Thursday, December 20, 2007

Grr. . . I mean . . .ROAR!

So I have been awarded twice 'The Roar for Powerful Words Award' from The Shamless Lions Writing Circle. Once by Catherine J Gardner over at The Poisoned Apple, and once by LindaBudz over at Just Like A Nut.

First I want to say thank you so much to the both of you, it is a genuine honour. And next, as the rules dictate, but also because it is an awesome thing to do, I shall now award some fellow writers.

Drum roll please . . .

Holly Kennedy - not just because she is a fellow canuck, but because her blog has kept me sane on the craziest days. Holly is able to find humour in the most trying situations (namely being a professional writer while raising kids - some of the stories about her kids make you cry they are so funny), and shares what it is like to be a writer in a unique and profound way.

Miss Erin - there is nothing "only" about being a teenager. This fab blogger has not one, but two blogs, both based on her passions: books and acting. She posts regularly and with well observed and wise insights. She reviews everything, and also has regular guest bloggers. Truly an industry in and of herself!

Dawn Rotarangi - the sad news is this lovely blogger (and author) is bowing out of the blogosphere. The good news is you can still read her archived entries on her blog. This kiwi is down to earth, quirky and sweet. Learn all about her writing journey, also the tales of a day in the life (which include working at a gas station, breeding puppies, and working with calves. . . ).

Patricia Wood - author of the wonderful novel Lottery. What makes her blog special is not only her willingness to share every step of the way in her writing journey, but her incredible photographs (yes I know this is an award for writing, but they say a picture is worth a thousand words . . . ) that perfectly illustrate her posts. Part philosophical contemplation, part day in the life of - this blog is definitely worth checking out! (also for all the contests!)

Hick Chick - and another canuck, what can I say, I'm loyal. Hick Chick is unbelievably entertaining and draws quite a crowd to her blog. Her posts vary between observations on daily life, to her journey as a writer (okay so I know that's a common theme in my list . . .). What makes her unique is her wry humour and her virtual parties! (make sure you go to her post on Hallowe'en, you'd be hard pressed to find a better Jack Sparrow than Johnny Depp himself).

Friday, December 14, 2007

Magical Realism

What I am most proud of about my book, aside from the fact that I actually, you know, wrote a book, is that it doesn't easily fit into any one genre. Heck it isn't even necessarily Middle Grade, my American publishers say it's Young Adult.

It's adventure. It's comedy. It's pathetic (in the true sense of the word in that it contains pathos). It's a pirate adventure. It's also a modern day Alice in Wonderland story. It's about about teachers. And a big plot point hinges on correct grammar usage.

And no one seems to mind any of this, which is just lovely.

But there is one thing that can sometimes confuse, one thing that I get called upon to clarify most often, and that is . . .

Is it fantasy?

It's a good question.

On the one hand no. It takes place in our world where movies are made, people drive cars, and use laptops. Where kids go to school and face the same grade system as any kid today. Everyone talks with a modern vernacular and syntax. And existing countries are referenced, such as France and Spain (in the next book they go to China).

And on the other hand, yes. We have a talking octopus, tall ships, art deco party trains stuck in time loops, and pirates that are most definitely from a time gone by.

So what the heck is up with that? Alex doesn't go through any portal. Her world is unusual from the start. Even her local police station has a two way mirror put in the wrong way. Yet her world is also our world and our world simply does not obey the same rules as hers. And yet, wait a minute, it does.

This is where your head explodes and I make a tick in my notebook, "Sigh I lose more good readers that way . . . "

Well friends ponder no longer! There is a genre for our confusing tome. And it is . . .

Magical Realism! (echo echo echo . . . - I once had a lovely calculus teacher who when he'd introduce a new concept he'd say, "And now for some Trigonometry, echo echo echo . . ." I really liked that. So now I do it too. Though not in reference to math.)

What is magical realism you ask?

Okay that's a way too long answer really to make. Needless to say it is a very complicated genre and is usually associated with much more literary works (and usually, for some reason, Latin Americans - ie Alejo Carpentier, Jorge Luis Borges, Juan Rulfo, Carlos Fuentes, and Gabriel García Márquez). But I shall endeavor to explain it to you all using the tried and tested technique of cutting and pasting other people's explanations. So get ready for some fun intellectual stuff folks!

