Thursday, June 29, 2006

Happy (Almost) Canada Day!

Well it's that time of the year again. When I was little and growing up in Ottawa - the capital of this fine nation - Canada Day was often referred to as Dominion Day and our normally sedate city tranformed into a somewhat surreal Canuck-oriented bacchanalia. (Now I live in Toronto and every day is a bacchanalia.)

So it's a great time to check out some Canadian talent, including - wait for it - Canadian writers! Northwest Passages has some excellent Canadian lit links, including an index of Canadian authors. Take a gander at it and think about adding a new Canadian writer to your roster. I'd recommend that anyone who hasn't checked out the sharp and witty Will Ferguson take a look at some of his books on Canada, including Beauty Tips from Moosejaw, one of my faves this year.

So Happy (almost) Canada Day, all. To paraphrase the immortal words of the Simpsons; I hope you enjoy celebrating the independence of your country by blowing up a small part of it. Here's to clear skies, cold drinks, good friends and, of course, lots of fireworks.

Best,
Maia

...and to our neighbours to the south, a very happy (almost) 4th of July.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Maybe They Thought I wouldn't Notice...

I swear to christ, I'm having the worst gardening season ever.

I'm not a hobby person, having been one of those childhood bookworm shut-ins who ended up going into the computer industry, and neither of these things are particularly good for forming either social skills or taking up extracurricular activities. Thank god BHJ is a bigger geek than me, or else I'd be an adult urban hermit with some spectacular sexual frustration issues.

I have two hobbies, gardening and drinking (both of which can be done together quite nicely, surprisingly) and I just cannot understand why people don't let me do both in peace. We live on a main street in Toronto and have suffered through all kinds of property theft; Halloween corpses walking off, (free) recycling bins that are now recycling someone else's bottles, and people deciding to celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus by stealing my Christmas lights. I've also experienced a bunch of front lawn flower thefts in the past - dug up Gerberas, and the like - so I get that it's a high traffic area, and kids will be kids. Doesn't stop me from wanting a moat with some honking crocodiles, but it doesn't keep me up at night, either.

However, in this short growing season I've experienced:

1) rampant Tulip snipping
2) dug up Pansies (they left them there, the little darlings)
3) Lilac butchery
4) forced Hydrangea forklifting after I was informed that the gas metre has to be moved into my microscopic front yard, and...
5) the latest, my Tuesday morning Allium beheading (which I captured on film for your viewing pleasure. The scale is a bit hard to see, but they are were about 2.5 feet tall).

People really are just fascinating. What would posses someone to walk up onto someone's front lawn and snip off a flower top? Did they do it at night, or in the middle of the day? Did they see the flowers, like them, and come back later with scissors? Or did they do it spur of the moment? Do they carry a pocket knife for just those types of occasions? Was it their first time? Will they do it again? WILL THEY?

To be honest, I spend a goodly portion of my day asking myself these types of questions.

In what can only be described as ironic, BHJ and I were walking to brunch last weekend and I saw a man walking in front of us. He ducked to the side, reached over, snapped off a rose branch from someone's garden- one about a foot and a half long - and kept walking, almost without breaking stride. I was so surprised by it that I didn't have a chance to stop him, and all I could do was say to John: didyouseethat??! We kept walking and the guy slowed up and started talking to us. I was trying to figure out what kind of a person would do such a thing...and, I soon had my answer: he was drunk. And a bit of a jerk. Apparently, in what can be filed under 'no big surprise to anyone', drunken jerks steal people's flowers.

After finding my guillotined Alliums on Tuesday, I stewed in AngryMaia juices until I finally tried to put a good spin on the situation. What to do? Might as well write about it. The truth is, I like having little evil quirks for my characters - the main antagonist in the book I just finished parks in handicapped spots even though he's fully ablebodied - so flower theft will have to go on the list with people who give you recipes with one crucial ingredient missing, drivers who park sideways across two parking spots in a packed lot, neighbours who don't recycle, and mothers who...well. It's a long list.

In other news...

My 'brilliant' post from last week ended up being irrational as opposed to insightful so I've scrapped it. What I did want to say is that I've sent out my first query to an agent, so I'll keep you posted on how disastrously that goes.

Maia

(Semper Fi, little Allium dudes)

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Pre-ordering Books and Giving up on Getting the Book Monkey off my Back

As if my fiction addiction wasn't already totally out of control, I've recently discovered the joy of pre-ordering books. It's a great way to ensure you get your hot little hands on books as soon as they're published, and it's also a great way to support your favourite writers. I'm not sure what the impact of pre-orders have on the success of a writer's book (and I'll do some more digging on this when I get a chance), but I have to assume it's good news for everyone involved.

That being said, I pre-ordered two books the other day; Sandra Scopettone's Too Darn Hot, the sequel to the fabulous This Dame for Hire - due out this month - and The Great Betrayal by Millenia Black, due out later this year.

Abebooks.com is a great spot to pickup out of print books, but don't forget that writers don't get royalties on used books, so if you want your favourite novelists to be able to keep turning out books you love, buy new.

Best,
Maia

Friday, June 16, 2006

Blooky!

Blog + hooky = blooky.

I'm not gonna lie, that's the most creative thing I've been able to cough up this week.

I have 2 posts almost ready to go, but one of them is either brilliant or makes no bloody sense whatsoever. I'm going to let them percolate for another day or two and then post.

For all of you enjoying the kind of weather we are here in the GTA, I say go outside and get a bit of sun. Whether you get it from sitting on a patio (my vote) or doing something healthy (bleh!) is up to you.

Maia

Thursday, June 08, 2006

I Give Up

I had a long and heart-wrenching post (almost) written that chronicled my week - a miserable debacle that included two nights of no sleep and a contractor who cut down most of my beloved 20+ year old, 25 foot high Lilac tree without permission. Crying was involved.

However, I'd rather focus on the positive since the weekend is in sight, the weather is absolutely beautiful and the fourth draft of the book is done and has gone to my trusty freelance editor. Woo!

Have a great weekend, everyone.
Maia

Everest Update

MountEverest.net has posted some more titbits on their website regarding the controversial death of British climber David Sharp:

Experienced expedition leaders on the mountain have voiced their opinion that the location of David should have made it possible, easy even, for 2 sherpas to put him in a sleeping bag and drag him down. (EverestNet)
They've posted the names of the 40 climbers who walked past Sharp on their way to the summit as well as the fact that Sharp was filmed by a Discovery Channel camera crew shortly before he died. Sharp's mother has stated publicly that she does not blame anyone for her son's death, but that she does not want the specific details of his demise to be made public. Hopefully the video won't be shown against her wishes.

There's a Discovery Channel special on Everest currently showing Monday mornings at 10 (no, I don't really have a job) that chronicles a 2003 summit attempt. This past Monday they showed a corpse which was decomposed enough so you couldn't identify it, but not decomposed so badly that you couldn't read the logo on the trendy winter wear. While I understand that many climbers want to stay on the mountain if they perish there, I really feel for family members who might see their loved ones in that kind of condition.

In any case, the Discovery Channel series is pretty interesting; set your VCR and check it out if you get the time.

Maia

Just Who the Hell is BHJ Anyway?

Those of you who read my blog might wonder who this BHJ is that I keep rambling about. Well, BHJ is shorthand for Better Half John, my unmarried domestic partner/common-law husband/equivalent-to-spouse and all-around sweetie pie.

It's great to live in Canada where those of us who are living in sin get all the benefits of marriage, but it's sometimes difficult to figure out what term to use, particularly since "partner" is often interpreted as business partner, and DINKs (Double Income No Kids) just isn't something you'd use in polite company. Better Half seems to cover most of the bases.


Me and BHJ


Cheers, Maia.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Racism in Publishing

I've been reading Millenia Black's blog ever since she was nice enough to post a comment here back in January. In April she wrote a really distressing post about the situation that arose when she went to submit her second book to her publisher. What happened? They refused to publish unless she changed the race of her main characters from white to black. (Millenia is black, and was told, essentially, that she had to write 'African-American oriented' fiction in order to get published.)

She blogged about what happened but later removed the post and replaced it with a note that she was abstaining from posting for a bit while she tried to deal with the situation IRL. I've checked back in at her blog a number of times now, and am pleased to see she's back in the fray. Congrats to Ms. Black on winning her battle to have her work produced exactly as she wrote it. What she did takes courage.

What's the best way for us to support Millenia? I think that continuing to follow her blog and offering support is one way. Buying her soon-to-be published book is another. I'm going to do both.

Cheers,
Maia

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Everest or Bust

It's been an interesting season on the world's tallest moutain, where the climbing window is a scant month per year, people have to acclimatize for six weeks before they can take a crack at the hill, climbing costs can hit $100,000 USD, and controversy has raged this year.

