Finalist Status in the 2015 Association for Mormon Letters Awards

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Sistering has been named a finalist in the novel category of the 2015 Association for Mormon Letters Awards. It’s the first time any of my work has been included in the annual awards and I am very pleased.

Here’s the link to the announcement. The winner is going to be announced in Hawaii the same day I’ll be making a mid-term presentation on the grammatical intricacies of the Chinese 把 construction in Edmonton. Ha!

Here’s the link the to announcement.

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

Sistering is Published Today, or, Enough With the Eerie Coincidences Already

Summer 2013, my first novel is published. It’s a family saga about death and dying. The week it’s released, a close family member is diagnosed with a life-changing, life-expectancy altering illness.

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Oliver, BC fire, 2015

Summer 2015–today, to be exact–my second novel is published. It’s another family story–a dark-hearted comedy instead of a light-hearted tragedy. It’s about sisters and fire and love and stuff. So, naturally, right in time for publication week, the mountain town where my sister Mary lives catches fire.

Ya can’t make this stuff up.

Upon waking on the morning of the unveiling of a five year project my future and my identity as an artist are inextricably linked to, my first thought wasn’t “book.” It was “Mary.”

The last images she left on Facebook last night included the one above. But while we slept, the lightning stopped, the rain started, the firefighters fought. This morning, my sister and her family (plus a second sister who just happened to be visiting this week, posting fire-photos on Instagram that ended up on the Global News website) have all reported in safely from their undamaged home.

I am relieved, finally ready to celebrate, and resolved that my next novel will be a tableau of fluffy bunnies nibbling wildflowers in peaceful meadows.

Oh yeah, and if you’d like to read my “wonderfully bizarre and surprisingly recognizable” book click the “Finding the Book” tab above.

A Book Cover for “Sistering”

The cover for my upcoming novel, "Sistering," Aug 2015 from Linda Leith Publishing

The cover for my upcoming novel, “Sistering,” Aug 2015 from Linda Leith Publishing

I’m not usually fussy about design. There is photographic proof of it. When my in-laws-to-be generously organized decorations for my wedding reception while I was consumed with final exams at a university hundreds of kilometers away, they went for the crepe paper aesthetic—streamers and accordion bells. My in-laws are lovely but the crepe paper could only be horrible. I managed not ruin the day or our relationship over it (don’t worry, the person who did the shopping is dead and won’t be reading this). On my wedding day, I stood in crepe paper carnage, held onto the beautiful husband these nice people had made for me, and smiled for the pictures.

Those easygoing design sensibilities of mine become brittle when it comes to my own book covers. Stakes are high with book covers—not as high as at a wedding ceremony but definitely higher than at the crepe-paper reception afterwards. Book covers can tip the scales for readers choosing from a market full of good books. Covers usually convey something about plot—especially in genre fiction—but more importantly, they communicate tone and theme. They hint at the state of mind and heart readers can expect to inhabit. They make vague but real promises. They’re meant to elicit emotional connections. We’re supposed to have feelings about book covers—especially when we’ve authored the stories between them. For a second outing in an author’s career, getting a new cover is a little like getting a new face. And I loved my old face.

Like my first novel, the tone of the second novel is (wait for it) unusual. The structure and storyline are quite different from my first book but I hope my signature oddness (whatever it is, I’m too close to sense much of it) has endured. However, strangeness makes the book hard to characterize with a single illustration. My new book is grave but funny enough that a spooky cover wouldn’t be appropriate. The main characters are women but it’s got nothing like a chick-lit vibe so a cover full of flowers or lipsticks or purses doesn’t make any sense. It’s got elements of a warm, family story but images of sunlit kitchen windowsills would be bad fits too.

I set up my first ever Pinterest board and asked my sisters (blood sister and sisters-in-law, after twenty years with my in-laws, unless I’m looking for a kidney donor, it’s all the same) for cover suggestions and for their opinions on my ideas. But I asked them to do it blindfolded, knowing little more about the book than its title. I’m unreasonable that way.

