Guest Blogger / May 26, 2006
The last question:
Since the masculinity you write about is so wrapped up in violence and hostility do feelings of love and closeness have to be equally entwined? Or can they exist independently? —Cory
To be honest, I'd probably disagree with the opening statement. The masculinity in the stories does often reveal itself in violence and hostility. Several of my get backed into a metaphorical corner, and the stress of the situation reduces them to their naked, primal instincts. These instincts often manifest themselves in displays of brute force. But there are other characters — the boy in 'A Bad Lake for Fishing' and the mill worker in 'You Want to Win' are examples — who struggle with the perception of masculinity. Is there violence in those stories? Yes. But it's violence imposed upon them, and they're trying to disassociate themselves from it, not embrace it.
The second part of the question is difficult to answer — lust or love? The guy in 'Ma Belle' develops this huge physical attraction to a dancer, and then — because he's so lonely, perhaps — begins piling other feelings on top of that. It's lust, but he wants it to be love. And there's certainly no closeness involved. They can't even share their real names.
I'd contrast that to either the guy in 'Animals' or the woman in 'Indigenous Beasts.' Do they love their partners? It doesn't seem like it. But they're still very close — these people are all they have in what they perceive to be a pretty cold, hostile world. So yes, I think the feelings can exist independently. But they become truly rewarding emotions when they exist together — I think 'Home Movies' is probably an example of that.
I was asked earlier this week about what I'm working on now. The answer is two things. The first is another short story, likely for magazine publication, about a man who builds his house on a cliff. No violence involved. Well, the sublime violence of nature. But no beatings, no baseball bats, no Home Depot suicides.
The second is a novel, set in Vancouver. Tentatively titled 'Underground,' it'll revolve around the family of an aging rockstar. Then he dies, starting a spiral that delivers his wife into the arms of a cult and his oldest son into Vancouver's moral 'Underground.' Drugs. Cults. Rock music. I'm excited to get started.
This concludes my week of guest blogging for Raincoast Books. It was a pleasure, and I was honoured by the invitation. Please feel free to visit my myspace page if you have any further questions. I update it with new stuff fairly often, and it's easy to get in touch with me through there.
Have a great weekend.
- Nathan Sellyn
Guest Blogger / May 25, 2006
Hello. The poor weather here in Vancouver continues.
Indigenous Beasts is reviewed in "NOW Magazine" of Toronto today. I'd say they loved it, but I'd be lying. Most of the reviews are like this one: they feel some stories are excellent while others seem manufactured or end too abruptly. Unfortunately, the reviews tend to disagree on which are the good stories and which are the poor ones. This:
(1) Makes it difficult for me to look to the reviews for advice.
(2) Makes me feel better about reviews in general, since it reminds me that they are subjective, and thus cannot break my fragile, glass heart.
Anyway, to questions:
"You have a variety of heroes in your book. I was just wondering if they are fashioned after people you knew, or were friends with?" - Janice
That's an interesting question, because I'm not really sure who the heroes are. I certainly several different protagonists - mill workers, vigilantes, ex-pats, cuckolds, abusers. But I think one of the things people have disliked about Indigenous Beasts is that there are few traditional 'heroes.' The majority of the characters are self-centered and violent, which makes them pretty good at deflecting any potential sympathy a reader might be willing to extend. Some of them find resolution to their individual conflicts, but rarely do they serve a noble purpose. I think I'd argue that the narrator in 'Here Be Monsters' is a hero, but I think many would disagree.
If I may widen the scope of the question, though--While none are even approximate copies, I'd say many of my characters are composites of the people I know. The eccentric habit of a friend mixed with the appearance of an old teacher touched off by a dash of Bill Walton's manner of speech, for example. One of the characters who shows up in two of the stories is named after my college roommate, but their names are all they have in common.
"I was wondering how / if Nathan feels that violence in movies and on television has impacted the way stories are told and how readers react to stories? Are readers becoming as desensitized to violence as viewers?"-Luella
Yes, I think so. Without question. Or perhaps my opinion is too biased, because I certainly believe myself to be incredibly desensitized. When writing the nastier scenes in Indigenous Beasts, I found it was a challenge to make the violence seem frightening without letting it descend into hyperbole. I felt that if I didn't push the envelope, at least a little bit, the average reader's eyes would glaze over. It takes an extra effort to make something shocking these days.
That said, there's stuff that can be done in mainstream literature that would just never come close to flying on television. Luella, in the prelude to her question, mentioned Brett Easton Ellis, one of my favourite authors. There's a scene in his 'American Psycho' involving a rat and a captive woman. It isn't pretty. I'll freely admit that my jaw dropped when I first read it. Now, 'American Pyscho' did generate a rainforest worth of press when it was published, due mainly to the explicit nature of its more violent scenes. I don't mean to imply that this one slipped under anyone's radar. But the book was published. Eventually - it was dropped by its first publisher. But it made it into bookstores. The film version of the book didn't attempt this scene. And any program attempting to combine 'rat' and 'woman' would never even be considered for television.
