What Do Anime Heroines and Scottish-Canadian Arts Chicks Have in Common?

While eavesdropping on a Twitter conversation, I wound up reading an article denouncing white women who take up belly dancing.  The author says it’s an ignorant appropriation of Arab culture and the equivalent of white people performing in “brownface.”

The article took me by surprise.  I’d never thought about the racial politics of belly dancing.  That says something about the privileged position from which I experience the array of cultures in the pluralistic Canadian society in which I’ve always lived.  I’m someone who — despite my gender, low artsy income, and, strangely enough, my height — scores fairly high on privilege-o-meters.  I know that and I don’t argue when someone with an ethnicity other than my own tells me what looks to me like a well-meant tribute is actually unfair cultural appropriation.  I defer to them completely.  There’s been a lot of huffy Internet backlash against the article.  I will not add anything to that.  The role of humble, awestruck observer of diversity suits me just fine.

I felt a little chastened by the article anyway.  To insulate myself from my white imperialist self-loathing I went to my closet and reached for something colourful from my own culture.

Don’t be fooled by the Swedish surname I use now.  Quist is my husband’s family name.  I like it.  It works well for me.  The Q is distinctive, the name is short and Google-friendly.  Though, when people ask me how it’s pronounced I have got to stop answering, “Phonetically.”

My real name, my ethnic name, my blood name is MacKenzie.  It’s a name so Scottish it verges on caricature.  In my genealogy, I can trace my roots back to this clan three different ways.  No matter how generic it is, I love my family name.

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MacKenzie tartan – not just for kawaii school girls, not just for Scottish chicks

My Mister loves it too.  His dad lived in Scotland for two years before he raised a family of Anglo-Swedish Mc-wannabe Canadians (love that pluralism).  Some of my siblings-in-law can highland fling and play a few bagpipe tunes.  Maybe it’s because I’ve got nothing to prove that I never learned to do either of those things.  I don’t do things because they’re Scottish.  Things are Scottish because I do them.

I was touched anyway when my husband gave me the gift of a kilted skirt (a “kilt” is strictly menswear) in my family’s tartan.  It’s beautiful, dark green, heavy with pleats, handmade in Cape Breton, a symbol of my ancestors’ passion for ticking off and freaking out the English.

Even before I had a sweetie-pie to bring me authentic tartans, I’d been wearing cheap, chain store versions of dark green kilted skirts my whole life. They’re not hard to find.  Unlike belly dancer outfits, kilted skirts are everywhere.  Right now there are probably thousands and thousands of non-Scottish girls wearing them as school uniforms all over the world.  And that makes my relationship with my skirt a little complicated.

I wore it yesterday.  I wore it even though I was a little nervous someone might assume I was wearing it not as a grown up Scottish woman but as an old otaku tart making a pathetic attempt to appropriate the culture of East Asian school girls.  When my friends’ 15-year-old anime loving daughter saw my skirt she admired it — a lot.  It didn’t matter that it’s a stodgy knee-length and closed with a pin bearing my oh-so-Euro family crest.  The unintended connection to kawaii Asian students was not lost on her.

Wait.  Here is where I do not descend into a snarky denouncement of non-Scots wearing tartans and transforming an emblem of my culture into something vaguely awkward for me.  Here is where I will not complain the way I used to groan and barely restrain myself from going all highlander on my father-in-law when he’d strut around bawling in that horrible fake brogue of his.  My culture created this situation ourselves.  We can’t colonize – both literally and figuratively – other nations and then complain when their use of our artifacts makes us look silly.

South Korean schoolgirls used to wear han bok – flowing, bell-shaped, colourful dresses — to school until their region got entangled with the West and they eventually wound up dressed in the tartan skirts of our schools uniforms.  If white belly dancers got dressed up and performed out of a desperate sense that the only way to prosper and find a voice in the world was to do so, their position would be different.  It wouldn’t be so privileged.  It would be more like the position of the people who first brought my skirt into their schools in the last half of the twentieth century, trying to emulate the global power and wealth of the empires bearing down on them at the time.

