BWS 14.03.18: Sonia Di Placido

Headshot Sonia Di Placido

Sonia Di Placido is currently completing an MFA in Creative Writing at UBC. She is a member of The League of Canadian PoetsThe Writer’s Union of CanadaThe Canadian Women in The Literary Arts and The Association of Italian-Canadian Writers. An Associate Editor of Juniper Poetry Magazine, she has poems published by CarouselPuritanThe White Wall ReviewJacket2CanthiusThe California Journal of Women Writers, and Juniper. In September 2016, she was part of the China Writers Association International Writer’s Residency for the cities of Tianjin, Binhai, and Beijing. Sonia teaches English as a Second Language with LINC Ontario part-time. Her first book Exaltation in Cadmium Red was published by Guernica Editions in 2012.

This fall Sonia will launch her second full-length book of poetry, FLESH. Below she shares two poems from her upcoming release. Visit Sonia’s blog for more information.

Camaraderie

The quiet Fleur-de-lys

sprout a warning

of the sovereign knot—

My knotted Francophone friend,

bearing her necklace, its charm

this 400th weekend, 24th of June.

 

Marie de Medici isn’t eager

to cross these icy skins, our lapping

ocean and rivers that hide

 

poison ivy in spring

(among fern ghettos)

over granite

over ore.

 

Shield shelved into rock,

this greener ground

(jewels of silver

amber              quartz)

cast under Champlain’s shores—

Temiskaming and Ville Marie.

 

Our kindred bovinae spirits—

Wilder-ness-Miss Buffalo       exiled.

Reproducing nil, we wile

trampling trilliums.

Frayed grass flowers align

between province and providence.

 

In blood, we draw iron from these plants

that seep it out of soil—we are

diagnosed with mineral deficiency.

Our “teeth and bones, once coral”

now white, the ovaries turned to fluorite.

 

Luna Bound

This wit-warm womb peeks out, first

to grow tentacles from a dark vessel

evading space debris

 

I come, Luna bound, brave,

my bounce a touch of dust

in dirt-dry elements—

 

they blow upward at non-gravity,

wound with empty craters.

Hellas basin is the first to hear

 

my delayed arrival in waves

to you, moon, a wound

wound in your own evening.

Sunlight and dark of earth-day—

 

you, moon, my rounder egg,

we are a non-encounter.

 

Sonia Di Placido visits Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, January 10, 2018 in our new home, Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church Street, Toronto, at 6:30pm (PWYC) alongside Alicia Elliott, Crystal Mars, and Anar Ali. Our special guest speaker will be announced soon!

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Brockton Writers Series 14.03.18

Wednesday, March 14, 2018 – 6:30pm

Brockton Writers Series presents readings by

Sonia Di Placido
Alicia Elliott
Crystal Mars
Anar Ali

special guest speaker to be announced soon

Glad Day Bookshop

499 Church Street, Toronto

The reading is PWYC (suggested $3-$5) and features a Q&A with the writers afterward. Books and refreshments are available for sale.

ACCESSIBILITY INFO
The venue is accessible. Please refrain from wearing scents.

Many thanks to the Ontario Arts Council for their support.

OAC_REVISED_NEWCOLOURS_1805c

And to the Canada Council for the Arts for travel funding!

 

READERS

 

Headshot Sonia Di Placido

Sonia Di Placido is currently completing an MFA in Creative Writing at UBC. She is a member of The League of Canadian Poets, The Writer’s Union of Canada, The Canadian Women in The Literary Arts and The Association of Italian-Canadian Writers. An Associate Editor of Juniper Poetry Magazine, she has poems published by Carousel, Puritan, The White Wall Review, Jacket2, Canthius, The California Journal of Women Writers, and Juniper. In September 2016, she was part of the China Writers Association International Writer’s Residency for the cities of Tianjin, Binhai, and Beijing. Sonia teaches English as a Second Language with LINC Ontario part-time. Her first book Exaltation in Cadmium Red was published by Guernica Editions in 2012. FLESH is her second full-length book of poetry.

 

Alicia_elliott

Alicia Elliott is a Tuscarora writer living in Brantford, Ontario with her husband and child. Her writing has been published by The Malahat Review, The New Quarterly, The Walrus, Macleans, Globe and Mail and many others. Her essay “A Mind Spread Out on the Ground” won Gold at the National Magazine Awards and has been selected to be published in Best Canadian Essays 2017. She has most recently been named the 2017-2018 Geoffrey and Margaret Andrew Fellow at UBC. Her book of essays, A Mind Spread Out on the Ground, is forthcoming from Doubleday Canada in Spring 2019.

