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K.I. Press on writing • literature • publishing

Category: K.I. Press

Taking the Scissors

I got a lot of use out the delete button over the past month while working on my thesis novel.

So far, the thesis process has gone down more or less like this:

  1. Draft one: 60,000 words. Written over two summers, including all the outlining and such.
  2. Draft two: 89,000 words. Included considerable cutting, so I added well over 30,000 words on the second draft, mainly for plot and character development. Written over one summer—one month, really.
  3. Draft three: 66,000 words. I did a few thousand words of cutting at the end of the summer, but mainly this was done over the Christmas break. Included three or four new scenes, but basically it was a cull.

And how sweet the cull is.

I did not cut any chapters. Maybe one or two small scenes went. This was good, old-fashioned dross excision. Big chunks of exposition got the turf, excessive adverbs and adjectives, saying the same thing three ways in case the reader didn’t get it the first time, wordy constructions, all that jazz. It’s by no means perfect – I expect many more drafts to come – but on my way to getting this good enough for thesis submission, I’m pleased with the operation.

I always knew it was theoretically possible to edit away a quarter (at least) of one’s shitty draft without losing anything. I can now vouch that this is true. Same story, three-quarters of the words.

Of course, I’ve still got those words somewhere. O, all those archived files of words we decide not to use! Not to mention all the half-written and abandoned Facebook posts. (Apparently, Facebook keeps them all. Somewhere.)

Before we had a computer at home, we had an electric typewriter with eraser tape. You could backspace and delete letters. This was exciting. When the roll of eraser tape was done, you could unroll it and examine all the letters that had been erased. My sister used to keep all the old rolls. She called it her collection of mistakes.



Books, bountiful and rare

So, a little over a week ago, we ordered Chinese food. My fortune read thusly:

"Something interesting will happen soon at work."

My fortune

In case you can’t read that terrible photo, it says, “Something interesting will happen soon at work.” Or, on the French side of the fortune, “Il se produira bientôt au travail quelque chose d’intéressant.”

Now, “interesting” is a weak, sickly and slippery word, so this fortune struck nervousness into my heart. A little bit. As Mindy says to Homer, “Desserts aren’t always right.” (It’s in the episode with Michelle Pfeiffer guest starring, for those who can’t quite remember the line.)

The next day at work, I got a mysterious email message from a new college librarian I’d never met before, saying there was a gift he wanted to give me that he’d had for a few years, and now that we were colleagues, he thought he should give it to me, sorry if this sounds creepy, etc.

The thorough LinkedIn background check I performed revealed only an affinity for books, and for rare books in particular, so I quickly assented to a meeting, despite feeling at the mercy of a fortune cookie.

It turned out I was gifted with the best surprise I’ve had in a long time: a copy of Henry J. Morgan’s 1903 illustrated biographical dictionary Types of Canadian Women. Volume 1.

Nearly six years ago, my book Types of Canadian Women—Volume 2—was published. It’s a mock biographical dictionary in poems and poetic prose, inspired, you guessed it, by Morgan’s Volume 1. I talked about the source material in the publishers’ bumpf, and in some interviews at the time. Morgan’s book says a Volume 2 was in the works, but, having never found trace of one, I thought I’d just have to write it.

Types of Canadian Women title page

Types of Canadian Women title page, with lovely 1903 print ads opposite.

I’d been in Winnipeg for about a year when Types came out. But our mysterious new librarian, Matthew Handscombe, was still in Toronto, where I’d written all but the last few drafts of the book–partly on Toronto Island at the fantastic Gibraltar Point centre, partly in a second-floor apartment in a Victorian brick oven in Parkdale, with no air-conditioning, one summer on a Canada Council grant.

Matthew was operating a tiny bookshop specializing in fine press books. My publisher, Gaspereau Press, does some pretty fine printing, so Matthew had no doubt seen my book in the catalogue, probably read one of the interviews, and may have been familiar with my earlier Gaspereau release, Spine, which contained, among other things, poems about fine printing. Somehow, my reference to Morgan’s Volume 1 stuck in his brain.

I used to consult Volume 1 in the Robarts Library at the University of Toronto, as part of my work as a researcher on Canadian history books and book proposals. The Robarts had a circulating copy, and while I was aware of a few copies on offer from book dealers, even after I’d fallen for the book and decided to write Volume 2, acquiring my own copy—which dealers listed for around $300—had never become a priority.

Still with me? Let’s get back to Matthew Handscombe, who, somewhere in the depths of his brain, catalogued this detail about my interest in this book.

A spread from Morgan's Types of Canadian Women, Volume 1: the book responsible for inflicting 50 of my poems on the world.

(Wait, I have to digress again to say how much I like librarians. There’s Wendy, with whom I hung out during my M.A. in Ottawa, and now works at Memorial University Newfoundland; my sister Christine who works at the library in the Law Courts in Edmonton and is finishing her MLS on the side; Brian in the cubicle opposite mine who teaches in the library tech program–Hi Brian!; his colleague Tabitha whose CanLit class I once bombarded with my collection of obscure–duh–Canadian poetry chapbooks. I used to think librarianship was my lost calling, but then remembered that I promised myself, after paying off my student loans, never to go to university again. In short–go visit your library.)

Matthew’s father, Richard Handscombe, taught linguistics and children’s literature at York University (scroll down the linked page for bio), and was an avid book collector. Though significant parts of his collection were donated to the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the U of T—particularly a collection of over a thousand items by and about John Cowper Powys and his brothers—when Richard died, Matthew was left with a massive number of books to find homes for. Thirteen thousand, I think, was the number he told me (he’ll correct me if I’m wrong. Right?).

Types of Canadian Women was not, alas, lurking in the collection. But slowly, as Matthew and his family donated or sold books, he started to acquire things from the dealers, essentially doing part of the transaction in trade, with the intention of gifting specific books to individuals. It was at Greenfield Books here in Winnipeg that Matthew saw Types of Canadian Women and acquired it, somehow remembering that I, a writer he’d never met, had wanted it. It never occurred to him that I was also living in Winnipeg, until he noticed that I was a colleague at Red River College, where he’s only recently arrived.

Matthew styled the gift as a present from his father. I never met Richard Handscombe, and Matthew had never met me when he picked up this book and put it aside. I ran back to my office to get Matthew a copy of my little Volume 2, as an inadequate thank-you.

Types of Canadian Women Volumes 2 and 1

Types of Canadian Women Volumes 2 and 1

This post has gone on too long, and there is much I still want to research and write about: how books end up in rare book collections (my books are all in the Fisher, I can only assume by virtue of being Canadian small press books); more about Matthew’s father and his collection; how all this talk of book collecting reminds me of my father-in-law, Martin Levin, and his house filled with books; how Morgan’s Volume 1 will read to me now, years after I left my project behind on the poetry circuit; and how none of this would happen in a world where books are infinitely reproducible.

May Day

Yes, I know I’ve been neglectful. For the month of May, I’ll be poem-blogging again over at, courtesy the wonderful Ariel Gordon. First poem tomorrow… I hope.

Selected Art in My Living Room

Six old photographs of people I don’t know. When I was researching the photographs for my book Types of Canadian Women, I was in the habit of buying old photos and photo albums at antique shops. These six are my picks from a 1930s batch of mostly seaside holiday shots: blurry and less blurry lone figures in the water, couple goofing around, family hamming it up.

Illuminated calligraphy page of Yeats’s “The Pity of Love.” I inherited this from my grandmother, who fancied herself a Yeats scholar (judging by the number of books on the subject in her library), and made many trips to Ireland. I have no doubt she picked this up there as a souvenir.

A large Camille Corot print. It’s one of his green leafy poetic pastorals, but I couldn’t find it anywhere in 91 pages of Google Image results. It’s got a distant bridge on the left, and two figures on a path leading up to a great big tree on the right. We found this print in the basement of my husband’s grandparents’ house, and he recognized that it had belonged to his mom, and she somehow left it behind when she moved from Winnipeg. So we took it home.


A small letterpress woodcut which I acquired when I used to subscribe to The Devil’s Artisan, the “Journal of the Printing Arts” published over at Porcupine’s Quill. Each issue comes with a small print. I’ve separated it from its title and information. It depicts a tree.


Limited edition print depicting St. Joseph’s College, University of Alberta. This was produced for some anniversary fundraiser I’m sure, and my dad, who went to St. Joe’s, bought one, and I inherited it. It’s the Catholic college at the U of A. Incidentally, he went there at the same time as former Prime Minister Joe Clark, about whom he said unenlighteningly, “He talked about politics a lot.” Further to my dad’s time at St. Joe’s, he had this story. The conversation went something like this.

“There was Engineering Week. Do the engineers still have that? And the engineers, on the Engineering Building, had this big balloon, I’m not sure what it was supposed to be, but something inflatable, on the roof. You could see it from some of our dorm rooms. One year, someone shot it and it deflated. Everyone wanted to find who shot the balloon.  And when I went up to my room, I found that my gun was missing and—“

“Wait, wait. Did you say your gun was missing? Why on earth did you have a gun in your dorm room?”

“Well, you never know when you might want to go hunting.”

“I see.”

“The next day, the gun was back.”







Writing Avec Baby

How does anyone get anything done when they have children? While preparing to join the not-very-elite club of people who have reproduced, I was told repeatedly that my standards would have to slide. If those people were referring to housework, then they were certainly right, and I’ve got to say that I wasn’t sure that my standards could go much lower than they already were.

They have.

But strangely, I seem to have found more time to write since having a baby. Maybe if I stopped writing, I would be able to clean the toilet more often.


Now, I’m hardly working on my novel-in-a-drawer, or even writing anything as impressive as essays or short stories. I’ve defaulted to poems, my first language apparently, though my sights were set not too long ago on more sustained forms. Sustained time is not something I can find. But snippets of time, yes.

I’ve always noticed that parents become more efficient people, can switch on and off, back and forth between this task and that. I’ve been switching the magic on quickly, in the middle of the night perhaps, to just get it out as fast as I can in case the girl wakes up and rips the keys off my keyboard.

Which is all fine and good and after a year or so of this, I have a whole lot of poems.

First drafts of poems.

Hammering stuff out is one thing, but I haven’t figured out yet how to switch on the frame of mind needed to revise. I don’t know the last time I’ve actually used my printer. I think it must have been before she was born.

But who needs paper anyway anymore, right? If I never finish another book, I’ll save some trees. Or, rather, the sapling needed for the print run a poetry book gets.

Never mind. I forgot that by the time I finish my next book, paper books won’t exist any more. Right?

Tree pulped to print my last book.

Tree pulped to print my last book.

Listen to yourself talk

Audio content at Aqua Books you should check out.

This page has several Red River creative writing connections–recordings of readings by last year’s first-year students in Sally Ito’s class, by the students from last year’s writing retreat, and even one by me back in December.

May Day is Over

May Day is over — does that mean I have to blog in prose again?

I did great at the beginning of the month, by the second week I just couldn’t write on the weekends, and any day post-Victoria Day was hit or miss. Today I posted my last, “Petering out.”. While you’re there, read some of the other poems posted by the May Day poetry folks.

May Day Poems

For the month of May I’ll be blogging poetically at Ariel Gordon’s sixth annual May Day Project blog. It’s a challenge to write and post a new poem every day. They may only be first drafts, but it’s a fantastic motivation to write. I’ll be trying not to cheat with old drafts from the electronic drawer.