The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Zero Hour


by Steve Gajadhar

The zero hour is upon me. No more excuses. No more distractions. It’s time to start the screenplay that’s been kicking around my skull for the last 3 months. I need to get it on paper. I need a deadline, so I’m going to give myself 6 months. December 1, 2006, a rough draft must be complete by this day. Ugh.

I’ve got a basic idea of what the story will be about and some characters floating around. I’ve also spent some time building general knowledge of screenplay writing, including a fresh reading of Robert McKee’s Story. The task is now upon me to tell my tale in a new and interesting way. That’s it, and it should be easy except for one thing, I fully expect to fail horribly. Expecting failure is essential if one wants to succeed with this writing thing. The other key factor? Expecting success…eventually. No wonder so many writers end up completely insane. I don’t think my first go around will be any good, hell, I still can’t even write a decent short story, but I do think that if I stick this thing out and keep at it I’ll get it eventually. I hope. See? Stupid self doubt.

Music is going to be important (speaking of which, selecting songs for movie soundtracks would have to be one of the coolest jobs out there) so is imagery. The flagmen will become important metaphors because the whole semaphore thing has always fascinated me. As for the rest, well, I can’t give everything away. But there should be some juicy bits in there and come the first of December I will have the beginnings of a cathartic growing older tale that approaches my version of truth.

I’ll post some of the stuff I learn from writing a screenplay, dialogue tips, how to actually make sense of plot and causality in fiction, etc. Now I have to start. Right now. Tuesday, May 30th, 6:49pm. No more excuses, it’s the zero hour.

Here we go:

The front landing gear of a commercial airliner, a block wedged in behind. The opening bars of Sam Roberts Uprising Down Under. The airport staff mills about getting the plane ready for departure. The whine of the turbines warming up. The block gets pulled out and the flagman motions the plane back. A shot of the wheels rolling back. Cut to a man inside the plane. His head is leaning against the inside of the plane and gazing out the window at the airport workers below.

The plane takes off.

I’m excited and terrified at the same time.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Words Came


By Anna McDougall

On Thursday, relatives and friends assembled in Calgary to bury my beautiful 85 year old grandmother. Many of these people lifted a pen or opened a book searching for the right words: Words to clarify the week’s events and our own reflections, words to help us voice our interpretation.

From heartfelt emails, carefully scripted telephone conversations, and hand written notes, to eulogies, tributes, poems, and the obituary; from selected mass readings, psalms, hymns, and prayers to impromptu anecdotes shared at the wake in the early hours the day of the funeral, words were essential.

Some of us didn’t share our thoughts publicly, personal journal entries were logged and even my most private sister placed a sealed envelope in Grandma’s casket.

Friends’ kindly crafted sentiments brought comfort. Condolences at the newspaper and funeral home websites were welcome. Meticulously arranged clichés from the touching to the confounding appeared on bouquet inserts, sympathy cards, guest books. Every author trying to express something integral to their mourning.

These words were selected with care not only for accuracy, but also to protect our tender hearts. They were gathered quickly, for by the fifth day her passing had to be communicated across the country, loved ones needed to travel, formal arrangements were to be finalized, and assignments handed round to prepare for the final twenty-four hour goodbye: The wake, prayer service, funeral, and internment.

It became immediately necessary to push past tears and fatigue to celebrate this woman’s life with a delicate balance of truth and restraint. All this in a moment when everyone needed to take, yet everyone longed to give.

Events such as this expose us to humanity’s deepest sensibilities, in ourselves as well as our loved ones. When we face our souls in this way, when we see the need of another is dire, humans endeavor to write. It is far more than convention or prudence impelling us to record, reread, edit, perfect our thoughts; it is a universal craving to communicate as honestly and as wholly as we are able.

But even when the pain is near the surface, and the desire to write is present, the words do not always come. I watched my aunt, a deeply sensitive woman, struggle with the news of her mother’s death. She began in a place of complete loss, not knowing what to grab on to, desperate to find a way to honour her mother. The sting of raw emotions paralyzed her despite the will to order them. In time, after many tears, following numerous conversations, she began to write. With diligence she brought to the page every real feeling, no matter how painful and laid them out. And once they were before her, the natural balance of her mind returned so that she could harness her strength and activate her writing talent to begin building.

The tribute that resulted from this healing experience was gorgeous. She had moved from clinging to a trite phrase, towards a revealing message which celebrated the uniqueness of her mother and their very special relationship, a message from which our entire family could gain understanding.

Writing is a magnificent gift. It enables humans to connect with, to process, and to ultimately share their deepest emotions. This week I witnessed the transforming power of personal writing in the people I love and something occurred to me, perhaps for the very first time. The various forms of writing I witnessed showed me that the impulse is common to us all. Many people write only when emotion or circumstance forces them. Others give into the urge a little more often. We call them writers.

Monday, May 29, 2006

I, Veronica; I, Betty; I, Jughead

by Andrew Tibbetts

Before I switched to writing fiction I composed music. Creativity's creativity, right? Same current, different channel? I wish. This weekend, meaning to finish a short story, I composed an octet. In comparison to the constipated non-flow of sentences I've been squeezing against all month, the notes poured out in a joyful rush: a ripple of congas, a flurry of clarinet and muted trumpet, a battery of piano thumps- breath in, breath out a deranged samba. Why is it so hard for me to achieve a similar 'flow' in my literary brain?

Psychologist Howard Gardner suggests the mind is a collection of intelligences, not a homogenous entity. He'd have no trouble with my facility in one field and awkwardness in another. And he didn't have to see me square dance in grade six gym class! Eventually Mrs. Cummings sent me to the bench. Benched! While square-dancing! I was allemandeing left when everyone else was allemandeing right, dosadoing in when everyone else was dosadoing out, slightly behind, suddenly ahead, often on my partner’s toes, often stopped dead with my mouth sagging open. My kinetic brain is a moron. I'm good at chewing. Anything else is a challenge.

My literary brain isn't a moron, but she's fickle, coy. She plays with me, starting up without warning and dropping off just as suddenly. She leaves the dance-floor mid-tango, demanding to be fed grapes. Or she wants to fox-trot in the middle of the workday. When the spotlight hits, she refuses to spin like we'd practiced. But in the secret center of a lonely night, she Pavlovas up a dying swan, wrenching beauty and meaning from all-too-ordinary despair.

In contrast, my musical brain is a cheerful dependable girl-next-door, on her way to being a happy housewife. When I pull up my music writing program she sings whatever needs singing. If I want seven and a half bars of Picassoish ragtime, she whips it up. If I say, No! For tuba and in gypsy-minor! She transforms it with a wave of her duster. If I ask her to thread in a slowed down version of an earlier theme, she picks up her needle and does it. She never seems to think. There's no anxiety to her at all. Is she any good? Most of the time, I don't think so. I'll whip up a piano concerto in a week and hardly ever listen to it again. When I do go back to it- it always sounds pretty good. But it doesn't stay in my mind. I guess I take her for granted. But she never cares. She doesn’t seem to want anything of me. And I enjoy her company, when I’m in it. But I desert her in a thirty-second note when the words call.

Literature! Why do I value this undependable and demanding- I'll say it!- bitch? Unlike the forgotten symphonies, I don't forget a single turn of phrase she ever deems to grace me with. Is it because she treats me so badly? Because I have so little control over her? Because I've had to learn patience and faith? Because she isn't a bitch at all, really, I realize when she turns to look me full in the eye. She knows my heart. We are learning to speak each other's language and its worth all the effort.

This little blog-post she’s tossed my way- it’s pretty awkward, eh? The music and the dancing and the writing and the sewing- the metaphors are all over the place. There’s something of the square-dancing fool in her today. But at least she’s on the floor. Thank you. Thank you, word-muse. I grovel at your rarely-sighted gams. I trot in your wake, cleaning up. After you leave, I’ll re-order the sentences, toss out the dull words, cut, cut, cut, and try to bring unity and order and delight. You make me work, you do! I’d hate you if I didn’t love you with every fibre of my being.

In the Riverdale of my head, these wholly separate personalities interact, with me and with each other. And despite all the times it doesn't click, its fun being me. But now I'm starving. Forget the art, I'm going for a burger. Perhaps she’ll join me, and as I chew the key to the short story I’ve felt locked out of all month will drop in my lap. I, everhopeful and pathetic sap.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Stop, hey, what's that sound?





By Craig Terlson

I am taking a step away from my regular posting ("What I've learned about writing, thus far.") to ponder a recent phenomenon.

I try to take daily bike rides, I should add, when the weather is warm. Living in Winnipeg, I have a small window of time.
But like most Winnipeginitotians, I scurry outside and try to soak up the tiny morsel of good temperatures, sun and no bugs (yet) that we enjoy this time of year.

There is a gorgeous bike trail that runs along the Assiniboine river, dipping in and out of wooded areas, down hills that are easily navigated by older riders, yet give enough thrills to make you feel like you're not ready for the home just yet. The trail eventually spills out into the expanse of Assiniboine Park, where sweaty youths full of Jolt Cola chase Ultimate Frisbees, long fly balls are hit to centerfield, happy dogs loll their tongues, and joggers share the road with kids taking their first steps on roller blades.

As I ride, the day's stresses melt off me. I love just staring at the sky and the multitude of green shades that inhabit the trees. When I paint trees I think about those bike rides, yet I am always disappointed that I can't match that vibrant green of elm leaves in sunlight. As I said in one of my stories, no one has figured out how to put light in a tube.

