Eden Mills Writers' Festival 2012Created by clarehitchens on February 29, 2012
Shortlisted for the Governor General's Literary Award: Fiction and selected as a Globe and Mail Top 100 Book
Juliet Friesen is ten years old when her family moves to Nicaragua. It is 1984, the height of Nicaragua's post-revolutionary war, and the peace-activist Friesens have come to protest American involvement. In the midst of this tumult, Juliet's …
A collection of journalist Michele Landsberg's Toronto Star columns, where she was a regular columnist for more than twenty-five years between 1978 and 2005. Michele has chosen her favorite and most relevant columns, using them as a lens to reflect on the the second wave of feminism and the issues facing women then and now. An icon of the feminist …
Winner of the Gold Medal for Western Canadian Fiction at the 2012 Independent Publisher (IPPY) Book Awards
It's the last ski weekend of the season and a mishmash of snow-enthusiasts is on its way to a remote backwoods cabin. In an odd pilgrimage through the mountains, the townsfolk of Coalton—from the ski bum to the urbanite—embark on a bizarre …
Hans is on the run from his adoptive father, a grave robber who found him as a baby hidden inside a wooden box that washed ashore. Now fate has introduced Hans to Angela von Schwanenberg, a young countess fleeing the evil forces of Archduke Arnulf, who has chosen her to be the next in his long line of brides, and the dreaded Necromancer.
Together, H …
Katie likes to believe she’s invisible. It seems so much safer than being exposed as who she is: shy, poor, and vulnerable. So getting up in front of audience as the lead in her school’s production of The Taming of the Shrew should be complete torture. But as Katie tells it, something totally unexpected happened when she stepped on stage: “M …
The noises in my head got louder. It was like I was a walking construction site. Metal crashed into concrete and a relentless hammering pounded “Run, Katie, get off the stage, freak, hide, hide.” Instead I clutched my script tighter. I was projectile sweating. I knew from auditions last week that gripping the pages with my wet hands would end up moulding my script into a rock-hard and useless bow tie. “Cut and run, Katie. Go! ”
I focused on my most important audience member. Ms. Cooper smiled at me like I’d just discovered penicillin. “That was lovely, Katie. Nice tone and perfect clarity. I’m sure our director would agree.” Travis nodded and gave me his signature A-OK sign.
We were in the middle of our first read-through in our first script meeting. Travis hadn’t taken over the reins from Ms. Cooper yet. That would happen in first rehearsals, starting tomorrow. It should have been more reassuring that the director was an actual friend. Thing is, Travis was just as surprised as I was that I got the lead. So how was he going to save me when they realized the massive mistake they’d all made when they gave me Katherina, the shrew, the lead role? It could get ugly.
Ms. Cooper flipped through her manuscript. “Katie, page thirteen of your script, please. Everybody else just pay attention to Katie’s rhythm here. I want you all to think about her pitch and near-perfect feeling for the language.”
Oh dear God, why would she say that? Now they were all looking and would feel compelled to hate me. Even I felt compelled to hate me.
I didn’t unfurl my mangled Taming of the Shrew script. I knew the speech she meant. The rest of the cast, including Josh, my Petruchio, sat and faced me. I searched for signs of contempt and couldn’t find any. It was confusing.
“Centre stage, dear. Josh, pay attention,” Ms. Cooper said.
I stepped forward into the key light and prepared to respond to Ms. Cooper’s reading of Petruchio’s lines. Josh looked like he’d rather be performing surgery on himself. Everyone said that Josh had been tapped for the lead because of his physical presence, which, in all honesty, was significantly smouldering. I think Ms. Cooper and Travis both hoped that Josh would magically develop actor chops through rehearsals. At the moment, our dumpling-ish, five-foot- nothing, pastel-wearing drama teacher was a more convincing Petruchio than Josh was. And Josh knew it.
“Ready, Katie?” she asked.
I nodded and listened for my cue. This part was bad, the waiting for my cue part. The construction noises stopped just in time for my new obsession to take over. I scanned the stage searching for the horror-movie machinery. This was where the vat of pig’s blood would tip over and drench me and my colossal actor pretentions and everyone would hoot and laugh and . . . wait a minute. What pretensions? I hadn’t asked for the lead. I was never gunning for the part of the fiery and crazed Katherina. I was going for costumes and crowd scenes. It was Ms. Cooper who’d insisted I read for Katherina on the last day of auditions. I’d wanted to die, kill her, and blow up the school, in that order . . . until I read that first speech out loud.
