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“I also wanted to create a kind of tribute to people, like Trudy and Claire in the book, who attract and accept responsibility at a young age. I have always been deeply impressed by that.” | Q&A with author Missy Marston on her novel “Bad Ideas”

  • Missy Marston novel “Bad Ideas” has been a topic of conversation in many literary circles since it’s release last year. Most of the conversations have been how relatable how certain scenes and situations are to readers. So Marston has not only worked out a great read but created a piece of art that reflects life for so many people. So it was a thrill for me to have her answer a few questions for my blog

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  • 1) It has been a year since “Bad Ideas” has come out. How have you found the response to the novel been so far? Are there any memorable reactions to the book you care to share?
  • I have been thrilled with the response. People have been very kind. It has been especially heartening to hear from people who grew up, as I did, in the Seaway valley. Writing about where you come from can be intimidating and it was a great relief to hear from people who thought I got it right. One person sent me a photo of the book at the original Ken Carter super jump site, which was pretty cool.
  • 2) Was there any particular motivation for you to write the book? I know the character of Jules was loosely based on Daredevil Ken ‘the Crazy Canuck’ Carter and his attempt to jump the St. Lawrence River in the 1970s, but did any of the other characters have any real-life inspiration for you?
  • I grew up in one of the small Ontario towns that was flooded when the Seaway was widened in the 1950s. Remnants of the flooded town were everywhere: sidewalks that led under the water, old stone foundations broken up along the shoreline. My childhood home was right on the banks of the St. Lawrence and from our yard you could see a hump of the old highway breaking the surface of the water, forming a kind of island. That shows up in the book. My house was also just down the street from the ramp that Ken Carter built to jump the river, when I was about eight years old. These things made a big impression on me, obviously.I was motivated to write about these two very disruptive events from a personal perspective, the perspective of a single family of girls and women. I also wanted to create a kind of tribute to people, like Trudy and Claire in the book, who attract and accept responsibility at a young age. I have always been deeply impressed by that.
  • 3) How long did it take you to write “Bad Ideas?” Was it an easy book to write?
  • I wrote Bad Ideas on Sundays – I work full time – over a period of about six years. Some things about the book were easy and some things were very hard. The characters came easily, especially Jules and Mercy, and the basic plot was clear in my mind from the beginning. But it was a challenging book from a structural point of view. I wanted to tell the story from multiple points of view and I also wanted the book to have a lot of forward, plot-driven momentum. These two things can work against each other.
  • 4) You seem to have an active social-media presence. How do you using those platforms to connect with your fans and other writers?
  • I didn’t really have a social media presence until I published my first novel in 2012 and my publicist at the time encouraged me to create a twitter account. A few months later I posted a link to an article I had written about Margaret Atwood and her impact on me and my writing (the main character in my first book is named Margaret Atwood). Not much later – I think within the day – I received an alert that she had retweeted my article. I had to sit down. But that is the wonder and terror of social media. It feels like it erases distance. You meet people once and then you can stay in touch with them forever. You form these connections. People finish reading your book and reach out to you the same day to tell you what they thought. For me, it has been magic.
  • 5) Online listings have two novels accredited to you: “The Love Monster” (2012) and “Bad Ideas” (2019). Has your writing change much since you started? If yes, how so?
  • Writing a novel taught me something about writing novels, if you know what I mean. I think I will always struggle – it is not easy to write a book – but I struggled much less with the second book than I did with the first one. I gave up on the first one many, many times. I lost faith in the story and in my ability to finish the damn thing. When I started writing Bad Ideas I knew I could write a novel because I had done it before. So that’s one difference.In terms of changes to the writing itself, I would say that Bad Ideas is a more direct and focused book. They have a lot in common, though. If you’ve read one, you will recognize the voice in the other. You can tell it’s me.
  • 6) Your biographies have you listed as living in Ottawa. How do you like living there? Are there any benefits to living there that you as a writer enjoy?
  • One of the best things about living in Ottawa as a writer is the Manx Pub on Elgin Street. The great Canadian poet, David O’Meara, works there and organizes regular readings and spotlights. The crowd is always warm, the food and company, great. I was lucky to have the launch for Bad Ideas there. I love Ottawa. I have brilliant friends here, including a small writing group. I met the love of my life here, raised my children here. It is a beautiful place.
  • 7) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?
  • Yes! I have sixty solid pages of a new novel written. What can I tell you about it? There is an athlete and an explorer, a villain, and a mythical beast. As with everything I write, there is a love story. I feel like it is going to take forever but I just keep pushing it forward. One day it will be a book.
  • *****
  • Link to ECW Press’ website for “Bad Ideas”

