Category Archives: New Releases

An Interview with Gillian Wigmore: on what it really takes to write a novella

Gillian Wigmore has dried food all over her house. She and her husband are taking their two children, 11 and 12, on a kayak trip through the Broken Islands. As well as being a poet and fiction writer, a wife and mom, and her job as a full-time coordinator at the Prince George Public Library, she’s helping to organize dried meals for the family’s two-week holiday. Partway through our interview she mentions something in passing and I have to ask her to repeat it to make sure I heard correctly: she’s also working on her MFA through UBC. So, yes, she’s busy. But she is also gracious and gives up a half-hour lunch to talk to me about her new book Grayling, which we reviewed here.

Gillian Wigmore grew up near the small town of Vanderhoof in central BC and the largely rural and agricultural setting shows up in her writing. She has been described as a poet of place and noted as someone who pays careful attention to the specific plants and animals that inhabit her landscapes. In her 20s, Gillian spent some time as a guide for river rafting and ocean kayaking (“but canoes are the best!”) out of which grew her lifelong passion for such trips.

I asked her if she had any hobbies and immediately regretted the ridiculous question. When would this woman have a minute for anything else? And why, in such a full life, would she need a hobby?

Then she said, “Playmobil.”

Playmobil? She laughed and said, “Yes, I’m addicted to those little things. I say I buy them for my kids, but really I think they’re for me!” Did not see that one coming. But it makes sense — that a busy writer would enjoy an excuse to play with colourful little characters, that, as a mom, she must be constantly picking up.

In a telephone interview, a person’s voice is all you have to get a sense of who she is and what she’s like. Gillian Wigmore’s conversational speech is articulate and thoughtful. I got the sense that she takes everything she does seriously, but in a practical way. She’s a woman who gets things done but doesn’t make a big deal about it; competent, not overweening. I am left with the impression that I could talk to her about anything, from intellectual and  spiritual matters to the best type of manure for my garden (not that that isn’t a spiritual matter, I hasten to add). In short, Gillian Wigmore is the kind of person who would make a great companion on a long kayak trip.

Gillian Wigmore on Kalamalka Lake, near Vernon, BC. Photo credit Travis Sillence.

Gillian Wigmore on Kalamalka Lake, near Vernon, BC. Photo credit Travis Sillence.

What has it been like to have your first novella published?

GW: It’s been wonderful. We had a great launch here in Prince George and all my friends and family came out to support me. Then I had a wee mini tour of Vancouver and Victoria, for my publisher [Mother Tongue].

Mother Tongue Publishing, April 2014, 118 pages.

Mother Tongue Publishing, April 2014, 118 pages.

Are you pleased with the attention Grayling is getting?

Yes! The thing about fiction writing is that you actually get reviews, sometimes even before the book is out. But with poetry you’re lucky if you get even one review, two years after the book is published. It’s such a shame.

What was your inspiration for Grayling?

GW: I wanted to go back to the landscape around the Dease River because of a trip I took there with my family in 2007. My son was three and my daughter was four then and it was the beginning of our life on the water. It was a very important trip for our family. It was so beautiful there and I hadn’t seen that landscape in literature before. It just seemed a privilege to get to try and do that myself.

I know you’re going on a two-week kayak trip soon -

GW: We leave this weekend! We’ve been busy dehydrating dinners this week and we still have to get my son a new life jacket. You should see our house, there’s stuff everywhere!

Do you bring a notebook with you on those trips?

GW: I do take a notebook but it’s more of a journal, to record the events. But I did go back and mine old journals for landscape details for Grayling.

What about the story itself, where did the inspiration come from?

GW: I let the characters introduce themselves to me and let them take me on the journey.

Oh dear. You do realize that at least half of our followers will stop reading at this point? Jealousy is ugly that way.

GW: [laughs] But it’s true! I just started typing. I knew if I put a fellow on the river, eventually he’d have to get off that river.

That reminds me of that Kurt Vonnegut quote, “somebody gets into trouble, then gets out of it again. People love that story. They never get tired of it.”

GW: Exactly!

How long did it take you to write Grayling?