It’s probably fitting that, woven within my lovely kilted skirt, there’s a bit of a hairshirt – a bit of mortification for me to bear in behalf of my imperialist ancestors, a bit of ambivalence about a culture that is flawed but still precious enough to its heirs to be worth remembering and preserving.  Fortunately for all of us, love and shame have never been mutually exclusive.

So scoff at me and my apparent lack of self-awareness, walking around at my age posing as a Japanese high schooler.  There’s a bit of me that knows I deserve the scorn, and another piece of me that can still enjoy what’s beautiful about the only people I can call my own.

Anthologies Are the Friendliest Literary Form

My Name — Among Way Cooler People’s — on the Back Cover of “40 Below”

Last year, a piece of my short non-fiction was included in 40 Below: Edmonton’s Anthology of Winter.  As always, I was thrilled to get the gig.  The book was released three months after my novel’s debut and it turns out to be the gig that keeps on giving.  It helped introduce me — a little hick in the sticks — to the big city Edmonton literary scene.  It got me invited to some cool events (most of which I couldn’t attend because of the winter weather — is that irony?) and also got me a slot in the podcast series produced to accompany the anthology.  Here’s a link to me and editor/writer/nice guy Jason Lee Norman celebrating the book writer-style — locked in a little room.

Jennifer Quist’s 40 Below Interview and Reading

Nothing Comes from Nothing: Reading Eric Freeze’s “Dominant Traits”

Dominant Traits, by fellow “Ridgeview” High School Alumnus, Eric Freeze

I never read faster than when I’ve found a short book written by someone I know.  It’s especially true when that short book by someone I know is also a good book.

That’s the experience I had blazing through Dominant Traits, a collection of short stories by Eric Freeze.  Eric and I went to the same high school – the one I came to in grade eleven and into which I never became fully socially integrated.  He was in the show-choir/theatre scene and I was an egghead poor-girl whose only extra-curricular pursuit was a part-time job.  We were not close.  But in a small school where everyone had some knowledge and experience with each other, Eric and I had good will between us.

This good will, our high school, writing fiction, and seeing it published aren’t the only things Eric and I share.  We have both set stories in the same southern Alberta town where we went to school, the place that inspires his “Ridgeview.”  We both write fiction deeply rooted in real life.  I read his collected stories out of sequence and noticed real life first in “A Prayer for the Cosmos” when the narrator refers to an infamous pep rally where dear old Ridgeview High School made a casual racial slur against an exchange student basketball star playing for a rival school.  Something like that really happened.

Then there was the story about the awkward white rural kid who thought of himself as a rapper.  When I first came to Ridgeview, I assumed this kid must have been playing a character, trying to be funny.  He wasn’t.  It was excruciatingly embarrassing.  I tried to ignore him.  I guess it worked.  I hadn’t thought about him for decades.  He’s probably grown up and put his rapper days behind him.  But then, in Eric’s “Francis the Giant” story, there he is again, not grown up at all, falling down on-stage in this MC Hammer act, and I can’t look away from him.  Eric’s fiction folded the kid’s story into the accordion fan I hadn’t realized it had always been for me.  There was the real kid, his act, my initial confusion about the act, the fictional character arising from the kid, and then the hallucinated transformation the character makes within the story, changing from a scrawny teenager to a giant, leech-flinging monster.  We are everyone around us.  We’re folded into accordion fans with everyone we know.  Their stories are rightfully ours, the opposite sides of our own folded surfaces.

“He’s doing it,” I thought as Eric’s stories started to bend into my own experiences.

I do it too.  Last night, at a literary event in Edmonton, I read one of the chapters from my novel that is crafted very much like an event from my family’s real story.  Afterwards, as I signed her book, a nice lady asked if the book was fiction or not.  I grinned, “Yeah, it’s fiction.  But it cheats.”  She seemed pleased.  Readers love cheating.

