Big Birthday

40thLast Thursday I turned 40. I feel good about it.

I took the day off from work to spend time with Greg, but still had to come in to the CBC anyway. I had been asked to take part in a panel discussion on the state of the literary industry. As someone with the publication of his first book looming, they wanted my perspective. I was happy to have been asked.

It was for the Quebec arts and culture show, Cinq à Six. Jeanette Kelly led the discussion. Joining us were Arash Mohtashami-Maali from the Canada Council for the Arts, and Katia Grubisic, a poet, editor and translator who I admire and run into all over town. Both were taking part in the CCA’s National Forum on the Literary Arts, which happened in Montreal last week.

During the discussion I spoke a bit about my expectations and some of the plans.

I have to promote a book in an industry that continues to adapt to changes in the marketplace. I haven’t spoken much of my plans here, but I will soon.

Here is a link to the audio.

The rest of the day and the weekend that followed were lovely. I had a spa day with Greg, had drinks and dinner with friends, and hosted a great big party on the Saturday night. I’ll continue to celebrate next month too when I visit friends in California.

I’m excited about 40. Everything is ripe and dripping with potential.


ProofsThings are moving quickly. I spent last weekend going over the proofs. The book arrived in PDF form for me to have one last look before it heads off to the printer. It was the first time I saw the text laid out as it will appear in the book.

It was thrilling! I’ve been staring at the manuscript in Word format for so long. I started writing the book in Verdana, then switched to Times New Roman at some point to get a fresh perspective. I don’t know what font it’s in now, but it sure breathes new life into the text. It now looks LIKE A BOOK – dressed up for a night out, ready to have its picture taken.

It was also an incredible feeling to see my name on the title page, to see the credits page complete with ISBN numbers and Library and Archives Canada listing, to see the dedication to my parents, the acknowledgements to my friends, to see my name on every even page, and the flourishes designed to accompany every new chapter.

We caught a bunch of bugs. On a couple of occasions the hyphens turned into fractions. There were also a couple of orphan characters hanging out where they shouldn’t. But one of the biggest errors I caught was that I had given the same last names to two passing characters. Both Will’s retired co-worker and his doctor were called Dalpé! Thank God I caught that in time!

Naming characters has never been easy for me. Will himself had about a dozen. In early drafts he was called Simon, Neil, Manny, etc. None of them sat right with me and I kept changing them over the years until I arrived at what made sense. It was the same with these smaller characters. I’d stroll through my Facebook feed, looking for original names that matched the characters in my head. I guess I had forgot that I had already used one name for the other.


Slaughterhouse FiveOn Friday I got the approval to use the quote I wanted for my epigraph. It’s a line from Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.:

“And I asked myself about the present: how wide it was, how deep it was, how much was mine to keep.”

I’m glad it came through. It took two months to get permission, and with the manuscript going to the printers in February it arrived just in time. I suppose it wouldn’t have been the end of the world had I not got it. But I’m happy it’ll be there – the cherry on the sundae.

I came to Slaughterhouse-Five late in life, after I began writing this book. It was recommended to me by a friend who saw parallels with what I was trying to do with my central story line. I had wanted my book to be nonlinear, to jump back and forth through time. Because that’s what happens when your heart breaks. You no longer live in the present.

Slaughterhouse-Five is unique and powerful. It poses some interesting questions about our perception of time and the nature of death. I’ve read it numerous times and my own dog-eared copy is filled with underlined passages that blew me away.

The quote I chose particularly resonates with me. This question that Billy Pilgrim poses is the same one Will wants answered too. What in this world can I consider my own? What do I not have to fear losing?


CopyeditsThe pace of the New Year is staggering. Between work and preparations for the book there doesn’t seem to be much time for anything else (although I am doing my best to squeeze in as much in as possible).

The 15-year-old me would be so pleased. I was so bored as a teenager, waiting for the excitement and opportunity that would come with age. When I had a place in the world. When I finally had friends.

