Category Archives: Short Fiction

The Malahat Review on Paradise & Elsewhere

We the Treeshttp://www.malahatreview.ca/reviews/189reviews_perry.html

Daniel Perry on  “We, the Trees.” Each reviewer seems to have a different favourite.

“….Uniting the stories’ themes of exchange, translation, and conversion with their steady attention to the natural world (and loss thereof), “We the Trees” stands among the best-achieved pieces in the collection, telling of a journalism professor’s encounter with Joshua, a strange student who is taking no courses other than hers, who never comes to class or follows assignment directions, and who decamps to the nearby forest to study a fungus said to be a network through which all the trees communicate. The mission costs the young man his life, but his final message—seemingly from the trees, through him—leaves the professor with the sudden realization that it will be her who has to convert this supernatural happening into a story the public can consume through the news media. The professor’s epiphany leads to the reader’s own, revealing the young man’s objective: to force humanity to see the destruction of the natural world from the trees’ perspective for once. The bridging of such divides in these stories can explain the collection’s title: in all cases, there is paradise, and then, an elsewhere. The conflict that arises when shaken out of the former gives these stories life—and, like the fables they resemble, profound meaning.”

Year of Adjectives

ad·jec·tive
ˈajəktiv/
noun
 a word or phrase naming an attribute, added to or grammatically related to a noun to modify or describe it.
 
 
Ursula Le Guin’s  Steering the Craft includes an exercise called Chastity, which involves stripping all adjectives and adverbs from one’s writing. It’s an exercise I often use when teaching: the point is not to suggest that there is anything essentially wrong with adjectives, but rather to abstain from them temporarily  so as turn attention to the other parts of the sentence, especially the verbs,  the muscles which drive it along. Adjectives  do  of course play a vital  role in many kinds of writing, including, for example, book reviews.
 
Paradise & Elsewhere was launched in the spring of 2014 and the response to it has been one of the most cheering aspects of the past year. From the start, this book found its readers and they rose to meet to one of its challenges: how on earth to describe a slim volume (128 pages) which offers a kind of history of the world, plunges the reader into the back rooms of the psyche, and refuses to commit to particular genre?  Even I had struggled with this. In the publisher’s “About Your Book” questionnaire, used to help with publicity and marketing,  I drew a complete blank when asked to compare it with other books.
 
But early signs were encouraging. Amy Bloom baptized  the book with a  sprinkle of adjectives that included compelling, moody, and shape-shifting; Barbara Gowdy added  vibrant, startlingly imaginative, wise, smart, and very funny and very humane.  Even so,  as publication loomed, I began to be anxious about the possibility of reviews.  There were two adjectives that I was especially  dreading, both perfectly fine words and applicable to the book, but which have  accrued an unfortunate undercurrent of dismissal of disapproval: different, and weird.  Different, when used alone, suggests  the quality of being uncommon, at variance with the normal,  which on this side of the Atlantic often seems  to have  a pejorative ring to it;  weird means supernatural or uncanny, but it also  has the connotation of something (or someone)  preposterous, hard to identify with,  or beyond the pale.
 
Neither word has been used (in print at least)  and the book’s very first reviewer,  Charlene Van Buekenhout, writing in the Winnipeg Star, erupted in a torrent of adjectives that included  intelligent, sharp, raw,  sexy, unsettling, to the point, disturbing, beautiful,  realist, feminist,  and apocalyptic.   Since then, reviewers of Paradise & Elsewhere have  been inventive, authentic, prolific and generous… As you’ll see if you read the selection at the end of this post, the past months have been studded with adjectives. Common themes emerge, but what I’ve found  both humbling is the sheer variety of words that have been used to describe the book and/or individual stories, and the lengths reviewers have gone to in order to find the right combination of words. My favourites?   Surprising, astounding, startling and extraordinary and unexpected,  because I did very much want these stories to take the reader to somewhere  new.  Beyond that, it’s impossible: Transcendent? Sexy? Expansive?  Wicked? Wise? Lush? I’m spoiled for choice and grateful  to all those who so far have taken the risk of  reading  Paradise & Elsewhere, to my editor John Metcalf and all  the clever, passionate, and dedicated people who work at Biblioasis,  the super-indie publisher who took the book on.  Thanks, too, to all those who have talked with me or emailed or blogged about the book. 
 
Description is one thing, action another. Now it is time to  move deeper into new work: something completely different. Here’s hoping that in the coming year to come we will all write, paint, dance, print, sculpt sing, speak and dream new things into the world.

