Tag Archives: Penn Kemp

Conference Highlights – The Tough Business of Writing in Canada

“The work of writers fuels an almost 2 billion dollar industry, and yet more than 80% earn an income from their writing that is below the poverty line.” –The Writers’ Union of Canada*

It is late, almost midnight, but I can’t stop thinking about Winnipeg and all the ‘writer-ly’ chats and facts gathered during “Cultivating the Literary Ecosystem”, the League of Canadian Poets (LCP) and The Writers’ Union of Canada (TWUC) 2015 Joint Conference held May 28 to May 31, 2015 at the Radisson Hotel. By now, most of the conference highlights would be considered old news but some messages need to be repeated, personalized by other voices, and shared with new audiences.

All lit up - Winnipeg view from the Radisson Hotel

Winnipeg, all lit up – a view from the Radisson Hotel

Did you hear The Writers’ Union of Canada’s announcement? Let me SHOUT it again from the rooftop: “Today’s writer does more to earn less. Taking inflation into account, writers are making 27% less than they were making in 1998 from their writing, while 45% of writers say they must do more to earn a living now.” 

Some might argue: “So what? These are tough and challenging times for many workers not only CanLit writers.” However, when a writer or any employee is paid less than minimum wage isn’t that against the Employment Standards Act?

One could also argue that the Employment Standards Act does not apply to self-employed writers. Authors/poets are similar to struggling small business owners, working long hours for little pay. It can take years to establish a name. Are writers and publishers pricing their products too low or is the Canadian market saturated with too many writers willing to work for free?

That’s one of the concerns Dorothea Helms, writer/editor/owner of Write Stuff Writing Services expressed in her “The Business of Writing” workshop I attended back in September 2003. She used this analogy: “Would you say to a plumber, gee, I can’t afford to pay you, but you can sign my pipes? Unless it is for a charity or non-profit group you want to help, giving away your writing devalues your work.”

40logobluewithtypeWEB2Here are some additional facts presented in the recent TWUC document Devaluing Creators, Endangering Creativity. Doing More and Making Less: Writers’ Incomes Today. (A copy of the TWUC media release and the condensed report are available here.) Based on the union’s recent survey, 81 percent of the respondents said their writing income fell below the poverty line, that the median net income from writing was less than $5,000, while the average income from writing was $12,879. The survey also indicated that 88 percent of the respondents had an undergraduate degree and that 50 percent had a master’s or doctorate degree.

Writers are well-educated folk and yet, in order to continue writing, many must juggle their priorities and seek paid work in a different field.

The document also indicated that the main source of writing income (46 percent) came from royalties from traditional publishers. Eight percent (the third largest source of income) was derived from self-published titles.

These statistics can only tell us so much. Is the number of “paying” markets decreasing while the number of writers seeking publication increasing? Has it become a supply and demand issue or has the general public lost interest in the creative arts? Or is a paradigm shift in the markets that writers haven’t adapted to yet?

For example, over a decade ago, my creative writing mentors reminisced about their earlier years when CBC and Chatelaine paid good money for poetry and short stories. Now these and other lucrative literary markets have either dried up or are accepting less work or paying less. Payment sometimes means receiving a free copy of the publication in which the work appears.

Reminiscing with Manitoba writers and TWUC members John Parr and Bob Armstrong.

Reminiscing with Manitoba writers and TWUC members John Parr and Bob Armstrong.

Even newspapers are downsizing their staff. About a year ago, I was shocked to hear that an assignment editor of a daily newspaper was also required to multi-task: answer the public’s webmaster concerns and supervise posts for an on-line event listing.

Authors have become jugglers. For example, blogging and social media networking #twucLCP2015 @twuc  @CanadianPoets have also become one of those necessary evils for professional writers. Unfortunately, author blogs rarely pay the bills and I am still searching for a poet or fiction writer who has been compensated for his or her time spent on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Yet, some publishers are now asking for a record of your social media following and fan base as a criteria for accepting your book for publication. Maybe ten years down the road this extra promotional work will generate more book sales but it’s difficult to measure its immediate value in the short term.