 

 

Crystal Mars

Crystal Mars is an artist based in Toronto. She holds a BFA from the Ontario College of Art & Design and has exhibited in Canada and the United States. Her work explores desire, trauma, transformation, power, and memory through visual arts and literature. Read more here.

 

 

 

 

anar headshot

Anar Ali’s first book, Baby Khaki’s Wings, a collection of short stories, was a finalist for the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize (Best First Book), Ontario’s Trillium Book Award, and the Danuta Gleed Literary Award. Her debut novel, The Night of Power, is forthcoming from Penguin. Ali is a recent graduate of the Canadian Film Centre and has a 1-hour TV family drama series in development with the CBC. She currently splits her time between Toronto and Mexico.

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BWS 10.01.18 report: How to Write a Query, with Cassandra Rodgers

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After a long career in finance, Cassandra Rodgers decided to pursue her love of literature by getting involved with running a literary festival. Organizing panels, looking after authors and managing promotions paved the way to her current career as a literary agent. At our first event of the year, Cassandra spoke to us about how to write a great pitch.

What Makes a Query Standout?

As a literary agent reading queries is an integral part of my job. It is a privilege and a pleasure to have a first look at the work that is being created by many talented people.  That said, I receive approximately 20 queries. Due to sheer time constraints, I am not able to respond to, or look at, everyone’s work in detail.  The quality of a query is perhaps the best screening tool I use for effective time management.  These are some of the things that I look for before determining if I should ask for a full or partial manuscript.

The Opening Paragraph:

Briefly tell me the title of your book, genre, and word count.  Word count is very pretty important – there are guidelines that publishers are looking for in each genre. If, for example, you have a 250,000-word commercial fiction novel, this shows me that you don’t know these guidelines and it can be a red flag about your knowledge of the industry.  You must be mindful that this is a business and I am in it to sell manuscripts to publishers.

Also, address me directly.  I want to see that you understand what authors I represent and why your work would be a good fit for my list.  The genres I represent can be found on my website and it doesn’t include Young Adult work. So, for example, if you send me a YA piece, it  illustrates that you haven’t done your research and could indicate, again, a lack of understanding about the industry.  I understand that you are sending this to many agents but each query has a better chance of being looked at if they are personalized.

The Second Paragraph:

Briefly tell me about the plot of the book.  This paragraph (or perhaps two at most) should be no longer than 100 to 200 words, serving as a bare bones description of the book.

I need to be able to understand quickly the elements of the story.  Tell me about the main characters and the conflict they are facing, the stakes that are at risk, and the choices they may have to make.  Please tell me the setting but don’t tell me the ending!  I want the basics to lure me in and create the desire to read the manuscript. Keep focused on the major characters and plot points; I tend to lose focus and interest if a number of sub-plots are discussed.  Highlight anything that makes this book different from those on the market right now.  You could also use the third paragraph to list comparable titles that are on the market to give me an idea on where you feel this fits on a bookstore shelf.

The Final Paragraph:

Briefly tell me about yourself.  Highlight any courses you have taken in writing, work that has been published, significant awards you have either won or been shortlisted for.  If you have worked with a professional editor, please let me know.  It’s ok if this is your debut novel, in fact, most of the books I have sold have been by debut authors. I want to see a level of professionalism and seriousness about the craft.  Use humour if appropriate – I once asked for a manuscript simply because the last line of the bio made me laugh out loud.

Sending out a query to an agent is a brave and often nerve-wracking part of the business.  It should be done after your manuscript has been completed, polished, and you feel confident that it is at the best point that you can take it.  I have the deepest admiration for anyone who can get a manuscript to that level, and it would be a shame to miss out on a great work due to a poorly crafted query.

In the end, it is the quality of the manuscript and not the query that will make me want to work with a writer but a solid, professional query is the best way for me to see that manuscript.

Watch this space for features on our upcoming guests Crystal Mars, Anar Ali, Sonia Diplacido, and Alicia Elliott. See you at our next event on March 14, 2018, 6:30pm, at Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church St., Toronto!

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BWS 10.01.18: Mariam Pirbhai

Mariam-Pirbhai-2-colour (3)

Mariam Pirbhai is the author of a debut short story collection titled Outside People and Other Stories (Inanna 2017), praised by award-winning novelist Shani Mootoo for its “clear-eyed compassion, generosity and literary brilliance.” Her short fiction has also appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals, including Her Mother’s Ashes, Vol III (Mawenzi), and Pakistani Creative Writing in English, jaggerylit and the Dalhousie Review. She is an Associate Professor in the Department of English and Film Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University, and the President of CACLALS (the Canadian Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies), which is one of Canada’s largest literary associations. She lives and works in Waterloo, Ontario.

