March 30, 2006

Seize The Day

*a collection of art from readers...

My brain's been like a Goodnight Moon-bowl-full-of-mush the past week or so. I've been settling down from the tour, breathing in Spring every chance I get, and smiling at the memories that seep in to fill all the spaces between.

Like remembering the concierge at the Delta Chelsea Toronto who greeted me at 5am in the hotel lobby the morning I was to fly back to Halifax. He handed me a cup of coffee, called me a cab and then asked, "Do you know this word, Kowtow?" I sleepily nodded and said, "I've heard it before." He replied with excitement, "I just learned it this morning already. I heard it on the guy was saying he thought a certain Canadian politician would be kow-tow-ing to American corporations before long. I never heard it, so I looked it up. What do you think it means?" I sipped my coffee and replied, I guess some might say it means to kiss ass." He grinned as if he couldn't wait to tell me something he knew that I didn't. "It comes from the Chinese, meaning to knock your head on the ground in a form of worship. I guess that means American businessmen have hard asses?"

Or thinking of the Ethiopian taxi driver who drove me from the Sylvia Hotel in Vancouver back to the airport. He came to Canada during the famine. He was chosen in a lottery and left everything he knew to start a new life in Vancouver at the age of 16. We talked about Addis Ababa and what he misses most about the city with the name that means new flower. Ethiopian New Year was his favourite time of year. "The women all wear white. They look like many many moons dancing through the streets." (You know me and the moon...he had my heart strings after saying that!)He also told me, "You know the one thing that many people need there? Shoes. They can't afford them, but yet they need them. They have to walk everywhere and it is so dusty and dry and hard on the feet. If they lose the use of their feet, they lose their lives. So I collect shoes for them. Used shoes can still last at least six months for most."
At that moment I wished to god I had stuck my running shoes in my bag for that trip. Instead, I poured out all the cash I had into his hands and told him to use it for postage to send more shoes.

Where do those two exchanges fit in the scheme of things? I guess they have been floating up to the surface of my book-tour memories because they taught me something very rich and true about who we are as human beings. English was not the first language for either one of those men and yet they were bringing new light to words for me. With humour, with wit, with beauty, and compassion.
Both times I walked away realizing how fortunate I am to make my life as someone who makes sense out of her world through words.

So, everyone who has had a part in crafting my dreams as of late. Many have emailed, written, sent word through friends and friends of friends, to share thoughts about The Birth House. As a writer, I am grateful to have had your attention and your time. Knowing that you are spending well-earned dollars to purchase my words, knowing that you are setting aside hours to read the book cover to cover, knowing that friends, mothers, grandmothers, daughters are sharing it with one another...has made me feel joyful and humble all at once.

The other day an email popped into my in-box from a woman asking,
"How do you even get started with the writing life? How do you keep your nerve and determination?"

Seize the Day.
Writing is something that I never get tired of. I need it like I need to breathe. For me, the most challenging aspect of embracing the writing life was getting up the courage to take my writing seriously, to treat it like an art form and a life path, rather than just a hobby. To call myself a writer and not feel a moment's worth of guilt.

As far as staying determined...
You have to treat your time/space/creativity as a writer with respect. You may find you have to start slowly, setting aside a few hours a week devoted to writing. For many years I managed to come up with all sorts of excuses as to why 'it wasn't the right time.' There will never be a perfect time. Write.

I know a girl who was schooled in Manhattan
She reads dusty books and learns phrases in Latin
She is an author, or maybe a poet
A genius but it's just this world doesn't know it
She works on her novel most every day
If you laugh she will say

Seize the day, seize whatever you can
'Cause life slips away just like hourglass sand
Seize the day, pray for grace from God's hand
Then nothing will stand in your way
Seize the day
from Carolyn Arend's Seize the Day

March 17, 2006

It's a Frank Parker Day day...

Frank Parker Day (note: he's wearing a hat)

I've been thinking about Frank Parker Day quite a bit today. This morning I was sitting a The Art Can cafe in Canning chatting with Ken Schwartz about theatre, fiction and life. I'm very excited that Two Planks and a Passion Theatre Co. has a musical adaptation of Rockbound in the works. (click on Two Planks to read more about it.)For those of you who may not know, the 1928 Frank Parker Day novel was the last book standing in the 2005 edition of CBC Radio's Canada Reads literary face-off.

Although the novel was well recieved the US and most of Canada, some members of the community of Ironbound, NS (which was the basis for the setting of Rockbound), were less than pleased with FPD's depiction of their village. The controversy brewed to the point where the author was compelled to speak out and on May 18, 1929 Day offered a public apology to the residents of Ironbound. (from the Dalhousie archives web page devoted to FPD.) I'm currently trying to find an exact transcript of his if anyone happens to know where I can get my hands on it, please let me know.

This is especially interesting to me right now since two of the questions I'm often asked about The Birth House are:

Why did you choose to set the novel in a real location (specifically the place where you live)?
To me, Scots Bay, NS is a unique and magical place, both in its landscape and in its people. It has a captivating, rich history and I felt that I would have done this place and the people who live here a disservice by giving it another name. That said, history and location were simply places for me to step off and begin my story. While I felt it important to stay true to certain pieces if history - The Halifax Explosion, the tradition of shipbuilding in the Bay, the true names of the soldiers lost during WWI, the work of women's lives in the early 20th century, the struggles all women faced in gaining the right to have a say in what happened to their bodies - I also felt it equally important to create characters of fiction, characters with lives, dreams, beliefs, talents, and faults all their own.
As FPD said in his author's note to Rockbound: No reference is intended in this book to any actual character or definite district. The story is entirely fictitious.
I came from away and landed in a house with more stories than I could ever write. Scots Bay afforded me a perfect setting and like other novelists before me, when a landmark needed to be moved or changed for the sake of the story, I did so. (Don't let the truth get in the way of a good story) The truth is simple...a midwife once lived here, Mrs. E. Rebecca Steele. She took the women of the community in and cared for them. An act of courage in a time when everything around her was changing. Beyond that, Rebecca's biography ends and my imagined tale of Dora Rare begins.

Here's an interesting commentary on Wayne Johnston's Colony of Unrequited Dreams from
Johnston considered carefully the different ways of establishing ‘fictional/historical plausibility' in the novel. Re-reading Don Delillo's novel Libra, he observed how "Delillo gave himself the freedom to invent scenes, incidents, conversations as long as they seemed plausible within the fictional world that he created." He also considered Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children, where, in spite of the magic realism, India still gains independence in 1948, and political figures are elected or assassinated under the same circumstances as their real-life counterparts. He decided he would not change or omit anything that was publicly known. "I would fill in the historical record in a way that could have been true, and flesh out and dramatize events that, though publicly known, were not recorded in detail. Most importantly, I would invent for Smallwood a lover/nemesis (Sheilagh Fielding) who could have existed (but didn't) and wove her and Smallwood's story into the history of Newfoundland. This would be my plausibility contract with the reader."

Which brings me to the second question:
How have the present-day residents of Scots Bay reacted to the book?
This question was first put to me the week the book was released. It was something I hadn't even considered since my affection for this community is so strong and my hope from the very start was that any person with a history here would, upon reading the book, see my efforts to show the goodness, strength, and tenacity that is within the heart of any true community. Overwhelmingly the response has been warm and supportive and my hopes have been fulfilled... but, as with any artistic endeavour, there's bound to be a few people who feel The Birth House is not what they expected. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. That's what makes life interesting.

I never set out to write a history of Scots Bay. There's a perfectly fine, slim, portable History of Scotts Bay by Abram E. Jess that's been updated over the years and available through the WI. Local newspaper columnist Pat Martin has also been collecting local history and I believe her columns have been gathered in to bound editions the past couple of years. What I have written is a novel and although inspired by history I can't help but feel a novel should not be held to the constraints of the historical record (as accurate or inaccurate as written or even verbal 'history' might be.)I find it interesting to note that I spelled the name of the setting for my novel Scots Bay. Some would argue that the place at the end of hiway 358 is "Scott's Bay." In that regard, clearly, I have written a work of fiction. ;-)

What I sought to do in writing the The Birth House was akin to what FPD said he was trying to accomplish as an author
In terms of writing a novel, Frank Parker Day has been quoted as follows: “Surely the function of the artist is not to depict photographically but to help us interpret the beauty of life as it may be, to present romance, adventure, idealism, and to reveal the nobility lying latent in every human breast.” (from cbc canada reads teacher's reading guide)

Peace to your soul, Frank...
but should a novelist apologize for his/her art?

March 15, 2006

Grab the Clickie...

Last week while I was in Vancouver I taped an interview with Andrew Dawson of OMNI TV's "The Standard".

It's a wonderful show that takes an in-depth look at life, people, and where inspiration comes from. I had a great time meeting Andrew and chatting with him. We covered everything...from the story behind The Birth House to women's lives in the early 20th century.

