November 10th, 2016
So, I usually watch and report on the Giller Prize broadcast and here we are again at that time of year. I didn’t do a live-blog, taking notes in the moment this year, because I had had a brief choking incident about half an hour before and spent the show lying in Mark’s lap. I did pay pretty good attention to it though, and had a bunch of cheerful, gently snarky things to say about it that I was saving for this space, but then Tuesday happened with all of its apocalyptic strangeness, and it no longer seemed worthwhile to comment on weird musical segways or lovely evening gowns.
Nor, however, am I able to comment on the election, except to say that I am unsurprisingly unhappy and that we terrified our cats by getting up repeatedly in the night to check returns, never a good sign. Kerry wrote a great post about getting to the work of reacting to this change in global politics, and I really hope to do that very soon.
In the meantime, though, I feel like telling you about my evening last night. Even before the choking and the election, I am having by any standards a pretty terrible autumn, and last night was the first time in a while where I just had a peaceful productive evening and didn’t have anything to freak out or waste time being miserable about. It was great. Here’s what I did:
I had a doctor’s appointment downtown so I got to leave work early, and then the buses actually ran on-time for once so I was able to use my buffer time to run an errand and then read John Metcalf’s book in the waiting room. And then the doctor was running late as the doctors in this office ALWAYS do, but instead of meekly accepting it I said I needed a realistic time when they’d see me. I’m disappointed in the universe that what it took to win this argument was “My husband is picking me up and I need to tell him what time” but as I have been kept waiting up to two hours in this office before, any victory is helpful. And they actually did give me a time that was approximately correct and I was able to meet Mark and walk home with him. And it was a cold but bright evening and all the downtown people were heading home and it was nice to be one of them for once (I work in the burbs).
When we got home I fed the cats and caught up on the work emails I missed while Mark put in the laundry and checked his own emails. Then I got started on a batch of cookies and the sun went down and Mark put the clothes in the drier and made dinner. Dinner was fish-sticks because I have decided that we can have convenience foods once a week because life is exhausting. I haven’t had fish-sticks since I was a child and they weren’t truly good, but they were filled with nostalgia and that was nice. I put hoisin sauce on them though.
And I finished the cookies and did the dishes and Mark brought the laundry up and we chatted and folded it while the cats ran around being nuts, as is their wont. And then we were finally done all the chores and ate a few cookies. Then Mark read for a bit in the living room and I got to work on my essay on Russell Smith that I have been trying to finish forever. I finally had an evening of work that didn’t feel like a failure–I actually felt a little proud of what I wrote.
And then I felt tired and went to bed–an incredible luxury, to just go to bed when you’re tired–and I actually slept well, also rare lately.
Such a nice, normal, useful evening. I am grateful
November 11th, 2015
And not last night, as I erroneously said in my previous post. I am very excited for the live-stream, starting in a few minutes unless I or the CBC somehow screws it up…
First commercial break: I do not understand any of the jokes in the opening monologue, but always happy to see Rick Mercer again. The room looks glamorous but I don’t spot anyone I know yet. The mini-interviews with Rick and the authors take place in the Halifax public library this year and are very mini–maybe there’s more later [edit: there wasn’t]. Buffy Saint Marie does Andre Alexis’s *Fifteen Dogs* intro–a better choice of presenter than usual, though she still sounds very scripted. The mini-movie that accompanies Alexis’s reading is awesome, because it’s full of dogs–much more engaging than any I’ve seen in previous years. Coming up next: Samuel Archibald’s *Arvida*.
Second commercial break: A ballet-dancer presents *Arvida*, but it turns out to make more sense than it sounds because the dancer grew up in Arvida (the town the book is set in) and so he can vouch for its accurate vibe. He also sounds very scripted but is pretty enthusiastic (also handsome). The mini-movie, this time with archival footage from the town back in the day, is again pretty good–the GIllers have really upped their mini-movie game. Archibald’s tiny speech is for his daughters and partly in French, very sweet. He’s shown in a video clip picking a question from a hat–is this going to be a reoccuring feature throughout the show?? How come Andre didn’t get to do one? Or did I miss it?