My Two Writing Selves: A Heady Affair

Now that my first book of short fiction, Outside People and Other Stories, is out there in the universe alongside my academic works, I am increasingly asked (and asking myself) how these two aspects of my writing life—the creative and academic—get along. Can they find enough common ground to stay the course? Or will they be each other’s undoing? Is this going to be a perpetual war of the words, so-to-speak, or can each of these distinct writing selves come together, not just as flirtatious one-night stands but as an enduring and meaningful partnership? For now, I can only offer some reflections on a few of the ways in which my two writing selves co-exist like paramours entangled in a heady affair:

Research: Their ‘Happy Place’

We are often guided by the platitude “to write what we know,” but even when writing about what we know we realize there is always something more to be learned. For instance, we may have lived on a street or in a town all our lives but it is only when we start writing that we realize we have more unanswered questions than knowledge at our disposal: did this house always stand on this corner of the street? Is this tree indigenous to the area? What was produced in that old factory before it was turned into a luxury condo? And so the process of data gathering begins. And this is when the academic and creative writing selves cozy up to each other like paramours meeting for a secret rendezvous at a dimly lit restaurant on a Monday afternoon. You can never over-research a subject in academia—indeed, your expertise depends on it. On the other hand, maybe you don’t have to delve into your sources quite as zealously for a work of fiction as you would for an article in a scholarly journal, but good story-telling calls for good research skills. Even the habits of good old-fashioned observation may count as research in the creative writing process, as it did for some of my characters in Outside People and Other Stories, such as the chambermaid at the Mexican tourist resort in “Sunshine Guarantee.” Sometimes just talking to family and friends is research enough, while at other times specialized knowledge is required, both of which were indispensable to my stories “Bread and Roti,” which delves into the psyche of a Pakistani émigré diagnosed with throat cancer, or “Chicken Catchers,” narrated from the perspective of a temporary migrant worker from Jamaica working at a chicken farm in Southern Ontario. In other words, research, in whatever way makes sense for the subject at hand, is something both of these writing selves—the creative and academic—share with unbridled passion.

Writing as Process: Irreconcilable Differences?

Things get a little hairier for our paramours when the writing process begins. They’re both smart enough to see the reasons for their attraction: both can find themselves wrestling with one word or one sentence for days on end. Self-editing skills are, likewise, essential components that each of these partners can share to great effect. And both instinctually relate to the shared experience of production, which usually consists of intensive periods of frenzied activity, or long silent stretches staring into the illuminated blank page of a Word-doc file. However, friction—even some degree of envy—arises in the academic writing self’s recognition that the creative writing self is wholly unattached, and thus enjoys a greater degree of freedom in the relationship. After all, the creative writing self can be as wordy or succinct as it pleases! It can laugh out loud or take emotional risks, while saying “structure be damned!” and “Thesis? What thesis?” Heck, it can even throw punctuation out the window! And sometimes the academic writing self–when it isn’t busy resenting its carefree significant other—goes so far as to try to emulate the creative writing self’s reckless abandon. But soon enough the former retreats from the path of the latter’s seduction, overly conditioned as it is by its scholarly training to compartmentalize or perish! So, while the two writing selves can relate to, even be seduced by, each other’s mutual respect for some of the fundamentals of good writing, certain habits of the writing mind are hard to break, invariably foreshadowing the kinds of irreconcilable differences lurking behind each paramour’s writing process.

Time: The War of the Words

Time heals all wounds, they say, but for these paramours Time is the enemy. Time is where those minor quarrels and lovers’ tiffs—common enough for such heady affairs–escalates into a full-scale war over nothing less than total control of the Word. Outside People and Other Stories was written in just such an environment of protracted warfare, the creative and academic writing selves jostling for supremacy over competing deadlines and messy priorities. The academic writing self, which likes to think it has territorial rights over Time—a highly dubious claim since the creative writing self was articulate well before the academic writing self could walk or talk—shores up its defenses, stooping so low as to engage in elitist blackmail. “I’m the breadwinner around here!” the academic writing self boasts in customary fashion, as the creative writing self grows sulky and browbeaten, being the introspective and sensitive kind. While the academic writing self congratulates itself for another feat of verbal victory only a handful of likeminded specialists will ever read, the creative writing self pulls itself together in its quiet and self-effacing way, and writes against the clock of the academic writing self’s momentary distraction, producing, in record time I might add, a complete and polished manuscript titled Outside People and Other Stories! By the time the academic writing self returns from the fanfare of conference circuits and scholarly-much-ado-about-something-or-the-other, the creative writing self has securely inserted its victory flag into the bedrock of my existence. Even the academic writing self’s ego is taken down a notch when it sees that the creative writing self’s work is receiving its fair share of accolades and, horror of horror, critical attention! So, in this rare moment of mutual admiration, the two sides call a truce—at least for time enough to see what other challenges lie ahead for these earnest lovers of the Word.

