The Best Possible Ending

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I was watching a bit of late night TV yesterday and a certain Scottish talk-show host shared the end of an old joke with the audience. It went like this:

“The first time he tried it, he got sick and the second time, his hat blew off and he just quit.”

That’s the punch line. It sounds vaguely filthy, doesn’t it? I don’t know the rest of the joke; he wouldn’t say, but that was the point. It was enough to make you laugh. It’s true that not everyone wants to be told straight up what’s so special about Luke Skywalker’s dad or that the whole thing was a snow-globe, but I don’t pay much heed to that increasingly obnoxious warning, SPOILER ALERT. The end is just another place to start.

This is how I was introduced to Katrina Best. Best is an author who wrote a book of short fiction called Bird Eat Bird in 2010. A year later, that same book earned her the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book, and, until last week, I hadn’t read a word of it. Knowing Best was coming to town for the Morris House Reading Series, I sat down to read it and I put a lot of pressure on myself to do so because invariably, whenever I meet an author, I have failed to read most of book they are promoting and I feel terribly awkward about it. It usually goes like this: “Well, hello, author of significant literary standing whose book or books I have not actually finished reading but will no doubt garner enjoyment and/or enlightenment from. I hear you write books. Do you use words? I like words. I once used a semi-colon like you wouldn’t believe. So, yeah. Books, huh? Oh hey look, they have cheese. I’m going to go stand over there now.”

I should try to explain that it isn’t due to a lack of interest or respect. Authors are some of the best people you will ever meet. I just have poor time-management skills. This time, though, I managed to get through two stories before I was off to meet Best. Not perfect but I felt it was enough of an ‘in’ and I could reasonably hope to engage the esteemed Best in conversation and not sound like a rubber-mouthed, cheese-eating, semi-colonite. Ha. Well, at least this time I didn’t have any cheese.

I was introduced, pleasantries were exchanged and then, rather unpredictably, I was I asked whether I’d noticed that the last page of the book was missing. It seems the publisher had made a bit of a mess with the print run. Ha ha. I had not noticed. I stammered; I hemmed and hawed; I apologized for failing to read the entire book; I lamely blamed Jonathan Swift. I am not cool.

Katrina Best, thankfully, is. Despite her frustration and dismay about her publisher’s mistake she apologized in a charmingly British and self-deprecating way, made light of it and even suggested we hold a contest for which readers could submit their own endings. She went on to read, in a highly entertaining manner no less, with colourful voices and everything, from two of her stories. The first, “Lunch Hour,” begins with the demise of a pigeon and “Red” about the day in the life of a troubled Montreal woman in which the last two pages inform everything strange that’s come before.

So, here’s the thing: I will no longer feel bad about not having read the entire book and I stopped worrying, mostly, about being awkward around an author. I suppose most people read a book before they meet the author, if at all, and that’s the usual chronology but it occurred to me that my introduction to Best by way of that last, missing page meant I was just starting at the end. That blank page , I think, made for two pretty good stories. One is the story of getting to know Best’s work and looking forward to what I haven’t read yet. The other is the story of the day we got to know Best the person who, I should add, has endeared herself to me forever by graciously honouring my cheeky request that she sign that last blank page.

If you’re interested in buying a copy of Bird Eat Bird (with a photocopy of the last page included) it’s on sale at the Bishop’s University bookstore. How much is it? Well, I think an old punch-line says it best:

“Twenty bucks, same as in town.”

-Jeff Parent

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The Dog Ate my Homework, and the Pelican ate the Last Page of my Book…

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The first thing I’ve learned from the Morris House Reading Series this year: leave enough space in your schedule to finish the book before the author arrives. I’ll admit I was pretty pleased with myself for making it through all but the last of Katrina Best’s short stories from her collection Bird Eat Bird (Insomniac Press 2010). That is, until I arrived at the bookstore and learned that the last page was missing from the edition I had bought—it somehow missed getting printed—and I hadn’t noticed. Despite this shocking discovery upon her arrival at the Bishop’s Bookstore, Katrina still delivered a fantastic reading. “We’ll put a positive spin on it,” Katrina told everyone at the beginning of the reading, when she admitted the edition the book store was selling was incomplete. “It can become a creative writing assignment; everyone can write their own ending.”
This subtle wit kept the crowd at the reading aptly listening as Katrina read “Lunch Hour,” the first story in the collection, and then a passage from “Red,” the second. I admired her ability to make us grimace and laugh at the same time: trying to mentally picture a pelican eating a pigeon is both fowl (pun intended) and humorous. When asked about her characters, Katrina reflected that “there is a fine line between sanity and insanity, and we’re all walking it.” For me, it is this attention to detail—both of the characters and their experiences—that made her stories so enjoyable to read and hear.
Clearly the first instalment of the Morris House Reading Series was a huge success; Katrina’s easy-going attitude allowed people to feel comfortable approaching her during the reception and line up to get their books signed (and then line up again to get a photocopy of the missing page). “Not many books will become best sellers,” Katrina Best advised us before she left. “But when they do, they can sure help you pay off your student loans.”

