book reviews

The Bear, by Claire Cameron
The Bear, by Claire Cameron

Perhaps even more so because it’s based on a true story in a place I’m well familiar with, The Bear by Canadian author Claire Cameron absolutely devastated me. A family of four goes camping on Lake Opeongo in Algonquin Park, at Bates Island. In a horrifying and chaotic sequence of beginning pages, the parents are attacked, killed, and—yes, as is naively, gruesomely witnessed by Anna, our narrator—eaten by a black bear. The children, a five-year-old (Anna) and her toddler brother (Alex, aka Stick), who have been shoved into a Coleman cooler by their father in a desperate effort to protect them, do not comprehend what is happening. When they finally emerge from the Coleman, Anna takes tear-inducing instructions from her dying mother to canoe off the island to be safe. Run aground on a nearby island, the children struggle to survive as their young psyches compute what is happening only enough to get by. I should say here: while the children in this book are added (the true story involves only a man and woman), we are never asked to suspend our belief for the sake of the story: the children’s experience and the narrative voice are wholly acceptable. Anna’s sentence structure and thought process set a pace that never falters, even as she struggles to make sense of her surroundings and what is demanded of her; her many tangents serve as anchors with which we she keeps herself moored, things she can still identify, recall, and depend on.

Very rarely do I read a book in one sitting, but last night I picked it up at 10:30 and finished it in just over two hours. I actually went back through, thinking I must have skipped things in my eagerness, but everything I looked at I remembered. After the first few pages, I had wanted to stop. An almost overwhelming feeling of resistance to the book made me close it, at first. I’m not sure whether it was the point of view of a young child, which did take a little getting used to, or something else. Maybe that other feeling you get at the same time as being morbidly fascinated. Maybe fear.

But I opened it again, obviously, and tore through it (let’s not make the comparison to a hungry bear through a campsite). An excellent choice, the ending. Very well done. While it has a necessarily different tone, Cameron manages to make it flow seamlessly from the previous part and finish on a hopeful note.

Still, The Bear made me cry and subject my husband, when he came to bed, to my reflections on life and death especially, but also empathy for the kids (I won’t subject you, too. I was blubbery and went on about how this couple went through life, making choices, growing up, meeting, being together, deciding to go camping, and then BAM! they’re attacked by a bear and eaten. La fin. One day you’re there and then you’re not. I said, so fine, maybe we don’t all live to a hundred, but why can’t we all just die in our sleep, whatever age we’re meant to go? Why so many terrible ways? Eaten by a bear. It’s so utterly horrific and sad and overwhelming. I mean, this really happened: I remember it. It was 1991, and I remember, because I was both fascinated and freaked out).

It may be inevitable that this book gets compared to Emma Donoghue’s Room, but it would do the reader well not to hold up one against the other. It wouldn’t be entirely fair. While both are based on true stories and told from the perspective of a five-year-old who experiences a traumatic event, the voices are quite different. Like Room, though, this novel is going to stay with me a long time. I hope I can go camping in Algonquin again…

PS. As a bookseller, I met many people who were afraid to read Room. I dare you to read The Bear. These kinds of books: they’re not just reads, they’re experiences. What books are meant to be.

book blogs, CanLit

It embarrasses me to say I haven’t posted here in almost a year. I wanted to, but I didn’t know how all of a sudden. Aside from freelance work, writing short stories, and teaching creative writing, I was having an existential crisis as a book blogger. I goggled at the piles of books sent me that I hadn’t yet read, was overcome with guilt, and also, unrelated to the guilt, began to wonder why I was reviewing. Which then made it increasingly difficult to review. I asked myself who really cared, who really read, what it really meant to be a book blogger in the grand scheme of the book world. Was it worth all the effort? Certainly, from blogging came new and exciting jobs, and a shitload of wonderful new acquaintances and pals, and of course, the great books. I’m very thankful.

But it’s hard to keep up, man. There are so many books, so many people. It’s a cool but overwhelming world. As for blogging, I do it for free, but it’s still a lot of effort and time because I want to give you consistent quality, and I’m a perfectionist who’s always trying to anticipate what everyone might respond. I fear sounding dumb or like a fraud or that I missed something essential in the writing. So I started lagging in motivation. In the meantime, I gained a sister, a dog, and ten pounds. I started smoking (after 13 years of having quit!) and drinking coffee. (Never mind the Jack Daniel’s and Southern Comfort and Gibson’s. Hard liquor has always been a given.)

But I missed blogging, after I stopped feeling guilty for not doing it. I’m not promising that I’ll be back every week, but I’d like to still contribute in some meaningful way to the book world. I may not publish long reviews anymore, but whatever I write, it will still be thoughtful.

UPDATE: One thing before I get to the fun stuff: it is completely coincidence that I decided to say hello again on the day that CanLit author and enthusiast Chad Pelley decided to shut down his popular site Salty Ink. Just so you know, he’s got a new endeavour called The Overcast. Check it out. I’m following it, even though I don’t live in the area. Newfoundland is an exciting contributor to CanLit and the arts scene.

To push off again, I’m starting light. Simon & Schuster created their Winter Survival Pack to promote some of their new books but also treat readers with other goodies in appreciation. What fun! And you, dear reader, can win this stay-warm kit!

The Kit includes:
– 1 pair of mittens
– 1 pair of reusable hand warmers
– Scented candles
– 1 pair of socks
– 1 hot water bottle
– 1 Simon & Schuster Canada signature mug
– 1 Sower’s Blend tea
– The Ultimate Survival Guide (Canadian Edition)
– The Demonologist
– The Troop
– The Best Cook Book Ever
– Chicken Soup for the Soul: Wonders of Winter

– Hyperbole and a Half
– Octopus’s Garden
– Why Grizzly Bears Should Wear Underpants

Go to S&S’s site Five Ways to Stay Warm for Winter and enter the contest. Good luck! PS. Hyperbole and a Half is a laugh and a half, I swear!

S&S Stay-Warm Prize Pack
S&S Stay-Warm Prize Pack

 

Short Stories for Breakfast

20130519_110722I’m really enjoying this practice, you guys! It hits so many spots: an enriching start to the day, an entrance into the creative state of mind, a way to sample as many authors as I can, to get through the many books I have I’ve not yet touched. Christians often read daily devotionals, and you know, I get it. My daily devotional is a short story in the morning. It is truly edifying.

On that note, I’m reminded that last year I drew up a book proposal for an anthology of short stories. It’s a special one, and I’ll say more when I can confidently do so. But this series of recaps as well as my kitchen bookshelf has got me thinking even more about this proposal, about the stories I would include. I’ve been reluctant to submit the idea, though I know it’s good, in case I can’t follow up with the work because of how much time it may take. But I’m already doing much of the “work,” I see. I’m now prepared to revisit the proposal. I’ll keep you posted on any news.

And now for the week’s recap:

May 12: Er…I seem to have lost what I read. I have no idea. I’m sorry to whoever that was!

May 13: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Precious” by Miranda Hill, from SLEEPING FUNNYRandom House, 2012. A different kind of mothering with a fantastic twist at the end.  A brilliant story from a superb, original collection. Miranda made me so jealous with this book! Do read it.

May 14: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “The Price of Acorn,” by Natalee Caple, from THE HEART IS ITS OWN REASON. Insomniac Press, 1998. A couple sells their child in exchange for a washing machine. Great twist at the end. Really enjoyed this story!

May 15: “Throwing Cotton,” by Sarah Selecky, from THIS CAKE IS FOR THE PARTY, Thomas Allen, 2011. Two couples share a cottage. Sexy. This story has a Margaret Atwood feel somehow, though it’s Sarah’s own. Her way with words is my inspiration. I reviewed the book here. Sarah is my coach, my cheerleader, a kindred friend. I love her heart. I lent this book to my sister in England last July when she visited and she took it back with her because I insisted she keep it so she could finish it. I have missed it so much I bought another copy.

May 16: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Two-Step,” by John Vigna, from BULL HEAD. Arsenal Pulp Press, 2012. Excellent. Difficult to summarize, as there’s more going on than just a man visiting his brother in prison for three days. Think I’m going to really enjoy this collection. Gritty. I want to sink my teeth in. Even though I hate the cover. PS. How could I not like an author who has a website honouring his beautiful, sadly deceased dog? The pictures are mmm.

May 17: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Ordinary Life,” by Elizabeth Berg, from the collection of the same name. 79-yr-old Mavis decides she needs a retreat and locks herself in the bathroom with supplies for a week, while her husband Al tries to make her come out. Sweet, funny, insightful. I love this author. I read Open House soon after my first marriage broke up, and I was hers.

May 18: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Eight-ball,” by Samuel Martin, from THIS RAMSHACKLE TABERNACLEBreakwater Books Ltd., 2010. One of the hardest stories I’ve ever read. Absolutely tragic. This chiaroscuric, insightful collection has always been a big inspiration for me. Thanks, Sam. Review of collection here.

May 19: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “The Master of Disaster,” by Guy Vanderhaeghe, from THINGS AS THEY ARE. I’ve been wanting to read Vanderhaeghe since university and this is my first time. I’m an idiot. This is gold.

Just before I go, I’ll leave you with a short interview I did with Open Books Ontario. They said really awesome things about this blog and me, which made my day! Also, I lie just a little bit about my day. Since I got myself a mobile, that’s really my ideal day I’m talking about.

Hope you’re enjoying these posts. Know what I’ve found? Short story a day keeps the reading slumps away!

Short Stories for Breakfast

393136_10151598020025935_137351792_nHi guys! Apologies: I’ve been preoccupied with other things lately, and I missed the last two weeks’ recap. I’ll include them here with this week’s. Just a note: There isn’t a single book in this pile I wouldn’t recommend. God, I have good books!

