Writing less to say more

51lvoalt-2l-_sx323_bo1204203200_A few months ago, I moved into my first home! It’s a 600 square-feet condo, which isn’t considered small for Toronto these days, but certainly, it cannot be called big. So I whittled down my book collection and swore that I’d only buy ebooks going forward.

Those who read Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up will recall that she says you should buy books and read them immediately. She tells her readers to throw out books they never got around to reading because they will likely never read them.

But that has been the case for me. In my cleaning, I found a copy of Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. And I thought I’d hang onto it because he’s supposed to be a classic and I so rarely read classics.

But I regret not reading Hemingway sooner because his writing confirmed for me, that the best writing is simple. You don’t have spell things out with big words, fancy jargon and flowery descriptions. And when you’re as good a writer as Hemingway, you don’t need any of those things to convey exactly what you want the reader to feel.

fbf7be6f9c3dabeafe5bd13af1023e70I had always heard that Hemingway had a way of writing simple prose. He’s often said to have written the six-word story: “For sale, baby shoes, never worn.” As I learned from reading The Moveable Feast, six words from Hemingway can hit you like a bag of bricks. And in today’s 140-character world, brevity is important.

But enough crushing and gushing over Hemingway’s word count — The Moveable Feast is just a great read. I don’t love Paris but I love his Paris. Can there be a theme park where you get to play a broke writer who drinks with other tortured writers of the time?


Interview with Rita Leganski, author of The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow

bonaventure_rita_leganskiA while back, I reviewed The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow and told you that I loved it so much, I almost didn’t want to tell you about it. That would be silly of course, because great books need to shared.

So you can imagine how excited I was when Rita Leganski agreed to an interview for Broken Penguins! Here’s what Rita had to say about her first novel and on her next project:

BONAVENTUREDescribe the Silence of Bonaventure Arrow in 140 words:

Two months before Bonaventure Arrow is born, his father is murdered by a character known as the Wanderer. When that happens, sorrow takes away unborn Bonaventure’s voice and replaces it with magical hearing. What follows is a tale of heartbreak, guilt, and atonement gone wrong. But then there is healing, brought about by this silent and gifted little boy who shares his name with a mystic-turned-saint.

The story is an exploration of human nature—its guilt, its envy, and its willingness to judge. But it tells as well of our better attributes—compassion, forgiveness, and a willingness to let go. There are a number of universal truths woven into THE SILENCE OF BONAVENTURE ARROW. Some have to do with the darker side of the human experience, while others speak of the very best in humanity; namely, our capacity to love.

Bonaventure takes place in a fictional Louisiana town called Bayou Cymbaline. I’ve noticed that you’re a big Southern lit fan even though you’re from Wisconsin. I’m a big Southern fiction fan too and I’m from Toronto! What attracts you and other “literary snowbirds” to this genre?

While I was growing up in northern Wisconsin, I thought of the South as an enchanted place and of New Orleans as the very embodiment of magic. I suppose it was the thought of all that lushness contrasted with the long northern winters with their vast expanses of snow. Southern literature also tends to revolve around really quirky characters. We literary snowbirds must harbor a liking for peculiarity.

Bonaventure has two very religious grandmothers! Do you consider yourself a religious or spiritual person? How did this influence the novel?

Yes, I would describe myself as religious (I’m a practicing Catholic). Through various characters, I tried to show not only how religion SHOULD influence us, but also how it SHOULD NOT. I integrated Catholicism and hoodoo spirituality in the character of Trinidad Prefontaine in order to reveal that goodness is not confined to one set of beliefs.

Do you believe in magic?

It’s a favorite writing tool of mine, but I don’t really believe in magic. I do, however, believe in divine intervention.

You mentioned on Twitter that it was -50 degrees where you were during the recent cold snap! What did you do during this time? What would Bonaventure and Dancy do?

I spent those frigid days working on the next novel. I drank hot tea and stayed toasty warm in my sweaters and jeans and thick socks and puffy slippers. Bonaventure and Dancy would make the spiciest gumbo they could possibly come up with in an effort to get warm from the inside out.

What’s next for Rita Leganski? Can we look forward to another novel? Please say yes!

I’m working very hard on another novel. Although it’s not a sequel to Bonaventure Arrow, it’s magical realism again but this time a love story. It takes place from 1916 – 1946.

Thanks so much for sharing your insights with us Rita! I look forward to reading your next novel and hopefully, the many more to follow. 



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The Elements of Style


English is a ridiculously hard language. You could argue that Chinese is harder to write, that German is harder to speak and that French snobbery makes it impossible to practice. BUT English has stupid rules that make little sense and have many exceptions.

As someone that calls English their first language and spends most of her days getting paid to write, I will admit that grammar can still be a struggle.

strunkwhiteBut I’m constantly trying to cozy up to the beastly thing. Beyond grammar and spelling, there is a thing called style. And as Yves Saint-Laurent once said, “Fashions fade, style is eternal.” That’s why I’m reading Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style.

The Elements of Style is pretty cheeky for a teeny, tiny textbook on writing text. But it’s pretty boring reading a textbook and it’s not easy to memorize a book full of rules. So I’ll be sharing my learnings over the next few weeks on Broken Penguin.

Hopefully that will make things more exciting but if it gets too dull, I’ll throw in random photos of half-naked cowboys or something.


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Meg Wolitzer visits in the rain


Last Wednesday, I visited the Toronto Reference Library on a dark and stormy evening to meet the one and only Meg Wolitzer. Thanks for visiting us in the rain, Meg!

Meg is author of The Wife, The Ten-Year-Nap and most recently, The Interestings. She joked that her secret to success was beginning all her titles with “The”.

I sat waaay in the back and barely caught a glimpse of her. It was my fault really. I showed up super late because I insisted on walking in the rain — mostly because it was so gross and humid on the subway.


But Meg is so witty, so entertaining that I enjoyed hearing her speak from the abyss. I did finally get to meet her when she signed my copy of The Interestings! I am currently half way through the book and I love it.

Here are a few of her most memorable quotes from the event — trust me, there were many:

On Happiness: “The happiest people are involved in a lot of projects. It gives them something in the future to work towards.”

On Women Taking TIme Off to Raise Children (subject of The Ten-Year-Nap): “A corporation is not a person. It does not love you.”

On Bad Reviews: “People say you can’t believe the bad reviews but if you can’t believe the bad reviews, you can’t believe the good ones either.”

On Writing: “You start off writing War and Peace but it eventually becomes War and then it becomes Woah.”

On Talent (in relation to The Interestings): “So much about talent is about luck… Life isn’t even. Some families have money.”

She also told a fantastic story about her “Nora Ephron moment”. Apparently, she was eating dinner with Nora and couple other writers while candied walnuts were all the rage. Everyone orders the salad with candied walnuts but Nora orders salad with double the candied walnuts. Lesson learned: ask for what you want.

Nora Ephron in her home office

Nora Ephron in her home office

Photo credits: theatlanticwire.compiliprud.blogspot.com, dailymail.co.uk

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