Though I’ve been on the giving end – force-feeding my family, friends, and high school classmates doses of our histories, fictionalized, printed, bound between the brittle, narrow margins of my perspective — I don’t think I’d ever been on the receiving end of this kind of storytelling in so direct a way until I read Eric’s book.  Seeing it from the other side had a much greater impact on me than I expected.  I didn’t just smirk knowingly and say, “Ah, yes, it’s this.”  Instead, my heart lurched inside me when I realized Eric’s “Torched” – a piece about a roofing crew grappling with the tenuous mortality of men early in adulthood — includes the story of a boy from our school who suffered an oddball head injury riding a bike in the dark.  Even though he seemed to recover from the accident, he suddenly died from the injury a few years later.  It’s weird but true.  There’s a monument to it in Eric’s book.

It was good for me to read Dominant Traits.  It ambushed me even after a mutual friend, the eye on the cover, and my cursory grasp of ancient Ridgeview gossip warned me the book was closely connected to things I had seen and heard for myself.  Reading it helped me consider my own writing in a new way, with greater empathy, with more tenderness and patience for what I demand of everyone.

Here was another writer not only playing my game but playing much of it on the same field – the same place and time.  Sure, his “Ridgeview” is different from mine.  He lived there as an insider (compared to me, anyways) and as a boy.  Unlike Eric, I would probably never attempt a story about cattle castration.  That is not my Ridgeview.  But I knew the convenience store, the comically wide roads, even the squeak of the gym floor, though I usually only heard it through closed doors.

Closed doors – that brings me to the point where I prove I don’t give old high school classmates free passes in book reviews.  The collection, in many ways, is men’s fiction — if the prevailing literary privilege will allow me to talk of such a thing.  It’s smitten with the male problem of imagining erections and ejaculations are far more salient in the world outside their own pants than they actually are.  The other half of humanity rolls its eyes, scoots to the cold side of the bed, and tells those Very Important erections to just go to sleep, for crying out loud.  I’d like to see a man my age write a meaningful, earnest, literary love story without any penises in it.  I’m not protesting out of stodginess.  I’m protesting because I’m tired and disappointed with male (and often female) writers taking the slimy, easy shortcut to writing about intimacy.  Work at sex and intimacy in a different medium once in a while, fellas.  Feel free to prove me wrong with examples in the comments.

In the age of “post-fiction,” writing from life is accepted and understood, sometimes preferred.  Maybe it’s not considered cheating anymore.  I don’t believe in creation ex nihilo – that everything we know must have been created by some kind of magic out of emptiness.  I don’t believe in it physically or artistically.  Ex nihilo nihil fit.  I’d wager Eric Freeze doesn’t believe in it either.  Everything created is organized out of pieces of things that are here already – Big Bangs exploding whenever someone or something comes crashing through us.

Here Baby, There Mama: Don’t Politic My Hair

Let me tell you about the angriest I’ve ever been with my husband. Our not-quite-two-year-old son needed his long, wispy, angel hair cut. He hated haircuts and would carry on like a calf getting branded. It was always awful. My husband told me he’d take care of one particular haircut by himself. He took the baby into the bathroom and buzzed his head with electric clippers.

I was furious.

Yes, the baby’s hair grew back. And no one – not my oh-so-scolded husband, not anyone – has ever buzzed it again. The baby is fifteen years old now. His hair is still light blond but it’s also thick, silky, and he wears it long. I love it. Everyone loves it.

That’s the angriest I’ve ever been at my husband. I’m very lucky. I have an excellent husband. I also have an excellent mother. Guess what makes me angriest about the way she raised me. Once again, it’s haircuts. I’m not one to try to blame my mother for everything. She was and is wonderful to me and my six siblings. But she is a demon in a hair salon.jennyshort

Her first six children were born within seven and a half years. No, she’s not crazy. She’s just talented at pregnancy and babies. My mum is never happier than when she’s raising a baby. I don’t understand it — the same way I don’t understand people who are happiest when they’re cooking or playing soccer or doing math.

