Monthly Archives: January 2015

The Inner Images of our Mind | Review of “House Dreams” by Deanna Young (2014) Brick Books

House

We have all grappled with the products that our mind produces. Be it; thoughts, images, emotions, ideas, memories or even dreams, our mind perplexes us at times into inaction. But Deanna Young has given us a reason to at least ponder our inner products as she has put her inner ideas together in her collection of poetry called House Dreams.

Beautiful, Astonishing, Wondrous (excerpt) (Page 13)

Here we are in the sky

trying not to think about it.

There goes the snack cart up the aisle.

Prodded, like a surly child.

On some tiny, industrial planet

this is a symphony: tinkly bottles

and crinkly packets. On this one

(or rather above it), it’s merely

appealing, teasing the minds

of weary, mildly worried people

with a promise of treats, a numbing

cup of wine, perhaps, whilst stuck

inside a mammoth empty-stomach

hum, improbable hundred-tonne

insect of steel. Which sounds impressive

but is feeble compared to the wind,

which predates everything and is

indestructible. Mythological. Oh mighty

Boreas, forgive us our trespasses

and drop your shields. Or

we could go around.

Young gives a definition to thoughts, images and/or dreams we all have yet fear to analyze or define. She has carefully crafted phrases to describe what she has imagined or even gone through at times and helped us feel that we are not alone with those ponderings.

The Linden Tree (excerpt) (Page 37)

Lift the blind

on a sunless morning

near the end of October.

The linden tree has been changed

overnight. Yesterday green, and now this

sea of shifting lemon slices

pouring light in your eyes.

As you have been changed

many times in this life

by a wind that made walking

your straight line to the bus stop hard,

darkness that fell early

and was there by your bed

when you woke up.

At those times, a chemistry erupted

that made you

older, more beautiful too,

and you held on

with an extraordinary will

to be alright

in the arm of each new disaster.

There are some deep-seated emotions documented here. Young has explored her inner psyche deeply here and has opened herself up to the world. And her work shows us all that we should open ourselves up and explore our inner feelings, emotions AND even inner pains no matter how uncomfortable that may be.

Rest (Page 47)

He saw twenty-two patients at the clinic that day.

eleven before noon and eleven after.

Five presented with depression.

He told them all the same thing.

He looked at them with his grey eyes:

Lots of people feel this way.

In our bedroom that night

he mentions, One woman hugged me.

He’d wanted her to take some time off work.

When she protested, he insisted.

It was what he was prescribing: rest.

He told her she was a good person.

People get through this and you will too.

He wrote out the name of a medication

and passed the slip of paper to her

like you hand a mug of tea to someone

who’s had to walk a long way

in a dark rain.

While all you could do was wait

for a sound at the door.

It’s late.

The furnace shudders,

and I go under asking the empty space

above the bed to hear my thanks.

House Dreams by Deanna Young is not only a good collection of poetry but also an excellent guide to explore our inner mind. Which is what literature is suppose to do. Nicely done.

Link to Deanna Young’s website

Link to Brick Books’ webpage for House Dreams

“(T)he act of moving between the public and private parts of my writing self has been good for growth and reflection. | Q&A with novelist Amanda Leduc

A great novel for me always reflects not only the fears and emotions of not only myself but of the circle of people around me. Amanda Leduc’s The Miracles of Ordinary Men was one of those rare novels that did that for me. (Link to my original review) Leduc answered a few questions for me, showing more insight into her brilliant though processes.
*****

1) How has the response been to “The Miracles of Ordinary Men?” Any positive responses you care to share? Any negative?

 

The response to Miracles was, on the whole, very positive and affirming. The novel had some wonderful reviews in the national papers, as well as quite a few lovely reviews on book blogs and other websites. There were of course some less-than-positive reviews—you can’t expect to put a book out into the world and not encounter at least a few people who won’t find it their cup of tea—but even those ones were very generous and thorough in their critiques of the book. It was exciting and challenging to see the book out in the world in that way, and observe how others reacted with and to it.

