When the writing wins

BookAuthor Brian Payton, the writing mentor for the 2012 nonfiction writing group at the SFU Writer’s Studio, of which I was one of nine members, has just released, to wide critical acclaim, his novel, The Wind is Not a River. 

It’s an entirely different experience reading a book written by someone that you know, however superficially, than it is to read the book of an author you’ve never met.

I know the tone of Brian’s voice, the rhythm with which he speaks and his dry humour. I can hear that voice in the book. I know the most minimal details about his life (because he is such a private person) and when I read things in the story that resemble the most minor of facts that I know to be true about his life, I wondered which small details in the book might represent some aspect of his life as well – if at all.

I could feel his inner strength, the peace with which he carries himself in the world and how faith, a faith that has had prominence in his life, finds a place as well,  in the story’s telling.

At SFU, every second Tuesday, we’d sit at the end of three tables pushed together in that horribly cramped room on the second floor of SFU’s downtown campus. Ten people would squeeze in to workshop the writing of four of our classmates in the three hour, biweekly sessions.  Halfway through the session,  Brian would provide snippets of insight during short talks that focused on some aspect of craft, as well as his own wrap on each of the pieces submitted that week, after we’d each taken a turn at providing our own.

I’m thinking back to late November 2012 when we were celebrating our wrap-up party at Saskia Wolsak’s fabulous old family home just up from Jericho Beach. Brian was there that night and on the high of having just discovered that a manuscript that he’d been working on for 12 years – on and off – was being bid on by New York agents.  We were in the tiny alcove that Saskia uses as a library as he told us what was transpiring, me peppering him with questions. He’d never once mentioned this manuscript in the preceding year.

So, to finally sit down yesterday, a day when January’s monsoons pelted down horizontally, and hold,”The Wind is Not A River,” in hand, has to rank right up there as one of life’s small but soul satisfying pleasures.

Sure, you might think I’m biased. I’m willing to admit, that might be a very small part of it. But, I also know that more often than not I have trouble reading fiction. More often than not, I’m not drawn in and I don’t finish a book. I rarely sit down and after the first paragraph continue inhaling the words on a page, disappointed that I can’t stay awake any longer or that other life necessities are impinging on me getting to the end of the story unfolding in my hands. I felt that way reading, The Wind is not a River.

First of all, I’m partial to islands.  Sure, I’ve heard of the Aleutian Islands but the name is pretty much the extent of my knowledge. Then there’s the history: a historical battle of huge significance, the only one fought on American soil during World War II and yet, so little wide-spread awareness about the facts.  There’s the secrecy imposed by the U.S. government about what was taking place there. Add in the tragedy of the small population of Aleuts and the ruin to their lives.   And, if that’s not enough, there’s the love story, well, actually, not to give things away,  but there’s more than one love story. The writing is so fluid that it runs off the page in the same way a wind or a river envelops everything that gets in its path.

The journey compelled me to keep reading as fast as I could. What would become of the main character, John Easley, who had already survived the impossible? Who doesn’t love a saga of physical endurance? Add in the courage and improbability of love pushing a wife to act, as only true love can, way beyond the limits of her comfort zone, especially after the regret of words that can’t be taken back.

The tenacity it took to craft this story, the research involved, the writing and re-writing, surely must be on par with that required by the book’s main character and his fictional quest.

Finally, there’s Brian’s ability to call up feminine sensibilities as required. Our almost all-female writing group surely helped with this part. I jest.

The audience for this book is so all encompassing how can it not fly off the shelves?

Buy one. I’m not lending you mine.

Learn more about Brian Payton and his other books off his website.

Watch this six minute interview with Brian on Global Toronto:   http://globalnews.ca/video/1078230/author-brian-payton

TWS Writers’ Successes

First Alice Munro. Then Lynn Coady. I’m getting the feeling that the fiction writers across the land, those who are feverish with short stories, are feeling a bit worked up with possibility these day.

There’s a lot going on, as well, with the writers who have graduated from The SFU Writer’s Studio a.k.a. TWS in the 12 years that it was first begun by writer & mentor & author & manuscript consultant Betsy Warland who handed the reins to Wayde Compton in 2012.TWSBooksimage

Of course, I couldn’t even begin to tell you what’s going on with most of them, since I don’t even know them, but I am aware of some grads from more recent years who have recently released their babies (or is it their taskmasters?) into the world.

I expect you to buy at least one of these. Authors have to eat ya know!

Janie Chang released Three Souls and has been travelling promoting it. Fiction mentor Shaena Lambert has launched her newest book of short stories, Oh My Darling. Renee Saklikar is launching her first book of poetry: children of air india. Show up at SFU Woodward’s World Art Centre this coming Wednesday evening for the launch. If you can’t make that night, she’s doing it again at Heritage Grill in New West on  December 1.

Ayelet Tsabari’s The Best Place on Earth was published by Harper Collins this past year. She now lives in Toronto but came back to Vancouver last week to give a reading with two other TWS alumnae.

Eufemia Fantetti had her book A Recipe for Disaster and other Unlikely Tales of Love released by Mona Fertig’s Mother Tongue Publishing on Salt Spring or Savory Island (not quite sure where Mona is residing at the moment).  Mona also just launched Lucky by Kathryn Para who was the second winner of Mother Tongue’s Great BC Novel Contest. Para has an MFA from UBC Creative Writing.

Anakana Schofield wrote Malarky which was released in 2012 and I didn’t realize until I went to a recent reading that she went through TWS.

And the TWS 2012 non fiction mentor/writer/author/Brian Payton’s new novel, The Wind Is Not a River will be available to purchase on January 7, 2014. But, you can pre-order it off Amazon.  

In addition, there is someone else I wanted to mention. In  my browsings at literary journals yesterday, I noticed that Caroline Wong who was in TWS 2012 Poetry won Grain Magazine’s 25th Annual Short Grain Contest in August in the Poetry category and will be published in their Winter Issue upcoming. Congratulations Caroline!

Oh, oh, oh. One more thing. I almost forgot (well, I did forget until now actually) that you can purchase  emerge 2013 as an ebook.

I’m sure I’ve left out TWS writers and their accomplishments only because I didn’t know about them. Feel free to add your own by sharing those with us in the comments below. I had fun learning about these and attending some of the events.

Keep writing! Start and or keep submitting!