The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Thursday, August 31, 2006

So How'd You Spend Your Summer

by Antonios Maltezos


I’ve started using foldback clips with tempered steel nickel plated arms to keep the pages of my stories together, the miniature clips that come in little boxes of twelve. Something new, you know, to keep things fresh. I finally got a flat screen, too, so there’s more room on my desk for when I need to scribble with a pencil. I don’t have to set my coffee down on my stories anymore, either, leaving brown rings on all the page ones. There’s room on the desk for everything -- my knick-knack basket full of used batteries and stuff, a pair of pliers, needle and thread, old post-its, push pins, any ponytail lastics I’ve picked up around the house – that kind of crap. I still have a messed-up pile of papers in front of the printer, but it’s in my periphery, so hardly a bother.

Things are looking up. It’s a bit colder in the mornings, so I’ve started wearing my slippers again, which means the soles of my feet are cleaner these days. I’ve already mentioned the foldback clips with the nickel plated wings, right? I tossed out a couple reams worth of story the other day, and I came away with the pockets of my writer’s robe full of the little buggers. It feels good recycling, though I’m not sure how long a staple will last in the weather, in a dump. Probably not long. Still, you know…

Umm, I opened a fresh can of coffee today. Got hit smack in the face with that full-bodied aroma thing, which is always nice. Helps with the writing, I think, because it gets the snap-crackle-pop thing going in the brain. Tried beer, but I was fizzled out by lunch time. What else? I finally stopped using that Barbasol shaving cream. No more rusty cans for this writer. I went out to the Wal-mart and got me some of that fancy gel, so the next whack of shaves should be cool and soothing. Yup, things are definitely looking up.

What else? What else? Ho, yah! Kids are back in school!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Elusive Mary Mance


By Anne Chudobiak

The best thing about my old apartment was my nom de plume: Mary, my middle name, and Mance, an abstraction from the name of my street. For a while there, Mary Mance was quite ambitious. She was going to be a novelist, the kind who wouldn’t use her real name. Mary Mance would write romance, not erotica. Sensual when appropriate.

The worst thing about my old apartment was the office, which was a mess. Two desks and all of our books. Bad lighting. When I picture it now, I can’t help but think, “Mary Mance. You can’t write romance in the same room as the litter box. It’s not healthy.”

We lived next door to an eligible bachelor who conducted his real-life romance--with a woman I’ll call “N”--at high volume. High sensuality--that was what the people at Harlequin called it (this according to the book Mary had bought, the one that told you how to write a bestseller “From spark to finish.”)

Mary’s romance was not set on Jeanne-Mance St. or even in Montreal, but in Nova Scotia, at a bed-and-breakfast in a fishing village on the Eastern Shore. That’s where a cosmopolitan young divorcée would be reunited, at long last, with Connor, the necessarily conflicted hero.

Mary didn’t have to do much research. The B&B was based on a business some friends of my in-laws had started. One of those early-retirement dreams that seems romantic until the husband gets a bad weave and starts spending all his time in the bar with the maid. The B&B folded and so did Mary’s novel. Eventually, we moved to a place one block over.

The romance how-to guide survived the move, but was demoted to the very top shelf of the inlaid cabinet, one of the more attractive features of our new apartment on avenue de l’Esplanade.

Connor and the divorcée didn’t make it across the threshold. They never even got to kiss.

I don’t know what happened to the bachelor next door, but every now and then, I see his ex-girlfriend, the woman I call “N.” The last time was at an open house for a school in a neighbourhood neither of us actually lived in. When she saw me, she laughed, because she knew that I was contemplating a new pen name, to be falsely acquired via Photoshop. Mary Durocher or Mary Querbes--it didn’t matter which, as long as it put us “in district”--wouldn’t write romance, though. A woman with that kind of gall would have to write intrigue. It turns that I’m not a spy novelist either. Commercial fiction is harder than I thought.

(Pictured: Kitty Mance)

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Connections

by Tricia Dower


A Chinese poet and statesman named Qu Yuan hurled himself into a river in 278 BC when enemy armies invaded his city. The story goes that local people, learning of his suicide, rushed out in fishing boats and unsuccessfully tried to save him. To keep fish and evil spirits away from his body, they beat drums and splashed the water with their paddles. The act of racing to search for his body in boats gradually became the cultural tradition of dragon boat racing.

Sunday morning. A short walk from home to the Inner Harbour on yet another perfectly sunny day in Victoria. Savouring the warm breeze in anticipation of the rains that Fall and Winter will bring. Down the steps, through the crowd assembled for the dragon boat races, past the women selling pink carnations, no thanks. I find a tight space on the splintery planks overlooking the dock where the teams board their boats. Wedge myself into it, my left thigh pressing the right thigh of a young woman dressed in dragon boat gear. We throw each other tight little smiles.

The teams lining up for the next heat are all breast cancer survivors. Whoopee. I’m in time for both of the cancer heats of five teams each, something to which I would have given a pass if I’d thought to check the schedule. Women with cropped hair; parading their condition; forcing us to pay homage to their courage. Their race is delayed while the harbour water taxis – bouncy little crafts that make me think of Tommy the Tugboat – complete a hokey ballet to The Blue Danube.

The young woman says, “I’m sad today.” I must have a harmless look that inspires people to confide in me; fools them into thinking I’m kinder than I am.

“I coach a cancer team in Edmonton,” she says. “They’re racing there this weekend and I can’t be with them.” She’s here steering a mixed team, most of whom have pissed her off. “They got blistered last night. You can’t get drunk and paddle the next day. It cost me $800 for this weekend. We should have placed better.” Steering is tough, she tells me. You have to keep your boat from crashing into others, keep it straight in sometimes rough water. I figure you need good balance, too, because the steerer stands throughout the race.

Her team will be in the 3:20 p.m. heat of five teams that placed respectably mid-level but not what she hoped for. She waves the two carnations she’s holding toward the women getting into the boats. “Coaching them is an incredible privilege, they work so hard. I’ve been doing it for two years and still can’t handle losing one.” To death, she means.

I think about an artist friend who paddled with a group of breast cancer survivors over 700 km. down the Yukon River from Whitehorse to Dawson. Recall her beautiful bold paintings, each evoking an emotional aspect of the journey she and the other women took through both figurative and literal wildernesses. I hadn’t considered the possibility she might not live a full life; that she could run out of time to paint everything inside her. “Survivor” means you’re okay, right?

I look at the women below in their boats, waiting to shove off for the starting point. I estimate their average age to be fifty; a good number of grey heads, some of the grey streaked with pink. Several pink wigs and boas, pink shirts under yellow life jackets, pink rubber shoes. I have never liked the colour pink, reserved as it is for the scorned gender. It takes a courageous man to wear a pink shirt.

I think about a friend in Toronto who recently underwent a double mastectomy and was fitted for her prosthesis a few weeks ago. “It sometimes surprises me,” she wrote, “how quickly I got used to having no breasts and no sense of loss about them.”

I wonder how many of the 200 women racing today are sans breasts. Part of my discomfort with this event is my suspicion that others in the crowd wonder the same thing and may discount the women as no longer worthy of inclusion into the ranks of “real women.” Do I discount them? Is that why I want them to be less conspicuous? I hate the currency that breasts represent for women. So important to our success that we surgically alter them and stuff them into uncomfortable under-wire bras to keep them looking perky well beyond their best-before date.

At the end of the second heat, all ten boats of cancer survivors nestle up to each other, forming a phalanx. They hold hands across the boats. The loudspeaker pipes out a schmaltzy song about brave hearts and the crowd keeps time with their carnations, waving them above their heads. My eyes fill. I hate this kind of manipulative shit. The young woman hands me one of her carnations – “I don’t need two.” I bury my nose in its sweet smell. At the end of the song everyone throws their carnations into the harbour. Mine makes it only as far as the dock but someone is there to scoop it, and the others that fall short, into the water.

“What attracts you to dragon boat racing?” I ask my new friend.

“The teamwork,” she says, “the camaraderie. It’s the only sport I know where twenty people do the same thing at the same time.”

I walk home for lunch, thinking about the lonely pursuit of writing. Come back at 3:20 to cheer on the hung-over Edmontonians. They finish last in their heat.

