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September 16, 2019

Gleanings: The BLOG SCHOOL LAUNCH DAY EDITION!

Blog School launches today! Creating it has been my big summer writing project this year, and I’m very excited to finally share what I’ve made. Go here to learn more…

September 12, 2019

What Kind of Blogger Are You?

I made a quiz: What Kind of Blogger Are You?

And okay, to say there are but five kinds of bloggers is definitely reductive, but I give you these five different kinds of bloggers just to demonstrate how divergent people’s different approaches to blogging can be. And to emphasize that these five categories aren’t meant to be the end of the question of “how should I blog?” but instead the beginning of a process of the blogger gaining a broader understanding of their approach to and vision for their blog and then daring to venture forth to make/design/shape a blog that suits one’s own creative purposes and even makes one’s experiences richer.

Project-Adjacent Blogger: Your ideal blog is part of another project that you’re working on—this is great for artists, writers, or entrepreneurs. You use your blog to keep track of your progress, to share interesting ideas and revelations about your work, and to incite interest in your project. (You can also do this kind of blogging on your social media platforms.) Your blog can be easy to maintain because—ideally—your central project delivers you content all the time and it can fit nicely into your schedule. Your blog can also help you maintain your passion, connect with a like-minded audience, and think through problems with whatever it is you’re working on.

A Long-Form Blogger: Brevity is not for you, and Twitter is stupid and exhausting. No, your blog is all about depth and connections and who says that a blog can’t have footnotes! You’re driven to write your posts by genuine passion and curiosity, though you must be careful to pace yourself and not become too overwhelmed by the labour of your blog. You love that the work you’re doing on your blog (deep and thoughtful) runs counter to everything that’s so terrible about the internet. You do remember to break up your posts with images, however, with makes them much more reader-friendly. You might want to think about offering readers the alternative of receiving your posts via email as well, so check out some newsletter platforms.

A News-and-Updates Blogger: Truth: you’re just not that keen on blogging. And that’s okay! But it’s great to have an easily-updatable part of your website and having a blog helps your website’s search engine rankings too. You update your blog when you have news to share or an event to publicize. For you, the blog is a very practical tool.

A Dispatches Bloggers: Your blog is where you report back from the front, whether that front is an exotic locale (maybe you’re a travel blogger!) or from amidst a pile of dirty laundry (maybe you’re a mommy blogger!). Your blog is a way for you to stay connected with people in other places, and deliver the news of how it is where you are. Your posts are usually brief but frequent, and some readers might find them mundane, but those readers are not your readers then. One day you will look back and be very grateful for the record you’ve kept of this time in your life (instead of just posting your story as a Facebook update and sending it out into the ether…).

A Kitchen Sink Blogger: And by “kitchen sink,” of course, we mean “everything but the…” Your blog is an array of your fascinations and your preoccupations—it’s all a bit random, but YOU are the through-line. It’s a bit self-indulgent, but shouldn’t any unpaid labour be just that? This kind of blog is especially interesting (and radical) in a moment where online identifies are supposed to be tidy and streamlined. But not you—you’re keeping the internet interesting. And what an excellent public service that is!

Okay, LESS than one week away now—but there is still time to register for BLOG SCHOOL before the official launch and receive a 15% discount with code *earlybird*.

September 11, 2019

An Acceptable Time, by Madeleine L’Engle

When one day I’m asked the inevitable question: “What was the best thing that you did in 2019, Kerry?”, the answer is going to be: I resolved to read a whole pile of books by Madeleine L’Engle. I owe so much to whomever designed the nice looking recentish paperback editions of L’Engle’s Austin series, and to the librarian who decided to purchase them for the library where I was searching out middle grade titles for my daughter. And there they were—Meet the Austins, The Moon By Night, and The Young Unicorns. I’d dabbled in L’Engle’s Austin series years ago, although her Wrinkle in Time series was more foremost in my mind and I still even have the first three novels in my collection. Without those spiffy library paperbacks, I probably wouldn’t have partaken, but they were good looking, so I signed out all three, and imagined that Harriet and I would read them together.

I passed on to her Meet the Austins, but then I read the next book in the series and decided that Harriet probably wouldn’t appreciate the rest. When she’s a little bit older, and a bit less prone to being spooked about the possibility of nuclear annihilation. It turned out these were novels for me after all, and I loved them. As L’Engle’s A Swiftly Titling Planet has long done (I read that book eighteen years ago today) they brought me strength and solace. It was a long, hard winter and I remember reading The Young Unicorns with head lice, and the books made me feel so much better. I read all the Austins, and then began the Polly O’Keefe books, and read A Severed Wasp because Suzy Austin features—and read A Small Rain too, because it’s about the protagonist of A Severed Wasp. And then finally the last book I had to read was An Acceptable Time, which is about Polly O’Keefe, but which is not technically a “Polly O’Keefe” book, because it’s set in L’Engle’s “kairos” time and is the fifth book in the Wrinkle in Time series. Which I was less compelled by, because it was the realism of the Austin series that drew me more than the sci-fi fantasy elements of Wrinkle. (I am really boring. I am the type of reader who only likes the parts of the Harry Potter books where he’s with the Dursleys.)

But because I am nothing if not a completist (and because I was feeling out of sorts on the weekend, and reading Madeleine L’Engle is a wonderful way to deal with that), I finally tackled An Acceptable Time. Which takes place the year after A House Like a Lotus, and Polly has moved to live with her grandparents at the property we all know from Wrinkle. And guess who she finds outside in the bushes, but actual Zachary Grey, the most unappealing character in all of literature, who never seems to have anything better to do than traverse the globe in pursuit of women who are too young/good for him and them place them in perilous situations.

At first, I thought maybe this time would be different. After all, this book was written 25 years after Zachary Grey first turned up—maybe he’d finally learned to know better. He seems less rude and more interesting at the beginning of the book for sure, and is interested in the ancient civilization whose artifacts are appearing on Polly’s grandparents’ property. Maybe Zachary’s trajectory would be different this time? But this was not to be.

There is a whole storyline when Polly and Zachary become trapped in a tesseract and are taken 3000 years into the past, and everyone wore animal skin tunics and to be honest I just didn’t care in the slightest and skimmed this part. Although I loved this idea that Polly grandparents had built their pool on top of an underground spring that was an ancient holy place, where a lake had been before, and the waters are a portal (and Polly is good at swimming, having been raised on islands, because her father is a marine biologist). Anyway, Zachary wants to go into the past because he has this idea that it will heal his ailing heart, and then it turns out that Polly’s going to be made a blood sacrifice (naturally) and this doesn’t bother Zach in the slightest. He eventually has Polly kidnapped, put in danger, and when she gives him a hard time about this, he storms off: “Polly, I wanted to talk to you, but I can see there’s not point when you’re being unreasonable.” I was all for L’Engle being willing to kill Zachary off, but tragically this does not happen….

Anyway, now that I’ve finished reading these books, I really want to read L’Engle’s Crosswicks Journals, and possibly reread her Camilla, which I loved when I was younger, and then her later book about the same character, published in 1990s, which is not meant to be good, but I think having come to a wider understanding of L’Engle’s work, I might just find it interesting.

September 11, 2019

Turning the Page on Cancer

Did you ever have a dream of devoting AN ENTIRE DAY to reading? Did you ever dream of helping to wipe out metastatic cancers? Ever thought of you doing both with one fell swoop? I sure did, which is why I signed up for the Turning the Page on Cancer Read-a-Thon, which takes place October 20, with proceeds going to research for metastatic cancers. I heard about this fundraiser from my friend Melanie, who I met online more than a decade ago through Canada Reads and who was diagnosed with Stage IV Metastatic Breast Cancer in 2015—so a place where books meet raising funds for metastatic cancers in a non-tacky way seems like an incredible way do something to support my friend. She is also taking part in the Read-A-Thon and you can donate to her here if you’d like to. Both of us have surpassed our initial goals (AMAZING!!), but please donate if you are able, or join the team yourself if you’re in the mood for some marathon reading (ALWAYS).

In the meantime, I’m in heavy training, building up my arm strength and stamina. I’ve promised to buy my children whistles and hope they’ll spend the day in tracksuits bringing me water bottles and cheering me on as I read from 8am until midnight. I’d love to break $1000 by the Read-A-Thon day, and really appreciate everybody’s support.

September 10, 2019

Worry, by Jessica Westhead

My friend Jessica Westhead’s roots are showing in her new book, Worry, which follows two acclaimed short story collections and another novel. While ostensibly Worry is a departure—a novel underlined with darkness and suspense, Westhead’s first book with a new publisher, a book marketed to appeal to “fans of Little Fires Everywhere and Truly Madly Guilty“—it’s still undeniably a work of Westhead, with the same attention to the peculiarities of relationships and personal dynamics, misfit characters, and a refusal to flinch in the face of pain or social awkwardness.

And there is social awkwardness aplenty as Ruth arrives at her friend Stef’s new cottage, along with her three-year-old daughter Fern. Awkward from the start, because Stef’s not home, as Ruth is informed by a neighbour, Marvin, who drifts along to the property on a paddle board, and this sets the tone, Ruth with her adherence to rules and schedules, Stef’s refusal to do the same—plus Marvin makes Ruth uncomfortable. Further, Stef and Ruth have a history that stretches back for decades, and she’s even Ruth’s husband’s boss—their relationship has always been complicated. And how complicated their friendship truly is turns out to be one of the novel’s great revelations.

