This week I am hosting a guest blogger as part of the blog tour that has been going around. It is my first time ever. I’m pretty excited about it! Devyani Saltzman, author of Shooting Water, to whom I’d passed the baton last week, answers four questions about writing and speaks of her transition from literary nonfiction to fiction.
I had the pleasure of meeting Ayelet at the National Festival Director’s social at Harbourfront Centre. The night was winding down and a group of wonderful writers, including Ayelet, Martha Baillie and Alissa York, shared a beer and caught up. Since we’ve met, I’ve been looking forward to reading her collection The Best Place on Earth.
What am I working on?
I’m working on my first novel, currently entitled Army of Peace. It’s been a big transition for me, coming from literary nonfiction (Shooting Water, a memoir) and journalism. That said, it’s the form I’ve been the most drawn to. As Ayelet echoed in her post, “writing a novel requires a lack of control I find terrifying. It’s just so big and uncontainable.” I feel the same way, and I think because of this the novel draws on a real political group, and historical idea, which gives me a framework to work within. The novel is based on a group of individuals I’ve been fascinated by for a long time, civilian peacekeepers, and an idea I’ve been equally fascinated by, nonviolence. The narrative follows a strong female protagonist on a delegation to the subcontinent, with the history of pacifism (from Gandhi to the Quakers) woven into the story.
I wrote the first draft while programming the literary portion of the Luminato Festival in Toronto. In a way programming is the perfect counterpoint for me (it’s my teaching gig), and it provides a way of having a finger on the pulse of contemporary writing globally whilst doing my own work. I also review for the Globe and the Post. The reviews have actually kept me sane during the marathon process of the novel. I never thought I’d touch the dreaded arena of criticism, but I actual find the thousand-word sprints of review writing refreshing, challenging, and instantly rewarding. It’s an important art form, and reading and thinking about the work of others has only helped me hone my own work as a writer.
Ayelet mentioned E.L. Doctorow’s quote “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
I’ll add another one to our virtual conversation. I think Stephen King said writing is like crossing the Atlantic alone in a bathtub. That’s the image I think of when I’m stuck in the process and need a good laugh.
How does my work differ from other work in its genre?
I’d like to think my nonfiction, and now fiction, as just good story, but I know they are of course informed by my background. Specifically being born into two very different cultures, Indian (my mother’s family is from the Punjab) and Jewish (my father’s family are Russian Jews who immigrated to Canada in the 19th and early 20th century). The characters in Shooting Water, and now the novel, are on some level searching for personal/internal reconciliation within a global space. They are not hemmed in by nationality or religion, and in that sense they are also seeking their own sense of global citizenship.
Why do I write what I do?
Because I love reading work which balances the political and personal. Because I love reading novels where I learn. Because, as Michael Ondaatje said, it helps me clarify myself. Because books are the only world I ever wanted to play in (although at one point I thought I could escape that and become a geneticist…it didn’t last)
How does my writing process work?
Discipline. Discipline. Discipline.
I can’t function without structure. Five years at the festival meant that I kept a regular work day. Programming meetings, coffee breaks, commuting. I need that same structure to write. I wake up in the morning and head to work. That involves a quick coffee and a stroll down to the office (one of three coffee shops). I sit down at the ‘desk’ at nine and start my day. I usually write (or revise) from 9-1pm. Then I take a quick lunch break and then do a few more hours. My freelance work happens in the afternoon, but the morning is pure book. I try to swim three times a week and see friends in the evenings so I don’t feel like I’m going crazy.
The hardest, and most essential thing for me during the process of the novel, is setting my own deadlines. It’s easy for me to deliver on journalism/reviews, even the first book, but with fiction I feel I can endlessly tinker, and need to create deadlines (even if false) to ensure progress. i.e. It must go to one my core readers on a a specific date. I’ll revise a specific number of pages a day etc. I need to create that forward momentum in order to function.
Please feel free to check out my website or Twitter if you want any more info.
Next week two more writers will be posting on their blogs: Padma Viswanathan (her most recent book is The Ever After of Ashwin Rao) and Martha Baillie, whose new book is coming out in the fall.
Don’t forget to check out some of the other authors who contributed to this blog tour.
Angie Abdou * Kathy Para* Theodora Armstrong * Eufemia Fanetti * Janie Chang * Lorna Suzuki * Barbara Lambert * Matilda Magtree * Alice Zorn * Anita Lahey * Pearl Pirie * Julie Paul *Sarah Mian * Steve McOrmond * Susan Gillis * Jason Heroux
At the Vancouver Writers’ Fest with Theodora Armstrong
Theodora Armstrong, author of the wonderful short story collection Clear Skies, No Wind, 100% Visibility (which was nominated for the BC Book Prize) asked me to participate in a blog tour, and answer some questions about my writing and process. I’ve been a rotten blogger recently so I figured it would be a chance to post something new. (I have, however, been writing new material, which I am very excited about!)
I met Theo at the Vancouver’s Writers Fest and we bonded over being short story writers (our collections were released within days of each other’s), photographers, and mothers. You can read Theo’s contribution on Janie Chang’s blog (who kindly hosted a blogless Theo) and you should also visit her website, and read her book!
What am I working on?
I’m working on a memoir and a novel, because I like to mix it up. Right now, I’m putting more energy toward the memoir because it is closer to being finished, which is a good thing considering I started it in 2007 (though I haven’t been working on it steadily). An earlier version of the memoir was shortlisted for the 1st Book Competition in 2010 (back then it was called You and What Army.) Despite how disappointed I was at the time, I’m glad it didn’t win. It was not ready. The memoir deals with similar themes to my short story collection, The Best Place on Earth: transience, home, identity and belonging. It is a coming-of-age story that follows my journey from growing up in a suburb of Tel Aviv to a large Yemeni family, through my turbulent service in the Israeli army, and my years of backpacking and travelling. If you’d like a sneak peek, you can read “Yemeni Soup and Other Recipes” here (it won a National Magazine Award and a Western Magazine Award last year!). Also, two pieces from the memoir are forthcoming with The New Quarterly’s summer issue.
I’m also working on a novel about the Yemeni community in Israel. It’s still pretty raw and I find the process intimidating and difficult. Writing a novel requires a lack of control I find terrifying. It’s just so big and uncontainable. I used to think that I write shorts partly because I have commitment issues; it mirrored other aspects of my life. I’m a different person now and I’ve learned to commit to things and people and places, but I still find writing a novel daunting. Theodora spoke eloquently about how difficult she finds the transition from the short form to the long form in her blog post. I try to just write, put words on paper, and remember this wonderful quote by E.L. Doctorow: ‘Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’
Also, I still write short fiction here and there because I love short fiction and I don’t plan to ever stop.
How does my work differ from other work in its genre?
