Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

smadden's blog

CanFic Crash-Ups

A CanFic crash-up is an experiment in which the first and last lines of a given work of Canadian fiction are put side by side. The effect can be extraordinary. Sometimes the two lines tell a story, sometimes they capture the themes and/or tone of the work as a whole, and sometimes they make absolutely no sense. Try it out on your favourite novels and see what happens.

Here are a few recently published Canadian novels I subjected to the CanFic Crash-Up test, starting with my own:

Poison Shy by Stacey Madden (ECW Press, 2012)
"My worst fear? Not this time."

Girl Crazy by Russell Smith (HarperCollins, 2010)
"The pool was closed. His whole body felt hard."

The Antagonist by Lynn Coady (House of Anansi, 2011)

My Strange Tendencies

We all have our habits. Some good, some bad, and some that could land us in a padded room at the local insane asylum.

As a writer, I have certain unconscious tendencies that sometimes end up on the page. Some of these are okay, like my tendency to give my characters mental health problems. Readers seem to find insanity interesting, and characters at odds with themselves provide the work with a sort of built-in narrative tension.

To-Do List: Fall 2012 Edition

Fall is by far my favourite season.

The cold breezes. That Octobery smell of dead leaves, pumpkin spice, and roasted coffee. The savoury abundance of Thanksgiving and the saccharine gluttony of Halloween. The book parties and awards. The comfort and fashion of long sleeves and light jackets. The final blip of nice weather before the Ice Age of yet another Canadian winter. The excitement of baseball's World Series, and the anticipation of a new hockey season -- wait, scratch that last one.

A Miscellany of Writerly Advice

Recently, while submerged in what could be described as a web-browsing coma, I stumbled across a goldmine of writerly advice in the form of lists on The Guardian's website, with tips from writers such as Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, Richard Ford, Hilary Mantel, and Zadie Smith, to name just a few. (You can find the collection HERE.)

Two of my favourite pieces of advice are Roddy Doyle's belief that "good ideas are often murdered by better ones," and Anne Enright's helpful reminder that "only bad writers think their work is really good."

The Fate of the Hardcover

When I got my first bookstore job back in 2001, people still bought hardcovers, and e-books were nothing but enigmatic peculiarities that would occasionally pop up in database searches. I imagined them as little diskettes or video game cartridges that could be inserted into a computer -- in other words, as tangible objects that one could pluck from a shelf and carry to a cash register.

Oh, how wrong I was. And oh, how things have changed.

The formula used to be thus: a book would come out in hardcover, then after approximately one year, the same book would be released as a trade paperback. If the book was a bestseller, it might also be released as a mass market paperback.

The Pleasures of Ugly

When it comes to art and aesthetics, I've always been drawn to the grotesque.

The 'black paintings' of Francisco Goya. The twisted saints and holy sinners of Flannery O'Connor's Southern Gothic nightmare vision. Charles Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal. Two clowns on a desolate stage, waiting for someone called Godot. The jerky mannerisms and crooked landscapes of German Expressionist cinema. The bluesy, alcohol-soaked growl-rock of Tom Waits. Lucian Freud's naked bodies. Gargoyles and mascots. Blemishes and birthmarks. Carnivals, punk rock, and pornography.

Ugliness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Everyone's sense of aesthetics is unique. In many ways, beauty and ugliness are interchangeable concepts. One person's muse is another person's demon.

Your Character Needs a Job

One of the most exploratory aspects of writing Poison Shy was writing my protagonist's job.

Unless your character is homeless, or lives off an obscene inheritance, he or she will need an income. Some writers use their own jobs as inspiration. In literary fiction, for example, one sees a lot of characters employed as writers or teachers, which makes sense. Some of my favourite novels that feature characters who work as writers, or teachers, or both, are: David Lurie in Coeztee's Disgrace, Humbert Humbert in Nabokov's Lolita, Jack Gladney in Delillo's White Noise, and James Dixon in Kingsley Amis' Lucky Jim, to name just a few.

How to get Boys to Read

Everyone in the book industry knows that women read more than men, especially when it comes to fiction. According to numerous surveys conducted in the U.S., Canada, and Britain, women make up 80% of the fiction market. In other words, to quote Ian McEwan, "when women stop reading, the novel will be dead."

I, for one, do not foresee a future in which women stop reading. I have worked in a book store for too long to ever see that happening. Nevertheless, I would get personal satisfaction out of seeing the percentage of male fiction readers experience a bump, or even just a "beump", as Chief Inspector Clouseau might say.

Literary Versus Parental Criticism

Nothing I've written has ever been reviewed in print. That will change next month, when Poison Shy comes out.

Writing Real Sex

Back in February, Canadian novelists Russell Smith and Lynn Coady went head-to-head on CBC's The Next Chapter with Shelagh Rogers, in a debate over the merits and pitfalls of writing about sex in fiction. I won't go into detail about their discussion - (you can read all about it HERE) - but their debate got me thinking about the "sides within the sides" of this argument, particularly the different approaches within the pro-sex camp.

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