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UBC Reports | Vol. 49 | No. 7 | Jul. 3, 2003

UBC is a Hotbed of Creative Writing

From small classes large book deals grow

Most students dream of cool jobs and a stable income.

Creative writing students tend to dream about book deals, screenplay sales, poetry readings and theatrical opening nights. In the case of the UBC creative writing program, those dreams often become reality before students even graduate.

UBC is Canada’s premier destination for creative writing studies. Established as a department by Earle Birney in 1965 (it merged with the Dept. of Theatre and Film in 1995), creative writing features workshops and tutorials in all the major literary and dramatic genres, at both the graduate (MFA) and undergraduate (BFA and Diploma) levels.

While faculty members continue to publish and produce acclaimed books, articles, plays and film, both students and graduates are winning contests and awards, securing employment as freelance and staff writers, publishing articles, short stories, poems and novels and producing radio, television and film scripts.

Here is a sample of works from graduates and current students published in the past year. The excerpt is the opening paragraph of each book.

Mount Appetite

Bill Gaston

Bill Gaston is the author of The Cameraman, Deep Cove Stories, Tall Lives, North of Jesus Bean’s, Belle Combe Journal, Sex is Red and The Good Body. His poetry and stories have been widely anthologized and have been broadcast on CBC radio. Two half-hour screenplays -- The New Brunswicker and Saving Eve’s Father -- are currently in production for CBC TV. He was awarded the inaugural Timothy Findley Award earlier this year in recognition of the literary merit of a body of work rather than a single book. His novel, Sointula, will be published by Raincoast Books in September 2004. Gaston teaches writing at the University of Victoria.

About Mount Appetite

A wry and witty collection by one of the country’s best-loved storytellers, Mount Appetite is vintage Gaston: candid, personal, unabashed. The mountain of the title is no physical peak but, rather, a state of grace, a hierarchy of desire, a pinnacle of both truth and perfection. “Everyone at the top of Mt. Appetite is as close as they can get to heaven. It’s work to get there and agony to be denied.” This relentless state of longing is the subject of many of Gaston’s stories, each one by turns grotesque and gorgeous, unsettling and familiar.

Nominated for the 2002 Giller Prize.

"Not knowing what was afoot in the next room, Mr. Oates told her to stand and take off her blouse. He himself removed the bra straps from her shoulders, carefully so that nothing more fell. It did sometimes make women nervous, this laying their skin bare to him, for they knew he was no official doctor. At the same time they seemed to understand that exposure, that some kind of intimacy, was part of this. To him the clothing didn’t matter. It didn’t get in the way of his work unless it was distracting, like a fluffy sweater, or that scratchy metallic material, like woven Christmas tinsel - lamé? He’d had them all under his hands. Just like he’d had a few women reveal slinky underthings, black or shameless crimson, and these women had an attitude to match, as if seducing him would get them more from him, or win some of the Gift for themselves to take home. Well, he would say unto those women, Get thee gone."

“Where it Comes From, Where it Goes” from Mount Apetite by Bill Gaston, published in 2002 by Raincoast Books.

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Broken Record Technique

Lee Henderson

Lee Henderson was born in Saskatoon and raised there and in Edmonton. He now lives in Vancouver. His journalism has appeared in Saturday Night and The Vancouver Sun while his stories have appeared in Grain and The Fiddlehead. One of his stories (“Sheep Dub”) from Broken Record Technique was included in the 2000 Journey Prize Anthology.

About Broken Record Technique

In these mesmerizing, often visceral stories, Lee Henderson evokes a world both utterly strange and achingly familiar. Pubescent boys lost in sumo wrestler costumes battle it out in a suburban yard as their parents stake the odds. A boy disappears from his home, taken by a man who looks exactly like his father. A young man spends a potentially heroic day with his wife at the new wave pool, while trying to save his marriage. These are loopy, eerily engaging stories both afflicted and inspired by the profound isolation and psychic drift that are inherent in a world of talk-show television, mega-malls and suburban sprawl.

