Blog Hop, aka the Literary Pyramid Scheme

pyramid

Brian Francis (author of Natural Order and a renowned Caker Cooker—yes, look that up) recently asked me to participate in the Author Blog Hop. I said yes because I adored his last two novels and well, I never miss an opportunity for silly self-promotion.

Here’s how this literary pyramid scheme works. I answer 4 questions about myself (probably truthfully) and then tag two other authors. Brian also asked Vivek Shraya (most recently author of She of the Mountains) and a renowned rock star. 

What am I working on?

I’ve just completed another revision of Novel #3. I don’t yet have a title but it might as well be named The Novel That Kicked My Ass for Three Years. I think (dah dah dah dah!) it’s ready to send to my agent.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I write literary fiction, with a hint of magical realism (I like it when my characters talk to dead people). There is also a lot of brownness and queerness in my stories, settings and characters.

Why do I write what I do?

I write stories that obsess me. You have to when you’ve been foolish enough to commit to a project that might take 3 or more years to complete. Novel #3 (yeah, still no title) is about a young woman who stumbles into the swinger scene while working at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico. In the process, she finds her backbone and the father she’s never known. The book explores identity, sex and ghosts, my current everyday obsessions.

How does my writing process work?

I haven’t ever outlined. I might outline Novel #4 with the hope that it kicks my ass less enthusiastically. I write daily (usually), but because I have a part-time psychotherapy practice (yes, click that link), I split my days between my two jobs. I edit as I write and when I have readable drafts, I seek feedback from writer friends. I also write poetry to escape novel-writing and to experience the feeling of finishing something.

There! I think most of that was the truth!

I’ve tagged Carrianne Leung (author of The Wondrous Woo and my lovely Brockton neighbour) and Terry Fallis (most recently the author of No Relation and the guy who inspired me to consider outlining).

They’ll post their answers to these same 4 questions on September 1st.  They’ll tag two others. And so on, until whoever started this pyramid gets filthy rich.

Novel in a nutshell

YouTube and Google have a very cool and fun app that helps you create a 35 second video using 7 search terms. Here’s my 35 second rendition of Stealing Nasreen. Check it out and then make your own stories.

I’m having trouble figuring out the 7 search terms for Six Metres of Pavement, my second novel, which will be released in winter, 2011. How do you distill 300 pages into 35 seconds, anyway? Here’s my first attempt

Crafting an Income

First published Mar 30, 2010 by The Mark

Today’s best Facebook status update was from a friend who is an author: “Royalty cheque finally arrived. Time to get that root canal!” The post received a dozen commiserating comments from other writers – and not about the pain of dental work.

Most writers I know aren’t rich. They cobble together incomes from paid writing and speaking gigs, meagre royalties, and grants from insufficiently funded arts programs. Many add on part-time or full-time employment and raise children too. They scrape together enough (or not enough) time and money to continue working on their craft.

I’m talking about established writers here – people who are published, who have an audience, whose Google hits number in the thousands. Yes, it’s old news, but times have changed. Huge advances are a thing of the past. Independent bookstores are closing their doors. Writers have to use their creativity to pay the bills.

Years ago, I quit a full-time job as a social worker to start a part-time private psychotherapy practice in order to gain more writing time. Most weeks, my writing/psychotherapy is a near equal balance, with the exception of winter when new clients arrive in droves, and summertime, when people leave for vacations. In other words, my writing waxes and wanes with the whims of my higher-paid work schedule. Sometimes, I feel jealous of full-time writers.

Still, I manage to write almost daily, and sometimes I have the luxury of an uninterrupted eight-hour stretch. In many ways, this is the ideal way to write novels; I can be inside the minds of my characters all day long, thinking, planning, dreaming.

I’ve often pondered what it would be like to not have a “day job,” to earn enough income through royalties or arts grants. When that seems too far-fetched, I fantasize about month-long writing retreats in the middle of a forest.

