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Archive for the ‘Thoughts on Writing’

What you leave behind

December 20, 2011 By: Hiromi Category: Blog, Thoughts on Writing

After years of accumulation of books, papers, notebooks, research photocopies, old letters and journals I’m coming to a place where it’s time to go through the material and down-size. This fills me with a sense of giddiness (well, after the hard labour of sorting through the shelves, files and boxes…!). How marvellous to be free of the tether of material things! When Daughter and I were in Edmonton for one academic year we took with us mostly clothing, ‘though I brought along some few books and, of course, my laptop and printer. It was so freeing to realize that one needed very few things to live very well. I’d love to feel like that every day!

What do I save? What do I destroy? (Are feminist archivists screaming?) University and library archives collect writers’ stuff. Especially early drafts of novels with marginalia, letters between two writers/artists, relevant business letters, journals, etc. I’m torn because on the one hand I think my private life and private journals are private, but on the other hand recognize that the personal is political and that there hasn’t been enough saved and researched on the lives of women. All these archives filled with the lives of men of belle lettres and women only more recently gaining a foothold in the stupid canon. Shoot me out the cannon, I say! In a tutu and fishnet stockings, blasting a foghorn as I sail above everyone’s head toward my event horizon!

In the grand non-scheme of things my mortal time and space is nothing more than a single heartbeat in a vast dark universe. And the universe will reabsorb me just like I breathe in motes of dust. (This is an image that reassures me though I suppose it may give others the willies.) So really? What do my papers matter?

But then maybe this vantage point is too far out. It’s unlikely I’ll ever get to see the Earth from outer space (Billionaire Benefactor, hear my plea!!! I’ll dedicate my next un-nice novel to you! ^__^) let alone leave the Milky Way. And I am of this Earth and of the communities of people around me. I’m a small part of the greater body of feminists, writers, artists, activists, queer folk of my time.

A writerfriend told me that really personal stuff can be sealed and not be accessible until a time you’ve specified. A very good thing to do if you have children. There are some things children would rather not know about their parent(s) and that’s perfectly acceptable.

So I’m torn. I think about how wonderful it would feel to shred all my old stuff and fold it into the composter! Really! Awesome! It may feel like a snake shedding her skin…. Oooooooo! Lovely. The snake doesn’t hoard all her old skins and save them in an archive! (Hmmmm, nice story image. And reminding me of the cell libraries in A Door Into Ocean. Love that book. Tho the first 1/3 was kinda slow-going. Well worth the patience, tho!)

Haven’t made up my mind. The scale is almost perfectly balanced. I’ve a deadline on this project so I must make a choice. I suppose many writers/artists go through similar dilemmas. <shrug>

I’ll post on this when I’ve come to my decision! ^__^

Curious Example of Accretion

November 10, 2011 By: Hiromi Category: Blog, Thoughts on Writing

Just imagine! If these editorials/interviews are clumping online now you bet the deadlines overlapped as well!

Sometimes a little challenging for a writer/thinker who can only comfortably hold one idea in her head at a time (And luckily the children are Big, now, and I didn’t drop them when they were little when I was juggling several items simultaneously although I did toss my daughter into the air (of course catching her!) and miscalculated the distance to the exposed furnace venting on the ceiling of the ice cream shop but the impact with her head was mostly loud rather than injurious and all the other parents thought I was an idiot but we finished with ice cream and all’s well that ends well don’t you think?)…. It’s very odd. Invitations and requests seem to come in little clusters. I don’t know why they can’t be nicely spaced out, one each month, but that would be rather, perhaps, too unrandom. But a series of clustered deadlines are unrandom too. That geeky man making charts on the trajectory of Angry Birds could probably graph the results for me. But graphing it won’t affect how the deadlines still come in. !__!

I am grateful. Truly.

Here I am on The Rejectionist with “Some Thoughts on Speculative Fiction”. (I do apologize for the rather prosaic title; I was pressed for time. >_< )

(Does this mean I needn’t worry about blogging for three weeks???? ^____^)

“A Planet of One’s Own”: Guest Editorial for On Spec Magazine

November 09, 2011 By: Hiromi Category: Editorials, Thoughts on Writing

A cluster of interactions outside the actual writing of novel has resulted in some postings in print and online. “A Planet of One’s Own” is a guest editorial I wrote for the Canadian magazine of the fantastic, On Spec. I wonder what Ms. Woolf would have thought…. ~__~

What Will Stand the Test of Time?

November 08, 2011 By: Hiromi Category: Blog, Interviews, Thoughts on Writing

On the one hand I figure once you’re dead it doesn’t really matter, on an ego-level, does it? There’re only ego concerns if you’re alive enough to appreciate it and care (I’m working on the premise that there’s no after life, no self-conscious ghosties, no burdens of regret to pass onto the next generation, etc.). On the other hand I have children so if I can have books still bring in royalties, yah, that’d be awesome. Leave them a little something– if not enough to let them retire when they are 55 years old, at least enough to eat at a fancy restaurant several times a year!

When I write my novels I’m not thinking about whether or not they will Stand The Test of Time. And I am not specifically and consciously crafting stories that will try to evade or float above my historical timeline. (What I mean is we are creatures of specific times. My childhood in the 70’s has imprinted in specific ways. 80’s in the Canadian prairies has formed something else inside of my experience-scape. Etc. We bring those sensibilities to the atmosphere, if not the setting itself, in the stories we write. Some timeprint. It’s in us. We transport it. It’s one of our filters.) Some novels/stories/poems/plays etc remain as vivid, remarkable, relevant and vital even after decades, centuries have passed. Did the authors of these narratives wonder if their work would still speak to an audience three hundred years into the future?

I’ve been thinking about which SF and Fantasy stories stand the test of time and why. Not in a scholarly way, Jim, because I’m not a scholar, but in a writerly abstracted musing kind of way, like a little yarn hanging from my sweater that I like to pluck at and tug between thumb and forefinger.

Last week I reread Barbara Hambly’s Darwath Trilogy after 15+ years and was surprised to discover that it read very well, even revisiting it as an older and more experienced reader/writer, and that the subject matter and content would actually be quite fine to be released now. It’s a fantasy series with two humans from our world finding themselves in an parallel world that’s very much like what would have been a medieval culture for us. Aside from the very beginning of the narrative, there are no leaps between the locales. They are trapped in the medieval realm. So there was very little to fix the “presentness” of their lives in contrast to my reading now in the 21rst century. The only thing that stood out as time-fixed was mention of VHS videos…. (Which I still watch I’ll have you know! ^__^)

This got me to thinking about which elements may fix SF and Fantastic stories into a tighter reading time-frame. What I mean by a tight reading time-frame is stories that are best read in “the present” of when the story was first released, and, as time passes, its relevance or interest wanes. It doesn’t have a long shelf life. It is like a Beaujolais, not a bottle of brandy.

So back to Hambly’s trilogy. Fantasy, with its construction of an alternate world/setting with or without elements of the magical, may float above the tethers that would bind a narrative to a specific time because it’s often working out of an imaginary system that is actually removed from our experience of “real time” (and all the markers of reality that have a time-print). Science fiction runs a greater risk of being “dated” because of two significant elements: 1) SF will often imagine a future, and as we approach the date it can seem quite silly when what was imagined as the future is so far from the reality (Interestingly, as we catch up to the imagined timeline, the futuristic story actually becomes an interesting artifact of the past as it foregrounds the anxieties and interests of that culture’s present!). 2) Focus on technological advances/discoveries also fixes the narrative in time as technological discoveries continue onward, quickly surpass it, or veer in a different direction, etc. For instance, computers were room-sized machines but now they are becoming extremely small. What was cutting edge is swiftly surpassed. It seems to me that an SF novel based on technological discoveries would face more challenges in being current and relevant than a fantasy novel (of course I’m speaking in very broad terms, here). Steampunk seems an interesting marriage of fantasy and science fiction with a ground based upon nostalgia but that’s another little discussion for another day. Hambly’s fantasy adventure has elements of a mystery as well as following tropes of fantasy (such as fight between human survival against a strange deadly and evil force), as well as conflict between groups (church and state), conflict between individuals and groups, as well as a moderate romantic element (nicely handled, not overdone, <she nods approvingly>) and all of these things certainly recur in human history, they’ve never gone away. There’s one final element that actually affects how well it resonates as a book for current interest, but I don’t want to speak of it because I would spoiler the trilogy… >_< !! So I won’t. At any rate I suggest you read this trilogy for yourself and have a ponder about how and why it can still resonate.

As a writer is it important to consider whether or not the novel you are crafting is “timeless”? Is it important to carefully pore through the text to try to erase all timeprints that will anchor it forever in 2011?

I don’t think there’s a correct answer….

I have a feeling that trying to write “a timeless book” would be very much like trying to write “a universal story”; a fruitless endeavour, a little like trying to catch air with a butterfly net…. But who knows? Maybe there are a slough of writers out there who approach their novels in that very way??? I don’t know. And, as my father said, “Life is… <dramatic pause> Unknowable!”

Often reviewers will describe a novel as “timeless”. “Universal” is also probably close behind. Birth, death, love, heartbreak, success, failure, good and evil; these binary constructions have indeed, orbited our very short human lives since time immemorial, at least we’ve endless chronicles about them.

Of course writers write stories set in a wide spectrum of time. Their stories may be set in the distant past, the near past, the present, the future, the far future, etc. They combine multiple timelines, what have you. We are only limited by our imagination. As writers we can play with time! We can bend it, we can alter it, as long as we have the ability to have manipulate language to convey this. But none of this really clinches whether or not a story will stand the test of time.

Ultimately the story has to be very good, specific, and distinct.

In terms of my writing process my character(s) are the primary engines to my narrative. I have a broad concept, probably several pressing questions and the character(s) are dropped into the mix. Sometimes I feel very bad about the things they must endure. They are always very deeply loved….

I’m not trying to prove anything, here. <grin> I’m just kinda working out some random thoughts. Mulling. I suppose it would be good to talk about how one treats time inside a story. The seeming semblance of the passage of story time in the story world as opposed to how much time is passing for the reader…. Now THAT is a magic trick, I kid you not! But not today. ~___~

And, rather randomly, I end with a link to a recent interview for the Fall 2011 issue of The Seventh Week, Clarion West Writer’s Workshop! The most thoughtful, astute & imaginative Nisi Shawl asked me non-typical questions and it was an absolute delight to respond to them. You need to download the pdf once you’re on the site.

http://www.clarionwest.org/The_Seventh_Week

Full Spectrum Life

October 03, 2011 By: Hiromi Category: Blog, Thoughts on Writing

Bursts of work, a deadline yoke and nothing scrambled for breakfast except my brains of course I have to reorganize my desk, a bower bird compulsion of arrangementrearrangement….  First the surface cleared of receipts, dust, receipts, dust, coins, feathers, pens, Moomintroll sticky notes, scissors, books, unfiled papers, Chionodoxa bulbs, mice (not warm-blooded), magnifying glass, brochures and my ingrown heart…. Next the suspension of not disbelief, but a full spectrum light, above the far length of my writing desk, the garden herbs replanted into clay pots last week now placed in a row beneath the brilliant light when I leave my room the afterimage a dark horizontal strip hangs in midair.

The bower bird writer rearranges her desk not to attract a mate, but to create a space that has a pleasing kuuki, an atmosphere/air quality that will seep into her creative process as well imbue into the language of her projects…. Other might call it procrastination. What have you. I am a bower bird writer, intermittently compulsive, with aesthetic and philosophical leanings. (At least I am not obsessively piling dung pellets on my desk. Really. Things can be so much worse. It’s always extremely reassuring to think about this.)

Two years ago I had a large fish tank with a beautiful velvet-blue Beta fish named Eduardo. He was so very clever and interactive and the lovely flow of his silky fins as he swam up and down in his own medium, just beyond the screen of my laptop. I would catch his movement like thoughts flickering across my subconscious. Dreamy. Languid. Flow.

I’m hoping the full-spectrum light will keep my plants healthy over the dark winter. The window in my room is north-facing and the clouds can grow oppressive. I’m also hoping that the light will be vitamin D-good for me as well, and that I will be able to eat fresh shiso, red chillis and basil over the winter! We shall see.

Edits and editing, rewriting and critiquing, a doubling of work and work is good. So is time away from desk and fully into body. Last Thursday L and I drove out toward Pemberton in search of matsutake. I think it may be too early, but we found, instead, what we thought were chanterelles*!

Ohhhh, so sweet and soft the air. The clean delicious scent of cedar, pine and spruce. The uneven spring of moss beneath our feet. We entered the forest gently, the trees ringing with silence, water rushing unseen a stream, the crack of dry twigs, the luminous glow of lichen. So body and forest and air and sound and no clutterthoughts just the careful placement of feet, just the sweep of eyes for a pale mushroom pushing up through moss. Here. And here. Ohhh!

Whenever I reenter the forest I wonder that it’s taken so very long to return. Why so city when the mountains…?

There’s still work to be done on my bower. The glare from the full-spectrum light (the fluorescent-tube variety, approximately three feet in length) is really hard on my eyes! Hahahahahahaha! Things don’t necessarily turn out exactly how one envisions, but it won’t be too difficult to make some kind of shade to attach along the edge of the piece of wood to which the light is affixed. I’m currently wearing a baseball cap to cut down on the glare. I’m sure the light is also bright enough to damage my photo of Alice B. Sheldon (a scanned reprint off the original, the original put away in a box) that’s hanging on the wall. So final tweakings to be fussed about, a darting beak and rustling feathers, midst words and language and the slow-building of an interior 3-D imaginary world in all its delicious details.

*Please NEVER eat uncertain mushrooms without having a professional confirm their identification. If you ever need to research dreadful details of a slow and awful death read up on mushroom poisoning. L got confirmation of the chanterelles from the mushroom guy at Granville Island Market. Don’t play Mushroom Roulette!                                                                                                      Mushroom Farmers’ Daughter

Manipulation and Intimacy in Narrative Fiction

September 26, 2011 By: Hiromi Category: Blog, Books & Films, Craft, Thoughts on Writing

Reading a work of narrative fiction can be compared to embarking on a type of journey. The reader embarks upon this journey willingly (unless it’s assigned reading for school, etc.), entrusting her well-being into the hands of the author. Of course this voluntary contract is non-binding– the reader can leave the book, unfinished, for whatever reason (Thankfully, this final power remains with the reader because no one wants to be trapped in a Clockwork Orange scenario. We call those nightmares….).

One of the key challenges faced by the writer is to draw the reader into the text and keep her engaged to the end of the journey. The writer maintains engagment in a variety of ways. In narrative fiction the common ways in which a reader can be held are:

1) An engrossing plot. This activates our hard-wired human trait, curiousity. I.e. What happens next?

2) A compelling character/voice. (We wish to be like her. Or we make the proxy cross-over and think we may actually be like her if we were to find ourselves in the same situation. Or we can’t ever imagine being someone like her, but wonder what someone like her thinks/feels.)

3) Creativity/Imagination. I.e. Elicits a sense of wonder.

4) Beautiful language and/or poetics. This elicits aesthetic wonder.

5) Via character, emotionally hooks the reader. I.e. Intimacy. (Also connects back to the idea of proxy. Empathy is socially and culturally valued if not a hard-wired trait in most of us.)

6) Eliciting intellectual curiousity. I.e. In terms of (new) information being relayed, or the mechanics of the structure of narrative is atypical thereby resonating as a puzzle to be solved or deconstructed, or making connections between disparate ideas in a new way, etc.

(This list is not defnitive, of course.)

I’ve been pondering the levels of intimacy that are subtly and not-so-subtly reached/triggered during the back-and-forth play between author-narrator-reader in that stretch of time/space of writing and a book being read. Because the flip side of intimacy, which can be beautiful and so deeply moving, is vulnerability. To open oneself to intimacy is to receptive and unguarded– we are open to intense connection, but also to deep hurt. Consequently, I believe that it behooves writers to take time to consider the ways in which they create and shape narrative fiction and to what levels and the ways in which they will use intimacy to engage their reader.

Authors have a wide range to work with. There are texts that are very cool, distant, emotionally removed and dry. The primary engagement may be foregrounded as intellectual, and intimacy can be pushed far back, into the nose-bleed section of the emotive auditorium. I think the British literary tradition excels at this type of narrative style. To the other extreme we can be placed so subjectively close to a fictional character that we can experience her life completely as if we, momentarily and actually, are her. We can be more intimately connected to a fictional character, know more of what she thinks and what she feels, than we will ever be able to with our own lovers!

Narrative fiction, on one level, is the careful manipulation of words in order to construct an artificial imaginary temporal, causal, emotional and intellectual mindscape for a reader. The very nature of this work is one of manipulation. Although I’ve stated that ultimately the reader holds the power to close the book should she find herself taken into a place she does not wish to enter, writers also hold a great deal of manipulative power in hooking the reader (particularly through plot) to staying until the end. (I’m not going to go into books that are “difficult” to read i.e. unfamiliar form, or political content, or experimental, etc., but are actually doing an important work/writing. This is separate topic from what I’m detailing here.)

I’ve been thinking about trust and intimacy relationships between the author-narrator-reader because I’ve recently read a novel where I felt hooked enough to follow the plot until the end of the tale, and left the completed reading of the book feeling that the author manipulated me, the reader, as much as she manipulated the characters she created. Of course I understand that the entire construction of a fictional narrative is, on one level, the manipulation of words into a specific form. One must manipulate in order to succeed. But what are the terms? What is shared? Who gives? Who takes? How much? Are there junctures in the narrative where the flow of power shifts? Does the writer leave space for the reader to maintain a sense of autonomy. Does the writer love and respect the reader? Does it matter if she does or doesn’t?

I don’t want to be coy– the novel that troubled me was Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood. I admire her earlier novels a great deal, especially as I read them when I was coming into my feminist understandings in the late 80s and early 90s. In terms of the a narrative of the dystopic/utopic, I was and am interested in what she’s created in Oryx and Crake. She’s clever, imaginative and engaging and she’s a skillful storyteller. Outside from its genre (which is highly foregrounded), however, was a kind of pounding upon my emotive reading psyche– one of manipulation. I felt like I had been led through a narrative Matryoshka doll-effect, with the final largest doll being the reader, and Atwood the agent who gets to put the set away after she’s finished playing with them. And I did not at all appreciate how this felt.

SPOILER ALERT! Technically, Atwood adeptly and quickly hits the reader with a dual track of causality with which to hook our drive to discover what happens and why: 1) We’re placed in the “present” where it’s post-disaster, so we wonder what’s led to the disaster, and also what will happen next in the “present” timeline of the hapless narrator caught in a survivor situation, 2) the narrative’s past leading up to the disaster is unveiled through its own timeline underscoring the causal elements that led to the disaster as well as establishing the protagonist’s own bildungsroman. Nothing troubling about these strategies; I think she was/is very clever to double up on the narratives and it’s also not unheard of. She treats the same character (Jimmy/Snowman) as two separate characters via the distance of time with the timelines meeting at the end of the novel. Clever.

But the smallest of the Matroyshka dolls comes into play via the introduction and treatment of the characters of 1) Jimmy’s mother, and 2) the figure in the child porn abuse film that Jimmy views/overlay of Jimmy’s narrative of the abused child atop of Oryx. Clearly Jimmy/Snowman is a kind of anti-hero. And his understanding and perceptions of his mother and child-abuse victim/Oryx is that of a flawed and sexist/misogynist/colonialist character. But by situating the text via Jimmy/Snowman’s subjectivity the reader is situated to impose this reading upon them as well, and the writer who orchestrates this manouvre is Atwood. We are vicariously set up to perceive in a way we may abhorr, in order to experience Jimmy/Snowman as Atwood has constructed. The next stage of manipulation is unveiled when we discover Jimmy has been utterly manipulated by his long-time friend, Crake (who may have manipulated the video depicting the execution of Jimmy’s mother in order to manipulate Jimmy into having feelings of vengeance, as well as manipulating Jimmy via his obsession/desire for Oryx). Jimmy, whom we thought had had at least some level of agency in his own story, has actually been played like a pawn by Crake, throughout. To top it off, we are clearly made to understand that Crake is only the “natural” outcome of a society gone utterly wrong. Crake has been manipulated into being by a bad human world. The novel ends with a seemingly “open-ended” sequence– Snowman is at the ultimate crux of having to choose between the lives of humans like himself, or protecting the genetically constructed Children of Crake (as designed by flawed Crake). Atwood does not finish the scene for us, but in terms of how Jimmy was manipuated throughout the narrative, she leaves us with very little space to imagine him doing anything other than what he was manipulated into doing. This is the final manipulation. The reader is manipulated into reading only one ending even when there seems to be space to choose other options.

It could be said that I’m missing the entire point of the novel in that it was written as satire (as implied, for instance, by the main character’s Leave-it-to-Beaver-like name, “Jimmy” alongside the figure of the emotionally distant and disengaged mother, invoking a kind of contructed and heimlich gesturing toward an artificial nostalgia that’s clearly ironic, not to mention the over-the-top names of drugs, trends, organizations, products, etc. found throughout the fictional world as constructed by Atwood). It could be stated that we aren’t meant to engage with the novel on an emotive and empathetic level when the primary engagement is meant to be satirical (and intellectual). This may have been the intention, but I’m not convinced that the intention was successfully deployed. Or, perhaps Atwood intended the reader to recognize that manipulation was the modus operandi, both cause and effect, and appreciate this?

I do enjoy satire– Philip K. Dick excelled at it in the best of his books. Perhaps it’s a matter of degree and tone. In our current lives of hyper-consumerism atop of inherited legacies of colonialism and oppression, that which Atwood gestures toward as satirical is actually part of our lived realities. The real and satirical collapses into one and the same. So the future that Atwood creates is not necessarily perceived as humorous embellishment. This is the whole point, it may be said.

I would respond to this idea with Fred Wah’s, “So what?”*

So what?????

Social commentary and warning if humanity doesn’t change its trajectory? Don’t be manipulated like Jimmy was? Don’t be a Jimmy or a Crake? Don’t be manipulated like they are, even though I manipulated you so that you can see how manipulation works? Aren’t our consumer-driven corporation-led lives a comedic tragedy…?

There is a huge experiential difference between satire that allows us to observe the unfolding of the joke, and one in which we are part of the joke. The dividing line may not be so clear in the construction of the joke– context and subjectivities are not static. I have no idea of whether or not Atwood situated the reader as reader-pawn intentionally, or if it was an unintended outcome. I like to believe that it was unintended. But the reading of Oryx and Crake had me pondering less about the dire conditions we are moving toward in terms of our global impact upon environmental/ecological/social/cultural wellness, and more focussed upon the difficult-to-measure ethical relationship between the writer and the reader.

In the end I felt like the writer had no love or affection for the reader. Indeed, I felt like I had been had. A curious place to find myself when the underlying impetus for the writing of dystopias could be said arises from a place of deep caring for the survival of humanity.

Ultimately I don’t regret having read Atwood’s novel, because it has had me  considering important moral and ethical issues around the relational between author-narrator-reader. We should not enter this space lightly, even if the creative intention is an expression/articulation of levity. It is a relationship that we ought to consider every time we write something intended for a readership.

*Fred Wah was my first creative writing instructor at the University of Calgary. He had a very effective way (if not somewhat alarming/intimidating) of directing a critical gaze upon a story or poem that was skillfully constructed and stylistically “faultless”, but, somehow, devoid of life, or vibrancy, or risk, or edginess, or urgency, etc. The story set out what it intended to do, and achieved it, the end. Stories/poems like these elicited the dreaded Fred Wah’s, “So what?” A rhetorical question, but one critically necessary for the writer to consider.

Question # 3: How Do You Get Your Work Published?

August 14, 2011 By: Hiromi Category: Blog, Business of Writing, Craft, Thoughts on Writing

If you have never had your work published in a professional venue (i.e. magazine not owned by family members, anthologies, newspapers, contest win leading to pro publications, etc.) and you are eager to do so you might like to ask yourself:

Question #1: Have I worked long at developing my craft?

and:

Question #2: Have I had professional critical feedback on the piece I’d like to submit and I’ve re-written it once again (after numerous previous revisions)?

I think it’s really important that you’ve accomplished these two things before submitting. Of course I’m not speaking in absolutes. There are many paths and ways to being a published writer. The path I’ve taken is what I consider “The Tortoise’s Path” of “The Tortoise and the Hare” model. I’ll blog about that path on another day. ~__~

There are a few other questions you may like to consider. Writers write and seek publication for a wide range of reasons. We are complex and complicated creatures and life is never boring even if a great many of us are neurotics. I digress. I would like to caution the writer who is seeking first-time pro publication, however, if her primary drive to be published is ego-driven. I think that before the ego must come craft…. I’m sure there are wildly successful authors whose ego considerations come before their craft. And that’s fine for them. And, perhaps, that’s fine for you. Who knows? I have strong feelings, however, about the art-fullness of work to be made public. If you’re going to do it, do it to the best of your ability. Make it count. Because once it’s out there you cannot take it back.

If you are a gifted young writer, and I met so many gifted and hard-working writers at the VPL Writing and Book Camp this past week, I would encourage you to not be in a terrrible rush to be published (Unless you’re suffering from terminal illness– that would very sad, and rushing would totally make sense.). Maybe you long to make a big literary Splash in the publishing scene. It has happened before, and it will continue to happen in the future. I think this kind of entry into the publishing scene is not without certain stresses and drawbacks that could deeply affect your career and writing development trajectory. Because even after the pro publication our writing continues to change and develop. We dig deeper. We think harder. We continue to grow. This is the lovely and amazing thing about being a writer. We can keep on learning and growing as long as we seek this! If, perhaps, you seek early career publication and it makes a Splash, you’ve set yourself up in a very public way and there will be expectations that you produce something just as splashy the second time around. The Second Book Syndrome can be paralyzing and destructive to your creative process. I wouldn’t wish it upon anybody. I’ve seen this happen to adult writers. I would hate for this to happen to someone in her teens. Not that you might not be up to the challenge. But let me reassure you: it’s okay to take your time. Writers needn’t race toward publication. If the story, the poem, the novel, is well-crafted and a lovely thing, it will find a home. Author Justine Larbalestier has blogged about being published early that may be of interest: http://justinelarbalestier.com/blog/2005/08/13/too-young-to-publish/ I don’t want to discourage you if you’re young and ambitious. It’s great to have goals and dreams. I know sometimes there feels like a great urgency to be “a real writer” (i.e. published. I don’t know if I think that only published writers are “real writers” but that’s another essay)…. I swear. There’s lots of time. Read and read and read. Write, rewrite, ask questions, find someone to professionally critique your work, rewrite. Rewrite some more.

Now, if you’ve answered  a resounding, “Yes!” to question #1, I would suggest that you go do research at your largest library and find out what kinds of magazines and journals are being published locally/regionally. Of course you can also look online for these journals as well as looking for online publications. You need to seek out venues that would be a suitable place for your stories/poems. If you’ve written a Pro-Choice poem and submit it to a Roman Catholic magazine it’s not going to be accepted. You need to research the market and submit to likely places. Read a wide variety of journals and magazines and look for a publication that publishes work similar to yours. There’s also a lot of helpful pro tips online if you look around. Do tons of research!

Contests are also a place to submit your work. If the contest is asking for a submission fee or processing fee that doesn’t differ so much from the prize I would advise you not to participate. For instance, if they ask you to pay $25 and the prize is $500 I would consider it “not worth it”. A true contest should not have you paying anything at all. Often a magazine will have a contest and with the processing fee you receive a year’s subscription of the magazine. If it’s a magazine you like and it publishes work similar to yours and you’re interested in the content then I don’t think it’s a rip-off.

Beware of online contests and publications. There’s not a great deal of quality control there yet. You may want to seek out professional advice before submitting to venues you’re unfamiliar with. Do research. Ask around.

Question #2: Where do I go for professional critical feedback? If you live in a major city it is very likely that the central libary or university(ies) have a Writer-in-Residency Program. The Writer-in-Residence is hired by the library/university/etc. to be available to the writing public to offer professional feedback/critiques. I’ve served in four residencies and not so many younger writers were coming in to access the services. There’s no age limit. Younger writers should feel free to book an appointment to receive feedback on their writing. You needn’t worry about your work “not being good enough”, because the whole point of the writer-in-residence is to provide feedback to writers who are working on a project, so they can strengthen it. I would also add, however, that some writers-in-residence may be more helpful than others. This is true of editors. If you have a less-than-helpful interaction with a writer-in-residence or editor it may be that they weren’t the right one for your kind of work. Please don’t despair. Find someone else. Maybe there’s a school teacher who is interested in writing, is a writer herself. Maybe there’re writing workshops through Continuing Education. Find places where you can receive critical feedback so you can further polish and develop your work. Family and friends who encourage us is very important to keep us going, but they may not be the best people to critically evaluate your work. The work being critiqued may not feel so pleasant, but it’s a necessary part of revisions.

