Writer in Residence

Michael Winter's collages

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I spent half of March writing a very long abstract (1,200 words) for an essay I was going to present at some conference but I just heard back today and they said no. Two weeks of work for nothing? (Not quite.) I wish I could say that this is unusual but I’ve spent not weeks but years working for nothing. (Not quite.) Short stories, articles on spec, an occasional essay, and, of course entire novels. I used to say that all that writing was like training for a marathon—writing anything strengthens the muscle that will occasionally lift a story or a book or an essay into getting published. So no huge regrets. And I’ve used parts of novels to turn into stories. One of the recent submission has been parsed to five different short stories and there’s still some “meat” left there to re-purpose into a short story or two. A writer has to be industrious. It’s okay to feel like a failure for short time but don’t let rejections destroy you—they are part of the deal. And all that writing is for something—even if nothing out of your efforts gets published for now, at least you tried and you exercised enough to be able to run the whole distance one day (a published piece). As for my very long abstract, I am turning it into an essay I’ll be submitting soon. Maybe it’ll get rejected, maybe it won’t but at least I’m trying.

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Let's move on to another author who is also a visual artist. I’ve admired this writer’s work for years now—I recall seeing his paintings more than a decade ago and being in awe and recently he’s been doing exquisite collages, sketches and watercolours which he publishes on his Instagram . Michael Winter grew up in Newfoundland and now lives 10 months of the year in Toronto. He can hardly believe it. He’s also written seven books.

Can you tell me about your art.

Right now I’ve been doing a lot of collage. I paint strips of heavy watercolour paper, let them dry, then cut them up and glue them to make scenes. I either copy these scenes from what’s in front of me or I use photographs that I’ve taken.

Why do you do it?

There is something terribly satisfying about capturing light, either light on a landscape or the shape of someone’s shoulder. To move the scissors around a shape like that, and have it be accurate to how you see it, that’s a powerful act of creation.

Does it help with writing?

It’s very similar to the writing I do, which is all about trapping how people say things, the predicaments people find themselves in, the contrast between drama and humour, merging a background with a foreground. Those situations and contrasts are similar to light and shadow and distance and intimacy. Collage paper is very different from actual light on objects, so translating from one medium (direct experience) into another (paper) – that transcription and forming a chiarascuro – that is quite similar to the crests and troughs and action and reflection I try to create in paragraphs.

Would you ever abandon one art form for another?

I see making art and writing paragraphs as acts that encourage one another. It would be cutting something off, to abandon one practise for the sake of the other.

Do you have formal training and have you ever made living from it (how?) or is it “just” for you?

I’ve known painters and have sketched with artists and have listened to them give advice. I’ve never sold anything I’ve made. There is so little pressure for my visual art to be modern or for me to know the history of what has come before – that lack of professional “cutting edge” practise allows me to be loosey goosey and to create, heaven forbid, things like sunsets (see below). I mean, imagine writing a sunset! Or, if I was a serious artist, how can one get away with painting a sunset. Impossible! But here I go making one because I’m not an artist.

Who is your favourite artist and why?

A friend showed me the work of Alex Katz. And I love his collages from the 1950s.

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The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.