Category: Readings

What our family does with its spare time

If you read all the way to the end of this post, I will show you what our family does with its spare time. (You’re skipping down already, aren’t you?) Well come back up for some writing-related news.

1. I have an essay in this moving anthology on pregnancy, parenthood and loss. This is just a teasing preview, as it won’t be published until the fall, but I wanted to share the news. I will let you know all about launch party plans when the time comes.

This publication will mark my entry into non-fiction and memoir, which is a departure for me, but may be the start of a new direction.

More to come.

2. You may not know that I’ll be coming to Hamilton, wearing my writer hat. I’m reading at GritLit, Hamilton’s literary festival. My event is on Sunday, April 7, at 1pm, with Cary Fagan and Miranda Hill. “Great Things Come in Short Packages.” I’m 99% positive that the organizers aren’t referring to height. Details in the link above.

That catches us up, and makes me feel like a nice professional blogger again.

And now for the reveal.

Here’s what our family does with its spare time: we spontaneously and collectively brainstorm a parody advertisement, and then we make it into a video. And then I post it here. The original idea bubbled up as we told the kids (one in particular), that if her dream is going to Disney, she will have to tag along with a friend because, well, let’s just say it’s not Kevin’s dream, nor is it mine. Point being: some dreams don’t come true. But the idea amused us. As a family, we watch very little television together, and stream what we watch online, and lately there’s been a rash of Disney ads, so we found ourselves riffing on the theme. AppleApple wrote the script. I recorded the voiceover. Kevin did all the video editing (he’s good!). And now we offer it to you, and hope you find it even a fraction as hiliarious as we do. With humour, it’s hard to know. (Note to friends going to Disney: this is not an attempt at subliminal messaging.)

One good thing about not having a dishwasher

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this morning, convalescing kid with companions

Recently I sat down and wrote out a schedule. My goal was to identify any spare pockets of time into which I could slot one of the following activities: exercise, writing, social time, Kevin time, and cleaning. (My standards are low, but even basic maintenance for a family of six without a dishwasher requires a little effort every day.) I discovered a few extra spots for running or yoga, plus worked out my strategy for maximizing my writing hours (hint: it involves scheduling separate time for email). Social time seems to be the hardest to come by.

But I did find an extra fifteen minutes here and there to throw at vacuuming and cleaning out cupboards and filing the stacks of paper that fly into the house and somehow multiply and spread to every available surface. To which I say, Whoo-hoo, without much enthusiasm.

But now I’ve got a kid home sick, and the schedule’s gone out the window. This is temporary, right? Right??

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Last night, I visited another book club, my fifth this fall. I’ll admit that I was exhausted and drained after spending the previous night at the hospital, but I had a feeling that I needed not to cancel last-minute. I needed to go. And didn’t I! I was hosted by a group of mothers and daughters whose comforting warmth and welcome restored my energies. You just never know when these unexpected gifts are going to arrive. I returned home feeling repaired and strengthened by the evening.

I also got to show the book club the reprinted version of The Juliet Stories, which arrived yesterday. Oh my goodness! It looks quite different: GG finalist sticker embedded in the cover design, and new quotes from reviews on the back and front.

Kevin has made me a little gift: he put together a video with photos from this past month’s GG adventure, set over top of the clip on The Juliet Stories that was played on Monday evening on CBC radio’s As It Happens. Small story about that clip: I got to listen to it twice. First, I heard it live. I was washing the dishes, and I always listen to the CBC while washing the dishes (perhaps this is reason enough to remain dishwasher-free). Kevin was at a soccer game with AppleApple and the other kids were playing soccer in the rainy dark backyard, and suddenly there was my name and then my voice. I didn’t call the kids in. I listened alone, appreciating the quiet. What a sweet life moment. An hour later, the whole family got to hear it together: we streamed it from the Winnipeg station online. AppleApple was beaming from ear to ear: her Halloween costume is mentioned in the intro. (Several of her siblings were slightly jealous.) When my reading came on, CJ said, “Who is that?!” “Who do you think?” And he was suddenly too shy to say, but he knew.

Click here to see the video. Thanks, Kevin. It’s quite the keepsake.

