First, the link: a tribute to the acknowledgements page — which tells “the story behind the story”. Second, me bitching: I have complicated feelings about acknowledgements pages, and have come to dislike them. They can get pretty egregious. Like handing the mike to a grandparent at a wedding. When will it end? Who AREN’T they thanking? Well, old Grampa Zeke has the mic now and we just have to wait this one out.

Worse-still are the super-name-droppy ones wherein the author tries to head criticism off at the pass by tying themselves to powerful people, etc. It’s like kissing your imaginary cross and holding it up and saying, “first I’d like to thank Jesus, my lord and saviour” at an awards ceremony, except with Margaret Atwood in the place of Christ.

In fact, I have come to largely dislike a lot of the meta bits of books: dedications, bios, author photos, etc. etc. And for my last four books, I’ve really tried to keep that stuff to a minimum: brief dedication, if one at all; no head shot; no blurbs; brief bio; and an acknowledgements page that lists a few journals, some grants (we’re actually obligated to note these as part of the conditions of receiving our grants), and the people who actually worked on the poems within. If I can get it all into one paragraph, I’m happy. I mean, no one cares who I hang out with, nor does anyone want to watch me age via headshot, anyway — least of all me. It’d be like time-lapse of a head of cabbage rotting in the crisper.

That said, for this next book, a selected poems covering 25 years of work, I went with most of these things at the encouragement of my publisher: headshot, dedication, blurbs from writers I admire, 2 page acknowledgements, etc. Listen, it was covering six previous books as well as some new stuff. And that means six or seven books of people and publications to cite. Sue me. I broke my own rule. At least I have left Jesus and Peggy out of it.

The acknowledgments remind me of a playwright’s list of characters that come before the first act, a glance into the cast of a life and how a book is made. There are lovers, chosen families and birth families, friendships cascading from childhood into adulthood. There are teachers and classmates, the traces of the classroom where books sometimes begin. The agents and publishers and editors who have ushered forth the words between the covers. There are the institutions and residencies that, stitched together, create a map of where the book was written. And of course, there are the fellow artists, the writing groups, the people a writer thinks alongside, the strange blending of heroes become friends, of friends who are our teachers and most honest critics. The ones who saw the early scaffolding of a book and coaxed it along, staking it up like a tomato plant. In the white space around the black ink, I see the fury and exhaustion and hunger and mourning and delight of comradery in the process of making a book. 

Tuesday newsday

From “Cat Person” to THAT person

It’s raining analysis! Everyone seems to have a take on this hot button issue (lolz), but few are as smart as Ms. Ninja’s. Elisabeth de Mariaffi writes about the nature of truth and fiction in Macleans.

The entire weight of Cat Person, what made it resonate, was exactly the part that Nowicki says bears no resemblance to the truth—the dynamics between the pair, the bad sex, and the gut-punch ending, which “diverges completely from [her] reality.” It’s reasonable that Nowicki was taken aback to find the little details that matched. One wonders why Roupenian didn’t think to change them. In the end, do they even matter?

Fictional stories are not true stories. Fiction writers do not transcribe the truth, but rather use elements from life to create stories that feel Deeply True— so deeply true that they become universal. That resonance is what made Cat Person a success.

Happy publication day, The Retreat

Elisabeth de Mariaffi’s The Retreat gets its Canadian release today (with HarperCollins). American release (with Mulholland/Hachette) is the 22nd.

I’m going to be honest with you, it’s a great book. Yes, I’m married to her, but I was genuinely wrapped up in the tale. It’s odd to look across the breakfast table now and think, “Gee, that mind came up with some seriously terrifying things. Should I be worried?” But seriously, it’s a good read. I mean, getting inside the mind of someone who lives as physically as a dancer is already no easy feat — but doing so while subjecting her to the level of stress and terror in this book is amazing.

Maeve Martin has given up so much in her life and just wanted to take two weeks at a remote mountain arts retreat to kickstart her career after an abusive marriage and a difficult birth that left her unable to dance. At first, she is able to put the world aside and get back to her passion, but then a freak storm causes and avalanche that traps her in the resort with a handful of other artists. The wildlife outside, including a grizzly, is off-kilter as well, and the sense of being hunted out there is thick with dread. That’s until it starts to become apparent that people inside are being hunted as well. Maeve is a fascinating character: full of doubt, regret, strength, and ambition.

Go buy it from your local bookstore, or order direct from HarperCollins from the link above.

Cat Person scandal grips literary world by throat, shakes it like felted mouse

Ok, so this came up while I was away and Ms. Ninja tried to explain it to me, but I didn’t really get it. Then I found this article in BookForum that sent me to this article in Slate in which a woman claims that the viral New Yorker piece “Cat Person” is her life story: stolen. Except, you know, all the important bits that make the story what it is and caused it to go viral. So…. Um? Anyway, remember when Michael Winter used to get in shit for including very-thinly-veiled versions of people he knew in his stories? Remember every other fiction writer out there doing basically the same? I’m not sure what the problem is here. The ideas have to come from somewhere. And fictionalizing the otherwise boring events of the average set of events are standard practice. You’d think a writer would know that. Sure, it must feel weird, especially when so much attention goes to something you feel you were a part of but didn’t actually get credit for having d….. Oh….wait. Right. I see. Here’s a great context piece on the whole thing.

Nowicki was traumatized by the experience of seeing herself reflected so specifically in fiction in this way, and who can blame her. The experience of reading “Cat Person” was eerie enough for many women as it was. She, as many did, wondered how Roupenian had managed to access her interior world so vividly. Add to that the jarring realization that a passing glance at her real life had inspired its set pieces, and a certain kind of existential crisis seems inevitable.

However, as Nowicki goes on to explain what really happened with “Charles,” including a significant three-year relationship and a protracted break-up, it quickly becomes clear the story was not really based on them at all.

Even Nowicki acknowledges this at the outset:

“Some of the most pivotal scenes—the sexual encounter and the hostile text messages—were unfamiliar to me.”

But in “Cat Person,” the sexual encounter and the hostile text messages are the story. Nowicki—understandably—can’t get past the specter of “Charles” and his exploits with a younger woman from her home town, working at the movie theater where she worked. To her, these details are the most interesting part, and for good reason. But that is not the case for the general reader. To everyone else, they are not only not especially unique or noteworthy, they are wholly immaterial.