Tag Archives: writing

Celebrating Poetry in North York, Cobourg, St. Catharines, and more

If poetry is life, what then is life?/Or is that the abstraction/before the reflected surface. –Keith Inman*

You’ve got mail! Here’s your personal e-invitation! Gather your love poems and release your pink- and red-ribbon word-gifts to your poetic peers. This Sunday, February 11, 2018, The Ontario Poetry Society (TOPS) travels to North York to host “The Love Of Poetry Gathering”, an afternoon of spotlight book launches, members’ readings, and an open mic for non-members.

TOPS The Love of Poetry Gathering in North York invite

The Ontario Poetry Society will host “The Love of Poetry Gathering” this Sunday, February 11 from 12 noon to 4 p.m. at the Symposium Café Restaurant Bar & Lounge, 5221 Yonge Street in North York, Ontario. Admission is free.

The event starts at 12 noon and runs until approximately 4 p.m. at the Symposium Café Restaurant Bar & Lounge, 5221 Yonge Street, (2 Blocks north of North York Centre, South of Finch Avenue) in North York, Ontario. Sign-up for book launch spotlights and readings is at the door. Admission is free. Everyone (including first time readers) is welcome. Depending on the number of people signed-up, each person should come prepared to read either two short poems or one longer poem. All styles from rhyming couplets to free verse to experimental to rap and spoken word are accepted. More information here.If you can’t attend the Sunday event, TOPS will be hosting at least three more open mic events in 2018. The next one will be the “Spring into Poetry Party” to be held Saturday, May 5, 2018 from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. at the café: Meet at 66 King East in Cobourg, Ontario. A summer event is tentatively planned for Sunday, August 26 in London and information about an autumn event will be announced at a later date.

On Saturday, March 3, 2018, Roy Adams and the Hamilton branch of The Ontario Poetry Society will team up with Brydge Builder Press for “A Hamilton Poetry Night”, 8 to 10:30 p.m. at The Staircase, 27 Dundurn Street North. Highlights include the launch of Vagabond Post Office: A Poet’s Path Home by David C. Brydges (TOPS Cobalt branch manager), featured readings by Kathy Fisher and Gary Barwin plus music by David McIntosh. TOPS president Fran Figge will emcee the evening. An open mic will follow. Admission is free.

March 3, 2018 in Hamilton, Ontario

TOPS Cobalt branch manager (David C. Brydges) will be launching his new book Vagabond Post Office: A Poet’s Path Home, Saturday, March 3 in Hamilton.

THROWBACK THURSDAY:

For those who missed it: TOPS travelled to St. Catharines for the first time last November 12, 2017. Six members took to the stage and two new books and two new chapbooks were spotlighted during the “Autumn Harvest Poetry Festival”.

Keith Inman introduced his second trade book SEAsia (Black Moss Press, 2017). Canadian poet John B. Lee stated in his review published in the January 2018 issue of Verse Afire “..in Niagara poet Keith Inman’s book of poetry we take something of a cultural journey in which we accompany the poet on his travels seeing the southeast Asian world through the filter of language as we depart by way of poetry from our common home in Canada travelling east by way of Cambodia and Vietnam and returning to our Native land changed by the experience of having been away. …we are companions on a journey. We are fellow travelers having knowledge of going hence from the familiar and returning from the foreign. And we wonder what it means to belong. How is it for the exile?” Check the Black Moss Press website for the full review plus info about Keith Inman and his books.

Transitory Tango, TOPS 2017 membership anthology edited and compiled by Ottawa poet Ronnie R. Brown was also introduced with readings by several members. Additional information about this anthology and the list of contributors is posted on the TOPS website.

Debbie Okun Hill shared two new chapbooks: Drawing from Experience (a runner-up in the 2017 Big Pond Rumours Chapbook contest) and Chalk Dust Clouds (this year’s winner of TOPS Golden Grassroots Chapbook Award.) Info about the first chapbook appears here. In a recent Verse Fire review of Chalk Dust Clouds, Canadian poet Ronnie R. Brown states “Replete with unique and unexpected images, Okun Hill manages to produce a small collection that stands large in the readers’ minds. From the boy who writes his love’s name on his arm in ball point, to a recycled book of paper dolls, Okun Hill pushes all the buttons, rewinding the reader’s mind back to an earlier and simpler time when erasing the blackboard and slapping the erasers was a reward worth fighting for.” The contest results appear here.

Other spotlight readers (in alphabetical order) were Roy Adams, Fran Figge, I. B. (Bunny) Iskov, and Kamal Parmar. Work by non-members were also shared.

TOPS Members Reading in St Catharines - November 12, 2017 blog version

The Ontario Poetry Society held a members’ reading and open mic on November 12, 2017 at the Mahtay Café & Lounge in St. Catharines. Featured readers included: (back row, left to right) Roy Adams, Keith Inman, Debbie Okun Hill, Fran Figge, and Kamal Parmar. (Front row) I. B. (Bunny) Iskov.

The Ontario Poetry Society is a poetry friendly grassroots organization with over 240 members. It was founded to create a democratic organization for members to unite in camaraderie, friendship, emotional support and encouragement in all aspects of poetry, including writing, performing and publishing. Additional information can be found on its website.

Several other articles about this organization have been posted on this blog over the years.

A partial listing of Ontario literary events for 2018 appears here.

Follow this blog for future news about Canada’s literary community.

*From the poem “What is Poetry?” from the book SEAsia (Black Moss Press, 2017). Used with permission from the author. Copyright © Keith Inman 2017
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More Applause for Singer-Songwriter Gregger Botting and His Debut CD

I will be the servant to your stiletto heels/And the marks that you leave on me I will keep concealed…* -Gregger Botting

Chatham-born Gregger Botting returns to Sarnia, Ontario, Canada,  Sunday, January 21, 2018 for an afternoon House Concert at the Lawrence House Centre for the Arts. Grab your tickets now!

Every time Gregger performs live at a coffee shop or during an outdoor event, his voice strengthens and his confidence soars. Behind the scenes, his fans praise his humble and casual nature. The guitarist displays a genuine interest in helping people and harbours a deep parental love for his young daughter. On stage, his wide smile automatically warms up the audience; his magnetic personality keeps them listening. According to a Lawrence House release, “Gregger will be performing a mix of his original songs as well as covering some favourite and familiar rock/folk/Americana hits of the 1960s.”

Hear my applause again and again.

April 2017 Gregger Botting event in Petrolia

Gregger Botting’s debut CD “Never Saw a Thing Coming” was recorded at DNA Media in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada and released digitally in January 2017. All of the songs were written by Botting.

 

I normally don’t blog about musicians but Greg (stage name Gregger) has been part of Sarnia’s literary scene for several years: first as one of the few singer-songwriters to attend Spoken Word at the Lawrence House Centre for the Arts and more recently as part of Open Stage, a new open mic event hosted by musician Missy Burgess.

With a common interest in words and rhythm, poets and songwriters are often inspired by each other. I admire Gregger’s dedication and commitment to his music plus the depth of emotions in his lyrics.

In his debut CD, Never Saw A Thing Coming, Botting draws on the vulnerabilities of falling in love, the loneliness of break-ups, the healing of open wounds, and the uncertainties of a future relationship.

His 11-song CD showcases a variety of musical styles and voices from the twangy-country feel of “Hippie Girl” to the slower tempo of “About to Fall” to the rock ‘n roll sound of “It’s You” to the jazzy and bluesy “Bad Day Blues”. I love the sound of “The Grand Catastrophe” with Botting’s harp-sounding guitar picked melody. His duet with London folk songstress Taylor Holden is also noteworthy, reminding me of the famous Johnny Cash and June Carter collaboration.

His lyrics lean toward the more traditional verse with catchy lines like Hearts can heal but I’m not sure from “Hippie Girl” and I’ll help to take your tears away from “It’s You”. He also writes gems like the stiletto reference mentioned at the top of this blog and I will be the ashes and you can be the fire from “As Fast As You Come (You Disappear)”.

