Tuesday, May 31, 2011
1) The 2011 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award Longlist was announced today, and two Biblioasis collections made the cut: Alexander MacLeod's Light Lifting and Clark Blaise's The Meagre Tarmac. Congrats to both. More information on the longlist can be found here.
2) As mentioned in another post, Cathy Stonehouse is guest-hosting The Afterword this week, and her second post, Lucky, is now up. Read it here.
3) Cathy Stonehouse was interviewed by Dan McPeake on SFU/CJSF's Encounters on Monday, which can be listened to here.
4) Reviews keep coming in for Light Lifting, including a few online at Corduroy Books
The Malahat Review
Foreword Reviews (not online, but the reviewer writes, in part:
5) It's worth mentioning that though Light Lifting did not win the Danuta Gleed Award -- that honour went to Billie Livingston (congrats!) -- it was one of the finalists. Congrats to Alex for that as well.
6) Another excellent review of The Meagre Tarmac was published recently in Quill & Quire. Not up yet, alas. But how many excellent reviews does a book have to get before you part with 19.95? It's had enough? Well, then: you're in luck, as Clark will be launching in Toronto -- alongside his wife Bharati Mukherjee -- at the Dora Keogh next Monday at 7 pm. It'll be one of the year's highlights, as far as I am concerned. And there will, of course, be books for sale.
7) Steven Beattie has continued his now yearly 31 Days of Short Stories, and he spent one of them analyzing Alexander MacLeod's story The Loop. You can read that essay here. The rest are worth checking out as well.
8) I hear that there is a very positive review of Terence Young's The End of the Ice Age in the current Fiddlehead, where it is suggested that this collection confirms the reviewer in his opinion that we are the press for the short story in Canada. We're thrilled, but really: who else would even want that title?
9) In non-short fiction news, Biblioasis poet Shane Neilson has been shortlisted for the Trillium Award for Poetry for his subsequent collection Complete Physical. Congrats to Shane!
10) A preview/excerpt of our forthcoming Wage Slave Glossary can be read in the July issue of Harpers.
Monday, May 30, 2011
Cathy Stonehouse, author of the just-released short-story collection Something About the Animal, is hosting The National Post's Afterword this week. In Of Badgers and Bookstores she wonders what will happen in a world where we don't have independent bookstores as cultural centres, as places where we can get our literary bearings:
I don’t go to church or frequent many bars but I do go to bookstores. I love the fact that they are so anonymous: the perfect place to fondle the raw edges of new paperbacks or discreetly sniff stuck-together pages for that new ink smell. I go there for the sensory overload, the sense of company, to trawl the shelves for serendipitous findings or just to remind myself that books are still there. I prefer not to talk, although I like the companionship of other customers, each on their own erotic quest, seeking companionship, a quiet, yearning restlessness in the air.
The crazy crowded logic of Jimbocho, Tokyo’s bookselling quarter, that tiny store in the Japanese town of Kushiro with its half shelf of English language books, the subterranean alternative bookshops of 1970s Manchester, the antiquarian delights of Charing Cross Road. Whenever I travel I seek out bookstores as entry points. I also visit them for moments of peace.
A good bookstore is a matchmaking enterprise. Rifling through musty volumes in Vancouver’s Macleod’s Books one day several years ago I chanced upon an old green leather-bound volume entitled The Life Story of a Badger, by J. C. Tregarthen. Inside the front cover was a bookplate stating it belonged to a Mr. and Mrs. Brooke. Pasted into the back was a yellowing newspaper clipping on “Men and Badgers,” alongside penciled-in notes about the Brooke family motto. Slid into the pages were several newspaper articles and postcards depicting badgers.
I am a badger-phile. These tenacious, occasionally ferocious black and white creatures that shy away from humans fascinate me, not least because they are native to where I grew up. So I seized on the book with great delight. Its melodramatic tale of a badger named Brock, who escapes being hunted and trapped, is a piece of writing few would perhaps appreciate, yet clearly the Brookes were inspired by this fable of their namesake. I will treasure it also.
A good bookstore is not just a place where books are sold but one where connections are forged between past and future. It’s also a place where literary community is formed. When I arrived in Vancouver twenty years ago I knew nothing about West Coast Canadian literature. I also did not have many friends. But browsing the shelves of R2B2 Books in Kitsilano I overheard fascinating literary conversations. Dawdling in the aisles of Octopus Books on Commercial Drive I learned about local readings, got to know local writers. In People’s Co-op I browsed the rotating chapbook stand. In Duthie’s I surveyed the vast range of Canadian fiction titles, and in Ariel, the Women’s Bookstore and Women in Print I learnt about SKY Lee, Dionne Brand and Ethel Wilson.
Would I be able to do any of this online?
To read the rest of her post please go here. And please check back at The Afterword over the following days for more from Cathy.
Saturday, May 28, 2011
Just in from BEA in New York, an exciting if absolutely exhausting stretch away from
To read the whole review, please go here.
Friday, May 27, 2011
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Friday, May 20, 2011
Last Night Alex MacLeod's Light Lifting won The Margaret and John Savage First Book Award at the Atlantic Book Award gala. Light Lifting was also nominated for the Thomas Raddall Award, won by Biblioasis-alumni Kathleen Winter for Annabel. Congratulations to both Alex and Kathleen.