Third commercial break: Rachel Cusk’s outline is introduced by a “science-fiction actor” (not a thing) and her mini-movie is just shots of people doing the things being described in the reading, a bit boring and on the nose–did Cusk draw the short straw? Her mini-speech is about how grateful she is to have hung out with the other nominees though, which is an excellent thing to say. Then Mercer does a “comic” bit that he did last year, alleging he’s written a memoir about his interactions with Canadian politicians but needs help with the metaphors, to coax the nominees into playing a mad-libs type game. It’s really silly and not funny. An opera singer introduces Heather O’Neill’s *Daydreams of Angels*, which is still not a logical choice but she does have a wonderful presentation style. The mini-movie for O’Neill’s book is really good, sparkly and simple. Her question from the hat is from Patrick DeWitt and her answer is funny.
Forth commercial break: The judges are introduced but not invited to the stage or allowed to speak–they just stand in a clump in the audience and then sit back down. That seems shameful considering how hard they worked. Pleased to hear Alex MacLeod get a big round of applause–everyone loves that guy–but they all deserve that and much more. The presenter for Anakana Schofield’s *Martin John* is the director of TIFF, which makes even less sense than most of the presenters, but he is the only one who sounds like he’s speaking extemporaneously, from a genuine sense of respect for the book. The mini-movie is fine, I like the public transit scenes. AK looks fantastic in her flow purple dress and her mini-speech is sweet. Next up: the winner!!!
Fifth commercial break: There was no speech from Jack Rabinovich this year, or from any of the bank guys. There was a brief shuffle over the envelope and who got to read it–I was just asking Mark when someone was going to say that for the price of a meal out in Toronto, you could buy all the shortlisted books when he shushed me–the envelope was open!!!
*Fifteen Dogs* won. Alexis gave a dignified but sweet speech and then it was all over. As the winner was announced I yelled, “I am shocked!” because I genuinely loved Anakana Schofield’s *Martin John* enough to be blind to the possibility of any other book winning. Which is a pretty stupid position for someone who has not read three out of five of the nominated books, and who understands that other people, including lit juries, have agency and different subjectivities from her.
Schofield posted some lovely things about being happy for Alexis on social media and others in the community seem pretty thrilled, too, so I’m going to try to take that to the bank. I’m less dejected than I was last night (hence the delayed posting)–really, so many great books got celebrated, a bunch of deserving authors got money and a fancy dinner and some well-deserved attention, and because of who the jury is I’m sure *15 Dogs* is a great book, though I probably still won’t read it…or perhaps I will. It was an interesting couple months running up to this event, and an interesting event too. I should be feeling lucky that my country celebrates authors like this, and mainly I do…but I was so sure I was right!!
November 1st, 2015
It’s a controversial position, but I love the Gillers! The endless run-up with the long-list, the short-list, all the readings and finally, the night, the glam ball and the awkward awards show that I love and blog every year. I started watching/live-blogging in 2010 because Alexander’s Macleod’s Light Lifting was on the shortlist, and I couldn’t have loved that book more if Macleod had written it expressly for my tastes. And then Sarah Selecky’s collection This Cake Is for the Party was up too, and I like her and that book very much, and so I decided to watch. The broadcast was weird, Sarah and Alex didn’t get to talk much, and a different book won–but that author seemed nice too and I got so engrossed I decided I needed to keep doing it.
Don’t get me wrong–I don’t think Giller Prize designates the best book in Canada–just one that 3 (or 5) smart people happen to like very much. But there’s nothing wrong with finding out what that is! I don’t find myself very swayed by nomination lists or even the prizes themselves–it’s a rare book that I wasn’t intending to read until it got a prize nod, and then I read it.
Normally, what happens is that i will see the longest and note which books on there I was planning to read anyway, and then jump those up in the queue so that I have read them by the time the prize is announced. This didn’t work out last year owing to a slow library holds system, but in general there’s a couple books on my hot list that coincide with the Giller list, so I have someone to root for. It took until 2013 for a book I’d read–Lynn Coady’s Hellgoing to win, which was an excellent experience but really I love the show either way.
This year was especially rich–when the longest was announced, there were two books on it I had already read and two more I wanted to read. I figure the overlap might have something to do with Macleod, who is on this year’s jury–if he could write the exact book I wanted to read, perhaps he could also select a list of other books I also want to read.
Let’s be clear–no offence to the books that I won’t be reading. We all know I could quit my job and stop talking to humans right now, reading, eating and sleeping for the next 50 years, and never read close to all of even the best books in existence. It’s just not doable–so I try not to feel guilty about what I pick. Anyway, the books I had read were Russell Smith’s Confidence and Michael Christie’s If I Fall, If I Die, both of which I really admire, so things were already going well. I quickly moved on to Anakana Schofield’s Martin John and it stopped me dead.
