Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Andrew Forbes

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Andrew Forbes’s work has been nominated for the Journey Prize, and has appeared in The Feathertale Review, Found Press, PRISM International, The New Quarterly, Scrivener Creative Review, This Magazine, Hobart, The Puritan, All Lit Up, The Classical, and Vice Sports. He is the author of What You Need, a collection of fiction, and The Utility of Boredom: Baseball Essays. He lives in Peterborough, Ontario.

You can write to Andrew throughout the month of May at writer@openbooktoronto.com

The Utility of Boredom: Baseball Essays

By Andrew Forbes

From Invisible Publishing:

A collection of essays for ardent seamheads and casual baseball fans alike, The Utility of Boredom is a book about finding respite and comfort in the order, traditions, and rituals of baseball. From learning about America through ball-diamond visits to the most famous triple play that never happened on Canadian soil, Forbes invites us to witness the adult conversing with the O-Pee-Chee baseball cards of his youth. Tender, insightful, and with the slow heartbreak familiar to anyone who’s cheered on a losing team, The Utility of Boredom tells us a thing or two about the sport, and how a seemingly trivial game might help us make sense of our messy lives.

Recent Writer In Residence Posts

Thank You, and Good Night

There isn't enough time. There's never enough time. But at the beginning of May I thought the whole month unfurled before us like an endless field of wildflowers waiting to be picked as we strolled lazily together beneath a benevolent sun. I had in my notebook a scribbled list of topics – 27! – that I was sure I'd get to, because there would be so much time. Look at all the wildflowers, I thought. Feel the caregiving sun! I would pick enormous, sumptuous bouquets and present them to you. I would post on weekends, I would post twice a day. It would be leisurely and satisfying. I would say everything I wanted to say.

Lat & Long

It's a rare thing for me to find myself somewhere new – or even somewhere I know but haven't been in a while – and not be visited by an urge to set a story there. I'm not exactly sure why this is, except that places impress themselves on me through a combination of history, geography, and culture that seem like the basic ingredients of a story. Throw in character and some manner of conflict, and you're off to the races. I mean, slowly, but anyway, you've got your start. Or I have mine.

Rhubarb Crisp

By some trick of heredity, or upbringing, or brain chemistry, my greatest talent lies in finding the negative in what should be uniformly positive experiences. I'm generally on the hunt, when presented with a silver lining, for the dark cloud at the heart of it. Know thyself, they counsel. Well, here I am, routinely skittery when placed in scenarios with outcomes I can't control. Which is hilarious, when you consider that not only am I a writer, but that I have three kids, meaning that I can't really control anything in my life.

Bobcaygeon

This is a damned weird country. Culturally and geographically, it has some peculiarities which rest not off to the side but squarely in the middle of our shared national consciousness. There is a rib of Precambrian rock which juts out of the earth and runs through much of the middle of the country, a hard and barren interruption. What do we do? We build cottages on it, run highways over it, paint pictures of it. A band emerges from a city made of limestone and sings songs about Canadian novelists and Elvis's manager and tragic hockey figures. So what do we do?

The Long Odds

I used to keep a Word document detailing where I'd sent what. Now it's a Google spreadsheet, colour coded, sortable. It lists the titles of completed stories and their word counts, tells me where I sent a certain piece, on what date and, eventually, the decision rendered by the outlet. A white row means that, for whatever reason, I have not yet released that piece out into the world to be judged. A row bathed in yellow means I am in the midst of the frequently months-long wait to learn of the editors' decision. Green means a piece has been accepted, and thus retired from the submission circuit. Red means rejection.

There is a lot of red.

Work

In January the flu raced through our house. It hitched a ride home from school on one child – one of the senior kindergarteners or the fourth grader, who can say which? – and in turn each of them took ill. When it was done with the third child, it revisited the first, and we did it all over again.

One clear, bright, frozen morning during this seasonal quarantine, my boy T, who'd been up most of the night losing the contents of his stomach, woke bleary and hot, his skin flush and damp. His fever was high, and it was immediately clear he'd be spending the day home with me.

Faking It

Writers' early careers are characterized by a sort of inconsistent confidence, a herky-jerky belief in themselves and their divinely appointed mission interspersed with paralyzing instances of clarity wherein they recognize that they have no earthly idea what they're doing. They'll be infatuated with an historical literary moment and stay up all night imitating its exemplars. Kerouac frequently figures in this process. Plath, too. It'll all mean a lot of false starts and questionable efforts, but there'll be a high volume of output, and the law of averages allows that some small percentage of the yield might not be half bad. Somebody in a position of so-called import – a “real” writer, a teacher – will say as much, and the young hopeful will be flush with a sudden filament-hot belief.

