November 20, 2014
Canada Reads has not been interesting to me for several years, in large part because the crowd-sourcing of recommendations has led to a lot of predictable, already-lauded frontlist books being chosen to represent the year’s theme, no matter what it was. For anyone who follows CanLit, the lists for the last three Canada Reads have been deeply boring. Deserving, sure; but dull.
There is something about this year that has roused my optimism, however. “One book to break barriers,” they want. Surely this theme, of all themes, lends itself to new, unexpected, barrier-breaking nominees? They want challenging books. They want – now, don’t get cynical here on me. We’re still in the honeymoon phase – to upset the status quo.
In the wake of the Ghomeshi scandal, Wab Kinew is not the ideal Canada Reads host. Don’t get me wrong – I love Kinew to pieces and think he will do a brilliant job. But given all that we have learned about institutionalized sexism and cultures of harassment over the last weeks, Canada Reads – and Q – really needed a woman at the podium.
But Canada Reads isn’t about the host. It is about the books, and there is absolutely no reason this year cannot be a slate of fresh, challenging, smart, and feminist Canadian books.
While we’re breaking barriers, let’s break a few more. It’s high time Canada Reads had more of our incredible range of literary speculative fiction on its slate. It’s time for our outstanding Young Adult authors to have a place. Sadly, they are not inviting short story collections this year – fie – but non-fiction is welcome at the table.
I have a few ides.
Toronto’s Ashby writes science fiction which deftly goes out of its way to do exactly what science fiction does best: turn societal norms inside out to show us how messed up things are here and now. Her struggling android protagonists expose smart truths about race, gender, and power without losing sight of the tight, thriller-like plot.
Sweet’s debut novel is a dark fantasy filled with magic and monsters, but at its heart is the story of a vulnerable young woman who finds herself under the power of an abusive teacher. Sweet uses fantasy to explore the complexities of how powerful (and charismatic) man can trap and harm even the most talented women. Topical? Yes.
Bobet’s debut young adult novel is rich not only in wonderful, poetic language, but in what it has to say about identity and belonging. Her “Freaks” live deep beneath a city that does not love them, a sort-of-Toronto every bit as problematic as the one we have here. Despite jacket copy tat makes it sound like a boilerplate YA paranormal romance, Above is philosophically nuanced and emotionally demanding of its readers.
Jo Walton’s “science fiction with a fantasy problem” novel is another example of rich language layered on enchanting worldbuilding and exciting plot with a painful story of a young woman who has lost so much at its core. It is also funny, touching, whimsical and a delight to read – but the biggest barrier it pushes is in how this is very much a story about women, and only women. Witches and fairies, yes, but mothers and daughters and sisters and aunts.
Hiromi Goto’s 1994 classic about three generations of Japanese-Canadian women is so much weirder, more wonderful, and more experimental than I had expected. Another story of “identity and belonging”, Canada’s favourite subject, this one is infused with Japanese folklore in a distinctly postmodern sort of way. Stories are couched within stories, blurring the lines between whose story if being told and whether anything being told is a story. In addition – this is an older classic of Asian-Canadian literature from a small Canadian press. Just the sort of thing Canada Reads is meant to help readers discover!
So, from now until November 30th 2014, Tweet, Facebook or email your suggestions to the CBC! I won’t tell you what I’m going to put forth, but spoiler: it’s on this list. I hope you’ll follow my lead!
November 19, 2014
In the brave new world of the self-publish wild, it is becoming more and more common for people who know nothing – and I mean nothing – about publishing to find themselves in the position of being full-time publishers. It is also perfectly possible for someone to publish a very good book without learning anything about publishing along the way. This is why, mid-summer 2013, I took on the role of editing PSG Publishing‘s first short story anthology, Library of Dreams.
I’m an editor, I thought. I have been fixing people’s grammar and spotting typos for, like, ten years! No problem, I thought. No problem.
I don’t know how it had previously escaped my notice that an anthology editor and a copy editor have two very different jobs, but it had. It took some time for the reality of what I had agreed to do to dawn on me. And it didn’t so much “dawn”, gradually over time like the rising sun, as it swamped me, like a flash-flood.
PSG’s project leads chose a theme and a charity, and I put together submission guidelines. Stories began to trickle in, manageably at first. Many of the writers were going through the submissions process for the first time, so I fielded questions and lend encouragement. Maya Starling put together a book cover that was so slick, we instantly looked more professional than publishers who’ve been in the game for years. Things were quiet and under control until the end of the summer.
Then came the deadline. I had 14 stories, but not all of them were ready to go to print. There were revisions to make, content to clarify, changes to finalize. Some of the newer writers had never used Track Changes, nor done a substantial revision. In one case, I asked for a revision and got an entirely different story back. One writer pulled out at the last minute. One still hasn’t submitted his contract. I gave us all the month to get the stories ready to be copy-edited. We missed my deadline by two weeks.
