Monday, January 30, 2006

A Guy Who's Been Dead for 215 Years, and your Friendly Neighbourhood Reading Series

So BHJ and I went to see the Toronto Symphony Orchestra perform a tribute to Mozart on the 250th anniversary of his birth last Friday. I like classical music, enough that I listen to it a few times a week - especially now that I'm watching less TV (dammit) - but I haven't been to a live performance in years. The music was poignant and spectacular, and I was vividly reminded of how much I used to love watching the conductor's hands move in such a beautiful but peculiar ballet.

I wasn't surprised that the TSO is so terrific. Toronto has a ton of local talent, some of the best music, theatre, and art that the world has to offer, in fact. What we also have, and which people sometimes forget about, are a number of great readings series that feature both local and international writers.

As always, a good place to find listings for the TO hip-happening cultural scene are the free weeklies NOW and Eye. Another good place to find listings for readings in particular is at Word. You'll find that a series like the Harbourfront Reading Series draws writers from all over the world and smaller ones will showcase more local talent, so there's lots of variety.

Another way to go about it is to look up some of your favourite writers, hit their website and see what their tour dates are. Get on their mailing list so that you can find out when they'll be in town. You might find out that your favourite writer, who conjures up stories on the other side of country (or the globe), will be here on our very own doorstep. Grab a friend - grab me, god knows I like being grabbed - and head out to hear what they have to say.

Even if you're not a writer, why not step out of your comfort zone a bit? Take some time to meet some of the artists who have brought so much enjoyment to our lives, and all that jazz. The truth of it is, the book biz is pretty cutthroat these days, and most midlist and emerging writers need all the support they can get. On top of that, readings can be a lot of fun, they're usually free, and if you're going to buy the book anyway, why not do it when you can get it personally autographed by the author? After that you can head out to watch some live music or pop into a pub and indulge in a few pints. Make a night of it.

If you're not in TO or a large urban centre, check your community listings to discover some local talent of your own. Or you could try and take in a reading the next time you're visiting the big city. Either way, you won't be disappointed.

Cheers,
Maia

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Mr. Frey, Your Pants are Calling - Something About a Fire?

Well, I watched Oprah this afternoon in a show which featured James Frey. And boy, is she pissed. I have to say that I was impressed with her for admitting she was wrong for what she said during her call into Larry King, and wrong for her disregard of the truth in this matter.

Frey, on the other hand, looked a little like he wanted to cry.

I'm very curious to see which way this will spin next - and if Oprah removing the magic of her book club approval from Frey will affect him and his sales. The truth of it is, Oprah has changed publishing in a very interesting way. Her seal of approval means tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands and, for Frey, millions of additional sales for the writer in question. It launches them into an international spotlight as literary superstahhs. All was well until the Jonathan Franzen incident - the 2001 dustup in which Oprah rescinded her Book Club offer to Franzen. From this point forward she choose only dead writers, and was only lured back to publishing the living after an impassioned plea from Word of mouth, a writer's organization.

I still think that the controversy will continue to propel consumer sales, at least in the short term, and I'd love to hear from someone out there who's bought the book in the last week or so, and why.

So the Oprah show pretty much amounted to a smackdown, which was nice. And the book? I'd still like to read it someday. But only secondhand.

Cheers,
Maia

A Girl Without a Genre is Like a Fish Without a Bicycle

Well, kinda.

As I've discussed previously, my book is about a geek girl coping with life during the Internet/tech sector crash. After I'd written the first draft and got started on revisions, I decided that I needed some feedback, so I workshopped the first chapter of the novel at a class last year. In this particular course you submitted pages beforehand, everyone read them and then brought comments to class, where you would listen to them discuss your work. (And when I say "discuss your work", what I really mean is "terrorize you"). In any case, I got some very pointed feedback along the lines of:

"I'm sure I don't know what genre this is..."
"I have very little experience in this genre. VERY LITTLE, MAIA."

And a number of similar comments, mostly from people angry about the technospeak and computer geekishness. Now, I could tell myself that they were all jerks (and they were, kinda) and that my work is just plain fiction (and it is, kinda) but it brought up an interesting point that I suspect I will have to cough up a semi-coherent response to in the next few months. The question being: just what the hell genre does The Book belong to?

