I am constantly asked by people for my opinions on books for the younger set. The question usually brings a sense of dread to me. Not that there isn’t a shortage of books I think younger readers would enjoy, but the opposite is the case. There is such great collection of books out there that have such great details that mentioning why every young reader should be encouraged to read them would be quite a chore. So as the Autumn 2016 literary festivals begin to gear up, I plan to explore some of the participants online, check out there works that are accessible to me via my local library and mention the books here I like. Hopefully I will be able to network with writers, artists, illustrators and publishers further by discussing their works here.
One such way to grab the attention of any reader – let alone a younger reader – is to have great artwork to help a reader better understand a complex issue. While the words to a story may be important, art helps to move the narrative to build a better understanding of an issue in the mind’s eye. The more detailed and realistic the artwork, the better the story flows. And that is what Wallace Edwards has done with his artwork in You Are The Earth.
As one can see by the image of the cover of the book, Edwards has a realistic style to his work. It is almost like the beings that he draws are about to bounce off the page. Every line is fine and precise, giving detail to the image. No doubt readers of all ages will be engaged by Edwards’ artwork alone.
This is a unique book. The thoughts in it are profound and enlightening yet written in a simple style for young readers to grasp. But the images really punch the narrative through, giving the book that edge that makes the work come alive.
You Are The Earth is a great book for enlightening young minds about ecology. The artwork by Wallace Edwards is detailed and realistic which draws readers of any age into the book. This is a read well worth pondering over.
Wallace Edwards will be participating at the 2016 Toronto Word on the Street Festival (Link)
As the new releases for the Autumn 2016 season come out, many favourites are expected by book fans alike. One such book is Riel Nason’s All The Things We Leave Behind, which is to be released on Sept. 13. Nason first book – The Town that Drowned – earned not only fans young and old but won accolades from around the world. As Nason prepares for a whirlwind of activity just before her launch, she agreed to answer a few questions for me about her new book.
1) First off, could you give a bit of an outline for All The Things We Leave Behind?
Sure. It is 1977 in Hawkshaw, New Brunswick. Seventeen-year-old Violet is left in charge of her family’s antique shop for the summer while her parents go off searching for her missing brother, Bliss.
2) How long did it take you to write this book? Was there any research involved with the development of the plot of the novel?
It’s hard to say how long it actually took to write. It is something I worked on a bit at a time for years. Sometimes I went months and months without working on it. And I also worked on two other books (quilting project books, since I am a quilter as well) in the same time period. As to research, there was some, but mostly I spent my time writing and editing.
3) I have encounter many fans of The Town that Drowned that are excited to be reading your new novel. Are there similarities between the two novels? Any differences?
As to similarities, I return to the same geographical area, just ten years later. What happened to the river valley with the flooding and some of the things that came after are definitely mentioned in the new book. The main characters are a brother and sister again this time, but a very different brother and sister than Ruby and Percy. It is definitely a different type of story than The Town That Drowned.
4) Do you have any public readings/events planned for the new book? If yes, are there any dates you are excited to be partaking in?
Penn Kemp has been not only been a poet but a cultural icon around my home town of London, Ontario, Canada. Yes, her written words have inspired but her actions in a complex number of fronts have also been a source of enlightenment and engagement for numerous people. It was an honour a few weeks ago when she sent me an advance copy of her new work Barbaric Cultural Practice (Link to my review) but discussing it only seem to capture a bit of this thought-provoking individual. She agreed to answer a few questions for me here, adding a bit more insight into her and her work.
1) What inspired you to first write poetry? You have been involved in other forms of writing (including play writing). Does poetry hold any special traits for you that other writings don’t have?
My grandmothers were grand sources of inspiration. My Strathroy grandmother knew many poems by heart (that delicious phrase!) which she would recite to me in a kind of incantatory lilt. The sound transported me. My little Irish grandmother told me wild tales of legends that sparked my imagination into new realms of possibility, realms beyond my house and yard.
When my brother was born, my mother no longer had all the time in the world to read to me. So I memorized the nursery rhymes I loved. But that wasn’t enough; I wanted more. I tried to make sense of the black squiggles on the page until they slowly, finally, swam into meaning. What a discovery! It was pure magic to go from reading other people’s poems and stories to writing them myself. I would set up my dolls in a line on the couch and perform to this unfailingly attentive audience. Power to the reader! Power to the writer!”
What made me a poet? Curiosity. The thrill of adventure, of new worlds. I began piecing out the words to myself. I remember the thrill of pure magic when a word would leap into focus, into meaning. The black letters would assume a third dimension; they would dance. I could almost hear them speak to me directly. I was hooked. I wrote my first poem when I was six, excited and amazed at having created through apparent magic something out of nothing with marks on a page. I glimpsed a world in which words had a life of their own, just as toys did. I knew that if I could wake at the right time at night I would catch my toys at play. So too, I felt words could be surprised and fixed onto the page. If I listened closely enough, words would well up in my head and emerge as a poem.
