The Eagle & The Weasel

I'd prefer not to

Shaky newborn deer news

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Last Tuesday my collection of short stories Sweet Affliction won the QWF’s Concordia University First Book Prize at the QWF awards gala here in Montreal. It was a very surprising win–I was up against some pretty tough competition. Ian McGillis summarized the QWF awards night in a nice piece that touches upon the apparent arbitrariness of literary awards–as he says, “No two juries, and indeed no two readers, are exactly alike in the way they respond to a book. So it has always been and so, hopefully, shall it always be.”

A few people have asked me what I said in my acceptance speech. The truth is I’m a doink and didn’t write out a speech, but rather had some notes I tried, sort of successfully, to memorize, and have reconstructed here. I may have exaggerated on the side of articulateness. Only people who were there will truly know.

One thing I can’t remember is who I thanked; I know it was a lot of people, and I know it wasn’t enough people. So, here, now: Thanks and gratitude to The Quebec Writers’ Federation, the members of the jury (Licia Canton, Johanna Skibsrud, John Steffler), Natalie St. Pierre, Michelle Sterling, the team at Invisible Publishing, my writing group: Sean Michaels, Melissa Bull and Jeff Miller. Many many others.

Here’s, roughly, what I said.

Publishing your first book is a strange experience. A first book is kind of like a first relationship–it’s full of possiblities, and hope, and your best intentions. And giddiness. And mistakes. You learn a lot from it–you see yourself at your absolute best and your absolute worst. And it will always have a grip on a section of your heart, even when you can’t stand to be in the same room with it. So it’s an honour to be recognized for this shaky newborn-deer of a book, especially by the Quebec Writers’ Federation, who do so much for writers in this province. I also want to congratulate my fellow nominees Sean Michaels and Caroline Vu, who surely recognize some of what I said, and have their own feelings about the process too, which you should probably ask them about tonight.

It’s significant to me to get this award at an event called Great Women of Words. I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a woman, writing. When I read the women being honoured tonight–Mavis Gallant, Alice Munro, and Maya Angelou–when I read any woman, which is often–I think about what they had to get through to be able to tell their stories. What they had to sacrifice, what they had to give up. And I also think about what they’re not saying. What stories they can’t tell. Not yet. Maybe not ever.

We’re a community of writers and readers. We’re really good at imagining new worlds. Let’s imagine one where women don’t have to live in fear: of violence, of humiliation, of powerlessness and shame. And let’s not stop at imagining it. Let’s make it real.

Enlistment

Publishing your first book is a weird experience. You spend a year or two writing down what are quite possibly your most ridiculous, most perverted, least sound, least relatable thoughts, while convincing yourself that these thoughts are neither ridiculous nor perverted nor unsound nor unrelatable and are totally worth committing to paper. You get rejected, a lot. You are told this is good for your soul or your creative process but exactly how that works is less clear. You melt down, which even when it’s happening you recognize as being totally embarrassingly banal and clicheed. Finally you get the opposite of rejected. Whatever that is. Another year or two passes. You forget whatever it was you were trying to say in the first place in that ridiculous, perverted manuscript. You get a real job. Suddenly it’s your publication date, and it occurs to you that everyone you’re related to, everyone you’ve ever dated, slept with, unsuccessfully hit on, borrowed money from, avoided making eye contact with, lied to, been passive-aggressive with, forgotten about, and stolen french fries from can now access your most private, ridiculous, unsound, perverted thoughts in one easy-to-quote-from volume. Friends and acquaintances send you pictures of your book on vacation, by swimming pools and the ocean and majestic mountain ranges. Strangers from the internet want to meet you. Congratulations, you published a book.

Anyway, that happened, and now I’m pleased to say Sweet Affliction was shortlisted for the Quebec Writers’ Federation Concordia University First Book Prize. It’s nice to have an award that recognizes that process, and it’s nice to be nominated for it. I don’t know if it gets easier but I hope to find out.

The moving vans are the first sound you hear

Introducting: Moving Day, the audio book! Participate, celebrate, curse the annual festival of permanent impermanence, immaterial materiality, and really heavy ephemera. Stream or download and listen linearly, modularly, concurrently, simultaneously, or put it on shuffle for a postmodern narrative experience!

Moving Day! Have civic crisis and half civic holiday. A festival of exhaust, sweat, lifting, garbage, boxes, masking tape, primer, longing and anticipation.

This audio experiment features music from five amazing and generous bands who let me use their music. Listen to and buy their albums:

Loosestrife
Burden
Echo Beach
Lungbutter
Hand Cream
And audio from the video Super Manif de casseroles dans villeray
All other audio recorded/created by me.

Cover image by NOMNRYN

If you love this story, why not check out the book it came from?

Enjoy, and don’t lift with your back. Lift with your arms, ding-dong.

Sweet Affliction (finally)

I’m very pleased to announce that my book of short stories, Sweet Affliction, is coming out in one month. I made a little page for it, where I’ll post pertinent information as it comes up.

As of April 15th you’ll be able to buy it at your local independent bookstore, or you can order it online.
If you’re in Montreal, I’m having a launch on April 16th, at Drawn&Quarterly, 211 Bernard Est. I’ll read from the book, and will be interviewed by writer and translator Melissa Bull. See you there?