"But it didn’t quite happen like that. His name was Dave, no, it was Eaton. He was in love with June, and ditto her with him, but after a few months they realized they weren’t. He met Angie through an acquaintance or through the personals or through sheer luck, and they went for corndogs and soon they were a couple. He spent the nights at her tight little bachelorette where they kissed and hugged, and she wore a gritty concoction on her face when she slept. Her hair was short and green like summer grass. Her big dream, which she’d never told anybody -- and never would -- was to own an electric guitar. She said, We can save money if we both use the same toothbrush. Yeah, he said. One day they went to rent a movie and she stopped at the Cult section and picked one out, but when they sat down on her hide-a-bed and watched it she pressed the stop button after the first act and turned to him and said, This isn’t about cults at all."

From “Attempts at a Great Relationship” from Broken Record Technique by Lee Henderson. Copyright © Lee Henderson, 2002. Reprinted by permission of Penguin Group (Canada), a Division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.

Danuta Gleed Literary Award for the best first book of short fiction by a Canadian author published in 2002.

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Michael V. Smith

In 2001, Loop Magazine named Michael V. Smith one of Vancouver’s Most Dangerous People. His writing straddles mainstream and underground culture. His short fiction has appeared in Stag Line, edited by Bonnie Burnard, Carnal Nation, Best Gay Erotica 2001, and Contra/diction. Smith’s poems have won national competitions in Arc and This Magazine and his tranny prostitution videos with Nickolaos Stagias have screened across North America. Smith, who grew up in the border town of Cornwall, Ontario, is also Miss Cookie LaWhore, a stand up drag queen capable of anything, and a pornographic zinester, self-publishing Cruising, a study of the culture of gay public sex.

About Cumberland

Questions of identity, whether fueled by unemployment, aging, or sexual ambiguity, plague the people of Cumberland in this stunning first novel. It is a small-town story about longing and loss in the manner of David Adams Richards; it is an exploration of loneliness and the fear of loneliness in lives limited by circumstance.

Shortlisted for the 2003 Amazon/Books In Canada First Novel Award

"Malouf’s was crowded, even for the afterwork rush. There weren’t any free tables, which meant people came in and left, while others packed themselves around the bar, standing until they were lucky enough to nab a stool. The spring weather got everyone out of the house. See and be seen, as Bea understood it, was the driving principle for going out - aside from drinking. Women checked themselves in the bathroom, undoing a button on their blouses, or letting their hair down. A few drinks later, they’d reconsider their outfits, making even more changes. When they returned to their tables, they’d claim to be more comfortable and sit next to the man they were after."

Copyright © 2002 Michael V. Smith. Published by Cormorant Books Inc.

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Dead Girls

Nancy Lee

Nancy Lee lived her early years in England before immigrating to Canada. She teaches at the Simon Fraser University Writing and Publishing Program, and is Associate Coordinator of the Booming Ground Writers Community. Her work has appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies, as well as in the 2001 Toronto Life Summer Fiction issue. She is the recipient of many grants, fellowships, and writing awards, including the Gabriel Award for Radio. Nancy Lee lives in Vancouver.

About Dead Girls

Subtly linked by the background narrative of a serial killer’s arrest in Vancouver, these stories are edgy, dark, sharply observed, uniquely imagined. Nancy Lee journeys into the realm of desperate relationships, into the surprising territory of power and impulse, a tipping world of emotional wagers and negotiations. Her characters are people who reflect our own lives. Infused with eroticism, poignancy, and a deep awareness of the desires and delusions that compel us to do the things we do, the eight stories in this stunning collection cut straight to the bone.

"That boy works as a photographer for the Associated Press. He is at home in a suite at the Marriott Hotel, in a city whose name sounds like machine-gun fire. You keep in touch through e-mail. He sends you photos of human rights violations: the scarred backs of Chinese women, a severed hand at the side of the road, a secret mass grave. You send him photos of local atrocities: your father’s retirement cake in the shape of breasts, the words “Jesus Sucks” graffitied in etching gel across the windows of a church."

From “Associated Press” from Dead Girls by Nancy Lee, published by McClelland & Stewart Ltd., The Canadian Publishers. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

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Losing Forever

Gayle Friesen

Gayle Friesen’s novels Janey’s Girl and Men of Stone have garnered critical praise. Both books have been Best Books for Young Adults selections by YALSA, a division of the American Library Association, as well as choices on the NY Public Library Books for Teen Age List. Losing Forever is Gayle’s third book. She lives in Delta, BC, with her husband and their two children.

