Saturday, 31 December 2011

2011: The Year That Twitter Saved My Life

2011 was a hard year, if I may say so. I was not hungry, and I wasn't working crazy 60 hour weeks like I did back in 2010, but still, it was difficult. I spent large swathes of the year unemployed, and as anyone who has gone for stretches of time without work can tell you, the boredom that comes from a lack of routine is awful. I tried very hard to make good use of my time -- I finished revisions in January, and I used the stretches of time later in the year to draft and begin my new novel, but still: it was tough. There was many a day in 2011 when I just didn't see the point of getting out of bed.

This was particularly true at the beginning of the year. I entered 2011 not knowing if my novel would find a publisher (woe is me, I know -- just like practically every other writer out there on the planet!), not knowing if I'd ever get a job, not knowing if I'd ever find the means and the way to move out of my parents' house. I entered 2011 longing for Scotland and the life that I'd left behind. I entered 2011 lonely beyond belief. An expired driver's license and a home deep in the heart of rural Ontario meant that I was, quite literally, stuck. I could not go anywhere physically, and for the longest stretch of time it felt as though I wasn't going to go anywhere emotionally, or mentally, or spiritually, either.

And then I found Twitter, and ever so slowly, things started to get better.

Friday, 30 December 2011

On Beginning ... Again (and again, and again)

Two days or so ago, I went for coffee with a good friend and confessed my usual Horrible Truth About The End Of The Year, said Horrible Truth being that I do not, generally speaking, do ANYTHING at all worthwhile during the last week of any given year. It's like I view the pending entrance of January 1st as complete permission to drop whatever resolutions or good intentions I might hold about myself--let's do some writing today, let's go for a run, let's whatever--in favour of lolling about in a turkey-and-sugar-induced haze.

New novel? Pfft. That story that's been nagging for revision? Meh. Essays? Blog posts? Who the heck cares? You can start over on January 1st. Go ahead. Eat that cupcake. Read that trashy book. In two days, it will all disappear in a wave of resolutions! 

I mention this only because I have, of course, been feeling terribly guilty even in the midst of my slothfulness. But earlier today I came across this post from the lovely Dani Shapiro, and now I feel much better.

"Every paragraph, every chapter, every book is a country we've never been before."


"No, it never gets easier.  It shouldn't get easier.  Word after word, book after book, we build our writing lives."

Word after word. I love that. It reminds me of that children's song, the one about planting: inch by inch/ row by row/ i'm gonna watch my garden grow. Well, I'm going to watch my writing life grow, word by word, in 2012. I am. Truly. But sometimes it's nice to sit back and sloth around. Because when you sit back down in front of that blank white page, and the words start coming -- even when it's hard and it feels like you're breaking a trail in undiscovered country, just as Shapiro so succinctly pointed out -- even then, you know, it's still so very sweet indeed. 

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

The trouble with smiling

Earlier this morning, I came across this hilarious blog post by Elizabeth Stark, contemplating what would have happened if other writers had taken a stab at the Twilight franchise. Much hilarity ensued. Intrigued, I then followed that article up with this one, wherein Ms. Stark gleefully substitutes some oft-used phrases in Twilight with other, slightly more expressive verbs. Again, much hilarity. (The great thing about living alone is that you can cackle to your heart's content at all hours of the day, and no one will think you're insane.)

Of course, once the laughter had subsided, I got to thinking. I am always heartened, on some level, to hear stories of writers whose editors save them from many a mishap. As one of the comments on Ms. Stark's article pointed out, the later books in the Twilight series are strengthened by a greater grip of editorial control; somewhere along the line, it would seem, her editorial team got wise to all of the repetition, and tried to do 'way with it as best they could. Whether or not they succeeded, ultimately, is anyone's guess. But I've talked about my not-so-secret hate/love of the Twilight franchise before, so perhaps it will come as no surprise when I concede the point that, iffy diction aside, Stephenie Meyer certainly knows how to do something with regard to books. You can't write a four-book series in which precious little happens and garner the kind of readership that Meyer has without doing something right.

Anyway, what I wanted to touch on today was that idea/presence of sloppy diction in Meyer's novels. As a former writing student, I think I can safely say that sloppy diction, at least in the eyes of my professors, was right up there with murder and other heinous offenses.

Trouble is, though--I worry that I use sloppy diction all of the time.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Reverb 11: Day 18 (And: My two hundredth post!)

Lets do lunch! - If you could have lunch with anybody, who would it be and what would you like to discuss?

Oooh, that's a toughie. It's the kind of question with an answer that changes all of the time -- based on my mood, my current place in life, and a million other factors. Right now, though? I'd love to hunker down over lunch with Flannery O'Connor. 

We'd talk about writing. We'd talk about birds. I'd ask her all about life on Andalusia, and whether or not she was terrified at any point during that famed Iowa Workshop. If you write to find out what you know, I'd say, what do you do when what you discover ends up being so different from what the rest of the world tells you? 

If we could have lunch today, today's world being what it is, I'd ask her whether she ever struggles. Do you believe it all of the time? Do you really? Because I don't. I don't see how anyone can.

I wonder what she'd say.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

"Instructions" reviewed on

Today I received the lovely news that James Onusko, a writer, reader, and force-to-be-reckoned-with CanLit blogger, had posted a review of Instructions on his website. You can read the review here -- it's lovely and thoughtful and I'm so thankful to James for sharing his thoughts on the novel.

James was also kind enough to conduct an interview with me about self-publishing, social media, and other bookish-related things, and he's posted the interview on his site as well. I tried hard not to ramble overmuch, though it would seem, glancing at the interview now, that I have failed yet again!

Regardless, though -- enjoy, and happy Saturday, everybody!

Reverb 11: Day 17

Life is filled with lessons. We learn from our mistakes as much as we learn from our successes. What lesson did you learn this year? How did you learn it?

Hmmmm ... most probably, something about patience. Be patient about that book, Amanda. Be patient with your job hunt. Be patient with your writing. Be patient with yourself. Be patient with your life.

It's a lesson I'm still learning.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Reverb 11: Day 16

Finding time for stillness is a balm to our souls, our family and our creative lives. How do you find moments of stillness in your daily life?

[Another prompt courtesy of Relish 11, Rebecca, and her guest blogger, Celina Wyss.]

I guess you could say that this year's 365 project -- though I will admit, here and now, that I've lost track of it, become tired, let the struggles of unemployment pull me down -- was an exercise in stillness. Looking at that list of Twitter prompts, I am reminded now of each and every happiness moment, and those moments now have a still, eternal kind of quality. I guarded them carefully, and at the beginning of the project I was bowled over by how much this single act of seeking happiness in the smallest of things had the potential to open up my day. If you look for joy in those tiniest of moments, you will find it, guaranteed.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Reverb 11: Day 15

What single image stands out to you from this year? Perhaps it sums the year up for you in the way it communicates on a wordless level. Or perhaps it just captures a truly happy moment, one that will be only memory in time but, thanks to this photo, you’ll be able to hold on to the moment that much longer.

[Today's prompt, once again, comes courtesy of the lovely Rebecca.]
Iona harbour

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Reverb 11: Day 14

Gratitude - What five things are you most grateful for from 2011?

1) My parents. Who have been entirely patient and gracious with me as I struggled through the murks of joblessness and trying to find a publisher. My parents, who make me laugh. My parents, who quite happily opened up their home again to the wayward, unemployed daughter, and made sure I got fed. 

2) Twitter. More on this in a future blog post. But let's just say, right here, right now: I am very grateful for the wonderfulness that is Twitter, and the cheeky writing/publishing geeks whose accounts I follow (yes, I admit, like a stalker) and whose lives are ever so much more interesting than mine. It's like TV, only immeasurably more awesome!

3) The series of lucky-ish events -- catching that train on time, finding that cheap-enough hotel room, missing that last ferry -- that allowed me to spend some time on Iona.  

4) Small pleasures. I've been somewhat lax in posting about my 365 project (seems to be par for the course with me and projects of all kinds!), but this year more than any other, I think, I've come to appreciate those smallest of things that bring us joy. 

5) The fact that other people have faith in me even when I lose faith in myself. Don't ever underestimate the power of other people believing in you, kids. Sometimes it can make the gloomiest of days seem special. 


Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Reverb 11: Day 13

What stuck with you? In 2011, what book that you read, film that you saw, song that you heard (or whatever is your preferred sensory experience) really stuck with you? The kind of thing where you keep thinking about it.

Annabel, by Kathleen Winter. I've already gushed about this book, and so rather than repeat my gushing ad nauseum, I'm just going to link to my review/essay/musings on it. And then you can read it, ad nauseum.

My favourite book of the year, hands down. I still think about it daily--I remember certain lines, or certain images, or I'll be walking down a Hamilton street and the arrangement of tiles inside a shop will remind me of Treadway. I stand in Ontario and smell the plants of Labrador. In so many ways, I feel as though this book has inserted itself into my DNA. And yet I say all that while recognizing it's not a book that will resonate with everybody--though oh, how I wish that it could. I wish everyone who picked that book up could have their soul cracked open. I really, truly do.

Anyway. Here I go, gushing ad nauseum again. Read the review. Read the book. And I hope it changes your life as much as it changed mine.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Reverb 11: Day 12

Where have you discovered community, online or otherwise, in 2011? What community would you like to join, create or more deeply connect with in 2012?

Well, this is possibly the easiest Reverb 11 post yet. 

TWITTER. Oh my, but 2011 has been all. About. Twitter. Twitter Internet friends! Twitter friends in real life! Twitter fangirls! Twitter book reviewers! Twitter literary communities! Saucy Twitter peeps who blurb obnoxious things! Sexy Twitter peeps who blurb sexy things! Foodie Twitter peeps who blurb YUMMY things! 

It's all been rather delicious. And I can wish nothing higher for 2012 than to get even more entrenched in the lively community of writers on Twitter. (More on this in a future post, but kids, you very likely saved my life this year.) Though I will say, now that I'm officially becoming a Hamiltonian again as of January 1st, that it will also be nice to get more involved in Hamilton's arts community. But that will come soon enough, I'm sure. Right now: I am ever so thankful and grateful for the myriad loved ones I discovered this year via this most social of social networking sites. So, friends, thanks for you. And thanks again to Twitter for making me aware of your presence(s) in the world. 

I am much obliged. Much.  

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Reverb 11: Day 11

What quote, or line from a poem or a song, most captures what this year was for you?

[I'm officially mixing 'er up now! Today's Reverb 11 post is actually the Day 9 post from Relish 11, which is hosted by this lovely lady. I just read it and instantly knew what line did it for me in 2011, so couldn't resist sharing.]

Don't wanna see another generation drop

I'd rather be a comma than a full stop 

 Okay, so it's a line from a Coldplay song. Ain't nothin' wrong with that, I say ...

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Reverb 11: Day 10

What was the best thing you learned about yourself this past year? And how will you apply that lesson going forward?

Perhaps ... that my capacity for self-forgiveness is greater than my capacity for guilt. And seeing as how my capacity for guilt is enormous, that might be saying something rather big. It's a realization tempered by the fact that there's no end to the dark things we can think about ourselves; by the fact that it's always possible to feel worse about something. There is no end to the guilt that I carry. Guilt about not doing enough: not writing, not seeing people, not playing music, not reading, not exercising, not being a better friend and daughter.

But this year--I am so apt to think of it as a "hiatus" year, which in and of itself makes me feel guilty--there were moments, lying awake in the darkness of night, when I just thought: it's okay. It will all be okay, somehow. Those moments when you realize, somewhere deep in your soul, that you will continue being you and making your own mistakes and somehow being at peace--at strange, tumultuous peace--with yourself anyway. 

I wish I'd had more of those moments, it's true. But just knowing that they happened--that clarity came, for however small a time--is something. Let's hope I hang onto that clarity and that forgiveness--it's all right, it will all be okay--as the sun rises on 2012 ...

