counter on blogger

Pickle Me This

October 29, 2018

More Fun Things

Last weekend, I had the great pleasure of returning to the Stratford Writers Festival, where I moderated a panel about women’s experiences with Sarah Selecky, Andrea Bain, and Emily Anglin, and it was wonderful. I still remember the first time I was asked to moderate anything, years ago, and how I accepted the job because I thought it was the kind of thing I’d really like to do, although I wasn’t sure I’d be very good at it—and I wasn’t. But over the years, I’ve become comfortable with public speaking and confident about my own skills as a reader, to the point where I’m a kickass moderator and I know it, and I love it. It was a real pleasure to be part of this event.

That same weekend, I had the joyful experience of my review of Iona Whishaw’s A Sorrowful Sanctuary appearing in The Toronto Star’s venerable books section. So nice too that Whishaw’s all too timely historical novel gave me an excuse to be calling our shady nationalist politicians and Nazis in the media. ‘“I suppose I’m simply naïve,” [Lane] explains. “I want all my Nazis parceled up and put on the shelf of history after all our hard work in the war. I didn’t expect to find them here.”’

And this weekend, I’m off to Sudbury for the Wordstock Sudbury Festival. On Saturday morning, I’ll be appearing on a book industry panel with Hazel Millar and Holly Kent, and later that afternoon representing Mitzi Bytes with Margaret Christakos and Diane Schoemperlen, and I’m really looking forward to it.

October 2, 2018

Staying Home to Read

I read fifteen books last month, and some of them were really long, and so many of them were really good, and I’m pleased with this progress and with how much better I feel about the world knowing that these books are in it. Books that have reminded me: I really, really love reading, which is pretty much the root of everything I get up to these days. There is even time enough for it…which is always the thing I say around this time of year before I take on twenty stupid or less-stupid commitments that render such a statement untrue. But there is only time enough because I stayed home every night. Dear Writers: I am desperately sorry I wasn’t able to attend your literary gathering, but instead I was at home reading your book.

With just a couple of exceptions, of course. Last Saturday we had the pleasure of a weekend getaway to Huntsville, where I took part in the Huntsville Public Library’s Books and Brunch event with Hannah Mary McKinnon and K.A. Tucker. McKinnon’s most recent book is The Neighbours, which is the novel that kicked off my holiday reading in July, a twisty domestic drama that hinges on the premise of a woman’s ex-boyfriend moving in with his family to the house next door. Let me tell you how the situation turns out: NOT SO GREAT, ACTUALLY. And I read Tucker’s novel (her sixteenth, I think?), The Simple Wild, and I LOVED IT. It was funny, gripping and swoon-worthingly romantic in the way all my favourite 1990s’ films were. Together, the three of us had a fun and engaging conversation about writing, books, and publishing, and it was absolutely fabulous to be in such excellent company.

And then this weekend I found myself at another wonderful event, this time with members of my coven (because doesn’t every witch need a coven, and how fortunate I am that this one adopted me) celebrating Jennifer Robson’s forthcoming novel, The Gown. It was an afternoon tea, which is always up my street, and the food was divine, the bookish conversation delightful as we listened to Jen and Kate Quinn, and the table conversation was even better, as it always is when we get together. Definitely worth leaving the house for—which is not a phase I throw around lightly.

July 31, 2018

The Journey to the Journey Prize

I’m so pleased to share the news that I’m a juror for the The Journey Prize this year, along with Sharon Bala and Zoey Leigh Peterson. And I’m pleased not just because it’s such an honour to be part of this project, a prize that has played a part in the careers of so many superstar Canadian writers. A prize that I always had secret dreams of being a finalist for—the closest I ever came was having a story of mine nominated way back when, and even that was something I was a little bit proud of. I’ve written before about how exciting it was to buy a copy of the anthology in 2008 when my friend Rebecca Rosenblum was a finalist—my friend was in an actual book! And so to be a juror—what a huge and incredible thing. But the honour is just the beginning—I want also write about how it’s been an absolute delight and that I’ve learned so much from the experience as a reader. It’s been so interesting.

