Book Trailer for “The Apocalypse of Morgan Turner”

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Like many publishers, mine has added book trailers to its repertoire of marketing aids. A book blogger friend of mine once publicly wondered why so many book trailers are terrible. I’m not sure why. But I knew I didn’t want mine to be a lot of panning in different directions over the book’s cover, so I drove my son around Edmonton, the city where the book is set, while he filmed dirty winter street-scapes to use as the bulk of the footage for our trailer. It might not be pretty, but it’s legit.

If you like, you can watch it here on the Linda Leith Publishing website or on YouTube.

Wherein My Son Doesn’t Die

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My Middle-born Boy

My middle-born son, age fifteen, did not die on Wild Hay River last week.

He did not die there but he did go there on a canoe trip with his Scouting group. As they went along, the flotilla wound up in an unforeseen, dangerous flooded section of the river. I wasn’t there but I am told a couple of boys evacuating a nearby canoe accidentally capsized the boat my son, my husband, and another boy, only twelve years old, were in. All three of them were dumped into the river. The current was strong, rushing toward a large spruce log covered in spiky broken branches spanning the river from shore to shore. It was large and dense enough to obscure the view of what was on the other side of it. Beyond and beneath it, there would be more water, and maybe all hell.

In the water, the current divided my husband from the kids. He stood in deep, fast water on one bank, anchoring himself by holding onto slippery tree branches with his cut and bleeding hands, shouting out to the boys not go under the fallen tree but to try to grab onto it if they couldn’t get out of the water. Fighting to stay on his feet, he remained in the water, waiting to see if the boys would be able to stop themselves. If they couldn’t, he would let go and let the river push him after them—a bad but only hope. And that would be that.

The younger boy was closer to the opposite bank and strong and smart enough to grapple out of the water on his own. Our son was further in. He was leaning back against the current, digging into the rocks of the riverbed with his bare feet, his boots long gone. My son’s friends stood on the bank in shock. They watched him being pushed closer to the fallen log—a horrible, unknown. To them, the spiked log might have looked like a barrier in a video game—the kind that ends the level and uses up a life.

I have a vivid imagination. It’s an important part of my trade but it’s also awful. In that imagination, I can see a curly, blond, drenched head pushed along the surface of a rough, glacial river. I can see a little white face with eyes just like my grandfather’s in it, staring up out of the water at jagged spikes.

As the log came within his reach, my son rose up out of the water, moving higher and faster than anyone watching thought was possible. He took hold of the tree’s broken branches and stopped himself from being pushed underneath it. “I’m okay,” he told himself, and hand-over-hand, without the help of anyone he could see, he pulled himself out of the river. Safe, he turned to see his father give him a thumbs up and climb out of the river on the opposite shore.

Earlier this year, I had been invited to the Scouting committee meetings where the trip was planned and I didn’t attend a single one. I wasn’t there asking if the river had been scouted yet this season. I wasn’t there to insist on it or to offer to strap on a can of bear spray and scout it myself. I didn’t do any of those things but I get to keep my son anyway. Do not underestimate my gratitude for the grace extended to parents who mess up.

Sure, many good things will come to my son from this experience. He learned it’s possible for him to rescue himself. The boy who was so unsure of his abilities he didn’t perfect riding a bike until he was eleven has now had the experience of reaching out and saving himself. He also lived through one of those tricky human paradoxes where difficulties placed in our paths (like the fallen tree) are often themselves the ways out of the difficulty. He got more perspective on what he is worth to his father, both when his dad stayed in the water until he was out, and when he saw his father safe on the bank advocating for a difficult portage, for not getting right back into the river even if it meant abandoning the canoes in the woods and reimbursing the Scout group for the loss of them out his government salary. Stuff is nothing, work is nothing, money is nothing. You, boy, are everything.

These are all good lessons—powerful lessons, the kinds of mishap-lessons that find all of us no matter how we live our lives. The world is dangerous and unpredictable for everyone. However, I don’t believe these lessons are the ones Scouting has in mind when it promises kids adventure. It’s a stodgy old Commonwealth institution, actually, one with waivers to sign and plenty of liability insurance. It offers character building in terms of well-organized food drives, and gaining confidence and competence by going into the wild to learn to traverse, navigate, build shelter, find and cook food, and stay safe. It’s about exploration, not exploits—understanding the immense power of the natural world, standing close enough to sense its awesome power, and then taking a respectful, sober step back into the preparations and planning that are our best chance for coming home. We will go back and we’ll do better next time.

