Tag Archives: HarperCollins

“The earliest seeds of the story can probably be traced back to our childhoods. Our dad has always had a great love of trees, nature, and bonsai, having grown up in the Taiwanese countryside. I think living in Toronto he missed that, and compensated for the cold Canadian winters by filling our house with trees and plants. | Q&A with Eric Fan, Co-Illustrator of “The Night Gardener”

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There is something enjoyable about book illustration that I find somewhat unrecognized by many adults who read. The skill in creating and honing images for a publication takes an immense time and energy to which the final product is just as enlightening as words on a page. Eric Fan, who along with his brother Terry, have created some wonderful illustrations for some stunning books over the past little while and show no sign of stopping any time soon. Eric recently answered a few questions for me in which he shows us a little insight to the world of book illustration.

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1) So I have been getting some multitudes of comments over my review of “The Night Gardener.” How long did it take for you and your brother to create that book. Was there any personal inspiration or ideas that aided in the creation of that book?

Since it was our first book, we had the luxury of a pretty long lead time. We worked on it for almost a year, but that included doing multiple rough dummies we did before starting the final art. By the time we got to the finals we had a pretty clear idea of how we wanted the spreads to look. Here are a couple of examples from the original dummy to give you an idea of what I mean. The dummy ultimately went through about three drafts until we were happy enough with the pacing, and the overall design.
night gardener dummy
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The earliest seeds of the story can probably be traced back to our childhoods. Our dad has always had a great love of trees, nature, and bonsai, having grown up in the Taiwanese countryside. I think living in Toronto he missed that, and compensated for the cold Canadian winters by filling our house with trees and plants. We have many memories of him carefully pruning the trees, and sculpting his bonsai. He was also a parrot breeder, so there were parrots (and a hummingbird named Woodstock) flying free in the house. It was a little like growing up in an indoor jungle. When Terry and I were doing t-shirt designs many years later, we collaborated on a design for Threadless called The Night Gardener, which depicted a man sculpting a tree into an owl (our dad also loves owls). When we first got our agent, Kirsten Hall, she asked us if we had any ideas for stories, and that image came back to us, along with memories about our dad. We always felt there was a story we could build from that standalone image. So that’s basically how The Night Gardener got its start. 
I actually found our original design submission for Threadless:
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And here was the printed shirt:
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2) How has the reaction to “The Night Gardener” been? Has there been any memorable comments or reactions to the book you care to share?

It got a wonderful reaction, which was a nice surprise for us. We really didn’t know what to expect, or how it would be received. I think the first time we were able to breath a sigh of relief was when it got a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly, and then Kirkus. Some of the most memorable reactions came from book sellers who saw the book early on, sometimes only in its F&G form. We even became friends with some of them, like Sarah Ramsey, who manages one of the Book City stores in Toronto. She really loved the book from the first time she saw it, and hand-sold it to many of her customers. The other memorable reactions came from readers, and kids inspired by the book. Some of them created their own topiaries out of paper, or made video reviews on Youtube. There was even a school in the U.K. that did an entire Night Gardener student art show, which was beyond amazing.

3) What is it like to work with your brother Terry on a regular basis? Is there any sibling rivalry between the two of you while you work?

I think a little rivalry can be a good thing, since it continually pushes you to do your best work. It’s great to have a fellow collaborator, because you always have someone to bounce ideas off when you get stuck. Making a book can be a daunting project sometimes, so it’s nice to have someone to share that workload with. When one of us falls down or falters, hopefully the other one is there to save the day. That’s happened on numerous occasions.

4) You both worked and published a book with Astronaut Chris Hatfield called “The Darkest Dark.” What was like to work with him on that book?

It was incredible. How often do you get to work with an actual astronaut? The story of The Darkest Dark is semi-autobiographical – how Chris was inspired to pursue his dream of becoming an astronaut as a child. For that reason, it was important to us to remain true to that and have a degree of verisimilitude. Chris was gracious enough to invite us up to his childhood cottage on Stag Island where the story actually took place. It was an incredible inspiration, since we got to see his childhood bedroom and the neighbouring cottage where he watched the moon landing in 1969. 
He also took us flying in a four-seat Cirrus, which was a thrill. I even got to pilot the airplane for ten minutes, which was both incredible and terrifying. At one point Chris looked back at Terry, who was in the back seat, and shouted “your brother’s flying the plane!” I think Terry almost had a heart attack. One of the best parts of the project was just getting to know Chris better, and his wife Helene (and their pug Albert). They’re both such wonderful, inspiring people, and we’ve remained friends with them to this day.
Since I think it’s fun for people to see the process of the book, I’ll share another dummy rough, this time from The Darkest Dark:
DD Dummy2B

5) You both have a new book coming out called “The Antlered Ship.” Could you give a bit of an overview of that book?

“The Antlered Ship” is written by Dashka Slater (link to her website), and it’s a lovely, imaginative text. The first time I read it I could immediately see certain images pop into my mind, which is always a good sign when you’re illustrating a book. The story centres on a curious fox named Marco who is full of questions. He sets out to find the answers to those questions by joining the crew of the antlered ship (comprised of three deer and a flock of pigeons). On their adventures they encounter stormy seas, pirates, and a threatening maze of rocks, all in the hopes of reaching “Sweet Tree Island” where Marco thinks he might find other foxes to answer his questions. The story is ultimately about friendship, and finding what you’re looking for even if it turns out to be right under your nose. The writing is wise, gently humorous, and philosophical and we had a wonderful time living in that world for a while. (Link to Simon & Schuster Canada’s website for “The Antlered Ship)

6) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?

Right now we’re just finishing up on our next book that Terry and I wrote together, which is called “Ocean Meets Sky.” The story centers on the magical spot between sky and sea, and a magical journey to reach it, but I won’t say too much more about it until it’s closer to its release date, which should be in early 2018. We also just started working on the dummy for a book called The Scarecrow, written by Beth Ferry. (Link to her website) It’s scheduled to be published by HarperCollins in 2019, so it’s a little ways down the road, but it’s a very beautiful and poignant text. 
The other exciting project we’re illustrating is called “The Lifters,” written by the amazing Dave Eggers – his first foray into middle grade books. (Link to Penguin/Random House Canada’s website for “The Lifters”) I can’t really describe the book better than Dave Eggers himself, so I’ll just use his quote: “The Lifters has been on my mind for almost ten years. That’s when I had the idea that a simple cupboard handle could open a hillside to a warren of kid-sized tunnels under a town — and that it would be up these kids to keep everyone living aboveground upright and safe. My goal was to write the book I would have wanted to read when I was a middle-grader, with enough adventure and jokes and mystery to keep even an antsy reader engaged.”
Here is the cover we did, which they just released to the press:
Lifters

7) You and Terry are scheduled to attending the 2017 Toronto Word on the Street festival. Do you participate in public events for your work often? If yes, do you enjoy meeting the public to discuss your work?

