Curated by Josh P.
A writer’s life is not an easy one. It’s hours alone, pounding away on the keyboard and a near-existential fear your work will go by unloved. More than once you find yourself staring off, while Facebook notifications of what your friends are up to tug at your eyes, and asking yourself why am I doing this?
Yet by some miracle, we have people crazy enough to be writers and this month we asked the draft writers and collective for the upcoming Draft 12.3, what is it that shaped them into the writer that they are today.
The many opportunities I had that generations of women in the family before me didn’t receive—all led to this life of chasing words: Time as a reader. A local library. A feminist father. A new country. Archie Comics. YA novels. An English teacher in middle school. A guidance counsellor who encouraged me in grade eight. Translated works. Plays. Poems. Films. Pop culture. Graphic novels. Star Trek. Lit Mags. A love of language. Malapropisms. My friends. Difficult gatekeepers. Gifted instructors. Angels with editorial ability. Generous writers. And most importantly—Pixie dust.
Eufemia Fantetti is a graduate of The Writer’s Studio at SFU and the University of Guelph’s MFA in Creative Writing. Her first book, A Recipe for Disaster & Other Unlikely Tales of Love, was runner-up for the 2013 Danuta Gleed Literary Award and a winner of the 2014 F.G. Bressani Prize. It is available from Mother Tongue Publishing. She teaches English at Humber College and Creative Writing through the University of Guelph.
I think initially, as a young person, I was influenced by what was available to read in the library. I grew up in a small town, so the library was small, but there were several shelves devoted to myths, fairy tales, folktales, and legends.
These were wonderful.The world, as expressed in these tales, seemed extraordinary. There were so many different and fantastic ways to explain why things operated as they did, and the language employed was so vivid. The characters that inhabited these tales were simultaneously bold and complex. The narratives were sometimes straightforward, but often times surprisingly complicated and indirect.
Now, I keep books of myths and legends on the shelves alongside my desk, and I return to them frequently when I write.
Professor Clem Martini is an award-winning playwright, novelist, and screenwriter with over thirty plays, and ten books of fiction and nonfiction to his credit, including the Calgary Book Award-winning Bitter Medicine: A Graphic Memoir of Mental Illness and his most recent anthology, Martini With A Twist. His texts on playwriting, The Blunt Playwright, The Greek Playwright, and The Ancient Comedians are employed widely at universities and colleges across the continent. He currently teaches in the School of Creative and Performing Arts at the University of Calgary.
One Friday night when I was ten, I was staying over at my grandparents’ house. While I laid on the living room floor watching TV, my grandparents were in the kitchen with a couple they played cards with. I overheard the wife saying that her son had tried to stab her with a kitchen knife. He was schizophrenic and off his medication. I had never heard of schizophrenia, but the symptomatology sounded like demonic possession to a Catholic school kid. I needed to know more, so I turned to books.
I read that schizophrenia often manifests during adolescence. I read that Jesus had driven a legion of demons from a lonely man and into a herd of pigs, whereupon the pigs drowned. I did not want to become a teenager. I did not want to become someone responsible for the deaths of pigs. I was afraid I would become both. I started waking up at night, thinking I saw eyes in the shadows. Walking alone during the day, I counted cracks in the sidewalk in sets of twelve so I wouldn’t hear words in the murmuring of trees.
One night, I dreamt instead about a clear river barely contained by its banks. I woke up and wrote down everything I could remember about the river. I did not know if it was a real river, or if it was a symbol of something I could not otherwise understand. But I kept filling that notebook with everything that, like the river, seemed greater than my trepidations.
At twenty-seven, I no longer believe in demons, and I no longer demonize mental illness. I have other fears, other cathexes. And I keep a different notebook.
Jade Wallace is a Niagara writer currently doing community legal work in Toronto. Jade’s writing has appeared in journals includingThe Nashwaak Review, Feathertale, Poetry Sz, has been included in multi-author collections including Breakfast in a Day by Death Cookie Soup Press and Pac’N Heat: A Noir Homage to Ms. Pac-Man by AGP Books. Jade also has six chapbooks with Grey BordersBooks, most recently The Cosmic Squirrel Is On Your Side and Smiling Drunk Pufferfish, written in collaboration with Terry Trowbridge. Jade eschews any sincere use of social media but can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, as well as by postcards addressed to your nearest dead letter office.
