Tag Archives: creative writing

A November evening that led to The Unpublished City

The Unpublished City line-up

The Unpublished City (Toronto: BookThug, 2017).

Where to begin? Some things, I believe, happen for a purpose, a reason. Happenstance, I like to think. Se-ren-di-pi-ty.

Last November, I had the privilege of being a part of a small group of writers sharing living room space with Dionne Brand. Discussing our current projects, our aspirations, our roadblocks. It wasn’t the best time in my life, but I am glad I made space for that evening. Something about that evening and its conversations opened a floodgate in (the writer) me. I came away, alive.

Line-up

17 of us (minus Katheryn Wabegijig) being introduced by Dionne Brand, Harbourfront Centre, 22nd June 2017. Photo: Catherine Coreno/@cthrn_c, from Twitter.

A part of the privilege came with knowing Phoebe Wang, who has been/is/and possibly will be nothing short of invincible when it comes to creating a much needed community for BIPOC writers. I don’t say this lightly. I don’t say this because I have come to value her friendship. I say this because it’s true. Because very few can do as much as Phoebe does in filling the much needed gap in the Toronto lit scene when it comes to recognizing multiplicity of identities; or, as it’s more easily understood, creating a space for “diversity” to thrive.

And so it was my knowing of Phoebe that led to that evening in November, and that evening that led to an opportunity to submit to an anthology curated by Dionne Brand, The Unpublished City. The anthology is an initiative of IFOA (International Festival of Literary Authors)/ Toronto Lit Up to promote diverse writing in Toronto. The anthology features 18 writers from the Greater Toronto Area.

I have a short flash fiction piece in it, “Mars in Scorpio”, a piece just shy of 600 words. It was the first creative piece I wrote this year. It was the first piece I wrote in a long time. It was the first piece of fiction that poured out of me. I credit it to that evening in November. (I also credit it to my partner who suggested I use a personal story to write this one, and the more I say about how lucky I am to have someone like him, it will never be enough. It is also happenstance in so many ways, our meeting, our being together, but that’s another story for another time.)

5 questions with IFOA

Self explanatory.

Now, almost six months into this year, I have more such pieces since. Pieces that have similarly poured out me. My friend, Heather Olaveson, says, they were waiting. All I needed was a push.

Here’s a toast to that November evening.

My five questions about writing with IFOA can be read here.

A little something on the anthology in Quill and Quire can be read here.

The anthology is available through BookThug here.

Doyali and I.

Before the event at Harbourfront Centre. With Doyali Islam, whose poem “43rd Parallel” is also in The Unpublished City. June 22 2017.

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How, then, to begin, to begin?

If the subject – here, the writer of colour – is unaware of the absence of speech, then where does he/she begin? Or, as Roy Miki asks, “How, then, to begin, to begin?” – an excerpt from the final essay I wrote for Dr. Smaro Kamboureli’s graduate English class at University of Toronto end April 2015.

On 24th November 2015, I was invited by Dr. Jing Jing Chang to give a short talk to her undergrad class on Bollywood films at Wilfrid Laurier University. The talk addresses my existence as a South Asian person/academic/artist in Canada, and negotiating that identity through creative writing and academia.

The talk ends with a performance of my most recent work of poetry, “elephant in the room.”

Since I don’t completely despise how I sound, here is the talk in its entirety:

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Five Years Strong

4 stages of writing

I woke up earlier today, cognizant of the fact that five years had passed since I embarked on this self-journey of finding myself as a writer. Five years is a long time.

So much has changed since. I have changed since. There are days when I stare at my face and can’t recognize who I am anymore. Not that it’s a bad thing. Change is good. Change should be constant. What is life without change? It’s complacency one must fear most.

I realize that every time I hit a year with this blog, I come farther away from the naive twenty four year old who on an impulse one night created this blog, ever hopeful that within a few years, she would be. A writer.

But a year comes and goes.

Not that I am not proud of all that I have achieved since the last time. Taking into account all the drama that went down, I am doing alright.

I had the privilege of working with Sonnet L’Abbe on a bunch of my stories these past few months. She was perceptive enough to point out that I need to manipulate my readers more. Play with their emotions. That makes sense. I am not very good at being tactful. I like to lay out things the way they are. Yeah, I am not very deceptive. That is an area I must work on. (Yet, I do know of a person who is extremely deceptive as a person, has an MFA in creative writing, and hasn’t published anything ever. So, I am not sure if that is an accurate assessment – on my part – of why I fail as a good fiction writer.)

novel

Meanwhile, I continue to publish more poetry. This year I have two poems forthcoming in The Feminist Wire. That’s the biggest publication I have ever broken into.

I have also become more sure of myself. I understand people better, read them better than I read myself sometimes. I work by instinct now, and it works.

No, I am not ungrateful. But somehow, somewhere, it doesn’t feel enough.

I guess I should do something about this feeling of unhappiness. Harness it, like Sara Ahmed says.

Watch me, go on. Watch me do it.

I have a few projects lined up this year, but I also have a few loose ends to tie up. So far, this year has been so damn promising. Even with the drama. And my instinct tells me, it’s just going to get better.

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W.T.F.

book

Disclaimer: This one got a little personal.

I have been questioning my life choices lately.

Here I am. Finishing up my first year as a doctoral candidate in English. On the cusp of thirty.

Not that age should be a factor. I am not worried about getting older. Hell, I am actually ready for the big 3-0 (still several months away). Nor am I in a rush to get married, having recently extricated myself from a relationship that wasn’t really working that well.

No, I am just wondering why I haven’t done it yet. Written the book, you know? There was a time when I saw myself a published author by the time I hit my thirties.

A joke really, considering that one only gets one chance at that first book. Fuck up, and you are fucked.

Pardon the language, but really, W.T.F?

A writer friend who is also as engaged in academia as I am states that she is unable – unable – to be both a creative writer, and an academician.

I beg to differ. I can be both. For me, it’s not about the switching between the academician and the creative writer that’s the problem. But the mental space. The time one gives oneself to become both – not necessarily at the same time – and do it well.

Well, well. That is the key word, isn’t it?

How does one do it well? How does one know that one is doing it well? And, how does one do it and know that one is not fucking up?

I have realized these are questions that have their own answers, depending on who you are asking.

Me? I am still searching for my own versions of truth.

But I feel them shimmering. Hovering just out of reach.

But there they are. Right there. See?

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The Erotics of a Queer Fantastique

Source:

Source: “Hallucinations” http://xkcd.com/203/

This came to me in a dream.

Sometimes, dreams hold the keys to your creative innards, the threads of which you must then pull out and knit together, make a boutonniere of sorts, and make a peace offering.

To cleanse the self. And, to gather your innermost self.

Sometimes, it is the only way to release that part of you, to release what is inevitably you, and yours.

My short fiction piece (my most queer piece, and I do not say this lightly), “Regular,” is in the last issue (themed: The Erotics of a Queer Fantastique) of LIES/ISLE. You can read it here. And, trust me, there is nothing regular about this one.

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My Top 30

Cover photograph of LIES/ISLE's last issue (Issue #7).

Cover photograph of LIES/ISLE’s last issue (Issue #7).

Everyone should have a top five, a top ten, or even a top twenty.

I have a top thirty list.

That’s thirty literary magazines I want to see my work in.

The top three are the cream of the cream. The literary elite.  They are listed in the order of their (almost) unbreakable publishing bourgeoisie-ness.

The rest that follow are still pretty big deal, but they are listed in no particular order.

Some of them (a whole lot actually, now that I am looking at them again) are Canadian.

Some Canadian magazines from my "Top 30" list.

Some Canadian magazines from my “Top 30” list.

Why this list?

Because it’s good to aspire.

Also, from what I have heard, publishing credits not only earn you street cred (as a writer), but also boosts your ever flailing writer’s ego.

And since recently I got to cross off a name from the list, I have been on top of a cloud higher than #9.

My most queer piece till date, “Regular,” got accepted by LIES/ISLE! Watch this space.

Update: My  TOP 30 list. Click to download.

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Havana Calling

havana

Freshly painted pink car in Havana – © iStockphotos.com/Christian Bernfeld – Source: http://www.timeout.com/travel/features/392/20-great-things-to-do-in-havana

This post comes a little belatedly, not because I didn’t know what to write, but because I was/am busy finishing up before I depart to feed my soul for two whole weeks.

That’s two weeks without working on my thesis, or thinking about deadlines, or marking papers, or answering questions to concerned parents who unknowingly turn up the stress factor by affectionate nagging.

That’s two weeks of engaging with an unknown place and people and experiences through creative writing and photography.

Godammnit, I can’t wait!

But le sigh. I have to finish a mountain of work before I get on that plane.

So on the eve of 23rd April, I completed four years of being a blogger. Ta-da!

What did I do that day? Nothing substantial. Meaning, no celebration as such. But possibly worked on a thesis chapter, as I have been doing every day now.

So here’s the lowdown. I don’t know if anyone has noticed, but I haven’t been publishing much lately. Not because I haven’t been sending my stuff out, or writing anything at all (Oh, but I have! So. MUCH.), but because I have been aiming higher.

By higher I mean I have been sending my work to journals where I truly want my work to be seen (won’t take names. Don’t make me! Not yet…). The result has been that I have also been getting a lot of rejection letters. Not form ones. Actual letters with feedback where most of them say:

We appreciate the chance to read it. Unfortunately, your piece was not selected for publication. We sincerely hope you will submit again in the future. 

ps. Thanks for the chance to read this. You do a great job of capturing voice in this piece. It made the shortlist for this round.

It made it to the shortlist! Atleast on three different occasions. Which means I am getting something right. In this essay on academics/writers and fashion, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says as much. She calls it “progress of sorts”. That’s where I am right now.

I have also been fashion blogging. It’s a one year project (not just for now. It just is.). It has been evolving and frustrating and fun and all kinds of mixed feelings. From a post every week, I have dissolved it to every alternate week just because it is too much work. Mad respect to fashion bloggers all around. Also, just like my little sister, if anyone else is wondering WHAT THE EFF IS THE POINT? You will find out in a year, when the project’s done.

And for those of you not in the know, my second MA thesis has a creative writing component. Which is really parts of my work-in-progress novel. And, for which, I was allowed to take Carolyn Smart‘s fiction and poetry workshop classes over the past eight months.

In fact, Smart is so awesome that she even edited a short story for a competition. I didn’t make it in, which sort of broke my heart, but it just makes me want to work harder on the story. It will find a home elsewhere, I am sure.

So, there you have it. This is what it has come to after four years of blogging online.

Not a writer yet, but getting there.

Meanwhile, HAVANA CALLING!

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