Yearly Archives: 2012

December Literary Links

The New York Times. The Lure of the Writer’s Cabin

Black Bile Press. Writing is my Bitch

SFWA. Reading Aloud

Huffington Post. Publishing Tips: 6 Ways to Make Your Short Story Collection Stand Out

Ask Copy Curmudgeon. Triage

Flavorwire. 10 of the Most Gloriously Frustrating Endings in Literature

Vice. Ghostwriting is the Future of Literature

The Weeklings. Madness in the Penguin House

Copyblogger. The 6 Unique Traits of All Remarkable Writers

Shortlist Magazine. 50 Best Literary Insults

“The Rats and the Cockroaches” in The Lion and the Aardvark

The Lion and the Aardvark is here! This beautiful hard cover anthology of modern fables includes my story “The Rats and the Cockroaches” as well as stories from writer pals Richard Scarsbrook and Dan Perry.

Illustrations by Rachel Kahn

I was contacted last February by Robin D. Laws, Creative Director at Stone Skin Press, who asked if I would like to participate in the project.

The anthology is available in bookshops across the UK and can be ordered through your local book store. Stone Skin Press will soon have their online shop up and running.

Read an excerpt from “The Wolf and Death” by Julia Bond Ellingboe from The Lion and the Aardvark.

Read my Fable Experience in an earlier post.

The Next Big Thing

The Next Big Thing is a literary game that is spreading across the internet. Writers tag one another and answer questions about their current work-in-progress. I was tagged by Dan Perry. Each writer then tags another five and so on… It’s a great way to check out what other writers are working on.

What is the working title of your book?

Men and the Drink

Where did the idea come from for the book?
I didn’t have a specific idea for the collection until it was halfway done. Then I  noticed themes and characters that repeated. When I wrote the title story, I knew that would be the book title as well. My mum says these are my areas of expertise. I’m not an expert on either, but I am fond of both.

What genre does your book fall under?
Short fiction. I did come up with the term lonely romanticism which might fit. Readers have described my stories as gritty, evocative, economical, and unsentimental. 

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
At 20 stories, I’ll need a lot of actors. Here’s a few ideas…

Matt Dillon – 20 Grit/Eddie in the trilogy “20 Grit”, “Crappy Little Job” and “Separated” (right look, age, and voice).

Richard Dreyfuss – the professor in “Derry Daring Rides” (dark and funny).

Helena Bonham Carter – Minnie in “The Inkling” ( a mix of Marla from Fight Club and Margaret from Margaret’s Museum).

Saul Rubinek – the crass gallery owner in “Summer Sublet” (think Lee Donowitz in True Romance.)

Friends would play extras in bar scenes.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Isolation, anxiety, and degradation infect lives that are served no easy baked solutions.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agent?
I don’t have an agent. I’ll be submitting my manuscript to publishers early next year. 

How long did it take to write your manuscript?
Five years of writing and revisions.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I can’t compare to other books. I’m a fan of Bukowski’s style of first person tell-it-like-it-is writing, and I think my work reflects this appreciation.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Life experiences as well as my family, cats, dreams, and the neighbourhoods of Parkdale and the Byward Market have inspired my stories.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
My writing is subtle and often leaves room for readers to interpret and imagine different aspects and endings. This does frustrate some, but it also sparks debate and discussion. For those who don’t like to be left hanging, the collection includes two trilogies that track characters over a period of years. 

Check out what these great writers are up to:


Rules of the Next Big Thing:
Use this same format for your post
Answer the ten questions about your work in progress
Tag five writers and add their links

November Literary Links

Lemon Hound. Panning for Gold: The Fate of Short Fiction in a Novelistic World

the guardian. Philip Hensher: Why handwriting matters

The Huffington Post. T.C. Boyle Interview: Author Talks Writing Women, Least Favorite Classics, Chest Hair

Bizzaro Central. Stop Being Boring or How to Give a Good Reading

Daily Writing Tips. 7 Examples of Valid Passive Construction

Good. Endangered Species: In Defense of Cursive Writing Tough Guys Talk Poetry

the Paris Review. Woody Allen, The Art of Humor No. 1

The Bookshelf Muse. Physical Attributes Thesaurus Entry: Eyes

Courage 2 Create. Long Live The Introvert!

Ordering Short Story Collections

My short story collection is finished! Well, almost. A little more tweaking to do. About 3/4 of the way through my manuscript, I made a table of contents to see my stories as a whole and to think about ordering. Although my stories span five years of writing, there are reoccurring themes that run throughout. I want the order to reinforce these.

“The placement of a story in a collection can alter both its meaning and its affect.” -David Jauss

This isn’t to say an editor won’t change what you, the writer comes up with, or ask you to cut a beloved story, or ask you to write new stories. Authors’ and editors’ opinions on ordering a short story collection differ, but there are commonalities.

First and Last Story

Place your best story first to grab the reader’s attention (a previously published story or one that has garnered much praise). Some editor’s say not to use a story that is too dark, that you want it to appeal to the largest demographic. The last story should also be strong and unifying. 

Title Story
If your title story (if you have one) is your best, it should go first or last. If it’s merely the best title, it can be placed anywhere in the collection as long as what precedes and follows are cohesive.
Story Length
A novella should be the last story in a collection. Short shorts or flash fiction pieces can be sprinkled throughout to alter the rhythm and and flow.
Cluster stories with similar themes together.
Think what kind of ride you want to take your readers on. Is it a roller coaster, or do you want a slow build to a big finish? 
Arrange stories with overlapping characters side by side and in chronological order. You may want to group stories by the protagonists’ age group.
Place can influence order. Keep stories that share a geographical location together or spread them out.
Consider how a reader might feel at the end of one story, and decide whether you want to maintain that mood or shake things up. A transition might be an image, key word, or title that relates to a previous story.
These stories stand out from the collection because of style, structure, or pov. Place these somewhere in the middle as you want to bookend with work that is most representational of your style. A story might not belong, instinctively you know this, but you’re hoping to sneak it in. I say go for it – the editor will tell you if it’s a no go.

Write each title on a separate index cards or strips of paper. Underneath, write the word count, theme, mood and a couple of key words. Spread the cards out on the floor and begin arranging . . . and rearranging. This will help you move from one possibility to the next with ease until you feel what’s right. Some ordering is subconscious, similar to the writing process.

“The Inkling” in Echolocation

Vuk Dragojevic

Echolocation Issue 12 Launch 
Thursday, November 1, 2012
No One Writes to the Colonel
460 College St., Toronto, ON
Readings start at 8pm

My story “The Inkling” is featured in the new issue of Echolocationthe literary journal produced by the Graduate English students at the University of Toronto.

“The Inkling” is the tale of Jarls Jensen, a failed journalist, who seeks a fortune-telling fraud to influence his wife. This story was inpired by a dream, my cat Harold, Picton, my grandparent’s Airstream in Dwyer Hill, and my brother’s fondness for the name Jarls…Berg.

Reading “Summer Sublet”
At the launch, I’ll be reading a different story from my almost finished collection, Men and the Drink, alongside fellow contributors Ben Ladouceur and Andrew Battershill. Drop by for a copy of the new issue, a reading or three, drinks, dancing, and conversation.
Super Fans R & D & G

October Literary Links

Mental Floss. 11 Amazing Librarian Tattoos

Salon. How to write a bad review.

Canada Writes. Russell Smith vs. Lynn Coady: Let’s write about sex! No, let’s not!

the guardian. Short stories are far more than premises for ‘twists’

PRISM international. Social Media from an Author’s Point of View

the Atlantic Wire. The Imagined Lives of Punctuation Marks

The New York Times. The Trouble with Intentions

Slate. Cormac McCarthy Cuts to the Bone

Lindsay Buroker. Tips for Dealing with Bad Book Reviews

Huffington Post. Is the Editor Dead?

Short Story Titles

What’s in a title? A lot. It’s the first thing a reader, editor, or judge responds to. A good title piques interest and raises questions before the reader knows what your story is about. A bad title may turn someone off from reading further.

Of course, you can’t please everyone. Perhaps you’ve titled a story Brenda’s Biscuits. Not bad. Now imagine a reader who as a child was bullied by a girl named Brenda, whose grandfather died from choking on a biscuit, and who was scorned by a teacher for using excessive alliteration. An extreme example, but you get the picture.

A strong title may suggest an emotion or create a mood. It should not only sound good but also look good. If a reader likes your story and wants to recommend it, would they remember the title, or is it too long and obscure sounding? Originality is a bonus. Titles can’t be copyrighted, but if someone searches for your short story online, it would be a shame if there were four others titled the same.

Titles come to writers at different times. In my experience, the best titles appear early on when writing a short. I once changed a story’s title after each revision – twelve times! Some writers are okay to wait until a work is completely finished before naming a piece, but I prefer to have a working title, even if it is the wrong one.

If a suitable title eludes you, don’t wait for it to magically appear – ask other writers and mentors for suggestions. Objectivity can muddle up titling the same way it can revisions. You don’t want to sit on a fantastic piece of fiction just because you’re not convinced you have the best title. Submit your work, an editor may suggest something better.

On the flip side, don’t get too attached. I once thought up a great title early on in drafts. By the time the story was done, the title didn’t quite fit, but I kept it anyway because I thought it sounded cool. Just like characters, you sometimes need to kill titles or at least save them for different stories.

Good titles seem to come without much thought, but if you are struggling, consider these suggestions.

  • name of character
  • possessive and object/subject
  • name of setting
  • theme or symbol
  • conflicting moment or event
  • expression
  • line from story

Brenda’s Biscuits was an extreme example of how a title can turn a reader off. A more likely scenario: a reader picks up an anthology of short stories, yours included. They only have time to read one. The reader will skim over the table of contents and choose a story whose title intrigues them the most. Will it be yours?

Any tips or anecdotes about short story titles?

Dreams for Writing Inspiration

Dreams can be a wonderful tool for fiction writing because the creative mind continues to spin its magic beyond our waking hours. If friends roll their eyes when you begin a sentence with, “I had this dream…”, stop talking and start writing. What develops in our unconscious minds is unique and personal – characteristics of a good story.

Dreams can inspire at different stages of writing. You may write an entire piece of flash fiction or only use one aspect of a dream – a character, imagery, setting, or mood as a seed for a new story. Night visions can also help solve problems you’re having during revisions. Try reading your piece right before bed. The story may work itself into a dream and provide you with a solution.

Of course, you have to remember your dreams. Keep a notebook and pencil beside your bed. When you wake, write everything down right away. Once in this habit, you’ll find your dreams become clearer and that you remember more often. In the middle of the night, I reach for my cell phone (no need to turn on the light) and tweet basic themes.

Dreams are often fantastical and wouldn’t make sense translated directly to the page unless you write magical realism or science fiction. But similar to using real life experiences for inspiration, anything can be altered for the sake of story. A giant hairy monster chasing you can be written as a 6 feet tall stalker with hairy knuckles. That said, don’t forget the nightmares.

What is your connection between dreaming and writing?

Stephen King, an excerpt from Writers Dreaming
5 Famous Books Inspired by Dreams

September Literary Links

Roger Ebert’s Journal. Remembering Bukowski

the Paris Review. E. B. White, The Art of the Essay No. 1

LitReactor. Some Practical Writing Advice From Douglas Coupland

Listverse. Ten Saddest Moments in the Life of Poe

Fast Company. See The Advertising Work of Dr. Seuss

Copyblogger. 12 Lessons Learned from 12 Years of Writing

The New York Times. The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy

Writer’s Digest. The 7 Rules of Picking Names for Fictional Characters

Tin House. The Art of the Sentence

Open Book Toronto. Writing Real Sex