The Sun – Literary Magazine

“Personal. Political. Provocative. Ad-free.”

This ad-free literary magazine was founded in 1974 by Sy Safransky and focuses on essays, interviews, fiction, and poetry as well as intriguing photos. The Sun produces twelve issues per year and offers yearly subscriptions ($36 in U.S. or $51 in Canada) or readers can find individual issues in the literary section of their favorite magazine haunt.

You can get a taste of their magazine from complete excerpts of current issues found on their official website. Read an essay, a few poems, or see the list of contributors which range from renowned to unknown writers.

One of the things I like about The Sun is the nostalgic feel I instantly get from picking it up; brought on, in part, by the black and white photograph on the cover depicting real people in their daily lives. Viewers can expect anything from the sun worn face of the working man to the blonde curls of a playing toddler.

The range is wide and so is its appeal. Otherwise it wouldn’t have lasted over a quarter of a century. While I mentioned that there is a nostalgic feel to the magazine the content is contemporary and relates to our current trials and tribulations.

Their website allows readers, new and old, to connect with other readers with similar interests by providing like minded links. There is an online method to subscribe to their magazine or email newsletter. And it is ad-free like their magazine; making it easy to surf and find material of interest. The Sun is currently offering a free trial issue with no obligation to subscribe. I highly recommend surfing through the archives to get a feel for their content and writers then giving them a try.

Visit The Sun Magazine

This piece originally appeared on 3/17/2009 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.

Random House, Inc.

“Bringing you the best in fiction, non-fiction and children’s books.”

To say that Random House is one of the largest trade book publishers is really an understatement. This publishing giant has an international presence because of their reputation, past acquisitions and mergers with a number of large publishing groups and imprints making their offerings unimaginable to the average book reader. Some popular names include Bantam, Dell, Doubleday and Knopf; all of which have their own imprints under them. So just because it doesn’t have the Random House stamp on the cover doesn’t mean it’s not a Random House offering.

The Random House website is a treasure trove for readers offering access to new and classic book information in fiction and nonfiction in sixty-four subject categories such as art, audio, biography, classics, cooking, crafts, election, games, health, history, gardening, law, medical, mystery, parenting, music, pets, philosophy, science, romance, self help, sports, travel, true crime and more.

They have also designed their site so readers can get to know the writers of the books they read making it easier to find other novels by the same writer as well as looking for tour info. If you are a fan of a particular author you can sign up to receive email alerts about upcoming books or news about them. Other features include blogs, podcasts, reading group guides and book excerpts.

Currently, Random House’s top five authors are: Christopher Paolini (Eragon), Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code), John Twelve Hawks (The Traveler), Jean M. Auel (The Clan of the Cave Bear), and Linda Howard (Drop Dead Gorgeous). A few current bestsellers include:

  • The Road (Cormac McCarthy)
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Mark Haddon)
  • Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (Lisa See)
  • Atonement (Ian McEwan)
  • Love in the Time of Cholera (Gabriel Garcia Marquez).

If you live in the United States you can easily order books from the Random House website in traditional paper, audio or ebook formats; although I have found the prices can be more expensive than purchasing from other online shops like Amazon.

Orange Prize for Fiction

The Orange Prize for Fiction celebrates the literary talent of women authors who produce the best full-length novels in English that are published for the first time in the United Kingdom. This prize is also one of the few prizes to be judged exclusively by women.

This literary award is fairly young having only been formed in 1996. Winners are announced annually in June with a prize award of 30,000 pounds (equivalent to $60,345 US) and a bronze figurine affectionately called “Bessie”. This is one of my favorite awards because it’s for and by women. And even though it is a UK award, the winners are global. Long and short list nominees have come from America, Britain, Australia, and Tahiti; just to give you an idea of the diversity involved.

Choosing the best writer for the award is a three step process. First in March a long list is created and released to the public with approximately twenty potential winners, then in April a short list with six potential winners and in June the final winner is announced at an awards ceremony in the United Kingdom. In 2005 a new award was added, the Orange Award for New Writers, in honor of the Orange Prize’s 10th anniversary. This new award also has its short list announced in April and final winner in June.

Notable previous winners include Andrea Levy (Small Island), Valerie Martin (Property), Ann Patchett (Bel Canto), Carol Shields (Larry’s Party) and Zadie Smith (On Beauty). A complete winners list can be found in the Orange Prize Reading List in the related links below.

