Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Winter Warriors

As I write to y'all, I'm gazing out my picture window in my "room of one's own," looking out on a wintry white wonderland, the kind of scene so often depicted on Christmas cards or viewed in miniature within a snowglobe after you shake the crystal ball. The palette is all frosted white, silver, teal and gray, the skeletons of the winter-warped trees lacey against the sky. It is beautiful, but I'm cozy inside, loathe to go out.

Montrealers are tough, Canadians are hearty. Though it looks like we have close to a couple of feet of snow and blowing gusts of white, school is in session, basketball practice for my star daughter is happening tonight, life goes on. No matter that the plows have not really completed their work yet, no matter that driving conditions are slow and difficult, perhaps hazardous, no matter that visibility is poor.

I plan to stay in, all day, and throughout the night. There will be b-ball tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. We will have a blazing fire and hot cocoa, we will gather together and read and chat. Winter, bring it on. I have what I need right here.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

True Discovery

I admit: I often root for the dark horse, the underdog. This year, in our incessant Literary Awards Season, I was pleasantly surprised to find indie-press books on short lists and writers I had never heard of become winners.

I look forward to getting a copy of Johanna Skibsrud's The Sentimentalists next week, when it becomes available in stores. I may also check out GG winner Clear Water for my winter break reading list.

Please read, read, read. Don't always buy the winner, or the short-listed books, or even the long-listed books for that matter. Discover a book in a remainder pile that is extraordinary and tell your friends. There are so many wonderful novels, story collections, volumes of poetry that never make it on any List. But with a bit of luck, perhaps they will end up on your nighttable and will move you, literally take you from one place to another, if only in your imagination.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


This past weekend, a handful of teenage boys were down on the train tracks in Montreal, either planning to tag, or checking out the grafitti spray-painted below. It was about 3 a.m. A train came barrelling through. Three of the boys, ages 17-19 were instantly killed. Two scrambled to safety.

Apparently, in the place they were hanging out, it is difficult to hear the approaching train until it's nearly right up in your face. And trains can't stop easily. Suddenly.

This tragic news made me terribly sad. And a subterranean anxiety lingers. I have two teens: a 17-year-old son who was an aquaintance of one of the lost boys (a friend of a friend), as well as a thirteen-year-old girl, who turns fourteen in less than two weeks.

When you're a seventeen-year-old guy hanging out with a group of pals on an autumn Saturday night, eve of Halloween, this mother suspects no good ideas arise after midnight.

Go home. Please.


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Indies Rock, Indies Rule!

Great news. Four of the five finalists for the Scotiabank Giller Prize are writers from indie publishers, some very, very small, others mid-sized. What a great change, as the short list for this major national award often consists of local judges rubber-stamping predictable picks, usually from the big houses, already approved and buzzed up by the cognoscenti and the media.

A short-list nomination, a win, these can make such a difference to the writers who publish with small presses, whose work, though wonderful, may not even be on the readers' radar.

Two story collections are nominated, Light Lifting, by Alexander MacLeod (Yes, he is the son of senior MacLeod), and This Cake is for the Party, by Sarah Selecky. The other two indie picks are novels, in fact debut novels. The original and beautifully written Annabel by Kathleen Winter and The Sentimentalists by Johanna Skibsrud. Both Winter and Skibsrud live here in Montreal and both are originally from Atlantic Canada: Winter from Newfoundland and Skibsrud from Novia Scotia.

Another welcome change is a jury drawn from outside of Canada as well as inside. This year we have two judges from outside of Canada--Claire Messud (yes she was born in TO, but lives, I believe, in NYC) and writer Ali Smith (from Scotland). Our homeboy is broadcaster Michael Enright. This is excellent because it wards off the kind of internecine back-patting and favour granting that can occur in our small writing world up here in the North.

If I don't luck out with a Guess the Giller Gala invite, I'll be tuning in to watch the spetacle on Nov. 9th. So should you.

More importantly, read the books!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Turning Point: La'Shana Tova

For many of us, autumn truly feels like the start of the new year, especially those of us with children who are heading back to school with their sharpened pencils and shiny notebooks, their stacks of new books ready to be consumed and studied, all stuffed into worn knapsacks. In less than a week, it will be Rosh Hashonah and we will gather with family, friends, and community to celebrate with the sweetness of apples and honey and to hope, both individually and collectively, for a good new year, to be inscribed into the book of life.