We really love meeting fans of the book and always appreciate meeting book sellers and librarians as well. We don’t do a huge amount of public events, or speaking engagements, partly because we’re quite busy, and partly because were both a little intimidated by public speaking. I think a lot of artists pursue art because they’re somewhat introverted, so public speaking can be a bit emotionally taxing. That said, we really loved going to the Forest of Reading festival in Toronto. There was so much positive energy, and genuine enthusiasm from the kids. 

8) You seem to be an active participant on social-media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. How do you like using those tools in relation to your work. Do your fans actively seek you out and chat with you about your books?

I’ve had a few people approach me to chat through social media. I think Facebook (Link to the Eric Fan Illustration page on Facebook), Instagram, (Link to the Eric Fan Art page on Instagram) and Twitter (Link to Eric Fan’s Twitter Account)are all great platforms to connect with readers, fans, and friends. Working from home, I have to be a little wary about how I parse out my time. It’s very easy to get sucked into Facebook or Twitter and fritter away hours that would be better spent working on art. That said, it’s a balance, and you want to be present and visible and direct a certain amount of energy towards social media and promotion. 
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Eric and Terry Fan will be participating at 2017 Toronto Word on the Street Festival

Reflecting on the Ties We Bind | Review of “Little Sister” by Barbara Gowdy (2017) Patrick Crean Editions

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There always seems to be a magical and unexplainable bond between people at times. Be it friends, family members or even total strangers, we seem attracted to certain people so much that we are able to sense their thoughts and emotions without even saying a word out loud. And it is that sense of connectivity with certain individuals that Barbara Gowdy has her characters explore in her book Little Sister.

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Her nose bled.

She overreached the Kleenex and had to steer her hand back. An aftermath of misery clung to her, and she let herself cry a bit. She must have fallen asleep, except the precise, mundane details, not just the spider and the skirt but also her cold fingers, her childish grip on the pen, the background noises – that whole ordinary, filled-in world and its myriad sensations –  had felt as real as this, only (she looked around) in much clearer focus.

Harriet? Who was Harriet? Rose had never before dreamed that she was someone else. Or inside someone else. Yes, inside more accurately described the feeling of visiting, as opposed to having, the woman’s body. She sniffed her empty coffee cup and thought of their new employee, Lloyd, the former drug dealer.

Gowdy has given us readers something profound and unique to ponder over with her protagonist Rose Bowan. Every time a thunderstorm hits, Rose loses consciousness and has visions inhabiting another woman’s body. And while inside that body, Rose witnesses actions and emotions of ‘Harriet’, a professional woman who’s life is about upended by a pregnancy due to a affair with a married co-worker. And while Rose is encased by Harriet’s life and emotions, she begins to ponder her own relationships – a boyfriend, a mother with dementia, a sister who mysterious passed away years ago. It is through Rose’s eyes and thoughts, readers are given ground to carefully consider their own relationships in their lives.

Page 143-144

Ava’s papier-mâché parrot, Tobikumu, gazed sightlessly toward the window. He had been a Christmas present from a great-uncle who had lived for several years in Tokyo. Rose had gotten Kazuyuki, a delicate papier-mâché cellist with elongated fingers resting on fine strings that might have been dental floss. One day she had taken him to the house of a new Japanese friend, and there, within five minutes, the friend’s poodle had town him to confetti.

Under Ava’s care, Tobikumu, the parrot, stayed perfect. Under Rose’s he lost his glass eyes. She put him on her bedside table so that before falling asleep she could look at his sockets and recover the guilt she’d shed during the day, in those moments when she’d been lighthearted or animated or – the most bewildering offence – pleased with herself. She thought of the guilt as survivor’s guilt, and of survivor’s guilt as a guilt necessary for survival. Tobikumu was her victim and accuser both. She counted on him to get her to cry herself to sleep.

She cried secretly, in near silence. Still, her parents saw her misery and sent her to a child psychologist, an old woman who was half deaf and therefore needed to sit next to Rose on the sofa. Rose didn’t mind. Dr. Grewal’s baked-bread grandmotherly smell and her cracked brown face like dried mud were unthreatening and a little heartbreaking. She spoke in a soft, accented voice. She had a tendency to repeat Rose’s answers, for both their sakes, Rose understood, in order that Rose might hear them said back to her, and that Dr. Grewal might verify she’d heard them correctly. Rose never mentioned Tobikumu, and when the subject came around to Ava, she said what any normal girl getting better would say: Yes, I’m still sad. No, not as sad as I was. Yes, I understand it wasn’t my fault. Mostly the dwelt on Rose’s present circumstance, her friends and school, her shyness. To distract Dr. Grewal from asking about Ava, Rose mad her shyness sound like a more serious problem than it was. Year after year, as Dr. Grewal’s deafness worsened and she sat ever closer, Rose offed up the minor troubles and triumphs of her week.

Gowdy’s writing style has a direct feel to it. The story is not filled with excess descriptions or extra phrases. Readers are thrust into Rose’s train of thoughts or paths of actions without being given any room for second guessing or looking back. Readers are stuck following Rose’s life like poor Rose is stuck observing Harriet’s life during one of her trances.

Page 152

She would never love him, but she wanted him to love her. The man you were with was supposed to love you. Besides, he had loved his wife and often told her so.

Then one morning she stopped caring whether he loved her or not. She went to sleep caring and woke up asking herself, what am I doing? Apart from the strain of listening to his countless specific and indefinite resentments, there was the fact that he preferred to see her mid-morning, during those hours when, normally, she would be having breakfast and doing household chores. But how do you break up with a lonely, recent-immigrant widower?

Barbara Gowdy has certainly given us readers some considerations in regards to our relationships as we read Little Sister. The plot is matter-of-fact and direct, and  it is certainly one that is worthy of reflecting on.

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Link to HarperCollins Canada’s website for Little Sister

Link to Barbara Gowdy’s website

 

 

(M)y books often explore how writing and creativity give my characters tools to deal with the world | Q&A with author Alice Kuipers on her novel “Me (and) Me”

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Alice Kuipers is a very popular author of Young Adult fiction and one of good merit.  Her newest book  –  Me (and) Me –  is already garnishing praises on from all manners of readers and bringing new fans to her works. Kuipers was kind enough to answer a few questions for me and include me in her blog tour of her new book.

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1) First off, could you give an outline of the plot of Me (and) Me?

Hi there. Thanks for interviewing me! The description of Me (and) Me from my website is this: It’s Lark’s seventeenth birthday, and although she’s hated to be reminded of the day ever since her mom’s death three years ago, it’s off to a great start. Lark has written a killer song to perform with her band, the weather is stunning and she’s got a date with gorgeous Alec. The two take a canoe out on the lake, and everything is perfect—until Lark hears the screams. Annabelle, a little girl she used to babysit, is drowning in the nearby reeds while Annabelle’s mom tries desperately to reach her. Lark and Alec are closer, and they both dive in. But Alec hits his head on a rock in the water and begins to flail.

Alec and Annabelle are drowning. And Lark can save only one of them.

Lark chooses, and in that moment her world splits into two distinct lives. She must live with the consequences of both choices. As Lark finds herself going down more than one path, she has to decide: Which life is the right one?

That gives the opening. After that the book is structured around both of Lark’s lives as she tries to figure out how to put her life back together again. Each choice has good things and bad things about it—but Lark spends the book encountering glimpses of the life she isn’t leading and that sends her into a tailspin. I’m not sure how much to say without spoiling the story!

2) Was there anything that inspired to write this book? (If yes, what was it?) Is there anything you are hoping the book will accomplish?

I started writing this book when I was eighteen, but I had a whole different set of characters and ideas at the time. Suddenly, about three years ago, the character of Lark came to me and from there, the ideas from the unpublished book I wrote when I was eighteen realigned. As to what I hope the book will accomplish, well, that’s an interesting question. I don’t really think while I’m writing the book about anything other than the story. And then when a book goes into the world, I let it go. A book is a co-creation between the author and the reader, so, if anything, I hope that I’ve given the reader a lot of room in the story to bring their own ideas and imagination. I hope the story becomes the living, breathing thing it was for me when I wrote it.

3) Your website lists this book as your seventh published book. Has your writing change since you began writing? If yes, how so?

My writing has changed because when I first started writing I had no idea what I was doing. I had to spend a lot of time reading books on grammar and studying writing to be able to write the ideas in my head—that’s why the first time I tried to write this book, it didn’t ever get read by anyone else. I just didn’t even know how to punctuate speech correctly (to be fair, that is hard!) My first published book was at least my sixth attempt at writing a completed novel. And then during the editorial process for each of my published books I learnt so much about writing that I felt like a beginner all over again. As a writer now, I am more confident sentence by sentence, but I find it very hard to create a whole book—and that’s what stimulates me as a writer too—the challenge.

But thematically, my books often explore how writing and creativity give my characters tools to deal with the world. Lark is a singer-songwriter and she uses her songs to help her deal with her new, crazy life. That part was really fun to write.

4) Are you planning a book tour or any public readings of Me (and) Me? If yes, are there any particular events or dates you are looking forward to? Are public readings something you enjoy participating in?

This blog tour is a great way for me to share the book with readers, along with public events and readings. I have four small children so I try to do a lot of publicity from my couch—but I’m looking forward to the Literacy For Life Conference in Saskatoon (Link here) on May 1st and 2nd, when I’ll share the book with 2000 local students. The Festival of Words in Moose Jaw (Link here) is going to be great fun too—me, plus the children, plus my partner (Yann Martel) who is a writer too, plus the spa in Moose Jaw, plus a lot of eager readers and writers! I do enjoy doing events but they make me a little nervous. Speaking to a big group of people can be intimidating, until I remember that I am not talking about me but about my books. And hopefully I’m giving the people I’m speaking to some ideas about writing that are useful for them, too.

5) You seem to be active on numerous social-media sites. How do you like using those sites in relation to your writing? Is there one platform (like Facebook or Twitter) you enjoy hearing from fans of your work?

I love hearing from readers and I think as an author for teens it’s a good way for them to reach out to me. I enjoy being active on social media—it’s a fun way to procrastinate and connect with a bigger world. (Link to Alice Kuipers’ Twitter account) (Link to Alice Kuipers’ Facebook account) Writing involves me tuning out of the world—I am alone with my thoughts and my books. Social media opens the world up so that I can hear from readers and writers about the books and stories that spark their worlds. I like all of the platforms that I use, but my current favourite is Instagram where I regularly post writing prompts for people.

6) You have a program on the internet called Freeflow: A Writing Journey in which you have had budding writers learn skills on how to write? How has that been working out?

That course is free for anyone who signs up to my newsletter and it has a lot of people working through it online. I also have a course with Children’s Book Insider (Link Here) called Chapter Book Blueprint that has been a lot of fun too. I love working on online courses as, again, I’m reaching out from my sofa. It means I can share my ideas about writing with other writers, but then turn to my bouncy children (who are all under the age of eight) and spend a lot of time with them too. I can work around their schedules.

7) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?

Yes, I’m always working on something new. Right now, I’ve been working on a YA novel about a girl who claims to be from the future, and a YA memoir about travelling around the world with panic disorder when I was eighteen. I’ve also got a chapter book series upcoming with Chronicle Press, which is exciting. The first book comes out in 2018. It’s called Polly Diamond.

8) Your biography on your website lists you as living in Saskatoon. How do you like living there? Are there any cultural institutions or landmarks there that you enjoy that help you with your writing?

I’ve been living in Saskatoon for thirteen years now and we have a good life here. The children go to a great school, we have a close community of friends, and we enjoy everything the city has to offer. The winters are a bit long for me, but I’ve learned to cross-country ski, which helps. This year we did a lot of ice-skating too. Saskatoon influences my writing, absolutely. Walking by the river seems to come up for my characters in all of my books now, based on my walks along the Meewasin Valley Trails.  (Link here) I also enjoy Living Sky Café (Link here) in the old Mendel Art Gallery space, and The Children’s Discovery Museum (Link here) is a great place to hang out with the kids and get ideas for stories. I spend a lot of time at my children’s school at the moment—meeting with kids and talking about writing with them seems to help me with my own writing a lot too. And then I go to D’Lish regularly (Link here)—which is the name of the café in Me (and) Me.

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Link to Harper Collins Canada’s website for Me (And) Me

Link to Alice Kuipers’ website

 

 

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“(T)here are many, many details that made their way from family history and into DRAGON SPRINGS ROAD – so yes, I’m still drawing from family history. These small incidents and anecdotes breathe life into the setting, because they’re accounts of real events.” Q&A with author Janie Chang on her new novel

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Janie Chang enthralled many readers with her first novel Three Souls. She had carefully crafted that work with a mixture of history, emotion, mysticism, and romance. Now Janie has come out with a second book called Dragon Springs Road and it promises to be just an equally endearing read. Chang recently answered a few questions for me.

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1)      First off, could you give a bit of an outline of Dragon Springs Road?

The novel is set during the early decades of 20th century China, and opens with a young girl named Jialing who’s been abandoned in the courtyard of an old estate outside Shanghai. She finds out very quickly that her life is going to be terrible, because she’s a girl, orphaned, and worst of all, Eurasian. Even though she’s taken in as a bondservant by the family that moves into the estate, Jialing’s life is always going to be difficult. The two main concerns in her life are: how can she survive once the family is done with her, and how can she find her mother? It’s a turbulent time in Chinese history – the fall of the Qing Dynasty, the birth of a new republic, the rise of warlords, and all sorts of social upheaval. There’s a murder, political intrigue, supernatural elements that include a Fox spirit, and themes of race and identity, acceptance and friendship.

2)      Your website states that you draw on family stories for your inspiration for your writing? What or who inspired your to write this book?

 My first novel, Three Souls, was inspired by my grandmother’s life, so the premise was taken from family history. Dragon Springs Road, on the other hand, started off as a detour while researching turn-of-the-century Shanghai when I came across references to the Eurasians who lived during pre-War China. Imagine pre-War Shanghai and its decadent reputation. There were thousands of children born to prostitutes and poor women. If they survived infanticide the girls were often put to work in brothels. They were unwanted and unacknowledged by Chinese and Westerners, an embarrassment to both sides. So I tried to imagine what life might’ve been like for such a child, to grow up in a society that valued males, family connections, and lineage. 

