Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ken Murray

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Ken Murray lives in Prince Edward County, Ontario. He teaches creative writing at Haliburton School of the Arts and at the School of Continuing Studies at the University of Toronto. His fiction and non-fiction have been published in journals, newspapers and magazines in both Canada and the United States. An avid athletic amateur, he likes kiteboarding, skiing, snowboarding, running and cycling. He is a volunteer broadcaster in community radio and dabbles in several sports. Eulogy is his first novel.

You can contact Ken throughout the month of July at writer@openbooktoronto.com

The Lucky Seven Interview, with Ken Murray

William Oaks has managed to create the facade of a normal, even dull, man. But when his parents die in a car accident, that facade is shattered, and William's complicated family history, filled with religious fundamentalism and get rich quick schemes, bubbles to the surface, threatening the stable life William has built for himself as a paper conservator at a Toronto museum.

Eulogy

By Ken Murray

From Tightrope Books:

The controlled and calm life of William Oaks is shattered when his parents die suddenly in a car accident. A reclusive paper conservator at a renowned Toronto museum, William must face the obsessions and denials that have formed him: delusional family history, religious fundamentalism, and get-rich-quick schemes. Memory and facts collide, threatening to derail his life and career as William feverishly prepares for an important exhibition on the Egyptian Book of the Dead.

Recent Writer In Residence Posts

The Greatest Joy of Writing is to Occasionally be Out of Your Mind

Writing these posts over the past month has reminded me of something. It seems obvious but I’d forgotten: When writing short pieces for regular publication (in this case, every other day), my writing senses sharpen; I become focused on finding the point of what I’m writing about, honing in on this and getting the work done and out there.

Do Not Wait for Inspiration

Do not wait for inspiration; that bus is on an irregular schedule.

I’ve been asked several times now what was the inspiration or vision for my recently published novel, and I often see disappointment in people’s faces when I tell them that there wasn’t any. As I wrote in an earlier post, I discovered the story by writing it. There was no grand design, much as I would have liked to have had one; it would have made things easier.

Notions of vision or inspiration, as nice as these may seem, impede more aspiring writers than they help. To stare at a blank page or blank screen and wait for inspiration is to lose time.

Get your pen moving, type a word, and don’t confuse the blink of the cursor for a wink from your mind’s eye.

"...my reading pile inevitably grows: Books to Read, and Books To Read Again"

Several years ago a talented and passionate writer friend said to me, when I complimented her work, “Yes, but I want to be Virginia Woolf.”

I said that if she wanted to be Virginia Woolf, then she should do like Virginia Woolf did. Look at the world, know your language, and use language to reflect the world of your consciousness, reflect the experience of life in your time.

From our conversation, what I learned was that my friend didn’t want to do as Virginia Woolf did, but wanted to write what Virginia Woolf had already written.

This was unfortunate.

“I love that ability to capture the surreal and the comical” — A Chat with Emily Schultz

Emily Schultz is the co-founder of Joyland Magazine, host of the podcast Truth & Fiction, and creator of the blog Spending the Stephen King Money. Schultz’s newest novel is The Blondes (St. Martin's Press 2015, Doubleday 2012).

The Anti-Block

People like to talk about writer’s block, the horrible dead end feeling of a blank page and nothing to write, or of a work in progress that has lost its energy and for which the writer can find no direction.

But there is another career risk, I’m not sure what to name it so I’ll call it anti-block, and this is the feverish mania that sets in when a writer can’t stop writing. The story is exhilarating, so the work goes on into the night, to exhaustion and beyond. I used to do this quite regularly, but now I am more guarded about how often I let it happen.

A Bona Fide Once in a Lifetime: Awaiting the First Review of My First Novel

Coming off a one hour presentation about my novel this evening at The Haliburton School of the Arts, a presentation that I enjoyed immensely (largely because of the engaging and welcoming audience), I would now like to write something I can write only once in my life.

I’ve been informed by my publisher, Tightrope Books, that a review of my novel is about to appear, likely tomorrow. This would be the first review of my first novel and, given that Open Book has asked that I write about things that may be of interest to readers and writers, I thought it might be worthwhile, here, to record a few observations of how I’m feeling right now.

The short answer: excited.

Now, for the long answer.

Talking in Public About Writing a Novel

I’m putting the finishing touches onto a talk about my novel, Eulogy, which I’ll present tomorrow as part of the weekly Artist Talk series at Haliburton School of The Arts. This is to be a one hour presentation and, while I was momentarily tempted to simply open my book and start reading for one hour, that approach just doesn’t sit right with me or fit with the spirit of the college. This is a place where artists of many disciplines learn from each other, where faculty and students talk not just of their work, but how it was made, so it seems appropriate to read from the book, yes, but also to go behind the scenes, to give background on what I did to write the book.

