Jane Eaton Hamilton

"At the bottom of the box is hope." – Ellis Avery.

Tag: fiction

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

Bird Nights

JEHblackdress1art by Jane Eaton Hamilton, 2014

Starting off a morning with a night, with this travel/relationship fiction from Numéro Cinq in 2012:

Bird Nights

 

Bill Richardson

Over the last few years, Bill Richardson, sometimes-CBC host, author of Bachelor Brothers’ Bed and Breakfast, among other books, has written slightly sad and always amusing Christmas stories set in Vancouver’s West End.  Here is one of this year’s.

West End Christmas Story One

There are dire possibilities you can safeguard against, grim eventualities you can take into account. You can fortify your house against burglary and bad weather. You can launder your hands against colds and flus. You can know your escape routes, pre-determine a mustering point, stay inside until the shaking stops.

A little anticipation, a modicum of planning, and a boy scout dash of preparedness will go a long way to smooth the road. Inevitably there will be potholes, but there’s no need to obsess about them, no need to fret about all the terrible tricks fate has up its sleeve. The rogue meteorite inscribed with your name. The truck that jumps the curb. The skunk that has no business being abroad on Christmas Eve, but nonetheless is; the skunk that should be hibernating, but happens to be out and about and lying in wait under the 1988 Honda Civic which has been parked on the street for the better part of a month now; the Honda Civic doubling as a rust museum that is registered to some careless miscreant who’s gone away for the holidays, taken off for Hawaii or Mexico, never giving a thought to how that car would afford the aforementioned skunk a place of concealment from which to ambush Minnie, the basset hound, when she did what any dog would do; when she tested the limits of her leash, when she went snuffling after the scent of something aberrant near the oil-pan.
“Oh, dear,” is not quite the oath Conrad lets slip when Minnie backs out from under the Honda, as quickly as ever her three legs allow. How Minnie became a tripod is anyone’s guess. She was missing the limb when Conrad found her in the shelter. Squat and sturdy, she reminded him of a damaged coffee table he’d acquired once at a yard sale; Minnie and the wonky coffee table were among the few possessions over which he and Minnie had not quarreled when they separated. Conrad’s decision to (a) acquire a damaged pound dog without home consultation and (b) to try to mitigate the offense by naming the creature after his spouse explains, at least partially, why Minnie, the woman, is now his ex-wife.

Tomato juice is the remedy that comes to Conrad’s mind as the skunk ambles into the night and Minnie yelps and whines and whacks at her face with the one front paw that’s still in her keeping. Tomato juice. Isn’t that what they always recommend? Tomato juice, and plenty of it. But where, on Christmas Eve, can he quickly and reliably find such a commodity? The one nearby convenience store is, inconveniently, closed until Boxing Day.

“Mercy save us,” is not quite what Conrad says when Minnie rears up on her full complement of hind legs and does her best to embrace him round the knees. What to do? It must be the poisonous wafts that subvert propriety: scents trumping sense. He reaches into his overcoat pocket, finds his phone, dials the number he ceded in the divorce.

“Minnie?”

The reeking dog whines.

“Not you.”

“Conrad?”

“Merry Christmas.”

“Thanks. Same to you. What’s up?”

“Oh. Not much. Sorry for the intrusion.”

“It’s no intrusion,” she says, but of course it is.

“What are you up to?”

“I’m just here with Conrad.”

Minnie had moved on very quickly. That Conrad’s successor was also named Conrad had been much remarked by their various friends and family members, as well as by Conrad, and also by Conrad.

“Give him my beast,” says Conrad.

“Pardon?”

“Best. Give him my best,” he says, smiling in spite of himself at the Freudian transparency of the slip.

“Merry, Merry, Conrad,” Conrad carols from somewhere in the background, well into his cups.
Conrad looks down at Minnie and imagines Minnie and Conrad, half way across town, in the house where Conrad had once lived with Minnie and also, for a short time, with Minnie. He imagines the tree and all its familiar decorations, and the table that his well-organized ex would already have set for the next day’s feast: the china and the flatware that had once been theirs, the patterns he had had a hand in choosing, all laid out in regimental array. He blinks hard. He puts the past from his mind. He gulps acrid air, comes to the point.

“Listen, Minnie, I’m just wondering if you happen to have any tomato juice on hand.”
Minnie is a bulk buyer and for Christmases past she had always acquired case loads of the stuff, enough to bathe a whole pack of skunked bassets.

“Tomato juice?” says Minnie.

Conrad had forgotten that he says “to-may-to” and she says “to-mah-to;” no wonder they’d call the whole thing off.

“No,” she says, “no, I don’t. I mean, I did, oceans of the stuff. But I took it to the food bank. Conrad is allergic.”

“Oh.”

“Why are you asking?”

“You know. Just wondering.”

“Funny thing to just wonder about.”

“Funny time of year.”

“You okay?”

“Fine. Merry Christmas, Minnie.”

“And to you, Conrad. Happy new year.”

Click. She’s gone.

On the door of his former fridge, held in place by a lady bug magnet, is the yellowed paper fragment Minnie pulled from a fortune cookie, in the early, happy days of their marriage. “Expect the unexpected,” it says. For Minnie, who lived in fear of an eventual earthquake—hence, the bulk buying—this is a guiding mantra; for Conrad, it’s an absurdity. Yes, there might be a bomb on the bus; yes, bees might fly up both your nostrils; yes, there might be a skunk under a Honda on Christmas Eve: but if you took it all into account, you’d do nothing but sit in the kitchen, in the dark, watching the digital minutes advance on the microwave, fearful the whole time that it might erupt into flames.

Mindless of the possibility of piles, Conrad sits down on the cold curb. Minnie plops down next to him, sighs, leans in. A pair of late-shift garbage pickers comes down the sidewalk, their two carts rattling. They are heading west, towards the park, where probably they camp. They say “Pee-you!” simultaneously and give the man and the dog a wide berth.

“Now what?” says Conrad, but Minnie is without idea or resource.

He can’t go back to his condo tower, where the dog’s legality has been the subject of an ongoing dispute with the council; the arrival of a three-legged stink bomb when all anyone was expecting was Santa would pretty much seal their fate. There is a church across the street. Perhaps they would offer sanctuary. Congregants will soon start arriving for the midnight service. Perhaps Minnie could earn her keep by taking part in the pageant, could take on the cameo role of dog in the manger. Conrad wonders if the word “skunk” ever comes up in the Bible, if they were welcomed on the ark by Noah.

Minnie would know, or could find out. She is a librarian, and has an amazing arsenal of information at her disposal. Had Conrad told her the reason for his call she could have told him that tomato juice is useless for the removal of skunk stink. She could have told him that that was just an old wives tale. Who better to hear that from than your old wife? Well. Former wife, more accurately.

But Conrad didn’t let on, and so it’s tomato juice in which he mistakenly invests his hope; it’s tomato juice in which he believes on a night when it’s good to have faith and somewhere to pin it, however thin and wonky that place or that faith might be.

“Come on, Minnie,” says Conrad, and they start to walk, with a purpose in mind, though with no specific plan or destination. At a discreet distance, and on the other side of the street, they follow in the noisy wake of the park-bound garbage pickers, who have paused a block away to look up at the stars. Soon enough, Minnie and Conrad will catch them up, and then they will be three men walking, walking on Christmas Eve, walking and walking on parallel paths, with no real where in mind, and no real certainty about what they’ll find when they get there. Wherever there might be. They’ll know it when they find it. It will be nothing like what they expect.

PDF City

JEHAfter Shiele by Jane Eaton Hamilton November 2014

Hey, folks.  I just updated my “Pdfs of my work” page, so there’s a few more pieces to whet your appetites.  Let me know what you think if you read something!

Fat Ankles

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I’m really pleased and proud to have this small story up on Compose today.  I wrote it a bajillion years ago and have always had a warm spot for it.   It’s about a young woman visiting back east whose cousin twists her arm to go to a funeral for someone she never met.

Fat Ankles

Interview with Jane Eaton Hamilton

 

 

Nuits d’oiseaux

Today editor Marilyn Hacker sent me the translation of my story “Bird Nights” into French for the Paris litmag Siécle 21 (translated by Cécile Oumhani).  I won’t subject you to it, but I will say it is my goal to be able to read it in French by the time of its publication in the fall.

Also, I am just kinda stoked.  I have always loved this piece very much, and I’m thrilled it was picked up from Numéro Cinq and given a second life in France.

CBC North by Northwest

The March 30 2014 podcast at North by Northwest contains a small clip of me reading from “Smiley.”  Host Sheryl MacKay.

North by Northwest

Short-Listed for CBC Literary Award

I am delighted to announce that I’ve been short-listed for the CBC Literary Award (there were a staggering 3200 entries).  You can click through from this link to find the 5 short-listed stories (word count a strict 1500) along with interviews with each writer, and you can vote for your favourite if you’re inclined to that sort of thing.  The winner will be announced in late March.

I won this award in 2003 with my short fiction “The Lost Boy.”

(Link didn’t link, but hopefully now it works.)

Prize

Oh, bloody hell…

Trying like stink to write a mini essay for the CBC contest today and instead I get fiction.  Here is the first paragraph of what may well go nowhere, and what in any case does not further the cause:

“The starlings have landed, hustling their backyard suet.  Go murmur, birds, he thinks, go roil in the sky like magnetic shavings, go sweep the clouds, because in a lick, a gobble, an ingurgitate, the beastlings have devoured the two new cakes of sunflower seeds, millet and cranberries.  Bastards, he thinks, and listens to them chatter.  They sound smooth and watery, calm and reassuring, which they are certainly not, not starlings, not the assholes of the avian world, anymore than he, anymore, is the husband he once promised he’d be.”