But there are many, many details that made their way from family history and into Dragon Springs Road – so yes, I’m still drawing from family history. These small incidents and anecdotes breathe life into the setting, because they’re accounts of real events.

3)  On your website, you have enclosed photos that provide readers some insight for the book. Did you do much outside research for the book? If yes, what exactly did you do?

Wow. I’m so glad you checked out the Gallery (Click for link). It’s meant to help readers visualize the world of the novel. As for research, you start with the least expensive – online research. And that includes looking for books that might be helpful. I bought a LOT of books, because while they might be available at a library, I like to have them right there on my shelf to flip through as needed. It feels as though I used only 10% of all the information I researched! If you love history, you have to be disciplined when doing research or else you end up down the rabbit hole.  Even though both Three Souls and Dragon Springs Road contain elements of fantasy, they are solidly researched. They are historical novels.

It was actually quite challenging because there were almost no contemporary accounts of the lives of Eurasian orphans and the poor; I found some academic books about Eurasians in China, but much of those accounts were of biracial Chinese from the upper and middle-classes, who were literate and whose lives were documented. There was almost nothing when it came to the far larger population of the poor and orphaned; back in those days, no one wanted to know. Then a friend suggested looking into the memoirs of women missionaries and that really helped because those women were the ones who ran schools and orphanages, who could remark on what happened to the children. 

4) Dragon Springs Road may have just come out but it looks like reaction to it has been very positive. Is that the case? Have there been any memorable comments to the book that you care to share?

 This is my second novel, so I think my publishers have more to work with in terms of readership and media attention – they’re no longer trying to promote a one-book author! Memorable comments? Well, I suffered from the Dreaded Sophomore Novel Syndrome while writing Dragon Springs Road and thought that it was going to be a terrible book! So when my editors came back after reading the manuscript and said it was an even better, more accomplished novel than the first, I was so relieved! So the email from my editor was definitely memorable.

5)      Are you planning on partaking on any public readings of Dragon Springs Road at all? If yes, are there any dates/events that you are looking forward to participating in?

I’ve had a couple of events locally (in the Vancouver area) including the Canadian launch; also the US book launch at Kepler’s Books (Click for link) (Menlo Park, CA) and Vroman’s Bookstore (Click for link) (Pasadena). I’m really looking forward to the first literary festival of the year, which is the Galiano Literary Festival (Click for linkheld on one of our beautiful Gulf Islands. Everything that’s been scheduled for sure so far is on my Events page (Click for link).

6) You seem to be active on both social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Are you hoping that readers connect with you through those means to comment on this book? How do you like using those means of communication in relation to your writing?

Social media is a requirement these days for authors unless you’re Elena Ferrante, who every author envies for having sidestepped the time drain that’s social media. I’m active on Facebook and Twitter, probably more Facebook than Twitter. In general, social media makes me nervous. My background is in high tech and I am so aware of the privacy issues surrounding these free services, such as what corporations can do with data mining to cross-reference your personal information from different sources. And don’t even get me started on the decline of civil conversation in an age of tweets. 

On the other hand, I’ve become friends with readers and other authors through social media, from reaching out to them and vice versa, so I shouldn’t complain. I know that social media makes it easier for readers to ask questions. When I don’t have time to write a good blog, Facebook is a good place to post an article about something that I’m reading and thinking about.  There are friends I would lose touch with if not for social media.

7) Your website offers a special section for book clubs (and states that you will even participate in a book-clubs discussion groups via Skype). Have you participated in many book-club activities? Is that something you enjoy doing?

It’s good to get out of the writing den! Skype is not as nice as face-to-face, but it means you can meet with book clubs anywhere. Last year HarperCollins New Zealand organized one with a book club in Queenstown, on the South Island of (New Zealand) !

8) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?

Absolutely. Novel #3 is all outlined. I’m really excited about the premise and can’t wait for the flurry of promotion for Dragon Springs Road to be finished so that I can really get down to writing. What I can say is that the third novel is inspired by family history. Again. And it mixes history with the supernatural. Again.

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Link to Harper Collins Canada’s webpage for Dragon Springs Road

Link to Janie Chang’s website

‘The Elf of Invention’ of the Rockies and the Human Condition | Review of “The Three Sisters Bar and Hotel” by Katherine Govier (2016) HarperAvenue

The Canadian Rockies have always been this incredible draw for people but for varied reasons. But why? Is there some monumental truth to be found between those peaks? Is there some economic gain hidden there? Is it just a place where people live and etch out a living? In those questions, there lies an essence to the motivation of the human condition. And in her book The Three Sisters Bar and Hotel, Katherine Govier has carved out a brilliant saga in which readers can reflect on the human condition.

Heading Out (Pages 1-2)

Gateway, June 1911

Isabel stood on the platform. The caboose disappeared around the curve; the mountains closed in. The tallyho driver had loaded their trunks and sat, reins poised. Maxwell handed her father up into the seat. Doctor Professor Charles Hodgson would go directly to the Sanatorium. Tomorrow they would depart by pack train for the backcountry; tonight he would take the waters, in preparation.

“Come along, dear.”

“I won’t ride with thee, Father,” said Isabel. “I believe I’ll walk through town and over the bridge.”

He returned her gaze, pointedly. “You won’t take the baths?”

Doctor Professor Hodgson was keen to indulge, claiming benefits to health: you could take the hot sulphur waters Turkish, Russian or tub style. There were trained nurses. There was also an apothecary attached where a Quaker like him could purchase whisky. For medicinal purposes.

“I am not ill, thank thee.”

“It is your last chance for the whole summer. We won’t be back this way.” The professor turned to his man for support.

Maxwell stood blank-faced with his hands clasped behind his waist. Humphrey was halfway between his father and sister, indecisive.

“I want to stretch my legs, Father, Walk in the fresh air.” Isabel was delicate but could be wilful.

“Well then, Maxwell, you’d better go with her. There are me her who can manage the bags.”

Humphrey followed her lead, so it was brother and sister and Maxwell the butler who walked down Main Street from the station on a perfect blue-sky day in the Rocky Mountains. Their legs loosened. The hair blew in the wind. The sun spared like electricity. Before they had gone far they came to a strange-shaped building, log on the bottom and hip roof on the top, with a big veranda and a rail to which small, patient horses were hitched. The sign read THE THREE SISTERS HOTEL. They climbed the steps and went in.

Govier has been crafting (note the word ‘crafting’ is in italics) this story for years,  which her fans have been eagerly waiting. And it a saga that has been worth waiting for. The plot covers about 100 years around the region of a town called Gateway. We are introduced to Herbie Wishart, a colourful individual who has reinvented himself as a trail guide for the area. He is about to lead an American scientist and his family into the wilds of the backcountry. It is Herbie and the events around that exploration that will confound and influence characters in the book for decades long afterwards.

