Behind the Scenes: Kobo’s Going Going Gone Contest #3: The Reading.

A confidential peek behind the curtain at my secret Cinderella Going Going Gone contest deal with Kobo. Start with Part 1: The e-mail & Part 2: The Call.

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Okay! My mission was clear.

Read Gone Girl.

I’d heard of it, but never run out and read Gillian Flynn. Now that Kobo was commissioning me to write Gone Girl-inspired stories, though, you bet I immediately downloaded a copy (yup, from Kobo) and started devouring it.

Gillian Flynn’s writing blew me away.

So witty and funny, but underneath, saying very caustic, actually frightening things about intimacy and marriage. That romantic love might be the worst thing that ever happened to you. That you might be better off alone than trapped in a marriage with someone who only wants to make you suffer, and everyone else suffer, until the end of time, amen.

My favourite line was about how the real Amy wanted to punch her parents’ fictional Amy character in her stupid, spotless vagina. But I was constantly highlighting lines and honest to God laughing out loud (people always say lol, but I think most of them aren’t really splitting the atmosphere with their guffaws). Gone Girl was a tour de force: character, plot, humour, and…deviance.

Well played, Gillian.

Okay. I’d done my homework.  One of my book clubs had even picked Gone Girl as their next read. I’d cleared my mental writing desk, finishing my two Hope Sze short story submissions for Jewish Noir and Montreal Noir and revising my second mystery romp, The Goa Yoga School of Slayers.

Now what?

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Your Choose Your Own Adventure path is clear today: September 16th, Kobo releases the second Gone Fishing short story, Trouble and Strife. Download it, solve the riddle, and you’re 2/3 of the way to winning the prizes of $5000 and a Kobo H2O Aura so you can read underwater!

Merci bien to anyone from Sleuthsayers who stops by. My spies inform me that people around the world checked out the Cinderella sleuth post, including armchair detectives from South Africa, France and Germany. W00t!

Special thanks to Anne, my new friend who told me that she’s enjoying this “behind the scene” series, thus encouraging me to continue. Not only did she personally deliver wood for us this winter (“Good-looking wood,” said my father-in-law), but she’s coming to the Books & Bodies event on Saturday (her birthday), and she’s making cupcakes or muffins. My son Max nearly split himself with joy, and I wasn’t far behind.

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My Year of Yes: Looking for the Weird in New York=Sleep No More

I wanted to do something weird and offbeat in New York, and one suggestion that came up a few times on TripAdvisor was “Sleep No More.”

I looked into it, while trying to avoid spoilers.

Basically, I saw that you had to chase actors up and down a five-story warehouse in Chelsea, following the story of Macbeth. Most people loved it. A few people hated it, but they sounded like cranks. So, okay. I decided to buy a ticket.

The next problem was that the evening show was sold out except for a 6:30 dinner and a show. But it wasn’t your usual dinner and a show. No, you paid an extra $10 for the opportunity to purchase a prix fixe meal. Like most things in New York, it seemed designed to separate me from my money.

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I compensated by walking to the McKittrick Hotel. So, after waking up at 5:45 a.m., swimming, doing a photo shoot, driving 1.5 hours to our hotel, and walking 50 minutes to the Brooke Atkinson Theatre for “After Midnight,” I walked another 50 minutes to my next show, through the wind. So I was already done by the time I arrived.

I walked up to the dinner part, which was in a separate building, and chatted a little with the elevator guy. Hey, I’ve got to get my $10 worth of entertainment. I rode up, with old-fashioned music and the elevator guy twirling a pen, and stepped out on an upper floor. There were greeters. They’d turned the right side into a dining room with a live stage where musicians played. On the left, it looked like a train box dining car, which I loved. So I took a good look around (and used the bathroom), but since I was late and refused to spend any more money, I rode right back down the elevator, choosing instead to start the show right at 7 p.m.

We lined up. They swiped our ID’s. I’d heard about the mandatory $4 coat check, but just as I passed over my fleece jacket and coat, the guy mentioned that the bag check is mandatory, but the coat check isn’t. I took my coats right back, even though he warned me that it was “boiling upstairs, and most people come back down to check their coat later.”

Screw it. I’m usually cold. I kept my coats.

We were welcomed into a bar, where lovely ladies invited us to buy absinthe, “my love.” I sat in a chair and waited for the show to start.

Eventually, a guy made an announcement, and I headed off to the side, where we were handed a mask, advised to be silent and attend the show solo.

The cargo elevator was so massive, they stopped at three floors to let us off. Since I was crowded in the back, I got off at the last floor. Nearly everyone turned left, so I turned right and picked my way through the cemetery, which was mildly creepy, and came upon a woman rocking back and forth violently in bed.

In the massive bedchambers, I watched her rock back and forth, glanced at the photocopies of letters and started to read one, but it was too dim. The woman started rubbing “blood” off of the bathtub, so I knew she was Lady Macbeth, but I lost interest and started exploring.

Pretty soon, I got shut into a room with two actors who swung a lamp violently back and forth, almost hitting us and each other. The two other audience members and I backed against the wall, trying to get out of the way, while they seemed to interrogate each other, whipping the lamp to and fro. Then one of them opened the door, and it was over.

