The Long of It

It's always a pleasure to encounter a beautifully constructed novel, the embodiment of what a fine contemporary novel -- sprawling, with multiple subplots -- is considered to be. Jonathan Franzen's Purity is one of those, and the big American book that occupied me during lulls in the holiday action.

Grantham's Landing, late December
Franzen gets a complex plot going right off the bat, and peoples it with several characters I'm glad I will never meet in person. Two exceptions are the title character and the Jason we first encounter as he is waiting in Purity's bedroom while she runs downstairs for her purse, which contains a package of condoms. She doesn't return. Not for an hour or so, maybe longer, because she is waylaid by the German beauty who will be the focus of another plot line. When she does return, Jason is putting his jeans back on. But he hasn't been idle. He has texted a friend about his spontaneous and weird encounter and Purity sees the texts. That's it for Purity and Jason. But is he really gone? As Chekov famously said, "If you're going to put a rifle on the wall in the first act, it must definitely go off in the second." Franzen, however, keeps Jason out of the picture until much later in this multi-act drama.

Meantime he transports the reader to East Germany before the wall came down. The dirty dealings of the Stasi, the cold greyness you can feel. Then Bolivia, where a charismatic former East German is directing a wikileak-like organization. These places and periods allow him to comment on the times, directly, by comparing the paltriness of life in East Germany to the paltriness of a life whose worth is measured by "likes" and "hits." And indirectly, through dialogue and detail.  In the grand old tradition of serious American novelists, he teaches as he entertains with a complex story, unique characters, and wickedly vivid scenes.

Besides brilliance, an achievment like this takes time. No wonder Franzen rails against some aspects of the internet. E-bookworld lore includes the advice to publish often. A young woman writer I met in the fall felt the pressure of continuing to provide new content. To get her career going, her aim was to publish two books a year. That's a newer tradition, and time will test it. The girl admitted that while she respects literary fiction and is a graduate of an established creative writing program, she wants a career, ie, to make money, to be known, to be invited places.

Franzen enjoys all the benefits that young writer craves, but, in my mind, he didn't start with her goals. Instead, as Dostoyevsky thought writers should do, he engages in a dialogue with our times. He builds his fictional world meticulously and at a pace that allows full development, because, unlike in the sphere of emoticons, as he was quoted saying, ...“it takes 600 pages to convey emotion.”

The Year in Rooms

East Village, NYC
A traveller needs shelter for the night, a room at the inn, or wherever is available -- a stable, a couch. Frequently it involves a business transaction, but lucky travellers more often depend on the kindness of friends.

In Québec, a room with a sloping ceiling and a narrow view of the snowy Plaines d'Abraham. Then, later in the year, a charming old corner of New York's East Village, a superb vantage point on the near 24-hour basketball action at Tompkins Square Park.

Instant bedroom, Harlow/Parson home
Amid such variety, it's hard to choose favourites. Still, the hands-down most unique room of the year had to be the space thoughtfully created by artist-hosts, Steve Harlow and Ruth Parson, who transformed an open-plan domestic area into a private bedroom by erecting walls of their paintings.

Some rooms offer only the promise of a view, such as Bright Angel Lodge, where budget accommodations meant a whole-two minute stroll over flagstones to the lip of the Grand Canyon. Old-fashioned sash windows with screens. The smell of dry sage. And close enough to slip out at night for stargazing under the black, black sky, or to be among the first greeting Dawn as her rosy red fingers glanced on the rosy red rocks of Canyon sandstone and siltstone layers.

Harlow/Parson home
Modest but historic was the third floor room at the Weatherford, in Flagstaff, Arizona. Iron bedsteads, a tiny corner sink, literal floor to ceiling windows that looked on the theatre across the alley, and the veranda outside the bar down the hall where popcorn was free whether you ordered a drink or not.

A skeleton key opened the rattly wood door.  The gaslight-dim hallway led out to a broad, red-carpeted, two-flight stairway down to the lobby, the pre-dawn streets, and the Amtrak station, one block away.

Western style, Flagstaff, AZ
A rooster crowed half-heartedly next door to the casita in Santa Fe. Dry leaves skittered along the entry path between adobe houses. The temperature dropped to freezing. Dogs barked. A light shone on a shrine to the Virgin in the chain-link fenced yard across the street. Outside another casita, in sunnier Phoenix, the sound of water circulating from a small waterfall to a pool surrounded by a garden of palm trees and hibiscus, and sagauro cactus with its fat bristly arms. A rare and early morning conjunction of Venus, Jupiter and Mars shone in the eastern sky.

An overheated third-floor walk-up in Toronto, windows iced shut;  a blow-up bed behind a feed store; a niece's basement rec room, with a futon bed unfolded beside the wet bar. A not-such-high-Quality inn. Before, between and after, the smell of the forest out the window, familiar yellow walls hung with pictures of calla lilies and icebergs, and a long slept-on mattress that needs turning.

Je suis tout le monde

The sound of heels clicking over long-trod-upon stones announced the climax of the event. A lone man, president of the Republic of France, walked in by himself to take his place on a single straight chair in front of the bleachers where gathered the invited officials and families and survivors of 13 novembre, to commemorate the 130 who lost their lives to terrorists that day. The entrance of Francois Hollande was preceded a good hour and some earlier by the entry of the army rifle corps, and the military band who stood in formation opposite the bleachers in the storied Cour d'Honneur de l'Hôtel des Invalides. Already I had been transfixed by the professional orchestra perfectly rendering the profound second movement of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. Comfortingly familiar to me were both the music and the sight of the many balding, fair-skinned men in overcoats, and women with their winter scarves modishly tied. Nathalie Dessay passionately delivered the classic French song "Perlimpinpin," a plea to end violence.
                                                     "...Because a child who cries,
                                                       No matter where he is from,
                                                       Is a child who cries.
                                                       Because a child who dies,
                                                       At the end of your rifles,
                                                       Is a child who dies."

After the attacks in Paris, it was good to see almost instant reminders of the tragedy that had befallen forty-one Lebanese in Beirut the day before. Empathetic people were invited to post pro Lebanon sympathies, "Je suis Beirut et Je suis Paris". Of course the victims in Beirut were as important as the victims in Paris. So why did we need reminding?

