Sunday, July 12, 2015

Eyes Wide Shut

After a storm-filled winter and cold, rainy spring, there’s no misery worse than being stuck inside with the flu on the four sunniest, hottest days of summer so far. Right?

Er, well, wrong.

First off, it’s really just a bad cold, but it feels bad enough to be called a flu, so I’m going with that. I’ll spare you all the details, but one symptom of this high-level cold is that, for two days now, I haven’t been able to read, watch TV or movies, or generally look at anything because of itchy, watering eyes akin to the worst seasonal allergy attack you or I have ever had. Meanwhile, with my eyes half open for only seconds at a time, I can see that many of my FB friends are off to the beach, on retreats, waterskiing, hiking and flying to exotic locales and posting wonderful pictures designed both to proclaim the beauty of life and. occasionally, I’m sure, to stir a light envy within the still-beating hearts of those who aren’t there with them. Most, though, are just sharing, and I appreciate that, in fact. I don’t live vicariously, but I like to see people enjoying their lives. I usually welcome proof of life.

The first two days, I was doing okay, figuring I’d be better by Sunday. Yesterday, I was supposed to start my road trip to the U.S. – something I did for the first time in August of last year and enjoyed it so much that I feel a need to do it again. But, as you can see, I’ve had to delay the gratification of several days of driving nowhere in particular and feeding my soul with the sights of a different country. America is no country for sick men. (Here, I’m sidestepping the obvious allusion to certain interest groups, televangelists and Fox news.)

The rebounding tomato plants.
I didn’t sleep last night and so, this morning, my eyes still hurt. I stayed in bed till nearly 9 a.m., then forced myself to go make coffee and then some toast. I already had my sunglasses on, so I went out to the backyard, where it’s sunny and warm – something a raw throat, and all the rest, have kept me from enjoying the past few days. I saw that my strawberry plant was hanging low – the squirrels and bunnies had eaten a few berries, but, miraculously, had left a couple of me. So I ate them. Vitamin C in the form of a fresh, ripe strawberry is pure therapy.

That little yellow bud there?
Looks like a great pumpkin's early days.
Then, I took a tour around the garden that I’d started back in mid-June when the weather was just warming up, but there were still frost warnings and torrential rains, with lots of high winds. I didn’t know if it would survive, especially the withered tomato plants and the giant pumpkin. The tomato plants had looked sick, nearly dead when I finally planted them. The pumpkin, even as recently as a couple of days ago, didn’t look so great.

Trying to catch and sing the sun in flight -
the promise of a sunflower.
But, somehow, they survived. I got out the hose and gave them all – the peppers, onions, lettuces,  tomatoes, squashes and flowers – and gave them a good, long drink. And I even saw that the lone sunflower that I’d planted – my most favourite of flowers, but which I’d never grown before (but then, I’ve never grown any plants before that lived) was sturdy and strong, peering up at me as if to say, “Soon, boss, soon.”

From the shade, I see and feel the breeze,
and drink my coffee, sunglasses on.
Then I sat myself down in the shade where I had a good view of it all – the rippling blue lake, the welcoming tent that makes me think that I might have run away with the circus after all, the waving flowers, the burgeoning vegetables, and surrounded by tall, sheltering trees and green grass all around – and realized that the plants weren’t the only ones that have survived and were thriving, in spite of nature, and yet because of nature.

All the flowers lived.
Self-pity fled from my soul. I thought of friends who are battling cancer, living with daily illness, have had trauma in their lives, both physical and emotional, from which they’re still recovering  and wondered, what has this morning been like for them? What has this weekend been like for them? This springless spring and sunless winter? What have they  endured that I couldn’t even begin to fathom?
Of course, self pity isn’t my style. ‘Twas merely a fleeting touch of gray to begin with. I know I’ll be fine tomorrow. In fact, I am fine today. I’ll be well tomorrow or the next day. I’ll take my road trip and other adventures as soon as I can – if only because I can. I’m always all too aware of those who wish they could do these things and, for various reasons, truly cannot. So, in a way, I owe it to life itself, and to myself, to get on with it, to grow things and enjoy moments, to participate in life in as many ways as possible for as long as I possibly can.

I won’t dare to think anything so pithy as that I’m doing it for anyone else. But it doesn’t mean I can’t empathize with others. And it’s not a bad thing to remember that a cold is just a cold, even if it feels like a flu. And to be unable to see well for a couple of days is hardly the worst calamity to strike a person, even a writer.
Sitting out there, the wind blowing  and the sun shining upon my bare chest and feet, I remembered a time four years ago  – in July 2011, at the height of summer, when I had eye surgery and wore dark glasses inside and outside for nearly two weeks. It was a self-inflicted surgery, to make my vision stronger (which it did, I’m happy to say), but I was in the midst of revising a novel called Finton Moon at that time.  Suddenly, I found myself unable to stand the glare of the computer screen. What was I to do? Surely, I couldn’t just wait two weeks of glorious summer (tick-tick, tick-tock, with classes starting up again in six or seven weeks) before writing again. Back then, I hadn’t published yet and the thought of wasting two precious weeks was, well, unthinkable.

NL Book Award winner,
 completed with blind faith.
So, I dug out my neverending short story collection and thought that, if I could just write the three or four stories I knew I had left to tell (though I had no idea what they would be) then there was no reason for me not to submit Moonlight Sketches to a publisher by the end of summer. Long story short (or short stories short) I wrote “The Darkness and Darcy Knight,” “Run, Mother, Run!” “Fish of the Damned” and “Chosey Bilch,” as well as a couple of others in a prolific period of about six weeks. The other stories had been revised (some published, some award-winning already) so often that they didn’t need much revision at all. And, once I’d written these stories, and my sight came back to normal, I was able to revise them to my heart’s content. By the end of that summer, I was able to submit my manuscript to the one publisher I thought could appreciate those stories more than any other – Creative Publishing. As I’ve said before, it was the right collection for the right publisher at the right time. And if I hadn’t had the eye surgery, I might still be writing that collection. As it was, I signed a contract in mid-December of that same year.
So, I thought, this morning, I feel inspired to write a blog entry about all these thoughts. And, later today, I think I’ll try my hand at a new short story for a new collection I’m working on.

