Support your Canadian literary magazines

This is awful – funding cuts to literary magazines with a circulation of less than 5000 would be disasterous, not just for beginner writers like me who rely on these magazines for potential outlets for publication, but for the reading population in general. There is so much amazing stuff that gets published in these magazines (for instance, I was reading the latest issue of Matrix on the metro this morning, and it’s fabulous).

Here is what’s written on the Facebook site for the Coalition to Keep Canadian Heritage Support for Literary and Arts Magazines:

Canadian literary and arts magazines publishing in either English and French are in danger of losing a key federal funding source.On February 17, 2009, Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore announced in a speech he made in Montreal ( that the Canada Magazine Fund and Publishing Assistance Program will be merged to create the Canada Periodical Fund. Initiatives from this new body will come on stream in 2010. Departing from his prepared remarks, James Moore indicated that eligiblity for funding could potentially be restricted to those magazines with an annual circulation above 5000.

With a few exceptions, the circulation of virtually every Canadian literary and arts magazine, large and small, is below 5000. We have to make sure this possibility does not become an actuality, for if it does, as April 1, 2010, these important and praiseworthy magazines will no longer qualify for funding that they have been receiving for years from the CMF and PAP despite the excellent work that they undertake for the readers and writers across Canada (and around the world)! The Coalition to Keep Canadian Heritage Support for Literary and Arts Magazine feels strongly that to render these magazines ineligible for this support would be unjust. To quote Andris Taskans, editor of Prairie Fire, to do so would be “a slap in the face”—not only to the magazines themselves but to the many writers that they publish, many of whom began illustrious, international careers in these seminal if modest publcations. To do so would also be a “slap in the face” to the ordinary (and extraordinary) Canadians who read them.

By joining the Coalition, readers and writers everywhere send a strong message to the Honorable James Moore, the Department of Canadian Heritage, and the Canada Periodical Fund that we believe in our literary and arts magazines and feel that they should continue to do so by supporting them through well-deserved and sustained financial support. To do so, would be the cheapest economic stimulus package the Government of Canada could initiate. Every single dollar granted to us or paid to us by a subscriber or a newsstand buyer goes back into the economy. Put it this way, when Canadians get into their Chrysler and GM cars, they have to drive somewhere. A lot of them drive to their newsstands and bookstores to buy a literary or arts magazine.Say yes to continued Canadian Heritage funding through the Canada Periodical Fund for Canada’s arts and literary magazines!Say yes to the writers and readers of Canada!For more details about these potential funding cuts, read coverage that appeared on the Quill & Quire website on February 20 and 24, 2009 (scroll through the news section to read both stories):(

You can join the Facebook group over here:

Short films, big questions

I was feeling a little overwhelmed today – too much stuff to do these days – and after running a bunch of errands in the evening, Andrew convinced me that we should get out of the house for awhile. So, we checked out a screening of the 2008 Oscar nominated Best Animated and Best Live Action short films at the Cinema du Parc. I haven’t had the chance to watch prior years’ nominees, but, give or take a film or two, the 2008 batch dealt with the big issues of Life And Death: an older person reflecting back on their life, someone on the brink of death reflecting back on their life, someone placed in a new situation and reflecting back on their life. You can definitely pack a punch in the gut in two to thirty minutes of film. It was a little exhausting.

These were my favourites:

La Maison En Petits Cubes (Pieces of Love, Vol 1), Japan, 2008, Dir. Kunio Kato: This animated short was beautiful – a kind of scratchy, painted animation – about an old man living in a heavily flooded area. Every time the water level rises, he builds another floor on his house, resulting in a cubist Habitat 67 esque tower. He takes a scuba diving trip to retrieve a dropped item, and as he descends deeper into his house, he relives moments from his life. It’s the kind of movie that made even Andrew a little weepy. I hope this one wins Best Animated.

In the Live Action category, I can’t pick between two. New Boy (Ireland, Dir. Steph Green) is based on a Roddy Doyle short story about a young African immigrant starting school in Ireland. It’s only 11 minutes long, but the film feels way more substantive than that. The children acting in this are fantastic. It makes me wonder if short stories are the best form of literature to adapt into films – there’s just so much more space to work with (i.e. think of “Secretary” or “Brokeback Mountain”). Auf Der Strecke (On the Line) (Germany, Switzerland. 2007. Dir.: Reto Caffi) is almost 3 times longer than New Boy, which allows it to incorporate more ambiguity and a longer story arc. It’s about a department story security guard who spies on a bookstore employee. He regularly “accidentally” boards the metro with her because he can see when she’s leaving work, which eventually leads to his bizarre and sad involvement in a tragic part of her life. There’s a scene where he overhears her discussing Zadie Smith’s “On Beauty”, and then buys a copy for himself to impress her. You see him flipping through the book and creasing it up to make it look like he’s actually read it. He should’ve read it! It’s a fantastic book.

Anyway, I’m curious to see who wins on Sunday. As for my other Oscar picks, all I want is for Mickey Rourke to win Best Actor for The Wrestler. Everything else, whatever. Oh, and Heath too, but that’s a given, isn’t it?

