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.”

John Ma­jors

Naomi K. Lewis has re­leased a col­lec­tion of short sto­ries.

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