Jane Eaton Hamilton

"You can either live as if nothing is a miracle, or everything is." Albert Einstein

Blog Tour–Shelagh Plunkett

I am so happy to announce that one of the writers I’m tagging on our blog tour is definitely in–Shelagh Plunkett from Montreal.  I look forward to reading her post.

Shelagh won first place in the CBC awards and recently published the wonderful “The Water Here is Never Blue” with Penguin Canada about her unconventional childhood in Guyana and Indonesia.  Shelagh’s story is compelling and reason enough to pick up this book, yet I would also suggest reading this delicate book for her significant stylistic achievements.

Shelagh lives with her partner, Kari, and her two cats and one dog in Montreal.

I have messed up the timing of the blog posts, but stay tuned for Shelagh’s tour answers over at Shelagh Plunkett.

Goodreads Reviews


A Few Questions About Writing

by Jane Eaton Hamilton on July 14, 2014


My colleague Julie Paul asked me to take part in a blog tour in the lit community across Canada; I was tagged by Aaron Shepard.  Recently, I was tagged by Cornelia Hoogland.

I am to answer these four questions and tag two other Canlit writers. I don’t know who I’m tagging yet because I dropped this ball, but when I do, I’ll come back here and add them.

What am I working on?

I stopped writing for 8 years, and came back to it just 3.5 years ago.

Most immediately, after an April month trying out NaPoMo for size (that is to say, write a poem a day for National Poetry Month, which I found exceedingly challenging), I decided to try a 31-day mini-novel. I set a goal of 1000 words a day, which brought me to a very concise romance novel by June’s end. Sometimes I battled to get out words until 3 in the morning, but infrequently they were done by 1 pm.

These occasional month-long exercises are what I am doing instead of what I’d call really writing. My capacity for real writing has been stretched very thin by illness for the past 3.5 years. I have little energy, and little ability to concentrate, so writing comes in fits and starts often with long long pauses. Ending points seem to help—I think I can I think I can I think I can for only 30 days before I can let myself drop (and drop the ball).

Have been pottering with a novel, but I don’t even have a second draft yet.

I haven’t challenged myself to write a full-length short story since I’ve been back, but I think it’s a reasonable next goal. Once I do that, I’ll conclude I’m back in the game.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

Everyone’s writing is idiosyncratic, but beyond that, I don’t know the answer to this question. Once Linda Spalding called my stories “crisp and clean, tender and dangerous.” I’ve always loved her description and would love to write stories that fit it.

I write mostly queer literature—maybe that’s a difference, at least from the mainstream.

 Why do I write what I do?

I write what interests me. Age is a good thing; one of its many prizes is the freedom from caring so much what others think or the marketplace needs.

I am a very personal writer, but I am hardly a memoirist despite having published a memoir. In both poetry and fiction, I am writing fictively, assembling and connecting originally non-connecting materials. It works like those memory trays we used to pass at children’s birthday parties in the 1960s covered by linen napkins. The 30-second reveal: an egg, a lighter, a piece of chalk, an address book, a piece of toast, some white string, a bobby pin, three cat’s eye marbles, four jacks, a hockey logo, a candle stub, five buttons. Write down what you remember. Assembling stories or poems is a matter of taking materials that never before fitted together and building associations between them.

For instance, in writing “Smiley,” the CBC/Canada Writes winning story, I wanted to spend time with weaver birds in South Africa’s Namaqualand. I had spent time there with photographer Freeman Patterson photographing wildflowers, but as on most group travel ventures, I found my interests were elsewhere—in this case I sat under trees colonized by hundreds of weaver birds, where I could watch and photograph their antic lives up close. More recently, I read an article Jonathan Franzen wrote for the National Geographic about the plight of songbirds in the Mediterranean; the article has been collapsing the possibilities of my heart every day since. So without conscious thought—or at least without conscious censoring–I conflated those two very separate truths, songbird deaths and thriving weaver birds, though in reality they happen a continent apart. Beyond that, I started with an image of a mother that was loosely-drawn from Charles Schultz, the powerful voice in the background of Charlie Brown’s life. When our mothers disapprove of us, they do seem as huge and strong as wooly mammoths.

Did I tell a real story? Yes and no. When I was younger than this child, in the mid 1960s, before there were LGBT role models, I insisted I was a boy. When I was my character’s age, I bound my nascent breasts with strips from a torn bedsheet during overnights, believing the pressure at night would push the nasty things back in. I made promises to God to stop stealing sugar. Our bathroom didn’t have a lock, so I was always putting the binder on at bedtime, and taking it off in the morning, terrified I’d get caught. So that fragment of the story is more or less true, although my family never found out.

In the story, the little boy experiences a first love, and affixes pendulous bird nests to his genitals as testicles. This isn’t from personal experience, but interestingly, a couple days after I finished the piece, I remembered finding an oriole nest as a little girl, and hatching exactly this scheme for myself—but I hadn’t remembered this even during writing, and I didn’t go through with it.

Even though this story is about a little trans guy, to me it’s just as much a testament to human spirit because of how Jake manages to close the terrifying distance that keeps him from his mother (and therefore her power over him intact). It touched me when his mom finally saw he was a boy and set out to help, rather than hinder.

How does my writing process work?

My favourite of my stories to write are highly voice-driven, such as ‘Hunger’ in my collection Hunger or ‘Too Young Boys’ in my collection July Nights or ‘Cripples’ or ‘Easter’ in my fledgling story collection. They’re a hoot because as a writer I’m just chasing along as someone gregarious takes over my page. Inevitably, these are women I wouldn’t much care for in real life, but as characters they’re lively and flawed, very interesting to work with.

Process, though, depends very much on genre.

When I write novels, I set word limits per day and am very disciplined about reaching them.

If I’m writing a full-length story, and have a very compelling character who is unfolding the narrative well, I’ll try to write it through, full-length and weak, in one sitting (generally a 10-12-hour day). If I am writing a story that doesn’t arrive fully-fledged, I’ll write and tweak for a month or so. I often can’t figure out stories, though, can’t make them yield, in which case I might not come back to one for years.

If I’m writing poetry, my process is all over the place—sometimes it involves long days, but other times I’ll just quickly jot a line I want to come back to at some point.

Non-fiction is the hardest for me. I have no talent for it. I always strive to lift it out of the mundane, but this is for some reason nearly impossible for me.

My editing process is rigorous, but even there, process varies—some pieces go to an outside editor before initial submission, while others don’t. Periodical or anthology editors have their own two cents to add. The important thing for me is to be open to editing (which is easy for me). Editors in my lengthy experience don’t wreck mss. Editors fix them. Editors are artists with large marble boulders, chinking away until they find the statue—the statue I carved—inside.


.   Links in the Literary Procession   .



An old photograph


My eldest daughter and me, 2003

A poem from the new book

Here is a poem for Monday.


Our Terrible Good Luck


The spot inside the sick boy’s brain

burrowed there pale as a tuber

stubborn and engorged. His hair lifted

from his scalp like angel fuzz; his eyes

gleamed and struck us


We watched him

teeter to the lip of the nest, his skin traced blue with veins.

Fledgling, we thought, and gathered our children closer, under

shivering arms. The sick boy wanted Christmas

cards and he got thousands, maybe millions

a Guinness record, cards enough

to fill warehouses, from everywhere


There was his father, his mother

his sister and brother, the cards

and there was his brain cancer

spreading like a bleach spot

towards September and death


We almost

knew something dangerous that glowed

We almost saw reflections of silver in the mirror

But then we only saw ourselves, lustrous

as poster paints, our terrible good luck

Love Will Burst now available in pre-sales!

Pretty exciting when you see a book you’ve been working on for a very long time turn into something real:

Love Will Burst into a Thousand Shapes

LOVE Will COVER V2 front

A little light editing

Here, from the New Yorker, is Ray Carver’s original version of “Beginners,” the story that became, under Gordon Lish’s hand, the brilliant “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.”  This shows all the editorial interjections and deletions, and I would say represents pretty typical story editing, myself, but I know others, including Carver and his partner Tess Gallagher, considered it drastic.  (Long) after Ray’s death, Tess published the book “Beginners” (Vintage 2010) that restored not only this story but 16 others to their original condition.  Good on her; I’m very glad she did, and readers can decide for themselves.

What We Talk About

Oh, here’s a squib about a recent Newsweek interview with Gordon Lish:

Gordon Lish

Ekphrastic poetry to start your week

I was happy to find that Canadian Poetries this morning published 3 of my ekphrastic poems: the first about Van Gogh, the second about Degas’ sculpture La Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans, and the third an imagined love affair between art collectors Etta Cone and Gertrude Stein.

By the way, one of my pet art-world peeves is the reluctance to name (fairly obvious) dykes.  It’s homophobic.  We wouldn’t be reluctant to call someone straight, but there seems to be some sort of politesse about calling someone queer without proof, like it’s shameful, or distateful, an icky thing to be.

For instance, despite the inescapable conclusion that most people have or had a sexual life, women like photographer Vivian Maier are completely de-sexualized.  Wtf?  So irritating to me.

From correspondence between Gertrude Stein and Etta Cone, it seems more than evident that Etta was thrown over for Alice and was quite hurt, and that Gertrude extended consider effort to mollify her.

And also, while I’m ranting, it now seems evident to scholars that Van Gogh came out/was more actively bisexual in Paris and was seriously over-the-moon for Gauguin, a bisexual (and total heel/wife-batterer).  During their time together in Arles, it looks like Van Gogh got clutchy and Gauguin rejecting and Gauguin, a fencer, chopped off VG’s ear.  My take on it is that VG, after a young religious life, was likely tormented by his inclinations–and perhaps this was a big part of what was considered his madness.  And perhaps part of why he was killed in Auvers, if indeed he was shot by a young bully as is now thought.

Canadian Poetries

Guardian’s Top Ten Feminist Books

Well worth a look.  I would like to hole away for a couple of weeks to read, or re-read all of these:

Top Ten Feminist Books

Endings, Oblong Magazine

Here is a piece from Oblong:


3 poems

3 poems

Mansplaining by Rebecca Solnit

Ever since her book ‘Men Explain Things To Me’ came out, the mansplaining has gone into high gear.  Here she is in an interview with the Guardian:

Rebecca Solnit

Congrats to Eimear McBride!



Rusty Toque

Here’s a piece that just appeared in Rusty Toque:

Air Breathers

More from Lynda Barry, my favourite writing teacher

If you get a chance to partake in one of her classes/workshops, run, don’t walk.  She’s fabulous.

Lynda Barry course

Geist Postcard Contest shortlist


Bookaholics Not-so-anonymous

My name is Jane and I am a bookaholic. 

The 12 Steps:

1. We admitted we were powerless over books – that our shelves had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that no bookbinder could restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will away from bookstores.

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of our shelves.
5. Admitted to ourselves and to another human being how many of our books we hadn’t actually read.
6. Were entirely ready to have friends remove all these books.
7. Made a list of all authors we had harmed by not getting their books, or having them sign a book we didn’t read, and became willing to make amends to them all by reading their volumes before buying again.
8. Made direct amends to authors wherever possible, writing them flattering letters etc, except when to do so would drop a pile of books on their foot.

9. Made a list of all our loved ones we alienated by depleting our financial, work and sleep reserves on books.
10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were reading too much promptly admitted it.
11. Sought to improve our conscious contact with old books, praying only for the power to carry them all, especially when moving.
12.  Having lain awake with insomnia as the result of not reading in bed, we carried this message to readers everywhere.  Perhaps we were a little cranky and wild-haired when we did so, and perhaps no one wanted to hear about it, but what the hell, we bought a book to cheer ourselves up.

Amy Bloom and Lisa Moore

Feel grateful to have heard two of the writers whose work I admire this weekend at the CCWWP at UBC this weekend (grateful they let in the hoi polloi).  I was especially delighted to hear Amy Bloom because she and I came up as writers together; it’s good to see her longevity in action; she’s a funny and pragmatic woman.  Lisa Moore and I bumped into each other at Blue Met, and she came to my awards ceremony there.  Last night she read from her new novel “Caught.”  I won’t easily forget her scene of a woman drowning; I loved how she balanced phantasmagoric word play with quieter prose.  Each author was in convo afterwards, Amy with Catherine Bush, and Lisa with Aislynn Hunter.

Bird Nights/Nuit d’oiseaux

I am working my slow way through the translation, determined to learn this language well enough not only to read the French, but well enough aloud not to be laughed out of the room.

The beginning:

Bird Nights

Here is a story. It is true, but it is also full of lies. And small axes, the kind that make tiny cross-hatchings on hearts.


A surgeon flayed open my wife’s chest and removed her breast: stiches and staples. This was several years ago. While she sleeps her scar unzips (top tape extension, top stop, slider, pull tab), her flesh unfolding like a sleeping bag. Some nights I only see the corset bones that girdle her lungs, gleaming moon slivers in murky red sky, and I say a prayer for them, those pale canoe ribs, those pickup sticks that are all that cinch her in. I wish I could do that: I wish I could hold her together. Some nights I think she may fly away in all directions, north, east, south, west, a huge splatter. She will go so far so fast I will only be able to watch with my mouth fallen open. She’ll be gone, and all I’ll have is a big red mess to clean up and a sliver of rib sticking out of my eye.


Traduit de l’anglais (Canada) par Cécile Oumhani

Voici une histoire. Elle est vraie, mais elle est aussi pleine de mensonges. Et de hachures, le genre qui laisse de tout petits quadrillages sur les cœurs.


Un chirurgien a ouvert la poitrine de ma femme et lui a retiré son sein : des points et des agrafes. C’était il y a plusieurs années. Pendant qu’elle dort la fermeture éclair de sa cicatrice s’ouvre (ruban rallonge du haut, vis de butée supérieure, curseur, tirette), sa chair s’ouvre comme un sac de couchage. Certaines nuits je ne vois que les baleines de corsets qui entourent ses poumons, des éclats de lune luisants dans un ciel rouge foncé, et je fais une prière pour eux, ces pâles nervures de canoë, ces baguettes à ramasser qui sont tout ce qui la sangle. J’aimerais pouvoir faire ça : j’aimerais pouvoir la maintenir. Certaines nuits je crois qu’elle pourrait partir dans toutes les directions, nord, est, sud, ouest, une énorme éclaboussure. Elle ira si loin si vite que je pourrai juste regarder la bouche ouverte. Elle sera partie, et tout ce que j’aurai c’est un grand gâchis rouge à nettoyer et un éclat de côte qui sortira de mon œil.

Will You Ossuary Me?


This flash fiction from my collection-in-progress “Soon I Will Be Dead,” written after a (solitary) visit to the catacombs in Paris, just won an Honourable Mention in Geist’s postcard story contest.  It’s a sick fuck, this little je ne sais quoi of the romantic, and (consequently?) I love it.

And hey, may none of us ever feel the way this bone-heap did:  Pour moi, mort est un gain.

Will You Ossuary Me?

Jane Eaton Hamilton

She wanted to kiss me in bones. Death, much? Spiraling down 19 meters. She pulled the ends of my scarf and I moved closer because hers were Parisian lips, the top lip thin, the bottom lip full, and I felt her deeply inside where my nerves snapped and I was decomposable. There were tibias all around us in the damp light, and scapulas from the plague, phalanges and fibulas and metatarsals. Infant bones. People with polio. People dead of childbirth or famine. War. Cries and tears and screams. The bones of six million Parisians dug up from cemeteries to make room, shovels of bones, wagon-loads of bones pulled by sway-backed nags for a full two years—carted down into these old mine tunnels, then arranged. We stood in puddles. The air was heavy with the motes of people’s lives—more broken dreams, I guessed, than dreams come true. It was quiet, but the past echoed. Ghost-din. Someone had written, Pour moi, mort est un gain. Pour moi, pour moi, pour moi, she whispered and her voice rumbled. Exhumations and exhalations all around us, the breath of death, bone-stacks, bone-crosses, bone-chips in heaps, my mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother, maybe, resting in pieces.   My lips were swollen and sore, cut and scabbed over from all that had already happened. Skulls placed in the shape of a heart, eye sockets staring, and behind those eye sockets more eye sockets. Shadows moved across us; her nipples hardened. She pressed me up against a white cross against a black tombstone. I will leave you, she said as she bit my throat, but not yet.

Nuits d’oiseaux

Today editor Marilyn Hacker sent me the translation of my story “Bird Nights” into French for the Paris litmag Siécle 21 (translated by Cécile Oumhani).  I won’t subject you to it, but I will say it is my goal to be able to read it in French by the time of its publication in the fall.

Also, I am just kinda stoked.  I have always loved this piece very much, and I’m thrilled it was picked up from Numéro Cinq and given a second life in France.


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