Monday, December 30, 2013

I have no one to blame but myself. And the CEO of Netflix.

My Christmas holidays have come and gone, and with them, a little bit of self-respect. I managed to get zero writing done in the time off work I had. Even when it came to Christmas cards I was like "Arggghhhh. Do I have to actually write something here?" Which was followed by a sort of goat sound. 

My standard 2013 Christmas card message. LAZY.

That is not my name, by the way. "Emi____." See what I'm talking about? I couldn't even be bothered to write my whole name!

Most of the time I eschewed Christmas cards altogether, opting instead for those teeny gift tags whose limited real estate make writing more than one's name impossible. Gift tags are absolutely brilliant for this very reason. I don't care how important you are to me or how much I love you -- from this day forward, you will only receive gift tags.

This writing laziness of mine stretched all the way back to my sister's early December baby shower. At the brief message I'd jotted in the card, one guest shouted, in mock horror, "But you're a writer! You should do better!" Which made me want to wrestle her to the ground and hogtie her with pink streamers.

So I feel bad about not writing. But I also feel pretty good. I needed a brain break, yes, but more than that, I needed to feel what I'm feeling right now: I miss writing. I don't feel like myself without it in my life, and the things I thought I could fill my life with if I chose to give it up, well, I don't seem to be doing those things. I mean, I had basically an entire week free, and I didn't do any of them.

Here are the things:
1. Teach myself the ukulele
2. Learn a new language
3. Enjoy winter
4. Something else that I forgot about, because that's how much I was going to follow through with it

So now all I have is a sore thumb from flipping through Netflix and a bruised sense of self-worth. Oh, and a Vitamix! (I got a Vitamix, you guys! Kale smoothies for everyone!)

I did manage to get in some outdoor exercise, though, despite the treacherous weather. For example, Anthony and I went for a walk on the trail near our place. Normally it would be clear of trees and full to the seams with joyful dogs. But post ice storm, it looked like this:

Anthony amidst trees bent and broken by the ice storm that hit
on December 22 and took 20% of Toronto's urban forest with it.

This is the kind of wintery BS that inspired my first novel. Which only served to remind me that I hadn't been working on my second novel. LAZY.

Anyways, that's me. How was your Christmas break, for those lucky enough to get one? Did you get any writing done? You can tell me, really. I promise not to hogtie you.

Friday, December 27, 2013

My Top Ten Books of 2013…

… and some from 2012and even 2008and some that weren't new in 2013 but I read them in 2013 (or 2012) or thought about them fondly in 2013 and so therefore thus hence am including them on this SEO-friendly list. 


Anyhoo, in no particular order, here are some reads that are well worth your time. (If you so happen to have the exact same taste in books that I do, that is.)

1. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
War, love and the reinvention of oneself—all painfully well noticed. Perfection. I gush about this book too much (here and here) so I'll say no more. 

2. The Crooked Maid by Dan Vyleta
A dark, strangely funny, WWII-era page-turner. It’s likely an under-the-radar-novel outside of Canada, so pick this one up, my international friends, and you'll have something "undiscovered" to recommend to that guy you always end up in the sauna with at the gym.

3. Treasure Island!!! by Sara Levine
Oh how I laughed and laughed! You will hate/love the main character and you will marvel at how Levine managed to pull it off.

4. Drunk Mom by Jowita Bydlowska
I normally don’t fall all over myself for non-fiction, but Bydlowska’s memoir left me dumbfounded for weeks after reading it. The tale she tells is brutally honest and scary and illuminating. Plus, the writing knocked my socks off. Say what you will about her actions while in the grip of alcoholism and new motherhoodsome members of the Canadian press certainly didbut Jowita Bydlowska is one of the most exciting up-and-coming writers writing today.

5. How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti
Some have argued that this novel is not really a novel. I think they’re just jealous that Heti came up with the idea first.

6. Orkney by Amy Sackville
A must-read for every writer of literary fiction, in my opinion. It will school you hard. 

7. The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner
I don’t care about motorcycles or the New York art scene in the 1970s, but the writing was so good and the characters so well realized that what I don't care about was quickly made irrelevant. Rachel Kushner is one of my new favorites.

8. The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson
I’m half obsessed with North Korea, and the weirdness/horror presented in this brilliant book did not disappoint.

9. Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan
Featuring a spy (who didn't set out to be a spy) and a writer (who has doubts about his ability to write), this is a fun, smart romp that explores two of the things I'm most fascinated with: writing/ego and the practicalities of espionage. 

10. City of Thieves by David Benioff
This novel was published back in 2008 but my love for it still burns as white hot as the night we first met. I don't lend it often because I'd feel deeply hurt if the borrower didn't want to marry City and have its babies like I did. It's on my Must Re-Read List for 2014. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Christmas!!! (and an update on my rewrite)


My husband and I put up the Christmas tree on the weekend and it's safe to say it's the smallest tree I've ever had. 



Just to give you an idea of the true scale of the thing…


Other than that, the novel rewrite I started back in April is nearing completion. I've got one more chapter left to read through tonight and then it's off to my agent. I like the book quite a bit now, although I did find myself nodding off in a few chapters that didn't need much revising from the original. Here is the text message exchange between myself and my fabulous writer friend when I was editing those chapters:


How exciting can words be when you've read them 25 times, though, right? You could be writing about exploding dragons in space and you'd still be like "Ugh. Enough with the exploding space dragons already!"


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Why moms are awesome...


... and also a little out of touch with how publishing actually works.

Love you, mom! You'll always be my #1 fan! (And I yours.)

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Wisdom from an unpublished novelist

The lesson I learned today while editing my manuscript:
Genius can’t be rushed. Indeed.
But mediocrity really, really CANNOT be rushed. Like, not at all.


Monday, October 28, 2013

Lamp or Japanese Water Ghost?

I attended a fascinating talk at the International Festival of Authors on the weekend. It featured four young authors, all of whom had written novels about war/conflict. All four had very different points of view and outlooks on writing, and the whole thing was incredibly thought provoking. It also veered into the weird courtesy Shani Boianjiu who preferred to answer her own questions, stroke her long black hair and pretty much disagree with everyone on the panel, I think, just to stir up s#it. Needless to say, Shani made the event feel a little bit more like The Real Housewives of New Jersey than literary roundtable, which, for anyone who knows me knows that I NOW LOVE SHANI BOIANJIU. 

Among the panelists was the author of one of my favorite books of the year: Anthony Marra, writer of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, which I have drooled about here. Anthony was charming and thoughtful, and provoked a great deal of the debate... whether he wanted to or not. 

He signed books afterwards and I was so nervous when I met him that I rambled about how I bought his book twice: first as an e-book and second as a paperback so I could get his signature. I also rambled something about how "I'm a struggling writer and your book sort of gave me permission to write about war too even though I haven't lived it either blah blah blah." Then Anthony smiled, told me that he's a "struggling writer too," which made me want to hug him and, also, kick him in the shins.

Anyway, because I bought his book twice, Anthony signed it twice. Ha! He also drew a doodle of me on the page (see below), which brings me to the point of this post. 


A friend thinks that the doodle of me looks like a lamp...


... But I think it looks more like a Japanese water ghost.


What say you?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Donuts and dollhouses

I have three days off work coming up at the end of October – three glorious days – and I have big plans for them:

1) Eat a gluten-free, vegan donut from Tori’s Bakeshop

2) Edit manuscript

This edit will be the last before I send it off to my agent, who, God-willing, will actually want to read it again. All the old fears are boiling up, of course – that’s where the donuts come in – but all the old excitement, too. I haven’t read the thing, on purpose, in months and I’m missing it. I’m also terrified that, compared to all the astonishingly good books I’ve read since we parted (Orkney by Amy Sackville among them), my little novel will seem like an unmitigated turd.


