Thursday, December 24, 2009

Feeling Seasonal

It's Christmas Eve, and my wife and I are having some family over today, and we'll be spending time with them tomorrow as well.

While I can feel a sense of anticipation (of something, not sure what), I can't say I'm feeling Christmas yet. I love this time of year, and this year is no different. There's a little snow, a lot of rushing around, and everything's decorated with festive lights and colors. And yet there's something missing. Usually, I'll fumble around a bit until I can put a name on it, but that's not happening this time, I don't think. There's nothing missing in my life. I have everything I need. But somehow, it's not here yet, whatever it is.

Later this evening, after everyone has gone home and I reflect, consciously or not, on how nice it was to see everyone and spend time in the glow of the Christmas tree lights, eating food, and laughing (there'll be plenty of laughter, for sure), I will probably, suddenly get that feeling. You know:  that feeling. The one that tells you you've spent all day not feeling like it's Christmas Eve and then...wham!'s a little bit before midnight and it's almost Christmas Day. Tomorrow morning, you'll wake up sleepily, stuff yourself gradually with food and drink, basking in the coziness of an early winter morning, and then spend an hour or so opening presents. The rest of the day will be a blur of time with family, eating more food and drinking more wine, watching Albert Finney's Scrooge, and trying to ward off the feelings of sleepiness.

It is the time of year when want is most keenly felt and abundance rejoices, Charles Dickens famously wrote in A Christmas Carol. How true those words are. It's the time when if you are without anything--money, food, family, friends, a certain person, direction in your life--you truly feel it more deeply, closer to the bone. But if you have plenty of those things, you'll realize just how fortunate you are.

For most of us, though, it's both: we have much, but we lack something. Both are fairly pronounced by the holiday season.

I have much good in my life--blessings which I'll count in private, I'm sure. I am even going into the holidays this year with my first book deal, which makes it even more special, particularly in dreaming of what great things will follow. Again, I don't mean money. I mean the sense of well-being that comes from having dreamt of something and worked extremely hard for it for a lot of years. I never thought those years, those minutes, those days, would be wasted, but it sure is nice to know it for sure, to have proof of something that--until now--I only believed in and that some others believed in.

I guess it's sort of like faith. I used to think that that was something that was missing from my life and, certainly, it was. But this year, it's different. I realize that I've gone into Christmas for many years now with a sense of lack, a feeling of having been left in the cold and not being allowed to sit at the big, fancy table. This year, I don't have that feeling. I have other feelings--more positive feelings--to replace them. Strange, but in those other years, I never had any trouble mustering that special feeling of Christmas. Maybe there's a reason for that. Maybe the feeling of want was keen, and that somehow I either identified it with Christmas, or compensated for it with Christmas.

Either way, I now know what's missing and why, feeling it or not, it's Christmas. The thing is to realize it, I suppose. The feeling will surely come, just like family will enter later this afternoon.

Be good to one another, but especially to yourself.


Monday, December 21, 2009

First review for Hard Ol' Spot

Just saw the first review for the Hard Ol' Spot anthology, this one coming from the Halifax Chronicle-Herald:

Nice start.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

My shortlisted entry to the Cuffer Prize '09 is published in The Telegram today, in case anyone's interested in a sample of my writing. The challenge was to write a 1200-word short story. Most of my stories are between 4,000 and 5,000 words, so it really was a challenge. This one, called "Treed," very much reflects my philosophy of life and the way in which I sometimes find myself at odds with a materialistic society. Plus, it was fun to write about a man who just wants to climb trees.

Hope you enjoy it.


Friday, December 11, 2009

Early Christmas Present

When I started writing this blog a couple of weeks ago, my intention was to write about the world of a would-be writer, someone who's been working hard for many years to fulfill the dream of being a published author. While I'd published some stories and won some awards, the publication of a full-length book of fiction had so far eluded me. There were times, I admit, when I'd considered giving up. Not many, but there was some dark nights of the soul when I wondered if this was ever going to happen for me.

Well, today it did happen. This afternoon at around 3:15 p.m., I signed a contract with Killick Press (an imprint of Creative Publishing) to publish my short story collection, Moonlight Sketches.

This changes everything, of course. I'm sleeping little enough as it is, but now I'll be kept up at night thinking about cover art, book launches, signings, and of course revisions and edits. There'll be all that and more.

But it feels good. Here I am, on the 11th day of December, perched on the precipice of a new beginning. My stories have been given a home.

Just wanted to share that. There can only be one first book for a writer, and Moonlight Sketches is mine.

