Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Happy Holidays from The Fiddlehead!

Our office is closing today for the holidays. We will be back January 4, 2016 — until then, we wish you a safe and happy holiday season!

Monday, December 21, 2015

An Interview with Wayne Yetman, Contributor to The Fiddlehead Autumn 2015 Issue

Wayne Yetman
Wayne Yetman, whose story "His Brother's Keeper" appears in our current Autumn issue, writes fiction and non-fiction from a base in Toronto. His short stories have previously appeared in The Antigonish Review and The New Quarterly, among others. This interview was conducted by Fiddlehead editorial assistant Ryan Gaio by email in early December 2015.

Ryan Gaio: I'd like to start on a very macro level: I'm always curious to know about other writers' creative processes, and particularly, the genesis of their work. Could you tell us a bit about how "His Brother's Keeper" came about? What triggered the chain of falling dominoes that led to this tale?

Wayne Yetman: I knew a man whose brother was castrated as a cancer treatment. It struck me that this embarrassing topic rarely comes up in fiction and I should do something with it. But when I wrote the first few paragraphs the caregiver emerged as arrogant and condescending. From there, like a dog dashing from tree to tree in the park, I simply followed my nose to wherever it led me. The castration business retreated in importance, becoming just one of several tools accentuating the caregiver's dubious commitment to his cause.

RG: I recently had the pleasure of reading a new submission of yours to The Fiddlehead. I forget the title, but it, too, focused on two brothers, one of which was taking care of the other. I was wondering: is this a recurring trope in your stories? If so, what is it about the bond between siblings — particularly male siblings — that so interests you? Is it an urge rooted in autobiography, or is it just a dynamic you find creatively stimulating?

WY: I have to confess I have no particular interest in siblings, male or female. Yes, several of my recent stories deal with brothers but I am a high production writer and have written many many stories that have nothing to do with brothers. I am not a Man With A Mission or A Message. I just grab hold of a phrase or image I like and build from there.

But you have caught on to something in that most of my stories focus on only two people, usually husband and wife. That reflects my own experience. I was an only child from a working class family, a hard core Introvert, and am married without children. So I don't feel equipped to write about kids or young people. I have very little violence in my stories, no one uses the F-word, and there are no drug dealers, alcoholics, or serial abusers. I seem to write about ostensibly educated and successful adults churning around in the sand box of life. I find that to be great fun.

RG: The story is told by a 3rd-person narrator, yet it is largely filtered through David's perspective. Many of the other characters' thoughts and feelings are distilled to the reader through David's assumptions of those characters' thoughts and feelings — David "could tell" Rupert's mind was fixed on Rosemary; David "could see them struggling to keep from shaking their heads in despair." It's quite possible that these are wrong assumptions on his part, yet they're what the reader is given. So, I'm curious: why did you choose this narrative tactic, and particularly, why did you choose this method rather than have David as a 1st-person narrator?

WY: The tack once I got going was to 'out' David as a not very pleasant person and an unreliable caregiver. But I really got a kick out of his nasty thoughts, reprehensible as they were. It's important to me to play with a story rather than get too solemn. His habit of deluding himself was a major part of that. If I had used his first person voice then the reader would never be quite clear how reliable he really was. The way I did it I could steer things a little more.

Mind you, this is all hindsight. I don't have a plan when I start a story. It tells itself the way it wants to.  

RG: Oftentimes, I found David's judgments about the story's other characters to be overly critical, sometimes condescending. He feels Tony's favorite restaurant is "hardly the place for a celebration"; he rather cruelly looks down upon a colleague who has to plan his own retirement party. What made you choose to instill David with these critical characteristics, and do you feel there is a link between these attitudes and his career in the civil service?

WY: I laboured in the civil service for a while and found it very frustrating. But once I got out on my own I discovered that I was still just as frustrated, just as angry, just as pouty as before. This was a huge lesson in my life. I learned that I was as much a part of the problem as the bureaucracy. So ever since I have tried to be a little less demanding of others and more flexible myself.

Unfortunately, in the heat of writing this story I dropped my guard and let my ugly thoughts of the past take over. But David is so wonderfully petty and seduced me entirely.

RG: One of David's most critical attitudes is displayed towards his ex-sister-in-law's career as a writer — he condescendingly remarks that Rosemary was "no doubt assessing the whole affair for a place in her latest opus," and there is, throughout, a suggestion that Rosemary pilfers or leeches her own life for material. I was curious to know what your intentions were with this characterization? Do you echo David's sentiment that there is something shameful or exploitative in a writer writing about their own life?

WY: I certainly do not see writers as exploitative when they draw on their own lives or what they see around them. I do it all the time. But there are people who would take another view on that issue and David, God bless him, might be one of them. That's fine. He may be right — there must be exploitive writers out there somewhere. But really, to me this is all just part of his sour personality. I don't think he has a hard and fast position on writing or writers. He's out there zooming towards Saturn — he's not grappling with questions that intrigue wordsmiths.

