Thursday, February 28, 2013
My siblings and I didn't have enough time to reach her before the end, but she was surrounded by a large and loving family. Almost every day, either her sister or a cousin or a cousin's child dropped by to spend time with her. She was not alone in the hospital.
During the past week, the vast outpouring of love and generosity from a family I rarely saw filled me with comfort. I held my emotions in check, mostly for the sake of my brother and sister, who took Mom's passing hard.
But this isn't about me. It's about Mom.
Born in 1936, Frances Bernard Cormier was the oldest daughter of Louis Bernard, a Mi'kmaw from Nova Scotia, and Catherine Connell of County Cork, Ireland. She had three older brothers: Jackie, Tommy and Herbie. She married Roger Cormier, a dashing Acadian from Minto, New Brunswick, in 1956. Or was it '55? Dad will correct me.
Uncle Jackie is still with us. He recently received The Diamond Jubilee Medal for his military service to Canada and for being an elder in the Native Community. When I saw Jackie, he had recently received stitches on his nose after falling face first into the deep freeze. Don't ask.
Donna, Mom's little sister, lives in the apartment across the hall, on the first floor of a Victorian mansion on Douglas Avenue. They shared the phones, Internet, and the cat. Donna had the food at her apartment, and Mom had the litter box in hers. She always complained that she got the shitty end of the cat. The landlord lives upstairs. They both took great care of Mom and I'm forever grateful for their love and support.
My sister was enroute from a remote community in Northern Ontario when we got the news. She spent twelve hours and five planes to get to Saint John, with spotty phone service. She didn't know about Mom's passing until the third leg of her journey.
My brother and I followed on Saturday, sitting together on the same twin-prop plane for the two-hour trip from Toronto. When we arrived, we got right to work, during the impromptu party of course. As rotating shifts of cousins milled around us, we spent Saturday evening going through old pictures and new, putting together a slide show with a selection of music for the service. We also made a cheerful display of Mom's paintings, decorated with Valentine hearts and St. Patrick's Day trinkets.
As we went through Mom's things, every photograph, greeting card and piece of paper prompted a Frannie story. We found pictures of my parents' honeymoon, and several of Mom wearing a slip and holding a pot or a dish. I think that was Dad's secret joke, catching Mom unawares for a Paparazzi-type photo opportunity. Her eyes always looked wide and slightly annoyed in those pictures.
We found CDs of her favourite music, and handwritten lyrics and stories. We found lots and lots of hair curlers, half-used lipsticks and partial packages of AA batteries in every drawer.
Mom was a Shopping Channel addict. Multiple packages of small appliances, still sealed, were stuffed in closets and cupboards. Perhaps she meant to give them as gifts, or forgot she had already ordered that Hurricane Mop twice already.
We found letters she never sent, and cards she'd received from us, nieces, friends, grand-nephews and great-grand-nieces. Drawings from the little ones covered the fridge.
The freezer was stuffed with unopened bags of mixed vegetables. She had always promised to improve her diet, and bought the things she meant to eat, but they were either stale or suffering from freezer burn. Inside a canister, I found a whole bunch of candy. The cupboards groaned with packages of cake and pancake mix.
Scattered throughout the apartment were her paintings. We displayed them at the service, then divided them up, giving some to her sister and brother. I chose the one of a girl looking out to sea.
We found little notes from Dad, who currently lies in bed on the other side of the continent, having just undergone hip surgery. Dad was sorry not to be there for us, but it couldn't be helped. We are all wishing him a speedy recovery, so he can golf for another twenty years. Thumbs up, Dad.
My sister wanted to have a private family "smudge" before the rest of the clan showed up for the service on Tuesday. A smudge is a traditional Native method of using smoke from tobacco, sage and sweetgrass to purify an area, usually accompanied by a prayer. It turned out most of the clan showed up an hour early, so we all participated in the smudge. After we did it, my sister invited the rest of the congregation to participate, and many did, including the minister.
