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Category: Guest Blogger

Steve McDonald guest blogs over at Chronicle Books

by Danielle
Architecture + Art & Photography + Guest Blogger + Travel / July 28, 2015

Original blog post can be found here

Fantastic Cities

Steve McDonald is an artist and lifelong traveler who has lived in cities and countries all over the world. His large-format, photo-based, detailed drawings of cities are collected in the new adult coloring book Fantastic Cities, coming this August.

I’ve always loved drawing buildings. When I was young, I even had aspirations of becoming an architect, but ended up as an illustrator instead. When creating a piece of art, the most appealing part for me has always been the line work. Even when I’m working on a painting, the part I enjoy most is always the initial drawing. I really love lines, and I think that shows in the finished work.

Fantastic Cities Coloring Book

I have my daughters to thank for how Fantastic Cities came together as a coloring book. After creating artwork focusing on individual and small groups of buildings, I started to veer toward larger groups and then aerial views of cities. My daughters saw this work and told me that they thought it would be fun to color in the lines themselves (whereas I might normally keep going past the line-work stage to color it myself).

Steve McDonald

I realized that it might be a perfect vehicle to share my work more widely, with people who might not otherwise see my paintings, for instance. I also really like that people everywhere could become a part of the creative process. That’s very exciting and fun, and I’m looking forward to seeing how people might choose to color the images in.

In my city drawings I always try to accentuate the characteristics that make a city unique. For example, the organized chaos of a favela in Brazil, the towering majesty of a skyscraper in New York, or the historic façades of Parisian row houses. I try to capture something that illustrates something unique about that place.


I love to draw on-site with pencils or ink and I always try to take a lot of photographs. (For sites I haven’t visited, I’ve been fortunate to work from the material of many noted photographers.) I take these back with me to my studio, and it’s there that I really create the compositions using a range of analog and digital means, including ink on paper, stylus work on a tablet, and wall projection. The size of the original work really depends on the composition and detail of the image. Sometimes they are quite large. 24 inches square is the smallest I work while sometimes they are as big as 6 feet square ! Even if I’m drawing with the tablet I like to do the drawings bigger than I need to. This allows me to really get into some of the detail required on some of them.

City Drawing

I know that lots of people find coloring to be meditative and relaxing. What do I do when I want to unwind? I draw! I also love nature and travelling. By that, I mean living in nature and travelling to cities. I’ve been a lifelong traveler ever since my family moved to the Middle East in 1979. I’ve lived in Saudi Arabia, Italy, India and Indonesia, visited dozens of countries, and spent the better part of twenty years travelling and painting my native Canada coast to coast by bus, car, helicopter, canoe, by ship and on foot. My wife and kids and I just spent two years in Bali, where my daughter and I learned how to surf, and we really enjoy it.

Among my favorite illustrations for the book are the Rocinha Favela in Rio (there’s an organized craziness to it that is immensely appealing to me), the Amsterdam street corner, because I love drawing that city, and the super-dense San Francisco drawing from above, which was kind of nuts and definitely the biggest challenge in the book. I can’t wait to see how they get colored in.

Can’t wait until August to start coloring? Download and print a page from Fantastic Cities.




Steve McDonald

Steve McDonald is a Canadian artist who has lived and travelled in cities around the world and now lives in Ontario. This is his first book.


Guest Post: Cory Doctorow for Freedom to Read Week

by Dan
Guest Blogger + YA Fiction / February 24, 2013

Freedom to Read Week is an annual event that encourages Canadians to think about and reaffirm their commitment to intellectual freedom, which is guaranteed them under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. 

To mark this year's Freedom to Read Week, which starts today, we asked author Cory Doctorow to contribute a guest post on libraries and technology.

Libraries, Hackspaces and E-waste: how libraries can be the hub of a young maker revolution

Every discussion of libraries in the age of austerity always includes at least one blowhard who opines, "What do we need libraries for? We've got the Internet now!"


The problem is that Mr. Blowhard has confused a library with a book depository. Now, those are useful, too, but a library isn't just (or even necessarily) a place where you go to get books for free. Public libraries have always been places where skilled information professionals assisted the general public with the eternal quest to understand the world. Historically, librarians have sat at the coalface between the entire universe of published material and patrons, choosing books with at least a colorable claim to credibility, carefully cataloging and shelving them, and then assisting patrons in understanding how to synthesize the material contained therein.

Libraries have also served as community hubs, places where the curious, the scholarly, and the intellectually excitable could gather in the company of one another, surrounded by untold information-wealth, presided over by skilled information professionals who could lend technical assistance where needed. My own life has included many protracted stints in libraries — for example, I dropped out of high-school when I was 14 took myself to Toronto's Metro Reference Library and literally walked into the shelves at random, selected the first volume that aroused my curiosity, read it until it suggested another line of interest, then chased that one up. When I found the newspaper microfilm, I was blown away, and spent a week just pulling out reels at random and reading newspapers from the decades and centuries before, making notes and chasing them up with books. We have a name for this behavior today, of course: "browsing the Web." It was clunkier before the Web went digital, but it was every bit as exciting.

(Eventually my parents figured out I wasn't going to school, and after the ensuing confrontations, I ended up at a most excellent independent/alternative school, but that's another story)

Later, I worked as a page at North York Public Library's central branch, in the Business and Urban Affairs department. Working at a library is an unparalleled opportunity to witness the full range of human curiosity, from excited students working on school assignments together to wild-eyed entrepreneurs pursuing their dreams to careful senior citizens researching where to invest their personal savings to supplement their pensions (and lots more besides). All these people were using the library as a place, a resource, and a community. Because that's what libraries are.

And we've never needed that more than we need it today. We've run out of places. What used to be public squares and parks are now malls. Places that used to welcome kids now prohibit them (in England, where I live, some smart-aleck invented a device called "the mosquito," which plays a shrill tone only audible to young ears, used to drive children away from semi-public spaces like the benches in front of stores).

What's more, we're *drowning* in information. Pre-Internet librarianship was like pre-Internet newspaper publishing: "select, then publish." That is, all the unfiltered items are presented to a gatekeeper, who selects the best of them, and puts them in front of the rest of the world. Now we live in a "publish, then select" world: everyone can reach everything, all the time, and the job of experts is to collect and annotate that material, to help others navigate its worth and truthfulness.

That is to say that society has never needed its librarians, and its libraries, more. The major life-skill of the information age is information literacy, and no one's better at that than librarians. It's what they train for. It's what they live for.

But there's another gang of information-literate people out there, a gang who are a natural ally of libraries and librarians: the maker movement. Clustered in co-operative workshops called "makerspaces" or "hack(er)spaces," makers build physical stuff. They make robots, flying drones, 3D printers (and 3D printed stuff), jewelry, tools, printing presses, clothes, medieval armor... Whatever takes their fancy. Making in the 21st century has moved out of the individual workshop and gone networked. Today's tinkerer work in vast, distributed communities where information sharing is the norm, where the ethics and practices of the free/open source software movement has gone physical. Such hackspaces play a prominent role in my own fiction (thanks, no doubt, to the neighborly presence to the London Hackspace, which is directly over my own office in Hackney). In my new novel,

Homeland (the sequel to 2008's Little Brother), my protagonist Marcus discovers the tools of personal and social revolution through his friends at Noisebridge, a real-world makerspace in San Francisco.

At first blush, the connection between makers and libraries might be hard to see. But one of the impacts of building your own computing devices (a drone, a 3D printer, and a robot are just specialized computers in fancy cases) is that it forces you to confront the architecture and systems that underlie your own information consumption. Savvy librarians will know that our access to networked information is mediated by dozens of invisible sources, from the unaccountable search algorithms that determine our starting (and often, ending) points, to the equally unaccountable censoring network "filters" that arbitrarily block whole swathes of the Internet, to underlying hardware and operating system constraints and choices that make certain kinds of information easy to consume, and other kinds nearly impossible.

