amongst books

amongst books

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Departures launch last night

at the Carleton Tavern was intense, humorous, compelling & intimate. five members of my fiction writing group (as yet unnamed) united last night & read our work from Departures, a chapbook recently published by above/ground press. the audience was small, but attentive, including supportive friends & loved ones. two of our members were unable to attend the reading due to previous commitments: Emily Falvey & Wes Smiderle. while i enjoyed the event, i missed Emily & Wes & hope we have another reading at some point in which they can participate.

it was heartening to hear the group’s various styles of writing out loud last night: from my potty mouthed smut in “Mind If I Sit?” to Spencer Gordon’s profound & insightful observations about humanity in “Silence So Large and Complete,” Kate Heartfield’s humour in “152,” rob mclennan’s lyricism from an excerpt of “Don Quixote,” a novel in progress, & Steve’s passionate realism in “Beyond Johnstown, or the End of the Line.”

i’m not that great in groups, i don’t really consider myself to be a joiner. a lot of writers don’t workshop their fiction, worrying about the danger of style homogeneity perhaps. what this group demonstrates to me is that writers can keep their different styles, but the work can become stronger with the help of others & the solidarity of being part of a cohesive group can help one’s writing & spirit about something that is mostly a disheartening & unrewarding practice that those who write have forced upon them due to some kind of lifetime twitch or tick we have no control over.

last night i was reminded why i want to be part of this fiction writing group. our voices are very different, but yes, we have helped each other. sometimes in small ways, like fixing dumb typos, sometimes in larger ways like giving me a good title for my story (thanks, Spencer!) but mostly for me anyways in the feeling that we are not alone. since i am trying to learn how to write compelling & articulate sex positive smut that openly celebrates sex & sexuality, i do tend to feel like an outsider in all things literary, but this group has welcomed me & is always helping me to push my limits, offering great advice which results in stronger pieces of writing. i’m learning a lot with this group both from having them review my writing & also by being involved in the editing process of their work.

i read a great interview with the members of the Newfoundland writers’ group Burning Rock(New Quarterly, No 91 2004). it was an inspiring piece. the group has been together since the 80s, starting out of a creative writing course & then continuing with boozy potlucks & relentless advice.

their longevity & discipline inspire me & i hope our group lasts as long & results in such articulate & strong writing. we’ve had people come & go: the founder, Tina-Frances Trineer moved out to Wakefield about 5 months into the group. Josh Massey was involved for only two meetings. Kate, rob & I have been involved since the beginning, December, 2006, except that rob hasn’t participated for a year due to his writer in residence gig at U of Alberta. Emily, Wes, Steve & Spencer joined & now Spencer is leaving to do a Creative Writing Masters at U of T while Lee Anne Boudreau joins the group in August. so we haven’t had a lot of stability yet & maybe we never will. Ottawa’s like that, a kind of way station, sometimes it feels like people stop here en route to better things. i hope that our fiction group helps in that journey.

as Kate said last night when discussing the chapbook’s transportation theme, Ottawans are always trying to find ways out of the city, or back in. i’d like to think of our fiction group as a way in to the city. i’d like to think that the Departures chapbook is a way to understand the city a bit, at least a handful of its residents, with our individual preoccupations & obsessions as communicated by our stories a bit.

i love Ottawa & don’t plan on leaving it, will probably breathe my last breath here. for those of us committed to the city, the experience is one constant goodbye. why do i feel like this is part of the strength of our writing group? i plan on attending a few launch parties in various cities for the great writers in the group and maybe a few of these launches will actually be held in Ottawa.

thanks to rob for organizing the reading & the Carleton Tavern with its cozy rec room like atmosphere. how many readings come with their own private bar? & thanks to those of you who made it out to the reading. during the hazy languid evenings of summer, this is a heroic act. oh yes..and goodbye, Spencer (at least for now). here's a pic of the young gent.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Departures Launch, Saturday, July 26, 7pm

@ the Carleton Tavern, 223 Armstrong St

Readers to include some of Amanda Earl, Emily Falvey, Spencer Gordon, Kate Heartfield, rob mclennan, Wes Smiderle and Steve Zytveld.

Departures comes out of a monthly fiction writer's workshop in Ottawa started in 2006 by Tina-Frances Trineer, with its first meeting December 6, 2006 at Cuppedia on Main Street, with early participants Tina, rob mclennan, Amanda Earl, Kate Heartfield and Josh Massey.

Other members Emily Falvey, Steve Zytveld and Wes Smiderle were added in April, 2007, around the time Tina moved to Wakefield. Spencer Gordon joined in September, 2007.

Amanda Earl's sexually explicit fiction appears in anthologies by Cleis Press, Alyson Books, Thunder's Mouth Press, Carroll and Graf and in local magazines, The Puritan and Front & Centre. On line you can find her recent smut at, Lucrezia Magazine and Lies With Occasional Truth. Her stories and musings on sex & sexuality can also be found at

Emily Falvey is a writer, curator, and art critic currently living in Ottawa. Her fiction recently appeared in decalogue 2: ten Ottawa fiction writers (Chaudiere Books, 2007), and her essays and art criticism have been published by galleries and museums across Canada.

Spencer Gordon was born in 1984 in Thompson, Manitoba. Although he currently resides in Ottawa, Ontario, he will be attending the University of Toronto in the fall of 2008, taking an MA in English in the Field of Creative Writing. Recently, his fiction has appeared in zaum (previously Mandala). He is the co-editor and co-founder of The Puritan: Ottawa's Literary Prose Journal. Find his interviews with authors such as Robert Kroetsch and Guy Vanderhaeghe online at He can be reached at

Kate Heartfield rode the OC Transpo beast for 11 years, before giving in and buying a car and a house in the country last year. When she isn't writing fiction, she writes editorials and columns for the Ottawa Citizen. Last year, she was a student in the Humber School for Writers correspondence program, where her mentor was Paul Quarrington.

rob mclennan recently returned to Ottawa after his tenure of writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta. The author of over a dozen titles of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, his most recent titles are the novella white (The Mercury Press), the travel book Ottawa: The Unknown City (Arsenal Pulp Press) and subverting the lyric: essays (ECW Press). A writer, editor, publisher and organizer of the small press action network - ottawa (span-o), he regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at

Wes Smiderle is an Ottawa writer. He’s napped on buses, slept around on trains, snoozed at sea and drifted off at the wheel but he’s never been able to fall asleep on an airplane.

Steve Zytveld was born in Kamloops, BC, but has spent most of his life in Ottawa, where he currently lives with his wife Catherine in a cramped downtown apartment with their guinea pigs and thousands of books. He has been a writer of prose and verse, a peace activist, a labour activist, a performance artist, a Parliament Hill reporter, an editor, a publisher, a poster artist, an actor, and a scholar of mediaeval literature. He learned to ride a horse before he learned to drive a car. Nowadays he hosts the Dusty Owl Reading Series when he isn’t working on any of a number of writing projects, including a novel, The Passing of Arthur King, and a nonfiction work tentatively titled No Simple Highway: A History of The Prescott Highway. His work has appeared in a number of publications, including this one.

the chapbook will be available at the launch or thru above/ground press here.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Bywords Summer Reading, Sunday, July 20

2pm to 3pm at Chapters, 47 Rideau Street
We're launching the summer issue of the Bywords Quarterly Journal with a full band !

Mike Yates and the Candidates features Ben Palmai - Guitars; Mark Sabourin - Bass, Vocals; Stephen Kauk - Drums, Percussion and Mike Yates - Voice, Cello, Guitars

The afternoon readers will include Cameron Anstee, Lindsay Foran, Marilyn Iwama, Ben
Ladouceur, Lesley Mayhew, Stephen Rowntree and Luminita Suse.

The cover for this issue's BQJ was taken by Anice Wong. The issue features poetry by Cameron Anstee, Rhonda Douglas, Marilyn Iwama, Lindsay Foran, misha Kalachov, Lesley Mayhew, Stephen Rowntree, Luminita Suse and Melissa Upfold. Pick up your copy at the reading.

Afterward, please join us at the Highlander Pub on Rideau Street, a few blocks east of Chapters to drink a toast to our wonderful readers, contributors and musicians. Let's celebrate!

Monday, July 14, 2008

top ten july 08

well i used to post these monthly music lists to myspace, but in the interests of consolidation, i'll post 'em here instead. myspace ain't what it used to be. note the prevalence of Ron Sexsmith...his new CD, Exit Strategy for the good. no explanation is likely necessary, but ...this is just music that i played more than a few times in the course of the last month. at the end of the year, i do a top ten from the whole shebang...

bettye lavette - they call it love

buddy guy – feels like rain

lou reed – wild child

maria mckee – high dive / barstool blues

neko case – i wish i was the moon

the pogues – love you til the end

tim buckley – phantasmagoria in two

ron sexsmith – travelling alone

ron sexsmith – this is how i know

ron sexsmith – chased by love

Monday, July 07, 2008

hot ottawa voices - tuesday, july 8, 2008

@ the Tree Reading Series, 8pm, in its new location: Arts Court, 2 Daley Ave, 2nd Floor, Library
licenced too...

i'm reading along with Pearl Pirie and Roland Prevost. i always thought it was hot ottawa voices because of how we all melted in the basement of the Royal Oak II on Laurier, but apparently that's not it. it's for writers who haven't yet had a full collection published. i think this is the third year of its existence, but you'd have to check with Dean, the director, to know for sure.

my long poem, the Sad Phoenician's Other Woman (above/ground press, 2008) is a response to/celebration of Robert Kroetsch's "The Sad Phoenician," which I've mentioned before. Nothing like a snow storm, a fever and a good book of poetry to get you through. The Completed Field Notes is such a book. My poem is too long to read in one sitting (standing?), so i've been reading it all over town...the first bit at the A B Series in March, two more bits at open mics at the Dusty Owl and at Tree, and now I will read the final portion at Tree, breaking in the new venue with some lascivious prose poetry.

To quote Ernest Hemingway in A Moveable Feast: "if the reader prefers, this book may be regarded as fiction. But there is always the chance that such a book of fiction may throw some light on what has been written as fact."

if you're in town and feel like checking out Tree's new would be lovely to see you at the reading or to hear you read at the open mic and apparently...there will be libations...

Friday, July 04, 2008

ending violence against women

that should be a reasonable thing to support, right? but something in me squirms a bit here. nope, i don’t want women to be hurt in any way. of course not. what squidges me about any violence against women campaign is that it leaves out men as victims of violence. i have seen stats that say men are the ones who commit most acts of violence and maybe that’s true, to be honest i haven’t done the research, but what i do know is that all humans are subject to violence, be they male or female. i also have encountered a number of men who have been abused by women, forced into sex as young boys by female relatives for example and other acts that would be classified as violence if they were targeted at women.

there’s a lot of pressure in society for men to keep mum about stuff that happens to them. this may be one of the reasons why stats show that it's mostly men who commit violence. society has a double standard when it comes to dealing with violent acts towards men. as a rule, men have been taught to keep silent about it.

i don’t think campaigns against violence which exclude people based on gender are healthy or helpful. as fellow human beings we should all be against violence, no matter if it is toward a male or female or any other gender. i’m actually pretty tired of this whole male/female polarization and categorization. who is a man? who is a woman? just because you see a person who looks male or female on the outside doesn’t mean this person identifies as such.

i’m tired of the gender wars. i’m tired of seeing men as a group blamed for societal evils rather than as individuals. just as i'm tired of stereotypical attitudes towards women or gays or transgendered people.

there are bad people out there, there are sick people out there. there are women who will drown their own children. we don’t say that all women have potential for murder because of that. there are women fighting in wars today too. as a child growing up in Toronto, i was terrorized regularly by vicious young sadists who ran in gangs, gangs of females.

violence, sadly and heartbreakingly, is everywhere and it crosses all lines: gender, ethnicity, colour, religion, geography, age and ideology.

end violence? yes, that would be wonderful. i’m all for that. but let’s free ourselves from the gender paradigm. let’s give every human being a safe space in which to feel able to admit the violence they’ve encountered and to help them. let’s make the streets safe for all of us and the homes too. let’s deal with the fact that so much violence is actually domestic, happens at home. that our sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, grandparents and friends may be victims of violence. let’s help them all and not be focussed so much on what their gender is. let’s love one another.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

blue sky people / grey sky people

cloud magazine, issue 5
bridgehead, bank & gilmour, 8am

the blue sky people are complaining about the rain. in june we had 22 days of rain. i remember being quite happy in june. blue sky people complain more about the weather than grey sky people. when do you ever hear a grey sky person say “i wish it would rain more.”

GSPs tend to keep their complaints to themselves because they know the BSPs will mock them. who doesn’t enjoy a nice blue sky and endless sunshine? that’s like not liking christmas. the peer pressure to convert to blueskyism is great. sometimes you have to hide your greyskyist views behind fake smiles and sunscreen.

to me— an out of the closet grey sky person— there’s nothing like rain or a storm to bring out the vitality of the day. on blue sky days, people meander along, get distracted by butterflies and can’t even hold a decent conversation, so enamoured are they by the (so-called) gorgeous weather. and they drink cocktails or flavoured martinis in the afternoon while lounging by a pool. i am bored already.

on grey sky days, folks act with purpose, even if that purpose may be to get out of the rain; although no self-respecting grey sky person wants to get out of the rain unless it's into bed with a lover or a good book or into a pub. the sky may be grey but the air is multi-coloured with umbrellas, rain coats and rubber boots. squint or drink a few swigs of hard liquor from the metal flask in your pocket and you’ll feel like you’re a deep sea diver in tropical waters, gazing at exotic, striped, dotted and shimmering fish darting in and out of cafes, crevices and alleyways.

how do you spot a fellow grey sky person? they mostly eschew raingear except for during the biggest downpours; when you pass a fellow GSP in the rain, the two of you will share a secret smile. and they will not be singing “grey skies are gonna clear up, put on a happy face” but rather “singing in the rain.” on rainy days, the cafes are crowded with GSPs quietly celebrating so as not to draw unwanted attention.

it’s tragic to see the bias against GSPs in society. for example, what’s that expression “doesn’t know enough to come in out of the rain”? to linger in the rain is not to be a rube or half-wit, but to luxuriate in the sensuality of saturation, the rhythms, perfumes and sites of water.

Tina Turner and before her, Ann Peebles sings “I can’t stand the rain against my window, bringing back sweet memories.” that’s the kicker, rain makes us melancholy, sad, dips us into a Proustian teacup filled with irish whisky instead of tea.

BSPs want to be happy. GSPs are somewhat suspicious of blue sky happiness. it feels fleeting, ephemeral, unreal like the sky in an old painting, whereas grey sky sadness is soaked into the skin by the damp drizzle and the fog.

nothing makes me more anxious than a silent and cloudless blue sky. there’s nothing to look forward to. it’s blue and that’s all it’s going to be. no dark clouds with the promise of lightning, no ozone in the air, no spark of possibility.

what i need, what all grey sky people need is the ambiguous blur of a sky full of rain, the feeling that at any moment the clouds will let go. the sadness will take hold of us. the songs and the stories and the whisky will flow.

one of the reasons why i always enjoy a good gothic novel or the blues is because of the rain.

i urge you to talk up the rain to your fellow cube mates. name some good rainy books, stories, films, songs, plays, musicals, paintings, sculptures, graphic novels, postage stamps, locales best viewed in the rain...