 

Beautiful, daring,  giddy, startling, intricate,  fine, always intriguing,  often dazzling – and while neither comfortable nor flawless – immensely  fun to read... Dan Vyleta, choosing Paradise & Elsewhere as his favourite book of 2014 in The Walrus

Dark,  haunting,  truly original… Scotiabank Giller Prize Jury/CBC Best Books 2014

Lyrical, fabulist, sometimes brutally cautionary,  unexpected, erotic… Shawn Syms, Quill & Quire

Sensuous, verdant, lyrical, wicked, fresh, exuberant, impeccable,  perfectly timed and executed, startling, surprising, horrific…  Stephen W. Beattie, National Post 

Immersive,  eerie, mystery-laden, restless, memorably skewed, neither imitative nor derivative,  simultaneously exotic and recognizable Brett Josef Grubsic, Vancouver Sun

Tight, strange, nifty...  Margaret Atwood on twitter

Compelling, unexpected, memorable… Tobias Carol, Volume 1

Transcendent, nuanced, strange, expansive, intimate, remarkable… Dustin Kurtz, Music and Literature

Lush, mythic…  Kate Hargreaves, Cover to Cover in Quill and Quire

Expansive, amazing…   Leland Cheuk, The Rumpus

Mind-bending, startling, singular, unexpected, capricious, uncanny, boldy illuminating, elastic, extravagantly outlandish… Malcolm Forbes, Minneapolis Star Tribune

Deeply mysterious, astounding, perfect… Caroline Adderson interview with Kathy Page in The New Quarterly

Brilliant, smart, deep, moody, incendiary, wondrous… Literary Press Group, Full of Lit

Well-honed; there is not an image or a word wasted,  full of surprises Lynne Van Luven,  Coastal Spectator

Heartfelt, shape-shifting…  Barnes & Noble Review selection for their Long List, wherein the author was  described as “the Alice Munro of the supernatural.”

Beautiful, profound… Daniel Perry,  Malahat Review

As insightful as their older counterparts   Globe and Mail

Extraordinary, dislocating, dark, wonderful  Kim Forrester, Reading Matters

Thanks too to those who reviewed  the  new Biblioasis edition of my novel Alphabet,  which  earned starred reviews in Kirkus, Publishers Weekly and the Library Journal, and  its own collection of descriptors.

 

 

 

 

 

Paradise, Elsewhere, Alphabet: interview for Volume 1

You can read/see Tobias Carroll’s interview with Kathy Page for  Volume 1 bookstore in Brooklyn  here, on their excellent site:

http://www.vol1brooklyn.com/2014/11/18/kathy-page-on-her-new-collection-and-tourists-right-at-the-burnt-out-end-of-human-history/

 

 

“The stories in Kathy Page’s new collection Paradise & Elsewhere revel in discontinuity. Whether exploring the ruins of a fallen civilization, finding unexpected tension in the interactions between tourists and the residents of the place they’re visiting, or borrowing from folktales to illustrate a tense, wrenching relationship, Page’s fiction rarely goes where you might expect. I checked in with Page via email to learn more about the book, along with her recently-reissued novel Alphabet

“The Ancient Siddanese” is evocative of many things at once: both an ancient culture and the myriad ways that tourists can take in ancient cultures. Were you inspired by any particular spaces or societies as you wrote this, or was your aim to create something more impossible?

My father had an interest in archaeology, and a quirky sense of humor. He once included some Roman mosaic tiles stolen from a dig he had been part of in the paving in front of our garden shed, with the aim of confusing future archaeologists. But I think it was when travelling in Mexico that I first understood how the explanations concerning archaeological sites depend on the skill and the point of view of the interpreter. Deserts are elemental and extreme landscapes, very compelling, and of course desertification is something that has brought more than one civilization to an end. I’ve been to the Sahara, and other very dry places, but the desert in this story is imaginary. It’s in the future, as well as in the past, because climate change is part of this story: these are tourists right at the burnt-out end of human history, and that gives the narrator, who seeks to create her own understanding of the site, a very particular perspective.

Tourism also arises in “G’Ming.” When did you first realize that the state of being a tourist could inspire compelling fiction?

I do find tourism fascinating: the interpersonal relationships and transactions, the meeting of cultures… In England, where I grew up, lower cost air fares made holidaying in Europe possible in the late sixties. The “package tour” was born…The premise was that everything would be cheaper there and you could live like royalty, as well as see exotic things. I remember playing with local kids I couldn’t speak to, and wondering about their lives. Very soon it was a huge industry. Many of the stories in the book feature travelers of various kinds and look at what happens when they turn up uninvited, or with an agenda of some kind. It’s a huge question: how do we treat the stranger at our gate, or behave towards the local community we are moving through. How does all this change us?