I can always revise these things later when my eyes are wide open and healthy.

Life, you see, is a lot like that. But when I take that road trip alter this summer, I think I’d better be able to keep my eye on the road. Still, I won’t know where I’m going till I get there, and that’s the most exhilarating part.

Please forgive the typos. No revision today.

But, as you can probably see, I did take some pictures before the moment had passed.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Authorial In Tent

Day 1: It rained. A lot.
This blog post was originally handwritten in a tent beside a lake. I've typed it onto my iPad and posted it a couple of days later. My intention is to blog, occasionally, from the interior of my tent. Sometimes, I'll write after the fact about the experience and whatever epiphanies have occurred. Other times, I'll just post exactly what my thoughts were while sitting out there at various times of day and night.

Since I first wrote this one, just three days ago, I've been in the tent every day at various times, including Canada Day, as the orange full moon was floating above the lake - an indelible image that I'll take with me always.

Sitting beside Walden Pond (2014)
Last night, I recalled I'd bought a lovely copy of Walden when I was visiting Concord, MA last summer, and I thought it would be interesting to read a little bit from that book now and then while sitting in my tent, just to relax and be transported, to transcend this techology-driven, information-obsessed world. It did the trick. I was particularly interested in the introduction of this volume which explained that Thoreau was chagrined at breaches in his privacy as he wrote and lived on the shores of Walden Pond for a short while. The train would go past, apparently, and his cabin, that he'd built, was quite visible to the passengers. Every time a large truck zooms down the highway across the lake where I live, I know exactly how he feels. Isolation isn't easy to come by, but alienation, I suppose, is a different story.

Walden Pond in modern times (2014)
I take some solace in knowing that Thoreau came to the lake to get away, but found civilization intruding quite often. Furthermore, the author himself often went into Concord for meals and company. I do the same in Sussex and Hampton, and always figured there was something wrong with me for not being able to sit perpetually by the lake and stare at the water while thinking deep philosophical thoughts. I also found that Thoreau had never intended to write about himself or his experience, but he'd found that that's what people were most interested in reading from him. I don't know if that's true in my case, but I do find the world interesting enough to write about it, and to try and figure it out. So, that's what I'm doing here.

Beside the lake, beneath the trees
For now, here's my first word-for-word journal entry from my first day in the tent. I'll admit to being vaguely aware of a potential audience, and I'm sure it affects the writing. But I aim for truthfulness - though not necessarily confession - and, as time goes on, I'm sure I'll become more the kind of journalist I hope to be.

June 28, 2015 (Sunday afternoon)
Beside a lake, Southern New Brunswick

I’ve purchased a tent on sale for $125 at Canadian Tire so I can have a room – or, really, an entire structure - outside of my rented cottage to spend moments or hours, or perhaps entire days and nights, if I can get used to it – of living/being somewhere outside of the usual. I plan to do a lot of writing out here, but I'll also be using it as an area for sitting (or lying) and thinking, eating, napping and playing mind games with myself.

I am an interior kind of person. Or, at least, that is how I have lived for the past 30 years or more years.  Even as a kid, I was an outsider, so to speak. I was known to be a reader – a solitary type of creature who enjoyed spending his days inside with a good book. And books, by their nature, lead you inside of yourself and, simultaneously, lead you outside of yourself and into the broader world.

But what people didn’t know was that, even though I was most often found inside my own head, and sometimes inside the house, I was most at home when I was not at home – roaming the woods, trekking the shorelines, hiding in the tall grass – or, when possible, hanging out in a tent or treehouse built in the forest near our home – “home,” though, is a word whose meaning eludes me. Honestly, I don’t know what that is, or is supposed to be.

More on my rootlessness another time, especially as I try to sink roots into the soil of New Brunswick.

For now, it’s my first afternoon of this grand experiment, and I need to record the sensations for posterity, for my own sake.

The rain is pelting on all sides and the roof of the tent, like being inside a Jiffy popper, I suppose. the wind keeps tugging at the nylon sides of the tent, and I do wonder how long it will take before the entire thing comes down in a heap.

I almost used the rain as an excuse not to come out here, but I convinced myself that the tent would leak – or be fine – whether I was inside it or not. So I filled my thermos with hot lemon tea and stuffed a few basic necessities inside my knapsack and ventured out. At that time, it was only pecking rain, not the deluge that’s currently threatening to capsize my tent.

My necessities include:
A notepad
A good pen
A thermos of tea
A camera
Two flea market pillows and a blanket
A cardboard box (to stabilize my cup of tea and, as it turns out, it makes a handy writing desk)

Except for the camera, there is no technology. I brought my iPod (without internet turned on) for music, just in case – and it has a voice recorder for times when I’m out here after dark. But I likely won’t be using it.

(I just tried to get a recording of the rain beating down on the tent, but discovered that the iPod requires a mic. Oh, well.)

The idea here is simple: to be able to “work” in a space that feels like play. And it does feel that way.
By sneaking out to my tent for several hours a day, I feel as if I’m stepping outside the expected box of sitting at a desk or a laptop somewhere sanctioned and appropriate for such activity. I’m creating my own writing retreat and an enforced wireless zone where internet is forbidden and therefore, I already feel that it’s freeing my mind to both wander where it wants and to focus on whatever it wants to focus on.

This could be interesting.

And there are no bugs inside the tent.

And I’m out in the rain without getting wet. Beside the lake.

And when the rain stops, I can open the flaps for more light.

How easily I can imagine what it was like to live without the luxuries of modern life and what a future world – or alternate world -  would feel like without those conveniences on which we have become so dependent.

The stove, the fridge, the toilet, the table, the laptop, the wifi and internet, the big screen TV – they’re all inside, and I can easily go inside and have them back.

