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.

Story is a State of Mind

Sunday mornings have a new routine: after feeding the animals (Merlin the Magical Cat and Franklin the rather wimpy but gregarious dog), I make a large mug of sweet tea, grab my notebook and pen and, still in my pajamas, I go to class.

I’ve enrolled in Sarah Selecky’s Story is a State of Mind.  It’s my gift to myself.

I started small.  I read her blog.  Eventually I signed up for her daily writing prompts.  After two months of writing  new and surprising things every day (some surprisingly awful, some gratifyingly good), I took the plunge, stumped up the cash and joined her online class.  And I’m loving it.

Each class consists of video tutorials, assigned readings and in-depth and challenging exercises and assignments.  I have to admit the readings are one of my favourite parts.  Not only well-selected in order to illustrate the lesson of the day, each story is so stunningly executed, so beautiful and rich, that my own writing is informed and inspired even without the lessons to guide me further.  These are not the short stories we laboured over in high school English!

Sarah’s personal approach makes you feel like you’re embarking on this writing adventure with an old friend and a trustworthy guide, one who knows there are no real shortcuts but who can point out the treacherous waters and even where skunks and poison ivy hide!  And all the while, her own love for good writing shines through, reminding you that the goal is not to get published but to create something good and true.

Story is a State of Mind A bit about Sarah Selecky:

She has been teaching people to write mindfully since 2001, when she ran her first creative writing workshop out of her living room in Victoria, BC. She now divides her time between Toronto and the rest of the world.

Sarah is the author of This Cake Is for the Party, a much-lauded collection of short stories that was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, and the Commonwealth Prize for Best First Book in Canada and the Caribbean. You can find her stories in The Walrus, Elle Canada, Geist, The Journey Prize Anthology, and other publications.

Sarah’s work, daily writing prompts, annual writing contest and more fun stuff can be found on her website Follow her on Twitter @sarahselecky.