poet, novelist
chewer of pencils

Recently in Readings/Signings/Events Category

Local friends! (And enemies, if any … ) Look! Words Worth Books is throwing a launch party for me and my friend R.J. Anderson.

I’m launching Sorrow’s Knot, and R.J is celebrating the North American release of the paperbacks of her book Knife, which was a best seller in the UK. (Finally! These books are so so good, y’all! Perfect for the middle grade lover on your list who likes fairies, but doesn’t them pink and sparkly. I often recommend them to people who can’t find them, so — FINALLY!)

In-store at Words Worth in Waterloo, Ontario. October 19th, at 3:00.

I just bought hand-shaped cookie cutters. There may be ill-omened baked goods.


TD Awards portrait.jpgSo. So, Plain Kate won.

This time yesterday I was going through a checklist: Little Black Dress? Check. Fresh manicure (cobalt blue)? Check. Big earrings? Check. An undergarment so supportive that I no longer bent in the middle? Check. Time to go off to the Canadian Children’s Book Centre awards, where Plain Kate was up for the big prize, the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award for most distinguished book for children. My goal for the evening was to not throw up. At least not on anyone important.

The event was at the Carlu, the old Eaton’s Centre ballroom from the days when department stores had ballrooms: a restored Art Deco beauty of a place. There were seven hundred people there: book sellers, librarians, publishers, editors, writers — all people who love children’s literature. There was great food (I was too busy to have any) and a drink named after Plain Kate, the Plain Kate-tini. (Vodka and Sour Puss Raspberry Liqueur.) So we mingled and schmoozed than then all us nominees got sent to sit in the front of the gorgeous theatre.

I had written a speech, just in case (remembering about Francis at the Tonys) and memorized it. But as I waited for the big award announcement, which of course came last, I got more and more nervous. I thought: If I have to get up there, my jaw will just drop open. Nothing good will come out. I figured I’d better make a cheat sheet, so I did, on the back of the program with a lipstick pencil. The awards ceremony was great, especially because all the books I was rooting for won. (The Agency! I Know Here! The Glory Wind!) Still, the “don’t throw up” goal was beginning to prove challenging.

And then — well. Then I won. Here is the citation:

“Plain Kate is a triumph of imagination. With astonishing skill, Erin Bow creates the world of Kate, whose talents as a wood carver mark her as a witch. The fascinating, intricate plot bravely explores the wrenching complexities of cruelty and of love. Bow’s prose is at once lyrical and raw, and her characters are indelible. This is a book that will be read for generations.”

I got up on stage without either tripping or barfing and stood there for a second. Frank McKenna handed me a very big cheque and told me to cash it right away, as the markets were taking a beating.

Wow, I thought. Big Room, I thought. Bright Lights, Big Room. Wow. I’m pretty sure my jaw did fall open.

But then I did collect myself and gave my speech. I have no idea what I actually said, but this is what I had memorized.

Erin Speaking TD Awards.jpg

This is my first novel, and I wrote it very slowly; it took me six years. It’s been very strange to put it out into the world. My Kate is an unloved and outcast girl — and yet when I put her out into the world, she was embraced. Maybe even loved. And while a writer is not her work, I can’t help feeling that I’ve been embraced, too, by the kind of people who are hear tonight: readers and writers and publishers and the true champions of children’s literature, booksellers and librarians. And for that I thank you, all.

There are of course some particular people I need to thank. First, TD and the Book Centre, for throwing this wonderful party for us. (Well, it’s a wonderful party for me.) It is good to see children’s literature on centre stage, not off in the side ring.

Second, of course, the Plain Kate team. It turns out (and as a poet I didn’t know this) that a novel is not just the work of an author. A lot of people who have put their professional energy behind Kate. Emily van Beek, my agent, loved her first — picked her out of the slush pile and read her while having her toenails done on rainy Tuesday. She called me the next day, I think. Emily found my editor, Arthur Levine. And from there the whole team at Scholastic, and in particular the wonderful people at Scholastic Canada, many of whom are here — everyone, thank you.

Finally, I want to thank some of the people who came here with me tonight. My husband James is here: my fellow writer, he’s been with me every paragraph of the way. Neither of us would be half as good a writer without the other. Thank you James. My mother’s here: She’s come a thousand miles out of her way for me, because she always does — everyone in my family always has. My little daughters Vivian and Nora — they are five and three — they are not here, because they have patience with Mommy’s A Writer. It would be hard to be a writer without that. So I thank them. Actually this is a complete lie, they cried when I left and I know they’re sulking now, but I have faith that someday they’ll be proud.

You know, everyone always says it’s an honour to be nominated, but truly — have you seen this list? I’ve read all these books. Burn — as a poet, I’m so pleased to see something formally adventurous get the nod. The Glory Wind — I just read that this weekend, and loved it so much the bath water got cold; it’s the best Middle Grade I’ve read this year. I really did Know Here. And of course I know there was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run, but now we can see that made fresh again. To be among that company is amazing. To be up here is beyond words.

(photo credits: Me and Frank McKenna and the stack of books — The Canadian News Wire Services. Me speaking: Carly Popenko.)

Here at my house, we're on count down till the TD Canadian Children's Literary Awards, which are given out October 4th. Plain Kate is up for the big prize! This is the nomination that saw me pop out to Vancouver to tape a session with the CBC Book Club. That's just gone up as a podcast, so you can listen to it here! (The link is right under my picture.)

If you're in Lethbridge, Alberta, tomorrow, you can catch me at the newest location for Canada's coast to coast literary festival, Word on the Street. I'll be beaming in via Skype to talk to teens (and anyone else who cares to come!) about writing, publishing, and Plain Kate. 12:00 Mountain Time. Check out the teen author line up: it's impressive.

And tomorrow at Kitchener's Word on the Street, I'm talking science and poetry for the local launch of the quarc project, a joint offering of the New Quarterly and ARC magazine. (This write-up (including the entertaining biography of me) shamelessly stolen from the TNQ blog, the literary type.)

The New Quarterly is celebrating The QuArc Issue this Sunday, September 25 at 4pm in the Arts & Culture tent at Word On The Street Kitchener (in beautiful Victoria Park).

Three of the many terrific QuArc writers will be reading from their work in the issue, talking about their writerly process and about how their interest in science informs their work (in this instance at least). In other words, they will tell the story behind the story (or poem, or literary experiment...). Our writers are:

Erin Noteboom Bow trained as a particle physicist and worked briefly at CERN and at Los Alamos National Labs, before switching gears and making a career as a writer. She has been struck by lightning, survived a brain tumor, and was excommunicated from the Catholic church (Lincoln, Nebraska diocese) for campaigning for the ordination of women. She has also written four books: two volumes of poetry, a memoir, and a young adult novel, and won the CBC Literary Award for Poetry. Erin's contributions to the QuArc issue include a comic discourse on the history and behavior of quarks and a poem, "Why A Bride Wears White," which draws its metaphors from scientific principles.

Sound poet Christian Bök was born "Christian Book" but changed his name "to avoid unseemly confusion with the Bible." He has published three collections--Crystallography, Eunoia, and Pataphysics: The Poetics of an Imaginary Science--but by his own reckoning is best-known for holding the world record for the fastest rendition of Kurt Schwitters' "Ursonate." Eunoia won the 2002 Griffin Prize (Canada's most prestigious award for poetry) and the book went on to sell 20,000 copies in Canada (no small feat for a book of poetry!). It was a best seller in the UK as well. Bök is a conceptual artist and has worked in science-fiction television creating alternative languages. Christian's contribution to QuArc describes his current project: creating a "living poem" by encoding it in the DNA of a long- lived virus and watching it evolve over time (really!).

