Sunday, 11 March 2018

Oh, I just don't know where to begin

Here I am, talking about Elvis Costello and a typical writing day. It begins with little dogs and it always ends at the pub.

Missy Marston: My (small press) writing day      

My favourite Elvis Costello album is Armed Forces and my favourite Elvis Costello song is Accidents will happen. It begins: I just don’t know where to begin. And it ends: I know, I know. If I am lucky, every writing day is like this. I feel like I don’t know where to begin, I begin anyway, I figure something out.

People sometimes ask me how I write books when I work full time, have a family, etc. My answer is it takes forever (I am fifty years old. I have written two books.) and, I write on Sundays. I write on vacation, too, and when I’m ill – I got an incredible amount of work done once when I had pneumonia – but mostly, it is Sundays.

Sunday begins with our two dogs, Mary and Munro, waking me up between 5:30 and 6am. (They are Chihuahuas. Their bladders are tiny. It is amazing to me that they don’t just pee on the floor in the middle of the night. But they don’t! They just get up at 5:30.) I get up, feed them, take them out into the backyard, and then we all go back to bed to sleep or read for a while. (I read, they sleep). Because it is Sunday after all. 

(Munro and Mary, the dogs)
 When I can’t stay in bed anymore, I get up. I go downstairs and drink coffee and eat breakfast in my pyjamas, then shower, get dressed, make a thermos of tea and head to my “office”. My office is in our son’s bedroom. After he left home to go to university, my husband built a desk and shelves at one end of the room. I keep books there that help me write or that are otherwise reassuring. Reference books, art books, books about rock and roll, books by friends. And just really astonishingly good books. Books that seem impossible to write. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, Zombie by Oates, Herzog by Saul Bellow, Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis, etc. Books to dream on.

You can see there are also gadgets. A mini Christmas tree that changes colour, a rubik’s cube. Things to fiddle with or stare at while thinking.

(The desk: writing HQ)
 I also have a cork board that I tack things to that seem to have something to do with what I am writing. Images, lists, timelines. Also, there are pictures of people I admire that I cut out of magazines. Sometimes I like a picture so much it feels like bad luck to throw it out. Saul Bellow mid-sentence, a young James Merrill looking exactly like Matthew Broderick. Helen MacDonald sitting in her apartment with a giant hawk on her wrist looking like she hasn’t slept in a week. Wallace Stevens looking like the undercover poetic super-hero he was. Shipwrecks. Machines. That’s what it is like in the office.
(The corkboard. I don’t know what it means. It just helps.)

This is where I am supposed to sit and write. And I do. But I also roam around the house. I like to write at the kitchen table or on the couch in the living room. The couch is the best because dogs are there and also because you can flop down on your back in frustration when you get stuck. It can be magic. You flop down on your back, totally lost, and after a few minutes of staring at the ceiling, something comes to you, a place to start, and you pop back up and write a bit more.

Other ways of unsticking myself that I use include pacing around, taking a bath, folding laundry, staring out the window. They all usually work.

Another important factor in keeping to my Sunday schedule is this: every Sunday my husband goes down to the basement and paints all day. He is committed. This helps me. If he were around to talk to, to waste time with, I would never write a word on Sundays. But he goes down into the basement and makes oil paintings like the one below and listens to music so loud that I can often hear it two floors up. Regularly, I go down two flights of stairs, scare the life out of him just by appearing in the basement, and gently ask him to turn it down. Then back up two flights of stairs. Exercise!
                (the kind of thing Peter Shmelzer makes in our basement on Sundays)

That’s it. Each Sunday, I do this sort of thing (typing, sitting at the desk, flopping down on the couch, stomping up and down the stairs, bathing, folding, pacing, staring) until 4 or 5pm. Then we go to the pub.

Missy Marston’s first novel, The Love Monster, was the winner of the 2013 Ottawa Book Award, a finalist for the CBC Bookie Awards and for the Scotiabank Giller Prize Readers' Choice. Her second novel, about daredevils and heartache, will be published by ECW Press in 2019. She lives in Ottawa.

For more writers talking about their days, see:

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

If Patton Oswalt thinks it's cool, who am I to argue?