Update 2014: Orange is no longer a sponsor of this fiction prize. The new sponsor is Bailey’s. Learn more about the Bailey’s Prize from the official website.

What If Magazine

What If? is a Creative Magazine for Canadian teens ages twelve and up. It was founded in 2003 and is published out of Guelph, Ontario. While it is produced by adults the content is almost completely created by teens under the age of nineteen. The magazine includes an assortment of fiction, poetry, editorials, book reviews, interviews, art and photography. One of the adult written columns includes the Editor’s tip recommendations to help young writers improve their skills. A few word games and contests help lighten the load.

The magazine’s goal is to provide a venue for young writers and artists to experience the world of publishing first hand. Their secondary goal is to provide a platform for educators to encourage the same young people to read and create alongside their peers.

The magazine is published four times a year and is available through some classrooms, libraries, newsstands (Indigo/Chapters) and a reasonably priced yearly subscription of $24.99 (CAN). One of the good things about this magazine is that it promises not to be chalked full of advertising and “fashion or dating tips”.

The website has a number of different content areas available. Readers can get a taste for current and previous issues as well as look at some of the overflow that never made it into the magazine because of space constraints. The “Educators” area has writing related tutorials, tips, and lessons plans in .pdf format. The lesson plans include writing starters, character sketch template, hero’s journey template, poetry, projects, dialog and writing as therapy. Most are about one page in length and are easy to read and understand. Another section called Write Angles has a series of articles for the young aspiring writer who has been published in the magazine. As well as hints and tips on writing and getting published. These are .pdf format as well. Other articles include prompts, inspiration, writing groups and writer’s block. Out of all of the articles available only four or five were missing so there is a good selection worth searching through for basic information.

If you have some teens between 12 and 19 years of age encourage them to submit some of their work for consideration. In depth submission guidelines are on their website. They are always looking for fresh content from writers, illustrators and photographers.

Visit What If Magazine for Teenage Literary Fiction.

This piece was first posted on 1/11/2008 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.

Written Voices Podcasts

Imagine being able to hear your favorite authors talk about their life and books in the privacy and comfort of your own home. Thanks to the modern age of technology and the Internet you can. Some of you may be familiar with audio broadcasts over the Internet and some of you may not. These Internet audio broadcasts are termed podcasts for short. And with the accessibility of equipment like iPods they are becoming all the rage.

Written Voices Podcast is an online marketing campaign helping authors promote their books on the Internet by offering access to interested readers to book excerpts and podcast interviews. You can subscribe to the podcasts for automatic downloading whenever there is an updated podcast if you download their specialized podcast software or you can browse and listen selectively with your computer’s media player.

The selection isn’t huge fiction wise, but it’s enough to keep you interested and busy for a while. I recommend clicking on the “interviews and books” at the top to browse by category as it is the easiest. Their book offerings are divided into 24 categories like: biography, career, fiction, chicklit, mystery, fitness, history, memoir, science and more. It is also important to note that not every listing has a podcast but you will find a book excerpt, mini author bio and author links at the very least.

The podcasts are hosted by Alan Hunkin, a self improvement expert and podcast consultant. His voice is calm, friendly and encouraging to listen to. I listened to a 34 minute interview on my computer’s media player (I don’t have an Mp3 player) with actor and now author Alan Alda. It started with an intro by Hunkin about Alda’s career and family life. It was interesting and clear.

Other features the site offers include a raffle for free books. I was disappointed though; I entered my name for a particular book listed and when I received my confirmation I was told my name was entered for another book I wasn’t interested in. There is a mailing list to get updates via email and they ensure via their privacy policy that they will not sell or share info to anyone. Other links include their most popular, recently added and classics, which show the latest three entries if you hover your mouse arrow over them. If you’re a regular visitor you can refer to these and the latest interviews listed by book title, again only three, but I would go the category way I mentioned earlier to start.

Visit Written Voices Podcasts.

Originally published on 3/11/2007 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.