But, as a writer of fiction, it’s crucial to be able to imagine and to empathize. And to be able to leave one’s interior world behind for a new and somewhat jolting, but fun experience. I like to travel, but when I cannot, or am not doing so, it is good to have some place to go that will inspire me and allow my mind to wander.

The odd, and wonderful, thing is that I feel, out here, writing by hand and the natural daylight, with the rain beating down, as if I could keep writing all day, and somehow everything seems to matter a little bit more. It’s the intensity of confinement, I suspect, as much as it is the ability to do something different and playful. When the body is compressed, the mind expands.

But I won’t keep writing all day. Time to listen, now. And observe.


Wednesday, December 31, 2014

“Our most beloved star - may it be a light for you in dark places when all other lights go out.”

It’s been a good day, today.

In the morning, I arose late after another night of not much sleep. The dreams of vampires and serial killers, that have plagued me in the past, have returned in force, and a couple of hours sleep, or so, seem to be all I’m afforded. Those who don’t know me well might think I probably have those kinds of dreams all the time, given the dark nature of some of my writing. But, fact is, those nightmares usually leave me alone for many years at  time, and they only come around when I am at a dark place in my life and, true to the nature of any monster, only when I am most vulnerable.

It’s been a difficult year – no point in honeycoating it. It’s been a year that saw me leave my home province following the end of the longest, most stable relationship of my life. That ending came after a couple of very difficult years for both my wife and I, and leaving was an act of mercy for us both, that created the possibility, ultimately, for some light to seep in. But that would be getting ahead of the tale.

I’ll write about that journey some day, I’m sure – it wasn’t for the faint of heart, especially for a lad who’d never driven very much and had never before braved the aptly name Wreckhouse winds in the middle of a March blizzard with the winds steady at 160 km/hr on the thinnest stretch of highway imaginable.

Somehow, without any compass but blind luck and will, I ended up in Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia, where I rented a cottage for a few months and watched spring turn to summer in one of the most beautiful, healing places on earth. In its own way, Mahone Bay was Rivendell to me, and it will always have a fond place in my heart. I hated to leave it, but when I felt I was ready, I reached out to the university community for some means of making a living and continuing the teaching work I’d been doing for most of my life. I was fortunate that my seniority at MUN allowed me to teach distance courses via the Internet, something I hadn’t even considered until it became a reality. Then, UNB in Saint John offered me a course to teach on campus, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to meet with students face to face on a weekly basis. So, I moved to Saint John, but found an even better spot at a cottage for rent in a remote lake area of New Brunswick – so remote that even most New Brunswickers squint and say, “Where’s that, exactly?” – and this is where I continue to heal my soul and to seek out new stability and adventures, all at once.

It’s been a strange year. Back in January and early February, for three weeks, I was lucky enough to do a book tour of the Maritimes – Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and PEI – including readings, signings, the Fog Lit literary competition as guest reader, media appearances on CBC in Charlottetown and Saint John, and a school visit at Harbourview High School where I spoke with two creative writing classes. There was also an appearance on GlobaI TV, after my nomination for the 2014 Dublin IMPAC award, which, really, is what made the entire tour possible (well, that and the generous folks at Fog Lit). I also conducted creative workshops in nearly every city I visited, including Moncton, Saint John, Charlottetown and Halifax. Only  Fredericton was cancelled because of an adjunct faculty strike at UNB, as I had no intention of crossing the picket line, especially of people whom I know work very hard for damn little pay and virtually no benefits, and are among the most dedicated teachers I know. Yes, that’s my little rant about the Dickensian attitude of universities towards their contractual faculty – not so much those who do the hiring (many of whom are allies), but those who do the paying. More on that some other time, too.

The UNB strike also caused the Saint John reading, sponsored by the Lorenzo Society Reading Series, to be moved to a café downtown, and the place was packed with an eager audience that asked brilliant questions. There were big crowds in other places and smaller groups in other places, but it was the experience of a lifetime to have been able to do it all – despite (or because of) the blizzards, the long bus rides, the many nights in hotels and eating road food night after night.

The spring was a blur. I spent it in Lunenburg County, a stranger in a strange land, hidden (or so I thought) among the local folks, eating good local food and spending many a moment at the picnic table outside my cottage gazing up at the moon, or a blazing sunrise, a mauve sunset, or a glorious double rainbow that lit the entire bay after a spectacular lightning storm. In the mornings, most often, I would arise and go to Lunenburg where Kate’s Sweet Indulgence café was quiet and welcoming, and there I would sit with my iPad and keyboard and write.

It was mostly poetry. Not fiction. God knows, I wasn’t feeling creative. It was, as I’m sure you can imagine, a very dark time. My head was in a black fog, as it had been for a couple of years. The last thing to enter it was a creative thought.

But the poetry saved me. It gave me something I could do – something tangible and focused, though focused outward, or so I had thought. But I’ve looked back on it since and see much of myself in it – my own attempts to figure out the world when, really, I was trying to figure out myself and what had led me down this rough path, as alone in the world as anyone has ever been – or at least that’s how it felt, most of the time. I’m sure, in reality, many, many people are more alone than that. But, when you’re talking degrees of aloneness, or of isolation, or detachment, I’m not sure the comparisons really matter. I’m not saying I was lonely. In fact, human companionship wasn’t exactly on my to-do list. But alone is alone, and there’s no getting around it.

And, again, it was words that kept me afloat – when all other lights failed, so to speak, it was the one that shone feebly through the murk.

But this is all too serious. And yet, I felt it would be disingenuous to return to the blog lagoon without some brief explanation about where I’ve been and why I’d abandoned it. I’ve tried since the very beginning of keeping this blog to be authentic, to try and speak my truth in whatever form it took. But I found that my heart wasn’t in it this year. I had the excitement of the tour, but never wrote about it –and what a strange time it was. The exploration of Mahone Bay, Lunenburg and other parts of Nova Scotia was recorded mostly in poetry, meandering thoughts and the occasional FB page, with only a smattering of selfies recorded either for posterity or, for the most, as part of a promise I made to some dear friends who extracted a pledge from me when I was leaving St. John’s to offer the occasional proof of life. I think, to a great extent, if Helen and Helene hadn’t asked for that occasional sign, I might well have fallen into a black hole without any communication through social media at all. It would have been easy to do.

