Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A promise is a promise

A letter arrived in the mail the other day. It struck fear in my heart for a moment because it was self-addressed. But once the rejection flashbacks withdrew and I remembered what it was, I laughed out loud. In an envelope stamped and mailed by a sweetheart librarian, there it was: the promises I made to myself at the worst writing workshop I've ever attended.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

So this is when I compare myself to Hemingway.

My father was in town for a visit this weekend and he brought a literary treasure with him: a stack of Ernest Hemingway's articles from the Toronto Star. If you're a fan of Hemingway's, Toronto should be on your list of places to visit. The man left a mark on this city that, in its darkest days, still gives its citizens something to be proud of. My father's timing couldn't have been better. The Ikea Monkey is the best thing that's happened to our little metropolis in ages. 

I have to admit, I'm not a fan of Hemingway's fiction. It's too sparse for my taste and too real. But even I have chased his ghost through the streets of Toronto. I've even been inside an old apartment of his, just up the street from where I live now: 600 square feet perched at the top of a four-storey walk-up, cramped and with an odour of wet carpet and dog, and selling for half a million dollars. 

The articles in the collection were reproduced by the Toronto Star (and sold as a special edition for $12.99) exactly as they were originally presented, clumsy typesetting and all. Hemingway wrote scores of articles for the paper between 1920-1924 and had quite a career, eventually being promoted to European correspondent at the age of 22 -- the same age I was when I stood in his former living room shaking my leg free of the real estate agent's dog.

I've taken photographs of a few of the headlines and the introductory chunks of his articles for you to check out. Though the ink is faded, Hemingway's voice is so bold, so Hemingway. He is aggressive and witty and with every word trying to convince us that he is a MAN, God dammit. 

One of the most fascinating pieces of his that I came across was "How to be Popular in Peace Though a Slacker in War" -- a scathing, sarcastic teardown he wrote about Canadian men who went to work in U.S. munitions factories during WWI only to make 15% on their U.S. cash back in Canada. It's smart and snarky and speaks of the greed of men in the way only a greedy man himself could understand. Here's a taste:
"A good plan is to go to one of the stores handling second-hand army goods and purchase yourself a trench coat.... The trench coat and the army issue shoes will admit you at once into that camaraderie of men which is the main result we obtained from the war. Your far-seeing judgment in going to the States is now vindicated. You have all the benefits of going to war and none of its drawbacks." 
I may not be a fan of Hemingway's literature, but I am a fan of his journalism and -- speaking of greed -- I take great personal comfort in it. I mean, satirical war editorials aside, Ernest Hemingway wrote shitty service pieces about camping and bargain hunting and then went on to be celebrated as one of the greatest writers of all time. As a former trade magazine editor and occasional freelance contributor to the Toronto Star myself, it makes me think that there's hope for me as well. Not as grand, of course, but maybe a small piece of the kind of career that Hemingway had. Like tiny small. A square inch.

Apparently Hemingway kept his Star clippings for his entire life, which says a lot about how  he felt about his time there. I'll always keep mine, too. Not for my portfolio -- my byline-chasing days are done -- but out of gratitude for the sparks of imagination they helped ignite in my fiction.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Guess what I bought!

Emily Saso hiding from her creditors.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The mind is willing. But the MacBook?

In my never-ending quest to straighten out my question-mark posture, I've decided to change up my computer hardware situation. Don't get me wrong: I love my MacBook Air and I'd kiss its feet if it had them. But my body is struggling right now and I've got to start thinking long-term, which means I've got to start thinking about ergonomics. 

The screen on my laptop is just so low that it puts me into a hunch. After a few minutes of typing, my neck aches and my shoulders spasm. This can't go on much longer; I've got my future to think about. After all, if this writing thing doesn't pan out, I only have my looks to fall back on. 

So I bought a new keyboard and a Samsung monitor today. The monitor was on sale and, more importantly, is height adjustable. Woo hoo! I thought. My spine will be ballerina straight! 

A couple of hours ago, my fiancé and I hooked the screen up to my laptop and new keyboard, turned it on and... TAD duh. It should have been good enough. The specs were on target and the reviews were mostly glowing. But the words on the screen were surrounded by this "ghosting effect" that made my eyes strain. The resolution just didn't make the grade.

I don't blame Samsung, though. I blame Apple. They sold me the best crack on the street and now anything else is just plain regular crack, cut with baking soda and mixed together in a bathtub. A really grubby bathtub in, like, a frat house or something.

So the Samsung is going back. And until I win the lotto and can afford an Apple monitor, here's what I'll be using instead:

Yep. That would be my $2000 Air perched on a cardboard boxed stuffed with photos from my drunken trip to Europe. 

What about you? Does your body ache from writing? What setup works for you?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

My name is Emily and I'm addicted to writing workshops.

