September Appearances

Fall is here and with it the busiest season for authors with new books! I'll be zipping around the country appearing at festivals and book shops and events from now until the end of November. I'm trying very hard to keep my events page up-to-date so you can keep up with me there.

This month I'll be in Guelph for the festival at Eden Mills, doing a reading on Sunday, September 9th and sharing the stage with Kim Thuy and Dr. Brian Goldman. We'll be talking about empathy, among other things. A couple of weekends later I'll be at Word on the Street in Toronto doing two events: an unmoderated one hour conversation with Catherine Hernandez (author of Scarborough) on Saturday, September 22nd and a half hour reading and Q&A on Sunday, September 23rd. And at the very end of the month you can catch be at the Cabot Trail Writers Festival in Nova Scotia. I'll be on stage three or four times that weekend and will also be running a writing workshop. Full details for September are here. Please come out if you can. I love meeting readers.

 

Signal boost

Gentle reader, do you love a book and/or its author? Do you want to support said book/ author? There are so many ways! Author Amy Stuart blogged about this very thing on her own website and it inspired me to write a post script.

1. Obviously if you can afford it, buy copies for all your friends and family. Give the book out to random strangers at Christmas time while shouting "ho, ho, ho" in a jolly voice.

2. Borrow the book from your library. Writers get royalties for every copy the library buys. And there's also a system that tracks how often a book is borrowed and we get a bit of money for each of those loans as well.

3. If a book isn't available, ask your librarian to order it in. This year, I've taken to ordering books that have flown under the radar. Small press authors, writers who are trans, brown, black, queer, graphic novelists...these are the authors whose books are less likely to get attention. (Don't be fooled by the few of us who you see in the spotlight. We are the minority of the minority.)

4. And speaking of libraries! If you've bought a book and loved it but aren't a hoarder like me, donate it to your local library. You might even get a tax receipt.

5. As Amy said, good reviews on Amazon, Chapters, Barnes and Nobel, and GoodReads are the gifts that keep on giving.

6. Do you have teacher/ professor friends? Maybe just slip a copy of the book into their hands and whisper: curriculum. You'll be doing the author and the students a favour.

7. Come to our events. We love meeting readers.

8. If you really love a book, don't be shy about telling the author.

And now a story. One evening in the spring, I was waiting to deplane in the St. John's airport, feeling emotionally and physically wrung out from book promotion and travel, missing home and my mathemagician something fierce, cross-eyed from a headache, and desperate for the loo. And I was feeling sorry for myself. It's only May, I thought. How am I ever going to keep up this pace until Christmas? Wah, wah, wah. A tiny violin played a sad song for me. And then a total stranger with the face of an angel stood up from her seat, looked me right in the eyes, and said (apropos of nothing): "I loved your book, by the way." In that moment it felt like the kindest words ever spoken. Before I became a writer, I was meek about reaching out to authors. I only did it twice. Don't be shy. You have no idea how much it means, those four magical words: "I loved your book."

The Agenda

 In which I think about jumping for joy on the arm chair but decide on balance it's probably a career limiting move.

In which I think about jumping for joy on the arm chair but decide on balance it's probably a career limiting move.

The truth is that I'm mildly terrified of listening/ watching/ reading my interviews. So it took me a few days to get up the courage to watch this conversation that aired on TVO's The Agenda a couple of Thursdays ago. But there was nothing to fear. Nam Kiwanuka is a wonderful interviewer who asks astute questions and listens patiently while first-time authors (with stars in their eyes ...omg THE AGENDA!...total nerd girl dream come true!) give long and meandering answers.

You can watch the whole interview (26 minutes) here. Despite my complete inability to give brief answers, Nam kept us on track and we managed to cover a lot of ground. We talked about the three points of view, research, the political situation in Sri Lanka that led to war, and the novels I turned to for guidance. But we also went over some difficult and personal emotional terrain and you know... that's not a place I would have willingly gone to with just any interviewer. But I knew Nam's work and I trusted her completely and that is when you get an ace interview.

