Tuesday, May 9, 2023

first story published / a new novel

Up there, where someone has painted SCRIBE? That's where I met the editors who published my first story in 1992.

It was an apartment, not an office. Drafty and cold, minimally furnished with sidewalk leavings. I remember cigarette smoke. We sat in the kitchen. Stephen Evans and Keith Marchand had started a magazine called errata. On the masthead they wrote, "An IBM or Macintosh format disk is appreciated." That's how long ago 1992 was. 

I had typed my story, revised it as well as I could, and sent it off into the world with an SASE. How often have I done that since? Only now it's online via Submittable. I keep track of what I've sent where in a little notebook. I'm still using the same notebook. 

I've googled Stephen Evans and Keith Marchand + writing + publishing, and get no hits. Where are they now? I only met them that one time and I don't think errata made it past the first few issues, despite their enthusiasm for keeping it going long enough to be able to get government grants. 

When I go to the Jean Talon market or textile shopping on St. Hubert, and walk home along St. Laurent, of course I glance at the modest building where two guys whom I didn't know, who weren't friends or family, told me I'd written a good story they wanted to publish. Validation from the world, small as it was. That meant my words existed--for real!

How funny that all these years later SCRIBE shouts from the wall. FAVOP too, but I don't know what that means. A name? 

The words weren't there a couple of months ago when I last walked past. What are the chances that someone involved with writing or publishing lives there now? Maybe those brick walls radiate vibes that someone felt should be advertised. They would have needed scaffolding or ropes to do it. 

I've never stopped writing, though I am slow. Life gets in the way. I rewrite more than I write. The public aspect of being a writer in today's world gives me the heebie-jeebies. I have no playlist I want to share publicly. And yet, in my slow fashion, ignoring a heap of rejection letters that should have discouraged anyone sensible, I continue to write since it's what I most love to do. Characters and their stories absorb me.

And so: I will have a new novel coming out with Freehand Books in the fall of 2024. I'm happy. I raise my glasses to SCRIBE.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

needle doodle / "N'importe quoi"

My neurologist asked years ago if I doodled. I told him I didn't. 

A little scribbling while I'm talking on the phone? 


On the corner of a list? 


When my writing isn't going well and I've already got a pen in my hand? A little cross-hatching, maybe a few circles?

Definitely not. 

Big sigh. There was a study that claimed all migrainers doodled. 

That did not prompt me to go home and start doodling. Doodling is something you do or you don't. 

A couple of months ago, a children's toy and bookstore in Westmount closed. A friend went in and discovered that the store also stocked beautiful embroidery thread from Germany that the owner was selling at a huge discount. My friend bought some for herself and some for me. 

I've embroidered in the past but never seriously. I like the textural look of embroidery. I go to textile museums and admire embroidery. I have a large textbook of embroidery stitches. I like working with yarn and with textiles. But to actually sit down and do embroidery?  

I decided to see what this lovely coloured thread looked like if I stitched handmade paper. I have some from a paper manufacturer on the Lachine Canal called Papeterie St. Armand. They've been around since 1979. If you want to buy excellent, handmade paper, I cannot praise this place highly enough. 
Since I'm not an artist, I get the N'importe quoi scrap bags. 

I LIKED stitching paper! Heavy paper lends itself to stitching a design much more easily than fabric that has to be fastened to a hoop. 

I liked it so much that I walked up the hill to Westmount during a snowstorm to get more of this gorgeous embroidery floss. The store was closing the next day and the owner said to take as much as I could carry. She wanted to give me a large box but I was walking. I also didn't know how much thread I would ever use. 

What a mistake. I should have stuffed my knapsack because I don't just like embroidering. I LOVE IT. Especially with these rich colours. 

Those blank moments when I can't figure out where my writing is going next? I sit on my pea-green chair in the window and stitch a rosette chain or a few Palestrina knots. I get out my oil pastels for a change of texture. I sneak into R's studio and do some finger painting. 

I can now tell my neurologist that I doodle. 