I just returned from a particularly horrible writing workshop at the Toronto Public Library. Nothing against the writer who ran the workshop; she did the best she could. It was the writers who brought this session to a brand new low. If you're like me and you're also addicted to workshops, then you'll recognize many of the participants as the usual suspects: the bitter, unpublished punks; the very old, very determined memoirists; the awkward introverts; and the token insane woman – who sat next to me, of course – and who, every 20 minutes or so, barked like a dog in the grip of a nightmare. (There were some lovely people, too, of course. But they're no fun to write about.)

The theme of today's workshop was breaking through barriers to writing. You know what one of the barriers to writing is? Thinking and talking too damn much about writing instead of actually writing.

Until today, I’ve never truly been honest with myself about why I’m so drawn to writing workshops. I say I’m doing them for social reasons, you know, to meet more writers, to feel less isolated in what is a very isolating craft. But does an actual socially-driven writing workshopper spend hours trolling the Internet for free seminars? Does she constantly refresh her literary event app (and yes, this exists) to make sure – 100% sure – that she isn’t missing out? Does she make desperate phone calls to librarians begging “Please. PLEASE. Can you fit me into this workshop? I NEED this workshop.” Of course not. This is the behavior of a person using writing workshops not for social networking or developmental opportunities, but as a crutch. This is the behavior of me.

And afterwards, after the workshop is over, have I learned something deep about the art of writing or my process? Have I made new literary connections? Have I broken down creative walls? No. All I’ve got to show for it is a backpack full of fucking pamphlets and three hours of wasted time. Time that I should have been using to write.

This is not to say that other writers may not benefit greatly from writing workshops. It's just that for me, at this stage in my "career," I know exactly what my problem with writing is: not writing. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

SSBM (patent pending)

Let’s put aside all the craziness in publishing right now, shall we?...

... and get back to basics: writing. I think mine is getting better. I recently came across one of the very first stories I ever wrote and it made me realize how much I've grown. (It was a horrendous action/adventure piece that Michael Bay may have optioned had we ever met and had my skirt been short enough.)

Speaking of short… I’ve just put the finishing touches on a new short story. It’s based on the piece that got long-listed for a CBC short story contest this year, only it’s better. I’ve been in heavy editing mode for about two weeks and I’m sticking with the method that has saved my ass on more than one occasion: the SSBM (Small, Smaller, Bigger Method). 

The way it works is as follows: I write my story in 12-point font, single-spaced in Microsoft Word. Then I put it away for 24-hours, return and edit the thing on screen.

A few days later, I reread my story, only with one major change in technique: I read it on my iPhone, which means the font is very small, probably 8-point. Then I edit again based on that reading.

A few days after that, I re-format my story in Word again, this time double-spacing it. I edit it in that format, leave it for another day, read it again on my iPhone (again), change it back into double-spaced format and then KABLAMMO! The short story is, finally, good to go.

This is a technique I stumbled upon after years spent as a magazine editor at a bunch of trades you've never heard of. At one of my posts, not only was I the editor, but I was also the designer. Not because I knew WTF I was doing design-wise, mind you, but because budget dictated that I pretend to know. And AND not only was I editing and designing (and running production) but I was also writing the majority of the content. By the time it came to the final copy edit, these circumstances made it almost impossible for me to see any errors or lazy prose or omissions until…

… I switched up the formatting.

Here’s what I mean. When I thought I couldn't edit effectively anymore -- because I was too close to the words and I'd read them too many times -- I would lay out the story in InDesign. And wow! As if by magic, the mistakes and crap writing would reveal themselves. It was the same story, the same writing, but the format change from Word into the standard magaziney style made it seem completely different. It was as though I’d never read the article before, when I had likely read it five or six times. I’m telling you: it was revelatory. I could see my writing so clearly, it was as though I hadn’t written it at all.

I’ve been using this very method in my short fiction, even for various sections of my novel, and it works every time. Try it sometime yourself. I promise you, it’ll bring a freshness to your editing process that will improve your final draft.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

I can't believe I lied to the CARE guy

So I was walking towards the health food store the other night, plotting out the purchases I was about to make -- overpriced gluten-free bagels and vacuum-packed tofu -- when a man approached me. He was wearing glasses, pants (of course), a bright orange vest, a name tag that read “Patrick.” But back to the vest. He wore it because he works for a charity called CARE and was on the street canvassing for donations. I’m talking “Commit now, here on the sidewalk, and pledge to pay us $10 a month for the rest of your life" kind of canvassing.

It was fluorescent orange because it was a vest with purpose: a guilt-inducing marketing ploy. If you didn’t stop and talk to Patrick, your excuse being that you “didn’t see him standing there” -- in a luminescent LOOK AT ME super vest -- well, then you’d have to live with the shame of knowing that not only are you an uncharitable asshole, but you are also full of $#it.

