Writer has her eye on a ‘short’ career
Naomi K. Lewis’s short story, Eye, is about organ donation and love.
In the four-page offering, the love is unrequited and the organ donation involves, as you may have guessed, an eye.
“With the eye story, it just of occurred to me of in a day-dreamy kind of way when I was just thinking about organ donation,” says Lewis, in an interview from her home in Calgary. “I was thinking ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if you could donate an eye?’ And it went from there.”
Not all of the stories found in Lewis’ new book, I Know Who You Remind Me Of (Enfield & Wizenty, $29.95) came to her in flashes of morbid humour. The writer is nothing if not refreshingly open about the mysterious, varied and occasionally frustrating approaches involved in ushering an idea from imagination to paper.
So while the nine stories in the collection may have thematic links, how they all came to be certainly didn’t follow a set formula.
Flex, for instance, is an intriguing tale that mixes time-travel and young-man malaise. Not unlike most time-travel tales, it took an unusual amount of preplanning and structural scrutiny.
The closing story, Attachment, involves the quirky family drama that surrounds a woman applying to man a cola company’s “first selfcontained extra-atmospheric rocket and skydiving device.”
It began as a novel but was eventually reworked to become a 80-page novella, which is told in the form of a cover letter, resume and endless collection of witheringly personal added “notes.”
It was, as Lewis describes it with a laugh, her “failed novel.” Not that she hasn’t succeeded with that form as well. Her trajectory is actually backwards when compared to most published writers, going from novelist to short-story writer.
Her debut, Cricket in a Fist, was actually written as a collection of short stories when it began life as her master’s thesis at the University of New Brunswick.
Editors at Goose Lane Editions, which eventually published it in 2008, suggested she turn it into a novel.
“I started out writing short stories and I think I’m probably going to write more of them,” she says. “It’s my preferred way to write. There’s a lot more
With a novel, it has to take a certain shape. Also, I lose control with novels. NAOMI K.
freedom. With a novel, it has to take a certain shape. Also, I lose control with novels. There’s a temptation for me to put in too many characters and add too many subplots and tangents. Whereas a short story has to be tidier and simpler.”
The first two stories found in I Know Who You Remind Me Of — Warp and Nix and Six — are told from the point of view of an adolescent girls. But all the stories deal in some way or another with youth or the lingering ramifications of something that happened when the characters were young, whether it be the ill-advised organ donation in Eye or a young protagonist’s equally dubious decision in Warp to pose for a creepy biker’s photography sessions during a depressing family vacation.
“I was interested in writing about youth, especially adolescence, when we are reckless and trying to figure out who we are and our personalities are kind of amorphous,” she says. “I find it kind of funny that we can, as adults, feel nostalgia for times that were really not very pleasant when they were happening.”
Raised in Ottawa, Lewis currently works as an editor for Alberta Views magazine. That followed a stint as the writer-in-residence for Calgary Public Library’s in 2011. I Know Who You Remind Me Of was published as the 2012 Colophon Prize, which comes with $5,000 and a publishing contract with Winnipeg’s Enfield and Wizenty. Past winners have included W.P. Kinsella.
For now, Lewis is working on a followup that will likely be another collection of linked short stories.
“Right now I feel frustrated with the constraints of the novel,” she said. “I don’t know if that’s something I want to do again. I really prefer short stories. It’s too bad that there is not a lot of market for short stories. Publishers aren’t eager to take them on. Agents aren’t eager to take them on and readers aren’t eager to take them on. Which is unfortunate, because it’s a really wonderful medium. It’s not like a lesser form of the novel. Short story writers aren’t failed novelists or wannabe novelists. It’s completely different.”