Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Violetta Leigh : my (small press) writing day

6:12am: The cat jumps on the bed and walks, back and forth, over me. Get up to feed him. Keep eyes closed.

6:23am-10:44am: Continue sleeping.

10:45am: Grasped by consciousness and sustained by a sense of obligations.

10:51am: Boil water. Grind Kicking Horse coffee beans and tap into French press. Communicate nothing. Think about nothing. Keep lights off and sweep the curtains aside the window to invite tentative light.

10:52am: Morning is a violent time. Stare at the room and consider that corners are points of collision.

11:01am: Coffee.

11:16am: Join the realm of the living. 

11:20am: Blend a smoothie with frozen fruit and protein powder, relying on nutrients that don’t require my attention. Sit down to work.

11:30-4:00pm: Continue writing the first draft of the second story in my current triptych. Three years ago, I started writing a series of triptychs. Each series coils around a central icon. The first triptych featured the holy trinity of depression, anxiety, and dissociation. It’s named drone philosophy i/ii/iii. drone philosophy ii is published as polynya in SAND Journal.

Spirits catalyzed the narratives of the second triptych. The stories included are, spirit demolition, the electromagnetics of latex & rabbit, and seeing versus perceiving. the electromagnetics of latex & rabbit is published by In Shades Magazine. As a child, I obsessed over the paranormal section of my elementary school’s library: second row from the back, tucked to the left on the highest shelf. Paranormal books shape the narrative to follow, or focus on, the subject. Ghost stories typically begin with famous haunting incidents, progress to descriptions of the spirit, and finish with theories on who the spirit may have been before death. However, in contrast, a lived paranormal experience is a brief disruption of day-to-day normalcy. The second triptych explores this; spirit presence catalyzes human drama.

5:00pm: Reheat leftovers on the stove. Cooking pulls my attention away from writing. Fiction requires the writer to be outside of the room they’re sitting in.

5:20pm: The current triptych explores lichen-like relationships between white marble, a symbol of antiquity, and technology. I review notes on veiled marble statues, like Giuseppe Sanmartino’s Christ lying under the Shroud or Giovanni Strazza’s Veiled Virgin. I research machine learning, a method of building artificial intelligence that postulates artificial systems can learn data, recognize patterns, and execute decisions with minimal human intervention. Google’s AutoML system, a machine learning AI, replicates self-learning code faster and more efficiently than its human creators.

6:30pm: Each day holds between three to five hours of efficient brain energy. I’ve used today’s quota. Experience is of equal importance to fiction as the organizing of thoughts and physical act of writing. As David Foster Wallace said in his essay, E Unibus Pluram, “Fiction writers as a species tend to be oglers… they need that straightforward visual theft of watching somebody who hasn’t prepared a special watchable self.” Social media and television are sugar water to fiction writers - enjoyable without substance. Real writer food is firsthand.

7:15pm: Systematically fifteen minutes late to meet J at our favourite cocktail bar, hidden up a flight of green carpeted stairs on the edge of Chinatown. Honeycombed lattices separate curling leather booths. The interior smells of the markets below: cases of dehydrated mushrooms, dried fish, one thousand herbal notes: an array of dynamic smells I lack the knowledge to know the true names.

7:31: Order Death in the Afternoon, a jewelled cocktail fusing champagne and absinthe. The bartender garnishes the seaglass green liquor with dried rosebuds. Ernest Hemingway claimed to first mix Death in the Afternoon and named it after his book on bullfighting. He recommended drinking three to five in one sitting… I enjoy one.

J and I exchange handmarked drafts of our most recent fiction pieces. We prefer physical copy edits to digital, adding notes in the margins and underlining our favourite lines in each other’s work. The tealight on the table flickers out and the server brings us a bright new one. J’s work thrills me: he offers consistent surprises, fresh turns of phrases, and rapidly growing ability. His praise of my work always warms and invigorates me. I’m motivated to edit with a scalpel and bring fingers to keyboard. It’s a priceless friendship.

9:12pm: Cab to the galley. Greet B, minding the door. He wears a three-piece suit and carries a clipboard. It holds several sheets of blank paper. Those approaching the gallery respond with apprehensive respect towards a Man in a Suit Holding a Clipboard.

Ascend the worn carpeted stairs. After two flights, horn instruments noodle from behind a closed door. The jazz club shivers, their space to the left of the gallery. Sometimes, the door slits open and a trombone player in a striped scarf or a frenetic man wielding a clarinet breezes past without smiling. To the right, the door to the gallery opens.

Mid-century décor engulfs visitors: wood panelled walls, geometric tiles patterning the floor, a worn walnut credenza here, and slouching chrome and wicker chairs there. A performance artist hunches on a stool in front of a table set with a candle and white rose tucked in a tall glass vase. He’s handsome in the classic American sense: blonde and built like the California coastline. He rests one hand on his thigh and clutches a book in the other, costumed in a loose blazer, jeans, and sneakers. I listen for a moment. Miller? No, Anaïs Nin. Not her diaries: Delta of Venus or Little Birds. His hand on the book cover shifts. Ah, it’s Delta of Venus. Arguably, her more well-known collection of short fiction. People lean against the walls and listen. The quiet room reverberates with the low roll of his voice and intermittent crackling of the tiny candle flame.

The next room offers a seating area around a surfboard-shaped coffee table and beyond that the bar: a wave of jatoba wood, chosen for its medicinal usage and association with summoning spirits. The staff, who built the gallery, salvaged the steel and red vinyl stools circling the bar from a closing diner. L bartends with constant calculated movement: cracking cans, mixing simple cocktails, stacking clean glassware, and rubbing the bar down, with a wet cloth, in large circles she emphasizes with her whole shoulders. Behind her, an oversized set of wooden cutlery hangs from the wall next to a sailboat cresting a wave in jagged brass.

I sit on the stool at the end of the bar, closest to roof door, and order a negroni. L mixes it and I ask her about her day. She serves full-time in a restaurant and runs the gallery after work and out of pocket. It’s an eroding love that won’t last, as culture sustained on fumes will starve. Or, in Vancouver, the building will be purchased by one of the real estate speculating wealthy who can’t see value beyond dirty talking their bank accounts, shovelling money into homes as empty investments or metastasizing them into unaffordable luxury condos. As a sentient being, I have more in common with the black bear who eased himself into an empty pool on a hot summer day in North Vancouver than another human who values an excess of fictive currency over human safety and companionship.

9:44pm: Closed spaces fit me like an undersized blazer and I step outside onto the roof, the cool air refreshing. A few people smoke inside the fenced pen. The north side of the building faces a shipping container port. Candy colourful shipping containers rise in rows from flat-bed ships like a paused game of Tetris. Red cranes, bright as lipstick, hover and wait. Overhead lights line the scene with an unreal vibrancy, like the etched contours of actors on stage. I exhale and pick over the objects, filing the snapshot in my mind with words to describe them later: a forgotten game of lego blocks and unplaced industrial hum. The first phrase that comes to mind is often a reflexive cliché. I discard it. I play a game; if square green container is the first phrase to come to mind, what would the inversion be? Ridged seafoam pod. Greet the reader with a familiar experience described in a fresh way.

10:01pm: S steps onto the roof with a beer. We discuss administrative aspects of Real Vancouver Writers’ Series. We propose tighter data recording and methods of sharing it with the board. A broadening platform allows us to support more writers. He elaborates on the roster for our event coming up at the end of the month. Despite immersing myself in literature since learning to read, I’m unfamiliar with half of them and appreciative of his knowledge. He drops his finished cigarette in the tin pail and we move inside.

10:33pm: I sit at the bar, enjoying chit-chat with those who trickle in. In the other room, a poet replaces the performance artist. She unwinds prose poems spun from the etymology of words like snail and clue.

11:00pm: The gallery folds down. L stacks clean glasses and wipes down the bar and counters one last time. I cab home.

