July 31st, 2017

Niceness and fall

My last post might have made it seem like So Much Love is being constantly inundated with reviews and criticism, but heading into its fifth month of life, that’s not really the case. There are still some nice mentions popping up here and there, though, which are fun to read and share, like getting to be on this summer reading list in The Star on Friday or Cathy Thinking Out Loud’s pairing So Much Love with White Sangria. Who knew? I love seeing my book resonating with folks in different ways…

I’m pretty much on hiatus from events until fall. Mark and I did a few things at the end of June/beginning of July while we were technically on vacation in the Maritimes because when else are we there and also, two books in one season in one marriage? Too lovely too resist. But otherwise I’ve largely had the summer off from literary events and will be good and energetized when I get back to them in September. Here’s a few that are scheduled–there’s more on the calendar later in fall but the September ones are a bit firmer and of more immediate concern with regard to your CLEARING YOUR SCHEDULE SO YOU CAN BE THERE. Anyways…

WordFeast Festival in Fredericton will be hosting me for a couple days. I will be giving a lecture on the evening of Friday September 22, following a reading by author Riel Nason. The next day, I’ll be giving a two hour workshop and that evening I’ll be reading from So Much Love as part of an evening of readings and music.

Closer to home, my husband Mark Sampson will be participating in a the PechaKucha Night on September 29 (tickets are free, but you still have to book them–click the link for the EventBrite page). PechaKucha I think means chitchat in Japanese and basically means a night of short, fun presentations on a bunch of interesting topics. Ours will be, natch, on the wonders of being married to a writer.

Somewhere in there I’m also doing a few private events–school visits, a book club–all of which I’m looking forward to! If you are in Markham or Fredericton, I hope you can come to one of these, or else one of the other Fall events, or invite me to something else–I love to go to stuff!

July 26th, 2017

Reviews aren’t for authors; or, cry on your own time

Here’s the caveat–I am so so lucky. I know it, make no mistake–all three of my books have been reviewed in a good number of publications, often in a really thoughtful and insightful way, often even positively. Lots of fascinating and fantastic books don’t get that. I am lucky. Of course.

But publishing a book means taking years of your life and a lot of your heart, soul, and brain, and putting it into a package that invites comment, which is terrifying. It is necessary for work to be criticized and discussed–if no one is thinking hard about a book, what is it even for? But sometimes writing doesn’t feel like work–it feels like love. And it would be horrible if strangers criticized how we love our partners, our families, our children–if they said said we didn’t really love them properly, could have done better, could have done more. And a book isn’t a person and writing isn’t an emotion, but sometimes it feels that way–so it gets confusing.

The best piece of advice of advice I ever got about reviews, which I think I have mentioned in this space before, came from my friend Scott, a serious reader and all-around thoughtful person. I was agonizing over a review of my first collection that felt not constructive nor thoughtful but simply mean. I didn’t know what I should do with it or learn from it, what lesson I should take. “Reviews aren’t for authors, they’re for readers,” Scott told me. “You don’t need to do anything with it.” I don’t remember exactly, but I bet he suggested that if I was going to get so upset, I might be better off not even reading the reviews.

He was, as usual, very right. Reviews are written for readers–to help us decide what books are worth our attention and interest and reading time, not to mention book-buying dollars. Criticism–and I’m going to leave it up to you where the boundary line between reviews and criticism is–tries to engage the book in a larger conversation about what people are writing these days and ever and why and how and what it responds to and how that’s all going. Both forms strive to be interesting writing on their own, even if the reader has never and will never read the book in question. Helping the author is really nowhere on this list of things to do.

I would love to say that, from that day forward, I never worried about reviews but stopped reading them or just skimmed them with a quirked eyebrow, remarking “Interesting!” before going about my day. That is not true, though I manage the latter sometimes. I’m never going to stop reading reviews, nor do I even want to. It is so very hard to write a book, to get all those thoughts and ideas into the universe, and why do I do it if not communication? I love these pings from the universe back, these signals that I’ve been heard, my ideas thought about and engaged, even if not wholly positively. Or positively at all. I am always grateful for that engagement. It’s not just lip-service above about being lucky.

