Saturday 31 December 2011

A Parting Letter to 2011

Dearest 2011,

Although I've now lived with you for exactly 365 days, I can't help but feel like I don't know you yet. A distance deepens between us as midnight trudges nearer, and I fear I welcome it. It's horrible to say, after dedicating so much of my life to you, but I believe we never truly connected.

It's not your fault. Really, it's me. No, really.

You see, I rushed into my relationship with you. A whirlwind romance carried us through January, and even most of February, but by March, as I tried to catch my breath, you were dancing to a beat entirely different from my own. You were Metallica to my Tchaikovsky, and though I love Metallica, I just wanted to waltz for a bit.

But I let you carry me forward. I forced my feet to keep pace with yours, even though you thrust me forward as I tried to stop and let the sand run between my toes. You pushed me, 2011, and I let you. Yes, I know I have responsibility in this.

Oh, and the things we managed to do together. We performed at the National Arts Centre for the first time. We were nominated for our first Aurora Award. We won a bronze medal in the Foreword Book Awards. We sold short stories, we met new people, we nurtured old relationships, we laughed and twirled and danced, a wild crazy time of running and stumbling and running again, as though the zombie apocalypse had happened and we were trying to escape Ground Zero.

But, you know what, 2011? I think in 2012, I'll go zombie. I think I'll teach 2012 to treat me gently from the get-go and, when we have to run, I'll run. But not for 365 days. Oh no. 2012 and I will stop and smell the weird little purple flowers that grow on the side of the highway. We'll gaze in each other's eyes, we'll eat fondues, we'll watch B-movies and laugh and we'll sit contented with cups of tea. We'll court stories. That's right, 2011.  2012 and I will have a casual, open relationship.

I hope you can understand why we must part ways tonight. I'll never forget you. You were wild, but fun. You taught me things I'll never forget, shown me sights I'll remember forever. But as a partner, you burned me.  You used me, made me run, and now, at midnight, you're about to cast me aside.

I deserve better, 2011.  I think 2012 and I will hit it off just right.



Wednesday 21 December 2011

Letters with no Reply - A REPLY!

Yesterday I posted a letter I had sent to Facebook.  My account was reactivated, I had my giggle, and I continued on my way.  But then, in an act of unprecedented customer service responsiveness, Facebook responded to me! 

I squeed when an e-mail popped up in my inbox from "The Facebook Team."  And this is what they said:

Hi Marie,

Thanks for verifying your identity. Note that we permanently deleted your attached ID from our servers.

After investigating this further, it looks like we suspended your account by mistake. I'm so sorry for the inconvenience. You should now be able to log in. If you have any issues getting back into your account, please let me know.


User Operations

Now I like to think that Barry deleted my ID but kept my picture collage. I still think I got locked out because I was an impatient idiot, and Barry was just being kind to what he probably considers a "special case."

This is what I sent Barry in response:

Dear Barry,

Thank you so much for taking the time to reply.  Please find attached proof of my happiness.



This exchange informs me that corporations respond well to picture collages. Will now endeavour to include one with every letter I send. 

Happy day!

Tuesday 20 December 2011

Letters with no Reply - Facebook

By far the longest set-up for a Letter with no Reply.  Isn't it exciting???

Somewhere between my Voices of Venus set, sending off Destiny's Fall to my editor, finishing a short story for an anthology and doing all the fun holidays prep, my brain blew up.  It really did.  In the past few days, I lost my lunch (I found it behind my door, under my coat.  It wasn't very good anymore, which made me sad), I lost my credit card several times (last time Roomy found it on the bathroom counter. Um, what type of transactions am I doing in there, anyway?), and I managed to get locked out of Facebook.

Like, so locked out they requested I send them a scan of a government-issued ID.  Awesome.

It started with me looking to contact someone which I knew was on Facebook.  I tried logging in (which I do every day, at least once a day), and for some reason I kept entering the wrong password. The neurons weren't firing right.

