And the winner is: László Krasznahorkai (Hungary)
From The Guardian, introductory remarks from the ten finalist authors. Congratulations to all.
sketch: Jane Eaton Hamilton (after Matisse) 2013
I am gratified to have made the Carter V Cooper $15K short fiction competition long list at Exile Quarterly. Such good company I’m in, with colleagues Leon Rooke and Linda Rogers and so many accomplished others.
In no particular order:
Jane Eaton Hamilton “The Night SS Sloan Undid His Shirt”
Nicholas Ruddock “Mario Vargas Llosa”
Josip Novakovich “Dunavski Pirat”
Leon Rooke “Sara Mago et al”
Hugh Graham “After Me”
Linda Rogers “Raging Breath and Furious Mothers”
Darlene Madott “Pick Up the Sticks”
Priscila Uppal “Bed Rail Entrapment Risk Notification Guide”
Bruce Meyer “Tilting”
Christine Miscione “Spring”
Lisa Foad “How To Feel Good”
Veronica Gaylie “Tom, Dick, and Harry”
Tonya Patricia Liburd “Through Dream She Moves”
Samantha Bernstein “Fall, 1980”
Mary Lou Dickinson “Oh, the Stars!”
Maggie Dwyer “Chihuahua”
Bart Campbell “Slim And The Hangman”
Christopher Adamson “A Night In Bui Vien”
Erin Soros “Fallen”
Leah Jane Esau “Dream Home”
Lisa Pike “Stellas”
Bianca Lacoseljac “To Live Out A Dream”
doodle: Jane Eaton Hamilton 2014
I know, I know–writing sex is hard. (“Hard,” um hum, yes.) But it is, it’s difficult. You write just a paragraph and you feel like you’ve written pages, and trying to think of both a new way and an effective way to limn sex is just daunting. I guess Jonathan Franzen does a pretty grim job. Madeleine Davies, writing for Jezebel, lets us in on a few doozers:
“One afternoon, as Connie described it, her excited clitoris grew to be eight inches long, a protruding pencil of tenderness with which she gently parted the lips of his penis and drove herself down to the base of its shaft.”
I guess one might hope one’s editor caught that before it hit print.
sketch: Jane Eaton Hamilton 2006
Women understand there’s a glass floor on which male authors walk, while women walk below on a separate tier with its own glass floor, while on a third tier down walk queer women writers and writers of colour. But Cheryl Strayed puts it infinitely better than I could:
A second link to an essay by Meg Wolitzer on the same topic:
Sketch: Jane Eaton Hamilton 2013
A poet named Sheree Mack was just caught with plagiarized poems in her book, ‘Laventille.’ Write Out Loud, where I read about this, has included some correspondence from the poet talking about how she kept densely composed notebooks with prompts from workshops, among other things, and that these rough workings were simply not adequately labelled. When I read what she said, I found it compelling, and thought how easily this could accidentally happen. But when I read examples of the poems, and saw she was a PhD, I found her explanation strained credulity–for one thing, to have re-written someone’s entire poem, while not a bizarre or rare exercise, might, I’d guess, entail also having the original copied out so you could refer to it.
Should we leave her alone? What do you think?
Was it inadvertent? Was it intentional? Would crediting the original authors have been enough? I’m sure she is embarrassed and horrified, not to mention that her rep is mud. Is that enough? Apparently legal action is being considered. But are our words this precious? Yes, you might say, we build our reputations on them. Or, conversely, you might argue, Who do we think we are? We’re here for (approx) 70 years, a blink, a wink, and more words will pile over top of our words in short order. It just doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.
Congratulations! It’s a Six Pound Eight Ounce Novel!
The plot curls inside you, hardly formed, just eight weeks along. Two months–still time for a miscarriage. Has anyone else ever had that happen? Told the world they were going to be a novelist and then had the damned book slide out slippery as a dead fish? It’s true what they say–you need a good counselor. It breaks your goddamned heart.
There’s only one thing you can do. Toss. Take a helluva big breath. Start again. Like the doctor said: You’re not too old. You can have another novel.
You don’t think it should be so hard.
Your mother says anything worthwhile should be a little hard.
Your husband is worthwhile, and sometimes he’s a little hard.
