Cynthia Wilson Memorial Reading
As a writer, I owe Cynthia a huge debt of gratitude, and it's
to acknowledge that fact in the only way left to me now that I'm
During the early 90s I found I was increasingly weary of teaching
in high school. At the same time, I was stealing more and more
of each day to write, mostly poetry, some short stories, a confused,
messy, undirected outpouring very much like the torrent from a
defective tap. Success in one or two contests, publication in
some very minor magazines, and dalliance with a small self-published
book for the gift store at the National Historic site in Fort
St. James, persuaded me against all reason that I wasn't altogether
wasting my time.
Enter Cynthia. In 1994, with the chutzpah that comes from a state
of complete ignorance, I sent four short stories to Caitlin. I
had ideas for others, but I cannot pretend that I had a complete
manuscript tucked away in a drawer. I didn't even know that you're
supposed to accumulate a collection by getting individual stories
published in literary magazines. To my utter amazement, Cynthia
wrote to say that it was nice to have a manuscript by a real writer
cross her desk, and that Caitlin would be interested in publishing
the stories. Music to my ears!
What followed was typical of the path to publication. The stories
flowed, and in my innocence, I thought that was that. Over the
next two years, however, I had three editors, one after the other,
each one of whom wanted to start the editing process at the very
beginning. I began to wonder whose stories I was writing. The
publication date was delayed by more than a year. But finally,
the day came when I was able to roar down the road to Prince George,
edge round Bailey barking menacingly, and gloat with Cynthia over
the boxes full of actual books. So euphoric a moment, that the
typo on the back cover hardly fazed me.
The rest of the story was equally predictable, if I had only
known it. The snowstorm on the day of the launch in Fort St. James,
Cynthia unable to come, but gleeful that 70 copies were sold that
day; the tour - to Smithers - with a reading at Houston where
the books didn't arrive in time; the reading in Prince George
for which the wrong date was published in the local paper. And
Cynthia there for moral support, taking it all in stride, sweeping
up in her Miata, wedged among the boxes of books and papers that
crammed its interior, or dispensing soothing noises and glasses
of wine at discouraging moments.
This was an education for a novice. Cynthia gave me a crash course
in publishing, the disabusing-innocents reality check which has
stood me in good stead ever since. And more than that, I will
always be grateful because she was the first one to place any
confidence in me, and by accepting my stories, gave me what has
been called "the passport book", that evidence of publication
history that might induce other publishers to take a writer seriously.
I'd like to read a very short passage from one of the stories
in that book. It is about the aftermath of a wedding and a death.
This is for Cynthia, who also enjoyed a stream that meandered
through her garden.
Extract from "Ring Cycle" (Hide and Seek, Caitlin
The marquee was flat on the ground as if it had deflated, and
the folding chairs were folded and being stacked in a large van.
I passed two glasses and a plate with a small piece of wedding
cake on it abandoned together in the grass. The lawn looked trampled
and unkempt. I pushed my way through the ferns and rose bushes
and willows and emerged finally on the bank of the creek, disturbing
two herons as I did so. Dozens of crows were blundering noisily
about in the trees, planing in, hopping sideways over the sandbars,
cheerfully heckling each new arrival, as convivial and full of
anticipation as yesterday's wedding guests.
As my eyes attuned to the water again, I realized that many more
fish had stolen up overnight. They wavered in the water in their
thousands, lying one on top of the other in layers, filling the
stream bed. It was as if the creek had curdled and thickened,
had become a sinuous, wavering body, each individual hair combed
by the current, pliant as seaweed dancing to the invisible tug
of the ocean. In unison the green backs swayed, caressing. Every
one pointed upstream, obedient to the force field in the water.
In the shallows the shifting reflections from the surface played
over the gravel like veins of gold, and pairs of fish broke away
from the main body, wriggling into the stones, oblivious. Always
the eye returned to the quiet ranks marking time in the pools;
the stream where they were born had reeled each one in, and now
they waited to complete one revolution and set the wheel in motion
once again. They had the same intent and anonymity as the brides
and grooms I had seen in a photograph of one of the Reverend Moon's
mass wedding ceremonies, rows of Oriental faces gravely focused
on something far beyond the camera, all dressed the same, all
compelled by the ritual. There was the same sense of fatality,
of hypnotic surrender, of sacrifice.
And already some of the fish wore the white flowers of dissolution
on their sides, and some were blushing red, and some had ragged
fins that stirred feebly, and some faltered and turned in the
current to slip away for a while before writhing back into place.
And some, exhausted by their silent ecstasy, turned for the last
time, and drifted downstream to the waiting crows, who jostled
and bickered and cawed, sliding over the stones in their black
haste to stab and tug at the feast. And I knew that always, always,
the brides and grooms would lie in state on the stones that cradled
their young, and the crows would gorge and gleam, and sisters
would marry and grandfathers die, and the great implacable cycles
would wheel and mesh, and all, all would be well.