magical thinking

There is an essay in Zadie Smith's collection, Changing My Mind, called That Crafty Feeling. It is a version of a lecture she gave to the students of Columbia University's Writing Program in 2008.

Section 4 of that essay is titled, Middle-Of-The-Novel Magical Thinking.

Simplified, it's the point where, when writing a novel, or in my case a collection of short stories, something strange happens.  Everything you encounter, flows freely into your writing.

By everything, she means: your home, the street, dialogue on the bus, the newspaper, your pets, your partner. Just...everything.

Zadie writes: "...there is nothing in the world except your book. The middle of the novel is a state of mind.  Strange things happen in it." 

Here are a few strangely magical things that have happened lately:

One of the stories I'm working on doesn't have a title yet. The options, presently, are: Confessions of a Chronic Voyeur, Slash of Red, Out There, Identification, The Naming of Things.

I think The Naming of Things isn't the best choice.  

The strange magical thinking part:

I stopped to pick up some wine to celebrate a couple of well timed epiphanies after a meeting with my mentor, Sarah Selecky and found this document sticking out of the garbage (pictured above) outside the LCBO It's an outline for a film titled, The Power of Naming and Identifying Information.

The story without a title yet is, partly, about a woman who has reoccurring dreams of a plane crash. In the dreams, she sees bits of things falling from the aircraft and landing around her. A plastic glass, part of a shoe, handles from suitcases, a slice of apple. 

The strange magical thinking part:

While listening to CBC Radio One on the Saturday morning drive out to the drop zone for Safety Day, I heard a news story how a piece from one of the planes that crashed on 9-11 was found wedged between two buildings in New York City.  

After the news, I switched the station to CBC Radio 2 where Stuart McLean was doing a reading before The Vinyl Cafe.  The story was all about the Sunshine Coast in B.C. and following it, they aired the show he had taped in Powell River.

The strange magical thinking part:

The story without a title yet, partly about a woman who has reoccurring dreams of a plane crash, is set in the Sunshine Coast.

The story without a title yet, partly about a woman who has reoccurring dreams of a plane crash, set in the Sunshine Coast also involves a character who suffers severe, life threatening injuries.  To better write about her condition, I decided to make a list of "things that are watery".  I thought it might help evoke images of what it feels like to lose a lot of blood, experience weakness, be in shock, lose consciousness, etc. 

The strange magical thinking part:

Aforementioned mentor, Sarah Selecky tweets writing prompts.  Her prompt from today was: Write a list from 1-20 titled, "Things that are watery."  

In no way have we discussed this character with the injuries, or how I came up with "things that are watery" or how she did or why she posted that very  

It's got to be the magic.   

Another story in my collection has a protagonist named Val. I recently changed the name of Val's daughter from Jamie to Molly. (Molly is working much better). I did this before reading Tenth of December, the title story in Tenth of December a new collection of short stories by George Saunders. It is worthwhile mentioning I am a big George Saunders fan.

The strange magical thinking part:

In Tenth of December there are characters named both Val and Molly.

This one doesn't really fit with the others, but I'm going to include it anyway.

The other morning, I saw a photo of two newly hatched baby penguins on Facebook after several weeks of absence from the site. Rushing out to work, I quickly saved the .jpg to my computer. The next day, I realized I had not saved the image incorrectly.

There were no penguins.

I went back to Facebook to try and find the photo that I had seen it on a post via a friend of another person, or maybe it was an ad for a Japanese writer, I think, but I couldn't remember his name, even though I thought I saw him in that "The Strategist" section of the Globe and Mail last week.


Sweet little creatures lost in a virtual vacuum never to be seen again.

Look at this photo.

You see the urgency I had in finding it.

At work I googled "baby penguin images" and it gave me 28,000,000 pics to choose from.

I enlisted the help of my tech support colleague and from his computer, tried a couple of targeted searches on Facebook.


For fun, I showed him how I had googled the search earlier and...there they were.

"Quick, save it!" he said.

And there they are.
Just a couple of newly hatched Gentoo penguin chicks in Antarctica.

And they, along with a few other things right now, are most certainly magical.

Photo by Richard Sidey was National Geographic's Photo of the Day on January 8, 2013.

the blog heard around the world

No one knows how it started -- I don't, at least -- but writers are linking from blog to blog in a virtual game of 'tag, you're it.' 

In this 10-question interview, writers talk about the Next Big Thing they’re working on, then tag five other writers, each of whom does the same, tagging another five, and so on and so on...a kind of literary chain letter, only not annoying, but fascinating. Really.

