Thursday, 17 April 2014

Author Interview Series – Charles McGarry

This week I have the pleasure of hosting author (and ex-pastor) Charles McGarry. A few months back,  I reviewed his book, Breaking the Mold: Confessions of a Hippie Ex-Pastor, and really wanted to have him for the AIS. I'm glad he accepted my invitation.  Just like his book, his answers were short but insightful. Without further ado, Charles McGarry.

Information about the giveaway will follow the interview.

Have you always written or is it something that came later in life?

I did some writing in my early teens, but nothing of much substance.  My real drive for writing sprang up within the last few years, although I have always been a creative type.

Your book Breaking the Mold: The Confessions of a Hippie ex-Pastor is a very personal (and short) piece of non-fiction.  Is this a genre you prefer?  Are you interested in writing fiction?

My main interest is writing fiction.  While I am open to writing more non-fiction, the majority of what I write will be Fantasy fiction.

Painter Chuck Close Once said, "Inspiration is for amateurs - the rest of us just shows up and gets to work." How do you "get to work?" Do you have any ritual or specific requirements to get the juices flowing?

I like to do my writing at Starbucks.  Believe it or not, I like being in a hub of activity and distraction to get my juices flowing.

Are you working on a new book at the moment?

My current project is a book of short fantasy stories that I plan to have published by summertime.

If you could sit and have a chat with any writer that has ever lived (or is still alive,) who would it be?  What would you talk about?

J.R.R. Tolkien, no doubt about it.  I would ask what he thinks about the literary phenomenon he started.  He really is the father of modern Fantasy after all.  I would also ask his advice for writing Fantasy, specifically for creating something uniquely original in an age when fantasy literature has permeated the market.

What is the one advice you would like to share with aspiring writers?

Never let anyone tell you how hard it is to become an author, and never let anyone tell you what you can’t do. The possibilities are endless if you stay true to yourself.

Our last guest, swing dance instructor (and so much more) Owen Hortop would like to know: How do you think people find or lose faith? Is it circumstance, or do they follow internal patterns?

Some would say it’s circumstance, but I really think that circumstance only serves to clarify what a person was oblivious to before.  In my case my circumstances caused me to search deeper within myself, and I discovered that so much of what I believed and taught was so different than what I knew to be true in my gut. My circumstances set me free from my religious mold, so that I could hear what my inner self knew to be true all along about the universe.

Our next guest is Andrew Sauvageau, baritone and actor.  What would you like to ask them?

What is most challenging to you personally when preparing for a performance, and what do you do to rise to that challenge? 


To win a copy of Charles book, leave him a question in the comment section.  Whoever asks the best question wins!  Giveaway ends on Tuesday April 22nd 11:59PM ET.  Answers to the questions as well as the winner's name will be announced on Thursday April 24th.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Review Wednesday – Blood Sister

Even if you're not a History buff, chances are you've heard of Henry VIII, the infamous 16th century English king who married six times. Ever wondered what were the reasons behind his actions (other than his immediate pleasure)?  Some believe he was a bit crazy by the end (watch this awesome documentary for more on that,) but chances are his reign was greatly influence by his grandmother, Margaret Beaufort, who against all odds, managed to come out victorious of the civil war we know as the War of the Roses.  If you want to know more about that war, Marguerite Beaufort and the other women who fought to defend their right to the throne, then Blood Sisters is for you.

Gristwood starts her narrative with a rising Marguerite of Anjou and ends it with Marguerite Beaufort's death.  The book follows the chronological order of event – as is customary for Historical non-fiction – but sometimes she goes back or forth in time to illustrate the influence of a specific event.  This is done skillfully which prevents the reader from being confused.  However, the overwhelming presence of Margarets and Marguerites can be a bit confusing.  The family tree at the beginning of the book comes handy at such times. 

Not only does the author paint a vivid portrait of the different event that unfolded during the war she also has a real talent to bring those long dead historical figures to life.  She often reflects on the feelings this or that woman might have feel at different points in time.  She also uses many different sources in order to create a picture as accurate as possible of the different women (as much as the remaining historical documents allow.)

Personally, I am fascinated with English history so I really enjoyed reading this book. I have read historical non-fiction that was much more drier;  Blood Sisters doesn't read like a textbook at all.  Also, the different sections as well as the chapters' division make it easy to put down and pick up the book without losing track.  I believe this is an essential read if you want to understand the Tudor dynasty.

Although the series is not as accurate, I would recommend watching the BBC's The White Queen before reading the book.  It really helped me figure out who was who and conveniently put a face on the different names.  

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Blog Hop!

Things have been a bit slow on the blog side so what better than a fun blog hop to bring things back to life!  I was tagged by Canadian author Christine Miscione (see my interview with Christine here.)  Here goes nothing!

Yay for bathroom selfies!
What am I working on?

I am currently working on a novel that differs a lot from what I usually write.  It’s a love story. *GASP* Don’t worry, no cloying harlequin format for me.  This story – or at least variations of it – has been on my mind for a really long time and is dear to my heart.  I believe this will be some kind of cathartic experience.  I need to get this story out, even if no one ever reads it or if it gets rejected a million times.  I also have two other books on the back burner, one non-fiction book about my life in Japan and a detective novel set in 1890 Montreal.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

The fact that I’m the one writing it?  To be quite honest, I don’t really know.  Usually, I write science fantasy and historical fiction.   I would say that being an introvert gives a certain angle to my stories, but many authors also are introverts.  I guess humor is what sets me apart.  I seem to manage to write funny situations without really wanting to.  If I think about my current work, I guess the fact that it takes its root in my personal experience will make it unique in itself.  

Why do I write what I do?

As I said earlier, my current work is deeply connected to me.  I feel I need to write this story to get over some things that happened to me in the past.  Strangely, this story has nothing in it that has happened to me. As for my other work, I write it because those are the stories I want to read.

How does my writing process work?

I've experimented a lot with different writing processes and the one that seems to work  best for me is to write the first draft with a general idea of where I want to take the story then, once that is done,  look at the result and fix what needs be.  Then, come the countless revisions and modification.  Right now I’m trying a new process where I write by hand in a notebook during the week then type everything up on the weekend. I really like the act of writing by hand, there is something romantic about it that definitely inspires me.

Next week:

(I was supposed to tag two people but it seems everyone I know has already been tagged!)

Friday, 14 March 2014

Dreamers Interview Series – Owen Hortop ~ Q&A and Giveaway winner

Here is the answer to the question that was asked to Owen:

Anonymous asked

Collegiate Shag - one of the "funnest" dances. What is your favorite music to Shag to? One or two specific songs, svp.

I mix it up as often as I can - but generally I'm a tradjazz (New Orleans style jazz) fan. From that genre I love "Riverboat Shuffle" by Eddie Condon. If I'm in the mood for something more big band, Gene Krupa's "Ball of Fire" is awesome. A lot of Shag dancers like to dance stuff around 250 BPM just to show off, but there's much to be said for "cruising speed" shag at around 200 or slower. For faster stuff, I'll give a shout out to my friend Gordon Au from NYC - the Grand Street Stompers have an album out with some great stuff for fast dance. 

You're the winner of the giveaway but since you commented as anonymous, I have no way to contact you.  Please send me an email to claim your prize!

Thank you once again to Owen for being a guest on ATUA!

Saturday, 8 March 2014

The Unthinkable

For the longest time, I swore that I would never get an ereader.  I loved books too much and would not be corrupted by the digital world. 

Well the joke is on me now.

In the light of recent events (which are partially responsible for my silence on ATUA in February,) I have decided to get rid of my books and buy a kobo ereader.  This wasn't an easy decision to make. Some of the books I owned I had purchased when I was a high school student (mostly French literature classics.)  But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense.  The only things these books did were taking up space, collecting dust and making each of my moves a pain in the ass.  So I purchased the ereader and started dismantling my collection.

This proved to be harder than I thought.

First of all, there was the whole emotional attachment to my books.  However, more importantly, I discovered that most used bookstores already have too many books and won't take anything older than a year.  So when I sought to sell about 30 books, I ended up selling 1 for 1$ and had to give the others away for their cheap bin; I didn't feel like lugging them back to my place.  Then a clerk at one of the stores I called to inquire about sales was a total jerk to me.  All in all, the whole experience of selling my books was turning out to be tedious and downright unnerving.

That's when I decided to donate my books to the local library.

I could immediately tell this was the right choice when I saw the staffs' faces lit up at the sight of my well-kept books.  But what truly warmed my heart is when they informed me that whatever book didn't make it to the library's collection would be given to a charitable organism which sells the books to finance summer camps for disadvantaged children.  What's not to like about this?

So there you have it.  I, the hardcore printed word advocate, am left with an empty bookshelf and an electronic device.  Strangely, it doesn't feel that bad...

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Dreamers Interview Series – Owen Hortop

After a much needed hiatus, ATUA is finally back online!  And what better way to start afresh than by  interviewing an awesome guy.  I give you Owen Hortop, swing dancer teacher at Cat's Corner (and so much more!) Owen was one of my first swing dance instructor and he's an amazing teacher.  Without further ado, here's the interview.

Information about the giveaway will follow the interview.

Tell us a bit more about what you do.

My job is (along with several other people) to keep Cat's Corner operating. That can entail anything from cleaning to sound engineering, quite apart from the artistic side of the job. Right now, I mostly teach and coach dancers, and provide customer service during the day. I'm also the studio's treasurer, although we have a bookkeeper who makes that job lighter than it used to be. I'm always glad when we end up having someone who can cover a technical thing that I'm used to improvise out of necessity; I really hope I'll never have to do plumbing again! The business is slowly growing, which allows me do more of what I love. I teach weekly at McGill Swing Kids – a university club – and last year, I animated jazz listening afternoons in a geriatric ward weekly. 

Did you always have this passion for swing dance or did you start as a general dance lover?

I didn't dance at all until I was 25 years old. It never occurred to me that I could. I was always a creative person (I wrote a lot and made sculptures out of steel wire), but I was shy and dancing scared me. One day, a girl dragged me out to Cat's Corner and I fell in love with it – not that it felt easy, but it felt totally possible. It was a world where people could just connect with each other and not say a word. So my first dance was swing, and I stuck to just that for quite a while because it was a safe space; I rarely ventured out of Cat's Corner, in fact. I was really inspired by the warm and accepting nature of the place, it seemed like there was no such thing as a dancer who wasn't also a nice person. Of course it's not that simple, but I think social dancing requires and teaches some essential respect and interpersonal skills that make folks easier to get along with. So I bonded with the people in swing dance specifically at Cat's, and that kept me coming back. What happened to the girl? She lives in Winnipeg now with her husband and two kids; I think she came out dancing about twice since that first night... 

When you started as a student at Cat's Corner, eight years ago, did you ever dream of becoming a teacher or more?

I think I asked about teaching after about six months. Of course I had no idea how much knowhow went into teaching swing! I've always liked teaching, sharing ideas with other people... but you really have to understand where people are going to guide their first steps on a journey. The people at Cat's were supportive and encouraged me to focus on becoming a better dancer before aspiring to teach, but it was always something I wanted to do. 

I was lucky in that I made a friend who was planning to open her own school in the West Island; I drew her business plan up as a term project for my entrepreneurship class (I was studying for a Bachelor's in Commerce at the time). She invited me to help her out further by teaching, since she knew I really wanted to. She invested a lot of time in me, helping me to improve my dancing and to think critically about how I was teaching. I wasn't great with crowds, and I had to learn how to deal with the occasional strong personality who'd show up in a class – there's almost always one student in every group who can be a motivator or a disruption, depending on how you treat them. It was a great training ground, small groups and lots of time to debrief since I was teaching with a dear friend.  

I kind of fell into my current position; there just kept being bigger things that needed doing at the studio. I was in school, and in my free time, I was dancing and volunteering. Then the studio moved and they needed someone to oversee the installation of the new studio location. The founder and owner was leaving, and a few of us created a new corporation to run the studio in its current form. I was there and willing to sign for the responsibilities inherent to running the place.  There are three of us who act as custodians for the dance community. Cat's Corner belongs to all of us, the "owners" just try to steer it toward success so that we'll always have a place to dance. 

What was the biggest obstacle you had to face on your way to your current position?  How did you overcome it?

I'd say that most dancers have the same nemesis in their growth, personally or professionally: their ego. Whether it's self-judgement for not getting something instantly, or pride getting in the way of learning from others, we all have to learn patience with our learning curve and not overestimate where we are or where we "should" be. Dancing is an intensely personal thing, putting a bit of your soul out on the dance floor where everyone can see it. Doing that without being vulnerable or defensive is hard, but that's the only way we grow. The more you can say "this is me, here's where I'm at, and I'm OK with working on it at my own pace," the better your dancing looks and feels in the moment and the better it will be in future. 

I've had a lot of moments over the past five years when I've felt insecure about my dancing because Montreal has so many amazing dancers. There are teachers here at Cat's Corner who are miles ahead of me and always will be. Setting that aside and knowing that I have a lot to contribute to my students' learning, as well as just letting myself enjoy how far I've already come are daily things. I have to remind myself to just love what I do and recognize that it's enough as it is. 

At Cat's Corner, we've got more than 20 people on our teaching roster. That's 20 artistic personalities full of passion for jazz and Lindy Hop, all with slightly different ideas and motivations, wildly different backgrounds, and – I repeat – egos. It takes a magician like Debbie (the senior partner at Cat's Corner) to get everyone pulling together, and I think all of us sometimes have to let go of being right so that we can move forward. 

What is your next goal?

I'm always looking to improve my dancing and expand my understanding of how we move through the world. I've started taking classes in Contemporary Dance and they're just fantastic; a great complement to what I'm doing in swing. I'm making a living with dance and that was really my big dream since I became interested in teaching. Now I'd like to travel a bit more, particularly to help smaller scenes develop across the country and around the world. I'm building a scene in Montreal for a swing dance called Collegiate Shag which isn't very popular yet, but we're starting to get momentum. I'd love to see that take off. I'm also interested in the idea of Dance Therapy, which is emerging in Canada as a valid care option alongside other art therapies. If I can manage to get back to school then I'd love to study psychology and use dance to help people express and heal themselves. 

What advice would you give to dreamers who hesitate to take the first step towards making a living out of their dream?

Hesitation is OK. Sometimes the thing that you love is best as a hobby. If you're going to go for it though, you don't have to be the absolute best at what you do. You have to be motivated and willing to find a place for your talents in the world, and it might mean making a very modest income and investing a lot of time to lay the groundwork. It's worth it, though! The day I realized that I could make a living doing this was a turning point in how I saw my life, I've been much happier ever since. Make a plan, and give it a reality check in both directions: not only "is my plan overly optimistic in its assumptions," but also "am I being so conservative that I'm cutting myself off from the future I want?"

Our previous guest, fiction author T.B. Markinson, would like to ask you: What advice do you have for people with two left feet, but who aspire to become adequate dancers? 

We all start out somewhere, which is usually awkward. When babies are learning to walk, we don't write them off as "inadequate" if they fall down a bit! For me, dance comes from connection to movement and connection to your body. If you can bop around to your favourite song, that's a step. If you have a gesture or a way of walking that feels good to you, give it some room to grow - do it big, small, fast and slow, until you find the way that feels just right. Most of the challenges I see in my students and myself come from being afraid of "doing it wrong." The less fear you have of mistakes (and I don't believe any movement you can walk away from is a bad one), the more stuff you can explore and choose from when you're deciding how YOU like to move. Do just a little every day, and be sure to include a mistake or two. 

The other thing to do is to find music that moves you. I love jazz music, but I also find something enjoyable in more recent music, from James Brown to Moby. When it speaks to you, you can't help but want to add to it, even if it's just drumming on your steering wheel while you drive. That's how you know what song to start with. 

Our next guest will be author and ex-pastor CharlesMcGarry.  What would you like to ask him?

How do you think people find or lose faith? Is it circumstance, or do they follow internal patterns?


For a chance to win a half-price private lesson with Owen, leave a question for him in the comment section.  Giveaway ends on Tuesday March 11th at 11:59ET.  Winner and answers to the questions will be posted on Thursday March 13th.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Slowing down

Lately, I have had a hard time keeping up with the blog.  Many things are happening in my private life and it's  been difficult to keep ATUA afloat.  As a consequence, I will slow down and post a little less.  I thank you for your understanding.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Review Wednesday – Hellucination

In this prequel to Dialogue with the Devil, we meet a younger Stephen, who, after an eventful childhood, makes a living selling bootleg videos and is addicted to hallucinogen drugs.  Like many people, he could have gone on leading this kind of existence for the rest of his (short, no doubt) life if it were not for a sudden revelation: drugs open the door to another plane of existence, drugs can lead to God.  With his poison of predilection, Stephen sets on a quest that will give him much more than her bargained for.  

After a few amazingly well-written biographical chapters which could stand alone, Biro takes us to the heart of the matter, his drug-fueled quest for God and the encounter with the Devil that resulted. Having never taken drugs myself, it was interesting to see how they can alter the body and the mind, but what really riveted me to the pages was the author's trip to the different sin realms in Hell.  The descriptions were so vivid I sometimes had to stop reading; they made me feel queasy. The author's take on the underworld is unlike anything you've read before yet, it makes so much sense.

Hellucination is written from a much more personal point of view than Dialogue with the Devil, which makes perfect sense.  Before discussing society and what is to be found outside oneself, one needs to explore their own mind. Thus, the two volumes complete each other perfectly.  The author's views and conclusions on Hell, sins and sinner are of a remarkable lucidity.  Once again, I would urge the reader to look past their beliefs to take in the message Biro is trying to convey; it goes far beyond the empty preaching words of a religious zealot.  There is a raw truth in his words.  And on the plus side, this narrative is much more accessible than the arcane content of sacred texts.

All my praises for Dialogue with the Devil's prose, format and accessibility also apply to Hellucination.  Biro's work is a pleasure to read and I strongly suggest you read his first novel.  If you've read the second book already, you know you'll enjoy this one and if you haven't, then why not begin with the start?

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Wild Writer Literary Festival – Canlit Brunch

To end this wonderful weekend of literary pleasures, a brunch panel was held at the Walper hotel.  The three  invited authors, Catherine Bush, Elizabeth Ruth and Michael Winter, discussed their latest books and their writing process.  From Newfoundland to Afghanistan, they made us travel through titillating conversation.

Elizabeth Ruth (about her latest book): Matadora is set in 1930 Spain and Mexico and tells the story of Luna, an indentured servant.  It's not exactly a novel about Canada, but the topic really excited me.  It's loud, brassy, passionate and hot.  I wanted to to about class issues and love.  Bull fighting well represents that since the spectators are part of the aristocracy and the people in the arena are poor.  Spain was still ruled by a feudal system in 1930 and the gap between rich and poor was growing.  My story explore the idea is that pain is the price of ambition and the idea of having to choose between the person you love the most and the thing you love the most.  I wanted to create a strong female character for canlit and address the concept of the space occupied by women in public.  In this sense, it's very contemporary.  This book is written for anyone trying to raise above their circumstances.

Catherine Bush:  I love the sense of community around books, a community made of writers and readers.  For my fourth novel, Accusation, I was interested in stories that pull you but also make you think.  I like to write about women with peculiar professions.  The story is about allegations and the difficulty to write about them as a journalist.  It is a morally ambiguous position.  I'm interested in characters looking for the truth and how allegations affect us.  We still end up judging people, whether they're guilty or not.

I wrote this book from a real experience.  A man was accused of sexual abuse in a children circus in Ethiopia. It's a difficult topic to talk about, because tremendous good was done through those social circuses but the possibility of arm having been done is also present.  Does the good cancel the bad completely.  I want the readers to ponder the question.

Michael Winter: My parents are from the North of England.  My father had always wanted to be a cowboy in the great West.  My mother wanted to live in New York.  So they ended up in Newfoundland. 

One summer, my dad wanted us to build a log cabin, by the lake.  So as everyone was enjoying the water, we were seating away, my brother and I, clearing the field.  Somehow, we managed to set fire to the forest.  My brother told me to wait while he ran to get help.  In the meantime, Sharon Penny, our sexy teenager neighbor.  She held my hand.  Suddenly, an helicopter dropped tons of water on the field.  I ended up on top of Sharon Penny.  My brother came back running asking if we were ok.  Sharon Penny replied "That was awesome."  We had to replant all kinds of different trees and the place became like a tropical forest.  The main character of my book, Minister Without a Portfolio, take his son to this forest at the end of the story.

A good book means to be able to connect with the characters, to share info about them. What speaks to the reader?

ER:  When writing characters, I find a way into their souls.  If you know them well, you can put them in many situations.  My book is an argument with Hemingway who stated women were too delicate for bull fighting.  The bull fighter is like a writer.  I could identify with her commitment, the possibility of failure.

Luna is caught between her two brothers who have opposite political views: one is on the left, the other on the right.  She is pressured to take sides.  If she takes the left, she's be relegated to the kitchen, but if she choose right, she'll be a traitor to her own people. The book talks about artists in time of war and of censorship. The characters operate in tandem with their time, and their sociopolitical context with a soul to soul connection. 

CB: Characters don't exist in isolation.  Sarah is part of a triangle with Raymond Renaud and her friend Juliet.  Everyone is entangled morally with each other.  Everyone wants something different.  Good fiction is defined by the intensity of desire.  The main character wants to speak to Raymond and to his accusers.

As this was inspired from real event, I had to question myself a lot.  I was able to go further than a newspaper article could have.  There were contradictions, complications and questions.  I came to realize that accusations can happen every day, to everyone. They hold a terrible power.

MW: When I was a kid, there was a radio at home we were not supposed to use.  Of course, I used it and said my brother had used it.  My mother got objurgated my brother and he never denied it, although we both knew I was the culprit.  This stayed with us for a long time.  Accusations, even samll, have power.

A protagonist who doesn't want to take sides is good.  It's hard to do that with a first person narrator, so I wrote in the third person.  Henry, my main character, wonders how much one can control.  He feels that opening his heart to other people will make him vulnerable.  Not doing is difficult, it's dangerous.

ER:   When excavating the past, the heart is important.  Luna is grappling with love.  Outside the arena is where is dangerous.  Somehow, I feel writer are so passive.  We're isolated from the rest of the world, watching the rest of the world.  Creating active life is very passive.

CB: I feel that writing is a retreat but that it's also an engagement with the world.  The questing impulse is very important.  Write what you don't know, but what you want to know.  There is an ethical component to asking questions and exploring answers.  It a commitment, though.  The real value in a novel is in telling a story that will make people think.

MW: As writers, we're always working.  We set ourselves back so we can connect things together, make them more powerful.  You have to make it seem like without the main character, the world would topple.

CB: You have to pay attention to the views of the world.  Bring quality of attention to the world.