To keep my mind off of my manuscript the last little while, I’ve kept myself busy with reading as many quality novels as I could, obsessively checking the Ontario Arts Council “Current List of Grant Recipients” web page, and writing a new piece for the CBC short story contest. The short is pretty good, I think. It was inspired by a hilarious voicemail from my dad and my 25-year-old ransacked dollhouse:


My actual dollhouse as photographed in August of 2013.
Note the dollhouse within the dollhouse. I was a deeply meta child.

So that's all from me. I’ll let you know if I like or dislike my manuscript. I’ll also be sure to post a photo of the donut. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Hurrah!

I had a major writing breakthrough last night. MAJOR. I am so stoked about it that I want to shout it from the tops of cliffs, preferably while wearing a white shirt that billows in the breeeze. But since cliffs aren't subway accessible where I live and this shirt will definitely make me look fat....


... I'll settle for typing out jubilant whoops
on my blog.

Woo hoo! Yay! Yippee!

I can see the end, people! I'm almost done with my (latest) rewrite of novel #1! Another couple weeks of hard work, followed by a couple months away from my manuscript, then another read/edit with fresh(ish) eyes, a read by my trusted writer friend, more edits and then -- five or so months from now -- I'll send it off to my agent.

I am very excited, I must say. I feel like I spend so much time worrying and thinking and working working working that I don't enjoy the moments when everything comes together and clicks, you know? So today I'm throwing a party in my brain. And you're all invited! Who's bringing the guacamole? 




Friday, July 19, 2013

It's back-to-business time


Writing is hard, but it's extra hard after honeymooning in Italy, not writing a single word for nine days, and flying home to Canada in a full-blown carb coma. (The gluten-free gods have blessed the Amalfi Coast, let me tell you.)

I've been back for a while now and while my pants are still tight, the writing -- finally -- is feeling loose and comfy again. It's also frequent.

This, more or less, is what my schedule has been like. (Not including weekends and Friday nights, which are a bit more -- ahem -- unpredictable.)

6:45 am: Wake up. 
7:45 am: Take subway to work. Edit manuscript on my iPhone on subway. (My best editing discovery ever, btw. A must-try, if you can read small.)
8:30 am - 1:00 pm: Work. I eat my lunch while working. (I'm really into smoked-tofu sandwiches again.)
1 - 1:45 pm: Edit/write in Starbucks on laptop (while drinking that morning's cold coffee).
1:45 - 5 pm: Work.
5:30 - 6:00 pm: Edit manuscript on my iPhone on subway.
6:45 pm - Eat dinner. Catch up with very patient/understanding husband.
7:45 pm: Write new scenes. (No editing of old stuff allowed!)
9:00 pm: Watch Orange is the New Black or Under the Dome. Do back exercises.
10:00 pm: Read. (Currently: The Bell Jar)
11:00 pm: Sleep. 

Repeat.

I know now that I have to write every single day to keep the ideas flowing -- and to stay in touch with my characters. Every writer with a full-time job (or family or both) knows how hard it can be to find balance, but when you love it (even though you also HATE it) it's worth it.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

A book that will make you better

Screw Eckhart and Deepak. If you're feeling dulled by everyday life, unmotivated, unmoved, unfeeling towards your common man, uninspired, skip the self-help aisle and head straight for the literary fiction. Because A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra is the book that will make you better.


Marra takes on the subjects of loss, love, loyalty, innocence, deprivation, pain -- so, life -- with such glorious sensitivity, such appreciation for the minutiae caught up within each, that he's going to rub off on you. He'll make you want to write better than you ever have before and to be better, too.


Marra has a remarkable talent for what I'm going to call "extreme noticing." A wire, condensed milk, a pack of dogs, snow, a stranger. All of these things are elevated so artfully it makes you want to weep that you've spent so little time considering them, both as a writer and as a human being.


You're probably thinking "Duh. All authors notice stuff. That's how pages get filled." But I'm telling you: Anthony Marra notices better.


