Sunday, July 9, 2017

More Victorian Reading

I didn't get very far reading Russian novels this spring. Instead, I seem to be drawn back into the world of Victorian literature. I'm currently reading (and loving) EM Forster's Where Angels Fear to Tread. Not only do I love the story- such outrage over Lilia Herriton's marriage to a younger Italian man- but I also love the title, which is from Alexander Pope's Essay On Criticism, "For fools rush in where angels fear to tread."

Earlier in the spring I also enjoyed Claire Harman's biography Charlotte Bronte: A Fiery Heart. Usually I find biographies offer too many details about parts of their subjects lives that don't interest me, but in this book I was fascinated by all aspects of Bronte's short life, from her experiences at boarding school, to her unrequited love with her Belgian tutor, and her adventures in publishing, both as Currer Bell and under her own name. Although I knew all the Bronte children died young and under tragic circumstances, I hadn't realized Charlotte had buried all of her sisters at such young ages, and I hadn't realized that Branwell Bronte, had died of alcohol and drug addiction. I also thought Charlotte hadn't died of tuberculosis like her sisters, Anne and Emily. Instead she died of severe morning sickness leading to dehydration, an ailment suffered by many women, including Kate Middleton. What a short and tragic life!

You can listen to Eleanor Wachtel's excellent interview with Claire Harman on Writers and Company. And if you haven't yet seen the 2011 version of  Jane Eyre with Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender, you can watch a clip of it here. The IMDB description of the film is as deliciously dramatic as the book itself: "a mousy governess softens the heart of her employer only to find out he is hiding a terrible secret."

For more Bronte reading, I also recommend Lena Coakley's World of Ink and Shadow. This YA novel is based on the teenage lives of four of the Bronte Siblings, Anne, Emily, Branwell and Charlotte. The Bronte siblings are well known for their published works, but also for the childhood writings, largely of imagined places. Coakley plays with the Bronte juvenilia by having the kids enter into the fictional world of Verdopolis that Branwell and Charlotte created. If you like all things Bronte, and YA fantasy, you might very well enjoy Worlds of Ink and Shadow.   

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Russian Reading List 1

This spring I've been turning my reading attention away from Victorian-era Raj, and slowly focusing on Russia. This, I'm worried, will lead to a lot of depressing reading. If anyone knows about a happy Russian book, please let me know. It's with a certain trepidation that I start reading books that I feel to be from the land of bloody revolution, gulags, and the KGB. A google search for "funny Russian novels" came up with Russian classics, but nothing I would call a comedy.
So here's what's on my list.

I heard about Sana Krasikov's The Patriots from my favourite podcast, Unorthodox.  I was intrigued by the book because it's about people who immigrate from Russia, and then go back. Who does that? Lots of people, apparently, and guess what? It never ends well. You may think life in Canada or the US is problematic, or you may have high revolutionary ideals, but returning to the Mother Country is a sure way to become suspect by the Communist government. This is, of course, hindsight, and it does make for excellent fiction. Krasikov's novel is about three generations of Russians who return. I'm looking forward (sort of) to reading about the Cold War years, and about  current life in Russia.

Next on my list is Eva Stachniak's The Chosen Maiden. This historical novel takes place before and during World War One, earlier than the time period I'm interested in, but it's about Bronia and Vaslav Nijinsky, famous Russian dancers. I love a book about dance and this one is even blurbed by Cathy Marie Buchanan, author of one of my favourite dance books, The Painted Girls. This historical novel promises to shed light on the remarkable career of Bronia Nijinsky and the role politics played in her career. (I'm guessing being a ballerina in Communist times wasn't fun. Sigh.)

Okay, this is off topic of Russian books, but it's always good to talk about dance. I've endured many terrible dance movies with bad plots and poor acting- injured dancers, dancers with unreliable partners, choreographers who just don't understand- but if you want to watch a fantastic dance film, check out Ballet 422 on Netflix. It's a documentary of the New York City Ballet's 422nd original ballet choreographed by Justin Peck. I loved the way the film takes the viewer from the original ideas behind the choreography and then through rehearsals, costuming, lighting, to the final performance. Justin Peck is also kinda dreamy. Please enjoy his ballet "The Times Are Racing," filmed in the NY subway system.

