Monday, March 28, 2016

On Writing #89 : Alice Zorn

Alice Zorn

I don’t write fiction when I’m travelling, because I want to be in the new place I’m visiting, not focussed on words in my head. But then I miss not doing any writing, so I keep notebooks of impressions and scenes, wine labels, menus, descriptions, receipts.

When I’m home again, I sometimes get ideas for stories set in places where I’ve been. Months, even decades might have passed, but I have the fixings in my notebooks.

I like writing stories set in other places. When characters are immersed in a new culture they don’t understand, they’re forced to question their preconceptions—where they are and where they’ve come from. Before I even generate tension, there is tension. 

A year ago I was planning a new novel, and started thinking about taking a trip to Austria with the specific aim of setting part of the novel there. I wanted to do research on a topic I wouldn’t be able to at home.

I wasn’t sure if my idea would work, but I wrote some query letters. My German is only semi-functional, so when I believed the person at the other end understood English better than I could write German, I wrote in English. I could offer only the thinnest of pretexts for disturbing all these people: “I’m a writer from Canada. I hope to write a novel...”

Some letters were never answered, though when I showed up on the doorstep—as I did—I was welcomed. One letter that I’d written in English requested entry to a sanctum where the practicants wore lab coats and gloves to handle fragile objects. An eminent person with many titles wrote that I could come with my film crew to shoot a movie. I decided to reply in my awkward German, thanking the distinguished eminence for generous permission granted. I wrote when I would be coming and what I hoped to see. As a footnote, I added that I would not be arriving with a film crew. I was writing a book. No movie yet. I wondered if I’d been stereotyped as a North American. All they want to do is make movies

Usually my trips are ad hoc. Look about, check out the place, walk around. For this trip, every day was planned. At first, that felt constrained. Too structured. At the same time, I was seeing things I couldn’t have expected. I told myself to go with the flow. Keep an open mind.

I was allowed to touch to feel textures. Drawers were unlocked with a filigree key. People showed me techniques I would never have seen without their help. They were kind, if also puzzled. Why had I come all the way from Canada to watch them? Did I truly intend to write a book about the work they did? I took pictures and notes. I asked questions.

Now I’m home again and have a book to write. I’m curious to see how the notes and impressions I collected will reconfigure as fiction. I know I want to travel to do research again. 

Alice Zorn’s book of short fiction, Ruins & Relics, was a finalist for the 2009 Quebec Writers’ Federation First Book Prize. In 2011 she published a novel, Arrhythmia, with NeWest Press. She has twice placed first in Prairie Fire’s Fiction Contest and won the 2013 Manitoba Magazine Fiction Award. She lives in Montreal, Canada and can also be found at Her second novel, Five Roses, will be appearing with Dundurn Press in July, 2016.

Friday, March 18, 2016

On Writing #88 : Lillian Necakov

Writing is a Hyena
Lillian Necakov

chasing you down every single day of your life
it’s an albatross
a disease
a hero
a regret
a sorrow
a mistake
a yearning
an ache
a delight
a love
a brutality
an echo
a lie
a path
a curse
a life.

Lillian Necakov has been writing and publishing for over 30 years. She is the author of Sickbed of Dogs, Wolsak and Wynn, 1989, Polaroids, Coach House Books, 1997, Hat Trick, Exile Editions, 1998, The Bone Broker, Mansfield Press, 2007 and Hooligans, Mansfield Press 2011, The Lake Contains an Emergency Room, Apt. 9 Press, 2015. During the 80’s she sold her books on the streets of Toronto.

Lillian runs the Boneshaker Reading Series in Toronto.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

fwd: Calling all writers — Announcing Ottawa Magazine's 2nd Annual Short Story Fiction contest

Due to the overwhelming response to our first Short Fiction Contest last summer, we’re announcing the 2nd Annual Short Story Fiction Contest!
Last year, we received more than 70 entries. From those, two winners were selected: Barbara Sibbald’s Waiting won top honours; Theresa Ann Wallace’s Camping at Mont Tremblant was the runner-up.