GW: It took three months to write and then years to edit. The three months was so much fun. Every night was a journey. I’d head down to my desk in the basement and it was like, “here you go, Jay.” I read every sentence out loud, many times, to make sure I got the sound just right. I rewrote the whole book a few times myself then I worked with an editor for Mother Tongue, Jack Hodgins, for at least seven more drafts. Jack is such a great teacher and I am so grateful for the experience but it was hard work. After I sent him my first revised draft, he sent me back 30 pages of single-spaced notes. And then I cried! The next time he said “Great draft” and sent back 20 pages of single-spaced notes. And for each draft I wept – at  how hard it was. But after we’d whittled it down to four pages of notes, we knew we were close.

You are a published poet – why the move to fiction?

GW: I am first and foremost a reader and I read a ton of novels. I just wanted to try, to see if I could do it. I like a challenge! But it’s quite different in that I had to approach the writing of fiction more like a job and make myself do it every night. I had to be meticulous about sitting down and doing it. Whereas with poetry, I never force it. I just let them come – then of course I do a lot of editing. But that initial poem just has to arrive. And novellas are addictive, they’re so much fun to write. There’s more room to move around in a novella than in a short story. Short stories require a certain kind of succinctness, an epiphany that leads to a particular ending. I don’t think I can write anything with any answer already set. Grayling felt like a question I didn’t know the answer to.

You have published two books of poetry and you have one coming out in the fall. How would you say that Grayling, as a work of fiction, is different from your poetry?

GW: My poetry is really effusive, it doesn’t hold back at all, but Grayling is spare. I wanted it to be a spare story. The landscape seemed to call for it, a judicious use of language and small sentences. I didn’t want to editorialize at all. I wanted the place to speak for itself. This was part of the difficulty with all those drafts, trying to strike some kind of balance between fleshing out the characters and describing the landscape, but staying true to my vision.

When I read your interview with poet Ariel Gordon, I couldn’t understand how it was that you could write at all, your life seemed so full and busy.

GW: [laughs] Well it was very busy then and for a while I just didn’t get much writing done. But now I’m really trying to fit it in. I’m finishing up my MFA right now through UBC and I work full time. In the next six weeks, after I get back from the kayak trip, I’ll get up really early and write for an hour in the morning. I’ve usually been a nighttime writer. When you start your day writing, it turns you into such a dreamy person for the rest of the day. It’s hard to come back to reality.

Photo credit Travis Sillence.

Gillian Wigmore, at home on the water. Photo credit Travis Sillence.

Gillian Wigmore is a BC-based poet and fiction writer. She has published two books of poetry, home when it moves you (2005) and Soft Geography (2007), for which she won the ReLit Award and was a finalist for the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize. Her third collection, Orient, will be available this fall with Brick Books.

 

Between the Shores of the Sacred and the Profane: Descant’s Jack Hostrawser Reviews Grayling

Grayling, Gillian Wigmore’s debut novella, follows a man on a canoe trip and personal journey through a dark night of the soul. There’s not a lot more I want to or can tell you about it, specifically, and this is what Descant reviewer Jack Hostrawser and I debated before agreeing on a suitable style for his review, below. Like the northwestern British Columbia landscape in which it is set, Grayling often camouflages more than it reveals.

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Grayling, by Gillian Wigmore, Mother Tongue Publishing, April 2014, 118 pages. Cover painting by Annerose Georgeson.

But there are two scenes I will tell you about. One involves Leonard Cohen. No, not in a sleeping bag (sorry to interrupt your fantasy). The main characters in Grayling have a protracted conversation about the academic and existential meaning of Cohen’s poem-turned-song, “Suzanne.” The scene sticks out and I wondered: What was this long discussion doing there? Why “Suzanne”? Then I remembered — it’s exactly the kind of conversation friends have on a long camping or canoe trip like the one in Grayling. Someone starts something, apropos of nothing, and suddenly everyone’s an expert and wants to weigh in; as though we crave intellectual stimulation but nothing too serious. These are conversations that feel tinged with a sagacious quality simply because they are happening on water, or under stars; they mean everything and nothing. (You know that they’re half crazy, but that’s why you want to be there). But there is another reason why this scene does in fact fit in so well, but I didn’t see that until I’d finished the book. And then it took a while again, until the book was finished with me. Grayling echoes like that.

