Thursday, August 1, 2013

Meet our Readers - Ania Szado

Ania Szado's new novel, Studio Saint-Ex, is a national bestseller in Canada and has sold to five countries to date. Her first novel, Beginning of Was, was regionally shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia, and an AOCA from Ontario College of Art. Ania currently mentors writers one-on-one. She is the 2013 Writer in Residence for Whistler, BC, and will be teaching creative writing at University of Toronto in 2014. Visit her website:
Excerpt from Studio Saint-Ex by Ania Szado
Long after I had exhausted my shallow store of inspiration, Antoine still wrote, oblivious to his setting, to the hard floor under him, to me. I felt I was watching a man possessed by a zealous ghost, so unearthly was his silent intensity.
Then, without warning, an invading imp dislodged the zealot from his head. He turned around to grab at my legs, pulling me onto him as I fought and squealed.
“What have you drawn?” he asked, laughing.
I blushed. “I’ve designed a coat. For your prince.”
“Really? Have you sketched a whole wardrobe for the Little Prince? I will ask my publishers to offer him for sale as a paper doll.”
At first I thought he was serious. Imagine if my work could be produced on the scale of Antoine’s—and with his blessing! But he had made a sound, a truncated laugh that was almost a grunt. He was joking . . . or he wasn’t amused at all.
I said, “Better ask your prince what he thinks of the idea. He’s the one who told me to make him a coat.”
Now Antoine did laugh. He joined me on the sofa. “It’s true that princes can be somewhat demanding.”
“He’s right, though. He’ll be flying very high. Think how cold the air will be up there.”
Antoine nodded. “You have designed for him a very regal coat.”
“It’s not too much like a dressing gown?”
“Not at all.”
“I could put some ermine on the collar.”
“He’s just a child. Ermine is for kings.” He pointed to the prince’s shoulders. “You might add a little something here. Boys like a bit of glittery metal.”
I gave him my pencil, and he added a few quick lines.
I asked, “How about giving him a scepter?”
“What for?”
“To show his royal authority.”
Antoine thought for a moment. “I will write of authority, but not the prince’s. He has so much to learn.” He gestured for me to show him more sketches. “What else?”
“Nothing worth showing.”
“Shall I read to you what I have written so far?”
“I would love it.” I put my sketchbook on the table and leaned against him, studying the drawings that illustrated the text.
He began reading from his manuscript. “‘Once, when I was six years old . . .’”
Antoine read, his voice swelling like a springtime stream brought forth by the life he had created. And what a boy he had made. Antoine’s unruly charm, my blond hair; so curious and touching; so vexing. So lonely and far from home.
Antoine’s child. Yearning grew in me like thirst.
I was so taken with the story that when he broke off, I said, “Don’t stop! It’s not done.”
“I told you so, Mignonne; that is why I came here. I still have much work to do.”
“But I want to hear the rest.”
He chuckled. “Then perhaps you should greet me more warmly next time I show up to write.”
“You’ll come back? You feel productive here?”
“It went very well, compared to my last couple of nights. When I try to work in my apartment, the voice of the city through the windows has a distressing sound. There’s no sense of that here. It is so empty and still.”
“But not entirely quiet.”
“The sounds are different, and the feel. This place was built for hard, honest work. One doesn’t sense the piling up of people in their skyscrapers. There’s dignity in this building’s bones. You must feel the energy put out by buildings; I am sure your father did.”
“I felt it when we went to Bernard Lamotte’s.”
“Le Bocal. Yes. It is a very good place. It is like a little piece of France.”
“Is it? I’ve never been to France.”
The contentment in his expression fell away. “And now you can never see France as it has always been. Soon there may be no France at all. Oh, Mignonne, it breaks my heart to think of what you will never see or feel.”
I rubbed his shoulders. “Lie down.”
He stretched out, and I eased his head to my lap.
He closed his eyes as though to stop tears from escaping into the crow’s-feet wrinkles that radiated toward his temples. “You are kind to me. And I am so alone. There is no one who shares my memories, not a single man left on earth. The men I have flown with, friends I have lived with . . . Guillaumet, Mermoz . . . the entire Casablanca-Dakar team with Aéropostale, every man on the South American route . . . they are all gone. Disappeared with the mail, crushed, some of them melted with their machines. I am the only one still alive, the last who can still give his life to some greater good.” His tone grew ashamed. “And I do nothing; I lie weeping. France is imprisoned and I am of no use.”
“Don’t say that. The tide will turn. You’ll go back to France and see it free.”
“All I need is one signature. But I am shackled by spineless imbeciles who think I am too old to fly. At least I can believe that you feel there is hope. I knew from when I first met you: you are honest. You are not afraid to tell the truth.”
The truth was, I had told him what he wanted to believe. As I touched his lined brow and traced the scar at the edge of his mouth, I prayed he would see his beloved France liberated—but also that he would never fly again. I had never known so abused a body, so anguished a spirit, so vital a mind. So many times he had been flung into the ground. He would rather be dropped by the hand of God than be banished from the skies.
In my lap, Antoine said, “Once, I was lost for four days in the Libyan desert, with my mechanic Prévot. We were desperate for water. I spread out my parachute to try to catch the dew. In the morning, there was nothing; not a single drop. I just stared. I could not even make tears. I remember thinking that even my heart was dried out.”
Moisture beaded on his lashes. They gathered in points like black stars. I touched them gently. “Your heart isn’t dry anymore.”
“But it is cold, like the heart of this city is cold. Talk to me, Mignonne. Make me love life.”