About Losing Forever

For Jes, normal life is slipping away. Her mother is getting married again and is totally preoccupied with planning the perfect wedding. And if one fool in love is not enough, Jes’s best girlfriend has fallen for a complete jerk. To make matters worse, Jes also has to deal with Angela, her soon-to-be stepsister, who has come to stay for a month before the wedding. A half-crazed mother, a lovesick friend, a perfectly evil stepsister -- could things for Jes get any worse?

  • 2004 Manitoba Young Readers’ Choice Award, shortlist
  • 2003 Canadian Library Association’s Young Adult Book of the Year, shortlist
  • 2003 Red Maple Award, winner
  • 2003 The Sheila A. Egoff Award, shortlist

"The water at Mara waits for me. As soon as my foot hits the sun-warmed planks of the dock, I can sense the waiting. I walk to the end of the wharf -- feel the movement of the waves beneath me, that slow, gentle rocking. Sometimes I wait for a long time, because I know in a split second it will be over -- gone for another entire year. I actually shiver, even on the hottest days."

© 2002 by Gayle Friesen, published by Kids Can Press. Reprinted by permission from Kids Can Press.

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Christy Ann Conlin

Born in Nova Scotia, Christy Ann Conlin has traveled and lived in France, England, Germany, Switzerland, Korea and the United States and recently worked as a storytelling apprentice in Northern Ireland. The first short story she wrote was a prize winner in the 1996 Blood & Aphorisms fiction contest, and that story, in a somewhat different form, became the opening pages of Heave. Conlin was named one of B.C.’s best young writers by The Vancouver Sun. She lives in Halifax and in Turner’s Brook, a community on the shore of the Bay of Fundy.

About Heave

Heave explores the joys and agonies of the Sullivan family, of what one generation inherits from the next and how the past is inevitably linked to the present. Twenty-one-year-old Seraphina “Serrie” Sullivan longs to experience the world. Serrie snatches up the reader in an exhilarating and poignant journey from the pastoral countryside of rural Nova Scotia to urban bars in London, to strip clubs by the docks, through mental hospital wards and rehab centres back to quiet and comforting verandahs and porch swings in the serene seaside village of Lupin Cove. At once feisty and gentle, Heave reveals human truths with wry humor and compassion while evoking the importance of memory and forgiveness and the anguish of growing older. Serrie’s story takes us to the centre of the lonesome heart that tenderly beats and bounces across the timeless and mysterious landscape of humanity.

Shortlisted for the 2003 Amazon/Books In Canada First Novel Award -- Globe and Mail’s Top 100 books of the year list


And I am.

Going so fast it seemed as though I was hovering above myself, watching as I went veil first into those massive oak doors in the foyer because no one makes a getaway in high heels. Just look what happened to Marilyn Monroe -- naked, bloated, DOA. That’s what happens when you wear high heels. I put my hands out, just like they taught us in high school gym class, you know, when spotting someone on the trampoline: hold up hands, don’t push, let the person touch and then bounce back to middle. But only an idiot would wear high heels on a trampoline and there was no bouncing back to the middle as those shoes took me down on that hot June day, my sweaty hands flat on the cool oak door panels only long enough to feel the old wood on my palms and I was crashing straight through the doors that hadn’t been properly latched, yards of silk dress floating behind me like a flock of angels as those carved oak slabs were falling silently shut. Magic it was that pieces so large could move with no noise, wrought-iron hinges no doubt well-oiled by the latest sexton. I slipped through the crack and left the musty church behind, all those pews full of stunned guests, and then the sweet outdoors was in front of me but I was crashing backwards as the doors slammed shut, the stupid billowy dress jammed in the doors, and I was smashed back and up, three feet off the top step, hand pounding back into the hard wood, pain dull and distant, and then me, dangling there, garland of flowers down over my eye, battered bouquet of freesias and roses still in my right hand, its scent floating up on the hot summer air, enveloping me in the sweet and squashed miasma of my life."

Excerpted from Heave Copyright © 2002 Christy Ann Conlin
Published by Random House of Canada Ltd. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

Compiled by Erica Smishek with information supplied by book publishers and UBC creative writing.

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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