Sally Cooper – Author Interview

Imagine living communally on a farm with other artists. Sally doesn’t have to imagine, she’s done it. Now she’s living in Hamilton, Ontario with her boyfriend, Newfoundland dog and a cat. Two days a week she’s a professor at Humber College and the rest of her time is devoted to writing. This “intuitive writer” first book Love Object was published in 2002 and ventures into the lives of one family and the affects of mental illness. I hope you’ll enjoy Sally Cooper’s perspective on the writing life as much as I did.

Moe: Looking back was there something in particular that helped you to decide to become a writer?

Sally-Cooper-AuthorSally Cooper: As a child I had intense experiences – outer body, waking dreams – and more notably, I craved intense experiences. My grandparents had great gardens where I would read Alice in Wonderland then close my eyes and try to will myself unconscious. At dawn, I’d search around the stone bench under our pear tree for fairy rings. Writing made sense – if I couldn’t will those experiences, I could tell them. So I wrote. And I drew. But I was better at writing, and with writing, I could direct the dream. As a teen I wanted to be a poet-waitress or a librarian. My poems veered from angst to unicorns. I won contests! After university I lived communally on a farm with musicians who jammed in the barn. My voice was off-key and I was shy. My first story came soon after. I can’t say how I knew I was a writer. Like love, I just knew.

Moe: What inspires you?

Sally Cooper: Other writers inspire me, other artists, my friends. Art inspires me, too – paintings, sculptures, photographs, films, songs, stories. And life. Love Objectcame out of feelings I had for the town I grew up in and the people I knew there. Other times an image nudges me or I hear a character.

Moe: Every writer has a method that works for them. Most of them vary like the wind while some seem to follow a pattern similar to other writers. On a typical writing day, how would you spend your time?

Sally Cooper: My writing day varies depending on what I’m doing in the rest of my life. When I worked full-time, nine-to-five, I wrote before work and on weekend mornings. When I’m not working I get up, putter for a couple of hours with my dog, my journal, breakfast, a shower, then write for three to four hours. Sometimes I spend more time but I often pay for it the next day. There is much brooding, some reading and frequent snacking. The time of day changes. Right now I start mid-morning. What’s key for me is establishing a daily rhythm, same time, same place, day after day without interruption to the schedule.

Moe: How long does it take for you to complete a book you would allow someone to read? Do you write right through or do you revise as you go along?

Sally Cooper: I like to write my first drafts in a burst. I wrote the first drafts of both novels in a couple of months then spent years revising them. I used to show my first drafts to trusted readers. Now I wait longer. It took me a few years before I showed a draft of my second novel but the feedback I get is invaluable.

Lately I’m writing more slowly. I’m technically stronger so I build a story’s spine sentence by sentence, trying to see my way clearly through a story rather than writing in a blur. I end up with a stronger, more careful draft. At least I hope I do.

Moe: When you have your idea and sit down to write is any thought given to the genre and type of readers you’ll have?

Sally Cooper: With Love Object I gave little thought to anything beyond the characters and their stories and how to get them down. I opened myself up to the story first. Then, I concerned myself with how to shape it, learning as I went. With the new novel, I’ve made more decisions earlier in the game, decisions about who’s telling the story, where to start, that kind of thing. That said, I am at heart an intuitive writer and with each revision, I question those decisions and often make great changes.

Moe: When it comes to plotting, do you write freely or plan everything in advance?

Sally Cooper: I like to let an idea grow inside me for awhile before I write so I can get a sense of its mystery, the kinds of answers I’m chasing. I do little planning, though. There is a mystery about a story and where it’s going. Each choice one makes, as in life, opens up possibilities. Deciding where a story is going in advance, as in life, invites chaos. I like to let the story reveal itself to me, to follow it down. This method makes for much revising. My new novel, for instance: I started out with 500 pages and pared them down to fifty. Then I wrote hundreds more and cut back again. But I’m an “experiential learner.” I learn by doing and for me, the biggest energy is in writing.

Moe: What kind of research do you do before and during a new book? Do you visit the places you write about?

Sally Cooper: I’ve visited every place I’ve written about, which is easy enough, since my work tends to be set in Ontario where I live, though some places I’ve traveled have made such an impact I’ve had to write about them. A backpacking trip to Europe, for instance, has come up a few times. And New Mexico: I spent a couple of summers in Taos and the desert is finding its way into my stories.