Mariam Pirbhai visits Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, January 10, 2018 in our new home, Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church Street, Toronto, at 6:30pm (PWYC) alongside Rod Michalko, Canisia Lubrin, Mayank Bhatt, and special guest speaker Cassandra Rodgers.

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BWS 10.01.18: Rod Michalko

Rod 7

Rod Michalko is a blind disability studies theorist who has recently retired from teaching at the University of Toronto. His books and essays are known internationally. He has now moved into the realm of short story writing, and Things are Different Here is his first collection. He lives in Toronto.

In his guest blog below, Rod shares his story of the inspirations behind his writing and the man who guided him along the way.

 

Comfort food, that’s what they called it, comfort food. We sat in that Queen St. East restaurant, five of us, dining on comfort food. The servers didn’t bring our food already individually plated. Instead, they brought bowls, bowls of food – potatoes, chicken, string beans – all in bowls. We helped ourselves; “Pass the string beans,” someone said; “Chicken, please,” said another, and we sat, comfortably passing bowls of comfort food to one another.

I began telling people just how much I was enjoying this comfort food. No one, including servers, felt obliged to tell me where on the plate my food was located. No one said your chicken is at three O’clock or your string beans are at six O’clock. There were none of these awkward moments, moments when sighted people felt a responsibility, a duty even, to let someone like me, someone who is blind, know where to find food on our plate. No one connected time and food. People merely asked me if I wanted chicken or potatoes.  I then said, “Yes, and put the potatoes right here,” indicating a spot on my plate with my finger, “Just put them right here.”

It was a wonderful evening almost six years ago now — good friends, lots of fun and I had the pleasure, not to mention the honor, of talking to Austin Clarke who was seated right next to me.  We spoke of many things but our conversation settled on my experience as a blind person. About to retire from university teaching, I remember telling Austin I was thinking of the possibility of writing short stories, stories that featured blind characters. Blindness and disability in general had been the focus of my academic writing. Now, I was telling Austin I think a change is due. Bringing blindness alive in fiction might be a worthwhile pursuit.

We then spoke of Austin’s work, his books of short stories, his many novels and his poetry, and we spoke of the poem he was currently working on, Where the Sun Shines Best. I told him how much I admired his writing, especially how he so vividly depicted the lives of Caribbean people as they settled in Toronto. I talked about one of his characters, my favorite, Boysie. We spoke of how Austin developed Boysie in his novels and how he used humor to do this. And yet, there was something sad, even tragic, in the way Austin portrayed Caribbean people in Toronto. We spoke of this too.

At many points during our conversation that evening, others wondered what Austin and I were talking about and tried their best to join in. A couple of them teased us saying that we were just a couple of old guys commiserating. They teased us, too, about our sticks – mine a white cane and Austin’s a solid walking stick. One of us, I think it was me, teased back saying that Austin and I would walk down the street to the Grand Hotel, he guiding me and I providing him with some balance. We would make quite the spectacle, I remember Austin saying.

Our conversation soon returned to writing. Austin asked me what I had experienced as very pointed questions. Will I have more than one blind character in each story? Would these characters be totally blind, or have a little sight?  And, then, the most pointed one: Will I, Austin wanted to know, describe things, people, scenes, buildings, and so on. This question never occurred to me before, at least in the sense that describing requires seeing.  Could there be another way to describe? More interesting still, was that I had included a couple of short stories in my academic books and hadn’t described anything in these stories, at least not in the conventional sense.

Austin latched on to this. He wanted to know whether this “no description,” as he called it, was already a depiction of blindness. Did I have a readership in mind and did I imagine this readership as sighted?  Does “no description,” Austin wanted to know, bring readers into the experience of blindness, at least a little? No reader would have any sense of what the characters and scenes in my stories looked like. They would have to, Austin stressed this word, imagine.  They would have to imagine what people and things looked like and do so through the narration and the dialogue of the characters. Did I think this began to capture the life of blindness? Austin asked.

On that evening some six years ago, in an unnerving kind of way, the most comforting thing was that Austin said, “I will teach you; you will be my student.”  From this came countless hours of working with Austin, learning how to write dialogue, and trying to understand my own blindness to bring it alive in the characters of my short stories.

As I write, my blindness is right up front, but not necessarily as a topic or a theme even though this does happen.  It is up front because it almost forces me to imagine, over and over again, both what it’s like to be blind and what it means. It is as though I go blind again in the creation of each of my characters. More than anything else, I think my writing invents and reinvents blindness. This inventing and reinventing has culminated in the publication of my first book of short stories, Things are Different Here. I am now pursing the writing of a novel, something I promised Austin and my blindness.

