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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BWS 08.11.17: Dorothy Ellen Palmer

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Dorothy Ellen Palmer is a disabled senior writer, Mom, binge knitter, retired teacher and improv coach. Her first semi-autobiographical novel, When Fenelon Falls, (Coach House, 2010), about a disabled teen freeing a bear from a cage in the summer of 1969, was long-listed for the ReLit Award. Her work has appeared in NeWest Review, Little Fiction/Big Truth, and Don’t Talk to me About Love.

Dorothy’s memoir, This Redhead and her Walker Walk into a Bar, will be published by Wolsak and Wynn in 2019. Ahead of her November 8th appearance at our anniversary, Dorothy shares with us an excerpt from her memoir!

RUN, GERALD, RUN

From the knees up, Gerald was the cutest boy I’d ever seen.

California Surfer Boy cute. Blue eyes. Unruly blonde hair a still-respectful tad too long. And a slow, crooked smile. He had a Muskoka cottage, was President of the Debate Team, and had been to Paris, France. In 1971, when I was sixteen and he was eighteen, he lived up the hill from me on Delma Drive, in our Toronto suburb of Alderwood, where all the mothers loved him.

Even mine. And she didn’t love anybody.

When Gerald passed our front porch, when he stopped to chat up my mother, I glimpsed what my father must once have seen in her. She smiled. She laughed. Sounded smart and sassy. Gerald relaxed her in a way I never could. Watching him converse so effortlessly with the woman who seldom spoke to me felt like comfort food, like home should be.

But when Gerald smiled at me, I puked.

In September, the first time he knocked on my front door and asked for me, I flushed the toilet, climbed out the bathroom window, vaulted a hedge, and vamoosed through three back yards. I refused to acknowledge, I flatly denied, I could not risk, any kinship or solidarity between us. I had to be seen as a normal teenage girl. I needed to believe I was one.

And you can’t be normal with a gimpy albatross around your neck.

You won’t pass for normal if someone spots a gimp then stares at you. I’d prevent that scrutiny at any cost. With effort, I could mask my limp. And thanks to teen years that saw the undisputed reign of elephant-ear bell-bottoms, my shoes didn’t betray me. Like a cloak of invisibility, my pants fanned out over my feet to scrape the floor. I told myself nobody knew I crammed stunted nubs of feet into boy’s orthopedic oxfords, reinforced black leather: size two.

Bell bottoms would always be in style. I could hide my deformity forever.

If friends and neighbours remembered my operations and childhood crutches, I told myself they wrote it off like a skiing accident, as something from which I’d fully recovered. I’d never been teased in public; that was the barometer. I gave no credit to the fact my father was the Akela of Alderwood’s thriving Boy Scout troop, and thus held the badge and camping fate of my male peers in his hands. I equally dismissed what was likely an even greater deterrent: my mother had the most cutting tongue on the street and sharpened it there daily.

I told myself only this: I walked to high school with my friends. I belonged.

Dorothy Ellen Palmer 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 Spencer Butt, Jia Qing Wilson-Yang, Puneet Dutt and special guest Heidi Reimer who will discuss, “How to Write a Novel in 10 Years: Total Rewrites, Massive Scrap Piles, and Persistence Through the Long Haul.”

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BWS 08.11.17: Puneet Dutt

PDutt

Puneet Dutt holds a MA in English from Ryerson. Her chapbook PTSD south beach was a 2016 Breitling Chapbook Prize Finalist. Her poetry has appeared in a number of journals and in Imaginarium 4: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing. She is an editorial board member at Canthius and a creative writing workshop facilitator with the Toronto Writers Collective. Her poetry collection is forthcoming with Mansfield Press in October. She lives in Toronto with her husband. 

Our anniversary event is almost upon us! This past month, our authors have been celebrating our upcoming event by sharing their favourite reads. In an animated video posted to our Facebook page, Puneet took us on a tour of the books she most relishes.