A few days before the latest Linda Leith Publishing catalogue was finalized, Linda was kind enough to send me two designs being considered for my book cover. Nothing in our official agreement obligates my publisher to ask me anything about design. As is typical in the industry, the publisher buys the rights to produce the book however they see fit. This cover preview was a courtesy and one not every publisher extends. I am grateful for it. And that gratitude made me feel like a terrible person when I admitted I didn’t feel right about either of the designs. The kinds of images we were using—stairways—were the right kind. The concept was good and it was one I hadn’t been able to come up with myself. But I was being fussy about colour schemes and other fiddly details.

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Quit trying to cute it up, Cat

With the deadline for the catalogue looming, we all kept working. In desperation, I even recruited my sister Sara, a photographer, to take photos of the stairwell in her house in case we couldn’t find anything that worked. Her kitten didn’t make it easy, frolicking into the shot over and over again. “Hey, it’s not that kind of book,” I kept telling it. On my way home, I stopped at my sister Amy’s house to take photos of her stairs, as a backup plan for the backup plan.

In further desperation, I reached further into my wealth of sisters. While Sara and I were trying to light her stairwell, my sister-in-law, Stephanie, was picking through the Internet for me. Steph is a writer too—urban fantasy and romance with commercial appeal. She does most of her publishing independently and her best book covers are the ones she designs herself. She has a few favourite resources and on one of those, she unearthed the image of stairs our designer transformed into the book cover.

I love it. The blue-green tones are moody and a bit haunted without being gloomy or melodramatic. The architecture is pretty and visually interesting but not too fanciful or domestic. The title’s font—one of the LLP standbys that give the company’s books their unified look—blends well with the image. And best of all for my poor sophomore nerves, this cover has a comforting sisterly resemblance to my first novel’s cover—the novel that was well-received and not just a fluke, right?

When I posted the finished cover on social media, someone cool and smart said, “I’m picturing the Brady Bunch sisters lined up on those stairs. Except they’re all goth.” I didn’t know until I read it that this was exactly what I wanted to hear.

The Linda Leith Publishing Story in the Montreal Gazette

I’m always grateful for anything that extends the lifespan of my first novel. I wrote it in blood and it’s part of my heart. So fittingly, this Valentines Day morning, I woke up to find the book mentioned in the Montreal Gazette newspaper in a feature on my publisher, Linda Leith.

Read the piece here: Linda Leith in the Montreal Gazette

But wait, there’s more. A portion of the interview was video taped and posted on Youtube. It’s worth a listen just to hear Linda’s lovely, one-of-a-kind accent. In this clip she talks about surprising people, overcoming obstacles, and taking chances. To illustrate, she tells the part of her story that includes my story. Lucky me, to have fallen into the hands of someone with an iron stomach and a golden touch for my first, and soon, my second novels.

Watch the clip here: Linda Leith on Youtube

Announcing Book #2

pubagreementToday I signed and mailed away the publishing agreement for my second novel. Once again, I’m working with Linda Leith Publishing in Montreal and the novel is a blackly comic literary treatment of family life. Our projected release date is Fall 2015. And I still can’t believe this is really my life.

Watch this space for more and more and more details to come.

Searching for Swag in Montreal

Me at the Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival in Montreal

Me at the Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival in Montreal

So my 17 year old son asked me, with all the irony he could muster, “Mom, which value is more important to you: YOLO or swag?”

If you’re over 25 and this question makes no sense, that’s exactly how it should be.  This is the current youth lexicon at work, reminding – or warning – us older people that we aren’t the sole proprietors of our language.  However, as the beloved parent of generous teenagers I’m given a pass in a few areas of youth culture including permission to know the meaning and social function of words like YOLO and swag.  Thanks, boys.

