Writers in Residence Event – Monday, November 30th

For those of you who may not know it, Edmonton (and area) has an embarrassment of riches in the form of ELEVEN writers in residence.  And so to celebrate and collaborate and to share our words in convivial fashion, Fred Stenson and I invite you to this event featuring eight of the WIRs (presented by YouthWrite®):

writers-in-residence-webAn Evening with Edmonton’s Writers in Residence!                                         Monday, November 30th from 7 pm – 10 pm                                               Yellowhead Brewery – 10229 105 Street  

Visit https://www.facebook.com/events/1492888224347604/ to RSVP to this invitation.                                                                       

Join Fred Stenson (U of A Writer in Residence) and Gail Sidonie Sobat (Metro Edmonton Federation of LIbraries Writer in Residence) as they host an evening of readings from Edmonton’s incredible array of writers in residence! Listen to and learn from Fred and Gail and these other fine experts:
Elizabeth Withey – EPL Writer in Residence
Steven Ross Smith – CAA Writer in Residence
Kimmy Beach – forthcoming CAA Coach in Residence
Suzanne Harris – CAA Coach in Residence
Nicole Moeller – Workshop West’s Playwright in Residence
Theodore Fox – Latitude 53 Gallery Writer in Residence

Cash Bar – featuring Yellowhead’s fantastic brews ($6.25 pints, $6.25 hi balls, $7.25 red/white wine, $2 pop/juice)

$2 From every beer goes to YouthWrite! www.youthwrite.com

PLEASE NOTE – I CAN NOT ACCEPT MANUSCRIPTS AFTER NOVEMBER 23, 2016.

This week’s great un-/ undersung CanLit title worth checking out:

AfterallLee Kvern  At a dinner party, Beth—36, single, and working overtime—impulsively announces that she’s going to spend a night on Vancouver’s mean streets in commiseration of the homeless. Unexpectedly, her hosts’ son Mason whispers in his mother’s ear that he wants to go with her. Mason’s parents, good limousine liberals that they are, reluctantly allow him to go. Disaster, of course, ensues. “Lee Kvern’s spirited, funny and poignant first novella Afterall takes us for one night into the plush world of Vancouver’s Kitsilano in a kind of literary equivalent of Martin Scorsese’s Soho nightmare film, After Hours.” – VueWeekly

Writing Quote: “Half my life is an act of revision.” – John Irving, American novelist and screenwriter (b. 1942)

Writing Tips:  “Write drunk, edit sober.” – Ernest Hemingway

Writing Prompt: This week prompted a number of responses in the vein of “Not in my name.”  Here’s one 2014 video for reference, but there are others.  Think about this statement and respond in writing to the video or, if you prefer, about what you would not permit “in your name.”

Some thoughts on Remembrance Day

Missing in ActionTat 

the telegram came

I fell to my knees

my sister says

I don’t remember any of it

something bone china

in me cracked

like the set you sent me for Christmas

from England

now I can no longer pour hot tea

into that translucent cup

STOP

I bought dresses

went to dances

wept nights empty

watched day dawn

dashed to the dress shop

half-believed another telegram

would one day arrive

STOP

Previous telegram mistake

STOP

Private Marcel injured but alive

STOP

Discovered disoriented but well

Returning May 1944

STOP

Sends his love

STOP

No such message ever arrives

I carry on this smalltown existence

shopping selling

eating dancing

weeping grieving

living

STOP

 

from How the Light is Spent (Wintergreen Press 2013)  ©Gail Sidonie Sobat

Some interesting articles to consider this Remembrance Day: 

 

YouthWrite® Turns Twenty: 

If you don’t already know, YouthWrite® is a camp for young writers and has been a passion of mine for 20 years.  Over two decades, I’ve seen difference it makes in the lives of the thousands of kids who have attended. Please consider donating and to passing the word about our campaign. We have some fun perks!  So past participants (or parents of YouthWriters, past or present) of YouthWrite or JustWrite, consider making a young writer’s dream come true by donating to our Indiegogo Campaign. We need your support to keep our writing camps going in perpetuity!                           Screen Shot 2015-10-23 at 8.54.09 AMhttps://www.indiegogo.com/projects/youthwrite-s-roaring-20th-birthday/x/156479#/

 

 

This week’s great un-/ undersung CanLit title worth checking out:

The Perilous Realm Series: The Shadow of Malabron, The Fathomless Fire, The Tree of StoryThomas Wharton – Wharton’s trilogy tells the story of a boy from our world who stumbles upon the Perilous Realm, the world that stories come from. With a group of friends that includes a girl with the power to shape stories, and a talking wolf who might turn out to be a bloodthirsty killer, the boy must struggle against a single dark and powerful Story that threatens to consume all others. Protagonist Will “he (and Wharton, for that matter) absolutely revels in the magic of the Realm.” – (Globe & Mail)

 

Writing Quote: “My own feeling is that civilization ended in World War I, and we’re still trying to recover from that,” he said. “Much of the blame is the malarkey that artists have created to glorify war, which as we all know, is nonsense, and a good deal worse than that — romantic pictures of battle, and of the dead and men in uniform and all that. And I did not want to have that story told again.” – Kurt Vonnegut Jr., American author (1922-2007)

Writing Tips:  “Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them-in order that the reader may see what they are made of.” — Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Writing Prompt: “Start as close to the end as possible.” – Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

It’s a New Dawn!

d-motta_fuentes-quote-page-003Welcome to the post-election blog.  This lovely fall day welcomes a new chapter in our country.  The coming four years promise to be very interesting.

Robert Dahl, Sterling Professor of Political Science emeritus at Yale and the author of many widely cited books on democratic theory, “has always insisted that free elections, the most obvious criterion of modern representative democracy, must be complemented by a number of other criteria involving universal suffrage and individual freedoms.”

Individual freedoms, clearly, include the freedom of the press and the freedom of expression – the role of the writer, whether one agrees or dissents from the ruling government’s positions or ideolog(ies).  As you, gentle reader, no doubt know: “In Canada, section 2(b) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication.”

For nearly 10 years, you and I have borne witness to the eroding of our freedoms of the press, scientific thought and expressions of dissent. As a writer, I’ve taken special umbrage with this dangerous erosion.

wdqFAP2FAzar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran, argues that fiction is democracy’s oxygen. Her latest book, The Republic of Imagination, is “a celebration of the power of fiction and its importance to a vibrant democracy.”  Here are a few comments from her conversation with CBC’s Anna Maria Tremonti: 

AN: In a democracy, we need to provide our citizens with a greater education where they will fulfill their passions and the meaning that they want of out of life and not simply making money….Just take the simple fact of voting….If our children, if we do not have enough knowledge, if we do not know about our country, what it was based on and if we do not know what we want of this country–take history, take fiction out of our curriculums (sic), out of our public spheres, how can we vote for the kind of a person who would be good for us and for our country?

AMT: You write that in Iran you discovered that you need democratic imagination in order to have individual rights and the right to free expression.

AN: What is it that the non-democratic state first of all targets?…women1-ken-saro-wiwa-300x225, minorities, culture.

AMT: In fact, how many times have we seen in history people burning books, jailing the authors, jailing the playwright, those are the people they shut away….

AN: It is because when we are deprived of every respect for humanity, when we see the worst actions that human beings do to one another we instinctively turn to the best that humanity has to offer and that is the works of the imagination….

AMT: Why do tyrants understand the dangers of democratic imagination more than our policy makers appreciate its necessity.

AN: Because it’s so immediate. Because of the fact that as soon as you come to power, who is it that is not saying what you want them to say? Who is it that gives voice to your enemies?….But that is why they hate it, because they can’t control [writers, the press].

Let us hope that starting forth on this new day, Canada’s new government will not muzzle the press or our scientists or underfund our artists and writers.  The future of Canada as a democracy depends on it.

 

YouthWrite® Turns Twenty: 

If you don’t already know, YouthWrite® is a camp for young writers and has been a passion of mine for 20 years.  Over two decades, I’ve seen difference it makes in the lives of the thousands of kids who have attended. Please consider donating and to passing the word about our campaign. We have some fun perks!  So past participants (or parents of YouthWriters, past or present) of YouthWrite or JustWrite, consider making a young writer’s dream come true by donating to our Indiegogo Campaign. We need your support to keep our writing camps going in perpetuity!                           Screen Shot 2015-10-23 at 8.54.09 AMhttps://www.indiegogo.com/projects/youthwrite-s-roaring-20th-birthday/x/156479#/

This week’s great un-/ undersung CanLit title worth checking out:

Half-WorldHiromi GotoMelanie Tamaki is human—but her parents aren’t. They are from Half World, a Limbo between our world and the afterlife, and her father is still there. When her mother disappears, Melanie must follow her to Half World—and neither of them may return alive. Like a Hieronymous Bosch painting come to life, Half World is vivid, visceral, unforgettable, a combination of prose and images that will haunt you.

Writing Quote: “Reading and writing, like everything else, improve with practice. And, of course, if there are no young readers and writers, there will shortly be no older ones. Literacy will be dead, and democracy – which many believe goes hand in hand with it – will be dead as well.” – Margaret Atwood, Canadian author (b. 1939)

Writing Tips:  “It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.” — Jonathan Franzen

Writing Prompt: Imagine you are a citizen of a society where free expression and dissent are forbidden. Write a piece in which your dissent is coded or camouflaged in your language.