The phenomenon that I mentioned is the ipod. Let me make it clear that I am a musician. I love music of all kinds, my day in my studio is spent listening to everything from Lynard Skynard, Tragically Hip, Neil Young, Wilco, to Miles Davis, Jobim, Stan Getz, Mozart, Satie, and Death Cab for Cutie (at my son's insistence). But when I am outdoors, I go unplugged.

I don't understand the need to close off the outside world. Sure, I love those nature sounds of the river burbling, or trees whishing and birds chirping – I wouldn't be surprised if someone out there has downloaded nature sounds to listen to during their urban run; but I also love the sound of my tires on the road, the clack of roller blades, and kids making primal screams when they leap over the pit section of the ride. Just to tangentially say, I take a wide berth around that part – nostalgic for a time where I also spent hours trying to break my collarbone – but glad that I've gotten over that desire (mostly).

I pass the joggers zoned out with ear pods firmly embedded – the ones that don't hear my bell as I try to pass. And bikers wearing headphones are just goofy. Call me nutty, but I am riding in a city and I like to hear that delivery truck pulling up behind me.

Safety aside, I just don't get the need to enclose yourself in an anti-Maxwell Smartian-cone of silence machine so that you can… what? Relax? As a writer I need to soak up my environment, that includes all its aural pleasures. Not only is it relaxing, it's damn near transcendental.

Yesterday, while riding, I heard a small girl say to me. "Hey, I like your helmet." I wear this ancient Vetta bowling ball thing that makes me look like I might have done some goose-steeping in those 1940 war films. I said, " Hey, thanks." Then she giggled.
That giggle, as warm as the sun drenched leaves I've been talking about, made my day – and if I were plugged in, I would have missed it.
I didn't.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Want



Want

By

Patricia Parkinson

"Write what you know.”

I hear it all the time, “Write what you know, just make it about someone else. Draw from your own experiences and elaborate. Make your own life third person.”

So, write as if it’s happening to someone else, but I know everything about it. Be inside someone else’s head for real. It’s the best when it happens for real. It’s thrilling and freeing and makes it easier, for me anyway, to take more risks when the story isn’t about, “I”. But, then again, I asked myself, does anyone want to read what I know about pari menopause or the stress caused by the so called milk steamer on my espresso machine, told using a different name to protect my identity? No!

But maybe someone will want to read about what it is that I know I want.

My wants are something I know about. I’ll write about that, I told myself. And I do.

When I write a description of a room where the character resides, the lighting is great, the view is better and they picked the right paint color. Furniture is deep and lush and capable of sustaining the weight of two people in various stages of sitting, kneeling, you understand. If the scene is at night or happening on some day, just any day, want on a special day leads to disappointment, and I/Joanna (the main character disguised as me is named Joanna) finally kisses the man of her dreams, it’s written in what I hope is recognized as a longing for something beautiful, something romantic, perhaps unattainable that the reader can have for themselves from the moment they start reading it.

The homes in my stories are always near water, the ocean, not a lake; lakes are dark and ever present and deep and scary to me while the ocean’s tide fills me with hope. This is what I want. Hope.

Men in my stories are often flawed in a quirky, sad sort of funny way that makes me smile. I imagine the feeling of their first touch and can write it however electric I want it be. My men are kind and sexy; they have an edge and look good in jeans, and well, are madly in love with Joanna, so much so, that they worship her! HA! No, well, sort of. Challenge is a huge motivator for desire.

There’re men I write about from my daydreams. Daydreams I have of running into my husband unexpectedly. We have time on our hands for some reason that we don’t question so we book a room and stay for, who knows how long? Maybe long enough to wear the white robes after morning sex. Spontaneity. It’s a good want.

There are also men from my night dreams, from the ones I have just before I fall asleep. Men who hold Joanna without getting Barbie arm and make her feel safe. They whisper and are warm against her and the words they speak are the words I long to have spoken to me on a moon filled night by the ocean, on a deck, my deck, whispered when the kids are finally asleep and it’s been a long day and there’s dirt under my nails from gardening and the whispers are words I can trust.


I write what I know I want. Today I want, hope, spontaneity and trust. What does this mean? I have no idea. I also want to be less confused.


There are so many things I want. Emotions I want to feel and have felt about me that are so intense that I have to take deep-breaths to relieve the longing ache. With this ache comes the desire I have to express these wants and the hope that I can write about them from my heart, spontaneously so the reader trusts my words. Hope, spontaneity, trust.


P.S.

This is a picture of my beach, 10 minutes from our home, White Rock Beach, White Rock, British Columbia, taken from the beach on the night my husband proposed to me...I got everything I wanted and more that night xoxo

View of the Gulf Islands
We live in a beautiful country..xoxoxo

Friday, May 26, 2006

When It's Really, Really Not in the Mail

by Melissa Bell

Almost two years ago now, I had a piece accepted for publication by a North American magazine with a decent circulation (and FYI, no, it was not the magazine that starts with the letter ‘M’ or ‘N’. Or even ‘O’, ‘P’, ‘Q’, ‘X’, or ‘Z’). At the time, they were enthusiastic enough about including my story in their pub that the Main Publisher/Editor Guy phoned me at home to inform me of my acceptance, and couriered an agreement to my house the following day. And while the pay wasn’t anything to phone all my friends about, it was a nice little three-figure sum in U.S. coin I could look forward to receiving in a few months’ time. Or so I thought.

As I said at the top here, the story I wrote was accepted 23 months ago, and I’m still waiting for their cheque. Or check. No, they haven’t gone out of business. Yes, I’ve e-mailed Publisher/Editor Dude about the non-payment on numerous occasions. At first, there seemed to be some “confusion” because in addition to my fee and requisite contributor’s copy, there were problems at their print house, and so in their own efforts to be efficient and send both a complimentary copy and my money at the same time, there was a delay in payment because they couldn’t get a copy to me simultaneously-like.

Oooo…kay.

Finally, in February 2005, I receive my free copy of the mag. Nice, but whatever. I don’t really need the complimentary copy. I’m familiar with my own story and I don’t need to read it again, thanks. Can I have my money, please?

Not quite. Seems their server crashed and my address was lost. Funny how the magazine made its way to my mailbox, but not my fee. I resend my address. Not sure exactly what happened to their hard copy of my signed agreement that contained my contact info, but again with the “whatever”. I wait. No cheque. I e-mail, and I am reminded by Publisher/Editor Guy that their server “had a major crash” and their data was “totally wiped out”. Not exactly sure how this precluded him, or anyone, from picking up a pen and writing me a cheque, but so be it. Fortunately I’m gainfully employed and I’m not depending on his money to feed my cat.

This past January, a cheque finally arrives in the mail. I take it to my bank. Guess what happens with that cheque? It’s a tough one, I know, so here’s a clue: it rhymes with “flounces”.

I can’t get hold of the Mr. Pub/Ed, so I call his bank. They tell me that, at that moment, there are sufficient funds in the account to cover the cheque, so I should go back to my bank to see if they will try to put it through again. Honestly. And this was a reputable bank that suggested this, folks - not the Magical Candy Bank of Fancylandia.

I e-mail Mr. Numbnuts again. He responds sooner than I would have thought, is appropriately contrite and apologetic, and says that that account should never have been used and he will be sending me a money order “right away”. That was in March.

I’m still waiting.

Moral of the story, kids: Even when they say they’ll pay, they might not. I’m not bitter. No really. No, really. I’m fine. The taste of bile goes away with some heavy drinking, it really does! Plus this little grievance of mine has given me something to write about tonight (sorry for the indulgence, and thank you for reading this far, I mean it). And notwithstanding my own crappy non-payment experience with this particular publication, they do produce a nice-looking product and publish the work of writers whose stories I admire and whose careers I wouldn’t mind enjoying for a week or two. What they’ve got against me, I’m not quite sure. And they’re not sayin’.

Maybe it’s the way I spell “cheque”.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Down to the River...

by Antonios Maltezos

I tried looking for inspiration in the most obvious places. I read the newspaper daily, paid special attention to those quirky little sidebar stories. They’ve been effective before in stirring the creative juices in me. I may have been inspired these last couple weeks, but I can’t be sure. The images were too fleeting, too speedy for my eyes to make a connection with my brain. Only time will tell, I suppose, if I’m to be blessed with any kind of delayed reaction. I did jot down a few titles that came to mind, though. Really cool titles like “Galapagos on the St. Lawrence”, but then I know nothing of the river beyond what flows beneath the Champlain Bridge, so I focused on the music I listen to when I write, everything from Rock to classical, hoping I’d get in the mood. I studied Johnny Cash’s tired old voice, pictured his vocal cords strung across my open hands, my splayed fingers, in a crisscross pattern until I was lost trying to follow the tremolo, neither here nor there. I listened to Van Morrison, Bach, Led Zeppelin, Taylor Hicks, even—none of them could move me. In the old days, before the weather turned, I would have gone outside. But the truth is—I haven’t even planted my tomatoes yet, though I was able to spread some topsoil and lay some sod before the rains came. Depending on who you speak to, it rained from eight to twelve days straight. I say ten, a good week and a half. However you look at it, I’ve been trapped within the confines of the same four walls since my last post, and I’m in a foul mood. Read my blog and you’ll see the progression from hopeful to damn it all to hell. I’m ashamed of my treatise on farting, but it’ll stay, for now, a constant reminder that I failed as a writer for two weeks in May of 2006. Blame it on the distractions… this blog, my blog, the weather, really cool titles that mean absolutely nothing. “Galapagos on the St. Lawrence” indeed! I probably should have spent the time reading up on Darwin.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Hi there. Every Wednesday I post book reports on Susan Henderson's weblog, available here: http://blog.myspace.com/susanhenderson and here: http://www.publishersmarketplace.com/members/SusanHenderson/. Now they are here, also.

