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K.I. Press on writing • literature • publishing

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Storyland

Well, I didn’t get as much writing done this summer as I would have liked, though I did finish a shitty first draft of a novel, which is something. I’m just about finished re-reading it, and boy, does it have holes (though I knew this as I was writing!). Now I just need to find the time to transcribe my notes into a legible form before I forget what I was talking about.

I did, however, get some reading done this summer, which is energizing. After, eventually, finishing Book 3 of the Knausgaard oeuvre, I decided to wait on Book 4 and move on to some other reading projects in the meantime. Among other things, I read two Canadian fantasy trilogies I’d long meant to read – Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Fionavar Tapestry and Thomas Wharton’s The Perilous Realm. I didn’t know much about the storylines of either of these series, but knew that Kay’s work was a classic, the thing that made him famous. One of Wharton’s novels for adults, Salamander, is a personal favourite, so I was interested in his YA fantasy trilogy–YA fantasy being a subject of interest to me right now—and a recommendation this spring reminded me to pick it up.

I enjoyed both series tremendously, though I was blown away by Kay’s masterwork. Its classic status is deserved, not to mention that, intended for adults, it spoke to me more directly than Wharton’s book for young readers. (This isn’t always a true distinction, though – I’ve also been re-reading Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy with my daughter, and although those books are ostensibly for young readers, their ambition, scope, complexity and artistry put much of writing, for adults or children, to shame.)

The weird thing about reading these two trilogies in succession: both feature a world where stories come from. Or, as my daughter has said: “Storyland… the place where all the characters in my books are real.” Fionavar is the place myths originate, and The Perilous Realm has much more of a fairy-tale flavour, but both lands are basically that: Storyland.

So, did Wharton use Kay as a source here? Well, who knows and who cares, really—dude’s an incredible writer and has a Ph.D., so I’d be surprised if he hadn’t read everything remotely related to the story he was working on. My daughter and I have been telling tales of our own Storyland to each other for years, ever since I needed something to keep her attention focused while walking to daycare. The idea is public domain (not to mention the myths and fairy tales—not so much my daughter’s fan fiction material), and even a quick glance in Coles revealed another book with the same premise.

There are only so many stories. The question is: why is your version the version only you can tell?

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Monsters Drawing Near

I’ve been a doodler for a long time, and this past winter gained a bit of doodling confidence when I took a grad course in making comics with the wonderful Sarah Leavitt. Here’s a link to some of the comics that we created in that class and in some of Sarah’s other classes.

There’s a poem sequence in my new book, Exquisite Monsters, that called out to me to draw. The sequences is made of head, body, and legs poems that make up a variety of “monsters.” You read the poems straight through, or mix them up into different complete monsters.

Now, my doodles are not in the book, but this is how it works. Only, with poems.

head3

+

torso3

+

legs3

=

monster3

(You’ll have to buy the book to read the poem.)

The book is designed with blank pages, so you can draw in your own book. I don’t hold books as sacred objects, and really hope that readers will take me up on this invitation. Even if they can’t draw. Especially if they can’t draw! The great Lynda Barry points out that we all start out as artists and as writers, but we end up developing only what we are told we are good at. Obviously, if you don’t continue to study and practice an art, your skills won’t develop. But that doesn’t mean you should stop.

If you come to my book launch on Thursday night at McNally Robinson, not only will I make you draw, but you’ll get to watch an actual real artist draw: CreComm grad and amazing artist, writer, and human being Jason Booth will be live-drawing to my poetry reading.

In the meantime, here’s a “legs” poem from the book. If you go out and draw it, I’d love to see what you come up with.

A single papier mâché flipper, wrinkled like clay, dried
like a mud flat, like a new desert,
white and powdery like a hard new surface
made by hard new powers
and phenomena.
No water.
Just endless dive.

In Which I Do Actually Write Stuff

When you define yourself as a writer—or, I suspect, any kind of artist—no matter how awesome your day job is (mine sure is!), it can really bring you down not to have the time or energy to create. I went through a really low productivity period for a few years, partly because I spent some time on projects that were bogging me down, but also just because life caught up with me. I went and had a baby and got this fine new full-time teaching job at pretty much the same time. Both those activities are extremely time-consuming, not to say life-sucking, for the first 2 or 3 years.