Downstream on the Wild Hay River, the canoe my family had been in—the one that had capsized and washed away, upside down, under the fallen tree—was recovered. It was sitting upright and aground on a gravelly bar. In it was the bag containing my husband’s driver’s license, and one of our son’s hiking boots. Gone was my husband’s sloppy Scouter hat I had openly hated. So sloppy–here’s to its passing.

Home in Fort McMurray

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Little boys in a Fort McMurray “fire break,” winter 2002

Six months pregnant with my third son, I moved my family to Fort McMurray. My husband went along with it, then fell hard for it. We stayed for five years, had two sons there, bought our first two homes, planted trees, built a backyard fence to rival Stonehenge. Living in the city—in the place, not just at the time–changed our lives. In many ways, it made our lives—mine as a writer and my husband’s as a crime fighter. Today, I sat at a safe distance of hundreds of kilometres and cried at the news coverage of Fort McMurray in flames.

I have never done anything like what today’s Fort McMurray residents have done. I have never been an evacuee. My experiences with forest fire are nothing compared to theirs.

Most years, “forest fire” in the boreal north isn’t so much a freak of nature as it is a season. Forest fire season rolls with the year, like flu season. Everyone in Fort McMurray knows wild fire shares our world while caring nothing for us. Highway 63—the one highway in and out of the city in any direction—passes through large sections of burnt forest standing like skeletons along the road from past fires, hectares of the arboreal version of memento mori. We’ve all seen it. Inside the city, controlled preemptive burns of brush in ditches are a normal part of municipal maintenance. Neighbourhoods are ringed by swaths of grassy clay cleared of trees and known as the fire break. “Where are the kids? Oh, they’re back playing on the fire break.”

While we were living in McMurray, only once did a forest fire encroach on our human world with anything more than smoke. We were coming home after a weekend out of town and were almost at the edge of the forest, where the pastures end and the spruces begin, when we heard Highway 63 was closed about one hundred kilometres south of the city, at Mariana Lake, due to a large fire that had jumped the highway. The highway was open further north, where it connected to the 881—a road I will not call a highway. At the time, sections of it were marked on the map as undeveloped. In places, it wasn’t even a gravel road, just a graded track through a cut-line. We had to decide whether to turn back to Edmonton or press on to Fort McMurray on the 881. We stopped in Lac La Biche, stocked up on groceries, and took to the 881. My husband respected my need to manage stress by taking control and sat in the passenger seat as I drove the road myself in our Mazda 3, our babies strapped into the backseat.

We made it but I suppose it was rash, crazy. We were desperate to get back to our lives in Fort McMurray. We did it because we had to get home.

We had to get home.

During our time in Fort McMurray, our little house on the muskeg and the community of adventurous, open-hearted people all around it, was the only real home we had. If it was in trouble, if it was manageably dangerous for us to be there, we belonged there. I don’t say this to criticize the people who had to leave today—not at all. They did the only thing they could. I say this to empathize in the small way I am able with their grief. I know what I would have risked, what I did risk, to stay home. We are probably not much different from each other. In my way, I have a pale sense of the beginnings of their loss and I am awed by it. I also remember the strength, resourcefulness, the courage of the kinds of people who don’t just work in Fort McMurray but live there, raise families there, build their Stonehenges, open themselves up to experiences that will change and make their lives. I am awed by that too.

Thank you, Fort McMurray. This is not a eulogy, an apostrophe. Let me say, instead, for now, how very much I love you.

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!

Angie Abdou Reviews “Sistering” on the CBC

datbreakWe were pleased to hear Angie Abdou reviewing Sistering on CBC Radio’s Daybreak Alberta programme. Here she is talking to host, Chris dela Torre, about my new novel. My favourite line? “Jennifer Quist makes you believe it.” Thinking of having a t-shirt made…

Here’s the link to listen to the 6 minute bit: Sistering on the CBC

That Time I Stole a Truck

oldkeyOn the first day of this fall semester, I opened the door of my garage where, strangely enough, my car was parked. To my surprise, blocking the foot of my driveway was a skid-steer and a one-tonne flat-bed truck. I was trapped. Unless I was prepared to sprint twenty kilometres, I wasn’t going to make it to school.