During the Conference Gala, Penn Kemp received the prestigious Sherri-D Wilson Golden Beret Award. Congratulations!

During the Conference Gala, Penn Kemp received the prestigious Sherri-D Wilson Golden Beret Award. Congratulations!

From my perspective, the market is now flooded with writers and on-line publications that are here today, gone tomorrow. The internet is inundated with words, tweets, YouTube videos, blogs. People are chattering but is anyone listening? Will anyone read this blog post?

The general public’s expectation of FREE information is also a concern.

TWUC pointed out that “recent changes to the Copyright Act, broadly misinterpreted as an education exemption, have also had an impact on writers’ incomes.”

As writers, what should we do? Continue to work long hours for little or no pay?  I know several talented writers who just gave up because, frankly, they either ran out of money or just ran out of steam. Others are passionate about working with words, so they cling onto their dream and forge forward but for how long?

 The union indicated they would continue “to work to reverse the distressing trends outlined in these results.”  I suspect this will be a daunting task, one that writers will continue to discuss for a long time. The League of Canadian Poets is also looking for ways to help its members.

Fortunately, for those writers attending the joint conference, not all the presentations were gloomy. Below are some additional memories worth noting:

Conferences are great places to meet up with familiar faces. Several participants and/or organizers of the 2015 Great Canadian PoeTrain Tour gather for chat!

Conferences are great places to meet writer friends from across Canada. Several participants and/or organizers of the 2015 Great Canadian PoeTrain Tour gather for a quick chat! David Brydges shared the success of this project during the May 30, 2015 LCP annual general meeting.

-This year, over 135 professional writers and an additional 15 guests, panelists, non-members, students and staff were listed on the attendee list. Thirty of these attendees held joint memberships. What a great weekend to mingle with not only poets but fiction and non-fiction writers as well!

Author, poet, performer Sapha Burnell was a conference rookie, attending the TWUC AGM for the first time.

Author, poet, performer Sapha Burnell was a conference rookie, attending the TWUC AGM for the first time.

-‘Conference rookies’ attending their first Union Annual General Meeting were encouraged to wear their identifying yellow name tag. This was their ticket to the rookie reception where a room-full of conference newbies gathered to talk about….writing!! TWUC’s out-going chair Harry Thurston and incoming chair Heather Menzies mingled with the guests and made everyone feel welcome.

-Metis poet, playwright, and educator Gregory Scofield presented a powerful Anne Szumigalski Memorial Lecture reinforcing his concerns over the missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada. His talk will be published in Measures of Astonishment, a collection of Anne Szumigalilski lectures to be launched during National Poetry Month 2016.

-Thanks to the Writers’ Trust of Canada, Toronto speculative fiction writer Guy Gavriel Kay delivered the Margaret Laurence Lecture on the topic “A Writer’s Life”.

-For those interested in learning more about literary trends and the characteristics of an average reader, Noah Genner from BookNet Canada shared some interesting stats. Check the non-profit organization’s website here.

Anna Yin, LCP Ontario rep and the new Poet Laureate for Mississauga and Alice Major, the first Poet Laureate for the City of Edmonton (2005 - 2007) and a Past President of the LCP

Anna Yin, LCP Ontario rep and the new Poet Laureate for Mississauga and Alice Major, the first Poet Laureate for the City of Edmonton (2005 – 2007) and a Past President of the LCP

LCP Toronto rep Kate Marshall Flaherty

LCP Toronto rep Kate Marshall Flaherty

-Such a wide variety of panel discussions, it was impossible to attend them all: Affirming the Artistic Life, Time and Money, Writing and Editing the Long Poem and so many more.

-Former LCP vice-president Ayesha Chatterjee became the new President of the League of Canadian Poets.