Friday, 9 December 2011

Reverb 11: Day Nine

How did you travel in 2011? How and/or where would you like to travel next year?

The biggest travel excursion in 2011, obviously, was the trip to Scotland. And oh, such a wonderful trip it was! The Scotland that I longed for when I lived there, the Scotland that I could never quite afford. (Such is life, when you are a starving artist.) The Scotland that brought me so many unexpected joys. A whirl of ceilidh fun. A night of pancakes and maple syrup. Another night, alone, dancing in a posh flat with Jill Barber turned up high. The Scotland that gave me Iona, finally, and let me touch the thin face of God if only for a flicker of time.

Oh, Scotia. You are missed.

I'd love to go back to Scotland in 2012. I still see myself living there again, eventually. Be it two years from now or twenty. A small seaside flat and my feet on those cobblestones, the shimmering rain-soaked grass, the smell of that lonely ocean. One day. But perhaps 2012 will hold other travels for me, too. I'm always hesitant to talk about future plans for travel because it seems that as soon as I utter them things never quite work out. But. There are plans. Plans for Canada, plans for farther abroad. Let's hope some of them come true.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Reverb 11: Day Eight

Imagine you will completely lose your memory of 2011 in five minutes. Set an alarm for five minutes and capture the things you most want to remember about 2011.

[I started this with good intentions and went way over five minutes ... oh well.]

Starting off the year with new hopes for the novel. Writing Reverb10 posts and realizing that maybe things weren't all that bad. Being asked for an interview by Jeffery Davis (and then doing the interview and enjoying it muchly). Having Kathleen Winter post on my blog! Holy cow! Finishing the novel ... again. Feeling that edge of despair when the US submissions kept coming back. Writing for stretches at a time at the dining room table, with sunlight slanting across the hardwood floor. Walking the dog in the cold air, the warm air, the hot summer heat. Taking pictures of the snow. Watching the dog sniff around in the snow and toss it up in the air like she hasn't seen it every winter for the past five years. Walking ... and trying to make myself believe that everything would be okay. 

Getting that job offer at the hospital -- my mother on the other line, and me, trying not to cry. Trying not to think about how much my life had derailed from The Plan. Then starting that hospital job. Crying every day for the 1st three days of work. Learning. Gradually getting accustomed to it. Remembering the patients' names, and how much that simple thing just made them smile. Laughing with my sister at so many movies. 

The Vampire Diaries movie marathon with aforementioned sis. Driving the new truck here, there, and everywhere -- but mostly just to the library in Cayuga. Going to Scotland in the summer. That incandescent moment, dancing a ceilidh on the wedding floor. And then that moment in the flat, afterwards, when we'd had dinner a few days later and I got the book offer in my mailbox. Days spent traipsing up and down Edinburgh streets. Sunshine on the cobblestones. An unexpected and wholly meant-to-be trip to Iona, finally. Stepping on the island and starting to cry. Going to the abbey that night and listening to the wind wreak havoc over a silent, still abbey on the edge of the sea. Infinity so close you could touch it if you only tried hard enough.

Lunches in Hamilton with new writer friends. Writing. Writing. Writing. New projects. Fireworks and parades in Dunnville. Summertime. Birthday lunches out with my mother, and the greatest Indian food I had all year. Sublet offer of a wee Hamilton flat for November and December.

Hours gradually crawling down at work. Back to quasi-unemployment again by the beginning of November, but lots of writing time, and then a move to downtown Hamilton and a flat with hardwood floors and long stretches of sunshine. The surprise: depression can find you even here. Writing. Writing. Writing. A Giller Light bash, and meeting Twitter friends face-to-face. A door prize win! Huzzah!

More writing. More reading. More unexpected friendships. A book club. A night spent baking Christmas cookies and discovering new friends . A random ad for another flat, a viewing, and falling head over heels in love with the space. It's mine now, as of January 1st. And now it's almost Christmas, and the year is winding down, and I find myself suddenly, tantalizingly in touch with the enthusiasm that's been so elusive these past months. Maybe even these past two years, yes, and all that in spite of the wonderful things that 2011 brought me.

