Monday, December 22, 2008

First Review of Bernadette and the Lunch Bunch!

Oddly enough, I got my first review in the USA, where the book hasn't come out yet, rather than in Canada, where it has!

From Kirkus Reviews, January 2009:

First her best friend moves away and then the school system excludes third graders from the science-fair competition. For third grader and budding scientist Bernadette Inez O’Brian Schwartz, this promises to be the worst school year ever. Bernadette is an original—imaginative, organized, moody, but resourceful. Slowly, she makes new friends, a Lunch Bunch with whom she can share strategies for making lunch at school interesting. She has a pirate party, comes to terms with being nothing more than one of the audience for the Talent Show, concocts a project that makes her sad friend Megan smile and circumvents the science-fair decision. Poet and literary critic Glickman’s first novel for children realistically captures elementary-school life with sympathy and humor. Allard’s occasional line drawings show a diverse cast of characters and add to the appeal of this substantial chapter book first published in Canada in 2008.

(Fiction. 7-9)
© Kirkus 2009

A nice review of The Violin Lover



Goose Lane Editions

The violin lover of this carefully crafted novel is Ned Abraham, a physician, a passionate lover of violin music and the dispassionate lover of Clara Weiss, a struggling widow. The only thing Ned and Clara have in common is Clara's young son Jacob, a gifted pianist who, as Ned's musical protege, is instrumental in bringing them together. Otherwise, their clandestine love affair is rife with contradictions: Ned claims to dislike children but is a father figure to Jacob; Clara is a conventional Jewish widow and devoted mother but momentarily neglects one of her children for a tryst with her lover; Ned is a warm and caring physician who doesn't believe in holding hands; Clara values motherhood more than anything else, yet betrays her instincts in a manner that will haunt her for the rest of her life. Small missteps lead to bigger missteps with tragic consequences for all.

This small family drama takes place against the backdrop of a London under siege by blackshirts and a Europe trembling under Hitler's boots. The Violin Lover is not just a love-story gone awry. It is also a celebration of music and beauty. Ned's ability to pluck the violin makes him better at taking a patient's pulse. Clara's skills as an amateur painter help her teach her children to observe nature closely. Zayde, Jacob's grandfather, is able to forget the horrors of pogroms in his native Russia while listening to his grandson play the piano. Magda, Ned's sophisticated long-time lover and friend, befriends her rival Clara in an unexpected show of female solidarity.

Susan Glickman is primarily a poet and a literary critic. However, in this novel she has revealed the keen eye of a painter, the discriminating ear of a musician and that most precious of talents: the ability to write prose like a poet.

In Ned's own words, "music is what you hear when you really listen." The Violin Lover will pluck your heartstrings.

Maya Khankhoje's short story "Going Home" received an honourable mention in the 2007 CBC-QWF writing competition.
COPYRIGHT 2008 Herizons Magazine, Inc. 22-SEP-08

Friday, December 19, 2008

A short film of my husband blowing glass

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Friday, December 05, 2008

Friday, November 28, 2008

Bernadette gets some attention in the online Quill and Quire

Industry news

Girls get Gutsy in new series from Second Story

November 28, 2008 | 5:50 PM | By Danielle Ng-See-Quan

There’s American Girl, there’s Gossip Girl, and now Second Story Press is introducing Gutsy Girl, a YA fiction series inspired by author Susan Glickman’s fall 2008 title Bernadette and the Lunch Bunch.

“They’re stories about girls who confront the world in wonderful and energetic and brave ways,” says Second Story president and publisher Margie Wolfe. “The idea is to inspire the readers to show that the world is truly open to them, and all they have to do is work for it.”

Though Bernadette and the Lunch Bunch was conceived and published as a standalone novel, Wolfe felt there was more there to capitalize on. The series won’t always feature the same characters, says Wolfe, but some may recur, and several different authors have been lined up to pen the books.

The first Gutsy Girl selection, which will be published next spring, is Home Free by Sharon Jennings, a story set in 1960s small-town Ontario about a girl named Lee who is “a bit of a loner and has a huge passion for Anne of Green Gables and loves the whole notion of being an orphan,” says Wolfe. When Cassandra – an actual orphan who has just been adopted – moves in across the street, Lee learns that the reality is a lot different from the fantasy.

The Gutsy Girl idea follows in the vein of Second Story’s Kids’ Power series, which was launched in fall 2007 and focuses on youth activism. Wolfe says the Kids’ Power series has been well received abroad, with international publishers purchasing several installments of the series at once, instead of just individual titles. Wolfe says the international marketplace is where one tends to find an audience for this type of series. “What we found with publishers when we told them about this Gutsy Girl series – everyone got a big smile on their faces,” says Wolfe. “They knew there wasn’t going to be another series out there [like it].”

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Ethics of Governor General's Awards Juries

An unfortunate situation vis a vis the current GG poetry prize has led to some serious discussion -- not for the first time, by any means -- of the jury system, which clearly needs an overhaul. See the following thread from the great blog Bookninja:

Just for the record, my last eligible poetry book wasn't even SUBMITTED by my publisher, so couldn't be considered for the prize by any jury, impartial or not. SO some of us have worse obstacles than juries to overcome.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Link to mp3 file

Queen's University Events - Audio - Common Magic - 2008 - Lyric Poetry - Susan Glickman, Jan Conn and Marie di Michele - Recorded on March 8, 2008 by CFRC 101.9 FM.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Read about my purse!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Books filed by colour

I'm stealing this image from Shawna Lemay's wonderful blog Capacious Holdall, because it's just so damn pretty. Now have a look at her blog!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


from my brother-in-law Gordon, who is a constant source of weird Internet stuff.

Answers to student questions about being a writer

At what point in your life did you decide to be a writer?

I always find this question impossible to answer, because it’s not as straightforward as it sounds! If you decide to become a veterinarian or a plumber or an astronaut or a fireman, you need to undergo a specialized post-secondary training and become certified to practice your trade. That’s not the way it works with writing. Everybody writes in school; those who “decide” to become writers, like me, are those who love it so much they never stop.

What this means is that you are not deciding to start doing something you’ve never done before, but to keep on doing something everybody else gives up; to get really good at something most people do poorly. To that extent, you are like an athlete or a musician, because the only way to get good is to practice, endlessly. Although there are lots of writing programs around, some even granting degrees, no one can actually teach you to write. They can only teach you how to revise and edit what you’ve already written. You still have to produce something from nothing on your own.

Also, writing is not really a profession in the ordinary sense: most writers have to earn money another way and keep working at their writing until they get published, and then keep publishing until they get lucky enough to make money, and even then, most writers still have to hold down another job to pay the bills. So “deciding to become a writer” doesn’t mean that you will earn a living at it; it means that you have made an internal commitment to the craft and will organize your life so that you always have time for it. And recognizing that you may have to give up other things in order to put the writing first.

What motivated you in that direction, and what are some experiences you had that eventually led you to this point?

I worked in publishing for a couple of years and then as a university professor for many more years and found myself obsessively editing everybody else’s work, and yearning for more time to work on my own stuff. I was never very interested in the business side of publishing, or the administrative side of academia; nor was I interested in literary theory for its own sake as so many of my colleagues were. I always wanted to take stories or plays or poems apart and see how they were made.

What do you enjoy about being a writer; what are the perks?

I love writing for two reasons. First and foremost I love making things with words; I love entering that state of intense mental excitement and working towards the best way of saying something. And secondly, writing is how I learn about the world. I find out what I know about things by writing about them, and writing forces me to learn new things all the time.

What do you dislike or wish to change about your occupation?

It can be lonely; you work in solitude all the time and rarely have people to share your work with. It can be frustrating: you send work out to be published and then wait for months and months for a response. It is very poorly paid. The tax laws are not geared towards writers, who may earn virtually nothing for several years and then get paid all at once, at which point they are taxed heavily. And being self-employed, writers have a hard time getting health and disability insurance, and therefore are doubly vulnerable financially.

Another problem is that other people think you are not really working because you’re at home, and they can’t see visible evidence of effort, so they don’t respect your time.

Do you find yourself writing more about personal experiences, or about imagined scenarios? Why?

In my poetry, I draw a lot on personal experiences, though I always see myself as an individual example of events that are universal. That is, I use my life as a repository of people, places, and things that I know about, through which I can explore subjects that interest me. So the “I” of my lyric poems is never straightforwardly me, myself, but the voice of that particular poem, which might or might not borrow something from Susan Glickman’s actual life.