I also met a bunch of guys playing cars, and periodically, one of them  would nail a card to the wall, and then they’d start playing cards again.

I set off again, exploring various floors. Woods, which I recognized as Birnam Woods. And the best set, a dormitory with six wrought iron beds painted white, with crosses and books by the bed and a bedpan under each bed, lit with a soft blue light. It gave me a shock. This is what medicine used to look like: the cold, isolating ward rooms. The confinement of the tuberculosis sanatorium.

In the left corner stood a desk. They had taped tongue depressors, swabs, and pills on the wall and on the desk in an eerie display. Someone had recently passed by, so the rocking chair was still rocking. I sat down in the chair and opened the drawers, since I knew that was part of the set, and a man in a white mask loomed to my left: he and two others had seen me and assumed I was an actor, so they’d come around to watch me.

I left the room, turned the corner, and found six bathtubs. Two of them had uniforms carefully laid out inside them, mimicking a person. The middle one on the right contained a few inches of water, but I found it less eerie than the dormitory. And I was getting tired of looking at sets. I wanted some action.

Then I heard a voice. And since the audience is silent, I knew it had to be an actor. I followed the voice, and Lady Macbeth ran into the dormitory. She kicked a bed pan across the room, sobbing. A nurse came and consoled her, and led her to the bath. Lady MacBeth climbed into the tub, stark naked, and began rubbing her face. Slowly, she rubbed blood all over her face.

I’ve seen this movie, I thought, but I followed her back down into her bedroom, where she danced about, eventually climbing into a box-like frame and dancing some more. And then I had my revelation.

I wish someone had told me this was a contemporary dance piece.

There was almost no dialogue, so forget about any witty Shakespearean soliloquy. The music was loud and piped through the entire warehouse, sometimes light, sometimes forboding. The sets were cool, especially the dormitory, but I’m not going to pay $110 to wander around a nice building. And the story…I’m sure there was some sort of story, but I’m not convinced that was the main point. The main point was to run around them and chase them as they danced.

If I’d known that, I might have sat tight with Lady Macbeth, or waited for the card players to play out. Instead, I was subconsciously searching for the story: the words, the intrigue, the excitement, the PLOT, for heaven’s sake. Instead, I watched Lady Macbeth frame herself in her box, and wondered if I should seek out another dancer.

And then I realized that a maskless man had entered the room. He stared at Lady Macbeth, and the crowd parted before him. Eventually, he ran up to her and they danced together, on the bed, so passionate that part of me wanted to look away (and the other part of me stared).

Slowly, their dance changed, and he refused to look her in the eye and refused to kiss her, falling out of love with her in front of our eyes. She had him zip her into an evening gown, and they each left the room. A few people followed Lady Macbeth, but 90 percent of the crowd waded after Macbeth.

I must have trotted after 50 people, tracing Macbeth through the graveyard. I liked the part where he mimed hanging himself, which gave a perfect foreshadowing for the ending. He moved all around, so at one point, he was dancing right beside me. But I hated the feeling of being a sheep, trailing Macbeth in a crowd, so I broke off and followed the more minor characters.

The dancing was fairly magnificent. One guy climbed a stone wall, wedging himself in a kind of alleyway up to the ceiling, using his feet. The woman in the green dress, who looked like her breasts were about to burst of her dress (in a good way), did a lovely dance with a man in a sitting room, where she climbed on his shoulders and made her way almost up to the ceiling. I also loved the telephone booth dance, where two guys did a kind of S&M number (fully clothed)—just one was clearly dominant. They danced on top of bookshelves, wine racks, tables with full place settings—anything that got them up in the air. At one point, one guy was walking across the hallway, holding a door, and he had a showdown with the maid, who ended up jumping up and running across the door. Absolutely amazing.

But there was a serious problem, following the minor characters: they didn’t do as much.

I saw two of the dances twice. I thought, did I accidentally end up watching the second show, and they’re repeating everything? And then I realized, no. The minor characters just don’t have as much stuff to do in three hours, so they have to repeat it. Crap.

And no one can dance that vigorously for three hours, so occasionally, I’d end up climbing up and down stairs and into various rooms—only to see a guy combing his hair. Or the pregnant woman playing with baby clothes. Twice. (I really wasn’t crazy about the pregnant woman’s role. I thought a lot of her dances ended up with her or her partner’s hand on her belly and them looking soulful. Not too interesting.)

A third problem with following the minor characters was that a lot of them died. So you had to follow an ever-dwindling number of characters anyway.

A dance I really enjoyed was when they were in the ballroom. I loved the way they were so animated, and seemed to be talking to each other and really enjoying each other’s company. I could hardly keep my eyes off Lady Macbeth that time, she was so arresting. Then the music started to grind and pulse, and they all scattered again.

By 9:30, I seriously had sentimental thoughts about regular theatre, where I could sit in a comfortable chair and they had to bring the story to me, instead of me trekking up and down stairs and maybe losing the actors altogether or happening upon the boring bits. I considered leaving. I also sat in the banquet hall/ballroom for a few minutes, figuring that they’d probably do the finale here, and then I could just watch it, instead of potentially useless walking. I was certainly glad that Matt hadn’t come, because he would’ve hated it. I like the arts, but I was fed up.

