The Spring QWF Writers in Complex Times
There was a meme going around on IG a few months ago: May you live in interesting times. The person who was sharing it didn’t know it was a curse. But isn’t that the way with curses, especially those of the fairy tale kind. May your child grow up beautiful and strong, but then you must hand them over to me.
I’m not sure there were ever times that weren’t complex. If not globally, then locally; if not politically, then personally. And why should we wish otherwise––isn’t it through confrontation and friction that stories are made?
I’m delighted to share this collection of pieces from the first Font issue for 2023.
These contributors, members of the Quebec Writers’ Federation, are at different stages in their careers and are tackling different forms and media––poetry, prose, film, audio––but I’m sensing a theme.
Liam Durcan’s narrator in Shards is overcomplicating, and ruining, his relationship with his daughter. Scott Anthony’s Fucking Writers warns us about transactional relationships, even the artistic kind. Especially the artistic kind. Val Rwigema’s afrofuturistic Inkotanyi reminds us that being the chosen one doesn’t always end well, while Afrooz Zaad dreams of a better future in When. In Sal Eigh’s short film, The Girls of Bathroom B, the tensions of just being together can be a lot. Priya Choudhuri warns us that Sugar is not so sweet, and in Derek Webster’s The Writing on the Wall, the words are erased. Ross Murray makes peace with Visiting My Book at the Pharmacy.
The QWF is teeming with talent and we’re proud to share this selection of amazing artists with you. Spring is on its way, a time of curiosity and courage. We’ll need it because hey, we really do live in interesting times.
When being alive is an act of resistance.
When loving someone is an act of resistance
and being loved,
even by a cat
or a dog.
When having a pet.
When going to therapy is an act of resistance.
When the sound of your voice is an act of resistance.
When making your best friend laugh
is an act of resistance.
When sleeping is an act of resistance, and dreaming.
drinking clean water
taking your pills
cooking something you like.
When hugging and kissing.
When touching your own body
having a body.
Breathing, eating, having sex, hearing, seeing, thinking, knowing,
asking, shouting, crying, trying
When not dying
is an act of resistance.
It is exhausting.
But you’ll do it
because it’s an act of resistance.
Sugar: puja for the inner child
Sugar: puja for the inner child
At times, the wind takes out my fire
only when swift and harsh
sudden stark dark.
But that’s what nature does.
We annihilate each other
leaving bare grounds
with no sound in sight.
And just when we feel its over
we rebuild each other.
Life is not meant to be easy.
To ask life to be simple is suffering.
Life is suffering.
We are hurting beings.
We are surrounded by hurting beings.
Give your pain eye contact,
listen to it weep.
Putting out your pain
is putting out your fire.
Pain is joy
Joy is pain
Pain is joy
Pain is the sap
in life’s throat
Sugar, sugar, sugar
Visiting My Book at The Pharmacy
Two days before Christmas, I went to the pharmacy. I can say “the pharmacy” and mean it because where I live there is only one pharmacy. There’s “the pharmacy,” “the daycare,” “the bank.” When I moved to Stanstead thirty years ago, there were five banks in what was then referred to as The Three Villages. Now we’re all one village with only one bank. There were eight churches when I arrived. You can’t quite say “the church” yet, but check with me later.
While at the pharmacy, I came across a lone copy of my novel, A Hole in the Ground. It sat on a shelf of miscellany beside combination coin purse/key rings sets and a pack of tea lights. I self-published the novel in 2016, and it looks like it. Pro-tip: never design your own book cover. The image looks like algae soup. That’s because it is algae soup, and there’s a turtle in there, covered in algae. A lot of green.
Still, it was nice to see it again. I had dropped off the books some time ago, one of the few places in town where people could purchase a copy. I also left a few at the grocery store.
The book looked exactly like you’d imagine a book sitting on a shelf for six years would look like, complete with dog-eared cover and bruised pages. And yet it was still going for the full cover price of $18. No one’s going to buy it looking like that. I thought about switching it out for a cleaner copy. After all, I have a box full of them at the house. But even a pristine copy is unlikely to find a home at this point.
A barely read self-published novel with a ragged vomity cover sitting on a dingy shelf of doodads in a declining border town’s only pharmacy. That’s what you call a successful Eastern Townships writer.
I say this with only partial irony. It’s true I sometimes walk into the stacks at the library and visit my book on the shelves, “Murray” cozying up to “Murakami,” and imagine that kind of global success magically transferring over to me. Further down the shelves I’ll find a row of Louise Penny, a truly successful Eastern Townships writer, no irony, and I try not to feel resentful, because Louise is by all accounts a lovely person and supportive of her adopted region and deserving of every stinking dollar she’s earned.
And really, I am a successful Eastern Townships writer! I have been writing here for thirty years, steadily in the public eye and actually earning, certainly not a living, but some money at least. Have I mentioned you can buy my book at the pharmacy?
I’m a successful Eastern Townships writer who is virtually unknown in Montreal, although they might have heard of me in “the regions,” as CBC likes to call it. From my work on the Quebec Community Network, a few Quebec City anglos know me. I’m big in Blanc-Sablon.
I’m okay with this. Being an Eastern Townships writer has always been enough. Because I knew I was needed and appreciated. I’ve written about my life in the Townships precisely for Townshippers, a small audience who never take their writers for granted. From time to time, one of them will come up to me and say, “I like your writing. I don’t always understand it but I like it.”
My 2019 play All Together Now was based on the local legend that the Beatles almost reunited here on the border at the Haskell Free Library. The comedy was filled with regional references for regional audiences to recognize and thrill at. Themselves! Their story! It was the artistic highlight of my career and a play that will likely never play anywhere else. And that’s okay. That’s why I’m here. I’m a successful Eastern Townships writer. A medium-sized fish in a small pond.
But the pond is drying up. The English-speaking population is ageing, moving out, going the way of potlucks and ploughing matches. A writer needs an audience, even a small one. What happens when the last English newspaper closes, or when there’s no more pharmacy for my books to be ignored at?
It’s not imminent. It may not even happen. Townshippers are hopeful till the end, even the writers. Especially the writers, forever delusional. Hey, I bet someday I’ll go to “the pharmacy” and my gross-green book will be gone!
In the meantime, we’ll keep writing, successful in our own way, here in the Townships, as we have been all along, until one of us in the end is simply known as “the writer.”
It can’t rain all the time. Whoever said that had never been here. The downpour hammered as I walked to the provided address. Why did these fucking writers always pick the weirdest places to do interviews? For once, I’d just like to meet in a hotel bar, or for brunch. That would be nice. Fat chance. They need to set the mood. They need to be rough, on the fringe.
This one is most definitely from the middle-class burbs. I’ve heard the stories. We’ll probably be competing for the same Uber once we’re done here and heading back to the same side of town. But this meeting was a big deal. Jess had never been interviewed before, never said yes to anyone until now. Reached out to me directly. I had been sure it was a joke but was told to take it seriously. Just in case.
The Lounge was an after-hours speakeasy. There was no signage. Just a solid grey door with a brass handle. I pulled on it. Locked. A small panel slid open. “Yeah?”
“Are you kidding me?”
The panel started to close.
“I’m here to meet Jess.”
The panel slammed shut and the door slowly opened. Fucking drama.
“Straight down the hall, in a booth on the left.”
The hall was lined with thick red-velvet curtains leading to an opening. I walked into a dark lounge ringed by circular booths and lit by flickering stained-glass candles. The bar was on the right. The bartender pointed me towards Jess’s booth. “Nice place.” Intimidated despite myself.
Why me? I knew Jess needed a win. He needed to get back into the spotlight. Another book was long overdue. His last novel, Cicatrice, about a serpent borne from an old wound, had been both critically acclaimed and popular, which was rare for a book of this type. I thought it was a dark piece of dog shit, but whatever. Maybe he had something new. Still, it was a weird way of getting it out there.
I hated writers. I’ve watched them ever since I was a child. They would come to my little town, to “retreat” and “write.” They all came looking for their muse. They rarely found it. But the town made its money.
“Nice place,” I said. I picked up one of the two martinis on the table. Jess watched me bring it to my lips. It was heavier than I expected and better than it had any right to be. I started reaching for my bag. Jess put a hand on mine. “Do you have any scars?”
“I saw in the news that you were in an accident a few years ago, a car crash, on a bridge. You lost your wife that night. Do you have any scars?”
Jess grabbed me by the hand and pulled me towards the back of the lounge. He was saying something about needing to see them now. “The interview depends on it,” he repeated a few times. One never knew what was going to happen during an interview. I usually just went with it. There was a time when I might have said no but it was way past that now. Besides, it might make a great story.
He pulled me into the restroom and pushed me against the sink. “Take off your pants. Show me the scar. The one on your leg.” How did he know? My belt buckle hit the floor, my jeans puddled around my ankles. He dropped to his knees, pushed his right hand into my crotch, mostly for support. He didn’t seem into what was going on in that hand. With his other hand, he searched for the large scar on my right leg. When he found it, he squeezed my cock a little through my white briefs.
