Monthly Archives: December 2009

View from Writing Window December 19

Started new novel, on new moon. Here is the view from my writing window today….


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Some Upcoming Appearances 2010

Mon Feb 22 :  Tallahassee FL: Florida State University. 8p.m. Reading with Q & A.

Tues Feb 23:   Atlanta, Georgia: Savannah College of Art and Design- Atlanta Campus. SCAD Events Space. Part of Ivy Hall Writers’ Series. 6:30p.m. Lecture with Q & A.

Thurs Feb 25:   Davidson College in Davidson, NC: 2009/2010 Conarroe Distinguished Lecture. 8p.m. Lecture with Q & A.

Tues March 2:   Reading and interview with Leonard Lopate at Queens College in Flushing, NY. 7p.m.

Wed March 3:  University of Buffalo: 2009/2010 UB Visiting Speaker Series. Alumni Arena. 8p.m. Lecture with Q & A.

Thurs March 4: Hamilton College in Clinton, NY: Winton Tolles Lecture.

Wed March 17:  To Germany

Fri March 19:  Reading at the Cologne Literary Festival.

Sun March 21:   Nelly Sachs Prize in Dortmund, Germany. Held in Citizens Hall of Dortmund’s Town Hall.

Wed Apr 14:  Richmond, VA. Randolph-Macon College.

Wed Apr 21:  Fourth Annual Nelson Institute Earth Day Conference at University of Wisconsin in Madison.  11a.m. Lecture with Q & A.

May 8&9:  Pelee SpringSong. Pelee Island, ON, Canada-

Wed June 9: Rochester Institute of Technology. Conference on The Future of Reading. 7p.m. Lecture with Q & A.

June 16-19: 11th International Conference on the Short Story in English: The Border as Fiction. York University, Toronto.

Fri July 16: Lakefield Literary Festival, Lakefield, ON-

Aug 13- Aug 15:  Winterset Literary Festival in Eastport, NFLD (Bonavista Bay).

Aug. 28—Sept. 12:  Adventure Canada trip to Arctic.

Sept 26-31: International PEN congress in Japan. “Literature and the Environment”. Keynote speaker.

Oct 24-26:  Ellman Lectures at Emory University in Atlanta, GA.

Oct 27-29: Nashville, Tennessee – Belmont University. Lecture/Reading with Q & A.

Nov 30:  Read for the Cure event in Toronto.


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Meeting Cute Guys, December 15

So, I confess — when not writing or going on booktours, I sneak around the back streets meeting cute guys who are also smart & funny, and very kind to elderly ladies such as self. Nice to know someone is still churning out such folks.

Here with Jack Dorsey, Twitterfounder and Squareup-man, in an undisclosed location, far from the prying eyes of Google Earth.

And later — the very sane day! Shameless! — with George Stromboulopoulis, about to record part of The Night Before Christmas, with a few alterations,  for The Hour Xmas-eve special…


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The YOTF Tour: The Wrap

See the Globe and Mail Tour blog at

More hindsights on such things as Virtual Booktours & etc. here on this blog soon…


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Suggest a Saint, Help Make a Calendar

What Gardener Saints and Feast Days should be added to the Gardener list?

There are many Gardener Saints and Feast Days mentioned in The Year of the Flood, but many other persons and natural beings/subjects worthy of Sainthood and Feast Days are not there.

Already suggested by you:Suggest  Saint Jane Goodall of Chimpanzees, Saint Barry Lopez of Arctic Dreams.

Who else and what else should be there?

Suggest your candidates in a Comment on this blogpost. Say why they should be Sainted/Feasted.  If enough valid suggestions appear, we’ll try to make a downloadable illustrated Saints’ Days Calendar, in which every day of the year will have a Saint, or two or three, or a Feast. Candidates qualify through their greenery, their empathy for the natural world, or their environmental services. Organizations and groups also qualify. You can also send a drawing or picture of what you think your Saint should look like in a Gardener rendition.

For more private Saints you wish to acknowledge personally, see the Enroll a Saint button on the Website.


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The Finals: McNally’s December6, Windsor December 8.

As wintry cold and snow descended on the transportation burrows through which writers on book tours scamper, bringing joyful words of hope and cheer to shivering readers huddling in the darkness and chill, the Year of the Flood Tour wound to a close amid some last hurrahs. The two final events were:

1. Ben McNally’s Books and Brunch, on Sunday, December 6, at the King Edward Hotel, in which a room packed with happy croissant-inhalers saw Ben put on his light-up Xmas tie to introduce four writers, each of whom gave an account of self and book for ten minutes. Pictured here, along with the mess Margaret made on the tablecloth with her organic coffee – after which she then forgot the coffee-maker – are The McBenster himself, in red shirt; Graeme Gibson, with The Bedside Book of Birds, which on that very day got a stellar review in The New York Times Book Review; Edward Rutherford, with New York: The Novel,  another blockbuster from the author of Sarum and London; and Toby Lester, with The Fourth Part of the World, about the wondrous map that first showed the Pacific Ocean. A good time and fruit salad was had by all.

2. Then, on December 8, Graeme and I took the Via train to Windsor –@ 4 hours, the same amount of time it takes us to drive there, and much more restful – for an evening event at the Caboto Club put on in aid of the Windsor Bookfest by Martin Deck, the University of Windsor Bookstore’s secret treasure. Martin is one of the most dedicated bookpeople we know. Every spring, he comes over to Pelee Island and sells the books at the SpringSong migration festival (second weekend in May, thus May 7, 8, and 9 in 2010) — green bird race for the Botham Cup, banquet on the Saturday featuring Celebrity Writer and Celebrity Birder; book early, it sells out, Pelee Island Heritage Centre, Martin is out and about in all sorts of ways, really knows and loves the books, and is much appreciated by publishers and writers.

After doing a short TV interview for Entertainment Windsor – belly dancers as a rule, we were told — we were introduced by Paul Vasey, novelist and well-known CBC voice – he always MCs for SpringSong, too, and is unparalleled, though sometimes mischievous. I took his picture afterwards and he said he hoped he had a criminal air. (Fat chance eh?) But speaking of criminal airs, our old friend, poet and Black Moss publisher Marty Gervais, was there, and I bought his terrific local-history book about the roadhouses and rumrunners in Windsor during Prohibition: The Rumrunners: A Prohibition Scrapbook. (Biblioasis.) Great stuff –lots of pictures. How wicked Windsor was!

In the afternoon I did an interview for The Drive Magazine about environmental things in Essex Country – especially ERCA and Ken Schmidt. It’s been a long time coming, but there is now momentum in this wonderful sun-rich region, which has lost 95%of its original Carolinian forest but is thinking hard about recovery. “This country is so temperate, so fertile and so beautiful that it may justly be called The Earthly Paradise of North America.” – Antoine de Cadillac, 1702.

We took the Via train back – here are some pictures of friendly Via staff, and some more pictures of the winter landscape unfolding. And so we bid farewell to The 2009 Tour, even as we bid hello to the big stacks of backlog work awaiting us…. Happy Holiday Reading!


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Fifteen Book Tour Packing Tips

Now that I’ve finished The Tour and am unlikely to do anything like it ever again, here are fifteen helpful packing hints. Every one of them comes from experience, and you know what they say about that: Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment. At some time in the past, I’ve lost/forgotten/not done each of these.

