Sunday, December 30, 2018

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Friday, December 21, 2018

The best books that I read in 2018

Just three of the ten amazing books that I loved this year.

I read so many excellent books this year. (And many over-hyped stinkers too). Here are my top ten. As always, these are the 10 best books that I read in 2018, not simply the best books released in 2018.

1. Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata (fiction)

2. The Hotel Tito by Ivana Bodrožić (fiction)

3. The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani (fiction)

4. My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh (fiction)

5. Hot Milk by Deborah Levy (fiction)

6. For All the Men (and some of the women) I've Known by Danila Botha (short stories)

7. What Remains by Carole Radziwill (memoir)

8. Stereoblind by Emma Healey (poetry)

9. Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday (fiction)

10. On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan (fiction)

Please excuse my lack of mini reviews this year; I need to save my writing energies for my second book, which I am hoping to (mostly) finish over the next two weeks. But trust and believe that I found these books to be really and truly excellent, and if you have similar tastes, you might love them, too.

Happy holidays!

Saturday, November 17, 2018

In my feelings (about TIFA)

(Yes I know that I am late to this party.)

It's been quiet on the blog for a bit because I've been working really hard on novel two. Every morning before work, here I am in my cold little office thing slowly building this story. It's coming together, and I sort of can't believe it. I mean, I can, because I've struggled over every word. And the structure -- my god don't even get me started on the structure.

If you miss my posts, may I suggest that you check out the one I wrote for the Toronto International Festival of Authors? (Man, you can really see my pores in that photo.) Anyways, the post is about community, the kind that some writers (ahem: me) need from time to time to ward off the bad bad thoughts.

This year's festival, by the way, was incredible. I met such wonderful authors and readers, and I only flubbed one name on stage despite my efforts to practise it in the bathroom beforehand. Thank goodness the author was so cool about it and instantly forgave me. That author, by the way, is Ivana Bodrožić who wrote the heartbreakingly gorgeous The Hotel Tito. She's very special, this one. Talking to her about life and writing was the most fun I've ever had at a signing table. Also, she rocked her panel. Her perspective on forever being associated with war because of her book was the highlight of the festival for me. I felt lucky to be in the same room as this woman.

Okay, back to writing now. Time is money. (JKJK Canadian writers don't make money.)

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Attention: People who tell me they're too busy to write a book / People who tell me they need to be isolated in a cabin in Iceland to write a book.

Yesterday, I wrote my toughest ever scene on my iPhone (without my glasses on) while getting my roots done. Writing can happen anywhere/any time.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Baby got backstory

The other day, some people were tweeting about how annoying backstory is in fiction. Sure, backstory done poorly is the worst. Example:
"Traci smokes a cigarette and it makes her remember Evan, her first love. Evan was a fireman with the hairiest muscles she'd ever seen..."  
Done well, however, backstory is an excellent narrative device. I love reading backstory for the same reason that I will corner you at a party and ask you questions that span the entirety of your whole goddamn life: because I want to know what makes people tick.

Backstory can also build suspense. Case in point: my new novel. Who are these characters? Why did they get sent to the middle of nowhere? And how in the world will they ever get home? While working on this book, I've learned a few things about writing backstory that I've digested into advice. (Take it or leave it.)

1) Open a chapter with backstory. Are you trying to weave backstory into present action seamlessly, but it comes out sounding like our good friend Traci? Stop doing that. Instead of "weaving," position your backstory at the beginning of a new chapter. Then hit 'return' a few times, switch to whatever style, POV and tense you've chosen for your main story and boom -- you did it. You went from main story to backstory to main story again! Trust me, this is much less annoying than the Traci method. (By the way, I spoke to Joy Fielding about backstory two years ago, and she shared this sentiment.)

2) Spread the backstory around. Because I'm using it to build suspense, my backstory is on a slow-moving trajectory. This means I spread it around strategically. I even highlight it in blue so I can get a good view of how well I've divided it up throughout the manuscript.

3) Do backstory dialogue differently. Description is primary in backstory for me, but when there is dialogue I try to nest it within a paragraph of description. Example:
Evan stood in front of the door. You're not welcome here, Traci. He spit on her shoes.
If I take dialogue out of the backstory description, I don't use quotes. Example:
Around the corner, a worker on break did clumsy pirouettes.  
That's a clear violation, the man told Traci.
I do this because backstory is, essentially, memory. And for me, dialogue that is remembered wants to flow smoothly, without the impediment of punctuation. (Also, I don't love the look of quotation marks, so any chance I have to get rid of them, I take.)

Of course, there are a million ways to do backstory and a million decisions that each writer makes along the way that can have an impact. For example, the POV driving your story can make it easier or harder to execute backstory. For my first novel, I found it easier to "weave" in backstory since I was writing in first person. With this new novel, which is voiced by an omniscient narrator, I'm actually finding it much more challenging to do backstory. And I thought it would be the other way around!

Anyways, my main point is that backstory doesn't always have to be as tricky or "weaved in" as you may think that it does.

But enough about me. I'd love to know what you think. What is your opinion on backstory? And how do you structure it in your fiction?

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

McNulty taking the hard truth like a champ...

My self-destructive behaviour includes:

1) Eating almonds the day after a colonoscopy
2) Buying heaps of books in advance of a move

Monday, September 24, 2018

“TV is getting so novelistic.”

An awful photo of an exceptional WOTS panel featuring Robert Rotenberg,
Lynn Coady and their host (whose name I can't track down!)

I’m house-hunting right now, which means I hate Toronto. A million bucks, my kidneys and my soul for a moldy semi-detached with no roof? Sold! Should I sign the cheque in my blood or my husband’s?

Luckily, Toronto does have some redeeming qualities, like book festivals. Yesterday I went to Word on the Street (WOTS), which, along with the Toronto International Festival of Authors, is a favorite of mine. The festival is held down by the waterfront and is always bustling.

Yesterday’s edition couldn’t have been more perfect. The sun was shining and the books were discounted. All the big publishers show up at WOTS, but I try to only buy books from the small presses at this event. I love talking to these publishers and discovering gems like poet Tara-Michelle Ziniuk’s Whatever, Iceberg and Susan Perley’s Death Valley. I also enjoy chatting with the team at All Lit Up and snapping up their top picks, like Ali Bryan's The Figgs and Leila Marshy's The Philistine. 

In addition to selling zillions of books, WOTS also hosts readings and free panels on writing and publishing. Yesterday, I attended one such panel. Called "Writing in the Age of Peak TV," it featured fiction/TV writers Robert Rotenberg and Lynn Coady. I’m a big fan of Coady’s—she won a Giller for one of my favorite short story collections, Hellgoing, and has written for one of my favorite shows, Orphan Black. Needless to say, I was thrilled to hear her talk about this subject. Her career path is exactly what I'm working towards. 

The panel was fantastic. I was listening intently but did manage to scribble down some pearls of wisdom. Here’s some of what Coady and Rotenberg had to say about how writing fiction applies (or doesn’t) to the TV writing room, and the advantages of being a novelist working in TV (or the disadvantages).

“TV prose is ultra tight. It’s all show, no tell.” - Rotenberg 
“You can’t be precious in TV writing.” - Coady 
“We authors have a sense of the whole scope of a story. Which is an advantage.” - Rotenberg 
“TV people are interested in books in terms of intellectual property that they can mine. But the fact that we are novelists doesn’t get us through the door.” - Coady 
“TV is getting so novelistic.” - Rotenberg 
“Worst part of working in TV is the constant anxiety of not knowing when jobs are coming.” - Coady 
“A lot people in TV can’t write prose. So when we have to write a treatment we’re on easy street.” - (I forgot to attribute this quote. It may have even been the host.) 
“My agent told me I would have an easier time getting a TV show into development if I wrote it as a novel first.” - Coady

Thanks to WOTS for another fantastic day. You almost make up for Toronto's lack of affordable housing.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Girl With The TIFA Tattoo

My favorite book festival of all time is back! This year, The (Artist Formerly Known As The) International Festival of Authors decided to give Toronto a well-deserved shout out. So, from this day forth it shall be known as the Toronto International Festival of Authors, or TIFA as the tattoo on my lower back will soon read. (So, guys, if we could please make this name final, ok?)