Most of my research, I’ve done as I write, often after the fact. I should change this method. With my new novel, I didn’t do any research until well into the second draft. Since this novel involves a murder trial, I went to court, visited a jail, consulted a Crown Attorney only to find out I’d gotten some key procedures wrong and had to redraft. I didn’t mind. The detours got me closer to the characters. Next time I will start earlier, though not too early. I like to see where the story wants to take me.

Moe: How much of yourself and the people you know manifest into your characters? Where do your characters come from? Where do you draw the line?

Sally Cooper: I never think about how much of myself is in my characters anymore. I used to, though, and I suspect it took me so long to publish because I worried about what people would think of me. I like to believe I’m transparent but writing is trickery, after all. Certainly my fiction hits on my concerns, my deepest thoughts and feelings, everything I know, really, is in my books. As for the people in my life: ask my mother! The core of a character might come from someone I know (or think I know) but once I’m writing, the character becomes a made thing, not real, except in my mind, and yours as you read it. I don’t draw any line, but people keep telling me things, so what I’m doing must be okay.

Moe: Writers often go on about writer’s block. Do you ever suffer from it and what measures do you take to get past it?

Sally Cooper: I’ve suffered from writer’s block. I had one, famously, for three years after I wrote Love Object. I surrendered to it, moved from Toronto to a log cabin in the Mono Hills and found ways to make life fun again. Was I blocked, or did I just not want to write? Is there a difference? I’m not sure. Perspective is key, taking art lightly, playing on the page and accepting that droughts do happen. There are reasons behind our refusals to write. Sometimes it’s best to lay the pen down and explore them.

Moe: When someone reads one of your books for the first time, what do you hope they gain, feel or experience?

Sally Cooper: I want readers to get a hit from the story, a sense of recognition. Some of the best responses to Love Object came from readers who connected to what Mercy goes through when the girls pick on her at camp or to Nicky when he tries on his missing mother’s clothes. I want someone to feel the dream as intensely as I do.

Moe: Can you share three things you’ve learned about the business of writing since your first publication?

Sally Cooper: I learned the world of publishing and book-selling is full of good people who love books. Publishing is a business like any other and it’s smart for writers to be savvy about the process of selling. Oh, and book launches rock.

Moe: How do you handle fan mail? What kinds of things do fans write to you about?

Sally Cooper: I handle fan mail with glee. I’d love to get more. People write to tell me how they’ve interpreted Love Object’s central mystery. Or to ask me what I think happened after the end of the story. As if I know!

Moe: What’s your latest book about? Where did you get the idea and how did you let the idea evolve?

Sally Cooper: Love Object is about Mercy Brewer who witnesses her mother’s nervous breakdown. Her raucous grandmother comes to live with her and the novel explores her coming-of-age as she tries to get to the heart of her mother’s disappearance. It’s set in a fictional town, Apple Ford, in Southern Ontario, in the seventies. I’d started writing a story about a friend of mine who’d committed suicide at nineteen. Mercy was a side character. By the second draft, she’d taken over and he’d changed into her best friend Duncan who, while mildly tormented, is not suicidal.

Moe: What kind of books do you like to read?

Sally Cooper: I like good fiction, short stories and novels, some poetry, artist biographies, true crime, interviews, essays.

Moe: When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?

Sally Cooper: Anything I can get away with. Actually, I’m rather boring. I go to movies, play guitar, practice yoga, renovate my house, travel, hang out with my boyfriend, see friends, bathe the dog, surf the Web.

Moe: New writers are always trying to glean advice from those with more experience. What suggestions do you have for new writers?

Sally Cooper: I’m not the first to say this, but my strongest advice is to read everything, not just what you like and not just what’s easy, from all eras. Write as much as you can. Try new things, in life and in writing. Pay attention. Believe in it and be greedy for words. Travel. Listen.

Moe: If you weren’t a writer what would you be?

Sally Cooper: Probably a small-town librarian with a drinking problem. Or a poet-waitress.

Moe: What is your favourite word?

Sally Cooper: I love them all equally.

Originally published 2/20/2006 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.

Moe’s Picks for 2005

Here are some of my picks for 2005. I tried to limit myself to ten but ended up with fifteen. Happy Reading!
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An Inconvenient Wife by Megan Chance

A story about a woman living in the age of the perfect wife is expected except she isn’t so perfect with her fits and addictions. Her husband takes her to a doctor to aid her woes but he has his own agenda.

