Thursday, December 13, 2007


I'll be signing copies of Double-blind Saturday December 15th from 7pm-9pm at Coles in the Avalon Mall, St. John's.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Your character will see you now -- oh, by the way, your narcissism is showing.

So there I am a few years ago, before I’d found a publisher, working on various projects, when Annie Ferncase decides to profile me for the Writers’ Alliance of Newfoundland and Labrador newsletter, Word. The article goes online in 2004. The article mentions Double-blind, which was then in progress, and its protagonist Josh Bozeman.

I’ve whined before about how much I sank into that character, that voice. Not as much in 2004 and 2007, but enough so that when I got e-mail from Josh Bozeman I jumped back from my computer. Logic was quick – “Michelle, you knob, there are probably lots of guys out there with that name” – but fright was quicker.

I told the real-life Josh that the book wasn’t published, but should that change, I’d let him know and send him a copy.

A few weeks ago I did that – and it was eerie – utterly fucking weird – inscribing a copy of Double-blind to a real Josh Bozeman.

This real-life Josh Bozeman can be found here: Please note, I’m neither endorsing nor condemning Josh or The Blue Site – he’s commenting on the events in his country and exercising his right to freedom of speech. I will say it’s been very interesting to be in contact with him.

Insufficient apple

For the second year in a row, I got to sign a copy of one of my books for Daisy Ellsworth.

I was in Miss Ellsworth’s grade two class at Vanier Elementary in 1978-79. She was tall and blonde and had large blue eyes, a few freckles across her nose and cheeks, and unlike many women teachers in the 1970s, wore pants. She may have worn dresses or skirts, but I remember the smart outfits of flared pants and a blazer. Her voice was a bit low for a woman’s, much like mine, but not butch. Just together. The students would sit on the carpet while she read to us or pointed out phonics on a flip chart – I am very grateful I got some phonics in school before this language teaching method was thoughtlessly discarded – and I’d feel all faked out in my dress and knee socks and hair clips. I’d look up at Miss Ellsworth and promise myself that some day I’d be like her.

Miss Ellsworth did – and does – believe that children are inherently creative and must be given ample chance to exercise that creativity. I don’t know how much of this was curriculum and how much was Miss Ellsworth, but we did a lot of creative writing. A lot. She taught us diamante poetry. Concrete poetry. Ballad. Free verse. And short stories – everyone was expected, over some days (it feels now like about a week, but I can’t swear to that) to develop a story and then read it to the class. In the late fall, I wrote a free verse poem about skating; in it I compared snowflakes melting on the lips to mother’s milk. I didn’t know then, and I don’t know now, where that simile came from. I just knew that if it startled Miss Ellsworth, it might be good. Then, just before Christmas, I got an idea for a story that broke the one-page barrier. A page and a half! And in my favourite blue Hilroy exercise book. A protagonist, her little brother, and the mean older boy next door as antagonist. There, that day, that story, that desk in a classroom smelling of flip-chart markers, dusty carpet and white glue – that’s when I knew. The story stuff, these poems, that was my life.

Likely I’d have figured out the writing thing eventually. My point is, I figured it out at age seven. In a safe and supportive classroom, where no one was mocked for taking risks. I figured it out at age seven because I was lucky enough to have Daisy Ellsworth for a teacher.

Then my family moved between grade 2 and grade 3. I didn’t see Miss Ellsworth again until 2006.

I had some other good teachers over the years, but for the most part I hated school. Social murder. Grinding boredom that sounded like the distant chainsaws in autumn. A sentence. Year after year. I did well academically – not counting grade 12 physics and math -- mostly because I could and because it meant people would then leave me alone while I went after what I really wanted. I also made myself obnoxious. If I was going to be mocked for taking risks, I’d arm for quick defense.

That is not something I learned in Miss Ellsworth’s class.

Many years later, in 2006, I’d published my first book, The shadow side of grace, and I’d mentioned Miss Ellsworth in an interview when asked who taught me the most about writing. I’d tried in 1999 to track her down but couldn’t. Then she showed up at one of my signings. We knew each other immediately. And when I stood up to hug her, I was startled that I’d grown as tall as her. She also came to a signing for Double-blind this fall, and it was deeply satisfying to inscribe a book for her.

Lots of people have these stories, of teachers who really reached them. I’m just not sure we hear them enough. And I’m not sure I can properly thank Miss Ellsworth.

Spark-gap transmission / Michelle Butler Hallett

Spark-gap transmission / Michelle Butler Hallett
in progress