-Four prestigious LCP awards were presented at the Gala Awards Ceremony and Dinner. Congratulations Washita (Harnour Publishing) by Patrick Lane, recipient of the 2015 Raymond Souster Award; M X T  (Coach House Books) by Sina Queyras, recipient of the 2015 Pat Lowther Award; For Your Safety Please Hold On (Nightwood Editions) by Kayla Czaga, recipient of the 2015 Gerald Lampert Memorial Award; and Penn Kemp, recipient of the Sherri-D Wilson Golden Beret Award. Additional details here.

Congratulations to Kayla Czaga, recipient of the 2015 Gerald Lampert Memorial Award. She was also shortlisted for the CAA Emerging Writer Award during the Canadian Authors Association's annual conference in mid-June 2015.

Congratulations to Kayla Czaga, recipient of the 2015 Gerald Lampert Memorial Award. She was also shortlisted for the CAA Emerging Writer Award during the Canadian Authors Association’s annual conference in mid-June 2015.

-American Innovations (HarperCollin Canada) by Rivka Galchen won the 2014 Danuta Gleed Literary Award. Additional information here.

As a writer or non-writer, what will you do to help improve the living standards of Canadian writers? Purchase a book (or even an e-book), encourage libraries to carry the work of Canadian writers and borrow those novels and books so that they won’t be removed from the shelves, lobby schools (and governments) so Canadian literature won’t be forgotten, invite authors to the schools, attend and support local readings, write a review and post on-line or better yet, treat a local author or poet to lunch and exchange your views on the future of Canadian literature. Keep the dialogue going!

If you missed this year’s joint conference, mark your calendars for next year’s conference “Write – the Canadian Writers Summit” to be held June 16 to 19, 2016 at the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto. Numerous national and provincial literary organizations will be involved.

*The TWUC quote is from the document Devaluing Creators, Endangering Creativity: Doing More and Making Less: Writers’ Incomes Today, 2015.

Advertisements

Spotted in London, Canada: A weekend of WORDS

Bravo to the driving force behind words: The Literary and Creative Arts Festival held October 24 to 26 at Museum London, the London Public Library, Western University and the Covent Garden Market in London, Ontario, Canada. More information about the festival can be found on their official website here.

For those interested in poetry, check out #PoetryLab starting tonight (Sunday, October 26 at 5:30 p.m.) at the Museum London, Theatre. It is the closing event for the festival.

Sunday, October 26 in London, Ontario

Sunday, October 26 in London, Ontario

Laurie D. Graham’s Rove (Hagios Press) was a 2014 Finalist, Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, for best first book of poetry published by a Canadian in the preceding year. Her poem suite “Settler Education” was shortlisted for the 2014 CBC Poetry Prize. If you missed Laurie at the Book Fair, see her at tonight’s Poetry Lab event.

Laurie D. Graham’s Rove (Hagios Press) was a 2014 Finalist, Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, for best first book of poetry published by a Canadian in the preceding year. Her poem suite “Settler Education” was shortlisted for the 2014 CBC Poetry Prize. If you missed Laurie at the Book Fair, see her at tonight’s Poetry Lab event.

book_fair_wordfest_2014

Below are some snapshots of the Book Fair held yesterday (Saturday, October 25) at Covent Garden Market!

Local Authors’ Book Fair at Covet Garden Market in London.

Local Authors’ Book Fair at Covent Garden Market in London.

Sarnia’s historical fiction writer Bob McCarthy shares information about his latest book Case 66: Travesty of Justice – the Elizabeth Workman Story (Quinn Riley Press)

Sarnia’s historical fiction writer Bob McCarthy shares information about his latest book Case 666: Travesty of Justice – the Elizabeth Workman Story (Quinn Riley Press) http://robemcca.wix.com/bobmccarthy#!case-666/cuw9

 

Harmonia Press specializes in work by well-known London poet Andreas Gripp. Also featured is work by Carrie Lee Connel, Dorothy Nielsen and Gregory Wm. Gunn.