At one point during the eulogy, the little smudge pot started to smoke more than it should have. A cousin darted up front to smother it. It wouldn't do for Frannie's spirit to try to burn the place down. After all, this funeral home had put to rest at least three generations of Bernards.
My brother had to return home on Wednesday, and my sister on Thursday. I stayed behind to help organize the apartment. I returned Sunday night, and promptly contracted the flu my aunt had been recovering from.
I'm sitting here in bed, thinking about Frannie, and the fact that I didn't have a proper chance to say goodbye. You may be mortal, Mom, but your words are not. I give you back your favourite saying, "I love your guts."
Tuesday, January 1, 2013
Friday, November 9, 2012
Last week the floodgates opened. No... bad choice of words. What I'm trying to say is that after long gaps between posts, I'm ready to start blogging again on a semi-regular basis. Being a virgin empty nester has its perks if you set aside the "missing your kids" part.
I've been working on a murder mystery for a while, and I'm ready to dive back into it. If you're a member of Book Country, you might have seen a pretty big chunk of Mallet as it was being developed.
I'm a Certified Pantster, so whatever you read today might not be the same tomorrow. I decided to post a sample of the book, just to whet appetites - yours and mine.
Now, where to start? The Beginning, according to all agent rules? Or a little piece in the middle, just to keep everyone guessing? I'll let you guess, since I'm still guessing anyway.
Saturday dawned hot and hazy. I blew the dust bunnies off my navy blue pumps, cinched myself into a steeply discounted designer sundress, and headed for the polo grounds on the Montgomery farm in Gormley. A few signs with red arrows pointed the way to the venue, and I scanned for the entrance.A long line of cedar fencing bordered the farm to my left, and out of the corner of my eye I noticed a rail had snapped in two, leaving a gap. Someone should fix that, I thought.I returned my attention to the winding road. In the same moment, a huge reddish-brown object filled my view in front of my car."Shit!" I slammed on my brakes and struggled to keep the Toyota from spinning out of control. Gravel spit in every direction. I managed to bring the car to a halt on the soft shoulder, facing the way I had come.I gulped and gasped, gripping the steering wheel. When my heart and the dust settled, I searched the roadside, wondering if I'd hit the deer.It wasn't a deer. It was a horse.It shuffled back and forth in the ditch on the west side of the road, doing a little pirouette on its hind feet before trotting in the opposite direction.With a deep breath, I undid my seatbelt and opened the door. I stood on the gravel shoulder for a moment, wondering about my next move.The horse stopped for a moment and pricked its ears before flattening them and resuming its dance in the ditch. There was no sign of a limp, and a quick glance at my bumper reassured me I hadn't made contact. Thank God.I had no idea how I was going to catch it. I looked around for help, but for the moment the lane was empty. No freaked-out farmhand came running from any nearby property, so it looked like I was on my own."Come on… girl?" Or was it a male? I didn't have time to peek at its undercarriage. I just kept my eyes fixed on a pair of flared nostrils while I slithered into the dry ditch.The horse gave me a look that said, "Oh, no you're not," and flattened its ears again.It wore a leather halter, but I knew from experience it wasn't a good idea to try to lead a nervous horse without a rope of some kind. One toss of the head and I could end up under its hooves. I crept closer, speaking softly while unbuckling my navy blue cotton belt. I slid it from the loops on my dress and held it to my side.The horse snorted and nosed the sky, eyes rolling, but briefly stood still.I stepped forward, and it stepped backward. I tried again, and it retreated.I remembered a move I'd learned back in college when I took care of the school horses. I turned my shoulder and walked along the ditch, ahead the horse. I extended my closed fist as if I were holding a lead.The trick worked. It followed me and I slowed my pace until it strode alongside. I looped my belt around its halter and hoped it wouldn't rear up, as I didn't have quite enough slack to keep the horse from hauling me into the air.We scrambled out of the ditch, my genuine imitation patent vinyl pumps slipping on the flattened grass, and my arm almost yanked out of its socket as the horse unceremoniously assisted me to higher ground.A car approached and slowed, its tires crunching the gravel. I raised my free hand and the driver rolled to a stop."Need any help?" The guy asked from his open window."No – I got it." I struggled to keep the bay still as it danced about, trying to jerk the belt out of my grip.The driver set his hazard lights and got out of his car, halting the increasing lineup of vehicles that had built up behind him. He waited until we passed through the gates of the nearest driveway, and then returned to his car with a friendly wave.By now the horse had finally decided to cooperate, and clopped calmly beside me. I hoped this was the right farm. This property was either on the polo grounds or adjacent, since the line of cars had turned into the next driveway.A voice drifted through the trees from a loudspeaker, calling out the itinerary for the day's festivities. The first game was due to start just after lunch. I pictured Dionne sitting with the chairpersons and polo players' wives, sipping mimosas and making excuses for my absence.At this end of the grounds, silence surrounded me except for the occasional sleepy tweet from birds high in the pines that lined the driveway. A whinny drifted from a gargantuan century barn, and as I got closer, I heard angry male voices.
