I’ve been lucky enough to win a number of prizes over the years that have let me keep writing. Not prizes in terms of big money, although I’ve definitely received a few cheques when I needed them most. No, I mean prizes with little or no money attached that have nevertheless given me the mental boost to keep on writing.
Let me explain.
The life of a writer is full of doubt and uncertainty, especially when you’re starting out and you’re tying to find your voice, you’re not that good yet, etc. (Some may say I’m still not very good, but that’s a subject for their blog posts, not mine.) There are a few things that help during this time: good reviews, good sales, and prizes. The first two are hard to get when you’re an unknown and a beginner. Every writer dreams of blockbuster sales and starred reviews in their favourite publication, but the fact is most emerging writers are ignored and don’t earn back their advance, if they even get an advance. I’m still hit and miss on that myself.
But prizes? Any writer can win a prize if your writing is good and you find the right judge/jury who sees what you’re trying to say, who understands your voice.
This happened to me a number of times early in my writing career. I think the first prize I won was an award for best story from On Spec, Canada’s long-running and well-respected sci-fi and fantasy journal. It came at a time when I was struggling with a lot of life issues and I didn’t know if it made sense to keep writing. Then I got the good news from On Spec and I learned to believe in myself again, thanks to that wonderful editorial board believing in me. The prize certificate is still hanging on my office wall, and I still feel grateful whenever I look at it. And I still remember to believe in myself and get back to writing.
After that, I won more awards — a university writing prize, an Ontario Arts Council prize for best manuscript and so on. There were writing grants thrown in here and there, which every writer knows are just as important as any award in terms of believing in yourself and your writing. Perhaps my favourite has been the ReLit Award. It came in the form of a beautiful ring, not money, which is just as well. Money would have been long gone by now. But the ring is still with me, and it’s almost either always on my writing desk or on one of my fingers, where I compose secret messages to myself with it.
I’m not writing this post to talk about my trophy list and impress the handful of readers that come to this blog. That’s not what this is about. I will say that I feel incredibly lucky to have received these awards — and to have had a chance at the writing career I’ve had. I know much of that came from happenstance. As a white male who lived in the centre of Canada’s publishing scene for a while and helped run a popular reading series with Paul Vermeersch, I was somewhat within the system, if you want to call it that.
Now imagine that you long to be a writer but you’re far outside of the system, geographically and/or otherwise. Say you’re an indigenous person, or a person from some other group that has been systematically silenced over the ages. How much harder is it to believe in yourself and that your voice matters then? How incredibly important it must be to have spaces to speak and awards to validate you then — likely far more important than it has been for me.
I bring all this up because of an ongoing controversy in CanLit over cultural appropriation. I don’t want to get into all the details here because that’s not my thing — you can Google it easily enough if you’re interested. It’s an ugly situation all around, but some good may come out of it. My friend and fellow writer Silvia Moreno-Garcia has launched an effort to create an Emerging Indigenous Voices Award to “focus on Indigenous writers, on marginalized writers.” Silvia offered up $500 of her own money to start it, and so far other people have pledged more than $4,000 toward the prize.
This is a good thing.
As I think I’ve made clear, prizes are the things that can keep a writer going. They’re not about winning, about being better than other writers. They are about recognizing and validating a writer’s voice. They’re about feeling that what you do matters, that your words matter, that you matter.
I imagine there have been many writers who would not have gone on to write their stories if they hadn’t won a prize at some point or another to give them that boost. There probably have been many writers we have missed out on because of this. We’ll never know. Maybe we need more prizes to ensure all the stories that need to be told get told. After all, when we are all gone, our stories are all that will remain of us.
Help out Silvia with her award if you can, and let’s help more people tell their stories that matter.
Today was my last day in the newsroom of The Province and Vancouver Sun. It’s time for me to move on. It’s been an amazing 13 years working for the papers, and I’m so grateful to all my colleagues past and present who took a chance on me and let me do all the crazy things I’ve done. I miss and will miss all of them.
I’m proud of all I did to help deliver some of the biggest news stories of the decade to the public, just as I’m proud of all the books columns and profiles I did over the years. I’ll miss talking about all the talented writers out there!
I think what I’m most proud of in my time at The Province, though, was writing The Province Cares columns, where I made a real difference in the lives of struggling families. Many of these people were going through tough times and continue to struggle every day. I am humbled by their strength and courage. I hope to move forward with the same grace in life that they have shown me.
