Tuesday, May 14, 2013
My friend Vanessa Herman hired me to take some photos at the grand opening of the new floor of Russell Books in Victoria. They've moved into the venue that used to be the Fort Street Cafe, and filled it with cool vintage and collector books.
Russell Books is also planning to start a monthly reading series. I think Vanessa has plans for all kinds of literary events. Should be cool.
There were three readers for the night: Marita Dachsel, Steven Price and Esi Edugyan.
Check out the photos below.
Monday, May 13, 2013
A few weeks ago my sister delivered a bunch of boxes from my parent's house on the Mainland, which were full of books I've been storing there. Some of the books I'd completely forgotten about, while others I was stoked to be reunited with.
One of the books I didn't remember was this little handbook called Trees & Shrubs of British Columbia. It's a handbook published by the Royal B.C. Museum.
I decided to flip through it, because I thought some of the nature terminology could come in handy while I'm working on Sea to Sky. Instead of just saying "tree", maybe I can work the words "Tamarack" or "Alpine Larch" or "Ponderosa" into the narrative.
This is all to get to my main point, which is that lately I've been a little bit obsessed with nature.
This evening I took Darby to Elk Lake after work, because the light was harsh and gleaming, and I thought it might make for some cool photos.
Yes, I went a little bit over-the-top with the J.J. Abrams lens flare thing, but I think a few of these turned out well.
Weirdly enough, my favorite shot is of this grody slug (above). I had no idea when I woke up this morning that I would spend a few minutes of my day laying on my stomach in the mud, trying to get Darby's Canon to focus on a tiny slime-slicked creature as it feasted on broken stalks of grass.
But I think Calvin and Hobbes said it best:
I've been slowly familiarizing myself with Heritage House's back list, and the other day I picked up Robert Service: Under the Spell of the Yukon by Enid Mallory.
I've been a huge fan of Service since my first summer at the Whitehorse Star in 2008. I've seen his cabin in Dawson City, watched multiple performances of his narrative poem "The Cremation of Sam McGee" and I own a few Ted Harrison illustrated hardcover books of his poetry.
I wrote Service into my story "This is how you talk to strangers", which was published in Prairiefire in January. I've always been curious to know more about his life and writing.
One of the first things I gleaned from this book was a list of new names to add to my reading list. Apparently Service idolized and read Jules Verne, Robert Burns, W.M. Thackeray and Edgar Allan Poe, to name a few.
But his literary idol was Robert Louis Stevenson, and it was his book The Amateur Emigrant that inspired him to lead what he called "an open-air life".
Here is his description of finding a statue of Stevenson while he was living as a bum and dishwasher in San Fransisco, over a hundred years ago:
|Robert Louis Stevenson|
Service was a drifter for years. While wandering through the Mojave Desert he was almost mowed down by an unexpected train while he was hiking across a trestle. He survived by clinging to the edge of the trestle while the train roared by.
Two of his earliest published poems were called "The Hobo's Lullaby" and "Song of the Social Failure".
At one point, when he flunked out of Vancouver College (which later became UBC) he said he'd "tried to storm the citadel of decent society and been thrown into the ditch."
Service even got fired as a dishwasher once. He hated working his entire life, and felt like an outcast and a failure. At one point he said he'd resigned to take his place among "the great unfit". His goal through these years, according to this book, was "freedom from work, which in turn would give him freedom to write."
I can relate, obviously.
It's pretty interesting to hear about the places Service visited and worked. The bank he worked at in Victoria was on the corner of Government and Fort Street. He spent years running a small store on a farm up-island, in the Cowichan Valley.
I was also happy to learn that Service was an agnostic. He is quoted as saying "though I may not believe in religion, I believe in churches...I respect the spirit of religion, that reverence for the finer things of life. Churches are a rallying point in the fight for heaven on earth."
I love this description of Service's spiritual ambitions, from his autobiography Ploughman of the Moon: "to see the ordinary with eyes of marvel may be a gift or it may be there is no ordinary and wonder is true vision."
But perhaps my favorite anecdote is a quick paragraph early in the book that mentions Service's short tenure as an assistant to a musician named The Great Zanzini while he was living in Seattle. Apparently their partnership ended when Zanzini tried to seduce him.
Here's a new plan. (Let's see if this actually happens.) Lately I've been feeling a little unmotivated to produce new short fiction, and I've been pouring most of my free energy into Sea to Sky, but I'm going to attempt to write a piece of historical fiction about this era of Service's life for The Malahat Review.
I'll leave you with this quote, from a letter Service wrote after the death of his friend Lionel Cowper:
"An insignificant shrimp like myself permitted to survive while so many fine fellows were stamped out. More and more I believed in my guardian angel, and the experience of a lifetime has strengthened that belief. I know it is absurd and irrational, but I have steered through so many troubled waters to a serene haven I cannot help but fancying as a guiding hand on the rudder."
Saturday, May 11, 2013
Somehow I ended up on the receiving end of some publicity emails from the B.C. Book Awards this year, and I was interested to see Bill Gaston and Yasuko Thanh on the shortlist for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize.
(I read it a few years ago in a B.C. Lit class.)
The results came in recently and Bill took the top prize for his novel The World. I haven't read it yet (I ordered it from Amazon a few days ago, along with his 2004 book Sointula) and I'm planning to dig into them once I finish Ballistics by D.W. Wilson.
Anyways, I figured this was my chance to finally interview Bill, and it turns out he was nice enough to answer some questions. Is it redundant at this point to mention that there may be some foul language involved?
#1. Your novel The World recently won the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize. (Congrats!) You’ve also taken home the Timothy Findley Prize. Do you think Wilson and Findley would have gotten along? And how does it feel having these names floating around beside yours?
Thanks. And yes of course they would have gotten along—they’re writers, and all writers get along. In fact it’s certain that they would have become intensely romantic. Anyway, it’s an honour, of course, to have my name in the same sentence as theirs. Not that I see myself as being in the pantheon, or club, or anything like that.
#2. Can I just say it took some balls to name your novel The World? Diane Baker Mason wrote, in her Globe and Mail review of the book, that it’s the “sort of title that could turn some readers away, from the sheer heft of it.” Was choosing a title like that daunting? And did you toy with others before settling on it? And now that your book has received such a positive critical reaction, do you feel like you’ve lived up to it?
I’m not sure that I’d use that title if I had the chance to change it. The intention, of course, was non-literal, or ironic (which is clear if you see the cover, a snapshot of a tiny island floating in a vast sea). I was surprised that this wasn’t obvious to some people, including reviewers. I mean, if a seasoned writer came out with a book called Reality, or The Universe, hopefully the assumption wouldn’t be that the writer had lost their mind and decided to write on something really and naively too big. So my title was a bit of a wry joke, though not as obvious a joke as Eggers’ book of staggering genius, for instance.
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
A few weeks ago I was stressing out because I had to hand in my thesis manuscript to UBC, but I wasn't sure if I could make it to the Mainland. There was a bunch of annoying paperwork and random hoops to jump through, and I wanted to get it out of the way before I started my new job.
I emailed my friend and classmate Sierra Skye Gemma (pictured above with her family), who was on ampus, and asked her if she'd be willing to print off Whatever you're on, I want some and hand it in for me. (We're talking about a 200+ page manuscript, by the way.) I don't think either of us realized how much work it was going to be.
Because she's an amazing friend, Sierra printed off the manuscript, all the paperwork and waited in line to hand it all in to Grad Studies. Then she printed off another copy and handed it in to the UBC Creative Writing program in a 3-ring binder. Superhero, seriously.
(Darby's reaction: "Of course she's amazing. She's a Mom.)
I tried to be as effusive as possible when thanking her, and I bought her a copy of Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden as a present (she's currently working her way through Three Day Road) and I told her that she had just earned immeasurable writer karma.
It didn't take long for that karma to kick in. Here's a Facebook status update from Sierra, posted last week.
Hello Dear Friends (particularly those not on Twitter),
I'm happy to announce that yesterday was truly a wonderful day. Three amazing things happened:
1. My stunningly gorgeous husband, Casey Gemma, celebrated his 35th birthday. He is sensitive and strong, a bad boy with a heart of gold, a comic genius who makes me laugh all the time, an intelligent guy who challenges me, and a patient man who accepts me despite all my flaws. Also, he still looks like he's in his 20s and he's got rock-hard abs. Yay me! I locked that shit down!
2. I was nominated as a finalist, along with two others, for a National Magazine Award in the category of Best New Magazine Writer. Results announced June 7th. http://www.magazine-awards.com/
3. I was long-listed for the House of Anansi Broken Social Scene Contest for my story "Pacific Palace." I, along with two others, are in the running for winning under the "6. Pacific Theme" song. 13 writers will be published in an e-book put out by House of Anansi, an extremely respected publisher in Canada. Results announced May 24. Being long-listed for this contest is a very big deal for me because I don't write a lot of fiction, so I felt very vulnerable sending this piece in. I didn't even let anyone else read it or critique it because I was so nervous and self-conscious about my fiction writing.
Turns out, I'm doin' ok. http://www.houseofanansi.com/Assets/ClientDocs/FormPage/index5.html
Right now, Sierra is relaxing in California and working on her novel. I've gotta start doing more nice stuff for people...
I have a few blog posts all cued up that I'm hoping to post this week, but I've been so busy at work (we're moving offices) that I've been lagging a little behind.
I did this interview with Amanda Leduc last month about her new book The Miracles of Ordinary Men, but we sat on it while we waited for the book to be released. If you swing over to Amanda's blog, you can read all about her launch.
She's also written a few columns for the National Post that are worth checking out.
Anyways, Amanda is one of those authors who is a few rungs higher up on the Canadian author ladder than I am, and I've been watching her ascent carefully as I prepare to navigate the publishing industry in the next few years. She's been really encouraging (and fun to follow on Twitter) and she's also the founder of Bare it for Books, a fundraiser calendar of nude authors.
Here's our conversation:
#1. Your book The Miracles of Ordinary Men came out this month. How many years of work does this represent? Can you walk us through the whole process from idea to final product? How do you feel now that it's out there in the world?