Writing that first poem was the first time that I recall consciously feeling that I was doing an adult thing— creating something entirely on my own, assuming independence— growing up! I felt like the Little Red Hen in the nursery story: “‘I can do it myself,’ said The Little Red Hen, and she did.”
2) You recently sent me an advance copy of “Barbaric Cultural Practice.” (Thank you!) How long did it take you to write it? Is there any special hopes you have for the book?
Many of the poems in Barbaric Cultural Practice have been culled from performance pieces that have been honed over many years and produced on CD/DVD, but not in book form till now. I’m grateful for family and friends’ encouragement en route and ongoing during the evolution of these poems. The list is long and extends back decades.
Poetry needs to be heard as well as read, so I have concentrated in recent years on audio renditions and videopoems in collaboration with Bill Gilliam, John Magyar, Dennis Siren and (always!) Gavin Stairs. How exciting to be able to offer links to video and audio performances of some of these poems through QR codes!
Several of the poems in Barbaric Cultural Practice were provoked into being by political events; hence, the title. As an aging activist, I confront by words such issues as climate change and overwhelmingly new technologies. The poems juxtapose the stress of urban life as compared to nature’s round. The poems deal, for example, with the effect of computers on our psyche and with the imprint of electronic media upon perception, consciousness and dream life. Barbaric Cultural Practice pays tribute to our dear Mother World’s enchantments as well as her upheavals. Poetry is my response to the unprecedented complexities of our time.
3) (These next questions is one I know draws fear from other writers when I ask it here but I know some of my followers are eager to know an answer from you.) Who are your favourite writers? What are you reading right now?
I read Canadian poetry and fiction, especially that which our library stocks. Daily, I scan “New Items” from London Library’s website! (Link to that page) Am reading a new edition of Mavis Gallant’s A fairly good time: with green water, green sky as well as Ann Carson’s Red Doc>. Then on to Margaret Christakos’s Her Paraphernalias: on Motherlines, Sex/Blood/Loss & Selfies.
4) I know you have a reading event planned at Oxford Books on Oct. 11 but do you have any other reading events planned? Are public readings something you enjoy?
I do enjoy public readings. It’s a privilege to share the innermost source of poetry when performing. And I love to hear poets read their work: the timbre of voice precisely matches their written word. Once I’ve heard a poet read, that voice echoes in my mind when I next read the work.
Here are some upcoming events where I’ll be reading:
September 3, 1:30 – 4:30 p.m. With musician Bill Gilliam @ 2pm. Vino Rosso Bar & Restaurant. 995 Bay St., Toronto ON M5S 3C4, 416 926-1800.
5) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?
My forthcoming play, The Triumph of Teresa Harris, originated in a short piece for London’s PlayWrights Cabaret at McManus Theatre in 2013. Then it was produced as an hour-long processional play at Eldon House Museum, with one actor and two musicians (co-artistic directors of Light of East Ensemble). More information about the original production, The Dream Life of Teresa Harris is up on https://teresaharrisdreamlife.wordpress.com/. There too are some reviews from the show. I am developing the play into a full length piece with ten or more characters for production at London’s Palace Theatre in March, 2017. The original musicians are participating in the play again.
Teresa Harris was born in 1839 at Eldon House and died in 1928 in England. She tells her amazing life story from her home here. Born the youngest of a prosperous pioneer family intent on bettering itself, Teresa married a Scottish military man who promised to carry her off to foreign parts she had dreamed of all her life, sickly though she had always been. Teresa’s story emerges through her own voice and that of her protective mother and her two husbands. Research reveals that Teresa and her second husband St. George Littledale were the greatest English explorers of their period, travelling further into Asia than any Westerner had.
Hers is an historical life as mediated through my imagination. My visits to beautiful Eldon House brought the era alive. It was easy to write from Teresa’s perspective since I identified with her and admired her adventurous spirit. It was fun to imagine her desire to escape the strictures of family convention for more exotic locales. Having been raised in London in the Fifties, I felt the town hadn’t changed all that much from the colonial outpost it had been in Victorian times. It was still very Anglo and class-conscious, patterned upon London, England like a pale shadow of the Mother Country. At twenty-one, I too couldn’t wait to escape, to travel the world! And I did. I was also happy to return to settle comfortably back in the house I grew up in after forty years away from London.
6) You seem to be active on both Facebook and Twitter. How do you like using those platforms in relation to your writing? Does your WordPress blog site also work well for your writing?
The platforms are a necessity for a working writer to spread the word… and sometimes they are an escape from writing: fun, as well! The virtual communities are engaging: who could have imagined being able to keep in touch with so many people at once. And folks can promote various causes on my (Facebook) group, Support and Promote Canadian Arts and Cultures.