The way that “We, the Trees” evolves over time, paralleling philosophical explorations with an air of menace, made for one of the collection’s most memorable experiences. Where did that juxtaposition come from?

I was fascinated by a recent research from the University of British Columbia, which shows that trees use a fungal network to communicate nutritional needs and to share nutrients. In the story, the idea is pushed a stage further, in that the trees, given the desperate situation they are in, begin to reach beyond their own community into ours. I combined that with the idea of self-sacrifice, and some of my observations of young people at the university where I teach. There’s a huge amount of political frustration about ecological issues.

“Low Tide” has echoes of a number of folk tales, but there’s also a sense of Gothic isolation there. How did you come to bring these two together?

The stories in this collection are instinctively written, more so than is normal for me. I find the starting point, get inside the story, and let the subconscious do the work of finding out where it goes. But looking back, yes, there is something very gothic about lighthouses: isolated towers in remote, storm-tossed and dramatic landscapes. I had wanted for a long time to set a story in a lighthouse. And I was very interested in the Selkie myth, which also calls for a watery setting. So it began with the land/seascape. The lighthouse and the rocks and the water allowed the woman, and then the story to emerge.

Your publisher also reissued your earlier novel Alphabet this year; do you see any points of comparison between it and this collection?

On the face of it, they’re quite different since Paradise & Elsewhere is in the fabulist tradition, and Alphabet is a grittily realistic contemporary novel. But I do see connections, quite a few. Alphabet may not be obviously mythological, but beneath the surface  it features an archetypical struggle: a man who has to face his (inner) demon. It’s a story about transformation: the slow progress Simon makes through the prison system and in his understanding and remaking of himself and also, of course, the other, more dramatic processes that another prisoner, Victor/Charlotte undergoes. I think there’s a gothic element to Alphabet, too: the closed world of the prison. Both books look at the question of how we understand and deal with the other, which as I mentioned, is one of my themes. And Alphabet was of course an exercise in entering into a reality very different to my own, just as the stories were.

Of the societies, philosophies, and cultures detailed in Paradise & Elsewhere, which was the most difficult to create?

I had such fun with this book – none of them were difficult to invent. But the subsistence sheep-framing community in “Lambing” was the hardest to spend time in: very harsh and patriarchal, and perhaps rather too real, in a way.

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Transcendent: Dustin Kurtz reviews Kathy Page’s Paradise & Elsewhere in Music and Literature

Paradise & Elsewhere by Kathy PageA long and very thoughtful review from  Dustin Kurtz which digs deeply into the stories in Paradise & Elsewhere and the impulses behind them. The first part is quoted, and a link to the rest follows:

‘Early in Paradise & Elsewhere, her latest short-story collection, Kathy Page places readers in an Edenic oasis of plenitude, communal and iridescent, populated by immortal women—a bubble about to be ruptured by a stumbling heat-stricken outsider. The women of this paradise discuss the intruder:

“Then again, how different was the traveller? . . . We had recognized her as human from the start. Differentness was not the point, some said. It led both ways. Rather, the issue was that she had come from elsewhere and so we did not know her story or intentions.”

Here Page has written a useful gloss of that story, itself called “Of Paradise,” and, indeed, the entire book. In these stories Page gives readers a literature of elsewhere, but one in which difference—or, as above, “differentness”—is not a truth laid bare. Oddity, the fantastic, the cruelty that accompanies them, is not the point. Instead it serves only to highlight a longing, across stories and characters, for a kind of transcendent understanding or (and they amount to the same thing) an escape.

The Canadian author Kathy Page has been compared by critics to Angela Carter, and it’s easy to understand why…http://www.musicandliterature.org/reviews/2014/10/5/kathy-pages-paradise-elsewhere

Paradise & Elsewhere by Kathy Page

Paradise & Elsewhere nominated for the Giller Prize

Of the longlist, the jury writes:

“We’re celebrating writers brave enough to change public discourse, generous with their empathy, offering deeply immersive experiences. Some delve into the sack of memory and retrieve the wisdom we need for our times, others turn the unfamiliar beloved. All are literary achievements we feel will touch and even transform you.”

From CBC Books:

Twelve Canadian writers are contending for what has undoubtedly become the richest fiction prize in Canada – the $100,000 Scotiabank Giller Prize.

