Book blurb for fun: They Don’t Run Red Trains Anymore

Image: The cover of Heidi Von Palleske’s They Don’t Run Red Trains Anymore. A painting of a woman in an evening gown, who appears to be clawing her own eyes out, a trickle of blood streaming down her right cheek. Ancient architecture in the background, with light and shadow playing across the interior space. Painting by John Nobrega.

I was delighted to win a copy of actor/writer/activist Heidi von Palleske’s novel They Don’t Run Red Trains Anymore (Smart House Books) as a virtual door prize during a recent Zoom reading event featuring von Palleske and Heather Babcock, hosted by Queen Books. Thanks to the folks at Queen Books for the book! Here’s my blurb:

Heidi von Palleske conjures up images of love and desire, inspiration and frustration, life and death in her evocative, intimate and intriguing novel They Don’t Run Red Trains Anymore.

Set in 1980s Toronto, sculptor Alex navigates life after art school as she tries to make a name for herself—and leave a legacy—as an artist, paying the bills with a day job carving headstones alongside friend/former classmate Jack. Her life driven by intense artistic focus, beauty and passion, Alex yearns for the approval of mentor/former teacher and gallery owner Boris, who believes the only relevant art is that which is overtly political; and fascination turns to obsession when she meets model Premika, who longs for immortality—and becomes Alex’s muse and the inspiration for her most important project to date. All of the senses are aroused in this erotic and philosophical journey of life and art.

Scarborough film adaptation in theatres

Those who’ve been following me on Twitter have seen me shouting out the film adaptation of Catherine Hernandez’s acclaimed debut novel Scarborough, screenplay by Hernandez, produced by Compy Films—co-directed by Shasha Nakhai and Rich Williamson—and distributed by levelFilm. I was happy and honoured to play a small part in this labour of love. And it’s so good to see how much love the film is getting from both audiences and critics (and not just our friends and families!).

Scarborough movie poster, featuring two girls and two boys, surrounded by paper cutouts of stars and birds, with an open classroom door in the background. Below the image are the words: Scarborough based on the award-winning novel by Catherine Hernandez.

Scarborough premiered at TIFF 2021 and has already picked up several nominations and awards, and has been nominated for 11 Canadian Screen Awards (streaming on CBC and CBC Gem on April 10).

Check your local movie theatre listings for screenings. You can also watch Scarborough online from March 25-27, as part of the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival; this is a free screening that you need to reserve a spot for, and I encourage you to donate to the fest if you’re able.

The novel Scarborough is on the Canada Reads 2022 shortlist. Look for it at your local bookshop.

Here’s the beautiful trailer:

Book blurb for fun: Hate Story

Image: Hate Story cover, designed by Brett Bakker. The grim reaper rises up between silhouettes of a man and a woman, speech bubbles floating like ghosts. Subtext reads: Online shaming is a myth … or is it?

Above the title, a blurb from Giles Blunt, bestselling author of the John Cardinal mysteries: “From Twitterized mobthink to Facebook fact-bashing to knuckle-dragging attacks on science, our current reality—online or off—presents formidable problems for the satirist. Cottrill takes up that challenge and runs with it, skewering journalists, online vigilantes, and cyberbullies with undisguised glee.”

A little while ago, Jeff Cottrill wrote a guest post for the blog about the inspiration for his first novel, Hate Story, published by Dragonfly Publishing and launched this past weekend. Here’s my blurb:

Social media, cancel culture and mob mentality feature prominently in Jeff Cottrill’s compelling and entertaining debut novel Hate Story—a fascinating and timely tale that combines investigative journalism adventure with biting satire. The storytelling is by turns razor-sharp funny, heartbreakingly poignant and thought-provoking as we follow protagonist Jackie Roberts on her quest to learn what the late Paul Shoreditch did to become so universally reviled. We’re reminded that society both creates and condemns its monsters—real or imagined—and that toxic masculinity isn’t solely the purview of men. And don’t believe everything you hear, and only half of what you see.

Hate Story is available from a variety of major online booksellers.

Free arts event – Weston: Then & Now (Mar 25-27)

Image: Poster for Shakespeare in Action’s upcoming event Weston: Then & Now, featuring a photograph of Central United Church (1 King St., York, ON). Graphic design by Lizzie Moffatt.

Shakespeare in Action (SIA) has an upcoming free arts event—Weston: Then & Now! at Central United Church. Here are the details…

Weston’s very own Central United Church is turning 200—and you’re all invited!

