What makes a good story? – Danila Botha

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Danila Botha hails from Johannesburg. She moved to Canada when she was a teenager. She is the author of one novel and two volumes of short stories, Got No Secrets, Too Much on the Inside, and most recently For All the Men (and Some of the Women) I’ve Known. She is a winner of the Book Excellence Award for Contemporary Novel.

Danila will act as a judge with Joseph Kertes and Shari Lapena at IFOA’s Lit Jam event on February 1st. Join them and CBC’s Gill Deacon for a night of on-the-spot creativity and storytelling like never before!

Here is what she had to say about her expectations as a judge. She also shares some tips of what makes a good story!


IFOA: What are you looking forward to as a judge at IFOA’s Lit Jam?

DB: I am really looking forward to to watching and encouraging emerging writers. This event is so unique-first of all, there’s the spontaneity and inventiveness of live storytelling, there’s the resourcefulness and talent of improvisation, and there’s also the collaborative nature of writers working in teams to tell stories. I can’t wait to see the brilliant and original ideas and hear the stories they come up with. I think it’s going to be really inspiring for all of us.

IFOA: What, in your opinion, makes a good story?

DB: I think regardless of writing style, or subject matter, what the best stories have in common is desire. We read about a character who desperately wants something- and we feel deeply invested in them finding, or achieving or struggling to have the thing that they want most.

Lisa Moore described it perfectly in an interview a few years ago: “Desire is luminous and [it makes characters] alive and indelible. It doesn’t matter if… they are worthy of what they want. What matters is if we [the readers] are caught up in the sweeping spotlight of that desire.”

I love complex, three dimensional characters whose motives aren’t always clear. The more outside of my own experience or frame of reference a character’s choices or experiences are, the more I enjoy reading about them (and writing them!) I think the best stories show us new perspectives, and insights, and help us understand, or be more compassionate. I also love great dialogue and a good sense of humor. My favourite stories always contain elements of the unexpected.

IFOA:  Have you ever participated in an event like this one? Do you have any advice to share with the participants?

DB: I wish I had, I’m sure I would have loved to have participated in an event like this.

The first time I ever read to a large group was when I did the Humber School for Writers Summer Intensive Program in the mid 2000’s. I read from a short story called Paradox (which later became part of  my first collection of short stories). On the surface, the story is actually very dark, but I realized that I could play with the tone, and emphasize humor or aspects of the story that might not necessarily be obvious on the page. It was such a great feeling to hear the audience react- to hear them laugh, or gasp in shock, or just see them listening intently. Reading and performance is such a great way of engaging readers- enjoy the process, because it’s a wonderful way of getting an audience to connect with a story. Also, (and I think about this all the time, too) it’s important to believe in your ideas and to have the confidence to tell the story, or stories that you most want to tell. Those are the stories that resonate the most.


 

 

Calling all poets!

1 stage. 20 poets. 1 winner.

The popular poetry competition returns in 2016 to feature 20 of Canada’s upcoming and established poets! One poet will receive an automatic invitation to read at the 37th edition of the International Festival of Authors AND an ad for their book in NOW!

Poetry NOW is presented in partnership with NOW Magazine.11 Poetry NOW logo

Poetry NOW FAQ

IFOA is inviting submissions for Poetry NOW: 8th annual Battle of the Bards. However, with a special event comes some special rules. Even if you’ve submitted/presented work here before, please read on to find out what’s what:

AUTHORS

So what’s this all about, anyway?

In 2009, IFOA posted its first-ever open call for submissions. Poets 35 and younger were invited to be part of a celebration of our 35 years in the reading series business. The standard of entries was astonishing, and the resulting event was one of the highlights of our year. The event returned in 2010, but was opened up to published poets of all ages. 2010 also saw a new partnership with our friends at NOW Magazine, and that collaboration continues this year.

I’m pretty good, y’know. Will there be any sort of prize?

Oh yes. One reader will win an automatic invitation to appear at the 37th edition of the International Festival of Authors (October 20–30, 2016) AND an ad for their most recent book of poetry in NOW Magazine! Not bad, eh?!

Who is eligible for Poetry NOW?

You must be published by a trade publisher in a collection that is all your own work (so anthologies, literary journals and magazines aren’t eligible, sorry). Your book must have been published within the last five years, and it must be currently in print.