There is no other book like it–not that I’ve read. Even Malarky, Schofield’s very wonderful first novel, does not achieve the radical newness with language, the eviscerating emotional freefall, the sheer weirdness of Martin John. When Mark asked me about it, I said it was good and then ran out of things to say–it’s hard to encapsulate. But it’s going to win. I figured it would either get dropped off the short list–including in the longlist only as a token bit of experimentation–or it would win. Since MJ is on the shortlist, it’s going to win. I’m certain. How could it not?
That said, I haven’t read the full list. I went on and read Daydreams of Angels by Heather O’Neill, which is certainly very good but I didn’t love it as much as her previous books. I’ll probably stop there because I’m working on a bookish essay and just have a bunch else I want to read but nevertheless I’m convinced that I’m going to get to hear Anakana’s speech up on that stage and it’s going to be amazing.
I was thrilled when Coady won and I really enjoyed and admired Hellgoing, but I wouldn’t have been upset or surprised if it hadn’t won. It was a good book in a field of good books. Martin John is something different, something I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since I read it. I am SO excited to watch the Gillers, though I think I might be crushed if another of the very good books wins. It’s interesting to be this invested, when I haven’t been before. Skin in the game, I guess.
So stay tuned for the Gillers on November 9 and a very het up blog post from me….
November 11th, 2014
8:41pm: Sitting around being excited for the show to start, allegedly doing some of my own work. This is my worst Giller year to date, in that I have read none of the shortlisted books. I asked Mark earlier if he remembered who is on the shortlist, and he got exasperated with me and asked why I wanted to watch if I don’t know who is nominated. Married 2 years and still he doesn’t understand me. Then he listed the nominees. I have decided to root for Heather O’Neill’s *The Girl Who Was Saturday Night* because that is the book I’m closest to having read–I’ve ordered it from the library and is currently listed as “in transit.”
I’m excited to see Rick Mercer, whom I’ve always liked, and see if I can pick out my agent Samantha Haywood and other friends and acquaintances in the crowd. I am excited to finally find out what Heather O’Neill looks like and whether she can pull of an evening gown. I’ve excited to see whether this enterprise will even succeed or if I won’t be able to get the streaming to work, or the time will have been mislisted–see my Giller post in 2012. In fact, here’s the whole archive, just in case: Giller Reviews.
8:54: Ok, after finding the website, taking a survey that asked me how I heard about the Gillers and seemed to indicate that I would be taking it after the event had happened, then going to a different website, I have found what appears to be the link to the livestream. I think I will go microwave some frozen fruit to snack on while I wait out the last 5 minutes….
8:59: And we’re back–got fruit, got Mark, no cats allowed because they are jerks. Let’s do this thing!!
Commercial break #1: Oh, I do like Rick Mercer. So charming–and the accent–“ONprecdented.” He pointed out that Carol Off was in the crowd and then joked that when people think of the CBC they should think of Carol Off. We were impressed that he got in a sly Jian Ghomeshi joke when those had been forbidden.
There was a series of flash interviews with Mercer and the authors. Mercer did mug for the camera a good bit, but it was definitely the most relaxed set of Giller interviews in my experience. And the funniest–Miriam Toews will put her prize money towards a pair of Sorels.
Someone named Kim Coates from something called *Sons of Anarchy* (band? Tv show?) present the David Bezmogis bit. The mike was too short for Coates and he was very obviously reading off a telepromter: all his pauses were in the wrong spots. The mini-movie of The Betrayers had the author reading a bit, and describing the book. Then back to poor awkward Coates, who described the book some more. Then Bezmogis was invited on the stage to get a leather-bound copy of his book and say a few thankyous, which was a nice touch. Some years the authors don’t get to talk at all unless they win.
The guy from Murdoch Mysteries introduced Frances Itani’s Tell. He at least could perform as though he wasn’t reading a teleprompter. The pattern from the previous presentation followed for this one (and all). All of the mini movies were filled with shadowy figures and spooky or flickering lighting–I really don’t know why they go to the trouble of making these videos when they all look so generic. Itani said some nice thank yous as well
Commercial break #2: Judges got introduced–no action there. Then we got the guy from Moist–David Usher, Mark remembers–introducing Sean Michaels Us Conductors for some reason. Again, there never appears to be any connection between the presenters and what they’re presenting, though Usher at least seemed pleased to be there. So did Michaels–his thank yous were stammering and delighted. Cute.