As I watched the memorial service in Paris from western Canada, it felt like I was one neighbourhood over. Citizen of a bilingual country, and imperfectly bilingual myself, I understood the short, strong, serious address Hollande made towards the end of the ceremony, before walking out over those ancient stones his heels knocked against the second time that day. The stones made me think of the stories that have come into our literature from France, Les Miserables, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and so many more. Heroes, like Joan of Arc. French words that have entered the English language intact, hors d'oeuvres, or have been anglicized. Colonizers, like Cartier and Champlain in Canada, and Père Marquette and Louis Jolliet in the United States. The first non-Indian settler in Chicago was Jean Baptiste Point du Sable. When the Belgians tweeted images of cats to clog up the Twitter feed, and French people placed thousands of pairs of shoes in Place de la République, because the continuing state of emergency prohibits protest marches, we got it. We understood the literal point of those images, and we got it deeply, on a metaphorical level. If we're thinking tribes and tribal identity, whether I like it or not, I am most definitely part of the French, i.e., European tribe.

I know almost no Arab words. Only salam. And while I have read novels by the Egyptian Nobel prize winner, Naguib Mafouz, and own copies of both Omar Khayaam's lovely Rubiyat,  and Khalil Gilbran's The Prophet, This link to Arab literature shows that of the 105 books listed as "best," I have read perhaps three or four. I may have heard of another couple of titles or so, and I don't think I am unusual. I intend to read Amin Malouf, who writes in French and whose work is all translated into English. The Arab writer I knew first, and have read in French and English, is Albert Camus, of Algeria. Perhaps works written in the language of the colonizers had a better chance of entering the Western canon. The title of Camus's best known work, The Stranger, was ironically appropriate when the novel was published in 1942 and continues to be so.

With luck and serious intent, the flood of Syrian refugees to North America may spark more and broader investigations of the culture, so that names like Faruq (truth) and Barakah (blessing) and often-hyphenated last names, will come to seem commonplace and be easy to say. The North American literary canon is slowly becoming less eurocentric, but if we are to say "Je suis Beirut," and really mean it, cultural barriers must be lowered across the arts, and more works from Middle Eastern countries brought into North American education systems. It isn't enough to eat felafel.

Difficulty at the Beginning

Now that the edits are finished on the new book (The Reason for Time, forthcoming from Allium Press of Chicago, spring, 2016), I see the 540 page monster from the closet still sitting here. Chuck it, leave it. It's written. Move onto something else. Yet, why did I write it in the first place? And if was so important once, how can I toss it? It's finished, but it isn't really finished until it is read, which means it has to be made public somehow. When I was sending it around eight years ago, no publisher wanted it.  I should just leave it.  At least one draft exists in my archives, which are stored in a library in Toronto. If anyone is interested, it is there for him or her to read, this novel that involved me like a knot in an essential cord that takes hours and patience and much trial and error to untangle.

The internet makes publishing easy. I could attach it to this blog or my web site, or go further and make an ebook out of it. Maybe I will do those things, and yet, maybe there is a reason those publishers turned it down. Too big? Okay, maybe. Too sad? Well, yes, but... Well written? Thanks, but never written well enough. What then?

More finished will be when it exists between actual covers as a conventional book for a reader to hold, to hole up with. Old-fashioned as it may be considered to be, that's still my model. Knowing the difficulties of publishing a novel that will fall into no particular easy-to-shelve, easy-to-promote genre, but only the vast ocean of literary fiction, I must begin again knowing full well that even if it is perfectly wrought (and why aim for anything less?), it may travel longer than Odysseus before it finds home.
It's a voyage. You've decided to go. You must prepare all you will need for an undetermined time. You haven't actually tossed the rope onto the wharf and let the current slip you away, but you're on board now, checking supplies.

Compelled to try again, you begin, to cut, to fold back into research, such a comfortable and interesting refuge, like those coves where sailors shelter in particularly vicious storms when the course is uncharted, when they're feeling their way, tacking in this direction, then that, to find the wind that will sail them forward and finally into the harbour they are destined for, wherever that turns out to be.

Ferrante, Knausgaard

Not far into My Brilliant Friend, the first of Elena Ferrante's four Neopolitan novels, it was clear that I was setting out on a journey similar to what I had started with the novels that make up My Struggle, Karl Ove Knausgaard's hexology. The similarities astonish. Both writers address their childhood in detailed, autobiographical fashion. Both create page-turning narratives. Both address contemporary issues, especially those of gender, though Ferrante does it analytically, while Knausgaard takes the opposite tack, largely shows instead of tells. He provides a modern male perspective, while Ferrante presents the view of a woman who changed as society changed. Their approaches challenge the trope that women write about the domestic and men about the larger world. That's just one of the differences that make comparing the two novelists irresistible, and many journalists, writers, and book lovers have been compelled to do so. When I first read Knausgaard, earlier in the year, his humanity stood out as much as his wizardry at scene creation. Ferrante is direct, political. I loved it that she kept returning to the neighbourhood where she grew up, both literally and figuratively, and how she inspired me to read "neighbourhood" as Italy in general. Actually, the entire western world, as she declares in the final volume of the series, Story of a Lost Child.
Lake (MB)

Ferrante's work is dominated by Mount Vesuvius, by sun and traffic, people who yell at each other and threaten to kill each other, on one hand, and discuss splits in left-wing politics on the other. The narrator is haunted by her insecurities, childishly pleased with, but also defensive about her successes as an author. Temperatures low enough to keep beer cold, even freeze it, ice, snow, and sylvan summers on the farm weave through Knausgaard's work and feel more essential to it than the beach towns and cities of Ferrante's Italy, until near the end of the last volume, when Naples gains historical weight.

Ferrante is the author's pen name. She prefers to remain anonymous and eschews public appearances, explaining in a Vanity Fair interview that was conducted via email,
"I simply decided once and for all, over 20 years ago, to liberate myself from the anxiety of notoriety and the urge to be a part of that circle of successful people, those who believe they have won who-knows-what. This was an important step for me. Today I feel, thanks to this decision, that I have gained a space of my own, a space that is free, where I feel active and present. To relinquish it would be very painful." Yet her fictional self, the narrator Elena Greco, seeks just that kind of engagement with the literary establishment and feels unsuccessful when readers, editors, journalists stop paying attention to her.

Knausgaard is famously shy. The journalist Heather Mallick suspects he agrees to the appearances he makes out of courtesy. But he isn't a complete loner. The eurozine article Mallick refers to in her piece reveals him to be dependent on his editor and a small group of friends for feedback as his novels take shape. Almost anything one reads by him reveals him to be verbose, in print if not in person.

Italy feels violent, although, despite the many threats Ferrante's characters aim at each other, the murder rate there is actually less per capita than in Canada. The violence in Norway seems sinister because, perhaps, hidden, as in the case of Karl Ove's father. I imagine glowering faces, clenched jaws, narrowed eyes.