I would hope that readers pay attention to the other characters as much as David. He may be entertaining but I thought the rest of them handled a potentially painful series of events in a pretty positive way. Their maturity further sets off his immaturity in my mind.

RG: I read Rupert's medically-necessary castration as a symbol of demasculinization. Was this symbol intentional? If so, what, do you feel is its significance to this story, particularly when paired with Rosemary's feminine power?

WY: To me, Rupert's medical problems are nothing more than medical problems. I did not envision some sort of demasculation struggle going on between him and his former wife. But if that is what the reader sees then so be it. Maybe I don't recognize my own genius. Maybe David is having the demasculation crisis.

On the other hand, Rosemary and Rupert seem to find common ground in the end. So if there was a demasculation struggle then it seems to have resolved itself fairly positively.

RG: The ending lines, for me, suggest that despite David's best attempts to protect and know his brother, the reader realizes that David really knows little about Rupert, and that Rupert's life is beyond David's control. What is this ending meant to suggest for the two brothers and their relationship? Which brother, exactly, is the keeper of the other? What does this ending suggest about the relationship between siblings, particularly relationships in which power dynamics try to establish one sibling as "protector" of the other?

WY: I would not like to claim any particular wisdom when it comes to sibling relationships. I enjoyed watching David act out his strange illusions with the hint that he might soon be hoisted on his own petard. But to me, there was something far more important going on.

My experience is that unusual tensions can emerge when a family member is very sick or dying. I wouldn't want to be too judgmental about those tensions. Dying is a hard old haul and I'd like to give the literary participants as much leeway as possible. So while David comes out appearing as a bit of a nasty, I hope I didn't turn him into the essence of evil. He's just one of us, struggling on, baggage and all.

RG: Again, to return to the macro: Who are some of the writers you sought for inspiration on a piece like this one? Are those influences different from the writers who typically influence your work?

Issue No. 265 (Autumn 2015)

WY: I didn't particularly seek out anyone for inspiration on this story or any other story. But I regularly re-read Alice Munro's short stories — she is the best and I would like to learn from her success. Years ago I was addicted to Wilderness Tips by Margaret Atwood. Both of those writers seemed to bring a clean yet incisive style to complex interpersonal conflicts.

I have learned the most from simply hammering out story after story over the years. Gradually my writing evolved from amateurish to better. Every so often a story stands up and yells: "Look at me, look at me. I'm really good." I've had twenty-eight stories published so there's been a decent amount of yelling. But a lot of the time the little guys just slink away into the Active But Resting file. It keeps me humble.

RG: BONUS QUESTION JUST FOR FUN: You're stranded on an island with nothing but a record player and one album of your choosing. Which is it???

WY: I recognize this question offers me the opportunity to burnish my authorial "brand" with a quirky revelation. I must fail this test. Writing takes a lot of time so music is a low priority with me. I couldn't imagine listening to any album for any length of time. Besides, on a remote island there probably wouldn't be any electricity to run the record player.

But I would be eager to take the Bible to this island. I am not religious but I have always wanted to read the entire Bible in a relaxed manner and understand what it says and how it is constructed. This could be my opportunity. I suspect this choice will not do much for my authorial image however.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Fiddlehead's 25th Annual Contest is Now Closed!

December 1 has come and gone, and The Fiddlehead's 25th annual contest is now closed.

Thank you to all the writers who entered! We are currently processing the contest entries, and the selection process will begin in January. Winners and honourable mentions will be personally contacted by the end of February. 

Good luck to all those who entered!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Books Received — What are you Looking Forward to Read?

Below is a picture of the recent books received at the office. What are you most looking forward to reading this winter? Tell us! Go to the comment field below (or to Facebook or Twitter) and tell us what you're most looking forward to reading!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

An Interview with Rachel Rose, Contributor to The Fiddlehead Autumn 2015 Issue

Rachel Rose. Photograph by Thomas Langdon
Rachel Rose is currently Vancouver’s Poet Laureate. She has published four collections of poetry: Giving My Body to Science, Notes on Arrival and Departure, Song and Spectacle, and most recently, Marry & Burn. She is also a short story writer and an essayist whose work has been published in literary magazines and anthologies across Canada and the United States. Her poem, “Sunflowers” (among others), is featured in The Fiddlehead Autumn 2015 issue. This interview was conducted by Fiddlehead editorial assistant Emily Skov-Nielson by email in late November 2015.

Emily Skov-Nielsen: Firstly, I’d like to ask a question about your poetic process: where does a poem begin for you — in other words, is it an image that first inspires you, a line or phrase, maybe a metaphor?

Rachel Rose: A poem begins for me sometimes with a line or an image, or the juxtaposition of two images; sometimes there is an inciting incident, a scrap of conversation, a statistic, a trauma, an irritation.

