Jane Eaton Hamilton

"Look. I'm old, fat, and I have more scars than pounds."

Tag: fiction

Lady Liberty Lit

I used to skate when I was a kid, and over the winter, I wrote a piece about skating and resistance, which Gayle Brandeis has been kind enough to publish at the new Lady Liberty Lit. Thanks, Gayle!

P.S. Gayle’s first novel ‘The Book of Dead Birds’ thrilled me. If you too are pelican-crazy, and want to understand more about the mother/child bond, and just admire great stylists, you should read it.

Lady Liberty Lit

“George Saunders: What writers really do when they write.”

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If George Saunders is a word, I am a letter. Here, he waxes enthused about Lincoln in the Bardo, his new and first novel.

What Writers Really Do

27 Books Every Person In Any Country Should Read

…but especially if you’re attending one of the hundreds of Women’s Marches around the world this weekend. Or should I say especially if you’re not?

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“These novels, essay collections, memoirs, histories, and more will help you understand why there is no feminism without intersectionality, why we should remember our history before we repeat it, and why Roe v. Wade is a lot more tenuous than you might think.” -Doree Shafrir

Buzzfeed Books

National Coming Out Day

JEH nude 2016

painting Jane Eaton Hamilton 2016

It’s National Coming Out day. If you’re feel safe and protected enough in your circumstances to do so, I hope you’ll join us as out and proud people! It can be uplifting, unnerving, relieving, and thrilling to take that step.

Many, many of my short stories are queer, as are many, many of my poems and my novel WEEKEND. Here are some of my short fictions specifically about coming out:

Smiley, by Jane Eaton Hamilton, not yet collected: A young man in Cape Town works up his courage to tell his mother he’s trans.

Hunger, by Jane Eaton Hamilton from the collection HUNGER: A young runaway tries to escape the clutches of her older Vancouver lover.

Territory, by Jane Eaton Hamilton from the collection HUNGER: A woman leaves her husband for another woman.

Kiss Me or Something by Jane Eaton Hamilton from the collection HUNGER: A butch partners tries to get pregnant with her sometimes-straight woman partner.

I hope you’ll help me identify more short stories by other authors which celebrate coming out by responding to this post!

Here are the responses so far:

“Angel” by Elise Levine

“This is What You Get” by Benjamin Alire Saenz

“Ashes” by Nancy Jo Cullen

“From the Gloria Stories” by Rocky Gamez

“No Bikini” by Ivan Coyote

“My Marriage to Vengeance,” by David Leavitt

“Brokeback Mountain,” by Annie Proulx

“Smiley” by Jane Eaton Hamilton

“Her Thighs” by Dorothy Allison

“Fisherman” by Nalo Hopkinson

“Am I Blue” by Bruce Coville

“A Dad Called Mom” by Anne Fleming

“Skin” by Racquel Goodison

“Aye and Gomorrah” by Samuel Delaney

 

 

International Day of the Girl

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Over at LitHub, Kait Heacock has compiled ten stories about girls I know you’ll want to read for those only-a-story-will-do moments in life. On a train, in the bath, in the coffee shop. Read Naja Marie Aidt, Monica Arac de Nyeko, Clarice Lispector and Helen Oyeyemi.

Lit Hub

 

Annie Proulx: ‘I’ve had a life. I see how slippery things can be’

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On Annie Proulx by Lucy Rock in the Guardian. Annie Proulx published her first novel in her 50s.

Ursula K Le Guin

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“Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all the time, made new.”
― Ursula K. Le Guin, THE LATHE OF HEAVEN

Give Us Science!

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Why Fiction Need More Women Scientists. Ellen Pollack over at LitHub talks about how science enhances fiction.

Publication Day!

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Always an exciting day for a writer–publication day when we first see our new book! WEEKEND is out! I’m so happy to be launching at Historic Joy Kogawa House, where I’ll be writer-in-residence, on June 6. My special guest is author Anne Fleming and, yes, their new poetry book POEMW and their banjo, which I hear will be plunking out some campfire songs. Sharpen your marshmallow sticks, kids. Price of admission is a ghost story. Here’s hoping somebody will tell one about the ghosts of frogs we pithed in high school!

Hilary Mantal writes and writes and writes

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Hilary Mantel writes for “My Writing Day” at the Guardian here.

Bird Nights, a short story

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Here is a story I wrote more than 5 years ago, called “Bird Nights.” It came out first in Numéro Cinq and then was picked up by poet Marilyn Hacker for translation into French for Siécle 21, Paris, translated by Cécile Oumhani. I would be most honoured if you read it and left me your thoughts. It remains one of my favourite pieces of my writing. The news of my marital separation was still new when I wrote it, yet the story is as much travelogue as it is a raw cry from my heart. It also appeals to the side of me that likes subversive, fractured and braided narratives.