Link to my review for “Bad Ideas”

When Emotions Impair Good Judgement | Review of “Bad Ideas” by Missy Marston (2019) ECW Press

We all have looked back at decisions in our lives with regret. Why did we do “x” when “y” was the smarter choice at the time. Yet our emotions and our desires guide our decisions at times that push us into scenarios we cannot escape from. Missy Marston has documented such situations in her novel Bad Ideas in a brilliant and at times humorous means that is enlightening to read.

Page 9 Because they had no right

It was April 1978. Mercy was only four years old and it seemed like the whole town had turned grey. The grey river washed against the grey shore. The grey trees stood against the grey sky, biding their time, refusing to bloom. Trudy and Mercy were sitting in a booth at the back of the Jubilee, and Mercy was peeling the cheese off her slice of pizza and cramming it into her mouth, her little hands covered in sauce. Trudy was smoking, staring past Mercy out the front window of the restaurant, when the door opened and the bells jingled. Two men came in, laughing so hard that they staggered and bumped against each other as they made their way past the front counter.

Both tall. Both lean.

The story deals with a collection of people in a small town along the St. Lawrence River who are trying to etch out an existence while trying to deal with love and the loss of love. We witness Trudy and her mother Claire. They both look after Mercy, the four-year-old daughter of Trudy’s sister, who has faded from the scene. In this muddle milieu, there are some hard looks at relationships and the heartache they create. Everyone seems set in their mindsets until a crazy daredevil shows up in town in a rocket car, preparing to jump the huge river. And Trudy – who is dead set against anything romantic – falls irrationally for the stunt driver.

Page 138

Today was a crying day.

There she was when Trudy got home, collapsed in a lawn chair by the back door, head in hands, crying her heart out. It mad Trudy feel tired to see her there. It sucked the life out of her. She squeezed her mother’s shoulder as she walked past her and into her house. Mercy was kneeling on the couch, a Barbie doll in each fist. She had the dolls facing each other, balanced on the tiptoes on the arm of the couch. She shook them a bit so their hair swung around.

“Grandma’s crying again.”

“I saw that.”

Bad Ideas by Missy Marston is a unique work of fiction that documents a complex reality of human emotions. The writing is simple and direct, making a read that is reflective to many people. In short, a great read.

****

A Brilliant Mix of Personal Emotion and Fact That Is a Great Read | Review of “Home Ice: Reflections Of A Reluctant Hockey Mom (2018) ECW Press

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Image linked from the publisher’s website

Fiction always helps us understand the human condition in a lyrical fashion. But when a writer crafts a non-fiction work about an important element of our society, we readers are granted an wonderful and personal insight to our lives around us. As the Fall 2018 new releases come along, and the winter sport season is beckoning our engagement, noted fiction writer Angie Abdou has documented her thoughts and emotions as her young son begins to play amateur hockey.  And her new work – Home Ice: Reflections of a Reluctant Hockey Mom – gives brilliant insight to the role of athletics and youth in this day in age.

