Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Blaurock / Coach House Press Launch

The Waterloo launch approaches!

Blaurock Press authors Michelle Alfano (Made Up of Arias), Michael Linhares (Autumn Hollow) and Sylvia Markle-Craine (Swimming to Fatima) share the stage with Coach House poets Kyle Buckley (The Laundromat Essay), Margaret Christakos (What Stirs) and Jeramy Dodds (Crabwise to the Hounds) in Waterloo on December 1. Take shelter from the cold of late autumn at Starlight for Waterloo's greatest Monday night literary review ever.

December 1, 2008
Starlight Social Club
47 King Street North

Waterloo, ON
Doors open 7.00pm

Purchase Made up of Arias on-line here.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Breakfast at Tiffany's

Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote (First Vintage International, first published 1950) 111 pages

This novella is less captivating and more crude than the film ... although it's really not fair to compare the two. Capote was not responsible for both. They are two separate artistic media but it is difficult not to think of both or compare them.

The iconic Holly Golightly strikes me not as a lovable irresponsible if glamorous flake, but a manipulative, slightly sour operator somewhat bent on self-destruction. Not a free spirit but a bit of a parasite bent on getting what she can from those around her: Paul the writer, her husband Doc Golightly, her would be Brazilian husband Jose, Rusty Trawler (one part troll/millionaire, one part Capote it seems) ...

The language is larded with 50s colloquialisms that do not stand the test of time in my estimation.

When asked who Holly was based on Capote would coyly say "Me". So many of the women surrounding him when he achieved fame claimed that they had inspired the creation of that waif. It seemed an absurd assertion on Capote's part on the surface of it. But having read a biography of Capote, I now see how Holly (nee Lulamae) truly does resemble Truman.

Both have roots in the rural South, the desire to re-invent him/herself, the obsession with glamour, the slightly louche persona, the unorthodox views on sexuality (from a 1940s/50s POV) ...

I expect I am meant to captivated by Holly and her antics but actually I'd like to wring her neck sometimes for being so selfish. I was disappointed with the book. Still the image of Holly standing before a window at Tiffany's has a certain charm that has not diminished.

My first encounter with Capote was the immeasurably superior In Cold Blood which is of a totally different genre. I wish the book club had chosen that book!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Between an Antonia and a Hard Place

My daughter J's middle name is Antonia. She is named for her grandmother (my mother) who really dislikes her name so much so that she said "Oh no, please don't call her that!" when J was born and I told her J's middle name. But I love that name - and it's a very ancient Roman name with an imperial pedigree.

Antonia Augusta (pictured left) - daughter of Mark Antony, grand-daughter of Julia Antonia, mother of Claudius, grandmother of Caligula and great-grandmother of Nero - described by some as the most powerful matron in Imperial Rome. Okay, so the last two were complete nutters ... think of her lineage!

My mother is a very passionate, strong-willed individual having weathered the death of her first child when she was 23, the loss of her husband at 40, and raising three children on her own, managing a small business. She is very smart but has had limited educational opportunities in her life.

The women are very tough in my family. I feel like I operate at about 40% of their capacity for strength and resolve and toughness. Or do I?

The day of J's b'day party J was reading a brief review of a book she was writing for school. She read it aloud to R and I and said something to the effect that she liked the main character because she was "bossy and very demanding like my mother". Ouch! Me? I'm the marshmallow here ... I'm the one that can't take J's tears or scenes or drama. I'm the one that talks her dad out of the punishments meted out for bad behavior ... I have to admit that that hurt! But R kept saying she likes the character - you're not listening, listen to what she said!

Me, bossy? Me, demanding? Okay, but I come by it honestly ...

Yesterday at my cousin's wedding reception (yes another wedding - ai yi, this family never stops!) I showed my mother one of the first copies of the new book. It is dedicated to her and my father, but, firstly, to her. She didn't say too much. This lady is not effusive or complimentary. She's old school Italian: lots of love but kick them in the pants and smarten them up sort of attitude. Don't smother them with accolades which will make them soft.

