hiromigoto.com

Subscribe

Spring/Summer 2014 Recap

October 01, 2014 By: Hiromi Category: Events, On the Road, Thoughts on Writing

So much I haven’t updated– I’m an inconsistent blogger. But unrepentant!

Life is busy with living….

May was WisCon 38 and I was a guest of honour alongside N.K. Jemisin. Enroute to the convention my partner and I arranged to stay a few days in Chicago, and what a beautiful city! Not usually the type to remark on the beauty of modern buildings, but Chicago is an architectural treat!

ChicagoDT2014

D and I caught a live jazz performance, saw the Edward Gorey exhibit, and a Vivian Maier photo exhibit. We didn’t manage to have piece of deep dish pizza.

I love to take photographs. I’ve no training, but my eye is pulled to the contrast of dark and light, repetitive patterns, the shapes of things, both empty and solid. To develop an appreciation of this can serve writers well. For stories are just as much about what is absent from the page (or obscured) as what is revealed. What is being compared as like or unlike? And how do we frame a story? What is the focus? Where is the focus? What are the parameters of the story? What is included inside the frame? I.e. narrative POV.

LightShadowChicago

From Chicago to Madison, WI. It was my first time ever as a GoH at a Con. A different kind of scene compared to the many academic conferences I’ve been invited to as a guest speaker, it was the largest audience I’ve spoken to and delivering the GoH speech was a combination of frightening and exhilarating.

WisConGohSpeechaudience

 

N. K. Jemisin’s GoH speech was a call to arms in the fight against systemic racism and sexism entrenched within many organizations in SF culture. The applause and cheers resounded.

N.K. Jemisin & me.

GoHwithDessertTix38

The hotel lounge had an array of spec fic-infused drinks. Delightful!

KappaDrinklounge

A blur of panels, readings, parties, meals with friends old and new. We had a lovely time and returned home with much to mulch into our long-term knowledge.

Unbeknownst to me at the time while we moved through and around the convention there had been ongoing issues regarding the handling of safety issues for attendees, particularly around sexual harassment. It appears that WisCon is working on making the space safer and ensuring that the same mistakes won’t happen again.  I trust that this is so. Or I trust that even if mistakes are made in the future, for no organization is free from making them, that there will be a historical knowledge that will allow for swift and practical moves to address the lapses.

Summer saw a whirlwind of activity…

Tanabata Festival (July 7). I didn’t have any bamboo this year, but I read that some people write their wishes on paper boats. So my friends and I gathered at the beach to pen our messages and we sent them out across the great watery way.

Tanabata2014boats

Clarion West. I was totally enriched, bemused and inspired by my Clarion West experience. The students journeyed through an intensive endurance run of 6 weeks of learning, creating, integrating & output! I was only there for 1 week as one of the instructors and I was pretty exhausted by the end of it, but the attendees had 2 more weeks remaining. I can’t imagine how they did it! They not only learned together and created together (writing a new story every week) but they also lived together for the duration of the workshop in a sorority house (awesome trippy group photos on the walls, especially for this Canadian). Meals were cooked by a chef. Their days were filled with reading, critiquing, writing new stories, playing games (and, apparently, significant consumption of assorted beverages). For writers of speculative fiction who are ready for an extreme learning-by-doing experience I whole-heartedly recommend applying to Clarion West.

 ClarionWest2014

Afterward I was ready to settle into my home. The rest of the summer saw me reading a lot of children’s books, visiting the beach, feeding my yashi. ~___~



Hiromi Goto nineteenquestions interview

June 16, 2014 By: Hiromi Category: Blog, Craft, Thoughts on Writing

Interviews are odd things– they kind of start to blur together because there’s a tendency for interviewers to ask similar kinds of questions, such as, Where do you get your ideas, who are your favourite authors, etc.

This interview was a little different because I asked if it could be conducted in the same manner as the Voight-Kampff test in Bladerunner (with no one being “retired”, of course!).

What resulted was a little different from the usual fare and it was also fun!

Thank you, Haley! :D

 

 

WisCon38 Guest of Honour Speech

May 25, 2014 By: Hiromi Category: Blog

I would like to acknowledge the Ho-Chunk and Dakota Sioux Nations and their traditional lands. I am a guest, here, and I am grateful. Thank you, to the WisCon community and committee members, who have invited me as a guest of honour. I am deeply touched and so very chuffed the glow will travel to the far reaches of the outer universe when I leave this earthly plane with my Tiptree noion. Thank you, to my partner, Dana Putnam, whose love and support sees me through thick and thin, who reads all of my first drafts and provides thoughtful feedback and is willing to embark upon all manner of conversations including what would happen to our relationship if I turned into a cow. Gratitude to Kafryn Lieder who has been my WisCon liaison and has carefully made all the arrangements so that Dana and I arrived here comfortably. And deep gratitude to the many, many volunteers who have worked so hard, so generously, to make this Con happen every year. Greetings, to fellow guest of honour, Nora K. Jemisin, to everyone here; writers, readers, scholars, feminists, allies, badasses. Yoroshiku onegai shimasu.

 

Story is what has brought me here, today. Story is what has brought you here. We are alike and very unalike in many, many ways. Our bodies, our genders, our sexuality, cultural and historical backgrounds, class, faith, atheism, migration, immigration, colonization, have had us experiencing our lives and our sense of place (if not home) in distinct and particular ways. These differences, at times can divide us. These differences can be used against us to keep us divided. But here we find ourselves. Look around you. The faces of friends and the faces of strangers. We came here because of story. There is much power in story.