Here is something wonderful from Canada: A beautiful set of individually wrapped short stories that you open every day leading up to Christmas.

Lemony Snicket is in there. Anakana Schofield is in there. And for you few and wonderful (good-looking, lovable, clever) fans of The Love Monster, Margaret H. Atwood and Amos are in there! I have been asked on several occasions if I have considered writing a sequel to The Love Monster, mostly because people wonder if things work out for Margaret and Amos. How does the love story end?

I might do it. I might write another book with those characters in it. In the mean time, though, I have written a little story about Margaret and Amos, 14 years later. You will find it nestled somewhere between stories 1 and 24 in this lovely collection.

Sending admiration and gratitude to Michael Hingston and Natalie Olsen for bringing together this supercool magical invention again this year. It can be purchased here:

Friday, 1 July 2016

Poet of our generation or A list of things most vampires don't like

This morning, at breakfast, I had the following exchange with my husband.

Me: You know what I think about Gord Downie?

Him (without taking his eyes off of his computer screen): He's the poet of our generation?

(This is true. That is my position. I have claimed it and defended it a thousand times.)

Me: Yeah, yeah. Of course. No. I was thinking, he never throws a line away. Never. You know that song, On the Verge? You know that line: The Man, the Legend, the Goat, the Satyr? How perfect is that? Just that tiny little line. Could have been anything. With Gord Downie, it is never just anything. It is always the exact thing. No song, no line he has written could have been written by anyone else. 

I remember hearing Paul Simon say, in an interview -- I am paraphrasing from memory -- that his ambition was to write songs where you never knew, lyrically, what was coming next. You know songs where you can predict what the next line will be? Paul Simon was not interested in that kind of song.

For me, this is what identifies The Great in songwriting: not knowing what will come next and then when it comes, knowing it could not be anything else. Jeff Tweedy is like this. Elvis Costello. Van Morrison (though you can usually bet on some rain). David Bowie. Lou Reed. And Gord Downie is like this.

Of course he has made some of the greatest, most moving, most defining Canadian stories into beautiful songs (38 years old and Wheat Kings, Fifty-Mission Cap, Born in the Water, etc.) but his triumph is more than content. It is perfect form.

I am thinking not only of the obvious home runs,

(like boots or hearts, oh when they start, they really fall apart

fingers and toes, fingers and toes, the forty things we share
forty-one if you include the fact that we don't care

Famous last words taken all wrong, wind up on the very same pile
2.50 for a decade, and a buck and half for a year)

or the heartbreakers and haunters about love gone wrong,

(Now that we've hammered the last spike and we've punched the railroad through, thought there'd  be more to say, thought there'd be more to do

And happy days of electrical smiles and loving evenings falling down in piles and not imagining a restlessness that could keep us apart

And me cake-drunk in the middle, crying what could never happen to us is happening to us.

or  simply:  you are ahead by a century and disappointing you's getting me down)

about the terrible vulnerability of being a parent

(And if you're trick-riding out in the rain, don't expect me to watch, don't ask me to explain)

or about getting older

(when are you thinking of disappearing? when there's nothing but heartache in your social life?

But the magical and ominous

 (she was always like that, even as a kid, secret and apologetic, quiet like a deer

There's a cruel, crumpling sound from over yonder by the steeplechase. It's a sound of coming down like horses slamming on the brakes.)

And the just astonishingly good. How about this?

"Crazy daisies and wooden stars, the threat of oxygen on Mars, marching armies in the night, smiling strangers riding by on bikes. Children smoking, sloganeers on mics, just a few things most vampires don't like."

How could that be more perfect? It is a list of things vampires don't like. Even better, it is a list of things most vampires don't like. So, some vampires don't mind these things. And the precision of the list lends some qualities to vampires you might not expect: care for children's health, queasiness about life on other planets, etc. It is pretty, funny, absurd, entertaining and its rhythm and rhyme is flawless.

I could go on all day.

The song, Pillform, is an absolutely perfect poem that appears to concisely summarize all of human history. The song, Chancellor: also perfect.