11:20pm: Select from the To Read pile and finish the day with a few short stories written by Clarice Lispector. Pick up The Garden Party by Katherine Mansfield and compare the techniques of the two short fiction writers.

1:04am: Sleep.

Violetta Leigh majored in creative writing and political ecology at the University of Victoria. She has been published by SAND Journal, Litro Magazine, Minola Review, In Shades Magazine, HER Collective, So to Speak, Situate Magazine, and Active Fiction Project

She coordinates inclusive, diverse literary events with Real Vancouver Writers' Series. She thinks perfection is ugly and in the things humans make wants to see scars, failure, disorder, distortion. Find her online at

Monday, April 16, 2018

Micheline Maylor : My Writing Day: Out of, and into, the Grey

It’s been snowing for a dog’s year. My one open eye sees the fluff and the hunter-green tree silhouettes in the window frame. In the between of sleep and awake I try to record with as much accuracy as possible my dreams, often the seeds of my poems. I like the surreal nature of the night talkings and what appears in the oddest ways. This morning, I recall a dream about Richard Harrison who has called me to a meeting, but he has racoon hands! He me a gift out pulled of a puddle and held in his furry fingers. I think it’s a raspberry, but I’m not sure. I open my other eye. How the hell will I make a poem out of that? Never mind, I rise and head for the coffee machine. I add a shot of espresso for good measure. I can see we are going to be snowed in today, might as well be buzzed and finish the laundry, or unpack a box from two years ago when I moved in. Some tasks are patient. Writing is not a patient task. If I hear the writing call, I go. Everything else is a patient task. Everything. Which explains why my whole life looks like I left something in the middle. I did.
            I left it all to write a few lines of this or that, my computer desk top looks like a rummage sale. Artists know that the best creative ideas come from making odd and unusual connections. I figure a good dose of disorganization is good for new ways of seeing. Sometime the things lying next to one another make the connection, like an unbidden gift in animal hands. A gift from the dark.
            I’m reading five things at once, one about trees and how they communicate with one another, a poetry book about an artist, The Walrus, a book on symbols, and another on the history of ballads. I think I have reading ADD. I can’t shake the dream I had about Richard Harrison’s racoon hands. I wonder if I should tell him. Nah. It couldn’t really happen even if it was a warning or an omen, or a symbol. I’ll keep it to myself.
            The image of the raspberry is fulsome in my mind’s eye. I call to mind these lines of Irving Layton from Berry Picking:

Silently my wife walks on the still wet furze
Now dark green the leaves are full of metaphors
Now lit up is each tiny lamp of blueberry.
The white nails of rain have dropped and the sun is free.

The white nails of rain. There is an image I can appreciate. I turn on some music. Kate Bush, of course, my favourite, and I begin with a line that may or may not pull up a big one, the big fish, the big raspberry, the poem of a lifetime, or a phrase destined to become a long-lost dream, or an untouched file on my desktop:

            If I look back into the very foolishness
of childhood memory, I remember
with impeccable clarity the wonder
of every-day, even the grey sky . . .

This is all an experiment; this is some tepid shit. I need to do better. I’m just trying to stay out of the white nails of precipitation.

Dr. Micheline Maylor is Poet Laureate of Calgary. Maylor attained a Ph.D. at the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne in English Language and Literature with a specialisation in Creative Writing and 20th Century Canadian Literature. She teaches creative writing at Mount Royal University in Calgary where she won the 2015 Teaching Excellence Award, and was short-listed for the Robert Kroetsch award for experimental poetry. She is a University of Calgary Senator, a Tedx talker, a Walrus talker, and she was the Calgary Public Library Author in Residence (2016). She serves as poetry editor at Frontenac House Press. She is the co-founder of Freefall Literary Society and remains a consulting editor. Her latest poetry collection is Little Wildheart with U of A Press (2017). 

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Charmaine Cadeau : A Typical Writing Day

If writers had spirit animals, mine would be the anemone: grounded and wavering, astringent and delicate. And immeasurably slow.