7) You have travelled around the world and still call the London, Ontario, Canada area your home. How do you like living here?
See #5. Yes, London is home. I was born in Strathroy and raised in London. I belong here.
Are there cultural institutions here that you consider unique that inspire your writing? If yes, what are they?
As the City of London’s first Poet Laureate and as writer-in-residence for Creative Aging London, I was very involved in different aspects of the community. Several occasions prompted poems. Other poems were commissioned by groups such as ReForest London.
Western U. gave me a great grounding in literature as a student there. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed teaching classes in Continuing Ed., and as Writer-in-Residence, and hosting a radio show, Gathering Voices, at CHRW. (Link to CHRW’s webpage for “Gathering Voices”)
This fall, I will be working on aspects of the play, including publicity and marketing, with students from Western in the course, Canadian Literature, Creativity, and the Local, with a Community Engaged Learning component. Working with me in this applied learning opportunity, the students will cultivate links with Eldon House and The Palace as part of the project. (Link to the course outline from Western University’s online calendar)
I first became involved in publishing when a local publishing house, Applegarth Follies, asked me to be their poetry editor in 1977. (Josiah Applegarth was London’s first settler). While I edited Twelfth Key, the famous Brick Magazine was published alongside. Another offshoot of Applegarth was Brick Books, still publishing glorious poetry nation-wide some forty years later and still based in London!
For many for us book fans, reading is not only a means of entertainment but a way to enlighten ourselves about the world and the way people interact in it. As the Autumn 2016 new releases come around, there is a promise of such reads for us. One such book is Jowita Bydlowska’s Guy: Or Why Women Love Me. No doubt this book sounds like it should be both funny and give us something to ponder. Bydlowska answered a few questions for me here about her new book.
A) First off, could you give a bit of an outline of “Guy: Or Why Women Love Me?”
Hope it’s okay to use our official write-up (it sums it up well): Guy is a successful talent agent who dates models, pop stars and women he meets on the beach. He’s a narcissistic, judgmental snob who rates women’s looks from one to ten; a racist, homophobic megalomaniac who makes fun of people’s weight; a cheating, lying, manipulative jerk who sees his older girlfriend as nothing more than an adornment. His only real friend, besides his dog, is a loser who belongs to a pick-up artist group. Guy is completely oblivious to his own lack of empathy, and his greatest talent is hiding it all…until he meets someone who challenges him in a way he’s never been challenged before.
B)What inspired you to write “Guy?” How long did it take to write it? Was there any research involved in the book?
One summer day in 2011, I was walking on the beach, in a bikini, and this guy walking by checked me out. Unlike most guys’ his glance wasn’t furtive – he seemed very confident and there was something about the way he looked at me that made me think he thought I should be honoured that he bothered to look at me. But perhaps I’m wrong about that interpretation; perhaps my fiction-writing part of the brain was already writing a story… Anyway. I had this thought about what it would be like to be a very good-looking dude who is a narcissist and who believes he could get any woman he’d wanted.
In terms of research, I talked to men about what it’s like to be a straight guy. Also, I have this attractive male friend who’s very popular with women and I’ve asked him his pick-up techniques. Also, I spent some time hanging out on Pick-up Artist Internet forums. Filthy, fascinating stuff.
C) Your online biographies have you listed as both a journalist and a fiction writer. Do you find much differences between the two styles of writing? If yes, explain.
A non-fiction writer reports (creatively or otherwise) from reality, and a fiction writer observes, filters, and interprets the same reality and reports from imagination.
D) Who are you favourite writers? What are you reading right now?
Michel Houellebecq, Bret Easton Ellis, Elana Ferrante, Laura Albert, Sheila Heti, Miranda July, Barbara Gowdy, Joseph Boyden, Lena Andersson, Jessica Knoll, Jim Shepard, Otetessa Moshfegh, Karolina Walclawiak, Douglas Glover, Herman Koch, Leonard Michaels, Lena Dunham, John Fowles, and many more.
I’m reading apartment listings right now as I’m in the midst of looking for a place.
E)No doubt you will be working on new items for your journalistic career but are you working on any new books right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?
My agent just sent out my latest novel, Wolves Evolve, to a few publishers here and in the US. The novel is about complicated marriage, adultery, mental illness, aquariums and self discovery. Next, I plan to write a novel about Warsaw Uprising.
F) Your biographies have you listed as living in Toronto? How do you like living there? Are there any cultural institutions that Toronto has that inspire your writing at all?
I’m not a huge fan of Toronto right now – being single and living here (and taking care of a kid) is ridiculously expensive. I’d like to move to the country. Or Europe. In terms of cultural institutions, I do love International Festival of Authors that happens here ever fall. One of the themes in my newly submitted novel Wolves Evolve is comparison/ contrast between Toronto and a West-coast city like Seattle.
I had been in a bit of a funk with my blog last week. The summer months have been busy on other fronts for me, and my personal reading and reflection time has been somewhat limited. I had been trying to look forward to the autumn new releases in hopes of something invigorating for my mind would come forward. Then a message from Penn Kemp came via Facebook, asking if I would look and review her new book coming out in the fall. I agreed and I found myself enveloped in her Barbaric Cultural Practice.
Penn Kemp is an icon in the cultural landscape. Her biography page on her blog states she has over 25 books of poetry and drama published, plus six plays and numerous works recorded on different electronic means. But this new work is brilliant in its form.
No doubt, many of us Canadians were shocked last year when the government used the term Barbaric Cultural Practices on several fronts to justify their actions. We were outraged by the term, elected the government out of office and, no doubt, didn’t give the term much thought since. But Kemp has done something enlightening for readers by using the term for this collection of poetry. She has crafted her personal thoughts and views in this work and given all of us something to consider about our own actions. As she told me in the email she sent me with the advance copy: . . . the poems in Barbaric Cultural Practice pay tribute to our dear Mother World’s enchantments as well as her upheavals. They confront the stresses of urban life as juxtaposed to nature’s round, and deal, for example, with the effect of computers on our psyche and with the imprint of electronic media upon perception, consciousness and dream life. They are a response to the need for action against climate change and a humorous protest against overwhelming technology.
The beauty of me reading poetry at this stage of my life is the admiration of thought and consideration of the human condition that writers of the form have. After spending numerous years attempting a career in the media field, turning to reading and considering literature has been an enlightening experience for me. Literature should cause a reader to consider their world and their actions in the world around them. Penn Kemp has done that for me with her collection Barbaric Cultural Practice. No doubt I will be reading it again and quoting it here when it is published.
We have often talked about the duality of human nature. Left and Right. Male and Female. Urban versus Rural. Ying and Yang. Yet the concept may be a bit more complex than the simple terms we use to illustrate them with. That is the thought I kept recalling as I read Zack Metcalfe’s novella Bring Clouds to the Kingdom.
Page 1-2 Prints in the Snow
Two men walk through the snow. Before and behind them is evergreen growth, mountains and biting cold. They wear thick coats woven from layers of lion hide and the dense fur is pulled and pushed by the wind.
A footprint in the snow, leading toward the mountain in the north.
He kneels over the print and sees five toes. He waves over the other man, who likewise kneels and sees.
“Do you think Abraham was here?” one asks.
“Who else would be in this wretched place without shoes?” replies the other.
They stand and one addresses a metal box strapped to his waist. On it is a button, a light and a bell. The button is pressed once and seconds later, the bell rings seven times. They nod to one another, then continue north, following the prints.
These prints, mostly snowed over, are difficult to follow. North is their only guidepost. The mountains grow taller as the men approach and the wind sometimes throws back their hoods. Snow gets into their coats and boots, quickly melting and soaking their skin. One man trips and the other stops to help.
The faint howling of wolves is carried to them in the wind. They both go still . . .
Another howl comes, this one closer.
Another howls, this one farther.
Metcalfe has written a complex and detailed story here about not only climate change but also one which explores human nature. The plot deals with two men pulled from time and placed in the future where the world is dying and sorrows are universal. One man builds an empire, using bricks, mortar and manipulation to gain and keep his power. The other gathers what life still exists to build a kingdom of greenery and harmony. This two visions bitterly contrast each other on what is left of the Earth.
At the tree line, observing this network of tents, is Assir. He is thinner and dirtier than he has ever been, and his feet are bloody. Exposing his pale skin to the fullness of the sun hurts him.
He moves with the utmost calm, so much so he is overlooked by the labouring masses, who themselves are better cleaned, better fed and better focused. He joins them under the tents and watches them mix the sand with charcoal and mud.
People pass him, bush shoulders with him, without seeing the wretch of a man in their midst, his lips cracked from thirst and eyes red with exhaustion. Digging tools and potted plants are exchanged among the people with such routine that a flower is accidentally thrust into Assir’s hands. The force of the exchange nearly knocks him down, but he remains upright, his gaze fixed in front of him, his thoughts lost in a dream.
Slowly, he looks down at the flower. It’s small, with two wax green leaves and yellow petals spotted with orange. The soil in which it lies is marginally darker than the sand and is wrapped in dried seaweed.
This fragile example of life weighs on Assir, more in mind than in body. He looks again at the masses of people . . . and collapses.
Metcalfe has certainly created a novella with deep ideals wrapped up inside a narrative. It is a complex story but one when an honest reader completes it, will ponder carefully some of the thoughts and images in it. And that is what a good narrative should be about.
“Conquest and war and the horrors they bring about are . . . simple. They are the refuge of cowards and bullies and bastards. To survive and live in harmony with the world . . . requires the greatest courage of all. To create life rather than destroying it is . . . godlike.” Assir cranes his neck and observes the young forest surrounding them. “This forest and the people who built it have worth. You and I . . .have none. You’ve abandoned your moral compass in despair and enabled these murderers. I beg you to find it again.”
Zack Metcalfe’s novella Bring Clouds to the Kingdom may be a complex read but it is one with concepts and ideas worth considering. It does what good literature should do.
A stranger comes to town. That theme in any story is the sign of a plot that is full of twists and conflicts. We follow a series of characters through a collection of uncomfortable situations – many leading in conflicts – and we are compelled to finish the story desperate to see how the situations are resolved. And that is exactly what D. K. Stone has done by leading her readers to the Edge of Wild.
Dawn came too quickly, and Rich struggled to awaken when the alarm went off. He shaved and showered, putting on his second-best suit and heaviest top-coat, the headed out into the early morning haze. Around him, sun-tipped ridges soared, looming golden over the far southern edge of town where the manager’s cabin was located. He shielded his eyes, taking in his home for the foreseeable future.
His was the last cabin before the campground, beyond that was untouched forest. The two-storey house had cross-timbered peaks and faded stucco, its roof covered with uneven cedar shakes. Against the majestic sky, it looked like a doll’s house, while eight blocks away – dead centre in the target of the small town – the straight angles and bold lines of the newly-constructed Whitewater Lodge perched like an ungainly bird against the backdrop of lofty peaks. It looked, Rich decided, like an unfinished drawing from a discarded Frank Lloyd Wright sketch book, but even from this distance, dark blotches on the surface marred the illusion of perfection. Pieces of siding were peeling under the onslaught of wind. Seeing it, Rich grimaced. He buttoned his coat and trudged down the front steps. What he saw beyond the porch had him stumbling to a stop.
There were footprints in the snow.
This is a great thriller of a novel. We see Rich Evans plucked from the streets of New York and deposited into the mountain town of Waterton. Entrusted to bring a luxury hotel to the small town, one thing after another seems to block Evans attempts to do his job. Yet as the locals become more and more hostile to him, he finds himself attracted to Louise Newman, the town’s mechanic who is fixing his unreliable BMW. Yet as their attraction grows, a series of murders is plaguing the area, and Evans begins to fear for his own life.
There was a flash of russet and two startled deer bounded past. Rich’s head jerked in surprise, but he didn’t slow. He could no longer see the figure ahead of him, but the ground canted downward, his speed increasing as he moved toward the falls. Suddenly the greenery fell away, replaced by open ground, the roar of Cameron Falls deafening. A flicker of movement – gold this time – caught his attention on the cliff face next to the waterfall, and Rich stumbled to a halt.
There were cougars, three of them, and they were watching him.
He recalled reading Jeffrey Chan’s last email to Coldcreek Enterprises, sent a week before the wayward manager had disappeared. “Waterton is too primative, and I don’t feel I’m adequately prepared to manage a hotel in the area. There is dangerous wildlife in the townsite. My dog was killed by a cougar while chained in my yard.” Rich was panting, the sweat across his back icy. He was the only thing in the small clearing, except for the three cougars. One was the mother, the other two her half-grown cubs.
That’s why the deer were running, he realized in belated horror.
The mother raised her head in interest and took two steps down the steep incline, muscles rippling under loose hide. Cunning eyes held his gaze. Rich took a single step backward, and then another, random snippets of information flashing in his mind. Cougars could take down much larger animals than themselves. They were known to be clever and enjoyed the hunt. Swift and deadly, the surest way was to turn and run.
Rich stopped in his tracks. He didn’t have a chance. He was already winded.
With a calmness born from exhaustion and terror, the shaking of his body stilled, his heart slowing. The cougars were burnished gold in the moonlight, their shapes bright against the damp grey cliff. The two cubs moved across the ragged edge of the rocky outcrop, their mother a stone’s throw below. Rich gasped as the female in front jumped to a lower ledge, balancing on the small precipice. She watched him warily, her head moving back and forth as if trying to ascertain what he was, and whether he was worth the bother. Rich waited out her attention, his mind skittering, looking desperately for an escape.
He couldn’t see one.
Stone’s descriptions are vivid and simple. The mind almost flashes immediately with an image of a scene she lays out or an emotion she is describing. And with that a reader will crave to continue with the story until the book is finished. A quality of a great thriller.