Join us from March 25th – 27th, 2022 for a free, three-day event all about Weston: Then & Now!

Times: 

Friday, March 25th, 2022 (5-9pm)

Saturday, March 26th, 2022 (10-6pm)

Sunday, March 27th, 2022 (11-3pm)

We will open the doors to Central United Church for guests to roam from room to room, and explore Weston & Central United’s history and current happenings, while artists present installations throughout the building around the theme—Weston: Then & Now.

We promise a weekend filled with music, visual art, storytelling, live performance, history and a reflection on Weston that will be unforgettable. Whether you are a local to Weston wanting to reflect on a history you know well, are new to the area and looking to get to know what makes Weston so wonderful, or a history buff wanting to make some new discoveries through the lens of local artists and their work—this is the event for you!

This event is free and for all ages!

For further details, please follow us on Facebook and Instagram at Shakespeare in Action, click ‘Attending’ to this event found here: https://fb.me/e/1tehAxMCf, or feel free to contact us at foh@shakespeareinaction.org.

We cannot wait to have you!

Call for submissions: Nightwood Theatre’s Fempocalypse 2022

Image: Fempocalypse 2022 Neo-Stalgia logo, featuring the title “Fempocalypse 2022” in neon pixelated font and the word “Neo-Stalgia” in script font, with a linear globe image to the left of it and a cursor arrow to the right. Graphic design by Natércia Napoleão.

Hey, all—Nightwood Theatre has a call for submissions for this year’s Fempocalypse. Here’s the info, courtesy of the folks in this season’s Innovators Program—deadline is March 4, 2022:

Fempocalypse is an annual fundraiser produced by Nightwood Theatre’s Innovators Program. Traditionally held in honour of International Women’s Day, this year we are thrilled to also celebrate the International Transgender Day of Visibility, which will mark the launch of our event on March 31! All proceeds generated from this event will benefit Water First, a non-profit organization bringing clean and safe drinking water to people in Indigenous communities. You can help make an impact!

This year, Fempocalypse will be in the form of a streamed virtual fundraising event which will be available from March 31 – April 8, 2022. The event will include both a cabaret-style show and a virtual visual arts gallery featuring a variety of performers and artists, along with a silent auction. All proceeds of the event will be donated. The Fempocalypse: Neo-Staliga event will be circulated for one week for people to watch, engage with and donate to Water First.

We are looking for performing artists from across Turtle Island who want to engage with this year’s theme of Neo-stalgia: We invite you to think and rethink previous generations and how we can co-curate a new and caring community for future generations. We invite you to dream together with us by mixing past comfort with retrofuturistic ambitions. Works that invite us to pause and re-think the meaning of the past to create a new present and future. Or works that question what was missing in the past in hopes of building it into our future. Create with us a new nostalgia for what will or should come next.

We are interested in a range of disciplines that may include but are not limited to performance, singing, digital theatre, filmmaking, music, dance, poetry/spoken word, prose etc.  We recognize all forms of artist expression and invite artists across Turtle Island from all backgrounds to apply.

If you are interested please fill out this Google Form here. It will ask for your name, contact details, and a description of your piece (either written or audio/video will be accepted). If you are applying as a collective, please provide one main contact’s information on behalf of the group.

The submission deadline is March 4, 2022 Midnight EST. For questions please contact the Artist Liaison Committee at NightwoodInnovators@gmail.com. Please include in the subject line Performing Artists Attn: Your Name.

By submitting your work you are agreeing to: Voluntarily featuring your work virtually in a pre-recorded event for the weeklong charity event. We can link your website or social media account to spread the word about your amazing work.

This opportunity is not paid, we will strive to accommodate any production expenses but given this is a fundraiser there is limited funding available. The Nightwood Innovators will work hard to secure honorariums, but they are not guaranteed. In lieu of payment, we will feature your work during this event and link to your social media/websites.

Facebook links

Fempocalypse 2022 Event

Fempocalypse Page

Instagram: www.instagram.com/fempocalypse2022/

Other key links

Linktr.ee

Calling all Performing Artists for Virtual Fundraiser Show

Calling all Artists for Virtual Art Gallery Show Fundraiser

Life lessons from Scrabble

Image: A pile of Scrabble tiles, with the A, U, Q, R and T tiles on top. Photo by Wokandapix on Pixabay.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, I’ve been playing a lot of Scrabble. And we’re talking old-school board game Scrabble, not online or via an app—and, since I live alone, it’s Player 1 Me vs. Player 2 Me. I don’t keep score—I do try to use all the tiles. Along the way, Scrabble has offered me some useful life lessons. Here’s what I found:

  • Play by the rules. Although not always easy, in the end it makes for a better experience overall.
  • Do the best you can with what you have. Focusing on or hoping to get something you don’t have may not happen—and this will distract you from what’s right in front of you.
  • When an opportunity presents itself, take advantage of it. There is no perfect moment—and waiting for one could leave you with wasted assets.
  • If you’re not sure, ask (or look it up/search it).
  • Don’t spend time and energy regretting the choices you made, or how you could’ve, would’ve, should’ve done things differently. Those moments are in the past. Stay present and let these lessons in paying attention (see above).
  • Sometimes, things go your way and sometimes they don’t. It’s part luck of the draw, part making the best of what you have, and part how much you’re paying attention (see above).

What life lessons have you learned through play?

Finding my voice again: a work in progress

Image: A vintage microphone, with sound waves vibrating in the background. Photo by stux on Pixabay.

It’s been almost two years to the day since I posted my intention to take a break from the blog to consider a new direction—ruminations that ultimately resulted in the transition from a reviewing platform to one of personal creative expression. At the time, I mentioned being inspired by recent participation in creative projects in theatre (Andrew Batten’s last play The Sad Blisters), visual art (ARTiculations’ 2019 Curio Shadow Box Show) and film (Compy Films’ adaptation of Catherine Hernandez’s Scarborough, which premiered at TIFF 2021)—and how these reminded me of how much I missed the creative process. For a time, my art was talking about other people’s art; and I decided I needed to make time and space for my own work. However, this was only part of the reason—one that I felt comfortable going public with at the time.

What I didn’t mention back then was, I was also considering my place in the reviewing world. The arts community was becoming increasingly aware of, and proactive in, addressing issues of inequity in diversity and representation—in administration, programming, directing, writing and performance, and reviewing and arts criticism. And I began to think that one of the best contributions a middle-aged white woman (albeit LGBTQ2S+) like myself could make to this movement was to get out of the way and make space for other voices.

So, there was a lot going through my mind back then.

Fast-forward to this past week, and in light of our recent attention to mental health, I also want to mention that I was burnt out at the time. And this was in the Before Times, prior to COVID-19 turning our lives upside down. I’d been struggling as a reluctant freelancer during the day, weathering the stressful reality of feast or famine with work projects and income, and attending and reviewing performances in the evenings and on weekends. Spending time with family and friends is a priority, so this left me very little space for downtime and solitude—something that introverted homebodies like myself both crave and require in order to rest, rejuvenate and return to social life.

I’ve also been navigating anxiety and depression for most of my life; and have been working with a therapist off and on for a good portion of my adult life. And I knew that something needed to change.

In the two years since transitioning the blog—which just happened to coincide with the onset of the pandemic—like all of us, I’ve been pivoting my life: following by-laws, restrictions and public health measures; getting vaccinated; and generally taking good care of myself, my loved ones and our health care system. Living alone has presented its own set of challenges; and I’m grateful for the company of my grey tabby rescue cat Camille; and the support of, and connection with, family, friends, work colleagues and health care providers, even if remotely. And, like many of us, it’s all taken a toll on my mental and physical health.

I’m still working out time and space—and a place—for my creative voice. With a multitude of interests in the performing, literary and visual arts, there are a lot of options. And, while public health measures have placed certain limitations on artistic practice, there are a lot of opportunities for mindfulness, taking stock of priorities and percolating ideas.

And, while it’s often been a frustrating time of impatience and false starts, I’m continually reminding myself: it is a process, after all.

Guest post: Jeff Cottrill on the inspiration for Hate Story

Image: Hate Story cover, designed by Brett Bakker. The grim reaper rises up between silhouettes of a man and a woman, speech bubbles floating like ghosts. Subtext reads: Online shaming is a myth … or is it?

Above the title, a blurb from Giles Blunt, bestselling author of the John Cardinal mysteries: “From Twitterized mobthink to Facebook fact-bashing to knuckle-dragging attacks on science, our current reality—online or off—presents formidable problems for the satirist. Cottrill takes up that challenge and runs with it, skewering journalists, online vigilantes, and cyberbullies with undisguised glee.”

Jeff Cottrill is a Toronto-based writer, actor, journalist and spoken word artist. His first novel, Hate Story, published by Dragonfly Publishing, is set for a launch via Zoom on Saturday, March 19 at 3:00 p.m. (EST).

