The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Friday, June 30, 2006

Editors Wanted (Wikipedia)

By Anne Chudobiak

-to expand on the curiously optimistic tree metaphor that introduces the world to our national literature (two roots, one trunk, many branches, much understanding, yada, yada, yada)

-to expand, er, grow the list of Canadian short story writers (you know, Munro, Gallant, Fruman, who is reportedly at work on her first collection--isn’t everyone?)

-to determine once and for all whether Coupland refers to a Canadian writer or two villages in England

-to create articles for Canadian writers already mentioned: Charlotte Gill, Golda Fried, Ibi Kaslik, David Elias

-to mention Canadian writers who should be there but aren’t: Marci Denesiuk, Andrew Tibbetts

-to negotiate trades (e.g., offer Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer an entry in exchange for a link from her blog)

-to respect Wikipedia policy (e.g., the primacy of verifiability or no saying that David Adams Richard seems nice even if it’s true.)

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The CWC wants to know:

What's your most exciting reading experience?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Seven of Nine (in my case 5 of 13)

by Steve Gajadhar

The Canadian Writer’s Collective (The CWC).

As far as names go, The CWC is rather amorphous, especially that last bit, collective. Down here in the US they already think of us Canadians as socialist pansies, so how do I feel when I direct my American friends to this site and they see The Canadian Writer’s Collective. “Is that like Collectivism?” they ask. “Are you The Borg?”

So just what the hell is The CWC anyway? Good question. Let’s see what collective means and we can go from there. According to dictionary.com a collective is:
Adj.
1. Assembled or accumulated into a whole.
2. Of, relating to, characteristic of, or made by a number of people acting as a group: a collective decision.
Noun
1. An undertaking, such as a business operation, set up on the principles or system of collectivism.

Uh-oh. Collectivism: the socialist principle of control by the people collectively, or the state, of all means of production or economic activity. And here I started into this blog entry thinking that collective and collectivism are miles apart. Fellow CWCers, what have we gotten ourselves into? We’re probably on the CSIS watch list. JTF2 commandos are hiding in the bushes outside Tibbetts’ front door. I’d like to point out that we nominated him as our defacto leader so, watchdogs, if you’re reading this, it’s Tibbetts you want, not me (and, by the way, he turned it down, so we’re leaderless and if that doesn’t scream commie pinko I don’t know what does…). Sorry, Andrew, I guess some American style paranoia is rubbing off on me.

But would CSIS even bother to watch us? Perhaps Canada really is a haven for watered down socialist sympathizers? It can’t be. Can it? Canada doesn’t control production or economic activity? No way. But how can we tell? What’s important to Canadians? And is it in any way socialist or related to the idea of collectivism? We need a rational analysis and a rational scoring system. I propose we use the highly respected scientific method of thumbs up, thumbs down, or thumbs even.

Thumbs up = we’re okay.
Thumbs down = we’re shot.
Thumbs even = it’s a wash.

As for analysis, I’ll approach it from the perspective of a Canadian male because it’s the only one I know. Here we go:

What’s important to Canadians (in no particular order):

1. Hockey: clearly not controlled in any way by Canada. Heck, most of the teams are in the US. When was the last time a Canadian team even won Lord Stanley’s cup? 1993, that’s when, and it was a bit of fluke. It’s not like they brought in a salary cap to control the economics and keep Canadian teams competitive in markets they would otherwise be forced to leave. And, it’s not like almost half the players are Canadian and therefore the NHL would have a vested interest in keeping teams in Canada and keeping us Canadians happy. Wait a sec. I better not dig any deeper. Thumbs even.

2. Booze. Beer. Cokeskeys. Candy. Paralyzers. Okay, so Canada flat out fails here. Most provinces (and territories) have a lock on the sale of all booze products. They regulate availability and price and they make a tidy profit. For example, I just picked up 24 Coors for $14.99. Try getting that deal in Mother Canada. I can even get 12 Moosehead for 11.99 and that’s in Hawaii people, middle of the frickin Pacific Ocean, and a hell of a long ways from the Moosehead brewery in St. John. Thumbs way down.

3. Health Care. I’m torn on this one, clearly a socialist system, but also clearly better than most other systems. But, in the spirit of the scientific method, this is a thumbs down. Harper is working hard toward getting this one to a thumbs even, so check back in a couple years.

4. The Weather. Sounds absurd, but weather is important to Canadians. It’s all we talk about because it’s mostly shitty. But in terms of socialism we’re okay on this because Canada definitely doesn’t control the production of the weather. Thumbs up.

5. The Beaver. The beaver is Important for many reasons (I’m talking about the mammal, sickos). Besides being a noble animal, the Canadian economy is founded on the little rodent. The HBC (now American owned BTW) used to control the economics of the fur trade and employed some dirty tricks to keep it that way for a long time. Taken as a historical weighted average this one’s a thumbs down.

Tally so far: Thumbs up = 1, thumbs even = 1, thumbs down = 3

I better stop before it gets even more lopsided.

So Canada is socialist, so what? Collectivism? Who cares! We all know Canada kicks ass! If I’ve learned anything from my time south of the border it's that when in doubt blind patriotism is the best way to win an argument. The CWC is a rational group of folks. We’re not a “league” or a “movement”. We’re not a bunch of pot smoking, tie dye wearing compound dwellers (well, we don’t hold it against Antonios anyway). We’re the first part of the definition: assembled or accumulated into a whole. Greater than the parts. We’re a synergistic collection of budding talent and an all around sensitive group of socialists. And if anyone has a problem with that I’ll beat them unconscious.

Now. As for, “Are you the Borg?” No, The CWC is not the Borg (isn’t it sad that MSWord recognizes that Borg needs to be capitalized? I won’t comment on the nature of software programmers…). And the reasoning behind this is easy, even the Borg have a leader. We don’t. So there, Yanks. Put that in your 300hp station wagon and waste it.

The CWC. We’re aptly named after all.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Buying a Little Time

by Anna McDougall

The little writing I do get done is squeezed into twenty minute time segments when relative quiet descends upon my house. My four children, aged two to eight keep my senses over-stimulated from six AM until nine or ten o’clock at night. That I keep writing in spite of these precious distractions is an indication that I love it, or need it, or both. But now I’m done. I’m finished plopping my youngest in front of Rolie Polie Olie to bang out a first draft before it escapes my brain; I’m through bribing my older kids with KD and freezies in the back yard and calling it dinner so I can steal a few PC minutes. It’s time I give myself some substantial writing blocks to allow my prose and poetry efforts room to improve. Besides overcoming the hurdle of guilty feelings inevitable for any confirmed stay-at-home parent, I also need a source of cash to buy me some free time. In my world, that means childcare. I've decided to investigate freelance writing.A year ago I would never have considered it as I reserved every peaceful moment for reading and writing fiction, but now I believe I could create some decent non-fiction pieces within a reasonable amount of time without exhausting all my creative energies.

I contacted freelancer Brenda Hubbard for some straight answers. This Nova Scotia writer is already beginning to draw an income from article writing although she started out just eighteen months ago. As a single mother of three young children, she had to make it work for her, and I wanted to find out how I could too.

“Freelance writing gives me the freedom to make my own schedules and work around my family,” Brenda told me, “I knew I could do most of my work from home, via the internet and telephone. It's completely different than a nine to five job because you are your own boss, what you (earn) solely depends on you.”

While her children attend school, she types away from 8:00 AM to 2:30 PM breaking only for lunch and a visit to her favorite online writers’ site Zoetrope Virtual Studios. “Dinners have to be made, lunches and clothes ready for the next school day, so time management is really important. I spend an hour researching markets, marking them down, and noting what I could possibly write about for them. Queries don't usually take me more than an hour for the first draft.” Then she leaves them to breathe before going back for the final polish.

Without constraints of an office job, editor deadlines provide Brenda with a work structure. “I love deadlines, there's like this adrenaline rush happening when you haven't quite finished your article and it has to be turned in. That's when the blood pumps and the ideas seem to flow the best for me. Although I try to follow a schedule there have been times where I've had to finish up articles at two AM, to meet my deadline the following day.“

Brenda began Writing for Publication, a course at Nova Scotia Community College in the fall of 2004 and during those studies, she prepared her first query letter for a local business publication, Commerce Magazine. It was accepted and she received her first assignment: a 600 word profile of a local business owner.

In skimming calls online, I noticed a requirement for freelancers to develop an area of specialty and write for that niche. Brenda agreed that by determining your subject of interest or expertise, opportunities will open up; she’s been working on some single parenting articles. Also, I realised that there are two ways to approach the hunt for freelance dollars: target a publication and write around their themes or develop an idea and then find it a home. Brenda said she’ll “normally get an idea and then try to find a market to suit it. Finding markets aren't usually a big problem; it's writing the dynamic query letter that will catch the editor's eye that can be a chore at times.”

Brenda’s advice for controlling income flow is to meet every assignment deadline, use the word count to your advantage (since many publishers pay per word), and keep mailing those queries. “Pick an idea, write a query and get it out. If you don't do those things you'll never make it as a writer. Also, try to make sure you aren't spending more time on an article than what you're worth. I try to pace myself so I'm averaging $50 an hour when I write an article…it's good to set a goal and realise what you're worth. Never forget the five W's as this is important for a complete article. And the most important thing is to remember a writer has a code of ethics to follow and that is essential in this business.” Brenda sends five queries out a week of which many are declined, but having regular assignments with two local magazines help her earn at least $400 a month and don’t require travel. The editor of Altitude Publishing's Amazing Stories responded well to Brenda’s query so now she’s preparing a proposal for a book and her attitude is positive, “…I'm up against tough competition but hope to do well. If I don't get this assignment at least I'll have gained the experience…”

Money isn’t the only way to determine success in this field. Brenda is motivated “not only (by the number of) projects I get finished, but by the amount of queries I manage to get out and at least get a response from.” Her most rewarding assignment was for CBC Radio Outfront. “This meant so much to me, because it involved my son, his paternal grandfather, and … an epiphany I had about family even through separation, and how I could set my feelings aside to make sure my children experienced both sides of the family. It was a very emotional time for me when I did this, but I'm so happy I did and learned a lot about myself at the same time. I felt extremely successful because I taped and worked on By the River’s Edge by myself.”