Idea to final product – that’s a story in and of itself! Miracles actually came out of a short story that I wrote when I was sixteen – the story was about a man visited by an angel of God. It was dark and weird and a departure from my usual material at the time, so I was initially quite nervous about it. But I showed it to a high school teacher who loved the story and encouraged me to explore it further. I didn’t get a chance to look at the story again until university, around six or so years later, when I was at the University of Victoria and in a third-year fiction workshop with Bill Gaston.
I rewrote the story from a female protagonist’s point of view, though I kept the central angelic figure more or less the same. Again, the story was well received, and I started to send it away to journals. Every single one of them sent it back.
Fast forward three years, to when I was embarking on my Masters degree in Writing at the University of St. Andrews. I took that old story out again and once more found myself drawn to the angel figure, so I decided to write a story specifically from his point of view, one that detailed how he’d come to be an angel and explored other parts of his transformation. This short story, “Evolution”, won First Runner Up in PRISM International’s 2008 Short Fiction Contest.
At that point – this would have been early spring in 2008 – I decided to sift through these ideas and see if I had enough material for a novel. The first four chapters of this manuscript ended up comprising my Masters thesis, though I was far from done the novel when I graduated.
I worked on the book for the next year and a half or so. I was living in Edinburgh at the time and working an insane amount, and I only ever got to write on Saturdays. But oh—my Saturdays were glorious. I’d wake up at 6am and make myself tea, then sit at my desk and write until 5 or 6 at night. I’d migrate from the desk to the couch and back again with my laptop practically attached to my hands, and just not leave the house. It was really lovely.
All told, the first draft of Miracles took more or less two years to finish. I submitted an initial draft to my agent at the beginning of 2010, and then worked with her on revisions for the book for the better part of that year. We started submitting to publishers at the end of 2010, and got an offer for the novel in the summer of 2011. And now, two years after that, it’s finally in bookstores!
If anyone had told me, back in 2008, that it would take five years just to get the novel onto shelves – never mind all of those additional years when it was just that short story and hadn’t yet become an idea-in-novel-form—I probably would have laughed at them. And then cried. And then gone back to school and studied interior design, or something.
Sunday, May 5, 2013
There's a nature sanctuary a couple kilometers from our house called Christmas Hill.
It's similar in size to Mt. Tolmie, and only a few clicks away from Mount Doug (both which are routinely trampled by hikers, cyclists and sight-seers) but Christmas Hill is overgrown and mostly deserted.
There are times when you're walking through the woods when you feel instantly transported to the Shire (or some comparably idyllic locale), but when you reach the top you can see the Patricia Bay Highway in the distance.
Darby and I hiked up there a few weeks ago to bury our budgie Mordecai. It's our favorite place to picnic, and sometimes we jog to the top and back before I go to work.
It's a pretty special place.
This morning Darby and I picked up some Noodle Box on Blueberry, then scooted up the mountain to read. Darby is losing her shit over She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb and I'm reading Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane.
(Sidenote: Moonlight Mile is the sequel to Lehane's Gone Baby Gone, which was turned into an awesome Ben Affleck movie. The main character is a private detective named Patrick Kenzie. In the first book SPOILER he foils a kidnapping plot involving a four-year-old girl, and in the second book she goes missing again, this time while she's a teenager. I'm hoping Ben Affleck will do the sequel...)
Anyways, of course we took some pictures. I don't think I'm every going to get sick of shooting Victoria scenery. I could spend my whole life just exploring and photographing this island.
Check out the pictures after the jump.
Wednesday, May 1, 2013
A few weeks before I started my internship, I saw that my boss Ruth had signed a new novel contract with a Victoria writer named Aaron Shephard.
I had never heard of him, but it turns out that we have a lot of friends and colleagues in common. Aaron went to UVic, worked at The Malahat Review and is friends with D.W. Wilson (who I wrote about a few posts ago...)
I figured this was a good opportunity to see the "other side" of a book deal. While my own novels are probably years away from publication (if not longer), at least this way I can see the novel-publishing process firsthand.
So of course I looked up Aaron on Facebook and asked him if he'd be willing to answer a few questions.
#1. You recently sold your first novel to Brindle & Glass. Can you tell me more about the book? How long have you been working on it? What's the general plot line?
The novel (at least so far) is called When is a Man (Where He Drowns). The story is about an academic – an ethnographer/doctoral student in his mid-thirties named Paul – who is recovering from early-onset prostate cancer. The treatment has left him temporarily (he hopes) incontinent and impotent. His career and relationships aren’t doing so hot, either. An old friend, sensing Paul needs to get away from everything, invites him to work on a fisheries project on a remote river.
Instead of finding solitude, Paul ends up becoming involved in the lives of several people whose families were forced to relocate when hydro dam activity flooded the valley. It inspires him to begin a new ethnographic study and forces him to confront his health, ideas about masculinity and sexuality.
He also becomes embroiled in a potential murder mystery.
I’ve been working on the book for about four years or so. The first third of the book was originally written as part of my graduate thesis for UVic’s MFA program. After I graduated, I wrote the other two-thirds and then spent another two years re-writing, revising, submitting to agents, getting rejected and so on.