When Jeff and I were messaging back and forth about the possibility of him writing a guest post, the question came up: What should he write about? A long-time fan of artist process and inspiration, I suggested that he talk about what inspired him to write Hate Story. Here’s what he had to say…

———————————————————————————————–

I’ve frequently quipped that my upcoming book, Hate Story (Dragonfly Publishing), is “my seventh or eighth attempt at a first novel.” This is accurate—or at least, it feels accurate—as I’ve suffered several embarrassing false starts over the past 25 years in my attempt to pursue my original dream of being a novelist. But it may be more honest to say this was actually my second crack at Hate Story.

I first got the idea for this book—the basic, skeletal idea—around 2007 or 2008. I was looking to film for writing inspiration, as I’ve been a lover of classic movies since I was a teenager. Orson Welles, in particular, is one of my cultural heroes, and a re-watching of Citizen Kane around that time gave me a weird idea: What if you made a new version of Kane, but instead of telling the story of a famous Hearst-like tycoon, it’s about this pitiful, obscure loser that everybody hates?

And then I had a vision that stuck with me: The newsreel funeral that opens the movie, “1941’s biggest, strangest funeral,” turned into a low-attended memorial service that erupts into violence of some kind. (I may have subconsciously been thinking of the funeral scene in Charade, too.) And the reporter—the Thompson equivalent—would be tasked with finding out what the deal was with the funeral riot and what this guy did to make everybody hate him so much. The reporter’s investigation into the dead person’s life story would reveal, as in Kane, that the man was both more and less than he seemed.

From this, I came up with a character named Paul Shoreditch—a dorky, socially inept man whose every attempt to assimilate into mainstream society backfires catastrophically. One character whom the reporter interviews would be a woman of dubious credibility who makes some alarming accusations against Paul. And for the reporter part, I thought of an underemployed young woman who takes the assignment reluctantly. I think I named her Rebecca or Rachel or something.

Out of these ingredients, I wrote a few chapters and scenes under the pretentious tentative title Interred with Their Bones. (It’s part of a couplet from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, which I’ve kept for an epigraph.) But for some reason, I just couldn’t make the bloody thing work. It was too cartoonish and extreme, and I didn’t have much confidence in my fiction-writing ability at the time; I was focusing on spoken word and journalism. So Interred just fell into the clutter of my unfinished projects and was forgotten.

Fast-forward to late 2018. I’ve been taking local fiction workshops and classes, learning to love writing stories again. I feel ready to tackle a novel once more. One idea I’ve been playing with in my head (inspired in part by the infamous “Shitty Media Men” list that was passed around in 2017) is a fictional, anonymous website devoted to hating a person—the exact reverse of a fansite, I guess. What if all the people who hate you teamed up to trash you on a public web forum? All your exes, all your school bullies, all the people who find your habits annoying – all ganging up on you virtually? I found the idea funny and terrifying at the same time, and it didn’t seem too implausible in the era of mass social-media mobbing.

That was when Interred popped back into my consciousness. What if I combined the two ideas? The hate website could be about Paul Shoreditch, and the reporter could explore it during her investigation. And it would be the perfect opportunity to satirize an issue that has fascinated me for some time, the disturbing contemporary trend of online shaming – or what some call “cancel culture.”

[A word about “cancel culture.” I try to avoid this phrase these days because it’s become so overused, misused and misunderstood (maybe even by me). Extreme right-wingers like Matt Gaetz use the term when they’re facing just consequences for genuinely bad actions, as if any accountability were an overreaction. On the other hand, left-wingers either say “cancel culture” is a myth or think it means nothing more than boycott – as if every Twitter pile-on were as heroic as the Montgomery bus boycott. I think both interpretations are wrong and dangerous.

I prefer to use the terms “online shaming” or “Twittermobbing.” Or “socially acceptable cyberbullying.” Because when I talk about this issue, I’m referring to the tendency for people to use social media to attack an individual, sometimes en masse, with the intention of ruining the person’s career or reputation. I don’t care so much for privileged celebrities and politicians; the cases that make me livid are ones in which an ordinary person unwittingly gets their 15 minutes of fame because they said or did something dumb. (Or they didn’t, but it gets taken wrong.) We now have the collective power to destroy anyone with the power of Internet mobs, whether the person deserves it or not, and I’m troubled that a lot of otherwise smart, rational people I know seem to think this is a good thing. I’m baffled when people can’t see the difference between Justine Sacco and David Duke. Or between Aziz Ansari and Paul Bernardo. Nuance, distinction and critical thinking seem to leap out the window for many people on this issue.]

Anyway.