I write stories that are set mostly in Israel, against a backdrop of conflict and army service. I write about Mizrahi characters, particularly of Yemeni Jewish heritage, which are rarely depicted in literature. Then there’s the fact that I write in my second language, while still being largely influenced and informed by my first language. I feel that I am a Canadian writer, because this is where I grew as a writer and where I write, but my writing doesn’t fit the Canadian lit stereotype (whatever that means). I think my cultural heritage and where I’m from is evident in more than my themes and content. It’s in my style, even my word choice. I talk more about that in this essay I wrote for Event’s Notes on Writing issue.
Why do I write what I do?
Because when I tried to write other things that were safer, less scary, less likely to get me in trouble, I failed. Because I grew up not finding characters like me and stories like my family’s in the books I read. Because you write the book you want to read (Toni Morrison said it, not me). Because I don’t know that I have a choice.
How does my writing process work?
It’s a bit of a mystery, really. I work on a computer. Except for when I am really stuck with something (a sentence, an image, a paragraph) and then I move it to paper and try to loosen it up a bit. I’ve been known to walk around in my neighbourhood with a notebook and write while walking when I really need to loosen things up. I feel like movement helps. When I am in the generative stage I try to just write, not think or edit as I go along, and leave all that for the editing process. It’s not always easy—the critic/editor in me wants to weigh in; she can be a bit of a jerk—but I resist the urge.
I spent 15 years working physical jobs like waitressing and cleaning houses, so despite growing up a lazy kid, I’ve taught myself to be a hard worker. I apply these ethics to writing. I try to write every day, but sometimes I don’t, because I have a baby and there are other things to get done. Having a baby changed my writing practice drastically (and everything else in my life!), which was to be expected. Before I wrote almost every morning, then took a break for lunch, exercise, errands, and in the afternoons, if I was still in the zone, I’d go on writing, or if not, I’d start editing. Toward the end of a manuscript I’d be at it all day, locked in my room, eating in front of the computer, stopping just a little past the point of becoming delirious (which I don’t recommend).
When Sean went back to work after his paternity leave and I couldn’t write I was losing my shit. Turns out I need to write to be happy. So I got help a couple of times a week. I also rented a space in a shared-workspace and I go there and write for a few hours. I love it; there are no distractions and since it costs me money to have those quiet hours I don’t waste time on facebook. I write with a new urgency I hadn’t felt before.
Next week, two other wonderful writers will be posting their answers on the next leg of the tour:
I first met the lovely Angie Abdou in the Real Vancouver Writers Reading Series—we were the two out-of-towners. Then, we hung out in the Victoria Writers Festival. Angie’s new book, Between, is coming out this fall and I cannot wait to read it!
I met Devyani Saltzman just recently in a Toronto literary event, and have since got together to talk shop over coffee. But I have been familiar with her work for a long time. I loved her memoir, Shooting Water, and have been teaching her creative nonfiction piece, “Amma,” in my CNF classes. Devyani is currently working on a novel.
Don’t forget to check out some of the other authors who contributed to this blog tour.
Kathy Para* Theodora Armstrong * Eufemia Fanetti * Kathy Page * Janie Chang * Lorna Suzuki * Barbara Lambert * Matilda Magtree * Alice Zorn * Anita Lahey * Pearl Pirie * Julie Paul *Sarah Mian * Steve McOrmond * Susan Gillis * Jason Heroux
Remember when I used to blog? What happened to that? Oh, right. I had a baby. And I work. And I write. Well, sometimes I do, though this past month has been all about grant applications and mentoring other writers (which is also great). June 15th is my day to get back to writing and I cannot wait!
I do have several pieces of wonderful news to share:
1) The Best Place on Earth is going to be published in Italian! The publisher is Nuova Editrice Berti, and they make beautiful books. Sono eccitato!
2) I (finally) signed with a literary agency! Inkwell Management is one of the world’s leading literary agencies and I’m thrilled to be working with them. I got to meet Kimberly Witherspoon and David Forrer at their Fifth Avenue office when I was in New York for my New America Fund event. I’m proud that I signed my first book deal on my own, but I think I’m ready for an agency to take over.
3) I have two pieces of creative non-fiction forthcoming with The New Quarterly, “Soldiers,” and “Learning to Stand Still.” Both pieces are from my memoir. I love The New Quarterly and am pleased to be included in their war-themed issue.
My beautiful new writing space
4) I gave up my office for Baby recently. I wasn’t too happy about it, but then Sean created an amazing writing space for me upstairs, in this little nook in the living room. He even made a barrier in the form of a large bookshelf so the room is now divided into two. I love my new office! I have a view of the street and a breeze and it’s beautiful. Sean is awesome.
5) Not my news but extremely exciting: my dear friend Eufemia Fantetti is runner-up for the Danuta Gleed award for her book Recipe for Disaster and Other Unlikely Tales of Love! I couldn’t be more proud! Her book is beautifully written and darkly funny and you should all read it. Do it.
Oh, and summer is here! It’s hot and sunny and I got new dresses and cute sandals and my Mediterranean blood is happy. Sometimes I pretend that the lake is a sea, and that the water is warm and salty, and then I’m really really happy. (Read more about my love of the sea, my brief belly-dancing stint and why I write detailed sex scenes in this interview on author Lauren Carter’s blog).
My writer-in-residence office at Crescent School
It’s a busy busy time. Sean went to work full time, which means I have to juggle momming and writing and teaching and promoting. It’s been crazy. So here’s a quick recap of some new and exciting things that are happening. I am now (and for the next three weeks) the writer in residence at Crescent School in Toronto, working with high school students on their independent study projects for their Writers’ Craft class. The students are wonderful, and I have a little office with some view where I write with no interruptions. It’s pretty great.
My event at the New America Foundation in New York City was wonderful. The conversation with Lisa Goldman and Sigal Samuel, and the Q & A that followed was inspiring and illuminating. You can listen to the podcast here.
I’m reading at Draft reading series on April 27th, as part of National Poetry Month. No, I’m not reading any poetry. But I will be reading something new, which is exciting and a bit nerve racking. The reading is at 3:00pm in The Black Swan Tavern, 154 Danforth Ave, Toronto.
Finally, I was interviewed in Hebrew for the first time, for Ynet! It is particularly exciting because now my mother can finally read one of my interviews. You can check out the story here.
I am thrilled to be doing an event
in New York City next week, on April 1st. The New America Foundation
(“a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy institute that invests in new thinkers and new ideas to address the next generation of challenges facing the United States”) invited me to talk about The Best Place on Earth
, Mizrahi identity and Israeli contemporary literature at their snazzy Soho location. I get to talk with two fiercely intelligent women, internationally-published and acclaimed journalist Lisa Goldman
who is the New America’s Israel-Palestine Initiative director (and whose blog
I used to follow when she was a Canadian living in Israel) and The Forward’s Editor and award-winning writer, Sigal Samuel
, who wrote this beautiful review
of The Best Place on Earth
on The Daily Beast
I love New York. I lived in Manhattan for a few months when I was twenty-two in a tiny bachelor apartment I shared with my best friend. I visited many times since (though it’s been a while). So I am excited about spending time there and catching up with old friends.
Here is a write-up about the event from The New America Foundation. The event is free but you need to RSVP here to reserve your spot.