So, in my opinion, literature can still go some places that television cannot. Does this suggest that readers are perhaps more desensitized than viewers? That's a tougher question than I can answer.
Tonight, I'll be out and about in Vancouver. Bookbuffet.com does something called LSD - Literary Speed Dating. I'll be helping host one of these events, playing second fiddle to John Vaillant, author of 'The Golden Spruce.' Read about the night at:
The details are:
Literary Speed Dating @ Fiction, 3162 West Broadway
Hope to see you there. Regardless, we'll talk tomorrow.
Kevin says, "This book, now in its second edition, has emerged as THE source for getting into the deep Sahara and back, alive and in good spirits. It is uncommonly thorough and immensely practical."
He's posted some cool excerpts from the book, which truly is the Bible to the Sahara.
Guest Blogger / May 24, 2006
Just kidding, I don't work out. Even thinking about going to lift weights or run on something makes me feel uncomfortable. I am aware that this will eventually be a problem.
I received some questions from Robert Ouimet of At Large Media, the aforementioned podcast producer. And also a very nice guy.
Question One: Its great that you're a guest blogger here, so thanks to you and to Raincoast for doing this. A lot of 'serious' people seem to be critical of blogging, saying the writing is bad and undisciplined. As a writer, do you find any blogs or bloggers 'must reads' or ???
I know exactly what you mean by 'serious' people. And I agree that the vast majority of blog writing is bad and undisciplined. I'm not entirely sure that matters. The beauty of personal blogs is that they represent individual opinions. Some of those opinions are ignorant, or simply dull. But, like with any other medium, there are several things - and opinions - definitely worth tuning in to. They just get diluted by the masses. And with such an open medium, there are bound to be masses. Just look at YouTube! But those who dislike blogs, in my opinion, are often resentful to change, or reading too many of the poor ones. In blogging, the cream rises to the top, so you're best to just sip carefully.
After all that, this may seem hypocritical: I don't read a ton of personal blogs. I do read a ton of literary and news blogs, however. I'll even list them. I won't add in any explanatory text, though. "This website is good," gets pretty repetitive. So I'll just throw one word about the site in.
http://www.defamer.com - celebrities
http://www.gawker.com - new york
http://www.bookninja.com - books
http://www.thetyee.ca - news
http://www.slate.com - news
http://www.artsandlettersdaily.com - criticism. except the political pieces are often too right leaning for me. that said, the political pieces in most of the magazines i read are so left leaning they don't even feign objectivity, so i can't complain.
Question Two: I remember listening to a radio interview on a CBC show called RealTime with a Canadian musician who talked about how one of the things that led to his success as a songwriter (and I'll be damned if I can remember who it was) was that his manager made him write one song every day. He called it his calisthenics. What do you do for calisthenics? Out of shape but still interested?
Well, I've admitted to being out of shape. And I have no set routine. Just sit down and go. But I do have a little mental push-up I constantly perform. I once was at an event where Jonathan Safran Foer was asked a nearly identical question. He also said he had no set routine, or not one I can remember. But he also talked about how all people, in bed in the evenings, or in the shower, or while driving to work, get one or two good lines in their head. Or ideas. Or characters. No matter. A writer is a person who makes the effort to write those things down. Every time they appear. And sometimes it takes effort to get up out of bed, or lean out of the shower, or get a notepad out while in the car. But someone who wants to be a writer will take that step.
I hate ending a shower too early. Otherwise I'm pretty good.
Now, another microfiction. This story also didn't make the cut. But no blood in it.
My Fourth Girlfriend
My fourth girlfriend, Alice Flores, cried all the time. She was one of the sweetest people I've ever met, individuals like her are the backbone of humanity. But the girl couldn't catch a break. We dated for only three months, during the winter of my senior year, and during just those ninety days her parents split up, her financial aid was revoked, and one of her uncles was eaten by a shark while swimming off the Florida coast. Or, at least, that's what they figured. They only found his shorts, torn to neon ribbons and stained black with blood.
The impact of this on our relationship was understandably gargantuan. At a time when all I could think about was sex, most of our dates ended with the two of us huddled in the backseat of my Camry, her tear-stained face buried in my still developing chest.
But she had a sense of adventure, that's why I couldn't let her go. One night she had me drive out to Nun's Island, and then the two of us broke into La Ronde. It was easy, we just scaled a fence and we were in. All the rides were covered in snow, and the moonlight made the abandoned roller coasters look like dinosaur skeletons. We hooked up twice , once on the children's locomotive and once against the doorway of the Haunted House. We tried to get inside, but it was locked.
Her sweatshirt was soaked through after that, from the snow and the sweat, and she went topless the whole drive home. I gave her a hockey jersey at my house, and the sweatshirt lay forgotten in the trunk of my car for weeks. After we broke up - she moved up to Quebec City - I kept wearing it, both to remind me of her and because it was impossibly soft. It was ruined in the wash today, though, and I don't think it still fits.
Guest Blogger / May 23, 2006
Yesterday was a dreary, rainy holiday here in Vancouver. I hope any readers from BC found something warm and restful to occupy their hours.
Thanks to those who sent in new questions.
"What is your process when you're writing a story - Do you use a computer to dump your thoughts down on the page, or are you a pen-and-paper guy? Do you prefer the comfort of your own home or do you go to the kinds of haunts that your characters would frequent for inspiration? Lastly, what are you working on now?" - Jordan
My process is not a very novel one. I keep a tiny notebook around, and I constantly write in it. Sometimes concepts, often lines. When I feel I have the skeleton for a story, I go back through then notebook and try and pull one line, or concept, for each scene. I type these out, then work from this skeleton. The actual stories are always written on the computer, though. I have slow, terrible handwriting.
I also always write at home. Often very late at night or in the very early hours of the morning. And my computer faces away from the window. I'm easily distracted. It amazes me how some people can write at coffee shops or in parks or behind a DJ booth or in the reptile house at the zoo or whatever. Even when I have total control of the environment, I still have trouble concentrating.
I'm currently working on one short story, hopefully for magazine publication, and a novel, hopefully for somewhere other than my hard drive. I'll talk more about that at the end of the week.
"From all the stories in this collective book which one is your favourite and why does it appeal to you more than the others?" - Que Banh
That's a tough question to answer. I think they all appeal to me in different ways. I can tell you my mother's favourite is 'Home Movies.' I can tell you I dislike 'Going Through Customs.' But I don't know which is my favourite. 'Ma Belle' is special to me because I do feel genuinely sorry for its characters, and because it's about the dark, romantic heart of Montreal, my hometown. So, with a gun to my head, I'd pick that one.
On a side note, I think people usually respond to questions like that by saying, "I couldn't pick a favourite, it's like asking a parent to pick their favourite child." Not how my family operates. My great grandmother Millie, to whom the book is dedicated, would always respond the same way when one of her many descendants asked who her favourite was: "You."
I decided to post today one of my stories that isn't included in the collection. It's a microfiction, which means it's--very small. There are two or three of these in 'Indigenous Beasts.' I guess this one is a little weaker.
My Fifth Girlfriend
My fifth girlfriend, Cynthia Desjardins, was an insomniac. She was very proud of this. There were countless times when I would overhear her, at a party or a dinner or any occasion where she could get a monopoly on the conversation, casually describing the agony of spending night after night awake by herself. I've always welcomed insomnia, when not accompanied by nervousness. It allows you to get so much done. But for Cynthia, it was both greatest weakness and claim to fame.
Her father was from France and her mother was from Spain, so you can only imagine. Brown hair, which she kept short and pixie-ish around her ears, and a nose so slightly upturned I could never restrain myself from nibbling on it. A protractor couldnt replicate her curves. Her one flaw was a very bad skin condition, a kind of psoriasis that stretched from her belly up to the hollow between her breasts.
One Saturday morning she woke me up very early - she, of course, had not been sleeping - and we climbed the CN tower to see the sun rise. We stood there, shivering high above the city, cups of coffee balanced cautiously between our mittens, and watched as all Toronto slowly turned from gray to gold.
She left me for one of the professors at her grad school, a professional soccer player turned Italian scholar. They were eventually married, although I was not invited to the wedding. He came to my apartment to help her move out, and was straining to lift one of her many, many boxes when his nose began to bleed. She told me about this later, apologetically, on the phone. It still felt horrible, though. to come home alone for the first time in months only to be greeted by a stripped bed, a silent apartment, and Guiseppe's blood all over my kitchen.
Send more questions!
- Nathan Sellyn
Guest Blogger / May 22, 2006
Does guest blogging require an introduction? I feel very unaware of the etiquette for this situation, like I'm a guest at a religious ceremony. When to stand, when to sit, what to wear. I'll just barrel ahead.
My name's Nathan Sellyn. I wrote a short story collection - "Indigenous Beasts" - for Raincoast. It's mostly about hurt people hurting other people. During this week I'll answer some questions about it from readers. I'll also post a playlist, quote some of my favourite books, link you up to some websites--well, I've only planned until Wednesday.