So Facebook got pissed off with me and asked that I provide them a cell number so they could text me a code to use to reactivate my account.  I'm thinking "great security, give you a random cell number..." It's like those credit cards you just tap on the machine instead of entering a code - oh yes, great chip security. But I digress. I'm fine with that, since I apparently keep my credit card in the safety of my bathroom.

Anyway, I enter my cell number and I enthusiastically grab my cell phone and wait.  And wait.  And wait some more. Hu. No text.  I enter it again. No text still.  I enter it again, and again, and again... it was becoming rather obsessive, like hitting the elevator button again and again and again as though it'll make it go faster. Which it doesn't, by the way.  I've tried.

My impatience was rewarded by getting a notice I had been locked out, because my identity was in question. I don't blame them. At this point, I too was questioning at least my sanity, parts of my identity, and if perhaps I'd had too much caffeine that day.

Then I realized I had the person's phone number and didn't need to be on Facebook anyway.  Sigh.

Regardless, I needed to reactivate my account to partake of the wit and charm of my 700+ friends (and yes, they're absolutely all witty and charming. Except that guy.  You know who you are...)

This is the letter I received from them:

Sent: Monday, December 19, 2011 7:16 PM
To: Marie Bilodeau
Subject: Security Concern

You were asked to confirm who you are because our security systems thought you may not be using your real identity with this account or that you may have multiple accounts. If you’ve already tried to log in at and followed the instructions to confirm your identity, but weren’t able to complete the process, we’ll need to see other proof of your identity.

Here’s how to proceed:

1. Use a scanner or take a digital photo of a government-issued photo ID (such as a driver’s license or passport), which shows  your full first and last name and date of birth.
2. Reply directly to this email and attach the image of your ID to the message.
3. We will confirm that your ID and account information match. As soon as we verify your identity we’ll delete the image of your ID.

Please send an image showing proper identification right away so we can help you get back into your Facebook account. Please note that we will not be able to process your request unless you have submitted the proper identification. Additionally, not submitting proper identification will result in your request being denied.

We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.

If you have any further questions about this process, please visit our Help Center at the following address: ***

Thank you for your patience, 
The Facebook Team

My reply:

Dear Facebook Team,

Please find attached my driver's licence as proof of identity, as well a picture collage as proof that I understand I was being an impatient idiot, which is what got me locked out of my account.

All the best,

Marie Bilodeau


I suppose technically I DID receive a reply - my account was reactivated.  I like to think that, somewhere in Facebook-land, an under-appreciated customer service rep got a chuckle, or at least felt better about their situation in life.  He or she may be under-appreciated and underpaid, but at least, I'm sure, they have the smarts to remember a simple password, the patience not to get locked out of their own accounts, and the grace to deal with idiots who get locked out of their accounts, then decide it'd be hilarious to include a photo collage with their photo ID.

In the meantime, I'm getting ready to crawl under a rock and spare the world from my ever-increasing confusion/stupidity/questionable thought patterns. Well, not really a rock. It'd be cold and uncomfortable. Rather, I'm getting ready to get lots of writing done over the holidays and enjoy many fine and fatty foods. That's better than a rock, I say!

Thursday 15 December 2011

From Patchwork of Memories to Stories


Today is my maternal grandmother's birthday.  Her name was Laurette Desjardins. She would have been 99 years old. Every year, my mom sends out an e-mail to me and my brother, reminding us that it's her birthday.

Every year, it leaves me nostalgic because I never really knew my grandmother.  She died when I was only two years old.  My memories of her are patchwork at best. Once, in a perfume store, my cousin and I recognized a scent but couldn't place it. My mother and my aunt came to investigate, and they informed us that it was the same scent as the pot-pourri my grandmother so loved and used in her home. Another time, a wallpaper caught my eye and tugged at my memories. It was the same wallpaper that had graced my grandmother's walls.

My other grandmother, Simonne Bilodeau, died before I was even born.  It was years before I learned she collected tea cups, just as I did.  I inherited the saucers, since the cups were long lost.  It's a funny connection to a woman I never knew, but hearing the stories my family shares, I feel as though I do know her.


My maternal grandfather, Gérard Desjardins, died when I was six. I remember he used to give us cookies and he had a short leg (he had suffered from polio). My other grandfather, Louis-Georges Bilodeau, died when I was a bit older, but he was badly off in his final days, so I try not to remember the final visit we paid at the hospital. All I really remember is the pain on my dad's face when his father didn't recognize any of us.  Instead, I focus on the days we spent at his camp, and how he used to sit and smile as he listened to his children and grandchildren chat and laugh.

Roomy grew up with her grandparents. She stayed with them after school, celebrated occasions with them and even brought us home to their place once, our gang of girls, to meet them. Her grandfather slipped me $20 when I left.  I didn't know what to do, but apparently that's what grandparents do, Roomy informed me.  I learned a lot about grandparents from hearing her speak of them.

A patchwork of memories, at best.

What's in a Name?

As we celebrate my grandmother's 99th birthday, I can't help but think of how lucky my niece and nephew are.  All of their grandparents still live, and I sincerely hope they'll get to know all of them well. 

In a way, my grandparents live on in the stories we're told, and in our names. Mine captured my grandmothers' and my mom's (Suzanne Laurette Simonne Marie Bilodeau is my long catholic name).

My brother's captures the granddads' and dad's (Gilles Louis-Georges Gérard Jean-François Bilodeau. The priest said there was no room for Joseph. I might have screwed up the order of my brother's name - sorry, Jean! Note that on our baptisms our actual first names come right before our last names. I believe that's because once you get there, you won't remember everything that came beforehand.)

My nephew's name captures grandparents like nobody's business, George Henri Bilodeau.  My great-grandfather was Georges-Henri Bilodeau.  My sister-in-law's dad is George.  So they used the French spelling of Henri, the English spelling of George, and there you go. Pretty awesome, eh?

My niece is Ada-Marie Marguerite Bilodeau.  I'm sorry, but that's the cutest name in existence.  Ada was my sister-in-law's grandmother, an artist who studied with the Group of Seven (Ada Torrance). I get a hyphen, which touched me so much I actually didn't know what to say when they introduced me to their little girl and told me her name.  Marguerite is my sister-in-law's mother's middle name.

So what's in a name?  A history.  A story.  A link to those who came before us, and to those who'll come after us.

What's in a Story?

Last night, I had the great honour of being the feature performer at Voices of Venus, an Ottawa-based spoken word series focused on female performers (an awesome series, always with a warm and welcoming audience. Worth checking out!)  I was given a wide field to play in: tell stories of strong women on a cold December day.

I decided to hinge my stories on a hoe I had found behind the couch (you can imagine the fun we all had with the word play!)  That hoe, I now know, belonged to my great aunt. For years I was fascinated by the story of this strange object, broken in two, the wood old and coarse, the metal rust-covered. I carried it around with me, for a while. It's in my car trunk right now, actually. Don't ask me why - I honestly don't know. Yet it lives there. I guess that I've learned by now to let my mind explore stories in its own way. Sometimes, it feels like I'm just along for the ride.

I hinged the storytelling set yesterday on finding the perfect ending for Maribella, whom I'd given the hoe to, in my story. It took many tries, but I think that, in the end, we found it.

I tend to weave genealogy, family legends and history into my stories. I think part of it is that I never really knew my grandparents except through story. Their siblings, lives and histories all came to me as stories and suppositions.

Weaving them into stories is not necessarily leading to enlightening any actual history, but it does allow me to imagine I get to glimpse, for a brief moment, their dreams, desires and fears.

And they, in turn, get to wield swords and ride air ships. I think they'd like that. They are related to me, after all!

So, bonne fête grand-maman.  I'll meet you again and again in story. And I can't wait!

Tuesday 13 December 2011

Zombies. Yargh.

I was recently gripped by a psychotic zombie reading spree. It started with distopic, post-apocalyptic futures ranging from human-eating plants to city-destroying sasquatches, and then eventually focused solely on zombies. Depersonalized apocalypse worked best for me, apparently.