So now that I’m experienced enough to not be so stressed out all the time about teaching, and my child is in school, I’m feeling much, much better, not only because it’s awesome to be able to sleep more than 4 hours at a time, but because of a great knock-on effect: I get to be a writer again. And I’m pretty sure I teach better, too.

I’m working on my Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, on-line and in summers, from the University of British Columbia. Not only will this be a fine professional credential when I’m done, but it creates a double-whammy of productivity.

First, I have constant creative-writing deadlines to meet (the reason I always took creative writing whenever I could during my English degrees). Second, because it is a multi-genre program, I get to try out all sorts of writing forms that I have written in much or at all up until now. I see some of my colleagues in the program all nervous about having to take those required “second and third genres,” but not me! I’ll be happy if I can get through this degree never having taken a traditional literary fiction or poetry course. Not that I don’t have plenty, and I mean plenty, to learn in those areas, but that’s the jazz I studied back in the day. I’m all for trying out new things that I might not have done on my own. Also, I think it’s my age showing: I no longer have fear of trying stuff that I might not turn out to be any good at.

One of the outcomes of all this: lots of half-finished projects, which may just be a new kind of lack of productivity. But, eventually, I will have to finish at least one of them for my thesis. And I hope I’ll finish more, just because.

One thing I have finished is a short film script. (Since you asked, it’s about breastfeeding and the ghost of Pierre Trudeau.) It went through a massive rewrite because the early drafts were basically impossible to produce. It’s now a full third shorter, has half as many characters and locations, and is set in Canada instead of Cuba. Lesson learned, and I’ve now got someone interested in producing it, which is something I would never have predicted a few years ago. The script calls for plenty of nudity, so I will be too embarrassed to show it to people if it ever does get made.

I’m forty thousand words—all written this summer–into the first draft of a young adult fantasy novel. It’s about some students in a school play who go through a magic trap door into a land where Shakespearean characters run amok. I only found out after I started this that the trap door in Shakespeare’s Globe was known as the Hell Mouth. I am now totally channeling my inner Buffy. The draft contains a lot of teenaged girls in swordfights. I can no longer write it nearly at the pace I was during the summer, but this baby is, thanks to the guidance of the wonderful Annabel Lyon, very thoroughly outlined, and I don’t think I’ll lose the plot, literally or figuratively, even if I only write one scene a week. I have an earlier failed novel (first draft, for adults) in a drawer that will probably stay there, an unworkable blob. I am thoroughly converted to massive outlining. And I’m using Scrivener and loving it.

I’ve also got an outline and about half a draft of a graphic novel script for children (it’s about the WWII home front and the British Commonwealth Air Training Program), and I’ve got ideas and sketches for several other young adult and children’s projects that I’m tucking away for future use—all those thanks to a great course I took with the also wonderful Maggie de Vries last year.

This year, I’m supposed to write a play (just started—my workshop has several experienced actors in it, and they’ll tell it like it is!), and in January I’m planning on taking a comics course – in which I will actually be required to draw. After that, I’m hoping to do a non-fiction course and a full-length screenplay course, depending on availability.

One other project I’ve actually finished, completely independent from my MFA courses: the poetry book, my fourth (fifth if you count the first one that stayed in a drawer), that I’ve been working on v e r y s l o w l y for the last something like eight years. I’m calling it Exquisite Monsters, and it is due out in 2015 from Turnstone Press. Looking forward to working with the great Dennis Cooley, who’ll be the editor for the press. I worked with Dennis a long time ago at the highly recommended Sage Hill, before my first book was accepted for publication, and while I was working on new poems that would become my second book, Spine.

So if you haven’t noticed, I’m really positive and cheerful about writing right now. I don’t know how many of those projects I’ll ever finish, but having them all there puts me in a place I really like to be: a place crowded with ideas.

Windows

It’s been a long time since I had a book out. This saddens me, but is also freeing. For one thing, when you don’t have a new book out, you don’t obsessively auto-Google for new reviews. And then if you hit a bad review, you get briefly depressed and angry and vow to just put your nose down and write and never auto-Google again. And last time I published a book, we didn’t even have Goodreads and Twitter and stuff.