RIP Austin Clarke.

Rod Michalko visits Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, January 10, 2018 in our new home, Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church Street, Toronto, at 6:30pm (PWYC) alongside Mariam Pirbhai, Canisia Lubrin, Mayank Bhatt, and special guest speaker Cassandra Rodgers.

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BWS 10.01.18: Canisia Lubrin

Lubrin_Canisia_Sept3_2016_

Canisia Lubrin is a writer, critic, teacher, and a community arts administrator. She has written for Room MagazineThe PuritanThis MagazineArc Poetry MagazineThe Hamilton Review of BooksThe Unpublished City anthology, and The Globe & Mail, among others. With contributions to podcasts, anthologies, conferences and more, she has appeared on TVO’s The Agenda, CBC’s The Doc Project and was recently named to CBC’s list of 150 exemplary Young Black Women in Canada. Lubrin holds degrees from York University and the University of Guelph, serves on the advisory board at Open Book, the editorial board of Humber Literary Review, and Buckrider Books, and teaches at Humber College. She is the author of Voodoo Hypothesis (Wolsak & Wynn, 2017) and the chapbook augur (Gap Riot Press, 2017).

In her book Voodoo Hypothesis, Canisia holds up a torch to the narratives of the ruling class, and shows us the restorative possibilities that exist in language itself.

Voodoo Hypothesis

Before sight, we imagine
that while they go out in search
of God
we stay in and become god,
become: Curiosity,
whose soul is a nuclear battery
because she’ll pulverize Martian rock
and test for organic molecules
in her lab within a lab within
a lab. She doesn’t need to know our fears
so far too grand for ontology, reckoning.

Did you not land with your rocket behind
you, hope beyond hope on the tip of your rope
with the kindness of antigravity slowing you down,
you, before me, metal and earthen. But I am here to
confirm or deny, the millions of small
things that seven minutes of success were hinged upon
when I was little more than idea and research,
in the hypnotic gestures of flame and Bunsen burner,
and into parachute
no one foresaw, the bag of rags at the end
of the tunnel – all memory now,
this Paraclete.

Where else is a pocket
of air more deadly than the atomic bomb?
Would this only happen on Earth?
Has Mars run out of tolerance for the minutiae

of air pockets, fingerprints and worry?
Aggregates of metal, Curiosity
and her clues to calm our fears for what’s coming.
Mars and her epic storms, her gargantuan
volcanoes have long ceased their trembling,
her crazy flooded planes, frozen and in cinema.
Martian life now earth and revelation’s phases:
Earth problem, not Mars problem.

But why
should I unravel over all this remembering?
Great thing about landing
is that I’ve arrived

at your service, at your sand, at your valley
and unsentimental magma.
Before me screams planes like Mojave Desert, Waikiki, Nagasaki,
nothing too strange to keep Curiosity off course.
Even though the Viking missions found no conclusive pulse
and we declared you dead, O Mars,
never mind that we named your heights and depths
from orbit. And from your spheres of minerals
where oceans once roared – we’ve learned little
of your lenience for empire.
Forgive us what Spirit uncovered in the silica of your ancient hot springs.

Canisia Lubrin visits Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, January 10, 2018 in our new home, Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church Street, Toronto, at 6:30pm (PWYC) alongside Mariam Pirbhai, Rod Michalko, Mayank Bhatt, and special guest speaker Cassandra Rodgers. 

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BWS 10.01.18: Mayank Bhatt

Mayank

At an age when most people contemplate retirement, Mayank Bhatt immigrated to Canada, and when most newcomers look to earn more, he spent his first five years in Canada writing fiction. His debut novel Belief, published in 2016, shocked him by how warmly it was received. Being foolhardy, he’s working on another book.

In an updated version of a piece published in Write (Vol 44, Number 4, Winter, 2017), Mayank tells us about his incredible journey into writing and having his first novel published. It is indeed, a tale about belief.

The Terrorist, the Security Guard and the Emergence of a New Voice

The ancient Greeks told us that those whom Gods wish to destroy, they first make mad. That may have been true in the ancient times. These days, the Gods turn them into novelists.

Writing a novel for the first time is guaranteed to drive anyone crazy. It was plain stupidity that made me embark upon this misadventure. It all began during the graveyard shifts at a condo in Toronto where I began working as a security guard soon after I immigrated to Canada in 2008. As a security guard, you mostly sit around and do nothing. But doing nothing for prolonged periods of time is boring. I decided to write a short story.

