Adventures in poutine, part one

It’s like I’ve been in withdrawal, really.

I haven’t had poutine since I left Vancouver at the end of May. Before that, I made sure to have as much of it as I possibly could, so going from feast to famine, as it were, was particularly rough. I’d also joked that maybe I would need to learn to make my own and that could lead to a lucrative side business as St. Louis’s only purveyor of poutine.

As it happens, there are some places you can get poutine here. However, they are hardly what I would call authentic. One restaurant makes it with pork belly and sweet potato fries. Another uses meaty gravy and the waitress told me, “It’s not like the real thing, trust me.” There’s even  a place here that makes poutine with—get this—blue cheese.

Did you hear that, Canada? Blue cheese. If this were Twitter, I’d be SMDH.

Continue reading

Ruth Sternglantz on editing your own work

This may make me an oddity, but I like editing my own work. I might even like it a bit more than the initial first draft process. For me, getting something down on paper (or more likely these days, on screen) can be a challenge. I’m a slow writer, and I’m okay with that—I’m not going to berate myself for not being able to keep up a faster pace. Once it’s finally done, I can close the file and let it sit for a little while. It’s when I go back and open it up again that, for me, the real work begins.

Ruth Sternglantz, an editor at Bold Strokes Books, has a great metaphor for dealing with your work, especially if you find you’re the sort of writer who has a hard time revising their own writing. It’s a metaphor that she takes from a novel by Radclyffe: look into the wound. It’s all about a way of seeing your work, finding the things that do work, that aren’t damaged and don’t need to be changed, and let them drive your revision.

Read the whole story over at the Bold Strokes Books Authors’ Blog.

In the comments over there, Ruth mentions a remark by Andrew Holleran, about how writers and teachers will often talk about “vomiting out” that first draft. Let’s hope your first draft doesn’t look like barf! There’s nothing like having to clean up a pile of sick; why would you want to do that with a manuscript? That being said, a first draft is messy and imperfect. After recalling a ceramics class I took in college, I liken the first draft to making pottery. You’ve got to get the clay on the wheel before you can start to pull up the shape of the vase, or pot, or jar, or whatever it is you’re making. You’ve got to get enough clay on and you’ve got to get it in the center, which is harder than it sounds. But if the clay’s not on there, you’re just spinning your wheel. (Ha! See what I did there?)

What’s your process? How many times do you revise a work? I find I don’t have a set number, but three seems to be the minimum number of drafts a book goes through for me.

Lambda retreat update, and (ICYMI) a story


If you check out my fundraising page for the Lambda Literary Foundation Retreat for Emerging Writers, you’ll notice that not only has enough money been raised, but more than enough. You all have been generous to a fault. Thank you!

If you still want to give, allow me to direct your attention to the bios of all the 2014 Writers Retreat Fellows. As you readyou’ll notice several people in need of some help getting to the retreat. (So many that I couldn’t even link them all up in that last sentence.) If it weren’t for the generosity of the people who’ve donated, I probably wouldn’t be going. This opportunity would likely have been out of my reach otherwise. I hope it can be in reach for everyone who’s lucky enough to have been selected.

Everyone who donated to me got to read one of the many stories I’m currently working on that will hopefully see the light of day in a magazine sooner or later. (Longer term, I’m hoping to gather enough material for a collection.) Whether you donated or not, though, you can read some of my work over on Wattpad, where I’ve posted “The Trouble with Billy,” the short story that appeared in Speaking Out, edited by Steve Berman and published by Bold Strokes Books. That was also the first appearance of Jamie, Billy, and Sarah, the three teens who are the main characters in The Unwanted (and who are currently causing me to chase my tail, metaphorically speaking, as I work on a sequel).

And now, I gotta run—literally, as in around the neighbourhood, while the weather is somewhat pleasant. And then there’s a story to finish writing for the retreat, which is only three weeks away!

One for the road

You’re reading this at my WordPress blog, but before today, it was more likely you’d be reading this over on my other blog, which for the past few years I’ve kept at, a social media site devoted to writers, writing, and readers. I came to know about it because my friend Huntington was an editor there, and I quickly grew to like how focused it was. I joined in 2007 (I think; maybe 2008?) and posted sporadically at first. After a while, I started making regular posts and linked to them from here, and eventually cross-posted everything between the two blogs.

Of course, it’s the people who make a place, and in addition to Huntington there was Ivory Madison, the head honcho who also wrote a really kick-ass Huntress graphic novel. There were other users of the site like Rosy Cole and Dr. Harrison Solow, who always had interesting things to say and stories to share; as well as recent acquaintances like Barbara Froman. And, of course, my friend and cohort and partner in (literary) crime, ’Nathan.

But, as ’Nathan put it, all good things. Red Room has merged with Wattpad, and as of today the site has sailed into the sunset. Everything posted on Red Room is replicated on this blog (well, at least my blog posts), but you can find a complete archive of the entire Red Room site here. Meanwhile, you’ll find many of the people from there on Wattpad, along with folks like the stellar Margaret Atwood. I already have a profile there, which is where you’ll find my short story “The Trouble with Billy,” which originally appeared in the anthology Speaking Out and was the first introduction to the characters in my latest novel, The Unwanted.

