Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Capacious Project - Mary Novik

Mary Novik lives in Vancouver and is the author of Conceit, set in seventeenth-century London. Conceit was chosen as a book of the year by The Globe and Mail and Quill & Quire. It was long-listed for the Scotiabank Giller and won The Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize (BC Book Prizes). Mary Novik’s website can be found here.

I bought the bag in this photograph a few months before the launch of my debut novel, Conceit. The main character of my novel is Pegge Donne, the daughter of the poet John Donne. She's infatuated with the fisherman Izaak Walton, who pays little attention to her, until one day,

He asked Pegge if a servant could take him to the river to see whether there were any fish to be caught. She was so pleased that she took him herself, wearing a dreary brown stuff dress. From her shoulder hung a wooden box fitted with a leather strap. On the bank, it opened to reveal fifty compartments, each with a tiny, vibrant creature. He lifted one out: a tuft of badger's hair, the softest yellow hog down, and a white dove-feather, twisted together with white silk. It was then he recalled that he had once made a promise to build her a rod, but never kept it.

As I was working on Conceit, this box nestled in the back of my mind as the perfect apparatus.

I love writing, but before you have a book published you are invisible. You spend most of your life chained in the doghouse, typing. When you get out, you talk about your work compulsively and people feign thirst and head back to the bar. But by Summer 2007, I'd read proofs, checked the book jacket, and Conceit was in production. In a few months, it would be a real book. In this post-partum stage, authors are supposed to chill instead of persecuting the publisher by asking how things are going. Obviously, I needed to get away from my phone and e-mail.

I shopped around for a bag with the right heft and symbolism, something to announce that I was a real author. It needed to be large enough so I could whip out my novel to read from it without having to root around clumsily. This bag was perfect, luxurious black suede, yet workmanlike, with weighty hardware. The zips were stiff, so I rubbed them with beeswax. Everything had to be in good working order. Inside went my makeup, toothbrush, and zinc tablets to suck before events. The pockets on the side were just right for my cell, my keys, Conceit bookmarks, and the snappy business cards I'd had printed in Paris.

After my first event, lovely new copies of Conceit were produced and folded open to the title page for me to sign. "Do you have a special writer's pen?" Gulp. I pulled out a tacky ballpoint and tried to brazen it out, but the pen smudged, exposing me as an amateur.

That afternoon, I shopped for a sturdy, professional pen and tucked it into a pocket of my hold-all. Now my apparatus box was ready.

Read more about the Capacious Project here.
To view all the contributions to the project go here.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Fakes, Forgiveness and Left-handed Shading

I've been collecting information, researching forgery, (mainly art forgery, but also literary forgery) for several years now. I have a huge folder of articles, a couple shelves worth of books. The subject of forgery has cropped up in various ways in poems. The first poem in my first book is titled "Self-Portrait: Threads from an Art Forger's Diary" and since then, I think I've been trying to get back to something in that poem. The project I'm working on now is an investigation into the possibility of the existence of a female art forger. Experimental fiction, I guess you could call it.

I've been looking at the above image all morning, and looking at the article in the New York Times. Is it by Leonardo da Vinci? I guess I'm on the side of the skeptics. I did think that this bit was interesting:

"Nicholas Turner, a former curator of drawings at the British Museum and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, saw the work last December and was struck by the left-handed shading — Leonardo was left-handed — as well as the physiognomy and the details. They all point in the direction of Leonardo, he said, adding, “I recommended that that avenue of inquiry be pursued among Leonardo specialists.”

A left-handed forger perhaps? Well, all this said, it is a rather beautiful portrait, Leonardo or no. Something too perfect about it though. Can't put my finger on it. Of course I'm no Thomas Hoving.

The above is a letter forged by Lee Israel, author of Can You Ever Forgive Me? Memoirs of a Literary Forger. There's a review and more examples of the forgeries in the Times here. From the review by Thomas Mallon:

"Israel displayed an excellent ear and fine false turn of phrase during the 15 or so months in the early 1990s when she sold hundreds of phony celebrity letters — and a lot of filched real ones — to about 30 different dealers. Now, all these years later, she’s written a slender, sordid and pretty damned fabulous book about her misadventures."

The book as object is interesting in and of itself. It's printed on paper with a newsprintish feeling and then the jacket is brilliant. White with embossed courier font. Above the author's name are the names of writers whose letters she forged, with Xs over the letters. Then the signature - an original (if massed produced)! A "TLS" is a 'typed letter signed' - and the signature seems to have been the toughest bit to pull off for Israel. The back of the book has what at first glance seems to be the usual endorsements - but of course they're fakes. The plugs are by Noel Coward, George S. Kaufman, Katherine Hepburn, Groucho Marx and Clara Blandick/Auntie Em from the Wizard of Oz.

It's pretty easy to forgive Israel as it turns out. It's a slim book, but, as Mallon says, pretty damned fabulous. I do wonder, however, if all my library friends would let her off the hook so easily....