Monday, July 1, 2013

Meet our Readers - Elizabeth Ruth

Welcome to a new feature on the (Not So) Nice Italian Girls & Friends blog! We will be featuring the new work of our featured writers on a rotating basis. This month's selection is Elizabeth Ruth's Matadora. 

Sunrise in late august, wind sweeps through the valley of the Sierra de Grazalema and the morning air shimmers with red dust. Twelve-year-old Luna balances on the edge of the white stone wall that circles the ranch house. She is captivated by the silhouette of a lone Sangre Caste bull on top of the hill, a valiant statue cut from the dawning light. She can’t look away. Already she knows: love is a dark and dangerous animal. For love, you must be prepared to die.

The wind picks up, flattening the skirt of her work dress against her bare legs. She leans into it and its sad lament. Mama, it whispers, washing over her with the inevitability of loss. She scans the dry, yellow hill where the bull swings his head from side to side. She’s wandered the silent cork forest in her rope-soled sandals looking for some evidence of peace but has yet to find the unmarked grave. She’s searched the property each season, dug with bare hands under a common cypress tree. Recently, she searched her own image in Doña García’s ivory hand mirror, hoping to find consolation there. But death offers no consolation to the living; she wants something more.

Teetering, she spreads her arms out like wings. Today she’ll lift her feet from the stony equator, soar with the birds chained so magically to the sky. Today will be the day she doesn’t return to the house. She closes her eyes, face tilted into the rising sun, and prepares to give herself up to flight. With a silver coin squeezed in her palm, she jumps, and for an instant she’s more than the orphaned bastard she was branded at birth, more than a servant; she is one of God’s creatures. She can fly.
Excerpted from Matadora published by Cormorant Books (2013). 

Elizabeth Ruth's first novel, Ten Good Seconds of Silence was a finalist for the Writers' Trust of Canada Fiction Prize, the Best First Novel Award and the City of Toronto Book Award. Her second novel Smoke, was chosen for the 2007 One Book One Community program. Elizabeth's third novel Matadora, about a female bullfighter in 1930's Spain, was published in Canada in spring 2013. The Globe & Mail said of Matadora: "This searing, sensual novel is an adventure not to be missed." NOW Magazine placed Matadora at #3 on their Must Read Books List. Elizabeth Ruth teaches at the University of Toronto and mentors through the Humber School for Writers.

For more information on Elizabeth's writing and to see a book trailer for Matadora please go to her website
Follow Elizabeth on Twitter at @ElizabethRuth1
You may purchase her book here.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Meet our Readers - Koom Kankesan

Welcome to a new feature on the (Not So) Nice Italian Girls & Friends blog! We will be featuring the new work of our featured writers on a rotating basis. We begin with ... 

Big Trouble in Little Eelam or Rajapaksa meets Rob Ford
by Koom Kankesan

Rajapaksa and Gota fussed with their disguises in front of the mirror at the airport bathroom. Rajapaksa had shorn his head and wore a bright orange robe to look like a Buddhist monk. He had asked for a disguise that made him look like Caine from Kung-Fu but the robe reminded him of the time he had worked on The Dream of Dharmapala – how easier things had been then when he simply wanted to be a cinematic heartthrob and dramatic genius! Instead, he had become another kind of star, the leading actor in the new exciting drama known as Sri Lanka's Wars, Part IV: A New Hope. The progression of states and epochs in the island's bloody history were like lives lived, each phase as different from the other as if the island itself were going through reincarnations until it shook off its dire karma and emerged into the light of a brand new nirvana. A light that he, Rajapaksa, would usher in as its crowning Buddha.

