Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Blogs

To the moons, Alice

Earlier this week, on July 4, NASA announced that the spacecraft Juno had successfully entered Jupiter’s orbit. That it did so on Independence Day, and that NASA used the term “Mighty Jupiter” in the headline of its press release, sums up a lot that is corny, loveable, self-mythologizing, and impressive about the United States.

What is Literary Fiction? Ask a Romance Publisher

Year ago, I was the guest author at a summer camp for teen writers. The afternoon started well: I read a bit from my first novel, spoke in very general terms about how I became a writer, and outlined the long road a book takes from idea to printed object. The best part, for the kids, was when I admitted to having left out all the dirty words during my brief reading. That led to one kid borrowing my book and huddling with her friends to do a kind of scavenger hunt for mild literary filth.

Chasing Ghosts at Four in the Morning

I can only write fiction before dawn. Part of that is simple adaptive behaviour: most of the past two decades have been filled with children and day jobs that happen, by definition, during the day. The long slide begins around 7:30 and does not end until past 9, after which my brain no longer holds enough of a charge for anything creative beyond lying to those children and finding new ways to complain about the day jobs.

Service Industry Hell (Part 1): One Angry Writer and Two Warring Bosses

A lot of the inspiration for my new book, Congratulations On Everything, came from the things I saw while working in bars, restaurants, and hotels, and from the experiences of friends who did the same. Recently, I asked people* on Facebook and Twitter to send me their wildest stories of working in the service industry trenches - in part to show that, however cringey things get in the book, the reality is worse. But also because I find these inherently fun to read.

*to whom I promised anonymity, in order to protect the relatively innocent

These first tales all come from "C":

Thank You, and Good Night

There isn't enough time. There's never enough time. But at the beginning of May I thought the whole month unfurled before us like an endless field of wildflowers waiting to be picked as we strolled lazily together beneath a benevolent sun. I had in my notebook a scribbled list of topics – 27! – that I was sure I'd get to, because there would be so much time. Look at all the wildflowers, I thought. Feel the caregiving sun! I would pick enormous, sumptuous bouquets and present them to you. I would post on weekends, I would post twice a day. It would be leisurely and satisfying. I would say everything I wanted to say.

Lat & Long

It's a rare thing for me to find myself somewhere new – or even somewhere I know but haven't been in a while – and not be visited by an urge to set a story there. I'm not exactly sure why this is, except that places impress themselves on me through a combination of history, geography, and culture that seem like the basic ingredients of a story. Throw in character and some manner of conflict, and you're off to the races. I mean, slowly, but anyway, you've got your start. Or I have mine.

Rhubarb Crisp

By some trick of heredity, or upbringing, or brain chemistry, my greatest talent lies in finding the negative in what should be uniformly positive experiences. I'm generally on the hunt, when presented with a silver lining, for the dark cloud at the heart of it. Know thyself, they counsel. Well, here I am, routinely skittery when placed in scenarios with outcomes I can't control. Which is hilarious, when you consider that not only am I a writer, but that I have three kids, meaning that I can't really control anything in my life.

Bobcaygeon

This is a damned weird country. Culturally and geographically, it has some peculiarities which rest not off to the side but squarely in the middle of our shared national consciousness. There is a rib of Precambrian rock which juts out of the earth and runs through much of the middle of the country, a hard and barren interruption. What do we do? We build cottages on it, run highways over it, paint pictures of it. A band emerges from a city made of limestone and sings songs about Canadian novelists and Elvis's manager and tragic hockey figures. So what do we do?

The Long Odds

I used to keep a Word document detailing where I'd sent what. Now it's a Google spreadsheet, colour coded, sortable. It lists the titles of completed stories and their word counts, tells me where I sent a certain piece, on what date and, eventually, the decision rendered by the outlet. A white row means that, for whatever reason, I have not yet released that piece out into the world to be judged. A row bathed in yellow means I am in the midst of the frequently months-long wait to learn of the editors' decision. Green means a piece has been accepted, and thus retired from the submission circuit. Red means rejection.

There is a lot of red.

Work

In January the flu raced through our house. It hitched a ride home from school on one child – one of the senior kindergarteners or the fourth grader, who can say which? – and in turn each of them took ill. When it was done with the third child, it revisited the first, and we did it all over again.

One clear, bright, frozen morning during this seasonal quarantine, my boy T, who'd been up most of the night losing the contents of his stomach, woke bleary and hot, his skin flush and damp. His fever was high, and it was immediately clear he'd be spending the day home with me.

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