The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Monday, July 31, 2006

The Canadian Chick meets Ellen Meister

Debut Author

an Interview with Ellen Meister

by

Patricia Parkinson


Early Tuesday morning I slugged (I set my alarm to do this) to the couch in my blue robe carrying my coffee about to call someone that I'd never met, someone I admire and respect, am inspired by and in awe of, okay, I'm star struck by this person. I, The Canadian Chick, called none other that the soon to be best selling novelist, Ellen Meister. Her book, "Secret Confessions of the Applewood PTA," is being released by Morrow today!

AGHGHGHHGHGH!!!

My hands shook and my palms sweated, thankful that although Ellen could hear me, she wouldn't be able to see the mess I was in. I could fake that I knew what I was doing. With my daughter snuggled next to be, holding the recorder close to the receiver, I pushed speaker phone, and just like that, I was talking to a celebrity!

CC: So Ellen, this is so great, I'm so happy you agreed to do this and well, I want to know, what's happening in your mind now, have you changed, how has your life changed with your book , what, 7 days from being published? What's going on?

She laughed. she has a great laugh and very New York Woman not to be messed with sort of voice that is both kind and confident.

EM: Well, I'm still a mom. I still have a house to run and to clean or to not, which is more the case lately."

CC: You don't have staff?

Laughter, both of us, two friends, hanging out having coffee.

EM: No, no. We don't have staff. It's a very non-glam life. I still run around in my minivan with the kids, go to the supermarket, do the laundry, get the oil changed, and all the other very non-glamorous stuff that has to get done.

We both laughed.

CC: I have to know before we gone any further. What are you wearing?

Do I have my priorities straight or what?

EM: I'm wearing a pale green sleeveless top and black yoga pants. Very comfy.

CC: You see for me, being a Canadian, living in Long Island seems very like the Kennedy's or something."

EM: Laughing, Nooooo, Long Island is a very densely populated suburban community, mostly middle class. That kind of old money--with Great Gatsby type homes and lifestyles--is still here in certain pockets on the North Shore, but it's the exception not the rule. I will say this—we have beautiful beaches. Jones Beach is sublime. And then of course there's The Hamptons,where the beautiful people meet.

I figure Ellen goes to the Hamptons. Check out her picture!!

CC: I imagine you must feel a bit like Cinderella waiting for the eve of the publication. On the day the book is released are you going to hit every book store in New York City and tell them, “This is me! I wrote this!”

EM: I don't think anything particularly auspicious is going to happen on that particular day. The big thing is that I’m doing a book launch on August 3. It's a wine and cheese party/reading/signing at a wonderful independent Long Island book store called Book Revue. I'm thrilled to be doing an event there. So that's going to be a very big deal for me.

CC: How many people are you expecting?

EM It's hard to say at this point, but I'd say there’ll be at least one hundred, maybe one hundred fifty. It should be a pretty good crowd.

CC: It begs to be asked, what are you going to wear? Did you buy something new? You have to get something new, or maybe you'll have a designer approach you…and…well…both of us laughed.

EM: I found something that I think is writerly enough and not too dressy. I bought myself a light green, lime, silk blazer to wear over a straight black sleeveless dress.

CC: You're going to look great! Where do you shop?

EM: I don't really love shopping but when I do shop, I love a bargain, so sometimes I go to the outlets malls. If I need something special I tend to go the big store-- I'm more of a department store gal than a boutique gal.

CC: How did you find out that "Secrets Confessions of the Applewood PTA" was going to be published? Did they phone you? Did they email you?

I got a phone call that came from my agent saying HarperCollins had come through with an offer, but that they were still negotiating. To my agent it was far from a done deal, so she wasn't exactly breaking out the champagne, but I freaked. Of course, I waited until I got off the phone. Then I screamed and jumped and acted like a crazy person. The only other person home was my middle son, who was nine at the time. I scared the heck out of the poor kid, but it was great that we got to share that heady moment.

CC: That's wonderful. What a great memory for both of you.

EM: laughing, she is a great laugher...Yes, yes...it is great

CC: So then, how long has it taken since you first started writing the book, to August the first, two thousand six?

EM: I got the original idea for this book at the end of 2000 .

CC: Holly crow. Six years.

EM: Yes, that it feels like a long time to me. But in the scheme of things I guess it isn't.

CC: I also read that you have a film agent and that you've said, you don't want to get your hopes up too high, but, I had also read on your website, that Booklist said that it's very possible your novel turn into a movie.

EM: Yes, the critic at book list thought is was a very cinematic sort of book. Hey, you never know. My fingers are crossed.

CC: So, who would play who in Applewood?

EM: It's fun to think about and, in fact, casting the three leads for Applewood is one of the favorite conversations I have with my husband. My husband suggested Amanda Peet for Maddie, which I thought was inspired. Maddie has a bit of physical humor, but she also has some sad, tender, difficult moments. Ruth is my hardest character to cast because she's a very brash, voluptuous re head, and it's very hard to find someone in Hollywood who can play that. Bette Midler would be perfect, but, there's just no current Bette Midler. I think Joely Fisher would be great.

CC: I like her too,

EM: Another idea for Ruth is Lorraine Bracco. I wouldn't have thought of her, but I read an interview with her in the New York Times Magazine section recently and she said, “Nobody knows I’m funny. I would love to play funny.” So I bet she'd make a kickass Ruth.

CC: It sounds like it.

EM: For Lisa, who’s more timid and has this interesting relationship with her mother, I like Laura Linney. You know who she is?

CC: Yes, I think she’s sensational.

EM: And Keith, the disabled husband, I’d like to see Steve Carell, who I adore, he’s so hilarious …

CC: Lisa’s husband? No it’s…

CCEM: Ruth’s husband!

CM: Right. Yes! I can so see this!

EM: Keith is impotent, but he’s also brain damaged and sexually uninhibited so he does some pretty wild things…

CCEM: Laughing about god only know what wild thing crossed our minds

CC: I am dying to read this! And find out what my local PTA is up to and join. When this novel comes out there’ll be a huge rush to join the PTA. You mark my words Ellen. Now I’ve also read a brief synopsis of the novel and an excerpt and am very intrigued by how the three women band together, overcome obstacles to get a George Clooney movie filmed at their children’s elementary school and I feel that women have the most powerful friendships, one of the most powerful relationships.

EM: Right,

CC: And to me, Secret Confessions of the Applewood PTA, has that feel, that women, especially together, can accomplish, well, anything.

EM: It’s definitely a friendship novel. I wanted these women to be smart and capable and to have all these layers to them—that was critical to me. I wanted to show, that yes, there’s this smiling PTA face, the perfect soccer mom, but that there’s also so much more to each of these women. Layers and layers of heartache and joy and introspection, This is what I wanted to reveal.

CC: I look at you and I look at your life, at the mother and the writer and the friend, and you’re very inspirational to me. I know that being a mother myself, I take my kids to school, I drop them off in my minivan as well and a lot of the times I’ll look around me and think, “These people think I’m whacked," you know or…

CCEM: laugh and laugh.

CC: or you know, I’ll look around at them and I think well I’m maybe perceived in a different way than I really am and I look at them and I have to remind myself that we all struggle with the same things.

EM: That’s the thought that inspired me to write this particular book. I was actually at a PTA meeting and I thought, you know, these women don’t have any idea of who I am, they see this smiling face and they don’t know that there’s more to me than this.

CC: Exactly.

EM: There are many layers in my life, and then a thought occurred to me. I wondered, if everybody in the room feels something sort of similar—that there’s this façade and then there’s who she really is beneath all of this. No sooner did I have that thought, that I said, this is what I want to write about now. These women and all the intricate layers beyond the PTA face.

CC: you’ve got Applewood due to be released in seven days. And now, you've also got, The Smart One, book two, what’s the deadline for that?

EM: Now.

CCEM chuckle

CC: Today. It’s due today.

CCEM: laugh

EM: Well, The Smart One, this has been a real struggle for me, the end… I decided to rewrite the end and that’s what I’m working on right now. It’s hard to find the time because I’m trying to work on that while getting ready for the launch…

CC: and summer and the whole thing happening with the kids out of school. Now, are there any plans for a third novel?

EM: I sure hope so! I have an idea bank of things I'm dying to work on, but there’s not a word written, nothing sold, or anything like that. But as soon as I get past this, I want to start getting something together to show to my agents.

CC: Good for you, that’s excellent. Now I had also heard that you had said that you were thinking of doing an independent book tour. Do you still have plans for that?

EM: I was thinking about it, but everybody from my publicist to my agent talked me out of it. Apparently, tours are an ineffective use of funds for the author and the publisher.

CC: Really?

EM: Especially a debut author. It’s very hard to get people show up to readings for a new author. They convinced me that I could spend my time and energy and money better elsewhere.

CC: Well where you’re located, you’ve got a lot of opportunity.

EM: Yes, you’re right. When I say Long Island is densely populated you know it is, it really is. I'm also a short drive to several other large suburban New York markets.

CC: So you could just go and go and go.

EM: I can.

CC: Well, in Canada here, I plan on checking out all the bookstores and will be putting your book front and center. Now being a writer myself, I’ve been working on a novel, that’s not really going anywhere.(Starts to laugh manically) Speaking for myself, there’s always this sort of nagging thing in the back of my head that I can’t do this, you know it’s either fear of failure or fear of success or fear of completion, or just the fear I have that I’m going to be dedicating myself and nothing may become of it, so, I want to know, how did you manage to get the confidence to peruse this project?

EM: Mostly I was scared of getting to the end of the my life without ever having pursued my dream.

CC: This project, from start to finish has taken you six years, how much of that time did it take to write the book?

EM: It took about two years to write, including several false starts.

CC: I’m very fortunate that I know you somewhat, I've spoken to you on the internet, and this is really a priviledge that I’m able to speak to you for real and I've been so nervous about this,

CCEM: cracking up


CC: That's so true. Maybe some of them will be at the launch. Your parents are coming as well, from Florida. They must be extremely proud. You mention in your bio that they are avid readers.

EM; Not only are they avid readers, but my father always had aspirations to be a writer. In fact, on retirement, he starting writing columns for local newspapers.

CC: It’s so great that you can share this with them. And now,I was wondering, is there anything else that you’d like to say, what advise would you like to give to writers hoping to be the next Ellen Meister?

EM: What I can say is don’t write for a market. It’s not going to work. You have to write what feels right to you and that’s the only way you’re going to do something that really sings.

CC: I agree with that, and now, I’ve got this last question, which seems so typical and cliché but I’m pretending to be the Barbara Walters. If there was one word to sum up the experience of this journey, and where you’re at now, what would that word be.

EM: Exhilarating.

CC: I love it..laughing, that’s perfect, That’s so perfect. Look at you, your so amazing, I’m going to take you off the phone now, I’M GOING TO STOP RECORDING NOW


Ellen and I, I can call her Ellen now because, well, we're like this, (crossing fingers) and I hung up the phone after the interview feeling more inspired than before. It's going to be a huge success Ellen. Thank you for sharing the beginning of your great ride with us.

And to you readers, copies of Ellen's book is available through, Amazon.com

Buy it today!

Everything collides

by Tamara Lee

Long before the crystal-huggers and LSD-droppers started questioning linear time, the Maori had Dreamtime. Most of the western world now lives in some form of linear time, accepting synchronicity or coincidence or, if you’re feeling especially optimistic, connectivity, but someone like Maori writer Patricia Grace sees time more like an eternal whirl: the past, present, future happening simultaneously since, and for, forever.

When we start considering the passage of time, it’s hard not to immediately think of clichés. Hell, the phrase ‘passage of time’ itself is a cliché. And yet, whether we’re writing about it or describing it, we have surprisingly few options for depicting time: a falling leaf; a fast-forward camera shot; a chunk of white space between paragraphs, clichés and short-cuts, all of them.

I started thinking about this because it was my birthday last week.

I started thinking about this because I recently bumped into an old high school friend.

I started thinking about this because I was at a baseball game yesterday.

The last time I was at a Vancouver Canadians game, the team won the league championship, and had been so successful that year it was being moved to the US of A. At the top of the 9th, on one of the last days of summer, a perfect V-shaped formation of Canadian geese flew low over the field, heading south. Without a word from the normally over-instructional announcer, the game stopped, and everyone watched, knowing this was some significant moment.

Not to mention, one reeking of eau de cliché.

Flash-forward several years: same place and team, different league. As I watched the kids in the bleachers and the man-children on the field playing, I was listening to my friends catching up on what’s going on in their lives and making plans for the next get-together. And I felt that thing: A simultaneous past, present, future ‘moment’ and realised that that was what the baseball cliché is all about. Baseball, to those who are obsessed, will forever be a symbol for the spirit of past, present, future. It’s sort of the dreamtime of the western world.

Now, I’m hardly a big baseball fan, but I’m human and easily, readily, sucked in by the cheesy fun between innings; the food and drink excess; and the music. Oh, yeah, and the game… But mostly, it’s about the community. Plus, it’s difficult to look at those squirming kids in their baseball caps and baggy t-shirts, scarfing hot dogs, colas and popcorn, and not consider how those kids are in the midst of what could easily be a good memory.

That cheeseball, between-inning entertainment must have gotten to me: kids racing in tandem to make an oversized plastic sub sandwich, or spinning themselves around a bat then racing tricycles through an obstacle course. I found myself in the midst of my own memory, realising age happens, whether I live in the present or not, whether I believe in dreamtime or not. Nostalgia swept over me before time had even passed.

Damned birthdays. At least I had the good fortune the night I turned the-age-I-will-not-speak-of, of bumping into an old high school friend who, the dear heart, generously informed me I looked like I ‘hadn’t aged a bit.’ We didn’t catch up on the past 20 years; we simply talked about what we are doing now. And I was grateful not to have to summarise a lifetime in a sentence or two.

Trying to capture, no describe, time… Trying to reveal it without resorting to standard-issue tricks is akin to performing calisthenics on an empty tummy. In everyday speech, the old standards, like timestandingstill and timeslippedaway, are nearly excusable. For a writer, it's never excusable, but rather an exhausting pre-occupation…

So, as I sipped on my over-priced but surprisingly refreshing grapefruit cider at the ol’ ball game (sacrilege, I’m sorry, but I just can’t drink beer like I used to), in one brief moment, I realised I’m just not as anxious as I used to be, about being the one who stays behind as everyone in my life gets on with life.

But I am reluctant to leave you with an image to sum all this up. So far I’ve given you baseball, geese, kids… Whatdaya want? Sand through an hourglass? You get the picture.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Summer Fiction Issue

By Anne Chudobiak

We are in Ottawa, my hometown, for the weekend. An anniversary. My husband’s grandparents' sixtieth.

Saturday morning, we head for the bookstore. You know the one. Beside Winners?

I want a copy of Ottawa Magazine, but the store isn’t open. We are absurdly early. We’d have a coffee but are convinced that Starbucks gives you a big bum.

Beside the café, there is a store, doors open, sporty clothing inside. At the back, there is a wall lined with shoes.

“I need sandals,” my husband says. “Which ones?”

“These?” I say. “They’re all ugly.”

We have been married for five years.

I leave him with the flip-flops. The bookstore should be open by now and I want my magazine. Summer fiction. Four stories by Ottawa writers.

I’m curious about what it’s like to live and write in Ottawa. Should I have moved back, taken a language job at some high-tech company, sent my work to Ottawa Magazine?

I may have to wait to find out.

On the shelf, there are more literary journals than I have ever heard of--Nashwaak, Queen’s Quarterly, Windsor Review--but no Ottawa summer fiction.

“We’re getting a hundred and fifty copies,” the clerk tells me. “On Monday.”

I grab a Toronto Life (in spite of the cover) and head for Philosophy, where I can see my husband. New shoes. Not bad, really.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Movement Day

by Steve Gajadhar

I’m doing exactly what I promised myself I wouldn’t do after my last blog: cramming my entry into the last few free moments I’ll have before I have to post it. This is a stupid idea. It’s also human nature. Otherwise proverbs like “don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today” wouldn’t exist. So it’s Tuesday night, 8pm HST, we just spent the day moving, and I’m typing whatever comes to mind. No time to proofread.

I envisioned this blogging thing as my return to writing, not that I’m quitting, I’m just digressing a lot lately. Observing. Thinking. Reading too many books on writing (starting too many sentences with gerunds), and not writing. I’ve realized the CWC is an important first step in my recovery from the most dangerous affliction a writer can face.

Writer’s Hiatus.

The symptoms of Writer’s Hiatus are innocent at first: bad sentences, stupid grammar mistakes, and that general headache that strikes anytime you try to think your way out of the latest dead end you’ve written yourself into. WH can become a completely debilitating disorder. It will convince you that you’re a writer who needs a break, a short time to gather your thoughts. Nothing to worry about. I mean you just finished the Gotham Writer’s Workshop, right? Writing is still banging around your frontal lobe. You’ve started 3 short stories. You’ve received some great rejection letters, including one that says “writer holds much potential.” See? You’re a writer, once a writer always a writer.