The idea for the story came from my apartment building at Keele and Lawrence, known colloquially as Gujarat Bhawan (Gujarat is a province in India, and Bhawan means a building) amongst the South Asian immigrants of the area. They were like me – qualified, experienced and doing survival jobs. It was entirely conceivable that the absence of tangible success could easily lead them to getting embroiled in unsavoury misadventures.

I began to explore the theme of immigration and linked it to terrorism. My purpose was not to get into a polemical argument. I was keen to explore terrorism’s impact on an immigrant family. Young people make mistakes and sometimes these mistakes drastically alter their lives and the lives of their families. I wanted to understand how a family would cope (or not cope) with a son involved in a terror plot.

I began to write sometime in December 2008 – my first winter in Canada. I showed the story to a resident, who suggested I enter it in a short story competition. That’s when I came across Diaspora Dialogues’ short fiction mentoring program. Diaspora Dialogues promotes diversity in fiction, poetry and drama.

Surprisingly, I was selected and MG Vassanji, one of the finest contemporary novelists in the world, became my mentor. I had the privilege of working with him for three months and the short story was published in Diaspora Dialogues’ TOK 5: Writing the New Toronto in 2010.

I should have stopped here and gone back to living my life.

But no, I decided that my story was good enough to be turned into a novel. I enrolled into the writing program at Humber School for Writers. Days turned into months and then into years, and I struggled with my manuscript. Whoever claims that writing is fun is a congenital liar. A former good friend advised me to abandon the idea of completing the novel. I almost abandoned him, but continued to work on my manuscript.

Finally, when I could do nothing more to the manuscript, I began to look for agents because I was told that agents could get better deals. I wrote to an agent and she promptly asked me to send the manuscript. I did so and didn’t hear back from her, ever. Then I wrote to another agent. She responded within a day. No, she said, we’re not interested. I gamely struggled for a few more months, and then gave up. The manuscript languished for a couple of years.

Eventually, a friend suggested I send the manuscript to Mawenzi House. I was reluctant considering MG Vassanji had mentored me and Nurjehan Aziz, the publisher of Mawenzi House, is MG Vassanji’s wife. The friend assured me that the publishing house would take a professional decision. With some trepidation, I sent my manuscript.

It was accepted.

A process that had started soon after I landed in Canada came to fruition in September 2016 when the novel was finally published. It looked stunning. The cover image is a self-portrait by Charles Patcher, the renowned Canadian artist, and Ali Adil Khan helped me get the requisite permissions to use it as the cover for my book.  Many of my friends, members of my family, total strangers have helped me in the writing this novel, some, such as Farzana Doctor, by evaluating the manuscript critically, others by providing me with the right passage from the Qur’an, some others by providing legal background.

As I was busy informing my friends and acquaintances of my novel, I heard from Antanas Sileika the former head of the Humber School for Writers. He said he had read a review in Quill and Quire. I rushed to the nearest bookshop to buy the magazine. It was a brief but good review. I wasn’t sure how well or badly the book would do. But its publication and a good review are more than I ever imagined for it.

Last November, I read from the published book at the condo where I worked as a security guard, and where I first began writing the novel. It was one the most exhilarating moments of my life. That Sunday afternoon, many residents who had helped a security guard and his family settle in Canada were eagerly listening to an author talk about his experiences. This was overwhelming, and every bit worth the effort.

Mayank Bhatt visits Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, January 10, 2018 in our new home, Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church Street, Toronto, at 6:30pm (PWYC) alongside Mariam Pirbhai, Rod Michalko, Canisia Lubrin, and special guest speaker Cassandra Rodgers.

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Brockton Writers Series 10.01.18

Wednesday, January 10, 2018 – 6:30pm

Brockton Writers Series presents readings by

Mariam Pirbhai
Mayank Bhatt
Rod Michalko
Canisia Lubrin

with special guest speaker

Cassandra Rodgers

Glad Day Bookshop

499 Church Street, Toronto

The reading is PWYC (suggested $3-$5) and features a Q&A with the writers afterward. Books and refreshments are available for sale.

ACCESSIBILITY INFO
The venue, including its bathroom, is fully accessible. Please refrain from wearing scents.

Many thanks to the Ontario Arts Council for their support.

OAC_REVISED_NEWCOLOURS_1805c

And to the Canada Council for the Arts for travel funding!

 

GUEST SPEAKER

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After a long career in finance, Cassandra Rodgers decided to pursue her love of literature by getting involved with running a literary festival. Organizing panels, looking after authors and managing promotions paved the way to her current career as an agent. She joined The Rights Factory in 2013, where she uses her discerning tastes and sharp business acumen in the service of her clients’ literary careers.

