Thursday, February 26, 2015

All that winter sun

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When it's a Sunday afternoon in February and the track at Pan Am Pool is closed and the girl is doing karate down the hall, I find a window in all that winter sun and start making a list of birds in my great-grandfather's Antarctic journal...

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Out-of-Town-Authors: Christine Fischer Guy

Winnipeg Free Press—PRINT EDITION
By Ariel Gordon

Christine Fischer Guy is a Toronto-based writer and journalist.

Her first novel, The Umbrella Mender, is the story of a TB nurse in northern Ontario in the 1950s, when the Canadian Public Health Association estimates more than a third of Inuit were infected with tuberculosis.

(TB remains a problem in the north—some northern Manitoba First Nations have recorded some of the highest TB rates in the world.)

The umbrella mender of the title is Gideon Judge, an American drifter searching for the Northwest Passage.

Fischer Guy will be in Winnipeg with fellow Wolsak & Wynn author Claire Caldwell on March 5. She recently spoke with Winnipeg writer Ariel Gordon.

Q. What do you want people to know about The Umbrella Mender?

A. Hazel MacPherson was an idealistic young nurse who went to the North at an exciting time in the history of medicine—there was finally a cure for tuberculosis, and they would use it to help the disease-ravaged northern communities—hoping to find what she was looking for. She got her wish, but not in the way she expected, and kept secrets about her year there for 60 years. The Umbrella Mender is her reckoning with those secrets.

Q. Tell me about that strange object/phenomena called 'the first book.'

A. It certainly is an out-of-body experience for a lifelong bookworm. I was one of those kids for whom the perfect Saturday was a trip to the library and the rest of the day flopped on my bed reading what I'd brought home. I spent close to ten years writing this book, so of course I was thrilled when Wolsak & Wynn wanted to publish it, but I had a keen awareness as I worked on the edits of those who went before me. It was both humbling and comforting to be connected to them in the struggle to say what I meant to say with this book. My editor, Paul Vermeersch, was my favourite kind of editor (I've been a journalist for decades, so I know what I like.) He'd point something out that wasn't working and trust me to fix it, and he was always available as a sounding board. W&W made a beautiful object for me and it's a thrill to see it on bookstore shelves.

Q. How did you find yourself in northern Ontario in the 1950s? Was the TB epidemic among the Indigenous peoples of that region where you started or where you wound up?

A. This novel was inspired by a memoir written by my great-uncle through marriage, who was a TB doctor in the North at the time of my novel, 1951. After we'd met for the first time and he became aware that I was the family writer, he gave me his memoirs. It was the most exciting medicine he'd practiced in his career and he wanted to share it. I know he was very happy that I became fascinated with that time and place because he was enthusiastic in response to my requests for more information, and I interviewed him several times before he died in 2006. Besides being a consummate healer he was a wonderful storyteller and loved to talk about the time he spent in the North.

Having said that, this novel is an act of imagination, not a fictionalization of his story. It's about the campaign on TB in the same way as Atonement is about the Second World War: it's a historical scaffolding for some questions I have about the nature of love. It was very important to me that my novel and his memoir be separate entities, and I spent the first three years after reading the memoir wandering into a frustrating series of blind corners and alleys that were largely due to cleaving too closely to his story. Once Hazel and then Gideon came along, my own story took root and I could begin to move.

Q. What were the challenges of writing about the setting of Moose Factory? Had you spent much time there? Or is it a completely imagined place and time?

A. Thanks to an Ontario Arts Council grant, I was able to spend a week up there in 2008, researching and learning the place with my feet. I interviewed many who had worked in the hospital at the time my novel is set (some are in the elder lodge now) or who were patients there. So I did know it by experience, but I will always be grateful to Google Earth for its views of Moose Factory. They helped me root myself there and so it was often open on my desktop as I wrote.

Q. What are you reading right now? What are you writing right now?

A. I usually have a few things on the go at any given time. I just finished Martha Baillie's new novel The Search for Heinrich Schlgel, which was as wonderful as I expected it to be. Her metafictive approach is more elegant than any other I've read. Ayelet Tsabari's short story collection The Best Place on Earth is also in my reading pile: She has a voice I know I can trust to help me better understand Israel and Palestine. Poetry fills the language well for me and right now I'm reading Paul Vermeersch's Don't Let it End Like This Tell Them I Said Something, Kayla Czaga's arresting For Your Safety Please Hold On, and Catherine Graham's beautiful Her Red Hair Rises with the Wings of Insects. I'm also reading, belatedly, Adrienne Rich's incredible On Lies, Secrets, and Silence.

I've been working on a new novel for about a year now, and am also finishing up a short story that may or may not be connected to it. Both are set in New York, a complete change of pace in time and setting.

Ariel Gordon is a Winnipeg writer.

Friday, February 20, 2015


It's February. And this is my state-of-the-nation.

I got these starry lashes in a geared-up Wolseley/Wellington loop walk with a friend.

I was wearing my BIG MEC jacket, the one that is equivalent to wearing my bed out in the world.