Then you progress to stage 2 and the more advanced symptoms like withdrawing from your writerly connections, acceptable only if you’re mired in a novel, screenplay, divorce, death in the family, etc. Not if you’re simply lazy.

You withdraw from Zoetrope, appearing only sporadically to see what’s happened and add some of your friend’s stories to your review queue. Of course you never actually get around to reviewing them. But it’s okay; you’re the fish that’s made it out of the pond. You’re taking your first short breaths of air and learning to walk on your flippers. You have to go back once in awhile to catch your breath, but you don’t need to be immersed in Zoe anymore, you’ve evolved. So you stop emailing and keeping in touch with the writers who helped you when you were a little guppy (sorry, Judd), and those who stood on the edge of the water urging you out (my apologies, Renate). You stop emailing stories out to your trusted first readers (stuff it, redpen). And you start flogging the shit out of metaphors in a vain attempt to extend them into pataphors. Near the end of Stage 2 you stop sending stuff out for publication, but only because you need more time to hone it, it’s missing something. Really.

If you’re still in Stage 2 it’s not too late. You can still recover. But you need help fast. Alcohol has worked for a lot of the greats. I advise against this, however, because it also led a lot of them into trying to see what comes out the end of a loaded shotgun. You could try forced writing schedules. This works for some, but it can be stifling for others.

My recommended solution is to find a blog, ideally one that doesn’t require a daily commitment. Pressure is your enemy at this point. You need support and gentle nudges. Blog tentatively at first and don’t fear or regret the blunders. It’s okay to misstep. You used to do it all the time. Recovery from WH is a convalescent process, not a bursting forth. Reread your grammar books, your old stories, your good reviews on Zoetrope. Slowly work your way back to the concrete from the purposely vague.

Stage 3 is where it gets scary. Here you begin to think that life is only going to get busier. That maybe you should hang this whole writing thing up till you retire. Maybe the goals you set for yourself are a bit lofty? It’s okay to settle for a little less, you gave it a good shot. You start questioning your ideas. At this point you need a Seinfeld type intervention because questioning your ideas is a sure sign you’ll soon stop thinking about Stage 3 symptoms and start believing them.

And that’s Stage 4. The point of no return (see?). Stage 4 leaves the writer a heaving mass of cliché and unoriginal imagery. We won’t go fully into Stage 4 here, it’s too scary. Think of the last 3 Star Wars movies, Superman 4, and, egads, romance novels.

I’m one of the lucky ones. I was diagnosed at Stage 2. I’m recovering using my own therapy, the CWC. It’s going well so far. Ideas are shaping. Sentences are slowly coming back to me. I’m noticing details again. I still can’t title anything worth a damn, yet this too will come. It only takes time and a belief in having something to say, the very same things that got me kicking for the shore so long ago.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Battling Enthusiasm

by Anna McDougall

It’s hard enough to get my muse and internal editor to agree, but this week my marketer was back from an extended vacation stirring things up.

She’s a bossy playmate, my marketing self, hogging control of the seesaw, letting my lightweight creative self down to the grass only when she feels like it, and even then, she’s forever nosing into writing projects, pestering him with the practical: But when will it be ready to send out?

Rarely does she take a lengthy break like the one she’s been on since Christmas. Her mini vacation turned into a snowbird escape; she spent months dangling bare feet, from the far end of the board, backed by fluffy clouds, enjoying freedom from objectives, but following an email I received this week, she swooped down, bumping creativity up and out of the way.

The publicist for Adams Media wrote their contributors suggesting we help promote the fall release of the next Cup of Comfort anthology by approaching local bookstores to set up promotional events.

Although my marketer’s new to this type of sales, her passion for chasing opportunity whether it promises life lessons or profits is strong. She craves the thrill that follows an expertly targeted pitch, no matter if the product is homespun or not, and this week she spotted a solid opportunity to drag my bashful creative side through a brand new experience.

As usual, I was of two minds.

Right on! A chance to scope out the process for when we finally get going on a novel.

For crying out loud, I wrote six of the 150 pages in that book. That hardly warrants an event.

The well rested side of me won out and before I knew what was happening, she had co-opted my entire week with list making and telephone calls. Her brainstorms covered pages and pages: where to go, how to promote, the kinds of questions to expect. She flipped through the Yellow Pages listing categories of potential venues: independent, retail chain, Christian/spiritual, self help, parenting, women’s health. That the publishers pay a stipend for each event didn’t hurt her motivation one bit.

Meantime, my better half was bouncing on the top end of the plank, trying to force his side down.

We have to keep producing or you’ll have nothing left to sell!

She ignored him more and more as her confidence grew. At first she chose my clothing and my words carefully when approaching the people behind the counters at the chains, but it became clear early on that to them, a signing was not a big deal. The only cost to promote product they would already have on the shelves would be my time, and fifteen square feet of floor space to hold a table. These arrangements could easily be made over the telephone.

But in her haste, my marketer self made the mistake of assuming all bookstores are the same. She wanted to call the smaller stores as well. Her excuse: We should at least find out if they stock the series.

And the creative reply, Slow down, please? Let’s think this through.

Despite the detailed tour schedule she created, enthusiasm got the best of her and I ended up on the phone with one independent in advance of the planned personal visit.

One of his first questions: “Have you been in to our store?”

Rather than wowing him with my professionalism and marketing insight, my response went something like this: “Uh…well…your store, it’s…I think…yes…it’s been a while.”

The store owner was very kind. Politely he revealed to me, in our short conversation how serious an undertaking book events were for him. He and his partner would first decide whether to order the book at all, and then how many copies. Would this satisfy their clientele? Is the niche too narrow? If they agreed to the event, it would need to be the first in the city. Commitment to a promotional effort advertising the event in off store hours and then hosting a “book launch” complete with “30 to 50 seats, wine and some pastries” was not to be taken lightly.

By the end of the call, my creative side was gloating, and for good reason. It’s common sense, really. Unlike the Chapters/Indigo events booked to take advantage of Saturday afternoon shopping traffic, an event in a smaller bookstore would have to create its own traffic.

Fortunately, I found my way to his lovely store the next day.

So, here I am, one week later with four afternoon signings scheduled, and one book launch evening during which I will read my little story to an actual audience. I admit it has been exciting to feel like a real author this week. My marketer has let go for a while, sated, but she’ll be back in October lecturing me on what to say, how to smile, and what to wear. For now, I just want to get back to writing.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Logophilia

by Andrew Tibbetts

I pine for gorgeous sentences. I love to read them. I long to craft them.

Here’s one from Harold Brodkey:
Death itself is soft, softly lit, vastly dark.

I could bask in its deep meaning and rich music for hours. I don’t need another word.

First the music: say the sentence out loud-Death itself is soft, softly lit, vastly dark. Can you feel the tumble of sharp consonants and soft sizzles that take you to the first comma- Death itself is soft- like brushes on a snare drum? And can you hear how the second two phrases interrupt the chaos with the inevitable- softly lit, vastly dark.- like the drummer has found his sticks and taps a steady dirge rhythm, two eighth notes leading to one quarter note, repeated? And can you hear how the central reflection- soft, softly- is mirrored in the bookend assonance- Death….dark.- and how the center of the sentence has a soft interior that pulls you in; the music of this unrivaled literary moment incarnates the meaning.

The meaning: Harold Brodkey kept a journal while he was dying of Aids. You can read it if you dare. It’s called This Wild Darkness and was published in 1996. Posthumously.

More? Sure. Imagine facing the ‘passage into nonexistence’, thinking what you are thinking, feeling what you are feeling, and yet being able to haul something like this from the swirl:
God is an immensity, while this disease, this death, which is in me, this small, tightly defined pedestrian event, is merely and perfectly real, without miracle--or instruction.

Is there a braver, sadder observation in literature? How perfect is that adjective ‘pedestrian’. It does its job, contrasts the plain event of death with the ungraspable cosmos. But it also connotes the steady trudge of cells turning bad, as disease surely overtakes the body.

How brave for Brodkey, trying to create one last masterpiece in the face of sickness unto oblivion, to admit that what he is observing is ‘without miracle—or instruction.’

To say such things, and so perfectly- I lust after that. Sometimes I just type passages from this book to feel them pouring from my fingers, to hear them singing in my brain. Passages like:

The self becomes taut with metamorphosis and seems to give off some light and to have a not-quite-great-enough fearlessness toward the immensity of the end of the individuality, toward one's absorption into the dance of particles and inaudibility.

Sigh.