ER:  Writing a book is a neurotic job.  It's a commitment.  I see the inherent value, but as a writer and a person, there is a continual push-pull between the real world and the world in my mind.  I tend to bring whatever is in my mind into the outside world.

What is the wildest thing you've ever done?

MW:  I have a house in Newfoundland.  One day, I was on a boat with my wife and son, we had gone for a picnic across the bay.  As we were getting back, there was a bit of fog but I thought it would be ok.  I was rowing and my wife told me she couldn't see the land.  We suddenly found ourselves stuck in the fog.  It was very quiet and there wasn't anything to orient us.  For long minutes, we couldn't see a thing.  We lost sense of time and place.  It was terrifying.   Then, I heard the sound of waves crashing.  We landed about half a kilometer away from where we were originally headed.  We could have missed land completely.  The strangest thing was that the fog was on the water only.

ER:  My entire early life was wild.  I was the only child to an unmarried mother.  We moved about forty times.  We were always on the move.  I was formed in a space of wilderness.  I left home at fifteen.  So for me, the wildest thing I did was to get married, have a family and a home I'm loyal to.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Stolen Words – Tea

This week's work was predictable, don't you think?  This is our last word of Chinese origin.  Where would you like to go next week?  Leave you suggestions in the comment section!

Sagwa character property of Cine Group and Sesame Workshop

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Author Interview Series – T.B. Markinson

Today ATUA has the pleasure to be one of T.B. Markinson's stops on the her blog tour.  Markinson is an American expat living in England and the author of two novels.
Giveaway info will follow the interview.
Have you always known that you wanted to be a writer or did that come later in life?
In the sixth grade we had to write a short story. My teacher loved my story and wrote a small note at the top of my paper. It read: When you grow up, you should be a writer. That was it. I was hooked and wanted to write. Over the years I would jot down stories and I started at least one novel but never finished it. Life always interfered. I was working full-time and whenever I tried to take my writing to the next level, something would happen and I found myself consumed with everyday life. Then over two years ago my partner’s company asked us to move from Boston to London. Suddenly I was unemployed. The transfer was supposed to last two years and my partner and I decided that I would use the time to give writing a go. So I pulled an unfinished manuscript out of the drawer and got to work. Now the book is published and I’ve completed the second one, Marionette.

Your Goodreads profile states that you had pledged to publish before 35.  What made you want to set that age as a deadline?
I’m not sure why I selected that particular number. I was in my early 20s when I made that declaration and maybe I thought it was completely reachable. And since I was still in my 20s I may have thought 35 was old. In a few months I’ll be 40 and I no longer associate my age with being old since I still feel like I did twenty years ago. However, I have more aches and pains.
I missed my deadline by four years, but I never lost the desire to succeed. For everyone out there who has a dream of publishing, my advice is never give up. 

Marionette is your second book.  How different was it writing YA?

Marionette is the second book that I’ve published, however, it was the first novel that I wrote. I worked on the first draft back when I was in college. I pulled the original draft out of my drawer last year and even though I shredded most of it, I was able to maintain the young adult voice since I was basically a young adult when I started it. Thank goodness I kept that draft for two decades. 

Painter Chuck Close once said, "Inspiration is for amateurs - the rest of us just shows up and gets to work." How do you "get to work?" Do you have any ritual or specific requirements to get the juices flowing? 
I work from home so this can be challenging on some days since there are so many distractions, mainly my cat and dog who always want attention. My goal is to write 1000 words a day. Before I sit down to accomplish that, I like to get all of my emails answered and to take care of the other administrative details concerning my books and life. I find it’s best I do this first thing to eliminate one distraction. That way I can’t say, “Oh wait, did I answer my emails.”
Then comes the hard part. I sit at my desk, with a cup of tea (I’m addicted), and write. Some days the words flow. Other days they don’t. But it’s rare for me to stop before I reach 1000 words. And on most days, I go over my goal. The most important part is to sit down and do it. I know that sounds too easy, but that’s what it comes down to. Just write. 

Homosexuality and sexual discrimination are recurring themes in your books.  What motivates you to tackle those topics?
Both of these themes fit with the stories. I didn’t sit down to write specifically about these topics, they just happened to work for the characters in my stories. For me the most important aspect is the story.
Saying that, I do think these topics are important and should be discussed openly. Human rights should never be ignored, even though it isn’t always an easy conversation to have. 

Are you working on a new novel at the moment?  If yes, can we get a scoop?

The next book is about a woman who had everything going for her. She graduated from Harvard, had a literary agent, and a fantastic deal to write her first book. However, everything has fallen apart and she’s working at Starbucks to make ends meet. She has a crazy, but loving family and girlfriend. It’s about whether she can find her true path in life and get everything back on track.

What advice would you give to emerging authors?
Relationships are key to emerging authors. My advice would be to foster relationships now with other authors and readers. Marketing is important, however you can’t just shout from the rooftops, “Buy my book!” There are so many books out there. Readers want to connect with authors. If they don’t feel that connection then there’s a good chance they’ll buy a different book. And don’t expect instant success. It’s takes time. Don’t give up in the beginning just because it’s a lot of work. Patience is important.
Our previous featured guest Tania Mignacca wants to ask you: I read on your blog that you have self-published your first novel. What advice would you give to writers or comic artists who are looking to self-publish for the first time?

I recommend doing your homework. Two authors really helped me with my decision to self-publish. The first is David Gaughran. I recommend his books: Let’s Get Digitaland Let’s Get Visible. Also his website is a fantastic resource: .The second person that helped was Joanna Penn. Her book: How to Market a Book is a great resource and her website is useful: Both of these authors have also published fiction and the methods they describe in their books are ones that they have used.

