On November 21 and 22, I took part in an interdisciplinary performance with the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra’s director, Edwin Outwater, read my novel, Emancipation Day, and chose a piece of music that the novel had suggested to him. About two weeks before the concert, he sent me the music, and when I listened to it, I wrote a piece of prose that the music had suggested to me.
At the concert, which was called “Intersections,” I read a short excerpt from the novel. The orchestra then played the music Edwin had selected and sent to me, and then I read my piece written in response to the music. (I was one of two writers participating in this cross-genre experiment: Miriam Toews also took part, with her fabulous novel, All My Puny Sorrows, and a different musical selection was sent to her by Edwin.)
Edwin sent the music “blind,” without telling us what it was or who had written it. When I listened to my selection, I thought it was the score for a 1940s movie, perhaps a Hitchcock, perhaps with Bette Davis. Only after writing my piece did I learn that it was by R. Murray Schaffer, called Figures in the Night…Passing, and had premiered only two years ago with the Victoria Symphony. I added a few phrases then, but knowing that the music, which sounded to me so much like music of the 1940s, had been written about the same time that I was writing Emancipation Day, which takes place during the 1940s, didn’t change my response to the piece. Instead, it made me feel even more connected to it, gave an extra layer to the sense of “collaboration between genres” that Edwin had been looking for.
The experience confirmed what I have long known, that some of the most exciting work is done between disciplines, in that grey area between what is known about one genre and what is known about a different genre.
Please click on The Blog page to read my response to Figures in the Night…Passing.
Emancipation Day won the 2013 Amazon.ca First Novel Award on April 30th. Here I am at the Four Seasons in Toronto after hearing the news, with Doubleday senior editor Nita Pronovost (right), and editorial assistant Zoe Maslow. Thank you to everybody who came out in support that night and to my editorial team at Doubleday.
From here you can find out about my most recent work, Emancipation Day – my first novel – as well as my latest translation, October 1970, by Louis Hamelin. You can also review my previous titles, learn what Events and News are coming up, and I hope read my Blog.
New! Writers Retreat in San Miguel de Allende
In winter 2015, Merilyn Simonds and I are offering weeklong, face-to-face intensive editorial coaching for writers with a manuscript close to completion. That dreaded second-to-last draft in Mexico! Includes one-on-one daily sessions and a private casita. For photos, fees, and more, visit Merilyn’s Book Coach site.
My essay, “Tragedy Postponed”, about the detective novel as a work of classic comedy, appeared in the May 2014 issue of Numéro Cinq, the online magazine edited by Canadian novelist Douglas Glover. The May issue is a remarkable gathering of goods, which also includes essays and stories by and about Lydia Davis, W.G. Sebald, a rescuscitation of the unjustly neglected but wonderful poet, Adrien Stoutenburg, and a lot of other enticing writing. Definitely worth a double click.
Upcoming Readings and Events
February 15, 2015
My workshop, “Crossing the Divide from Nonfiction: Where Is That Line, Anyway?”
at the San Miguel Writers’ Conference,
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico,
9:00 a.m. I’ll be talking about that grey area between fiction and nonfiction that so many contemporary writers are inhabiting.
Writers Blog Tour
My ticket for this virtual train came from Merilyn Simonds; like her, I don’t know where this journey started or where it will end, but I am happy to have been invited aboard. The idea is to get a whole lot of writers to write blogs, three of us per week, in response to four questions about writing, post them on our websites on four consecutive days, announce that we have done so on our Facebook or Twitter pages, should we have them, and provide links to the other writers’ blogs that have appeared on the train. The result will be a virtual anthology of what a wide variety of writers are writing at the moment, why they are writing it, how they go about writing it, and how they think their work differs from that of other writers.
It’s an exciting opportunity. As writers, we are constantly asking ourselves these four seemingly simple questions, but we don’t often sit down and articulate our responses, let alone publish them. And it is also interesting to realize once again that there are no simple questions. “What am I working on?” looks like a straightforward question, but it is, as they say, complicated. Very few of us, I suspect, work on only one thing at a time. There is a thing that I am working on at this very minute, there is another thing on my desktop that I am working on when I need a break from working on the main thing, there is a thing tickling the back of my head that I am impatient to get to, there is a thing that I started working on a few months ago and stopped but now have a few fresh ideas for, and there are things (like this blog) that I have been asked to write and have put everything else aside, for the moment, to write because I thought it would be quick and easy, forgetting that, when writing, nothing is ever quick and very little is easy.
So each day for four days, starting today, I will post my answers to each of the four questions. I have chosen, for this first question, to write about only the work I am writing at his very moment, and not about the myriad other works that are milling around on my desktop and in my brain. It is a truism that writing about what one is writing about is harder than writing the actual thing. And also that if one could adequately write about what one is writing, there would be no point in writing the actual thing. Be that as it may, I hope that in the course of responding to the four questions, I give some idea of what it is like to be a writer at this point in the process, at this point in my career, and at this point in history.
Blog Tour Posts:
Blog Tour Post #1: What I am working on, July 4, 2014.
Blog Tour Post #2: Why is my work different? July 5, 2014.
Blog Tour Post #3: What is my writing Process? July 6, 2014.
Blog Tour Post #4: Why do I write what I write? July 7, 2014.
Delighted to say that Emancipation Day has won the 2013 Amazon.ca First Novel Award! Please go to THE NEWS page for more information about the award.
Emancipation Day has been shortlisted for the Libris Award for Fiction Book of the Year. Please see THE NEWS page for more details.
Emancipation Day has been named in two round-ups of the best books of 2013. The first in the National Post, in Phil Marchand’s list of his favourite books of the year, and the second in the CBC list of the best 10 books of 2013. To read the citations for Emancipation Day and the year’s other big books, please go to: National Post – Philip Marchand’s column with his favourites of 2013 CBC Best Books of 2013
October 1970 in the News:
October 1970 has been voted by Canadians to be one of the top 10 novels that can change Canada. Find out more about the CBC Canada Reads contest by clicking here.
October 1970 has also been declared one of the top 100 books of 2013 by Amazon.ca editors.
More Emancipation Day News:
Both Emancipation Day and my translation of Louis Hamelin’s novel October 1970 made the Scotiabank Giller longlist!
Emancipation Day made the Globe 100 Best Books 2013!
Amazon.ca picked Emancipation Day as a “Best Book of July”!
Indigo Books named Emancipation Day a “Heather’s Pick.”
Chatelaine magazine named Emancipation Day its Book of the Month in the September issue!
Open Book Ontario asked a number of writers, including me, to write about the role of “place” in their work. My essay about “place” in Emancipation Day can be read by clicking here.
Check out Hazlitt, Random House’s online literary magazine, for my response to their questionnaire, the first question of which was: “What three words do you associate with your first relationship?” Yikes.Wayne Grady