Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Just a note to let y'all know I'll be reading from my short story collection, Moonlight Sketches, Wednesday, September 21 at 7 p.m. at the A.C. Hunter library in St. John's. It's a free event, open to the general public--if you've read the book, it's a great opportunity to ask any questions you might have about the inspiration for characters, settings or stories. If you haven't read it, feel free to come along and listen to the discussion or ask any questions you might have about the writing and publishing process.

I'll also be appearing at the Halifax Word On The Street Festival this Sunday, September 25th. Reading and discussion 4:30-5 p.m. on the "Everything Atlantic" stage. Signing copies of Moonlight Sketches from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. Sunday at the Creative Publishers tent. Hope to see you there!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Remember summer?

This past August, I was fortunate enough to be invited to be part of the Winterset Literary Festival in Eastport. We had three whole days of sunshine, warmth, peace and love, and enough beautiful fiction and friendly writers from all over Canada to fill a whole town--for a newly published writer from a small town in Newfoundland, it was pure bliss. I've got photos to share in the coming days, as well as an article that I was asked to write for my publisher's newsletter, which I believe will also show up elsewhere on-line. But, for me there were so many highlights, it's hard to pare it down to just one. I would have to say, if pressed, the best part was seeing Lisa Moore's play, February, adapted from her critically-acclaimed novel of the same name. It was an intellectually and emotionally stunning performance.

Besides, that perhaps it was seeing all those Winterset winners on the same stage, including Michael Winter, Michael Crummey, Jessica Grant, Ed Riche and all the others, all at once. It was breathtaking and fun.

After that--although it was probably my favourite moment because it happened to me personally and I'll always cherish it--it would be own moment onstage for the "New and Lyrical Voices Panel," with immensely talented writers Leslie Vryenhoek and Kate Evans, hosted by Patricia Parsons.

My next favourite moment (note that I'm not including the time on the beach and at the cabin with my beautiful wife who loved every moment as much as I did) was the Saturday morning interview with Mack Furlong that also included Leslie Vryehnhoek.

Several people have written and asked me if they can find the interview on-line, so here's the URL (just click on the link below):

CBC Radio Interview at Winterset Literary Festival

I could also have listed the other panels, but I say more about those in the article I wrote--I mean, there was the panel of Winterset nominees (Russell Wangersky, Samuel Thomas Martin, Craig Francis Power) as well as a panel of Giller nominees (Johanna Skidsbrud, Sarah Selecky and Alex Macleod). I listened intently, learned a lot and laughed a lot. It was easily one of the best weekends of my life...so far.

Pictures and articles to come soon.


Saturday, September 10, 2011

I grew up in a library

I'm not sure how old I was when I first stepped into the Placentia Public Library. It seems to me I couldn't have been more than twenty-four months out of my mother's womb when I had the urge to read something--anything!--cereal boxes, labels, the tag on my blanket that said "Do Not Remove Or You Will Suffer A Painful Death," the side of a carton of my father's Rothman's cigarettes. I have no recall of learning to read. It just seems it was something I always did. Adults in my family have told me I was reading at two years old, but I guess I was too engrossed in Anna Karenina to pay much attention to the date or time passing. I don't dispute the posibility since it feeds my fantasy of having been a child prodigy as well as my personal myth of having been somewhat of an oddity and an outsider.  Besides, I'm actually thinking I should have been reading before the age of two--some serious neglect there on somebody's part. I recall being asked to read something for strangers who'd come to visit my parents' house. I felt a strange combination of pride and awkwardness at being asked to perform, but any misgivings usually evaporated when they rewarded me with money--usually a quarter, but, hey, the stuff I needed to buy was cheap.

But I digress.

I've been asked to read at the A.C. Hunter library on Wednesday evening, Sept. 21st and it's gotten me to thinking how much "Da Liberry" meant to me as a child. It was my oldest brother Charlie who took me there for the first time. He was, and is, a voracious reader and I'd like to think he simply thought it was a life-changing experience he wanted to share with his much younger brother. I will always be grateful to him for that.