Cassandra has a diverse group of clients from across North America that ranges from debut authors to celebrities. Actively building her list, she is interested in adult literary and commercial women’s fiction. With a degree in History and Political Science from the University of Toronto, she does have a weakness for historical fiction. Non-fiction is another passion – particularly politics, history, science, and finance. Memoirs that can make her laugh, cry, or inspire her are always welcome.

When not at her laptop and reading manuscripts, her time is directed to her two children, her friends, and infrequent visits to the gym. The stacks of books that have taken over her home indicate that reading is still a joy as well as a business. She lives in central Toronto.

 

READERS

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Mariam Pirbhai is the author of a debut short story collection titled Outside People and Other Stories (Inanna 2017), praised by award-winning novelist Shani Mootoo for its “clear-eyed compassion, generosity and literary brilliance.” Her short fiction has also appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals, including Her Mother’s Ashes, Vol III (Mawenzi), and Pakistani Creative Writing in English, jaggerylit and the Dalhousie Review. She is an Associate Professor in the Department of English and Film Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University, and the President of CACLALS (the Canadian Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies), which is one of Canada’s largest literary associations. She lives and works in Waterloo, Ontario.

 

Mayank

At an age when most people contemplate retirement, Mayank Bhatt immigrated to Canada, and when most newcomers look to earn more, he spent his first five years in Canada writing fiction. His debut novel Belief, published in 2016, shocked him by how warmly it was received. Being foolhardy, he’s working on another book.

 

 

Rod 7

Rod Michalko is a blind disability studies theorist who has recently retired from teaching at the University of Toronto. His books and essays are known internationally. He has now moved into the realm of short story writing, and Things are Different Here is his first collection. He lives in Toronto.

 

 

 

 

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Canisia Lubrin is a writer, critic, teacher, and a community arts administrator. She has written for Room MagazineThe PuritanThis MagazineArc Poetry MagazineThe Hamilton Review of Books, The Unpublished City anthologyandThe Globe & Mail, among others. With contributions to podcasts, anthologies, conferences and more, she has appeared on TVO’s The Agenda, CBC’s The Doc Project and was recently named to CBC’s list of 150 exemplary Young Black Women in Canada. Lubrin holds degrees from York University and the University of Guelph, serves on the advisory board at Open Book, the editorial board of Humber Literary Review, and Buckrider Books, and teaches at Humber College. She is the author of Voodoo Hypothesis (Wolsak & Wynn, 2017) and the chapbook augur (Gap Riot Press, 2017).

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BWS 08.11.17 report: How to Write a Novel in 10 Years: Total Rewrites, Massive Scrap Piles, and Persistence Through the Long Haul, with Heidi Reimer

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Heidi Reimer is close to finishing the novel she’s been working on for the past decade. Last week at our eighth anniversary event, she shared with us a few of the challenges inherent in writing the same novel for 10 years:

The world moves more quickly than your writing process.

You’re forced to rewrite scenes because, in the time since you started this book, answering machines have become obsolete and giant multi-million dollar construction projects have rearranged the landscape in which your story is set. Three hundred kilometre highways blasted through rock are built more quickly than you can write.

Other people might think you’re delusional about the merits of the book you persist in writing.

Closely related: you will fear that other people think you’re delusional about the merits of the book you persist in writing.

At literary events you have to account for yourself with “Yup, still working on the same novel. I’m almost done! For the eighth time.” Fellow writers with whom you once walked side by side will pull ahead to achieve completion, a literary agent, a book deal, a second book deal. When they say, at these literary events, “Wow, you must really believe in this book,” your mind will hear, “Wow, you must really be deluded about this book.”

Over a decade-long process of striving for and failing to achieve a goal, your own insecurities and the struggle not to compare yourself to others will on occasion ambush and derail you.

Being still in the process of writing a book at the 10-year mark—no matter how much you’ve learned through it, no matter how the book has deepened and grown, no matter how grateful you are that you didn’t publish the 2-year or 5-year or even 9-year version—can feel more like failure than success. If you consider writing to be your primary purpose and identity and if it is the only thing you have ever really wanted to do with your life, and you have also written other books that you didn’t finish or publish, you will feel, sometimes, like you have nothing to show for your very hard work, your dreams, and your existence on the earth.

A few reasons it could take ten years to write a novel:

You are not writing the book in a vacuum.

You must earn money, a necessity that sucks up the prime hours, energy, and brainpower of each day. You might have a life, which could involve marriage, divorce, houses, children, births, deaths, and a myriad of crises in between.

Anyone who truly wants to write will make the time. But also, anyone who has tried to maintain a consistent, productive writing practice while (for example) working 40 hours a week at a day job while freelancing on the side while parenting two young children while having a partner who works outside the country for months-long stretches knows that “It’s hard to make the time” is not merely an excuse. It’s pretty damn real.