  1. The schedule. It should have all the information you’ll need in case the links break. (Plane cancelled, no one at airport to mee you, hotel lost your reservation…  What are the confirmation numbers? Who do you call?) Take a paper copy – don’t rely on your phone. Battery may run out, you might not be able to get a connection.
  2. NB: Check in online the day before, if you can. Airlines are overbooking quite a lot.
  3. The pens. Don’t count on anyone else to supply your favourites. Take several. If refillable, take refills. Put them into a waterproof container. Do not clip onto pocket. (Ink is hard to get out of shirts/tops.) Put something absorbent in with them. Sometime, somewhere, they will leak. For note-taking in transit, take a pencil. Take a pencil sharpener. (NB: fresh ink washes off pens and your hands quite well with soap and water. Do not use the white hotel towels to dry your pens. The hotel will not thank you.)
  4. Copy all travel documents, including passport and cards, and leave copies with a trusted contact or in a safe place. Remember where that place is. This is in case you lose your documents, or they are stolen. Don’t take any cards you won’t need.
  5. Label all bags with outside labels that don’t show your name and address openly. Put address in inside pocket too. Tie a bright identifying thing onto your bag so you’ll be sure to claim the right one from the gate-check trolley when you stagger off the plane in a glazed condition.
  6. The luggage. At some point, the escalator/elevator will break down, and you will have to carry your carry-on, wheels or not. Planes allow two bags. Balance the contents, and take a third small cloth bag tucked into one of the others. Then if you have to gate-check you can remove things like your laptop and reading material (and handbag, if any) and take them onboard with you.
  7. Take a hand sanitizer, or those little packets. Use after each time when you may have touched Microbes/Viruses, eek, arrgh!. Don’t forget door handles and elevator buttons, not to mention pens & hands. When washing hands with soap, sing “Happy Birthday” twice, to time the sudsing. No need to do this out loud and alarm others in washroom. You are a potential travelling plagueship. Act accordingly.
  8. Airplane travel: close the lid before flushing. Otherwise the cubicle is a microbe aerosol with you in the middle of it. Why spray yourself with a mist of… never mind.
  9. Carry small amounts of the remedies/pharmacy items you might need in the middle of the night, when nothing will be open. At some point in your booktour life, you will be struck with: colds, flu, stomach upsets, digestive tract problems, headaches, back problems, sore arms, cold sores, hangovers, foot problems, sunburn, and more. Vitamin pills: B12 and C are the best for stamina. If really wiped and you need a quick pickup, try a banana or some potato chips. (It’s the potassium.) Those Emergen-C packets can help.
  10. Take a decent nail file. You are guaranteed to break nails, whether you’re male or female. Take some earplugs; if there’s room, some noise-cancelling earphones. You’ll be glad.
  11. Flight socks: Wear them if  the trip is over 1 ½ hours. Nobody needs an embolism in a foreign city. (Or any city.)
  12. Never check anything on a book tour. At the rate of a city a day, a lost bag may never catch up to you. The one-word tip for packing is: Less. However, if you can manage two pairs of shoes, do. Take quick-dry items. Remember, the people in City # 2 won’t  have seen what you wore in City # 1. If female, think pink, pack black, take scarves. If male, quick-dry shirts. It’s not glamorous, but you will end up washing things in the hand basin and draping them on towel-racks. If  they are still slightly damp and you have to leave soon, remember the hair dryer. Do not set fire to your clothes.
  13. Take a small flashlight.  Handy in case the lights go out, and for other purposes as well. Take some safety pins and rubber bands: you never know when you might need them.
  14. Take your own alarm clock. Those advanced-robotic things in the rooms are often impossible to figure out, and of course there are never any instructions. When setting your alarm clock, pay attention to time changes and the a.m. and p.m. functions. To be doubly sure, place a wake-up call with the hotel.
  15. Take two extra suitcase locks. (Locks fall off bags when you’ve forgotten to close them.) Set the code beforehand. You will be too bagged-out in transit to do this efficiently. Then you will lock yourself out of your own suitcase. This is horrible. You can always get the locks with keys. But then you might lose the keys. This too is horrible. Nothing is certain. Everything flows…


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Ten Gifts to Give Beginning Novelists

By popular demand..

1. A small notebook, so your budding novelist can carry it everywhere and jot down notes, and possibly addresses. Moleskine is the classic, but there are many others. Should fit in pocket or bag.

2. A large box. This is for all the drafts. Keep them! You may need them later.

3. Mortification: Writers and Their Public Shame, compiled by Robin Roberston. Everything awful that may happen to you in public has already happened to someone else, almost. Add to the list (I hope not).

4. Roget’s Thesaurus. I know there are some thesauri on line but nothing beats the paper version. It is somehow more troll-able. And when things go bad, you can warm it in the oven (not to much, it’s flammable) & cuddle up to it in bed.

5. The Stretching Handbook. Or something like it. Or Pilates lessons. Anything to straighten out that writer-spine & bad elbow we get after a while…

6. A Novel in a Year. Louise Doughty.  It is what it says, week by week. Not intimidating.

7. How Not to Write a Novel. Mittelmark and Newman. It also is what it says, and funny too. But if you read it you may never write anything. Beware.

8. The Art Instinct. Denis Dutton.  Why do human beings make art, including narrative art? An evolved adaptation, says the author. News just in: Art not a frill! Built in!

9. The Gift. Lewis Hyde.  How is art situated in the world of commerce? Or: why do so few artists make lots of money? How do gifts operate, as opposed to buying & selling?

10. Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing. I wrote this one. It’s not about how to write – more like What is this writing and how does it differ from other art forms, and who are writers, and what do they think they’re doing? The underground journey…


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Edging Back to Normal: Homestuff, Toronto

As the YOTF Tour winds down — two more events to go, Ben McNally Books “Books and Brunch,” tomorrow, and Windsor on Tuesday — it’s time to do the laundry, clean stuff up, go for walks with waking pal Coleen. Pictures: best informal omelette in town and closest & most delicious Organic Latte, at Lettieri, Avenue Road, opposite Whole Foods. Nino is an omelette genius, Paul wields the latte. And who should walk in but David Rocco, cooking whiz from “Dolce Vita?” On the way back from walk, roses were still in bloom. On Friday afternoon I went to Xiaolan’s Health Clinic to get needles stuck into my knees & toes so I can still crawl around. The garden needs some tidying, and I’ve now got rid of the mouldering pumpkin on the back porch… In the office, it’s the paper mounds to deal with, overseen by the eerie David Blackwood print on the wall above the desk. “Pound Cove Mummers Crossing Coal Harbour Pond.” “Mummers” are/were a Newfoundland custom: men dress up in ladies’ clothes & window curtains, and if you guess who they are they sing a song… Look at the special mittens… Here comes winter.


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The Blest Coast: Vancouver, December 2

From Victoria, we went by Helijet to Vancouver. I was very pleased with Helijet. Not only are they carbon-neutralizing their flights, but they have Ethical Bean organic coffee in their waiting room – how Virtuous is that! – and they give you earplugs. I had a fine time taking pictures out the helicopter window of the sunrise, the mountains, the sea, the Gulf Islands, the Fraser River estuary, and Vancouver from the air, while unable to hear much of anything.

We stayed at the Pacific Palisades, which was just as friendly as last time, except that there was no edible organic chocolate lick-it-off massage bar in the room. What happened? They saw us coming and were worried about Choking Hazards? Never mind, we made up for it in outrageous behavior in public, at the Capilano University event with 32 Books that evening. The tone was set by Ryan Knighton (, of Cockeyed, who manages to be a whole lot funnier about being — I’ll use this word, he does — blind than I would ever be able to be. He gave the most original introduction to me that I have ever heard. It began with a description of “flounder-trampling,” a novel method of fishing — walking in the mud until you step on a flounder –and went on from there.

As a poor second act, Graeme and I each did our bit, and then we got Moderated, which meant that we answered questions that people wrote down and sent up to the Moderator, Fiona Black.  She was very good at the Moderation, which was needed, as we were in full oldfolkie-silliness mode. After we’d been sufficiently moderation, we did the Sign-O-Rama, to show that we still could. And after that we giggled away into the night and ate some oysters, or something. It was all good.

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