This one seems kind of obvious, but you must also be in Toronto on March 30 and available between 5pm and 10pm. (Sorry, we are unable to cover car/train/boat/plane or accommodation expenses.)

I was part of last year’s event, can I still enter for the 2016 event?

Absolutely. We’d love to have you back. Besides, maybe you have a new book out since last year’s event…?

What sets Poetry NOW apart from your regular weekly literary events?

We’ll be featuring 20 readers in one event, instead of our usual two or three. And we won’t be making a judgment call about who gets an invite. If you fit the criteria and your name gets pulled out of the hat, you’re in!

Do I need to pre-register? Or can I just sign up on the night?

Although we’re throwing open the call for submissions, we will be confirming the line-up several weeks in advance and liaising with publishers to promote the event according to our usual procedures. Submissions must be made by your publisher by Monday, February 29 at noon.

(See our submission guidelines for publishers below.)

What’s the closing date for submissions?

Monday, February 29 at noon.

How many authors will get to read at the event? And for how long?

20 authors will read for up to 3 minutes each.

How will you choose the readers?

Submissions that fit the above criteria will go into a draw. You have as much chance of being selected as the next person.

Who picks the winner?

Judges to be announced shortly.

When will I find out if I’m in?

Publishers will be notified and details confirmed by March 4. We’ll announce the line-up March 7.

What if I have more than one publisher? Can they both submit my work?

By all means, but we will only put your name in the draw once. (Also, see below re: books being for sale on the night of the event.)

Will my books be for sale at the event?

Yes, but we will require each presenting poet or their publishing representative to bring the books on a consignment basis. Your publisher can arrange these details with us once we have the line-up confirmed.

I have lots of friends/family/groupies. How can they all come and support me?

Tickets are $10 (free to our supporters, students with valid ID and youth 25 & under) and can be purchased online soon. Stay tuned!

Don’t forget that we offer a 50% discount to all our events to members of the League of Canadian Poets (and also the Writers’ Union of Canada, the Playwrights Guild of Canada and TPL’s New Collection).

Will there be a bar?

You betcha!

SUBMISSION GUIDELINES FOR PUBLISHERS

Please submit eligible titles by email to programming@ifoa.org by Monday, February 29 at noon.

You must include the following information:

  • Name of Author
  • Brief bio
  • Eligible title(s) and their year(s) of publications

Please write “Poetry NOW” in the subject line.

And please let us know if we already have the book under consideration for our regular weekly event series.

Once the 20 authors have been picked, we will contact the relevant publishers to confirm details.

At that point, you will be required to send:

  • 3 copies of the book the author will be presenting
  • An author bio and brief synopsis of the book
  • An author photo and book cover image (both as high res. jpegs)

Five Questions with… Connie Gault

Connie Gault, author of A Beauty and an upcoming IFOA participant, answered our five questions!

IFOA: Along with your novels, you have also published short stories and stage dramas. Does your creative process change between mediums?

Connie Gault: I’ve found that my creative process remains almost the samethe story, novel or play begins with characters in a particular setting, a girl standing under an old metal arch, for example, or a couple sitting on an unmoving train, or in the case of A Beauty, a young woman stepping out of a car onto the dusty verge of a gravel road, and then expands outwards as the characters’ worlds come alivebut the different genres require different approaches, almost different mental muscles. In switching from one to another, I’ve had to learn their techniques all over again. I believe, though, that the effort enriches the results.

IFOA: A Beauty is set in Depression-era Saskatchewan. What about this particular time appealed to you?

Gault: The Depression is iconic Saskatchewan. Drought, dust, failing crops and vanishing towns are part of our inheritance. I grew up hearing about those years; they affected my grandparents, parents, me and my children. Two factors made the era perfect for this novel: I wanted to explore ways in which the past haunts people, and my central character is a young woman who incites a yearning for romance in those she meets. There is probably no time in our history when people had a greater need for a little excitement and glamour in their lives.

IFOA: Can you tell us where the title of your novel, A Beauty, came from?

