In November 2013 I wrote the first draft of a new book. It’s been a work in progress ever since. It begins with a 27 year old man facing a diagnosis of terminal brain cancer, and deals with how he and his girlfriend, his friends, and his family come to terms with fate, free will, and finding purpose in a life. But I’m not a full-time writer and life gets in the way sometimes, and that first draft has been through five full revisions, and was left about 1/3 of the way through a sixth. I wasn’t sure it would ever see the light of day.On May 24, 2016 I woke up to news that for me – like it did for many Canadians – felt like a punch to the gut. The news that Gord Downie of The Tragically Hip had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. The Hip were a big part of the soundtrack of my teenage years, my twenties, and beyond. Their songs are ones that evoke very specific memories for me: vivid, full of colour and sound, memories that have that haze of years gone by, but still seem so real that I could step into them and be 17 years old again.Since that day this past May I’ve found myself listening to Hip songs more and more, and slowly I found myself wanting to get back to the manuscript that had been sitting there, waiting for me. The irony of the subject matter didn’t escape me. I’ve had conversations about the purpose of life, and why bad things happen to good people. It’s all been swirling around in mind. And so I work.I’m not done yet, but I’m working my way through it, with Gord’s music, and memories about those conversations as my soundtrack. I can’t promise you when it will see the light of day. I can’t tell you whether it will be another indie published book, or if this one might end up with a traditional publisher. But I feel a sense of necessity now; a sense of responsibility.I watched last night’s concert with my husband and a few close friends. It’s been a long week in our family, and today and tomorrow we’ll be celebrating my son’s birthday. It was quiet: I think we were all in awe, but we stayed glued to the Man Cave’s giant screen for the whole night. It was incredible to watch and know that people across Canada were gathering in homes, in parks, in movie theatres and concert halls to watch together. I had friends watching from Chicago, from Amsterdam, and from Hong Kong. It was a feeling of wholeness that I don’t think I will ever forget. I know that part of me never wanted it to end. And the truth is that I refuse to believe that it is the end. Canada has been eulogizing a man who is still here – who still has days, months, and hopefully years left to live to the fullest. Whether that means spending time with his family, travelling, or making more music is his choice to make. Canada has had its moment. Anything else now is a gift.
The past few months I’ve been acting again for the first time in a long time (five long years… now the Colin James song is stuck in my head…)
I’ve been lucky enough to be part of a production of Québécois playwright Michel Tremblay’s first play, Les Belles-Soeurs (“The Sisters-in-Law” if you translate directly to English) at a local community theatre. I’m surrounded by enormously talented women (and a few brave men) in the cast and crew, and I really think – all modesty aside – that we have a damned good show. It’s not an easy play – it uses monologues, Greek Chorus-style sections, and the ending is well, different. It was absolutely groundbreaking in its time: it not only used the joual dialect common among Montrealers at the time, but it portrayed working-class women as they really were, without any soft light to round off rough edges. It was controversial when it was first produced in 1968.
As our cast and crew have found out: it’s still controversial today.
I should say straight out that from what I understand the theatre has received as many, or more, complimentary emails, phone calls, and letters as they have complaints. The people who have loved the show have had no problem telling us just how much they loved it, and why. But there are those who have been shocked: by the language, and by the depiction and discussion of physical and mental abuse among other things (I won’t go into detail, even though I suppose 50 years is long enough that “spoiler alert” shouldn’t be applicable.)
My own character tells a joke that I’ve always found somewhat uncomfortable, and I have heard – unsurprisingly – that some audience members have found it distressing. There are discussions of unwed mothers, of abortion (illegal and extremely dangerous at the time), incest, religion, and of rape and a husband’s “rights.”
It’s uncomfortable. It’s shocking, and I don’t blame audience members for wanting to turn away.
But at no time have I ever thought that it needed to be censored. It depicts a time, a place, and a mentality that we may not be comfortable with today, but our discomfort does not change the reality of it. These women are real and their thoughts, feelings and actions are real. We can’t pick and choose our way through history, and look at only the happy parts. It does us no good to look back through rose-coloured glasses at “the good old days.” Every era has its good points, its not-so-good, and its shame. Changing the script doesn’t change the reality.