A few months down the line - workshopping other sections of the same piece - I was accused by the very same people of writing ChickLit. I found this mildly terrifying, since I had never read any, and, as I've previously pointed out, writers should read. Good sense dictates that writers should read other authors in their genre, so, being the geekish/bookish type and all, I went out and read a lot of ChickLit - a lot - over the next while. After a shitstorm of pink book jackets, I've come to the following conclusions: (a) I'm not writing ChickLit and, (b) I can't read any more books about women who can itemize the different designer pieces they're wearing like they're some kind of bipedal clothing catalogue. Designer shoes? The only time my character would handle a Jimmy Choo original would be to squash bugs with it.

Insert standard disclaimer here: I don't have an issue with ChickLit, I think that people have to write what they need to write and that's pretty much all that there is to it. People enjoy reading ChickLit for the same reasons they enjoy reading all kinds of genres; it speaks to them. Nothing wrong with that.

But what is it, really? And why is it that many (most?) of the books written these days by women, featuring a female character seem to be pidgenholed into the ChickLit genre? I went looking for a definition of ChickLit and found a roundtable of contemporary authors who weighed in what it really is: www.authorsontheweb.com/features/0402-chicklit/chicklit-q01.asp . Elizabeth Crane concluded that "(i)t seems like a single female protagonist is the main requirement." Well. My book does have a single female protagonist, but is that really all it takes? Single? Female? I don't think so, Liz. [UPDATE: Elizabeth Crane was nice enough to stop by and comment on my post, so please check out the comment section at the end. It appears that she and I are in total agreement about all this, so thanks for setting me straight, Elizabeth].

On the one hand, I can understand the desire to categorize books by type, mystery in mystery, crime in crime, James Frey in wherever the hell he feels like, ChickLit in ChickLit, DickLit (seriously, I did not make this up, and no, it's not porn)...well, you get the picture. For readers who know what they like, it makes perfect sense. For writers who feel that their work appeals to a broad range of readers and, essentially, don't want to be labeled, I'm betting it's a problem.

So I'm kind of A Girl Without a Genre, which for marketing purposes isn't so good. Right now I'd classify my work as "Contemporary Urban Fiction" but I hope to hell a publisher doesn't want to publish it as ChickLit. My main character HATES pink.

Cheers,
Maia

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Up Yer Kilt!

So, I'd like to wish a very happy Robbie Burns day to everyone out there! Lord knows there's not much I like more than men in kilts, so I'm all for it. If you're out and about tonight, raise a pint - or a nice twelve year old scotch - for Robbie Burns, writer of the poem "Auld Lange Syne". No one knows what the hell the song means, but we keep singing it every New Year's anyway, and in the interest of learning more about Robbie Burns, I went looking for the meaning of "Auld Lange Syne" and found this on the Internet (so it *must* be true):

"Auld Lang Syne" translates from old Scottish dialect literally as "Old Long Ago"

Old long ago? See, I'm not sure if I'm really helping here.

Reading on:

"and is a song about celebrating the past and looking forward to the future, with the 'cup o'kindness' being a drink shared as a symbol of friendship."

Well, I can party down with that. Happy Robbie Burns day, y'all!

Maia

Monday, January 23, 2006

Thank you! Merci! Äitah!

See, I'm so grateful that I wanted to thank everyone in all three of the languages I speak (and no, the third one isn't Klingon). I'm really pleased with the amount of traffic I'm getting, and I just wanted to say thanks for coming by and hanging out.

Have a great week,
Maia

Writers Read

AKA: My Name is Maia and it's Been 1 Day Since my Last Book Purchase

So I had promised myself not to buy any books for the next while, but it turns out I have problems with truthiness. Oh well, these things happen.

I had bookmarked the website for Julie Powell's spectacular blog, the "Julie/Julia Project" a while back, but hadn't gotten around to sitting down and reading through it until recently. For those who haven't heard of this offbeat endeavour, it's a year (2002-2003) in the life of teetering-on-thirty-and-trapped-in-a-shit-job New Yorker Julie Powell who decides to work through Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" (circa 1961) and blog about it in an attempt to save her tenuous sanity. The writing is vivid, hilarious, semi-profane and delicious enough to make your mouth water every once in a while.