Someone from Hot Tub Time Machine introduced Heather O’Neill’s The Girl Who Was Saturday Night–interestingly, this was the first presenter who seemed to convey genuine enthusiasm for the book in question. O’Neill’s video was semi-interesting, but I’m starting to think I actually hate the video segements. I’m pleased to find out O’Neill is very pretty, but wearing some sweater/blouse combo and no evening dress at all. I liked when she thanks her daughter from the stage, and I liked her outfit even if it was not an evening dress.
Commercial break #3: Another Mercer interview bit with a mad-libs type “first paragraph of my novel” set up–again, actually pretty funny. And then–shockingly–an actual author introduced Miriam Toews novel All My Puny Sorrows. Naomi Klein did the honours handily–Mark has read the novel and thought the intro was perfect–but Miriam Toews somewhat awkwardly thanked her for taking time out from her fight “against the man” to be there.
Commercial break #4: Some nice piano playing by a guy whom Mark recognized but I didn’t (are we getting from this post that Mark is more culturally current than I am?) I’ve been noticing throughout that this seems to be a more casual Giller–people look less like they’ve been to a stylist or borrowed a dress from a fancy store; more like they’ve been borrowing dresses and suits from their siblings and parents. Deepa Mehta did a great job, very emotional and enthusiastic, introducing the last book Padma Viswanathan’s The Ever After of Ashwin Rao. But there have been too many commercial breaks and I’m ready for this to be over.
Commercial break #5: Jack Rabinovich says his customer line about how dinner out in Toronto costs as much buying all the short-listed books, so eat at home and read. I’m not sure where he usually dines, but hey, it’s not bad advice. Then some bank guy opened the envelope and the winner is… Us Conductors!!
Mark and I said “whoa!” in unison–that was an unexpected ending! I wasn’t expecting Michaels to be able to do a polished speech since he was so flustered earlier, but it was actually very well-prepared, a bit emotional but also very professional. His wife, who in purple lace was probably wearing my favourite outfit of the night, was weeping.
The thankyous were long and address everything from his writing group to (obliquely) Ghomeshi. At one point, a long shot showed Mercer getting ready to say something on a different stage, but Michaels thanked for so long the livestream ended before that happened. Honestly, I was happy to hear all the thank yous and think the director made the right choice.
Best Giller show ever? Yes, I think so–funny, unobtrusive host, 2/5 genuinely meaningful presenters, all the writers get to talk, all the writers get money (not done until this year), and an articulate and humble winner.
Well done, Giller people! See you next year!
September 16th, 2014
I’ve been wanting to write something on literary envy for a while now–by which I mean being envious of others’ literary achievements or accolades (not characters in literature being envious, as I just realized this could be interpreted). And then this morning in Jessica Westhead’s Twitter feed (which, like most things JW does, is interesting and you should check out) I saw on article on that very topic. It’s Nathan Rabin’s Salon piece on being envious of John Green. It is an excruciatingly honest piece on feeling bad about how Rabin and Green were casual friends, then grew apart and Green got crazy successful. Rabin, who was pretty successful in his own right and also apparently not even in touch with Green, felt miserable in the face of Green’s gargantuan achievements. And fair enough–if you’re going to make that comparison you’re probably going to feel bad about yourself.
Myself, I’m hardly immune to literary envy (of the first kind), but it would never occur to me to be upset by someone like Green–I mean, let’s dwell in reality for a second and realize I’m never going to be a cult rock-star author whom young girls weep about the possibility of seeing in the flesh. Really, I’m ok with that–I can’t even see him from here, just read and enjoy the books. If I met him, I think I would just be pleasantly fannish and hope he remembered my name.
It’s the people are a couple rungs up from me that sometimes unsettle me a bit–I can see them from here, so very clearly. And everything a writer does–maybe everything anybody does professionally–is about getting a little better, working a little harder, accomplishing a little more than you’ve done already? So why can’t I get to that next rung?
A good answer, both for Nathan Rabin and for me, comes from Dear Sugar, the pseudonym of the (very successful) writer Cheryl Strayed. Sugar wrote a column on this very subject, and it was really inspiring to me. I’m actually not a very envious person most of the time, and so while I have definitely had days of staring at Facebook and feeling sorry for myself, most of the time I can get past it and feel good about deserving people reaping excellent rewards.
