Sep 132013

Savage Love Cover

Here’s the complete series of short essays I wrote for the National Post as the Guest Editor this week of the Afterward section (edited by Mark Medley). Read them in reverse order as they work in ascending order of complexity, each one building on the previous entries. Mark Medley invited me to write these essays as part of the fanfare for the launch of Savage Love (in bokstores next week).


Click on the link: Douglas Glover

Sep 122013

This is the last in a series of short essays on “building sentences.” I wrote this series for the National Post in Toronto. They all appeared in the online section of the newspapers this week. To get the greatest benefit, it’s best to read them in sequence as they begin simply and increase in elaborative possibilities as you go along: but-constructions, lists, parallel construction and the epigram.


Writers create drama in sentences and paragraphs by using grammatical forms to juxtapose material with different shades of meaning. If you say, “Usually Mel’s mother reminded her of a giraffe, but today she seemed more like an elephant,” you force the reader to compare elephants, giraffes, and mothers and the differences between them. Power lies in the differential relation.

Here is Keats on modern love: “And what is love? It is a doll dress’d up…” – a line of poetry that forces the reader to measure the distance between his idea of love and a dressed up doll. And here is an aphorism from my story “Bad News of the Heart”: “And what is love? An erotic accident prolonged to disaster.”

In his Historie of Serpents (1608), Edward Topsall wrote: “Some learned Writers..haue compared a Scorpion to an Epigram..because as the sting of the Scorpion lyeth in the tayle, so the force and vertue of an Epigram is in the conclusion.”

Aphorism, epigram and apophthegm are words that refer to roughly the same set of constructs: short, witty statements built around at least one balanced contrast. I taught myself to write them after reading Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet. Someone called Durrell’s style lapidary; after I looked up the word, I wanted to be lapidary, too. The Greeks wrote epigrams as epitaphs, to be carved on stones over the graves of heroes, hence the term lapidary, words worth being carved in stone for the ages.

The easiest way to teach yourself how to write aphorisms is to collect an assortment from your favourite writers, group them into formal types, and map the types. “Love is an erotic accident prolonged to a disaster” is a definition type. You get a lot that begin: love is, life is, women are, the world is, and so on. “The world is but a school of inquiry.” (Montaigne) “Life is always better under the influence of mild intoxicants.” (Glover, “Woman Gored by Bison Lives”) Here is one I stole from a woman I dated briefly and put into a story: “Love is like the telephone – more than one can use the line.”

The predicate contrasts with the subject of the sentence, or, to be more precise, it contrasts with the common understanding of the term in the subject. Epigrams and aphorisms are always subverting the common understanding and reader expectation; their nature is to be provocative and ironic.

Read the rest at the National Post


Sep 112013

Here’s a teaser to the third in my series of short essays on Building Sentences at the National Post. We are, yes, in the drumroll phase of my book launch for Savage Love.  Much appreciation to Mark Medley, the book editor at the National Post, for giving me the opportunity to write these.


Parallel construction was another one of those structures English teachers taught me in high school without also telling why it was in the least useful or beautiful. Drone, drone, eyeballs rolling back in my head; another C- on that test. Later I learned the lesson. Here is an example from Mark Anthony Jarman’s great short story “Burn Man on a Texas Porch.”

“I’m okay, okay, will be fine except I’m hoovering all the oxygen around me, and I’m burning like a circus poster, flames taking more and more of my shape–am I moving or are they? I am hooked into fire, I am hysterical light issuing beast noises in a world of smoke.”

What you have here are two sentences built on a series of parallels that invert briefly at the parenthetical em-dash and then modulate into a variant (I’m, I’m, I’m, am I, I am, I am). The simple meaning of the sentence is that the narrator is on fire. But Jarman uses parallels to throw the sentence forward in a series of waves of energy, each surge encoded with another grotesque and moving image of self-incineration. The parallels delay the end of the sentence (as the Russian Formalist Viktor Shklovsky tells us, delay is the first problem in writing a story) and create a passionately dramatic telling. Instead of mere description, the sentences become a poem.

    Each new iteration of the parallel creates more of that mysterious thing I call aesthetic space, a blank spot into which the author has to imagine new and surprising words. Form never limits a writer; it creates openings for fresh invention. It also creates an opportunity for what I call narrative yoking, syntactically juxtaposing two or more ideas to create astonishing new connections, or psychological parallelism.

Read the rest at the National Post


Sep 102013

Here’s the second in a series of short essays about writing sentences that I am putting together for the National Post in Toronto this week as part of the promotional fanfare leading to the publication of Savage Love. Yesterday I did but-constructions; today we have the rhetoric of lists. Here’s a teaser; it was just published earlier this evening.