If you can handle more, there is a longer except HERE at http://www.haroldbrodkey.com/.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Flat



By Craig Terlson

Most summers I try to hit the highway for at least one long road trip. If it were up to me, I'd just pick a direction and head out, but certain family members think we should do some "planning". Sheesh – planning is worse than asking for directions.
But I compromise and agree to something more than West or South (how about something new… southwest?).

This year we are travelling through the motherland (Saskatchewan) and then heading south to the Dakotas, maybe dip into Wyoming or Nebraska. I know what you're thinking (especially you folks that live near those bumpy land formations in B.C.), what the hell is there to see in any of those directions? Well, the thing to see is space: flat, open and a helluva lot of it.

I was speaking to a friend recently about the nature of home, how so many of us feel the need to return to something familiar, the landscape of our youth. For me, that was open prairie and long roads that only curved when they really, really had to.
I love the conversations we have as we drive and I love the long silent stretches where you look at the sky, the band of yellow fields whipping by, or a red barn that pops out of the flatness and shines like a weathered beacon. This landscape allows my mind breathing space. It's probably the reason it shows up in my fiction. When I think of a setting for my characters to live their lives, struggle with their conflicts, a place to think deep thoughts, I find that I'm often plunking them down somewhere flat and barren. That's where I like to be, it's the least I can do for my characters.

This is from the opening of a recent story of mine called, "Flat as Nothing" –

When you drove along a flat stretch, which is often around here, and the landscape dipped even the slightest amount, you noticed. The road, the field carpeted with green shoots turning gold, and even the surrounding sky, shifted like some oceanic plate disturbed by seismic activity. The accompanying crack and flashbulb effect of the sheet lightning increased the sensation, terrifying and gorgeous at the same time. The valley lit in a way that every ripple in the ground, every fluttering leaf, rock and varmint on the run was exposed with fluorescent clarity.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Excuses, excuses...




by Patricia Parkinson




So, I'm not writing. I think, well, it's been hot, and it's expected to get hotter, starting tomorrow! Which would be today as I'm writing this post early, early, not exactly a strong suit with me which has nothing to do with anything but is one of my summer excuses for not writing. It's too hot to think or move my fingers, they swell and sweat at the very thought of it. Hot weather is a well used excuse for everyone from snappy cashiers who complain, "We don't have air conditioning because," they say, and bend over the conveyor belt, "My boss is an asshole!" one such woman told me. I did my best to look sympathetic, to which, for some reason, she, the mad, hot, maybe menopausal cashier felt obliged to tell me the woes of her life that not only included the asshole boss but her "dickhead husband", and then, as if nothing else has happened, she asked, "Paper or plastic?" I wasn't sure how to answer. I bagged my own stuff.

The other excuse for not writing is that the kids are out of school and I want to spend time with them. However, this excuse doesn't work because I write at night when they are in bed. This is not an excuse.

Is the real reason I'm not writing that I'm lazy?

HA!

Is it that I feel I have nothing to say. I have no new ideas?

HA! HA! My mind is whirling with stories and plots and great first lines as I write this!

I'm sitting here in my robe and I'm spent,exhausted, and not from any type of physical, huh, hum, activity. I'm tired of shopping and planning and preparing for party after party after party at our home. The next soiree is this Friday night,July 21, 2006, in two sleeps, one of which I work till nine, p.m., the next shift, nine in the morning until six. The party starts at seven. HA! Can I pull it off is the question on everyone's mind, mainly my husband's who is, at any moment, expecting my preparty meltdown to occur.

Parties have been the theme of my summer. I'm not sleeping in. I'm not writing. I'm arranging, cooking and inviting. This is not summer vacation. Summer is usually my most productive season. I love writing in the summer. Sitting outside at night, my laptop humming will my fingertips tap in the quiet, darkness while I create surrounded by candles and my ever present glass of wine wearing some divine lounge wear. Ambiance plays an important role in my writing.

My excuse for not writing, is that I've been planning party after freaking party since my kids got out of school. First, an impromptu dinner of 7 that involved an illegal substance, then came my son's birthday party, our friend's 60th birthday party, a spontaneous invitation to friends I hadn't seen in a long time that was great and tonight there I was, rearranging the backyard again, losing my balance on a step ladder - I climbed up in thongs - attempting to hang white lights in our corner cherry tree, that is not that strong but incredibly beautiful, and in my mind, the white lights have become the newest "must have" for this party. It's a Hawaiian, tacky tourist, well, more Hawaiian then tacky, but you never know. I'll be wearing my new Fantazizer bathing suit that fulfills it's promises of sucking in my tummy and adding to my double A cup, that, and a black and white sarong. I'm set. Maybe I'll get a flower for my hair, this would add one more thing to my to do list, but, I rationalize, I have to go to the flower shop anyway to get the balloon bouquets. I love balloon bouquets. Don't you? And leis, I must get leis, fake ones, you know, to fit in with the motif of the evening, so, the bottom line is this, I haven't been writing this summer because...I'm a party animal.

I can live with this excuse....xoxooxoxox

Post Party

In bed, alone, going outside to the firepit, just me and my husband and his friend are left, sitting beneath the tree with the white lights, sitting in my robe, happy, the party was great, everyone left early and I ran down my street in my bathing suit in the dark. I felt eight and happy and my hair was wet, it was a pool party, we have a pool, and I skipped along the concrete and giggled and my hair is damp on my pillow, and well, it was great and I'm going outside to enjoy the fire...xoxoxo

head count of the night: 54 at the peak of the party

one person got thrown in the pool

no one threw up, yet

we have twenty seven pounds of samosoas and two meat and cheese platters for the rest of the weekend, oh...and I'm hoping some Pinto Grigio, Santa Marghereta...or however you spell it,it was a success and see ya...soon, oh..and next ELLEN MEISTER MEETS THE CANADIAN CHICK...XOXOOXOXOXO

Almost AWOL

by Melissa Bell

This is not a particularly writerly blog entry today, friends, so please forgive me. Oh, who am I kidding? It's barely a blog entry at all, never mind something "writerly".

I've been on vacation this week – no, I didn't go anywhere; just hung out at chez Mel (and I'm still hanging out here) -making some headway on the screenplay, watching a lot of CNN and home improvement shows, and wandering around WalMart spending money on things I just can't pass up. As a bonus, the extreme temperatures have made doing nothing but inhabiting furniture for hours at a time a guilt-free activity.

Being off work this week has also afforded me the luxury of staying up all hours of the night listening to "Coast to Coast", a nightly talk-radio show that centres around all things, well, flaky. I adore it. Who wouldn't? The world of the paranormal is a fascinating planet – I have absolutely no desire to live there, but it's certainly an interesting place to visit.

So if you'll excuse me, seeing as I'm on vacation and all, I'm going to go find a comfortable place, crack open a book, pour myself something tall and cold, and listen to the radio...

But if you have ever seen a ghost, do tell! Please, please?

Also: Great book - Blindness by Jose Saramago
Great snack: blue cheese with cranberries spread on lightly buttered oatcakes
Best new silly shows I've discovered this week: "How Clean is Your House?" and "You Are What You Eat". (Both British - who knew?)

(See you back here in two weeks.)


Thursday, July 20, 2006

Schedule Me

by Antonios Maltezos


I think I’d have been a better Dad if I was an accountant. Year-end would’ve been a bitch, but at least my kids would have had an easier go of it stealing me from my work.

Oh, shit! I just realized something. What if one or all of my kids grow up to be writers? Four girls, you just know they’re going to write Dad into each and every story. The thought boggles my mind. Do I have time to change my ways? That’s something to consider, no? Maybe I could set aside a couple hours a day just for them, well… for them and me. I’d have to make a list, a detailed list I could work from, a list of things to change, to consider, to avoid. How ‘bout a schedule, not unlike the one I have pinned to my cork board for the novel I’m working on, a foinking novel that doesn’t give a foink about schedules, that keeps me up at night questioning my resolve. What if the schedules clash? Well then, maybe I could get a second cork board; put it up on an opposite wall so they wouldn’t clash, so the worst that could happen is they shoot each other dirty looks all day.

Things to Avoid, Consider, Change
1- I should never start writing before all the kids are up, because then I’ll just get cranky when they give me my good mornings.
2- Whenever one of them knocks on the office door, I should never reply with a WHAT! They’ll feel unwelcome, and that ain’t right.
3- Snacks and TV are horrible pastimes. (mental note: remember to make a list of activities designed to keep ‘em developing through the summer months.)
4- Because I’m staying home Monday to Friday during the summer, I should sit with them through breakfast, lunch, and supper. We should talk as we eat.
5- I should never get mad when they use my printer paper for arts and crafts. It’s just paper.
6- I shouldn’t get on their case when they mess up part of the house while playing, especially if I wasn’t around while they were playing.

