Posts Tagged ‘Ann Y.K. Choi’

The Soap Box, a Toronto-Based Small Press, Co-Hosts Publishing Fair, November 17, 2018

Guest post by Tali Voron

 

From Pen to Published will take place November 17, 2018, in downtown Toronto. Registration is free till October 17, 2018, $10 at the door, $5 for students with valid ID.

 

Every step of The Soap Box journey has been exciting, but so far 2018 has been a whirlwind. And best of all, it will culminate in a special event, From Pen to Published, taking place in downtown Toronto on November 17, from 12 to 7 p.m. This publishing fair represents a unique collaboration between the press and a dynamic Toronto-based writing group, The 11th Floor Writers.

It all started when I met bestselling novelist Ann Y.K. Choi (Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety) at a series of mentorship events for students in the English Literature program at the University of Toronto. She was a wonderful role model, and our relationship quickly turned into a mentorship, and finally, into the working partnership it is today.

During several meetings over coffee, Ann told me about her writing group, The 11th Floor Writers, which has been together for eleven years and wanted to mark their progress by publishing an anthology. The group comprises twelve writers unified by their enrollment in various courses in the Creative Writing Program at University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies. The members write poetry and prose in a range of genres, including sci-fi, historical fiction, autobiography, and memoir.

Since The Soap Box’s mission is to showcase emerging writers, I suggested that we be their publisher, and within a matter of weeks, our two teams were working together to create a collection we believe in, Voices From the 11th Floor.

A typical book launch invites the writer’s family, friends, and colleagues, but as our ideas for the group’s launch took shape, it morphed into something bigger. The resulting event, From Pen to Published, will feature industry speakers and craft workshops, and incorporate the kick-off for Voices From the 11th Floor. Registration is open to the public, but in particular we encourage attendance by emerging writers, individuals interested in careers in the publishing industry, and post-secondary students studying writing, editing, or publishing.

Our featured speakers will be Alana Wilcox, editorial director of Coach House Books; author Joe Kertes, founder of Humber School for Writers; and author Ann Y.K. Choi, who has recently been named one of the jurors for the coveted Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. As well, workshop facilitators will offer six workshops focusing on various aspects of writing and publishing.

Tali giving a reading

The idea for The Soap Box came to me in April 2016, a few weeks after my twentieth birthday and at the end of my second year at University of Toronto. A newspaper ad on the dining room table caught my eye: it promoted an opportunity to start a summer business with the support of a grant and a mentor. My partner and I started brainstorming to help his 16-year-old brother get involved in the program. We envisioned a range of possibilities: a sustainable coffee shop, inventive iPhone applications, handmade products. And that got me thinking about my own passion—

Books.

Years ago, in order to mark my high school graduation, my dad had helped me self-publish a collection of short stories. I had always dreamed of writing and publishing a book, although I never imagined it would happen so early in my life. Suddenly, my dream was a reality. To be able to hold my creative work in my hands, and to share it with loved ones was life-changing. Could I help other emerging writers get published as well? I understood first-hand the barriers that existed for new writers trying to break into the industry. I wondered if I could find a way to create a space for new and diverse voices.

I knew that starting an independent press wasn’t within the scope of a summer student program; nor would it be a lucrative endeavour. I contributed the initial funds to get the paper work in order, set up a website, and covered the costs of our first anthology, The Soap Box: Volume I: Change. I decided that the press would run on a self-funding model: we would publish books, and the profits from book sales and launches would be used to fund upcoming publications.

It was a lot to take on, and there were logistics to figure out. For once, though, uncertainty didn’t scare me. My academic background in English literature, combined with years spent writing and editing in various capacities gave me the skills and confidence to assume the role of editor-in-chief. All I needed was a team that shared my vision.

This felt right. I could wait for the “perfect time” to follow my dreams and spend every waking moment until then pursuing a path that wasn’t meant for me. Or I could start now.

Today, The Soap Box comprises a core team of ten driven and passionate individuals. It’s been almost two and a half years, and I’m proud to say that the press is thriving. To date we have published three creative writing anthologies and three poetry chapbooks, and have hosted three launches. In November 2018 we’ll release Voices From the 11th Floor, our most ambitious anthology to date, and in December, we’ll publish our third poetry chapbook of the year. (Submissions for the fourth anthology will be accepted in Winter 2019; watch our website for an announcement.)

As the press grows, we will selectively accept prose and poetry manuscripts for publication. Writers are welcome to contact us at www.thesoapboxwrites.com to discuss their projects and publishing goals. We publish works based on artistic merit. To ensure that external biases do not influence our editorial board, we remove from the submission any information identifying the author.

One of our aims is to eliminate as many financial barriers as possible to getting published. For the annual Soap Box anthology, there is no submission fee. For poetry chapbooks — collections of 48 pages of poetry or less — we request a small submission fee to help offset production costs.

At The Soap Box, we pride ourselves on our collaborative creative process. Writers are intimately involved from start to finish: from in-depth feedback and conversations with editors about how their work can be improved, to participating in the selection of a cover, to receiving promotion and marketing, and finally to seeing how a digital text transforms into a bound book.

I’m fortunate to be pursuing my passion and am endlessly grateful to my team, friends, and family who have chosen to embark on this journey with me. Every day, we make it our mission to ensure that we share the stories of as many voices as we can, while also maintaining the high calibre of work we can take pride in. With every publication, we grow stronger as a press, and as a community. We may be small, but we are mighty, and we will continue to make publishing more accessible, diverse, and inclusive, one word at a time.

Our hope is that for many emerging writers, From Pen to Published will be just the beginning.

 

The 11th Floor Writers

 

Visit The Soap Box (www.thesoapboxwrites.com), to check out the books we’ve published, or just to get in touch!

