In honour of Maya Angelou:
Also, in her honour, I wanted to talk about beautiful titles for books, because the title of her autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, has long been one of my favourites.
Titles are tricky things, especially these days, with so much attention paid to the supposed science of marketing. In many cases, choosing the title of an author's work is a decision made by committee (editors, marketing experts, author input), rather than something the author comes up with on their own. Usually, the book has to be finished before a title can be chosen. All the thematic cards have to be on the table. Fathom Lines was called The Depths for a long time, until I realized the stories were more about the charting of those depths rather than the metaphorical deep waters themselves.
So, I have no idea how these titles came to be, but congratulations to whoever is responsible for putting these particular words together:
I could keep going with this list for a long time, but what about you? What are your favourites?
We don't need to look to other planets to see whole new worlds. Photographer Vyachesla Mischenko helps us see some of them.
And, in honour of mothers everywhere, one of my favourite poems about them, The Lanyard, by American poet Billy Collins:
The other day I was ricocheting slowly
This week in the stacks: I found a poem, To the Lady Charlotte Rawdon: From the banks of the St. Lawrence, written by the Irish poet Thomas Moore at the beginning of the 19th century while he travelled through the United States and Canada. There are some beautiful images of the pristine countryside that used to be, and I wanted to share a little bit of it with you:
I dreamt not then that, ere the rolling year
The full poem can be found in Epistles, Odes, and Other Poems (1806). This volume describes the rest of Moore's travels in America and Canada and is available as a free ebook from Google Books.
More from the stacks and stacks of things I've found for my next book. This watercolour was painted by Edmund Walsh, who was stationed with the British Army at York in 1803. From the way the land curves out into the water and the amount of buildings shown, I'd estimate this to be somewhere between present day Jarvis and Sherbourne streets.
While researching for my next book, I found this snippet about Burlington Bay/Hamilton Harbour, written by Elizabeth Graves Simcoe just a few years before the 18th century:
The sand cliffs on the north shore of Burlington Bay look like red rocks. The beach is like a park covered with large, spreading oaks. At eight o'clock we set out in a boat to go to Beasley's, at the head of Burlington Bay, about eight miles. The river and bay were full of canoes; the Indians were fishing; we bought some fine salmon of them. When we had near crossed the bay, Beasley's house became a very pretty object. We landed at it, and walked up the hill, from whence is a beautiful view of the lake, with wooded points breaking the line of shore and Flamborough in the background.
And just in case you are more of a visual person, here's a before and after.
Simcoe's description jolted me. I guess, with all the drives I've taken over the bay bridge, with all the jokes about Hamilton's smog and grit, it's easy to forget that this area wasn't always the centre of industry it's been for so long. Thank you, Elizabeth Graves Simcoe, for this reminder.
The setting for your next post-apocolyptic novel?
The real story: New York City subway tunnels under construction.
This morning on CBC, Jian Ghomeshi interviewed a documentary filmmaker working on a project about highrises. I have to admit, from where I sat (smack in the middle of a very large cluster of tall towers) the idea seemed a little underwhelming. But as filmmaker Katerina Cizek talked, I came to see why she would be so interested in what seems at first to be a mundane topic. These places are part of the landscape of the city, yes, but they are also, quite literally, stacked with people that have stories to tell. After the interview, I took a look at the Highrise project website. It is fabulous: a testament to what a creative mind, a little funding, and a whole lot of public interaction can do with one fairly simple idea.
Probably not your average day at work for these two guys ...
Filming the roar of the MGM Lion, 1929.
I was pointed in the direction of this podcast last week and finally got around to listening to it last night. If you have read Fathom Lines, and you liked the mystery of it, and the family dynamic between the mother and daughter - do yourself a favour and listen to the first 17 minutes of this podcast. It is a daughter's story of the blue trunk that her mother forbade her to open, for fear of the disruption the contents might bring to their lives. This is an amazing true story, full of secrets and family drama. (And, in a funny coincidence, the daughter's name is Lise.)
Thanks to Ken Ellis for bringing this to my attention. For further reading: Lise Dion has written a memoir of her mother's life called The Secret of the Blue Trunk.