He says he is dying. I try not to believe it. There will not be another one like him. I am grateful for every word.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Stupid Party Playlist (because making playlists is easier than writing)

In November I curated an art show called SUPERPOWER for La Petite Mort Gallery in Ottawa. (You can find out more about the show and the beautiful ladies that made it here:

Because I sometimes hate the music at art openings (sorry, Guy Bérubé), at the last minute I started putting together a playlist of songs that I wished people would play at parties. But I wasn't at home so I was limited to what I had on my iPod. And after a few minutes I got distracted and just started putting anything on there that appealed to me in the moment. It is alphabetical by song title until it isn't. This playlist does not care if one song sounds good right after another song and it is shameless in its love for Wilco and Lou Reed.

The result is a beautiful mess that I keep playing over and over again. I thought I would share it here.


Stupid Party Playlist

Airline to Heaven - Billy Bragg/Wilco
Anarchy in the U.K. - The Sex Pistols
Art Of Almost - Wilco
Ashes to Ashes - David Bowie
Atom Tan - The Clash
Attics of My Life - Grateful Dead
Baby Boomerang - T.Rex
Baby I Love You - Aretha Franklin
Baby's Got a Brand New Hairdo [Live] - Elvis Costello & the Attractions
The Bad In Each Other - Feist
Bad Reputation - Joan Jett & The Blackhearts
Battleship Chains - Hindu Love Gods
Beautiful World  - Devo
1,000,000 - R.E.M.
The Bed's Too Big Without You - The Police
The Big Light - Elvis Costello
Big Mess - Devo
Black Dog - Led Zeppelin
Break It Up - Patti Smith
Bring It All Back - The Tragically Hip
Busload of Faith - Lou Reed
Caught In The Briars - Iron & Wine
A Certain Girl - Warren Zevon
Changes - David Bowie
Charley's Girl - Lou Reed
Cold Blooded Old Times- Martin Tielli
Crazy Feeling - Lou Reed
Crimson and Clover - Joan Jett & The Blackhearts
Crosscut Saw - Hindu Love Gods
Cyprus Avenue -Van Morrison
Danny's All-Star Joint- Rickie Lee Jones
Dawned On Me - Wilco
Death or Glory -The Clash
Diamond Light Pt. 1 - Tweedy
Don't Think Twice, It's All Right (Budokan version) - Bob Dylan
Dreamer in My Dreams - Wilco
Fashion - David Bowie
The Faster I Breathe the Further I Go - PJ Harvey
Fly Like an Eagle - Steve Miller Band
Four Sticks - Led Zeppelin
Get Back - The Beatles
Get up Offa That Thing - James Brown
Go Your Own Way - Fleetwood Mac
God Only Knows -The Beach Boys
Gone Again - Patti Smith
Goodnight Ladies - Lou Reed
Got To Get You Into My Life - Earth, Wind & Fire
Hard Life - Bonnie "Prince" Billy
Hate It Here - Wilco
Have to Explode - The Mountain Goats
He Ain't Give You None - Van Morrison
Head Held High - The Velvet Underground
Helen Wheels - Paul McCartney & Wings
Her Majesty - The Beatles
Hey Jude - Super Eagles
High As Hello - Tweedy
Higher Ground - Stevie Wonder
Hot Pants, Pt. 1 - James Brown
I Got You  (Live at the Majestic Theatre version) - Wilco
I Love Rock 'N Roll - Joan Jett & The Blackhearts
I See a Darkness - Bonnie "Prince" Billy
I Will Be There - Van Morrison
I'm a One Woman Man - Hindu Love Gods
I'm An Animal - Neko Case
I'm the Man Who Loves You - Wilco
Islands In the Stream  - Dolly Parton & Kenny Rogers
It's Alright for You -  The Police
Jericho Road - Steve Earle
King of the Road - R.E.M.
Let's Get It On - Marvin Gaye
The Letter - Joe Cocker
Limelight - Rush
Loser - Beck
Love Of My Life - Queen
Love Is Love -  Bonnie "Prince" Billy/Tortoise
Jackie Wilson Said (I'm in Heaven When You Smile) - Van Morrison
Jimmy Jazz - The Clash
The Joker  - Steve Miller Band
Love's a Real Thing - Super Eagles
Main Man  - T.Rex
Mannish Boy - Hindu Love Gods
Mercury Blues - David Lindley
Middle of the Road - The Pretenders
Misty Mountain - Led Zeppelin
My Generation - Patti Smith
No Children - The Mountain Goats
Nobody's Business - Lou Reed
Northern Sky - Nick Drake
Not Be Alright - Mary Margaret O'Hara
The Open Halls of the Soul - Jesse Sykes & the Sweet Hereafter
Pump it Up - Elvis Costello
Push It - Salt-n-Pepa
Queen Bitch - David Bowie
Rabbit Fighter - T.Rex
Raspberry Beret - Hindu Love Gods
Reet Petite (The Finest Girl You Ever Want to Meet) - Jackie Wilson
Rock On - T.Rex
Rocket Man - Elton John
Satellite Radio - Steve Earle
September - Earth, Wind & Fire
Shining Star - Earth, Wind & Fire
Sick of You - Lou Reed
So What'cha Want - Beastie Boys
Somebody to Love - Jefferson Airplane
Sparkle and Shine - Steve Earle
Spinning Wheel - Blood, Sweat & Tears
Spin It On - Wings
Station Grey - Jesse Sykes & the Sweet Hereafter
Take Me to the Mardi Gras - Paul Simon
Take Me, I'm Yours - Squeeze
Tom Sawyer - Rush
Train Round the Bend - The Velvet Underground
Train n Vain - The Clash
Tempted - Squeeze
Thunder Road - Bonnie "Prince" Billy
Through Being Cool - Devo
Tightrope - Janelle Monae
Up the Hill Backwards - David Bowie
Wagon Wheel - Lou Reed
Walken - Wilco
Walkin' Boss - Jerry Garcia & David Grisman
War on War - Wilco
Was a Sunny Day - Paul Simon
Watch Your Step - Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Watching the Detectives - Elvis Costello
We're Hardcore - Gordon Downie
What Difference Does It Make? - The Smiths
When The Levee Breaks - Led Zeppelin
White Rabbit - Jefferson Airplane
Wilco (The Song) - Wilco
Wicked Messenger - Patti Smith
Wild Billy's Circus Story - Bruce Springsteen
The Wind - PJ Harvey
With a Little Help from My Friends - Joe Cocker
Wrap It Up - Eurythmics
Wrong 'Em Boyo - The Clash
You Got the Silver - The Rolling Stones
You're My Best Friend - Queen
You've Made Me So Very Happy - Blood, Sweat & Tears
More Than a Feeling - Boston
Peace of Mind - Boston
Simple Twist of Fate (Budokan version) - Bob Dylan
Knockin' on Heaven's Door (Budokan version) - Bob Dylan
Gris-Gris Gumbo Ya Ya - Dr. John
I Walk on Guilded Splinters - Dr. John
Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters - Elton John
First Day of My Life - Bright Eyes
Language is a Virus - Laurie Anderson
You're a Wonderful One - Marvin Gaye