Purchase from An Inconvenient Wife Amazon.com.
Purchase from An Inconvenient Wife Amazon.ca.

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A Girl like Che Guevara by Teresa de la Caridad Doval

In Havana, Cuba during 1982 high school students were required to put in time in the Tobacco fields as part of their learning and as service to the communist regime. This is the summer for sixteen year old Lourdes Torres to experience Pinar del Rio camp. She learns her dreams of being part of the young Communist League and trying to be like her hero Che Guevara, a Marxist revolutionary and Cuban guerrilla leader, are not as easy as she thought they would be. Author Q & A with Teresa Doval.

Purchase from A Girl like Che Guevara Amazon.com.
Purchase from A Girl like Che Guevara Amazon.ca.

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The Icarus Girl: A Novel by Helen Oyeyemi

The story of an eight-year-old caught between two worlds of her mixed family. When she acts up her parents send her Nigeria for a change of pace. During her time there she develops an invisible friend named Tilly who is a comfort at first but soon develops quirks which disturb everyone.

Purchase from The Icarus Girl Amazon.com.
Purchase from The Icarus Girl Amazon.ca.

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The Ice Queen: a Novel by Alice Hoffman

The story of a small-town librarian who gets struck by lightning and lives to tell about it. With her new lease on life she begins to notice things aren’t like they use to be. If she didn’t fit in before she really doesn’t now. She begins looking for other lightening survivors for companionship and perhaps knowledge and acceptance. Thought provoking novel with a different kind of magic.

Purchase from The Ice Queen Amazon.com.
Purchase from The Ice Queen Amazon.ca.

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Matches: A Novel by Alan Kaufman

The story about the emotional toll of contemporary warfare as seen through the eyes of Nathan Falk a young American member of the Israeli Defense Force. Nathan enjoys the game of roulette that is his life: Gaza at night, cheating fellow soldiers, seducing his best friend’s wife. All have consequences. This is an intimate look at betrayal, guilt, love and survival on the battlefield.

Purchase from Matches Amazon.com.
Purchase from Matches Amazon.ca.

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Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

This is the 1982 Nobel Prize winner, Columbian author’s first work of fiction in ten years. It is the story of an aged journalist who commissions a virgin prostitute for a night but finds himself in a year-long obsession that brings forth a lifetime of memories of paid loveless sex. What remains to be seen is what he is going to do with this revelation.

Purchase from Memories of My Melancholy Whores Amazon.com.
Purchase from Memories of My Melancholy Whores Amazon.ca.

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Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

Re-released in time for the release of the movie. It is an epic tale following the life of Sayuri, a Japanese Geisha, from childhood when she is first purchased to her unprecedented success. A unique look into 1930s Japan when slavery was an art and one blue-eyed woman’s rise to the status of goddess.

Purchase from Memoirs of a Geisha Amazon.com.
Purchase from Memoirs of a Geisha Amazon.ca.

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Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

From the author of The Remains of the Day comes the story of a secluded English boarding school. The well-schooled students are taught from an exemplary curriculum except it includes nothing about the world off campus. Kathy has spent her life growing up here but it’s only when she and her friends leave the safe grounds they realize the full truth of what Hailsham is.

Purchase from Never Let Me Go Amazon.com.
Purchase from Never Let Me Go Amazon.ca.

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On Beauty by Zadie Smith

An English scholar with three children has a midlife crisis about the time one of his son’s finds love on the other side of the globe. A book that asks a lot of questions and then forces the characters to look for the answers but it won’t drive you to tears.

Purchase from On Beauty Amazon.com.
Purchase from On Beauty Amazon.ca.

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Runaway by Alice Munro

A collection of stories about women from all walks of life and the people they love. Like the titled story about a wife who doesn’t think she has the strength and will to leave her husband or the story of Juliet and her tarnished relationships.

Purchase from Runaway Amazon.com.
Purchase from Runaway Amazon.ca.

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Saving Fish from Drowning by Amy Tan

From the best-selling author of The Joy Luck Club and The Bonesetter’s Daughter. Eleven Americans on a voyage to Burma become separated from their designated Island Resort and end up in a jungle, lost and without their original guide. At least she isn’t with them in body. Misfortune after misfortune begets these travellers including running into a primitive tribe that has its own problems with the military.