I saw her looking at the last chapter which is all about the father Salvatore (Turi) - he does not resemble my father in personality at all, but some of the things that happen to my father happen to Turi so I saw her sneaking a peek. It's quite emotional. Each time I reviewed that section during the editing process I would break down, every time. I saw her face crumpling and her eyes tearing up. I thought, oh god, what have I done to her, she stills loves this man so passionately and he has been dead for more than thirty years. I'm just torturing her by recording my memory of what happened. It's not that there is anything negative it's just the reliving of all that history that would be painful.

I kept whispering to her across the table - Ma, don't read that part yet ... I had been waiting to tell her that there were some emotional scenes in it but lacked the courage (yeah I'm afraid of la mama, wanna make something out of it?). Now here she was skipping to the last chapter and silently reading it in front of the family. But she just shot me these razor sharp looks and wouldn't relinquish the book until she was finished.

I moved away, started talking to L, one of my cousins (her dad is my mom's brother) who is intrigued with the premise of the book and has been an enthusiastic supporter of its publication. Suddenly we feel an arm draped around the two of us on either side and she shouts out happily, "Did you know I had such a smart daughter?" to everyone at the table much to our amusement.

Lady, who are you? I wanted to say. What alien life form has stolen my mother and left behind this sunny, positive creature in her place? She never compliments me, ne-ver.

I said, "Ma, you never say that!" And she said, "Not to you I don't!"

So I was so pleased that she was not angered by what I had written, she seemed happy, proud ... and I was happy too because my two Antonias totally blew me away this weekend.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A Child (and a Book) are Born

Twelve years ago today, a lovely little girl was born with curly hair and olive skin. She weighed just 3 pounds and 13 ounces as she was 5 weeks premature. She should have been a Xmas baby but here she was.

We have spent many hours analyzing whom she resembles and how.

Our daughter J has her aunt's hair in colour and texture now - no longer curly it is thick with a bit of a wave. Her mother's full lips and smallish hands and toes. Her father's dark eyes, chin and little nose. Olive skin from the Sicilian side, lovely almond shaped eyes from the Japanese side. Almost as tall as her mother now but much smaller than her father.

What joy she has brought us ... to be sure it's a lot of work and yelling and hectoring and worrying sometimes but what reward to be her mother. I sometimes just stare at her (other parents will know what I mean) and wonder how such a beautiful creature came from me.

I knew something magical was happening when my publisher Christian Snyder at Blaurock Press said that Made Up Of Arias, the new book, would be ready on November 15th. It's seemed predestined, symbolic, kismet.

This weekend I am attending the AICW conference at UofT on Friday and Sunday and ran into an old friend, the writer Caterina Edwards from Edmonton, whom I adore as a person and as a writer. I was telling her about actually holding the book in my hands (it arrived one day early much to my daughter's consternation - she was so thrilled to think it would arrive on Saturday).

I told Caterina that I felt as if I had given birth again - the feeling was so exhilarating. She said yes, it was exactly like that. She completely understood.

When I was being consoled by my family doctor at one point about the infertility issue and the delay in the adoption process and despairing whether we would ever have another child, he said, wisely it turns out, "Well, think of it this way: maybe your book will be your baby". Thank you Dr. F for your prescience!

So today I celebrate the two best things I ever did (besides marrying R) ... my wonderful child and my new book.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Plain Girl's Lament

Telling Some Tales by Anna Massey (Hutchinson London, 2006) 259 pages

Anna Massey is a respected British theatre and film actress with a long career stretching back to the 1940s. But my interest in her comes from her Canadian roots. Finding this book was like the proverbial light bulb going off for me as I have been doing a bit of research on the Massey family here in Canada and this has encouraged me to resume my research.

The Masseys are fascinating to me as they likely are to many other Canadians. Someone famously quipped that there were only two classes in Canada in the late 19th c.: "The Masseys and the masses".

Hart A. Massey (1823 – 1896), Anna Massey's great grandfather, was an enormously wealthy industrialist who was the founder of the farm equipment company that became Massey-Harris (now Varity). He built a formidable empire 150 years ago which has pretty much slipped away from the Massey family today.