Until Marra's novel (his first, by the way, the bastard) never have I once made use of the highlighter on my Kindle, a tool that quickly became redundant. I mean, what was I going to do? Highlight every single word? So I let go of the menu button and I let his prose wash over me, cleansing my brain of that fucking Maroon Five song, how bummed I am to be home from vacation, and from the mental graffiti of The Real Housewives of Atlanta. Finally, a cure for the aphorisms of NeNe Leakes. Oh how they ail me!


He's incredible with the big stuff, too. The horrors of war, the complications of sisterhood and fatherhood, the wisdom of a child who has seen too much, which he pulls off without making that wisdom saccharine or annoying as hell. 


Every line that flows from Marra's brain is brilliant and the depth of his observations makes me wonder if the man can ever relax. Can he take a walk without having to pull over to a bench every few minutes to take notes? Floss his teeth? Eat a beet chip? And, my God, dream?


I don't know how nature churned out a human with this much empathy, heart and talent all wrapped together. It seems like mad luck, the happiest of accidents. However he happened, I believe this planet of ours could use more souls like Anthony Marra. We could definitely use more writers.


Monday, July 1, 2013

Vacation


I’m home and I don’t want to be. I want to fly back to Italy, to board a train that snakes through the graffiti and garbage of Naples, to stay in a hotel room with a toilet that runs and an elevator next door that makes thumping noises as I sleep. I want to wake up late and live only for lunches and dinners like the gnocchi in a sauce so perfect that I dream about it, the marinara in my veins instead of blood. I want to speed down roads so narrow that my driver, his hair wavy as the Mediterranean, makes every turn a three-point. I want to wander through a town murdered by volcanic ash and meet the people living above it today, denying that it’s their turn next. I want to curl up in a ball near the feet of my Amalfian gondolier as he hurls me through a hole in the cliffside and into a pool of water that condensed sunlight and dumb luck have transformed into a wild aquamarine light show. I want to dive into this electric-looking water like the Japanese tourists who braved the jellyfish and the jagged rock and the question that was on my mind: How the fuck will you get back in the boat? I want to sing with the pirate, a refrigerator box of a man with a wine cork in his ear, who took our captain's bribe and got me into this beautiful hole in the middle of the sea near the middle of the planet and so far away from my home.  I want to go back.

The Blue Grotto off the coast of Capri, Italy.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Doubt

There are moments of self-doubt that creep in throughout the writing process. Am I unique enough? Observant enough? Talented enough? These moments, at least for me, tend to occur most often during the re-writing process, which, by the way, I'm in the thick of.

Yep. I'm revising the first novel. Again. It's a good thing, mostly. I think I've figured out how to make the reader connect better with the main character -- an issue that several editors have flagged.

It was going great for the first few weeks, smooth sailing. I cut 20,000 words and didn't think twice about it. And then the doubt. It didn't so much creep in as run me over. I was sitting in Starbucks typing away and then -- SLAM. "WTF do you know?" it growled. "You're a f&*%ing princess."

It had the voice of a trucker, this doubt, deep, gravelly and southern. Mississippi, maybe? Hard to tell because I move in Canadian circles. But I could smell the cigarettes and BBQ on its breath.

I was re-working a highly-charged emotional scene -- the breakdown of a relationship that's been holding my main character together -- and I didn't know how to write it. Instead of the usual doubts, I wondered "Am I deep enough? Complex enough? Have I experienced enough?"

It felt like I was pulling from clichés and shit I've seen on TV, putting that scene together, like all of my words were coming from an artificial place. I thought that no matter how much imagination and empathy I poured into that page that the emotions would never ring true. The trucker was right, I realized. WTF did I know about this kind of gut-wrenching pain? I AM a f&*%ing princess.

Maybe I'm jinxing myself here, but despite a few bumps along the road, I've lived a pretty charmed life. I've had relationships break down, sure, but I've never been in crisis over it like my main character, and I've never really struggled like she's struggling, or rather, like I want to make her.

Do I have the emotional depth required? The raw resources to draw from? Right now, it sure doesn't feel like it.

I know this too shall pass; I've been doing this long enough, after all. But I am feeling the doubt particularly intensely during this revision.