Tuesday, March 7, 2023


For as long as I've known R, he's drawn cartoons. I have one he did of me radiating menstrual cramps in front of the Eiffel Tower. It's an ugly portrait but it's in the nature of cartoons to exaggerate and I was having a seriously ugly day. It's my memento of Paris. 

Recently a friend started a cartoon/comics course. She's enjoying it and was showing me what she was doing. 

As we talked, I remembered that R once asked to me to write a story for him to illustrate.  Years ago. I'd completely forgotten. I wrote the story in a couple of hours and there's not much to it. At that point I hadn't read any graphic novels yet. I assumed it would mostly be about the drawings. 

R always has a few projects on the go and I didn't know he was working on the drawings until he showed them to me a year or so later. He'd painted approx 120 frames.  

Unfortunately--though perhaps understandably for a writer--my reaction when he showed me was not to see the paintings, but that he'd included the messy first draft of the story I'd given him. I'd thought he was using it as a guide, not putting it in the cartoons. I said he needed to let me revise the wording. He said it was too late. I was in a state of writerly pique that he hadn't respected my work ethic. We argued.  

Fifteen years passed and I was having a beer with my friend who was showing me the project she was working on for her course. When I came home, I asked R if he remembered that story he'd illustrated. He wasn't sure he still had it. He found it on Weebly where it's been hiding since 2007. 

Now, when I look at it, I see the drawings. They're a record of a neighbourhood where we used to live in the late 90s--that doesn't look like that anymore. The cobbler who used sit on a kitchen chair on the sidewalk. The tatoo parlour.  

The story is thin, but at that time I was still figuring out a lot about writing myself. I still am. I also didn't know how serious R was. Next time--if there's a next time--I'll write a better story. And I'll revise it before I give it to R. 

If you're interested meet Scribe:  https://bobaube.weebly.com/index.html 

Merci, D, for reminding me!

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

the last noodle

I didn't cook noodles tonight so I don't have a pic with any bearing on this story. I'll show you a heart because hearts are my thing. Most of you have hearts that beat the way they're supposed to. Mine doesn't. Ça va, I'm still alive. 

This heart was stitched with glass beads and nylon thread by Sarah Maloney in 2008. I believe I took the pic at the McCord Museum in Montreal. 

Whatever I was doing in the kitchen this evening reminded me of the woman who told R (who told me) that she often felt like the last noodle in the pot. You know how there are always a couple of noodles stuck on the bottom of the pot? What did she mean? What does that feel like?

I've always wanted to add this to a story and never found the right place. 

So before I forget, I'll put it here. If you can use it, it's yours. 

Sunday, January 29, 2023

taking the train / winnipeg to toronto jan 2023

On the very last days of 2022 R and I travelled to Winnipeg to visit our friends whose boys we've known since they were babies. All but the youngest is taller than I am now. 

The weather was mild, considering that we were in Winnipeg in the winter. Only about -8C. For a few days there was no wind and the hoarfrost was impressive. 

We walked for long afternoons and into the dusk, often on the Assiniboine River, once on the Red, also on smaller rivers where one of our young friends who's enamoured of ice fishing set up his equipment that now includes a sonic device he built himself. I have to admit I wasn't paying as much attention to his enthusiastic explanation of its workings as to moon that was visible at 2:30 pm.  

I lay in the snow a lot because it makes a firm mattress that moulds to the body, and cold through my coat feels delicious when I'm overheated from trudging along for a couple of hours.  

To return to Montreal, R and I took the train. I wasn't sure whether I would like a 38-hr trip, but R convinced me with his sketches from a previous trip. I wanted to see winter in Northern Ontario. 

How far north does the train go? Farther north than the Great Lakes. 

And although it's a long trip, I could walk around--as I often did--and eavesdrop on the pockets of talk around me. 

The train was LONG. Three locomotives to pull it. The conductor sometimes let us get off at stops or when we had to wait for freight trains to pass. There were also lots of stops for the smokers. I jumped around a bit, stretched my back and legs. 

The smokers complained when the train stopped and they weren't allowed to get off--but the woman who was accompanied by her psychiatric service dog could. They understood that the dog needed to pee, but boy oh boy, they'd better not look out the window and see her smoking!