In my opinion, his strongest lyrics stem from the song he often plays at gigs. This title track “Never Saw A Thing Coming” includes the words That joker he lives in a house of cards/one day they fell down and they fell pretty hard/The Kings and Queens they laughed at him. Later, he adds: His record was worst [sic] than the weatherman’s.

In the last track, hope prevails in “Promise of Another Day” where the duet sings Darkness now gone, sunlight now gained/The moments of love show when we are saved.

Gregger Botting performs at Coffee Lodge August 10, 2017 Photo 6

Lambton County singer-songwriter Gregger Botting performs at the Coffee Lodge, Exmouth Street location in Sarnia, August 10, 2017. His next concert will be at the Lawrence House Centre for the Arts this Sunday, January 21, 2018

Several months ago, I had a chance to interview Gregger about his journey as a musician and his experiences with his first CD. Below is his response to my questions:

First of all, belated congratulations on the release of Never Saw A Thing Coming, your debut CD. In one or two lines, describe the style of music and theme behind your CD? Was there a message you wanted the audience to walk away with? If yes, what is it?

Well thank you very much. So the album by design is a mixture of folk, blues, rock, Americana… I certainly wanted it to be an interesting mix of material. It’s going to be familiar but I am a product of my musical heroes and ‘if it ain’t broken’, as they say… The mix of genres keeps you on your toes with their feel and instrumentation, so I hope that brings the ‘fresh to the familiar’ in its overall sound.

In regards to theme (and I don’t know how intentional it was while selecting the songs at the time) but what I noticed as I look back on its overall theme, are the ideas of love, loss and a nostalgia for life moments that good or bad, make an impact and are relatable to people. I hope as people listen in a contemplative kind of way, that on the whole, it has a reassuring kind of vibe.

What is your favourite song on the CD and why is it so special to you?

I know that this sounds completely cornball, but all the songs I finish are sort of special. I find that when I write, if my intuition is telling me to see a particular song through (either immediately or being constantly compelled to return to it) then something outside of me is going on. No song felt like a chore. I am pretty certain that I was really pumped-up after writing each tune. So, back to your question, I’ll toss three out to you.

The title track “Never Saw a Thing Coming” was a song that came pretty quick from start to finish….and I knew there was something about it as soon as it was finished. It’s not quite a story but nor is it this free associating wordplay. It’s autobiographical yet equally relatable. It came quickly from the song writing gods so I am grateful for it.

“All ‘Bout the Soul” is a tribute to Kris Kristofferson, a song writing legend and hero of mine. Also, my friend Roger Fisher who recorded guitar on the record says it is probably his favourite song and so that means a lot too. He told me as soon as I played it for him, he could imagine it on the radio. He does a great classic-country guitar solo on it.

“Hippie Girl” took years between the first half and second half of the song. It was one I was always going back to in the notebook. It is special in that, when I completed it, the sensation of excitement and confidence about it (even as just words on a page) was really strong. At the time, I felt like that one (on a lyrical level) was so smooth in its imagery and would be able to easily speak with other people. That’s the reason it kicks off the album…That and Producer Adam Miner, told me as much and so I’ll bow to the wise.

A musician’s journey can be a challenging one. How long did it take to collect enough material to put out a CD? What was the most difficult part about the process? Did you ever feel like giving up? Why or why not? How did you stay motivated?

I went to DNA Media in Sarnia with a bunch of home recordings of songs. Producer Adam Miner (DNA Media) and I discussed what I was looking to do and he told me to go with my instinct and pick the sure-bet songs to start…and we went from there. The songs I provided were written in roughly a five year period.

The most difficult part of the process was fighting my own self-doubt. I think it bogs more people down than anything else. While I was excited for so many of the other musicians who came in and did outstanding performances during the process, there were times when I wondered about the purpose of it all.

I had written enough material that I felt were good (to me) and complete, that ultimately I knew I had to do something with them. Surely I wasn’t meant to just play them alone in my living room. I don’t want to get all hippie-dippy on it but I chalked it up to something more than me. There’s a point to it all, no? There has to be. Maybe it was all just cathartic at the time, but maybe it was to be shared. Where’s this stuff coming from? How’d I come up with that? So one day you decide to do something concrete with it. Get it out there.

With authors, the cover of the book is the first thing that readers will notice. I was quite impressed by the cover of your CD and the images used to promote your work. How challenging was it to decide on the right cover?  Please explain the process.

The credit goes 100% to DNA Media. I dragged photographer Natali Bravo to a couple locations in and around Petrolia (where I am living) and she eyed new locations, 200 feet from my locations that ultimately made the cover and CD inserts.

Once we had the photographs, Music Producer Adam Miner and I sat down and he whipped up some magic in Photoshop. We tinkered with size and alignment of some text, but Adam is both an audio and visual artist so things came together fairly quickly. The photos told us the colour scheme and some back and forth with different ideas, and there it was.

Adam really has an eye for quality and he doesn’t fool around when he has a vision going. I am grateful for them both to help me out with this for sure.

When did you first decide you wanted to write songs and be a musician? Was it something you always dreamed about or was it a decision you made later on in your life? Please elaborate.

I always enjoyed music and as a little kid was driving around with my dad who listened to 104.3 WOMC out of Detroit. 1950’s rock ‘n roll, The Motown sound, early British Invasion, Chuck Berry, it was all great stuff. I liked 94.7 WCSX which was more into Jimi Hendrix, Cream and harder, edgier classic rock of the later 1960’s and early 70’s.

I don’t know if there ever was a moment that I consciously considered either as something I could be. I think my guitar playing was and is out of enjoyment ever since I picked it up as a teenager.

Writing songs was something I had tried from time to time as a teenager and in my 20’s but they were only pieces and were varying degrees of awful. Ultimately I knew that I really had nothing to say. I never really was into current trend music and anyone I was listening to had a pretty authentic persona. I was and still am of the belief that the great songs come from authenticity that I didn’t have.

I found myself writing while struggling with the end of my marriage in my early 30’s. I wasn’t writing songs necessarily, but I was writing my struggle and writing to sort things out in my head. After we separated, it was kind of a conscious notion that I should try writing some songs. They were dark and a lot of them only sketches of a full song. But they were a constructive way to work through things and focus my thoughts when I’d get home from the day job. So that’s where things evolved and I started to have something to say. I gained some of that life experience/authenticity that I was able to use as fuel.

What inspires you? Who are your mentors?

Surrounding myself with other inspired people is a good start I think. It is not a competitive endeavour by any means, but surrounding yourself with other creative people just seems to rub off. I often feel inspired after attending an open mic or something where people are relaxed, having fun and sharing their material.

Other times though, I’ve no clue what inspires me…until it does.

As far as mentors, there is a quote from Tom Waits that goes “For a songwriter you don’t really go to song writing school; you learn by listening to tunes.” It probably is an osmosis kind of thing.  Writers I am sure love to read and likewise musicians listen to music absorbing little things they likely don’t even notice.  The artists (that I have a pretty good collection of their material) were guys like Bob Dylan, Kris Kirstofferson, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits so if I’m not listening to their records often, I am always going back to their canon from time to time. I’m really hoping the whole osmosis idea is an actual thing. Haha.

Gregger Botting performs at Coffee Lodge August 10, 2017 Photo 2

“Writing songs was something I had tried from time to time as a teenager”, said Gregger.

Tell me a little about your writing process. Do you have a specific routine or do you just write when the muse nudges you? Is there a certain place where you like to write?  Which comes first the music or the lyrics? Please elaborate.

The lyrics always come first. I find that I am able (and I use the word ‘able’ loosely) to come up with some sort of melody around some established words and reshape some lines as necessary. I can’t recall a time when I was strumming my guitar and a melody translated into a worthwhile phrase or a flash of inspiration. I know many other songwriters do it that way though. It’s all a mystery to me; the how and why of it all.

Early on, I only wrote when the mood struck me. Now, I attempt to write (or at least carry a notebook with me) as often as I can. Usually I find it more difficult to write some words and follow them down the rabbit hole. I need a broad idea/topic to generate the first couple lines….and maybe things will catch fire. But maybe one day the song I force myself to start may be my best song.