Harmonia Press specializes in work by well-known London poet Andreas Gripp. Also featured are works by Carrie Lee Connel, Dorothy Nielsen and Gregory Wm. Gunn.

PHOTO CUTLINE: Copies of Tarnished Trophies (Black Moss Press) by Debbie Okun Hill were spotted at one of the Book Fair tables.

Copies of Tarnished Trophies (Black Moss Press) by Debbie Okun Hill were spotted at one of the Book Fair tables.

Watch this blog for more literary news, reviews, and profiles. In the meantime, support your local Ontario arts community. Check out future events here.

Today is the Day! Three More Bloggers Join the Blog Tour!

Just a reminder that these three bloggers will be sharing their writing process today, July 14, 2014.

Just a reminder that these three bloggers will be sharing their writing process today, July 14, 2014.

Check out their blogs later this morning once they are awake and have had their coffee and breakfast. 🙂

Phyllis Humby

Penn Kemp

Vanessa Shields

Also check each blog for a list of next week’s featured bloggers on the Writing Process blog tour!

All Aboard! Hop on the My Writing Process – Blog Tour

 

Writing transports you to places you’ve never seen before. Here’s an inexpensive adventure anyone can take without leaving home.

Cobalt, Ontario, home of the Spring Pulse Poetry Festival.

Cobalt, Ontario, home of the Spring Pulse Poetry Festival. Watch for a future blog on this topic.

This is how it works. You start here, spend some time on my blog and then you may travel backwards to the Monday, June 30 blog of my writing colleague Marianne Jones. She’s invited several writers to chat about their writing processes and has also provided recommended links for additional blog hopping.

Then next Monday, July 14 you can travel forward and visit the blog sites of three more of my writing friends. Scroll down for my recommendations but before you do, below are the four questions that Marianne asked me about my writing process, followed by my answers:

WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON?

Professionally, I am working on three main projects:

1) The promotion of my first trade book Tarnished Trophies (Black Moss Press, 2014).This is ongoing but the main push will occur in the fall when people are starting to attend readings again.

RIP: Another tree gone.

RIP: Another tree gone.

2) A new collection of poems dedicated to the dying ash trees. More editing and polishing of the work will begin later this summer.

3) A progress report for the Ontario Arts Council (OAC) is due in a few weeks. Thanks to an OAC Writer’s Reserve grant, I have almost completed new research and poetry drafts based on my interest in crafts and rural living.

Personally, I am also concentrating on balance. For me, writing is an obsession just like competing in sports is an obsession for some individuals. So I am seeking ways to balance my literary life with my summer love for gardening, being outdoors with nature, and meditating. I love to read and I’ve long abandoned (unfortunately due to time restrictions) my interest in the arts and crafts: painting, sketching, knitting, sewing, etc. There is also a need to find balance between my private spiritual being and the public demands of a published writer. Many writers struggle with that: the need to find time to write when hours are consumed with promotion such as blogging/touring/attending readings/etc. especially when a new book is launched.

HOW DOES YOUR WORK DIFFER FROM OTHERS OF ITS GENRE?

For the past 11 years, I’ve been focusing on poetry, a genre which isn’t always understood or appreciated by the general public. I must admit, at one time, I was one of those writers and readers who ignored this genre and so I can appreciate the reservations people have. However, since reading Margaret Atwood’s novels The Edible Woman and Surfacing in high school and university English classes, I’ve always had a fascination for metaphors. It took a local writer’s group to convince me that I should explore poetry. I’m glad I listened.

As for how my work differs, I’ve been told that readers recognize my style and yet, I feel I don’t have a specific style. I do know I love to experiment with words focusing mainly on free verse but I’ve also written more formal poetry such as haiku, sonnets, the glosa and even concrete poetry. I often push myself to think outside the box (which sometimes makes my poems obscure) but I’m also drawn to image and storytelling, resulting in more narrative work.