First we start with a very nice article written by a one Lindsay Moore (which is you are interested in learning more about this genre please click on the link, it's very well written and clear to follow) which states:

A literary mode rather than a distinguishable genre, magical realism aims to seize the paradox of the union of opposites. . . Magical realism is characterized by two conflicting perspectives, one based on a rational view of reality and the other on the acceptance of the supernatural as prosaic reality. Magical realism differs from pure fantasy primarily because it is set in a normal, modern world with authentic descriptions of humans and society. According to Angel Flores, magical realism involves the fusion of the real and the fantastic, or as he claims, "an amalgamation of realism and fantasy".

Moore then offers a list of some of the elements found in magical realism, most of which seem to perfectly describe Alex - the one listed that I think is not quite right is Hybridity, though even there I do think Alex may even have something in common with it still, but the rest are perfect:

Irony Regarding Author’s Perspective—The writer must have ironic distance from the magical world view for the realism not to be compromised.

Authorial Reticence—Authorial reticence refers to the lack of clear opinions about the accuracy of events and the credibility of the world views expressed by the characters in the text. This technique promotes acceptance in magical realism. In magical realism, the simple act of explaining the supernatural would eradicate its position of equality regarding a person’s conventional view of reality. Because it would then be less valid, the supernatural world would be discarded as false testimony.

The Supernatural and Natural—In magical realism, the supernatural is not displayed as questionable. While the reader realizes that the rational and irrational are opposite and conflicting polarities, they are not disconcerted because the supernatural is integrated within the norms of perception of the narrator and characters in the fictional world.

Then we move onto Wikipedia for a slightly more straightforward explanation:

The characters' reactions to the 'inexplicable' is key to the definition of Magic-Realism: inexplicable phenomena occur in extremely mundane circumstances and the character(s) tend to not respond adequately (or at all) to the supernatural or magic nature of the event. On the contrary, they often treat the magical event as an annoyance, a setback, or an unwanted obligation. . . Indeed, this blase response to the supernatural is what distinguishes Magic Realism from other more traditional representations of magical phenomena in narrative fiction. It is also what gives Magic-Realism its characteristically ironic and humorous quality.

Now the thing is, I have done that thing with the cutting and the pasting to show how magical realism totally works for my book. This means I have left out the bits from another article where the author, Bruce Holland Rogers, explains that magical realism is very literary serious fiction and never escapist. My book is clearly escapist. And I do see where he is coming from, the roots of magical realism are to show something quite profound. As Rogers puts it in his definition of "serious fiction":

Serious fiction helps us to name our world and see our place in it. It conveys or explores truth. . . magical realism is always serious, never escapist, because it is trying to convey the reality of one or several worldviews that actually exist, or have existed. Magical realism is a kind of realism, but one different from the realism that most of our culture now experiences.

There is therefore a lot more to the genre than what my children's novel is doing. But I nonetheless strongly believe that Alex belongs in the category. Aside from being able to check off almost all the qualities listed to distinguish a magical realist novel, I do think the book is trying to convey a worldview that actually exists, to explore and comment on this worldview. Before I did any extensive research on this subject, I had always called my book a satire for children. I always saw it as a social commentary on the way our world functions. Alex is basically the only child in the novel and it is her experience of the adult world that I was keen to explore.

At any rate, I do define Alex as magical realism for all the obvious reasons (and by "obvious" I mean for those who have read the book, I apologise to those of you who have not for not giving clear examples, but I didn't want to give too much away and thus ruin the story for anyone just in case). And I find it very exciting that I can fit my book so well into such a distinguished genre. I would never attempt to hold myself up to some of the greats who are mentioned, but every genre has a great in it, and we can't allow that to mean we can't join the club just because we aren't as fabulous (or as Franck in the remake of Father of the Bride would say, "Faboolos!").

So there you go. Thus ends today's lecture. I do hope you found it interesting, learned a little something new perhaps? Personally I think the genre is completely fascinating (obviously)!

On a different note, I am very excited to announce that Alex is going to be featured with a dozen other titles this Saturday morning (ie tomorrow) on the CBS Early Show!

The president of The Book Report network ( is going on the show to talk about books that you *should* know about this holiday season if you don’t already. The segment is airing at 7:40am.

So if you aren't partying till the wee hours tonight, and can get up early enough, why not check it out! (here's hoping that they don't cut to commercial just as they get to my book: "And now, for the pirate in all of us, Alex and the . . . " "I'm afraid I have to cut you off there as we need to go to break! Thank you so much for coming on, I'm sure we'll all want these books under our trees come Christmas!" lol!)

Sources for post on Magical Realism:

Moore, Lesley. Magical Realism
Rogers, Bruce Holland. What is Magical Realism Really?
Wikipedia. Magical Realism

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


I thought I would write a little about the world backstage during the run of a show, seeing as I am also The Actress in The Temp, The Actress and The Writer.