Standing in the middle of the stage, under a spotlight, facing a motley audience of our future director, Travis, and Lisa, two of my best friends—okay my only two friends—plus a few teachers, six detention students and a couple of straggling stagehands all with their eyes trained on me, waiting . . .
And my head exploded. I loved it. Acting hit me like a sucker punch and I loved, loved, loved it! I was someone else, but as that someone, I was heard and I was seen. Invisible Katie became visible Katherina. Every nerve ending fired and I came alive. You’d think I would have choked and screwed up my speeches. But I didn’t, not once. Unbelievable. I liked being up there, and it immediately became very, very important that I stay up there. Somehow I was more me on that stage than I was anywhere else. I didn’t understand it, but there it was.
The first miracle was that when the cast list was posted yesterday, Katie Rosario had been picked for Shakespeare’s shrew. The second miracle was that no one laughed or rolled their eyes when the list was posted. Josh was really pissed. Not at me being picked as his Katherina, but at his being picked for Petruchio.
“No offence, Katie, you’re brilliant.” He shook his head. “But you’ll be dragging my sorry butt from one end of the stage to the other.
I apologize in advance. I just needed the credit. I don’t know what the hell Cooper and Travis were smoking.”
The most popular boy in the entire school, a star basketball player, not only saw me, but he was asking forgiveness for as yet unspecified crimes. I may have been in a fog, but I was clear enough to recognize that my life had just been turned on its head.
“Don’t know what you’re talking about,” I lied. “You’ll be a perfect Petruchio, Josh.”
Now Ms. Cooper was prompting me. “Anytime, Katie, starting at line 280.”
“Call you me daughter?” I spat.
It was the speech that a furious Katherina throws back at her father. She knows her father doesn’t love her and is only interested in getting her off his hands. I got that—just exchange my mother for Katherina’s father.
Now I promise you.
You have showed a tender fatherly regard
To wish me wed to one half lunatic,
A madcap ruffian and a swearing Jack
That thinks with oaths to face the matter out.
I spaced out again for a bit while Josh fumbled for his response. He had real trouble following the language. I don’t know why I didn’t, but I didn’t. Shakespeare made sense to me. From grade nine on, I’d been reading the plays in secret. I loved the way that Shakespeare’s words felt on my tongue, and I trusted him. I got him, and now look where that had got me. What would be the price I’d have to pay for this? There was always a price.
As soon as my lines were done I was Carrie in the Stephen King movie again, the 1976 one with Sissy Spacek, not the 2002 poseur version. I’d been YouTubing the pig’s blood scene ever since I got the part. Red rivers of blood stream daintily down Sissy Spacek’s stunned face until it eventually obliterates her shoulders, her arms, her prom dress. Poor thing, she thought her life had changed too.
“Katie?” It was Travis, our, my, director. I turned to him.
“Remember that by the time you get to ‘I’ll see thee hanged on Sunday first ’ you have to have established yourself as loud, crude.
Katherina is a wild animal that has to be tamed. Give Petruchio something to tame.”
Thirteen-year-old October Schwartz is new in town; short on friends and the child of a clinically depressed science teacher, she spends her free time in the Sticksville Cemetery and it isn’t long before she befriends the ghosts of five dead teenagers, each from a different era of the past. Using October’s smarts and the ghosts’ abilities to w …
October Schwartz is not dead.
Now, there are plenty of dead folks in this book (you read the Title before starting the book, right?), it’s just that October Schwartz does not happen to be one of them. That said, it was her first day at Sticksville Central High School, and she sort of wished she were dead.
October had moved to Sticksville only a month earlier, and she didn’t know anyone yet, unless you counted her dad and maybe the Korean lady who sold her gum at the convenience store. She’d spent the month of August reading in the cemetery behind their house and working on writing her own book. So her first day of high school was even more nerve–wracking than it was for most of the students at Sticksville Central. The way she figured it, everybody was going to hate her. They certainly had in her old town. Why should this one be any different?
There were plenty of reasons for the average high school student to hate her: she wasn’t chubby, but she wasn’t not chubby, which, to those naturally inclined to be unpleasant people, meant she was fat. Also, she wore more black eyeliner than most — barring only silent film actresses, really. Add to that the natural black hair she’d inherited from her mom and her affinity for black clothing, and she was like a walking teen vampire joke waiting to happen.
Plus, she was a little kid. Due to the advanced state of middle school in her former town, a futuristic utopia of almost 40,000 citizens — most of them employed by the town’s snowmobile factory — she’d been allowed to skip grade eight altogether in Sticksville (only three hours away geographically), straight into the teenage Thunderdome of high school before she even reached her teens. She was twelve and headed into grade nine, where most of her classmates were well on their way to fourteen if they weren’t there already. This part was to remain a secret from everyone, if she had her way. But even if her classmates didn’t know, October was sure they could smell the tween on her — the stench of Sour Keys and Saturday morning cartoons.
As October pulled on a black T–shirt, she began to imagine burgeoning extracurricular clubs founded on the members’ communal hatred of October Schwartz, its members wearing T–shirts emblazoned with hilarious anti–October slogans.
October’s dad — Mr. Schwartz to you — taught grade eleven and grade twelve biology, as well as auto repair at Sticksville Central, so it was sort of his first day, too. But somehow, October doubted her dad was anxious about what people would think of his clothes and hair.
She left for school early that morning, because she was cautious about that sort of thing. About other sorts of things, she wasn’t very cautious at all, as you’ll see. She shouted goodbye to her dad, who was still busy shaving in the washroom. He didn’t respond, but he was kind of concentrating, blaring music by Fleetwood Mac or some other band from the 1970s.
She walked into the backyard and out to Riverside Drive using the cemetery that bordered their backyard as a shortcut. Mr. Schwartz had been uncertain at first about purchasing a house so close to the town’s lowly cemetery. Not that he believed in ghosts, but there was something unseemly about it to him. However, the price was good and he wanted to find a home before the school year started, so he dismissed his uncertainties. October liked it. She smiled crookedly as she passed through the wide expanse of decaying stone and forgotten names on her way to the first day of the rest of her life.
The air was crisp and a bit cold for early September, like a Granny Smith apple left in the freezer by accident. October lived only about twenty minutes from Sticksville Central, so it wasn’t long before she pushed her way through the double doors of the school’s entrance. She opened her bag and unfolded her schedule.
Evidently, October wasn’t the only student concerned with arriving early. A veritable gaggle of other kids could already be seen congregating, conversing, and giggling inside the main corridor of the school.
One of these students — a tall one with auburn hair and a belt the width of a small diving board, who was standing with some friends beside the vending machines outside the cafeteria (spoiler alert: she’s a witch) — caught sight of October Schwartz and pursued her like a fashionable, but very silent homing missile. October, who was attempting to avoid contact with anyone and everyone, hurried past her. But she wasn’t quick enough to avoid the belt enthusiast’s loud slur:
Mortified, October made a sensible, strategic retreat to the girls’ washroom, which was thankfully empty. She gripped a porcelain sink and stared dolefully at herself in the mirror. Two minutes into high school and things were off to a horrible start. But, above all else, October was determined not to cry at high school. Ever. She was still twelve, but she wasn’t a baby.
She tried to fill her mind with thoughts different from her new “Zombie Tramp” status: her birthday, her dad, and her new classes. What did Zombie Tramp even mean? Why Tramp? Why not Zombie Floozy? Yet, because she was staring into a mirror, her mind kept drifting back to her big, stupid face.
Her dad often told her she was “darn cute,” because he was related to her, but October never believed him. Her dad was no prize himself; how would he know what cute was? October did a quick self–analysis in the mirror. She might have overdone it with the eyeliner today, and maybe she should have taken more effort with her hair. Around her neck, she wore a gift left behind by her mom, a silver ankh necklace. It was probably the eyeliner and all the black that was encouraging the Zombie Tramp comparison.
It is the end of the First World War, and thirteen-year-old Meredith yearns to become a teacher. But she must leave school to help support her family, moving to the city to work as a maid in a wealthy doctor's home. As the deadly Spanish Flu sweeps across the city, members of the household fall ill one by one. With the doctor working night and day …