And that sums up why I haven’t been posting much. Maybe this is the year though that I work out how to be both a busy editor/book designer and a writer who’s actually writing… Meanwhile, here’s a photo of my office.
I’m not sure what year it was – perhaps 1998 – but my first acknowledgement from the writing world came when I was awarded a 2nd prize in the Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick’s Literary Competition. I do remember that the judge in the short fiction category was St. John’s author Paul Bowdring, and that Miramichi author (former author?) Larry Lynch took first prize. My story was called “Anna” and (something I also recall) it was the first time I wrote without quotation marks for dialogue.
Queue my long history with WFNB: from 1999 to 2014 I was (though not always but sometimes concurrently) a board member, newsletter editor, webmaster, five-year “interim” executive director and unofficial photographer. During that time, I never again entered the literary competition – I found judges, notified winners, co-emceed the awards soirée.
But this year I did enter the competition, aiming for the David Adams Richards Prize by sending four of my “Shabazz stories” (nearly 30,000 words) under the title “The Purpose of Evolution in Not Immortality” (yes, I got two grants in 2016 to write this same collection).
A few days back a call came from WFNB executive director Cathy Fynn with the satisfying news that…. I’d won. The judge’s comments:
Sophisticated literary fiction: haunts, tickles, and disturbs — and subverts. I laughed several times in places I later felt I shouldn’t, and I often shuddered. I at once admired the writer’s technique, and experienced emotional connections with the characters; those two things don’t always happen. Because the writer seems to be not as concerned with plot as much as what the characters believe is happening, some stories risk sag in the middle. Overall, however, the work is a delight: rich and strange.
The ‘sag’ must be watched, but that’s the risk of rambling/gambling (gamboling!) outside the plot (something I’ve loved doing since reading Gogol so long ago).
Am still writing this collection, but with one story at Numero Cinq, one published as a chapbook, and the aforementioned grants, this concept (Dr. Shabazz, a mysterious psychologist) continues to treat me well.
And nice to come full circle with WFNB.
On the heels of finishing a story I’ve had in my head for years, the 7100-word title story of my work-in-progress (nods to the Great Granting Agencies) – “The Purpose of Evolution is not Immortality” – which now brings the collection to five completed stories and 40,000 words, a blog entry to say I am here, writing ambitiously, assiduously, assertively.
On the heels of a story that intentionally broke several cardinal rules of narrative style (not the first in the collection to do so), a story that even I’m still sussing out, that stretches greedy fingers into all potential perspectives, a blog entry to say…
Well, I’ve already said that part: I am writing, and the way I want to.
I realize my need to experiment has led to under-publication, especially of larger works – namely two novels – even though I feel these works are engaging, a hell of a lot of fun. I see author-friends launching books left, right, and centre – sometimes with very little work already in print – but there just aren’t enough publishers taking risks, and often those that do have a more academic bent. That’s not me either.
Good fiction is unruly, alive, and as individual as the author him/herself. Nothing brings a stop-glare-and-sigh as much as the phrase “there’s too much style” or “prose shouldn’t draw attention to itself.”
A few years back, after contacting an agent at the recommendation of an editor who enjoyed the novel but was at a sinking-ship publishing house, all I got back was, “I don’t know, they’re just so strange.” The next agent, despite a direct recommendation from one of his authors, never responded at all.
So on the heels of writing perhaps the strangest, most ambitious story yet, this a wide-smiling middle finger to the middle-grounders, the play-safers. Fiction is a commodity, yes, but it’s also an art, and one that can modulate many moods. How many actually think about the effect of sentence structure on your breathing? The effect of vague dialogue on your mental state? The purpose of seemingly random changes, unpredictability, on the narrative tension? And how about metaphors, scenes, symbols that defy easy interpretation?
I’m sure a few readers of the recently published “Mouth Human Must Die” were left cold, confused. And why was it so vulgar? So weird?
Happy, though, that initial response to the just-finished fiction is positive. A good writing group goes a long way. Nods there to Carol, Kayla, Susan and Elizabeth. And to my closest reader, Cindy.
The books have arrived and are lovingly designed by Caryl Wyse Peters with a haunting Dave Skyrie cover. The story is as slant as anything I’ve written: Lester, the narrator, isn’t to be trusted. And that’s the thing about these Shabazz stories – the central characters aren’t well. It’s also the challenge – how to depict a mind in chaos, unhinged, yet make it believable.