 Photos screen grabbed from TVO's website.

Photos screen grabbed from TVO's website.

Reflecting on our conversation and her own experiences, Nam later wrote an opinion piece that is well worth a read. Stand out lines: What they’re running from is worse than what they’re running to....If you’ve never been in that situation — if you’re never experienced civil war, unrest, or persecution — you’re lucky." These truths bear repeating. They bear screaming from roof tops. Children and adults should be made to write these lines on endless chalkboards because for some reason too many people haven't grasped these lessons yet.

Nothing sets my teeth on edge like hysterical headlines and pundits who wring their hands about the so-called "migrant crisis." People coming here for safety? That is not a crisis. Watching your neighbour get doused in petrol and set on fire. THAT is a crisis.

If you think people fleeing rape and torture and death to come to the peaceful country where you are lucky to live is a crisis, you are a moron.

I've been talking a lot about empathy this year but the real problem is a lack of imagination. Too many people are unwilling to ask themselves the question: what if it was me? What if I was born into a country at war? What if I lived in daily fear for my life? What if I fled hell only to arrive in a country whose leaders decided that my life wasn't worth a few votes? It's laziness that prevents people from putting themselves in another person's shoes. Do yourself a favour. Don't be a lazy git.

Winners

Congratulations: Shashi, Greg, Alicia, Liz, Philip, Jason, Aviva, Rowan, Sofia, Jess, Iryn, and Carly! Look at these stars, the long listed authors whose stories will appear in the Journey Prize 30.

JP Long List.jpg

Congratulations to: The Dalhousie Review, Pulp Literature (x2), The New Quarterly (x2), Event, The Malahat Review, Prism International, PrairieFire, This Magazine (x2), and the CVC Anthology Series (x2).

JP Names.jpg

Zoey, Kerry, and I judged the stories blind meaning it was only after the decisions were made that we got to see the authors' names and the publications that had put their stories forward. After all our debates and nit picking over theme and character and form, all these particulars that were, at the time, divorced from our knowledge of the writers themselves, the big reveal was a joyous experience. There were many exclamations, especially when we learned that one writer and one publication had made the list twice (Greg if you are reading this, we all agreed that Pulp should give you a free subscription for life).

I've adjudicated a few short story competitions now but I've never been prouder to see a list of winners. Yeah. Winners. Listen. It was A FEAT for these writers to get on the long list. First, they had to write a story (difficult enough!). Then they had to find the story a home (you can imagine all the rejection along the way). Then the publications had to decide that out of all the stories published that year, their particular story was the one to put forward. And then the story came to us, the jury.

Zoey, Kerry, and I are tough customers and there were many wonderful stories that did not make the cut (some that I still recall with great admiration). So yes, once again, congrats to the winners:

Alicia, Aviva, Carly, Greg, Iryn, Jason, Jess, Liz, Philip, Rowan, Sashi, and Sofia.

Jury duty

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The Journey Prize - Canada's biggest and most lucrative annual short story award - turns 30 this year and I was fortunate enough to be on the jury along with authors (and all around wonderful human beings) Kerry Clare and Zoey Leigh Peterson. The long-listed authors and their stories will be announced on Tuesday, August 7th. Watch this space.

How the award works

In January/ February, magazines and publications choose up to three of the best stories by emerging authors that they published in the previous year. The stories are sent to McClelland & Stewart who administer the award (not to be confused with the Writer's Trust of Canada who give the award out and are responsible for the hoopla surrounding the ceremony). It's actually my Canadian editor Anita Chong and assistant editor Joe Lee who do much of the thankless, painstaking, administrative work. They are stars.

M&S hires the jury and we all read every single one of the stories. And then we the jury discuss and debate and re-read and re-consider and eventually we narrow it down to the long-list, all of which are published in the Journey Prize anthology. I'm so pleased for these authors because I know what it means to make the anthology. And it's a gold star for the publications that nominated them too. Let's take a moment to tip our hats to those magazines and literary journals - staffed mostly by volunteers working long hours on shoestring budgets. They are the corner stone of Canadian literature, the first rung on the ladder and their existence makes so many of our careers possible.