A Birder's Guide to Everything, is "a coming of age comedy about teenage birdwatchers." From the trailer, it looks like an intelligent film about intelligent, quirky, and sometimes floundering characters, the kind that I typically enjoy quite a bit. It showed in Toronto very briefly at the TIFF theatre, but you can find it on iTunes now, I believe, for immediate download.
Anyway, partly because of this film and partly because the birds are flying back now, I've been thinking about how birding is really a perfect metaphor for the creative process. Some proof:
"At once the lost boys—but where are they? They are no longer there. Rabbits could not have disappeared more quickly. I will tell you where they are. With the exception of Nibs, who has darted away to reconnoitre, they are already in their home under the ground, a very delightful residence of which we shall see a good deal presently. But how have they reached it? for there is no entrance to be seen, not so much as a large stone, which if rolled away, would disclose the mouth of a cave. Look closely, however, and you may note that there are here seven large trees, each with a hole in its hollow trunk as large as a boy."
The Real Story: The photographer, Tsuneaki Hiramatsu, took multiple long exposure shots of fireflies and merged the images to show the flight paths. Magical and real.
You may not be blown away by today's photo. A gull is something we see all the time, mostly in less-than-glamourous circumstances: circling garbage at the dump, swooping to catch fish entrails flung from boats, patrolling parking lots, crapping on everything in sight. But still, when I found this photo earlier in the week, a solitary gull on the wing, I knew I would use it today.
I love gulls. Certainly it has something to do with Joni Mitchell's Song to a Seagull. "Fly silly seabird, no dreams can possess you, no voices can blame you, for sun on your wings ... " (Let's face it, J.M. could probably make me like root canal if she sang about it) But also, to me, gulls are one of the first harbingers of spring. In Toronto, their call goes up early, in the shift from winter to spring, when there's still grungy snow on the ground but the sun is coming back around. Today, there is sun. (Never mind how much snow is still on the ground.) Perhaps I will hear you, silly seabird.
I love maps. And I also love photographs of how things used to be. So, it's obvious that I was always going to love WhatWasThere. They want to create a unique history of the world by tying "historical photos to Google maps, [and] allowing you to tour familiar streets to see how they appeared in the past."
This is a great innovation that everyone can use: residents can learn more about where they live, tourists can get backstory, educators can bring two somewhat abstract subjects, history and geography, to life for their students. And for writers of historical fiction---well, WhatWasThere is The Jackpot. It is an easy and direct way to the essential atmosphere of a place at a particular point in time.
From my own very rough calculations, I estimate WhatWasThere has mapped more than 36,000 historical photographs by time and location. North America and Europe are best-represented right now, but with a platform for anyone to upload photographs to the site, this amazing project could very well achieve their mission to "weave together a photographic history of the world."
Unfortunately for me, my work-in-progress novel is set in Toronto long before cameras existed. Might I make a suggestion? How about WhatWasThere: Historical Paintings version? Huh? Sound good? Too bad, I guess it's back to the archives for me.
Pixie Dream Home. Also, where are you Spring? We need you.
The real story: Teahouse Tetsu, designed by Terunobu Fujimori for the Kiyoharu Shirakaba Museum in Japan.
I love maps. If I weren't a writer, and if I could go back to my early twenties and choose something different to do with my life, I would choose mapmaking. But since I don't have a time machine, and I'd hate to give up writing, I did the next best thing. I wrote a main character that makes maps. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is called Vicarious Cartography.
The thing is, traditional mapmaking is now a bit of a redundant pursuit--Google maps and GPS and satellites make plotting the boundaries of land onto a piece of paper somewhat unnecessary--so when I wrote Fathom Lines, I knew my character, Lise, had to be a different sort of mapmaker.
Instead of the physical landscape, she focuses on mapping an emotional landscape of Toronto. She gathers memories from random people from all different parts of the city, and then makes a topography of emotion.
But there are real people doing amazing things with maps right now, and thanks to these creative minds, we can find our way in the world differently. Here are a few recent projects that I love the most:
Erin Bedford, writer.