I read pretty much every zombie book I could get my hands on, often reading one a day. With the last one I'm reading, I find myself waning. It's not the author's or the story's fault, but rather it's the fact that they're all the same.  Seriously.  With variants on the same theme, they're all the same.  The only one that stood out for me was Mira Grant's Feed, but a big part of that was the fact that she set her book years after the zombie apocalypse. All of the other ones dealt with the start, spread and immediate aftermath, so I don't really consider it in the same category.

So here are some tropes of the zombie apocalypse, in case you ever get stuck in it.

  1. The leader of your group will become unbalanced, but you know deep inside of you that he means well (sometimes a she. But usually a he.). You stick with him because, even though he's a jackass, he's the best shot you've got.  Fair enough.
  2. Any community set-up will be screwed up. Either a religious fanatic or nutcase will be leading it.  It's what your leader could be if he had enough followers (you know it's true).
  3. People will think it's funny to play games with zombies. Tie 'em up, get people to fight them, or fight amongst them, etc... It's zombies as Roman gladiator games. And yes, it's always a bad idea.
  4. There will be sex.  You stink, you haven't eaten in days and you don't know what showers feel like anymore. You barely have the time to rest, but don't worry - you'll have time to get it on.
  5. The women somehow all stay good looking. The men, not so much.  Like, not at all. I blame this on being a male-dominated apocalypse-creating industry.
  6. Kids are good fodder. Why anyone would think the kids wouldn't get it are fooling themselves. Trust me - they're there to get it. Except the hero's firstborn. They don't seem to, for some reason. Disappointing, I know.  But that firstborn will usually have to kill a person (not a zombie), so at least they get scarred for life.
  7. There will always be one person who retains their 'humanity' above everyone else. They always bite the dust or live to get a book deal out of their adventure.
  8. Someone always tries to save the zombies, under the pretence that they could be healed. Those are always backstabbing cowardly people, who somehow usually survive.  If you're in a zombie apocalypse and someone suggests saving the zombies, just shoot them in the head. Save yourself the trouble.
  9. The over-cautious paranoid people are usually right.  
  10. Vehicles don't stand anything very well in the zombie apocalypse. Clutches slip, motors stop working, they just fall apart for no reason.  Slamming into a herd of zombies is a good reason for the car to die.
  11. Wal-Mart and Costco are death traps. 
  12. If you settle and set-up your own community, you will get attacked by crazed people who want it and have more guns than brains. They will inevitably ruin the safe habitation for everyone.
  13. Zombies evolve. No one ever explains why, but they usually get smarter and stronger, especially in multi-book series.  Probably to keep things fresh. One wouldn't think that would be a concern when talking about rotting corpses, but there you go.
There are many, many more tropes.  I enjoy them all, but I think I need a break from the zombie genre, for now.

If you have any favourite zombie books that I might not have read (not likely), let me know!  Or do me a favour and just suggest post-apocalyptic works.  Too many zombie books are bad for brains. (HA!)

Friday 9 December 2011

The Odyssey: Finding my Inner Klingon

On June 16 2012, eighteen storytellers will gather at the National Arts Centre's Fourth Stage to bring listeners on a journey with Odysseus, from the fall of Troy to the shores of Ithaca.  The show is a collaboration between the Ottawa Storytellers and 2 women productions, and is artistically coordinated by Jan Andrews (one of Canada's most acclaimed storytellers) and Jennifer Cayley (ditto).

I looked at the show as a journey of learning and training. Just as Odysseus made his way home, so too would I make my way somewhere.  Probably not home (unless things go terribly wrong), but art informs art, so skills learned creating this show will be applied to future tellings.

All performers already met once and did some basic exploration of Odysseus' stories, themes, and of our own perceptions.  But the fun didn't really start until last night.

We met, five of us.  Jan and Jennifer, myself, and two other tellers, Ruthanne Edward (a fellow Kymera) and Mary Wiggin (I performed with Mary last year at the Shenkman Centre. We told sci-fi stories accompanied by a theremin.  I know - awesome!)