For writers, it's an opportunity to share work-in-progress, perhaps refining an idea that hasn't quite taken full shape or revealing a book in the final stages of editing.  For readers, these linked blogs offer a chance to 'look behind the curtain' of the writer's imagination - to see stories before they become books, discovering what inspires and shapes them.

My thanks to novelist, poet and essayist Diana Fitzgerald Bryden for tagging me. 

At the end of this post, I've tagged a few other writers you might want to get to know. Visit their blogs and you may just discover a work-in-progress destined to become the 'next big thing' to read on your bookshelf or e-reader.


Here goes...

What is your working title of your book?
Moving Parts 

Where did the idea come from for the book?
I started writing short stories and they started to add up.  Now there are almost enough for a book.

What genre does your book fall under?
Short story collection.  Fiction.  Short fiction.  

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
If the story, Moving Parts got made into a feature, I think Keira Knightley and Jason Segel would make a good Edie and Ditch, a nerdy pair of star crossed lovers who met in a grocery store line up. There are also several linked stories, that could be a collection of short films where Frances McDormand would be a perfect Yvonne, the neurotic, bug-eyed, dog-loving narrator.  If Let Me Call You Lovely were a movie, Fred Willard should play Uncle Nick, Jennifer Coolige for the role of Charlene and Michael Cera as Jeremy.  My friend's cat, Rockford, could play Jarslberg (see photo below). 
Apart from Cera and the cat, I wish I knew more Canadian actors who fit these roles. 

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
In this collection of stories about striving and longing, sad yet hilarious characters encounter truth, fear, and love in their own peculiar ways; through speculation on the private lives of strangers, through imaginative digressions from the mundane and through careful observation of the ordinary.
A bit rambly, but that's the gist of it.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
To be announced.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Still in the works.  Going on three years. 

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

As an emerging writer I am going to shamelessly compare my work to writers I admire and their books that inspire me, which include Do the Windows Open? by Julie Hecht,  And Also Sharks by
Jessica Westhead, No One Belongs Here More Than You: Stories by Miranda July, Open by Lisa Moore, and Pastoralia by George Saunders.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Reading the books listed above.  And, in a way, I was inspired to write these stories because I am fascinated by human behavior.  I notice a lot of weird shit and want to know more about it.  Examine it. Dissect it.  Laugh with it.  Live with it.  Survive it. 

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
My writing has been noted as:
“…remarkably assured prose and full of unexpected and wonderfully bizarre detail.” – Grace O’Connell
“…hilarious, smart, cutting, wry, careful, moving…” - Sarah Selecky
“…rich in voice, satisfying in narrative…” - Zsuzsi Gartner
“…compelling...with surprising leaps of imagination…” – Jessica Westhead and Matthew J. Trafford

Below is a short excerpt from Let Me Call You Lovely, winner of the 2012 Random House Creative Writing Award through The School of Continuing Studies at the University of Toronto.

Uncle Nick had named all the cats after cheeses.  Gouda, Brie, Kojak (from Colby-Jack) and Zola, (short for Gorgonzola).  They were all adoptions from The Toronto Cat Rescue, except Zola who came from the Internet.
“Have you seen that Kajiji?” Nick said to Jeremy, “Every five minutes another goddamn animal goes up for adoption.”
Last month, there was a new one.  Neither a rescue nor an adoption, but a little orange stray that started hanging around the yard.  Nick let her in and started feeding her.  He called her Jarlsberg. Jarlsberg had taken to sleeping in the basement with Jeremy. Repeatedly, he had woke to the cat curled up beside his head, purring in his ear. Not only did she sit outside the bathroom door while Jeremy showered, the cat followed him around while he dressed and stared at him while he watched The Dragon’s Den on his laptop. She would carry bits of particleboard from upstairs in her mouth and drop them at Jeremy’s feet and wait.  When Jeremy kicked the scrap wood away, Jarslberg would bat it around the room then bring it back to Jeremy’s feet.  She’d stare at it until Jeremy kicked it for her again.
Nick and Charlene had been renovating for the last nine years.  Any time Jeremy had stopped in with his mother to see Uncle Nick, the place was in a new state of disarray. Sheets of drywall were stacked against frames of two by fours in the dining room. An unfinished kitchen floor was lined with buckets of plaster.   Loose wires sprouted from light fixtures that were not fully installed.  But visitors were always welcome.  Nick would throw a sheet of plastic on the dining room table and offer them herbal tea and some gluten free cake or cookie--Charlene was allergic. 
It was difficult to have conversations with Nick and Charlene because they often spoke at the same time.
            “We’re going to work on the bathroom this week,” he’d say.
And Charlene, “Nicky’s changed his mind about the layout again.”
Nick loved anything with stained glass so the windows were the only parts of house that were finished. The front door housed a particularly intricate landscape design along with a small window beside it that was made of a combination of orange and yellow stars.  The three tall windows in the dining room contained sections of coloured glass that cast patterns on the plastic liner where they drank their tea.
“Isn’t it the most lovely and amazing thing?” Charlene said.
And Nick, “Would you look at that goddamn light.” 