“I want to get a closer look. Put your hand on the back of my neck. Hold on to the scruff. Do it. Don’t let go. Do. Not. Let. Go.”
He stopped moving as soon as my hand closed on his neck. His finger slowly trailed the scars. Whenever his fingers were stopped by scar tissue, his other hand squeezed, hard. Surprised, I let go. As my hand fell away, and my orgasm erupted between his fingers, I felt a sharp pain in my leg. I looked down. Jess had bitten into my scar. He pulled back, flesh dangling from his mouth.
“I told you not to let go.”
But I got my interview.
Every day of my life has been the same, but today is different. For the first time, I dreamt. I am dancing, a child in my arms, skin the same glistening shade of ebony as mine. Someone calls to me. They bring the sun, I know they love me. The dream ends, I never see their face. Who are they? A yearning manifests in my chest as tears wet my cheeks.
I must not get distracted. It is the most important day of my life––my initiation ceremony, the end of my eighteenth solar return. Two servants enter my room.
“Good morning!” I see that there is a third person accompanying them. “Oracle?”
The servants open the curtains, make the bed, lay out my robes. One of them draws a bath. During this, the Oracle stands silently, expression unreadable. I begin disrobing, but Inès, one of the servants, stops me.
“Sacred One, it is us who must undertake today’s cleansing ritual.” She removes my garments while Doris, the other servant, discards them out of sight.
I step into the bath, letting out a sharp breath at the searing temperature. Doris and Inès scrub every inch of my skin. They insist on flossing and brushing my teeth, which I think is a little much, but I comply. Today is a special day, after all. They apply golden shea butter over my skin in an almost agonizingly slow process. I am lost in thought imagining what the ceremony will be like.
“It is time.”
I almost jump. “Forgive me, Oracle. I had forgotten you were there.”
“It is time,” they repeat in a softer voice.
“Yego, I am ready.” Out of habit, I head towards the chambers where I usually attend my lessons.
“Not that way, Sacred One,” Doris calls out. “Mwami Immaculée awaits in the incubation room.”
“The incubation room?”
“Yes, child. The very room in which you were born.” The Oracle looks at me knowingly.
We walk silently down the hall. Oracle walks next to me, hands clasped. Inès and Doris remain a customary five feet behind us, but I feel their silent excitement. People bow as we pass, acknowledging me as “Sacred One.”
“We do not have much time,” Oracle whispers. “Iradukunda, I am the one who named you, I am the vessel of the goddesses. I wish I could have told you sooner, but I am bound. Your destiny is not that of your predecessors. There is a fork in your path. It will be difficult, as it is against your very nature to deviate, but there is no going back. Inkotanyi, child of the universe.”
I stare at them. The servants seem oblivious. “I don’t understand,” I dare to say. But by the Oracle’s blank expression I know that their consciousness is no longer on this plane. We enter a room I’ve never seen, Mwami Immaculée is standing in its centre. She reaches out her hand for me to kiss.
“Mother Ruler, I have arrived,” I say. She caresses my face affectionately.
“Lay down, my child,” Mwami Immaculée gestures to a padded white table. I obey.
“Oracle, summon the celestial being,” Mother Ruler instructs.
The celestial being? Our people’s contract with the celestial being serves only one purpose. I try to interrupt.
“Silence, child.” She holds her hands above her as Oracle draws symbols on the floor.
I recognize immediately that this is a dissemination ceremony. The celestial being is going to absorb my body and soul and disperse my life energy to Mother’s subjects. A panic quickens my breath as the lights begin to manifest above us.
“No, please. Mother Ruler. Mama! I don’t want this. I didn’t know!”
She remains calm. “This is a great honour, Iradukunda. We have been preparing you for this since your birth.”
Paralyzed by fear, I plead silently. No, it’s not true. How can you be okay with this? Why did you never reveal this? Please, mama.
But the signs were there. Did I never wonder why I wasn’t allowed to play with the other children? The strict diet that was imposed on me? My strange lessons? “Wait! I had a dream. I was living, thriving. I had a lover, and a child. It must have been a premonition. I’m not supposed to share the same fate as my ancestors!” But she remains calm.
“Your purpose was always to serve the colony. Be grateful for the privilege your line was granted. You will live on in all of us.”
A high pitched ringing fills the room, and the light gets brighter. It’s watching me, I see its essence.
