Thursday, November 20, 2014

Interview with me on the Jane Day Reader blog

So I thought I'd share this interview with me that was posted earlier today on the Jane Day Reader blog, hosted by the inimitable Ariel Gordon. In this piece, I talk about Sad Peninsula, my days in Korea, my days in Winnipeg, and what I'm working on right now. Thanks for Ariel for conducting the interview. Go check it out! 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Publication: The Fiddlehead

So I was very happy to open my mailbox last night and find  my contributor's copy of the Autumn 2014 issue of The Fiddlehead, which contains a book review from me of The Strangers' Gallery by Paul Bowdring. This huge, expansive and very digressive novel, set in the mid 1990s, is about an archivist living in St. John's who discovers that an old acquaintance he knew fifteen years earlier as a student in Europe has shown up suddenly on his doorstep. The book is full of wonderful writing and lots of beautifully crafted scenes; and while I did find it a bit too digressive at times (the novel is chalk-a-block with tangential asides that take us away from the main narrative), there's no doubt that The Strangers' Gallery is a huge accomplishment. You should go check it out.

I was also pleased to see many familiar names in the Table of Contents: this issue boasts works by Brian Bartlett, Catherine Graham, John Wall Barger, Kerry-Lee Powell and other writers I admire. It also, as you can see, has the recently deceased Alistair MacLeod on the cover, with a number of tributes inside. Anyway, this issue should be on news stands shortly, so you should pick up a copy.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Maritime tour update!

Okay boys and girls, I just wanted to provide you with an update on the book tour I am taking in the Maritimes next month for Sad Peninsula. Some places and times have been confirmed. Here we go:

Halifax:
When: Tuesday, December 16, 2014.
Where: Peter Wilson Common Room, the University of King's College, 6350 Coburg Rd.
What time: 7 pm.
Sales by the King's Bookstore.
Come one come all. See the Facebook invitation.

Charlottetown:
When: Wednesday, December 17, 2014.
Where: The Confederation Library, 145 Richmond St.
What time: 7 pm.
Sales by the Bookmark.
Come one come all. See the Facebook invitation.

Moncton:
When: Thursday, December 18, 2014.
Where: We are still TBD on this one. The Attic Owl Reading Series, which is hosting the event, recently lost its regular venue and is now searching for a new home. I will post an update as soon as I learn where it will be, as well as who I will be reading with.
What time: 7 pm.
See the Attic Owl Reading Series Facebook page for more details.

That is it for now. So if you are in one of these three cities, please come on out. I would love to see you!

M.


Friday, November 7, 2014

Sad Peninsula review in the Literary Review of Canada

So I'm very excited to report that there is a lengthy review of Sad Peninsula printed in the November issue of the Literary Review of Canada. The review, written by Laurentian University's Tomasz Mrozewski, is not online unfortunately, but here is a sample of what it has to say:

Sad Peninsula, Sampson's second novel, after Off Book, draws on the author's three years in Seoul to paint a fabulously rich picture of expat life revealing what Facebook posts and email from your sons and daughters abroad might not. Sampson's Seoul will be instantly recognizable to many expats, whether they had participated in the hedonistic throb of Itaewon, Hongdae or any one of a dozen bar districts across the country, or just saw their colleagues limp into work after nights filled with cheap drinks and drama.

Mrozewski, who taught in Korea in 2007/08, goes on to praise my characterizations and several of the themes weaving their way through Michael's section of the novel.

The review isn't all positive. In the last quarter or so, it criticizes Eun-young's entire thread of the novel, calling it "dry and didactic" and lacking in the rich nuance of Michael's section. It's interesting to hear a reviewer say this, as the exact opposite critique has been levied against the book from some commenters on Goodreads and Library Thing. It just goes to show that different readers can come at material from different - or, in this case, completely opposite - angles and with different expectations. At any rate, I'm grateful for Mrozewski's honest appraisal of the novel, even the parts he didn't like.

Anyway, the issue of LRC is on news stands now, so go check it out for yourself!

M.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Reminder: Plasticine Reading Series

Just a reminder, Torontonians, about my next reading event: it's part of the Plasticine Reading Series and will happen on Sunday, November 16 at Pauper's Pub. The line-up looks great and includes my lovely and talented wife Rebecca Rosenblum, along with Phlip Arima and Yvonne Blomer. There will also be an "open mike" portion of the evening, for those whose gate swings that way.

Anyway, see the accompanying flyer for all the deets. It should be a blast. Hope to see you there!

M.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Anatomy of Patience

To be a writer is to wait. It seems like that’s a big part of what we do. We wait for inspiration. (Well, I don’t really – though I suspect I’m more promiscuous than some with my inspiration.) We wait for one idea to be become many, and for those ideas to coalesce. We wait for details to emerge, to connect themselves to the larger superstructure of our narrative. We wait for the right time to begin a first draft. We wait until the first draft is done.

We wait through a second draft. And a third. And a fourth. We wait until we’ve rewritten our book so many times we just can’t rewrite it anymore.  We wait a bit, and then we show it to someone we love, an eagle-eyed reader who will be honest and kind to us, but also tough and thorough. Then we wait for her feedback. And when we get it, we rewrite the book once more.

We make a submission, and then we wait. We wait until it comes back, rejected. And then we make another submission. And then we wait. And we wait. And then it comes back, rejected. We wait, and maybe we do another draft. (What is that now, the sixth? The seventh?) And then we make another submission. And we wait. And we wait. And then it comes back, rejected. We wait. Then we make another submission, and we wait. And we wait. And then it comes back.

Accepted.

We wait to sober up. We wait to come down from this high.

Then we wait. We wait for the contract to come. We wait to hear about a launch date, a production schedule. We wait. Then we wait for the editor’s edits. We wait for her to rip the book to shreds and tell us how to put it back together. We wait through that eighth draft. Then we wait for her to tell us how amazing the book is now, and how proud she is to be publishing it. Then we wait for her copyedit.

We wait. We wait for the proofs to come. We wait to get a gander at the cover art. We wait for the launch party venue to be confirmed. We wait. We wait for author copies to arrive. We wait. And then. And then. And then. The book is here. It is there. It is OUT.

And then we wait for the reviews. And we wait.

~

Okay. So what I’ve described above is an exaggeration, and certainly not indicative of every author’s experience. Lord knows I hold no resentment toward those writers who whip up two or three drafts of a book, get it accepted it right away, and have the thing out six months later to glowing reviews. It happens. But for most authors, understanding the anatomy of patience is vital to their career, and their sanity. This is not really something they teach you in creative writing workshops or master classes in writing, but it’s something that that most writers will have to do. So much of what gets your book into the world involves remaining in a near-perpetual state of polite stasis. If you’re the kind of person who always needs things to happen RIGHT NOW, then writing and publishing literary fiction may not be for you.

Sad Peninsula - draft 1. What a mess.
I meet these types from time to time, these Johnny Rush-Rushes, and they always gape at me when I tell them how long it took to get each of my novels out, start to finish. Seven years. Each. They’ll ask: How is this possible? And I kind of explain it, and I kind of make excuses. For the first book, I did stop and go do a master’s degree, so there’s that. With the second book, my latest, it was different. There was a lot more research to do, and a lot more complexity to the narrative. When people read Sad Peninsulaif they read it – I hope they’ll walk away thinking that, yes, I can see how that book took seven years, start to finish.    

But many won’t. That’s okay. I think it’s perfectly natural to stroll through the aisles of your local Indigo and not be aware of just how much time, effort and, yes, patience it takes to get a book out. This may be the furthest thing from your mind, especially as you spot those 28% off stickers.

But here’s the thing: if you want to write, or if you do write and you’ve kind of hit a wall with your novel, you need to know how to be intimate with the anatomy of patience. You need to touch every groove, every hollow, every long, slow swell of its chest. You have to know every square inch of an empty mailbox. You need to know the acidy dread that every writer knows of finding an envelope in that mailbox with your address written in your own handwriting. And most of all, you need to know that wherever you are with your book – maybe you’re stuck on the ending, or its opening sentence, or you’re waiting endlessly to hear back from a publisher, or you’re lost somewhere inside the fourth draft – that place still only represents a small part of the corpus of waiting that lies ahead for you. To write is to wait. It’s what you do. So get on with it. Get on with the work that comes with waiting.

Fair draft of Sad Peninsula, marked up by my wife.
Okay. That sounds a bit harsh. In the interest of providing some solace, I’d like to share something with you. Like I said, the scenario I described above is a bit of an exaggeration. So for what it’s worth, let me show you the exact timeline, based on my memory and my chapter logs, of Sad Peninsula. Actually, this will be kind of boring, so you can stop reading here if you’re not really interested. But if you are, I think this might give you an idea of how much persistence it might take, to put a book out.

Initial idea(s)

First half of 2006: The idea or ideas for the book begin to emerge in my mind while I’m living in Australia. My first novel has yet to be accepted for publication, so I’m pretty skeptical about whether I’ve got the chops to pull off what is clearly a complex narrative emerging out of these ideas. I convince myself that, nope, I’m not good enough to write that book. Nope. Forget it. Not going to happen.

Second half of 2006: Okay, fine. Maybe it’s going to happen. Maybe. Well, no. Nope. Well, maybe. What if I just stuck a toe in, began doing a bit of research into Korea’s comfort women and doing a character sketch of Michael, my protagonist. Let’s see.

Research and character sketching

2007 and early 2008: Okay, fine. Definitely going to write this book. What the hell. Research is incredible, harrowing. So many ideas rushing in. Also: not only have I created Michael’s character, but now Eun-young’s has emerged as well. More character sketching – all the secondary characters. Learn everything about them.  More research. Harrowing stuff. How can I write this? How can I write this? How can I not?

1st draft

April  15, 2008 – Michael chapter 1

April 25, 2008 – Michael chapter 2

May 2, 2008 – Eun-young chapter 1

May 22, 2008 – Eun-young chapter 2

Juy 7, 2008 – Polished first two chapters enough to make submissions for grants and literary agents. Failed to secure either.

August 6, 2008 – Michael chapter 3

September 4, 2008 – Eun-young chapter 3

October 15, 2008 – Michael chapter 4

November 4, 2008 – Eun-young chapter 4

November 28, 2008 – Michael chapter 5

December 10, 2008 – Eun-young chapter 5

January 15, 2009 – Eun-young chapter 6

January 23, 2009 – Eun-young chapter 7

February 6, 2009 – Eung-young chapter 8

February 21, 2009 – Eun-young chapter 9

March 11, 2009 – Eun-young chapter 10

April 8, 2009 – Michael chapter 6

April 17, 2009 – Michael chapter 7

May 4, 2009 – Michael chapter 8

May 23, 2009 – Michael chapter 9

June 11, 2009 – Michael chapter 10

July 6, 2009 – Michael chapter 11

July 27, 2009 – Eun-young chapter 11

August 17, 2009 – Michael chapter 12 (UNFINISHED!!)

September 21, 2009 – Eun-young chapter 12

October 16, 2009 – Michael chapter 13

November 4, 2009 – Eun-young chapter 13

2nd draft

December 11, 2009 – Chapters 1 and 2

January 7, 2010 – Chapter 3

January 29, 2010 – Chapter 4

February 12, 2010 – Chapter 5

March 2, 2010 – Chapter 6

March 23, 2010 – Chapter 7

April 8, 2010 – Chapter 8

April 14, 2010 – Chapter 9

April 30, 2010 – Chapter 10

May 26, 2010 – Chapter 11

June 1, 2010 – Chapter 12

June 7, 2010 – Chapter 13

June 23, 2010 – Chapter 14

August 6, 2010 – Chapter 15

August 17, 2010 – Chapter 16

August 27, 2010 – Chapter 17

September 8, 2010 – Chapter 18

September 22, 2010 – Chapter 19

October 1, 2010 – Chapter 20

October 22, 2010 – Chapter 21

October  29, 2010 – Chapter 22

November 11, 2010 – Chapter 23

3rd draft

February 2, 2011 – full edit completed

4th draft

March 24, 2011 – Rebecca’s suggestions incorporated up to chapter 10

March 29, 2011 – The rest of Rebecca’s suggestions

April 4, 2011 – Art’s suggestions incorporated

April 14, 2011 – More suggestions from Rebecca

(Other friends' feedback comes later)

Submission

April 18, 2011 – Submission to Publisher #1

August 29, 2011 – Decision from Publisher #1 – rejected!

September 12, 2011 – Submission to Publisher #2

May 2, 2012 – Decision from Publisher #2 – accepted!! Ack – this shit’s getting real!

5th draft

July 17, 2013 – Sad Peninsula sub-edits

September 18, 2013 – Sad Peninsula edits finished

6th draft

December 13, 2013 – Sad Peninsula copyedit done

Production

January 7, 2014 – First proofs

February 12, 2014 – Cover finalized

Late February, 2014 – Advance reading copies (ARCs) sent out

Pre Launch

Mid August, 2014 – first advance reviews appear. This shit is getting real!

Late August, 2014 – Author copies arrive. This shit is getting really real!

Launch

September 6, 2014 – Book officially goes on sale. ACK!!!!

September 30, 2014 – Launch party in Toronto. Double ACK!!!
The final product. Imagine!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Rethinking the Restoration and 18th Century

So I literally found this book, Four English Comedies, edited by J.M. Morrell, on the ground while stumbling home from the pub. It was in a box of other discarded books that my drinking companion and I came upon in my neighbourhood , which isn’t really known for its literary tastes. My companion, arguably less tipsy than me, managed to nab an arguably more interesting book out of the pile, but the one that caught my eye did hold an Old World sort of attraction. Too Old perhaps, since this faded Penguin paperback practically disintegrated in my hands as I read it last week, and by the end I had to use Scotch tape to keep its 414 pages together.

But I confess to having a soft spot when it comes to English plays written in or around the 18th century. I took an undergraduate course 20 years ago in this very subject and got to read one of the plays included in this anthology: Ben Jonson’s raunchy satire Volpone. The other three plays included here – The Way of the World, by William Congreve, She Stoops to Conquer, by Oliver Goldsmith, and The School for Scandal, by Richard Brinsley Sheridan – all fit into the mold of what one expects when thinking of drama from this period: garlicky puns, lots of drinking and spouse chasing, and more than one case of mistaken identity.

When I first read the works of the Restoration and 18th century as a 19-year-old undergraduate, I thought that this was a time in English history where man coming to grips with the looming de-individualization of the industrial revolution. I was somewhat obsessed with spotting the self in conflict with the collective, with the gains earned during the Age of Reason being lost to an ever-increasing reliance on emotion and groupfear.

Reading these plays now, 20 years on, I can see something completely different, as one would expect. In each of these four pieces, one can help but sense the era battling with the definition of “transaction,” and how this translates to the very human emotion of love. There are numerous instances in these four plays of one’s heart being something that can be bought, sold, or exchanged, and the anxiety around an unfair transaction (think theft; think marrying someone from outside your class; think, God help us, rape) permeates each of these plays. I suppose it’s to be expected, what with capitalism slowly rising to the fore during this period.

Still, these undercurrents are not as grim as all that. Volpone has always struck me as a play that shares a great kinship with King Lear, and it was more evident this time around how the machinations of dividing up one’s estate can impact the matters of the heart. She Stoops to Conquer and The Way of the World are deeply comic and touching in their emotional transliterations of love. And the gossip detailed in The School For a Scandal seems as relevant to the rumour, ruined reputations and innuendo of the 21st century as it was back then.

So, yes, I enjoyed these plays a great deal, and am glad I plucked this book from the oblivion of that box. Its crumbling pages won’t stand up to another reading, sadly, but they will stand up to some occasional contemplation.