The Scope, The Walrus, Newfoundland Quarterly, Echolocation, and some other places. His short story "KC Accidental" was a winner of the Broken Social Scene Story Contest in 2013, and was anthologized in Racket: New Writing from Newfoundland in 2015.
Dirty Birds came together in a few months of evenings and weekends in Fall 2018. But that was mostly just typing interspersed with a bit of hand-wringing when I wrote myself into a corner. But, sadly, and something no one tells you on career day in junior high, writing isn’t just typing. It includes all the other stuff before, during and after the typing. So, writing Dirty Birds, a book about a foolish bumpkin who wants to be a poet in Montreal began when I myself was a foolish bumpkin wanting to be a poet in Montreal a dozen years ago. Then it took years to get to the point where I had enough to say about it to fill a book, and years to find the courage and permission to write a book, and then years to figure out what and who a book could be about, then figure out who those made-up people are, and then figuring out what things might happen to those made-up people, and then the typing, and then the editing… The neverending editing. I’m sure there is a more efficient way to do it, but that’s how it sort of worked out for me. This all makes it sound like writing is an impossible hard thing. But it’s not. It’s actually a lot of fun making stuff up. It’s feeling brave without risk. It’s just that a novel, for me anyway, is a big thing to hold in your head at one time for a long time.
Dirty Birds though was meant to be a book from the very beginning, as much as a newb like me could have meant it to be. I had no idea how to write a book, but I was in a writing group (Port Authority FTW!) and it demanded I write regularly, so, because it was based on a lot of my own experiences, I made a list of like 40 things that happened to me in Montreal that might be bookable and started writing those as scenes. I did maybe a dozen, in first person, including a few that were stolen from contemporaneous blog posts I wrote in real time back in 2007-08, when blogs were sort of a thing people sort of did. Then I didn’t know what the heck I had. Then I went through a hideous break up and didn’t write a word for over a year. Then a publisher asked if I had a novel and I foolishly said yes. Then I had to come up with a novel. Then I met with Lisa Moore. She had a coffee, I had all of her wisdom and encouragement. Then my sister came to visit me in Newfoundland and we went to St. Pierre, the tiny French Island, for a three days, but found out there were only two days’ worth of things to see and do there (totally worth it, btw), so on the third day I dug out the notebook I carried with me everywhere for years and we sat by a lighthouse and spit-balled ideas and came up with a very basic plot for a very silly book. Then I wrote a play, fell in love, quit my job, moved away, got another job, and did everything but write a book. But the publisher kept calling and asking about this novel, so I finally agreed to publish it and said I’d have the manuscript in a few months. Then I did more of everything but write a book. Then panicked. Then sat down and read what I had already written, and it wasn’t very good, and it certainly wasn’t a book. So, instead of trying to figure out polish that turd, I just sat down and started writing from the beginning to the end. And that took a few months in between working and babies and life and here we are.
Dirty Birds in particular, it's basically that, but with a particular focus on the question of what it means to become an adult these days—such as I am trying to accomplish, here, still, 37 years into the project.
Dirty Birds rattled around in my head for years before it came out. And its journey to being a real live book was peppered with false starts, getting stuck, and redo . But the best help is having a support group. I was fortunate enough to get in with the Port Authority writing gang in St. John’s (Sharon Bala (The Boat People), Melissa Barbeau (The Luminous Sea), Jamie Fitzpatrick (The End of the Music), Carrie Ivardi, and Susan Sinnott (Catching the Light)), who not only helped make me a better writer, but helped me feel like writer was something I can be. I’m also married to a genius artist (Kate Beaton), so being around her as she makes magic every day is a gift and an inspiration. But sometimes, even with all this helpful inspiration, you get stuck and can’t figure how to write yourself out of a corner you’ve written yourself into. In which case, I leave it for a while, I obsess over it for a while longer, then I just write something, anything, and fix it later (though, usually it’s fine).
Dirty Birds done and out into the world first. Other than that, my wife and I just had our first baby and bought a farm. So pretty much everything now is something I haven’t done yet. Which is lucky, because it looks like we’ll be stuck here for the foreseeable future.
Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club by Megan Gail Coles. It was an incredibly powerful and important book. Every school child and politician in Newfoundland and Labrador should read it. And so should you. The last great movie I watched was probably Parasite. It lived up to the hype, and then some.
Dirty Birds out the door to the printer’s in time. That and keep this baby happy. That and get moved to this farm. That and finish the neverending renovations on our old place so we can sell it. That and get a woodshop set up so I can build us a dining room table. That and survive this pandemic. That and, and, and… But, when all that is done, I want to do something about Stephan G. Stephansson—one of the greatest poets who ever lived, perhaps the greatest Canadian poet who ever lived, and certainly the greatest poet you’ve never heard of. He was an Icelandic immigrant farmer who lived in Alberta for most of his life. I grew up right down the road from his homestead. He was a great poet, community builder, and a fairly important pacifist thinker during WWI. He should be crazy famous, but, the catch, he wrote in Icelandic, so no one in Canada really knows who he is (he is better known in Iceland, but still, he wrote mostly about his life in Alberta). I don’t know what exactly I’ll write about him, something fictional I think, but not sure yet. So there’s that. And about a million other things rattling around in my head. But first, finish Dirty Birds.