This year's jury

I lucked out with my fellow jurors. Kerry Clare (who has written about her Journey Prize experience here) and Zoey Leigh Peterson are careful readers and came to the job with a spirit of openness that made healthy and respectful discussion and debate possible. We listened to each other. We kept open minds. None of us assumed we knew better. We gave the job the respect and attention it deserved and were willing to re-read. Over and over and over. The things Kerry and Zoey taught me about reading, are lessons I carry with me today. They have made me a more thoughtful reader and probably a better writer. And I'm proud of the anthology we curated. Journey Prize 30. It's a stunner.

Book Box Love

Subscription boxes are so trendy right now and with good reason. Who doesn't want to receive a themed box of surprise goodies in the mail every month? And now a new Canadian service, called Book Box Love, is offering a monthly subscription service for book worms.

 Book Box Love's July box. Photo credit:  @pretty_little_library

Book Box Love's July box. Photo credit: @pretty_little_library

I was thrilled when they selected The Boat People for their inaugural box which went out to readers earlier this month along with: a cinnamon candle, a gorgeous passport case handmade by Knotted Nest (with fabric chosen especially to match the cover...how nice is that?!), and decadent coconut bites by  Golden Ticket Candy. Also: a handwritten postcard from yours truly. Because packages are incomplete without handwritten notes.

I got a kick out the curation for July's box. Cinnamon and coconut...they couldn't have paired the book with better items. Fun fact: Sri Lanka is the only country where cinnamon grows natively. That's what my great uncle, a world cinnamon expert, says anyway. (In fact we call him Cinnamon Uncle....mostly because when you are Lankan you have approximately 357 uncles and aunts and it's impossible to learn all their names) Anyway, Wikipedia has other opinions about cinnamon's ancestry which you may choose to believe or ignore (I joke. I joke. Don't @ me Indians, Bengalis, and Burmese!)

 Pictured: postcard with my chicken scratch. Photo credit:  @pretty_little_library

Pictured: postcard with my chicken scratch. Photo credit: @pretty_little_library

And then of course coconuts are used for everything in Sri Lanka. Coconut oil - good for hair, skin, cooking, and medicine. Coconut water - good for cooling the body and upset stomachs. I've got serving spoons made from coconuts. Coconut. It's the uber fruit. 

Everything in the box is made in Canada by small artists or artisans. The July box with The Boat People went out to subscribers earlier this month but there are still a few left if you want in on the fun. Sales are now open for the August box and you can learn more and subscribe on their website. And finally, I did an interview with Book Box Love, which you can read here on their website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mutton Curry

 Maisonneuve, Summer 2018 issue

Maisonneuve, Summer 2018 issue

 In the shadow of Signal Hill

In the shadow of Signal Hill

I have a very old story newly out in the summer issue of Maisonneuve Magazine, which is on stands now. Mutton Curry was written in the winter of 2011 when I was taking an evening class with Jessica Grant. That class was where I learned to write well and Mutton Curry was the first truly decent short story I ever wrote. It won the Arts & Letters Award the following year and later got an honourable mention in a Glimmer Train contest. Still, it took a very long time to find the story a home (7 years!) but here it is. And holy cats! Check out the photo! Photographer Jennie Williams shot it back in April (when it was still cold here; yes that is a winter coat) but I didn't expect it to be so...prominent!

Recently a fellow writer sent me Submittable's e-newsletter. At the very bottom, after all the links to articles and notices, there were two lists. The first was the names of writers who had had the most number of rejections that month. The second was the list of authors whose pieces had been accepted that month. Of the five successful authors, four were also on the "most rejected" list. That is not a coincidence.