Happy Thanksgiving!

giving thanksautumn-mountain-ash-yellow-leaves-natural-berry-hd

in gold and

red glory the

mountain ash greeted you this

morning as you tripped down the

stairs breathless with

designs of the

day as if all that

mattered were your

errant heart with its

arrhythmic timing and the

frantic pace of

living through ticking

ticking time except

that the mountain ash stopped you

and your eyes filled with

wonder at its

fractal gilt leaves and

bobbing red berries

in autumn’s

gold-plated

light

© 2015 Gail Sidonie Sobat

Another beautiful thanksgiving poem by Joy Harjo, “Perhaps the World Ends Here.”

This week’s great un-/ undersung CanLit title worth checking out: 

I Should be in ChainsKathy Fisher – Fisher experiments with sound – weaving audio, be it live music or ghost voices, in and around her poetry. She is a wordsmith, research lawyer, documentarian, biographer, oral historian and explorer, and always creates with attention to the ear and eye.

Writer’s Quote:Thank you’ is the best prayer that anyone could say. I say that one a lot. Thank you expresses extreme gratitude, humility, understanding.” – Alice Walker, American author (b. 1944)

Writing Tips:  On writing a gratitude journal or keeping a gratitude list (excellent fodder for other writing):

1. Hand-write your gratitude list. The kinesthetic experience of actually writing is valuable for several reasons: First, the physical act helps imprint the feeling of gratitude at the cellular level. Also, since it is a slower process than typing, writing by hand provides more time for contemplation, which makes for a more thoughtful list.

2. Set a realistic goal. Avoid immediate collapse by starting off with a reasonable number of items. If you set out to enumerate some insane number like 50, you’ll end up including stuff that not even the most zealous gratitude junkie would list. Better to limit yourself to one good reason than to dredge up sludge from a too-deep well.

3. Fake it, if necessary. Don’t worry about actually feeling grateful for anything, especially if during your formative years you confused gloom with sophistication. Until you are consistently inclined to see the glass as half full, act ‘as if.’ In other words, start by pretending that you are an authentically grateful person and write down what this alter ego is thankful for. If even this feels like too much of a stretch, maybe you’re getting stuck on semantics. Instead of calling yours a gratitude list, title it “Hey, it could be worse” and take it from there.

from Utne

Writing Prompt:  Think about a troublesome person in your life and craft a piece about why you are grateful for that individual.

 

Bearing Witness

Refugee

Did you feel thus, Aeneas,

when you led your bedraggled fellows, your son

your wife’s ghost, trailing and keening at your back,

from burning Troy?

 

Were the sea winds as cruel,

the gulls shrill harpies above your parched faces,

desiccated bodies, mocking your woeful state

of fallen grace?

 

Did dirty coins change hands

with double dealers to deadly ferryman

who tossed you in the waves from your leaky barks

to foreign shores?

 

Were the dwellers cold-eyed

with dubious welcome parsimony’s promise

to camp you in squalor or drive you with torches

to other lands?

 

Did they weep many tears

when the child yet a toddler washed to their sands

with nothing but drowned hope and a tiny red shirt

on his small back?

© 2015 Gail Sidonie Sobat

Please see this open letter from Doctors Without Borders/ Medecins Sans Frontieres:  The Right to Flight: An Open Letter to the Leaders of Canada’s Political Parties 

 

This week’s great un-/ undersung CanLit title worth checking out: 

Noble SanctuaryScot Morison –  “A powerful novel. Set mostly in Beirut, Lebanon, during the troubled summer of 1982, it tells of Geoff Andrews`s search for Nadya Karameh, the beautiful Palestinian woman with whom he has fallen deeply in love. Thomas Dix, an American journalist, is a wonderfully cynical fixer. Pierre Haddad, a wealthy Lebanese Christian, so charming when first introduced, proves to be a soulless monster. Both are complex and credible. This is a classic quest, the story of the hero`s search for a beautiful woman and the truth, complete with monsters and other bizarre hazards, helpers and hinderers….Noble Sanctuary is a gripping, painful, and disturbing book.”

Writing Quote: “All writers–all beings–are exiles as a matter of course. The certainty about living is that it is a succession of expulsions of whatever carries the life force…All writers are exiles wherever they live and their work is a lifelong journey towards the lost land.” – Janet Frame, New Zealand author (1924-2004).

Writing Tips:  “Titles are not only important, they are essential for me. I cannot write without a title.” – Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Cuban Writer in Exile (1929-2005)

Writing Prompt“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.” – Martin Niemöller

A Writer’s Education

Liberal-Arts2There’s an old joke that many of my writer friends know well:

A neurosurgeon and a writer are introduced at a party, and the neurosurgeon hovers near the writer, “So what do you do?”

“I’m a writer.” Warily, she takes a sip of her wine.  “And you?”

“I’m a neurosurgeon, but when I retire I think I am going to take up writing.”

“Funny”, the writer drains her glass, “when I retire I was thinking of taking up neurosurgery.”

The truth is that I’ve been writing since I was a child, as have most writers I know.  And, like so many writers, I have spent thousands of dollars and many, many years on my education.  As would any neurosurgeon.

For those who adhere to the 10,000-hour rule, while this blog in no way means to discourage you, it’s important to note that recent years have seen disclaimers and caveats to Anders Ericsson’s original study (see Time and BBC News).

While I do believe in practice, when it comes to a writer’s education, I am a passionate advocate of a liberal arts education. I applaud Alan Wildeman’s recent Globe and Mail article, “We ignore liberal arts at our peril.” Wildeman writes, “as a multicultural country playing in the global arena, Canada needs a citizenry that learns and studies human differences, social behaviours and cultural traditions. It needs a citizenry that encourages respect for human rights, and encourages artistic creation and appreciation of the arts. The humanities and social sciences engage in these intersections and contribute to what makes us human.” If one wants to be a writer, a liberal arts degree is one of the best preparations: “with its focus on the broad spectrum of human endeavour…. to ensure that our self-reflections are broad…and that we do not forget the importance of enlightenment and reason.” Above all, a liberal arts education forces one to read and read widely, often difficult texts that make one think hard and critically. I cannot stress how important this is to the craft of writing.

If one has not had the benefit of a liberal arts degree (and even if one has), then if one wants to write, there’s a good deal of book larnin’ to do – and not just the kind that offers to help you sell and market and write your novel or poetry. Reading. Taking liberal arts courses. Engaging in critical thinking. Challenging comfortable assumptions. Reading the masters. Reading. Reading. Reading. (The Importance of Reading)

Or try neurosurgery instead.

This week’s great un-/ undersung CanLit title worth checking out: 

Santa RosaWendy McGrath “What is real when seen through the eyes of a child? When does the harshness of reality transform idyllic memories? The young narrator…seeks the answers to these questions as she tries to make sense of the disintegration of her parents’ marriage—a process echoed by the slow disintegration of their neighbourhood. In subtle poetic prose, Wendy McGrath evokes afternoons at the fair captured in overexposed photographs, and a family’s disquieting day at the beach as moments that exist apart from time, in a place where every sense is heightened, and where every memory is sharpened as if in a lucid dream where understanding lies just beyond reach.”

Writing Quote: “I quickly saw the immense power of a liberal education. For me, the most important use of it is that it teaches you how to write. In my first year in college, I took an English composition course. My teacher, an elderly Englishman with a sharp wit and an even sharper red pencil, was tough. Now I know I’m supposed to say that a liberal education teaches you to think but thinking and writing are inextricably intertwined. When I begin to write, I realize that my “thoughts” are usually a jumble of half-baked, incoherent impulses strung together with gaping logical holes between them. Whether you’re a novelist, a businessman, a marketing consultant or a historian, writing forces you to make choices and it brings clarity and order to your ideas.” – Fareed Zakaria, Indian-born American journalist and author, host of CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS (b. 1964)

Writing Tips:  “Reading before writing… becomes a way of conversing with other writers.”- Stephanie Vanderslice   “You must try to know everything that has ever been written that is worth remembering and you must keep up with what your contemporaries are doing.” – Richard Bausch

Writing Prompt: Inviting __________________ to dinner. (e.g. Shakespeare, your favourite author, Tommy Douglas, Lady Gaga, etc.)

Funke-y Self-Publishing – Is it for You?

pink-typewriter1-1Sooooo… best-selling children’s author, Cornelia Funke, has created her own publishing company, in essence, turning to sophisticated self-publishing strategies to gain creative control over her work.  In a Publisher’s Weekly article, Funke “cites creative differences with her U.S. publisher [Little, Brown],” as the motive behind her decision.  Not only did she see her Reckless series as better suited for ages 14 and older (and she argued with her publishers about pigeonholing her for younger readers for seven years), Funke was adamant that her first chapter remain where it was and her ending remain as it was.  Also intending to publish her backlist through the newly minted Breathing Books, her arguments for this bold move make such good sense:  “I want to be a sailboat so I can fit into other places. If I have to figure this out myself, good! I feel I’m at a time in my career when I can afford to do this, and where I can say, as long as I cover my costs, I’m fine. I have many traditional publishers in Europe, Asia, and South America who still earn me money. And I can finally be a storyteller for all ages.”