Brenda’s biggest challenge is breaking into the national and regional magazine markets. “Networking,” she reminded me, “is vital in the freelance business. Most writers who are too busy to accept new assignments will suggest (someone) they know who will meet the need. Also, once editors know you, they'll start contacting you and asking if you want assignments.”

I asked Brenda whether freelance writing was her ultimate career goal or a stepping stone towards a further writing dream. She plans to write a novel one day based on her journey through a difficult marriage and eventual separation. “Life has a way of handing us things that need to be shared with other people.”

**


Brenda’s CBC Commentary piece can be read and listened to here searching the archives.

Professional Writers Association of Canada

Monday, June 26, 2006

Merrily, Merrily, Up the Gay Sociopath!

By Andrew Tibbetts

My favourite characters on TV lately are the gay criminals. First there was hunky prisoner, Chris Keller (Chris Meloni) on OZ . Then there was charming drug dealer, Omar (Michael K. Williams) on The Wire. And now there’s a mobster Vito Spatafore (Joe Gannascoli) on the Sopranos. Are these gay guys who just happen to be criminals, or criminals who just happen to be gay? Either way, the gayness and the criminality don't seem to be welded together like, say, the trannie degenerate Clint Eastwood or some other 'good guy' blows away in that 70's movie (that I haven't been able to google up the title of before this deadline.) These HBOgays are likeable, merry murderers who do the job, but have a soft side, too. They might just be the most well-rounded gay people on TV. (Despite loving 6FU, I always thought David and Keith paled in comparison to the female troika of Ruth, Brenda and Claire. And straight brother Nate got way more story-line!)

The gay press is having an unambiguous love-fest with these queer bad guys. My, times have changed! This sort of thing used to get us up in arms. There were 29 arrests when gays protested Basic Instinct in San Francisco. We wanted to know why all the gay people in movies were sick, twisted and unhappy. Now it turns out it was just the unhappy part we didn't like. These new sick and twisted criminals know how to have a good time, and that seems to make all the difference. They’ve got self-esteem.

We've had to pass the protest torch to the albinos. Did you know there have been 63 films since 1960 to feature an evil albino? (I smell a film festival!) It’s got to stop. How about a Walk-the-Line-ish Edgar Winter bio-pic? I’m there! In the meantime there are plenty of fully pigmented people running around with their cilices digging into their flesh. Why don’t we hear about them? Albinos, however, need their Will and Grace, their Philadelphia, their Making Love. And then, after a few decades of making up, we'll be able to enjoy the Da Vinci Code. Well, maybe not the Da Vinci Code.

What's this got to do with me? I'm a gay man struggling to write a novel about straight people. I’m writing a small part for a gay guy and in light of the current celebration of the gay sociopath, I took a good look at him. He is kind of too-good-to-be true. Nice guy. Pure victim. I've gone back and given him some teeth. It was quite a refreshing process. Now the dreary book is really taking off. I honestly don't think us GLBTTQTSI-folks have anything to prove, so I'm happy to stop making gay characters who have the whiff of a public service announcement about them. Take this as my official resignation.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Zen Burgers and the Condiments of Life




By Craig Terlson

Ever since I saw the news item on the $100 burger in the Florida restaurant, I have been thinking about burgers. No wait… I always think about burgers. They are the staff of life for me. I wax eloquent over the pungent memories of foil-wrapped burgers from the hockey rinks of my youth – places where aromas of burnt cow mingled with the smell of sweat, powdered hot chocolate, popcorn and the funny smell that came from the Zamboni. The burgers were similar in texture to the pucks being fired across the ice – but the smell released upon the ritualistic unwrapping was heavenly.

The condiments were minimal. You had ketchup, mustard, and maybe relish. I don't mean, "maybe there was relish available", I mean, "maybe the green glop in the chrome bucket was relish." It was best not to contemplate.

In my young adulthood, the world of better burgers and diverse condiments began to expand. As I moved across the country, I had new beef on a bun experiences (B.O.B.); some were life changing. There was the burger with alfalfa sprouts in a small hippy diner, the mysterious B-B-Q sauce of Peter's Drive-in, the weirdness of the peanut butter burger in that gourmet place, and the enormity of *Big Dicks Monster Burger (*real place) matched with a mustard that could peel automotive paint.

Even commercial chains were involved in this new bovinian zeitgeist. This was around the time A & W started putting tasteless white cheese on burgers (not that it was much different than the tasteless orange stuff).

Flash forward to my adulthood and witness me, the traveller of Canada and regions beyond, as the possessor of a fridge bursting at the hinges with exotic condiments. Korean Kimchi shared shelves with Japanese Wasabi, German Mustard, African Peanut Sauce, Jamaican Jerk Sauce and other strange concoctions bought in markets around my culturally diverse city. And when it came to burger adornment, they all begged for my attention, jostling together and clinking their lids like competitors in a culinary world cup where only one sauce makes it to the final.

I did go through a phase where I would use them all. My burger looked like a reproduction of the Tower of Pisa post-collapse; not only was it a mess to eat, the flavours fought each other. The mustard argued with the Teriyaki, the Dijon mayonnaise swore at the peanut sauce, and the urbane organic ketchup looked down its glass nose at the provincial Bick's relish.

And it didn't taste that good either.

Lately, I have drifted back to those days at the hockey rink. The simple neon colours of red, yellow and really strange green, beckon me. Simplify your condiments, simplify your life.

This has been freeing. Both in my life and in my subway crowded fridge. The metaphors abound, but I am trying to avoid them – how grabbing that perfect condiment is like finding the perfect verb for a sentence, or watching a perfect sunset, or even a perfect mate.
But it's really about the burger.

I had a burger today, the cheese was orange, the bun white, the ketchup a deep Heinz red. It was a near perfect, Zen-like experience. But something was missing, the flavour longed for one more layer, one tangential wisp of something sweet, crunchy, and somehow unnamable.

Tomorrow, I go on a quest for the relish of my youth.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Theme Scheme



by

Patricia Parkinson

I went to University - I love that word - University, as a mature student ten years ago. At thirty-five, seven months after the birth of my daughter, my first child, I was going back to school to get my teaching degree. That was my plan. I got up at six in the morning, hauled my elfin child to day care and took English 101 with Professor Anonby at Trinity Western University, a mere five minute drive from my suburban home.

I loved it. I was never late, a huge accomplishment believe me. Punctual isn’t in my vocabulary, but I couldn’t wait to arrive at school, to park my mini van and make the mad dash to building three. I reveled in the atmosphere of the campus, the young, nubile students running from class to class, books and backpacks in their arms, and I followed along and tried to blend.

My professor didn’t know what to make of me. The perky woman in the front row, paying rapt attention to every word he spoke, writing notes like a manic. I seldom spoke - I am quite shy after all, never asked questions, fear of revealing my lack of intellect, leftover baggage from grade school. I enjoyed eavesdropping on the conversations of the just turned men and women who sat around me. Complaints about cramming for exams and pulling all-nighters and their yucca flux intake of the weekend. I did all my reading, ahead of time. Overall, I figured I had it covered. Then came our first assignment.

Professor Anonby stood at the front of the class, extended a stubby tweed- covered arm above his head and began to write on the pristine, green blackboard, the fresh, white cylinder of chalk - music to my ears.

Describe the theme of “The Cask of Amontillado”, he wrote, and turned to face the class.

“You’ve all read it, or should have by now, at least once, preferably twice. If not you shouldn’t be here.”

I had read Edgar Allan Poe’s, “The Cask of Amontillado,” three times. I knew the story well. I loved it in fact, the intensity- the suspense, all of it. I even understood the guilt. But theme, what is theme? I asked myself, looking around while my fellow classmates didn’t bat one bloodshot eye.

How could I write an essay if I didn’t even understand the freaking question?

Theme? I was in over my head. Discuss the theme of “The Cask of Amontillado.” What did that even mean? I didn’t analyze fiction. I read it.

The possibility of failure loomed. Failing! Me! A Graduating Class of 1979-honor roll student, okay, not quite honor roll in grade twelve, but well…grade twelve was a transitional year in my education process.

My hand shot up to ask my first question of the semester.

“Mrs. Parkinson,” Professor Anonby said, shocked I’m sure, wondering what this mature woman would say. I myself had no idea. It just seemed like the thing to do.

“Oh, me. Yes, well, theme. I love theme. Theme is great!” I said. What the fuck are you saying! My brain seized

The only thing I knew about themes were parties. I was on the Student’s Council after all, Social Director. My platform was “Vote for me and I’ll show you a good time this year!” Really! It’s true. You can laugh now. Okay. Stop laughing.

I held theme days, color days, dress as a movie star days, theme dances, and toga parties and booked bands -got Loverboy for a Halloween party, that was cool, and lived up to my campaign promises, and now, I had to write a fifteen hundred word essay on the theme of The Cask of Amontillado?