I’ll stop here. It’s a beginning…

Daily Schedule
1- Get their breakfast ready. Pick up all the crap they left lying around from the day before.
2- Supervise when they’re done with the breakfast and it’s time to clean up. They drop crumbs, spill juice, and drip when they eat.
3- Think about lunch. Take out any meat from the freezer if need be.
4- Set ‘em up with an activity for the hours leading up to lunch. Make sure they’ll be challenged mentally and physically, and that they’ll play nice together.
5- Lunch, me included (breakfast will be tough to share because I’ve never gotten into the habit, myself).
6- Think about supper. Take meat out of the freezer.
7- Activity to three o’clock. Three o’clock is snack time. After the snack, they should do a chore or two, build their sense of responsibility.
8- Slowly start supper. I don’t like rushing to get a meal together.
9- The house should be in order before we sit down for supper, that way we can enjoy some family time afterwards.
10- Stop writing. Evenings are for families.

Oy!

I coulda growed up to be an accountant!

Monday, July 17, 2006

A seat with a view

by Tamara Lee

Travelling with my mom is by no means a new experience. When I was growing up my family drove all over the US and BC, and over a dozen years ago, I went on my first adult road trip with my mom, aunt, and sister. That was a good time, for the most part, but it also marked yet another peak and valley in our family’s landscape.

Recently, when my mom applied for her first passport in over 40 years, she told me she decided not to use me as her emergency contact, assuming a lot of her travelling was likely to be with me, anyway. At first I was moved by this indication that our once rocky relationship had reached a peaceful plateau. But then it occurred to me: Have I become that woman who travels with her mother, like some Victorian novel where the protagonist who chooses independence for so long suddenly finds the only person left as a companion is her recently-widowed mother?

Over the past few years, I’ve been taking semi-regular road trips with my mother to see my siblings. Nothing too far, but trips nonetheless. In June, we headed up again to visit my eldest sister in Mclure, just past Kamloops, near the sad scene of the Barriere fires that ravaged the BC Interior several years ago.

My mom and I have always travelled well together. She is a social woman who has no reservations asking for directions or talking to strangers, and we both prefer our silence be mixed with equal parts music and chitchat. Plus, she doesn’t mind driving (though she sometimes forgets there’s a speed-limit on open roads), and I’m an excellent shotgun. So as long as there’s Patsy Cline or Dean Martin on the stereo, she’s content for several hours, and I can watch the scenery and think up stuff.

We set out early from Vancouver, in pouring rain with limited visibility. Passing through the Fraser Valley, the manure and hay of the nearby farms seeped through the window my mom had cracked so she could smoke and not have to listen to me bitch about it. I whined about the shit-smell instead. We kept plowing through the fog until we found a place to have breakfast, in Hope, the last stop before heading into the mountains. The rain had eased into a misty drizzle.

Husky Gas, that ohso-Canadian institution, almost always has a café attached, where the truckers all converge and eat heaping plates of meat and eggs and toast. Truck stops, we’ve learned from years of family vacations, are typically some of the best places to eat. My mom and I chatted with the truckers who offered to fill up our coffees when the waitress was too busy.

Back on the road, we set out to conquer the Coquihalla Highway, which takes you from the Valley over the mountains through the Great Bear Snow Shed, and into BC’s version of a desert. My mom and I are both equally awed by passing landscapes, and discussions of weather are damn near intense, as we consider every facet of the unpredictability. So, passing through each new weather pattern towards a still snow-capped summit, we imagined what it would be like to live up there, what kind of people do and what life would be like. And just like when I was a kid on one of our family road trips, we scanned the license plates of other cars, remarking on how far from home the drivers were, and imagining their circumstances for being on the same road as us.

I come from a long line of storytellers and fibbers; a family full of unknowns. While we are experienced in creating lives out of a stranger’s license plate and vehicle-choice, I’ve also learned to fill in the blanks when it comes to my own family. We are not one of those families with a great-great uncle Grover who worked on the Trans-Canada and married his childhood sweetheart out back of the family farm. An uncle Grover may have existed, but we don’t know anything about him.

So my recent travels with my mother have allowed me to pull some threads and open the hem and haws a little, giving me the chance to get just that much more acquainted with my family history.

On this last trip, as we drove up and over the mountains, near Lac Le Jeune, I learned all my grandparents’ hometowns, and that I have French blood in my mix of Scottish, Welsh, Irish, English, and Cree. This bloodline has always made me feel like an embodiment of Canadian history. Learning that there’s French in there too made me feel instantly more exotic and Canadian. I ached to learn more, but the sun was finally shining, and my mom was off singing with Dean-o at the top of her lungs, driving well over the speed limit. And that was much more fascinating to witness than learning where my anonymous great uncles came from.

The scarred trees lining the hills along the Yellowhead Highway from Kamloops to McLure are a reminder of a very tumultuous time. The trees that are not blackened burnt-out carcasses are fiery orange, choked to death by the Mountain Pine Beetle. I nearly wept for the loss myself on our first trip up there.

The man who accidentally started the worst of that fire still lives in Barriere, and most of the residents have made their peace with him. Instead of complete abandonment, the citizens adapt, learning that many of the beetle-damaged trees can be harvested and that wild life is also resilient and willing to give the damaged landscape another chance. On this trip, en route to my sister’s McLure home, I saw the life just starting to return to those charred slopes: a slow yet determined reconciliation.

At the end of the summer Mom and I will be taking the train up to Whistler to see my other sister and her husband. There could be more opportunity to pilfer information, or I could just relax, watch the scenery, and be grateful our own family tree’s finally healing. And that silence is just as comfortable for us as is making stuff up.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The CWC wants your sweet summer memories

The harder your winters, the sweeter your summers? Do Canadians value the warm weather more because its rarer? Lets see what we think of summer in Canada. Please share your sweet summer memories.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Books for Babies

By Anne Chudobiak


I don’t like my local library. They have books in lots of different languages, which translates into not much of anything. And then there’s the nefarious “Books for Babies” plan. They encourage parents to bring in their babies and then get upset when these babies get up and walk. “Hey, we said babies, not toddlers. Keep that babbling down.”

For a few years, I wasn’t reading much of anything beyond parenting books (How to Talk..., Raising Your Spirited Child, Siblings without Rivalry), just the basic reading so that I could brave the children’s library without getting into too much trouble. I even tried to donate a parenting manual, but the librarian said that donations were unheard of, impossible. At the time I was upset. Not now. I’m done with manuals.

I’m too behind in the rest of my reading. Do you know that until last year I’d never even heard of Cormac McCarthy? And while we’re being honest, I still haven’t read him.

I finally gave in and got myself a Chapters membership card.

“Do you often buy this many books?” the cashier asked, looking at my pile (Krista Bridge; Short Stuff; and Lust for Life).

“No,” I said. “Never.”

But I was back the next month (Amy Hempel, Elisabeth Harvor, Sheila Heti).

“How much did I save today?” I asked at the cash register.

“Dammit,” I thought when I got home, “I forgot Chekov. I always forget him.”

And that wasn’t the only problem. There was the question of shelf space. It was time for another cull.

“Is this yours?” I asked my husband, holding up Ernest Buckler’s The Mountain and the Valley, a book neither of us had heard of, let alone read. Does anyone else have books like that on their shelves?

The Mountain and the Valley is “a series of illuminations,” “a rural idyll,” “a psychological novel,” part of the canon and a total waste of time. I don’t know where I stand. Let’s just say it’s on my list, beside McCarthy.

The intro, by Claude Bissell, Buckler’s biographer, friend and biggest fan, places the novel in context, a time when Philip Child (winner, if you’re wondering, of the 1950 Governor-General’s award) and serial-writer Mazo de la Roche were the Establishment and Robertson Davies and Mordecai, encroachers, whose work, although exciting at times, paled in comparison with W.O. Mitchell’s Who has Seen the Wind.

I love Mitchell, especially the one about the cranky professor who’s mauled by a bear, but even I can see that Bissell was a critic, not a prophet. Who can predict what will be remembered? Wikipedia, for instance, has a lot more to say about Bissell than it does about Buckler, but you never know, that could change, maybe when my little one goes down for his nap, which should be soon. He’s looking kind of tired.

We were out early this morning, the park, where a lady, modestly dressed--“A Jehovah’s witness?” I thought--laid out a blanket, inviting us to join her.