Israeli contemporary literature has undergone a shift over the last decade. For decades its international reputation was dominated by men who were representative of Israel’s establishment, which was mostly of European descent — like Amos Oz and David Grossman.
But in recent years a new crop of authors have been translated into English, and they offer a much more cosmopolitan picture of Israeli society. Some prominent examples include Sayed Kashua, who writes in Hebrew from the perspective of a Palestinian Arab citizen of Israel. Dorit Rabinyan, whose writing is informed by her Persian roots. Sara Shilo, whose widely praised novel “The Falafel King is Dead” is set in an impoverished town on the Lebanese border that is populated primarily by Jews of North African descent. Haim Sabato, whose prize winning novels describe Israel through the eyes of a religious soldier from a Syrian family. And the Iraqi-born Sami Michael, who sets many of his novels in his native country.
Joining these diverse voices is Ayelet Tsabari, an Israeli woman of Yemenite descent who identifies as an Arab Jew. Last year she published her debut collection of short stories in English, titled “The Best Place on Earth.” Writing in English rather than her native Hebrew, Tsabari describes in vivid, confident, earthy prose an Israel and an Israeliness that are deeply recognizable to anyone who has lived there and knows Hebrew, but are all-but unknown abroad. Her mostly young, Mizrahi and secular characters live universal experiences of love, family and grief against a particularly Israeli backdrop that includes the sealed rooms and gas masks of the 1991 Gulf War, mandatory army service, the post-army trip to India that has become a rite of passage, and the wave of suicide bombings of 2001-2. Multicultural and sensual,Tsabari’s stories take the reader to the vibrant heart of contemporary Israeli society.
Join New America NYC for an evening of storytelling and conversation about evolving identities in Israeli society.
To RSVP (did I mention the Middle Eastern treats?) click here.
A year ago today! Signing books at Book City on the Danforth
How could it have been a year already? The Best Place on Earth is one year old today! I remember that this day last year was just as gloomy and miserable as today is. I remember feeling anxious and a little bit crazy and not as joyous as I had wanted to feel (that elated feeling came the following day, at my launch, which was hands down the best party I ever had) I remember that that morning I struggled to zip up my parka, which was starting to feel pretty tight on my hugely pregnant belly. I also remember driving across town to several Book City’s, signing books and taking pictures.
I didn’t get a chance to do a proper yearly recap this year to commemorate 2013. This has been the best year of my life and it has flown by so fast, as only the best years can. Obviously, the book has only been a part of it. 2013 is also the year I became a mother, a month after I published my first book. There’s that. Talk about a life-changing year!
But this post is for the book’s birthday. Baby’s birthday is going to be a big (and more private) event, which will bring on much celebration and reflection (which I may or may not blog about. But probably not.)
So here are some book highlights from the year:
I travelled and toured in Vancouver, Victoria, Waterloo, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, and will be heading to do a reading in New York City in two weeks!
I appeared in 5 literary festivals around the country, Spur and Luminato in Toronto, Wild Writers Festival in Waterloo, The Vancouver Writers’ Fest (a dream come true for me), and The Victoria Writers Festival, which was another highlight.
The Best Place on Earth was long listed to an award (The Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award)
I was named one of ten Canadian writers to watch by CBC!
I worked on a video book trailer with my friend Elsin Davidi, which was so much fun to do (and I love the result.)
Book Lovers Ball
I was interviewed for CBC’s The Next Chapter! And apparently did not sound like a complete fool!
I attended the Book Lover’s Ball in Toronto (in a fancy gown and everything)
There were so many thoughtful and generous reviews for The Best Place on Earth. I especially loved this review in The Vancouver Sun, this recent one in The Ottawa Jewish Bulletin, and in the blogosphere, these two reviews, by Book Club in a Box and The Daily Beast, nearly made me cry. (I also loved Buried in Print‘s take on the book).
I was interviewed by many bloggers and magazines. My favourites would be this one for Cwila, and this one by Trevor Corkum of Currently Living. (And this one, “The Dirty Dozen” by Open Book Toronto, was kind of fun, too.)
The Best Place on Earth made it on a few lists: Book Club in a Box included it on their Summer Must-Reads (along with other great titles!), 49th Shelf included The Best Place on Earth on their list celebrating great works by immigrant writers, and it was also on Schema Magazine Annie’s Picks: New Ethnic Books to Read in 2013
Other exciting things that happened this year:
I was a guest editor for The National Post’s Afterword
My Creative Nonfiction story, “Yemeni Soup and Other Recipes,” won a National Magazine Award and a Western Magazine Award
British Stylist Magazine asked me to write them a Christmas story (I got my cousin in Britain to mail me a few copies).
I published an essay about writing, “How to Make a Cream Sauce,” in Event’s wonderful annual Notes on Writing issue
I had a CNF story about my father, “Unravel the Tangle,” published in Room
I spoke in front of a class of high school students and an auditorium of 200 (!) elementary school students
I read as part of The Toronto Public Library’s Eh List Series
Signing books at the Vancouver Writers’ Fest bookstore. When I came by on the last day, I discovered the books were sold out!
On a personal note:
My mother came to spend time with Baby and me in Toronto (only the second time she’s visited me in Canada)
I travelled to Israel for two months to introduce Baby to her extended family and my friends
I said goodbye to my childhood home and helped my mother pack and move to her new, temporary apartment.
I made many new writer friends in the festivals I attended.
I did writing workshops and taught creative writing classes in Guelph, Toronto, Vancouver, and Jerusalem
I was on the jury for the Toronto Arts Council Writers grant (it was an illuminating experience)
I didn’t write (or read) as much as I would have liked
I discovered how little sleep I actually need to function
My mom, making jichnoon in my Toronto kitchen!
I say it was the best year of my life, and it was, but it was also challenging and at times, crazy making. I guess it is to be expected, considering I spent the year figuring out the ropes of new motherhood while also being public as an author (which are two almost opposing forces) and that I had to work and support my family while Sean was on paternity leave, and do all of this on so little sleep and while my body was changing and my hormones were raging. I feel so grateful for everything that happened this year. And I feel ridiculously lucky to have people read the book and grateful to the many readers who came to my events, wrote reviews, emailed me or spoke with me about my work.
As far as resolutions: I am hoping to write more and read more this year. So far I’m doing relatively well on both fronts. I have an exciting reading project for 2014, and I’ve been working on-and-off on both my novel and my memoir in stories. Also, spring is coming any day now. I can’t wait!
Only a month (and a week) late! I finally got around to go through some of the photos from my events with the New Israel Fund of Canada
in February. It was a pleasure to tour with the NIFCAN
, and to speak in those different cities. The event in Toronto was at the Gladstone Hotel, and I was interviewed by Gabe Gonda of the Globe and Mail
who asked some tough questions, including one that started with, “So there’s a lot of sex in the book,” (to which I replied with, “Yes. Yes, there is.”) It was a great evening. Two mothers from my mothers’ group came too, and I loved seeing them in a different setting. No babies and drinks in hand!