In the automobile age, everyone was expected to know the fundamentals of how their cars worked. Even if you paid someone else to change your oil, it would take an act of will to attain adulthood in the USA without learning a bit about the mechanics underpinning the signal invention of your era. There were just too many ways that a car could go wrong, and too many ways that your life revolved around cars to rely on the rest of the world to understand them for you.

Now we live in the computer age, and if we thought we relied on cars, we hadn't seen anything. Some people spend so much time in their cars that it's like they live in them. But you literally do live inside a computer -- a modern house, car, or institutional building is just a giant computer you put your body into. And modern hearing aids, pacemakers, and prostheses are computers you put inside your body.

Every part of our lives have been permeated by computers, and these computers have the power to peer into our private lives, to compromise our finances, to shape our political beliefs, to disrupt our families, and to destroy our workplaces. That is, if computers don't serve us, they can (and do) destroy us.

But for people who master networked computers and make them into honest servants, computers deliver incredible dividends. A UK study compared similar families, some with access to the net and others without, and found that the families with net access had better education, were more civically engaged, more politically informed, had better jobs and income, were more socially mobile  even their health and nutrition was better. If computers are on your side, they elevate every single thing we use to measure quality of life.

So we need to master computers  to master the systems of information, so that we can master information itself.

That's where makers come in. One of the curious aspects of computers is that they evolve so quickly that they rapidly become obsolete. That means that our communities are drowning in "e-waste," often sent to developing nations where children labor in horrific conditions to turn them back into materials to be reintroduced into the manufacturing stream.

What if, instead of shipping our communities' "dead" computers to China to be dipped in acid by unprotected children, we brought them to our libraries. What if we enlisted our makers to run workshops at the libraries, workshops where the patrons who come to the library to use the limited computers there were taught to build their own PCs, install GNU/Linux on them, and *bring them home*? People who say that it's dumb to turn libraries into book-lined Internet cafes are right.

Internet at the library should be the gateway drug for building a PC of your own, from parts, learning firsthand how computers work, what operating systems are capable of, and what locked-down devices and networks take away from their users.

Making a PC isn't hard, especially when you get the parts for free. The easiest way to get good at stuff is to make mistakes ("to double your success rate, triple your failure rate"). The best mechanic I know learned his trade by buying $100 junkers on Craigslist and destroying one after another until he got good (then: *excellent*) at it. When you're building PCs out of literal garbage, you can do no wrong. Your failures just end up back in the same dumpster they were headed for in the first place.

Look, we've got more computer junk than we know what to do with and a generation of kids whose "information literacy" extends to learning PowerPoint and being lectured about plagiarizing from Wikipedia and putting too much information on Facebook. The invisible, crucial infrastructure of our century is treated as the province of wizards and industrialists, and hermetically sealed, with no user-serviceable parts inside.

Damn right libraries shouldn't be book-lined Internet cafes. They should be book-lined, computer-filled information-dojos where communities come together to teach each other black-belt information literacy, where initiates work alongside noviates to show them how to master the tools of the networked age from the bare metal up.

My young adult novels always feature kids who build their own tools, in part because the coolest, most curious kids I know are already doing this. But it's also because this is a hobby that's available to anyone. The information is online, free. The raw materials aren't just free, they're worth *less than nothing*, a liability and a nuisance to be rid of. And the dividends are stupendous. Only through understanding the tools of information can we master them, and only by mastering them can we use them to make our lives better, rather than destroying them.

Cory Doctorow

Cory Doctorow will be at the Lillian H. Smith Library in Toronto on March 1, 2013 at 7:00pm (doors open at 6pm). 

One more question, and the future

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

Two Questions, An Invitation

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.

Hitting the gym

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.

Questions and Fiction

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

Moving In - Guest Blog #1

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.

Question 1:
"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:

Hi Robert,
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

Ask Nathan ...

by monique t
Fiction + Guest Blogger / May 16, 2006

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 win a signed copy of the book, ask Nathan a question that he can answer on the blog. Submit questions either in the comments below or by email to (JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

To read an excerpt, listen to a podcast or find out more about Nathan and Indigenous Beasts, visit: