Natalie Zina Walschots on Slasher Films

A Conversation on Writing, Horror, and Genre Subversion

Natalie Zina Walschots is a freelance writer and bailed academic based in Toronto. She writes everything from reviews of science fiction novels and interviews with heavy metal musicians to to in-depth feminist games criticism and pieces of long-form journalism. She’s recently written about her time working as a content creator for an Internet pornography company, the years-long catfishing deception behind popular Gamergate figurehead Alison Prime, and the most misandrist metal records of 2015. She is the author of two books of poetry, and is presently finishing a novel about super villainy and henchpeople, exploring the poetic potential of the notes engine in the video game Bloodborne, and writing a collection of polyamorous fairytales. She also plays a lot of D&D, participates in a lot of Nordic LARPs, watches a lot of horror movies and reads a lot of speculative fiction.

Visit Natalie online at http://www.nataliezed.ca or tweet to her at @NatalieZed.

… And buy her books! I recommend her excellent DOOM: Love Poems for Supervillains!

The Conversation

(Less of an interview and more of a conversation, as you can see from my first question — I just popped Natalie an email the other day, and this a cleaned up version of what eventually unfolded.)

Hey, you like horror films, right? What are you favourite slasher films? And why do you like them?

I love horror movies. I always have. As a little kid I was fascinated by them — I read a lot of ghost stories and SpecFic and tales of the supernatural kind of stuff, and was just starting to explore some classic horror when I had a pretty intense traumatic experience: my father took me to see Se7en in the theatres when it came out, I was I think 11. He made me sit through the whole thing, a 10 p.m. showing, even though I was so scared that I entirely froze. I remember not sleeping for days and after that the prospect of frightening films was off the table for a really long time. I would still read horror novels, and read the backs of VHS tapes and DVDs longingly, but I was too freaked out to attempt much.

It was in my very early 20s that I started to really explore the genre again. It was William Neil Scott who helped me through it. I explained my problem, that I adored horror narratives but had a trauma thing that I was having a hard time getting over, and so we improvised a course of exposure therapy. Over the course of a couple of years we watched a ton of movies together, starting with classic ’70s slashers (which were more funny than scary, but still foundational) during the day, and gradually ramped up until we watched The Exorcist late at night. That was the moment I felt like I could watch everything I was interested in. Torture porn is still something I can’t handle, the Saw movies are fine but Hostel and anything like that is completely off the table. 

I have a soft spot for slashers because they were the first step in my horror recovery. I like the archetypal nature of them, the fairytale-thick symbolism. Every character is an allegory, every move symbolic. They may as well be the fucking Faerie Queene. Within the very tight bonds of the genre restrictions there’s a lot of creativity and variation, and I enjoy watching all the different ways that the steps play out. There’s both the satisfaction of having expectations met and also the novelty of it changing.

All horror is deeply cathartic for me, but it’s also an issue of relateability. No other genre more accurately reproduces my lived experience about what the world is like. Not in that there are ghosts or whatever, but that things are scary, and challenging, and sometimes straight-up want to maim or rape or kill you. It presents a model for fighting back, for winning, for emerging bloody but unbowed. Horror is also a genre that acknowledges that trauma has consequences, that it makes monsters, it leaves people harder and weirder than they were before, but victory is still possible. The stories are stranger. 

My favourite slasher film is unquestionably Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon. It’s a slasher deconstruction that is super funny and brilliant. It creates a world in which slasher monsters are real, but also allows a bunch of peeks behind the curtain, taking them from supernatural to manufactured. It acknowledges and plays with the archetypes brilliantly. Leslie Vernon, the horror monster in question, is deeply likeable while also being profoundly threatening. Plus the action sequences are genuinely intense. I adore it.

How do you feel about horror films, especially slasher films, as a feminist? What works or doesn’t work for you in horror, from a critical perspective — and is it the same or different from what works for you as a fan?