There’s another scene that I understood immediately and profoundly. The main protagonist bathes a woman in a makeshift bath he has invented for her near the shore. He washes her body carefully, methodically. If you have ever washed the body of a parent or an ailing spouse, you will understand the attention that Gillian Wigmore pays to the gestures in this scene to evoke this deliberate act of devotion. And yes, it’s even more powerful because it is a man washing a woman.

I like how Jack has quoted longer passages of Grayling in his review, rather than excise a sentence here and there. Gillian Wigmore is a published poet but I agree with Jack that Grayling isn’t self-consciously poetic. Like the river landscape in which it’s set, Grayling winds an enigmatic story between the rocky shores of the sacred and the profane.

**

Chaos Theory: A Review of Gillian Wigmore’s Grayling

by Jack Hostrawser

In Grayling, Jay sets out in a canoe on the Dease River, trying to make a clean break from his past. A mysterious woman, Julie, saves him from hypothermia then talks her way into the canoe, interrupting his isolation and sending the trip in new directions. Throughout their voyage the book tries to navigate our relationships with intimacy, meaning and the wilderness itself.

“He thought of deer leaping over bushes, out of the path of the fire. Animals too small or slow to get away from the flames occurred to him: beaver and rabbits, their twisted forms vivid, black and red, in his mind. He shivered and paddled on, away from the burn.”

Gillian Wigmore moves from the big questions to focus on detail and character, and she has a poet’s eye for details: her real-life outdoors experience is evident immediately, as well as her talent as a writer. The book is built of a focussed prose that sets to work with energy and draws the meandering river patiently. Her writing has a patience that allows the novella to feel fuller than its few pages suggest.

As the active, observant prose accumulates you realize that the novella is managing, in only one hundred and eleven pages, to carve out a multi-levelled parable that addresses our relationship with sexuality, nature and existentialist fears. Gillian Wigmore crafts a two-person story with depth and convincing, hard-earned humanity, whose characters’ individual needs and desires tangle compellingly. Jay lives a bitter coping strategy that evolves quietly across the narrative in a frustrating and poignant way. Julie begins as an enigma but reveals herself as the two grow closer. These are two people as stubborn, hopeful and frustrating as any of us.

“He looked at her and wondered if she’d decided something while he was sleeping. She didn’t look decided, she just seemed tired and a little dirty. Her hair under her bandana was tangled in clumps. She had soot in the crease of her nose. He saw her small hands around her mug, no rings of dirt under her nails, and he saw her lashes against her skin as she watched the fire, and he felt like there wasn’t a time before he knew her. His world had shrunk to the state of her body and their minds and the particular gravel bar they’d beached upon.”

Gillian Wigmore seems to be a visual writer more than she is a musical one and I think her sentences sometimes miss the mark, overplayed by narration that momentarily loses faith in its ability to enact the emotions it describes. But it was never the individual sentences that made me like this book; it was her reach. The ideas are big — so big I missed some the first time I read it (a certain blog editor had to enlighten me) and I had to reread it immediately to see everything I had missed.

Grayling aligns the minutia of fumbling human relationships with a wilderness that has been both predator and muse since we first tried to lift our heroes into the stars. It takes courage to risk an ambition like that. Gillian Wigmore stands fast and determines to do things I didn’t think could be done in the short space of a novella. And despite the size of the task, she pulls it off.

The final scene enacts a twist that puts everything before it into question. Her conclusion opens new possibilities as it steals away our expected ones; there is never a perfect, clear answer to our questions or our demands. Instead it is simultaneously sun-baked granite, dark pine trees, rough water and the “cold contracting muscle” of a glimmering grayling. You have to leave your calculations and preconceptions at the shore. In the chaotic rush of the Dease, even the pearlescence of a common fish could be sacred.

 ”Another him, one from even a year ago, would have exclaimed at the sight, would have even appreciated exclamations from others, but he stayed quiet, trying to soak the sight in: the swath the river cut into the earth, inarguable, ageless, so enormous and unapologetic he felt as dwarfed and bent as the trees. He couldn’t hold his eyes open wide enough to see it all: the scooped expanse of sand stretching skyward, the small birds swooping out from holes in the cliffs and soaring. The sound of rocks breaking off and crumbling into the river echoed down the valley. In the bow, she was still and silent, too.”

Grayling is a careful but slippery, quiet but brash and ultimately beautiful novella.

