Category Archives: Events

Authors 4 Indies

messy-freelance-writer-desk-540x303That messy desk isn’t mine, but it comes close. It happens that this very busy writer is trying to do too many things at once — work on a novel manuscript, revise a batch of poetry, plan publicity for an upcoming book — so I’m afraid that The Thoughtful Blogger has become Blogger on Hold. But — wait!

It’s Spring at last, and hibernation’s over!6a00d83451f05a69e20168e8ac6bc5970c-800wi

Have you heard about Authors for Indies Day? That’s May 2nd — and it’s a Canada-wide chance for writers to come out and support some of our best friends, the independent bookstores which stock and sell our (sometimes obscure, always wonderful) work! We’ll be chatting up readers, talking about books that have thrilled us and, hopefully, selling loads of these! There’ll be readings, too, and refreshments. And FYI, here’s where I’ll be:

1. Another Story Bookshop @ 315 Roncesvalles, Toronto, from 11-12pm.
2. Book City @ 2354 Bloor W, 2 blocks west of Jane, at 2pm. Drop by and here me read from my new fall release, Here Comes The Dreamer.

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It’s going to be a great cross-country event! And if you’re in Canada, you don’t have to be in Toronto to take part. Your local independent bookstore has authors coming, too. To find a store near you, check out http://www.authorsforindies.com/.

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Motion Sickness: An Interview with Ursula Pflug

UnknownSomething new today, dear reader (and perhaps a bit longer than usual) — an interview with author Ursula Pflug about her brand-new flash-fiction novel, Motion Sickness, published by Inanna. Neither a graphic novel nor a conventional one, her book deals with the simplest of things — a young woman’s meanderings through friendship, work and love — in whimsical, complex and poetic ways. I can’t imagine a conventional “review” for this unique and original work, so instead we’re speaking with Ursula, a critically acclaimed author in many forms, including two novels and a short story collection.

For your novel Motion Sickness, you’ve used the flash-fiction format; each chapter is exactly 500 words long. Why did you decide to do this?

I’m an overwriter, so I have plenty of experience creating everything-but-the kitchen-sink narratives that then require massive scaling back. The ceilings were a nice way to prevent that before the horses even got out of the stable. The precise word counts were just for fun; they gave the writing a puzzle-like quality.

Along with shaping the story, this format builds dramatic tension. Your off-the-wall characters have to work against a very tight structure. For the reader, that contrast between form and content is an engine that drives the story forward. Could you comment on this?

Along with being an overwriter I’m also the kind of person who believes an internal shift in your protagonist counts as a plot point. The rigid structure was a reminder that something had to happen in every chapter; I needed to counterpoint Penelope’s poetic perceptions about life with external hurdles, and I think this made for more of an event-filled book.

Could you talk more about your writing process? What planted the germ of this story in your mind?

I won an award in the UK for a flash piece some years ago and thought I’d do more but I wasn’t happy with the results. I have collections of old hard drives and even filing cabinets spilling over with works-in-progress that I hold on to — we’ve all got them — stories that never quite held together but had enough spark that we couldn’t abandon them…

So there I was, wanting to do more flash, but not finding inspiration for the content. I poked around in my archives and came across a short story called “Lunch with Nathan.” It appealed to me because it was already written in the short sentences and punchy style that suited the form. As I began work and a longer story started to emerge I realized I could try a flash novel.

The illustrations are very effective. Did you conceive of Motion Sickness as an illustrated, large-format work?

I did! Illustrations yes, large format, no. That was Val Fullard, the Inanna designer’s particular genius. Once I began the writing I became more and more sure I wanted to have drawings. I envisioned it just as it is, a chapter with a facing illustration. Motion Sickness is a hybrid, not techincally a graphic novel, but it’s closely related — the prose sections are short and the drawings are paramount.

There are so many difficult real-life elements in the story — a creepy stalker, unhappy sex, drugs, abortion — that in other hands, might have made for a grim read. Yet with your central character Penelope, you’ve managed to avoid clichés and tell her story with a light touch. Was this your intention?

Well, humour is what gets us through, often as not, isn’t it? Thanks for saying I avoided clichés; it’s important to me that’s noticed and appeciated, not least because of some of the books that have done really well the last few years. I’m hoping there’s a bit of a pendulum swing back towards quality; the recent success of writers like Ruth Ozeki and Jeff VanderMeer are inspiring.

I believe every story is worth telling, and every story is brilliant if told in a way that does it justice…While it’s true that events or accomplishments make some lives stand out more than others, our perception of life is unique to each of us…It’s Penelope’s idiosynchratic take on things that helps her to survive, providing distance when necessary.

In the end, did the book surprise you? I’m speaking here of the poetic sense that rises out of the story. It feels in some ways surreal and even whimsical at times.

I’m basically a literary writer whose work is infused with elements of the fantasic, whether fantasy, science fiction or magic realism. Motion Sickness is actually the least fantastic of all my books. Heather Spears said it takes place ‘on the verge of the real,’ which I adore. She also said the titles read like poems. After she pointed it out I thought about why I’d done that — and this is a process note, again. The style for the texts was necessarily one of short sentences, but the titles weren’t subject to restrictions, so I had room to create wandering poetic phrases. I enjoyed the counterpoint.

The poetic sense you noticed comes from style but also from character. Right at the beginning we learn that Penelope’s a scribbler, kicking her way through fallen leaves to get to park benches where she can chew on pencil ends…Maybe she would have changed her life sooner if she hadn’t been a scribbler, but it’s also what made her notice Theo, a fellow writer and eventual soul mate. “Hearts on ropes and flowers on telephone poles,” as he likes to remind us.