We were doing some explorative exercises of our own pieces. We started by sitting around a fire and just chatting about the story, what it meant to us, and where we felt Odysseus was emotionally in our pieces. We sipped tea and enjoyed the soothing fire, sitting on comfy chairs, chatting sometimes in whispers about the great journey we would undertake in bringing Odysseus home.

I was all comfortable and cozy when Jennifer suddenly exclaimed "Okay, let's go into the other room."

Now, I don't know if this stems from my upbringing or life experiences, but generally, when someone in authority brings you in the other room, I know it means that you're either in trouble, or things are about to change drastically.

And boy did things change!  It was time to ignite our pieces within us. Mary was up first, shouting her story, whispering her story, evoking the ethereal dawn.  Mary gets to launch Odysseus to certain doom (go, Mary!), so she had to be mad, determined, unwilling to bend to the winds or seas.  Next thing I know, she's pushing forward, Jennifer trying to hold her back, Jan trying to block her, me whooping at her to deck them, Mary grabbing Ruthanne's chair and refusing to be held back or stopped.

Let me make this clear - none of these women are below fifty, so it was even more awesome fun to watch. Spitfires all!

When the "brawl" was over and Mary stepped back in "centre stage," that strength and ferocity informed her telling. Who knew duking it out with the artistic directors could bring such strength to a telling?

I was up next, and I was pretty stoked at this point.  What fun would I have?  Jennifer started by using sublime words that basically meant I was very girly.  Point.  I really, really am.  But Odysseus is not. Also a good point.  Odysseus is like the Klingon of ancient Greece.  I'm totally not that. (Odysseus is totally Klingon-esque.  I researched it!  See?  It's the bathing in blood that gives it away.)

On the topic of Klingons, I'd like to point out that I do have expertise to draw upon. KAG Canada Thought Admiral Korath (right) is my morning bus buddy (he always looks like that, he really does). On the left is General Martok. I've never met him, but I hear he's simply lovely, in a Klingon blood bath kind of way.

So we started off by me going fully girly, telling the story completely from a highly feminine telling. It was great fun.  I was hitting on myself!  It's not everyday one gets to do that.

Next thing I know, I've got Jan and Jennifer pulling on each arm as I take on the male persona, or at least the masculine strength. It worked, too.  It was a shift - my voice came from deeper, my telling was more powerful. Mary sat forward in her chair, as entertained by my exercise as I had been by hers.


It'll be interesting to see how I can learn to apply these different ways of visualizing and experiencing story. By the time Odysseus reaches the shores of Ithaca in June, I'm sure my telling will have grown thanks to the wonderful and albeit sometimes strange experiences I'll take away from this show.

Remember - eighteen tellers, twelve hours, one stage, one unforgettable journey.  Don't miss it!

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Writer Affirmation

With four published books under my belt and another coming out next year, I sometimes get caught in this nasty little cycle of thinking. It blocks my writing and makes me sad. It doesn't temper the words that tumble onto the page. Instead, it makes me fear them.

I've had my share of successes and failures. I'm afraid of neither, though I must admit to preferring successes.  With every book, I try to learn a new trick, deepen a skill or explore a facet of the world or humanity I'd not yet delved into. I do my research mostly by talking to people. Not about the book, but about their lives. It informs my writing and my characters.

See? I'm totally doing it again! I'm avoiding my nasty little cycle of thinking. It is a bit embarrassing, that's all. Once in a while, you see, I wish I wrote like someone else. Doesn't matter who, it's this strange little writer's envy that I believe most writers suffer from. It's all fine and dandy if it pushes one to write more, write better, be truer to their work and themselves, but it's downright inconvenient when said envy becomes a type of writer's block. Because now improving to be better isn't good enough. Changing completely to be someone else seems in order.

It's a silly thought, but it's there.