Pages 1-2 Prologue: “Have Fun! Try Hard!” Reflections of a Hockey Mom

“Have fun! Try hard!” That was the coach’s rallying cry for every pre-Novice hockey game during my son’s first year in the sport. “Have fun! Try hard!” I love it. The slogan applies to so much in life – work, writing, marriage. If you have fun and try hard, the rest often sorts itself out.

I wrote the slogan in red crayon on a torn piece of paper and taped it to the laptop where I spend my days either teaching creative writing students online or pounding out my own stories. the slogan stands as a reminder that, sure, okay, I will likely never make the writer’s equivalent of the NHL and, yes, I know, I cannot expect a pot of gold at the end of the novelist’s rainbow. I can though, enjoy the process. I can take pride in my work. I can always push myself to do better. I can find meaning in the challenge. And those things – in and of themselves – can be enough They have to be.

If hockey began and ended with that “Have fun! Try hard!” philosophy. I would have no reservations about my son’s participation in the sport.

Abdou has explored in detail some serious points in our understanding of sport in our society. I know for myself, when I was younger, I never was comfortable with athletics. The goal of my fellow classmates and their coaches was always to win or score big, never the concept of sportsmanship, camaraderie or achieving a personal best. Abdou has documented here a multitude of angsts, frustrations, fatigues and an occasional joy as she spent a year being a hockey mom to her young yet determined son Ollie has begun to play a popular and demanding sport.

Pages 88-89 Chapter Four: Kids In The Colosseum

(G)ood thing Ollie is not in charge. He’d have them all hitting at eight years old. Like other kids born late in the year, he was eight for most of his first year Atom. As absurd as this idea sounds – as much as full contact for eight-year-olds is the brain-storm of a roughhousing boy with no understanding of long-term consequences – hockey leagues have allowed kids as young as eight to hit.

Hockey is a different game with the hitting than without the hitting. I’ve seen that even with Ollie’s young age group. Some star kids back right down and become invisible as soon as play turns rough. Sometimes they go straight to the bench, not interested in engaging at all in the body contact. Other kids, the ones less agile but stronger, suddenly shine. Since body checking is part of the sport at elite and professional levels, kids who aspire to that level want to learn how to do it right. They want to play the real game. They don’t want to work hard until fifteen or sixteen or seventeen and then find out they’re the kind of player who disappears when on-ice play gets physical. I get it. Through the eyes of Mark and his boys, I can understand why some argue for the inclusion of hitting as young as Pee Wee.

But when I hear a young player’s body crack hard into the boards? When I see a kid motionless on the ice? I have to agree with the doctors.

For those of us who just watch sports for leisure and enjoyment, we rarely think about the punishment and abuse that athletes have endure or consider the stress, cost and anxiety that the family members of those athletes face. Abdou documents both these facts in through both in citing professional studies and through personal anecdotes. The result is a book that is both insightful and lyrical.

Pages 114-115  Chapter Six: Until Hockey Doth Us Part

“Mom.” Ollie’s voice comes quiet, tentatively, from the backseat. “Why do you and dad sometimes seem like you hate each other?”

“I’m sorry, Ollie.” I will not cry. I have 250 kilometers of winter driving and a weekend at the rink. If I start crying now, I don’t know how I will stop. “We don’t hate each other. We’re just tired.”

“Well, why don’t you take a rest?” That’s Ollie – always thinking of a solution, always trying to help. Other people’s pain hurts him more than it should. I know Ollie more than anyone, and I should behave better than I do. But, god, I’m exhausted. I feel the fatigue as an ache in my bones. I’m so tired my face hurts.

Would a rest even help me and Marty at this point? We’re so sick of each other.

(. . .)

Hockey works to dived couples in this way, almost always. The children on Ollie’s team all have one parent in the stands, the other busy elsewhere with the remaining demands of family life.