For me, the High Holy Days always signify a time for reflection, to unearth ways of being a better person, which always entails the rather painful process of examining where one fell short, where one might have acted differently, or spoken more carefully. Rather than cringing with regret or remorse, I see the Jewish New Year as an opportunity to engage, to enact changes, to look not only at surfaces, but to see more deeply.

Two poems by Rainer Maria Rilke speak to me during this time of reflection and change: "The Panther" and "Turning Point." Both beautifully convey themes of the potential danger of merely looking, of short-sightedness. "The Panther" dramatizes in powerfully concrete images that sense we all have of being imprisoned by our own failings. Even if we are not literaly behind bars, we can feel trapped by our own flaws and mistakes, hemmed in and isolated. "Turning Point" contrasts the chronic superficial looking at surfaces, with vision: truly seeing, feeling and knowing, with what Rilke calls "heartwork."

Here, enjoy these two excerpts; notice how juxtaposing these two poems only amplifies their meanings and power. To read the full text, go to The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke translated by Stephen Mitchell.

His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold
anything else. It seems to him there are
a thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world.
-The Panther

For there is a boundary to looking.
And the world that is looked at so deeply
wants to flourish in love.
Work of the eyes is done, now
go and do heart-work
on all the images imprisoned within you...

-Turning Point

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Ron Charles--You're the bomb!

For anyone who is a bit weary of the recent, well, not so recent FranzenFrenzy (talk about overexposure, even if the man is a gifted writer, talk about BLOCKBUSTER mentality--remember there are other wonderful authors out there with brilliant and worthy and exciting books), please, pull-ease view Ron Charles video review of Freedom, that doorstop novel you have been hearing so much about, not to mention its lanky bespectacled author whose visage is everywhere at once.

Mr. Charles, please give us more...videoreviews.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Laptops, cellphones, 'berries make me lonely

I have a great family and dear friends but find myself a victim of new media loneliness. I'll come home and want to talk with my daughter about her day, my son about his, what they are thinking and feeling and reading, what they did with their friends, what is happening with my hubbie at work or in life and each person will be:

On their laptop...or on their phone, talking or texting, or on their 'berry (husband is only one who has one). It is so challenging to have a real conversation these days, to get concentrated focused attention. I miss eye contact!! (Mind you, I am the one who often never bothers to turn on her cell phone.) Not a fan.

I can commune with my Bernese Mountain dog Monty Booh, though, anytime, anyplace. Love you dear dog. What would I do without our time together?

Feeling expectant, grateful that in a few days we are returning to Vermont en famille for a a rare family vacation including Monty Booh. At the log cabin there is no internet or cell service. Just a bubbling creek behind the house, miles of firs, time to read, to write, to talk, to listen, to hear the birds, to hike, to bike, to sleep to the sound of that creek. Can't wait!

Perhaps when we return home to Montreal we will crave some of these gifts and give new media a little rest from time to time.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


Off to a secluded cottage in Vermont to write, read, renew. May be MIA for a bit, not a bad thing for a novelist.

Will try to get some pics of the place to post...anon.

Happy Heat!

Friday, June 18, 2010

New Chapter

Here are some fun photos of my oldest's high school grad. On to college and the wider world.

Thanks to Kate for taking these great shots. Mazel Tov to you and yours!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

NOT... The Real World, or a paradise for artists

I know how those cows feel--not wanting to cross the border into the "real world," to stay on the grounds of the colony (see final photo). I just returned from a month in a paradisal place, The Virginia Center for the Creative Arts on a fellowship to work on a first draft of my third novel and fourth book, "Faraway Nearby," a place where a day is like a week, a week is like a month, and a month is like, well, about six months--in terms of deep concentrated focused attention, as well as productivity.

