Thursday, March 26, 2020

Blind Item


Two authors are going through a breakup. I think. They both write literary fiction and are married. I'm a big fan of the woman's work. LOVE her books. The dude? Don't know his stuff.

Anyways, I've been following the saga through their various social media feeds for a couple months. The man is definitely taking it harder. I think he got burned by what I'm assuming was an affair.

But maybe it's just distance, because from what I can gather, they've been living apart. She: in LA working on a screen adaptation of one of her amazing books. He: back home.

But I'd bet money on an affair. Or maybe worse... maybe she fell in love with someone else.


She seems ok. She's posting silly memes, showing no emotion, sharing nothing real.

But the guy? Not ok, not ok at all. Lots of sad selfies, lots of thanking his friends for their support during this difficult time, etc.

It doesn't take a genius to put these pieces together. Just a nosey asshole with too much time on her hands.

I hope COVID-19 brings them back together.


Tuesday, March 24, 2020


Remembering 11 years ago when one of the things I was most afraid of was literary rejection. 

ha! ha!
ha ha ha ha ha!

Anyways, here's me yesterday washing a bag of lentil chips.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Supply Chain

My husband is an engineer. He is part of the supply chain.
So he must go to work.
If he doesn't go to work, and if his colleagues don't go to work, too
Men (and some women) will not be able to weld.
If they cannot weld, there will be no ship building.
That is all I imagine.
I'll tell him about this later,
That I picture the work he does supporting only huge creaky patchwork metal barges.
Not cargo ships. Not cruises.
But sci-fi steampunk ships.
Kevin Costner's Waterworld ships.

I get to work from home because I am not part of the supply chain.
I work in corporate communications.
I am mostly useless. Contribute mostly nothing.
And yet, I get to stay safe-ish at home.
Working on my work laptop that looks alien on my home desk.
Typing words about our year in review, etc.
When all people want to know is: will my partner die? will my parents die? will I lose my mind, my house, my retirement funds?
But I write about our year in review, etc.
From home, safe-ish.
Losing my mind. My retirement funds.
The beginnings of something in my throat.
Maybe Kevin Costner Waterworld gills.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Books for these COVID-19 times

If you're interested in grocery stores...
... read Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata. A short book with arresting, concise prose about a woman who does not fit into life in Japan, except in the convenience store where she works. Her, um, "alternative" relationship with a co-worker will frustrate and delight you, and make you cheer out loud! One of my favourite books of the decade. I've never read anything like it.

If you never want to leave your house again...
... read My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh. It's an Ottessa Moshfegh book -- need I say more? You should read it now because its central character is a woman who barely leaves her apartment except to get food at her local bodega. She's barely awake, for that matter! Sigh... remember sleep? But the best scenes are between the main character and her therapist. We could all use a therapist now, am I right? And drugs!

If you *always* thought cruise ships were a bad idea...
... read Not Being On A Boat by Esme Claire Keith, a darkly funny novel about a cruise gone horribly, disastrously wrong. You will love to hate Rutledge, the main character. His dialogue is perhaps my favorite dialogue ever. Also, given the the theme, it's the "I told you cruises were a fucking terrible idea!" book we need right now. I'm obsessed with this novel. I want everyone to read it. I will never ever ever shut up about it.

If you just want to turn off your brain...
... read celebrity memoirs of any kind, really. I'd like to recommend one that I found profoundly entertaining: Dirty Rocker Boys by Bobbi Brown, star of one of the greatest reality shows of all time, Ex-Wives of Rock. She gives up so much good gossip and names big names! Personally, I'm going to buy the Jessica Simpson memoir soon, too. All that kooky/kinky stuff about her relationship with John Mayer -- yes, please.

Monday, March 16, 2020

My social distancing books arrived!

Never thought I'd have to write that headline...

Stay home when you can, everyone! It's the only way to ensure that our health care system isn't overwhelmed and lots of us don't die. 

Many people in Toronto are posting on social about stocking up on books from their local indie bookseller. Great! But don't go to the store. Order your books online and keep your favourite booksellers safe. My personal favourite delivers, Ben McNally Books.