Who is friend and who is foe? What is safety and what’s a threat? The lines are blurred and the stakes have never seemed so high as they are in our contemporary moment of parenting. Ruth’s anxiety about her daughter (and everything) is palpable throughout the novel, and it’s not clear to the reader whether or not it’s unfounded.

Westhead credits Elisabeth de Mariaffi in the book’s acknowledgements for inspiring her “to write my own version of a scary story,” but I see other inspiration too—the way a short story writer turns into a suspense novelist, the agility with which the writer moves from scene-to-scene. That perhaps to move from short stories to suspense-filled novels is not such a leap after all—or maybe leaping is the very point. In Worry, Westhead demonstrates that leaping is precisely what she knows how to do, and her novel delivers with the most assured and powerful landing.

September 9, 2019

Gleanings


September 16 is one week away, which means one more week for you to receive 15% savings on Blog School: Pickle Me This with discount code “early bird”. Find out more here…

September 6, 2019

Book News: Waiting for a Star to Fall

It is with more joy than you can imagine that I write you with the news that my second novel, Waiting For a Star to Fall, will be published next summer in Canada and the US by Doubleday Canada.

For fans of Joanne Ramos and Zoe Whittall, and Emily Giffin, a sensationally gripping and resonant new novel about a young woman caught in the midst of a political scandal.

When political superstar Derek Murdoch is brought down by decade-old allegations of sexual misconduct, his on-again/off-again girlfriend Brooke is left to process the situation. Derek’s reputation is being dragged through the mud because of his propensity for dating much-younger women who work for him–but Brooke knows the situation is more complicated than that. Never mind that she was once his young employee too. . . .

As the public makes up its mind about Derek, Brooke is forced to re-examine the story of her relationship with him–a position made even more complicated by the fact that she and Derek are now estranged after a heartbreaking betrayal. She’s shared the reason of their breakup with no one–but now she fears it may rise to the surface.

Torn from the headlines, Waiting for a Star to Fall is a novel for the #MeToo era, an absorbing story that examines the complex dynamics of politics–and sexual politics–and questions the stories we tell about people in the public eye, and the myth-making of men.


Two years ago (or thereabouts), my friend May bought me a bought that said NOVELIST on it, a title I’d always felt strange assuming, because it seemed kind of presumptuous. even if I had just published my first novel. (Maybe it was all just a fluke?)

I’ve always been a bit wary of this idea that it matters what you call yourself at all, because it’s what you do that counts, not who you are. As a person who writes a lot, I have a certain impatience listening to writers try to justify not writing, and how you’re still a writer anyway when you don’t, blah blah blah. What if instead of having this conversation, I would think, you just sat down and actually wrote something?

Now I understand where this kind of sentiment comes from, the ways in which many women have trouble assuming authority or owning their experience, undermining themselves, the same way that Shirley Jackson was just a housewife. But it’s still putting the cart before the horse, I think, to imagine that learning to call one’s self a writer or “novelist” is even remotely the answer to the question of how to get to be a published author. (I read an old, old pre-Pickle blog post recently in which I worried that I’d spent far more time thinking about being a writer than actually writing. I was definitely on to something there…)

But even still, over the past two and a half years—as my first novel came into the world, and then I wrote two more books, and faced rejection and uncertainty about my future as a writer at all (let alone a “novelist”)—that mug served me a kind of talisman. That I was also doing the work of writing is fundamental to this story, but I came to understand how important it can be to own this little piece of legitimacy, even if it’s one that’s carved into a mug. But it mattered. It helped me keep going—and possibly keeping going is more vital to success than anything else in the world, that which can be written on a mug and otherwise.

And the other thing that helped me keep going was, as always, my blog, particularly this year, which I entered without a real sense of anything to look forward to creatively, and so I decided to delve back into the DIY blogging ethos and make those things to look forward to myself. After years of talking about creating an online blogging course, I decided to go for it—Blog School launches September 16. I also dreamed Briny Books into being, which turned out to be an altogether successful project, a triumph, even—the second round of seasonal selections will be coming your way in October.

And then to have a book deal, with the publisher/editor of my dreams, even, on top of that? More goodness than a person could ever ask for, really, and all of this a reminder that when all seems lost and hopeless, getting off the floor where you’ve been lying curled up in the fetal position is probably the best thing to do eventually.

Who knew?

September 4, 2019

Trick Mirror, by Jia Tolentino

I don’t think I’ll ever be ready to write a post about Jia Tolentino’s essay collection Trick Mirror, but I was set to do some preparatory work before I did. Because these aren’t essays that I’m finished with yet, or completely understand properly. These aren’t blog posts or hot takes that have been churned into book—these are essays 40-50 pages long, and one concludes with, “I wish I had known…that the story didn’t need to be clean, and it didn’t need to be satisfying; that, in fact, it would never be clean or satisfying, and once I realized that, I would be able to see what was true.”