I know I always harp on about this but I'm going to sing my song again: submit your work! Submit, submit, submit. Rejection is a (frequent) pit stop on the road to acceptance. But it's just that - a pit stop. It is not the final destination.

ps. Mutton Curry is linked to A Drawer Full of Guggums (published in Racket) and to another story I have coming out later this year. If you read Mutton Curry and are wondering what the secret ingredient is in Amma's curry, stay tuned. All will be revealed!

What to do

Fellow Canadians, what are we to do? We haven't got congresspeople to pester or votes to cast south of the border. But we have votes and representatives here. And we have a battle to fight: the Safe Third Country agreement. "Under the Safe Third Country Agreement... Canada and the US each declare the other country safe for refugees and close the door on most refugee claimants at the US-Canada border." (source)  Those children you've been seeing on the news? Because of this agreement they are not allowed refuge in Canada.

 This two-year-old could be your child.  Photo by John Moore

This two-year-old could be your child. Photo by John Moore

Write to your Member of Parliament (contact info here) and copy the Prime Minister's office (justin.trudeau@parl.gc.ca). Demand that the Safe Third Country Agreement be scrapped. Be brief. Be polite. Be firm. Dear MP and Prime Minister Trudeau: We have to scrap the Safe Third Country Agreement. America has proven itself an unsafe place for people in need and this agreement we have with them is no longer in the best interests of us or asylum-seekers. Yours in sunny ways, A voter.

America is kidnapping children. Not just any children. Refugee children. The world's most vulnerable children. It is a human rights violation. It is unspeakably cruel. It is a sin in the eyes of any God worth worshipping.

These are not the actions of a safe country. And if we were serious about those apologies we made for the atrocities of our past (the MS St. Louis, the Komagata Maru, residential schools), if they weren't just empty words, then we have to stop pretending otherwise and we must, absolutely must, let refugees who come through the US in.

In grade school we studied WWII. Learning about the genocide and the concentration camps and the way a whole group of people were dehumanized and carted off like cattle, many of us said, very earnestly: "I'd never let that happen." Well now we are adults and guess what? It is happening. We are watching it happen.

You don't need a crystal ball to predict what comes next. Once the borders are well and truly closed and no one new is trying to get into the US, they will turn their attention inward. A Muslim-American internment is on the horizon. America is not a safe country. It is Germany circa 1938. And if you can't see that link then you are being willfully blind and have lost your moral compass (don't @ me. I don't care).

The Canadian Council for Refugees has more information and resources about the Safe Third Country Agreement. Amnesty International Canada has a petition against the agreement that you can sign here. Alex Neve, the Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada has written a heartfelt and cogent argument against the Safe Third Country Agreement and you can read his comments here. The biting and very sensible Drew Brown has more to say on this subject in this article on Vice.

We can't control what happens in another country. But we can make change here. We can keep Canada a safe country. I am not a parent. But I am heartbroken for all these parents and children. These are people in desperate need. These are people just like us.

 

 

The 99 per cent

Or: why talent is overrated. 

Sometimes we talk about stories like this: the story is an entity with its own consciousness. The story arrives, via a muse. The story reveals itself as it is being written. Writers are mere scribes.

This airy-fairy, woo-woo, magical thinking is a whole lot of nonsense. Writing isn't magic. It's good old-fashioned hard work. It is sitting your butt in the chair every single day and forcing yourself to do the work. Because trust me about this, if you don’t keep the pump primed, it will not yield a drop.

Sure, there are moments that feel sublime but the movie montage of how a book is made would look really mundane. Writing is a nose stuck in a refugee law text book. It is hours trawling the internet for photos of jail cells and then more hours trying to find the correct combination of words to evoke said jail cells. It is reading over something you thought was insightful and poetic the day before only to discover it has morphed into toxic waste. It is revising a chapter for the tenth time. It is writing the same sentence five different ways and then reading each option out loud. It is chucking months of work and going back to square one. It is persistence and effort with a healthy dose of self-hatred. And most of the time it is also working despite deep uncertainty. Not knowing if the story is any good. Or else, knowing it is not good but hoping it might eventually get better.

