into something more solid for the public. After it came out I continued to write and write and write and after a few years (ugh, years? really?), I completed a novel that I still dearly love: my first long work, something I’d never put so much thought and time and effort into. Since its completion, it’s been in limbo – my agent is doing behind the scenes work and I’ve gotten some nice rejections, but as any writer knows, a nice rejection is still a rejection. Books are hard to get published. At this point I’m not sure what else to do about it other than wait, patiently, and keep writing and writing and writing like I did before.

Which sounds like a good plan, except for a while I just stopped writing. It was weird. I went from being someone who was annoyingly productive to… not at all. I wondered if I really cared so much about writing? I’d always thought that the thing I wanted to be most in the world was writer and then I realized that maybe it wasn’t what I wanted, and what was it instead? And what if whatever else I wanted to be was also some kind of unattainable goal?  Everyone faces this at some point and I suppose my turn was up. So I stopped writing, but I was busy figuring out other things in my life: I was moving cities, I was changing roles at work, I was seeing doctors, I was spending time with friends, I was being lazy, I was going through things that ate into the psychological space writing used to take up in my life.

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Next Big Thing

Happy New Year, everyone! I love these first few days of the year when everything seems fresh and manageable and bright. I had the nicest New Year’s Eve I’ve had in awhile: dim sum and rollerskating. It was a fun, lighthearted way to kick off 2013; I hope it bodes well for the rest of the year.

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And 2013 already seems promising. A new story of mine was published over at Little Fiction. “The Most Serene Republic” is about wanting to get engaged, and money, and it’s set in Paris. Little Fiction is one of my favourite lit sites out there and I’m really pleased with how it turned out. (Thanks, Troy!)

Speaking of writing, Saleema tagged me in this fun “Next Big Thing” meme. I don’t think I’ve done a pass-it-on quiz like this since my Livejournal days! I’m working on something new, but it’s still too early in the writing/first draft-y process to answer the questions below, so I’ll answer it for my more completed project.

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On Writing and Reading in 2011

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2011 is coming to a close, and I’m in year-in-review mode. 2011 was a quiet year, a foundational one, I think, but I’m ready to launch into 2012 and leave this one behind.

My only writing-related goal was to work on my novel, and I did a lot of that. But how exactly do you measure whether or not it’s been a good or bad year for your own writing? I didn’t publish anything new (just a reprint of an older story). I wrote a lot, although it was front-loaded; I’ve barely written anything in the past two months. But, I did work hard in the first half of 2011 – Sunday afternoons at the kitchen table, typing and rereading and marking up drafts. It was satisfying and I’ve been missing that feeling and am looking forward to establishing a routine like that in the new year. And I had so many other great writing-related experiences: the QWF Mentorship, some fun readings, an evening at the Danuta Gleed awards. I’m happy to be represented by the HSW Literary Agency, which is something I didn’t think was possible a year ago. 2011, you weren’t so bad!

My favourite things I read were Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered To Do It by Geoff Dyer (or any of his books, really), The Keep by Jennifer Egan, 8 by Amy Fusselman (why didn’t I write about this book here? It was amazing), The Chairs Are Where the People Go by Sheila Heti and Misha Glouberman, all those issues of The New Yorker that I read in the food court at lunch time, The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides, It Chooses You by Miranda July, The Wife by Meg Wolitzer. And all of that Laurie Colwin. Sigh.

I was also inspired by so many of my friends this year. Lesley published her first book of poetry and started making serious headway on a non-fiction book. Samantha let me read the first draft of her novel, and I’m excited for the rest of the world to read her words. Soraya, late in the year, decided to get started on a memoir and has blown me away with how dedicated and productive she’s been, even if she doesn’t realize it herself. Leesa started getting published all over the place and knows exactly when to send me stories of hers that break my heart in the best way. Liz and Laura wrote a book about the Beatles and then published some of the essays as zines that are just… mind-blowing. I read one of Darcie’s new stories and it made me cry. Lindsey finished her MFA thesis! Kat always had wise words about the writing process, and Esme wasn’t afraid to let us into the hard parts. I am grateful for these ladies, to witness people I know slogging it out with words and not giving up and supporting each other.

Fall Inspiration

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A few weeks ago, I got restless. I wanted to make something. Nothing particularly epic or grand, just something I could start and then – get this – finish. So I decided to write a story. The thing is, I haven’t written a story in a very long time, not since my book came out. All of my energy had been thrown into novel writing. It was both weird and nice to start writing something from scratch, something with new characters and different settings. I rewrote it a few times, printed it out and then gave it to Andrew to read one evening while we were sitting in a Korean restaurant eating dinner. I didn’t really plan on having him read it, but it was in my bag, so I handed it over. I stirred up the egg yolk in my bibimbap while he read through the pages and I didn’t cringe or hide under the table from embarrassment. The story is pretty short, and I’m not really going to do anything with it at the moment, but it’s satisfying to have.