I was going to try to make it to the end of the blog before deciding if I wanted to buy the NYT bestselling book that she wrote based on her year of blogging, but I broke down by the December 2002 entry (Julie, you had me at Boeuf Bourguignon - attempt #1) and ordered "Julie and Julia".

On other reading fronts, I'm partway through "Open" by Lisa Moore, which is spectacular, strange, and beautiful. I'm also working through a few Anne Lamott books. I just finished her first novel "Hard Laughter", written in her early twenties after her father was diagnosed with a brain tumour. In "Bird by Bird", she describes how she found herself "desperate for books that talked about cancer in a way that would both illuminate the experience and make [her] laugh." On a trip to her local library she asked where the 'funny books about cancer' were and received a - how shall I put it - less than enthusiastic response. Folks, "Hard Laughter" is a funny book about cancer, a genre that might not have caught on, but a damn good read, nonetheless. I'm also working through "Blue Shoe", written after she sobered up and found Jesus. So far, I prefer "Hard Laughter". Don't know what that says about me, but there you go.

On another note, If there are any writers out there looking for good books on writing, I'd definitely recommend Anne's "Bird by Bird" and Carolyn See's "Living a Literary Life", which I've mentioned previously. I'd also suggest "Self Editing for Fiction Writers", which deals with the mechanics of editing in a straightforward and concise manner. They also have a helpful website at: http://www.editorialdepartment.com/

If you're in TO and want to borrow any of my books, just drop me a line. If you're in Tuktuyuktuk...well, I'd have to say that you're on your own. Sorry 'bout that.

Cheers,
Maia

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Writers Write

...or so I've been told. Most writers who produce texts on the craft argue that if you want to succeed, you must write every day (or very nearly that). Anne Lamott in the most excellent "Bird by Bird" and Carolyn See in "Living a Literary Life" both make a case for sitting in front of your computer daily. Stephen King agrees in "On Writing", and he's one scary dude.

I agree with them in principle, but in reality all three of them have been Writing Full Time for many years now. The real question is, what to do if you work full time, have to fight traffic home and then make a dinner that fits your Atkins, South Beach, Vegan, Organic, etc lifestyle. Not to mention shaking the dust off your exercise clothes now and then, talking to your friends, dealing with your family, reading good books, spending enough time with your children so they don't become feral...you know, life.

The fact of the matter is that we just might not be able to sit our butts down every day. I try to focus on writing every day. I notice characters, images, situations; I harvest details from what's going on around me and use it in my work. When I'm out and about, I send ideas to my mail account from my pager so I don't forget them. I think about where my own characters want to go, and how I'm going to get them there. But I don't write every day. And I think that's okay.

For most of the people I know who are actively writing and holding down jobs, it's not unusual to have taken 2+ years to finish a halfway decent draft of a novel. (And that's before you include the submission process, an experience sometimes referred to a reject-o-rama. More on that later). So I don't think my progress is terrible, but it can get discouraging. Has anyone seen the scene in the movie Sliding Doors when the main male character finally bursts out: "Of course I haven't finished the book. I'm a writer. I'm never going to finish the book."

Sometimes I feel like that.

On top of that, I'm now turning to other projects so I can start to wean myself off of The First Book and get ready for the next one. I've had an idea rattling around in my noggin for about six months that I'm dying to get started on. Of course, first drafts are so sloppy and fun that it's not really like work, unlike the position I'm now in with editing The First Book where I'm constantly looking for the perfect word, the perfect image, the perfect piece of dialogue, the perfect ending. It's enough to give you a stroke.

So I'd like to get the editing of this book finished as soon as possible, it's pretty much as simple as that. And the only way to do that is, as the pros say, write more. How to do that? I'm going to have to cut down on/get rid of some of my time-wasting vices, the worst of which is definitely TV. Yes, it's true, as much as I hate to admit it, I'm a sucker for TV. Even worse, we have digital cable and potential access to more channels than is even remotely reasonable. (There's even a Book TV channel! That's gotta count for something, no?)