When I had my first nervous breakdown (I’ve only had the one, but having one when I thought I never would has opened up the possibility that I may have more, although let-the- spirits-see-me-through-the-rest-of-my-life-without-a-second-one!), I finally got into low-budget subsidized counseling after a year on the wait list. I have no true objective sense of what I’m like as a client. (Am I a client? Not a customer…. I wouldn’t call myself a patient. Impatient, maybe.) Probably I was stiff and rather reserved. I spoke like Spock for several months. Why do you talk like that? My counselor once asked me. Like what? I said.

During one of our sessions I mentioned how I was very upset with someone who had called me controlling. I don’t have control issues, I claimed. No more than anyone else, I amended.

I see a lot of artists, my counselor said. Artists and writers have to control their medium, don’t they? she said.

Spock changed the subject.

Numerous years have passed since that exchange and I can now concede that in writing stories I control what goes into them. At the same time, I’m informed by the world around me, and my first readers and editors have significant influence during the editing stage of the publishing process. Once the book is published I have no control over how my stories are read. I can only hope that the content and the techniques I used (a form of control) has rendered a story that is near to what I had intended.

The best of stories I have read has led me to places I would not have journeyed on my own. Trapped within my own subjective reality, I’m often confounded by the limits of my own thinking. I would like to be able to surprise myself, but I rarely do. I’m always utterly aware of what I think, if not why, and the banality of my own patterns can fill me with dismay. Of course I experience wonder in my engagements with other people, or in my interactions with nature or art, or music. But my own consciousness can begin to sound like Marvin the Paranoid Android. Not so much because I have the brain the size of a planet, but because I’m trapped within my own conscious self-consciousness.

What can a body do?

We can read….

Stories are powerful devices. And like all powerful devices they are capable of doing great harm as well as great good. Traditionally published fiction in North America has been predominantly representational fiction. The stories are recreations of known or recognizable elements in our world such as people, animals, plant-life, etc. in an environment be it urban, rural, or “wild”, in some form of interaction that is relational. Science fiction, fantasy and horror may bring in elements that are imagined, or yet to be invented or discovered, etc. However, the narratives are still informed by a world experienced through a human filter, and, often, the introduction of the fantastic can be a way of better understanding the existing workings and relationships with the experiential world of that moment. The best of science fiction and fantasy can cast a kind of bending light. We see the familiar in unfamiliar ways. We see the unfamiliar in familiar ways.

Writing story is the act of inscribing a specific vision. But in inscribing the specific story she’d like to share the writer exerts her control. In doing so she eliminates the possibilities of other inclusions. So writing stories can be, simultaneously, an act of creating as well as an act of exclusion.

How important, then, that published stories come from diverse sources; from the voices, experiences, subjectivities and realities of many rather than from the imagination of dominant white culture. For even as we’ve been enriched and enlightened by tales from Western tradition, stories are also carriers and vectors for ideologies. And the white literary tradition has a long legacy of silencing, erasing, distorting and misinforming.

Social media has had an effect upon how writers think about representation. Blogs, listservs, Livejournal, Facebook, Twitter, tumblr… sometimes the messages are simple and/or simplistic (Really, how much critical deconstructionist discourse can be accomplished in 140 characters?), but what some of these forms lack in complexity they make up for it in outcomes because of the speed with which the message travels and how many it can reach. There is power in numbers. When enough people are hashtagging WeNeedDiverseBooks there is an effect. Publishers think about ways they can expand their sales. Writers who haven’t much thought about diversity begin wondering what it’s all about. They begin to research and reconsider. Writers who have been writing stories with diverse subject matter and subjectivities raise their fist high in the air and shout, YES!

Readers and fans now have the capacity, in ways they’ve never had before, to effect change upon what kinds of stories will reach the public sphere. The one-way control that traditional publishing has held is being eroded by the needs and the desires of a reading public that will not be defined by an older colonial ideological imperative. Diverse readers are demanding stories that represent far more than white middle-class North America. We want and need narratives of diversity not just set in our present, but in our past and far, far into the future. And not only because these narratives are in short supply, but, more importantly, these inclusive tellings are a part of every day reality for everyone. This is realistic representation.

Much of my writing has been informed by a keen understanding of missing stories. One of my rather simple strategies has been to people my stories with main characters of, primarily, East Asian descent, from a North American context. Mainstream publishing does not in any way reflect the actual demographics of our society. And for such a very long time.

My first novel was a heartfelt roar against a lifetime of experiencing the effects of distorted renderings of Asian women in North American popular culture. I was taking control of my own representation, on my own terms, in my own language.

It matters who and what is being focused upon in fiction. It matters who is creating a fictional account of these tellings. I don’t think the “burden of representation” rests upon the shoulders of those who are positioned as under-represented. If this were the case we would fall into an essentialist trap that will serve no one well. However, I’m okay with saying that it is my hope that white writers who are interested in writing about cultures and subjectivities outside of their own consider very carefully: 1) how many writers from the culture you wish to represent have been published in your country writing in the same language you will use (i.e. English) to write the story, 2) why do you think you’re the best person to write this story? 3) who will benefit if you write this story? 4) why are you writing this story? 5) who is your intended audience? 6) if the people/culture you are selecting to write about has not had enough time, historically and structurally, to tell their story first, on their own terms, should you be occupying this space?

Stories are wondrous devices. They can serve as time travel modules as well as being the most perfect empathy generating operations with holographic capabilities. Stories can create imaginary simulations of experience so rich and dense they can feel like they are your own. We can live and die, mourn and rejoice; we can feel affinity for a fictional character in a more intimate way than we can feel for our dearest friends and lovers, because we are allowed access to a character’s mind. Fiction can sometimes feel more real than our lived lives. If only in that moment of intense connection, when our physical world slides away, and the words casts another before your mind’s eye.

