The Press Gallery

K.I. Press on writing • literature • publishing

Category: Writing Life

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.

 

 

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Notes on AWP 2015 from a Canadian first-timer

In no particular order…

1. America: the service really is better, notwithstanding the grumpy man at the New York Times booth (Picture not available).

2. But all the medical ads are unsettling. Also, did you know the art gallery doesn’t allow guns on the premises? Now you do.

 

At the Walker Art Center, where there are no guns.

 

3. Okay: AWP. For those of you who don’t know, it’s the biggest writers’ conference in North America, with more than 500 sessions, 700 trade show exhibitors, and about 12,000 delegates; this year’s event was in Minneapolis, which is why I decided to go (it’s possible to drive down from Winnipeg). First thing that became obvious: the book fair (trade show) really is where it’s at. I mean, there were good sessions, and I wish I’d seen more of them, but there were really more opportunities to meet people and gather information in the book fair.

Random book fair picture

 

4. Do I need to declare free swag at the border?

 

Mostly free


5. At Canadian writing gatherings, I find people struggle to talk about poetry. It’s often not presented well; people make jokes about it; poets are a bit sheepish and self-deprecating and apologetic. Basically, poetry gets relegated to second-class. Not so here. There were featured poetry readings, poetry presses by the score, poets collaborating with museums and art galleries and film makers, and just a general attitude of respect for poetry that I don’t normally feel when writers get together. Or maybe I’m just totally insecure and imagining that.

 

Poetry.

 

6. And about collaboration: I saw so much of it! Maybe it’s just that the sheer size of the community offers so many more opportunities, but it was really inspiring. It makes me want to write proposals.

Edit

The Walker commissioned a collaborative novella about this Hopper painting, and published it on its website.

 

7. Memorable panel moment: to paraphrase panelist Roxane Gay, nothing “substantial” can be accomplished in a 600-700 word article whether on-line or elsewhere, and if you can’t read long articles, you should go “have a conversation with your God.”

 

Most of these contain more than 700 words.

 

8. Things I’d do differently if I came again: plan ahead and get a hotel near the conference centre so I can attend more events, and go to some of the social events to meet more people.

 

I did a relatively small amount of socializing.

 

9. I’ll be interested to hear how much business the Canadian presses did at the book fair. There were so few there! Is it always thus? Is it just not enough business to be worth the expense?

 

I may be biased because I’m a UBC student, but — Best. Canadian. Booth.

 

10. Last, there were a lot of regionally themed sessions at the event, but hardly anyone from Manitoba came down. It seemed a shame–there were sessions about North Dakota literature, so why not something about Canadian Prairie writers? Ah, well, that moment has passed, and the next conference is in L.A.

 

Ariel womanning the Brick Books table. Note the books by Winnipeg authors.

 

So, those are my ten disjointed thoughts about AWP. I’d like to go again some day–but probably not next year.

 

Writing Process Blog Tour

I recently got tagged in the Canadian Writers’ Writing Process Blog Tour, which has been going around for months. I was tagged by Ottawa writer Cameron Anstee. So, I’ve got four questions to answer:

1. What am I working on?

Well, this is awkward, because that was what my last post was about. But I’d say that of the things on my plate, the one I’m most interested in, and am the farthest along with, is the draft of the YA fantasy book about Shakespeare Land. I’ve got a massive backstory for Sycorax, who is so not dead. And, oh, Hamlet is the captain of a pirate ship (he took over the ship instead of returning to Denmark). A pirate airship.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Hmmm. I’m going to take this question to be referring to my work in progress, which is totally unlike anything I’ve written before (I’ve mainly published poetry). I don’t know for sure yet, but here’s what I hope. I did go on a YA reading binge for the project, and found that books in the small sub-genre of Shakespeare-related YA books tend to be romances. I found one that had both fantasy and romance elements, though I may have missed others. I wondered, why can’t I do a Shakespeare book for fantasy readers? There’s so much supernatural in Shakespeare. I’m still looking at a romantic sub-plot, but I’m pretty committed to avoiding a sunset-ending romance. My heroine is questioning her sexual orientation, for one thing, and I don’t intend for the outcome of that to be clear even to her by the end of the story

3.  Why do I write what I do?

“Try everything” is my current writing motto. When I was a teenager, I wrote whatever I wanted: humour, plays, choose-your-own-adventure, audio plays, whatever seemed like a good idea at the time. Then somehow, I can’t even remember how, I ended up being a poet. Not that there isn’t a huge field to work in there – poetry is so vast – but I kind of felt hemmed in by my own work. Maybe I’m entering premature second childhood, but I’m trying to come back to a place of “anything goes” in choosing what I work on. Though I have a new book of poetry coming out soon, the writing of it goes back years. I am sort of trying to give poetry a rest for a while. Maybe it’s not just age: I think I can also blame this on teaching, which has made me think about many different genres and styles of writing in ways I wouldn’t have considered before.

