March 22, 2014

Metaphysical Conceit watches the movie before reading the book

The movie is White Oleander, which I watched long time ago without knowing it was based on a book. I rewatched it a couple of years ago because I remembered really liking it, and I enjoyed it even more the second time. That was when I found out it was based on a 1999 novel by Janet Fitch, and I kept my eyes open for a copy until I finally picked one up at a secondhand bookstore.

The one I found is the movie tie-in version of the book, which I always do my best to avoid buying, but in this case, it's no more than I deserve, right?  

Movie tie-in cover --- one notch above or below Oprah's Book Club edition??

I read it on vacation in North and South Carolina. I felt like the movie does a good job of capturing the essence of the novel, although there are whole sections left out of the film for reasons of length. 

It's about a girl whose mother is an eccentric, self-centred poet who ends up convicted of murdering her ex-boyfriend. Her daughter is shuffled from foster home to foster home throughout her adolescence. It's sad and hopeful and full of fascinating female characters. 


March 7, 2014

Alma Mater Matters and a trip to Ottawa

You know when something is so perfect that you don’t know how to write about it without somehow diminishing it?

Even two three four weeks out from the event I did at the College of the Humanities at Carleton University, I’m not sure what I can say about it that would do it justice. I really had the nicest time!

Before I went to Ottawa, I thought a lot about what I remembered from my university classes as part of my Humanities degree, and I realized it's hard to predict what will stick with you. I jotted down a few of the random facts that have lingered in my mind in the dozen or so years since I graduated. I listed a few of them at the beginning of my reading, and I'm sharing a couple of them here upon request: 

  • Paradise is shaped like a multifoliate rose 

  • Flatterers are found in the 8th circle of hell 

  • Ezekiel cut his beard into three parts (which, respectively, were burned, chopped, and  thrown to the wind)   

So basically the recesses of my mind belong mostly to Dante and the Old Testament. 

I also dug out some of my old notebooks from university and flipped through them to see what I'd frantically underlined or highlighted in my notes as critically important knowledge from our Humanities lectures. 

Pack rat or archivist: you decide.

Here are some of the choice phrases I’d highlighted in my notes:

  • Socratic speech is always adapted to suit the interlocutor.

  • The experience of transcendence also involves the experience of immanence.

  • Happiness is contemplation.

  • There is an erotic compulsion to intellectual virtue.


After my random reminiscing, I did a reading from Bone & Bread and a Q & A with Ottawa poet David O’Meara. David did some one-on-one feedback sessions with aspiring College writers back in the day and very helpfully stopped me from writing like a Victorian. So it was fun to be able to thank him in person and chat about writing, too. 

Everyone was incredibly generous with their questions and comments, and it was lovely to see old friends and former professors in the audience. I never imagined speaking in that lecture hall and having my (revered!) profs ask me questions about the creative process. It was humbling and thrilling all at once.

There were old friends from Carleton, former classmates and teachers...even a girl I used to babysit! But o
ne of the most exciting reunions was with B., my dearest and very best friend from Grade 1/2, and her mom, who was my fourth grade teacher...and my first serious editor. (The editing is another post for another time.)

B, me, and Mrs. D

I wish I'd taken more photos, but my phone was in danger of powering down all day. I popped back into the seminar room before we headed out to dinner to snap this one: 

A different perspective on my old lecture hall...the front!

After the talk and the reception, there was an alumni reunion dinner. It was so wonderful to catch up with everyone and find out what they’re doing now. There were also old issues of our College literary journal, including some poems of mine I'd completely forgotten about! I was happy both to be reminded of them (okay, of some of them) and to have them restored to me with just a couple of quick photos.

Catching up with former profs/old friends

My friend K came to get me (after a complicated series of back and forth texts in which we realized that even though both of us went to Carleton, neither of us could remember any meeting place accessible by car well enough to describe it to the other person), and after I changed into pyjamas and took a couple of Tylenols (some kind of strange stress headache had taken hold the minute the talk was over) and actually gotten into bed and turned the light out, I managed to touch base with my Winnipeg writer friends and ended up having a long-distance meeting until about midnight Ottawa time. So fun! I keep forgetting about the magic of Skype.

The magic of Skype: illustrated! 