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Something weird happened when I tried to write in the first person

Things got all creepy.

Absolutely thrilled to see my story, Let's go backwards, featured in the 10th anniversary issue of Ottawa's beautiful Guerilla magazine alongside a painting by the best looking artist in town, Peter Shmelzer.

Thanks, Guerilla!

Saturday, 22 March 2014

The Love Monster Playlist

Like most human creatures, I love music. I love listening to music, I love thinking about music and I love (god help those around me) talking about music. I don't talk about it in an informed, critical way. I just go on and on about songs I love and bands I love and concerts I would like to go to and so on and so forth. Pure, heartfelt blathering. I won't do that here.

I hope. Stay with me.

When I was writing The Love Monster, I was also working full time. Each day, I would walk to work -- it is about a forty-minute walk -- and listen to music and e-mail myself writing ideas. (It is a wonder I wasn't struck down.) Many bits and pieces of songs found their way into the text or became themes for specific passages. Before I knew it, the alien was a Lou Reed fan. James Taylor was singing. Prince, the Sex Pistols, Warren Zevon appeared. They are all in there. And David Bowie. And The Kings. And Shaun Cassidy. And on and on.

So, for my own amusement, I started putting together a Love Monster Playlist. I have worked and worked on it. I love this thing. It's got it all: joy, pain, sunshine and rain. And I think it follows the arc of the book in a satisfying way.

I could work on it forever. But it is time to stop and set it free. I hope you enjoy it.


The Love Monster Playlist

Figment, Gordon Downie
Margaret Atwood, Rheostatics
Kicking Television, Wilco
The Faster I Breathe the Further I Go, P.J. Harvey
Set Out Running, Neko Case
Do You Believe in Magic, Shaun Cassidy
I Just Want to Be Your Everything by Andy Gibb
I Only Wanna Be With You, Bay City Rollers
Pretty Vacant, Sex Pistols
(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea, Elvis Costello
What’s the World Got In Store, Wilco
No Children, The Mountain Goats
This Jesus Must Die, Tim Rice (Jesus Christ Superstar Soundtrack)
I Wanna Be Sedated, Ramones
Moonage Daydream, David Bowie
Werewolves of London, Warren Zevon
Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner, Warren Zevon
Working in the Coal Mine, Devo
Mother, The Police
There Stands the Glass, Van Morrison
Just Like Honey, The Jesus and Mary Chain
It’s Not My Place (In the 9 to 5 World), The Ramones
Guitar, Prince
El Amor de Mi Vida, Warren Zevon
I’m In Love With My Car, Queen
Mr. Personality, Gillette
Ro Ro Rosey, Van Morrison
Lets Get It On, Marvin Gaye
Pecan Pie, Golden Smog
Property of Jesus, Bob Dylan
Blood of the Lamb, Billy Bragg/Wilco
Miner’s Refrain, Gillian Welch
Switchin’ to Glide, The Kings
Bluebird, Paul McCartney & Wings
Aliens (Christmas 1988), Rheostatics
Kicks, Lou Reed
This Flight Tonight, Nazareth
Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps), David Bowie
Walking Blues, Hindu Love Gods
Stir It Up, Bob Marley
Mother and Child Reunion, Paul Simon
The Lobby, Jane Siberry
Wish You Were Here, Pink Floyd
Everything is Broken, Bob Dylan
Bad Reputation, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts
The Delivery Man, Elvis Costello and the Imposters
Sugar, Sugar, The Archies
Pharoahs, Neko Case
Chain of Fools, Aretha Franklin
I Shall be Released, The Band
Stepping Razor, Peter Tosh
Main Man, T.Rex
Changed the Locks, Lucinda Williams
Busload of Faith, Lou Reed
Its No Game (Part 1), David Bowie
Ooohhh Baby, Lou Reed
Get up offa that thing, James Brown
Sexy MF, Prince
Goodnight Ladies, Lou Reed
You Might Walk Away, Jesse Sykes
Thunder Road, Bonny “Prince” Billy / Tortoise
Thunder Road, Bruce Springsteen
Blossom, James Taylor
Ramble On, Led Zeppelin
Tom Sawyer, Rush
Closing Time, Leonard Cohen
Northern Sky, Nick Drake
Listen to the Lion, Van Morrison
God Only Knows, The Beach Boys
I got you (at the end of the century), Wilco
More Than A Feeling, Boston
Jackie Wilson Said (I’m In HeavenWhen You Smile), Van Morrison


Sunday, 27 October 2013

Thanks, Ottawa!


I have always loved you. You are good-looking, you have a great personality and you always know the right thing to say.

Jury Statement:

In this joyous calliope of a book Missy Marston has achieved that rare thing in a first novel: a literary romp and a riveting tale that fights tough in the corners. Marston's characters stick with the reader and her audacious turn of phrase wizardry lingers on the page. A book to engage and delight, The Love Monster rewards the reader page after page with a flair that dazzles just as much as it entertains. A modern fairy tale and a zoned out fantasy in one satisfying confection.

I was thrilled that The Love Monster received the Ottawa  Book Award for fiction on October 22, 2013. This is a beautiful city, full of great writers. I was honoured to be honoured.