July 31, 2014

Sitting in judgment

Just in case you're the kind of amazing writer who can whip something off in a day, it isn't too late to mention that I'll be the fiction judge for this year's Room Annual Writing Contest! The extended deadline is August 1st at midnight. 

A few weeks ago, I answered some questions over at the Room blog, which you can read here

I also thought it would be worth mentioning that although I will be judging the contest, there is a chance I won't be reading your story.

The Room contest, like many (if not most, if not all) other fiction contests in this country, employs readers to read and vet the entries before they go on to the main publicized judge or jury. These readers are no slouches, I should add. Often they are published writers with one or more books to their credit, or editors or critics of long-standing. They are used to reading stories, and they know what makes a good one. I've been an early reader for a number of literary fiction contests, and I've always done my best to make careful and considered choices. 

But still. There is a certain degree of subjectivity in any matter of art, and there are questions of taste and style and subject matter that differ from reader to reader. Maybe in one of my previous incarnations as an early reader I passed over something brilliant because I couldn't see past the magical duck or the narrator named Toothpaste or the Pre-Cambrian time period.* (*Not real examples.) Some contests have a safeguard against this, which is to have everything read by TWO readers, so that one person's magical duck bias won't rule out a rare duck masterpiece.

Maybe you read that I was the judge and you looked at all your carefully polished drafts and selected the one you thought *I* would like best. Maybe you even checked my collection of short fiction, Mother Superior, out of the library. I might do something like that, if I was submitting to a contest.    

This is a long-winded way of saying that I will not be reading all of the entries for this contest, but a pre-selected, anonymized stack of what has been vetted to be the very best work submitted. And I'm so delighted to have been asked and to be able to come in at the end and take credit for lots of other people's thoughtful reading and consideration. 

But when the winners are eventually announced I don't want you (or you or you) to think that I didn't like your story. Maybe I never even read it.  

July 25, 2014

Becoming the book: Bronson Pinchot

I don't usually share most of the wonderful things I read on the internet here, mostly because I suspect I am mostly reading the same things that everyone else on Twitter is already reading. However, I occasionally remember that I have readers who fall outside of the social media circuit, and so I will set aside my fears of redundancy. (And thanks, Kelvin K, for sharing the link!)

Do you know how writers sometimes talk about writing for the "ideal reader"? The reader who will intuitively understand what they mean and/or give them the benefit of the doubt, the trust to go on, if they don't? A faceless, nameless, quasi-mythical being who gives one the hope to keep on writing even when one suspects that nobody really cares about literature anymore? Well, it turns out that the ideal reader is actually Bronson Pinchot, or Balki from the late eighties/early nineties sitcom Perfect Strangers, as you probably remember him.  

As a voice actor and narrator, Pinchot has voiced over 100 audiobooks. This long interview with him in Vulture is a fascinating and heartening read for anyone who cares about books and the worlds that authors are trying to create when they write.  

Click here to read it. 

July 23, 2014

NYR check-in

How is everyone faring with their New Year’s Resolutions? It’s actually more than halfway through the year now (aughgh), but as good a time as any to take stock. (If you want to see my original post, full of hope and promise, it’s here.)

1) Finish one project and start another. I don’t know exactly what I even had in mind when I wrote ‘start another,’ since I’ve been midway through two projects for a while now. The ‘finish one project’ part is progressing, though it’ll still be a major challenge to wrap it up before the end of the year.

2) 100 blog posts. Hah!  Unless there is a strong uptick, I think I am bound to fail on this one.

3) Stop buying chips. Also a fail, mostly fueled by my desire to try novelty crisp flavours in Britain. (Cheese and onion! The perennial prawn cocktail! I even spotted haggis-flavoured crisps but managed to exercise near-superhuman restraint to avoid buying them.)

4) Take a photo every day. I’m  not sure at exactly what point I just completely forgot to do this, but it was in the spring and it was only after a week or so had gone by that I realized I had stopped, so there was no recovery possible. However, my manic vacation photo-taking has probably almost made up for this, quantity-wise, if nothing else.

So success is now riding completely on #1. Wish me luck. 

Now, as promised yesterday, here's a random vacation photo of the castle variety:

St. Andrew's Castle, Scotland

July 22, 2014


I’ve been on vacation. Not just vacation from blogging and writing (although, yes, that, too), but from work and my regular life and home. Three weeks in the UK!

It was wonderful to have a day off yesterday to unpack, catch up on laundry, restock the fridge, and remind our place that people live in it. (Centipede hanging out in the sink: take note!!) I was even able to spend the whole morning writing, which was a relief. And I think now I have more of a handle on the story I’m working on.

Also, Montreal feels tropical compared to the Scottish Highlands. It is hot here. Shorts and popsicles weather.

While I was away, I took more photos than I know what to do with, so maybe I’ll post some here over the next few weeks. Get ready for an endless stream of scenic hills and ruined castles....