What did theme have to do with reading? Or writing for that matter?

The student union offered peer tutoring for ten dollars an hour. I booked the first available appointment with a senior student from Iowa, the daughter of a missionary family.

“My father is a pastor,” she told me.

Oh, I failed to mention that TWU is a Christian University.

Patricia Parkinson? Christian University?

Laugh as much as you like.

They accepted my application - some quota they had to fill with minority students, and me being soooo mature, fit one of the requirements. I spent a lot of my time in fear of being expelled for non- Christian practices. Smoking in my van before class, I’m sure parking lot security saw me flick a butt from my window, not to mention my swearing, using the lord’s name in vain and well, other opinions I hold that are not generally deemed Christian, which is not a topic I wish to discuss here, or most places for that matter.

So there I was with Miss Iowa, my shirt draped over my daughters head while she nursed, my daughter who knew by then how to lift my top to check out her ever-expanding world while exposing my ever-expanding nipple. She took a break from feeding, turned and looked at my tutor. Miss Iowa stared lovingly at the Madonna sight.

“I like your hair,” she said to me. “It’s so in style. Do you watch Friends?”

“Pardon me?”

“You know, the show, your hair,” she replied, touching her own hair.

“Oh yeah, right, Friends. Thanks,” I said, and pointed at my own hair like a duffus.

She smiled and just as I thought she was about to touch me, I grabbed the book and held it up between us.

“I have a deadline,” I said.

“What’s the story about?” she asked.

I sat there thinking, I’m paying this girl and she doesn’t even know what it’s about? She hasn’t even read the thing?

“It’s about this guy. He’s dying. It’s his last confession.”

“What does he confess?”

“To the murder of his rival.”

“Did you like the story?”

“It was incredible. The suspense. It scared me, a lot in fact. The realness of it, how I could imagine it happening, see it and feel it the hatred. The way Poe describes how Montresor kills Fourtunato, the masonry, the catacombs. Such a horrible way to die, and all for one thing.”

“What was that?” the girl asked. Again with the questions, this chick, I thought, has no clue.

“Revenge,”” I answered.

Miss Iowa clapped her hands and looked at her watch. “It seems my work here is done,” she said.

“Done?”

“Why yes,” she said. “You know the answer to the question. You just have to figure out how to put it in your own words. Look for passages in the book that support your theory.”

“My theory?” I was still saying while she pocketed the cash I’d paid in advance.

I read the story again, and again…and again! And gathered nothing new. What is the story about? I kept asking myself. It's about a guy who's jealous and diabolical. Unfulfilled revenge.

And then a thought occurred to me. I had a wave of the right idea, an epiphany, and a plan formulated in my mind. I pulled my own all nighter, wrote like a woman who knew what she was talking about and ended up with a B+.

There are many themes running through my life. There are themes involving my children that move me to pure love and there are desperate themes when I wish the only thing I had to worry about was how to explain theme. There are themes that started in my childhood and ended in divorce. Some are filled with loss, while others are a moment; a feeling, an epiphany. My current theme is confusion, chaos, and general pandemonium. I try not to think about it. I'm trying to take things as they come, trying to find clarity and not let moments that I should embrace pass me by out of fear or pride. I need to create a new theme.

I'll figure it out.

Eat These Words. Everyone Else Is.

by Melissa Bell

It's been a great month for foodie readers, friends. And I have my invoice from Chapters/Indigo on-line to prove it. Michael Ruhlman's Reach of a Chef (the third in his chef-related series), Bill Buford's Heat, and Anthony Bourdain's The Nasty Bits. All these boys can write. And they write about food and the people who make it. And they do it extremely well.

Chef Bourdain's The Nasty Bits. I loved this collection of essays because I decided a long time ago he's the male version of me - the one who is six-foot-four and has traveled the world and swears and smokes and drinks (oh wait, I kinda really do that last part) and still manages to get his hung-over ass out of bed to meet a deadline when a deadline is meant to be met. There's a lesson there, people. Party hearty, by all means, but keep your promises to your editors and publishers. Chef Bourdain's writing has taught me how to cope. When I'm standing in the shower some mornings, knowing that I have an entire day ahead of me dealing with shit I couldn't care less about, I think about Mr. Bourdain and his having to scarf down an iguana taco or locust omelet, and then have to write about it after a hardcore night on the town. Somewhere there's a tourist map that lists his vomity hotspots. I'm glad he's gotten all famous-like in presenting the global kitchen to a mass audience. He deserves everything he's got.

Bill Buford's Heat. Former Fiction Editor for the NYer decides to apprentice with Mario Batali and gets Kitchenmicated. My, this is a great f***ing read. I'm only halfway through, but what a great book. Whoever said editors are editors because they're failed writers should go stick their heads in a toilet and flush twice.

Awaiting me is Mr. Ruhlman's book The Reach of a Chef. Now I haven't read his two previous books in the Chef series, but I will. And you can count on my commentary. I have a very strong feeling it's going to be positive.

In the interim, go get yourself something to eat! Look at you, sitting in front of the computer all day, writing, writing, writing. Go feed yourself, and for god's sake make it something more than a simple salad or a bag of chips! Roast a chicken. Grill a steak or some ribs. Rip, tear and eat with your fingers. If you're going to cook meat, cook it properly, present it with respect, eat it with friends, and honour it with a good wine. Some lovely creature died for your nourishment. Do it up nice with a lovely garlic mash and something fresh from the garden. Yes, I mean it.

And then go wash your greasy mitts and come back to the keyboard and tell us all about it. Yes, I mean that, too.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

How to Ease Your Momma’s Boy into the Writing Life

By Antonios Maltezos

I don’t care how vigilante you mommas are, your preschool boys will eventually start building weapons, slingshots, bows and arrows, and wooden swords to test against their playmates. It’s a powerful urge they’re feeling, a drive to manhood… yes, even at such a young age. They’re training for war, mommas. Look closely at their monkey bar games, the way certain boys always seem to take over the fort while others sulk in the sandbox.

You should be getting nervous by the time your boy hits the teens, because he’s watching a lot of TV, The Greatest American Hero, or something, and his mind wants to leap forward a couple years to when he’ll be looking good in tights and the blows will glance off his chiseled jaw. He’s getting ready to leap farther than he probably should, farther than he’s ready. Not so bad if he’s one of those gutsy kids with loads of charisma and great hand/eye coordination. But if he’s like I was, he’ll need your help. Go out and buy him a plastic gun, a green one, a 9mm with molded parts that don’t move except for the trigger. He’ll think about that 9mm, one day, when he’s cornered and he realizes he can’t fly, ands he’s fed-up with always being the one having to roll on the ground grimacing as if in pain, pretending to die. But chances are he’ll only just think about unloading that plastic green gun on someone, and then he’ll put it away with all the other crap he’s got building on a pile in the corner of his teenager bedroom.

I mean, that’s basically it, right? We shame them by buying them guns they’ll never use. Fuck ‘em up by allowing that other woman, Mother Nature, to have her way. And God forbid should they ever have an actual gun in hand, because they’ve all been training since the playground. (Please don’t comment on this post by telling me how overly sensitive and thoughtful your boys are, and how they play with Barbies. I ain’t talking about those kinds of boys.)

So this, in a nutshell, is my simple formula for making a man out of your boy. Just let him be. Boys will be boys; after all… just don’t be too alarmed when you see him rolling on the ground struggling against the inevitable. He’s learning about heroics. Take out your cameras instead, mommas, because a good death is second only to a good kill. I’ve known this since the age of five, or six. By seven, I was itching to get on a team. Boys yearn for the real-life wounds, moms, those scrapes and bruises inflicted by others.

Buy him a plastic gun, for heavens sake, so he can fight back, at least.

But what if your boy decides he wants to be a writer? What then? Does he have enough muscle between the ears to pull it off? Is there even a muscle for the brain? Hopefully, he’s a natural, and the writing will come easy. Um, but I don’t think so.

He’s probably just a screwed up kid who started by scrawling satanic lyrics in blue ball-point, helter skelter so you have to keep rotating the paper to read the words. You’ll need to intervene, quickly, so his pen doesn’t become a weapon. I’m serious. Do what you must, you lovely, blameless mommas. He’ll be dreaming up new wars, otherwise.

But you needn’t despair. I also have a simple formula for making a thoughtful writer out of your boy.

Buy him a pet, a sickly one who’ll lick his toes for a while, and then die at his feet, fall with a thud one morning as your boy stretches his legs. You’ll be there for him, of course, crushing him between your bosoms, forcing him to cry, shush… shush… shushing him as he blathers on and on about how cruel life is. If your husband catches wind… of the sobbing, I mean, tell him your boy is a writer, and writers are neither male nor female. If you’re lucky, your husband will blank out at this point, leaving you to your work turning this failed little soldier into a man who’s in touch with his emotions.

Momma, he’ll lash out at you from time to time, but you’ve got to stay strong. You have to realize that this is your struggle, too, your personal test. That bitch, Mother Nature, she wants to take him from you. She’d rather see him rolling on the ground, dying his noble death, than give him up. But you can do it, momma, keep him in the light, though it’ll be a lifelong struggle. Even if he marries—especially if he marries, you’ll still have to come around and make him that tomato sandwich he loves so much, lightly toasted bread, slathered in butter and then mayonnaise, with just a pinch of salt on the tomatoes—no lettuce. A side of chips, please. His wife will want a warrior king, Momma, so keep your bosoms ever vigilante.

He is a boy, after all, and boys will be boys.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Up with change! Just not all at once.



