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.

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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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.

New Fiction at Numéro Cinq

nc-logo-160x128While I wasn’t overly productive last year, churning out perhaps 15,000 words of fiction, which hardly deserves the word ‘churning’ but perhaps ‘scraping’, I did produce a couple of things I quite like.

This story came out of a title, which itself seemed to come from thin air while crafting a grant proposal. There are times when everything comes together and writing a story is a joy, or a toy, and nothing makes me happier than the chance to play around a little. This was one of those times.

I knew watching endless episodes of air crash investigations would pay off. (Certainly made flying to Elba and Banff and Spain much more exciting.)

So here is “A Survivor’s Guide to Engine Failure at 35,000 Feet.” It is the second of my Shabazz stories, a story of a flight gone wrong, a bit of jungle survival and a man in need of much therapy.

Many thanks to Numéro Cinq head everything Douglas Glover.

Fictional year in review

I started the year thinking I would have my Shabazz collection (80,000 words) complete by December, or at least nearing completion. The idea was to write a long story each month/six weeks, and when I did sit and write it … Continue reading

Whatever it is, I’m in the middle of it

In spring 2014, just before heading to Banff, I started a long story, one of my ‘man and woman and animals getting all confused together’ stories, with the idea that it would fill out (conclude, edify, rectify, flex hard or burnish) a themed collection entitled “Why Do Birds?”.  It goes like this: have a story collection but it’s too short (i.e. under 50,000 words) for publishers? Just end it with a long story. But on my way to writing a (not successful!!) grant request, that new story (“Mouth Human Must Die”) led to other ideas and soon a new collection was pulled out of thinning hair.  The writing of this new collection is going slowly, because I didn’t get the grant (these rejections actually affect the creation of the project, who would have guessed?) but the second story in the collection, “A Survivor’s Guide to Engine Failure at 35,000 Feet”, all 9500 words of it, will be in the marvelous online library at Numero Cinq this fall. There aren’t many publication venues for long stories, but online journals are ideal.

It’s been an odd spring/summer/life, what with the stresses of trying to make a living as a literary editor/book designer/translator/web designer/writer/beggar/impressario, so it’s nice to have some work accepted. I am a writer, dammit.

Damnit? Damn it?

Back to editing.

Upgathering of thought

Oh, poor neglected blog that no one never reads, what ails thee? Time, time is the sickness… and also the cure. And furthermore, croaked the ravin’ mad lunatic.

What’s new over here? A long story has been started, about an aircrash, another in my Dr. Shabazz collection (a new project). An agent is reading my sheep novel (we think). I’ve read four consecutive books written by women  – Double-Blind (Michelle Butler Hallett), Hellgoing (Lynn Coady), The Town that Drowned (Riel Nason), Station Eleven (Emily St. John Mandel) – and am now reading Keith Ridgway’s Never Love a Gambler. Ridgway’s Hawthorn and Child was one of my favourite books last year. Tense, periscopic, and a kind of weirdness that had me smiling ear to toe.

I’ve seen the publication of a book I edited for Boularderie Island Press (Get More Power from Your Brain, Eileen Pease) and added a copy of Becoming Fierce to my publications bookshelf.

I am editing my 13th and 14th books of the year. One of those recently-edited books just became this.

There were two launches of the latest Breach House Anthology,  a writing group I’ve been deeply connected to since 2000. This was our third anthology. I also provided music at each launch, including a song based on one of the members’ lyrics (click here for that ditty).

I’ve edited, set-up, and now sent off for publication the revived Galleon.

I want to record another album soon. My reading series needs a new home. I continue to shed pounds (23 since July).

Lastly, it’s been a year since I had an underpaying overworking job, one I apparently left to focus on my writing career (insert raven laughter).  And how has that gone, you ask? The twitching has gone, I respond.

Apply yourself, young man

I sent off an application to the Canada Council yesterday, a day before their creation grant deadline. This is my fifth time applying, with my first and the last three having been rejected. Last time it stung; I desperately needed the funds, which is the story of the past year.

Perhaps the story of my life.

But I did succeed once and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. I’d been living in a house for sale for eight months, paying minimal ‘rent’ and living off donated food and biking everywhere. I was lean, making music for the first time in years, and writing. I’d even let my hair grow. A few months earlier I’d started developing, on a whim, an idea I dreamed up in France in 2003 (where I wrote the first page). Man in hell, talking fish as guide. Silly idea, but the characters worked and then something started to happen as I wrote chapter after chapter. When I sent the application in I was confident.

Months later, when the results were being announced, a friend called and said she was rejected, that all the rejections were in the mail today. So I called my mother, whose address I’d used, talked to my sister and asked if I had mail. I did. Crap. Canada Council, she said. Doublecrap. I wasn’t about to bike across town to get bad news so I said open it, save me the trouble. But she read “Dear Lee Thompson were are pleased to announce…” and I laughed, laughed and nearly cried.

The day prior the house had been sold and I, penniless, given less than a week to vacate.

I moved here, this neighborhood of kidnappings, where I’ve been for the past 7.5 years. A better ending would have the novel being published, but after a flirtation by Anansi, who admired it, it was then ridiculed by Gaspereau (‘from funny to inane in a hurry’), pondered by Coach House (‘wish we could publish everything we like’) and then accepted by Crossing Chaos, but then they more or less ceased operations. So.

So yes, yesterday another application sent. And even if nothing comes of it (I have a good feeling, though?), it led to me creating a new project out of a long story I’d written for another collection but which didn’t fit that collection well. I then drafted five new stories for the synopsis. Ideas I’d had floating around. Today, regardless of Canada Council decisions, I have an exciting collection in the works and for a writer that feels great. It’s like food in the fridge.

Speaking of which, next entry I’ll write more about the granting system.

Short Fiction at Numero Cinq!

It’s up now:

http://numerocinqmagazine.com/2014/08/09/a-serpent-fiction-lee-d-thompson/

It’s only the second time I’ve had a story published online, because I rarely (only twice) submit to online journals. Can’t be denied though the readership is there, waiting, growing, and the story should be available for years to come.

Thanks to NC editor Douglas Glover for liking this story. Loopy, I think, was one of the words he used to describe it.

Fascinating, too, that it’s published on the birthday of the ex girlfriend who inspired Chiara.

Loopy, even.