The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Thursday, April 23, 2009

So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye

Like the von Trapp family exiting the stage, the members of the Canadian Writers Collective bid farewell to our readers three years and nearly 700 posts after we began. We’ve given you book reviews, interviews, recipes, rants, and laments. Humourous pieces and poignant ones. We’ve run four writing contests and posted the winning entries. Played host to a number of guest bloggers.

Of the 11 CWCers who started, only five of us remain.

It’s tough to produce a weekly post year after year while also finding and losing jobs, falling in and out of love, having anxiety attacks, changing diapers, remembering to put out the garbage, washing floors, laundering clothes, taking the car in for servicing, feeding the dog, schlepping the cat to the vet, getting your hair cut, buying the kids a hamster, defrosting something for dinner, planting a garden, remembering to water the garden you planted, baking cakes and barbecuing steaks, trudging to the dentist, getting enough sleep and exercise, attending graduations, weddings and funerals, all while penning a future Giller award winning work of prose.

Thank you all for reading and commenting since April 23, 2006. You can keep up with us individually on our separate Blogger pages and, from time to time, any one of us may decide to pop in here and mouth off about something. You just never know. But for now, it’s…

Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Whimper, Whimper, Bang, bang

Article removed for revision and publication. Wish the author luck!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Courage in the Streets

by Tricia Dower

Something wonderful happened yesterday. Three hundred women in Afghanistan marched to protest a new law for Shiites that appears to endorse marital rape and restrict married women’s movements outside the home. I say “appears,” because President Harmid Karzai claims “the West” has misinterpreted the intention of the law (something lost in translation?) and that the rights of women enshrined under the Afghani constitution have not been abolished. However, condemnation from other countries (misinterpretation notwithstanding) has pressured him to promise he’ll review the legislation for any violation of women’s rights.

We’ll see.

The following articles provide background on the law and the protest: Times on Line, New York Times Opinion, and New York Time Asia Report. For me the big news is that those several hundred women had the courage to take to the streets and proclaim their disapproval of the new law. The courage to persevere as people called them whores and pelted them with stones.

I’m not that brave.

In the ‘70s, I led a group of female employees who lobbied for equal opportunity in our company. I got flak from a human resources employee —a woman—who reminded me she’d helped me get my job, and, therefore, was “disappointed” in me. But nobody called me names or assaulted me with hard objects. I didn’t lose my job. In fact, the CEO called me to his office to ask me to help him take the “affirmative action temperature” of the company. I was lucky. In another country I might have been executed. In the US, eventually I was promoted.

When I was a kid, I loved those Biblical epics in which the Christians would hang tough against lions, crucifixions, and other horrors. I would have been one of them, I was sure, one of the faithful braving all manner of indignity and suffering for what I believed to be true. I recall being caught up in the conviction of my imagined nobility at a screening of The Robe I attended with my grandmother. A stranger, a boy in the seat to my right, threatened my pre-prepubescent thigh with a cocked rubber band.

“You don’t want to do that,” I told him, implying the irredeemable loss of his immortal soul. He didn’t. I was filled with a sense of power. I had stood up to EVIL. The blessed life of a martyr was mine for the taking.

I’m ancient now and more realistic about what I can and cannot achieve by force of will and by my all too convenient cowardice. I applaud those Afghani women and say that until each of us is prepared to suffer for our convictions, we have no chance of earning a just world.

Monday, April 13, 2009


It's a bit of a struggle, balancing all the obligations one has, with all the projects one wants to pursue. I've always marvelled at those who can pull it all off: raising kids; holding down a job; writing daily word-minimums; reading a book a week; keeping fit...

Right now, year-end bookkeeping and grant-writing are about all I can handle. Add to that, a few dreamy forays into mentally rewriting the novella; doing a bit of reading; socializing for sanity's sake.

But I suspect, whether we 'do it all,' or just 'do what we can,' we all have felt that distinct stomach-drop thrill of the balancing act. And the anticipation of the relief or rest that awaits...

(Image courtesy of hdc.)

Thursday, April 09, 2009

And you thought we abolished slavery

by Tricia Dower

Your intrepid reporter here, bringing you the latest from Google Alerts.

Google sends me an e-mail when something appears online about the cheery topics I touch on in Silent Girl, such as domestic violence, sex trafficking, bride kidnapping, racism, global warming, and incest. I get so many notifications every day I shove them into a file to get them off my read page until I can find time to review them.

Yesterday, I took a look at a few about sex trafficking, a topic that falls within the broader issue of slavery which, according to some sources, is the third largest criminal enterprise in the world after drugs and guns. One source estimates that 27 million people are slaves of one sort or another. Officially abolished worldwide at the 1927 Slavery Convention, slavery continues to thrive with billions of dollars in annual profits. Approximately 80% of the “commodities” traded are women and children and 80% of the services they’re enslaved to provide are sexual.

As a writer, I try to imagine the individual stories behind the statistics. I wrote one of them (the title story in the collection) about a seven-year-old girl who, after losing her mother in the 2004 tsunami, is kidnapped and sold to a brothel. Researching the story was painful. I was appalled at what I learned and felt helpless to do anything except write about it. Luckily, others have felt empowered to do more.

Google Alerts called my attention to several organizations working in various ways to abolish modern-day slavery and provide aid for victims. Organizations like the American Anti-Slavery Group (AASG), Polaris Project, Free the Slaves, and

Boston-based AASG promotes awareness, engages in advocacy and activism, and provides direct aid for victims.

Polaris Project was named after the North Star that guided US slaves towards freedom along the Underground Railroad. It operates in the US and Japan, seeking out victims and providing them with social services and transitional housing. It also operates a human trafficking hotline.

Headquartered in Washington, DC, Free the Slaves goes right to the “frontlines,” they say, to liberate people. According to their site, they also “enlist businesses to clean slavery out of their product chains and empower consumers to stop buying into slavery, work with governments to produce effective anti-slavery laws then hold them to their commitments, and research what works and what doesn't.” takes on human trafficking as one of a number of its causes. It profiles cases and provides a forum for activists.

An intriguing headline, compliments of Google, claimed that cannibalism and sex tourism were criminalized under a bill passed by Uganda’s Parliament last week. Actually, the bill is broader than the headline implies and offers a laundry list of what might constitute slavery today.

It provides that “any person who recruits, hires or maintains, confines, transports, transfers, harbours or receives a person, through force for purposes of engaging that person in prostitution, pornography, sexual exploitation, forced labour, forced or arranged marriage is liable to 15 years imprisonment.” Also, “Any person who commits an offence in trafficking in children, uses a child in any armed conflict, removes any part, organ or tissues from the body of a child taken alive, uses a child in a commission of crime or uses a child or part of a child in witchcraft or related practices, commits the offence of aggravated trafficking in children and is liable to life imprisonment.”

And, finally, yesterday the United Nations today launched a manual called Combating Trafficking in Persons: A Handbook for Parliamentarians —a compilation of international laws and good practices developed to combat human trafficking.

All good news, I guess, but…”organ or tissues from the body of a child taken alive”…? I could not write that story.

Image from the video trailer for Silent Girl.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

What I’m Not Reading (Yet)

By Andrew Tibbetts

I’ve been waiting a long time for Anne Michael’s second novel. It’s been thirteen years since Fugitive Pieces. Can you believe it? There are only a few novels that I felt myself growing emotionally as I read them—The Scarlet Letter and Great Expectations—and this wonderful book is one of them. It’s also supremely beautiful. Again, only a few novels—The Autobiography of Red—manage to marry the sublime music of lyric poetry to the forward momentum of vital narrative drive and this doubly wonderful book is one of them.

