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: