One CNFC member’s very unusual publishing journey

“You have stolen my image,” read the subject line. I waited until I had a few minutes of spare time to read the rest of the email. It was Friday. Deadline day at the Haliburton Echo, a weekly community newspaper where I’d been interning for two months. I had until noon to file all my stories and photos for the week.

When I finally read the email, sent by an Indian photographer by the name of Udayan Sankar Pal, I thought it was a joke. Udayan wanted to sue me for copyright violation.

“I can contact the Embassy of Canada in India, or any other organization who supports you like The Canada Council of the Arts, Writer’s Union of Canada and the Creative Nonfiction Collective, for the justice,” he wrote.

What image was he talking about? The one on the cover of my book, he continued, listed for sale on numerous websites, including Chapters, Amazon, 49th Shelf. Book? I did a quick search and lo’ and behold there was Where Are You From?, the manuscript that had been languishing on the shelf of a small Saskatchewan publishing house for five years. Six months earlier, in January, the publisher had promised to give me a definite answer by April.

For years I had lived in hope of the answer every fledgling writer wants to hear—yes we will publish this 200-page piece of your heart. In 2011, I’d sent the manuscript to the Saskatchewan publisher from Hokkaido, Japan, where I was employed as an English teacher. I’d sealed the manila envelope with oxblood red wax, and kissed it for good luck. When I returned to Canada and the publisher suggested a rewrite, a digging deeper kind of rewrite, I spent three months holed up in my parents’ renovated tool shed to comply.

And then I waited. I managed a bed and breakfast on Haida Gwaii; I started a Master’s of Journalism at Ryerson University in Toronto. Every now and then, the publisher would write and apologize for the delay. And then came the email from India.

After consulting with the Writers’ Union of Canada, I learned that if no contract had been signed for Where Are You From, no one could sue me. Udayan and I became friends. He contacted the Canada Council for the Arts and reported the publisher’s unethical behaviour. Two months and five hundred dollars (the amount Udayan insisted upon for his photo) later, the publisher apologized. They asked if I would still consider having my manuscript published. I said no. The words I’d always wanted to hear had lost their magic power.

Fast forward seventeen months. An email from a new literary press in Saskatchewan: “In our scan of recent documents of that company we came across reference to your work, Where Are You From?” The new press had bought out the old, and acquired all their assets. Would I like to publish with them? They promised to be “writer friendly.” To be honest, it had been so long since I first sent out the manuscript, I didn’t care anymore. Yes, I wrote back halfheartedly. I went through the motions. The edits. The cover choices.

But now, as I hold this book that has been on such a long journey, and has even been given a new name, I do care. When I picked up the 50-kilogram box full of books in Toronto’s Pape Village two weeks ago, I drove all the way down to Lake Ontario before I dared open it. And then I walked half an hour before I sat down on a bench, stroking the cover, smelling the pages, reading every word like it was for the first time. I took the book out for lunch, laying it beside my Thai green curry and Singha beer. I wrote this, I thought as I took another bite, another sip, wondering who I could tell. The waitress? The handsome man at the table by the window? I kept glancing at it, smiling at my little secret.

 

Creative Nonfiction Master Class with Award-winning Writer Helen Humphreys, Author of The Frozen Thames and The Ghost Orchard

Come prepared to write!  The workshop will cover all elements of writing book-length creative nonfiction, including: research, shaping a narrative, structure, form, and voice.

Helen Humphreys is the award-winning author of four books of poetry, eight novels, and four works of creative non-fiction. Her books have been widely translated, performed as stage plays and operas, and optioned for film. She lives and writes in Kingston, Ontario.

DATE: Sunday, October 7

TIME:  9AM – 5PM

LOCATION: Artspace Boardroom, Room 424, 100 Arthur Street, Winnipeg

FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT

Manitoba Writers Guild manitobawritersguild3@gmail.com

or call Tuesday, Wednesday or Friday: (204) 944-8013 between 10 am – 2 pm.

WORKSHOP FEE: For Manitoba Writers Guild Members $100.00.  Non Members: $125.00. Students: (Max. 5) $60.00.  (Paypal accepted)

To get your tickets, follow this link:
https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/creative-non-fiction-master-class-tickets-49102679436

We hope to see you there!

This event is sponsored By Creative Nonfiction Collective (CNFC) and Manitoba Writers’ Guild.