Sugar’s advice is powerful and helpful for those of us with even a touch of the green-eyed monster, though–I promise to slow down on those Facebook spirals after rereading this…
“You know what I do when I feel jealous? I tell myself to not feel jealous. I shut down the why not me? voice and replace it with one that says don’t be silly instead. It really is that easy. You actually do stop being an awful jealous person by stopping being an awful jealous person. When you feel like crap because someone has gotten something you want you force yourself to remember how very much you have been given. You remember that there is plenty for all of us. You remember that someone else’s success has absolutely no bearing on your own. You remember that a wonderful thing has happened to one of your literary peers and maybe, if you keep working and if you get lucky, something wonderful may also someday happen to you.
“And if you can’t muster that, you just stop. You truly do. You do not let yourself think about it. There isn’t a thing to eat down there in the rabbit hole of your bitterness except your own desperate heart. If you let it, your jealousy will devour you.”
It’s just such simple basic advice that will, at the very least, allow the struggling writer to have more friends–and we could all use those.
Another thing that just occurred to me is that I am posting this on Giller day. I’ve actually seen nothing but supportive loveliness online today, but if there’s anyone out there secretly feeling less than lovely, please read Sugar’s column (and maybe don’t read Rabin’s–while honest and heartfelt, it won’t exactly make you feel better).
February 18th, 2014
Last fall I read about 550 short stories in two months for the CBC Canada Writes contest. I was a big crazy slalom, but I enjoyed myself and learned a lot. If you’re not familiar with Canada Writes contest, it’s pretty prestigious and pretty challenging–I read that many stories and I was one of TWELVE readers. In addition to the very stiff competition, the word count on the contest makes it all but impossible for me to even enter–1500 words MAX. I’m not really that kind of writer lately–I felt like I’d all but forgotten how to write an effective story in that tight a space and I was hoping that helping out with the contest would help me relearn that skill. It did, to some degree, but all really good short stories are truly just their own thing and while there’s a glimmer of “oh, I see how you did that” mainly the spell remains unbroken.
Anyway, the long list was announced on Monday–from that list of 36 it’s up to the judges to determine the shortlist. I do not envy them the task. There was plenty of dross in my pile of stories, of course, but when I passed on my selections for the long list they were all pretty damn amazing–any number could have won in my book.
If you want to read my thoughts on the three stories I chose that made it to the long list, you can do so in the little interview CBC did with me, Amber Dawn and Michael Hingston, two of the other readers. More of those interviews will follow in the next few weeks.
So now you know why I was always stressed and carrying a big pile of papers last fall….
November 13th, 2013
Despite the phone ringing during the opening chords, I was pretty pleased with what I caught of Whitehorse. They’re great singers, but though I thought they were struggling pretty hard to work around the stage in their formal-wear and to set up instruments mid-song. No one could have helped them? Seemed a bit chinzy not to have a tech guy at an otherwise lavish event…
Onwards to the show! Jian Ghomeshi was hosting again, and he was his usual personable, suave self. The room was filled with elaborate tables with elaborate centrepieces. Mark and I now know enough literati, at least by sight, to have fun pointing out who we knew in the crowd, a game Mark is much better at than I am. I’m out of it enough that, as Jian announced each nominee, and the camera focussed in on a face, I assumed that was the nominee. Mark thought this was hilarious.
“Is that Craig Davidson?”
“No, it’s the guy behind him. You can sort of see his hair.”
The camera guys would struggle with this all night. Not sure why.
I failed to watch the Gillers last year due to the CBC website posting the wrong time on their website for their OWN broadcast–so lame–so I don’t know whether the changes I saw in the broadcast were new this year or not. I do know that they seem to have taken my 2010 Giller Review to heart and eliminated the very personal interview questions in the mini-movies. Actually they did that in 2011 too, but this year they replaced them with personal interview questions on-stage. I actually love those, but that is my nosy streak–I am not sure it was fair to ask Dan Vyleta about his late father in front of a live audience, though he handled it gracefully and wittily.