Bird Nights

Here is a story. It is true, but it is also full of lies. And small axes, the kind that make tiny cross-hatchings on hearts.

1)

A surgeon flayed open my wife’s chest and removed her breast: stiches and staples. This was several years ago. While she sleeps her scar unzips (top tape extension, top stop, slider, pull tab), her flesh unfolding like a sleeping bag. Some nights I only see the corset bones that girdle her lungs, gleaming moon slivers in murky red sky, and I say a prayer for them, those pale canoe ribs, those pickup sticks that are all that cinch her in. I wish I could do that: I wish I could hold her together. Some nights I think she may fly away in all directions, north, east, south, west, a huge splatter. She will go so far so fast I will only be able to watch with my mouth fallen open. She’ll be gone, and all I’ll have is a big red mess to clean up and a sliver of rib sticking out of my eye.

2)

Quiver trees are weird enough anyhow, but add a Sociable Weaver nest and you’ve got a real visual pickle. Warty, sponge toffee boils, these bird condos of dry grasses have upwards of 100 different holes for individual families; the nests can house 400 birds. Interestingly, Sociable Weavers are polyamorous, even, apparently, with barbets and finches.

In Namaqualand, Cape Weavers go it individually. The males court females by weaving testicular-like sacs, and if a female remains unimpressed, the male builds a second sac under the first, and etcetera, until a wind knocks the whole shebang down.

Bird-land, human-land—it’s all pretty much just jostling to get and keep the girl.

3)

Some nights when my wife’s incision unzips, a rib extends and on it sits a yellow bird, swaying as if in a great wind, feathers ruffling to lemon combs. I love birds. It makes me happy to hear her song, the same way it makes me happy when my wife sings. (Once when we were fresh, my wife danced naked through our kitchen belting out girl group songs from the 60s.) The little bird warbles and trills, then launches off the rib to fly around our bedroom. She grabs a mosquito near my ear. She flits into the corners, around the light fixtures, and carries back bits of yarn pulled from sweaters, spiderwebs, plastic pricetag spears, dust bunnies. She constructs a nest, shivers down into it, and lays little gelatinous eggs, eggs that I trust, with a simple, guileless trust, will grow up to be lymph nodes for my wife. These bird nights, I am happy, so happy. On some inchoate level, I know the little yellow bird has our backs, and I drift off to trills of sugary bird song.

4)

I hang out on bird-lover websites, where questions abound: Why are my lovebirds changing colour? Aphids–my bird is okay with them, but I’m not? Lovebird feather plucking?

Feather loss, says Avian Web, is a difficult problem to cure when the picking behaviour is already established. Birds should be presented to Dr Marshall at the first signs of picking. My wife and I are feather-plucking. We didn’t go to Dr Marshall and maybe that’s our problem. Our relationship has thrush, bacteria, poor nutrition. My wife and I were once lovebirds. Once, for a nanosecond, We Two Were One. Then, for years, We Two Were One and A Half. Eventually, We Two Were Two. Now, the evidence suggests We Might Be Three.

5)

Birds enchant me. Once we took our daughter to a free flight aviary, the Lory Loft in Jurong Bird Park, Singapore. Having a 20-hectare hillside park entirely devoted to birds is guaranteed to make someone like me giddy. Lories are small parrots, and in the aviaries, as you whoop and wriggle and scream over suspension bridges high in the treetops, they land on you, they cover you. It’s as if the keepers are up on the rooftop squeezing tubes of oil paint, cadmium orange and cobalt blue and carmine and viridian, screechy territorial colours with a lot of wing flap and pecking.

Ornithologists at the park answer such questions as: Will an ostrich egg support the weight of an adult human? I grapple with this one: Will my human heart support the shifting weight of my wife’s loyalties?

6)

Foraging: The Way to Keep Your [Wife] Mentally Stimulated and Happy

It’s me that forages. Watch me some nights, thumbing through theatre tickets (Wicked! The Vagina Monologues! Avenue Q! My Year of Magical Thinking!) and museum exhibitions (Dali: Painting and Film; Picasso and Britain; Carr, O’Keeffe, Kahlo: Places of Their Own) and the detritus that falls from her scar, stirring through wind-up rabbits and plastic zombies and voodoo dolls that tumble free, all the secrets and suffering that she hoards deep inside.

What am I looking for? Something to eat, maybe. Bird seed. A steak.

