Literary Cafés

Thanks to a few well-known tipplers (coughHemingwaycough), writers have something of a reputation for indulging. Though that may be more stereotype than reality, over the years certain bars and cafés have become linked with the literary crowd who’ve gone there to eat, drink, socialize, and occasionally write. Inspired by a recent LitHub article featuring 35 Literary Cafés. I thought I’d share a couple of them here, as well as adding some the list missed.

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Café Tortoni, favourite of Jorge Luís Borges and Alfonsina Storni, whose wax figures permanently share a table there.
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Antico Caffé Greco in Rome has served Lord Byron, Percy and Mary Shelley, Hans Christian Andersen, and Nikolai Gogol, among others.
00 elephant house
The Elephant House in Edinburgh makes the somewhat dubious claim of being the place where J.K. Rowling started Harry Potter. Whether true or not, it’s become popular with fans.

Although not as well-known as the others on the list, here are some local-ish spots this Toronto writer thinks are worth a mention:

00 park hyatt
The Park Hyatt Roof Lounge (currently closed for renovation) has been frequented by many writers, artists and celebrities over the years, including Margaret Atwood and Leonard Cohen.
00 sneaky dee
Sneaky Dee’s is a Toronto institution that has attracted droves of indie types–including writers–over the years. Bryan Lee O’Malley used it as a setting in Scott Pilgrim vs the World.
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Winnie’s Bar (1455 Crescent St, Montreal) was a favourite of Mordecai Richler. They specialize in alcoholic coffee (my kind of place).

Writers unknown, famous, and infamous have always populated cafés and bars all over the world. Comment and tell me which ones you think deserve a mention.

(Note: This is a re-post from 26 February 2018. If you’re looking for something new to read, how about my free short story “Blood Magic”https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/816146 or my novel Love Lies Bleeding, available in paperback and e-book at most online booksellers.)

Weird Habits of Writers

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I recently read an article about 11 weird habits that all writers can relate to, and I’ve got to say they weren’t wrong. Dramatically staring into space while thinking about what my characters will do next? Check. Ending up on security watch lists thanks to my online research? Check. Losing track of time, dates, and reality itself thanks to working from home immersed in a fantasy world of my own creation? Check check.

Reading the list got me thinking about my own odd habits, which I’ve decided to share. After all, as the article pointed out, writers spend a lot of time alone–why not take a moment to bond over our mutual strangeness?

My Weird Habits as a Writer:

Seeking Out Mindless Activities so I Can Think: When my hands are busy but my mind is free to wander, that’s when I come up with some of my best ideas, solve problems with my stories, or mentally write entire passages (my phone is handy–and more likely to be nearby than pen and paper–for getting it all down before I inevitably forget). Mindless activities I recommend: weeding the garden, easy crafts, cleaning the house, ironing…

Telling Myself Stories to Help Me Fall Asleep: I’ve had trouble sleeping my entire life–the one thing that’s almost guaranteed to get me to sleep is telling myself a story in bed. It’s been the same story for a while now, with minor variations. Strangely enough this repetitive storytime actually does help with my writing. Every so often I’ll get an idea for a new character, or notice themes I should explore.

Watching (a lot of) TV: Sometimes it’s background noise that works a lot like any other mindless activity (see above). Sometimes it’s inspiring, giving me ideas to consider. Sometimes it’s instructive, helping me with pacing, or seeing aspects to storytelling that do or don’t work. Sometimes it’s just entertaining, which is also important.

I’ll leave it there, although there are more (so many more). What weird habits do you have as a writer (or in general)? Share your weirdness…

(Note: This is a re-post from 19 February 2018. If you’re looking for something new to read, how about my free short story “Blood Magic”https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/816146 or my novel Love Lies Bleeding, available in paperback and e-book at most online booksellers.)

All Memories Are Everything

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I just read an interesting article in the Atlantic about why we can’t remember most of what we read (or watch), something that, according to the article, has irritated people at least since Plato. I thought it was just me that had an issue with recollection. I still can’t accurately quote passages (or even lines) from books I’ve read half a dozen times. Sometimes I have trouble remembering a specific fact (like a name or date) right after I finish reading about it. The article explains that this happens because we’ve traded “recall” memory for “recognition” memory; in other words, we don’t remember details because we know we can look them up in an external memory bank (a book, DVD, or website, for example).

While it can be frustrating not to be able to recall something you just read, I can see a few advantages to favouring recognition memory (with external memory banks) over recall. A non-writing culture where stories are memorized and passed down verbally would be continuously at risk of losing those stories. All you need is a little chaos in the system to take the priority off memorizing or passing down information. Nobody is going to be thinking about passing on verbal traditions in the midst of a plague, war, or famine. Without a written record to preserve information, it can easily be lost forever.

When stories are passed down verbally, there’s also the ongoing risk of “broken telephone.” Over time and re-telling, parts will be changed or forgotten, in some cases, perhaps, deliberately, to suit the teller’s preferences. That can, of course, happen with books, as well. But with a book, there’s usually an early version to be found and consulted. You can’t ask someone long dead to recite you their version of a story.

On a personal level, it can actually be a good thing to forget a book you read and enjoyed. It gives you the opportunity to go back later and read it again “for the first time.” Maybe you’ll find the memories flooding back, making the re-reading experience something like a happy reunion. Or maybe you’ll really have forgotten, giving you the rare chance to enjoy it all over again, as if you’d never read the story before.