This opportunity arrived in my inbox early this year, and I did not hesitate to say yes, because if there is any evidence that I’ve succeeded in making a name for myself as a reader, this would be it. It felt great to be in the esteemed company of Sharon and Zoey as well—I’d just read Sharon’s novel, The Boat People, and loved it, and I’d been hearing people raving about Zoey’s Next Year, For Sure since it was published. And then it would not be long before a giant envelope was delivered to my house, and I began the process of reading 100 short stories that had been published in journals and magazines across the country, which meant there was so much goodness, and it would be my job to help figure out the best of the best. I began a big knitting project as I started reading the stack, and I knit as I began reading, and also lugged the stack of stories over to the pool and read it on the bleachers while my children did their swimming lessons. When I think of that stack of stories, I think of sunny Sundays with pages spread out on  my bed and also chlorine.

And then I sent in my shortlist of 15 or so stories, and I thought that it was pretty cut and dried. Several stories it seemed obvious to me were excellent, and others were pretty easy to reject, because some things are simple, right? And then I received our collective longlist, which was 30-some stories, and some of the picks were baffling—really? Maybe this was going to be harder than I thought…but I started reading again, and something amazing happened. Reading these stories in a new context was so illuminating, and understanding that my colleagues supported some of these stories made me read them differently. I also reread some of my own favourites, and wondered if my enthusiasms had perhaps been ill-placed. A few stories continued to stick out as extraordinary, and the rest of them were the same stories they’d always been, but my mind had changed. What a thing! To adjust and correct as a reader, to learn from my colleagues, to benefit from their broadening of my perspective.

And this only kept happening as we got to know each other through conference calls, as we debated and enthused, asked questions and posed answers. There was such generosity in the spirit of the work we were doing, a willingness to listen to each other and learn. I’d previously had an experience on a jury with someone who simply dug in his heels and refused to listen to anyone, and he’d ruined the entire experience for me—and I’m still so angry that we let him get his way, but in the end I just wanted to get home for lunch. With Zoey and Sharon though, every bit of our conversation was about listening and building, and at those moments when one of us dug in our heels, it was absolutely the right thing to do.

The list we settled on could not have been more perfect, and all of us were so satisfied with it, and excited as we took on the task of arranging story order and writing our introduction. That giant stack of stories had been whittled down to something that was an actual book, rich with cohesion and connections, both obvious ones and others that were surprising. And I’m so excited now, for the shortlist to be revealed on August 7, for the book to find its way into readers’ hands, for these stories to be read—I don’t know that I’ve ever felt so personally connected to a book I didn’t write. But I can tell you with assuredness that it’s such a good book, and I’m excited for the next stage of its journey into the world.

Update: In all my rhapsodizing for my co-jurors, I forgot to give credit to McClelland & Stewart and the incredible Anita Chong, who is the whole reason this experience has been such a pleasure. Anita is so incredibly good at what she does, and I’ve been so grateful to get to know her and work with her on this book.

May 8, 2018

#FOLD2018

The first Festival of Literary Diversity in 2016 was the most interesting, inspiring and potentially transformative literary event I have ever attended—and I would have been back last year but I was out of town. So this year I did not miss a beat purchasing a pass for the Saturday events (and let me tell you, making the choice between Saturday and Sunday was really difficult—there were excellent things going on all weekend long). And once again, it was the very best day. I got the bus at 8:50 and was dropped off in front of Brampton City Hall just forty minutes later. There was even tea and scones for sale, so I was all set for the first event, which was writer Kai Cheng Thom discussing the important of setting with SK Ali (Saints and Misfits which I loved), Catherine Hernandez (Scarborough), Fartumo Kuso (Tale of a Boon’s Wife), and Joshua Whitehead (Johnny Appleseed)Whitehead talked about how huge The Break was in inspiring him how Winnipeg could be used as a setting in his novel, and how he wanted to use his setting as a “place of refuge” for queer Indigenous youth. Ali spoke about writing in the shadows of dominant narratives about Muslims and how she wasn’t trying to subvert that, exactly, because it would simply be falling into the same agenda. Instead, “I was just trying to write the Muslims I didn’t see in books.” She also spoke about how she had to get lessons from fantasy writers on world-building because there were elements of her story that would seem foreign to some readers, although these elements are parts of our communities. Hernandez talked about writing Scarborough, and “wanting to imagine beautiful possibilities for these places.” Kusow spoke of the balance between resisting mainstream images of Africa (Somalia) in her novel, but also she wanted to be honest. (PS I remember the panel in 2016 at which Kusow asked a question about how she, as a Muslim-Canadian immigrant, could find a place for herself in Canadian literature. Which made it particularly exciting to ask her to sign her novel for me this year…)

Next up was The Edge of Suspense, with Amber Dawn (Sodom Road Exit), David A. Robertson (Strangers), Michelle Wan (Death in Dordogne Mystery Series), moderated by the incredible Cherie Dimaline. They all talked about where their stories came from—Dawn sets her story in her hometown of Crystal Beach, ON, the year after the town’s iconic amusement park shuts down. She spoke about coming into her own as a writer as the Pickton trial was going on, and all the questions it evoked, which she uses her work to try to answer, this time in a novel. “I love for my art to have a house,” she said, discussing the novel as a container for the ghost story. Robertson’s YA novel was born of his interest in writing an origin story for a superhero, but he also wanted to have a dialogue in his work about mental health. He also wanted to give Indigenous youth a character in which they could see themselves reflected. And Michelle Wan told us about her own experience that had inspired her botanical mystery series, piecing a story together via flowers and their habitats. She talked about the constraints of literary narratives, and how these really can be artful, but also about her experience writing literary fiction, and how freeing it felt to “step off the path.” And then all three authors had a fantastic conversation about genre, and writers being bold in the forms of literature they’re choosing to tackle. But Dawn notes that Creative Writing Programs still have far to travel in encouraging this boldness in their students.

And then I had a long lunch, plenty of good conversations, met amazing literary people IN REAL LIFE, and tried and failed to exercise restraint while perusing the book sale table (“Don’t you already have books at home?” Anjula from Another Story Books asked me, but I pretended I hadn’t heard a thing). We also got ice cream. And then I took my seat for the Extraordinary Voices panel with Carrianne Leung moderating a discussion with Kim Thuy (Vi), Lee Maracle (My Conversations With Canadians), and Rabindranath Maharaj (Adjacentland). Leung began with a statement Cherie Dimaline made at The FOLD in 2016 about how story is magic. (And I remember this quote! I wrote the whole thing down: “Writing,” says Dimaline, “is the last true magic. Imagine being able to create something out of nothing, and that something is what literature is. It takes faith to create it, and also to receive it.”) Although Maracle suggested the inverse of Dimaline’s point, that story goes around looking for the writers. Maharaj talked about growing up in an oral culture, how everything was exaggerated, and storytelling becomes second-nature. Thuy mentioned that novel has been declared dead over and over ahead, but yet stories (and novels!) persist. Maracle talked about the importance of loving characters in order for the them to become multi-dimensional. And about writing for an audience: “But the initial story is coming to you—Own it.” Thuy talked about how different the discussions about her books are the various countries in which they’re published, which shifts the idea of writing for an audience—because how can you ever know? Maracle shared advice for young writers: “So dance and fall into your own story and don’t climb out until the door closes on you.” Maharaj explains that being a writer is having a particular way of looking at the world, of paying attention and noticing things. And finally Thuy on not fighting a story, on moving with it instead of against it: “And I just say YES.”

October 4, 2017

Books on the Radio!