And so, aspiring writers, brush the digital dust off your virtual manuscripts and submit them to us no later than midnight on FRIDAY, APRIL 8, 2016. Early-bird entries received no later than MARCH 24, 2016 will be entered to win two passes to enjoy the Thermal Experience at Nordik Spa-Nature.

Entries are restricted to 2,500 words or less

Entries must not have been published elsewhere

The contest is open to residents of the National Capital Region, excluding residents of Quebec

Cost of entry is $20, which includes a one-year subscription to Ottawa Magazine

Winners will be chosen by a panel of judges through a blind-judging process

The winner will receive $500, the runner-up $250, and both stories will be published by June 1, 2016 online and will appear in the Summer 2016 issue of Ottawa Magazine. All submissions may be considered for publication on Ottawa Magazine’s website.

Participants may enter as many times as they wish (each entry, however, requires $20 fee), but once submitted, entries may not be submitted to other contests (or published elsewhere) until the winning entries have been announced on June 1, 2016.

For further details, and a link for where to submit, click here. Those who’ve submitted will then be contacted by Ottawa Magazine in order to process payment.
            – NEIL GAIMAN

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

On Writing #87 : Ken Norris

Ken Norris

I think it would be strange to write the same way as a young man and as an older gentleman.

So I don’t. And couldn’t.

As a young writer I had a lot of strategies, routines and rituals.  In short, the act of writing was “a big production.” There was a lot of prep time. There was a lot of surveying and planning. There was a lot of thinking about what I wanted to write, and how to do it. There was a lot of delving into.

Now I look back on these strategies, routines and rituals and find them cumbersome and boring. But that’s okay—they intrigued me then, and they proved necessary. I had to talk myself into writing. I had to sharpen my technique. Like a ballplayer, I needed my routines and my superstitions.

So time was set aside, structured, rooms done up into writer’s spaces. And in those days I used to move every year. So every year I was setting up a new writer’s space.

Things began to change in the 1980s when I moved out of the room and into the notebook. Notebooks became where writing happened, and in some way they were distorted mirror images of printed books. If I was writing a book I should be writing in a book. Eventually, the book I was writing would come into being as the book that I had written. Actually writing by hand became really important. Now the magic was how the handwriting got turned into type. There was one book, One Night, that I wrote in a day and which was pretty much published fairly closely to the way that I had written it. So the handwriting just turned into type and the notebook became the printed book. That was the closest I came to perfecting the transformation from notebook to printed book.

As I got older I started to feel like I had less and less to say. Some writers interpret this as Writer’s Block coming to town. I didn’t look at it that way. I just interpreted it as a change of feeling, and as a change of feeling that was, essentially, untrue. For whatever reason, it was clear to me that the feeling I had that I had less to say was just a big illusion. What was really going on was that my psyche was resettling, re-situating, and the content of my poetry was changing.

Slowly, what I began to discover was that when I felt the most like I had nothing to say or nothing to write it was actually the best time for me to write. Because, perhaps, the established ego had nothing to offer, this meant that all of my other faculties and senses were free to operate. To make George Bowering happy I would say that I began to write with my less than conscious mind.

Jack Spicer talked a lot about dictation, perhaps because he didn’t want to take ownership for what he had written while drunk, or else he genuinely could not remember having written it.

But it wasn’t like that exactly.

Reading H.D.’s Trilogy got me a lot more comfortable with the oracular in poetry. That was good, but that wasn’t exactly where I was situated either. It was more like this:

Something always comes out of nothing.

For that is, in essence, what Genesis creators do: they create something out of nothing.

Also, I noticed a change in the density of a poet’s silence.

There is always something that can be written, but for the past five years or so it needs to come out of what I’ll call “the nothing space.” I write best when I am not thinking and when I am feeling nothing in particular.  Then poems just happen. They get borne out of the nothingness with almost no traces of the author attached to them.