A wild writer’s weekend

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On Saturday, the Wild Writers Festival launched here in Waterloo. I’ve now been to a few festivals across this country, and each has its own unique personality and flavour. The Wild Writers ran as smoothly as if it had been chugging along for years. It was the most academic, I think, with master class sessions for writers and those interested in becoming writers, as well as panels and readings, but it was not stuffy. It was comfortable. The Balsillie Institute is full of light. It’s a beautiful building, and I’m lucky enough to live about three minutes away, which really cut down on travel expenses.

I didn’t take my camera, however. And this post will suffer for that lack. I’ve got these striking scenes in my head that I can’t show you at a glance. Instead, I offer you random nature photos from my backyard.

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I started the morning being interviewed along with Alison Pick (Far to Go) and Miranda Hill (Sleeping Funny), right there in the light-filled lobby, by Dan Evans who has a show called Books for Breakfast on a local radion station called CFRU. I can’t find the Saturday show archived on the website, but it was live to air, although it didn’t feel like that. It felt like we were having a chat with Dan, who hosts an effortless-feeling interview. I know he’s a bookseller (The Bookshelf in Guelph), but someone should poach him for the CBC. Seriously.

After that, I sat in on Kerry Clare’s blogging workshop (she blogged about it too!). I took notes. Put me at a desk in a room with a lectern and I just can’t help myself. I flash back to the happy student days; plus jotting notes helps me think through what’s being said. I don’t listen well unless I’m busy with something else.

Sometimes people write and ask me for advice about starting a blog, but I’ve never analyzed why my blog works (and by “works,” I simply mean why I keep doing it, and regularly). The only piece of advice I generally offer is: know your boundaries — how comfortable are you with scrutiny, and do you know where your own personal line is between private and public? No one else can tell you that, and it’s different for everyone. But I connected with many of Kerry’s very practical points, number one being: Blog like nobody’s reading. I blog for the pure joy of writing. I blog to make sense of my life, and to record its passing moments. And although I didn’t set out with this purpose, I’ve found community and real life connections through my blog.

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I jotted down notes later in the day, too, at the men’s “wild writers panel.” Alexander MacLeod said that reading a short story is harder work than reading a novel because the reader can’t be passive. The story has to resonate. It begins doing its work when it’s done. It has to create resonances within the reader, so that the end of the story becomes its beginning.

I did rather want to stand up and shout YES!, but it wasn’t quite the atmosphere for gospel-style responses.

That essentially sums up why I wrote The Juliet Stories as stories rather than chapters. Although I do apologize to my agent and to everyone trying to sell the foreign rights to the damn thing, because the plain truth is that stories don’t sell (it would be nice if we could prove that truism wrong). Next book I’ll write chapters as stories, but I won’t tell anyone, and maybe everyone will just assume it’s a novel. Sneaky. Don’t tell, okay. This is just between you and me.

I haven’t said a word, yet, about my panel, all women, all deemed wild writers; but maybe that’s because I wasn’t taking notes and don’t feel qualified to comment. All I’ll say is that I expected it to be fun and engaging, and it really was. Thank you, Kerry-Lee Powell, Miranda Hill, Alison Pick, and our very fine moderator Amanda Jernigan.

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In other news …

I baked bread this weekend.

I managed a frantic speed clean of our neglected chaotic house on Friday after school.

And I stunk it up on the indoor soccer field yesterday afternoon, where my team was schooled (or owned, as Albus put it — he was the only unfortunate family member who came along to watch) by a team of very young women with superior foot skills, who usually play a few divisions above us. Thankfully we won’t meet them again this season. With all the sprinting and turning and stopping and starting, I didn’t even feel fit! (The scotch I had imbibed the previous night was not helping.)

Meanwhile, on another indoor field in Mississaugua, my eldest girl was having quite the opposite experience, for which I’m truly grateful. Someone in the family needed to be earning the soccer honour, and it wasn’t going to be me.

Catching a glimpse of the wild writer

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how the dogs spend their days

Tomorrow I’ll be at Waterloo’s brand-new Wild Writers Literary Festival. Click here to see the program. Appropriately, I’ve buried myself in writing today, although I regret to report that glimpsing the wild writer in her natural habitat would make for very dull viewing indeed. I’m fully dressed, have not imbibed anything stronger than coffee, and have no apparent signs of insanity, mania, or spontaneous outpourings of poetry. More wilderness may be just what this writer needs.