I stopped, of course, because I know all about these vests. Patrick leaned into his script and I nodded and he talked and talked and I pulled out my credit card and it was all moving along nicely. And then something changed. Somewhere between well-digging and microloans, and Patrick’s occasional Hugh-Grant-like stammers about some mishap at the bar last night and the fact that he was having a really bad day, the subject of my career came up.

“Oh yeah?” he said. “What kind of writer are you?”
“Well, for work I do finance marketing-type writing," I said. “But I also write fiction.”
“Ohhhh. So you want to be a real writer.”
“Actually, Patrick, I am a real writer. I wrote a book." Then I puffed out my chest and added "And I have an agent."
“Wow. When’s your book coming out?”
And this is when it got weird: “Sometime next year,” I replied.
I was amazed at how easily the lie came out of my mouth. It just rushed out of me like a breath.
“So is it going to be at Chapters and on Amazon?” he asked.
I looked at my phone as though I was very busy, a busy that my subconscious mind must have wanted Patrick to assume was a symptom of my being a published author with the kinds of commitments that published authors have. And then I looked at Patrick, laughed a little laugh, and said this: “That’s to be determined.”


Let me be clear: I do not, at this time, have a book coming out. We’re working on it, my amazing agent and I -- Okay, only really my agent. I'm just sort of lumbering aimlessly -- and I do believe that it will happen. But I do not, currently, have a galley in my purse. I have not yet received the phone call. I have not spent a Saturday afternoon scouting locations for my book release party. Not, not, not.

I’m sorry I lied, Patrick. It was a weird, sad thing for me to do. I’m not sure why I said it exactly. I was feeling defensive and embarrassed and mediocre, I guess. And there you were: hung-over and essentially begging me for money. You probably had a quota to fill, right? Or you wouldn’t get paid? You were vulnerable, emotionally and professionally, and I took advantage. I used you to feel, if only for a second, like the person I’ve always dreamed of being.

I hope, Patrick, that my $10/month donation will make up for my weird lie. That it goes towards, I don’t know, sturdy shovels and a communal goat or something.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

On Zadie

Picture this: the vast council housing estates of North West London, 1975-1985, a young girl who grew up happy and admits it, collecting stories and observations from her neighbours, friends, family, all mashed together from the whole wide world in a place that was meant to be a bucolic Eden (with indoor toilets, private gardens, all the modernities!) that instead got swallowed up by the relentless pressing on of an unstoppable city. Picture the most beautiful skin you have ever seen, the product of a combination of Jamaican and Irish that the world needs more of. Picture all that just a bit older, a bit wiser, on the wide ivyed expanses of Cambridge, one of only four black women on campus. Four. Picture what that does to her mind, already brilliant because of genetics, the influence of friends and geography, books, of having grown up with stairwells encased in glass instead of concrete because she swears that makes a difference. Now picture all that wrapped up in the coolest headscarf you have ever seen and there you have it: Zadie Smith. Sigh.

I was lucky enough to get tickets to her reading/interview/book signing at Toronto’s Harbourfront last night (hosted by the fab Becky Toyne) and I was the opposite of disappointed. I was detnioppasid.

She was jam-packed with so much easy, casual wisdom. I’m paraphrasing, so just picture these words but, like, much more eloquently said. And delivered by a deep voice. I did not expect that voice.:
“I just think that the novel has endless possibilities. I’ll hear from readers and they’re like ‘Argh! Where did the quote marks go? Why didn’t you use quote marks?’ I mean, in what other medium can you evoke such emotion, such anger? And over the smallest thing. It’s just a quote mark! [laughs] So for me the novel is an incredibly exciting form to work in.”
She also spoke about the weirdness of success and how it changes people, not her specifically, but she has been around such people. Men and women so rich that their group of friends has become so tiny that the most important thing all that wealth and success has done to them is make them this: lonely, utterly. And isn’t that strange, she said, because it’s something we’re all supposed to strive for. Success. And then when we get there – in our Range Rovers sealed off from the traffic and our vacations on private islands and our mansions for two and our VIP areas… well, what’s the point? And then she laughed and you knew it would all be okay.


There were so many golden nuggets like that. I wish I had a better memory or that I’d brought a pen. But I couldn’t look away from the stage anyways, so I probably would have ended up scribbling all over my pants. You wouldn’t be able to see the pen because my 9-5 pants are black, always, but I would have known.

And her reading. Wow. Normally I get bored at readings and leave disappointed. But Zadie read like a champion, like a natural who knew how to marry the English language and vocal chords better than anyone had ever managed to do ever. Her reading of her latest book, NW, made me love NW. (Until then, I had only been liking it.) Because now I really understand what she was aiming for. And so now I’m all in.