But that’s all behind me, now. The summer was hazy – punctuated by ellipses and commas, with the occasional question or exclamation mark – as I took a road trip through the northern states, and somehow found myself sojourning (or soul journeying, as it were) to the houses associated with Stephen King, Emily Dickinson, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Louisa May Alcott, and having tea at dusk on Walden Pond where Thoreau one wrote one of my favourite books on (human) nature. I got lost, and was found. I had great conversations with strangers, and strange conversations with people I would rather not know. I met tourists, writers, students and waiters - and a lot more hotel staff than I thought I would ever have the pleasure of knowing. In a way, they became my family on the road. The faces would change, night after night, but it wasn’t hard to find a friendly smile or a kind word from kindred souls who sometimes were kicking at the dark from their own side of things.

Upon returning from the U.S. in late summer, the fall semester was hard – teaching all new courses, with all new material, one course without a textbook at all – and then there was the glorious Piper’s Frith, about which I’ll have to write another time soon. It was a truly life-changing experience, and I made some great friends after a week of literary splendour in the wilds of Newfoundland. My workload only got more impossible after that, but I got through it – as did my students – and now it’s nearly 2015. It’s amazing how, in life, you can find yourself getting through some things you never thought you could get through. Now, somehow, a new year has come and caught me mostly unawares and unprepared.

And today, at my cottage, by my newly frozen lake, by the light of my first solo Christmas tree, I spent six hours, at last, writing. It’s been a long time coming, but, finally, I’m moving forward again. It wasn’t fresh writing, mind you. I’ve been painstakingly revising my current novel, which has been in limbo for far too long. Once again, writing is proving to be my salvation as I kick at the darkness that, as it turns out, has a nasty bite of its own.

I’ve gone for walks before supper, as the sun goes down (unless it’s raining or snowing), nearly every night for the past two weeks, including Christmas Day, and these walks inspire me. I talk to the creatures that watch me from the woods. I stop and listen. Sometimes, all I hear is the wind. Other times, a snort or the soft pad of footsteps – or maybe it’s just in my mind. But, surely, these woods are full of creatures. And it’s all fodder for my imagination. Today, quite unexpectedly, I saw two long, black cars as wide as those gas-guzzling tanks our parents drove in the early Seventies parked alongside a ramshackle cabin that I’d thought was abandoned. But there were no lights on inside, and the cars were pulled right in tight to the house as if their owners didn’t want them to be spotted from the road. There are rarely cars on that road at all. When I go for my walks, I am the only one walking and only once in a while do I see another living soul.

This is an isolated place, which is how I like it. It feeds my imagination, for now, and I wonder what those strangers, whom I haven’t yet seen, are up to. I’m a writer, so, of course, my instinct for a story tells me they’re up to no good.

I’ve started writing again. I’m not sure if that helps banish the demons or invites more demons in. Either way, I’ll take it and use it, and answer the calling I feel to destroy, explore and explain to myself, to put it all into words, to see what comes out and decide, after the fact, whether it looks, tastes, feels and smells like something worth saying aloud to anyone else.

As a result of the walking, the writing, the explaining and even the wild creatures that surround me in the darkest dark of the darkest nights – even now, I hear strange sounds out by the lake, but it’s too dark to see, and so my mind conjures images of various animals, which, I assure you, is the safest kind of beast to have around – I feel something like optimism creeping into my soul. It never really left, I suppose. It was merely becoming what it would become, waiting for the right time to emerge again and make itself known.

Much like myself, I suppose, in my latest incarnation.

Welcome back, for another few kicks at the darkness. If anyone still cares enough to read my thoughts, I’ll not stay away for so long next time. But, then, I’ll probably keep writing it anyway because that’s what I do. It’s not like have any real control over it.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

An Evening of Celebration at Chapters

All are welcome!
Hosted by Dr. Nancy Earle

Monday, November 11, 2013

Dublin Calling!

So, Finton Moon continues his run around the world. Next stop: Dublin, Ireland - the city where he, or really his story that's told in my novel of the same name, has been longlisted for the International Impac Dublin Literary Award, a prize that nominates authors all over the world for the chance at winning 100,000 pounds. If bigger is better, then this competition is easily the best for sheer scope and depth.

I'm tempted to play the "Aw, shucks" card again, but it's probably time I just said, "Thanks" and left it at that. If you've followed this blog (or me) for a while now, you know the story. This little novel didn't gain traction in national media when it first came out, but now it's gotten unanimously positive - often glowing, stellar - reviews, been nominated for a national award the Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic) and now nominated for what might well be the most prestigious literary prize in the world. I know that's an arguable point, but, for now, I'm going with it.

Some of my favourite authors are on that list - John Irving, Toni Morrison, Colm Toibin, Ian McEwan, Joyce Carol Oates, and many, many more. It's 152 novels from around the world - only a sampling of all those published in 2012 - and, as I said to one friend earlier today, I'd much rather be on that list with all those great authors than to not be on that list with them.

So, I'm not worried about my chances of winning, nor of being shortlisted. I don't even think about that. I just think, I'm pretty damn lucky. Again.

Thanks to the Dublin city council's library service, the judges and libraries all over - who have been extremely kind to me locally, across Canada and around the world. I've always had a great fondness for libraries, and they have always been good to me, long before I was writing and ever since I became a reader at the great, grand age of two years old (or so I'm told - I don't recall). I was often told when I was a lad that reading would never get me anywhere. Well, maybe not. But my book sure has gone some interesting places.

More to come on this award as time goes on. But for now, for those of you who don't follow me on FB, or who do but are busy doing other important things today, I just wanted to ring the bell and let you know that Finton Moon once again finds itself in prestigious company, which, I admit is quite humbling and makes me wanna go "Aw, shucks." Can't help it.