BHJ and I keep the TV off on the weekends if we're working on our various computer-related adventures. Now, I'm just not turning it on when I come home from work. It seems to be helping. It's like anything else worth having; you have to sacrifice. I get that.

Next on my list to give up? Definitely exercise.

Cheers,
M

Monday, January 16, 2006

Must...Make...Goals

January is a good month for goals, so I'm going to do just that. Since everyone is busy busy busy and can't check my blog every day, I'd like to set some kind of a schedule.

What I'm aiming to do is make two postings a week; Monday and Thursdays. And maybe more, I'm crazy like that. So, sign up for my feed or swing by on Mondays and Thursdays for some pithy reflections on writing and/or some riveting EstoSnark.

Happy reading.
M

Sunday, January 15, 2006

So what's the deal with this book thing?

I'm glad you asked. 'This book thing' is a project near and dear to my heart that I've been working on for a little over two years now. I'm very close to finishing a draft that can be sent out for some editorial input. My Better Half, John (and since geeks are so fond of acronyms, I'll just refer to Better Half John as BHJ from now on) sent out two chapters to a freelance editor as a birthday present for me last year, and the comments I got back were both helpful and positive. Thanks, BHJ! So, I think that it's a good idea to have a pro vet the whole book before I start to submit it. (Of course, I have to actually finish it first, but...well, Christmas was busy. And I've had a cold. Ohbloodyhell, the book just keeps getting longer, that's why it's not done).

But soon, soon.

So what's the book about? Well, I'm glad you asked that, too. In the proverbial nutshell, it's the story of a young über geek coping with the chaos of the Internet crash of 2000/2001 who, at the end of it all, has to figure out where she really belongs. It's set in Toronto and deals with sleepless nights, caffeine addiction, Star Trek, wacky friends, fast food, McGyver, an ailing relationship, technobabble, and corporate betrayal and intrigue. It's a dramatic comedy. Dramady?

I'll be putting bits and pieces of it up on my website when I finally get it (the website AND the book) up and running, whenever the fark that will be. I've been thinking about how to layout the website for quite some time now, and I hope to get it launched within the next month or so. I'll keep you posted.

Cheers
Maia

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Why Viking Girl?

Why, indeed. Well, it stems from the fact that my father's side of the family is from a wee country across the Baltic Sea from Finland called Estonia. Estonians and Finns are essentially first cousins and both speak Finno-Ugric languages. Finnish is a more complex language but the pronunciation is identical and the base words are the often the same; when I ended up in Helsinki in the 90's, running terrifyingly late and without enough money to get to the airport, I was able to sweet-talk my cab driver into shuttling me and my Esto-Canadian butt there on time. I spoke Estonian, he spoke Finnish, and we got along just fine.

Now, since most people have never heard of Estonia, but pretty much everyone has heard about Vikings - who were running rampant through the area lo these many years ago - I sometimes just simplify things by calling myself a Viking. Surely, I have Viking blood in these veins, but more importantly, I like the fear factor that that inspires. On top of that, I think I'd be much better at pillaging than I am at my regular job - I mean, did they have to work long hours and deal with cranky customers? I doubt it. I bet that the Viking complaint department was pretty deserted because of, you know, the fact that they'd likely kill anyone nervy enough to cough up a grievance.

Plus, I'm short and solid, with wrists the size of tree trunks. Good strong Viking bones, twice - no, three times! - the size of normal Canadians. I am not a girly girl.

So, that's the story behind my domain name. It's really all in good fun, I don't actually want to pillage anyone. What I DO want is one of those funky Viking hats, though. That would be an awesome birthday present.

