Leaving Del Rio

It’s been dry for seven months. On the way in from Del Rio International Airport, my father told us that the local church congregations have been saying rain prayers all spring.

Dad, my step-mother and younger siblings moved here almost ten years ago. Del Rio is his long-awaited escape from Southern Ontario winters, a Texas border town just 3 miles from Mexico. I’ve visited a number of times over the years; its low-key charm and arid climate make it a good vacation spot and writing retreat for me.

I toured Stealing Nasreen through here three years ago and am back with Six Metres of Pavement for a couple of readings, a book signing and a creative writing workshop. Each event has been attended by welcoming, interested readers, people who asked lots of questions about writing process, and the characters and setting in Six Metres of Pavement. They wanted to know about Toronto, Ismail’s mistake, Celia’s agonias. Del Rio is a frontier town with an artist’s heart.

It’s now a week later, and my partner and I wait at the airport. There are only two outbound flights a day, and ours has been grounded due to a thunderstorm with hail the “size of golf balls”. The airport staff have made us coffee, and changed the channel in the waiting room to Disney to entertain the children. They got the rain they prayed for after all.

Dad at Cinco de Mayo celebrations in Del Rio

Location, location

Writers are often asked where we write. It is a question as much about writing process as it is about location. What spaces provide inspiration, focus, or unblocks a writer?

When I’m in the process of writing a novel, it’s usually at home in front of my computer, or in a cafe. I write in long blocks or short breaks between appointments. My most productive writing has happened “on vacation” in a busy library in Del Rio Texas, just a block away from my father’s house.

First drafts of poetry nearly always happen in the moments in between stuff, when I’m alone and waiting for the next thing to happen. Buses are good, so are trains. Restaurants, too, when I arrive too early for my date.

I asked the November 2nd Brockton Writers Series writers to answer the question, to share something of their own writing process with the audience. Here are their answers:

Nehal El-Hadi writes “absolutely everywhere”. She often begins a piece on her cell-phone, texting herself bits and pieces of prose to work on later.

Carole Giangrande carries around a “crummy, old , battered notebook” to record her ideas.

Jules Lewis likes to write at the University of Toronto Libraries, “because it’s free”.

May Lui writes anywhere except in her apartment, where she gets easily distracted. She carries a tiny notebook to “scribble down brilliant sentences”.

So, where do you write?

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.

Del Rio and Radio CanadaInternational

I was in Texas this past week, visiting family and doing some writing. Del Rio is a sleepy border town, with pretty old buildings, friendly people, yummy Mexican food and a meandering creek great for dog-walking. It also has some things that make me curious: a taxidermist “studio” (which sounds artistic, almost); a gun shop with a ten foot replica gun on the lawn; and drive-thru “beverage barns” that sell booze and chocolate milk.

 

I got lots done there, not surprisingly… and think I found the ending to my second novel. Of course, I still have months of rewriting and edits, but the end is within (distant) sight.

 

Other news—I was interviewed by Wojtek Gwiazda of the Indo-Canadian Report on Radio CanadaInternational. Click on April 25th, 2008 to listen to the story: http://www.rcinet.ca/rci/en/dossiers/44920.shtml