Finalists for the Governor General’s Literary Awards were announced this morning, and the shortlist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize came out earlier this week, and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction prize list came out last week. Interestingly, none of the books that I’ve loved best this year are turning up on the prize lists—possibly my affection is a curse?—but I’ve been paying attention to this kind of thing long enough to know this is not something worth being bothered about. Nothing bugs me more than news stories after prize announcements highlighting what big names have been “overlooked,” or trying to be strategic about what books are nominated. Basically, it’s all very subjective, and I’m just happy that all the big Canadian prizes highlight such a wide selection of books this year. There are many titles on these lists I haven’t read yet, and I kind of love that—the possibility that they may indeed end up among the books I’ve loved best after all. Which certainly include the five titles I talked about on CBC Ontario Morning today. You can listen again on the podcast—I come on at 25 minutes.

October 2, 2017

Pickle Me This goes to Edmonton

I lost my umbrella when I was in Edmonton, possibly in a bookshop, or somewhere en-route to the Hotel MacDonald, where I got to have fancy drinks with writer and blogger extraordinaire Shawna Lemay. So does that make it a literary lost umbrella, I wonder, even if it didn’t happen in fiction? Although I include the umbrella Virginia Woolf lost on a bus, and that wasn’t fiction either. Does it still count as a literary lost umbrella if it’s pocket-sized? Pocket-sized umbrellas just don’t seem all that literary. But they are particularly easy to lose.

Umbrella losses aside, however, as well as a minor mishap where I drank too much tea and managed to poison myself and spent an afternoon in bed in my hotel room, I had a wonderful time in Edmonton. (This was about two weeks ago. I’m a bit behind, blog-wise, and working hard on catching up.) I was invited for the Book Publishers Association of Alberta’s Annual Conference to give a presentation about why book blogs matter, and arrived in Edmonton on Thursday afternoon on a plane packed with women who were heading to some weird multi-level marketing conference for beauty products and obviously tried to convert me into their cult. (“Are you looking for your Plan B?” the woman sitting next to me on the plane was asking, and I’d never before considered how awful it would be to be trapped on a plane with people who were trying to convert you into their cult. I am still disappointed that I never thought to answer, “Are you peddling beauty products, sister? Cuz I don’t need no beauty products.”)

I had half a day to spend in a city I didn’t know yet, which is the most incredible kind of luxury, I think, in terms of time and opportunity. After finding my novel for sale in the airport bookshop (where the booksellers had even heard of it, or at least were very convincing in pretending they had…) a taxi delivered me to Whyte Avenue where I poked in shops and hung out in a Second Cup to charge my phone, and then I started walking, taking in the golden light in this place where Autumn comes earlier than it does where I live. Edmonton is beautiful, and it was a gorgeous, crisp fall day, and I had a very good time exploring on my own, making lines on a map that was new to me. When I reached the edge of the river valley, I was able to take in a great deal of the city at once, and it was gorgeous. I stopped at the High Level Diner for dinner, and it just happened to be Ukrainian night, so I got to have pirogies and borscht. And then I began my long long walk across the High Level Bridge with great dramatic clouds rolling in (see my first photo, above) and at this point I was pleased that I still had an umbrella.

As visiting bookstores is basically the reason I go anywhere, a trip to Audreys was the thing I most wanted to do in Edmonton, and it lived up to my amazing expectations. Although I must admit I’m partial to Audreys after my book was an Edmonton bestseller in April, and it was also pretty splendid to see it on the Staff Picks shelf. But even without these glorious details, I would have been happy to spend time browsing in Audreys, where I managed to find perfect gifts for each member of my family, and I bought Jen Powley’s memoir Just Jen and Claire Kelly’s debut poetry collection, Maunder, both of which would turn out to be very good choices.

Shawna met me at the bookstore, and then we went out for drinks, and had a delightful time. We’d met briefly at Shawna’s book launch in Toronto awhile back, but not exactly properly. However she is one of those bloggers that gives you the impression—with her candour, generosity, eloquence, thoughtfulness—that you know her. And I think I really did, because we had a terrific time together, never running out of things to talk about, and I could have talked forever, except that it was getting late and I was operating after a day of travel (planes and walking) and a two hour time difference. Luckily we got to keep on talking as Shawna kindly drove me to my hotel.

