A Prize!

I’m not sure what year it was – perhaps 1998 – but my first acknowledgement from the writing world came when I was awarded a 2nd prize in the Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick’s Literary Competition. I do remember that the judge in the short fiction category was St. John’s author Paul Bowdring, and that Miramichi author (former author?) Larry Lynch took first prize. My story was called “Anna” and (something I also recall) it was the first time I wrote without quotation marks for dialogue.

Queue my long history with WFNB: from 1999 to 2014 I was (though not always but sometimes concurrently) a board member, newsletter editor, webmaster, five-year “interim” executive director and unofficial photographer. During that time, I never again entered the literary competition – I found judges, notified winners, co-emceed the awards soirée.

But this year I did enter the competition, aiming for the David Adams Richards Prize by sending four of my “Shabazz stories” (nearly 30,000 words) under the title “The Purpose of Evolution in Not Immortality” (yes, I got two grants in 2016 to write this same collection).

A few days back a call came from WFNB executive director Cathy Fynn with the satisfying news that…. I’d won. The judge’s comments:

Sophisticated literary fiction: haunts, tickles, and disturbs — and subverts. I laughed several times in places I later felt I shouldn’t, and I often shuddered. I at once admired the writer’s technique, and experienced emotional connections with the characters; those two things don’t always happen.  Because the writer seems to be not as concerned with plot as much as what the characters believe is happening, some stories risk sag in the middle. Overall, however, the work is a delight: rich and strange.

The ‘sag’ must be watched, but that’s the risk of rambling/gambling (gamboling!) outside the plot (something I’ve loved doing since reading Gogol so long ago).

Am still writing this collection, but with one story at Numero Cinq, one published as a chapbook, and the aforementioned grants, this concept (Dr. Shabazz, a mysterious psychologist) continues to treat me well.

And nice to come full circle with WFNB.

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On writing ambitiously

On the heels of finishing a story I’ve had in my head for years, the 7100-word title story of my work-in-progress (nods to the Great Granting Agencies) – “The Purpose of Evolution is not Immortality” – which now brings the collection to five completed stories and 40,000 words, a blog entry to say I am here, writing ambitiously, assiduously, assertively.

On the heels of a story that intentionally broke several cardinal rules of narrative style (not the first in the collection to do so), a story that even I’m still sussing out, that stretches greedy fingers into all potential perspectives, a blog entry to say…

Well, I’ve already said that part: I am writing, and the way I want to.

I realize my need to experiment has led to under-publication, especially of larger works – namely two novels – even though I feel these works are engaging, a hell of a lot of fun. I see author-friends launching books left, right, and centre – sometimes with very little work already in print – but there just aren’t enough publishers taking risks, and often those that do have a more academic bent. That’s not me either.

Good fiction is unruly, alive, and as individual as the author him/herself. Nothing brings a stop-glare-and-sigh as much as the phrase “there’s too much style” or “prose shouldn’t draw attention to itself.”

A few years back, after contacting an agent at the recommendation of an editor who enjoyed the novel but was at a sinking-ship publishing house, all I got back was, “I don’t know, they’re just so strange.”  The next agent, despite a direct recommendation from one of his authors, never responded at all.

So on the heels of writing perhaps the strangest, most ambitious story yet, this a wide-smiling middle finger to the middle-grounders, the play-safers. Fiction is a commodity, yes, but it’s also an art, and one that can modulate many moods. How many actually think about the effect of sentence structure on your breathing? The effect of vague dialogue on your mental state? The purpose of seemingly random changes, unpredictability, on the narrative tension? And how about metaphors, scenes, symbols that defy easy interpretation?

I’m sure a few readers of the recently published “Mouth Human Must Die” were left cold, confused. And why was it so vulgar? So weird?

Happy, though, that initial response to the just-finished fiction is positive. A good writing group goes a long way. Nods there to Carol, Kayla, Susan and Elizabeth. And to my closest reader, Cindy.

Two Recent Reviews

I’ve just had two reviews posted on the Atlantic Books Today website (following two longer reviews – of Kevin Major and Kerry-Lee Powell – in their recent print edition). A small caveat is that Atlantic Books Today is funded by publishers, but managing editor Chris Benjamin does want honest, well-written reviews, sees the value in that.

I hosted André Narbonne in October at the Attic Owl Reading Series, was impressed and later begged off attempting a review of another story collection (quite poorly written) and requested permission to send a review of Narbonne’s collection Twelve Miles to Midnight. It’s a great story collection. The review is here.

And some time this summer I was sent the PDF of David Doucette’s A Hard Old Love Amongst Scavengers, and promptly forgot about it. I spend all day at the PC or laptop editing writers’ words, don’t want to read more fiction on the screen. Anyway, when asked about the review’s status I said right, right, is there a hard copy? One was sent. One day I’ll make a list of my favourite Atlantic Canadian Fiction. It’ll have Doucette’s novel near the top*. What a welcome surprise. That review is here.