And I’ve learned things from reviews. Sometimes someone will say, “This is what this section of the book means, for these reasons!” and it will ring utterly true, even though that was not in my head when I wrote it. Reviewers–professional and otherwise–have connected things within my books in amazing ways, making me think harder about what I even knew when I wrote it. Sometimes it’s readers at events, or folks on Goodreads, who make a fascinating point, giving me credit for an idea I didn’t even know I had! Of course, sometimes they are criticizing a deficit I didn’t know was there but is glaringly obvious the second it’s mentioned and I want to crawl into a hole. “Oh, yes, that ignoble failure, now I see it.” Nevertheless, I want to know about these things, even if it results in spending the evening on the couch staring at the ceiling while clutching a squirming wailing cat. Though reviews are not for writers, sometimes there is good stuff in there for us, if we have the patience and strength to go looking.

Unfortunately, those are not the only kinds of review-reading experiences a writer can have. I have read reviews of my own work–both pans and raves–that seem to be reacting to another book entirely, and I can’t recognize anything they seem to be reading. They give me credit/blame for things I never thought I was writing and, unlike the kinds of reviews mentioned in the previous paragraph, no matter how carefully I read, I never get what they are talking about even if all the characters have the same names and experience the same events. These sorts of reviews feel terrible even if they are positive–no one likes to be misread, even if it’s every reader’s prerogative to interpret events through their own filters.

That is a difference of interpretation, I suppose, though a wide one, but then there’s differences of fact–occasionally you’ll run across a review that’s so riddled with errors it makes you squirm. Sadly, most book reviews have at least some tiny errors in them–I’ve noticed this in those of my own work and those about many others. Book reviewers get paid pretty little and I don’t blame them for not wanting to go back to see if the character’s name is Bill or Bob, or whether they get on the boat before or after the dance party, but it can be unnerving to read a review with lots of those little mistakes. I’ve never seen one egregious enough to make me write to the editor, who perhaps wouldn’t care anyway, but privately, it makes me nervous.

There are also negative reviews where, yes, I see how a reasonable person could hold that view, but I respectfully disagree. There’s nothing to do with those but quirk that eyebrow and move on, but they stay with me late at night. There’s nothing I can argue with, most of the time, in reviews like this–it’s like arguing about whether chocolate tastes good. I believe it fervently, but it’s not like I have any proof. The definition of an opinion is that there can be others–if there’s only one possibility, then that’s a fact, which “this book is good” could never be. But I feel so terrible when someone doesn’t like my work–see first paragraph–even when I accept that they aren’t wrong. I can go around and around in circles in my head for hours, trying to construct an argument about why the reviewer is wrong, but it never amounts to anything. Reviews in this category can be well or poorly written, intelligent or simplistic, but are always very sad for the author. I wish I could say that, when an intelligent thoughtful review of my work comes out and basically makes the point, “This book is bad, don’t read it” I share it around and say “isn’t this interesting” but that isn’t what I do. I cry privately and do nothing. There’s a couple such reviews out there for So Much Love–feel free to google, I just can’t bring myself to provide links.

The final category of reviews is the saddest: the vitriolic review. With these, the reviewer hates the book but also seems to hate the author or at least finds it appropriate to reference the author as someone who has deliberately or through great failure of intellect and heart written a bad book. These reviews are usually but not always poorly constructed–without references or examples, just an outpouring of emotions the reviewer feels about the book (ie., great distress, often rage). They can be smart, well-constructed pieces but they usually aren’t–a personal feeling of affront and thoughtful argument don’t often go together. Although occasionally you just get a really smart, insightful writer who for whatever reason, hates the book in a deep personal way–very devastating. Though it’s actually not all that much less devastating to be ridiculed in a badly written review.

