For the second instalment in our writing process investigation, author Lynn Crosbie, never stopping short of candour, kindly answered some questions over email. Crosbie’s tender and sensitive essay “Francis Albert Crosbie, 2000–2017” will appear in Brick 101.
Brick: In your introduction to “Francis Albert Crosbie, 2000–2017” you note that you wrote the essay in a state of grief. Do you write about events as you immediately experience them? Does time and distance play a role in the work?
Lynn Crosbie: I generally do not write about things as I experience them, unless I wish to reduplicate my condition. I wrote Paul’s Case, for example, as the Bernardo trial was underway, throughout the summer of 1995, hoping, in part, to exhibit my shock and horror.
Or if the writing is urgent. It is important to write a eulogy in a timely fashion; that this kind of writing—writing that is compelled by grief and formality—be raw and cooked. But so much gets forgotten in haste—Frank met and barked at Rob Ford! He was the first living creature to walk under the Dufferin Overpass, scooping the mayor, cops, and horses! And much more—I recommend the vigilant editing of fast writing, so to speak.
One is otherwise best advised to put some distance between experience and writing: how else to compose best the true lies (I always think of that babe in The Crow drawling, “I like the pretty lies”) that constitute all creative non-fiction?
Brick: I was touched by your framing of “Francis Albert Crosbie 2000–2017” as a kind of substitute for a newspaper obituary. There is a public service that obituaries do: they memorialize the deceased and provide information about the funeral. I wonder if your piece is providing a service. Or, put frankly but perhaps a little differently, do you write as a way of processing—of understanding or healing?
Crosbie: Writing is not therapy, which is entirely extemporized and not self-motivated.
I can’t say if my piece provides a service to anyone but me, but I hope that anyone who has ever loved someone as much as I love Francis may feel empathy or a correlative emotion.
I healed in writing this only in that I was able to get some of Francis’s story—a picaresque one, loaded with joy and tragedies—out there after having been declined the opportunity to have it appear in a newspaper with the real obituaries.
Brick: You are a novelist as well as a poet. What draws you to work in one form versus the other? What are the benefits and limitations of each?
Crosbie: I very rarely write poetry anymore. My last book, however, had me returning to this form for the first time in almost ten years. It is a collection of linked poems that form a sustained narrative: I would never write a (single) poem for no reason. This is 2017’s The Corpses of the Future, an elegy for my father, who is very ill. Because of the terrible shock of his illness—which began with a fall and moved very quickly into emergency brain surgery that left him blind and in the throes of dementia—poetry, which fragments so well and which has an inner logic that is so suitable to articulating pain, was the best medium. Additionally, I view my father’s disease’s expression as a kind of poetry; that is, a symbolic language requiring different skills to negotiate.
I like writing fiction better because it is so roomy.
Poetry is limited by its practitioners. Whatever the dominant model is chokeholds everyone else.
Brick: Do you have a writing routine?
Crosbie: When I had two emergency back surgeries several years ago, I started writing in bed like a hippie. Then Francis became less and less mobile so there I remained: drawings of him snoozing/being adorable appear in the proofs of my last two books. As to the work, I write when I have something to say, or a project I am hot for, and in that case, I write constantly, researching as I go, dropping into K-holes, and feeling like I’m in love.
One of the things we love to read at Brick is a writer writing about writing. Fortunately, Brick’s contributors are not only wonderful talents, they are also kind enough to share their insights. In a series on the writing process, our editorial intern Chelsea Rozansky asked some of Brick’s writers about their craft. First, the ever-witty author of Bellevue Square, Michael Redhill, took the time to answer some questions over email.
Brick: The piece you wrote in Brick 100, “Enlightenment,” is very funny. I had a writing teacher this year tell me that most writers don’t do humour well. Is there a trick to it?
Michael Redhill: Well, I’ve never been afraid to be ridiculous, and I think that’s part of it. Deadpan stupidity is just about my favourite mode. Some of Steve Martin’s essays are the funniest things ever written, and they are seriously, committedly, stupid. And although I worry she’s been forgotten, Erma Bombeck was brilliant too. She said, “Humourists can never start to take themselves seriously. It’s literary suicide.”
Brick: I find that when I write a personal piece or memoir, I default to humour, but I write much more earnestly and sentimentally on other subjects. I think it’s because when I tell stories about myself, I find that the joke tends to be on me, but I’m sure there’s also a defence mechanism at work. In recent pieces for Brick, like “Enlightenment,”or “My Fame”from Brick 99, you cast yourself as a kind of clever fool. Why do you choose to write in the first person when you are doing humour?
Redhill: First person is almost always best in writing humour. Stephen Leacock wrote almost exclusively in first person, as does David Sedaris. I think the key is that first person draws you in close, where it’s even a little uncomfortable, and it tells you something really silly or dissonant, but it does so apparently not knowing it’s silly or dissonant. I also find that writing in third person makes things a bit arch.
Brick: Do you have a writing routine?
Redhill: Chaotic. But generally, I’ll try to write five hundred words a day, five days out of seven, and I can do that with two two-and-a-half-hour-long writing/rewriting/researching sessions. Many days I only get one session in. And I go silent for periods that can be up to a couple months in length. However, when I’m focussed I feel locked in and I get the writing done.
Brick: Has winning the Giller Prize for Bellevue Square changed your approach to writing? By that I mean, is it easier to write when you’re not broke?
Redhill: It is much easier to write when you are not broke. I’m busier now, and more productive, than I have been in years, and I like it. It means I might stay afloat. The Giller has changed the trajectory of my career, but it won’t change how I approach my work. I’ve had something like a working routine for a long time.
A Very Special Brick Panel at the Toronto Reference Library
As spring approaches, save the date for one final event to mark our Brick 100 celebrations. On Tuesday, May 8, award-winning writers Teju Cole, Madeleine Thien, and Dionne Brand will come together for a wide-ranging discussion of the value, tradition, and work of literature at the Bram and Bluma Appel Salon in the Toronto Reference Library. Hosted by Eleanor Wachtel, this free event is brought to you in partnership with the Appel Salon, with support from the Toronto Arts Council. Reserve your tickets on April 17.
If you haven’t had a chance to sit down with this one yet, stop everything. In this wide-ranging conversation about art, life, and politics, Ai Weiwei tells Eleanor Wachtel about his father’s imprisonment and his own, surviving in New York as a young artist, and listening to a woman in a refugee camp play the piano. “Art is what’s in our hearts for peace,” he says. This conversation is a must-read.
Brick’s editors are at it again. Our Summer 2018 issue is taking shape and will include new writing by Lynn Crosbie, Eduardo Halfon, Anosh Irani, and more. Here are some of the pieces you can look forward to:
Ed Pavlić on James Baldwin’s trips to the American South
poetry by Cyrus Console
a letter from Martha Gellhorn to Eleanor Roosevelt
and Myrna Kostash on Greek writer Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke
In Brick‘s current issue, Jan Zwicky describes the experience of meaning as “the experience of a gestalt—either a shift out of chaos or a shift from one coherent arrangement to another, the perception of their resonant relation.” For Zwicky, meaning involves the arresting of individual perceptions into a coherent whole, an attempt to quiet the chaos of a world mediated by the sometimes resonant, and sometimes dissonant, ecologies of nature, language, and technology.
Alongside Zwicky’s piece is an equally arresting image by Jonathan Luckhurst, an Edmonton-based artist whose conceptual photography and print work respond to such ecological relationships and our perceptions of them. He has received grants from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Alberta Foundation for the Arts, and the Edmonton Arts Council and was the only Canadian artist selected for the 2015 Vancouver Biennale International Residency Program.
Many of Luckhurst’s images—often untitled—incorporate analogue technologies, such as negative overlaying, photocopying, and light projection, to construct expressive biomorphic shapes that resemble and resist intelligible forms found in our natural and manufactured landscapes. This exchange between the familiar and the alien produces a sublimity that is achingly present, but also hard to locate. These images probe deeply into the dissonant exchange between landscapes, not in search of meaning per se, but seeking the gaps in seemingly coherent surfaces.
Looking for gifts for the literature lovers in your life? Partake of one of our holiday gift subscription deals (Canadian, U.S., or overseas) and send two years of Brick to friends and family looking for the kind of moving, hilarious, urgent writing they’ll find in our pages—for less!