Would I be as productive if I had this luxury? I’m not sure. There is something to be said for the structure a second job creates. Yes, it breaks up the writing, but it also trains me to use the remaining time well. I edit previously drafted passages in the gaps between clients, I reserve mornings in my agenda in pink highlighter, and I set goals to increase page counts. I treat my writing time as something precious.
I’ve heard other writers with day jobs express similar sentiments. There’s the parent who wakes at 5 a.m. every day, the consultant who accepts three-month contracts to earn just enough to get back to his writing, the teacher who spends weekends and vacations finishing her second novel.

I keep my day job for a number of reasons besides the obvious financial one. My clients are interesting people. The emotionally focused experience of psychotherapy complements the imaginative process needed for fiction. Plus, I’m good at the work, and it’s helpful to have a consistent feeling of competence and purpose (especially on days when a rejection letter or the results of an unsuccessful grant application arrive in my mailbox).

For now, my two jobs, writing and psychotherapy, suit me. But I have a feeling that the work of keeping them in balance will be something I’ll continue to question and grapple with for a long while yet. Today, my Facebook status update will read: “Three new pages in the morning, three ongoing clients in the afternoon. A good day.”

The City as a Character

I love to write about Toronto. I’m not alone; Dionne Brand, David Chariandy, MG Vassanji, Margaret Atwood, Barbara Gowdy, and many others have situated their fiction in this city, often making setting a character.

What makes this city such an inspiration is it diversity. That might sound like a line from a tourist brochure, but I haven’t been anywhere else where so many different people bump up against each other everyday. It’s a place I feel home with all my various identities, a place where I can find community with people who share varied interests, politics and ancestries.

I’m thinking about the city a lot these days. My second novel, Six Metres of Pavement (Dundurn, 2011) takes place in my neighbourhood and all across Toronto. It’s about a middle-aged South Asian man who recovers from the worst mistake of his life through unlikely connections with a Portuguese widow and homeless young queer woman. Toronto facilitates unlikely connections, in my opinion.

I’m also thinking about the city because of our upcoming municipal election. Municipal politics are not always seen as all that important, but it’s this level on which we feel much of our quality of life. It the level where decisions about our libraries, rec centres, transit, parks, local businesses and festivals take place. It’s the level that makes all the difference to neighbourhoods.

Toronto City Council doesn’t currently represent the city’s diversity. There aren’t enough women, or people of colour, or other marginalized folks there. There isn’t anyone there who is vocal about championing the arts. I really hope this changes when Torontonians go to the polls this October.

I’m excited to hear about some new candidates, all women of colour, who are running as independents: Hema Vyas (Ward 18), Karen Sun (Ward 19), and Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 27). It’s also exciting to see two transwomen running in Ward 27: Susan Gapka and Enza Anderson.

These elections will define Toronto’s direction in the coming years. Who knows what kind of character our city will be in the future?

Embracing Change

I attended a very useful symposium put on by the The Writers Union of Canada this past Friday called “Secure Footing in a Changing Literary Landscape”.

Well, the literary landscape has not felt secure to most people in the industry. Writers (emerging and established) are finding it harder to find a publisher. Publishers are having trouble surviving within this big-box-gouging era. Independent bookstores are closing their doors. We’re all wondering what to do with e-books, Google lawsuits and social media.

Kind of a bad time to be an author, eh?

And yet the symposium didn’t leave me depressed. Rather, I felt energized and full of new ideas about how to view this strange new publishing-land. I assessed where I’m doing well in a context that demands authors be web/blog/facebook/twitter-savvy and where I can take further steps to reach my audience. I met colleagues and felt a sense of burgeoning community. I remembered why I write and what an important role writers have in society.

A big thanks to Betsy Warland, Ross Laird and Deborah Windsor for facilitating a great day.

PS–if you are a Canadian writer, check out the new Facebook group I set up to help writers share and barter their skills with one another. It was inspired by an activity we did during the workshop.

Six Metres of Pavement

Novel #2 has a title! After a short process of elimination, Dundurn and I have decided on “Six Metres of Pavement” as the title of my book.

And we have a production schedule–by mid-January, the book will start becoming available. Meanwhile, we’re working away on edits.

Stay tuned!

A New Year, A New Book!

When I returned home from vacation, a fat envelope awaited me. Inside was a publisher’s contract which I’ve since signed and mailed today. Wahooo!

