Thursday, January 18, 2018

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Terry Watada

Terry Watada is a Toronto writer with many titles to his credit.  His publications include Light at a Window (a manga, HpF Press and the NAJC, 2015), The Game of 100 Ghosts (poetry, Mawenzi House, Fall 2014), The Sword, the Medal and the Rosary (a manga, HpF Press and the NAJC, 2013), The TBCthe Toronto Buddhist Church, 1995 – 2010, (non-fiction, HpF Press & the Toronto Buddhist Church 2010), KuroshioThe Blood of Foxes, (novel, Arsenal Pulp Press 2007), Obonthe Festival of the Dead (poetry, Thistledown Press 2006), Ten Thousand Views of Rain (poetry, Thistledown Press 2001), Seeing the Invisible (a children’s biography, Umbrella Press 1998), Daruma Days (short fiction, Ronsdale Press 1997), Bukkyo Tozena History of Buddhism in Canada (non-fiction, HpF Press & the Toronto Buddhist Church 1996) and A Thousand Homes (poetry, Mercury Press 1995).  He is also proud to be part of the anthology Vancouver Confidential (ed. John Belshaw, Anvil Press 2014), which was ranked number 1 by the BC Publishers Association two weeks in a row.  His current publications include The Nishga Girl, (HpF Press and the NAJC 2017) a children’s story about Judo Jack Tasaka (a Nisei boatbuilder) and Eli Gosnell, a chief of the Nisga’a Nation; and his second novel, The Three Pleasures (Anvil Press, 2017).  The book centres on the Nisei (second generation JC) Resistance Movement during WWII.

As a playwright, he has seen seven of his plays receive mainstage production; his best known is perhaps Vincent, a play about a Toronto family dealing with a schizophrenic son.  Workman Arts of Toronto has remounted it every year from 1993 to 2008.  Most notably, it was produced at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa and the first and second Madness and Arts World Festival in Toronto and Muenster, Germany, respectively. 

His essays have been published in such varied journals and books as Maclean's Magazine (March 2011), Canadian Literature (UBC), and Ritsumeikan Hogaku “Kotoba to sonohirogari” (Ritsumeikan University Press, Kyoto Jpn).  He wrote a monthly column in the Japanese Canadian national journal the Nikkei Voice for 25 years.  Since 2012, he has continued his column in the Vancouver JCCA Bulletin when the magazine expanded to a national level.  Essays about his work have appeared in the International Journal of Canadian StudiesModern Drama (UTP), and in Transcultural ReinventionsAsian American and Asian Canadian Short-Story Cycles (TSAR Publications).

For all his efforts, Terry was awarded the William P. Hubbard Race Relations Award from the City of Toronto and a Citation of Citizenship from the Government of Canada.  Recently, he received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal and the NAJC’s National Merit Award.  His dedication to the development of human rights in Canada was recognized with the Dr. Gordon Hirabayashi Human Rights Award.  His archives of the Asian North American experience have been collected as the Terry Watada Special Collection and housed in the East Asian Library.  His literary papers are part of the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, Robarts Library, the University of Toronto.  His theatre production papers are part of the Guelph University Library collection, his oral history is stored within the Simon Fraser University Library.  His books are part of the collections of the National Library of Canada, Stanford University Library, the Japanese American National Museum, the National Nikkei (Canadian) Library, the Library of Congress in Washington DC, and the Beijing Foreign Studies University Library.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My first book, A Thousand Homes, was a collection of poetry based on my mother’s life.  When she died in 1984, I discovered I had many, many stories about her that could’ve been lost if I hadn’t started writing.  So I composed a long poem about her in one night.  I entered it into the CBC Writing Contest.  “Chisato” (her name which translates to a “thousand homes”) made it to the final round.

I then broke down the long poem into component parts, adding new poems along the way, and voila, I had a book-length group of poems.  I submitted it to Mercury Press which published it in 1995.  The collection was shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award.  With such encouragement, I decided to write more poetry and to work on prose pieces.  My life was profoundly changed as a result.

