LEXICON BOOKS, GRAND OPENING MAY 1ST 2015

A poet, a novelist, and an illustrator walk into a bar…..

Actually we didn’t meet in a bar but I’m pretty sure that wine was involved. Or coffee. Books go with everything.

I will say that when we first went to each other’s homes, we all checked out the bookshelves (I do that anyway, and woe betide the friendship when there are no books). We approved each other’s choices– diverse and intriguing with a smatter of classic and a pinch of quirk– and the novels of Kate Atkinson appeared at all three houses.

Kate Atkinson brought this partnership together!

This has been more than a year in the planning (and many years previously in the dreaming), but the date is fast approaching.

The painting is done. The paperwork is done.

We’re down to the fun details like ordering signs,shelves and books; figuring out our window displays, and bringing in the non-booky items.

Here’s the sandwich board sign:
Lexicon Sign Feb 23

This design was created by local writer/illustrator Tia Mushka. We’ll be selling prints, cards, bookmarks and bookplates of her magical, whimsical and evocative artwork.

See YOU in the bookstore!!!

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The Spaces in Between

Halifax Public Library

This weekend I was on a panel at the breathtaking new Halifax Central Library (pictured here), with acclaimed journalist and fellow Fierce Shorts author, Chris Benjamin, talking about writing from life (although isn’t all writing from life? Even if it isn’t from your own particular life?)

Anyway, as happens every time I am asked to talk about writing, I thought of most of my brilliant anecdotes afterwards.

But seriously, not brilliant perhaps, but maybe useful.

I did speak a little about writing highly emotional scenes by keeping excessive emotionality out of the writing. The more painful the scene, the more spare and anchored the prose. At least that’s what I do when writing about events and experiences that still make me tear up. In those scenes- like for instance when I have written about my best friend’s suicide, the stripped down (almost mater of fact) language actually makes it more poignant to read. Any excess comes across as a Hallmark card moment and robs the weight from the words.

What I should have also mentioned though, are two things I learned from my writing teacher and superb memoirist, Abigail Thomas. (By the way she has a new book coming out in March called: What Comes Next and How to Like it).

One is to write around the subject. Instead of going into a monologue about death, talk about something else that ‘walks’ next to it. A different event and the feelings engendered by it. For instance, I wrote about a trip I took with my best friend shortly before she died. Her subsequent death made this trip a once in a lifetime experience and the things that occurred during it took on a different meaning afterwards.

Writing tangentially as if you are bracketing the main theme of the story works as well. You know who’s really great at that? Kate Atkinson- and if you haven’t read any of her books, get ye to an independent bookstore right now and buy one!!!!
Sneaky sideways action- It’s how our minds operate after all. Memories linked in all kinds of interesting ways, each begetting the next one and each with a different flavour and mood. Most writers know that leavening gloom with humour is a really good idea.

The second is to consider the spaces in between the words. The things that aren’t actually said but the reader hears them anyway. You can’t say to your reader, Prepare to be sad now, or I order you to be sad about this. But if you set up a scene, present a situation/dilemma/question, write the end result and then just let the reader form their own conclusions, and put themselves into the story, you’ll achieve the impact you’re looking for.

Writing is not a one way dialogue. The reader brings all their own experiences and feelings to the writing and in a way takes over the story. It becomes their story if it resonates with them. It’s one of the reasons that individual readers take so many different things away from a story and often these are completely dissimilar, or not necessarily what the writer intended. But that’s OK too.

Once a story is out there, its ownership is in question. It belongs to whoever reads it.

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Balance and the Bookstore

I’ve always worked in ‘different’ jobs- the independent music industry for over twenty years back when it was fun, as a landscape gardener, as a tree surgeon, as a bookseller.

The most ‘regular’ jobs I’ve ever had were marketing for an investment company, and writing professional resumes for a bunch of yahoos. But that’s the way I liked it, I wasn’t interested in 9 to 5 jobs with limited creativity potential. The creativity in bringing a tree down safely using ropes and pulleys? The art in planting 500 tulip bulbs in a small wood (it belonged to the Producer of those Scream movies) so that they looked natural but also highly visible for maximum impact- those were crazy creative endeavours!