_________________________________________________________

The Susan Henderson Weblog Wednesday Book Club, with Pasha Malla

This week’s book: Nothing in the World, by Roy Kesey (Bullfight Media, 2006)

Is Roy Kesey my “friend”? I like Roy, and a photograph exists of him kissing my forehead, so I am going to say yes. If he feels otherwise: tough! BFF, Kesey! Best friends, forever…

Roy’s Nothing in the World won the Bullfight Review’s Little Book Prize. It is a great little book -- or novella, specifically. On May 14th Roy read from Nothing in the World at the KGB Bar in New York City with some guy called Peter Carey and a large, funny Englishman named after a Bob Dylan album. I was there! I drank two Brooklyn Lagers because it is the only palatable beer I know how to order in America, and afterward I went out with Roy and a bunch of other people and everyone drank more Brooklyn Lagers until our conversation devolved into an argument about which is more bizarre: a dildo made of frozen human feces, or a dildo made of frozen human feces with arms.

Friends’ books are weird. You start reading and you think, “Hey, so-and-so wrote this!” You imagine them at their computer, typing the sentences. You picture them pushing away from the screen in disgust and lighting a cigarette, weeping with shame. Or pushing away from the screen in triumph and lighting a cigarette, weeping with glory. You are holding a little piece of your pal in your hands -- and not a creepy piece, either, like a lopped-off ear.

I have to admit feeling jealous holding and reading and shelving books by friends. I know these people; they are my peers, whether, like Roy, they are infinitely more talented than me or not. I always experience a weird mix of happiness, pride and envy when writing successes befall people I know, especially people I like. “Good,” I think, “they are doing well.” They deserve it; they are nice and work hard and their work is invariably more deserving of accolades than, say, some nasty plagiarist or the children’s author, Madonna. But part of me -- that green, grumbling, petty part of me -- also thinks, “Okay, where’s the love for Malla?” Is this horribly small of me? I’m just trying to be honest.

I went out for a beer last week with a young woman who recently published a collection of stories here in Canada. She is very nice, and her book (released, somewhat remarkably, in hardcover) is doing well. But my feelings of resentment for this woman I found clouding any chance at friendship or making out. We are about the same age, have had similar “career” paths, but write vastly different stories; most importantly, she has a book out with the same publisher who, despite initial interest, recently rejected my collection. I have been telling myself that her stuff is marketable, while mine is not -- in reality, I’m sure hers is probably just better. But it’s comforting to make up these excuses.

Friends of mine have been awarded the Best First Book Prize in Quebec over each of the past two years. They are good guys, and their books are wonderful and completely deserving. Still, I found that before the announcements were made, that awful, jealous part of me reared up its ugly little green demon-head and half-wished they wouldn’t win. I wanted to be able to wallow in rejection with them. “I am bookless, but your book is a loser,” I wanted to be able to say. “We are the same, brother. Now let’s get wasted!”

Where this competitiveness comes from is probably insecurity: I have always imagined real authors as these faraway figures living in mountaintop estates drinking port wine on a throne while stroking two mastiffs at their sides. (Or something.) But certainly never, never my pals. That’s too close! What’s wrong with me that I can’t be more like them and get a damn book out there and win some awards? We shop at the same grocery stores. I’ve barfed in their toilets and peed in their bathtubs. And that one time when they said it was the chair squeaking when we met those girls in that bar with the ostrich heads on the walls, it was totally a fart! Everyone knew it, asshole.

Ultimately, I want everyone I know and like to do well. It would just be nice if I was doing a little bit better. Ideally I would be able to look down on my friends from my number four or five (let’s be realistic) spot on the bestseller list and pat them on the heads in a not-too-condescending way and say, “Good for you, there’s no shame in a small press publication. Before my stories went up for auction, at my darkest hour, I had also considered going that route.” But I would totally fly them out to my villa on a mountain in Switzerland for the weekend, leave free autographed copies of my book on their pillows, let them pet the mastiffs, have my cook prepare a meal of succulent lobster and maybe even blurb their own books for them on my amazing Frank Lloyd Wright-designed website, briefly. I wouldn’t be above that. They’re my pals, after all.

For further reading:

Ali, Anar. Baby Khaki’s Wings. Toronto: Penguin Canada, 2006.

Kaslik, Ibi. Skinny. Toronto: HarperCollins Canada, 2004.

Nasrallah, Dimitri. Blackbodying. Montreal: DC Books, 2005.

Singh, Jaspreet. Seventeen Tomatoes. Montreal: Signal Editions, 2004.

Tausch, Julia. Another Book About Another Broken Heart. Montreal: Conundrum, 2004.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Taking Notes & Funnin' With You

by Denis Taillefer

I often ponder on what genre of novel I'd like to write. I'd definitely want it character driven, and I'd like at least some goofiness in my characters. Something in the vein of John Kennedy Toole's, A Confederacy Of Dunces, maybe. But I never did finish reading that novel, so, I should revisit it and see why. Or maybe a dramedy à la Nick Hornby. Or with eccentric characters that you find in Anne Tyler novels. But when I get ideas for characters or partial scenes, I don't jot them down, and soon forget. I'm too disorganized. But that will change, starting today. So here's two recent thoughts I'm noting for potential, future use in goofy scenes…

The man with all the pockets: (An idea inspired from the fact that, now, being retired, my pockets are no longer bottomless.)

A single man who is annoyingly meticulous. He's got 5 labeled margarine containers where he keeps his money. One for his weekly allowance (maybe just enough for cigarettes, single malt scotch, and one music CD or book per week), another for groceries, one for unpredicted expenses (a light bulb burns out, white sports socks are now pink as they were tossed into the wrong wash load); still another for gas for his moped (perhaps he only buys gas at Canadian Tire as they give coupons when you pay cash), and one for emergencies (the moped breaks down, his wisdom tooth needs pulling, etc.).

He is proud when moneys remain in either of these containers at the end of the week, as he needs not withdraw as much on the following week. So when he steps out of his house, he stuffs this money into five different pockets (I guess he has to wear a jacket year round), and he has to be aware of which one to pull money from, or his scheme is shot and his books won't balance.

Sample snippet of a scene in play format--how about in a bookstore:

(The man approaches the cashier and deposits a book on the counter.)

Cashier: That will be $17.07, please.

(The man hesitates. A do it yourself plumbing reference manual is not what you'd call leisure reading, yet his faucets are only leaking just a tad. He reaches for his rear left pocket, then switches to front right, where he digs out a fifty-dollar bill.)

Man: Give me a second; I must have 7 cents in there, somewhere.

Cashier: I'm really tight for change. You don't have a smaller bill, do you?

Man: Yes, but it's in a different pocket.

Cashier: Uh huh.
.
.
.


The mark of things to come: (Not inspired by any specific persons. Really. Nevermind.)

A couple's relationship has diminished in intimacy, over the years. In fact, they rarely make love anymore. But one day, when the planets are aligned just so and they've had a little bubbly with their orange juice, they decide to set dates for future rendezvous by marking their year planner affixed on their office wall. Just asterisks beside a specific day, camouflaged among other scheduled appointments; the dentist, doctor, mechanic, etc.

They decide on an asterisk to ensure that no one else glancing at the calendar will clue in on its meaning. (They are also quite shy and a little prudish, perhaps.) The idea is for him to use a blue marker, and hers will be red. So when two asterisks of different colours are drawn side by side within the same block, it's a date.

Sample snippet of a scene:

Jules notices he's been driving somewhat fast, lately, especially on his trips home, after work. He decides to slow down in fear of being pulled over by a cop, and forced to ride his moped on the street with the cars. (No, it's not the same guy.)

Upon entering his flat, he chucks his keys onto the kitchen table and sprints upstairs. Damn it. The whole month of May still shows nothing but blue asterisks. Jules licks his thumb and with it erases every second day's mark. Perhaps now it will appear less intimidating.

No. That's a little cliché. How about:

Jules is pleased to see that red asterisks have appeared on the calendar, but nowhere near his blue ones. He is about to join in on some of her dates when he sees a pattern forming. And he is but one square away from being tic-tac-toed. Oh, she's clever. But he's onto her.

That might be over-the-top. Maybe:

Jules squints at the calendar and tries to make sense of what he sees. All of his wife's marks already have an asterisk beside them. And they're purple.

Hmm?

I'll likely not use either of these ideas in a future story. I may not even write comedy. But at least, now, I'm taking notes.

Monday, May 22, 2006

An emerging what? Staggering towards the Fortress

by Tamara J Lee

As part of my on-going writer’s identity crisis, I am frequently mystified by what to call myself.

This very blog’s subtitle refers to us as ‘emerging voices,’ which seems to fit. But when I have a quick look-see through the various definitions of ‘emerging writer’ listed on sites for potential funding, I notice a kaleidoscope of definitions are at play. And this does not play well with my identity crisis, to say the least.

Whenever I look at a bio for an ‘emerging writer’ I am immediately filled with angst. People are able to define themselves so impressively. What, I wonder, do others call them? I know how others define me. To wit:

According to my mother, I am directionless.
According to my father, I am just like my grandfather (i.e., a ‘failed,’ read impoverished, writer)
According to my sisters, who brag about me to somehow, inexplicably, boost their standing, I am a struggling writer.
According to my former employers, I am an editor; a temp; an assistant; a hack.
According to my friends, dear hearts, I am a writer. Of course, they’ve gotten the primer, and sat through countless wine-sopped dinners, rife with my mis-content.
And according to the Canada Council, I am a filmmaker and not a writer, even though my filmmaking experience is mostly writing-related.

