Alberta Highlights

Last week I was in Alberta for two events at Litfest in Edmonton, a launch in Calgary, and readings with Clem and Olivier Martini (authors of Bitter Medicine) in Red Deer and Lethbridge. I’ve never spent much time in Alberta, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. All I knew was that my publisher, Freehand Books, is in Calgary and their two staff members, Sarah Ivany and Robyn Read, appear to be the hardest-working, nerdiest CanLit fans ever to memorize the key points of The Perilous Trade by Roy Macskimming.

Well, now that I’ve spent a week with Alberta literary types, I can say that Sarah and Robyn are not anomalies — they’re part of a warm, welcoming, vibrant arts community. In Edmonton I met Alice Major, author of the intense, perfect collection of poems about her dad’s dementia, Memory’s Daughter, and devoured the first issue of Eighteen Bridges, the new literary magazine. The Litfest events — Writer Jam and A Brunch of Authors — were fun and dynamic, and I had great conversations, laughs and some tears with people afterwards. I cannot begin to express how wonderful it is to connect with people through my book and hear their stories about dementia and mothers and families and grief and joy/humour within pain.

And thanks to Litfest Director David Chereos for mentioning me in his list of festival highlights: “Hearing Sarah Leavitt mix self-deprecating humour, powerful memories and a keen understanding of craft in her Writer Jam presentation on the nature of the graphic novel.”

In Calgary I wandered through the restaurants and shops of 17th Avenue, Kensington and Inglewood, and walked across Prince’s Island through frosty grass and black wiry trees. I didn’t expect to be so captivated by the crisp weather and old buildings and pretty parks and lovely cafes, but I was (not to mention the heart-stoppingly gorgeous landscape between Calgary and Lethbridge). And meanwhile every day I learned something new from Sarah Ivany about the poets and novelists and non-fiction writers and publishing history of Alberta, and we went to the opening of a beautiful new independent bookstore, Shelf Life. We held the Calgary launch of Tangles at groovy Cafe Koi, and the audience was a great mix of writers, comics fans, Alzheimer’s Society folks and nurses — and we sold 70 books!

Then I travelled and read with brothers Clem and Olivier Martini, authors of Bitter Medicine: A Graphic Memoir of Mental Illness, which meant I got a peek inside the amazing relationship that they’ve developed over years of dealing with the impact of schizophrenia on their family. Clem is a passionate advocate for mental health services, and Olivier is an incredible artist with a wicked sense of humour. A super bonus extra was sharing the two-hour car ride from Lethbridge to Calgary with Clem’s partner Cheryl Foggo, a writer, filmmaker and historian. We had this epic talk about grief and loss and family and the songs in Tangles and black pioneers in Alberta and living the writing life (which is a pretty new topic for me) … Meeting Cheryl was a real gift and I keep thinking about things she said to me.

I did a few interviews with Alberta media while I was there — check out the links in the Tangles News and Reviews section.

Thanks for coming with me on this lovely book publishing adventure…

Reading and chatting with the Amazing! Lynda! Barry! Can you dig it?

The night before I was scheduled to read with Lynda Barry, I felt like my head would explode. I realized that I was going to meet someone in person who I had admired for many years, probably 20 at least. I had no idea what it would be like. The next morning I walked into the hospitality suite for the Vancouver International Writers Festival, and there she was, sitting at a table, with a red bandanna in her hair, looking just like she does in her drawings. She looked up and saw me, jumped out of her chair and came towards me with her arms outstretched, telling me how much she loved Tangles and how wonderful it was to meet me in three dimensions. It had never even occurred to me that she would have actually read my book. I had to sit down because I was shaking and laughing and crying. We just sat and looked at each other and sniffed. And then we just had the most wonderful morning of my entire life, talking and talking and laughing so hard. Nancy Lee arrived and the three of us laughed and talked more, then we did our event — reading from our work and then talking with Nancy and then taking questions from the audience. It was an inspiring and joyful discussion about creativity, hard work, what makes a “good” drawing, the silliness of aspiring to unreachable excellence instead of just doing your own work… I am in awe of Lynda’s brain, and her ability to draw and paint these intense, moving images of teenagers and demons and monkeys and chickens and magical monsters, and the way she fills up the stage with her tiny little self, and projects this love and acceptance, even as she talks about the overlooked power of hate, and how she likes to ask her students how they would kill someone, what method they would use.

Here are some photos from this Magical! Lynda! Barry! Day!

I think that was the best day of my life. Lynda’s so smart and funny and generous and just emanates love and passion but not in a syrupy way at all, in a kick-ass, hilarious, edgy, challenging way. Wow. I feel so incredibly blessed.

Vancouver launch of Tangles: photos!

Thanks to everyone who came out to the Vancouver launch of Tangles at Heritage Hall on September 21, World Alzheimer’s Day. About 150 people showed up (standing room only), and bought all the books we’d brought (100+). Freehand, my publisher, donated prints that were auctioned off to benefit the Alzheimer’s Society of BC, and provided lots of wine and food. My Dad and I baked 150 cookies for the event — a reference to the book, when I baked cookies the day my mom died. We had wonderful klezmer music by a thousand times no (Aaron Pettigrew and Evan Sutton) with accordion player extraordinaire, Tina Tew. I made it through my thank you’s without completely breaking down, and read about 5 chapters from my book. Thanks so much to Freehand, especially the wonderful Sarah Ivany for organizing this event, and thanks to all who came, volunteered, bought books, said hello, cried, laughed, shared your personal stories. What a great night!

Some photos from the indefatigable Teri Snelgrove: