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.

 

How to Host a Literary Cabaret in Six Easy Steps

(photo credit: Elsie Neufeld)
(photo credit: Elsie Neufeld)

Do you miss seeing and talking to your fellow creative nonfiction writers in the long months between conferences? Do you want to develop more awareness of great nonfiction in your own town? The CNFC can help you create your own literary cabaret evening right where you are. We have a modest fund to help with promotion, including the design and distribution of digital flyers or posters, and can contribute toward venue rental, if need be.

Over the past few years, CNFC members have held successful cabarets in Montreal and Calgary and offer the following tips on how it’s done. Thanks to Julija Sukys who wrote the original instructions after hosting the fabulously successful Montreal cabaret, Stranger Than Fiction, in 2013.

Essentials

    1. Find a venue with a sound system, food and drink, and sufficient space for people to sit, mingle, buy books. Encourage everyone to eat and drink to support your venue host.
    2. Send out a call for CNF readers. You may want to invite one or two well-known writers. Decide in advance what your optimum number of readers is — six to eight is a neat number that doesn’t overwhelm the audience. Let them know what the time limit is and that you’ll need to keep them to it. Ask them to send their bios well in advance of reading.
    3. Ask a local bookstore to come and sell the authors’ books. If that’s not an option, ask a friend to help you with the sales and ask the authors to bring their books to the event.
    4. Work with the CNFC to create promotional material. CNFC has a small budget for this.
    5. Send the poster out far and wide, including to your local library. Send a brief notice of the event to your local media as a PSA. Address it to the local “event listings” in your local paper or community notices at radio stations.
    6. Take lots of pictures and write a blog about it for our website.

Additional suggestions:

    • Have a break in the middle so people can buy more drinks and food.
    • Emcee the event yourself. Introduce each reader and hold up your hand (or have some other gentle signal) to let them know when their time is up.
    • Plan something fun — like door prizes. You can ask readers to donate a few books and then think of some fun quiz questions.
    • Optional: Charge a small cover fee at the door then distribute it to the writers at the end of the evening.

Uncovering life’s silences and hidden assumptions

CNFC member Sue Harper interviews Michael V. Smith – poet, novelist, writing prof, and recent author of his first memoir, My Body Is Yours:

Michael V. Smith

Books help us contain a kind of emotion that might be unpleasant, so we might get a better perspective on it and have a more sophisticated reaction to it in our own lives.

Following two novels, Cumberland and Progress (Cormorant Books) and two books of poetry What You Can’t Have (Signature Editions) and Body of Text (Book Thug), Michael V. Smith has written his first memoir, My Body Is Yours (Arsenal Pulp Press). Currently, Smith is a professor of creative writing in the Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan.

I was curious about Smith’s transition from fiction to nonfiction and about how he handled topics like gender non-conformity and sexual addiction, during the writing process and after the book was published.

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