So The Winter Vault is out. It’s available in bookstores. Right now. I could get up from my computer and walk a few blocks west and a few blocks south to the “World’s Biggest Bookstore” and pick up a copy.

So what’s stopping me?

I’m terrified it will disappoint. I remember being so excited for Tom Wait’s follow-up to Bone Machine, for Season Two of Six Feet Under, for Park Chan-Wook’s follow-up to Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, and for David’s Mitchell’s follow-up to Cloud Atlas. And what did I get? “Mule Variations,” Season Two of Six Feet Under, “I’m a Cyborg, But That’s Okay” and “Black Swan Green.” Perfectly acceptable artistic creations, all! But marred in my perception by the almost fatal pressure I put on them to save my life.

Can The Winter Vault possibly be as good as I need it to be? Or, better yet, can I knock my expectations down to normal-size. Like the Buddhists say, “its expectation that creates disappointment.” And those Buddhists know their emotional causality! The placid devils!

It’s only fair to a work of art to come to it empty. To give it all the room in the world to be itself.

Stay tuned, as I try to buy a copy sometime over the next month…

Thursday, April 02, 2009

My Take on Privilege

by Tricia Dower

“Nobody; I Myself,” the fifth story in my collection, Silent Girl, is narrated by a white woman married to a black man in the US in 1966. Young and idealistic, she struggles with the conflict between her empathy for blacks because of the injustice they suffer and her nascent belief that they share at least a part of the blame for their situation.

Growing up in the States at that time, I was deeply moved by that injustice and both hopeful and despairing about the country’s ability to effect lasting change. Later, as a woman trying to make it in the business world, I empathized even more with blacks: females were held back for reasons of gender as blacks were for reasons of race. It wasn’t fair (!!!) and I was all about fairness those days, despite my father having told me, “If I led you to believe life was fair, I’m sorry.”

Since then, much has improved for blacks (and women) but, as a society, we still grapple with how to provide equity for all, including blacks and other visible minorities, aboriginals, women, the disabled, gays, lesbians, and the transgendered —who have I forgotten? Some say we’ve gone too far to accommodate anyone who feels different and/or mistreated, that we’re encouraging too many folks to feel entitled to preferential treatment. Some are tired of what they see as attempts to make them feel guilty for not being among the disenfranchised. As a bonafide Libra, I tend to see everyone’s point and find it difficult to take a firm stand. (Is there a support group for Librans?)

Because of my fence-sitting proclivities, I was attracted to this article by Wendi Thomas about the 10th annual White Privilege Conference going on right now in Memphis, Tennessee. Under discussion at the conference is the question of how much difference it makes to your success in life to be part of the dominant group (in this case, Whites). As Thomas writes, “The conference is not about blaming white people, but raising awareness about privilege wherever it lies,” and that privilege is not just about race. You can be privileged because of gender, sexual orientation, able-bodiedness (is that a word?), beauty, wealth, etc. I like this extension of the definition because it encourages us to look at ourselves in a fuller way, not as simply “us” or “them.” I may be “disadvantaged” due to being female, old, and hard of hearing, but I’m privileged in other ways because I’m white, heterosexual, able-bodied (except for the old and hard of hearing parts), literate…and so many other things. If I were black, I’d still have literacy going for me. (And, according to a friend, I’m more privileged than she because I “have someone.” As that someone is Colin, I have to agree.)

By no means does this broader view take away from the reality that blacks, for example, are “twice as like to be unemployed, three times more likely to live in poverty and more than six times as likely to be imprisoned compared with whites,” according to this Chicago Tribune article. We can find similar statistics highlighting the “cost” of being a woman, disabled, homosexual, or a member of another non-dominant group.

What it does say to me is that each of us can appreciate the abilities we have, admire those of others, and use whatever privilege we enjoy to create a society where the development of those abilities is not limited by dominant views of who is entitled to accomplish what. It doesn’t say that all will end up the same or that no one will suffer. Dad was right.

Image: from the video trailer for Silent Girl