I was thrilled to learn that Seen Reading has been shortlisted for the 2013 ReLit Award for best collection of stories published by an independent Canadian press (in this case, Freehand Books).
Congratulations to my fellow nominees and all the books, authors, and presses in the mix. It’s a pleasure.
The awards will be announced December 11, 2013. Winners receive the very cool ReLit Ring, designed by Christopher Kearney of Newfoundland. The ring, pictured above, features four moveable dials, each one struck with the full alphabet.
All finalists in the short story category are:
Tracie’s Revenge & Other Stories, Wade Bell (Guernica)
Seen Reading, Julie Wilson (Freehand)
People Who Disappear, Alex Leslie (Freehand)
Escape and Other Stories, Trevor Clark (Now or Never)
Dibidalen, Sean Virgo (Thistledown)
The Weeping Chair, Donald Ward (Thistledown)
Subtitles, Domenico Capilongo (Guernica)
How to Get Along with Women, Elisabeth De Mariaffi (Invisible)
Where are you reading this? What are you reading this on? How many times do you anticipate you’ll break from reading this to connect with someone via email, text, Facebook, Twitter, or to upload a new-and-improved image of your lunch to Instagram?
Does any of the experience of where you’re reading, on what, and how you engage this text feel abnormal? Par for the course?
Writer and journalist Shawn Syms is the editor of Friend. Follow. Text. #storiesfromlivingonline (Enfield & Wizenty, 2013), a collection of fictions that point to how commonplace technology and social media have become in our lives, no longer something that needs to be defined. “Did you say, ‘tweet’?” “Face-what?” Among the contributors are some of Canada’s best wordsmiths of the short form: Steven Heighton, Heather Birrell, Zoe Whittall, Greg Kearney and Jessica Westhead, seriously just to name a few. (There are 27.)
I asked Shawn Syms a few questions about the book. Why fiction, for instance, and not essays? Can the collection rise above gimmick to stand the test of time into and through the next new thing? And, of course, how does he imagine Friend. Follow. Text. will be shared among readers?
Julie Wilson: You point to E.M. Forster’s short story “The Machine Stops” as one of the first pieces of fiction to characterize communication across distance via an interface. Published in 1909, the story even references such features as the “isolation knob” to render one unreachable and imperfections such as an inability to “transmit nuances of expression.” I want to tie this to fiction and your decision not to edit an anthology of essays. Was this simply something you began to notice in the books you were reading?
Shawn Syms: Yes. I spend a lot of my time either reading, writing, thinking about or reviewing short fiction, and, over the course of a year or so, I started to notice more and more pieces where the form and/or content was influenced by social media and online communication. Much of the time, this would be within the context of an individual story. In the case of Rebecca Rosenblum’s collection The Big Dream, which centres on a group of workers in a corporate office environment, her stories were bookended by fictional email messages that involved key characters and helped establish mood and tone.
I learned of the Forster story via Steve Himmer, editor of Necessary Fiction, a big supporter of the book. He pointed me to a Storify thread on the subject of early fiction that anticipated the rise of social media. The funny thing is that I had already chosen as a working title of the book Only Interconnect, based on “Only connect,” the epigraph to his 1910 novel Howards End. (I’ve never read that book, but I’d seen it quoted in the front matter of one of my mother’s paperback novels when I was a boy.)
Forster’s “The Machine Stops” is rather dark and interestingly a lot of my submissions also concerned fairly weighty matters. I put a lot of thought into the sequence of the stories and one of my considerations turned out to be a desire not to put too many intense stories in a row! Luckily the pieces overall are complex and sophisticated, and so few of them are relentlessly dire. Wherever there is sadness, there is generally hope as well.
JW: A number of the stories in this collection were previously published pieces. How did you then go about soliciting the remainder of the stories?