I sat and wrote here because it was quiet and the endless trees were good companions. Between somewhere and somewhere a man parked himself at a table and tried to chat up the young woman who worked at the snack bar. He told her about his job and she told him that someone had broken into her apartment and that her mom was in the hospital. Then it was his stop and he disappeared into the night. 

There was a woman who engaged everyone who walked past, including the conductor. I never saw her leave her seat, although she was already installed in a nest of blankets when we got on in Winnipeg and she was going all the way to Toronto. A couple of hours before Toronto, she did a full makeup procedure with a hand mirror. She was obsessed with cost. When someone said they had an apartment in Red Deer, Alberta, she wanted to know how much they paid for rent--and were utilities included or extra? She asked people what they did and how much they were paid. She asked how much a coat cost. When the person sitting across from her returned with a sandwich from the snackbar, she wanted to know how much it cost. She had a long phone conversation  in Spanish about the cost of a house in Nicaragua. I avoided looking at her and she didn't ask me anything. 

A man got on in the evening and was calling family farther south to tell them that yup, yup, yup, he was on his way. He kept the phone on speaker so I heard that people were disappointed that he wasn't underway sooner. I gathered someone was very ill. They told him he should have taken the bus (which runs more frequently than the train). At one point he misdialed a number, heard the person's voice who answered and tried to say it was a wrong number and hang up. The person said, Jim, is that you? Are you okay? Have you quit yet? Jim said he'd been trying and he was grateful for all the help the friend had given him, but with all his might he couldn't manage. He'd tried, oh he'd tried, but the plain fact was he liked smoking. 

I have a sense of what it means to live far from an urban centre since R and I spend a couple of months every year on the northeastern coast of Quebec. But: we don't live there year-round and there's a HUGE difference between a 6-hr, a 16-hr, and a 26-hr drive to the nearest large hospital. 

Some might use Costco or a concert hall for reference, but for me the essential is a good cardiology department. 

There was a woman travelling from Alberta to work as a cook in a "bunker" in a place she called Alsace. When she said we were only an hour away, I looked it up on the map. Elsas. She'd worked as a cook in mines and lumber camps from Alberta to Ontario, but called Alberta home because that's where her daughter and grandkids lived. I don't know whether she was a good cook or not, but she was travelling 3000 k to get to this job. 

ps When I say I looked it up, I mean one of those rare moments when we were near a cell tower. Outside of towns, northern Ontario is off the grid.  

The second evening on the train, I wanted a beer and had come to the lounge with R. On previous visits I'd noticed the two men who sat separately but spoke with each other in a language I couldn't recognize. R guessed Turkish. They were delighted to see that beer was available, which they may not have known if they couldn't read the menu. They went to the snack bar to get themselves beer and snacks. When they returned and realized we had no snacks, one dropped a handful of nuts on our table and the other Pringles. This was very friendly and kind, but technically there was a virus out and about, and they had both touched the nuts and chips with fingers that were going back and forth to their mouths. 

We decided that acknowledging their kindness and was more important than hygiene. We ate the snacks.  

Here's a better pic of the Sky Lounge which I believe was designed to see the country--through the Rockies, across the Prairies and northern Ontario. It belongs to the train that does the Vancouver to Toronto run. 

Hey, VIA, it would nice to have an observation car like that for the train from Montreal to Halifax too! 

Slowly slowly slowly the train made its way southward. 

R and I still had to catch the train from Toronto to Montreal (550 k) the next morning. I had booked a room close to the train station at the Radisson Blu. The lovely reception clerk asked where we'd come from and gave us an upgrade to a studio with a fireplace (electric) on the top floor overlooking the lake. Very nice. Thank you, Radisson!

And yes, R sketched on this trip too. Here's our breakfast of tangerines and coffee. Coffee from the snackbar. We brought the fruit. 

For a more rambling, irreverent version of the trip including the part where R travelled by bus from Toronto, our trip to the Winnipeg Art Gallery, and his thoughts on the books he was reading: 

Note that we usually have different takes on 'what happened'. That's just how it is.