At the Start of a New Creative Writing Class

I’m about to teach a new class, “Writing That Resonates,” starting tomorrow at Haliburton School of the Arts and, as happens each time, I pause.

The students in the room will be diverse. Some will be there because a writing course seemed like it might be fun, and some might be there to complete an academic requirement, but most will likely be there because they have an inkling that they might have something to say on the page, and aren’t sure where to begin, or what to do next with a project they have started.

I remember all too well being an adult student, going to my first creative writing class. I was reluctant. How could anyone possibly teach writing?

Storylines

“All kinds of storylines are playing out here.” Question: This quote is most likely to be heard from...

(a) A TV journalist reporting on a political or legal case?
(b) A football commentator?
(c) A book reviewer?
(d) A writer in a writing workshop?

For my money, (a) & (b) are the most likely choices. It’s a reporter’s job to put narrative onto the world, imposing a recognizable template of order on top of chaos, and it’s a sportscaster’s job to create drama and sell advertising.

But, funny enough, in literary circles, we’re less likely to talk about stories, and sometimes we don’t create drama.

Yet drama is our job, on the page anyway.

Q&A with Paul Vermeersch

Paul Vermeersch is the author of five collections of poetry, most recently Don’t Let It End Like This Them I Said Something (ECW Press, 2014). He is also a visual artist and the Senior Editor at Wolsak & Wynn Publishers. For more information, go to paulvermeersch.ca

Self-censorship

There are two kinds of self-censorship.

One is the restraint that emerges when writing memoir or other non-fiction, and you find yourself writing about living people who may feel hurt or slandered about what you have to say. That’s outside my field, and I can’t offer any advice one way or another.

But the other form of self-censorship – the one I want to talk about here – is both the greatest threat, but also an opportunity for the writer. This is the type of self-censorship that shows up like a knot building inside the writer the moment writing ventures into territory that feels dangerous, that makes the writer feel vulnerable. This is fertile territory, a space that young writers need to find and explore.

On Sports and Writing

Years ago, when applying to MFA Programs, I was asked for a personal essay about my writing and writing influences. Without a shred of irony I stated that my earliest literary influences were televangelists and sportscasters. This is entirely true. Their narratives and bombast were the staples of my childhood home.

Over time, thankfully, other influences came along. The televangelists – or variations on them – have appeared in my fiction, but less so the sportscasters or, for that matter, sports.

The Gift of Interacting with Readers

Many years ago I finished reading a book that resonated for me. The characters in it and their struggles felt real. I lived with them for a while, found pain in their sorrows, amusement in their foibles, joy in their triumphs. The writer was living nearby and I chose to write a letter via his publisher to say thank you for writing this book. He wrote back, with a few kind words, then went on to talk about how miserable publication had made him, book sales were disappointing, the publisher was a letdown, people just didn’t get it, etc…

I wrote back to him, asking wasn’t it still worthwhile to have produced such a good book?

“…writing was a nasty habit or addiction that I would have to support.”

This quote, which comes at 2:35 of the attached interview with Guy Vanderhaeghe, sums up a pragmatic approach to the early years of a writing life, years that for many of us can stretch for decades, or a lifetime. In my own case, with one novel published, the early years have been many, and are ongoing.

Though it may sound counter-intuitive, it is liberating to see writing as an addiction (something costly) instead of a career (something that, in theory, should pay the bills). Whether addiction is the word that best suits - perhaps obsessive hobby is a good alternative - the writer benefits because the focus becomes working in service of the writing, instead of the writing working in service of the writer.

A Roadblock All Writers Set for Themselves Every Now and Then

When I teach classes in creative writing at U of T’s School of Continuing Studies and at Haliburton School of the Arts, I have on occasion faced this predicament: A bright, talented, energetic student sets limits upon their work by deciding far too early what the story is about.

Here’s a hypothetical situation: A man – we’ll call him Jerry, as I don’t think I’ve had a student named Jerry – wants to write a fond memoir of his grandfather. “I’m working on a memoir of my grandfather,” he announces, “because my grandfather was a great influence on my life.” This may be true. Jerry clearly reserves some of his fondest emotional space for his grandfather, long passed.

On Getting My First Novel into Print

My first novel, Eulogy, has just been published.

What has the experience been like?

Well, it only took eleven years, so I guess it wasn’t too bad. Things could have been far worse: I could have never tried and could now be sitting in a bar somewhere talking about the novel I’m gonna write one day or that I should’ve written long ago, or Eulogy simply might never have found a home.

Or, possibly worst of all, the novel might have found a publisher before it was ready, or I could have given up.

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.