In all but the final category, I can chat politely with the reviewer for a few minutes if I run into him or her at a party. It may not be a long or personal chat–if the best thing I have ever done, which I spent years of my life doing, did not impress you, I don’t think you’ll enjoy my restaurant recommendations or stories about my cat–but I respect you as a literary professional and I’ll try to be one too, even if I might have to cry in the bathroom later. Reviewers in the last category, at least in recent years, I google and find a photograph, which I memorize. I told someone this once, and before I could finish the thought, the person jumped in “So you can punch them?” which is insane, given my personality. So I can RUN AWAY before anyone attempts to introduce me. I cannot face a human who hates my work–and by extension me, I really make no distinction–that much.

I would never punch anyone. I would never even be rude to a reviewer unless they did something horrible like attempted to stop me from fleeing. Reviewing is a hard job–it takes 6-10 hours to read a book thoroughly and thoughtfully, and perhaps 3-5 more hours to write even a short pithy review–for this, most reviewers make $100-200, some less, some nothing. They do it for the byline and exposure, maybe, a little, but mainly most of them do it for the good of literature. To incite dialogue, to start a conversation, to offer a new perspective. If I think a reviewer is wrong–and I think lots of people are wrong about a whole world of things, including traffic signals and mayonnaise–I might politely try to open the topic, but not about my own work. Too close, too raw, and to dangerously likely to be a vested interest. I think I have clarified all my emotions about reviews into a fine intellectual strata, but witness this cat who has not been able to get free in several hours and perhaps that is not true.

So I keep my mouth shut, or rather I bitch to people I know for a fact love me and don’t bother anyone else. Anyone I have ever seen come aboard of a reviewer about a review of their own work has come off sounding pretty pathetic, even if the review was in fact poorly reasoned or poorly written or both. Basically, it doesn’t say much about our faith in our own work if we can’t let others speak freely about it, even if the wider group of “others” occasionally includes some morons. Trust that the truth will out. Or don’t. Find a cat. Write a very long blog post. Even better: write another book. Leave the reviewers alone–they’re working hard too.

July 16th, 2017

The liking goes on…

From Fred

432. Cold showers
433. Sparkling water
434. Koalas
435. 90s workout videos on youtube
436. Izombie
437. Bubble wands
438. Navy blue eyeliner
439. Confederation Bridge (I guess it was controversial for locals, but for an outsider 425. very exciting)
440. Body Break’s Hal and Joanne (they are husband and wife, who knew?)
441. The shape of the province of Alberta
442. Your Father’s Moustache as a name for a dining establishment
443. That time in 1987 when Robert Munsch visited my school.

Me again

444. Raspberry jam
445. The second seat back from the back door on the right side of the aisle on TTC buses
446. Pop (the beverage, and the word)
447. Getting the eye gunk off a cat so they look all nice and clean
448. Baby tummies
449. Hiring cool people
450. Netflix (everyone knows this, but it still needs to be said)
451. Deckle edge pages
452. French flaps
453. French cuffs
454. Cuff links

July 12th, 2017

Things We Like, Vacation Edition

…and so many great things happened. I’ll format this post as additions to the list of things we like, but with more explanation than usual….

417. The show Mainstreet on CBC PEI, where Mark and I did a short interview with Angela Walker and got called a “superpower couple”!!

418. Beaches beaches beaches! We tried to go to one a day and didn’t quite make it but saw plenty of good ones. If you’re heading to PEI, I’d recommend Brackley Beach, Canoe Cover, Rustico Beach, Victoria-by-the-Sea beach, walking the boardwalk in Victoria Park and pretty much any opportunity to see a body of water–they’re all lovely.

419. Fireworks Restaurant at Inn at Bay Fortune is probably the nicest restaurant I have ever eaten in. But maybe not quite a restaurant–they employ a staff that gardens on the property and the garden supplies all of their vegetables and herbs–when it’s too cold to garden, the restaurant closes. They serve all local fish and meat, cheese and I think wine and beer too. It was such a lovely experience in a lovely setting on the water. I understand most readers won’t be near Souris, PEI anytime soon but if you are go here!