Much ink has been devoted to instruction spouses how to co-parent a hockey player after a divorce, how to divide the financial obligations and time commitments, as well as how to create a situation in which the athlete can thrive rather than being affected by negotiations around the marital collapse. However, there is no research that suggests the blame for these divorces might, in part, be our society’s overcommitment to organized sport for children and the many ways that commitment creates stress and drains energy that could other wise be directed to fostering healthy familial relationships.

Angie Abdou has given us another excellent cultural artifact with her non-fiction book Home Ice: Reflections of a Reluctant Hockey Mom. Abdou has mixed fact and bits of her personal life to give us readers a unique insight into athletics and our society. Definitely an insightful piece of literature.

*****

Link to ECW Press’ website for Home Ice: Reflections of a Reluctant Hockey Mom

Link to Angie Abdou’s website

A Survival Tale But Also One Of Pride | Review of “Moon Of The Crusted Snow” by Waubgeshig Rice (To Be Released Oct. 2018) ECW Press

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Image linked from the publisher’s website

I received an Advanced Reading Copy of this book from the publisher.

What if the world as we know ended not with a bang or even the proverbial whimper but with dead silence? All our communication devices fall dead, no goods or services would come in for needs and no health or emergency services would be available. Would we be able to cope and continue? That is the realm that Waubgeshig Rice explores in his new novel Moon of the Crusted Snow.

The book brilliantly opens with the protagonist Evan Whitesky hunting a moose. The winter season is almost upon him and his northern Anishinaabe community and food stocks from the south are expensive. He is grateful that his culture has taught him how to respectfully hunt and appreciate the wilderness around him. As he hurries to finish slaughtering the moose he has captured, he notes that his cell phone has no service. He finds that fact odd but doesn’t give it a second thought. Little does he realize that the outside world has changed, and he, his family and his community are about to be challenged for their survival.

Rice has written a great book about trust, family and survival here but his book gives insight into Anishnaab society and culture. He shows the pride of ways of the people and their beliefs. Rice has written book here covering some important elements of the human condition, that should be considered and pondered upon among serious readers of literature no matter what their background or origins may be.

Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice is a brilliant read and a unique one. It has a in-depth narrative but also shows a pride in the ways of a culture that is complex and unique. In short, it is a great addition to the 2018 fall collection of new books.

*****

Link to ECW Press’ website for Moon Of The Crusted Snow

Link to Waubgeshig Rice’s website

A Work of Writing That Feels More Like a Good Conversation | Review of “A Generous Latitude” by Lenea Grace (To be Published April 2018) ECW Press

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I received an Advance Reading Copy of this book from the publisher.

Most of us crave a published work at times that feels like we are having a conversation with a group of friends. When one thinks of those conversations, one often reflects on serious elements as well as goofy comments and moments of quiet pondering. There is something enlightening as well as uplifting to our psyches after those types of conversations. And that is what reading Lenea Grace’s A Generous Latitude feels like. Less like a collection of poetry but more like a good conversation with a good friend.

Grace’s observations here are vivid, at times delightful and sometimes insightful. It is rare to note something like the fact that Guy Lafleur played hockey without a helmet led to his decision to record a disco album. Or that one sharing a video of one’s daughter bowel movement would be lead to a strong social-media friendship. But those are the types of comments that Grace has set in a lyrical yet unique fashion here.

A Generous Latitude by Lenea Grace is a fun yet  enlightening read. It felt comfortable at times and certainly worthy a few moments to read and enjoy.

*****

Link to Lenea Grace’s website

Link to ECW Press’ website for A Generous Latitude

Documenting the Thoughts and Emotions of a Neighbourhood | Review of “Interference” by Michelle Berry (2014) ECW Press

Michelle Berry will be appearing at the 2017 Toronto Word on the Street Festival

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Residential neighbourhoods are suppose to be tranquil areas. They are thought to be quiet areas where families live and children play, but there are things that shatter that serenity into a perceived chaos.  And that is situation Michelle Berry documents in her novel Interference.