It airs Wednesday March 15 at 9:00pm in western provinces.
Omni BC
Omni Manitoba

and on Sunday March 19 at 1:00pm EST on OMNI 1 (in Ontario and on any digital service that carries OMNI 1)
OMNI Ontario

hope you can tune in!

March 06, 2006

Toronto Scrapbook

(this was written on the way home from Montreal this past week)
It seems odd to be writing about Toronto while sitting in the Montreal Airport, waiting for a flight to Halfiax...but I have a bit of time before boarding the plane, so here I am.
One quick airport food note: I'm a popcorn-a-holic, so when I saw "Maple Popcorn", I thought, hmm...maybe." Now that I'm munching it, I'd say, "ummmm...definitely a no." I'll stick with cranberry juice and a bag of pistachios.

The Toronto leg of my tour was intense and fun. Highlights included:

A Reception and reading at the Riverdale Community Midwives' "birth house"
An afternoon with midwives, doulas, and mothers in a warm Victorian house in Riverdale. (There had even been a birth there that morning!) We munched on groaning cake and fruit, sipped tea and talked about birth, women's traditions, and the importance of community. I read sections from the novel and talked a bit about the stories behind the book. One midwife read from their birthing diary (a journal with entries from each family who has had a birth assisted by the Riverdale midwives). It is a beautiful tribute to the work they do there, with entries in many different languages including Spanish and Arabic.

An Interview with Carolyn Weaver for Fine Print
Carolyn is delightful! She was enthusiastic about the book and it was a breeze to visit with her. We taped the show in her home, and with her sweet puppy running around I barely noticed the cameras were "rolling". Great questions, great company and I can't wait to see the show (It airs on CLT, BookTelevision, and Rogers Cable I'll be sure to post the air-date on my appearances page.)

The New Face of Fiction 10th Anniversary Party
My TO launch and NFoF party was held at Soulpepper Theatre's home - The Young Centre for Performing Arts. It's an amazing venue in the heart of the Distillery District. From a theatre brat's perspective it's a dream...a versatile space, with two walls of exposed brick and the seats can be removed, leaving room for any number of possibilities.(I find myself dreaming a lot of theatre space these days since I'm working on a play for Two Planks and a Passion Theatre Co.)

The swelled, it sparkled, and I was swept along by a steady flow of introductions (while rubbernecking at the literati.) As I said in my thank you's before I read from the novel, I feel fortunate to be standing at the end of the first decade of Knopf's New Face of Fiction program...looking back as a grateful reader, looking forward as a newly published author.

I finally met blogger and illustrator extraordinaire, Patricia Storms (of BookLust). She and her husband, Guy are wonderfully nice and I only wish I had had more time to chat with them! (check out Patricia's blog entries on the big night! She's got some fun illos of some of the attendees.)

In addition to meeting many new people, I ran into old friends and was especially glad to have my writing coach and pal from the WFNS mentorship program, Richard Cumyn there.

And, since many have been asking...
yes - I met Ann-Marie MacDonald! We chatted about motherhood, the writing life, and swapped Oprah experience stories. Of course, my experience with Ms. Winfrey was a bit backwards compared to hers - generally writers go on the show AFTER they've written their book. (It was being on the show that helped me get my nerve up to write a novel. But that's another post.)

Details about Montreal will probably come while I'm in Vancouver. Which reminds me,
I'll be reading with Gail Anderson-Dargatz at Fireside Books, Thursday March 9 at 7pm.
2652 Arbutus Street, Vancouver

March 03, 2006

On the Radio!

I'm just back from Montreal where I visited bookstores and spent a wonderful day doing radio programs all over the city. (As many of you first leap into the world of writing came in the form of writing for radio. I LOVE radio.)

I'll detail the rest of the trip soon, but if you'd like a taste of my day in beautiful Montreal, take a listen to the audio of the noon call-in show at CBC Quebec. It's a lovely conversation about the inspiration behind the book, the history of midwifery, and midwifery in Canada today...hosted by the wonderful Anne Legace Dowson. The lines were jammed the entire time (thanks to everyone who called in!) and Marlene Den Hertog, Quebec midwife was also on the line to talk about the current status of midwifery in Quebec.

The program can be heard at the following site for the next week.
Radio Noon

Scroll down the page a bit and there's a listing of past phone-in shows, listed according to date. Each one is separated into two parts. PLEASE NOTE: The program aired Thursday March 2nd. Right now the note says: "How much do you want to know about the new Supreme Court Judge?" Pay no attention to the note...the March 2nd show is the one I was on.
Have a listen and let me know what you think!