Thanks for the support, those of you have shown it. And you have been legion.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Spotlight on Sunburst: The Sun, The Moon and Me

First time seeing Finton Moon

I've had a grand time getting to know my fellow short-listed authors for the Sunburst Awards. I'm not sure exactly when the winner will be announced, but I expect it to be quite soon. Good luck to Derryl, Emily, Martine and Rio - all very fine writers who deserve awards, nominations and plenty of
readers. Oh, and if you haven't read them yet, please scroll down the page to read the features I've posted on each of these authors. My hope all along has been that by getting to know them a little and being introduced to the kind of work they do, that at least some of my own readers and friends will give these other authors a try.

"Speculative fiction" is a category in which I never realized my writing belonged. In fact, I generally am not fond of labels or limitations of any sort, but sometimes it's necessary in order to define oneself by what one is, rather than by what one is not.

That said, as I've seen for myself in this year's nominees, the category of "literature of the fantastic" can encompass all kinds of writing - and quite often, prose of the very highest calibre.

The fact that Finton Moon is getting some critical attention on a national scale is a lovely feeling. When it first came out, it got much attention here at home because my previous book, Moonlight Sketches, had won the NL Book Award, only weeks earlier. But, for whatever reason (most likely timing - the book came out in late June, which is too late for summer "best of" lists and even too late for the fall lists, which didn't include it because, technically it was a summer book) Finton Moon was ignored by certain national reviewers, thus reducing its chances for national attention. In a Giller-centric world, in fact, even though the Sunburst Awards is a truly national award with some international ramifications - and the news of the short-list announcement made waves of various sizes on websites, blogs and in media all over the world - most book reviewers have paid little attention to the list, even though the panel of judges is a stellar one that rivals any such jury this country can produce. I would also argue that the list of short-listed books is more diverse than your average national literary award, and the writing is as good as any.

I've personally seen many more sales, some very nice mentions in local media (thanks especially to The Telegram, The Charter and Transcontinental media across the province), and, of course, as I said, a great shout of publicity internationally that will hopefully pave the way for other things - and already has, since this award is partly responsible for me being able to begin a regional tour in support of Finton Moon this coming January (2014).

The most satisfying part of it all for me, besides getting to know these four other authors, has been that Finton Moon was nominated at all. Think on it: with no national exposure, published by a small press on the far end of the country (thank you, Creative Publishers!), no big blurbs from well-known authors on the front cover, and no real sense of who this "Gerard Collins" guy from the east coast of Canada even was, these five jurors read somewhere in the neighborhood of 200-plus books and plucked this rather large and somewhat strange novel from obscurity to give it not only the proverbial time of day, but to shine a spotlight on it and essentially say to the literary world in Canada: "Hey, lookit! Here's one that you guys missed."

Local media and book bloggers, I should point out, have been very kind, and reviews have been incredible. In fact there's much more to come from Finton Moon, as will be revealed in time, but to the Sunburst jury (Rebecca Bradley, Tony Burgess, Shari Lapena, Barbara Roden and Leon Rooke, whose work was phenomenally difficult, I've no doubt, considering how many books and the large number of truly good books there were to read), I sincerely want to thank you - no matter who wins. It takes courage, as a literary competition judge, to select from a veritable slush pile of published books a novel that hardly anyone else seems to know about and to like it well enough to promote it as one of your favourites, knowing how much the nomination would mean to any one of those other authors, many of whom are much better known and more decorated than I am. I'm not exactly sure how, or even why Finton Moon was deserving of the honour more than many other novels, but I'll take it and run with it, and try to prove you right in the years to come.

So, here's what they said about my book:

Growing up in the 1970s in the outport town of Darwin, Newfoundland—a place connected to, but remote from, the rest of the province—Finton Moon realizes from an early age that he is different. He seems to have the ability to heal the wounds of himself, and others; an ability which sets him even further apart from his community, and the people around him, even as he desperately wants to belong.

The author grounds Finton Moon in warts-and-all reality, his lyrical storytelling creating a vivid and realistic world full of all-too-human characters, where poverty and violence exist alongside friendship and love, and where Finton must learn to find his way. It is a magical and compelling novel, like a long-form version of a Maritime ballad.

I'd do an interview with myself, but I think I've just said everything I wanted to say. And, face it, if you read my blog regularly, you already know who I am and that I'm not only genuinely thrilled and humbled about this short-listing but that I sincerely wish all the best to each of the other four authors - not only with the Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic - but in their lives and careers, henceforth. It's not an easy road, or an easy life, and we've somehow each found our way to this point. Some of you have received other distinctions; for others, this is new, higher air. Either way, I expect each of you will be breathing this air again and again, and for many years to come.

This is my last word on the Sunburst Awards until the winner is announced. Thanks for reading these entries every week or so, and I hope you've found some new favourites to read.


Friday, September 13, 2013

Spotlight on Sunburst: Martine Desjardins

The Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic is a juried award to recognize stellar writing in two categories: adult and young adult. The awards are presented annually to Canadian writers with a speculative fiction novel or book-length collection of speculative fiction published any time during the previous calendar year. Past winners include Guy Gavriel Kay. Cory Doctorow, Geoff Ryman, Nalo Hopkinson and Margaret Sweatman.
I asked each of my fellow short-listed authors for the 2013 Sunburst Award if they would be kind enough to write a piece for my blog. Here’s this week’s piece, an interview with Martine Desjardins.

(Please note that Martine, regrettably, had to decline to be interviewed right now because of private, personal matters that are taking all her attention. However, I'm reposting an interview Molly Mikolowski  conducted with her some time ago, which I found on the Talonbooks website.)

Martine Desjardins was born in the Town of Mount Royal, Quebec, in 1957. The second child of six, she started writing short stories when she was seventeen.

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in Russian and Italian studies at the University of Montreal, she went on to complete a master’s degree in comparative literature, exploring humour in Dostoevsky’s The Devils.

