Friday, November 28, 2014

Two new reviews of Sad Peninsula

So I thought I'd share a couple lovely reviews of Sad Peninsula that came over the Internet transom this week. The first is from blogger Steven Buechler on his site The Library of Pacific Tranquility. In his review, he writes:

This is a frank story told with vivid details. It deals with a lot of desire, hurt and shame. Sampson did a fantastic job with enlightening his readers not only with some of lesser know historical facts about Korea but also with some of the cultural ideals and prejudices that exist there. And in doing so, makes us look at our own failing norms here. A great piece literature that goes beyond what any historical essay or journalistic piece could do.

Meanwhile, over on the book's Goodreads page, author Maria Meindl posted this very touching and beautifully written review. In it, she says:

The book is also dense with issues. At first, the connection between the stories is not explicit, yet the juxtaposition tingles with irony. Michael, seeking to restore his lost pride in a foreign environment, is unaware of the violence unfolding in the rest of the story – and in his host country’s past. The result is a chilling meditation on sex and violence, oppression and love. When the characters finally meet, there are questions about the aftermath of trauma: when and how to talk about it – and ultimately who has the obligation, or right, to tell the story.

Anyway, great to see two more reviews out there in the world, and a big thanks to them both for their thoughts. I'll keep y'all posted if there are any more of these.


Monday, November 24, 2014

Reminder: Reading at Pivot at the Press Club on Wednesday

Hey Toronto readers,

Just a friendly note reminding y'all that I'll be on the bill, along with three other fabulous readers, at Pivot at the Press Club Reading Series this Wednesday as it wraps up its 2014 season. Here are the deets:

When: Wednesday, November 26, 2014
What time: 8 pm start.
Where: The Press Club - 850 Dundas Street West, Toronto
How much: Pwyc (suggested donation: $5)
Readers: Claire Caldwell, Kayla Czaga, Daniel Scott Tysdal and yours truly.
Hosted by: Jacob McArthur Mooney
See the Facebook invitation here.

If you're free Wednesday, come on out. I would love to see you there.


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Review: All Saints, by K.D. Miller

The collection of loosely connected short stories remains a fascinating subgenre of literature, one that still feels ripe with possibilities and permutations. I was reminded of this while reading K.D. Miller’s All Saints this past week, a work of fiction that centres around a struggling Anglican Church in Toronto and the lives that intersect with it. Miller knows two things very well: the effort and precision it takes to make a short story both its own isolated world as well as part of a larger narrative; and the emotional landscape of the Anglican faith, with all its anxieties and contradictions. She weaves these two elements into a powerful whole, creating memorable tales populated by characters full of both doubt and certainty.

Indeed, “doubtful certainty” might be a good way to describe the heart of your average church-going Anglican. Miller’s characters spend much of the time battling competing forces in their lives and trying to reconcile what they want with who they think they are. We see numerous examples of this throughout the book. In the tale “Ecce Cor Meum” (a Latin phrase meaning “Behold My Heart”) a woman named Kelly is in the middle of a health scare at the same time that she’s realizes that she’s in love with the priest at All Saints, a man named Simon. The fear she feels over the small polyp growing on her cervix is pared with the intense confusion she has over her feelings for Simon, feelings that both excite her and make her uncomfortable at the idea of finding love at this advance stage of her life.

In the story “Kim’s Game,” Miller introduces us to a unpublished poet named Owen, who gets roped into going on an excursion to a cabin with some fellow writers after taking a creative writing class at All Saints, and who subsequently gets lost in the woods around the cabin while out for a walk. This is one the strongest pieces in the book: Miller gives us incredible insights into the contradictions of Owen’s inner world: he loves to write but does not publish; he lives alone but seeks companionship; and he is lost (both literally and metaphorically) and yet is hesitant to cry out for help. Miller handles well the central metaphor of this story: that of Kim’s game, a creative writing exercise in which you stare at a number of objects on a table and then turn your back while one is taken away, and then try to identify which one is missing. It’s a clever symbol for Owen himself, who feels unnoticed and discarded by his companions on this trip. Miller also shocks us with a completely unexpected – and rather scatological – ending to this tale that catches us off guard and yet fits so well with where the story was building to.

Speaking of shocking, there is nothing that can quite prepare readers for meeting Miss Alice Vipond, the protagonist of “October Song.” Alice, a former school teacher, is exchanging letters with Simon, the priest at All Saints, where she had attended decades ago as a young girl. We soon learn that Alice is writing these letters from an insane asylum, where she has been incarcerated for most of her life after murdering her entire grade-two class with poisoned juice back in 1957. We only get her side of the letter exchange, but we slowly learn just how deeply complex this woman and her motivations are. “Vipond” as a name may conjure images of a viper, but there is more to Alice than meets the eye. Her murder of these children reminds one of that great quote from science fiction writer J.G. Ballard, “In a completely sane world, madness is the only freedom,” and Miller hints that she may be just as much a victim as anyone. Yet we can also tell that Alice unnerves Simon with questions about his love life, which involves the situation with Kelly touched upon in “Ecce Cor Meum.” The message we’re left with as Alice and Simon’s correspondence peters out is that both acts of love and acts violence are not simple, and sometimes we can put into words the emotions that move or motivate us.

There are similar themes spread throughout All Saints, and it makes for a powerful collection of interlaced stories. Miller writes with quiet grace, and her strong voice leads us through the careful layering of these tales. One of the best books I’ve read this year.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Interview with me on the Jane Day Reader blog

So I thought I'd share this interview with me that was posted earlier today on the Jane Day Reader blog, hosted by the inimitable Ariel Gordon. In this piece, I talk about Sad Peninsula, my days in Korea, my days in Winnipeg, and what I'm working on right now. Thanks for Ariel for conducting the interview. Go check it out! 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Publication: The Fiddlehead

So I was very happy to open my mailbox last night and find  my contributor's copy of the Autumn 2014 issue of The Fiddlehead, which contains a book review from me of The Strangers' Gallery by Paul Bowdring. This huge, expansive and very digressive novel, set in the mid 1990s, is about an archivist living in St. John's who discovers that an old acquaintance he knew fifteen years earlier as a student in Europe has shown up suddenly on his doorstep. The book is full of wonderful writing and lots of beautifully crafted scenes; and while I did find it a bit too digressive at times (the novel is chalk-a-block with tangential asides that take us away from the main narrative), there's no doubt that The Strangers' Gallery is a huge accomplishment. You should go check it out.

I was also pleased to see many familiar names in the Table of Contents: this issue boasts works by Brian Bartlett, Catherine Graham, John Wall Barger, Kerry-Lee Powell and other writers I admire. It also, as you can see, has the recently deceased Alistair MacLeod on the cover, with a number of tributes inside. Anyway, this issue should be on news stands shortly, so you should pick up a copy.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Maritime tour update!

Okay boys and girls, I just wanted to provide you with an update on the book tour I am taking in the Maritimes next month for Sad Peninsula. Some places and times have been confirmed. Here we go:

When: Tuesday, December 16, 2014.
Where: Peter Wilson Common Room, the University of King's College, 6350 Coburg Rd.
What time: 7 pm.
Sales by the King's Bookstore.
Come one come all. See the Facebook invitation.

When: Wednesday, December 17, 2014.
Where: The Confederation Library, 145 Richmond St.
What time: 7 pm.
Sales by the Bookmark.
Come one come all. See the Facebook invitation.

When: Thursday, December 18, 2014.
Where: We are still TBD on this one. The Attic Owl Reading Series, which is hosting the event, recently lost its regular venue and is now searching for a new home. I will post an update as soon as I learn where it will be, as well as who I will be reading with.
What time: 7 pm.
See the Attic Owl Reading Series Facebook page for more details.

That is it for now. So if you are in one of these three cities, please come on out. I would love to see you!


Friday, November 7, 2014

Sad Peninsula review in the Literary Review of Canada

So I'm very excited to report that there is a lengthy review of Sad Peninsula printed in the November issue of the Literary Review of Canada. The review, written by Laurentian University's Tomasz Mrozewski, is not online unfortunately, but here is a sample of what it has to say:

Sad Peninsula, Sampson's second novel, after Off Book, draws on the author's three years in Seoul to paint a fabulously rich picture of expat life revealing what Facebook posts and email from your sons and daughters abroad might not. Sampson's Seoul will be instantly recognizable to many expats, whether they had participated in the hedonistic throb of Itaewon, Hongdae or any one of a dozen bar districts across the country, or just saw their colleagues limp into work after nights filled with cheap drinks and drama.

Mrozewski, who taught in Korea in 2007/08, goes on to praise my characterizations and several of the themes weaving their way through Michael's section of the novel.

The review isn't all positive. In the last quarter or so, it criticizes Eun-young's entire thread of the novel, calling it "dry and didactic" and lacking in the rich nuance of Michael's section. It's interesting to hear a reviewer say this, as the exact opposite critique has been levied against the book from some commenters on Goodreads and Library Thing. It just goes to show that different readers can come at material from different - or, in this case, completely opposite - angles and with different expectations. At any rate, I'm grateful for Mrozewski's honest appraisal of the novel, even the parts he didn't like.

Anyway, the issue of LRC is on news stands now, so go check it out for yourself!