420. GLOW (Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling) on Netflix The thing about being on vacation is that you spend all day every day with your significant other, and by the end of the day you are out of things to talk about. So we read a lot (more below) and watched GLOW, which is so funny and interesting (I love the insider stuff about how wrestling moves work) and stars Allison Brie, who is always great to watch. A total joy–I only how there will eventually be more than 10 episodes.

421. The Wonder Woman movie–this one probably doesn’t need a link, you know what I mean. It’s very good. I always want to see movies in theatre and rarely get the time, but I heard that you HAVE to see superhero movies in theatres, plus I really wanted to support this female-superhero thing with $$, so we made time for it on the trip. It was delightful!

422. #RevlonXLashes, a freebie product I got from Influenster. In addition to just generally enjoying free products, this one is a pretty good long-lasting mascara–decent for a drugstore brand. I have gotten way into mascara lately and have been spending too much money on lovely Lancome things (Hypnose is the best I’ve found so far–you?) but this is a nice cheap alternative that lasts all day.

423. This fun Open Book Lucky 7 interview that got posted while I was away.

424. Sunsets in Riviere-du-Loup, the town in eastern Quebec we always stop in because someone at a party once told us they have the prettiest sunsets. That person was right!

425. One Day We’re All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter is a funny book that is also smart and very readable. I sped through it in two days, mainly on the beach–proving that a beach read, like a beach body, is whatever one you bring there.

426. Naps. I took a bunch, mainly in the car on the very long drive east and then west–they were glorious.

427. Sweet potato fries. In my head, somehow, these aren’t that good until I try them again and realize they are my favourite thing in the world. Why do I always forget that?

428. Golden Doodles! Everyone in the family seems to be acquiring these. They are charming and VERY energetic.

429. Being barefoot on grass.

430. Coming home to my cats.

431. Answers to Reading Survey, in the comments on the original post and on Fred’s blog. So very interesting–and not over, if you were still wanting to answer!

June 19th, 2017

Next we take the Maritimes

My husband, the writer and lovely human Mark Sampson and I drive to the Maritimes every other summer to visit friends and family, and since we both have books out this year, we are combining it with some readings, adding up to an adorably couply little tour. We’re actually a good pairing because my book is pretty dark while his latest novel The Slip is quite funny. So it’s a well-balanced evening of entertainment!

We kick off at Tidewater Books in Sackville, New Brunswick at 7pm, June 26. Invitation here. Followed by June 29, 6:30pm at the Confederation Centre Library in Charlottetown, invitation here. We wind up in Halifax at a booksellers’ conference, but that’s not open to the public so I won’t link it here. There may be one more Nova Scotia event, so please stay tuned…

If none of that works for you, I’ll be back in New Brunswick in the fall to take part in the delightfully named Word Feast Festival in Fredericton September 22-23; I’ll also be doing some school visits in Moncton on the 25th.

If you are an eastern type person, hope to see you at one of these events…

June 12th, 2017

Reading Survey

This is a survey that I made up, because I want to know. I will do absolutely nothing with the results except enjoy having them, which I will extremely. This is one of my favourite topics in casual conversation but I find people do not like being asked half a dozen questions in a row in normal conversation. Hence, the survey. I really hope you fill it out! I have done so myself, to get the ball rolling. You can just cut and paste the survey into a comment or an email or a “contact” form and send it to me (delete my answers and add yours). I hope you do!!
Note: all questions refer to books, as in, things with spines, not magazines, newspapers, or online text. Not that there’s anything wrong with those; just not what this survey is about.

When do you read books? I read on the subway to and from work during the week, and in the mornings at home on the weekend. I also if I am waiting for something, like a doctor or at the passport office, if I am travelling, or if I’m feeling too tired in the evening to write.

