Sunday, August 30, 2015



It’s been too long! Oh my god, just look at you! You've changed so much! Your new hair looks fab! and/or You’re SO skinny! and/or How’d you lose that tooth?

I’d like to say that I’ve been away for a month because I’VE BEEN SO BUSY WRITING BOOKS. But that would be a lie. I’ve been:

a) reading books (Station Eleven being the best of a very good bunch) 
b) writing a TV show 
c) applying for various programs (like this one with Women on Screen)
d) praying to the god in my ceiling that I got into various other programs (WOTV included)
e) thinking about marketing strategies for my novel
f) bummed out that my pal went back to finish her MFA (read her v. cool interview with Niche Magazine here)
g) watching every single episode of Friends ever made
h) turning into a Literary Hub super fan!

If you haven’t signed up for the LitHub newsletter yet, you really should. The editors have simplified my "reading-about-writing" life with their talents for content aggregation. I appreciate having to go to only one place for all my juicy literary gossip. Because there is so much writing-about-writing to consume and so little time. 

This being the case, I sometimes think I should stop contributing to this particular navel-gazing canon. But then I think... What Would Joey Do?

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Criticism Survival Kit

I don't handle criticism as well as I would like, but I have found a system that works for me. Here’s the blueprint:

1. Go into shock
2. Get defensive
3. Apologize
4. Make bad joke
5. Make excuses
6. Suck up to critic
7. Go, essentially, catatonic
8. Stare down at notebook
9. Scribble 
10. Leave room
11. Crawl into deep hole
12. Claw at earthy walls
13. Pace/cry/whimper
14. Clean dirt from nails
15. Crawl out
16. Go for long walk
17. Talk about it with loving husband 
18. Talk about it with understanding friend 
19. Realize critic was right
20. Make edits based on criticism
21. Laugh about the whole thing at brunch

Anyways, yesterday, while speed walking on a treadmill -- and nearly falling off because I checked out my own butt -- I listened to a DEAR SUGAR podcast. Featuring everybody's favourite guy ever, George Saunders, the podcast goes over different ways writers deal with bad reviews and criticism. I found it helpful, and so I wanted to share.

It didn't help me streamline my patented 21-step system, but it did put things into perspective. It also emphasized the benefits of good criticism, namely that sometimes (or, in my case, always) the critics are right. 

Thanks to the very talented author Rebecca Rosenblum for tweeting this out. Check out her blog if you can. It’s full of goodies for writers.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Okay, he's really REALLY going to hate it (an addendum)

I just did a "find" search in my manuscript and all I can say is: Oh. No.

I knew I swore and stuff, but I didn't realize I actually pulled a Crummey! At least my "JF" doesn't pop up until page 200 or so. I wonder if my dad will make it that far?

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

My dad is going to hate it

I am my father’s daughter. I have his eyes and his shoulders and his skin, and his love for talking in circles. But our opinions couldn’t be more different. This of course makes for fascinating "conversation" when we get together -- the kind that causes my sister to flee the room and my husband to cringe politely on the couch. It gets heated, sure, but never above bath water because we both know our limits. We’re experienced blowhards. We’ve been debating the same issues for 10 years in the hopes that -- one glorious day -- the other will give in.

I visited my dad in Ottawa on the weekend and, as per tradition, we stood on our soapboxes and got into it: abortion, gay marriage, euthanasia. But soon the conversation turned to more serious matters: books. 

My father used to read literary fiction — Hemingway, Steinbeck, Updike, Salinger. In his later years, though, he switched to Christian novels almost exclusively because:

1) They're easy to read, which, 10 years into his retirement, he appreciates
2) He can relate to the values
3) "They talk about what actually matters in real life” — which, to my father, means religious faith

Things caught fire when I asked my dad what he was reading. He told me he gave Michael Crummey’s Sweetland a try. Crummey is literary writer, so I was excited. Maybe my opinions and tastes were finally winning my dad over, I thought. Maybe he was giving in!


“I stopped reading it after the first page,” my dad said.

Why, I asked.

“Because the author went too far, Em. There was no need to say what he said! And if I ever see him, I’m going to give him a piece of my mind!”

My dad was referring to offensive language, he clarified when pressed, but he wouldn’t say what language exactly. He was really pissed, though, and I feared that he'd be scared off literary fiction for good! And just when it pulled him back in!

In my panic, I tried reasoning with him from the author's (so, my) point of view:

1) Bad language is sometimes necessary to create realistic characters.
2) Just because Michael Crummey used a bad word doesn't mean Michael Crummey is a bad guy.
3) Would you, like, chillax, dad? It's just one word in a book of 85,000!

But my dad didn't care. The word, whatever it was, was so repugnant that he returned the book to the store, demanding a refund. He would have preferred a personal apology from Michael Crummey himself, but he lives in Newfoundland, which, my dad conceded, makes that logistically unlikely.