Miranda Hill is a writer of short fiction and poetry. Her work has appeared in The New Quarterly, The Dalhousie Review, and The Fiddlehead and will soon be published in the 23rd volume of The Journey Prize Stories. Her first collection of short stories, Sleeping Funny, is forthcoming from Doubleday Canada. Hill is also the founder and executive director of Project Bookmark Canada, a national charitable organization that installs plaques bearing text from stories and poems in the exact physical locations where the literary scenes take place. The organization is working to build a cross-Canada network of installations that celebrate place, fiction, and poetry, enticing Canadians and visitors to read their way across the country. Miranda's contribution to the QuArc issue, a story called "Rise: A Requiem," is an interesting turn on the age-old tension between science and religion.

Tonight’s the night for the Sunburst Awards: Canada’s science fiction and fantasy awards, for which my Plain Kate is up. They’re giving them out at Harbourfront in an Oscar-style surprise.

I wasn’t nervous until last night — I really don’t expect to win this award, and I’ve been too busy being nervous about the TD and the Vancouver trip. But now I’m officially a little nervous. Evidence: I took my bike halfway to work before realizing I needed to go home for my suitcase and figure out some other way to transport myself.

Mom said to me on the phone last night: did you write a speech? And I said: a speech? She: In case you win. Me: Oh, sh*t. She: Well, I’m sure you’ll be better than Frances What’s-her-name at the Tonys. A high bar indeed.

I did officially have my nails done, concerns about such things (frocks, nails — not hair, note the advantages of shaving it off) being my default anxiety displacement mechanism. I’d never had a pedicure before. They’re NICE. Of course, then I decided to wear boots.

Look for me at Harbourfront tonight. I’ll be the one chewing on my perfect fingernails.

Greetings from Vancouver. Good times were had at the CBC Book Club taping this morning; Bookstores were located and stocked was signed per publicist’s request. So I feel all Official Author-ish.

Which is a strange way to feel. It’s a strange convention, generally, that writers should go out and be the public face of their books. After all, the core skill of an author is to sit alone and listen to the fictional people. Most of us are good at sustained alone time, at looking inward with a somewhat furtive intensity, as if we were eavesdropping with a cup against a wall. This is not a skill that translates well to, say, cocktail parties. But after the book is finished, we’re called upon (if we’re lucky — I know I’m lucky, this is not a complaint) to head out for the vast cocktail party of publicity — to meet people and tell them about ourselves and generally be charming. It’s just plain odd that we treat authors this way.

But we do, and so I’m here in Vancouver with my Official Author hat tilted just so. I get so nervous about this stuff. Deeply worked up. I didn’t sleep last night, and this morning I felt compelled to try on all three shirts I brought with me (one of them twice) and then post about that on Twitter. At least I don’t have hair to fuss with. Imagine the stress of that.

I get so nervous — and then it always goes just fine. In fact, I’m even good at it. Maybe I need the nerves in order to get the energy? I’m not sure. I do think no one I meet on these tours would guess how fundamentally introverted I am.

Anyhoo, the taping went well, and the audience had some interesting questions. I talked about physics more than I meant to — but then, people will always ask about it. I ended up explaining to someone, afterwards, how the quantum nature of the universe solved the problem of Newtonian determinacy and free will. I also pointed him to the official source for news about whether the Large Hadron Collider has destroyed the earth yet. I hope he feels better now that he knows these things.

And then I got to wander Vancouver a bit. What a stunning beautiful city. I had a Vietnamese style submarine from a street vender sandwich for lunch, a great unpretentious fusion of deli meats and spicy sour vegetables and sauce. I happened upon Hapa-palooza and had my heart thudded by a taiko (Japanese War Drum) performance. I caught a bus over the False Creek Inlet to another bookstore, and then James and I walked back from there, over the same high bridge: wind and sunshine, and unmatched views of the inlet and the mountains and the beautiful skyline. Now we are off for Stanley Park.

And I feel very luck to have fallen into such a strange convention, to get to trail my little book around the country. Thank you, TD, for sponsoring the Children’s Literature Award, and thank you, CBC, for featuring the nominees. It’s a privilege to be here.


Readers, I have been shopping.

Under the influence of my visiting (and very stylish) mother, I bought not one but two Serious Frocks.