From, Sounds of a Cowhide Drum by Oswald Joseph Mtshali, “a little known South African poet that deserves much much more attention,” to Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, which she would memorize if she could, here are her selections:

Angela’s Ashes: Frank McCourt

In Other Rooms, Other Wonders: Daniyal Mueenudin

Medea/ Hecabe/ Electra/ Heracles: Euripides

Memoirs: Pablo Neruda

Sounds of a Cowhide Drum: Oswald Joseph Mtshali

The Alienist: Caleb Carr

Metamorphosis: Franz Kafka

The Vegetarian: Han Kang

We would love to hear about the books that are at the top of your list! Post and share with us or better yet, discuss them with us at our celebration. There will be book giveaways, two Glad Day Bookshop gift certificate door prizes and sweet treats!

Puneet Dutt 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 Spencer Butt, Jia Qing Wilson-Yang, Dorothy Ellen Palmer, and special guest Heidi Reimer who will discuss, “How to Write a Novel in 10 Years: Total Rewrites, Massive Scrap Piles, and Persistence Through the Long Haul.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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BWS 08.11.17: Spencer Butt

Spencer_Butt

Spencer Butt is a writer and poetry yeller based out of Toronto. He has been a featured performer at such events as Wavelength Music Series, AGO First Thursday, Art Bar Poetry Series, Laugh Sabbath, Sophisticated Boom Boom!, ROM Friday Night Live, The Vancouver Poetry Slam, and Long Winter TO. His newest book, Slouching the Dream, is available through Now or Never Publishing and can be found wherever books are sold.

To mark the eighth anniversary of Brockton Writers Series, Spencer went through the painstaking task of choosing his eight favourite books. In his video, which can be found on our Brockton Writers Series Facebook page, Spencer says the criteria he used for his selections was based on how each book made him feel after he read it for the first time– “it just made me go wow! I didn’t know a book could do that!”

If you’re curious about what kind of books could elicit this reaction from him, here are Spencer’s top picks:

Will Storr vs. The Supernatural: One Man’s Search for the Truth About GhostsWill Storr

Subduing Demons in America: Selected Poems, 1962-2007John Giorno

House of LeavesMark Z. Danielewski

Barrel Fever: David Sedaris

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius: Dave Eggers

A Wrinkle in Time: Madeleine L’Engle

Black Hole: Charles Burns

I Want A New Gun: David Lerner

We hope the growing list of great books being selected by our followers and readers will inspire you to add more titles to your reading list this season. Visit our Facebook page to see what other books have made the grade. Also, it’s not too late to create your own list.  Remember to tag eight of your friends and share your post to our page!

Spencer Butt 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, Jia Qing Wilson-Yang, Puneet Dutt, and special guest Heidi Reimer who will discuss, “How to Write a Novel in 10 Years: Total Rewrites, Massive Scrap Piles, and Persistence Through the Long Haul.”

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Brockton Writers Series 08.11.17

Wednesday, November 8, 2017 – 6:30pm

Brockton Writers Series presents readings by

Dorothy Ellen Palmer
Spencer Butt
Jia Qing Wilson-Yang
Puneet Dutt

with special guest speaker

Heidi Reimer

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

How to Write a Novel in 10 Years: Total Rewrites, Massive Scrap Piles, and Persistence Through the Long Haul

Heidi Reimer

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

 

READERS

 

Palmer-Dorothy-768x768Dorothy Ellen Palmer is a disabled senior writer, Mom, binge knitter, retired teacher and improv coach. Her first semi-autobiographical novel, When Fenelon Falls, (Coach House, 2010), about a disabled teen freeing a bear from a cage in the summer of 1969, was long-listed for the ReLit Award. Her work has appeared in NeWest Review, Little Fiction/Big Truth, and Don’t Talk to me About Love. Her memoir, This Redhead and her Walker Walk into a Bar, will be published by Wolsak and Wynn in 2019.

 

Jia_Qing_Wilson_Yang

Jia Qing Wilson-Yang is a transsexual writer living in Tkaronto on dish with one spoon territory. Her work can be found, now or in the near future, in Room Magazine, Poetry is Dead, Ricepaper Magazine, and Carte Blanche. Her first novel, Small Beauty, won the 2016 Lambda Literary award for Transgender Fiction.

 

Spencer_ButtSpencer Butt is a writer and poetry yeller based out of Toronto. He has been a featured performer at such events as Wavelength Music Series, AGO First Thursday, Art Bar Poetry Series, Laugh Sabbath, Sophisticated Boom Boom!, ROM Friday Night Live, The Vancouver Poetry Slam, and Long Winter TO. His newest book, Slouching the Dream, is available through Now or Never Publishing and can be found wherever books are sold.

