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Every issue, IN presents INside Authors, a look at authors from around the world who have significantly caught our attention and deserve a little space and recognition. The following two authors are this month's choices, based on the heat arising from their corners. Our hope is to provide a glimpse, a snapshot, an overview of some of the finest writers of our time making waves both tidal and ripple.
Background INfo: I had been a Benedictine monk, a member of a religious order, and several of us taught in a school; I taught religion classes, among other subjects, and I was on the lookout to find ways to make it interesting and sidestep the treacle that they wanted taught from the religion textbooks that we had (very dull and the kids hated them). I came up with the idea of stories with a moral that would engage my students in discussion of issues that were important to them and used as my guide writers like the Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav among other mystics because their stories were an interesting way to get a message across. The kids really liked them and, once a week, I would spin out a new story. After several months of this, some of them began telling me I should write them down and that was the genesis of my first book, Dragons & Demons, Angels & Eagles (not, by the way, my original title and I still don’t like it!). I have subsequently left the order and am now very, very happily married.
Internet Presence: I don’t have a website and don’t plan to at this point.
The Future: I have no plans for a project in active development. I’m kicking around an idea for a novel about a post-apocalyptic vision of humanity being superseded by a different species, but nothing is on paper right now.
Background INfo: I'm a fifth generation or more Irish-Anglo Canadian, born and raised on a large property outside Ottawa. My neighbours were hunters, farmers, hippies, horse racers, and city commuters, and I went to school with their children. I learned how to read before I went to kindergarten and by grade one was already writing little stories. I went to university to study English literature in a veiled attempt at learning how to write. I didn't dare say I wanted to be a writer. It seemed like a very arrogant dream to me at the time – how dare I want that? I guess I became a writer by sheer determination.
INfluences: I had a few older relatives who were supportive of me being an artist, because I could draw. I recall telling my old aunt Dorothy when she asked if I still liked to draw, that I was writing. She said that was okay, but I shouldn't waste my God-given talent. I remember my grade seven teacher was very supportive of my writing, and I had a high school drama teacher, Mr. Bell, who kept handing me books he thought I should read. He handed me Richard Brautigan, Kurt Vonnegut, and Tom Robbins. I'm certain if he did that these days he'd be in trouble with the politically correct brigade. The first sentence in the Tom Robbins as I recall is "If this typewriter can¹t do it, then fuck it." I had never read anything like that before. I thought, "Okay, it doesn't have to be all dense and flowery."
I still like writers who can say it in fewer words, who don't powder the text too much. I like Richard Ford, Flannery O'Connor, Margaret Drabble, Muriel Spark, Ford Maddox Ford, Ian McEwan, Martin Amis, Kingsley Amis, Beryl Bainbridge, John Updike, and Alice Munro. I've enjoyed Blaise Cendrars, John Fante, Charles Bukowski, Knut Hamsun, Louis-Ferdinand Celine, an enjoyment that led one of my more attentive university profs (Dr David Rampton at the University of Ottawa, who was brilliant, by the way) to point out that I seemed to like all the misogynists! It wasn't the misogyny I liked, of course, but the straight-ahead technique, to lesser and greater degrees, of these writers. I thought I could maybe write like that if I worked really hard at it.
Advice: Young writers I teach often have very little grammar background. I advise anyone who wants to be a writer of fiction to learn the basic rules of punctuation and the established formal rules of how to format dialogue, that sort of thing. I would also suggest that beginning writers look at their early work as exercises; it makes it all less stressful and more playful. Find someone preferably a working writer who can help you judge whether a work is ready for publication. Also, study the writings of those writers you admire. There is no better education.
The Future: I just returned from a trip to the Southeast of New Mexico where I spent a week researching a novel I am working on. It is tentatively called Manual For Secret-Keeping. I am projecting its completion by year's end (end of 2006). I'll be teaching creative writing at the University of Toronto and at Ryerson University this year in their continuing education departments.
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