7)

We met a woman in Namibia who lost most of one breast to a crocodile attack. She was a member of a polygamous tribe, the Himba, whose women wear only loincloths. She bent down at the river with her water gourd, breasts hanging as breasts will do after a bunch of kids, and a croc’s teeth snapped closed on the right one.

Who knows what this woman’s husband thinks when he takes her shriveled, croc-mangled right breast into his hand? Does he trace her history with reverence? Does he spit in disgust and choose another wife?

8)

There are local stories of wives who change in the bathroom, wear bras and prosthetics to bed, and husbands who shun them. There are stories of marital disintegration, and by that I mean what you probably assume: straight marriage. I don’t know the stats for queer marriage breakups after breast cancer. I do know that even after twelve years, when my wife or I drive past the Cancer Agency, not even thinking about what happened, on our way to other appointments and sometimes in the midst of great happiness, one or other of us will burst into tears.

9)

Vancouver has murders of crows, and our house is on their flight path. If you go outside in the dawn gloaming, such as when you are going for chemo, they fill a Hitchcockian sky with black shrieks, and if you could count them, you would run out of numbers before you’d run out of birds. Crows are not protected in BC, and their forest roost was recently ripped down to build a Costco; now tens of thousands roost in a tangle of electric wires and pallets of home building supplies. Their noise is deafening.

10)

Magic realism aside, my wife’s scar is really just a scar, plain, unremarkable, faded with time. (Plain, unremarkable. I tell you. Plain and unremarkable.) Here is the pedestrian truth: she is sort of concave there where her breast once was, a hollowed-out nest. She opted not to have a reconstruction. Her one breast is very small and she goes braless without a prosthetic, which is a loud story, actually, the only blaring part of the reality-struck, pedestrian story: she is obviously one-breasted, especially in t-shirts, and manly anyway, so people stare. Last week at an art opening, a little boy about seven stopped from a dead run and ran his eyes up and down her, up and down her, up and down her, trying to make her make sense.

(These days, I do the same thing, rake my eyes across her. The little boy is right: she no longer makes sense. She is always saying goodbye with her actions while she smiles hello with her lips.)

11)

My heart is a big old blood pump with places engorged like a balloon (I’ve got a big old cardiomyopathy for you, I tell my wife sometimes, but it’s actually heart failure.) My heart is giving up, and has necrotic spots like measles, dead bits which have been dead now for 25 years, what an anniversary: let’s have a cake and candles, happy necrosis to me!). Referring to my circulatory system, a cardiologist once said to me: The tree of you is dying. No doubt too many polygamous weavers? How does this feel for you? my therapist asked about our lives (relationship) going—yes—tits up, three tits up I guess, instead of four, and here is the answer, my letter to my pain: It feels exactly like my heart is failing. Right now it’s stuttering along arrhythmically, but it can’t pump through all these emotions and old, ruptured scars, so it may just keep engorging till I pop like a-

12)

Tumour?

13)

Once I co-owned a grey cockatiel named Hemingway. Hemingway would hop around my scapula and peck food from my teeth while molting grey feathers onto my breasts. He was a happy bird with a yellow comb, but he never, as far as I know, wrote a great story.

14)

At the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, my wife ran at ostriches while the wild Benguela current tossed waves on the beach. Ostriches have a nail on each of their feet that is capable of slicing a person open as efficiently as any surgeon’s blade. I was up on my toes with alarm, but the ostriches didn’t fight, they only ran, their stunted wings extended. Then the male turned and knocked my wife flat. He danced on her chest until his pea-sized brain got bored.

Just a game, just a game, she assured me afterwards, brushing off, none the worse for wear. I wasn’t really dead.

(This is a lie.)

15)

At Okonjima for cheetahs, I was fascinated instead by the hornbills—those bills and casques! Female hornbills use their droppings to seal themselves into their nests. I did this too, when my wife was diagnosed, but I used an alarm system instead of poop. I’m doing it again, now, but I’m using perimeter lighting, as if shining sunbeams into my wife’s shadows will keep my marriage intact.

16)

My wife’s skin is numb, did I mention that? That’s how her spirit must have healed from all that trauma (PTSD), don’t you think, with a big old numb spot? On the outside of her, cut nerves sometimes go crazy, like a pain orchestra, a violin screech, a flute shrill. Yowey. When I lay beside her and trail my finger across her chest, through her armpit, across the skin near her arm on her back, she can’t feel a thing. Here? I say and she shakes her head. Nothing. Here? Still nothing. Here? Nope. Here? Kinda, sorta, not really.