How do you decide what to read? Like most people I have a stack that I’m working diligently through, never finish, and feel bad about. However, I largely choose what goes in the stack myself–books by authors I know I like who have something new out, books by friends, books on subjects I’m interested in. I’m terrible about taking book recommendations and though this sounds awful, don’t really like receiving books as gifts unless the giver is REALLY SURE they know what they’re doing. I like to choose! The exception is book club–I accept the premise of bookclub and am 100% faithful about reading whatever is chosen, even if it is about how one or more of Jesus’s apostles may have been an alien.

Where do you get the books you read? All over! I buy books at launches and readings, books from indie bookstores, from big-box bookstores, and online. I also read a fair amount from the Toronto Public Library, though those are more a) research and other books I “need” as opposed to want and b) things I fear I might not like. If I turn out to be wrong about b), I buy it later. I accept book loans with pleasure and occasionally find good things on the sidewalk, but I’m happy to pay full price for books; it’s a principle!

Ebooks? Not at the moment. I had a Kobo for a while, which I quite liked, but it stopped working, so now I’m 100% print again. Even when I had the Kobo going, I largely preferred print except when I needed to carry a large or many book(s) but if the day comes when screens are how people get books, I will be fine with that.

How much do you read? I read about a book a week, but I end up with about 70 books in an average year because of vacations, really short books, etc. This year has been challenging so I expect I’ll end up under that.

Do you log what you read at all? How? I keep both a paper book diary–title, author, date finished, short note on what I thought–and maintain Goodreads. I find Goodreads useful for checking out which of my friends has read the same thing and starting a conversation, and the paper journal good for jogging my memory of what I actually read and what I thought. I should probably streamline this process somehow and start keeping it all on goodreads, but I probably won’t.

Book reviews? I love to read them and think they are an art form of their own. I don’t often act on them specifically, but if I’m still thinking about them later and/or a bunch of other mentions corroborate the recommendation, I’ll probably end up reading the book.

 

 

May 31st, 2017

Good stuff

From Fred

351. The caramel sauce at Starbucks
352. camera tripods
353. listening to audio books on the tram
354. false eyelashes (on other people)

From Anne-Michelle

355. thinking the candy package is empty and then there’s one more piece.
356. sneezing when you really wanteds to sneeze.
357. mallory ortberg
358. not having to explain yourself.
359. rose wine (no accent aigus here)

From Corinna
360. toddlers’/preschoolers’ hands: pudgy with baby fat and still small, but so much more capable. And they make the most unusual gestures and hold them in the most unusual ways (a result of them still figuring out how to use their hands, I guess).
361. The smell of lily of the valley
362. When you can smell wisteria from up the street
363. The backs of Toronto’s older brick houses. Such lovely streetscapes in alleyways
364. Basil. The smell. The taste.
365. Cake
366. Walking on grass in bare feet
367. Toronto
368. Good hugs
369. The rocks and minerals section of the ROM
370. Supersoft kid leather
371. Round stones
372. When strange cats on the street let you pet them

From Colette
373. Bird song (or is it ‘birdsong’?)
374. periwinkle (word and bloom).

From Craig
375. The first scoop of yogurt from a freshly opened container.
376. A song coming on your mp3 player that is the exact b.p.m. at which you are jogging.

From Julie
377. Girls’ weekend
378. Going to the spa
379. Traveling
380. Reading on the deck
381. Yoga
382. Laughing
383. Camping
384. Hiking
385. Going to bed early
386. Going out to eat
387. Online shopping
388. Swimming
389. Learning new things
390. Organizing
391. Walking
392. Being near the water
393. Going to the beach
394. Being barefoot
395. Singing in the car
396. Sunshine
397. Watching Netflix
398. Thunder and lightning storms
399. Dogs
400. Ice cream
401. Vacation days
402. Getting up early
403. Coffee
404. Summertime
405. Fall leaves
406. Drive-through parking spots

And me again…
407. Aziz Ansari
408. flossing
409. cats’ toes
410. really good book club discussions
411. salt
412. bathtubs
413. lilacs
414. a well-arranged centrepiece
415. hotels
416. being dirty from gardening