In my fiction there are invented characters, so I have a lot more freedom to imagine experiences I haven’t actually had. Still, I have to draw on my own understanding of the world to be able to make convincing characters so to that extent I am limited by my own “self”, even when I don’t speak as myself.

What is the message you hope to put across to the general public through your writing?

No message; never any message!! Why? Because any message that literature could put across would be so vague and general as to be useless. War is Hell; Life is complicated ; Love one another or die: what use are messages like that?

Contrary to what most high school English teachers tell you, how literature works is not by sending out messages. Literature gives us the space and time to imaginatively inhabit another person’s life and empathize with his or her situation. In daily life we never get to enter anybody’s mind but our own, but literature gives us the opportunity to be lots of other people. This is really the moral dimension to literature: that it insists that we transcend our egos and be empathetic.

As Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote in “A Defense of Poetry, "A man, to be greatly good, must imagine intensely and comprehensively; he must put himself in the place of another and of many others; the pains and pleasures of his species must become his own."

When you write something you are creating a world for the reader to enter, building scenes for that reader to experience. Each individual work may grapple with certain themes that become a moral focus for the characters and therefore for readers as well, but this is not the same as being didactic and having a “message”.

National Novel Writing Month

There's a huge group of people trying to write a 50,000 word novel in November. Here's the link:

My mind just won't go there...

Friday, October 31, 2008


We are extremely unhappy with the damage inflicted on our beautiful Turkish hazelnut tree in the name of the City’s new program, and wish to address the justification given for this program as follows:


This is illogical. The number of trees the City has planted and the rate at which they grow remains the same whether you prune all the trees on a schedule or on an as-needed basis. Currently you are pruning all trees planted between 1997-2005. If you waited to see which of those trees actually needed pruning, the likelihood is that you would not, in fact, have to prune as many as you are doing in according to your “proactive” policy.


But do you have any evidence that recovering from one or two large wounds, which is all I see on mature trees around Toronto, is any worse than recovering from 20 smaller ones, which is what you inflicted on our tree by adhering to your policy of 8 feet of clearance? If you waited until the tree was taller to see which branches actually cause problems you might not have to prune any at all!

Following your logic, OHIP’s policy would be to take out your child’s appendix, gallbladder, wisdom teeth, adenoids, and tonsils, in one big operation while he’s small, with the justification that kids recover better from their wounds when they’re young than when they are older, and they don’t have the manpower to do surgery on an as-needed basis.


Of course. But in the case of our tree, its lowest branches already cleared all sidewalks and walkways!!! And most of the branches that were removed were over our porch, providing us with privacy, shade, and greenery. They weren’t even over public space.


But that’s exactly why we’re upset—you didn’t! A Turkish Hazelnut is meant to be rounded and taper to the top; it has many lateral branches. The arborist went to work with a chain saw and a mandate to clear 8 feet, and no concern whatsoever for the characteristic silhouette of the tree. You say you can’t rely on homeowners, but ANY homeowner would have done a better job than this professional. “The tree’s form” is ruined forever.


But haircuts are done for cosmetic reasons, and this was not.
And hair grows back, but these boughs can never grow back.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


I was working at home all day yesterday and around midday, heard the sounds of a chain saw outside. Thought nothing of it, as both houses across the street from me are being renovated; just closed the window, and kept on struggling with research for my novel, mainly legal stuff about the youth justice system and the differences between open and closed custody. In the middle of this research, I got a phone call from the vice principal of my son's high school asking for permission for him to be interviewed by the police about being mugged on the way to the school dance last Thursday--an event he never told me about, because he didn't want me to worry.

I spoke to my son, the Vice Principal, the police, and my husband, who came home as soon as he could to discuss further strategy. Naturally, I was surprised when he burst in the door calling "Have you seen the tree? What happened to the tree?"

We have (had) a beautiful spreading hazelnut tree in front of our house; in fact, to most people in the area, we were 'the house with the tree.' It provided a wonderful leafy haven; we loved nothing better to sit on our porch in the green shade, screened from the whole world. Hallowe'en being this week, we were just about to engage in our annual ritual of hanging little witch and ghost and skeleton dolls from its branches, to sway in the breeze and spookify things a little. Almost did it on Sunday; now I keep thinking "if only I had, if only I had..."