My recent collection of poetry, The Game of 100 Ghosts (Mawenzi House, Toronto, 2014), is much more assured.  I remember one critic said of A Thousand Homes that I didn’t have the “chops” to write poetry.  That of course is a matter of opinion, but I will say I am much more confident in writing poetry than I was in the 1980s and 90s.

My second novel, The Three Pleasures (Anvil Press, Vancouver, 2017), continues my exploration of Japanese Canadian history, traditions and community, but beyond my family stories.  It feels different because I imagine I am resurrecting that lost community, the JC community just prior WWII and throughout the war.

2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?
As I said, I began with poetry.  In actuality, I started writing songs first.  A friend once quipped that writing lyrics was writing bad poetry, so I was following my true passion, I suppose.  I was in various rock bands in the 1960s, playing around and beyond Toronto.  When the last band I was in broke up in 1970, I decided to write my own music as many singer/songwriters were doing at the time (Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon and Carole King to name a few).  Fortunately, I found an audience in the Asian Canadian communities.  With their encouragement, I continued writing and performing music in the folk scenes across the country and into the US. 

I turned to writing short fiction and then novels because I found I couldn’t express everything I wanted to within the confines of a poem or song.  I could create worlds with prose; I wasn’t good enough to do so with poems or lyrics.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
I haven’t found it a problem starting a writing project.  I’ve heard many stories within and outside my family over the decades.  No matter where I am people tell me stories.  I feel blessed that I have their trust.  Once I have the kernel of an idea for a book, I begin an intense period of study through interviews, histories, and self-published memoirs.

I find the writing comes quickly afterwards, but initial drafts need a lot of rewriting.  Then the editing process takes it through several more drafts.  So I would say the final manuscript in no way resembles the initial drafts.

4 - Where does a poem or work of prose usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
With a poem, an image or phrase comes to mind which I like.  I then work to make it into a poem.  I wouldn’t say my short pieces become novels, but anecdotes do.  I like expanding and stretching them into full plot lines.

Back in the 1990s, an agent suggested I write a long novel (about 1000 pages in length).  Writers like Don DeLillo, Salman Rushdie and others were all the rage then.  So I thought about a book that could include all the personal anecdotes I had.  When I returned to her a year later, she said “long books are out”.  Somewhat discouraged but not diminished, I took what I had and devised three distinct books.  I never went back to that agent.  But I had my path clearly mapped out before me.

Having said that, I can see taking any of my short stories and incorporating them into a longer piece.  I do have an idea for a collection when writing short pieces.  Every subsequent piece then is in service to that idea.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I do enjoy public readings.  I guess that comes from my years as a musician.  I like to raise the reading to a performance using emotion and different voices.  Readings of poetry and prose are a lot easier.  In a band, I’ve had beer bottles thrown at me, audience members assault me while on stage, and call me all kinds of racist epithets.  None of that happens when reading a poem.

I also see readings as part of the creative process; I find what works and what doesn’t.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
My primary concern is to get it right.  What I write must sound authentic.

Questions:  Is the language accurate to the first and second generation Japanese Canadians?  Does the setting reflect the situation described?  Do the traditions, customs and cultural imperatives ring true for the characters?  Therefore, do the characters act in a plausible way?  What was life or the experience like?