What a fine example of why self-publishing or, in Funke’s case, taking the publishing bull by the horns is such a fine new model.  One can’t help but admire her and, for those who write, hope to emulate her.  But, of course, I must offer a caveat.  Cornelia Funke has sold 20 million copies of her traditionally published books worldwide.  (The very article that I cite above was shared 1.4k times in but two days; Facebook cites 19,733 likes for her author page and she has thousands of Twitter followers.)  She is adored and loved and followed and tweeted about on a daily basis. Her audience is loyal and eagerly awaiting, so there is every likelihood that this new venture will prove a resounding success (and if it is not, she will not starve in her Beverly Hills home).

Those who want to self-publish are seldom as well-placed as Funke.  So necessary to successful self-publishing are the co-joined investments of time and money in order to create a professional product, market and sell it. If you don’t have Funke’s resources or a similar fan base, the road to a self-published bestseller is hard, indeed.

As writer Hugh Howie shares in Publisher’s Weekly, “successful authors work their butts off either way. There is no such thing as a lazy successful author. With a publisher or not, the author will be expected to market themselves. They will do interviews and go on grueling book tours, or they will be asked to write blog posts, to read and blurb other books from the publisher, and so on. Both sets of authors will be expected to engage with their readers on Twitter and Facebook. They will do signings at bookstores, or they will sit at craft fairs. The ones who eke out even a part-time living will outwork their colleagues who don’t. Forty hours of writing on top of a full-time job and caring for a family is the norm.”

Phew!

But hats off to Cornelia Funke for her derring-do!  I wonder if the same might be accomplished with a handful of intrepid and audacious CanLit authors who’d link arms and create an independent publishing company for publishing their own books.  It’s been tried to some success before…

This week’s great un-/ undersung CanLit title worth checking out: 

Food for the GodsKaren Dudley   “Dudley has quite elegantly and creatively taken a classic Greek myth and woven it into something unique. The base idea of taking Pelops, someone who had been served up as food for the gods, and making him into a chef, is brilliant. It is the ultimate source of all of the conflict in the story….The author’s love for mythology is apparent in this story, through simply defining it as a fantasy does not do it justice. It is equal parts mystery and comedy, not to mention being raucous thanks to a certain pair of gods who are just trying to help.” – Winnipeg Review

Writing Quote: “The good news about self publishing is you get to do everything yourself. The bad news about self publishing is you get to do everything yourself.” – Lori Lesko, self-published American author

Writing Tips:  “If you have market aspirations for your book, buy your own ISBN (International Standard Book Number) and create your own publishing company.”

Writing Prompt: “Empathy is first of all an act of imagination, a storyteller’s art, and then a way of traveling from here to there. What is it like to be the old man silenced by the stroke, the young man facing the executioner, the woman walking across the border, the child on the rollercoaster…?” from Rebecca Solnit’s The Faraway Nearby

Part Two – Another Ten (Under -rated/-recognized) Titles

????????????????????????????????????????On my way back from vacation, I heard a segment from CBC’s The Next ChapterHost Shelagh Rogers spoke with writer and academic Randy Boyagoda on a topic related to this and my last post:  those books that “fly way under the cultural radar,” the ones that don’t get noticed (or enough notice) to catch the attention of the awards committees or nominators. How do such books (often from small and/or regional publishers) compete with the literary giants and their behemoth publishers?  What is the virtue of seeking out the undiscovered “hyperlocal” book?

In effect, selecting off-the-radar titles returns to the reader his or her reading agency – the right to select a book because something about it speaks to the reader rather than reading tastes being pre-determined and/or directed by a list.

Here is a transcript of the pertinent segment (the entire segment begins at 42:10 at the link above):

SR: What’s the conventional way that [hyperlocal] books find readers in Canada?

RB: That’s the challenge…beyond a community of already committed readership that poets and other writers have… the primary means by which books are read and discussed today is the prize or the prize economy….We read prize list announcements….If it weren’t for prizes, many books that otherwise would be very much worthwhile reading would be ignored, and that is…probably the best argument for literary prizes: that they bring to wider attention books that otherwise may not enjoy the hearing that they would deserve. But I think prizes also can have… a negative, a cramping effect upon our literary imaginations.

SR: So what happens these days to books that don’t win prizes or make a long list, even?