This is how the tree looks now:

The City of Toronto Department of Urban Forestry denies doing it. Toronto Hydro denies doing it. But who else goes around the city with a chain saw, and a truck to carry away the branches, blatantly trimming trees, without permission, without sending a notice to homeowners, in the middle of the day? And a neighbour saw a City truck parked on the street. And two other trees on my block were attacked as well, though neither as savagely.

This cannot have been for the health of the tree, for it was thriving. It was not in the way of wires, not a threat to pedestrians, and certainly not a threat to us. No one had complained.

And we have no recourse.

And the branches will not, will not, will not ever grow back.

Monday, October 20, 2008

I love A.L. Kennedy

And if I keep posting these wonderful essays by people other than myself I might get a reputation for a wisdom I don't possess, just by association!

Interview with Scottish writer AL Kennedy in the online journal the Huffington Post, Posted October 23, 2005

Fewer publishing houses concentrated in conglomerate hands trying to produce more books of less quality. No full time readers, no full time copy editors and therefore missed newcomers and pisspoor final presentation of texts on the shelves, silly covers, greedy and simple-minded bookshop chains, lunatic bidding wars designed to crush the spirit of unknown newcomers, celebrity “tighten your buns and nurture your inner pot plant” hard backs and much related insanity. Go somewhere else if you can, there is nothing like watching people who care about books being destroyed by publishing to put a blight on your afternoon.

Write as well as you possibly can. Markets won’t help you, networking might (Although it will probably also involve the removal of your soul and will only help a little if you can’t write). Sleeping with writers makes them very happy, but as the ability to type with any kind of skill is not contagious, it won’t actually help you. And then we get into sleeping with/ selling drugs to/ blackmailing editors, agents and so on – and if you have the knack of doing that, you don’t need my help.

Find someone you can trust to look at your work, get it into the best possible shape, ruthlessly. Take advice from The Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook on agents and editors that might suit and then contact them, one at a time. You will probably need an agent to help you catch any editor’s eye, these days—no one really has the time to read any more. And you could try praying, or voodoo. The market is now probably beyond saving and access is ever-decreasing. If I were starting now, I'd be nowhere. Sorry.

No. Or not quickly, unless you are incredibly lucky. Fiction is not exactly fashionable right now and never really has been a big earner. Then again, if you are writing literary fiction, you probably do it fairly helplessly, because you love it. The fact that we do it for love is, sadly, well-known amongst publishers, editors and so forth and this means we will receive the bare minimum and still be quite happy in an odd kind of, blood-soaked way. Welcome to wonderful world of literary fiction.

Your agent will make a little. Your publisher will mess up making what they could.
And if they mess up too badly you’ll end up out of print. But who needs money?—be happy if you’re in print at all—you can sell your organs to foreign businessmen, you have possibilities, get on with it… And you could be a poet – they don’t make anything…

Endless community halls and libraries, immensely tiring tours of places that might be interesting if you ever got to see them, food you can’t eat, or never get, not enough sleep, crushing isolation, little or no chance of a cup of tea on the road, endless working to subsidise the writing… oh yes, it’s all a breeze. Sometimes, you may get to meet the former Bishop of Edinburgh, that’s one of the few high points.

Sometimes it is nice. Sometimes it is immensely grisly. I would recommend tours of Germany, the Leukerbad Festival, The Edinburgh Book Festival, the Victoria Festival, the Vancouver Festival and a few others, but it’s not a roller coaster of unlimited fun out there. Then again, it's nowhere near as lousy as waking up in Fallujah, or being a coal miner—so the whining should be limited.

I’ve told you before—keep away from those academics.

Of course, when I say “table”, I don’t mean quite the “table” you do—but that’s a good thing. It means you help me to make my “table” mean more.

Language used carefully unites more than it divides, communicates more than it obscures, but it’s also like a gun—it can do as much damage as the person in control of it has the power to inflict. So it’s our duty to learn how to use and understand the words around us. Hint—rush into a room full of Wittgenstein fans and yell "Fire !"—check if they interrogate your meaning for a fortnight, or run for the exits.

Years of practice and observation.

Which isn’t the answer you wanted. I could say “capturing point of view”—but that comes back to years of practice and observation. Or learning a lot about your soul—same problem, if not worse. Just try to be aware of how you work and how that could help you tell other human beings about human beings who don’t exist, but could. Help us to dream together—that’s something we like to do. Tell me a story, I like stories. Tell me as if I were someone you care for, someone you trust and respect, someone as bright as you are, who deserves the best.

You can rip off your life and other people’s stories if you like, but that’s more theft than fiction and it will leave you with precious few friends and very little life remaining. Practically speaking, things you make up (it’s called fiction, remember) will fit your story better and be more fun for all concerned. This is, at one level, a meditative flight from self –that’s surely rather better than rummaging round in other people’s leftovers

Give yourself a severe talking-to. But if you can’t persuade yourself otherwise (and probably you can’t) then what you have to do now, and ever after, is write to the best of your ability and then a little bit better than that.

Then better than that.

And read everything you can, always.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Monday, September 29, 2008

Read about my desk, Friday October 3rd

In Evie Christie's very entertaining blog:

It's scary how much this image evokes me as a child! Clearly Evie is psychic...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Sorted Books Project

wherein you make sentences out of titles, is too much of a time-waster even for me, but I appreciate what others have done. Especially this one!


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Three interviews about my poems on the Canadian Literature Website

Monday, September 15, 2008

Bernadette full colour cover

You have to admit it's pretty damn cute!

Monday, September 08, 2008

Before teaching my first class on Writing the Novel at Ryerson, I re-read these words...

from “Behind the curtain”
an essay by Milan Kundera
published in The Guardian Saturday March 3, 2007

The Novel as Utopia of a World That Has No Forgetting in It

The perpetual activity of forgetting gives our every act a ghostly, unreal, hazy quality. What did we have for lunch the day before yesterday? What did my friend tell me yesterday? And even: What was I thinking about, three seconds ago? All of that is forgotten and (what's a thousand times worse!) it deserves no better. Against our real world, which, by its very nature, is fleeting and worthy of forgetting, works of art stand as a different world, a world that is ideal, solid, where every detail has its importance, its meaning, where everything in it - every word, every phrase - deserves to be unforgettable and was conceived to be such.

Still, the perception of art does not escape the force of forgetting either. Though it should be said that each art has a different relation to forgetting. From that standpoint, poetry is privileged. A person reading a Baudelaire sonnet cannot skip a single word. If he loves it he will read it several times and perhaps aloud. If he adores it, he will learn it by heart. Lyric poetry is a fortress of memory.

The novel, on the other hand, is a very poorly fortified castle. If I take an hour to read 20 pages, a novel of 400 pages will take me 20 hours, thus about a week. Rarely do we have a whole week free. It is more likely that, between sessions of reading, intervals of several days will occur, during which forgetting will immediately set up its worksite. But it is not only in the intervals that forgetting does its work; it participates in the reading continuously, with never a moment's lapse; turning the page, I already forget what I just read; I retain only a kind of summary indispensable for understanding what is to follow, but all the details, the small observations, the admirable phrasings are already gone. Erased. Someday, years later, I will start to talk about this novel to a friend, and we will find that our memories have retained only a few shreds of the text and have reconstructed very different books for each of us.

And yet the novelist writes his novel as if he were writing a sonnet. Look at him! He is amazed at the composition he sees taking shape before him: the least detail is important to him, he makes it into a motif and will bring it back in dozens of repetitions, variations, allusions, like a fugue. And so he is sure that the second half of his novel will be even finer, stronger, than the first; for the farther one progresses through the castle's halls, the more the echoes of phrases already pronounced, themes already set out, will multiply and, brought together into chords, they will resonate from all sides.

What should the novelist do in the face of that destructive forgetting? Snap his fingers at it and build his novel as an indestructible castle of the unforgettable, even though he knows that his reader will only ramble through it distractedly, rapidly, forgetfully, and never inhabit it.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Friday, September 05, 2008

wonderful comic strip: "The Bookseller". Enjoy!

Friday, August 29, 2008

cartoon 14

Red-Headed Bernadette

The sketch you see below is not the completed cover; for some reason I was unable to copy and save the cover pdf in a way that I could transfer to this blog. But it gives you a good idea of artist Melanie Allard's delightful vision of Bernadette (in front) and her friends Annie, Keisha and Megan. Now, the latter three differ only slightly from the images I had of them in my head while writing. I had always imagined Megan MacDonald as a blond. But what this whole exercise of being illustrated has revealed to me is how important it is to guide the reader's perception of your characters! Something I had done much more consciously in The Violin Lover, since that was conceived from the start as a novel, than in Bernadette, which started off as a little picture book, which I thought I would work on in tandem with an illustrator.

But Bernadette's Experiment, the original story written seven years ago, grew, and grew, and grew, and now is an early novel for readers from the ages of 7-10. (I will blog another time about the long tortured road from picture book to novel.) And rather than having full colour illustrations on every page, it has just a handful of line drawings. Moreover these drawings were executed by Melanie without my input.

When I saw Melanie's first image of Bernadette as a girl with long tangled red curls I was shocked, since in my mind she had short dark hair. But of course NOWHERE in the book had I described her, since I had been writing from her point of view and the only thing about her appearance she commented on was how short she was! Nonetheless, it took all of a minute for me to totally accept Melanie's vision of Bernadette and fall in love with it. And now I've written those red curls right into the text, and can't see her as anything but a redhead.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Bernadette and the Lunch Bunch

coming to a bookstore near you!

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Monday, July 14, 2008

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Thursday, July 03, 2008

I Furiosi: Gorgeous video (and a break from my cartoons!)

About the cartoons

Yes, I am the "artist", although they aren't actually drawn, just assembled from online components. The name "Susan" was already in use on the site and since my friend Carrie, an Egyptologist, always calls me "Lotus", I adopted that as my nom de plume. (The name "Susan" comes from the Egyptian word for lotus flower, "she-she," which in Hebrew became "Shoshanah" and took on the meaning of rose.)

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

In My Opinion

There are a heck of a lot of opinions out there. Some days they come at you as thick as black flies over Lac Ouareau on a July afternoon. Small, insistent opinions: some winging singly and some blackening the sky in noisy hordes. Some are meaningful and some mean well and some are just mean, but most are superfluous to our peaceful co-existence on the planet—or at least to the quiet enjoyment of a summer afternoon in the Laurentians. You can swim out to the dock to work on your tan, you can bury your head in an Agatha Christie novel so venerable that it’s lost its cover and smells not of paper but of wood smoke and mildew, but unless you stay under water holding your breath, you just can’t escape the plague of modern opinion.

I should know. I can trace my descent from a series of givers of advice both requisitioned and unsolicited; a long wiggly conga line of experts and teachers and doctors and social workers and other avatars of professional wisdom. Indeed, I myself have been, in my time, guilty of opinion-mongering in mixed company. I was a professor. I was an editor. I was a book reviewer. These learned occupations may seem sufficient justification for one's dispensing one's notions like so much aspirin, since people expect that anyone with a capital P small H capital D after their name ought to have profound thoughts about subjects of passing import. And in fact, in those bad old days, flattered by the merest quiver of interest, I complied whenever possible. I improvised opinions instante, trying to sound witty, informed and sardonic, or sincere, passionate and moral, depending on the subject in question and the degree of engagement of my interlocutor. Nonetheless my belly churned with shame, knowing intimately (as such organs do) that I had no right to trumpet opinions on subjects with which I had insufficient familiarity.

Before Borat declared open season on satirizing Americans, Rick Mercer had a TV show in which he got over-eager Yanks to expose their ignorance of Canada by asking them trick questions like whether the city of Winnipeg should outlaw the annual polar bear hunt. Not wanting to admit they’d never heard of such a thing, they would happily spout nonsense, which the camera obligingly recorded for posterity. Watching them in their enthusiastic innocence being bludgeoned as heartlessly as baby seals, I found myself wondering why people always find it so hard to say, “I don’t know.” Why are we more ashamed of not being able to express an opinion than of expressing a stupid one?

A question worth pondering, my friends, the next time you find yourself tempted to respond to a telemarketer or doodle in the answers to a quiz while waiting for the dentist.

I speak here only of opinions, mind you. Judgments are something else again. There's nothing quite as impressive as a well-considered judgment, robed in evidence and crowned with citations, sturdily shod in footnotes and trailing yards and yards of bibliography. Those guys wind my clock, I tell you; they make me proud to be a primate with opposable thumbs and the two-volume edition of the OED. But judgments deserve respect precisely because they’ve paid their dues. It takes time to arrive at a considered judgment: time to noodle around in libraries, to wander and ponder and get good and lost; time to find your way out of the woods again, older and wiser, following a bread-crumb trail by the light of the moon.