This magic is not a bubble world that exists in a neutral space. The magic was wrought by the author who has a connection to the world she was born into, and she consciously and subconsciously carries those relationships into the story.

The second stage of relationship can be found inside the story—the relationships between characters and their settings as written by the author. The relationships between the fictional elements are modified representations of what the author knows and/or imagines. Writers are creating semblances of relations in order to create a simulation for a particular effect.

The third relational moment is when the reader connects with the narrative— when she willingly suspends disbelief and accepts the story experience into her consciousness. At that moment the reader is engaged in a relationship with the writer, mediated by story. The writer has guided the parameters of the relationship, but she never has absolute control. The reader always has the power to terminate the relationship at any time by closing the book. The reader is not a blank slate of appreciation. The reader brings with her her own experiences of the world she lives in and this mediates her understanding and appreciation of the text.

Finally, when the story has been read and integrated into the reader’s understanding, she carries that experience and learning back into her own experiential world, a little changed, perhaps, and it may affect her own interactions with people in her life.

Imagine this happening one hundred times. A thousand times. Ten thousand times. A hundred thousand times….

Stories are powerful engagements.

If you are writing stories with the intention of dispersing them to a wider public how great the responsibility that is placed upon your shoulders. No one has enlisted you to take up this responsibility. In the moment when the writer decides she will share her story with others she has willingly engaged in an action that sets off vectors of expanding relations that move both forward and backward into time. For just as the writer has ties to lives, communities, history, the future, so, too, do the story and the readers who will interact with the representation.

This level of responsibility can be paralyzing. How can we ever know enough, be mindful enough, to be able, at the very least, to do no harm to others? How do we dare place words in the mouths not our own? Who am I to embark upon this engagement when what I know, what I have experienced, is such a tiny mark upon this planet?

 

 

 

Silence. In the space where your voice would have rang out with its distinct articulation. The moment you silence yourself a gap opens up, and someone else who may have no qualms in occupying that space, will leap in to speak out on their own terms. If you’re a writer (a dreamer) from a people, a community, a history that has been long-marginalized, silenced or misrepresented, we so desperately need to hear your story in your voice, in your own grammar of perception and articulation….

 

When the seed of desire to write stories first began germinating inside my chest I did not think about control, representation, ideologies, power systems, colonialism. I was a lonely child who was much confused by the workings of a hypocritical adult world, where adults said one thing, then did the opposite. When the people who said they loved me were also the people who hurt me the most. Where school was a blur of confusion and uncertainty sat with me at the kitchen table every single day. I was in Grade Three or Four when the confusing array of consonants and vowels transformed from syllabic syncopation into the English language. I could read. And, suddenly, I could fly….

Flight is a crucial survival technique. For all that we imagine otherwise, without our weapons we are not an apex predator. Our nails are soft. Our teeth blunt. Our skin easily pierced. Children and women feel their vulnerability most keenly. I was child growing up with Christian parents who loved me, but were also dysfunctional. The rod was not spared and we were not spoiled. Any stability to be found was provided by my grandmother. But she was also an older woman, living in the home of my father. She was also a person of her generation and she a part of the administration of punishments for bad behavior.

“We got in trouble so much,” I once said to my sister. “Why were we always in trouble or afraid that we were going to be in trouble. How bad were we? I don’t remember. It’s all a blur.”

“We were being children,” my sister said.

Reading provided an escape from the confusion of the adult-ruled world around me. Stories transported me to places far from home, where I could feel with my entire being, infused with passion, suspense, adventure, love, longing, magic, without there being a risk to my core self. I could feel without fear. Stories allowed for an engagement that opened my young sensibilities to experience a wider world, a wider imagination, a nuanced and subtle emotional range that could not be safely explored from inside my family dynamics. These childish explorations I embarked upon in fiction can be said to be controlled environments. I did not know this then. When I was a child I thought as a child and my emotions were simple but keenly intense in that way children are capable of feeling. Reading allowed me to explore an emotional landscape that ranged far and wide, and this was possible through the growing powers of imagination. The more I read, the more my powers of imagination developed.

When I became an adult and a writer I thought as an adult with a wider range of historical and cultural contexts to understand the complicated world in which I lived. I could identify the oppressive systems that are used to govern and control, and I could think of ways I could destabilize these forces, in small ways, through actions. In my writing I could shape different kinds of story structures, cast focus upon different kinds of heroes, and illustrate dynamics that imagined alternate ways of understanding power and conflict. I thought as an adult, and wrote as an adult, but I did not put away all the childish things.

For all that vast swathes of my childhood memories have been lost or buried, I have not forgotten the sweet pain intensity of emotional engagement that can be felt through story. This is a feeling I still experience today. I have kept these feelings intact. Just as I have carried my imagination, or my imagination has carried me, from my childhood to where I am today. Here. In this very space in time. A brief and miniscule moment in the great vast stream of the universe. An engagement between friends and strangers, bridged by words, carried by story.

There is a Japanese term: kotodama. Word spirit. When you invoke a word you animate it. It becomes. We see echoes of this in other religions/philosophies. I.e. the word is god. When writers try to imagine different ways of engaging, humans to other humans, humans with aliens, humans with animals, all these different relationships, we can make possible new kinds of engagements. To bring stories alive in this way is to try to make change in the workings and fabric of our world. If something is not of this world already, it first needs to be imagined. After it is imagined, it needs to be shaped by the parameters of language. And in writing, in the utterance, the story can begin its life. It can become.

