Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Thom Vernon

Share |
Thom Vernon has worked in film, television and theatre since 1989, including appearances on Seinfeld, General Hospital and The Fugitive. He has been the Actors’ Gang Youth Education Program director, and has worked extensively with at-risk people, including as an arts educator at the Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People. His screenplays and fiction have placed in various competitions, including Paramount’s Chesterfield Writer’s Film Project and the Open Door Contest. He hails from Michigan, but he and his partner live in exile in Toronto. The Drifts (Coach House Books) is his first novel.

Thom Vernon's website is http://thomvernon.com
Become a Facebook fan of The Drifts
Follow Thom on Twitter @thomvernon
Send your questions and comments for Thom to writer@openbooktoronto.com

Ten Questions with Thom Vernon

Open Book: Toronto:

Tell us about your latest book.

Thom Vernon:

Hoo, Daddy. Well, you’ve got four people fighting like hell to get what they want, over three hours, in a blizzard, in northeastern Arkansas. It’s funny, violent and snaps along at a pretty good clip. There’s a pregnant housewife, Julie, who doesn’t want to be a parent again; Charlie, her husband, who is all about being a dad right this time; there’s Wilson, a factory worker who’s hoping she’ll have a shot at true love with Dol, a trans-dad, who’s lost his health care. The book comes out of stories my aunts told me my whole life about this little town out there, Bay. The Drifts isn’t a re-telling of those stories but it sure is coloured by them.

The Drifts

By Thom Vernon

Night is falling, and so is the snow. As the blizzard buries the ground, it uncovers the resentments, hopes, and aches of a small town in northeastern Arkansas, where, like in any Southern small town, there are unwanted pregnancies to agonize over, surgeries to be paid for and love to be made.

Julie’s two daughters have just run off to Hollywood to be famous when she suddenly finds herself, at forty-six, unexpectedly expectant. She’s not sure she can bear to be a mother again. And her husband, Charlie, won’t come home to talk it over with her.

Charlie wants another child more than anything, but he doesn’t know how to deal with Julie. His affair with Wilson, his best friend, is over, but he’s found a different and unusual kind of intimacy.

Recent Writer In Residence Posts

Year End Wrap Up 2012:

Okay, take it easy on me this time. I actually got bullied by email (I won't name names —Charles—but you know who you are) after that last post about games. Jokers like that make so much of what has been sweet this year even sweeter. I've read two Cormac McCarthy novels this week and not taking any you-know-what.

2012 has been quite a year. To get you up to speed on The Drifts Live we've pitched it in NYC to a slew of big and small producers, brought on a couple of new collaborators and started to get a little public funding for further development. We made a pitch reel too.

The Games People Play

All people play games. It’s in our nature. We do it at the grocery store, in our minds, with our spouses, with people we don’t like and those we love—it’s a fundamental part of how we make it through.

I've come to the take that in any interpersonal exchange (even if one of the people isn't present) that a game is in play. The ball is in the air—or not.

But, writers often leave the game-playing out.

One of the most effective and efficient, not to mention resonant, ways of allowing readers to have their own experiences amongst our words, is to allow our characters to play the games they know so well. We all do it.

Writers' Circle Next Session Starts in January.

We're halfway through the Fall session of the Writers' Circle. Reserve a spot in the next session now. Enrolment is very limited.

Location: Downtown Toronto Duration: 8 weeks. 3 hours

Fall 2012: Sundays, 20 Jan.-10 March., 2013, 4-7p Class-size: very limited

Cost: $320.

Writers' Circle Booked & On My Desk...

I don't know about you, but there are moments when being a writer is like playing that game at the fair where one whacks at some animal coming up out of holes, here and then there, and then there.... First world problem. Anyway, I've dove-tailed off 'Tom Meuley' (the fiction love prose poem to Toronto and Canada [read: literary novel]) to brush up 'Alice Mitchell', a screenplay I researched and wrote years ago. But it's such a relevant story, that I am bound and determined to find a producer to take it on.

Workshops for Writers

Hi OB-ers,

Several students and others have been asking me for awhile if I'd lead private writing workshops. While I am loathe to hustle students, I love teaching and am always down for more of it, time permitting.

So, please check out the fresh workshop environment I've put together, The Writers' Circle. It's where invited participants come to workshop and deepen their fiction, screenplays, essays, memoirs, etc.

Each session will focus on a different area of our work: story, character, setting, dialogue, rewriting, events, present circumstances, rhythm, and so on.

Writers bring their work and we will workshop it, usually with an eye to that week's topic.

Wattpad?

So, is anyone out there using Wattpad? If you are, can you share how you're using it? Is it to build awareness, get a book deal...? It seems to lean heavily to sci-fi, fantasy, teen fantasy, horror, etc. But then our Margaret A. posted a poem up there as did Vincent Lam. He did a beautiful memoir-ish response to questions about his new book.

Then, too, are Gutenberg files of things like Emerson's Essays (I always have to have those nearby 'c I get thirsty), some Dickens, various Scriptures, etc.

Posting New Novel Excerpts—Good Idea or?

So, I've started tweeting excerpts of my second novel. Just to build awareness and to get sections out into the open air some. I'm not looking for approval or evaluation, per se. Much more interested in building awareness that it's a thing on its way into the world.

Authors, readers: What do you think about that?

The Drifts Live: the novel on stage

OBers, Oh, what a full time it's been. I am resolved to be a much more consistent blog poster. For what it's worth I haven't been able to even blog on my own blog! I'm on the homefront for a while teaching screenwriting and now novel writing at UT SCS. So, we have psychic space and breathing room.

Honestly, I've been running around like a crazy chicken for a year and a half. Lots more to fill you in on. Lots of passages this summer. Some very sad and unexpected. Others, like getting "The Drifts" up on its feet in front of audiences, like beautiful and inspiring gauntlets.

Creativity Market: Creative Writing in the 21st Century is Out!

Hi All,
Since you tracked with me from invitation to write the chapter, to research, to the writing of it I wanted to let you know—it's here!

Creativity Market: Creative Writing in the 21st Century (Multilingual Matters, 2012) collects essays from scholars and writers (like me!) to position what we do in the global economic & social context. Have a peak.

Here's what a couple of people have said about it:
Review:

2012 with a Bang!

2012 is starting out with a bang!  As I have moved from the active promotion of The Drifts book, I am in rehearsal and pre-production for a staged version of excerpts from the book. I will be doing 5 shows at The Complex in Hollywood, CA June 8-9 (previews) and June 14-16 (peformances) as part of The Hollywood Fringe. Shortly, I will put up a link to our Kickstarter campaign where you can support this exciting project and earn rewards.

Upcoming Screenwriting Class at U of T, School of Continuing Studies

Hi Everyone,
Good job! My students have gotten together and lobbied for a Saturday Screenwriting class. So, if you've got something in the works (or looking for a variety of creative writing strategies to deepen story, character and the rest), we'll be on February 4th to March 31st (no class 3/24 for Family Day). Saturdays, 11-130pm.

Once we have some registrants, I'll send out a Needs Analysis. This class will be a little bit different than previous screenwriting classes.

Art Date/'Hot' Objects:

I let loose my UT Screenwriting Class to do an 'Art(ist) Date' and thought I'd share the exercise with you. An Art (ist) Date is something we can do to access the unique emotional truth/authenticity of projects/scenes/stories (i.e. artwork) on which we are working. It helps as we build these literary structures, lay the beams and raise high the roof beams, Carpenter (if you know what I'm saying).

Thorns, Bees & Benjamin: my treacherous trip to Berlin, Paris & Port Bou

I have certainly been tossed into my share of rosebushes. Most have been allegorical, not actual thorn bushes. Actual ones have included exile and rewriting The Drifts, but now, ouch, thorns. None of them have cut up my legs quite as badly as the bushes in the South of France. For the record, I take Lawrence Olivier’s side in his dispute with Dustin Hoffman about the need for lived authenticity. To write about terror, we can use our imaginations. We don’t have to live it.

Rewriting Class at UT & On the Road

Hallo from Paris, OB-ers. Yes, I know. It is still the one-and-only. And that's saying something given that I'm coming here after a beautiful and productive month doing a residency in Vermont and then a month in Berlin. Don't even get me going about the week in NYC (German Expressionists, anyone?) and the five days in Luxembourg running the Grund.

I understand that summer is dawning back home.

Writing, Teaching and Traveling to Europe

Dear OB-ers,

What's Creative Writing got to do the Public Good? Give me your thoughts!

Hi OB-ers,

After I gave the Storm of History presentation this summer, an Aussie professor invited me to contribute a chapter to an international anthology that would track the state of creative writing in a neo-liberal world.

In the chapter, I want to connect the dots between Creative Writing (the act, the study, the field and the consumption) and the Public Good.

So, what are your thoughts on the subject?

Here are some questions to get you thinking. Feel free to answer one question, two or all of them.
-What's the connection between creative writing and the public good?

-How do post-secondary/university/college creative writing programs contribute to the economy?

Thom Leads a Workshop: Writing as Connection at Tightrope Books, Jan. 29, 2011

Me, leading at TightRope Books, Jan. 29, 2011, $50 (all proceeds support Tightrope)

Participants will learn techniques to notice plot, structure, and the emergence in their work of meaty/”sexy”/provocative ideas. If approached delicately, these literary elements reveal themselves to be unique to each writer. Using our craft to reveal this authenticity is one of the most exciting benefits of writing. Participants will leave with a deeper understanding of the connections being made & broken in their work.

Bring:
1. a piece of writing to work on, or writers can create a new one in the session;
2. paper, pens, computer, etc.

Prerequisite: a spirit ready to explore, ages 14+.

The State of Creative Writing? I Want Your Input!

Hi OB-ers, remember that presentation (The Angel at Our Table) I gave at that conference in August (see the Storm of History posts)? Well, that presentation provoked a brave soul to ask me for a chapter on the state of creative writing in a neo-liberal universe. It'll be in an anthology to be published Spring 2011.

They'd like me to concentrate on creative writing programs at universities, colleges, etc. What's your take on the state of creative writing programs, the marketplace for writers and creative writing in a neo-liberal world?

Please share. Keep the rants but please share the thoughtfulness. Short or long, all comments are helpful to let me know what you are all thinking and feeling.

Thanks!!

The Angel at Our Table

Over my residency, I offered three blog posts ('The Storm of History, Parts 1-3) on Walter Benjamin and where The Drifts comes from. I delivered that paper yesterday at the Double Dialogues: "The Hunger Artist" conference at the University of Toronto. The conference was amazing, met some amazing people who think and write about this stuff too and 'Angel' went over really well. Lots of great questions and discussion. Just thought I'd update you, OB-ers! I

I'm at Indigo Eaton Centre today from 1p to 4pm, meeting, greeting and signing! Come on by and say Hi!

Signing Over to...

Thank You, OB'ers for a fab month! It was great to share with all of you. Carry on reading; the posts will live here. I may develop some into fuller articles, you never know. Come on out to hear me read, have a look at The Drifts and keep reading. It never ceases to amaze me that writers write and that readers read. It takes at least two to tango. Pj Kwong is up next: welcome, engage, take on!

Feel free to contact me at thom@thomvernon.com and/or my website, thomvernon.com. Most importantly, writers, keep writing!

Viewpoints

When I write Viewpoints, what comes to mind? Point-of-view? Opinions? Perspective? I, and a growing bunch of others, have something else in mind. A few years ago, in Los Angeles, I got turned onto a quiet revolution in theatre-making, ‘Viewpoints’. What started in the 70s in NYC has now become S.O.P. in theatre-training programs & theatre-making across the U.S. and, increasingly, in Canada. If you check out the astounding work coming out of the Independent Aunties, Theatre Why Not or Volcano Theatre here in Toronto, you’ll see Viewpoints.

Interview: Christina Palassio, (former) Managing Editor, Coach House Books

At the first meeting I had with Coach House, Christina identified herself as the person who does "the contracts and all of that sort of stuff." In essence, she kept the authors paid, the lights on and even squeezed out a couple of books along the way: Edible Toronto, The State of the Arts: Living with Culture in Toronto, GreenTOpia: Towards a Sustainable Toronto and HTO: Toronto’s Water from Lake Iroquois to Lost Rivers to Low-flow Toilets. She has also written for the Globe and Mail, the Montreal Gazette and Matrix Magazine.

Readings: Can You Hear Me, Clipping Along and The Crew Comes

Well, that was quite a satisfying reading at AnotherStory last night. A good chunk of the crew came out. At first, we were all dripping with sweat. But Alex turned on a sweet fan over the reading area and we were good to go. I took the bottles of wine on the table by the front door and set them down amongst the crowd to sip while I read. I did three sections and, boy, did they clip along.

The Storm of History behind The Drifts, Part 3

Once I was invited to present at the “The Hunger Artist: Food and the Arts” conference at U of TO next month (August 2010), I decided to use the presentation/paper to explore my own creative process in a scholarly context. I'm a geek that way. Maybe I could come up with a better answer to “How did you come to write The Drifts?” Those stories from my aunts come to mind around brown cake, biscuits & gravy, grits and so on. I remember how each of my people dressed (most are gone now) but clothes don’t feed my imagination the way brown cake does. There was never a cookbook out on the counter but threw it all together anyway. We spent hours talking, laughing and sharing stories. Days sometimes. My aunts were freaking fun.

Memoir: to Ted or not to Ted?

One of the projects I’m working on is the memoir of a homicide detective who fled his country. “Raul”, let’s call him, had been investigating the hundreds of women imprisoned, tortured, raped and murdered before being dumped in the desert around a northern Mexican city. These women, hundreds of them, have been dumped on the outskirts of major cities the way some people dump mattresses on the side of the highway. Raul fled his country. Fled.

Interview: Evan Munday, Publicist at Coach House Books

I thought of calling this post, "Facebook, Conic Sections and A Pencil." That seemed a little indirect for an interview on the topic of book publicity and being a publicist. But, it does capture (perhaps) the essence of my experience of Evan Munday (Publicist at Coach House Books).

If you come out to the reading at Another Story this Thursday, you can meet Evan, who is one of the gutsiest guys going. He uses his guts to get people to wrangle interviews, to book readings and to let us writers know that we aren’t alone out there. Don't even get me started about Evan on public transport. You want him near you.

Come Out, Come Out Wherever You Are!

This is my first post, such as it is, on my new machine after my trusted Powerbook decided to take a permanent vacation. Come help me celebrate 2010 technology with a toast and words at Another Story this Thursday!

Shelagh's got, really, the best of the West over there and Alex is setting up things real nice for us.

WHEN
Thursday, July 22, 2010 - 6:00pm

WHERE
Another Story Books
315 Roncesvalles Avenue
Toronto, ON

DETAILS
Head to Another Story Bookshop on Thursday, July 22 at 6 p.m. for wine, cheese and a reading and signing with Thom Vernon, author of The Drifts and Open Book's July 2010 Writer in Residence.

I'm A Notebook Man, Myself

And I tend towards the cheap. None of those fancy, inlaid journals with the word Journal gold-embossed on the cover. Can’t do it. If I go in for that kind of thing, I’d never write. Ever. I could never write well enough to justify something that fancy. I want to meet my standards, not my notebook’s.

Last month I was leading a writing workshop and, as usual, waving my arms around. In one hand I had The Drifts and in the other, my notebook. I was giving my nickel answer as to where the book came from. The participants could tell that the other thing I was holding was a notebook. One person asked what does this (she held up her own notebook) have to do with that (she pointed at my book)?

The Sound of Writing Gender

How do you write a man or a woman or a trans-person? If you were to take a workshop on writing gender with me, I'd ask you how to do it. Is writing a female person different than writing a male person? Is writing a male person different than writing a trans-person? Is writing a trans-person different than...and so on. I know. I know.

Women characters are best expressed with long, flowy sentences, right?

Not.

You can tell a man if the sentences are short, brusque; like a slap on the back or a kick in the teeth, right?

Uh-uh.

A trans-person is, what, a little of both? What about all the people at other points on the gender continumum/sphere?

Uh, It's A Tool: a teeny defense of Social Media

I. Pile On
When I first had the idea to write about social media (SM) for Open Book, I blinked. Do I really want to jump into that pile-on? I do. There’re a lot of writers out there who’ve got a lot of good things to offer about the subject. Social media is not only the new thing for the world; it’s also the new thing for writers. We can use it to lift ourselves from the keyboard, to distract and to promote. And we aren’t the only ones. I confess: I roll my eyes when people (usually my age or older) say either that they don’t understand it or dismiss it as juvenilia. Hogwash!

II. Cake For The Birds

The Storm of History behind The Drifts’, Part 2

Frequently, I dip back into the well of Walter Benjamin. He turns me on. That gaze. His intelligence & creativity burn into us. When it got to be minutes before The Drifts went to press, I decided to find an appropriate epigraph/metaphor/allegory for the book, I came across his angel again (Angelus Novus, see “The Storm of History/ Part 1” exclusively on Open Book). I think I first came across WB in Kayley Vernallis’ ethics class more than ten years ago when we read his On The Concept of History. WB’s tight little blurb of that angel’s path is an exact metaphor/allegory for what happens to the people in my book. You can find it at the beginning of The Drifts. It became one of the epigraphs I was seeking.

Interview: Alana Wilcox, Senior Editor, Coach House Books

When Alana Wilcox fished me out of the slush pile, she walked into my life with ease, ferocity and intelligence. Working with an editor is an experience of intimacy. But, like working with a director, an intimacy/closeness that exists nowhere else in the world. We worked for about nine months to get The Drifts to print and on bookshelves. Both of us came to appreciate the book a great deal in that time.

I feel a little sheepish that when she rang me up and said Coach House wanted to publish my book I had no idea of her legendary status in the lit community. You know, I'd only fallen off the truck here three years before. In April, at a party of U of T English profs, word'd got out that my book was coming out; that Coach House was publishing it.

Conflict vs. Connection

Until feminism, Aristotle had been held up as the go-to man for understanding story. And for good reason. Drama and story are all about conflict: Person vs. Society, Person vs. Person, Person vs. Self, Person vs. Nature. Blanche wants her animal nature to run free within the rules but when the bull Stanley rapes her she loses her mind (Person vs. Self, Person vs. Nature, Person vs. Person); swinging his saber in ignorance, Luke Skywalker must defeat his father, Darth Vader (Man vs. Man). What Aristotle wrote almost 2,400 years ago holds up. He’s got a lot of good stuff to keep in mind. I worked with Sharon Stone’s acting teacher in L.A. Decent actor; way fun to watch. But, when I do watch her, I can see the competition which I know is at the root of how she understands story.

The Storm of History behind The Drifts, Part 1

This month, I’m doing the writing part of an essay I’ve been researching for two. Double Dialogues, "The Hunger Artist", a University of Toronto conference on food and Art, has invited me to present a paper next month. In it, I'm going to attempt to answer, using Walter Benjamin, Paul Klee, Melancholy and my Aunt Sarah's Brown Cake recipe — where does The Drifts come from? The paper is about the site of art creation. Not so much the why, but the where. Over a few posts, I can offer you an interesting take on where our Art comes from. Or, at the least, a provocative and fresh way to think about art creation. On the road and at my desk, I’ve been fleshing out a particular part of Paul Klee’s watercolour Angelus Novus.

Your People Leave

For a long time now, I’ve had the privilege of meeting people who get what I do. That doesn’t mean they understand it, it means they receive it. But meeting readers of The Drifts is a whole different tamale. For some reason. These characters have been banging pots and clamoring inside my head for years and, now that they’ve moved out, I miss them some. When I meet a reader who’s connected with them, out of the nest, so to speak, I get closer to catching up with them; to seeing how they’re faring out there.

Interview: Toronto Powerhouse Writer K.D. Miller

Interview: K.D. Miller

I've been stalking K.D. Miller since pretty soon after I arrived in Toronto and came upon her "Semper Alicia" — a short story about an Alice Munro book club in southwestern Ontario — in New Quarterly. Although I've never actually met K.D. face-à-face, she is quite gracious and has, so far, always answered my emails. I'm thrilled that she was willing to let me in on murder, e-books and passing the sugar.

1. Mind telling us about yourself? Where do you come from and what part, if any, does this play in your writing?

Brick, Soot and Canadians in Space

I often wake up in the morning with my mind casting about for a space to tether to. Something that will pull me from sleep and into the day. Often it is gratefulness that I'm back. Today it was Brick. And then soot.

Apparently I spent yesterday in a coal mine, though it looked like Pride and the Proud Voices stage inside. Evalyn Parry, Krystal Mullins, Truth Is..., Bethann (?), Nicola Ward all threw it down. It was probably Cyndi Lauper, later, who blues'd up that soot into my nostrils.

On This Ain’t the Rosedale Library Closing and the Threat to Glad Day

K.D. Miller, a fab TO novelist (Brown Dwarf and others), whom I started stalking right after I came to Canada and read her short story Semper Alicia in New Quarterly, shot me an e-mail plea to support independent booksellers. Here's a slightly elaborated version of what I tossed back to her:

An Opening Salvo -

Open Booker’s, this being the first post, let me say who I am and what I hope to do this month. Including a little note about a certain competition I'm throwing down to you. First, I’m thrilled to be here. After four years in Toronto, the Open Book Toronto Residency and the Coach House publication of The Drifts, are seeding roots here.

People tell me I am no longer a newcomer, which is probably true, but going into exile is jarring long after you know which way is north from Spadina & Bloor.

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.