With a family like that, I guess Mum needed some short-cuts – literally. Five of us are girls — though it was hard to tell from looking at us when we were kids and our mother was choosing our haircuts. Mum had this idea that short hair on girls was “stylish” and modern – that and it didn’t need any time consuming combing or binding with elastics.

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Some people look fine in short hair. These people are not in my immediate gene pool. We all looked horrible. We knew it even though our mother raved about how pert and bold we were and how boring and backward our girl-friends were with their gorgeously normal shoulder-length bobs. But we were respectful, filial girls and I didn’t rise up and put an end to my mother’s terrible haircuts until I was in the tenth grade. That was when I grew my hair long – crazy long – and never went back. My sisters have thrown off their chains and grown out their hair too.

We all have the hair we want now. We’re educated, independent women exercising control over our own bodies and using a whole lot of high-end conditioner every morning. That’s the happily ever after, right?

Unfortunately, personal preference isn’t the only thing being read into hair length lately. Some click-baiting doofus wrotesarashort an article in response to the recent Hollywood revival of the pixie cut that made my childhood so awkward. He trolls on about how women cut their hair short to perturb and alienate men. The article has been answered by far more thoughtful pieces claiming long hair can be a patriarchal weapon meant to signal reproductive receptivity and with it, submission to oppressive forms of traditional gender roles.

Actually, for most people from my ethnic group anyways, long hair is just the natural state of all hair, for men and women. It’s now been unnaturally politicized by both sides of the gender divide. One of my brothers-in-law snapped and told my sister she had to cut her hair because she looked like the wife of a fundamentalist cult leader. I guess that wasn’t the impression he wanted his colleagues to have of their successful family business. My sister keeps her hair long anyway and sometimes twists it into a tight, top ‘o the head, power-bun that is authoritarian and formidable and totally awesome.

maryshortI admit I’m still insecure enough to worry whether anyone mistakes my long hair as a sign there’s something oppressive in my relationships or worldview – something amiss with my feminism. There isn’t. I’ve written more in defense of feminism than many people will ever read in their lifetimes.  I have nothing to be insecure about.  Part of enjoying my personal autonomy is invoking my right not to cut my hair if that’s what makes me happiest.

All that anger from the beginning of this story – with my husband and my mum – it’s petty. I’ve let it go and moved on. Even in the teeth of the crises, I never had much to complain about.  Unless it’s a token of religious observance, everything that’s said about another person’s hair length seems just as petty to me. And in realms of pettiness, what’s important aren’t the choices we make but the fact that we are free to make those choices.emshort

Sometimes, as Freud is rumored to have said, a cigar is just a cigar. And sometimes, a haircut is just a haircut – no social agenda, no revolution, no patriarchal violence – just pretty protein sprouting out of a scalp. When it comes to the way I wear my hair, all I’m trying to say is that I love it long – on my sons, on me, on my sisters, even on my mother herself.

Me, My Mum, and My Sisters Today

It’s Me, Writing in “The Awl”

It’s Me, Writing Psychoanalytic Feminist Film Criticism

This week, I drafted a blog post I liked too much to keep to myself.  Instead of posting it here, I sent it to a cool New York City website called “The Awl” and 48 hours after pitching it, the story was published.  It’s doing well — getting tweeted and shared and picked up by other news sites.  There is an audience out there who gets it.

However, I realize all the psychoanalytic feminist film criticism in it might be off the beaten path for many of the kind people who know me personally and read my stuff out of love.  The “Awl” article assumes readers have already heard of and dismissed the trope — the flat, stock film character — known as  the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl.”  The term was coined by critic Nathan Rabin in reviewing a movie where a sad young man is rescued by a “psychotically chipper” woman.  Rabin explains, “The Manic Pixie Dream Girl exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.”

My article is a cheeky look at a possible source of this self-indulgent, embarrassing character.  Something tremendously compelling must keep male-writers coming back to it.  The piece was a lot of fun to write and I’m enjoying people’s reaction to it.

