Category Archives: Writing

My Cultural Standards for Fiction

Two weeks ago, the Canadian literary scene got quite the shaking-up. (If you somehow missed this, start here and just keep clicking on links.) My students are wondering about it, talking about it, trying to solve this problem so it doesn’t inhibit creativity and multiculturalism but still considers people’s feelings when it comes to theft.

I have also been reading about this. As a fiction writer, I don’t want to inadvertently stomp on someone’s cultural heart. It’s not in anyone’s interest that I remain ignorant. I also believe it’s my personal responsibility–not an editor’s–to make sure that I don’t cross the line.

I think I’ve come up with an idea. It came to me while reading Robert Jago‘s On Cultural Appropriate, Canadian’s Are Hypocrites. He uses Harry and the Hendersons as an example of how cultural stories get taken out of context and badly used. I’ve never seen Harry and the Hendersons. Even when my kids we small and we were watching some rather terrible movies, we didn’t sink that low. Why not? Because it’s clearly crap. I don’t want to waste hours of my life deliberately partaking of total crap. There’s enough of that I can’t avoid.

So, how do I avoid total crap? There are certain filters or lenses one might use to determine crap levels. Part of it’s personal perspective; another part is something I picked up during my brief foray into academia. When writing non-fiction, there are certain standards for fact-checking and attribution to which one must adhere. One will not be taken seriously if one writes an academic paper that has no citations or uses “I once heard” as a resource. Primary sources are required; lack of citation is plagiarism.

I think I’ll apply the same criteria to my fiction.

  • If I haven’t used primary sources wherever possible, I can’t publish that story. (I, myself, count as a primary source, but I have to be ready to back that up with some sort of evidence.)
  • If I haven’t been able to come up with a minimum of three primary sources, I can’t publish that story.
  • If I’ve used something without permission, I can’t publish that story.
  • Anything that I’ve “made up” is to be clearly made up, not thieved. (I’m thinking about monsters and space aliens here.)
  • If I use someone else’s idea/tradition/culture and make money off it, a good chunk of that money (50%?) should go to a charity that supports said someone. My primary sources will be able to guide me to appropriate charities.

Fiction writers are still working with the making-up-stories-by-the-fire approach. Whatever one heard was fair game for pre-radio-era entertainment. Sometimes it was possible to trace the origin of the story; other times, it would be beyond the story-teller’s means/ability to do such a thing. Back then, there was some reason to just “borrowing” a story.

That’s not the state of things now. I have several libraries at my disposal, Google on all my electronic devices, and access to every country/culture on Earth through social media. I have no excuse for not getting a) the accurate story and b) permission from the appropriate people.

Not, of course, that this will save me from crap writing. What it might do is save my (few) readers from crap writing, and then the only thing they have to worry about is their personal opinion of my writing–including semi-colons.

Thieves are so annoying….

_To Be Human Again_ Sale

There’s a Kobo sale coming up. To Be Human Again will be available for 99¢CAD from March 20 to March 31, 2017. (The sale is also available in US dollars and British pounds.)

Don’t have a Kobo? You can get the app here.

A John Steinbeck Quote

From author John Steinbeck to editor Pascal Covici, Monday, March 26, 1951.

I wonder why, on such a day as this, when the story is particularly clear in my head, I have a kind of virginal reluctance to get to it. I seem to want to think about it and moon about it for a very long time before I actually get down to it. Today, I think I know one of the main reasons. Today’s work is so important that I am afraid of it.

Workshops in Mississauga

Activity Being Avoided: feeding the cats. Feel free to send them sympathy, but they’d prefer food. The torture will continue for another half hour.
Music (Not) In My Head: listening to this
Tea Being Drunk: just hot water. I’ve been sick, and I’m sloshing with liquids.
Books Being ReadMartin John — Anakana Schofield; An Unfortunate Woman — Richard Brautigan

Ask, and ye shall receive.

At the last Mississauga Writers Group meeting, some of the members were noting the group’s emphasis on the business aspects of writing–the post-writing stuff–and they expressed an interest in the practical aspects of writing. In response, Michelle Hillyard and I have designed a series of workshops for the beginning writer. These will focus on the pre-publication period.

You can keep track of these on my Upcoming Events page.

Depending on how these go, we’ll consider doing more or doing repeats.

(Yes, I know the Queer Literature workshop is in July: that’s when Peel holds its Pride Week. June is for Toronto’s Pride Week, and we are trying to be… not Toronto.)  Never mind. This was deemed “very specific” and they wanted me to water it down with other topics.

Twitter

I’m on Twitter. It seems awfully sociable there…

“To Be Human Again” at Glad Day

There are now (print and digital) copies of To Be Human Again available at Glad Day Bookshop.

Go shopping there. It’s in the new place, 499 Church Street, now. You can also drink tea while you shop–or something with more fortitude, if you go in the evening. What better plans could you possibly have?

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Naked Heart: Sneak Peek

NAKED HEART is back!

This year, I’ll be reading at Sneak Peek: Published Authors Share What They Are Working on Now (Saturday, November 12, 2016, 2:00-3:15 p.m. at the new Glad Day Book Shop at 499 Church Street, Toronto). I’ll be sharing the stage with Christopher DiRaddo, Jessica L. Webb and Liz Bugg.

I know what I’ll be reading from–it’s Greek mythology–but I have no idea as to which section I’ll be reading. You’ll have to attend the event to find out.

The selection of Naked Heart authors is nicely varied; as well as listening to me, attend some of the other readings, workshops and panels held Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

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