Secret things in the works! Not really major secret things. But the kind of secret things that I am becoming used to in the Wide World of Publishing, in which you cannot yell about something until you are given permission to yell about something, even after the contract is signed. So I will wave my hands and say “A novella, a couple of short stories, and a couple of reprints are doing secret things.”
One un-secret thing is that I am now a Capital City Press Featured Writer!
Capital City Press helps bump the visibility of the local writing scene by partnering with the Edmonton Public Library, and I am so honoured to be one of their 2019 Featured Writers. Do I know what it involves? Not a clue! Am I excited! ULTRA-EXCITED. There may be book festivals! Book recommendations! A writing class in which I can pass on all of my accumulated wisdom! (Which should take something like eight minutes. I hope participants have lots of questions.)
I must say though, today’s source of insecurity comes from my bio compared to the other writers for 2019… if I ever needed proof I was a hack, I thought, well, here it is. But now that I think of it, I’m not comparatively unqualified (let us leave ‘untalented’ out of it). I just wrote my bio in the shortest possible space. Really I could have written something like “Premee Mohamed was born and raised in the Edmonton area, and has been writing mainly speculative fiction for most of her life. In 2015 she began submitting short stories to venues after discovering that they pay good ca$hmoney for lies, Since then she’s published over two dozen short stories in a variety of venues and media, including a couple of podcasts. In 2017 she signed with an agent at the Donald Maass Literary Agency, although every time she spells it she has to look up how many a’s and how many s’s there are, and in 2018 sold her debut novel ‘Beneath the Rising’ and an untitled sequel to Solaris Books, an imprint of Rebellion Publishing, one of whose books, somewhat hilariously, she was reading when she got the email about the offer. (It was ‘Raven Stratagem’ by Yoon Ha Lee, in case anyone was wondering.) She self-published one novella in 2018 to see how hard it was (not very) and because her agent gave his blessing, and you should definitely buy it. Currently, Premee continues to write and publish, including writing about writing at her Curious Fictions page, but her main focus will be on novels. With that said, she loves being solicited for themed anthologies or issues, so please do that, lots.”
I wanted to put in something about my Edmontonian credentials, but what are those, what do those look like? What does it mean that I grew up here — in St. Albert, specifically? It’s easy to say ‘Well, you’re writing fiction, you make things up’ but the things you are able to think of and make up are informed, limited, coloured, flavoured by your upbringing; they can’t not be. We think fiction comes strictly from the clean purity of the brain, but brains live in bodies, and bodies are messy and they must live in places, and they hold memories and triggers, reactions, prejudices, snap judgements, smells and tastes. Engrams are not fiction, but they become fiction, the same way soil becomes fruit. So when I say ‘I’m from St. Albert,’ those from far-off lands nod politely, because this is unfamiliar soil. Those from around here nod knowingly. It is shorthand for: Surrounded by white people, often seemingly prosperous ones, many as house-poor as we were, little immigrant family a splotch of curry on a clean white napkin, the parents hustling to purchase an Image, an Avatar, of wealth and stability so that they could rush as far from their garbage-scavenging upbringing as they could, putting their half-Hindu/half-Muslim kids in Catholic school, unable to afford daycare for both so letting the older, more responsible one stay home alone for two years beginning at aged ten, unaware that she would come home and immediately leave again, locking the door behind herself, responsibly, like a grown-up, and walking down in the river valley to talk to herself and climb trees and dangle her hand in the river, unknowingly replicating the exact behaviour of her idle father at her age, letting the tadpoles nibble her fingers in the bright and freezing water, because it was better than the other kids, who bullied and derided her and shoved her into lockers, hoping it would get better as she got older and stunned that it got worse, saved most days, even the coldest or hottest or rainiest or blusteriest, and in the aspen parkland these days are legion, by skipping the schoolbus and walking home with her best friend, also bullied, also unwilling to (a habit neither of them can shake to this day) be confined in a small space with known predators, two little prey walking along the bike trails in the green silence, knower of French, possessor of some Ukrainian and Polish, ethnically brown, culturally the offspring of missionaries and so-called pioneers, who sought to break the land and its existing people till they fit into something that looked more like the civilization of the Sun King or the sweet fields of Old Country, familiar with bale tag, attender of rodeos, stalker in abandoned grain silos, which we had been warned ate children (incorrect, it’s the full ones that do that, and their treacherous augers) or blew up spontaneously from the grain dust (accurate), consumer of moose and venison, poised precisely in the area of the province where you could not be shocked or awed by endless empty fields of perfect gold, nor mountains, nor sky, nor skyscraper, nor suburb, connoisseur of brutalist architecture, weeper at the demolishing of the Duckydome, whisperer at the secret dome in the Leg grounds, eventual participant in Hi-Q (the single little brown face like a smudge amongst the all-white, all-male teams) and awed greeter of the famous Mike Sobel, survivor of high school, attendee of the University of Alberta, Titus-like or even Steerpike-esque crawler upon roofs and treetops, pedways and hidden nooks in my personal Gormenghast, a survivor, a survivor, a survivor.
In my books, in my fiction, I am not interested in writing about the land from which my genes came — South America, I mean, or my parents’ and their parents’ home. I’ve been back there once, and was fascinated but not interested enough to absorb it; I went very much as a tourist and returned essentially unmoved. I’ve never been to India and have no desire to go. What I write about, and what I want to write about, is where I came from, and that’s here: dodging tornadoes, ripping out undercarriages on gravel roads, quietly sipping spiked cocoa around bonfires, replaying famous battles atop snowpiles. This, this is the real me; this is the land that adopted me, raised me, and let me get some much-needed distance from my so-called ‘real’ culture. I do wonder, though, whether those credentials will be enough for certain prospective readers. If they are looking for Canadian stories, even Edmonton stories, will they be able to look past my name and my face and let their own baggage about what I’m ‘supposed to be’ writing go? Or will they see a book with an ethnic name and go ‘Tsk, I’m not in the mood for a story about plucky immigrants and cooking curry today.’ They say ‘write what you know,’ and I do, and then they say ‘write what you love,’ and I do, and people come back to me to say ‘You should know and love something else.’ The horror! Anyway. Much to ponder. Much to pick my own brains about.