“I brought books,” she said. I recognized one of them. Toupie. We have it at home. That’s the book they give you when you get your baby a library card.

Montreal libraries. Outreach program.

“What?” she said. “You’re leaving? Already?”

What difference do you REALLY notice between Canada and the U.S.A?

Comment on, hordes! Comment on!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Conversations With Americans

by Steve Gajadhar

It must be the proximity of the 4th of July that has Anna and I ranting on the same thing.

Disclaimer #1: I don’t hate Americans, in fact I’ve become friends with a lot of them. This piece is meant to be illustrative rather than pejorative. As with all things in life, it takes too much energy to hate something, it’s much easier to try to understand and coexist.

Disclaimer #2: Americans are always right. It’s pointless to argue with them.

Some quotes from conversations with Americans:

“This is my friend, Steve, he’s Canadian.”

At no point during my life in Canada did I ever introduce my friends in this way. They were simply my friends. Americans see the world as America and then everyone else. If you’re not American you’re some other kind of alien novelty act they can show off to their American friends.

“Neil Young (insert famous person here) is Canadian?”

Yes he is. Ask him, I’m sure he’ll tell you.

“We think of you as a northern state”

A sweet older woman said this to me. It is one of the most infuriating declarations I have been subjected too in my short time living in the US. I wanted to punch her.

“Canada has a day? What for? It’s not like you guys kicked some English ass like we did. You’re not even a real country, just a colony.”

Every person is allowed to be proud of their country, and I’m damn proud to be Canadian. I also pointed out that we burned down the Whitehouse the only time Americans and Canadians fought and that even though the American forces outnumbered Canada’s 10 to 1, they still chose to leave us be. Smart move. We’re nice. We’re tolerant. Just don’t piss us off. I think the same can be said of me.

“O Canada, our home and native land…”

An American friend of mine sang me the whole Canadian anthem. I then proceeded to sing him the Star Spangled Banner. We were drinking. As you might have guessed, he was a hockey player.

“You’re commies”

A popular belief in America is that Canada is full of leftist commies. I’ve had this discussion many times. To them Canada is a welfare state full of unemployed bums. I tried comparing our unemployment rates, but discussing facts with most Americans is a pointless exercise. They don’t want facts they want you to shut up and listen to their opinion. The only point that seems to work here is that America does indeed have a welfare system, only they call it the prison system.

“It’s not like your country was attacked.”

I won’t delve too deeply into this one. The Iraq War is a touchy subject in the US. I’ve had a couple late night discussions regarding Iraq’s involvement in Sept. 11 (i.e. none) and all have ended in the quote that follows this section. In the new millennium America, no American wants to be viewed as unpatriotic, and that means no American wants to voice dissent. I don’t know about you, but this scares the bejesus out of me. Canadians pie the faces of their political leaders and openly dissent about every little thing. Except being Canadian. It’s the way it should be.

“If you don’t like it leave.”

Ah yes, the ever popular fuck off and die answer. But in a sense, they are right. We did choose to come here, so while we are here we should stick to their rules. We can think what we want, but in America, if you’re not American you’re not allowed an opinion. Thank God they haven’t found a way to bug our thoughts yet.

Disclaimer #3: I’d like to sincerely thank the Edmundson’s for inviting us into their home on July 4th. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and the food was great.

Disclaimer #4: America is great. But deep down inside of me I can’t shake the feeling that is used to be better. I hope history isn’t able to pinpoint the exact date the world’s last Superpower spun out of control. This is exactly what the terrorists wanted.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Keeping Some Distance

by J.A. McDougall

Apparently an American National Park is no place for subtleties. Wildlife warnings at Yellowstone are hammered everywhere from highway signs to memos in washroom stalls. The Feeding and Molestation of Animals is Prohibited / All Wildlife is Dangerous / Each Year Tourists are Gored by Buffalo. We witnessed the same intensity during a stay in Yosemite a few years ago: photos of black bears tearing cars apart to get to food coolers adorned the bulletin boards.

In spite of these warnings, the American tourist persists. At the first sign of bison, his minivan veers to the roadside, ignoring the viewing lots carved at regular intervals. He brings his family deep into the grassy feeding grounds of elk and mule deer to capture the most intimate detail, video camera swinging from his arm. He has selected Yellowstone as a vacation spot and refuses to go home disappointed. Blinders on, he demonstrates very little curiosity in affairs that do not contribute to his goal, such as the ranger’s restrictions or the ordinary Canadian sharing his vista.

I’ve accepted this single-mindedness, knowing full well that this trait has yielded much success for our neighbors, both individually and internationally. I’ve given up trying to share dull Canadian details with Americans I meet when traveling, content to listen to their stories, but like the bubble blowing baby sister in a group of teenage girls, annoying the group with her mere presence; I’ll never shake the unwelcome feeling that overcomes me every time I visit the states.

Last Tuesday, the kids and I followed the boardwalks through Yellowstone’s hydrothermal grounds marveling at sporadically occurring pools as they whirled streaks of rust colored algae. Minutes before Old Faithful was due, we squeezed back into seats my husband had saved. He was chatting with the woman on the bench behind him. I turned to say hello and was greeted with, “Out where you live…what percentage of the people are conservative?”

I answered before giving the question any thought, tickled to find an American interested in my beloved country. “We live in a very conservative part of the country,” I said.

My husband added more than enough detail. “110%, but we’re Liberals.”

Then she said, “Canadians don’t like George Bush, I hear. Didn’t any Canadians die in the World Trade Centre?”

I softened my voice. “Uh, yes. Canadians died that day. There were victims from all over the world.” I turned to check on the geyser. Fingers of steam had begun escaping the cone.

“You like the Clintons, I suppose,” she said.

From the corner of my eye I watched the man sitting beside me, I sensed he too was waiting for an answer. Suddenly the bleachers seemed overcrowded. “Oh no,” I chuckled and attempted a joke “Canadians don’t like him any better. We’re able to criticize any American leader.”

She smiled. “Clinton wanted to bring your socialized medical care here, but is it true that in Canada you wait and wait and then you might not get the doctor you want anyways?”

I looked down. “Our health care system certainly has its problems but I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s expensive to offer every citizen unlimited access to medicine. I don’t think the United States can simply import our programs to resolve challenges that face a population ten times the size of ours.”

It’s uncharacteristic of me to minimize a political debate, to retreat in this way, but I felt increasingly vulnerable sitting before the great American geyser with my family under a hot sun. I felt even smaller than I do when my heritage is openly disregarded. I sensed the passion this woman held for the values her country represents and continued to moderate my approach.

“People don’t usually ask about our politics,” I fished.

She grinned. “Well, I listen to a lot of talk radio. I was surprised to hear that Canadians oppose the war.” I felt she meant dared to opposed it.

How could I explain that from the outside looking in, the reasons supporting the American’s offensive strategy aren’t so easily accepted? How could I put it to her that many Canadians understand criticisms of the North American culture of indulgence? And how could I possibly tell her that a Canadian’s first instinct is rarely retaliation; that for us tolerance is a virtue rather than a concession.

Had I enough time to show her the other side of the issue? Did she even want to see it? She’d more likely brush my arguments off and lump them in with the Michael Moore retorts she’s no doubt heard before. Plus, it didn’t seem like appropriate conversation for the 4th of July.

“Do you have relatives fighting?” I asked.

“Two nephews,” she said, with some pride. “One just came back.”

“How old are they?”

“Twenty and twenty-one. They volunteered.” She looked at me directly. “It’s an experience.”

The power of Old Faithful’s eruption shocked me, misted my face. All that violence existing underground, out of sight, yet close to the surface while just beyond the crowd, tranquil evergreens standing by, dotting crumbly white terrain.

“I saw a program once about a girl – from Ontario, I think – she had a baby before she was eighteen and the child was taken away.”

I shrugged, shook my head.

“People shouldn’t have babies if they can’t take care of them.”

“Yes,” I agreed, “but they still do.” Irresponsible behavior continues with or without rules and regulation.

On our way back to the campground, we were delayed twice by barely shouldered vehicles and their rubbernecked passengers. Having grown up less than an hour’s drive from Banff National Park, I suppose I take these wildlife sightings for granted.