When it comes to pursuing funding for projects, the first-stop in potential funding for a Canadian artist is likely the mother of all funding options, the Canada Council. And the CC has its own special definitions, its own terms, for how to define various ‘artists.’

To put it simply, Canada Council has very thorough requirements so as not to let the riff-raff in. Here is what they say is required from fiction-writers to even make it past the gate on their way to the esteemed Canada Council palace. For those of us without a book published, the CC will allow:

“[F]or fiction, a minimum of four texts of creative literary writing(e.g. short stories, excerpts from a novel) published on two separate occasions in literary magazines, recognized periodicals (including general interest magazines), or anthologies published by professional publishing houses.”
Four published texts, now that doesn’t seem so unreasonable, does it? Oh, but there are conditions, of course. Further down the page, we find this little bulwark, full of all manner of subjectivity:

“Only literary publications that publish professional writers and are available to the general public are considered eligible. The author must receive compensation and have gone through an independent editorial selection process.”
Aha, ‘professional’ and ‘compensation’ are the ‘open sesames’. We all know how little compensation is awarded, if at all, for fiction. I mean, do issue copies count as compensation? We also all know that only a precious few Canadian lit mags are able to offer more than the ubiquitous ‘two copies of the issue’ to their writers as compensation. And the ‘emerging writer’ circle just got a wee bit smaller.

Many of us have a healthy list of online publication credits, for which we are justly proud. But Canada Council, just slightly out of step with what its citizenry is up to, has a word of warning for online writers, lest we even think about trying our luck with the Council:

“Web publications, co-authored publications and privately printed publications, as well as writing published in community newspapers, student magazines, or newsletters of associations or other organizations are not eligible for this program.”
So, even though I was compensated for my web-pubbed work, this still does not qualify me, in Canada-Council-land, as a writer. In fact, none of my writing experience qualifies me as a writer there. It seems fitting that here in Canada, the Canada Council--definer of all thing artistically-meritorious and worthy of the title “Canadian’--would contribute so wholly to the on-going Canadian writers identity crisis.

Obviously, a definition must be drawn, chiseled out of rock and cold to the touch, to keep the wanna-bes away, those nasty critters. Even the Writers’ Union of Canada has its very clear definition of ‘writer’, to deal with the vermin.

In a 1999 BC Bookworld interview, Brian Burtch, the BC/Yukon regional rep for the Writers’ Union at the time, said:

The Union is for practicing writers. I should emphasize that while there are ongoing debates about who is a writer and who is not a writer, the Union currently takes the stand that to be accepted into the union you must have a book published; or the equivalent of a book. It may be a book of short stories, a book of poetry, a novel, biography, a natural history of a settlement, it could be any number of genres, a children's book, but it must be a book. So, just publishing a chapter or an article does not qualify you for membership. But the Membership Committee considers all applications.

On the other hand, we are exploring a more inclusive format. We are, for instance, sensitive to the plight of emerging writers. Sometimes with somebody who I think might be eligible in a few months or a year, I invite them to one of our meetings. We also invite guests, although they are not open to the public per se. But people can be invited to see how we work.
But a quick look on their site reveals that things have not changed a whit for the 'emergin writer' at the Union, but unions, like medicare, are not what they once were in Canada, are they?

So, should a writer ever make it up to ‘official’ emerging status, when does ‘emerging’ end and ‘established’ or ‘professional’ begin? Obviously, preoccupation with this identity thing, however typically Canadian it is, is not healthy.

Thus, I propose there should be a ‘staggering writer’s grant,’ for those of us who whiskey our way through various genres, bumping into all manner of projects along the way. And the fringe benefits for this grant should include a bottle of Canadian Club, for this CC is the only club that the likes of me seem able to enjoy.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Thou Shalt answer every question

by Thea Atkinson

The census has come and gone and I’m still sour about it. At the risk of riling up the masses, (like my poor Mum who tracks our family history and spends hours digging up reluctant bones of trivia about ancestors who probably would rather remain buried, and who gave me a what for in no uncertain terms when I complained, yet again, about filling out the census) I do understand the need; but I hate it.

You see, when I first moved to my new house as a cream faced, flat bellied (oh, how I miss those days) bride, I had a particularly nasty run in with a census taker. I worked as a manager at a job I really loathed because it meant confrontation day in and day out—and I’m not good at confrontation. I hate confrontation. I’m a meek and mild mannered cream faced, fat bellied madam by now, and having to use a host of conflict res skills on someone who doesn’t have the decency to study conflict res before confrontation, and therefore, understand the rules, frustrates me to this day—imagine how hard it was back then. Not to mention the lady that came to work every day plastered out of her gourd and blamed it on Listerine. Not to mention the jealous lady down the hall who felt usurped because I understood computers better than she did so lost her place in the office as the know-it-all and set out to destroy me in no uncertain terms. Not to mention the gossip monger who began to spread the rumor that I was sleeping with a co-hort---me, a cream-faced, flat-bellied bride!


Is the scene set? Perhaps a little more flavour…

So. It’s Friday. I’ve left my job for the weekend (although I do get a call at midnight informing me that Listerine lady had been gargling from the bottle again, and just what do I plan to do about it?) I have a car loaded with groceries and I’ve been too stupid to pick up supper. I have a Wedgeport fisherman for a husband (which means meals at 8, 12, and 5, thankyou and could you please try to be a little more like Mére who because she’s from a lost generation of women–-god love em—still perches on her seat at supper time, ready to bolt to the fridge for pickles and dessert at so much as a glance at the fridge, and a little less like those new-fangled, feminist wives who doesn’t understand the precarious balance of keeping a French Acadian husband happy. I digress)

I’m loading my groceries from the car at 5:13 pm, imagining hubbie will be staring at his dish in the cupboard like a lab stares at its empty dinner bowl, and in behind me drives a lady in a white car. I’ll say it’s a VW Golf, but really, I have no idea what it is because all I ever notice about cars is the color and size. Drives my car-loving husband crazy. She tells me I have to answer questions for the census. I’m frazzled. She’s holding out what looks like a very full clipboard.

I say no thankyou.

She says, “You have to.”

“No, I don’t.”

“Yes, you do.”

It goes on for a spell with me trying to explain that I’m very busy. She wants it done now because she doesn’t want to come back.

“Too bad,” I say. “I’m busy.”

“It’s the law.”

By now, I’m feeling quite nasty (I can be real nasty if I choose to be, almost stand right beside myself and watch, I get that riled up that it becomes a sort of out of body experience, so without damning myself further by detailing the rest, I’ll just say you begin to see that the particularly nasty run in is all my fault)

“What are they going to do, put me in jail?” I say.

She says she will find out for me and finally she leaves with the warning that she will be back. And she does come back. Twice more before I answer the damned questions. On principle, you understand.

Fast forward to May, 2006. A different census lady comes this time with a quick knock and says she wants to ask a couple of questions. “Sure,” I say. I open the door wider while trying to keep my black lab from nosing her in the crotch. I smile.

She asks me a couple things. I answer. This isn’t so bad. Three little questions. Doesn’t hurt at all. Then she says, “oh, this is for you,” and passes me a large envelope as though she is being watched by the FBI. She turns on a dime and slips down my steps before I can even register that I’ve been subpoenaed.

The census. The big one. The over 53 question form.

Ask me why I’m sour.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Submission Guidelines: Maisonneuve

By Anne Chudobiak

We at Maisonneuve expect our writers to be accomplished on and off the page. Education is an asset, with a bachelor’s a minimum, at best. If you are unable to satisfy or preferably surpass this requirement, we ask that you publish a book for each year of study missed, as in the case of Michael Redhill, B.A., whose piece “The Victim, Who Cannot Be Named” appeared in the third issue of our magazine or Mary Soderstrom, M. Journalism (“Open Window,” No. 10), whose nine books count towards a double doctorate. Consideration will be given to work in the theatre with bonus points for full-length musicals (Sheila Heti, “Two Walls,” No. 19).

A master’s in fine arts or creative writing, although helpful (Christopher Miller, “Excerpts from Simon Silber,” No. 1; Neal Durando, “Lonely, Near Wilkes Barre,” No. 2; Randolyn Zinn, “Risi E Bisi,” No. 7) is better when paired with a doctorate in something else altogether (Andy Mozina, “Lighter Than Air,” No. 5). If you are unable to gain admittance to a writing program, remember that there is always chemical engineering (Jaspreet Singh, PhD, “Mangoes are the Only Fruit,” No. 17) or medical school, and that it is always best to specialize (neurologist Liam Durcan is the only fiction contributor to have been featured more than once: Nos. 8, 9 and 18). This last choice is reflective of a greater trend in publishing at large in which physicians who write are at an obvious advantage.

Note to women: a sex change is no longer in order. We have discontinued our de facto policy (2002-2004) of only publishing fiction by men. Maisonneuve is eager to feature women who are also leaders in gender politics, women like Marguerite Deslauriers, professor of feminist theory and proponent of a gender-blind society, (“Skin,” No. 9,) self-described postfeminist Susannah Breslin (“She is a Girl,” No. 15) and Herizons columnist, Mariko Tamaki (“How Popular Were You (Really)?” No. 17).

Our writers play an active role in self-promotion, aggressively seeking Giller, Pushcart and Journey Prize nominations and awards (David Bergen, “The Time in Between,” No. 16; Pasha Malla, “The Film We Made About Dads,” No. 13 and Neil Smith, “The Scrapbook,” No. 11).