To hear what Zadie actually said and to hear her read – because you MUST hear her read – the whole shebang will be broadcast on CBC radio’s Writers & Company on October 7. Eleanor Wachtel was a wonderful interviewer, by the way. Even though she didn’t ask a follow-up question when Zadie alluded to a “nearly fatal” incident that made time feel suddenly irrelevant. If you ever bump into her at a party, give it an ask, will you?

Friday, September 14, 2012

(Or how I learned to stop worrying and love Toronto)

College Street in Little Italy. Empty.
No one to ask the girl in glasses
-- "She must know!" -- for directions.
The Toronto International Film Festival, International Festival of Authors, Nuit Blanche, sweaters in the stores and in colours inspired by wine, the end of allergy season, the windows of my place finally getting cleaned (thank you condo board, you disorganized thugs)… This is the time of year when I fall back in love with Toronto.

I wanted to run away from this city for most of the summer. It was too hot and too small, every single tourist was asking my glasses for directions, the AC vent by my subway stop was every day blowing a harassing wind up my skirt, and I was dreaming such beautiful dreams about Broadway, Barter Books and the ocean. But fall is coming, my favourite season out of the four, and I’m feeling my heart grow two sizes bigger for the city I was just itching to get the hell out of. And it was an animal itch, let me tell you, the kind that makes bears rub themselves raw on trees.

The energy here this time of year always wins me back. There’s a real pride about the place and about the culture pouring out of the buildings downtown. (And the laptops, oh my, they are taking over the cafes. They are covered in coffee and ideas.) So for now, I’ve stopped looking for a way out and I’m noticing the good things. That there’s Thai food on every corner. Gluten-free vegan pizza pockets. Writers and readers and artists. Free TVOntario (if you’ve an antenna that’s clever enough to catch it).

So the bear inside me has stopped itching and clawing. He’s in a hibernation of sorts, happy, for now, in his heavily mortgaged cave. Although I can still hear whispers from New York, LA, London and Paris, I’m going to rest now and hope this feeling gets me through the winter.

The teenaged cast of the film Foxfire. The world
premiere at TIFF. They were the happiest of prom queens. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Research!! (AKA: I've got nothing)

If any of you follow me on Twitter, you may have seen this photo....

... accompanied by this painfully true caption:
"This note on my office 'idea wall' pretty much sums up my writing life these days."
I've been working away on my second novel, and it's been going well. Ideas, character profiles, timelines, it's all been coming together. Until recently. I blogged about this casually and skirted around the problem, but it's time to come clean: I haven't written, not really, in weeks.

Granted, before this current slump, I'd already gotten some good work done on the new MS. The last few weeks, though? I've felt like a dried up lime -- completely useless for prose, guacamole, invisible ink, you name it. I think I'm a bit burnt out, to tell you the truth. Lately, when I get home from work, my brain has been rebelling against any thoughts that go beyond the existential depth of "fork or spoon." All I want to do is eat cereal (Chex), read other people's books (so far in this rut I've read Runaway, Beautiful Ruins, On the Road and a ton of shorts) and maybe, if the mood strikes me, watch an episode of 16 and Pregnant.

Even my body is struggling. When I do sit down to write, my shoulders tense up and my carpal tunnel screams, all of which results in 1.5 hour-long massage treatments that leave me feeling like a piece of steak hammered flat by a Gordon Ramsey-type and my poor RMT exhausted, probably turning to booze for the comfort that her magic hands cannot provide to her own body. Oh the tragic irony of the life of a masseur!

So instead of writing, I've been doing what every writer does when they cannot write but are desperate to appear as though they are still "working": research. On the weekend, for example, I went to Toronto's CNE -- likely the smelliest, stickiest seasonal fair in the world. After giving disapproving looks to the connoisseurs of deep fried butter, wandering by endless lines of carney games and rides that were likely bolted together by that guy who picks through your garbage at night, I managed to find some stuff to climb into and on top of that could be counted as inspiration, creative lubricant, whatever, for novel #2:


As much as I love writing, not being able to write is a pretty low feeling that makes me wonder about writing altogether.

That's why "research" for literary types was invented. It gives us permission to wander our cities, our world, our Internet and take a break from WORDS. Without research, the weight of the blank page would crush us to death.

Oh, and hilarious GIFs help too:

Monday, August 20, 2012

Ouch. Even I felt that.

This is the kind of book review that serves as a reminder to writers everywhere that we better have our $hit together or some guy like William Giraldi will hand our asses to us. (And we'd deserve it.):
Teeth are described as “white,” as if we needed telling. About a porn magazine: “The girls were young, with enormous fake breasts.” William Gass once called this breed of abysmal writing “the uselessly precise fact” — it’s what you doodle when you need to fill a page but have nothing important to say. What then passes for wisdom in this novel? Nonsense clichés: “Nice guys finish last."
If you can take it, here's where to go to read the whole thing:

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Pirates are never a good sign

I'm having one of those days where I want to photoshop eyepatches on everyone. Which, for me, means that I have some serious creative energy that needs letting out.