Purchase from Saving Fish from Drowning Amazon.com.
Purchase from Saving Fish from Drowning Amazon.ca.

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Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb

Recently short listed for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. Drawing from her own experiences from her fieldwork in Ethiopia for her Ph.D. in social anthropology Gibb has detailed a story about a young, white, Muslim woman named Lilly who falls in love with a man she works with. When their relationship is torn apart by the surrounding political and religious upheaval she searches for both understanding in the world and in herself.

Purchase from Sweetness in the Belly Amazon.com.
Purchase from Sweetness in the Belly Amazon.ca.

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The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Amir comes from a wealthy family in Kabul. As a child he spent most of his time with a servant’s son Hassan. Many days were spent telling tales and running kites. Events occur that effect the nature of the boy’s friendship from the time they meet until the country is taken over by the Taliban.

Purchase from The Kite Runner Amazon.com.
Purchase from The Kite Runner Amazon.ca.

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The Sweet Edge by Alison Pick

It’s summer. Ellen is working in an art gallery. Her boyfriend Adam is going on a canoe trip in the Arctic. Told from both of their point-of-views. Alison takes the reader through both of their perspectives on their relationship with one another and the world around them.

Purchase from The Sweet Edge Amazon.com.
Purchase from The Sweet Edge Amazon.ca.

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Veronica: A Novel by Mary Gaitskill

2005 National Book Award finalist. Alison, devastated by the life of fashion-modeling moves from Paris to New York City where she befriends Veronica an eccentric proof-reader with AIDS. The unlikely duo suffer through the hardships of illness, loss and all the other emotions attached to the people we love.

Purchase from Veronica Amazon.com.
Purchase from Veronica Amazon.ca.

This piece was originally published 12/22/2005 at BellaOnline.

Laura Elise Taylor – Author Interview

Creative talent usually comes with more than one outlet. In the case of Laura Elise Taylor, she divides her time between writing in the winter and photography during the “wedding season”. This Canadian author slash photographer was born in Port Credit, Ontario: Mississauga’s Village on the Lake. Being twenty minutes West of Toronto, a well known creative hub for Canadians, it’s no wonder she hasn’t settled on just one outlet. Laura earned a M.A. from the University of Alberta and currently lives in Guelph, Ontario. Although she has had a number of photo shows, A Taste for Paprika is her first published book. I hope you enjoy getting to know this creative adventure seeker.

Moe: Looking back was there something in particular that helped you to decide to become a writer? Did you choose it or did the profession choose you?

Laura-TaylorLaura Elise Taylor: After my master’s degree (in English Lit and Creative Writing), I went off and became a photographer. I made a conscious decision to not write for a living; I was afraid that the addition of the money element would ruin my most precious creative outlet. I quickly discovered that when writing is not a part of my work life, I don’t do it very much…so here I am, a writer after all.

Moe: When did you ‘know’ you were a writer?

Laura Elise Taylor: When someone paid me for something I’d written. I call myself a writer simply because I make half of my living by stringing words together; writing is something I do, rather than something I am. I shy away from the more mystical, glamorous interpretations of the designation. Maybe some day I’ll believe that they apply to me.

Moe: Were you a good writer as a child? Teenager? Etc.

Laura Elise Taylor: As are most children, I was completely unselfconscious in my writing. Even though a lot of it is endearingly silly and decidedly precocious, it’s inspiring to re-read my very old journals and see how free I was with ideas and words.

Moe: What inspires you?

Laura Elise Taylor: Stories. The complexity and quirkiness of human beings. People who have the guts and confidence to know their dreams and follow them.

Moe: Every writer has a method that works for them. Most of them vary like the wind while some seem to follow a pattern similar to other writers. On a typical writing day, how would you spend your time?

Laura Elise Taylor: My ideal writing day begins with a half-hour meditation followed by a bit of journaling. This automatic writing warms me up and lets me clear my brain of busy-life clutter. I write until lunch time, after which my brain turns to mush, so I run errands, do correspondence, etc. for the afternoon. Amazing how the ideas develop during the non-writing hours, especially during exercise or house cleaning. My favourite writing hours are from 9pm to midnight. The still, dark, undisturbed night opens my concentration and imagination.

