Sunday, September 14, 2014

Canadian Writers Blog Tour Questions

Canadian Writers Blog Tour
Anita Dolman recently asked me to participate in the Canadian Writers Blog Tour. While the secret origin of the tour is shrouded in mystery, I am happy to participate. As Merilyn Simonds wrote on her blog, the premise is simpleeach writer goes on “tour” for a week, posting their answers to a series of questions all at once or one at a time. I have opted for all at one time. At the end of the post, the touring writer (yours truly this fine week) offers links to the postings of previous scribes who have already been on the tour.
First Disclosure:  At this stage, it would be prudent to mention that I met Anita at a poetry-trading workshop at rob mclennan’s apartment back in December 2001. While we didn’t all meet again for some time as a group, Anita and I did, trading writing—poetry and fiction—about once a month for a year. Things seemed to have worked out since, as she is now my fair wife. An Ottawa-based writer, Anita’s poetry and fiction have appeared throughout Canada and the United States, including, most recently, fiction in On Spec Magazine: The Canadian Magazine of the Fantastic, and non-fiction in Women In Clothes, from Blue Rider Press. A new chapbook of her poetry, Where No One Can See You, is forthcoming from Angel House Press this fall.
These are the questions:
1. What are you currently working on?
2. How does your work differ from others?
3. Why do you write what you do?
4. How does your process work?
1. What are you currently working on?
I am wrapping up the last details for my first horror novel, Town & Train, due out Nov. 8, 2014, from Lethe Press. By "wrapping up" I mean looking at the baby and passing it off to my publisher and learning to let go. This dream of 20 years—to have the book published—is coming to fruition. I am having a considerable—and I hope understandable—amount of separation anxiety. Luckily, Steve Berman, my publisher, has been kind enough to walk me through the process of getting a first book out. I thank him for it.
Other than that, I have absolutely nothing in the tank. But, in all seriousness, I am finishing up rewriting some short stories so that I can package them as my first prospective short story collection.
As well, I have really turned onto the idea of the e-interview recently. I have taken my interview notes from my journalistic articles and published the whole thing whole-hog on my blog or other places. I’ve done this with my interviews for Toronto author Jeffrey Round and with Michael Rowe on the Postscripts to Darkness website. I have one interview in the pipe that I will post in the near future, with Ottawa author 'Nathan Burgoine, and another e-interview later on. I won’t reveal the author except to say they wrote a moving book about a little girl growing up as Jehovah’s Witness in a dysfunctional family.
2. How does your work differ from others?
I went through this thing in my twenties, where I wrote using acceptable horror, sci-fi, and fantasy tropes, until I had an epiphany. A storyany storyis about the character’s journey, both internal and external. When I hit upon that gold, I changed how I wrote, and I didn’t look back. Don’t’ get me wrongI still adore monsters and fantastical stories and trying to pin down angst and struggles about life itself. I just realized that, in playing with words, I was very much like the little boy I once was, playing with action figures or toys, or making drawings. The difference is that, as a 41-year-old relating to his bursting-with-imagination-younger-self, my stories are ultimately about people. In some ways, I hope what I write is an extension of what Ray Bradbury would be writing were he still alive and writing today.
I dig writing about people’s journeys. Are they religious and having a change of heart? Are they ‘"straight" and reconsidering how they see themselves sexually? Are they cowardly, or so they think, and do they want to be courageous? To me, whether I am writing about a character agonizing about her love affair while taking a Voyageur bus bound for Cornwall or a Canadian backpacker in Ireland encountering a shape-shifter or a husband secretly trying to be writer while his wife thinks he is having an affair, I am writing about how we, as people, can change, or not.
In my poetry, I have new peccadilloeswriting about a child’s perspective versus a grown-up’s; life as it is as opposed to how we idealize it; and narrator perspectives we may not have considered.
In both poetry and fiction, however, I am also preoccupied with characters coping with lossof the past, of loved ones, of a part of themselves. This theme, I notice, has surfaced in my work across the board. And an un-closeted honesty, which I never had until recently, is also coming through. I also owe this rawness to my own recent coming out, which has freed parts of me that weren’t necessarily as free before, creatively speaking.

3. Why do you write what you do?
I write to be read. Since as long as I can remember, I have longed to connect with others, and writing is a way to do this. At the very least, I hope my writing provides a doorway into another world, a shift into another perspective, or a reprieve from the everyday. At its best, and I think all aspiring writers feel this way, I hope that my writing can reach someone. Stephen King once wrote that you cannot sweep others away with the power of your writing until you have been swept away by the powers of an author yourself. I agree. And, in sweeping away a reader, I have the highest hope that they will learn something, that something might change in their heart or their viewpoint. One hesitates to say “in their life” but that happens, too.

4. How does your process work?
I’d have to agree with Anita about reading.  I read voraciously. For a while, I was fitting my reading time into my freelance journalism and reading only what I wanted, reviewing it, and/or interviewing the authors. What a gift that is. Unfortunately, with my time being limited, I am on hiatus from freelancing to focus more on my own writing. So, I’m reading even more of what I want. My current sizeable inspiration is Michael Chabon’s The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, which is quite good in a Catcher-in-the-Rye, Great-Gatsby-sort-of-greatness way. Chabon reminds me why I got into writing in the first place.
In between finishing up my novel and short stories, I have other ideas aging and percolating and jostling for attention. Where to start? And where to finish? I write my ideas down, both in hard copy and on hard drive. Whenever I sit down to write, and I dare complain that I don’t know what to write, I look at my list of ideas. Pick one, I tell myself. Usually I gravitate to the idea that moves me most. Look, the backyard is overgrown with weeds and greenery, but the grape vines look beautiful and the trees lush with leaves. I think I’ll tackle my idea about a heroine who is afraid of being outdoors because she thinks a serial killer may be out there in the woods. Is there a serial killer, though? And then I find out.
I used to draft a piece once or twice and then read it at the Tree Reading Series or proudly hand it to Anita for our then-writing trade. I learned to revise more extensively. I once handed her a Halloween poem printed on orange eight-and-a-half-by-eleven paper. She gave the piece the what-for, and when she handed it back she said, not unkindly, “Put this in a drawer to remind yourself how not to write a poem.”
And I did. And you know what? I do pull that poem out sometimes to remember how not to write a poem.
Now I edit a story many times before it’s ready. Unless an idea comes out excavated, beautiful and practically whole, and I need not shape a piece into what it is meant to be, or to excavate its true self. This can be a rare instance, admittedly.
I have stories and poetry in the station at three different stagesdrafted, needing revision, or needing to be launched from the train station into the world. I run a writing workshop, Little Workshop of Horrors, where my middle-or-earlier drafts go, to help carve them into the shape they are meant to be.
Then, of course, there’s the marketing stagefinding publishing markets, submitting, re-submitting, following up and querying. But that’s the business side. I let the other side of my brain tend to that, as suggested by Dorothea Brande in Becoming a Writer. That’s the business person’s job, not the artist’s, whose job is to create.
Next up on the Canadian Writers Blog Tour, I nominate Ranylt Richildis, a fine writer, editor, film reviewer and literature scholar living in Ottawa, Canada. After publishing a short story in Postscripts to Darkness, she was invited onboard as co-editor with fellow Fiction of Horror professors Sean Moreland and Aalya Ahmad. She also recently founded Lackington's, a new online SFF magazine devoted to stories told in unusual or poetic language. Richildis has had a good 2014, publishing fiction in The Future Fire, Myths Inscribed, The Golden Key and other venues. She has a few homemade scarves, and many elaborate dinner parties under her belt as well. Richildis also earned an honourable mention in Imaginarium 2013: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing for a wee tale called “Long After the Greeks.”
Closing Disclosure: Amanda Earl nominated Anita Dolman. I met Amanda Earl way back when she and her husband Charles were starting up Bywords Quarterly Journal, now simply known as In my modest way, I offered them grant-seeking suggestions whilst they bought me a meal and a pint at the real Royal Oak Pub. Years later, Amanda is doing some marvellous work, not only in her own writing, but also through and her small press, Angel House Press. In addition, I admire Amanda for suggesting that we not all have to live the same way. Some of us have monogamous relationships, and some of us don’t. Some of the populace thinks the populace is mostly straight—and much of the populace, as I have discovered particularly in the last year or so, is most certainly not straight. And that is a wonderful discovery. 

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