Pages 4-5

Tom and Maria are busy raking the leaves. Tom is by the side of their front porch. Maria is out near the sidewalk. Their daughter, Becky, is playing across the street with her friend Rachel and the sky is full of white billowy clouds. The new woman who recently moved into the empty place beside Rachel’s house pulls her car into her driveway, unbuckles he baby from the back and walks into her house. Tom stops raking to admire her blond hair, California-blond, bleached-out but still healthy looking, which is ironic, Tom thinks. Tom knows he’d never have noticed the hair, or at least the health of it, the blond of it, the irony of it, if Maria hadn’t commented on it. They haven’t introduced themselves to this new neighbour yet, but Tom and Maria watch her and Tom assumes, because of this, that hey know a lot about her. The other neighbours have said things. Rachel’s mother, Trish, has mentioned her. They know her name is Dayton. Dayton from California living now in Canada. The baby is Carrie, which reminds tom of the Stephen King movie, of pig’s blood and periods, of a hand coming out of a grave. That movie made Tom uncomfortable. Who would name their child Carrie? Someone named Dayton, he supposes. Tom sighs. Although that’s such an old movie now, Dayton might not even know about it. She looks young. Early thirties? Late twenties? Or maybe it’s just the hair. The name. Maybe she’s older than Tom and Maria. Tom scratches his head and continues raking. there is a dog barking some, but tom isn’t sure where. There are many dogs in the neighbourhood and they are often barking. This includes Tom’s dog.

Berry has given readers a means of defining their reality with this book. The inhabitants of Edgewood Street in Parkville could be easily them or their neighbours in their own quiet lives. And the threats, fears and anxieties that the residents of the street have – cancer, peer pressure, financial obligations, ‘stranger danger’ – could easily fit into the thoughts of any resident of any other quiet street that exists.

Pages 91-93

Hot potato, dodge ball, who’s got the bone. Jude has distinct memories of each of these games, of how he felt playing them, of how they made him feel. Telephone – when everyone sat in a circle an passed the message around until it became so wildly skewed that it had not connection to the original.

At the beginning he watched the grey team, but now it’s the white team he’s taken with. There’s something about their hair under their helmets, the way it comes mostly past their shoulders and is all different – curling or straight, ponytail or loose. their hair is nice to watch, but he also likes their laughter. Peeling. Ringing. High-pitched laughter. Their camaraderie. The way they high-five each other, or pat each other with their sticks. Jude loses himself in these nights, forgets all the things he wants to forget, concentrates on the ice.

Late in the fall Jude was walking out from the rink one night on his way home. He had been sullenly watching the grey team – they weren’t impressing him. Too competitive, too angry. But then he hear the laughter coming from the change room and he stopped and listened. Like bells. A few gruff snorts. Cackles,. That’s when he decided to watch the white team. To forget about the grey team and focus instead on the white. When their laughter rang around him and sent a shiver up his spine.  They sounded like they were having so much fun and Jude wanted to be part of it – in some way – he wanted to share in the laughter. So he checked their schedule on the internet and he hasn’t missed a game since.

***

He interested in them sexually. He doesn’t want them or lust after them or think about them in any way like that. Jude is interested in them mainly because they fill something that is empty inside of him. When he’s here, in the arena, he feels full. When he goes home, he feel empty. But when he leaves the rink on Wednesday nights he doesn’t think about them again until the next Wednesday. The don’t come into his dreams. If Jude were to run into them on the street he wouldn’t even recognize them or make the connection. When he’s here, though on Wednesday night, his mind and body feel satiated.

Berry’s descriptions are simple, but they convey the complex thoughts and emotions her characters experience. She clearly documents  in anxiety, curiosity, fear, anger and confusion into the different peoples she has living on this street. A reader can’t help but have empathy for these residents and in turn a reader can’t help but ponder their own thoughts and emotions while reading this book.

