The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Haiku Winner!

The CWC has enjoyed each Hallowe’en haiku readers sent in. There can’t be too many haiku, can there? More Haiku, Less Novels! We needed to pick a winner though and we’ve settled on:

Bloody entrails lay
On the garden path today
No candy for you


by Lisa Jean

Lisa Jean’s entry creeped us out in a delightful way!

Well, there’s no candy for you either, Lisa Jean, but there is a hand-knit hat courtesy of CWC’er Melissa Bell, knitter extraordinaire. Email us your snail mail address- we can’t fit the toque into the fax machine. Our email is cwcdrew@yahoo.ca (That’s “yahoo.CA,” beloved American readers, not “yahoo.com”; Canada has it’s own little ways. On Hallowe’en for example, Canadians are required by law to dress as beavers.)

A close second, but no exploding cigar, is:

finger by finger
now comes the winter season
a chill up the back


by Sharon Hurlbut

Sharon’s entry chilled us with its simple elegance. If we had a second prize, we’d be shipping it off right now!

Penultimately, we would like to honourably mention: Konoko, kmarie for “Fears”, Dean and Martin Heavisides. Your haiku entries stood out among a great crop!

And lastly, to all our entrants, our best spooky wishes are floating your way for a happy Hallowe’en!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Halloween Apples!

by Steve Gajadhar

Halloween is almost upon us, and I have to confess that I’m going to be skipping giving out candy this year and heading out for drinks instead. It’s a one time thing, and I hope not to repeat it next year, we just moved into a new area and I don’t want the neighbours to think I’m a Halloween Avoider. The act of skipping out on candy giving has helped me recall all the colorful characters my friends and I ran into as a trick or treaters. I like to think of them as my Halloween archetypes and I’ve rated them based on the number of eggs we later bombarded their houses with (I know, I know, but I was a good kid, just a little misguided at times). My list is by no means complete, and I invite you all to add to it.

Halloween Humbugger
A humbugger in general, not just at Halloween. This guy shooed us off his area of the street, claimed we dented his car with our skateboards, or just shook his fist at us anytime we violated the 30’ diameter of his crotchety-old-man-personal-space. Ironically, he always served up candy to us on Halloween. Well, not candy, just a bowl full of unshelled peanuts. Perhaps this was his form of atonement, or perhaps he just got us in his house to do away with us but could never follow through with the act itself.
Rating: 5 out of 5 eggs. This guy had it coming, and no amount of peanuts was going to make up for a year of treating us like cretins.

Halloween Avoiders
The lights are out but there is somebody home. The glow of the TV through the drawn drapes always gave them away, yet no amount of knocking every brought them to the door. Shadowy movements didn’t help either.
Rating: 1 out of 5 eggs. At least go somewhere, and if they had actually left the house, well, mistakes were made.

Dog Owners
Of vicious, kid-eating dogs that strained to get at us during the entire candy transaction. “Oh don’t worry about Killer, he just wants to come say hi.” Uh-huh.
Rating: 4 out of 5 eggs. 2 for the house for raising such a vicious dog, and 2 for the damn dog.

Crazy Old Ladies - the good kind
Responsible for 5-10 minute delays, and the subsequent damage to our candy quotas, due to story telling and photo showing. Stories were followed by a cash offering of 5-25 cents in lieu of actual candy.
Rating: 0 out of 5 eggs. Come on, there is misguided youth, and then there is evil.

Crazy Old Ladies – the bad kind
Always given away by the smell - a mixture of cat urine and various forms of ointment - and/or age spots shaped like animals. Purveyors of the infamous popcorn balls and apples, which our parents were duty bound to throw out due to razor blade and poison concerns. Guilty of fist shaking, shoeing us out of gardens that we were never actually in, and of knocking on my parents’ door to blame me for the latest mishap in their lives.
Rating: 1 out of 5 eggs. Only because they always had sons to clean it up and the egging was always evaluated on a case by case basis.

“Trick” People
The ones who actually expected a trick after hearing, “trick or treat!”
Rating: 2 out of 5 eggs just for being annoying.

Candy Thugs
In my neighbourhood, the older kids used to roam in packs and beat our candy out of us if we couldn’t outrun them. This was just one of the many dangers we faced by collecting candy without parental supervision, and one that necessitated frequent candy drops at home to keep the candy bag light enough for decent foot speed.
Rating: 3 out of 5 eggs. The number of eggs was mitigated by two things: the beating from actually hitting them, and the knowledge that at some future time, we would be the older kids and duplicate the behavior.

That’s it for me. I didn’t mention all the good experiences - like corner store owners, or gaining access to apartment jackpots when we could sneak by security - only because they were by far the norm, and who wants to write about the norm?

Now, I have to hope I don’t get confused for an Avoider, or else hope that the little buggers hit an easy to reach spot.

Happy Halloween everyone!



Monday, October 29, 2007

Parading Shadows

By Tamara Lee

Exactly when Halloween became one of my favourite holidays as an adult, I cannot recall. Loving it as a child is perhaps a given, but there came a time over the past 15 years when I realised the value and human need to revere yet stare Death down and give him a little tickle. And that doing so, by celebrating the candy-gluttonous kid and the shadowy Other in ourselves, is as life-affirming as we can get.

Among my favourite annual events in Vancouver is The Parade of Lost Souls. Over on the dark side of town, East Vancouver, thousands of folks dress in their most imaginative costumes, embarking on or observing the community procession meant to honour the dead and the living, with lanterns, music and dancing.

Taking its cue from Day of the Dead and All Saint’s Day, this ghoulie-extravaganza offers a little something at every turn, with even local houses and businesses taking part. There are spooky exhibits, musicians, fireworks, choreographed dance pieces, fire dancers and the Public Dream Society’s ever-present stilt walkers, this year dressed as enormous crows with incredible wingspans towering over the costumed crowds.**

Watching last night’s Parade, I was reminded of Maya Angelou’s beloved poem, “Life Doesn’t Frighten Me” and the children’s book using Angelou's poem and artwork by Jean-Michel Basquiat. I read the book as an adult and remember wishing I'd had it to comfort me during childhood.

Shadows on the wall
Noises down the hail
Life doesn’t frighten me at all
Bad dogs barking loud
Big ghosts in a cloud
Life doesn’t frighten me at all


Fear is not an emotion I tend to nurture, it has its own special ability to follow me around like a Linus-cloud, doing its own special damage. Nor do I tend to watch horror films, lest my dreams be marked by regular re-visitings of chainsaw-wielding maniacs. I prefer my horror funny and maybe even slightly benign.

So, when Halloween is upon us, I am ready to watch my fears and anxieties parade around me, and even mock my own private hells.

At one point during the evening, I stood amidst the crowd mesmerized by the spectacular over-sized crows, a bird I have a particular loathing for. Faces of ghouls and aliens and grim reapers passed me, but as I stared up those hateful crows, dipping and cawing and swooping over us, I was able to find something sensuous in them, something that superseded their ugliness.

I turned and walked along with them for a moment, then stepped aside to watch a mock funeral procession, complete with skeletons in a hansom cab full of red flowers, led by a black-suited man blowing a mournful trumpet.


Next week, my annual viewing of Tim Burton’s A Nightmare Before Christmas will help ease me into the Christmas twinkles and cheese-fest awaiting just 'round the corner. But this year Nightmare is being re-released...in glorious 3-D! Now that ought to help me keep all in perspective.

A Happy Halloween to you all!



**My camera's battery died this fateful night, so I am unable to share many photos of the event. These are the three I was able to resurrect. The first two are houses that have been costumed for the occassion; the last is obviously a band of ghastlies**

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Enter the CWC Hallowe'en Haiku contest!

All right kiddies, it's time for you to scare up something for our latest contest.


In the spirit of, well, Spirits and Goblins and eerie Whatnots, we at the CWC want your spookiest, your funniest, your Poe-yist...

Hallowe'en Haikus

Follow the typical Haiku format of 5,7,5, syllables per line.

Don't be afraid; take a stab at it!

Entry rules/details:

Post your little ditties as comments to this post!

Multiple entries are strictly ENCOURAGED.

Winner will receive a hand-knit hat in 100% pure 'Lamb's Pride' wool, knit by our very own MelBel.

The winner will be announced on October 31. Then we'll ask you to email us your address so we can snail-mail you your gorgeous prize! (In time for winter!)