 For details about, and to register for From Pen to Published, click here.

Voices From the 11th Floor will be on sale at the fair (taxes exempted for cash purchases).

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TALI VORON is driven by her passion for creative writing, love of people, and the desire to make the publishing industry more accessible. She completed her Bachelor of Arts, Honours at the University of Toronto in English Literature, Education, and Psychology. In September 2018 she will begin her MA in the Literatures of Modernity program at Ryerson University. In her spare time, Tali pens prose on her blog, drinks copious amounts of coffee, spends time with her favourite people, and enjoys making terrible puns.

Tuesday, September 4th, 2018

Writing from Real Life: Daring to Be Heard, an essay by Ann Y.K. Choi

 

 

In high school I worked hard to cover up my depression. My mother was ill, and my family laboured to keep our convenience store open, as it was our only source of income. Because my grades were good and I was quiet, I kept under my teachers’ radar, quietly stabbing push-pins into my thighs during class. I was seventeen when I first attempted suicide. From that moment onward, every counsellor, therapist, and doctor, as part of one treatment plan or another, encouraged me to write. While the advice was well-intentioned and eventually helped, it took decades for me to stop associating writing with pain and anger.

I was in my forties by the time I was ready to share my writing. I wanted to capture my immigrant experiences for my daughter so that she could understand what life was like for her mother and grandparents upon arriving in Canada in the mid-70s. I signed up for a creative writing class through the School of Continuing Studies at the University of Toronto. Because the class was in an “academic” setting, so different from my bedroom where I wrote, I was able to ease into the idea of writing to publish.

Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety is a work of fiction, but at its core are threads of real-life experience. Writing it forced me to confront old hurt. Pain and anger that I had buried long ago, or that I hadn’t even known existed. The early years of struggling to learn English, being picked on at school, and adapting to life in Canada. Fearing for myself and my family in the store where we were regularly harassed and even robbed. Then, there was the violence at home. Even as I write this, my heart is racing, my breathing more rapid. Somewhere a part of me is crying. Some hurts never go away; we can only learn to manage them.

A demanding job as a secondary-school teacher helps, because during the day I am thoroughly distracted by my professional responsibilities. Still, working with at-risk students who also experience trauma, violence, and discrimination of all kinds poses other emotional challenges for me. Using on myself the techniques that also help them, I’ve been able to gain a sense of control. For example, knowing that when I am overwhelmed it’s almost impossible to write, I’ve looked for ways to create safe and encouraging spaces. My writing circle has proven to be one of the most invaluable.

The 11th Floor Writers was born out of a creative writing class I took at the University of Toronto. Eight to ten of us meet every second Saturday of the month. We’ve been together for ten years. This is my safe place to share rough drafts and to receive critical feedback. Now I also turn to my editor and agent, but in the beginning, before the book deal, my writing circle was it. Unlike friends and family, we meet to serve a specific purpose: to talk and listen to each other about our respective writing projects. We also attend literary events, especially supporting one another if a member is participating. I cannot overstate the importance of building relationships with others who write, and becoming part of a writing community.

I still have trouble staying focused for long periods of time when I’m writing anything, be it a poem or a personal essay. I’ve accepted this and allow myself regular unscheduled “brain breaks.” I get up and move away from the computer to recharge. When I’m working on an emotionally demanding scene, I can’t listen to music. It triggers emotions that overwhelm me, especially when I hear songs I used to listen to as a means of escaping or coping. This self-knowledge ensures that I avoid such triggers.

Mindfulness too helps me. When I feel myself inching towards dark places, or if I have a strong physical reaction to something I’m writing, I focus on an object – something I can hold in my hand, like a pen. I focus on the humming of the air conditioner, on things external to my body. Eyes closed, I concentrate on all the subtle flavours of a piece of dark chocolate melting in my mouth. Paying attention to the moment grounds me and allows me to return to putting words on paper.

People are quick to point out how wonderful it is that I can write anywhere, anytime. But when the writing doesn’t serve to relieve pain or bring clarity to internal chaos, this flexibility can feel like a burden. So I do not demand that I write every day. I can’t, and that’s okay. When I don’t want to write, I read. A good novel or poem takes me out of myself and recharges me mentally and creatively. My stress level lowers.

Someone recently asked, “Why do you keep writing if it poses such challenges?” I didn’t have an answer, and instead took the question to a meeting of my school board’s regional English department heads. There I asked fellow teachers for their help in understanding why so many writers persevere through personal pain to tell their stories. I learned from our conversation that I had been using my writing as a tool to engage others in dialogue around the themes I explore in my work: family, social identity, mental health and well-being, diversity, and immigration. Given my cultural background, the group reminded me, my writing fosters an awareness of voices not necessarily represented in mainstream media or books.

I grew up believing that silence was a strength and that suppressing my anger was proof that I was strong. But now I see the real power comes from sharing a voice and daring to be heard. Wielding that power is therapeutic; it numbs the hurt. More than that, it is my way of giving voice to those who may not have one. This, I realize, is why I keep writing.

♦     ♦     ♦

Ann Y.K. Choi

ANN Y.K. CHOI is an author and educator. Her novel, Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety, was shortlisted for the 2016 Toronto Book Award and named One of CBC Books 12 Best Canadian Debut Novels of 2016. The story was inspired by her family’s immigrant struggles and their lives spent in a family-run variety store. Choi lives in Toronto with her husband and daughter.

 

 

Website: https://annykchoi.com

Twitter: @annykchoi

Facebook: annykchoi

Ann was guest speaker for Allyson Latta’s sixth annual Turquoise Waters Writers’ Retreat (2017), held in the Kawartha Lakes, Ontario, Canada.

Wednesday, November 1st, 2017