By Tricia Dower

Before Colin and I shook things up, I had eight hours each day to spend on writing in a room with a proper desk and ergonomic chair. I was focused on the goal of completing a collection of stories by Fall 2006, enervated by it, actually. Life was good except for a growing discomfort over how much of the planet’s resources we were using.

In July 2005, we sold our house in Toronto -- more room than we needed and a pool that held enough water to irrigate Malawi. Closing was set for mid-November. Over the next few months we gave away or sold most of our stuff. Up with downscaling! We exchanged two cars for one with the best combination of energy efficiency and trunk size. Colin finished a contract with a corporate client, ready to take some time to contemplate a socially responsible future. We’d spend the winter out west and then, who knows? Nothing would change for me except the weather; I’d find a quiet corner wherever we were and write and write and write. Everyone said they envied us. We envied us. It was exciting.

November arrived and the house didn’t close. We put it back up for sale and drove off to the place we’d rented for a month in Capitola, California. It was tired looking and furnished with cast-offs, but roomy. Best of all, it had a fabulous view of the ocean. We set up our desktop PC on the dining room table. Colin used it more than I thought he would, surfing the Net for things to contemplate, catching up on administration. Okay. Sometimes writing longhand helps me be more creative. I sat at a different table not too far from him. It was a novelty being together all the time. I didn’t get much writing done.

We’d chosen Capitola because it was close to my sister and brother-in-law who’d be celebrating their 50th anniversary on Christmas day, hosting a 1950s theme party for sixty guests without benefit of caterers. We’d come early to help. My brother-in-law was recovering from bypass surgery and my sister was taking care of her five-month old grandson four days a week. They needed a lot of help. I didn’t get much writing done.

In January we headed for Victoria’s Shamrock Suites -- a motel, really, that looked way better on the website. We set up the PC on the desk in the living/dining area that was a mere arm’s length from the kitchen in which both of us could not stand at the same time. Every suite looked like every other. Stepping onto the common balcony/walkway outside our door, I felt like one of the refugees the government puts up in grim looking motels on Kingston Road in Toronto. I wondered if I’d ever write seriously again.

In February we moved to a home of tourist suites, each uniquely decorated with antiques. Ours was homey with a kitchen big enough for two, and it cost hundreds less per month than Shamrock. Up with thriftiness! The only place for the PC, however, was in the middle of everything on the kitchen/dining table. I entered into full-blown grieving over the loss of my writing. We went to counseling. I acquired a laptop, set up “office” in the public library and finished a story I’d started in September. We celebrated.

Our house sold for the second time and we spent April back in Toronto, sleeping on a mattress on the floor, eating with dishes and cutlery we bought from (and donated back to) Goodwill. The PC went on a card table we’d left behind and the laptop on a small desk the original purchasers had written into the offer. We emptied the garden of winter’s debris and said our final, this time for real, goodbyes to the dream house turned albatross.

At the moment my laptop lives in the bedroom of a house in Victoria that we’re sitting for friends vacationing in Europe. Part of our job is to tend their garden, and we’re rewarded with the freshest strawberries, lettuce and spinach I’ve ever had. Peas, beans, onions, carrots, turnips, squash and raspberries are sprouting, as well. Colin is away each day studying philosophy at UVic. Six hours are deliciously mine to write and write and write.

In July we’ll move into half of a duplex located a five-minute walk from Victoria’s harbour. As Goldilocks would say, it’s just the right size. A year’s lease is a commitment to finishing my collection. The second bedroom will be my writing room. We’re on the hunt for a proper desk -- second-hand, of course. Up with recycling!

Photo: Colin and I in vintage duds at the Nifty Fifties Anniversary Party.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Unwrapping the precious word

by Tamara J Lee

Do you remember uncovering the mystery of a word? You'd see the word, and with your young mind's pronunciation, skimmed over it, but didn't really embrace it. Maybe it wasn't yours to have at the moment, perhaps it seemed too precious. But precious, how? Was it a Latinate, and so somehow verboten? Or maybe it was a little terrifying, long and sensuous and surely more than little ol' you could handle. What's your relationship to that word now? Have you conquered it, used it to all meaninglessness, the poor thing. Or have you dabbed it sparingly into your work, just a hint of black in the corner of your blue Bob Ross sky.

I remember encountering words like loquacious and onomatopoeia. Latinates both frightened and intrigued me. They had letter combinations I couldn't fully make sense of, but I was certain I should know them because they were there on the page of the English book I was reading. Latinates seemed to roll themselves out onto the page like red carpets to galas I was too young to attend.

Trying to uncover words goes all the way back to my semi-literate years, struggling to read the French on the cereal box, studiously comparing the two opposing sides—quintessential Canadian child of the '70s, I was—and wondering why the French version was always twice as long as the English. Surely, the translators were providing more detail to the French. It was a conspiracy, with misleading clues using words that looked familiar; it's the in-between words that held all the truth, I concluded. As I yearned to uncover those truths on the other side of the Cheerio's box, my fascination with language took root in me, sitting there at the kitchen table eating fortified cereal with extra sugar I'd snuck into the bowl.

Those were the years I tried my mind at spelling bees, and managed well enough. But dissecting a word into its basic parts, into its consonants and vowels lined up like a string of dead multi-coloured Christmas lights, was anything but satisfying. It was nothing like the illumination I felt when I would come across a new word and read it over and over, front-wards and back, so it felt like I was slinking through every curl and hole of the script, rubbing myself up against it and marking my scent, whether I understood the word or not. I just knew I liked it and that was enough.

Deliberately researching a word's meaning and correct pronunciation didn't come until later. Learning that plethora, for example, is pronounced much differently from what I'd imagined was startling, unnerving. It meant the word had been a lie, had been harbouring a secret from me, and so I needed to reacquaint myself with it. Sometimes, I'll admit, when this would happen, I just didn't seem to like the word as much, once I got to know it better.

I'd write down the new-found words, a fancy trick I learned in elementary school, a dozen times or more and concentrate on those most intricate details, the 'q' squiggles and the 'i' dots; but I was never an elaborate squiggly q-tail type or a girly i-dotter. Those girls who put dumb hearts over their 'i'’s, those girls and I would never understand one another, and we were destined to know words differently.

New words find themselves in the damnedest places now: in the top corners of journals, written several times onto scraps of paper, or on invoices, or phone bills. As if writing them down will tattoo them into memory, but it never really works. Instead, when I see them now, I approach them with a similar curiosity, and sometimes reverence, wondering what I'm going to do with a new word, now that I've found it again. Should I keep it? Put it to work for me? Or should I merely glance over it, a stranger on the bus I'll possibly see again sometime on that route?

I'm still struggling with my French language skills, but my reading comprehension is far superior to my speaking skills. I can thank cereal boxes for that. But now it's the slight variations between the French and English words that often confuse me, as my mind's tongue gets tied up with my bad accent. It takes me twice as long to say anything in French, but the truth that I was once convinced was hidden in the in-between parts is now just my child-like fumbling at second-language acquisition, trying to wrap my tongue (ma langue) around those still-mysterious words.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Who's Your Daddy?

Happy Father’s Day! The Canadian Writers Collective would like to know: who’s your favourite literary father? From Hamlet’s Ghost to (Don’t Hop on) Pop, Dads have shown up to challenge, support, abuse, encourage, nurture, sacrifice, inspire and tickle their offspring. Who’s made the biggest impression on you? Bonus points (of course) for Canadian!

Saturday, June 17, 2006

The Susan Henderson Weblog Wednesday Book Club, with Pasha Malla

This week's book: Swimming to Cambodia: The Collected Works of Spalding Gray


I've been visiting my mum the past few days. All there is to read in her house is Alice Munro and Margaret Atwood – both admittedly talented writers, but not exactly the sorts of things I'd pick up by choice, or without prompting from someone with a syringe full of AIDS held to my throat.

But in the bedroom I used to inhabit, and where I now sleep when I stay, are a few books I've left over the years. These include plays, novels and poetry collections I've had to read for school, the odd book I've bought while visiting, and books I've brought with me and either abandoned (Mordecai Richler's Barney's Version) or finished, loved and shelved (the book I've just re-read and I'm going to talk about today).

Okay, so let's talk about Spalding Gray. But first, let's let Sam Shepard talk about Spalding Gray: "He has accomplished the most difficult task for a writer – to speak of himself with no frills and no pretense." I'm not sure if this is really "the most difficult task for a writer" (I'd imagine writing a novel-in-sonnets in the electric eel-filled belly of a shark would be pretty hard, too), but this still gets at something that I think is paramount to anyone who attempts autobiography or memoir in any form: honesty.

I'm going to resist bringing up a certain recent Oprah-approved-then-shat upon "non-fiction author," but I do think that what a reader expects from writing that purports to be truth, above everything else, is honesty. And I certainly don't think that honesty is limited to facts. Spalding Gray's emotional honesty supercedes the details of his monologues, or stories, or essays, or whatever you want to call them. Who cares whether or not he really had any of the wild adventures he claims to have had, or whether the amount of time he spent in Thailand was three hours or eighty-seven days? With every sentence, like the witch-doctor disembowelling patients in Gray's Anatomy, the guy gutted himself. He opened his life up to the world and said, "Here I am, in all my beautiful, ugly, goopy glory." And to me, he did what (sorry, Sam Shepard) might be most difficult of all in autobiography: he wrote about himself in a way that made you feel like he was writing about you.

