Many years ago, I walked through a snowstorm one night in London, Ontario, to knock on a stranger’s door. The young man on the other side opened the door and looked me up and down. I think my shoes were covered in ice. I think my whole body was encrusted in ice, in fact. I was wearing a jean jacket and hoodie because I couldn’t afford a proper winter jacket.
“I’m here for the writing group,” I said, or words something to that effect.
I was a first year university student, splitting my time between taking English classes at the University of Western Ontario and working the night shift in an IGA grocery store. I’d gone back to school after a few years of working dead-end jobs (the night shift was actually the highlight, believe it or not) because I knew I had to do something to help realize my lifelong dream of being a writer. I worked all night filling shelves with Cheez Whiz, although somehow never enough Cheez Whiz — we always sold out. Always. When I was done my night shift, I hopped on the bus and went to Western, where I took English Lit classes because they didn’t have a creative writing degree. Sometimes I fell asleep in those classes. I really wanted to follow that dream, remember.
During one of my visits to the hallowed halls of the university, I noticed a poster on a wall advertising the meeting of a creative writing group. I can’t recall now if it had a number or an address or what on it, but somehow I found myself in that snowstorm, knocking on that door.
My life was a storm of other sorts back then: divorce, depression, loneliness, poverty — you name it, I had it. The only thing I had going for me was that dream of writing and of maybe publishing stories and books one day.
The man who opened the door and let me into the warmth and sanctuary of his home was Paul Vermeersch, a fellow Western student and an aspiring poet. He warmed me up with hot chocolate and cheered me with conversation, and eventually a few other people arrived and we had some sort of meeting.
I can’t recall too many details of that first meeting, as I was half-frozen and hoping Paul wasn’t a killer who advertised for his victims in universities. But I recall many of the moments from our long friendship that began that night. The numerous other meetings we had as we grew that little writing group and formed wonderful, deep and lasting relationships with other aspiring writers, such as Jonathan Bennett. The basement arts office we hung out in, the walls of which we covered in our favourite literary quotes — “Poor Grendel has had an accident.” The basement apartment we shared when we lived together in Toronto. The IV Lounge Reading Series we ran together for a time in Toronto, although Paul was really the driving force of that. The other writers’ book launches we went to, and then our own book launches, as we both realized our dreams of becoming writers. (I should have dreamed of something more lucrative, damn it!) When Paul let me into his home that night, he saved me from more than one storm.
I’ve kept in touch with Paul even though I live on the West Coast now, and he still remains one of my dearest friends. So I was delighted when he became an editor at Wolsak & Wynn and asked me if I wanted to publish with them. How could I say no to that? It’s the sort of thing that would have been unimaginable to me when I knocked on that door during that snowstorm all those years ago. And it was exactly the sort of thing I’d been dreaming about all my life.
So I’m happy to announce that I’ll be publishing a collection of short stories with Wolsak & Wynn in the fall of 2017. It’s called Has the World Ended Yet? and that’s all I’m going to say about it for now.
Here’s to dark and stormy nights.