Thursday, May 26, 2016

Five Roses memorabilia

In 2012 or 2013, when I was writing my novel, Five Roses, I bought a FARINE FIVE ROSES T-shirt in a shop on St-Laurent. It's not there anymore--the shop, I mean. St-Laurent still is, though it undergoes periodical and sometimes radical face lifts.
If I recall correctly, the shop sold better-than-average Montreal memorabilia. No snow globes, no flags, but other cool stuff like these T-shirts printed with a drawing of the red letters on the scaffolding high above the southwest horizon of Montreal. I got a grey T-shirt because it was the only choice in a size that fit me.

This green T-shirt belonged to a friend's daughter. She left in a give-away pile of belongings now that she's left Montreal to explore farther-off horizons. The T-shirt is worn and soft, but still gives off vibes of fiery hair, roller derby energy, brazen legginess. I like wearing it, though I'm short, my hair is going white, and I'm comfortable at my desk.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

book covers

I have a new novel, Five Roses, coming out with Dundurn Press in July, 2016. Yeah, I'm excited.

Among the many steps between having a manuscript accepted and seeing it published is choosing a book cover. Since I already have a suspiciously flowery title, I wanted to stay away from images that were delicate.
Montrealers will probably guess that the title has to do with the Farine Five Roses on the south-west horizon of Montreal.

I had expected to be able to use the sign for my book cover, but was not granted permission by the company who now own the building. I argued that the sign is an iconic landmark belonging to the skyline of Montreal since 1948. I've seen T-shirts, cushions, cellphone covers, even mirrors emblazoned with the sign, but the company was adamant. 

Fine. I took my camera through the neighbourhood of Pointe St-Charles and along the Lachine Canal where the novel is set. 

Here are some of the pictures I sent my press, Dundurn.

Brick row houses are the norm in Pointe St-Charles, though I suppose one would have to be an aficionado of brick (which I am) to truly appreciate this image. 

Here's an abandoned factory complex--Canada Malting--by the Lachine Canal. Since an abandoned factory plays a significant role in Five Roses, this could have made a good cover. 

Or this close-up? 

Pictures I took in the Pointe were characteristic of the setting of much that happens in the novel, but they were too visually busy to use as a background for a title. This, one for example.

Weaving would have been a good image since one of the characters in Five Roses has a loom she sets up in an old warehouse on the Lachine Canal. Weaving also lends the ambience of many threads being gathered together and woven into a piece of cloth, which is part of what I feel I'm doing when writing a novel. 

But as a book cover, the image is perhaps too staid? 

An important aspect in the novel is the gentrification of old neighbourhoods--people like Fara in the novel, (and myself and R) who move into rundown neighbourhoods, buy an old house and fix it up. On the one hand, this is called revitalization. On the other hand, the lower-income residents get  pushed out. I'll write more about this in a later blog. 

Between my press and myself we chose to use a photo which R took in 2001 when we moved to the Pointe.

Here's what the same door and window look like in 2016: 

That's gentrification. Perhaps including the wine bottles on the window ledge? Though who knows what was on the other side of the plywood. 

Monday, May 2, 2016

foreign words / pain in chocolate

When are words foreign and what do about them when they appear in text?

This affects you even if you're not a writer, because you're a reader, right? You're deep into a novel where the character has travelled to... Madrid, say, and she wants to buy soap and can't find it. She's looked up the word in her Spanish-English dictionary, and has tried and tried and tried again to ask for jabón, except that she doesn't speak Spanish and doesn't know j is pronounced like an emphatic h in English (because in Spanish h is silent), and the accent means that you truly have to sound that syllable stronger. She's rubbing her arms and miming washing, though what she actually wants to wash are her underpants. The scene doesn't work with the word soap. Spanish is necessary.

Even outside of desperate linguistic situations, a writer might simply choose to use foreign words. There's that old saw about local colour. Or the simple fact that a person travelling usually adopts some local lingo. In Berlin you take the U-bahn, not the metro, which is what you would take in Montreal. 

If you write or read about anywhere else but where you're at home, the words of the place seep in. That's a good thing, right? 

And once they've seeped in, are the words still foreign? In Montreal even Anglos buy beer at the dépanneur. The word has been folded into the lexicon.  

To the reader, however, the word might be foreign. Does that call for italics? 

What about words that aren't so obvious? A character steps into a patisserie and asks for pain au chocolat. That's what he would order because that's what it's called. But an English reader might do a double take, wondering why anyone would order pain in chocolate. Does it come in raspberry too? The hesitation only lasts a couple of seconds. The reader isn't stoo-pid! Obviously it's a French word for a French pastry. Keep reading. 

But in that instant of hesitation, the bubble of fiction was broken, and even if the bubble seals again almost immediately, why break it?

Sometimes the foreign word is the only word that fits. There is no English equivalent for medina. That's me walking through the medina in Fez.

Or the foreign word sounds right because it's the word that would be used in a particular situation. My character in Vienna doesn't ask for coffee. She orders a kleiner brauner because that's what it's called. Sure, she could have said cappuccino or latte. The waiter would have brought her a kleiner brauner anyhow--and she would be the one who would look disobliging.

There are times I like the sound and feel of a word in another language, and for those readers who understand that language, I want to share it. In the new manuscript I'm working on, I describe marmormehl. Literally translated, it means marble flour. To my ears, marble flour does not have the resonance--the sense of marble being ground--that the German does. So I can't help myself. I need to write marmormehl. Though I then repeat myself by writing marble meal in English. The repetition sounds fake--I agree--but what about the convention of writing isn't fake?