Some species of anemones reproduce by splitting themselves in half, and I get the appeal. The writing side of my life is time-blind; the other half runs on unforgiving clocks.

When the alarm goes off, I slough off my duvet and shamble to the kitchen, half-asleep, in the midst of the golden hour, the only flattering thing this time of day. I watch the citrus horizon for a minute before I notice the neighbor’s yard is also glowing.

It’s early spring, and the trees that separate our properties are dotted with fine buds. A few weeks from now, their lot will be masked with green leaves, obstructing this view.

My husband looks at me, looks at his coat, and steps outside. When he returns, he tells me in a low voice that overnight, half of their home burned to the ground, leaving firefighters pooled in their yard, stamping out the last of the brush fires licking up leaves.

The air smells acidic.

I finish cooking, dress my kids for school, double-check their bags, and zip up my daughter’s coat because it’s two years old and you have to wiggle it just right. I tell them about the fire because they are about to drive by what remains. I ask them to think about how we can help.

When they leave, I stand at the window with my tea growing lukewarm, watching the forensics truck arrive. Watching as the caution tape is pulled around their property line. This is the time of day I usually write, when the house is empty and quiet, save for the water sluicing off the aquarium filter.

So I write, I do. The part of me that writes is the part that shocks easily. Grieves. Falls into or for uncertainties. There’s nothing I can do to help yet. I set my second alarm, the one that will go off in a little less than five hours when I need to leave the house to pick up my kids. I try not to look at the clock until then.

I try to shut out the world to let it in.

I commit some words to the page, where my level of commitment is the equivalent of going on a first date. I write prolifically, but most of it stays in notebooks or on my hard drive because I see these drafts as a step toward something, not as gestures or conversations yet. I turn off my concerns about how long it takes me to finish something, how much time was lost in something that didn’t work, the fallow periods between publishing.

I’m thinking about my neighbors who I barely know, who I can barely picture. They have two kids, too. I think about what to give them, and how to find where they’re staying. I wonder if my giving will seem like rubbernecking. The ruthlessness of house fires, how callous I feel sitting down to write in the midst of ruins.

In the night, I heard noises I thought were rifle shots. My house is flanked by woods, and all of my neighbors hunt. That it was well after dark and it’s not deer season made it unusual, put me on high alert. I listened harder, and decided I mistook the shots. A garbage truck was making its way to our house, which was also odd, but I remembered my husband’s calls to waste management this week asking for make-up service. It was mundane, all the possibilities. I fell back asleep.

I can dream through tragedy. I can write instead of what?

Part way through my morning, my mind wanders and I look at my son’s books: drawings he has stapled together with a few words here and there. “The Thunderstorm” ends with a man getting struck by lightning. I move to my de facto office: the bathtub. I draw water, grab my notebook and pencil, and start again to write.

My house is the last one on a dead-end street. When we moved in, I pleaded with my husband to have the extra room for my home office. I pointed to my pregnant belly, maybe threw in a little Virginia Woolf, and burnt up the last of the marital capital I will ever have to make my case. When I got what I wanted, I handmade my desk out of Ontario barn boards, set up my printing press, marvelled at the natural light spilling into the room.

What I didn’t account for is that my office is the only room in the house with three points of entry, mostly glass-paned french doors, which means even when they’re closed, I’m working in a fishbowl. My children, hearts of my heart, I can’t escape them.

In time, my office became the place to sort taxes, store patio furniture, and tuck away holiday dishes. My husband moved in his computer. It was lost to me.

I mostly write in my outdated, gloomy bathroom because the door locks. Other times, I work in my bedroom--the only other room with a locking door. Cross-legged on the floor, next to the heat register because I get cold sitting for so long, I write with the window at my back. I’ve become accomplished at writing in my car because so much of my time is spent commuting to work or ferrying my kids.

The pages of my draft for this essay curl in the bathtub’s steam. I towel off, transcribe them, revising as I go. Eat a sandwich. Bring in the UPS package on the porch. Send only necessary emails, and make a mental note of the others for when I’m multitasking later on.