Regardless, as I keep getting stuck in this stupid little cycle, I've started repeating why I write. I reach back down into my rosy adolescent self (conveniently still parked in my head) and I recall wasting precious hours by the smelly river, writing poorly constructed sentences with coloured ink in a sparkly notebook. I reach back to her because she wrote without fear even though, and she knew this so I'm not crushing her, she totally and completely sucked. But she loved writing and found a mission in it.

So here, for my adolescent self and to remind my current 33-year old self, is my writing affirmation.
  1. I write for fun. If it's not fun for me, it won't be fun for my readers. Heck, even if my readers will think it's fun, I don't care. I want to have fun too.  So there.
  2. I write adventure stories. I have visions of writing sweeping epics with vast Canadian landscapes, but I love a good adventure story so much it gets me up ridiculously early in the mornings to write. 
  3. I like blowing things up. And killing people. I really do.  Perhaps up to an unhealthy level, in fact. (Note to self: explore potential psychotic behaviour.)
  4. My characters are heroes. Not because they're born that way, but because they choose to become that way. I sincerely think we all need a bit more heroism in our lives. Or good sarcasm. Which can be heroic, in some cases.
  5. Love is good. Love is wonderful. But the day my heroines give up everything for a man (or a girl), there had better be a wake-up call later on. I think we need more heroes and I think we need fewer blind "I love you and can't live without you" messages. 
  6. I love colour. I write with colour. If my scene feels bland, it goes. I need vibrancy and shades as deep as the heart of a ruby.
  7. Tension.  Oh, how I love you, tension. I like stressing people out. If my characters are not broken messes halfway through my book, I haven't done my job.
  8. I outline poorly. That's right. I outline some, get ready, then cast it to the wind as I get lost in the story. I don't look back. 
  9. I write fast. I'm not the "sitting around gazing out the window while pondering the world" type of writer. I'm the "OMG the next few chapters are so freaking cool I can't wait to get to them and my fingers are cramping up I'm writing so fast!" type of writer.  
  10. I'm also a mean editor of my work. Goes hand in hand with shabby planning and fast writing, if you ask me.
  11. I like the awesomeness of discovering my world and characters, of being swept away by a plot twist or character, of falling in and out of love, of weeping uncontrollably when a character dies because the story demands it, but it doesn't make it any easier.
  12. I re-iterate point one, because that's the most important. I have to love my story. I have to itch to get back to it. I have to want to write it so badly it keeps me up at night. 
That's who I am as a writer. For better or for worse, that's who I'll stay. I don't know where it'll eventually take me, but when I look back on this breathtaking journey, I want to be able to say that I had fun and that I remained true to my vision.

The rest, as they say, is all explosions and details.

Friday 2 December 2011

End of Week Stuff

Woa. The week flew by! I'm up against deadlines for three short stories and a novel, so I fear the blog fell a bit to the wayside this week. Here's some stuff I enjoyed reading on the great Interwebs this week, should you care for some light Friday fare. In fact, these are the tabs still open on my browser.  Bwa ha.

The most annoying comment, The Incidental Cyclist blog.  Freaking hilarious. Kate and I were chatting it up coming home from, um, something (?) last weekend. Oh yes, a show. We were coming home from a show Saturday evening, and she mentioned an annoying comment that kept popping up on articles concerning car and bicycle collisions. We were killing ourselves laughing by the end. She wrote an awesome post about her thoughts. Check it out!

Lichen.  I learned a lot about lichen this week, for a story. Final edits of that story are happening today, and I have a feeling all that lichen-y goodness is going to go away.  Ah well.

Dragon Moon Press accepting submissions! Check out their guidelines to see what they're looking for.

Simon's Cat - Double Trouble.  If you're not familiar with Simon's Cat, you're totally missing out. It's hilarious. When I saw this clip, I nearly died.  Truly.

Masters of the Universe Macy's Float.  Best for last.  I'd have killed to see this as a kid.  Except, Pat, gotta say, He-Man does not live in Caste Grayskull.  He protects it and draws power from it. Get your facts straight.

Have a great weekend, everyone!