Early the next morning, my oldest daughter discovered a lone bison grazing among mauve and yellow wildflowers, four feet from our trailer door. She closed the door gently and climbed back up to bed to wake her siblings. Together they unzipped the screened windows and quietly enjoyed the wildlife from their front row seat.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Still Wearing the Mama's Boy Jersey, Le Tour de Moi!

by Andrew Tibbetts

I spent a few days with my mother this week. Our visits always go like this: she cooks; I read. Her house is a restaurant just for me. I roll out of bed when I smell bacon. I read while she packs a picnic. We go to Sandbanks Provincial Park and I don’t even bring a bathing suit. I lie on a towel in the sun and read. She sits in the shade and watches me read. Eventually she asks, “lunch?” I say, “Yes.” We eat and then I read until I sense her getting fidgety. She’s probably thinking about supper! We head back and I have a nap, which includes a bit of reading before and after. Then I get out of bed again, plop myself on the comfy, comfy couch and read until supper. After supper (which includes dessert! Remember dessert?) I read. Later, there will be snacks to read by. I gain two pounds per visit day.

Only- on this visit there was a slight twist. My mother has become addicted to Le Tour de France. She watches live coverage from 8am until 11am. And she watches the ‘enhanced broadcast’ from 8pm until 11pm- which is essentially the same thing as the morning with a little extra commentary (don’t worry, she still manages to get my meals made!) It’s strange. For the first time since I was a teenager my mother stays up later than I do. Apparently she’s been watching Le Tour for years. It’s just that my visits have never before coincided with the madness.

Le Tour de France is a bike race that is Three Weeks Long and Shown on TV.

My mother used bike around England as a girl. She’d take the neighbourhood kids with her every weekend, away from their brick tenements and into the green countryside. This is when and where and why she learned to pack a picnic. It was probably the happiest time of her life. She’s in her seventies now and she still rides her bike every day (when I visit she goes while I nap or before I get up.) It’s a lonesome hobby, nothing like a ‘tour’. So, she watches these lean-muscled men in their stretchy advertisements pump their way through the hills and valleys of Europe (It’s not just France! Who knew?) and she soars with the sense memory of traveling through beauty in a pack. I actually put my book down for a while (Fingersmith by Sarah Waters- a lesbian Oliver Twist, that’s almost- almost!- un-put-down-able) just to watch her watch TV. Her hands grip the air above her knees and her legs twitch like she’s pedaling. Her face is lit- from the glowing TV, but it might as well be the Cannes sunshine. Her hair blows back- from the oscillating fan but it might as well be the Normandy breeze. She looks beautiful. She looks seventeen. She looks free.

She turns (“ready for an icecream?”) and- thank goodness- the sight of me doesn’t send the joy from her eyes.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Under a gorgeous sky

By Craig Terlson

Sweltering days, where the sun sucks up every drop of moisture you pour into it; lines of happy (neo-hippie) people chat as they wait for glacier cold lemonade, ice cream that melts before the first lick, or a long gulp of water from the tap; sunscreen slapped on hourly, in rhythm to the drum circles that emerge from the field like somehow they were always there; fried bread mixes with sugary smells, far eastern and western smells of noodles alive with chilies, golden wedges of homemade fries, towering salads with greens from every corner of the province, somehow even the tangy melon, mango, berry smoothie fragrances lift out into the air; kettle corn, hot, sweet, addictive, enough said; kids dance, guys in "manskirts" dance, seniors, not feeling a day of their age, boogie, jugglers toss lighted balls, another drum circle plays in the background of fire dancers, and fire flies, and dragon flies, and flying fingers on guitar strings; accordions bump against double stand-up basses, fiddlers stand next to violinists, horns bop along with ukes, and everybody sings, and laughs, and sits in each others arms as the moon comes out and dances with the wisps of clouds that tantalize the crowd with a shot of lightening or two; and the sprinkle of rain baptizes the crowd as they sway to yet another moment of creation under a sky that no human could have painted.

Winnipeg Folk Fest – that's where I am, over by the kettle corn, again.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Fictionalized



by Patricia Parkinson

Writing non-fiction is draining. Writing fiction is too, but I’m only talking about nonfiction here. Nonfiction, nonfiction, nonfiction - got it? Good. All that dredging up of the past, God, and the pain - why does there have to be pain? I ask myself, and peal back a layer, a roll of film - my father leaving when leaves were green, images of babies lost, never to be held, and I think all writers are masochists. But I keep listening to the voice that pisses me off, that tells me this is the only way to get what I want most in my work – truth.

The draining part of writing about my own life, writing nonfiction stories about, “me,” the writer, and my unknowing family, is that I’m constantly on the lookout for a story, for a moment, a detail. Who looks interesting in line at Starbucks? What are they wearing? How do they stand? Are they sad? Happy? Horny? Hung? Maybe a killer! What’s happening now? Now. Right now, right now, right now - my mind chants and I close my eyes and repeat this mantra and receive mystical messages from the universe. I do. Really, I do. See what I mean? It’s tiring. What energy is around me? I ask. How does this energy feel? How can I express it in words?

Today the energy was festive. The words came easy breezy. Today I held a birthday party in the backyard for my son. He’s turning seven. He had a Sponge Bob piñata, Jurassic Park plates and a Lightening McQueen birthday cake. If any other movies were represented in the Wal Mart Party section I’m sure we would have bought their merchandise too. They were sold out of the King Kong hats, cardboard cylinders of the Empire State Building with Kong, hanging from fishing line, forever falling from children’s heads. It’s insanity.

My daughter, who is two years older, and her friend, gathered around the kitchen island while I readied the cake, excited to be “in” on the surprise, on the singing and the presents and the blindfolding of the piñata participants. We spoke in hushed voices, giggling under our breaths, ooohing and aaahing as I pushed the candles through the thick icing, feeling the smoosh as it broke through the top layer of chiffon and I made a mental note to hold this feeling, the sensation of the nubby candles on the tips of my fingers, (I used white candles with primary coloured nubs on them - primary nubs for boys – pastel nubs for girls) and the vision of the flame melting away the blue and red and green and yellow wax, in the story part of my heart. I watched as my daughter lead the procession, singing to her brother, who looked only at her, and then at me, my little boy who got so big so fast that I’m afraid to blink again, smiled above the flicker of seven candles as I walked in slow motion the way people who carry birthday cakes and punch bowls do, across the grass toward him. He had three girlfriends.

On easy breezy word days, I wonder if I sometimes create things, lunacy and confusion just to have something to write about, something draining and angst filled so I can relate to my characters. I should go for more walks, get in touch with nature, simplify, downsize, cancel my cell phone, yeah sure, that and join AA and exercise and other fictional promises I make to myself, however, the non fiction comedy and mostly action filled existance I either create or open myself up to unfolds like a story I’m working on, something I think I have control of what happens next. Then there are days like today when the energy comes to me with out asking and I trust enough in the energy to let the story unfold on its own.

I love writing about my life. Even if some of the stories are perhaps, somewhat exaggerated, the King Kong hats are well, my imagination working overtime (I should go into marketing for these people)anyway, so maybe some things I write are more fantasy than reality, or so real the character becomes someone else, or they're the way I picture a perfect birthday party to be. They are my stories. The only difference between fiction and nonfiction is how I say it, oh, and whose name I use.

Pity Poor Alice Munro

by Melissa Bell

I have to feel bad for her, in some way. Here's this woman – considered by many to be one of the greatest [insert additional adjective here, eg. living, woman, English-language, etc.] writers around, and yet no one's adapting her work for feature films.

Okay, that's a bit of a lie. A perfunctory Google shows that an adaptation of Ms. Munro's short story, "The Bear Came Over the Mountain", is currently in post-production. Directed by Sarah Polley, executive produced by Atom Egoyan, it stars Julie Christie, Gordon Pinsent, Wendy Crewssssssssssszzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Oops. Sorry. I nodded off there for a sec.

And you. C'mon, admit it. You unsuccessfully tried to stifle a yawn in the interest of Canadian politesse, didn't you?

So would adding a few exclamation points to the second paragraph above make it sound more exciting? Or should I just go ahead and add some cricket sounds and cue the tumbleweeds?

Looking back to an earlier bitchy post of mine where I was kvetching about a certain Mr. Steve Martin writing his novella, Shopgirl, solely with a view to eventually triple-dipping his Hollywood chips, I still have to wonder why, with the incredible body of work Alice Munro has created in her lifetime, zero has yet made it to the "big screen". Sure, Boys and Girls picked up an Oscar, but…yeah, yeah, didn't you know? Neither did I. Oh, nobody you'd know, of course. It was back in the early '80s. Best to just forget about it – everyone else has.

Okay, another look at imdb.com shows that Julianne Moore is "in talks" to do Hateship, Courtship, Friendship. I suppose that's promising, but "in talks" pretty much means…whatever. Meanwhile, Paul Gallico's The Poseidon Adventure was just remade. Did it need remaking? And who the heck is Paul Gallico when he's not marginally famous among sports trivia fans for organizing the Golden Gloves amateur boxing competition?

Of course I realize that most of Ms. Munro's work comprises short stories. But that certainly doesn't mean that all short stories are destined to be nothing more than overlooked short films. So why has so little of her work been produced in other media? And, of the handful of her works that have made the leap from the page to the screen, how did a two-bit schmuck like me get cast in two of them? (Yes, alright, it was in a whole other life, but honestly, people - when a crappy ex-actor like myself can claim two Alice Munro adaptations in my sorry-ass and wince-inducing list of past screen credits, all is seriously not right in the literature-to-film world.)

She's no diva. I doubt she's playing hardball with the Big Boys. Permit me a self-indulgent "brush-with-greatness" anecdote, but I did meet the lady once. I was doing summer stock in Blyth, Ontario, and she showed up one late afternoon to the strawberry social held at the Town Hall. And, god bless her, she wore a long white cotton dress with hand-embroidered strawberries on it and just kind of wandered around drinking tea and eating pie. This is not the kind of woman one imagines screaming into her cell phone at her agent with a "Fuck 'em, Marty, they want Half a Grapefruit? I want six points, a Hummer, name above the title, or no fuckin' deal. Ya got that?" Nah, our Alice doesn't do that.

Maybe that's the problem. She's just too fuckin' nice.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Pissing on the Monument

By Antonios Maltezos

I’ve never really been moved by interviews of old soldiers crying over brethren lost decades earlier. I don’t even understand the guilt, why so many of them wish they hadn’t come back. They choke on their recollections as if a part of them is forever mired on the battlefield, replaying the scene where the buddy coughs up his last words.

I laughed when I saw the pictures of those three idiots pissing on the National War Memorial in Ottawa on Canada Day. When I first saw the report on the news, I turned to my wife and said something like—man, are they in deep shit! And then I proceeded to have a guffaw. I couldn’t help it. I’ve done so many silly things in my youth. Crapping in the brush and then telling my friends I’d found a big snake. Mooning the cars going down a busy highway until we thought the next one might be the guy with the sawed-off baseball bat under his seat. We did all kinds of stupid things, most too gross to mention here. I laughed until I realized my wife wasn’t, as if she’d been exposed to too much of me all at once. I tried getting her into my frame of mind by saying, “Ah, come on! Everyone’s looking for them. Their friends are probably rolling on the floor, busting a gut.”

Naturally, we were lost. And the officer in charge, a bullet hit him under the nose and came out the back of his head. Dead as a doornail. I undone the epaulettes on my tunic and let go of all my heavy equipment- my blanket, and overcoat, and bandolier of ammunition. And I turned around and was crawling from shell hole to shell hole to get back to where I came from, to the best of my ability, and the rest did too. We came to barbed wire, and we started shouting to the boys in the trenches not to fire. And we got back in the trench. I don't know how many was killed but there was an awful lot of the boys killed, and that was our very first experience.(George Hatch)

I know it was wrong to laugh, but at that moment, I found myself transported back to my own youth. Right? Muddling through high school with hardly a plan for the future. Pool halls, our first cars, playing sports, girls, music… all kinds of stuff.

In the meantime, the German artillery got a line on our trenches and they let us have it and all hell broke loose. I saw a man wounded, scream like a horse. I saw blood coming out of their ears, out of their mouth. Now, if you don't think you get scared when that happens. You're scared, and you're scared to death.(George Hatch)

You see these old guys in their eighties, nineties, and you have to wonder how the interview will go. What could they possibly remember from so long ago?

When daylight broke the very next morning, I remember a young group of Canadian boys, still in their uniforms, as if on parade. They were reinforcements. And I've got my two stripes and I'm now a corporal and I'm standing on top of the trench, watching the boys start digging, to change the trench around somewhat. And a shell came so close that I didn't have time to jump down into the trench where they were digging; I just stood there, and the shrapnel pellets were going all around my feet, and I saw at least 25 of the boys killed right there and then, that just got to the trench, just got to the trench.(George Hatch)

What could they possibly remember from so long ago…

… if you've ever smelled a human dead body you've never smelled any odor in your life until you have. You've never smelled a badder one.(George Hatch)

Me, thankfully, I’ve got different recollections for my youth.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Westerners are from Mars: Easterners, from Venus

Westerners are from Mars: Easterners, from Venus


I loved Steve’s take on our collective. In many ways, it made me smile and it made me cringe. It also made me think about my part of the world and how my Atlantic Canadian viewpoint might be different. Kind of a Borg—I mean Blog from the Eastern Canada perspective. I hear all the time things like: “Eastern Canadian themes get well received in Toronto; we’re so foreign to them over there, we might as well be Americans.” Or: “If you have a novel about Eastern Canada, it’ll sell like hot cakes over there.”

“Over there” sounds like we think they are foreign. And indeed, they are. Heck, where I’m from in a town on the South Western point of Nova Scotia, we think 30 km away is foreign. So if we’re eaten up over there in Western Canada, I’d like to know exactly what ‘it’ is that’s being consumed so avidly. I’d brew it, bottle it, and prostitute it if I could. So I wonder: Hmmm. Are we really different over here? Last I looked, I had two feet (ok, so the toes are webbed, but that’s not a coastal thing—or wait; maybe it is.), I have a relative struggling to stay clean, I have a daughter, a dog, and a home that I always think is too small until cleaning day when it seems like Buckingham Palace. So there must be something else, some ‘experience’ that sells to Torontonians that smells a little bit like “phew. I’m some glad I don’t live there.” Kind of like, ‘the 1800s are a charming period but gawd I wouldn’t want to go back.’

Note: You will notice the usage of the term ‘some’ in the earlier point: something I take doesn’t happen too far afield of Eastern Canada?

So knowing ourselves should make us better at revealing ourselves—at least you’d think so. Which makes me wonder: are our (and I mean Atlantic Canadians here) writings indicative of the Eastern Canada experience? We mostly fish for a living: The most famous novel I can think of that captured that experience wasn’t even written by a Canadian. The Shipping News was everything we Nova Scotians think Newfoundlanders are. But is it accurate? I wonder if any “Newfies” could step in here for me.

We drink Beer; much of it in my circle, a large consumption of Keiths or Keiths Light. Well, I suppose the rampant alcoholism of Atlantic Canada as well as the sometimes vulgar language is captured effectively by Linda Little in Strong Hollow. Again, she’s a Come-From_Away, not a maritimer born and bred. What could she know of being Atlantic Canadian, and yet she does. Or at least she captures it well.

These women are not alone as writers writing about Eastern Canada and receiving notice for doing it. Even the famous Alice Munro has written about us. But how many of “us” are there? How many are ‘writing what we know’ of our world? Our specific, miniscule, horrible minutia of having to walk to the top of the road to get our mail, of having to make sure we have a sober driver if we want to go out on Saturday night because it costs 60 bucks in cabfare to get home. We have to take note of the fact that we bundle our trips to town to spend less gas and that we leave our dogs outdoors untied.

It’s a challenge, I know, because what makes us different, I guess, is exactly what we don’t know is different. We take that inconsequential for granted because we don’t know any better. And I think this is where Westerners understand us better than we do ourselves. They see what’s different—and they celebrate it for us. And with us.

I think of my area and how different each piece of it is—so different in fact that we say stuff like: Up the Line, or Down Shore, or Townie. Up the Liners love live bands and are fanatic to keep their French language French, not watered down into Fringlish. Down Shore folk who have a twang to their English that’s so amusing and unique, it’s legendary around these parts and they’re the besta kinda people ya’d like to meet. Townies who know nothing of the small area they belong to—oblivious even to their surrounding environment and history because they’re materialistic and ‘city-minded’ (note: city minded for us means a population of about 20K)

And then there’s the Come-From-Away: the folk who come in and find us so charming they stay here and try to fit in but who will always be a Come-From-Away no matter how much like us they get because we don’t introduce them with their lineage in front. They’re not: Richard MacIsaac’s Thea from Rockville, married Eleanor, you know, Arthur Purdy’s daughter? Mother came from Scotland as a warbride? They’re not even: Thea à Richard à Charles à Daniel à Harold à Duncan. They’re just Thea from Toronto.

Come to think of it: maybe this is what really makes us different—and maybe this is what we need to capture. That we know each other, sometimes too intimately.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Happy Birthday Canada


Sir John A. Macdonald (seated centre) and other Fathers of Confederation at the Charlottetown Conference, September 1864.
Source: Library and Archives Canada / PA-091061