She worked as an assistant editor-in-chief at ELLE Québec magazine for four years before leaving to devote herself to writing. Presently she works as a freelance rewriter, translator and journalist for L’actualité, an award-winning French-language current affairs magazine in Canada.

Her first novel, Le cercle de Clara, was published by Leméac in 1997, and was nominated for both the Prix littéraires du Québec and the Grand prix des lectrices de ELLE Québec in 1998. Desjardins currently lives in the Town of Mount Royal with her husband. In her free time, she paints miniature models of ruins overgrown with vegetation.

Martine's author page at Talon Books lists the following awards and nominations:

  • Winner of the Prix Jacques Brossard

  • Finalist for the 2010 Governor General’s Literary Award (French Fiction)

  • Finalist for the Prix des libraires du Québec

  • Finalist for the Prix des cinq continents de la Francophonie

  • Finalist for the Prix France–Québec

Contact Martine Desjardins' publisher:

The Sunburst Award jury says: "Rumour and speculation have it that there is hidden, somewhere in the archives of the Archdiocese of Montreal, a book so dangerous that the Church denies its existence. A copy has been found amongst papers of the author’s family, however, and its interlocking stories—originally told under the seal of confession—are here presented. Gorgeous and multilayered, Maleficium is a complex, devious, and vivid novel, in which all the senses, and most of the deadly sins, are invoked to exquisite and diabolical effect. Situated where Maria Monk meets the Arabian Nights, it weaves together elements at a thousand knots per square inch, its darkness of frame and intricacy of structure combining to subvert the pattern by the final chapter."

Interview with Martine Desjardins:

(Reposted from Talon Books website)

Recently, Molly Mikolowski conducted an interview with Martine Desjardins about her novel Maleficium, translated by Fred A. Reed and David Homel.

Q: In Latin, “maleficium” refers to “an evil deed, injury, sorcery,” and you’ve said that that the title of the book was inspired by the Maleus Maleficarum, which was the Inquisition’s infamous treatise on witches. It is a strange title, but like many exotic words in the book, it hints at a number of potential meanings . . . why did you choose it?

A: My stylistic choice to use ornate language, as well as rare and precious words, was meant to disorient the readers, as if they were hearing a foreign language, so that they might feel as if they were in a foreign country. This language is also meant to convey an incantation, to make the readers feel caught in the spinning of the tales, which act here as evil spells—thus the title Maleficium.

Q: How do you balance the lyricism of your writing with the precision of your historical research to create what so many reviewers have referred to as a “feast for the senses?”

A: I am first and foremost a writer of prose. I do not write verse, I never read poetry. In fact I’ve never understood why poets feel the need to constantly start new lines. This means that, unfortunately, I can be quite prosaic when I write. I am totally incapable of creating a metaphor. Clever analogical substitutions rarely pop through my head. I never see a bird when I’m looking at a handkerchief—or vice versa, for that matter.

As I can’t write poetical descriptions of reality, I try to compensate by twisting reality itself, in order to make it more lyrical. Thus, I pack my novels with unconventional and slightly skewered characters, ones that have as many physical as moral flaws, and a whole lot of idiosyncrasies. A young bride who strives to keep her virginity intact, a lady who talks to trees, a nurse who does embroidery on her own skin, a soldier who forages through the trenches of World War I in the hope of finding the Knights Templars’ treasure, a spinster who will eat only salty things at the risk of becoming a salt statue like Lot’s wife.

I set these characters in strange environments: an isolated house full of drying mushrooms, an igloo where light is refracted into a thousand prisms, a sunken crypt with a floor covered with enigmatical carvings, a fantastical funerary monument carved out of salt in an abandoned mine. And I equip them with unusual objects: glass made from boiled cadavers, an antique tapestry where the weaved birds form a rebus, salt cellars in the shape of famous ships.

In Maleficium, the male characters are all tempted by rare and curious objects: a strong-flavored variety of saffron, an insect unknown to science, a vertigo-inducing kind of incense, golden tortoiseshell, the purest of soaps, a Persian carpet made of human hair.

Q: In what ways does Maleficium differ from your earlier novels?

A: My three first novels, however unusual they might be, always remained in the grey zone between the real and the unreal—a zone that could be best described as the “highly unlikely, but still possible” or, to paraphrase Sherlock Holmes, the “however improbable.”

Maleficium is a shift for me, because I have left that realm to venture a little more toward the unreal. Thus the main female character has physical attributes that make her appear foreign, almost monstrous and alien. She has a harelip, but is also described as having a long tail, vulvar stamens, perfumed earwax, thorns growing from her scalp; she is seen carrying a larva in her navel, shedding tortoiseshell tears, extracting iridescent oil from her skin.

This was prompted by my intent to explore the demonization of women through malicious gossip, now that they can no longer be accused of witchcraft. It is also a comment on the way we often demonize foreigners in an increasingly globalized world.

While I was writing this book, my niece became quite famous as a singer, here in Quebec and in France. Malicious gossip about her started appearing on the Internet, and it made me very much aware of the cyber bullying phenomenon. This experience informed the last chapter of the book, which is why Maleficium is dedicated in part to my niece.

Q: To research this novel, you studied many nineteenth-century texts, but were you able to visit any of the locations you describe in Maleficium?

A: Although I have traveled quite easily in the past, I have been, for the past ten years, struck by paralyzing panic attacks every time I leave Montreal. Being incapable to go anywhere is a source of great frustration for me, since I dream of visiting exotic lands like India, Zanzibar, Yemen or Oman. Writing Maleficium was a way for me to travel to these lands, albeit in my mind, to visit interesting sites and to discover new cultures.

Q: Do you envision an ideal reader?

A: My ideal reader is not squirmish and hasn’t lost his sense of wonderment at all the strangeness this world has to offer.