There are loads of TIFA events happening from October 18 - October 28. But because I was raised on David Letterman, I love a top ten. So here it is, my TIFA 2018 TOP 10 (in chronological order). 

October 18 2018 - 7:00 PM
The Festival’s opening night promises to be one of exhilarating and eye-opening entertainment as two of Ireland’s favourite writers take the stage.

2. In Conversation: Miriam Toews
October 19 2018 - 7:00 PM

Join award-winning author Miriam Toews for a transformative discussion about her latest book, Women Talking, which challenges our thinking about women and men in our contemporary world.

3. Panel: Kirsten McDougall, D. Nandi Odhiambo & Melanie Raabe
October 23 2018 - 5:00 PM
International authors D. Nandi Odhiambo, Kirsten McDougall and Melanie Raabe share the stage to explore the impact of secrets on relationships in their latest works.

4. In Conversation: Ian Rankin With Linwood Barclay
October 23 2018 - 7:00 PM
Anything can happen when two block-busting bestsellers put their heads together for an hour of solid author intrigue.

5. Panel: Cristina Ali Farah, Ivana Bodrozic & Monika Zgustova
October 23 2018 - 8:00 PM
Cristina Ali Farah, Ivana Bodrozic and Monika Zgustova discuss the themes of identity and political strife as experienced by their female protagonists.

6. Rogers Writers’ Trust Finalists
October 24 2018 - 7:00 PM
The shortlisted authors of the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize will appear in a panel discussion hosted and moderated by Becky Toyne.

7. In Conversation: Eden Robinson With Cherie Dimaline
October 24 2018 - 8:00 PM
Governor General Award-winning Métis writer Cherie Dimaline will interview author Eden Robinson, whose highly acclaimed Son of a Trickster was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize.

8. Double Interview: Randy Boyagoda & Rawi Hage
Friday, October 26, 2018 - 8:00 PM
Randy Boyagoda and Rawi Hage have both produced humorous novels that involve tragic themes and deal with issues of religion and crises of faith.

October 27 2018 - 3:00 PM
Eleanor Wachtel chats with acclaimed Hungarian author, translator, dramatist and visual artist András Forgách. Thirty years after the fall of communism in Hungary, Forgách investigated his family’s past only to discover that his mother was a spy for the Kadar regime who had informed on her family and friends. Forgách will elaborate on this story, as captured in his new novel The Acts of My Mother.

10. Double Interview: Esi Edugyan & Meg Wolitzer
October 27 2018 - 6:00 PM
The latest works from Esi Edugyan (who just got nominated for the Booker!) and Meg Wolitzer both address transformative relationships, revealing how one person’s influence can alter the stories of our lives.

There's also an event with Madeline Miller who wrote that hit book Circe. Some fantastic poetry events and slams, and some really special panels on the craft of writing. Not to mention book signings and sales. Oh! And they're doing some free mystery events at Union Station! It's going to be magical. I didn't go to the Toronto International Film Festival this year so I'm going to make up for that cultural deficit by essentially living at Harbourfront Centre from October 18 - 28. (Books rule, films drool! JKJK I love them both.) Plus, I'll be introducing a couple events and taking part in the delegate program, but more on that later.

I hope you can make it to TIFA this year!

Monday, September 10, 2018

My tornado of thoughts on Wattpad

Wattpad, if you haven’t heard of it, self-describes as “a global multi-platform entertainment company for stories.” Basically, it’s a self-publishing platform. Write a story, add cover art and multimedia if you want to, hit publish. Boom. You’re an author. To make money, Wattpad sells ads, which they plop into every story. They can make more money still if a story gets really popular and movie studios and traditional publishers want to buy it. (As I understand it, writers keep all the rights but Wattpad co-brokers the deals and takes a backend.)

Any way you look at it, Wattpad is a fascinating platform. I signed up a year ago, but didn’t get involved. I was considering writing stories for them for cash. I was close, but eventually declined for two reasons: 1) I wanted to work on my new book, and 2) they asked me to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Since then, I’ve grown curious about the site again, so I’ve been putting in some time to get to know it. 

Before we get to my thoughts, here’s some stats that I pulled from around the internet:
  • Wattpad has 65 million users (it’s most popular in The Philippines) 
  • Collectively, these users spend 15 billion minutes each month using Wattpad 
  • 85% of Wattpad users (AKA Wattpadders) are millennials or generation Zs 
  • Reported valuation is $398 million 
These numbers make Wattpad important, and so does the technology the company employs. Analytics. Interactivity. Ads. The Wattpad model *could* be where all publishing is heading. 

One thing about Wattpad: there's not much bandwidth allocated for literary fiction. In fact, the platform does not even include “literature” or “literary fiction” as a genre. It does, however, feature these categories (and others):
  • Creepy pasta 
  • ChickLit 
  • Imagines 
  • Newadult 
  • Random 
  • Vampires 
  • Werewolf 
I can deal with literary fiction being off Wattpad’s radar. Thankfully, at least for now, literary fiction is welcome elsewhere. It gets the big prizes and some degree of respect. Perhaps not the commercial success of the vampires and werewolves, but that's fine. Most of us who write literary fiction have grown used to working full-time and writing on the weekends and early mornings. Sure, our backs and relationships suffer because of it. But we don’t mind! Writing is selfish! It’s our choice to do it! No one’s holding a gun to our heads! 

However, the success of Wattpad makes me worry that it’s not just literary fiction that is being squeezed further and further to the margins. But that quality storytelling—among all genres—is being marginalized, too. Never mind the horrendous book covers that you find on Wattpad and the fact that their tech is absolute shit at saving revisions, the Wattpad stories that I’ve tried to read so far are bad. Very, very bad. Which is very, very concerning. I’d stick some samples up here but I’m afraid the Wattpad lawyers would come for me. 

And yet… Wattpad still remains a tempting platform for me. Why? Eyeballs. Wattpad, potentially, gives me access to loads. Eventually, through an alchemy that I haven't yet mastered, those eyeballs could turn into more sales for my first book and, if it gets published, for my second book, too. So I’ve put one short story up the site:

It’s an old speculative fiction/sci-fi romance that I shortened and spruced up. But it’s also literary-ish. I’m curious to see if it gets any readers. If it does then this blog post could be a stellar example of biting the hand that feeds me. Let’s hope so!

By the way, I know I just said that there's no love for literary fiction on Wattpad, but Margaret Atwood is a Wattpadder! (She is also a speculative sci-fi writer though. Lines are blurry.) Atwood co-wrote a story called The Happy Zombie Sunrise Home, which has 1.3 million readers. Other than that story, and some contests, I’m not sure how active she is on the platform. But she is on it. So why not me?

Eyeballs and Atwood aside, there are lots of other positives about Wattpad. Cheesy as it sounds, what the company describes as “writer empowerment” is definitely happening here. For example, Wattpad is a:
  • FREE self-publishing platform, which takes away many of the socio-economic barriers that remain in traditional publishing (if you have access to the internet, that is)
  • place where writers can get feedback on their stories—feedback that could, eventually, help them develop into better writers
  • potential revenue source (the more popular writers can make money off their stories through ad sales)
But still… the quality. The quality of much of the writing concerns me. My response to my own critique is this: "Relax, Saso. This is the concern in bookstores, in galleries, in movie theatres. It's called art! It's called subjectivity!" 

So maybe my actual concern isn't about quality at all. Maybe my actual concern is that there is this amazing new platform and, as a thirty-something writer of literary fiction, I simply feel left out? 

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

(For the record, until I can sleep through the night again, this blog is mostly going to be about the Kardashian/Jenners and my thoughts on the pop music charts.)

Is it just me, or does the image of the woman on this cover look like Kylie Jenner?

People really seem to like Imagine Dragons.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

"Do you have The Weather Inside by Emily Saso?"
"Um, let me check.... No." 
"Well, it's supposed to be wonderful. It's had several excellent reviews."
"Would you like me to order it for you?"
"I'm from out of town so that won't work, unfortunately. But you should stock it."

My mom went undercover at my local bookstore this weekend.

When we got home, she told me that she contacted the CBC's Shelagh Rogers about my book. They went to camp together as kids, so she wrote a proper pitch letter to her with a story she could leverage and everything.

Kris Jenner watch out.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

I've hit a creative wall with this scene. It's a backstory chunk. Now, normally I love writing backstory, especially when it helps me build suspense. (Does that sound confusing?) But this chunk. Gah. I've been working it for months and can't make it shine.

Good news, though!

Just a few hours ago, a random, confused woman wandered into our apartment. So instead of triple-saving my Word doc and closing it as I normally would, I'm going to leave it open in case she comes back. Maybe she has some good ideas.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

New novel.
1.5 years in.
Decide to change my main character's name.
Find and replace.
Remember why I named him the name that I originally named him.
Find and replace.
Remember why I decided to change the original name to the new name.
Find and replace.
Wait a minute... Wasn't there...
Google the meaning of the original name.
Ah ha.
Find and replace.
Remember that the original name was too close to a nickname that I gave the main character, which may confuse readers, which I may never even have because this book is a risk and maybe it's terrible and what the hell am I doing who do I think I am Martin freaking Amis?
Find and replace.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Women who get $#it done

Hurray for Bronwyn Szabo, Shannon Litt and Caitlin Carmody! Three women who inspire me with their endless creativity and their ability to make actual real things!

Their latest project is a trailer for a series they want to develop called The Take. They shot it for the Independent Production Fund, which funds drama and comedy content intended for the web -- which can lead to a produced pilot, a funded web series, and maybe even a shot at a television series! Here's how they describe The Take:
"Betty, frustrated with being an aging, “aspiring”, broke actress, with the help of her criminal diner boss, kills two birds with one stone by laundering money through a tax-shelter movie that she stars in, and discovers that while she may not be star material, she may be fit for a life of crime."

Bronwyn and Shannon also shot this wonderful trailer last year for a series Bronwyn created (and stars in) called Tight Knit:
"Two clashing half-sisters must work together to keep their deceased Grandmothers yarn store, Purls Are A Girls Best Friend, afloat." 

Congratulations to these talented women! I can't wait to see what's next!

Friday, February 23, 2018

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Weekend writing posture

After sitting at a desk all week at work, this is often how I get writing done on the weekends. 

Giving birth to a book ain't pretty or comfortable.

But it's still fun.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Kootenay Inspired

My brother Paul wrote a beautiful coffee table book called Kootenay Inspired. It's about how people in British Columbia's Kootenay region live life, stay inspired and inspire everyone around them. Full of stories of adventure, perseverance and community building, it's a very special read. The photos are spectacular, but it's the stories of the lives lived that will really wow you. With deep empathy and insight, Paul zeroed in on what made these incredible people tick. 

My brother funded this project himself. (He's a hydrologist/scientist who does Shiatsu on the side.) Half the proceeds go to two local charities, the rest he's hoping will cover his costs. This was a passion project. He wrote this book because he cares deeply about his community and also has a nose for a good story. Paul is a fascinating guy himself. A skier and hunter and outdoorsman supreme. True story: he once killed two deer with one arrow. If Paul didn't write this book, he would certainly have been in it. 

You can find out more about Kootenay Inspired here. Below are three photos from the book, but there are many more inside its cover, all gorgeous.