On that first trip to the library, I couldn't choose just one measly book--I took home a stack of ten. The librarian was skeptical, I remember, suggesting perhaps I should just try one or two--and besides there was a limit to how many books a person could take home in one trip. But I must have seemed slightly heartbroken (and heartbreakingly so), for she allowed me to cart the works of it home. Two days later, I was back and the librarian assumed I must not have found anything among them to my liking, since surely I'd had enough books to do me for a month's worth of reading. When I breathlessly explained that I'd read them all--some of them more than once--she didn't question me again when I brought another carefully (yet somewhat randomly) chosen stack to the desk for her approval and checkout. In fact, she seemed rather pleased with me and, after that, began to treat me like a favourite patron of hers. (But then, I'm sure she had many favourites.)

There's a hurricane raging outside today, and it's Saturday morning, and I can't help but think about all those wonderful, dreamy Saturdays (not just mornings, but sometimes all day) I would spend in Da Liberry, regardless of the weather, curled up in a big cozy armchair, perusing books of all kinds, discovering new magazines like Popular Mechanics and Sports Illustrated and, of course, the ubiquitous National Geographics with their pictures of naked pygmy women that both startled and titillated at the same time.

But there were books, too--not nearly enough, unfortunately. I realize now it was a matter of government funding, but at the time I recall being very frustrated when, at the age of 8 or 9 (can't recall exactly) I had already read every book in the so-called "children's section" of the library. I had devoured the Narnia series, Alice in Wonderland, Bambi, Peter Pan, Pinocchio, anything by Enid Blyton, all the fairy tales and bedtime stories of just about every country that had them, and every single Hardy Boys book I could get my hands on.

So when I not-so-innocently asked the librarian, Mrs. Patterson, "Would it be okay if I started reading from the adult section?" it was rather a big deal for me--and apparently for her too. She said there must be SOME books in the child's section I hadn't read. She listed them all for me, but I just kept saying, "Yep. Read it. Yep. Read it." until she became slightly bemused, if not a little exasperated. "I'll have to ask your mother," she said. I don't remember how exactly my mother responded. I only know that the two days I had to wait until I could go back to the library and begin my adventures in adult reading were some of the longest hours of my life. She must have said yes to my request, and I recall a phone call to the library in my favour. But the library was closed on Sunday (!) and I had to wait until Monday. When my brother wasn't able to drive me there (which was often), I would walk. It was somewhere around 2 or 3 miles from our door to the door of the library, but for me it was like leaving home in order to go to my other home.--a journey in pursuit of comfort, a quest for exotic knowledge.

To me, entering the previously forbidden "Adult Section" of the public library was like the first time I left home to live in the city, the first time I went skating on the ocean by myself or, much later and many years ago, the first time I went to a strip club-- for a young fellow in a small town, there was a huge curiosity factor. I just wanted to know what was in there that could possibly be off limits to anyone. There were books with swear words and nudity (although it was word nudity, it was still real to me). But there was also adventure and murder more real than anything in the Hardy Boys. It was there that I first read Hemingway, Shakespeare, Joyce and Woolf--all before the age of thirteen, just because I was curious. I'd heard these names and wanted to read them for myself, to see what the big deal was about. My idea of summer reading back then was to pick up a copy of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and lie in a sunbeam in my bedroom, imagining every scene as if I were there...or so I thought. My mother was always telling me that I should "get outdoors and play," and I did, but I often took my book with me.

And, again, these were library books. They not only changed and set the course of my life, but enhanced my existence in a way that nothing else could have. Not even the internet, if it had existed, could have served as such a companion and friend. The feel of a heavy book in my sweaty little hands, the smell of library dust on textured paper, the crinkle of the clear plastic covers that had been handled by so many like-minded readers before me--it all lent a sense of a communal experience with complete strangers, all of whom loved words as much as I do, or so I assumed.

In many ways, I owe my life to libraries. Of course, I owe it to a lot of other things and people as well, but libraries are at or near the top of the list of things for which I am grateful. In a small town of little cultural activity, the library was the gateway to the infinite, fodder for an imagination just beginning to sprout.

So, thanks not only to the libraries and governments who (sometimes) sponsor their existence, but also to the wonderful librarians who are not just doing their job, but doing it joyfully, as if it mattered. Trust me: it does.

I wish I still had my original library card. I think I'd frame it.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Interview with Arts East magazine (Halifax)

 Hot on the heels of a super fun weekend at Winterset Literary festival in Eastport, I did an interview with the super cool Stephen Patrick Clare of Arts East Magazine based out of Halifax. Stephen's thought-provoking questions allowed me to say some things that I've never expressed in quite this way--which is a sign of a good interviewer. (Click on the link beneath the logo to read the piece.)

Monday, September 5, 2011

Conditional release

I'd love to start out by saying that I swear to the heavens above and hell below that I will strive henceforth to find balance in my life. But I'm not going to do that...not today anyway. I've been down that road many times before and it's a road paved with good intentions.

Rabbit at rest
It's the fifth of September, and already I'm wondering where the first week of the month has gone. I've spent the past nine days desperately trying to conquer a gigantic to-do list that, among other things, included finishing my novel, writing two articles, reading a book manuscript and a book chapter, finishing a short story and revising it and writing an arts grant. Now let's be fair--for your average person, almost any one or two items on that list would require an entire nine days, if not more. But the new fall semester begins on Wednesday and, after that, I don't get much time for writing. Sure, I dabble here and there if I can, but the effort to work on major literary projects usually grinds to a halt somewhere around the third week of the semester when the first papers need to be graded. With that, I've been composing a course outline, attending meetings, and reading various materials in perparation for the university semester. So, I guess what I'm saying is that: 1. I haven't found much time for blogging, obviously, and 2. I've given up hope of achieving any sort of real balance in my life.

Now that doesn't mean I don't just feel like chucking it all in and going for a long walk in the park. That's exactly what my wife and I did this morning. It was her idea, and I admit I was reluctant to take myself away from the computer, given there is so much to be done in the next 48 hours. I gave in to her madness--she actually suggested a walk in Bowring Park because she sensed that I needed it, and I won't say she was wrong. Ultimately, we did drive over there and spent a pleasant hour or so just strolling and taking in the relaxing sights and sounds of the unofficial last day of summer. Then we went for a more energetic strut around Mundy Pond, but that too was invigorating with the autumnal wind blowing through the thick, high grass, making that beautiful sifting noise that is like music to my urbanized ears. It's a sound that always relaxes me, always makes my yearn for the dog days of August growing up in my hometown when the only worry was about how to spend the last few days before school started. There would always be "one last adventure," as I used to call it. It usually entailed building a new tree fortress or camping out overnight in the woods, or going on a fishing trip of some kind. When I was really small, it would mean going blueberry picking with my parents and/or various members of the family. Back then, I was enthralled with every sight--every other car on the road, every bird that flew overhead, every dragonfly or butterfly that came near enough to nearly grasp in my hand. I thrilled to the babbling of a brook or the cry of a loon, or the sight of a huge bull moose expressing his way across a still pond in early fall.

I do need some balance in my life. Most of us do, I believe, but few of us seem to find it. Summer is a time for doing things, going places and much of the work gets laid aside. So when the autumn arrives, we dive back in--with some trepidation--and tell ourselves that the harder we work, the more we can achieve and the better life will be...and it's only until the next long weekend or vacation or maybe Christmas. The balance gets tipped in favour of labour.

Balance...I'm not ever sure what that means exactly. It's not on my list of things to do, so I haven't taken the time to figure it out. But, if I may, I'd say it has something to do with finding time for the things you love to do, along with also doing the things you feel you need to do. Of course, it would help if they were one and the same, but that's a rare condition. It's a wonderful thing to find time to "sit among the ducks," as I sometimes call it. To breathe properly and mindfully. To read a book for the pure enjoyment of it, rather than because you need to read it for work or school. To spend a couple of hours listening to good music.

But sometimes my life can have this feeling of someone just putting the pieces together, you know? Do this, this and this, and you'll be living a balanced life--as if there was some sort of Canada Food Guide for the soul that will make you feel like you're living a good life. But maybe it really is that simple. Mabye you can just fake it till you make it--do peaceful, fulfilling things until you actually become a peaceful, fulfilled person. Schedule the balance until you actually become balanced....even though "schedule" is one of my least favourite words.

I'm rambling, trying to figure it out, but the more I write, the more the clock is ticking. I realize I'm enjoying blogging just now--I usually do. I started out thinking I would just post some media interviews and that sort of thing, just to keep people informed about what I've been up to. I'll probably do that next.

For now, though, it's back to work. The novel is almost done. My to-do list has not been conquered, but it looks more manageable as I've slain a few dragons. But I'd prefer not to think of it in terms of slaying anything--something else I need to work on.