"Would you have been able to write this book without the experience of the Creative Writing program at Princeton? How has that program shaped your writing?" - Sandra from Cornwall
I quite literally would not have written this book without the CWR Program at Princeton - the majority of the stories grew from my thesis, which was mandatory. Without that order to 'Write or Don't Graduate' hanging over my head, I doubt I would have gotten far. That aside, the Program was certainly invaluable. I had several different professors during my course of study, and each had a very unique style - which conferred unique benefits upon their students. The workshop process was often awkward, though. I can admit that I never felt truly comfortable commenting on the work of my peers, and I'm sure they had similar reservations about my writing. It was always an interesting group of people in those classes--my freshman year, the second CWR class I took, had this guy named Oliver in it. He was a senior, so I was already in awe of him. But he was amazingly eccentric. He used to wear a fur coat to class, over a tank top. I think once he wore a kilt. And he was totally bald, yet had a tiny fu manchu beard. He used to sit behind the teacher, Lynne Tillman, and she would get very uncomfortable at his being out of her line of vision. Perhaps he used to mime jumping out the window. His final story for the class revolved around a lizard, in the desert, who - over nine pages - cries a single tear of blood.
Only in Creative Writing classes do you get to meet people like that. To return to the question - the Program shaped my writing in that it helped me identify what I do best, and - perhaps more importantly - what I'm terrible at. That allowed me to write towards my strengths, which I think was a key step in my own development. That all said, I don't think any writer 'needs' a Creative Writing Program. I think people often question whether writing can be taught. If it can, it's very difficult. Very few great writers ever formally studied the craft. Writing can be honed, which is what the Program did for me. But no writer, in my opinion, requires teaching.
I said I was going to post a playlist--when I interviewed with Robert Ouimet for the Raincoast Podcast, he sent me a follow up e-mail asking for a playlist of songs I listened to while writing Indigenous Beasts. I sent him one, but I don't think he found a place to use it. Since I'm not one to let any effort go to waste, here is the e-mail I sent him:
I usually listen to classical music while actually writing - nothing special, just '100 Greatest Classical Tracks' type stuff - but below is a list of more contemporary tunes that were prominent in my personal rotation around the time I was writing Indigenous Beasts, especially the more recent stories.
Kissing the Lipless - The Shins
Road to Nowhere - Talking Heads
Stage Fright - The Band
Northwest Passage - Stan Rogers
Famous Blue Raincoat - Leonard Cohen
Who's Loving You? - The Jackson Five
The Police and The Private - Metric
She Drives Me Crazy - Fine Young Cannibals
Get Down - Nas
Landed - Ben Folds
Under My Thumb - The Rolling Stones
Living for the City - Stevie Wonder
These Days - Nico
Walking with a Ghost - Tegan and Sara
Avenues - Whiskeytown
The Bar is a Beautiful Place - Ryan Adams
I hope you've enjoyed Day 1 of my guest blog.
- Nathan Sellyn
Author Nathan Sellyn will be a guest blogger on this site next week (May 22-26).
Nathan's debut collection of short stories is Indigenous Beasts.
To read an excerpt, listen to a podcast or find out more about Nathan and Indigenous Beasts, visit:
The BC Cancer Agency recommends Picking Up the Pieces as a valuable tool for life after cancer.
Authors Sherri Magee and Kathy Scalzo guide cancer survivors through a unique process with daily practices that build a bridge from hospital to home, and beyond.
Picking Up the Pieces will also be a recommended title in The Mayo Clinic's upcoming summer newsletter.
In other news, US rights to the book have been sold to Rutgers University Press. American readers will be able to purchase the books in US stores in Spring 2007.
Authors Sherri Magee and Kathy Scalzo have made many media appearances as spokespeople for cancer recovery. Among these are the BCTV News, CTV News with Dr. Rhonda Low, CFRB radio and Studio One with Fanny Kiefer. A podcast is available on Raincoast.com/pickingupthepieces.
by monique t
May 15, 2006
Hadani Ditmars' book Dancing in the No-Fly Zone is reviewed on openDemocracy.net.
The book is reviewed by Mariam Cook, who says, "Dancing in the No-Fly Zone deftly places the reader beyond stereotypes, into the lives of the people who have lived decades under war, sanctions, oppression and terror ... This text is a reference on human courage and normalcy in the face of utter chaos."
Learn more about Dancing in the No-Fly Zone published by Raincoast Books.
A CP news story yesterday included George Elliott Clarke's book of poetry Black among its list of new, upcoming and recent releases from Canadian authors and publishers.
From News.Yahoo.com: "Black by George Elliott Clarke (Raincoast Books). Eighth volume of poetry from award-winning poet, inspired by Clarke's time at Duke University, is a blistering commentary on race and culture."