Mutton Curry

Maisonneuve, Summer 2018 issue

Maisonneuve, Summer 2018 issue

In the shadow of Signal Hill

In the shadow of Signal Hill

I have a very old story newly out in the summer issue of Maisonneuve Magazine, which is on stands now. Mutton Curry was written in the winter of 2011 when I was taking an evening class with Jessica Grant. That class was where I learned to write well and Mutton Curry was the first truly decent short story I ever wrote. It won the Arts & Letters Award the following year and later got an honourable mention in a Glimmer Train contest. Still, it took a very long time to find the story a home (7 years!) but here it is. And holy cats! Check out the photo! Photographer Jennie Williams shot it back in April (when it was still cold here; yes that is a winter coat) but I didn't expect it to be so...prominent!

Recently a fellow writer sent me Submittable's e-newsletter. At the very bottom, after all the links to articles and notices, there were two lists. The first was the names of writers who had had the most number of rejections that month. The second was the list of authors whose pieces had been accepted that month. Of the five successful authors, four were also on the "most rejected" list. That is not a coincidence.

I know I always harp on about this but I'm going to sing my song again: submit your work! Submit, submit, submit. Rejection is a (frequent) pit stop on the road to acceptance. But it's just that - a pit stop. It is not the final destination.

ps. Mutton Curry is linked to A Drawer Full of Guggums (published in Racket) and to another story I have coming out later this year. If you read Mutton Curry and are wondering what the secret ingredient is in Amma's curry, stay tuned. All will be revealed!

Riddle Fence 29

Riddle Fence 29

The newest issue of Riddle Fence is out and I've got a story inside. It's called When the end came and it's probably the most Townie piece I've ever written. I took as many quirky things as I could find in St. John's and shoved them into a story that is ostensibly about quantum computers but is really about anxiety. (Or is about cheeseburgers? YOU BE THE JUDGE)

Are all writers like this? I get preoccupied for short, intense bursts on very specific things and then I work my obsessions out by grappling with them in short stories. When I first started writing, it was around the time that everyone I knew was either pregnant or had very new babies. The anecdotes my friends told me about pregnancy, infertility, and new motherhood were absolutely riveting and of course I shamelessly took a lot of what they shared and funnelled it straight into my work. Butter Tea at Starbucks, Miloslav, Quickening, and Gliding, Weightless (along with a couple more that will never see the light of day) were drafted in these years.

And then I got obsessed with long dead artsy bohemians (the pre-Raphaelites and the Bloomsbury Group). A Drawer Full of Guggums was written during this period along with two other stories that I am personally really proud of but no one wants to publish. (Hello! Will someone please say yes to these stories?)

Riddle Fence is where art and literature meet

Right after that, I went through a crucial rite of passage and became obsessed with theoretical physics and wouldn't shut up about black holes and string theory and wave-particle duality. I harangued all Tom's colleagues at dinner parties and forced them to tell me about their research. And then I wrote a bunch of linked stories until I got the physics bug out of my system. When the End Came is the first of the set to make it to print. Hooray! Hopefully this means I can get the other three out there too.

Riddle Fence 29 is beautiful as always. Stand outs for me in this issue are the cover art, Karen Stentaford's three prints, and David Ferry's short story April's Fool. If you're not in St. John's, don't have a subscription, and can't find a copy at your local indie book shop, you can buy a back issues online. Issue 29 should be available to purchase there soon.

Math and hockey

My blog post about the Canada Reads gender gap went a little bit viral, this week. (Hello, new readers!) And on Tuesday, I spoke with Matt Galloway on Metro Morning. It was a quick six minute interview but we got into both the math and the larger issue of voice. One thing Matt asked: couldn't something else be driving the results, like the quality of the book or debating style? This is a question that's been asked quite a bit all week so I'm glad he raised it.

Now, I have binged several seasons of Canada Reads. Remember, all this began with me dissecting old episodes looking for winning and losing patterns. And yes, there are alliances and horse trading, and people vote off books that are perceived as strong. Books are voted off because their defenders are disliked. Graphic and YA novels can't get a break. Ditto books by Indigenous authors. All of these dynamics are in play. BUT every panel is different. Different players around the table every year. They vary in age, ethnicity, region, vocation, debate style, and literary taste. Some vote strategically. Others vote with their hearts. And the books change too, varying widely in content and style. The only constant is that there are always men and women.

Imagine two hockey teams facing off in 16 consecutive games. Red Team wins 13. Blue Team wins 3. You'd conclude that Red Team has better players right? But what if I told you the players on both teams were always changing, different skaters and goalies lacing up for every game? According to the math, this is very unlikely to be a fluke.

Tom gave an in-depth answer to this question in the comments of the original post. You should read his reply, if only because he uses the bad-ass expression "null-hypothesis." But in short, the evidence does not support the theory that gender is irrelevant in predicting success.

Some people (cough, cough...men) have argued we can't use the past to predict the future. To which my friend Nadra scoffed: "said every person ever...as history repeats itself over and over." (Ironically, this is exactly what The Boat People is about - how the sins of the past, when forgotten, repeat themselves in the future).

In fact, we use statistics about the past to predict the future all the time. It's called actuarial science and the insurance industry has been making hay with it for decades.

You’ve gotta be that girl in the horror movie with the knife in her teeth who’s climbing back into danger.
— Emily McKibbon, The New Quarterly

Enough about math! Monday ended up being a big day for rejection. In addition to getting voted off Canada Reads (to the Isle of Misfit Books where Craig, Cherie, and I are currently sipping pina coladas under a palm tree), I got a grant rejection and also had a form letter "no thanks" to a short story. Ah, the glamorous writing life. So I really appreciated this piece in The New Quarterly about rejection and the importance of grit. My favourite line was from the writer Emily McKibbon: "You’ve gotta be that girl in the horror movie with the knife in her teeth who’s climbing back into danger because she’s burnt out on running away from her troubles."

But this week was not a total bust. I had an acceptance too! Riddle Fence will publish my story "When the end came" in their spring issue. It's a comedy about quantum computers. I had so much fun writing it (that's not something I can say about every story) and it's part of a series of four linked stories, three of which deal with theoretical physics. This is the first of the four that I've managed to place.

Back to Canada Reads. I've been avidly watching all week, scrutinizing all the plays, and I've been so impressed by how Mozhdah has handled herself. Being under those lights, made to speak off the cuff, with a live studio audience and everyone watching at home, knowing what you say will live on the internet for posterity, that is no easy feat. I would probably crumble. But Mozhdah has been cool and collected. She's never lost her temper or yelled over anyone else. She's taken care with her words and her critique. I'm proud and frankly, relieved. Part of the stress for all of us writers is wondering how our defenders will represent us and our books. Right after I lost on Monday, my friend Nadika - who is a Canada Reads junkie - messaged me to say: Having a defender who isn't going to embarrass you is worth more than winning.

The really nice thing about this whole experience (apart from the book sales and publicity) has been getting to know the other writers and I'm really, really excited for our future appearances together. Omar and Cherie are sharing the stage at the Ottawa Writers Festival, which I'm also reading at late next month. And then the three of us will reunite with Canada Reads host Ali Hassan at The FOLD in Brampton in early May. In August, Omar and I are on stage at Winterset and I'm excited about that because our novels have so much in common. Reading American War, and in particular the scenes at Camp Patience, I had a feeling of real familiarity. I knew the scenes he was painting because I'd sketched them out myself. Go check out my events page for more details about tickets and times.

 

 

 

The glass is 22% full

So far this year I'm 0 for 14. Acceptances to submissions, that is.