Now on to the next chapter!
UPDATE: The Heroic Fantasy Quarterly has exceeded its goal, which is great for readers and the writers involved — and the publishers! They’re still raising funds through June, and the more they raise the more the writers involved — like me — get paid in bonuses. So big thanks if you already helped out and/or spread the word!
The good people at Heroic Fantasy Quarterly are running a Kickstarter for their Best Of anthology Vol. 2, which includes my story The Princess Trap — in which a dragon and a captive sheepherder encounter a number of tasty knights. The Kickstarter is trying to generate art for each story, and I’d love to see what they come up with for mine. Check it out and support them if you’re into that sort of thing!
Not a bad day today. I wrote a few words and got a hike in. And ate pizza! I don’t know how I’ll be able to top it tomorrow. Hopefully with more words and more pizza.
I’ve submitted the manuscript for my new book, Has the World Ended Yet?, which is due out this fall. My sixth book! Now I’m waiting for the edits. And taking the time to be present in the world again instead of my mind. I love the writing life, but sometimes you have to close the computer and just step outside and breathe again.
(The photo is of Pitt Lake, one of my favourite places in B.C. You should visit it. There is enough clean, mountain air for all of us.)
Tired of misplacing your Cross books during arcane rituals? Can’t remember the order of the Cross series ever since that angel melted your mind in the movie theatre because someone texted you? Interested in new Cross tales to give you some hope or at least distraction during these dark times? Then you may want to check out the new Cross omnibus.
The omnibus features the first three Cross books — The Mona Lisa Sacrifice (No. 1 Amazon.ca Fantasy and Historical Fiction bestseller), The Dead Hamlets, and The Apocalypse Ark — plus two new Cross stories never before published! In “The World Will Drown in Tears,” Cross stumbles into a strange battle in a frozen wasteland that some history scholars will recognize. And “A Different Kind of Wolf” puts Cross at the centre of a very famous fairy tale, but with a few diabolical twists all of his own.
The omnibus is ebook only, because to put it in print form would be to risk breaking the eighth seal. It’s available at fine online book emporiums everywhere, except for where it’s not. Buy it now, before the world ends! (It will also be available after the end of the world.)
Plus, there are hidden tentacles on the cover!
Praise for the Cross series:
- “If you liked Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, you’ll love The Mona Lisa Sacrifice”: CBC
- “The Mona Lisa Sacrifice is a deliriously unhinged roller coaster of a novel, blending fantasy, history, horror and humour with the aplomb of an overfull blender, but all of it smarter than it, truly, has any right — or need — to be”: National Post
- “Never lets the reader pause for breath . . . fans of the genre will find one of its ultimate expressions here”: Publishers Weekly
- “Sweeps you up with its gallows humour, whether you’re revelling in the pleasures of two-fisted, angel-punching action or the cleverly rendered language.”: Quill & Quire
- “Takes urban fantasy to a different level”: Library Journal
- “A pulp novel with genuine depth and wisdom, insight and consummate skill”: Regina Leader-Post
- “There are few writers, in this country at any rate, quite as unhinged and skilled, simultaneously, regardless of genre”: Saskatoon StarPhoenix
- “A fun, and whip-smart, read” – Vancouver Sun
- “A Rewarding, Witty, Hot Mess of Angel-Pummeling, Action and Noir Detective Fiction” – Pop Bop on Goodreads
- “Resembles something written by Neil Gaiman at times with its somewhat mystical imagery and at other times it reads as a full-blown work of bizarro fiction.” – Minneapolis Books Examiner
- “A spiritual relative to Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim and Lavie Tidhar’s Bookman series, meaning that anyone (and anything) in the literary universe is fair game. Mythological beasts, Lovecraftian allusions, pirates, and characters from Moby Dick and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea all fuse together to form a vastly entertaining, fantastical, breakneck hodgepodge quest novel” – Publishers Weekly
- “One of Canada’s finest literary writers” – CBC
- “If you like your literature with a nitro fueling, you’ll love these” – CBC
- “One of the strongest, and strangest, literary creations this country has ever seen” – The Vancouver Sun
- “Is he still making up those crazy stories? When is he going to get a real job?” – Mom
From now on I’m measuring all the snowfall in my neighbourhood in Hulk units of measurement.