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
The writer is the conscience of the larger culture.  The writer’s role is to uncover the truth and reveal it to his/her reader.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Both actually.  I see the necessity of an outside editor when clearing up plot confusion, organization and a host of other things.  The problem comes into play when the editor doesn’t understand the culture behind the characters.  Misunderstanding follows.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Have the courage to create.  Be truthful while being sensitive to all concerned.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (fiction to plays to music to poetry)? What do you see as the appeal?
Fairly easy.  The challenge is the appeal.  Can I write a play?  Can I write an effective history or a memoir?  As opposed to poetry or fiction, which I know I can write.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
My day begins with breakfast with the family and seeing them off.  I then catch the news before watching something entertaining, like a favourite drama or comedy.  By then it is 9:00 and I begin to write in my office.  I stop at 11:00 to make myself lunch, read the paper and catch the noon news.  I then continue writing after 1:00 until about 4:00 when family begin to arrive home.  I seldom write in the evening unless I have a pressing deadline.  I carry this routine throughout the week (including the weekend), making time for family chores and social obligations.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I do read (at night) to gain inspiration.  Sometimes an intelligent film or a TV series does the same.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Sizzling beef in a pan.  More aroma than fragrance, I suppose.  When I was a kid, beef was a rare dinner, my working-class parents could afford it but once a month, if lucky.  Whenever I came home and smelled the frying beef, I was in heaven.  I had it like my father: sliced beef, rice, and tofu (with a hot vegetable on the side of course), soy sauce added for flavour.  That is what made home special.

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
Old Japanese fairy tales and ghost stories really influence my work.  Hence the Japanese ghost film is important for me to watch.  It helps me to create atmosphere in my work.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Haruki Murakami is my guru.  The magic in his work mesmerizes me.  I love the disappearing characters and the parallel worlds.  I attempt to sink that influence into my work.  Don’t know if I am successful.  Only time will tell, I suppose.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Win a major literary prize.

Outside of writing, I’d like to take a train across the country, hopping off and on as I go, meeting the people, sampling the local food and taking in the countryside.  I did it once, but I was seven-years-old at the time.  I now fly over the country.

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
I was a college professor, but it served to finance my writing and musical ambitions.  I suppose I would’ve become a full-time musician.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
As I stated before, my mother’s death caused me to write.  Other than that, I developed a real yearning to know what life was like in the Japanese and Japanese Canadian community before, during and after WWII (until the 1960s).  I could approach that through writing.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
The last great book was IQ84 by Haruki Murakami.  The title is a Japanese pun for 1984 – Q is the number 9 in Japanese.

The last great film would have to be The Human Condition by Masaki Kobayashi.  I couldn’t believe it tackles the controversial themes of Korean Comfort Women and the brutal treatment of Chinese war prisoners.  And this was in 1961!  Amazing nine-hour film done by an artist of great courage.

20 - What are you currently working on?
I’ve got two projects going at present: my fifth collection of poetry and a third novel.  The poetry collection is called The Four Sufferings, based on a teaching of the Buddha, and the novel is called The Mysterious Dreams of the Dead.  The novel is partly based on my friend who robbed a bank in the name of Japanese Canadian redress in the 1980s, and another part centres on the search for the protagonist’s father with supernatural and magical elements in play.  I am nearly ready to submit the manuscripts for both.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

12 or 20 (small press) questions with Kate Angus on Augury Books

Augury Books is an independent press based in Brooklyn, New York. Committed to publishing innovative work from emerging and established writers, Augury Books seeks to reaffirm the diversity of the reading public. Our authors have received awards such as the O. Henry Prize for short fiction, the Great Lakes Colleges Association’s “Discover” Award for creative nonfiction, and the Tony Quagliano International Poetry Award. Our authors have also been nominated for the CLMP Firecracker Award, the Lambda Literary Arts Award, and have been featured on the Poetry Society of America and the Academy of American Poets’ websites. Founded in 2010, Augury Books has published and continues to publish outstanding poetry, nonfiction, and fiction by a diverse range of voices. In late 2017, Augury Books became an imprint of Brooklyn Arts Press. We are a proud member of CLMP, the Community of Literary Magazines and Presses. Our titles are distributed by Small Press Distribution (SPD). Our editorial board is dedicated to fairness and quality of work.

Kate Angus is a founding editor of Augury Books and the author of So Late to the Party (Negative Capability Press, 2016). Her poetry and nonfiction have appeared in The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, The Academy of American Poets’ “Poem-a-Day” newsletter, Best New Poets 2010 and Best New Poets 2014. She is the Creative Writing Advisor for the Mayapple Center for Arts and Humanities at Sarah Lawrence College.