I suppose I should feel grateful for the doubt. At least it's a feeling. Without it I think the emptiness, the numbness of revising what I've already revised 50 times before would take over and there I'd be, wading through a pool of room-temperature water, my princess gown floating in the waves.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Marriage has nothing to do with writing (except EVERYTHING)

I got married on Saturday and, of course, the only photo that I have from the wedding is of me on the verge of making out with a bowl of French fries.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Elusive Authorwannabeus: A David Attenborough Special


"Look look! We've spotted her! The elusive 'Emily' -- a member of the bespectacled Authorwannabeus species! She was tagged months ago by a research team from the Iowa Writers' Workshop but has eluded detection ever since! Hurrah!

My guide has just informed me that 'Emily' is at work on novel #2 and is preparing to enter a self-imposed literary hibernation. She's already been noticeably absent from her favourite brunch habitats, apparently, and her blog, barring a whiny rant now and then, has been all but abandoned. Goodness me! Aren't we lucky to catch a glimpse!

Now let's try to get a bit closer. Careful now. We don't want to scare her off. Authorwannabeuses are notoriously skittish, not to mention highly defensive when it comes to their work.

Oh my -- look at those haunches! She's already put on the excess weight she believes is required to get her through the long, hard, lonely months ahead. Interesting fact: Unlike the brown bear (Ursus arctos), the Authorwannabeus eats throughout her period of hibernation. In fact, she consumes rather a lot, often binging on corn chips and generic Swedish Berries. Simply fascinating creature.

Wait, what's this? She's doing something! She's... No! Could we really be so lucky? She is! She is banging her head against the keyboard! This is the stuff of Authorwannabeus legend -- a tall tale told by barristas and librarians, but never before documented on film! What a day this has been for science!"

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Matrix vs. Tron and WTF this has to do with writing

It's so easy to erase some things. Yesterday, for instance, I accidentally deleted a blog post. I published the thing, went to edit it later when I noticed a typo and -- oops -- hit "delete" instead of "edit." And it was gone. Instantly. Like it never existed.

And then today. And this is going to be a bit gross so read on at your own peril. Today I got a mole removed. Two hours in my dermatologist's office and that fleshy chocolate chip that's been annoying me since I could wear a bra was excised from my back.

I wish it was that easy with my creative turmoil; that all the emotional baggage I'm holding onto over my work could get lopped off or deleted and be sent far away to some mole lab or the Matrix or wherever deleted blog posts go.... The Grid maybe? Hell, I don't know. Hey Keanu! Why don't you and that guy, that Tron actor guy, fight it out and get back to me?


What's that, Keanu? Thanks to me you'll never be able to eat a chocolate chip cookie ever again? Puh-leese. Aren't you The One or whatever? Shouldn't you be able to like BE a chocolate chip?


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

I've seen the future...



I'm feeling a bit desperate to be read, loved and published these days. It's a phase I swing in and out of, one that's often accompanied by some sort of mildly irrational behaviour. (See here, herehere, here and here.)

It was that state of mind that, last night, pushed me all the way to Cabbagetown and down a dark sidewalk to the creaky front door of a psychic. Actually, he doesn't like to call himself a "psychic," but he reads cards and tells me what's going to happen to me in the future so....

I'd never met the man before, but I'd heard stories, incredible stories, and he did not disappoint. He was a force of nature; oozing personality and attitude and LIFE. He had an ancient dog who farted as if on cue and enormous, looming antiques that made me feel claustrophobic. He burrowed into my eyes with his, reading me more than the cards, and got to business. He told me there was travel in my future, that this was a year of immense change and that the Canadian economy was going to be in the absolute shitter. Then he said something about Jupiter in retrograde, Martha Stewart, Genghis Khan, his day spent fabric shopping and I mentally checked out. I pictured his rococo armoire reaching out, its ornate handles as hands, digging into my pocket for his $65 fee.

