News | 2008

2008 Reading List

Only sixty-nine published books read this year. I was hoping for seventy, but got bogged down in the book of plays I'm reading now. Not to say it's not good--there's just a lot of material in there. Books that made me go "wow" this year include Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie and Diane Tullson's Saving Jasey. Williams's play is nothing short of brilliant and Tullson's YA novel is the tensest book I've ever read in any genre. Thank you to all the authors below for an entertaining and educational year.

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Performance In Words Celebration!

Last night at Rhizome Cafe, The Writer's Studio held their special reading series extravaganza. There was dance, there was poetry, there was music, there was comedy, and there was a staged reading. I'm told there were 84 people in the house and they were truly a fantastic audience. While I enjoyed all the performances, I really want to say a big and public Brava! to Erin Vandenberg and Bravo! to Chris Baker. They joined me on stage to read my one-act play, "Daguerreotype," and to be honest, they rocked.

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Three Down, One to Go

Fall semester is over and school is out until the new year. Which means I've only got one semester left and then UBC will be politely showing me the door. Well, hopefully they'll let me out--that is if I can finish my thesis on time. For the most part, it's been a good semester, although it has gone by rather fast for me. I took two classes--Fiction (again) and Screen--and looking back, I really wish I'd taken these classes first year instead of now. Both classes focused strongly on structure, and there are several little gems I learned I wish I knew before (okay, I did take Fiction last year, and got a lot out of it, but this year's focus so closely mimics Screen it's amazing). And Screen is all about structure--specifically three-act structure--and it's something I'm glad to finally have in my head. Years ago when I was fumbling around looking for ideas on how to put stories together, I came across three-act structure and thought there was something to it. Now, with a deeper understanding of how it works and what makes the action of a story move from act to act (a reveal of information that a protagonist must act on), I think I'm finally getting a handle on this whole writing stories thing. Of course I'm not quite arrogant enough to think I know everything, and I also recognize that I'll probably never stop learning, but I do feel my confidence increasing--which I'm really rather grateful for. Now, with a December of no classes waiting for me, I think I'll take that thesis of mine (I do have a first draft on paper), rip it apart, and apply all the lessons I've learned this semester to fixing the damn thing. Wish me luck.

It's That Stupid Hand Again

Yeah, it happened. Again. I was in a meeting the other day, a suggestion was tabled, my hand went up, and now I find myself volunteered to do something a little daunting, a little exciting, and way cool. Putting myself in places a little beyond my comfort zone has usually been educational and rewarding in the past--here's hoping it will be again.

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Yeah. The DTES Writers' Jamboree was, well, wow. Cool. Incredible. Sharing. Open. Interesting. Informative. Eye-opening. Awesome. Worthwhile. Great. Take your pick, each superlative applies. From the one-on-one blue pencil cafes to the round table discussions to the readings, I believe the event was a hit.

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DTES Writers' Jamboree

On November 13th and 14th, I'm going to be participating in a free event in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside which looks pretty exciting: the DTES Writers' Jamboree, put on by SFU's The Writers' Studio, Friends of the Vancouver Public Library, and the Carnegie Centre. The event will have one-to-one author meetings and tips on editing, publishing and blogging for writers wanting to develop, promote and perform their work. There's also going to be public readings on one of the nights. Take a look at the schedule, and I think you'll agree the event will be pretty cool.

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That Reading List

You may have noticed I keep a list of all the books I read on this site. I let you know what I'm currently reading, what I've just finished, and also keep an exhaustive inventory of all the published books I've read since January 1 (for some strange reason, I don't count all the unpublished works I read--I'm not really sure why, although I suspect it's to honour the author's privacy with work that's not ready for public consumption yet). At the end of the year, I compile these lists into a single post so I know what I've read in any particular year (well, back to 2005, anyway--that's the year Laisha Rosnau suggested I try this).

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New Shoots

Today, I met thirteen writers I hadn't known before and was very impressed with their enthusiasm, talent, honesty, and openness. We had an indoor snowball fight (which was fun). We shared weird facts with each other and told some lies. We made stuff up on the spot and even got to talk as loud as we wanted to inside a library (which was really weird for me as I've always been taught to SHHH!, you're in a library, quiet voice please, Mr. Mavin! Don't make me remind you again!).

What's happening is this: I'm participating in a program called New Shoots (where creative writing students from UBC team up with writers in Vancouver high schools to, well, write) and yesterday was our first session. I'm working with these fantastic people at Templeton Secondary School and it looks like we're going to have a lot of fun. Several of the writers have done this before, so I'm the newbie, but nevertheless, everyone was very welcoming. Even after our moment of sharing when I told them I've dug up dead people before.

What It Feels Like for a Girl

What It Feels Like for a Girl by Jennica Harper

Last post I mentioned that Jennica Harper has been rather busy lately (have you become a fan yet?). She's now announced the official launch for her second book of poetry, What It Feels Like for a Girl (Anvil Press, 2008), along with a pre-launch unveiling. Come and check either event out. I really like Harper's poetry and think you will too.

  • The Official Launch
    with Mari-Lou Rowley's Suicide Palms
    October 22nd, 8pm
    Cafe Montmartre (Main & 29th, ish)

  • Pre-Launch at Lick
    with Daniel Allen Cox's Shuck and Allison Mack
    October 8, 8pm
    Lick (in the Lotus Hotel, Pender & Abbott)

Becoming a Fan

Abigail's War by Jennica Harper

Okay, I'll be honest, I've been a fan of Jennica Harper for a quite a while. Back when I was hosting the Blenz Reading Series, she was one of my featured readers. When we met, she'd brought along a copy of her first book of poetry, The Octopus and Other Poems (Signature Editions, 2006)--which precipitated a really awkward moment where I thanked her but had to tell her I'd already read the book and even owned a copy. I think that was the first time she'd met someone she didn't already know who'd read her book. For me, it was the first time I'd met someone who wrote (and read) amazingly cool poetry blending coming of age with someone wearing a Princess Leia costume. Really, check out her work--you won't be disappointed.

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I've Really Got to Do Something About That Hand

As of yesterday at 3:00 p.m., my summer is officially over: classes started up again. The one class I had yesterday went very well. I met a bunch of interesting-looking people, said hello to some others I haven't seen in a while, learned something new, and got myself committed to a whole lot of work. I've always had a problem with volunteering--whenever people are looking for help, my hand seems to rise all on its own--which usually gets me volunteered (it can be a very dangerous habit in meetings). Well, yesterday in class it happened again. Our prof asked a question of us all and yup, my hand went up. Apparently, I've committed myself to writing another novel. Stupid hand.

Seriously, I'm cool with that decision. I think writing novels is easier than short stories and this choice allows me to focus on one project as opposed to four over the course of the year. My one problem at the moment is trying to figure out which book I'm going to write. I've got a handful of ideas on the go and of course, I'd better decide pretty quickly. We have to give an hour-long presentation on the book we intend to write to the class very soon.

Caught in the Wild

The Republic of Love by Carol Shields

Yesterday, when I got to the bus stop, I found a book sitting on the bench. The book was The Republic of Love by Carol Shields. I like Carol Shields, so the book peaked my interest. I asked the fellow already on the bench if the book was his--he was rather pointedly ignoring it and I'd noticed the book had a little sticker on the front which read I'm not lost. Please read me. Details inside. The fellow said it wasn't, but that some lady had dropped it off and he was pretty sure she would be coming back for it. After I'd read the sticker, I had a feeling she wouldn't be. When I picked up the book and looked inside, there was another sticker saying the book was registered with The sticker also invited me to read the book and pass it on to someone else. I've heard of this type of book sharing, but I'd never found one before (except in hostels). All I can say is I think the whole idea is pretty cool, and after my wife and I read it, I'm planning on passing it on to someone far away.

And They Served Snacks Too

Last night was the final class for the creative writing course I've been teaching at UBC's Learning Exchange in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. To celebrate, the people running the centre asked if we'd like to put on a literary reading. Normally, I'd never put new writers on the spot like that, asking them to share their work in public before they're really ready, but with the group of participants who came to the class I had this feeling they would be all right. In fact, they were much better than all right--they were fantastic. The writers who've been with me in class are some of the most open and sharing writers I've ever met, and last night, they all stepped up and did a wonderful job. We had a pretty packed house and each of the class participants got up and read something they've been working on to a fantastic reception. The audience was great and attentive, and very, very supportive--in fact, one of the best audiences I've ever seen at any literary reading. So, I'd just like to say a quick little Brava! to Pearl and Cherry, and Bravo! to Bernie, James, and Didi. You guys rocked!

I'd also like to publically thank the Learning Exchange. Firstly, for putting on such a well-planned evening (complete with a buffet), and secondly, for giving us the opportunity to run the course in the first place. Thank you.

Is That All There Is?

Playwriting: The Structure of Action by Sam Smiley with Norman A. Bert

Lately, I've been reading Sam Smiley and Norman A. Bert's Playwriting: The Structure of Action. I'm not sure how I feel about the book yet--due to my biases against obfuscated communication--but on the whole, what they're saying seems to make sense. However, one thing I came across sort of struck me at first as sad, and then on further reflection as true.

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They're Talking About Me

Last month, Meg Walker from UBC's Public Affairs department interviewed me for a story she was writing about UBC's Downtown Eastside community service learning initiative. You see, I've been teaching creative writing at UBC's Learning Exchange in downtown Vancouver all summer (and having a great time while doing it). The writers who come to my course are all fantastic--they're open and sharing and I'm always inspired and energized when I come away from a class. Anyway, UBC wanted to do a story about the teaching course I took last year (which is how I first hooked-up with the Learning Exchange), and they decided to focus on me for the story. It was a little overwhelming, especially seeing as I certainly wasn't the only one in the class, but, well, you can read the results of that interview (and see the results of photographer Martin Dee's efforts) in this month's volume of UBC Reports.

The Difference Between Literary and Genre Fiction

Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway

I teach a fiction class in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, and as I was prepping for today's class on genre conventions, I came upon this little gem of a distinction between literary and genre fiction. I've been asked many times to define what literary fiction is, and usually, I have a hard time explaining it to someone who isn't interested in reading it. Sometimes, people feel defensive about the fiction they read: they can feel genre fiction is inferior to a degree or that literary fiction is elitist. However, this definition, which comes from Janet Burroway's Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft, isn't demeaning, and it sets everything out quite nicely. I rather like what she has to say--and I must remember it the next time I'm asked to define the difference.

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TAG, You're It

Um, yeah, it's been a while since I blogged. I noticed that too. What's been going on lately? A few things. Firstly, I'm working on my thesis. It's going okay, but seeing as I never discuss works-in-progress with anyone until I've at least got a complete draft done, I won't be sharing that for a while. Like for a couple of months. At least. And even then, probably not in print.

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I Saw This Play Last Night

Walking Fish Festival

Okay, actually I saw a bunch of them. Some were interesting, some were funny, some made me think--all in all, I enjoyed what I saw last night at the Walking Fish Festival. However, I want to take the time to say well done and thank you to the people responsible for putting on my play "Losing Ground." Director Todd Thomson and Assistant Director Chris Baker did very good work. Arpad Barough played David with sensitive intensity. J.C. Roy owned the role of David's husband Michael (he even shaved his head and eyebrows for the role), a terminal cancer patient. Elizabeth Kirkland was caringly supportive as Jennifer, Michael's nurse. Erin Vandenberg was perfect as the uncredited Mrs. Reissner on the phone. So, Todd, Chris, Arpad, and J.C.--Bravo! Elizabeth and Erin--Brava! You guys were terrific.

"Losing Ground" runs for three more nights (tonight, tomorrow, and Sunday), and I encourage and invite everyone to come and watch what the Festival is calling a "serious and moving new drama."

The Fish are Walking

Walking Fish Festival

As I've mentioned maybe one or two times, I've got a one-act play in the upcoming Walking Fish Festival put on by the Upintheair Theatre Society. My play, which is directed by Todd Thomson, is called "Losing Ground," and will be featured in the "C" program of the festival at Waterfront Theatre on Vancouver's Granville Island. Tickets are $12-15 and are available in advance through, by phone (604-684-2787), or you can try your luck at the door the day of the show. The "C" program also includes three other short plays: "Peaches" (written by Michael P. Northey, directed by Raphael Kepinski), "Ladies Night" (written by Jeff and Ryan Gladstone, directed by Quinn Harris), and "emergence sea (dot) calm" (written by Jessica Gabriel, Chloe Ziner, Chris Ross, and Jack Garton). Showtimes for Program "C" are as follows:

  • Thursday, May 29, 8:00 p.m.
  • Friday, May 30, 9:15 p.m.
  • Saturday, May 31, 9:30 p.m.
  • Sunday, June 1, 2:00 p.m.

It's a Dream

This year as part of my graduate program at UBC, I took a class on teaching creative writing. In that class, we were asked to come up with a dream syllabus for a course we would love to teach--a syllabus without restrictions on what we thought was important. For me, it was a chance to create a course I would have loved to have taken as a beginning writer.

Also this year, I did a short teaching practicum at UBC's Learning Exchange in downtown Vancouver (I taught a course in revision). I had a great time, the writers were terrific, but in the end we all agreed that my practicum wan't long enough. I wanted to teach more and the writers taking my class wanted to learn more.

Well, something good has happened to help us both out: I've been invited to return to the Learning Exchange. And, here's the best part, guess what I'm teaching. Yup, that's right, my dream syllabus. The class I'm teaching now is a twelve week course that takes writers from a blank page and goes through the entire creative process from idea generation through revision and finally to submission for publication. At the end, the writers taking my course will have a completed and polished short story, as well as an understanding of what it takes to craft fiction. Everyone is interested (and interesting) and I think we're going to have a lot of fun.

Blowhard on a Soapbox

Seeing as I'm now studying to be a playwright, I realized I had better update the artistic statement I came up with last year for the BC Arts Council. This is what I came up with.

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The Play's the Thing

Well, the dust has settled from my first year of UBC's MFA program and I'm finally ready to think about what comes next. Classes are finished, all my work is handed in, people have said goodbye for the summer (or forever), and I've chosen the genre for my thesis. I met some terrific people (some who are famous, some who will be, and all who are gifted and kind and generous) and I've had a fantastic (if not ridiculously busy) time.

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A Case Study in Historical Pathos

Brave New Play Rites 2008

My one-act play "Daguerreotype" is currently being performed in the Brave New Play Rites Festival at UBC's Dorothy Somerset Studio Theatre, and I just wanted to take the opportunity to publically applaud the people involved in my show. Lauchlin Johnston has done a wonderful job as director taking my script from the page and bringing it to life. Evan Frayne plays Edgar Forbes, an 1855 daguerreotypist, with restraint and control. Joanna Rannelli's performance as Mrs. Bosanko, a grieving widow, rings true--she brought tears to the eyes of the people sitting beside me in the audience. All of which is very cool--although I feel a little weird being happy to make others sad--it was, after all, the intent of the piece. So, Lauchlin and Evan--Bravo! Joanna--Brava! It was awesome seeing you bring my play to life.

"Daguerreotype" has one more performance on April 6 at 2:00 p.m., and I invite everyone to come and watch what The Ubyssey is calling a "a case study in historical pathos."

Brave New Play Rites - The Details

Brave New Play Rites 2008

I'd like to invite you to the theatrical debut of my first produced play, "Daguerreotype," being put on at the Dorothy Somerset Studio Theatre as part of UBC's Brave New Play Rites Festival, running from April 2 to 6. My one-act play, directed by Lauchlin Johnston and starring UBC grads Evan Frayne and Joanna Rannelli, opens the festival. Each night of the festival, six plays will be performed, with a staged reading series being held on Saturday, April 5. Tickets are $10 ($5 if you're a student), and can be purchased through the UBC Box Office (604) 822-2678. Included below is the complete festival program. I'd love to see you there.

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Brave New Update

Brave New Play Rites 2008

The other night, Lauchlin Johnson (the highly-creative director putting on my one-act play "Daguerreotype" in the Brave New Play Rites Festival) invited me to his first rehearsal. I met the actors--Evan Frayne and Joanna Rannelli--and was very impressed. Okay, more than impressed--I was blown away. They were good. Very good. And it was only a reading. I learned very quickly it's one thing for a writer to workshop a play with a bunch of other writers, listening as we muddle through a script, it's quite another to hear gifted and trained professionals tackle the same material. Both Evan and Joanna are graduates of UBC's BFA Acting Program, each has an extensive list of productions behind their names, and they've acted together before. I'm really looking forward to seeing their performances.

Evan will be playing the role of Edgar, a professional daguerreotypist, and Joanna will be Mrs. Bosanko, the widow of an army engineer. The play is set in 1855 and takes places in Edgar's downtown studio over the course of a lunch hour. We open the Brave New Festival on April 2 (at 7:30 p.m.), with two more performances on April 4 and 6. I hope to see you there.

Two Very Satisfying Words

I think I've just discovered what two of the most satisfying words are in the English language, well for novelists anyway: the end. Yup, that's right, I've just finished the fourth draft of my book. Whew. I'm happy. Tired, too, but mainly just happy to have the story in it's new form down on paper. I know it's not perfect, but the story is a lot closer than it's ever been to being done, and hopefully, this will be the last blank page rewrite I do of the whole thing. Don't get me wrong, I'm anticipating heaps and heaps of revision, but unless I find out I've horribly screwed things up, I think I've pretty much got it and am ready for fine-tuning.