 

2) What are you reading right now? Who are your favourite writers?

 

I just finished Meghan Daum’s The Unspeakable and Other Objects of Discussion (essays), and I’m currently about halfway through Loitering, by Charles D’Ambrosio (more essays). Once that’s done, I’ll be going back to fiction and reading Borges’ The Book of Imaginary Beings. And then I’ll be back to essays once Anne Carson’s Plainwater arrives in my mailbox!

In terms of my favourite writers…this is always such a hard question. My favourite book of all time is The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy, so she’s definitely up there. I’m also a big fan of Leslie Jamison, whose The Empathy Exams was one of my favourite reads from last year. Also: Guy Gavriel Kay (splendid, epic fantasy fiction), Roxane Gay (essays and novels and everything in between!), John Jeremiah Sullivan (essays), JRR Tolkien (can’t beat TLOTR), Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Joan Didion, and so many others besides…it’s an ongoing, revolving list.

 

3)  Your blog says you do a combination of short fiction, creative non-fiction and the novel. Is there a preferred means of writing that you enjoy doing? If yes, why?

 

I like each of these genres for different reasons—I like the scope and messiness of novels, and the contrasting briefness of short stories, and the way that creative non-fiction gives you space to expand within a defined timeframe and set topic. Each of these particular methods of writing presents their own challenges. I find it refreshing and good for my own writing practice to be able to bounce between them all.

4) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you can share?

 

I am! I’m working on several projects, though the primary project is a novel that follows on from The Miracles of Ordinary Men. I’m also slowly pulling plans together for a collection of essays (hence all of the essay reading above, I suppose), and I have some short stories that I’m thinking about putting together in some form. It’s nice to have several things on the go, as it means there’s always another thing to focus on if I hit a stumbling block with whatever I’m working on at the moment.

5) You have done a multitude of public readings of your work. Is that something that you enjoy doing?

 

The public readings that were done for Miracles were one of my favourite things about having a novel out in the world. The majority of those readings were self-organized, so a great deal of work went into bringing them about, but the whole process taught me a lot about how important it is to market your book once it’s out there. You have to work hard to make sure that it doesn’t just disappear.

The public, reading persona that a writer slips into when it comes time to market their novel is definitely a different headspace from the area that you occupy when writing—it’s much more extroverted, and that can be exhilarating and also terrifying all at the same time! I do enjoy it very much, though. As with jumping from one genre to the next, the act of moving between the public and private parts of my writing self has been good for growth and reflection.

(I hope so, anyway.)

 

6) Has any of your work been the subject of any reading circles or book clubs? If yes, did you participate with the group in any way?

 

Miracles has been read by a few book clubs now, and I’ve been lucky enough to have been involved with some of these clubs on varying levels. For one club, I was able to attend their discussion of the book, while for others I was able to connect with the readers after they had met and discussed the work, and get their impressions of it.

I’m hoping to do another book club discussion later this year. It’s always fascinating to see how different people interpret your book. In many cases, readers took things away from the novel that I hadn’t even intended, which was surprising and wonderful.

 

7) You seem to have an active role in social-media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. How do you feel about those means? Does being on those sites help you with your writing at all?

 

I’m not actually on Facebook, but I do have a Twitter profile and it has allowed me to reach out to fellow readers and writers in a way that I don’t think I’d have managed otherwise. I won’t deny that there are some parts of social media that make for a struggle—I enjoy Twitter so much that it’s quite easy for me to spend more time tweeting than I do writing!—but in the end I think that the engagement with readers and writers and just the online community at large is quite beneficial. There are so many ideas and different points of view exchanged (some cordial, some not) on a daily basis—it keeps me on my toes and fuels my excitement about all things bookish and otherwise.

8) You talked a little bit on your blog about living in Hamilton. How do you like living there as a writer? Does the city’s cultural scene help you with your writing at all?

 

I grew up in Hamilton, and the funny thing is that I couldn’t wait to leave the city when I was younger. I lived away for ten years, and moved back more or less grudgingly, as much as it pains me to admit.

