From the Slush Pile: Michael Ondaatje and Me

Since serving as Associate Editor at Hayden’s Ferry Review, I continue to keep a finger on the pulse of the literary offerings at the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing.

I’m thankful for my experiences at Piper and the friends and colleagues I’ve met along the way.

Michael Ondaatje and Me

While my title contained the word editor, in moments of self-loathing, I saw myself more of a slush pile determiner. Part of me was unsettled by the idea, since I hated to think of my own submissions landing in a slush pile somewhere.

But I soon embraced the task behind the official job that I set for myself: to understand what made a great read.

I learned that the job of editor and writer are different, and if all I learned was that the writer in me should please step out of the room when the editor walked in that was a great starting point.

As I read hundreds of submissions through the years, I continuously asked myself questions such as these:

What makes story?

What keeps me reading?

Why did I put that story down?

Why did I throw that story down?  (Was it me—or get over yourself— was it the writer?)  And if I threw it down, should I consider that what made it provocative or turned me off might be worthy of passing it further up the editorial chain?

Was there enough balance between the scene and information?

Was the dialogue realistic?

Was the literary aesthetic just right? (How do you quantify or qualify such a thing?)

Was the piece inventive enough without being overwrought or device dependent?

I think this is probably enough for an over-coffee blog read this morning. But these are the questions I began researching and putting to good use in my stories. In short, learning how to read critically lends itself to better writing.

As for more payoff in my literary association with the Piper House, salute to photographer  Kevin Moul from  for capturing me with one of my literary heroes, Michael Ondaatje.

At this book signing, Michael and I are chatting up some stomping grounds we each knew of in Toronto.

There’s more, but I’ll leave that between Michael and me. But, let’s have some fun:

Can you recreate what might have been said when a student and lover of literature meets the man who’s writings and imagined memoirs she spent grad school deconstructing? (Think The English Patient, Running in the Family…)

In gratitude to Kevin and the folks at Piper.


Thanking Michael Ondaatje

3 thoughts on “From the Slush Pile: Michael Ondaatje and Me

  1. OK, I have been thinking about this for a few days now (I took the question very seriously!). Although I cannot think of what was exactly said, I’m sure they weren’t the normal questions people would ask. I bet you asked a safe question, and then slowly, asked another, then another, slowly peeling away at the layers. That would be my guess.


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