 

PDutt

Puneet Dutt holds a MA in English from Ryerson. Her chapbook PTSD south beach was a 2016 Breitling Chapbook Prize Finalist. Her poetry has appeared in a number of journals and in Imaginarium 4: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing. She is an editorial board member at Canthius and a creative writing workshop facilitator with the Toronto Writers Collective. Her poetry collection is forthcoming with Mansfield Press in October. She lives in Toronto with her husband.

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BWS 08.11.17: Jia Qing Wilson-Yang

Jia_Qing_Wilson_Yang

Jia Qing Wilson-Yang is a transsexual writer living in Tkaronto on dish with one spoon territory. Her work can be found, now or in the near future in, Room Magazine, Poetry is Dead, Ricepaper Magazine, and Carte Blanche. Her first novel, Small Beauty, won the 2016 Lambda Literary award for Transgender Fiction.

This year marks the eighth anniversary of Brockton Writers Series! To celebrate this occasion, some of our authors are sharing with us their eight favourite books. We invite you to do the same by creating a short video or a writing a post on Facebook. Tag eight of your friends and Brockton Writers Series! This is also a great way to update your seasonal reading list!

Jia Qing shared her list of favourite books with us. In no particular order, they are:

Kiss of the fur queen: Thomson Highway

A Safe Girl to Love: Casey Plett

Lilith’s Brood: Octavia E. Butler

Before Night Falls: Reinaldo Arenas

When Fox is a Thousand: Larissa Lai

Winter Love: Han Suyin

Autobiography of Red: Anne Carson

I Saw Ramallah: Mourid Barghouti

Jia Qing Wilson-Yang 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 Spencer Butt, Dorothy Ellen Palmer, Puneet Dutt, and special guest Heidi Reimer who will discuss, “How to Write a Novel in 10 Years: Total Rewrites, Massive Scrap Piles, and Persistence Through the Long Haul.”

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BWS 13.09.17 report: What a Blog Needs, with Kerry Clare

kerryclare

A blogger since 2000, Kerry Clare‘s debut novel, Mitzi Bytes, was published in March. In her blog, she writes about books and reading at PickleMeThis.com. At our September event, Kerry shared with us her journey from blog to book and gave some great pointers on what a blog needs to become successful.

If you’re thinking of starting a blog or have already begun the journey, here are Kerry’s thoughts on what a blog needs:

Give your blog space to grow and room to wander

If you’re starting a blog and you don’t know what you’re doing, that’s perfect! The best way to figure out your blog is to write your way towards the answers. Don’t get hung up on perfection—a blog is by nature raw and unpolished. Just keep writing one post after another, and don’t stop.

Write like nobody is reading

This is the easiest rule ever, because so often nobody is reading. It means that you are free to do away with self-consciousness and indulge your own fascinations and preoccupations. This freedom gives you the opportunity to create the kind of authenticity that will engage readers. Remember that metrics, comments and social media responses are fickle things and that you should gauge your success by what you can control—the quality of your ideas, your writing, your storytelling and how they improve over time.

Make sure that your blog delivers a profit

This is not the same as monetizing your blog; although, if you can figure out how to do so without compromising your work, then congratulations! But for the rest of us, it’s important to determine other ways for our work to pay off—Does your blog teach you things? Will it help your writing to improve? Does it challenge you and encourage you to get out into the world? All these questions are useful to help you find a way to make your blog serve you better.

If it’s not working, change it

Blogging should never be a chore. If you’re finding your enthusiasm lagging, if you anticipate writing blog posts with dread, then you need to switch up your routine. Don’t be afraid to change your focus. A blog needs space to grow and room to wander. If you’re finding the journey unsatisfying, then don’t be afraid to quit; blogging is not for everyone, and a blog doesn’t have to be forever.

Don’t blog to get somewhere, blog to be somewhere

From post to post, blogging will inevitably take you places—perhaps out into the world in pursuit of adventures to write about, and, if you’re lucky and keep at it, to professional and creative opportunities. While each of these is an excellent endeavour, the very best reason to blog is to create something artful, creative and interesting. Blogging is about immediacy, noticing what’s going on around you, and being in the moment. Always remember that a blog is a work in progress, just like life.