My feelings about horror as a feminist and as a fan are inextricably bound together, and I don’t (usually) find it helpful to separate them. What works for me, in the context of horror, is that they represent, with an accuracy that no other genre approaches, exactly how harrowing, frightening and dangerous the world can be. It’s the only place I see the fear reinforced as real and valid rather than something to dismiss or ridicule.

In particular, the fears of women (and children) are shown to be real and valid, and those who dismiss them do so at their extreme peril. There are monsters, they are trying to get you, and ignoring that gets you dead. Only fighting back and treating those fears as real leads to survival, and the sooner you get with that program, the better your chances of living will be. Women are not only cast as believable characters and reliable narrators, but also tend to be the most resilient characters (the Final Girl trope is an excellent example of this).

What I struggle with, as a feminist and a fan, are places where the genre conventions are still kind of sexist and shitty — like purity myths, the equation of sexual abstinence with virtue, and the likelihood that being sexually active will get you killed off first. The characters tend to be very archetypal, which is great in some circumstances and problematic in others. I also struggle with certain kinds of violence, but I can also find it very cathartic. It’s complicated!

One thing I find interesting and perhaps progressive in modern slasher-horror is how it borrows Gothic conventions but transmutes the “woman imperilled by a male monster and saved by a male hero” into “heroic woman imperilled by a male monster.” At the same time, it’s troublesome how these final girls tend to be masculinized or de-feminized.

I go back to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre as perhaps my favourite of the genre (before it really congealed as a genre) because among other things the final girl is clearly feminine and sexual, not playing into the purity myth you mention (and yet, of zero sexual interest to the male killers!), and in that film more men than women are killed. It also interests me that the male killer, Leatherface, is feminized to some degree, especially when he’s wearing his female face, although Carol Clover has pointed out that this is common.

All of this brings me to another, related question: What do you think of female monsters? When do you find them engaging and perhaps admirable versus ridiculous or offensive?

This is a great question!

I LOVE female monsters, and I think there have been some excellent ones recently. Three of the horror movies that I’ve seen recently that have scared me the most, and that I also adore, are Mama, The Babadook, and Goodnight Mommy. I find monstrous mothers especially fascinating. I think that these monsters tackle very complicated questions of love, attachment, obsession, abuse and vulnerability in very different and eloquent ways.

I don’t think female monsters are inherently more offensive somehow than male monsters, not at all. 

It seems to me like a strain of horror presents female monsters who operate to illustrate cultural fears of women that transgress social roles. I think of the Arthur Machen novella “The Great God Pan,” which was a touchstone for both H. P. Lovecraft and Stephen King — the monster there is a half-human woman who has a lot of social power and mobility and is seen as a corrupting force, specifically to be corrupting men, and in many ways I think it’s an anti-feminist story about these “horrible” Victorian women that don’t need men.

I feel like women don’t get to be monsters in the same way as men. They represent social fears about women more than being “simply” horrible. Like in Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal Lecter is a monster but his male-ness is almost beside the point, except insofar as he relates specifically to Clarice Starling, whereas a female Lecter would be seen as illustrating something about how women move in the world.

Am I generalizing too much? Do you get this same sense that women don’t get to “be monsters” in the same way in horror, where the gender issue is always firmly and primarily in play? 

Oh I disagree — I think a lot of monsters embody “maleness” pretty profoundly. In particular, a lot of male monsters embody the worst aspects of patriarchal violence: they penetrate, destroy, do violence, annihilate agency, violate. I feel like a lot of horror movies actually succeed by putting men in situations that women face regularly: being seen as prey, stalked by a predator, in danger of being injured, raped, kidnapped, destroyed, etc.

I think men and women are transformed into monsters differently. Male monsters are often extreme versions of the violence we see in the world — serial killers transformed into something supernatural, obsessive exes turned into ghosts, etc. Female monsters tend to be vessels that pain has been poured into until they have been transformed and broken into something terrible, or monstrous incarnations of things like motherhood.

That’s an interesting and (from a writer’s perspective) useful distinction. Something I’m working on is trying to produce a novel modelled in some ways on slasher films but with a female monster that is NOT one of these “vessels of pain” — someone completely without weakness, who also doesn’t serve as a cipher for male fears of women (often both get conflated — like in Dracula where Lucy works both as an “evil mother” who is feeding on children at night as the “bloofer lady” and as representing male fears of women’s sexuality).

One of the things I am struggling with is that I wonder if my goal is possible. Will any female monster who isn’t “broken” and a victim just be coded by the reader as representing some fear of women themselves, whether I like it or not, even if I strive to avoid this? Does the culture just fear powerful women so much that the gender issue overrides anything else?

I try to just work and not think too much about things as I work but it’s always a concern in my mind, how things will be “delivered” to the reader, if you know what I mean.

Man, it’s really tough — trying not to at once feed into fears about women (bloodthirsty sirens! witches!) or transform them into monstrous victims (rape ghosts! dead mothers!). The thing is, monsters are monsters for a reason: they tap into something about our culture that scares us. And that usually means playing with stereotypes to some degree. I think the key is just to do is smartly and critically, and make is as weird and complex as possible.

On another note — are you finding yourself in a similar position with your novel-in-progress on the supervillian “hench” figure … how do you handle the weight of the existing ways the genre and gender inside the genre is already coded, and maybe coded against what you’re trying to do?

In Hench, I am embracing every part of the genre in terms of the structure, but in terms of the actual embodiment of that structure, I am blowing up as much as I can. Which means it’s all about comics, of course, but there are no women in refrigerators. On the surface it appears to be about a superhero and supervillain duking it out, but really it’s about female friendship and recovering from trauma.

Thanks for talking, Natalie. This is really helpful.

GMB Chomichuk and Jonathan Ball (interview), Part 1

GMB Chomichuk (writer, teacher, mixed media artist, graphic novelist and proud Winnipegger) agreed to an interview only if I allowed him to also interview me — so this is Part 1 of a two-part, twinned interview (the second part will post next week).

Chomichuk won the Manitoba Young Writers Award when he was 15. He won the Manitoba Book Award for Best Illustrated Book in 2011, and again in 2015. His graphic novel series The Imagination Manifesto was nominated for Best Canadian Graphic Novel in the 2012 Aurora Awards. He is the founder of Alchemical Press and is always on the lookout for literary oddities. You can follow him on twitter @gmbchomichuk and see some of his work in progress at www.comicalchemy.blogspot.com.

His latest books are the picture book Cassie and Tonk (McNally) and the graphic novel Infinitum (McNally | Amazon).

Jonathan Ball: Why did you decide to start Alchemical Press?

GMB Chomichuk: I had been getting serious about the idea of visual story telling. I had a conversation with a friend who said that a people need to sell their strengths and buy their weaknesses, and on the same day got a call from a producer asking me to come and talk about doing a comic adaptation and some set design. When I was asked to use the likenesses of the cast for the comics, I figured doing so under the umbrella of a legal entity would be prudent. It just seemed the time. All ideas have their time, and I guess this was the time for Alchemical Press. Lots of things were changing in my life, and alchemy is change.

How does a poet/horror writer make a movie and sell it to The Comedy Network?

Ball: Don’t say horror, or I’ll never get published again. I used to say something else, like my work is “struck through with Gothicism” or “darkly fantastical” (I owe Hiromi Goto for that one). Since I am what people call, redundantly, a “literary writer,” I have to feign a pretentious investment in the marketing term “literary fiction.” Although to be honest I have gotten bored with that stance and started to call myself a “horror writer” in the press recently, even when not talking about horror.

I believe in the value of always doing something. I’ve been writing seriously for about 15 years at this point, which is about how long you have to work in order to reach Square One. The film you’re referring to, Spoony B, I decided to make a number of years ago, in order to learn the basics of filmmaking. I figured if I wanted to do some screenwriting, I should learn to think like a director, and the best way to do that was to become one. So I cobbled together about $500 and thought, “What kind of film can I make with only $500?”

I knew I couldn’t afford lab fees, so I developed all the film by hand in buckets and transferred it from my kitchen wall with a digicam. I put my friends in it and shot it as a silent film, like an old Keaton or Chaplin film, so that I didn’t have to record sound, because I couldn’t afford to record the sound well.

It turns out I have a small bit of talent for being a director (very small!), because The Comedy Network bought it almost immediately. Really, it was a happy accident that the film ended up being any good, and then Matthew Etches, who was the distribution coordinator for the Winnipeg Film Group managed to sell it, it was one of the last things he did before he quit that job. In many respects, I don’t know how it was sold, basically it sold because the Winnipeg Film Group sold it for me. The rights are available again now, if somebody wants to license it from the WFG!

What are your goals for Alchemical Press, and how do you see it as different from other presses?

Chomichuk: Alchemical Press is not a traditional press, it’s a story engine. We are a mercenary strike force of creative people that use art and words to fight our battles. We are a collective of innovative storytellers. We publisher the work of others, and we publish our own in collaboration with Absurd Machine Films and Vagabond Brigade, and Electric Monk Media web services, which allows us to be peer-reviewed while retaining creative control.

Too often peer review means “Give someone else the rights and revenue potential but keep the credit.” Don’t get me wrong, I love the book industry, but they do their thing, we do ours. Alchemical Press is a hybrid model that works with the direct sales market of the comic stores and the returnable market of the book seller, and the online make-it-up-as-you-like markets of the Internet.

Poetry, Prose, Pictures, Collage, Video, Digital Art. We aren’t interested in you doing things our way, we’re interested in getting things done.  If people have an idea worth sharing, we want to help.

Our goals are to get talented people the exposure they deserve. To allow those who are working with the medium of story for the medium of story, (Guys like Dave Ryan and his War of the Independents) to get their ideas out there and inspire people.

What’s your creative process, from idea to gestalt? Concept to page? Tell me your secrets I’ll tell you mine.

Ball: I never go out in search of ideas, because I have so many, a huge backlog of projects I will never have time to complete. Some of them are great projects too. But when I get an idea I stop whatever I’m doing and roll the idea around for a while. I make a note or two if I’m concerned about forgetting something, just a good sentence or two. Then I just let the idea retreat and go back to whatever I was doing.

The idea has to compete for survival amongst the thousand other ideas. If I find myself sticking with it, turning my mind to it over and over again, making more notes, and not letting it go, then eventually I’ll schedule some writing time to work on it. It might be years from when I think of an idea to when I write word one.

After I have a first draft, I produce a summary/outline based on that draft. Then I make all my major editing decisions based on this outline. I’ll cut pages, note where to add things, restructure, and so on, based on the outline. Then I’ll retype the entire document, rewriting as I go. I don’t go back and edit the original computer file, I type a new one so that I don’t feel bound to the first draft in any way and feel freer to rewrite rather than merely revise.

I hope to abandon this practice soon, because it is so time-consuming, but it works great so I can’t. I’m getting close to where I think I can let go of the practice, however. I started using Scrivener (Mac | Windows), and it separates the formatting from the text in a sense (because you have to output and finalize the formatting in Word, since the publishing industry uses Word). So far, I feel like mentally I’m not bound to the text when I play around in Scrivener, so maybe it will finally let me kill off this unproductive but useful practice.

After the second draft every draft is a revision unless there are some major issues. A structural edit might also entail changing things entirely, like turning it from a poem into a short story, or cutting out whole scenes and chapters and characters or whatever. Unless somebody has requested the manuscript, I think about where to send it when I start the revision process (usually with draft three, although I often complete up to eight or ten substantial drafts). Then it’s just a matter of finishing it, sending it wherever, and getting started on the next thing.

I used to work on a lot of projects at once but wasn’t accomplishing much. Now I try to stick to no more than two, switching when I get stuck on one.

What about your process? If I remember correctly, The Imagination Manifesto was at one point a novel called Strangeseed. So how did the idea develop, and go from being a prose work to a graphic novel?