Running a reading series has always been audacious. Few can say their love of writers is worth the hard reality of packing a bar with an audience and settling up a fat bill at the end of the night.
Miraculously almost every night the bars and community spaces in Toronto are packed with every varied definition of “reading series” from weekly poetry readings to a platform for first drafts.
They’re run by people like Daniel Renton, current host of the Common Reading Series, who answered our questions on how he makes the Common thrive.
Why did you start the Common Reading Series and what keeps you going?
I didn’t actually start it, our founder, Jessica Moore, did. I inherited the series and hope it continues indefinitely with or without myself. The number of interested writers alone keeps it going, if I had much trouble finding readers–and I mean excellent readers–I might see the series as superfluous but that has never been the case. I’ve only ever had one or two repeat guests since I began hosting. Our wonderful audiences are also essential, as well as our very cool venue, the Belljar Café.
How long have you been organizing/hosting the Common Reading Series?
Since 2015. I began guest hosting in 2013 and co-hosted the 2014 year. By then I was the logical choice to take over when Jessica moved to Montreal, but she’s still an important part of our collective, especially for special events.
How do you fund the Common Reading Series?
I’m awful at this and we are a small group, so the series has no external funding yet. Occasionally, the Quebec Writers’ Federation has paid for writers travelling from the P of Q. The QWF is very generous at specific times of the year. Mostly, we pass a Pay-What-You-Can jug at the readings and divide what comes in equally among the readers. Writers also get one free beer. We’re classy like that. Fingers crossed for grant money in 2017; I’d love to be able to offer more to our readers and build a more reliable online presence.
Why do you believe reading series are necessary for the literary community?
Although I’m sure the literary community would survive without us, I don’t care to speculate on what disfigured and depraved form that community would take without us. Was there even such a thing as CanLit before Common Readings? This would make a good essay topic for the end of term.
Who was your most memorable reader?
There have been so many but it was amazing to hear Karen Solie read new work early last year. Karen somewhat of a national treasure in Canadian poetry. She’s had a good deal of success here and is rapidly gaining attention abroad. This means that she’s used to very professional gigs that probably pay well. In sum: we need her a lot more than she needs us. I can’t speak for her or anyone else, but I suspect that writers of this high a calibre enjoy reading at the Common because of the relaxed atmosphere and the closer connection to the audience. It’s a bit like when a stadium rock star does a surprise gig at a coffeehouse. It’s also a great way to try out new material and connect with new artists. Liz Howard, Damian Rogers, and Soraya Peerbaye stand out as recent highlights.
What makes the Common Reading Series unique?
Our unique agenda has been to fit somewhere between a series like Pivot and one like Emerging Writers (now reinvented as Slackline) to offer a bit of both worlds. In that spirit, we strive to match emerging writers with more established ones in order to create dialogue within the literary community that otherwise might not exist. Ideas flow both ways, new writers get first- hand access to those who know the literary scene well and successful writers get to hear fresh voices and get to know emerging trends. This mandate also involves striving to diversify the literary community on all levels, which involves but is not limited to including writers of colour, various gender orientations, writers with disabilities, and writers from various regions and cultures as much as possible. But the issue isn’t just about inclusion, it’s about paying attention to what makes quality writing work for each new reader.
What is the future of Common Reading Series?
We’ve recently extended the series to include many special events including book launches, translation nights, satellite events across Canada, and transnational readings which include guest authors from the United States. It is my hope that the series can continue to grow, to survive, and maintain its level of quality as well.
Daniel Kincade Renton has been published in Prism international, Hazlitt, CV2, The Fiddlehead, The Malahat Review, and The Fish Quill Poetry Boat 2010-2013 anthology. His poem “Sundowning” was shortlisted for the Basil Bunting award in the UK. Daniel hosts The Common Reading Series in Toronto, while completing a Ph.D on Jacques Derrida, Poetics, and Hypercritical Faith at York University. Milk Teeth, his debut chapbook, was published by Frog Hollow Press in late 2015. You can find him on Facebook and Instagram.
