Tag Archives: Angie Abdou

BWS 05.03.14: Angie Abdou

Angie Abdou Arsenal 2

Angie Abdou’s first novel, The Bone Cage, was the inaugural One Book One Kootenay selection, a Canada Reads 2011 finalist, and the 2012 MacEwan Book of the Year. Her second novel, The Canterbury Trail, is a tragicomedy about mountain life, small-town identity politics, and our relationship with the environment. It won a 2012 IPPY gold medal for Canada West and was a finalist for the Banff Mountain Book of the Year. Angie’s newest novel, Between, forthcoming from Arsenal Pulp Press in September, is a satire about international nannies and hot yoga… which, as she explains in this guest post, might not be as scary as it sounds.

Pre-Publication Jitters and Frozen Vomit

My fourth book is about to be released, and something weird is happening: I am doing what my kids call “freaking out.” I wake up in the middle of the night having changed my mind about being a writer.

Maybe the impetus for this rush of nerves is that the material in my new book is riskier than in my previous ones. Maybe it is simply that four books into this nutty writing thing, I finally realize that I should be nervous. Weird—and sometimes unpleasant – things happen when one releases a book into the world.

For example, last fall Amanda Leduc visited my hometown library to talk about her novel The Miracles of Ordinary Men. It was the perfect event. Amanda was smart, honest, insightful, and charming, and the conversation was intelligent, intense, probing, and real. The audience was rapt. Amanda sold out of books.

Buzzing afterwards with the excitement of hosting a successful event for a deserving author, I reached towards a woman who was leaving. I recognized her from a book club talk I’d given years ago on my novel The Bone Cage. I touched her arm and said, “Thank you for coming, and thanks for reading Amanda’s book beforehand. You asked a great question. I’m glad you liked Amanda’s novel.”

That’s where things went horribly wrong. Instead of continuing out the door with a polite wave, she squared her shoulders to me, opened her eyes wide and said, “I liked hers, but I hated yours.”

I took a deep breath. The Canterbury Trail is about a fictional place called Coalton, a small mountain town not unlike Fernie, B.C., where I live. Some readers, though certainly not all, have taken exception to my portrayal of our home. Fine. I decided I would let this angry reader say her piece, and then I would carry on in my happy-book-loving-perfect-evening. I put a far-away look in my eyes and let her words roll over me.

Unfortunately, “her piece” was not what one would call succinct. She started by calling me disrespectful and nasty and saying that my portrayal of Fernie was hateful. She went on to say that her friends were characters in the book, and they had no opportunity for recourse.  “What are they supposed to do??!!” There is a sheep farmer in Fernie and there is a sheep farmer in my novel, she complained; clearly, they must be the same person. (“Two sheep farmers,” I wanted to say. “What are the chances?!).

She went on, at great length, about how my representation of mountain culture is completely misinformed. I braced myself, figuring that after this tirade, she would wind down. But no. “Now, after this awful book,” she snapped, “I don’t even want to read the books you review and recommend. I don’t trust your opinion about anything. When I saw your name in the acknowledgments of The Miracles of Ordinary Men, I didn’t even want to read it!”

Here my initial conviction that I could simply wait her out started to wane.  So, I smiled – I’ve been reading a lot of Buddhist philosophy lately, it calms me – and I spoke in as slow and even a voice as I could muster.

“You are hurting my feelings. Imagine if you made something, and then someone cornered you in public and said, ‘I hate the thing you made. It’s ugly. Not only do I hate that one specific thing, but I hate everything you do, and I no longer respect your professional opinion, which you worked very hard to develop.’ How would that make you feel?”

That gave her pause, for a moment. “Oh,” she said, looking as though it had struck her only then that there was a human being on the opposite end of her attack. “That would be awful. I’m an artist. It would be terrible if someone came into a gallery and told me they didn’t like my work. I can see I’ve made you sad. I’m afraid you don’t like me. I’ve made an enemy. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings, but it’s just… your book… I really despised your book…”

And then, she forgot about that human being and geared into Stage Two of her attack! (This one was about light and dark, and how I don’t know how to balance them. I should try, she suggested, to learn from writers like Amanda or Gordon Sombrowski, who manage to have dark but also light.)

This tutorial on how I should write my fiction went on much longer than I should have let it, but eventually I interrupted her and excused myself. “I’m not mad at you,” I said. “I don’t hate you. To be honest, I think I might cry, and I don’t want to cause a scene. I’m going to go in the backroom and get a Kleenex.  Again, thank you for coming.” I touched her arm as I had in the first place, smiled, and left. (Thank you, Buddha.)

I scurried into the staff bathroom and bawled my eyes out. By the time I returned, everyone knew I’d been crying.

I didn’t cry because of what the woman said about my book. I don’t care what she thinks about my book (and that is very nearly almost completely true). Rather, I cried because I felt like I said, “Thank you for coming,” and she turned around and slugged me.

The unexpected assault disrupted the pleasant – if delusional – feeling I happened to be having just then: that the world is a nice place and that people are, for the most part, kind and generous and predictable.

Now I have a new book coming out. It’s bound to offend some people. After experiencing reader encounters like this one, I’m understandably freaking out.

I know all the right things to tell myself: a book that pleases everyone would not be very interesting; a novel that makes people uncomfortable and angry is a worthwhile one; written work is a success if it provokes any kind of reaction.

It’s all true, but the reality is this: the encounter sucked. It made me feel awful. I cried like a child, and I hope it never happens again. (It probably will.)

Surprisingly, though, the evening was not ruined. It was saved by one thing: the room was filled with good people.

First, my husband came to my rescue. When this typically mild-mannered man heard what happened, he referred to the woman with terrible, vulgar names that made me realize I wasn’t nearly as upset as all that. Next, Amanda, the librarians, and the other good book-loving friends in attendance rallied around me. They pretended not to notice I’d been crying. Someone handed me a mug of tea. Someone else laughed: “Nothing light?! Is she crazy?! Did she even read the book? WHAT could possibly be lighter than frozen vomit?!”

Exactly! Finally – a reader who understands!

Laughing is good. That is what writers can do: surround themselves with good, supportive people who “get” them and who know how to make them laugh when laughter is needed most. With my fourth publication, I finally promise myself that I will pay more attention to the readers who get me than to those who don’t. I like dark books that throw me off-kilter and make me uncomfortable.  Sometimes I even like books that make me angry. I will keep trying to write those kinds of books. And when I meet a reader who doesn’t share that preference and who insists on delivering a monologue rather than engaging in a dialogue, I will smile and say, “I look forward to your book on the topic.”

Then, I will politely excuse myself to find a friend, and we will laugh.

Angie Abdou visits the Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, March 5, 2014 – full of beans Coffee House & Roastery, 1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto (7pm, PWYC) – along with John Degen, Michael Fraser and Veena Gokhale. Come early, too (6:30) for Veena’s talk, “Writers as Publicists: Saying Yes to Selling Your Book!”.

Watch this space for more with each of our readers in the month leading up to the event!


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Brockton Writers Series: 05.03.14

March into Brockton Writers Series (get it?) on Wednesday, March 5, at full of beans Coffee House & Roastery (1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto) and enjoy readings by:

Angie Abdou, John Degen, Michael Fraser and Veena Gokhale!

Plus, come early — 6:30pm — for a special talk by Veena: “Writers as Publicists: Saying Yes to Selling Your Book”!

PWYC (suggested $3-$5). Q&A. Books and treats available for sale. Please note that while the venue is wheelchair accessible, washroom facilities are not.

Many thanks to the Ontario Arts Council for their support.


As always, watch this space for more with each of our writers in the month to come!


Angie Abdou lives in the Canadian Rockies (Fernie, BC) where she writes, teaches, mothers, and recreates. Her first novel,The Bone Cage, was the inaugural One Book One Kootenay selection, a Canada Reads 2011 finalist, and the 2012 MacEwan Book of the Year. Her most recent novel, The Canterbury Trail, is a tragicomedy about mountain life, small-town identity politics, and our relationship with the environment. It won a 2012 IPPY gold medal for Canada West and was a finalist for the Banff Mountain Book of the Year. Angie will read from her forthcoming novel, a satire about international nannies and hot yoga.

John Degen is executive director of The Writers’ Union of Canada (TWUC) and has published three books. His debut novel, The Uninvited Guest (Nightwood Editions), was shortlisted for the 2006 Amazon.ca First Novel Award and has been translated into Croatian. He has also published two acclaimed collections of poetry. John writes a popular blog on writing and publishing with a particular focus on copyright. He is also the host of an occasional audio podcast, The Book Room.