RB: ….If it weren’t for those prizes, these books really do kind of slip away because we have such an accelerated understanding of why and how books matter….Books tend to matter basically in this country from late September until…early November and then again during Canada Reads. And it seems…like a kind of strange way to… understand the life of a book.  That right after a given prize season….[overlooked books] kind of ‘[wither] on the vine’…a sad image of a book that should have a life beyond a prize season. But why is it? We’re all kind of invested in this….  American English professor…James English… [has] written a book about this called The Economy of Prestige, and it’s basically a study of literary [and other] prizes and their constant, rampant proliferation and why and how these things have come to matter so much to our understanding of what we should listen to, what we should watch, who we should read…I think he makes a very persuasive argument that [prizes] kind of speak to almost a loss of our own self-confidence… why do I want to read this? I want to read this because I think it’s important; I think it’s interesting or this book critic has made a good argument or this book columnist has made this good argument for it instead of I want to read this because it won a prize.

SR: Well, literary prizes are awarded by juries made up of people so there’s subjectivity involved; there’s human appetite, human frailty so it’s not like running a race where there’s the first, second and third place medals that are obvious. How do you think readers should view the mechanics of prize-giving?

RB: [Reading only prize-winners] wouldn’t have been the case… 25-30 years ago when books…had a more prominent place in our culture as… common documents for conversation. So what have I done? In my own reading experience, I kind of reacted against [the prize-award system] in discovering this local, this next door poet and seeing my world around me in a very exciting way.

So in celebration of seeing our world around us in very exciting ways, I offer the next ten titles for your consideration and reading pleasure.  Hereafter, I will endeavour to include an under-represented/-read Canadian title in every blog post.

Stone Soup – Kate Marshall Flaherty  (poetry collection recommended by Randy Boyagoda) – Inspired by the poetic folktale… the cauldron of these inviting poems effortlessly blends ingredients both earthy and spiritual, jaunty and tender, compassionate and ecstatic. The poems encompass generations of family and friends and embrace a wide spectrum of cultures and traditions to reveal heights and depths of our common humanity from fresh and surprising angles of vision.

The Wolf’s Head – Peter Unwin – Unwin lays out the history of the lake and its lands… the stories of the…men who sought the Ontonagon Boulder, the strangling dread of Mishipizheu, the maddening determination of voyageurs….filled with extraordinary facts, humorous anecdotes, and an understanding of the people.  In simple, witty language that endears and engages, Peter Unwin brings Lake Superior to life like no other writer has, delivering in vibrant prose, the history of the Wolf’s Head.

Kissing Keeps Us Afloat – Laurie MacFayden – Kissing Keeps Us Afloat is humorous and joyful, uninhibited and sassy. In love with words and images, MacFayden positively swaggers in these exuberant poems that are loose and open and stylish. The poems touch on fear and loss, revenge and regret, but come back to the sensual, back to love, and to the beauty of the world.” – Shawna Lemay

Crown Shyness – Curtis Gillespie – “’Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what’s happening around him knows that what he’s doing is morally indefensible. He is like a confidence man, preying on the vanity, loneliness and stupidity of other people, gaining trust and then betraying them.’ In many ways, this quote sums up Crown Shyness….Gillespie’s tale is powerful… ending with a gut-punch climax.” – Quill & Quire

Gaits – Paulette Dube – A poetic look at movements made by animals and humans during a cycle of four seasons. The poems are rich in their simplicity, and convey the depth and mystery of the animal-human connection. Reverse anthropomorphism occurs and the humans come away having (un)learned something about the citizens of the forest while deepening an understanding of themselves….that as a species we are lost and lonely without our connection to the land, but that this connection reverberates with consequences.

The Alchemists of KushMinister FaustTwo Sudanese “lost boys.” Both fathers murdered during civil war. Both mothers forced into exile through lands where the only law was violence. To survive, they became ruthless loners and child soldiers, before finding mystic mentors who transformed them to create their destinies.The Alchemists of Kush is both a powerful and vital contribution to Canadian literature that looks at contemporary Edmonton from an African-Canadian perspective.” – Wayne Arthurson

Spider’s Song – Anita Daher – Stuck in Yellowknife with her crazy grandmother, AJ is one angry and lonely girl. Her blog has become her main source of contact with the world where she reveals her innermost hurts—the absence of her mother and of her father, who abandoned AJ when she was just a little girl; and the moving around she and her mother have had to do every few years for reasons she has never understood. And recently, she’s begun to cut herself—a powerful habit and shame she is trying to overcome. A gripping, chilling tale.

Body Trade – Margaret McPherson – Weaving together two stories of survival, the main narrative follows Rosie and Tanya, two young Canadian women who leave NWT and head south on an ill-conceived road trip through California, Mexico and Central America. The story takes a life-defining twist when their search for freedom and adventure beings them into contact with predators of the Central American sex-trafficking trade. Body Trade asks: To what terrifying places will we journey, and at what cost, in order to save our own lives?

