Tag Archives: Guernica Editions

BWS 05.03.14: Veena Gokhale


Before moving to Canada in 1992, where she’s currently working on her first novel, Veena Gokhale was a journalist in Bombay in the 1980s, an era she captures in her debut short fiction collection, Bombay Wali and Other Stories (Guernica Editions, 2013). Re-blogged from the independent arts and culture review Rover  and online South Asian arts, entertainment and lifestyle magazine mybindi, here is her reflection on her first launch.

She’s Havin’ a Book Baby

Publishing a book is like having a baby. We’ve all heard that one, right? Do you recall where? I don’t. It’s an omniscient statement like don’t get wet in the rain, you’ll catch a chill. Or, don’t get involved with a married man, he’ll never leave his wife (not sure what they say for married women, hmmm). Don’t become an artist, you’ll starve to death.

When I first came upon that book-equals-baby pearl, my immediate reaction was, “What a silly exaggeration.” Though not a mom, I have always felt that I know exactly what it is to have a baby. I was 10 when my busy, doctor mother brought forth my baby brother, and everyone’s life went for a toss. (This was small-town India.) I think I had the most fun because of his arrival, but I certainly learned that a baby makes incredible demands even as it brings leaping joy.

When I found a publisher, Guernica Editions, for my first fiction collection – Bombay Wali and Other Stories – after about eight months of marketing and as many rejections, I felt I had fared not too badly. My near and dear ones were thrilled and hearty with their congratulations. The book (baby) would squirm its way into a cruel, indifferent world in Spring 2013. This pregnancy was going to be almost as long as an elephant’s, so I decided to put the end result out of my mind.

The bleak and bleary November of 2012 arrived and brought with it the proofs for The Book. What! Already? By the end of the month a heavy cardboard box containing 50 shiny copies had arrived at my door. Having already contributed in innumerable ways, my long-suffering partner lugged it up the stairs.

This baby was a premie. Great – I could take copies to India for my mother, brother and my artist friend who had done the lovely cover. We were visiting that December. Wait! – I had put a website address on Bombay Wali’s jacket. My partner and I quickly added a section to my existing site before catching the plane.

“Hope your book becomes a bestseller,” e-mailed an innocent friend. “When will it come to India?” asked another one. Unfortunately, people, who will hopefully buy your book if they are so fortunate as to lay their hands on it, don’t know the difference between small and big publishers. For most, publishing is Penguin, Random House (ed. note: now, “Penguin Random House”) and HarperCollins; books travel far and wide, their authors taken on grand tours by their multinational masters with huge promo budgets. I had no such delusions for myself.

Instead, I went overnight from glowing new mom to a neurotic mess. The book was here, but so what? When would it get to the stores? Would it even get there? What about Amazon, which was already slashing the pre-order price and had the number of pages wrong? Given the zillion books – prize-winning fiction by new and established authors, non-fiction about Climate Change! Economic Meltdowns! War in Afghanistan! and all kinds of trendy stuff that appeals to the average North American reader – who the heck will care about Bombay what and Veena who? (Incidentally, “Bombay walli” means a woman from Bombay.)

Why wasn’t my style post-modern, I bemoaned. And with so many bookstores closing down, would I even get to read anywhere? Even if it got reviewed and somehow arrived in the stores and I got to read in public, no one was interested in short stories, right?

Worried sick about my baby’s survival, it seemed to me that infant mortality rates for books by first-time authors were as bad as those for sub-Saharan Africa. It’s only a book, Veena. Chill. I tried various tones of voice. Standing before a mirror. While doing Downward Dog. No good. I was as nervous as the proverbial Nellie.

PS: I have become a zealous promoter. Bombay Wali must live, thrive even! Friends and acquaintances are buying and commenting favourably. Reviews and interviews have been promised and readings scheduled. Communities I belong to are taking it on. (It’s not my sole responsibility, it seems. Phew!) The book is on Amazon.

I am not sleeping like a baby yet, but one of these days hope to.

Veena Gokhale visits the Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, March 5, 2014 – full of beans Coffee House & Roastery, 1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto (7pm, PWYC) – along with Angie Abdou, John Degen and Michael Fraser. Come early, too (6:30) for Veena’s talk, “Writers as Publicists: Saying Yes to Selling Your Book!”.

Watch this space for more with each of our readers in the month leading up to the event!