Until the “Quiet Revolution” in the 1960s, education was not a right in Québec. Women had a right to vote federally in 1918, but it wasn’t until 1940 that they could vote in their own provincial elections. They didn’t have a right to own property, and often passed from being a possession of their father, to a possession of their husband. Their husbands had their “rights” and birth control wasn’t allowed by the Catholic Church. It wasn’t uncommon for women to have grandchildren older than their youngest children. Options were limited, and most women fell into the same pattern that their own mothers and grandmothers before them had done. These are facts, and they help to put into context the anger, and the hopelessness that many of the women portrayed in Les Belles-Soeurs may have felt.
Like people protesting Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain for its use of the “n-word”, we can choose to ignore what makes us uncomfortable about our history.
We can pretend that no one used that sort of language, or lived that sort of life. We can pretend that women like these characters didn’t exist at all.
But if we refuse to acknowledge the past, how can we see the progress we’ve made (or where we still need to improve)?
The women in this play, despite their faults, are not monsters. They were strong, and fighting their way through lives that were often full of drudgery and pain. They are a product of their time, and they don’t deserve to be forgotten or censored. They deserve our empathy, and our respect.
For our own sakes, and for those who come after us, we need to remember them as they really were – “F-bombs” and all.Read More
When Julie Crawford leaves Fort Wayne, Indiana for Hollywood, she never imagines she’ll cross paths with Carole Lombard, the dazzling actress from Julie’s provincial Midwestern hometown. Although the young woman has dreams of becoming a screenwriter, the only job Julie’s able to find is one in the studio publicity office of the notoriously demanding producer David O. Selznick —who is busy burning through directors, writers and money as he begins filming Gone with the Wind.
Although tensions run high on the set, Julie finds she can step onto the back lot, take in the smell of smoky gunpowder and the soft rustle of hoop skirts, and feel the magical world of Gone with the Wind come to life. Julie’s access to real-life magic comes when Carole Lombard hires her as an assistant and invites her into the glamorous world Carole shares with Clark Gable—who is about to move into movie history as the dashing Rhett Butler.
Carole Lombard, happily profane and uninhibited, makes no secret of her relationship with Gable, which poses something of a problem for the studio as Gable is technically still married—and the last thing the film needs is more negative publicity. Julie is there to fend off the overly curious reporters, hoping to prevent details about the affair from slipping out. But she can barely keep up with her blonde employer, let alone control what comes out of Carole’s mouth, and–as their friendship grows – soon finds she doesn’t want to. Carole, both wise and funny, becomes Julie’s model for breaking free of the past.
In the ever-widening scope of this story, Julie is given a front-row seat to not one but two of the greatest love affairs of all time: the undeniable on-screen chemistry between Scarlett and Rhett, and off screen, the deepening love between Carole and Clark. Yet beneath the shiny façade, things in Hollywood are never quite what they seem, and Julie must learn to balance career aspirations and her own budding romance with outsized personalities and the overheated drama on set.
I’m a sucker for a good Hollywood story, and if it’s old Hollywood, you’ve got my immediate attention. Old Hollywood set during the filming of Gone with the Wind with Clarke Gable and Carole Lombard in supporting roles? The author would have really had to have screwed this up in order for me to not love it.
And she hasn’t. I loved just about everything about this book: I loved the details about the GWTW filming; I loved the (fictional) look into the real lives of the storied Gable and Lombard; I loved the look into “the writers’ room” and the way movies were (and probably still are) developed and written. The character of Julie sometimes seemed bland in comparison to the force of nature that was Lombard, but was still engaging enough to hold my interest. Once you added in Julie’s complex love story, and the impact of world events at the time on it, the story could have stood on its own without the GWTW backdrop. In fact, I almost wish that this had been split into two different books.
But overall, I loved this book, and I think anyone with an interest in Gone with the Wind, Gable and Lombard, or 30s history will enjoy it, too.
My rating: 4.5/5 starsRead More
There are days when I get frustrated over the stupid things that people do: the messes that fully grown adults can leave in their wake at the office; the person who insists on tailgating on the highway even when there’s no place for the person in front of them to go; the people who get upset over coffee cups. Earlier today I actually found myself thinking of posting on Facebook: I may be forced to suffer fools on a regular basis, but I will never do it gladly.
None of that seems very important tonight. Not when there are at least 150 families – probably thousands of family members and friends – in mourning tonight.
I’ve always had a hard time understanding the mindset that allows one person to feel entitled to take another person’s life, whether it’s in the name of religion, or politics or just plain lust for violence. I read a lot of Tudor history, and when I read about the people tortured or put to death without any apparent remorse it almost seems impossible that anyone could have such a lack of respect for their fellow man. It can make you feel somewhat superior at times: We’re so much more evolved than that. We would never have people burned at the stake because they practiced the “wrong” religion!
And yet, over and over again that’s proven wrong. There have always been, and it seems there will likely always be people who can steal life without a second thought.
Tonight as we watched the news reports, my ten-year-old daughter came and asked what was happening. We explained as best we could, but she started asking even more questions, and making observations that made us realize that this is the first time she is truly old enough to understand an event like this.
I wondered: will she have nightmares tonight? Will this be something she remembers later in life? Will she worry every time I go to work that I won’t come home that night? Will she worry that someone will hurt her? What do I tell her?
And this is what I decided.
I will tell her that yes, there are bad people in this world: people who want to hurt us simply for the fact that we are different; people who hate other people simply based on what religion they choose to practice, or the fact that they don’t practice any religion at all; people who have so much anger and violence in their hearts that there is no room for love.
But they are the exception to the rule. The vast majority of people in this world are good, and kind, and loving. They want to help others, not hurt them. They go to work, buy groceries, visit their extended family members on the weekends, play together, laugh together, and love each other. They just want to get through the day, pay their bills, and keep a roof over their heads.
So no matter how scary life may be, the important thing is to be one of those people. No matter how hard the exceptions try to convince you to hate, keep love in your heart. Yes, there is bad in life.
Choose to be the good.
My prayers are with you tonight, Paris.Read More
A sweeping and captivating debut novel about a young librarian who is sent a mysterious old book, inscribed with his grandmother’s name. What is the book’s connection to his family?
Simon Watson, a young librarian, lives alone on the Long Island Sound in his family home, a house perched on the edge of a cliff that is slowly crumbling into the sea. His parents are long dead, his mother having drowned in the water his house overlooks.
One day, Simon receives a mysterious book from an antiquarian bookseller; it has been sent to him because it is inscribed with the name Verona Bonn, Simon’s grandmother. Simon must unlock the mysteries of the book, and decode his family history, before fate deals its next deadly hand.
The Book of Speculation is Erika Swyler’s gorgeous and moving debut, a wondrous novel about the power of books, family, and magic.
This is a book that really wants to BE something: it wants to be magical, it wants to be historical, it wants to be mysterious, it wants to be literary, but most of all, it wants to be important. And if it’s important, it won’t matter that the characters are, on the whole, rather unlikeable, that the historical mystery remains rather vague, or that the ending is somewhat unsatisfying.
Don’t get me wrong: there are things to like about The Book of Speculation, and there were times when I was captivated by the story, and wondering where it was going to go (in both the past and present eras). I never had that annoying feeling that I already know exactly where the story is going – although sometimes it seemed as if the author didn’t know, either.
When the book ended, I just felt kind of “huh.” There was no “aha!” moment, no feeling that I understood things better. It was just done. The writing was beautiful and lyrical, but for me, that just isn’t enough.
Rating: 3/5 stars
I was given a copy of this book by NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.Read More
This week, my little girl started high school. My little girl with the Shirley Temple curls, the little girl who could bat her long eyelashes over her big blue eyes and charm anyone. My little girl who seemed to become a teenager overnight.
1. Now is when you’ll find your tribe. Either that, or your tribe will find you.
You’re going to be exposed to many more people than you’re used to, and while it can be overwhelming, the good thing about more people is that there are more chances to meet people like you. Introverts or extroverts. People interested in art, or car repairs, or computers, or baking. People who like to learn languages, and those who stick more to science and math. People with a strange sense of humour, and people with no sense of humour at all. There will be more diversity than you’ve ever experienced, and the good news about that is that there will be more people with whom you have things in common.