As a coping mechanism, I've been gravitating toward articles about rejection (misery, meet company, etc.). Writer Weike Wang has a hilarious - well, I don't know if it's meant to be funny but I found it so - essay on rejection which I highly recommend. In it she talks about powering through and overcoming her 100% rejection rate.

Inspired by her essay (and her PhD in biostatistics!), I decided to crunch the numbers on my own spreadsheet. Twenty two per cent, that's my to-date acceptance rate. Another way to phrase it: In five years, I've been rejected 45 times and accepted 10 times, a 78% rejection rate. I'm not being sarcastic when I say...that's not too shabby! Better than I'd have guessed, even.

So look, I don't know if these quirky mathemagical mind games work for everyone. But they give me solace. If you're going to be a writer AND maintain some semblance of mental health, then you must find ways to shake off self doubt.

Because it always bears repeating, here's Cheryl Strayed on how to cope: “You do not let yourself think about it. There isn’t a thing to eat down there in the rabbit hole of your bitterness except your own desperate heart.”

 

The spreadsheet

It's rejection season! Seven rejections so far this month. My friend Sonam asked me how I handle it - so many "no"s. I've written about rejection before but not about my spreadsheet. The spreadsheet is key to the whole "brush it off" process. (It's also key to staying sane and organized.)

The format doesn't matter too much. Submitted. Rejected. Accepted. That's all you need. Create the spreadsheet as soon as you start sending your work out. That way, when the replies come in, you'll have a place to tally them up and something concrete to do.

The act of filling in the boxes can be analgesic. You read the rejection. You fill in the spreadsheet. Decide if you need to revise the story. If not, because you can see at a glance which publications haven't seen the story yet, you can re-submit right away. The goal is to have as few stories in the rejected section as possible.

Recently, I began jotting down alternative publications beside each submitted story. I highly recommend this approach. It makes re-submitting even more automatic and leaves zero time for brooding.

Writers! If I can give you one piece of advice: stop feeling sorry for yourself. That is precious time when you could be writing, editing, submitting, reading or binge watching Orange is the New Black.

Eventually something will stick. A story will be accepted and then you can move it to the "published" section of the spreadsheet (keep it visible, close to the rejected list). This is important because you can see over time how stories graduate from rejected to accepted. And keeping track of which publications rejected the stories will also help you see the truth: that taste is subjective. Just because a story is rejected doesn't mean it's worthless. Sometimes, yes, the story needs work. And if a rejection comes with feedback, consider it a gift. But often a rejection from one publication is only that: a rejection from one publication.

The spreadsheet speaks the truth. Look at all those acceptances! Look at all those rejections! Being a writer means being rejected. So go send your work out, go court rejection.

 

 

 

 

Glimmer Train

Good news! I submitted a story to Glimmer Train's Very Short Fiction Contest and they gave me an Honourable Mention!

The notice of the mention was especially nice arriving as it did on the heels of a rejection from The Paris Review.* Actually, the email from Glimmer Train came as a relief. A few months ago, I began submitting stories internationally and so far it's been nothing but rejection (five to be precise). And while an honourable mention doesn't equal publication it does feel incredibly positive, like encouragement to keep going. Thanks for the virtual fist bump, Glimmer Train!

I first discovered Glimmer Train a few years ago when I read Bret Anthony Johnston's Soldier of Fortune, a story that was first published in their pages then went on to win the Pushcart Prize and be included in 2011's Best American Short Stories collection.

I really admire Glimmer Train. It is run by a tiny team of two: co-editors and sisters Susan and Linda. I love their mission of publishing unknown and emerging authors, their commitment to payment, and their work ethic. And bottom line: they publish fantastic fiction. Glimmer Train stories have a seriously impressive record of prizes including the Pushcart and O. Henry.

The perk of rejection is it frees stories up. Back into the deck they go to get re-shuffled and sent on, out once again into the world.

*It seems audacious to admit I'm submitting stories to The Paris Review. But there is it. I AM! Why the hell not?