In Montreal, I was lucky to have the event in La Sala Rossa, a great music venue some of my musician friends have performed in and raved about, and to be interviewed by the lovely Tamara Kramer, who is the wild mind behind Shtetl Montreal (both the radio show and the magazine). I loved her questions and her energy, and the audience was responsive and fun. I also got to see some of my dear Montreal friends, visit with my brother and his family, hang out with the lovely Saleema Nawaz, and reconnect with an old friend I hadn’t seen in over a decade! I even made a new friend, singer/songwriter Orit Shimoni, who also moved to Canada from Israel a few years ago. We have already collaborated on her project, “Let’s Get Persecuted,” (after her new song by that same name). You can read my story for this project on her site.
In Ottawa I was interviewed by an open-minded and progressive Rabbi Steven Garten who actually liked my book (despite the sex)! Imagine my surprise and delight. I’ve only been to Ottawa once before, many many years ago, for a night of debauchery and partying (and everyone says Ottawa is boring!) I don’t know anyone in Ottawa so it was nice when one of my Twitter buddies, Kaarina Stiff, showed up and introduced herself.
I am grateful to The New Israel Fund of Canada for taking me and my book on this tour, and to Atarah Derrick, who pretty much dreamed up this whole thing, and who was a joy to travel and work with.
The Toronto photos were taken by Mark Tennenhouse. The Montreal photos were taken by Leslie Schachter.
Next: New York City! The New America Foundation is flying me to the big city for an event on April 1st. I’m thrilled! More details soon.
My dear friend, Marie, in Montreal
Atarah from The New Israel Fund in Montreal
With Tamara Kramer
With Gabe Gonda in Toronto
With Gabe Gonda in the Toronto Event
At the Gladstone in Toronto
With Gabe Gonda
With Rabbi Steven Garten
The Raw Sugar Cafe in Ottawa
With Atarah in The Raw Sugar Cafe in Ottawa
In our hotel in Ottawa
Signing books after the Ottawa event
On the train back to Toronto
On the train back to Toronto
On the train back to Toronto
The train station in Ottawa. Brrrrr!
A wonderful, well-written review
of The Best Place on Earth
appeared in The Ottawa Jewish Bulletin
. Reviewer Mira Sucharov calls the book “Smart, sexy and absorbing.” Sucahrov also says, “I didn’t want to put down The Best Place on Earth
… but I frequently did. I wanted to savour each story, willing the book not to end. Though, when I did sometimes read straight from one story to the next, I realized how flawless is Tsabari’s ability to introduce us to a new set of characters with a new set of challenges. As soon as a new story has begun, the reader is entirely invested in it.”
Sucharov is is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Carleton University. She also blogs frequently for Haaretz and the Daily Beast.
Read the full review here.
I’m reading at the Wonderful Women Writers Series on February 27th, at 5:00pm with Elizabeth Ruth. The event is sponsored by the Centre for Women’s Studies in Education at OISE/University of Toronto and will be hosted by their current writer-in-residence, Dr. Nora Gold. The centre is (from their website) “committed to promoting, supporting, and enriching feminist work at OISE and UofT; and connecting scholarship, education, and activism through constructive and critical dialogues with feminist communities locally, nationally, and globally.” So it’s a great honour to be be invited to read at this series and to be paired with the lovely Elizabeth Ruth.
I’m also thrilled to be in an event hosted by Dr. Nora Gold. I met Nora last year at my event at Spur Festival and we clicked instantly. We since met for coffee and have been in touch via email. She is an award-winning writer whose novel, Fields of Exile, will be coming out in May 2014 and I can’t wait to read it. She is also the founder and editor of JewishFiction.net, an online literary journal dedicated to Jewish fiction. I’m really looking forward to a wonderful evening with some wonderful women writers!
Here’s a link to the Facebook event with more details.
My sister just called to tell me that the house is gone. My heart hurts.
Last week my mother and her partner moved to a new temporary home, leaving behind the house she had lived in for the past thirty years, the house my father had planned and built before he passed away. Sean, Baby and I moved with them, at least for the next few days before going back to Canada.
I wrote the following post in December, when the idea that the house would soon be torn down didn’t fully sink in. Then I got busy—packing, cleaning, teaching workshops, visiting friends and family—and I never got around to publishing this. Now, one day before the house’s final moment (and two days before our flight back to Toronto), I read the post in the brand new apartment we all moved to and find that I lamented mostly about the loss of our books. Maybe it was easier than thinking about losing my childhood home.
Reading it now, it is the present tense that breaks my heart.
I’m posting it as is.
I was seven years old when my parents started building their dream home. At the time, my family —father, mother and six children—was living in a cramped three-bedroom apartment in downtown Petah Tikva, thirteen kilometres east of Tel Aviv. My father was thrilled when he found cheap land in Mahane Yehuda, where he was born and lived until he was ten. The neighbourhood was a village once, a jumble of sheds and small stone houses, founded by Yemeni immigrants in 1913. Later, the city expanded around the village, swallowing it whole.
During the year it was being built my dad took us to the house every Saturday and we walked around the skeleton of it—all concrete and brick and poking metal wires—and imagined it alive. I still remember it new, the smell of fresh paint and sawdust and earth, the sheen on the tile floors, the promise of possibilities. It was a large, split-level house linked by many staircases, with six bedrooms, three and a half bathrooms, and even a shower in the garage. The shower was a grand gesture from my father to my mother, the clean freak, installed especially for when we came back from the beach on Saturdays, so that we wouldn’t drag sand all over my mother’s new floors. From our rooftop we could see palm trees poking from between the smoky city roofs, hazy hills in the distance. And in the back, the eight olive trees my father had planted—one for each member of the family. An ancient lemon tree stood at the edge of the lot, the house built conveniently next to it so my mother was able to reach outside her kitchen window on the second floor, and pluck lemons off the branches. After years of sharing small living quarters, we were intoxicated by the spaciousness. The house felt vast, endless, filled with cozy nooks and secret places, and when my cousins and I played hide and seek they would run up and down the stairs until they were out of breath and they still couldn’t find me.
My father enjoyed the house he had built for less than a year before he suffered a heart attack. He was ill for a few months, and for a while there was talk of installing a special elevator. A contractor came by and drew marks on the wall where the elevator would start. My father passed away before it was set up.
Our heights etched into the doorframe
In the thirty years since it was built, the house has slowly deteriorated. My mother struggled to maintain it while trying to raise her six children. What once seemed like a luxurious mansion is now a drafty, derelict concrete monster. The wooden shutters are crooked and missing slats, windows are wedged in their tracks, the paint is peeling and the walls are cracked, swollen with moisture. Half the outlets hang by a thread, the electric wires exposed. The front yard is strewn with weeds and wild life has been slowly migrating indoors: cockroaches and ants and mice. Pigeons coo on window sills and crows crowd the roof. In the yard, stray cats laze in sunshine and porcupines hide in bushes. Once, my mother found a snake in the kitchen. My brother killed it with an ornamental sword while standing on a chair. The house has been becoming less and less hospitable every time I visit. Last week, during one of the worst storms we had in years, Sean and I sat huddled by an electric heater dressed in coats and could still see our breath. We woke up to puddles in the living room and had to place three buckets in my childhood room, which quickly filled to the brim. The next morning, as I was snuggling my baby who was having her first cold during the storm, we woke up to water dripping into her crib.