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Little Red Handbag Delayed Her

From Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina:

She wanted to fall half-way between the wheels of the front truck, which was drawing level with her, but the little red handbag which she began to take off her arm delayed her, and then it was too late, the middle had passed her. She was obliged to wait for the next truck. A feeling seized her like that she had experienced when preparing to enter the water in bathing, and she crossed herself. The familiar gesture of making the sign of the cross called up a whole series of girlish and childish memories, and suddenly the darkness, that obscured everything for her, broke, and life showed itself to her for an instant with all its bright past joys. But she did not take her eyes off the wheels of the approaching second truck, and at the very moment when the midway point between the wheels drew level, she threw away her red bag, and drawing her head down between her shoulders threw herself forward on her hands under the truck, and with a light movement as if preparing to rise again, immediately dropped on her knees.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Capacious Project - Wendy McGrath

Wendy McGrath is a poet and novelist from Edmonton, Alberta. Her first book of poetry, common place ecstasies, published by Beach Holme Publishing (2000), explores themes of place, home, and childhood. Her first novel, Recurring Fictions (2002), follows the childhood of one nameless female character in her search for a definable home. McGrath is currently collaborating with printmaker Walter Jule, on a collaborative manuscript of poetry and prints. McGrath has collaborated with students from Victoria School of Performing and Visual Arts to create a film adaptation of Recurring Fictions.

Click here to view the hypertext version, or use your back browser to view the version below.

I bought a stately vintage black doctor’s bag about 25 years ago.

The bag had
two half-moon
sturdy handles
that fit
the clutch
of my right hand

In it could fit
my wallet
a chequebook
cassette tape
a red lipstick
and black eyeliner.

Go here to read more about the Capacious Project.

Bags Named After Books - Common Place Ecstacies

A while back I posted on Bags for Darfur. The above bag is named after Wendy McGrath's book of poetry, Common Place Ecstasies, and is featured at Bags for Zaza. Here's the description from the site:

Bags for Zaza is a fundraiser I'm conducting on behalf of my brother-in-law and his family. They are in the process of adopting a little girl from Colombia; we don't know her name yet, so we call her Zaza. My family and I are using the fabric and scraps we already have, as well as donated fabrics and thrift-store finds, to create unique and original messenger bags, totes, and purses. 100% of your purchase price will be donated towards Zaza's adoption.

If Bags for Zaza seems a lot like Bags for Darfur, that's because they're related. From the site: "I pilfered 93% of this scheme from Joyce. She's my sister's husband's mother's cousin." And there are more connections. Wendy Mcgrath says that Jennie at Bags for Zaza is: my sister-in-law's sister. One thing you should know: the books are not included with the bags. But as Jennie says, they're good books, you should read them.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Depths in Particular or, Do Not Overdo the Bag

Winnie: "And yet it is perhaps a little soon for my song. (Pause). To sing too soon is a great mistake, I find. (Turning towards bag). There is of course the bag. (Looking at bag). The bag. (Back front). Could I enumerate its contents? (Pause). No. (Pause). Could I, if some kind person were to come along and ask, What all have you got in that big black bag, Winnie? give an exhaustive answer? (Pause). No. (Pause). The depths in particular, who knows what treasures. (Pause). What comforts. (Turns to look at bag). Yes, there is the bag. (Back front). But something tells me, Do not overdo the bag, Winnie, make use of it of course, let it help you ... along, when stuck, by all means, but cast your mind forward, something tells me, cast your mind forward, Winnie, to the time when words must fail - (she closes eyes, pause, opens eyes) - and do not overdo the bag. (Pause. She turns to look at bag). Perhaps just one quick dip. (She turns back front, closes eyes, throws out left arm, plunges hand in bag and brings out revolver). "

Beckett's instructions regarding the bag to Billie Whitelaw (via wikipedia):
The bag is all she has – look at it with affection … From the first you should know how she feels about it … When the bag is at the right height you peer in, see what things are there and then get them out. Peer, take, place. Peer, take, place. You peer more when you pick things up than when you put them down. Everything has its place. Everything is wearing out or running out. At the start of Act I she takes the last swig of her tonic before throwing away the bottle, her toothbrush has hardly any hairs left and the lipstick, to use Beckett’s expression, is “visibly zu ende,” the parasol is faded with a “mangy fringe” and even her pearl necklace is “more thread than pearls.”

Friday, August 1, 2008

New Header Picture

Beaded Handbag by Robert Lemay

Rob finished painting this yesterday - my beaded purse sitting on top of a red diary I've yet to write in. (The red diary is next in line). All of the paintings are hard to give up, but this one will be particularly difficult to let go. It will be part of Rob's show this October 30th at the Douglas Udell Gallery in Edmonton. The show, like my forthcoming book, is titled "Calm Things" and will include 20 smallish paintings that have a single object as central focus. Maybe not everyone would immediately see this image as a 'calm thing' - but I do. I get lost in the colours, thinking about the various facets of the beads, the texture of book and purse, and in absorbing the light that makes the handbag gleam and glitter. My eye wanders and rests in the patterns of beading and clasp. It's ours for a while and I'm going to spend many evenings after our daughter goes to bed sipping various concoctions made with Pama Liqueur and drinking in this painting.

Yesterday, in fact, I was reading Brossard's Yesterday, at the Hotel Clarendon and underlined this: "Certainly objects are not quite things. For things have the power to move like events in a story: they happen, they die. Would that each one of my notices shed some light on objects, so that the thing inside them that draws them closer to us quivers and glitters with life."