I was listening to CBC radio one morning and the program topic was serendipity and happy-accidents. A writer was promoting their book on the subject and one of the points made was that for those moments to happen, you have to be active and keep working to put yourself in that position. The example the writer gave was Fleming discovering penicillin. It doesn’t happen without him being a messy guy, the laboratory being in shambles and covered in petri-dishes. So the same logic can apply to song writing or anything. Stay engaged, don’t throw any of the scraps away, and something may come of it someday.

I can still recall the first few times you started performing at the Spoken Word events at the Lawrence House Centre for the Arts. There you were at the back of the room listening to all the poets, storytellers and non-fiction writers sharing their work. Many evenings you were the only musician in the room and yet you kept coming back. Now I understand you are a regular at the Lawrence House’s Open Stage event which is filled with musicians and musical performances and now the poets are in the minority. How have these local experiences helped you as a writer and performer?

Well, thanks for not only having me, but encouraging me, back at the Spoken Word events those years ago. I don’t see a big difference in poetry and song lyrics. Leonard Cohen has many fine examples where his words sit just as beautiful on the page as they do as a song. Kris Kristofferson studied English Literature at Oxford and is a Rhodes Scholar. His heroes are Johnny Cash and William Blake so that’s a pretty cool mix I’d say.

Along with attending these events for inspiration and being around other creative people, it is a great opportunity to play new material and try new things. The Open Stage is such a supportive and encouraging space. When you start out at anything, you should give yourself the best opportunity to succeed so an environment like the Open Stage, where everyone is encouraging and attentive, goes a long way to gaining that experience and logging some hours in front of an audience. In addition, the sound in the room itself is really great. At the end of the night you’ve gained some experience for yourself, heard some great material, and met some new people so it’s a pretty good deal all around!

What’s next for Gregger Botting?

Haha. What a question Debbie. I really don’t think it is up to me at all. I’ll keep plugging along I suppose. I enjoy writing and tinkering on a guitar so I’ll do them both whenever I can. I have kind of a “things happen for a reason” outlook with my music. Should some new opportunity come along and my intuition then gives me a nudge towards it, it’ll be what it’ll be.

Is there anything else you would like to share with the readers?

I will be playing the Lawrence House this Sunday, January 21, 2018. It is an afternoon show that starts at 3 p.m. and will last for two hours.

A CD can be picked up at Cheeky Monkey in their “Local Artists” section as well as at The Book Keeper.

Or, visit my website www.greggerbotting.com to listen to samples or see music download options

Thank you Gregger for sharing your writing process and journey as a songwriter and musician. I like how the whole package came together for you. Can’t wait to hear more of your work!

Gregger Botting’s debut album Never Saw A Thing Coming was digitally released in January 2017 and officially launched in Petrolia and Chatham in April 2017.  He has performed in numerous public events including Sarnia’s Cadence Reading Series, the Lawrence House’s First Friday events, Sarnia’s Artwalk, and at Petrolia’s Art in the Park celebration. He is a frequent featured performer at the Coffee Lodge in Sarnia and at Sam’s Percolator in Chatham.

Gregger’s Sunday’s performance at the Lawrence House is part of its House Concerts series supported by the County of Lambton Creative County Fund and Leonard Segall and Marilyn Mason.

Follow this blog for additional Canadian author and poet profiles.

*Quote is from the song “As Fast as You Come (You Disappear)” from the CD Never Saw A Thing Coming © Gregger Botting 2017 Used with permission from the singer-songwriter.

 

 

My 2018 #CanLit Staycation Reading List

Call it snow. Call it a TV igloo to crawl inside and escape. – Debbie Okun Hill*

 Reading Canadian poetry and literature is one way to escape this recent cold snap across the country. Binge watching The Crown and Grand Hotel on Netflix is another. For those with a flair for the imagination, retreating to write can turn a snowflake into a multi-faceted poem or story.

Lost in Reality TV Snow - Okun Hill - January 9, 2018

Snow cradles emerald ash borer damaged trees.

Two months ago, I tried escaping. I slowly slipped away from social media and blogging, to concentrate on final revisions for a poetry manuscript that needed major surgery. I sought help from a professional editor and mentor who not only challenged my thinking but taught me how to play with the words and to heal the open wounds. Carving some quiet time to focus on one project proved productive. Expect to hear more about this in a future blog post.

As the holiday season unfolded, I retreated again to deal with the loss of two special people in my literary life: one was a member of a local book club I used to attend while the other was a long-time literary organizer, editor, writer, and friend. Spending time with family and friends became a priority with quiet moments spent in reflection.

Now I’m back at my desk. As a tribute to all the creative folk I wanted to thank, support and promote in 2017 (and didn’t) expect a flurry of blog posts in the next few weeks. (Yes, I will finally edit and post those photos from November and December literary events.) For those looking for something to read, I’ve pulled an eclectic selection of books from my unread (and to read again) shelves. (See below.)

Perhaps you will seek out a few of these books to add to your own reading list. Remember authors love reviews. Post your thoughts on Amazon and/or Goodreads. If you have a recommendation for 2019, leave the book title and the poet’s name in the comment section. (Comments will take a day or two before they appear.) Thanks for your patience.

In support of fellow poets and poetry readings I attended in 2017:

 You Can’t Make the Sky a Different Blue (Big Pond Rumours Press 2017) an award-winning chapbook by award-winning Paris, Ontario resident and minimalist poet Nelson Ball; Not Even Laughter (Salmon Poetry, Ireland 2015) a collection of poems by Phillip Crymble, a Fredericton resident and poetry editor for The Fiddlehead; The Poison Colour (Coach House Printing 2015) a collection of poetry by award-winning Toronto writer Maureen Hynes; SEAsia (Black Moss Press 2017) is the second collection of poetry by Thorold poet Keith Inman, member of the Niagara Branch of the Canadian Authors Association and assistant for their annual Banister Poetry Anthology; Barbaric Cultural Practice (Quattro Books 2016) a poetry collection by Penn Kemp, the inaugural Poet Laureate for London, Ontario and a League of Canadian Poets Life Member; and Infinite Sequels: Poems (Friesen Press 2013) the first poetry collection by Toronto poet David Stones.

Misc Books to Read 2018 to post

A mix of Ontario writers and one from the east coast.

In support of poetry chapbooks:

Pod and Berry (Aeolus House 2017) a new collection of poems by another Life Member of The League of Canadian Poets and The Ontario Poetry Society Allan Briesmaster (See previous blog post here); Orthric Sonnets (Baseline Press 2017), a limited edition chapbook of poems by Andy Verboom, the organizer of London’s Couplets, a collaborative poetry reading series; and leave the door open for the moon (Jackson Creek Press 2015) a collection of poems by Peterborough artist, teacher and writer Nan Williamson.

Chapbooks Manitoba Northern Books to Read 2018 to post

An eclectic mix: poetry chapbooks by Ontario poets, books by Manitoba writers, and books written (and illustrated) by residents/visitors to the great white North.

In support of poetry books:

 Groundwork (Biblioasis 2011) is Amanda Jernigan’s debut poetry collection which was shortlisted for the League of Canadian Poets’ Pat Lowther Award; and The Cinnamon Peeler (McClelland & Stewart 1989) features selected poems written between 1963 and 1990 by internationally acclaimed, award-winning author Michael Ondaatje.

In support of novels:

Alone in the Classroom (McClelland & Stewart 2011) a novel by Scotiabank Giller Prize-Winning author Elizabeth Hay; and Sanctuary Line (McClelland & Stewart 2010) a novel by bestselling Canadian author Jane Urquhart.

Older Work to Read 2019 to post

Older novels and poetry books.

 In support of anthologies and literary journals:

Another London: poems from a city still searching for itself (Harmonia Press 2016); LUMMOX Number Six (Lummox Press 2017) (See a previous blog post here.); Paper Reunion: An Anthology of Phoenix: A Poet’s Workshop (1976-1986) (Big Pond Rumours Press, 2016); Philadephia Poets 2017 Volume 23; and Voices 20 Anniversary: The Journal of the Lake Winnipeg Writers’ Group (BK Publishing, 2016).

Anthologies to Read 2018 to post

Canadian and American anthologies and a literary journal from Philadelphia.