For more information on the Sunburst Awards:


Thursday, September 5, 2013

Spotlight on Sunburst: Emily Schultz

The Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic is a juried award to recognize stellar writing in two categories: adult and young adult. The awards are presented annually to Canadian writers with a speculative fiction novel or book-length collection of speculative fiction published any time during the previous calendar year. Past winners include Guy Gavriel Kay. Cory Doctorow, Geoff Ryman, Nalo Hopkinson and Margaret Sweatman.
I asked each of my fellow short-listed authors for the 2013 Sunburst Award if they would be kind enough to write a piece for my blog. Here’s this week’s piece, an interview with Emily Schultz.

Sunburst nominee Emily Schultz
Emily Schultz  is the co-founder of the literary journal Joyland and the host of the podcast Truth & Fiction. Her novel, Heaven Is Small, released from House of Anansi Press in May 2009 in Canada, and in the U.S. in October 2010. Heaven Is Small was named a finalist for the 2010 Trillium Book Award alongside books by Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro. Schultz’s newest novel, The Blondes, was released from Doubleday Canada in August 2012 and became a national bestseller. It is forthcoming in the U.S. for spring 2014 from St. Martin’s/Thomas Dunne.

Her writing has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Elle, Today’s Parent, Eye Weekly, the Walrus, the Black Warrior Review, Prism, Geist, Event, Descant, New Quarterly, CellStories, the Fanzine, At Length, and several anthologies. She has worked as an editor and as a creative writing instructor.

Emily lives in Brooklyn with her husband Brian Joseph Davis. Together, they write scripts.

Click here to reach Emily Schultz's agent: Shaun Bradley at the Transatlantic Literary Agency


Follow Emily Schultz on Twitter: @manualofstyle

The Sunburst Award jury says: "Alone in New York, Hazel Hayes is desperately trying to get her life together. Her thesis isn’t going well, she’s running low on cash, and she’s just discovered she’s pregnant after an affair with her married tutor. To complicate matters even further, random acts of violence and savagery are breaking out everywhere, acts perpetrated exclusively by light-haired women, and no one can explain why—or knows how to stop it. At once a gripping page-turner and a wryly satirical takedown of the omnipresent apocalypse-meme, The Blondes is a perceptive look at a world where certain women are to be feared and controlled—with brutality, if necessary—and where beauty is not only skin deep, but can kill you."

Interview with Emily Schultz:

1. How do most people react when you tell them you're a writer? How long did it take for you to lay claim to that title of "writer”? Was there a defining moment when you knew you actually were a writer?

ES: I always wanted to write, so I think I’ve never had any qualms about thinking of myself as a writer. I also began publishing quite young—I was 28 when my first book, a collection of stories, came out, and by the age of 35 I’d published a book of poetry and two novels. This is my third novel, and definitely my favourite. In that regard, I’d say it’s a defining moment: I feel like I’m just beginning to become the kind of writer I want to be.

2. Most people think of New York City as a busy place - how does that busyness figure into your writing, or does it? What are your favourite spots for writing?


ES: The Blondes is set in both New York and rural Ontario. It’s always head-spinning for me to go from my little hideaway hometown of 10,000 to this metropolis of over 8 million. In this book, the plague hits when the character, Hazel, is in Manhattan, so there is definitely a sense of chaos and busyness as she tries to flee the city and make it back to what she views as the safety of Canada.

As to favourite spots for writing, I seldom write outside my apartment. I carry a notebook and get a lot of ideas while on the subway or at the Laundromat, but I want to be in private to do something as intense as sketching out scenes. While I was writing The Blondes, I did rent a cabin in the Mohave Desert not far from Joshua Tree. That was a wonderful place to write because it was so quiet. With the exception of the sound of the military doing drills on a base several miles away, there were no distractions. I had to drive 35 miles if I wanted to have an internet connection. I did about half of the first draft there in a short period—it was a bit surprising to me how much I was able to write out there.


3. What's been the highlight of your writing career so far?
Probably being onstage last year at the Vancouver Writers Festival with Margaret Atwood.

4. What does this particular nomination mean to you, the Sunburst Awards being for "excellence in Canadian literature of the fantastic"?
It’s very exciting! An amazing panel of judges and “Literature of the fantastic” is such a great phrase. I feel very fortunate to be placed in such company.

5. The Blondes is a fantasy of sorts - do you mind when people read metaphors into your work, or is that metaphorical quality quite intentional on your part? Do you think metaphor first, or story and/or character first? This is essentially a genesis question: where does the story begin, for you? And how does it evolve?
Everything comes at once for me, in what seems at the time a huge mess. For the first half I’m always wracked with self-doubt, asking myself if it’s a satire, a comedy, a horror story, a suspense, a drama? It’s only after I’m a good way into it that I realize it isn’t messy at all, and all of those elements are falling into place. It’s funny that Tony Burgess was one of the judges for this award, because Pontypool was definitely an inspiration.

6. I assume you visit schools or university classes now and then to discuss your work. What have you learned from such moments?
I used to teach short story writing at George Brown College, but I was more of an editor or mentor in that environment. I haven’t actually done a lot of class visits as an author. One visit I did do was to some eighth graders at the grammar school I attended growing up. Even though my work is not meant for young people they asked me some of the most interesting questions I’ve ever gotten and really made me think. It was a good reminder to me to never to pre-judge an audience.

7. What's the next writing project for you?
My husband and I have been working on scripts lately, one for a TV pilot, one for a feature film. It’s teaching me a lot about plot and form, and how I approach projects. I can definitely feel it informing my fiction writing.

For more information on the Sunburst Awards:




Thursday, August 29, 2013

Spotlight on Sunburst: Rio Youers

The Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic is a juried award to recognize stellar writing in two categories: adult and young adult. The awards are presented annually to Canadian writers with a speculative fiction novel or book-length collection of speculative fiction published any time during the previous calendar year. Past winners include Guy Gavriel Kay and Cory Doctorow.

I asked each of my fellow short-listed authors for the 2013 Sunburst Award if they would write a piece for my blog. Here’s this week’s feature, an interview with Rio Youers.