One of my favourite podcasts, 99% Invisible also had a great show about Russia recently. 99% Invisible bills itself as the podcast about the "unnoticed architecture and design that shapes our world." I've learned about the US postal service, the urban planning of Salt Lake City, and my favourite episode, a phone booth in the Mojave Desert. In the episode, The Falling of the Lenins, old statues of Lenin are taken down in Kiev, Ukraine and other Ukrainians cities, revealing generational gaps and fissures in attitudes towards the Ukraine's Soviet past. While listening to it in the car, a small voice complained from the back seat, "Why are we always listening to things from Russia?" I had a huge flash back to myself complaining to my father about his obsession with Russian history. I didn't have an answer for my son at the time, but I'll be formulating one as I start reading about Russia, and when I eventually get to reading about Russian Jews, and just maybe, Russian Jews who decide to leave Canada and go back to Russia.

Oh wait, I just remembered a novel by a Russian author that isn't depressing. In fact, it is quite funny. David Bezmogis' Natasha and Other Stories is the story of Mark Berman and his parents, who have fled Riga for Toronto.  And, not only is Natasha a great read, but now it's a film. Even if the film does have a darker side- Mark's new cousin turns out to have a double life as a sex-worker- the trailer makes me long for the kind of summer where you ride your bike aimlessly, smoke cigarettes by a pool at night, and have few obligations. Yes, I'm reading for summer, or at least spring-like weather.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Book Launch for The Most Dangerous Thing

Awhile ago I launched my book, The Most Dangerous Thing, at Novel Idea bookstore, here in Kingston, ON. Lots of my friends came out to celebrate me, and for the first time my sons were old enough to come to the launch. I was supposed to post this ages ago, but life caught up with me, and I'm only sharing this now. Sigh. I'd still like to share the introduction I gave to the novel.

My boys are sitting in the front on the left. My reading must have been scintillating to them because one is very interested in his cookie, and the other is reading a Star Wars book instead of listening to me!

Good evening everyone. Thanks for coming out to join me in launching

The Most Dangerous Thing. This is a YA novel about a teenage girl growing up in Vancouver named Syd who suffers from a debilitating anxiety. Syd is also fighting a secret battle against depression. Syd believes she can cope with her mental health problems herself, but as the book progresses, Syd realized that she really needs some help.

I decided to write about mental health because I realized so many people, both friends and family, and also my students, were coping with some serious mental health issues. And mostly, no one was talking about their problems. It's my hope that teens suffering from depression might pick up a copy of The Most Dangerous Thing, and be able to relate to, and seek help if they need it.
The book is dedicated to my sister Marcy, partly because she's my sister and she's great, but also because she is a mental health nurse. During the writing of this book we had several long talks about mental health and she answered some of my questions from a clinical perspective.

The book is also dedicated to my Gibridge sisters, who are my neighbours. When my husband and I bought our house ten years ago, I knew we were moving to a great neighbourhood, but I didn't realize how many of my neighbours would also become my close friends. In particular I'd like to say thank you to Jen Davidson-Harden who also answered many of my questions about teen mental health.

This is me blessing the book: Please sell well!
I didn't want to invite everyone here tonight to read from a depressing section of my book, so I'm going to read from another part of the book that highlights some of the other challenges Syd faces. There's a cute boy that likes Syd, but Syd's not sure how people with anxiety talk to boys. Syd's anxiety about relationships and her sexuality is compounded when her sister Abby decides to put on The Vagina Monologues at her their high school. As you might imagine, Syd thinks this is a terrible idea!

I chose this section to read because I thought it would be fun to highlight the differences between extroverted and introverted siblings. In the book, Syd wonders if there's a support group available for introverted people with extroverted siblings. Siblings with extremely different personalities tends to be a theme in my family. My parents are very different from each other, as are my sister and I and my husband and his brother. This has continued in my own children. (At this point my boys were pointing and giggling at each other.) I'm pleased that my kids are old enough to be here tonight.