One of my favourite lines of Spalding Gray's comes from "Terrors of Pleasure: The House," one of the monologues included in The Collected Works. While auditioning for a role in a romantic comedy, Spald has one of his requisite existential crises: "Wasn't acting like you were in love to a certain extent being in love? I mean, I often act like I'm in love with Renee, so what's the difference? If I act like I'm in love with Sandy won't that, in fact, put me there?" That his relationship with Renee became such a fixture of his work brings up a whole whack of other issues I don't have time or space or brains enough to get into here, not to mention the meta-narrative of fiction intersecting with life, blah blah blah – but let's get back to that line! Man, isn't it true? And isn't it a brave and almost horrifyingly honest thing to say?

A few months ago I saw Jonathan Ames do his one-man show, Oedipussy, in Toronto. I didn't know Ames' work prior to that night, and I thought he was pretty awesome. There was more than a little of Spalding Gray in his performance, from his intonations and flailing neuroses to the "perfect moment" he described at the end. But what struck me most of all was Ames' honesty. If Spalding Gray has shown writers anything, I hope it's that memoir is more an undressing of the self than a gussying-up. Ames' was brutal, almost self-flagellating in his sincerity, with absolutely, Sam Shepard, "no frills and no pretense." He talked about being molested as a child with an unvarnished openness that was at once hilarious and terribly, terribly sad. He used his pinky finger to illustrate the size of his penis. He was, above all things, really fucking great.

I have on cd Spalding Gray's last completed monologue before he died, A Slippery Slope. It's about adultery, parenthood, fear, love, death and skiing, among other things. It also seems like a long, beautiful, tragic suicide note. A couple of months ago my friend Kate and I drove north from Toronto in search of a sugar shack. We wanted maple syrup dripped on snow, and bacon, and maybe even sausages. Instead of music for the car-ride, we took along A Slippery Slope. Our trip failed: all of the sugar shacks were closed, and we had a weird experience in the middle of a forest with a woman in leopard-print telling us to "ignore the dogs," when there were no dogs anywhere to be seen. Anyway, on our drive home we just let Spalding talk to us, and we sat there in silence making our way back to the city listening and wondering what the other person was thinking about.

I realized about twenty minutes in, with the snowy countryside whizzing by outside, that I was about to have a perfect moment. I had listened to this monologue a few times before; I knew what was coming. And when Spalding Gray describes holding his newborn son in his arms for the first time – the newborn son he fathered in an adulterous, extra-marital affair, the newborn son he avoided for months out of fear and self-loathing – and he looks into the baby's eyes and talks about what he sees, which I won't ruin for you by quoting it here, like an icy whoosh blasting up from the floor of the car and through my body and out the top of my head, my perfect moment came.


For further reading:

Ames, Jonathan. I Pass Like Night. New York: Washington Square Press, 1999 (reprint).

Atwood, Margaret. The Robber Bride. Toronto: McClelland & Steward, 1993.

Munro, Alice. Who Do You Think You Are? Toronto: Signet, 1978.

Richler, Mordecai. Barney's Version. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 1997.

Shepard, Sam. Seven Plays. New York: Dial Press, 1984 (reissue).

Friday, June 16, 2006

Synchronicity, the bad kind


By Anne Chudobiak

1. The day my e-mails bounce back from the archives of a small Caribbean nation, I pick up my New Yorker and turn to the fiction: pirates (Karen Russell, “Accident Brief,” June 19). And I thought I was being so clever.

My story would rise to the top of the Canadian slushpile where readers would say, “Pirates, now that’s a literary convention you don’t hear about anymore.”

2. While my imaginary-sister/Communist-milestone story, “My Irish Twin,” sits patiently at Maisonneuve, logged, but unread, the summer issue arrives at my doorstep. Page 59, “My Hungarian Sister” by Patricia Robertson. An English girl has an elaborate fantasy in which she and her family stand to gain from the Hungarian revolution.

“Zeitgeist,” says my husband.

Apparently, I’m very tuned in, more so than I’d like.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Blankness

or,

One Writer’s Experience With Writer’s Block and What Came Out
by Steve Gajadhar

I tried for hours this morning to construct a coherent story, but all my ideas led inexorably to blankness. I couldn’t describe, I couldn’t narrate. I searched through my ever expanding list of thematic statements and still found nothing. And now my head is pounding. My heart is pounding. They don’t pound out of suppressed emotion (although, in a sense, I guess they do), they pound out of frustration (see) at my inability to create anything of any use. The delete key on my computer steals the symbolic pile of crumpled paper from me, but it’s still there. Trust me. It sits as an Everest image of my writer’s block.

Ugh.

I even tried writing about blankness to get the juices flowing. A story to fill the blankness, using blankness as inspiration. My toes wiggled with the excitement of dabbling with the threads of the story. I could zoom in on a forgotten abuse scene complete with the camera and scene type effect necessary in today’s fiction. I could make my character tourette out words she doesn’t mean as allusions of suppressed abuse. Make her paint negative space pictures. Make her black out. Make her develop an affinity for pitless olives and shallow men.

Didn’t work, I was still blocked solid.

Then I tried changing up letters. It’s a favorite new trick of mine. Take what you’re thinking about when you’re writing, in my case blankness, and insert or move around letters to try and get a new concept, a new word to focus in on. B-l-a-n-k-n-e-s-s. How about a simple swap of an “c” for the first “n.” B-l-a-c-k-n-e-s-s. Now we’re getting somewhere! Blackness is easy. I can’t be blocked when I’m writing about blackness. It’ll help pull me away from thinking about blank screens and my blank brain.

Black. Black. Black.

Black. Contempt and anger. Racism and colour.

Colour…

My fingers are starting to tingle.

I’d like to relate a personal experience of mine and it has a bit of a tale to it, some movement of character--the something happening to someone--a character sketch of myself. Pull up in front of the Coke machine glow and have a listen.

When I was twenty one I had to paint a sensation for design class. I was assigned pain. The assignment was to span three weeks, it took me five minutes. I grabbed a three by three canvas and some black paint (matte of course) and an old, ratty brush and smeared paint on the canvas in thick uneven strokes. I got an A++. The mark was conditional on the explanation of our piece. And so I spewed about black as pain, as the black fury of hatred, as the absence of light. I dipped into the concepts of the colour wheel: If we all experienced sensation as colour, all got hammered by all sensations in equal amounts, we would have white (I could have easily sold white as pain too). But something goes wrong somewhere, it always does, and that extra dab of colour (pain in this case) turns it all black. Not the thick metaphoric strokes of my work, the extra dab turns it black for us in the literal sense. A++.

A kind of doubt was born that day. I question art beyond the surface now. I question the motivation behind it and the artist. I search for true art, that rare beautiful thing, because true art is hard, and writing is the hardest art there is. Forgive me if I’m biased, I can draw and paint, and I used to be not too bad of a musician, but I can’t write. Not worth a damn. But hey, tomorrow is a new day! Maybe tomorrow the blank will fill up and I’ll stop feeling so sorry for myself.

Damn. Still blocked. Check back in two weeks.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Review: Clearing in the West


By Anna McDougall

As soon as Heritage Park opens its gates to summer explorers, I am among the first clipping along the boardwalk, over the train track, and on to Main Street. Children in tow, I linger at the yellow ranch house and the dairy barn, immersed in romantic images of pioneering life in the west. In my daydreams I underestimate the harsh day to day struggles, looking past the physical labor that must have been more tiring than I can possibly imagine. In the midst of my hectic 2006 mothering moments juggling the multitude of opportunities available to enrich my children’s lives and balancing constant chauffeuring responsibilities with the barrage of X Box, Ipod, and DVD distractions, the straightforward nature of life at the turn of the century looks like peace to me.

I took it one step further this spring and picked up Nellie McClung’s Clearing in the West: My Own Story. This edition, re-released last year to commemorate the seventieth anniversary of the original publication is introduced beautifully by Aritha van Herk. I found the escape I was longing within the first dozen pages and set to draw the story out, enjoying just a few pages at a time, following along leisurely with my old atlas, as the Mooney family moved from Owen Sound to their new home on the prairies. As I discovered McClung’s talent for beautiful prose in her expertly detailed descriptions and the intellect evident in her perceptions even as young as six, I realized the inspiration available in this memoir and found I couldn’t put the book down until I’d finished all 417 pages.

The story begins literally the day of the author’s birth in 1873 as the first chapter examines the anticipation felt in the family home, the preparations required for welcoming a new baby, and the male reaction when “another” girl is born. McClung takes the reader on an intimate tour of her life at home with her five older siblings and her parents as they settle land near a town called Millford in southern Manitoba. The community builds schools, receives ministers, hosts Saturday night parties, and worries about politics and railroads and crops. Her story is accessible as it covers the domestic and social details of her community but it also confronts the tough issues of the day. For example, during the trial and execution of Louis Riel, she explains how she and her classmates dramatize the conflict in the school yard, she of course taking the role of Indian Chief Poundmaker.

That the entire memoir occurs during McClung’s first twenty years is significant. The rich illustrations of her childhood experiences are impressive in their detail whether the accuracy is due to a sharp memory or thorough subsequent research. As a writer with dreams of publishing a novel set in my own time, I was inspired by this quality and the foresight McClung had to include information readers a century later would find meaningful. She takes time to note the appreciation expressed by her teacher as he receives a homemade gift from her mother.

“…they are a symbol of an era in our history that is passing…think of what these socks mean: wool on a sheep’s back, converted into sock’s on a man’s feet, all done by one pair of skilful hands…you (have created) something beautiful as well as useful.”

I had to remind myself over and over that McClung wrote the book in the 1930s. She recounts dialogue and sentiment so clearly it is as if she were writing today about something that happened last week.