Gota was dressed like Tupac Shakur. Rajapaksa sighed. What was wrong with his younger brother? He suspected it was nothing that medication could not fix. Even his ghostly father's spanking had not done the trick. If anything, Gota had become even more moody and sullen since that time, as if the spanking from the ghost of their father had reverted him to a sullen teenager, a child. He withdrew into his inner sanctum for hours on end or fed his sharks at his home compound and would entertain no visitors. Indeed, the ministers were hesitant to visit him there as he and his wife fed their 'children' slabs of raw meat which were eagerly consumed amongst rows and rows of teeth while a litany of swear words and four letter rants emitted from the living room speakers: Puff Daddy, Mase, Biggie Smalls, and of course, Gota's favourite, 2Pac.

In fact, Gota was wearing a 2Pac t-shirt right now, saying 'Thug Life' on it, a yellow FUBU jacket, Phillies baseball cap, retro Air Jordans, and Beats by Dr. Dre headphones. Rajapaksa and Gota were dressed incognito and travelling passenger class, like peasants, to Scarborough. Scarborough was part of the Greater Toronto Area, the de facto capital of Canada, and was said to hold the greatest concentration of Sri Lankan Tamils outside Sri Lanka. It burned his pride that so many Tamils had escaped the scourge that he and the other Rajapaksas had visited on their country. Somehow, these bastards had survived and thrived, only amassing their hordes and secret fortunes so they could continue their wicked terrorist ways in the new world. Not if Rajapaksa could help it!

It was Basil, the idea man, who had come up with the idea for this trip. Rajapaksa had been morose of late with no outlet for his mighty and imperious energies. Tourism was booming in Sri Lanka. The country's star was rising in the pan-Asian basin. They had finally fired that troublesome woman editor at The Sunday Leader. The future looked as cloudless as Colombo's bright skies. It would take Detective Columbo himself to discover the buried skeletons in Colombo's history! Rajapaksa's poor wife bore the brunt of his excess energy but she gave as good as she got.

Canada was a peace loving and unsuspecting country. Like a fat turtle, it might be just the place a ferocious and ravenous lion such as himself could find his next meal. So he and Gota were off to Scarborough or Little Eelam as they liked to call it. Without a worthy opponent like Prabahkaran to sharpen his claws against, Rajapaksa worried that his considerable energies would decay and founder. A scouting mission was just what was called for. They would go to Little Eelam and see what was what. With any luck, this time next year, a host of Chengdu J-7 fighter planes, on loan from Hu Jintao and the Chinese, would be carpet bombing the Scarborough Towne Centre.

“Do you have the passports, brother?” asked Gota, making sure his untucked T-shirt was just perfect.

“You must call me Field Commander Rajapaksa while we're on this mission,” replied Rajapaksa.

“Fine. Then I want to called Gota Shakur.”

Rajapaksa sighed. Was there no one in his family, besides himself, who had inherited any sense?

7:55 a.m. Toronto time.

Gota and Rajapaksa got out of a cab on Markham Rd. in Scarborough, just north of the Macdonald-Cartier Freeway. They knew the offices to the Canadian Tamil Congress were around here. Pulling their small suitcases with wheels on them up the grassy bank, the two brothers looked for the office building on Milner Avenue. They were pointed towards a suite by some helpful but giggling office workers. Rajapaksa assumed that they had never seen a pious Buddhist before.

The brothers entered the suite but no one was there. Beside the abandoned reception desk was a large stuffed tiger, its whiskered face staring benignly at them. A framed photo of Prabahkaran, smiling during better days, looked down upon them from the wall.

Rajapaksa put two and two together. “It's a terrorist cell!” he cried.

The unexpected and sudden discovery scared his brother. His voice quivering, Gota tugged at the folds of Rajapaksa's robe. “Big brother, I'm scared!”

Rajapaksa used to hate it when Gota had done this as a kid. The boy would get scared of the dark and come to him for emotional succor. “Pull yourself together!” he hissed. “You're the secretary of defense! What would Tupac say?”

“Hai! hai! Hai!” came sounds from the basement.

“What are those sounds, big brother?” whispered Gota.

“Terrorists performing their terrorist rituals, obviously” declared Rajapaksa. “They're probably sacrificing a kitten. Let's go see...”

“But I'm scared,” reiterated Colombo's Secretary of Defense. Honestly, he was like Scooby Doo shaking and trembling before going into a haunted house! Would Rajapaksa have to pick him up and carry him down the stairs?

“Hai! Hai! Hai!” came the terrorists' chants, in unison, stripped of their individuality, brainwashed to obey and act like machines, their indoctrination audible through the simplicity and repetition of their cries.

Rajapaksa pushed open the door, trying to make it creak as little as possible. The brothers, by themselves, would have made the stairs buckle and groan. Together, it was all they could do to stop the pinewood stairs from splintering and collapsing. Luckily, their shifting steps were drowned out by the kathas and choreographed movements of a class of eight year old Tamil girls doing karate lessons before school.

Sensei Lakshman was the master of the dojo and he ran the class for girls. His mother and sister had been killed by a mortar blast during the heavy siege of their village in the early months of 2009. Sensei Lakshman had only lost his sight but his mother and younger sister had been killed. He bore an especially poignant hatred for Rajapaksa. Lakshman channelled it by teaching karate to little girls so they could defend themselves, so they would not become victims like his poor mother and sister. On especially maddening days, when the memories were most potent, he had the girls practice their roundhouse kicks on a punching bag with a black and white image of Rajapaksa's face taped to it.

Now, Sensei Lakshman may have been blind but his other senses were sharp. He acutely heard the bend and heave in the stairs as they took on their added load. Rajapaksa and his brother descended cautiously down the steps but Sensei Lakshman turned towards them and spotted their wheezing and smell as if Goebbels and Goring had walked into a Jewish deli, speaking German. The venerable sensei's blood boiled and war sirens started going off between his ears. He thrust an accusatory finger at the two intruders and yelled to his charges, “Attack!”

The eight year old girls stopped their kathas and turned around in slow motion. Their little black terry cloth karate robes billowed and swooped around their swivelling bodies. The ends of their belts slapped against their lengthy ponytails. They recognized the three dimensional likeness of the face they had been practicing upon. Without question or hesitation, the class of eight year old Tamil girls leapt forward and aimed their roundhouses at Gota and Rajapaksa. A flurry of honed, driven eight year old feet slapped the two brothers' faces, bellies, and thighs. It was like being stung by a hornet's nest.

“Retreat! Retreat!” cried Field Commander Rajapaksa and the two brothers scurried up the steps, the pine groaning and moaning, and stumbled out of the office as the swarm of young hornets chased them across the parking lot.

Their suitcases long abandoned behind them, the priest and rap enthusiast hurried down the grassy knoll and tried to flag a cab.

“Hai, hai, hai!” the cries of the eight year old karate students pursued them, promising imminent destruction and a world of pain.

“Let's split up, bro!” panted Gota. He took some sachets of bubble gum he had in his FUBU jacket's pocket and threw them in the air. The gum scattered as it fell to the ground and the little hornets stopped to pick up the sweet sweet sugar. Gota had a natural instinct for eluding Tamils and Rajapaksa realized it had not diminished in the intervening years.

“Okay, you're right – they won't be able to pursue us both,” he wheezed. “What are you going to do?”

“I'll take a bus,” replied Gota and ran after a red and white TTC bus which slowed at a nearby stop. “Good luck, bro!”

Rajapaksa picked up the folds of his robe and began running again. He saw a large SUV stop at the red light across the street and ran for it. A large burly man sat in the front seat, texting furiously while others honked their horns around him. The girls came sprinting to the intersection but the light had changed against them. Having been taught about observing crossing lights and to guard themselves against 'stranger danger,' they opted not to run through traffic.

Grabbing the door of the SUV and pulling it open, Rajapaksa jumped inside. “Go, go!” he yelled, “I'll pay you anything! Just get me out of here!”

The burly man stopped texting and turned around, twisting his lips in surprise and alarm. The straw blond spikes in his crew cut seemed to jump up in alarm from his head. “Why? What's going on? Is it the goddamned press?”

To continue ... and to see who this "burly man" with blond spikes is please go to Koom Kankesan's website at koomkankesan. You may also order the book by clicking on the cover of the book featured in the right column of the blog. above.