Does anyone ever really heal after being pushed out of the nest? Things repair, things scar, we go on, but eventually, we find ourselves in free fall anew. Our beaks impale the ground so we’re stuck flapping upside down like cat-lollipops. All the old wounds break open, the old puncture holes (insect bites, that time we fell off our bikes, the tendonitis, the hernia) ooze. We’re all leaking pain. We’re all bloody oozers, in the end, aren’t we?

17)

One night as I lie beside my wife, her chest opens and I watch Cirque du Soleil’s Kooza. The acrobats use my wife’s ribs as tightropes; the contortionists bend double through her ribs and poke their heads back out, like Gumbies. The acrobat stacks chairs one atop another atop another atop another, and then climbs atop himself, fearless, while the chairs shake. I laugh aloud in pure childish glee, and my wife awakens, coughs, and resettles as the performer tumbles.

When he’s scurried away, I rest my cheek in my wife’s loss, my sudden weight causing her to panic and sit bolt upright. She rubs her eyes and peers at me. You have the imprint of a zipper on your cheek, she mumbles.

I reach up and touch the corrugations.

18)

I am at the “my this hurts” age, where “this” is really any body part you want to interject at random: ear, elbow, knuckle, knee, uterus. What relationship do I have to my pain? I find it hot like a combustion engine. I find it has very droopy eyes, and shoulders that slope. It sees me as prey, mostly, I’d guess, and comes at my heart with its little axe, cross-hatch, cross-hatch, like a Kite in the Serengeti dive-bombing to steal a sandwich from an unsuspecting tourist’s hands, talons gashing a cheek. What relationship do I want to have in the future with my pain? I want to be its gay divorcée.

19)

My wife drummed for a PSA a few weeks ago with a group of breast cancer survivors. A murder of breast cancer survivors, they freaked me out with their black feathers and cawing. I can’t handle what’s coming for them (for my wife). The prognosis for my wife’s breast cancer is good, but the last months she has had pain on swallowing, and the chant arrives in the rhythm of the children’s song: Eyes, ears, mouth and nose! Except for breast cancer mets it’s: Liver, lungs, breast and bone! I’m not sure what the song for infidelity is….okay, I am, but I can’t sing it here.

20)

Some nights my wife’s scar opens like Monet’s water lilies at L’Orangerie, a long wide strip of art that is all blue meditation and green silence.

Intending… to… heal, intones a monk in a saffron robe.

I must sit through my pain and gird my back. I must go into my pain and through and beyond my pain.

And come out into art.

My own rendition of my wife’s lost breast is sliced into sections and presented like upright pieces of toast, the tumour glowing in phosphorescence across five slides. Anatomical, direct, confrontational, weeping blood tears.

My Wife’s Breast, by Georgia O’Keefe: a striated red flower full of motion, a rib protruding at the nipple line. My Wife’s Breast, by Pablo Picasso: a spiral breast sprouting hair, a breast with an eye instead of a nipple, a tumour instead of his model’s head. My Wife’s Breast, by Emily Carr: breast as swirling dark tree, tumour as bird’s nest. My Wife’s Breast, by Savadore Dali: a breast sitting on a rib, melting, a clock face ticking down her remaining days. My Wife’s Breast, by Frieda Kahlo: my wife and I completely clothed, hand in hand, a large shadow to my wife’s left, our injuries showing through our t-shirts, a long red, swollen gash on my wife’s right side that pumps blood across a thick vein to my over-huge, engorged, arrhythmic heart while it pumps it back–a perfect silver tea service and a yellow bird in a cage of ribs to one side.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author Jane Smiley addresses her beloved future

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Jane Smiley is one of my cherished writers. The brilliant author of such titles as ‘A Thousand Acres’ and ‘Moo.’ Here she wisely is, writing to her great great grandchild, about climate change, from Huffington Post.

Letters to the Future

On Being Vulnerable: Maclean’s interview of Heather O’Neill

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blind contour continuous line sketch: Jane Eaton Hamilton 2014

Heather O’Neill, up for the Giller Prize for the second year in a row, gave a wonderful interview on vulnerability (and the feeling of being naked in public) to Maclean’s Magazine. Her novel ‘Lullabies for Little Criminals’ is one of my beloved novels. She’s up this year for a collection of short fiction, ‘Daydreams of Angels.’ I wish her the best of luck.

Maclean’s

Social Discourse, 1944, The Missouri Review

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I’m pleased to say that one of my stories, ‘Social Discourse, 1944,’ from print in 2003, is online now at The Missouri Review as part of their ‘textbox.’

When I was a kid, our family owned Royal Oak Dairy in Hamilton, ON. While the story here is entirely fabricated, I based it loosely on a famous Hamilton fire where the dairy employees were targeted by a disgruntled former employer. My uncle, a dairy co-owner, was one of the people badly hurt in the melee, and when I was researching a family memoir, many years later, I spoke to people who showed me their burn scars.