And so we begin. With each telling. With every retelling. A slight skewing of the familiar toward a different plane. The perspective shifts and the way the light falls upon the world casts it anew, ripe with possibility.

Thank you.

Innsbruck, Austria EACLALS conference

April 17, 2014 By: Hiromi Category: Blog, Events, On the Road

Firstly, thank you to my hosts, the University of Innsbruck, for inviting me here. It is a privilege to visit this beautiful city in the Alps, and meet with the many scholars and writers from many lands!

Flight from Vancouver arrived in Munich, the first shop I encountered outside the airport was a Starbucks. The air, however, was distinct– flavoured with unfamiliar cigarette smoke, the hoarse cry of a crow speaking Austrian. The Japanese crows caw in Japanese. All over the world crows speak in their native tongue.

The awe of Autobahn…. our shuttle *bus* was hitting upwards of 150 km/hr when a motorcycle whipped past us. “Holy shit,” I muttered. I sat in the front, seat belt buckled, feeling mildly frumpy and somewhat alarmed.

The freeway moved quickly to countryside. The Alps soft behind the grey of rain. Fields of green and the rounded humps of trees. Brilliant patches of early canola.

farmlands

Innsbruck a small mountain city, yesterday morning snow. Staying in the Goldener Adler, a hotel since 1390. Now owned by Best Western there’s a little sign on the front desk exclaiming Mozart would have joined as a member too…. The collapse of the historical into a material commercial. I wonder at the medieval arches in the dining room, imagine it filled with smoke of fire, the rich smell of fat and scorch bittering the air. The stench of seldom-washed winter bodies, the persistent coughs of sickly lungs. A figure-ground interplay of time.

Easter holidays and the complicated signal of bells. A taxidermy culture’s not a surprise in the mountains. But a strange interaction when icons become mixed metaphors.

DSC01198

 

There’re a lot of tourists about– both local and international. When I went to the outdoor market I wandered from stall to stall. One wagon sold lovely table runners, tablecloths, cross stitched with details of flowers and leaves. How charming, I thought.

“Where were these made?” I asked the tall blond middle-aged attendant.

“In Singapore…,” she said, and moved away from me although there were no other customers to attend to. The awkward little experience of the simulated tourist interaction collapsed between us, made even more ironic by my Asian body in the face of my desire for an authentic Austrian memento.

Three days of conferencing! I’ve ducked in and out of panels and every evening readings from international writers. When I return home I’ll be looking up the writings of Kei Miller, particularly, The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion, Carpentaria, by Alexis Wright, and That Deadman Dance, by Kim Scott.

Two more days of conference remain. I read tonight, and tomorrow a round table. Thinking a lot about representation….

The seen and unseen. The unseemly. Theory. Praxis.

I am a daughter of mushroom farmers, far from her ancestral home.

 

20th Anniversary Reissue of Chorus of Mushrooms

April 01, 2014 By: Hiromi Category: Blog

Chorus of Mushrooms 20th

https://newestpress.com/books/chorus-of-mushrooms-20th-anniversary-edition

What an honour and also bemusing to think that twenty years have already passed….

Larissa Lai so generously wrote a thoughtful and historically contextualized afterword and Smaro Kamboureli conducts an interview with me. I think this reissue will be particularly good for students and instructors. Although I like to think it will be good for everyone….

Excerpt from the interview:

SK: All this draws attention to the enduring power of storytelling. Do you think that being able to tell our own stories is crucial to figuring out who we are, how we have come to be where we are?

HG: The telling of stories is a way for people to articulate their histories, their realities and dreams on their own terms. It’s an act of empowerment and imaginative vitality—a creative resistance against forces that may otherwise distort or misrepresent. Stories can speak back. They can be a springboard for a new kind of discourse, or a momentary resting place for the weary. They can be a kind of food for our spirit and soul. It is so important for us to be able to speak our own stories, and to understand our realities through a language and culture that is specific and contextualized within our histories and to the land where we reside.

© 2014 Smaro Kamboureli and Hiromi Goto

Thank you, NeWest Press, for this lovely book!

It should be out by the end of April!  Arcs and preview copies available. Please contact NeWest. info@newestpress.com

On the Backlash Against the Writing Advice: “Write What You Know” :D

November 05, 2013 By: Hiromi Category: Blog, Craft, Thoughts on Writing

So many writers. So many developing writers. So much advice…. >__<

I hope I can be forgiven for joining the fray. This isn’t so much advice but just some thoughts that’ve been percolating the past few months.

For a long while, “Write What You Know” had/has been a refrain that made its rounds among certain writing circles. It rang with a kind of truth that spoke to many of us in different ways.

Lately I’ve been seeing comments in my twitter feed, links to articles, which suggest that the idea,”write what you know,” is a creatively limiting space. Uninteresting, perhaps. Unimaginative. A narrow platform from which to develop story.

First of all let me state that all writing advice should never be taken as an absolute truth (Yikes! I think my head will explode, now….). I’m certain most writers have a healthy measure of skepticism that will serve them well. But sometimes we long for a magic formula that will see us fulfilling our dream or reaching our goal. There is no magic formula– only the persistent development of craft, the daily of labour of writing, and the moments of brilliant creative connection that can solar flare inside your mind.

There’s a lot of writing advice out there and some of it may be useful for your practice/development, and some of it may not be of any use whatsoever. Writers in the early stages of developing their voice, skills, discipline may hear a particular kind of advice at a sensitive time and find that they are affected in a negative way. This is what I’m worried about with the current trending of dismissing the advice, “Write what you know.”

The uneasiness I had felt toward this trend became clear to me when I read a marvellous interview with Sherman Alexie in The Atlantic. In the interview Alexie speaks about reading a line of poetry by Adrian C. Louis, a Paiute Indian, that changed his life. That it was a moment when Alexie realized that he could write about himself, his emotional life, and not emulate the writing of white men. That moment of recognition– of being able to see yourself when you have lived your entire life only seeing the faces and words of a people not your own– that is a moment of power, freedom and elation. For many people, writing what we know is the first step toward reclaiming our voices, our cultures, our gender, our bodies. Writing what we know can be a shout of resistance against systemic oppression. Writing what we know can save someone’s life.

Writing only what we know may not serve a writer well as she travels the long path of learning and growing. For in learning and growing we need to tread into places we do not yet know.

But I will speak out against the outright dismissal of writing what we know. Your subjectivity, your history and your embodied experiences matter. From this site a marvellous story can grow. Believe.

Prairie Road Trip circa Early 21st C

August 22, 2013 By: Hiromi Category: Blog, On the Road

DSC00704

How a person chooses to travel is not free from considerations about environmental impact. The effects of global warming caused by human actions cannot be ignored. I am far from leading a low-impact life in terms of my carbon footprint. Very few of us are in car culture North America. It is difficult to reconcile…. Most of us live within a cushion of rationalized dissonance in order to have the things we desire.

Have I offset my levels of pollutive actions by composting organic waste products? If I never buy bottled water and hand-make cards and use recycled paper shopping bags to wrap gifts am I balancing my carbon debt to future generations?

I own a car. Some of my friends have stopped owning cars and cycle, are members of car-sharing co-ops, and take public transit. I think about doing the same, but have not committed to this yet. To live a more environmentally responsible life I think the time is nearing when I make this transition.

Perhaps this summer’s road trip is the last time I will be driving my own car. (Does this apologia allow me to recount my road trip without imploding within the storm of rationalization, guilt and dissonance?)

(My hands are slick with oil….)

My girlfriend and I had been wanting to go on a road trip for a long time. It was on our bucket list of things to do together. There is a sense of freedom as you drive away from daily routine and cares. The heart expands and the eyes sweep the horizon. The air is sweet in the mountains. The rivers run icy with the kind of blue that catches the breath in the throat.

DSC00868

We had packed the vehicle full with Useful Items including a small portable stove, a rice cooker, an electric kettle, bedding, a large cooler, Healthy Vegetable Snacks With Miso Dip, Emergency Instant Ramen, and other sundries. We are both mothers and with the kind of pragmatism that many mothers develop we’d organized our trip to be both economical and comfortable with an eye toward avoiding dreaded Toad Belly (caused by high-fat roadside fast food and long periods of time sitting in a single position >__<).

We’d decided to not to burn headlong to our destination (Saskatoon), but to stop along the way. To duck into locations that tickled the fancy, bemused, or aroused curiousity. I’d always whipped through the Rockies between Calgary and Vancouver on my annual family visits. One of the strange locations I’d never explored was 3 Valley Gap. I’d always had the oddest feelings when passing this area. The misplaced faux Swiss rendering of the resort located so near the highway looking all REDRUM resplendent…. Daughter never allowed me to stop there because she deemed it excessively creepy.

It was late afternoon, curving toward dusk when we pulled up in the parking lot. The man selling tickets to the ghost town was closing shop, but he kindly shared with us a chit that we could use to get through the gates.

GhostTown3ValleyGap

The “ghost town” was a reconstruction: the houses were trucked in from various other locations and rebuilt at 3 Valley Gap as a recreation of a “pioneer town”. Shops, houses, church, school and hotel, all the buildings that could be found in a community were collected and displayed. The mannequins were made by a homey hand… the results rather monstrous.

Mannequin3Valley

The ghosts of children felt as heavy as the dust that covered the floors. We were voyeurs of a simulated past and the photographs we took were the tokens that bound us to our perceived timeline.

Schoolhouse3Valley

We stopped in Lake Louise and Banff and stood appallingly close to elk eating saplings by the side of the road. Clearly I have not learned my lesson from my sea lion days…. Stopover in Revelstoke.

One of my favourite moments is when the mountains transition to foothills and the prairie spread. We drove through the dusk as the skies began dotting with stars. Stopover in Calgary.

From Calgary we journeyed to Drumheller. I thought it important that D saw the Tyrrell Museum. The fossils of a greater past and an uncertain future. All that has ever lived and all that lives share the same water and air, our cells made of the same matter.

The long line of highway 9 heading ever east the fields of wheat and smack of insects against the windshield. Listening to Be Good Tanyas and k.d. lang. We stopped to watch the sunset over vast spaces clicking with the wings of grasshoppers.

Wheat Sask

The agricultural vista is beautiful but the appearance of things are not the complete story. Is this a field of genetically modified wheat patented by Monsanto? Was this farmland once owned by a family that could no longer compete with big business and sold below value to a corporation? When was the last time a herd of wild bison migrated across this land? Which Indigenous Nation called this area home before they were forcibly removed? There are layers and layers histories all enfolded with the present.

A stop for fuel and sustenance converged with a sign, perhaps a portent, of the ills that plague this land.

Petroleum and Agro in Sask 2013

We arrived, late, in Rosetown and stayed in a motel that resembled hastily constructed barracks for itinerant workers. Not the most comfortable night we eagerly hit the road to Saskatoon where D wanted to search for info at the Saskatoon archives at the university. The afternoon had us stopping in several small towns and then heading south west toward Medicine Hat then Brooks.