The Girls of Bathroom B
Who am I and what am I doing here? I was at Toronto Metropolitan University (then known as Ryerson) doing media production and design, where I spent a few months behind the scenes learning the technical aspects of production: lighting, angles, editing. But my head was in another place and I wasn’t paying attention the way I should have been. A few personal crises later, I transferred schools on a whim and wound up studying history and French linguistics. Then I veered again and took a programming bootcamp and became a professional web developer.
When I decided to make my first short film back in the summer of 2020, I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. Or rather, I’d forgotten what I was getting myself into. I’ve been learning everything from scratch since then. Basically, I both am and am not a trained filmmaker.
FONT: How was your experience as a mentee for the QWF screenwriting workshop?
First let me say that I was surprised to discover how many artist-run centres there are in this city for emerging creators. Main Film, AQPM, Kino Montreal, the QWF––they’ve all been super supportive and helpful.
My mentor in the QWF screenwriting mentorship workshop was Jerry Wexler, who has had a lot of experience in the industry, including episodes of Are You Afraid of the Dark. I was in awe and it was a lot of fun. He always had good feedback for me and was full of industry anecdotes. I actually wish I’d been a better mentee, because at the time I was prepping to shoot The Girls of Bathroom B, so I was a bit scatter-brained. That said, having access to a constant stream of constructive criticism was useful and I recognise that if I don’t have an external party looking at my work in a progressive sort of manner, I get way too bogged down in the weeds and then tap out with writer’s block. It was an awesome program and I wish there were more of them!
FONT: Is there a filmmaker whose style you really admire?
I used to just watch movies at random––whatever piqued my interest. But then my husband (director Jonathan Degousée) introduced me to the work of Jean-Pierre Melville, the postwar French film noir director, and it’s been a crash course in cinema history since then. That sounds poncy but it’s been fun, because there’s literally decades of stuff I could go through and learn from. It’s not boring in the way it was in a purely academic setting.
That said, when I first saw Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused at thirteen years old, I felt that sudden flash of “Ok, there’s something more to this movie stuff than me laughing hysterically at whatever’s on the screen.”
Mathieu Kassovitz’s La Haine was another lightbulb switched on. Bong-Joon Ho’s Memories of Murder and Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight hit a couple other notes for me. And then there’s the usual favourites: Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson, etc. Jean-Pierre Jeunet is always fun too. What can I say, I’m in an exploratory stage right now! But now that I’m seeing this list, I should probably diversify my palette and take a look at what some women have directed!! I can see I’m just scratching the surface here.
FONT: You’ve written screenplays as well. Have any of them been produced by other people?
Not yet, but I’m in the process of pitching to a few producers and I have a couple pretty hot leads! Main Film’s PRISME program was really great for that; I can’t thank them enough for putting together such an awesome group of people and connections.
FONT: How important is the screenplay to your process?
Writing is critical, because I take my time fleshing out how a character sounds in my head. But then I also enjoy working with performers afterwards to see what they bring to a scene, tweaking the dialogue with them, then locking down a finalish version of the script. I say “finalish” because I’m not opposed to ad-libbing depending on the situation!
FONT: What do you have lined up next?
I’m dipping my toes back into a few screenplay ideas––a web series, a feature film, a TV pilot––just to mess around and see what comes out. We’ll see where my chat with the producers I met through PRISME ends up! I’m also in the middle of trying to find some financing for my husband’s first feature-length narrative, so it’ll be a hectic few months as we submit grant applications (I did the story editing and helped write some of the dialogue for it, but now that I’m the producer, it’s definitely a big jump from short films). I’m just crossing my fingers and throwing work at the wall until something sticks. And of course I’ve got to still keep up with my nine-to-five!
The Writing on the Wall
The graffiti eraser in Montreal
blasts the red brick wall with water,
erases Vive le Québec libre.
Earlier this week he scrubbed off fugg it
and baise-moi, stencils of tanks and skulls,
a few fat dicks, one whore, sixteen illegible tags,
three anglo go home and a dozen amour.
He applies milky soap to one-eyed feelings,
the mad skilz and torqued hate
learned in school or bar. Sprayed again,
the wall explodes into pictures:
a palm tree, in a Lotto Max sky—
Bob Marley’s smiling, dreadlocked head—
fireworks on la fête nationale—
something to fear. The generator cuts
and a secular silence fills the civic moment.
Slicker open, the man smokes by his van
as toxins leach from the wall
and the fading words almost disappear.
But what does it matter? They will return.
A thing notwithstanding is always there.