Like any good Canadian writer, McClung worships the land in her prose detailing the unique scents of prairie grasses, the beauty of open fields, and personality of the winds. Throughout her writing - rain or shine – her positive outlook is present.

I loved the winter scene…Plenty of snow meant moisture for the soil, and the deadly frost killed noisome insects and made possible No. 1 Hard wheat, which was our fortune. There was a kindness in the cold. It made food taste better, fires burn more brightly, and brought people into closer family circles. I knew what the psalmist meant when he spoke of the virtuous woman who was “not afraid of the snow for her household.” She knew it drove her family into the circle of lamplight and made it easier to get the children to do their homework, and strengthened the bonds of affection.

But in heat too she found pleasure;

...wide-open country heat, windy heat that dried the sloughs and cracked the ground, but the air was always fresh and sweet with honest earthy odours.

Clearing the West illustrates how McClung’s political attitudes were formed with respect to the role of women and the danger of alcohol to the community. At the age of eight, she is shocked to learn that while the women in her family voice their political preferences at home, they do not have the opportunity to vote. It is young Nellie that is the most outspoken of all and is often quieted by her mother who holds an “old world reverence for men”. Throughout the book, McClung regards women in her community with bewilderment and understands early that she is a different sort of girl. She feels that she will never be content raising a family on her husband’s farm and is frustrated by this quality for she knows the challenges ahead.

McClung contemplates the fate of a girl her age who finds herself pregnant before marriage.

Marrying and raising children was not the only thing a woman could do. Even in that, how unfair life and society were to women, laying all responsibility on them and giving them no training for their work, and then, if they made mistakes, punishing them beyond all reason…

There are times she begrudges her contemporaries who embrace the traditional life suggesting that their lives are uncomplicated. This sentiment brings to mind the debate that still rages today as many women face the same dilemma, albeit with fewer social restrictions.

The first woman activist McClung meets is Mrs. Brown who lectures her with,

”The women here are asleep…The comfortably married woman is the most selfish woman in the world…..Then I saw you and I had a sudden gleam of hope (in your) original cast of mind….Maybe I can get you interested and you’ll do something – who knows?

and later,

“It’s a man-made world, young lady as you will find. Even nature works against women, by making them smaller and weaker, giving them all the human ailments and a few of their own; and society has taken up the good work by laying heavier obligations on women and a higher standard of morality.”

Many of McClung’s forty-four chapters can stand alone as short stories each sharing an important aspect of the world in which she was raised. I found these stories reassuring. Historical writing strives to identify the commonality of human condition across time. I related easily to McClung's honest musings about problems she faced, so much so that it was difficult to believe these events took place more than a hundred years ago. I was left with the confidence that I am not alone. Not as a woman. Not as a writer.

She draws interesting connections from incidents and perceptions in childhood to the place she eventually takes in history as an adult. One of these was her love of literature. McClung had limited access to reading materials, but she read Milton’s poetry and with her sister, wrote verse while passing time with mundane chores. How this revelation fueled my faith! Often I feel I’m so far behind in my reading, blaming the short days. But to look at McClung’s history is an important reminder. She didn’t have the opportunity to make every moment count. Where did she go for inspiration? She observed the piece of world where she made her home. When young Nellie was obliged to stay home from school to herd cattle, she wrote poetry; when she walked two miles to school, she did it with a book in her hand, when she helped her mother serve guests in their home, she took in the political arguments and formed her own questions. Young Nellie made due with her surroundings and allowed them to inspire her future.

It wasn’t McClung’s education or her access to information which made her a great thinker in adulthood. In fact she was ashamed at her lack of reading experience in her late teens. It was her confidence to question the relationships and processes around her, her bright mind creating new ways of solving challenges which faced her community, and her ability to see beauty in her environment which could soothe life’s hardships that inspired her later thinking.

The gift of a Dickens collection from her brother one Christmas elevated her passion for writing to an ambition.

I knew …what a writer can be at his best: an interpreter, a reveler of secrets, a heavenly surgeon, a sculptor who can bring an angel out of stone.

And I wanted to write; to do for the people around me what Dickens had done for his people. I wanted to be a voice for the voiceless as he had been a defender of the weak, a flaming fire that would consume the dross that encrusts human soul, a spring of sweet water beating up through all this bitter world to refresh and nourish souls that were ready to faint.


McClung’s second memoir, The Stream Runs Fast is next on my reading list. I am eager to discover how this young feminist who once said she would never marry or have children and dreaded the thought of attending political meetings in dusty halls where she was unwelcome, finds herself as a mother of five and a leader of social change.

Nellie McClung's Published Writing

Monday, June 12, 2006

A Day in the Life of the Canadian Writers Collective

by Andrew Tibbetts

A little about us: The Canadian Writers Collective live in a communal home called Moodiehaus. Moodiehaus was graciously donated by our patron, Alice Munro, and is located in her backyard. It used to be her gardening shed! You can see her fixing it up for us on an episode of debbietravis' facelift. Look closely- in the background you can spot Margaret Atwood with a jackhammer, Guy Vanderhaege and Irving Layton sewing curtains, and-YES!-that's Leonard Cohen dropping by with some take-out Thai and a case of beer. Man, they were drunk by the end and I've got the wonky handmade trundle bed to prove it! I have to stick my copy of From Ink Lake: Canadian Stories Selected by Michael Ondaatje under the bottom left corner to stop myself sliding off into the lower trundle. Sorry about that foot in your face, Antonios!

We have exercises every morning- first calisthenics (The Royal Canadian 5BX Plan ) and then creative writing (re-write The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz from the point of view of the foreskin) and finally a rousing bit of Seiko Jutsu, Canada's Martial Art! Sorry about that foot in your face, Antonios!

Alice usually brings us breakfast whenever she rolls out of bed, or sends her maid (a down-on-her-luck Barbara Amiel, just hired!) down the yard. We're on our own for lunch but we grow our own organic food- um, braised kale, anyone? Also, we make our own clothes (from back issues of The Walrus and remaindered copies of Douglas Coupland’s last four novels.)

Afternoons- we have to earn our keep! We share the royalties from our published writing ($427.39) and subsidize our living expenses by making Canadian Mementos and teaching lacrosse.

We have a chore wheel to divide the labour- for example, it's Monday so it's my turn to go up to the big house and make crank phone calls for Alice Munro (John Updike? Is your fridge running? Better go and catch it before it overtakes your literary reputation!) and then wipe the spittle off her mouth after she's done giggling. It's Melissa's turn to hit the publishing houses (and raid their fridges for the little creamers and their cupboards for condiment packages. Don't forget to scoop up some toilet paper, too, MelBel!) and Craig's turn to scrape wannabe members off the roof (You can't live here, Alanis Morrisette, you’re not a real writer! Go away, Michael Chabon, you’re not a real Canadian! Stop bothering us, Canadian-novelist-and-film-reviewer David Gilmour, you smell a bit!) The others panhandle.

Supper- we are usually wined and dined by American movie producers (Of course Johnny Knoxville will make a GREAT Louis Riel- pass that kumquat risotto! Okay, Reese Witherspoon as Laura Secord, sure, but we’ll have to have someone Canadian to play the cow- more Clos du Mesnil!- Kiefer, you're kidding right? Oh! The back end, sure, sure! Don’t eat all those truffles, Spielberg, I’m not kidding. I’ll kick your ass. I just got my beaver belt in Seiko Jutsu!)

Back at the house, midnight snacking is strictly forbidden. If you don't watch your figure, nobody else will gaze at your book jacket photo! We usually chill with a quiet chat about the role of Canadian Literature in developing the national consciousness. Sorry about that foot in your face, Antonios.

Then it's off to bed. None of your business.

I hope you've enjoyed your day with The Canadian Writers Collective! Stop by any time! Bring money.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Way it Sort of Was


by Craig Terlson

Memory is important to me as a writer. When I sift through the catacombs of my brain, I often land on childhood, teenagehood, and early adulthood memories. It is fascinating to put these events through a writer's filter – but before I put on my tweed smoking jacket and get all pretentious, I need to remind myself this is what my grandfather, George, did all the time in his storytelling. He's the guy on the far left in the above photo.

It wasn't so much that he altered the facts when he told stories, he just sort of smooshed the good bits from a few different tales together, and bound them up with his delightful personality. My uncle used to say George never let the truth get in the way of a good story.

As a kid, I took the stories of him, on a hill in France, arm and arm with Churchill, staring down Hitler and his gang, as gospel. In other stories about WWII, I imagined him in some French café drinking out of that glass bottomed beer mug (so you could always see who was coming in the door), with men in berets and red-lipped ladies smoking long cigarettes. I never heard the dark stories, the ones he didn't share openly, except in hushed tones when the grandkids were not around.

I had heard how George's regiment was destined for the Dieppe Raid. A few days before the raid, he was injured, possibly by a grenade – but I had started to doubt these stories. As I grew older, I began to realize a lot of the stories were most likely fabrications. In my cynical years, it bugged me that he had to embellish so much.

But as I comb through my own memories, I see how events from my past do get smooshed together, in really interesting ways. Distant memories saddle up next to things from a few weeks ago and they create their own sort of memory, and ultimately, their own story. The tale doesn't lack in truth; it actually creates a new form of it.

Newer writers will sometimes proclaim, "But that’s not how it happened!" When someone asks me if a story of mine is true. I say, "Of course." Or, if I am feeling more honest, "No, but that's the way it should have happened."

On a side note, a few years back I was scanning the internet and googled my long since dead grandfather. I couldn't believe it when I came across a WWII veteran's journal that mentioned my grandfather. I confirmed it by emailing the vet, who said, "For sure, I knew George, which grandkid are you?"
The story on his site was how George had been admitted to the infirmary and had missed the Dieppe raid (an omission that may have saved his life).

I'm starting to wonder about the Churchill story now.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Curves




Curves

By

Patricia Parkinson





If I had to put all the words I wanted to write in a straight line, I couldn’t do it. It wouldn’t be straight. It would be a curve, not a circle, that would be redundant, redundancy is boring. My words would be a curve, with, well, an arc!! Yes. Writing is a curve, a shape - the shape of a woman.

The toes of a woman are often the oddest part of her body. An interesting beginning to a story, a weird first line to get the readers attention could start with a foot or a toe, painted red or pigeon toed or a longer second toe than the big toe, which, they say, is a sign of intelligence. I don’t have a longer second toe.

Feet are a good place to start. Solid, on the ground - feet are the things that get us through life, from one place to the next. As if I’m telling you something you don’t already know. Anyway.

Ankles lead to the first curve. Women’s ankles may hold a past – they’re a receding curve - a memory of sling backs or silk stockings or maybe white knee socks and a kiss by a boy in a cloak room that has lingered in longing and provides the right about of vulnerability in the writing for the reader to trust the story we are attempting to tell. Ankles give us the desire to read on and find out what happens next, which brings us to the reward for the wait, also known as, calves.

Calves are where we meet the protagonist. We will either fall in love or not care one-way or the other about our protagonist if the calve curve is not handled correctly. Let’s face it. Who does not like women’s calves? It’s universal admiration.

The thighs of a of a woman, especially a woman born figure skating, provide a hell-on wheels antagonist - a hard care unbending bitch of a woman that knows nothing of resolution or change. This is the wrong type of antagonist. A perfect antagonist has thighs like me! They are somewhat, flexible, I refuse to say, flabby, yet, when tanned well, just because my thighs don’t look strong doesn’t mean they aren’t. And well, change cannot occur unless there is some…leeway.

Beyond the thighs, well, let’s go further than that, the most erotic stories I’ve read about the curve beyond the thighs are best if subtly implied.

Imagine it anyway you like.

For me, the body of story, the heart of story, lies not in the heart of woman, but in her belly, in her gut. In the curve that speaks the loudest, knows the truth, which I really hate at times, and is often not listened to. The gut is where we learn about conflict and turmoil, in my gut anyway, seldom is it calm. Confusion is a state I am learning to live with. Why the stomach and not the back? I asked myself when proofing this. The back is flexible, bending sometimes aching, would it not make more sense for the body of a story to lie there? No! We read a book from front to back. The stomach comes before the back and this piece isn’t going that far, don’t worry.

So, we have, a beginning, some exposition, let us not forget the ankles, the introduction of a protagonist, an antagonist, the story...and… oh yeah, I can’t forget what I set out to do. There is a point to be made here after all.

The arc! The arc is a woman’s breasts! Gotta be. The climax. The peak, regardless of how ridiculous this sounds, are in the boobs. The arc, where the reader holds his or her breath as the events learned in the gut come to a head. How perfect! It’s like I planned it. The head.

The final part of a story, the part of a woman that holds the most curves, is her mind. A woman’s mind holds the key to conflict, the capacity to understand and empathize, and most importantly, the mind holds a knowledge of emotion and this insight, if we dare, gives us the ability to express these feelings, the pain, the loss, hopefully the joy without fear. The story might not stop here, as this analogy is based on a woman and we all know it's a woman's perogative to change her mind, the plot line might come to another curve instead of to the end.

Friday, June 09, 2006

The Mercenary Me

by Melissa Bell

Well, folks, here’s the thing. After reading Mr. Antonios’s post of yesterday, and in my position of privilege as CWC blogger having taken a peak at tomorrow’s lovely offering by Ms. Patricia, I knew that today, my day (as in every other Friday), I was really going to have to “bring it.” No mean feat, let me tell you. Especially since yesterday was also my Annual Review, and trying to get away with my wanton goldbricking at the computer in order to produce something of bloggy brilliance when I should be doing legitimate work-related research (or something) was going to be more challenging than ever. Than ever.

So have I logged on here today, my friends, to tell you that I decided to bail? That I just don’t have anything to say so please just cut me some slack and leave me the hell alone, why don’t you?

Well, au contraire, folks.

Au contraire.

Thing is, inspired by all of the inspirational inspiration that was happening all around me, I wound up writing something that I really quite like; in fact, I like it enough I want to send it to “Publication X”. Unfortunately, “Publication X” won’t even look at anything that’s been previously published, in any form, including a blog. Can you believe it? Believe it. Cruel bastards, yes. But they pay $1500 an essay. Can you pay me $1500 an essay? I know you want to, and would gladly do so, and I appreciate that, I really do. But for now, save your money. I’m really probably not worth it, and it shouldn’t take too long to prove just how right I am about that.

Now I know you’re probably all disappointed that I’m trying to placate you, a fine and loyal CWC reader, with this third-rate, practically-phoned-it-in material, and no doubt you’re seeing me as some worthless sell-out, getting all high and mighty with my lofty ideas of being accepted (as if!) by “Publication X”. And you, being the wise person you are, would be right. But these are the difficult choices we must make at times, my friends. Do we, as writers, consistently and constantly offer our work for free? Or do we sometimes say, “Screw it. I really want a shiny laptop. I think I’ll try going for a paying gig with this one.” Harsh, so harsh, I know. Listen, I once got dumped by a guy because he wanted a yacht and I didn’t have one, so I know how you feel. But I’m not dumping you, my friends, oh no! I am so not dumping you.

You see, “Publication X” is probably just going to toss my submission right back in my face and so in a few weeks’ time, I’ll post it right here for all to read. That will then give you a chance to say “Gah! You actually thought ‘Pub X’ would even consider this? What are you smoking, Bell?” And I’ll say, “Yeah, I know. I’m such a goddamn moron.” Therefore, you, with a little patience, will get to experience the unique high of schadenfreude whilst I get a lesson in the true meaning of hubris and “comeuppance”.

In the words of Jethro Bodine, “It’s a win-win sitchiation.”

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Confronting the Lemonade Issue Once and For All

By Antonios Maltezos

“Do you think Lemonade is still alive?”

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve been asked that question, I’d buy me a case of Molson Dry so I could drown my guilty conscience once and for all. If one of my children is asking, I’ll say that he was probably taken in by a family like ours. “You know Lemonade,” I’ll say, “He loves people.” When my cruel sister first asked, I whispered back that he most surely was knocked out of the air by a blue jay, or a blackbird. As she continued asking every couple weeks, her voice almost loud enough to reach the kids, my answers became progressively more heartless. “His hollow little bones have turned to dust by now, sister. Must you keep asking?”

Whether Lemonade is still alive, or not, is a question I have a hard time dealing with as a dad. As a writer, it serves as a steady reminder of how we should be fearless when approaching our stories.

Lemonade was a budgie, a fragile little bird with a soul and a character that was all his own. He preferred walking on the floor rather than fly across a room. At the pet store, I almost picked an all-white bird, but changed my mind because of the yellowish stain beneath its tail feathers. Boy, did I make a good choice. Lemonade was as yellow as a… well, a lemon, and he was the coolest bird ever. When my daughter, Zoe, would come home from school, he’d immediately start harassing her, playfully, of course, hovering just above her fair head, chirping like a mad fool. Though she can run like the wind, Zoe also seems fragile to me. She’s gentle and has a way of getting lost in games so she doesn’t notice the hustle and bustle of the big people around her.

***

I don’t know which I like better, the extra-long tongs I use to flip the steaks, or the six-pack I lovingly chill before I even light the barbeque? Either way, this is a happy time for dad. The radio is outside and the mind is free of clutter. The children can always sense my good mood.

***

Zoe still draws pictures of Lemonade. I love that about her. She asked me again just the other day if I thought Lemonade might still be alive. It’s been two years since we lost him, and she seems unable to let him go. She still has one of his feathers. It’s glued on a picture frame she made at school. Guess whose picture she has in that frame? That’s right. For a fragile little girl, she shows surprising strength when it comes to confronting her grief.

“You know Lemonade,” I told her, “He probably landed by a well-lit patio door and waited for someone to let him in.”

***

When I heard the unmistakable sound of the screen door sliding on the runners, I had an open bottle of beer in one hand and the extra-long tongs in the other. Zoe had an exasperated look on her face. She was being distracted by Lemonade, who was chirping like crazy just above her head. “He won’t leave me alone,” she whined. I yelled out for her to close the screen door, but it was too late. They were both outside, both frightened by my voice. I tried guiding him back into the house with the bottle of beer, and then with the tongs, but he must have thought I was trying to hurt him, because he finally took off like a shot over the neighbor’s tree. I’m convinced he would have found his way inside on his own had I not intervened.

***

We’re taught, as writers, to write what we know, but what does that really mean? Some of what this idiom implies seems kinda obvious. I shouldn’t try and get into the mechanics of any profession I’m not at least a bit familiar with. Same goes for religions, cultures, landscapes. I studied literature in school, but that’s the same as saying I read the paper daily, therefore, I’m educated. We are to write what we know, but we should also be prepared to explore uncharted territory, confront those issues and questions we so naturally shy away from.

***

Within the space of a few seconds, the rug was pulled out from under my feet. The look on Zoe’s face was heart-breaking, a sure sign that I was expected to jump in as a dad and make things better. I did what I could, though I knew it was pointless. I climbed over three fences, trampled gardens, and scratched up my legs pretty good, all the while looking up at the empty sky. My next door neighbors were out on their deck when I climbed back into their yard and tip toed across their flower bed. “The children have lost their bird,” I said as I pulled myself up and over the fence.