Chomichuk: The Imagination Manifesto (McNally | Amazon) began as a prose novel that was just too visual to remain as text alone. Because my writing style often references allusion and mythology as a literary device, but sometimes I’m talking about figures from mythology, I realized that the book contained too many things that seemed like metaphors, and too many things that seemed like descriptions which the reader can misattribute.

If someone is described as like a snake, but they look human, you know it’s just an adjective, but here the women who looks like a snake is a snake-woman. I had started getting a bit of work in film, and the storyboard needs of some projects really solidified, at least for me, that this part of the tale had to be illustrative. There are many chapters of the tale that will contain long bits of prose, but only when words say it better than pictures and vice versa.

It sounds a bit silly as I write it, but most of my ideas come from dreams. I believe firmly that we can go looking for things when we sleep. Our memory is built up from patterns, but dreaming really lets one experience their own lives in a unique way. If something follows me back from a dream, I take notice, and try to give it somewhere to live. Sometimes as a character, sometimes as a setting, sometimes as a line of dialogue. I do my best to give my dreams a good home.

Ball: I’d like to hear about your process also insofar as how you choose or develop projects. I know you’ve turned down work in favour of edgier fare, and have often turned offers to “work” into offers to be a creative contributor — what’s your attraction to edgier, unconventional work, and why does having some degree of creative control mean so much to you, even when you’re working as a gun-for-hire?

Chomichuk: Collaboration is the point for me. The whole idea of alchemy is the process of mixing strange ingredients and intents and creating something new and vibrant.

When I do work-for-hire art I offer different pricing. One price is for the work I do with the understanding that I keep and control the original art and the right to remix the original images into new work as I see fit. The other price (much higher) gives the client control of the original art. What this usually does is open a dialogue about what art should be and the strengths of collaboration versus outright control.

When everyone is invested in a project, both creatively and financially, the discussion orders itself around the work, and the story, rather than who is in charge. There is a lot of ego floating around in this business, and I find that if/when I set the terms like this, then people I would not enjoy working with for the long haul aren’t the ones interested in working with me anyway.

A person’s portfolio should reflect the work they want, not just the work they’ve done. We all start somewhere, but you need to be assertive about what you want for yourself from any creative endeavour. I want creative autonomy when I work with someone, and I’m interested in working with people who want the same things.

Read Part 2 of my interview with GMB Chomichuk!

Natalee Caple on Writing Titles

I had the pleasure of interviewing Natalee Caple about writing titles. Since I met Caple, she has completed a poetry book, The Semiconducting Dictionary (Our Strindberg), a collection of short fiction, How I Came to Haunt My Parents, and a novel, In Calamity’s Wake. I don’t know how she does it, while working and raising a family.

Oh, wait, I do know! She is one of the hardest-working writers around, and one of the most dedicated. Her students at Brock University are some of the luckiest.

Natalee Caple is the author of seven books of poetry and fiction and the co-author of several incarnations of a full-length play titled i-Robot Theatre (based on Jason Christie’s i-Robot Poetry) with the Swallow-a-Bicycle Theatre Collective. Her most recent novel, In Calamity’s Wake was published to international acclaim in Canada and the US in 2013. Her collection of poetry, A More Tender Ocean, was shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award. Her book of short stories, The Heart is its Own Reason, was called “moving … arresting” by The New York Times. Her novel, Mackerel Sky was called “ breathlessly good” by the Washington Post. Natalee’s work has been optioned for film, and nominated for a National Magazine Award, the Journey Prize, the Bronwen Wallace Award, and the Eden Mills Fiction Award.

A Musical Sacrifice of Metal to the Glory of the Writing Gods

When I write, I listen to music. Specifically, I listen to the metal band Agalloch. I do not listen to any other music by any other band. Ever.

I have a playlist in iTunes called “Writing” that contains every album by Agalloch. My iPad and iPhone also contain the same albums, so that if I am writing on them I can listen to the same playlist.

(Does this meet the minimum standards of a “playlist”? The albums are just ordered alphabetically by title and the songs have not been curated — except, I suppose, by the band Agalloch.)

Why music, why metal, and why Agalloch?

Music is theorized to aid creative brain function and focus, when it does not require conscious attention and thus does not become a distraction.

Even if those theories are nonsense, I find that metal works well to erect a “wall of sound” and drown out intermittent noises. When I write in public, or even at home when I am not alone, wearing earphones also dissuades people from interrupting me.

Metal also shares many qualities with classical music in terms of its song structures, so (according to my own unproven theory) I achieve some of the supposed intellectual benefits (it’s debatable) of listening to classical music (which I don’t really enjoy) while erecting this wall of sound.

The singer of Agalloch scream-grunts for the most part, so I have no idea what he is saying and I cannot sing along or become distracted by the vocals. I have listened to the same few albums by Agalloch almost every single day for years and I have no idea what any of the songs are about, although I catch a word here and there.

When Agalloch releases a new album, I buy it and add it to my playlist, but otherwise the playlist never changes and I never listen to any other music when I write.

Being Extreme

Does this seem extreme? It is extreme. It requires no effort or thought. All the effort and thought goes into the writing.

I always start with the same song — “Limbs” — because the album it appears on happens to start with an “A” (as does Agalloch!) and so one time when I dumped all my “metal” into a giant playlist this band and song were automatically loaded at the start. By happy accident, the song begins with a high-pitched, whining drone-melody that lasts about 35 seconds.

Then the other instruments crash in and begin a slow churn. This signals my reptilian writing brain the way Pavlov would signal to his dogs that the bell meant supper.

This is my behavioural science approach to writing — and it works. When I hear Agalloch, I start writing. I don’t find myself stuck, wondering what to write. My body just begins, because I have trained it to begin when the music begins.

My Life Without Agalloch

Can I write without Agalloch? Of course. I am less focused, and more distractible. I always was, anyway: the music was a solution to this problem, so without the music I revert back to the problem. I’m no worse off if for some reason I need or want to write in a space without Agalloch.

Can I write with other music? Of course. However, since I’ve trained myself to work with Agalloch, different music becomes a distraction. I used to make playlists for each project. What a waste of time. At best, I would procrastinate. At worst, I created great playlists that distracted me to the point where I stopped writing and just started listening to music.

Do you need to write with music, or with Agalloch? Obviously not. What I recommend is nothing so narrow — the point is to create a series of simple triggers, behavioural triggers, that you can use to let your body and mind know that writing begins now.

I use three such triggers (it’s best, with this approach, to keep things simple and the elements limited):

  1. An alarm on my iPhone — it plays Elvis Costello’s “Every Day I Write the Book” five minutes before my scheduled writing time, to let me know that I should get ready
  2. Coffee, which I only drink while writing, or after writing (I start making coffee when Elvis tells me to)
  3. Agalloch (when I’m getting down to business)

The Final Flaw

The one drawback of the system is that I can no longer enjoy Agalloch. I’ve trained my body and mind to tune their music out.

Whenever I put on Agalloch’s music “just to listen to,” I start tuning it out automatically and begin to write. I can’t help it. I just start getting ideas for things to write, and since I always have a writing venue handy (like my phone), it’s easy to start.

I have sacrificed Agalloch on the desk-altar of the writing gods.

Credit where credit is due

The above-mentioned song, “Limbs,” appears on one of my favourite Agalloch albums, Ashes Against the Grain. All hail Natalie Zed for introducing me to Agalloch!

Daniel Scott Tysdal on Writing Exercises and The Writing Moment

I had the pleasure of interviewing Daniel Scott Tysdal about writing exercises and his book The Writing Moment: A Practical Guide to Creating Poems.

If memory serves (and it usually does not), I met Daniel Scott Tysdal when he submitted a chapbook manuscript to my micropress, The Martian Press. I loved and published the book, Acts of Barbarity and Vandalism, poems produced through the erasure of texts relating to genocide, in 2006.