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I’ve maybe caught the short story bug again; I want to write more. I guess I’ve been feeling inspired these past few days – the coziness of fall setting in, and I’ve been reading a lot of really great things. For instance, Meta is the newest zine by Marissa Falco, about Margaret Kilgallen, a painter and a graffiti artist who died in 2001. I was unfamiliar with Margaret’s work and it was a great experience learning about her through Marissa’s words, but also via the layout, design and type of the zine, which was also inspired by her – homemade, hand drawn, perfect in its imperfections.

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One rainy evening I went down to Cagibi to see Jeff Miller and Cindy Crabb. I’ve gotten the opportunity to see Jeff read a few times here in Montreal, and he’s always great. It was Cindy’s first time in Canada, and she was here for the recent launch of The Encyclopedia of Doris, an anthology of her latest zines, an alphabetized collection of thoughts covering everything from apple crisp to grief to social ecology to Vandana Shiva. She read one of my favourite things she’s ever written: i think hope is like a crush. not the resigned hope, like – i hope things get better – but the hope that feels like suspended disbelief. where spaces open up and everything is possible again, and you’re pushed to adventure, pushed out of your regular boxes, pushed to show off, to be the person you want to be the most, working hard to show your best sides, your secret scars, your hidden dreams. I choked up.

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Another night, Jonathan Richman played Montreal. It was a short set, and I almost feel like I dreamed it because the set was so short, and we got there late after he’d already been playing for 20 minutes, and we were standing behind Win and Regine from Arcade Fire who were dancing and grinning, and actually, everyone in the room was grinning, and Jonathan danced on stage and spoke bad French and strummed his guitar and after the encore he had to come out to tell us that he really was done for the night. We shuffled out into the streets, all pent up energy, and then drank too much red wine.

It was nice.

Go team!

Pre-Christmas cupcakeCupcakes for everyone!

A few times a week I’ll receive emails from the women on the Humber mailing group I belong to. Recently the chatter has been a little more exciting than usual. For instance:

- This is a biggie: our very own Darcie Friesen Hossack, author of Mennonites Don’t Dance, was just nominated for the 2011 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for best first book. She’s up there with Giller nominees, guys. You may remember Darcie on this site from our uninterview in August. We have the second uninterview forthcoming (which we did the evening before the nomination when Darcie had absolutely no idea what she’d wake up to the next morning). Kim, another member of the email group, recently wrote a fantastic review of the book on her blog.

- Lisa McGonigle, who’s from Ireland, currently living in New Zealand, but a Canadian ski bum at heart, just published her first book, Snowdrift, a memoir about her time in the Kootenays in BC. I’m eagerly waiting for my signed copy to arrive in the mail. I can’t wait to see Lisa’s warmth and hilariousness translated into book form. I wish I could’ve gone to her book launches out west, which involved lots of drinking, live bands in bookstores and general revelry.

- Susan Toy does an amazing job promoting books, and recently shared her wisdom at a talk at the Calgary Public Library. For those of us who couldn’t attend, she was kind enough to post the text to “Marketing Yourself and Your Work”. Read and learn!

- Susan Calder will release her first book, Deadly Fall, very soon, and was recently namedropped in the latest Quill & Quire in an article about the increasing popularity of mystery fiction.

- Oh hey, some of us (Vicky, Carin, moi) have taken on “literary voyeur” roles for Seen Reading. So, Montreal/Ottawa/GTA, don’t be alarmed if you see someone looking over your shoulder and taking notes about what you’re reading and what you look like. Okay, maybe be a little alarmed, but this is for a good cause.

Not too shabby, and I’m sure I’m forgetting some accomplishments. Also, this doesn’t even convey the general enthusiasm and support we provide each other. I have to say I’m quite proud – go ladies!

A Resolution & A Review

I am totally the kind of person who not only makes New Year’s Resolutions, but looooves making New Year’s Resolutions. In the past few years I’ve tried to keep them simple, to do that thing where you set “intentions” rather than specific resolutions. It sounds hokier, but at the end of the year when you review your list, you don’t feel like as much of a failure.

Here’s one of my main resolutions for 2011:

Reminder.

This, of course, comes from the best writing advice of 2010, Dear Sugar’s August 19, 2010 advice column. I posted this photo on Facebook (and frankly, every other online social network I’m on), and my friend Nel replied with the following comment, “Yeah! Read and explore and live like a Mother F! Yes Yes Yes!” Nel is one of the most enthusiastic, supportive, live like a motherfucker people I know, and yes, she’s right. Let’s apply this motto to everything.

I was buoyed to really stick to this resolution by a review of Bats or Swallows that appeared in the latest issue of Quill & Quire. I’ll be honest: reviews freak me out. I wanna be cool about them, but they’re scary and I usually read them with my eyes half closed, first to myself without telling anyone I’m reading the review, and then after I’ve processed it a little, I’ll casually say, “Oh hey, yeah, there’s like, this review. It’s cool.”  I’m really pleased with the review, and happy that it’s reviewed in Q&Q, period. Robbie sent me a jpg of it – click to read.

Anyway, it’s my last evening of Christmas holidays and I have some writing/living like a motherfucker to do. See you in a few days.

What I've Been Working On

Ever since we’ve been back from France, it’s been hot. Really, really hot. We left Athens a few days ago because the city was empty anyway and we’ve been cooling our heels in Agistri, swimming twice a day, drinking a lot of icy drinks and getting stuff done. So, just what have I been working on in Greece? Not just swimming and drinking, promise. I spent some time finalizing things for Bats or Swallows, but mostly I’ve been working on other projects.

It’s funny how words accumulate, how slow and painful it can be, but how one day you look at the Excel file you use to track your word count (you do that too, right?) and you realize it’s a higher number than you expected it would be. Most of the words need to be rewritten or reordered or resomethinged, but at least you have material to work with, clay to mold. You have ideas that have actually been put on paper.

I’m working on a novel. I was anticipating a breakdown point with what I’m working on now, for it to implode, but it’s August and it hasn’t happened yet. Which means, I think, that I’m doing a better job than I have in the past.

I haven’t shared much of the writing from this project – it’s very first drafty and sometimes doesn’t make sense and every page or so there’s something in the writing that makes me cringe. I get self-conscious when even Andrew looks over my shoulder as I’m typing. For awhile I was calling the book Living Expenses, but that title doesn’t fit anymore. I have another title in mind now, but maybe it will change too. Not-Living Expenses is about a family. A small one. It’s about marriage and roadtrips and the Greek shipping industry, which sounds more ambitious than it really is. It’s an internal book, I think. Maybe the first novel you write has to be internal.

I can tell you the names of the characters in the book. There’s Zoe and Anna and Nicholas. I have a good handle on Zoe and Nicholas. Actually, you’ll be able to read a little bit about Zoe in Bats or Swallows in a story called “Swimming Lessons”, and you’ll probably be able to tell that her story belongs to something larger. She was the one that started everything. I think I know Nicholas pretty well too because I’ve been writing him for the past month. Actually, I call him Niko now that we’re on better terms with each other. I’m not going to share any writing about him yet, but if he had a soundtrack, it would include these songs (excuse the crappy You Tube links; I don’t have an Internet connection and I don’t want to use all of Rosy’s bandwith uploading MP3s):

(Okay, enough vaguely creepy talk about my characters as if they were real people. You do that too, right?)

I’ve also been writing a zine. I can tell you the name of the zine because I had to submit a bio for a reading I’m doing in the fall and I included it, so now I really have to finish it. The zine will be called Places and Things. The last zine I made was a few years ago and I keep thinking I won’t make any more, but then I get it in my mind that I really, really want to make one, so I do. I like zines because they’re forgiving like that, and also private.

When I first discovered the Internet as a teenager, it felt like a private space. Hardly anyone I knew used the Internet, and the concept of Googling someone’s name didn’t really exist. Most people didn’t have websites (“homepages”) and I actually shared an email address with my parents until I finally signed up for Hotmail a year- maybe more than year! – later. My zine, on the other hand, felt really public. It was being distro-ed by zine distros that no longer exist, I had reviews in magazines like Broken Pencil. I got mail. Now it’s the other way around. Blogs and websites are the norm, I’m all over the place online, and I rarely get letters (and when I do I’m horrible at responding to them, argh). I may not keep up with zines much anymore, but the zine world feels like a small, private place I still like to visit from time to time.

None of these things are finished yet, but they’re getting there, and with some patience and luck (on my side, and I guess yours too depending on whether or not you want to read them), they’ll eventually see the light of day, some sooner than others.

On Nice Rejection Letters

Rejection letters are par for the course for any writer. I go through phases of being consistent and systematic with my submissions, dutifully keeping track of every story in an Excel spreadsheet. (It’s a good way to know how many months have elapsed between submissions, and also to track which stories I’ve sent out to multiple magazines.) (Yes, I am one of those people who blatantly ignores the “NO SIMULTANEOUS SUBMISSIONS, PLEASE. EVER. SERIOUSLY. THANK YOU.” rule. I’m thoughtful and careful about it, though, promise!)

Recently I’ve fallen behind on submissions, mostly because many of the stories I would send out are going in Bats or Swallows, and my pool of submission-ready stories has therefore dwindled, but there are still a few floating out there in the literary magazine ether. Every so often I’m reminded of them when I see my own handwriting on an envelope in the mail (god, I can’t wait until the day SASE’s are no longer so prevalent) or get an email in my inbox. At this point I’ve received enough rejection letters to not feel so stung by their arrival – usually enough months have passed since my submission that I comfort myself with a “I’m a much better writer now!” thought, and then I promptly trash the email or letter. I’m not the type who files them away as motivation; I have better things to wallpaper my walls with. But every so often I get a nice rejection letter. And while nice rejection letters can’t be listed on a CV, I’m still always grateful for them. This afternoon while I was wallowing in the mid-afternoon blues that have the tendency to hit you when you’re working your office day job, I idly checked my email and saw that I had received one of those nice rejection letters. The email had exclamation points, encouragement and compliments, and I felt a puffed up “maybe this is kinda worth it?” hopefulness.

Even though the ultimate decision was a no, it definitely made me feel better than a rejection letter I received years ago where the editor mailed me back my story and simply wrote across the top, “Sorry, no.” Pfft. I’m a much better writer now, anyway.