Sunday, November 4, 2012
I've been busy the last few months helping my children leave the nest, just like the Cooper's hawks that went their merry way in late summer. My son moved out in September, and we rented a truck to get most of his furniture to him. He was kind enough to give me his old room, which I scraped and cleaned and converted into my own personal writing haven. Here's how it turned out:
I even found a place for my Underwood.
My son will do well. He was ready to fly. After he finishes his co-op, he'll have one more semester and will have his B.A. in Computer Security.
Last week, I got on a plane with my daughter and two suitcases, and flew to Vancouver to help settle her into her new job at DHX Media, working on the children's cartoon Pound Puppies. She will be living with a fellow graduate and together they'll explore the world of Animation.
Saturday, June 2, 2012
Cool! Maybe they were just visiting, but I hoped I'd see them again.
Later, while getting in the car to go to work, one flew overhead, carrying twigs in its talons.
They took up residence in a neighbour's white pine, and ate lunch in a tall tree beside our driveway. I would often see one of them observing me from above while holding down some unknown prey under its foot. It would utter, "Kek, kek, kek," and fly to the woods across the street.
One day after work, a cat was creeping through our backyard, and one of the hawks settled in a branch above it. I took the opportunity to snap a couple of pictures with my small digital camera before it flew away.
After some research, I determined they were Cooper's hawks, with long barred tail and a rusty red chest. Sleek and graceful, they played about the neighbourhood, swooping through the trees and watching our neighbour gardening.
One morning, I stood in the backyard watching a baby squirrel hold a bit of food and chirping loudly. To my right, Mr. Cooper's hawk sat in a dead elm, watching the noisy little rodent and obviously marinating it with his eyes.
I got off a decent shot with my husband's digital SLR when one of the Coopers chased off some noisy crows. The crows thought it wise to bug out.
The trees have filled in since spring, so it's harder to see them when they give their warning call, but while I was in the yard last weekend, one of them flew right past my head.
I don't think their babies are born yet, but it will be exciting to watch them learn to fly.
Sorry I haven't been around much lately. Writing has been going slowly and my confidence lags, but I'm still trying. The rights to two of my novels have been returned to me (one at my request) and I'm trying to find them new homes. Bad Ice is still doing well. The polo mystery sits at around 35,000 words and I'm thinking of weaving in a second thread in the detective's point of view. You can find me at my usual yappy state over at Twitter. Love ya all.
Monday, March 19, 2012
We were lucky to snag one of the fancy-schmancy new subway trains with no partitions between the cars. We could see all the way from front to back. As we settled in, a small older woman entered, smiling. I was about to get up to offer her my seat when she started to dance.
She chanted to us, entertaining us with her one-woman evangelical flash mob. Many patrons smiled, and some kept their gaze at their laps. Of course I applauded during a pause, thinking her performance was over. But she kept going for three or four stops before blessing us and leaving the train.