As to the surpises — I was contantly surprised! Half the time when I sat down to write I had no idea what was about to emerge. Penelope had all kinds of crazy things happen to her that were unforseen to me, and she also had original ways of processing experience that delighted me. I ended up wishing she was someone I knew in real life. I wanted to sit in a leaf-strewn November park with her, drinking takeout coffee and talking about life, or maybe share a beer at Al’s Fish n’ Chips in the wee hours past closing time. Maybe that’s why I finally managed to finish writing her story: it was the only way I could spend more time with Penelope.

Thank you, Ursula…Ursula Pflug launches Motion Sickness at Inanna Publications’ Fall Launch #3: Monday evening, November 17th from 6 to 8:30pm at the Supermarket, 268 Augusta Ave. (Kensington Market), Toronto.

 

 

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Fine Writing and Human Rights

If anyone even hints to me that I ought to “take up arms against a sea of troubles,” I’m likely to tune out. Too busy, too tired, too depressed about the state of the world. Not knowing what to do about this state of affairs, I often look to literature to help me understand the more shadowy corners of the human condition. If you’re of like mind, you may want to click on Novel Rights (http://novelrights.com/). The website offers high-quality literary work for purchase (at very reasonable rates), using the fees to benefit specific human rights efforts.

lullaby-coverI began by reading Ava Homa’s powerful story “Lullaby,” based on the true story of Farzad Kamangar, a Kurdish schoolteacher and poet executed in Iran three years ago after a five-minute “trial.” Homa, a Kurdish writer-in-exile, based her story on the man’s letters, published after his death (her first story collection, Echoes from the Other Land was reviewed here). Powerful and heartfelt, “Lullaby” transported me into a nightmarish world, offering a resolute example of bravery and defiance. In reading a story like this, one is stung by the realization that people like Kamangar went to their deaths never knowing if their sacrifice was worth the effort.  For that reason, it’s worth attending to the petitions that follow the story and which urge us to help save the lives of other innocent individuals trapped in Iran’s prison system. The site also has links to Amnesty International.

It’s been said that literature can’t change the world. Yet it can change us, touching us with the humanity we share with Farzad Kamangar and others like him. In pondering their stories, it becomes harder to turn away from suffering, not because of guilt but because of compassion. A writer’s artistic honesty allows us to face the world as it is. I hope you’ll visit Novel Rights and delve into some of their fine literary work.

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Carole Reads!

Here’s a “heads-up” for all of you who live in the Toronto area (and even if you don’t!): I’ll be reading brand-new work at a Novella Night as part of the popular WordStage Reading Series. More soon, but save the date: Wednesday, December 14th . Things get rolling at 7.30 pm, at the New Dooney’s Cafe, 296 Brunswick Avenue (south of Bloor).

Torontonians, you’ll receive a newsletter soon with more info. Hope to see you there!

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Novellas at Deer Park

April is Keep Toronto Reading Month, so if you live in the city, come to the Novellas at Deer Park series on Tuesday, April 19th when I’ll be reading from my novella A Gardener on the Moon. I’ll also be talking about some of my favourite novellas and why they matter as quality reading, especially for people short on time. That’s Tuesday, April 19th from 2-3pm. Deer Park Library is located at 40 St. Clair Avenue E. (one block east of Yonge, on the north side of St. Clair), and the reading takes place in the Program Room on the 2nd floor.  Please register at 416-393-7657.

Do you write novellas? Submit four pages of an original novella with a half-page summary to Deer Park Library – marked ‘Novella’ – between August 8 to 13, 2011, to be considered for a workshop in novella writing by author and president of Quattro Books, John Calabro. The first 35 submitted will be read and the best six chosen for the workshop on Tuesday Sept 27, 6 pm.

Hope to see you on April 19th!

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Carole’s October Book Gigs

Wanto to join a book club? Come and meet Carole at the Bloor-Gladstone Library (1101 Bloor St. W.– Subway: Dufferin) on Wednesday evening, October 26th, from 7-8 p.m. She’ll share her experiences as a writer, and she’ll offer tips and suggestions to help jump-start your book-club experience. What kind of books do you enjoy? Find out more about novels, novellas and short stories and how you might use them for book club reading.

Carole will be speaking on Reading the Novella: A Gardener On The Moon at the North York Central Library (5120 Yonge St. — Subway: North York Centre) on Thursday, October 27th from 7- 8p.m. Find out about this distinctive form of writing which has been practiced by some of our greatest authors. When you’re short on time, novellas offer short, quality reading. Carole will discuss the novella in general and hers in particular. She’ll read from A Gardener On The Moon, co-winner of the 2010 Ken Klonsky Novella Contest, published by Quattro Books. To register, call 416.395.5639.

For something different this Hallowe’en, join Carole and a roster of readers at the Draft Reading Series, at The Merchants of Green Coffee, 2 Matilda St., near Broadview and Queen Sts. Writers are invited to take a chance and to read from new and unpublished work in draft form — or to read old work in a new and inventive way. Hallowe’en’s theme is “The Day of the Dead.” The reading’s in the afternoon, from 1.30 to 4 p.m.

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Words Alive Literary Festival

Carole will be reading at the 4th Annual Words Alive Literary Festival on the Sharon Temple grounds in Newmarket, Ontario. The date’s Saturday, September 18th. Bring a picnic and enjoy the day! For more information about the festival and the speakers’ list, go to http://www.wordsalive.ca/speakers/

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