This is the bookplate for Missy Bean, founder and president of the Lacuna Cabal Montreal Young Women's Book Club. When we workshopped the play at the National Theatre School in the winter and early spring of 2003, the part of Missy was played by Kate Hewlett, who complained to me at one point that she thought the character was too much of a bitch.
I felt really bad about the notion that I had created a character that was so unsympathetic that it caused trouble for the actor (esp given my priorities), and tried to counter in rehearsal that Missy was just a frustrated leader, and that if everyone in the book club was more inclined to listen to her advice and follow her directives, like, to the letter, then no one would consider her to be a bitch at all.
As advice goes, it didn't really help, esp since the play didn't offer Missy any opportunity to show anything other than these alleged thwarted leadership abilities.
In preparation for transforming Missy into a character for the novel, I recall purchasing Wonder Woman, the Complete History, by Les Daniels. I grew up with the TV series, thinking she was a less-than inspired character. But, as with other such American cultural icons, I had my mind changed by the range of admirers Wonder Woman had. And experience has taught me that keeping up appearances while saving the world is not such a dissable notion. Not for Wonder Woman nor for Missy Bean, nor for me.
Since writing The Last Days of the Lacuna Cabal, the name 'Missy Bean' has come to represent a default moniker for me indicating a mask or a false personality covering something up. Currently I'm creating a character who tries to create a disguise for herself so she can seek revenge on someone. She's trying to become Missy Bean but not doing a very good job.
My UK publisher partnered up with the Saatchi Online Gallery to sponsor a contest for the book cover. More than a thousand submissions were made, including a few that inspired debates as passionate as anything that had ever been tabled by a member of the Lacuna Cabal. My own mini-essay on the whole experience is here.
I prepared a cover of my own to be used just in case people were reticent about submitting. That did not turn out to be a problem, so my submission was never viewed. I'm still proud of it though. It makes use of one of Alison Rossiter's beautiful book images (recorded by placing a book on its end directly on top of the light-sensitive paper and underneath the enlarger), along with the UK edition's butterfly paragraph-divider, and makes me think of Romy's hair, Runner's vulnerable thyroid and the full-on intensity of the LC as a whole.
The other two are from way back, when we were trying to come up with a cover image up here (over here? down here?) in Canada. The ghostly building in the top image is from the background of a digital photo I took of the Royal Vic at night.
And the last one is a hexapod (swiped from the Internet) being chased down by one of the members of the Lacuna Cabal, as depicted by Leonardo da Vinci. Of course.
I made many, many more, before my Canadian editor finally shouted Stop!. But these are my favourites.
Antoine-Jean Gros, "Sappho at Leucadia"
I began this book as a play. In the summer of 2000, my friend Chris Abraham (unrecognizable in the dark) told me to think fast and come up with an idea to pitch to the Montreal Young Company. He expressed the preference that the setting of the play be their own city.
Like many companies devoted to mounting works from the classical rep, the Montreal Young Co. was crowded with larger-than life actresses who had very little to do, most of the great parts in such plays (Shakespeare excepted) having been written for men.
So I decided I would write a show that would restore the balance of work in this particular rep, eat up their hours and provide a full evening of hoofing it on stage. My goal was for the girls to feel, by the end of the night, that they'd dug their ditches as deep as the boys.
The ways and means of the girls who saw everything in the Lacuna Cabal Montreal Young Women's Book Club arose from that necessity.
(In the interest of full disclosure, I will reveal that my first pitch had actually been an adaptation of Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson, but that's more or less another story. 'More than anything else, I dislike muchness' was the essence of the author's response to my treatment. And it was true. I had definitely offered her muchness, my top priority having always been fun for the performers. I could not help myself in that regard. Everything else was secondary. Perhaps that doesn't ultimately make for powerful playwriting. The collaboration described in the link appears to have served Ms. Carson much better than I would have.)
I'd always wanted to write an oratorio of The Epic of Gilgamesh for a Toronto choral ensemble called the Boys Choir of Lesbos. Why Gilgamesh is a subject for another post. Why the Boys Choir was because I had seen them put on a wonderfully terrible over-the-top performance adaptation (sans singing) of The Lord of the Flies — a glorious celebration of women playing the roles of violent innocent boys. I loved every minute of it. I wanted to harness that energy and bring it to the telling of Gilgamesh — with singing too — in a full blown oratorio.