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BWS 08.01.14: Michael Mirolla

MIROLLA Image lMontreal-Toronto corridor writer Michael Mirolla’s publications include the novel Berlin (Bressani Prize winner), two short story collections, and the poetry collection, The House on 14th Avenue. His short story, “A Theory of Discontinuous Existence,” was selected for The Journey Prize Anthology. He is also the co-owner of Guernica Editions. Ahead of his January 8 visit, Michael drops by to tell about his latest novel, The Giulio Metaphysics III.

Of Immigrant Roots & Psychic Journeys: A Metafictional Approach

At the basis of my novel-cum-latest short story collection, The Giulio Metaphysics III, lies the journey – be it literal (as experienced by immigrants, for instance) or metaphorical. Translocations. Of being a stranger, of trying to adjust, of not knowing what to expect. It is this combination, this conjunction of literal and metaphorical journeys, that I’d like to address.

For those curious about the book’s title, there is actually some method to my madness: the reason for the III is a result of a continuation of several section headings from my first story collection, The Formal Logic of Emotion. There you will find two Giulio stories, the first – “A Theory of Discontinuous Existence” – under the heading “The Giulio Metaphysics I,” and the second – “The Proper Country” – under “The Giulio Metaphysics II” heading.

Which brings me to Giulio himself: each of the sections in The Giulio Metaphysics III is about a character named Giulio. Giulio may or may not be transferable from one section to the next. So either the book is about the fluidity of identity and the lack of essentialness in any attempt to define identity, or it’s about my inability to come up with enough different names to populate the 18 stories.

Giulio’s Italian-Canadian immigrant (literal journey) roots are obvious from his name and from the fact many of the stories reflect those roots – or at least bits and pieces: blood colouring the thick red sauce; a half-empty wine glass in his pale-blue hand; his mother’s special cake, layered in vanilla and chocolate cream and soaked in vermouth. The seventh story, “And the attendance of weddings,” is a dialogue in dramatic form between “Giulio” and another character in which they discuss the details of Italian-Canadian weddings.

So we can assume with some assurance that the character Giulio is Italian-Canadian. But what about his psychic journey, the more universal journey we all experience? In The Giulio Metaphysics III, Giulio feels he is being controlled by someone else, someone who calls himself “the creator.” So the question then becomes: Is Giulio’s Italian-Canadian-ness something that defines him? Or is it something that has been imposed on him?

When I was young, I didn’t consciously go out and do “Italian” things. Except when in the house with my parents, where I was forced to speak Italian dialect because that’s what they understood, I didn’t use the language. My favourite sports were football and baseball; my favourite authors were Franz Kafka and James Joyce; when it came time to attend university I didn’t go to Loyola, the one recommended by my teachers for good Italian Catholic boys and girls, but to McGill. I avoided Italian festivals and associations. I studied the English Romantic poets at university. I penned my first fledgling attempts at creative writing in English. And yet… and yet… in the end, I was still classified as a first-generation Italian-Canadian immigrant. It was as if I were caught… trapped in some type of cultural schizophrenia: one part of me dictated by others; another part trying desperately to create itself and separate itself.

In a much more symbolic and literary way, Giulio undergoes something similar. In the first part of the Metaphysics, Giulio feels as if he’s being controlled, manipulated. He finds himself involved in conversations with his creator, (that’s me, I guess), arguing about how I don’t allow him to have his own life, actions, thoughts, feelings… in a word, his own identity. The creator is forcing Giulio to act in ways he thinks are beneficial rather than those that make up the essential nature of the person.

But then the question: what exactly is the essential nature of that person? What is Giulio’s core identity? In the Metaphysics, Giulio dumps his controlling creator. And then what? Giulio, having abandoned the status provided him by the creator, (like a passport or citizenship papers), flounders in a type of no man’s land. A place where identity is scraped down to the essence. No homeland, no religion, no clan, no family – what does it then mean to be human?

This is the postmodern existentialist position. While it appears, at first, to go much deeper than the other labels that attach themselves to us, the problem is that such a position consists basically of digging out the foundations beneath your feet. And then digging it out again… and so on to infinity.

This “existential freedom” quickly leads to loss of memory and identity, to dislocation, and to a re-living of past events without the original context: a bit, I would venture to say, like someone who fights to strip away his or her roots and ends up with…

Giulio undergoes this process in Metaphysics. In a literal sense, he loses himself. Unable to remember his name, where he is, why he is here and not there, what has happened to get him where he is, what the past means, where the present is going. In some ways, this mirrors much of our world today once we tear away the pillars that have supported our beliefs, our logic, our confidence. In other ways, it represents a much longer-standing concern faced by all human beings: the consciousness of mortality.