I am still trying to puzzle my way through her incredible “The Cult of the Difficult Women,” which explores the way that Daring Girls pop-feminism becomes weaponized for anti-feminist purposes—”But when the case for a woman’s worth is built partly on the unfairness of what’s levelled at her, things get slippery…” My OOF moment in “Pure Heroines,” about literary girlhoods and the limits of literary womanhood, rich for me with familiar points of reference, when she writes, “You’ll have noticed—surely, you’ll have noticed, though I don’t want to be too generous—that all the characters in this essay are white and straight.”

These essays are trickier than most others I’ve ever encountered, pulling away and pushing on just when you think they’re settled, and resisting tidiness, easiness. So that the reader comes away with their mind still spinning, work to be done. Tolentino offers no conclusions, resolutions. She is not going to do the work for you.

I read a review recently that focussed on the bleakness and despair in these essays, works that make connections between the Fyre Festival and the 2008 financial crisis (and GirlBosses) and a culture of scamming: “There are fewer and fewer options for a person to survive in this ecosystem in a thoroughly defensible way.”

But bleakness and despair was not my takeaway from Trick Mirror, the title a statement on the nature of true and reality, delusion and self-delusion. How do you know when what you see, or what you are, is real? And just when you think you’ve got it settled, it’s gone and changed again. And bleakness and despair was not my takeaway because it took me almost two weeks to finally buy this book, which was sold out at every bookstore I showed up at. And if the demand is so high for these rich and erudite works, essays that aren’t going to fucking let you get away with it or get away with anything… The way I feel every time I see the way that someone (usually Ali Smith) has made something so artful for these torrid time we’re living in—oddly hopeful, even. Not all yet has been lost.

September 3, 2019

Gleanings

Do you like reading good things online and want to make sure you don’t miss a “Gleanings” post? Then sign up to receive “Gleanings” delivered to your inbox each week(ish). And if you’ve read something excellent that you think we ought to check out, share the link in a comment below.

August 27, 2019

The Need, by Helen Phillips

“She and David had a running joke about how they both feared their kids at night the same way that, as children, they’d feared monsters under the bed. Beasts that would rise up from the side of your bed, seize you with sharp nails and demand things of you.”

I’ve been hearing things in the night for my entire life, the sound of footsteps, or maybe the house is just settling, or the sound of the wind outside. What was that? But it’s only since I’ve become a parent that I actually see things, that I awake from sleep with the uncanny feeling of someone standing over me, and I open my eyes and there they are, my worst fears confirmed. (And the fear, I mean, is in addition to the practical matters, that these nighttime visits are generally a harbinger of the fact that I’ll have to clean up puke.)

In her novel, The Need, Helen Phillips zeroes right on this kind of anxiety (albeit regarding an even more sinister nighttime interloper) in the book’s first three sentences: “She crouched in front of the mirror in the dark, clinging to them. The baby in her right arm, the child in her left./ There were footsteps in the other room…”

Molly’s husband, a musician, is away on tour, and she’s just relieved the babysitter. She’s the primary breadwinner in the family, a paleobotonist who works at a site that’s turning up baffling specimens: plant fossils that don’t seem to related to any other living thing on earth, an Coca Cola bottle whose logo slants backward, a Bible that addresses God as “her” and “she.”

Something is askew, but also everything is askew, because Molly has a baby and a toddler, which means she hasn’t had a proper night’s sleep in years, and her hours are consumed by her children’s near insatiable needs and demands upon her. So there is something metaphorical about the otherworldliness Molly is experiencing at work, and we’re to doubt her perceptions—are there footsteps at all?

But the footsteps are real, and the stranger in the other room wearing a deer mask has a bizarre awareness of Molly’s family’s life and their rhythms—and the reality behind this situation turns out to be nothing like what you’ve expected, and it continues to be questionable how much the reader can understand this as “reality” at all.

This is a novel in which everything is true and possible, and nothing is; where a child’s birth and existence contains the possibility of their death; where doubleness is a solution and a nightmare; where the cessation of what seems unbearable is unsurvivable; and where the figurative and literal do battle, as do the fantastic and realistic; and ambivalence has its every nook, cranny and sub-basement explored.

This novel starts off terrifying, and the way Phillips sustains that suspense (moving back and forth between two timelines, plot, twists and pacing) is astoundingly well done. Though I will admit that by the time my biggest questions had been answered (which only invited plenty more questions still, of course) I was less enveloped by the plot—though probably for the best, if we’re thinking about my blood pressure.

All this with a novel that articulates the minutiae of daily life with children like nothing I’ve ever read before, a twisted and brilliant version of Rachel Cusk’s A Life’s Work.

And then the ending—so dark and banal at once. So subtle that you might even miss it, but the subtlety—of the violence, the brutality, that you could miss it—is the point. The Need is a fast read, but it’s haunting.

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