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Journal of a Wannabe Novelist

Entry 5

It’s Monday morning and I’m feeling somewhat perturbed. I wasn’t supposed to write over the week-end because it’s just not possible for me to devote the time. I’m fine with that, and as I’ve mentioned, I think it’s important that I accept this situation and use the week-ends to decompress from the writing, keeping my circuits from overloading. But like a food junky who’ll eat even when he’s not hungry, I found myself reaching for the novel Sunday night. I really didn’t want to. Kinda forced myself, you know. The Simpsons was a repeat. Family Guy was a repeat. About the only good thing on TV was a Nature special on super-sized crocs. Watched that, and then, well, I had a look at the novel. Started reading from the beginning, and guess what happened. I didn’t like it at all. It sounded very blah.

Either one of two things happened here. One: The writing is very ordinary, and with the excitement of week one fizzled out, I’m seeing the passages for what they truly are – flat and just a step above the sketchy first draft they came from. Or two: I didn’t want to look at the novel because I was low energy and I really should have listened to my body and mind telling me to stick to the schedule. Being low energy I was lacking in desire, lacking in mindless faith, lacking in the mental fortitude needed to create something from nothing and maybe see the passages as they might eventually turn out after a year or so of slogging. Or three (I know I said there were only two possible explanations) … or three: both of the above. I knew heading into my second week-end that the work I’d started was just a beginning. I knew I’d be going back to page one to further improve the work, but I’d been full of zeal then and it was easy keeping my spirits up.

This is just the kind of crap I was afraid of. I don’t need a major excuse to shelve this project. The earth doesn’t need to shake beneath my feet for my dreams to come toppling down around me. I just need a tiny dose of lack of faith and my novel will be pulling away from me like it’s sitting on a little table at the end of a corridor and I’m trapped in a B-movie horror flic where that damn corridor just keeps getting longer and longer.

No!

It’s Monday morning and I’m making a list. First, I’ll be going to my local Reno Depot to get me an outdoor light fixture and a drum of driveway sealer, and then I’m off to the auto parts to buy a regulator for the driver’s side window of the car. I may drink some beer while I’m working on these projects, but what I won’t do is come back to this laptop until I’m feeling a genuine urge to do so.



Entry 6

Apparently, there ain’t no point in shopping for a window regulator at an auto parts store, this according to the guy at Canadian Tire, the last place I called. They don’t bother carrying them. He advised me to go to a scrap yard, something I don’t want to consider for this job since it sounds like more trouble and money than it’s worth. If I find a matching door, I’ll still have to pay for it. And it’ll be a used door, so who knows how long the mechanism I need will last. Besides that, there are about a dozen tork screws I have to remove before I can extricate each regulator. Like I said; too much trouble just to save a couple of dollars. My time’s worth more than that. Instead, I ordered a new regulator from the dealer -- $140. When that comes in next week, I’ll deal with it then. Because I wasted all morning worrying about the car, I ended up not going to Reno Depot.

Once I’d realised my attempt to shake things up had hit a solid wall, I decided to continue with the novel, give it another go and see if it still sucked and if I was still paralysed with fear. With that new plot twist in mind I’d mentioned last week, I went for it, writing as if tackling a first draft. Speed writing, they call it. I can tell you right now, no one will ever see the new prose from yesterday, not as is anyway. It was meant for my eyes only, a sketch I could work from, rough as a carpenter’s doodle on the back of an old plank. It did serve its purpose, however, which was to help define the general shape of the first part of the book. Without that, I’d lose my way fast. So I’m happy… kinda. I haven’t given the new writing a read through yet.

Yesterday was also the day I decided to calculate the amount of time I’ll need to get a decent version of the book done. I know I’ve said I don’t work from word count, and I don’t, but a novel is only a novel after so many words. I’m just trying to plan ahead. I don’t want people to start seeing me as that guy who’s always been working on a novel. Anyway, bottom line is this: I’ll be noticeably greyer by the time this gets done. Oh well. I have to keep reminding myself how time flies, and how it’s wasted mostly because there’s this perception that the hours spent away from our jobs should be a time for rest. Highly successful people are on the go 24/7. Okay, that’s not me, but if I can manage my time more effectively, I’ll be happy.


Entry 7

(Same day as last entry… hours later, close to bedtime.)

Who’s a beginner novelist? I am that’s who. But so is everyone else who’s ever dreamed of writing a book. Even those nice ladies dumping their used Harlequins by the bag-full into the goodwill bins, who hate their husbands because they’re nothing like the template for the self-made man they’ve been studying for years, are beginner novelists. Even those predatory, I’ve-written-a-150 000-word-stroke-of-literary-genius-and-am-presently-hunting/seeking-agent-representation… yup, are beginners them too. Those poor bastard types, or is that typers, on their second, third, and fourth tomes… uh huh, beginners, as long as those tomes are collecting dust at the bottom of a closet, and destined to remain forever unbound by a professional operating heavy machinery, i.e., the guy pressing the buttons on the printing press console. We’re all beginners together! One big boat – a ship of fools where no one bothers to wonder out loud: What a strange coupling of words, what a strange pair these two make – beginner and novelist. It’s sick, really. Hey, if a bear shits in the woods, or if a tree falls in a forest, type of thing. Either that, or me and the Harlequin ladies are simple wannabes living in a very private and lonely world as we haven’t actually completed a novel and those other folks without representation but done manuscripts are the true novelists but who gives a fuck, anyway? Point is; I’m not sure which I could live with.

I clipped an ad for a job years ago asking for help editing a novel. At the time I figured I had the skills to be a really good editor, so I answered the ad and took down the address. This may sound like I’m about to tell a story, and I am, but it’ll be based in fact.

My heart was sinking as I drove through the night looking for the address I’d been given over the phone. It wasn’t fair. I’d been so excited all day. With each left or right turn, the streets were getting more run down. I remember I called my wife once I was certain I wouldn’t be veering off into a better neighbourhood any time soon. I’d called her to describe what I was seeing. I could just as easily have told her life sucked and nothing ever goes my way and I just wanted to come home. I’d lost again, in other words, this was not looking like it was going to be my big break (earning a living sitting at a desk and smoking a pipe.). Freaking natural reaction for a writer who’s just decided he wants to be a writer. All fantasy, all the time.

I finally found the place and parked the car. First thing I noticed out on the sidewalk was that there wasn’t enough light for a person to feel safe. Regardless, I was going to go through the paces. “No. At least go up and see what he has to say,” my wife had insisted. Even then, she’d had her feet more firmly planted than I had my own.

Anyway, I rang the appropriate address, waited for the buzzer to sound, and then stepped into an entryway as dark as hell, a creepy looking staircase like a giant cellar root in front of me, just like in the movies, everything about the shadows telling me to turn and run. I climbed, my friends, like I was climbing to the gallows, totally down on the whole thing so far. I don’t know what I’d expected, a manor in Westmount? I certainly hadn’t expected an old guy to show up at the door, asking me in as he clutched at the open flaps of his robe. Again, before you start assuming what was going on, the old fart was fully dressed under the robe. He told me he’d been about to take a bath. Bullshit. He was offering an excuse because he was always in that ratty robe and he’d forgotten to take it off. I later found out that this is the preferred attire for beginner novelists. Mine has cigarette burns from when I’ve been on a roll, too engrossed to flick the ash.

He was about ninety years old, eighty if you want to blame the shadows for deepening the wrinkles in his face. He had long hair and enormous, fuzzy sideburns, as if he shaved just enough so his paltry meals (cat food) wouldn’t get wasted on his whiskers. He seemed to not trust me as much as I didn’t trust him. He’d written a political thriller, and it had taken years and years and years to complete, and he couldn’t give it to just anyone to read. It was about at that moment I noticed one of his windows was broken and taped over. As he continued telling me about his thriller, I started feeling sorry for him, too old to be living alone in a scummy apartment building with a window that lets in the cold. I kid you not, I almost offered to come back and replace the fucking thing.

Story’s done. Not much happened after that. I left with a few pages he’d given me to look over. I trashed them as soon as I got home, used his broken window and ratty bathrobe in the jokes I told about my strange experience. I had everyone in stitches.

Point of this little aside is that I had the chance at that moment to turn my back on this silly dream and I didn’t.

Tomorrow, I’ll read what I wrote on Monday. See if I can do anything with it.



Entry 8

It’s Friday night. Watched the cartoon movie Over the Hedge. Not bad. Not bad at all. Still haven’t looked at my scribbles. I’m feeling good about Monday morning, though.