Which is why you tell him to get home from work while you’re ovulating. You can’t do this alone. You need every one of the ideas that shoot out of him. Conception is no easy business. The circumstances have to be just right. Precisely right. Basal thermometers. Pillows under your hips. OED on the bedstand. You are not the kind of woman who conceives easily.
You don’t tell anyone you’re pregnant. You’re afraid of jinxing it. You don’t want to have to say: No, I’m sorry. I’m not. No. I lost it. I know. Thanks for the sympathy. Really. I’m sorry too. I’m heartbroken. Everyone is sorry, sorry.
You don’t want to be put in that position again.
There are other concerns: what if somebody else tries to make a novel that looks like yours? If someone copies you? Tells the story and acts like it was theirs all along? You know it can happen, especially these days with the Internet. Actually, it has happened to you, and more than once. A friend called up one time and said, I just read a story you told me in Alice Newbold’s new novel. Page 172.
You found Alice Newbold’s new novel and damned if it wasn’t a good looking thing. A little thin, in your opinion, but gripping. And there on page 172, just like your friend said, your story. The central conceit of your gestating book.
And once you told a writer friend something about yourself that you’d never before confided. You swore her to secrecy. Weren’t you shocked when it ended up in one of her stories? In a story that won a prize? And the worst thing was you couldn’t tell anyone. You couldn’t trash her the way she deserved, because then you’d have to say this private thing.
Plus, plus, the title of her book was a phrase you said, that you might have used as a title yourself in the future. You searched her acknowledgements page–nothing.
Forget it. You’re not going to mention the book prematurely. You could miscarry. You could hemorrhage, die and then your story would get adopted by someone else. Get their last name tattooed on its spine.
You long to push the new one out before it’s ready. You’ve lived with it for months, for god’s sake, and you’re tired. You can’t sleep on your stomach. You can’t smoke. You can’t drink. All your friends are deserting you. They didn’t realize you could be this boring. No matter what the doctors say, you’re not getting any younger. You have grey shooting through your hair, and wrinkles (laugh lines). You have to get it out of you. All the hip authors are under thirty-five. They just are. It’s not fair, but it’s a fact. You have someone take an author photo in soft light. For god’s sake, you tell your husband. Just get me to the hospital.
The doctors examine you. They tell you it’s too early. The contractions are probably Braxton Hicks, and even if they’re real, the docs are going to give you something to hold them back. This story needs another six weeks. Minimally. This story isn’t ready to breathe on its own, they say. It’s intensely premature. Is that what you want? the doctors ask, mumbling through their masks? A story that can’t breathe on its own? A story with immature lungs? Lifelong learning problems? A story that won’t sell more than a thousand copies?
You don’t, of course. You want a famous story. A beloved story. A story that makes Oprah’s Book Club. But christ you’re sick of being pregnant. You feel like a cow. And anyhow, can’t they resuscitate even novellas these days? You’ve seen stories sixty pages long published as first novels. Sure, it’s true, they have tubes attached, cerebral palsy, they won’t ever walk, but– Just get it out of me, you say.
Go home, the docs tell you. It’s not your time. Get plenty of bed rest. See me in my office. We need to check your weight, your blood pressure. You need to get rid of some of those adjectives. I’m sorry, no. There isn’t any medication. It takes talent, skill, self discipline, compound sentences. No more adverbs. And straighten out that plot line. While you’re at it, wasn’t that piano on page 150 a guitar earlier on? Any swelling of the ankles? Any faintness on sudden rising?
You’re bloated. Your breasts are so sore you weep if someone so much as looks at them. Only why would anyone? You’re ugly. You’re fat and you’re ugly and there’s never going to be a story, anyhow. There isn’t. It’s all flatulence. It’s all wind.
Things they said the last time: You have what it takes to be a good writer.
This is good, but it’s not fully developed.
There are several awkward places.
Numerous spelling errors.
In addition, several statements that seem unnecessarily obvious.
It doesn’t seem likely to us that the protagonist would murder her husband.
Yet, we like it. We think the story has great possibility.
Intriguing characters and situation.
Maybe the next one.