There are a lot of companies out there who claim they can help you self-publish for a reasonable fee. Do your research so you don’t get conned by them. I hired my editor, cover designer, and book formatter. I would be careful about signing up with a company that says they will take care of all of these details for you. There’s no easy way out. It is hard work, but I find it rewarding. And don’t be afraid to reach out to other authors who have self-published. So many of them are willing to answer questions. It’s a supportive community. You may feel lonely, but if you reach out, it will help.

My question for Owen Hortop, owner and swing dance instructor at Cat's Corner, is:

What advice do you have for people with two left feet, but who aspire to become an adequate dancer? 


For a chance to win an electronic copy of Marionette (see my review here) leave a question for T.B. Markinson's in the comment section.  Giveaway ends on Tuesday January 28th 11:59 ET.  Winner and answers to the questions will be posted on Thurday January 30th.  Good luck!

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Review Wednesday – Marionette

Paige Alexander is one of the daughters of the rich and famous Alexanders.  What looks like a blessing from the outside is actually a curse; Paige and her twin sister are estranged and their parents are nothing short of tyrannical.  After a fail suicide attempt, she starts college, away from home.  She escapes her parents only to find herself in the throes of rising anti-gay sentiment on campus.  Will she manage to find solace and triumph over those who would see her fall?

Marionette, T.B. Markinson's second novel, is a thoroughly enjoyable read.  The author has managed to create personable characters whose lives hook the reader and make them want to know more.  Each member of the little group that grows around the main character has its own personality, its own quirks which makes them very easy to picture.  The verisimilitude of Paige's inner struggle is quite impressive.  The reader is not tricked in feeling sorry for the girl, rather, it wants to see how she will handle the situation and get out of imbroglios.  I personally quite enjoyed the evolution of Paige and Liddy's (her therapist) relationship.  I believe anyone who has ever seen a psychiatrist will understand the complexity that is beautifully rendered by Markinson's words.

Speaking of which, the author's prose is easy to read without being economical.  It is easy to see that this novel had been reworked and edited numerous times achieve such a good level of writing.  I didn't notice anything specific about it (except maybe the occasional overused expression – "like a moth to a flame") which is good, because it means that it doesn't get in the way the story.  I would love to read Markinson's next novel to see how her prose evolved.  She indubitably has a lot of potential as a writer.

For the most part, the structure of the novel was good.  There were no loose ends left dangling when the conclusion was reached and the pace was skillfully set as to keep the reader wanting more.  The ending pleased me until I reached the part about her parents.  I had been wondering for a while what was going to happen to them or how they were going to get involved but what befell them felt a bit too convenient, as bit too deus ex machina.  Although I think they got what they deserved, I feel they (as well as Paige's twin sister Abbie) should have been more actively present throughout the book.  That way, their involvement wouldn't have felt so sudden.

Lastly, I can't stress enough how I enjoyed reading a story about college students who don't own a cellphone.  The story is set in 1992, yet Markinson doesn't overweight it with constant pop culture references.  It was very refreshing and, somehow, reminded me of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Despite its small flaws, Marionette is a great read.  I strongly recommend it.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Wild Writer Literary Festival – Saturday Night Speakeasy: Crime and All That Jazz

After a nice day of workshop and panels, the guests of the Wild Writer Literary Festival were invited in a local pub for a night of mystery.  Between a great panel of suspense writers (Andrew Piper, Mary Jackman, Brad Smith) animated by David Worsley of Words Worth Books and the live jazz of the Joni NehRita Quartet, the evening was promising.

David Worsley: Were you a crime writer early on?

Mary Jackman:  I am Liz Walker, my main character. The novel is about my restaurant and the people I would like to kill.  So I started writing what I know.  I work with great people, they're a treasure of true characters.

DW: Is Virgil Cain always in trouble?  Is he unlucky?

Brad Smith: I know a guy like Cain.  He likes to say "I don't know if trouble finds me or if I find me."  In the case of Cain, I think it finds him.  The cocaine story of the second novel was inspired by a true story.

DW: Is Demonologist related to Milton and his image of Satan?

Andrew Piper:  Demonologist is a thriller.  I had been wanting to write a scary story for a long time but I wanted to write about something better than escape.  I read a lot of possession and ghost stories.  Hauntings come in times of emotional downs.  Emotions are the reason they can happen.  In Demonologist, the demon also haunts for emotions; it isn't arbitrary, it's emotionally motivated.  The characters on both sides are plagued by depression, which creates a bridge between demons and humans.

Editorially, people liked the idea, but my different publishers say different things: US= more Milton, UK= less Milton, Canada = meh.

DW: Is Liz's story a series in the making?

MJ:  I'm having a hard time with the third book.  I want to keep the character alive but I can't answer for now.  Daniel is a combination of many chefs I've employed over the years, but they're all nuts.  They're all artists so you have to worship them.  The main character, Liz, doesn't like to cook.  

DW: Not many restaurant owners write books, so the perspective is different.

MJ: Most restaurant owners don't write books; most go home to cry.  Seriously, if you like to write, you'll find time.  I write books peppered with elements from reality.

DW: Demonologist is not a crime novel.  Where do bookstores put the book?

AP: On the best-seller table!  I don't care where it gets put, categories are not ground for disqualification; readers see through genres now.  I'd like to move past a genre define literature.  We use categories when we don't even know what they mean.

DW: Could you have written this novel ten years back?

The book is about a missing daughter.  When you have kids, you care less about yourself, so that's the worst thing possible for a parent.  If you want to want to write a scary story, scare yourself.

DW: Name a writer you like that nobody knows about.

MJ: I don't really have an answer.  However, right now, I'm reading LeCarré's Smiley's People.

AP:  Come Closer, by Sarah Grant.

BS: Peter Temple, The Broken Shore.  He's Australian.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Stolen Words – Long time no see

This week's borrowed word really surprised me.  I had never really imagined something we used so much could have come from another language.  Then again, I guess that goes for ketchup as well...