SS: This is the first book I’ve edited, so I wasn’t quite sure what the standard approach would be—should I line up the stories first with the hope of finding a publisher, or try first to hook a publisher on the idea itself? The notion of the book was borne of messages exchanged on Facebook with Megan Stielstra and Brian Joseph Davis. That conversation validated that this was a good idea and helped me believe I could actually do it. Initially I approached the authors of the previously published pieces and pitched the idea, and all were enthusiastic. From there, I set up a submissions page using the online service Submittable, and paid for ads in various places to drum up interest. In my call, I made a particular point to invite women, queer and trans writers and writers of colour, which is reflected in the book. I wanted the book to resonate for many different readers and to reflect the current moment, and I wanted the stories to be as diverse as possible in terms of form, content, thematic preoccupations and in the different sorts of social media integrated into the storylines. I got about 80 submission, and honed down the contributions to 27.
JW: Were you concerned that you’d get back pieces that were overly self-conscious? How did you go beyond gimmick?
SS: I’d characterize a certain subset of the submissions that way. This could be reflected in small ways—overuse of texting acronyms to a point that seemed forced or was distracting, for instance, or stories that featured overt, heavy-handed editorializing about perceived negative aspects to online communication. The stories that appealed to me the most generally took for granted the role of social and online media in people’s lives and explored that in a broader context, either in traditional prose or using formal innovation inspired by social media to invent a new way to construct a compelling narrative.
If anything, I found the more formally experimental pieces quite exciting to work with. I’ve long had a bias as a reader toward more conventional prose as well as a timidity with regards to experimentation in my own writing, which may reflect the fact my background prior to writing fiction was in journalism and reportage. And I find myself generally wary of writing that feels as if it’s formally experimental simply for its own sake. So to see writers taking forms that I’m most familiar with outside of lit—texting, blogs, message boards, hookup apps, and the like—and integrating them formally into their work in ways that succeed from the standpoint of craft and storytelling, I find it pretty inspiring.
JW: This collection is above a wink and a nod, isn’t it? You’re pointing out that narrative now exists in the most common forums. We’re, all of us, more conscious about how we construct our messages, where they’re posted, how they’ll be received, and even how to go about finding an audience.
SS: We are always, in various ways, telling the story of ourselves—sometimes with a highly specific audience or individual in mind, sometimes never really knowing. That’s true online; it’s also true simply walking down the street in whatever attire and with whatever comportment. And of course with the advent of mobile, these can be simultaneous true, as we are increasingly online while we walk down public streets. And in those moments, we are, in a sense, in multiple places at once.
I was part of the blogging community LiveJournal starting in 2003, and before that in the 1990s I participated in a listserv called the Bears Mailing List. In those forums, we were working through all of the same predicaments—risks of dramatic miscommunication, perceived differences between the online self and the supposedly “authentic” in-real-life self, interplay between the ego and the notion of playing to an audience—that have become far more widespread today, particularly with the advent of Facebook. The difference is that now the potential audience is larger and in some senses potentially global in span. (That said, I think that social networks in many ways reflect, rather than transcend, structural inequities such as gender, race and global economic power.)
JW: Narrative now also commonly includes visual imagery.
SS: The simple act of sharing a photograph or set of photographs of yourself with someone is all about constructing a narrative (and this notion is explored in Megan Stielstra’s story “SO. MUCH. FUN.”) The pictures you select and the order in which they are sent—how does that influence a story you’re telling without any words at all? What is the impact of the quality of the image as much as its composition, however intentional or not? The type of device from which you send versus the one on which someone receives—phone, tablet, computer—how does this influence the story? Whether you are alone or not when sending; the social context of the recipient. The ever-shifting story of ourselves, our stories about others, and how we communicate these things—questions of representation are nothing new, but I think they are becoming preoccupations, consciously or subconsciously, for more and more of us in these increasingly digital times.
JW: When you came up with the idea for this anthology, did you have a particular reader in mind? The commuter? The gadget geek? If so, was it a matter of introducing fiction to the on-the-go reader or packaging thematic content for the educational market, or . . . ?
SS: I saw myself as primarily working within the milieu of small-press literary fiction and its traditional audience. This book is based on an original idea, is full of great stories, and has some potential to be a popular success, but there are numerous constraints—the very busy and small staff of its small-press publisher, my own energy level and ability to connect with influential people in publishing and promotion on top of my day job, the struggle to get the book into larger chains.
All that said, reactions have been very positive, and I hope that the form and content will resonate with as many people as we can expose to the book. I do think the educational market is a logical target; I just need to figure out how to gain access. And the electronic versions of the book should be ready soon; already people are asking and the publisher is more optimistic than usual with regards to the e-sales prospects for this particular title.