More than five years ago, Dr. Don McKenzie and colleagues of the UBC Sports Medicine Clinic formed the first breast cancer dragon boat team, to demonstrate that breast cancer survivors could regain upper body strength, that they could rejoin active life and achieve challenging goals. There are an estimated 120 such teams, now, around the world. The photo by Lightimages, is of Victoria’s Island Breastrokers.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Criticism

By Anne Chudobiak

When I was nineteen, I took an entire class on Alice Munro, but I can’t remember what, if anything, I learned about her. I’d already read all of her stories, but criticism--that was new to me. I spent a lot of time in the library reading Robert Thacker, who had cornered the market on Munro and would eventually write a biography. I couldn’t understand basing your life’s work on someone else’s, especially someone living. It creeped me out.

The professor was another mystery. Robert Lecker (Dr. Delicious?) is known for two main interests and that fall, the year of the second referendum, politics trumped literature. There was talk of McGill relocating to some empty space somewhere in Ontario.

Lecker shocked me by taking offence to a paper I wrote on the story “A Queer Streak.” He said no way would Munro know the word “queer” in the sense of “homosexual.” The rest of the semester was difficult; I didn’t know yet that an expert could be wrong.

The other students were English majors. They read differently. Munro wasn’t self-help to be revisited with each new stage in life: Okay, got the boyfriend. How will he disappoint? They read for technique and structure, not fate. During an off-topic discussion, one of them
inadvertently cracked a code--an acronym? Something to do with the initials of all the main characters--in Atwood's Robber Bride. Lecker advised her to submit her analysis to a literary journal right away. I was so excited that I forgot what it was I was supposed to be excited about.

I resolved to never take another English class again. There were easier ways to learn. That’s why I’m such a sucker for the Dropped Threads essays. No middle man. Not even the guise of fiction. Life writing.

I recently paid 24.95 for the third edition (Dropped Threads 3: Beyond the Small Circle). And you know why. She of The Robber Bride. Atwood's essay “Polonia: In response to “What advice would you give the young?” opens the book. It is, of course, very funny, particularly the part about dryer lint, but it’s not even seven pages long, shorter, if you, like me, skim over the Shakespeare quote. Shameless.

I finished it quickly and moved onto the next piece, which reminded me of something. What was it? Oh, yeah. This blog. Either Dropped Threads isn’t worth the list price or we need to start charging. Listen up, all you nineteen-year-olds.

p.s. “Love and Fear,” by Bernice Morgan (p. 219, Dropped Threads) is even funnier than dryer lint.

p.p.s. “About the Boys,” by Liane Faulder (p. 187) made me cry.

p.p.p.s. Judy Rebick’s “Rebellion and Beyond” (page 125) was the most enlightening. I won’t say why. It’s personal.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Magazines Galore!

Have you checked out Magazines Canada? Publications galore on all kinds of topics: Animals, Arts & Design, Business, Destinations, Diversity, General Interest, Hobbies, Home, Issues, Literature, Recreation, Regional, Wellness, Women and Youth, for example.

I challenge you to gift someone with a subscription to a Canadian Magazine! Come back to this post and comment all about it! Who'd you gift, what'd you give and why? And how'd it go over?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

A Dark and Stormy Night

by Steve Gajadhar

"One of the first things I learned about the difference between good and bad writing is that good writing is not entirely dependent upon the setting. And bad writing sometimes is."
--Ron Rozelle


I’m currently working on a story set in Northern Canada. It’s one I’ve been hacking out off and on for months. I’m not sure I’ll ever get it quite right, but writing it has revealed to me the importance of place and the impact of setting on a story.

There are various roles setting can play in a work of fiction and the writer needs to decide how important setting is going to be to the story. But relax, we’re not left out there on our own, many a book has been written on setting, and odds are many a story or novel has already been set in the place you are thinking of setting your story in. We should all feel free to lift what we need and make it our own. Writers are pirates: we take what we want but we use it differently than its original owner ever dreamed of.

I’ve read a few (okay, more than a few) books on writing and for my loonie Jack Hodgins breaks down the role of setting best in A Passion for Narrative. I’ve lifted Jack’s hierarchal roles and added my own short interpretations. I hope Jack doesn’t mind…

The Roles of Setting:

Negligible

A story that could be told anywhere, anytime. Setting does nothing and is unimportant to the story. In some cases a bare setting is done on purpose, to reflect the writer’s views, as a comment on society (the homogeneity of our society is getting close to being cliché though), or to highlight a specific place that lacks setting—a white drywall room. For me this purposeful lack of setting cannot be classified under this category and should fall under setting that affects character below, because the lack of setting becomes as critical to the story as a fully developed setting would be. So just where the hell can you use a negligible setting? I think the negligible setting is at home in a flash, or in a purely character driven short.

Stage Setting

A basic description of where and when. Think of novels that title chapters with simple location name and date. Nothing fancy, only orientation in the vastness of spacetime. The setting is pulled up and switched out like backgrounds in a play. The characters are what’s important, and so the stage sets are few and not overly detailed. We don’t want our audience paying more attention to the sets than the characters on stage.

Local Colour

Here we are starting to get into stories that couldn’t happen anywhere else. Phonetically spelled dialogue is a big indicator of the local colour setting. Historical fiction uses this type of setting a lot. Think of the writer as a tour guide that takes the reader along, stopping to point out the tree that Maggie and Ken carved their names into, and the faded frescoes from before the war. The tour guide aspect is also what makes local colour settings very dangerous to employ. Every once in awhile you get the tour guide that really knows his shit, adds to the tour, brings the place alive, but most of the time the tour guide is a bored teenager reciting the tour pamphlet verbatim. No one is listening. No is looking where you want them to look.

Atmosphere

The proper use of atmosphere puts the reader into the story, makes the pulse quicken, the eyes dilate (okay, maybe not, but you get the idea). Movies are a great place to see atmosphere at work. Perusing crime novels, and sci-fi and fantasy will also turn up some great examples. Or just check out Stephen King, he's a master. Although he uses the house on the hill sparingly, he does use it, and he never wastes it. Characters look up at it and walk below it until even the thickest of us knows that the house is evil and that something terrible is going to happen there. A good director will have the audience shrinking into their seats. A good writer can use atmospheric setting to do the same.

Setting That Affects Character

This one's hard to pull off. Most settings in this category could very easily shift back a step to atmosphere, or up a step to becoming a character in and of istelf. But for an example look no further than Faulkner. It’s no coincidence that steamy Yoknapatawpha county was populated with lazy and disinterested characters. Then there's Hemingway, Ernest always placed his male protagonists in settings that augmented his code of unspoken, unacknowledged courage. Tough men in tough places.

A Character Itself

The Artic, the desert, the Mariannas Trench, the surface of the Moon; these are settings that impact everything about the story. Setting can become the main antagonist against which the characters struggle for survival. Ever heard of the Old Man and the Sea? How about Sur by Ursula K. Le Guin? It can even be part of a broader struggle as it is in Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

Metaphor and Symbol

Anytime setting is a character the author can extend the use of setting until it becomes metaphorical and symbolical. If you’ve ever read Paul Bowles (and if you haven’t, I suggest you do) you know how powerful metaphorical settings can be. Bowles’ fictional Africa was a metaphor for his philosophy of the West versus the unknowable Muslim mind and world. The desert is alien to a New York aristocrat; the Muslim is alien to a Westerner.


My story falls under setting that affects character. I couldn’t drop my Northern Canadian characters into the desert and keep everything else the same. People don’t freeze to death in the desert. Yet both the desert and the Artic breed a toughness that is reflected in their inhabitants. That’s part of the subtlety and magic in interpreting setting and using it correctly.

Whew! That’s a good primer for now. In a future blog I’ll touch on the importance of creating your place and not just reconstituting it.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Timing is Everything

By Anna McDougall

Note for next summer: Upon return from holiday, have the good sense to write first and open mail second.

SUNDAY

Great vacation. No laptop, no newspaper. Even the cell phone was without service on those country roads. Camping and visiting family in the pleasant land of Saskatchewan did me good. Put life in perspective: family – spirit – mind - body. Returned home rested and inspired. Must capture this mood in my writing! Can’t wait to start fresh tomorrow morning.


