More about Candas Jane Dorsey and Prairie Starport

Candas as Conversationalist

We recently celebrated the release of Prairie Starport: Stories in Celebration of Candas Jane Dorsey but some of the contributors wanted to do something a bit more. And so for the next few Fridays my blog is going to feature more stories about Candas and the anthology in the form of guest posts for a mini blog series I’m calling:
More about Candas Jane Dorsey and Prairie Starport

Candas as Conversationalist

by Ursula Pflug

Candas included me in a few wonderful anthologies back when I was a baby writer, inclusions that were meaningful and inspired me to stay with the struggle, the way early sales can. We met in ’86, at a workshop Judith Merril facilitated in Peterborough, even though many of us were Torontonians. Judy knew people in the Patch, and found us both housing and a workshop location at the George Street Peter Robinson residences, empty for the summer. One night we all went for dinner to a little cafe on the north side of Charlotte Street. I ordered linguine with clam sauce, all the rage back then; now we cringe at all that white flour. Judy and Candas talked animatedly about books and people the rest of us had never heard of, but also took the time to compliment my little son on his Osh Kosh overalls. He was smitten.

I loved the work Candas brought–fragments which, much later, became part of A Paradigm Of Earth. Some books just need to be written. They tell you so right away, and you have to keep at them whether you want to or not, sometimes for years. The piece I brought to that workshop was a fragment of The Alphabet Stones. Of all the early work of mine that Judy was kind enough to read and comment on, it was the one she said I had to write. It’s a novel that has so many layers and weavings in an out of my life and Eastern Ontario that it took me decades to say what wanted saying, but I’d guess it’s partly because of Candas and Judy’s enthusiasm that it got done. It’s only we ourselves who can do the work, but in the case of a novel, we’re skipping while someone else turns the ropes, and their chanting the rhymes keeps us going.

It was an oddly prophetic trip, because a year or so later my husband and I left Toronto with our little son to rent my father’s country place, a farm in Norwood east of Peterborough, a city I barely knew beyond that trip with a motley crew of aspiring SF and F writers. It was as though Judy had blessed a choice I didn’t even know I was making–I know that sounds twee but it’s a feeling I got from her more than once. Judy and Doug would go to the Hangman in the evenings, and sometimes I joined them for half an hour if I couldn’t get the baby to sleep. Her wholehearted approval of Doug meant something too, as I didn’t have a mother to tell me I’d chosen well.

I feel a little teary now, maybe because the things I’m writing about happened so long ago, and because of all the loss between now and then; Doug and I are at the age when you lose people you really liked much more often than you’d prefer.

Candas published my first novel, the inter-dimensional turtle tale Green Music, when she and Timothy Anderson were proprietors at Tesseract Books, before it became Edge. It didn’t occur to me to include an excerpt from that, even though there are several stand-alones which appeared in places like Now Magazine, Quarry and Infinity Plus. Rather, I chose a piece which she included in Prairie Fire SF, a special issue she edited in conjunction with ConAdian, the 1994 Winnipeg Worldcon.

“One Day I’m Gonna Give Up the Blues For Good,” the near future story (or maybe it’s an alternate world–in my short fiction there’s often a blur there) reprinted in this antho, talks about Ryoan-ji, the famous Zen Garden in Kyoto. I had not yet been there when I wrote the story, and the name of the garden wasn’t mentioned in the original published version, though the place was nevertheless recognizable by context. In the story the garden is filled with stillness, raked gravel around stones, whereas when I was there it was teeming with visitors. My niece and I shot video, and I’d link to it here, but the famous stones are barely visible because of the crowd. Japan is a place of crowds–I probably noticed this more because I relocated to an empty part of Ontario decades ago.

Candas and I have spent the last few months editing The Food Of My People, a story collection for Exile, though that title may change. It’s inspired by a short story of Candas’s which appeared in my previous antho for Exile, The Playground of Lost Toys, which I co-edited with Colleen Anderson. There’s a lot of reading and detail work when you’re working on an antho, and back and forth with your co-editor and your authors–there you are, attending to your life and your family and work commitments and trying to squeeze the book into the corners. There were moments I felt stretched–this happens to all of us–and then I’d remember I was working with Candas–or she’d remind me, with a couple of yummy lines in an email that were OT but even more delicious because of it.

Candas is one of those people you can have a conversation with that you drop for a year or many years and then pick back up–because you both remember it as a talk worth having, the kind that brings joy when you return. It was this that made me slow down, to remember to have a correspondence that wasn’t just about the nuts and bolts of the work, but that afforded pleasure. Because time is sliding by, and you have to grab joy where you can. In the winter I told a student that I was struggling to put a positive light on it, but this was what I came up with–the fact that Doug and I are losing so many good people signifies how many we knew in the first place. If someone had told me, when I was welcoming new friends into my life that I’d have to lose them all later on, one by one, would it have stopped me?