This will make it more accessible to readers on the go, which I think fulfills some of the promise behind the book. What actually happens in terms of sales and the accessibility of Friend. Follow. Text. remains to be seen though.
JW: From the introduction: “We friend. We follow. We text. Above all, we connect.” It’s amusing, if you think about it, because in books we retreat deeply. The hope, we believe, is that the reader will re-emerge and: Like. Fan. Share. I imagine you can’t put together a book like this, with this level of sophistication, and not think about the long tail. With that in mind, is Friend. Follow. Text. also an experiment in how readers come to locate books and share them?
SS: One interesting thing that has come up—writer Nathan Burgoine has been reviewing the stories one by one while in the process of reading the book, and posting his thoughts via Redroom.com and Twitter. To me, this sort of engagement has exciting possibilities for which I think a book of this nature and with this many individual contributors is well suited. It’s a bit different from the traditional model of writing a book and then engaging in promotional efforts that you hope will result in getting reviewed in a newspaper. It suggests there are some additional possibilities out there for engagement with readers and critics, ones that are not so static.
JW: Is there another communication trend on your radar, something you expect will begin to appear more in fiction and provide you with a follow up to this anthology?
SS: The idea behind the book is far from exhausted; I can easily imagine a sequel, though this might ultimately be dictated more by market factors than anything. The concept would naturally evolve. My contributors have many ideas in this regard. K. Tait Jarboe is a multimedia digital artist and sees many opportunities for the book to exist beyond paper and kickstart some more interactive and engaging experiences. Trevor Corkum has many thoughts about how we can directly engage readers online, as well as new directions that fiction may take as more and more people read while on the go. The main bottleneck has been me!
Personally, I’m somewhat curious about the impact of literary feedback-mechanism sites like Red Lemonade and writing-collaboration tools such as the social writing app Next Sentence. All this suggests to me there are a billion possible directions for a follow-up to consider, some of which will only reveal themselves as time unfolds.
Want more? Like Friend. Follow. Text. on Facebook and become bosom buddies on Twitter.
Right up my alley, John Rippo has been capturing snapshots of coffee shop culture in The Espresso, his independent newspaper for cafe society. Heard in the Houses is a collection of vignettes based on Rippo’s observations of cafe patrons.
Rippo spoke with NPR’s “Morning Edition” about a predilection close to my heart. LISTEN, or READ the full transcript.
Now, enjoy this scene from Coffee & Cigarettes featuring Bill Murray, RZA and GZA from Wutang Clan.
Hosted by Todd Babiak, with a keynote speech from Shelagh Rogers, the awards will be announced Saturday, May 25, 2013 at the Alberta Book Awards Gala, co-hosted by the Book Publishers Association of Alberta and The Writers’ Guild of Alberta.
To celebrate, here’s a cute video of a baby losing it while his mum reads to him.
Throughout April 2013, look out for Page Turner Champions, a group of 30 readers, writers, and publishing professionals who have each gotten behind Project Bookmark Canada to issue a call to action: Be a Champion!
Donate now. You’ll be supporting a national, charitable organization dedicated to placing text from stories and poems in the exact locations in which their scenes were set, to serve as constant reminders that Canada is a nation of storytellers. You’ll also be entered for a chance to win prizes, including my reader-inspired book, Seen Reading.
“For $20 — less than the cost of the average paperback — readers can help us turn the page and write the Bookmark story.”—Miranda Hill, Writer and Founder of Project Bookmark Canada
Directed by Jeremy Munce, this book trailer for David Seymour‘s poetry collection For Display Purposes Only (Coach House, 2013) features a host of Canadian writers reciting from “Eyewitness Testimony.”
Sustains a tight thrum, and delivers some great performances. Karen Solie is a stand out.
When you take someone home, you display books that mean the most to you, or at least relay the message you most want received. And if you’re the one being taken, a make-it-or-break-it book will always catch your eye, sealing the deal or eliciting that record scratch moment and a sudden need to text someone from the bathroom.
I asked some friends to submit examples of books that put a flutter in their endpapers, get them hot under the covers, and knotted up in their bindings.