That same year saw the publication of Tysdal’s debut collection, Predicting the Next Big Advertising Breakthrough Using a Potentially Dangerous Method. This book remains one of the most impressive debuts by a Canadian author, in my view, and solidified my admiration for Tysdal and his work.

Now Tysdal has teamed up with Oxford UP to produce the best book on writing poetry I have ever seen, and the only book on the craft of writing poetry that I recommend. From the preface:

“The second assumption about the creative process upon which this book is founded derives from the first assumption: if poems arise out of a convergence of occasions, then the best way to teach the tools, techniques, and traditions of poetry is to immerse poets in the complex blend of occasions that characterizes the act of writing. This immersion is an effective way to encourage poets to write poems that — to honour the root of the word “verse” — turn, unfold dynamically with ingenuity, imagination, and skill. The following chapters accomplish this immersive introduction to craft by pairing my thoughts on a topic with a series of practical, hands-on writing moments.

“These writing moments are micro-writing exercises that invite you to try your hand at the topic under discussion. I call these short exercises writing moments because of the helpful double meaning of moment. These writing moments are “moments” because they will only take a short time to complete and because, when you undertake them, you will be “having a moment,” experiencing a break from the day-to-day that may already be common practice for you: turning—from a dinner table conversation or from an obligation at work or from a mindless stroll—to your notebook to scribble down the line or the form or the vision that just struck you.

“The writing moments have been designed with two goals in mind. The first goal is to immerse you in this meeting of life and art, this convergence of occasions, by coupling active practice with abstract explanation; as is the case with all poets, your reading process will also become your writing process. The second is to initiate you into the two extreme poles of the poetic practice: the work—the writing routine, the daily grind, the practice that becomes a habit—and the invigorating experience of inspiration—the burst of insight or feeling with which a poem so often begins (and the experience that can transform the writing habit into an addiction). Writing moments take place within the purview of both of these poles, nurturing your habit and stimulating you to compose new work.

“Each section also ends with a number of writing exercises and a pair of sample poems composed by some of the many talented students with whom I have had the good fortune to work. The writing exercises will give you the opportunity to further expand on the work undertaken during the writing moments, encouraging you to test out the new lessons and techniques as you compose new poems.” (xiv-xv)

Daniel Scott Tysdal is the author of three books of poetry, Fauxccasional Poems (forthcoming from Icehouse, 2015), The Mourner’s Book of Albums (Tightrope, 2010), and Predicting the Next Big Advertising Breakthrough Using a Potentially Dangerous Method (Coteau, 2006). Predicting received the ReLit Award for Poetry (2007) and the Anne Szumigalski Poetry Award (2006). Oxford University Press published his poetry textbook, The Writing Moment: A Practical Guide to Creating Poems (2014). He is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of English at the University of Toronto Scarborough. In 2012, the UTSC student newspaper, The Underground, named him one of their four “Professors of the Year.”

Chadwick Ginther on Practical Matters

Chadwick Ginther is the author of Thunder Road (Ravenstone Books), a fantasy in which the larger-than-life personalities and monsters of Norse mythology lurk hidden in Manitoba. A sequel, Tombstone Blues, is set for Fall 2013. His short stories have found a home in On SpecTesseracts and the Fungi anthology from Innsmouth Free Press; his reviews and interviews have appeared in Quill and QuireThe Winnipeg Review and Prairie Books NOW. A bookseller for over ten years, when he’s not writing his own stories, he’s selling everyone else’s. He lives and writes in Winnipeg.

How do you decide what you’ll work on, when you sit down to write?

I’m a total pantser (as in, by the seat of) when it comes to writing, so the short answer is a simple one: whatever I feel like. If I’m in the middle of a project, or chasing a deadline, what I feel like gets narrowed down somewhat by necessity.

Do you keep a writing schedule, with any sort of quotas?

I do have a writing schedule, which is still somewhat in flux as I try to build up a new routine following a change in my day job. I aim for between 500-1000 handwritten words per day divided between my bus ride to and from work and my lunch break, and 2000 new words a day on my weekends. While I used to spend my mornings before work trying to sneak out an extra page or two, now I use them to transcribe the previous day’s work. I don’t have a hard and fast goal for weekly or monthy word counts, but every month I write up a blog post about my goals for that month, and if I set a target for myself, I name it there. It keeps me honest, and because forcing myself to hit those self-set goals helps build the discipline to make your paying deadlines.

What stops you from writing?

The business of writing is what usually stops me from putting down new words these days. Updating my website, blogging, attending conferences, having to stop in the middle of a new story because the edits from the previous story have arrived, that sort of thing. I also freelance as a reviewer and interviewer, and I find it hard to work on my own fiction when one of those articles comes up. I am definitely a creature of momentum and inertia. and when I’m flying on a project, it’s all I want to do. Unfortunately, once I’ve been interrupted, I find it hard to avoid the siren call of social media and get started again.

What is the worst advice about writing you’ve ever heard or received?

There’s so much of it! To narrow all of my bad advice down to a generality, I’d say generalities. Anytime advice sounds like “the way I succeeded as a writer is the only way that you can” is terrible advice. Every writer is different and the only constant in the industry is that it keeps changing.

Does Writing Get Easier?

When I talk to beginning writers, they often say something that makes it clear that they think writing gets easier. Sometimes they flat-out ask me if it gets easier. I don’t know what to say.

On one level, it gets easier. I have been publishing articles, reviews, stories, and poems fairly regularly since 2000. I have published three books since 2009, one of which recently won a Manitoba Book Award, and I have a fourth book under contract for 2014. It has gotten easier in the sense that I know I can publish. I’ve published, and I could do it again. Barring stroke or injury, I will always be able to write publishable work.

It also gets easier in the sense that people start asking you things. They ask you to submit to their journal. They ask you to teach a course. They ask you to give a reading. You get invited to do a lot of things for which you earlier spent time begging. I don’t really have that big of a reputation, and I imagine that things will get even easier in this regard as my reputation grows (assuming it grows!) and things will get a good deal easier if I have any large success.

On the other hand, it doesn’t get easier. I still get rejections – even after I’ve been invited to submit. The other day I was watching an interview with Stephen King. He was talking about how he sent the short story “N.” to The New Yorker and they considered it but ultimately turned it down for reasons of length. Think about that for a moment. Stephen King is still getting rejections.

Recently, I moved my three published books onto my computer desk. I put them right beneath the screen, spine-out. My name facing me. I did this because I observed that when I was writing, I felt as if I had never written anything before. Sometimes you just forget that you’ve done it before. Now when I feel that way, I just look down. Oh, look! Books with my name on them! I’ve already published some books! It doesn’t get easier.

David Annandale on Practical Matters

For a new feature, “Practical Matters,” I ask a handful of practically minded questions to a group of writers (then later, ask a new group a set of new questions).

David Annandale writes fiction in a variety of genres, including SF/fantasy, horror, and thrillers, and non-fiction about film and video games. He teaches courses on film, games, literature and creative writing at the University of Manitoba. You can find him online at www.DavidAnnandale.com

How do you decide what you’ll work on, when you sit down to write?

Deadlines determine that for me. Whatever is due first, is what gets first attention.

Do you keep a writing schedule, with any sort of quotas?

I find it difficult to maintain a regular schedule, and so go with the quotas instead. During the summer, I try to keep to 2000 words a day. During the university year, 1000 words a day.

What stops you from writing?

Apart from the normal, healthy demands of a day job and family life? Letting myself get distracted by that combination resource and time-waster, the Internet.

What is the worst advice about writing you’ve ever heard or received?

Though it was presented more as indirect advice (what one particular writer, whose name I now cannot recall advocated), the worst idea I’ve every heard was to discard any story ending thought of before actually arriving at that ending. If I don’t know how a story ends before I begin, I might as well issue an open invitation to writer’s block to make itself at home. In the genres I write in, not having the ending in place from the start is, I think, fatal.