One is a little black dress — not what I was shopping for, but so smashing, and I got the most amazing turquoise and gunmetal earrings to go with it. The other is a wrap dress in gunmetal, olive, and cobolt blue. Also bought: two pairs of quite impractical shoes. I’m having second thoughts about those. I normally wear flats with serious insoles — the kind made of half an oak’s worth of cork and holding several patents — and I bought Chinese Laundry three-inch “Barbie goes to the Party” heels. I may also need training wheels.

The Serious Frocks are needed for some serious parties. In fact, by the end of the month I am anticipating needing writerly life support, as I sink into some kind of introvert’s healing coma. Because here’s my schedule:

  • CBC Book Club Saturday, September 10: I’ll be in Vancouver doing the CBC Book Club, which is taped before an audience and broadcast later. Free tickets for the taping, folks! It’s at 11:00 AM. I don’t know when the broadcast is, but I’ll try to find out. It will be on North By Northwest, the BC-wide morning show, and on the internet.

  • Sunburst Awards Wednesday, September 14: I’m at Harbourfront in Toronto as part of a lineup of authors shortlisted for the Sunburst Award — Canada’s award for science fiction and fantasy. Holly Bennett, Paul Glennon, Guy Gavriel Kay, Douglas Smith, Hayden Trenholm, and Robert Paul Weston are also reading. And then they give out the award. Like the Oscars, but lower budget and geekier, and hey: doesn’t that sound like more fun anyway? Keep your fingers crossed for Plain Kate, which is up for the Sunburst in the Young Adult category.

  • Science in the Pub Friday, September 16: I’m home in Kitchener/Waterloo, and appearing at the Perimeter Institute’s popular Science in the Pub event at the Huether. It’s part of the Grand Opening Weekend for the new Stephen Hawking Centre. For discussion: Science vs. Art: which is more creative. (Somehow they didn’t mention the smackdown aspect of it when they were signing me up…) Rumour has it they’ve pulled in Ray LaFlamme for Team Science, which makes me heavily outclassed: Team Art supporters must come wave our far more beautiful flags. There is one event at 5:30 and one at 7:30: they are the same, so pick one or the other. Attendance is free but advanced tickets are required.

  • Telling Tales Sunday, September 18: I’m reading at Canada’s leading children’s literature festival, Telling Tales, in Rockton, Ontario. Anne of Green Gables and Mark Twain are also going to be there, in person. Free admission, though donations are accepted.

  • Word on the Street Sunday, September 25: I’ll be appearing via videolink at the newest location for the coast-to-coast festival Word on the Street: Lethbridge, Alberta. Since Plain Kate is up for the Alberta reader’s choice award, the Rocky Mountain Book Award, I’m hoping some folks will actually have read the book.

  • EEEK! The TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award Tuesday, October 4: Oh, my goodness, I’m going to the ball. Plain Kate is up for the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award for the most distinguished book of the year. This isn’t public, alas, but an “invitation-only gala” at the Carlu in Toronto. (Lah-de-DAH!) This, too, is like the Oscars: the winner will be announced on the night. Wish me luck: this award is a very big deal, especially for a first novel.

I shouldn’t go before I tell you my two favorite parts of the Serious Frock Adventure. The first is that my five-year-old Fancy Nancy daughter, seeing me model my little black dress and great big earrings, went to her jewelry box to get her new mood ring to complete the ensemble. I am to wear it, she says, to be extra beautiful.

The second is that I talked to my grandfather after shopping. To help you paint the stereotype in your head, I’ll tell you he’s a 90-plus retired farmer with an eighth-grade education and an Irish temper. To erase it, I’ll tell you he looks like Jimmy Cagney and dresses that sharp. And that my grandmother, who died last year, was a great beauty who took up modelling in her 70s, and had a closet full of smashing clothes, for which she made special trips to the city (Sioux Falls) with my grandfather proudly on her arm. She wore a hat and gloves to go into town to shop. She would not have dreamed of cork insoles. She is greatly missed. Anyway, I talked to my grandfather and he sighed and said: “Ah, you can’t beat a black dress.”