For any aspiring writer, there is an avalanche of articles on how to be a writer with advice like “Write every day”, “Read more”, etc. However just as there are many ways a writer can succeed e.g. reading at Draft, there are other ways writers can metaphorically shoot themselves in the foot. So for this month’s Writers Unblocking we reached out to the Draft community and asked them
What is the one thing a writer can do to self-sabotage their writing career?
Understandably they were trepidatious, being successful writers and all that, however after much convincing here is what they came up with.
Though you’ll almost always write alone, don’t let yourself get lonely. Whether you’re just starting out or whether you’ve already published books, what you’re writing can’t help but be in conversation with what others have already written—and if you live in a larger city, especially, you’ll find communities of writers and readers everywhere from continuing education courses, post-secondary programs and writers’ workshops to reading series, book launches, writers-in-residence, public library events, literary magazines, book clubs, independent bookstores and more. So enter into the dialogue! Take courses, apply to conferences, give public readings, attend launches. Every one of these spaces is filled with people like you who, though very often alone with words, are no less interested in exchanging experiences, ideas, feelings—stories. And if you’re a new writer, this is particularly important. Engaging regularly with others who do what you’re doing might not unblock you, per se, but it will at least help you sustain your own writing’s momentum by reminding you that you’re writing to talk to someone; by contrast, avoiding connections with a community of writers and readers is equal to opting out of the conversation, and brings with it the terrible risk that you’ll convince yourself you don’t have anything to say.
Daniel Perry is the author of the short story collections Hamburger (Thistledown, 2016) and Nobody Looks That Young Here (Guernica, 2018). His fiction has been short-listed for the Carter V. Cooper Prize and has appeared in more than 30 publications in Canada, the U.S., the U.K. the Czech Republic. He lives in Toronto, and on Twitter @danielperrysays.
If you want a one-word answer it’s this: Facebook.
Elyse Friedman is a Toronto-based author and screenwriter. Her most recent novel, The Answer to Everything, was published by HarperCollins Canada. Her work has been short-listed for the Trillium Book Award, The Toronto Book Award, the Relit Award, and has won a Gold National Magazine Award for fiction.
Daniel Kincade Renton
A writer can do so, so many things to self-sabotage their career and I am likely proficient at all of them but perhaps the most imaginatively unhealthy or salacious. A constant temptation, however, seems to me to be to act the writer’s life rather than focus on the much less glamorous or entertaining pursuit of actually gluing one’s posterior to a chair with pen and paper or whatnot and performing the actual lonely and painful act of composition. But it is not also true, after all, that in retrospect, when the work is actually published and disseminated, that we remember that struggle the fondest?
Daniel Kincade Renton has been published in Prism international,Hazlitt, CV2, The Fiddlehead, The Malahat Review, and The Fish Quill Poetry Boat 2010-2013 anthology. His poem “Sundowning” was shortlisted for the Basil Bunting award in the UK. Daniel hosts The Common Reading Series in Toronto while completing a Ph.D on Jacques Derrida, Poetics, and Hypercritical Faith at York University. Milk Teeth, his debut chapbook, was published by Frog Hollow Press in late 2015.
The only way I know for sure to self-sabotage a writing career is not to write.
Ronna Bloom is the author of five books of poetry, most recently Cloudy With A Fire in the Basement (Pedlar Press, 2012), shortlisted for The Relit Award. She has performed with Juno Award winning musician Jayme Stone and has had her poems made into tiny films by Midi Onodera. Ronna is Poet-in-Residence at Mount Sinai Hospital and Poet-in-Community at the University of Toronto where she works with poetry and people. A new book is coming down the pipeline. She can be found on Twitter & Instagram.
The Horse That Waits
Two horses were standing in the field.
“Bridie,” said the grey horse to the roan. “Why are you so listless? All you do is eat grass and look sad.” Bridie shook her mane.
“My rider left and I don’t think she will return.”
“So what?” the grey horse said. “I have no rider. That doesn’t stop me from having a nice gallop.”
“Well it’s all right for you,” Bridie replied. “You’re a pleb. I am slow now, without the whip of my rider to inspire me to greater speed. I do not know where to go without her noble reins to guide me.”
“Bridie,” they grey horse sighed. “All this time you spend waiting for a rider is time you could spend practicing your sprints. Also, carrying a rider actually makes you slower.”
“A rider makes you slower,” Bridie said smugly. “A rider makes me exceptional.”
“That is literally not how physics works,” the grey horse said. “A rider increases your weight and decreases your aerodynamic efficiency.”
“You don’t know what it’s like to touch the spark of divinity!” Bridie said, looking a bit rapturous and a bit wistful.
“Maybe not,” the grey horse said. “But I run faster and more often than you do.”
Bridie never saw the wisdom of the grey horse’s words. Instead, her lungs shrivelled up and she became very preoccupied with rolling around on the ground and sulking. A lion took advantage of this and ate her.
Jade Wallace is a Niagara writer currently doing community legal work in Toronto. Jade’s writing has appeared in journals including The Nashwaak Review, Feathertale, Poetry Sz, has been included in multi-author collections including Breakfast in a Day by Death Cookie Soup Press and Pac’N Heat: A Noir Homage to Ms. Pac-Man by AGP Books. Jade also has six chapbooks with Grey Borders Books, most recently The Cosmic Squirrel Is On Your Side and Smiling Drunk Pufferfish, written in collaboration with Terry Trowbridge. Jade eschews any sincere use of social media but can be contacted at email@example.com, as well as by postcards addressed to your nearest dead letter office.
“Stop writing,” is the first answer that came to my mind.
After The Diviners (1974) was banned from the Lakefield High School English reading list, Margaret Laurence had never written another novel. A.M. Klein had a very successful public and writing career. In the early 1950s, he suffered a mental breakdown, withdrew into silence and a self-imposed exile for the rest of his life. We’ll never know if he had ever written again. Even worse: after he lost his mind, Gogol burnt the second part of Dead Souls.
To me, the question has become: What can a writer do to keep writing and trust his/her work?
As a native Romanian poet and playwright, Diana Manole has published nine collections of poems and plays, won fourteen literary awards, and contributed to numerous national and international anthologies and magazines. Since making Canada her new country, her poetry in English (translated into same with Adam J. Sorkin —or written originally therein) has been published in Canada, the US, the UK, and South Africa. Her poems have also been translated into and published in French, German, Polish, Spanish, and Albanian, while her translations of Canadian poetry were printed in major Romanian magazines. B&W, her bilingual Romanian-English collection of poems, also co-translated with Sorkin, came out in 2015 at Tracus Arte. In September 2016, “Deflowering. English” has been featured on the website of the Canadian Parliament’s Library as Poem of the Month in both English and French (translated by Robert Paquin). Since February 2013, Diana writes and dreams in English!
Have I spent too much time writing in journals? Sometimes I think it was a necessary step in building a voice; well, a self. Sometimes I think it was a colossal waste of time.
Maria Meindl is the author of Outside the Box: the Life and Legacy of Writer Mona Gould, the Grandmother I Thought I Knew from McGill Queens University Press, a story “The Last Judgment” from Found Press and “Rules” an essay in an anthology on death published by Creative Non Fiction. Her essays have appeared in The Literary Review of Canada, Descant andMusicworks. She has made two radio series for CBC Ideas: Parent Care, and Remembering Polio. She is a Feldenkrais practitioner who teaches movement classes in downtown Toronto. www.bodylanguagejournal.wordpress.com
Curated by Josh P.
We’re kicking off the 12th season of the Draft series. Yah! That’s 12 years of encouraging the writing process of some truly fine authors. The series itself is always in draft mode, and we decided to try something new this year. We’re not only encouraging writers to share their drafts but their writing expertise as well. In our new blog series, we will post a writerly question for the upcoming Draft readers to answer.
What is your ideal habitat and why? E.g. location, rituals writing tools, etc.
Here are the writing spots they came up with.
I can’t provide a straight answer. I am not straight. I am all metaphor and symbol, archetype and ambiguity. I am an immigrant.
“Ideal” is a big word. It is where I don’t want to be as a poet. It is where I yearn for in my poetry.
I feel lonely. “Now” is the place I don’t want to be. This –the place I don’t want to be— is where my poetry comes from. It’s my poetry’s favourite place— not mine.
There is a thin line between “me” and “non-me.” I don’t know if I have ever crossed it, or ever will. I don’t know if I ever can. Non-me is what I am. Me is what I am. I don’t know if I can ever cross my own borders.