It has an enormous, down-filled hood, and I'd cinched it tight for this walk, mostly because Environment Canada had issued an extreme weather warning.

And the only part of me that was cold was my legs, even though I was snowpants. And that was a manageable cold.

When we were nearly finished—by which I mean that we were at his street and my pockets were full of frozen lumps that had once been tissues—my friend said, "You've got extraordinary eyelashes right now."

So I dug my phone out and selfied my eye. MY EYE.

(And then I went home and wrote two poems. Which is an even better outcome.)

Friday, February 13, 2015

Reprint: M-K 2015 Artist and Storytelling Retreats

Announcing the Muskwa-Kechika 2015 Artist and Storytelling Retreats

Imagine sitting around a fire deep in the wilds and experiencing the spine-tingling stories of Ivan Coyote and Art Napoleon amidst moose and caribou while listening to the calls of loons or splashes of otters.

Or how about feeling your creative juices flow after spirited talks with award winning poets Ariel Gordon and Melanie Siebert on the shoulder of a mountain where few humans have walked?

Wayne Sawchuk of Muskwa-Kechika Adventures and Donna Kane of Writing on the Ridge are working to make this happen.

In the summer of 2015, artists will have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience the greatest wilderness in the Rocky Mountains while honing their craft in the company of exceptional mentors.

From August 9-16, artists working in a wide variety of disciplines (e.g. visual art, writing, photography, video, music) will fly from Muncho Lake to Mayfield Lake, deep in the heart of the Muskwa-Kechika, to explore their craft against the backdrop of nature and wilderness.

Under the mentorship of acclaimed Winnipeg writer, Ariel Gordon, author of two books of nature poetry and winner of the John Lent Poetry-Prose Award, and poet and backcountry guide Melanie Siebert, whose first book of poetry, Deepwater Vee, was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award, artists will broaden their perceptions of nature and wilderness.

“The artist retreats that ran from 2006-2009 produced a wonderful variety of work that has been shown in galleries and published in books and journals across the country,” says Donna Kane, director of Writing on the Ridge. “We are delighted to be able to provide another opportunity in 2015.”

In all, over 50 artists have taken part in past retreats, including internationally renowned artist Brian Jungen and poets Don McKay, Elizabeth Bachinsky, and Sue Sinclair.

From August 16-23, storytellers will gather at Mayfield Lake under the inspired mentorship of storytellers Ivan Coyote and Art Napoleon.

“Getting the chance to hear stories from Art and Ivan around a campfire will be a highlight for me—it’s going to be an incredible experience!” says Wayne Sawchuk.

Art Napoleon is an award-winning songwriter, storyteller and humorist with a mystic's heart. Former Chief of the Saulteau First Nations, Art also stars in the television show, Moosemeat and Marmalade, which premiered in January of 2015. This revolutionary new cooking show contrasts traditional First Nations’ and World Cuisine cooking styles.

Ivan Coyote was born and raised in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. An award-winning author and a renowned performer, Ivan’s first love is live storytelling and over the last nineteen years has become an audience favourite at sold out shows from Anchorage to Amsterdam. Ivan Coyote’s newest book “Gender Failure,” co- authored with Rae Spoon, is a poignant collection of autobiographical essays, lyrics, and images that reveal that gender comes in more than two sizes.

All in all, it’s an impressive line-up. Add the setting of pristine wilderness, friendly horses, and like-minded campmates, and the 2015 retreats promise an unforgettable experience.

The goal of the retreats, besides sheer enjoyment and honing one’s skills as an artist, is to raise awareness of the Muskwa-Kechika. The greatest wilderness in the Rockies, it boasts more species of large mammals, in greater abundance, than anywhere else in North America. Participants will be asked to contribute a story or written piece that features the MK to a web-based site, as a means of bringing this globally important area to a wider audience.

For more information on the retreats visit or contact Wayne Sawchuk at (250) 759-4993 or .

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Reprint: Humpday

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McNally Robinson Booksellers in Winnipeg posted this yesterday, which for the record was a Wednesday.

And it was just what I needed to get over that PARTICULAR hump.

Friday, January 30, 2015


I have a piece of short fiction in the latest issue of FreeFall Magazine, which is based out of Calgary and edited by Micheline Maylor and Ryan Stromquist.

For the Winter 2015 issue, I submitted a text/image combo, which consisted of my "Gilly: gaijin/Galician/ghost owl" text and Darryl Joel Berger's "Claws Owl" image, and even though FreeFall doesn't often use images, they made room.

These texts are a continuation of the poems in the second section of Stowaways, which are known to me as 'the weremummy poems.' That is, poems about women for whom having babies and becoming parents are perhaps the slightest of their transformations.

Lots of other good stuff in this issue, including poems by Norma Dunning and Lauren Carter and non-fiction by Robert Boschman.

Thomas Wharton also has fiction in this issue, which is sort of fun, because I just finished the first book in his YA fantasy trilogy The Perilous Realm. I've been eyeballing his novel Icefields for aaaages.