There are many paths to becoming a published writers and you will find your way somehow! Ganbare! And believe! ~__~

Je me regrette!

July 10, 2011 By: Hiromi Category: Blog, Business of Writing, On the Road, Thoughts on Writing

I have been so busy I have not posted on my Sundays. But, je ne me regrette pas, because tomorrow– well, today, in fact, daughter and I leave for France! We are “picking up” my mum along the way (via airplane/airport) and will be spending the next two weeks on the road! Tres bien! It is one of my sister’s birthday and she’s arranged for a large gathering of friends and family in order to celebrate. It’s going to be loud, exciting, fractious, hilarious, dramatic…. We are not a quiet family. Nope.

I hope to post On-the-road updates now and then. I’m not entirely sure that our accomodations have internet connection. This detail wasn’t included on their websites. Lordy. I’m kinda addicted to email. I guess time off-line is a Good Thing. But it will take me a little while to acclimatize! I guess I could always write the entries on laptop and then post on a later date.

The past few weeks I`ve been catching up on writing, rewriting, editing and correspondence. Also had the most fabulous “shop talk” meeting with my agent. “Shop talk” is, for me, discussions of the business side of writing. My agent knows a lot about this of course and it’s good to touch base to hear where she’s at, where I’m at, and what kind of goals can be placed upon the horizon in the most potentially fruitful of ways. I find it so very important to me to work with an agent I can talk with– an agent who has the time to sit down and answer questions, ask questions, and share information. Not all agents do this. I suppose not all writers want this kind of author/agent relationship? Some agents don’t like to be asked questions…. They want to be left alone with your manuscript, the author to go back to being creative, and the agent will be happy to hear from you once the next manuscript is completed. The important thing is to find an agent with whom you can work compatibly.

I`ll be meeting my French editor of Baam! in Paris! Half World was translated and released in 2010 as Entremonde. It`s so neat and odd to have one`s book translated into a language one does not know. The translation is a book near to what you wrote, but the translator (in this case, Marie de Premonville!) is the one who literally wrote this French version! I can`t read it to comprehend it. I can sound out the more simple words, and spot a noun here, a verb there, but there is no comprehension other than what I know already of my own English version. A translation is a variation of the original, because there is never an equal and exact translation from one language into another. I love variations… (except in my morning coffee!). Very excited to  meet book people from France! Yay!

Not much time left for sleeps. So adieu mes amis! (Daughter hates my French accent. Or, my English accent atop my atrocious French. It is likely I will embarrass her a Great Deal. Just as my mother will embarrass me. Oh, the legacies! I tell you!)

I’ll try to post while on the road!

Feeding my yashi….

June 28, 2011 By: Hiromi Category: Blog, Books & Films, Thoughts on Writing

Octavia E. Butler’s Xenogenesis trilogy features aliens that have three “sexes”: male, female, and ooloi. The ooloi are neither male nor female but a third sex that is necessary for reproduction. The ooloi can manipulate DNA and make genetic alterations– they are living sythesizers of new life. The ooloi manipulate the genetic material in an organ called yashi. The ooloi hunger for new DNA, discovery of new species, etc. If they haven’t tasted something new for a while, they need to seek it out.

I’ve been taking to thinking of the “creative” organ inside of me as my yashi…. Yashi was hungering this past week, so I fed her. ~___~

Watched several films, read several graphic novels, a trip to the Vancouver Art Gallery, made a painting of a squid, attended a lecture on our microbial environment, and working my vegetable gardens all nourish my yashi so very much!

I’d been curious about Parnormal Activity for a while and finally got to see it– was a huge fail for me. Perhaps the intended audience is meant to be younger…? I think I might have been frightened if I were fourteen? But I found the main characters so extremely annoying that I didn’t care what happened to them. (Which led me to question my own morality– i.e. if I didn’t care for a person based on their personality traits, clearly it’s amoral to have no empathy over whether they live, suffer, or die, etc.) However, another element that prevented any willing suspension of disbelief was the use of the hand-held camera as documenting-event-as-they-occur premise, which I find a huge leap of faith because if you’re really in a life or death situation, how many regular joe people (as opposed to dedicated and practiced professional journalists/camerapeople) would keep on filming? If there’s some weird scary evil shit going down, wouldn’t you just frickin’ stop filming and run, fast? There were several lines delivered throughout the film with the character addressing this very question– explainers, on why he feels compelled to keep on filming. Which only underscored the constructedness of the narrative. In the end it was a gimmick film. But I was very much impressed by the low-budget aspect! It did remarkably well for a small-scale production. Kudos!

