2018 governor general’s literary award gallery

LibrarySelfie copy

An Author at Authors’ Day


Back in May I had the great honour of pinch-hitting as one of four Guest Authors at the Toronto District School Board’s Authors’ Day, part of the TCTE Annual Short Fiction Contest celebration.

My friend and fellow Toronto Women Writers’ Salon member Lesley Anne Cowan organizes this event. I’ve been so eager to get involved with the TDSB that I made a point of telling Lesley I could be available even at the very last minute, if one of the scheduled authors dropped out. Lo and behold, she called me the day before–yet another positive lesson in Sarah-stick-yer-neck-out!

I was massively impressed by the uniqueness and variety of great story concepts I heard the students share. A surly boy who makes daily visits to a seniors’ home. A woman married to an inmate meeting her husband for the first time after his release. A young hitchhiker, the old woman who gives him a ride, and the disastrous effects of their mutual paranoia. Here at the outset of our writing careers, the students seemed to be saying, all subjects are ours. I found this an incredibly inspiring notion.

My two-hour workshop with ten Grade 12 students was a crazily compressed version of my usual twelve-week courses: a brief go-around to introduce ourselves, reading out a page from each story, giving brief feedback, reflecting on general principles. Take risks, I said. Have courage. But I hardly needed to say it! These were confident writers and generous, articulate readers–theirs were the top 40 contest entries in the GTA, after all. I felt inordinately proud when, after we regrouped in the main room, it turned out that my Isabelle had won first place for her story about child sex trafficking, and my Angela’s time-loop tale was a top-ten runner up.

The winners!

bookseller for a day

IMG_0163May 2 was Authors for Indies Day here in Toronto, and I had the great honour of visiting 3 different independent bookstores to chat with readers and talk up my favourite titles.

Audrey Niffenegger's THE TIME TRAVELLER'S WIFE was one of my Author Pics for Authors for Indies Day at Book City BWV.
Audrey Niffenegger’s THE TIME TRAVELLER’S WIFE was one of my “desert island reads” at Book City BWV.

First up was my local Book City in Bloor West Village, where I sat at the sidewalk table and attempted to entice passersby with free bookmarks and buttons. The indefatigable Sarah R. had arranged for bakery cookies and lemonade, which made my son very happy when he stopped by to say hello.

She also set up a very pretty display of Mad Miss Mimic up at the counter!IMG_0147

When a passerby did duck into the store, it was either to buy a newspaper or to meet the great Terry Fallis. After a while I narrowed my sales pitch to calling out, “Terry Fallis is inside!”–path of least resistance.

A Novel Spot

Next I popped into A Novel Spot in Etobicoke, a warmly lit oasis tucked into an interior courtyard of Humbertown plaza. I hung out with authors Jennifer Robson and Jane Mullis, signed copies of MMM for owner Sarah P. and chatted with a customer about whether her daughter will be able to find work after finishing her PhD.

After lunch I hit the road, travelling 90 min east to The Avid Reader in Cobourg. And here’s where I finally got down to the business of book selling. Kelly and Julie took the whole “Author Recommendations” thing seriously, stacking my chosen titles at a centre-of-store table and positioning me behind it while they led customers over one by one. “Well?” Kelly said. “Tell people why they should buy The Scorpio Races (my YA pic by Maggie Stiefvater). “And what is Circle of Stones (by Suzanne Alyssa Andrew) all about; it’s been getting great reviews!”

Hawking books for happy customers!

I sold books. I sold several. Possibly a handful, not counting Mad Miss Mimic, of which I also sold a few. It helped that Kelly and Julie had gotten the word out far and wide, and that everyone who came into the store (and there were dozens) was greeted by name. The Avid Reader is evidently a community hotspot in a community that takes its reading habits very seriously.

Three things I learned on Authors for Indies Day about being a bookseller:

1. You have to like people enough to talk to them all day. 2. You have to read everything you want to sell, pretty much. 3. You have to be savvy about business/publicity/survival.

I’m in awe of the amazing bookstore staff I met on May 2, who meet (exceed!) all three of these criteria with good humour and grace.

handmade sign at A Novel Spot
handmade sign at A Novel Spot

talking it up

IMG_0081Today was a thrilling new experience for me: 5 minutes to introduce myself and Mad Miss Mimic at the Indigo Books Penguin Random House Spring Preview. A room stuffed with booksellers and buying reps (and I mean 50 people stuffed!) all waiting for me to tell them why they should look twice at my book let alone recommend it to customers.

Waiting in the lobby beforehand I was a little nervous quaking in my boots. But I could hear lots of laughter coming from inside the room, and that got me thinking about why all these folks were gathered. I thought, a) they’re here because they’re all readers, all born-and-bred book nuts, b) they’re here to get the scoop on what’ll be coming into their stores over the next few months, c) they’re here for a change of pace, to chat with friends and colleagues, to be wined and dined a little, to collect some free books, to hear from a few authors firsthand what went into the writing…in other words, they’re in no way sitting behind those doors waiting to judge or dismiss me and my newborn book.

IMG_0077This helped immensely with the nerves. Also it helped immensely that I had just the day before received my first copy of the actual printed book! I took it out of my purse and went into that room book-first. I started my little spiel by talking about the cover image: how happy I am about those flowers because they’re so pretty and mysterious but also because they’re opium poppies, and the story involves a drug plot with doctors seeking more potent derivatives of morphine to sell to their patients…

I may have rambled a bit. I almost certainly took more than 5 minutes. But the faces looked interested, I got a few laughs (e.g., “a Victorian London version of Breaking Bad“), and the questions afterwards were great.