If you ever need a stopover in Brooks the Plains Motel is lovely. Clean, affordable and extremely comfortable I’ve never had a bad stay. I also had the best baked potato, ever, at Gus’ Steak & Pizza House.

Brooks is an interesting and troubling city– in the past 15 years there’s been a significant change in demographics because of hiring and employment practices of the XL Lakeside Packers meat processing plant. On the surface what can be viewed as snapshot of “multicultural” Canada hides a far more complicated reality. The machinations of corporations are global and the victims are always the disenfranchised.

Dinosaur Provincial Park is a wonder. I never tire of visiting (although the mosquitos this year were especially bad). The endless stretch of prairies suddenly drop into a canyon river valley, the subterranean a weird garden of hoodoos, gullies, sand and stone. Lichen. Not only the fossils, old spirits linger. The rock formations dream long throughout the scorch of day.

Hoodoos

 

SandstoneForms

 

LichenDPP

The marvel of plant life growing under such extreme conditions.

Cactus

A few snapshots of a summer journey…. Two middle-aged women travelling to the Canadian Prairies (un)easily by automobile in the early 21st C. Appreciating the present, making connections to the past, and moving toward an ever-expanding future.

Dana and Hiromi Sask 2013

 

Three Months, Ten Days and a trip to PEI

May 30, 2013 By: Hiromi Category: Blog, Events, On the Road

Sounds like a torrid affair! But it’s only that I’ve been so very busy…. I’m hoping to get back to more regular blogging. We shall see!

Much has happened in the past three months. I’ve conducted a webinar for the WIR at Athabasca University as well as critiquing submissions and working with my mentees. Attended a conference (which involved writing a presentation), conducted readings, sat on  a panel, ongoing mentoring through SFU’s The Writer’s Studio, presented the keynote at The Trudeau Foundation Summer Institute, while, of course, being involved with family, lover, friends and community…. Whew! It’s been a very busy spring!

When I was invited to deliver the keynote for the Trudeau scholars I knew very little about the Foundation. Of course I looked it up online. I must confess to feeling uncomfortable in highly academic spaces. Although many of my books are taught in academia, I am not an academic. I have interest in aspects of feminist theory, or post colonial theory, or queer theory, etc. But I’m not a practicing scholar and my interest is that of a generalist. I suspect that a great many writers of fiction are generalists. We are curious about many things. We like to figure things out. And then we like to make something brought together of many different component parts.

I was required to write a speech that would, in some way, inspire scholars who are among the best in their field. Really, I thought. What do you know that would be intellectual enough as well as inspire??? (This is a form of “bad voice”, the voice of impostor syndrome, etc. And, yes, counselling does help!) I was plagued by the ever-nearing date of delivery, and the writing of it troubled me over many months. I had numerous false starts, bouts of painful procrastination and bad dreams. Finally, instead of writing what I thought might be important to the audience, what I thought I ought to write, I focussed on what was core and important to me. I linked my creative and political process through familial and historical interactions, how they all converge…. As an individual, a writer, and as a part of a broader community, I am influenced upon, by the social  and cultural that exists around me. Simultaneously, I play my small part, through action and writing, in influencing the social and cultural that enfold me. A great unending spiral of effect and response, taking in and producing, perpetually breathing in and out….

(I was also very lucky to have the support of my girlfriend and friends who provided feedback and moral support, otherwise the entire process would have been exponentially more challenging.)

The speech was delivered. I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Positive feedback received. Phew! After the pressures of the presentation had fallen away I could enter into conversations with the most interesting people! A chance, also, to catch up with old friends made in Edmonton when I was at U of A. So lovely to share meals and conversations with Libe and Lisa. Make new friends like Danielle, Kyle and Laura. The entire conference impeccably orchestrated by Jennifer and Josee! Interesting panels and challenging talks. A range of voices and ideologies. I wrote pages of notes on little tabs of paper and even had a go at my first live-tweeting!

The Summer Institute was held in PEI! I’d never been to the island province and so I tagged on extra days to have a holiday with my girlfriend. (This is one of the perks of being a writer– invitations to places you wouldn’t have been able to afford out of pocket. At the risk of sounding greedy I’m hoping that one day I’ll be invited to Iceland, Peru, Mexico, Turkey and Nunavut! 6__6)

Before leaving for PEI, my Mi’kmaq friend, M, stated in a dry voice, “It’s flat.” Indeed, it was! The spread of field and sky reminded me of Alberta. I don’t mind me flatlands! Only in PEI the edge of red earth/sand met the blue of the ocean converging with the sky at the horizon. So beautiful!

PEIbeach2013

The trees are smaller than out west. Mixed deciduous and coniferous. And much farmland, the red soil producing 25% of Canada’s potatoes! Girlfriend and I spent some time arguing about whether or not the word, “bucolic” was patronizing or not. I voted, no. She, yes. I had called her on, “quaint”, before, you see…. >__<

And holy EPIC LAWNS! Why sooo lawn when it could just be a FIELD? D: There were massive lawns everywhere in the countryside. Families could have their own football fields. Forget putting green. They were driving range size! All that time mowing the lawn when it could be hay. Or why not a goat? A couple of goats?

Epic PEI Lawn 2013

(I don’t know if you can see tiny white dot to the left of the house but it’s dude on riding lawn mower who was mowing for over 1.5 hours as Girlfriend and I had lunch in Georgetown. When we drove past dude was still mowing…. This was, by far, the biggest lawn I’ve ever seen in Canada.)