4. How does my writing process work?

Oh, that depends. It has changed so much. My forthcoming poetry came about through the accumulation and filtering of fragments, but some of my earlier works were very “project” oriented, in which I’d set myself a number of poems to write about x, y, and z, and though I’d still filter some of it out later, it was through setting myself a structure that I was able to write those projects fairly quickly—at least, far quicker than the new book, which was a nightmare. I’m writing the first draft of this novel via an extensive outline (and using Scrivener), though I’m still expecting the revision process to be its own nightmare.

That’s all, folks. I’m tagging my friend and colleague, Winnipeg’s Sally Ito.

The Final Frontier

What I’m talking about is SPACE.

Somewhere along the way, someone took my space from me. Okay, everyone took my space from me. I didn’t have it for very long, and I miss it so.

I remember as a child, how I longed for my own room. Do kids even share bedrooms these days? It seems like you aren’t middle-class enough if you don’t have more bedrooms than people in your family.

I shared a bedroom with my little sister. The room was one of the many additions my dad had built on to the house. It didn’t have a door. There was a curtain, a home-made one, of course, on a home-made curtain rod, which it seems may have been a broom handle at one time.

It was a big room, but as a girl approaches adolescence, a girl wants her own space. Finally, my parents let me move upstairs, to the cold, cold upstairs, with an electric blanket. The two rooms up there had been vacated by my older sisters some years before, and were just full of storage. We piled all the junk into one room, and I got the other.

It was heaven. Even with the shivering, the mice, and, in summer, the 3:00 a.m. birds singing in the tree right outside the window. I stayed up late doing awesome school projects with popsicle sticks, taping songs off the weekend hit countdown on the radio, and worrying about adolescent stuff in private. Sometimes I stayed up as late as ELEVEN O’CLOCK!!! I’d have stayed up later, but my mom came upstairs and made me go to bed.

This arrangement lasted for two years, until my mom got a job in the next town over, and we decided to get an apartment there for during the week instead of commuting. We liked the idea of going to a bigger school—plus there was no way we were living all week with just dad, who cooked, among other disgusting things, spaghetti chopped up in little pieces because he thought it was easier to eat that way.

And then my older sister and her new baby (who now has a math degree—hi, Suz!) moved back home and decided to join in the fun. So, it was now dad, with his poor cooking skills, alone in the big country house, and us five gals in the two-bedroom apartment laughing it up. It was the kind of apartment building where you tried to ignore the blood smeared on the hallway walls on Sunday mornings.

Here’s a capsule life story told in terms of when I did and didn’t have to share a room. There were ups and downs. My parents went back to school and we moved into family student housing (my sister and I were both teenagers by then, so this was definitely a down); they bought a house and renovated the basement, where I got to live alone in university (up!) briefly, until said older sister (now with two kids) needed to join me. I still had my own room at this point, but someone had measured wrong when renovating, because there wasn’t room for a wall in-between the closet to one room and the closet to the next room, which resulted in a toddler and a preschooler emerging from my closet at any time with no prior warning. AND ALL I WANTED TO DO WAS MAKE OUT WITH MY BOYFRIEND.

Grad school brought with it the best “up” years in terms of personal space, as I made enough in scholarships to live alone most of the time. Early working life in Toronto, not bad, own room and only a small war with mice and with cockroaches along the way. Even once I moved in with someone (whom I eventually married), I had a little office of my own to work in. And at work? I had my own office at almost every one of my significant jobs until… 2008.

That’s when I started teaching. And got pregnant. And now I have a cubicle, a house full of stuff and rooms and not a stitch of private space anywhere.

Woolf said you needed money and a room of your own in order to write. I think we can translate money as “time,” which anyone who’s every applied for a project grant knows.

This is all to say that one of my many, many, unreasonably large number of goals for the nine weeks of relative calm I have this summer, is to set up better what personal space I have in my own home. I might try the old “make a wall out of bookshelves” trick – goodness knows I have enough books. Or maybe I could use a sheet and an old broom to make a curtain between two pieces of furniture and hang up a “Stay Out – Mommy’s Space!” sign. I don’t know.

But I’m adding it to my to-do list.

 

 

Spending Time with Writers

It had been a long time since I had really spent time with writers.

Sure, I have my local people whom I see at literary and social events, but I just don’t get out to those things (or anything) much in my state of advanced decrepitude. Mostly, my interaction with writer-folk is on Facebook, where I can keep up with the goings-on of writers across Canada whom I know, or am just acquainted with, or, heck, whom I’ve even just vaguely heard of. Canadian writers seemed to be early, and excellent, Facebook adopters. It’s not just about keeping up; my feed is often a delightful read. Writers: putting real care and effort into status updates since 2006. Well, okay, maybe 2007.

But once in a while, a writer just needs to hang out with others of the same persuasion for an extended period of time. Book launches and Facebook just don’t cut it. In my childless days, this meant going off to a retreat or a residency. Solitary retreats are also great for getting work done, but there’s something so stimulating about being surrounded by writers (or in some programs, writers and other artists). The conversation, support and interchange that goes on gets the cogs turning, and can be a real motivation for keeping the work moving forward. Plus, if you’re feeling a bit discouraged about your artistic vocation (and the less than enthusiastic response it gets from a lot of quarters), spending time with people who believe in what you do can have an uplifting effect–which in turn, I think, encourages you to take more artistic risks, and get better creative thinking done. You don’t have to think about how to defend art in general, and instead can move on to interrogating your specific artistic choices.

This summer, I finally felt like I could abandon my family for ten whole days and take off to hang out with writers. This time, it was a summer course at UBC. I stayed in the dorm, wrote a new short screenplay, and recharged my writerly juices through amazing conversation and quality hanging-out time with a whack of writers, most of whom I’d never before met.

In Manitoba, the best and closest option we have for hanging out with writers for ten days is the Sage Hill Writing Experience, which is held at a monastery in the beautiful Qu’Appelle Valley north of Regina. I went in 2000, and worked on my first manuscript there under the tutelage of workshop leader Dennis Cooley. It costs good money to go, but there are scholarships to be had, and you’ll never know if you don’t apply (I went on a full scholarship back then). Someday, I’ll go again. I’ve read in the Manitoba Writers’ Guild newsletter that there’s a committee afoot to create a similar opportunity in Manitoba. Really looking forward to such a plan coming to fruition!

At Sage Hill I first noticed one of my favourite things about hanging out with writers: the tacit acceptance of non-sequiturs. The artistic mind thrives on making long-shot connections, on making connections others wouldn’t expect, on skipping over all the intermediate logical steps that moved from A to B. Making writing both sensical and sparkly is a fine balance between get the reader to discover that connection with you, and spelling out the hidden steps for clarity. I noticed the non-sequiturs again this summer in Vancouver, as one story around the pub table reminded another writer about another story which reminded someone else about something only peripherally connected, and it didn’t take long for the stories to have leapt far away from the original topic. The use of this conversational technique among non-writers tends to get me looked at like I am Ralph Wiggum.

Seriously, though. Hang out with writers. The magic would probably wear off if you saw them 365 days a year–you’d probably need to take a break by spending your vacation with a bunch of MBAs–but for most writers, I think it’s a necessary piece of refreshing professional development.

My cat’s breath smells like cat food.

My Heather Robertson Cheque

Look closely at the amount.

Books I Have Loved: Favourite Children’s Books of 2010

This installment of Books I Have Loved is actually more like Books I Currently Love, and am reading, and reading, and reading, and reading, again, and again, and again, and again. To my toddler, that is, and if you have or ever have had a toddler, you know what I mean about reading it again.

I rarely read for “fun” these days—it’s either for work (Crafting Short Screenplays That Connect, anyone?) or to the baby. So when books land in my lap that both I and the girl love to read, those books become my own treasured reading material, too.

Close to the end of 2010, we added two books to our repertoire that I am so grateful for I feel compelled to review here. They are both big, yellow picture books published in 2010: 13 Words by Lemony Snicket (illustrated by Maira Kalman), and Paris in the Spring with Picasso by Joan Yolleck (illustrated by Marjorie Priceman). I should mention right away that, though my baby enjoys and requests them, these books are complex enough to last years. In the bookstores, they are categorized for ages 4-8.

Yes, I have linked you to Amazon, above.

