Saturday, December 10, 2011

Fiction #31

Here is new fiction, issue #31:
Submissions now open for #32.

Fiction #31: Carole Glasser Langille

Koping

Dan didn’t know if he should say yes or no when he got the letter, or what his daughter Sylvie would want. After Sylvie dropped out of university a few months ago and returned home, she hardly left her room. She didn’t call anyone, or receive calls. "You have to love that girl," Dan said to his wife. "She’s so gentle and sweet." And sad, he thought. Lately Sylvie had grown skinny and all she wore was black, mostly ripped jeans and t-shirts. She’d had her tongue pierced when she was away at school and when she did speak he could see the flash of silver sparkle in her mouth, a sad twinkling. Lydia, a family doctor herself, hoped her daughter could avoid medication. Surely there were troubled young people who spent years in a darkened bedroom, and who painted or wrote poems or songs to haul themselves out of depression. Or simply rested and let their spirits slowly heal. Dan too hoped that if the environment were safe and stable, time would take its course. He remembered his mother saying, "May all your worries be money worries." He wished his troubles were only financial, as they had been when he was younger.

Dan looked out the window at trees he loved. He was glad his family lived on a quiet street. He might ask his oldest daughter what her insights were regarding this mess. But Sylvie didn’t seem to want to confide in anyone these days, especially not her half sister Marin. As far as he could tell, Sylvie hadn’t talked to a single soul in months except him and her mother. Sometimes Dan thought his very presence was imprisoning her, that she’d rather be anywhere than where she was, but he didn’t know what to do for her. Her brown eyes had that lacklustre dull glaze, like a lump of coal that would not catch fire. But when he closed his own eyes, he could see the filament glowing within her, one that glimmered and burned in the dark.

He thought for weeks about the letter, but put off his reply. He couldn’t deny that somehow, without him noticing, all the rooms in the house had become engulfed in shadow as if invisible trees had grown huge in front of windows. Sun could no longer penetrate the gnarled, overgrown branches blinding the house, invisible as they were. He imagined that if he opened the right door at the right moment, sun would come rushing in cascading the dust and gloom. But where was that magical door?

They didn’t leave Sylvie alone. He did not head off to Thibalt & Sons until Marin came over in the afternoon. She left only when Lydia was back from the hospital. Lydia’s mother came by in an emergency, but no one was happy with Pearl around and they tried to minimize her on-call visits. At first Pearl was baffled by Sylvie’s refusal to return to school. "She should be around other kids," Pearl said.

"She doesn’t want to be around anyone, obviously," Lydia told her mother. Pearl tried another tactic. She told Sylvie to "buck up" and realize how lucky she was. After a while, Sylvie refused to be in the same room with Pearl when she came over. "Indulged" Pearl said when describing her granddaughter. "She should be taking one course, at least, if she can’t take a full load." Dan would walk out of the room when Pearl was talking.

Lydia didn’t ask her daughter if she had plans to go back to school, or if she had any thoughts about getting a job. When the leaves began to turn, she took her for drives on back roads where maples were red and orange. Sylvie liked these drives. One morning, when she was out with her mother, Dan went into her room. The bright blue paint on the walls (was it Ultramarine, or Cornflower Blue, or Pthalo that she’d picked years ago?) could not disguise how dreary and airless the room was. This quiet frozen sea she surrounded herself with was the main lifeline she had now. On the floor by her bed, on a piece of looseleaf, were lines written in her tight, barely legible scrawl. He picked up the page and read: "Sometimes I feel I am climbing out of a hole so deep and sunk in cold, but I keep losing my grip. Each day I’m getting older and more exhausted." She was nineteen.

When Sylvie started going out for brief walks to the library, Lydia considered this great progress. Dan wanted to think so too, especially when Sylvie brought books back, mostly biographies. When she finished the last page of a biography on Cicero, she started again on page one. She read as if she were trying to flee something and might die trying. Stacks of paperbacks and hardcovers lay by her bed. "A room without books is a body without a soul," she said, quoting Cicero.

"Would you like to apply for a job at the library?" Dan asked. Sylvie shook her head. They were playing chess. She complained that their games had the same opening moves, so the next day she got out a chess book to see if she could learn new strategies. The next time Pearl asked what her plans were, Sylvie said, "He does not seem to me to be a free man who does not sometimes do nothing. Cicero."

One Saturday Sylvie didn’t get out of bed. Dan knocked on the door around noon. Sylvie was still in her pajamas, headphones on.

"What are you listening to?" Dan asked.

"Music," Sylvie said.

"Ookay. Why don’t you come down for something to eat."

She didn’t have breakfast that day until three. He wasn’t sure what time she went to sleep, he heard her in the kitchen around midnight, but Sunday, she didn’t leave her room except for a quick snack in the afternoon. When he called up to tell her supper was ready, and then came upstairs to insist she come to the table, she said she wasn’t hungry. He felt like it was parent versus daughter.

They should have had another child, Dan thought. Marin was eight when Sylvie was born, but Marin lived with her mother then, visiting only on holidays. She was more like an aunt than a sister. She thought he infantilized Sylvie. "The more you expect from her, the better she’ll do," she said. Dan didn’t think Marin understood the bigger picture. If Sylvie had a sister or brother she could confide in, maybe she wouldn’t feel so isolated. Maybe she wouldn’t spend hours in the bathroom. Was she trying to throw up?

Both he and Lydia, only children, wanted another child. But Lydia only conceived once, and they never bothered with medical intervention. They should have tried harder, Dan castigated himself. He remembered Sylvie begging her mother to have another baby. She was the only one in third grade without a brother or sister. "I’ll be a good big sister," she’d said. She was seven. She said she’d teach a little brother to use a scooter. If she had a sister, she’d give her all her dolls.

Her grandmother was in the room at the time. "It costs a lot of money to have a baby," Pearl said. "Ma," Lydia scolded , "why are you telling her that?" But Sylvie had already gone into her room and came back with her piggy bank.

"You can have the money I have," she’d told her mother. "All of it."

Even thinking about this made Dan feel helpless. He’d vowed never to send Sylvie to day care. But he wasn’t able to keep that promise either. Monday through Friday he’d walk Sylvie the eight blocks to WEE Care at eight and pick her up when he got back from work at half past five. When Sylvie started going to primary, a girl from grade six waited for her after school and walked Sylvie, and the other young children, three blocks to day care. One day Sylvie got out late from class and the older child had already gone with the others. Sylvie waited. Should she go to WEE Care on her own? Should she run home and cross the busy street alone? In the end, she ran back to her house. A truck stopped abruptly, horn blasting, as she dashed across the road. It was just luck that Dan happened to be home that time of day. He was in the kitchen making tea and trying to shake the cold he had when he saw Sylvie race up the hill. "They left without me," she blurted as she ran in. "Can I stay home?"

"They left without you? How could that be?" he said, staring at his daughter who was still catching her breath.

"I don’t know," she said and started crying. "Do I have to go to day care?" He could imagine how scary it had been for her, coming home all by herself, poor little thing; she was only five. "Of course you can stay home," he said, and hugged her while she cried.

"What good does it to do to torment yourself?" Lydia asked only the other night. "We can’t only have faith when things are going well. We have to believe things will be okay, even when they’re difficult." But lately, when Dan was alone with Sylvie, the silence would tighten around everything in the house, and Dan would feel chilled. Conversations were difficult too.

"Numbers have personalities too, don’t you think?" Sylvie said out of the blue, when they were eating lunch. "Ah Sylvie," he thought. Her name meant "Of the forest," he would remind himself and repeat the name. Trees were of the forest and lived a long time. What were more magnificent than trees? He sighed. It was hard for him to simply watch and wait and not have any plan. When the letter arrived it felt, if not like divine intervention, certainly like a gentle nudge from some invisible source.

At first he couldn’t figure out who it was from. Did he know a Britt Hakala? But of course, she was the daughter of Nils, the friend he made in Sweden decades ago. Nils made his time in Sweden bearable. Now his daughter was graduating high school and wanted to visit in the summer.

When he finally brought up the possibility of her staying for a couple of weeks, Marin thought the plan ridiculous. Later she added, "Mom thinks it’s incredible too, that you’d invite a stranger into the house when Sylvie is so sick." It used to annoy him that his ex-wife had such a keen interest in his family. But now he just laughed at the unsolicited comments from a woman who had once made his life so difficult. When Dan finally asked Sylvie what she thought, she said she didn’t mind as long as Britt stayed in the guestroom. "That’s good enough for me," Dan told Lydia, who’d thought the idea a good one all along. He wrote back welcoming his friend’s daughter.

At the end of August Marin went with Lydia, Dan and Sylvie to the airport to pick up Britt from her twenty-hour flight, the four of them silent in the whoosh of traffic as dusk turned to evening. But on the way back, Britt did all the talking. "Most people don’t talk when they’re tired," Britt said, "but that’s when I can’t seem to stop. Forgive me!" she said and everyone laughed.

It surprised Dan that Sylvie didn’t mind going to the malls and watching as Britt tried on dresses and skirts that were especially unsuited to the Swedish climate, asking Sylvie’s opinion each time she came out of the dressing room. When she said she couldn’t get clothes like this in Sweden, Lydia mumbled, "Thank goodness," as she and Dan watched her purchase low cut jeans and shirts that ended above her waist. She was much taller than Sylvie, but she walked next to her new friend at a comfortable gait, even in the new heels she purchased, a tall blonde teenager with long hair, striding beside a petite girl with dark hair shorter than a boy’s. The fact that Sylvie hardly said a word didn’t faze Britt, who was used to her quiet Stockholm friends. She said she loved being in Canada and whenever she spoke, her brown eyes sparkled. She had a scar over the bridge of her nose and onto her forehead, a thin silver line of scar tissue which looked like a premature worry line. It made her appear burdened beyond her years and though Dan knew this wasn’t true, he felt protective toward her. Often he and Lydia would hear music drifting from Sylvie’s room as she shared CD’s she liked with Britt. They lied, you CAN get blood from a stone, Dan heard a CD blare late one evening. His daughter was simply listening to music with a friend, something perfectly ordinary. For the first time in months Dan felt like he could stop holding his breath.

He’d told Lydia all about Koping, how he’d spent one semester as an exchange student in that small town, about an hour and a half south of Stockholm, when he was in high school. Now he told her again what a cold, dark place Koping was. Most of the people were chilly as well, aloof and silent. He met Nils, a student who lived on a farm down the road, a few weeks after he arrived. Nils knew the old couple Dan was staying with, who didn’t speak English and rarely smiled. Having Dan in their house seemed to irritate them. Why had they signed up to host a teenager? The first time Nils came by, having heard about this student from Canada, he gave Dan a bear hug. "You’re going to help me with my English, yes?" he said but as it turned out, Nils was the one who helped Dan. He lent Dan skis, took him on easy trails, invited him to play ice hockey with his friends. When the old woman said Dan wasn’t to go out at night, Nils explained that they had to attend a meeting at school that evening. Then he drove Dan to a party, the only party he was to go to during his time in Sweden. Of course they returned late but Nils walked into the house with Dan and gave an account to the woman of car trouble he’d had. What a look she gave Nils. After Dan returned to Canada, it was Nils who kept up the correspondence year after year.

"To Britt, Sylvie is a typical nineteen-year-old who’s just a bit on the quiet side," Lydia said as she was going to sleep. "Aren’t we lucky you went to Sweden thirty years ago," she said yawning, her hand on Dan’s arm, the front of her body brushing against the back of his.

Dan wouldn’t call it luck, exactly, that made him go into the kitchen later that week to make tea when Britt and his daughter were playing chess in the living room and didn’t know anyone could overhear them. "This girl in my class is a beauty," Britt said. "All the boys like her. But she’s only interested in math. Oh, she is a brilliant girl."

"Your move" he heard his daughter say. But Britt continued, "There was a math conference in Germany when we were in grade nine and a professor wanted her to go. Her parents weren’t able to come, so she went on her own with the professors. She was only 14."

Sylvie spoke so softly he could barely hear. But he did hear. "When you’re ugly you have to stay close to home," Sylvie said. "Though when you’re very ugly, maybe it would be better if you didn’t have a hole to crawl into."

"But what do you mean?" Britt said.

"Your move," Sylvie said. "You’re losing."

"No really, what do you mean?"

He couldn’t see Sylvie but he could sense her glare. "It’s your move," she said, her voice icy. Dan unplugged the kettle and walked upstairs without making a sound. What a cold dark place coping was.

When Marin came by later, she found him sitting in his office in the dark. "Can I come in?" she asked. But when she began to talk, he didn’t respond. "What’s up?" she finally asked.

"What do you know about Cicero?"

"Sylvie’s the expert on Cicero."

"Did you know he went into a deep depression when things were difficult for him," Dan said.

"And? Your point?"

"I wonder if that’s why Sylvie is interested in reading about him."

"Dad, I don’t think Cicero was renowned for his depression."

"I read that when his daughter died he felt such anguish, he wrote to his friend, ‘I have lost the one thing that bound me to life.’ He read everything in his friend’s library about overcoming grief."

"So? Is there a paragraph I’m missing here? Whose dying?" Marin asked.

Dan looked down at the rug. Then he started to cry. Marin froze, staring at him.

"Sylvie is very unhappy," he said. "We can’t be too careful. I mean, if she were to ..."

"Oh Dad," Marin said, and went over to hug him.

"I’m sorry," Dan said, but he kept crying. He thought of what Sylvie said once, quoting Cicero: A man of courage is also full of faith. He wanted to have faith. At least he was getting a fuller idea of the problem. Things were coming to the surface, and wasn’t this visibility the first step in recovery?

"Have you told Sylvie that you’re worried about her, that you think she needs help?" Marin asked.

"I can’t force her to see a doctor."

"Yes you can. You can find a doctor she wants to talk with."

Dan didn’t say anything. But when he sighed he felt as if the pain were leaking out of his chest and expanding to fill the room. If he were to open one of the windows it would keep expanding, saturating the damp night air.

*


Carole Glasser Langille's fourth book of poetry, Church of the Exquisite Panic: The Ophelia Poems, will be published in the fall of 2012. Her last book was a collection of short stories, When I Always Wanted Something. She teaches Creative Writing:Poetry at Dalhousie University.
Photo credit: Karen Runge

Fiction #31: Jeffrey Griffiths

The Deerflies

Payne gave the kitchen table the once over, tools, keys, a plastic grocery bag, but no hat. He scanned the counter digging at his mind to remember where he’d left it. His head was killing him. He needed the yellow ball cap, the beak covered in finger prints, to squeeze his temples.

He and Tammy had killed two bottles of wine the night before, somewhere between nine and whenever she had made her way upstairs to bed. She didn’t look back at him as she pushed her harsh blond hair off her shoulder. Payne had remained on the sofa, tucked into his form in the cushions.

He’d heard Tammy and her son Jason eating breakfast earlier and had faked being asleep to see what they would say. They whispered as he strained to hear while keeping his eyes pinched shut. He stayed that way until Tammy took Jason to school and then off to her cleaning job at the Super 8 on the highway.

Payne knew that Jason hated him. The bastard stayed with his father every weekend and sauntered in on Sunday night wearing a baggy T shirt and his jeans around his ass. Two more years and the kid would be 16 and hopefully with his dad full time. At least that’s what he claimed.

Payne plugged in the kettle and dug around the sink for a clean mug. He found the one with Darth Vader on it. The water boiled and he filled it. He ran his hand through his oily hair before spooning a healthy dose of instant coffee. He stirred until white froth came up. He turned on the TV and flopped down on the couch. A news station from Buffalo bragged about keeping its audience informed and ready for severe weather. Footage of hurricanes and snow storms played while an anchor man locked eyes with the camera. Payne switched off the set and went to the bathroom.

A spear of dread hit him as he remembered that Jason’s dad still had their computer. Big Jason had taken it home for repairs. There was nothing Payne could do but hold the screen door open while the intimidating bugger carried it out. The whole issue started because Payne had tried to sabotage the machine to keep Jason off it.

He grabbed a car magazine from the pile in the bathtub. A grey cat was curled up in the sink looking like a birds nest. Payne pictured three robin’s eggs on her stomach.

The split vinyl on the toilet seat pinched his ass; he made a mental note to bring duct tape the next morning. He was reading about fiberglass patching when the phone rang. He waited until it let up. Two weeks before he had thrown the answering machine against the woodstove, the pieces were still scattered along the baseboard. The little cassette tape tucked in the corner. The scrape of his mother’s condemning voice had pushed him to do it, "Pick up Payne. I know you’re there. Pick up the Jesus telephone."

Payne had been out of work for a couple of years. His mother sent him a cheque each month. She also owned the house and land he lived on.

At the bottom of the stairs he found his cap, it felt like an old buddy as it slid onto his skull. Payne had the whole day now, Tammy was on day shift and Jason wouldn’t get off the school bus until four-thirty. He looked out the picture window. Condensation filled each corner between the plates of glass, it was worse than ever this summer. Payne would have to take off the wood trim and refit it one day. There were hundreds of things he should do around the house, it was falling apart. Tammy told him more times than he needed to hear that the place was a dump. "All the old wrecked cars in the field. Do you know how many?" she had asked with her eyes bulging at him. "Fourteen god damn pieces of junk for everyone to see."

Payne knew what the field looked like, but all those cars were good for parts. He had just picked up an 89 Ford pick-up for $150; it just needed rings to pass the emissions test. He had another Ford with a 302 that would do for a ring switch. Payne had been using Tammy’s Toyota since she moved in the year before. She had been complaining that he was leaving her stranded on her days off. It was his place and she wasn’t paying any rent so why shouldn’t he drive it?

Exactly one month ago Payne knew that Tammy had decided to leave him, she had said nothing, but the decision was on her face. Payne had thought he was alone that day when he was guzzling ice cold raspberry Kool-aid from the plastic pitcher. He spit out the sweet drink and cupped his mouth with his hand, his eyetooth pounded. The tooth had been slowly turning grey over the past few months. Payne frantically dug through the tools on the table, grabbed a tiny pair of vice grips, and fit the jaws over his tooth. For only a second he hesitated, then squeezed and pulled. The ache was gone instantly. Salty blood filled his mouth. He spit into the sink, filled a glass with water, swished it in his mouth and spit again. The stringy red water gathered in the basin like egg yolk. Payne turned his head when he heard Tammy clear her throat. She grabbed her purse and car keys and didn’t come back until after midnight.

After that, Tammy started staying at her mother’s on her days off work. If Payne phoned, Tammy’s mother would treat him like he was a bill collector. She would tell him that Tammy was at the store, in the shower, a list of lame excuses. He felt like Tammy was drifting away while he stood on a shore watching, doing nothing.

Payne made the decision to get the truck running. After an hour the deerflies were driving him crazy, always buzzing around just out if his reach. He gave up. As he walked back to the house his shadow showed two more flies behind his head. He pulled off his hat and swung it around to ward them off. They were back in seconds.

Tammy walked in at five-thirty. Jason was already slouched on the sofa watching a rerun of Cops.

"We gotta get satellite TV. This aerial sucks the…"

"Hey, watch your tongue," Payne said looking at Tammy as though Jason’s mouth was her fault. She was the one that had the kid with Big Jason in the first place.

Jason rolled his eyes.

"I’m making veggie burgers for dinner. I suppose you want real meat," Tammy said tilting her head as she stared at Payne.

"If you don’t mind." Payne watched the television as four cops handcuffed a biker. The criminal’s face was blurred out as though that would somehow save him from embarrassment. Payne remembered boys from his old nieghbourhood in the city that bragged about their crimes, like it was all they had to create some form of self-worth. Like the men that collected trash, they always threw the cans as far as they could. As though they did it to say, "I’ll pick up your shit, but don’t look down on me."

Tammy sat a plate in Payne’s lap. Two hamburgers and a pile of potatoe chips. He had to get up and get the mustard and relish out of the fridge.

"Thanks," he said.

Tammy sat on the couch beside Jason and fell into a vacant stare. They switched channels and found the final segment of the news, the human interest story, saved for last to wind the audience down to thinking that the world may not actually end on that particular day. A nice couple stood in front of their large suburban home, they had just adopted a dog from the animal shelter. The dog had been found in a basement chained to a work bench. An overly lit photo of a skinny black lab was flashed on the screen before the couple was shown with the freshly groomed animal.

Tammy shook her head as she sipped club soda. "I wish they’d say what happened to the pigs that had the dog. I hope they got charged. They probably just got a slap on the wrist. They way our court system works the case probably won’t be heard for five years, by then the jerks will have another dog to torture."

Payne meticulously spread an even layer of mustard on the bottom half of his hamburger bun.

"That’s right Payne; bury your head in the sand. Don’t say what you think. The world’s going to hell and you hide here on your little junk-yard farm." Tammy craned her neck around to look him in the eye.

Jason snickered.

Jason’s sarcastic laugh made Payne want to smash his head. He was exactly the kind of kid that Payne spent his childhood avoiding. The aggressive ones that used muscle and numbers for strength. Jason wasn’t at all stupid; he had high marks in public school. Though recently he seemed to be turning into his father, a path to a bad place.

Over the next week Payne mustered up the ambition to get the truck on the road. He worked at night while Tammy and Jason watched television. It was cool outside and peaceful. Getting his vehicle up and running was also a means of survival. If Tammy left he’d be screwed for wheels.

On Saturday Payne took the truck for a test run, he wasn’t worried about the outdated license plate. The police weren’t too picky with the locals. He pulled into the parking lot of Nichols grocery store. His heart flipped when he saw a car like Tammy’s drive into the space beside him. A guy that must have been six-foot-five unfolded himself from the red Toyota and went into the store. Payne sat for a minute to settle himself. When he got out of his truck he glanced at the plates on the Toyota he saw that it was Tammy’s car. He jumped back into his vehicle. He started the motor. Sitting with his hand still on the key he shut it off again.

Payne decided he would follow him. He could taste fear just thinking about it. The tall man came out five minutes later with a long paper bag that Payne figured was a bottle of wine. He imagined a confrontation with Tammy and the giant. Payne busting down the door and punching the goof in the mouth, he had the fight choreographed, the kick, the missed swing, a quick succession of insulting face slaps and the final blow. He wasn’t sure if he left with Tammy or not in his fantasy film.

The Toyota drove onto the main street and turned east toward the countryside. Payne clunked the column shifter into drive and followed thinking he would at least see where the guy lived. The Toyota quickly sped up past the speed limit. Payne kept up from a distance. A pack of cars moved slowly on the first hill outside of town, a dump truck was holding them up. The Toyota hauled up behind them and without hesitating swung into the left lane. Payne watched in shock. The guy crested the hill and vanished. Payne nearly slammed into the slow moving car at the end of the line. The driver held the rear-view mirror while the teenage girl in the back seat turned and gave Payne a look of disgust.

*

Jeff Griffiths lives in the west end of Hamilton with his wife and two young children. He writes like a fiend to sustain his obsession to submit work to literary journals.

He has published magazine articles, book reviews, and a column in a local magazine (in 2007).

His short fiction has appeared in Front and Centre, Hammered Out, The Puritan, Qwerty, The Nashwaak Review and various on-line journals. He also received the Arts Hamilton award for short fiction in 2007 and 2008.

He is very close to completing a short story collection and recently received Writer’s Reserve Grant from the OAC thanks to a recommendation from Wolsak and Wynn publishing House.
He is currently teaching Creative Writing and Dynamics of Prose for the Writing for Publication Program at Mohawk College.

He maintains a poetry-ish blog called TVAFFECTS.  http://tvaffects.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Interview: Matthew J. Trafford

Please tell us about your interest in the short story by:

A) telling us a bit about your recent collection (e.g., how did it come about? Does it have a recurring theme? Do you have a particular story of passage that’s a favourite?)

The Divinity Gene came very much out of my studies at UBC’s Optional-Residency MFA program. I went in to the program thinking I was a poet, but the program requires students to work in multiple genres. I took a short story course with Zsuzsi Gartner, and fell in love with the form.

I also started reading writers I’d never encountered before, and through that, felt able for the first time to write stories I’d had the ideas for but never knew how to execute. For example, I can remember so clearly when I had the idea for “Forgetting Helen,” about a boy who’s born in a library, but I had no idea how to go about writing a story like that.

I ended up doing my thesis in short fiction, and that became the basis of what eventually became The Divinity Gene. The book has ten stories in it, and generally they deal with science and religion, grief and loss, belonging and identity.

“The Grimpils” is probably my favourite story in the collection, because it was one of the hardest to write -- the first story to be started and the last one finished. It has an omniscient point of view, a large number of characters, and footnotes. I’m very happy with the way it turned out, and I care about those characters a lot. I think of the story as the collections unsung hero, because only one reviewer mentioned it, who didn’t like it.

But when I hear from readers that “The Grimpils” was their favourite story, those are good moments for me.

B) Recommending a short story or collection by someone else that you admire (and why?)

When asked my favourite short story, I always answer Rick Moody’s “Boys,” because I can’t read it without crying. There are so many short fiction writers I admire - Adam Hasslett, Jim Shepard, Aimee Bender, Ryan Boudinot.

This was a great year for short stories in Canada and of the ones I haven’t got to yet, I’m especially looking forward to reading Michael Christie’s collection The Beggar’s Garden and Julie Booker’s Up Up Up.

This year’s Journey Prize collection was also a fantastic read, especially Seyward Goodhand’s “The Fur Trader’s Daughter.”

Right now I’m reading Jeremy Dyson, a British writer, The Cranes That Build the Cranes. It’s macabre and strange and right up my alley - I’m loving it.

C) Reflecting on the 21st Century and the short story: Are they a good match (and why?)

I think the creation and telling of stories is intrinsic to human life and culture. This century is interesting because the world is more connected than ever before; the internet allows us to read cross-nationally with an ease that has never existed before (look at something like joyland).

Tablets and e-readers present new opportunities for the short story form to become popular again, though it’s anybody’s guess how all this will pan out. At the end of the day I’m excited to be writing and reading stories at this time, and optimistic about the future of the form.