Sunday, September 30, 2012

Interview with Catherine Greenwood, Finalist for the CBC 2011-2012 Poetry Prize

Victoria, BC resident Catherine Greenwood was shortlisted for the CBC 2011-2012 CBC Poetry Prize this past month. The winner was announced on September 25, 2012, and prize winner Sadiga de Meijer’s winning poem can be read on the CBC website.

But for now, I would like to chat with my friend, Catherine. She holds a BA in English and Writing from the University of Victoria, and an MA in English from the University of New Brunswick.

Welcome, Catherine, and many congrats on being shortlisted for the CBC 2011-2012 Poetry Prize, with your poem “Texada Queen.” What an honour this must be! I know you have submitted to this contest before - what does this literary ‘nod’ mean to you?

Thanks very much, Lisa. The CBC Literary Prize has been around for a long time, in slightly different forms. I remember years ago listening to some winning poems being read on the radio and thinking how great it would be win, not just for the prize money, which is very generous, but for the prestige factor. My poem making it to the finals this year was a big surprise, the kind of good news you secretly hope for, yet find hard to believe when it comes.

You have worked on a fiction novel and short stories in the past – any intention of returning to that genre?

Yes. The novel and the short story manuscript need more work before I can send them off to publishers, and have been set aside for quite some time. I hope I can return to them with a fresh perspective now, still able see what I originally had in mind with these projects, and finish them properly!

What do you like about writing poetry over fiction?

Poems in process often suggest a particular shape or form, even if they are free verse, and I’ve developed a sense of where they need more work, pushing and pulling the lines around, adding and subtracting words and ideas. With fiction, I’m not as practiced, and the self-editing process can involve eradicating large swaths of text – I struggle with that, and question my instincts more with fiction.

Is your poem autobiographical? If so, was it difficult to write? Was it cathartic to write? If not autobiographical, what was the basis for the poem? The inspiration? Why did you write it?

Much more autobiographical than usual for me. Perhaps I subconsciously chose a difficult form – the rhyming triplets – so that I wouldn’t have to engage directly with the uncomfortable memories of that event, which is something I’ve always regretted. My attention was focused on the problem of the poem’s structure. When, near the end of writing the piece, I put down the words “I can’t help my father recover”, the truth of that statement hit home. I don’t tend to think of creative writing as a cathartic or therapeutic process, but in this case, it did bring me up against some emotions I hadn’t considered, and it allowed me to wrap a narrative around an old regret, and in some weird way, put it to bed.

I know you have a new poetry book coming out in 2013 published by Brick Books called ‘The Lost Letters.’ Is there anything you can share about this upcoming book?

There are a few sections, tied together with themes of loss, and the material versus the spiritual realms, or at least that’s the way it looks to me at this stage. The main sequence, “Dear Peter,” is inspired by the love story of the medieval couple Eloise and Peter Abelard. After being separated early in life, they reconnected through letters, which reflect the changing nature of their relationship as they progressed in their separate monastic careers. I’ve set their story in the present, in an attempt have that past echo against contemporary notions of romantic love.

Do you have a writing routine? How often to do you write?

Oh, gosh, no. Though I wish I did have a routine. I write when I can get time off work, usually. My need to earn a living seriously compromises my literary ambitions, as it does for many other writers. Perhaps that’s why poetry is what I tend to get finished and published – it’s shorter, and can sometimes be tackled on weekends if not to much else is going on.

What inspires you? What blocks your writing? If and when you get ‘stuck,’ what do you do to get the creativity flowing again?

I get inspired by other great writing, by movies, by travel, by stories people share about their lives, and by nature. And by having time to contemplate, or just be. Business blocks my writing. I’ve discovered that if I let myself do what I ‘feel’ like doing, rather than what I think I ‘should’ be doing, I get creative. Good question, one I need to ask myself periodically. A book called “Unstuck” by Jane Anne Staw really helped me when I hadn’t written for a while, and I recommend it highly.

What is next for you in the writing world? Have you entered any contests? What opportunities have arisen for you from this experience in being shortlisted in this prestigious competition?

I will focus on finishing “The Lost Letters,” and some of those poems will be appearing in literary magazines this coming year, before the book is published in Fall 2013. Being a CBC prize finalist brought my work some unprecedented attention, and I’ve been hearing different responses from readers, some who have elderly parents and can relate to that aspect of “The Texada Queen”, others who have difficult memories of family gatherings gone wrong, and other writers who have admired the piece – I am not much of a publicity seeker, but I do feel proud of that particular poem, and I’m glad that people have had a chance to read it, or hear it on the CBC podcast.

Thank you for taking the time to chat with me, Catherine. I wish you much writing success in the future, and look forward to your book, "The Lost Letter" in 2013.

Thanks for your interest, Lisa! Good questions.

For more information about Catherine, and to read her poem ‘Texada Queen,’ please visit the CBC website.

Monday, September 24, 2012

What I've Been Up To Lately.....

I attended the 18th Annual Victoria Women’s Wellness Show on September 22, 2012. My Vancouver Island Chapter of Romance Writers of America had a table to advertise our chapter to emerging writers in town, and as well to promote the romance fiction genre. We had draws, giveaways, and lots of folks stopping by to see what we were about.

Fellow chapter members volunteered their time to wo/man the booth both Saturday and Sunday (we have a few men in our chapter). On the day I was there, many folks stopped by the table with questions about what we write, are our members published, and how someone can join. Other topics of conversation ranged from opinions of readers and non-readers of romance fiction, as well as those of other local writers. Many had comments about the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ trilogy – comments coming from all ages and generations, and all walks of life. Our table and what we do proved to be a great conversation starter!

It was a great time, I was fortunate to meet and chat with fabulous people, and also to chat a bit with fellow chapter members.

But one of the neatest experiences was being 'recognized.' I am not a celebrity – I am just a lowly little writer in beautiful Victoria, British Columbia. Recently, Karen Elgersma, reporter for Shaw Television, interviewed me about my stories in the two books ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Happiness’ and ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul: Say Goodbye to Stress.’ The three minute segment appeared on their show, ‘Go Island’ only for a few days to lend way to other local stories – and wouldn’t you know it, but someone recognized me from the show!

A Women's show attendee had approached our table, and after a double-take, said she had only just seen the segment the morning before. To say I was thrilled was an understatement – the whole experience of being on the show and then being recognized, surreal!

In the end, a great weekend at the show was had by all – dozens of promotional items from our chapter members were handed out, our throats were parched from all the talking, and I was still reeling from the experience of not only the interview but of being recognized (by someone I didn’t know or pay to say that!)


Watch it here!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Diary of a Rock Collector

I am not a geologist, but I collect rocks. Grade 11 Geology was intriguing, and the nasally way my teacher said igneous, basalt and obsidian made the course all the more entertaining. Even as a kid I had a secret fascination with rocks, ever keen to pick out the prettiest or most colourful from wherever I could find them. Yes, one must not remove specimens from nature, but there are billions of rocks out there, and the only rocks I have ever found are those of no value – except to me.

With time my fascination dwindled away, my attention on other more important things like getting a rock on my finger. Sure I would save the odd rock or shell from trips near and far, but it wasn’t the same as what my rock collecting fetish would eventually come to be; something more meaningful than I ever anticipated.

For 13 years I have had one particular rock on the nightstand beside my bed. Why there, I don’t know. It’s just a grey, round, seemingly-boring-to-some, rock. But that rock has a special meaning, and it’s what re-ignited my passion for rock collecting.

With permanent ink I had inscribed on the rock: “To Mommy, from Mitch. First day of school, September 7, 2000” It was the first day kindergarten and my son handed me this rock he found on the school grounds, a prized possession for he and I in every sense of the word. I wanted to savour the sentimentality of the moment. My other son was six months old and resting in his carrier at my feet, with my grandfather, their great-grandfather, at my side. One minute it was ‘just’ a rock, but after that, it was everything.

Time wore on, and I was busy with growing babies and growing kindergarteners. We had many outings to parks and beaches, and I have jars of saved shells and tiny rocks to preserve the memories. Some of the rocks and jars are labeled, and sadly some are not. All too soon I became aware of time passing and the need to preserve moments and memories. The boys grew, as did the rocks, and so did my keen sense of time passing all too quickly.

Wherever beach or park we went to, someone found a rock to save. A treasure in a tiny hand, the rock was often passed to me to carry in my purse. As the hands grew, so did the rocks, and so did my need for a bigger purse. But then I realized – bigger rocks meant more space to write.

Despite always being a busy whirlwind, I always had a sense of how quickly time was passing, and knew the boys would be out of school before I knew it. I vowed to myself that wherever we went, providing the rocks were aplenty, I would find a rock big enough to write the date, where we were, and who was present - that’s it. We have become avid hikers and explorers of local beaches and forests, so treasure hunting is frequent. The boys have joined in my ritual, and have become the hunters for the perfect ‘writing rock;’ they know the right size and shape.

So as the kindergartener is graduating high school this year, and the once six-month-old baby is now in grade seven, I know time is flying faster than I can collect rocks.

I just need more space to keep ‘em - both the kids and the rocks.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Garage Sales, Paul Revere, and Corelle

The prospect of a neighbourhood garage sale had us dusting off old books and excess kitchen ware, and digging out outdated electronics from the cupboards and rafters. What started as a combination of house cleaning and gleaning-of-stuff for the sale turned into a twist of fond memories and cringe-worthy nostalgia.

I have a slight habit of saving everything; my thriftiness and sentimentality my own worst enemy. When a cleaning bug hits, however, I seize the moment and let my deep-seated minimalist side emerge; I pitch as much unused stuff as I can. But when I opened a barely used cupboard housing my 22 year-old Corelle dishes, I had a moment of nostalgia that rocked me off my momentum. I could never rid of the dishes steeped in history; the thought of slapping on a piece of masking tape with some insulting low price, barbaric.

When I was 18 years old, I travelled to Boston, Massachusetts. I was living in Richmond, British Columbia at the time, so that was a big trip for a young, na├»ve girl. Distant family friends in Waltham put me up, but they had to work and I was my mostly on my own. I had been there four years before with my family and had a vague idea of where I was going, so by foot, bus, train and subway I zigzagged from one side of Boston to the other. I saw everything historical from Paul Revere’s house to the State House, and can say I went to Harvard University – I have the T-shirt to prove it. And just to add to my history-laden experiences, I watched the beginning of the Gulf War on the news with my hosts.

History aside, I was also keen to shop. From the marketplace at Faneuil Hall to K-mart in Waltham, I was eager to find treasures different from my homeland across the border. With stars in my eyes and the taste of freedom on my tongue I was also planning my future and had already been saving household stuff for my apartment I supposedly was going to have one day.

But of course, I couldn’t buy simple things like a potholder from Boston to bring back for my future apartment. I had to buy dishes.

And little did I know that the Corelle dishes I purchased from K-mart in Waltham, Massachusetts for $9.99 would eventually have their own history to tell.

I loved the cute set and was determined to get them home. I lugged the heavy box of dishes through Customs then a plane change in Toronto, Ontario, where they then sat under my feet during the final stretch of my journey to Vancouver International Airport. Not only did I learn to never do that again (I had other luggage to juggle), but I also learned that a glass of wine in business class at 30,000 feet without having eaten has drastic affects. But it was fun.

Those dishes would sit in the box unused for two years until I got married – I never got my OWN apartment. They were used during my first few newlywed years, only to be replaced by an updated pattern – of Corelle brand, of course. The dishes sadly made their way to the back of a cupboard, but were never far from my mind. They had a history.

A few years later we moved, and during our packing and cleaning my dear husband passed on a box of excess stuff which, unbeknownst to me, included my dishes, to his mother. When we went to their house not too long after, I was gleefully surprised when she cheerfully served us dinner on MY dishes I apparently gave her. I couldn’t eat.

After a night of tears mourning the loss of my dishes, the dutiful man he is crawled back to his mother and explained the situation. My own be-heading was inevitable, but at least I would have my prized dishes back.

I got them back, but it was a non-topic for a long time, and luckily the situation soon blew over.

Years later, the dishes were put back into circulation, but after a plate broke and a mug chipped (they are supposed to be unbreakable), and given that I was raising a house of raucous men, I figured they were safer stored away. I didn’t want my precious dishes – a piece of my history – to be ruined forever.

So 22 years later they still reside in a cupboard. I piled all the other garage sale stuff on the floor, but took a moment to pull out my dishes to admire and remember. They, ahem, weren’t washed thoroughly so many years ago, so I washed them to a keen shine, and put them back in the cupboard. Over 5,000 km they travelled, and through three moves, two kids, and a near-fatal family rift, they have survived. They have a priceless history that could never be sold or bartered.