Page 130-131

The light began to go not long after dinner; summer was ended. Half-heartedly they tried to dispatch the child to bed, but excited by the thought of seeing her family, Gwen would not go. There was a card table the doctor looked at out of the corner of his eye; he normally played poker at this time of day. Then came a knock on the door, and a man was led into the parlour, his hat twitching in his hands. But this was not Wishart either.

“This is Mr. Erwin,” instructed the doctor. “He’s one of our best packers. Excuse me a minute.” He pulled Erwin aside. “Any sign of the them? What am I to tell her? Why have you left this to me? Where the hell is Wishart?”

“He’s searching. I don’t need to tell you, he’s taken it to heart, Doctor.”

“Come and meet Miss Gwen Hodgson,” said the doctor.

Francis Erwin bowed to Gwen grandly and took her hand to his hips. He answered the doctor’s question while still smiling at the girl: “Wishart will be along in just a day or two.”

“What is he doing?” said Gwen

“Searching,” Erwin told her, straight on. “I was too.”

“For what?”

“For your father’s party.”

“Why?”

“They left their camp but did not arrive at the meeting spot. We think they may be lost.”

Gwen pulled in her chin abruptly. She looked like her father then. “They can’t be lost,” said Gwen. “They’re likely just dilly-dallying.”

“I’m sure you’re right,” said Erwin. “you know all about dilly-dallying don’t you? Do you know how to ride?”

“A little.”

Govier has crafted (again, note that word is in italics) brilliant fiction here. A perfect mix of research, imagination and personal reflection are what make this book a great read. Her descriptions are vivid yet simple and her characters are endearing and believable. Govier has been referred often as being a brilliant storyteller and this book proves that fact.

The Elf of Invention Pages 272-273

On the Trail, August 3, 1928

Past Beguiling, over Bewitching Pass and onto a high meadow that unrolled toward farther peaks. It was strange to get up above one’s world and find another layer, another world laid out. There were hillocks and bubbles and the ground had a spongy texture. An eagle gliding over caught nothing because the ground squirrels were allied against it, sticking their heads out of their burrows and peeping to warn each other. Precarious on a bare rocky rise, a herd of mountain sheep paused to look back at them, and Herbie got out his gun. Gus scrambled after him, hiding behind boulders. The pack train stopped while Herbie and Gus got the kill. The artist took his time, arranging the ram’s head on his lap for a photograph first, and the taking out the folding easel. When the sketch was finished Herbie got his knife and eviscerated the creature. Snares took the carcass to pieces and boiled it.

“Now you’ll be able to say you’ve eaten goat soup,” said Long Lance.

“A day’s march and farther up another pass, through it, down again and beyond, toward the northwest. At night the packhorses were released from their loads and their halters. In the morning they came reluctantly to Herbie’s curses. One day when they were being roped into their load there was a loud cracking followed by rumbles: white thunder. An avalanche across the gap. The ponies bolted. One of them tried to leap over a clutch of stunted trees, caught his foot and fell; the pack loosened and the goods spilled. The pony cantered off, ropes trailing. Wishart unleashed a vocabulary that only began with Goddamned sons of bitches, get your sorry asses back here or I’ll have your testicles for a hat rack. Whore’s tits, hell’s bell’s Jesus wept, bollacks and balls.

The ponies recognized it was a crisis and trotted back for reloading.

The Three Sisters Bar and Hotel by Katherine Govier is one of my favourite reads of 2016. It is a well-crafted (again crafted is in italics for a reason.) that not just tells a story but reflects on the human condition. It sits proudly on my bookshelf. There will be copies given to friends far and wide. And I will be re-reading it again soon.

*****

Link to Katherine Govier’s website

Link to HarperCollins Canada’s webpage for The Three Sisters Bar and Hotel

Link to Katherine Govier’s Q&A with me for The Three Sisters Bar and Hotel

“Anything that isn’t writing is hindering my writing, although many life experiences, such as being a husband and father, are really a great help to my craft in the long run” | Q&A with writer William Kowalski

William Kowalski has a direct yet simple outlook on the human condition. (In fact his bio on his website refers to the fact that he wears socks with sandals, and doesn’t care what anybody else thinks about that.) That is what makes his writing so unique. He answered a few questions for me here which allowed insight into him and a glimpse into his future works.
*****
1) What inspired you to become a writer? Was it an easy job for you to get published?
A:  I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was very young, probably about six years old.  I wrote short stories as a child and as a high school student, and when I was in my early 20s I decided to try writing a novel.  Eddie’s Bastard was the result.  It was very difficult for me–the hardest thing I’d ever done, up to that point in my life. It took about three years. Getting it published also felt very hard, but I was told that I’d had it a lot easier than some.  I landed an agent within about six months, in January of 1998, and she had sold it to HarperCollins by that July.  It can take much longer than that to get a book published.
2) Your writing seems very personal. Is there much research/personal experience you use for your writing or is it pure imagination?
A:   I don’t really do any research for my books.  I believe in writing what I know, and I’ve never felt that I could do a convincing job of writing about something just because I’d read about it.  Of course, that doesn’t really explain how I can write about things I’ve never experienced, like war, for example.  I do sometimes spend a very long time trying to put myself in the necessary head space for a book, and that might involve some general reading about it.  But it’s more like me just asking myself a very hard question, and spending months or years coming up with the answer.  For example, while I was writing The Hundred Hearts, one of the questions I was asking myself was, “How could the My Lai massacre have happened?  How could American soldiers just mow down innocent people like that?”  I had to go to some pretty dark places to find the answer.  It took me eight years to write that book.  But eventually i did arrive an AN answer.  I don’t say it’s THE answer.  But it’s an answer that worked for me.
3) What are you reading right now? Who are your favorite writers?
A:  I just finished a book of short stories called Knife Party at the Hotel Europa, by Mark Anthony Jarman.  It’s one of the best things I’ve read in years.  But I don’t have much time to read these days, and when I do, it’s usually non-fiction.  I’m also reading Atlantic, by Simon Winchester.  He’s such a great writer.
4) Do you do much in the way of speaking engagements and public readings? If yes, is it something you enjoy doing? Have there been any memorable events that occurred during any of your readings?
A:  Between 1999-2005 I did about five US speaking tours, and one in Europe. These were both exciting and torturous for me.  I’m an introvert, so speaking in public requires a lot of work.  Once I’m up there, I’m fine, but I’m a nervous wreck for days beforehand, and afterward I’m exhausted.  I do a lot less public speaking these days, which is partly a relief, but I also miss it.  The attention can be very uncomfortable for me, but I need it to succeed as a writer, and if I’m to be honest there’s a part of me that likes it, too.  The most memorable thing that occurred was when one gentleman showed up at a reading to chastise me for using the word “bastard” in the title of my first book.  It turned out he didn’t really have a larger point than that, and he hadn’t even read it.  He just wanted to give me a hard time, because he believed it was an evil word.  You really never know what kinds of people you’re going to meet on the road.
5) You seemed somewhat surprised that I had reviewed “Eddie’s Bastard” recently. Has your writing changed much since you first started being published?
A:  I feel that I am a very different writer now.  I wrote that book between the ages of 25-28, and I’m turning 46 this year.  I don’t even feel like the same person.  I know my writing has changed drastically.  David Adams Richards put it beautifully when I saw him read last summer in Port Medway.  He talked about how young men are often prone to very lyrical writing, and as they age, they become more analytical.  This was a really valuable insight for me, because I didn’t understand why I had changed–I just knew that I had.  I actually wrote a blog post about this:  https://williamkowalski.com/wise-words-from-an-older-writer/
6) You have written several books for the Rapid Reads series for Reluctant Readers. Is there much difference writing a book with that audience in mind as opposed to a regular novel?
A:  The Rapid Reads books are shorter, so they’re easier in that sense.  But they’re harder in that I have to keep my voice very simple, which requires a great deal of restraint.  I regard this as excellent practice for my craft.  Showing off all the time is self-indulgent.  Keeping it deliberately simple is very hard.  If anyone doesn’t believe me, try doing ten pushups very, very slowly and see how you feel afterwards.
7) You seem to have an active presence on social-media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. How do you feel about using those apps? Does help or hinder your writing?
A:.  Anything that isn’t writing is hindering my writing, although many life experiences, such as being a husband and father, are really a great help to my craft in the long run.  My real problem with social media is that I absolutely love computers.  I am obsessed with them.  They’re a huge distraction. About ten years ago I started building websites for myself, and it’s gotten to the point now where I actually have several clients for my web design services.  It’s a nice bit of extra money, but mostly I do it because I love it.  Twitter and Facebook are fun for me.  They’re a great way to tell people about what I’m up to, and I get a little thrill when I see something I’ve written or tweeted take off, even in a small way. This is why everyone likes those things, I think.  It’s like being micro-published.
8) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?
A:  I’m currently writing a novel about the Polish immigrant experience in Buffalo, NY around the turn of the last century.  It’s told from the point of view of a young woman who is based on my great-grandmother, Aniela.  She came from Poland when she was a teenager, in 1908, and lived until 1990, so she saw a lot of changes in her life.  I was privileged to know her and have always found her story fascinating.  It’s really a very common story for a lot of immigrants in that time and place, but I think that’s what makes it valuable.
I’m also working on a web project: My Writing Network.  My goal with this is to provide anyone with an interest in writing with a free website and membership to our online forums, so they can connect with other writers and promote their own work online in any way they see fit. This is all done with open-source software, and it’s free for everyone.  It’s up and running now at https://mywriting.network.  I hope some of your readers will check it out.
9) No doubt you have seen the debates over what we consider Canadian literature. I have seen some of your books tagged in libraries with little maple leaves denoting that it is Canlit, and sometimes not. You are born in the U.S. but now live in Canada. Do you consider your writing as Canadian or is it in a more broader scope of literature.
A:  I am a Canadian citizen now, but I don’t try to label myself as a Canadian writer or an American writer.  I moved to Canada when I was 30 years old, so I was pretty much formed by then.  I love Canada, and especially Nova Scotia.  Moving here was one of the best things I ever did.  I came because of my then-girlfriend, who is now my wife of 14 years.  But if I were to try and write a book that was set in Canada, or that set out to be a deliberately Canadian book, I think I would probably fail.  I didn’t grow up here and I don’t have the same frames of reference Canadians have.  It goes back to “write what you know”.  I would probably fail just as much if I tried to write a book set in Texas or Tajikistan.  I do understand why Canadians are so bent on distinguishing their literary culture from that of the US.  American media is so dominant everywhere that it threatens to stamp out anything unique in other parts of the world.  I think if I had been born Canadian, I would probably have a strong dislike for anything American.  So, people who stick up for CanLit have my full sympathy.  I will leave it up to others to determine whether I belong among the ranks of Canadian writers or not, the same as I leave it up to others to interpret my work and discuss what it’s about.  It’s not for me to tell people what to think.  It’s just my job to write, and I hope to keep doing that until the day I drop dead.
*****

Coming to Terms with the Ghosts of the Past | Review of “Eddie’s Bastard” by William Kowalski (1999) HarperCollins

There is a certain enlightenment when reading a great coming-of-age novel. No matter how dire or downtrodden a character seems to be in that book, there is a strong sense of empathy a reader has for that character because they can relate to their own upbringing. And then the reader gains a sense that they are not alone with their pain. That is certain the emotions that will occur to any reader of Eddie’s Bastard by William Kowalski.

Page 1

I arrived in this world the way most bastards do – by surprise. That’s the only fact about myself that I knew at the beginning of my life. At the very beginning of course, I knew nothing. Babies are born with minds as blank as brand-new notebooks, just waiting to be written in, and I was no exception. Later, as I grew older and learned things – as the pages of the notebook, so to speak, became filled up – I began to make certain connections, and thus I discovered that among children I was unusual. Where others had a mother, I had none; father, same; birth certificate, none; name, unknown. And as soon as I was old enough to understand that babies didn’t just appear from mid air, I understood that my arrival was not just a mystery to myself. It was a strange occurrence to everyone who knew me.

Readers are vaulted in the life of Billy Mann as he is deposited on the doorstep of his grandfather’s decrepit  estate in New York state. We follow Billy’s twist and turns from his infancy to his childhood to his teenage years. He experiences the usual items and chaos that occur to any male during that period of life but he also must endure questions about his troubled background, which make for a gripping drama.

Page 105-106

Second grade passed for Annie and me in this manner, and so did third and then forth, and the years rocked along like the cars of a speeding train. None of my classmates seemed to mind that I was a Mann; the Fiasco of the Ostriches, it appeared, had been forgotten by everyone except Grandpa, and nobody made fun of me for it. And Annie’s hand stayed in mine right up to the year we turned thirteen, or so it felt, which was when things of note began once more to happen. Perhaps the holding-hands part is merely my imagination, because thirteen was when I began to feel shy around her. But shyness notwithstanding, we were together, and before I knew it we were in eighth grade, which was the year of The Steamroller.

Early each morning of that year, just as she had every morning for the last several years, Annie walked down the hill from her house and met me at the corner of Mann Road and the County Road. The County Road never had a name except for just that: the County Road. It was like everything else in town: The Square, The Oak, The School, The Steamroller. In a town the size of Mannville, where there is generally only one of everything, there’s not much point in giving things a proper name; everyone knows what your talking about.

Annie’s father didn’t know she and I were walking to school together. If he had, he would have found some way to stop us, maybe even by forbidding her to come to school altogether. He hadn’t spoken to me since the day Grandpa slipped on the ice, six years ago now. That was because I’d my best to avoid his presence, never going into the house  or any nearer to it than I needed to let Annie know I was waiting. He sat in front of the television all day, leaving the house only to buy beer, which he drank on the couch until he passed out. I knew this only from Annie, of course. I hadn’t dared to set foot inside the Simpson house again. His belly, according to her, was growing larger, his skin turning the sallow  shade of death, his eyes smaller and beadier and more and more like the devil’s. She shuddered when she spoke of him. I learned not to bring him up.

On the way to school Annie and I compared lunches, and if she didn’t have enough I would give her some of mine. She packed her own lunch every morning, but often there was little to put in it: a hard-boiled egg or two, or a peanut butter sandwich. Doritios were her favorite. Mine too. They were the only thing I was jealous of giving her. Anything else I had was hers unconditionally, even my fried baloney sandwiches.

Kowalski does a great job of weaving the confusion around Billy Mann’s life into a great story. His words here are simple yet at times lyrical. A reader can easily follow the story and the mind’s eye easily envisions the people and places created here. And the range of emotions that are brought out at times are vivid as well.

Page 110

Just as Annie walked away, I saw him. The Corvette was cruising like a hungry shark down Frederic Avenue, which ran in front of the main doors of the senior high building. I neither slowed nor hurried my pace, but my heart began to thump rapidly and I felt hot blood pulsing through every inch of me. It was definitely David Weismueller. I knew that car well. Dreams of him in his Corvette were beginning to supplant the dreams of soldiers chasing me through the woods.

A moment later he saw me, stepped on the gas, and roared up to where I stood. Then he unfolded himself from the driver’s seat and stood before me, a splendid example of Homo erectus more than Homo sapiens, but bent over considerably so that he could push his face threateningly into mine.

“What did you say?” he said.

This was his most common opening, to pretend I’d just said something to him that no man of honor could ignore. It was useless to protest, although I usually did anyway. But this morning I was feeling different. My eyes swept him from toe to head, taking in his sneakers, his jeans, his letterman’s jacket, and finally his eyes, which were as vacant and glaring as two laminated meatballs.

“I said your mother sucks large dicks,” I replied. “She sucks for bucks. Ten dollars a pop. I think you’re the only guy on the football team who doesn’t know.”

David Weismueller’s neatly shaved jaw dropped about three inches. I knew it would be wise to shut up, but it was already too late. I threw caution to the wind.

Eddie’s Bastard by William Kowalski is a brilliant coming-of-age novel. The prose is lyrical and simple and the plot is well-constructed. It is an enlightening and engrossing read.

Link to HarperCollins Canada’s website for Eddie’s Bastard

Link to William Kowalski’s website

 

No Matter How Bad the Tragedy, a Glimmer of Hope Exists | Review of “Station Eleven” (2014) by Emily St. John Mandel (Harper Avenue)

Eleven

We no doubt live in delicate and fearful times. Be it terrorism, a global pandemic or something as simple as the end of a personal relationship or a the decline of our own health, we are stressed about our futures. And Emily St. John Mandel has captured our concern in her novel Station Eleven.

Page 11-12

He felt an absurd desire to run into the park. It had been rendered foreign by the storm, all snow and shadows, black silhouettes of trees, the underwater shine of a glass greenhouse dome. When he was a boy he’d liked to lie on his back in the yard and watch the snow coming down upon him. Cabbagetown was visible a few blocks ahead, the snow-dimmed lights of Parliament Street. His phone vibrated in his pocket. He stopped to read a text message from Laura: I had a headache so I went home. Can you pick up milk?

And here, all momentum left him. He could go no father. The theatre tickets had been intended as a romantic gesture, a let’s-do-something-romantic-because-all-we-do-is-fight, and she’d abandoned him there, she’d left him onstage performing CPR on a dead actor and gone home, and now she wanted him to buy milk. Now that he’d stopped walking, Jeevan was cold. His toes were numb. All the magic of the storm had left him, and the happiness he’d felt a moment earlier was fading. The night was dark and filled with movement, snow falling fast and silent, the cars parked on the street swelling into soft outlines of themselves. He was afraid of what he’d say if he went home to  Laura. He thought of finding a bar somewhere, but he didn’t want to talk to anyone, and when he thought about it, he didn’t especially want to be drunk. Just to be alone for a moment, while he decided where to go next. He stepped into the silence of the park.

Station Eleven is a dystopian novel. Civilization comes to a grinding halt as a flu virus wipes out most of the population. The plot deals with a group of people somehow connect with one actor. His passing occurs on stage suddenly during a performance of King Lear. And a few hours later the cataclysmic virus arrives. Mandel brilliantly weaves the story line before, during and after those events giving us a unique perspective on the human condition.

Page 39-40

When Kirsten and August broke into abandon hoses – this was a hobby of theirs, tolerated by the conductor because they found useful things sometimes – August always gazed longingly at televisions. As a boy he’d been quiet and a little shy, obsessed with classical music; he’d had no interest in sports and had never been especially adept at getting along with people, which meant long hours home alone after school in interchangeable U.S. Army-base houses while his brothers played baseball and made new friends. One nice thing about television shows was that they were everywhere, identical programming whether your parents had been posted to Maryland or California or Texas. He’d spent an enormous amount of time before the collapse watching television, playing the violin, or sometimes doing both simultaneously, and Kirsten could picture this: August at nine, at ten, at eleven, pale and scrawny with dark hair falling in his eyes and a serious, somewhat fixed expression, playing a child-size violin in a wash of electric -blue light. When they broke into houses now, August searched for issues of TV Guide. Mostly obsolete by the time the pandemic hit, but used by a few people right up to the end. He liked to flip through them later at quiet moments. He claimed he remembered all the shows: starships, sitcom living rooms with enormous sofas, police officers sprinting through the streets of New York, courtrooms with stern-faced judges presiding. He looked for books of poetry – even rarer than TV Guide copies – and studied these in the evenings or while he was walking with the Symphony.

No matter how bad or tense the situation is or where it occurs on the timeline of the story, Mandel infuses the novel with a glimmer of something beautiful for humanity to consider. Life may be harsh or difficult, but there are still unique things to ponder and continue existing for.

Page 119

Sometimes the Travelling Symphony thought that what they were doing was noble. There were moments around campfires when someone would say something invigorating about the importance of art, and everyone would find it easier to sleep that night. At other times it seemed a difficult and dangerous way to survive and hardly worth it, especially at times when they had to camp between towns, when they were turned away at gunpoint from hostile places, when they were travelling in snow or rain through dangerous territory, actors and musicians carrying guns and crossbows, the horses exhaling great clouds of steam, times when they were cold and afraid and their feet were wet. Or times like now when the heat was unrelenting, July pressing down upon them and the blank walls of forest on either side, walking by the hour and wondering if an unhinged prophet or his men might be chasing them, arguing to distract themselves from their terrible fear.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is a dystopian novel which shows great empathy towards the human condition today. While it has a complex plot, it is a fantastic read and ponder.

*****

Link to Emily St. John Mandel’s website

Link to HarperCollins Canada’s page for Station Eleven

Link to a Q&A Emily St. John Mandel did for my blog last spring

 

Turning Fact into Great Fiction | Review of “In Calamity’s Wake” by Natalee Caple (2013) HarperCollins

There is a certain beauty created when a collection of facts is taken and made into a work of fiction. Yes, the dates and places need to be included but to be able to understand the emotions of the characters involved and then to craft all that information into a narrative is a wonderful gift to have. And Natalee Caple has proved she has that gift with her novel In Calamity’s Wake.

Page 1

I came to the Badlands because I was told that my mother, a woman named Martha Canary, lived there. It was the man of God who acted all my life as my father who told me this. When it was time for him to die he made me promise that I would go and find her. I squeezed his hands and laid my cheek against his. His breaths and mine were staggered together, very, very weak for different reasons. I said yes because I don’t cry and I loved him and in that last hour we were together I would have promised him anything.

You have to do it, he said. Promise me you will not change your mind. I know you’ve heard sickening things and those things are all true but I’m sure she wants to know you.

 

Caple has brilliantly brought to life the story of Calamity Jane by telling it through the eyes of Jane’s daughter Miette. We are given an honest story here of the “Old West” as we follow the journey of Miette in fulfilling her promise to her adopted father as she learns that the hard-drinking and exhibition shooter legend she thought as her mother was a misunderstood person and very much loved.

Page 49-50

Riding through Wyoming, into a remote mining camp, she found miners beaten and starving, their food, their horses and their equipment stolen by road agents, and themselves left with boots to figure a long trek over stony land to help. She rode to a grocery store ten miles away. She told the owner that men were dying and she needed help. He was intractable, arms folded over a big belly framed by suspenders. On the counter she saw a novel, placed down open-faced. She smiled.

Do you know who I am?

He looked at her and looked down at the book’s cover and he looked back at the guns strapped to her body.

Who am I? she asked.

She returned to the camp with food and blankets.

The storeowner became famous for being robbed by the Heroine of Whoop-Up.

 

There is a lyrical quality to this book that makes it a pleasure to read. Caple stops the journey of the narrative to give us great descriptions that a reader can almost feel.

Page 153-154

It was not quite dawn when I woke and began to walk. My feet clove the sandy earth. My hat had begun to smell and so I tied it upside down on my head with some twine to let the sun bake out the soggy bell of it. An intermittent breeze shook the tree branches overhead loosing sprays of dew. Birds shook their wings. As the clouds retreated, rising higher in the sky and becoming white, the sun lit up the new  spaces of blue. I stared up imaging red kites with tails that whipped behind. I could feel the burning tug of the cord on my finger. My father laughing, tucked his robes into his pants so that he could run with me. The wind in my ears.

 

In Calamity’s Wake by Natalee Caple is a lyrical and smooth work of historical fiction. It has a great sense of history and is filled with vivid descriptions that is a pleasure to read.

Link to Natalee Caple’s website

Link to HarperCollins Canada page for In Calamity’s Wake

 

Exploring the Darker Shades of Humanity | Review of “The Crooked Maid” by Dan Vyleta (2013) HarperCollins

DSCF5326

The thing that drives many of us to read literature is the fact is that we know humans are not just good or bad. There are complex levels in each of us depending on the situation we encounter and our station in life, etc. etc. Literature deals with the human condition and when a good writer explores the different hues of characters and leaves a reader wondering which of their characters is really moral or immoral, well, that makes for a fantastic read. And that is what Dan Vyleta has done in The Crooked Maid.

Page 6-7 There was little about him that was remarkable: a young man dressed in black, with a stiff white shirt and dark, patterned tie, holding a book closed upon his lap. He was perhaps eighteen years of age; too slender yet to be thought of as a man; rich (how else would he be able to afford the first-class ticket?); a boy very plae, with a mask of freckles sitting lightly on his face; the hair nearly black, thick and falling low into his forehead; the brows long and straight, sloping gently to the temples. There was something wrong with his eye, the one that faced the window and found its own reflection in the darkness of the pane. It looked as though it had been beaten, broken, reassembled. Its white was discoloured and it drooped within its socket, giving a new note to his face, of belligerent reproach. His shoes were made of a shiny black leather and looked as though they had never been worn.

Vyleta has skillfully woven a web around a group of characters set in post World War II Vienna.  Anna Beer has returned to the city after nine years to confront and perhaps forgive her husband’s infidelity. Eighteen-year-old Robert Seidel is coming back home to his stepfather’s sickbed and must deal with his family’s complex history.  They both encounter a war-widowed American journalist, a hunchbacked servant girl, and a former POW trying to survive. But most of all, there is a ghost of man who’s head is wrapped in a red scarf and watches them all. As Vienna rises from the bitter ashes of the war and tries to deal with de-Nazification, each one must come to terms with their lives and the lives of the people around them.

Page 85-86 Anna Beer did not notice the girl who was sitting on the stairs above her apartment when she returned home that evening, having walked for some hours in the inner city before dining in the restaurant of one of the hotels. She was a young girl, unremarkable if rather pretty, save for a craped and painful twist that held in lock the shoulders, neck and spine. One her head there perched a red, outlandish hat that did no favours to her complexion Had Anna been less tired from her long walk in the city, and less preoccupied with the sense of anticipation that rose in her every time she approached the apartment door (for was it not possible that this time, at long last, she should find her husband home and they would finally go through with their long-deferred greeting and be free to explore what remained of their marriage?), she might have noticed that the girl kept her face averted as she stepped into her line of sight, then stared after her with ill-masked curiosity. Indeed there was something impatient, unsettled about the girl. She had been sitting on the stairs for more than an hour, rising periodically to stare out the window at the sagging ruin of the building’s back wing and starting at every step that sounded in the stairwell, and at every voice that carried from below. Periodically she had lit a cigarette and calmed herself by blowing rings into the air above her head before crushing the fag end into the stone of the stairs. there were three such shreds of paper and tobacco dotting the space between her feet.

Vyleta is an expert in describing a scene or telling of an action. His writing in this book was a pleasure to read and re-read.

Page 147

While Robert lay, tracing metacarpal bones beneath the white of Eva’s skin, too shy even to press them to his lips, elsewhere in the city a man and a woman, long married and as such familiar with each other’s hands and mouths (and much else besides), sat up in bed discussing a letter, hand-delivered that afternoon, which pertained to their youngest son. Encrypted as it was in a densely bureaucratic German, and as such illegible to both husband and wife, the letter’s only assailable point came in the form of an underlined heading that read Ladung, a word that, depending on contest, might be translated as “ammunition,” “load,” or ‘”summons,” and seemed to absorb the more sinister aspects of each meaning with successive reading.

A crow watched their argument (for an argument it quickly became, split along lines of gender, in which the woman’s role is to protect her child, and the man’s to toughen him up) with considerable interest, the jerked, pecked at its feathers, converting parasites to food. a moment later it dropped from the windowsill, fell groundward then skyward, with an ease that might have startled Newton. High up it fell in with some brethren. They flew into the failing moon.

While The Crooked Maid by Dan Vyleta is a complex book, it explores the human condition in all its hues. Vyleta has written a complex story that weaves characters in and out of each others lives but it is a story well worth the time to read and understand.

Link to Dan Vyleta’s website

Link to HarperCollins Canada page for “The Crooked Maid”