Of course a trip to PEI meant that some kind of nod to Anne of Green Gables was required. We went to Anne of Green Gables Recreation (as in, re-created, although it does dovetail with play and leisure…) Land (this is not the official name of the place, fyi…). Unfortunately it was closed for the season…. (Early May was a nice time to be in PEI. Tourist season hadn’t started yet. The roads clear. But this also meant some places weren’t open or hours were reduced. Note: couldn’t find a car rental place open in Charlottetown on the Sunday. Not sure if it was because it was a Sunday, or because it was low-season. Happily, Girlfriend had the brilliant idea to inquire at the airport rental. Voila!). Happily, the park area was not gated so we slipped in and viewed the main re-creation “house” of Anne!

FakeAnneofGreenGablesHouse

“I don’t think her house was this big in the book,” I said. We peered through the windows, catching the threads of the liminal between fiction and material replication. How a story starts out as fiction, and ends up as a house, in a park, on the north shore of PEI….

But before the fiction was a writer. And before the writer came the child. Lucy Maud Montgomery’s mother died when she was still very young and she went to live at her maternal grandparent’s home, much like Anne went to live with the Cuthberts….

While Girlfriend and I perused tourist maps and brochures, we discovered, to our great joy, that the foundation to L.M. Montgomery’s grandparent’s home was just .6 km away from the fake Anne House! This was the house where Lucy’s imagination began to bloom. Where she wrote Anne of Green Gables! This was the place where story began. We drove to the site (whilst getting slightly lost despite it being so nearby) and discovered it wasn’t yet open for the tourist season. How awful to come so far and be so near and not get to tread upon the very place where Lucy Maud Montgomery had trod…. Happily it wasn’t fenced off either so we dropped money into the suggestion box and we entered the grounds.

The foundations of the house, tucked inside stands of trees, seemed modest. How small it looks, I thought.

Foundations of L.M. Montgomery's childhood home 6 copy

How the branches of the trees must have brushed against the glass of the windows. A hush in the air, inside my chest. I read Anne of Green Gables as a child, and I was so taken with the exuberant red-headed orphan, her mishaps with her heart on her sleeve, always. Uncynical, believer of good and fanciful imagination.  A world and several generations away from my childhood in Langley, BC in the 1970s…. Yet I was there, an avid child reader who grew up to be a writer. L.M. Montgomery and I have little in common. <grin>. Histories, cultures, timelines, so many things which cast us at farthest points of a spectrum. But stories…. Stories can bridge some of that gap. And imagination. If you agree to walk with them down that lane.

The Lane behind L.M. Montgomery's home. copy

 

PEI, apparently, is a province full of foxes! You can see them all over Charlottetown, our first cabbie told us. When I asked him if the coywolves had come over to the island as well, he said, “Oh, yah! They’re here alright.” He went on to tell a bunch of stories that began to roll into yarn…. And so GF and I began disbelieving him about the foxes. When we caught another cab and asked about foxes again, the 2nd cabbie explained there were two kinds: the red fox, and the ones that were originally imported from Russia, but were set free after to collapse of the fur industry. “I know where they are,” he said. “I can show you.” GF and I started to wonder if he was yarning us as well, but they he called out, “There’s one.” And there it was! On the outskirts of Charlottetown. A grey-black fox, skittishly trotting behind a house. After that, GF and I were on a constant look-out for more foxes. They are magical creatures– so clever and rather ghostly.

We drove out to the Cavendish area and through the national park. When out of the trees sauntered a fox, as if on cue. Unfortunately the cue was the sound of our car. Some assholes have been feeding this fox (my sea lion story notwithstanding, coff, coff, Quick! Look over there——>!) and it was completely habituated. I did not feed the fox!!! But I was able to snap several photographs.

PEI Fox copy

 

Despite being such a small island (tho relative, scale, etc!), we had to leave so much of it unseen. Three days is nothing– I would love to go back for a longer stay. I would love to ride a bicycle along Confederation Trail. But so grateful for the opportunity to have visited “The Gentle Island”. Thank you to the Trudeau Foundation for making it possible, Pierre-Gerlier Forest for inviting me to the Summer Institute.

Finally, yes, it’s the food porn moment. Yes, there be plenty of seafood out east! My last lunch at Clamdiggers in Georgetown. Free wifi! ^__^

LastLunchGeorgetown copy

 

Writing Craft: Conveying Narrative/POV

February 20, 2013 By: Hiromi Category: Blog, Craft

For a great many of developing writers we often begin writing a story intuitively. We have a character, an idea, a vision, and a goal. And we begin. We don’t necessarily have the knowledge to name the component parts that make up a story. We don’t necessarily understand what, exactly, it is we are doing. We can do a great deal of writing without knowing the names of the elements of fiction. However, developing an understanding and a vocabulary for  the actual mechanics of a story can strengthen your capacity to further your craft.

I would suggest that you finish your first draft before thinking about the technical elements of your story. If, however, you have a writing process that is systems-driven and revels in design, by all means start out with the analysis to blueprint your tale.

When we think of story we often think about the all-important characters and the conflicts they encounter; the causal connections. But in order to move these elements forward there is the means of conveyance. How is the story conveyed?

A narrator conveys the story.

The narrator can be:

1) In the first person: the “I” tells the tale from within the story, and can be the main character or a secondary character. This is the most common modality of the first person narrator.

The “I” narrator can also be located outside of the story but “tells” the tale to the reader as an omniscient narrator and can come very close to being the writer’s voice (but does not have to). This is infrequently seen.

2) In the third person, limited omniscient. Often from a vantage point that has access to the main character’s thoughts and emotions but not the thoughts and emotions of the other characters although these can be surmised via the main character within the habitat of the story.

3) In the third person, omniscient. The narrator has access to everyone’s thoughts and emotions and reveals them as desired.

4) The rarely used second person. A slippery person– very interesting. (I recommend experimenting with it.)

Most stories are conveyed in the first and third person. Both narrators can have varying degrees of proximity to the characters.  This is a matter of intimacy: how close do you want your reader to get?

If the narrator is outside the story (i.e. the third person narrator), how close is the narrator to the emotional centre? Is this third person  rendering the telling as if “neutral”– cool and uninvolved, an “observational” tone? Or is the narrator positioned right inside the main character’s head, seeing out through her eyes, relaying all thoughts and emotions?

Compare:

“Several emotions flickered across her face. She swallowed hard. She slid her hands along the outside seam of her skirt.”

to

“Something wobbled inside her throat. She clenched her teeth, sealed her lips to stop the fragile thing from being born. When she swallowed it was all broken glass and twisted metal. Her moist palms throbbed with the pound of her heart. She slid her hands down the cloth of her skirt to wipe the wet away. Oh god, she thought. My thighs feel disgusting.”

Once you’ve decided upon the distance between the narrator and the character/rendering this distance needs to be maintained consistently throughout the tale. Any sudden shifts will be noticed instinctively, if not consciously, by the reader.

Another question you need to consider is the role the narrator is meant to play in the conveyance of the story.

Is the narrator meant to be, mostly, a transparent filter through which story is conveyed? Or, is the narrator meant to be an active component of the story experience– i.e. you’re meant to notice the narrator’s presence and it’s as if the narrator is almost an character (though not a player) in their own right? A lovely example of this can be found in Carmen Dog, by Carol Emshwiller. This is also a novel that tells, tells, tells from beginning to end and in the most successful of ways. Yes, stories can be told instead of primarily shown, for all that I ask my mentees to show more ;)! Or is the narrator somewhere in -between these two extremes?

Finally, whose story is the narrator telling? Is the narrator telling their own story? Is the narrator telling someone else’s story? Is the narrator telling someone else’s story but in doing so, is actually sharing a story about himself? I.e. The Great Gatsby.

The first person narrator is also capable of differing degrees of proximity. A first person narrator can be emotionally remote in his telling insomuch that the narrator never tells the reader what he really feels, i.e. Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro (Although those feelings can be conveyed in different ways such as compulsive thoughts, denial, saying one thing and doing another, etc. This becomes a psychological study of character.). A first person narrator can also share every emotion she feels, the experience of the story felt viscerally by the reader as if inhabiting the space just as the character does, i.e. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian, by Sherman Alexie.

Narrative POV both limits field of vision (how much of the story is shared), and how close the reader gets to the emotional centre. It functions a little like blinders on a race horse, as well as the tether.

Understanding these aspects of narrative POV can enable you to write a stronger story. Having the capacity to selectively alter elements of narrative POV can have a huge effect on the editing process.

 

Contemplative Life

January 29, 2013 By: Hiromi Category: Blog, Thoughts on Writing

Water Snake Year neither bobs nor floats– it’s undulating side to side even as it moves forward. I’m doubled up with work, then doubled up once again, a coil of responsibilities and deadlines.

Luckily Daughter is a cool young cat sauntering in and out of the apartment, her fake lashes and black-liner lending her a sloe-eyed nonchalance as she re-imagines and shapes her life beyond her mother.

Son is mostly a voice on the cell phone, a sometimes text message. We meet, occasionally, for supper or lunch, catching each other up on the major events of our current lives.

I remember when they were small, and needed my attention every day. When it was difficult to find the time to write. There was scarcely time to think. The night crying fevered sweats the impacted bowel chicken pox scratching the cold snapping my temper frayed the blinds, the string, I was often in a state of slight unravel….

There is time, now, to be busy with work and work. Daughter is perfectly happy, even if I’m not, with eating spicy Korean instant noodles for three nights in a row. Son is making his way in a room of his own and a mile away.

With more space and time for work, work has taken up more space and time in my life. It presses, so, upon the shoulders, the tightness at the temples, the muscles in my neck. My T-rex arms that are perpetually bent at the elbows, even when I’m sleeping.

But I am not confined to a 9-5 job. I am not confined to an office dress code or monitored by the Bradford Factor. All that is required of me is to meet my deadlines, meet the expectations of my contract jobs. (No! Not THAT KIND of contract job!)

Even in the midst of work and snake and ladder creativity, if I really need to I can close the laptop. Put on my coat. Just leave. There is space for contemplation if it is desired or needed.

A few weeks ago it was my Oba-chan’s death memorial day. I wanted to do something that honoured her. Something that reminded me of her. Something nice, quiet and beautiful. I decided to go to the Bloedel Conservatory. My grandmother loved plants and animals– she was the one who taught me through example the wonders of gardening. She always looked so peaceful working among the plants, the evenly mounded rows of soil. It was the only time she was alone, I suppose. She raised me and three of my sisters. What noise and clamour we must have been….

D joined me that late afternoon. The air was saturated with peaty wet moisture. It smelled brown. But it was far from quiet for the birds. The dark green stems and leaves of tropical trees and palms, great banana plants and the flicker chit of brilliant finches. The raucous  screechings of parrots.

The overlapping mesh of green. My grandmother was there. In the space between. In the fractal array of stems, in the tightly knotted red of a frond ready to breach. It looks like an angel being born, D said.

NewFrondDetailBloedel copy

Oba-chan in the brilliant feathers of the golden pheasant. In the softly dimpled down. In the seeds that hungry finches devoured. In the minute droplets of mist that fell upon our faces. I breathed her in and breathed her out. Come closer, I said. Oba-chan, I miss you.

Oba-chan Memorial Jan 17 2013 copy