There's a clear arc in Ferrante's novels. Although they are about much more, they focus on Elena Greco's relationship with her friend Lina. This leads to some neglected threads of other storylines and a fair bit of repetition. Since the last two novels in Knausgaard's series are not yet translated, I don't see as clear an arc and doubt there is a single one. His prose depends for its forward movement on a series of arcs. Each scene, each chapter rises and falls, and cunningly draws the reader to the next.

With eleven novels between them, Ferrante and Knausgaard provide a literary feast. Pasta? Pickled herring? It's impossible to choose one over the other. I'll take both.

Language becomes concrete, stories mythical

Recognition: ah, so that's a butte. That gorgeous red and white sandstone formation? It's a butte. The red could be limestone, the lighter colour, volcanic tuff. The entire landscape was created by volcanic eruptions resulting in lava flows that temporarily dammed sections of the Colorado River as recently as a thousand years ago. Mesa? Those are the large, flat-topped forms that rise from the floor of the canyons and deserts. Here, a wash, there the Rio Grande, clear and ripply enough for a fly fisherman on an October afternoon, between Santa Fe and Taos. A new sense of the Rio Grande, which actually begins in Colorado and only becomes controversial as a border when it reaches Mexico. As I discovered the reality they described, words read and heard became concrete. The sandstone bluff in El Morro is actually a cuesta that recorded the presence of the Indians who lived on its top and inscribed petroglyphs. Explorers, conquistadors, soldiers and settlers recorded their presence when they stopped to scoop water out of the reed-fringed pond at the base of the cuesta. Juan de Oñate, infamous for having slaughtered many, then amputating the right foot of 80 Acoma men over the age of twenty-five and enslaving the rest of the population as he brutalized his way to becoming the first governor of Nueva Mexico; that Oñate carved on what is now called Inscription Rock that he "pasa por aqui" in 1605.
Inscription rock

Pueblo, cliff dwellers. Images abound in books, on the internet, but standing inside one of the larger caves, looking out, establishes a human link to the past. I imagine a woman gazing through this same circular opening. She has climbed the cottonwood ladder from the narrow valley to bring food. Murmur of male voices as they discuss plans for the defense of the pueblo. They would not even have called it that. Pueblo is a Spanish word that came into use following the conquests. Words those Anasazi people spoke come from a language that has never entered common useage.
Dwellings in the volcanic tuff at Bandolier

Not like ristra, which is the term for a string of bright red chiles.  Or viga, a log or beam that supports roofs in adobe houses.

Cuesta, butte, mesa all consist of strong cap rock protecting softer rock beneath. Some mesas, are supported by exquisite columnar jointing that formed as lava from ancient volcanoes cooled.

Literature of the southwest? Not as familiar --at least to me -- as that of the southeast, from where the languid sentences of authors like Faulkner have threaded into our literary consciousness. But I found that southwest authors such as Rudolpho Anaya, immediately immerse a reader in myth. In the case of Anaya, myths with Mexican origin -- such as that of Quetzalcoatl.

"The power of Quetzlcoatl is of the blending or merging of dichotomies," said Anaya. These polarities, of God and earth, of spirit and flesh cooled, cooled off and congealed into rocks. La piedra mala (a stone with evil properties) is the congealing of this force into a rock which the poet or the writer has to reinfuse with life and mythology for the sake of the people. Rocks contain our history; they are almost a way of going back to collective memory."

Among the spires and the complex planes of the high desert, rich stories imbue the rocks with meaning.

Manifest Destiny

The nineteenth century idea of manifest destiny, i.e. that American settlers were destined to expand throughout the continent, was personified as a fair haired maiden, ever helpful with that telegraph wire she is hauling over the western lands of the United States. She had a message to spread, about making a better society, about not only the right, but also the responsibility to share the privilege of liberty. It's one land mass, she might have been saying. I only want to connect you all. And with her luminous spirit urging them, railroaders pounded their spikes into mile after mile of prairie and rock and desert, fast on the heels of gun toting
American Progress, John Gast, 1872
horsemen who subdued the first inhabitants, Indian nations that had held off the invaders handily with bows and arrows until multiple shot firearms were invented. Certainly in those battles, it's literally true that Colt won the West.

What defines a community, asks a plaque in L.A.'s Autry Museum. It's safe to say that the answer is a work in progress. But if, as the same plaque continues, members of a community know and recognize each other and are united by shared interests, manifest destiny can be seen as justification for enforcing shared interests. In other words, we're going to "civilize" you whether you like it or not.

It's ironic that Mexicans pour over the border in search of work and opportunities in a land that would have been theirs had not that sweet-faced manifest destiny lady insisted on a country that stretched from "sea to shining sea". A veritable muse for the songwriters who came later.

The belief in manifest destiny propped up a kind of moral superiority that lingers more than a century and a half later.  One scholar summed up the religious aspect as follows: "God, at the proper stage in the march of history, called forth certain hardy souls from the old and privilege-ridden nations ... and that in bestowing his grace He also bestowed a peculiar responsibility."

Simply put, many 19th century Americans -- like journalist John L. O' Sullivan, who coined the phrase "manifest destiny" --  believed that they, and the country they inhabited, were better than others. This justified the subjugation of existing cultures, First Nations and Mexican to begin, then any that did not fit an unfairly exclusive view of what was "right", despite the mixed communities forming as migrants moved west from the eastern and southern States, joining immigrants from Europe, Asia and Canada.  The only reason for the failure of a move to annex the entire nation of Mexico, just as Texas had been annexed, was because of beliefs like those of John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, "We have never dreamt of incorporating into our Union any but the Caucasian race—the free white race. To incorporate Mexico, would be the very first instance of the kind, of incorporating an Indian race; for more than half of the Mexicans are Indians, and the other is composed chiefly of mixed tribes. I protest against such a union as that! Ours, sir, is the Government of a white race.... We are anxious to force free government on all; and I see that it has been urged ... that it is the mission of this country to spread civil and religious liberty over all the world, and especially over this continent."
Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, Santa Fe, N.M.

Funny how the word "liberty" was used in such a restricted way. Freedom for white people of the Christian persuasion, but not for everyone else. Liberty so-defined meant exactly the opposite for the people who didn't fit into Calhoun's description.

Of course I'm generalizing, but also -- after a too-short visit -- wondering why the southwest feels so unique. If I took the view of an ecological anthropologist, I would have to consider the marriage of environment and culture, the influence of immense, often very dry spaces, long-running wars over territory, and water rights.