Later in life, faced with the early deaths of two sons he became a major philanthropist in Toronto. His substantial legacy for the city was financing the building of Massey Hall, a concert hall; the Fred Victor Mission (named for his youngest son), an institution for the homeless; and, the Hart House building for students at the University of Toronto.

Raymond Massey (1896 – 1983), Anna's father, was the Canadian actor whose claim to fame was his roles as Abraham Lincoln in American film and, perhaps more famously, his role in TV's Dr. Kildare series. Adrianne Allen (1907 - 1993), her British born mother and Raymond's second wife, was a respected theatre actress and socialite who consorted with all the great show biz and literary names of her time.

Vincent Massey
(1887 – 1967), Anna's uncle, was Canada's first Canadian-born Governor General.

So Ms. Anna, now 71, has a theatre pedigree oozing out of her pores. Now she has written a book, detailing her film and theatre work and the parade of famous people that she has met during the course of a very full and eventful life. But perhaps because Massey met so many of these people in her youth, the anecdotes sometimes appear insubstantial. Somehow I expected more but perhaps this is an unfair expectation.

She talks a great about her craft which is fascinating and the numerous roles she has played, all varied, substantial and interesting to be sure.

Photographed by Cecil Beaton and Richard Avedon, she seems dwarfed by these personalities. Directed by Hitchcock and working with, or rubbing shoulders with, cinematic or literary giants such as Stanley Kubrick, T.S. Eliot, John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson and, through her mother and father, consorting with Noel Coward, Moss Hart, Taylor and Burton, Judy Garland, Dorothy Parker and Gregory Peck, the reader is a little overwhelmed by the range and magnitude of these personalities.

I wish she had provided more detail, more background, but perhaps these encounters were as fleeting as they are presented in this memoir.

But it is crammed full of other mildly titillating and self-disparaging anecdotes: her cold, withholding father Raymond, from whom she was estranged most of her life, sent Anna $25 for her birthday every age regardless of her age or financial status.

Uncle Vincent, wishing to impress his house guest Prince Philip in Canada, requests that his now famous niece travel from England to entertain him but balks at paying her airfare.

Husband Jeremy Brett was a closeted homosexual for years, subjecting both himself and Anna to years of unhappiness.

Roger Corman asked her to appear topless in a scene (how unlikely!).

One recurring theme annoyed me: Massey's persistent passive aggressive criticism of women who are more glamorous than she is. And they are legion ... her mother (often the recipient of sly, deprecating remarks) with her garish clothes and flamboyant decorating style, "pounds" of make-up on Judy Garland, Katherine Hepburn's blotchy skin, etc ... those sorts of remarks inserted after gracious compliments about a woman's talent or beauty. Little Miss Anna of course favours the natural look.

With mummy gone, all the old angers and bitterness that were repressed surface here. She was not maternal, she was not physically affectionate, she sometimes embarrassed her daughter with her flamboyance. This rankles me as a mother obviously. A little respect for the old gal please

Try and be more like my 12 year old, I would advise writers of memoirs, who tells the old lady (as in me) exactly when she is embarrassing her that way I won't be turning in my grave when J writes her memoirs.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Jitters and Jests

This morning I woke at five, uneasy and uncomfortable. I could not get back to sleep. Perhaps sensing my nervousness Sugar, our kitten, hopped out of the bed and ran away. He has taken to squeezing in between R and I and falling asleep, sucking on his paw like a baby sucking his thumb. If there is no room between us he stands on one of us patiently, silently, until we move and make room for him. "Can't even sleep beside my own wife!" R grumbles good-naturedly some nights.

I am planning my book launch in Toronto for my novella Made Up of Arias with S, a friend, who has been unbelievably efficient and resourceful. Saturday morning over breakfast we will sort out the canapé and wine list (fancy, yes - my pal is very shrewd at making a great impression with this launch). The canapés are on me folks ...

