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Dazzling Memoirs

In my book on memoir, Memoir: Conversations and Craft, I had the great good fortune of interviewing seven distinguished Canadian writers who have written memoirs. They were my “dream team” of authors, chosen because I admire their writing and referred to them often when I taught memoir workshops. With luck, I thought half of the group would say yes to my request of an interview to be included in my book. To my delight, all seven said yes.

I heartily recommend their memoirs.

BONUS: Enter to win a copy of Memoir: Conversations and Craft at our giveaways page!

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Writing Style and Focus

Causeway: A Passage From Innocence, by Linden MacIntyre

Can a writer be both punchy and elegant? Yes, they can. I have always enjoyed Linden MacIntyre’s writing style. I read Causeway: A Passage From Innocence, MacIntyre’s "hauntingly bittersweet memoir of home, fathers and sons, and the bridge between dreams and demons,” when I had been living in Cape Breton for about ten years. I couldn’t put the book down. It appealed to me as a "Caper-in-training" (how I ref …

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Shelf Exposure, Ep. 5: Jane Silcott

Jane Silcott

Shelf Exposure goes something like this. We give writers a chance to go away and look over their shelves. They come back armed with a theme, a short list of books that match the same criteria. They've also been given a seemingly random list of requests: Show us a book with a circle on the cover. Show us a paperback that flaps nicely. Show us a book you'd never lend out. Show us a book that makes you angry.

Jane Silcott, author of the personal essay collection Everything Rustles (Anvil Press) does just that, and more!

Bring out your books! Show us your goods! Expose your shelf!

 

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Everything Rustles cover

About Everything Rustles: In this debut collection of personal essays, Silcott looks at the tangle of midlife, the long look back, the shorter look forward, and the moments right now that shimmer and rustle around her: marriage, menopause, fear, desire, loss, and that guy on the bus, the woman on the street, wandering bears, marauding llamas, light and laundry rooms. Why do some moments shimmer, while others fade into a quickly growing morass of "I can't remember?"

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Anthony De Sa on the Intimate Allure of Dark Worlds

Anthony De Sa (Photo credit: Laura Bombier)

As part of 49th Shelf's annual Fest2Fest coverage, we continue to talk with authors appearing at literary festivals across the country. Anthony De Sa appears at the Vancouver Writers Fest.

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Yonge Street shoeshine boy Emanuel Jaques, of Portuguese descent, was sexually tortured and murdered by pedophiles in 1977. No longer Toronto the Good, communities divided while the media and police authorities looked for opportunities to confront the sexual politics of the LGBT community, which was only just beginning to enjoy a sense of social inclusivity.

Kicking the Sky, by Anthony De Sa (Doubleday Canada, 2013).

Anthony De Sa grew up amidst this turmoil as part of a cloistered Portuguese community and has now used Jaques' murder as the backdrop in his novel Kicking the Sky about a group of young boys, and tight-knit friends, on the cusp of adulthood.

Kicking the Sky was always going to speak to me as a reader because I came of age in the town in which two young women were tortured, then murdered, before the general public knew the names Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka. Every car was assessed for make and model, teena …

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Mathew Henderson on Lust and Loneliness on the Oilfields

Mathew Henderson

As part of Fest2Fest 2013, 49th Shelf's annual literary festival coverage, we're talking to authors who are gearing up to present their latest books to audiences across Canada.

Mathew Henderson received a great review of his debut poetry collection The Lease (Coach House Books) in The New York Times—"cuts . . . like a welder's oxyacetylene flame"—and appears at the International Festival of Authors November 2 and 3, 2013. Visit IFOA online for more information.

49th Shelf talks to Mathew Henderson about hard labour and harder men, and lust and loneliness on the oilfields.

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Julie Wilson: You're living in Toronto, originally from PEI. How did you end up working on the oilfields in Saskatchewan and Alberta?

Mathew Henderson: The short version is that I wasn’t accepted into university after high school, partially because I applied late and partially because I was a horrible student, so I had to follow my family out West and get a job. There was also my uncle heading to Alberta when I was very young, my father finally making the trip out there for my uncle’s funeral, my father losing his job, and the decisions the family made to leave PEI.

I worked as a production tester for around a year, then got into the University of Prince Edward Island. There is nothing l …

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Priscila Uppal: How to Mourn the Living

Priscila Uppal (photo: Daniel Ehrenworth)

Projection: Encounters with my Runaway Mother (Dundurn Press—imprint: Thomas Allen Publishers), by Priscila Uppal, has been shortlisted for the 2013 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction and the Governor General’s Literary Award for Nonfiction.