 In support of local writers in the Sarnia-Lambton area:

            Released in 2017:

Red Haws to Light the Field (Guernica Editions 2017) a poetry collection by the prolific and well-known Canadian poet James Deahl (See an earlier blog post here.); Book of Bob: Stories Remembered (Quinn Riley Press 2017), a memoir by Bob McCarthy (See an earlier blog post here); and Any Light With Do, a special edition poetry book by former Lambton College English and Literature instructor Pat Sheridan.

            Released prior to 2017:

 The Fabric of My Soul: Poems (Longbridge Books 2015) the first collection of poetry by the late Venera Fazio (See an earlier blog post here); Straight Lines (Penumbra Press 2003), a poetry collection by former Thunder Bay resident and new Sarnia resident Mary Frost; No Common Thread: The Selected Short Fiction of Norma West Linder (Hidden Brook Press 2013) by one of Sarnia’s finest writers (see an earlier blog post here); The Belles of Prosper Station (Friesen Press 2014) the first work of historical fantasy by Gloria Pearson-Vasey (See an earlier blog post here); 1300 Moons (Trafford Publishing 2011) a historical fiction novel by Aamjiwwnaang First Nation writer David D Plain (See an earlier blog post here); and Live From the Underground (Mansfield Press 2015) a novel by Corinne Wasilewski.

Local Books 2018 to post

New and not so new books written by Sarnia-Lambton writers.

 Manitoba based or influenced:

Dadolescence (Turnstone Press 2011) a witty novel by Winnipeg author and journalist Bob Armstrong; Arctic Comics (Renegade Arts Canmore Ltd. 2016) a collection of graphic tales of myth written and drawn by Inuit and Northern Canadian storytellers and artists with a special shout out to Manitoba artist Nicholas Burns; If There Were Roads: Poems (Turnstone Press 2017) a Winnipeg published collection by award-winning Whitehorse resident and poet Joanna Lilley (See an earlier blog post here.); and Magpie Days (Turnstone Press 2014) the debut poetry collection by Winnipeg writer Brenda Sciberras, winner of the Eileen McTavish Sykes Award for Best First Book.

From British Columbia:

What the Soul Doesn’t Want (Freehand Books 2017), the newest collection by the award-winning Swift Current born, Vancouver Island poet Lorna Crozier; After All the Scissor Work Is Done (Leaf Press 2016), a collection of poems by Nanoose Bay poet David Fraser, the founder and editor of Ascent Aspirations Magazine; The Spirit of the Thing and the Thing Itself (Ekstasis Editions 2015), the 12th book by D.C. Reid, past president of The League of Canadian Poets; and return to open water: Poems New & Selected (Ronsdale Press 2007) featuring the best work gleamed from 10 poetry collections by mentor and editor Harold Rhenisch who recently had his poem shortlisted for the 2017 CBC Poetry Prize.

Canadian West Coast Books to Read 2018 to post

From western Canada.

So that’s my 35-book reading challenge for my next ‘Staycation’ escape. If I missed mentioning your book, it may appear in a new list. Additional recommendations, book reviews, and reading lists appear on my Goodreads page.

What are you doing to cope with the cold?

Can you hear the celebratory music in the background? Sleigh bells ring…and I’m drifting….drifting asleep in the snow, reliving my youth, bundled in a snowmobile suit with a brightly knit scarf wrapped around my face. The horses’ hooves clip-clop along the snow-dusted trails as their powerful muscles pulls the sleigh through a wooded area. A child’s laughter appears like cloud puffs in the frosty air. I laugh too but I can’t help noticing how the leather blinders on the bridle keep the horses un-spooked and focused forward.

Tonight, as the melted snow ices in preparation for another snowfall, I shut my eyes and I become that grey mare clip-clopping down the trail. The jingle of silver bells lulls me to sleep as visions of #CanLit books swirl like snowflakes in my head.

*From the unpublished poem “Lost in Reality TV Snow” from the manuscript Ash Leaves. Used with permission from the author © Debbie Okun Hill 2018

Writing and Reading Poetry is like Test Driving a Car

Yesterday, today, tomorrow…

Autumn Leaves October 2017

Words fall like autumn leaves. In my backyard, ash saplings fight to survive. Listening to their young voices has inspired me. After a two-year dormancy, my ash tree-themed manuscript has been dusted off and is currently being updated with encouragement from a new mentor.

This autumn, I learned something valuable about writing. If you don’t like where you’re going, just get out of the car and start walking in a different direction. It’s as simple as that or is it?

For about a year (maybe longer), I’ve been sitting idle, spinning my wheels and wondering how to get out of this ‘hanging on the literary fence’ rut. I could blame it on my husband who retired almost three years ago. He and the barking-just-found-his-voice elderly dog (with a cone around his head) were quite the distraction. I missed those long hours of quiet time at my computer. However, I also went through the getting old, feeling empty-nested, and craving  a change in my scenery-humdrum blues. I knew I loved writing but…it had become a 24 hours a day, 7 days a week job! I needed a change.

Chalk Dust Clouds by Debbie Okun Hill - Books arrive September 29, 2017

Sometimes a person strolls in one direction and life throws some chalk to do a rewrite. This happened to me. My manuscript Chalk Dust Clouds (rejected and rewritten several times under different titles) won first prize in The Ontario Poetry Society’s 2017 Golden Grassroots Poetry Chapbook Award. Stop by my half-booth at London’s Souwesto Book Expo, Saturday, November 4 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Museum London.

My husband (in his wisdom) dropped a book (Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived Joyful Life by Bill Burnett and David Evans) on my desk and said “Read this”. I don’t always listen to my husband’s advice but he caught me at a weak moment and he was right. It was an excellent book. Through one of the exercises, I learned that I spend the majority of my time working while my husband spends much of his retirement playing. Both of us needed more balance. What a great idea! All I needed was to dump some of my work onto him and then go do something fun. This wasn’t the reaction he was hoping for. (Of course, I’m teasing.)

October 25, 2017 in Windsor

Back on tour with two new chapbooks. If you’re in or near the Windsor area, stop by and say hello at this October 25, 2017 event. Special thanks to Vanessa Shields for organizing this special evening and to The League of Canadian Poets for its sponsorship.

Then I discovered a section about keeping a diary and recording what you liked and didn’t like to do and how you could brainstorm to create new ways to do more of the things that made your waking hours more enjoyable. In one chapter, the authors talked about the bench test and how the best advice was that you shouldn’t listen to anyone else’s advice but just try different things until you found something that felt right for YOU. If you couldn’t find what you were looking for then it was suggested that you just create it or at least move forward and engage in some meaningful activity while you continued to look. A few of my friends tried that, without even reading the exercises in the book.

November 11, 2017 event in Sarnia with correct spelling

Thank you to Big Pond Rumours Press for recognizing my love for art in this ekphrasic-themed chapbook Drawing from Experience to be officially launched Saturday, November 11, 2017 at the Coffee Lodge in Sarnia. Stop by to hear Ryan and Anne and bring something to read. Everyone is welcome to share.

For example, one out-of-town author moved out of the big city to take up residence in a smaller community. She’s now concentrating on the novel she’s always wanted to write. Another writer took a break from writing to socialize more. She joined a literary board and spent the summer and most of the fall in a small resort area. She loved being with people and having that time away from her normal routine. Another friend decided to teach and is still testing the waters as they say. All three writers took a test drive to see what they liked and didn’t like. As the book states and I paraphrase, “there are no mistakes, just lessons learned.”

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For the first time ever, LUMMOX Press, a California-based press will be publishing an all-Canadian anthology for 2018. Several Canadian poets have already been in previous issues. Check out the Canadian launches of LUMMOX Number Six on November 1 in Hamilton and on November 18 in Sarnia.  A Toronto launch is being planned for April 2018.

In my opinion, reading and writing poetry works on a similar premise. I’ve often said, “if you don’t like poetry, you haven’t read the right poem or met the right poet yet.” Writers, even within the same genre, can differ in style and content. The same works for writing poetry. Some forms and topics will interest you more than others. Find what works for you and run with it.

The same goes for selecting a literary magazine or a publisher to submit to. Also, try different critique groups, attend different open mics, and research different agents and editors to see who might be the right fit for you and your projects. In early 2012, my literary mentor passed away. After five years of searching, I may have found a replacement. Time will tell. You can even test drive your poems to see which version feels right to you.

For those who are interested in attending or trying out a few different literary events, check out the 2017 event schedule on my blog. I try to update it at least once a week. If I seem rather quiet, am skipping regular critique groups and/or am not blogging or writing as much poetry, it’s because I’m still cruising the landscape, pausing on a bench to reflect, and/or seeking balance in the noisy world in which I live.

Have a great week!

P.S. Mark your calendars for two more special literary events:

November 19, 2017 in Sarnia

For the first time, The Ontario Poetry Society will travel to St. Catharines for several mini-spotlight launches, a members’ reading and an open mic for non-members on November 12, 2017. Everyone is welcome.

A shout-out to Sarnia’s historical fiction writer Bob McCarthy who took a detour from his normal fare to focus on writing an amusing memoir about his life. The Book of Bob will be launched Sunday, November 19, 2017 at the Book Keeper.

Additional information about times and locations are listed on the event page of my blog. Once you’re on the page, just scroll down to the right date.

Coming soon…that blog feature and Q & A with Lambton County musician Gregger Botting  and a Q & A with London poet Penn Kemp with a belated book review of her latest poetry collection from Quattro Books.

Behind the Scenes with Writer Ryan Gibbs

“There’s no quicksand in the creek,” I said./ Aunt Helen stopped and glared at me.* – Ryan Gibbs

 Call it a mystery! Call it serendipity! When I first read Ryan Gibbs’s “Quicksand”, an honourable mention short story in Indelible (a 2006 Cranberry Tree Press contest anthology), I was curious. Who was this phantom local writer and why was he hiding at the local college versus socializing with like-minded scribes from the literary community?

Ryan Gibbs Profile Photo

Canadian writer Ryan Gibbs Photo by Lois Nantais

Super sleuth-college colleague-local poet Lois Nantais tracked his whereabouts and eventually nudged him to attend a Spoken Word event in the Turret Room of the Lawrence House Centre for the Arts. Gibbs’s kind demeanor immediately left a huge impact on those in attendance.

When Nantais and Ena Forbes stepped down from hosting this popular open mic event, he joined the organizing team as the new co-host.

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Mysterious, a bit of a sleuth, Ryan Gibbs appears in costume during one of the themed Spoken Word events at the Lawrence House.

For six years (September 2007 to June 2013), this Lambton College English Professor played a major role in Sarnia’s literary scene. Spoken Word, a vital forum for emerging and professional local talent as well as those interested in the arts, was held on the last Friday of every month except July and August.

During that time, Gibbs exhibited a flair for making readers feel comfortable. His experience with teaching college students made him the perfect emcee and his ability to speak on his feet was something that others in the audience wished to emulate. Certainly, even at his young age, he was a role model for me, although this may be a surprise to him.

Upon reflection, the protagonist in his “Quicksand” story now reminds me of an even younger version of Gibbs: adventurous, mysterious, the making of a sleuth! Without spoiling the plot and ending, let me just say that Gibbs (the adult) continues to seek truth in his surroundings and to have compassion for others.

For example, in “watercolour poet”, his tribute poem to the late Peggy Fletcher, he wrote: she stained a blank canvas in tears and/shaped them with meticulous strokes/delving deep into our prismatic hearts/illuminating colours we had never seen.

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Co-host Ryan Gibbs created six years of Spoken Word memories in Sarnia.

His love for animals shines in his popular children’s poem “My Kitty Cat”. Even though he states that his cat hunts me down throughout the house/As though I were a hiding mouse, the poem ends with She licks my feet to make amends,/Letting me know we are still friends.

As a storyteller/poet, he gathers facts, swirls ideas/images/words in his head, and then precisely records the final product on paper or his computer. He often uses an element of surprise and/or darkness in his work as shown in his opening lines: Didn’t I tell you I’m the best from his poem “Maestro” published in The Saving Bannister, Volume 23 and I broke into your house/And lived in your place: from his poem “Just to be You” printed in Delicious.

As a person, he’s reliable and a pleasure to work with.

After he stepped down from his co-hosting position in 2013 to pursue his PhD in Literature at Western University in London, Ontario, Canada, several of the regular Spoken Word attendees lost track of him. Where did he go? Was he still writing? Or had his literary goals changed? Did the study halls of academia swallow him up?

 The mystery has been solved.

For those living in or within driving distance to London, mark your calendars. Gibbs will join poet/performer/spoken word artist David Stones for Couplets #12: a collaborative poetry reading to be held Thursday, August 24, 2017 from 6 to 7 p.m. at The Arts Project, 203 Dundas Street. The teaser on Stones’s Twitter account asks, “What do #DavidStonesPoet and #RyanGibbs have in common with Shakespeare and Chaucer?…Find out…”  I can’t wait.

August 24, 2017 in London

London-based poet Ryan Gibbs will be performing with David Stones during an upcoming Couplets poetry event to be held Thursday, August 24, 2017 in London, Ontario, Canada. Combined image courtesy of Couplets.

In anticipation of his reading, I contacted Ryan via e-mail to catch up with his news. Below are his responses to my questions:

Ryan, welcome back to the literary scene! So much has happened since your 2013 retirement as co-host for Spoken Word. You moved away from the Sarnia area. You started and finished classes at Western. You moved back to teach in Sarnia and then you eventually changed your home base and settled back in London. Did these changes hamper or stimulate your writing? Please expand.

These changes ultimately stimulated my writing. I’ve been torn between the two locations, but London seems the right home for me. There are more literary events here, and it is also closer to Toronto, a city I have been frequenting a lot lately.

Without ruining the surprise, what can people expect to see and/or hear during your Couplets performance in London with Toronto/Stratford poet David Stones?

People can expect a great evening. David and I have been working on the program for weeks now. His experience as a spoken word poet has made me reflect upon the difference between a poetry reading and a poetry performance. I’m looking forward to interpreting my poetry differently and to sharing new work for the first time.

Writing poetry is often a labour of love and yet one of your poems was discovered by the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Assessment in the United States and is now part of their testing program. You were paid a nice sum for the poem’s use. How did this news impact your future writing?

It encouraged me to send my work out – you never know where it will end up. Even before it was picked up by STAAR, “My Kitty Cat” was a poem I was known for at poetry readings, so it seems fitting that it should be my most recognized work. Its success reminds me of the value in simplicity.

When you first joined a local writers group under the leadership of the late Peggy Fletcher, you were workshopping a young adult fantasy novel. Your characterization, setting, dialogue, and sentence structure were strong and you were taking a correspondence course on Writing For Children/Young Adults. Somewhere along the line, like many of us, you turned to poetry and had additional publishing success in that area. You are now a member of Sarnia’s After Hours Poets and an associate member of the League of Canadian Poets. What genre have you enjoyed writing the most? Why does it appeal to you?

I enjoy all genres. I’ve been writing poetry exclusively lately, and that’s because of time restrictions balancing academic and creative writing with teaching. But I hope to write more fiction, particularly travel writing.

That doesn’t surprise me. You’ve become a world traveller and it seems like every summer you are off to another historic or exotic place. Out of all the trips you have taken, which location or setting has inspired you the most? Please explain why.

Paris. There is something magical about the City of Lights. I first visited Paris five years ago and returned there this summer to join the Left Bank Writers Retreat. Writing in Tuileries Garden, visiting art museums, and eating in cafés were all inspirational. I frequently return to these places in my imagination.

Ryan Gibbs Musee Rodin

A world traveller! Ryan Gibbs at the Musee Rodin in Paris, in front of the sculptor’s famous Le Penseur (“The Thinker”). Photo by Kendra Adele Hinkle.

What other activities inspire your writing? Who are your favourite writer/s or mentor/s? What trait/s do you admire in these people?

Reading. I’ve done a lot of reading in my doctoral studies and have compiled a list of ideas for poems and stories. One of my favourite poets is former poet laureate of Ireland, Paula Meehan. I attended a reading of hers last year in Allihies, Ireland, and it inspired me to write. Her poems are lyrically narrative, and she remains humble despite her accolades.