I’m a single mum with two young-ish kids though one is now entering the teenage zone.

And I’m a writer. God, how I love to make up stories!

But (and perhaps it’s the divorce which knocked me from my perfectly centred teeter totter) I feel continually off balance. As if my cup is overflowing and then drained bone-dry.
I’m a mum for the week, juggling school drop-offs, pick-ups, meals and what the heck to give them for lunch, and then the kids go to their dad.
I know, I know!– scores of friends have told me to embrace my independence and I do. I hang with my boyfriend, drink wine, go to sleep late, have coffee in bed, but I miss them the whole time, like I’ve lost my arm temporarily. Nothing feels exactly ‘right’.

And then there’s the other third of my life. Second to my kids and family and friends but equally integral.
I write books. Writing fills me up. I need to do it like I need to breathe. At this point so much of my identity is wrapped up in writing, so much purpose therein. Simply, it’s what I do (and hopefully with some modicum of success).

But every writer knows that the algorithm is not ‘write a book, sell a book’. It is ‘just write the damn book’ (because otherwise you’ll go crazy holding it inside, you won’t be able to breathe, you might just expire from the weight of all those words).
That is a hard way to live. And a harder way to support your kids (and your ever-hungry dogs). And it’s difficult to rationalize spending so much time on something that might not ever pay you.

My first book came out in 2006, my second in 2011, my third(a novella) came out in 2013. I’m always writing but at the moment the best I can hope for is maybe another book in 2016 or 2017. I don’t know what that works out too but it’s nothing to plan dinner on.

So this is what I decided. I needed a job. But not just any job. I needed a job which would offer some flexibility in case of snow days, sick days, and all the other realities of single mum-dom. I needed a job that would feed my soul. And I needed a job where my kids could hang out and where they would want to hang out.

Solution: Open a bookstore. Reading and writing, it’s what I love and it’s what I want to share most with the rest of the world.

Ta Da!!!—-Flash forward about a year, hundreds of meetings and brainstorming sessions, business plan-making and lawyer-meeting, perfect partner-finding, painting, and shelving and poring over publisher’s catalogues.
Oh and making lists. I like lists and so I decided to compile lists of all my favourite books by my favourite authors. And I categorized them by fiction and non-ficition, and YA and MG, and poetry and art, and my partners did it too and BOY are those some long lists and still they only scratch the surface of this immense love we all have for books. And that’s not even including all the NEW books coming out.
So then we made some inventory projections and some cost of inventory projections and slowly, very slowly, we are getting an idea of how many books there will be in this amazing bookstore and how those shelves will look when they are filled.

When I was little and living in England, my mum would drop me and my sister off at The Children’s Bookshop on Broad Street in Oxford, and she’d basically leave us there for hours and hours while she went away and took care of fusty professorial business. I don’t remember anyone ever yelling at us to get off the floor or to stop reading that book or to buy something! All I remember is the shelves stuffed full of books, the sunlight warming the patch on the soft carpet where I sat cross-legged, and the dust motes dancing.

LEXICON BOOKS, hand-picked for readers young and old. We’re opening May 1st and it will be epic.

My heart is so happy.

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Becoming Fierce Blog Tour

The Becoming Fierce: Teen Stories IRL blog tour has started! From September 9 until September 23 you’ll be able to check out early reviews of our creative non-fiction anthology, plus Q&As with the authors and guest posts.

Sept 9 — Nayu’s Reading Corner (review)
Sept 10 — Feisty Little Women (review)
Sept 11 — Words Like Silver (Q&A)
Sept 12 — Teen Librarian (Review)
Sept 15 — The Diary of a Bookworm (Review)
Sept 16 — Canlit for Little Canadians (Review)
Sept 17 — Canlit for Little Canadians (Q&A)
Sept 18 — Kat Ross Books (Guest Post)
Sept 23 — Glamorous Book Lounge (Q&A)

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Becoming Fierce: Teen Stories IRL

This honest and moving anthology of YA writers comes out September 23 2014.

I have a story in here about my best friend, our turbulent youth, and the bad choices we made out of love, desperation, and a hunger for experience.