 

AND THE 2018 CNFC/CARTE BLANCHE CONTEST WINNER IS…

“Descent into Darkness,” by Nancy O’Rourke.

Congratulations to Nancy and to both our runners-up, Emily Kellogg and Julie Paul. The winning piece is now published in the current edition of carte blanche .
Photo of Nancy O'RourkeExperienced sociologist Nancy O’Rourke’s creative nonfiction was recently recognized by Memoir Magazine. “Descent into Darkness” is adapted from a memoir-in-progress that examines processes of forgiveness, focusing on a group of children she befriended in Rwanda in 1992, lost during the genocide, and found 18 years later.

 

CNFC 2018 CONFERENCE WRAP-UP

Our annual conference, Writing True 14, was held in Toronto in early May. We had 112 attendees, three sold-out Master Classes with waiting lists for each, and 18 presenters, speakers, and workshop leaders who all arrived on time, in the right place, in spite of some wild Toronto weather!

We had many positive comments from those who completed our conference evaluation form. Standouts, in no particular order, were Dinty Moore, the conversation between Lee Maracle and Tanya Talaga, our First Page event (which one attendee described as a “master class in getting your first page read by an agent”), Kamal Al-Solaylee’s thought-provoking keynote address, Mandy Len Catron’s session on the essay, Betsy Warland’s master class on form, the conversation between Pauline LeBel and Waubgisheg Rice, and Lorri Neilsen-Glenn’s master class on “navigating rivers of connection.” A few also commented on our “helpful, gracious” volunteers. That would be the wonderful, hard-working Toronto conference committee!

We recorded two sessions this year – Kamal’s keynote address, and the conversation with Lee Maracle and Tanya Talaga. We’ll be posting these on our website soon, with access available to all CNFC members.

In Conversation: Lee Maracle and Tanya Talaga at the 2018 CNFC Conference. Photo credit: Kirsten Fogg
In Conversation: Lee Maracle and Tanya Talaga at the 2018 CNFC Conference.
Photo credit: Kirsten Fogg

For me, there were some striking moments. Lee Maracle, in her conversation with Tanya Talaga, saying that if English is not your first language but you’re forced to use it, it’s as if you are cut in half – your head and body can’t communicate, you can’t feel what you’re saying. In that moment, I felt, as much as I understood, what that meant. Carol Off, telling us how the experience she describes in her book, All We Leave Behind, has changed her forever as a journalist and a human being. Tanya Talaga, describing how Stan Beardy, the Grand Chief of the Nishnabe Aski Nation, refused to answer her questions about Indigenous voting, but said, again and again, “why aren’t you writing about Jordan Wabasse? He’s been gone for 70 days.”

I’m sure many of you have your own moments that you will carry forward with you. Let us know, and we’ll share them in a future newsletter.

Thank-you to everyone who attended, to the many people who travelled to Toronto, to the new members who joined. We appreciate the support of every one of you.

ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING

Our new Board of Directors was elected:
President:   Judy McFarlane
Vice-President:   Pamela Couture
Treasurer:   Jane Silcott
Membership:   Kathy Seifert
Recording Secretary:   Cathy Cooper
Directors at Large:   Shelley O’Callaghan, Chris Moore, and Lissa Cowan

We approved the Treasurer’s Report.

We will continue to move ahead with applying to become a National Arts Service Organization, which, if successful, will give us charitable tax status, with the ability to issue tax receipts for donations.

We discussed whether our membership fee of $50 per year should be increased. After some discussion, we voted to keep the annual fee the same, but to create a new designation of member called Sustaining Member. While details will appear soon, the idea is that anyone can become a Sustaining Member by voluntarily paying more than the annual membership fee, in effect making a donation to CNFC. The Board will need to decide how those funds will be used, but the intent at the AGM was to find a way to support members who otherwise might not be able to attend our AGM.

We talked about possibly connecting with other writing conferences, such as the Festival of Literary Diversity, or the Canadian Writer’s Summit, to mention a couple of examples, and decided that the Board would look into these possibilities. We discussed, but made no decision, about where to hold our conference next year. Much for the new Board to decide!

And the popular standing desk, generously donated again this year by Fitneff, was won by Pauline Le Bel.

FINALLY

If you have concerns, questions, suggestions, please let me or one of our Board members know. You can always contact us through this email address: info@creativenonfictioncollective.ca, or you can contact me directly at mcfarlane.judy@gmail.com

Thanks very much. Here’s to a great year for CNFC!

Judy McFarlane,
President