*Along with Steffler’s The Grey Islands (fiction? poetry?), Powell’s Willem De Kooning’s Paintbrush, Bursey’s Verbatim: A Novel, Gunn’s Amphibian, Butler Hallett’s Deluded Your Sailors, and work by Mark Anthony Jarman, Ian Colford, Narbonne, Coady…. Maybe that’s the next blog post.

Lee D. Thompson

Reading Recommendations

thompsonLee D. Thompson

What is your latest release and what genre is it?Mouth Human Must Die -literary fiction

Quick description: The book itself is a limited edition with Frog Hollow Press, who specialize in chapbooks, broadsheets – fine printing, if you will. Lovely design, great paper. The story – all 7500 words of it – is narrated by Lester, a man with a mental illness. It chronicles a few days of his life and his interactions with Dr. Shabazz, a psychologist, and Lara, a Slow Loris at the nearby zoo.

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Brief biography:
I’m from Moncton, New Brunswick (Canada) and have been publishing fiction for 18 years. I’m far too involved with literary things, from having run the provincial writers’ federation to organizing a reader series and editing a literary journal called Galleon. I’m also a freelance editor. And a songwriter/guitarist.

Here’s a review published in The Miramichi Reader

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It’s here!

The books have arrived and are lovingly designed by Caryl Wyse Peters with a haunting Dave Skyrie cover. The story is as slant as anything I’ve written: Lester, the narrator, isn’t to be trusted. And that’s the thing about these Shabazz stories – the central characters aren’t well. It’s also the challenge – how to depict a mind in chaos, unhinged, yet make it believable.

So far four of the these stories have been written, with the fifth just underway.

Anyway. There are two ways to get copies before they’re all gone (125 were printed) – through me, or through the publisher.

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Full Cover for Frog Hollow Chapbook

Publication date for “Mouth Human Must Die” is likely around mid January, which means in fewer than two months the story will have gone from accepted to published. It’s been proofed, approved, and only the printing remains. I can’t stress … Continue reading

Chapbook with Frog Hollow Press (soon)

 

http://froghollowpress.com/

Frog Hollow Press

Been a busy, exciting summer, but mostly for non literary reasons. I’ve travelled, edited, designed, written some book reviews, and fallen in love (excitement quotient not in that order).

But I do finally have some publication news, as my long story “Mouth Human Must Die” will be printed by wonderful Victoria BC publisher Frog Hollow Press in a limited edition of 125 copies. This is the second in their revived New Brunswick chapbook series (after Nancy Bauer) and is edited by Shane Neilson, who asked to see some of my fiction for the series. Shane is a tremendous champion of New Brunswick authors.

The cover art will be done by Dave Skyrie.

I wrote much of the story while at the Banff Writers Studio in 2014,  and it’s the second of these long “Shabazz” stories (Canada Council & ARTSNB funded!) to see publication. It’s a challenge to find someone willing to publish 10,000 words of short fiction.

The first of these stories to appear? Here.

Self, applied

A blog post! That must mean something worth sharing has happened, or that I have some time on my hands (laugh, please).  It’s a happening, and more momentous than any M. Night Shyamalan flop. Sixteen months ago I wrote a blog post – Apply Yourself, Young Man – chronicling a new project and my hopeful grant application. I had a good feeling. Well, that was all a bit rushed, my application was a mess and no surprise it was not successful. But. Yes, there’s a but.

And you know, I thought I would have finished the project by now, but in those 16 months I’ve written only three of the stories (nearly 30,000 words, mind you). A writer friend with a day job asked, “But does money really help you write?”  Oh yes, it does. For one, you can relax. For two, you can relax the next day, and the day after. And by relax I mean not worry, because for me, at least, worry is what gnaws through the cord that lights any stick of creative dynamite.

So yes, this time the Canada Council came through. I resisted opening the envelope for five days. Please don’t ask for an explanation of my behaviour, though if you do want to psychoanalyze me I suggest you buy my book of dreams.  But please don’t judge me. Anyway, a friend, a fine, fine writer friend with an amazing book of short fiction coming out this spring, a friend who was also grant-positive, said, when I explained the virgin envelope, the size, shape, colour and smell of it, “Open the goddamn envelope!”

Thank you, jury. I shall write, and write well.

Engine Failure @ Jerrod Edson

There’s a nice review of my story “A Survivor’s Guide to Engine Failure at 35,000 Feet” on Jerrod Edson’s site right here. Jerrod is a fellow New Brunswick author temporarily banished to Ontario (but he’s NB through and through, don’t forget it). From his review:

“Warwick’s voice is manic, yet altogether alive and authentic (imagine a Hunter S. Thompson / Barney Panofsky offspring and you’re headed in the right direction). His memories of the crash are honest and raw, and utterly void of any writerly bullshit”

Edson has a new novel coming out this spring. Watch for “The Moon is Real” with Urban Farmhouse Press.