MONDAY

Four pounds heavier and two shades darker, I plunk down at the computer at five AM. Three bolded subject lines, each a variant on the ‘your submission’ theme pop into my mailbox. Without regard to what I’m risking mood-wise, I eagerly double click. The first is the standard “thanks but no thanks; good luck in publishing elsewhere”. Fine, I think. I will find it another home. The second note surprises me, but when I reread the flash with well rested eyes, I agree it could be better.

Opening three rejections in one day can be disheartening enough, but my third note includes lengthy detailed comments that crush any possibility for a productive morning of writing. My writing is bad and my topic uninteresting. I worry my story actually offended the editor. I read his words ten times before I stand up and go to the backyard to breathe. I’m not angry – yet. I’m still inspecting every word he chose and every sentence (which I memorize) hunting for a hopeful speck on which I can hang my shrinking esteem.

Nothing.

I read it again.

Nothing.

His assessment is bare and final. That the harsh comments are specific and well supported only hurts more. There is no wiggle room. Reading that the piece had major flaws that I can’t see myself – not before I submitted and not even now – is infuriating. How will I ever be able to edit my own work? At first I try to be thick-skinned and mature and all that. I read the comments as suggestions, make plans to improve the piece. I print off the letter and compare it with feedback from my writer’s group. Had my peers been too kind?

Long ago, I accepted that I’m not a natural, but I believed my writing would improve through reading and practice, if I was honest and determined. This rejection takes me back to the beginning, without the consolation that it is just the beginning. Maybe I won’t submit for a while. Just write for my own pleasure. Stick to workshops. Stay safe.


TUESDAY

With this modest goal in mind,
I try to build something new.
Too scared. Too tense. I have no ear.
My best description deep blue.

Editing works in progress,
I second guess every word
Spend more time reading manuals,
Rewriting clichés I’ve heard.

Now I’m pissed.


WEDNESDAY

I’m ready for a fight so I show the note to my husband.

“Can you please read this? And don’t tell me that ‘it’s ok’.”

“Yikes,” he says, handing me back the sheet.

“Yeah, I know. I need you to listen for a few minutes. Please don’t argue with me. Or agree with me. Just listen.”

I’m desperate to clear my head of the defensive arguments that naturally appear in the mind to protect the heart. Once voiced, they might stop rolling around in my head, blocking every entrance and exit, ruining any future chance for creative thought or expression.

“First of all, this guy obviously doesn’t have a clue what I’m trying to get at. Can you believe him criticizing the narrator’s values and behavior? Even in non-fiction, editors should be open to multiple points of view. Not everyone sees the world the same way.”

My husband doesn’t flinch. I’m safe.

“I honestly don’t know what’s so wrong with it. I don’t agree AT ALL with his assessment. I wasn’t trying to pretend anything with that middle section; it just is what it is…”

I sip my coffee.

“I’m actually working with the assumption that this poor fellow finished a hard day at work and came home to yet another deadline on a pile of dull submissions. He decided to take it out on someone. He may not have even read the whole thing. Probably skimmed it. Once.” I’m shaking my head, checking out small sandy footprints on the lino.

“Oh! Oh ! And did you see where he contradicted himself? Ha! What a joke!” I feel a sour smile form on my face.

“Seriously though, who do they think they are anyway? It’s not like they even pay their authors.”

“And that pretentious rhetorical question at the end! The answer is NOOOO!”

On I rant, slicing the air with my fingers, my best debating voice coming out of retirement. My poor husband stands across from me struggling to keep his face blank, but the slight wrinkle in his forehead suggests a concern for my sanity.

I imagine his gentle voice: I always felt you were pretty open to feedback.

“Well…of course there were some valid points, some things I can learn from…like the grammar error is an obvious one, but I’ll be damned if I’m giving up on this story! They’re lucky I let them be the first to consider it!”

At this, he raises an eyebrow.

“Thanks.” Time for a walk around the block.

I walk and walk. I think good thoughts.

You’re still a writer, because a writer writes.
Absorb encouragement, ignore the distractions.
Don’t look too far ahead, concentrate on today.
Focus on what you do well.
Float your own boat.
Your voice is valid.
Write what you know for now and when the timing is right for a challenge in content or in form, stretch. You’ll know the timing’s right because you’ll feel confident, courageous, and open.

Kind of like I felt on Sunday.

Emotionally spent, it takes me fifteen minutes to lope around the block. I remind myself that the submission process is nothing like a workshop. Rejections have no obligation to help or to inspire; they are explanations for why a story is simply not good enough to publish.

Rounding the driveway I am one step closer to my goal, calmly accepting professional criticism of my work, grateful to be treated as a serious writer.

Monday, August 21, 2006

This Blog Will Eat You

by Andrew Tibbetts

Christopher Booker says there are only seven plots. Okay, sometimes he adds a couple significant variations but this is a blog not a PhD dissertation, so we’ll hit the highlights and ignore the subtleties. Just like politics.

All the stories you’ve ever heard, read, seen, thought about, or had tattooed on your rump fall into the following categories: “Overcoming the Monster”, “Rags to Riches”, “The Quest”, “Rebirth”, “Comedy”, “Tragedy” and “Voyage and Return”. I thought that when I’m out of blog ideas I’d take one out for a spin. And guess what, I’m out of blog ideas. (That’s not true. I just lied. I have several blogjects on the go but they’ll take the kind of care and attention I wasn’t able to give this time. Because I’ve been writing! Fiction! A story has welled up through a crack in my writers’ block. I don’t mind this brief diversion at all because my story is monster tale. And that’s the first of the plots.)

Overcoming the Monster

Our first story in English- Beowulf- was a monster tale. And some of the most recent popular movies- Jaws, Silence of the Lambs, The Devil Wears Prada- follow the same archetype. You need a monster and someone to overcome it. You can call that someone the hero, or just Jack. The actual plot is very simple. It’s the stuff the hero does to vanquish the monster. You can get fancy and have a middle section where the hero becomes disillusioned and gives up. Or you can get all modern and have the monster win- Invasion of the Body Snatchers, All About Eve, Bush/Gore 2000!

In a typical Canadian modern short story version, you need two characters. Your hero shouldn’t be too heroic and your monster shouldn’t be all bad. It’s also best if the overcoming is ambiguous. Perhaps a young girl escapes the amorous advances of an older gentleman. Perhaps a boy learns the darker side of his mentor and cuts his ties. One I love is Guy Vanderhaege’s “Teacher” from his superb collection Things As They Are. The monster is a tough six grade teacher who takes it upon herself to knock our narrator down a peg. For all the stories we’ve come across about giant squids, aliens, great white whales, radioactive lizards and the like, in our lives our monsters are usually people in authority over us: teachers, bosses, mental-ward-nurses. These petty tyrants get our knickers in a twist for real. Befitting its era and geography, our hero isn’t completely heroic- he’s a bit arrogant, we can actually relate to the teacher at times- and our monster isn’t all bad- she’s energetic and skilled, there’s lots to admire about her. As well, the overcoming is ambiguous. She is certainly overcome, that’s crystal clear. What’s ambiguous are our feelings about it. This isn’t a Disney movie where the bad guy falls in poo and everybody laughs. This story has the multi-grained love/hate/and-everything-in-between relationship to revenge that make Korean director Park Chan-Wook’s films so delicious and unforgettable. I won’t say anymore, because I want you to rush out and read the story yourself.

Thinking about this plot archetype in relation to my own writing was so surprising. Almost all my stories fall into this cateogory. I always write about kids and difficult relatives or workers and difficult bosses. I think my monsters are very good. Let’s face it. The hero is an excuse to spend time with the creature. However these stories fail if the heroes let you down. Jody Foster in Silence of the Lambs gives you more than Ed Norton in Red Dragon. Or I should say Clarice Starling gives you more than that other guy. There has to be something monstrous about the hero. They have to be worthy of the monster. That’s part of the fun of the new film Talledega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, the glee with which the French race car driver assesses his American vanquisher. At the end when Sacha Baron Cohen and Will Ferrell lock lips, it’s the first time I can recall that a monster story has revealed it’s secret heart, because, of course-of course!- a monster story is a love story. Ask Captain Ahab. Ask Clarice. Ask Guy Vanderhaeghe’s six grader now he’s all grown up.

So, I have to make sure my heroes are as interesting as my monsters, worthy of their half of the love. That’s what I learned about my writerself today. See you next time, when we tackle “Rags to Riches”. (Please, send money, so that I can have some personal experience of this topic.)