The alarm goes off, and I fall into the lockstep schedule for the rest of the day. Every minute from now until bedtime is measured: school pick-ups, homework, the time it takes the oven to preheat for dinner, cycling the laundry, going for a walk with my kids in this day that turned out to be quite beautiful. I drive to attend a reading and a lecture one city over, then race home in time to plant kisses on my children’s cheeks before they’re asleep.

When I pass by the house, one half is unscathed, the other gutted and unrecognizable. Warped metal is piled in the garden. I’m not yet sure if anyone was hurt.

I dive back into writing, uncuffing the minutes left in the day so as to stretch out time a little bit more. I think about what’s been lost, think about burnt books, of all things. Think about what to make of the ashes.

Sea anemones are thought to resemble flowers of the same name, flowers that are colorful and jostle in the wind. The Greeks believed the four wind gods, the anemoi, were responsible for starting the seasons. Last night, the wind was coming from the southeast. Eurus, known to the Romans as Vulturnus, ushers in bad luck.

More than what’s been made or what’s been lost, the day ends with me thinking about what’s in waiting. “Surely, something comes from a life with savage winds…” (Ovid, Heroides, 11.9 ff). That’s where tomorrow will begin.

(Note: since writing this, I’ve reclaimed my office.)

Charmaine Cadeau is from Toronto, Ontario. Her poetry collections include What You Used to Wear (Goose Lane) and Placeholder (Brick), which won the ReLit Award. She resides in North Carolina, filling her days with teaching, editing, and co-directing The Community Writing Center.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Pauline Holdstock : My Writing Day

I began writing when I was pregnant with my first child. Six years later I had had another three. How to write? When to write? I was too tired at night. I set aside two hours a day at 2 pm precisely, during which the babies would nap or, later, learn to amuse themselves and not disturb my work time – at any cost. Anyone who remembers Jack Nicholson at his typewriter in "The Shining" will get the idea.

I was never more focussed than during those years of two hours a day max. Every minute counted. Here's a piece I wrote at the time —on a typewriter— about that time. It's an extract from a longer piece called Lost and Found and it's from my short story collection Swimming From the Flames.


There were so many babies. Finding the time did become a problem. And the room. It did not help at all to know that time and space were curved. She tried not to plot her days like positions on a graph. Nothing was more linear than her own time; it was a track, and the space she wanted to reach was an empty room upon it, a cube that, strangely, diminished at her approach, so that she managed to slip in only briefly before emerging on the other side. Often, just as she was about to step inside, the babies themselves would be there. Ma, ma, ma. Needing. Kneading her heart into pulp until she had to tear it out, scoop it out for them, doling: Here. And here. Take. Take. Scooping and hollowing her self out, eyes on the narrow door. Let me go. Until she would step over the wiggling babies (still needing, wanting more) and close the door. Still they would be there when she came out the other side. Her babies happy now, no longer needing, forcing her with their oblivion to bend to them: I’m here, let me come back. Lacing their lives to hers with their nonchalance.

It was not that she did not enjoy her life on the track, but inside the cube space was cornered, time suspended and everything was possible¾even falling off the track, which could be dreamed here in immunity, no repercussions ever.

But there was another danger. She might emerge incomplete, part of her life still inside the cube. Then her hands would muddle at the soup, the shoelaces, numb, her ears open to receive the plaints and whimpers, the needings when they began again, her eyes fixed and distant while she tried to remember what it was she had lost.

Pauline Holdstock is an internationally published novelist, short fiction writer and essayist whose work has been shortlisted for the Giller and the Commonwealth Writers' Prize. Her most recent novel, The Hunter and the Wild Girl, winner of the City of Victoria Butler Book Prize, was shortlisted for the BC Book Prizes Ethel Wilson Award and listed by both the CBC and the National Post as one of the Best Books of 2015. She has written book reviews for the Globe and Mail, the National Post and the Vancouver Sun.