Sketch by Pedro Montoya
I have the wonderful opportunity this year of doing some fiction teaching at Dalhousie University. It’s lovely to be back in my home town, at the university where I first worked as a dishwasher and where I developed my ongoing passion for literature. People who were my professors are now my senior colleagues. It’s been exciting, sometimes overwhelming, always thrilling, and deeply rewarding. I do get down to the ocean sometimes. And between the wild rush of email and PowerPoint and Brightspace I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on how great it is to just walk around thinking seriously about my students’ fiction. What a privilege to dream their characters and settings, their rinks and spacecraft and bumblebees and disco balls, over lunch, in the shower, sliding into sleep.
The above sketch, by my student Pedro Montoya, glows my heart. It grew out of an in-class riff on how to depict hockey culture (the type of riff we might apply to how to make any culture richer). We were debating whether a student had used too many names and I was saying I loved the names, that hockey culture (which I’m also interested in my own writing) loves to pile the names on. Then Bonesy and Jimso were born. I think they could make a great web comic. Thanks Pedro.
In other news, I’ve got a couple of new stories out, both from new book projects in the works. “Chemical Valley,” is from a new story collection I’m working on about Ontario oil culture. Crazily, it got published in the Fiddlehead’s summer fiction issue alongside writers like Eden Robinson and Steven Heighton. I’m really thrilled to be in such company, and I’ve got to thank Fiddlehead fiction editor (and dazzling writer) Mark Anthony Jarman for it.
My other new story, “Underfolk,” has been published in Rising Tides: Reflections for Climate Changing Times, edited by the super-talented Catriona Sandilands and part of her larger Storying Climate Change project. This important volume also includes a whole roster of mega-talented authors, from Betsy Warland to Laurie D. Graham. I’m very thankful for Catriona for letting me be a part of it. The spirit of the book (as I understand it) is to situate and foreground varied human stories–real everyday stories–within, alongside, and against the focus on sensational and apocalyptic imagery in the climate change discourse that affects us all. The world is ending–or at least changing drastically for the worst–but we feel it in little ways every day, and screaming from megaphones can only go so far.
“Underfolk,” is also part of a YA book called Sick Harbour I’ve been working on with dynamo kidlit writer Sarah Sawler. Another great thing about being back in Halifax is that Sarah get to write the thing in person (you can find us at Local Jo’s). Sarah and I are currently plugging away on edits as we work towards a draft of the novel. Collaborating with Sarah has been a lovely thrilling experience. She makes the usually lonely task of writing feel eerily fun and easy. It doesn’t hurt that Sarah has received a bunch of recognition and been nominated for major awards for her previous work, including Be Prepared: The Frankie MacDonald Guide to Life, The Weather, and Everything.
Stay tuned for more updates on the knuckly icetastic rampages of Bonesy and Jimso.