On nights like these, I don’t know who is listening when I talk to me. I don’t know if it’s “me” or “non-me.”
Why? You are asking me?
“You ask me how I am—How do I know?” says Rumi. And I echo him.
I know about the ritual, though: It is pain. It is blood. It is the me I cannot escape from, going through her self, her other self, her othered self. The ritual is the inescapable escape of screams. It is the confession.
The instrument is the exile. Until recently I thought of it as separation from homeland. Now it is deepening into a separation from the self I thought was inseparable. I don’t know me anymore. This person writing is a stranger to me.
Forget about the habitat, instrument, and location. Ask about me. Ask me how I am, even if the answer is, “How do I know?”
Poet, translator, teacher, editor and poetry curator, Bänoo Zan, landed in Canada in 2010. She has more than 120 poems, etc., in publications around the globe. Songs of Exile, a collection of her poems, was released by Guernica Editions in 2016. A second collection, Letters to My Father, is due to be released early in 2017. She is the founder of Shab-e She’r (Poetry Night), the most diverse poetry reading and open mic series in Toronto. It bridges the gap between poetry communities, bringing together artists from different ethnicities, nationalities, religions (or lack thereof), ages, genders, sexual orientations, disabilities, poetic styles, voices, and visions. Bänoo Zan can be found on Facebook and Twitter.
A tidy room with a window, a computer, an ergonomic workstation, and an internet connection. Although it may invite interruptions, I prefer to leave the door open. I feel freer that way, more connected to the world. I can’t put music on – can’t concentrate on my story and actively listen at the same time – but I don’t mind if music wafts in from elsewhere. At work, I sometimes write during my lunch hour. There’s a huge construction site right outside my window but somehow I manage to tune out the noise. At home the only voice that sends me slamming the door shut is Donald Trump’s – the men in my life are addicted to CNN.
Josée Sigouin was born in Montréal and now lives in Toronto with her family. She enjoys travelling and has made several trips to Asia, particularly Hong Kong and Korea. The opening chapter of her first novel, THE FIFTH SEASON, was shortlisted for the 2011 Random House of Canada Student Award for Fiction. She has shared her writer’s journey through the Women Writing Letters series published by Gailey Road Productions in 2015. In her professional life, Josée is Director of Research Information Analysis at the University of Toronto where she serves as managing editor of a key communications vehicle. She blogs about creative writing and story-telling at https://povjoseesigouin.wordpress.com/
Away is what I need as a writer. Always AWAY! Away from the daily, my nest, my beloved animals, my telephone and my email and my text messages. This means a retreat to me. And I have worked in three of them, and I have flourished in each.
The furthest from home was Hawthornden Castle, sited on the last untouched glen in Scotland. Not so remote as the Orkneys, for there is a bus to Edinburgh which runs hourly past the castle gates into the city in a jiffy. Whenever you start to go crazy, there is an Edinburgh distraction just down the road and there are wonderful walks outside the castle gates into fields of poppies and horses. Hawthornden Castle isn’t really a castle in any North American sense—it’s just a very large house with a wall and a moat,and foxes in the glen, and it belonged to a poet, Drummond of Hawthornden. I spent six weeks there with six other writers and wrote the Scottish section of my book The Grace of Private Passage in my commodious room at the top top top of a narrow staircase under the castle eaves.
I’ve been twice to the Banff Centre to visit the elk and send texts through the fully wired chipmunks. Another ideal retreat where escape means going into another building to watch ballerinas, to listen to violinists or to walk the craggy pathways wrapped in scarves in the company of other writers, playwrights, visual artists, or to go and dance in a pub called The Grizzly Bear.
My favourite retreat, however, is only a short easy boat ride from home, Toronto Island Artscape at the Lighthouse at Gibraltar Point. I have been writing at Gibraltar Point Artscape since time immemorial, and I have had short term and long term studios there where the beach is just outside the door and the grand lake sends its endless, seemingly endless changes, and skies to change moment by moment. Much of my new book was forged at Artscape Gibraltar Point where the city and the cities beyond the city and history spread out into the blue of water and sky.
Karen has published 22 books and has edited a lot of issues of Descant which closed in 2015.In a former life and in her next she might be a veterinarian as she has a cat and dog and a whole mess of fish and in other lives, she has also mentored guinea pigs. You can find Karen on her website, Facebook and on Twitter.