So far four of the these stories have been written, with the fifth just underway.
Anyway. There are two ways to get copies before they’re all gone (125 were printed) – through me, or through the publisher.
Been a busy, exciting summer, but mostly for non literary reasons. I’ve travelled, edited, designed, written some book reviews, and fallen in love (excitement quotient not in that order).
But I do finally have some publication news, as my long story “Mouth Human Must Die” will be printed by wonderful Victoria BC publisher Frog Hollow Press in a limited edition of 125 copies. This is the second in their revived New Brunswick chapbook series (after Nancy Bauer) and is edited by Shane Neilson, who asked to see some of my fiction for the series. Shane is a tremendous champion of New Brunswick authors.
The cover art will be done by Dave Skyrie.
I wrote much of the story while at the Banff Writers Studio in 2014, and it’s the second of these long “Shabazz” stories (Canada Council & ARTSNB funded!) to see publication. It’s a challenge to find someone willing to publish 10,000 words of short fiction.
The first of these stories to appear? Here.
A blog post! That must mean something worth sharing has happened, or that I have some time on my hands (laugh, please). It’s a happening, and more momentous than any M. Night Shyamalan flop. Sixteen months ago I wrote a blog post – Apply Yourself, Young Man – chronicling a new project and my hopeful grant application. I had a good feeling. Well, that was all a bit rushed, my application was a mess and no surprise it was not successful. But. Yes, there’s a but.
And you know, I thought I would have finished the project by now, but in those 16 months I’ve written only three of the stories (nearly 30,000 words, mind you). A writer friend with a day job asked, “But does money really help you write?” Oh yes, it does. For one, you can relax. For two, you can relax the next day, and the day after. And by relax I mean not worry, because for me, at least, worry is what gnaws through the cord that lights any stick of creative dynamite.
So yes, this time the Canada Council came through. I resisted opening the envelope for five days. Please don’t ask for an explanation of my behaviour, though if you do want to psychoanalyze me I suggest you buy my book of dreams. But please don’t judge me. Anyway, a friend, a fine, fine writer friend with an amazing book of short fiction coming out this spring, a friend who was also grant-positive, said, when I explained the virgin envelope, the size, shape, colour and smell of it, “Open the goddamn envelope!”
Thank you, jury. I shall write, and write well.
There’s a nice review of my story “A Survivor’s Guide to Engine Failure at 35,000 Feet” on Jerrod Edson’s site right here. Jerrod is a fellow New Brunswick author temporarily banished to Ontario (but he’s NB through and through, don’t forget it). From his review:
“Warwick’s voice is manic, yet altogether alive and authentic (imagine a Hunter S. Thompson / Barney Panofsky offspring and you’re headed in the right direction). His memories of the crash are honest and raw, and utterly void of any writerly bullshit”
Edson has a new novel coming out this spring. Watch for “The Moon is Real” with Urban Farmhouse Press.
While I wasn’t overly productive last year, churning out perhaps 15,000 words of fiction, which hardly deserves the word ‘churning’ but perhaps ‘scraping’, I did produce a couple of things I quite like.
This story came out of a title, which itself seemed to come from thin air while crafting a grant proposal. There are times when everything comes together and writing a story is a joy, or a toy, and nothing makes me happier than the chance to play around a little. This was one of those times.
I knew watching endless episodes of air crash investigations would pay off. (Certainly made flying to Elba and Banff and Spain much more exciting.)
So here is “A Survivor’s Guide to Engine Failure at 35,000 Feet.” It is the second of my Shabazz stories, a story of a flight gone wrong, a bit of jungle survival and a man in need of much therapy.
Many thanks to Numéro Cinq head everything Douglas Glover.
As mentioned in the preface to the linked interview (see below), Jeff Bursey and I met through Joseph McElroy in 2010 when Jeff was looking to get word out about his first novel, Verbatim: A Novel. Jeff lived just two hours away but in terms of kindred interests, he was right next door. We have become good friends since. He’s the only person I’ve met (face to face) who has also read McElroy’s massive Women and Men.
The interview, focussing on Jeff’s second book, Mirrors on which dust has fallen, is up at The Winnipeg Review, another terrific resource (a la Numero Cinq) for all things literary.
Read it here.
I started the year thinking I would have my Shabazz collection (80,000 words) complete by December, or at least nearing completion. The idea was to write a long story each month/six weeks, and when I did sit and write it … Continue reading