We spent the remaining daylight hours walking the streets, calling out his name.

Lemonade!

Lemonade!

***

I’m a coward as a dad. Zoe has been hinting at what I should do for two years now, and I still can’t bring myself to do it. I don’t want to see her crushed. I don’t want to see her carefree spirit go away, at least not yet. I lack the courage to navigate through those uncharted territories and trust in her ability to understand and move on. But I’ve made a quasi-career out of being a writer who prides himself on being honest with the issues and emotions within his stories. I hurt my characters, forcing them into painful situations so they can either prove their mettle, or self-destruct, somehow building on my own understanding of the human condition. When the story is done, though, I walk away. I can’t do that with Zoe. I have to be there and see her through. But to do that, I have to prove my own mettle. I can’t afford to be weak. I’m going to have to trust in her ability to help me deal with the lemonade issue once and for all.

The next time Zoe asks me if I think Lemonade is still alive, I won’t chicken-out. I’ll tell her the truth. It’s what she wants to hear from me, I think. “Maybe not,” I’ll say as gently as I know how, and then I’ll wait for her reaction.

Monday, June 05, 2006

How Writing School did not Fail Me

by Tamara Lee


In 1998, Lynn Coady wasn’t a fan of writing schools or their workshops, and somewhere else out there, there’s a rage-against-the-writing-school-machine she wrote that elicited a knowing smile from me. Back then, I had often thought of myself as someone still recovering from writing school. Mind, Strange Heaven was recently-released and Coady had a ‘writing career’ of note, and I did not, so our bitternesses had different compositions.

But my general disillusionment with writing school turned full and has finally waned: I have howled at the darkness, watched my fur grow, and woken up in tattered clothes not knowing where I’ve been all night. And when I’m not yowling at the moon, I am finally able to recognise the many lessons learned while defending my work during spirited workshops in the blasé rooms of Creative Writing departments. Although that does not mean I will soon forget how long it took me to begin writing again following graduation. But that’s another story better left for the third-person.

Many seem to have gotten a great deal from the Creative Writing degree experience. For my part, I drank and argued and workshopped with an impressive number of writers who now get published in Canada and worldwide, who have ‘done things’ relevant to, and thus justifying, their expensive writing degrees. Right now, I could list a dozen whose careers are notable in some way, and whose writing in no way resembles what Coady once railed against: the cookie-cutter writing-school voice.

I remember reading some author—I suspect it may be Stephen King, which could completely undermine my point here—saying that it’s the B-students who would likely enjoy the most success after writing school. Not because publishers are fools (obviously that is relative, for those who’ve yet to publish their manuscripts), but because the B-students will have learned to work harder. My guess is he was a B-student. But don’t quote me, because I think I’m completely bastardising his words now. In any case, this is not really the case, in my writing school experience.

Most of my degree was spent in poetry and the pub, and part of my frustration with my experience was that I didn’t spend more time working on my fiction. Instead of UBC, I chose the program at UVic. Sometimes, when I read about the UBC alumni, I question my choices. Still, the poetry instructors at the University of Victoria were good, and I amassed a lot of advice about craft. From Lorna Crozier, whose approach could be rather intellectual at times, I learned to step out of the emotion of the subject to find the ‘it’ in the piece. In many ways, this suited me, for at that time I hid behind intellectualism and cleverness. But she also taught me how to embrace the editing process, and to take risks in editing. She was meticulous in her approach to poetry, and I’m grateful for her generous encouragement.

Lorna’s partner, Patrick Lane, on the other hand, was the tangled, rough and unruly sort of writer we all admired as much for his character as for his poetry. Lorna brought him into class and he raged at us, we the pretentious little writing students, daring us to forget school and live life and just write dammit. That kind of thing. Now he’s sober and tending his backyard gardens; the drunk-poet stereotype is passé, but Lane’s work still reads like he’s carving Alhambra out of roadkill bones.

Of all the writers that come to mind when I recall the us marking time in the cavernous UVic pub, each seemed to be some kind of ‘star’ at the school, though each had earned it, too, and all have since earned several significant publication or production credits. Did writing school do this for them, or was it my particular classmates’ wherewithal? It’s hard to tell. Maybe none of them are even satisfied with any of their so-called achievements. In a way, I’d expect them not to be: one thing I’ve internalised is that a writer is never fully sated.

Inspiration from my university peers wasn’t always tinged with writer’s envy. It sometimes tasted like awe. E.M.’s work unfailingly impressed me. It was full and complex, not pretentious, but rather like standing at the base of the tree in your friend’s cousin’s backyard, looking up, and wanting to climb it, looking forward to scaling its limbs toward the top. E.M.’s talent grew with every class she presented. At a workshop with her, you wanted to go first, get yours over with, because you just had to discuss that extended metaphor she devised, that was both tragic and funny and you really just wanted to get there, to somehow capture that, and dammit, “How did you do that?”

I wish I could include some of her poetry here, but I don’t have that permission, and I have no idea where she is now. But take my word, even the most exacting instructors at the school could be moved to barely-concealed envy; there were certainly no B’s on her assignments. And she would give as good as she got, in her readings of others’ work. She was practical, honest, and always offered advice recognising your personal style and struggle. It is not surprising E.M. became a counselor, maybe, as I remember her saying she wanted to do. What is surprising is that she has never published any of her work, and indeed once told me she never would, that she never really wanted to be a writer, was certain she just didn’t have it in her to keep it up. So her talent lives on in a sort of mythic reverence, alongside those of my peers whose writing ambitions exceeded E.M’s.

Like any Bachelor degree in a creative field, students' reasons for being there vary vastly from those who push on toward MA’s and PhD’s. By then, one may simply be buying oneself the opportunity to finally finish the novel under the tutelage of someone impressive, or her addiction to words (or institutions) keeps her in those halls. But in those first four years, it’s more about learning to yowl and finding your footing. If nothing else, you’ll learn whether or not you still want to write. Those who survive the first four years, like couples say of marriage, are likely to stick it out for a while. And if your voice isn’t shot and your spirit isn’t completely snuffed, you may come to realise you have something left to say.

So what does it mean that shortly after his memorable rant in my fourth year, Patrick Lane decided to take up a position at the school? I say those students should count themselves lucky. Perhaps his teaching, and hopefully his ranting, at the pretentious little writing students on their way to who-knows-where inspired more E.M.s to share their gorgeous words beyond the confines of those blasé walls, further disproving Ms. Coady’s theory--who is herself now recovered enough to be teaching writing workshops and writing what she knows in her new novel about surviving writing schools--and inspiring the B-students to continue to work just a little harder.

Word up to the B-students!

A sampling of my talented peers, all worth reading/watching for:

Suzanne Buffam
Tamas Dobozy
Judy Macinnes
Lyle Neff

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Words, words, words

a Thea ramble:

I am at a complete loss for words. As a writer, I find this disheartening. Words should be my stock and trade, they should be my passion, my zeal, my reason for breathing. Instead, I feel as though one more word will lay the final weight on my chest that will make my lungs collapse. I’m not just lost for words, I’m resenting the thought that I must write another.

But what could have brought me to this horrible impasse? It’s not just writer’s block—Lord, how I wish it were something that simple; if it was I could hope it will eventually go away and I could blissfully begin writing again. Rather, I’m staring down the barrel of a project I intentionally took on, and while I’m loaded with enough powder to jam the gun, I simply do not want to fire.

This is a different kind of block. One I’ve never before experienced. It has nothing to do with not liking the project—I’m excited about the possibility of getting to know another group of characters throughout the lengthy term of a new novel. It has little, I think, to do with the time I may or may not have to complete it—I may be busy, but I’ve always made time to write as it’s often the meditation that calms my spirit. Nope. Not those things. What I do imagine is that it’s because I’m just tapped. I’ve exploded the wad, so to speak, on other creative endeavors that left me feeling empty and used up, a spent shell.

The self-imposed novel should be an easy thing, then, to put away until I’ve regained my spirit of creativity. Pick it up again later. Yet I can’t. It yammers away inside my mind, my dreams, for heaven’s sake, until I begin to resent the thought of knowing I must put something down and have it come out a skeleton of an outline rather than a piece of wrinkly skin I can pump up with the fat of excess.

A thought comes. I write it down, all the while hating that the lack of inspiration has left it a flat and useless concept with no real energy center. It’s not even the basest red of the energetic chakras. It leaves me feeling cold and I hate my writer self for forcing me ahead when I want to stall. I tell myself I’ll just sit for 500 words. I won’t go any further. Just 500. And so, I settle. I type. I want to cry at the lifelessness of what comes out. The grandiose concept—of writing a plain old fashioned good-hearted story with a little romance, a little human nature, a little misbehaving—evolves into my typical storyline: dark clichéd narratives that refuse to be bent into light humor. Lord have mercy! I’m not a morose person. I’m a loving, silly, well-adjusted woman with a childhood anyone would die to remember. Why are these words—lifeless things that they are—painting a picture of doom yet again? Why can’t I write a good story, for pity’s sake? What is wrong with me? Why can’t I force this story into the thing I want it to be, not the horrible restless invention my work always turns into?

The words don’t rescue me. They can’t answer, having no life and so, no ears or eyes or facial expression. They just flicker there on the screen, being pumped artificial energy by the cord stuck in the socket. They have no life. No life. No voice.

Is it any wonder I’m resentful?