The thing about these writings is that they are heartfelt and brutally honest. As a young reader, it was invaluable to me to know that I could turn to books for comfort and knowledge and help, and know that no matter what, I was not alone in my emotions.

That’s the kind of book Becoming Fierce is.

Becoming Fierce Teen: Stories IRL

You can check it out on Goodreads over here: Becoming Fierce Teen: Stories IRL

I believe there’s a chance to win a copy!

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The Punk Rock

My kids don’t understand the punk rock.
They ask me, “why’d you dress like that?” “why was your hair that ugly color?” They say “that style made you look like a skunk” or “a homeless person.” Or they scream, “turn that music down”.
There is no appreciation for the genius of Jawbreaker in this household.
Kids!
I try to explain.
Yes, we were cynical about the government and authority figures. Some of us were nihilists. Some of us were poets. Some of us were vandals and thieves but we were fighting the robber barons, don’t you see?
A lot of us were damn nice people, thoughtful and caring, concerned about animals and other people.
We yelled “Smash the state”, we yelled “Flex your head”, we screamed “No Future!” We wouldn’t have shouted so loud if we hadn’t wanted things to change. For the better.
And even though we wore black and broke things on occasion and threw ourselves into thrashing pits of human fists and desperation, I look back on it, at my great age, and I think, how much we loved life and embraced it and raged at it, and fought injustice, and how much we loved each other, desperately.
Life was something you grabbed by the neck and you didn’t let go no matter how much it hurt.
We felt every little thing.
Visceral, right? Like a punch in the guts.
Everything was raw and piercing and beautiful. So very beautiful in its ugliness and despair, the dichotomies all around us, staggering, impossible to ignore– but this we said was life, this was living. Living so hard you could taste it in the back of your throat and sometimes you had to hawk it out again.
I think about the things we did, the risks we took- hopping trains, jumping off buildings,doing too many drugs, drinking till we puked, ending fights, taking on the cops, standing up to the skinheads. We just embraced it all, we took it inside, and we etched it into our skin, our muscles and veins, our scalps. The filthy sidewalks, the crappy squats, the boredom, the squalor because these were our raw materials. From this we could make something better as long as we stayed open to everything.
Exhausting, frankly.
“We were a tribe,” I tell my children. Even if we knew each other only as Rat or Boots or Question Mark, we knew each other. We had the same scars. “You could go anywhere in the country, maybe even the world” I told them, “and you could meet someone who knew someone who knew someone you knew. And that person would give you a place to stay, a meal, a beer.”
I am amazed that most of us are still here. Those who aren’t are missed every day because we lived through it all together. You don’t get to share something like that with many people in your life. And if you didn’t experience it then you can’t really understand.
“But what was it all about, Mom?”
“Family.”

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The Delight in the Words

So, I’m reading The Abominables by Eva Ibbotson ( the last book she wrote before she died) to my kids. My youngest is old enough now to appreciate the same book as my oldest which makes things even more cuddly and cozy in the big bed every night. So at the moment it’s the end of Roald Dahl’s The Witches and the beginning of Ibbotson’s.

Ibbotson is the writer who made me cry buckets with her account of the death of a boy’s pet worm. I cried almost as much as I did when Patrick Ness did that unspeakable thing to the dog in the first Chaos Walking book. (Oh, Manchee!) The thing I will never forgive him for although I will continue to read each and every one of his books.

I love reading to my kids, especially books I did not write. My tongue doesn’t trip on words wondering if I should have used something different right there, my mind ceases to self-edit. I can just revel in them. It’s as much a joy for me as it is for the kids. I even do voices sometimes, although the Grand High Witch with her rolled r’s and her wanton v’s (vanton) and her screams of Inkland, shredded my throat something awful.

What I do notice when I read a very well-written book, is the flow of the story, the cadence of sentence, the sheer delight in the words. I think that when a writer is in love with what they are writing, it shines through. And it all seems so effortless though I know how much work goes into it.

Heavy handedness, word slogging, info dumps–those are easy to master. It’s when to pull back, and do more with less that the magic really happens. And yes, an editor helps, but not even the most optimistic editor is going to dig through a mountain of sludge looking for that nugget.