Don’t delay, submit today. You have a lot of work to do.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

On Motivation

On Diversion

by Steve Gajadhar

Steps before writing:

1. Read something. Preferably related to what I’ll be writing about.

2. Check my email.

3. Do my fantasy sports teams.

4. Rhapsody music service.

5. Open MS Word and select a cool looking font that I haven’t tried before. Right now my favorite is trebuchet, and yes that’s the same as those medieval siege machines.

Step 1. Read Something

Today I scanned through The Complete Essays of Michel de Montaigne. 1,269 pages of wondrous distraction, including Montaigne’s version of On Diversion.

Step 2. Email

In less than 15 years electronic mail has become the cornerstone of human interaction. I’ve moved past the joke, nudie pic, stupid movie phase of the emailer’s adolescence and into impatient middle age, so email doesn’t take me too long, but I still check.

Step 3. Fantasy Sports

It’s baseball season, my favourite time of year. Probable pitchers for tomorrow that I have on my rosters include Tom Glavine, Tim Hudson, and Jake Peavy. Setting up my fantasy baseball teams usually balloons into general sports related surfing. Check out www.rotoworld.com if you want to waste some time.

Step 4. Rhapsody

Music services kick ass. My use of Rhapsody tends to take one of the following three forms:

a. Set up an elaborate, esoteric playlist, production of which will take at least 15 minutes
b. Scan the new releases and staff picks sections
c. Pick one of my preset radio stations

Step 5. Font

I need things to look nice when I’m writing. Interpret this as you like.


All told it’s at least 30 minutes before I begin to write.

I originally sat down to write a piece on motivation. Where we find it, how it works, why we even write in the first place. But this came out instead. I try not to supress anything, so I guess what this piece is saying is that somewhere deep in my subconscious, my mind is always diverting itself. I think this is true of all of us.

The world is full of diversions and busy inventing more. This is part of what makes writing so hard. As writers we must turn inward, away from diversion and into our thoughts and feelings, and it’s scary in there. The voice inside your head lets you have it:

“Are you any good?”

“He/she’s way better than you. See how you just had to add in the /she? That means you’re sexist, that your point of view is biased toward male, that you’ll never be able to write a convincing female character.”

"You used to write better before. You’ve lost uniqueness and creativity now that your head’s full of all those how to write books.”

See how easy it is? I’ve now diverted myself from anything resembling a coherent blog entry.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

When it Begins


By Anna McDougall

Sunday morning I wore flip flops – the only acceptable footwear on deck - because I’m not like the relaxed parents at home with bare feet on clammy tiles. I also remembered to dress lightly having anticipated the humid air, but there was no escape from the chlorine stinging my throat.

From the edge of the dive tank, I smiled some encouragement in the direction of my children, but I was unable to shake anxious memories of my own swimming lessons at that age. Slipping into the uncomfortably cool water, I’d stare at those thick black stripes so much deeper than they appeared, but all the same, terrifying and confusing. There were times my imagination would race until I was convinced the unatural teal-colored water (it was never that tone in the lap pool and I still don't know why) was looming to pull me under. So much about swimming is a mystery to me.

My daughter is an attentive student and I’m proud of her for this, but I’m mostly relieved she’s not the very weakest in the class. My son, on the other hand, is a mess of flailing limbs stabbing his chin up and out of the water, rejecting the instructor’s mantra: “everyone floats…just try to relax.”

I’m a reluctant swimmer to say the least, never having mastered the complex breathing technique of the front crawl, but I can get my body across a calm surface if absolutely necessary using my hybrid dog paddle/breast stroke. Honestly though, if I didn’t have children I’d never go near another pool in my life, but I realise swimming is a necessary life skill which is why I insist on the lessons. That my children at least become independent in the water is my hope. It would be wonderful if they learned to love swimming and were like those fearless people who, at the sight of water, strip off their t-shirts and cover-ups and dive in with grace, moving seamlessly between land and sea.

Of course learning to do something and loving it are two entirely different things. Children grow to value that which surrounds them. It is much easier for them to develop passion for something when adults they admire understand it, embrace it, truly enjoy it. Maybe the swimming instructor’s comfortable manner will leave an impression.

Presented with a few moments of free time, I would much rather be curled up with a book. I was tempted to bring one to the pool the other day, but thought better of it. My children need to see what little enthusiasm I can fake. My daughter brought a book to the pool though. Read it the whole car ride only putting it down at the last minute in the change room. She is a book lover and she has begun crafting poems and stories already, no doubt absorbing all the interest in reading and writing that goes on at our house. It takes so little effort for me to model this to her and her siblings, but I want them to be exposed to activities outside my interests too.

When the swim lesson ended, I contained the urge to rush over and press for feedback, coax some encouraging comments from the young man in charge. I didn’t want to be one of those parents.

Three o’clock yesterday, at the kids’ school, I found myself in the middle of one of those uncomfortable discussions between my son’s teacher and another parent. The mother remarked that the school year is nearly over and her son is still not reading. “He tells me that you never ask him to read aloud in class.”

The teacher tried to reassure her. “Not every child learns to read in grade one. You’ll find that one day everything clicks together and he’s off….”

“She’s right,” I said as we walked together through the corridor. “They’re not all reading yet. I’m sure it won’t be long.”

The mother turned to me, “Easy for you to say.”

I blushed. How could I understand her frustration? My own son is at that wonder filled stage where he is beginning to read the signs along the road as we drive. Suddenly he has realised that all those colorful shapes serve a purpose.

We walked out to the playground together and made small talk while the boys raced around.

I said, “What are you reading these days?”

“Read? I wish I had the time.”



http://www.wiredforwords.com/wiredforwords.html

http://www.abc-canada.org/fld/

http://www.poetryinstitute.shawbiz.ca/

http://www.violetta.com/

http://www.canada.com/national/features/raiseareader/calgary.html

http://www.gigglepoetry.com/

http://www.literacycenter.net/

Monday, May 15, 2006

Did You Hear the One About the Pirate, the Ghost and the Naughty Nun?

by Andrew Tibbetts

In my effort to be a serious, professional writer, I’ve become a serious professional reader of serious professional literary journals. And I’ve been well and truly sobered. The contemporary Canadian short story cannot be accused of whimsy, of arousing undue levels of exhilaration, of causing the reader to rush out the door, skip merrily about the neighbourhood, spread sunshine to all and sundry. No, we tend to focus on what’s dreary. Don’t get me wrong- we are very good at it. I’m not sure any other culture has observed ennui with such precision; even the French usually get up to something sexual or have a bit of pate and wine, between moods.

A typical Canlit short story might focus on a woman doing the dishes, consciousness streaming. The writer bounces among the characters’ memories of her dreary rural childhood, worries over the state of her collapsing marriage, and loving descriptions of the greyish soap scum ringing the submerge line on her wrists. Eventually she comes to some vague epiphany, folds the dishtowel and looks out the window. The sound of television leaks from the other room.

I appreciate this stuff. I really do. I’ve written some of own. I’d just like to suggest variety. It might cleanse the palate between helpings of despair. To that end, a dozen suggestions:

1. Pirates
2. Depressedchicklit isn’t better than Chicklit; it’s worse.
3. Voice appropriation- do it! If you are a straight, white male thirty-something writer, don’t write about straight, white male thirty-something writers. Try blatino lesbian parapalegics.
4. If you are going to include gay characters, let them get some. No more fully-rounded-three-dimensional-characters-that-just-happen-to-be-homosexual. Put your pen where the genitals are, or stay away.
5. If a pall hangs over a couples’ marriage, don’t write about them.
6. Naughty nuns
7. Rural Canadians can download Ghostface Killah, subscribe to Heeb, or have a case of particularly fine Beaujolais shipped to them.
8. Urban Canadians aren’t all alienated.
9. Realism isn’t just the dull bits. Parties, vacations, fistfights- these things really happen. If your character is sitting around doing nothing, wait until he gets up before you start writing. Or keep it short, toss some weather in and call it a haiku.
10. Consider alternatives to realism. We have plenty of characters that are haunted, but no ghost stories. If your character’s bitter, have him sprout thorns. If she’s depressed, have her dissolve into a puddle of phlegm. Consider demons.
11. Under no circumstances allow a character to have an epiphany while doing the dishes. Characters needn’t learn; most of the time most of us don’t.
12. Nobody lives their life like they are inside a contemporary Canadian short story. If they did- admit it!- you wouldn’t sit beside them on the bus. Feel free to write about people who thrill you.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

What we talk about when we talk about… um… talking.




by Craig Terlson


Part 2: In the whole learning how to write thing.

Chewing the fat, shooting the shit (or "breeze" if you're tender-eared), or smoking cigarettes and talking smart – that's what my brother-in-law used to call it.

"Well, suppose we should go out back, smoke cigarettes and talk smart," my brother-in-law drawled languidly.

At this juncture, let's not explore my family tree, but just to say beer was also involved. A lot of beer.

I love writing dialogue, always have. I thought I had a knack for the rhythms of speech – finely honed from years of going out back and smoking cigarettes. As I delved deeper into my stack of craft books (remember the ones I read in the tub?), I found dialogue was another oft mentioned topic.

If you've been on this writerly quest with me, you've come across the "do's", "don'ts" and "not evers" in these articles. A "not ever" would be those nasty adverbs that smell up a sentence like goat-cheese yoghurt. In the above example, you could slash the "languidly" from the speech tag by asking yourself "Well, how else would you drawl?"
But that's pretty basic and this is a site full of writers that have long gotten over their addiction to adverbs; they did it slowly, painfully, barely, and fleur-de-lis. (CanCon)

My craft books also taught me that all those "ums", "ahhs", and "wells", though they may form part of the natural rhythm of speech – especially with my father who would take most of an evening to tell a story about going across the street for a pack of smokes; a theme in my family – um, I digress – the fact is that if you leave all those "pulling the cord on the lawnmower" type words in, the dialogue is either boring as hell or the characters sound like a bunch of inbreds from _______ (Insert your favorite local insult – again, best not to mention Calgary).

