Sarah Raymond is a writer and artist from Toronto, Ontario. Her young adult novel, Signs of Martha, comes out in spring 2011 with Great Plains Publications. Scroll on down for musings on writing, art and other perils of domestic life. Homemade drawings included.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Writers' Retreat

Five writers of fiction-for-kids-and-other immature-people converged in a cosy chalet on Georgian Bay this weekend.

We could do that because of a Very Nice Woman who let us write, eat and sleep at her place. Thank you to her. Merci. Danke. You rock.

We are all women. We are mothers. We don't roar (much) but we like writing and oh the luxury of waking up, swinging one's Apple onto one's lap and putting in a few hours of tapping chapter 3 before breakfast.

We five covered almost every genre: historical fiction, fantasy, dystopian sci-fi and quirky realism. (Two of us were needed to cover that one.) At last year's retreat I outlined a new novel and this year I launched into its second major draft. The book starts starts like this at the moment:

The first time I'm haunted by the ghost of Queen Victoria is on the day of my boyfriend's funeral.

and goes on from there.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Thinking Inside the Box

What's up with this "thinking outside the box" business?

I like boxes. Boundaries. Edges. Challenges within limits.

Kids are back in school. Ask any teacher how much they'll get out of their students when they suggest working without limits. A few students will run free with their brilliant minds. The rest will stare blankly. Sigh and scratch their noses.

At the Toronto Ex recently, a performer folded herself into a box. Just look at her thumbs-up happiness. She likes boxes. The crowd went wild. They liked the limits too.

My current box is time. I'm combing through the final edits of Signs of Martha, due to my editor ridiculously soon. Like, this week. Soon I'll see a cover design. An image in a box. I'm nervously waiting.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Full Force Harvest

The Young Urban Farmers' garden is bearing fruit galore. I love this program. In review: I give my backyard land; the Young Urban Farmers do the work. The result? Fresh (and I mean fresh) local veggies in dishes like last night's tomato, basil and feta salad.

Those small green lanterns pictured are ground cherries. My uber-farmer niece makes them into pies. I just peel off the shells and pop the little morsels in my mouth whenever the urge strikes, which is frequently.

Sadly, we were struck with powdery mildew and the vine crops have suffered. You can see some residual sadness in the tomato plants. But we're not going hungry and my earlier concern about winding up an unwilling host to a family racoon reunion hasn't happened. Amazing.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Best Read of the Summer: How I Live Now

Let's get one thing straight: I rarely succumb to tears when I read a novel, but Meg Rosoff's How I Live Now left me aching, weeping and glad for my sunglasses. I was in public for God's sake.
I also laughed at this book and stewed in my own bitter envy for the woman's gorgeous writing.

Funny. Just a few months ago, I was happily blogging about Markus Zuzak 's short, bittersweet sentences. Here I am excited about Rosoff's long, meandering ones. That's how protagonist Daisy's voice starts off, anyway. She goes to live with her cousins in England. Oh, sure there's a war imminent and everything but that's for people in other countries, right? Daisy has her own problems.

A terrorist-style war strikes, which is of the author's imagination. Or exaggeration. As with her later novel Just in Case, Meg Rosoff creates her own paradigm. If her writing was painting, it might be cubist--realistic but on its own set of planes. In a recent Globe and Mail article, novelist Jonathan Franzen dismisses research-based writing as limiting for character development. Characters get too squished in my the constraints of fact. The premise is as good as any. At least it justifies his writing, (which needs no justification anyway) and Rosoff's too.

Fortunately, I have Meg Rosoff's second novel by my bed, and awaiting consumption. Then I might have to do what my 9-year-old daughter did, and write my beloved author. Stomp my little foot and demand another novel. It worked for my kid. If it doesn't work for me, I'm not beneath begging.

Or crying.

Another Great Read: The Uninvited by Tim Wynne-Jones

What's not to love about Mimi? The potty-mouthed NYU sophomore in The Uninvited carries mace in a hand-knit holster and has a bad habit of lusting after men who turn out to be blood relatives. Oops. Mimi sojourns in remote Ontario to write a screenplay, but her retreat leads her into a deeper and creepier wilderness than she bargained for. A misbehaving script is the least of her problems.

As usual, Tim Wynne-Jones's voices are pitch-perfect. He nails Jay, the smart and thoughtful musician who thinks too much, and an unstable, paint-spattered artist who thinks too little. Then there's hillbilly codger--ready? Get this: Stooley Peters, a turd indeed. I adore Tim Wynne-Jones's writing and his windows into the way humans work. A Thief in the House of Memory is also great, but The Uninvited is pure creepy fun.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Latest Read: The Book of Negroes

Lawrence Hill, Harper and Collins, 2007

Don't even try to get this book at the library unless you're willing to wait in line a couple of years. Too many people know it's a book you have to read.

The Book of Negroes journeys into black slavery in America, to the 13 colonies to Nova Scotia and back to Africa, to Sierra Leone. You travel with Aminata, superheroine of sorts, whose sharp mind and relentless labour allow her to rise above the plight of her people. Just above, but not much. The novel, history-turned-fiction, notes who we used to get where we are.

The novel made me think of East of Berlin, the Tarragon play we saw this year, where a guy tries to live with the guilt from his ancestors' atrocities--to live in a world so fouled that even the attempted reparations are hopeless and crippled. I longed for Aminata's captors to truly make good but they never do or can because the community is too far gone.