“Maybe,” I told my mother. “It’s nature’s way of helping us let go of the house. So by the time they tear it down you’d be thinking Good Riddance.”
“Maybe,” my mom said.
The view from the roof
They’ve been talking about tearing the house down for so long that it has become a myth. For the past few years, every time I came to stay it was the last time. But this time it’s really happening. Next month, the house will be bulldozed and an apartment building will be built on its ruins, where my mom and her husband will gracefully retire. It’s the right thing to do, obviously. We all know it. Accept it. But it doesn’t make it any easier. An act so violent, so final. An erasure of our past.
I volunteered to tackle the books. There were hoards of them. This was a house of eight avid readers, collectors and compulsive gifters of books (many were inscribed from one family member to another), shoppers at used bookstores, forgetful borrowers. After we left home, my mother and her husband collected the remaining books and created a library of floor-to-ceilings bookshelves in one of my brothers’ rooms. But there is no space for so them in my mother’s new apartment. The library had to be dismantled and given away, destroyed, much like the house. I started by dividing the books into ones I thought my siblings would want to look at first and the ones I figured we can let go of. Nissim, my mother’s husband who works in the flea market in Jaffa, said he’d take them to his bookseller friend. I started packing them into boxes but it was taking forever and was heavy to transport, and so Nissim came up with a better idea. He’ll open the back of his work truck and toss the books from the second floor window straight into it. I didn’t like the idea much. Like the demolition, it felt too harsh, too disrespectful. But there was so much more work to be done and I had no help and I was tired and so I agreed.
Then, over one of our last Friday dinners at the house, my brother accused me of throwing away books he had wanted to keep. Books that meant something. How could you know which books mattered to me? He said. These were my childhood memories. I felt horribly guilty, even after my mother assured me that she’s been telling my siblings they had to deal with the books for months now. That they all knew that that she’d be getting rid of them, and that everyone is just being emotional and sensitive right now. I continued to feel guilty even after my brother forgot all about it. When I asked Nissim if I could track the books down, he said they are all gone by now. “He only keeps them for a few days and then he throws them in the garbage.” My heart broke. I wouldn’t have done it if I knew, I told Sean. I thought I was passing them on to a book aficionado, giving them new life. I can’t shake the feeling that I committed some crime against books, and even worse, like I had a part in the process of erasing and bulldozing my siblings’ memories. These pictures I took when I could have still saved the books take on a new meaning now. (Of course, many of the books featured here I did save. They were my favourites).
Don’t worry, I kept those. From left: José Saramago, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, George Orwell’s 1984, and Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye.
Oh, how I loved this book! Anne of Green Gables.
Unreturned library books
Alice in Wonderland (also taken from the library)
In the back of Nissim’s truck
Poetry by Rabindranath Tagore
Copies of my father’s poetry book
Exciting news! I’m going on another mini-tour on the first week of February. I will be reading from The Best Place on Earth
and speaking about my experience as an Israeli of Yemeni descent and about writing Mizrahi stories. There will also be some time for a Q & A and books for sale. Oh, and did I mention that it will take place in licensed venues? So you can have a glass of wine and a snack with it?
The event is called “Say it Again, Say Something else,” after one of the stories in the book. New Israel Fund of Canada, (a non-profit organization committed to equality of social and political rights in Israel, without regard to religion, race, gender or national identity), is putting up the events and I’m honoured to be working with them. I also love that in their email announcement of the event they quoted this from my recent post about Why I Choose to Only Read Writers of Colour in 2014, “In writing The Best Place on Earth, I was trying to rectify the experience I had as a child growing up in Israel and reading books that didn’t include characters like me. There was never a Yemeni girl in the books I read and loved and so I ended up feeling invisible…”
The first event is in Toronto on Sunday, February 2, 7:30pm at the Gladstone hotel (1214 Queen Street West.) It will feature a conversation with The Globe and Mail arts editor Gabe Gonda.
I’ll be in Montreal on Wednesday, February 5, 7:30 PM, at La Sala Rossa, 4848 boul. Saint-Laurent. Tamara Kramer, Creator and Host of the radio show Shtetl on the Shortwave & Editor of Shtetl Magazine, will be interviewing me.
And finally, I’m in Ottawa on Thursday, February 6, 7:30PM, at the Raw Sugar Cafe, 692 Somerset St W.
The events are free but you have to reserve your spot here.
In other news, there are still a couple spots left in my writing workshops in Israel—“The Lyric Essay, The Beautiful Wild Child of CNF”, on January 20 in Jerusalem, and “Wish You Were Here: Writing about Place” on January 23rd in Moshav Beit Zayit. They are running out fast! Check here for more information and registration.
2014 started with a new (true) story published in Little Fiction’s new sibling, Big Truths! I’m so pleased to be a part of this great little literary magazine. And this particular story is close to my heart… Read Running on Blueberries here.
Oh, and I’m already on book #4 on my reading pledge this year (which I speak about in this post, Why I Choose to Only Read Writers of Colour in 2014). You can check the books I’m reading and follow my progress on Goodreads!
I’m excited to be doing two writing workshops in Israel this month! As a Hebrew-speaking Israeli writer who writes in English I’m in a unique position. I still feel strongly and deeply connected to my Israeli identity, but I don’t really belong in the Israeli literary community. I’ve learned to accept it, and realized that I can be Israeli first and still be a Canadian writer, but a part of me—reminiscent of the young girl who grew up in Israel, wrote in Hebrew and dreamt of publishing a book— longs to be accepted in my country of birth.
Since The Best Place in Earth was published, I’ve been connecting with Israel’s English writing community and I’m amazed by how vibrant and dynamic and diverse it is. There’s an even an MA in Creative Writing in English in Bar-llan university, and bookstores like Tmol Shilshom in Jerusalem and Sipur Pashut in Tel Aviv regularly hold readings and other literary events in English. So I was thrilled to be invited to run these workshops (one of them put up by Bar Ilan), even if it means I don’t get to have a real vacation while I’m in Israel. (Who am I kidding? This was never going to be a real vacation. There’s always more research to be done, and this time, I’m helping my mother move too, which is a story for another post. Also, baby.) I should also mention the beautiful, inspiring locations. The first workshop (Finding the Creative in Creative Nonfiction) is at Stern House, a villa opposite the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, and the second one (Writing about Place) is in The Writing Pad in the beautiful Moshav Beit Zayit near Jerusalem.
If you have writer friends in Israel who write in English, please tell them about these opportunities!
The Lyric Essay, The Beautiful Wild Child of Creative Nonfiction: Possibilities of Form in Creative Nonfiction
Jerusalem Winter Seminar: Monday, January 20, 2014, 9:00-4:00pm
“Essays can do everything a poem can do, and everything a short story can do—everything but fake it.”