"Um, well, ah… I best be going," Clem said while going.

You could clean that up with a page from the Carver school of stripped down speech.

"I go," Clem said.

Clem sounds a might more clever now, surely he will be smoking cigarettes later. But what if, unlike Mr. Carver, you grow tired of the "he saids", "she saids" and "it saids" (sci-fi application)? You know well enough to stay clear of those freakin' adverbs. So what's a wordsmith to do?

I've learned you can replace your basic "said" with a more uptown choice. It tidies up the characters, puts a bit of polish on their boots and toilet water behind their ears.

"I go," Clem obfuscated.

Clem sounds like he will soon be switching brands, maybe even moving up to filtered.

(I have found that I don't need to worry if my reader knows the meaning of obfuscated, if they do, they have one up on the writer.)

So to sum up – strip down that dialogue, throw in a few fancy verbs, and take away most of the… ums… ahhs… and ellipses.
Hope this has been helpful.

Next time: "What is a climax? And should I be having more than one?"

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Edges


by Patricia Parkinson


Edges


I spoke to a dear friend today about writing.

I love talking about writing, talking about the heart of writing, not the structure. I believe that you can know nothing about structure and still be an excellent writer. This is what I keep telling myself anyway, that, and if you don't have some “thing" that sets you apart or you don’t possess a magical, freaky insight into the human condition that makes the reader go, "Ohhh," when they read it, all the structure in the world won’t get you anywhere.

Anyway, we were discussing conflict. Barf. Isn't there enough grief in the world? I hate conflict and have avoided it as much as humanly possibly my entire life. It comes as no surprise that the conflict in my stories is somewhat hidden, invisible even. I refer to my conflict as, subtle.

"But you have to have conflict," my friend said. "And there has to be change. There has to be."

"Yeah," I said, and agreed even though spiritually I disagreed but didn't want to cause any conflict. See, it's ingrained in me.

We talked and mostly I listened. My friend is a brilliant writer. We lamented the shortage of happy ending stories and agreed that movies should come with an “Unhappy Ending” warning label so we can be prepared, once again. to have our hearts broken. Why do we have to have our hearts broken?

"Can't we just be happy?" I asked my friend.

Apparently not. If the story isn't about some form of suffering and turmoil and heartache told metaphorically with a symbolic theme, it doesn't stand a chance.

And then, well, let's not forget angst and loss. Loss makes for great angst. Odd angst, ie: the loss of Starbucks egg nog latte - if done right, is vulnerable in a quirky and unique way. True weirdness works best.

"And edge," my friend said. "let's not forget, everyone wants edge."

Edge. Edge? What is this elusive edge they seek? It makes me wonder, "Do I have to be a heroin addict to be a good writer?" How many more veins must I open? Have I opened any? I have. I'm sure of it. I think.

When you open a vein does it mean you have to slit it, like, boom! Heeloo? Can't you read that I committed suicide writing that last paragraph? Can't you feel the emotional wreckage it's left me in? Is this not enough...edge? Maybe not.

Maybe I'm not slitting a vein. Maybe I'm caressing my veins, getting to know them, getting closer to an edge that isn't a cliff. Maybe my edge leads to something wonderous and not to something to fear. I like to think that.

"Unless," my friend said. "It's beautifully written. That disqualifies everything else. Great writing is great writing, regardless.”

"You're a great writer,” I told my friend.

"Well, you're a good writer too."

"A good writer? I said you were a great writer."

"Good. Great. It's the same thing."

I nearly nodded but said instead, "No, it's not the same thing," and had conflict.

"Okay. Okay," my friend said, chuckling. "You're a great writer. You are. Okay?" Which facilitated change.

And we were happy.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Plans for the Weekend? Yes, Unfortunately…

by Melissa Bell

I know a man who hates Fridays. I’m pretty sure he would deny this if confronted. I mean everyone loves Fridays. If you work “normal” hours, you’re supposed to love every freaking Friday that comes your way because that’s what “normal” people do. Not to suggest that this Friday-hating man of which I speak isn’t perfectly normal – in fact he’s really rather quirk-free, to a point that is, at times, somewhat unsettling. He just happens to love his job so much that when that dreaded F-day rolls around every seven sunrises, it means facing two days of being unable to do what gives his life meaning and he must struggle through those hideous things called “weekends” until he gets to reconnect with his true joy on Monday. His work is his life. (And he just celebrated a birthday milestone this past week and it wasn’t a small one either. He has said he will never retire. He just can’t imagine it. And neither can I.)

Okay, so enough about him.

Me, I’m a regular garden variety fan of Fridays. But as a person who writes, it’s the Saturdays that make me anxious and depressed. Saturdays are when people do stuff like go to movies and concerts and have friends over and head out of town and all kinds of other “fun” things. Which brings me around to the fact that I’m co-hosting a dinner party tomorrow night and I’m seriously dreading it. Not because I don’t love the people who’ll be there or the menu that’s planned or the laughs that are guaranteed. It’s just that…well, I have to be honest here. I’m working on a couple of different writing projects right now and I’d really, really rather stay home and just work.

There are a lot of people who would say that is severely messed up. Chances are those people are not writing.

I believe I’m questionable company at the best of times, but I know I’m terrible company when I’m actively writing. I resent having to expend energy on any thought or conversation that isn’t about “the work”. Yes, I know. I’m a bad person. And in a social situation I feel as if my pores are oozing straight-up, 180-proof Dull and, other than my strawberry Jell-o sheet cake, I honestly can’t imagine why anyone would want me at any gathering these days. It breaks my heart to consider that my friends might actually be trying to give me a bit of social life because I just don’t have it in me to appreciate their efforts. But I can’t blame them for feeling sorry for me. I mean, for crying out loud, given my druthers, I would willingly sit quietly alone all weekend long trying to deal with a bunch of problems I’ve actually gone out of my way to create for myself. And am I going to share this information tomorrow night with my non-writing pals? Only if I want them to look at me as if I’ve just announced “But I like chemotherapy! It’s fun!”

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go make dessert…

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Why do we write/how 'bout this weather?

By Antonios Maltezos


The weather is glorious these days, a good time to ask the question again: why do we write? It’s the question we love to pass amongst ourselves as writers. Even though there is no definitive answer, the question itself binds us together like family, a community, a village. Who cares what the answer is, so long as we can make that brief connection with someone else that’s resigned to a life hidden indoors, free of good company most of the time. We suffer together. It’s our “how ‘bout this weather” question, and I think about it more frequently when it’s beautiful outside.

Mmm, the outside… I love everything about it, the trees, mowing the lawn, picking weeds out of the garden, a warm breeze rustling the lilacs. Even standing at the end of my driveway talking to my neighbor feels like a pleasant thing to do. “How ‘bout this weather, hey?” There’s a camaraderie implied in that question.

With the lengthening days, shopping center parking lots slowly transform into opportunities for loitering. Folks will linger, glance at each other in a way that says, “I’m willing to small talk, if you are.” It feels like everyone smiles straight through June, July, and August, behaving as if they’re owed some happiness for having slogged through yet another cold season in Montreal. Even the older ladies buff up, smiling their painted smiles, cute in their shades and varnished dos, their winter scowls put away in their broom closets. People renovate and rejuvenate during the hot months. They grow fat on barbequed burgers, forgetting the pledge to look good in a bathing suit, forgetting the last winter’s ice cold grip. It’s as if they’re getting ready for hibernation, and don’t know it. It’s only by the month of December, the suicide month, when they realize the snow has already started falling again, and the worst is yet to come. I stay focused while they lose their zip trudging through the snow. I’m free of the desire to go outside in the winter, free of the guilt of having to spend a lovely afternoon cutting the grass and not writing.

So, the winter of 2005-6 is but a memory now, and I find myself asking the same question again. Why do we write? Maybe we do simply love to suffer. For heaven’s sake, it’s glorious outside. I should be sipping a beer out on the deck. I should be planning a pergola, or at least a barbeque party…

… ohmigod!

… I should get a laptop!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

So Sue Me, Harper Lee, Or, On Yearning To Be Natural

by Denis Taillefer

There are stages in a writer's apprenticeship, I'm sure, and I can tell you which I'm struggling to enter. Or at least where I'm trying to be more consistent.

Harper Lee once said in an interview with Roy Newquist: 'There are people who write, but I think they're quite different from people who must write. People who write for reward by way of recognition or monetary gain don't know what they're doing. They're in the category of those who write; they are not writers. Writing is simply something you must do.'

Ouch. So in which do I fit in? Well, I'm not naive enough to expect great monetary gains from writing fiction, but I need to believe that one day I will have a reading audience of more than one. And judging from the fact I started writing but a few years ago, and that words don't spew from my keyboard as readily as it does for some, for now, it's safe to say I'm just someone who enjoys creating through writing.

Does it matter which category I fit in? Maybe it does. It might explain why I bounce from genre to genre; over-the-top comedies, scifi, dramas; and why I've treated the publishing of stories like collecting bubblegum cards. Even if some of those cards were not what you would call, 'rare collectibles'.

And then there is imitation. Most of us have gone to books to stimulate creativity. We will read an opening paragraph to get anchored onto a voice or style. Or we will borrow from a theme or plot to get our creative pump primed.