1 – When did Augury Books first start? How have your original goals as a publisher shifted since you started, if at all? And what have you learned through the process?
Augury Books was founded in 2010 with an eye towards publishing innovative and exciting work from new and emerging writers. That hasn’t changed. But we have expanded! We started off only publishing poetry, but in 2014 we opened up to short story collections and creative nonfiction titles. We’ve also had some editorial board turnover. A few early-days editors (Christine Kanownik and Matthew Cunha) stepped down due to time constraints, but since 2012-2013 we’ve had a pretty stable editorial board of myself, Associate Editor Kimberly Steele, and Assistant Editor Nicolas Amara. And this past November, Augury became an imprint of Brooklyn Arts Press so now Joe Pan/BAP is our publisher. 

I’ve learned so much! We all had to pick up various business skills (accounting, marketing, organizing, etc.) on the fly, but what I’m most aware of is how my approach to editing has evolved. When Augury was a young press, I think I had the arrogance of youth and felt more inclined to try to impose my aesthetics on the manuscripts we published; as the press and I have both aged, I find myself gravitating more towards collaboration, specifically the kind of collaboration where editorial conversations focus on how to best help our authors shape their words into the strongest version of what they want to say, rather than filtering their vision through my personal aesthetic preferences.

2 – What first brought you to publishing?
Meghan O’Rourke, one of my MFA teachers at The New School, asked me to be her Poetry Reader at The Paris Review and I also applied to be a fiction reader for A Public Space. Because of my experiences reading through the slush pile and learning from editors at both magazines, I felt like I had some small grasp of how publishing worked. Of course, even though I learned quite a lot at TPR and APS, I wasn’t even remotely prepared for indie book publishing, but it was a great start.

3 – What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?
I think the role of small press publishers is to find, amplify, and nurture writers who for whatever reason the bigger publishing houses have overlooked.

4 – What do you see your press doing that no one else is?
I don’t think there’s anything we’re doing that no one else is. There are so many great small and micro-presses out there and they are all doing amazing work.

5 – What do you see as the most effective way to get new books out into the world?
I don’t really have a good answer—we are constantly revising our strategies for how to best launch our books so that they can find a wider audience. I think it has to be a collaboration between author and press. An author can’t carry the weight of launching their book on their own, but neither can publishers do very much for authors who won’t reach out to whatever connections they might have. Publishers need to develop and maintain relationships with reviewers, reading series curators, institutions, etc., and keep an active presence in the lit world, but authors also need to do this work as well. I say this as both an editor and a writer: writers will always be their own best advocate. No matter how much your publisher loves and believes in your work, you have to go to bat for yourself over and over again.

Authors can help by publishing work in multiple genres, for instance, to widen their readership or doing group interviews or podcasts or writing guest posts for literary blogs or speaking on panels or guest teaching—really anything that helps put you and your words in front of a wide variety of people. Doing readings helps, both conventional readings as well as those in less conventional spaces. And collaborating with people in other art forms also.

6 – How involved an editor are you? Do you dig deep into line edits, or do you prefer more of a light touch?
Both I think. I certainly take deep dives into the manuscripts we publish, doing line edits and such, but I offer my edits in the spirit of collaboration, of conversation, and I believe with the same goal shared by the author: that the final version of the book is the best possible articulation of their vision. I hope the writers whose work Augury has published would agree with my assessment of this process, but you’d have to ask them. 

7 – How do your books get distributed? What are your usual print runs?
Our books are all distributed by SPD (Small Press Distribution) so they’re available at many bookstores, as well as online. We do print on demand now so our print runs vary based on demand.

8 – How many other people are involved with editing or production? Do you work with other editors, and if so, how effective do you find it? What are the benefits, drawbacks?
Augury is my baby in many ways, but also absolutely a group effort. Over the years, I’ve relied on our Assistant Editor Nicolas Amara and Associate Editor Kimberly Steele to do much of the production work and help make many decisions. We have also been blessed in the past with some wonderful design people—Mike Miller who has done many of our covers, and Isabella Giancarlo who did our most recent interior work. We’ve also had many great interns along the way. And now that we are BAP’s imprint, we have a fantastic new publisher: Joe Pan. This press would not exist without all of these people and the amazing selfless work they have done over the years and, in many cases, continue to do.

9– How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?
I don’t know that it’s changed how I think about my own writing, but it has made me much more sanguine about how and when and if my writing gets published. I know firsthand now how much goes into deciding which manuscripts are chosen and that quality of work is absolutely paramount but also other things do factor in: for example, how does this work fit into the press’s overall catalog, how many books can we afford to publish at this time, is this book too similar in some ways to something else we have recently published or, conversely, is it too dissonant with the rest of our catalog, etc. My role at Augury has allowed me to accept my own rejections more easily, and not flagellate myself as much. I now understand better that often a “No” doesn’t mean the work is bad—often it just isn’t right for that press at that time or for that issue of a journal.

10– How do you approach the idea of publishing your own writing? Some, such as Gary Geddes when he still ran Cormorant, refused such, yet various Coach House Press’ editors had titles during their tenures as editors for the press, including Victor Coleman and bpNichol. What do you think of the arguments for or against, or do you see the whole question as irrelevant?
I guess for me it’s irrelevant. I understand the arguments for it and against it and I think it’s a choice every editor/publisher needs to make for themselves and there aren’t any wrong answers—it’s just individual preference. Before my first book was published, I wanted it to come out on someone else’s press—both to have their support and structure, as well as their editorial input, and also I guess to have a kind of outside seal of approval, a feeling of validation from another editor and press that said “Yes, we believe in you and your work.” And I got all those things and so much more with Sue Walker at Negative Capability Press. For me it was important to have that experience of being published by someone else and I will always be grateful to Sue and Megan and the other folks at Negative Capability Press for believing in me and in So Late to the Party. But I don’t know how I will feel when my second book is done—I might, at that point, want to maintain control over the rights to my book, the distribution, being able to make e-books, etc. instead. All of that is so far away right now: I just want to concentrate on writing my next book rather than trying to predict what model of publication I’ll want to follow once it is written.

11– How do you see Augury Books evolving?
Well, we just made a really big change a few months ago. This past fall, we became an imprint of Brooklyn Arts Press. The transition from being fully-independent into being nurtured as a small wing of a larger press has been very smooth and we all (Augury and BAP) are really excited about our future collaborations with the books we’ll be publishing!

12– What, as a publisher, are you most proud of accomplishing? What do you think people have overlooked about your publications? What is your biggest frustration?
I am so proud of all the books we have brought out into the world. My biggest frustration is figuring out how to find a wider audience for our authors. 

13– Who were your early publishing models when starting out?
We definitely admire Wave Books, Slope Editions, Octopus Books, Flood Editions and Milkweed Editions, Ugly Duckling Presse, Four Way Books, Alice James Books, and others like them. I don’t know that we modeled ourselves on any of them precisely; rather, we loved the work they were publishing and felt inspired to—like them—help bring beautiful books out into the world.

14– How does Augury Books work to engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large? What journals or presses do you see Augury Books in dialogue with? How important do you see those dialogues, those conversations?
I don’t know that I see us as being in any specific dialogue, although I guess on a certain level all presses and journals are engaged in a larger conversation with each other and with writers and readers. We do seek to support and collaborate with other presses, and with writers and editors we aren’t formally affiliated with. I think the most obvious example of this is our new affiliation with Brooklyn Arts Press—as BAP’s imprint, we are collaborating with them through conversations, through sharing resources and ideas and networks and events, and through sharing table space at AWP and other conferences. We’ll also be participating in an offsite reading at AWP this year organized by Switchback Books that also involves BAP, Saturnalia, and Black Ocean. And Augury Books is also part of the Small Press Union, a wonderful resource-sharing  and support network created by Lynne DeSilva-Johnson of The Operating System. I think that it’s an absolute imperative for small presses to be supportive of each other, and there are many ways of doing this: we can be supportive of each other by organizing and/or attending events, by purchasing each other’s books, by helping publicize things (events, publications, reading periods, fund raisers, etc.) for each other and by offering practical help by working tables for each other or doing shipping or paying more of the table costs if we’re not able to be there in person. There are a lot of ways of being part of the literary community—we’re all in this together, although we all also have our own individual responsibilities and constraints so we may not be able to be in it together in exactly the same ways.

15– Do you hold regular or occasional readings or launches? How important do you see public readings and other events?
We definitely hold launch parties for all of our new titles and we try to do readings occasionally for other things as well—collaborative readings offsite at AWP and the occasional showcase reading when we have enough Augury authors in the same place at the same time. I love launch parties: they’re like a wedding or a baby shower—a wonderful way of celebrating something new and beautiful and welcoming it to the world. While I do like public readings both to hear work in the author’s own voice and also as a social occasion, I admit I engage more deeply when I’m reading a book alone as a silent solitary act rather than being in a crowd where the work is read aloud to me.

16– How do you utilize the internet, if at all, to further your goals?
Our titles can be purchased online so the Internet is part of our distribution. And we accept only accept submissions online so the Internet is also how we find new books to publish.

17– Do you take submissions? If so, what aren’t you looking for?
Yes we do! In fact, we have an open reading period during January this year. We aren’t able to accept anthologies or works in translation, for various business reasons, nor do we accept novels (I love novels but don’t feel qualified to edit or market one), but other than that we are open to submissions from writers at any stage of their career.

18– Tell me about three of your most recent titles, and why they’re special.
It’s hard to narrow down our catalog to just three books, but I’ll talk about a recent title in each of the three genres that we publish.

Poetry: Arisa White’s You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened, a Lambda Literary Award Finalist for Lesbian Poetry, is one of our titles dearest to my heart. I’ll quote Christopher Soto’s lovely review of this collection for Lamba Literary where he calls this book “a love letter to our shared queer of color community” and notes that “titles of many poems in the collection are literal translations of the word gay. Many of the original words, before being translated, are derogatory in their original language. Thus, Arisa White repurposes that pain and inscribes it with love, tenderness, poetry. ‘You’ becomes witness to the beauty held in what was once called derogatory. ‘You’ is able to witness the act of reclaiming language.”

Fiction: Sara Schaff’s Say Something Nice About Me, a finalist for CLMP’s Firecracker Award for Fiction, is a fantastic collection. Sara’s prose is luminous and sharp, and the stories in the collection explore the risks taken—and illusions created—by her characters at turning points in their lives, trying to grapple with how to live in the unknown. I’ll quote Dan Choan’s assessment of her work her, as he says “The stories…intertwine in complex and fascinating patterns. They are all explorations of the meaning of human connection…Say Something Nice About me is a thoughtful and provoking book, the beginning to a great career!”

Creative Nonfiction: Randall Horton’s Hook, the winner of the Great Lakes Colleges Association’s (GLCA) 2016 “Discover” Prize for Creative Nonfiction, is a gripping story of transformation. This memoir by the poet, musician (Heroes Are Gang Leaders) and educator Randall Horton charts his early years as an unassuming Howard University student turned homeless drug addict, international cocaine smuggler, and incarcerated felon, and the redemption he found through writing. The book is structured as a multilayered narrative bridging both past and present through Horton’s memories, as well as his correspondence in letters with the anonymous Lxxxx, a Latina woman awaiting trial. To quote the GLCA judges, “Randall Horton delivers careful rough-hewn, poetically-charged language at the service of a memoir that runs against the grain of a typical ‘recovery’ narrative. What results is searing commentary, social critique under the guise of a memoir within a memoir…[T]his text has the potential to speak to people for generations.”