The first couple postpartum months are rumoured to be brutal. Numerous strange hotel rooms are involved, so alike that you’re said to forget where you are and say to an Edmonton crowd: I’m thrilled to be nursing my novel in Vancouver tonight. You won’t have had enough sleep. Your hormones are wildly swinging–you’re as liable to break into tears as laughter.
But those are concerns for women who have finished their books. For books who’ve scored a ten on the Apgar scale. For books with publishers. Your novel won’t ever have a publisher. Because the stupid novel is never even going to get here. Never. You’re going to be waddling like an elephant until you’re sixty and it’s too late.
You’ve already passed your due date. After those contractions early on, fighting to keep the damned thing from being born too soon, now you can’t get rid of it. Two days, a week, two weeks. If it’s not done soon they’re going to have to induce you.
C-section. Your worst nightmare. They have to rip you open to get the book out.
But then it happens. They said it would happen and then it did. It happens and there’s no way you’re prepared. There’s no way this is what you want. Uh-uh. Stop the boat. I’m getting off. The novel can stay but I’m getting off. I’ve changed my mind.
Your water breaks all over your typewriter, ruining the climax. And oh no. There’s trouble. Meconium. Black flecks–the words you already edited out. You know what that means. All the how-to books you’ve riead have drilled it into you. This story has taken a breath of its own excrement.
The buzzer has gone off. You’re out of time. You have to get to the hospital. No turning back now. If you wanted to turn back, you should’ve considered abortion. It’s choice that you got this far.
You beg your husband to tell you things will be all right. Just say you love me, you beg. Just say I’m the best thing since cell phones. Just tell me my story is going to survive this. We’ll both survive this.
He’s good. He says all that. He whisks you to the car, props your feet in his lap under the steering wheel, says all the right things. But what does he know? What the hell does he know? He’s a fucking journalist.
And anyway. Why do they say labour doesn’t hurt? It hurts like a sonofabitch. You want drugs. Why shouldn’t you have drugs? They say no drugs, a natural birth, it’s what you wanted, you told them to ignore you when you changed your mind. Your asshole husband puffs in your face like a bellows. He’s useless, useless! Why did you sleep with him to begin with? What the hell were you thinking? He said, Stay home and take nine months to write. Hah! Hah!
You can do it, your husband says now. You’ve got what it takes. Way to go, honey. Good job.
You’re nine centimetres dilated. Just wait, wait a minute. You feel like pushing? Don’t push. Honey, I said, Don’t push. The doctor says she’s gotta move the lip of your cervix away from the novel’s cover page. It’s gonna hurt.
Sometimes it’s all you can do.
You could push the Empire State Building out, you swear you could. You grunt and bear down. You leave bruise marks on your husband’s arm.
But fuck it. Fuck it. Who cares about delicacy at a time like this? You’re crying, and then a few minutes later, when the doctor says she can see the title page, you’re laughing.
Okay, hold on. The acknowledgements page is out. The dedication to your husband. Hang on. Here’s the text, wailing its newborn lungs.
They’re passing you the novel, now, and it’s beautiful. She’s beautiful. You can’t stop crying, but the tears are tears of joy. Your husband kisses your face. He’s the greatest husband. Didn’t he stand by you, thick and thin? He’s whispering to her. He’s stroking the five little pages of her denouement. He’s smitten. Look. He’s starting to cry.
She looks just like you, your husband says. She’s got your fontenal.
No wonder he’s weeping. She’s the most beautiful novel you’ve ever seen. You don’t care what anyone else says, because you’re in love. You’re head over heels.
Congratulations, says the doctor. I’m pleased to say you have a healthy, six pound, eight ounce novel.
I am so lucky today to be joined in conversation with Rene Denfeld, the Portland, OR, author of the acclaimed novel The Enchanted.
Here is an excerpt:
“This is an enchanted place. Others don’t see it but I do.
I see every cinder block, every hallway and doorway.
I see the doorways that lead to the secret stairs and the stairs that take you into stone towers and the towers that take you to windows and the windows that open to wide, clean air. I see the chamber where the cloudy medical vines snake across the floor, empty and waiting for the warden’s finger to press the red buttons. I see the secret basement warrens where rusted cans hide the urns of the dead and the urns spill their ashes across the floor until the floods come off the river to wash the ashes outside to feed the soil under the grasses, which wave to the sky. I see the soft-tufted night birds as they drop from the heavens. I see the golden horses as they run deep under the earth, heat flowing like molten metal from their backs. I see where the small men hide with their tiny hammers, and how the flibber-gibbets dance while the oven slowly ticks.
The most wonderful enchanted things happen here – the most enchanted things you can imagine. I want to tell you while I still have time, before they close the black curtain and I take my final bow.”
Rene Denfeld is the author of The Enchanted (Harper), a novel which has generated much acclaim, including winning a prestigious French Prix award, an ALA Medal for Excellence in Fiction, and a Texas Lariat Award. It was a finalist for the Flaherty-Dunnan prize and longlisted for a Carnegie Medal. Rene’s previous work includes four nonfiction books and numerous articles and essays, including work for the New York Times. She lives in Portland, Oregon, with her three children, all adopted from foster care. By day she works with men and women facing execution—the inspiration behind The Enchanted.
Your book answers the question, “What does it mean to be human?” Do you find a different answer to that when you are dealing with your neighbourhood grocer, your teenaged son, an inmate on death row?
That’s a great question. We find out is to open ourselves to others, to let them tell us what being human means to them—to see them and hear them and honor their truth. I believe people worry that to recognize the humanity in people like death row inmates would somehow minimize their crimes. Nothing could be further from the truth. Seeing the humanity in others allows us to fully grasp the horror of their acts, the terrible things they have done, to other human souls.
How did you come to be a death penalty investigator?
I met death penalty investigators while researching my third non-fiction book, which was about a street youth murder. I became fascinated with their work, because it seemed like a chance to really learn the truth of a crime. The truth of why people do terrible things to each other. For all our focus on crime, we seldom stop to ask why. But how can we prevent crime if we do not understand it?
I come from a country without a death penalty, and where its absence is not a controversy. Have your thoughts about crime and punishment changed/deepened as a result of your work?
Yes, absolutely. I’ve worked around a lot of victims and their families. Such unimaginable grief—I completely respect why people want revenge. It’s a normal human emotion. We need to start from a place of honouring each other’s feelings before we can dig deeper into why crime happens, and what our response should be to it. Are we trying to punish? Are we trying to keep people safe? What are we doing to prevent such awful things from happening again?
Have you found friendship with any of the inmates? Have we lost men or women you became close with?
I am not their friend. My job is to learn the truth of them, and what they did—sometimes, in fact, to find out if they actually did it. There have been 251 innocent people exonerated off death rows, and it is usually due to the work of investigators like myself. I wouldn’t be able to do the work if I saw myself as a friend. However, that doesn’t mean that I do not feel and hear and see them, in all their guilt or pain or remorse. Or horror. My heart is big enough to hold their truths, as awful as those truths might be. I have not lost a client. So far, I have been successful in preventing an execution in all my cases, along with other team members.
I once wrote a long poem from the perspective of Ted Bundy’s mother as he was on execution row (“allergy” from Body Rain). I thought how awful it would be to have a son convicted of such heinous crimes. You work with families of men (women?) on death row. What can you tell us about their lives and sorrows?
Most my work is actually with the families, neighbours, friends and others who knew the client. I visit them just as I visit the client, and learn about his life. How he grew up. Most the people I have worked with come from backgrounds of horrific abuse. In my experience, mothers of the accused carry terrible burdens of guilt, shame and remorse. They might be victims themselves, of rape, trafficking, and starvation-level poverty. In The Enchanted, the investigator discovers a background of awful abuse in the client. That is very much like my work.
Tell us about the book you wrote before The Enchanted.
The last non-fiction book I wrote was a book called Ask Me Why I Hurt, and co-authored with Randy Christensen. It is Randy’s story. He is this amazing doctor who took an old blue Winnebago and turned it into a mobile hospital on wheels, and drives around Arizona taking free health care to the homeless.
Was there a propelling event that made you know you could go in the direction of fiction after publishing books of non-fiction? That began The Enchanted?
I believe you can tell a deeper, more complex truth in fiction. You can tell multiple truths, from multiple perspectives. People read newspapers for the facts. They read fiction for the truth.