49th Shelf put Projection on its list of books to watch out for back in January 2013. The memoir is an account of Uppal's challenging reunion with the mother in Brazil, and their failed attempt at reconciliation twenty years after Uppal's mother abandoned her, her brother and father.

The Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction will be announced October 21, 2013. The Governor General's Literary Awards will be announced November 28, 2013.

Priscila Uppal appears in Calgary as part of WordFest. Follow all our #Fest2Fest coverage for updates and news.

49th Shelf talks to Uppal about confrontation, a mother's love, and why a book was the perfect format for this story.

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Julie Wilson: You've said there aren't enough books for people—most of us—who don't get the happy ending, and that forgiveness and reconciliation are difficult. Before you began Projection, were you aware of any other books that attempted to track a journey similar to yours?

Priscila Uppal: To be honest, I was more aware of novels and …

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Shelf Exposure, Ep. 4: Donna Morrissey

Donna Morrissey, author of The Deception of Livvy Higgs (Penguin Canada).

Donna Morrissey, author of The Deception of Livvy Higgs (Penguin Canada), is one heck of a live wire, so we couldn't wait to book her for an episode of Shelf Exposure. On the day this was recorded, a tropical storm lashed about Halifax, yet Donna appeared, cozy and safely ensconced in the room that holds all her books.

If you're new to Shelf Exposure, it goes like this. We invite writers to revisit their shelves to identify themes among the books they've collected over a lifetime. Then, we enter a lightning round, during which participants are thrown a host of requests, their only task to hold up a book that satisfies each one.

Bring out your books! Show us your goods! Expose your shelf!

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Donna Morrissey appears at the Wild Writers' Literary Festival, November 8–10, 2013, in Waterloo, ON. Follow #Fest2Fest for all our fall festival coverage. Set in the Maritimes and Newfoundland, The Deception of Livvy Higgs has been called "the Stone Angel of the East Coast." See here for a review.

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Lauren B. Davis: The Great Era of the Drunken Writer Is Over

The Empty Room, by Lauren B. Davis (HarperCollins).

In The Empty Room (HarperCollins), Lauren B. Davis takes readers to the depths of alcoholism, told over the day in the life of a "career" alcoholic, pulling from her own past.

For #Fest2Fest, Lauren B. Davis talks to 49th Shelf about sobriety, the myth of the alcoholic writer, and the ideal book review.

See Lauren at Kingston WriterFest. Information here.

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Julie Wilson: In a scene from The Empty Room, Colleen drops a bottle containing vodka on the bathroom floor. While contemplating if she could bring herself to drink what vodka she might save, she muses that a "little madness could be expected." How did you go about creating empathy for Colleen while maintaining your position as a reliable narrator?

Lauren B. Davis: I like Colleen, even though I want to shake her sometimes, and that's what I want the reader to feel as well. To that end, I tried to show her as being smart and funny, and yearning for much more. I also tried to put her in situations readers might identify with, even though they aren't alcoholic. She is a woman of a certain age who finds she has become invisible, for example. She lives in a city, but without any real friendships and that isolation is a part of so many lives these days. She dreams, even if those dreams—indeed her very life—are n …

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No One-Trick Pony, Ashley Spires Says So Long to Binky

Author/illustrator Ashley Spires.

As part of Fest2Fest, 49th Shelf is checking in with authors and illustrators appearing at one of many Canadian fall literary festivals.

Ashley Spires, creator of the Binky the Space Cat series (Kids Can Press), delights audiences in Saskatoon as part of Word on the Street, Sunday, September 22, 2013. Learn more at the official festival website: www.thewordonthestreet.ca/wots/saskatoon.

Follow all Fest2Fest coverage on Twitter: #Fest2Fest.

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Julie Wilson: First, how's the new home in BC?

Ashley Spires: I've moved back to my home province after four years on the prairies and I'm in heaven. There really is nothing like home. It is a new perspective to move back after such a long time away, especially since I brought my born-and-bred Saskatchewan spouse with me. His views on us West Coasters is sure to give me lots of new perspectives. I just have to figure out how to make a children's book about road rage.

JW: With the conclusion of the Binky the Space Cat series, tell us how that feels as an artist, and how you knew it was time to move on for creativity's sake ...
 
AS: It felt terrific to complete a five-book series. It's so cool to see them lined up on the shelf! But I didn't want to become a one-trick pony. I love the graphic novel genre and I'm trying now to com …

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Sean Kelly on Metal Music and a Quest for Freedom

Metal on Ice, by Sean Kelly (Dundurn Press).