Also watched My Dog Tulip, a feature-length animation about an older curmudgeonly bachelor writer who adopts a German Shepard. The writing/narration is a little dated (it was written as a memoir in 1956), but the drawings/animations are so very beautiful and lovely…. Gorgeous and strategic use of colour. The deep greens, blues, red alongside shades of brown. The lines sometimes left gestural. It was such a balm upon the senses, especially in this time of CGI-created uber uncanny valleys… (The most recent unpleasant valley I visited was Rango! Especially the female lead, Beans, to the Depp-Rango-Chameleon. Beans was one of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen. I was so distracted by the CGI that I could scarcely follow the story.).

Also finally watched Kinsey! Whoa! Very gripping and interesting and well-performed. Who doesn’t love Laura Linney? I also found the doubling of father behaviours to be well-done. I’ve also begun watching the TV series, True Blood. Not too shabby! And there’s not so  many seasons to catch up to. Not like Battlestar Gallactica. Captn’, it’s not possible!

Read the Best of American Comic 2007, Dogs and Water, and American Widow. American Widow is a memoir of life after 9/11, from the point-of-view of a young pregnant wife who has lost her husband in the attack upon the Twin Towers. Deeply personal, honest and sad, it reveals what the aftermath was like for Alissa Torres, the very intimate human suffering behind a large-scale historic tragedy. The clean, spare artwork of Sungyoon Choi was a perfect pairing with this narrative. Very powerful use of dark and light, simple lines. Unfussy. This graphic novel made me cry….

I was going to share some thoughts on the Surrealist show at the Vancouver Art Gallery, Ken Lum’s installations, and a simple and haunting piece, “Torso of a Young Girl”, by Myfanwy Macleod, but I need to leave, soon, for a plenary session at the Asian Canadian Studies Graduate Workshop! If you’re in Vancouver area please do go to the gallery. If you go on a Tues, between 5-9pm it’s sliding scale and you can pay what you like!

Feeding the yashi is so important to nourish creativity…. Writing is the very visible part of our creativity, but the stuff that supports and sustains it should receive just as much time and focus. And respect.

The Artful Business of Writing

June 05, 2011 By: Hiromi Category: Blog, Business of Writing, On the Road, Thoughts on Writing

It’s difficult to comprehend fully, but I’ve been a writer for over twenty years. Unbelievable! Weird! By hook and by crook I’ve somehow managed to live off my writerly income, but this has been only just manageable because my ex-husband and I share our resources to raise the children and maintain family. I know I could not have stuck to my writer’s life as I have lived it as the primary care-giver single mom.

I don’t like to think of my writing as business and don’t do it naturally— this is partly a result of the idea of separating art (i.e. “high art”) from the commercial. Braid into this strand the political and it’s even more difficult to frame writing as business. Every profession will have members who think of themselves as the best, or the most “pure” (?), the most evolved, etc. In the great wash of life what people think of you and what you do does not truly matter. However, sometimes we can’t help feeling doubts and question what we do, how we do it. We can’t help these feelings and thoughts, because we are, aside from V.S. Naipaul <rolling eyes>, feeling and thinking social creatures.

If writing is the sole means of your income to not think of the business side of things is selectively naive and counter-productive. To think and plan on how to increase your income with your art so you can continue to do the art you love to do is not an evil thing. I have heard people in the literary arts and visual arts talk to each other about how so-and-so has “sold out” or “went commercial” and wasn’t “truly an artist anymore”. My first question I ask is who is it that deems this so? Are they coming from a place where income is a less pressing concern? I.e. do they have family money to fall back upon so they needn’t fear aging in poverty with no medical plan? And, finally, why must we cling to the weird Romantic idea(l) that artists must suffer for their art?I want to live and eat well. It is everyone’s right.

Art is also labour. I think of the writing I do as art but also as a serious (and joyous) labour. And as a worker I expect to be paid. I’ve been working hard at writing for many years. As I become better at this labour and art form I want a raise! Hahahahahahahahaaaa!

Meeting with my agent’s partners in Toronto has shifted something for me in how I think of my writing. I had been always placing the ideals (subjective) of art and politics in the foreground, but I think I need to balance the field with an equal amount of thinking and energy around elements of business.

One of the agents said that the average reading level was Grade 10. My friend said, That high? Instead of feeling like the writer must come down from her esteemed standards of excellence which involves a large vocabulary, and woeing and wailing that literacy has fallen so low, it can be seen as an opportunity to reexamine the author’s expectations of audience. There are also issues of class. Does your choice of vocabulary, construction and narrative only speak to a smaller specific audience or does it have the capacity to reach a wider and diverse audience? Who do you want to reach? Who do you want to have read your book? Do you want to make more money? To want to make more money is not, in itself, a bad thing.

The same agent said that books are luxury items. Most people cannot afford to buy books in the same way they would spend money on apples or bananas. True, I thought. I love libraries and frequent them and borrow books. But as a writer I earn money when people buy my books.

I don’t think it’s one or the other– we’re either true to our political beliefs and artistic ideals or we “go commercial” and write more mainstream. I like to think that it’s possible to combine the best of all wor(l)ds and an artful writer can pull this off! Why not? If you write it into being, you’ve written it into being!

God, I love this work!