    The first technique I learned and applied consciously was the list. This was in an early story “Pender’s Visions” that begins with a line – “Pender is a bottle, a glass, a table, a gun, a house.” The line becomes a refrain through the text, only to modulate in the last section of the story into “Pender, a bottle, a glass, a table, a gun, a house, a world…”

    This was, as I say, a first attempt (no apologies for being young), but you can see the rhythmic effect of a long series that becomes a structural effect by the repetition of the line throughout the text, and then becomes a thematic effect by the modulation of the series at the end. The modulation is especially significant because a series (of vaguely like entities) creates reader expectation, and the reader always enjoys having his expectations tweaked.

    Rabelais was a gargantuan list-writer. In an early chapter of Gargantua and Pantagruel, he gives a paragraph long list of plant matter the boy Gargantua uses to wipe his butt. “Then I wiped myself with sage, with fennel, with dill and anise, with sweet marjoram, with roses, pumpkins, with squash leaves, and cabbage, and beets, with vine leaves, and mallow, and Verbascum thapsus (that’s mullein, and it’s as red as my _____)–and mercury weed, and purslane, and nettle leaves, and larkspur and comfrey. But then I got Lombardy dysentery, which I cured by wiping myself with my codpiece.”

    This is complex and hilarious, hilarious because it is a long silly list that contains some very odd choices. Pumpkins? Note also that list makers pass on conventional punctuation and grammar. Instead of a series of items separated by commas right to the end, Rabelais modulates to comma-and breaks, then reverts to the earlier convention, then goes to comma-and to the close of the sentence. A lot of “ands.” Rhythm is everything in a list, but you don’t want the rhythm to send the reader off to sleep.

    Rabelais also disrupts the list with the Latin name for mullein and inserts a comical parenthetical (breaks voice, as it were) and comments directly to the reader, creating a syntactic drama that breaks the rhythm temporarily. Then he adds a but-construction (see my previous column) that gives the list a plot. Instead of an endless repetition of the same wiping act, the boy gets dysentery (with an ethnic slap at Lombards). Then we come back to wiping.

    This is brilliant list writing because it’s outrageously funny, rhythmic, and has plot. The basic principles are all there: list, rhythm, disruption (by changing up series members, by grammatical disruption, by authorial interruption, by but-construction), and plot.

Read the rest at the National Post.


Sep 102013

Gordon Lish, known as Captain Fiction in the days when he edited fiction at Esquire Magazine, was my editor for my novel The Life and Times of Captain N. (Knopf, 1993). As I recall, Lish wrote the flap copy for that book, and he sent me to bill hayward to have my picture taken for the cover. Gordon also published a story of mine in The  Quarterly, “Swain Corliss, Hero of Malcolm’s Mills (Now Oakland, Ontario), November 6, 1814″ (it’s in my collection 16 Categories of Desire). Both bill and Gordon have now graced the pages of Numéro Cinq, and we’ve published Jason Lucarelli’s astonishing essay on Gordon Lish and his concept of consecution not to mention the radio interview I did with Gordon, yea, these many years ago. Gordon graciously consented to write a cover blurb for my book of stories, Savage Love, just now on the brink of publication. He sent me this page — he doesn’t use email (mostly he sends handwritten messages on blank white USPS postcards). It is typical of Gordon, ebullient, incantatory, celebratory, exotic, and dramatic. It was too long for the book cover, but he was graceful about letting me cut it, despite his admonition to the contrary at the bottom. Here are his words as they appear on Savage Love:

I, your admiring reader, report myself ever again restored to find in hand the company of your righteous sentences, shout hooray, shout hooray, even splendid, splendid, splendid (borrowing from the great poet Jack Gilbert), like loins, he wrote, like Rome, he wrote . . . .

And here, resplendent in all its glory, is the original, which, in fact, I like much better and for which I am deeply grateful.




Sep 092013

This week, at the National Post in Toronto as part of the build up to the publication of Savage Love, I am writing a series of very short essays on, well, writing. Mostly about writing sentences. Here is a teaser for the first; it was just published this morning.

English was my worst subject (next to Health) in high school right through to my second year of university when I stopped taking English. I’d fallen afoul of the empty rule syndrome. Don’t use the pronoun “I” in an essay; don’t begin sentences with “but” or “because”; write paragraphs to the topic sentence-body text-conclusion pattern (even if it bores you to death to say the same thing three times); vary sentence structure. The trouble with these rules is that no one told me why any of them would be especially useful.