The inherent contradiction (oratorios are essentially stand-and-deliver singing performances) did not seem to have occurred to me. I don't know what I was thinking.
And of course the Montreal Young Company was not the Boys Choir of Lesbos. They wanted a play, not a static opera, no recitatives allowed. So I set out to create a scenario wherein the actresses of the MYC would have reason to be as passionate and devil-may-care committed/crazy — as godlike — as the Boys Choir in their dirt-smeared, topless, war-paint wail of a William Golding reenactment. That was really how the Lacuna Cabal Montreal Young Women's Book Club was born.
The girls of the Lacuna Cabal Montreal Young Women's Book Club have tried very hard to make their author look fake — applying black and white, doing away with depth of field, adding cartoon colours, overlapping a very poor image of nose & glasses, and, finally, giving him a Greek fisherman's cap that he wouldn't be caught dead wearing in real life.
Perhaps they believe an author must wear such a cap in order to be taken seriously as a Canadian producer of what they believe to be literary nonfiction. Or perhaps the Greek cap means they harbour the hope that their alleged will one day become a bona fide Nobel laureate.
But maybe they only wish he were from what was considered to be the birthplace of Western civilization before Gilgamesh came along (rather than from a city in Canada that isn't even their favourite), where it's a lot warmer than it is here right now.
Bonus. Here's a picture of the author with his brother.
This is the official bookplate for the Lacuna Cabal Montreal Young Women's Book Club. It was designed by Evan Munday, based on my own tinkerings with a 1930s bookplate made for Alpha Delta Phi at Cornell University.
'Manus Multae Cor Unum' means 'Many Hands One Heart'.
I don't live in Montreal anymore. I was there as a student, and I still miss the city and visit it as often as possible.
I'm not sure I really understand the term psychogeography, but I believe I hold the geography of Montreal in my psyche. I wrote The Last Days of the Lacuna Cabal so I could turn over and examine all the detritus of my memories of the city.
Like many students I was cash poor, and one of the few things I could do for entertainment was walk through the streets and look at the people and their fashions and the architecture and the statuary. The parks and the churches. The mountain. The city is full of icons. St. Joseph's Oratory. Farine Five Roses. The old city by the river. This city is possessed by both a mountain and a river. In fact, it's an island on the St. Lawrence River.
Island, mountain, river. Is there any other city in the world like that?
Some of these icons are literal. Montreal is populated by winged statues. One of them was swiftly sketched by Evan from a photograph for this bookplate.
-not this beauty (my favourite) which overlooks the old port of the city and graced my computer desktop all through the writing of the book,
-nor this one, which graces a gravestone in the Côte-des-Neiges Cemetery, where the Lacuna Cabal once convened,
-but rather this one, which stands on a high pillar at the foot of the Montreal Mountain, near where the tam-tams have their jams on weekends.
You may ask, what do Montreal angels have to do with The Epic of Gilgamesh?
As a starting point for this novel, I wanted to devise a pantheon for the world of the book. I needed a way to believe that the gods of ancient Mesopotamia could be present and walking the streets in Montreal, the way a Sumerian might imagine them.
I took inspiration from these stone angels that peek up into or gaze down over the urban landscape of the city. They represent the closest thing to a quotidian version of such gods.
So I decided to imagine the girls of the Lacuna Cabal as a group of minor deities in a world that would give them a certain amount of control over one another (depending on who was in charge in a given instant) and complete control over the men in their midst.
I also felt, given the boys' overall powerlessness, it was only fair for them to exert a modicum of control as well. So Coby, one of the unfortunate male characters, got to build a hexapod for the Haptics Lab at the Centre for Intelligent Machines at McGill University, which was designed to scuttle away from the light and into the shadows.
Coby gets a bookplate as well, as does everyone who joins the (now defunct) Lacuna Cabal, even if, as is the case with boys, they're only half-members.
Unfortunately, over the course of the novel, Coby loses control of his hexapod.