Maybe give it a read here:

Manic Pixie Dream Mom – The Awl, Jan 10, 2014

Lessons in Vocabulary and Art from Publishers Weekly

Publishers Weekly Reviews My Novel

Publishers Weekly Reviews My Novel

This week, my little Canadian novel was reviewed in Publishers Weekly.  (I know, right?  Read it here.)  The review isn’t long but it is perfectly positive.  The reviewer isn’t credited by name in the online version I’ve seen but she or he was thoughtful and insightful enough to have me Googling a few of the terms used to describe my own work.

The first was one of those words that’s still vaguely familiar from my Arts degree days — those spellbinding lectures on Jungian psychology at the base of the Tory Tower.  Somewhere in scrolling through the fanciful vocabulary of archetypes scrawled on the overhead projector film, the meaning of this term slipped out of my consciousness.  It’s “psychopomp.”  It doesn’t sound like a nice thing to be called but, as I now remember, it means a creature who serves as a guide to souls — newly deceased souls in particular but also the newly born or anyone unmoored.  As the PW review points out, my novel’s main characters are psychopomps.  I had never thought of them that way before but it’s certainly true.

The second term I had to look up was completely new to me: mono no aware.  Though it’s tempting, don’t try to use an English or Latin vocabulary to decode it.  It’s a bit of Japanese philosophy and translates into something like “the pathos of things.”  The idea is that instead of the bittersweet knowledge that this world is transient making us morbid and jaded, it moves us to reverence our lives and experience them as poignant rather than mundane.  I’m no scholar of Japanese philosophy but I think it might be the opposite of the Western ennui that makes up so much of literary thought right now.  Whatever it is, I think I need to find my old, water-stained copy of The Tale of Genji and read it again.

There’s a lot to love about being an artist.  That anyone would read my work is great.  That they would look up and from my work and have something to say about it is even better.  And having them teach me something I didn’t know about what I, myself, have written makes me want to fall on my face and cry — especially when it’s something true.  Sometimes, it’s wonderful to admit, “I didn’t know that was in there and I don’t know where it came from.”

I’m usually fairly pragmatic and cringe at the conceits and the headier romance of writer-life.  I don’t have much of a stomach for elitist memes and other silliness bent on making embarrassing overstatements about writing and writers.  But there is something genuinely sublime about art — even the quiet, tappity-tap, within sight of my laundry hamper art form of my own.  At its best, art is a miracle.  And we bow our heads, grateful and baffled that whatever it is that makes miracles would stoop to involve people like us.

Mothers of All Brothers at the Mall

My sister had just posted a new picture of her baby on Facebook.  In it, my big-eyed, beautiful niece was wearing layers and layers of frilly pastel ruffles.  Beneath the picture, I wrote, “I didn’t know ruffles were the big thing right now.”  Even for idle social media chatter, my ruffle comment was pretty idle.  I didn’t expect anything to come of it.

But then, out of the vastness of time and space, through the miracle of post-modern social networking, another comment came answering back from an old friend of mine.  I didn’t know she and my sister were in touch.  I was surprised.  Frankly, they hardly know each other.  Frankly, my friend and I hardly know each other anymore.  We were closest during our early teenaged years, before I outgrew the worst of my hideous phase and started encroaching on her boy-chasing territory.  Things had been very quiet between us for a very long time.  But now that ruffles were on the table, she had something to say to me about them.

“That’s because you are the only girl in your home,” she told me, “And I don’t think that ruffles were ever your thing…”

She was right about that.

“…Little girls LOVE ruffles,” she continued, emphasis in the original.  “And sparkles, and tiaras, and glitter, and magic wands.  Maybe you should see if you can get a girl to balance out all of that boyness in your house.”

Maybe I’m crazy but it read like a smack-down.  It sounded like my family of nothing-but-sons was being called out as karmic.  She may as well have written, “You like boys, do ya?  Well, take THAT, boy-stealer.”

I replied by doing what anyone put in my position would have done: I quoted out-of-context Bowie lyrics at her.

“There’s only room for one and here she comes, here she comes.”

Unlike me, my old friend – the ruffle expert – has a daughter.  She goes shopping for tiny frilly dresses while I’m pushing a cart full of black and navy sweatpants.