And now I’m tagging a few talented writers. Visit their sites and find out about them and their work.  

Christna Fletcher

I had hoped to get five writers, but didn't.  
Some may still show up so come back.

Message for tagged authors:
Rules of the Next Big Thing

***Use this format for your post
***Answer the ten questions about your current WIP (work in progress)
***Tag five (or as many as you can) other writers/bloggers and add their links so we can hop over and meet them.

Ten Interview Questions for the Next Big Thing:
What is your working title of your book?
Where did the idea come from for the book?
What genre does your book fall under?
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Include the link of who tagged you and this explanation for the people you have tagged.
Be sure to line up your five people in advance.

back to school

September has that crisp, cool feel about it.

New book bags, binders, and blue jeans.  The air is lighter, foliage is in transition and everything starts to calm down and settle in.  It's like running your hand across a freshly made bed.

That, and there is learning to be done.

I'm heading into week four of a writing course called Found in Translation.

What happens is, we are given a translation (the bare bones) of a poem from its original language - so far we have covered Chinese, Spanish and Russian.  Then we translate it into our own words, while still honouring the poet's choice of words and, ideally, maintaining their intention, meaning, and vision.

That's what happens.  

But there is much more to it than that, of course.

It's an online class taught by long time Zen practitioner, author, teacher Peter Levitt and is made up of people from Germany, Scotland, Israel, Italy, Vancouver Island, the USA, the GTA and various parts of Ontario.

So many perspectives.  So great.

Week one most of us didn't understand the instructions of what to do or the actual assignment and went ahead and did the work anyway.

The result?


Learning through being vulnerable, through not knowing, through trust, intuition, letting go, slowing down, and having confidence.

This approach to writing is not easy.  It's different than anything I have ever done.  It's challenging, enlightening, frustrating, fascinating, tiring, and...highly enjoyable.

We have spent a fair amount of discussion on the value of rigour and discipline.  Of facing things as they are, and keep coming back to this image:

Once inside the bamboo tube
the snake
finds a new way

I'll say.

And I'll say this.  I find bits of this course - this careful, subtle, process - seeping into other areas of my life.  I am doing other things more wholeheartedly, with more honesty, with fewer constraints.

I think it is healthy to be reminded about the value of rigour and discipline.  A useful quote that Peter shared with us is from CG Yung on the definition of discipline: "Discipline is the obedience to awareness."

Good advice for writing, and, well, everything else.

Like skydiving, for example.

Last weekend I did a whole lot of learning about formation skydiving at Skydive Burnaby.  And a lot of that learning had to do with facing things as they are.  A lot of it was about being relaxed and focussed.  It was about trust, intuition, letting go, slowing down, and having confidence.

I edited a highlight video of the jumps I did and posted it here.

Poetry in motion?

You tell me.

grapefruit fanta

I slept for most of the flight here because it was early last Saturday morning. But when the cart came by for last call, I saw the woman in front of me order a tomato juice.

"Tomato juice please," I said.

"Juice? We have orange, apple, cranberry or tomato. Or grapefruit fanta."

I still had my ear plugs in but yes, that's what he said.

"Sure, I'll try one of those."

"If you don't like it I won't be offended, but I stand by my word."

Turns out when you mix apple juice, orange juice and tonic water, it tastes like a grapefruit soda.

"For twelve bucks, I can make you a wicked cocktail."

The attendant gave the same pitch to the guy behind me. And the recipe for the cocktail: add a bit of rum, vodka and grand marnier. A splash of cranberry makes it ruby red.

Then I took a bus to Banff and have been in the Writing With Style workshop all week in the building pictured above.

This afternoon, I climbed Tunnel Mountain, a 1.8 km hike. A struggle in places because the snow is melting and it was mucky and wet. It was sloppy and icy but there were trees to hang on to and they've put railings up near sharp drop offs. I thought I might slip and fall. But I made it to the summit, and from there, I could see the the other side. I saw it for what it was - a completely different point of view.

Vast, expansive, endless.

It might be a struggle. It might be mucky and sloppy, and I might slip and fall. But I have new knowledge, lots of ideas and plenty to read. I've got a lot to hang on to. And I am open to the possibilities of things I haven't thought of on ways to approach my work.

I mean, who knew apple, orange and tonic would taste like grapefruit?

The possibilities are endless.

Drink up.