There were so many wonderful things about this year. This exercise is probably my favourite of the Reverb manifesto, not least of all because once you start remembering those joyous moments, the happiness can snowball and leave you overwhelmed with riches. All too often, for me, I have a tendency to let depression do the same. So today, I'm taking more-than-five minutes and writing about these moments in 2011 that I would like to remember forever. There are so many more moments, too--you can't squish an entire year into five minutes. But here we are. I'll come back to this thought in a future blog post, but it would seem to me, in many ways, that this turned out to be a writing year after all. Despite the struggles. Perhaps even because of the struggles. 

Now if only I could remember this exercise, and the feelings of calm that it brought, all of the time ... :)

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Reverb 11: Day Seven

What should you have done this year but didn’t because you were too scared, worried, unsure, busy or otherwise deterred from doing? (Bonus: Will you do it?)

Simple: I should have taken more pictures. I even listed it in one of my early year pep-talk blog posts! Yet somehow the link with my camera got broken this year, or forgotten. Somehow I just stopped. I don't have a particularly good excuse for it, either. I just didn't do it. 

Maybe another 365 project is in order. Maybe ...  

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Reverb 11: Day 6

What are 11 things your life doesn’t need in 2012? How will you go about eliminating them? How will getting rid of these 11 things change your life?

If I recall myself correctly, I had a bit of a tough time trying to figure this question out for the Reverb 10 post at the beginning of the year. And yet--going back over it, reading it now, it just sounds so darned smart. So smart, in fact, that I find myself hard pressed to think of eleven new things to shuck in 2012. Besides--I made that great, wonderful, I'm-going-to-get-rid-of-these-things proclamation right at the beginning of January, and then proceeded to stress/worry/be afraid anyway. Amazing, isn't it, how you can decide one thing for yourself on a particular day and then find yourself unraveling only days later. 

So I'm cheating for this Reverb 11 post. And repeating the eleven things that I acknowledged I did not need at the beginning of the year. (With perhaps one or two adjustments.) I still don't need them, and I still struggle, and I might as well own up to it. 

Monday, 5 December 2011

Reverb11: Day 5

Describe five of your guilty pleasures

I was all gung-ho for this, initially (the lapsed Catholic in me loves to connect with her guilt on a perpetual basis), and then as I was trolling through some other Reverb 11 responses I noticed that someone said: I have five pleasures listed here, and I don't know why I should feel guilty about them! 

I like that. Why feel guilty about something that brings you pleasure? (Except, of course, if that thing happens to be the Twilight series of books.) I mean, we're here to search for happiness, non? So these things that bring you happiness should, in however small a way, be celebrated. No guilt. And so I am actively setting my guilt aside today. Behold, my list of Five (Formerly Guilty) Pleasures:

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Reverb11: Day 4

Addition through subtraction - What have you let go of this year and how has it affected you?

In many ways I suppose I feel like I let Edinburgh go this year. I let go of it in the sense that I stopped, somewhere, at some point, believing that I'd be living back in the city by the end of the year, or even within the next two years. I came back at the end of 2010 thinking that I would apply for an artist visa and be back in the country, back in that most beloved of beloved cities, by the end of 2013. And who knows--maybe that's still a possibility. In some universe. I still think I'm going to get back there, eventually. Be it five years from now, or ten--at some point I'll have my little Scottish life back. Even if it's only a wee beachside flat that I visit four months out of the year. Someday, it will be mine. 

But at some point in 2011 I stopped thinking that I wanted to build my career from a Scottish outpost. There are too many connections here in Canada--too many readers, too many literary tweeps, too many coincidences. Maybe that's just a reflection of how small the Canadian publishing scene is; nonetheless, there's something about home that's meant for me, I think. At least right now. 

I'm still not at peace with it. Every now and again I'll get struck by a profound sense of homesickness. I'm homesick for my little Scottish house, for my favourite pub, for those friends I dearly miss. I'm homesick for the little grey isle, as cold and unwelcoming and hard as it was. There was no in-between in Scotland--I was either very happy or very depressed, and as odd as this might sound I miss that too. 