Halfway through her gig, a young man sat across from us. He quietly slid a single Tall Boy of Carlsberg beer out of his LCBO bag and cracked it open. After draining it, he put the paper bag and the can under his seat. The doors opened and a breeze sent the paper bag into the next compartment, and the can tipped over and rolled against his heel. He ignored it. Perhaps he was christening the new subway train in his own way, or maybe he was pre-drinking in preparation for St. Patrick's Day.
We exited at Osgoode Station and walked along Queen Street West to a store called The Silver Snail. I expected a cramped store with stacks of comic books like in The Big Bang Theory, but this place was awesome. Every collectible you could imagine (except Game of Thrones, darn them) were stacked on shelves on two floors.
We walked north on Spadina and happened upon a parade in Chinatown with lots of young people carrying yellow placards and beating drums. I helped an elderly gentleman extract his scooter from a dip in the sidewalk, and we forged on through the vegetable markets.
We waited at the cash register and a family walked in with a boy who looked around twelve or thirteen. His eyes lit, his face flushed. "Whoa! This is awesome! This is the best place ever!"
He looked like he was going to hyperventilate. If I'd brought my kids here at his age, they would probably have reacted the same way. I told his mother there was a guy restoring stuff on the second floor, and she immediately summoned her boy and told him, "Come upstairs! You're going to see something amazing!"
I'll go there again, especially if they have a Wesley Crusher action figure.
As we passed Grossman's Tavern, I noticed that Stevie Ray Vaughan had played the previous night. My brother would have loved that. I also noticed the graffiti in the doorway, which made me pout a little. Grossman's deserves better, and somebody had better get their ass out there and scrub that stuff off.
We skirted U of T and hit a small game store near Bloor. While my daughter scanned the shelves for vintage bargains, I hit the used book store a few doors to the south.
Books! Books stacked to the ceiling! Books piled on the floor! If this store held wands, it would be Ollivander's wand shop. When I entered, I saw one brave soul at the top of one ladder, going through books near the 20 foot high ceiling. At first I thought he was one of the owners, but no, he was a customer, wearing his trench coat and carefully going through the titles.
I didn't have his energy. Wooden plaques graced the shelves, from Anthologies to Zambia. Fiction and non-fiction, paperbacks and old art books. I suffered from sensory overload and every book I ever wanted to look for flew from my head like so many little birdies.
I looked for the proprietor, and as I approached the back wall I saw her wooly white hair floating behind the high counter as she sat reading and listening to the radio.
Our day ended with a desperate bid for street meat (we hadn't eaten for five hours) and a subway ride back to Finch station and a drive home, where the fog hung over our home town, showing a pale disk that was the sun. It looked like we were descending on some dystopian Newmarket. Dinner ensued.
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Recently, Kodak filed for bankruptcy. I felt a tinge of sadness at the news. I had studied photography in college, and spent many years selling Kodak film while working at Henry's and Black's. Paul Simon's popular song was my mantra. I even sold stale-dated Super 8 Ektachrome to Sting and Andy Summers when they dropped by the store way back in the Eighties before they were famous. I have boxes and boxes of slides and photographs recording every moment I thought was beautiful and wanted to share with everyone.
While at college, I not only honed my painting skills, but also learned how to develop film and print my own photographs in a darkroom. At first, the process seemed complicated and very mysterious. First I had to expose the film or photographic paper to controlled light, either through a camera or enlarger lens. Then I immersed the film in a developing solution for a set time, then switch to an acid bath to stop the process. By the end, I had a photograph to put in a frame or an album.
Kodak first came up with digital cameras, and yet they are failing to adapt to the changing landscape. Instead of developing new equipment to capture "Kodak Moments" they stuck with printers and paper. They concentrated on the end result but didn't think about how the medium was first created: through the mind's eye.
Publishing is going through a similar change. Our mind's eye creates a story, but the way we bring that medium to the masses is changing. Remember typewriters? Pens and paper? A pack of monks illuminating Mediaeval manuscripts? We brought our art to fruition through a painstaking process.