Where the work  happens

Sometimes, because we are often asked and it is difficult to properly describe how stories are invented, we writers revert to supernatural explanations. Harry Potter famously appeared to JK Rowling in a train car. I believe this anecdote because that is how many of my characters have rocked up too. I’ll be tossing and turning with insomnia when a little girl appears out of thin air.

This is called inspiration (1%). Then comes the perspiration (99%). Now I have to make decisions. What’s this little girl’s name, age, and future vocation? Is she introverted or extroverted, a pessimist or optimist? Decisions mean constraints and constraints are important because good writing is precise. You can’t be specific when you are writing about a character if you haven’t nailed down the details. But then the real questions are: What does this character want more than anything? Who far will she go to get it? And for that, I free write pages and pages and pages, most of which will never leave my notebook. From all this random riffing emerges a picture of who the character is and from there the plot evolves.

It does everyone a disservice to suggest there’s a fairy who selectively whispers sweet nothings into the ears of a chosen few. Talent is real and it sure is helpful but it’s highly overrated and not the key ingredient. If you want to be a writer, write. Do the work. I repeat: talent is not necessary. Work is necessary. That’s the 99%.

Riddle Fence 29

Riddle Fence 29

The newest issue of Riddle Fence is out and I've got a story inside. It's called When the end came and it's probably the most Townie piece I've ever written. I took as many quirky things as I could find in St. John's and shoved them into a story that is ostensibly about quantum computers but is really about anxiety. (Or is about cheeseburgers? YOU BE THE JUDGE)

Are all writers like this? I get preoccupied for short, intense bursts on very specific things and then I work my obsessions out by grappling with them in short stories. When I first started writing, it was around the time that everyone I knew was either pregnant or had very new babies. The anecdotes my friends told me about pregnancy, infertility, and new motherhood were absolutely riveting and of course I shamelessly took a lot of what they shared and funnelled it straight into my work. Butter Tea at Starbucks, Miloslav, Quickening, and Gliding, Weightless (along with a couple more that will never see the light of day) were drafted in these years.

And then I got obsessed with long dead artsy bohemians (the pre-Raphaelites and the Bloomsbury Group). A Drawer Full of Guggums was written during this period along with two other stories that I am personally really proud of but no one wants to publish. (Hello! Will someone please say yes to these stories?)

Riddle Fence is where art and literature meet

Right after that, I went through a crucial rite of passage and became obsessed with theoretical physics and wouldn't shut up about black holes and string theory and wave-particle duality. I harangued all Tom's colleagues at dinner parties and forced them to tell me about their research. And then I wrote a bunch of linked stories until I got the physics bug out of my system. When the End Came is the first of the set to make it to print. Hooray! Hopefully this means I can get the other three out there too.

Riddle Fence 29 is beautiful as always. Stand outs for me in this issue are the cover art, Karen Stentaford's three prints, and David Ferry's short story April's Fool. If you're not in St. John's, don't have a subscription, and can't find a copy at your local indie book shop, you can buy a back issues online. Issue 29 should be available to purchase there soon.

Tamil Culture

One of the great unexpected joys of publishing The Boat People is feeling the love from the Sri Lankan community. There are kind posts on Instagram and I hear from readers directly. But I also get hints from time to time that the wonderful support the book's been receiving (particularly in the Toronto media) is a result of Tamil-Canadians giving it a boost behind the scenes. I'm talking about you, Tamil producers. I see you and I thank you.

And of course there are Sri Lankan and Tamil specific outlets too, because the diaspora is at its largest right here in Canada. A couple of months ago, Ara, one of the co-founders of Tamil Culture reached out to me. I'd never heard of Tamil Culture before but here is how I attempt to describe it: it's an online platform, The Huffington Post meets Shaadi meets LinkedIn meets Facebook, a one-stop shop for the younger generation of Tamils all around the world. I'm probably not doing it justice. Go check it out for yourself. And while you're there, here's a fun interview I did with writer Shanelle Kandiah. We talked about how I became a novelist, the inspiration and research behind The Boat People, and of course... what my parents make of all this!

