Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

It's a long story

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Years ago I used to send off pretty much everything I wrote to various literary magazines and quarterlies, but at some point I gave up. Writing fiction (and, to a greater extent I suppose, poetry) is a process of delayed (or permanently deferred) gratification, as it is. In most cases, the real joy – which comes mixed in with a lot of anguish, teeth-gnashing, doubt, envy, frustration, fear, resentment, hopelessness, and lethargy – is in the process of writing itself. The joy of having something published and, better yet, read, is an important one, but has to be waited on. By the time it comes, you are usually (hopefully) working on something else, so it feels less direct. It’s a pat on the back, sometimes literally.

Which in some senses is how it should be. The writing's the thing, above all. The rest is gravy.

The whole process of submitting to literary magazines stretches that delayed sense of gratification to an absurd length, however. You send off your work – complete with self-addressed stamped envelope, without which most places won’t even look at your story, but which is kind of like making soldiers go into battle carrying their own body bags – and then wait for 8, 12, 18, 24 months for a reply, usually terse and in the negative. (Having worked at a literary quarterly, I know that there are many writers who have received such terse, negative letters with my name at the bottom.) If you happen to get accepted, there is a brief moment of elation, before you realize that the story will likely not appear for another 8, 12, 18, 24 months. At that point, you will receive a contributor’s copy, maybe a cheque for $50, and a note suggesting that the money could be easily put toward a subscription to the magazine.

And that’s it. You may never know if anyone actually ever reads the story or not. And, given that it’s a story that has waited some three or four years to see the light, you’re not sure anymore that you want anyone to read it.

There’s a lot of masochism and stoicism involved in writing, but that’s a little much.

I mentioned in an earlier post that a story of mine has just been published in the newest edition of Exile magazine. I read from the story the other night at an event to launch the issue – thanks to Barry, Michael, Meaghan, and everyone at the magazine for both including the story and inviting me out to read.

The story, called “Mr Harman’s Wedding,” had been a little orphaned. I wrote it a couple of years ago, between drafts of my novel, and never really made an effort to get it published. I posted it for a while on my website as a downloadable pdf, figuring that was better than nothing, but it is good to finally see it between covers. It’s a story of mine I actually still like – a rare thing – so if you happen across it, please give it a read. And let me know what you think.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Nathan Whitlock

Nathan Whitlock is the review editor of Quill & Quire magazine. His writing and reviews have appeared in The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, Maisonneuve, Toro, Geist, Saturday Night and elsewhere. His novel, A Week of This: a novel in seven days, was published this spring by ECW Press.

Go to Nathan Whitlock’s Author Page