Something new, at least to me, is that the mini-movies are now readings of the stories, in the authors’ OWN voices no less. This is a huge improvement over previous years where there was neither an opportunity for the authors to speak nor any direct quotes of the celebrated books. I really liked the readings–great job, everybody. I was less crazy about the visuals in the movies, which were impressionistic, vague scenes from the books in question, more or less. I wasn’t wild about them, but nor was I embarrassed by them, and I also don’t have a better suggestion. Well, I do–it could just be the author standing there wearing nice clothes reading the book. That always does it for me at live readings. But TV being the action-packed medium that it is, I don’t think we’ll see that in future, so I’m fine with these glimpses into someone’s imagination of the worlds of the novel.
The best part of the evening, other than the winner, was unexpectedly the on-stage judge interview. Margaret Atwood, Esi Edugyan, and Jonathan Lethem comprised the jury, and vast variety of heights. They were already mildly amusing just standing there, with Jian Ghomeshi onstage, before anyone spoke. They looked like invitees to different parties, or like a mischievous sprite, the queen, and an awkward teenager, respectively. Ghomeshi kicked things off by mentioning that Atwood had asked earlier about the “banter” and she teased him from there, answering all the questions gnomically–the difference between her time on the Giller jury this year and previously is “being older”–and actually covering a giggle with her hand at one point. I have almost never seen video footage of Atwood, and I was shocked by a realization I’d not had previously: Margaret Atwood *loves* being Margaret Atwood. I am so happy for her–makes me want to read her new book even though it is about the apocalypse and I am very scared of the apocalypse. Ghomeshi capped off the interview by asking if we’d be surprised by the winner, and Lethem responded that it was a book on the shortlist. I’m not sure if I’m properly conveying how funny it all was.
The presenters were useless as ever–the weakest part of the show. I don’t know why the Giller organizers insist on pulling people from showbiz to present–as if many bookish people will be drawn in if there’s a hiphop star on it. Or as if hiphop fans would be! I forget every presenter’s name and most of what they said, but I did note that there seemed to be much more emphasis on the presenters proving they had actually read the books. I do not care if they had or not, as they did not have anything interesting to say about their reading experiences.
As far as I know, other industries have people FROM that industry present at awards shows. Film actors at the Oscars, tv folks at the Emmies, musicians for the Grammies (actually, I don’t for sure know these things and think that maybe should be Emmys and Grammys). ANYWAY, surely there are some writers somewhere who are telegenic enough to be Giller presenters. Isn’t that “presenter” role supposed to be a little bit of exposure for others in the industry who aren’t nominated? I think it would be great to see more Canadian writers than just the 5 nominees on Giller night. If I thought I could pull off an evening gown, I’d apply for the gig myself.
Um…cutting to the chase: *Hellgoing* by Lynn Coady won. I was delighted, not only because it is a book short stories, nor because it was the only book on the shortlist I had read, not because I thought Coady other book *The Antagonist* should have won when it was nominated in 2011. I thought that THIS book, this book that won, was very very good and deserving of accolades. I’m wary of a cumulative effects with big prizes–none of this “write enough good books and that will eventually add up to one great book.” And I don’t necessarily feel that this was a victory for short stories, though after book Giller night and Alice Munro’s Nobel win a few weeks ago, everyone’s been congratulating me as if my “team” had a victory. It would certainly be lovely if these two events brought more readers in general to the story, but in the meantime, I think Coady can claim whole ownership of this prize. She didn’t win for her subject matter (too varied), her lifetime achievements (too young), or her gravitas (too funny): she won because she wrote an inventive, intelligent, entertaining, sad, thought-provoking book. I’m hesitant to say the best (as I haven’t read the other books) but certainly a book very much deserving of celebration.
Coady’s speech was unexpectedly boring–she mentioned being overwhelmed and fair enough. The highpoint was that she noted two big factors in her success as a writer are a happy marriage and enough food. Hear, hear!
Best Gillers in my experience–even cautiously looking forward to next year!
November 6th, 2013
I know I’ve already seen the film of How to Keep Your Day Job 1 million times (not actually, but close) but I’m still so excited to see it tonight at the Toronto Short Film Festival at the Carlton Theatre. It will be special to witness this little film’s Toronto public debut. Also, people have been telling me how they feel about the film and where they laughed or were surprised, but I’m so curious to actually *be there* in a room full of strangers, hearing and feeling them reacting to the events on screen. There’s also a lot of other wonderful-looking stuff on the bill tonight–can’t wait!
Oh, and I wrote a little blog post for the Compose Journal blog. It’s about the origins of the story of mine they published, Loneliness and, more interesting to me in the present tense, what happened after I wrote it.