Sagwa character property of Cine Group and Sesame Workshop

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Write Your Heart Out – Contest and Call for Submission Round Up

Room presents 37:3 Geek Girls
What: Short fiction, Poetry
Length: 3500 words or 5 poems
Deadline: January 31st

Taproot V: Call For Submissions
What/Length: fast fiction, anecdotes, monologues (500 words or less), creative non-fiction (2500 words or less), short stories (5000 words or less), poetry (maximum 3 poems, totaling 150 lines or less)
Deadline: January 31st

Call for Submissions: Our Canada magazine
What: Short fiction, creative non-fiction
Length: 1200 words

The Danuta Gleed Literary Award
What: Short Fiction Collection
Deadline: January 31st

The Malahat Review 2014 Novella Prize
What: Novella
Length: 10 000-20 000 words
Deadline: February 1st

Summer Literary Seminar 2014 Literary Contest!
What: Short Story, Novel Excerpt, Poetry
Length: 20 pages, 3 poems
Deadline: February 28th


Friday, 17 January 2014

The Resolution Zero Project – Month 1: You didn't hear it from me

Last week, I discussed resolutions and how most of them are unrealistic and quickly abandonned.  This week, I want to share with you a TED talk by Larry Smith.  In his short discourse, he manages to illustrate the importance of achieving greatness in life.  

Greatness is different for each and everyone of us and it's not the scale that matters; its the accomplishment itself.  That is why you must not compare yourself to others.  You don't know what goes on in their lives, only what they choose to show you.  The only person you should compare yourself against is your past self. 

Ready to be awesome?

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Dreamers Interview Series – Tania Mignacca : Answers and Giveaway winner!

You've been waiting for it!  I'm pleased to announce that Tania's giveaway winner is...

 But first, the answers to your questions!

Meg Hanna asked

Tania, I have got to commend you on your original and optimistic take on the city that we call home. Vibrant colours, hard hitting issues, a promising message and cute characters - you most certainly have the winning recipe! I've been following Ponto for a while now and as a municipal employee starting out, I can relate to this universe that you have created. You have no idea! That being said, I'd be curious to know where you hope your art will take you in the next year. You mentioned getting your work out there and really diving into the artistic community through conventions and the web. During this process, what kind of subjects and themes do you hope to explore along the way?

Thanks Meg, it's always a pleasure to hear what municipal employees think about Ponto and I'm happy that you can relate to the comic. I have a lot of readers who work on the municipal level and they all seem to enjoy Ponto's adventures which is a huge compliment. To answer your question, I'm not really sure where my art will take me but I hope it will get people interested in what I do and maybe it will lead to possible contracts or collaborations. I also have a lot of ideas for Ponto but not enough time and resources so there's a potential for collaboration there as well. I'm also looking into going back to making bigger scale artwork like paintings which I didn't have much time to do in the last year because starting Ponto required a lot of time. As for subjects I'd like to explore, I feel what's missing in Montreal is a feeling of belonging. My sense of belonging to the city is something that I like to portray in my art. Now that Ponto's getting settled in Montreal, I hope to talk about this issue more in depth at one point in the story. I want to inspire people to appreciate how awesome Montreal is even with all the problems. If we start to feel proud about our city things wil surely start to change in a positive way. 

Mathieu asked
In upcoming issues of Ponto, will we see Mr. Turcot with the famous woolen stockings of Les Ville-Laines? Will it be something that helps Ponto to warm Mr. Turcot during our rough winter? 

When I saw this art manifestation done by the collective the « Ville-Laines » on the Turcot interchange, I thought it was the coolest thing ever! So yes, I'm thinking of drawing it. I'm not sure it will be in the comic but maybe in a special comic strip for winter.I think Mr. Turcot needs one on every leg! I wonder if this would help shield the concrete against temperature variations. 

Dave asked
I spent a couple years in Montreal, and when I first moved I remember seeing the Turcot and feeling a strange sense of pride as a Vancouverite (since all the new infrastructure in Vancouver that was built for the 2010 Olympics stood in stark contrast). Maintenant, je suis retourné à Vancouver, mais le Turcot est un bon souvenir de Montréal... d'après moi, il fait partie du personnage de la ville. J'aime bien lire des BDs de Montréal pis j'aime reconnaître mes lieus -- comme ca: Quel est le lieu favori de Montréal de Ponto? What's Ponto's favourite place in Montreal?

Hi Dave! First of all thanks a lot for this photo. I think it's awesome that your girlfriend took the time to take it. Now I know my illustration was pretty accurate! I'm also happy to learn that reading the comic helps you remember good memories of Montreal. Je pense aussi que l'échangeur Turcot fait partie du paysage Montréalais. Some people suggested turning it into an elevated park like the High Line in New York instead of tearing it down. In response to your question, Ponto has many different favorite places in Montreal since he's too marvelled with the city. He does enjoy the main landmarks but he prefers those that we sometimes forget about like the Guaranteed milk bottle, the Farine Five Roses sign or the Turcot.

 Odrie asked
J'ai vu Ponto pour la première fois à Comic Con et je suis ses aventures depuis. Bravo! Je me demandais : où est-ce que Ponto rêve de travailler à Montréal? 

Merci Odrie de suivre les aventures de Ponto! Pour répondre à ta question, je crois que Ponto rêve de travailler sur les gros chantiers comme celui de l'échangeur Turcot ou du Pont Champlain. Il espère aussi travailler dans différents quartiers pour apprécier la richesse culturelle montréalaise. Et peut-être aussi au centre-ville car il y a beaucoup d'action! English translation: Thanks Odrie for following Ponto's adventures! To answer your question, I think Ponto dreams to work on the big construction sites like the Turcot interchange or the Champlain bridge. He also hopes to work in different boroughs to appreciate all the cultural diversity Montreal has to offer. And, maybe downtown as well because there's a lot of action there! 