Page 112

Just now, when Dayton watched Caroline head home down the empty, dark street, she wished, with all her heart, that she was as lucky as Claire. Claire has it all: Ralph, he kind husband; two nice children; a safe, easy home for her daughter to head towards. Claire has everything. Even the little argument she had with Caroline on the phone about picking her up. Even that was done well. It’s not fair, Dayton thought.

Dayton wishes that she had that scanner she was talking about in the grocery store. She would scan everything she wants in life, just bleep things into the hand-held device and, at the end of it all, she would drive her car up to the back of a store and load everything into it: a father for her baby, a house, a job, money, the legal right to live here, her groceries, even clothes, everything. Maybe she’d even scan another cat to keep Max company. Bleep.

Upstairs Carrie begins to cry. Dayton sighs and stands. She brushes the fur off her lap, makes sure the fur off her lap, makes sure the front door is locked, turns off the lights in the hall and downstairs, and climbs the stairs to see what Carrie needs. The smell hits her when she reaches the landing.

Michelle Berry has documented the often-untalked about thoughts, fears and emotions of suburbia in her book Interference. Simply-written and gripping, it is a book that quite honestly does what literature is suppose to do – document an element of the human condition and bring it forward for discussion.

*****

Link to ECW Press’ website for Interference

Link to Michelle Berry’s website

Going Beyond Reading about Reading | Review of “Gutenberg’s Fingerprint: Paper, Pixels and the Lasting Impression of Books” by Merilyn Simonds (2017) ECW Press

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We have all ponder over the fact that the way we read has changed in the past number of years. The arguments ranging from the “feel of the printed pages” to “the speed of which content comes to me digitally” has bombarded numerous discourses for the last little while causing more confusion among us. But it has taken a writer like Merilyn Simonds to thoughtfully and personally investigate the way books are published and consumed to give us readers some personal points into the craft to help us understand better the activity many of us enjoy so much. Hence, Gutenberg’s Fingerprint: Paper, Pixels and the Lasting Impression of Books is one of those reads that is worth not only reading but pondering over.

A Paper World Pages 17, 18

My sons and I belong to the last two generations to grow up in an entirely paper world. The first words we read were pressed into paper. By the time I was thirty, I was writing on a computer; by the time my sons were adolescents, most of what they read was onscreen. But our first books, both theirs and mine, were printed much as Johannes Gutenburg printed books six centuries before.

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We’re caught in a paradigm shift. Words are the constant, with paper on one shore, pixels on the other. My sons and I stand in the middle, a foot balanced on either side. My parents would never have believed that a world without paper was possible. My grandchildren will never fully grasp the extent to which paper served us all we wanted and needed to know. I have walled every room in my house with books; my granddaughter can hold more books than that in just one hand.

Simonds has mixed a perfect book together here no matter what format a reader uses to absorb this work. In it, she talks about the process of producing one of her works in both print format (in collaboration with Kingston, Canada printer Hugh Barclay) and a digital edition (with her son Erik). This book documents not only her honest observations with working with both people on this book but also adds historical facts on the history of reading habits and publishing.

A Puzzling of Pixels Page 57-58

I wonder if the intangibility of onscreen text plays a role, too in the paper/pixel preference game. I’ve suffered enough computer crises to know that digital storage is not to be trusted. I now keep backups of my backups. Paper may be fragile, subject to tearing and rot and spilled coffee, but printing words on paper is like carving them in stone compared to the ephemeral world of pixels, where words can disappear from epaper as if written in invisible ink.

For whatever reason, after almost fifty years of digital innovation, physical paper remains the gold standard. Engineers, designers, and user-interface experts are engaged not in invention but in technological mimicry, working hard to make reading on an ereader or tablet as close to reading on paper as possible. The Kindle screen looks like a page in a paperback. iBooks includes fairly realistic page-turning. Both of thew will seem like square wheels if South Korea’s KAIST Institute of Information Technology Convergence perfects its interface that will allow a reader to see already-read pages on the left and unread pages on the right, exactly like a paper book.

