Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

suzannesutherland's blog

Writers' Groups I Have Known: Part III, The Everything Else

To finish up my month here as Open Book's WIR, I'm giving thanks and paying tribute to the writers' groups I've been fortunate enough to be a part of.

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There are two more group who I owe a great credit to: one that helped me figure out that short fiction was definitely not for me, and one that has helped me to establish my voice as a writer for kids and teens.

That first distinction sounds like a negative, but it really wasn't. The Flaky Lushes were a group of mostly poets who gave me my first notes on what would become my first book, When We Were Good. We were known for being stragglers, and were all working on vastly different pieces, but the summer we spent meeting regularly was a really special one.

Writers' Groups I Have Known: Part II, The Dewburying

If you're just tuning in, I decided to wrap up my month as Open Book Toronto's Writer in Residence by paying tribute to the writers' groups I've been a part of that have helped get me where I am today.

Because if you, dear reader, take nothing else away from the nearly 10K (!) that I've written as this month's WIR, I hope it's that there is nothing more important for a writer than finding other writers who will tell you that what you're doing is no good. No good at all.

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While every writers' group I've been a part of has taught me something, the group that I took part in at the end of my time at the University of Toronto is the one I give the most credit to for helping me develop my inner critic.

To Descant, With Gratitude

Tonight Descant Magazine - after 45 years of publishing - is celebrating its last-ever issue with a goodbye party at The Revival.

Many things have been said about Descant's demise by writers and literary folks whose resumes are a whole lot more impressive than mine. Still, I owe Descant quite a lot, and it'd be pretty crass of me not to say thank you.

Descant - specifically their Ghosts and the Uncanny-themed issue, published a few years ago - was my first paid publication credit.

Which, if you've ever been a newbie writer dreaming of validation, you know is a big moment.

Being published in Descant allowed me to apply for the Toronto Arts Council's granting program, which in turn gave me the confidence to revise and submit my first novel, When We Were Good, for publication.

Writers' Groups I Have Known: Part I, The WiER-ering

Everything I know about editing, I learned from writers’ groups.

Well, okay, maybe not quite. I took a great copy-editing course at Ryerson a few years ago with an amazing instructor - part of their publishing certificate program - and have learned a tonne working as an editorial assistant at Groundwood Books from our senior editorial team since I started almost three years ago. But come on, it sounded pretty good, didn’t it?

Everything I know about self-editing, I learned from writers’ groups.

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My first writers’ group, or at least the closest proximity I had to one as a kid, was the Writers In Electronic Residence (WiER) program that my middle school participated in when I was in grade seven.

The Year of Magical Plagiarism (or, I Was a Sixth Grade Cheater)

A sketchy boy I had a crush on for three days at camp once told me, breathily, that once you were a cheater you were always a cheater.

It was after lights-out, around a campfire that marked our clothes for days, and, at the time, it felt extra-strength profound. Like most camp revelations do.

And while it was true for him - he confessed that he'd cheated on every girlfriend he'd ever had, and cheated on another one later that summer - I'm reasonably proud of the fact that cheating (along with crushing on sketchy boys) is something that I've grown out of.

And yes, of course I understand that adherence or non-adherence to monogamy is vastly different from the act of plagiarism, but come on, it was a cute introduction, wasn't it?

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Word Count Ain't Nothing But a Number

Full disclosure that I am writing this piece for 100% selfish reasons.

So that when I am frantically looking up word counts and page counts for books I admire in a bid to compare my own work alongside them, I may stop for a second and go, "Oh, right. The book will be as long as it needs to be."

Full disclosure no. 2 is that I am - due to some excessive bad luck this week - writing this entry on my phone, whose screen is cracked to the degree that it pretty closely resembles the album art of Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures.

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There are good books that are very, very short.

There are good books that are very, very long.

There are good books that are exactly right in the middle.

And there are books with the absolute ideal word count that are no good at all.

Praising Impatience

On Tuesday I posted an interview with the lovely Vikki VanSickle about writing while working in publishing (WWWIP, for short). The quote from her that stuck out the most for me was this:

"Learn to get comfortable with patience, the most elusive of virtues. Anything that's worth having is worth waiting for."

Yes, I thought to myself, absolutely. Patience is the key.

But, see, the thing is - I am maybe the least patient person you've ever met.

It was a punchline at parties when I was little. Relatives who came bearing gifts of clothing at Christmas or on my birthday would be treated to an instant fashion show as I raced to my room to try on my new duds and then wore them for the rest of the night.

Both Sides, Now: An Interview with Vikki VanSickle

Vikki VanSickle and I have a few things in common; from our alliterative names and a love of all things kidlit, to the fact that, in addition to writing books, we also work in publishing. It's not always an easy balance, but Vikki handles it with style and grace. And it's shaping up to be a particularly big year for her; her fourth novel, Summer Days, Starry Nights, is a finalist for the Ontario Library Association's Red Maple Award, and she has both a digital non-fiction short and a picture book on the horizon. We chatted a bit about what it's like working on both sides of the desk.

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Which came first, your first publishing credit or your first publishing job?

Sorry, Not Sorry

When people asked me if my first novel — called When We Were Good, a coming-of-age story set in Toronto about going to all-ages shows and grieving the loss of a grandparent— was based on my life, I told them that it was not.

It’s a question that people love to ask, or don’t even bother to, with the assumption being that any story of adolescence written by someone under the age of 30 is a defacto memoir disguised as fiction. So I swore up and down: no, no, no, no, no — this story, these characters, were not me.

And it was true. Almost.

Talking with the amazing Jess Taylor

I don't remember exactly when I met Jess Taylor, but I do remember when it suddenly seemed like she was everywhere all at once. Every reading, every literary party and event - she was there, supporting writers and connecting people. I was - and am! - totally amazed by her ability to champion local writers, promote young talent, and generally kick ass and take names.

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