UPDATE:  I did get a non-fiction piece, finally, called “Battery” about the factory farming of chickens, and no further on the story, above.

Elemental

Take a flashlight down to the lake and shiver on the edge of the dock, naked in the chill, trying to convince yourself that you love night swimming. Remember a foggy night at Blackburn Lake with the car headlights almost illuminating the dock, and Sarah, maybe 10 years old, running down it with her towel clutched like a cape, jumping out into the white wild and disappearing. Miss her, and regret life’s changes. Remember the dog and his yellow canter, his bellyflop.  Look up at the concave sky, the masses of stars. Shape the dive in your muscles. Do it. That moment where you can’t take it back. Slice the water. Come up happy. Everything you once believed is still true: The water is as tepid as bathwater, and you still love it all, the ink spreading out around it, the power in your arms as you do the breast stroke, nitro on-board, the way you can effortlessly float, the skinny way that your mind, for a minute, rests in its carapace. There are bats squeaking, winging out above the black, swooping and skimming, maybe catching dragonflies or just mosquitoes. As you swim out, things invert. Now the stars are diamond chips around your shoulders, your hips, your toes.

Matt Haig on feelings

“I believe one of the jobs of a writer is to feel life and then report on feelings. Fiction may be fantastical, but it is also emotional reportage. (Non-fiction = external truths. Fiction = internal ones. Discuss.)”  –Matt Haig

As Graham Greene noted, and Matt Haig paraphrases, writers bank emotion, and when we write, we withdraw our funds.  Again and again, easily enough to retire on.  We use them to build a bed, a room, a house, and then when we publish, we invite you in.

“You need to feel life’s terror to feel its wonder.”-  Matt Haig

I believe this.  To lead a full emotion life is a talent.  To not be frightened to feel is a gift.  To cherish it all–the rocks, the glass, the soft down of a magnolia petal–is to live fully.

To quote Leon Rooke on one of my book blurbs, “She sits you down in her hardest chair, litters tacks on the floor about your naked feet, and holds you there petrified but alert as she speaks the body’s news.”

We have accounts full of celebration and joy and dancing, full of critical analysis, full of the sights and sounds of our lives, full of our daughter’s smiles.  If we’re lucky and talented, we are able to translate the entire shebang in ways that might alarm but also move you.

The Thin-Skinned Writer

I Write, Therefore I Avoid Other Shit

I have a finely honed sense of outrage when it comes to my own sloth and laziness.  Which, of late, is rampant.  (What am I talking about?  It’s been rampant for three years, more or less, ever since my marriage went tits up.)  I have paperwork lying on my office floor that needed to be dealt with a month ago.  Hell, I have paperwork in my office that needed to be dealt with three years ago.  It’s been there so long the cat has barfed on it.  It’s been there so long–more or less on the pathway to the balcony–that it is covered with muddy footprints.

Have I dealt with it?  No.  None of it.  I work on the system of putting out fires.  There’s a fire.  A little emergent flame.  A bill that needs to be paid.  I pay it.  Huff, huff and phew.

Can I rationalize this slack ridiculous behaviour which leaves me feeling guilty almost full time?  Sort of.

Here’s how I do it:  I write.  I have this life guideline that writing is more important than any other endeavor, so, if I can make writing come out (any kind of writing come out) on a day when I am scheduled to take care of business, then I don’t have to take care of business.  Sadly, I can claim that laziness and avoidance produced my new volume of poetry, those who love, this fall.  And since I finished that, the impulse to write–which I hasten to add ought to be going towards novel re-writes–has gone towards making “occasional” articles.  And so if I pick up the keyboard to make something–an article, a poem, a glance at the novel–I absolutely get a pass on the nasty tasks of organizing my life.

Such a system, eh?  Creativity equals release from reality.

Hey, it works for me.  I think I’ll keep it.

Do You Want Whiskey? Sudden Fiction

Do You Want Whiskey?

“What I hate to say is that sleeping with you isn’t a meaningful experience to me.  Do you understand that?  I’d rather eat an egg salad sandwich.”

Who was she to me anyway?  I didn’t get her.  If she thought I did she was mistaken.  I was tired.  I wished she’d leave me be.  But she’d only started, I could tell, a kind of wind-up.

“There’s more important things in life,” she said.  “Gerry, you must realize?  You’re not the be-all and end-all, Gerry.  You’re hardly in the photograph.  That’s you, a leg over in one corner.”

That’s not what she really thought.

“You know what I think, Gerry?  I think it’s a game, a damn game.  I don’t know the rules.  I don’t know the parameters.  But I know you’re playing.”

