I received a tag from the gifted Liz Windhorst Harmer, asking whether I’d be willing to participate in another round of tag, where writers link their blogs and answer some questions about their craft. Liz is the kind of writer you stop watching at your peril: if you think you’ve been hearing rumbles in the Canadian literary scene, it was probably her, writing razor-sharp pieces, winning awards, and changing lives with her cut-right-through-you insights.
She was tagged by Amanda Leduc, another friend and local writer whose prose makes me want to go and write my own. She’s the author of The Miracles of Ordinary Men, a stunner of a debut novel that you should buy and read, if you haven’t already. She is a force and an industry: I dare you to see what she’s up to and not be knocked the hell out.
Liz also tagged Krista Foss, whose novel Smoke River is turning heads.
And now it’s my turn.
1. What are you working on?
I’ve just finished the first draft of Winterbare, a literary novel of magical realism. I’ve been working on the novel as part of my thesis work in UBC’s creative writing MFA, and will spend the upcoming year working with Timothy Taylor to revise the novel hopefully into publishable form.
It was a tough draft to complete, but I’ve moved past dread and into eager anticipation for the revisions. Excitement, even.
An elevator pitch for the novel might sound like this: While struggling through his final year of high school, Boy Cornelius McVeigh strikes up an unusual friendship with Mara, a man who can stop time. However, Boy’s fractured family situation—a substance-addicted mother and a father serving time for manslaughter—collides with this unusual relationship when the wrong person learns about Mara’s ability. As his school year—and the secure future he assumed he would have—threatens to fall apart, Boy will confront the danger of Mara’s ability, the limits of friendship, as well as the lingering questions about his family’s past.
Additionally, I also have a notebook full of ideas for a couple more novels, a half-dozen short stories in various stages of completion, a creative nonfiction “nonvella” going through its own birthing pains, and a monthly contribution to The Christian Courier, a column entitled “Borderless.”
2. How does my work differ from others in its genre?
Pinning down magical realism in the literary spectrum is a tough challenge because I often find that any novel that I’d consider to be memorable or noteworthy and that contains magical realist elements is already pushing at the flimsy membrane of the literary genre. They often don’t “fit,” and often I like that just fine.
My work, while literary in that it’s atmospheric and character driven, also pushes at that boundary. I’ve had guardian angels, messenger angels, ghosts, a jewel-spewing teenager, and even a little cubbyhole that produces magical items, but they all merely exist, as though they’ve been there all along and would be, if anyone thought about it, natural that they do.
Chance & King, the novel that I am currently shopping around, is a prime example of this. It features that little niche I mentioned, but it is primarily about downtown Hamilton and the motley cast of city-dwellers who live there. It’s not a typical genre “fit,” and I’m excited about the right publisher snapping it up because it is exactly that.
3. Why do I write what I do?
I write what I’d like to read. I’m a discerning reader, but I tend to enjoy novels that have rich literary craft—excellent character, strong imagery and figurative depth, and tight, tight prose—but also have good action. Things need to happen—novels that meander around in one character’s mind for 400 pages, for example, don’t often get finished. (Oh, and novels about New York hipster/neurotic/self-absorbed/me-the-centre-of-everything types, too.)
I also write to enrich other people—I get a buzz from the idea of others reading and enjoying my work.
4. How does my writing process work?
Right now, between being a new dad, working part time at the local library, finishing my MFA work, and the thousand other things that populate a day, my writing time is precious, precious, precious. As a result, it mostly happens between the hours of 5 and 7 am—if I can find an hour or two elsewhere, I’ll use that, too.
I do try to write every day—for me, consistency is the breathing life of my writing. It would be too easy to hit snooze every morning and sleep a little longer. Maybe someday I won’t have to crawl the pre-dawn hours, but right now I do, and I’m actually enjoying it, even if I need longer naps when weekends come around (weekends? what weekends?).
In practical terms, I’m not a strict shitty-first-drafter. If I recognize something big that needs fixing, I’ll interrupt my forward progress to try and sort it out, rather than writing through it and trying to see how it all fits later on. I also don’t like to start the next sentence unless the one I’ve been working on functions on its own—I’m not afraid of the delete key. (Except on Windows computers: having backspace and delete options is just too complicated.)
And now, I get to tag a couple of others, too. Look for their blog posts in mid-September.
Steph Vandermeulen is a writer, laser-eyed copy editor, and book-lover extraordinaire. She’s fascinating, blunt, and very, very funny. She runs a chapter of The Story Intensive, so if you want help with your writing, contact her. She’s also an excellent scribe: keep an eye out for her work.
Sonal Champsee is a fellow MFA student in the Opt-Res writing program at UBC. I’m hoping she writes a memoir about landlording amidst the opinionated echoes of her mother—in the meantime, she’s blogging and writing her way through it all, too.
Go, ladies, go!