One line at the end of the Atlantic’s article leaves me feeling that the way our minds work is something quite lovely.  While maybe it would be more convenient or impressive if memories were clean facts that could be extracted at will, the article states that instead, “all memories are everything.” Humans aren’t data banks. We aren’t discrete segments of information and experiences that can be added or deleted. We are made up of bits and pieces that merge together and form a whole. Everything we’ve read and seen and done is part of us, even if we can’t always dip into our memories and pull a piece out. That is wonderful and terrifying and so completely perfect. I don’t know about anyone else, but I wouldn’t trade that for perfect recall.

What do you think?

(Note: This is a re-post from 27 January 2018. If you’re looking for something new to read, how about my free short story “Blood Magic”: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/816146)

Your Inner Critic Is a Liar

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To be a writer is to be in a constant state of worry. Will anyone be interested in my work? Will they like it? What if they don’t like it? The worst is when the worry morphs into criticism and you doubt your own validity as a writer: my book isn’t good, no one will ever read it, I should just quit now. Sometimes it seems as though your inner demons take up as much space in your head as your stories and characters.

I recently read an interesting article on how to mindfully address your inner critic. The author offers some good suggestions, such as waiting the emotions out (they will pass) or agreeing with your inner critic and going forward anyway (for example, you’d say something like: “I should just quit now…and I will go ahead and write another paragraph.”

I often use the agreement technique, only I follow up with “but” instead of “and.” The article says not to use “but” because you’re supposed to be agreeing with the critic, not challenging it. But (see what I did there?) I guess I’m the challenging type because it makes more sense to me, is more reassuring, and, therefore, is more effective. My agreement statement would be more along the lines of : “I should quit now…but what else am I going to do with my life?” Even more challenging is when I go with the ‘agree but don’t care’ method (AKA the stubbornness approach). When I’m in this mood I’ll say something like: “I should just quit now but I like what I’m doing, so who cares what anyone else thinks–I’m going to do it anyway.”

However you deal with your worries or inner critic, the most important thing is to remember that they are liars. Unless you have legit psychic powers (if you do, I have a question about the lottery numbers…), you really don’t know what tomorrow will bring. Just because you don’t see how things could possibly work out doesn’t mean they won’t. Life is funny that way. So go ahead and ignore your inner critic, or tell them off, or sit and have a polite conversation with them–whatever you need to do. As long as you don’t listen to them.

How do you deal with your inner critic? Share in the comments.

And while you’re here, make sure to download my free short story Blood Magic. Myth and magic collide in this story about choices, transformation, and retribution: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/816146

 

Summer Fun for Creatures of the Night

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Toronto is going through its usual series of summer heat waves, where temperatures reach well into the 40s (104F+). It’s hot, it’s sticky, it’s miserable. There’s an inescapable burning orb in the sky, buzzing insects in your face, and a pervasive smell of fake coconut (AKA suntan lotion, which is actually one of the pleasanter smells one encounters at this time of year). Summer can be rough, even intolerable, for a lot of people. Being of Greek descent you’d think I’d love the sun and heat. You’d be wrong. Born and raised in Canada, I’m far more tolerant of low temperatures than high ones, but even my ancestors had a word for people like me:

Ancient Greek Word of the Day: κακοθερής (kakotherēs), unfitted to endure summer heat (via Tumblr)

So unfitted. But never mind the heat, there’s a bigger issue with the sun: I can’t stand the feel of it on my skin. Hell, I don’t like being in direct sunlight even when I’m completely covered. No, this isn’t some sort of melodramatic goth affectation (not that I’m opposed to those). Up until age 8, I loved the sun and spent my summers outdoors, usually in the nearest pool. And then my immune system decided to start going after me instead of sticking to fighting bacteria and viruses. All of a sudden sunlight was uncomfortable, exhausting, and overall unpleasant. I don’t know if this is a common side effect of auto-immune disorders or if I’m the lucky exception, but I can relate more than a little to my vampire characters.

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So what do you do when you and summer just don’t get along?

  • stay inside as much as possible during the day
  • when you have to go out, hats, parasols, and sunscreen are your friends
  • if it’s hot and you can’t cool down at home, the library is perfect (by the way, Love Lies Bleeding is now available at the Toronto Public Library! If your local library doesn’t carry it, ask them to start 🙂 )
  • movie theatres, coffee shops, museums, and art galleries are all good places to cool off for a few hours
  • look for nighttime entertainment and activities, such as concerts and festivals
  • reading is always a good (and portable) option. You’ll find endless articles about beach reads, but check out this article on alternatives to beach reading for sun haters.

Are you looking for books featuring characters that avoid the sun as much as you do? I’ve got you covered:

Blood Magic: Myth and magic collide in this FREE story about choices, transformation, and retribution: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/816146

BLOOD MAGIC by Aspasia S. Bissas

Love Lies Bleeding: a novel about delusion, obsession, and blood: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35524549-love-lies-bleeding

Love Lies Bleeding by Aspasia S. Bissas

Make sure to leave a rating or review on your favourite book site!

What’s summer like for you? Share your thoughts in the comments…