Since coming back, though, I’ve been amazed by the richness of the city and the vibrancy of its arts scene. It’s definitely not the same city that it was when I left back in 2001. It’s been tremendously exciting to be a part, however small, of the city as it transforms and grows.

Also, on the very practical side of things—the fact that Hamilton is an affordable city that still has me a short bus ride away from the literary events of Toronto doesn’t hurt, either!

9) You seem to do a bit of travelling. Is that something you enjoy doing? Does it help your writing at all?

 

I love travelling—so much so that I wish I could do it more. I don’t know that I’ve written all that much about my travels specifically, though I have found that some of my experiences have found their way into various things—stories, settings for books. Maybe there will be space for more of them in the future—who knows!

10) Do you have any advice for beginning or amateur writers?

 

Don’t give up! It sounds so simple and almost trite, but someone told me that at a particularly low point in my writing career and they were right. Writing and submitting and waiting on rejections (or acceptances, as the case may be) is a long and lonely game. But if you stick it through, the rewards can be very great. There’s nothing like that first moment when you unpack your novel and see that book with your name printed across it. It makes everything worthwhile.

******

Link to Amanda Leduc’s blog

Link to ECW Press’s page for The Miracles of Ordinary Men

Getting Unstuck while on the Path of Life | Review of “No Relation” (2013) by Terry Fallis

Fallis

We all feel sometimes that we are trapped in our lives. ‘Who we are’, ‘what we do’ and ‘who we are with’ are phrases that seem to depress us into thinking that we are stuck in a rut of unhappiness. And it sometimes takes a good book or a good network of friends to help us see out of that rut of unhappiness. Terry Fallis has written a book about somebody who finds a good network of friends to help him out of a rut of unhappiness. And No Relation is a pleasurable book to read.

Page 9

I was in a surly mood by the time I made it into our apartment on Bank Street, almost at Bleecker, in the West Village. It wasn’t just losing my job. I’d remembered on the way home that I’d lost my wallet on the subway the day before. Funny how losing your job can make you forget about losing your wallet. It was well and truly gone. Stray wallets don’t last long on New York subways, and they never make it to the MTA’s Lost and Found.

When the elevator opened, Jenn and her brother, Paul, were standing there in the corridor with a cardboard box and a couple of suitcases.

“Oh hi, Paul,” I said. “Are you moving in for a while?”

Jenn had kind of a dazed look on her face.

“Shit,” she said.

“Believe it or not, you’re the second person to say that to me this morning.” I replied.

The story deals with a copywriter/aspiring novelist living in New York City.  Life seems to him to push him into a rut when he looses; his wallet, his job and his girlfriend all in the same day. He continually sits down in front of his computer screen to write his chapter 12 of his novel yet no words come forth. He feels alone and frustrated. Oh yes, he also suffers from the fact of being unfortunately named Earnest Hemmingway.

Page 18

“Look, mister. You expect me to believe that any sane parent would give their son that name. I ain’t buying what you’re selling. You got in ID. So back off and go and get your jollies somewhere else. We’re busy here. Try the passport office on Hudson. They’re loads of fun.” She pointed in a vaguely southerly direction as she said it. “Next in line, please!”

I’ve often heard of people snapping under the cumulative stress of a situation. All of a sudden a bolt pops loose and that nice gentle man who gives to charity and volunteers at the food bank somehow steps off the deep end and turns into a raving lunatic.  Well, it was different for me. You see, I volunteer at the Planned

Parenthood Clinic down on Bleecker, not at the food bank. But everything else was just about the same. You know, the deep end, raving lunatic part. So much for my civility instinct.

“Wait just a second,” I shouted, yes, shouted. “Wait one second! That is the name I was christened with forty years ago. I am not impersonating anyone. The spelling is not even the same. There’s an ‘a’ in my first name and a double ‘m’ in the second. See, it’s a completely different name. Okay, now try to focus. I’ve had a very, very bad day and I need a new driver’s licence. Your job is to make that happen. Please do it now!”

“Security to 10,” was all she said into her headset. She sounded tired.

