Archive for the ‘The Writing Life’ Category
I’m sporadic (at best) at updating my website . And yet here I am. This is because my friend Jane Silcott, author of Everything Rustles (a fabulous essay collection I’ll tell you more about at the end of this page) tagged me in this game of writer tag. The idea is to use our websites to help each other spread the word about our writing. First I’ll answer some questions about my book and then point you towards writers I admire and think you’ll want to know about.
Ten Interview Questions for the Next Big Thing
1. What is the working title of your book?
As I’m very superstitious about talking about work in progress, I’m going to cheat a little here and pretend that the book that’s just been published (Ellipses, Signature Editions) is my “next big thing.” The title changed numerous times over the writing of the collection, and finally ended with this nod to the idea of gaps in literature (and history). I’m always interested in the things that aren’t said, and the voices that have been traditionally silenced or ignored. These voices have historically been female.
2. Where did the idea come from for the book?
I didn’t know I was writing a collection until some time after it was actually finished. Both my grandmothers passed away, and I was writing through the grief of their deaths. Then I had my daughter, and I was writing through the startling ways that this experience changed me. I was scribbling poems about women I was intrigued by: Sylvia Plath, Agatha Christie, Barbara Newhall Follett. Years passed. And I do mean years (my last collection came out in 2008). I was feeling creatively stunted, until I looked back at these scribbles about sorrow and joy and reimagining other lives, and realized I had a collection. The subconscious is a funny thing: I’d been writing about women and the choices they make, specifically about women who leave or love their children, all along.
3. What genre does your book fall under?
Poetry. Contemporary. Probably somewhere, in some bookstore, it’s called Women’s Poetry.
4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
The idea of a movie from a poetry collection makes my head swoon. Fragmented scenes of light? Mothers leaving footprints in snow? I can’t imagine this ever happening, but one can hope.
5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
The poems in Ellipses are extractions, explorations, moments of alternate life experience that are so often left to the gaps of the historical record.
6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
It was published by Signature Editions. I have an agent, but she does not deal with poetry.
7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
My maternal grandmother died in 2005, and the book was published in 2014. So (math!) nine long years. Nine!
8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Poetry collections that explore themes of motherhood, or explore the female voice. Specifically:
Glossolalia by Marita Dachsel
1996 by Sarah Peters
Notes on Arrival and Departure by Rachel Rose
9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?
The deaths of both my grandmothers, in 2005 and 2008 respectively, and the birth of my daughter. These were life-changing events that made me reconsider what I knew about the world, and the way in which we pass down our own stories and histories.
10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
There are poems that explore famous figures in history–Agatha Christie, Sylvia Plath, Suzanne Valadon–as well as some not-so-famous figures, including the models who posed for Toulouse-Lautrec and EJ Bellocq. I was very interested in imagining their voices and their experiences.
Include the link to who tagged you and this explanation for the people you have tagged.
Jane Silcott. She tagged me for this post, but beyond that, she is a dear friend and one of my trusted first readers, as well as an incredibly talented writer. Buy her book.
Jen Sookfong Lee. Another great friend and first reader. Her work is witty, and dark, and engaging.
Marita Dachsel. Author of Glossolalia, a gorgeous book exploring the alternate female voices of the wives of Joseph Smith.
Rachel Rose. Because Notes on Arrival and Departure made me look at pregnancy and motherhood in a new way.
Laisha Rosnau. Because I recently finished her collection, Pluck, and some of her images have remained with me.
Sara Peters. Because 1996 was one of the best poetry collections I’ve read in a long time.
Kerry Clare. Because she offers excellent book reviews on her blog.
I’m thrilled to say that my poem cycle, routine, was recently awarded Runner Up in the Prism Poetry Contest. You can find it in Issue 51:4.
I recently read a post from novelist Linda L. Richards, and her words about writing a new novel were especially timely, as I am in the desperate, despairing, wonderous, challenging, exciting, maddening process myself. When I came across her conversation with Margaret Atwood about writers and their new projects, I thought: Aha! That’s it. We all feel the same thing, we all have the same struggle, we all wade in the same waters:
I went around asking writers the following question — and these were mostly novelists. What is it like when you go into a novel? And nobody said: What do you mean, go into a novel? They all said: It’s dark. It’s like a dark room. It’s like a dark room full of furniture I can’t see. It’s like a tunnel. It’s like a cave. It’s like going downstairs into a dark place. It’s like wading through a river. It’s like entering a labyrinth. Isn’t that interesting? … Nobody said: It’s like skippity-hopping around on the clouds. Nobody said that.
I’ve been in the dark tunnel with this novel for a little over a year now. I started it before my daughter was born, believing I would have ALL THIS EXTRA TIME to write while I was on maternity leave. I know, just typing that seems incredibly stupid even to me. But, honestly, I didn’t know. I didn’t know how much time, effort and attention a newborn required. I thought, I’ll write when she naps. I’ll write when my husband is home. I’ll write when her grandparents babysit. Turns out, I slept while she napped. I wanted to spend time with her and my husband when I was home. I wanted to go out for dinner, to take a long bath, to watch a movie, to do anything but WORK while grandparents babysat.
So, this novel is taking longer than any other I have written. I’m about 1/3 in, but feel like I have been there for months on end. I’m stalled, paused, plateaued and it is a strange and slightly unnerving feeling. And then I realized, everything has changed in the last year of my life–new baby, new job, new house–and I am still moving around that dark room that is the novel, trying to feel the furniture. Turns out, I forgot I put the chaise by the window. These are the small details that I need to get back into the novel, to stop thinking about it and worrying about it and just WRITE IT.