So, what I anticipate for this year: lots of revisions and edits on novel #2, which is called A Six Meter Stretch of Pavement (including a possible change of title), discussions about marketing, and hopefully a launch date by late 2010/early 2011. After working on it for the last two years, I can’t wait to see the finished product and get out on tour with it.

Another piece of exciting news I’m  proud to announce is that I’m being represented by the Beverley Slopen Agency, a literary agency that supports the work of many fine writers.

2010 has started very well…hope your year brings you lots of joy and success too.

Montreal Serai review

Here’s another Stealing Nasreen review, this one by Montreal Serai‘s Niranjana Iyer.

I was reflecting on how a number of reviewers have specifically noticed and commented on the scene between Shaffiq and the hospital administrator, a scene which highlights his simultaneous invisibility (as an accountant, underemployed as a janitor) and visibility (as a racialized person, a new immigrant).

I wrote that scene during the very last revision, perhaps a week before I handed in the manuscript to my publisher. She’s asked me to add a little more detail about Shaffiq at work, and his feelings about being underemployed. The scene came easily, perhaps because by then I truly knew the characters, had been swimming in the sea of their lives for many years already. I typed the words, decided the scene was done after it’s second drafting (usually I redraft and redraft) and was happy to be done with the book.

I’ve been reflecting on this because I am now at this stage with my second novel, (currently titled) A Six Meter Stretch of Pavement. It’s the 14th (or so) revision, and I’m looking for gaps and things to cut. I hope that my final pieces of writing will be among the best, the noteworthy, the scenes that remain in readers’ imaginations long after they’ve finished reading it.

Support Canadian Writers This Holiday Season

I’ve been pleased to hear that most people I know are challenging the rampant consumerism of the upcoming holiday season. Lots of us participate in gift swaps, only shop for the kids, make and bake presents or insist on a no-gift policy with our friends and families. Many more people acknowledge that they don’t even celebrate Christmas or that the holidays they do celebrate during this time traditionally don’t involved the exchange of gifts. Some are reclaiming the spirituality of these holydays and refocussing on things that don’t cost money.

I love all that.

But if you are going to be shopping this holiday season, why not support Canadian writers, most of whom make very little for their efforts? Here’s how:

buy Canadian books and magazines! And while you’re doing that, don’t just purchase the works of the most well-known authors (although they do deserve your support too)…branch out and take a look at the smaller, lesser known ones. Check out small presses, chapbooks and home-made zines.

skip the big box bookstores, both online and on the street. You know who they are. Typically, they demand hugely unfair discounts from publishers, special “fees” to shelve books in prominent locations of the store, and don’t even stock smaller press books or lesser known magazines, let along chapbooks and zines. Skip them! The masses are already shopping there! Instead, go to your local independent bookstore. These stores tend to support a broad range of writing, don’t demand extra fees from publishers and buy at the accepted 40% discount. They also tend to act as local community hubs, and often organize great speakers, readings and courses. In Toronto, my favourites include the Toronto Women’s Bookstore, Type Books, and This Ain’t the Rosedale Library

But maybe you live in a community that no longer has an independent bookstore because your local WalMart or Costco is now selling “Chicken Soup for the Soul”? Well, I have a solution for you too!

Buy direct from the author, if they offer that option on their website. This allows the writer to earn a 40% profit on their book, rather than the usual 10-15% of net or gross. That means for a $20 book, the author can earn $8, instead of about $2. The Writers Union of Canada offers a database of their members, which is a partial list of Canadian writers’ biographies and publications. Invite a writer to your local holiday event or party to do a reading.

you can even buy direct from the publisher, which means more money to the author and publisher combined. Some of my favourite presses are Dundurn, House of Anansi, Inanna, and Arsenal Pulp. Favourite magazine include Broken Pencil and Walrus. There are tons more. What are your favourites?

Finally, if you’d like to support Canadian writers this holiday season, oppose governments that insist on slashing arts funding, and lobby against Prime Ministers who make a show of supporting the arts by coopting artist space and singing out of tune. You know who I’m talking about.