RioYouers is the author of two novellas, Mama Fish (Shroud Publishing) and Old Man Scratch (PS Publishing)—the latter earning him a British Fantasy Award nomination in 2010. His novelette, This is the Summer of Love, was the title story of PS Publishing’s first new-look Postscripts anthology, a publication in which Rio has appeared three times. His short fiction has also been published by IDW Publishing, Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy, and Shroud Magazine.

Rio’s debut novel, End Times, was rereleased by PS Publishing in the autumn of 2010. His first short story collection, Dark Dreams, Pale Horses, will follow in 2011, with a short novel, Westlake Soul (ChiZine Publications), slated for release in the spring of 2012.

Rio was born in Amersham, England, but has been living in Ontario, Canada since 2001.

The Sunburst Jury says:

"In the midst of life, Westlake Soul is as good as dead. A surfing accident has left him trapped in a vegetative state inside his now useless body, but as compensation he has been given extraordinary mental powers, as well as a bitter enemy: Dr. Quietus, an embodiment of death itself. Westlake copes with his tragedy and the grief of his loved ones through soaring acts of imagination—but are they really all in his head? Youers’ masterful storytelling leaves us wondering just what Westlake is capable of doing, once he sets his formidable brain to work on the problem. Westlake Soul is poignant, funny, and extraordinarily moving as we share Westlake's thoughts, hopes, and dreams, and watch as he - and those around him - struggle to cope with the changed reality of their lives."

Interview with Rio Youers

1. I read on your blog that Westlake Soul has been optioned for movie by some very capable people – congrats. In what ways do you think WS would make a good movie, or why do you think they chose it for possible development?

First and foremost, it’s an incredibly visual story. Westlake is a superhero, of sorts, who can astral project—from his vegetative state—anywhere he wants. So we have the ocean and the moon and everything in between. We also have raging battles in the psyche where Westlake continually fights death, and these are given an almost ironic, comic book emphasis. I had a lot of fun writing these visual scenes, and I think they could translate to the big screen to spectacular effect.

Moreover, there’s a very human aspect to Westlake Soul: his determination to recover and live a normal life, and how his condition affects the people he loves—the heartbreaking decisions they have to make. This is the core of the story, obviously. It’s tragic and relatable, in book or on film, and I think it becomes something quite unique when juxtaposed with the fantasy.

Essentially, Hollywood loves movies about superheroes and underdogs. With Westlake Soul, you get both.

2. What was the genesis of Westlake Soul for you? When did you know you had a solid idea for a novel, and how did the story take shape as time went on?

My ideas come out of nowhere, and they always take me by surprise. I may hear a snatch of conversation, or see something either random or utterly normal … and then my mind is running and before long I have a partial idea. And that’s all I have when I sit down to write the story. I never plot or plan, and never know how the book is going to end. I figure I’ll find out when I get there. So yeah, I just go for it—seat of the pants—and let the story fill in the blanks. It’s the way I have always worked, and it seems to work for me.

Westlake Soul was different, though. The idea came to me in that nebulous, half-state between being asleep and awake, where you’re still dreaming but are aware of what’s going on around you. That’s where I first met Westlake, and he brought most of the story with him. I leapt out of bed and wrote the idea down (I still have that sheet of paper), knowing I had something that would work. It wouldn’t be easy, but it was solid. It was a few years before I started writing the novel ... and it never deviated from that original concept. There were blanks, of course, but I filled them in along the way, just like I always do.

3. What does it mean to you to be a writer?

That’s a tough question to answer. Maybe even impossible, because I’ve always been a writer—even before I was a writer, if that makes any sense. I suppose I should be grateful that I have an outlet for all of the weird and sometimes disturbing detritus in my mind. If I wasn’t a writer, I’d need a damn good job to pay for all the therapy.

4. What’s your favourite part of being a writer?

When you get an idea so outlandish, and difficult, that you don’t think it can be done. But you challenge yourself and go for it ... and you do it; you knock it out of the park. That’s so rewarding.

5. What’s your least favourite part of being a writer?

Having to ask publishers for the money they owe you. It happens less now that I’m working with better editors and bigger publishers, but I still have to drop an awkward e-mail from time to time. It’s never fun.

There are other disappointments along the way, but they’re all part of the job. I was recently asked to pitch for a major comic book series. I gave it everything I had and came up with a concept that I believed worked on every level ... and it seemed for a while that the gig was mine. Then the publisher/studio decided to go with another writer. I was crestfallen—still am. I’m usually good at handling rejection, but that one burned.

6. What does the Sunburst nomination mean for you, at this point in your career?

It’s an incredible accolade and I’m immensely proud to be nominated. Standing alongside so many worthy authors makes it all the more rewarding … not to mention the fact that it’s a juried award; you are nominated purely on merit, and not because you have a lot of friends/recommendations within your society or association. It makes all the hard work worth it.

Establishing a name for yourself in this competitive industry is difficult. Juried awards like the Sunburst go a long way toward helping you achieve that.

7. What’s next for Rio Youers? Anything you can tell us about that you’re working on? Oh, and are you one of those authors who doesn’t like telling anyone about his new work-in-progress, or one of those who doesn’t mind talking about it, to some extent?

Yeah ... I really don’t like talking about my current project. Partly out of superstition, but mostly because—being a seat-of-the-pants writer—the story has a tendency to change lanes and take wild turns. So I prefer not to divulge too much until I fully know what it’s about, and where it’s going ... which is usually at the end.

I can tell you that I’m pretty deep into a new novel, and that—so far—I’m delighted with the way it’s shaping up. That could all change in a hurry, of course. But for now, it’s looking good.

As for what’s next ... I have a lot of short stories in the pipeline, having worked with great editors like Stephen Jones, Christopher Golden, and Jon Oliver. I also have a novella and a collection forthcoming from Cemetery Dance.

8. What does “literary success” mean for you?

Making a living writing impactful, well-received fiction, without compromise.

Find Rio on Twitter: @Rio_Youers