The Port Authority!

This has been a MASSIVE year for my writing group, The Port Authority. In the past 12 months four of us have published new novels. FOUR. Jamie Fitzpatrick’s The End of Music just got a much-deserved and wonderful review in Malahat and our books are duking it out next February during NL Reads. Melissa Barbeau’s The Luminous Sea has been getting all kinds of lovely buzz and landing on nightstands across the country. Susan Sinnott’s bestselling novel, Catching the Light is a finalist for the White Pine Award. And long before all of this, we all, along with several other authors, including the talented Carrie Ivardi, published a short story collection called Racket.

Susan, Carrie, Jamie, Melissa, and I will be reading from our work at Broken Books on Duckworth Street. If you’re in St. John’s on Tuesday, December 4th at 7:30pm, come by. It’s free and open to the public and we’d love to see you there.

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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.

 

The end of music

Gander, Newfoundland, the self-styled "Crossroads of the world," has been enjoying a very long moment. No one had ever heard of Gander (population: 11,000) before but on 9/11, after 40 diverted planes landed at its tiny airport and the town cheerfully hosted some 7,000 unexpected guests, the place was in the international spotlight. And now the town is famous once again, thanks to a splashy Broadway musical. (All of this amuses me to no end. My husband is from Gander so I've been visiting since long before it was on trend.)

But Gander was really in its glory more than half a century ago, in the heady, epicurean days just after the war, when air travel was new and still dangerous and the airport was the main re-feuling station for Transatlantic flights. Everyone came to Gander then: movie stars and world leaders and refugees. Even Fidel Castro! This is the setting of Jamie Fitzpatrick's second novel The End of Music.

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It's 1952 and Joyce, 18 and motherless, a nice Catholic girl from a tiny outport community that has neither electricity nor running water, runs off to godless Gander. She spends her days working at the airport and her nights signing lead in a band. Gander is in its salad days, smoky and drunk on its own youthful hedonism. The median age hovers at 25 and every night there's another party. There's a provisionary air about the town where the only permanent structure is the bustling airport and Joyce and her friends all live in dormitories, shivering under the covers and sharing cigarettes between the single beds.

But there's nothing nostalgic here. Gander in the 50s (what in the hands of a less expert writer might dissolve into a overwrought ode to the "good old days") is depicted with unflinching honesty. There is fun and games, yes. But there is also rampant misogyny, domestic violence, ugly double standards, and plenty of "Jovial Newfoundlanders" with unwanted wandering hands. We experience all of this through Joyce who seems to jump off the page and speak for herself. A perfectly realized character, she's both self possessed and inexperienced, at once strong and vulnerable.

Life in 1950s Gander is fast and ever changing and the cast is vast, forming a witty Greek chorus. And like true Newfoundlanders, they never shut up. Fortunately, Jamie has an ear for dialogue, one of very few writers who can carry off long conversational passages without a single misstep.

The novel intercuts Joyce's story - set mainly in mid-century while she is young and single - with that of her son in present day Ontario. Herb Carter is middle aged and calcifying, doing his best to dodge his domestic and familial obligations. In addition to his mother, whose health is failing several provinces away, he has an ex-wife who is dying, a child with a heart condition, and a wife whose patience, you get the feeling, might just be wearing thin. Lest you be tempted to feel bad for poor Carter, Jamie has given him nuance. Carter is not quite the good guy he likes to think he is. Memory and thwarted ambition are the key themes here, along with a midlife crisis that makes him yearn for the lost opportunities of youth and in particular an indie rock band he formed in his 20s.

Full disclosure: Jamie is in my writing group and I've been reading this book, in its various incarnations, for the past several years. I knew it was going to be good but reading the final version - and this really is a feat - I was still surprised and delighted, both by the characters and plot twists.

The End of Music is a novel that contains multitudes - dozens and dozens of characters, all of whom you sense have complicated back stories, and intersecting plots that Jamie has slyly intertwined. Keep your eye on everyone and everything, is my advice. Because as much as I enjoyed reading each page, the masterstroke comes right at the end, like a punch in the gut you didn't expect but then realize, in hindsight, was coming all along. It's the perfect end to the perfect book.

Kill your darlings

Late last summer the Newfoundland Quarterly approached my writing group, The Port Authority, with a challenge. Take an old headline "When Newfoundland Saved Canada" (found in an old issue of the magazine from 1949) and make it new. Could this curious statement prompt 500 fictional words? We were given free reign and five of us sharpened our pencils.

The NQ online has been publishing each of our pieces this Spring and this week my story went live. Flash fiction is not my forte but this piece was a total joy to research and write. I'm pleased to share it and the fabulous accompanying illustration by the very talented Kevin Kendall.

Sense of an ending

In my writing group we have a running joke that no matter what or whose piece I'm critiquing, my advice will always be to cut the last paragraph. I could have sworn it was something Hemingway said but now I can't seem to find the reference. So let's leave it at this: a wise writer once said we should all cut our last paragraphs.

There is a tendency, often, to wax on for too long. Or, worse, to be anxious that the reader will not get it, will fail to properly understand the story. And then the writer, in a moment of weakness, crams a horrible summary at the end to explain the whole thing. No. Just erase all that stuff. The real ending is three sentences up.

Launch!

We launched Racket one foggy Thursday night a couple of weeks ago at The Franklin. It was a blast and we were all having so much fun that we didn't bother to take many pictures. Here's our best attempt at a group shot with our editor James Langer and publicist Megan Coles. Breakwater made us matching t-shirts and they've got a combo deal on right now. For $30 you too can get your own t-shirt and a copy of the book.

Racket

Well, this is exciting! On September 14 Breakwater Books is publishing Racket, a collection of short stories written (mostly) by my writing group, The Port Authority, and edited by our champion and guru (oh captain, my captain!), Lisa Moore. This whole collection is her brain child, really. She had the idea, pitched it to Breakwater, and agreed to wrangle all our disparate pieces into something coherent.

Isn't the cover spiffy? It's a riff on the Purity Hard Bread packaging, which seems appropriate. Port Authorities, Sailor's Grub etc. There are eleven stories and mine is the last one. They let me have the last word. How about that?