Thank you, Sally Sparrow, for snapping (and tweeting) the pic from the back of the room. Nice to have a memento!


book signing newbie

I experienced my first-ever book signing event last week at the Ontario Library Association (OLA) Super Conference. My amazing publicist Vikki handed out advanced reading copies of Mad Miss Mimic to a queue of librarians and other conference attendees, and then I perched at a table in the Penguin Random House booth and signed them.IMG_9622IMG_9623My slot in the schedule was 35 minutes long but it felt like 5 (the ARCs went fast). I was giddy with excitement. I met some lovely people and smiled for lots of photos and urged everyone to take a posy along with his or her book.

The one thing I didn’t think of in preparing for my first-ever book signing was…drumroll…signing the book. Which of the front-matter pages do I sign? What pen do I use (I didn’t bring one!) What should I write, if anything? (Out of last-second desperation I landed on “Happy reading.”). How do I sign?

No, it’s true. I completely blanked on my signature, and in the first couple of ARCs I wrote out my entire name in a kind of demented cursive scrawl. My apologies if you were the recipient of one of these.

How much effort would it have taken, that morning over breakfast, to choose my favourite pen and practice a few times on scrap paper? Why didn’t I think of doing this? I’m fairly sure many people have fantasized about signing their own book. (Or not–this could be one of those nerd-outing moments on my part.) I’m absolutely certain that I have fantasized in the past about signing my book. But when the fantasy came true on OLA day, the actual mechanics of it completely slipped my mind.

I could see a metaphor here for the way I do everything in life: anticipate the bejeezus out of it and then let the big moment slip past me unnoticed. But in fact I had a really, really good time at the Super Conference. I browsed the show floor and talked to book-fair people, literacy advocates, and indie press reps. I listened to CANSCAIP authors read from their latest offerings. I enjoyed the working-holiday vibe of the librarians collecting swag from all the booths. And I felt deep-down proud to be part of the PRH “family” with all its amazing books on display.

So really, my first signing was all I could have hoped for, newbie embarrassments and all.

fairy path

HRcollageA side effect of reading (and teaching) fairy tales: things encountered on the forest path seem just a little less ordinary…


questions for artists


I went to see the Francis Bacon/Henry Moore exhibit at the AGO this summer. During WWII Bacon painted something he called Three Studies for Figures at the Base of the Crucifixion–blind, nightmarish creatures with twisted bodies and many sharp teeth he said he modelled on the Greek Furies (see? I doodled one of them beauties in my journal).

Second Version of Triptych 1944 1988 by Francis Bacon 1909-1992Then in 1988 he painted them again (Second Version of Triptych 1944), this time against blood-red backgrounds.

WHY WHY WHY WHY WHY WHY WHY? My writerly imagination cannot get enough of this craziness. Was it a recurrent nightmare? An obsessive, perfectionist thing like, “I never did get that correct 20 years ago”? Or what?



I’ve written before about the need to warm up the writing “muscles” before getting down to the day’s writing work. At Sarah Selecky‘s “Writing with the Horses” workshop this summer, our first exercise was a warmup: we were to spend a few minutes listing every word we could think of that starts with “H.”

Easy, right? Nope. I ran out of words after about ninety seconds and spent the rest of the seemingly interminable exercise glancing around at the other writers scribbling away and running through my entire standard repertoire of critical self-talk. During the debrief there was lots of laughter as the other writers shared what were, of course, thoughts very similar to my own: “My words aren’t very poetic.” “I’m cheating [e.g., adding suffixes to words I’ve already noted].” “This is only the warmup and I’m already blocked!”

I loved the way this warmup exercise flowed naturally into both an icebreaker discussion for the group and an analysis of the brain’s sneaky methods for censoring creative work before it starts. So now, when I make warmup lists (this morning, all the names of trees that are changing colour in my neighbourhood), I try to note my stream-of-consciousness reactions to the warmup from one moment to the next, too. It’s like taking an internal inventory, much the way I imagine an athlete must take stock of her muscle groups during stretches. Ooh, stiff quads this morning. Lower-back twinge; better watch that.

fire parade, toronto island, august 2014

I don’t know. I mean, village festivals used to be all about serious superstition: connecting with the earth in order to beg its gods not to destroy us with fire, flood or famine. So when a bunch of us hipsters with our aging-hippie parents gather at midsummer(ish) to make paper lanterns and parade around the island and watch a shadow-puppet show and listen to the drumming and gather round the biggest beach bonfire I’ve ever seen IRL…well, aren’t we just playing at paganism? Isn’t it sort of fraudulent and voyeuristic and nostalgic?

These were my thoughts…until I became swept up in the sheer audacity and fun that is the Shadowland Theatre Company‘s annual Fire Parade on Ward’s Island, Toronto. The babble of the crowd drowned out by the roar of the flames. The ring hastily widening as the air heats and the sparks shower down. And then the collective “Ahh,” as the flames died back just enough to expose the metal cormorant rising, phoenix-like, from the bonfire (cormorants are invasive to Canada and are rapidly defoliating the Outer Harbour).