Sunday, August 20, 2006

If it wasn't screwed on...



by Craig Terlson

Okay, I am tired, brain emptied of most coherent thoughts, those last bits of logic, reason, and sparkling wit are being drowned by a large, industrial strength Gin and Tonic.
So, is it wise to really attempt a post?
Sure, why the hell not.

I have been running myself ragged trying to get ready for my holiday. I am sure a lot of you can relate – unless you are one of those who truly can leave town at the drop of a hat, or even with out the shedding of headgear. If you are, I tip my firmly placed chapeau in your direction. But if you are like me, you can relate to the rushing around, paying bills, trips to the grocery store, drug store, liquor store (running out of Gin), pet food store; calls to those taking care of your pets, your house, your lawn; tackling the himalayan size load of laundry that hides your washing machine (contemplating packing only your swimsuit and a case of gin); finding your maps, your camera, your batteries (another trip to the drug store – better drop into the liquor store again, just in case); and on and on and oh God, on.

At this point I am too tired to continue to compile this listof what I did today. But, I think I am finally ready. Though, we have learned from friends of ours that we should circle the block three times before actually leaving - it's goofy, but it works. You remember all sorts of things… like your kids. Damn, how'd we forget them dear?

Anyway, I am finally hitting the road. If you're still hitting the road this summer, may you pack all you need and forget about what you forgot. I'd say smooth travels to everyone, but if you're gathering tales for the CWC contest, then the best stories usually happen when something goes loopy.

So, I'll just say, may you always find ice and good limes for your G and T's.
Later.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Fantasizer



We are leaving for holidays today. I might already be in vacation land in the sun on the lake in my floating chair drinking a strawberry daquiri.

This year I bought the best, the best bathing suit of all time. It's called The Fantasizer Suit. It is!! It promises to do everything, lift, pad, suck in and adjust my body to the body I fantasize about having without working at it! And you know what? It works. The suit is black on the bottom and the lovliest shade of pink on the top with sheering at the sides and underwire and an empire thingie that makes my breasts look far larger than the double A they really are. (Sorry to disapoint, however, I did breast feed for three years, not consecutively, can you imagine? But,I'd gladly give up two cup sizes for nursing again.)

My children, who have seen me out of the suit, out of everything - my mind included -I have a habit of walking around naked - I clean in the nude, saves on bleach stains on my clothes, I cook in the nude and have been known to do a naked skip to the curb at dark to deposit one last thing into recycling. I have no idea if my neighbors have seen me naked. I do not care.

Anyway, my children, budding nudists themselves, were with me when I bought the suit.

"Boobies. Boobies. Boobies!" my six year old son said,laughing, covering his eyes, sitting on the bench in the change room while the magic of a curtain covering the doorway made his voice silent to all on the other side.

I slipped a leg into the suit and attemped to pull it up. The suit is made of some wonder fabric that sucks onto your skin, not in an unpleasant way, making it next to impossible to get into.

"Help me out here honey," I asked my daughter.

She tugged at the side and I felt my back fat bulging over the top of the scoop back, and then one last tug, and it, really, this happened, my back fat rolled, realigned itself past my sides, and Shazam! I had bigger breasts. It is a fantasy, the foam inserts don't hurt either, but I have to say when I walked out of the change room, I modeled the suit it was that good, and the seventy-two year old sales clerk said, "It's darling," I knew it.

I knew it, standing there in my black socks with my underwear poking out and my hairy legs and hairy, you know, (I bought the suit in March when bikini lines are not an issue) that this would be the suit I'd be wearing while on holidays. Even with my winter white complexion, I knew it would be the suit of the season. I wish I bought four. However, I'm hoping the suit will be my main attire for the duration of the trip. If I had my druthers, I'd go to the beach naked, get up in the morning, sit at the picnic table with my coffee, naked, definetely swim in the lake naked. Maybe I'll do that, the lake part. I'll let you know.

Maybe you're asking what does being naked have to do with writing? Or maybe you're asking yourself, Isn't this post over yet? No! it isn't, and I I'll tell you what being naked has to do with writing, Everything. If your writing isn't naked, you best start stripping down baby, or, you could get yourself a great suit like mine and pretend to be naked. I think I have the last one in existence. I'm a superhero woman really. Naked Woman! Able to suntan without lines, shower without having to change and write without fear of exposing myself. It's the only way.

See ya in eighteen, 18, I like writing the word better, it looks longer, eighteen days...xoxoxoxo

Friday, August 18, 2006

I Am So Not Sorry

by Melissa Bell

Today, I wish to write about my writing friends. It's a tough self-assigned assignment, because the last thing I want to do is expose, unintentionally, anybody's feelings or betray any confidences. But I think it might just be something that many real writers I know might identify with, so I'm going to risk getting all maudlin (perhaps) and sentimental (maybe) and trust that the truth will set me (and them, and maybe, you) free. And maybe alleviate (or validate) some pain along the way. Again, it's Friday, so if what I'm expressing here is shite, the weekend is nigh, and things can only get better.

I'm a lucky gal. While I don't socialize with a bunch of writers on a regular basis, the ones that I do get to hang with when we have some rare hang-out time are truly awesome in terms of their talent. And they're great people. Really. Generous to a fault. Gracious. Shimmering. Warm. Funny. No, not funny – make that brilliantly funny. When I'm in their presence, it is a spiritually humbling experience. My writer pals have taught me so much. Not about writing. But just about being good people. I wish I could say I've put their teachings into practice, but they make me aware of what I yearn to be and where I need to go.

You, you who are reading this right now, you might be one of them. Can I tell you I love you without being considered a weirdo? Probably not. And so I won't.

But could you please do me a favour?

Could you please, please stop considering your work shit?

Your writing is wonderful. It's what made me want to get to know you better as a person. And then when I actually made contact, whether by e-mail, or phone, or for a quick beer in a bar, I knew from your first paragraph that I had found a friend. I want to forward your work electronically during my downtime in the office, or photocopy the heck out of it and post it in the lunch room, and brag to my co-workers that Look! I know this person! See what they can do? Aren't they fantastic?

And yet I don't do this. Because, on some level, I really don't know if that would be the right thing to do. Not because the audience of readers would not enjoy what you have to offer (quite the contrary), but because I don't think you'd want me to do that.

It's so gosh darn silly. And it breaks my heart.

And then there are the Others. The ones who have no desire to do the work necessary to be good, to be great, but expect unconditional approval simply because they have decided to put something on a page at one time and feel entitled to the designation of "writer". How can some things be so out of whack?

I know it's not just about people who write. It's some kind of weird syndrome amongst those of the artistic bent. Of course there have been, and will always be, exceptions. Frank Lloyd Wright was a great architect, and boy, would he let you and everyone else know it. Picasso did not shuffle off his mortal coil choking on a slice of humble pie.

And so you, my dear writer friend(s) – I don't expect you to drop your writing credits into our conversations the way Hansel dropped breadcrumbs from his pocket. I've Googled you. I've read you. You're damn good. Awfully damn good.

So please stop apologizing for your work when I tell you how much I love it. You make me feel like an idiot, and I know that's not your intention. Your ass really does not look fat in those pants. But you might consider getting the hair out of your eyes. Quit trying to hide. It's not working. You're fucking good.

I beg of you: Let me tell me I love you and don't say something that makes me feel like a jack-ass for doing so. You're not obligated to love me back, dear god, no! Yes, I'm a tad misty – forgive me, please, it's a thing that happens when I experience beautiful things. I'm a big fat sap and an embarrassment to myself, and if you really sucked at what you do, this wouldn't be happening, so don't blame me. You did this. Deal with it. Another half-pint and a simple "Thank you" will be just fine, and then we can talk about other things.

Except hockey. I hate hockey.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Yet More Quotes to Ponder*

By Antonios Maltezos


The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.
~ Albert Camus

If I ever did that, it would be by accident… saving the world, I mean, and I would be King, for sure, slipping into me white duds, me chocolate brown shirt unbuttoned to show me gold chains, some chest hair. I’d be wearing the good shoes, too, the kind that don’t drag your feet so you look like a has-been construction worker who spent too many years keeping the hammer from swinging into the family jewels.


If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn’t brood. I’d type a little faster.
~ Isaac Asimov

I’d probably grab my doctor by the throat, one of those leverage holds that pinch both the blood supply to the head, and the air passage. I’d demand that he show me where he keeps the good stuff – quick!


Clarity. Clarity. Clarity. When you become hopelessly mired in a sentence, it is best to start fresh.
~ Strunk & White

Hopelessly mired! I don’t know about that. I’ve been stuck on a sentence… yah, but hopelessly mired? I’d rather use those words when explicating the whole of my writing career. I am hopelessly mired between a fantasy vision of my future where I’m paying the staff to pick up after me, and reality. It’s the fantasy part I have to do away with before I come unstuck, but it’s also the fantasy that keeps me going. And screw the clarity, clarity, clarity! That’s the last thing I want to be doing – thinking clearly.




*Thanks MLR.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Summer School, Part 2: Workshopping Sex


by Tricia Dower

By my reckoning I was the oldest member of Charlotte Gill’s workshop at the Victoria School of Writing’s summer session. And Charlotte, who’s already published a prize-winning short story collection called Ladykiller, is younger than either of my children.

One of the workshop members was still in university; another, newly hatched from high school. I met the latter at the meet and greet Sunday night before the session began. He was the one not drinking wine. I immediately had second thoughts about what I’d submitted for workshopping. A story about a child who’s sold into sexual slavery. A story in which I use the word penis. More than once. What could I have been thinking? Why hadn’t I selected something more grandmotherly?

On Monday morning, packages containing everyone’s submissions sat on the table in front of Charlotte as we launched into an ice-breaking exercise. My partner was a lovely, young woman from Montreal, an artist who does screen printing like my daughter-in-law. I had difficulty hearing everything she said because the room echoed and all of us were noisily breaking the ice at the same time. I kept saying, Pardon? Sorry? What was that? I imagined her thinking, ‘deaf as a white cat, poor old dear.’ I looked over at the recent high school grad. Pictured him fleeing the room when we discussed my story. Recalled how mortified my daughter had been as a teenager when I wanted to watch Prince’s Purple Rain with her.

At the break, I cornered Charlotte and suggested she remove my story before distributing the package. “Don’t worry,” she said. “They grow up fast these days.” She conducts writing workshops for high school students.

On Monday afternoon, she led us through another ice-breaker and a timed writing exercise. She showed the opening scene from the movie Master and Commander and asked us to analyze it for mood setting and character introduction. The packages remained in front of her. (Charlotte may be young but she’s savvy. She was giving us time to build rapport and safety before setting us loose on the submissions. We weren’t yet saving each other seats at lunch and dinner.)

Tuesday morning she showed scenes from It’s All Gone Pete Tong. We were into character = plot at that point. The film is about a DJ named Frankie Wilde whose lifestyle can only be described as excessive. It’s rated R due to ‘pervasive drug and alcohol abuse, language and some sexual content/nudity.’ No one seemed to have a problem with that. At noon Charlotte handed out the packages. Critiques would begin the next day. We huddled over lunch in nervous anticipation of mutual exposure.

I need not have worried about my piece. The university student’s story opened with a couple in a stall in the men’s room of a noisy bar. We spent a fair amount of time on the verisimilitude of the opening scene. If he was entering her from behind, how could she have seen his eyes? What did the words trying to keep it down mean? Curiously enough, the women in our group offered more opinions than the men on whether the come from behind position required the man to keep “it” down as well as up. The writer appreciated the discussion, being unacquainted with the precise situation she’d written about. “Help me out,” she said. “Give me the words to use.” My ancient history came in handy.

As the story progresses, the woman thinks she’s pregnant. Someone asked how we could know from what was written that it was vaginal and not anal sex. Charlotte said, “I wish I had a tape recorder. You should hear yourselves.” Even the newly-graduated high school student had jumped into the discussion.

My story came across as having been handled with a delicate touch. The gang was moved by it, but, as far as I could tell, not the least bit uncomfortable.

At dinner one evening I found myself next to a retired biologist – someone even older than I – who was enjoying his workshop, led by another of the seven faculty members. He particularly enjoyed reading what other students had written. “One of the ladies submitted a work of erotica,” he said, an honest to goodness glint in his eye.

Photo: Charlotte Gill’s workshop team. Seated, left to right are Lisa, me, Annie, Liz and Elaine. Standing, left to right are Jody, Charlotte, Ed, Jim, Talleen and Jesse.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Obsessives: Unite!

by Tamara Lee

The past couple of weeks have been plugged full of work (the paying kind), summer fun (the out of the house kind) and surfing the ‘net (the procrastination kind). And planning, planning, planning.

Been squirreling my options, planning for the winter, though it’s disheartening to spend so much time during these last few weeks of a great summer on something as dreary as a cold, wet BC winter. But, like end-of-summer fall clothes and notebook-and-pen shopping, it’s necessary to prepare yourself, lest you get caught up in the winter yucks, with a heavy case the winter SAD, unable to find comfort again until May.

Among my plans and link-hoarding are my new favourite getaway sites, the one-click routes to solace and comfort and, well, possibilities.

Getaway from here

There’s been a lot of talk ‘round my circle of pals, bullshitting really, about a fantastic voyage I want to take. It’s BS because I just don’t have the money for the big long-term travel event I initially imagined. Now, I dream and scheme and keep it to myself (because sometimes we can talk the good hoodoo right out of thing). Two links that have been facilitating this addiction to an idea are couchsurfing.com and realtravel.com.

RealTravel is a site where travellers get busy describing their adventures and dispensing advice. It’s full of blogs and suggestions to mine by plugging in your interests on a checklist that calls up a wide variety of travellers’ blogs. Since it is also a forum for family members to keep up with their crazy sister Kate getting found in India or eccentric great-uncle Allan who has gone coastal, there is a sort of homey feel to the site. As a writer, this is useful for getting the perspectives of a range of personalities, whether it’s someone excited about her first trip to Mexico, or the retired couple describing their trip around the world together. As a dreamy traveller, it helps get the saliva going.

Couchsurfing.com, on the other hand is simpler, and yet more ambitious. It’s a site that connects travellers willing to let other travellers sleep on the couch for a night or two, as they pass through town. It’s a full community of folks, headquartered in Montreal, but reaching out to all corners of the world. The site is home to the travel-obsessed and, generally though not exclusively, 20- and 30-somethings who have a taste for less structured travelling. The community, though, is rather familiar and friendly, with meet-ups scheduled frequently in different parts of the world. Plus, it’s a good place to get some hilarious tales, and insight into the off-the-beaten track of the world.

Getaway to there

My newest obsession though, is about the worlds I have right here at home and is facilitated by a site called LibraryThing. If you’re a bibliophile and you haven’t yet explored this site, beware. It’s like going into a thousand peoples’ homes and perusing their bookshelves. And if you're like me, that provides hours of entertainment.

What I love most about this site is how I can plug in the books I’m reading, or those in my collection that I feel define what I want to be reading, and find others who have read similar books. Once I see what’s on their shelves, or hit the ‘Psst’ button, the suggestions are endless, and I will never again have to seek out recommendations from friends who don’t ‘get me’.

But there is much more to LibraryThing than suggestions. While I don't possess the patience to actually put my whole library up online, that is the goal of many on the site, and it’s fascinating to discover that, of the thousands of people on the site, only a handful have some of my favourite books of all time. Who are these people, and how are we the same or different? How did we come by these books?

Then comes the next great thing about LibraryThing. I can contact the people who have these books (or books I like). So far, I’ve found two collections impress me and have them on 'watch' feature. Not all that surprisingly, one is a writer whose work I admire.

You’ll also find reviews; chat boards; and subject-specific groups to help you while away hours probably better spent writing. Yet, I’ve noticed there are a lot of writers on the site, some anonymously, which has also given me some sleuthing-pleasure, as I try to figure out just who it could be.

Finally, Librarything is worth mentioning for the very first thing that initiallly set it apart for me: the sign up is a snap, and made me instantly peeved at all the other sites that force me to give information I’d rather not. You simply put in a name and a password and away you go (just make sure you remember it; there’s no email welcome or any other brouhaha). Also, there are no ads clogging up the site, like on Amazon or even, to a lesser extent, the Powell’s site.

This latest round of procrastination has uncovered sites that have informed a new perspective, in a way. I know now that I am nearly incapable of choosing a travel destination; that I have an extraordinary amount of Angela Carter novels on my shelves; and that I really do spend too much time online.

But winter’s coming. There’s always winter.

(Remember, the CWC is sponsoring a new contest: check it out here.)

Friday, August 11, 2006

Two Esmés--with Love and Squalor

By Anne Chudobiak

It starts with a mistake.

You miss pre-registration at the Y.

God forbid you should miss pre-registration.

No swimming classes for Esme, your four-year-old.

What kind of parent are you?

Unless there is somewhere else, somewhere better.

Classes every morning, 8 o’clock, outdoors, with teachers who refuse to acknowledge the weather: “Is it raining? I didn’t notice.”

There are no floaties at your new pool. Children actually swim, which is amazing, quite unheard of where you come from. You are the proudest mother in the change room, the first session.

And then there is the problem with the diving board.

“She has no depth perception,” you tell the new teacher. “Her eyes.”

“That’s okay,” she says. “I’ll help her.”

But Esme only gets more and more terrified.

You hide behind your sunglasses as she wrestles her teacher and screams.

“Can you take her tomorrow?” you ask your husband when you get home.

He looks disgusted. The message is clear. This is your thing.

So you use the time to practice yogic breathing. Who cares how much you paid, what trouble you went to, to have your child walk around, wrapped in a noodle, while all of the other kids, some of them younger, mind you, kamikaze into the water? Really. Not a problem. Until.

Esme--your little “I not a fish, I a mermaid,”--says that she doesn’t want to swim, not anymore.

That’s when you remember.

The Y.

There is a class. It’s not her level--too easy--but you paid full price so that you’d “qualify”--for pre-registration. Fall is the most competitive season.

You weren’t going to send her, but why not? She’ll be the ringer; it’ll boost her self-esteem.

You can watch from the side, pretend that she’s a natural, that she gets it from you.

“Esme,” you tell the lifeguard with the clipboard the first afternoon.

“Armando,” she says, pointing.

A boy?

Tears. A tantrum.

Armando invites you and another parent to drag your children to the shallow end. Your kid is screaming the loudest, but Armando wins her over and she is the first to get in. The other one is more persistent. She is opposed to swimming teachers in general, male or female. Her name is Esmé, too. From Salinger, but in translation. The French Esmé has black hair with golden roots. She looks elegant in her yellow suit. You have met other Esmés before, but they are always older and often British.

French Esmé watches from the side--she is weeping--as Armando chases after your daughter who is swimming away faster than you can imagine: “Esme, come back. You forgot your floaties.”

French Esmé’s father is sitting beside you, but you can’t look at him hugging his knees and feeling small. You want to tell him that you understand--that your daughter did the exact same thing that very morning--but there is no way to do it without coming across as a total weirdo.

Better to keep your mouth shut and your eyes on the water.

Contest! Prizes! Announcing...

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Contest: Canadian Travel Stories

The Canadian Writers Collective Contest

Canadian* Travel Stories
(999 words or less)

stories that feature a trip
-taken, not taken, imagined-
to/from/between places in Canada
-real, surreal, unreal-

First Prize $50
(genuine Canadian Literature
for second and third places!)

paste your story
into the body
of an email,
with the subject "Canadian Travel Story- (your name)"
and send it to cwcdrew@yahoo.ca
by September 30, 2006.
Don't put your name within the body of the email-
as our judges will be judging blind.
Starting December 1,
the winning stories will be featured
at the top of the CWC blog
for a glorious two weeks each!

*You don't have to be Canadian to enter.
It doesn't even help.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Finite Capacity of My Brain


by Steve Gajadhar


The more things change the more they stay the same, right? How about the more I learn the more things I forget. It seems to be the way my brain works.

Let’s imagine a bowl as my brain, full of a semi-viscous paste that symbolizes knowledge. Along comes fresh knowledge, say a book, be it fiction or non, and this new book is like a steaming batch of fresh paste (knowledge, remember!) that gets poured into the bowl. Up until a couple years ago things were going great, new paste = new knowledge, but then something happened. My bowl reached its capacity. Now the new paste enters the bowl (we’ll say somewhere near the middle to keep the physics simple) and the force of the pouring drives the new paste downward, which displaces an equal amount of old paste outward and upward along the sides of the bowl. This old paste ends up spilling over the sides of the bowl and is lost forever, or until I find that same batch of old paste and pour it in again, which displaces more paste, and so on.

This problem may be unique to me, but I doubt it. And another thing, it’s getting worse. Are my neural pathways deteriorating with age? Do I need to buy one of those “exercise your brain” video games? Is all this learning making me stupid-er?

Here’s an example: I’m currently sifting through “The Fabric of the Cosmos” by Brian Greene. So far it’s a great read. Only I have to keep going back and rereading sections once I’ve finished them. Considering I’ve read at least a dozen books on the very same concepts Greene is talking about, I should have it down by now. I don’t. I mean I do in a way, but the specifics constantly elude me, only the general ideas remain. Everything is hazy. Take relativity, the very title of the theory often misleads folks. Not everything is relative, but for the life of me I can never remember what is. I have to go look it up, every dang time. Here it is: speed, distance and time are relative; relative to each other, and relative to absolute spacetime. And there went some more old paste over the bowl. I wonder what snippet of knowledge that re-education cost me. The sad part is I’ll never know until I need it and it’s not there.

The finite capacity of my brain affects my writing as well, particularly grammar. I’m constantly refreshing my skills (skills is used loosely here), relearning the basics. All of which vanish if I stray from writing for a couple of weeks. Even its and it’s for crissakes, not that I don’t know the difference, just that my eyes stop seeing mistakes when I’m proofreading. Grammar loses its place in my functional memory. Split infinitives, fragments, etc, etc, etc. It’s like I have to recode my brain into writing mode. Then when I do, poof! Say goodbye to Special Relativity.

All this has me searching for a way to enlarge my bowl. And I don’t buy into that we only use 10% of the brain business, so I guess that means I need a larger brain. I’m sure nature will provide for me in a few million years, but I could sure use one now. Any idears?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

On Vacation


By Anna McDougall

Thirty-nine days into summer break and I’m finally relaxed. I know this because my thoughts are scattered, I flit from one task to the next without finishing anything; read throughout the day, visit with neighbors lesuirely, clean house only when necessary, cooking even less often, ignoring schedules... Even my writing is all over the place – literally. Scribbles appear on the inside covers of novels and on scraps of paper, segments of a short story pop up in the same word document as old poetry attempts. I’m not going to fight it, though. Exactly four weeks from today, we’ll be back to the grind with plenty of shopping trips and other preparations taking up the days preceding the kids’ first day back to school.

In honour of my temporary relaxed state, I’m taking the week off; I'm calling this my vacation blog and filling it with a few short blurbs about what I’ve been reading lately.

Canadian Journals
I’m determined to read one issue of every Canadian Journal this year rather than favoring the few with which I’ve grown comfortable. This summer I picked up Prism international 44:4 which includes the 2005 short fiction contest winners and I blew through it. Winning authors Deborah Willis, Nicholas Ruddock, and Ibi Kaslik share tender, well crafted stories with themes revolving around trust in oneself. Two of the stories uncover the psyche of the artist while the other explores the impact of insecurity on a new marriage. There are two other excellent short stories, as well as a range of gorgeous poetry including my favorite, Giving Up by Lorna Crozier.

Unreliable Narrators
What are the chances I’d pick up two British novels, one after another that have nearly identical character situations? The first book, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night by Mark Haddon has been around long enough and discussed thoroughly so I knew what I was getting into, but the second was new to me, persuading me with its vague jacket promo and its Man Booker nomination. Astonishing Splashes of Colour by Clare Morrall is a richly intimate story of a woman struggling with depression following the loss of a child. Her situation is complicated by the loss of her own mother and a neurological condition which mixes the senses called synaesthesia.

Circumstances of both narrators make them unreliable: the former more consistently than the latter who is delusional only occasionally. I found it particularly interesting to compare how each author handled this challenge. Great books both of them, but not to be read in succession; at times I found I confused the two families (now who's unreliable?)

Happy Birthday
My husband bought me a subscription to the New Yorker for my birthday last week and my first issue arrived! No comment yet, I’m saving it for an afternoon when the only distractions will be a soft breeze and tinkling ice cubes repositioning as they melt in my glass.

Nellie’s Back
I finished reading Nellie McClung’s second autobiography, The Stream Runs Fast which covers her adult life, including her place in Canada’s political history. Stay tuned for a proper review.

Top of the Pile
I bought a copy of Glimmer Train while in Tucson at the end of July. I’ve never seen it here at home so this is my first time! I’m just one story in, but I’m already impressed. The contributors are highlighted in several places helping the reader connect in a unique way. Each has contributed a personal photo to the issue which is placed opposite the opening page of their story followed by a description of said photo. Beneath the picture is the author’s bio. Within “The Last Pages” each author takes a page or two to describe their motivations around writing the story they contributed or where the inspiration took hold. On the back cover, a significant line from each story accompanies the author’s autograph.

My preordered copy of Secret Confessions of the Applewood P.T.A. has not arrived yet. In the meantime, I think I’ll review my Strunk & White and keep writing.

my personal sources of inspiration

Monday, August 07, 2006

May I Recommend This Post?

By Andrew Tibbetts

Try to get somebody to read a novel you love. Ugh. Try to smile politely while somebody tries to get you to read a novel they love. Ugh. Why do we do this to each other? Recommend things.

I must have recommended to over one hundred people that they read Colm Tóibín’s "The Blackwater Lightship", and yet, as far as I know, not a single person has ever done so upon my recommendation. Does that stop me? No. Ugh. I soldier on.

It must be like belonging to one of those door-to-door religions. It's not so much that you'll convert anyone. It's about strengthening your own resolve. Paying homage to what you believe in. In fact, the more they slam, the tougher you get. The rare height of your exquisite taste is confirmed.

But not really. I don't want to be alone with these obsessions. I want company. I've bought several copies of Anne Carson's "Autobiography of Red" to give to people. I'd like to prop open their eyelids and clockwork orange them into reading it. They'll thank me when it's over. But on the other hand, the more people tell me I HAVE to read "The Kite Runner" the less I want to. I have a copy sitting several feet from me as I write this. A dusty copy.

A novel is such a huge investment. In comparison converting religions is small change- just show up at a new church for an hour and you're in! But novels take chunks of your life. And I HATE not to finish a novel. The few novels I have not finished, I repeatedly try to conquer. I don't want to saddle myself with another "Gravity's Rainbow", okay? I've read about those damn bananas a dozen times.

That doesn't stop me from asking my sixteen year old son at least once a month for the past several years, "How's 'Cloud Atlas' coming?" He ums; he ahs. Apparently he lost it. So I searched his room for it. Twice. And then he was all, like, I don't know, man, it's like, slow, at the beginning, and, like, all Victorian or something? Call the Children's Aid before I throttle him! Remember me? I'm the guy who introduced you to "Number Nine Dream" by the same author which is your favourite book. I'm the guy who introduced you to ska, which is your favourite music. I'm the guy who introduced you to John Woo, James Ellroy, The Hives, Butter Chicken, Green Apple Smoothies. Hello? I'm the guy who gave you half your DNA! Read the damn book. Humour me.

My father tried to get me to read Winston Churchill’s war journals.

Do you know what's depressing? Looking up a movie you love on Rotten Tomatoes and reading reviews by critics that didn't like it. Ugh. It makes me despair of humanity. My favourite critic these days is Anthony Lane, because the man can turn a phrase and not because I need to borrow his opinions. But it still bothers me that he doesn't care for my recent favs- 'Oldboy' and 'Me and You and Everyone We Know'- in fact he kind of implies that I'm creepy for liking them.

I’ll rant on. I don't set people on “My Life as a Dog” anymore. I'm tired of “you didn't tell me it was subtitled” and “well, it was slow” and “I thought you said it was funny- the kid's mom dies, buddy. I had to turn it off”, etc.... it just breaks my heart. When you recommend something you are offering a piece of yourself. When it's rejected, it's personal. Don't pretend otherwise. The part of you that feels that way is not present in the other person. Just like the part of my favourite teacher who loves "Seventh Heaven" is alien to me and if I think about it too much I lose all respect for him. Ugh.

Let’s face it. Other people are freaks. Freaks who like "Titanic" and not "Yes Nurse No Nurse," the Dutch musical. Freaks who prefer Burger King to Harvey’s. Freaks who vote conservative. You are never so much alone as when you are making a recommendation. So, best to keep them to yourself. Mum’s the word. Tick a lock. (But seriously, listen to that Sufjan Stevens song again, okay? It's not disturbing. It's beautiful. Why can't you hear that? Damn, I feel like a freak.)

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Winsome losesome


By Craig Terlson

After some publication success with my short stories and flash fiction, I am experiencing some rejection blues. As a new writer, you expect a fair amount of rejection – but whether you expect it or not, it still smarts (to use my mom's term) when you get one of those nasty letters that starts with, "Sorry…"

I just came back from a road trip, one of a couple I've planned this summer, and was pleased to learn that two of my stories had been accepted for publication. As usual, I gave a whoop and did a little happy dance around my studio – it helps if I put on something funky to move to, Creedence is good, Tragically Hip even better. The celebrations include a beer or two, depending on the size of the magazine.

I have come up with the following scale:
Small online mag – One whoop, a pirouette, and a bottle of domestic (Pilsner if I have it, Moosehead if I don't).
Bigger Online Mag – Several whoops, shake my booty, a little of the funky chicken and two bottles of import (Grolsch in the summer, Becks and Pilsner Urquell in the winter)
Print Mag, small circulation – Lots of whooping, twist and shout, line dance with myself and some classic mashed potato, the swim, the pony and a six-pack. (Mix it up, some Corona, Molson Ex, maybe a MGD). If money is involved, there could be wine. Something red, out of a real glass rather than the usual jam jar.
New Yorker – Run up the street naked, scream like a banshee, come back and drink everything in the house (repeat).

This sliding scale works well for me. I haven't worked out one for rejection yet, though it usually involves Scotch.

The next morning after my mini-celebration, I learned my grant application had been turned down, and the agent that had my novel for several months decided to pass. It smarts.

But, it has been smarting less lately. In my day job of drawing pictures (sheesh man, get a real job!), I learned a lot about that rollercoaster of rejection/acceptance. I have learned to celebrate even the smallest victories and not to take the rejections too seriously.
Besides, I don't think my liver could take it.

Cheers.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Summer School, Part 1: Courageous Hearts


by Tricia Dower

A few weeks ago, I attended the 11th annual summer school of the Victoria School of Writing hoping to get tips on writing more from the heart — something gurus keep telling you to do. “Write your heart out,” says Joyce Carol Oates. My writing can be so objective at times as to seem clinical, I’ve been told. I’m not one for gushing.

I found what I was seeking but not from the workshops on craft. From faculty and student readings, instead, many of them so emotional they caught me off guard.

Susan Musgrave who lives in Sidney, a half-hour drive from Victoria, did the first author lecture and reading. Spoke about the words she was reading, how they formed themselves into poems, stories and essays, how they emerged out of her self-admitted absurd life. She’s married to Stephen Reid who’s in the sixth year of an 18-year sentence for bank robbery. He’s allowed home every so often on day pass. He once was on the FBI’s Most Wanted list and I figure he's spent half his life in prison already. He’s battled heroin and cocaine addiction for years. Susan met him while he was serving an earlier sentence for bank robbery and she was editing his manuscript that turned into the best-selling Jackrabbit Parole. They married a year before he was paroled and had a daughter together. He became, from all accounts, a loving stepfather to the daughter she already had.

She didn’t give us all those details; I googled her. But she related how his addiction affected her daughters and led to a poem about their fictional drowning. Told us how her younger daughter’s suicide attempts inspired a newspaper column. She has a perverse sense of humour about her life. Has to, I guess. Delivered her presentation at times like a stand-up comic, leaving us weak from laughing, grateful she wasn’t trying to make us cry. She sighs a lot. Audibly. Who can blame her? In the ladies room between sessions, if I heard profound sighs from one of the booths, I’d know it was her.

When she reads, you know it’s her, too, in the sense that she and her work feel like one. It isn’t just her distinctive style. It’s her willingness to put herself into her words, to not hide behind them, to share the truth of her life.

Another faculty member I learned from was Maria Coffey, a non-fiction writer who lives on an island off of Nanaimo. She read from her latest book, Where the Mountain Casts its Shadow. It describes the addiction of mountain climbing and how that addiction affects those who love climbers, those who wait for them to return, or not. It’s the second book to grow out of her relationship with a climber who disappeared on Everest 22 years ago. The second book to grow out of her pain. She spoke about that pain so openly and intensely that when she read from the book, the depth of her experience came through every word. I was drained after her reading; had to go home early; had to go right to bed.

Many of the students who read had clearly opened a few veins, as well. Their voices trembled not just from nervousness at being at a microphone before a roomful of people but also from the emotional truth of the words they’d written. Their personal emotional truths. I went through a few tissues and came out of the week wondering how much of myself I allow into my writing. Wondering why I would want to let any of it in to begin with. Once it’s in there, after all, it’s also out there for everyone to read and judge, to pick apart, to trespass upon.

Where do Susan Musgrave, Maria Coffey and many of the students I heard find their courage? For it must be courage, I concluded after my week at school, that allows you to lay your heart out on a page for everyone to see. Looking back on my life, I remember lots of times I was brave or, at the very least, plucky. Perhaps I’ve depleted my meagre supply of courage and need to visit the Wizard for a refill. Perhaps I should check first to be sure I even have a heart to write from. Might need to ask the Wiz for one of those, too.


Photo: Susan Musgrave arriving for writing school one morning. On Vancouver Island, her car is as notorious as her husband. It’s covered with glued-on plastic toys that reminded me of fridge magnets. She’s been working on it for 10 years; told me it started out as a mid-life crisis project, as therapy. Now it’s just something to dust and repair, something to maintain, I suppose, like courage.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Best Read with Cheese

Oh my dear friends. Here it is, a lovely Friday before a long holiday weekend and I am blue. My computer has a virus (how? why? wherefrom?), and my car needs to go in for some work tomorrow. So two things in my life that help get me around this big ol' world of ours are feeling poorly and acting up, and I am at the mercy of specialists to fix things. It's irksome, to say the least. Contrary to what you might have heard, I'm not (that much of) a control freak – but when I know so little about the inner workings of two of my own world's lifelines, I feel helpless and oddly guilty. Now I know by next week my car will be fixed and my computer will be fine. So really I should just shut the hell up and thank my lucky stars my "problems" are what they are. Honestly. I should know better than to gripe about a leaky exhaust system and some pesky computer virus (brought upon, probably, now that I feel a need to confess my guilty pleasures, by visiting some Big Brother fansite – I get a little off balance every year about this time, and no, I don't really want to go into it, but thanks for wondering).

Has anyone read the news lately? It's beyond heartbreaking. All of it. Even the "good" news like "Vaccine Gives Hope to the Obese".

Way, way back when I was a bona fide youngster, I figured the New Millennium would mean incredibly magical things such as picture phones (check), people shaving their heads as a fashion statement (check), and flying cars (no check, but given the challenge of gravity-based driving for many, that's probably best left on hold). I did not think that people would be at war with one another.

My parents lived through WWII as children – Canadian children. All sets of my grandparents (more than the usual two due to divorces, remarriages, etc.) never saw any active combat, but war was still something that was a part of my parents' young Canadian lives. There was rationing, there were blackout drills and air-raid drills at their grade schools. I can remember being tucked in at night accompanied with war stories from my mother's memories. What to do in case of a bomb threat (hide under your schooldesk). How one couldn't even have a cigarette lit in the living room when the sirens would go off. Sugar was a luxury item. She learned how to knit socks using four needles (crazy complicated to me) as she helped her own mom put together care packages for our soldiers overseas. She collected tin foil. She said goodbye to a lot of young neighbours and cousins who never came back. And if they did, they were incredibly damaged. I was lucky, she would tell me. I wouldn't have to live through that. Because things were different now.

Things are different now indeed. Sugar rationing is a laughable idea (but would probably be a good thing). Most days, I yearn to hide under my desk for no real reason at all. As an occasional smoker, I am assigned to hide my disgusting habit at all times. And nobody knits socks anymore, do they?

But the threat of saying goodbye to friends is there. Huge time. I didn't envision such a thing as The Internet when I was a kid. Sure, I had pen pals galore, but I was mostly in it for the pretty stamps and stationery and "Hello Kitty" stickers. Now I have true friends on the other side of the world with bombs falling on their front doorsteps. And that wasn't supposed to happen. My mom told me people had learned things since she was a kid. Guess not.

So my car makes a funny noise and my computer is probably going to need reformatting. Other than that, I'm only marginally uncomfortable in this heat and, dang it all, I couldn't find any sugar-free tonic water to mix with my Grey Goose vodka.

Peace and prayers to all that should have my "problems".

Have a safe weekend, all.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Yah, right!

By Antonios Maltezos

The truth is that writing is the profound pleasure and being read the superficial.
~Virginia Woolf

I ain’t exactly trying to unlock the mysteries of the universe with my writing. So I’m not sure what she means by profound? Can anyone tell me, please? I did try and figure things out for that farmer guy in that story I wrote a while back, but he was made up, and so were his troubles. I don’t even know where his farm was located, whether even in Canada or the US. I’m thinking it was in an Iowa type of place because I know they have lots of farms there, and most people are familiar with it from the movies, but I can’t be sure. I took a bus ride across The Great Canadian Prairies, once, so I may have mixed in some of that scenery, too. Btw, does the US have an equivalent of our Prairies, or do they just call it farmland? Good question, huh? The point is it was all made up. Any details I thought I might confuse, I simply ignored, left out, kept the camera focused in on the faces of my characters, close-up, so the reader wouldn’t notice that I’d left out the background. How can this be profound work when I was so actively trying to avoid getting caught in bullshit?

The truth is…


This writing thing is a major source of grief for me. I feel bloated most mornings because of it, constipated. It makes me wanna pull out my nose hairs -- peel onions so I can weep for a while in front of a mirror, convincing myself that I’m a Human being and not this strange creature whose mind works on a level with a thief, stealing lives just because I can. Truth is… this is when I’m not even writing -- when I’m sitting down at my desk even though I know I ain’t gonna write anything of consequence this day. Most days. Yah, there’s something profound about it. Especially the way my confidence takes a beating on a three/one shift. Three days feeling like a shit, with one good day off from all the misery when I’m finally able to write something I can keep. It’s a fucked up shift, and it’s taking its toll. I cut back my work hours this summer, incidentally, just for this, just so I could gain twenty useless pounds that don’t even help cushion the hours I spend writing and then backspacing. I did it just now, you know, and I’ve already forgotten what it was I erased. Tell me that wasn’t a waste of time?

The truth is that writing is the profound pleasure…

I’m like a no-name golfer working the pro circuit, except there isn’t even a promise of some money when I’m playing well (by playing I’m referring to the fantasy that a grown man can make a career of playing a game.) And like most of these okay golfers, I’m constantly forcing the ones I love to reschedule because I’ve managed to convinced them I’m that good, and it’s worth the hassles. God bless ‘em. Truth is, when the writing is going well, I can look them in the eyes. It’s part of the pleasure (yes, I said pleasure) when they’re realizing they’d better get in on some of the fleeting happiness and do the dance with me, and they do, because everyone knows I’ll be in a profound mood for three days following.

… and being read the superficial

I’ll admit my first reader was my mom, the poor woman. Incomplete thoughts, out of the blue characters and scenarios, tangents that were more like wooden planks on a pirate ship – she devoured it all, struggling to make some sense of it with her English being a second language. I don’t think she got most of it, but she was very good at pretending, using generic terms to express the way my stories made her feel. You can blame her for allowing me to move on to the next stage, newer readers with keener eyesight, like my wife, who’d read most of the early stuff and decided long ago she wouldn’t stand for my “you’re just not getting it” explanations. And then there’s the Zoetrope writer’s workshop, and those first five reviews required of… umm… newbies. I do get them every once in a while, and I value them as they serve as a reminder that what I do, I do for the reader, but not really. It’s why they hurt so much. It’s like having your gift opened while you’re there, noticing the grimace, the way the package gets tossed aside because there are other gifts to open, gifts that might be more appropriate, more exciting than the one you brought.

… profound

What if I don’t see the profound aspect of the writing experience the way I’m supposed to according to Virginia Woolf? Do I fill my pockets with stones, find a lake whose bottom is slippery with silt and drops suddenly after only a few paces? No way! Yuck! What would be the fun in that? I’ve had enough misery up to the now. I’m still dreaming of a hole in one.