I first became interested in all things Everest a few years ago after reading Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer's account of the 1996 disaster in which 8 people died in one day when a group of commercial climbers and guides got caught in a ferocious storm. In 1996, guided tours of the mountain were just starting to take hold, and critics later argued that the presence of unskilled climbers on the mountain that year - most notably socialite Sandy Pittman, a buddy of Martha Stewart's who yapped publicly about whipping up specialty coffee on her Dean and DeLuca coffeemaker at base camp - put other climbers at risk and contributed to the deaths of other climbers. The 1996 season became the deadliest on Everest's peak.

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the disaster with a record-setting season, including oldest man, first diabetic (sponsored by a pharmaceutical company) ,and first double amputee to scale the peak. In the last ten years, commercial expeditions have become commonplace and Everest is now strewn with garbage - one of the climbing expeditions this year gathered up 1300KG of litter from the mountain - and bodies. One of the latest additions to the graveyard in the sky is Brit David Sharp, a climber who was making a solo ascent without oxygen and was passed by by 40 climbers ascending the mountain. As far as we know, only 2 people tried to help him; Sherpa Dawa, who busted his ass trying to get Sharp down the hill, and double-amputee Mark Inglis, who gave Sharp oxygen but continued his summit.

This is not the first time an ailing climber has been left to die alone, so it's somewhat interesting that there has been so much discussion of it this year. The argument for this type of behaviour is pretty straightforward: in the "Dead Zone" of 26,000+ feet, conditions are so harsh that people, quite literally, start to die. Ailing climbers aren't helped down the mountain because it's almost impossible to move yourself at that altitude, let alone a 200 pound man who's suffering from hypoxia, can't get to his feet, and is hallucinating. Certainly, Rob Hall, who was by all accounts one of the best guides in the world, lost his life in 1996 when he refused to leave his almost dead client.

Those who know me, know that my university degree is in Criminology, I work in computers, but I really want to be a writer. (Confused much, Maia?) My degree wasn't a total loss, however, (even though it took me until I was almost 30 to pay back my loans, priced at a reasonable 10.5% interest rate); it helped me feed my long-term love affair with trying to understand society as a whole and people in particular, with a special interest in deviant behaviour. History is full of pundits who have tried to explain humanity's many foibles, most notably Sigmund "I Like Your Cigar" Freud. I learned about most of them in school, but isn't writing - and reading - a way for all of us to try to figure out how life really works, why we do the crazy things we do, why a sock left on the floor by your partner almost makes you stroke out, why your friends sleep with horribly unsuitable people? I think it is.

And I think a good argument can be made that spending half of your life in the clouds is a little bit deviant. The truth is, I find the mindset of mountain climbers to be absolutely fascinating. They're driven, solitary and deliberately expose themselves to horrendous conditions, (I like to sleep until noon). What on earth compels people to risk bodyparts to frostbite, relationships to distance, their very life to a mountain?

I'd love to find out, really, and right now I have the most overwhelming desire to research and write a novel about a mountaineer who takes on Everest. Think about it - it would have everything: Conflict! Hardship! Coffee!

Unfortunately, 3 things stand in the way of me writing my sure-to-oversell-the-Da-Vinci-Code novel:

1) I hate the cold. Seriously. Can't stand it.
2) I hate camping. John and I camp out once a year in August and I start dreading it right about now. Luckily, I'm not going this year. (Ha!)
3) I don't like mountain climbing. When I was at Whistler last year, I hiked over the top of a crest to see if the hill beside me was any easier than the one I was headed down. 2 things I learned: at Whistler, when they say black diamond hill they bloody well mean it, and hiking at a 8,000 feet is torture. BHJ said I was actually blue by the time I got back to him. I love the mountains, and I love to ski, but my piddly thirty foot hike was enough to convince me to keep my perambulations at sea level.

Since it's - sadly - unlikely that my book will come to fruition, I'd suggest checking out an excerpt of Jon Krakauer's excellent Into Thin Air. I'm quite a fan of him and his no-nonsense writing.

Sir Edmund Hillary (who was the first to scale Everest in 1953 with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay) blasted the 40 climbers who passed by the ailing Sharp on their way to the top, most notably double-amputee Mark Inglis, fueling a lot of international bickering about high altitute right-and-wrong. Days later, however, an extraordinary rescue effort was launched to save the life of another climber, Lincoln Hall, who, despite being declared dead the night before, was later found alive, carried to safety by 17 climbers and sherpas over a 30+ hour ordeal that used up 36 bottles of oxygen. Since that much activity at that altitude means that a crack at the summit will have to wait until next year, none of the rescuers made the peak. I suspect that the (non fiction) book deals are being made for that story as I type, and I, for one, plan on reading at least one.

Maybe I'll figure all this out yet.

Cheers,
Maia