The machinery belonged to the contracting company that had been repairing sidewalks on our street. But there was no trace of the men who had left it there to blockade my house. Except for me, the street was deserted.

“Hey!” I called out, just in case. “Is anyone here? Come on. You’re kidding me.”

No one was coming.

The name of the construction company was written on everything so I phoned their headquarters. I spoke to a guy who identified himself as “I Just Work Here at the Office” and I offered to arrange to have their gear towed away if it was too inconvenient to send someone back right away to move it for me.

Mr. I Just Work Here and I hung up. And while I waited to see what he could do, it occurred to me that fastidious craftsmen like these might be too meticulous to bother with details like securing their vehicles. Maybe my freedom didn’t depend on tow trucks or whims of construction workers. Maybe I could free myself.

Sure enough, the truck was unlocked and the keys were in the ignition. I climbed inside, cranked the key, backed up — beeeep, beeeep, beeeep – and, because I am a genius, moved the truck down the street to where it wouldn’t be obstructing anyone.

The work crew was back on the block by the time I had finished and walked back to my house.

“What were you thinking parking across my driveway? I had to move your truck myself.”

“You went in our truck?” the dude said. “That’s—not legal.”

Now, this is not a story of one of my finest hours. I am neither a gracious nor a composed character in this weird little suburban vignette. But give me a little credit for not saying the words “prosecutor’s wife.” Give me credit for not tossing my hair and saying, “Oh, you want to play that’s-not-legal with me, do you? Well, you forcibly confined me in my home by blocking the exit. That could be a criminal offense too, ya know.”

All I said was, “Yeah. Go ahead and recover your stolen property. It’s parked right there.”

“You can’t do that.”

“I did. And your correct response is, ‘Sorry for your inconvenience, ma’am.’”

He never said those words but he did move the skid-steer without my help and I did get to school. I felt a little bad about the scrappy conversation. The construction goofballs are just a bit older than my oldest kids, after all. I’m patient and empathetic when my own big kids mess up and this was a lapse in character for me.

But I didn’t feel sorry for moving the truck myself. Life—what’s left of my life, in particular—is too short for sitting around getting mad and late when the keys are right there, dangling from the ignition.

managehairWhile my oldest kid was working his first part-time job, as a stock-boy in a grocery store, he showed me this picture. It’s about unsatisfied but mostly civilized customers who don’t want to argue with teenaged frontline workers and primly insists on taking their extremely important retail grievances to a higher court. Notice the model in this picture is a probably little younger than me.

I’m getting closer to the age of the lady below. This is Kathy Bates in “Fried Green Tomatoes” acting out in a parking lot. I always thought this was a dumb scene – a grown-up smashing her car into someone else’s because they were rude and put her out and deserved it. The scene is still over-the-top but it’s starting to make more sense.kathy

I don’t want to talk to the manager. I don’t want to phone the office and wait for a guy. I don’t want answers anymore. I don’t want anyone to get in trouble. I just want results. It’s not about a haircut or hormones or insurance coverage (like it was for Kathy Bates’ character). It’s about time–four decades littered with the usual amount of smoking crap and a complete lack of desire to know where it came from or who put it there. I just want it gone even if I have to muck it out myself.

If the clichéd catch phrase of young women these days is supposed to be “I can’t even…” maybe the catch phrase of women my age should be “I can even…” And I if I can do it without someone  coming out of the office to help, I’d actually prefer that.

Beware women my age. Don’t box in our vehicles. Don’t start ridiculous arguments with us, panic when they’re not going well, and then try to say we came up with the whole feminism thing not because we’re actually suffering but so we can fib our way onto some bogus moral high ground. Women my age are not actually nasty or crazy. We have our wits about us. We also have skills and knowledge and experience. We aren’t hobbled by our sweet babies anymore. We have each other. We can see for miles. And we may insist on being called ma’am.