Or why not get all of your holiday shopping done right here? We’ve got a hunch that more than one person on your list would love a subscription to Brick, and now’s your chance to spoil them all (while saving even more money): send two two-year gift subscriptions for just $66 in Canada or the U.S. or $86 overseas.
We’re keeping the spirit alive for as long as we can: holiday gift subscription deals expire on January 31, 2018.
“Do we need to muster the political will required to take the measures still available? Absolutely. But do we also need to consider how to encounter the reality of climate change, how to feel it, how to live with feeling it? I think we do, though it scares me,” Sue Sinclair writes in Brick 100 (launching Monday, December 4, at Toronto’s Super Wonder Gallery). Her essay is showcased at Lit Hub.
All of us at Brick have noticed a new urgency in the work we’ve published over the past year. Maybe you’ve noticed it too. It can certainly be found in Brick’s 100th issue. This urgency—encompassing grief for the environment, alarm over authoritarianism, and rage at ongoing injustice—has reasserted the purpose of Brick and reaffirmed the role writing and art can play: as Ai Weiwei puts it in his interview with Eleanor Wachtel in Brick 100, which you’ll get to read very soon, “Art is what is in our hearts for peace.” Our goal, with your support, is to continue providing you that art, the most eclectic of it, the most urgent of it.
There are many ways to support Brick, tailored to suit any lit-lover’s budget:
Donate $50 or more and have your name etched on our Brick Wall, which appears in every issue, as well as on Brick’s website. Impress your friends!
Become a cherished monthly sustainer. Donate any amount monthly and we’ll send you a free issue.
Donate minimum $101 and you’ll receive a copy of The New Brick Reader, our second anthology of the very best of Brick, published by House of Anansi Press. Contributors include Mavis Gallant, Dionne Brand, Helen Garner, Salman Rushdie, Michael Ondaatje, W. G. Sebald, and lots more.
Donate at least $250 and you’ll receive a book by one of Brick’s past or present editors (including Michael Redhill’s Giller-winning Bellevue Square and Linda Spalding’s new novel, A Reckoning).
Help us continue to foster the most urgent writing. As we tread into triple digits, I hope you’ll become, and I hope you’ll stay, part of our beloved group of donors and friends.
Our heartiest, most exuberant congratulations to former Brick editor and publisher and current humour columnist (and future on-call ocelot smuggler?) Michael Redhill. We’re bursting with joy at his Scotiabank Giller Prize win for his wild, funny, thrilling new novel, Bellevue Square! Don’t miss the first instalment of “Things I Know Nothing About” in Brick 100—out very, very soon.
And definitely don’t miss the man himself at our launch here in Toronto on Monday, December 4, at the Super Wonder Gallery from 7:30 until—well, until we’ve partied ourselves out!
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Brick Publishes its One Hundredth Issue and Celebrates Forty Years
TORONTO/November 13, 2017 – Toronto-based Brick magazine will publish its one hundredth issue at the end of November. The release of Brick 100 coincides with the fortieth anniversary of the magazine. To celebrate, Brick will hold a very special launch party on Monday, December 4, in Toronto.
Brick has evolved from its beginnings as a journal of reviews to become an “eclectic international literary magazine,” but, as founder Stan Dragland writes in his contribution to a five-handed publishers’ note in Brick 100, the magazine is “still driven by love and, if you can go by me, much loved by readers.”
“Reaching issue 100 is a measure of the magazine’s relevance, especially at a time when considered thought has become so rare,” writes Michael Redhill, former publisher and editor of the magazine and Giller-nominated author of Bellevue Square. “We need to hear the voices Brick publishes, be nourished by the pleasures of the personal essay, and go deep when the opportunity presents. It’s a great milestone and it makes me very happy.”
Balancing commemoration and looking ahead, Brick 100 features renowned writers and artists from Canada and around the world. Eleanor Wachtel’s interview with artist and activist Ai Weiwei opens Brick 100 and introduces a thread that recurs throughout the issue, “reaffirming art’s role in the face of oppression and uncertainty,” according to publisher Laurie D. Graham. Essays by poet Sue Sinclair and editor of Copper Canyon Press Michael Wiegers, an interview with poet Don McKay (who was around the farmhouse table during the earliest days of Brick), and a poem by Guelph writer Nicholas Ruddock address environmental issues, while U.S. musicologist Shana L. Redmond celebrates Paul Robeson’s ongoing role in the fight against racism. And in the final installment of a much-admired essay that has been serialized over the last three issues of the magazine, poet and philosopher Jan Zwicky underscores the importance of meaning to how we engage with the world.
Also included in Brick 100 is a special section, wherein eighteen writers discuss the “mortar” that holds together a writing life. Brick invited nine writers—Anne Carson, Louise Erdrich, Kamila Shamsie, Madeleine Thien, John Keene, Juan Gabriel Vásquez, Karen Solie, Gail Jones, and Garth Greenwell—not only to contribute to the section but also to each invite a “plus-one” to join in the discussion of a writer’s foundations. The result is a wonderful mixture of fiction, poetry, essays, and conversation.
In celebration of this milestone issue, Brick will be hosting a launch party at 7:30 p.m. on December 4, 2017, at the Super Wonder Gallery (584 College St, Toronto, ON). The event will be hosted by Michael Redhill and include readings by Karen Solie, Aisha Sasha John, and Melanie Mah (winner of this year’s Trillium Award for her novel The Sweetest One). Linda Spalding, who has worked as publisher, then editorial board member, for seventy-five of Brick’s one hundred issues, will also say a few words that evening. In addition to readings, the Brick 100 launch promises music, dancing, a literary silent auction, door prizes, and plenty of revelry. All are welcome.
Brick 100 will on newsstands at the end of November and available at bookstores worldwide. To order a review copy or arrange interviews with Brick staff or editors, please contact managing editor Liz Johnston (details below).
Established in 1977 and published twice a year, Brick features essays, interviews, memoirs, travelogues, belles lettres, and unusual musings by the world’s best-loved writers. For more information on Brick, please visit www.brickmag.com.
Join us for an extra-special launch as we celebrate one hundred issues and four decades of Brick on Monday, December 4, at the Super Wonder Gallery. Save the date now (and don’t plan anything too strenuous for the next day) because this party is not to be missed.
Our milestone issue, Brick 100, is brimming with work from some of our favourite writers, including Louise Erdrich, Madeleine Thien, Anne Carson, Karen Solie, Juan Gabriel Vásquez, and John Keene. Pick up your copy, pick up a glass, and dance the night away with us.
At the end of November, we’ll publish the magazine’s 100th issue, featuring Ai Weiwei, Anne Carson, Kamila Shamsie, Madeleine Thien, John Keene, Karen Solie, Garth Greenwell, Don McKay (who also appeared in the very first Brick), and many, many more. With the release of this landmark issue, we have plans to celebrate, reflect, and look ahead. And we need your help to carry out those plans.
Between now and October 20, we aim to raise $3000 to help fund our festivities, which will include a special section in Brick 100, a launch party (save this date: Monday, December 4), online features, and a very special panel discussion in spring 2018.
If you find yourself moved to add a few dollars to the Brick 100 kitty, we’ll thank you profusely and publicly on our Brick Wall. We need your help to reach our fundraising goal and pull off the best commemoration we can. Donate now, and do keep an eye out for the magazine’s 100th issue. It’s going to be big, in more ways than one.
With all good wishes,
Laurie D. Graham, Publisher
p.s. Also, consider becoming a monthly sustainer and receive a free issue. Monthly giving provides crucial, ongoing support to Brick to ensure we keep publishing through issue 100 and beyond…
We’re delighted that Martha Baillie’s Brick 99 essay, “I’ve Found Her,” has been selected by the editors at Longreads. What a treat for those who’d like to read the piece online! Many thanks to Longreads contributing editor Aaron Gilbreath, who we suspect is behind the lovely acknowledgement at the top of the piece.
Brick 99 features an essay by Joni Murphy, author of the novel Double Teenage, which Chris Kraus named a book of the year in 2016. Subashini Navaratnam recently reviewed the book at Full Stop, writing that Murphy “is attuned to the politics of race and class, and from the beginning her assured, controlled style situates us within the nexus of capitalism and class, white privilege, and gender violence.” We’re excited to have her “unabashedly intelligent and unafraid” voice in the pages of our current issue.