Gault, A BeautyGault: The title refers to Elena Huhtala, the enigmatic central character of the novel, whose beauty is examined and remarked upon by almost everyone she meets. I like the old-fashioned sound of it; we don’t often call a woman a beauty anymore, and for good reasons. Maybe we are beginning (just barely beginning?) to see how labelling women this way objectifies and diminishes them. But there is also a great, sad beauty in the landscape of the prairies at this time in their history, and in the striving of the people to endure.

IFOA: What has the experience of promoting your new book around Canada been like?

Gault: I’ve enjoyed promoting A Beauty, especially the two fantastic launches of the novel, in Toronto and in Saskatoon, the latter with a Madison flashdance (the last third of the novel is set in the 60s). The best reward is hearing from readers across the country that they have appreciated the book.

IFOA: What’s next for you?

Gault: I’m working on a new novel and finishing a collection of short stories.

Connie Gault is the author of two collections of short stories, several plays for stage and radio and the novel Euphoria, winner of the Saskatchewan Book Award for Fiction and shortlisted for the High Plains Fiction Award and the Commonwealth Prize for Best Book of Canada and the Caribbean. She will present A Beauty on June 24 at IFOA Weekly’s Where the Heart Is alongside Sabrina Ramnanan. This event is FREE.

 

 

Five Questions with… David Vann

David Vann, author of Aquarium and an upcoming IFOA participant, answered our five questions!

Share this article via Twitter or Facebook for your chance to win a copy of Aquarium and two tickets to the event! Don’t forget to tag @IFOA!

IFOA: Your debut collection, Legend of a Suicide, was somewhat based on true events in your own life. How much does your real life inspire or find its way into your fictional work?David Vann

David Vann: My first four books of fiction (Legend of a Suicide, Caribou Island, Dirt and Goat Mountain) have true family events in the background. What happens in the stories is made up but references and tries to transform the history. To give an example from Legend, my father asked me to come live with him for a year in Alaska. I said no, and soon after he killed himself. So my account in the book of a boy and his father homesteading in Alaska is fictional but also a second chance to say yes and an imagination of what that year with him would have been like. Writing is largely subconscious for me, since I have no outline or plan or any idea what the book will be about when I begin, but there’s a surprising amount of pattern and structure that happens in the subconscious, and also a drive, I think, to be made whole.

IFOA: Where did the idea for Aquarium come from?

Vann: Aquarium will be my first novel published that does not draw from my family history or have any clear parallels in my own life. It’s also the first one not to be a tragedy. I could first see scenes from Aquarium as I was finishing another novel about the Greek heroine Medea. I’ve always loved tropical fish, and I had eight fish tanks scattered throughout the house when I was 12 years old, Caitlin’s age. So I was drawn to the idea of describing fish, and Seattle as if it was underwater, and I love the public aquarium in Seattle. I went there long ago, in the early 90s, and thought their descriptions of fish at each tank were a kind of poetry indicating human behavior. I should also say that I’ve always loved female coming-of-age stories for some reason, especially Ellen Foster, Bastard Out of Carolina and Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit.

Vann, AquariumIFOA: Have you ever written from the perspective of a child before and how is it different from writing from an adult perspective?

Vann: My most recent novel, Goat Mountain, is from the point of view of an 11-year-old boy, but I use a retrospective narrator, which means the story is told from when the boy is much older, looking back at his life. This frees me to be able to say anything, not limited to the vocabulary or perceptions of an 11-year-old, and allows reflection, the making of meaning about the shape of a life. This is what I also do in Aquarium. The story is told from 20 years later, when Caitlin is 32. All of the scenes bring to life her experience at 12, but she’s also able to understand those experiences now and use adult language. I do love Kaye Gibbons’ Ellen Foster, in which she stays closer to the child’s perspective and language, but I prefer the freedom of style and thought that an adult perspective allows.

IFOA: Do you have any plans to do readings of Aquarium in a real aquarium? (haha!)

Vann: I’d love to! We’ve asked the Seattle Aquarium whether they’d be interested.

IFOA: What have you read in the last six months that you have really enjoyed?

Vann: Many books, including Evie Wyld’s All The Birds, Singing and George Saunders’ Tenth of December. And I spend a lot of time on classics, currently translating Beowulf from Old English and Ovid’s Metamorphoses from Latin (struggling on that one!).

David Vann is a former Guggenheim fellow and author. He will be at IFOA Weekly on March 12th.

 

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