And if all that wasn't already an absurd amount fun to pack into 36 hours, the next day friend K gave me a private cross-country skiing lesson.  Maybe next time I'll fully graduate to poles. And her lovely parents cooked a delicious early supper so we could eat together before I had to catch my train home. 

K said I was a natural, and I almost believe her!

February 27, 2014

first drafts and writing longhand

I was looking for something else a few weeks ago, when I found the original manuscript of my story "Mother Superior" (the first and title story of my first book). I wrote the story in 2004. Here's a photo!

In this one notebook, there were actually lots of first drafts of the stories I ended up publishing in that collection. I'd sort of forgotten that I didn't initially write them on the computer. Maybe I should write in unattractive spiral notebooks more often.

I like seeing the evidence of the instantaneous editing that happens in the initial writing of a story. Choices and quick changes like this happen all the time when you're writing (of course), but they disappear just as quickly on the computer and leave no traces. 

Up close and personal

It disturbs me a little that it has been so long ( a couple of years?) since I've written any fiction by hand. I like seeing it on the page like this. Why does it feel like such a novelty? 

February 26, 2014

Metaphysical Conceit goes to the movies

I stayed up late the other night watching Stuck in Love, a movie that was (unexpectedly!) about a family of writers. I don’t think it’s a perfect movie, but it’s sweet and funny, with that ring of honesty that seems to come from first-time writer-directors who are making a very personal film (not sure if this is the case, but it has that feeling). The performances are great, and the soundtrack is so, so good. If you like romantic dramedies (sorry, but that’s what they’re called!), you should check it out.

There were one or two small moments where the writing business part of it didn’t feel 100% true, but maybe that’s just me feeling more authoritative than I am. It’s hard to find a movie about writing that feels accurate. Adaptation is a great film, but it felt a little too psychologically true to be totally enjoyable. (Did it make anyone else super anxious?) Wonder Boys is my favourite movie about writers/writing, but since it’s based on a book I wonder if it should count. 

Oh, I just looked up Stuck in Love’s director, Josh Boone, and it turns out he will be directing the adaptation of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, a book I really enjoyed and a movie
 I'm looking forward to seeing when it comes out. (However, it looks like the screenplay has been handled by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, the writing team responsible for (500) Days of Summer, a movie a lot of people seemed to love but which I really disliked.) 

February 25, 2014

Flashback: Kingston WritersFest

I've been meaning to share this lovely photo that was sent to me after my event at the Kingston WritersFest. It's me with Mark and Chris --- my wonderful Author Patrons of Montreal law firm MacDougall, MacDougall & MacTier. It's thanks to sponsorship by their firm that the festival was able to pay my way from Montreal.

What a great idea to pair patrons with writers!

Photo by Cat London.  

(Maybe the government should look into a provision whereby individual authors can issue charitable tax receipts to philanthropic and culturally minded donors...! I'd happily dedicate my next novel to a generous sponsor!)

February 24, 2014

writing, word count, and sandwiches

Guess what? The silence here really does mean that I’ve been writing. Granted, most of that writing took place yesterday in a concentrated 10-hour flurry, but nevertheless…there was a certain amount of thinking and trying and failing and time-wasting that led up to yesterday’s marathon that definitely has to be counted as part of the process. As for whether or not the new story is any good, I’ll leave that to my writers’ group to decide. Even if it is only sort of good, I can make it better. It just feels good to do the work I need to be doing. 

My word count in this current project is now up around 65,000, even though many of those are rough and unpolished. I know that obsessing about word count can cut both ways (writing to a target might produce too much filler, or useless dialogue or exposition or otherwise rambling prose), but I find it a really useful way to move forward. And let’s face it: books are built out of words. 

               Here is the lunch that my husband brought me yesterday to keep me going!

February 14, 2014

Things I have learned this year

It was my birthday last Friday, which is always a good occasion to take stock of things. Here are the big lessons I've learned over the past twelve months:

  • It’s okay to answer questions on your own terms, especially when it comes to your own work.

  • Stand up to bullies. It’s the only way to break the pattern.

  • It’s okay to say no. It will make you so much happier when you do say yes.

  • Ask for the things you really want. There is little to be lost in asking and so much to be gained.

I'm not perfect about putting these into practice, but when I remember, I'm so much happier.