greg's blog

Thank You! (On Proximal Motivation, Literary SF, and Berton House)

Okay, first, THANK YOU to the Writers’ Trust of Canada for selecting me as one of the Writers in residence for the Berton House Writers’ Retreat! I’m super-excited (and grateful) to be heading to Dawson City from January to March 2020. So excited, in fact, that I wrote this blog post, my first in well over a year. I mean, okay, it’s not exactly a blog post. More of a series of annotated excerpts from my Berton House application. Anyway, I want to acknowledge publicly a few of the things I said there. To wit:

[S]ecuring a well-defined future opportunity to spend focussed, dedicated time on my next writing projects would be a gift beyond price—not solely (or even primarily) in material terms, but in terms of motivation. Simply put, the promise of future dedicated time to spend on my own writing without the external distraction of formal classroom teaching will help to sustain the current work of fleshing out my next projects and generating the inevitably shitty first-draft material required (for me, at least) to get to the good stuff that comes later in the process.

Truth! This is a gift beyond price. Deadlines are often what motivate (cough force cough) me to write, and having this deadline to push me to buckle down and get cracking on the next novel makes ALL the difference. And don’t get me wrong: I love teaching! It’s a huge privilege, and I love seeing my students starting to come into their own as writers. But setting that aside to focus on my own writing can sometimes be a bit of a challenge.

Also, I get to live in Dawson City! I’ve never been. Which is also part of the point, in that…

This residency would also take me out of my usual urban/university environment, removing many of my usual everyday distractions (of teaching, etc.) as I lived and worked in an entirely new and (crucially) entirely different environment. Furthermore, given the underlying aesthetics of my own writing—[blahblahblah, I write weird stuff]—the underlying newness and surrealism of living in the North would itself function as an ideal external influence for the type of writing that I hope to pursue. To be clear, I don’t mean to say that the North itself is inherently or essentially “new” or “surreal,” as it is obviously familiar to those who have made Dawson City their home for years, decades, or (in some cases, preceding “Dawson City” itself) centuries and millennia. Rather, on a subjective level, it would be new and surreal to me, whether that manifested in the climate, the eternal daylight or night (or extended twilight, depending on the timing), the culture and history of the town itself, and so on.

And Eternal Night it will be! To start, anyway. Followed by the long, slow (and partial) return of the light. It should be… interesting, to say that least. Luckily, this winter in Edmonton is giving me some good practice at dealing with -40C temperatures—which, for any Americans reading this, is (conveniently) exactly the same as -40F. But as I was saying about weirdness, surrealism, and Dawson City, and why that confluence feels so very perfect to me…

My stories play out on the borderlands between the familiar and the unfamiliar, where the familiar turns strange, surreal, magical, and/or science fictional. And to me, Dawson City itself is just such a place, a borderland between the familiar and unfamiliar, an intensification of many of the subjectively surreal aspects—which are of course surreal primarily by contrast to my experience of my “original” home in southern Ontario, the deeply embedded “normal” of my subconscious—of the relatively northern urban centre (Edmonton) where I have lived for the past thirteen years. [ . . . ] And in that context, Berton House and Dawson City would be an ideal space in which to revise and refine my own writing, under the ambient influence the potentially surreal juxtapositions emerging from the jolt to my usual “everyday” existence in Edmonton. Of course, the reality of Dawson City will escape and overrun my expectations in ways that I cannot anticipate—which is exactly what I am hoping for and entirely congruent with the sort of work that I hope to produce during this residency.

Yup. Pretty much. In other words, my primary expectation of Dawson City is that it will surprise me. And I look forward to that. And what will I be working on? It’s still early days, and I’ve barely started drafting (so, you know, it’s pretty much guaranteed change in about a thousand ways in the writing process), but so far…

The novel is tentatively titled The Dead Brothers Club [ . . . ]. Currently, I expect it to tell the story of the protagonist’s discovery and escalating experience of being possessed both literally and metaphorically by the spirits of various lovers’ (and, in a polyamorous context, some metamours’) dead brothers. More recently, I have also discovered that this novel will be set in a future Edmonton, at a time when the United States has collapsed in the face of climate change, and the city has become a waystation for climate-refugees seeking entry into a more stable confederacy of indigenous nations to the north. (I haven’t yet figured out what has happened to Canada as a nation in this scenario. It may have collapsed or simply separated into a much more loosely federalized collection of provinces, none of which are particularly welcoming to refugees from the South.) [ . . . ]

Suffice it to say, this is new territory for me. But also in some senses, it’s a return to my SF roots. And with that in mind, this next part is for my SF people (both Canadian and otherwise), because I want to point out here, explicitly, that OUR WORK CAN BE (AND OFTEN IS) “LITERARYTOO:

My long-term artistic goal is to continue writing and publishing stories and novels that consistently cross and challenge the literary/genre divide, producing complex literary speculative fiction (a.k.a. SF) that appeals to both “literary” and “genre” readers. To be clear, I am deeply skeptical of any essential distinction between “literary” and “genre” writing—except perhaps as marketing categories—especially given that many writers, including Ursula K. Le Guin, Carmen Maria Machado, Kelly Link, Eden Robinson, Hiromi Goto, and far too many more to easily list here (on both sides of this apparent literary/genre divide), have been confounding and challenging this distinction for quite some time.

Sorry, tiny pause to note that there are SO MANY MORE. Just off the top of my head, no googling, a random sampling of my brain in this moment: N. K. Jemisin, Sam J. Miller, China Miéville, Candas Jane Dorsey, John Crowley, Ted Chiang, Jeff Vandermeer, Samuel Delaney, Octavia Butler, Larissa Lai, and the list goes on… and on… and on… Nonetheless,

as fallacious as it may be, this distinction remains common in colloquial terms, and my goal is to challenge it in (and with) my own writing […]

…as so many have before me. All of which is to say, THANK YOU to the Writers’ Trust of Canada for this opportunity. I am truly, deeply, eternally grateful.

And also, Canadian SF writers, don’t self-disqualify! Apply for grant and residency opportunities and all that stuff you may have been told not to bother with given the common assumption that Canadian literary organizations don’t value SF. Because it’s not (always) true. And because sometimes, if we’re Very Very Lucky, we can get them too. So there.

2017-2018 CAA-AB WiR Consultations: What to Expect

Once again, I am proud to be working alongside Tim Bowling as Writer in Residence for the Alberta Branch of the Canadian Author’s Association for 2017-2018. It’s a tremendous opportunity to work with a broad range of Albertan writers at all levels, and I consider it a privilege. However, I noticed last year that quite a few people I worked with weren’t sure what to expect from their consultation with me, so I thought I should clarify that for anyone who might be feeling apprehensive about making an appointment.

First, know that I see my primary job as a Writer in Residence as helping YOU accomplish YOUR goals in writing. So pretty much the first thing I’ll probably ask you—whether by email or in person—will be what sort of feedback you’re looking for, what sort of writing you do, and what you’re hoping to do with your writing. Since I consult with people at all experience levels, from those just starting out to published authors and everyone in between, I ask these questions because they help me to give the sort of feedback that will be most useful for you.

If, for example, you’re working on a story that you have already workshopped extensively with a critique group, and you’re looking for a careful close-reading for technique and craft, that’s what I’ll give you. If, on the other hand, you’re trying to figure out how well (or if) an early draft of a story—or book-chapter, or other piece of writing—is accomplishing what you’re aiming for, then I’ll probably focus more generally on the concept and structure of the piece, to try to give you a strong sense of what I’m getting out of it as a reader. Then we can see if that matches what you were aiming for, and we can go from there. Or we can do it the other way around, with you telling me what you’re aiming for, and me giving feedback based on that.

Another thing that many people didn’t seem to know is that I’m happy to consult with you even if you don’t have a specific piece of writing that you’re working on. That is, if you’ve got more general questions about writing, local writing communities, where to look for potential publication markets, how to go about finding and/or applying for writing grants—or, for that matter, what writing grants are, how they work, and who is eligible for them—I’m perfectly happy to set up a meeting to talk about any of those things. And while I can’t guarantee that you’ll be able to publish your work or get a grant, I can tell you from my own experience how those processes work. (Or at the very least, I can tell you how they’ve worked for me.)

That said, the bulk of what I do is manuscript consultations. For these, you can send me up to fifteen pages (double-spaced) of your work, and we will meet so I can give you feedback, and (crucially) so that you can ask any questions you may have. I find that in-person back and forth invaluable, since it’s useless for you to get a load of “advice” that doesn’t make any sense to you. So feel free to ask questions! I welcome them! Your questions are what help me make sure I’m helping you. As noted in my formal submission guidelines, I can also give feedback via email (or skype, or phone), but my preference is always to meet in person if at all possible.

Of course, before we can do any of this, you need to get yourself in the queue for your consultation. That part’s fairly simple. Just drop me an email at caawir-gb@canauthorsalberta.ca with the subject line CAA-AB WiR Consultation, let me know what sort of feedback you’re looking for, and attach the material you’re looking for feedback on (if any). From there, you can expect an email back from me within a day or two with a few demographic questions and letting you know that you’re in the queue. Then once I’ve had a chance to look at your work (or think about your questions), I’ll email you again to set up a meeting time, location, or medium that works for both of us.

Since I take appointments on a first-come-first-serve basis, it may be a while before we meet, but rest assured, if I’ve responded to your email, you’re definitely in the queue. Canadian Authors’ Association members get priority, since that is one of the benefits of membership, but both non-members and members are welcome to consult. And if you want to bump yourself a bit closer to the front of the line, any Albertan (over the age of 16) is welcome to join the Canadian Authors Association, and the details for how to do that are available here.

Now get writing and send us your work!

(And don’t forget to check the formal submission guidelines, available here.)

Submission Guidelines for CAA-AB WiR Consults

You can book your Writer-in-Residence consultation (free to all Albertans from now until the end of May 2018) by emailing me at caawir-gb@canauthorsalberta.ca or Tim Bowling at caawir-tb@canauthorsalberta.ca with the subject line CAA-AB WiR Consultation. For a more detailed description of what you can expect upon setting up an appointment, you can take a look at my more extensive blog post here.

In the body of your email, please include a brief note mentioning (1) the type of writing you do; (2) the type of feedback you are seeking, including any specific questions; and (3) anything else you would like me to know about yourself or your writing. You can also attach manuscript materials as per the guidelines below, ideally as a Microsoft Word compatible file (including .doc, .docx, or .rtf files), but PDF or other text-format files are also fine, so long as they can be read by either MS Word or Adobe Reader.

Manuscripts and consultations will be addressed on a first-come first-serve basis. You can expect a brief response to your initial email within 2 business days, including more details towards setting a specific meeting time, location, and/or medium. Consultations will be held in person (in Edmonton, typically at a cafe in the Old Strathcona or University of Alberta areas, although other locations may also be possible) or via skype, email, or phone.

The length guidelines for manuscript submissions are as follows:
  • prose fiction or creative nonfiction submissions: maximum 15 pages, double-spaced, Times New Roman (or similar), 12-point font
  • poetry submissions: maximum 5 pages, single-spaced, standard manuscript format
  • submissions of material in other genres/forms/formats: maximum of approximately 4500 words

* Please note that while you are welcome to book as many consultations as you like (up until the end of May 2018), you can only book one appointment at a time. Once you have completed a consultation, you are absolutely free to book another one as soon as you like. This is simply to ensure that as many people as possible have a chance to receive consultations on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Pure Speculation Festival (Nov 14-16) – Event Details

And finally, back for the hometown convention. This one’s always lots of fun, and I’m looking forward to spending a bit more time at the con this year than I have in the past. I won’t be doing a reading this time out, but I am honoured to be joining a panel on “Alternative Sexualities and Relationships in Speculative Fiction” along with illustrious co-panellists Candas Jane Dorsey, David Gerrold, and Derek Newman-Stille. (That will be Saturday, Nov 15, from 6-7:30 p.m. in the Serenity Room. You know. Just in case you were wondering.)

As the program puts it,

“Panelists will discuss why/how/if it is that so much ‘weird’ sex gets portrayed and/or becomes safe/possible in speculative fiction contexts. How has it changed over time? (From Buffy to True Blood to Samuel Delany to Le Guin to Lost Girl, and more.)”

Oh, and it’s 18+, so there may be some “mature” subject matter.

For more information about this tremendous local festival, check out the Pure Spec website.

World Fantasy Convention (Nov 6-9, 2014) – Event Details

And here we go! Time for the next one. This time, it’s a semi-international trip to Washington, D.C. for the World Fantasy Convention. In some senses this feels like the Big One, and I’m starting to get more than a little excited. Arriving Thursday, and there for the whole thing until Sunday. So then. What will I be doing while I’m there?

Well, aside from attending panels upon panels, there are a few places I know I’ll be. Like the SF Canada gathering on Friday morning. Then on Saturday, there’s my reading in the afternoon, and the mass autograph session that night.* (Oops! See correction below.) As for the rest, I still need to look through the program, the events & exhibits, and the social gatherings lists a bit more thoroughly.

[*Edit: Sigh. Clearly, I need to work on my program-reading skills. The Mass Autograph session is on FRIDAY, not SATURDAY. As corrected below.]

Or to put it differently, here’s where I will definitely be at the con:

  • Fri., 9:00 a.m. – “Wake Up With the Canadians,” SF Canada reception (Regency I, aka Rm 1850)
  • Friday, 8:00 p.m. – Mass Autograph session (Independent Centre)
  • Saturday, 1:30-2:00 p.m. – Reading from Boundary Problems (Fairfax)

Other than that, aside from the banquet—which I will definitely be attending—I suspect I’ll play the rest by ear. Looking forward to seeing everyone there!

-g

Oh right. Almost forgot that snazzy poster for the SF Canada gathering:

UNB Reading Series (Oct 24, 2014) – Event Details

So this one should be particularly… interesting. A time-warp of sorts.

See, I haven’t been back to Fredericton since August 2005, having moved away about a year and a half after I finished my MA in Creative Writing at the University of New Brunswick. And what was I doing during that extra year and a half? Oh, you know. Driving cab. Writing. Moving and delivering furniture. Teaching first-year multimedia. It’s a long story. Or could be, anyway. But then I moved here to Alberta, off to pursue fame and fortune in the hallowed halls of academe. (Indeed, as a sessional instructor, I continue to haunt those halls to this very day.)

Anyway, long story short, I’m going back! For a weekend, at least. And while I’m there, I’ll be giving a reading at my old alma mater. (Or wait, is “alma mater” specific to undergrad degrees? Whatever. Today, I’m claiming UNB as an alma mater.) And I’m looking forward to it. Catching up with old friends, seeing how both they and the town have changed (or not), and so on. Oh, and the reading, of course.

Which is to say, all cheekiness aside, it feels like a homecoming of sorts. UNB was a big deal for me. It’s where I went when I finally decided to take this writing thing “seriously.” In some ways, one could say it’s where I first started to think of myself as a “Writer.” To dare to think of myself that way. (Now I tell my students that’s silly. And I believe it. Writers aren’t magical creatures. Just people who devote themselves to a craft, like carpenters or plumbers or any other trade one might care to name.) But you see how nostalgia twists me around, gets me off track. Right. Event details. That’s where I was going with this…

So yes, looks like I’ll be reading on Friday, October 24, at 8 p.m. in the Alumni Lounge, appropriately enough. So if you happen to be around—still or again, or even just now—I’d love to see you there. Old friends to catch up with, an audience of talented young writers, probably a healthy helping of nostalgia (for me, anyway). And what’s not to like about that?

Oh, and I think I’m going to stick around for the whole weekend. Might as well, right? I’ll be giving a talk for a group of librarians on the Saturday, then chilling for the rest of the weekend. Which is to say, lots of time to wander around, see how things have (or haven’t) changed. Like I said. I’m expecting a bit of a time-warp feeling. But in a good way.

Authors Day at Pandora's Boox (Oct 18) – Event Details

Clearly, I’m overdue for a roadtrip. So I think it’s time for a drive down to Olds. Care to come out and join us? I’ll be hanging out at Pandora’s Boox and Tea with a whole passel of Alberta SF authors, most of whom I met at When Words Collide back in August. Thanks to Randy McCharles, we’ve even got this spiffy poster…

As you can see, from the poster, there’s a great big bunch of us, and we’d love to see you there. And just in case you’re having trouble reading the fine print on that poster, here are the details:

Where: Pandora’s Boox & Tea (5009 51 St, Olds, AB)
When: noon – 4 p.m
Who: Greg Bechtel, Eileen Bell, Susan Bohnet, Michelle Browne, Marty Chan, Cheryl Cottreau, Susan Forest, Sagen Jeffries, Axel Howerton, Ed Lukowich, Randy McCharles, Al Onia, Rhonda Parrish. And many more…

If you’re so inclined, you can even let us know you’ll be there by saying so on the Facebook Event Page (here).

C’mon Alberta. Don’t say we never did anything for you.

Single Onion #116 (Sept 18) - Event Details

Sigh. I am SO far behind with the blogging. On the other hand, I’m making some (slow) progress on the novel, so that’s not such a bad trade-off I suppose. That said, I’ve got an event coming up in Calgary in a few weeks, so I really should do my best to publicize it a bit, right? So here goes…

Calgarians! What are you up to on Thursday, September 18, from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m.? Feel like coming out to a reading at Shelf Life Books? I think you should.

For one thing, this will actually be my first event in Calgary that’s totally free to attend. So in that sense, it’s kind of the local launch for Boundary Problems, right? You know, for those who didn’t feel like springing for the Spur Festival Books & Brunch event back in April or a pass to When Words Collide in August. (Both of which were a blast, by the way. I would highly recommend both festivals to all comers. Entirely worth it. But it’s true, they weren’t free.)

For another, I’ll be reading as a part of the Single Onion series, which I hear is quite the local institution. And even better, I won’t be reading alone! Rather, I’ll be joining acclaimed poets Nikki Reimer (DOWNVERSE and [sic]) and Natalie Simpson (Thrum and accrete or crumble).

All around, it’s going to be a fun night, so come out and enjoy! I hear there’s also a “brief open-mic” to start, so perhaps you’d like to bring something to read yourself? The more the merrier, I say. And thanks so much to the Single Onion for inviting me. I consider it a privilege.

For more details, see the Single Onion upcoming events page, and if you happened to be so inclined, you could even invite your friends via the facebook event page. And that would be fun, wouldn’t it?

EDIT (Sept 6, 2014): Oh look! BeatRoute’s advertising the event! Sweet.