ETA: So, my favourite for best animated short won. Yay! My favourite for best live action short did not. Boo! And Mickey Rourke sadly did not win Best Actor, thus denying the TV audience of a repeat of a speech like the one he gave at the Independent Spirit Awards. Double boo.

Am currently reading “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men” by David Foster Wallace. The blurbs on the back make it seem like it’s a veritable laff riot, but it’s actually pretty bleak. But I guess all of his writing is like that, a complicated mix of fun and misery.

This is just a small inconsequential portion of a footnote in the story “Octet” that does not have any special meaning out of context from the story, but I would’ve been that one person out of a thousand, so I’m gonna point it out (in the footnote DFW is doing the meta thing and talking about what he was trying to do in the story and stuff he could’ve done if it hadn’t fallen apart):

“The second part of the “Q” part of the Quiz spends five lines constructing a possible analogy between the world’s joy/misery ratio and the seminal double-entry “A = L + E” equation of modern accountancy, as if more than one person out of a thousand could possibly give a shit.”

I would’ve gotten a kick out of that.

John Krasinski (aka Jim Halpert from The Office) adapted the collection of short stories into a movie, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it turned out. The trailer is available over here.

The intersection of writing workshops and Okkervil River

I’m having a bit of a music crisis these days (hence the embarrassingly unupdated music blog). I shuffle through songs on my Ipod and hardly anything feels right except for the following: Okkervil River’s “The Stand Ins”, anything by the Pixies and “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan”. It’s weird. I wasn’t into the Pixies as a teenager or even an early twenty-something. But then Andrew and I listened to them a lot over Christmas holidays and I guess something clicked. And I don’t know why that Bob Dylan album is the one that’s doing it for me, but it is. I suppose the Okkervil River fascination is the least strange, although I’ve overdosed on their other albums and can only stand to listen to this one. Particularly the song “Starry Stairs”, mainly for the way Will Sheff sings the phrase “I’m alive/ but a different kind of alive/ than the way I used to be”. I don’t know, there’s something about it. I like it.

The first creative writing workshop I took was in my second year at the University of Toronto, and it was an awkward little class. We weren’t very chatty and we never really bonded with each other. I can imagine that our professor felt like he was pulling teeth; we were so tentative. The stories I wrote for the class weren’t very good, but they were the first “serious” stories I wrote, so I was defensive about them. The class was kind (or at least, not very verbose) and I escaped unscathed, but I do remember the really sweet girl who wrote a story about the death of a pet. It was maybe the only time we banded together to tear something apart. She started crying, and we realized that it was autobiographical. Shit. My childhood pet Snowball had also recently died and I felt awful – I knew how she was feeling! I lent her a Red House Painters CD, the one where Mark Kozelek has a song about his cat. I’m sure she thought I was weird when I pressed it upon her. Anyway, the point is that, other than the cat incident, the thing I remember most clearly about the class is that the professor distributed “Okkervil River” to us to read together, the short story by Tatyana Tolstaya and it was one of my favourite things I read that year. So years later, when I learned about the band Okkervil River, I figured they could only be good. And they are.

Here’s a live version of “Starry Stairs”

And, how wonderful, a clip of Will Sheff reading Tatyana Tolstaya’s story:

Oh, and before I forget. I have a story called “Baby Teeth” published in the most recent issue of Room Magazine (Volume 31.3 – Glass Houses). The editor’s note calls it “unusual and inventive”, and also “dark”. Hurrah. It is, I guess, darker than what I usually writer. I kind of don’t want say, my parents or co-workers to read it. But, either way, I chose to submit it for publication, so pick it up if you get the chance; Canadian literary magazines tend to only be read by other writers – here’s a good article about the importance of these kinds of journals.

How Not to Write a Novel – Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman: I love writing books. It’s vaguely embarrassing, I guess – there’s something a little uncouth about admitting to reading writing books, kind of like saying you read self-help or new age or whatever – but, they’re fun and sometimes helpful. I read an article about this book on the Guardian, and it made me giggle. I realized they had it in stock at the bookstore down the street from my office, so I picked it up one day at lunch. It’s a hilarious thing, the kind of book that makes you laugh out loud on the metro or while eating McDonalds in the food court (uh, not that I did that or anything). The book is littered with wisdom like, “Giving a reader a sex scene that is only half right is like giving her half a kitten. It is not as cute as a whole kitten; it is a bloody, godawful mess.” or reminders like, “An unprincipled gold digger who gives twenty dollars to a beggar is enchanting. A crusading human rights lawyer who volunteers at an animal shelter and also pauses on his way to court to give twenty dollars to a beggar makes us gag.” I mean, this is stuff that we as writers know deep down (or should know), but still sometimes give in to. Maybe not on the exagerated level demonstrated in the book, but in little ways that can still fundamentally sabotage the book you’re working on. Definitely recommended for those of us with a novel hiding somewhere in our computer files or head.