Friday, October 26, 2007

NaNoWriMo - 2007

by Melissa Bell

It's close...so close...

That special time of year, my friends. Some of us dread it. Some of us (Hello, me!) are incredibly excited for it to begin. But one thing seems certain – those who throw ourselves into the madness of the upcoming month can't wait for it to end so that we can get back to our 'normal' lives.

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is nearly upon us, people. 50,000 words in 30 days beginning midnight, November 1. And this year, given my current stay-at-home status, looks like it could turn out to be an extra exciting foray into the whole NaNo experience. (Want more info? Here ya go!)

I'm a non-smoker this year. And I've also pretty much retooled my entire eating regimen (oh yes, such a regimen!), so no more sitting hunkered over the PC (I'm a Mac girl now!) inhaling a box of Ritz crackers through nasal tubing while I pound out the next chapter. It will be an interesting experiment to see how this year's healthier body and overall lifestyle handles the creative stress. I'm looking forward to whipping up batches of lemony hummus and blueberry-soy smoothies. I've decided, just to mix things up a tad this year, I would go vegan for the 30 days as well. Can't hurt. Which means before this coming Thursday is over I'm completing a taste comparison of traditional blood pudding for a Toronto foodie blog (I kid you not) so I can indulge in some of my ancestors' old-style fried flesh-love before I get me all purificated and PETA-friendly. None of the previous blah-di-blah has anything to do with NaNo, really. But I'm hoping that at some level it does.

I've been unsuccessful NaNo-ing during odd numbered years so far. 2002, 2004 and 2006 saw clean finishes. 2003 and 2005 I stumbled in the 30,000 range. I'm hoping this year to reach 75K seeing as I don't have the handicap of a full-time job at the moment. If my employment status changes, I'll lower my word count expectations. But I really don't want to. If it's think-able, it's do-able.

So. 30 days of vegan-ism and 75,000 words. My secret wish is the gift of levitation. Now that would make up for no flying car!

Have a lovely weekend, people. :-)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Alberto Who?

by Tricia Dower

Colin and I attended two literary events at UVic last weekend that couldn’t have been more different.

One was a CBC Massey Lecture given by someone I never heard of: Alberto Manguel. According to the official bumf, he’s a renowned anthologist, translator, essayist and novelist and has written A Dictionary of Imaginary Places and A History of Reading. “I’m surprised you never heard of him,” said a friend who went with us. I wasn't surprised. My ignorance is boundless. I also wasn’t all that familiar with the lecture series, itself, but I am now. It’s named after former Governor General Vincent Massey and has been going on since 1961. Previous lecturers included Northrup Frye, John Kenneth Galbraith, Martin Luther King, Jr., Jane Jacobs, Willy Brandt, Doris Lessing, Noam Chomsky, John Ralston Saul, Robert Fulford, Michael Ignatieff, Steven Lewis and a bunch of others I never heard of.

In the impressive 800-seat Farquhar Auditorium, Manguel read the second of his five lectures. Folks in Halifax heard the first and, by tomorrow, he will have delivered the third through fifth in Edmonton, Montreal and Toronto. It was a bit strange hearing the second, like coming in after the start of a movie. You can catch all of the lectures on CBC Radio’s Ideas sometime in November, but I bought the book of them since I’m more visual than auditory. I’m struggling through it now. He uses big words.

I enjoyed his Argentina-born-Canadian-citizen-now-living-in-France accent and I think he made some good points, although I was hard pressed to remember them a few days later. I was more lulled than alert in the ponderous, reverent atmosphere. The only interactive part was Q and A period, but Manguel seemed reluctant to engage fully in the questions audience members raised. His answers were curt and superficial. Maybe the Haligonians had worn him out or he was anxious to make his way to the lobby and get the book signing over with. The event lasted an hour and a half. I didn’t wait to have my book signed.

And then there was Derrick Jensen, an American writer and activist I knew of only peripherally through Colin’s interest in his environmental works. Educated in mineral engineering before getting an MFA, he has authored at least a dozen books. A smaller auditorium — one holding maybe three hundred and designed for classroom lectures — filled up with people of various stripes, including some local anarchists I recognized. It was a noisy, restless crowd that settled down when Jensen appeared in a flowing white shirt, looking a bit like Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones in sneakers. Manguel had worn a suit.

Jensen sat on a chair at the front and assaulted us for over three hours with his view of the world. He was often funny, sometimes profane and, underneath it all, uncompromising in his message that it’s too late to save our civilization. What we should be doing, he says, is getting ready to help others when it comes down or even helping to bring it down. He’s not an Al Gore or a David Suzuki, offering reassurance that recycling and the like can save our way of life. One of his books is As the World Burns: 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Stay in Denial.

I won’t say more about his message, just that his delivery of it was compelling enough to keep us there past the point of tiredness. He was impassioned and open and definitely interactive. And something happened near the end of the evening that touched me. After he said “fuck ‘em” about government and corporate interests who might want to suppress his voice, a young man in the audience raised his hand and asked if he could come closer because he had forgotten his glasses and wanted to see Jensen’s face. Jensen said okay and the man came forward and knelt at Jensen’s side, so close I got concerned.

The man said, “I am sad when you talk about other people and say, ‘fuck ‘em’.” He sounded as though he might cry. Looking right at him, Jensen softened his voice and restated his earlier comment in less inflammatory tones, summarizing with, “I’m not going to allow them to predetermine my actions.” The nearsighted man smiled and said, “I want to sing a song, can I sing a song?” and the audience groaned — it was already 10 p.m. — so Jensen gently told him no. I’m a new Derrick Jensen fan.

Photos: Alberto Manguel, top left, and Derrick Jensen, lower right.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Make Yourself Available

By Andrew Tibbetts

On Sunday, I went to a panel discussion of three writers, Diane Ackerman, Jacob Arjouni and Ian Holding. They were ostensibly there to talk about narrative structure, but none of the three was very theoretically-minded and instead they talked about ‘truth’. Is non-fiction more ‘true’ than fiction? Is fiction a different, perhaps superior, kind of ‘truth’? Is there such a thing as ‘truth’ beyond ‘personal truth’? Each of the three authors is dealing with subject matter that is the stuff of history books- the second world war, the conflict in Yugoslavia, and the violence around land reclamation in Zimbabwe. Diane Ackerman wrote a non-fiction novel- ie, a true story told like a novel, paced into scenes with characters, etc…. Ian Holding wrote a literary novel that is set in an unnamed African country but which distils many of the true stories of real people from the author’s experience. Jacob Arjouni wrote a crime novel set in his city of Frankfurt, Germany. What initially looked liked like a rather awkward lumping together of three disparate writers, gave way to a thrilling metaphysics on getting from inspiration to art. I left thinking: authors don’t select their inspiration; the inspiration selects them. And I also left thinking: authors don’t select their method of telling, either; they stumble across it. But I also left wondering: being selected by your subject and your style sounds fairly passive, right? So why do I get the feeling of hard work and hard-earned accomplishment?

Today I thought up an answer: Because the hard work is in making yourself available, doing what needs to be done so that when the inspiration and the method arrive they can work through you. Ian Holding talked about resisting his book for a long time, about not wanting to write it. Whatever he had to work out internally cost him something, but I’m glad that in the end he let it happen.

Read: Unfeeling by Ian Holding, Kismet by Jacob Arjouni and The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

You, Me and the Dalai Lama

I was on my own this weekend in Toronto, and when I travel on my own, two things happen. First, I get homesick; this time, for my husband, which was strange. He'd been commuting from Montreal to Massachusetts for much of the past year and had even acquired papers identifying himself as a resident, albeit temporary, of the United States. I thought that I was used to his being gone until my train pulled into Toronto's Union Station and I became aware of having left something essential behind at home. How could I endure one more moment of separation? I'd gone to a lot of trouble to get to Toronto, but suddenly all I wanted was to scurry back to my little apartment in Montreal.

The other thing that happens when I travel on my own is that I indulge in my favourite bad habit: eavesdropping. This worked against me in Toronto, where everything I overheard only seemed to amplify my lonely, homesick feeling, perhaps because the main topic of conversation was confidence, and the lack thereof. An unfortunate coincidence, maybe.

"The problem with Justin," said one man too loudly in a Bloor Village coffeehouse, "is that he just needs to be loved, and until that happens..."

"She has no confidence," said a woman later the same day on Queen West. "And you know how people with no confidence always end up taking it out on others."