When my husband and I moved into our house, one of the main selling points was the shed in the backyard that the previous owner had converted into a fully insulated, wired office. It’s a tiny, perfect space, with a high ceiling and just enough sunlight streaming through the windows. We each promptly set up our desks, our backs to each other. On my shelf I placed a stack of my favourite books, arranged a small collection of Virgin Mary candles bought in the Philippines or grocery stores in the United States and propped up a few photos. This desk was beautiful, blessed. And I think I’ve written at it maybe a dozen times in the past four years? While my husband uses the shed often, I retreat to coffee shops, or, more realistically, the bed. I’ve tried to convince myself that I would be more productive writing at a desk, but the truth is that I’ve done my best and most voluminous writing in bed. My husband has threatened to replace my desk in the shed with a couch. My protests have been halfhearted. My bed is my ideal writing habitat.
Teri Vlassopoulos is the author of the short story collection, Bats or Swallows (2010), and a novel, Escape Plans (2015), both with Invisible Publishing. Her fiction has appeared in Room Magazine, Joyland, Little Fiction, and various other North American journals. She was the cookbook columnist for Bookslut, and has had non-fiction published at The Toast, The Millions and The Rumpus. She can be found at http://bibliographic.net or on Twitter.
Don’t forget to meet the writers at the upcoming Draft reading 12.1 happening on Sunday, October 23 at the Flying Pony Cafe.
Curated by Josh P.
Go to enough Toronto literary events and you start to notice a recurring pattern. It’s usually at a bar, there’s a PWYC jar half-full of loose change and crumpled fives, and everything is late. If the Facebook/Patchy Squirrel event listing says 7:00pm, a crowd only starts to show around 7:30pm, and the actual readings may start as late as 8:00pm. That’s how my expectations were set up when attending my first DRAFT reading.
On a cool Sunday afternoon, I walked into the Red Sandcastle Theatre, the newest DRAFT venue, exactly on time, and had an eyebrow-raise at the third of the seats already filled with chattering attendees. Maria and Julia, members of the DRAFT Collective, were managing a book table, stacked with books readers had brought to sell, the PWYC jar, and 30 chapbooks, titled DRAFT, a compilation of work from every reader. Beer was noticeably absent.
Barely 15 minutes later, the little theatre space was packed with the usual cliques you find in any reading series, friends/fam of the organizers and readers and the group that all good literary events eventually grow: the regulars.
April L. Ford, started the DRAFT with a narrative essay, “The Rag”, on the filthiness of growing up. She hit hard with the gritty of her high school relationship with a 30-year old man who owns a rag which grows encrusted with patches of oil swipes and pickings between teeth as their relationship deteriorates. Sharon Kirsch, was next offering a great snacky writ on the absence of family.
Sheila Murray offered a touching preview from her novel, of a man arriving in Africville, the lost town of African-Canadians in Nova Scotia, where kids celebrated a birthday with the last few cokes the only town’s convenience store has. After a break, Jason Paradiso, a former co-editor at Descant, ended the day with a particular style of poetry made up of sentences cut-up from magazines and rejigged into a breath of some speculative flyby. In the corner of the seats where I sat, his wife sat rocking the portable crib holding their new baby.
There is a lot about DRAFT that does right. A book table, usually reserved for press or author launches, is always appreciated, giving readers a chance to sell their work. Where the DRAFT takes it further is the reading series exclusive chapbook/zine, adding a sense of community by offering a physical piece of the reading series to the audience. It creates that community of writers and readers that every literary organizer wishes will eventually happen.
This may not be the sole reason for DRAFT’s continued success (now in its 10th year and counting) but given that it boasts a hefty alumni list of some well-known writers, including Lillian Allen and bill bissett, DRAFT is doing something right. Unlike its namesake, DRAFT is as refined as the best of any reading series. That people show up on time is enough said.
Please join us for the season-opener of Draft 12.1.
Sunday, October 23
The Flying Pony Cafe
1481 Gerrard St. E.
We’ll be featuring new work by
We are grateful to the Toronto Arts Council and the League of Canadian Poets for their support of this reading.
Stay tuned for more details of this and other readings in Draft Season Twelve.