Waterton’s marina was located on the small jetty of land extending past Main Street out into Waterton Lake. Faded plank docks stretched out into the dark waters of Emerald Bay, boats moaning softly as they rocked against their moorings. The marina was the last outstretched finger of the clasped hands of Waterton’s business centre; this finger pointed back to the base of the mountains where the town’s sole entrance lay. Unlike the marinas in larger communities, Waterton’s waterfront had no life after the sun went down. The main walkway was bare, spectral shadows cast from the trees overhead dancing in the golden circles of street lamps. The shoreline, with its slope-roofed buildings, was eerily abandoned; a circular parking lot, bustling during daylight hours was empty save for a single motorcycle.
Mac stood in the oily darkness of the empty parking lot, glaring out at the slick black surface of Emerald Bay and the shimmering lights of the Prince of Wales Hotel reflected in it. The town was too small, in Mac’s opinion. There were few places to meet without drawing suspicion. From his position near the marina, the sounds of the downtown streets intruded – people’s laughter from the bar and strains of music – while beyond the trees, the steady chop of waves broke the silence. Early summer coolness clung to the air leaving him chilled beyond what he’d expected for the last week of June. He waved away a small cloud of mosquitoes and took a drag on his cigarette. The ember flared to life, revealing acne-pitted features and a prison tattoo which crawled up from the collar of a leather jacket around his neck.
D. K. Stone has produced an enticing thriller with Edge of Wild. Her descriptions are vivid and clear making a reader to want to push forward with the story. A great read.
The works of Cordelia Strube have been the topic of many discussions these past weeks since my review of her latest work On the Shores of Darkness, There is Light (Link to that review) Many of those discussion have spark personal reflections and considerations to the human condition – ponderings about family members, friends, lovers, neighbours, etc. – which is a attribute of a good piece of literature. And for those people who enjoyed that book will certainly gain the same insights with her book Milosz.
The banging stops at two a.m. Milo lifts the pillow off his head but still can’t sleep and considers going next door to ensure that no one has been hurt. They can seem so comfortable, the three of them, in the backyard flipping burgers, tossing the ball for the dog. Sometimes Milo sits in darkness, undetected, on his side of the yard, and looks in their windows. Tanis and Christopher often share a bottle of wine at the kitchen table, conversing easily. Milo envies their intimacy, their shared troubles, their abnormal son. When he moved back in after his father disappeared, he could hear them making love. It sounded as though they were trying to save each other from drowning. Not anymore. Now the only noise coming through the was is the TV. Or screams.
The beauty of this book is (again) Strube has a protagonist who has profound insights into the world yet is stuck with mundane people around them. We witness Milo’s acting career stuck in neutral. His girlfriend has dumped him. His father has disappeared. And a collection of freeloaders have taken over lodging in his house. Yet the only person that poor Milo can truly relate to – an autistic eleven-year-old boy who lives next door – is being bullied, Milo jumps into action to try to improve at least one life. And the consequences spiral out of control.
‘Do you know this man?’ the bodybuilder (cop) asks Tanis.
‘He’s my neighbour.’
‘We found him with your son.’
‘I found him.’ Milo interjects. ‘Actually he found me.’
‘Shut up,’ the wrestler (cop) says.
‘He built some kind of wigwam with your son last night and slept in it.’
Tanis, who has been looking and acting like a madwoman, opens and closes her mouth several times. Already she has further alienated the police by accusing them of mistreating her son. ‘Get away from him,’ she kept yelling at them. Milo had to restrain Robertson while she strapped on the protective helmet. They can hear him thumping as they stand in the front hall.
Tanis looks at Milo with eyes completely unfamiliar to him. “You knew where he was?”
‘Not until the early hours of this morning,’ Milo explains. ‘He didn’t want to come back and I didn’t want to force him. I mean, it was dark. We could have gotten lost.
‘So how long were you planning to stay in the wigwam?’ the bodybuilder inquires.
‘Hopefully not long. I was hoping he’d get hungry and I could interest him in some pancakes or something.’
Tanis sits and stares at nothing. ‘Why didn’t he want to come home?’
‘He didn’t want to go to school.’ Milo says, which is easier than explaining that the pressure to be normal has overwhelmed Robertson.
‘Well, ma’am, if you’re satisfied that your son’s safe, we’ll be on our way.’
‘What do you mean “safe”? He’s never safe.’ She starts getting loud again. ‘He’s bullied in the schoolyard every single day. What kind of sick world allows a boy to be bullied every single day? What kind of sick, perverted world?’ Both cops edge towards the door.
‘So you want no charges laid?’ the bodybuilder asks.
‘Against your neighbour here.’
‘He kept the boy in the wigwam, ma’am.’
‘It was a debris shelter,’ Milo interjects.
‘Get out,’ Tanis orders.
Milo and the cops look at each other because they’re not sure whom she’s talking to.
‘All of you. Get out. Now.’ She starts swinging her crutch. The cops hurry out but Milo lingers. The wrestler reaches back for him. ‘You too, asshole.’
While there is a noble desire that moves Milo into action, the results are strongly bittersweet. Milo is pushed into doing something and he then fumbles around the muddled results. Yes, it is funny at times but there is almost something enlightening about considering his actions.
When he was small Milo found solace in his collections of marbles, matchbooks, condiment packets, stir sticks, plastic cutlery, mini soaps and shampoos. All went into shoeboxes under his bed that Mrs. Cauldershot had to remove when vacuuming. ‘What in God’s name have you got in those boxes?’
‘Treasure,’ he replied. The boxes were carefully bound with elastic bands. He knew Mrs. C. didn’t have the patience to open them. When he was supposed to be sleeping he’d take out his flashlight and examine his acquisitions, wishing he could share them with the baby he imagined would have grown into an adoring little brother. His mother assured Milo that he didn’t kill the baby, that it was already dead when he flushed and that she left it in the toilet because she wanted the doctor to see it. Milo hadn’t looked in the bowl, only noticed the curled-up, watery and bloody fetus swirling around after he’d pressed the lever and his mother shrieked, ‘Don’t flush!’
From then on, when he heard his mother making terrible sounds in the bathroom, he held his teddy bears against his ears. Once he peed himself rather than look in the toilet. He only went into the bathroom in the morning after his father had shaved.
Pushing open the door to Gus’s house, he longs for shoeboxes full of treasure.
Cordelia Strube has given readers not only empathy but a means of discussion with her protagonist in her novel Milosz. It is a wonderful piece of literature.
For those of us in today’s era who still admire book, we truly love the detail, the time and the craft of the printed page. And that admiration counts for both writers and illustrators. Alec Dempster has created a series of woodcuts to illustrate JonArno Lawson’s newest collection of poetry – called The Hobo’s Crowbar – and agreed to answer a few questions for me. The Hobo’s Crowbar will be released by The Porcupine’s Quill in October, 2016.
1) How long did it take you to do the woodcuts for The Hobo’s Crowbar? JonArno Lawson stated in a Q&A for me he was amazed by your work for the book. Was it an easy task to create images for his poems?
I spent several months creating the images. Because I was working on another illustration project at the same time, working on music for Palo Dado my new band (Link to their Facebook page here), as well as my work for Lula Music and Arts Centre (Link here) it is hard to say exactly how long it took . I spend about two of three days on each image. Some time is also spent preparing the woodblocks. In this case a friend of mine who is a luthier had some spare offcuts of veneer from another project and he helped me glue them to particle board. It wasn’t the ideal material but I managed to make it work for me and the result is a series of images that are unlike any other I have made. The fact that I was free to choose which poems to illustrate from a large selection made it easier. I found the poems that evoked an image in me and that I could connect to personally in some way. I wouldn’t say that is was easy but I had a lot of freedom to create which made a big difference.
2) According to your website, this will be your sixth book that you have been involved with. (Including another book with JonArno Lawson.) Is publishing and illustrating something you enjoy doing?
Each book project I have worked on has been thoroughly enjoyable and very different. The book form is well suited to the black and white images I create whether it be linoleum prints, woodblock prints or paper cuts. As opposed to showing the work in a gallery for a month or so, the images in the book continue to circulate for much longer.
3) Will you be exhibiting the works from The Hobo’s Crowbar in any way? Will copies from the cuts be available for purchasing?
The prints are being shown till the end of August in Mandrágora Galería y Taller in Metepec, Mexico. (Link to their Facebook page) They are for sale and I am looking for somewhere to show the work in Toronto. Other venues are most welcome.
4) Are there artists that you admire for their technique? If yes, who are they and why?
The artists that I admire are good technicians but for me technique is a given. I am more interested in what an artist has to communicate. A few of the fellow printmakers I admire are Sergio Sánchez Santamaria, Daniel González, Mazatl, Joel Rendón and Demian Flores. Except for Mazatl, I know them all and that makes a difference to my appreciation of the work because I understand something about where they are from and where they create. There are many more artists I admire.
5) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?
I am working on a new series of illustrations for a book by Hubert Malina for Pluralia Ediciones in Mexico. (Link to their website (in Spanish)) Hubert writes in Mè’ phàà a language spoken in the mountains of the state of Guerrero and in Nicaragua. The book is part of a series of Mexican indigenous poets writing in different languages. It is an honour to be part of the series.
6) You seem to have an active online presence on the social-media platforms life Facebook and Twitter? How do you you like using these applications in relation to your work?
Facebook is useful for promoting events although it hasn’t been very useful in terms of selling my work. I haven’t understood the usefulness of Twitter so you could say I have given up on it. Instagram seems to be used a lot by visual artists and I am giving it a try. (Link to Alec Dempster’s Instagram page)
7) You have been travelling quite a bit for your work but where is your studio located right now? Is it in a city or region that inspires you for your work?
My provisional studio is located in Toronto. I wouldn’t say that Toronto inspires my artwork but living here has given me a form of stability that allows me to focus on my artwork when I have time to allot to sitting down to create. When I lived in Mexico I was able to dedicate longer periods to work on art projects exclusively. Here I am constantly juggling time and occupations. Toronto is an inspiring place musically and my musical projects have fed on the diversity of excellent musicians that live here.
JonArno Lawson’s works has been endeared by both adults and children for it’s wit and whimsy. He has been a winner of numerous awards – including the Governor General’s award in 2015 for the illustrated children’s book Sidewalk Flowers. It was exciting for me to see that Lawson will be release a new collection called The Hobo’s Crowbar in October, 2016 and he answered a few questions about his new work here.
1) The Porcupine’s Quill’s website is calling The Hobo’s Crowbar a “collection of poems brimming with whimsical wordplay.” How would you describe it? What inspired you (if any) to write it?
The Hobo’s Crowbar was written in the way some of my other collections of poems have been written – mostly emerging out of sound ideas or just ideas that I jot down in my notebook as I think of them, and then explore or fill out later. There was no central idea, just a pile of poems that seemed large enough to make a book from after a few years! Someone told me years ago that bpNichol worked on many of his projects in a similar way – he had files for different manuscripts where he sorted his ideas and poems, and at a certain point he’d realize something was full enough, or finished enough, to make a book out of (if he was aiming for a book – in his case, it wasn’t always a book!). I liked that model of working, and I’ve tried to use the same method, though I think Nichol was probably more organized than I am.
2) The Hobo’s Crowbar is illustrated with woodcuts by Alec Dempster. (Click here for a link to his website) Was there much planning between the two of you for the book? How long did it take to create the book?
The oldest poems in the collection go back twenty years. But most were written after 2013. Alec showed me his work after he was done – he’s an amazing artist – I had no input as far as his images went. He came for dinner a few months ago, and brought the woodcut for the cover image to show me the actual size – they’re less than half the size of the images you see in the book. Very small. Which is funny, because the paper cuts he did for Down in the Bottom of the Bottom of the Box were larger than the images you see in that book. He’s full of surprises.
3) Will you be planning any sort of book/reading tour for The Hobo’s Crowbar? (Or even a public launch for the book?) If yes, are there events you are excited to be attending?
I’m going to be reading from The Hobo’s Crowbar at the Fog Lit festival in Saint John’s, New Brunswick, at the end of September. I don’t have anything else lined up, but it would be great to have some kind of launch in Toronto. Porcupine’s Quill is pretty wonderful about promoting their titles, so I’m pretty sure we’ll do something here.
4) You still seem to be keeping busy with Sidewalk Flowers. Do you have many public events upcoming for it? How do you feel about the success of it so far?
Sidewalk Flowers has had a great run. (Click for a link to my review) And it does still seem to be running, in part because the foreign editions are still coming out a few at a time. Right now it seems to be doing well in Germany – I was delighted when someone mentioned the fact I was half-named for German writer Arno Schirokauer in a radio review (on Radio Bremen). Sydney Smith (the illustrator) and I will be going to Ireland in mid-September to take part in the Children’s Books Ireland festival – we’re supposed to talk about our collaborative process at a session there. It seems every time I think nothing else could happen with the book, something else happens! At first it was wonderful, then I started to find it distracting from other work I was trying to do, now I’m just going with the flow – it’s all good. Time passes quickly and it’s silly not to enjoy the good things as they happen. I’m not great with the unexpected – my nature is more to enjoy watching than to enjoy being watched. But we all need some of both.
5) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?
I’m working on a few different things. Mostly I’m working very hard to finish up a book about playing cross-culturally with children. It’s a non-fiction book. I have to have it finished enough for the publisher to start editing it by the end of July, so it’s pretty close now. I’ve been working on this book for ten years! So many interruptions. . .mostly my own. It will come out in 2017 with Wolsak & Wynn (a Hamilton-based publisher). It’s tentatively called “Around the World by TTC”.I’m also working on a children’s picture book with Montreal artist Nahid Kazemi. Later in the summer I’m starting on an Arabian Nights sort of story cycle – this is a big project, I have a lot of work (and reading) to do for it, completely different from anything else I’ve done, so it’s making me a little nervous (but exciting to think about too).
Writers I’ve discovered since last time! That’s a good question. . . I’ve become a very big fan of Alison Gopnik. Her books about babies and children are fascinating. She has a book that came out just now called “The Gardener and the Carpenter” – well worth reading. Mark Winston’s “Bee Time” is a great read. “On the Move”, by Oliver Sacks. I’m part way through Siddhartha Mukherjee’s book “The Gene: An Intimate History” – very entertaining. He’s a fine writer.