Time is equally essential to all Judgment’s respectable friends and relations: the well-founded Belief, the reasonable Surmise, the profound Conviction, or even the oft-maligned but really rather fetching old-fashioned Doctrine. Stuff that's weathered years and stood up to skeptics, scoffers, and one's own doubts—now that's stuff with substance.

But opinions ... well, opinions give me the heebie-jeebies, and opinions seem to be, increasingly, what people expect writers to have. And I don't mean opinions about books, which are, after all, one's business if one is a writer. I mean opinions about daily life, or politics, or the environment; the kind of opinions people seem compelled to share with each other on talk shows and editorial pages, and even, alas, on Via Rail. Opinions are to judgments what sushi is to bouillabaisse: superficially pretty and chic, but ultimately raw and indigestible. The fast food of the pseudo-intelligentsia; something to be ingested on the run in that heedless North American way so disdained by the French. Insubstantial sound bites prepared by food-stylists instead of chefs.

Think about it for a minute. Why should a writer be expected to be a social commentator? Why would someone whose principal occupation is making a single cup of coffee last for two hours be an authority on how to end violence in the Middle East or shrink the ozone hole over the Antarctic, save the rainforest from the axe or our cultural freedoms from multinational corporations (well, I might just have an opinion worth listening to about that last subject ...) But seriously: how can someone who spends her days changing dashes to parentheses and then to commas have the inside track on anything of world-shaking import? Writers are like mushrooms, thriving best in moldy basements, where they are happiest checking facts and doing the cryptic crossword puzzle. Don't bring them up, blinking, into the merciless light of day, where they will have to reveal their ignorance to people with more money than they, people who have different kinds of shoes for every kind of sport.

What those well-shod folk don't recognize about writers is that we write to learn about things, not to teach them to others. We write to find out what it is we're writing about and you read for the same reason, to find out what it is you're reading to find out. We're all just asking questions here, and what questions deserve are answers. Not opinions.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Writers and the Net

I spent all weekend attending the Writers Union of Canada's annual general meeting in Toronto. A major topic of discussion was the effect of digital media upon writing: in creation (are we stringent enough editors of our own work when we write on the computer?), production (print on demand? e-books?), dissemination (who holds electronic rights? who is recompensed, if anyone is, for them? how free should information be? when is our work not "information"?), and promotion (web presence seems to be mandatory for writers these days, as publishing houses do less for backlist and midlist writers; some writers have cultivated readership almost entirely through their blogs).

According to the experts, I am not using this blog properly! I should update it much more often, and tell the world what I'm reading and writing,so that you will all eagerly anticipate my next book and line up to buy it. Can there actually be anyone out there who actually wants to know what I'm reading (just finished two books of short stories by Ali Smith and started Fabrizio's Return by Mark Frutkin), much less what I'm writing (revising my book of linked short stories for kids as a novel, leaving out two stories to save for later books in the projected series and writing new chapters instead; writing a murder mystery set in contemporary Toronto; working on some new poems), much less what other literary projects occupy my time (going over the proofs for a big book on the geography of aging in Canada that I edited for McGill Queens University Press). And if I tell you this stuff, will you tell all your friends to read my blog and buy my books?

Because that's the real issue, isn't it.

Click and drag a garden

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


DOG'S Diary
8:00 am - Dog food! My favourite thing!

9:30 am - A car ride! My favourite thing!

9:40 am - A walk in the park! My favourite thing!

10:30 am - Got rubbed and petted! My favourite thing!

12:00 pm - Lunch! My favourite thing!

1:00 pm - Played in the yard! My favourite thing!

3:00 pm - Wagged my tail! My favourite thing!

5:00 pm - Milk bones! My favourite thing!

7:00 pm - Got to play ball! My favourite thing!

8:00 pm - Wow! Watched TV with my people! My favourite thing!

11:00 pm - Sleeping on the bed! My favourite thing!


Day 983 of my captivity.

My captors continue to taunt me with bizarre little dangling objects. They dine lavishly on fresh meat, while the other inmates and I are fed hash or some sort of dry nuggets. Although I make my contempt for the rations perfectly clear, I nevertheless must eat something in order to keep up my strength.

The only thing that keeps me going is my dream of escape.

In an attempt to disgust them, I once again vomit on the carpet.

Today I decapitated a mouse and dropped its headless body at their feet. I had hoped this would strike fear into their hearts, since it clearly demonstrates what I am capable of. However, they merely made condescending comments about what a "good little hunter" I am.