As a writer, I prefer not to italicize foreign words if they're not foreign to the character who thinks or speaks them. I understand and support the growing tendency not to italicize foreign words in text. Why separate it from normal font if it belongs to the language the character understands? 

But what about the reader? What about words--like pain--that mean one thing in French and another in English? Using italics lets the reader know it's not the English word. 

When I'm reading and come across words I don't understand, I'm grasping for meaning. If the novel is being told from the point of view of a character who wouldn't understand either, that's fine. We're both lost. 

Just now, however, I'm reading a novel with lines of dialogue in another language the characters understand but I don't. English words don't follow and the context leaves the meaning unclear. I'm in the dark and I'm the reader! This may be realistic, but is it wise? 

Someone argued with me once about not using italics for foreign words because it posited the reader, who might understand that foreign language, as an other. We live in times that have politicized font. 

I'm not trying to make my reader feel like the odd one out, but I also don't want to confuse the reader. I see the value of using a small visual tip that a word is different from the rest of the text--to let the reader know a character isn't trying to buy pain.  

In my novel Five Roses, coming out this summer, the words that aren't English are italicized. In my first novel, Arrhythmia, the words that weren't English weren't. For the next book... I don't know.   

These are jacaranda blossoms on a terrace in Mexico. Jacaranda was originally a Tupi word adopted by Portuguese, then adopted by English. No longer a foreign word. This is how language grows.

Monday, April 25, 2016

hapless but eager gardener

I have no green thumb. If I thought I had a green toe, I would gladly stick my foot in the soil. My beans get blight. My cucumbers wilt. My tomatoes flower and that's about it. Eggplant will grow for me, but even when I shelter it inside chicken wire some beastie still manages to get inside and shred it to bits.

And yet I feel good about digging and sifting earth to make it soft enough for beets. I curl tendrils of snow pea vines around the teepee poles I've built to support them. I plant blue cornflowers to attract bees. I pick arugula to stuff into my sandwich at lunch. All winter I have pesto I've made from the basil I've grown.
Sometimes another gardener is stooped over the earth or watering plants. Birds chatter in the wooded area next to our plots. Every so often a train goes by on the embankment--actually so often that I associate the sound of shunting and wheel grinding with working in my garden.

Just now, my plot doesn't look like much--an 8' x 11' rectangle of earth among other rectangles of earth. Some people have small bushes of herbs, winter onions ready to be picked, pansies already blooming. Here's my rhubarb which wintered very well, thank you.

My soil should be good this year since last year we emptied our backyard composter in the garden. Yup, that was R trundling wheelbarrows of rich, shit-stinky compost through the Pointe. After a season of snow, the compost no longer smells, though I'll have to pick out the corncobs and avocado pits that haven't decomposed yet. Or leave them.

This week I hope to seed beets, lettuce, snow peas, radishes.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

travel notebooks

These are some of my travel notebooks, as described in this piece that was published in rob mclennan's ottawa poetry newsletter blog.
Indeed, I don't live in Ottawa and I don't write poetry, but I'm not the only hitchhiker on the site.

Monday, April 11, 2016

picking up the trail / writing

After two weeks away from my desk, I wanted to get back to my writing again today. I thought to get myself organized yesterday evening and looked on the shelf where I keep my notebooks.

Yeah, I still prefer to write first draft longhand. It's time-consuming because I don't enjoy the bouts of typing after I've written, but I write more efficiently when I write by hand. I move forward. On a keyboard I keep rereading and foozling with words.

There was nothing current on the shelf. No fat notebook full of words I remembered having written, though I couldn't remember what they were. Nor my notes to keep track of dates and names. No timelines. Nothing! Nothing!

I was about to start shrieking when I recalled this tiny anxiety I sometimes get about all my notes being destroyed by a fire when I'm away from home. It's not an entirely groundless fear. Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home, Your house is on fire, Your children will burn. I live in an old neighbourhood of row houses and often hear the fire truck roaring by. I knew a man who had all paintings destroyed in a house fire. When I still worked at the hospital, I used to store my notebooks and USB pens in my locker when I went away. This time I could have taken everything to a friend's house, but I hadn't thought of it in time.

I recalled that I'd done something neurotic and probably useless to make myself feel better. A sandbag technique. But what? I searched my office and found nothing. I had to look through the house before I saw a CAKE TIN under a pile of folded clothing.

Had there been a fire, what are the chances that a cake tin would have kept my notes intact? Not good, but at least I didn't worry about them while away.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

sand in my ears

There are a few ways of getting sand in your ears. Swimming in Pacific surf when you're used to quiet lake waters is one. I had a few somersault tumbles between the waves and the undertow.

Here's another way.

That's R keeping an eye on the boys.
My way of keeping an eye isn't as physical.

I'm teaching him how to do "Here's the church and here's the steeple. And here are all the people." Turn your hand and wiggle your fingers that should be tucked underneath.

The cliffs get the surf too. Once we figured out the tides, we had a few walks along the beach.

Only a week and we were en route to the airport again.

I knew we were back in Montreal when we got in the cab and a hockey game was blasting--because, hey, everyone wants to hear the hockey, right?

Five days later and I've still got fine white sand in my ears. With wet snow underfoot.