“Pay attention not to the matter, but to the shape I give to it.”
Shaping your story is one of the greatest challenges for the creative nonfiction writer. While applying fictional techniques may enhance your prose, imposing a traditional narrative structure on true stories may feel artificial and forced. Our lives do not follow a straightforward narrative arc and memory doesn’t provide a structured plot: it goes on tangents and takes shape in fragments. This seminar will introduce the aspiring writer to the different forms, subgenres, and possibilities in creative nonfiction, and broaden their understanding of the genre. We will explore different framing devices that depart from the traditional, linear structure such as lyric essays, braided essays, and collage essays, and read CNF pieces that experiment with voice, point of view, and tense. Through guided exercises and class discussion we will discover new ways to tell our stories and think about structure, voice and form, while retaining a sense of joy and freedom in our craft.
Alphabet Autobiographica – Eufemia Fantetti
Nine Days – Suzanne LaFetra
A Braided Heart: Shaping the Lyric Essay- Brenda Miller
Excerpts from essays by authors such as Mary Karr, David Shields, Mimi Schwartz, Sarah Turner and others may also be used in class discussion.
The seminar will take place in The Stern House, 34 Tura Street, Yemin Moshe, Jerusalem (not to be confused with the Stern House in Mamilla) from 9:00-16:00 (with a 1.5 hour break for lunch). Minimum registration is 10 participants with an absolute maximum of 18 (on a first come, first served basis). Registration is final only when your check has arrived at Bar-Ilan University.
The cost of the Winter Seminar is NIS 475, There is a 5% discount if you mail your check by Thursday January 9th, and a 10% discount only for students and graduates of the Shaindy Rudoff Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Bar-Ilan University (only one discount can apply). The cost includes pdf files of novel excerpts, hand-outs during the seminar, coffee/tea and snacks all day, as well as use of the fridge at the Stern House in Yemin Moshe, where the seminar will take place. The fee does not include lunch – you can bring a packed lunch or patronize one of the restaurants within a five-minute walk.
All checks must be made out to Bar-Ilan University. Make sure your Israeli ID appears on the check. If you do not have an Israeli ID, write the passport number and country of whoever is signing the check. If you want to pay in US dollars or English pounds, convert the shekel amount at www.xe.com.
Together with the checks please attach a clearly printed note with the following information:
full name, address, phone numbers, email address and which seminar/s you wish to attend.
Nadia Jacobson, Coordinator (Winter Seminar 2014)
Shaindy Rudoff Graduate Program in Creative Writing
Department of English, Bldg. 404
5290002 Ramat Gan
Email Nadia Jacobson at firstname.lastname@example.org on the day you mail the check so she knows it’s on its way. Shortly after registration, you will receive pdf files of novel excerpts.
If you cancel before January 15, 2014, and we can fill your place, you forfeit a NIS 200 processing fee. If you cancel after January 15, 2014 and we cannot fill your slot, your entire registration is non-refundable.
Wish You Were Here: Writing about Place January 23, 2014, 9:00am-3:00pm, The Writing Pad, Moshav Beit Zayit, Israel
You couldn’t write a story that happened nowhere. ―Eudora Welty
Evoking a profound sense of “being there” in writing is one of the most important elements of prose. It is one way of immersing the reader in what John Gardner called “the fictional dream.” Mastery of place involves more than just using descriptive words. Vivid setting emerges as much from the character’s point of view, actions and voice as it does from imagery, sensory details, and figurative language.
Participants in this workshop will learn new techniques to approach writing about place. We will begin thinking about place as a potential character in stories and creative nonfiction. Drawing from examples by successful practitioners of the craft and through guided writing exercises, we will learn how to use setting as the basis for creating dramatic and engaging prose.
This workshop is designed for both fiction and creative nonfiction writers at all levels.
Each participant is asked to bring a writing sample of 1-3 pages, preferably one that engages with place in some way. Handouts will be distributed at the workshop.
For more information about The Writing Pad, and about the workshop go here.
When: Thursday, January 23, 9:00am-3:00pm
Where: This class will be held in a private home in Beit Zayit, between Jerusalem and Mevasseret. Directions upon registration.
Registration Fee: 390 NIS
To Register: Send an email to email@example.com that you want to attend and that your check is in the mail. The check should be made out to Judy Labensohn and sent to her at POB 15306, Moshav Beit Zayit, 9081500. You can also pay by bank transfer.
When I came across, “Why I Only Read Books by Women in 2013,” by Lilit Marcus
, I wished that I’d thought of it. The meme of listing ten books that made the most impact on us had just gone viral on Facebook and I was saddened by the number of lists dominated by white, male writers. When I wrote my own list on FB, I listed only books by women. Not because I wasn’t influenced by male writers. I was. Hugely. Chekov, and Garcia and Nabokov all blew my mind when I was growing up. But because everyone already listed them. And because I’m the kind of person who always—sometimes compulsively and annoyingly—seeks balance.
“But I don’t choose books by gender,” a Facebook friend wrote on her wall. And maybe she doesn’t, but many people do. Consciously or unconsciously. Or else why do male writers get nominated for, and win, more awards? Why do men still get reviewed more? Why do women writers still get asked questions male authors don’t, and get described in interviews in ways men writers never do? Why do we have Women’s fiction and Chick Lit but not Men’s Fiction and Dude Lit? (And please, let’s not talk about this guy any more. I can’t.)
I thought of VIDA and CWILA and their yearly counts, which often spring an offshoot discussion about the lack of writers of colour in reviews and magazines. And I remembered that the brilliant Madeleine Thien recently spoke about the underrepresentation of writers of colour in literary awards. And then, I thought I should dedicate 2014 to only reading writers of colour. And immediately dismissed it as a silly idea and went to bed.
But I kept thinking about it. When I woke up that night to feed my baby, I thought of books by writers of colour I can’t wait to read and got excited. In 2011, when I only read short story collections, I discovered many incredible writers I’d never heard of because I was always on the hunt for new collections, and I read more, simply because I made a public pledge to do so. It wasn’t a burden, but a blessing. I imagined this would be a similar experience; by imposing ‘restrictions’ on my reading list I would be reading more widely, not narrowly, the same way that writing under constraints may sometimes result in better writing. And I knew I’d have many great writers to choose from. Last year, Roxane Gay of The Rumpus had conveniently compiled a long list of writers of colour (a list in which I’m proud to be mentioned) in response to the argument that there are simply not enough writers of colour. That list would be a good place to start.
But the idea made me nervous. Unlike reading books of short stories, this choice felt political. And coming from Israel, politics tend to scare the shit out of me. I shouldn’t be choosing books by authors’ ethnicity, should I? It’s so arbitrary, so random. But then again, what’s wrong with that? People choose to read books because they’re on the Giller list, or on Canada Reads, or on the staff picks at their local bookstore. People choose books based on covers and blurbs and titles and gut feelings. So why not this?