Brockton Writers Series

For some time, I’ve been a proud resident of Brockton Village, in Toronto’s West End. I have a great sense of community here and I love knowing and getting to know my neighbours.

So, when Melanie Janisse, poet, artist and local coffee shop owner, suggested we run a monthly writers series out of her Dundas West Zoots Cafe I got excited at the idea of connecting with my writer-neighbours too.

The Brockton Writers Series highlights the work of people who live within the dozen or so blocks bordered (loosely, because we are pretty flexible about geography) by Lansdowne/Gladstone/College/Queen Streets. Three invited writers of all genres and experience levels–emerging and established– take the stage and we also offer some open mic time for people who want to share something they’re working on. Most of all, we’re interested in creating community for those who love writing and literature.

This past month, our second ever event, poets Sarah Greene and Melanie Janisse, playwright Janice Goveas, and emerging novelist Mo Pigeon, shared their work to a full house. The feeling was cozy and supportive, and the room buzzed with chatter during the breaks. Our microphone wouldn’t work and sometimes the sound of the expresso maker punctuated our words, but that was just fine.  There was a sense that this series is building into something good.

Writers have been excited to get involved. We’re booked for our next three months! Who knew there were so many talented people living in such a small geographic area? Well, we guessed there were lots of us around, and we’re glad this has been confirmed.

So, next month’s line-up includes playwright Rose Cullis, fiction-writer Jasmine D’Costa and poet Aisha Sasha John. All three  are accomplished in their genres and this promises to be a fantastic night.

Join us the first Tuesday of each month, 7-9pm, at Zoots Cafe, 1438 Dundas Street West, Toronto. The event is free, and books, drinks and other treats are available for sale. If you’d like to be part of the open mic, come sign up at 6:50pm. Contact me if you’re a local writer who wants to read at a future event.

To stay in the loop, join our Facebook group. typewriter_jpg

Self-Promotion From the Inside Out: Emotional and Practical Strategies to Promote Your Own Business

Just beginning to plan a project, or looking to develop an already established one?   Promoting your novel, an artistic endeavour, or a small business?

I’m facilitating a workshop at Wine, Women and Philosophy , a retreat centre for women near Ottawa and Montreal.

This experiential workshop weekend will help us examine common fears and emotional barriers that women face when it comes to promoting themselves.  We share our practical strategies, promotional plans and develop a network to maintain progress. We talk about how to use events, e-mail, Facebook, Google, websites, blogs, creative partnerships and support networks to promote our work. We come away from this weekend with renewed confidence in ourselves and in our projects.

The workshop takes place within a beautiful centre on a private lake and 22 acres of hiking trails. Wine pairings, decadent food and wonderful company accompany this weekend.

Join us! For more info, contact: info@winewomenandphilosophy.com

Central Neighbourhood House’s Book Sale and Auction

I’m pleased to be involved in Central Neighbourhood’s upcoming Book Sale and Auction on Saturday, August 22nd. All proceeds will go to support CNH’s programs.

There will be a whack of books there to buy, including autographed copies of first editions by Barbara Gowdy, Wayson Choy, Allistair McCleod and me! I’ll also be doing a reading from Stealing Nasreen at 3:30.

For more information, go to: http://www.cnh.on.ca/events.htm

Summer news

Summer is officially here and I look forward to my paid work slowing down and the expansion of my writing life. I’ll be spending much of my summer vacation doing a writing retreat.

I’m currently working on my third novel and am at the 100 page mark. Still so much to write, to understand, to develop. It’s good to have large swaths of time opening up.

And what of the second novel? Well, it’s done, and I’m still shopping it around to agents and am hopeful I’ll find one soon. I have to admit, this is not my favourite part of the writing life. Writing is enlivening. Promotion can be an interesting challenge. Touring is totally fun. But shopping it around? Bleh. I’ve developed a multitude of coping strategies for rejection; I could write a book about it!

And there is some news about Stealing Nasreen, the first novel. It’s been two years since it was published, but the story is still getting some attention.  I just read at Proud Voices at Pride Toronto (the photo at the bottom is courtesy Salma Akbar) . And the novel has just been reviewed by Feminist Review: http://feministreview.blogspot.com/2009/07/stealing-nasreen.html .