I saw the sun come up the next morning—I woke up at six so I could call my children before they headed off to school. There is nothing in the world quite like a prairie sky. And then I ordered room service and read books, and prepared for my presentation later that morning, which went very well, and it was so terrific to meet people in the Canadian book world with whom I communicate often and/or have been familiar with for years. I take for granted sometimes Canada’s hugeness, and that there are also these people I’ll never have the chance to meet face-to-face and then I do meet them and realize how powerful it is to bring people together and how much our culture benefits from these true connections being made. I loved Saskatchewan poet Brenda Schmidt‘s presentation about how social media has become her workbook—I identified so completely. And it was especially nice to be there to celebrate Alberta Books when I’ve been especially fond of them lately—Annie Muktuk and Other Stories and What Is Going to Happen Next  are two stand-outs. It was a privilege to be part of it all, and hanging out in Edmonton. 

September 11, 2017

Happy Half-Birthday, Mitzi Bytes!

It’s Mitzi Bytes’ half-birthday! This week marks six months since Mitzi was launched and hit the Independent Bestseller list, reaching #2 for Trade Paperback Fiction and #6 Overall. It’s been an excellent run, and we’ve celebrated by finally making use of our custom cookie cutters from our friends at Jammy Dodger, The Bakery. I am grateful to everybody who has supported this book, booksellers, festivals, friends and readers. You’ve made this all such a pleasure.

And speaking of pleasures, have never known one quite like the Dunedin Literary Festival. It was the most beautiful, fall colours just beginning to give us glimpses, and the sun was shining and the sky was blue. I appeared on a panel with my friend, Kate Hilton, moderated by Tish Cohen, whose Town House I read and loved ten years ago. We had such a good time, and afterwards I hung out with my husband and children and we soaked up all the goodness of a day out in nature—there were activities for kids, a playground and swing, delicious local fare for lunch (empanadas to die for), and I got to see the panel later that day with Alison Pick, Cecily Ross, and Claire Cameron. It was a wonderful day, and I’m really looking forward to returning in 2018.

There are more good things coming up this week! I’m doing a talk on the (long and winding) road from blog to book at the Brockton Writers this Wednesday at the Glad Day Bookshop. And Word on the Street is next week, Sunday September 24. In conjunction with WOTS, I got to do a fun questionnaire with She Does the City answering questions about my writing life and readerly fixations. You can read it here.

July 11, 2017

Mitzi Bytes in the World—and in the Sun

“You’ve got to have a long view,” is a thing I told a writer last year who was troubled that her book had not been the explosive sensation she’d been hoping it would be. From a reader’s perspective, this seems obvious—there is no such thing as a book best-by date and the number of times it’s taken me ages to finally pick up a book I’d fall in love with is kind of preposterous. But for a writer, there is pressure, for a book to be a hit the moment it’s out of the gate, and while it’s true that there is a limited window in terms of media coverage and award eligibility and things like that, these aren’t actually the literary connections that matter. And now I keep having to deliver my own advice to myself, to remember that the life of a book is long, serendipitous, sometimes subtle, and always surprising. And while my book is now old news as new releases go (literally, so last-season), it’s continuing to have adventures out in the world and I find this so delightful.

And first, if you’re looking to come along on a Mitzi Bytes adventure, tickets are still available for my event at the Lakefield Literary Festival this weekend with Zoe Whittall and Marni Jackson. (I am also teaching a blogging workshop on Saturday morning.) Having loved both Marni and Zoe’s books last summer, it’s especially exciting to be appearing with them on Friday—for it’s a long way from the screened-in porch where I devoured Zoe’s book to a seat alongside her on the festival stage. (!!)

Last Friday, I had the good fortune of reading from Mitzi Bytes at Lexicon Books in Lunenburg, NS, which is one of the best bookstores I’ve ever been to (and we both know that I do get around). It was a terrific night with a packed house, and the good company of the brilliant Rebecca Silver Slayter and Johanna Skibsrud, who were kind enough to include me in their event. I’m so grateful to store owners Alice, Jo and Anne-Marie for having me—and to Jo in particular who was actually reading my book as I came into the store, which is a highlight of my life.