Pushing the Boundaries

I met author Diane Tullson today (Blue Highway, The Darwin Expedition, Edge, Red Sea, Saving Jasey, and Zero), and she had some interesting things to say about young adult fiction; things I hadn't quite considered from her perspective before. Currently, I'm writing a YA novel and have been worried that maybe I've been going too far: my fifteen-year-old protagonist smokes and drinks and swears and has sex and lies and gets body parts pierced and skips school and does all sorts of reprehensible things. In short, she does the sort of things real fifteen-year-olds do (not all, of course, but some). At least the sort of things I remember happening around me when I was fifteen.

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What's Been Happening Lately

Walking Fish Festival

Ah, yeah, I haven't been posting lately. I noticed that too. I've, ah, um, been a little busy. Yeah, that's right. Busy. Okay, seriously, lately I've been writing my butt off trying to get the latest draft (number four) of my novel finished. I'm not quite done yet (just two chapters left to go), but I've promised to have it ready for workshopping by March 6 and I think (unless something goes horribly wrong) that I'm going to make it. However, something came up today that I had to stop writing and share: I've had another play accepted for a festival.

Upintheair Theatre Society, the nice people who run the Walking Fish Festival, wrote today telling me they've selected my one-act play, "Losing Ground," for this year's festival. I'll post more details as I get them, but for now I can tell you the festival runs from May 28 to June 1 at the Waterfront Theatre on Granville Island. Hope to see you there.

More Good News

Chameleon Wreck

I've just heard from the editors of two student journals put out by UBC's creative writing program. They'd both like to publish my work in their Spring 2008 anthologies. Chameleon, self-described as edgy literature for young adults, will be publishing "And Apparently, Cigarettes," a rather uncomfortable story about a family dinner gone horribly wrong. Wreck (a literary anthology with a twist), will be highlighting excerpts from my one-act play, "Der Terrorflieger," which tells the story of a young Luftwaffe guard escorting an allied airman through the Frankfurt train station. Both anthologies should be published before the summer.

January Blenz Reading Recap: Special Guest Oana Avasilichioaei

The first Blenz Reading of 2008 was certainly a memorable event, and if you weren't there, you missed a really good show. Not only did we have our special guest, Oana Avasilichioaei, come from Montreal to share her poetry and her translations of the Romanian poet Nichita Stanescu, we also had five readers from either SFU's The Writer's Studio or UBC's MFA program. And to top it all off, we were introduced to the new host of the Blenz Reading Series, Jane Mellor.

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Finishing Something Else

Something Else by Kathryn Cave

I'm taking a course on children's literature, and at the start of the course, our prof distributed a bibliography of some excellent writing for children that she wanted us to be familiar with. Through the help of the local library, the university library, and inter-library loan, I was able to make my way through the list fairly quickly (one reason I read so many kids' books last year). However, I hadn't been able to read everything on the list until just now. There was one book, Something Else by Kathryn Cave, that I just couldn't find. Anywhere. Luckily (and I don't know why I hadn't thought of this before), my daughter found the book for me at her elementary school's library. She brought it home today, and I've just now finished reading it and writing up a review in the reading journal our prof has asked us to keep. So, whew, finally, my checklist is complete.

Oh, and yes, I enjoyed the book. It's a marvelous little exploration into acceptance, prejudice, and friendship, all told with this adorable little blue character with fur and a very sorrowful expression.

Casting Call

Brave New Play Rites

The auditions for UBC's Brave New Play Rites festival have just been announced. My one-act play, "Daguerreotype" (a two-hand period piece set in the 1850s), is being performed and will run from April 2 to 6, 2008. If you're interested in audtioning for the play (or any of the other one-acts being put on this year), you can book an audition slot at Auditions are being held on January 13 and 14 in the Dorothy Somerset Studio.

2008's First Reading

Tesseracts Eleven

I'll be reading "Recursion," my speculative ghost story which appears in Tesseracts Eleven (EDGE, 2007), at the next Blenz Reading, on Friday, January 11, from 7-9 p.m. at the Blenz Coffee Shop at 508 West Hastings Street (at Richards) in downtown Vancouver. This event, which is put on in association with SFU's The Writer's Studio, also features Carmen Pintea, Fiona Scott, Jonina Kirton, Ayelet Tsabari, and Montreal poet Oana Avasilichioaei.