I turn 40 in a month and am feeling good about it. When I look back things are pretty sweet. I have a kind partner who loves me and who I love. We live together in a spacious apartment with our docile cat. I have my health and a good close relationship with my parents. I have great friends. I have a job that I really like. My first book is about to come out… I feel blessed to be so busy. If you had told the 15-year-old me what he could expect 25 years later I’m sure he’d be beaming.

Last week was all about copyedits. I got the manuscript back from the copyeditor. There wasn’t much work to be done. After 14 years it’s pretty clean. But she did catch some important things: word misuse, some inconsistencies, missing commas. I even caught one or two things she missed. This stage is frightening. You want everything to be perfect, but you’ve read the text so many times you no longer see your mistakes.

I’m told that the manuscript goes off to the printer now. There will be one final revision once it comes back (as it will appear on the page). This should happen by mid-February I am told. And then the book will be out by the end of April (more time to plan the launch, thank God!).

I have many ideas for the launch, probably too many. Am I overthinking things? It’s in my nature to, I suppose. But I want it to be fun. Special. A celebration. God knows I have been to so many boring book launches. I want mine to be different, unique, memorable.

The Cover

The Geography of Pluto coverLast night I took Vincent Fortier out for dinner to thank him for allowing us to use his photograph for Pluto’s cover. We met up at Barbounya, a Turkish restaurant on Laurier West, and ate stuffed calamari, ceviche and fried kale.

I had never met Vincent before. He’s an Instagram friend whose pictures I adore.

I had resisted joining Instagram for so long, but relented last year. I didn’t want another social media account to manage. But once I began to explore it, I was hooked. I love the glimpse it gives me into the interesting lives of (handsome) people I don’t know. Sometimes it feels like I should know them, that if we lived in the same city I would.

Vincent is another Montrealer. He takes amazing pictures of the city (particularly in fall and winter). In many ways I feel I am rediscovering Montreal through his images. God knows I haven’t had much time to wander the city lately. Thankfully, I can with his photos.

When it came time to discuss the book cover with my publisher, I didn’t know what to suggest. What one image could sum up the story I’d been writing for the past 14 years? Would it be a shot of Will’s face? A map of Montreal? An illustration of the solar system? I knew, however, what I didn’t want. I didn’t want a half-naked man on the cover, and I didn’t want it to look like a sci-fi novel.

Then I saw Vincent’s picture. Immediately I knew it’d be perfect. The image is quintessential Montreal. The metal spiralling staircase is something you see behind most homes. It’s the kind of staircase I picture Will climbing to peer into Max’s apartment. And then there is the clothesline – another evocative image from the book. I’m not sure what’s on that wire – a bird or a clothes peg – but whatever it is reminds me of Will’s mother.

And then there is the pink/purple sky, as bright and open as the most beautiful days in winter. Night falling. Invisible stars. The heavens. The more I looked at it, the more I saw my own book. And now it’s the cover. All this, from a great new friend on Instagram.

First Interview

7950743I had my first interview for the book last night. It was with Rob Sherren of the Montreal Review of Books. We met on one of the coldest nights of the year and sipped whiskey in the back of Sky Bar (fitting, given it is one of the settings of the book).

Rob was great. He was smart, charming, thoughtful, well-prepared. He had notes, questions, and impressions to share. And what’s more, he really liked the book. We talked for two hours – about Will, and Max, and Angie, and James, and the Mother. It felt great to talk to another person in depth about the characters, their actions, their motivations.

It was also the first time someone I did not know read the book. What’s more, he is a married man with three children. Not exactly what I thought my demographic would be.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately. Who will read this book once it’s out? Rob and I talked about this, about how the reason we read books is to bring us out of ourselves, to expose us to experiences and lives that we know nothing about. We read to look for points of connection, to find things we can relate to.

And Rob was able to do that. He saw what I was trying to do with the novel and got it.

Last night was a great pleasure. Here’s hoping all other interviews will be as enjoyable.