Such Fun, Such Fun

Have you ever been attracted to a literary journal simply because of its name? Thought that because the editors were cool/funny/hip/erudite enough to come up with such a great name that you immediately wanted to be associated with it too somehow?  I have a list of such journals, ones I haven’t cracked yet but hope to someday.

This weekend I had a story published over at The Steel Chisel, an online journal I was first drawn to by its name.  (I came for the name, stayed for the stories and poetry.) It’s taken from one of my favourite John Newlove poems, called “Such Fun, Such Fun.” I’ve loved this poem since my first year at university, when I took a course in Canadian poetry.  And here it is:

When the poets stopped writing poetry
I thought they were dead
and I went about and tried to describe my country
not leaf by leaf but soul by soul
and I found that though my soul was obscure
it was common. Liquor cured me or calmed me
and pain and long lying lines.

And the poets came back to life and said I was a poet too
and I was astonished!
I hadn’t thought they’d known so much
or that I had cared so much.

And the booze tastes good even if the body aches
and the end is shame – but the sheer pleasure
of the gift, of a few gloomy words –

This is prose, this is a ghost with a steel chisel
sneaking another letter onto the stone.

Such fun, such fun. I guess you would have to pay attention
to someone besides yourself. It’s better to celebrate
your funeral before you die.

Thank you, thank you.

Many thanks to David Emery, editor of The Steel Chisel, for selecting my short story.

Circa’s Fall Issue

Today’s the day.  No, it’s not just Thanksgiving – it’s publication day for the latest issue of Circa: A Journal of Historical Fiction.  And this issue is jam-packed with great stories.  From the biblical story of Queen Esther (“Whisper It to Me” by Leigh Cuen) to the Franklin Expedition (“The Empty Corridor” by Katharine O’Flynn), from Renaissance Venice (“Il Vento di Candela” by Elizabeth Copeland) to 1970s North Bay, Ontario (“The Barry Building Explosion” by Dan Crosby) and many more.

I’m so proud of this issue and grateful to all the contributors for their stellar work.  I hope you enjoy their stories as much as I have!

Thinking About Historical Fiction

Most people understand that history and historical fiction are not the same thing. While history attempts to narrate events as accurately as possible, historical fiction attempts more than just the dramatizing of those events into prose. All the rules of story-telling still apply. There must be fully-fleshed characters, who sometimes are as much a mystery to themselves as they can seem to us. There must be conflict. And finally there must be some reason for telling the story, some revelation or transformation, whether it is on grand historical themes or on a more minute scale, that keep the reader engaged to the very end.

I’ve read more than a few submissions to Circa that have not taken this into consideration. They take a key moment in history, say the assassination of J.F.K. They call it “The Assassination of J.F.K.” or “The Day Kennedy Was Shot” or something. Then they describe the day from the perspective of a hitherto anonymous bystander, a member of the crowd or one of the members of security perhaps. How the sun glistens on the motorcade, warming the red brick of the Book Depository, the crowd’s growing excitement as the motorcade slowly purrs along the asphalt. Then the unthinkable (which is, alas, totally thinkable). Gunshots ring out, as you knew they would, and everyone is suitably horrified. Somebody at some point will say that life will never be the same again.

But meaning doesn’t lie in the chain of events, only in the writer’s interpretation of them.

From the beginning there must be something at stake, some twist to capture the reader’s interest, or promise of a differing point-of-view from the accepted one, or single character on whom the events impact in a unique way. Otherwise what is the point?

History may provide a mine of potential plot devices and character-types but the writer still needs to do the work. Structure the story. And tell the reader something new.