Share your writing process with me. Do you have a specific routine or do you just write when the muse nudges you? Is there a certain place where you like to write? Please elaborate.

I used to write when inspired, but I’ve found that results in too infrequent writing, so I try to write a little each day. Early morning and late evening are best – times closest to dreaming – which is why I often write in bed.

In a sentence or two, tell me a little more about the dissertation that you are currently working on? How’s that going?

My dissertation focuses on the redress politics behind contemporary Canadian internment narratives and how literature serves as an intermediary between state interests and ethnocultural advocacy groups. The writing process is long, but I continue to make progress. I’m heading to Halifax this weekend to give a paper at Dalhousie University on Behind Barbed Wire: Creative Works on the Internment of Italian Canadians, a text that features two Sarnia writers, Delia De Santis and Venera Fazio. My interest in their work inspired my dissertation.

Sounds like an ambitious but important project! What’s next for Ryan Gibbs in terms of your life and/or your literary aspirations?

Hopefully, books. My upcoming Couplets performance has caused me to look over the extent of my poems and consider putting together a manuscript. As well, I’ll be revisiting my novel again when I attend a writing workshop with Toronto editor and creative writing instructor Brian Henry at Algonquin Park next month.

What writing projects are you working on now?

I’m writing vignettes about my travels. I’ve been inspired by the writing exercises I did in Paris this summer. I’m also feeling the influence of my dissertation work as I’m starting with my trip to Italy a few years ago. This trip marked the first time I left the tour to explore Cerveteri, Sicily, and Sardinia on my own.

Is there anything else you would like to share with the readers?

I haven’t disappeared. I continue to write and go to events. I’m planning to attend London’s Open Mic and Sarnia’s Open Stage next month.

I’m glad. It will be great to see you again! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and literary news. I wish you continued success for your future goals and projects. Safe travels. May you get a huge turnout for your reading.

Ryan Gibbs - Samples of published work

Ryan Gibbs’s work has appeared in numerous literary journals including The Windsor Review and anthologies such as Under the Mulberry Tree, The Saving Bannister, and Whisky Sour City.

Ryan Gibbs lives in London, Ontario, and is pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Western Ontario. He works as an English professor and coordinator at Lambton College in nearby Sarnia, where he is a member of the After Hours Poets and has read his poetry in the City Council as part of the nation-wide Mayor’s Poetry City Challenge. His poems have appeared in Tower Poetry, The Windsor Review, and the anthologies Under the Mulberry Tree and Whisky Sour City. His children’s poetry has been included in the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness.

Additional information about Couplets: London’s collaborative poetry series can be found here.

Follow this blog for additional Canadian author and poet profiles as well as a feature post about London’s Couplets poetry series and Sarnia’s Open Stage event.

*Quote is from the short story “Quicksand” printed in the anthology Indelible (Cranberry Tree Press, July 2006). Page 30. The story won honourable mention in the “FIBZ”, 2006 short story anthology contest as judged by Nino Ricci. “Quicksand” © Ryan Gibbs, 2006. Used with permission from the author.

Standing Ovation for Diana Koch’s “Prime Time Stories”

He couldn’t remember growing old. It hit him like a freak thunderstorm on a sunny afternoon– Diana Koch*

 Local author Diana Koch’s work appears flawless. The only wrinkles in Prime Time Stories, her debut short story collection, are found on the faces and hands of her characters. Almost all of her protagonists are older, coping with various challenges in the later stages of their lives. The suspense (what they ‘do or don’t do’) propels the reader to turn the page in rapid succession.

Prime Time Stories Cover

“Prime Time Stories” (Greenstone Press, 2016) by Diana Koch is “a collection of 24 stories about men and women whose lives have been influenced by secrets, betrayals, regrets, illness, and even death”.  Cover image by the author.

Meet Mary, the woman who was now as withered as a forgotten summer apple that had rolled unnoticed under a storage bin. Sneak into Ivan Leeson’s barn as this widower/farmer touches the sinewy roughness of a rope as he contemplates suicide.

Will Mrs. M., a retirement home resident, lonely and confined to a wheelchair, be scammed by one of her visitors? What will become of Taylor Montgomery, a rich woman who steals trivial items to cope with her husband’s affairs? As Koch writes, Youth, in a slow trickle, is seeping out of her.

This focus on ageing (in its various forms) is like the yolk and egg whites that hold the nourishing bread of her book together. Consider it a loaf of 24 stories sliced and packaged with crusted secrets, yeast-bubbled humour, heart-warming sugar, flour-coated hauntings, unexpected crumbs, and cinnamon-twisted endings.

Like a baker or pastry chef, Koch slips in special ingredients to enhance the flavour of her work. Most notable is her use of the five senses such as scent: the captivating fragrance of “Promise Me” wafting around her like an exotic butterfly, the sweet smell of wood shavings and sound: the slamming of screen doors…his heavy steps on the stairs…water running in the bathroom…the ring of a telephone… the clanging of cutlery….

With a dinner-knife-sharpened imagination, she spreads her thoughts out like butter. The rhythm and flow of her words are silky-smooth and her sunny-yellow disposition slips between the sandwiched narrative and dialogue of her short stories.

Diana Koch Author Photo by Klaus Koch

Local author Diana Koch says writing fiction became a serious past-time after she retired. Photo by Klaus Koch.

There’s a caring motherly-maturity in her literary voice and yet, her intelligence fueled by her long career in the educational field adds a layer of depth to her writing. Don’t let her mild demeanor fool you. Some of her fictional material is more sinister than her settings let on.

Her characters are easily recognizable with just enough quirkiness to make them interesting. One of my favourite descriptions is from the story “Albino” where she writes, He stomped through the mire of daily living with bricks in his shoes, and a neon sign on his head that challenged people to gawk at him as if he were an invasive species.

Another strong description appears in “Assassin of Dream” where it was her unusual eyes that made people turn and stare at her. One was the brilliant blue of a summer sky, the other as brown as a chestnut.

Koch insists her stories are just average tales not worthy of notoriety. Those who are familiar with her work would disagree. Her fictional narratives are too strong to sit in a drawer.

The first time she shared her work aloud at a local writers’ workshop, I was mesmerized. The first time she submitted a story to a contest, it won first prize in the Ten Stories High Annual Short Story Competition organized by the Niagara Branch of the Canadian Authors Association.

When she officially released Prime Time Stories last November 27, 2016 at The Book Keeper in Sarnia, her family and friends applauded loudly.

Diana Koch Author Prime Time Stories Book Launch at The Book Keeper November 27, 2016 Photo by Klaus Koch

“Prime Time Stories” by Diana Koch was officially launched last November at The Book Keeper in Sarnia. Photo by Klaus Koch.

This summer, I asked Diana to share her thoughts about her writing process. Below are her responses:

Congratulations Diana on your debut collection of short stories! In a sentence or two, describe the theme or thread that binds your stories together. What inspired you to focus on characters in the ‘prime time’ of their lives?

 Prime Time Stories introduces the reader to people who are faced with an emotional crisis that must be dealt with in order for them to move on with their lives. The characters in these stories are from diverse walks of life, but all have dilemmas that cause them distress. Prime Time provides the reader an intimate view of people who have already travelled through the spring and summer of their lives and must somehow find their way toward a satisfying future. (Spoiler alert – some are successful, others not.)

People are fascinating at all stages of life, but they become more interesting as they grow older. Over the years, we have many experiences and interactions with our fellow humans, some positive, others that bring discontent or even heart-break. We make choices that determine our destiny. On some occasions, Fate plays a role. Lives become more complex when there are secrets, betrayals, regrets. (Provocative recipe ingredients for stories!) In the end, we all search for happiness, or at the very least, a degree of contentment or peace of mind.

Which of your stories in this book is your most favourite and why is it important to you?

Although all the people in Prime Time are fictitious, I have come to know them well. Ivan Leeson in the story “When the Dog Barksis a favourite. I grew up on a farm and understand the pride and attachment that farm people have to their land. As people age, they are often forced to give up a way of life that sustained them economically and emotionally. Ivan Leeson finds himself in this unfortunate situation. Although he had hoped for a different ending to his life, ultimately, he faces his future with the courage of his pioneer ancestors. Ivan Leeson reminds me of my Dad.

Your story “Rats is the Cellar” won first place in the Niagara Branch of the Canadian Author Association’s Ten Stories High Annual Short Story Competition. I recall it was the first story you ever submitted to a contest and it won the top prize. How did it feel to receive this honour? Is it important for writers to enter their work into contests or to submit their work to literary journals or consumer magazines? Why or why not?

To say I was surprised to learn that “Rats in the Cellar” had been selected as top prize is an understatement. If you recall, I submitted the story at your suggestion. I had no ambition at that point to have any of my writing published. It was thrilling to see my work in print in the anthology Ten Stories High. The experience encouraged me to keep writing and helped me overcome the shyness of sharing my work with others. I believe that my writing has improved and matured because I gained confidence to have my work critiqued and considered for publication.

Many of your stories have a twist at the end. Where do you find the ideas for your stories?

People intrigue me. I like to watch them and have conversations.

Sometimes, a few words strike me as significant. That was the case when a friend, who volunteers at a retirement home told me about a resident who “sits and waits for visitors who never show up.” It inspired the story “Waiting for Rhonda”.

A few years ago while in Toronto, I observed an attractive, exquisitely dressed and groomed woman in a coffee shop. She was sitting alone, clutching her handbag and staring into space. Her sombre expression suggested that all was not well in her life. She became the protagonist in “Taylor Montgomery Plays Chicken”.

Newspaper articles can also be an inspiration for stories. I once read about a man who had spent considerable time and money building his own coffin. Why would someone do that? My musing resulted in “Magnum Opus”. 

Other times, I imagine what it would be like to lead a totally different life from my own. How would I feel? What would I do? How resilient would I be? “The Sewing Circle” is such a story.

The twist at the end of my stories? Isn’t life like that? We think we have a plan, a certain path we wish to follow, a goal in sight – then something unexpected happens and everything changes.

Diana Koch Author Walking the Beach Photo by Klaus Koch

Walking down the beach is one of Diana Koch’s go-to places to get her creative juices flowing. Photo by Klaus Koch.

You had a long and successful career in the educational field. When did you decide that you wanted to write on a more regular basis?

I have always enjoyed putting thoughts on paper. I took pleasure in letter writing when that was in vogue. From the time I was a child, I fabricated stories – not always with the blessing of my Mom! Writing fiction became a serious past-time after I retired. I find the process of creative thinking satisfying and relaxing.

Describe your writing process.

Almost always, the process begins with a main character. It’s important that the character has a name. From that point, physical attributes and personality develop. It often takes weeks, months, sometimes years before I truly know that character. Only then can I build a story. It happens in my head before I can write it.

I am a methodical writer. I need time to let a story develop and grow. However, once it is written, I seldom change either the character or the plot. I do many revisions to mechanics such as sentence structure and vocabulary, but the story remains the same because it is character driven.

What are you currently working on?

I’m still writing short stories. I like the variety and the neatness of completing a project in just a few pages and then moving on to something new. My writing style tends to be succinct and lends itself to the short story format.

I have one completed novel. It is a coming of age story that takes place in Germany during WWII. For years, the characters and story rattled around in my head until I finally succumbed to the irritating mental prod to write it.

Currently, I am also working on a second novel about a modern-day woman who is the reincarnation of a historical figure from the 19th century – basically a story within a story. At the moment, it’s causing me some grief. One of the characters is not cooperating. I will have to give her some one on one attention.

Diana Koch Author with her favourite book Photo by Klaus Koch

“Wuthering Heights” has been on Koch’s book shelf for over half a century. She purchased it for $1.05 while she was a student at the University of Western Ontario. She says, “it’s timeless. A book for all seasons.” Photo by Klaus Koch.

What are your future plans? 

I’m happy to continue writing at my own pace, with abundant time to think things through. Aside from completing the novel, I hope to revisit a collection of short stories called Loss of Innocence that I wrote several years ago.

Your work is so strong and yet you decided to self-publish your collection versus submit your work to a trade publisher. Would you follow this path for your next book? Why or what not?

My decision to self-publish Prime Time was an easy one for a number of reasons.

After doing some research, I discovered that books of short stories are not popular with publishers. I also wanted to experience the publishing process myself. I enjoyed the creative aspects of designing the actual book – format, font, and cover.  My writer friend Bob McCarthy was a great mentor in the process.

By self-publishing, I was able to get a sense of how readers respond to my writing. It has been a positive experience beyond my expectations.

Seeking a suitable agent and publisher is a time consuming task. So much more than writing is expected of authors. I’m still not certain that I have the talent or the resilience to deal with agents and publishers.

It gives me pleasure to write. My reward comes from readers who enjoy reading my work. With that in mind, I will have to make a decision regarding my completed novel, The Button Girl.

Thanks Diana. Over the years, you’ve shared several draft chapters of your books with various local and out-of-town writers’ groups. I can’t wait to see more of your work in print. I wish you continued success with your writing. Please keep in touch.

Diana Koch was born in the Netherlands. She arrived in Canada as a young child with her parents and younger sister. Raised on a farm, she developed a love for the outdoors and spent many hours reading in the apple orchard or daydreaming in the meadow. Her collection of stories Loss of Innocence (as yet unpublished) relates the experiences of an immigrant child growing up in rural Ontario.    

After graduating from the University of Western Ontario, she taught French and German at the secondary level, and a variety of subjects in elementary schools. She obtained a Masters degree in education and enjoyed the years in her leadership role as Principal.

Since retirement, she has spent many enjoyable hours reading and writing. Some of her work has been published in chapbooks and anthologies. Prime Time is her first published book.

A review of Koch’s debut book appears on Sharon Berg’s blog and on the Lambton Shield website.

Additional information about Prime Time can be found on The Book Keeper website.

*from the short story “When the Dog Barks” published in the book Prime Time Stories (Greenstone Press, 2016) page 50. Reprinted with the author’s permission: Copyright © Diana Koch, 2016 
PLEASE NOTE: Several other quotes from Prime Time have been reprinted with the author’s permission. They appear in italics within the body of the blog post.

Watch this blog for additional Canadian Author and Poet Profiles.                        

Three Ontario Publishers Offer Advice Spiked with Harsh Reality

“Publishers want champions…books that they love.” –Dan Wells, Biblioasis

Forget the magic wand and lucky charms! There’s no secret shortcut for a wannabe author or poet seeking a book deal from a traditional publisher. If you want your manuscript published in Canada, you’ll need to work hard and have patience, lots of patience. That’s the consensus from three Ontario publishers during a “Getting Published in Canada” panel discussion held last week (July 20, 2017) at Biblioasis, an award-winning independent publishing house and bookstore in Windsor, Ontario, Canada.

Summer Reading Bookshelf July 28, 2017

We all have our favourite books! Check your home library to see who had published the earlier work of your favourite writers. If you write in a similar style, that independent publisher is worth investigating.

Panel members Dan Wells (Biblioasis publisher), Aimee Dunn (publisher, Windsor’s Palimpsest Press), and Paul Vermeersch of Buckrider Books (an imprint of Hamilton publisher Wolsak and Wynn) held the ‘standing room only’ crowd captive. Each shared his or her view about the publishing industry and answered questions from individuals in the audience.

Moderator Jael Richardson, a published author and the Artistic Director for the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD), ensured the evening moved along at a steady pace.

For those who missed this hour and a half ‘free to the public’ presentation, below are some of the highlights:

CONCENTRATE ON CREATING A STRONG MANUSCRIPT

“Don’t think about publishing until the writing is ready,” emphasized Vermeersch. “Be a writer first. Picture yourself with all your love & passion for words plus focus on what you feel is important…never submit a book that is still rough around the edges.”

Biblioasis - Patricia Young - July 28, 2017

Award-winning poet Patricia Young had fiction and poetry published by Biblioasis.

One of the ways to polish a book and to ensure the manuscript is ready for submission is to find people who will give honest feedback that is both useful and constructive. A writer can also take classes, join a writing circle or find a mentor. This should be done before the work is submitted.