Paring, polishing, refining…these are all words that make me think of knives and hard, rasping things that smooth away the rough edges, and cut away the tough outer leaves to reveal the tender green heart of the story.
That secret delight in what we are making…isn’t that what it’s all about? Delighting ourselves first? Crafting something that wholly and independently exists where nothing existed before, and then reading it aloud and (hopefully) delighting others?

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Graceful Warriors

IMG_0612My friend Deb was the best flea-marketer ever. She could ferret out vintage like nobody’s business. My 1960’s raybans, my Coach purse, my beautiful Mexican wall hanging, were all gifts from her.

When she found a lump in her breast, she didn’t do anything about it. She was scared. She hoped it would go away and she didn’t tell anyone not even her husband.
By the time she did tell someone, it was too late. The cancer had spread. She died less than two years after she found the lump.

She was a lovely, giving, caring person and I miss her.

I have two other friends who developed breast cancer. One very young, the other a grandmother. Both survived. One with the help of traditional means, the other with the additional help of alternative therapies.

Breast cancer is something that touches everyone.

It seems to me though that often the focus is wholly on the survivors. I mean the women who go through chemo and keep their breasts. You can look at them and be unaware that they have survived a terrifying illness and a grueling recovery. This is not a criticism- these women should be celebrated and honored.
But what about the women who lose a breast or both? Who don’t fit the picture we have of feminine beauty anymore?
Are they marginalized? Ostracized? Pushed to the side because they make the rest of the survivors ‘look bad’? What about the women who lose the fight? Are they lesser? Did they not fight as hard? Did they give up? Did some part of them not want to live as much?

And why is a woman who has won the battle less beautiful if she emerges wounded, scarred, not physically whole?

My cousin, Fine Art Photographer, Charise Isis has always celebrated the feminine in women of all ages, shapes and sizes. She is amazingly skilled at revealing the inner beauty of a woman through her art. When she began The Grace Project, she saw these women as warriors rather than only survivors. Of all the women who suffer and survive breast cancer, the women who’ve had mastectomies are often the ones who hide themselves away or are hidden away, because of societal perceptions, because of shame, because of a loss of identity.

The images she captures are strong, beautiful, powerful, inspiring, upsetting, emotional, devastating, unforgettable and heartbreaking. Which is what art should always be. She gives these women a voice, she demands that they be heard and seen, she lets them reclaim their strength and beauty. (I love that she uses Goddesses and classical Art as her provenance).

Recently The Huffington Post, Bust Magazine, and The Daily Mail ran articles on her and The Grace Project.

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Fairy Rings and other things

mushrooms-amanita-22

When my son was young we spent a lot of time in the woods looking for things. Sometimes it was heffalumps. Sometimes it was rings of amanita muscaria- the classic white spotted red toadstool- on the dewy lawn indicating that fairies had danced there. Sometimes it was a warp in the weave of time, a doorway into another world. Oftentimes it was a hunt for the Groke.

Now he is not so little and about to turn 12, he is all about Wimpy Kid and Minecraft. And at this very moment, Rose from Doctor Who, his first official crush.

Those are wonderful things but they are not magical things. They are completely the product of someone else’s mad mind. Not his. Sure Tove Janssen created the Groke (and Snuffkin and Little My and Moomin) but she left some things to the imagination. And my son adopted them and adapted them and made them his own.

And I loved going on these adventures with him because he believed completely. He was scared and exhilarated because he thought we might well find a heffalump in our woods. And once you have found a heffalump, what the heck do you do with it??? And the Groke? Some have called it the manifestation of Norse depression. Who on earth would want to track that down and invite it to tea?
My son and I.

My daughter is young (7). The age he was when he dreamed the most while wide awake. She believes in fairies but she also knows about French kissing and bikini babes (????) and all sorts of other things I’d rather she didn’t. It’s because of having older brothers, and it’s because girls just seem to know these things young. She’s on the cusp of figuring it all out and I am struggling to keep the magic going for at least a few more years.