So I restarted the book from scratch, aiming for a broad satire of online shaming, although the plot structure remained a loose parody of Kane. And from there, inspiration kept coming. The accusing woman evolved into Kathy McDougal, who runs an online gossip and news website, and who serves as a kind of Cancel Culture Incarnate. And Rebecca or Rachel transformed into a wonderfully rounded, complex protagonist named Jackie Roberts. Jackie sees herself as a progressive and likes to pick fights with people online, but unlike Kathy, she doesn’t mean to hurt anybody. What comes of her exploration of toxic Internet culture changes the way she sees online discourse for good.

Making Jackie an aspiring film critic allowed me to take direct inspiration from classic movies. There are specific references to Kane, of course, and Jackie has dreams and fantasies in which elements from Apocalypse Now, The Jazz Singer, A Clockwork Orange, To Kill a Mockingbird and It Happened One Night comment on recent events. The way I figured it, if Nick Hornby can write about pop music all the time, why shouldn’t I take inspiration from movies?

For many characters and incidents in the story, I borrowed liberally from my own life. An early scene in which Jackie gets lectured at work for swearing, for example, came from a similar, ludicrous incident that had recently happened to me. Ditto for the bullying in Paul’s childhood, which echoes some of my own experiences. Part of the reason I focused so much on this was because I see little difference between aggressive 1980s teen jock bullying and contemporary online shaming. They both come from the same psychological instinct.

I don’t want to get too specific about real-life inspirations for the characters, though I admit there’s a lot of myself in Jackie and Paul, and maybe a little in Paul’s childhood friend Beef. Paul was partly inspired by a boy I knew in middle school, an extremely shy and awkward loner who almost never spoke to anyone unless it was forced out of him. And the universally repulsed reaction to Paul’s looks and manners was somewhat inspired by a certain “cancelled” celebrity I won’t name, one whose perceived “creepy” vibes bias many people against him immediately, regardless of what he does or says.

Writing a novel is a journey, and this one has taken (on and off) roughly 14 years. It’s a long, risky trip that involves a lot of false starts, wrong turns, delayed stopovers and revised routes until you finally reach your destination. From the strange funeral to the final Rosebud revelation, Hate Story has been a rewarding writing experience—and, I hope, is an equally rewarding reading experience.

Word of the year 2022

Image: The word “kindness” carved into a river rock, on a bed of river rocks. Photo by Allihays on Dreamstime.

Several years back, I was inspired by Boss Lady Mondays co-host Lisa Humber to start choosing a word to live by for the year.

For a couple of years, my word was LOVE—in the sense of choosing love over fear.

Then, I fell out of the practice and was reminded of it once again when Proof Strategies VP of Client Relationships Liz Carson recently posted her word on LinkedIn.

My song of the year came very quickly to mind, but the word took a while.

In the end, I chose KINDNESS. Inspired by my recent participation in Mindfulness Without Borders’ Mindfulness Ambassador Program workshop, facilitated by my friend Valerie Gow, this word really resonates with me on both a personal and community level.

What’s your word for 2022?

Call for artist submissions: Jan 12 deadline

The word “ART”, spelled out vertically in well-loved wooden alphabet blocks. Photo by the blogger.

Hi all, just received this alert from the folks at Shakespeare in Action:

CALLING ALL ARTISTS! Shakespeare in Action, Central United Church & The Weston Historical Society invite artists to submit works or proposals for a three-day public art event, Weston: Then & Now, to reflect on Central United Church’s 200th Anniversary. This heritage event is open to multiple responses in the form of storytelling, visual art, multi-media art and performance art creation to activate spaces throughout Central United Church in exploring and reflecting on Weston’s past, present and future.

This will be a free three-day event March 25-27,2022 inside Central United Church that amplifies its two-hundred year old history, and while engaging artists and storytellers to create installations in the Church around the theme “Weston Then and Now.” On the event’s dates, we will open the doors of the Church and guests will be encouraged to roam around the various rooms to experience the various installations.

This event is open to varied interpretations of the subject, from literal or narrative-inspired to far-ranging or symbolic. Representational images of remembered sights, activities, impressions or atmosphere, as well as surrealistic or abstract evocations related to the subject are welcome. This is a PAID opportunity for Artists.

DEADLINE: January 12, 2022. 
Please find the application form below with further information regarding submission, event details and artist compensation! Any questions can be directed to foh@shakespeareinaction.org. We look forward to hearing from you and creating something special for the Weston Community.
https://forms.gle/vMF9yvs2C4coWRLa9