canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

Editorial: Fiction issue #16

by Michael Bryson

Another new start for TDR. After seven years and 15 previous issues, finally an editorial to introduce new fiction: September 2006 issue. Yes, have the editor explain himself. What was he thinking? What exactly are his criteria? Which new story should the reader dive into first?

The editor will begin by thanking all who sent in submissions. To present this new issue of four short stories, he reviewed 123 submissions. As always, the submissions included many of quality, and it would have been possible to put together a number of different four-story issues. To those of you whose work was not selected for this issue, please know that your work was read with interest and even if TDR is not able to offer detailed comments back on submissions, your evident dedication to your craft has been noted. Keep writing. Keep hope alive.

The new stories:

What, if anything, unites them? Not subject matter. Taylor's story, set in Guatemala, is narrated by a man with no legs; he encounters a passed-out drunk youth in his regular begging spot. Steinmetz takes us into the back room of a very odd photography studio. Jones' overweight narrator wonders why he got fired and had to move into the basement of his parents' house; his parents' marriage is dissolving and his father has a new line of business: celebrity furniture. Whittall's narrator is in the process of moving from Montreal to Toronto, after breaking up with her junkie boyfriend.

I would like to believe that what unites these stories is the quality of the writing. It's the criterion as an editor that I try to keep foremost in my mind. Of course, quality has a subjective element before which one can only confess: yes, it's true. So be it. The selections presented here are mine. I take responsibility for them. Though, I also insist if the reader finds the stories are any good, the credit should go to the authors alone. 

Finally, one wonders what Douglas Coupland would make of all of this. In The New York Times recently (Aug. 22, 2006), Coupland outlined his current view of "Canadian literature":

One could say that CanLit is the literary equivalent of representational landscape painting, with small forays into waterfowl depiction and still lifes. It is not a modern art form, nor does it want to be. Scorecards are kept and points are assigned according to how realistically a writer has depicted, say, the odor of the kitchen the narrator inhabited as a child, the sense of disjuncture a character feels at living in a cold northern country with few traditions versus the country he or she has left behind, the quirks and small intimate moments of rural Ontario life or, metaphorically, how well one has painted the feathers on the wings of a duck. CanLit is not a place for writers to experiment, and doesn’t claim to be that kind of place. CanLit is about representing a certain kind of allowed world in a specific kind of way, and most writers in Canada are O.K. with that — or are at least relieved to know the rules of the game from the outset and not have to waste time fostering illusions.

See also the Toronto Star article on Coupland's rant and Nathan Whitlock's response to Coupland on his blog. Personally, I found Coupland's piece hysterical. Here's another quote from it:

Last year I was flipping TV channels and, on channel 821, watched a live broadcast of CanLit’s annual award ceremony, the Gillers, piped in from a Toronto ballroom. It was as if I’d tuned into the Monster Mash — not a soul under 60, and I could practically smell the mummy dust in the room. This accidental peephole into that world really pinpointed just how lost in time and space CanLit has become, how its scope has narrowed, and how stingy it has been with the grooming of successors.

Whitlock, for his part, locates the "problem" elsewhere:

What is really lacking in Canadian literature is courage – the courage of writers to pursue a literary vision single-mindedly, oblivious to the potential rewards, financial and otherwise, the whims of arts-grant juries, and false dichotomies like urban vs rural, experimental vs mainstream, or young vs old.

Meanwhile, the Star can't help but be deadly earnest, even asking writer Andrew Pyper if, as a Canada Council juror, he was told to favour small town or immigrant themes.

"Certainly not," Pyper said. "If there are certain tendencies or themes in Canadian literature, they are not prescribed by the Canada Council. The judging was completely free."

So it is also at TDR. Completely free. Though Whitlock's advice is excellent also. 

Be brave. Rock on.


Astute readers will note Shane Jones' biography. He isn't writing "Canadian literature." He's a resident of the Great Republic To The South. To other non-Canucks reading this and thinking of submitting, please do. Literature, IMHO, ain't nationalistic. We want to hear from you. We're all in this together. (Very Canadian sentiment that!)

Michael Bryson is the editor of TDR and a short story writer, too. His story "Six Million Million Miles" appeared in 05: Best Canadian Stories (Oberon Press).







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