Launching Spring with Coach House

On Wednesday night I had the great pleasure of launching my second collection of stories, Mad Hope to the wider world, along with a collection of super-talented writers:  playwright Karen Hines (Drama, Pilot Episode), poets Susan Steudel (New Theatre) and Walid Bitar (Divide and Rule), and novelist Tamara Faith Berger (Maidenhead).  They are wonderful books all — seek them out!  The Dance Cave felt gritty and nostalgic, and when I visited the bathroom my nerves and the graffiti (unabridged, unedited) were almost strong enough to make me stay, but there were people and books mingling on the other side of the door.  And I like to see people and books mingling.  We are going to be celebrating more Mad Hope on April 24th at the Dakota Tavern.  Maybe you will join us?




The 49th Shelf: Reading My Way Through Motherhood

I’ve written a post about Canadian books that have bolstered or challenged me as a mother.  It’s up now at 49th Shelf.  Go take a peek, but be warned, there are a lot of cool things to look at 0ver there — it won’t be a quick visit!  An excerpt:

Breastfeeding Blues

Two poems about breastfeeding, from two fantastic collections have been touchstones of sorts for me during those first beautiful – and, let’s face it, often marathon and mind-numbingly boring – breastfeeding sessions.

Book Cover A Fortress of Chairs

A Fortress of Chairs : Elisabeth Harvor’s poems are notable for their moody sense of the physical; I love how she finds sensuality in the everyday and explores the female body in a way that is both wanton and careful. The poem ‘Madame Abundance’ is a gorgeous, unsettling, sleepy meditation on what it means to nourish a baby – and how closely this action hews to the baby’s beginnings.

Book Cover Joy is So Exhausting

Joy is so Exhausting: This collection was a revelation to me. It’s a book whose tongue is out waggling at the world when not firmly planted in cheek. I adore its intelligent play and the way it worships words and excavates essential truths through mischievous humour. But in the context of this list, it is the prose poem ‘Nursery’ that shines. Structured around the back-and-forthing of a feed, and addressed to the narrator’s baby, the poem is an unpretentious meditation on what it means to be so essential, so connected, so literally and figuratively drained that your story becomes inextricably twined (and twinned) with your baby’s rhythms. And it’s funny!

Here’s a taste (81): Right: I’m no athlete but I could pitch for the La Leche League. Left: All soft skin similes would have nowhere to go but right back to you. Right: Imprint of my sweatshirt zipper across your chin, Frankenstein’s baby. Left: You thrash around in your sleep until one leg flaps flat and the other is packed with knees.

Read the rest here.

Pilot Reading Series

I will be reading at the Pilot Reading Series this Sunday, March 25, at 9 pm.  If you are in Montreal, please come out and say hello!

The Juliet Stories


by Carrie Snyder

Full Disclosure:  Although I haven’t known her long, I consider Carrie Snyder a friend — she read a version of Mad Hope in manuscript form and gave astute and helpful feedback, and she’s recently offered me welcome advice re:  Is it really possible for a 3 year old to require dental work?  And, if so, as a parent, how to endure?  Also, we will be reading together at three upcoming events, taking our short story show on the road.  So you can consider the following less review than response — personal, but also, above notwithstanding, critical (in the careful, somewhat objective sense).

There is something so moody — no, mood-altering — about this book.  It’s not always a comfortable read but it is always compelling.  Why is this?  I suspect it’s because Snyder is operating in a liminal space here, in a few different senses — thematically, generically, narratively.

The Juliet Stories is about being an outsider — how that feels — whether it be an outsider in a country not your own, an outsider as a child in an adult world or an outsider to your own inscrutable self.  The first half of the book, set in Nicaragua in 1984, during the post-revolutionary war, traces 10-year-old Juliet’s life on the fringes of a group of American peace activists (including her parents), while the second, more fractured half, follows the adult Juliet as she grapples with the way her life has evolved.

Snyder excels at capturing and dissecting moments of apartness (not necessarily alone-ness or loneliness) wherein the narrator can intuit a subtext floating around but cannot quite name or access it.  Mostly, however, the plucky Juliet takes this exclusion as permission, finds in it some freedom, a sense of ease and mischief.  She shares this sense with her brother Keith, partner in crime, playmate, matter-of-fact conspirator.  It is no great shame that the grown up world is closed to them — who’d wanna live there anyway?

As a novel-in-stories, the book borrows the best of both worlds.  The short story form — with its compression of events, dismissal of the particulars of plot and preoccupation with small shifts in consciousness — is used to full effect, and the novelistic arc and recurrence of characters gracefully pulls a reader from story to story.  The setting is less geographical than psychological, but excellent sensual details help ground the Nicaraguan section in time and place.

The narrative space Snyder occupies is a tricky one.  We are crouched in close to Juliet but we are never limited (in the first half) by the particular constraints of her 10-year-old sensibility.  The narrator has more perspective than the age of the character would suggest, more ease with language, a greater agility when it comes to articulating shades and shadows of emotion.  Yet she is still very much bound to the child’s point of view.  This is a difficult balancing act, but Snyder negotiates it nimbly.  Here’s an example of a complex narratorial insight into not only the bit of dialogue it references, but the characters’ general situation:

It’s really very commonplace.  It’s called war, and on the ground, running, its risks are mundane and it is only ever about circumstance, and people circling within circumstance.

And here’s another that simply catalogues Juliet’s innocence, although with a certain wry tenderness:

The boat heaves and plunges, temporarily weightless, awash.  Juliet believes it is unsinkable.  She also believes that taxis and buses never crash, that every movie that makes it to the theatre is objectively good, and that her own hands clasped in a certain special formation across her waist will act as effectively as a seatbelt in a moment of emergency.