 

I’m on Draft 8 of my “new” poetry manuscript at the moment. Draft 9 by Christmas, I hope. Draft 10 and I think I’ll be ready to approach my publisher. I say “my” publisher in that they published my last two books, but there is nothing to say that they will publish this one. I say “new” manuscript only in that it’s newer than my previous work (mostly; it does contain a few old salvaged parts). I’ve been working on it since roughly 2006, when I holed up for a month in a farmhouse/museum in Eastern Iceland (that was 2006, right?) and wrote a bunch of stuff about the death of my father the previous year.

 

Between 2006 and now, I did a whole lot of things, including write and abandon a novel, learn how to teach, and have a baby (more or less in that order.) The baby is now in school. And I just bought her a book called My First Kafka. At first, instead of sleeping when the baby slept, I scribbled Mommy Poems (few of those have survived). Holing up in farmhouses in Iceland (or Scottish castles, where I worked on the previous book) is no longer an option, though I did manage to carve out two weeks to live in a dorm room in Vancouver last summer, and hope to again next summer. (Note to students of an artistic bent: whatever you do, start seeking out residency opportunities as soon as you can! Don’t wait—the window closes. I have no doubt that it opens again someday, but it closes pretty hard for a while.)

 

It’s been A Difficult Manuscript. I made big, big changes each round from about Drafts 3 through 6. For a while I was obsessed with Objectum Sexuals and worked on getting them in the manuscript. For a while I was compiling found poems off of Twitter. Then I decided that what I needed to fit all this stuff together was cyborgs. Yes, cyborgs. Some of that has stayed, and some of it has gone. I got a lot of inspiration and a 13-page poem out of last summer’s Fairy Tales, Monsters, and the Genetic Imagination show that ran at the WAG.

 

I took creative writing courses whenever I could in school for a lot of reasons, but the main one was that they gave me windows, windows to do the work that I cared about the most, but that it was hard, even then, to carve out time for. That I’m even blogging about this manuscript shows that I’m feeling good about it (for now), and being close to “finishing” something gives me more motivation to create my own windows. (I put “finishing” in quotation marks, because, even if I start sending this off a couple of drafts from now, there are likely still several drafts to go publisher-side, assuming I even find a publisher.)

 

Windows to create new work are also one of the reasons I’ve enrolled in my MFA. Someday, I will have to come up with a window-carving strategy that does not involve paying tuition. “Get up two hours before everyone else and write before they wake up” is the conventional wisdom trotted out for writers, but since my daughter frequently gets up at 5 a.m., and I frequently go to bed at midnight, this strategy does not work for me. (I do know from experience that my most productive hours for writing are from about 12 midnight to 4 a.m., which are unfortunately the best hours – sometimes the only hours—for sleeping in my world.)

 

A better piece of wisdom than the “sacrifice two more hours of sleep” nugget is to remember that writing is not just writing. It is research, reading, and living, because you need to do those things to “provide content” (to co-opt that heartless word for what creative people do)—to provide ideas, thought, depth–for what you write.  So I’m trying to look back on the past seven (!) years not as a time with few windows, but as time when I created a whole lot of content.

 

 

 

 

 

What I Do For Amusement: Part the Second

A New Year! Time to update the world about my sporadic media consumption via one of my less-than-even-sporadic blog posts.

To sum up what I did for amusement over last spring (which is far as I’ve gotten with this tale): after my Game of Thrones marathon, I felt the need for a little palate-cleansing via contemporary poetry, so I picked up (from my own shelves) a number of books I hadn’t gotten around to reading yet. The ones I remember best from this brief spring reading period were books by Canadian poets Paul Vermeersch, Jacob McArthur Mooney, and Ken Babstock. Now these are great poets and great people, some of whom I’ve had a number beers with back in the day, and I’d recommend their poetry unconditionally. Babstock’s book won the Griffin Prize. And yet–when I read them, I did not feel the complete literary palate cleansing I had been looking for. Way, way, different from the mass market stuff I’d been reading earlier. But still.

I needed to read some books by women.

This was way, way back last year – before CWILA came on the scene. If you don’t follow literary news, and Canadian literary news in particular, CWILA is Canadian Women in the Literary Arts, which last spring published statistics on book reviewing in Canada by gender, showing evidence for what was already felt—relatively low representation of women in literary discourse. CWILA’s inaugural “critic-in-residence” is Montreal poet Sue Sinclair.