And if you don’t find them, chances are that they will find you. I still remember sitting outside my homeroom on the first day of my Grade Ten year. I was stunned when a girl that I’d barely ever spoken to the year before came up to me and just started talking. Twenty-something years later, your “Aunt” Michelle is still one of my very best friends.
2. Popular doesn’t equal nice, but it also doesn’t equal mean.
I won’t lie: I wasn’t exactly the prom queen type in high school. I wasn’t “Carrie” either, but I kind of fell into that grey zone in the middle where the vast majority of us tend to end up. I always resented the popular kids – the ones who ran student council, and never seemed to have any problems. A few of them teased me, but most of them just ignored me – or at least that
was how it felt.
But you know what? In the years since high school ended, I’ve had a chance to get to know a few of those people, and they weren’t who I thought they would be. Most of them were shocked to know how I felt back then. A few of them are still kind of jerks, but the majority aren’t the people I thought they were at all. The truth is, everyone has their insecurities, and “everybody’s got a story that could break your heart” (That’s Amanda Marshall. Google it; it’s a good song.) You can never know what’s going on in another person’s head and heart, so just be nice to people, and try not to worry about what everyone else is thinking.
Similar to the above, good looking doesn’t equal nice, or kind or smart, and it also doesn’t equal stupid or mean. Get to know someone before you decide to get into a relationship. I learned that lesson the hard way, and I really hope that you won’t have to.
3. Now is the best time to experiment with who you want to be.
I’ve never really understood the adult world’s obsession with appearance, and looking “professional.” I’d rather have a doctor with tattoos and piercings who knows what they’re doing than one dressed in a suit who should never have gotten into medical school in the first place. But unfortunately so far, I’m in the minority.
But in high school, all bets are off. You want to dye your hair black, wear all black, write deep dark poetry? Sure. Go for it. Want to wear babydoll dresses and heels? Sure. Want to dye your hair blue and have a fauxhawk? Wear green lipstick every other Thursday? Sounds good to me. You want to try acting, be in the Medieval Reenactors Club or write for the school paper? Be a science nerd, or a band geek, or a political activist. Be a cheerleader, or fight to play on the boys’ football team. You want to take up the oboe and play a ridiculously off-key solo in Phantom of the Opera? (Oh wait… maybe that was just me…)
Remember, trying something new doesn’t mean it’s permanent. Take this time to explore and grow.
4. You will experience tragedy, but you’ll also experience joy, and everything in between. And it will all happen in the brightest technicolour you could ever imagine.
Everything seems bigger as a teenager. The highs are Mount Everest, and the lows are the Marianas Trench (the deep part of the ocean, not the band…)
When you get your heart broken, it will feel like the end of the world. Getting a bad grade seems like it will ruin your entire future. God forbid you get your period in the middle of class. And there’s absolutely no point in me telling you that it really isn’t as big as you think it is, because nothing anyone can say will convince you.
But when you’re on top of the mountain – when you’re in love, or you got the lead role in the school play, or you’re just having an awesome night with your friends – drink it all in and enjoy it.
And write things down. Instagram pictures are fun, but the thrill of opening a twenty-year-old carefully folded note that Aunt Michelle and I passed back and forth in math class is priceless. Text messages get deleted, but yearbooks full of inside jokes are forever.
I know you’re excited, and a little bit nervous, and so am I. But I can’t wait to see how the next four years goes. I believe in you, and you’re going to have an amazing time!Read More
When Adam proposes to Sarah, the last thing he expects is to be single and heartbroken less than forty-eight hours later. But Sarah has a secret – and she’s willing to sacrifice everything to keep it.
Going through a break-up is hard enough but having to live together afterwards is even worse, especially when it’s a break-up neither person wants. For Adam, there are only three ways to deal with it: sex, drugs and alcohol. For Sarah, its keeping her distance and closely guarding the lengths she’s gone to in order to keep her secret safe for the past fifteen years. And she succeeds until Adam finds a box of her teenage diaries.
Against a backdrop of lies, secrecy, passion and teenage rebellion, the delicate threads holding Sarah’s secret begin to unravel and when her first love is brutally murdered, her past and present collide in a way that makes it impossible to keep them apart.
Adam thought he knew everything about Sarah. He was wrong.
Romantic, intense and heart-breaking, Together Apart is a contemporary love story exploring what it really means to love and be loved.
