The 2015 Alpha Textbooks Short Story Contest officially launches today. It’s an opportunity for Ontario teens to share their work with peers, but also to get published in the Claremont Review, an international journal for young writers.
We love youth fiction at Alpha Textbooks, and we’re stoked about receiving all the great entries. If you plan on submitting, we hope to equip you with guidance and encouragement.
We asked Canadian author Alex Leslie about her experience as a young writer. Leslie shared valuable insight and great writing tips that we think will aid and inspire students as they write their stories for the contest. Take a look at her responses below.
Alex Leslie lives in Vancouver, British Columbia. Her first collection of short stories, People Who Disappear (2012, Freehand Books), was a finalist for the 2013 ReLit Award for Short Stories and the Lambda Literary Award for LGBT debut fiction. She is also the author of Things I Heard About You (2014, Nightwood Editions), a poetry collection, shortlisted for the 2014 Robert Kroetsch award for innovative poetry and microfiction chapbook Twenty Objects For The New World. In 2015, she received the Dayne Ogilvie Award from the Writers’ Trust of Canada. A writer of all genres, Leslie is also an editor, a writing workshop facilitator and she previously taught writing fiction at Langara University.
Alpha: When did you first know you wanted to be a writer? When did you start writing?
Leslie: I was a little kid when I first wanted to be a writer. I read a lot as a kid. I started writing in elementary school. At first I wrote shorter stories, stuff like writing about my neighbours and writing about a coin that talked. I wrote a lot in high school too and got into poetry, which I then stopped writing until my mid 20’s. I wrote a lot of journalism in undergrad. I was the features editor of my campus newspaper. I actually recommend doing this if you’re in undergrad because you will be forced to write a lot with short deadlines. In terms of “professional” creative writing, I placed my first short story in a literary journal when I was 22. That journal was Descant. All my stuff had been rejected by journals for a couple years. That first published story was totally random. It was based on an anecdote from a social acquaintance about a family member of hers. Then I continued publishing here and there in journals. When I was 26, I sold my collection of short stories to Freehand Books. That’s how I got started in a nutshell. You need to be persistent and just keep working on your stuff and sending it out.
Do you ever experience writer’s block? If so, what are some tips you would suggest for writer’s block?
Be honest with yourself. You will feel blocked when there is not a clear connection between you and the piece of work. What is the blockage? Are you trying to “sound right”? Is there something else you could be writing right now that would come out easier, faster? What do you actually want to write? You can write anything! Do you actually want to be writing Facebook statuses about how much you dislike your neighbour and speculate about the sources of their horrible personality? Do it! You could take an article from the newspaper and scratch out words and then write a poem with the words that are left over. You could write a short story in the form of an open letter to your ex. I think writer’s block is almost always that we are not writing what is actually real and right beside you in your life. What is closest to you? Also, never worry about structure while you are writing. Write from the ending, or the middle, of the story. John Cage said, “Start anywhere.” Just get it on the page. Record yourself with your iPhone talking to your mom or dad or sibling or friend and transcribe the conversation and see what happens! The more you try things and follow your nose, the more you will learn how to listen to your own instincts and intuition — this is what it’s all about. When something makes you feel good, you should do more of that.
Where did you gather inspiration to write your very first collection of short stories People Who Disappear?
From my life, from the lives of people around me, from the newspaper, from my imagination. Your material can come from anywhere. It comes from being open.
In your bio you mention that you are a cross-genre writer. What is your favourite genre to write in? And why?
I started saying I am a cross-genre writer because I publish poetry and fiction and sometimes I publish experimental work that is somewhere in between. I don’t have a favourite genre. I think some stories need to be poems. I like this flexibility in my writing. If something isn’t working, it’s always OK to stop.
What advice would you give to a young aspiring writer looking to write a short story?
Is there something that you understand in a different way than other people? That other people just don’t get the way you do? Explain it. Is there a story someone has told you that you think would be terrible if it was lost? Write it down. You don’t need something capital-I Important to write about. If you write about something in close detail and make it beautiful with words, that makes it important.