In Metal On Ice: Tales from Canada's Hard Rock and Heavy Metal Heroes (Dundurn Press), musician Sean Kelly (Crash Kelly) interviews Helix, Anvil, Coney Hatch, Killer Dwarfs, Harem Scarem, Honeymoon Suite, and a host of VJS and industry insiders about the exciting rise, then lull, of the Canadian metal scene into the 1990s, and its resurgence in recent years.

"The road to Canadian musical glory is not lined with the palm trees and top-down convertibles of the Sunset Strip. It is a road slick with black ice, obscured by blizzards, and littered with moose and deer that could cause peril for a cube van thundering down a Canadian highway."

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Julie Wilson: Why do you think metal and hard rock resonate so particularly with young fans who become fans for life?

Sean Kelly: They can provide a sense of power and belonging to those who don’t necessarily feel very empowered or included in other areas of their lives, especially young people. Many fans I've spoken with have mentioned that it was through this genre of music that they experienced their first real moments of social bonding outside of their immediate families. There's also an escapist quality to the music that appeals. While they weren’t Canadian, the band Saxon said it best: "Denim and Leather brought us ALL t …

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Laurie Lewis on Memory as Helpful Librarian and Conjuror

Love, and All that Jazz cover

At the end of Laurie Lewis's previous memoir, Little Comrades, it’s 1952 and young Laurie is newly married in New York City. Love, & All That Jazz—both books are published by Porcupine's Quill—picks up shortly thereafter when Laurie meets the brilliant, Manhattan-cool, and dangerously charming musician Gary Lewis. It's the time of Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, and Zoot Sims, and Gary’s life sinks into a sleepless, drug-and-alcohol-fuelled oblivion. Laurie chooses to leave, reporting Gary to the authorities and escaping back to Canada with her child. Love, and All That Jazz continues into the next stage of Laurie's life as a declaration of independence and an exhilarating antidote to defeat.

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Julie Wilson: Hearkening back to your 30 years in book production and design, what makes a book well designed to your hand and eye?

Laurie Lewis: I guess I am still a bit of a book nut, in love (or at least potential love) with the book as a three-dimensional physical object, not simply with the flat surface of each page. I care very much about the typeface—its size, spacing, placement on the page—but I care just as much about the quality of the paper, the kind of binding, the general heft and feel of the book.

JW: Is it the same architecture that makes for a wel …

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Shelf Exposure, Ep. 3: Suzanne Sutherland

When We Were Good cover

Suzanne Sutherland (When We Were Good, Three O'Clock Press) is a bookish sort. A former bookseller, current editorial assistant at a children's publisher—and now debut author—she seemed a natural fit for an episode of Shelf Exposure!

The gist: We invite writers to revisit their bookshelves to uncover previously hidden themes. From there, we enter a lightning round, during which participants are thrown a host of requests, their only task to hold up a book that satisfies each request.

Bring out your books! Show us your goods! Expose your shelf!

 

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About When We Were Good: The year 2000 isn’t starting out too well for Toronto high school senior Katherine Boatman. Not only has her oldest friend ditched her for yet another boyfriend, her beloved grandmother died on New Year’s Eve leaving a void of goodness in her life that Katherine’s not sure how to fill. While overwhelmed with sadness and self-doubt, Katherine unexpectedly finds new love, both for Toronto's underground music scene and for her would-be saviour: a straight edge, loud mouth misfit named Marie. As Katherine seeks comfort in jagged guitars, mind-reading poets and honest conversations, she struggles to figure out not only what she and Marie might mean to each other, but also what it truly means …

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Emily Pohl-Weary on Turning Your Passions into Your Job

Emily Pohl-Weary

Who wouldn't want to turn their passions into their trade? With roots in D.I.Y. culture, Emily Pohl-Weary has been doing it her way for years with all paths leading to more opportunities. Now with five books, a series of comics, and a literary magazine, Kiss Machine, under her belt, her latest book—the teen novel Not Your Ordinary Wolf Girl—(Penguin Razorbill in Canada and Skyscape in the U.S.) is set to be released on readers this September.

49th Shelf sat down to chat with Emily at The Academy of the Impossible, co-founded with Jesse Hirsh in 2011. The Academy is a community learning centre in Toronto where people teach each other how to achieve their dreams. It's the Hogwarts School for Social Good.

Emily's also the founder of the Toronto Street Writers, a free writing group for inner-city youth.

What's impossible? Nothing, if you set your heart and time to it. In this podcast, she talks about her famed grandparents, science fiction writers, Judith Merril and Frederik Pohl, winning a Hugo Award, and how to create an escape from the harsh realities of being a teenager.

 

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