She was an older woman, older considerably than me.  She had adolescent sons.  She had books.  She had female lovers.

I didn’t know how I felt.  She was a dervish, is what I felt.  She was outrageous.  She had a mouth the size of a windfall apple.  She had a lot of talk, she talked like a man.  The honest to God truth is she could make me blush.  That was the truth.  She was capable of anything.  Her mouth drove diesels.

“In respect to fucking, Gerry, that’s what I’m saying.”  She leaned towards me.  She smelled of cigarettes and chocolate.  She ate a finger of a Kit Kat bar and licked her skin, long and slow.  She could dazzle me.  She was a slip of a thing, that woman.  When I’d hugged her she’d risen on her toes to reach me.  “I could have taken it or left it, did you know?  You thought you had me running.”

Without thinking I said, “Dancing.”  She danced like she’d fall through you, saucy.  Let me say persuasively.  When you watched a long time you started to notice the control, the years of lessons, but at first it was just a spill of hips and breasts.  I said, “This doesn’t make any sense.”

I said, “Can’t we just go back?”

I said, “I’m lost, Susan, I’m truly lost.”

I said, “Never in my life did I imagine this.”

“I was prepared to do it,” she said, “you know that.  I thought about running my tongue up the inside of your thigh.  I thought about taking you in my mouth.  I had lots of thoughts.  But it was a big mistake.  I’m saying it was a big mistake, Gerry.  One of the largest.  But it was just a brain burp.  I burped and you’re gone.  Vanished.”

I didn’t believe her.  Not for a second.  She was just trying to take her face back.  I could hand it to her but I didn’t see why I should.  But any moment she could say something – something in her repertoire from her long-ago years with men – and I’d be stuck like a pig, a goner.  I had everything but she could take it back.  That woman could say Strip and I’d say How fast?  Her carnality was hot lightning.

I said, “I don’t want to sleep with you.”

She said, “You just want to flirt around the edges.   This is formal notice, Gerry.  Fuck or get off the dyke.”

There was nothing I could do about it, about her.  I could see the future.

“It never occurs to you to look at this, does it, Gerry?  You remind me about what I dislike in men.  Men won’t let themselves be touched.  If men can’t handle something, they just don’t handle it.  Am I right or am I right?  Pop!  They’re gone.  Do you want some more whiskey?”

She poured more, three neat fingers into my glass.

“You have to create walls for women.  You say there’s doors in women you can’t pass through.  Maybe you yourself are the reason, did you consider that?  Maybe you’re the guy with the mortar.  Maybe you build the walls because you can’t tolerate what might happen.”

Maybe I did.  So what?  Watching her whiskey glass touch her lips, liking her lips, how they moved, how I had flashes of my body under them, I thought how maybe she was right.  Once the going got tough, the tough got going.  I was going somewhere else, away, and maybe I was tough.

“I’ve lost a lot of my admiration for you,” she said.  “Because of how you’ve handled this.  You’ve avoided me.  Don’t think I don’t know it.  Don’t think you go over my head.  Once we’d said, Yeah, there’s sexual tension, once we acknowledged that, it was cat and mouse.  Sexy looks, you fucker.  Or how you tweaked my toe.”

Leave me alone, I was thinking.  I’d heard her read from her work now four times.  She’d move to the podium like a million dollars, dressed in silk and a black fedora, and her voice would be as soft as skin.  She’d make it crawl over you, the text like a snake, no theatrics, just that voice.  Her territory was family and she knew family, how families talked to each other, the recriminations and sorrows, the words of it all.  She knew families.  She’d be sweet like a double fudge sundae and you’d be holding your breath and not know it.  And then she’d slip in the knife.  You sat in the audience and tried to reconcile that she made love with women but you couldn’t.  You couldn’t make the pictures.  I walked in on her giving another woman a neck-rub and I looked and it was just a neck-rub over clothes, over a purple sweatshirt, a neck-rub like a thousand other neck-rubs a guy could walk in on, but I couldn’t say a thing for the pictures it made.  It made pictures so risky and terrifying for a moment I was dead on my feet, absolutely dead.  Before this, this scene, how today she’d cornered me and mainlined me whiskey neat, a week or so ago, she’d told me dykes – she used that word, no jangle on her tongue – fuck like the wind.  She said, Dykes are women’s fuck fantasy come true.  She said, There’s no better sex in the world.  She said, I wouldn’t mind boinking Lisa Meyers.

“The lucky fuck lottery,” she said now.  “Who gets to fuck me?”  She sat back and stared out the window, over the city streets below.  “Gerry, you shithead.”

“I love you,” I said.  I didn’t mean to say it, it fell out of my mouth like marbles.  She could sit on my lap and waggle her breasts – she had great breasts – in my face.  So I knew it.  So what did it mean?

She didn’t say a word.  Right at that moment, that woman didn’t say a word.  She didn’t look at me either.

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