Published by Black Moss Press

Published by Black Moss Press

In Tarnished Trophies, my recently released book published by Black Moss Press, I wrestle with the athletic soul. Nothing is black and white. There are shades of grey and although it’s a ‘sports themed’ book, my aim was to have readers reflect on their own experiences with competition beyond the athletic world. I draw attention to the ‘non-athlete’ and the “perceived loser”, creating images and stories for those spectators on the fringes of our world.

WHY DO YOU WRITE THE WAY YOU DO?

As a new member of the Writers’ Union of Canada, I continue to examine the work of other professional poets and to imitate and experiment with various styles. I also have a marketing and public relations background, so I naturally mold and shape my work according to the needs of the contest, magazine or anthology I am submitting to. That’s the commercial side of my thinking.

However, due to my interest in art and photography in my early years and as a former public relations specialist with The Winnipeg Art Gallery, I continue to value the need for creative expression which isn’t always popular with the public. As I grow older (and often less wiser), I am learning to trust my inner instincts more and am less concerned about the opinions of others. The words of American author/professor Leo Buscaglia resonates with me: “You are the only you … You are the best you. You will always be the second best anyone else.”

HOW DOES YOUR WRITING PROCESS WORK?

Owl Sketch courtesy of James C. Hill

Owl Sketch courtesy of James C. Hill

I am a night owl with my best writing completed on my computer at my desk during that twilight zone between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. My writing preference is to freefall which means starting the poem with a title, a line, an image or an idea and then allowing the words to flow without actually thinking about it. This may sound crazy but it is during these quiet moments that the muse or some unknown force takes over. As long as I don’t question or analyze what is happening, then the results can be quite magical. Rewrites and/or editing are more structured and usually takes place that same night or several days or weeks later. Spelling and/or clarity of meaning is only reviewed once a first draft is created. Some poems are also shared with other poets in a workshop setting so that the lines and verses can be further improved.

Although, I do not pre-plan my poems ahead of time, I am driven by deadlines and challenges. Every evening, I will create a list of things to do for the following day. Sometimes I follow it. Sometimes I ignore it but either way it acts as a map for setting priorities.

Because I am not a morning person, I usually answer e-mails and check social networking or promotional work during that time. If I have to, I can write on demand, but the results are never as strong as when I freefall and allow the words to just appear. I almost never write with music in the background nor do I like to write poetry long hand unless I have to.

Next week – Monday, July 14 – stop by and visit the blogs of three more writers. I’m looking forward to hearing their answers too.

Phyllis Humby

Phyllis Humby

Phyllis Humby is an award-winning crime writer and columnist. Although her passion is writing suspense novels, her short stories, often scheming, twisted, or spooky, appear in anthologies and journals in Canada, the U.S., and the U.K. Phyllis’s blog: The Write Break phyllishumby.blogspot.com

Penn Kemp Photo Courtesy Gavin Stairs

Penn Kemp Photo by Gavin Stairs

Activist poet/playwright Penn Kemp, London Ontario’s inaugural Poet Laureate, has published 25 books of poetry/drama, ten CDs and videopoetry. She hosts  Gathering Voices on CHRW Radio. Penn’s blog: http://pennkemp.wordpress.com/

Vanessa Shields Photo courtesy Nick Shields

Vanessa Shields Photo courtesy Nick Shields

Vanessa Shields’s first book, Laughing Through A Second Pregnancy – A Memoir, was published in 2011 to rave reviews. In April 2013, Shields edited a poetry anthology entitled, Whisky Sour City and in January 2014, her first book of poetry, I Am That Woman, was launched. All three books were published by Black Moss Press. Her poetry, short stories and photography have also been published in various literary magazines. Vanessa’s blog: http://vanessashields.com/