**

Jack Hostrawser received the York University President’s Prize in short fiction and is published in Existere, Steel Bananas and The Quilliad. He sometimes chases tornadoes and is being taught patience by an old motorcycle. He is currently production editor at Descant (for the fall 2014 Berlin issue), when not working on his first novel.

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[And now this, because you know you need it.]

 

 

Upcoming Launch for our Summer Issue

Descant157coverHi Descant Fans! We are thrilled to announce that the Descant Arts and Letters Foundation will release its Summer 2012 issue, Summer Subversions, on June 27, 2012. Summer Subversions brings together engaging, thought-provoking, and sometimes harrowing art, fiction, poetry, and essays that are definitely not your typical poolside reading.

Hereʼs a taste of what’s inside: Paul Carlucci offers a glimpse into a northern communitycaught in a cycle of addiction, desperation, and violence. Andrew Creighton gives us a story about a young white supremacist girlʼs self-discovery. Arlene Somerton Smithʼs “Ruby Slippers” meditates on the meaning of death. A not-to-be-missed highlight is editor Karen Mulhallenʼs provocative interview with the late Czech-Canadian writer anddissident Josef Skvorecky, in which he talks about love, politics, and jazz. Photographers Claudia Ficca and Davide Lucianoʼs imaginative portfolio on potholes is (literally) like something out of Aliceʼs Adventures in Wonderland.

To celebrate the release, a public event will take place on June 27, 2012, doors open at 7:00pm at The Magpie, 831 Dundas St. West. Contributors Angela Hibbs, Mark Kingwell, Jimmy McInnes, and Kathryn Mockler will read selections of poetry and non-fiction.The event will also feature a raffle with fabulous prizes, ranging from gift certificates and book packages, to subscriptions and gift baskets. We invite all lit-lovers to join us for an evening of readings, conversation, food, and libation as we toast the summer and all of its complexities!

Here is the event listing on Facebook.

If you’re curious and want more information contact:

Vera DeWaard, Managing Editor: managingeditor@descant.ca
Amy Stupavsky, Production Editor, 157: production@descant.ca

REVIEW: ‘The Third Reich’ by Roberto Bolãno

There is perhaps no better testimony to the current widespread appeal of Roberto Bolãno than The Paris Review’s recent decision to serialize the Chilean author’s most recent release, The Third Reich (according to The New Yorker website, it is the first time the magazine has serialized a work of fiction in over forty years). From the inventive The Savage Detectives to the epochal 2666, Bolãno’s body of work has created a sensation over the last decade and made Bolãno himself a posthumous icon. As The Third Reich reminds readers, there is substance to the hype.

Written in 1989 and allegedly unearthed amongst the Chilean author’s notes, The Third Reich is centred on the first-person account of Udo Berger, a renowned German war games expert vacationing in Costa Brava with his girlfriend, Inebord. Rather than basking in the hot sun of coastal Spain, Udo—a man driven by rules, motives and strategy—opts instead to spend his time indoors perfecting a “variant” of his favourite war game, The Third Reich.

Soon Udo and Ingebord befriend another vacationing German couple, Charly and Hanna, who in turn introduce them to an enigmatic collection of local characters, including a shadowy beach dweller named El Quemado (literally “The Burned One”). When tragedy strikes (or at least appears to), Udo’s perception of the world around him begins to adopt a darker, more bizarre hue. His waking life slips seamlessly in and out of dreams and he begins to suspect those around him of deceiving him.

What results is a quietly brilliant novel that unfurls steadily like a mystery in search of a crime. Clues abound as do suspects, but the object of investigation remains hopelessly elusive—both to readers and to Udo. It is this ever-looming abysm of unknowability, however, that truly interests Bolãno. At one point, Udo, upon discovering the inconsequential factoid that El Quemado is not in fact Spanish but South American, comments: “I didn’t feel deceived. I felt observed. (Not by El Quemado; actually by nobody in particular: observed by a void, an absence).” The novel equates this “void” with a sort of ominous evil lurking in the negative spaces between a cause and is effect, a person and his or her motives. For Bolãno, it seems, existence itself is tantamount to deception. It’s esoteric stuff, but that’s why Bolãno remains such a force: His books coextensively compel and confound.

As expected, The Third Reich doesn’t carry the weight of The Savage Detectives or 2666, but it serves as a fitting and elucidating prelude to both works, providing hardcore Bolãno disciples with what may be the most direct entry to date into the author’s thematic, philosophic and aesthetic interests.