Elsewhere, Mitzi Bytes is featured in the August issue of Canadian Living, as “a compelling look into the personal consequences of the digital age.” One of my favourite readers and writers (and my friend!) Sarah wrote beautifully about the novel on her blog, Edge of Evening (and apparently I stole her life—more about that later…). Katy MacKinnon writes a great piece on the book at The Winnipeg Review, and they declare it a “fun” novel about the capacity of women to be more than just one thing—exactly! And long-time blogger Danielle Donders writes a fantastic review of the book here, which thrills me to no end because long-time bloggers “get” this book in just the way I want them too—as a celebration of the history and evolution of women in blogging, the communities and connections blogs created, and how these blogs have helped so many of us define our sense of self.

She writes, “…a book with a blogger as the protagonist released in 2017? How delightfully anachronistic. And yet, the story feels surprisingly current and relevant today.”

And just a reminder that the #MitziIntheSun giveaway runs until July 31. There’s still time for you to share your sunny Mitzi pic for a chance to win an excellent summer reads gift pack (which I will make sure to get to the winner before summer is gone…).

May 9, 2017

One more time…

Tomorrow is not the very end. Over the next few months, Mitzi Bytes and I will be on tour in Lunenberg, NS, Lakefield, ON, and festivals in Dunedin and Stratford come the fall. But tomorrow does mark the end to a veritable parade of events since the book launched two months ago, and I hope we’ll be going out in style. No doubt, really, because it’s going out with friends. Tomorrow night I’ll be part of the IFOA weekly series with my dear friend and book buddy Rebecca Rosenblum, in conversation with the excellent Amy Jones. Info and tickets are here, and I’d love to see you there.

April 30, 2017

A Remarkable Week for Mitzi and Me

As excellent weeks in the life of Mitzi Bytes go, I don’t know if any other will top this one. On Monday, I had the great pleasure of listening to my interview with Shelagh Rogers on The Next Chapter. On Tuesday, in preparation for the 1000 Islands Writers Festival (next weekend!!), I published a post on Mitzi Bytes and ambivalence on the festival blog. On Wednesday, I drove to Waterloo to partake in the Appetite for Reading Book Club event, which was so much fun, totally delicious, and dear friends were there, part of a room packed with avid readers—you can see some of their smiling faces above.

Thursday evening was the thoroughly bonkers and wholly enjoyable Toronto Library Bibliobash, which took place at the Toronto Reference Library, which is one of my favourite places on earth. It was hilarious fun and also a privilege to be able to support the library in such a wonderful way. It was very exciting to see Mitzi Bytes in such a setting…

And the next day I would discover it somewhere just as lovely—in Shawna Lemay’s beautiful response to the book at her blog, Transactions With Beauty.

Saturday was the third Authors for Indies day and I had the pleasure of a road trip with CanLit superstars Kate Hilton, Jennifer Robson, and Karma Brown, who were so much fun and (unsurprisingly) delightfully bookish. We went to Curiosity House Books in Creemore and Forsters Book Garden in Bolton, which was so wonderful because there is nothing I ever love more than a destination bookshop. It was terrific to meet the booksellers and the readers…and of course I bought a few books on my own. There was much raucousness and the snacks were great…

…and I arrived back home in time to listen to the rebroadcast of The Next Chapter with my family! (Happy to see Mitzi Bytes included on “15 books you heard about on CBC Radio this week”!).

One more thing—the new issue of The Hamilton Review of Books is up and it’s really great. And it also includes my review of Marianne Apostolides’ memoir, Deep Salt Water, which was such a joy to puzzle out and write about. I’m very pleased to be included in this issue. And I’m closing out here with a photo of Marissa Stapley and I from my Toronto Library Eh List Event on April 13. Marissa was wonderful and it was such a good night—one of many I’ve been experiencing lately.

Next Page »

Mitzi Bytes

Sign up for Pickle Me This: The Digest

Best of the blog delivered to your inbox each month!
Twitter Pinterest Pinterest Good Reads RSS Post