Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Ondaatje overrated?

According to this ditty from the National Post, Michael Ondaatje, Joseph Boyden, and David Adams Richards are three of the most overrated authors in Canada.

Lynn Coady, Douglas Glover, and Caroline Adderson are three of the most underrated.

Q'uelle controversial!

Thursday, August 19, 2010


Normally I'd only post stuff related to writing, but I feel compelled to share the following. Really, this article sums up pretty much everyone I know in their 20s.

The first paragraph:

This question pops up everywhere, underlying concerns about “failure to launch” and “boomerang kids.” Two new sitcoms feature grown children moving back in with their parents — “$#*! My Dad Says,” starring William Shatner as a divorced curmudgeon whose 20-something son can’t make it on his own as a blogger, and “Big Lake,” in which a financial whiz kid loses his Wall Street job and moves back home to rural Pennsylvania. A cover of The New Yorker last spring picked up on the zeitgeist: a young man hangs up his new Ph.D. in his boyhood bedroom, the cardboard box at his feet signaling his plans to move back home now that he’s officially overqualified for a job. In the doorway stand his parents, their expressions a mix of resignation, worry, annoyance and perplexity: how exactly did this happen?


Monday, August 16, 2010

Review: The Reinvention of the Human Hand

New review of Paul Vermeersch's The Reinvention of the Human Hand up at MTLS.

It features this MySpace-stylized author photo!

Also, my review of Arthur Reed's debut novel Isobel and Emil appears the latest issue of Broken Pencil.

Review Madness!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Rejection Letters

Originally appeared on The New Quarterly's Literary Type blog.

The Tao of Form Rejection Letters

In his forward to The Workshop, an anthology of writing dedicated from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, Thomas Grimes argues that, popular perception aside, the creative writing workshop doesn’t really teach you what to do. He says, “[the workshop] has offered no prescription for ‘fixing’ stories, no formulas for creating characters . . . Everything it teaches, essentially, is a form of No.”

One could argue that the form rejection letter’s doing something similar. In twenty words or less, it forces us to contend with nothingness, the capital-N- No.

My first rejection letter was of such potent nothingness that it didn’t exist. I saw a call for submissions, raided my desk for the best story I had, sealed it in an envelope and bid the little fella godspeed. Four months later the next issue was out. No sign of my short story in the table of contents but, lo, a surprise on page six: a few lines of my cover letter, published verbatim, as a letter to the editor.


I’ve treasured rejection letters ever since, even the generic ones that spell my name wrong and appear in my mailbox a year late.

Not many people like form rejection letters. Feelings are hurt? The form letter doesn’t care. Thanks but no thanks, it says, with a brevity that would make Hemingway proud.

I would argue, however, that the form rejection letter’s worth rests not simply in its ability to make you mad. It’s what it doesn’t say ‘s important. Counterintuitive? Could be. After all, wouldn’t it be easier for editors to just tell us what the hell we’re doing wrong and save everyone the grief?

Easier, maybe, but not necessarily more effective. In an interview appended to his
latest collection of stories, Last Notes, Tamas Dobozy asks us to treasure our rejection letters, particularly the generic ones:

“There was something in that flat ‘No’ you received that was amazingly enlightening – because it told you your writing wasn’t working but didn’t tell you how to fix it. You were forced to improve only on the strength of your own resources, and so there was an organic process at play . . . It was that step into uncharted territory that forced me to develop my instincts.”

Dobozy’s right: you don’t know what you’re looking for, only that whatever it is exists and makes a manuscript once believed to be pristine ugly and flawed. Innocents may die as you question every sentence’s right to life. But somewhere amidst the carnage you find what you’re looking for. The form rejection letter’s boon won’t be the pitch-perfect ending your story needed or the hidden gun you just now figured out how to bring back into play. Its lessons are less transient, more universal.

When all is said and done, the form rejection letter hasn’t taught you where to look – the terrain’s going to change with every story you write – but how.

Friday, August 6, 2010

WMA Redux

My poor little blog. So neglected. Well, I'm here, and I have some good news for you. "Eat Fist!", previously nominated for a Western Magazine Award, has made the shortlist alongside four other deserving stories.

The list:

Andrew MacDonald, Eat Fist!, Event

Ben Lof, When in the Field with Her at His Back, The Malahat Review

Bill Gaston, Petterick, The Malahat Review

Stephen Gauer, Hold Me Now, Prairie Fire

Laura Boudreau, The Dead Dad Game, Prism International


Two of those names I'm familiar with - Bill Gaston, amazing author of (among other things) Gargoyles, and Laura Boudreau, who followed pretty much the same path I did, through Larry Garber's creative writing class at UWO, into the program at U of T, where she also worked with Michael Winter. Only she did it before me, so technically I'm following in her footsteps.

Either way, good company to be in. The winner will be announced in October. Will keep you informed.