This year is the eighth anniversary of Brockton Writers Series! We’ll celebrate this milestone at our next event with fun surprises and a new panel of authors to inspire your senses. Guest speaker Heidi Reimer will discuss How to Write a Book in Ten Years and fellow authors Dorothy Ellen Palmer, Jia Quing Wilson-Yang, Puneet Dutt, and Spencer Butt will perform readings. In the following weeks, watch our space for special, anniversary-themed blogs and to learn more about how you can join in the fun!  

Mark your calendars for an event not to be missed on November 8, 2017, 6:30pm, at Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church St., Toronto!

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BWS 13.09.17: Saidah Vassell

Saidah

Saidah Vassell has loved stories since before she could write. As a child, she often spent her time creating entire worlds for her dolls. Eventually, she and her cousin began writing them down and that is all it took to spark a passion within her for writing.

This week, Saidah shares an excerpt from “Castle of Dreams”, featured in her short story collection, Portable Magic. Journey into her enchanted world at our next event!

Castle of Dreams

There once was a castle said to hold thousands of treasures, it was said that this castle held your deepest and most wonderful desires and if you went inside, you would receive what you’ve dreamed of. Now, legend had it that this castle was in the sky and the only time you could get to it was when the orange moon cast its sacred light on the Heron Lake. Now, the orange moon only came once a year and if you weren’t careful you could miss it entirely, but if you were careful and you caught it at the right moment, you could walk up the moon’s magical rays of light where the castle was only a hop away.

Only one man claims to have ever made it to the castle of dreams and his name is Litharius and he was the town drunk. Of course no one believed him. He was poor and he lived alone in a shack far up on the top of the hill but despite all of this, he still claims he’s had his dream come true.

The story he tells begins long ago, when he was just a young man. Litharius claims to be the son of a duke. He said he lived in riches but he was never happy. He lived in luxury but a smile never met his lips. He lived a life that many a man would envy but yet he never felt any joy. When he heard the tale of the castle of dreams, he vowed that maybe one day he’d make it there and hold his dreams in his arms, if only for a little while.

Years went by. Years filled with riches, suitors, festivals, and more. Filled with everything except for happiness, because the young Litharius’s dream was of something much greater than his world could offer. Every year that passed him by, he looked and waited for the orange moon but whenever it came, he found himself at the wrong lake. Time and time again the lake he found would not take him to the castle in the sky. It was on the night of his father’s death that he found himself at the right lake.

The orange moon cast its light on the right Heron Lake and it sparkled and twinkled up at Litharius. It smiled at him, it beckoned him to walk up the sacred rays to the castle of dreams. At the same time, a messenger pigeon found him to deliver the news of his father’s death. He had a choice, mourn for his father or finally reach the castle, a place he’d been searching for for nearly a decade. In that moment, he chose the castle.

Saidah Vassell visits Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, September 13, 2017 in our new home, Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church St., Toronto, at 6:30pm (PWYC) alongside Fathima Cader, Nancy Kay Clark, Drew Hayden Taylor and a special guest talk, “From Blog to Book: A Work in Process”, by Kerry Clare!

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BWS 13.09.17: Drew Hayden Taylor

_DSF1972 version 1

Drew Hayden Taylor is an award winning playwright, novelist, filmmaker and journalist. Born and raised on the Curve Lake First Nation in Central Ontario, he has done practically everything, from performing Stand Up comedy at the Kennedy Centre in Washington, D.C. to being Artistic Director of Canada’s premiere Native theatre company, Native Earth Performing Arts. Recently, he has celebrated the launch of his 30th book, and is currently directing/editing a documentary about the German preoccupation with North American Indigenous cultures.

Back in Canada just in time for our September 13 event, Drew visits the blog with
the guest post below!

Indian-thusiasm

In the last 25 years I have toured and lectured in various parts of Germany at least 16 times. I have travelled from along the Baltic coast, down to the Swiss border, east to Trier and west to Berlin, and most places in between. Frankly, if the place has a university, chances are I have eaten schnitzel and drunk beer in that town. I have seen more of that lovely country than most Germans. As a result, I have learned to say ‘Ich ben ein Ojibway’.