I had been to the VCCA before, perhaps as many as six times, over a span of about twenty years, as well as to other colonies, such as Yaddo, Ragdale, The Julia and David White Arts Foundation in Costa Rica,and the St. James Cavalier Centre for Creativity in Valletta, Malta. What these residencies provide is the gift of time and space, and more importantly, to use that buzz phrase,"head space." While in residence, I am cut free for a time from the quotidian demands of mother work and money work, for caring for a home and worrying about signing homework and bringing an eggplant to school! My head-space is often so cluttered at home, like so many working mothers, I am fragmented and feel as if I might burst apart from centrifugal force. While at VCCA, I miss my kids, my husband and my Hollywood star of a Bernese Mountain dog, Monty Booh, but I don't miss cooking and cleaning and nagging and worrying.

At VCCA, each artist has a private studio, as well as a bedroom in the residence or cottage. Three meals are provided, as well as clean towels. If a morning goes badly, there is always the afternoon and the evening and the night (studios provide beds.) If one chooses to participate, many evenings are rich with readings, open studios, screenings, or recordings of work that the resident novelists, poets, playwrights, painters, sculptors, video-artists and composers are creating or have created. It's up to you if you attend, or if you sleep, or if you continue to work.

For me, as a novelist and short story author, something magical happens when my day is not chopped up into pieces and when I can think and dream and imagine into my book and characters on long, long walks on the thousands of beautiful acres encompassed by the colony and the college across the road, when I can gaze at the Blue Ridge Mountains and chat with the cows, the horses, and the goats, when I can swim in the lake, or wander a woodsy trail.

I am up to page 365 in Faraway Nearby. Need I say more?

Thanks to gifted installation artist Andrea (Andy) Lilienthal for these wonderful images of VCCA and do check out her work at andrealilienthal.com

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Lighter, Brighter

Dear Friends,

I have not posted for awhile, I've been deep-in, living, surviving. It's been a tough year, with many challenges, on a variety of levels: practical, emotional, famlilial, but I won't over-share, offer TMI here and now, I will save the details for my journal, for transformation in my next book, for Oprah--Oprah, are you listening? If only....

To cope with tough times, I've turned to poetry. Yes, you heard that right, poetry. Blake, including his extraordinary plates, prints, and paintings, to Emily Dickinson, to Rilke. Why? I find when I am reading a great poem, a poem with that bottomlessness I seek, which always offers up something more, something new, I can do nothing else. The poem sucks me in and absorbs me, and through this concentrated focused attention, the treadmill of ruminating thoughts, the panic, vanishes, evaporates, and I am simply there, or here, present, inside the poem.

When I awaken these days, even up North, I hear the birds, after the deep silence of winter. The sky is lighter, brighter. There are only patches of snow on the weathered ground, rather than great drifts and high, soiled banks with their blackened crusts. Soon these patches will melt. The winter-warped silhouettes of trees, so lacey and beautiful against the sky, will bud.

Though we always doubt that spring will come, it must. I feel as if I don't have to bunch myself up, I can let the air out of my chest.

I am writing a new novel, my third, my fourth book. I feel blessed to do this creative work. I think about it as I write, as I walk, as I clean, as I sleep: my story, my characters, and more and more is coming to me each day. I have no doubt that the creative way saves me, allows me to give my best self to the world.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Winter's Deep

We are in the depths of winter now, darkness and chill, temperatures plummeting to minus thirty, with a burning wind. Last night, I took a walk with my Bernese Mountain dog, Monty Booh, and my daughter, Rosy. The air was still, so cold and raw we wrapped our wool scarves over our faces. It was an extraordinarily gorgeous night. The sky was a deep midnight blue, the winter-warped trees filagree lace against that wash of indigo. And the moon was full, round and golden. Though we could only stay out for a short while, it was bracing. Hibernating too long and one gets stale.

I love my winter walks on La Montagne, my X-country skiing around and about, the sun warm on my face, or if it is one of those silvery days, the cocoon-like magic inside the woods.

I do savour the stillness, the quiet of winter, the palette that is mostly silvery-gray and white. It is good writing and reading weather. Cozy weather. Inside, of course with a blazing fire and perhaps some hot cider spiked with Calvedos.

Speaking of writing and reading, we lost J.D. Salinger this week. With all of the homages to the reclusive author, one of his quotes from an interview gathers in my mind. "I like to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure."

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

White Space Voted Notable Book of the Year!

site focusing on literature by women.