So you haven't yet picked up Clark Blaise's brilliant The Meagre Tarmac? Well, Douglas Glover's Numero Cinq is going to let you test-drive one of the stories, one of my favourites in the collection, Waiting for Romesh. Douglas introduces the story this way:
Thursday, May 19, 2011
Over at That Shakespearean Rag, Steven Beattie continues his 31 Days of short stories by focusing on one of Alexander MacLeod's, from his Giller nominated (Danuta Gleed-nominated; Commonwealth-nominated; doubly Atlantic Book Award nominated) Light Lifting:
For his full analysis please go here.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
No. 81/Spring, 2011
CNQ is dedicated to exploring the alleys and roads less travelled of Canadian literature. No fawning profiles of hot authors, in other words. No reports on six-figure advances or who’s travelling to Pyongyang on behalf of PEN or what publisher is earning 70 per cent of its revenue from e-books. What matters here is the backward glance (the latest issue contains a lengthy interview with Anna Porter from 1998), the appreciation, the rumination, the memoir.
Indeed, one of the highlights of its spring edition is Marko Sijan’s frequently ribald account of his Sisyphean struggle to get his first novel published by Toronto’s defunct Gutter Press. It’s a tale of big egos and little money, delay and prevarication, self-loathing and sex, told with a refreshing and brutal frankness. Sijan’s a rogue and not necessarily a lovable one: At one point he writes that it took him two years to “refine” his novel’s 132 pages “because I was very busy teaching English as a second language and having sex with my Japanese, Korean, Brazilian and Mexican students. And smoking pot. A lot of pot.” BTW, the novel, now called Mongrel, is set to be published 12 years after Sijan first pitched it to Gutter.
So: head on down to your closest newsstand and pick up a copy. Or better yet, subscribe.
For the whole review please go here.
Monday, May 16, 2011
I can't continue writing a short story until I get the first paragraph right. That paragraph establishes the voice, the tone, the mood, the rhythm -- in short, the world the short story will occupy. And of course the first sentence is the door that opens onto that world. An instructor of mine (or perhaps I read this somewhere) claimed that the first paragraph of a short story is the story in microcosm. I'm not sure this is always true -- some stories build slowly from unpromising beginnings -- but for me the best stories have opening paragraphs that function as the "unexploded metaphor" of the story (the term is Adele Wiseman's, in relation to poetry)
Whenever I bog down in a story, I go back to that first paragraph, and first sentence, to re-discover what the story wants to be. Finding the tone and voice and rhythm is key. I often read aloud to establish that rhythm in my head, though it has to be a subtle and improvised one, not a steady beat. The whole area of rhythm in prose is woefully under-explored by critics. For me it's an essential element in the story's scaffolding.
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Clark Blaise begins "How Stories Mean" with the following paragraph:
"The most interesting thing about a story is not its climax or dénouement - both dated terms - nor even its style and characterization. It is its beginning, its first paragraph, often its first sentence. More decisions are made on the bases of the first few sentences of a story than on any other part, and it would seem to me after having read thousands of stories, and beginning hundreds of my own, (completing, I should add, far fewer), that something more than luck accounts for the occasional success of the operation. What I propose is theoretical, yet rooted in the practice of writing and of reading-as-a-writer; good stories can start unpromisingly, and well-begun stories can obviously degenerate, but the observation generally holds: the story seeks its beginning, the story many times is its beginning, amplified."
1) How important is the first sentence to your own writing or reading process?
2) What are one or two of your favourite first sentences (of your own work or someone else's), and why?
This quotation from Mr. Blaise, whom I truly do revere, is puzzling to me. Does he mean the first sentence I write of the story, or the first sentence that, in its published, allegedly final form of the story, that the reader reads? To me, those are two separate entitities that do, occasionally, coincide.
The first sentence I write is very important to me. I'll often have a first sentence for a story in mind long before I know what the second sentence or anything after will be. As often as not, these first sentences will turn out to be just the germ of an idea, a mechanism to create the whole story. Later, like supports falling away from the space shuttle, the whole initial mechanism will be cut, and only the story it spawned will remain. I'll cut it myself, or an editor will, or something from the middle or ending of the story will get fished out and put up front.
There's also another set of first sentences that I've written that just turned out to be personal fetishes that went nowhere--the sentence was s nothing more than a sentence, portending...nothing.
That's me as a writer. As a reader, I think of opening sentences in "finished" stories as I imagine an architect might think about doors--you can't get by without them, they serve a definite structural purpose, and while there are infinite choices to be made in a door's or first sentence's construction, if it fails in its purpose of allowing ingress, then it isn't really a door at all.
Did that make sense? What I mean is that I want a first sentence to be interesting enough to make someone keep reading, but also containing information actually useful to the rest of the story. Short stories are short, and usually begin in medias rez without much time to explain; every sentence counts and I can't waste even one on something merely stylish.
1) The first sentence means everything to me, as a reader and a writer. Personally I know I am better at beginnings than endings. I can’t even start a story until I have the right first sentence. It sets the tone, the rhythm, establishes the voice. It can be light, faux throwaway, with a sting in the tail, deliberately obtuse, or an image that stands in for the entire story, a kind of thesis statement.
I like to begin without preamble or explanation, drop into complexity and hack my way out. I have files of first sentences and first paragraphs in search of development. They are like unsolved puzzles, unopened gifts. Sometimes I am afraid of opening them in case what’s inside proves disappointing or doesn’t work.
I relish a good first sentence; roll it around in my mouth.
Occasionally when I’m too busy to read I take a few minutes to sit with a book of stories and read their first sentences, or the first sentences of novel chapters. It can be almost as satisfying as reading the whole thing (but of course not quite).
2) “It still counts, even though it happened when he was unconscious.” Miranda July: “The Shared Patio.”
“When my mother died, my father’s early widowhood gave him social cachet he would not have had if they had divorced.” Amy Hempel: “The Afterlife.”
I love the disconnection in both of these, the understated normalizing of bizarre points of view. Each statement implies an entire life, & immediately sets up a situation, character/relationship and outlook a writer could take years to fully explore. These examples happen to be from American writers, but there are so many it’s hard to pick! Rebecca Rosenblum in particular has some great ones.