Say Please, by Sinclair Sexsmith (ed) ; Opening Up, by Tristan Taormino;
And either of my books, cuz people seem to think that writers are hot: Stealing Nasreen and Six Metres of Pavement.
Heather Birrell Rapture, by Susan Minot;
Ann Patchett’s The Magician’s Assistant, one of my favourite love stories of all time (and a near perfect novel, if you ask me); The Republic of Love, by Carol Shields;
I might be concerned (depending on my disposition towards said lover) if John Berger’s To The Wedding were prominently displayed. And Darren O’Donnell’ s Your Secrets Sleep With Me might also give me pause.
Best introduction: I wouldn’t be with my husband except for the conjunction of Winter’s Tale, by Mark Helprin (my shelf) and Refiner’s Fire, by Mark Helprin (his shelf).
Beware: either Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance or Eat/Pray/Love displayed as evidence of sensitive nature.
Hideous warning: a bookless shelf.
I’d like a sniff of John Berryman somewhere. Mavis Gallant is definitely making me think I should pack a toothbrush. Same goes for William Trevor and W.S. Merwin.
If in seduction mode, I’d have to lay out, no pun intended, Lorrie Moore’s Birds of America, Mating, by Norman Rush, and A Sport and a Pastime, by James Salter. If that doesn’t work, I was wasting my time in the first place.
Elisabeth de Mariaffi
Books in every room is a big turn on. There should be a bookshelf in every room. Raymond Carver collected, Mark Anthony Jarman’s Dancing Nightly in the Tavern, Leon Rooke’s Who Do You Love?, James Salter’s Last Night.
Poetry: Don Paterson, hands down. There’s no fear in him.
In the kitchen you should have several cookbooks: at least one about baking, with heavy emphasis on bread-making, because it’s slow and tangible.
Other than that there should be two of: home-cooking French, Italian, or Indian. Cooks are sensualists, so you know it’ll turn out to be a good night.
My requirement would be that the person have precisely the book I want to read and have not done so. So I’d be looking for telepathy.
Also, I really think shagging is a great deal more pragmatic than leaving books around the place. Therefore if that were the goal surely explicit sex guides would be more use. Or that anthology Bad Sex.
If there were none of the above, I could probably be persuaded on the merits of Georges Perec on the kitchen table. My partner had lovely bookshelves it’s true, but his cup of tea was exquisite.
If Saturday, by Ian McEwan, was in the apartment, I would flee on sight.
Nathalie Atkinson The Fermata, by Nicholson Baker, full stop; Essays In Love, by Alain de Botton.
(Nathalie’s boyfriend adds: Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow, by Anders Nilsen, “like Love Story, only good.”)
Heidi Shiller Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell;
Pablo Neruda; Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov.
Alicia Louise Merchant
Leaving Infinite Jest lying around would probably get me simultaneously laid and not laid, if that’s possible because I always end up fucking guys who have A Real Thing for David Foster Wallace, but I’m one of those “I knew Wallace for his magazine work” people who has never made it through IJ. It’s a kind of cock-tease that I have it on my shelf—off the shelf, even!—but haven’t made it all the way through. Guys are always like, “I love IJ! It’s my favourite book!” And I’m like, Yeah, I haven’t actually read it, and then they are incredulous and take a look around at all my other books and just can’t believe I haven’t read it.
I’m more of a publisher snob than title snob. If I see any Dalkey Archive, New Directions, or NYRB books, I’m hooked.
I also look for stacks of books throughout the apartment (shows he reads regularly) and at least one book on the nightstand.
These days, I also like to see How Should a Person Be, by Sheila Heti, on someone’s shelf.
Trevor Cole The Shipping News, by Annie Proulx, because her prose is sexy and it’s a love story; Cereus Blooms at Night, by Shani Mootoo, because it’s crazy sensual; Annabel, by Kathleen Winter, because I’m a sensitive guy;
As for record-scratch titles, I might turn around and walk out if I saw Twilight or 50 Shades of Grey.
Jaime Woo Nigellissima, by Nigella Lawson is a total boner maker;
James Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds, too. (I’m a nerd.)
Oh, and, of course, my book, Meet Grindr.
Jennifer Murtell Barrett Portable Kisses, by Tess Gallagher. (I have it on good authority that Jennifer’s now husband bought her the book and she was “ensnared.”)
I will not fuck someone who has Ayn Rand anywhere in their apartment;
but, I will definitely fuck someone who has a stack of Ian McEwan lying around.
Written on the Body, by Jeanette Winterson; The Captain’s Verses, by Pablo Neruda.
Steph Cilia VanderMeulen
If you have McCarthy’s Border Trilogy, because it’s sexy and a love story and has cowboys, I’d stay the night;
Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk about Love, because his superb writing totally excites me;
Charles Baxter’s The Feast of Love; Romeo and Juliet, by William Shakespeare; Cyrano de Bergerac, by Edmond Rostand.
Might help in bed: The Pornographer’s Poem, by Michael Turner; My Secret Garden, by Nancy Friday; Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, by Pablo Neruda.
Cold showers: The Female Eunuch, by Gloria Steinem; The Edible Woman, by Margaret Atwood.
(I read both at age 13, and they informed my sexuality, for better or for worse.)
As for me, Julie Wilson, if the last time you bought a Canadian-authored book was in your first year of university, maybe just hide those in the back.
Beyond that, I’d be disappointed not to see any David Sedaris, contemporary short fiction, and at least one poetry title that isn’t Leonard Cohen. Bonus points for a Karen Solie or a Susan Holbrook, especially if you giggle when I say “tampon.” (Then I’ll know you’ve read Joy Is So Exhausting.)
Dennis Lee’s Body Music, S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, and Lorna Crozier’s The Book of Marvels will certainly tickle my fancy, while anything by David Foster Wallace will intimidate me, and, while unfortunate, I may be inclined to ask if you’ve really read all his work. . . . . Crickets will hopefully give way to comfortable silence and a quick glimpse of Geist’s Atlas of Canada: Meat Maps and Other Strange Cartographies.
If by this point things haven’t ground to a complete halt, it’s possible you’ll open up about that particularly curious pile of older books—Pride and Prejudice, The Three Little Kittens, The Little Prince, Gems of Womanhood—not the other pile of old and gutted books in which you store your rolling papers.
You have kids books? I might look for kids. That answered, and depending on how much wine/bourbon we’ve had, we might read one aloud in the “Man at the Edge of the Universe Voice”. If sexual tension hasn’t instead given way to braiding each other’s hair, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾ should get you to second base.
As for gadgets, an ereader won’t turn me off in the slightest, but should we retire to the boudoir, I’d rather discover a paper book by your bedside.
Finally, will I be impressed if you have a copy of my book? Absolutely—provided it lives in the bathroom, cuddled up to Joe Brainard’s I Remember.
(Quick shout out to my darling girlfriend: Love ya, babe!)
Jokes aside, this Valentine’s Day, and every day to follow, I wish you all the love and lust you can find between the crisply-typeset sheets of a good book . . . in bed.
And, if all else fails, read to him/her. Works every time.
From The Book of Love, by The Magnetic Fields:
“The book of love is long and boring
No one can lift the damn thing
It’s full of charts and facts and figures
And instructions for dancing but
I . . .
I love it when you read to me and
You . . .
You can read me anything.”
Monday, news prematurely broke that Martin Levin, books editor with Globe and Mail since 1996, and Jack Kirchoff, the section’s assistant editor, had been removed from their positions. While Kirchoff has yet to be reassigned (as of this post), Levin will move into the role of obituaries editor where he will report on the lingering death of publishing.
A job opening has now been posted, and while it’s not terribly likely that the Globe will find the successful candidate out of house, I have a message to my fellow ladykind. I’m doing this for your own good. Please, don’t hate me . . .
“I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and, doggonit, people like me!”
I don’t mean this lightly. I’ve been on the listservs, and follow the counts and CWILA’s establishment of a Critic-in-Residence (Sue Sinclair). I’ve been both pained and entertained by the ongoing Twitterfire exchanged between a host of bright and passionate people about the lack of women in reviews coverage (and in the reviews themselves.) We have the numbers. Not enough women writers being reviewed. Not enough women writing reviews.