Michael Fraser is a high school teacher, poet, and writer. He has been published in various anthologies and journals including: Literary Review of Canada, The Paris Atlantic, and Caribbean Writer. His manuscript, The Serenity of Stone, won the 2007 Canadian Aid Literary Award Contest and was published in 2008 by Bookland Press.  He won Arc’s 2012 Readers’ Choice Poem of the Year. His poem “Going to Cape” is included in The Best Canadian Poetry in English, 2013. He is the creator and director of the Plasticine Poetry Series.

Veena Gokhale started her career as a journalist, in Bombay, in the 1980s. She captures that era in her debut collection, Bombay Wali and Other Stories, published by Guernica Editions in 2013. In 1992, she came to Canada on a journalism fellowship, returning to do a Masters. She immigrated and worked for environment and international development organizations. Her stories and poems have appeared in anthologies and literary journals. In 2011, Veena got a grant to write her first novel. She is presently marketing that manuscript. Veena lives in Montreal with her partner Marc-Antoine. Visit her at www.veenago.com/story.

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March’s BWS features readings by Maureen Hynes, Hal Niedzviecki, Sheniz Janmohamed and Angie Abdou!

Wednesday, March 7th, 7pm-8:30pm
St. Anne’s Church, 270 Gladstone (just north of Dundas)

PWYC (suggested $3-$5). Q&A. Books available for sale. Everyone welcome.

Got questions about submitting your work to a publisher? Join our writers’ networking session, 6:30-7:00pm. Open to all writers, emerging and established. Facilitated by May Lui. Special guest, Margaret Bryant will visit from The Dundurn Group.

Thanks to the Jeremiah Community at St. Anne’s for providing the space to us.
We regret that the space is not wheelchair accessible (yet–stay tuned for more news on this).


Maureen Hynes’s book, Rough Skin, won the League of Canadian Poets’ Gerald Lampert Award for best first book of poetry by a Canadian. She has also published Harm’s Way (Brick Books), and, most recently, Marrow, Willow (Pedlar Press). A past winner of England’s Petra Kenney Award, she has also had a poem selected for Best Canadian Poems 2010, and another longlisted for Best Canadian Poems 2011. Maureen is poetry editor for Our Times magazine (ourtimes.ca).

Hal Niedzviecki is a writer, speaker, culture commentator and editor whose work challenges preconceptions and confronts readers with the offenses of everyday life. He is the author of eight books including the collection of short stories Look Down, This is Where it Must Have Happened (City Lights, April 2011) and the nonfiction book The Peep Diaries: How We’re Learning to Love Watching Ourselves and Our Neighbors (City Lights, 2009). The Peep Diaries was made into a television documentary entitled Peep Culture produced for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He is the current fiction editor and the founder of Broken Pencil, the magazine of zine culture and the independent arts (www.brokenpencil.com). He edited the magazine from 1995 to 2002. Hal’s writing has appeared in newspapers, periodicals and journals across the world including the New York Times Magazine, Playboy, the Utne Reader, the Globe and Mail, the National Post, Toronto Life, Walrus, Geist, and This Magazine. Niedzviecki is committed to exploring the human condition through provocative fiction and non-fiction that charts the media saturated terrain of ever shifting multiple identities at the heart of our fragmenting age.

Sheniz Janmohamed is spoken word artist, author and graduate of the MFA in Creative Writing program at the University of Guelph. She has been mentored by Dionne Brand, Kuldip Gill and Janice Kulyk Keefer. She is the founder of Ignite Poets, a youth spoken word initiative with an emphasis on social awareness. With over 7 years of performance experience, Sheniz has been featured at the TedXYouth Conference and This is not a Reading Series to name a few. Her first book, Bleeding Light (TSAR) a collection of sufi-inspired English ghazals, explores a woman’s journey through night. She knows that in order to witness dawn, she has to travel through dusk first. Throughout her journey, she is caught between West and East, religion and heresy, love and anti-love, darkness and the knowledge of light.

Angie Abdou was born and raised in Moose Jaw, SK. She currently lives in Fernie, BC and teaches full-time at the College of the Rockies in Cranbrook. Her first novel The Bone Cage was the inaugural selection for One Book, One Kootenay; a finalist in 2011 Canada Reads; and the 2012 MacEwan Book of the Year (putting her in company with Margaret Atwood, Yann Martel, David Adams Richards, and Annabel Lyon). Tonight she will read from The Canterbury Trail, a dark comedy about mountain culture which was a finalist for the 2011 Banff Mountain Book of the Year.

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