So now this blog takes a new twist as I'll be writing about the whole process of getting this book from idea to page and into publication, with all that that involves.

This isn't the end, by any means. I've got novels to publish and others to write. And the road will be long.

Guess I'm on it now.


Monday, December 7, 2009

The Cuffer Anthology

I recently attended the launch of The Cuffer Anthology (2009), a collection of Cuffer Prize entries from the first annual competition run by The Telegram. It's the newspaper's attempt to support and, as far as I can tell, even discover and develop writing talent in Newfoundland. The anthology, published by Creative Publishers, contains the top twenty entries to last year's contest, selected by editor Pam Frampton from nearly two hundred entries. The adjudicators were Kathleen Winter, Russell Wangersky, and Joan Sullivan, all noted and respected writers in their own right.

At the same launch, the Cuffer Prize people announced the winners of this year's competition, with Chad Pelley taking top prize after placing third last year. Last year's winner, Josh Pennell, finished 3rd this year, and Jillian Butler took 2nd place. My own story, "Treed," was shortlisted (top 10) out of 160 entries or so, and I feel honoured that it did because I honestly didn't expect it to finish anywhere near that high. Winning wasn't even a possibility. I knew that on the night of the competition and even before. The writing talent in this place is just way too good for me to win a short story contest with a story I came up with in an hour a day or so before the deadline. The winners are deserving, no matter how long their stories took to tell. They wrote their hearts on that particular day when they composed those entries and are obviously talented. Congrats to all three of them.

I've won my share of arts and letters awards and that sort of thing, and I really don't understand why so-called "losers" get their noses out of joint. It just comes down to so many factors: who the judges are, what kind of writing the judges like, what the dynamics of the judges are (sometimes they don't get along so well together, which truly can decide the outcome), what kind of story you wrote, and whether you wrote your absolutely best story.

But even if you write your best story and the judges are amenable to your writing style, that still guarantees nothing because there are SO many fantastic writers out there. It's impossible to take it personally, and yet a lot of writers do. They start crying "Foul!", saying how the judging was biased and they all knew each other or recognized their buddy's writing style. I guess it could happen, but I really think it's rare. In fact, I know it does. I know for sure it's never happened in my favor. When I won the Percy Janes First Novel award (for a still-unpublished manuscipt called Finton Moon), the anonymous adjudicator was a well-known Canadian author who had no clue who I was. But it amazes me how many people, to this day, assumed he must have somehow known me and my writing style and that's the only way I could possibly have won.

Newsflash: If you're going to enter your stories and poems and novels in these contests, you need to assume the best in people and their intentions. Otherwise, don't send it. Keep it. Send it to a publisher. But then, some people have similar problems with publishers as they do with literary competitions. The world might be a little crooked, sure, but I truly believe most of it's pretty straight-up. I think talent eventually wins out. Not always, but usually.

So people keep saying, "Jeez, too bad you didn't win the Cuffer." To which I say, It would have been great to win. I mean, really, that's why I entered. That, and to challenge myself and to give myself a deadline for writing a new story. (Truthfully, that's always my main goal in entering any competition.) But am I surprised when I don't win? Sometimes. But not always. Sometimes, I've written what I absolutely know is a great story and it goes nowhere, for whatever reason. Usually, you know when you've got something good though. And those are the times when you can't be denied. But the "X" factor, again, is all that other talent out there. You don't have to go around thinking you're the best. You just have to know that you're good. If you're not a good writer, then I'm not sure why you'd enter such a competition or try to publish your drivel. But if you know you're good, then what's the problem? Isn't that enough to let you say what you want with your writing and then hope for the best? The odds are always against you. Write a good story, and the odds are considerably better in your favour.

I don't understand the need to be the "best" at all times--to be better than the next person who also happens to be pretty damn good--and I don't get the need to disparage winners and pity so-called "losers".

It was a good game. There's another game next year. And we all had fun.

There was free food, too. Great launch! And a hearty congrats to the winners. May you all pen great works and bestsellers, or at least write whatever makes you happy for the rest of your days.


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Naked Launch

The launch was a blast. I hope this book does well because it's full of amazing writers and good solid stories with a tinge of darkness, which is the kind of writing I like mostly. Someone asked me why that is recently, and all I could think of was that stories of loss, even if there is redemption, are just more interesting. I'm not sure that would hold up under scrutiny, but there ya go.