By the fall of 2013 I had coached, copy-edited, revised, and copy-edited again 14 stories and my job had only just begun. Sink or swim, self.
I learned enough legalese to write contracts. I picked fonts and dingbats. I agonized over what order to put the stories in, laid it all out in rough, and then changed my mind about everything. I signed a contract with LitWorld and applied for an ITIN – an American tax ID. Maya did all the heavy lifting of formatting the book for Createspace, Kindle and Smashwords, but then we had to proofread all three editions again – twice.
By the time we released the book on December 15th, 2013, I had been working on it full-time for three months. And it was worth every. Single. Minute. Library of Dreams is clean, beautiful, and best of all – good reading.
If last year was a flash flood that nearly drowned me, this year was a trans-Atlantic swim for which I was trained and fit. Oh, it was hard. Everybody at PSG – especially Maya Starling, Yzabel Ginsberg, Ang Thomas, Tim McFarlane, Kim Fry, Laura Perry, and ALL our authors – worked their butts off to get the book together in a way we could all be proud of. But we were ready this time and I think it shows.
Chamber of Music launched on Friday, November 14th 2014 – a full month earlier than last year – and is now available in paperback and ebook from Amazon, Smashwords, and a host of other online sources. Proceeds from its sales will be donated to Musicians Without Borders. I hope you’ll have a look!
October 16, 2014
I have to admit that I was feeling glum about the state of the world this week. Until I read the special Fantasy Magazine special issue – Women Destroy Fantasy! – and the wonderful Kingfisher story in it. I loved it so much I went out and did a round up of a trio of excellent retellings of classic tales over at Apex Magazine. Have a look!
October 6, 2014
Two years ago, I decided I was going to be a real writer.
This was the third or fourth time I had made the same decision. When I was 8, I wrote my first “book”, a complete retelling of the Princess Bride, starring me as the Man in Black, minus any princesses. In high school, I decided I was serious enough to fill a proper portfolio, attending several “Young Author’s Workshops” whose mandate and sponsorship still remains a bit vague to me – though I did meet Michael Ondaatje. After running away from home, I came back to graduate high school and wrote on a slip of paper that I intended to “write the Great Canadian Novel” after graduation. They didn’t read that part out.
I did NaNoWriMo a few times between 2004 and 2007. I entered the Three Day Novel Writing Contest. I started writing mildly-successful erotica. I never finished anything. I was flailing, dabbling. I picked up and dropped writing projects at the same speed that I cycled through jobs, boyfriends, apartment. I was not a real writer – I was a dilettante.
When I got pregnant in 2007, I decided it was time to get serious. There was every chance I wasn’t going to be able to go back to work when my maternity leave was up and I needed something to fall back on. I pulled up my NaNoWriMo novel from 2004 and vowed to finish it. It was boring, but I had to do it to prove that I could. It sucked, but I did it. I finished the novel and put it straight into a trunk. I didn’t write another thing for five years.
Two years ago, something changed. I was 32, had two kids, a steady partner and job. I was “happy”, if bored. All of the flashes of glory and glamour I had enjoyed over the past 15 years had amounted to nothing. I had always been able to shine at whatever I did, but had never had the gumption to stick with anything. It was easy to be good enough at something to get your foot in the door, but getting great at something was harder to figure out. I was too flighty, too anxious, too easily distracted, and too easily bored. Of course I could write. I was even good at it. But being a real writer was something else entirely.
Two years ago I decided I would stick with it. No matter how bad I thought I was. No matter how many rejections I got. No matter how often my beta readers told me they “didn’t get it”. No matter how many long, dead hours I spent on words that would never see the light of day, that had none of the instant gratification I was used to. No matter how many other opportunities came my way which seemed shiny and new and exciting. I was going to learn focus and tenacity.
I had always thought of “hard work” as “work on the difficult setting,” which I could conveniently circumvent by being talented enough that it wasn’t very hard at all. But it isn’t. “Hard work” is doing something you don’t want to do. It means forcing yourself through whatever makes you sweat. For me, that was staying put. It was getting up again and again and doing the same thing I had done the day before, without succumbing to the need for change, the thrill of novelty. It meant trying again and again. Writing more and more. Every day. Forever, if that’s how long it took.
It took two years. I am pleased to be able to say that my short story, “La Héron”, has been accepted for publication by C.C. Finlay for his guest-edited issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction. My first sale at pro rates, and the first goal post I had set for myself.
Now it’s head back down to the grind. It took me a stubborn 34 years, but I think I’ve learned my first lesson. The only real trick is to keep at it. One day after another, one word after another.
I’m a real writer now.