13 Words by Lemony Snicket

The only thing I can quibble about in 13 Words is its title; there must be a better one. The story is structured, loosely, around said words, but I’m not convinced that structure was title-worthy. Not that it matters; it’s by Lemony Snicket, so they could just as easily have called it “Don’t Buy This Book” without any discernible effect.13  Words Cover

Anyway, the words are

    Bird
    Despondent
    Cake
    Dog
    Busy
    Convertible
    Goat
    Hat
    Haberdashery
    Scarlet
    Baby
    Panache, and
    Mezzo-Soprano

It’s a good list, though “ladders” is actually another key word in the story that could just as easily have been on it. “Despondent” is just pure Lemony Snicket, and by the time we get to “mezzo-soprano,” “haberdashery” has already upped the stakes so much that we hardly blink at the unexplained appearance of the diva in our story. And it does serve as a vocabulary-builder; I punched up some opera on the old iPod to explain what a mezzo-soprano was, and now my almost-two-year-old asks, “Listen to mezzo-ahprano?”

The list of words is meant to seem random. The book carries a mildly surreal aesthetic, especially in the scenes where the dog and goat drive through landscapes in their flashy green convertible, landscapes of impossible multicoloured hills populated with all manner of illustrations, sometimes unrelated to the text: a ballerina en pointe, a rectangular hot-pink cow (I think), an angel playing a tambourine, a mime, a porcupine enduring an isolated rain shower. Maira Kalman, a New Yorker illustrator, has truly added another dimension to this story—something which cannot be said for all picture books. At the centre of the centre spread lies an illustration of a dour, pudding-faced, bespectacled man wearing bunny ears, staring directly at the reader, which I’m going to guess is a representation of our author, Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler).

And yet, behind the whimsy there is a real story here, beyond the full comprehension of my toddler, but immediately apparent to me. The bird (female) and the dog (male) are the main characters, and the bird is despondent—it’s never explained why. But when the dog tells her to get busy painting ladders while he goes for a drive with his friend, the spiffily dressed goat, you get a hint of what’s going on here—there is something amiss with this bird/goat relationship. When the dog goes to the haberdashery to buy the bird a hat to cheer her up, he doesn’t just by the one hat—he buys himself one while he’s at it. (In fact, the text mentions the dog’s hat first: “The dog has finally chosen one hat for himself and one for the bird.”) It’s no wonder the bird is still despondent at the end of the book, despite the panache-ful hat, the copious cake, and the mezzo-soprano’s beautiful song. She lives with an oblivious and self-centred dog.

Around our house we’ve been putting on a falsetto and singing the mezzo-soprano’s summarizing song at the end of the book, and until now we’ve been using (more or less) the tune of “The Owl and the Pussycat.” I was going to say here that HarperCollins needs to package this book with a CD, but duh, what was I thinking? It’s on-line, of course, and you can get a $1 download of the mezzo-soprano’s song through lemonysnicket.com (or directly here). The composer is Nico Muhly, and the mezzo-soprano Eve Gigliotti.

One more reason to love this book: the design. I care deeply about book design, and this one’s got it going on. I expect that since a Lemony Snicket book is guaranteed to sell a bazillion copies, they were able to pull out all the stops in this department. No space is wasted—the end papers have been used for illustrations (the last spread continues right on to the inside back cover)—and even that always-bothersome copyright page has been used wisely, with the copyright text formed into a sort of visual poem in the shape of a bird. “Book design by Alison Donalty,” it says; good on you, Alison Donalty (she also worked on Lemony Snicket’s popular Unfortunate Events books).

The 13 Words book trailer is here.

Paris in the Spring with Picasso by Joan Yolleck

Paris in the Spring with Picasso cover

I also have a problem with the title of this book. Picasso is not the protagonist. He’s one of an ensemble cast, and if anyone in this book were the main character, it’s actually Gertrude Stein. Titles are marketing tools, of course, not literary ones, so the reason behind the title is pretty clear: Picasso is the household name among the book’s characters. They certainly weren’t going to call it Paris in the Spring with Guillaume Apollinaire.

This is the book for introducing your children to modernism, if you’re the kind of person who does that kind of thing (and I am!). A stray cat wanders around Paris peeking into the lives of Apollinaire, Max Jacob, Picasso, Gertrude Stein, and their respective partners (my baby’s vocabulary now also includes “Alice B. Toklas”). And we see them engaged in creating art: writing, painting. A picture book about the process of artistic creation? Yes! The story, and the illustrations (by Marjorie Priceman), contain a lot of movement as the cat-narrator jumps quickly from apartment to apartment, as Picasso frantically moves his brush, as Apollinaire is interrupted mid-poem; at one point you even need to turn the book sideways to look at a spread designed vertically, with Montmartre and Sacré Coeur at the top.

In the end, the artists all take a break and go to Gertrude Stein’s house at 27 rue de Fleurus for her salon.

It’s not much of a story, exactly—if I were to dissect the plot, it would be to say that their goal is to go to the party, but the complication is that they each need to make some art first.

Lots of books out there introduce art to young children. Baby Einstein does, but I’m not a fan of it, since I’ve found embarrassing factual errors in Baby Einstein materials. The popular Olivia series also comes to mind, a series I don’t mind, but am not really impressed with. Olivia introduces art in that the protagonist looks at a Jackson Pollock painting and takes a trip to Venice and wants to be a ballerina.

Paris in the Spring with Picasso introduces art too—among the works included are Stein’s Sacred Emily and Picasso’s Two Nudes—but the emphasis is on the process of making art, not exposure to the works themselves. As poet-parents, a book about art as process, and as vocation, is very appealing.

This book is also a great companion to the Madeline series (which my daughter adores) for the complementary illustration of Paris.

My only problem with this book, other than the title, is the uneasy feeling I get when Alice B. Toklas is referred to as Gertrude Stein’s “best friend” while the mistresses of other characters are called “girlfriends.” I can only imagine the gnashing of teeth that went on at the publisher (Random House) over this particular decision (guessing that this was a publisher’s cop-out rather than the author’s). The dialogue between Stein and Toklas does make the nature of their relationship pretty clear; in fact it’s so lovey-dovey, it seems like overcompensation. The biographical information at the back of the book calls them “lifelong companion[s].” While I strongly appreciate a book for children depicting a same-sex relationship in a normalized way alongside heterosexual ones, I’d appreciate it more if it called it what it was (in an age-appropriate manner, obviously) rather than use an inaccurate euphemism like “best friend.”

As an author, Joan Yolleck is the opposite of Lemony Snicket–it’s her first book, and I’m super-impressed with it. She lives in Toronto and reviews children’s books for the Globe and Mail.

In Conclusion

If you got this far, you must really care about children’s books. Good on you. Now go read something else. Not another blog.

Interview with Anita Daher

I interviewed Anita Daher, today’s CreComm guest speaker and Winnipeg writer extraordinaire, by email just before classes started–but decided to save it for when she arrived to speak about her extensive experience as a children’s writer. Note carefully her point about grammar and how editors roll their eyes!

1. What’s the fastest you’ve ever written a book (Describe – how fast, how many words in the end?)

Earlier on in my writing career I wrote much more quickly than I do now, however the fasted by far was Two Foot Punch. Because of an incorrect file transfer and a crashed hard drive I no longer have my draft manuscripts, so I can’t give you an exact word count. It wasn’t a long book—probably around 42,000 words. With an ok from my editor I began writing it in May of 2007. With great relief, I handed it in before my end-of-June deadline…only to be asked if I could rewrite the book from 3rd person to 1st person. I did, and still made the print deadline of August. It was published in October.

2. Your #1 top book recommendation for someone who wants to write for young readers.

Just one? Can’t do it! We all learn from reading others, and so I recommend we read books from other authors, particularly authors we admire, particularly authors who are writing in the genre we are most interested in. Beyond this, I must make three recommendations:

General reference: How to Write a Children’s Book and Get it Published, by Barbara Seuling. The material is well presented, touches on picture books, novels, and non-fiction, and offers guidance on query letters and submission packages.

General skills: Stein on Writing by Sol Stein. This book is meant for any writer, fiction or non-fiction, and offers terrific guidance on pacing, dialogue and originality.

From the department of “too often neglected”: Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing by Mignon Fogarty. This guide developed over time from the author’s web site, and is a quick and easy read—enjoyable, even. Too often we let our basic grammar skills slide, or maybe there are areas we were never 100% sure about to begin with. Make a few pages bedtime reading, and increase chances for publication. Stupid mistakes can cause editors to roll eyes, and we want to avoid that whenever possible.

3. You’ve become a horse person. What is so compelling for you about horses?

I love spending time with horses. They are reactive animals, which means when I am with my horse I need to have my mind completely on him so that I don’t miss subtle body language telling me that he is nervous about a scary bush, or annoyed (though my boy is rarely annoyed), or distracted in a way he might step on me. If my mind is completely on him, it is completely off the 24,000 other things going on in my life on any given day. It’s like a vacation. Also, I’ve learned contrary to what I thought when I was a teen, there is a lot more to riding than hopping on and saying “go.” It’s been a rush taking lessons (at my advancing age), and training my body to work all parts together in order to communicate well for a better riding experience.