I’m planning some extra hours at my campus office, huddled there in the dim light, thinking only about the novel, about the characters who will not get out of my head, about all the furniture that now needs rearranging, dusting, and a little airing out.
I’d like to say I am not a superstitious person. I’d like to say that I am logical and clear-headed and capable of reason beyond all else.
But, then, anyone who knows me would call me out, screaming in that way of children, Not it!
I’m more superstitious than I would like to admit. I write with a certain kind of pen–always longhand, unless editing–and I throw spilled salt over my shoulder, and I avoid putting shoes on tables, and I knock wood, and I believe in signs, and I think I have a couple of guardian angels, and I don’t walk under ladders, and…..and….and…..
So when my grandmother’s bracelet broke tonight, I wondered what this meant. A break from always looking to the past? A reminder that she is here with me, as I write? A moment to consider the long line of women in my family [the line not yet broken, three generations and counting of baby girl daughters, only]? There are so many options, that my mind momentarily paused: omen? Good fortune.
In the end, I decided it meant that my grandmother was near me, reminding me to do the things she most wanted me to do: write stories, take pride in my work, be honest even when no one else wants to hear it. And so I stare at my stack of papers, my newest novel, and believe in honesty and, most of all, the spirit sitting at my wrist, urging me to write.
This last year has been an incredible, strange, busy, wonderful one for me–I took a permanent position as Creative Writing Professor at the University of the Fraser Valley last September, and three days later had a baby girl and went on a year-long maternity leave [thank you, UFV, for a wonderful maternity leave!]. Having a year to be with my daughter–who is currently sitting on my lap, babbling, as I type one-handed–has been an incredible gift, but has also left me floundering as September, and the end of maternity leave, becomes a reality.
What does September mean to me? My daughter turns one and I go back to work to a position that has seemed something like a ghost to me. Accepting the position, yet not having actually worked it, is an odd limbo. I’ll be taking on new responsibilities at work, which I am excited about, but it’s been months since I even thought about classes, course development, student assignments, committees, marking, texts, department meetings, etc, etc, etc. I’m not sure what this means in terms of practical application–how to balance teaching with writing with motherhood–but I suspect I will become close friends with my campus office desk…..and late nights.
With all the new funding cuts to the arts, you might wonder what the arts will look like. How better to express it than with something visual? Thanks to artist Perry Haddock for forwarding this beautiful, if tragic, view of the arts.
My poem, directions for sleep, has been awarded first runner up in the Short Grain Literary Contest. Congratulations to all the winners! Read more about the contest, poems and magazine at Grain Magazine.
Why the Orange Prize is important
Robert McCrum writes on why the much-derided prize, accused of everything from discrimination to ghettoization, has accomplished its goal of bringing female writers to readers (read: women), and so much more.
In 1996, I was not alone in wondering how long this quixotic attempt to redress the wrongs inflicted by generations of literary turkey cocks would last. For instance, would an upstart mobile phone company indefinitely squander a massive publicity budget on champagne and canapes for a bunch of pushy metropolitan literati?
Yet Mosse and her friends had a point. In 1996, no question, literary London was a boy’s club. The imprints were run by men. The books they published were mainly written by men and the critics who reviewed them would mostly pass in the catalogue as members of the male gender. Sex is a poor basis on which to evaluate a work of art, but the dominance of the male in the book world was hard to overlook.
Yet here was the puzzling thing. None of this bore any relationship to the truth about the reading public. Everyone in publishing knew it was women who were the devoted fiction buyers, women who avidly read and discussed novels and women who kept the business ticking over.
Chicken or egg? If fiction by women came into vogue, was this a cause or an effect of Orange?
A selection of my poems from Away appear in the new anthology, How the Light Gets In.
“John Ennis, chair of the Centre for Newfoundland and Labrador Studies at the Waterford Institute of Technology in Ireland, will launch his newest anthology. How the Light Gets In, just published in Ireland, is a significant advancement of the ongoing literary exchange between that country and Canada. The volume contains generous selections from some of Canada’s major established and emerging poetic voices. Poets Mary Dalton and Tom Dawe will read from their works in the collection; Randy Drover, Monica Kidd and Leslie Vryenhoek will read some of their favourite poems in the anthology.”
I’ve been in the end-of-winter, grey days, too much rain blahs for the last few weeks–and not getting any writing done hasn’t helped. The winter term is wrapping up, so there are literally towers of journals, chapters, poetry packages and revisions stacked all over my office on campus, and my office at home. I am literally drowning in papers and words.
UFV hosted a reading with Marilyn Bowering this afternoon, and I went feeling tired, ready for the day to be over. The crowd was intimate, Marilyn’s reading engaging and poised, and the whine of the bookstore doors annoying. And then a strange thing happened: I got that familiar, just out of reach desire to pick up a pen and write something. Anything. A note about a novel I’m working on. A line for a poem. An image, even, that came to me suddenly about a woman at a sink and the thick curves of soapy water. I can’t pinpoint exactly what did it, what brought back the urge to write, what made me remember that it’s what I’ve always wanted to do, what I need to do to feel sane and complete and whole, but something in the act of hearing another author read from her work and discuss the process–the often demanding, frustrating, brilliantly satisfying process–of completing a project sparked that light in me again.
I shouldn’t be surprised. I tell students to read, write, surround themselves with anything that might inspire them. Perhaps it’s time to follow my own advice.