Fallis has the ability to create complex plots while writing in a very simple style. And the story he tells with Hem is a great one to read. He gives a bit of morality play buried in between some extremely funny scenes which makes this book enlightening and fun to read.

Page 149

The next week was frustrating and dispiriting. It left me a little unnerved, even a little afraid. It honestly felt like I might now ever be able to write again. Not a good state for the wannabe writer blessed, for once, with time and money simultaneously. I found that I’d actually forgotten how it felt to craft sentences, to find the perfect word, the perfect tense, the perfect construction. The sensation of rearranging the words in a sentence to heighten its impact, its interest, had all but deserted me. No literary laxative could unblock my writing, and I tried many. The Internet was a bottomless well of never-fail cures that in my hands were never-cure fails. I could sense Hemingway’s ghost hovering, an oppressive, smirking, sneering presence. I waited for it to speak. But it never did.

No Relation by Terry Fallis is light read even though it has a complex plot.  Fallis documents several foibles of the human condition we all suffer from and shows us that we are at least not alone with our failings. A pleasurable read.

Link to Terry Fallis’ website 

Link to McClelland & Stewart/Penguin Random House Canada’s page for No Relation

Trying to Believe in Faith in our Modern Era | Review of “The Miracles of Ordinary Men” by Amanda Leduc (2013) ECW Press

Men

We have all been asked to put our trust into someone or something at one time or another. But is that trust deserved? We are asked to have faith in things like: family, friends, employers, religion and so on yet we can’t help to question that trust sometimes. That is the major theme that the characters grapple with in Amanda Leduc’s novel The Miracles of Ordinary Men, making it a must read for many of us confused by this “modern era.”

Page 14 Thursday

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.”

Like riding a bike, the old cliché. The church felt the same, which shouldn’t have surprised him but did – it had been two years, only that, and somehow it felt as though he’d been gone forever. Worn floorboards and the same threadbare cushions in every pew.

But it wasn’t the same, not really, because Father Jim wasn’t there. Instead, a small dark-haired man shook Sam’s hand and directed him into a pew. His name, he said, was Father Mario. His voice was also small – Sam had to still himself completely to hear him, which was probably the point.

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned,” he repeated. Though he hadn’t come to confess and didn’t believe in sin anyway. But there – that was he started.

“How long has it been since your last confession?” The priest’s accent was soft and unobtrusive. Filipino, maybe – a roly-poly young boy who’d grown up with the light of God in his eyes.

“I don’t know,” and he shifted in his pew. He’d eschewed the anonymity of the confessional on the chance that Father Mario might have noticed the wings, like Emma, but so far he hadn’t said anything.  “I’m not a fan of confession, actually.”

The priest smiled. “Most people aren’t.”

“I’m,” he felt restless now, “not here to confess. I need . . .some advice?”

The plot deals with two main characters. Sam has woken up to find himself growing wings while Lilah, who has lost her brother Timothy to the streets of Vancouver, falls into an abusive relationship of her boss. Both characters feel lost in where their lives is taking them. But the beauty of the novel is the language that Leduc uses to tell the story. It is frank, bold and simple. A pleasure to read.

Page 99

The first time Lilah swore, she was fourteen. This was the year before mascara, that last year when she still thought nothing of wearing sweat pants to school. Roberta was still a year or so away from the Fernwood house, and Carl had left. They had moved, the three of them, into the basement apartment of an old house in Oak Bay. There were spiders. Lilah shared a room with Roberta and pretended not to notice the muffled sobs, the shaking that came from the other bed with her at some point in the night. Usually, Timothy would crawl into bed with her at some point in the night.  He burned as he slept – a human furnace that smelled of snow and dirt and air.

That day, she walked home from school to the rhythm of her times tables. Eight times eight is sixty-four. Eight times nine is seventy-two. She’d always had trouble with these, and she was concentrating so hard that she missed the curb. Her foot buckled and down went the rest of her. Her face smacked against the stone.