I vividly remember not only the dairy, its production line (the smell of spoiled milk!) and the horse barns, but also that my pony, Toby, was borrowed for the last horse-driven milk-delivery and how excited that made me. I thought he was a very lucky pony to go to the city and have his photograph made. I’m not sure of the year–maybe 1960 or so?

I found such pleasure in milkmen! I thought the men who delivered our milk–who would never, ever allow us a ride in their trucks–were the neatest people I knew. They had chocolate milk in their trucks! What a wonderful job, I thought. Far superior to my father’s job where he wore a suit and sat in an office–though he did get access to the dairy’s amazing stationery cupboard.

Social Discourse: 1944

‘Cripples,’ a short story

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I’ve followed my travel piece “Things That Didn’t Happen” with a second piece at Jennifer Pastiloff’s Manifest Station, site of some pretty fine creative non-fiction. I’m happy to say they’ve decided to run fiction now, too. This one’s a reprint of an older story called “Cripples” which first appeared in Paris Trancontinental Magazine.

I love when sites republish work that didn’t originally appear online!

Thanks, Jen and team. You glow, girls.

Cripples at Manifest Station

‘Your Duck is My Duck’ by Deborah Eisenberg

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I’m lucky to own Deborah Eisenberg’s collected, which came out in 2010; I’ve been following her delicious work since the 90s or possibly earlier. This story first appeared in “Fence” and I was glad, tonight, to reacquaint myself with it. I appreciate her crisp, calm, New Yorker’s prose.

Your Duck is My Duck

Spun Sugar

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Being with her was like dipping my brain in spun sugar. She was anything delicious along the red bumpy taste buds of my tongue, melting savory, melting sweet, explosions of colour along the neural pathways of my waxy brain. Think of penny candies from childhood: Wagon Wheels, BB Bats, Jelly Babies, Lick ‘Em Aid, Jujubes, Red Hots, Jawbreakers. She was my candy shop, and I stood before her with dirty fingernails, sweating palms, scabbed knees, clenched pennies, short, the top of my scruffy head barely even with the counter, vibrating with excitement.

Chemical soup, hormonal stew, a body that was hungry for her beautiful world.

I couldn’t just eat my fill, feel sated and then not go back for more because I didn’t have a bad tummy ache, I didn’t regret it, I didn’t gain weight, I didn’t have sugar shock or brain freeze.

The melting, sticky, goo-gawing emotion that causes dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin to jig-jag into your body, warm, wet and frothing, is supposed to be temporary, and then the relationship devolves or evolves into more reasonable, adult, companionable territory. But they weren’t temporary.

All those years, her arms were open. I ran into them like a dancer from across a wide stage, launching myself spread-hearted into the air, believing she would catch me.

 

Interview: Rene Denfeld, author of The Enchanted

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I am so lucky today to be joined in conversation with Rene Denfeld, the Portland, OR, author of the acclaimed novel The Enchanted.

Here is an excerpt:

“This is an enchanted place. Others don’t see it but I do.

I see every cinder block, every hallway and doorway.

I see the doorways that lead to the secret stairs and the stairs that take you into stone towers and the towers that take you to windows and the windows that open to wide, clean air. I see the chamber where the cloudy medical vines snake across the floor, empty and waiting for the warden’s finger to press the red buttons. I see the secret basement warrens where rusted cans hide the urns of the dead and the urns spill their ashes across the floor until the floods come off the river to wash the ashes outside to feed the soil under the grasses, which wave to the sky. I see the soft-tufted night birds as they drop from the heavens. I see the golden horses as they run deep under the earth, heat flowing like molten metal from their backs. I see where the small men hide with their tiny hammers, and how the flibber-gibbets dance while the oven slowly ticks.

The most wonderful enchanted things happen here – the most enchanted things you can imagine. I want to tell you while I still have time, before they close the black curtain and I take my final bow.”

________________________________________________________________________

Rene Denfeld is the author of The Enchanted (Harper), a novel which has generated much acclaim, including winning a prestigious French Prix award, an ALA Medal for Excellence in Fiction, and a Texas Lariat Award. It was a finalist for the Flaherty-Dunnan prize and longlisted for a Carnegie Medal. Rene’s previous work includes four nonfiction books and numerous articles and essays, including work for the New York Times. She lives in Portland, Oregon, with her three children, all adopted from foster care. By day she works with men and women facing execution—the inspiration behind The Enchanted.

*

 

Your book answers the question, “What does it mean to be human?” Do you find a different answer to that when you are dealing with your neighbourhood grocer, your teenaged son, an inmate on death row?

That’s a great question. We find out is to open ourselves to others, to let them tell us what being human means to them—to see them and hear them and honor their truth. I believe people worry that to recognize the humanity in people like death row inmates would somehow minimize their crimes. Nothing could be further from the truth. Seeing the humanity in others allows us to fully grasp the horror of their acts, the terrible things they have done, to other human souls.

 

How did you come to be a death penalty investigator?

I met death penalty investigators while researching my third non-fiction book, which was about a street youth murder. I became fascinated with their work, because it seemed like a chance to really learn the truth of a crime. The truth of why people do terrible things to each other. For all our focus on crime, we seldom stop to ask why. But how can we prevent crime if we do not understand it?

 

I come from a country without a death penalty, and where its absence is not a controversy. Have your thoughts about crime and punishment changed/deepened as a result of your work?

Yes, absolutely. I’ve worked around a lot of victims and their families. Such unimaginable grief—I completely respect why people want revenge. It’s a normal human emotion. We need to start from a place of honouring each other’s feelings before we can dig deeper into why crime happens, and what our response should be to it. Are we trying to punish? Are we trying to keep people safe? What are we doing to prevent such awful things from happening again?

 

Have you found friendship with any of the inmates? Have we lost men or women you became close with?

I am not their friend. My job is to learn the truth of them, and what they did—sometimes, in fact, to find out if they actually did it. There have been 251 innocent people exonerated off death rows, and it is usually due to the work of investigators like myself. I wouldn’t be able to do the work if I saw myself as a friend. However, that doesn’t mean that I do not feel and hear and see them, in all their guilt or pain or remorse. Or horror. My heart is big enough to hold their truths, as awful as those truths might be. I have not lost a client. So far, I have been successful in preventing an execution in all my cases, along with other team members.

 

I once wrote a long poem from the perspective of Ted Bundy’s mother as he was on execution row (“allergy” from Body Rain). I thought how awful it would be to have a son convicted of such heinous crimes. You work with families of men (women?) on death row. What can you tell us about their lives and sorrows?

Most my work is actually with the families, neighbours, friends and others who knew the client. I visit them just as I visit the client, and learn about his life. How he grew up. Most the people I have worked with come from backgrounds of horrific abuse. In my experience, mothers of the accused carry terrible burdens of guilt, shame and remorse. They might be victims themselves, of rape, trafficking, and starvation-level poverty. In The Enchanted, the investigator discovers a background of awful abuse in the client. That is very much like my work.

 

Tell us about the book you wrote before The Enchanted.

The last non-fiction book I wrote was a book called Ask Me Why I Hurt, and co-authored with Randy Christensen. It is Randy’s story. He is this amazing doctor who took an old blue Winnebago and turned it into a mobile hospital on wheels, and drives around Arizona taking free health care to the homeless.

 

Was there a propelling event that made you know you could go in the direction of fiction after publishing books of non-fiction? That began The Enchanted?

I believe you can tell a deeper, more complex truth in fiction. You can tell multiple truths, from multiple perspectives. People read newspapers for the facts. They read fiction for the truth.

I’ve told this story before, but I was leaving the death row prison one day. It was a bright, sunny day, and I happened to look over my shoulder. I saw the stone walls, the towers. And I heard this very quiet, distinctive voice. He told me, “This is an enchanted place.” I followed that voice into the novel. I had no idea what he would say, but I listened. For me, writing that novel was the same as my work. I became very quiet, very open, and I just listened for his truth. That was when the poetry came rushing out.

 

Can you tell us a little about your writing schedule and habits?

I work full time, and have three kids. I write when I can. When I have a story to tell, I am very motivated, and will find time. I often take my laptop with me when I am driving places, or going to an event. It’s amazing how much you can get done in an hour.

 

York The Lady, the priest. Any one of them might seem the logical choice for a protagonist. Why did you choose differently? How did you find your central character, and did you know he would be omnipotent?

I have no idea. It was always the narrator’s story. I didn’t realize it as I wrote, but it is a very unique approach: a first person present tense omniscient narrator who doesn’t play a lead role in the story. I have no idea how I pulled it off. I think he did it for me.

 

Can you tell us about how horses became an image motif through the text?

They flowed out of the story, out of the narrator’s mind. They came rushing into the book, all golden and hard and beautiful. And there they were. To me, they capture his ability to find joy and magic and hope in life, no matter how despairing. Part of his heart races with them—out of the prison, out of his enchanted place.

 

I read The Enchanted soon after it came out and was grateful to have formed my opinions of it before it began to win awards and garner widespread acclaim. What is it like to ride the wave of this praise?