Can't Lit

Back in February, during my trip to Vancouver, I had a chance to finally meet two of my heroes: Jen Sookfong Lee and Dina Del Bucchia. Among other professional duties (writing fiction and poetry, teaching, penning think pieces for Open Book and the Globe and Mail, shouting down ignoramuses on Twitter), Dina and Jen also co-host the Can't Lit podcast.

 With my Can't Lit heroes Dina (L) and Jen (R) (via @ jenleefur )

With my Can't Lit heroes Dina (L) and Jen (R) (via @jenleefur)

Can't Lit, the self-described podcast about "books and stuff," features guest authors and wide-ranging conversations about pop culture, literature, lipstick, and current events. Also, there's time set aside for griping which I, as a person with MANY gripes, appreciate. I don't know this for sure, because I haven't got access to their audience numbers, but I have a suspicion that Can't Lit is the podcast equivalent of the indie band that only a select (very discerning) group listens to. Soon they will blow up and then I'll be one of those smug a-holes who says things like "I listened to them before they got big."

The three of us had a short but sweet chat in February about The Boat People, personal brands, and the perils of the Adults Only Pool. Also, this was the day I decided to call other writers dorks, not just once but multiple times. Sorry Other Writers. Please don't sue me.

Amazon!

Today I fly to Toronto for the the Amazon First Novel Award ceremony. The other night Tom (Dr. Math) said: "I think you have a good shot at winning." To which I relied: "Not really. There are five other books." And he said: "Yes, 1 in 6. Those aren't bad odds." WHAT?

The award is given out tomorrow, Tuesday, May 22 at the Toronto Reference Library (6:30pm). All six of us finalists will do short readings on stage and have a small Q&A session with host Shelagh Rogers. I really hope they allow us to go off stage when they announce the winner. Because it's agonizing enough waiting for that envelope get opened, I can't imagine having to go through that while facing an audience!

Win or lose, the best part of these award ceremonies is always getting to know the other finalists.  Becky Toyne wrote a piece about us in the Globe and Mail and I was really interested to see that we are all 35+. People! It is never, ever too late to write your first novel. Last week I went to the launch of a beautiful debut called Catching the Light. The author, Susan Sinnott, is in her 70s. We're in a writing group together so I've been reading Susan's work and watching her at it for the past few years. Her commitment to doing the work, to undoing and re-doing and writing and re-writing, it is truly inspiring. That perseverance is, as I've said before, the fundamental non-negotiable of being a writer. You can have it in your 20s. You can have it in your 70s.

 

Audience matters

The M&S family at The FOLD! 

A couple of weeks ago I had the absolute pleasure of taking part in the Festival of Literary Diversity (The FOLD). It's difficult to believe The FOLD is only in its third year. It is hands down the very best literary festival I have ever attended. I am talking NEXT LEVEL FAN-FUCKING-TASTIC. The authors were top shelf. The moderators were incredible. The conversations were smart and hilarious and memorable. The programming was creative and playful. One panel was focused on dystopian stories. Another on anthologies. The show stopper for me was the non-fiction panel featuring Tanya Talaga and Robyn Maynard. When Tanya Talaga said "Rights before reconciliation. Basic rights. Then we can talk about hugs" the packed house was ready to yell AMEN.

I was in awe of the whole festival but it was the audiences that really caught my attention. Because here's the thing: at readings and festivals I consistently see the same faces in the crowd. They are...well, homogenous. Upper middle class, older, white. I appreciate those audiences and those book lovers. They are engaged and careful readers who ask thoughtful questions. But I suspect they represent only a fraction of our readers. Because I see lots of other faces at book shops, reading in airports, on bookstagram. I have banned myself from GoodReads but I suspect the median age over there is quite a bit younger than 60. So as a writer at the start of my career, I look at audiences and I can't help but wonder: is this model sustainable?