Credit journalists and their genius for phrase-making, and historians who like to roll the same phrases over their tongues and thus carry those phrases forward. Nevertheless, you can't always believe what you read in the papers. Despite its endurance as a phrase, manifest destiny was not universally supported and was never an official policy of the U.S., even if its result inspired Abraham Lincoln to say, about westward expansion and other events of his time,

"We cannot escape history... we will be remembered in spite of ourselves."


Last leg of my train journey, sitting in the observation car, watching mares' tails and floccus clouds drift above the high desert east of Flagstaff, Arizona. Hours to my final station of Lamy, New Mexico.

I’m not the only writer who likes to travel by train. Two of my favourites were Paul Theroux and Bruce Chatwin. It was Chatwin who asked, "Why do men wander rather than stand still?" and answered it in books he didn't like to be categorized as travel writing, such as the wonderful In Patagonia. Theroux wrote, in The Great Railway Bazaar, “Anything is possible on a train: a great meal, a binge, a visit from card players, an intrigue, a good night's sleep, and strangers' monologues framed like Russian short stories.”

There! Wild horses in the foreground. Yellowing aspen trees in the mid distance.

I think it is somewhat the pace, rhythmic, easy. Occasional inconveniences, sure, as this morning when Train 4, the Southwest Chief, arrived at nearly six instead of the scheduled four-twenty a.m.. Yet how else would I have discovered Wicked Coffee, just a couple of blocks from the station, which opened at five and delivered a product that lived up to its name?

Vancouver, B.C. to Seattle, WA stretch. Amtrak Cascades.
So yes, the rhythm, the swaying. The time to doze, to daydream. The constantly changing views. But mostly the people. Train travel is social. Just the slightest exchange of glance, or a smile, elicits conversation. Not that you have to talk. But novelists, like me, are interested in people and trains make the perfect laboratory for character research. Part of me wanted the double seat to myself, the other part couldn’t help but be fascinated by the perfectly groomed Korean woman, who boarded in Tacoma. She had worked in a nail salon in New York before moving to Portland many years ago, and this trip was her return from the Merry Widow health mine in Basin, Montana, where water from a gold mine is used for healing. In her case, rheumatroid arthritis. That conversation took place on the Cascades, the train that begins in Vancouver, B. C. and terminates in Portland. I rode in a relatively new car. The conductor kindly announced the reasons for even slight pauses along the way. Michelle, the conductor’s assistant, explained that she isn't a fan of the new cars because she can’t see right down the middle of the aisle. But they were fine by me. Local food offerings in the bistro, big screens not only showing our location, but also telling us something about the place. Along Puget Sound, we were so close to the water, it’s clear that any rise in sea level will require a route change.

The land is dusty with sagebrush and the earth is red.

Portland to L.A., on the Coast Starlight, was a different story, a short novel divided into many
Nele and Jen
chapters, starting with tall, 19 year old Nele who was assigned the seat next to me. She was travelling by herself for the first time from Hamburg, Germany, and her rich burgundy hair was the result of her first time visit to a U.S. salon. Although her English was near impeccable, she said make, instead of do, as native French speakers also tend to say, and so the ride turned into a bit of a language lesson.

Hillier and more vegetation. When the internet works I will look up the word wash, because I think that’s what is winding through the earth alongside the tracks, damp and glistening red mud in the bottom. It has rained here recently, but the sky is clearing now.

In the Starlight’s observation car, Nele and I sat with Jennifer, from Ireland, who was quick with retorts and had the habit of twisting her face into exaggerated expressions to ask a question or make a point. As we climbed the southern Cascades, tunnel after tunnel, rivers below, a large reservoir gleaming blue just beyond, she broke into song: “The hills are alive, with the sound of music." The women at the table across, Jill (mother) and Caitlin (Jill's daughter) from Chicago, and another woman, Jane, joined in. Those three were on their way to a Cronescounsel in Mount Shasta. The talk turned to yoga postures and diet and the serendipity of life. Blonde Jill, a former cheerleader who is now training to become a yoga teacher for larger women, passed around popcorn. Jen promised Belgian chocolate after dinner, which most of us had brought along, to avoid dining car prices and food quality. Soon another woman joined us: Alyssa, a sailor, who wanted to join the singing if it started again. She was heading south to Emeryville after an aborted plan to help crew a sailboat south from Astoria. The trouble was gender-based, another crew member who had insisted on calling this experienced sailor “little lady.” We were women talking about being women.

Oh my god, a sandstone butte. Not quite, but almost as good as the Grand Canyon.

During the night, shifting from side to side, earplugs stuffed in, blanket tucked around me, people came and went, including my seat mate, Nele, who debarked at Sacramento after whispering, "nice to meet you." In the morning, as dawn broke just south of Sacramento, there was a new cast. The café car was sold out of yogurt and granola, there was no green tea. But a ship in the distance meant we had come back around to the coast, and that soon there would be water.

Contagious Magic

Sunrise, Hopi Point (MB)
Who knew it was National Fossil day, a Wednesday right smack in the middle of Earth Science week? This is a day I don't normally celebrate, but it was extra special to learn of its existence at the Shrine of the Ages in Grand Canyon National Park. Extra special because if there was ever a place to consider the science of the earth, it is on or below the rim of the famed canyon formed by the Colorado River in northern Arizona. "Raked and blistered by beautiful conflict," as was said of the California painter David Park's work. Carved, pushed, cut, molded, thrust, eroded, split. Time has sculpted stone and the record of the ages is grand as promised.

National Parks Service photo
The special fossil day speaker was a parks paleontologist, Robyn Henderek, who studies bent twig figurines, sheep and mule deer-shaped willow or squawbush figures, that have been lying inside Grand Canyon caves for more than 4000 years, preserved intact by the arid atmosphere. Ms Henderek and other scientists believe that the desert people of the canyon used these effigies  as a sort of offering to the animals they needed to capture. Contagious magic, she called it. Contagious magic is based on the principle that things or persons once in contact can afterward influence each other.

Like most things in North America, what's old to us is relatively new, because far away in southwest France, in the limestone Grotte Niaux, hunters had the same idea about 14, 000 years ago. They painted on the cave's walls images of the animals they wanted to catch.

First Nations people have spirit animals. Catholics wear crosses.  Hockey fans don jerseys on game day, to help their team win. Walking towards the train station from the beautiful Flagstaff, Arizona library, I encountered a pumpkin seller from Utah, J.T.
He told me about a couple who bought a ghost pumpkin from him last year, then took it to the Grand Canyon, where they carved it and carried it down Bright Angel trail to Phantom Ranch. On the banks of the Colorado, they lit a candle and fixed it inside the pumpkin, and set it afloat on the river in memory of a friend who had lost his life there. Contagious magic, a kind of praying.