The poem has no fixed subject and no real floor plan. It just IS. It gets written down and it just is. Maybe it has something to do with me. Often it doesn’t.

This past semester I was teaching Sylvia Plath’s poem “Tulips,” a rather bleak poem that I quite like. It is artfully constructed and heavily architectured. And Plath demonstrates so much authorial control. How I mostly write now is the exact opposite of “Tulips.” Often the poet isn’t even in the poem, never mind the room. Plath in her hospital bed is the driving intelligence of her poem. She fixates on those excitable tulips. My poetic consciousness tends to drift and wander, getting up to all kinds of mischief.

I think it is interesting that, when I was confronted with what many writers live in fear of, Writer’s Block, I decided that it was unreal and that it didn’t exist. Then the strategy became to sit down, disarmed and empty, an instrument of grace, and demonstrate that it’s unreal and doesn’t exist by writing a poem that disproves it. I have now done that maybe a thousand times, and it has become my current approach to writing.

Admittedly, I don’t know how well this would work if I were stuck on page 87 of a novel and trying to get further with it. But the great thing about poetry is that it can literally go anywhere without having to justify its activities at all.

After teaching Canadian Literature in the United States for the past thirty-one years, Ken Norris will be moving back to Canada in the Spring (Toronto). His most recent book is THE WEIGHT (Guernica Editions).

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

We Who Are About To Die : Lawrence Upton

Lawrence Upton [photo credit: Tristan Hick]: Poet; graphic artist; sound artist: curator.  Three walking poems forthcoming from Writers Forum; wrack (2012) -- Quarter After Press, USA [Download through Issuu]; Memory Fictions (2012) --  Argotist Ebooks;  Unframed Pictures (2011) -- Writers Forum; Pictures, Cartoon Strips (2010) -- Sound & Language, USA; a song and a film (2009) -- Veer Publications; Wire Sculptures, (2003) – Reality Street Editions; Collaborations for Peter Finch, with Bob Cobbing (1997, 2012) – Writers Forum + Commentaries on Bob Cobbing (2013) Argotist Ebooks. Co-edited Word Score Utterance Choreography with Bob Cobbing (1998) – Writers Forum.  Curated Some variations on a theme of Bob (Space, London Studios) and Bob Cobbing and the book (UWE, Bristol) both 2011. Singing Marram (for solo viola, violist Benedict Taylor); CD, 2013 Subverten; Dark Voices CD, Cram 2013 + Possibles (forthcoming CD), both with Taylor). Numerous live text-sound compositions with John Levack Drever. Solo exhibitions  2012 “from recent projects” (St James Hatcham)  & 1981 “Deteriorating texts” (LYC). Directs Writers Forum. Visiting Research Fellow in Music, Goldsmiths, University of London.

Where are you now?
I'm in St Just-in-Penwith in Cornwall. It's the most westerly mainland town in Britain. Relatively remote.

What are you reading?
Every day, The Guardian newspaper.

Soon but not yet, The sea, the sea by Iris Murdoch. I have never got on with Iris Murdoch; but I heard a radio dramatisation (BBC Radio 4) recently and quite enjoyed it, along with being interested and intrigued. I assume that it will be better than the dramatisation, which condensed 500+ pages into two hours.

And a couple of days ago, I happened to see it in the “edge of the world” bookshop in Market Jew Street, Penzance and bought it.

Also, for when I tire of the smugness of The Guardian, I have The old ways by Robert MacFarlane, which seems really to be about walking and walkers – much reflection on the poet Edward Thomas – rather than the ways themselves. That's what I am reading at present. I aim to read all MacFarlane's books; I haven't read a bad one yet.

I have with me, too, Donne's poems, but still wrapped in some clean underwear from my journey out.
You see, I am reading fairly slowly just now; I am tired at the end of the day, and spend what energy I have transcribing what I have written during the day. I spend more time than usual just lying down.