Vary sentence structure was a rule I puzzled over for years. No one explained grammar to me well enough to make a connection. At first I thought, well, I can write long and short sentences, something like Hemingway. Then I practiced emphatic placement of important material (at the beginning or the end of the sentence, I was told) and inversion (writing the sentence backwards — kind of fun). None of this got me anywhere because I could not connect the spirit of a sentence, what emotional and factual impact I intended, with the idea of sentence structure.

I puzzled through instruction books. I discovered the wonderful distinctions between simple, compound and complex sentences and the even more mysterious cumulative and periodic sentences. I practiced writing periodic sentences until I was blue in the face without actually being able to discover how that made them interesting for readers. They weren’t very interesting to me. And my stories did not seem any better for having good topic sentence paragraphs, long and short sentences, and a scattering of lovely periodic sentences.

The rules were still inanimate, void of life. The nexus of intention and form escaped me. Above all the whole idea that you had to know what you were going to write before you wrote it was like a lock on my soul. It made writing drudgery.

Read the rest here: Douglas Glover: Building sentences


Sep 072013

Fresh Air resident “bookies”—CBC book columnist Becky Toyne and CBC Books producer Erin Balser—joined Mary to recommend some of the hot fall books..

Listen to the radio clip audio (runs 7:22)

Erin and Becky’s recommendations:

DOCTOR SLEEP by Stephen King
BLEEDING EDGE by Thomas Pynchon
OH, MY DARLING by Shaena Lambert
KICKING THE SKY by Anthony De Sa
SAVAGE LOVE by Douglas Glover
THE LUMINARIES by Eleanor Catton


Sep 062013

A little something called “Beat and the Pulse” by the Toronto electronic band Austra. I found this on a site called Blocks Recording Club where we are told that this is the NSFW version shot “at Toronto’s finest space under the radar and above a bakery, Double Double Land.” You probably don’t know it yet (since the book isn’t out), but there is a woman with webbed toes in one of the stories in Savage Love, and there are a lot of webbed hands and other bits in this video. So it fits, right?


Sep 012013

Douglas GloverAdam Segal at Whole Beast Rag in Los Angeles read Savage Love in manuscript (how he got the ms. is a story for another time) and emailed me his admiration (always appreciated) and an invitation to do an interview. It turns out to be one of the best interviews I’ve done in ages. Adam gives great prompts; he’s got a literary spirit; I get to say some things that are new even to me — I like it when the long string of arguments that is my mental life take a new turn.

Here is Adam’s introduction; click the link beneath to read the interview.



I was introduced to the work of Douglas Glover earlier this summer when I was given the unique opportunity to read an early manuscript for Douglas Glover’s forthcoming collection of stories, Savage Love. It’s a gorgeously vivid, inventive, and occasionally brutal collection, steeped in blood, familial affection, and North American history. If you’re a fan of short fiction, it’s not one to ignore.

Glover, who holds a Master of Letters in philosophy from the University of Edinburgh and an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, has been writing stories, novels, and essays for over thirty years. He is also the founder of the online literary magazine Numéro Cinq. Douglas Glover is, as Maclean’s Magazine suggested in a review of his 2003 novel Elle, “the most eminent unknown Canadian writer alive.” Indeed, Elle won the Governor General’s award for Fiction, Canada’s most prestigious literary award. But let’s not listen to the awards for a moment, and instead listen to the man himself.

I recently spoke with Glover about the flickering quality of ironic language, about the proper ways of approaching historical fiction, about talking corpses and strangled cats, and finally about the massive importance of human self-delusion. Read on, read on:


Editor’s Note: The magazine is not defunct, but you can read that issue and the interview here.

Aug 302013

Savage Love Cover

This reading is courtesy of Dan Wells and Biblioasis, who published my essay book Attack of the Copula Spiders last year. I’m very much looking forward to seeing Dan again and the Biblioasis Bookstore and also to standing on the Windsor side of the river and looking across at Detroit, the largest bankrupt city in America. (Actually, the truth is that it’s always a stirring sight. I used to drive to Detroit to look at the collections at the Detroit Institute of Arts, which was founded in better times.) Biblioasis is a great Canadian publishing house; Dan Wells is a hugely energetic and innovative literary entrepreneur. As you’ve read along with NC, you’ll have noticed translations and excerpts from several Biblioasis books.


On September 16th Biblioasis is proud to present an evening with Douglas Glover (Savage Love; Goose Lane, 2013) and Catherine Bush (Accusation; Goose Lane, 2013).