Anxiety at the Dock

It was almost time for the ferry, the big car ferry that arrives from the city every two hours.  I was standing on the metal ramp leading to a small wharf where the Stormaway waited, a twenty-two passenger boat that carries foot passengers on to two of the islands in Howe Sound. A heron squawked its ghastly protest at a seagull, or at the nerve of someone who chose to stand too close to the piling where she was perched. Too bad. I liked the view from there. A woman started down the walkway toward me, then stopped. "Are we allowed to walk here?" Sure, it's okay to go further. All the way down,  I said, but she waited, reversed. Stopped again, perhaps a metre from me, and stood by the railing.

Vaguely middled aged, wearing a rain jacket, though the skies were blue. "Oh, did you see that? Something brown, running along the rocks? I hope it's not a baby cougar. Do you know that a cougar once walked through the ferry terminal, right beside the cars?" It's not a cougar, just a river otter. "Look! There it is. I hope it doesn't come up here." That's unlikely. "I hope so." It wouldn't have a reason to. "Well you never know. Is this dock safe?" The Stormaway bobbed like a toy boat on a cord in the wash from the Queen of Surrey as it prepared to dock. The doors were already open, the deckhands secured hooks that appeared to be all that held the ship to port, though there must have been other supports that were not visible from where I watched.
The man immediately declared and repeated at least twice that he was 58. Maybe it was his birthday. He'd come over to consider an old car, and he assessed it throughly. He looked under the hood, under the chassis, under the trunk liner. He bounced each corner to try the shock absorbers, checked the fluids, flicked on the lights, the fan, the heater. At one point during the test drive, the driver of a car behind noticed the sign in the rear window and hollered out, "You're selling that for $500? What's your number?" The 58-year old  laughed. "It's a sign from God that I am meant to buy this car." On the way to the office where ownership would be transferred, something got him talking about a friend who had advised him to move to Medellin, Colombia to wait out the self-destruction of North America. The coming collapse of capitalism, the banking system, the stock market.  Extremely sensitive to electromagnetic radiation, neither he nor his friend use microwave ovens, cell phones, or wireless technology for their computers. But he uses a computer, of course; it's how he saw the ad for the car. The ownership transfer proceeded without a hitch, and he left on the next ferry.

André Malraux: "What interests me in any man is the human condition… and in all of them, certain characteristics which express not so much an individual personality as a particular relationship with the world."

More Humans in New York

Line-ups are a fact of life in New York City. If you want to get in on a good thing, you have to wait your turn for whatever that is. Shakespeare in the Park, for example, or rush tickets for popular sold-out shows, Seamus Heaney's memorial at Cooper Union's Great Hall, for which my friend Liz came equipped with reading material and a substantial snack.  But really, they're a gift, those line-ups. Some of my most memorable meetings with New Yorkers have come about as I shifted from foot to foot, or leaned against a wall, or perched on a narrow ledge inside a theatre lobby. Years ago, it was a pair of Asian-American lawyers I chatted with, and who, after the show, invited me to join them for lunch the following day at a popular Chinatown restaurant, where there was also a line-up.

This year, waiting a couple of hours just to put my name on a wait list for the Annie Baker play "John," I met the composer/lyricist Tom Megan from Boston, who was in Manhattan to see a couple of shows and do some business relating to his own work.  Our conversation ranged from Joyce, to his new piece on W.B. Yeats in the afterlife, to the book I'd brought to pass the time, A Girl is a Half Formed Thing, to the formulaic nature of most musicals, to the difficulty of surviving as any kind of artist. We both made it into the show and met to compare notes during the two intermissions. Afterwards, waiting at the bus stop to sum up our impressions, a woman joined us, another writer, of children's books, Fran Manushkin, and while Tom went his way, Fran and I continued on the bus to a smokey Grand Central. Apparently there had been a fire, but obviously not so big a fire that it made the news the next day; not in New York, where minor fires are a footnote.  The traffic delay only gave us a chance to chat more about our impressions of "John," and about other theatre experiences. A Sondheim fan, she confessed that she wants to make her personal exit to the strains of Sondheim's "Sunday".
Nathan and LeCora, 8/14

Then came Friday morning in Central Park, waiting for free tickets to the wonderfully energetic "Odyssey," presented by The Public Theatre. Tickets would be handed out at noon, but the first people must have arrived before 9 am. I ended up sitting on a bench between two men. Irwin -- after some chit-chat about where to find coffee nearby, the dominance of cell phone conversations, the casual exhibitionism of youth -- revealed that he has always been interested in philosophy and has lately been studying the stoics. The conversation wound around to death, to his father's last words.

Nathan and LeCora, 9/15

On the other side, Ray Healey, a Ph.D in English from Columbia, with a varied career in journalism behind him, who is now teaching English, as he always wanted to do, at Hostos community college in the Bronx. Ray was reading Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything, because he intends to use it in his classroom. Our conversation ranged from climate change, to student activism, to literature. Since the tickets are handed out in order, I was able to see both of my line-up companions again that evening as we all sat enthralled by Todd Almond's upbeat, contemporary version of Homer's epic.

But maybe the best part of the night came before the show even started.  Waiting to enter the Delacorte Theatre, who should I see but a brother and sister I had met in a similar situation the previous year. In August 2014, I sat with Nathan and Le Cora for an outdoors jazz concert at St. Peter's Church in midtown. The fabulous Amina Figarova quintet. I asked if I could take their picture and promised to visit the church where LeCora sings on Sundays. I would have done it too, except I forgot the name of the church. But there on that warm Friday evening in Central Park, as if to remind me of the church's name, if not the power of meaningful coincidence --or synchronicity, as Carl Jung called it -- were Nathan and Lecora one couple ahead of me! I had to take another picture.

Houses of Worship

Saturday night, W 42nd Street, New York. Playwright's Horizons Theatre for Lucas Hnath's The Christians, in a preview performance, but no less affecting for that. As the playwright wrote in his program notes, "A church is a place where people go to see something that is very difficult to see. A place where the invisible is -- at least for a moment -- made visible. The theatre can be that too."

In the play, the pastor of an evangelical church -- a big, successful, fully paid-off church -- sermonizes about radical change. "There is no hell." Hell is not explicitly mentioned in the bible, he replies, when his associate pastor challenges him. The associate proposes a vote. Members of the congregation can choose the pastor who preached radical change -- forgiveness, acceptance; or stick with the traditional message that sinners are bound for the nether world. It was interesting, actually perplexing to me, that the actors sat in chairs facing the audience straight on, and spoke to each other through microphones, as if they were stand up comics or... inspirational speakers, perhaps.

