25th Trillium Award

Get to Know Literary Windsor, with Vanessa Shields

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Whisky Sour City

This spring saw the launch of a book that belongs entirely to the city of Windsor, the writers near and far who have been inspired by the enigmatic City of Roses and the students who make their homes here while completing their degrees at one of the premier creative writing departments in the country. Whisky Sour City is a collection of poems inspired by Windsor that were submitted in response to a call for submissions from Poet Laureate Marty Gervais. These couldn't be just any poems: they had to have been written during three specific days in the summer of 2012. Between August 17 and August 19, 2012, the undercurrent of creativity that's always buzzing in Windsor must have been crackling at its highest pitch. The editors received over one hundred submissions. During the following months, guest editor Vanessa Shields and the students of the University of Windsor's Editing & Publishing Practicum worked hard to select, edit and publish this unique anthology. The finished project, Whisky Sour City: Poems from the South Shore, was published by Windsor's Black Moss Press in April.

Today, writer, blogger and editor Vanessa Shields tells Open Book how Whisky Sour City came to be, and shares how her own involvement with Windsor's lively, inclusive literary community enriches her own experience as a writer.

Open Book:

Tell us about Whisky Sour City and how you became involved with this project.

Vanessa Shields:

The idea for Whisky Sour City came during a dinner conversation between Marty Gervais and I in the early summer of 2012. As Poet Laureate of the City of Windsor (our first!), Marty had the idea to put out a call for poetry that would be about the city of Windsor. At that time, we called it Three Days In August. We hoped that over three days in August poets from Windsor, whether they were physically in Windsor or not, would be writing about the city simultaneously.

Marty asked me if I would be interested in being the guest editor of what would eventually become an anthology of poetry about Windsor that would be edited and published through the course he created and teaches at the University of Windsor, aptly called ?Editing & Publishing Practicum.? It is the only class of its kind that takes a project from manuscript to published book — that is, actually published by a publishing company (Black Moss Press) — in the country! Of course, I was honoured that he asked me to be involved at the inception of this great idea, and be a part of the class once again — this time, as guest editor.

I set up a Facebook page, sent out a press release and waited for submissions to pour in. Once class began in September and the editing process began, the anthology received its current title: Whisky Sour City. We received over 100 submissions, some of which included up to six poems. It was extremely exciting to receive so many submissions. Reading the poetry elevated our excitement to the another level — the poetry was honest, raw, beautiful and entertaining. We had an excellent bunch of poems from which to choose.

The goal of this project was to gain insight through the form of poetry into what people think about our city and its surrounding areas. The goal was definitely reached!


It sounds as though all the hard work for Whisky Sour City was a very positive experience for everyone involved. What is the secret to your success?


In 2010/2011, I had my first experience with the Editing & Publishing practicum, when my manuscript for a book about being pregnant for the second time was chosen by Marty to be published. Because I had experience with Marty and the students in this class, I knew what it would take to bring Marty?s idea to fruition, and create an outstanding publication.

The key to all great projects where intense teamwork and creative energy are needed is communication and time management. Furthermore, being able to commit to these "secrets" is as important. Marty was very clear from day one how much work the Editing & Publishing practicum would be. He made sure that the students knew what they were a part of, and we made sure that at each step of the way, the students had clear lines of communication with each other, and with us.

What makes an experience like this ?positive?, for me, is that while the hard work is being done, we?re still having fun, using our creativity, supporting each other?s ideas, supporting the writers and our project goals, and learning what it we love (and hopefully want to continue doing) in the world of editing and publishing.


What was the greatest challenge that you faced during the editing of Whisky Sour City, and how did you overcome it?


Honestly, the most challenging part of this process was learning how to use Facebook as well as the students! I fancied myself pretty "with it" when it came to technology, but these students proved my knowledge was limited! They set up a special page that only our team could see and communicate on. Not only was I always about a day behind on reading all the posts, it took me awhile to figure out how much more than "posting on a wall" Facebook is capable of.

I continued to work my "day job" as a producer/office administrator at a production company as well as take on a contract job for a non-profit so I was quite busy at the same time the book was being edited. Back to those "secrets" of success time management and communication, I definitely needed to be on my game when it came to holding up my part of the editing job.

It was challenging finding a time that we all could meet together outside of class. Our team had 13 people on it including me, most of us having jobs and busy lives outside of school. We used our time in and out of class as efficiently as possible. I am still totally impressed with how the students were able to make their own schedules work — some of them had full course loads, jobs and partners!

When it came to sifting through the poetry and agreeing on which would stay and which would not, I think I challenged the students the most — at least, I hope I did! We were able to put the poems into three categories — yes, no and maybe. Our "maybe" pile was the largest. I attended class and watched to see how the students would figure out which poems to keep from the maybe pile. Everyone was so polite and nice — and no decisions were being made. I took my pile of "yeses" from the maybe pile and began to fight for them. I told the students they needed to do the same, and then?well, then the passion ignited! We had some very healthy, heated conversations about the poems we wanted.