The Third Reich is published by Penguin Canada. Translated from the original Spanish by Natasha Wimmer.

DESCANT Recommends: GREY SUPREME 1

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It’s been a full year for Descant Managing Editor and Designer Mark Laliberte.

Earlier in the year, his book project BRICKBRICKBRICK was released by BookThug (click HERE for info); and now, Koyama Press has just released GREY SUPREME 1, the first issue in his new series. A full-colour, print-based “project platform”, GREY SUPREME is a way to collect Laliberte’s various experiments with image, text and hybrid forms. Exploration is a key to the series, which is intended to appear on a yearly basis: a different visual strategy will be employed for every new work — roughly 2 per issue — presented as open-ended studies.

For a sneak peek, click HERE

To visit his personal website, click HERE

DESCANT at Toronto Small Press Book Fair, Dec 11, 11am-4:30pm

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Toronto Small Press Book Fair
Saturday Dec 11, 11am-4:30pm
1087 Queen St W (at Dovercourt Rd. Some street parking. Public Transit: TTC Queen Streetcar).

Descant is inviting you to join us at this year’s winter Toronto Small Press Book Fair. From 11am to 4:30pm on Dec 11, publishers, writers, fans and friends of Canada’s smaller presses/publishers/publications will gather at the Great Hall.

Small to medium-sized presses will offer all kinds of books for sale, including chapbooks, graphic novels, audio books, magazines and comics, arts & crafts that offer different perspectives and opportunities to enjoy alternative literary experiences. The Fair is also offering readings from some of Toronto’s better known and emerging writing talents. As well there will be door prizes to be won and every opportunity to mingle. The Toronto Small Press Book Fair offers family-friendly fare, too.

Descant’s new D:151 “Winter Reader” will be available to purchase at this event!
Hope to see you there!

For more information on the Toronto Small Press Book Fair and link to their website, click here.

Review of DESCANT 150

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We are pleased to say that there has been a very positive review of Descant 150: Writers in Prison posted on newpages.com; to read the review click here

D150 is currently on newstands to purchase and see for yourself what the review is talking about.

If you wish to purchase this and any forthcoming Descant publication then subscribe here today to have them mailed to your home.

DESCANT Recommends: Pilot Project Book 7 Launch

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Descant would like to recommend Pilot Pocket Book 7. The launch will take place at Toronto’s Tequila Bookworm, on Sunday Nov 7 at 6pm. There will be live performances, readings and an art auction. It’s set to be a great night for all!

By the way, Descant’s own Managing Editor Mark Laliberte has a project in Pilot 7, so don’t forget to pick up a copy.
If you want to know more about The Pilot Project then head over to their website by clicking here 

DESCANT 151: A Sneak Peek

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Descant 151 will be available in stores in mid-December 2010, it’s going to be a great winter read! Please click here for a sneak peak!

To subscribe to Descant and receive our issues via mail please click here

DESCANT Recommends: Joseph Maviglia new release Angel in the Rain

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We are very excited to see that writer, Joseph Maviglia is releasing his new CD Angel in the Rain on Sunday, November 14th in Toronto! Joseph is both a musician and a poet, having published three books of poetry and criticism as well as releasing the album Memory to Steel in 1994. In 1992, his song “Father, It’s Time” was on the Juno Award-winning compilation album, The Gathering. He was also featured in Descant issues 78, 88 and the very special 100th issue.

Angel in the Rain was recorded at St. Anne’s Anglican Church in Toronto and mixes the musical styles of blues, rock and jazz. Musicians who joined Joseph to record the CD will be performing with him at the CD launch, including: Colleen Allen, Ernesto Cervini, Kathleen Gorman and Robert Hamlyn.

If you’d like to join Joseph in celebrating his new CD at this event, head over to Waterfalls Indian Tapas Bar and Grill (303 Augusta Ave.) on Sunday, November 14th from 2-5 pm. The cover charge for the event is $15, which includes a copy of the CD, a performance by the artist and a great party.

Last December, Joseph played some of his songs at the NHT! & Descant holiday party, and we’re super-excited to see him releasing this new CD! Make sure you come out and congratulate him on this latest achievement.

If you want to preview some of the tracks from this new album, head over to Joseph’s myspace page.