The FOLD has cracked the code. The place was on wheels! Standing room only for a couple of events and full of lots of different faces. Older folks. Younger people. Transpeople. Black people. White people. Brown people. Guess what? This is who loves books. All. Of. The. People. High five to The Fold for attracting new audiences, for building something that is new and fresh, and accessible in every possible way. This festival is only in its third year and it has a bright future ahead.

Photo of the After Canada Reads panel from The Fold's Instagram (@the_fold)

Along with Cherie and Omar and moderator Ali, I was part of the After Canada Reads panel that closed out the festival. (You can listen to it here) After two days of being in the audience at other events, I have to admit that I was feeling a little intimidated. The conversations on stage at The Fold set the bar sky high and I've always been pants at the high jump. Fortunately, Cherie and Omar are pros and I let them do all the heavy lifting. The hour went by in a flash and I remember none of it.

CanLit folks: if you are in the GTA you must get yourself to Brampton next year for The FOLD. Authors: speak to your publicists, send flowers to the festival organizers, light candles at mass, sacrifice some doves, do what you need to do to finagle an invite. You won't be sorry.

Quickening

The only thing better than short stories are linked short stories. I love to read them. And I love to write them. Back in 2012 I wrote a story about a character called Hen who goes on holiday to France with her sister Daphne. The story is called "Gliding, Weightless"  and was published in Riddle Fence, issue 21. And then I wrote another story set a couple of years earlier and told from the point of view of Hen's husband Neil. It's called "Quickening" and today it was published by Understorey Magazine's latest issue. You can read the story here.

Big weekend

Good news! The Boat People is on the shortlist for the Amazon First Novel Award along with American War, The Bone Mother, The Water Beetles,  The Black Peacock, and Dazzle Patterns. I was at the Ottawa Writer's Festival all weekend and woke up on Saturday morning to an email about the short list. So I was floating on air all day.

In the evening I took part on a panel called Borders and Belonging at the Ottawa Writers Festival with Djamila Ibrahim and Arif Anwar. Their books are both beautiful, by the way, and they are genuinely warm and wonderful people and great fun as fellow panelists. I was having such a good time on stage and then afterward, meeting readers and signing books, that I totally forgot that over in Labrador AtsNL was hosting an award ceremony where I was up for the CBC Emerging Artist Award.

For the past few months, I've been going here and there, promoting the book, talking about how I became a writer, and in most interviews I end up saying some version of: "I would never have become a writer if I hadn't moved to St. John's." And it's 100% true. There are so many supports and grants and awards and opportunities for writers in my city. The Writers' Alliance of NL in particular has been really instrumental to my career. And a couple of months ago they got in touch to let me know they were nominating me for the CBC Emerging Artist Award. A few weeks ago, I was thrilled to learn I was on the short list (along with artist April White and the dynamic new PerSIStence Theatre Company) and only sorry that I was already scheduled to be in Ottawa and would miss the award ceremony in Labrador. On Saturday night, I returned quite late to my hotel room to find a message that I had won!

See? BIG WEEKEND.

I'm still in Ontario. I have a few work-related things to do in Toronto and then on Sunday I'm taking part in The Festival of Literary Diversity in Brampton, on a panel with Omar El Akkad and Cherie Dimaline, moderated by Ali Hassan, to talk about life after Canada Reads (and hopefully also our books!).

Fainting Couch Feminists

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In case you missed it, Mozhdah was on episode 8 of Fainting Couch Feminists, a podcast hosted by Mica Lemiski and the wonderful Room Magazine. Mozhdah talked about her career, trolls, being thick skinned, the Mozhdah Show, and the death threats and rumours of her murder that forced her to give it up. It was so lovely to hear her voice again and the story of why she ended her TV show is absolutely chilling.