You know, I didn’t tell anyone I was writing it. Not even my kids. I didn’t think about anyone ever reading it. It truly was an act of pure expression, an outburst of everything in my heart and soul. To have to get published felt like a surprise, and then to get the acclaim. Well—it’s bowled me over. I know I am very lucky. There are so many incredible books that don’t get the attention they deserve.

 

Have your children read The Enchanted? What do they think of having a mama who is a well-known writer?

They haven’t read it. I’d feel funny asking them to. They are very proud of me, though, just as I am immensely proud of them. I adopted my kids from foster care, and they have given me far more than I have given them. They truly were the best decision I ever made. I love them to pieces.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marnie Woodrow: Author Q+A

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Author photo: Janette Piquette Photography, 2014

Thanks to author Marnie Woodrow for putting herself into the spotlight for me. I am happy to share Marnie’s talents with her fans, and also to introduce her to new readers. Here is our Q+A:

I think anyone who follows your career knows that you wear many hats. You are a bereavement counsellor, an editor, an avid cook—not to mention the big hat, the 30-gallon hat, which is author. How do you manage all that shifting and juggling?

I have a lot of energy and also no interest in sitting in a room alone 7 days a week. There’s nothing to write about if one doesn’t live. Plus, there’s the practical reality of paying the bills and I like to shake up how that happens. I certainly don’t write fiction for the money it brings in.

How much time does your counselling occupy?

I mostly give workshops, so it’s completely up to me how often I do grief and bereavement work. Not surprisingly, my bereavement training comes in very handy with certain editorial jobs, especially memoirs. I’ve worked on some very intense personal material about grief issues.

I sent one of my friends to you to have his (first) book edited and he was very happy with the outcome. How much editing do you fit into your schedule?

I love editing. I see a lot of contempt on the part of some freelance editors when it comes to working with writers and I don’t get it. It’s a beautiful relationship when it works and that’s a two-way street where respect is concerned. I edit one to two writers a month max in terms of bigger projects, and I coach weekly, never more than two or three writers at once. I like to enjoy what I’m doing and not resent it.

Let’s talk about writing. When did you come out of the gate as a writer? And why short fiction?

I started off writing poetry, which was roundly rejected by all magazines and journals. I was about 20 when I started writing short fiction and that was the first writing I had published (next to my recipe for pork chops, printed in a newspaper when I was about 10). I still write short fiction and poetry. I get more excited about publishing poetry than I do prose, because to me it seems so much harder to break through in poetry. Whether or not I send my collection of poems out remains to be seen. I have also returned to playwriting in the past 2 years.

Do you prefer writing short fiction or novels?

Right now I’m in love with the novel form. The ideas that come just seem to require more breathing space and I’m also addicted to research and preparation, which novels seem to require. I have two full-length plays I’m resuming work on, but once this next novel takes hold in a bigger way, I’ll turn my focus to it till it’s done. I don’t ever want to spend a decade on one project again unless it is absolutely necessary.

What was your experience in publishing a first book? A second book?

My first book came out with a tiny Toronto press and it was a hand-numbered affair with lots of indie bookseller assistance. Handselling and word of mouth have always been important in my career. My second book was with a slightly larger press and that was fun, it got more attention, although again, as a very indie phenomenon. My third was with a huge house, Knopf, and that was also a thrill ride.

Are you still writing short fiction, and, if so, when will we see your next collection?

I wrote a third collection of short fiction that I plan to resume work on next year, but there are too many other projects on the front burner for now.

Your novel “Spelling Mississippi” came out in 2002. How was this book, which doesn’t take place in Canada, but in Louisiana, born?

It came of a passion for the topic of the Florence flood of 1966, and wondering who was there for that in their youth and a passion for New Orleans, city of beautiful, insane, lovely people. I stayed there for a few months in my early 20s and there was a real woman who tried to cross the Mississippi, and it made me wonder what she planned to do when she got to the other side, had she made it before the Coast Guard yanked her out of the water.

“Spelling Mississippi” is a lesbian novel. At the time it came out, lesbian work was pretty fringe in Canada. What has been your reception as a lesbian author?

It’s interesting to think of this now, because at the time Knopf didn’t treat it as a lesbian novel, but as literary fiction, part of their New Face of Fiction campaign, with little focus on who the lovers were in the story. So I think I found a lot of non-lesbian AND lesbian readers that way. I’m an out and proud writer, but I never actually envision my work as lesbian, although it almost always is, character-wise, I suppose. Except for the next one I just started, and who knows what that will end up being…

What has it been like to be a queer author in Canada?  Do you think it has altered your career or opportunities?
I’m told often that there is a lavender ceiling, a limit to how much acceptance any queer writer will ever get here, and I suppose it all depends on what a writer is looking for from her career. I mean, it’s never been a goal of mine to be a household name or to be invited to the right party. I want to be read widely, if possible, but the quality of the writing should be what draws people to a book. I don’t read exclusively queer authors and I think it’s important to branch out in all directions whether with what we read or what we write. 