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Reminder: Plasticine Reading Series

Just a reminder, Torontonians, about my next reading event: it's part of the Plasticine Reading Series and will happen on Sunday, November 16 at Pauper's Pub. The line-up looks great and includes my lovely and talented wife Rebecca Rosenblum, along with Phlip Arima and Yvonne Blomer. There will also be an "open mike" portion of the evening, for those whose gate swings that way.

Anyway, see the accompanying flyer for all the deets. It should be a blast. Hope to see you there!


Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Anatomy of Patience

To be a writer is to wait. It seems like that’s a big part of what we do. We wait for inspiration. (Well, I don’t really – though I suspect I’m more promiscuous than some with my inspiration.) We wait for one idea to be become many, and for those ideas to coalesce. We wait for details to emerge, to connect themselves to the larger superstructure of our narrative. We wait for the right time to begin a first draft. We wait until the first draft is done.

We wait through a second draft. And a third. And a fourth. We wait until we’ve rewritten our book so many times we just can’t rewrite it anymore.  We wait a bit, and then we show it to someone we love, an eagle-eyed reader who will be honest and kind to us, but also tough and thorough. Then we wait for her feedback. And when we get it, we rewrite the book once more.

We make a submission, and then we wait. We wait until it comes back, rejected. And then we make another submission. And then we wait. And we wait. And then it comes back, rejected. We wait, and maybe we do another draft. (What is that now, the sixth? The seventh?) And then we make another submission. And we wait. And we wait. And then it comes back, rejected. We wait. Then we make another submission, and we wait. And we wait. And then it comes back.


We wait to sober up. We wait to come down from this high.

Then we wait. We wait for the contract to come. We wait to hear about a launch date, a production schedule. We wait. Then we wait for the editor’s edits. We wait for her to rip the book to shreds and tell us how to put it back together. We wait through that eighth draft. Then we wait for her to tell us how amazing the book is now, and how proud she is to be publishing it. Then we wait for her copyedit.

We wait. We wait for the proofs to come. We wait to get a gander at the cover art. We wait for the launch party venue to be confirmed. We wait. We wait for author copies to arrive. We wait. And then. And then. And then. The book is here. It is there. It is OUT.

And then we wait for the reviews. And we wait.


Okay. So what I’ve described above is an exaggeration, and certainly not indicative of every author’s experience. Lord knows I hold no resentment toward those writers who whip up two or three drafts of a book, get it accepted it right away, and have the thing out six months later to glowing reviews. It happens. But for most authors, understanding the anatomy of patience is vital to their career, and their sanity. This is not really something they teach you in creative writing workshops or master classes in writing, but it’s something that that most writers will have to do. So much of what gets your book into the world involves remaining in a near-perpetual state of polite stasis. If you’re the kind of person who always needs things to happen RIGHT NOW, then writing and publishing literary fiction may not be for you.

Sad Peninsula - draft 1. What a mess.
I meet these types from time to time, these Johnny Rush-Rushes, and they always gape at me when I tell them how long it took to get each of my novels out, start to finish. Seven years. Each. They’ll ask: How is this possible? And I kind of explain it, and I kind of make excuses. For the first book, I did stop and go do a master’s degree, so there’s that. With the second book, my latest, it was different. There was a lot more research to do, and a lot more complexity to the narrative. When people read Sad Peninsulaif they read it – I hope they’ll walk away thinking that, yes, I can see how that book took seven years, start to finish.    

But many won’t. That’s okay. I think it’s perfectly natural to stroll through the aisles of your local Indigo and not be aware of just how much time, effort and, yes, patience it takes to get a book out. This may be the furthest thing from your mind, especially as you spot those 28% off stickers.

But here’s the thing: if you want to write, or if you do write and you’ve kind of hit a wall with your novel, you need to know how to be intimate with the anatomy of patience. You need to touch every groove, every hollow, every long, slow swell of its chest. You have to know every square inch of an empty mailbox. You need to know the acidy dread that every writer knows of finding an envelope in that mailbox with your address written in your own handwriting. And most of all, you need to know that wherever you are with your book – maybe you’re stuck on the ending, or its opening sentence, or you’re waiting endlessly to hear back from a publisher, or you’re lost somewhere inside the fourth draft – that place still only represents a small part of the corpus of waiting that lies ahead for you. To write is to wait. It’s what you do. So get on with it. Get on with the work that comes with waiting.

Fair draft of Sad Peninsula, marked up by my wife.
Okay. That sounds a bit harsh. In the interest of providing some solace, I’d like to share something with you. Like I said, the scenario I described above is a bit of an exaggeration. So for what it’s worth, let me show you the exact timeline, based on my memory and my chapter logs, of Sad Peninsula. Actually, this will be kind of boring, so you can stop reading here if you’re not really interested. But if you are, I think this might give you an idea of how much persistence it might take, to put a book out.

Initial idea(s)

First half of 2006: The idea or ideas for the book begin to emerge in my mind while I’m living in Australia. My first novel has yet to be accepted for publication, so I’m pretty skeptical about whether I’ve got the chops to pull off what is clearly a complex narrative emerging out of these ideas. I convince myself that, nope, I’m not good enough to write that book. Nope. Forget it. Not going to happen.

Second half of 2006: Okay, fine. Maybe it’s going to happen. Maybe. Well, no. Nope. Well, maybe. What if I just stuck a toe in, began doing a bit of research into Korea’s comfort women and doing a character sketch of Michael, my protagonist. Let’s see.

Research and character sketching

2007 and early 2008: Okay, fine. Definitely going to write this book. What the hell. Research is incredible, harrowing. So many ideas rushing in. Also: not only have I created Michael’s character, but now Eun-young’s has emerged as well. More character sketching – all the secondary characters. Learn everything about them.  More research. Harrowing stuff. How can I write this? How can I write this? How can I not?

1st draft

April  15, 2008 – Michael chapter 1

April 25, 2008 – Michael chapter 2

May 2, 2008 – Eun-young chapter 1

May 22, 2008 – Eun-young chapter 2

Juy 7, 2008 – Polished first two chapters enough to make submissions for grants and literary agents. Failed to secure either.

August 6, 2008 – Michael chapter 3

September 4, 2008 – Eun-young chapter 3

October 15, 2008 – Michael chapter 4

November 4, 2008 – Eun-young chapter 4

November 28, 2008 – Michael chapter 5

December 10, 2008 – Eun-young chapter 5

January 15, 2009 – Eun-young chapter 6

January 23, 2009 – Eun-young chapter 7

February 6, 2009 – Eung-young chapter 8

February 21, 2009 – Eun-young chapter 9

March 11, 2009 – Eun-young chapter 10

April 8, 2009 – Michael chapter 6

April 17, 2009 – Michael chapter 7

May 4, 2009 – Michael chapter 8

May 23, 2009 – Michael chapter 9

June 11, 2009 – Michael chapter 10

July 6, 2009 – Michael chapter 11

July 27, 2009 – Eun-young chapter 11

August 17, 2009 – Michael chapter 12 (UNFINISHED!!)

September 21, 2009 – Eun-young chapter 12

October 16, 2009 – Michael chapter 13

November 4, 2009 – Eun-young chapter 13

2nd draft

December 11, 2009 – Chapters 1 and 2

January 7, 2010 – Chapter 3

January 29, 2010 – Chapter 4

February 12, 2010 – Chapter 5

March 2, 2010 – Chapter 6

March 23, 2010 – Chapter 7

April 8, 2010 – Chapter 8

April 14, 2010 – Chapter 9

April 30, 2010 – Chapter 10

May 26, 2010 – Chapter 11

June 1, 2010 – Chapter 12

June 7, 2010 – Chapter 13

June 23, 2010 – Chapter 14

August 6, 2010 – Chapter 15

August 17, 2010 – Chapter 16

August 27, 2010 – Chapter 17

September 8, 2010 – Chapter 18

September 22, 2010 – Chapter 19

October 1, 2010 – Chapter 20

October 22, 2010 – Chapter 21

October  29, 2010 – Chapter 22

November 11, 2010 – Chapter 23

3rd draft

February 2, 2011 – full edit completed

4th draft

March 24, 2011 – Rebecca’s suggestions incorporated up to chapter 10

March 29, 2011 – The rest of Rebecca’s suggestions

April 4, 2011 – Art’s suggestions incorporated

April 14, 2011 – More suggestions from Rebecca

(Other friends' feedback comes later)


April 18, 2011 – Submission to Publisher #1

August 29, 2011 – Decision from Publisher #1 – rejected!

September 12, 2011 – Submission to Publisher #2

May 2, 2012 – Decision from Publisher #2 – accepted!! Ack – this shit’s getting real!

5th draft

July 17, 2013 – Sad Peninsula sub-edits

September 18, 2013 – Sad Peninsula edits finished

6th draft

December 13, 2013 – Sad Peninsula copyedit done


January 7, 2014 – First proofs

February 12, 2014 – Cover finalized

Late February, 2014 – Advance reading copies (ARCs) sent out

Pre Launch

Mid August, 2014 – first advance reviews appear. This shit is getting real!

Late August, 2014 – Author copies arrive. This shit is getting really real!


September 6, 2014 – Book officially goes on sale. ACK!!!!

September 30, 2014 – Launch party in Toronto. Double ACK!!!
The final product. Imagine!