In a major announcement from Montreal Tuesday morning, prize founder Jack Rabinovitch said that, beginning this year, the cash awards would double. The winner will now receive $100,000, up from $50,000, and the remaining finalists will receive $10,000, up from $5,000.

“Canadian storytellers deserve this recognition,” Rabinovitch said in a statement.

He established the prize in 1994 (then worth $25,000 for the winner) in honour of his late wife, literary editor Doris Giller.

“I can hardly imagine what Doris would say,” he added.

The 2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize longlisted books are:

You can learn more about the longlisted books at CBC Books’ special Scotiabank Giller Prize page.

The jury described the longlisted writers as being “brave enough to change public discourse” and said they have contributed “literary achievements we feel will touch and even transform you.”

CBC News in Montreal was at the longlist reveal. You can watch a report in the video clip below.

Via the link: http://www.cbc.ca/books/2014/09/scotiabank-giller-prize-2014.html

media clip

MontreaFour Montreal authors have been chosen to be on this year’s Scotiabank Giller Prize loThe shortlisted authors will be unveiled on Monday, Oct. 6. The winner will be revealed at the annual Scotiabank Giller Prize gala, which will air on CBC Television on Monday, Nov. 10 with host Jian Ghomeshi of CBC Radio’s Q.

 

 

Paradise & Elsewhere in Upcoming4me

Paradise and Elsewhere  comes out in the USA this month. Here in Upcoming4me  is an article about the background to the book, and how one  the stories, “Low Tide,” was inspired by a trip to Oregon.

For years, I carried the idea of a new short story collection in the back of my mind, yet did nothing about it. Procrastination? Of course, but in my defense, short stories are far harder to administer than novels are. Scattered in the filing system, they lurk in various degrees of completeness: published, unpublished, in progress, embryonic, forgotten; some are crying to be sent somewhere, and others for help, which may include radical surgery or even dismemberment prior to use elsewhere. Add to this that agents and publishers tend to discourage the production of short fiction, and you’ll see that it’s easy to let a year, or three, or five go by, and so I did, until a friend of mine pointed me in the direction of Biblioasis, a dynamic indie publisher described in the Canadian trade press as “the gold standard for short fiction.”

Encouraged, I gathered my stories together and began to arrange them. There were two kinds of writing: the regular realistic, contemporary kind of story, and something else rather hard to describe – stories that have a mythical, magical, uncanny, futuristic or fable-like, quality. I liked both kinds, but had to admit that they did not mix particularly well. Belatedly, it dawned on me that I had two collections, not one.

It was exciting to put the two books together at once, and especially so to see the many ways the fabulist stories in Paradise & Elsewhere connected with and amplified each other. For example, there are recurrent motifs and themes: travel, trade, money and sex: what happens when a stranger arrives at the gate, or on the shore. What are we looking for when we make journeys? What kind of relationships do we create? In one story, a group of media people venture out of the city in pursuit of a story – a journey which only one of them will, barely, survive. In others, travelers return home after many years, arrive at a desert oasis, or visit the relics of ancient civilizations. The stories began to talk.

I sent both books to John Metcalf, the editor at Biblioasis. Within a week he made contact to acquire the realistic collection. I asked about Paradise & Elsewhere, but he hadn’t  read it. Three months later, we began editing The Two of Us and he still had not. When pressed, John admitted that he had a prejudice against non-realistic writing, and said that he tried to discourage his authors from taking that path. Still, I begged, since I already had taken it, would he not take a look? Dreading both the read and the letter he would have to write to me, John agreed to at least run his eyes over the MS.

“Actually,” he told me two days later, “I like them very much. I think we should do them first.”

Asked for an adjective to describe my writing  process, I’d have to pick slow, which may not  at first sound attractive, yet has hidden depths and merits: consider slow, as opposed to fast food. Years sometimes pass between the idea for a story or a novel and its first draft, and although occasionally a story comes out almost whole, others demand numerous drafts and then insist on lying dormant before I can finish them.

Not surprisingly, given its themes, many of the stories in Paradise and Elsewhere originate in journeys I’ve made for personal or professional reasons. I don’t travel frequently, but when I do, it has a powerful and lasting effect on me. I look carefully and think about  what I find abroad, and so you could say that I am a hybrid of the two sisters (one stay at home, one traveler) in my story “I Like to Look.”

One story, “Low Tide,” was written in 2013, but has its origins in a journey that took place five years earlier when we attended a family  wedding in California, and took the opportunity return slowly home to British Columbia using the coast  road. On one of our many stops we visited the lighthouse at Cape Blanco in Oregon.  I have always liked lighthouses­ – the isolation, the potential for drama – and Cape Blanco is a particularly beautiful example, with its shell-like spiral staircase and, at the top, a multi-faceted Fresnel lens. It was a bright but windy day with good views of the wild coast there and I did not want to leave. The lens in particular fascinated me. That evening, I recorded the visit in my notebook, adding that at some point I must write about a lighthouse, and the idea promptly drifted out of consciousness until John Metcalf and I began to edit Paradise & Elsewhere. Two of the stories were, he felt, weaker than the rest and he suggested that I replace them. Although this was hard to hear, I knew that if I accepted his praise, then I should also listen to his more critical thoughts. I was nervous, though, about writing to order, but soon realized I had plenty of ideas slowly maturing in the back of my head.

Every story arises from a variety of elements and comes together through a kind of alchemy.  In the case of “Low Tide,” I began with a feeling that the book, which features several stories set in deserts,  needed water. This led me to an image of a beach at low tide,  and to the selkie stories from Orkney. I’ve heard these tales since childhood and there are many variations, but the essence of the story is that a woman (or it can be a man)  emerges from a seal’s skin and is taken my a human lover, who hides her pelt so she cannot return to the sea. The selkie cares for her human lover, but still yearns for her own kind. I was interested in the idea of a seal-woman who actively sought out her transformation, as opposed to being caught. From there I found my way back to the lighthouse and its keeper, who would be her lover.

Much of “Low Tide” takes place inside the lighthouse and it was a huge pleasure to write about one at last (not exactly Cape Blanco, but close) and to include the Fresnel lens: “A glass beehive, he called it, though also, I thought, it could be a gigantic insect eye.  In daytime, the lens glittered and took on the colours of the sea and sky; at night its many planes glowed, so that it appeared  to hover in the room: a hallucinatory  vessel, a ship that might have travelled from beyond the moon.”

Each story has its story, and this slim book contains many years of work: the ingredients have matured, then been combined, refined and distilled.  I have come to accept that the process is long, as with making wine, fine cabinetry, a garden or any number of worthwhile things. It’s pointless to yearn for speed. On the whole it works best for me when experience is slowly mulled over, absorbed and almost forgotten, then later retrieved and combined with other unexpected ingredients to make something new. I certainly do procrastinate, but in the end (which naturally takes a good long time to reach) that seems to be a good thing.


The Kissing Disease on Storyville

Kathy Page’s story, “The Kissing Disease” features this week on Storyville, who e-publish one story each week from the best story collections published by commercial and independent presses. What a great idea!  To quote form their information “Storyville was launched to  change the way you interact with the world of literature through your iPad, iPhone, and Kindle.”  Below is some background to “The Kissing Disease.”
THIS WEEK’S STORY
PARADISE AND ELSEWHERE
Kathy Page
Biblioasis
“The Kissing Disease”“The Kissing Disease” is from Kathy Page’s collection, Paradise & Elsewhere (Biblioasis, 2014).  Page is the author of seven novels, including The Story of My Face, nominated for the Orange Prize in 2002 and; Alphabet, which was nominated for a Governor General’s Literary Award for fiction and scheduled for American release Fall 2104.  She is a British writer living in Canada.

Page said this about her story: Well, who doesn’t like to kiss? I’ll admit it cheers me to see other people kissing, too. At high school we called mono the kissing disease, but when I wrote this story I was thinking more of HIV/AIDS. That pandemic surfaced during my twenties. Everyone lost someone. There was a before, and an ongoing after. It was terrible time, but there were eventually some positive consequences: increased honesty and more open public discourse about sex, for example. It was that aspect, the silver lining, that I had in mind.

The story begins with Gary arguing with the radio. My roots are in England, and for decades BBC Radio 4 was the background to my life. No ads, little music, just wonderful voices. Between the drama, poetry and news, panels of experts and pundits would discuss in intricate (sometimes exhaustive) detail the controversies of the day. My family and I frequently joined in and I still sometimes listen online. Gary’s position as the story opens is so vehement that it implies his eventual willingness to enjoy what he thought repugnant. That’s the seed from which the story grew.

Men and masculinity interest me a great deal, as does the way in which, generally speaking, we deal with otherness by separation, as if it was contagious — which brings me right back to disease. Bodies — our relationship with them, the ways in which they may betray or overtake us or be dramatically transformed — are a preoccupation of mine. One of the protagonists in my novel Alphabet is in transition between genders; The Find centres on a woman’s struggles with the onset of Huntington’s disease, and there lies yet another of my many preoccupations: identity. How much can we change and still remain who we are? At what point do we become someone else?