the other faces of Mad Miss Mimic

One of the many thrilling experiences of having my first novel published was the cover design process. Authors typically don’t have a lot of say when it comes to the choice of cover, unless they’re self-publishing. If you’re lucky (and I was), you’ll be given a chance to offer feedback, and there will be an Option B if Option A isn’t working for you. The first mock-up my editor sent me was the image on the right, below. Soft pink background and a wallpaper pattern of poppy flowers coming through the title text.


What I liked about it: 1. the poppy as symbol, since opium figures so heavily in the story, 2. the colour scheme, which I thought would stand out nicely in the bookstore, and 3. the insider literary nod to Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s classic feminist story “The Yellow Wallpaper.”

However, my gut told me it wasn’t the cover of my dreams. These orderly rows of poppies seemed too “Flanders Fields”-ish to me; I worried that they were better suited to a WWI-era than a Victorian story. The salmon-pink background, while feminine and bright, seemed a bit too tame. And who besides me would ever look at this cover and think of Charlotte Perkins Gilman (answer: nobody).


Sumptuous, pretty, and mysterious. These were my three keywords for the cover I was after. And what came across my desk next made my heart pound with its exactly rightness (bottom image= the book’s final cover). The opium-poppy is still central, but gone is the domesticated, drawing-room quality. Nor is it a bouquet or an arrangement in a vase. Instead, the thick, twining stems arise mysteriously from off-page, the flowers wrap around the jacket, and the black background suggests depth and danger. If you look closely (and of course I looked and looked), there is even a liberal dusting of pollen.


I never laid eyes on the other two options (the image above with girl’s silhouette, and the top-left bouquet against the peach background). I guess they were weeded out at some point by the design team at Razorbill. But it was great fun to get in touch afterwards with Grace Cheong, the genius freelancer behind all of these designs. She eventually posted them in her online portfolio as “final cover design followed by selected comps.”

Thanks again, Grace, for the beautiful cover. And thank you, Lynne Missen, Lisa Jaeger, and the rest of the Razorbill squad for your patience with me as a first-timer!

good art is contagious: students make fairy tales


It’s that time in the semester when I eat, sleep and breathe fairy tales. The students in the two sections of my Fairy Tales & Fantasies class have had some practice, by now, at identifying the common bloodlines from one variant to another and discerning how the different cultural contexts affect the stories. Class discussion is lively and insightful, particularly for the 8:00am start time.

They’ve also been making their own fairy tales. The Fairy Tale Redux assignment, worth 1/3 of their grade for the term, asks them to pick a tale, any tale, and re-mount it in whichever way they think will best illuminate something new about the story and show off their creative skills.

It’s harder than it sounds. There are time limits, adaptation challenges, group work frustrations, technical difficulties–and I insist they write an Artist Statement that justifies their approach on a theoretical and aesthetic level.

Sara Jo is a philosophy major who signed up for my course because she’s interested in knowing more about deep story structures in human psychology and culture. She is a gift to have in class: deeply curious, intellectually courageous, highly adept at thinking and speaking on her feet.

For her FT Redux, Sara Jo focused on Rapunzel. She wrote a free-verse meditation inspired by a specific claim in the Grimm Brothers’ variant: that Rapunzel sings from her window in the tower, and her song is what first attracts the Prince passing by in the forest. And Sara Jo decided to illustrate her poetry with hand-drawn tarot cards that capture the archetypal significance of key motifs in the story. What more can I possibly say about this?? You need to see it for yourself, right here:

as sibyl, she sang



Lynda Barry is really getting under my skin with her book Syllabus. I can only read a few pages at a time because of the extent to which it hurts my brain. Academics are fairly rational, linear thinkers, and so are writers. We deal in words, after all, and words come one after another, left to right, on the page. LyndaBarryBut here’s a writer and academic teaching a college course whose syllabi are. . .cartoons. Scribbles. Thought bubbles. Doodles.

It’s not the first time I’ve heard of Lynda Barry, actually. A decade ago now, two of my dear writer friends had taken a workshop with her here in Toronto and were singing her praises, and–as per her advice–had taken to keeping a doodle pad beside them as they wrote. Whenever you lift the pen from the writing notebook, she’d taught them, you lower it to the doodle pad and draw.