I just thought it could be kind of interesting. Since our Macbeth is performed to highschool students, I often wonder what they think of us. If they think we must be as formal as Shakespeare's text, or as dry (granted I don't find Shakespeare formal or dry at all, and I think the company - Tempest Theatre - does a brilliant job in making Shakespeare fun and exciting, still I imagine the stigma attached with Shakespeare can prejudice an audience member, despite what is going on on stage.)

Because backstage has got to be one of the silliest places anywhere.

You know what it's like. You have to keep quiet for whatever reason, and the second you have to keep quiet you turn into a 5 yearold, whispering and giggling. Well that's what it is like backstage. Now, compound that with certain actors who treat the company more like a hockey team, and you get many a fart joke and actual expulsion of smelly air, silly dances, and oh the fun to be had with kilts.

Sometimes people are simply reading the paper or books. Sometimes they are playing video games on the computer.

But these are all in the calm moments.

Suddenly there is a flurry of activity, lighting quick costume changes, swords need to be picked up, a shield falls noisily to the ground. In other words, chaos.

For example, aside from third witch, I was also playing "Gentlewoman" to Lady Macbeth. I was in many scenes with Lesley (who played Lady M), just standing quietly behind her and then exiting with her. Then the two of us would rush backstage so I could help her change costumes. It really was in a way like I was her gentlewoman.

Then of course there are the few actors who may forget they are in a scene. This time round one actor returned to the backstage area after having just finished a scene and was chatting with us, when an arm from the wings reached out and grabbed him, "You're on right now!" The actor ran for it into the wings, and then casually walked onto the stage as if nothing had happened.

My favourite things that go on, of course, are the things that happen on stage itself. The things that the audience has no idea is happening. In large group scenes, usually someone is trying to make someone else laugh. The banquet scene just before intermission for our Macbeth is pretty silly. Several of the guys on stage are wearing wigs to hide their identity and they just look utterly ridiculous. Doesn't help that they also make faces at each other, and quiet jokes while sitting at the table.

Another example occurs at the end of the scene where everyone discovers the king Duncan has been killed, as I was helping Lady M off stage (she had just "fainted"), Macbeth would whisper something to her than me. Something different each time. Once he asked me for my character's email. (After thinking about it backstage I decided my it would be

Personally though, in this past run, the weirdest thing that happened to me was during a rather quiet scene in Act 1. I'd had a cold all week, and was now at the stage where all you can do is cough. So whenever I was on stage and had no lines, I'd be sucking on a Halls just in case.

Well we come to a scene where Macbeth and Lady M are talking with Banquo, and I and Seyton are standing in the background as servants with no lines. The other actors are standing in front of us acting their hearts out, and suddenly I feel a tickle in my throat. I do a quiet clearing of my throat, hoping that that will do the trick. Suddenly I feel the compulsion to cough. One of those horrible and uncontrollable coughs that will probably turn into a bit of a coughing fit. So I think about it for less than a moment. And then, with a slight bow of my head, I calmly turn and walk off stage right in the middle of the scene.

And then run for backstage where I proceed to hack up a lung.

Of course nothing was really ruined by my early exit, though the actors were surprised to notice I was no longer on the stage when they turned to look at me. And in fact the few people we knew in the audience couldn't even remember the moment of my exit.

But that's the world of acting. Constant chaos, and unpredictable crazyness backstage and on, while all the time maintaining an illusion of sanity and grace for the audience.

It's bloody brilliant!

The dressing rooms downstairs.

The boys enjoying their wigs.

Macbeth (Jonathan Llyr) getting his chain mail fixed. And his makeup touched up.

The rest of the cast sitting on the stairs backstage waiting while the show is going on.

The noble rebels who hope to usurp Macbeth.

Macbeth's unfortunate army. No wonder he loses.

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Don't they just look like figures on top of a wedding cake? Two crazy, power hungry, bloodthirsty figures on top of a wedding cake?

Friday, December 07, 2007

A Lovely Review

I have some more entertaining, or at least what I consider entertaining, and artsy, or at least what I consider artsy, pictures of Macbeth, along with a nice behind the scenes description of what it's like to be in a play (for those of you who may not know) to post here. But right now I wanted to post a truly lovely review of Alex from the Canadian Materials Magazine website. By now I'm sure you all know my appreciation of well written reviews (not simply when they are good towards Alex, but rather when you can see real talent behind the writing itself), and this is definitely one of them. Maybe I should start a review site reviewing reviews!

