Thursday, April 26, 2012

"Mercy" on $5,000 Vanderbilt-Exile Prize Short List

Exactly what the title says! My long-suffering, 21 months in the making, 7,000-plus word story is among the final twelve, which is especially good news because it means the story will appear in the Carter V. Cooper Short Fiction Anthology Series, Vol. 2 this summer, and an invite to a swanky dinner in June, too. The big announcement is still forthcoming, though: who will win the $3,000 for best story by an emerging writer? And who will win the $2,000 prize for best story by a non-emerging writer, (a prize for which my writing teacher extraordinaire, Richard Scarsbrook, was long-listed for his story, "The Statistician")? Ms. Gloria Vanderbilt is currently reading the stories - definitely the most famous person to ever look at my work! - and the news should be out soon, I'll update. I'd like to take this moment to thank two people who read and commented on the story: Summer Literary Seminars pal Larry Levey, and 2011 Broken Pencil Death Match compatriot (and champion) David Griffin Brown.

Some other little updates:

-I just signed the contract for my very short story, "A Real Princess," to appear in Stone Skin Press's upcoming Modern Aesop anthology, (thanks for the swap-and-edit, Julie McArthur). My first contract, cool!

-I'll be reading at the EW Reading Series at Duffy's Tavern, Toronto, on July 10, 2012.

-I found both the The Nashwaak Review and Prairie Journal issues featuring my work at Indigo last week, check it out.

-I'm about to go check the mail for my copy of Paragon, just released, in which my very short story "Hamburger" appears, and I hope it comes today, because tonight I'm off to Italy for a week or two! (My Reading Journal may take a short hiatus, but it will be back soon.)

As always, thanks everyone for supporting my work; with a little luck, I may have even better news next time. Ciao!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Reading Journal: China in Ten Words, by Yu Hua (2011)

The first non-fiction work I've read in a quite a while, and a choice I'm very happy with. Yu Hua, a fiction writer, takes ten concepts - 10 idiograms on the front cover - and writes a chapter about each, explaining what this idea means to him, and the role these concepts play in both his and China's identity. It's sort of a memoir, and sort of a study, and in the end (the late chapters, "Copycat" and "Bamboozle"), it's very critical of China's "economic miracle," and the greed and corruption and dishonesty on which this "success" has been built. The chapters "Reading," "Writing" and "Revolution" are particularly bracing, as well. Best of all, it's Hua's writing that gets you truly into the country, flourshing in the beginning chapter - "The People" - by taking you to Tianenmen Square in 1989. My next read about China will be something about the censorship of literature in that country; I'm fairly ignorant, but this struck me as a book the Chinese government doesn't want you to read. Trans. Allan H. Barr.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Reading Journal: Every Lost Country, by Steven Heighton (2010)

A doctor, his daughter, a mountain climber and a film maker embark on an Everest trek, and find themselves caught in the crossfire at a Tibet-Nepal border crossing. Heighton's latest novel - ahead of his second book of stories this summer, which I'm really excited for - is packed with action and imagery, though if I had to find a flaw, it would be in his balance of the two. I found that a lot of times, an extra sentence or two, (each one usually another image), would clog up the paragraph, getting between the actions. It's a trifle, though: Heighton is one of Canada's most under-celebrated writers and his sentences, as always, are poetic but muscular and incredibly well-tempered. I'll take one image too many here or there and still keep reading, no question.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Reading Journal: Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen (2006)

Incredibly evocative and detailed, but disarmingly clear in its prose - longer than it looks, and feels shorter than it is - Sara Gruen's novel more than deserves its fame. The main character has such an interesting backstory, and such a compassion for animals, and when he accidentally joins the circus, circa the Great Depression, the world he's drawn into is new and strange and exciting at nearly every turn. Plus, I'm a sucker for the point of view from which the story's told: old man in a nursing home remembering. The sting comes out of the language in the final hundred pages, but I found myself so invested in the outcome that I didn't care much. A pop novel, sure, but that shouldn't take anything away from it. I thought it was a great read.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Reading Journal: No Great Mischief, by Alistair MacLeod (1999)

Mystical and beautiful work that loops eternally back on itself, telling the history of a Scottish-descended Cape Breton family, exorcising demon after demon that comes with their rise in the world. (And they have risen: the narrator has made a Toronto dentist of himself.) MacLeod almost has too many balls in the air, deliberately using characters with the same name and one "Grandpa" and one "Grandfather," to the point where keeping track of where in space or time you are can be a challenge. But in the best sense, this novel - to me - was about its general impression, and there's such a current of loss running through it, and such a strong resistance to pure nostalgia, that this exploration proves well worthwhile. Definitely a novel I'll get more from on the second time through, but not so difficult that it absolutely requires rereading. A slow read that's justly become a CanLit staple, and will remain so for a very long time. Rich, rich work.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Reading Journal: The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath (1963)

Eminently quotable book about the coming of age of a woman writer - and later, unfortunately, depression and primitive therapy - that's worthy of its place in the canon. Take this example, from the end of the first chapter:

"I liked looking on at other people in crucial situations. If there was a road accident or a street fight or a baby pickled in a laboratory jar for me to look at, I'd stop and look so hard I never forgot it.

I certainly learned a lot of things I never would have learned otherwise this way, and even when they surprised me or made me sick I never let on, but pretended that's the way I knew things were all the time."

Or this one:

"I felt dreadfully inadequate. The trouble was, I had been inadequate all along, I simply hadn't thought about it.

The one thing I was good at was winning scholarships and prizes, and that era was coming to an end."

The coming depression is evident, but so too is the weight of promise, of knowing that you're not going to fit into the type of life others around you do. As a book for young adults to read, I think this one has stayed more relevant than The Catcher in the Rye, and I think that the unlikelihood of male readers identifying with it has been greatly exaggerated. It tapers off in the end, churning through several institutions before tying off the loose ends, but generally, I kind of loved it.