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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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.

Turning an old idea inside out

I have plans, many plans. Plans involving writing, mostly. And music. But this is about the writing plans. Beyond some edits and sending the Three out again (one currently is under consideration which may simply mean under a pile of other unopened envelopes) there are two novel projects: an ambitious northern novel based on my story “North of Fury” (Ellipse Mag 77-78) and the other I’ve begun to outline.

The other is an old idea made new. What I thought would be a surreal, hyper-poetic, sensuous, deep dream-state story – which I could never get more than a couple of chapters into before the language began to mock itself (I had been reading Dow Mossman’s The Stones of Summer when I started, and mix that with a love for William Goyen and James Joyce, well welcome to unreadable…) – is now, as I redraft it, a YA adventure novel narrated by a 15 year old. Now I’m not thinking Hunger Games and MONEY but that the central idea is simple and a simpler approach is better. More Lord of the Flies in terms of appeal and accessibility. Jesus, and it might even  have an ecological theme.

I love complex sentences and I love play in fiction. I doubt those things will entirely vanish. But I also love plot, adventure. We’ll see where it goes.