Friday, October 16, 2020

The Cecils

Attention Toronto-based novelists aged 50 and over. 

If your novels have been published by a small press(es) – and you are presently working on another novel  you may be eligible for the inaugural Cecil Connelly Award for Literary Persistence (aka The Cecils). #TheCecils 

A $3000 prize that will be split three ways, The Cecils reward literary talent and that other essential characteristic – persistence. Plus, they will inspire others to keep writing, or to start! (At least that's the idea.)

The Cecils are named after my late grandfather, Cecil Connelly, who worked hard, stayed positive, and never gave up. They are a response to the glut of "emerging" writer awards that exclude older writers, and a celebration of under-the-radar talent, persistence and positivity against all odds. 

There is no application fee, but the requirements will be quite specific (must live in Toronto, must be 50+ years old, small-press published, etc.) Also, each submission must include: 

- A 10-page sample of a new novel in progress (no short story collections, unfortunately) 

- 250 words (max) on what keeps you writing despite how tough it is. (Meaning, how tough the act of writing is itself, and how challenging it is to get published and read widely.) 

The application window will be open from November 1 - December 15, 2020. For more information, visit The Cecils page of my website. Eligibility criteria may expand depending on how many submissions I receive, so I suggest that you follow this blog via email to ensure you don't miss any important updates. There's a "follow by email" widget on the right hand column of this site.

Me and my grandpa Cecil back in the 80’s. He was the coolest. Me? Not so much.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Someday, kids, if you work really hard, your manuscript will also be used as a drop cloth.


By the way, if you want to buy a really special one-bedroom, one bathroom condo (plus office) in Toronto, let me know. It's in one of the greenest parts of the city at St. Clair and Spadina, is a seven-minute walk to St. Clair West subway station (there's a shortcut!) and the St. Clair streetcar. It's at the end of a quiet dead-end street and has an underground parking space. The best part? Bookshelves for days.

We lived here for eight years, and loved it. It's the quietest, most peaceful place. (Thick plaster walls, plus it being on a dead-end street.) And it's been easy and low-stress riding out the pandemic here. We live in a little village with stores and coffee shops that we can quickly run in and out of, and there is green space and trails all around.  

We would love to sell it without it going on the MLS to avoid lots of people coming in and out of here. I'll post photos when our new kitchen countertops and backsplash have been installed. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

My response to a NYT ethics column about cultural appropriation

I thought Kwame Anthony Appiah presented such an intelligent point of view on the issue of cultural appropriation in this New York Times Magazine column. It prompted me to write this response, which explains just some of my thoughts on this topic as it relates to my current manuscript -- and within the confines of what the word limit of the comments section would allow. (The inspiration for my new manuscript -- and my deep, personal connection to it -- is worthy of an essay itself.)


This is a thoughtful, nuanced exploration of the deeply complex—and important—issue of cultural appropriation; thank you! 

I'm a white novelist and I struggle with this issue constantly. I like to explore people and places of all kinds in my writing – and this comes with inherent risks. Case in point, my new manuscript. My story features two main characters: a white female, and an Asian male. Because of the Asian character (meaning, because of white me writing Asian him), I knew this story could be a challenge to sell to a publisher. But here’s the problem. My story required that character, and my story was an all-consuming passion that I couldn’t deny. I had to write it.

I want you to know this about me. As a novelist, I consider it my job to write a *good* book when my characters are like me, but I consider it my job to write an *exceptional* book when my characters are NOT like me. So I devoted six years of my life to making this book exceptional. I spent three years on research before writing a single word, and years more throughout the writing process. And I accepted the fact that despite all this work, big publishers could reject my book out of fear that some people would accuse me of appropriation. 

Even if my book doesn’t sell, I have no regrets. By white me writing Asian him, I experienced the world -- the love and loss, the politics and distortions of history -- through the eyes of another. And isn’t that what we all want out of novels, no matter who writes them?


Wednesday, September 2, 2020

I'm making low-quality literary-themed GIFs again.... (and blogging again)

Yes, I'm back on the blog. I'm such a cliche. I'm such a... Cher. "I'm retiring!" FIVE SECONDS LATER: "Oh no nevermind haha just joking I'm actually going on a massive world tour!" NEXT YEAR: "Ok, I'm retiring again -- this is it! really!" TWO SECONDS LATER: "hahah no JKJK I'm actually recording a new album! And going on a SUPER massive world tour!" 

I "left" the blog because I was feeling too exposed about my writing life. But whatever. It is what it is. I've been broken hearted about the publishing world these days for a myriad of reasons. And this blog... it was starting to feel like an open wound. But wounds heal. Or... I guess they kill you? But I'm still alive, so that means mine must be healing? 

And I made this GIF -- and where the hell else am I going to put this stupid shit but here?

Tuesday, June 23, 2020


"That Crafty Feeling"  by Zadie Smith is the most perfect dissection of the messiness of fiction writing that I've ever read. It's my last gift to you as the blogger-in-chief here at Ego Burn. It's been a fun 10 years! Time for a new adventure.


Tuesday, June 9, 2020

An inside joke for all the writers out there

I only noticed this last year on my fifth watch.

Friday, June 5, 2020

On plot, first-person present, and maximalism

Me, circa 2005, in the apartment that inspired The Weather Inside.
There's a Kingdom Hall across the street, and a former Canadian Idol 
contestant next door.

To mark the 10-year anniversary of Ego Burn, I thought I'd revisit the process of writing The Weather Inside. Initially, I wasn't sure how I was going to go about this; I've already covered so much! Recently, however, a fellow writer sent me some thoughtful questions about Weather. (Thanks, Danny!) As I was putting together my responses, I realised I'd never written much about these topics before; I was too busy working on my craft to write about craft. But Danny's questions gave me a reason to make the time.


What did you have at the very beginning? Any fragments of plot? Or just the voice? Do you plot out beforehand or let it happen?
I didn’t have much at the very beginning. I just knew that I wanted to write about religious alienation and the end of a relationship. Then I moved to an apartment across the street from a Kingdom Hall, and I became deeply curious about what was going on inside. (Deep curiosity, obsession really, is what drives me to write everything I write.)

I didn’t plot it out beforehand. I would just write freely in the voice of Avery, and then some idea, angle, or character trait would come up that I wanted to pursue and expand on. And I was always asking myself “If this happens, or if she does that, what are the most interesting possible consequences?” So, basically, the early stages of writing Weather were solely about exploring Avery, and the plot grew organically from her. 

But it was a messy process! I re-wrote the book completely probably four times over ten years. Aside from the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the collapse of Henry and Avery’s relationship, the first draft is almost unrecognizable from the final book. The magical realism, for instance – which was one of many major breakthroughs I had while writing this book – didn’t come to me for a couple years.

Was the book always in first person or did you try it another way?
It was always first person because it was Avery’s story, and it was such an internal journey for her character. But originally it was first-person past, then I switched it to first-person present. I thought present tense gave it an extra kick of energy and suspense, but it was incredibly hard for me to do. I’m not sure I would do first-person present again. I felt constrained.

Did you ever consider culling the prose and making it super basic and sparse?
I fantasize about being able to write more simple stories with clean, bare prose – but it never works out that way. For good or bad, I’m drawn to the dramatic, and I lean towards maximalism; it’s just what oozes out of me. I think I’m developing into a leaner maximalist the more I write, but there will always be a lot going on; it’s just how my brain works. And for me, it’s a propulsive engine, that maximalism. I like to write a story that builds and builds, like a tower. There’s almost too much, it almost tips and crushes everyone below, but then it straightens itself out, and everyone can relax. It’s my version of “disciplined writing,” knowing when my story is on the verge of being too much, and then pulling back just in time. (Or at least that’s what I’m trying to do.) 

With Weather, it’s an emotional story, coming from the POV of an emotionally complicated narrator -- and told in first-person present, which, in my view, is an inherently messy POV if you're really doing it justice. (Unless your character is an emotionless psychopath.) Anyways, all those factors mean that Weather will probably be the most maximalist/dense thing I'll ever write. My new manuscript is told from an omniscient POV and is far less dense...

Did you ever second-guess yourself?
I second-guess myself sometimes, definitely. Mostly in the middle phase of writing a book when I start to get a bit dazed and confused by the rules of the little universe I’ve created. My confidence comes from putting in the work, though, so as long as I'm trying my best -- and not taking the easy way out -- it helps silence the voices telling me "you suuuuck you don't know WTF you're doing why would anyone want to read this."  I also find taking time away from my writing and then re-reading it months later is how I gauge if my work is good, or if my self-doubt is warranted. If I still like it after that rest period, I don’t second-guess myself too much anymore.

At what point did you realize you were going to finish it? Or did you always think you were going to finish?
I always knew I would finish because being a novelist is my dream, I love a challenge, and it was fun (well, 60% of the time). And I always knew I would publish it, too, despite all the rejection and emotional hellishness along the way. Basically, I try to never give up on myself. Even so, I was always asking myself if I was crazy/delusional/desperate for trying so relentlessly. I probably was. But I also think I was strong AF. As writers, we have to be strong to survive our vulnerability.