Category Archives: Writing

A baby, a novella

20140411-IMG_5769A second set of sticky notes about books is nearly ready to post, as promised, but I’m going to interrupt that brief series with two recent happenings in my life.

First was the birth of another granddaughter! I visited the family in B.C. for ten days, to help as best I could in a busy household with a new baby and returned with warm memories of the lovely child (who bears the distinguished name Honor) and many memories of the other children as well. Choice sayings by the nearly-three-year-old, for example, moments of closeness initiated by a child who tends to self-containment, and so on. Things a grandparent gathers and chuckles over or ponders upon.

Then there was the news from The Malahat Review. The novella contest this journal holds every other year gave me a deadline for my story “Mask”, and the entry fee was a year’s subscription to one of Canada’s finest literary magazines, so why not try. One never submits without hope, of course, and I worked like crazy on that story, feeling as thin and fragile as glass by the time I was finally done. Hope, I’ve discovered, is not necessarily the same as expectation, however. Submission, sometimes rejection, sometimes acceptance, that’s the way it rolls in the writing world.  But here it was, the letter said I’d won. I walked around the house for some time, shaking. (Since the official announcements were pending, I could tell only my nearest and dearest and he was out of reach, ice fishing on Lake Winnipeg!) Glad for myself, I’ll admit, but for the story too, getting its moment in print and some readers. I hope this isn’t too much crowing, especially in a week when one is cautious of crowing, roosters, etc., but I’m deeply grateful and also want to acknowledge the financial assistance provided by the City of Winnipeg through the Winnipeg Arts Council last fall to work on “Mask” and other stories.WAC-logo-thumbnail_144_131_70

Since many of you already know of these events via other venues and have responded (thank you!), I’ve disabled comments for this column. I wish you all a safe and blessed Holy Week and Easter.

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Narratives of place

H. and I took a short road trip through parts of the Dakotas, Wyoming, and Montana recently, in connection with my participation at the Billings (MT) Bookfest and the High Plains Fiction Awards on Oct. 25-6.

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near Thermopolis, WY

We enjoyed it. We were impressed by how dramatically terrain can shift in a matter of hours (we covered more than 4000 kilometers) and how much of what we passed was interesting or wondrous in some way. Okay, there were a few patches — in  Wyoming — almost too desolate-looking for words, but I was reading Annie Proulx’s Close Range: Wyoming Stories – a collection I highly recommend – and for that, the patches were perfectly necessary. For the connection between place and art, I mean, which is what this post is sort of about. Continue reading

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In defence of what you’re trying to do

Before I get completely submerged under the ripe tomatoes, ditto the grapes and the five-gallon pail of apples, plus the story I’m writing, I want to say something about last week.

I spent it at the Banff Centre in an intensive focus on short fiction led by Alexander MacLeod, literature professor and author of the Giller short-listed collection Light Lifting. I’ve never taken a writing retreat or week-long writing course, so I’m still feeling like a girl on her first trip to Disney. It’s a bit of a wonderful bubble one goes into, for sure. But the Disney analogy ends now: there’s nothing Minnie Mouse about carefully, brutally workshopping others’ writing (that is, learning to read), or being workshopped just as carefully and brutally. We all knew, of course, and tried to remember, this was where the benefit (a.k.a love) lay. Continue reading

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Miscellanea: June

Crazy busy month so far, this June, but wonderful too, the green and colors of spring fully arrived to our city at last. I never tire of our simple backyard and especially the way one of the branches from our elm tree stretches over our lot and blesses it with its draping foliage. Continue reading

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Better a lovely teal scarf than a toga

I’m settling back home to a beautifully green city after the FictionKNITstas tour which took me to reading events in Calgary, Winnipeg, and Toronto last week. Fictionistas is an initiative by regional presses that annually celebrates new women’s writing in Canada.  The KNIT was put into Fictionistas this year because each of us were paired with a knitter who read our book and knitted something in response to it. Continue reading

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Short stories, take a bow

May is short story month. I have no idea who decides matters like this, but why not? Short stories, please take a bow, and let me say a few things in your favor. – One often hears that people prefer reading novels, that short story collections don’t sell, that publishers therefore hesitate to take the risk. All this may be true. In a novel, we enter for the long, deep involvement and we feel the reward of hours invested. Each story in a collection, on the other hand, takes new effort to discover what’s going on and who’s in it. Perhaps it feels like a fragment rather than a whole, perhaps it feels unresolved. Still, a good short story can carry weight out of proportion to its size. Continue reading

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The poet astronaut

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, who returned to Earth yesterday after five months in the International Space Station, is a great communicator and entertainer who has almost singlehandedly, it is said, stirred up people’s interest in space exploration again. He tweeted and sang from space and made videos about living at the station that have garnered some 22 million views.

But here’s what strikes me as I look at Hadfield’s amazing photographs and their accompanying twitter-length commentary: the man is a poet. Continue reading

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Worscht en Rhubuaba

Worscht en Rhubuaba. I can’t actually say it, not correctly at least, not having grown up with Low German (though I learned to understand it as a adult living in Paraguay for a couple of years), but I spent Saturday and part of Sunday last week at an arts festival by that name. Meaning sausage and rhubarb. It was a Manitoba Mennonite Creative Arts Festival so the reference was perfectly appropriate, if somewhat nostalgic, given that nowadays Mennonite writing (“if there is such a thing” — a question one of the Round Tables asked) is so large, so diverse, so out of the village. But never mind that, it was a great event, put together by the energetic and talented Di Brandt and others from Brandon University (Dale Lakevold, Audrey Thiessen). Continue reading

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Do I have to, really?

Okay, let’s just say the writing – now that I’m back to it, post the diary transcription project – is a bit of a slog at the moment.

sc004c8b41The cover of the latest issue of Write, the magazine of The Writers’ Union of Canada, features a map by Patrick Dias, country unnamed but obviously Land of the Writer. If you’re looking for me, I’m wandering around in Frustrating Canyons, probably on my way to Crumpled Detour. Continue reading

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Miscellanea: December

1. I bumped into numerous web “shares” of Miriam Toews’ keynote speech at the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference in Toronto on “Is there such a thing as a national literature?” but want to lodge it here as well because I think she’s making such an important point, familiar as it may seem: “A writer can only serve her nation [or other 'nationalisms'] by serving her story.” Toews began by talking about “national literature” from the perspective of people’s curiosity about her as “Mennonite writer,” but in both Canadian and Mennonite — and probably in any category concerning identity to which we belong — there are expectations and wishes by other members of those groups or identities about how they wish to be portrayed. This is as true for her from secular Mennonites as conservative ones, Toews said. Group authorities and narratives promise “certainties and definitions and boundaries,” but “[t]he imagination is inherently subversive and cannot be mandated.” Continue reading

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