Oh! How fun is it to say 'vagina' in public?!
My introduction ended with a set-up of the scene I read, which was about Syd's sister announcing her intention to put on The Vagina Monologues. According to my friend Steve, I said the word vagina eleven times, which is probably eleven times more than it has ever been said in Novel Idea. I'm good with that, in fact I think we should all be saying vagina, or whatever you like to call female genitalia, a little more often.

If you're intrigued to read more about the book, please head to your local Indie book store, or you can find it online at most major retailers. You can also listen to a recording from the launch at Finding A Voice on CFRC. Many thanks to Bruce Kauffman for recording the launch, for his great weekly show and for all he does for literature in Kingston.

Friday, March 10, 2017

On Tour!

To celebrate the publication of my YA novel The Most Dangerous Thing, I will be on a Book Blog Tour all next week. If you follow the tour you can read reviews and interviews and even a guest post. Here are the dates.

March 14th 

March 15th

March 16th

March 17th

March 18th

March 19th

Many thanks to The Fabulous Flying Book Club for setting up my tour!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

It's Book Launch Time!

Now that it's March, I'm not only excited about March Break, but March 7th is the release date of my YA novel, The Most Dangerous Thing. I'm also excited about my Kingston launch party at Novel Idea on March 31st. You're all invited, even those of you who live too far away to come. Here's my beautiful invite.

It's possible that I was so excited to show off my new cover last post that I may have neglected to tell you what the book is about. Well, let me fill you in.

The Most Dangerous Thing is about a teenage girl named Syd who is struggling with anxiety and depression. Sydney also hates to talk (or even think) about sex. Since she isn't good at talking to people, especially boys, she's sure she'll never have a boyfriend. So, when her classmate Paul starts texting and sending her nature photos, she is caught off guard by his interest. Sydney's life is further complicated when her extroverted sister, Abby, decides to put on the play The Vagina Monologues at school. Through hearing about the play, Sydney starts to reexamine her relationship with her body, and with Paul. Eventually she starts to grapple with what she calls the most dangerous thing about sex: female desire. You can find the book (and buy it) at Orca Books, or at Amazon or better yet, at your local Indie book store.

You might have guessed that sisters are a big theme in this book, especially sisters who are different from each other. My own sister Marcy and I are very different people. I am far more outgoing, extroverted and goal-oriented than she is. She's way more generous, easy-going and patient that I am. As kids I performed on stage, and well, she didn't.  (She describes herself as the quiet one.) If either of was going to be put on a play at school, it definitely would have been me.

The book is dedicated to Marcy, mostly because she's my sister and she's a special person for all the reasons above, but it's also dedicated to her because of the conversations about mental health we had while I was writing the book. Marcy has worked as a registered nurse in mental health at Vancouver General Hospital for more than fifteen years. She works in the emergency department, so she sees a lot of people in crises. I know the patience and generosity she shows our family is also apparent in her professional life. I'm thankful to her for answering my many questions about anxiety and depression and mental health in general.
So here's to sisters. I feel lucky to have someone to have real tea parties with after all our childhood pretend tea parties, and to still regularly be trounced by whatever game we are playing. For years Marcy destroyed me at Gin Rummy, Spit, Mille Bourne, Rat Race and Monopoly. These days she trounces me at Scrabble. Currently she's 106(!) points ahead of me in our Words with Friends game, and there's no chance I'm going to make a comeback.

My mom, Marcy and me. (I'm the one hamming it up. Quel surprise, eh?)

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Cover Reveal- The Most Dangerous Thing!

I got the most exciting package from my publisher this week: copies of my YA novel, The Most Dangerous Thing. I was quite pleased. Okay, I was actually thrilled! After years of hard work, there’s nothing like holding the physical object of your story in your hands. No longer disjointed in Scrivener, or marked up with Track Changes, it’s now a real thing. (Okay, there’s also some sheer terror lurking behind the joy, but mostly it’s a moment for happiness.)

Instead of writing these days, I’ve been working on book publicity. This means contacting magazines, blogs,  podcasts, local newspapers and telling them all about the book. And, it also means updating my web presence with my beautiful new cover. Getting a book cover is an interesting process. Someone else, (the art director) reads your book and comes up with an image that represents what you’ve written and what will help sell your book. My books has actually had two covers. Here's the first:

I really loved this when I got it. I loved the lettering, the colours and the clouds that represented my main character' Syd's mental health issues. I also loved the cyclist because Syd spends a lot of time on her bike. This first cover came to me mid-summer right in the midst of my own biking obsession. I biked over 600 km this season, mainly near my cottage, which is quite hilly. When I’m on my bike, I spend a lot of time thinking about future travel fantasies, books and my characters. Biking is a great way to sort out book-related problems. (I used to talk through these problems out loud  on my bike, but I was swallowing too many insects.)

This is me, with my bike, at my cottage August 2016. Biking is a fantastic way to make yourself ache all over and forget whatever ails you.

Just when I was really starting to fall in love with my book cover I got an an email from my publisher with a new cover. The first cover was skewing too young and so they went with another approach. It's quite different, but beautiful too, and probably speaks more accurately to some of the sexual content of the book. I was happy they kept the funky script for the title.

So here it is, the cover of The Most Dangerous Thing. The publication date is March 7. More details about the book, launch party and readings coming soon.

Monday, February 6, 2017

My Writing Group - On My Team

Writing is often a lonely thing. With the exception of the intense times when I work with my editor and we correspond frequently, most of my writing moments are spent alone. I absolutely treasure my solitude for getting the words on the paper, but the rest of the business of writing (publicity, wondering if what you wrote is any good, waiting for reviews, coping with endless rejection) can be very isolating. Luckily for me, I have the most amazing writing group. Ever. I don’t even live in the same city as my group, and they're still amazing.

I met my group through the Toronto Public Library's Writer-in-Residence Program which at the time was led by author Cynthia Holz. This is a great program if you live in the GTA. Here in Kingston, writers can meet and get feed-back from authors through the Writer-in-Residence program at Queen's University, or with the Poet-in-Residence at the Kingston Library.
Cynthia met with each of us individually, and then invited some of us to participate in a six-week seminar where we had the opportunity to give feed-back to each other on short assignments. At the time, I had just moved to Toronto and didn’t know very many people, so this was a great opportunity for me. I was also dying to be a writer, but didn’t know how to meet other writers or get published. At the end of the six weeks, I asked if anyone wanted to continue as a group, and seven of us did. I offered my large, decrepit, chilly apartment, and once a month the others trekked up to Melrose Avenue to look at each other’s work. We didn’t know each other at all at the beginning, but gradually through reading each other’s work, we became friends. We spanned over fifty years in age, originated from four different countries, claimed as many different religious and cultural heritages, and came to the group with a variety of personal and professional strengths.
That was almost twenty years ago. The group has seen marriages, babies, divorce, illness and death. Two of us have moved away, but still visit. One of us, moved away and then moved back. We lost Anne Warrick to cancer in 2014 and still miss her very much. Through all of this, there have been writing successes. Ania Szado has published two books Beginning of Was and Studio St-Ex. Elsie Sze has written Ghost Cave: A Novel of Sarawak, The Heart of the Buddha and Hui Gui: A Chinese StoryDianne Scott has published short stories in The Toronto Star, Taddle Creek, The New Quarterly and others, and has an awesome book set on Toronto Island that I’m sure will be in print soon. For years Elizabeth has taunted us with stories about a monk that keep us hoping for more. Roz Spafford’s poetry collection Requiem won the 2008 Gell Prize. She's currently working on a memoir about growing up on a ranch in Northwestern Arizona. Anne Warrick self-published a collection of fascinating  short stories for her grandchildren about growing up in England.
I love my writing group because they always agree to look at things, no matter how long or outlandish (it’s about a girl who hates the Holocaust, it’s about a lesbian governess in colonial India). They put in time and effort to give me constructive feedback to improve my writing. They ask probing questions. They phrase things gently but pointedly. (I wonder if readers will stay with you long enough to get to the “good parts.”) And, they’re excited for my successes, and encouraging through the long stretches of rejection and waiting. They remind me why I wanted to do this crazy writing thing in the first place: because it is good to go into story and reshape what we know about the world on the page.

 So here’s to writing groups and good friends. If you write, I hope you have people to send your work to for feedback and support. If you don’t, take a course somewhere - I loved Humber College- hope to meet some good people, and then rope them into being on your team for life.