He won me back quickly, though, because he is breathtakingly good at what he does. I am creative, he said, and my soul is on fire. I have an innate talent and it needs to sing. He said something about my "physicality" that freaked me the f#$% out because he was dead on. Then he had me shuffle a new deck, split it in three and that's when he said the big IT. It would all work out, he told me, my book, my writing career. Not without struggle, of course, but it would happen. By July or October of this year, he said. I was taken aback -- I wasn't expecting, like, dates and stuff. My stomach jumped into my throat and if the dog hadn't farted again, I just might have.

I felt so special in that room. He made me feel like my dreams were going to come true; that they were, in fact, already in the process of coming true. As I walked out of his home and headed towards the streetcar, my engagement ring still in my pocket, I let myself believe -- I embraced his reading as prophecy.

Today, now that the magic of his showmanship has faded, my belief has weakened. But the dream hasn't. And for me, the dream is enough.

Monday, February 11, 2013

High hopes and new Popes

Not much to report as of late, hence the radio silence. I've also been really busy writing. I recently finished a short story called "The Year of Falling Glass" and submitted it to the Toronto Star's short story contest -- one of the best short fiction contests I've ever come across in terms of prizes and mainstream exposure. Can you imagine making $5000 for a short story? That's unheard of, at least in Canadian literary circles where prizes are either

a) a congratulatory snowball (freezer-shipped to you at your expense),
b) clippings from Michael Ondaatje's beard, or 
c) an empty promise of a moose and/or aurora borealis sighting 

If you're eligible, I highly suggest you toss your hat in the Toronto Star's ring. (Is it just me or did that sound vaguely sexual?) The deadline is February 24. And get this: there's no entry fee. 

Anyways, I hope all is well with your writing/reading/living and that your pick for Pope gets the nod. Here's mine:


Friday, January 4, 2013

I shouldn’t need a supervolcano.

There’s something about an unfinished book that makes me worry about dying. Before I completed my first novel, I never once stressed about kicking the can. I didn’t look forward to the end or anything, but I wasn’t, like, actively agonizing over it.

But now that I have a novel on submission, an amazing agent, several short stories in the works and book two in the rotation, I’m hyper-aware of my mortality. If a driver slams on his brakes in my vicinity or I lose my balance on the stairs, I can't help but think “Whoa! I can’t die now! My first novel hasn’t even been published yet!” It’s insane, self-aggrandizing and narcissistic, of course, not to mention humiliating to admit. But it’s true. 

Oddly enough, I didn’t realize how messed up this state of mind was until last night. I was watching a documentary on the CBC called Supervolcano: Yellowstone’s Fury. I mean, damn. Have you guys heard? Yosemite is going to blow: 
“Visitors may not realize it, but Yellowstone is situated directly above one of the largest volcanic systems on Earth - a supervolcano. For the past two million years, this volcano has erupted roughly every 600,000 years. The last major eruption, which produced a caldera that stretches 80 kilometers by 50 kilometers across the park – two-thirds the size of Prince Edward Island - occurred 640,000 years ago. So, is it overdue for another eruption?”
Needless to say, the documentary was unsettling -- because the answer is YES! -- not to mention alarmist -- because the answer is YES!! -- and, by the end, left me curled in the fetal position on the lounge end of my couch. Even though I live in Toronto, which is 4000 kilometers away from Yosemite, the blast could still bury my city in ash. (Never mind the world famine that would follow, the political and social unrest, the lack of clean drinking water…)

Oh you think this is pretty, do you? Well it isn't.
It's a mother%#$*ing supervolcano,yo!
But not to worry! There is a silver lining!* You see, since last night, my brain has somehow managed to turn this apocalyptic negative (+ my fresh fear of death) into a positive! Yosemite has assigned me a deadline! It’s given me new energy, drive and passion—all fuelled by fear, of course—to finish my second novel! By 2014 if I can swing it. Woo hoo!

Don’t get me wrong: I’m still going to run out and buy a heavy-duty respirator and a three-week supply of water and canned goods. But damn it -- creativity wise, I’ve been supercharged by the supervolcano! 

*For those of you hoping I would tell you something re: the greater good, like that scientists have figured out a way to plug the volcano or something, please refer to my earlier narcissism reference.