I’d rarely seen my dad so irate. It was a fire that usually only came out of him when debating the state of women’s professional tennis. I begged him to tell me what the exact word was that set him off, but he wouldn't repeat it. So, later that night, I downloaded the novel. And much like Serena Williams in a crowd at Wimbledon, the offending phrase was impossible to miss:

So, yeah. I now know for certain that my father will HATE my novel. 

I just hope he doesn’t demand a refund.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

An unrequited love story

I've posted another one of my shorts on my web site. It's called Marie and it's a sort-of-sweet, sort-of-sick love story. Who doesn't love those, right?

Marie is a quick read because I originally wrote it for the CBC short story contest, which has a rather restrictive word limit. The original iteration of the story (The Swimmer) did pretty well in that contest, making it as far as the long list. 

In case you're wondering, I've posted this story and others online because I've chosen to withdraw myself from the literary journal submissions universe for the foreseeable future.
My reasoning is pretty simple: Life's too short. 

One of my stories has been in circulation for four years. Four! Gaahhhhh! Do you know how much hotter I was four years ago?? Plus, aside from the fantastic One Story, I don't even read any of the journals I've been submitting to, so I was basically a fraud. A fraud looking to pad my byline. 

I don't really care about that anymore. Maybe it's because I'm more confident now. Or broken and beaten down by the grind of rejections. Or maybe because my novel is coming out next year and I don't feel that I have as much to prove. 

Either way, I don't want these stories to spend the best years of their lives rotting away in some sad little folder on my Mac. For what? For the off chance that some journal I don't read will accept it in 10 years? Well, I say poo poo to that.

I want my stories to live and see the world while they're still young! I want people to %^$#ing read them. 

Speaking of, if you want to read Marie, you can do so here. I hope you like it. And if you do, please share it with your friends and loved ones... like that guy you've been stalking. I think he'll especially enjoy it.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Writing prompts and hip creases

I applied to the Writers On the Verge program a month ago or so, and as part of my application, I had to do this: 

Write a paragraph from page 253 of your autobiography. * 500 words

I think this a fantastic writing prompt, so I wanted to share it with you. The possibilities are endless. What point in my life will this page cover? How much can I squeeze into one paragraph? Do I start mid-sentence to be unique? But what if everyone else starts mid-sentence? What's interesting enough to share, but not too interesting so that oh isn't it convenient that you opened the book to THAT page of all the pages? 

I eventually made these life/death decisions, and here's what I submitted:
I was thinner then, and an intern, so the director used to stuff me into tight, strategic spaces. That particular day, I’d been loaded into a garbage bin. I held the boom microphone in my sweaty grip, pointing it in the direction where the dialogue would be coming from, and was told to stay invisible. The director called me Whatsyourname, which made me question my whole life thus far, every choice I had made that brought me to this point: broke, nameless, in a trash bin. And then Marcus walked on to the set. I was secretly in love with Marcus and his luminous half Chinese/half black skin. He was the star of this shitty movie, but his background was theatre so he shouted all his lines and the director was too scared to tell him not to. Earlier, when we were all on break and eating sandwiches, Marcus told me to get the hell out of his face. I hid in the bathroom for an hour, my boom and I stuffed in a stall. He apologized later, saying he was sorry if I felt he had hurt my feelings, but he was Method and responding as his character would. I asked Marcus if his character was a first-rate a-hole, and he took it personally, which was confusing for us both. Anyways, when Marcus walked on set that day, he gave me a look like I deserved to be stuffed in the garbage bin. Then he took off his pants and his underwear, and started thrusting into the actress’s hip crease. The camera angle was off because the cinematographer wasn’t getting paid, so the sex looked terribly unconvincing. It was the cinematographer’s fault that the film never made it out of the can. Or it was mine. I was too weak to hold the boom out of frame; it was always dipping into the shot.
I think this prompt is a good place to start when you have writer's block. Assign yourself a page number from your "memoir" and go to town. The freedom from context, intent and especially motivation was wonderfully liberating for me. Not to mention fun.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Ennui, thy name is short story submissions

I'm not really feeling the whole short fiction submissions process right now. So in that spirit of impatience, I've decided to give away a super high-tech PDF edition of my short story Fiona Fiona!

The story follows an hour in the life of Fiona, a NATO scientist in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. Tormented by memories of her husband, Fiona struggles to move past the guilt she’s suffered since his death. She hasn’t made it easy on herself, though. As part of a top-secret bio-engineering team, Fiona has assigned her husband’s face to a super soldier. In him, she sees a chance for a new start at her old life. But as the town of Moose Jaw collapses, and her feelings for the soldier become ever more complicated, Fiona must make a choice between the man she loved and the man she made.

It's pretty weird, obviously, but so's the writer.

You can find the PDF here. Enjoy! Or not! It's free, so you can't really complain!