Another “Rock Show”


Voice Industrie, Nov 2015

November 14, 2015

Edmonton, Alberta

A day after maniacs shot up a “rock show” in Paris, France, we go to a concert in our own city.

This is not a case of us soldiering on with our usual routine in defiance of someone’s sick attempt at an awful new world order. The local techno-Goth music scene is not my usual routine. But I have a marvellously large, culturally far-flung family and one of my loved ones is currently in a band called Voice Industrie. It’s been around for years. “We’re a heritage act,” my sister-in-law explains, each of her earrings as big as my face, burgundy lipstick, six feet tall in black and silver high heels, standing in the evocatively shabby Garneau Theatre lobby. Even without any metal in her face, she’s the most striking person here. What kind of life do I have, to be able to say I’ve known and loved her since she was a child?

I greet her with a hug, announcing myself and her older brother with, “The dorks are here!” It’s okay. It’s true. There are no natural blondes at Goth shows. I am a freak of the freak scene.

Next to where we stand, there’s a young, indie author selling self-published copies of his urban fantasy-horror novel  on a white table cloth. He’s done all the art and design for it himself. I buy a book, tell him about the novel I wrote with the word “death” in the title. When he signs my copy I say, “No, not there. Sign it by your name.” There’s a place, a use for me here after all. He gives me his hand and I shake it with that ladylike, finger-pivot-palm-pulse move I can’t keep from using anymore. I don’t know where I learned it.

We have to wait. The show is running forty-five minutes behind and there’s another band on before Voice Industrie. They spell their name with a “9” where most of us would use a “g.” They are not a heritage act. Their front man has his hair bleached swan-white, black pants, white blouse on top, a variation on the dress code our elementary school music teachers used to require at Christmas concerts. He’s a lovely thing, looking like Gerard Way’s long-lost little brother. He can perform too. Breath control—I always envy and admire people with great breath control. Their songs are about despair and gallows and stuff but the fact is, they’re adorable, up there swearing in their skinny jeans. Are their moms in the audience, their big sisters who love them like they’re still kids?

I haven’t been inside this theatre since I was in university the first time around. Nothing’s changed since then. I’d forgotten that the chairs rock back and forth, reclining and recoiling. It’s all the dancing I need, sit-down rocking for not-Gerard and the boys.

When Voice Industrie finally comes on, and people start to gather at the foot of the stage to dance, my husband stands up to join them. He hasn’t danced in public in years and years. “At least take your glasses off,” I say. I don’t go with him but even back in the day, I never did. If we weren’t able to dance without each other from time to time, this thing never would’ve worked so well for so long.

I can’t always see him though the crowd but I never lose sight of the grownup girl with the braids. She’s a beautiful dancer. I hope someone is in love with her. If no one was before, someone must be by now.

I stay in my seat, my rocking chair, right for old broads like me, bouncing back and forth until the lights come on and I stand up to blow kisses at my rock star. She takes her bow and runs off the stage, nimble in stilettos, past everyone else, and throws her arms around the two of us.

This is the “rock show.” For every one one of us–this is love.

At the Flywheel…

pages2If anyone thinks Calgary is all pancake breakfasts, politicians in Stetsons, and dubious animal handling ethics, they don’t know Calgary. It’s home to a great literary arts scene–poets, writers, literary mags, university programs, the whole package. It’s a pleasure to get to travel there as part of my own book tour. Last night, I was part of filling Station magazine’s Flywheel Reading Series along with fellow writers Erin Emily Ann Vance and Bren Simmers. It was the first time this tour I wasn’t either sick or late, making the event a triumph. I had a great time, was the subject of some horrible photos as I hammed my way through my reading, went back to the hotel, ordered room service with my sponsor (my husby), and crashed. Thanks, YYC!

This Is What a Good Day Looks Like

I emerge from 准备考试 (where I’m all about midterms in a class of super-smart people all clutching raw scores of over 90% which will eventually be hammered into a horrifying curve) to share this post from the Literary Press Group’s All-Lit-Up blog. It’s about both of my books.