The venue is a beautiful restaurant called the Globe Bistro in Riverdale with an upper lounge for events such as these. I'd like to have music, a bit of food, and two poet friends to read with me. Everything seems to be falling in place. Yet, the jitters have set in.

Will enough people show up? Will the big name author that I asked to blurb my book be finished on time? There was a mix up and he didn't get my message when I sent it initially. Are we spending too much for the launch? Did I annoy my publicist and editor with my pickiness and nervousness today? Will the book be ready for the conference that I will be attending soon? Am I making everyone crazy yet?

The Warterloo launch is set for December 1st. R is helping me to design the e-vite for the Toronto launch and I have to say it looks beautiful thanks to the Blaurock designer and the husband. It makes it all the more real. The editor of the newsletter at the university where I work has requested a short "profile" on the budding author ... oy. Is this really happening?

Thinking a lot about my mom and dad to whom the book is dedicated. In a way it is a love letter to them and to the family, to growing up in Hamilton in this pazza Italian family. Thinking of Ma as a young woman quite a bit. I have this vivid memory of her getting ready to go out with Dad when I was quite young. She worked in a factory until I was nine but when she went out, she looked amazing! She had these beautiful cocktail dresses (my sister and I share them now) and she would have her hair done up, red lipstick, heels, small beaded handbags. Very pretty. Very chic.

My mother's response to news of the publication was so muted that I didn't know what to think. I told the family the night of my cousin's wedding when we were all together, sibs, grandkids, Nonna. It was sort of like: "Oh, that's nice." End of story.The old gal is not exactly effusive.

I started thinking that she thought the mother Seraphina Pentangeli in the book was a negative portrayal of her (it's not negative, more wacky, more dramatic, than anything else and again, it's not really her - okay, maybe the mercurial temper, that yes) but I didn't know if she would feel uneasy about it. Also there is the father in the novel, Turi, and what happens to him in the course of the book. I think I need to prepare her a bit.

So I called her and asked if she was uncomfortable with the idea that people would assume that she was the mother in the book? No, she said pertly. I know that that everything written in books is not true. Well, that's me told. Like I was simple for asking.

And I was touched that she will make the trip to Waterloo for the first launch on December 1st. Hope I don't shame her.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Halloween P.S.

This is the first year that J has gone out sans parent to trick or treat - she went with two close friends this year whom she has known since she was three. The girls had an instant rapport and have remained friends ever since then.

This new development was making the husband a little sad. He usually walks around with J; I hand out the candy because I love to see the little kids' costumes. But those days are over!

J was a hockey referee (again - none of that princess stuff for J) with her hockey helmet, a white and black striped shirt and a whistle. Her other friends were an "Ipod" and a "grand lady" in ball gown complete with a black wig of curls. Such a cute and odd configuration of costumes ...

I saw the little girl, S, a neighbour (she is four) too with her band of siblings and the four kids that live across the street. A few days ago she knocked on my door and asked my daughter to give me something. It was an elaborate card made of red construction paper with fantastic multi-coloured squiggles on it, and my name.

I was pleased but a little surprised. I could not surmise to what I owed this honour. She is one of my favourites in the neighborhood that is filled with at least a dozen children under ten. She said to J, I know it's not your mom's birthday but ... She is absolutely lovely, a little spitfire and quite beautiful with her enormous blue eyes and porcelain skin.

The next day I went to her house to thank her and ask her why she had given me the card. She was embarrassed, but pleased, I think. She could not seem to articulate the reason for the gift. Her mom said that she just felt like doing it. Oh lord, here come the waterworks I thought. I was very touched by this lovely gift.

I asked her what her costume would be for Halloween. She said that she wanted to surprise everyone but was having a hard time containing herself. But I will give you a clue ... It starts with a "K". Or a "C", her mom said smiling as she gently corrected her.

Hmm, okay, I agreed that I wanted to be surprised.

The next night, I saw a small "black cat" in a black leotard and black face mask, two black protruding cat ears and tail, prancing across our lawn with her confreres. These included: Indiana Jones, a pirate, a Jedi Knight, a witch, a small bear and a very tiny lion who was just learning to walk. Absolutely enchanting!