It takes time to learn how to write a novel, and it takes time to learn how to write the particular novel you are writing.

This can mean full drafts that are almost nothing like the one(s) before. It can mean hundreds of fully fleshed-out pages going to the scrap pile. Characters and plot lines developed extensively, over years, with arcs that span the entire book, in scene after scene meticulously envisioned and set down and revised and finessed: scrap pile.

You can have a stupendous inspiration in Year 2 and just know that the right thing to do is leap back in time to your characters’ childhoods and then you can write and develop that for years and it can become the deepest and truest and most beautiful part of your book but it can not belong, not at all, in this particular book that you are writing, and you can chop it all out one night at 4:00am in Year 7 because you have finally admitted to yourself that it stalls the momentum of the book and that you kind of have no idea how to create forward-moving plot. Then you have to go back to the beginning to figure out what is your story, if that’s not your story.

That can happen.

Writing a novel can be a cyclical rather than a linear process.

Each pass reveals another layer. You’re peeling an onion. You’re plumbing the depths. You’re sculpting a slab of marble—only first you have to make the marble, then you get to sculpt it.

It can take half a dozen drafts to arrive at the heart of a scene, a plot, a character, a relationship between characters. It can take years to see that actually she doesn’t just go to the door and listen, she opens the door, she walks through the door, she makes the terrible decision, she’s plunged into the results of the terrible decision.

How to write a novel in ten years:

Believe in it.

Love your characters enough to stick with them, care about their dilemmas enough to keep following them, and hold onto that inner flame of knowledge that this story is worth telling. If you don’t believe in it, abandon it and find a new novel that you do believe in. (And don’t be ashamed of this choice; it can be the correct choice.) Or, find something to do that is less excruciating.

Experience the process as its own reward.

You and the page and the story unfolding under your pen: this is the best part. If you don’t feel energized or moved or challenged or fulfilled by the process, if you don’t at least sometimes feel that you’re doing what you came to the earth to do, you probably gave up long before the 10-year point.

Receive enough genuine encouragement to bolster you when your inner belief-flame dims.

Share it with trusted early readers, other writers, and eventually some agents and editors and publishing insiders who will probably, if it isn’t ready yet, reject your novel but might give you invaluable insight into what is working and what isn’t and why. They don’t hand out positive comments just for fun, so if you get some you will feel that you are not delusional, there is value here, and it is worth it to keep going.

Write and publish smaller pieces.

The satisfaction of completion and the affirmation that comes from someone else’s stamp of approval will make you feel like you’re an author, not just a wannabe, and will help sustain you through the long haul of your novel. Winning contests and receiving grants works too.

Bonus Tip:

Buy The 90-day Novel. Keep it on your shelf like a gleaming reward and a promise of another way…for when you’re finally free to start writing your next book.

As we head into our ninth year, we look forward to presenting you with more thought-provoking and engaging writers with interesting stories and diverse voices. Watch this space for features on our upcoming guests appearing at our next event on Januray 10, 2018, 6:30pm, at Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church St., Toronto!

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BWS 08.11.17: Heidi Reimer

Heidi Reimer

Heidi Reimer‘s short stories and essays have appeared in ChatelaineThe New QuarterlyLittle Fiction, Literary Mama, The M Word: Conversations About Motherhood, and Outcrops: Northeastern Ontario Short Stories. She is (still) working on a novel. Find out more at www.heidireimer.ca.

Over the past month we’ve been listing our favourite books in celebration of our upcoming eighth anniversary taking place this Wednesday. For those of us who took part, it was a challenging process to pick only eight titles among the many we’ve read. The selections, thoughtfully put forth, represent unique voices telling diverse stories. But how did these books come to be? Behind each one is an untold journey of creative process. This Wednesday, guest speaker Heidi Reimer addresses this topic in her talk, “How to Write a Novel in 10 Years: Total Rewrites, Massive Scrap Piles, and Persistence Through the Long Haul.”  

Heidi also stopped by our blog to share her top eight reads:

Middlemarch: George Eliot

State of Wonder: Ann Patchett

The Poisonwood Bible: Barbara Kingsolver

Americanah: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Clara Callan: Richard B. Wright

Unless: Carol Shields

American Wife: Curtis Sittenfeld

Wild: Cheryl Strayed

We hope you’ll join us this Wednesday to celebrate eight years of our literary series. With prizes, treats, and lively discussions, it’s an event not to be missed!

Heidi Reimer visits Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, November 8, 2017 in our new home, Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church Street, Toronto, at 6:30pm (PWYC) alongside Dorothy Ellen Palmer, Spencer Butt, Jia Qing Wilson-Yang, and Puneet Dutt. 

 

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