During those visits, I would lecture predominantly on Native theatre, literature, culture, humour, sexuality, with a few other topics mixed in. You have to understand, many German universities have a Canadian/American studies program and jump at the chance to bring in an author or reputable source on something specific to Canadian culture. And there are few things more Canadian than its First Nations. And there lies the conflict… if it can be called a conflict.

Crossing many different generations, there is a palpable and persistent interest in North American Native culture in Germany, albeit an inaccurate one. Germans have held and treasured a romanticized view of Aboriginal people for a hundred and forty years or so. It all goes back to a writer from the tail end of the 19th century. A man named Karl May made a name and fortune for himself writing highly romanticized stories about the Orient, Arabia, and more interestingly, the American West.

In a series of highly popular novels later adapted into movies and plays, he created what has become an iconic character in German pop literature – an Apache warrior named Winnetou – noble, brave and mighty. All men want to be him. All women want to be with him. Pure pulp, his novels set the stage for entire generations of Germans to embrace and idolize the Aboriginal mystique, though oddly enough, the writer himself had never been to America until several decades after writing his books. And never to the American southwest.

The character of Winnetou and what you could call the spirit of Winnetou has popped up repeatedly in German culture and in observations of German culture. In the movie Inglourious Basterds, a group of German soldiers are playing, ironically a form of Indian poker. They all have cards on their foreheads with a literary character written on each individual card, including the name ‘Winnetou’. The one with that card asks the others something to the effect of, “Am I an American savage?”

There is also a popular cultural saying inspired by the novels: “Always remember, an Indian knows no pain.” Actually they do. I can attest to that.

Admirers of Karl May’s writing include Adolf Hitler, Albert Schweitzer, and Albert Einstein, to name just a few. That’s one hell of a book club meeting.

As a result of this infatuation, many interesting and enthusiastic offshoots have arisen, demonstrating the devotion to a fictional Indian character. Tourism to Canada (and America) has increased with amazing numbers of German tourists flying across the ocean to participate in what they think is the Native experience. During the summer there is a non-stop flight from Frankfurt to Whitehorse every weekend bringing hundreds of Germans to experience the north and its Native people. Indigenous arts and crafts stores across Canada are usually the first stops for these visitors.

In German towns like Bad Segeburg, plays based on May’s work are produced every year with casts of dozens, including horses and eagles, and special effects that make the most experienced Indigenous theatre professionals weep. Frequently, they get between 200,000 and 300,000 patrons a year, to see Germans dressed up as Apache warriors, frequently living in teepees complete with totem poles, for the most part culturally incorrect. But what the hell… most older Germans want the dream, not the reality.

And of course there are what are called hobbyists – individuals who are so enraptured by the image of our culture, they dress up in outfits they made themselves, learn traditional dances, make amazingly authentic crafts, and even hold pow wows. Additionally, there are clubs that go out into the forest, attempting to live as 19th century Native people supposedly did – trying to live off the German land, and frequently raiding each other. Because, I suppose, that’s what we used to do. I must remember that.

The mania is so persuasive, they often have issues with actual First Nation individuals who want to attend or visit these camps, usually out of curiosity. Some refer to us as Coca-Cola Indians, i.e., we have been corrupted by the 20th and 21st century and cannot claim to live authentic Indigenous lives. Like them.

So frequently, my appearances at the universities, looking more German than Ojibway I’m told, can be perplexing.  Luckily today’s younger generation is more interested in the real world of Native people. Thus the purpose and interest in my various lecture tours. Up there, in front of a good chunk of German youth, I have tried to dispel the persistent image of all Canada’s Native people living in teepees, riding horses, hunting buffalo. I do not believe I have done any of these.

Just a few weeks ago, I went with a documentary crew and spent 10 days filming this fascination. It has been a dream of mine for a long time. It’s so interesting, so bizarre. I wrote a play about it – Berlin Blues – but felt the actuality of it had to be seen, not just dramatized.

Germany – a leading economic and political powerhouse in Europe. Also, a wacky place.

Drew Hayden Taylor visits Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, September 13, 2017 in our new home, Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church St., Toronto, at 6:30pm (PWYC) alongside Fathima Cader, Nancy Kay Clark, Saidah Vassel and a special guest talk, “From Blog to Book: A Work in Process”, by Kerry Clare!

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