PEN World Voices Festival

This weekend I'll be taking part in two events at the PEN World Voices Festival in New York. I'm very, very excited. First, because I haven't been to New York in exactly 10 years and I love it there. Second, it's still winter in St. John's and I'm ready for spring and sundresses in New York (fingers crossed for magnolias). Second, this is a big deal festival, founded by a group including Salman Rushdie and featuring a whole cast of super stars. Oh look, here's my name on a list with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Roxanne Gay, and Hilary Clinton...no big deal!

I'm taking part in two super events. The first is this Friday night at Westbeth Centre for the Arts, an artists' coop and studio space. Artists open up their homes/ studios to the public. I'll be in one of the spaces doing two rounds of readings for a rotating group of audience members. And then there are drinks afterward. Can you think of anything more New York City than that?

The second event is on Saturday night and I'll be reading and answering questions as part of a panel called Still, They Persisted.

A couple of good pals from Toronto are joining me for the weekend so along with business there will be pleasure. (And quite possibly some shopping) But it's also a whirlwind. I'm back home late on Sunday and then off to Ontario for a week next Thursday morning! Book promotion is, as everyone promised, turning out to be a full time job.

 

Imaginary friends

While signing books in Halifax last week, a reader asked me if I was still in touch with any of the people from the boat. I think she must have assumed I'd interviewed real people from the MV Sun Sea, which of course I hadn't. I have no idea who any of the real refugees were and Mahindan et. al are totally imaginary. But I also thought a lot about her question afterward because it's true that for years I was in communion with all of my characters. They were continually changing and growing and forming and re-forming in my mind as I researched and drafted and revised the novel. But then last April, when I submitted the final manuscript, I drew a line in the sand and put an end to the creation. And now, while I do talk about those characters a lot, I no longer engage with them. They are out in the world being re-imagined anew by every reader. They are no longer my characters to create. They feel like old friends, people I reminisce about but never hear from.

A few weeks ago, I had the chance to chat with Anna Bowen at the Eden Mills podcast (30 mins). We talked a lot about characters, as well as the research that went into the novel, and the scenes that wouldn't have existed if not for my editors. We also talked about a bit of bonus content that you can find here.

I'll be taking part in the Eden Mills Writers' Festival in September and I'm really, really looking forward to it.

In praise of editors, again!

It never ceases to amaze me how little credit is given to book editors. I've already sung their praises on this blog but really and truly, they are the secret heroes of literature. Whenever I finish a book, I flip to the back to check out who the editor is. In fact, the other day, I was at the shop, considering whether or not to buy a new novel. Then I peaked at the acknowledgements, saw the editor was Iris Tulpholme, and went straight to the check out. The book, by the way, is The Storm by Arif Anwar. I read it and loved it. Iris did not let me down.

The Storm skillfully weaves various narratives together all the while keeping a firm grip on a true protagonist. There is a mystery at the centre that is solved at the end, but the threads of the story remained untied. It is not an anodyne happily ever after. It is a "they lived ever after" and what happens next is up to the reader to decide. I've been thinking a lot about plot lately (with regards to my new novel) and this book has given me something to chew on.

A couple of weekends ago I also read (gobbled up, more like) Zoey Leigh Peterson's Next Year For Sure. Billed as a story of polyamory, it's really so much more. It's the vivisection of a relationship and an exploration into loneliness, early adulthood ennui, friendship, and the fuzzy line of betrayal. Although it is a very, very different book, it reminded me of Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. I couldn't look away even as the novel made me deeply uncomfortable. That's the hallmark of a great book. Plus, the dialogue was wondrous. More and more I find myself appreciating exceptional dialogue (Elisabeth de Mariaffi's Hysteria, edited by Iris Tulpholme, is another example of a book with sublime dialogue) Zoey eschews quotation marks and the result is that the line between interior thought and exterior speech is open to interpretation. If you are an intelligent reader who doesn't want to be spoon-fed, but who wants to be surprised and delighted by beautiful prose and new insights, this is a book for you. The Canadian editor, by the way, is Kiara Kent.

Jen Knoch, senior editor at ECW wrote two illuminating columns over at Open Book on the editorial process and what to expect when you're expecting to work with an editor on a new book.