Cheers,
Maia

Friday, January 13, 2006

Freyapalooza

So, it's been an interesting week for James Frey, millionaire extraordinaire who, courtesy of Oprah, skyrocketed into literary stardom in 2005 with "A Million Little Pieces". I've been following Freyapolooza with a significant amount of interest for someone who hasn't even read the book. So I'm left in a conundrum: buy the book and help finance Frey's new summer home, or leave it on the shelf and form an opinion from second hand accounts. I hate to feed into the process of further rich-ifying (no, not a word, but neither is "truthiness") Frey because of the current scandal - sales remain high since TSG's revelations - but, as I revealed earlier this week, I have an *ahem* problem with book buying. (Maybe Frey should write his next book about recovering book-aholics. THAT I'd have to read). Plus, I hate to debate an issue with only half the facts. For the record, I picked up his book at the grocery store a few months ago, flipped through a few pages, and immediately put it down. The writing just seemed awkward and sloppy, and the sense that he was full of shit jumped right off the page at me. But I was cranky that day, so maybe it's brilliant. What do I know?

So, I said in my last blog that I was going to watch James' stint on Larry King on Wednesday, and I did. Honestly, I can't remember the last time I saw someone tap dance around an issue as poorly as he did. My favorite moment was his assertion that the "emotional truth" of the book was still valid. What the hell is an emotional truth, and how does it differ from the real truth? Because, seriously, I do not know what that means.

After the Frey interview, his publisher announced that further printings of the book would contain a disclaimer about twisted facts and whatnot, which sounds about as funny as Michael Jackson saying he won't have anymore sleepovers with children. Good to know guys, good to know.

I was also really struck during Oprah's dramatic call-in moment when she revealed that she hasn't read his other book. I find that one of the oddest details of this whole brouhaha. If James Frey is such a captivating author - keeping her up at night reading about his shenanigans and all - why wouldn't she run out and buy that one too? From what I understand, the story continues in "My Friend Leonard", so it would make sense to me that James' reader base would want to stay with the story. But I'm cranky today, so maybe that's totally normal and it's just me.

So, basically, it's my feeling that Frey's pants are engulfed in a five alarm fire, but I'm still in a position of not having read the book. So, what to do? Any thoughts?

Truthfully, (and I say this with all the truthiness in the world), I'll likely end up buying it secondhand so that I can experience it for myself without having to give James a dime.

Maybe I should start an Abebooks.com recovery group and then write about it, making up blood spattered fights over who gets the first editions and people passing out while reading The Iliad.

Cheers and have a great weekend,
Maia

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Bookstores, the Mailman, and Getting a Fix

I just got back from a trip to the bookstore, and, as usual, it's one of the highlights of my day/week/month. As an unabashed book-aholic, heading for the local bookstore always provides me with a much needed fix.

I generally find it difficult to decide which books I'm going to buy, and since I'm tightening my fiscal belt these days, today I told myself I was only allowed to get one book. Since discovering Abebooks.com I've been able to get my hands on a lot of hard to find and out of print books (not just for me, I've given a bunch to friends. Okay, four. Okay! Three.) I've decided I have to stop that for now, because books were rolling into the house at such a spectacular speed that my bank account almost seized up on me. I wonder if my mailman knows that he's also my pusher...

But the bookstore is the stomping ground for finding new lit, and I still get a little weak-kneed when I walk in the door. All those spines waiting to be cracked, all that paper waiting to flip through your hands, all of those book pheromones wafting by. Instead of wasting all that time searching through the shelves for a book, I'd rather just buy the whole damn store and move in.

I am currently saving up for this.

But back to the present. So many choices - mystery? new releases? business? American? Canadian? All of the above?

I'm trying to work through more Canadian authors these days, but I have to admit I'm finding it difficult. A lot of the Canadian work that I've come accross hasn't really spoken to me, although on the other hand, I've had the deep pleasure of discovering Will Ferguson, playwrights Trey Anthony and Claudia Dey, Anne Ireland, Lesley Krueger. Today I picked up Giller finalist Lisa Moore's "Open". I'm looking forward to a good read. (I'm also ordering two Seth Godin books for my better half's birthday next week, and then I'm done book buying for now, I swear!)

As I was cashing out, I noticed a pile of the James Frey book "A Million Little Pieces" stacked beside the cash, the same book that's recently been slapped with the novelized memoir/fictionalized-non-fiction label. I'm curious to see how things shake out with him on Larry King tonight.

Cheers & happy reading,
Maia

Welcome!

Welcome! I'm a Toronto writer, and this is the new home of my rants (and occasional ravings) about finishing a novel and trying to get it published.

Cheers,
Maia