My kids go to the local Waldorf school. This is not going to turn into a Waldorf manifesto. Or praise for private schooling. I am still all torn up about taking my kids out of the public school system. Believe me it was not undertaken lightly.
One thing that Waldorf does well though, is it lets kids be kids. For as long as possible. I might roll
my eyes at the tree prayers and the giant puppets….NO, you know what? I don’t roll my eyes because how can I when I’m watching these things in a roomful of kindergartners who are squealing with delight? Who are sure that this is the day they find an elf under a mushroom or a family of sprites in the rotten log. Who love going to school as my kids do because their lessons tap into what is in them already. A fierce curiosity, a delight in nature, and the world they see around them, an encouragement to ask questions no matter what. And trees to climb and stilts to master and hills to careen down and dirt and leaves.
They come home tired and muddy, with twigs caught in their hair, so knee-grimed with soil that my washing machine can’t get the clothes clean.
During the winter they sled down a hill of ice that ends at a massive boulder. It’s as if someone placed the rock there so they’d have something to aim for. No one ever yells at them to ‘come down from that tree’, or ‘don’t stand up and swing’, or ‘bring a teacher with you into the woods’.
At May Fest, they sell waffles on these sharp pointy sticks. And no one ever tells those three year olds that they might poke an eye out or accidentally remove their own tonsils. Kids believe they are indestructible. I know they’re not but I look the other way and I trust in their bendiness. It’s a trade-off: a childhood roughly and gloriously lived vs. the possibility of a broken bone. A childhood believing in all possibilities.

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Tending the Garden

This morning I looked at my backyard–naked again now that the blanket of snow has melted, and oh so terribly forlorn– and I saw nothing but piles of dog poo.
I couldn’t call to mind the summer garden that I had tended so carefully. The roses spilling rambunctiously over the fence, the passion flower with its obscene eyelash-fringed, sea anemone-mimicking, saucer-sized blossoms, the apple and pear and cherry in full frothy bloom. My chocolate cosmos and lemon geraniums and wild ginger. The scents! The colors! The hummmingbirds!

But I noticed nothing other than the dull brown of it. Dead grass, dead shrubs, twigs, and leaves blackened by frost. And poo.

Sometimes I look at my work and I see nothing but a big pile of odoriferous manure. And some dead sentences that really need to be pruned, and a few bushy bits that need to be dug out, thrown on the bonfire and burned. Sometimes there is so much that is without life and extraneous that I can’t even see the strong trunk, the good branches that form the work. The solid bones that everything else hangs on.

It’s sunny and warm. Tomorrow it will rain torrentially, I am told. So I make myself go out to the garden. I have tried to avoid it by taking the dogs on two massive hikes along the trails, but my view from the kitchen window while I wash dishes has been ruined by the state of it, so I go out.

I spend an hour or two shoveling shit. Wishing I had a nearby river I could just divert to do the job, though then it would all wash down hill and submerge the nice folk of the Presbyterian church below me.

Things still look terrible. I arm myself with a rake, secateurs, twine. I tie up my clematis and honeysuckle, the trumpet vine and whatever the heck that trailing thing over there is. I remember it has green blossoms like giant pillowy lips tinged with purple. I call it Mick Jagger.
I cut back the lilacs and hydrangeas I swear I cut back in October. (Like starfish they grow their limbs back when no one is looking. And sometimes they migrate from one end of the garden to the other).

I rake piles of Idon’tknowwhat into one big pile. And I straighten the fences. Because without good fences all hell can break loose. And as I look closer, I see things I hadn’t noticed at first. Now that the undergrowth and brush have been cleared away, and the strong frameworks are revealed, I see buds in the Ys of the branches and poking their green hopefulness into the sky. I see new leaves and bulbs popping out from under all the rotting stuff. And I realize that rotting stuff was keeping it all alive through the brutal winter.
spring garden 1

spring garden 2

spring garden 3

I give myself permission to write the rotting stuff. The material that keeps it all moving along. That perhaps serves no purpose other than to get me through the dour winter to the optimistic spring. Because I know that I can clean it all up eventually. I can bag it and put it out the curb and it will vanish as if it never was.

And whatever good stuff is underneath it, will benefit from all that composting.

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