I’ve told this story before, but I was leaving the death row prison one day. It was a bright, sunny day, and I happened to look over my shoulder. I saw the stone walls, the towers. And I heard this very quiet, distinctive voice. He told me, “This is an enchanted place.” I followed that voice into the novel. I had no idea what he would say, but I listened. For me, writing that novel was the same as my work. I became very quiet, very open, and I just listened for his truth. That was when the poetry came rushing out.
Can you tell us a little about your writing schedule and habits?
I work full time, and have three kids. I write when I can. When I have a story to tell, I am very motivated, and will find time. I often take my laptop with me when I am driving places, or going to an event. It’s amazing how much you can get done in an hour.
York The Lady, the priest. Any one of them might seem the logical choice for a protagonist. Why did you choose differently? How did you find your central character, and did you know he would be omnipotent?
I have no idea. It was always the narrator’s story. I didn’t realize it as I wrote, but it is a very unique approach: a first person present tense omniscient narrator who doesn’t play a lead role in the story. I have no idea how I pulled it off. I think he did it for me.
Can you tell us about how horses became an image motif through the text?
They flowed out of the story, out of the narrator’s mind. They came rushing into the book, all golden and hard and beautiful. And there they were. To me, they capture his ability to find joy and magic and hope in life, no matter how despairing. Part of his heart races with them—out of the prison, out of his enchanted place.
I read The Enchanted soon after it came out and was grateful to have formed my opinions of it before it began to win awards and garner widespread acclaim. What is it like to ride the wave of this praise?
You know, I didn’t tell anyone I was writing it. Not even my kids. I didn’t think about anyone ever reading it. It truly was an act of pure expression, an outburst of everything in my heart and soul. To have to get published felt like a surprise, and then to get the acclaim. Well—it’s bowled me over. I know I am very lucky. There are so many incredible books that don’t get the attention they deserve.
Have your children read The Enchanted? What do they think of having a mama who is a well-known writer?
They haven’t read it. I’d feel funny asking them to. They are very proud of me, though, just as I am immensely proud of them. I adopted my kids from foster care, and they have given me far more than I have given them. They truly were the best decision I ever made. I love them to pieces.
I am awarding myself the Bravest Writer in the World Award, and my audiences the last week the Bravest Audiences in the World Award, after what has been a highly difficult two weeks for me medically, resulting in a dodgy quality of readings.
I limped through my readings for Douglas College’s LitFest and Swoon, neither of which I could, in the end, prep for: just showing up and reading took all my juice. I am usually impecable with timing with readings, but at Douglas I went over, and apologize to the audience, my hosts and co-reader. On Wed night, at Fanny Bay, I needed to sit while reading and read far too long. On Thursday, reading on Hornby, I was full on sick.
“If I’d had more time, it would have been shorter.” –Winston Churchill
Even though quite unwell, I was delighted to read four places last week: Douglas College’s LitFest, Swoon, Fat Oyster Reading Series in Fanny Bay and on Hornby Island. Thank you to my generous hosts and my accomplished co-readers. And of course to the audiences–we couldn’t do it without you. Lovely to see a turn-out of 60 plus listeners at Fanny Bay!
Here is the Fanny Bay Flyer with generous reviews of my work:
I love Tracy Chapman and this is a beautiful set and rendition. When she sang “If the sky, that we look upon/Should tumble and fall/And the mountain/Should crumble to the sea” from Ben E King’s simple lyrics, I realized that what had always been a metaphor was no longer so and I wept. I hope that the power of standing together can help us.
photo: Jane Eaton Hamilton kanzen cherry 2015
I go outdoors into the corridors of plum and cherry blossoms, the florid wisterias with their dangling racemes, their whips you must cut back three times a season or they will eat your cat, your car, your house. Here on the street the magnolias lift their cups waiting for spring to pour itself down. I know what’s in there. I know they have crowns, Kinder egg treats, their surprises, their jesters’ hats with dangling gold bells. The air is tinted with scent of hyacinths: Carnegie, City of Harlem, China Pink, Woodstock. They grow ceraceous, stiff along their water-filled stalks, blossoms further apart or closer together depending on light conditions—in my garden with its parsimonious sunshine, they can only try hard, but they give off their kick of perfume, they string it out, they let me have it anyway. Spring is soft as cotton batten, and some moments it goes gaudy as a circus. Watch the chestnut leaf unfurl. Watch the Clematis coil around the stem. Watch the talented beak of the finch as it cracks a sunflower seed. Watch the spotted towhee peck, the variegated thrush as it hurries to hide itself. The sempiternitous sky carves its bowl of the possibilities up beyond the clouds where rockets shoot, where astronauts imagine, where Sally Ride rode her lesbianism into blue space, where Christa McAuliffe exploded when I still lived in the house with the climbing tree.
I kick off my shoes, pull at my socks. The crust of the earth is chilled under my feet, dark, but the wet flock of grass stalks, the brush-cut of green against my toes is a party, takes me into the scrum of childhood when lawns were made for kick-the-can and there was no Round-Up and the measure of a good summer was whether you got enough callouses that you could walk across sharp pebbles and how big a cannonball splash you could make. I spill my hand over a Kanzan cherry trunk, bark rigid and broken. I unwrap the perianth, the floral envelope. A whole bough is Kyoto in April, the Philosopher’s Path, the wandering maiko in their wooden shoes, pink kimonos and white faces, elaborate combs. The individual petals in my hands weigh less than air; weigh less than the eyelashes I brushed last weekend against my lover’s rose-pink cheek. The petals are translucent, pink, silky. I don’t lift my arms, but lifting my arms is what I mean, into the symphonic air.
One year, when I had greatly suffered, when my body was giving itself up, when I had lost all in the world there was to lose, except my life, and was losing that as surely as if I had a hole in my toe through which it drained, I heard a woman playing, on violin, Bach’s Violin Concerto No 1 in A minor, and I was drawn by the threads of music like a rat behind the Pied Piper of Hamelin, and I sank to a bench to listen, and was contrapuntally struck. Terror, relief. Pain, pleasure. Hatred, love. Sour, sweet. The labyrinth we all unwittingly walk, where everything horrible is eventually overwritten by beauty. Everything beautiful is eventually overwritten by horror. And repeat. I know this as a simple truth. This is ever reliable.
I was for the first time in a year of fear not trembling.
Instead of writing the composition, the way as a writer I was prone to do, or capturing the composition the way as a photographer and painter I was prone to do, somehow I became the composition indivisibly and then, just as mysteriously, I melded with air and breeze. I was still me, old and challenged and broken, and not me, too. I was as much the musician as I was her audience. The violinist drew her bow under an ornamental plum tree, white-blossomed, through which sunlight dappled and sky showed cerulean, and all of these things merged—Bach, the poise of her wrist, how hard she had worked to stand under this blossoming Vancouver tree on this too-cold spring day, the sunshine, my own sorrow and grief and sour-hearted blood mechanics—and I was saved. I had not been able to live, and now, via this merging of talent and music and blossom and chill, I could, again. Happiness filled me as if the hole in my foot had healed and instead had become a hole in my head, and the filling was as complete as the emptying. Where I had been but a shell, I plumped. My corpuscles danced. My mitochondria laughed.
A couple weeks ago, a friend hurt herself badly. Yesterday, there was a terrible home invasion, a harsh injury, on a street where I love people. Yesterday a friend wrote to say that even so people save themselves with minute beauty. I knew she was right. I have done this over and over and over again through my life, redemption (if you like, though I might call it retrieval, or restitution) through the communion wafer of nature, through the holy drink that is nature. People save themselves on buttercups under chins to say if they like butter. People save themselves with raccoon kits, bees’ wings, and bird babies in the eaves. These accidental evolutionary goodnesses. People save themselves with kittens, and lambs pronging in fields, and the slap of a horse’s mane on their hands as they ride barebacked through meadows. People save themselves with good cups of coffee or food. People save themselves with tickles, with hand holding, just by meeting someone’s eyes. People save themselves with hikes or bicyling or long runs. These spices of experience. Fragments of mercy.
I am as dunderheaded as a person could be, but, yet, even so, even despite my flaws and weaknesses and losses, this reliable lift I feel because of the intricacy of a poppy unfolding crumpled petals, is there, is real, is find-able, is replicable, is mine for the looking. You won’t find it where I find it, because we are not the same person, but someday when the intricacy of terror and ruination lift, you will find it all the same–in a child’s giggle, a moon shadow, or in the way birch bark curls.
It is yours.