I've been plotting out the next phase of book two in my brain for a couple weeks now, and it's high time I sat down and got some serious writing done. I've let laziness and wedding stuff get in the way. (And also some mourning for "Lost," the finale of which left me traumatized.) But no more!

Book #2? Tonight I'm a comin' for you. Yaar!

What about you? Do you ever get the itch to write?

By the way, if you're having an eyepatch kind of day, too... Try the hilarious app for iPhone called "iPatch." It's making my life right now.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Treats for manuscripts

Aside from the Olympics, my brain is focused on book two at the moment. While my Post-It note outline has been whispering in my right ear for months now, I haven't opened the actual manuscript since the spring. In fact, it's been so long since we've seen each other that I'm afraid it won't recognize me. It'll hide behind some other Word document all shy and bashful, and I'll have to lure it my way with a pork rind or some peanut butter toast. Because I'm pretty sure that's what manuscripts eat.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

It’s like falling, only twistier

I finished another round of revisions last night and I celebrated with a good stretch on the floor and some Olympics watching. Synchro diving, men’s gymnastics, swimming and “the end.” I was in my happy place.

Even though I’m a bit numb to the story at this point, I’m pretty darn pleased with the changes I’ve made to my manuscript. I cut out a character, made a key relationship much stronger, added a new adventure and gave a favorite minor character a larger role in the story.

I feel lucky that I was able to pull this all together. The solutions came to me so fast, I could hardly believe it. My agent Linda is magic, I think. Every time I talk to her, my brain lights up with ideas.

So the ideas came easy, but the writing? That was hard work. I spent about three months on this round of revisions and I learned so much along the way. I really feel like I know how to write a book now. (Not that there are absolutes in this business, but I know myself better now, I know my style, what I need to get the work done.) It took years of hard, lonely work. I’ve been obsessive, possessive and emotionally raw because of it. And it’s been the greatest experience of my life.

So if you’re trying to find an agent or finish that first draft, keep going. Don’t give up. I’m not even on the podium yet, but I know I’ve done something that I’m proud of. And I know that I’m a writer.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Tiny literature

So I've been reading my re-writes from the night before on my iPhone as I commute into work. And I have to say, I like my stuff so much more when it's teeny tiny. (And more still when it's single spaced.) It feels cozier somehow, and almost secretive. The screen so close to my face, my whole book fitting into my palm. It's a totally absorbing and rich way to read. Who knew?

I used to be skeptical of iPhone reading. I was worried that my eyes wouldn't be able to take it and that it somehow cheapened the reading experience. Until I read Patrick DeWitt's The Sisters Brothers in teeny tiny font.

I had a job interview at Kobo so I downloaded their app for research/sucking up purposes. And to my surprise, even though the app kept crashing, I fell in love with the font size, the scrolling and everything teeny tiny I've already gushed about. (The book too, of course. It's perfect.)

What about you? Do you like reading off your smart phone? And have you ever read your own manuscript in teeny tiny smart phone font?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

One chair to rule them all!

Can we all just take a moment to celebrate the awesomeness that is my new chair? My shlumpy posture and "thinking" pajamas aside, does not this beauty look exactly like the kind of chair from which great books are read and good books are written?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Editing hibernation

It's lunchtime so I'm eating smoked tofu on a dusty gluten-free bun. I'm sitting on a marble bench in downtown Toronto that I forgot to scan for bird poop. I'm reading On The Road and am kind of disappointed. In Kerouac, sure, but mostly in my own expectations.

I just moved to a shadier spot because it's hot out here. Not the HOT HOT HEAT that the newspapers are crying about, but warm heat; the kind that hugs my overly air conditioned body in all the right places. I want to take this heat back with me to my cubicle. I want to hold it in between my shivering purple knees and never let it go.

Today, this perfectly warm Tuesday, is the day I go back into hardcore editing mode. (Today is also the day after my birthday in case you want to buy me something pretty or practical.)

For the next two weeks I'll be reading through my revised manuscript one more time before sending it off to my agent. I hope I love it as much as I did two weeks ago when the story seemed so fresh and the characters so punchy and real.

I'll keep you posted.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Vonn in my gut

I've been reading Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut for the last few days. Until I reached the page I reached today, I didn't even really like the thing. But today happened and that page happened (75), and so now I love it. Coincidentally (or was it? more on that later), the very page that turned "meh" into "WOW" also had a glitch on it. Because I'm a loser, I took a photo of it:
As you can see, the font went from bold to, well, unbold, and the sentence is sort of crooked-like. Neat, huh? I was on the subway when I came across this mystical page and the lady sitting next to me was trying to read over my shoulder. I caught her at one point -- which was hard to do because she was really fast -- and I was all like "Step off, b! Because this page and I have something going on!" See, I've decided that page 75 and I are connected, tied together by fate. (Okay, not really. But come on, man, I haven't blogged in a while. Just go along with it.) It's kind of complicated and you probably won't get it, unless you know about the magical properties of crystals and dowsing sticks, etc. Basically, what all this means is that my next book will contain a melodious owl. That owl shall be my good-luck charm and shall carry my second book to the top of the New York Times Bestseller's List on its wings of... feathers?   Or, you know, not.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Good news (not mine)

As you may or may not know, I’m heavy into revisions again. As it turns out, this whole book-writing thing isn’t that easy. Who knew, right? I was supposed to have a Pulitzer and a writing apartment in Paris by now. What I’ve actually got, though, is a vicious case of carpel tunnel and really extremely frizzy hair. (It’s been trés humid in my home office as of late.) I’ve been watching an awful lot of Lost lately, too, so in case you were wondering... No, the image above is not a clever clue signalling that I've “lost” my mind during rewrites. I’m just obsessed with John Locke. 

Since I don’t have much to say about my own stuff these days—clearly—I thought I’d share some really extremely good news from another writer whose blog I follow, Anne Riley.

Anne wrote a YA novel, got an agent, got rejected by publishers, self published, lost her agent, regretted having gone the self-publishing route and then—drumroll, please!—got an honest-to-goodness publishing deal for that same book!

Anne sums up her adventure much better than I do, of course, so give it a read here. It's way inspiring.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

I love revising

It's a beautiful Sunday morning! The birds are singing, the NY Times was at my door, my cereal was covered in nuts and so very delicious, the old guy who lives upstairs who's been hacking and coughing himself to death for months on end is silent... 

Hmm... Actually, that probably means that he's dead. I should check on that.

Anyways, I'm having a lovely Sunday morning because I get to spend most of it working on revisions to The Weather Inside. And I couldn't be more excited I must say! (Random Canadian TV reference.) I have some AMAZING ideas that I am so happy to be including in my first book. One idea actually has to do with deleting rather than including, but it's exciting nonetheless. It involves getting rid of a character whose name I couldn't remember. Seriously. I was talking to my agent on the phone and she mentioned the character -- Caroline -- and I was all like "Sorry. Who?" Who forgets the names of their own characters? Somebody who should have never invented the character in the first place.

So Caroline is gone and all her good scenes are being rolled over to another character. Some pivotal motivations are being reconstructed, too, all in the hopes of making this first novel of mine connect better with readers. It's certainly connecting better with me. I mean, after all this time and all these revisions, it's a miracle that I'm so damn happy to be back in the papery arms of my first-novel love. 

I hope your Sunday is spent in the arms of a book or manuscript, too. Or a lovely human. Or lovely human children. Because it is Mother's Day after all. My mom is deep in the heart of the Florida everglades on some sort of Elder Adventure. Happy Mother's Day, mom, even though you hate Mother's Day. And remember, mom, if you see lightning, stop the portage and drop the canoe. You do not want this to happen to you:

(Another random Canadian TV reference.) 

Thursday, May 3, 2012

I'm kind of a big deal on the Internet, Dad.

If my glamour shot (see post below) is too horrifying for your delicate constitution, but you'd still like to kill some time reading Emily-Saso-related things on the Internet, I wrote a guest post for my wonderful agent's wonderful blog, The Blabbermouth. You can read it here.

If that doesn't appeal to you, then here's a photo of a hamster eating some broccoli:

Mmm. Delicious. 

And here are some links to other hamster-related news/views:

Smoke: The Amazing Hamster (Okay, this started off as a joke, but this guy is actually pretty incredible)

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


Do you think I could still win the Pulitzer if I insisted on using a glamour shot for my author's photo?

Because I'm seriously considering it.

Friday, April 27, 2012

I'm sorry, Internet.

>> Internet: >: |

>> Emily: Oh, it's you, Internet. Um. Hi.

>> Internet: >: |

>> Emily: Okay, okay. So I missed my own self-imposed Wednesday blogging deadline. So what?

>> Internet: :(

>> Emily: Oh wow. I had no idea you cared so much, Internet. Listen, I'm sorry I let you down. But I have a good excuse.

>> Internet: :|

>> Emily: I just got a new job. A full-time job. And it pays a liveable wage!

>> Internet: :)

>> Emily: Thanks, Internet. I'm happy about it, too.

>> Internet: :o

>> Emily: Pardon? Internet, can you speak up?

>> Internet: :0

>> Emily: What's inspiring me lately, writing-wise? Funny you should ask, Internet! I actually went to a writing workshop last weekend run by a brand new writing school called 52 Riverdale. It was held at this beautiful home in Toronto, not some soulless seminar hall, and the group was small so everyone got personal attention from the instructors. And the instructors! Internet, you would love them. My fellow writers were lovely, too, and it was so energizing to be there with them, which was a nice surprise. I mean, Internet, you know as well as I do that a room full of literary-type people can either be a boom or a bust.