That street name needs a comment.

It was largely monoglot Cornish language round here until relatively recently historically. Up the road from Penzance, there's the village of Mousehole (say it 'mowzul'). It's been called that for many centuries, with English known in the ports along the south coast. From the sea, you can see the cave that became the mouse hole. I assume that it was a landmark for the English-speaking sailors as they did their stuff up and down the channel.

And there lived Dolly Pentreath who died in the 1770s and was claimed as the last speaker of Cornish – she wasn't; and, they say, foul-mouthed if you had the language skills to follow her.

Anyway, the main street of Penzance (Penzance meaning 'Holy headland') was called Marhasyow: in English, Thursday Market street, because, if you followed the street East, you got to where they held the Market on Thursdays.

That's now called Marazion, which is what a people which had lost its language quite rapidly did with the original name of Marhasyow. It has nothing to do with Zion, but in the low church fervour of west Cornwall then, maybe the two syllables came easily to the tongue.

The people of Penzance got stuck further back. Marhas became Market, but day names being perhaps more deeply embedded in the speech circuits, maybe they stuck with dy’ Yow for the day that follows what we call Wednesday, so that they were saying Market dy' Yow. (Substantive precedes the adjectival in Cornish. I am told: but I only do Cornish Toponymy; and this is largely supposition on my part.)

And so they made “sense” of what they were saying and came up with “Market Jew”. There were many Jews – I know Penzance had a synagogue and a burial ground, the former converted into something else and the latter I'm told still there near the railway station.

I nearly bought a book called something like “The Jews of Cornwall” when I saw it this week; but it was too expensive for me.

What have you discovered lately?
Many many things. I am, for instance, more out of condition than I thought.

And a few things about myself. That happens when one walks alone; or can do. No one in their right mind would accompany me: it all happens in my head.

And how to do a few more things in writing verse.

The most exciting discovery so far this trip was that I had a reading booked last week but I didn't attend the venue because the organiser sent the invitation to an email address that is not mine; and I was unaware of the proposed arrangement. It has been explained; I understand the explanation; and there has been an apology from them. I shall read there later in the year.

Where do you write?
Here, this trip, I write on the move into a notebook. Well, if I have to. The weather, though good for January, is not what you'd call good, not for writing into a notebook; so sometimes, if I feel overly verbal, I go to a cafe. There's one in Mousehole that's a bit pricey for food but the overheard conversations are sometimes priceless. There's Penlee House in Penzance, a municipal art gallery, though it is a bit municipal in atmosphere. My favourite is the Dog and Rabbit in St Just – good tea, big strong tables and they don't hurry you; but I try not to overdo it there because it's a stone's throw from where I am staying and I want to get out and about. In the evenings, I stay in my room and type up and rewrite my output.

What are you working on?
Much. I finished-for-now working on a whole batch of visual work before coming away so that I could talk then with the musicians with whom I hope to perform in March.

Now I am on wordals rather than visuals. In particular I am looking at cloud patterns and writing from there! Not a sensible occupation in a country that presently appears to be beneath a grey hemisphere of granite rain clouds.

Have you anything forthcoming?
Yes. A little book called “Three Walking Poems” which consists of four poems, one about walking and three about specific walks – all of them round here, West Penwith. They are about ten years old, from when I lived in the area, and have been magazine published.

After that, I hope, “Letters to Eric” (Mottram) which would be a reprint of a 1997 booklet. Eric's been dead twenty years and has been much on my mind. I think the poems I wrote him still stand up.
And after that maybe some asemic sound poems, painted, from some of the stories round here, giants and witches and the like – a starting point, a jumping off point rather than any huge enthusiasm for the supernatural. I thought of this stuff a couple of days ago when the bus I was on sped through Crows-an-wra, which means 'Witch Cross' and was also one of the end points in “Three Walking Poems”. Not sure who'd publish that. I don't want to do it all myself.

What would you rather be doing?
Nothing really