(And yes I acknowledge that I am a little unfair to well written negative reviews in not posting them, nor praising the talent behind them - and there is most definitely talent to be seen in some of them too - but I mean . . . this is my blog after all, and I like the positive stuff!)

So here is the lovely review by
Caitlin Berry: Alex review

Monday, December 03, 2007

The first of many tales!

And now I shall tell the tale of the Texas Book Festival (Nov 3 - 4). Finally. After all this time.

It was awesome! But you are going to have to forgive me, I forgot my camera for this trip. I do have a few photos courtesy of others, but not as many as I would have liked. Sorry.


I arrived in Austin and was picked up by this lovely woman named Charlotte in one of the biggest white cars I have ever seen. Seriously. Very very big. Now I'm not doing this whole, everything in Texas is bigger thing, Austin didn't come across as stereotypical Texas at all and I have to say I was a bit disappointed to have only seen one cowboy hat my whole visit. But this car, it was huge. Anywhere it would have been huge.

Where was I?

Ah yes. I was driven to the hotel and soon after I met up with Katie Finch (publicity with Weinstein Books and a very lovely lady) to go to this party in honour of the festival hosted by Eddie Safady in his private home.

OMG. This guy's home (and it is this particular event that makes me very sad I didn't have my camera with me). This is a guy who decided he'd like to live in downtown Austin, and so converted a building on one of the main streets into his private residence. The place is three stories tall. Has a rooftop patio complete with an infinity pool. He'd opened up the whole house so that we walked through his bedroom and bathroom and went through his drawers (just kidding folks, just kidding - his drawers were locked . . . again just kidding! Didn't even try to snoop, I'm a good girl!). All the rooms were just stunning. Absolutely stunning, the whole place. And there's a wall on the bottom floor lit by fluorescent pink lights.

So no pictures of its amazingness. I do however have a lovely photo taken on his patio of me, three lovely librarians who helped organise several of the events (
Alison O'Reilly, Nichole Chagnon and Michelle Beebower), as well as authors Perry Moore, and April Lurie:

So the house was packed, and considering it was a big house, that's saying something. I got to meet Padma Lakshmi who is another author with Weinstein Books (Tangy Tart Hot & Sweet), as well as the utterly gorgeous model/actress/host of Top Chef (and ex-Mrs. Rushdie). She was very sweet, but we didn't get to chat long as I was being taken away to participate in one of the events for the festival which was called "Not For Required Reading" and took place at this awesome movie theatre where they bring you food and drinks and stuff to your seats.

I was on the panel with a number of other authors:

(Right to Left: Jacques Couvillon, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Perry Moore, Neal Shusterman, April Lurie, Me, Brian Yansky, and Sherman Alexie. photo courtesy of Oops . . . Wrong Cookie)

First we went down the panel and talked a bit about ourselves and then read from our books. I wasn't expecting to read from my book, and I couldn't think of a bit short enough so that when they got to me I said that I was unprepared and so I was just going to open my book and read whatever page was in front of me. It turned out okay.

Then we were asked some very silly questions (ie Coke or Dr. Pepper?). And then we signed books.

I had arranged to meet my friend Sean, who I went to LAMDA with and who now lives in Austin with his wife, for drinks after. And it was so cool to see him again! It's so weird how several years can pass, but it can feel like nothing at all.

The next day I met up with Katie again and we went to watch
Carl Bernstein give a talk about his new biography about Hilary Clinton, very interesting. Then it was my turn, and I joined April Lurie and Cynthia Leitich Smith again for our "Tough Girls" panel. The room was packed and it was so cool because the whole event took place in the capitol building so our panel was located in a room that I am sure judges or something usually use because we were sitting at this curved desk with these little microphones and I felt like I was in some 1950's movie and doing something . . . political. But I wasn't.

The panel went well and I got to talk about children's books to adults, which is very refreshing as there is a lot to say about the nature of writing children's books that isn't necessarily directed towards kids (not to say that talking about it with kids isn't great as well, just different).

After the panel we signed some books in the tent and then that was it. Katie and I went to the airport, hung out a bit, and then went our separate ways.

The whole weekend was just lovely. The weather I am told was unseasonably warm (and by that I mean hot), so I got to wear my summer dresses one last time. The festival was so well organised, I got emails weeks in advance prepping me for the panels I was to do, and once I was there everything worked like clockwork. And Austin itself is just such a lovely city.
It's a very arsty town, and the people are just so warm and lovely.

A really fab trip.

Just wish I had pictures of it.