Reading at IFOA for the GGs

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hospitality suite at IFOA

You’re going to suspect that I do nothing but jet around to festivals and parties. Heck, let’s pretend it’s true. Let’s pretend I’m not sitting at home in a slubby hoodie neglecting the sick kid on the sofa who is playing video games. At the very least, I’ll provide no photos of my current state.

I’ll admit it. I ache. I think it’s a combination of playing soccer on Sunday followed by all the driving and standing and sitting required by parties and readings. I have it down now: I’ve got comfy but good-looking shoes for the standing parts and the parties, and I save the heels for the readings themselves.

I’m doing a bad job of telling this story.

Yesterday, Kevin and I drove off to Toronto, mid-afternoon, leaving my mom to look after the sick kid and everyone else (dogs too! good grief!). I checked in at IFOA (Toronto’s International Festival of Authors), and the organizers let me use a hotel room to change in (for some reason, I didn’t get a hotel room out of this event, perhaps because Toronto considers Waterloo to be a suburb or a cousin once removed? In any case, no hotel room for GG finalist Carrie Snyder). Kevin and I also ate sandwiches and eggplant dip in the hospitality suite: supper.

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here’s what I decided to wear

Then we went to the IFOA party. I can’t remember the title, but it was crowded with industry folk, and it was hot. I was happy to talk to the people I knew, but equally happy to stand on the sidelines and just observe. Best moment of the evening: when we were approached by a very excited woman who came right up to Kevin and said, “Junot Diaz?!” Needless to say, my husband is not acclaimed American writer Junot Diaz (who wasn’t at the party in any case), but when we checked the author photos in the IFOA guide, we thought, hey, maybe he should put on a name tag. And grow a goatee. Because otherwise, people, I’m basically married to Junot Diaz.

The woman was embarrassed when she realized that I was the writer, and that she’d never heard of me. People keep joking that I may need to change the title of this blog, but I’m not too concerned. I reassured her, and she said she’d buy my book. (But I’m thinking she’ll probably buy Junot’s instead.)

Should I do more name-dropping? It seems almost obligatory. Here’s who we talked to at the party: Sarah MacLachlan (my publisher); various Anansi people; a lovely woman from the Canada Council who had read my book thoroughly enough to know exactly which story I was going to read when I told her the title (I was impressed!); Iain Reid (One Bird’s Choice); Linda Spalding (fellow GG finalist) and her husband Michael Ondaatje; Ania Szado (a writer with whom I toured back in the Hair Hat days); Eva Stachniak (The Winter Palace; she is Ania’s friend); Mark Medley, books editor of the National Post, who commissioned my best writing assignment ever, which just ran on Saturday: a review of Alice Munro’s new book, although it is more ode than review; the woman who thought Kevin was Junot; and a few others, though possibly by accident. We were there for an hour and a half, so clearly we didn’t excel at the mingling.

Then Kevin spotted Vincent Lam (The Headmaster’s Wager; fellow GG finalist). Vincent was leaving the party, so we thought we’d better follow him, because I didn’t really know where I was going for the actual event. Vincent and his wife were both super-friendly, and possibly super-human (he’s an emergency dr and she’s a family doc and they have three kids under 7). We had a nice chat. After awhile, we were joined by an IFOA publicist, and Linda Spalding, and set off for the theatre, quite clearly going the wrong way. There we all were, tramping around in the dark surrounded by a very high fence. “I’m sure IFOA will provide us with a ladder,” said Linda Spalding. Thankfully, no ladders proved necessary. Eventually, we went the right way, and were soon backstage at the theatre. Our group now included Robert Hough (Dr. Brinkley’s Tower) and Tamas Dobozy (Siege 13) and the poet Phil Hall (Killdeer).

I tweeted a terrible photo. Vincent Lam tweeted a better one. Guess which is which.

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We met Shelagh Rogers. She gave me a scarf because it was freezing backstage, and you’ve seen what I was wearing. I read second to last, which gave me ample time to freak out. I handled my nerves by going into an almost comotose stillness during the first several readers. Conserving my energy, I thought, if I thought anything at all. It was kind of peculiar, actually, and prevented me from doing any useful networking backstage. But when it was nearly my turn, the stillness broke and I got very jittery, which was quite unpleasant. I don’t usually get so jittery. I had to go for a little walk in my noisy high heels. But then I thought, just harness the energy and be glad you’ve got it: better lots of energy than none. I also thought, perhaps rather melodramatically, You’re doing this for Juliet, so just go out and do it.

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that’s me onstage

So I went out and did it. I settled down instantly, under the lights. I read “She Will Leave A Mark” from the first section. I think the story carries more poignance and depth after you’ve read the second section, but it’s a good story even on its own. I love reading. The only emotion I felt at the very end of the story was, well, a kind of bittersweet sadness. Because the moment was over.

I enjoyed being asked by the stage manager if I’d like something to drink at the booksigning table (white wine, please!). And I enjoyed signing books. Kevin brought our stack and had all the GG finalists sign them, but there was a mix-up with Vincent Lam’s. Kevin is going to need to find a second wife named “Sandra” in order for the dedication to make any sense. More proof that my blog title is in no danger of becoming obsolete. But then Michael Ondaatje shook my hand and told me he’d loved my reading. Hm. So maybe fifty-fifty.

The evening was starting to get really fun, probably because my publisher Sarah and her husband Noah Richler were on the scene, so we were talked into going back to the hospitality suite, which we hadn’t planned on doing, being responsible parents from Waterloo, Ontario. Just being around Sarah and Noah has the effect of regressing me to my pre-child self — almost; but let’s not call it regression. Let’s call it staying in touch with my spontaneous glam girl side. I’m shocked to report that side still exists.

But I’m not shocked to report that spontaneous and glamourous doesn’t go exceptionally well with early mornings and sick kids and walking wet dogs in the rain.

No regrets. This is an strange and happy little bubble of a moment. I’m going to float while it’s floating. (But thanks to kids and dogs I’m quite sure that I won’t float away.)

Vancouver Writers Fest: I was there! And now I’m home.

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over the Rockies

Is this going to be a long post? I have a funny feeling that it might be. However, the process of writing it is being somewhat interrupted by a very chatty four-year-old who is sitting in the rocking chair in a patch of sunlight beside me. And so I am attempting to compose this post while simultaneously maintaining a conversation on a variety of topics. Right now we are on the seasons: “And it goes round again and again, again.”

Don’t it, though.

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Granville Island hotel

Travelling is such a strange thing to do. Being somewhere else. Being away. There is the transition, the waiting, the getting there; and then there is the being there, when home feels like a dream. Travelling solo is particularly strange, and, I must admit, quite easy to get used to, at least for short patches. On my own, I’m only myself, with only me took after. The responsibility seems so light.

It was an especially lovely trip, from beginning to end. It seemed blessed with lucky moments. I walked into the airport in Toronto on Thursday morning, and the first person I saw was my friend and former boss Noah Richler. What are the chances? He was off to Alberta (have you heard? — his new book, What We Talk About When We Talk About War, is a finalist for the GG in the non-fiction category). I then met up with Heather Birrell, another literary friend (Mad Hope); but that had been pre-planned. We were on the same flight to Vancouver, and managed to get seats near each other. Neither of us are happy fliers, and our flight experienced a lot of turbulence. She was seated behind me and she reported that every time we hit turbulence, my head would pop up: apparently my spine stiffens when fear strikes. But we survived. I brought headphones and watched three movies. I’m not ashamed to report that two of them were children’s movies: Brave, and Madagascar 3. Brave was EXCELLENT, plus I cried (I was in the middle seat; and I think we’ve now established I may be the kind of fellow passenger you’d rather not be stuck sitting beside, what with the weeping and the palpable terror). I dozed off during Madagascar 3, after which I started a very long melodrama called People Like Us, but then the plane landed and I missed seeing the last ten minutes (and it wasn’t the kind of movie I wanted to experience twice). Heather filled me in on the plot.

We were in Vancouver!

Okay, let me interrupt to explain that nearly an hour has passed since I first began typing this post. Maybe this should be a two-parter, a multi-chapter saga? I’ve only just gotten to Vancouver, for heaven’s sake. And it’s nearly time to pick up my swimming child from the pool.

I’m going to speed this up by doing some name-dropping. Walked into the hotel, first person I saw was Sheree Fitch (Night Sky Wheel Ride): big hugs. (But then we didn’t see each other again; this happens at festivals, with people coming and going.) Good thing I had Heather to introduce me to some more writers: we were soon headed for dinner with Jessica Westhead (And Also Sharks) who was travelling with her husband and their brand-new seven-week-old daughter (whom I never got to hold, dammit). We were also joined by Emily Schultz (The Blondes), whose book I’d reviewed for the Globe back in August.

After dinner, Heather and I went to see Anne Perry and her biographer Joanne Drayton being interviewed on-stage. We were both toast at this point, our bodies telling us that it was nearly midnight, so we debriefed in the morning over breakfast at the Granville market, after which we got very lost, after which it was time for our morning events. I’d woken at 4am, been unable to fall back to sleep, and got the front desk to open the exercise room for me so I could run/spin.

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outside my hotel room, Friday morning

My first event was with Riel Nason (The Town That Drowned) and Marjorie Celona (Y), moderated by Shaena Lambert (Radiance). I had a moment of panic while prepping and felt incapable of choosing the right section to read, but it all turned out fine. We spent the hour and a half reading and talking about child narrators, among other things, and the feeling in the room was just lovely. Afterward, I signed books, and one of the women who sat down to talk to me said, “I’ve never wanted a character to win an award before, but I just really want Juliet to win.” Nice, hey.

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Chris Cleave, me, and Annabel Lyon, backstage (photo taken by Marsha Lederman)

I had about twenty minutes between events to freshen up and eat a banana, and then I was back at it. This one was in a large theatre with Annabel Lyon (The Sweet Girl) and Chris Cleave (Gold). We were each interviewed by Marsha Lederman, and then came onstage together at the end to answer questions. What can I say about this event, other than it confirmed for me that I really love being onstage. I’ll admit it. Onstage is a great place to be. It requires the burning of lots of energy, and there’s an element of risk to it, but if you know me, you’ll know I like burning energy. The risk part, well, maybe I’m drawn to that too, a bit.

Something else about being onstage: I’ve learned that it’s no good wishing I were different. To be comfortable, all I have to be is myself. I love watching those performers who are quick with witty anecdotes, but that’s not me; and that’s okay too. We’re all different. When I’m in the audience, I want to see a real person up there, not someone pretending to be someone they’re not. I think that’s the only secret, honestly.

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outside my hotel room, Friday afternoon

After that happy shiny event, I went for fries and a beer with Marita Daschel (Initiation Trilogy); we met through the blog a few years ago, and though we’d never seen each other face-to-face, nor spoken, it was like being with an old friend.

Walking into the hotel, the first person I saw was Sarah MacLachlan (my publisher at Anansi). We were meeting for dinner in less than an hour. I grabbed a quick rest, took a hot bath, and let myself come down from the day’s excitement, to unwind, though not completely.

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this is how much I unwound

Sarah had invited Anansi people out for dinner at the Sand Bar. I knew no one except for her. Seated around the table were (more name-dropping ahead): Rawi Hage (Carnival), Madeliene Thien (Simple Recipes), Anosh Irani (The Song of Kahunsha), Pasha Malla (People Park), a young woman named Thea whose story collection with be published by Anansi soon (sorry re lack of details), me, A.L. Kennedy (The Blue Book), Graham Gibson ( The Bedside Book of Birds; he’s also known as Margaret Atwood’s husband; she was stuck in transit and couldn’t be there), and Dennis Lee (Alligator Pie). I was seriously crashing at this point, glazed eyes and brain, and thankful for light conversation from the women seated near me. After dinner, Sarah and I dashed off to hear A.L. Kennedy read (and I do know her name is Alison, but can’t help but think of her by her initials).

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at dinner; and an accurate illustration of how my brain was behaving, at this point in the day

The evening ended in the writers fest hospitality suite where thankfully Heather came after I texted her an SOS — I knew no one and was feeling like a wilting wallflower. But I also didn’t want the day to end. Of course, it finally had to (I’d been up since 4am after all). All that was left was a short night’s sleep, a morning walk in a hailstorm to fetch breakfast at the market, and the packing up.

I spent yesterday travelling. I enjoyed a quiet peaceful flight with no spine stiffening moments. On the ride home from the airport I met an international trade specialist and an expert in honeybees. And now I am holding my sad four-year-old whose sister just stepped on him, probably because I am writing this blog rather than paying attention. So it is time to stop typing and to pay attention.

Tomorrow (Monday) I’m in Toronto for a reading at IFOA. Anyone coming?

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