An interview with Sarah Selecky, author of the collection This Cake is for the Party
Sarah Selecky, whose short story “Paul Farenbacher’s Yard Sale” appeared in the March 2010 issue of The Walrus, has recently published her first book of stories, This Cake is for the Party, with Thomas Allen and Sons. Sarah’s stories are beautiful and unusual — she writes about very real people and very real things in a way that captures the delicacy and strangeness of contemporary life. She is also a noted teacher of creative writing, a practice that informs and inspires her own work. I asked Sarah about the intersection of her teaching and her stories, putting her first book together, and the story behind her Walrus story, which is one of my favourite pieces we’ve published this year.
In addition to writing, you teach the craft to students. What is the relationship between your own work and the work that you help others with?
I work with beginning writers and well-practiced writers — online, in person, and over the telephone. Different writers have different needs, so I work with them in different ways, depending on where they are and what they want to focus on. And now Skype and wikis and Twitter are allowing me to teach abroad — I have students all across Canada, in Europe, in the US, and in South America. It’s amazing! I couldn’t do that ten years ago.
So much of the work is about learning how to stay in that receptive, precarious, dream-like state of mind while you’re writing. You need to know how to cultivate that state of mind so you can recognize what an idea feels like, know when something is important to write down, and how to not think about it too much when you write it. It takes a lot of faith to create something out of nothing in this way.
For some reason, it’s scary for writers to go there. Let me say it another way: at worst, it’s frightening to go there. At best, it’s avoidable. It’s so easy to resist doing it. The resistance is strong. I include myself in this — I am a terrible procrastinator. So a lot of what I teach is about understanding what the creative state of mind feels like, and how to train yourself to go there regularly. This makes the work of writing much more sustainable, much more pleasurable. And I teach this simply because I know it’s something I need to do myself. I developed a series of courses that would be my ideal writing classes.
No matter where you are as a writer, it’s good to know the benefit of sitting down regularly to follow your pen across the page. It’s an important practice for all writers. As a teacher, I feel like the captain of a big flying airship. But we’re all in the airship together. We all need to do the work together to keep the thing from falling. (more…)
“As for ‘genre fiction’ — mystery, horror, romance, science fiction — none of it is for children.”
Ursula K. LeGuin
The July/August summer reading issue of The Walrus is finally online, featuring fiction and reportage from the best of Canada. As well as reports by John Lorinc on Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney, Christopher Frey on African Pentacostalism, and James Glave on eco-funerals, we’re also proud to present four short genre stories composed by four of Canada’s hottest young writers. Read:
SCIENCE FICTION! The Crow Procedure by Stephen Marche
ROMANCE! The Nerve by Lee Henderson
HORROR! Real Estate by Rivka Galchen
COWBOYS! The True Sorrows of Calamity Jane by Joseph Boyden
And also, coming soon next week… Marche, Henderson, Galchen and Boyden attack The Walrus‘s own “Mad Libs… OF TERROR!” Plus, don’t forget to try out for our Guilty Pleasures writing contest.
Advance copies of our September issue arrived the other day, which means it’s probably about time that I say something about July/August, soon to disappear from shelves. The 2008 edition of our annual Summer Reading Issue is centred around the idea of escape. We have, among many others, Don Gillmor on his brother’s final, tragic escape; Wendy Dennis on fleeing Toronto for Austin, Texas; and Stephen Henighan giving Mozambique its best treatment since Bob Dylan’s Desire. (more…)