Oh, and Lynn Coady won the Giller??!! The first time I have been truly thrilled by a Giller-winning book! I wish she could come be mayor of Toronto!
July 12th, 2013
This blog has been a bit quiet of late, and when I do post it tends to be vacation anecdotes or random rants, but here at last is a post with some actual literary news…
First off, in the ongoing adventures of the short film How to Keep Your Day Job, now a nomination for best short film at the Directors’ Guild of Canada Awards. I guess you can watch this space at the end of October to see who won, but it’s just so great to see the amazing cast and crew of the film getting some recognition!
In terms of my own literary accomplishments, my short story “Marriage” has been accepted for an upcoming issue of The New Quarterly. Longtime readers will know I have a long love of The New Quarterly and am thrilled that they like this story. Can’t wait to see it in their pages.
And finally, Monday of this week, I did a fun 75 minute class with Professor Rawding’s literature students at University of Waterloo. They’d read a dozen stories out of The Big Dream, then thought about their reactions and made lists of questions by theme. Each group took a turn asking questions–yes, I did over an hour of Q&A with people who a) knew their stuff (no softball “so do you write with a pen or on a keyboard?” questions) and b) had not chosen the book themselves and did not necessarily like it.
It was *intense* to say the least, but also thrilling–the best compliment is a careful reading, I say. And honestly, no writer worth his/her salt ever believes anyone who says “Great book!” and leaves it at that. But the thorough, insightful questions from these students made me feel truly flattered that the book inspired them. I hope my answers were as good (or nearly).
Here’s a picture with me and the class. I am slouching because I was worried about blocking the kids behind me, who were actually way higher so I just look odd. Professor Rawding’s on the left in the green check shirt.
And finally, a photo of me with the professor’s cat (of course!)
February 20th, 2013
Every year I see a posting for a Broken Pencil short-story contest, click on it with interest and then recoil in horror. I am not Deathmatch Material. I like to think all us short story writers are our own special flowers, and though every reader might not like to sniff every flower, there’s room for all of us in the garden.
Broken Pencil’s Short Story Deathmatch posits a winner-take-all, hateful-comments-weed-out-the-week mentality, at least on the surface. In reality the comments from Canadian readers and writers aren’t *that* harsh–more, the commenters often seem to really engage with the stories. So though I quail from entering myself, I annually find myself drawn into a public-opinion-based literary contest that is actually about the literature.
Because, let’s face it, most public-opinion book contest *aren’t* about the books. At least, not as a “contest” is normally interpreted. Every few months, I’ll get an email or see on FB that an author I know/like/admire is in contention for one of these readers’ choice things, and could I please vote? Usually, I do it if I’ve read the book and liked it–I draw the line at voting for books I’ve haven’t read, no matter how much I like the author’s previous works or personality. But still, even if I know the book well and love it, my vote isn’t really fair, because normally I’ve read few or none of the competitors, so I don’t actually *know* the book I’m voting for is better.
In the interests of fairness, I should really go out and read every book in contention, at least a few chapters and skim to the end, before I make a bold claim that I know which the best one is. But let’s be honest, who is willing to do that without being paid? And who is paid–judges. That’s why I contend that the best people to judge contests are always the judges. It’s not because I’m elitist snob who privileges certain opinions above others; it’s because the only people who are going to read dozens of books in a year that they didn’t select for themselves, some hard to find, obscure, very long, or about topics that don’t interest them–are the folks on the payroll. The “popular” way isn’t even close to fair.
Amazingly, near as I can tell, the Deathmatch *is* fair. Of course, you can’t stop people voting without reading and the writers with friends working office jobs, who can set their phone alarms and go online to revote every hour, are going to do better than folks whose friends are teachers and construction workers. But it works really well. Each quarter final pits only two short stories against each other–it’ll take you maybe half an hour to read both, and then you can make a totally informed decision. You can choose to vote in any number of quarter finals–1, 2, 3, or 4 rounds. The semi-finals pit the winners against each other in 2 more rounds after–get this–everybody’s rewritten their stories to incorporate the feedback they got the first time around. How cool is that?
I voted in a couple quarter finals, but didn’t think to share the love. Now we’re in the semis, but it’s not too late–you can vote until Sunday midnight in the first semifinal, and all next week in the second. Start here and enjoy some weird fiction.