Go ahead and read it here.

The author, Leonicka Valcius, compares my novels’ treatments of themes of family, love, and death. She even picks a favourite of the two books–and it’s not the same as mine. The piece is long and thoughtful and I enjoyed it immensely, reading as my bus rolled along Jasper Avenue, away from the restaurant where I’d had lunch with my tall, fancy husband and, for the first time this month, we hadn’t been asked if we wanted separate bills.

I got home and made dinner for my family, almost from scratch. And in the evening, whilst watching Chinese TV on the exercise bike, I understood not only a phrase but its cheeky play on words that doesn’t translate into English–because no matter what grade I end up with I am learning something.

That’s a good day.

The Edmonton Launch of “Sistering”


This is not what’s usually meant by books going viral

After spending the summer terrified, plunking through oral presentations spoken all in Chinese, this fall’s chance to appear in public, speaking to people about my novel in my native language seemed like a breeze.


But there’s precious little in life that turns out to be easy. The week of my book launch, I came down with a cold. Grownups muscle through colds all the time. It’s not heroic or dangerous. However, my family, the MacKenzie family, has a talent for coughs and colds. We cough until we gag. We cough so loudly little children cover their ears. We cough until the blood vessels around our eyes break, giving us a scary petechiae–a rash of red-brown flecks on our skin. In the late 19th century, one of our great-great-grandmothers lost nine of her eleven young children to influenza. I’m not convinced there’s any such thing as a man-cold but I do believe in the Mac-cold: the MacKenzie cold.

So I turned up at my book launch at Audreys Books in Edmonton with a Mac-cold. I arrived still embarrassed about having to leave a lecture earlier that afternoon to go hack in the privacy of a stairwell. All the hopes I had for the event had been reduced to one simple goal. I wanted to make it through the reading without a spectacular, face-bleeding coughing spasm. All that mattered was breath.

I took my medicine, prayed, took comfort in the goodwill of the family, friends, and colleagues who came, and accomplished my reading in a low, smoky but cough-free voice.

Then I came home and crashed, just like the computers at the store.

From the fog of medication and illness, I missed a few event details that would have been nice. I couldn’t taste any of the cake my sister made for the guests. I also failed to set up any proper photos and am left with phone-shots to document the night.

That’s okay. Someone with a Mac-cold is best seen through a fuzzy screen at a far distance anyway. And the more adversity, the more thankful I am to be in the position to be headlining the launch of my own book, for the second time, in a venerable space, surrounded by people who wish me well.

Thank you, from the bottom of my lungs.

A National “Must-Read Books of the Season” List Featuring Our Own “Sistering”

Oh, how I love the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, especially when it does stuff like this. The CBC has a healthy, powerful books department in a world thin on books departments. They just made a “Fall 2015 Reading List” suggesting fifteen “must-read books of the season.” They’ve included new fiction from international writers like Salman Rushdie and Franzen, Canadian names like Lawrence Hill and Marina Endicott — oh yeah, and my latest novel.

Wha?! I mean, “Yay, for Sistering!” See the list here.

Great way to end a day of spit-washing spaghetti sauce off people’s faces.

“Sistering” in the Edmonton Journal

Me in my local. Click the link to read the online version.

Me in my local. Click the link to read the online version.

The Edmonton Journal, my local daily newspaper with its robust books section, ran a feature on me and Sistering this week.

Michael Hingston (fellow Can-lit humour novelist) interviewed me and wrote the piece, and a nice photographer named Bruce met me outside the University of Alberta Humanities Centre, stood me up against a tree and shot pictures of me. I’ve never heard someone say, “You look like you’re pissed off at me” so pleasantly. I wasn’t, of course. I always hate pictures of myself, but at least my hair was full-throttle Smurfette that day.

They also posted a notice of my upcoming book event in Edmonton. We’ll be at Audreys Books on Sept. 29 at 7pm.

Here’s the link to the easy-to-read online version: Sistering in the Edmonton Journal