I won’t define YOLO here like the old sociologist dork I truly am (and as if there’s no Google).  It’s just a simple acronym anyways.  Swag is more complicated.  It’s concrete and ephemeral at the same time.  It can be stuff, but not stuff.  It arises from what’s inside and outside.  It comes and it goes.  What’s swag on one person may be sad or silly on another.  Sometimes the very best swag comes from the most humble sources.  There’s irony and self-consciousness in swag.  And it descends differently upon everyone.

Follow any of that?  I know, it reads like old theology – swag is invisible, uncreated.  It can be a bit of a riddle. Just ask my 35 year old friend Christi who’s been trying to use the word “swag” appropriately in conversation with teenagers since the New Year.  It’s a process of trial and error but don’t worry, she’s got swag enough to keep trying and will pull it off eventually.

I can use the word swag but that doesn’t mean I can command swag itself.  Sometimes I worry I’ve never had it — especially when I’m doing my writer-thing out in public.

If anyone wants to know what I mean when I talk about good writer swag, I recommend a look at the Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival in Montreal.  It’s a gathering of writers, publishers, media, and book lovers from all over the world held annually in one of the great cosmopolitan cities of my country.  The festival is peopled with top literary talent – and me.  Believe it or not, I was given spots at three of the festival’s venues this spring.

With a gig like that, it was time to stop being awe-struck and turn on the swag.

Rightly or wrongly, I believe my best hope for swag begins with boots.  I packed a couple pairs and headed off on a cross-country flight, alone.

My first impression of Montreal was that the city is serious about Canada’s second (or first, depending on who’s asked) official language: French.  I knew most people in Montreal can speak both English and French but I didn’t realize Montrealers’ default is French.  I also didn’t realize how profoundly my French has atrophied since I left eastern Canada twentysomething years ago.

My first Montreal venue: the Atwater Library

When I was a high school student in Nova Scotia, I spoke French all the time – horrible French.  I understood it was bad and did not care.  The badness was part of the sport.  What I lacked in ability I made up for with confidence, enthusiasm and – wait for it – swag.  That bad-French swag is now history and I’m left with my sheepish grownup French – stressing out over masculine and feminine nouns.  At least I still have the comprehension to tell the nice lady asking me to donate blood in the street “Non merci.”  And by the time I left the city I was comfortable enough to be using my natural Acadian quack for “oui” again.

No matter how stupid I sounded, I loved the city.  I went to galleries, cathedrals, museums, and got to debut by reading my novel to a crowd at an old library.  At my publisher’s festival event, I witnessed the gorgeous writer-swag of some of my fellow Linda Leith Publishing authors.  As always, they astounded me.  They’re multi-lingual, well-traveled, well-educated, and each of them writes like a house on fire.  Even the new non-fiction book all about the prostate gland sounded amazing when I heard the doctor who wrote it presenting it at the festival.  Set on a sheltered patio, our party was everything I fantasized it would be.

I was set to appear late in the English portion of the programme.

Want swag even in death? You want a saint’s burial in a French-Canadian Catholic Church.

“Come on, Jenny.  Think swag.  Last winter the Montreal Gazette called your novel the ‘stand-out’ of this company.  Swag!”

I still don’t know if it was swag or not but I got up on stage and nodded to my misfit-ness in the Linda Leith Publishing stable of writers.  Unlike the others, I speak one language, have one degree, and have lived my whole life on one continent.  “But I have the same heart as everyone else,” I said, “and my heart is in this book.”

It wasn’t a confession or an apology.  It was more like bragging.  To be at the Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival with Linda Leith Publishing, I have to punch above my weight class.  There’s no shame in that.  It’s as if something has triggered a special dispensation.  The rules have been waived and I’ve been let into something I would normally have no right to approach.  It’s as if there’s something intangible about me and my work that lets me get away with this beyond all reason.

Must be swag after all.

I don’t know this woman but I do adore her.