For a little justification, let us try on these quotes for size:

'Originality is nothing but judicious imitation. The most original writers borrowed from one another.' – Voltaire

Or how about Nietzsche: 'Many a man fails as an original thinker simply because his memory is too good.' Oh, he was smart, that one.

Or maybe this quote on creativity, by Jamie Buckingham: 'Imitation is at least 50 percent of the creative process. The growing child learns by imitating.' Whoa. The growing child? I guess this last quote is not so supportive unless you believe you are a growing writer.

As a growing writer, I've done more than just peek at the greats for inspiration. I've mimicked styles and stories, and even collected a few bubblegum credits in doing so.

Guess whose style I'm copying, here: 'An Idea for a play: A man swallows a harmonica in a skidoo accident and becomes the laughing stock of the village until he discovers perfect pitch. Then the Toronto Blue Jays draft him as their closing pitcher but when he is sent to war, he again is the brunt of scorn as his every breath exposes the platoon's position. Much potential here--needs a lot of work, though.' – Oh, nevermind. It's early Woody Allen, silly.

So I've felt somewhat proud of publishing even these imitations. That feeling of success gave me courage to go on. But it seems to me now that if what I write is not my own style, then it is not totally genuine. Or as Ralph Waldo Emerson put it: 'There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion.' Or as Liza Minnelli said on this week's showing of Inside The Actors' Guild: 'It's better to be a first-grade rank of yourself, than a second-grade rank of somebody else.'

It's time to move on to the next stage, to write more from the gut and to find my own voice and style, and to somehow be more natural. And if that doesn't work, then perhaps Harper Lee was right in saying I'm not a 'real' writer. Time will tell, but I do hope to prove her wrong.

And for encouragement, maybe I'll paste these words by Pascal, up by my monitor: 'When we encounter a natural style, we are always surprised and delighted, for we thought to see an author and found a man.'

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Unleashing the dogs and the novel within

by Tamara J. Lee

Discussions about whether Goethe and Joyce only had one true novel in them are the kind that usually bore me to uncharacteristic silence. Maybe these conversations just terrify me. Or disturb me, in the way that John Cusack’s character David Shayne was disturbed in Bullets Over Broadway when he finally realised he was not, in fact, meant to be a writer. Damn Woody Allen for illuminating that fear in me. It had been very comfortably sleeping there, a clueless puppy. And puppies are so much softer than dogs.

Recently a good friend of mine, a woman who for as long as I’ve known her has been an artisan, suddenly announced she’d written a novel. Her achievement put her in a position to offer me, a struggling writer with an unfinished novel, some words of wisdom. Having found a book that fulfilled her needs, she sat her backside down to complete the task. She concedes the first draft wasn't good, and the finished product is not necessarily ‘literary,’ but she did it as an exercise of discipline and desire-fulfilment. Her inspiration was the book by National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) contest co-founder Chris Baty, called No Plot, No Problem that, among other things, asserts anyone can finish the first draft of a novel, and with focus and determination, anyone can do it in 30 days. I’ve not read the book, though I can say I’ve successfully abandoned two official NaNoWriMo attempts, and neither ever produced novels. One did, eventually, morph into a screenplay I am currently rewriting.

But writing fiction is my heart’s content and anxiety, my passive-aggressive passion. Jonathan Safran Foer’s comment in a recent interview at Powells.com puts it another way: “I enjoy having written things. Someone once said that writing is like pulling teeth...out of your penis.” While I can’t say I empathize, exactly, I will say I’ve been known to flip through writing guides the way someone wanting to lose 20 pounds flips through diet books, subconsciously hoping to find the magic tool that will finally, miraculously, make the achievement easier.

Some years ago, I picked up Jack Hodgins’ A Passion for Narrative. Hodgins, a West Coast author and Creative Writing teacher at the University of Victoria, approaches this writing how-to book with a very clear assumption: that the reader is serious about actually learning a thing or two. His book, primarily concerned with short fiction, is thorough, informative, and amusing. In fact, I swear I could hear echoes of the charming Spit Delaney while I read the book. And I even completed many of the writing exercises, some of which turned into half-decent story nuggets I’m still developing for the Unfinished Novel. But his dogged assumption that passion is all it will take for the writer to sit her ass down and write is so straightforward, it’s hard to imagine Hodgins ever doubting himself.

Returning from a sort of sabbatical to tend to other creative projects, I’ve renewed my passion for fiction, chewing on the bones of all those first drafts. And for the past few months, I’ve been following Louise Doughty’s Friday Telegraph column, as she takes readers through the steps of writing a novel, in her “Novel in a Year” series. Also straightforward and practical, Doughty's series is full of useful advice, and the oft-necessary soothing words from an experienced writing teacher to her anxious and insecure students.

Like Hodgins’ book, Doughty’s writing exercises are engaging. Though they never seem to fully get the writer to bite as deeply or brutally as Hodgins’. But there is an adjacent forum where column readers and budding novelists can commiserate with one another as they work through the weekly assignments. That many of the writers are bloody talented is more daunting than inspiring sometimes. But then, if they weren’t, I doubt I’d have stayed with it this long. Loyal in love, fickle in a struggle for this puppy.

In the first week, Doughty notes how would-be writers often ask her how she got her first novel published: “It's a perfectly valid question,” she writes, “but I often suspect the motivation behind it. What was your trick? is what they mean. Tell me your trick, because when I know it, I will be published too. The honest answer, I'm afraid, is, ‘I wrote a good book. And if you want to be a published writer, you will have to write one too.’"

In this week’s column, Doughty observes that the writer working on a novel is subjected to “surprise, possibly envy and almost certainly a little scepticism” from others. Admittedly, this was much like my response to my friend’s unexpected announcement, and I am ashamed, further, to say I was even a bit miffed when she, a new writer, offered me, someone who has been working as a writer/editor for some years, advice on how to write a novel. Damn her for illuminating, if inadvertently, my ego-issues so effectively. But it was an important lesson. It was a reminder that I really am the only one keeping myself from the discipline needed to sit my ‘but’ down and finish that first draft.

It may be true that anyone can write the first draft of a novel, as Baty asserts. And maybe I will pick up the Baty challenge, and give the 30-day novel one more chance. But if my passion-aggression with my short story writing is any indication, with countless story carcasses strewn about my journals and hard drive, it’s the rewrite process that’s the real dog.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Discovering



by Tricia Dower

Writers are urged to write what we know. If I followed that, all my protagonists would be serial wives with unresolved mother issues. I write fiction for the same reason I read it: to experience more than I can on my own.

I enjoy the research as much as the writing. It takes me into new geographic and emotional worlds that stretch my ability to understand people who live and think differently from me. Worlds that enable me to discover truths I can share with readers. It doesn’t matter if others already have discovered those truths; I need my own discoveries to propel my writing.

My latest project is a collection of stories inspired by Shakespeare’s women. It’s taken me to the world of cattle ranching in Alberta and the disastrous effects of mad cow disease. It’s taken me to the republic of Kyrgystan where young women are at risk of being kidnapped off streets or mountain pastures to marry men they may not know. It’s taken me back to New Jersey in the ‘60s to imagine an interracial marriage bookended by the anger of the black rights movement and the madness of the Vietnam war. And it’s taking me now from Thailand to New Orleans with those who profit and those who suffer from sex trafficking. Over the next year it promises to take me into the realms of spousal abuse, corporate arrogance, gender issues and mental illness.

When I started writing this series I thought I’d have trouble finding modern counterparts for Shakespeare’s female characters. Sadly, I did not. In Titus Andronicus, Lavinia is raped, has her tongue cut out and her hands cut off as revenge for her father’s deeds; in a Pakistani village a few years ago, a tribal council ordered a woman to be gang-raped by men whose family her brother offended. Women in some cultures today cannot marry until their older sisters do as Bianca in The Taming of the Shrew could not. Social isolation still puts women’s lives at risk as it did for Othello’s Desdemona.

Women in many parts of the world today are no better off than they were in Shakespeare's time and it's other women, often, who indoctrinate their daughters into oppression. Realizing this lends a sense of urgency to the act of writing for me. As you read my stories, I want you to discover what I did and feel outraged that women are still treated as property. If you’re a woman, I want you to demand more for yourself and your sisters. At the very least, I want you to identify with my characters, male and female, and see how they arrived at their place in my stories.

It’s a lot to expect of you and of myself, I know, but it keeps me going.

Photo: Bride kidnapping in progress in Kyrgystan from a documentary by Petr Lom

Friday, May 05, 2006

Lessons in Publishing: The Continuity Girl

by Anne Chudobiak

The Continuity Girl is Leah McLaren’s new novel, but you knew that. That’s Lesson Number One: Platform. I wanted to read this book before it was written. How often can you say that about a debut novel?

Leah McLaren doesn’t need to blog; she is a Style columnist and features writer with the Globe and Mail. She comes with a ready-made audience, which brings us to Lesson Number Two: People.

McLaren thanks Stuart McLean and Clayton Ruby in her acknowledgements. Even the people she knows have platforms, which comes in handy for reviews, both negative and positive. What sells more books: back-cover praise from fellow McDermid author and former Globe fashion editor, Ceri Marsh, or back-and-forth with Ryan Bigge, who trashed McLaren’s book after she trashed his? Lesson Number Three: Controversy, Good.

Why else would Marsh’s one-sentence promotional blurb also manage to indict the rest of Canadian literature for being either smart or fun, but never both?

