tour de blogs

I love a tour. And so I was especially pleased to be invited to join this mad literary romp, blog-style, where we answer a set of questions in our own merry way. Many thanks to the always madly wonderful Alice Zorn over at Rapunzel’s Hair for asking. Alice is the author of Arrhythmia, the short story collection, Ruins and Relics, and often translator of Grimms fairy tales.  Among other things, she blogs about her travels and her beloved Montreal neighbourhood, Pointe St. Charles. Her contribution to the game is here.

So… bon voyage, and here goes…


—What am I working on?

I tend to go through phases of working at more than one thing at a time. Currently I’m revising a few stories to send out, preparing a collection of essays and occasionally checking on the brine in which my novel manuscript is marinating… It often needs more salt.
—How does my work differ from others of its genre?

It occurred to me recently that I’m not a good rule follower. Not because I’m a renegade or anything as quaint as that, but simply because I’m often not aware of the rules. And even when I manage to figure out what they are, I can hardly believe it: those are the rules??  I have a hard time talking with people who want to discuss trends. I have no idea *what* is popular. Nor do I want to belabour any knowing. I recently wrote a story from the perspective of a chair.
Chairs 004
—Why do I write what I do?

One of my interests is relationships, especially those within the constraints of family. I realize I’ve been watching various families all my life—my own of course and those that lived on my street as a kid; aunts and uncles that weren’t, or were; the families connected to friends as I grew up; the manufactured ones through marriage and children, or no marriage and no children, or some other configuration therein or thereof. I’m fascinated with the way roles are assumed and played out to various ends and for what reasons and how we judge it all… and how we pretend it doesn’t matter and how it matters so very much. I’m interested in what’s remembered and how in a family there’s nothing even close to a consensus of truth. My writing often pokes about in this tender territory, trying to make head or tail of things. Why??  Who the hell knows.
People 003 - Copy
—How does your writing process work?

A large part is thinking out loud. Also known as talking to myself. I run through scenes, interview myself, ask myself what is the point of such and such… what is the point???… until I either come up with a point or scrap the whole damn such and such. I write in a journal most mornings, about dreams and grocery lists initially, but eventually making my way to the day’s work and what I want to accomplish, which inevitably leads me back to the such and such and the point, and pretty soon I’m no longer writing but talking to myself…

Best places to work through a problem: in the car, on a walk, weeding the garden.


The tour continues with Barbara Lambert, author of The Allegra Series,   A Message for Mr. Lazarus  and The Whirling Girl. And Maria Meindl, author of Outside the Box; Maria’s essay ‘Junior’ appears in the anthology The M Word. Thanks to both for bravely accepting this mission. Am looking forward to visiting their blogs in the coming weeks and will post links here.

Stops on the tour include:

Theodora Armstrong
Ali Bryan
Marilyn Bowering
Janie Chang
Jaime Forsythe
Susan Gillis
Jason Heroux
Cornelia Hoogland
Ellen S. Jaffe
Eve Joseph
Susan Juby
Anita Lahey
Barbara Lambert
Steve McOrmond
Maria Meindl
Sarah Mian
Elise Moser
Kathy Page
Julie Paul
Pearl Pirie
Shelagh Plunkett
Ryan Pratt
Jael Richardson
Devyani Salzman
Cassie Stocks
Ayelet Tsabari
Patricia Young
Julia Zarankin
Alice Zorn

ruins and relics and truth or lies, oh my! (darling)

Imagine picking three books at random—three short story collections—from your ‘favourites’ stack. Imagine having read these books before and this time you just want to read one story from each, to compare styles. Random is the key word here. There’s no rhyme nor reason to any of the choices.

So you open the first to a page that’s part of a story called ‘An Evening in the Cafe’ about a woman from Montreal who is near the end of a teaching term in an unnamed German city. She has a room above a butcher shop, the smell of fleisch is everywhere, even permeating a handkerchief in a dresser drawer. The Chinese restaurant across the road teems with life, while in the café [attached to the butcher shop] where she feels obligated to take her meals, the days and evenings are quiet and predictable—as are the people, including “Oma and Opa… digging into their Schmalz, their broad knives bring up thick portions of seasoned lard from the blue-grey pottery. Now they would be spreading it on their Brot. They would be sipping at their wine and spreading Schmalz on their Brot.”
A letter arrives and creates a stir.

You open the second book at a story called ‘Plum Dumplings’ about a woman in Montreal, anxiously preparing for a [dreaded] visit from her Austrian grandmother, a woman who has nice things to say about Hitler and considers her granddaughter an idiot for living in Canada [she refers to it as keiner da: no one here]. Despite the “fairy wisps of hair” that escape her long braid she remains a tough nut, but then food plays a significant role in shifting attitudes [and is not limited to the title dish]. “Soup in the evening—true gourmandise—brought forth a more expansive Oma. Spooning up broth, folding a slice of bread in half and buttering the end each time she bit…”

Finally, the third book, which you flip open [all still very random] at the story ‘Little Bird’. A young man, an ‘entertainer’ in Berlin, is haunted by his unsettled childhood and his father’s past. He recalls the moment he’s forced to face an awful truth while living in the Caribbean where his Mutti reads Tarot cards and his father sings German folk songs, and where he’s been invited to another’s boy’s house after school, someone he has mistaken as a potential friend. The boys have a snack… “The cook took two slices of white bread from the breadbox and sprinkled them with chocolate, then put the plates in front of us.” 
And then things get ugly.


Imagine your delight at these odds: three exceptional stories, randomly stumbled over and each featuring Germany or Austria, the German language, an Oma or a Mutti,  references to bread and, in two cases, protagonists from Montreal.

You just can’t make this stuff up.

‘An Evening in the Cafe’, from Truth or Lies, by Frances Itani (Oberon Press, 1989)

‘Plum Dumplings’, from Ruins & Relics, by Alice Zorn (NeWest Press, 2009)

‘Little Bird’, from Oh, My Darling, by Shaena Lambert (Harper Collins, 2013)