The careful, tight spiral, in particular, is a doodle that aids the free flow of inspiration. Drawing spirals helps hush the griping Inner Critic (the one who chants, “your story is stupid, you should be answering email right now” whenever you sit down to write) and reintegrates the left brain with the right.

Syllabus is making me think about the rules I follow as a professor, too, and the rules I set for my students. I wonder, what might constitute “colouring outside the lines,” in an English classroom? And what might happen if I encouraged it?

one eye among them

one eye among them

Those poor Gorgons. All Perseus has to do is quietly sneak into their huddle and hold out his hand. Then he’s all like ‘I have your eye; tell me the path or I’ll throw it into the sea!” The hero as trickster. The hero as elder abuser.

(from The Heroes by Charles Kingsley, ill. Charlotte Adeney, Presentation Library)

there are days like this

there are days like this

I kinda wish I was at home watching Nashville
but this is important, too

(enchanted light trails of the city)??

you can put anything in a book

Last month I went to the marvelous Prince Edward County Authors Festival in Picton, Ontario and got to hear JonArno Lawson read from his newest book, Enjoy it While it Hurts.

I’ll confess I was confused. Lawson read aphorisms and limericks. He read a poem his son had composed. The middle section of the book is, he told us, a picture book with illustrations he drew himself.

Was this a book for kids or adults? Was it fiction or poetry? Who would have published such a (seeming) mishmash?

Wolsak & Wynn published it, that’s who–and they did a beautiful job.The blurb on their website describes the book like this: “Enjoy It While It Hurts is an edifying miscellany of quarrelsome quips, holiday oddities, benevolent advice, curious thoughts and comically apocalyptic melancholia.”

Lawson’s reading was one of the most inspiring and educational moments of the festival for me, because it shook up my notions of how a book has to look if it wants to see print nowadays.

My amie d’ecriture Jill Margo is working on what she’s calling an “open form” novel that incorporates fiction, memoir, cultural commentary and various essay forms. She recommended I read David Shields’ excellent book Reality Hunger, a manifesto about the lively and productive grey area between “reality” genres and fiction, which Shields claims is where all the most exciting work is being produced these days.

Reality_HRforRetinal-246x380  Thank you JonArno, Jill, and David. The way your work breaks the rules feels to me like freedom and fun. And what more could any writer possibly ask for?

P.S: the Jill Margo Mini-Mag is chock-full of inspiring stories, hilarity and excellent advice for writers. Click here to sign up for free weekly inbox delivery!

that old crone might be Hera

that old crone might be Hera

Jason carries this hag across the river and doesn’t even drop her when she whines about her mantle getting wet. Good thing, too. She gets younger prettier huger. Tells him she is Hera, wife of Zeus. From now on she’s on his side.
A lesson to teenagers everywhere.

look a harpy

look a harpy

Working title of my current WIP is Furies
There is ancient Greek myth in it
This Presentation Library book called The Heroes by Charles Kingsley has illustrations (by Charlotte Adeney)
Makes me so extremely happy

revision armoury

revision armoury

Postcard from Revisionland:

1. yellow stickies= To Do items (they get moved to the Done side one by one)
2. receipt tape= outlines (arcs for various characters, conflicts, locations)
3. colored pens= for marking up hard copy (to stave off visual fatigue and boredom)
4. journal= 10 min freewrites to get mojo going; whining
5. ear buds= Great Lake Swimmers playlist on perpetual low-vol shuffle
6. mug= dark roast pourover with extra-hot steamed milk
7. mason jar= refrigerator oatmeal with chia and blueberries
8. windowlight= desk in decommissioned school-turned-studio at Artscape
9. [not pictured]= iPhone for timer (freewrites), music and constant social media interruptions


Wish you were here…

writing over

writing over

The writing over the writing on the wall. Check out the black lettering under the white. What is wool packing waste? Is that cotton VIPERS? A factory long gone and products that no longer exist. And the artist’s signature (W.H. Price)!