RESEARCH ALL THE PUBLISHERS

Dunn stated that once the writing is complete, the real work begins. For example, before submitting any work, writers should do their homework. Research is important. “Check the websites of the publishers to determine what they publish, what their submission guidelines are, and when their deadlines are.”

For example, Palimpsest Press and Wolsak and Wynn only accept queries between January 1 and March 31. Dunn is surprised by how many authors ignore that rule. It’s an automatic rejection.

“Know who you are submitting to,” added Wells. “All the presses are different…so get to know the press.” Even editors amongst the same press have different opinions and interests.

“Read some of the publisher’s books,” said Dunn. If you feel your book is the right fit, then prepare your submission. For Palimpsest Press, she said it’s important to query first. “If we don’t like your work, we will e-mail right away, sometimes within a day or two. If we ask to see a manuscript, our response could take months.”

Palimpsest Press July 28 2017

According to its website, Palimpsest Press “publishes poetry, fiction, and select nonfiction titles that deal with poetics, the writing life, aesthetics, cultural criticism, and literary biography”.

Most presses will respond in six months (sometimes longer) but it’s best to check the publisher’s guidelines. If you don’t hear from the press in a reasonable amount of time, check to make sure the query or manuscript was received.

“Sometimes submissions get lost,” said a member from the audience. “It happened to me and shortly after the manuscript was found, I received an acceptance.”

As for multiple-submissions, Vermeersch said “most publishers don’t mind…but make sure you withdraw your manuscript if it is accepted by someone else.”

BE PATIENT AND LEARN HOW TO DEAL WITH REJECTION

“If you get a rejection don’t take it personal,” advised Dunn. “It may be the wrong press or the wrong editor.”

According to Wells, Biblioasis wants books that they love. They often receive 400, 500, 600 submissions a year. However, the editors at Biblioasis also read literary magazines and keep their eyes on the literary scene to solicit work not only from established authors but those who are deemed up-and-comers. The majority of their 25 to 35 titles per year total are selected this way. Your chance for acceptance by a trade publisher improves if you have a strong publishing record with numerous credits in prestigious journals. Winning a major literary award is an added bonus.

The harsh reality is that the number of manuscripts accepted is a small fraction of all the submissions received.

Vermeersch revealed that Wolsak and Wynn may receive 300 to 400 submissions a year. “I can only accept a few.” He usually selects 8 books (2 poetry manuscripts and 2 fiction manuscripts per season) for his imprint and another 8 to 10 books are selected by the main press for an annual total of approximately 18 books.

Wolsak and Wynn July 28, 2017

At one time Wolsak and Wynn Publishers Ltd. was based in Don Mills, Ontario. Today its website states “they are a quirky literary press based in the heart of Hamilton, Ontario”.

Dunn has been the publisher of Palimpstet Press for only three years. Each year, the press has worked hard to increase the number of works published. In 2017, they will publish 7 books and in 2018, 8 books have been scheduled for release.

“If your manuscript is rejected,” said Vermeersch, “put it in a drawer and start something else or send the work elsewhere.”

Successful writers keep moving one step at a time.

BE AWARE OF SCAMS AND VANITY PRESSES

Some authors are impatient and opt to self-publish or work with a vanity press. Caution is advised.

“Many vanity presses charge for printing and marketing,” said Vermeersch. “Traditional publishers don’t…..why pay for someone to publish your manuscript when a traditional publisher will actually pay you an advance with the possibility of additional royalties?”

Dunn said there is one small exception. “The only time a traditional publisher asks for money is when the author wants to buy extra books to sell.”

THE WAIT FOR A TRADITIONAL PUBLISHER IS WORTH IT

Many authors aren’t aware of the benefits of working with a traditional publisher.

Wells explained that “our investment in a book is $20,000 to $30,000 per title.”

“If you want an advance and a professional experience (for free),” said Vermeersch, “then the traditional publisher is the way to go.”

The cons of self-publishing are numerous.

According to Dunn, unless you pay for it, you won’t have a collective who can market and put the book into international, national and big-chain bookstores and libraries. Also, self-published books cannot qualify for awards, the author cannot apply for writing, travel and reading grants, and in many cases it becomes difficult to obtain professional status as a writer.

Moderator Richardson added that “literary festivals won’t allow self-published authors to read because the quality of self-published books is inconsistent and there are already enough traditionally published authors who are willing to share their work.”

READ AND UNDERSTAND THE CONTRACT

Once your work is finally accepted for publication, “make sure you read the contract,” said Vermeersch. “There should be no surprises….Working with a press is both a business and a creative relationship.”

Understand what an advance is. These payments are given to an author in anticipation of projected sales. The author gets to keep the payments but won’t receive any more royalties until he/she works through his/her advance. According to Vermeersch, poets will usually receive a $500 advance while a novelist will receive about $2,000. This can vary with the number of copies printed or the reputation of the author.

Dunn said “the normal print run for a literary trade publication is 500 copies.”

Biblioasis Books July 28, 2017

Biblioasis publishes “short fiction, novels, poetry, literary criticism, memoir, belle lettres, local and regional history, and general non-fiction.”

Wells added that Biblioasis “contracts are pretty fair or more fair than the Writers’ Union of Canada…Everything can be negotiated.” For those who want help, he suggests contacting the Writers’ Union.  As for agents, he said “in the 14 years that we’ve published books, we’ve only published one book with an agent…I wouldn’t worry about an agent in Canada.”

BE PREPARED FOR MORE WORK & ADDITIONAL PERIODS OF WAITING

It usually takes approximately two years from the time the contract is signed to the time the book is released.

“It’s at least a two-year process,” said Dunn. “The (release) deadline is often tentative and sometimes an author can get bumped.”

According to Vermeersch, the author is usually given one year to fix general edits, then another six months to work on more specific line edits. The last six months focuses on copy editing, design, and marketing.

“While the editor is working,” said Dunn, “the publisher is working on marketing. Lots of authors don’t realize that when your book is released, the publisher is already working on books that will be launched two years down the road.”

Wells explained it takes nine months to promote a book properly in other countries like the United States. It’s important to get advance copies and the word out early, long before the book is released. “In Canada, the buzz in conversation needs to happen at least six months before the book is launched.” Once released, the shelf life of a new book is also about six months. After that, the next season of books will be released. Therefore, those first few months of sales are important.

A FEW COMMENTS ON DIVERSITY

More Canadian publishers are seeking ways to diversify their title offerings. All three publishers stressed their need for more submissions.

“My male slush pile is high,” said Vermeersch. “We all want to tell all kinds of stories but we don’t always get the diverse submissions.”

“We get lots of female and white submissions,” said Dunn. “So we have to ask for more diversity. Geographically, we are good.”

ONE FINAL NOTE ABOUT MARKETING

“If you are not a salesperson,” said Dunn, “then you need to learn to take chances.”

As Vermeersch stated earlier, “Working with a press is both a business and a creative relationship”.

Publishers and writers must help each other. Gone are the days when publishers handle all the promotion on their own.

Paul Vermeersch books July 28, 2017

Paul Vermeersch is multi-talented. In addition to his editing work at Wolsak and Wynn, he is an established poet with work published by McLelland & Stewart.

“The Getting Published In Canada” event in Windsor was presented by the Ontario Book Publishers Organization and the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD). It was generously sponsored by the Ontario Media Development Corporation.

A similar event was held in Sudbury in June with Heather Campbell of Sudbury publisher Latitude 46; Christie Harkin of Clockwise Press; and Jennifer Knoch of ECW Press.

The next panel discussion will be held on Thursday, August 24, 2017 with publishers Renee K. Abram of Kegedonce Press; Naseem Hrab of Kids Can Press; and Hazel Millar of BookThug at the Six Nations Public Library, 1679 Chiefswood Road, Ohsweken, Ontario. Admission is free. Refreshments provided.

A partial listing of future Ontario literary events appears here.

Follow this blog for future posts about literary happenings and author profiles. Coming soon, a Q & A with Sarnia musician/songwriter Gregger Botting and his debut CD release as well as a look at a new collection of short stories by Sarnia writer Diana Koch.