Now, it's so easy. Yay for computers! Well... easy to get it down in physical form. The writing part is still hard. But today, publishers are struggling with getting the final product to the masses. E-books are becoming more and more popular and paper costs are rising. Publishers are still hanging onto the concept that physical books are the only way to go, and are struggling to stay alive.
I love physical books. I like signing them for my readers. I like to look at them on my shelves and feel the paper with my fingers. I love wandering in book stores. I love old books with their musty smell and yellowing pages.
But like it or not, digital publishing is here to stay. I understand that it is a more efficient way to allow readers to immerse themselves in the stories we writers want to share. I hope both mediums can find a way to share the space in our brains.
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
My name is Travis Erwin. I suppose I am many things but for this post's sake I'm going to label myself as a writer, a Texan, an observer of the world.
Sandra is one of my favorite twitter buddies. I first met her via the blogosphere but these days I keep up with her life in exotic Ontario via twitter and facebook.
And yes, you read that correctly, I did write EXOTIC Ontario, because it is exotic to me.
I write this not only hoping to sell a few copies but also a word of advice to all my fellow writers for it is easy to discount your own experiences as uninteresting or not worthy of creating a story, but fact of the matter is the grass is usually green on both sides of the fence.
Hi guys, Sandra here. Wow... two posts in a month! It's a Christmas Miracle and Hell froze over! But I'm glad to help my buddy Travis out with his debut novel-slash-memoir-slash-comedy. I've known Travis almost since I was a wee little writer (as in about 4 years ago) and he's always been supportive and gosh darn funny.
Here is Travis.
Here is his book:
Thursday, November 24, 2011
An Open Letter to Bridge Burners Everywhere:
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
My intention was to connect with a couple of author pals and support their books. I expected an expanse of booths and hundreds of people milling around, but nothing prepared me for what I experienced.
We took the subway to Union Station and followed the signs that led to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. Several Expo volunteers were already on hand to direct us to the area where we could buy tickets. I expected a lineup at a ticket window just outside the venue, but we were asked to proceed down Simcoe Street, along the side of the Centre, and into a parking garage.
As the crowd got thicker and the temperature rose, I couldn't help but feel were being herded onto some mysterious intergalactic vessel, never to be seen again.
We finally got inside, and boy oh boy... was it huge!
Exhibitors from Warner Brothers, Disney, TeleToons, Space Channel... I could go on but you get the picture... as well as dozens of comic book and collectible retailers took up the centre of the huge building. Along the edges I found Artists Ally, booths rented by local artists who specialized in comic books, fan art and Anime. I almost bought a Tardis air freshener, but it was ten bucks. I did, however, score a Montreal ComicCon poster from a Quebec comic book retailer who didn't intend to sell the posters.
I was pleased to see several independent/small presses represented, as well as Canadian divisions of big publishers like Penguin and Harper Collins, hawking books from the SFF and Paranormal genres. Champagne's new imprint, Burst, would feel right at home.
There, I met up with my friend Lesley Livingston and had my ARC of Once Every Never signed.
In the lobby and upstairs, I saw Ghost Busters, Steampunk Society aficionados, and Star Wars 501st Regiment Storm Troopers. I met up with Adrienne Kress at the Steampunk Society booth, where she displayed her bestselling children's books Alex and the Ironic Gentleman, and Timothy and the Dragon's Gate.
Later, I sat in on a panel about world building. A tall adolescent with fluffy hair obscured my view of the panel which included Lesley Livingston, Rob Weston, Ed Greenwood (my DnD son would have loved to meet him!) and Violette Malan, a fantasy author. They kicked ass and made us laugh while giving great advice on writing.
And lastly, I must comment on... THE COSTUMES! They were incredible. I couldn't stop staring at the amazing effort fans put into their favourite characters.
There was too much to take in during one day. I can see now why people buy passes for all four days. Maybe I'll go back next year and just walk around... in a COSTUME...? Maybe. We'll see.