Do you have advice for young queer writers considering careers?
Read more than you write, read more than you blog, write often and with your own voice and it will happen. Talent cannot be suppressed. Discipline is more important than fifteen seconds of internet fame. 
Now that Spelling Misssissippi is all wrapped up, and behind you, are there things that you would do differently? Were you happy with the outcome?

I would have enjoyed myself more instead of worrying so deeply about book sales. I was paid a lot of money for “Spelling Mississippi” and I took the pressure to heart quite intensely. But I was also thrilled with the experiences I had (festivals and readings) and the people I met through researching and publishing it. And the team at Knopf was wonderful, I got to work with one of the best editors in the country at the time, Diane Martin.

Do you have specific thoughts about publishing, about the changes in publishing since you brought out your first book in 1991?

I think that social media is a huge help to emerging writers in some ways, and certainly Can Lit has a huge profile now, much bigger than it had in ’91. It’s still a hard go that isn’t for the faint of heart. I once had a student ask me what he could expect for a salary in fiction writing and I had to work really hard not to laugh. Salary? I wish!

What is the best part of being a writer for you?

Having an outlet for my insatiable curiosity and justification for talking to myself, a lifelong only-child habit. Also, I love reading and, well, one has to read voraciously if one is going to write anything decent.

What is the most challenging part?

Keeping the faith some days. Ass in chair on a sunny day is also hard.

I know you have a new novel due out this fall (2015). Can you tell us a little about that book and how it came to be?

Heyday is the name of my new novel, and it’s a parallel love story set in 1909 and the 21st century. It came of my love for rollercoasters and Toronto Island then and now and my personal questions about reincarnation and grief.

Is there a story or a fragment of prose that you could share with us?

Excerpt from the opening pages of Heyday:

We met after the man Ferris invented his wheel and before time-share villas on Mars. It was hot for June. You came dashing down the ramp of life, all boots and hope. In the sun we made promises, plans to conquer the world outside the one we’d had named for us. We designed a wild world of cotton candy dreams and cold drinks and always the decision of whether to spin or coast, soar skyward or rush downward. Do both, you tell me now. And when night comes, autumn—keep your promises, no matter what.

That one day the carbon stench of scorched wood and charred canvas drifted over the harbour. Silver tendrils of smoke rose still from the devoured skeletons of roller coasters. Before even reaching shore I could see and smell the destruction. It was necessary to shut my ears to the comments of gawkers riding the ferry, out for a last good look at the fall-out of a wayward spark in a wooden kingdom. Our world. Their heartless curiosity was nearly unbearable. Talk of insurance and arson and none of it mattered till I clapped eyes on you again and knew that another girl had been taken away from someone else.

She was the healthy one, everyone said. If anything, I should have been the one to get cancer. Me with my long love affair with cigarettes, my big fat appetite for everything decadent and bad for you. And then there was my dishonest heart, loving elsewhere but with cowardice. Loving you through time. You must be this tall to ride this ride…

            We’ll go to Coney Island, it won’t matter. No crying. Girls died every day. Not mine.

Marnie Woodrow (born 1969 in Orillia, ON) is a Canadian writer and editor. She has also worked as a researcher/writer for TV and radio.

Woodrow has published two short fiction collections, Why We Close Our Eyes When We Kiss in 1991 and In the Spice House in 1996, and the novel Spelling Mississippi in 2002. Her second novel, “Heyday” is slated for Fall 2015 publication in Canada with Tightrope Books. A recent popular writing instructor at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies, she won an Excellence In Teaching Award in 2005.

Spelling Mississippi was short-listed for the Amazon.ca First Novel Award in 2003.

Woodrow has also been a columnist for Xtra!, Toronto’s gay and lesbian biweekly newspaper. Her occasional journalism, essays, stories and poetry have appeared in numerous publications including The Globe and Mail, National Post, CV2, Write, NOW, eye weekly and This Magazine.

A former resident of Toronto, Ontario, she now resides in Hamilton, Ontario where she teaches Creative Writing at an independent bookstore and online.  -from Wikipedia

 

Prize for a first book of fiction by a woman

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A woman from anywhere in the world is eligible to send a work of fiction.  The prize is $1K.

More info here:

Eludia Award

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