I did my reading last Tuesday night and it seemed to go over well. There were plenty of compliments on it, but I don't think anyone would actually come out and say it was a bad reading. It was a strange experience, though. There were a few friends there from MUN and a few people I knew from the writing community--Michael Crummey, Michelle Butler Hallet, Leslie Vryenhoek, to name a few. And I also glimpsed Chad Pelley, who recently won the Cuffer Prize for 2009. Of course, editor and now friend Mike Heffernan was there, along with the illustrator Darren Whalen, whose work is phenomenally good.

The great thing about the launch was the feeling that next day that I was sort of floating--and not just because I was tired. And it's not like it was my first public reading of my work. People kept telling me how much they enjoyed it or that they heard it was good. And, of course, The Telegram published a pretty nice photo the next day. I'm not a fan of having my picture taken, but that one came out better than most (it's not the one above, btw. I don't have a link to the one taken by Joe Gibbons at the newspaper.

I did feel a little naked up there. But it was fun reading an excerpt from my story, "Hold Out". Whenever people pay attention to you as a writer, that's a good thing. For the next few days, I've been feeling very creative, like I could write anything I put my mind to. Even came up with an ending for the novel I've been labouring on these many months. Can't wait for Christmas break. It could be epic. Funny how acting like a writer can make you feel like one. Huh.


Monday, November 23, 2009

Hard Ol' Spot Launch

Tuesday night, Nov. 24th, a bunch of people will gather at Bianca's bar from 7-9 p.m. to celebrate the launch of the new short story collection, Hard Ol' Spot: An Anthology of Atlantic Canadian Fiction.

It's mostly a collection of "dark fiction," featuring a lot of really good writers, including Michael Crummey, Michelle Butler Hallett, JoAnne Soper-Cook, Ramona Dearing, and many others. I have two stories in this collection, one called "Break, Break, Break" and the other called "Hold Out". I'll write more on those two stories another time.

I've actually been asked by to be one of the two featured readers at this launch, which I take to be a huge honour, considering all of the talent involved in this project. I'll take any exposure I can get as a writer, of course, and this is a chance to show people what I do.

Bianca's is a pretty cozy setting. When you enter the restaurant, there's a door on your right that leads to the room where they hold book launches. There's a bar to buy drinks and a table set up to buy the books, as well as a microphone where the readers will read to an undoubtedly captivated audience. Then people will stand around and talk to each other about everything and anything.

I've often thought that book launches were a lot like funeral wakes, where people stand around and talk about anything except the corpse in the room. But, again, I suppose that's a topic for another time, maybe after I've actually been to the launch and survived it.

It should be a good time. There'll be lots of people there that I know, writers and academics and some amphibious ones like myself.

Hope to see you there. If not, spare us a thought, maybe even buy a book.

Peace out.

Star date 11/23/09: The Dawn Treader Comes Late

I've put this off for too long. For a little over two years, I've been writing a rather amphibious blog called "Literary Pursuits" in which I've carried off two identities that, at times, were not so distinct from each other. I am a writer who teaches English at Memorial University, and so I spend all summer blogging about me and my various pursuits, especially fiction writing, and then in the fall of the year I switch over to blogging about matters related to teaching. At times, it's been an uneasy alliance, as I begin to feel like the infamous Dr. Henry Jekyll who attempts to keep his darker, hidden side at bay.

Well, like Jekyll, my Hyde will no longer be bound. I begin this blog, called "Gothic Times" as a way of unleashing my thoughts about the writing life and about life in general. My musings here have nothing whatsoever to do with teaching anyone anything about life, death, writing, fate, faith, comma splices, sentence fragments, or anything to do with dead poets and writers.

And yet, I intend to talk about it all. I will have no boundaries here. If you come to this blog, whether as a former student, a non-student, an aspiring writer, or just an interested bystander--or even a disinterested bystander--you will learn nothing about anything. Not that I've tried to teach you anyway.  See there?  A sentence fragment! And I didn't try to disguise it. I didn't try to stop it or correct it. I just let it be, in all its disfigured beauty.

I have been writing fiction for a few years now and have been publishing stories and winning some awards, while I've been writing novels as well. So far, publication of a book has eluded me, but I sense a shift in the literary wind and feel that it's time I started writing about my own writing, not just other people's. More to the point, I intend to write about me as if no one was listening or reading. I will not attempt to offend anyone, nor will I attempt to avoid such offense. I write not on behalf of any university or for any particular group. I will, in short, be my naturally optimstically skeptical self.

I intend to write about whatever interests me. If it's fixes for sentence structure or musings on Robert Frost you're after, you're in the wrong place.

But if you're honestly interested, mildly or strongly or somewhere in between, in what  I do, stay tuned. I've got tons to say.

And no one can stop me.

This is mine.  This is me, no holds barred.