In the second half of the book, a family tragedy has forced Juliet’s return — to the US, then to Canada — and her self scatters a bit, disperses as we leap forward in time and experience viewpoints of others in her family.  But even this dispersal seems fitting — Juliet’s stay in Nicaragua has become such a touchstone (or amulet) in her life that it makes sense that it would shine and cohere (mythically, almost) in a way that the subsequent incidents in her adult life fail to.

The sum of these parts is a lovely meditation on the meaning we create with the gifts and flotsam of our lives.  I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Snyder’s prose, which is so very clean and delicate.  It’s as if the writer (and her editor) have taken a little brush to every sentence, clearing them of unnecessary dust and debris and placing them, ever so gently, on the page.  The Juliet Stories is a wonderful book, truly a work of art.  Carrie — deepest congratulations!  And the rest of you — if you haven’t already — read this book!  It will move and discomfit you as only the very best stories can.


Coach House Spring Launch

Please come out to this wonderful spring event!  Books!  Dancing!  Books and Dancing in a Cave!

March 28 – The Coach House Spring 2012 Launch returns to the Dance Cave!
Semi-annual event launches new Coach House titles from Tamara Faith Berger, Heather Birrell, Walid Bitar, Karen Hines and Susan Steudel

At the end of March (Wednesday, March 28), Torontonians are invited to join our spring titles’ ‘coming out’ party at The Dance Cave (529 Bloor Street West) in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood. This semi-annual event is a much-beloved gathering of Toronto book lovers. Everyone is invited to participate in this night of new and invigorating Canadian literature (and, hopefully, a little dancing).

With the Spring 2012 launch, we unleash four staggering works upon the Canadian reading public:

– Tamara Faith Berger (Lie with Me), one of the world’s smartest, most important authors of literary smut, launches her much-anticipated new novel, Maidenhead, traversing the desperate, wild spaces of the self-consciousness of a teenage girl, Myra, who enters unfamiliar worlds of sex, porn, race and class.

 Heather Birrell (I know you are but what am I?), Journey Prize-winning short story writer reads from Mad Hope, a kaleidoscope of off-kilter stories of families in their varied forms. Birrell uses inventive language and her keen eye for detail to capture the beautiful mess of being human.

 Walid Bitar (The Empire’s Missing Links), acclaimed poet delivers his fifth book, Divide and Rule, a new collection of dramatic monologues, variations on the theme of power structured in rhymed quatrains.

– Karen Hines (The Pochsy Plays), the master of darkly comedic plays, brings her current Calgary hit, Drama: Pilot Episode, to Toronto for a dramatic reading of her wildly ingenious tale of western oil boom towns, television programs and the unconscious.

 Susan Steudel, visiting from Vancouver, will launch her debut book, New Theatre, a lively foray into spaces both geographical and utopian, filled with contemporary and historical figures who mingle in a strange pageant, that culminates in a bold new poetic portrait of Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin.

Short readings will be followed by music and general merriment. Authors will be available for book signings and conversation following the on-stage entertainment.

Coach House Spring 2012 Launch

Wednesday, March 28, 2012
launching books by Tamara Faith Berger, Heather Birrell, Walid Bitar, Karen Hines and Susan Steudel
The Dance Cave, 529 Bloor Street West
(above Lee’s Palace)
Doors at 8 p.m., readings at 8:45 p.m.

For media inquiries or review copies, please contact Evan Munday at or 416.979.2217. We hope you can join us!

Short Stories for Spring!

Psst!  I will be teaching Short Fiction: Introduction at the School of Continuing Studies, University of Toronto, beginning April 10.  Short stories for spring!  Pass it on!

Mad Hope: Stuck, Cut, Stacked

Mad Hope is a thing.  It’s a thing you can carry around in your bag, clutch on the subway, hold tightly in your bed.  And if you’re so inclined, you can share it with someone else.  It will be available at the Spring Launch March 28, and thereafter at a bookstore near you.

We took a second family field trip to Coach House and were joined by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer and her son Linden and Kerry Clare and her daughter Harriet.  It was a real crowd, a delegation, a party even!  My mum came too.   She said, ‘Those fellows who run the presses are awfully nice, aren’t they?’  They really are.  I couldn’t be more thrilled.

More photographic evidence:

Moving Pieces

Shaun Smith at Open Book Ontario has a new post up in his Fiction Craft feature wherein he considers the question What methods do you use to get the story moving forward again when the writing stalls?  In his introduction, Shaun says:

I hate the term “writer’s block” because it is something often perceived by people who have never experienced it as a kind of magical and romantic state, like being in a haunted trance. Such people are idiots. This kind of block—one which entirely stops the forward momentum of a novel—is about as magical and romantic as a broken vacuum cleaner. When I am faced with this kind of block, the only solution is to let the book tell me where it wants to go. Writing a book is like taking a dog for a very, very long walk. At first you can guide the dog, lead it where you want it to go, but eventually the dog will stop and pull in a different direction.

And then myself and some illustrious others — A.C.E. Bauer, Julie Cross, Megan Crewe, Ursula Poznanski, Tess Fragoulis, Jill Williamson, Hilary Davidson, R.J. Harlick and C.C. Benison — get to weigh in.  You can read the post in its entirety, here.

A Certain Kind of Peace

I meant to post this for black history month, but Morrison belongs in any month, really.

There is a certain kind of peace that is not merely the absence of war.  It is larger than that.  The peace I am thinking of is not at the mercy of history’s rule, nor is it a passive surrender to the status quo.  The peace I am thinking of is the dance of an open mind when it engages another equally open one – an activity that occurs most naturally, most often in the reading/writing world we live in.  Accessible as it is, this particular kind of peace warrants vigilance.

— Toni Morrison, The Dancing Mind (Knopf, 1996)