Mimi (1997-2014)

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I miss the reading. Or rather I miss the way she used to lie on the pages I were reading. I miss the way she used to lie on things—old records, folded newspapers, coats, manuscripts. (If there was a rectangle in the room, she would come and lie on it.) I miss her being near me and nudging me to work. I miss the way she would sit facing the wall, staring at it in great contemplation. I miss her gentle bossiness. I miss her nightly need for warmth and reassurance and how this need filled and taught me. I miss her sensing my own need.

Mimi shared our story for seventeen years: the changing homes and furniture, the people who wandered in and out, the babies that arrived, the brother cat that died…

I wrote about “Mimi, My Muse” here.

It has taken me a week to stop seeing and hearing her everywhere. Now the silence is the hardest part. It’s as if a vital track suddenly went missing in the mix. Our familiar house song has lost it’s percussive (pitter-patter) heart.

It made me happy this week when my friend Brenda dropped off these photos. This is where our story with Mimi and Harpo began. In Brenda’s garden. On a warm spring day in 1997.

(Top: Mimi far left. Bottom: Mimi in the middle, fending off Harpo.)

Inspire: Toronto International Book Fair

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If you’re in Toronto this weekend and attending Inspire: Toronto International Book Fair, please stop by and say hello. I will be doing three events for little-big people.

Friday, November 14 at 11:00 a.m. in the Piller’s Culinary Zone.
Sunday, November 16 at 11:30 a.m. on the TD Children’s Stage.
Sunday, November 16 at 3:30 p.m. “How a Picture Book is Made” panel (with author/illustrator Ian Wallace, editor Kathryn Cole and designer Michael Solomon) the Discovery Stage.

I will also be working at the IBBY booth on Sunday, November 16 from 1:00-3:00 p.m.

(Image: source unknown.)

Happy Halloween!

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“The ghosts swarm.
They speak as one
person. Each
loves you. Each
has left something

(Words from “Unbidden” by Rae Armantrout, 2009. Illustration from “Ghosts” by Marc Boutavant. Enchanted Lion Books, 2013.)

My Pantheon of Smallness

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Perhaps I like artists who have deliberately chosen to keep things small because they seem rebellious in our culture of pathological overstriving. In my Pantheon of Smallness I have a special place for a man named Kenny Shopsin.

Shopsin owned a popular deli in Greenwich Village back in the days when the village was still an inexpensive and charming place for struggling artists. Bob Dylan used to go there to eat turkey sandwiches. Madonna used to sit at the counter. Eventually the rent shot up and he moved to another place. Then his wife died and the restaurant rent went up again so he settled into a small nine-seat stall in the Essex Street Market on the Lower East Side of NYC. His stall is just one among about thirty stalls—including Hispanic produce shops, butchers, fishmongers, and cheese merchants. He claims he’s never been happier.

To be in the middle of Manhattan, where people work like dogs under the tyranny of gigantism, and to not get carried away by that imperative feels like a victory.

Here is what he says in his wonderful book, Eat Me: The Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin: “The art of staying small more or less sums up my feelings about running a restaurant—and about life. I know it goes against out capitalist system, but I have never been interested in the normal symptoms of success, such as higher profit margins and expansion of income. I never had a goal to make more money so that I could retire or so that I could hire a low-wage employee to do the cooking for me. I have no desire to open a second restaurant, to oversee a restaurant empire with my name on it, or to endorse a line of pots and pans. Running a restaurant for me is about running a restaurant. It is not a means to get someplace else.”

(Images from Eat Me: The Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin. Published by Alfred A. Knopf.)

Martin says “Merci!”

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The winners of les Prix Jeunesse des libraires du Québec were announced yesterday in Montreal. “M.Flux” (the French version of “Mr. Flux”) received the award in the “International 6-11 year old” category. Matte Stephens and I share this honor with our wonderful French publisher, La Pastèque.

Thank you booksellers and readers of Québec! Thank you La Pastèque for always thinking outside the box. You are the best and the true spirit of M. Flux.

Bon Appétit.

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Today is the official pub date for Julia, Child. I hope it nourishes you in little-big ways. I hope you enjoy feasting on Julie Morstad‘s delectable art.

I did an interview about the book with Jama’s Alphabet Soup, which you can read here, and, while you’re at it, you might want to check out Jama’s posts on other Julia-related reads (such as this). Also, there is this, which is simply too amazing for words. You’ll just have to take a peek yourself.

And, finally, I thought I’d share two quotes from Julia Child herself:

“You’ll never know everything about anything, especially something you love.”