The two books I went for immediately were Aislinn Hunter’s A Peepshow with Views of the Interior: Paratexts, which I’d been meaning to read for some time, and Kristjana Gunnars’s The Rose Garden: Reading Marcel Proust, one of my favourite books.

I’ve read The Rose Garden many times—it has been an influential book for me, and I’ve written about it before. I’m not really a voracious consumer of new books, or movies, or shows—I have a tendency to re-read and re-watch what I love over and over. In the book, the narrator reads Proust by dipping in—opening to random pages and reading passages—rather than reading it in a linear fashion. This time, reading The Rose Garden, I used the same approach, and, unsurprisingly, it lent itself well to a non-linear reading.

I figuratively facepalmed myself for not having read Aislinn Hunter’s non-fiction Peepshow earlier—it covers a lot of the same ground I’ve been writing about in my languishing poetry manuscript. I’d heard her speak on the subject of “Thing Theory” before, but hadn’t quite grasped the close connection to what I was already working on until I read the book. It’s about thingsobjects, you might say—and our relationships with them. Definitely a book I will be coming back to again.

Next up: my summer of Manitoba magazines.

 

What I do for amusement, Part 1: More thoughts on Game of Thrones

It’s been a while since I posted about my experience reading the first Song of Ice and Fire book. So what stories have I been reading and watching since then? This post is Part 1 of about eight or nine months’ worth of books and “TV,” but maybe that’s a good test of what actually stands out in my brain.

After reading A Game of Thrones, I ranted about how angry it made me, yet how addictive it was—and sure enough, I continued, for about two more months, reading, back to back, all five of the massive George R.R. Martin tomes. Only I read them all in my iPad by borrowing the ebooks from the library, so at least I didn’t have to carry them around. (Helpful hint: if there’s a waiting list for a popular book at the library, chances are the waiting list for the ebook is a lot shorter.)

Why did I keep reading? Clearly, because I’m socially conditioned to enjoy narratives glorifying painfully patriarchal and colonialist worlds, because, you know, we really need more of those (narratives, and worlds). To temper the previous statement: I have nothing against writing characters, worlds, or whatever, which are sexist, racist, or any manner of unpleasant things, because those things exist and we need to think about them rather than ignore them. Yet, even given that belief about art, which I hold dearly, I still have trouble with Martin. I am not convinced he is critiquing anything. I’m a conflicted reader.

I have to admit the Red Wedding is a pretty great plot point—but things more or less levelled off from there, so much so that I can no longer remember whether it was the fourth or fifth book that I really hated. The one with Cersei’s point of view. She may be the most annoying character in the history of books. Though the Maid of Tarth is a close second. And whatshername who is supposed to marry the evil boy king is a close third. Catelyn becomes more interesting after she is dead.

After reading all five books, it was time to watch the first season of the TV series, which I purchased on iTunes. (Still haven’t seen second season; I don’t have HBO and I, er, don’t download stuff—on principle, and because I don’t have the patience.)

Three main thoughts that have stuck with me since watching (and I have read no other commentary on this, so these are likely thoughts that everyone else already had a long time ago):

  1. The TV series ameliorated the whole child-bride thing that made the first book particularly icky. In fact, no doubt due to all the legal issues inherent in, first, using child actors, and, second, showing that stuff on TV (even HBO!), the younger characters are all, I think, two years older than in the books (I believe they even rewrote the history of the realm to make the age differences make sense.) In the commentary on the first episode, it is noted that they rewrote Dany’s wedding-night rape to make it more clearly, you know, rape (the legitimate kind), instead of the “and then she found that she really liked it!” (not a direct quote!) nonsense that’s in the book.
  2. I found the story more coherent and easy to follow when it was not restricted to the limited points of view used in the book. On TV, point of view tends to be a lot more neutral. Not always, but you know what I mean: we’re unlikely to find out something we didn’t know about something that happened in the past because now we’ve switched to the point of view of a character who remembers it differently. This does not exactly make the TV series better—it makes it easier. Which TV is, compared to books. Even books like this. Which brings me to number three:
  3. The TV series cannot beat the books on character depth. Even given how caricatured Martin’s characters can be, they are still more complex than on TV, despite the high quality of this production, and the nuances the actors brought. This could partly be a reflection of how I’d read about 4000 pages on these people and then went back to the beginning to watch the first season of the show.