Then, the next morning, Sunday morning, at the Greater Refuge Temple in Harlem, I saw the same arrangement. Chairs in a line across the front of the chancel. Choir behind, but an actual choir of twenty men all in dark suits, with red neckties. Stirring voices. The soloists and the preacher used microphones as the actors had, but the preacher's sermon was distorted by the sound system, at least to my ears, so that way up in mid-balcony I could understand only a few of the words.  I couldn't tell if he was dismissing the idea of hell or not, but the invisible was definitely made visible, or, more precisely, audible.

What The Christians made visible was how ideologies divide, destroy. In the Greater Refuge Temple I saw/heard that music is spirituality. The singing that attracts visitors from many corners of the earth, the songs that go on and on from the deep throated voices of the choir, can actually transport people on an inward journey. The swaying and clapping arose naturally, unlike in the contrived and theatrical performance of the Harlem Gospel Choir I saw years ago, when the front man exhorted the audience not only to clap and sway, but to pick up a cd or dvd on our way out of the venue. Clearly visible that night was that despite it being a church, you couldn't assume that everyone was worshipping the same thing.


Presto! Just like that, my historical novel formerly known as Presto! has become The Reason for Time. And the reason for that is because my publisher thought Presto! misleading. It's a word usually associated with magic, and while there is magic in the book -- in the content, I mean -- it isn't the primary subject.

Yet there is always a kind of alchemy involved in the transformation of an idea to a story that morphs into a novel that will become a book, forthcoming from Allium Press of Chicago, Spring, 2016. While not a formal process, like the fourteen steps described by Samuel Norton in The Key to Alchemy, I can relate to the fourteen steps as they apply to transforming the thin air of an idea to the solid form of a book, starting from well before publication stage.

1. Solution, the act of passing from a gaseous or solid condition, into one of liquidity, for example, is the beginning, when the thought... this would make a great novel... strikes, and notes begin to accumulate in my notebooks.

2. Filtration, the mechanical separation of a liquid from the undissolved particles suspended in it. The discoveries I made in old newspaper files in Chicago's Newberry and Harold Washington libraries. What to photocopy, what to leave behind?

3. Evaporation, the changing or converting from a liquid or solid state into a vaporous state with the aid of heat.
Out of all that material has to come an idea for a story.

4. Distillation, an operation by which a volatile liquid may be separated from substances which it holds in solution.
Early drafts, and the trial and error of deciding what works and what doesn't.  If I leave a particular part in, the whole idea could blow up on me.

5. Separation, the operation of disuniting or decomposing substances. 
Okay, so restructure.

6. Rectification, the process of refining or purifying any substance by repeated distillation. 
Write another draft. Read through again, and again. Cut out anything that doesn't pertain.

7. Calcination, the conversion into a powder or calx by the action of heat; expulsion of the volatile substance from a matter.
Print out.

8. Commixtion, the blending of different ingredients into new compounds or mass.
Possibly add verbatim bits from actual sources, such as newspaper headlines, to help reveal events.

9. Purification, (through putrefaction), disintegration by spontaneous decomposition; decay by artificial means.

10. Inhibition, the process of holding back or restraining.
That scene that is hard to be true to, given the point of view... just go for it. Imagine it.

11. Fermentation, the conversion of organic substances into new compounds in the presence of a ferment. 
With all the ingredients in place, write another draft.

12. Fixation, the act or process of ceasing to be a fluid and becoming firm; state of being fixed. 
First completed draft sent to potential publishers.

13. Multiplication, the act or process of multiplying or increasing in number, the state of being multiplied. 
This would be the period when I added many thousands of words to replace the section my publisher felt would distract from the whole. When I completed yet another draft, that -- thanks to an editor's eye -- was satisfyingly filled out in places I had neglected before.

14. Projection, the process of turning base Metals into gold.
Let's hope.

Rocking the heartstrings

Piero's head, by Geoffrey Smedley

"Touching the heart strings is something you have to experience. Otherwise you cannot understand human beings from a universal perspective. . . Sometimes you feel good, sometimes you do not feel good, but that's all right. Whatever you say about it, let's just go toward this. In other words, touching the heart is to rock your heart strings to their ultimate state." (Returning to Silence, Dainin Katagiri)

Amidst my karass, reports circulated via wire, wireless, phone calls, email messages. Someone felt stuck in her situation, another had just won an important competition, another struggled with grief. Worry, sadness, frustration and utter joy spun like a ferris wheel that moved one person to the fore, then up and away, immediately replacing them with the next.  Sleep became an instrument for which someone had written dissonant chords.

In the very early morning, shooting stars.

Stop the Presses!

In the mid 1960's, a column began to appear in the The Whitehorse (Yukon) Star. It was written by Edith Josie about the going's on in her community of Old Crow, Yukon, which is situated on the Porcupine River, just north of the Arctic Circle. The newspaper's publisher decided to leave Miss Josie's words unedited, to reflect her unsophisticated voice.  Over the forty years it ran, the column gained worldwide recognition for its simple charm, but was also the subject of some debate about whether leaving it unedited--and perhaps reflective of someone who grew up in an oral tradition--was condescending. "Lots of things is going on in Old Crow. Even helicopter take Elder up river to Whitestone, Johnson Creek and Elder are glad to see their country. Where they use to stay there summer and winter they all happy. Some boys working in Old Crow. They fix the house and busy every day. And some boys set net for fish some of them they one or two king salmon and beside that they get whitefish so it was good. Band Office are busy working and everything is good."

The community news Miss Josie recorded is an example of hyper-local reporting. Where I live, we have a weekly newspaper, but in between Friday publication days, news gets disseminated through a community Facebook page. It's a great source and reflects life here, from the worry about a stray dog without a collar, to the breaking story about permanent layoffs at the regions's largest employer, Howe Sound Pulp and Paper. The community page was also the first to report that a popular lifelong resident and tree faller, Johnny Phare, died while fighting a forest fire that had been smoking up skies and dropping ash all the way to Vancouver.

It's an all purpose site, with room for complaints such as:
"Behind the school in Davis Bay... Bags and bags and bags of drywall dumped... Of course dumped on the side that didn't have the No Dumping sign!"

For complaints that include advice:
"OK Everyone ! It's a Long Weekend and a Full Moon...Drive Safe Please..So many in a hurry (smile emoticon) you want to get there Safely the person In the dark grey Rav4 282ntb YOU suck ! I waited a long time on turn on to the Highway safely from Flume..during ..just after the ferry traffic this afternoon just after 12pm and you come out of no where and turn right in front of me from Lockyer rd...after I was there first waiting for a clear spot to get on the Highway!"

For breaking news:
"Just saw four emergency police vehicles lights and sirens going,racing past Davis Bay, going towards Gibsons.'
"The grey whale is back at the foot of Maskell Road, lolling about, but generally heading toward Roberts Creek."

For consumer reports:
"A quick note to anyone who likes the cooked meat packages in Super Valu, there's about a dozen packages there as of ten minutes ago, turkey, chicken and sausages. $6.99 a kilo. But, all marked with 50% off stickers. Will be gone soon I expect."

And want ads:
"Anyone have a 1730 drill bit available to use borrow buy asap?"

In the last stages of editing my novel about Chicago in 1919, when there were nine general circulation newspapers, several of them dailies with more than one edition, I see that our appetite for information about what's going on around us--that is to say right around us, as well as in Syria and Yemen--hasn't changed a bit. Despite the demise of hundreds of newspapers, stopping the presses doesn't mean stopping all the news that's fit to post, podcast, stream or even pass by word of mouth, the oral tradition Miss Josie carried over to her long-running column, "Here Are the News."

If you go down to the woods today...

Here on the coast of British Columbia, where there are many more trees than people, and many of the people are artists, what's a theatre company to do but use the forest for a stage?
Set for the first scene

Deer Crossing, The Art Farm, was the first to mount a spectacle using the natural environment as both set and subject. Its Synchronicity Festival began in 2010, based on an idea from Diego Samper, who envisaged a circus in the rainforest. The Festival has continued and expanded and moved to a different part of the woods since then and become a feature of the summer festival offerings on the Sunshine Coast.

Now The Only Animal Theatre Company (whose artistic director Kendra Fanconi has long entertained Vancouver audiences with ambitious, site-specific work) enters the local picture with an adaptation of Paul Harding's Pulitzer Prize winner, The Tinkers. A preview of next summer's full production took place over the weekend at a magical location near the end of a very long gravel logging road. The first scene opened with a man in black tie speaking about the wonder of being alive as he waded into, stood and eventually swam in a spring-fed pond. The audience sat on stumps and hand-hewn benches. The aisles were defined by slices of trees decorated with moss.

"Theatre" entrance
Sound designers encouraged spectators to buzz like bees as they climbed a gentle slope to an orchard full of old apple trees where the seating choice was limited to the hay on the ground. Then it was up into the deep forest, where the family of the tinker man gathered around a rough-sawn table set for dinner before the table flipped over and turned into a bed for five. These were just tastes of scenes that will be further developed. Also a chance to try out some of the wonderful props specially designed for the production: the metal horse head and the cage behind it in which an actor nickered and whinnied as the tinker led him across the bridge. Amazing how easy it is to fall for for a well-realized illusion. A three-part metal dog tried to burrow into the family bed. Musicians played saws, a harmonica melody sounded particularly plaintive in the scene at the pond, as did the mother's voice calling her son from a window frame woven out of deciduous tree branches.

The audience, whom the director applauded for our adventurous spirit, drank cedar tea and a few even dressed for the occasion in woodsy gear. One woman wore an English ivy hat and carried a cedar handbag, both of which she had woven herself. She was also carrying a basket of cedar bark she had found. Lucky, she said, because the bark harvesting season was over. Who knew there even had been one? Ah, the things there are to discover in the woods.

The Other Side of Town

It's a spot that defeats any kind of stain remover. The bare patch on the lawn that won't respond to fertilizer. The crack in a one-of-a-kind plate. It's a territory that spreads over more than this one corner of our stunning city, but is concentrated there like a tenth circle of hell inhabited by those who are being punished because of ... addiction, mental illness, childhood trauma, bad luck, self-indulgence, abandonment, abuse, disabilities both intellectual and physical. Sun pours into an alley from the west and spills onto the thick curly hair and beard of a shirtless, young-ish man who lies spread eagled on cobbled hill of trash. He might be sunbathing at the sand dunes, except the landscape of this wide passage is vivid with graffiti and layered with drifts of garbage, probably needles, food wrappers, bottles, odd shoes and pieces of clothing, newspapers and other evidence of human habitation. On either side of the alley vendors squat on the sidewalk with wares spread out in front of them. Clothes, electronics. Most of it hot, stolen. Around the corner, men and women cluster against the sides of buildings, smoking, dealing, some in doorways shooting up. In a shadier section, a small man rests standing with his eyes closed, chin down. The quiet presence of drugged humans late on a summer day. A stucco wall shadows the twenty-year old on the pavement who lifts a cell phone for the appraisal of an older man. It seems invasive, disrespectful to look at faces too long.

Residents of this urban neighbourhood protested when an upscale eatery opened just across from their own Pigeon Park. What really hurt was that the restauranteurs chose the moniker "Pidgin" to play on the name of the long time gathering place that is anything but parklike. Pidgin is not the only trendy restaurant in the neighbourhood. Not far down the block from the Insite safe injection site and the Downtown Eastside Women's Centre is a restored jail and stable, brick walls, wooden floor, crisp cornered white tables, snowy linen napkins, fresh-faced servers. Neopolitan pizza with inventive toppings. Extensive wine list.

Unless you take a taxi and keep your eyes shut until you reach your destination, you can't get to these restaurants without passing the crack, the stain, the bare patch in this beautiful burg where the mountains are a shade deeper blue than the sky and the ocean reflects the time of day.

A slight First Nations woman, hair caught up in the back, a short fringe over her forehead, watches from her wheelchair as a group of friends coming from the pizza place wait for the light to change. Her brown eyes are clear. She is sitting up straight and nods yes when one of the group offers her a take-out container of leftovers. Unlike some of the other street people, who look away or simply lack focus, this woman fearlessly locks gazes.

One of the complaints about Pidgin was that its big front window faces directly onto Pigeon Park, more or less presenting misery as entertainment, a tourist attraction. The juxtaposition is indeed dramatic and bizarre, yet if it forces people to confront the scene outside the window, well, you can't see if you don't look at what no one in charge or anyone else has been able to cleanse, to mend, or rejuvenate.

Language lesson: shock

I apologize for cancelling last week, but there was a sudden death in the family.

Deaf? Oh, sorry.

Death. With a th. Put your tongue between your teeth.

Yes, like that. Good. It was quite a shock.                                  

Yes. You know, when something unexpected happens?


All of a sudden. You think the day will be ordinary, but then there is a storm or something. Out of the blue.

Storm? Blue sky then storm?

Sort of. Rain, thunder. A little bit scary. You put your hand over your mouth. You say, oh!


Yes, a little like that. You get a call from the school, your daughter is sick.


Yes, like that. You did not expect that to happen. It is a shock.


Write it.




Good! Can you use it in a sentence?

It is shock when storm comes.

Shocking. It can be shocking when you hear thunder. It is shocking to hear news of sudden death. It is shocking when your daughter calls from school to say she is sick. But not TOO shocking. Unless she is seriously sick. You could say, it was a shock when the storm came. Or you could say, it is a shock when a storm comes. Unless you were expecting it, when it's troubling but not unexpected. When storms are predicted by the weather man. When your daughter has been complaining about a sore throat, for instance, but she goes to school anyway. She is sick, but when she calls it is not such a shock. Same as when someone dies of cancer. It is sad, but not a shock. A sudden death is a shock. You may tremble. Your stomach does not feel right. It is hard to think. Shock.


Thank you. When something shocking happens, people like comfort. Kind words, hugs. Do you know the word comfort?

I think, act nice.

Yes, that's good. You understand. Comfort. Can you write it?



The atmosphere sparkled

She asked if anyone had obtained a death receipt. It's not the word she meant to use, but, in that week, words and sights glowed with significance. Death had claimed the body and left us all with a receipt for the corpse. But not for the spirit, for his spirit continued through the complex song of the cardinal that landed on the fence, as if to remind us that the Cardinals had been his favourite team, and appeared in the hat a nephew found on a post at the golf course the day after, a ball cap with the logo of the company where the youngest brother in a large family had worked for thirty-seven years.

The atmosphere sparkled with signs.

During the official mourning rituals - the visitation, the funeral service - a neighbour talked about her father's death. How, after he had breathed his last, she entered the room and found him lying with his mouth open, as if, she said, God had reached right in to take his life away. But where is he, she wondered, and found herself looking for answers on license plates. Tennessee, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania. Then, one day she saw "Kingdom." She didn't explain, but only expressed her satisfaction. Ah, so there her father was.

The safety belt didn't hold. Our brother was ejected from his truck, just as if he'd pressed the up button on an elevator that would rise to the place his pastor described as unknown but wonderful. Maybe it would be like a grand house, with a lake for fishing in front and a golf course out the back door. No one is sure, said the pastor, but if that's what it is, he'll surely be happy there.

In summer I keep the door open for light and circulation and the flowers that splash into view whenever I walk past. This hot year it has been open more than usual, but at an angle meant to discourage birds from flying in. A bird in the house means death is coming, some believe, and I didn't want to extend an invitation, but death in its rudeness burst through anyway. RIP, Jer.

Shinny's Girls, The Trilogy

In the spirit of John Updike's Rabbit Angstrom novels, SHINNY'S GIRLS, THE TRILOGY reveals a social history of our times by presenting what critics have called "an uncommon common woman" and her family of three daughters. Each of the linked novels – Shinny's Girls, Flashing Yellow and You Again – covers a single year in the Trilogy's twenty-five year span. Through the threat of an obscene caller in the first novel, to the unravelling of a long kept secret in the third, the girls gradually leave home in Vancouver for Milan, New York and a goat farm in the redwoods of Northern California, and Shinny's world opens to experiences she would never have foreseen, including a white water rafting adventure that sparks a mid-life love affair, an email correspondence with a soldier stationed in Afghanistan, and her unintentional complicity with an identity thief who happens to be her grandson.
The late CBC radio icon Peter Gzowski confessed that Shinny had hooked him. "I stayed up until the wee hours to finish it (the original novella). You get a real sense of the reality of the lives of these people." Other readers have described the Shinny novels as "fast paced and funny and a pleasure to read."
Available Now
From Amazon
Shinny's Girls, the Trilogy [Kindle Edition]

From Barnes & Noble
Shinny's Girls, the Trilogy [NOOK Book]

From iTunes Books
Shinny's Girls, the Trilogy [iBook]
Books in Canada: "A superb novella, Shinny's Girls demonstrates a large, robust talent, nicely matured."
Calgary Herald: "compelling and memorable."
Toronto Star: "...a strong collection by a considerable talent."
The third in a trilogy that began with Shinny's Girls (Talon, 1989) and continued with Flashing Yellow (Turnstone, 2001), YOU AGAIN brings to a crescendo the 25-year saga of Shinny, a single mother, and her family of three daughters from three different fathers. In this volume, Shinny's grandson Mattie has escaped his partner in an identity theft scam; he's on the run and thinking of joining the army. Elfie, Shinny's youngest, discovers she is carrying a child with a potentially serious heart defect. The issue of genetics becomes acute and Shinny has to decide whether or not to tell her daughter the truth about her origins. Under all thrums the question, how do we become who we are?
The alternating voices of Shinny, the three grown-up "girls," and Mattie create a narrative that spans about a year, primarily in Vancouver, but also in New York City, where Elfie lives with her composer-husband, and in northern California, where middle-daughter Annette raises goats.
While readers can follow the family from the start, in Shinny's Girls, The Trilogy, YOU AGAIN makes a compelling stand-alone read.
Available Now
From Amazon
You Again [Kindle Edition]

From Barnes & Noble:
You Again [NOOK Book]

From iTunes Books
You Again [iBook]
About the author:
Mary Burns was born in Joliet, Illinois, near Chicago, the fourth of eleven children. A former journalist and documentary filmmaker, she has published widely in literary magazines and is the author of six books, including four novels, two story collections and a non-fiction book, The Private Eye: Observing Snow Geese, which was shortlisted for the Science in Society Book award. Her radio plays were broadcast on CBC and BBC Radio 3, and some were collected in the anthology Take Five, The Morningside Dramas, edited by Dave Carley. She has also written several stage plays. As a young woman she left the Midwest for New York City, then Los Angeles and later Santa Rosa, California. She and her older daughter emigrated to Canada in 1970, starting in British Columbia before moving on to the Yukon Territory where she worked for five years as editor of the Yukon News. She now spends part of the year just north of Vancouver, in Grantham's Landing, B.C., and several months in Quebec City. For more details of her life and samples of her work, visit her website,
Author's note:
The original Shinny's Girls and Other Stories was published by Talonbooks in 1989. The strong critical and reader response, and the affection I had developed for my invented characters compelled me to continue their story ten years later in the novel Flashing Yellow published by Turnstone Press in 2001. I completed the trilogy with You Again, in 2012. All three novels are available in the single volume ebook, Shinny's Girls, the Trilogy. The three novels are also available separately in paper, from on-line booksellers, including Abe Books, or directly from the publishers,