Platform, people, controversy--that’s why you want to read this book. Should you? I’ll leave that up to and your discretion. I know what I did.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Mow Me Down

by Thea Atkinson

I’m thinking about dandelions and about something my dad told me years ago. Well, he didn’t so much tell me as he growled out loud to anyone who would listen: Dandelions are smart, he said. Mow ‘em down once and they grow shorter so you have to adjust the mower. Mow em again, and they grow shorter still. You just can’t get ‘em all.

Well, I’ve prettied up his words some, but now with short, oh so very short dandelions sprouting on my lawn, I wonder how a noncognizant thing as a flower can understand what it needs to do to survive. How does it know to bloom just short of the blade in some spots and reach tall above the shrubs in others?

This dandelion thing makes me wonder if survival in the literary realm here in Canada means sticking close to your roots. I think of all the novels I’ve written based here in Eastern Canada and know I’ve done so—everything I breathe, see, and experience comes out in my writing somehow, straight down to the knobby knees I had as a kid and the bagoos my husband hires in the stern of his lobster boat every season. I’ve stuck in my hometown and it’s strange shirtless walker whose back in the summer is as brown as coppered leather and as white in early spring as a herring belly. I’ve used my childhood friend and the wild fern roots we dug up and stored in baggies (sustenance for the day we planned to run away.) I’ve even written my Dad into my pieces, and mostly because he’s disappointed that I don’t use my maiden name when I publish. (He has stopped bugging me about it now, since I threatened to use my maiden name for any erotica I write)

Then I imagine that making it in the Canlit scene might mean going to the smaller literary journals, (places like The Windsor Review or the Nashwaak Review) making my name there before attempting the behemoths of publishing: The Antigonish Review and Fiddlehead and Matrix. (all places that have declined my work and so therefore become holy grails for me). Surely Gooselane editons will never phone me like they did Lynn Coady and request a MS unless I publish in TAR (or was it Nimbus: I always get the story mixed up).

But I doubt that the dandelion lesson means this either, (this is a wonderfully exciting country to write about and live in) and yet the notion does not leave me that something is in there for me to see. There’s something kismet wants me to understand about this thing that I persist in so doggedly that I have turned it into an obsession.

Maybe I’m supposed to pepper the writing landscape with my work. Hit or miss. Get it out there. They can’t reject ‘em all. I picture Dad when I think this: (he’s in the habit of saying he’s not antisocial—just hates people, so you can imagine how his voice sounds.) it’s good advice, but I don’t think it’s the point.

Could be perseverance. Could be cling to what grounds you. Could be anything. I’m sure I’ll figure it out even if I have to write a dandelion metaphor into my novel. Because I will if I have to. I’m nothing if not pragmatic—happy to use whatever soil is there, writing whatever I can, wherever it is possible.

Hidden Gems

by Steven Gajadhar

Margaret Atwood and Robert Weaver. The Oxford Book of Canadian Short Stories in English. Don Mills: Oxford University Press, 1988. Kohala Book Shop, Big Island of Hawaii. Filed under A for anthology. 6 dollars.

In the immortal words of Griff, “I don’t have to come on strong, uh mean, I don’t have to come on strong, but…”

I do. This book deserves it.

Austin C. Clarke has never been one of my favorites, but with Griff he created his David Copperfield. Few writers have ever created a character as vibrant and tragic as Griff.

Then there’s The Peace of Utrecht by Alice Munro. Ah Alice, if only you were 40 years younger so I could seduce away your secrets. My wife would understand.

And George Bowering’s Short Story, the only example of tongue-in-cheek diction that I have ever seen, and yet also a tongue in cheek illustration of everything necessary to the short story.

Gloria Sawai, Mavis Gallant, Morley Callaghan, Timothy Findley, Jack Hodgins (who I will never forgive for writing A Passion For Narrative and making me feel stupid), Mordecai, Leon, Sinclair, Stephen. They are all inside, captured in their primes, peaks, and periods. Names that I’ve always known as part of the Canadian canon, but names that I never truly knew until I unearthed this book.

Reading these stories shows me what it takes. Provides tangible evidence of the lofty heights the short story form can attain, reinforces why the short story is so vital to literature. Reading these stories gives me hope that perhaps one day I will find a way to reach into that place inside us where stories come from, pull out some obscured form and cut it into immortality.

And I won’t be sad if it is only once, if I never rise out of obscurity or simply descend back into it. I will be happy knowing that in some future an aspiring writer will discover my story, read it, and be moved by it.

Until then, I’ll continue to bury my ideas and images for later.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Getting Caught Up

By Anna McDougall

In a quiet suburb south of downtown Calgary, springtime draws neighbors from hibernation and we become social beings again. Inspired to refresh our homes and our friendships, we open the windows and dig up the gardens while catching up on winter news. I seek fresh imaginative fuel for my writing projects from this community of families, but rather than pinching my acquaintances’ personal stories, I knock on the doors of strangers.

I press the bell then quiet my breathing while I listen for sounds of life behind each door. Muted jazzy piano notes greet me at one home; a vacuum cleaner at another suggests I ring twice, sharpening my pencil or tapping a notepad as I wait. At most houses I visit, dogs kindly announce my arrival.

There’s been no shortage of incidents on my walks to stimulate the beginnings of great fictional tales yet I appreciate the overall motion of door knocking as well. Its repetitive nature leads my mind from daily worries to a calm meditative state promoting creative thought. February to May is the season for most door to door canvassing and from the time I was a preteen girl guide, I’ve been involved in all types. Many characters who have opened doors to me have already appeared in my stories; I’m still dreaming about others who have made a home in my memory. I actually become quite attached to some of them, like the carpenter on the corner.

I first met this man five years ago, during the last federal census. My visit was meant to persuade him to complete the prying personal questions on the long form he hadn’t mailed back.

“Ah…you’re back,” he said. “Well you can forget it. The government has enough information on me - it's none of their damn business!"

His clean shaven complexion, now rosy from his mood, and neatly trimmed hair gave me the impression he was just like any one of my neighbors.

He assumed a ‘you can’t make me’ stance, criticizing the cost of implementing the census itself. With thresholds to reach in order to earn my pay, I persevered. I’d campaigned for left-wing political candidates in southern Alberta – there was nothing this guy could say to intimidate me. I kept my tone light and relaxed, smiling all the way through.

Eventually he invited me in, still ranting, but more globally, as if he were trying to convince me to adopt his skepticism and indignation. Appreciative for a break from the cool April wind, I followed the man through a tiled hallway, past closets and open doors leading to side rooms into an expansive area where the kitchen shared space with an entertainment unit and leather sofa.

Proudly, he indicated the cabinet installation I’d interrupted. The lovely maple sugar finish was unusual in our community; most homes were built in the late nineties and were fitted universally with standard oak or white painted wood features.

“They’re gorgeous,” I said, hoping to abate his mind set.

And then I spotted what would ultimately bring us onto the same plane, something we both could appreciate. An eight-by-ten portrait of a child stood in the center of an otherwise bare island. A son. A first born.

The man continued lecturing me on the federal government’s inability to manage taxpayers’ money, accusing them of overburdening every hardworking person. I nodded and made noises of passive agreement, simply biding my time until he ran out of steam. Just beyond where he stood, the large window revealed a perfect view of the Rocky Mountains. I breathed deeply and imagined writing about the peace this couple must enjoy daily, waking to that scene, and their future as they witness their family grow.

With nothing more to argue, the man turned to a new subject. He lifted the picture frame and handed it to me so I could take a closer look. The boy favored his father save the mass of blond curls.

I smiled. “Your wife is blond?”

“Yeah, lucky little guy got her looks. So smart too. Not even nine months old and he flips through board books, walks around the furniture….” The man's face was bright and full of pride.

“He’s adorable,” I said. I resisted the temptation to talk about my own children, instead remaining quiet, waiting for his next move.

He glanced at the wall clock. “So,” he sighed, “what is it that you need to know?”

We completed his survey together and with that, I was out the door, proud I had softened an opponent, pleased to have met this joyful new father.

Residents rarely remember my face, but some of them feel like old friends to me. Even when I think I’ve forgotten them once I’m back at home, surrounded by my own life, as soon I see them with their yappy pet or dressed in that familiar apron, it all comes back to me. Last Saturday, I found myself on the carpenter’s street again. This year, I’m taking the civic census. When I looked up from my preprinted forms, I recognized the bungalow trimmed in cobalt blue right away.

As I rounded his driveway, eager to fill in more details about the fictional life I was building around him, metal music blared from the open garage taking me by surprise. A lanky twenty-something fellow leaned against the vinyl siding, beer can in hand. I introduced myself feeling some disappointment; it seemed the house had changed hands.

"You'll have to talk to him," the young man said, jabbing a thumb at his buddy inside the garage. “I don't live here."

Another man wearing cutoffs and a muscle shirt was stooped over the portable stereo. He stood and walked towards me, revealing a beard and a silly grin on his flushed face.

"What can I do ya for?"

"Uh...how many people live here?" I looked back down at my book immediately. My stomach clenched, my face warmed.

"Well, just me….now!" He laughed along with his friend.

I lifted my eyes slowly to confirm this was the same man. He sipped his beer. An image of him standing in the kitchen, laughing about his son appeared to me. This had to be temporary. Just a misunderstanding. It’s not what I had imagined for this man at all. I finished the questions as quickly as possible never looking him in the eye again lest he notice the water in mine.

I returned to the colored-chalk decorated sidewalk and took in the busy neighborhood’s Saturday afternoon, a road hockey game the centerpiece in a cul-de-sac peppered with noisy children riding bikes and skipping rope.

At the next house, I was never so grateful to have no one answer the door, releasing my face from the required public smile, allowing the April wind a little more time to dry my cheeks.