Public Exhibitions of a Private Act

A great many things in life that I expected to go one way have instead gone another. Imagine my surprise. Maybe this has happened to you, too. As example: I thought I'd know when I became an adult; that maybe somebody would contact me to say, “You're an adult, you can now do adult things.” Instead, I just kind of had to guess, though the mortgage was a pretty big tip-off. Second case in point: I figured I could avoid having to speak to people if I sequestered myself in a room with a computer and wrote all the things I couldn't or wasn't able to say aloud. Turns out if you do that, and someone else publishes those things, then people sometimes contact you and ask you to read those things in public.

Arguing Balls and Strikes

I always come back to baseball. As subject, I mean. Each time I think I'm done writing about it, or that I'd be better off focusing exclusively on the production of fiction, something occurs on a green diamond somewhere, or a trading card memory beckons, and before I know it I'm banging out a thousand words on the matter. This is not meant as complaint. I kept coming back to writing about baseball and after a few years I had enough material for a book of which I am extremely proud. It might ultimately be a trifling thing, this game, but it is a pleasing trifle.

Strength in Brevity: A List for Short Story Month

Maybe it's fitting that I'm the Writer-in-Residence for May, since somebody, somewhere decided this is Short Story Month, and the short story is far and away my favourite literary form. In the past, Steven W. Beattie has taken the occasion to cast his critical eye on a story a day, resulting in a spotlight being shone on thirty-one deserving subjects in turn. He seems to have taken a well-deserved month off this year, which I'm not about to begrudge him, but in the interest of celebrating stories I've compiled a list of my own of fifty short fiction collections that I believe worthy of your attention.

On Doubt

It'll be your constant companion. You won't know a day without it. It will defy cold logic and your efforts to cultivate confidence. It will be haughtily contemptuous of your desire to focus on positives, and it will handily dismantle the techniques you learned during cognitive behavioral therapy sessions. You'll try to wait it out. It will prove more patient than you.

You'll have a few wins. Pieces published, a story nominated for a prize, kind words spoken publicly, a book released. A second book. It'll take those little victories and subvert them, making you feel that you've snowed everyone. It'll make those victories seem very small. It's not like you're saving lives, it'll suggest. They're just books. It's not as though you have any idea what you're doing.

Where We Do What We Do

The first stories of any quality that I produced were written at an old white melamine desk in the windowless furnace room of my future in-laws' house in suburban Ottawa. The hot water tank clicked and hummed, and fluorescent lighting buzzed over my head while I hammered away at a PC keyboard, writing pieces for a creative writing workshop at Carleton University (and strenuously avoiding coursework for other classes). The reasons I was there would require a lengthy explanation involving a bad apartment, a broken lease, a month-long road trip across the American West, and the house my wife-to-be and I would soon buy. It was among the least-inspirational spaces I've ever inhabited, but it was, for a time, mine.

Mother's Day

As people, as writers, we are often formed or directed by crystallizing moments in our lives, brief happenings which nonetheless persist in our minds, or which port some lesson, or confirm for us a suspicion about the way the world works, and what it has in store for us. I've been asked by well-meaning people why my stories tend, more often than not, to be sad ones. I usually reply “Presbyterianism,” but if I had to pick a single moment that informed the stories I write, I'd probably settle on Mother's Day, 1992.

The Unscripted Idle

I spent this past Saturday at Books & Company in Picton, under the auspices of Authors for Indies, and I came away feeling happy, but with a top note of frustration, because I passed the afternoon mostly talking to people, and by the time it occurred to me to browse a bit, I had to begin the two hour drive back to Peterborough, a town with much to recommend it, but which is without a bookstore of the size and quality of Books & Company.

Some of the Best Books I Ever Read Weren't Books at All

I am on the record—somewhere, or perhaps multiple somewheres—as having said that one of the stories in my first collection, What You Need, represented an effort on my part to capture the feel of a Neko Case song.

Well, insofar as I understand blogging, I gather there's supposed to be a confessional aspect or tone to it. So here's one: I routinely steal material from music. Like, all the time. Sometimes it's an image or a feeling or the bones of a story; sometimes I peel line fragments off verses and drop them into a story (and no, I won't tell you which ones, or where they appear).

By Way of Introduction

If, as I am given to understand, the point of a writer-in-residence, whether virtual or actual, is in part to hold forth on the mechanics and practice of writing, then let me start by laying bare my understanding of the subject: I believe that you should do whatever works. Which is to say that I think trial and error is essential. Which is to further say that I don't think there are any easy or quick answers. Meaning: any advice or pointers I might inadvertently let slip over the next month or thereabouts should be seen to be highly subjective, if not downright flawed. They will be, in other words, basically worth the paper they're printed on.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.