Fall Haul

Freelancing comes with considerable perks, but every once in a while I miss the excitement of being in-house when a full new season of books has emerged from editing and design and production, and is ready to go out to stores. In lieu, here is my season – some manuscripts I’ve worked on that are now real, live books in real, live stores.

Four Billion Years and Counting: Canada’s Geological Heritage (Nimbus)
This one was a long time coming, and yes, jokes about the pace being appropriate to the material were made numerous times along the way. Editing this book was an incredible crash course in geology and even though I’ve read it a few times over I can’t wait to read it again in book format.

A History of Annapolis Royal, vol. 2 by Barry Moody (Nimbus)
This second volume of the town’s history stretches from its days as a British fort in the eighteenth century up to the twenty-first century, with the community making significant investments in its heritage buildings and becoming established as a leader in this scale of preservation. I think my favourite chapter was the one that covered the late nineteenth century, when the railway connected the towns of the Valley and local manufacturing (stoves and shoes and kitchen implements) was viable in those towns. Can we go back to that?

Going Over by David Mossman (Pottersfield)
I worked on this in its early stages, before it found its way to a publisher, and I was delighted when David told me it had been picked up. It’s the story of his dad’s experience in the first world war, book-ended by chapters on his childhood and adult life in Lunenburg County, NS. It’s also the story of the sleuthing and occasional acts of imagination involved in writing about the lives of close family members.

Simply Modern: Contemporary Designs for Hooked Rugs by Deanne Fitzpatrick (Nimbus)
This is the second book of Deanne’s I’ve edited. She’s very contemplative about her work and although I’ve never hooked a loop in my life, many of the things she had to say about making art and making a living as an artist have stayed with me from her last book, Inspired Rug Hooking. In her new book she talks specifically about how to bring a modern aesthetic to hooking, which has a tended to adhere to more traditional patterns and subject-matter.

Mary Morrison’s Cape Breton Christmas by Bette MacDonald (Nimbus)
Holiday-themed collections are not normally my bag, but a comedian taking pot shots at Christmas is a whole other situation. This was the first time I’d edited straight-up humour, as opposed to, say, humorous passages in fiction manuscripts. Once I got over my anxiety about editing someone who makes a living being funny, I had a very good time.


It’s hard not to sound a bit twee when declaring a love for physical books these days. “I just love all your books!” Do you? All of them? What about that one? But I do love, or at least like, all of my books, and that is why I want them in plain view. I want to be reminded to reread the ones I think of as my favourites. I want to go back and find that quote about coelacanths that I remember being somewhere near the bottom of a right-hand page. And I want to do so while sprawled on the floor in the living room, not hunched over my computer screen. When I go home to visit my parents in B.C. I like to wander the downstairs bookshelves and pick from the spines that have been part of the landscape there for the last thirty-ish years. Actually, my mother and I did a big review of the family bookshelves this summer. We started off by going to the local library’s book sale to get a big bag of new goodies just in case we came up with any available shelf space and needed to fill it fast. This is how we roll, but I don’t not understand the appeal and convenience of e-books, or on the other hand the appeal of acquiring, as you can, a photo-shoot’s worth of turquoise hardcovers to gussy up a room. Books are attractive as objects qua objects. But more so, I think, when you know what’s inside. Or plan to know what’s inside. Then too there’s something reassuring in a physical extension of your thinking, when what’s filtering through your brain is also there in hard copy in the room with you.

Mireille Silcoff in The New York Times Magazine writes about the phenomenon of books as decor in the age of digital reading, Etsy and interior design fads:

A few years ago, I started noticing a small wave of a new kind of book: highly displayable coffee-table books about the display of books. They had names like “At Home With Books” and “Books Do Furnish a Room,” and felt a bit like an adjunct to that classic, recursive “Seinfeld” gag: Kramer’s coffee-table book about coffee tables that could double as a coffee table.

She makes some interesting observations and is pretty balanced about it on the whole, pointing out sentimentalities on both sides. The full article is here.

And then Fran Lebowitz’s comments on books and square footage, from her interview with Paper magazine, have been making the rounds of bookish websites the past couple of weeks:

Even if you’re moving to an apartment that turns out being OK, like last time, which was only four years ago, if you have 10,000 books, it’s a difficult undertaking. The more that you mention this to people, even if people know about it, the more you are criticized for having 10,000 books. I finally said to somebody the other day, “You know what? They are books. It’s not like I am running an opium den for children. There’s nothing wrong with that — you may not want to have that, you may think that’s crazy, but you cannot have a moral objection to this.”

While I was in B.C., sorting, my friend Hillary stayed in my apartment for a couple of days and when I got back I noticed that one of the books on my shelf, Possum Living: How to Live Well Without a Job and With (Almost) No Money by Dolly Freed, was upside down. This seemed fitting, so I left it as is and emailed Hill to tell her I had sleuthed out her reading preferences. In fact she is hands down the most frugal person I’ve ever known and unless she wanted to start distilling her own alcohol, has very little to learn from Dolly. But I liked knowing that she’d passed through the shelf. And of course if I’d gone fully digital and sold the lot she would have been up the creek and forced to stare at the ceiling. Hoarding books is also an act of hospitality.

The first poetry book I ever edited was a very bookish collection by K.I. Press, appropriately called Spine, and it includes a poem inspired by a dinner party at a house (her father-in-law’s, if I remember correctly) overflowing with books. The last stanza has always stayed with me:

The Chaucer stayed in its shelf
and laughed and whispered
under its breath. The world, it said.
Sign here.

And that’s part of it, I think. The world! A bit of it. The possibility of it. In your house.