But the question remains: why are scientists working so hard to make plastic screens exactly like paper? Can’t we have both – eat our cake and pie, too? Paper is lovely to touch; screens are workhorses at scrolling and searching and ferrying volumes across oceans and continents.

I want both.

Simonds’ thoughts here go off into wonderful tangents at times, which truly reflect the thoughts and wants of true book fans. This book is a reflection of what many of us think and want from our reading materials right now without being too scientific or deeply philosophical.

Into The Hellbox pages 147-148

I set a few more lines, but I am too slow for Hugh. He fires me, which is a relief. I can spend hours at the computer happily inserting a comma and taking it out, but to pick out the letters physically, whether for practical reasons of spacing or because Stupid Merilyn has been at it again, drives me to distraction.

Hugh carries on until all four chases are locked up, or down, I forget which. Every so often he sends me an email, complaining that I use too many commas, or have such an affection for H’s that he has been forced to buy more.

“What happens next?” I ask when I see the four chases lined up neatly on the glass. The studio has always struck me as dirty and disorganized, but the better I get to know Hugh, and the closer I look, the more I see a different kind of order, measured and controlled, exerted by the process itself.

“Now I print,” says Hugh. “I don’t have enough type to set more pages.”

Merilyn Simonds has truly given a collection of  thoughts to ponder over in her book Gutenberg’s Fingerprint: Paper, Pixels and the Last Impression of Books. This is one of those books I sincerely encourage readers to take their time with and reflect over while perusing the pages.

*****

Link to Merilyn Simonds’ website

Link to ECW Press’ website for Gutenberg’s Fingerprint

(I had the pleasure of purchasing this book at Ben McNally’s Books in Toronto recently)

“The readers who have contacted me love Harriet almost possessively, and take a few days to forgive me for what I put her through.” | Q&A with writer Cordelia Strube

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Culture is suppose to deal with the ‘human condition’ – to take note of an element in our society and bring it forth for us to consider and discuss. But that rarely seems to happen anymore. We are bombarded with more and more items that seem to be ‘marketed’ to us and our pocket books. So when we come across an item where a person carefully crafts an item to show something about the ‘human condition’ many of us still do take time to ponder that item. And we try to share our thoughts about that item with others.

Cordelia Strube states she is a private person. In being that private person she quietly observes the world around her and then crafts her observations into works for us to consider. Her novel “On the Shores of Darkness, There is Light” certainly became a topic of conversation for my many circles these past few months.  So it not only a thrill but a bit of chance to gain some enlightenment when Strube agreed to answer a few select questions for me.

*****

1) You seem to have put quite a bit of thought into “On the Shores of Darkness, There is Light”. Was there anything specific that inspired you to write it? How long did it take to write?

I was sitting in a Tim Horton’s, people-watching through the window, and noticed a small boy with an over-sized head. He was gripping his mother’s hand as they walked, both of them ignoring the stares of passersby.  In the mother’s expression I recognized a look all too familiar to mothers a.k.a. if you hurt my child, I will kill you.  There was a grace and nobility about these two seemingly frail people, pushing courageously through their daily grind despite disability.  Once home I googled causes for skull enlargement in children and, shazam, Irwin was born.  Then I started what if-ing, which I do constantly while writing novels.  What if the sick child has a well sibling?  What love and tenderness is left for the well sibling who will always, in the eyes of the mother devoted to the sick child, get better?  How do the well and sick children feel about one another?  I wanted to reveal this complex sibling connection from both points of view, which resulted in two protagonists in a two part novel.

2) A lot of fellow readers in my circle seem to feel a certain empathy for the protagonist, Harriet, or they are very confused by her. How have you found readers’ reaction to her and her family? Are there any reactions to the book that you care to share?