Douglas Glover’s new collection of short fiction demonstrates once again that the GG- and Writers’ Trust Award-winning author is a master stylist and more. Also featuring four-time novelist and national bestseller Catherine Bush, this event is a must for fiction-lovers and aspiring writers alike.

Location: 1520 Wyandotte St. East
Hours: 7:30 pm

via :: Biblioasis :: FRESH LIT (Not Canned) :: The Best in IndieLit.

Aug 222013

See also in this fall preview list books by Cynthia Flood and Jeet Heer, both of whom have contributed to NC.

Expect the unexpected: “Glover skewers every conventional notion we’ve ever held about that cultural-emotional institution of love we are instructed to hold dear.” This short story collection promises to make readers both laugh out loud and reel back in horror.

via Writers and Editors, Murders and Infatuations, Love and Comics: New Books of Note | The Toronto Review of Books.

Aug 192013


Catherine Bush and dg are having a double book launch September 17 at the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto at This Is Not A Reading Series. Catherine’s novel Accusation is coming out also with Goose Lane Editions. We’re a team, hitting the high spots together, another EPIC southern Ontario reading tour. I am already tired, but there will be THOUSANDS. It’s kind of dramatic, isn’t it? Savage Love meets Accusation!


What happens when Savage Love meets Accusation? Who will be accused … of what? And how Savage will the Love be?

Join us for a scintillating and sure-to-be provocative evening with writers Catherine Bush and Douglas Glover as both launch exciting new fiction. Catherine will show the book trailer created for the novel by independent filmmaker Mike Hoolboom and conduct a multi-voiced “accusation chorale.” In the spirit of his epic line “Love is an erotic accident prolonged to disaster,” Glover will teach the audience how to be instantaneously savage, witty, provocative, and deep. In short: How to Write Aphorisms for Love and Money.

Both writers will be interviewed about their work by Mark Medley, Books Editor of the National Post.

A Canadian journalist stumbles upon a good story. A tireless idealist founds a circus for children in Ethiopia. Yet what if all is not as it seems? Catherine Bush’s new novel, Accusation, follows a web of lives that intersect with life-altering consequences and forces us to confront the uncomfortable question of how we navigate the sometimes-blurred line between guilt and innocence.

The stories in Savage Love revolve around the concept of love in all its unrestrained expressions and possibilities. Lust. Infidelity. The inexorable pull of strangers and novelty. Lifelong devotion. The destructive and redemptive nature of passion. This is Douglas Glover country, and we are all willing visitors.

via Love and Accusation: Catherine Bush and Douglas Glover | TINARS.


Aug 182013


Savage Love CoverMy promotional events are starting to take shape. You never know, when you say yes, what you’re going to be roped into, er, I mean signed up for. Especially with panels. But it seems to be part of the job. This one looks wild. I’ll think of some jokes. Or I’ll talk about “Tristiana” and the cannibal serial killer who finds a wife, the first story in Savage Love.

Of my co-panelists, I only know Wayne Johnston personally, and we go way back. I read and loved his first novel The Story of Bobby O’Malley when I was the First Novels columnist at Books in Canada many years ago. It won the Books in Canada First Novel Award. A wonderful writer. Through all my moves, his books have stayed in my bookcase.

Mark your calendars.

Four writers talk this morning about love in all its glorious possibilities—bidden and forbidden.

via 60 Looking for Love | Vancouver Writers Fest.


Jun 252013

The Writers’ Trust of Canada recently asked me (along with several other estimable authors) to send a list of what I hoped to read this summer and what I think other people might be interested in reading. The result was just published online. Here is my bit. Now you’re set for beach reading.


bookI am going to shortly read George Fetherling’s The Writing Life, Journals, 1975-2005. Also re-reading Michael Ondaatje’s The Collected Works of Billy the Kid, André Breton’s novel Nadja. New books: Ror Wolf’s Two or Three Years Later: Forty Nine Digressions, also Tranquility by Attila Bartis.

A work I just read that I recommend highly is Alexander Pushkin’s The Captain’s Daughter, a short novel, fascinating for its construction (multiple orphans and adoptions) and its ironic and elegant use of genre (the family memoir). There’s a wonderful essay you can read along with it “Pushkin’s Novel The Captain’s Daughter as Fictional Family Memoir” by Leslie O’Bell published online by the North American Pushkin Society.

Douglas Glover’s latest collection of stories Savage Love will be published in September 2013.

via The Writers’ Trust of Canada – Recommended Reading.