 

-Zoe Costanzo

We’re Back… And it’s the ‘Best’! **updated**

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After a summer away, it’s time to start up with this year’s Morris House Reading Series! New year, new schedule, new bloggers. So without further ado, here is our schedule (as of now):

Thursday, September 27, 2012 (That’s tomorrow! Or today if I don’t get this post finished in the next 23 minutes…):
Katrina Best; author of Bird eat Bird, a collection of short stories which was published in 2010 and won the Commonwealth Wriers’ Prize for Best First Book (Canada and the Caribbean) in 2011.
5PM-6PM in the Bishop’s University Bookstore

Thursday, October 18, 2012:
Frances Itani; author of 14 books including Deafening, which received a Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best book and was shortlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.
5PM-6PM in the Centennial Theatre Lobby, Bishop’s University

Wednesday, October 24, 2012:
Michèle Plomer; author of four novels including Le Jardin Sablier, HKPQ, and Volumes 1 & 2 of the Dragonville Trilogy (Porcelaine-2011, and Encre-2012).

AND (this event is twice as exciting since it comes with two authors!)

Anne Fortier; author of multiple novels including Juliet, which has been published in over 30 countries and is soon to be made into a Hollywood movie. Also co-produced Emmy-winning documentary Fire and Ice: The Winter War of Finland and Russia.

3PM-4PM in the Centennial Theatre Lobby, Bishop’s University
**Note: This event is also coinciding with “Creatively Yours: A Mosaic of Bilingual Readings”, organized by Diane Mills with the Lennoxville Public Library & Champlain, in which Michèle Plomer will also be presenting.

November 2012: November 15, 2012
Carmine Starnino; author and poet of multiple works, including The New World (1997), which was nominated for the 1997 A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry and the 1997 Gerald Lampert Award, and This Way Out (2009) which was nominated for a Governor Generals Literary Award in poetry.
5PM-6PM in the Bishop’s University Bookstore

Thursday, February 21, 2013:
Jeramy Dodds; his first poetry collection Crabwise to the Hounds (2008) was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize, and won the Trillium Book Award for Poetry, the 2007 CBC literary award, and the 2006 Bronwen Wallace Memorial Award.
5PM-6PM in the Bishop’s University Bookstore

Thursday, March 31, 2013:
Douglas Gibson; who has a long and impressive track record in the publishing industry, and has recently published Stories about Storytellers (2011).

Pearls of Wisdom From Me to You

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So the end of the year is coming up, and I realized that the last post I put up here was about Jeramy Dodds not being able to come down—and, well, that’s not an ideal place to stop posting on a blog. All the other writers did show up, and were wonderful. But I also wanted to come on here one last time to tell you guys about how much I’ve loved posting to you, and how much I’m going to miss Bishop’s and working for Morris House.

Last week (or something like that, time is kind of blurring together), I wrote a letter to the managers of the Tomlinson internships about what I’ve learned working for Morris House. I realized as I was writing my letter that there are a ton of things that I couldn’t write down, so I wanted to put them here. This is a moment when I get to say what I really think, and I love that. So here’s a list of all the “unofficial” stuff I learned as an intern:

1)      Writers like campus ghost stories better than they like actual official campus tours.

2)      Internships aren’t as scary or awful as The Devil Wears Prada makes them out to be. In fact, chances are your boss will be awesome.

3)      Checking your email every day is a healthy step into becoming a full-blown professional.

4)      Being able to laugh at a situation and make the most of it can make a world of difference; if you have a positive attitude, other people will pick up on that and feel positive too.

5)      No matter how much you plan something, there will always be hiccups that you’ll need to deal with on the fly. Budget in the time for it.

6)      Everyone has a different story about how they became a published author, but a good way of going about things is this: publish short stories, win prizes, keep publishing short stories, go to readings, meet authors. Eventually a publishing house (that you’ll hear about through your author peeps) will want to publish your novel, since you have such a great reputation.

7)      Every writer gets rejection, that’s part of the game. Keep trying, though, since you only need one “yes” to be published.

8)      Writers don’t update their promotional pictures very often. They’re usually at least five years older than their picture makes them out to be. Sneaky buggers.

9)      Shalimar in Lennoxville has a spicy food scale, but if you say you want 3 out of 5 and you look like you can’t handle spicy food, they’ll make it a 2 instead (which will hurt your pride, but come in handy when you realize you’ve chugged three glasses of water and are only half-way through your dinner).

10)   Be firm but friendly with people when they let you down. You don’t want to burn bridges, but they need to know what you expect of them. Make sure you listen to their side of the story too. They’ll be more likely to listen to you, if you made sure to listen to them.

11)   Small talk is a necessary art.

12)   Funding pays for 90% of everything that happens on campus. Always thank the sponsors.

13)   Becoming a writer is like becoming anything else; it’s 80% hard work, 10% connections (that you can make through hard work), and 10% talent.

14)   You can spy on people in the Quad from Cleghorn.

15)   Writers are nice, charismatic people. Put a bunch of them in the same room and you will have hours of entertainment.

16)   Write as often as you can.

17)   Developing your voice is key to becoming a writer. It’s not so much about the stories; if you have an imagination, you’ll always have stories. It’s about knowing how to tell them that makes the difference.

18)   Teamwork is a wonderful thing and thank your lucky stars when you get to be part of a good one.

19)   Writers like to have a glass of water when they do a reading: make sure you have a glass of water ready for them.

20)   It can be hard to find a glass in McGreer.

21)   If you want to be a writer, you should seriously consider going to readings, becoming a member of the Quebec Writer’s Federation (or your province’s equivalent). This is where you get to meet other writers and publishers. It helps build your professional network.

22)   Pascal Girard is waaaay younger than his cartoon portrait makes him out to be.

23)   You can know lit theory, but you need street smarts too. And by “street smarts” I mean internship smarts. (That means all those little bits of professional/ life wisdom that you can’t exactly explain or quantify, but that make a world of difference).

Best of luck on all your exams! I wish you most amazingest epic grades ever. As for me? I’m off into the world. Who knows what’s in store…..

EMERGENCY -PLEASE READ

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Last night I was working with Alexis on our MC routine for the St. Paddy’s authors reading (apparently people are referring to it as the “green beer” event). Now, one thing you guys need to know about Alexis is that this week has turned him into an email addict. He’s been getting emails all week long, almost non-stop. So part way through working on our MC material, he stops and says that he needs to check his email. Like a junkie that needed a fix of delicious email goodness.

So he checks his email, and there, in his inbox, is a message from our supervising professor titled: EMERGENCY –PLEASE READ.

As an intern the night before the launch of the event you’ve been planning all year, your heart stops a little bit when you see something like that.

So this is what we found out: Jeramy Dodds can’t come. There’s an emergency, and it’s out of his control and he’s very sorry. The doctors have told him he can’t fly out, and health is more important than a workshop, no matter how much we were looking forward to it. So let’s all send him some good vibes and hope that he gets better.

Radio Interviews and How to Find Them

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I tried to get my radio interviews up for you guys, but WordPress won’t let me do it unless we upgrade to a premium account and we’re not ready to go to that level just yet. So I’m sorry. BUT, if you missed them, you’re not out of luck: CJMQ has the interviews posted in their interview archive page, so you can check them out at http://www.cjmq.fm/?page=interviews. Trust me, it’s Donna Morrissey and Alison Garwood-Jones. They are awesome.

Thoughts?

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We approved the schedule for SWEET a couple of days ago, and it is going to be sweet! (haha, see what I did there). Basically, it’s going to be jam-packed. I’m actually kind of heart-broken, because my workshop (I’m going to Donna Morrissey’s “Write Here, Write Now”) is on at the same time as “The Blogger’s Survival Guide.”

This would count as a first world problem, I’ll admit that, but I’m still heart-broken.

Have you guys seen the schedule yet? Sometimes it’s hard remembering that other people might not know as much about SWEET (we’ve been working on this since September, and we’ve been talking about it since last year).  I’ll get the schedule up for you guys, just in case you haven’t seen it yet.

Also, we’ve been having a pretty tough time deciding on our venue for our concluding hang out. This would be a neat little reading where students who’ve gone through the workshops can showcase a bit of the stuff they’ve been working on over the last few days.

Our venue needs to fit these requirements:

Needs to be cozy, but not so cozy that it’s squishy.

Needs to have food (cause snacks are always nice).

Needs to have booze (cause liquid courage is especially useful in these situations).

Needs to have decent equipment so people can hear the readings.

Needs to be quiet enough for us to hear the readings, but not so quiet that it’s ominous.

I think that’s it.

So we’re been tossing up locations, like:

The Lion has booze and snacks, but is a bit too loud.

Café Lennox is cozy and has booze and snacks, but it’s too small.

Paterson Assembly Hall is not cozy and would look strange.

Thoughts?