So what’s the solution to this? Well, obviously there is no solution to mortality… to that ultimate loss of identity… no matter how many anti-aging creams we might apply. But there may be a way to recover that identity in the brief time we do have. On his physical and psychic journey, Giulio comes full circle, ending pretty much right back where he started – in a house eerily similar to the one found in the first part of the collection. In other words, like it or not, he finds himself once more in the midst of the Italian-Canadian symbols that he despised when he felt he was being controlled by his creator, (me): symbols of cooking, xenophobic but loving mothers, wine-making and consumption, elaborate marriage events, death and funeral rites. A world both familiar and unfamiliar. The old world seen through new eyes.

By now, Giulio should have got the hint. He should have worked out what exactly he needs to do to free himself from having others impose an identity on him. And, after a long series of nudges, he does finally. Ironically, however, he can only do this once he has been forced into a corner… into a situation that allows for no escape. Giulio has to be trapped, (symbolically in the Metaphysics, within a sealed room that provides him with all the amenities but not the key to the door), before he understands what his core identity is. For Giulio, (as for me, I guess), that identity comes from what I am: a writer — someone who creates his own story — of Italian-Canadian descent obviously but not defined that way… a person who above all things has to dig his way through words in order to try to make sense of the world and of this enigmatic creature known as a human being.

metaphysics_printMichael Mirolla visits the Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, January 8, 2014 – full of beans Coffee House & Roastery, 1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto (7pm, PWYC) – along with Katie Boland, J.M. Frey and Sherwin Tjia. Come early (6:30) for a talk by author Cory Silverberg about crowd-funding and how writers can put it to use.

Watch this space for more with each of our readers in the month leading up to the event!

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Brockton Writers Series: 08.01.14

Ring in 2014 with Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, January 8, at full of beans Coffee House & Roastery (1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto) and enjoy readings by:

Katie Boland, J.M. Frey, Michael Mirolla and Sherwin Tjia!

Plus, come early — 6:30pm — for a talk by author Cory Silverberg about crowd funding and how writers can put it to use! 

PWYC (suggested $3-$5). Q&A. Books and treats available for sale. Please note that while the venue is wheelchair accessible, washroom facilities are not.

Many thanks to the Ontario Arts Council for their support.


As always, watch this space for more with each of our writers in the month to come!


Chosen by Elle Canada as one of the top three Canadians to watch, by Playback as one of 10 2 Watch and by the Toronto International Film Festival as one of their inaugural “Rising Stars” in 2011, actor and writer Katie Boland divides her time between Los Angeles and Toronto. Acting professionally since the age of nine with over 45 roles to date, Boland’s credits include Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, Atom Egoyan’s Adoration, Daydream Nation and Terminal City as well as four films to be released this year: Ferocious, Looking is the Original Sin, Sex After Kids and Gerotrophilia. Boland’s literary debut, a collection of short stories entitled Eat Your Heart Out, was released by Canadian publisher Brindle & Glass on April 2, 2013. She is currently filming a recurring role on CW’s hit show, Reign.

J.M. Frey is an actor, author, fanthropologist and pop culture scholar. She’s appeared in podcasts, documentaries, webseries, and on television. Her debut novel Triptych (Dragon Moon Press) was named one of Publishers Weekly‘s Best Books of 2011, and nominated for a handful of awards, including two Lambda Literary Awards and a CBC Bookie.

Calling himself a Montreal-Toronto corridor writer, Michael Mirolla’s publications include the novels Berlin (Bressani Prize winner) and The Giulio Metaphysics III; two short fiction collections; and the poetry collection The House on 14th Avenue. His short story, “A Theory of Discontinuous Existence,” was selected for The Journey Prize Anthology. He is the co-owner of Guernica Editions.

Sherwin Sullivan Tjia is a Montreal-based writer and illustrator who has written eight books, the newest of which launches in Toronto on December 8. His previous books include The World is a Heartbreaker,  a collection of 1600 pseudohaikus and finalist for the Quebec Writer’s Federation’s A.M. Klein Poetry Award, and The Hipless Boy, a collection of short, interconnected stories told in graphic novel form that was a finalist for the Doug Wright Award in the Best Emerging Talent category and also nominated for 4 Ignatz Awards. His invention, The E-Z-Purr: The Virtual Cat! (an album with over an hour of cats purring) is available on the iTunes music store.

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