I’ve heard people remark how tragic it is that mothers of boys don’t have as much fun shopping as the mothers of girls.  The idea is familiar enough to make it feel like everyone must agree.  But who actually makes this complaint?  I took a straw poll, pulling comments out of Internet parenting forums dedicated to mothers of all-boy families.  I was looking for any self-reports of mothers being disappointed about not being in the market for pretty dresses for anyone but ourselves.

Here’s what I found: hardly anything.

Every now and then, a long, sad venting post would appear where a mom of boys lists everything about parenting that hurts her.  Once she’d started brainstorming her disappointments, she’d usually toss in a line about shopping.  But in pages and pages of healthy, happy chit-chat about raising boys, it was nearly impossible to find any boys-only moms complaining about the lack of sparkles in their laundry.

So who keeps talking about how sad we must be?  It seems the people most likely to think shopping in the pink section is important are people who are actively enculturating a little girl with prissy, Western notions of acceptable gender roles.  These people care very strongly about it.  But guess who doesn’t care much about it?  Everyone else.

Groaner at the Scholastic Book Fair

Groaner at the Scholastic Book Fair

Shopping may be a strange and backward place for flagrant plays of gender politics but it’s a real one.  Most of the time, gendered shopping is a marketing tool meant to get parents with kids of both sexes to buy double the merchandise they need because pink bicycles burst into flames if boys try to ride them.  It’s got nothing to do with what’s good for the human psyche and everything to do with selling products.

When it comes to underwear and tampons, I can see the wisdom in dividing the marketplace between the sexes.  But when I walked into the Scholastic Book Fair at my kids’ school this winter and saw a table labelled “Books for Boys,” I got angry.  Thanks, Scholastic, for making sure arbitrary gender division in education and the arts stay staunchly and clearly defined.

And thanks, I guess, to everyone harbouring any compassion for women who only mother children of the opposite sex.  Go ahead and feel sorry for us.  In truth, there are reasons for boy-moms to feel a little lonely – a little empty.  They’re real and I believe they’re profound.  The reasons women might mourn for never creating another human in their own image are existential, rooted in our personal identities, our senses of our own immortality, and our fears about dying alone.  And that makes the suggestion that our feelings are all about vapid unfulfilled shopping fantasies outrageously offensive.

Betty, Veronica, and My First Book Club

When looking back far enough to recall our teen years, it can be hard not to see them as a little mythic.  It’s not just athletes forced into retirement upon their high school graduations who’ll do it.  Adolescent psychology is marked by egocentric tropes like “personal fables” and “imaginary audiences.” To some degree, all kids believe they play a lead role in a Very Important drama staged before an audience of Everyone Ever.  This was true even before kids could tally their tumblr followers and Instagram likes.  I guess it was true for me too.

I went to two high schools.  The first was a huge school in an urban centre on the east coast.  While I was there, it made the national news for a racially motivated brawl.  It wasn’t a place known for school spirit.  We spent our days clustered in cliques, trying not to bother anyone, and then scuttled home.

My second high school was in a small prairie town founded by Christian farmer teetotalers.  The school was an Archie comic.  It came complete with pep rallies, junior prom, football players in lettered jackets, and a fight-song meant for sports events, not in-school race-riots.

The school culture was richer but it was also simpler.  Unlike my eastern school which demanded a slate of all-around stellar achievements from the kids selected for valedictorians, my western school had only one criterion: grades.  Ever since our class had been in elementary school, the contenders for valedictorian were clear.  By grade twelve, the contest had been narrowed down to two very smart girls.  In a closed system like an Archie comic, all the factors were familiar and easily tracked.  It was as if the two smart girls were Betty and Veronica and the object of their affection was the role of valedictorian.

Things stayed that simple until a friend of mine – the high school’s valedictorian from the class senior to ours – told me, “You know, there’s no reason you couldn’t be valedictorian too.”

