Jul 29 2011

Following Dawn Rae Downton “Into the Void”

I first met Dawn Rae Downton over the phone 15 years ago during a board recruitment exercise for MediaWatch (now Media Action). Even though the position was voluntary, we had more than ten applicants for the Atlantic Representative and most of them looked pretty desirable on paper. But Dawn Rae’s obvious intelligence, impressive experience and sophisticated sense of humour clinched the deal.

Shortly after joining the board, her administrative, process and financial abilities propelled her into the treasurer’s chair, and it was my great pleasure to serve with her for the next half a dozen years. But my fandom reached unexpected heights with the publication of her two memoirs, Seldom and Diamond. (Who says crackerjack administrators can’t also be gifted artists?) I find her singular voice both entertaining and seductively hypnotic: she lulls you in with the cadence of beautifully wrought sentences and then arrests you with a surprising image or irreverent aside.

Both of these traits are evident in her contribution to I Feel Great About My Hands. Her title – “Facing the Void” – is a play on words that hints at her essay’s focus on an aspect of aging that can keep one up at night. But in Dawn Rae’s inimitable hands, the essay introduces readers to some precious characters and offers an around-the-world privy tour that ends up in Anne Murray’s back yard. 

If you live anywhere near Halifax, you can hear Dawn Rae read aloud from the piece on August 16th. At noon she’ll be featured in a Halifax Club literary luncheon along with sister contributors, playwright, poet and performer, Sheree Fitchnovelist Carol Bruneau (more about her soon),and me. For lunch tickets — a steal at $20 — contact Stephen Patrick Clare at novamedia@gmail.com.

That evening, we’ll all be reading at a special event in the theatre space at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, accessible through the Bedford Rd entrance. RSVP info@informedopinions.org

Books sold at both events will benefit Informed Opinions, a non-profit project working to encourage smart women to mouth off more often. Really.  

May 21 2011

A sometimes poetic journey with Alzheimer’s

Struggling with Alzheimer’s doesn’t seem like an obvious source of dignity and grace, strength and humour. And yet in the masterful hands of Ottawa-based poet Susan McMaster, her mother’s journey through the illness reflects all of those things.

Reading from her poems (which originally appeared in her own collection called Crossing Arcs), Susan paints a rich portrait of the woman who gave her life, supplementing it with verbatim quotes from her mother, that offered glimpses of the clarity and insight she still occasionally boasts.

When Susan finished reading from her poems at the National Arts Centre launch in Ottawa last month, she invited her mother, Betty Page, who was in the audience, to stand up and be recognized. We all celebrated her jubilant energy and irrepressible spirit.

May 15 2011

Closing in on “best seller” status

Here’s one for the category of “things we like to see”…

The photo above, snapped by Saskatchewan sweetheart, Melanie Coyle, (in)famous for many things, but most recently known as the mother of the stunning child featured in the Book Club posting, was taken in a Superstore in Regina. (Can Walmart and airport bookstores be far behind? Ask for it and increase the chances!)

If a book achieves sales equal to 64% of what constitutes a “best seller” within six weeks of its release, how many more weeks will it likely take for the book to officially make the list?

Beats me, but ever since Scott McIntyre mentioned in passing that I Feel Great About My Hands had sold more than 3,000 copies, I’ve been celebrating the perceptiveness of Canadian book buyers. Our relatively puny population means that best seller-dom occurs at the 5,000 mark, so we’re almost two-thirds of the way there.

And Wednesday night’s launch event at the Vancouver Public Library – featuring the inimitable humour of journalists Frances Bula, Lyn Cockburn and Marlaina Gayle, and the literate and life-informed insights of Ann Cowan, Lillian Zimmerman, Bonnie Sherr Klein and Harriett Lemer – will help.

May 14 2011

The master of re-invention outdoes herself

Not everybody deals with turning 50 the same way. Take Marlaina Gayle, for instance. Sure, she joined a gym, went bra shopping and changed careers – something she’d done a few times before.

But never quite like this.

The one-time chef, reporter, columnist, political press secretary and creative manager (I may have missed a few other titles) recently launched herself behind the wheel (and into the sleeping compartment) of a massive truck, the driving of which she shares with her partner.

Her contribution to I Feel Great About My Hands describes the jaw-dropping transition. You have to read it to believe it. But for an in-person taste, you can come to the Vancouver Public Library on Wednesday night where Marlaina will join half a dozen other authors in reading excerpts from the book.

May 11 2011

Poultry inspires surprising insights

Different Drummer Books in Burlington played host yesterday to two of the contributors to I Feel Great About My Hands, Sheila Deane (above) and author Lyndsay Green (below). The two met for the first time at the collection’s Ottawa launch last month and bonded there and at the Toronto event over their shared literary references to poultry. (What can I say – true artists find inspiration in the every day and these women are talented enough to fashion insight from the unlikeliest sources.)

For Sheila it was a menopausal chicken; for Lyndsay, it was the unfortunate nickname applied by her daughters to the undersides of her arms.When the two read recently at the National Arts Centre’s Fourth Stage, and then again in Toronto at Ben McNally’s, hilarity ensued. I wish you’d been there.

But if you weren’t, their poignant pieces, full of unique yet relatable moments, are available in the book.

May 5 2011

Up Against Awesome

Even though I was so pale and scrawny as a kid that teachers occasionally encouraged my mother to have me tested for anemia, I had good enough eye-hand coordination not to be picked last for impromptu softball games.

But last weekend at the Ottawa Writers’ Festival, seated next to Neil Pasricha, the lively and engaging 30-year-old author of The Book Of Even More Awesome, I thought about how lousy it must have felt for kids whose inability to connect the bat to the ball made them unpopular picks.

People were lined up ten deep waiting for Neil to sign copies of his book, while Joel Yanofsky (author of the funny and poignant Bad Animals) and I were visited by half a dozen or so book buyers.

Maybe this was because younger fans are generally more inclined to stand in line for autographs whereas older readers just wanted to buy our books and get out into the sunshine. (I’d have been in that category myself.) Or maybe selling a sequel is easier – especially if the original volume – The Book of Awesome – was on the best seller lists for months, and started out as an award-winning blog.

Either way, it was an honour to be invited to the Writers Festival and to share the platform with both Joel and Neil.

(Furthermore — as you can see from the photo snapped by Jowan Gauthier — I was having an exceptionally good hair day. Which really compensates for just about anything else!)