Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Lily Pads, Nostalgia, and Husking Corn

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Speaking of swamp, my mind too often at 3:00 in the morning works like it’s hopping lily pads. Maybe it’s just my adult ADD putting in overtime. (Incidentally, I once knew someone who thought that ADD meant the individual was suffering from a lack of attention. She used to tell that to us over and over again.) In order to try and fall back asleep, I’ll focus on one particular problem, as a sort of exercise. But soon there are more and more lily pads, and they keep getting smaller.

My stories are set in the early part of the last century. I research the language of the times in order to make it as authentic as possible. Apart from period books and newspapers, I also check out slang dictionaries online. Dates and etymology are important: Sometimes there’s a word or phrase I’d like to use, but then I’ll discover that I’m a little too soon with it so I file it in my lexicon, my box of crayons. And if it’s something my characters would never have heard, I have to discard it. That’s hard.

I’m re-reading Morley Callaghan’s That Summer In Paris looking for slang and bits of colourful language (“scalp these obituaries,” “sober as an undertaker”). I’m reminded of the veins of idiom and usage that run through cultures, regions, and generations. I talk to my father-in-law and think, I should be taking notes. I’m conscious of the broad stuff that was communicated via mass media versus the local jargon. In reading a story at the launch of Riverside Drive, someone picked up on how I said “Ford’s” instead of “Ford.” Windsorites also say “Chrysler’s” instead of “Chrysler.” At one time these were less brands than family businesses. I think that’s where it comes from. “I work at Ford’s. Where do you work?”

Morley Callaghan was writing about his experience in Paris in the 1920’s. He found himself inspired to write the book after a conversation that left him in a “meditative state.” Nostalgia. But the book is more than someone’s trip down memory lane; this is historical as well. Part of a life story. I’m writing about Windsor in the same period. But I wasn’t there and I didn’t live it. Still, I guess it’s a form of nostalgia. I lie awake thinking about that. And words like “artifice.” And “romanticize.” Writers create places to go. I understand that dreams are us working out our problems. And if you can’t work them out in your sleep, you can always try writing fiction.

I just read that nostalgia was originally diagnosed a few centuries ago as a disease, sometimes reduced to homesickness. And also that nostalgia is used by people to defend or buffer themselves in times of crisis, what we now refer to as going to one’s “happy place.” Right now I’m standing in our kitchen in Toronto, husking the last of the corn that my wife brought back from home last weekend (yes, two decades later we still call Windsor home). It’s nostalgia that you can wrap your hands around, prepare, cook and eat. Kids still take summer jobs picking corn in Essex County and selling it at roadside stalls.

And on to my next lily pad…

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Michael Januska

Michael Januska is an award-winning crime fiction writer whose works include numerous short stories as well as the recent novel Riverside Drive, part of the Border City Blues series set in Windsor. His first book was Grey Cup Century. He lives in Toronto.

Go to Michael Januska’s Author Page