I kept this in mind while attending as many events as possible at the International Festival of Authors, the reason behind my visit. At one point, I hesitated: should I get in line to meet the New Yorker writer Shalom Auslander? Meeting authors I admire often feels awkward and unsatisfying. I sometimes think that I should avoid writers altogether as social beings.

"But people with no confidence always end up taking it out on others," I told myself, before forcing myself on Shalom, who was speed signing as many books as possible on the table before him. He speed signed mine as well, asking gruffly who, if anyone, I wanted him to make his signing out to. The whole conversation was about three seconds long and left me feeling even more homesick than I'd thought possible.

Luckily, the wonderful Andrew T. was there to console me. He'd attended another author event, with another New Yorker author, who had graciously provided him with her email address so that she could send him one of her harder to get poetry books. Clearly, Andrew had confidence. It was probably a Toronto trait. By the end of the trip, it might even rub off on me.

In the meantime, I decided not to engage with any other strange authors. I continued, however, with my eavesdropping ways, which at the Festival, more often than not, meant peeking over attendees' shoulders, to see what they were writing in their moleskin notebook. (Everybody at the International Festival of Authors had a moleskin notebook. It was as important as having a ticket.) At one event, I tried to read what the man in front of me was scribbling in his during intermission, but all I could make out was "disappointing," "depressing," and "dark." I surmised that he was from out of town, too.

By the end of my trip, though, I found myself exposed to fewer and fewer deflating conversations. On my second last day, at the Ideal Cafe in Kensington Market, I listened to a woman leave a brazen message on someone's machine: "I'm calling to see whether you were able to secure that meeting with the Dalai Lama, and, if so, may I be so bold as to ask whether or not I can join you?"

I didn't think that this was a request well suited to an answering maching. The culture of confidence could apparently go too far.

That night, at the GG readings, I sat beside the man with disappointing, depressing and dark impressions of the IFOA. Whenever he found something funny, he'd turn to see if I found it funny, too. Even if I didn't think it was particularly funny, I'd laugh, so that he'd feel a little less alone. When the host thanked M.G. Vassanji, for transporting the audience to "strange lands. Strange, strange lands, indeed," the man and I were the only ones to find the comment funny. We laughed and laughed, without talking. It was a good evening. I am sad to be leaving Toronto.

Pictured above: Two lucky jack-o'-lanterns wearing hats that Melissa made for my children. Thank you for the warm welcome and the generous gifts! Esme, in particular, was very impressed.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Tee'd off in Vancouver

By Tamara Lee

Phew. The strike in Vancouver is finally over.

Oh, you didn’t know there was one? Well, it’s hardly surprising. City bureaucrats don’t want the folks who may come visit our “fair” city in 2010 to get a whiff of the crap that’s going on around here.

But if there has been any doubt whether we in Canada do in fact live in a class-conscious society, one needn’t look any further than the debacle that has just transpired here, in this Olympics-quagmired town.

For the past three months, the Vancouver city workers—inside and outside—have been on strike. For the bulk of the summer and fall, we have been without garbage collection, community centres, city hall, and library workers.

Sure, there were many folks able to cart their garbage and pay for disposal in neighbouring cities, or call in private companies to take care of their nasty business. Those same folks were also able to hire private teachers and day care workers to help ease their burden from the strike. Those people didn’t mind paying the eventual fines for continuing building projects without a permit. Those people can afford to pay the YWCA’s new exclusive rates in order to get their pilates on rather than sacrifice their figures. (The Y’s newfound exclusivity and lack of charity is so confounding, one can only shake her head and think, “Only in Vancouver.”)

For me, the greatest inconvenience of this strike was the lack of libraries. I felt it in my research work and my working-class pocketbook. My bookstore pals told me they too noticed an increase in traffic these last few months, much of it homeless folks with nowhere else to go, since the community centres and libraries were not available to them. While book sales increased some, bookstores had a lot more browsers. And I can assure you, bookstore folk hold a secret contempt for the readers-not-buyers, those who would break the spines, dirty the pages of expensive hardcovers, and fill up precious space where real patrons might stand and choose to buy. (Ever notice how there are fewer and fewer chairs in bookstores?)

During the strike, each day the Vancouver Southam-owned papers (the Province and the Sun), were filled with letters and commentaries about how Vancouver was chipping in in the effort to keep the city going, how people were barely feeling the pinch from the strike, and weren’t we all just so commendable and full of community.

None of these people, obviously, had ventured east of their comfy neighbourhoods to the rest of the Vancouver community, the east side, home of the blight and particularly dirty little secret of 2010, the downtown east side, an embarrassment and an eyesore.

There, had they bothered to notice, they would have seen piles of litter and filth of the kind we see in other-countries-not-ours, an increase in rats and fruit flies, groups of children with nowhere to go but garbage-strewn alleys and parks that hadn’t been mowed full of garbage and feces (animal and human) hidden amongst the tall grasses.

The west side did not see any of this. But the City, in their infinite wisdom and with great sense of real priorities, made certain the “Community” (read West Side) golf courses remained open and properly tended.

Let them golf, our city council seemed to say. (And while we’re at it, Let them pay the average $1000 month for a leaky basement suite on a $7.50 minimum wage, so that those who can afford to make the 10% down payment on a $750,000 home can afford to make their mortgage payments.)

This Olympics has been doing a number on the spirit of this town, a town I grew up in and loved so well. The poorest neighbourhoods will be feeling the effects of this Extravaganza for a long time to come. But no one will ever see in just how many ways the invisible citizens are going to have to pay.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Who Said Dying is Easy, Comedy's Hard?

by Melissa Bell

I'm serious. Who said that? I can't find a definitive answer. If you know, please share. Thanks.

So I recently signed up for a stand-up class. I tell people this and they look at me as if my hair is on fire. It's not that big a deal. Really.

I would think it would be much harder to stand up in a boardroom full of suits and try to give a PowerPoint presentation. At least when a comedian gets up on stage, he knows the people that are in attendance are there because they want to be, and they want to have fun. An executive boardroom is a completely different environment. I've sat in on numerous business meetings in my life, and I'd much rather be in some smoke-smelly, beer-soaked comedy club any day at any hour. More executives should sign up for comedy classes. It might have a positive effect on their quarterly returns.

I enrolled initially because I thought it would be good mental exercise to not only try and write the funny, but to get up in front of a bunch of people and be the funny. Not having performed in front of a live audience for years and years, I wanted to scare myself a little. And so far, it hasn't been all that bad – I still have a long way to go in terms of self-terror. Last class, I choked halfway through a riff I was doing about the Swiss – but I blame that on the fact that I don't have a printer, and trying to memorize material from a computer screen is a lousy way to learn stuff. I was a wee bit disappointed in myself, but so what? The class had no idea I dried in front of them. They laughed. They clapped at the end. Sure, pretty much everyone else in the room got the same treatment, but is that so bad for a Monday evening, some laughter and applause?

So far it's been great fun and I would encourage anyone to try this. I would also encourage anyone to try anything outside of their comfort zone – it's remarkably happy-giving. My goal is to find an open mic night somewhere and do a routine. I might just do it the one time, but I am going to do it. Of course, I'd love you to be there – just please leave The Heckler's Handbook at home!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Journal of a Wannabe Novelist

by Antonios Maltezos

Entry 4

Feels like it was just yesterday I was saying I had a Saturday and Sunday coming up, the first little test of my determination since I don’t write on week-ends. Well, that week-end came and went and I’m still here, fired up because I’m returning to this journal having strengthened my novel, having added maybe 2000 words to my total… in the right places, I might add. I’m absolutely delighted with myself. Can I say that? I’m delighted, still on shaky ground, but very much on a roll.

In case anyone might be thinking I’m getting ahead of myself, here, I’m not. What I am doing is giving myself a good pat on the back for having been successful this one week, my first, perhaps my most difficult because I had to prove I had the guts to “get back into it” once and for all. And if I say I’m on a roll it’s because the story has come alive for me. I’m actually enjoying the read. I want to know what happens next. It’s a kind of guarantee I’ll be able to pick it up again this Monday.

The writing everyday thing seems to work for me, though I couldn’t care less how many words I actually get down on paper on any given day. I’m not driven by word count, and I can never understand why so many people seem to think it’s the only measure of a job well done when it comes to novel writing. It’s probably unfair of me to say this. It’s just that I hear these numbers being bounced around, and I have to ask, how much of it is pure blather? Using up one day’s available writing time figuring out how one sentence may work better is a good enough reason to have a celebration, in my opinion. Besides, 19 words today probably will mean six hundred, or a thousand, tomorrow. Having said this, I have a list of my word counts with the dates right on my cover page. Go figure.

I seem to have developed a pattern in my revisions. I look through the next section I want to work on, decide where it begins and where it ends, and then I copy it to a new document. I don’t always do this. This seems to work best for sections I know need substantial fattening up. I’ll give it a title before digging in. An added bonus to doing this is that when the redeveloped section gets reinserted, what’s needed or lacking before and immediately after becomes easily evident. I’m also afraid to look too far ahead, for some reason.

How do you guys revise? What are your methods? Does it help discussing the novel with people in the know, spouses? I find it helps. Personally, I’m thinking it’s a bit early for me to be handing out sections to be read. It’s the whole confidence thing. I might give up some chapters when I start finding little that needs changing on my read throughs. I’ve actually got a character still in there I know I’ll have to delete sometime soon. No rush, though. Is that weird? He isn’t pivotal. I’ll just have to find another way to share the info his appearance provides. I’m not stressing over it. Besides, it was just this week I decided he wouldn’t be needed. Has that ever happen to you? He’s supposed to be related to the main character, but that can’t be.

See ya next week!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Blog, Blogger, Paradise

The only blogging initiative I’ve taken lately has been to add the words blog, blogger and blogosphere to my spellchecker, and I only did that to facilitate my freelance translation work, which has been particularly challenging of late, because of a lack of time. I’ve been busy managing infectious disease—two cases of chicken pox, three cases of stomach flu, and one residual hacking cough (mine).

This weekend, in the name of health, I’ve decided to drop everything and abscond to Toronto, where the International Festival of Authors is in full swing. I have tickets to see Shalom Auslander (who might be familiar to some readers of this blog as “that Jewish guy...the one who lives in New York”) and A.L. Kennedy, whose second most recent novel, Paradise, I just bought today.

I went into the used bookstore around the corner from my house, and it was there, on prominent display, exactly the book I had been hoping to find so that I could take it with me on the train to Toronto. When I told the owner about this lucky coincidence, he said that he'd only just put the book on the shelf five minutes before.

I can only conclude that this bodes well for my trip. Now, to get rid of this cough…

p.s. I have a review of Marie-Claire Blais's Augustino and the Choir of Destruction in the Montreal Review of Books, which can be found locally as an insert in today's Globe of Mail.
p.p.s. I have a review of Maya Merrick's The Hole Show in tomorrow's Gazette. If I have time before leaving, I'll post a link.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Living Fiction


by Tricia Dower

I find myself inhabiting the world of Vincent Lam’s 2006 Giller winning Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures after an ambulance takes me to Victoria’s Royal Jubilee Hospital at 3:30 a.m. on October 1st.

I had finished Lam’s book only a few weeks before. It’s fresh in my mind as I note the speed at which a procession of efficient and reassuring nurses hook me up to an IV, measure the electrical activity of my heart and test my urine and blood. I wonder if their uniforms denote some sort of hierarchy: are the solid whites and solid blues more or less experienced than the ones with patterned smocks?

I think of “Before Light” in Lam’s collection, a story about a doctor who gets increasingly desperate for sleep as his night shift advances. “From midnight to three is running time,” Lam writes. “The patients pace the waiting room, or shake their stretchers. This part of the night is for fighting. It has escaped the civility of day and evening, but has not yet slipped into the dreaming, drugged morning before light.”

In the emergency holding bay, a curtain keeps me from seeing the man in the next stall but I hear his deep, tortured moans. When he gets quiet I worry until a forceful voice says, “Wake up, Artie [not his real name]. Why are you here?” The doctor, I presume. I wonder if he’s as tired as the one Lam writes about, the one whose “eyelids are determined to snap shut like springs, like traps.” I wonder if it pisses him off that Artie is sleeping when he has to stay awake. Judging from what I overhear, cocaine has made it impossible for Artie to tell the doctor the correct year or what city he’s in: “Kelowna? Vancouver?” A flurry of nurses descend on his stall and I’m wheeled away into a storage room; left to study shelves of medical supplies with labels like intubation tray and open thoracotomy tray. There’s a glossary in Lam’s book. I appreciate his not interrupting the narrative to define all the terms he uses for verisimilitude. One day I’ll write a book with a glossary and include “verisimilitude.”

My pain comes in waves but I know from the frequency at which the nurses check my vitals that I’m not a critical case. I don’t see a doctor until 10 a.m. He’s all flowing white coat and business, pushing me where it hurts, giving no clue as to what he thinks, departing as briskly as he arrives. I wonder if he thinks about himself the way Lam’s Fitzgerald does: “Although he longed to shed the medical shell when he was alone, it was frightening to try to remember how to be anything else in the presence of others.”

A nurse tells me the doctor has ordered a CAT scan which I’ll get as soon as they can fit me in. After the scan, the doctor asks the surgeon to examine me, but the surgeon is in the operating room cutting things out of people. By the time he stops by, at around 6 p.m., it’s been almost twenty-four hours since I had anything to eat or drink and I’ve been demoted to a hallway on a busy flight path. A young, short, bouncy man, the surgeon says he needs to remove my appendix and look around inside me for whatever else might be wrong. Tonight, he says, maybe at 9:30, maybe later. Won’t you be tired? I ask. Oh no, he says with a confident laugh.

I wonder if he drives a Mercedes like Lam’s Dr. Chen who says, “I should be embarrassed, but really I’m not. You see, just below the silver paint is a layer of feigned sheepishness, which masks a sense of justification, because really I feel like this car is my due. Shouldn’t I have a kick-ass car? Don’t I deserve it?” I decide confidence is a good trait in a surgeon.

Everything happens very quickly after that. I sign a paper that says I understand I can die and agree that my family won't sue. A nurse takes inventory of my valuables and removable parts. When she asks if I have a glass eye, I joke about my wooden leg, and we share a laugh. I don’t meet the anaesthetist until I’m wheeled into the operating room. I hope he isn’t a secret drinker like Fitzgerald.

Several of Lam’s stories feature a female physician whose last name is Ming (Lam’s doctors only have last names) and one story has a supervising woman physician named Miniadis. Both are tough skinned, even cruel at times. The few nurses who make brief appearances in the collection are softer, possessing first, but not last, names. During my stay, I see only male doctors and female nurses. They have separately, clearly marked territories. Doctors order medication but nurses decide whether you get eggs or porridge for breakfast. Nurses get intimately involved with your bodily fluids and determine whether your stomach is soft enough for you to leave the hospital.

“We do things they don’t know about,” one nurse tells me. “We’re the ones who have to take care of people when they’re through with them.” Nurses are the soothing whispers at night, wheeling their blood pressure monitors from bed to bed on the ward. Doctors are hearty voices making brief appearances to give advice the nurses later correct.

I ask one of the nurses if she has read Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures. She hasn’t but she bought it for her father because she saw a patient reading it and laughing out loud. “Don’t you want to laugh out loud?” I ask her. “Not about that,” she says.

Photo of thirty-two-year-old Dr. Vincent Lam in montage above was taken by his wife, Dr. Margarita Lam Antoniades. He was born in London, Ontario, and grew up in Ottawa. His family is from the expatriate Chinese community of Vietnam. He’s an emergency physician who also does international air evacuation work and expedition medicine on Arctic and Antarctic ships. He lives the stories in Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

May This Post Have Your Hand in Marriage?

The fifth of Christopher Booker’s Seven Basic Plots is ‘Comedy’. The classical form of comedy follows an arc from chaos to peace. When the lovers at last unite in marriage, the world is put right. It’s interesting that the classical form of tragedy follows the reverse arc: from peace to chaos. When the protagonist’s fatal flaw is revealed and put into play the world is torn asunder. It’s interesting that for the ancients comedy was essentially intersubjective while tragedy was individualistic; you need two people to set things right, but it only takes one screwed up person to tear everything down.

I was thinking about more recent comic stories. Are they always romances with happy endings? Take the two recent hit comedies, Borat and the Trailor Park Boys movie, both feature a marriage near the end that signifies the dawning of a better world. And yet I doubt anyone would label those films ‘romantic comedies’. Take the Marx brothers. They rarely marry anyone themselves, but you’ll notice that there is usually a cute couple whose eventual jointure is brought about by their antics. These lovey-dovey stories seem dull compared to the anarchy of the brothers. But in the only one of their films that dispenses with this organizing principle, Duck Soup, there is a sourness by the ending. The world isn’t really set right. What’s the point of having a laugh if it doesn’t change the world? And how do we know that the world’s really changed unless some two people start having babies? I guess it makes sense, even though I find this rather depressing.

I wonder if there isn’t a darker spin, though, to put on the marriage at the end of the comic plot. Often comedies are romps. The funny guy at the center has a whole set of wacky adventures. The trouble is… how do we end things? It could go on and on and on. Well, there’s nothing that ends a man’s wild adventures like getting tied down. Perhaps the marriages at the end of Tom Jones and the Shakespeare comedies aren’t so sunny. The fun stops once the ball and chain are attached. Isn’t that correct, Seth Rogan?

I notice that one of the interesting alternatives to the romance is the buddy comedy. Move over Doris and Rock and say hello to Simon and Nick! I guess we’ve gotten sick of the love stuff, so these days we have two guys. I suppose it is possible to see these things as disguised same-sex love affairs, but whether we do or not, they often follow that same arc- there’s chaos and only when the buddies learn to truly appreciate each other and work together (ie, marry their talents) is the world set right. Isn’t that correct, Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker?

The interracial buddy comedy has been a trend in American film- Eddie and Nick, Tim and Martin, Adam and Damon, Eugene and Samuel. Perhaps that’s the marriage that needs to happen in America, the conflicted world that needs to be set right- race! If the goofy pair in the goofy movie can learn to get along, so may we all. Isn’t that correct, Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy?

Can we have comedy that doesn’t end in a kind of marriage? Could we have a funny story about getting out of a terrible marriage? The world set right by the end would be the dissolution of the union. Would people like it? I wonder. Can we actually believe that ‘all is right with the world’ if there’s even one person left single? I wonder. I mean, I hope so, but I truly do wonder.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Kicks

By Tamara Lee

When it comes to perusing the slough of writer’s how-to books in the Reference section at the Local Bookstore Chain, I am very picky. If I don’t recognize the name, I give it a pass. If I do recall the name, I flip through the book certain it’ll be another wanky how-to describing boring games for unblocking your block and other writer clichés. I don’t know what I’m looking for, really. Often the ‘advice’ contained therein is either so esoteric or same-old, that I berate myself for giving into my curiosity in the first place. But the addiction persists.

Sometimes, though, I catch a good memorable buzz.

Now, do I need another how-to book? Not especially. Do I need another kick in the arse? Well, yeah. Sagging enthusiasm in a project always demands some attention. Usually, I read just enough to cull a bit of useful advice, catch a writer-advice cliché sniffle, then get on my way back to work.

Two books I perused on my latest procrastination attempt were Carolyn See’s ‘Making a Literary Life’ and Walter Mosley’s ‘This Year You Write Your Novel’. Since I like both of these writers, both their works and their personas, I wasn’t surprised to get a bit of something from what I read (carefully ignoring the annoyed gazes from surly bookstore clerks).

What I culled from Carolyn See’s book, written in a folksy style, with some great anecdotes (using real names, no less) was this: Write 1000 words/day, 5 days/week for the rest of your life, and send charming notes to people (preferably artists) whom you admire. There’s more advice of course, like a bit on revising, but I don’t remember much of it. I was mostly struck by the idea of the charming notes. Her suggestion to send one a day is a bit much for my lifestyle, but the idea behind writing a positive note to someone you admire immediately terrified and intrigued me.

Mosley's book, on the other hand, is more hard-nosed. What I like about Mosley’s style is its straight-forwardness, a voice that seems unwilling to accept bullshit, while at the same time recognizing our fallibility. Mosley’s gift is his ability to get inside people’s head, as this excerpt reveals. He's heard all the excuses, "Now please, get on with it."

And so I did. I put the book back on the shelf, smiled at the clerk, and left.

What is it they say, a new habit is formed if done every day for 23 days? Something like that. Or maybe that's an AA motto...

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Journal of a Wannabe Novelist

by Antonios Maltezos


Day 1

(This is going to feel like baby steps until I can build some steam.)
First thing I did was make my novel accessible from the desktop. I gave it its own folder and created a shortcut. I know. I know. But this isn’t like before when I was sabotaging my ambitions for becoming a novelist by working on everything but the novel (this journal doesn’t count). I’m more mindful of the distractions now, fearful even.

Next thing I did was open the damn thing to page one …

As has been the norm lately when I try working on the novel, I read the first paragraph, and then reread it some more, bothered by the same simple question. How do I have my protagonist say something as he’s getting off his stool and moving to the front door? Silly, huh? It’s as if my mind refuses to move on. You can’t imagine how many different ways I’ve found to write this paragraph. The scene never changes, just the wording. I’m stalling, and I think I know why. My opener isn’t flowing into the next paragraph, and that may be the reason I’m finding it difficult to get back into it. I wrote this rough draft at high speed, without giving much thought to those filler paragraphs that help set the tone of a story, which, according to everything I’ve planned, should be dark as hell! I have this rough draft, but I almost can’t recall why I was excited about it in the first place. I allowed that part of the process to get away from me. So this is what I have at the moment, page after page; paragraph and then bald spot where something should be added in, a paragraph and then bald spot where something should be added in…

For what it’s worth, I think the opener to the novel is the right one, and that I should let it be for now. It’s short and sweet. I introduce the protagonist in the environment he’s most comfortable, his local bar, the place he’s wasted most of his life, the place he has to leave behind if he’s going to follow his destiny by measuring himself up against his greatest fears. But following the opener with scenes whose only purpose is to move the plot along makes for writing that’s dead-like, a real chore to pick up when it’s time to get back to work. I see this kind of speed writing as a trap almost, something to be avoided, especially for us newbies.

Over the week-end, my mind kept going back to a little scene I’d remembered from a few dozen pages into the novel, where I described a bit of nastiness, where there was plenty going on, both emotionally and physically. When I looked up the actual passage, I was surprised to find that it was less involved than I’d imagined. Unbeknownst to me, I’d developed the scene in my mind. It had come alive, and that’s probably because I’d been thinking of the novel so much lately and it seemed like a natural place to have the story begin with some punch. This is where I’m going to find the energy to refresh the novel. This is where I’ll find the tone I was looking for. The plot point paragraphs that I’ll cut, I’ll store for later, when the appropriate spaces open up. It’s a first baby step in the right direction, I think. If I can’t feel excited about the opening pages of this novel, neither will the reader.

I also find that I’m having a difficult time reading the novel off the laptop. It feels like a puzzle, as if I’m not getting enough of the whole picture at once, and this, again, must have something to do with the flow. I need to print out the novel up until the sections I refresh, look at it like a slowly unfolding road map in the car. Otherwise, what? This novel is leading me blindfolded to each pit stop. Simple stuff, I know, but I need to establish these rules early on. I don’t want to find myself lost down the road.

I do hope you’ll chime in with advice, or your own experiences. For now, keeping this process transparent seems like the right thing to do for me.



Day 2

This is interesting. I can sense my confidence building, and that’s in part because of this journal. Feels like there’re two of us working on this project now – me, the writer dude, and me, the journal guy. If author dude gets stuck, or loses the zip, journal guy can help work things out. Cool! Weird!

I did the shuffling for the second paragraph yesterday; cutting out stuff I found distracting. To make those excised passages more vivid, interesting, will required specific details I haven’t built up to yet. What I replaced it with was a bit of creative writing, and something strange happened afterwards, something I hadn’t expected. The plot suddenly became more complex. Did I manage to scramble the novel in my head? Have I lost sight of the story? I don’t think so. I was simply struck with a truth about my protagonist I hadn’t realized before. That passage I moved up to the front, as I said, was full of emotional and physical intensity. It’s still the same novel, it’s just gotten more daunting, a challenge for me now because there’s some new stuff I’ll be dealing with as I deal with it. Not a bad thing at all. I think the darkness I injected so close to the beginning did the job of shifting the tone for me. I wouldn’t call it shining a light in the right direction. It was more like I turned over the right stone.

With this more complicated plot in mind, I’m tempted to jump ahead and slip things in I know will tie it all together, but I won’t. I have a record here of this little twist, and I’m going to let it work itself out.



Day 3

First dozen pages are to my liking, for now. They’re at a point where I know if I allow them to sit for a while I’ll come back to them with some easy improvements. I snuck a peek ahead a few pages, and I wasn’t destroyed. What I mean is that I think I can work with what I have there. I don’t usually do much writing over the week-ends, so wish me luck, hope I can get back to where I left off.

Just a little point I’d like to touch upon before I sign off. I don’t really care that I may be setting myself up to fail in this public place. I’m not thinking of that, but I am feeling ever-so-slightly as though I’m teetering on the edge of a cliff here. Every second I type for the novel, every second I work on this journal (a helluva lot more has been written and deleted), and every second of the day my thoughts fall back to this, for me, mega-project, I’m fighting what feels like a ferocious battle. No, that’s not right. It feels more like the time a hole, about the size of a kitchen sink drain, opened up in our pool liner while I was taking a dip. Thankfully, my wife noticed the water gushing, for lack of a better word, out from the side of the pool and onto the lawn. I immediately stepped over the hole, not knowing what else to do. I didn’t dare budge from there. I blocked that hole with my foot for twenty minutes while my wife rushed to Club Piscine for a patch kit. Those twenty minutes standing there, shivering, not knowing if a patch would hold, is what this feels like. The patch held, btw.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Descant does Fashion - Issue 138

by Melissa Bell

This past Wednesday, Yours Truly did a rare two-step out of her recent comfort zone of knitting and making cupcakes, and headed over to Queen West for the launch of Descant magazine's "Fashion" issue. As posted earlier, our own Mr. Tibbetts was on the agenda as a featured reader presenting his short story, "Ugly is the New Pretty", as were issue contributors Simon Leigh, Ron Charach, and Katherine Ashenburg. Musical entertainment was provided by the Jesse Barksdale Trio (jazzy and tight and a perfect intro into the evening), and Goregasm UK who gifted the crowd mid-program with Spanish-sung versions of "Take On Me" and "Paint it Black" (accompanied by acoustic guitar). Smiles all around. And the host, Ian Brown, was charming and he wore a tuxedo. All of the above is 100% true.

Also true: I am crappy at this review stuff. Bottom line, it was an incredibly fun night. All of the readers were refreshingly entertaining and prepared, and the crowd enjoyed themselves. I reached the conclusion on the last bit based on lots of applause and laughter. I also laughed a lot and applauded. Beats the hell out of throat-clearing and feet-shuffling (Hello, many readings! Yes, I'm looking at you!). And the room at the Gladstone Hotel* is lovely. I walked out of the evening as a new subscriber to Descant, and with a big mouthful of red wine stains. The only thing that would have made the event better would have been some waiters walking around with trays of canapes. Why no canapes? Or even just a cheese station or...something? Budget? I'm guessing budget. But really, just some melted cheese on a Triscuit would be so, so nice at these things. Call me, Descant, next time you're doing something. I'll put together some awesome wee nibblies for the writerly and readerly folk, and it won't break your accountant's brain. I mean it.

I haven't yet had much of a chance to get into the new issue, but it smells deliciously good with that fresh printing smell and it looks all fat and juicy and thick with promise. During the evening's "smoke break" (ahem, I am no longer a smoke break participant), I checked out Lindsay Zier-Vogel's two poetry contributions. They, alone, were worth the price of the issue. Terrific work. Thanks, Descant!

But seriously, Descant... Next event? Call me about some mini-quiches or a bread bowl of Knorr vegetable soup dip. I was starving!

*Google it. Get a room. It's a very, very nice place.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

My Crystal Ball is Defective


by Tricia Dower


Two out of five. That’s all I got right trying to guess the Giller Prize short list. Ondaatje and York. Maybe I should have read more than one book.

The list was announced on Tuesday: Elizabeth Hay for Late Nights on Air, Michael Ondaatje for Divisadero, Daniel Poliquin for A Secret Between Us (translated by Donald Winkler), M. G. Vassanji for The Assassin’s Song, and Alissa York for Effigy.

Except for York, the jury went with age and experience, and no small or medium-sized press made the cut. Ondaatje has won the Giller once and Vassanji twice. (Did you know his first name is Moyez?) Hay has been short-listed before. Although it’s Poliquin’s first nomination, he’s won awards for his French language books and is a member of the Order of Canada. There’s little geographic spread represented by the short list. Everyone lives in either Ottawa or Toronto. And no short story collection! (To add insult to injury, in an October 1 Globe and Mail article, Vassanji says, “I'll write short stories if I'm totally desperate.”)

I was surprised the jury chose another translation, as there was much moaning and groaning over the two on last year’s short list. The Giller is awarded for an English language book and although a translation, in this case from French to English, qualifies, it’s a filtered version of the original. If it wins, do author and translator share the $40,000 prize equally? (I should properly be calling it the Scotiabank Giller Prize, but it lacks a certain grace, as does the Save-On-Foods Arena here in Victoria.)

I won’t even attempt to postulate on the winner. If you’re into it, a Guess the Giller contest open to the public is being run through 20 library systems across Canada and some Scotiabank branches. I reckon you have better odds of winning the CWC’s Hallowe’en Haiku contest. Give it a go!

The Final Giller Five, clockwise from upper left: York, Hay (credit John W. MacDonald), Poliquin, Vassanji (credit Philip Cheung for The Globe and Mail), and Ondaatje.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

51 (More or Less) Reasons I'm Delighted to be Giving Thanks


by Melissa Bell

I love lists. Here’s a bunch of things I’m thankful for, in no particular order.

1) Not smoking
2) It’s 30 degrees Celsius today or something really close
3) Free-ish healthcare
4) Clean water
5) A warm bed with clean sheets and pillows
6) My mom
7) My dad
8) L’Occitane Almond Oil Shower Gel
9) Paris
10) Manos del Uruguay yarn #113
11) President’s Choice Kettle-Cooked Chips, all flavours
12) Bob & George
13) Elliott
14) Chocolate chai-spiced cupcakes
15) The kindness of strangers
16) James Dyson
17) Diane, my Avon representative
18) The Newmans
19) My hands
20) My legs
21) My eyes
22) I can afford glasses
23) My sweet, sweet MacBook
24) Cell phones on extremely rare, very special occasions
25) Mr. Clean Magic Erasers
26) Aurora borealis
27) Post-It Notes
28) Palak paneer and warm naan
29) Fresh ice cubes in the freezer
30) The lawn rake I bought today at Canadian Tire for $3.99 after I saw lawn rakes for sale in the weekend Canadian Tire flyer 10 minutes after I went into the garage to find I couldn’t find my lawn rake! How fabulous is that? Pretty darn fabulous.
31) The Moon and all the stars
32) My flying car (okay, that one’s for the future – I just know it’s imminent!)
33) Bearnaise sauce
34) Edward Gorey
35) Butterflies
36) Pens with lights in them so you can write in the dark
37) The dry cleaner who got the huge stain out of my pink raincoat
38) Winners (the store)
39) Winners – you know who you are
40) Barbie and all her Friends
41) Poutine (why, poutine, are you on every list no matter what?)
42) George Clooney
43) Brad Pitt
44) Parrot tulips
45) This beautiful country and the people who live here
46) This wonderful planet
47) Everyone who’s ever done anything to keep this planet wonderful
48) Anchovies
49) Thunderstorms
50) Stuffing and pumpkin pie – had to get seasonal at some point!
51) The lessons I learn every day

Happy Thanksgiving weekend, everyone! Have a wonderful safe one.

Photo of Elliott Bell, all ready for Thanksgiving diiner, taken by his personal assistant, Mel Bell.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

It's a Dirty Job...

By Antonios Maltezos

I have my new laptop, using it as we speak, and I have to say… I think there’s something wrong with it. I’ve had it for over a week now, and the novel-in-uhem-progress that I transferred over with all the rest of the files still hasn’t jumped out at me. That was my reason for wanting this laptop contraption in the first place. I figured a novel-in-uhem-progress I could carry around with me was a novel as good as written. But there seems to be something missing still, something I can’t quite put my finger on.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on the bowl thinking of my poor wretched main character, and suddenly I’m looking around for something to write with, anything, an eyeliner pencil, but to no avail since we’ve never been big on make-up in this family. By the time I get out of the can, my brilliant idea is all but gone, flushed away, you might say, to the mighty St. Lawrence. Even if I do make it to a pencil in time, the lead is usually broken and the erasure is chewed off (thanks, Effy!). I figured a laptop would solve this problem, but that hasn't been the case.

I could easily blame it on life and call it a distraction, family, work, TV, but then that would make me an abomination, a machine, dead, and who wants that? Maybe I just can’t do it. If that’s the truth, then admitting it would make my life so much more pleasant, simple, simplified, and that would make me a week-end warrior, a dullard, dead. I’d work, and work, one eye on the bank account and the other on the investments (ha!). We’d be inviting strangers over for supper and pretending to have a good time.

Maybe it’s not the laptop, but the simple fact that I haven’t committed yet. I wrote a 750 word flash this week where I should have been getting reacquainted with my novel’s main character. I should have been reviewing what’s been written already, spurring on my imagination to come up with the details that’ll make this a good book to read. I wrote the flash piece with a heavy cloud of guilt hanging over my head. Even though I enjoyed the writing, I felt like I was wasting my time, spinning my wheels, aging prematurely because I know my time must be now. It must be, right. It is. 750 words – all that picky editing. Why? Personally, and I’m no psychoanalyst, but I think it goes back to my lack of confidence. Never try, never fail. I need to feel commited. I want it for myself, to see me giving myself a chance to succeed, or fail even. Hi, I’m Antonios, and I’m worth it. Damnit!

But all is not lost. My files transfer was successful. I know who my main character is and what he’s up to, and who he’ll meet along the way. That’s not the problem. It’s the discipline involved with this whole novel writing thing I have to get a hold on.

Discipline. Maybe I shouldn’t even be writing this blog? When I get a short story or flash idea, I should jump up and down on one leg, rub my belly and pat the top of my head. I should cancel the cable. I should stop eating, bathing, reading the morning paper. I should lie and tell my boss I broke my arm, and that I’ll be seeing him next month, God willing.

Or maybe I should just reread what I’ve written already, figure out where it is I want to go with this guy, focus in on the moments in his life leading directly to the end I’ve envisioned, have fun there, spend some time, add some colour, some sound. How would this guy say get on with it, Bub. I ain’t got all day. Maybe he’d just say it and get it over with. Let’s go! It’s not like I’m being plagued by other novel ideas. There’s only this one at the moment afflicting me like a malady, and that’s because all the other crap I’ve ever written has led me here. I can’t leap frog over this novel, so I’ll just have to get it done. I’ll let you know how it goes. Wish me luck. I know a lot of you are living this same time of your lives.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Who's On Your Giller Short List?


by T
ricia Dower

The long list for the 2007 Giller Prize was announced on September 17th and I’m just getting around to reading last year’s prize winner, Vincent Lam’s Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures.

Without even reading Lam’s book, I was going to write a blog a few months ago about how Carol Windley was robbed of the Giller. I didn’t think Lam’s collection could be anywhere near as good as Windley’s Home Schooling. I mean, others said it wasn’t that great, and sometimes I just don’t feel like thinking for myself. Rumour has it he won because his was the only book none of the jury was obstinately against. Another rumour has it he won because Margaret Atwood helped him get published. Both Atwood and Michael Winter (one of the three 2006 Giller jurors along with Alice Munro and Adrienne Clarkson) are mentioned in Lam’s Acknowledgements as having helped him “begin to learn the art of writing.” Winter probably should have excused himself from the jury. There was a lot of grousing about that and the whole issue of who ended up the short list — a bunch of unknowns and two translations. The literary in-crowd appears to be grousy, in general; even — dare I say? — bitchy. I can just imagine them at the Giller and Governor General awards ceremonies flashing chemically whitened smiles at each other while thinking “hack” or “sycophant.”

Anyway, I finally read Lam’s collection and understood the appeal. It might not have been the best Canadian book of the year but it has power. Maybe I’ll write more about it later. But right now, it’s time to speculate about who might win this year’s prize. On the jury are David Bergen, Camilla Gibb, and Lorna Goodison. They’ve long listed:

  • David Chariandy for his novel Soucouyant, Arsenal Pulp Press
  • Sharon English for her collection of short stories Zero Gravity, The Porcupine’s Quill
  • Barbara Gowdy for her novel Helpless, HarperCollins Canada
  • Elizabeth Hay for her novel Late Nights on Air, McClelland & Stewart
  • Lawrence Hill for his novel The Book of Negroes, HarperCollins Canada
  • Paulette Jiles for her novel Stormy Weather, HarperCollins Canada
  • D.R. MacDonald for his novel Lauchlin of the Bad Heart, HarperCollins Canada, a Phyllis Bruce Book
  • Claire Mulligan for her novel The Reckoning of Boston Jim, Brindle & Glass Publishing
  • Mary Novik for her novel Conceit, Doubleday Canada
  • Michael Ondaatje for his novel Divisadero, McClelland & Stewart
  • Daniel Poliquin for his novel A Secret Between Us, trans. Donald Winkler, Douglas & McIntyre
  • M.G. Vassanji for his novel The Assassin’s Song, Doubleday Canada
  • Michael Winter for his novel The Architects Are Here, Penguin Books Canada
  • Richard Wright for his novel October, HarperCollins Canada, a Phyllis Bruce Book
  • Alissa York for her novel Effigy, Random House Canada

In less than a week, we’ll learn the names of the short list. The finalists will be honoured and the winner announced at a gala to be held on November 6th. Having read only one of the books, so far, I will take a stab, nonetheless, at guessing the five finalists.

1. Sharon English for Zero Gravity. Pro: How could I not pick the only short story collection? Plus it’s from a small press and sounds gloomily Canadian. Con: It may be too gloomily Canadian.


2. Lawrence Hill for The Book of Negroes. Pro: I read his Black Berry Sweet Juice, so we have sort of a relationship and his book is a bestseller — the Canadian Roots, perhaps. Con: He’s such a do-gooder, it would be difficult to gossip about him at the awards.


3. Michael Ondaatje for Divisadero. Pro: It’s the only nominated book I’ve read so far. Con: He already won — in 2000 — but it was a tie, so maybe this actually is a Pro as the jury might think he deserves his own award.


4. Michael Winter for The Architects Are Here. Pro: he’s done a lot for CanLit, doesn’t write for a mass audience, and is due for a sales boost. Con: the hint of conflict of interest over last year’s prize may cause the jury to shy away from him.


5. Alissa York for her novel Effigy. Pro: great reviews, good web site, she’s young and we’ve gotta have at least two women on the list. Con: None, unless someone on the jury has problems with a story about Mormons.


I wanted to pick Barbara Gowdy because she’s so “in” and photogenic, but her book wasn’t well-reviewed. M.G. Vassanji’s was, but he’s already won twice. One reviewer called D.R. MacDonald’s book “luxuriant,” but you can’t have two Maritimers on the list and I’m going with Winter. It’s not easy predicting how strangers will vote.


Who are your picks and why? Let’s get some grousing going. If your short list matches the jury’s and you post it before the October 9th announcement, you might win something, provided my hand-picked jury can agree on a prize.


Photos of my Giller short list, clockwise from top left: Sharon English (credit Jolie Dobson), Lawrence Hill (credit Lisa Sakulensky), Michael Winter, Alissa York, Michael Ondaatje.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Self-Promotion Project

Steve's on holiday so he said I could use his spot for Promotion and Porn. I don't have any of the later to share but I'll come close by promoting myself to the point of pimpdom:

This week it's felt like I have a career in writing.

No, I didn't get any money, but I did get some attention.

I'm up on Kelly Spritzer's "The Writer Profile Project" and damn if she doesn't make me sound dateable, I mean interesting.

And I'm also up on the Descant Blog. Descant is my favourite CanLit journal. I'm not sure why. Okay, I am, but its not virtuous: a long time ago I went through a bunch of BASS (Best American Short Story) anthologies and added up how many mentions CanLit journals got. Descant won. That did it. I'm a fame whore. And dateable, I mean talented.

And speaking of fame whoring- it's my fifteen minutes, so I'd better get milking! I'm also doing a reading on October 10th at the Gladstone Hotel (It’s at 7:30- be there or have a very good excuse ready for when I hunt you down and ask 'where the hell were you when I needed you?'). Single gay men in their forties will especially find me dateable, I mean a good reader.

Also, three journals asked me for pieces. And one of them pays! In dates, I mean money.

How famous do you have to get before hot men start brushing up against you? A lot more. I know. But I can dream.

I was trained to be quite British by actual British people, so this unseemly tooting of my own horn is quite difficult. I've heard it's the thing to do if you want to build on your dating pool, I mean writing career. We'll see who wins: my ego, id or superego. (Go, id, I'm rooting for you!) Feel free to toot your horn in the comments to this post. It's shameless self-promotion day!