Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

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On Doubt

It'll be your constant companion. You won't know a day without it. It will defy cold logic and your efforts to cultivate confidence. It will be haughtily contemptuous of your desire to focus on positives, and it will handily dismantle the techniques you learned during cognitive behavioral therapy sessions. You'll try to wait it out. It will prove more patient than you.

You'll have a few wins. Pieces published, a story nominated for a prize, kind words spoken publicly, a book released. A second book. It'll take those little victories and subvert them, making you feel that you've snowed everyone. It'll make those victories seem very small. It's not like you're saving lives, it'll suggest. They're just books. It's not as though you have any idea what you're doing.

Where We Do What We Do

The first stories of any quality that I produced were written at an old white melamine desk in the windowless furnace room of my future in-laws' house in suburban Ottawa. The hot water tank clicked and hummed, and fluorescent lighting buzzed over my head while I hammered away at a PC keyboard, writing pieces for a creative writing workshop at Carleton University (and strenuously avoiding coursework for other classes). The reasons I was there would require a lengthy explanation involving a bad apartment, a broken lease, a month-long road trip across the American West, and the house my wife-to-be and I would soon buy. It was among the least-inspirational spaces I've ever inhabited, but it was, for a time, mine.

Mother's Day

As people, as writers, we are often formed or directed by crystallizing moments in our lives, brief happenings which nonetheless persist in our minds, or which port some lesson, or confirm for us a suspicion about the way the world works, and what it has in store for us. I've been asked by well-meaning people why my stories tend, more often than not, to be sad ones. I usually reply “Presbyterianism,” but if I had to pick a single moment that informed the stories I write, I'd probably settle on Mother's Day, 1992.

The Unscripted Idle

I spent this past Saturday at Books & Company in Picton, under the auspices of Authors for Indies, and I came away feeling happy, but with a top note of frustration, because I passed the afternoon mostly talking to people, and by the time it occurred to me to browse a bit, I had to begin the two hour drive back to Peterborough, a town with much to recommend it, but which is without a bookstore of the size and quality of Books & Company.

Some of the Best Books I Ever Read Weren't Books at All

I am on the record—somewhere, or perhaps multiple somewheres—as having said that one of the stories in my first collection, What You Need, represented an effort on my part to capture the feel of a Neko Case song.

Well, insofar as I understand blogging, I gather there's supposed to be a confessional aspect or tone to it. So here's one: I routinely steal material from music. Like, all the time. Sometimes it's an image or a feeling or the bones of a story; sometimes I peel line fragments off verses and drop them into a story (and no, I won't tell you which ones, or where they appear).

By Way of Introduction

If, as I am given to understand, the point of a writer-in-residence, whether virtual or actual, is in part to hold forth on the mechanics and practice of writing, then let me start by laying bare my understanding of the subject: I believe that you should do whatever works. Which is to say that I think trial and error is essential. Which is to further say that I don't think there are any easy or quick answers. Meaning: any advice or pointers I might inadvertently let slip over the next month or thereabouts should be seen to be highly subjective, if not downright flawed. They will be, in other words, basically worth the paper they're printed on.

On Back and Forth

Much like how poetry and fiction can give perspective on inner dialogue—the stuff of conscious thought—and how it works, interviews can be displays of outer thought—the stuff of collaboration and conversation: the bricks and mortar of society. In the best cases what we witness in an interview is an exercise in empathy, two minds tossing language back and forth, trying to get at a point, and working to get at that point together. Whether that goal, that conclusion of thought, is reached is not important, and not why we play audience to the exchange. It’s the exchange itself that is significant.

"We're All Teachers," an Interview With Michael Fraser

Michael Fraser is a high school teacher and author of two collections of poetry, The Serenity of Stone, and, most recently, To Greet Yourself Arriving. If you attended NOW Magazine’s Battle of the Bards this year at IFOA, then you had the pleasure of seeing his powerful reading of a selection of poems from his latest collection, a portrait series of significant figures in black history, from Harriet Tubman to Oprah to Basquiat. I wanted to ask him about how he picked these individuals and the relationship between poetry and teaching.

"Obsession Looks Different on Everyone," an Interview With Emma Healey

Emma Healey is the poetry critic for the Globe and Mail. Her book, Begin With the End in Mind, is a witty collection of prose poetry, a sort of Young Urbanist’s Guide to being Canadian, a 21st century Lunch Poems. Breezy and conversational, her work is able to touch on national politics and intimate relationships in close motions. I wanted to ask her about poetry criticism and how the Internet has affected it.

James Lindsay: What is it about a book of poetry that draws you to write about it? And how do you start? What's your entry point to writing about poetry?

“I Imagine the Mind Like a Cleared Field,” an Interview with Chad Campbell

Chad Campbell’s Laws & Locks is an ambitious debut collection of poetry that is part family history and part memoir. Charting the Campbell family's emigration to Canada in 1827 and shifting to the present, Laws & Locks is an unwavering look at mental health, addiction, and the immigrant experience. Using plainspoken, but moving language, Campbell uses long form sequences to paint a complex picture of the wraithlike way past generations of family affect the future. I wanted to ask him about writing habits and what he’s been working on recently.

James Lindsay: What kind of music do you listen to when you write and do you think it affects your writing?

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