ESN: I can honestly say that your poem, “Sunflowers,” was my favourite from The Fiddlehead’s Autumn 2015 issue and one of the best elegiac poems I’ve read in some time. The opening stanza is so musical in its rhythm and with its alliteration, and there is of course the allusion to the timeless playground song/game Red Rover. This first stanza is almost like an incantation that pulls you into the poem. I’m wondering if you could provide some insight into your creative intentions regarding this opening.

I know from my own experience that elegies can be incredibly difficult to write — with an elegy, there seems to be an increased potentiality for melodrama, sentimentalism, or veering towards the cliché; however, “Sunflowers” skillfully evades all of these poetic dangers. Was this a difficult poem to write for any of these suggested reasons? If not, what were some of the difficulties in writing this poem?

RR: Thank you for your generous words about “Sunflowers.” This poem both tells and evades; at the beginning it hovers, like the hummingbird, then darts away — you may think you know the subject matter of the poem from that first playful stanza, but you are being led off course, distracted by the flight, and then, when you are not expecting it, comes the elegiac notes. Throughout, “Sunflowers” drops lines, says too much in parts, goes too hard and too far, breaking through as children do, roughly, when playing Red Rover. It confesses little, though it holds much pain between the lines.

ESN: I’d like to draw attention to what was, for me, one of the most painful parts of the poem, the lines: “your hands / that an old boyfriend called / the ugliest hands I’ve ever seen on a woman.” This ruthless quotation that the speaker recalls, although heartbreaking, provides an interesting contrast and dynamic to the poem. Can you provide any insights regarding your choice to include this fierce, surprising moment?

RR: There are things we are told that we carry with us forever, and that we pass on to others, because of their extraordinary ability to cut. This was one of those things, passed on — another kind of inheritance.

ESN: There are several dropped lines in “Sunflowers” — what, creatively, does a dropped line enable you to do?

RR: Dropped lines in this poem allow me to imitate the flight of hummingbirds, the nodding of flowers, the pattern of bees swarming, the reticence of speech that doesn’t trust its right to be spoken.

ESN: The natural world is central to this poem — flower, bee, moon, and bird imagery are all present. Are these things that commonly inspire you and your writing, or are they particular to this poem and its subject matter?
Issue No. 265 (Autumn 2015)

RR: The natural world is a source of deep inspiration in my work, though I don’t consider the urban world separate from nature. I grew up in some wild places, and what I found and experienced in the wild helped raise and shape me.

ESN: Calling upon a quotation from “Sunflowers,” I’d like to end with a broader question regarding your thoughts on poetry, its practice and purpose: is poetry, for you, “honey to mitigate the sting / of what can’t be said”?

RR: It would be more accurate to say that poetry, my poetry, includes honey to mitigate the sting of what must be said, of what I insist on saying. I try at least to comfort with some taste of sweetness, purity of form, of lyric image, to counteract the sting of the language, of what humans are capable of doing to one another.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

News Roundup: A Review, An Interview, and a Few Upcoming Readings

The Review Review has reviewed our Summer Fiction issue. Reviewer Irene McGarrity says, "The quality of the stories in this issue is undeniable, and the diversity of styles, settings, and perspectives makes for a satisfying cover-to-cover read.  Although these stories vary widely, they all echo a common aesthetic, which I suspect has been seventy years in the making." She continues, "The contents of this particular issue definitely reflect the maturity of the mag along with the curatorial strength of the editor" and then praises many stories, including pieces by Daniel Woodrell, Kathy Page, Alice Petersen, Mona'a Malik, and Rob Doyle.

Read the whole review.

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Fiction co-editor Mark Jarman interviewed by The Malahat Review

Jarman is one of three writers judging The Malahat's 2016 novella contest. Recently, he answered some questions by Malahat volunteer Rachael Kearley.

Read the full interview here.

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Qwerty launches new double issue

The launch of Qwerty 33/34 is set for Thursday, December 10th at Wilser’s Room, 366 Queen St, Fredericton.

Join us for readings of some of the editors’ faves from the new issue — there will also be games! and prizes! and a fancy door prize including a rare, limited-edition copy of the Doubles chapbook, our joint venture with Echolocation! And, of course, you can watch the return of our current house band, Marky Mark and the Jarmen: featuring (shocker) Mark Anthony Jarman on the harmonica, with Qwerty nerds Alex Carey and Ryan Gaio on guitar and vocals. Lastly, managing editors Katie and Rebecca will announce Qwerty’s 2015 Pushcart nominations.

You can RSVP here.

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Odd Sundays at Corked Wine Bar

The next gathering of Odd Sundays, and the last before the holidays, will be on December 13th at 2 p.m. at Corked Wine Bar, .83 Regent St.

The featured readers will be members of the local writing group, Fictional Friends. The group has been active and engaged in writing since 2006. Members write poetry, fiction (short and long), essay and memoir, etc. On the 13th, the group will have its new self-published chapbook, “butter and eggs,” on hand. Whether they read from it or from their other work remains to be seen.

Come and enjoy this slice of local writing talent, buy a beverage of your choice, and cross your fingers for the book draw.