Thanks for everything, Red Room. See you over on Wattpad. (Or, you know, right here. Because I’m here, you’re here, we’re here—but anyway….)

An interview with Juliann Rich

Juliann Rich

Over the past few months I’ve gotten to know Juliann Rich via Twitter and her blog, as well as her debut novel, Caught in the Crossfire. It’s a story that is often heard but not told in the way Juliann has done—which is no doubt why it’s had such a strong reception. I wanted to ask her more about it, so we exchanged some questions via email:

Congratulations on the publication of Caught in the Crossfire! How has the reception been for the book so far?

Thank you! I really couldn’t have asked for a better reception! The overwhelming response from readers has been one of incredible appreciation for the book. I’ve had emails and direct messages thanking me for writing it and many have even said they wished it had been available when they came out. I love hearing things like that!

You’ve mentioned that you can appreciate both sides of this story because of your own family history and your background with faith. Can you tell me a little more about that and how the idea for this novel came about?

Sure! I grew up in a very conservative, evangelical Christian home. My grandparents were missionaries, my uncles were ministers, my parents were not only deeply involved with the church, but wonderful role models for what it means to have a personal relationship with Christ.

My own faith journey has always been more of a struggle. I am someone who questions, who examines, who must choose for myself, and frankly, I saw inconsistencies in the Christian church between what is preached (love your neighbor) and what is too frequently acted out (I’ll love the neighbors that are like me). But I never could shake my core belief in Jesus and His message. Time and again, I returned to the faith community for fellowship only to get frustrated and walk away. Continue reading

#BookADayUK 30: Waking up with the house on fire

Yes, the headline’s slightly different from the actual wording of today’s #BookADayUK prompt, which is “would save if my house burned down”.

And by the way, the period at the end of that last sentence has vexed me for a while. Now, in Associated Press style, it would typically go inside the quotation marks. I believe it would also go inside the quotes in Chicago style, but my manual is upstairs and I’m at the dining room table and am disinclined to leave my cup of coffee. Since studying in Canada, though, I’ve noticed a preponderance of periods and commas hanging out outside the quotes. Is that a particularly British or Canadian thing?

For now, I’m content to live with the mystery unless someone reading out there can supply the answer. (Translation: I’m lazy and can’t be bothered to get up right now.)

'80s pop culture reference FTW!But anyway, today’s prompt is the last one for the #BookADayUK list, and once again I’m departing from script, in addition to the reworded prompt/Culture Club reference. (You all got that reference without my having to tell you, right?) If the house is on fire, there are a few things I’m saving, and books are not among them. I’m grabbing the dog, the partner, maybe some family photos, but I’m focusing on getting the hell out. I don’t even need to grab my laptop; all of my working files are backed up to cloud storage. Everything else can be replaced.

If I were to grab any books before the whole place went up in flames, honestly, I’d grab the library books. They don’t belong to me, so they have to be returned. Also, they’re on the dining room table close to the front door, so I could pick them up at the same time as the dog.

And that’s it from me for #BookADayUK. This has been fun. Tomorrow starts July, and I’ll probably be back to form with sporadic updates and frequent snark!

(Anyone else have “The War Song” running through their head now?)

#BookADayUK 29: The one I have reread most often

One of the things I didn’t want to do when I started writing on the #BookADayUK prompts was repeat myself. I figured I’d talk about thirty different books over the course of thirty days. I didn’t think that would be hard, as there are some years I’ve read more books than that.
Today though, I’m going to repeat myself, and you probably already know what the answer to this question is. Which book have I reread the most often? That would be F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. It’s the book I chose for day 6 as the one I always give as a gift—or at least the one I’ve given most often.

Something’s come to my attention, though, and I don’t know how this slipped my notice before now: I don’t actually have a copy of The Great Gatsby at the moment.

IMG_0085 1I’m not sure whom I gave my last copy to. I think it might have been someone at work, and I probably gave my usual stunned reaction when they said they hadn’t read it. For some reason though, I don’t seem to have replaced my copy this last time.

To make this post about Gatsby a little different from my earlier one, I wanted to point out an edition I found in the library back at UBC that was unexpected. It’s a graphic novel adaptation of The Great Gatsby, and all of the characters are drawn quite fancifully:

Nicki Greenberg, with her bold illustrative style, retells F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic The Great Gatsby in a brilliant, innovative graphic novel. In the exquisitely realized setting of 1920s New York, a throng of fantastical creatures play out the drama, the wry humour, and the tragedy of the novel. Nicki Greenberg is reverently faithful to the plot, mood, and characterization of the original and brings to life the glitter, the melancholy, and the grand and crumpled dreams of Fitzgerald’s unforgettable characters. (from Goodreads)

I’ve never been a big fan of Gatsby adaptations. I wasn’t quite convinced by the Robert Redford version in 1974 (although Mia Farrow as Daisy seemed perfect), and I haven’t been able to bring myself to see the Baz Luhrmann version. I’ve been told that’s for the best. What’s impressive to me about this graphic novel is that I quickly forgot that the characters as Greenberg drew them were not human. And yet Gatsby seems to work perfectly well as a seahorse.

And that’s not a sentence I would ever have expected to write.