She lay still for the moment, and then stumbled to her feet, the copper taste of shock warm in her mouth. Raised a hand and felt it, warm beneath her nose.

“Say fuck,” said a voice.  She turned – slowly, still unsure of the world – and saw a boy. He was breathing hard; he’d  been running. Later, Lilah would realize that he’d run to her. It had been a spectacular fall.

“Are you all right?” he said. Sixteen? Seventeen? She couldn’t tell.

“I think so.” Her words were slurred.

“Say fuck,” he said again. “It will make you feel better, I promise.”

Fuck,” she whispered into the air. The word took shape and danced. Not good, a word brought to life with dirt and blood. But she didn’t know that then.  She wouldn’t know until years later. Fuck and blood, linked forever.

Amanda Leduc has captured thoughts and emotions from our society in her novel The Miracles of Ordinary Men that perhaps haven’t been fully expressed by us all yet. Her characters fumble and struggle with life unsure on how to move forward with it. This is one of those reads that needs to be savoured and pondered over. Not one that is read quickly and forgotten about.

*****

Link to Amanda Leduc’s Blog

Link to ECW Press’s page for The Miracles of Ordinary Men

“Riffle will evolve to support more community features like discussions and book clubs. We’re listening to what the community wants and adding features every couple of weeks.” | Q&A with the team at Rifflebooks.com

RiffleBooks_SitePromo
We have all turned to the internet for help in deciding what to read. Riffle Books is one such platform that has come online in the last few years and their site is evolving and growing to be quite a useful tool in helping readers what to decide what to read and to network with fellow readers. Recently the crew at Riffle answered a few questions for me and here are their responses.
*******
1) What is the main premise behind the Riffle website? How long has it been in operation?
Riffle’s mission is to inspire reading.
Riffle already appeals to a large community of book bloggers, educators, publishers, authors, booksellers, librarians and avid readers, forming a vibrant platform for conversation and connection around reading. Riffle’s own cadre of editors ‘feature’ superlative contributions from the Riffle community, including book reviews, reading lists and author interviews.
Riffle also includes an eBook deals newsletter which goes out a few times a week. This includes bestselling free and highly discounted eBooks available on any given day. People can sign up for this service directly at rifflebooks.com/select, or as part of the Riffle community.
Riffle continues to evolve monthly. We opened the site up in September of 2013 but have not done a formal launch.
2) What are the benefits to Riffle compared to other similar sites that deal with books?
Riffle has a clean design, trying to reduce the clutter and advertising that other sites have.
Riffle is a combination of both reading updates and editorial curation of bookish content. This is a clear evolution from previous book sites.
You can use Riffle if you’re a reader and still share your lists, reviews etc. with friends who aren’t Riffle users and may be casual readers.
Riffle has a Connect Local feature that let’s you automatically follow the updates, reviews, and lists of your nearest bookstores.
3)  What are some of the most popular features of Riffle?
The activity feed, reviews, and lists are the most popular features. There is also an import from Goodreads that is quite popular. Some examples of our most popular lists on-site include contributions from our editors and our community members, for example:

Similarly we are proud that the reviews on site are produced both by our editorial team and our vibrant community:

Princess of Thorns, reviewed by Erica Bauman (http://read.rifflebooks.com/books/344158/reviews/20333)

4) Are there any new features being planned for Riffle? If yes, are there details you care to share?
Riffle will evolve to support more community features like discussions and book clubs. We’re listening to what the community wants and adding features every couple of weeks.
5) Outside of the website, your firm seems to have an active presence on some of the social-media platforms like Twitter. How do you find the effectiveness of social media to help with the operation of your website?
Social media on Twitter and Facebook gives people simple ways to keep in touch with us and to ask questions. It also gives us another avenue to distribute the excellent reviews, lists and interviews created on the website.
6) Have any prominent authors signed up for Riffle yet? Do you offer any special services for authors to promote their works on Riffle?”
All of the big five publishers as well as many indie authors use our Riffle Select ebook deals newsletter to sell their books. It is a simple, direct and highly effective way for authors to grow an audience.