>> Internet: ;)

>> Emily: Oh, Internet. Not that kind of a bust. You're terrible!

>> Internet: :)

>> Emily: Anyways, like I was saying, the workshop was wonderful. It re-energized me, which is just what I needed at this stage of my second novel. I felt really stimulated and challenged, and everyone was very supportive of one another. Did you know I was writing my second novel, Internet?

>> Internet: | - 0

>> Emily: Oh, I'm boring you am I? Fine. I've had enough of you too.

>> Internet: * \ 0 / *

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Murakami's motto and the Devil's drink

This week, I'm taking inspiration from Haruki Murakami's surprisingly good mini memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. I write "surprising" because I'm (gasp!) not a huge Murakami fan and because the book is about something that I used to love to do but can't do anymore: Running. (Duh.)

For whatever reason, though, I truly enjoyed reading this little book. It wasn't about much and yet it left me feeling so very much. Happiness, sadness, surprise, nostalgia, love, peace. I was smiling and nodding my head the entire time I was reading, and what I took away from What I Talk About was perhaps the most important inspirational realization that I've had so far: To be a good writer, one must also be in good health.

"Healthy" is often the last adjective used to describe writers. Instead "heavy drinker", "chain-smoker", "drug user" and "syphilis-stippled sex addict" are more often tied to the lives of artists. But since many of my favourites succumbed to those sins in the most terminal of ways, I've decided to join Murakami's team instead. Here's what he wrote in What I Talk About When I Talk About Running that I wholeheartedly connected with:

"Basically I agree with the view that writing novels is an unhealthy type of work. When we set off to write a novel, when we use writing to cre­ate a story, like it or not a kind of toxin that lies deep down in all humanity rises to the sur­face. All writers have to come face-to-face with this toxin and, aware of the danger involved, discover a way to deal with it, because otherwise no creative activity in the real sense can take place…. To deal with some­thing unhealthy, a person needs to be as healthy as possible. That’s my motto. In other words, an unhealthy soul requires a healthy body. This might sound paradoxical, but it’s something I’ve felt very keenly ever since I became a professional writer. The healthy and the unhealthy are not necessarily at opposite ends of the spectrum. They don’t stand in opposition to each other, but rather complement each other, and in some cases even band together."

To be clear, I've always lived a fairly healthy lifestyle: an early rising, early-to-bed, "extra broccoli please" kind of girl. Lately, though, I've been slacking off and getting lazy, especially when it comes to food. So, since I can't run like Murakami because of my crap leg, I've decided to clean up my diet. As a vegan, I'm already doing okay, but I do have a "love-love-love-little bit of hate" relationship with sugar (in the form of candy and cereal) and caffeine (in the form of diet pop and coffee). I've been weaning myself off these things this week and, in their places, added this concoction:
It's called Chlorella. It's algae in powder form (mixed with juice and water here) and is supposed to be the healthiest "food" on the planet. Ugh. Whatever. If it was on fire, Chlorella would taste exactly like hell. No, really. It's that bad. It's green as a newborn's diaper and brings to mind the flavour of a well-fertilized soccer field. Since the photo above does not do the nastiness of this "food" justice, I offer you one that does:

So that's me and my Chlorella. What's inspiring you this week? Also, what do you think about Murakami's motto and do you agree with him when he says that writing novels is essentially unhealthy?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Inspiration Part Two: Jonny G. gets freaky

A popular topic with many writers in the blogosphere is music: If they listen to it when they write and, if so, what music they listen to. Personally, I can only listen to music when I'm in brainstorming or big-picture editing mode. In fact, I make a point to listen to it because I find music quite helpful when I'm trying to get my gears spinning in a certain direction. But when I'm actually hard-core writing or editing, lyrics and soaring guitar riffs are just too distracting. (Same goes for keytar riffs, but those are harder to come by.) 

I've recently stumbled upon a piece of classical music written by Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead fame. Oh how those thumb-sucker teeth and beclouding bangs used to drive me wild! Guitar aside (which he plays like a cello from time to time), Jonny is also known to rock out on the harmonica, banjo and whatever the hell the glockenspiel and ondes Martenot are. And I swear, I swear that at a concert back in the mid 2000s, the man was making sweet, sweet love to a computer. Sigh. 

Um, where was I?

Oh yes. If you know classical music at all, then you'll probably recognize Penderecki in this song. Since I know nothing about classical music, all I recognize is the literary imagery for book #2 that this brain-spinning piece uploads into my skull. More specifically, scenes of a sprawling underground world that'll make for one heck of a good read.