“Grist” by Linda Little

I had the great pleasure of editing Linda Little’s third novel, Grist, last spring and behold, one spring later, it’s out in the world, being read and reviewed, including high praise here in the Winnipeg Free Press. Congratulations, Linda!

Visit Roseway Publishing’s site for a full description and tour information.

The Best Canadian Poetry 2013

I was thrilled when I found out this spring that one of my poems, “The hook made in blacksmithing class, but we aren’t allowed to drill into the wall” (which originally appeared in The Antigonish Review), was selected for this year’s edition of The Best Canadian Poetry in English, published by Tightrope Books. I am in ridiculously, embarrassingly good company in this anthology and can’t wait to get my copy in the mail.

For those within range, the book launch will be in Toronto on Tuesday, December 3 at PJ O’Brien Irish Pub, 39 Colborne Street, starting at 7pm.

O writing shed!

I’m spending some time this fall with friends on the north shore, enjoying a change of scenery and managing to get some writing done in between editing projects. Although writing generally happens in fits and starts for me, I tended to chalk it up more to a lack of moral fortitude than to environs. If you are already undisturbed by kids, roommates, or a full-time job, what could possibly be stopping you? For that reason I’ve never put a lot of stock in writing retreats. Usually the ones I’m drawn to are in places like Arizona and New Mexico and I tend to get really fired up about applying for them sometime in February, which I think says more about my need for sunshine and desert than for a place to write. Likewise, I can’t say that I ever fully understood the need for a writing shed. It doesn’t mean I didn’t want one, but it was usually about the appeal of the structure itself rather than any thought of the work that might get done once I was inside it. Three weeks into borrowing one, and I am quite sold. There is something substantial that happens in the paces between house and shed that sets me up for a solid few hours of thinking and writing. Mine is fairly deluxe and not really in the shed category at all, but is free of electricity and internet connection, which has, surprise, surprise, turned out to be a crucial element.

On a (multiply) related note, I’ve just found out about the Guardian website’s series on writers’ rooms. Though now apparently defunct, there’s some good reading in the archives. This one, from August 2007, was supplied by Seamus Heaney, who died last month. It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve really dug into Heaney’s work, but lately I’ve been keeping the final stanzas of his poem “North” on my desk as a sort of prompt, so I thought I’d post them here:

It said, ‘Lie down
in the word-hoard, burrow
the coil and gleam
of your furrowed brain.

Compose in darkness.
Expect aurora borealis
in the long foray
but no cascade of light.

Keep your eye clear
as the bleb of the icicle,
trust the feel of what nubbed treasure
your hands have known.’

(Photo by Eva Bartlett: ingaza.wordpress.com)

Two poems in Prism 51:2

I have two poems, “La Cumbre, Argentina” and “Another winter on the marsh,” included in the new, food-themed issue of Prism International. (Food and drink, actually – and mine are rather drinky.) In the very good company of Sarah Selecky, Laisha Rosnau, John Barton, Rhona McAdam and many more. And let’s talk about that magnificent giant peach on the cover!

Robbie! How did you get here so quickly?

I made some grand pronouncements last Robbie Burns Day as to how I would celebrate it this year, but today I’m knee deep in a big editing project, don’t have any scotch on hand and most definitely did not attempt to make haggis. I can, however, share the link to this wonderful video of Robyn at Calderwood Primary performing “To A Louse”:

(Don’t miss the bit where she brandishes the trophy.)

Orlando and the elkhounds

I don’t generally show much follow-through with structured reading plans, but I seem to continue to make lists anyway. This year I made two. First, I’d like to reread my Classics degree (not least so that I can stop saying, “But don’t ask me anything!” the odd time it comes up in conversation). Second, I’d like to reread some of the books I think of as my favourites but that I may not have read in a decade or more, just to check in on them again, maybe see if anyone might need to be asked to get down off the podium. I won’t share the entire ambitious list in case the whole thing blows off course next week, but there have already been some good surprises, including this one:

…“Take the swiftest horse in the stable,” he said, “ride for dear life to Harwich. There embark upon a ship which you will find bound for Norway. Buy for me from the King’s own kennels, the finest of elk hounds of the Royal strain, male and female. Bring them back without delay. For,” he murmured, scarcely above his breath as he turned to his books, “I have done with men.” (from Orlando by Virginia Woolf, 1928)

Welcome, 2013.

From the first chapter of my first read of the new year:

If you’re lucky—very lucky—it’s sunny, and it’s evening, so the slant light emphasizes the slight rise of the figures from the rock (their epirelief) and calls them to special eloquence, along with the deep nostalgia that dusk always lends its subjects. Pure memory. It is 570 million years ago on the other side of the Iapetus Ocean, an ocean that by the end of the Paleozoic will have closed like a slow gigantic wink, along the continental shelf of Gondwana, the parent continent of both Africa and the Avalon Peninsula. Slim creatures sway at different heights in the tide, giving and taking from the water, existing in a world without predators. It is also, say, a Tuesday in September on the southern tip of the Avalon Peninsula; the sun is setting; you’d better get going if you want to reach your car before dark.

from “Ediacaran and Anthropocene” in The Shell of the Tortoise by Don McKay (Gaspereau Press, 2011)

The Antigonish Review, issue 171

Some self-promotion: The latest issue of The Antigonish Review includes a set of three poems by me, about apartment living and transience and tools that get used for decoration rather than for their intended purpose. This issue also includes work by Paul Headrick, Sean Howard and David Adams Richards. And the cover art is by Jon Claytor, a painter who went to Mount Allison University around the same time I did and whose work I like a lot. Alright.