The readers who have contacted me love Harriet almost possessively, and take a few days to forgive me for what I put her through.  I did not set out to write a lovable 11 year-old.  She is prickly, fierce, stubborn, determined and, in her own estimation, unlovable. This devotion from readers surprises and cheers me.  Maybe it’s because Harriet is a rebel and there’s a bit of rebel in us all.

3) Your website lists both books you have written and stage/radio plays you have produced. How do you contrast the two forms of writing (if at all). Is there one form you prefer over the other?

I love all narrative forms.  Radio plays are the toughest because you reveal everything through sound effects and dialogue.  I avoid the the voice-over device to reveal exposition, and never plug dialogue with expository writing, preferring sparse speech.  I put each line through a sieve repeatedly.  Few people talk in huge chunks, and if they do, they’re usually boring.  So it’s just me, the actors and the sound effects crew building worlds and people in listeners’ minds.
Stage plays have actors, sets, lighting and sound effects.  Many choices that are limited only by budgets.   Often the most intriguing stage plays make much from very little.
With film, a primarily visual medium, you have the added bonus of close-ups to reveal subtext.  My screenplays have considerably fewer spoken words than my radio or stage plays.
Novels know no limits.  You can build worlds, civilizations, multiple galaxies.  You can jump in and out of thoughts, introduce characters in one scene then ditch them in the next, straddle continents and time zones in a sentence. Novel writing means absolute artistic freedom.  And you have the added bonus of the reader’s unbridled imagination.  They will envision and feel things you didn’t know you were writing.  Many times readers have mentioned elements in my novels I didn’t realize were there.  Readers come to the narrative with their own histories which add colour and dimension.

4) You have a complex list of literary events in which you are partaking over the next few months. Many writers that I talk to seem to have a level of fatigue that comes over them when they do public events. Are public readings and discussions of your work something you enjoy doing? 

It depends on the crowd.  If they get it, I’m buzzed.  If they don’t, I feel crummy and regret showing up.  With On The Shores Of Darkness, There Is Light, my 10th novel, I decided to only do events that pay some form of honorarium.  I’ve never understood why authors are expected to offer their time and services for free.  This request narrows invites down and slows the pace.  Q and A is more interesting for me than readings because I get to ask questions of readers.  I never stop learning from them.  But yes, you need stamina, both mental and physical, when you’re promoting a book.  Everybody’s a critic and you better be able to suck it up.

5) This is a question I am really eager to ask you. Many writers I talk to about their presence on the internet seem to make a comment about it being something they ‘need’ to do. The only presence I can tell you have as a writer is through your website. (And your comment on your siteIn a world overrun by technology and advertising designed to make us hunger for material gain, the value of human connections cannot be measured” is very reflective of many people’s thoughts around me.) What are your thoughts in relation to the use of the internet with regard to promoting your writing? Do you get many people commenting about your books through your website? Are you avoiding social-media platforms (like Facebook and Twitter) on purpose?

 
I’m a private person.  I don’t like having my picture taken.  It takes me a long time to compose a sentence.  I don’t enjoy staring into screens of any size; don’t have a cell or a TV.  These are not social media-friendly qualities.  I have two laptops, one connected to the internet, the other remains a disconnected island for my fiction.  Briefly, when traveling, I tried a tablet and found myself checking my email accounts frequently because it was so easy.  The checking became compulsive and interfered with my thoughts, and fiction–for me–is all about allowing thoughts to wander.  
 
I’m more comfortable socializing one on one in real life, in real time, with all kinds of people in all kinds of real circumstances.  But even the word real has become unreal, hasn’t it?  Which is why I called the reality show about people who think they’re on reality shows in my novel Milosz “Reality Check”. 
 
 I want people vulnerable around me, not playing a shiny, scratch-proof role they’ve devised for themselves online. Twitter etc works wonderfully for writers who think it’s wonderful.  I’m available to readers via my website and when they take the time to contact me, I always respond, have even made real friends that way.
*****

“(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

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