So thank you Jonny G. and Mr. Penderecki. You two whacked-out dudes inspired my writing this week.

For more of Jonny, check out his new album here or, for some older stuff, watch the brilliant film There Will Be Blood. The music that gave you nightmares back in 2007? The stuff that sounded like violin-on-violin violence? Yeah, that was Jonny.

So that's me. What's inspiring you these days?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

WTF is that flat, circular duck thing anyways?

Since the middle of the week is kind of "blah," I've decided to turn it into something "rah rah!" by making Wednesdays all about literary inspiration. Each Hump Day, I'll be posting a photo or a link to a story or a song that I find creatively stimulating. For this week's entry, I give you:

The freakiest house in all of Toronto. 

My good friend Mel lives nearby and every time I pass this place I worry about Mel's safety. I worry that the dolls and the Santa Clauses that have been nailed to every available surface will come to life one day, pry themselves free with doll-sized crowbars and prowl the neighbourhood for souls. 

I also worry about the people who live inside this home. I mean, if this is what they want us to see, can you imagine what they could be hiding? Oh God. Like what's in the attic or the crawl space? Or rather, who's in the attic or crawl space? Maybe Jimmy Hoffa or Amelia Earhart. Or that guy I had a crush on back in 1999 who never returned my calls.

So that's me. What's inspiring you today? 

Friday, March 16, 2012

The story behind my story

I've been thinking about my life three years ago, back when I started putting everything I had into my first novel.

I had just quit my job as an associate editor at an unethical, toxically-managed magazine publisher. I was stressed out, poor, scared. I was also free. Given the terrible working conditions I endured (my colleagues, too) and the breach of contract my boss was responsible for, I qualified for Employment Insurance. While I looked for a new full-time job, I filled my days by freelance writing for major newspapers and real, proper magazines. I felt like a real writer again, and I was excited for the future.

A few weeks later, my body went to hell. My right foot (and eventually my right leg) was suddenly a major source of pain. It felt like someone was stabbing it with a knife one minute and then searing it with heat (and then ice) the next. My foot and my leg were constantly changing colour -- from red to blue to purple -- and I was having all kinds of strange, neurological sensations: a feeling of rushing water up and down my leg and spine, extreme sensitivity to touch, a squishy feeling as though my feet were filled with sand and fluid. An athlete all of my life, I was terrified that I'd never even walk again.

And then my left foot started to mimic my right. My doctors were stumped. I saw dozens of them and underwent dozens of tests, many of them painful, but no one could get to the bottom of my condition. Worse still, few cared. I was shuffled out of offices and hospitals so many times with the phrase "I'm sorry, but I can't help you," that I lost all faith in the medical system. One time, at 3 am after a particularly miserable MRI, a drunk idiot threw a can of 7Up at my head. "Cripple bitch!" he yelled as I steadied myself on my crutches and hailed a cab.

If I'm going to be honest (and what's this blog for if not honesty), I thought I was going to die back then. And if I'm going to be really honest, a part of me kind of wanted to.

Being unable to walk on the bad days and terrified to try on the better days, I was trapped inside my apartment for months, sometimes having to crawl on my hands and knees to the bathroom. I was alone all day long, documenting my symptoms for the next specialist, re-teaching myself Mandarin Chinese and waiting for my amazingly caring and comforting boyfriend (now my pre-husband) to come home from work. I was losing touch with the world and myself, and I only knew one way to get it all back.

I had an idea for a novel that was brewing for years, back when I was living across the street from a Kingdom Hall. I had written a few chapters at a time -- showing them to a co-worker who also dreamed of being a writer -- but I never molded them into anything cohesive. I needed time, I told myself and, struggling to start my career in magazine publishing as I was, time was a luxury that I did not have.

Unable to walk and unemployed as I soon became, however, time was now plentiful. There was far too much of it, as a matter of fact. So I sat at my desk, propped my rotten leg up and got to work. I was finally going to write my novel.

It was rough at the beginning, wrestling the pain into submission long enough to get work done, but I took the good days and made use of them and I tried my best with the bad. I was determined to write myself out of the mess I was in, at least mentally. And it worked. I'm not sure what I would have done if I didn't have those ideas to turn into words, into pages, into chapters. It scares me to think of the possibilities.

That's why this novel means so much to me. It saved my life.

And that's why even though the odds are against me now, The Weather Inside WILL be in a bookstore someday. I don't care how many revisions it takes, how many lines have to be cut, or characters re-shaped. As long as it's still my story to tell, I will do whatever it takes to get it published.

I'm thinking about those days right now and writing about them here not because I want pity, but to remind myself of the shit I went through to get this far. (And there was a LOT more shit, too. Buy me a drink and I'll tell you about it.) And to remind myself that if I wrote my first book under all that duress, that today -- in the healthier, saner place I am now -- I can mostly certainly write my second.