And the giveaway winner is... MEG! Congratulations!  Please send me an email at stephanie.noel.writer(at) to claim your prize!

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Reading Pledge 2014

If you're an avid reader chances are you keep track of the number of book you read every year.  There are many websites that offer the possibility to flaunt your fast-reading skills.  But how about the number of pages you read?  Have you ever thought how many of them your eyes devoure?

Last year, I pledged to read 8 000 pages.  When I met my goal, I upped the game to 14 000.  It was a lot of fun to see the numbers go up and to compare my progression with friend's.  This year, my reading pledge is 15 000 pages but I don't want to play this game alone.

Join me for the second edition of the ATUA Reading Pledge!  

Here is what you have to do:

1. Decide how many pages you want to read this year.
2.  Visit the official ATUA 2014 Reading Pledge page.
3.  Post your goal in the comment section.
4. Read!

You can come back whenever you want to share the titles of the books you've read.  If you've reviewed them on your blog, don't hesitate to leave a link! 

How many pages can we read together this year?

Picture source

Review Wednesday will back next week! Until then, read previous reviews! 

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Wild Writers Literary Festival Series – Writing Narrative: From Concept to Creation

Here's the fifth installment of the Wild Writers Literary Festival.  Missed the previous one?  No problem, you can read them here #1, #2, #3, #4.  

 This workshop, led by Helen Humphreys (poetry, novel and creative non-fiction author,) was an exploration of the process of moving an idea forward using practical ste^-by-step approach.  I have to say it was one of my favourite craft class.

Humphreys talk was structured around the different questions you should ask yourself when writing.

Are you obsessed by your idea?
If you can't stop thinking about your idea, chances are it's a good one.  Don't let it go.
What is the interesting story you can make out of the idea?
Try to look past the first idea that comes to mind.  Dig deeper than the easy answer. Ask yourself if there's a better way to tell the story.  Brainstorm.  Create an independant notebook or file for each projet.  Use it to hold your thoughts.

Whose story is it?  Which character is the main character?  What perspective are you telling the story from? 
Asking those questions over and over will help you tell the story is the best way possible.

What is the motivation of your main character?  What do they want?  What do they end up getting?
By answering these questions you'll be able to know if your story is one of glory or of tragedy.

Where does the story take place?
Make sure you know how much the setting is important to the story.  Ask yourself what is private and/or public about that place.

What is the beginning of the story?  What is the ending?
Make sure you ask yourself these two questions frequently as you may find out that it has changed as the story progresses.

What is your process?
Learn to know what works and doesn't work for you.  Don't think too much and follow what feels right initially.

In passing, Humphreys added that there are two main narrative types: a stranger comes to town or someone goes on a journey.  In either case, when plotting the story, start by placing the main events on a timeline then fill the spaces between.

What is the hardest thing for you to say?
Asking yourself this should get the ball rolling and allow you to start writing.  Chances are that if it's difficult for you, you're not the only one.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Stolen Words – Chinese – Ketchup

This week we continue our exploration of English words of Chinese origin.  Chop chop!  Pass me the ketchup!

Sagwa character property of Cine Group and Sesame Workshop.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Write Your Heart out – Contest and Call for submission round up

Canada Writes – CBC Creative Non-Fiction Contest
What: Unpublished work of non-fiction
Lenght1200-1500 words
Deadline: February 1, 2014 at 11:59 p.m. ET  

9th Annual ACCENTI Writing Contest
What: Unpublished and not under consideration by any other publication work of fiction non-fiction or creative non-fiction
Lenght: 2000 words
Deadline: February 7th

The Writer's Union of Canada – 21st Annual Short Prose Competition for Developing Writers
What: Original and non-publish work of fiction or non-fiction.
Lenght: 2500 words
Deadline: March 1st

Carte Blanche – Call for submissions
What: Narrative of all forms from fiction and nonfiction, to poetry and photo essays.
Lenght: See details
Deadline: March 1st

Friday, 10 January 2014

The Resolution Zero Project – Month 1: Identifying the problem

This year is going to be my year! This year is going to be different. This year I will make it happen.

 Rings a bell?

 Each year 45% of Americans make resolutions. Popular goals include but are not limited to weight loss, staying fit, spend less and learn something new. The concept of promising to do an act of self-improvement in the New Year goes backs as far as 2000 BC, when the Babylonians offered resolutions to their Gods. However, the format we’re familiar with was born and evolved in the 20th century. (For a more complete history, visit this site).

A study conducted in 2007 by Richard Wiseman of the University of Bristol revealed that “88% of those who set New Year resolution fail.”(1) Further studies have also shown that 25% of people will keep their resolution for about a week and that after 26 weeks, only 46% of people will still be keeping them. (2

How is that possible when most people, when making the resolution, take it very seriously and have a real desire to change and better themselves? 

The answer lies in the nature of the resolutions: they are vague, disproportionate and unrealistic. A smoker of twenty decides to go cold Turkey. An overweight person decides to go to the gym every day. Although these goals are commendable, they obviously constitute dramatic changes in the resolution maker’s life and are thus bound to result in failure before they have even been implemented.

 Ok. What then?

 Some people choose not to take resolutions at all, choosing the status quo over the illusion of sudden miraculous redemption. That’s a way to see it but that’s also boring. The other option is to set realistic objectives with defined small steps that will lead, over time, to the accomplishment of your goals. Sounds much better, doesn’t it? 

 This year, my goal is to get a manuscript ready for publication. This is a daunting task and so I’ve decided to create The Resolution Zero Project not only to help myself but to help you get closer to your 2014 goals. In the following weeks, I will be publishing articles, videos and numerous resources to guide you on your journey. I hope many of you will join me in this adventure. 

Your turn! Have you ever made resolutions you didn’t keep? How did that make you feel? Did you ever manage to keep your resolutions? What do you wish to accomplish this year? Let me know! I love hearing from you!