May 25th, 2017

Amazon First Novel Awards

Guys, it has been really really great being an Amazon.ca First Novel Award finalist. The teams from The Walrus, Amazon, and Penguin Random House have made the experience feel really special and fun, but what has been best has been reading the books. I figured a judge (the very impressive Tanis MacDonald) who liked my book a lot would also like other books I would like, and I was right. Since the nominees were announced, I’ve read The Break by Katherena Vermette, White Elephant by Catherine Cooper, Accordeon by Kaie Kellough and half of The Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains by Yatsuko Thanh (I’m never quite as fast as I think I’ll be!) and it has been a truly amazing experience. The books are all so good! And so different! And so thrillingly heartfelt, moving, technically complex (all of them wrestle with point of view and who tells the story) and ambitious. And as I was reading, and honestly, truly engrossed, some tiny part of my brain was thinking, Someone thought your book was this good, too. It has been a great feeling.

Last night was the very fun and swanky pre-awards dinner with all the nominees and our chosen plus ones, editors and other publishing folks, people from the Walrus, Amazon, and the judging panel (the final decision is being made MacDonald plus Gurjinder Basran and Casey Plett and assorted other luminaries. It was delightful to hang out and enjoy dinner and talk to people about all these amazing books without any big announcement at the end of the evening.

That’s tonight, of course, and while I have no worries at all–I know without a doubt that a fantastic book will win tonight, and I can’t feel sad when that happens–I am sorry to see this lovely time end. It is very nice to celebrate books and very nice to have my own book celebrated, and I feel very very lucky indeed.

May 22nd, 2017

I still like things; how about you?

So much going on, and not enough hours in the day, but

331. Sleeping until I just wake up because I’m not tired anymore
332. When a stranger overhears my joke and laughs
333. Overhearing a stranger tell a good joke
334. Black beans
335. Flipping channels and randomly hitting something I actually want to see that has only just started
336. The sugar crystals at the top of the maple syrup bottle
337. When they throw in a few samples at Sephora
338. Sephora
339. The smell of strawberries in season (out-of-season/imported strawberries don’t have a smell, have you noticed that?)
340. The smell of lilacs
341. Running into a friend on a crowded street in a big city
342. Kitty feet
343. The smell of grass-clippings mixed with the smell of gas from a lawn-mower
344. Getting a nacho with so much cheese on it
345. When the neighbours stop being noisy exactly when I want to go to sleep
346. Said the Whale
347. The thrill of the passed-appetizers hunt
348. Unexpected money, even a tiny bit
349. Coupons
350. Shoppers Optimum points

May 19th, 2017

Hometown proud: Get Lit and the Glanbrook Gazette

Way back when I was a teen, I used to read the Generation X column by Jamie Tennant in the Hamilton Spectator. We was one of the very few cool people I had located in my immediate surroundings, though we never met in that period, and I really liked the column. I thought someday perhaps I could be cool too and then I would know cool people who wrote newspaper columns and perhaps even become one of them. I was really disappointed when the column ended in 1994, and just utterly delighted when Jamie reappeared on my radar this year as a different kind of cool person, a novelist and literary journalist for the show Get Lit on CFMU in Hamilton. He interviewed me when I was in Hamilton last month and it broadcast last week–if you weren’t in Hamilton to hear it, you can listen as a podcast anytime. It was really a great interview not only because of my teenage admiration but because of the close reading and thoughtful questions Jamie brought to the table (microphone). So much fun!

I also got interviewed by the extremely local paper for the little town I am from, The Glanbrook Gazette, which was also delightful. It’s owned by Sachem now, but is still for and about the teeny community I’m from. So charmed to be mentioned there.

And not really related to the hometown stuff, but just another thing of mine to come out lately is my 49th Shelf list of Good Books for Hard Times, which is of some of the funny books I read while I was writing So Much Love. SML was a long hard project and it was good to read some more light-hearted things while I was doing it, every now and again. Might be a good list to pick up if you, too, feel like a project is getting to be a bit too dark for you.

And hey, happy long weekend!

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