The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of MatchesGaetan Soucy (trans. Sheila Fischman) – The peculiar narrator of The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches is an unnamed adolescent unsure of what to make of the world or who they are, even whether they are male or female. When the family patriarch dies, the family’s isolation is broken, and shocking secrets are revealed. Filled with intrigue, suspense and flights of fancy, Gaétan Soucy’s novel is an original and challenging work of fiction. Heralded as a literary star in Quebec, Soucy deserves to be read everywhere in Canada.

Fruit – Brian FrancisFruit tells the story of 13-year-old Peter Paddington as he tries to fix everything wrong about himself before his Grade 8 year ends. Specifically, to lose weight, get a boy friend and silence his talking nipples. Although lauded by CBC Canada Reads in 2009, I’d hate to see this novel fade into oblivion. It deserves to be read and re-read (and taught) across the country. “Laugh-out-loud funny.” – NOW  “Hilarious and gentle.” – Booklist

 

(And thanks to all who suggested The Book of Mary by me!  Shucks.)

* You’ll note again a decidedly Edmonton/ Albertan bias, but that’s just fine.

 

Writing Quote about prizes: “As for me, prizes are nothing.  My prize is my work.” – Katharine Hepburn, American actress, memoir writer (1907-2003)

Writing Tips:  “Want to win big literary prizes? Make sure your story is about men” – The Guardian

Writing Prompt: A man down on his luck realizes he has psychic mind-reading abilities. He improves his life by playing poker. Everything goes really well for him until one day he comes across another psychic at the tables.

Some Really Good (under appreciated) Canadian Books…Part One

Some books get all the street cred. They win awards and hoopla. Their authors are invited every-which-where and are added to lists (CanLit, writers-to-watch, top 100, etc.).

However, like musicians and artists (in all disciplines), there are those writers and books that escape notice for whatever reason. The authors aren’t in the right circles or the right time and place or they simply miss out on luck. No denying there is a lot of luck involved in getting noticed as an artist of any stripe in this world.

I think about my numerous friends in the arts, too many of whom are devastatingly talented but heartbreakingly unrecognized or under-recognized. I’d like to take this and the nextreally-good-literature-is-seldom-appreciated-in-its-own-day-the-best-authors-die-poor-the-bad-ones-make-money-its-always-been-like-that-walter-moers blog to recognize just a few of these fine people and their fine titles. In fact, this week, CBC stole my blog idea and created this list: 12 Underrated Canadian Novels.   But here’s mine– cultivated with a little help from my friends–of summer reading suggestions (with brief annotations) for under-read Can Lit*:

The Next Margaret – Janice MacDonald   “The very first Randy Craig Mystery was published in 1994 and is the ‘lost book’ of the series. We first meet Miranda ‘Randy’ Craig as she returns to grad school to do an MA in English literature at the University of Alberta focusing on novelist Margaret Athers, a reportedly  reclusive figure who can only be contacted through her publisher. But all is not as it seems. Soon, Randy must use her literary deductive skills to prove that the Department of English is harbouring a killer.”

Doubting Yourself to the Bone – Thomas Trofimuk  “A story about the nature of grief, about what it means to be a parent in the face of great sorrow, the idea of re-invented love and hope. Set in Paris and a small town in the Canadian Rockies, the novel is propelled forward by a horrific car crash that reverberates for the victim’s husband and daughters….this story serpentines through the labyrinth of grief and pain as the victim’s husband wrestles with the question, was the car crash an accident or intentional?”

The Betrayal – Henry Kreisel  “This swift philosophical thriller explores the role of North Americans as witnesses to global history. With rich allusions to Joseph Conrad The Betrayal traces the effects of the Holocaust to Edmonton, Alberta, an unlikely spot for a moral showdown–or so one would at first think. A classic of contemporary Canadian literature.” – Goodreads

Allegra – Shelley Hrdslitschka  “[An] absorbing exploration of contemporary teen life…Hrdlitschka (Sister Wife) realistically depicts teenage emotional turmoil as Allegra’s growing obsession with Mr. Rocchelli combines with despair at her parents’ separation and the ups and downs of her new friendships. The main characters’ devotion to the arts enriches the drama.” – Publishers Weekly

Road Tripping – Conni Massing  “Every summer for the past 10 years, Conni Massing and a gaggle of her theatre friends have embarked on raucous road trips throughout their home province of Alberta….Massing’s funny, compelling, and educational account of these trips….may even inspire a bit of envy on the part of her readers. How can people have so much fun, one wonders, with so little? How do people make a pit stop for beef jerky an adventure?….Her love letter to her home province, is both funny and inspiring.” Quill & Quire

Delusion Road – Don Aker   “A taut, gripping murder mystery thriller… a page-turner that will leave readers both breathlessly cheering for the protagonists and eager to (re)experience the Bay of Fundy’s shoreline and all its rocky, majestic East Coast splendour. Aker excels is in his storytelling, creating vividly believable scenarios rife with razor-sharp tension, all wrapped up in an edgy, realistic portrayal of loyalty, the lies we tell, and the strength of the human spirit.” National Reading Campaign

A Wake for the Dreamland – Laurel Deedrick-Mayne  Friends William, Robert, & Annie are on the cusp of adulthood while the world is on the brink of war. Every arena of their lives is infiltrated by the war, from the home front to the underground of queer London to the bloody battlefields of Italy. Even in the aftermath, these friends fight their own inner battles: to have faith in their right to love and be loved, to honour their promises and ultimately find their way “home.” 

Ghost Messages – Jacqueline Guest  In pursuit of stolen treasure in 1865 Ireland, 13-year-old Ailish winds up trapped on the Great Eastern as it sails! The vessel’s mission is to lay the fi rst undersea telegraph cable across the Atlantic Ocean. On the journey, Ailish, disguised as a boy tries to track down the hiding place of her father’s treasure. With her trademark storytelling skills, Jacqueline Guest has fashioned a nail-biter of an historical seafaring action adventure.

Instruments of Surrender – Christine Wiesenthal  In this poetry collection, “Wiesenthal reveal[s her] mastery of craft and mature sensibilities. [She is an] excavator of past and present: … mining the uncertain terrain of childhood and youth, the hazardous surfaces of adult experience…[who] sees the wide world and record[s her] knowledge of its brutality. [She] write[s] of paternal betrayal with the same unsettling frankness they bring to day-to-day events.” – Antigonish Review

Gwen – Carolyn Pogue   Not only is Gwen a fantastic historical source with its references to Yonge Street, the St. Lawrence River and national heroes including Miss Pauline Johnson and Joseph Brant, it’s also a captivating story of a young girl determined to pursue her dreams and traverse new lands. Gwen is young, but her sensibilities and optimistic character are bound to evoke emotions from all age groups.

You Haven’t Changed a Bit – Astrid Blodgett Edmonton-based Astrid Blodgett’s debut story collection is a complex and darkly tinged look into the lives of troubled characters and the traumatic, life-altering events of their lives.“You Haven’t Changed a Bit” has the complexity and texture you’d expect from a well-established short fiction writer. The fact that this is a debut collection is a remarkable achievement and should convince you to keep an eye out for more of Blodgett’s work.

Finton Moon – Gerard Collins  Set in the fictional town of Darwin, NFL, Collins “build[s] his themes: of cruelty and malice, intolerance of every kind, violence, poverty, repression, and the pain of growing up, especially in the closed and claustrophobic environment of Darwin. But it’s not all to do with struggling against the cramped and insular confines of a small town. In the context of growing up, the book is about friendship; the obligations of familial and romantic love; and the hard, but often thrilling journey of self-discovery.” The Western Star

Part Two – Next Week!

(And thanks to all who suggested The Book of Mary by me!  Shucks.)

* You’ll note a decidedly Edmonton/ Albertan bias, but that’s just fine.

 

Writing Quote: “Even to be a famous author in America is no piece of cake. There are no screaming lines of fans waiting hours for the new release, no instant recognition that accords respect, no government funding for the arts to speak of and a risky living to be made at best. And for the other writers, it’s a struggle that only a passion for stories and books, bred early and deep, can sustain.” – bookwritingworld.com

Writing Tips:  There’s a saying in publishing that the moment you spot a trend, it’s too late to join it. By the time you finish writing something you think will be popular because it’s popular now, that ship will have largely sailed. – Writer’s Digest

Writing Prompt: ‘Shh! Hear that?’ ‘I didn’t hear anything.’ ‘That’s right. That’s the sound of your own oblivion.’

 

 

 

 

RWIR Call for Applications, 2016

Regional Writer In Residence Call 2016 – pdf, revised Aug 10

We are accepting applications from Edmonton and area writers for two positions as Writers in Residence for the period of January 4 to December 30, 2016.

Goals of the Residency:

  • To provide space, time and resources for writers to work on their own writing projects
  • To provide encouragement and critical support of both established and emerging writers through individual consultations, community/school outreach and group workshops and seminars
  • To raise the profile of the Regional Writer in Residence program

Details