I'm really lucky that I can work from home for the next few weeks; at least I can avoid public transit. My husband can't right now. I hope that changes, but it may not. That worries me. 

Anyways, I hope you stay safe, think of others before yourself, and exercise common sense. Life, I believe, will never be the same, but I also believe that we'll get through this if we take it seriously. 


Saturday, March 7, 2020

Self-publishing and pseudonyms: A Q&A with "Emmett Grogan"

Since I finished my new manuscript a few weeks ago, I've been on a reading tear. Elena Ferrante's achingly perfect The Lost DaughterSandra Newman's magical realist time travel fantasy The Heavens; Jenny Offill's fascinating Weather; Alan Lightman's poetic, dreamy collage Einstein's Dreams.... 

Another book I discovered is Twelve Stories by Emmett Grogan. Or rather, Twelve Stories discovered me.

When Emmett first emailed me about his self-published book a month ago, I Googled his name, which brought me to a Wikipedia page for a famous (dead) hippie/novelist. Confused, I checked out the (alive) author's website. It featured no bio, only an "inspiration" page and a photo of a man in disguise. It was clear (alive) Grogan was using a pseudonym. Albeit one that -- GASP! -- belonged to another actual author.

I was intrigued, so I bought a copy of Twelve Stories. "Good" fiction is subjective, so you never know what to expect from any book. Personally, though, I'm more wary when it comes to self-published books, so I wasn't expecting much. But, damn, Emmett! I really enjoyed Twelve Stories! The most welcome surprise of my reading year so far! 

Twelve Stories is a total trip through northwestern Ontario (with some Toronto thrown in). The prose is vivid, the characters eccentric and unforgettable. There's a scene in a strip club with Canadian Tire money. There's a magic realist take on Tim Horton's "roll up the rim to win" contest. There's Star Wars and high school and gritty, grinding poverty. Twelve Stories is very entertaining, very dark-funny, and very well written.

I wanted to know more about Twelve Stories and "Emmett Grogan," so I asked the author some questions and he was kind enough to answer. (I won't reveal his true identity, of course; he doesn't want his real name attached to this for a variety of reasons, and I respect that.) 

Describe Twelve Stories. How are the stories connected?

It's a novel told in the form of short stories. Each story can be read on its own, something happens in each story, the stories are fast-paced, funny -- but if you put them all together like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle...a bigger picture emerges: by the end of the novel, you realize the main character didn't understand half of what was really going on around him, even as he tells you his life story...and that's what makes him ultimately, tragic.

What was the inspiration behind Twelve Stories  

I wanted to get my entire life down on paper, everybody that was ever important to me; everything that ever meant something to me. My beautiful wife; my animals; my family and friends; places and key events: they are all in the novel. (The story about my mother, "The Grifters", is a 100% true story.) I don't have kids, but if I got hit by a train tomorrow, I'll know I left something behind. I think I wrote a pretty good novel: I left it all on the page, if you know what I mean. Maybe someday my nephew will read it, and decide, I was a pretty cool guy.

But to reach the point where writing Twelve Stories was possible, I very much have to acknowledge the influence to Mona Awad's 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl. I read a lot of literary fiction, particularly short stories, and 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl is something special. Mona Awad is a Canadian author, I would like as many people as possible to know who she is, because she is whip-smart; edgy, raw, but funny. 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl is the arc of a life, told in chronological order, from when the narrator is a teenager, to middle adulthood; when I read 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girlin February 2016, it was like a door opened, and suddenly, I had a model for Twelve Stories. No bullshit: it was an exciting day for me, when Mona's novel made the shortlist for the 2016 Giller Prize (13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl also won the Amazon First Novel Award in 2016.)

Twelve Stories is set almost entirely in northern Ontario, but you don’t really describe the setting much at all. Instead, the book is almost entirely character focused. Was this a conscious choice? Are you more interested in people than places? (And if so, why?)

Two competing thoughts: 1) I probably should have put more Northern Ontario (especially snow!) into the novel: that's a good piece of advice for the next novel; but 2) I believe character-driven writing is always more interesting: think of looking at a friend's vacation scrapbook: do you want to see sunsets and mountains and flowers and beaches, or, some guy standing on the beach, pointing at the sunset, clowning around for the camera?

You use a pseudonym for this book, "Emmett Grogan," which isn’t that unusual; plenty of authors do. However, the name you chose belongs to a dead man, a well-known dead man, a well-known dead man who has also written a novel. Why did you decide to use this particular name?  

I have to go deep background for this one, so bear with me.

Eugene Leo Grogan BECAME "Emmett Grogan" as an act of self-mythmaking in his modern classic Ringolevio. Some people look at Ringolevio as a memoir; other people classify it as a novel: at the start of the book, the narrator calls himself "Kenny Wisdom", and makes himself into the legend "Emmett Grogan" almost as an act of performance art, once he hits San Francisco at the end of the 1960s. "Emmett Grogan" was famous for his involvement with a group called the Diggers, organizing something they called the Free Store, where the Diggers gave away free food, free clothes, free furniture to anybody who wanted it...the unspoken understanding was, all the stuff they gave away at the Free Store was STOLEN (or "donated" by local merchants)...and when "Emmett Grogan" and his crew used to go out and collect stuff to give away, the rule was, anybody who gets picked up by the cops, just use the name "Emmett Grogan" ("No, I'M Spartacus!")

For Twelve Stories, the joke is, the narrator (Emmett Grogan) is a bit of a con artist, but (mostly because he's drunk all the time) he is completely unaware of the "other" Emmett Grogan...and so the scammer gets scammed, hoist on his own petard!

I used the name "Emmett Grogan" for Twelve Stories because, basically, he gave it away; it's a good fit for the themes of the novel; and I'd like to think the name still has a certain cache among old hippies, con artists, and literary pranksters.

I used an image of Ringolevio to illustrate "The Tallest Man in America" on my website, because, if the narrator of the story had only been aware of Ringolevio...his entire life might have turned out differently (he definitely wouldn't have spent a long weekend in jail, after being picked up by the Border Patrol in Northern Minnesota, end of summer, 1990!); but also, I fully and publicly acknowledge my debt to "Emmett Grogan" and Ringolevio.

As I wrote to Sue Carter at "Quill & Quire" on the first anniversary of Twelve Stories, you could call me the Elena Ferrante of Canadian literature, but I'd rather be the Mark Twain of Northern Ontario. (She didn't acknowledge my email, ha!)

The whole collection is a con of sorts. There are 15 stories, not 12. Your character Emmett Grogan, is sometimes a bit of a con man; some of his friends certainly are. And then there's your use of the Emmett Grogan pseudonym.... 

I would call this novel a bit of a prank, something original to Canadian literature, because nothing like this has ever been attempted before. (Well, OK: The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz was also a model for me.)

One of the joys of being a writer is that you get to figure out stuff about yourself, like an unpaid therapist. With "Goodbye, Stranger" I discovered "Having pulled at least a dozen girlfriends by the time we started grade eleven, Duke was emerging as a sex addict. But I acted out in my own way...It wasn't the drinking: my addiction was always to the pleasure of breaking rules and dodging the consequences; talking my way out of any potential trouble...The pleasure of figuring out just what I was capable of getting away with; what type of hijinks I could pull off and still live to tell the tale years later. How close to the line I could walk, without falling into the abyss."

Why did you decide to self publish?   

Because I didn't want to sit around feeling powerless. I always figured, Twelve Stories would be a novel 100%, for 2% of readers, so why not go for it? Like, pedal to the metal...hold nothing back.

If I had submitted my novel to Canadian publishing, I'd still be sitting around today, waiting for nothing to happen. Instead, I put out a pretty good novel, two years ago rather than never, with no creative compromises, and I'm having a lot of fun with the project. The next printing (the fifth printing) might have a crimson red cover, but maybe I'll make it canary yellow: I have the absolute freedom to experiment, and put out a better product every time it goes back to press.

And I know how to sell books.

What are you most proud of about this book?  

In all sincerity, I am most proud of the fact that good readers (like yourself) are reading the novel, and accepting it as good work, even though the words on the page are gritty (but 100% authentic, and have a moral compass.)

You can buy Twelve Stories at BMV in Toronto. If you're outside of Toronto, contact Emmett via