But! One must move forward. At some point, somehow. Maybe this next year will see me build a little life in Hamilton, one that isn't characterized by the temporariness of subletting a friend's apartment. Maybe there will be a space for me here, one where I can put my books on the walls and have my own furniture out in the open at last. My things have been very patient during the ten years that they've been stuck in the basement. And there have been so many unexpected friends here, so many unexpected little joys.

I still miss the city, though. Even now, thinking about it, there's this soft little pocket of sorrow sitting right there in the middle of my collarbone. I'm already thinking about next year's trip. About a sabbatical on Iona. If only, if only ...

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Reverb11: Day 3

A Moment in Time - Tell us about one moment that you lived in 2011 that you will never forget.

It's July 11th. Evening. I'm sitting on a couch in a lovely posh flat smack in the middle of Edinburgh, laughing, flushed with warmth. I'm surrounded by people I love. We've just finished a true, Canadian-style dinner of pancakes and sausage. The apples were caramelized and perfect. Everyone went back for seconds. I'm wearing a "new" old shirt that I picked up at the charity shops that very day--the sun was shining, and we meandered through Edinburgh's downtown core on the lookout for swimsuits and summer clothes, basking in the light. We stopped halfway through the day and sat in Princes Street Gardens for a while, with (it would seem) every other soul in Edinburgh. The Scots worship the sun, even more than I do. A few hours of warmth is all it takes to send people scurrying out from their cubbyholes and into the city. 

There are a few people that I don't know here tonight, and so I've just spent the last half hour telling them all about my journey to publication woes. At this point, my agent and I have been hawking (that's what it feels like now) my novel for well over six months. I'm discouraged. I'm beginning to think I'll never be the kind of writer that I wish I could be. But it's nice, telling the story to these people I don't know. They're supportive. They seem interested. (Maybe they're all just very good actors, but tonight I'll just be grateful and play in the illusion.) And all of a sudden, as I'm sitting there, I think: I am perfectly happy right now. Even without the book. It's just nice to be here. Nice to be drinking wine, nice to be full, and loved, and warm. I am perfectly happy with my life right now, as it is. 

Half an hour later, of course, there was that book offer in my inbox. And so that day--that glorious, beautiful Edinburgh day, where I was perfectly happy shopping and eating and sprawling in the sun, perfectly content to sit in a comfy couch and eat pancakes and listen to stories--also turned out to be the day when everything turned around. "Pretty serendipitously awesome", was how someone later described it. Perfectly happy without the book--and then, as it turned out, I got to be happy with the book too. 

That moment, though. That full-bodied, every-cell-alive awareness of happiness. Oh how I wish every day could bring something like it!

Friday, 2 December 2011

Reverb 11: Day Two

My Children Will Do it Differently - If you could choose one thing that your children will do or experience in a different way than you have, what would it be and why?

I'd take my children traveling, I think. Which is not to say that I haven't done a fair amount of traveling on my own -- just that I would love to expose my own children to the pleasures of travel much sooner. Of course, who the heck knows how I'll do this, since it will probably cost approximately ONE MILLION DOLLARS per year to raise children by the time I get around to it, but ... yes. I'll take them traveling, if I can.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Reverb11: Day One

Encapsulate the year 2011 in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word.  Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2012 for you?

Patience. 2011 was ALL. ABOUT. PATIENCE. Remember how at the beginning of January I ventured to be impossibly optimistic and snagged happiness as my word for 2011?

Yeah. A tad optimistic, I think. A tad. 

"Rebel Hell" in InkTank Magazine!

Good morning, kids. It's a beautiful, frosty day in southwestern Ontario. Perfect December weather. I'm feeling extra Christmasy, even though there's no snow. (Plenty of time for that, though. Plenty of time.)

I'm also chuffed to announce that my essay, "Rebel Hell", is featured in this month's edition of InkTank Magazine. So go have a read. They're a lovely little Toronto publication looking to fill the Internet with the breathings of your heart -- yours, mine, and anyone else who might like to chance it.

You can read the essay here. Enjoy -- or at least, I very much hope that you do!