Let me be clear. This isn’t a continued attack against existing books editors, although I might be suggesting that it wouldn’t be such a bad thing during the hiring process to acknowledge that it’s mostly women who both read and buy books.
No, what I’m really saying is that of the men I know who go for gigs, any gig, most do so because they have the skill sets to learn how to do the job. Whereas, ladies, gawd love us, we sometimes do this thing where we don’t even go for the job until we know how to do it, and everyone else’s, too. I’ll also tell you a little something else. Of the male books editors in this country, more than a few inherited the gig or were reassigned from another section. They had to learn, too.
So, I’m begging you. If you have the interest, if you have the experience, if you have the chops, and if you have LADY BITS, here’s the job description at Workopolis. Apply.
Putting down the pom poms, here’s the bad news. You’re probably not going to get the gig. I really hope you do. Because if you’re all those things above, you should get the gig. You’re clearly qualified. But it’s a union gig, so, there’s that.
No, the real reason you need to apply is because there won’t be a chance again soon(ish) that you’ll have the opportunity to apply to be the Books Editor of a national newspaper, and to give that national newspaper the opportunity to count just how many women are invested in the very conversations that keep a section robust, thriving and forward-moving.
That doesn’t just count for something. That’s the point of this all.
Addendum: I have had the pleasure of working with Martin and Jack since I broke in my first publishing toof, and wish them only the best. Before this post, I was among the first to publicly express my dismay that they’d been reassigned. No matter my call for a forward (and possibly futile) charge, it in no way diminishes the loss to book culture and conversation that is the combined efforts of these kind fellows.
I’ve arrived in Calgary for WordFest 2012 and am already having what feels like a time of my life.
There really is something quite special about this festival—a sense of community and energy—possibly because it comes on the cusp of the fall festival season while authors are still a bit giddy about appearances, along with the resulting comradeship that will form over the next week before many of us head to beautiful Banff and the famed Summit Salon, a chance for creators to throw off the formal attire and toss on some fleece, all while talking about the industry-at-large set against one of the most stunning views in the world.
I, personally, already feel as if I’ve forged a few friendships and am grateful for the time I’ll get to spend with fellow authors, as both writers and readers. There’s a genuine sense that everyone wants to help everyone else, less a matter of keeping your enemies closer than genuine support from your peers. There’s no industry of one.
Which brings me to Susan Swan, a known mentor to new writers and passionate spokesperson for writers’ rights. She’s also spent a fair chunk of this morning trying to come up with some press play for our Saturday panel, How Should a Writer Be? (You should come. It’ll be fun.)
While we continue to bump noggins, I thought I’d return the kindness and remind you that Susan’s latest novel, The Western Light, (Cormorant Books) is on your To Buy list.
Below is Projections of The Western Light, a BookShorts video made with collaborator Judith Keenan. Check it out.
With images of Georgian Bay immersing her in an evocative visual landscape, author/performer Susan Swan delivers just enough story to tease the viewer with hints of the father-daughter dilemmas her character Mouse Bradford faces in the novel. It sets the tone of 1959 small town Ontario with a soundtrack that immediately places the viewer in the era. The score brings Susan’s performance into the realm of lyrics to a song, the words of which are, as the reviewers are saying, “poetic descriptions … particularly vivid, and help bring the world of the novel to vibrant life.” (Quill & Quire, October 2012).
For more about Susan Swan, the excellent reviews of The Western Light, and her extensive reading tour, visit www.susanswanonline.com.
Yesterday, I sat in front of my computer, and, as luck would have it, so did Corey Redekop. We spent the next half hour talking about Husk, the follow up to his biblio-rrific novel Shelf Monkey.
Husk is the story about everyzombie Sheldon Funk. It’s sharp-witted, gross, “stupid-funny” and astute in its observations on what it means to be alive even if you’re dead.
Husk has received great reviews from the Toronto Star and Quill & Quire (among others), and won the favour of authors such as Andrew Kaufman and Andrew Pyper.
In this chat, we talk zombies, body horror, grotesque humour, the hilariously-inappropriate book trailer (see below), Corey’s upcoming appearance at IFOA, and, finally, who will (un)likely play Sheldon Funk in the sure-to-be-made movie adaptation of Husk. (Hint: He may be a little too beef-cakey.)