I did pick myself up and follow people, but I just sat down at every opportunity. (That surgical saying: never stand when you can sit. Never sit when you can lie down. Never lie down when you can sleep.) At one point, an actor grabbed a woman’s hand and they rushed off, so we all tried to follow, but it turned out to be a dead end with two out of four doors locked. Sometimes, you just didn’t get to see the show, even if you were in the right place and almost the right time. (I did admire the room of hanging pheasants, though. And earlier, the dental chair with a lampshade made of dental X-rays. I thought the neck film was upside down, though, and thought about rearranging it, before I realized they wouldn’t appreciate my blow for medical correctness.)

Eventually, we did recongregate in the banquet hall/ballroom, and the finale was somewhat eerie, fascinating, frustrating, and heartrending—kind of like the whole night.

Overall, this was my only single experience in New York that ranged from two to five stars. I think I’m glad I went, but it definitely wasn’t easy, and you’d have to appreciate contemporary dance. I suggest following Macbeth or another major character for at least part of the night. And, of course, wear comfortable shoes.

French Kids Eat Everything (And Mine Don’t): Lessons from Karen De Bilion

When I read Karen Bakker De Bilion’s book, French Kids Eat Everything, my first reactions were

1) Guilt. My kids don’t eat enough vegetables.

2) Hey, this is a good book. Easy to read, honest, and intelligent, instead of know-it-all mommy propaganda.

3) Wait a minute, I know this woman. Sort of. She was my teaching assistant at McMaster’s Arts & Science Programme, before she left to become a Rhodes Scholar.

Evidence that my children eat, however imperfectly (Christmas 2011). Max eats shrimp, A. a little of everything.

All that said, this is what I took away:

1. Reduce snacking

I always pack a cooler for my kids, because I hate those hungry melt down screamfests. But it’s true, I am also enabling my picky son, because why should he try new things if he knows Mommy has packed pasta just the way he likes it? So today, en route to swimming lessons, I did give him a snack: half a corn on the cob. He gave the other half to Anastasia and they both gnawed away, content. Usually, I’d give him the whole lunch bag. He’d devour the pasta, and the veg would be an afterthought. Today, he ate pasta by the poolside after swimming.

2. It’s okay for kids to be hungry.

If my children cry, my first thought is, “Are you hungry?” Usually, they’re not. And French kids learn it’s okay to be hungry. It’s normal in between meals. And you learn self-control. So on the way back from swimming, instead of food, I gave them toy cars to play with. They survived. I’m also packing smaller lunches for Max. That way, he’s more likely to eat all of his cucumbers and red peppers. Hunger is the best sauce.

3. When you eat, socialize and make things beautiful.

A lot of times, my family ends up eating in the kitchen, Max sitting on the counter with his food, A. in her high chair, me +/- their dad eating standing up. Le horreur. So now I tell them, “Sit at the table, like normal people.” And I broke out the placemats, only I realized that part of the reason I avoid them is because most of them are from my mother and I don’t like them. So I ordered a bunch of furoshiki to use as placemats (good quality ones made and shipped directly from Kyoto at the best price, at furoshikishop.com. You’re welcome). In the meantime, I am trying not to read while I eat with them. You know it’s a bad sign when your kids pretend to read at the table, too. I put the books away and said, “Let’s talk.”

I also realized things that weren’t in the book. Like, my kids should eat more vegetables, but I’m not that concerned about it. They eat enough, and they adore nearly all kids of fruit. What I do want is to make more food–nothing is as good as homemade food with local, preferably organic ingredients, but I’ve cut waaaaaay back on cooking in the past year+, what with a new baby, a new publishing empire, and heading back to the emergency room. So I did try Karen’s bouillabaisse recipe, which was surprisingly good. The orange peel (I used lime) cuts the fishy flavour, and puree-ing it eliminates the chunks. A. had some. Max only tried it, but that was okay. I told him, “You haven’t tried it enough times yet.” (He wouldn’t try it a second time. Ah, well.)

I also realized that I want to make more Chinese food. Maybe 10 percent of what I make is Chinese food, but I have happy memories of making dumplings and egg rolls with my family, as a kid. The first thing I made after this book was egg noodles. A. liked them.

And I’m always trying for more vegetarian fare. Easy, quick, yummy Asian vegetarian food–that’s what I’m gunning for. But just cutting up broccoli takes up so much f-ing time. Anyway.

It’s a good book. Read it.

One final note: have you ever heard of this book, Japanese Women Don’t Get Old Or Fat? It’s good, too. But it’s not a bestseller like French Women Don’t Get Fat. North American culture believes that the French and Italians have the secret key to joie de vivre/la dolce vita, but the truth is, if you stay active and eat lots of fruit and vegetables joyfully, with your family and friends, you will probably stay healthy, no matter what your culture is.

P.P.S. One time in the ER, a man asked me how to lose weight. I said, “Eat right and get a dog.” But that’s another story.

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