But I was still hesitant. Ethnicity is a complicated thing, and identities can be layered and shifting and blurry. Where do I draw the line? What about writers of mixed heritage? Or writers of colour who write about white people, or choose (stubbornly!) not to write about their heritage? (I loved this article which speaks about the expectation from writers of colour to write about their heritage and their heritage only, or to write novels that—as a dear friend of mine, an Indian-Canadian writer, has put it—“have mango trees.”) And what about other minorities? LGBT writers? Writers from other cultures who aren’t ‘of colour’? And really, should we be even talking about race? It makes people so uncomfortable.
I often speak about how in writing The Best Place on Earth I was trying to rectify the experience I had as a child growing up in Israel and reading books that didn’t include characters like me. There was never a Yemeni girl in the books I read and loved and so I ended up feeling invisible, wishing I was white, wishing I was Ashkenazi. I never heard of a Yemeni writer growing up. My father, who had been a closet poet in his younger years, wrote a poem about it once in which he said, “A poet’s craft is an artist’s realm / not for you, son of Yemen.” Thirty years later, I grew up still feeling like I couldn’t possibly be writing Yemeni stories. Who’d want to publish them? Read them? In recent years, I discovered that there were actually a couple (two!) Yemeni Israeli writers out there—Dan Banaya Seri, Mordechai Tabib—who published books, stories, poetry, but I’d never heard about them, despite being an avid reader who read everything in sight, because their books weren’t taught in my school, weren’t reviewed in the papers, weren’t on the bestseller list, the recommended reading at the local bookstore. Like me, they were invisible.
In her speech at the literASIAN writers festival in Vancouver, Madeleine Thien said that the mainstream canon “decide the work that will be visible and the work that will remain invisible.” In the comment section in an article about her talk, published in The Georgia Straight, Thien clarified her position by saying this,
“My own personal feeling is that it’s not about race but about reading. That is, that our way of reading is narrowing down. Literary credit goes to those who work within a recognizable/identifiable branch of the canon, and who speak to something that has (perhaps) been already said. Sometimes, critics and jurors simply feel more comfortable when they recognize allusions, literary predecessors, historical context, etc. That’s human.
My experience has been that jurors expect writers of colour to write either folkloric or documentary type books. These books are not accorded the same kind of literary value. And if the writers are doing something different, or drawing from a different canon, the jurors don’t seem recognize it (or feel comfortable judging its value).
… Anyone can read deeply, and anyone can read narrowly.”
Then, in the days between writing this and posting it, Pasha Malla wrote about his own experience trying to balance the gender disparities in his reading choices, which led to a new discussion, one that questioned individualized solutions. Can revising our reading list and creating quotas truly make a difference? Perhaps not, but shouldn’t we at least try? Shouldn’t we start somewhere, albeit as small as our own bookshelves? And shouldn’t we—excuse my triteness— ‘be the change we want to see in the world’?
I’m choosing to spend the year reading only books by writers of colour, because I want to read more deeply. Because as a writer of colour who wants to be read I realize I should do my part, and become a reader, an audience. Because I’m interested in the world around me, and the stories these writers have to tell. Because last year saw a flurry of banned books in the US, many of them written by minority writers and deal with ethnicity. Because when I was suffering from a major writing block, trying and failing to fit my writing into what I thought the Canadian literature mainstream expected of me, my mentor Camilla Gibb suggested that I read books by writers from other cultures, and I discovered Edwidge Danticat, and Chimamanda Adichie Nguzi, and Daniyal Mueenuddin, and Junot Diaz, and Yiyun Li, and I was instantly cured. Because reading their stories made me feel like there was room for my writing in this world.
And because I think it’s going to be fun. Not so much a political statement but a personal one. I think it’s going to be a great year for reading. I can’t wait for it to start.
So there it is. My New Year’s resolution. What’s yours?
, based in the UK, asked me to write them a Christmas story
. I had four days, and I was flying across the world on the day it was due. But of course I said yes. Because apparently I work well under pressure, and because it seemed like an opportunity not to be missed. I’m in great company, too
. Authors Fay Weldon
, Naomi Wood
, Kate Griffin
, Chibundu Onuzo
and Jenny Colgan
all contributed a story. And Stylist
has a good track record with publishing short fiction: for their summer issue they had exclusive short stories
by (wait for it) Lionel Shriver, Emma Donoghue, and Aimee Bender (among others)! I hope to get a copy of the print issue, but for now you can read it online here
. I absolutely adore the illustration!
Granville Island, home to the Vancouver Writers’ Fest.
I’ve been waiting for the right time to write in great length about my amazing trip to Vancouver, describe my time at The Vancouver Writers’ Fest, which was as unforgettable and dreamy as I had hoped. I wanted to write about the panels and how well they went, the parties and late nights at the hospitality suite with my new talented friends (Saleema Nawaz, Theodora Armstrong, Angie Abdou, Shaena Lambert) and my dear old friends (Nancy Jo Cullen, Naz Hozar), the inspiring events that made me want to go home and write, write, write, how Thomson Highway renamed my book The Best Place to Nurse, and how my baby was made the official festival baby (apparently there’s one every year) and even Margaret Atwood said hi when we passed her in the hotel’s hallway. And how, on the very last day, I went to take a photo of The Best Place on Earth at the festival’s bookstore and found out it SOLD OUT! Which was so much better than a picture!
Signing books at the Vancouver Writers’ Fest bookstore
I also wanted to write about Place Identity, the reading slash Vancouver launch of The Best Place on Earth slash Cwila fundraiser, where I read with the amazing Renée Saklikar and Anakana Schofield, and shared the stage with host extraordinaire Elee Kraljii Gardiner and Cwila founder Gillian Jerome. It was an intimate and warm event and truly felt like a homecoming. I even got to hang out with my dear friends Janet Hong and Gurjinder Basran.
But before I had to chance to recap my two weeks on the coast (luckily, I covered my time in the Victoria Writers’ Festival in this post!) I was back in Ontario and spending a weekend in Waterloo, at the Wild Writers Festival. And there was so much to say about that, too, more inspiring panels, hanging out with old friends and making new friends. And then, a few days later I read as a part of The Eh List author series at the Toronto Library alongside Lily Poritz Miller, and it was a fabulous, well-attended event, and if was a better blogger I would have told you all about that too.
Now, we’re on our way to Israel. We’re leaving in two weeks. I hope to do some actual writing (!) while I’m away and it is beginning to feel like I’ll never find the time to blog about any of this, so I think I’m going to let the photos speak for themselves.
At the Random House party with Nancy Jo Cullen
With Priscila Uppal, and no, we have not planned it.
With my dear Naz Hozar
Vancouver Writers’ Fest participating authors.
With the lovely book seller.
Naz is kicking Joseph Boyden’s Butt
Before Out of Place, Panel discussion and reading With Xiaolu Guo, Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Rhea Tregebov
At Out of Place at the Vancouver Writers’ Fest, with the brilliant Xiaolu Guo and Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Reading from Tikkun at Out of Place at the Vancouver Writers’ Fest
I love booksellers
D.W. Wilson, who was on my Faces in the Conflict panel in Vancouver (along with Michael Winter and Kathy Para), gave me this great idea: he asked authors who read with him to sign his reading copy. I immediately stole that idea, and now my reading copy is awesome and full of dedications by authors I was lucky enough to share the stage with this fall. I love it!
With Anne Fleming who moderated Faces in the Conflict
Granville Island early morning fog.
Early Sunday morning in Waterloo
The lovely Leesa Dean at the Wild Writers Festival in Waterloo
With Elisabeth de Mariaffi (who I never see anymore since she moved to St. John’s) at the Wild Writers Festival in Waterloo
The lovely Elee Kraljii Gardiner hosting Place Identity
With Sheila Giffen from Cwila at Place Identity
On Wednesday, after my reading at the Toronto Public Library’s Author series, The Eh List
, two different audience members told me that The Best Place on Earth
had been their book club pick. “You should have invited me,”
I told one and she seemed surprised. “You would have come?” “Of course!” I said. There’s nothing more exciting for a writer than to have a conversation about their work with intelligent readers. I also found a mention of a book club in Winnipeg
that read The Best Place on Earth
over the summer (I am trying to manifest a trip to Winnipeg for a reading or a festival, because I’ve never been there and I hear such great things. Also, this review
Well, on November 25, I finally get to visit a book club, and it’s a good one! The Humber College Writing Centre, where I used to work when I first moved to Toronto, has a well attended and well advertized book club. I should know, because I was in charge of it once (our pick then was Camilla Gibb‘s Sweetness in the Belly!) It’s even more of a treat because we’re also having an apres-launch for Eufemia Fantetti‘s A Recipe for Disaster & Other Unlikely Tales of Love (which launched in Vancouver yesterday!) I am beyond thrilled. The event is open to all, just RVSP here. Refreshments will be provided!
The Jewish Independent
interviewed me for their cover story
! Their questions were insightful and interesting and I enjoyed answering them. The online version is posted here
I’m back in Ontario (more about my amazing time in Vancouver soon!) and thrilled to be taking part at the Wild Writers Festival in Waterloo this coming weekend. I’ll be doing two panels on Saturday, November 9. How Geography Defines the Writer, at 11:10 with Tamas Dobozy, Christine Pountney, and Donna Morrissey, and Writers at Risk, at 3:10 with Oakland Ross and Karen Connelly.
© Ayelet Tsabari
At the Regent Hotel
Ahhhh, Victoria. I adore this city. Probably because it is Sean’s hometown, where he was born and raised, and where his family still lives. And the mild weather and natural beauty sure don’t hurt. After a decade of regular visits, I now have my own history in the city, so when we drive its streets I spot my own landmarks and memories, see old versions of myself everywhere. For example, the first time Sean took me to meet his family for Christmas, he and I had lunch at Café Mexico downtown. I remember I still used a non-digital SLR and that I took a photo of the decorative bright blue shutters at the entrance of the place. But mostly I remember how sad I was that day, because I felt like I would never be a writer, that the dream had slipped away from me somehow. Perhaps, I had said to Sean as we sat there eating burritos or enchiladas, the high point of my writing career was already behind me—back in my days as a successful teen journalist. “I’m a has-been at thirty-one,” I said to him, only a little overly dramatic.
This morning, as I checked out of the snazzy Regent Hotel, where we stayed for two nights courtesy of the Victoria Writers Festival, I realized that Café Mexico was kitty corner from us. I took a moment to ponder the coincidence, and then made Sean drive by so I could take a photo and be reminded of how far I’ve come since.
With Wayde Compton
I spent the weekend at the Victoria Writers Festival and it was wonderful in every possible way. The weather was gorgeous, sunny and warm, and the beautiful hotel was right on the water, offering stunning views of the city and the inner harbour and the Johnson Street Bridge. And then, of course, there was the festival. As expected from the city it was casual, informal, intimate and charming. The first night I went to see my mentor, Wayde Compton, read a brilliant excerpt from a short story collection he’s been working on. I can’t begin to explain how much it meant to me to be in the same festival with Wayde and have him in the audience the following day.
With Saleema Nawaz
On Saturday I participated in two events. Sean’s family came to the first one, Love Familiar, and Sean wore Baby for most of it (she made the cutest sounds while I was on stage). I read with Dede Crane, Shaena Lambert and Matt Rader. They were all fantastic, and interesting, and inspiring, and the audience was engaged and asked a lot of questions. Afterwards, I signed books and spoke to a few kind readers. I also took part at “Stitch the Line”, an embroidery project by the lovely Diana Weymar, who sat at the make-shift book store and stitched participating authors’ book titles on a large banner. She also invited writers, audience members and volunteers to stitch a signature, design or text that addressed the question, “What role does memory play in reading?”
at Love Familiar, with Shaena Lambert, Dede Crane and Matt Rader. And no, I’m not beep-boxing.
Then I rushed back to the hotel, changed, ate, fed Baby, and rushed back for the final event of the festival, Rapt. I’d been excited (and intimidated!) about taking part of this event for weeks now, because the lineup was ridiculous. Angie Abdou started with a bang, making everyone laugh with her reading from The Bone Cage; Sara Peters read beautiful, moving poems from her book 1996, Saleema Nawaz gave a wonderful reading from Bone and Bread, and Jay Ruzesky and Annabel Lyon rounded it up with more great readings from In Antarctica and The Sweet Girl, respectively. I was last, which made me all the more nervous. Despite being the new kid on the block, everyone was extremely nice and welcoming. It was great to see Angie again (we read in Vancouver together a couple of years ago) and to finally meet and spend time with the lovely Saleema. I get to see both of them again in the Vancouver Writers’ Festival. Lucky! I also met Will Johnson. In person.
With Will Johnson
Will came to a reading I did in The Real Vancouver Writers Series a couple of years ago and then slipped out without saying hello to me (he blames it on an inexplicable bout of shyness). This time, I noticed him from the stage; he was sitting on the balcony all evening being rowdy with a couple of local poets, and then I spotted his red-haired-fro as he was walking out. So I called his name and told him to get his ass over here, and that it was lame the first time he didn’t say hello and that there’s no way he’s doing it again. I’m glad I shamed him into hanging out with me. Everybody talks about how nice Will is, and of course he is, but I have to admit that sometimes the word nice makes me yawn a little, and Will is anything but yawn-inducing. He is awesome and fun and badass. The festival concluded with an after-party at the house of author John Gould (one of the organizers) and his lovely wife, Sandy, where we ate and drank and chatted about writing and books and other things too. I also got to hang out with the awesome and hilarious Anne Fleming, who is going to moderate one of my Vancouver Writers’ Festival events, and many other people, too many to count. I’m so grateful to John Gould, Sara Cassidy and Julie Paul for inviting me, and for working so hard to make this festival happen. I loved every minute of it.
With Angie Abdou and Saleema Nawaz
Stitch the Line banner (with The Best Place on Earth written in both English and Hebrew!)