“Enjoying the Short Story” even more

Lovely dress, grumpy model.
Lovely dress, grumpy model.  Wordpress won’t let me rotate photo.

Today, I set off to Denise’s class, called “Enjoying the Short Story,” with my baby in tow.  Actually, I was interested in hearing their stories.  I’d sent off the following e-mail:

Hi everyone,

I hope to see you all on March 25th, and not just because it’s worth 15% of your mark.  I think it’s great that you’re taking a course about enjoying the short story.  To quote from Dead Poets Society, “medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”

This is a copy of my story, “Indian Time,” which I am giving to you for free on the condition that you do something in return for the arts, for native culture, or for both.  I don’t care what it is (writing a story, going to the Casino and looking at it with new eyes, whatever) as long as you do it and you come prepared to talk about it.


Matt, my husband, said, “Aw, they’re just going to go to the movies.”

I said, “I don’t care.  That’s art, too.”  But I thought they’d probably get more creative than that.

So today was D-day.

Right off the bat, and most importantly, several students offered to hold Anastasia.  Annie not only held her first and got her to drink a little, but she had researched native recipes and stewed some strawberries as her creative act.  Ten points!

Then I was absolutely blown away when Tesha said that she had designed and made a ribbon dress for Anastasia.  She used to make a lot of dresses for her own daughter, who is soon having her first birthday.  Happy birthday, little one (whose name means “bringer of the seeds,” if I remember correctly).  Tesha reluctantly appeared on the video (yup, they taped it) to say that she wanted to make something for my daughter because I had accurately portrayed her culture in my story.  I cannot think of a higher compliment.  I kind of wanted to cry and hug her, but that would have embarrassed everyone.

At home, Anastasia performs her debut concert in her new dress:

One student wrote a short story.  Another wrote a poem.  I look forward to reading them.

Quinn is hosting a Dream catchers workshop and a box lacrosse workshop next Wednesday, starting at 12:30, at St. Lawrence College.  I would really like to try both, but I’d need someone to hold Anastasia during the lacrosse.

Another student is writing a song that will incorporate some native themes, like hunting.  I think he said it was death metal.  Awesome.

In their honour, I have officially checked off a new category of writing goal:  Someone else makes something beautiful, inspired by my work.

As part of my enlightenment, I have a new take on the title of the course.  I realized that I hadn’t fully enjoyed my short story publications because they were “only” short stories, not novels.  That was dumb.

Of course I want my novels out there.  But the number of people reading and responding to this story–that’s as good as a reaction as I could ask for, no matter what the length is.  The one who was telling me I wasn’t good enough, that I wouldn’t be a real writer until I got those novels published–that was me.  And now I can laugh about it.

So for the writers out there, some of whom were in that class, please write.  And please don’t stop or undervalue yourself.  Just do it.

Thanks again to everyone, including Joel for asking lots of questions and Denise and Julie for inviting me.  Sorry if I got anyone’s names wrong.

Sarah Cortez Interview II: Creativity and Finances in Noir Publishing

Here Denise Callister Nielsen and I conclude our interview with the wonderful Sarah Cortez.  Again, my apologies for the substandard video quality, including the camera cutting out every ten minutes.

In this video, Sarah talks about editing Indian Country Noir in a tough economy.  They had to cut four stories in order to cut costs, which I found totally depressing.  On the upside, she points out that  Johnny Temple at Akashic Books has almost single-handedly resurrected the original mystery short story in book form, so we give him lots of props.

Sarah Cortez ICN & Akashic

Sarah defines Noir in two ways.  My fave is, “the main character starts out messed-up, goes into a downward spiral, and ends up even more messed up.”  There are also more X-rated versions.

We talk about Leonard Shonberg’s story, “Lame Elk.”

I ask, “Do you think that, with a recession and a war going on, people seek lighter fare?”

Denise talks about an underlying sense of unease in Noir.

Noir talk

Sarah talks about editing as a creative act and how she and Liz Martinez pitched Indian Country Noir to Akashic Books.

She also answers the $10,000 question, which boils down to, “Do you think it’s acceptable for a non-native writer to write from a native perspective?  Or is that appropriating voice?”

Creative editing & ? appropriating voice

I asked about the native spirituality inherent in the stories, starting right with the Helper in Joseph Bruchac’s story, carrying on with Grandpa and the heartbeat woman in Gerard Houarner’s story, and in fact, most of the contributors mentioned the spirit world.

We then touched on creativity in teaching, such as Denise incorporating this anthology into her classroom.

More on the voice controversy, plus spirituality & teaching

Why are so many Noir stories written by and about men instead of women?  In Indian Country Noir, only Jean Rae Baxter chose to wrote from a female point of view.  I think perhaps the gender of A.A. HedgeCoke’s narrator is deliberately ambiguous, in the vein of Jeannette Winterson’s Written on the Body.  The other women in the anthology (Mistina Bates, Liz Martìnez, Kimberly Roppolo and myself) chose to write from a male POV.

Sarah speaks on this and describes how she aims to read and write more female Noir this year.

Also, what makes an anthology a success?  Sarah talks about the pleasure of introducing “stunning writing” to a new audience, but also about the business of publishing.  A bare minimum budget for one of these publications is $10,000.

Women in Noir; the business of publishing

I slide in one of my #1 questions:  what did your parents think of you quitting your day job and becoming an artist?

Sarah and Denise were blessed with supportive parents, although she says, “You always have to be able to pay the freight to follow your dreams.”

Sarah really made me think about how writing has become such a discussion about dollars and cents, marketing, and strategy.  I’m glad she spoke at length about art and creativity as well.

Not to sound like a sycophant or anything, but this generous, thoughtful, talented woman inspires me.  I hope I’ll be like her when I grow up.

Sarah Cortez interview: From Cop to Indian Country Noir Editor

Tonight we had the honour to interview Sarah Cortez, co-editor of Indian Country Noir.  She used to be a full-time police officer, so of course I had to ask about that.  Then we moved on to her role as anthology editor, specifically for Indian Country Noir.  This is the first part of our video interview, with her answers to such questions as “What do you look for when you edit?” and “What percentage of stories did you accept?  Did you have any rewrite requests?”

Denise Callister Nielsen is an editor for Carina Press and a teacher at St. Lawrence College.  She included my Indian Country Noir story, “Indian Time,” as part of her course, “Enjoying the Short Story.  I’ll do a local author appearance at her class on March 25th (yay)!  She’s the blonde and I’m the brunette in the video.

Mucho apologies for the poor quality of the AV equipment, but Sarah couldn’t do webchat, so it’s us talking to a speakerphone and videoing ourselves in poor lighting with the camera shutting down every ten minutes.  Don’t worry about the kid noise in the background.  No children were harmed in the making of these videos.

Introduction & cop talk

Sarah speaking as a writer and editor