Writing So Hard

Thanks to poet Sachiko Murakami for inviting me to participate in her interview series “The hardest thing about writing” about……. the hardest thing about writing. There are also interviews up on the site with writers like Vivek Shraya and Laura Broadbent.

Mine is here.

It’s complicated to talk about this stuff because my relation to my work and to focus has changed so much over the course of publishing a chapbook and two books and now almost being finished a third. I used to be much more purist and black-and-white about this stuff in my earlier stages of publishing – now I am much more of a negotiator/seeker/improviser about this stuff.

Orlando

In the last year of high school I met Orlando, not quite real, a creature in a book by Virginia Woolf. A classmate, proud in her teenage Catholicism, declared that there was a mistake in the middle of the book. The teacher asked what she meant. She said, The character changed gender, from one to the next, there had been a mistake, a misstep. The certainty in her voice, so confident. A mistake, a wrong. My hand heavy on my book, protecting it. I held the beauty of the scene in my hand. The silver trumpets. Woolf’s moment torn out any book. Orlando changed. He turned. One thing to the next. Orlando was unimaginably beautiful, they escaped me. I didn’t retread Orlando for years, like a sacred place. I have no sense now of what Orlando looked like, just my sense of a body exploding. The room was silent. Something was starting. How when the the gunfire started they thought it was part of the music.

the largest gun massacre happened this weekend in a gay club called Pulse in Orlando Florida

Some things

Recently poet Sachiko Murakami started up a website The Hardest Thing About Being a Writer  that’s updated every week with an interview with a writer talking about their “hardest thing” about writing. Having published two books and currently working away on my third, I’d say that one of the hardest things is the sheer endurance required by writing. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, as a mentor told me once, and I rolled my eyes.

Recently I taught a workshop in a local high school for the Vancouver International Writers Festival outreach program. Many thanks to English teacher Rakshin Kandola and her Grade 11 students for their enthusiasm and hospitality. While talking to the students about my writing and publishing process, I realized I sold my first short story to a literary journal nearly 10 years ago. TEN YEARS. Horrifying.

A couple things about the new book I’m working on. Some pieces from it are in the current issue of Poetry Is Dead magazine, edited by poet Ben Rawluk

I also have a couple pieces from the project in Coast Mountain Culture.  CMC is an outdoors magazine but reached out to me for their fiction issue.

They turned a few sentences from one of my pieces into this gorgeous graphic cover:

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One million years

It’s been approximately one million years or so since I’ve posted on this thing. That is the way writing is sometimes. I’ve been working away at my manuscript, getting a lot of work done, and so it goes.

Here I am, posting, because something public is coming up. I have some work in Poetry Is Dead‘s next issue, which is prose poetry themed. I’ll be reading at the launch, which is part of the Verses festival in east Vancouver. Here’s the event on Facebook.

Tuesday, April 26 at 8 PM – 10 PM
Doors at 7 PM
The Cultch C-Lab, 1895 Venables Street, Vancouver

All are welcome. Tickets can be purchased through the Cultch website. I’ll be reading from the new manuscript-in-progress.

Some new work

Just a quick note about some new work. I am glad to have work in the current issue of CV2, The Poetics of Queer — it’s a wide-ranging collection of writers, from across Canada and across different generations of artists. I also have some work in the fall issue of The Malahat Review. And it has been a little while since I’ve published fiction, but I have a short story in the November issue of The Rusty Toque, which is published online. So it goes as I wind my way towards another manuscript.

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This is a Dayne Ogilvie Award appreciation post

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At the end of June I was so happy to go to Toronto receive this year’s Dayne Ogilvie Award for emerging LGBT writer from the Writers Trust of Canada. I was surprised to get the call that I’d won the Dayne Ogilvie but since then I’ve realized that I’ve been published for almost a decade – it’s 9 years since I sold my first short story to a literary magazine (RIP Descant)! Writing and publishing can be (is) a long, strange, somewhat isolated path and a somewhat relentless way to spend one’s time and so I am grateful for the chances I have to share my work in public, meet other writers and come together to celebrate writing. I was especially happy when I saw the Honours of Distinction went this year to Casey Plett and Vivek Shraya, who both gave amazing readings at the ceremony in Toronto; I look forward to seeing their next books. At the risk of sounding sentimental, this felt like a real milestone for me.

I was so glad to meet Robin Pacific, the founder and benefactor of this award, which she established in the name of her dear friend and editor Dayne Ogilvie. I have been fortunate to know several writers who have been recipients of the Dayne Ogilvie over the years and have come to recognize it as a special award in being both a community award and a helpful boost at this earlier stage of writing and publishing when it is easy to lose steam, lose focus or just lose heart. This award, both on a practical and a personal level, will help me in my work on my current manuscripts. That is the other thing about writing…it never really stops.

It was wonderful to meet judges Anand Mahadevan and Nancy Jo Cullen and I was truly moved by the support and feeling of celebration in the room. It was a packed house. How great to read from my book, The things I heard about you, that came out back in the fall, at this ceremony acknowledging my “body of work” so far. How strange and wonderful to be told I have a “body of work” (!). A special thank you to Amanda Hopkins at the Writers Trust of Canada for all her work on the event, the award, and arranging for me to come to Toronto.

Thank you to the three presses that have published my work – Nomados, Freehand, and Nightwood. Thank you to the many journals and to the editors of anthologies who have selected, edited and published my work and who continue to publish my work.

Some photos from the event (all photo credits to the Writers Trust of Canada):

Glad Day book table

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With judge Anand Mahadevan, choreographer Jacob Niedzwieckie and my older sister Sabrina

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With Honours of Distinction recipients Casey Plett and Vivek Shraya

with casey and vivek

Accepting award from award founder Robin Pacific

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Reading with judge Nancy Jo Cullen in the foreground

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Jury citation: 

With assured debuts in two genres, Alex Leslie melds remarkable acuity of vision with a refreshing eagerness for formal experimentation. She’s at once a writer’s writer and an accomplished teller of tales. People Who Disappear, her artfully gritty and ultimately uplifting story collection, presents fresh and nuanced portraits of West Coast living far from the affluence and rhythms of the city. In rendering the inhabitants of The things I heard about you’s enticing prose poems – solitary ferry rider, outlier schoolgirl, river’s edge creature, and pariah scrounger – Leslie displays a tremendous gift for compassion that’s equal to a talent for technique. 

Review on The Rusty Toque

Thanks to Justin Lauzon for his response to my book on The Rusty Toque. It’s rare that a reviewer engages with the process of the writing and not just the content.

But the magic of every poetic-quartet is highlighted in that liminal space between once section and the next. Once a poem ends, the word “smaller” is written below it, almost as an afterthought, and carries us on to the next poem. The word is ominous and alone, saying more by itself than any of the other words written by Leslie. It is that dreadful editor’s chant that makes every writer heave glassy-eyed frustration onto the keyboard–smaller. It is relentless and all powerful–smaller. It is writing.

You can read the whole review here.