Friday, September 21, 2007

Word on the Street in Halifax

Hey, I get to visit the tiger in the Halifax airport again.

I've been invited to read at Word on the Street in Halifax on September 23rd. Here's a link to what's happening:

No word yet on whether Halifax has officially changed its name to Halifax City.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Monday, September 10, 2007

As sweet

My name is Michelle Butler Hallett. (Or, in sillier moments, I go up to Cabot Tower when there's lightning to yell "My name is Frankenstein!")

I was Shelly Butler growing up. I switched to Michelle, my legal name, when I went to work at VOCM one summer, and there was already a Shelley in the department. I kept Michelle throughout university – again, because it’s my actual name. My immediate family still calls me Shelly, as do some of the people I went to school with.

I got married just before my first published story appeared in 1994. I’d submitted it as “M.L. Butler,” but a friend of mine asked me what I was hiding. I wondered, too, and asked to have the byline changed to Michelle Butler Hallett.

I gave long thought to my surname. I dislike the name Butler. It sounds harsh, especially the way I say it, with a squat short U and a breathy ER, little phonetic struggles that usually come after stuttering on the B. I considered legally changing it long before I got married. Then came the wedding. If I just used Hallett and then dropped my H, the phonetic mess “Michellallett” comes out. Then the feminist in me said “What about your identity?” Oh yes, my precious identity. I may not like the surname I was born to, but it is part of who and what I am.

So, as is a married woman’s privilege in most provinces of Canada, I’m Michelle Butler Hallett simply because I say I am. Tomorrow I could become Michelle Butler. Or Michelle Hallett. It’s just a nuisance of paperwork for me.

Butler Hallett, no hyphen. Now, this lack of a hyphen – another deliberate choice – causes some problems. Most software programs won’t accept a two-word surname without a hyphen, so the hyphen gets stuck in there. No hyphen means bookstores and libraries file me by the final name to appear on the cover and cataloguing data, which is Hallett. (The designer who did the cover for Double-blind has “Butler Hallett” on the spine, which, as far as I’m concerned is correct: it’s my name. My publisher files me under B as well.)

When my children needed passports, my husband wanted their surname to be Butler Hallett. He feels even more strongly about this than I do. He, too, wished to be identified as Butler Hallett. It turns out I can add or drop Hallett as I please, but my husband and children must hyphenate to add Butler. And pay a lot of money.

They’re all Hallett on their passports.

The girls are Hallett in school, too, with Butler considered a second middle name. Which is fine … though I did have a pang labelling their school supplies last week: Madeleine Hallett. Alexandra Hallett.

Hallett is a fine name, a very old name, and one I’m proud to share. My daughters are very like the Halletts I know: bright, musical, emotional. And they know who they are. Yesterday my sister gently teased my daughters for not liking a food that my sister and I adore. —You’re no Butlers.

My older daughter smiled sweetly. —No. We’re Halletts.”

Until you tick them off. Then they’re Butlers, Mommy’s girls: stubborn, passionate and fierce. God help ya.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Saturday, September 1, 2007

98 chapters

Sky Waves, my next novel, has an odd structure. The chapters will come at you out of strict linear order, but storylines as played out in linked chapters are in linear order. Each chapter is connected to the one preceding and the one following, just as people here in Newfoundland and Labrador are often connected to one another. The chapters are short and should feel like listening to sky waves, those AM broadcasts you can pick up at night from places you could never pick up during the day. And there are 98 chapters, because this novel is also a drew – that is, a row of 98 meshes in a fishing net. Historically the novel goes from Marconi on Signal Hill in 1901 to the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005. It has an ensemble feel, several narrators and narrative consciousnesses, which is refreshing to me after suffocating under first-person narrator Josh Bozeman in Double-blind. The trick with Sky Waves now is to knit the chapters together – knit the drew – so it actually makes sense to someone besides me. Slow. Steady. Lamplight.

An assigment

So I got a request some months ago to write a story for an upcoming anthology. I was delighted – still am – and took it on. After all, the request was that the story be "dark." I can do dark.

Discovery: when I try to write dark, I produce self-parody. On some meta-narrative level, where I do not care to play, it’s actually kind of funny. So far I have a baby born with broken legs, mirroring the broken legs of the father, who is far far away being tormented as part of an endgame wth its roots in the 1991 Russian coup and present-day oligarchic privatization and gun-running to Chechnya. All narrated by a woman who’s taken refuge in a church basement in rural Newfoundland.

Could I be over-thinking here?

If the story were a horse, I’d shoot it.

Block. Delete. Start again.

Nuisance factor

Some people think that my wearing the long and very colourful earrings my daughters made for me is some kind of bravery, some triumph of love over nuisance.

Not a bit of it. My daughters made me those earrings. And I will wear them.

True nuisance factors:
1) Paying the light bill after finishing the shopping for back to school.
2) Sweat. Yes, sweat. Don’t know if it’s the Prozac, the heat, or some past-35 sudden egg expiry I don’t know about, but I break into unaccustomed sweats. A simple walk gets me lathered. Next time I’m at the gym, I might drown.
3) Failure and its phantoms. It’s one of the delusions – perhaps that’s too strong a word – one of the mirages of depair in depression. The thinking goes like this: I haven’t yet mopped the bathroom floor today or vaccummed the stairs. My mother would have had this done by 10 o’clock on a Saturday. The dusting’s not done, either. And I’m still, after nearly four weeks on Prozac, feeling like my blood is lead, struggling not to lie down and turn my face to the wall. Therefore, I’m a failure. Oh, and I’m not getting better fast enough, so I’m letting everyone down – and suddenly even my mental health is part of a to-do list.

Yet I am not a failure. A messy housekeeper, yeah. (Messy, not dirty – big difference.) And I’m depressed, but I’m not hopeless.

Partially because my daughters know the name of my book.

And they made me earrings.

Fully dilated

Okay, that’s a bit graphic, but when you’re giving birth, dilation matters.

Okay, okay, strained metaphor. Bite me. I’m a proud Mama, fit for indulgence. Very soon, I’ll be showing off my new "baby" – Double-blind is due to exist as copies sometime this week. It should be in stores shortly afterward.

Proud? Yeah. Scared? Completely. I’m feeling very protective of this book right now, like my baby is suddenly ready for school and has to fight its own battles now.

But also relieved. Long labour on this one. I first heard Dr. Bozeman in my head in late 2002 and started drafting the novel in 2003. I never expected this one to get published. It’s so pulpy and downright idiotic in places, which was an aesthetic risk, but the Cold War was often idiotic. Of course, that’s no excuse if the book turns out to be badly written …

Unknowns. Excitement. Bitten nails.

Come on, baby. Get born.

Spark-gap transmission / Michelle Butler Hallett

Spark-gap transmission / Michelle Butler Hallett
in progress