And, I still delight in receiving e-mails and Facebook wall posts from happy readers (keep them coming! Reading them is Rejection Strategy # 28).

Proud Voices 2009

Proud Summer

It’s June (almost!) and with the Inside/Out festival being done and the weather getting warmer I start to think about Pride festivities.

I’ve been attending Toronto Pride since 1994. I’ve walked in the Pride Parade and  marched on Dyke Day nearly every year. This year, Trans Pride will happen for the first time ever in Toronto on June 26th, a wonderful addition to Pride weekend.

I’m very excited to be part of Pride’s literary line-up, Proud Voices, curated by Susan G Cole.  If you are in town, come and listen to my reading on Saturday June 27th at 4pm. For more details:  http://www.pridetoronto.com/press/proud-voices-reading-series/

falling in love again

maggie1I grew up without pets, with the exception of a guard dog named Rover when we lived in Zambia (and I was too young to remember him). I didn’t miss them, pine for them, ask my parents for a guinea pig, parrot or dog.

When a previous roommate of mine insisted on getting a cat, I relented, but was convinced I would have no part of it. Within a couple of days I was won over by the kitten. A year later, I added a second kitten to the household, a runt of a litter who reached out of her Humane Society cage to tap me on the arm. Soon, I realized I was allergic to cats after all, and bringing the new one home just added to the dandery air.

When that roommate and I moved on, I agonized over leaving behind my kitty, but my sinuses were glad. For weeks I had dreams in which I’d forgotten to feed her, or left her outside to freeze or perish in various nightmarish ways. I’m happy to say that my old roommate has nurtured both cats into their old ages.

Later, a previous partner insisted we get a dog. Eventually I relented, convinced I wasn’t going to have any part of it. Well, you know the rest. She (the ex-girlfriend) and I split up and unfortunately we (the dog and I) parted ways.

Since then, I’ve thought about getting a dog and never managed it because I didn’t really have the lifestyle to support all the walking and poop-picking-up required of a pooch.  And then I became a self-employed therapist and writer, and found myself at home alot of the time.

So I insisted on getting a dog. My partner, luckily, has relented. I sit here writing with a dog at my feet (she’s just fallen asleep after licking every drop of honey out a kong–yes, that  might sound x-rated to some of you, but I assure you it’s not). She’s been with us for 5 days now.

Maggie is making me wonder about loving an animal, and how this adoration will make it into my writing. People say that having a child changes the way one writes, but I haven’t heard this said of pets. I recall that in Stealing Nasreen, it seemed really important that Nasreen have a cat named Id, who watched over her behaviour. Id was a companion, but also a witness.   I wonder now if Maggie will make her appearance in a future novel, perhaps as a dog who loves a woman whomaggie2 loves her back.

on becoming a Facebooker

Some time ago, shortly before Stealing Nasreen was due to be released, a friend suggested I get on Facebook so that I could better promote the novel. She’s younger and hipper than I, so I took her advice. Still, I was skeptical, and resolved to use the social networking tool only for bookish stuff. I wasn’t going to become addicted, or post inane ‘status updates’ about what I had for breakfast.

I slowly grew my friends list, created a Stealing Nasreen group page, and began to post event pages for the various readings I was doing. Sometimes people I didn’t know would friend me, and in fit of virtual social butterfly-ness, I accepted them. I figured I could maybe interest them in my book, anyhow. Other times, people I didn’t know would contact me for media interviews, to share fannish feedback or invite me to read at events. I began to feel closer to people I liked but didn’t get to see very often. It was all going pretty well. I was giddy about Facebook then, and tried to recruit everyone to join: “You hear about events your won’t hear about on e-mail. You’ll sign petitions, quickly mobilize protests, connect with your cousins!!”

But then I noticed that something else began to happen on Facebook when I passed the 300 friends mark. I think that’s when it happened. You maybe know what I mean. Suddenly, the news feeds got clogged with notices from people I’d  never met or barely could remember from grade 2. I started to RSVP “maybe” to everything I got invited to (which in Facebook-land, means “um, no”). On my birthday, I received lavish salutations from strangers. Everyone and their sister (who I’d also friended) shared their “25 things” with me.

Today, I have 687 friends. I still use Facebook to promote my book and other people’s books and events. I’m still connecting to friends, family, and fans and hearing about stuff I wouldn’t have over e-mail. But I feel more jaded now when people friend me. I hope they won’t post too much. I pray they won’t complete every quiz about what kind of superhero, philosopher or sea animal they are. I wonder how to cull the list.

Is this just the evolution of Facebook membership? That it all gets a little less interesting and perhaps too crowded over time? Does everyone develop Facebook fatigue? Maybe I should just take a little break from it for awhile.

If I do, I’ll make sure to put that in my status update.

Travelling, creative resistance and retreating

Hey it’s been a busy March! I panelled and performed in New York at the South Asian Women’s Creative Collective’s Annual Literary Festival, lectured and read at Ottawa’s Carleton University (my alma mater), facilitated a workshop and read in Guelph at the re-launch of “Saturday Night: Untold Stories of Sexual Assault in Guelph” and tonight I head to St. Catharine’s to speak to a pop culture and queerness class. A ton of activity and travelling in one month.

One question I’ve been mulling over this March is the role of critical fiction as creative resistance…in other words, what are the ways in which fiction can challenge stereotypes, ways of being, and the status quo through story, narrative and voice? And how does a writer do this lyrically versus pedantically?

Both Stealing Nasreen and my second novel contain themes and writing that challenge society’s norms…but it’s interesting…as I wrote them, I didn’t think too much about these issues. It was only in the editing process that I thought critically about the work–it was more an unconscious process. Still, the politics came through, perhaps because they are there even in my unconscious world…and maybe it’s a good thing to avoid thinking too much during the creative phase of the work, or else I might get too self-conscious and bogged down by my own thoughts…

I’ve got more travelling coming this week…I head to Del Rio, Texas on Saturday to visit family and to do a mini-writing retreat. I look forward to Tejano culture, palm trees, a comfy bed, a sense of belonging in a home away from home and writing…just writing without much  distraction beyond Priya the dog.

IWD at Carleton University

I’m heading to my alma mater Carleton University, to take part in a few events on March 18th, in celebration of International Women’s Day/Month:

12:30-2:30pm, I’ll be giving a talk called: Queerly South Asian: Reflections on writing, psychotherapy and identity in real life and fiction in 409 Southam Hall. Free and all welcome!!

2:30-3:30, visit to a School of Social Work class.

4:00-5:00, Wine and cheese at the School of Social work for staff and alumni.

New York

I’m excited to be heading to New York City this Saturday March 7th for the South Asian Women’s Creative Collective’s 6th Annual Literary Festival. The theme is “Stranger Love” and I will be participating on a panel of writers, talking about sexuality, race and gender in South Asian writing. 

strangerlove

Here are the details:

4:15–5:30pm
Passing Strange: Race, Gender and Sexuality

Panelists consider how their writing reimagines raced, gendered, and sexual identity in unconventional ways.

Abha Dawesar (Family Values, Penguin India 2009)
Farzana Doctor (Stealing Nasreen, Inanna 2007)
Chandra Prasad (On Borrowed Wings: A Novel, Atria 2007)
Moderated by Svati Shah (Postdoctoral Fellow, Duke University)

at The New School
6 East 16th Street (at 5th Ave), 9th Floor
New York, NY
FREE

Later the same evening, I’ll be reading from Stealing Nasreen at:

Closing Night Reading
From dating on Craigslist to undiscovered family histories, South Asian women share their own writing on the theme of “stranger love.” Featuring Fawzia Afzal-Khan, Meena Alexander, Abha Dawesar, Farzana Doctor, Minal Hajratwala, S. Mitra Kalita, Yesha Naik, Amy Paul, Bushra Rehman, Zohra Saed, and Purvi Shah.

at Bar 13
35 East 13th Street
New York, NY
$5 at the door

Hope to see you there!

For full schedule, go to www.sawcc.org/events