“I’m afraid that surprise, shock, and regret is the fate of authors when they finally see themselves on the page.”

(Images: book illustration by Julie Morstad; “Julia correct proofs of Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” 1961.)

Ten is…

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Ten is: little big, purposefully mismatched socks, assorted sports jerseys, and enthusiasm not yet schooled out. Ten is loving things to bits. And—ha,ha,ha,ha—ten is being comfortable in your head. Ten is rewriting instructions and filling notebooks with Manga marginalia. Ten is heat-seeking hugs and Whee!!! Ten is writing declarations that begin: “I believe in Cheese and Pandas!” Ten is made-up languages and fake modern dances. Ten is pratfalls in the morning and worries about death at midnight. Ten is outwitting your elders while enjoying your youngers. Ten is a persony blur, a dash to the double-digits. Ten is… today.

(Happy Birthday Mika!)

All Over the Map

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As you can see, this blog hasn’t exactly been a hotbed of activity. To resuscitate things a bit, I agreed to take part in this blog tour on the invitation of the very talented and kind Lauren Stringer. Lauren’s work is a marvel—lyrical and smart. If you’re not already familiar with her book When Stravinsky Met Njinsky (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), I suggest you get a copy pronto.

The format of this blog tour is to answer four questions and introduce two other writers at the end. So here we go:

1) What am I working on?
Thankfully my writing notebook has not been as empty and forlorn as my blog. I have been busy working on several projects including: 1) a narrative non-fiction book about birds; 2) a graphic novel about singing, a boygirl and Maria Callas; 3) a picture book about a band of solitaries.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I find this hard to answer. It feels a bit like being asked: “How does your dog differ from other dogs?” There is so much intra-species variety within the breeds “literary fiction,” “memoir” or “picture book biography.” A “novel” can be as wildly various as a “terrier.” Also: I keep reading the word “differ” as “worse than” or “better than” and neither seem like beneficial comparisons.

3) Why do I write what I do?
I write all over the map (literally and figuratively) but, in general, I write what I do because I like to take a bit of this and a bit of that (usually unlikely people and/or dissimilar things) and see what happens when the two combine. I am also a professional dilettante. I get restless if I’m not investigating something new. I am a writer of the “I think through writing” ilk. On good days, I thank writing for keeping my mind open and considering.

4) How does your writing process work?
On a very mundane level: my process is propelled by routine. It is wonderful to know I am going to wake up at 5:30AM, go to the gym, drop my son off at school, go to a café and writewritewrite, go home for lunch, do some writing-related work (admin, school visits, mentoring or editing), writewritewrite, listen to music, make dinner or go to dinner with friends, read a bit, go to sleep by 10:30PM and then wake up and do it all again tomorrow. If there are weeks of this, I am happy and entranced. The creative benefits of a routine were affirmed for me when I read this interview with Haruki Murakami in the Paris Review. (To quote: “The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.”)

On a more general level: my process is bewilderingly slow. Long periods of gestation. Bouts of low morale. Moments when the manuscript feels about as appealing as a cold and wet log covered with giant slugs. Moments of inspiration. Moments of pragmatism—i.e. a final push to finish so as to feed the children.

And, last but not least, here are the two fabulous authors whom I’ve invited to join this tour. They will post their entries on June 23rd.

SARA O’LEARY is the co-creator with Julie Morstad of The Henry Books published by Simply Read: WHEN YOU WERE SMALL, WHERE YOU CAME FROM, and WHEN I WAS SMALL. Their latest book, THIS IS SADIE, will be published by Tundra Books in 2015. Also, in 2015 Sara will be producing a series of baby books for Owl Books. She blogs at http://123oleary.blogspot.com

VIKKI VANSICKLE is the author of the acclaimed Clarissa books (WORDS THAT START WITH B; LOVE IS A FOUR-LETTER WORD; DAYS THAT END IN Y). Frequently referred to as “Canada’s Judy Blume,” Vikki’s most recent middle grade novel, SUMMER DAYS, STARRY NIGHTS, has been called “Summer reading at its best.” After obtaining an MA in Children’s Literature from UBC, Vikki’s career began in bookselling at The Flying Dragon Bookshop, which earned her the 2011 CBA Young Bookseller of the Year award. She is a popular children’s lit blogger and is frequently called upon to speak about kids’ books for radio panels, conferences, and as Lainey Gossip’s YA mentor! Currently she balances writing with her duties as the Marketing and Publicity Manager for Young Readers at Penguin Canada. She blogs at http://vikkivansickle.wordpress.com/

(Images: “Maria Callas with her Poodle”; “You Are Here Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination” by Katharine Harmon)