April 22: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: Spending time with Saleema Nawaz Webster, who currently deals with the aftermath of a fire having ravaged her home last night. Reading “Scar Tissue,” from her collection MOTHER SUPERIOR. Freehand Books, 2008. Thinking of you, Saleema.

April 23: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Miracle Mile,” by Alexander MacLeod, from LIGHT LIFTING. @biblioasis. I LIVED (not a typo!) this story. Superb. Great tension, and so evocative, especially of school track meets. Fantastic similes and metaphors. Very glad I own this book! If I had time now, I’d read one by his father.

April 24: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Some Wife,” by Jessica Westhead, from AND ALSO SHARKS. Cormorant, 2011. Hilarious and so astute you’ll recognize everything in it as truth even if you don’t know anyone like these guys. A man becomes obsessed with his coworker’s wife.

April 25: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Slatland,” by Rebecca Lee, from BOBCAT AND OTHER STORIES. Penguin, 2012. Holy moly, this writer. I can’t wait to read this entire book. A story about a relationship but so original in its delivery. Also funny in parts! Penguin president and publisher Nicole Winstanley said to me: “It’s better than a kickass hot coffee first thing in the morning.” I agree.

April 26: “How We Avenged the Blums,” by Nathan Englander, from WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT ANNE FRANK. Knopf, 2012. A young Jewish boy is beaten up and the boys on his side plan revenge. Excellent! Very much liked this story. PS. This is one of the most best-smelling books I’ve had the pleasure of smelling in ages (hardcover edition).

April 27: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Gaining Ground,” by Robin Black, from IF I LOVED YOU, I WOULD TELL YOU THIS. Great narrative voice and characterization. And funny! Random House, 2011.

April 28: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “The Slough,” by Pasha Malla, from THE WITHDRAWAL METHOD. Anansi Press, 2008. This is a freaking awesome story. I have to read it again.

April 29: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Guy in a Hoodie,” by Binnie Brennan, from A CERTAIN GRACE, Quattro Books, 2012. Two middle-aged teachers get tanked and try their luck scoring a joint. Funny, not so funny, and short. I think it could have worked a little harder at being better.

April 30: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Where the Bodies Are Kept” by @BarbaraLambert4, #JourneyPrizeAnthology No. 11, @writerstrust. Excellent. Reminds me somewhat of Carol Shields, but this has more of an edge. And so cool, now that I know Barbara, to recognize personal things in the story. Find Barbara’s site here. She’s the author of Cormorant’s The Whirling Girl.

May 1: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “The Mud Below,” by Annie Proulx, from CLOSE RANGE. Scribner, 2003. Damn, woman! When I grow up, I want to write like Annie! Such a good story.

May 2: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “The Killers,” by Hemingway, from MEN WITHOUT WOMEN. Two hitmen walk into a lunch room… Well-paced, funny, fantastic dialogue. Oh, pfft. Saying anything cheapens it. Perfection is what it is. But of course. [1928] Arrow Books, 2004.

May 3: #shortstoryforbreakfast, “Corduroy,” by Adam Giles, finalist in the 2013 U of T Magazine short story contest. Sad, but good. Don’t want to give it away: you can read it here yourself!http://www.magazine.utoronto.ca/alumni-writing-contest/corduroy/.

May 4: Hmm. This seems to be missing. I have no idea what I read, if anything.

May 5#shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Across the Lake,” by Deborah Eisenberg, from ALL AROUND ATLANTIS. Many thanks to David Penhale for the reco! Washington Square Press (Simon & Schuster), 1997.

May 6: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Loving Wanda Beaver,” from the collection of the same name, by Alison Baker (O. Henry Awards). Mmm. Takes me back to my summers in Chatham in the fields detasseling corn. Chronicle Books, 1995.

May 7: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Flirtations,” by Carrie Anne Snyder, from HAIR HAT. Penguin, 2004. Really great story, excellent, natural dialogue, too. A couple with a dubious relationship goes to an academic function together. Penguin, 2004.

May 8: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “The Reverse Cowgirl,” by David Whitton, from the collection of the same name. Freehand Books, 2011. Not at all what I expected! The weirdest story I’ve ever read, I think, and I loved it. Enjoyed the narrative voice, the imaginativeness, the structure of the story. It involves time travel through a very interesting medium.

May 9: Was in TO and enjoyed freshly baked banana chocolate chip muffins instead for breakfast with friend AmandaLeduc (author of The Miracles of Ordinary Men, ECW Press, 2013) chez the other beautiful friend Allegra Young.

May 10: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “A Drowning Incident,” by Cormac McCarthy. 1960.www.cormacmccarthy.com/works. He wrote it while still in college. An awful story: the content I mean. 

May 11: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Ghost Stories,” by Alex Leslie, from PEOPLE WHO DISAPPEAR. Freehand Books, 2012. Very well-crafted! Excellent dialogue and such original use of language. A girl and her uncle trek through forests looking for a ghost town. ‘Course, there’s more to it than that. You’d have to read it to know.

other book stuff

To all who’ve read and so generously responded to my previous blog post Help Canadian Author Saleema Nawaz Rebuild Her Book Collection After Fire:

THANK YOU. Your responses showed kindness, understanding, empathy, and also a kindred love of literature. I feel certain that your comments have buoyed Saleema’s spirits even while she’s faced with the destruction of her home. As Sam Gamgee said to Faramir a long, long time ago, you have shown your quality, the very highest.

However: Saleema has posted an update on her blog. Please read her post. There are pictures, too. Importantly, she gently requests that since their books were mostly undamaged except by smoke, it’s not necessary for us to send her any to help her rebuild her collection.

Again, I thank you so much for your responses and suggest instead, as Denise Bukowski commented, that you buy Saleema’s books. Mother Superior is a collection of, well, superior short stories. Bone and Bread, her new novel, has already been welcomed with high praise, and the Quill & Quire has called her Anansi’s new star.

This post serves to end the campaign to send books. Even if I jumped the gun, for which I apologize, I don’t feel the posts were in vain. Saleema saw your gracious, caring comments, and at a time when all was uncertain, felt us as the ground beneath her feet.

Thank you all again.

-Steph

authors, other book stuff

Hi all,

I just heard from Saleema and I have her permission to repost her email to me here.

Hi Steph,

Thank you again for your incredibly touching and generous idea you shared on Bella’s Bookshelves.  As much as I love the idea of receiving a hand-picked book from literary folks all over Canada, I could never accept them. Not least because many of our belongings (including books!) have been saved, but also because we are now guests in somebody else’s house — we will be staying with my in-laws for the next two months.

[Steph: No worries! You can send the books to me or give them to her personally. If you send them to my address, which you’ll find on my Contact page, I will personally deliver them to Montreal or ship them myself.]

[Saleema’s response: Thanks so, so much … Of course, I would never object to somebody buying my books!  But honestly that is the most I could accept, and the support I have already felt from everyone is the most amazing bolstering help I could ever receive or want.  Please do feel free to post my earlier email.  I’m hoping to do a blog update, but I’m so exhausted, having been up for so long with just a couple of hours of snatched sleep… I’m not sure how soon it can come.]

You have no idea how much it means to me that so many people came to our aid…with offers of places to stay, food to eat, clothes to wear, and so wonderfully, books to read.

Some books have been lost to water and falling plaster, but most seemed to have been spared based on our cursory visit to the building this morning. In fact, although half of our kitchen, the bathroom, the front entryway and most of the living room have been destroyed (not by flames, but by falling plaster, fire axes, and water), our bedrooms and our hallway were spared from everything except for very heavy smoke. Many of the books were actually on bookcases in our hallway and in the half of the kitchen that was spared.

It is like a tornado has ripped through the place, with odd items here and there lying intact amidst the destruction of splintered wood and crumbling plaster.

I’m not sure how costly (or, indeed, possible) it will be to remove the smell of smoke from our large collection (and from everything else we own), but it is one we will cheerfully investigate.  I am so grateful to you and all the loved ones, friends, acquaintances, and strangers who have reached out to us.

With so much thanks,

Saleema

I’ve asked Saleema to keep me posted on whether or not the books that were not damaged by water or fallen plaster and such can be salvaged from the smoke damage (this can be pretty bad as to render the books unreadable), and if so, whether or not insurance will cover it. If the books can be salvaged and insurance will not cover it, perhaps we could start a campaign to help her pay for the recovery.

Alternatively, I’ve asked her if she has a wish list. Again, I’ll let you know. If not, even if she receives doubles, your copy will be better than what she has, and she could always pay it forward by donating hers. Don’t be afraid, either, of not knowing what to choose. As a former long-time bookseller, I can advise: Let your heart tell you. What book would you match her to? What book would you press into a friend’s hand and say, oh, you must read this? Whatever you send, it will be picked with concern and thoughtfulness and received with gratitude.

Thank you so much, everyone, for your generosity of spirit so far.

-Steph

PS. Saleema is on Facebook, and her Twitter handle is @pinkmeringue

authors, other book stuff

426457_10151528279906368_309430823_nUPDATE: This post is no longer in effect. Please read this one!

In case you haven’t heard yet, Saleema Nawaz, author of the collection of short stories Mother Superior and the recently released and very well received Bone and Bread, lost her apartment in a fire last night. I can only imagine how devastating this must be, and I’m deeply saddened by her loss. She wrote briefly and bravely about the experience. She lost 16 packed bookcases of books. I’m very thankful that she and her partner are safe.

What I’d like to propose—since we are all book lovers and would be utterly destroyed by the loss of our precious books, which we’ve taken years and much time and love to collect and read—is purchasing one or more books to help Saleema and her partner rebuild their library. I’m thinking we could buy our favourite book(s) for her, so she’ll have a shelf or more to remind her she is supported both as a Canadian author and friend, and has our best recommendations as well.

We all know that a house without books is not a home. We know that books are friends and lovers. And we know that without our books, we would be uncomfortable, displaced. When I look at the familiar volumes on my shelves, no matter where I’ve just moved to, they help me feel instantly at home.

This idea is fresh, and admittedly I’m writing this without her permission. I haven’t been able to reach her. Saleema will likely find this out from this post. She may protest. I don’t know.

I bought Mother Superior on her birthday. If I can do something to give back to an author who’s enriched my reading experience, right now there’s no other way I can think that’s more appropriate.

There are few things more tragic than losing one’s home for whatever reason. If the fire didn’t annihilate the books, likely all the water did.

To help, please just leave a comment below and I’ll email you with details. Saleema doesn’t yet have an address, but I will arrange the particulars of this campaign and then get back to everyone. Either all the books can be sent to my home and I can drive them to her, or we may be able to send them directly to her. She will have an apartment soon, and it would be fun for her to keep getting mail at this new address, since books in the mail are not only exciting but also make a house feel like home.

Thank you so much in advance for your support of this endeavour. If anything changes once Saleema reads this, I’ll be sure to let you know.

PLEASE NOTE: I’d really appreciate if the books you buy or donate are your very favourite, not ones you just need to get rid of. Thank you!

Short Stories for Breakfast

2013-02-19 08.00.24Another week of good stories. Some better than others, but I remain convinced that I don’t have a shitty book in this whole house.

April 15: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Of God and Cod,” by Anthony De Sa, from BARNACLE LOVE. So much richness in one little story. A man leaves his family behind for a voyage from Portugal and Newfoundland. The beginning of what promises to be a very good collection of intimately connected stories. Doubleday, 2008.

April 16: #shortstoriesforbreakfast is abominably late today. But better late than never. I read “Elk Talk,” by Elizabeth Gilbert, one of my favourite writers. It’s from PILGRIMS. Yes, she wrote short stories, and a novel, before Eat, Pray, Love! And her short stories kick ass. I’m jealous all over. A family in the country is surprised by unwelcome neighbours who appear on their doorstep en masse and invite themselves in. And the father has an elk call apparatus. [1997], Penguin, 2007.

April 17: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “For Puzzled in Wisconsin,” by Bronwen Wallace, from PEOPLE YOU’D TRUST YOUR LIFE TO. M&S, 1990. A woman’s reflections are triggered by a letter to the newspaper. “Dear Allie: My husband has an intricate tattoo on his chest. I am very fond of it, and I don’t want to see it go with him when he dies…” Very good, but I wouldn’t expect less from Wallace.

April 18: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Cleats,” by Johanna Skibsrud, from THIS WILL BE DIFFICULT TO EXPLAIN. My first Skibsrud read. And I like it. It’s pretty funny, this one, mature and well-done. I’ve heard more negative about Skibsrud than good, and I feel like I want to prove them all wrong. I don’t even need to read more to do that, but I will. Hamish Hamilton, 2011. (Read from the ARC)

April 19: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Big Bitchin’ Cow,” by D.W. Wilson, from ONCE YOU BREAK A KNUCKLE. I keep reading stories, like this one, that make me think, yes, this is exactly what mine’s supposed to be! A father chases his son across a frozen lake, remembering the past between them. So damn good. The structure is perfect. Hamish Hamilton, 2011. (Read from the ARC)

April 20: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Out of the Woods” by Chris Offutt, from his collection of the same name. A man goes and picks up his wife’s dead brother. Such a poor summary for such a masterful story. I love the vernacular, the tone. The greatest thing to come from the US is its literary talent. Like Woodrell, Offutt is a great American writer whom Tobias Wolff (yet another goodie) says is one of the best. I agree. Simon & Schuster, 1999.

April 21: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “With Daddy,” by Allison Baggio, from her collection IN THE BODY. In the wee hours of the morning, a girl’s father plucks her from her bed in the house where she lives with her mother, and takes a trip. Heartbreaking, an excellent story idea, and an interesting exploration of the collection title in a juxtaposition sort of way, but something tells me this story could have been better. Having worked on Girl in Shades, though, and having thought it rather strong, I look forward to reading the rest of this intriguing collection. ECW Press, 2012.

If you have suggestions, do let me know and I’ll add them to my list. Thank you to those who’ve recommended already. Duly noted!

Next up: who knows! I get to pick each day depending on what I feel like for breakfast!

book-related events

This is a Writers’ Trust press release

Finalists Announced for RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers

Toronto – April 18, 2013 – The Writers’ Trust of Canada is delighted to announce finalists for a literary award that plays an instrumental role in discovering and promoting the next stars of Canadian literature.

The RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers rewards writers under age 35 who are unpublished in book form. Alternating each year between poetry and short fiction, the award will be given this year to the author of an exceptional work of poetry. The $5,000 award is supported by the RBC Emerging Artists Project, which invests in up-and-coming artists to help build their professional careers. Two finalists will each receive $1,000.

A jury comprised of the poets Mary Dalton, Phil Hall, and Susan Holbrook read 135 blind submissions and selected three finalists:

Laura Clarke for “Mule Variations”

Laura Clarke is a Toronto-based writer and a graduate of the MA program in creative writing at the University of Toronto. She has published work in The Antigonish Review, Grain, PRISM international,Qwerty, and Freefall. The jury said of her work: “Something both hip and ancient is given full rein: hard limits slurping in the sun, Aristotle and police reports, electric fences and pick-up lines, subway riders with donkey heads. A washed-out sardonic tone delivers a sure push that is humane and celebratory.”

Laura Matwichuk for “Here Comes the Future”

Laura Matwichuk holds an MA in art history from the University of British Columbia and is a recent graduate of the Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University. She lives in Vancouver and will be a writer-in-residence at the Banff Centre later this spring. Her poems have appeared in Contemporary Verse 2 and Emerge. The jury citation said of her work: “Matwichuk hangs poetry from the syntactical hooks of the sentence, offering us prose poems that are flexible, slightly surreal, both expansive and focused.”

Suzannah Showler for “The Reason and Other Poems”

Suzannah Showler holds an MA in creative writing from the University of Toronto. Her writing has appeared in many places, including The WalrusHazlittThe Puritan, and Joyland, and she won the 2012 Matrix LitPOP Award for Poetry. She is the poetry editor for Dragnet Magazine and curator of the website Art of Losing (artoflosing.ca). She lives in Toronto and is working on her first collection of poems. The jury said of her work: “These poems distinguish themselves by the quality of their poetic intelligence. They are astute, linguistically and syntactically adept, and full of sonic energy.”

The winner will be announced on May 28, 2013, at an event hosted by acclaimed poet and past Bronwen Wallace Award winner Jeramy Dodds. The event will be held in Toronto at the Leslie and Anna Dan Galleria at the TELUS Centre for Performance and Learning, located at the Royal Conservatory of Music.

The nominated work of each finalist is available for free to download exclusively on Apple’s iBookstore starting today at iTunes.com/BronwenWallace.

“At RBC, we believe in the power of creative writing to enrich our lives,” said Shari Austin, Vice-President, Corporate Citizenship, RBC and Executive Director, RBC Foundation. “That is why we are proud to support the RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers, because it helps promising young writers to build their professional careers and fosters the next generation of great Canadian writers.”

“The RBC Bronwen Wallace Award has a stellar track-record of launching literary careers,” said Mary Osborne, Writers’ Trust executive director. “A nomination for this award signifies exceptional potential and gives young writers a boost at a crucial point in their development as artists.”

About Bronwen Wallace

Bronwen Wallace was a poet, short story writer, and mentor to many young writers as a creative writing instructor at Queen’s University and St. Lawrence College in Kingston. This prize was established in her honour in 1994 by a group of friends and colleagues. Wallace felt that writers should receive greater recognition early in their careers and so this annual award is given to a writer below the age of 35 who has published poetry or prose in literary magazines, journals, or anthologies, but has not yet been published in book form.

About the Award

Over 19 years, this award has distinguished 66 young writers with a nomination and many have gone on to receive literary acclaim. Several past honorees have new books out this spring, including Michael Crummey, Shashi Bhat, Natalee Caple, Dina Del Bucchia, and Tanis Rideout.

About the RBC Emerging Artists Project

In 2012, RBC invested $6.2 million in programs that support Arts and Culture in Canada and around the world.The RBC Emerging Artists Project consists of support through sponsorships and donations to organizations whose programs bridge the gap from academic excellence to professional careers in all forms of art.

About the Writers’ Trust of Canada

The Writers’ Trust of Canada is a charitable organization that seeks to advance, nurture, and celebrate Canadian writers and writing through a portfolio of programs, including literary awards, financial grants, scholarships, and a writers’ retreat. Writers’ Trust programming is designed to champion excellence in Canadian writing, to improve the status of writers, and to create connections between writers and readers. Canada’s writers receive more financial support from the Writers’ Trust than from any other non-governmental organization or foundation in the country.

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You can view the 2013 finalists on the Writers’ Trust site.

You can read Bronwen Wallace’s writing, too, but she does seem hard to find, except for the short stories. Try abebooks.com.

Poetry

  • Marrying into the Family – 1980
  • Signs of the former Tenant – 1983 (winner of the Pat Lowther Award)
  • Common Magic – 1985
  • The Stubborn Particulars of Grace – 1987
  • Keep That Candle Burning Bright and Other Poems – 1991

Short stories

Essays

  • Arguments with the World – 1992

Letters

  • Two Women Talking: Correspondence 1985-1987 – 1994 (with Erin Mouré)
Short Stories for Breakfast

2013-02-14 14.30.46Oy. This post was supposed to be set for this past Sunday but, well, this Sunday passed. As did Monday. These are the days of our lives, yes? As the world turns. Had we but world enough and time, etcetera.