I scoffed.  In grade eleven, I’d been a solid but lacklustre student.  A combination of the harder, faster, stronger Alberta math curriculum along with that dang mandatory gym class had torpedoed my average.  Archie didn’t even know I was alive.

Still, by the end of the first semester, the name at the top of the school’s honor roll was mine.  If nothing changed, I was on track to unseat the hometown smart girls.  The town’s competitive culture was closing in on me.  I was getting called an underdog, a dark horse.  Adults I didn’t even know personally were talking about me.  I had hype.  I had critics.  I had rivals.

The idea of rivals would play well if my high school drama was nothing but a story someone made up.  But it really happened.  And in real life, Betty and Veronica were more my helpers than my rivals.  If it wasn’t for Betty being my study partner in math, I never would have done well in the class.  I spent the whole course turned around in my chair with my elbow on her desk while we worked together.  The competition between the three of us was real but it was friendly and collegial.  I took it as a compliment when I came through the door of our social studies class in time to hear Veronica complaining, “What do I have to do to get a decent mark on an essay around here?  Pass it in with Jennifer MacKenzie’s name on it?”

Eventually, Archie ended up with me.  No one likes it when a non-canonical character is tacked on to blast away the integrity and continuity of an old story-line.  What made it worse was I didn’t deserve him – everyone knew that.  I was proof that the valedictorian criterion was flawed.  Betty and Veronica were much more accomplished and deserving than me.  Veronica was elected the equivalent of Homecoming Queen and Betty played so hard on all the sports teams she broke her cute nose.  All I could do was schoolwork.

I accepted the certificate, the cheque, the page in the yearbook, and the speaking gig at our graduation ceremony anyway.  And truthfully, I’m still glad I did.  There were grumbles in the crowd when I gave the speech at our graduation.  I couldn’t hear them but my parents sitting in the audience could.  I have a cousin-in-law who still talks about it to this day.

That was the last big drama of my teenaged years – the noisy, public finale.  But, as they say, high school never ends – not completely.

A little over twenty years later, I made my first appearance at a book club.  Because I’m such a slow reader, I’ve never belonged to a book club myself.  My first experience with one was as the author of the book in question.  I’d stepped out of turn again, just like I did in high school.  And I did it in the same town where that school from the old Archie comic still stands.  Hosting the club was my little sister’s best friend from our school days.  One of the members was Veronica herself.

“You invited my Nemesis?” she joked when she heard I was coming.  The rivalry was still just a myth – an exaggeration, a literary device working within the saga we and the people who still remember us tell about our teen years.

I’m always nervous when someone I know is reading my book.  My writer friends say that feeling never goes away.  It turns out I’m even more nervous when that person is the smart girl I spent a year chasing all over our high school.  If I’m actually a phony and my writing career is just a stupid pretense, Veronica would be able to tell.  If anyone in my history is justified in calling me out, it’s probably her.

Of course, this was all silly.  I was very moved by the things Veronica said about my book.  They were so gracious and thoughtful and earnest I can’t bring myself to repeat them but I will never forget them.  The questions she posed were piercing.  When she asked them, she cited the page numbers and read quotes directly, still the thorough, diligent student.  And out of everything else I felt upon seeing her again for the first time this century, what struck me was her voice.  It was pitched a little higher than I remembered it – prettier and kinder, not a Veronica’s voice anymore.

Regional Bestseller!

Edmonton Journal’s Bestseller List, Nov. 15, 2013

Our book was number 5 on the Edmonton Journal newspaper’s list of best-selling fiction yesterday. It was fifth after the Giller Prize winner, two collections by the Nobel Prize winner, and a Giller Prize nominee. I am very please and extremely grateful to everyone who has ever picked up a copy of Love Letters of the Angels of Death. Enjoy!

Dishin’ It Out: My Debut as a Reviewer

A fairly new literary magazine, The Rusty Toque, put out a call for book reviews last spring and I responded with this, a review of fellow Canadian Cold War kid author Rebecca Campbell’s debut novel The Paradise Engine.  Check it out:

http://www.therustytoque.com/review-jennifer-quist.html