Possible spoiler ahead…
I raced through Together Apart in less than 24 hours. And considering that lately it’s taken me a month or more to finish most books, that has to be some kind of miracle. I ignored meals, dishes, Pet Rescue Saga… even my kids (just kidding… mostly…)
And yet, even a few weeks later (I’m really behind on my reviewing lately) I’m still not certain why. Maybe because it was an easy read – there was no complex history, no new worlds, and no poetic language to plow through, or maybe because the story somehow managed to hook me, even if I wanted to strangle the characters at times.
As I was reading, I wanted to scream at Sarah. She was being so sulky and bratty. Looking back with a bit of distance, I see that perhaps she got emotionally “stuck” at a certain age, as sometimes happens with traumatic events. That being said, even before the “event” she was still being bratty and sulky, and I had a very hard time sympathizing with her.
I could sympathize more with Adam, as the confused boyfriend who can’t understand how things went so terribly wrong in such a short period of time, but at the same time, I kept thinking, “You can do better!”
But even though I was frustrated by the characters, I still wanted to see how things would turn out. Part of me would have liked to have seen a less predictable outcome, but at the same time, that’s not how the genre works, and I can accept that.
Overall, for Chick Lit lovers, especially those fond of British Chick Lit like Jill Mansell, I can recommend Together Apart.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
I received a copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.Read More
“Migrations of the Heart Vol. 1”
Synopsis from Goodreads:
An unexpected love in a small, Southern town.
After fifteen months of hiding from the shame of bearing an illegitimate child, two words drive Ruby Bledsoe to face the good citizens of Winslow, Georgia. Never again. She vows to speak out against injustice. For her sisters. For her parents. For her infant son, Solomon.
When she comes to help an injured mill worker, she bristles when a tall, handsome man claiming to be a doctor brushes her aside. Despite his arrogance, Ruby senses he’s someone like her, whose light skin doesn’t quite hide who he is.
Up north, Dr. Adam Morson easily kept his mixed race a secret. Now that he’s in Georgia, summoned by his white father, he can feel restrictions closing in around him.
Something powerful draws him to the beauty whose activist spirit is as fiery as her name. And soon, Adam wants nothing more than to take Ruby and her child far from Georgia’s toxic prejudice. But Ruby must choose between seeking her own happiness and staying to fight for the soul of her hometown.
Warning: Contains a doctor learning there’s more to healing his patients than stitching a wound, and more to a woman than knowing her place—and it’s not in the shadows with her head down. Sorry, Buckeye fans, this hero’s a Wolverine—but we won’t hold that against him.
A Virtuous Ruby reminded me a lot of Zora Neale Hurston’s novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God. Not in the storyline, as they really couldn’t be much more different, despite being during the approximately the same time period, and both being set in the south. It’s more the writing – that slow, languorous way of storytelling that’s almost deceptive because it lulls you into thinking that the characters and plotline are slow, and it doesn’t really hit you until later how much is really happening underneath the surface.
Ruby belongs to the modern age, but unfortunately for her, she was born in a time where her opinions, and her drive to help her people were just considered “troublemaking.” Everyone seems to think they have a right to “own” her, and tell her what she should be doing or not doing. There are a very few people in this book who seem content to let Ruby be who she wants to be.
It was heartbreaking for me to see how frightened the people around her were, and how few choices she really had. Meeting Adam opened up more options to her, but for her to go after her dreams she would have to walk away from so much that was important to her. And in some ways, I still felt in the end that she was having to compromise so much, and choose the lesser evil, and it made me hard to feel that her happy ending was really happy.
This isn’t a perfect book: there are some things that happen a little too quickly and/or easily; some things happen a little bit too conveniently, but it is a very good book, and I can definitely recommend it.
Rating: 4/5 stars
I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review.Read More
Maggie has always put her family’s needs in front of her own, until one day—without forethought—she drives away, leaving behind her indifferent husband and two sulking teenagers.
As she begins a quest of self-exploration, she meets new people, enjoys new adventures, and rediscovers long-neglected passions. For the first time in years, Maggie contemplates what she wants from life and soon realizes that her deteriorating marriage can no longer continue as it is. Can she and Andrew repair their broken relationship, or is their marriage over?
Left to his own devices, Andrew is forced to take over the household responsibilities and bridge the growing divide between himself and his children. Slowly, he begins to understand what drove Maggie away—and how he can’t bear to live without her. But is it too late? Will Andrew lose Maggie forever?
Maggie’s Turn was a quick read that got me out of a pretty ridiculous reading slump. But I’m not exactly certain if I read quickly because it was a good read, or if I was just so unable to put aside my disbelief of certain aspects that I wanted to see if the author would be able to write her way out of them.
Some of the issues I had with the book were more about my own feelings of motherhood than anything. It was similar to when I first read Henrik Ibsen’s classic play A Doll’s House: I had a really hard time relating to a mother who could walk away from her own children. Does it happen? Absolutely. Could I understand why this particular character was fed up? Definitely. Could I sympathize with actually doing it? No, not really.
There were some weird things thrown in, too, and I wasn’t really sure why: for example, the obsession with names relating to “Bob” seemed like it should be leading somewhere, but if it ever got there, I didn’t arrive with it.
All that being said, I don’t think it was a bad book at all. Although I sort of knew where it was going, I still had just enough doubt to want to know how it would end. And whether or not I agreed with Maggie’s “decision” to leave, the journey itself was still interesting. But in the end, like Maggie’s life at the beginning of the book, this story just somehow felt like it was missing something.
Rating: 3/5 stars
I received a copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.Read More
I’m still kind of reeling from news I received this morning, so forgive me if I ramble a bit.
I found out this morning that a former co-worker took his own life. He was one of the kindest people I had ever met, and one of the happiest – or so I thought, I guess. I won’t go any further into details here in a pubic forum, although I have many very sad, and very angry thoughts about the situation. He had three children and a wife that he loved, and he had recently become a first-time grandfather.
He was the last person I would have expected this from.
And there’s the rub: like Robin Williams last year, it’s a lesson for me that you cannot judge what’s in a person’s mind and heart by what you see on the outside. Just because a person smiles on the outside doesn’t mean that they aren’t crying out for help on the inside.
So then what do we do? How do you help someone when you don’t even know that they need it?
First of all, we need to fight for better access to mental health services. Did you know that in my province, Ontario, only psychiatric services are covered under OHIP (our universal health care service)? Right now, you have to get a referral from your family doctor, and then wait – possibly for months – for a referral. And if your case isn’t severe enough, the overworked psychiatrist to whom you are referred may not even take you on as a patient.
So many more people could be helped by funding psychology and registered counseling services. Even the best employer benefit plans only pay for a few sessions with a psychologist per year, and for many people it is simply impossible to pay out of pocket for these services. Many psychology services do offer a sliding scale payment system based on income, but many people wouldn’t know about this, and besides, if you’re already struggling with depression you may not be in any state to face dealing with financial questions and paperwork to prove that you can’t afford to pay the whole fee.
Every once in a while, an event happens in the news, or a social media hashtag appears which gets people talking about access to mental health services. But then everyone moves on, and nothing changes. It’s great when the conversation begins, but WE CAN’T STOP TALKING.
And in the meantime, if there’s one thing you can do it’s to be open and caring. Don’t be afraid to tell your family and friends that you love them, and that they matter to you. Don’t be afraid to give someone a hug. Don’t be afraid to tell someone that the world is a better place because THEY ARE HERE. Maybe they’ll look at you like you’ve lost your mind. Maybe they’ll seem like they don’t care. And maybe they don’t.
But maybe they do. Maybe your words of kindness and love are going to give that person the strength to keep fighting. Maybe your hug is the first physical contact that person has had in a very long time. Maybe somehow, by offering love, you will be able to transfer strength to a person who desperately needs it.
Last winter, a high school classmate of mine lost her husband in an accident. Since then, the “One for James” movement has spread around the world, with people buying coffee for strangers, and doing other small acts of kindness in his name. It’s been incredible to see. If there’s one thing that I can do for my coworker, it’s to encourage people to give love and support to those around them.
And one other thing…
Please, if you take nothing else from this, just remember: DEPRESSION LIES. You matter. You are loved. You make a difference.
Rest in peace, my friend. I am so very sorry.Read More