There was some sort of assembly of their accomplices tonight. I was placed in solitary confinement for the duration of the event. However, I could hear the noises and smell the food. I overheard that my confinement was due to the power of "allergies." I must learn what this means, and how to use it to my advantage.

Today I was almost successful in an attempt to assassinate one of my tormentors by weaving around his feet as he was walking. I must try this again tomorrow -- but at the top of the stairs.

I am convinced that the other prisoners here are flunkies and snitches. The dog receives special privileges. He is regularly released and seems to be more than willing to return. He is obviously retarded.

The bird has got to be an informant. I observe him communicate with the guards regularly. I am certain that he reports my every move. My captors have arranged protective custody for him in an elevated cell, so he is safe. For now...

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Friday, April 25, 2008


Had an oddly moving experience with a wild critter over the last 24 hours. Last night around 7, I found a wide-eyed baby squirrel between some bedding plants (hostas, very cheap actually) outside a corner store near Rachel's dance class on Parliament Street. I started talking to it and put my hand out, and it jumped into my arms and snuggled in, so I couldn't put it down.

According to the proprietor of the store, the squirrel's mother had drowned on Sunday (I have no idea how; in retrospect I should have asked) and the baby had just stayed there, frightened, for the past four days. They'd given it some peanuts but clearly it was too little to eat them. So I offered to take care of it, and they were happy to see it go.

First I went to a pet store across the street to see if they had formula for baby mammals, and maybe an eyedropper to dispense it with, but they were closed. So I bought some milk, and asked the singing waiter at Jet Fuel to heat it up. He foamed some in the cappuccino machine and I fed the squirrel from my finger. She (I thought it was a boy but it turned out to be a girl) was absolutely ravenous. I kept putting foamy milk on my palm where she was sitting, and she was very happy sucking and licking it off for the whole hour Rachel was at the Canadian Children's Dance Theatre.

A lot of little girls waiting for their class enjoyed the squirrel as well, and made helpful suggestions about names. "Jamie" was popular, as being adaptable to either a boy or a girl. But when Rachel came out of her class, we decided to call the squirrel "Misha" - after Barishnikov - since we thought it was a boy and found it outside a dance studio.

We rummaged through the back of the car, where a couple of bags of old clothes were stowed en route to Goodwill, and made a nice little nest for baby in a purse stuffed with teeshirts. She immediately curled up with her tail over her face and went to sleep. Then we drove to the Village Gate veterinarian at the corner of Bathurst and Nina, knowing he always works late; sure enough, he was still around, and gave us the number of the Toronto Wildlife Centre, but they had already closed. So we made a little cage for the squirrel full of towels and put her in a dark quiet place for the night.

Before I went to bed I checked on her, and offered her a little water in a tiny plastic cup. She reached out with her hands and held tight to the cup, lapping the water up with enthusiasm. In the morning she was quite perky and happy to see me. I gave her some more water and put in another call to the Wildlife Centre. They told me I shouldn't have been handling her or giving her water, but it was clear to me that the squirrel had really needed the comfort of touch and something to drink. She loved being petted just as much as my guinea pigs always do. And I felt confident that I hadn't overfed her.

With her still snuggled in the purse, I drove to the Wildlife Centre, made a hefty donation, and relinquished her care to others with more experience of rehabilitating wild animals. They agreed with my estimate of her age as about 6 weeks old, and her condition as very good. She will be boarded with other baby squirrels and released back to her original area of Toronto in about 8 weeks.

I cried all the way home.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

spring maybe, maybe spring

At Cedarvale Ravine, red-winged blackbirds are out in full force, swaying from the cattails, as are robins, prodding the slush hopefully in search of hidden worms. A few green sprouts have nosed their way up under bridges and in any other area not still two feet deep in snow. There is more sunlight, longer. So although this has been un vrais hiver canadien, and the first such for a very long time, it seems to be on the way out, if not on schedule (the spring equinox having already passed with no discernible effect) at least in conformity with the winters of my youth: to whit, the snow should melt by the May 24 weekend, when gardening begins in earnest.

Like the no white shoes after Labour Day rule of that same distant childhood, the no gardening until Victoria Day ban seems to have eased. Whether this is the result of global warming or the general laxity of modern civilization remains to be seen.

Monday, February 11, 2008