Are We What We Write?

Are We What We Write? I tend to spend as little time as possible re-reading my past books, for the better or for the worse. Maybe there is some value in that form of self-examination, but I can’t usually bring myself to do it. If I do achieve any pleasure from the act, it’s in that feeling I sometimes get, when reading a certain sentence or two, that I have absolutely no idea who could have written that passage. Someone else obviously wrote that. That’s because I no longer have any sense of what the thought processes were that led … Continue reading Are We What We Write?

Emancipation Day

Emancipation Day One of the qualities of Wayne Grady’s novel that came out this last autumn is that it makes Windsor, Ontario into an interesting place. All joking aside – it really is an interesting place, if only for the fact that it was one of the final stops for slaves escaping the American south on the Underground Railroad. The cover says it all quite nicely: race is at the heart of this book. And not race as we know it today, with immigration changing the face of our country, at least in urban settings. This is race as in … Continue reading Emancipation Day

Writers” Resolutions

Writers’ Resolutions Though we’re already into the second week of the year, it’s not too late to make a few New Year’s Resolutions for the writers in us. After all, in France, you can wish people happy new year up till the last day in January. At the Park Avenue Y, this period of the year is much feared by the gym rats, since it’s the time when the “Resolutionists,” as we call them, crowd the facility. Before fading away, off course, usually by Valentine’s Day. But you don’t have to be afraid to be a resolutionist if you’re doing … Continue reading Writers” Resolutions

We Buy Snakes! An Unusual Christmas Tale

Since we’re taking a break for the holiday season, with a return in January, I thought I’d leave you with this tale. Some of you may be leaving for Florida, which is where the story takes place, albeit in the northern part of the state, around Gainesville, the home of many reptiles…    In the autumn of 1996, I was the writer-in-residence for the city of Gainesville and the county of Alachua. Most of my activities took place in small agricultural communities. Jesus haunted all of these places. Many participants in the program were busy writing the real Bible, which … Continue reading We Buy Snakes! An Unusual Christmas Tale

The Residence Question

Not long ago I found myself in northern France, along the border with Belgium, atop one of the few hills in that part of the world that the Jacques Brel calls “le plat pays” – our flat country. When the fog and clouds lifted, which happened very rarely, the view over the surrounding countryside was inspiring. And inspiration, a word writers usually shy away from, was on the menu. I was there with a group of authors who have been invited to enjoy a residency in this isolated spot sometime in the coming year. A residency is a kind of … Continue reading The Residence Question

I Love my Editor

Some of you may be tiring of my psychological metaphors, but I liken the work I do with my editor to a trip to the shrink’s office. Please note: it’s my manuscript that’s taking the trip, not me. Well, I do go along to accompany it. You see, I know there are things wrong with my manuscript, but I can’t name them. And if I can’t name them, I can’t fix them. Or perhaps, at other times, I know what’s wrong – the last scene that ends the book isn’t right, for example – but I can’t get my head … Continue reading I Love my Editor

On the Road for Books

All right, this picture was taken in the main square of Saint-Chinian, a wine-growing district in the Languedoc, southern France, but the atmosphere is right: we write wherever we go (credit: Marie-Louise Gay). Last week, I took a break from the Library consultation room hidden away, past the kids books and toys, to attend the Windsor Book Festival in Windsor, Ontario. The hotel where the writers are billeted stands on the Canadian side of the Detroit River, so from their windows, the guests can contemplate the Motor City peacefully rusting away, and recall the rum-runners who used armadas of speed boats … Continue reading On the Road for Books

Making Strange

Strange, isn’t it? Stranger still if I tell you that this is a hedge in a village square in a mountain town in Costa Rica. Behind this hedge (photo: Marie-Louise Gay) lies the village church. A local hedge artist, some time ago, decided that what his town needed was a few creatures like this. Who could refuse? The idea of defamiliarization, or “making strange,” is a popular one among writers, though not everyone uses this term. Certainly not my spell-checker that doesn’t consider “defamiliarization” a word. What it means, simply, is that in our writing, through our descriptions, we make … Continue reading Making Strange

The Art of Reading

The Art of Reading   Everybody wants to go to Heaven, but nobody wants to die. That’s folk wisdom at its best. The equivalent for us in the book world would run something like this: Everybody wants to write, but nobody wants to read. Well, just about all of us know that things don’t work that way.    Here comes a cliché, and I’m unrepentant about using it: the writer’s work begins with his and her life as a reader. One of the questions writers most often hear concerns the first book they read, or rather, the book that influenced … Continue reading The Art of Reading

Using your Family

We might not all have such an adorable family as these three little girls photographed by the artist Marie-Louise Gay in Oaxaca, Mexico, as part of the never-ending Christmas celebrations down there, but all our families are rich in material that finds its way onto the pages of our stories. Some of us are a little squeamish at times; are we really going to unleash that dark family secret on the world? And then what…? I promised not to tell… I tend to take a “damn the torpedos” approach to family riches. Use whatever’s there. It belongs to you. I … Continue reading Using your Family