Next post: how I cleansed my palate.

I Both Enjoyed and Hated A Game of Thrones: So You Can Argue with Me No Matter What!

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, #1)A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is so terribly written and full of cliches that it makes my brain drip out my ear as I read it. AND YET I CAN’T STOP. I might even start the next book. That’s why I’m settling on three stars. I can see why it would make good TV: that’s just like what so much TV is like–compelling, addictive, offensive, and insulting to one’s intelligence.

Maybe even more to the point, it makes perfect sense that Martin was a TV writer before he settled down to this big honking set of two-dimensional characters being manhandled by a plot written in magic marker in between pointless lengthy action sequences, in a world full of sexist, racist, and classist cliches so obvious that there’s not really any point in dissecting them. Everything’s floating on the surface.

I can only attribute my enjoyment of it to my growing intellectual laziness as I get old, tired, addled, overworked, mommy-brained, addicted to the new media, and unable concentrate for very long on actual good books. It’s sad, really. I really shouldn’t read any more. But I probably will. I kind of want to see if he’s going to get the dragons to burn up the zombies. But we probably don’t get to that level get until after a several more mini-bosses. Right? Wait, don’t tell me.

For the record, I have nothing against fantasy. Not a dedicated fantasy reader or anything, but I adore Pullman, for instance, enjoy Guy Gavriel Kay, and actually found it worthwhile to suffer through all the appendices of LOR.

But man, this book.

View all my reviews

Literary Week for Section 2

A very literary week is coming up for CreComm Section 2. Lauren Parsons will hear part of her early oeuvre come to life at the reading/launch of Scirocco/MAP [Manitoba Association of Playwrights] Manitoba High School Playwriting Competition anthology I Was a Teenage Playwright on Monday night at McNally Robinson.

On Wednesday night (Nov. 30), the last installment of the CreComm reading series at Aqua Books (274 Garry) runs with Jamie McKay, Ryan Kessler and Mark McAvoy opening for visiting (but Winnipeg-educated) Montreal writer Saleema Nawaz, 7:30 p.m.

Saleema will also be reading to CreComm Section 3 the next day on Dec. 1. Saleema’s Winnipeg visit is supported by the Canada Council for the Arts.

Reposting: Prairie Fire Magazine 2011 Writing Contests

Prairie Fire Press & McNally Robinson Booksellers present:

Bliss Carman Poetry Award – Judge: Sylvia Legris
Short Fiction – Judge: Marilyn Bowering
Creative Non-Fiction – Judge: Lawrence Scanlan.

$6,000 in prizes. 1st prize in each category $1,250, 2nd prize $500, 3rd prize $250.

Deadline: Postmarked November 30, 2011. Entry fee $32.

For full contest rules check out www.prairiefire.ca, or contact: Prairie Fire Press, 423-100 Arthur Street, Winnipeg, Manitoba R3B 1H3. Phone (204) 943-9066, E-mail: prfire@prairiefire.ca.

Symposium on Manitoba Writing: Call for Papers (Reposting)

Please post and circulate.

Call for Papers:
Symposium on Manitoba Writing
organized by the Manitoba Writers’ Guild
to be held at Canadian Mennonite University, Winnipeg, Manitoba
May 10-12, 2012

See attached for full information.

In celebration of the 30th Anniversary of the Manitoba Writers’ Guild (MWG), you are invited to take part in a Symposium on Manitoba Writing in spring 2012. Proposals for papers on all aspects of Manitoba writing are sought. The intention is that the conference will appeal to a variety of people and we ask that respondents keep that in mind when preparing proposals.

DEADLINE FOR PROPOSALS: December 1, 2011. Please submit proposals (approximately 250-500 words plus a one-paragraph bio/bibliography) by e-mail or regular mail to: symposium@mbwriter.mb.ca or Symposium Organizing Committee, Manitoba Writers’ Guild, 218-100 Arthur Street, Winnipeg MB R3B 1H3. No e-mail attachments please. Decisions about the proposals will be communicated by January 31, 2012. The finished papers should be approximately 15-20 minutes in length. For more information about the Symposium, contact symposium@mbwriter.mb.ca.

All the best,
Sue Sorensen,
for the Symposium Organizing Committee (Dennis Cooley, chair)