In the end, some of us lost our battles (me included!), but we put together a manuscript we all loved. The students took the helm on the order of the poetry. And we were able to come up with the title in less than 15 minutes. It came from a line out of Anne Baldo?s poem "Finally Sweet." She was generous enough to let us use the words for the title.


Tell us about your own writing. What are you working on right now?


Currently, I?m working on three novels. I know, it?s crazy and pretty impossible to handle, but I can?t help it. One is a young adult novel — a love story in the vein of Judy Blume (who continues to inspire me!) — that has had some agent interest. This novel is complete — but, of course, I?m always editing and revising! Another is about a young woman dealing with her past with an abusive stepfather through a memoir course she?s taking at university. This is in its first draft. I?m about half way through writing it. And the third is something I?ve never written before — sort of science fiction/fantasy/spirituality. It?s in its very beginning stages, but parts of it come to me in waves that I can?t stop myself from catching and writing down.

I?m always writing poetry and submitting to contests and literary magazines. It?s important to me that I continue to do this, and try and get published as much as possible. My track record is pretty?ahem?sad. I?ve been rejected so many times I don?t care to count anymore!

I blog on my personal site as much as possible. I feature a guest writer each month, and I have giveaways all the time! April will feature the fabulous Susan Dennard! She?s a graduate of the University of Windsor, and has a three-book deal with ? Her first book, Something Strange and Deadly came out in late 2012.

I?m also hoping to do some self-publishing. This world is new to me, but I?m not adverse to heading down the path to see what creating my own books can do for my writing career.


How does being involved with Windsor's writing community inform and enrich your writing?


Sometimes I feel like the group of writers in the community are akin to Hemingway and Fitzgerald and the writers and painters of the 1920s and 1930s who continue to inspire us today. Insofar as we all work extremely hard, share our passions and frustrations with each other, show up for each other?s launches, classes and workshops, and events — we are certainly a tight-knit community.

This directly affects my writing because I know there will always be a literary event to attend and be inspired at somewhere in the city and its surrounding areas. I know I will always see my writing friends and we will be able to connect to each other as writers. I think my poetry is most informed by this community. Reflections of the people and the events find their way into my stanzas.


What do you enjoy the most about Windsor's literary scene?


The Windsor literary scene is vast and vibrant. There is always something going on, from poetry readings to book launches to BookFest and author expos. Not to mention the many varied creative writing classes, workshops and groups that exist consistently for writers to continue to cultivate, hone and share their writing skills. I enjoy all of these aspects! Whether I?m teaching the class or attending it — I know there are always opportunities to enrich my writing life in the city I live in. That?s really special.


Can you name a few local establishments (bookstores, writerly cafes, inspiring locales, etc.) that book lovers visiting Windsor should be sure to check out?


The great thing about writing is that it can happen anywhere! But if you like to be surrounded by books and/or creative people while you?re writing, here?s a list of my favs (in no particular order!):

Green Bean
Juniper Books
The Bookroom
The Coffee Exchange
Taloola Café
Milk Coffee Bar

I also like writing on campus at the University of Windsor. I love the hustle and bustle of students, the smell of the old buildings, the intense energy of being educated and stressed out — it?s all quite inspiring to me!

Vanessa Shields was born and raised in Windsor, Ontario. Her first book, Laughing Through A Second Pregnancy — A Memoir was published by Black Moss Press in April 2011. In 2013, Shields was the guest editor of Whisky Sour City, a poetry anthology published by Black Moss Press.
She was awarded the Windsor Endowment for the Arts Literary Award in 2010, and she has received the Ontario Arts Council Writer?s Reserve grant consecutively since 2009. As a juror, Shields has worked for the Ontario Arts Council Works-In-Progress Grant, as well as the Windsor Endowment for the Arts grants, and the BookFest Windsor Student Poetry Contest (2011-2012). She was a moderator at the BookFest Windsor 2012 Student Poetry Contest Awards evening, and offered Poetry On Demand (that she created), live-poetry making, during BookFest Windsor 2012.

Her poetry, photography and articles have been published in various literary magazines including The Windsor Review, OffSide E-zine, Write Magazine (The Writer?s Union of Canada), Whisky Sour City, Detours (Palimpsest Press), Polar Expressions, and Liberating Working Moms. For over a year, Shields? wrote a weekly parenting blog for Post Media?s Windsor Star on-line newspaper. She has taught creative writing for over ten years, and is a member of The Writer?s Union of Canada, and Literary Arts Windsor. Vanessa's personal blog has been nominated for the Canadian Weblog Awards (2012/2013). She continues to live and write there with the loving support of her husband, Nick, and their two children, Jett and Miller.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online from the publisher or at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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