Here’s a recap of the short stories I read last week. Most were exceptional. I swear, if I didn’t have favourite authors and wasn’t so excited about some upcoming novels, I’d read only collections for the rest of my literary life.

April 8: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “The Runner,” by Derek Hayes, from THE MALADJUSTED. Quirky, humorous, observant, and honest. This is a collection of stories that explores people’s idiosyncrasies, our special brands of neurotic. I’ll bet all of us can relate to at least one character! Thistledown Press, 2011.

April 9: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: The hilarious and fitting “Della Renfrew,” by Jessica Grant, from MAKING LIGHT OF TRAGEDY. Holt Renfrew’s daughter applies for a job at Holt Renfrew. Oh, Jessica. Please, please write more. Lots more. And hurry the hell up about it. Porcupine’s Quill, 2004. Such great, natural writing! A fantastic example of an author who knows what it means to write wholeheartedly.

April 10: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Attempts at a Great Relationship,” by Lee Henderson, from THE BROKEN RECORD TECHNIQUE. Henderson also wrote a novel called The Man Game that I bought a long time ago and now really look forward to reading even more. Why haven’t I read this collection till now?! Why haven’t I heard of this guy? I bought this collection on a whim, while browsing the basement in Greenley’s. I bought any short collections that I didn’t already have, and found many Canadian gems. Anyway, this is a fantastic story. His metaphors wither me as a writer. His characters, their dialogue, the setting, the structure of the story! Gah. Two couples go to a wave pool, and we get all four perspectives. Funny and tenderhearted. Penguin, 2008.

April 11: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: Transported to Louisiana by Tim Gautreaux, a new fave: “Welding With Children,” from the collection with the same name. Running out of ways to express the greatness of what I’m reading. These days I just emotionally shake my head in appreciation. This story is gold. The colloquial language, the characterization, the voice, and the very idea. A grandfather has to look after his “white trash” daughters’ children while trying to get his daily errands run. I look forward to reading not only the rest of this collection but also the rest of Gautreaux’s books. Many thanks to Hugh Cook for the recommendation! Picador, 2009.

April 12: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Tikkun” and “Say It Again…” by Ayelet Tsabari, from her newly released collection, THE BEST PLACE ON EARTH. Wholehearted, very sensory, and the Middle Eastern setting is so well conveyed. Concepts foreign, perhaps, to us, but made familiar through good writing. Also, she can write a great sex scene, let me tell you. It takes skill! HarperCollins, 2013.

April 13: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Chronology of an Egg,” by Peter Tieryas Liu, in WATERING HEAVEN (nominated for this year’s Frank O’Connor award!). “I tell her I think she’s beautiful and she tells me she has an unusual genetic quirk that scares off most men. ‘Every time I have sex, I lay an egg.’ I assume she’s joking, get her email address.” This story is hilarious…and slightly horrifying. I really enjoyed it and look forward to the rest of the collection. Signal 8 Press, 2012.

April 14: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Sucker,” by the talented Carson McCullers, from THE COLLECTED STORIES OF CARSON MCCULLERS. Great characterization! The narrative voice is so clear, as well as the tone. There was an ominous feel to it, and I was just waiting for something terrible to be recounted. And then when it was…ho boy. Creepy. McCullers is another American fave. I adored The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Mariner Books, 1998.

Thanks for following along, all! Any collections you want to recommend? I’m open! Send me a message over Twitter, FB, or here.

Short Stories for Breakfast

2013-02-05 07.25.15The short stories I read this weekend were a nice mix, by women and men, contemporary and older, even different in format, since one I read, today, was from a pdf. Here are the breakfasts I enjoyed this week:

April 1: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “The Many Faces of Montgomery Clift,” by Grace O’Connell, author of the novel Magnified World. This story, which reminded me so much of a friendship I had, was part of Writers’ Trust Journey Prize Anthology #24. I enjoyed it so much I emailed Grace and we had a neat chat about it.

April 2: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: Going for seconds after reading Matthew Trafford’s aptly titled “Gutted” from The Divinity Gene. I’m caught. Hook, line, & sinker! “Gutted” specially blew me away. I read it three times. “Camping at Dead Man’s Point” is interesting in that he uses himself as a character in the story, a gay guy named Matthew Trafford, but the story also includes a walking, talking dead guy. An original, cool way to make a good point in this one! Trafford deserves much more attention. Douglas & McIntyre, 2011.

April 3: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Mother Superior” and “My Three Girls,” by Saleema Nawaz Webster, from Mother Superior. Enjoyed both, particularly the first one. The second was somewhat horrifying, but also very well done. I could keep reading! Freehand Books, 2008. Already in the first few stories there is a theme of motherhood and children.

April 4: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Cracked Wheat” and “Pisces,” by Hugh Cook, from Cracked Wheat  and Other Stories. Middleburg Press, 1984. Early stories by my former English prof. I read the book years ago and remembered “Cracked Wheat” fondly, reading it again. I recall why the story has stuck with me all these years. Well-written.

April 5: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Foley’s Pond,” “Occidental Hotel,” and “Spokane,” by Peter Orner, from Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge. (Reissue August ’13; Little, Brown. I hope they reprint all of his, as they’re hard to find.) You know you’ve just read some stellar writing when the first thing that comes out of your mouth is a giant sigh and “holy shit.”

April 6: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “The Premier’s New Pajamas,” by John Lavery, from Very Good Butter. ECW Press, 2000. NO ONE writes like John. No one. I miss you, cher ami.

April 7: #shortstoriesforbreakfast, “Better to Lose an Eye,” by Jamie Quatro, from I Want to Show You More. Powerful and surprising. I’ve read some of her stuff on McSweeney’s too, and it’s hilarious! Quatro’s been getting a lot off attention in the US. She’s one to pay attention to. Thanks to Hugh Cook for bringing her to my attention.

In all, a great week of stories. I’m understanding little by little more about how stories work, and what makes a good story better than another. I’m also finding myself hungrier for more literature in general (the way eating breakfast makes you hungrier the rest of the day), and finding myself becoming more inspired by ordinary things.

Next week includes some lesser-known Canadian authors, plus Diana Athill.

Stay healthy: read well.

Short Stories for Breakfast

the books
the books

About a week and a half ago I began the tradition of reading a short story for breakfast. You can read about it here. This post is a recap of all the stories I read, plus a little more. A different spin on my LitBits posts, kind of!

March 21: Really enjoying a short story for breakfast every morning! This morning was Jess Walter’s excellent titular story from We Live In Water. A man tries to find out what happened to his father, who disappeared when he was a kid. Tough, heartbreaking, but not in the way you might expect. So much is revealed in such a short period of time, with such clean prose. I loved the structure, the tone, the bravery of it. Walter is a master, there’s no doubt. HarperCollins, 2013.

March 22: Short stories for breakfast: “Flies” and “The Table” from Paolo da Costa’s The Green and Purple Skin of the World. Unique style, evocative of a sort of fairy-taleish Europe. I like! Freehand Books, 2013.

March 23: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: The striking “Kiss Me Like I’m the Last Man on Earth,” from Elisabeth de Mariaffi’s How to Get Along with Women. Funny but also really not. How the innocence of kids playing a game they don’t quite understand is lost, and how a heritage of cultural trauma goes from curiosity and exploration to something more. Invisible Publishing, 2012.

March 24: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: All-girl band, east/west Toronto divide story “Saudade,” by Nicole Dixon, from High-Water Mark. Captures the competition and complexities of women relationships. Porcupine’s Quill, 2012.

March 25: #shortstoriesforbreakfast A boozy, confessional start with “The Sorrows of Gin” & “The Housebreaker of Shady Hill,” from The Stories of John Cheever. One of my favourite American writers. Satirical, clever, excellent dialogue. Ballantine, 1980.

March 26: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: Stuart Ross’s “Me and the Pope,” “Cow Story,” & the titular story from Buying Cigarettes for the Dog. Genius gems. I LOVE this book. Funny, absurd, satirical, timely. Freehand Books, 2009.

March 27: #shorstoriesforbreakfast: A teary start with “Elephant Air,” by Fran Kimmel from Everything is So Political: A Collection of Short Stories by Canadian Writers. Fernwood Publishing, 2013.

March 28#shortstoriesforbreakfast: “The Pheasant,” by Raymond Carver, from Carver, Collected Stories. I can read story after story from this collection, but after reading this one, I just want to sit with it for a while. I don’t believe there really is anyone better at short stories than Carver. Library of America, 2009.

March 29: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Emergency Contact,” by Michael Christie, from The Beggar’s Garden. Yes, finally I’ve picked it up. This story, about a woman who will go to great lengths for her infatuation with a paramedic, is funny, sad, tender, and skilfully written. Ugh, this guy is so freaking good. I just want to read him all day. From HarperCollins (I have to add, this hardback is DREAMY.)

March 30: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: “Prowlers,” by Charles Baxter, from A Relative Stranger. On love and other demons. A former best friend, a woman loved by two, a blizzard. And a lot of reading between the lines! WW. Norton, 2001. I actually think this might be out of print! 

March 31: #shortstoriesforbreakfast: Revisiting my Catholic upbringing with “Remember for Me,” by Susan Zettell, from Holy Days of Obligation. Marvelling at the characterization. NuAge/Signature Editions, 1998.

short stories bookcase in the kitchen
short stories bookcase in the kitchen