A pregnancy test is taken at a wedding, a bad diagnosis leads a patient to a surprising outlook, and a civic holiday becomes a dystopian nightmare. By turns caustic, tender, and creepily hilarious, Sweet Affliction reveals the frailties, perversions, and resilience of Anna Leventhal’s cast of city-dwellers. Shiftless youths, a compulsive collector of cigarette butts, and a dying pet rat populate fifteen sharply-observed and darkly funny stories that suck at the marrow of modern life.

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Leventhal’s work grasps multiple and brazen connections between sisters, lovers, strangers, friends. These stories wander and please. They knife unexpectedly. Truth is lodged in all the cuts. These stories “know the things energy can do.”

Tamara Faith Berger, author of Maidenhead

Sweet Affliction is — no big deal or anything — one of the most successful, high-functioning, sometimes perfect collections of short stories I’ve read in recent memory.

Andrew Hood, author of The Cloaca

These stories stand Canadian literature on its head — amazing characters, totally original and unexpected situations, absolutely hilarious and heartfelt prose — Anna Leventhal is a one-of-a-kind talent.

Lee Henderson, author of The Man Game

Other Girls

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There’s this part in Buffy The Vampire Slayer (the movie, not the TV series) where Buffy is slow-dancing with Luke Perry, and he whispers into her ear “You’re not like other girls.” And Buffy replies “Yes I am.”

That exchange has been ringing in my head like a gong since 1992, and I’m still trying to figure out what it means.

In the movie’s context, it comes at a moment where Buffy doesn’t want to accept the responsibility of being a slayer, so the line is a moment of denial, a stall in the narrative, right before vampires attack the school dance and she has to take them out in a whirl of roundhouse kicks and flaming hairspray. It’s sort of the movie’s tagline: she can’t face her destiny, she’s afraid of being special, she just wants to be a regular teenager. But, like Ulysses or Arjuna or Luke Skywalker, she can’t escape the hero’s call. Even the title of the movie itself is basically a sight-gag that’s encapsulated and reaffirmed in her exchange with Pike: Buffy/Slayer. Regular girl/Vampire killer. Cheerleader/Warrior. It’s got a nice comedic ring, and it reflects basically every plotline since ancient Egypt: a character with some special quality who is called to a strange and wonderful destiny. This is the fundamental template of storytelling, if you believe Joseph Campbell.
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2002ish

I was looking through my 2002 journal and noticed a few things.

- I have basically the same concerns
– My drawing hasn’t changed
– I look pretty much the same

2002journal

Happy anniversary of patriarchy! LULZ

The Next Thing

My friend, the novelist and poet Lisa Pasold, tagged me in the The Next Big Thing writing chain letter.  The idea is you answer the questions below and tag another five writers you admire. This was a good exercise for me since I haven’t thought about my manuscript in a while and sometimes when something’s been in a drawer for some time you forget about why you cared about it in the first place. I’ve been working on a novel for the past year, and while that’s provided (and continues to provide) a whole slew of issues and things to fret about, it also caused me to forget about this short story collection that I sometimes feel almost pretty good about. So, thanks, Lisa.

What is the working title of your book?

Sweet Affliction.

What genre does your book fall under?

Short fiction.
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2012 in books

I’m bad at year-end lists because I can never remember what happened when. I’d be a terrible witness at a crime scene. But a few books, or reading experiences, stand out for one reason or another. Here’s a brief what, where, when, how and sometimes why.

Aliens & Anorexia by Chris Kraus. I was reading this on the patio of a sports bar near my house. They make great coffee, this sports bar, and if there’s not a soccer game on tv it’s a nice place to read. A man sitting near me checked out the title.
“Aliens and anorexia.”
“Yep.”
Then he checked me out. “But you’re not anorexic.”
“Well, it’s fiction, it’s not a how-to guide.”
He nodded.

I also read Kraus’s I Love Dick, which I wrote about here.
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Preposterous and Indispensable

from All Our Changes, photos of Winnipeg in the 60s, by Gerry Kopelow

from All Our Changes, photos of Winnipeg in the 60s, by Gerry Kopelow

I am pleased to be considered a Weird Canadian, which I guess is what it means when Weird Canada reviews something of yours:

Change and perseverance. Preposterous and indispensable. Anna Leventhal’s “Moving Day & Other Stories,” a specular collection from the ordinary out-of-the-ordinary, the familiar fantastic, might well have been titled The Montreal Trilogy.

Read the whole thing here. And order the booklet here, if you’re so inclined.

Meanwhile, the next day

My friend Logan Tiberi-Warner and I have started a pop culture blog, because we think the internet needs more pop culture blogs from people who are like five years behind the times and really only like Star Trek. My first post is about Cloud Atlas:

I read the book in a seventy-two hour binge (it’s a long book, okay) because it was extremely delicious and kind of like obsessively watching Olympic figure-skating, in that I was completely in awe while it was happening and could have cared less the next day. It’s great writing (if your definition of “great” is “highly entertaining,” which I’ll admit mine sometimes is), but the message – in a nutshell, In Every Age of Darkness There Is A Pinprick Of Light – is, let’s be honest, banal. This is not a hugely profound book. It’s about as profound as Terminator II or Aliens or The DaVinci Code, which YES HAVE MOMENTS OF GREAT PROFUNDITY but aren’t really going to break the mould of humanity’s understanding of itself. This isn’t Tolstoy, people. So the movie, in taking on the message, which I’ll shorten to IEAODTIAPOL, as a guiding aesthetic and narrative principle, loses some actually quite engaging and interesting storylines and characters in favour of A Very Important (If Pretty Unoriginal) Message: Slavery is bad, be nice to people, do unto others, and so on.

Read the whole thing here!

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