Like watching candle lanterns float down the river in Hiroshima on August 6th, each symbolic of a loss, I silently say goodbye to one after another. At one point during the editing process, having just lost a woman I’d been very fond of, I wrote to Candas: Thank you for still being here. It’s something I say regularly, and only a little tongue in cheek: Good conversation, it’s one of the things I came to the planet for.

We’ve travelled on promotional tours together, Candas and her partner Tim Anderson and I, to Madison and Orlando and Calgary. I’m shy by nature and my husband isn’t the sort to go to cons with me–our mutual family is the international electronic arts community–so finding people to hang out with at cons can be a bit awkward. But with Candas and Tim there’s always that–it’s not just chit chat, pleasant as that may be. It’s time well spent, in good conversation. The kind I came to the planet for.

People talk so much about what they are doing now, what they have going to press at this very moment, and I do understand why; each book’s fifteen minutes in the spotlight is so very brief. But let’s not forget we have a history–and a great one. Here’s to Candas, who has given so very much to our community. Let’s remember to take the time. To celebrate not just who we are, but who we were. Let’s remember to do it as we go along, and not just save it up for the end.



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All profits from this collection will be donated to the Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society in Candas’ name.

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7 thoughts on “Candas as Conversationalist”

  1. I totally get this!
    I went to university as an undergrad because I thought it would be a place of real conversation: the student prince holding debate over the eternal verities. I was happy with my classes but disappointed with peers outside of classtime, who mostly wanted to talk sports or whatever. Yawn. So I figured, those more meaningful conversations must happen only in grad school, and I went and got a Masters. But, aside from occasional narrowly focused conversations about our research and discipline, nope. It was only when I stumbled into fandom, and through fandom, the world of writers, that I met people who actually wanted to talk and think about stuff outside their own narrow specialties.
    And Candas always stood out as the best of those, not just because she is a brilliant conversationalist herself–broadly knowledgeable about most topics and sincerely interested in hearing about everything else–but she also hosted these salons at her place where the most interesting people–mostly writers, but also artists and activists–would just pop in for a visit. I can think of half a dozen occasions when I would be there on some pretext or oter, and talking to someone at random, when Candas would come by and say, ‘Oh, I see you’ve met ____” and my brain would explode as I realized that this was one in fact of my literary heroes, a giant whom I would never had had the ncourage to approach in another context. But conversation with Candas, or at Candas’ home or workshops, was always so easy and natural.
    In the age of Twitter Presidents and Facebook reposts, I fear the art of conversation may be dead. But then I run into Candas and Timothy at a convention, or into one of their circle of friends, and hey, my belief in the possibilities of conversation is restored.

  2. This project and this blog series–I can’t express or underestimate how much it is helping me to value what I’ve done over the years. One loses touch, because the day-to-day struggles, and indeed significant losses through both catastrophe and entropy, loom up around one and shadow one’s landscape. But the Prairie Starport and blog project has been a huge gift to challenge and dispel that diminished perspective. I am so grateful, but not just that. I am lifted up again. I feel more capable and powerful again. I feel like I matter. That’s no small gift, friends. So really, thank you.

  3. In the end, do our lives stand out on a landscape of loss? Is what we build, the “information” we bring to combat entropy, the living covering of the land? We certainly can’t say that loss is for anything, if it’s not to fall into the ground beneath our feet and hold us up, give us something to stand on.

    I have a relatively good memory, though far from perfect. Memory and imagination are the two essentials that Brian Fawcett set up as the pillars of our work when writing “Cambodia: a book for people who find television too slow”. Memory is as likely to bedevil me as to comfort me, and likewise imagination. But nobody said this should be comfortable.

    My past, however, still does travel with me, a ragtag of memories, objects, achievements, and failures. Remember that Jackson Browne song “These Days”? The last line is “Don’t remind me of my failures: I have not forgotten them.” I have often forgotten my successes, and I am pleased that my colleagues/friends in this project have set about adjusting the bias in my memory!

    Since I entered my sixties, I’ve started to understand why people lie about their age. I have found that rather than some prime-of-life glow, what awaited me was a sour, sometimes toxic, mix of prejudices based on sexism and ageism, much of it allied to a societal Return of Gender, which tries to render me invisible before queerphobia even has a chance to enter the picture.

    Those who know me understand the problem there–I am unlikely to collaborate in my own erasure, to say the least. But it helps, oh how it helps, when colleagues and the community are holding a banner that says “Candas is here”, rather than having to fight the invisibility curse on older women all by myself. I can get back to the work that I am here for–and the conversations I am here for–which are often almost the same thing…

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