4. What is your favourite brand and flavour of potato chip, and why?

Oooh…love hate relationship. I love potato chips, and I hate it that I love them. Right now I’d love to hate myself for snacking on (with love) Dutch Crunch kettle Cooked Jalapeño and Cheddar chips. Each one is an experience: loud, and bites back.

 

 

 

CCWWP Me

I didn’t post last weekend while I was at the CCWWP founding conference, though anyone who follows me on Twitter cannot have failed to notice my incessant tweeting about it. Many jokes were made about the CCWWP needing to be on the back of a Cold War–era hockey jersey. It stands for Canadian Creative Writers and Writing Programs, and an association just formed last weekend at a gathering of roundabouts 100 creative writing instructors (also writers, in their other lives) from across Canada.

It was a fantastic conference for many reasons. You can get the highlights from scrolling back in my Twitter feed. The three keynote addresses by Greg Hollingshead, Aritha van Herk, and Rosemary Sullivan were appropriately show-stealing. (There’s nothing worse than a keynote that you wish you’d skipped; such addresses make it seem like conference organizers have no idea what they are doing; but no such issues here.)

The overall sentiment I took away: stop blaming all things “e” for killing reading, writing, publishing, and the book. It’s an industry/art/life perpetually in peril. Get over it and just write a good book.

CCWWP was also probably the most soul-renewing thing I’ve done for a while, since one of the great ironies of teaching writing is that you don’t really have time to be a writer any more. Stephanie Bolster discussed this last point in the conference’s closing panel, and quoted Margaret Atwood’s assertion that you can’t be a mother, a writer, and have a job: you can only choose two. Stephanie argued that you can do all three, just, er, not all at the same time. (I had to take my baby to the conference and get my mom to crash in my hotel room for childcare.)

It was like it had been so long since I had been among my people, I had forgotten that I missed them. And it really made me want to work on my next book, which balances precariously on the edge of a bookshelf in my cubicle in several disorganized piles of drafts in different stages of discompletion (sigh; maybe next summer).

National conferences these days: a good way of actually putting real faces to Facebook profiles. Besides meeting a bunch of people I’d previously met only electronically, I also reacquainted myself with writers I hadn’t seen in 10 or 15 years—or more, in the case of Lynne Van Luven, whom I recalled had interviewed me about my high school creative writing anthology when she ran the book pages at the Edmonton Journal.

It looks like Toronto in 2012. Go writers!

PS  My photos sucked so I’m not posting any.

Jobs I’ve Had: Transcriptionist

Another series of posts I’m working on: jobs I’ve had, and what I learned from them. Today: working on Hansard, which, as you probably know, is the official record of debate in Canadian (among other) legislatures.

For three weeks, until I got a better job offer, I was a transcriptionist at the Manitoba Legislature. Writerly insight here: the way people talk. People don’t make any sense half the time when they talk, especially if you let them talk for a long time. They make constant grammatical errors, factual errors, logical errors, and often by the end of the sentence they no longer remember what they were talking about in the beginning. At that’s in addition to the constant umming and ahhhing that we used to just delete in the ol’ typing pool.

(It really was like a typing pool, run by very nice semi-retired women who insisted that we all take our breaks at exactly the same time in the cafeteria next door, and would come get us if they thought we were spending too long at the reference-book shelf. They had a deadline to keep. Indeed, one day’s Hansard is transcribed, proofread, printed–if it’s still being printed–and on legislators’ desks by nine the next morning.)

(Another aside: the fact that I got this job should tell you something about me: that I can type like the wind–LIKE THE WIND–and with deadly accuracy, when I put my mind to it. The old ladies asked me where I learned to type. Where I learned to type? In grade five, with this great game where the faster you typed the word correctly, the faster you got new ammo to shoot the space invaders. I have no idea what it was called, but it set me up well on the Great Keyboarding Path of life.)

Dialogue in literature should NOT mimic dialogue in real life. It should resemble it, yes, but if you mimic it you get gobbledy-gook. It just doesn’t translate well. There’s a difference between the illusion of authentic dialogue, and actual verbatim dialogue, and the latter is no fun to read. And this is all why “realism” and “reality” are two really, really different things.