Moe: How long does it take for you to complete a book you would allow someone to read? Do you write right through or do you revise as you go along?

Laura Elise Taylor: It depends on the project. The seeds for my first book were planted in a creative writing class in high school. I completed the book during my master’s year, six years later. However, the text as it now stands was completed in a calendar year, and the chapters were work-shopped as I wrote them. I’ve just started working on a novel, the idea of which again has come from life. At the rate I’m going, it should be done in six months.

Moe: When you have your idea and sit down to write is any thought given to the genre and type of readers you’ll have?

Laura Elise Taylor: Absolutely. All art is all about communication. If I didn’t consider the readers, I would be writing into a void. As much as I need to write for personal processing, what I write for publication I write to the readers in the hope that through the stories we connect.

Moe: When it comes to plotting, do you write freely or plan everything in advance?

Laura Elise Taylor: I’m a structure kind of gal. Once I have the story (and that’s the most difficult, most excruciating phase, hands down), I plan how that story will unfold. No details, just general sections. In the writing of those scenes or sections, the overall structure often changes, and that’s exciting. But to jump in without a plan? Couldn’t do it.

Moe: What kind of research do you do before and during a new book? Do you visit the places you write about?

Laura Elise Taylor: Much of my writing comes from personal experience. When I need to research something, I have to set up boundaries, because I often get sucked in by the unexpected things I am learning and look up from the computer six hours later completely disoriented and unsure of what I originally needed. I wouldn’t want to write about a place I hadn’t been to. Besides, choosing a far off place is a great excuse to travel.

Moe: How much of yourself and the people you know manifest into your characters? Where do your characters come from? Where do you draw the line?

Laura Elise Taylor: My first book was creative non-fiction, a family memoir that reads like a novel. What can I say? The people around me are wonderful characters, more complex and fascinating than any I could conjure up. That being said, my family would kill me if I wrote about them directly again. Fictionalizing the people and events of my life does allow for the themes to broaden, and to become relevant to more of our lives (that’s the plan, anyway).

Moe: Writers often go on about writer’s block. Do you ever suffer from it and what measures do you take to get past it?

Laura Elise Taylor: I’m starting to recognize the difference between writer’s block, procrastination, and the natural period of distillation before the writing can begin. For me, writer’s block is just another word for insecurity. Once I have faith in my story, any lulls in the process are either procrastination or a necessary pause.

Moe: When someone reads one of your books for the first time, what do you hope they gain, feel or experience?

Laura Elise Taylor: I hope they find themselves nodding in recognition. I hope they connect with the characters and their experiences in the world. It would be nice if something in the book were useful in casting new light on something in their lives.

Moe: Can you share three things you’ve learned about the business of writing since your first publication?

Laura Elise Taylor: Never, ever sign a contract without legal advice. Don’t send your manuscript to the smallest press first, send it to the biggest; you never know what might happen. Talk to as many writers as you can to find out how they are making the business of writing work; have no illusions of wealth-by-the-pen.

Moe: How do you handle fan mail? What kinds of things do fans write to you about?

Laura Elise Taylor: I’m thrilled by each and every email, and respond to them all. Most readers share personal stories about their own grandmothers, their own family history, and thank me for telling a story that needed to be told.

Moe: What’s your latest book about? Where did you get the idea and how did you let the idea evolve?

Laura Elise Taylor: A Taste for Paprika is the story of my Austrian-Hungarian Oma and her experiences before and during the Second World War. She tells those stories—sometimes funny, sometimes sad, often terrifying–to me as we cook and bake the foods of her homeland. The book is also the story of my struggle to connect with my mother, who never speaks of her experiences of immigration to Canada as a teenager and the tragedies that followed, tragedies that shaped all of our lives.

The book I am currently working on chronicles the funny and not-so-funny experiences of a “third wheel,” a woman whose partner is going through a long, drawn-out divorce.

Moe: What kind of books do you like to read?

Laura Elise Taylor: My shelves appear to be full of fairly recent Canadian fiction, books by South Asian writers like Gita Mehta, a whole range of stuff. I’m currently laughing and crying my way through Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris.

Moe: When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?

Laura Elise Taylor: Read, go salsa dancing, get away on canoe and kayak trips into our gorgeous, renewing wilderness, ride my horse, travel whenever I can…

Moe: New writers are always trying to glean advice from those with more experience. What suggestions do you have for new writers?

Laura Elise Taylor: Join a supportive writer’s group or workshop. Be kind to yourself. Try to let go of the need to write something amazing and profound; whatever you need to write is what you should focus on, not what you think you should write. Write something every day.

Moe: If you weren’t a writer what would you be?

Laura Elise Taylor: A biologist, an Outward Bound leader, a musician, a therapist, rich.

Moe: What is your favourite word?

Laura Elise Taylor: Rambunctious. My partner just taught the word to his two-year-old nephew who ran around the house yelling it for the rest of the day.

Originally published 9/15/2005 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.

Visit Laura Elise Taylor’s official website.

The Sea Wins the Man Booker Prize

Dublin author John Banville published his first book in 1970. He has 14 other novels published and was previously short listed for the Booker prize in 1989 for The Book of Evidence. Last night at an awards dinner in Guildhall, London Banville was named the winner of the Man Booker Prize for his book The Sea.

The Booker Prize for Fiction has been a prestigious award for writers since 1969. It strives to reward writers and increase public awareness of contemporary fiction. The prize is awarded to the best original novel by a citizen of the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland. The official website has a full history of the prize, winner bios and shortlists.

Banville will receive $50,000. All six short listed authors will receive $2,500 and a specially bound edition of their book. All participants, especially the winner, will experience an increase sales and world wide recognition for their writing. Long and short list authors will also become highly regarded. The-Sea-Book-Cover

The Sea (Picador) – “Led back to Ballyless by a dream, Max Morden is both escaping from a recent loss and confronting a distant trauma in the coastal town where he spent a holiday in his youth. The Grace family appeared that long-ago summer as if from another world. Drawn to the Grace twins, Chloe and Myles, Max soon found himself entangled in their lives which were as seductive as they were unsettling. What ensued haunts him for the rest of his years and shapes everything that is to follow.”

Purchase The Sea from Amazon.com.
Purchase The Sea from Amazon.ca.

This piece was originally published on 10/10/2005 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.

The Chick Lit Controversy – Dorothy Thompson

I talked to three writers about Chick Lit and its role in literature. To each of them I posed five questions.

What does Chick Lit mean to you?

Although I’ve heard various definitions of the word from all kinds of members of the literary sector, to me Chick Lit is like vegetable soup. Throw in some meat (attitude), a few vegetables (sub-characters such as best friends, perhaps a hunk or two), soup broth (the never-ending journey of self-discovery), and herbs (a dash or two of humor and a sprinkling of romance) and what have you got? The perfect mixture for a damn good read.

Why do you like Chick Lit novels?

Chick Lit novels takes you on a fun ride. It’s quirky, full of sass and the perfect anecdote when life takes its tolls.

Is Chick Lit real literature?

Why wouldn’t it be? To me, literature is anything you read. Sure, there are varying forms of literature just as there are various forms of anything. What’s literature to one person may not be to another, but that’s not to say it’s not “worthy.” I don’t care for dark thrillers, but is that to say it’s not worthy? Surely not. Chick Lit is a whole different banana and that’s why some critics have a hard time trying to figure them out. They’ll give a Chick Lit book a bad review, saying it’s not real literature, but what they are really saying is that they haven’t read enough of it to know what’s going on. Sure, there will be bad Chick Lit books just as there will be good ones, but the same goes for any genre.

Does all Chick Lit live by the same format?

Basically, to me, they are all about self-discovery, but they do this in different formats such as hen lit, mystery lit, lad lit, mommy lit, etc., but they all have the basic theme having the main character discover something about herself while doing it in a fun way.

Romancing-the-Soul-Book-CoverIs Chick Lit becoming a loose term to categorize all women’s literature?

I don’t think so. Women’s literature, to me, takes on a different format. I had a book I’d written that I really thought would fit into the hen lit genre, which is a sub-category of chick lit. The main character was sassy, independent, strived to make a name for herself in the world, but I had someone read some of it for me and she classified it as women’s fiction. The reason? Because it focused too much on romance. Go figure. It’s very confusing sometimes.

Read what others have to say about chick lit:

This piece was originally published 9/26/2005 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.