Tag Archives: Michael Fay
In memory of
J. Michael Fay
December 18, 1945 – June 7, 2020
Early Monday morning, I heard from a friend in Minden that Michael Fay had died the previous day. I knew he had not been well for quite some time, but still … it was a jolt, and I was very sad. So I decided to turn on the most relaxing and soothing programme I know – Bob Chelmick’s The Road Home online at his website. (I’ve written about Bob and this show previously.) It was an entire programme dedicated to the poetry of Rumi, most of which was read by Coleman Barks. Almost immediately after I’d tuned in, Barks began reading the following poem that I had never heard nor read before … and yet it felt as though Michael was speaking to me.
No Room for Form
On the night when you cross the street
From your shop and your house
To the cemetery
You’ll hear me hailing you from inside
The open grave, and you’ll realize
How we’ve always been together.
I am the clear consciousness-core
Of your being, the same in
Ecstasy as in self-hating fatigue.
That night, when you escape your fear of snakebite
And all irritations with the ants, you’ll hear
My familiar voice, see the candle being lit,
Smell the incense, the surprise meal fixed
By the lover inside all your other lovers.
This heart tumult is my signal
to you igniting in the tomb.
So don’t fuss with the shroud
And the graveyard dust.
Those get ripped open and washed away
In the music of our final meeting.
And don’t look for me in human shape,
I am inside your looking. No room
For form with love this strong.
Well, maybe not the “love” part, but certainly “high regard” and mutual understanding and appreciation of written words and publishing … Normally, with anyone else, I would have put this experience of hearing that particular poem at that exact moment down to coincidence. But this was Michael Fay! A man I did not know at all before we met through Facebook in around 2011-12 and who I didn’t meet in person until about a year later. And yet we had many friends in common, plus our paths in life had criss-crossed several times – we discovered we had both lived in Calgary, Toronto’s Beach neighbourhood, and Minden at different periods in our lives, but never at the same time. We became fast friends! Neither our original meeting online nor this poem being read at the moment I needed to hear it were ever mere coincidence!
I met Michael when I was exploring ePublishing as an option for my own writing, and Michael and I began sharing articles about eBooks being considered the perfect platform for longform stories. Michael told me he was reviewing and rewriting a number of stories he’d first written in Banff in the 70s and at other writing conferences, and asked what I thought about publishing them. Thus was born the imprint IslandShorts, and I have Michael to thank for being my inspiration, counselor, sounding board, and critic of everything we did to put this series of eBooks together. (Here’s a more in-depth explanation of the imprint.) I truly could not have accomplished this without Michael Fay!
Michael was also always very quick with the “atta-girl!”s for my own writing. He provided me with a brilliant blurb for the back cover of the first print edition of my novel, Island in the Clouds. He wrote and posted reviews of all my books, provided me with photos of my novel in-and-around Minden, and wrote about me, my connection to Minden and the IslandShorts imprint for the local newspaper, The Minden Times. (See below.) He also heartily supported the three other authors I published through IslandCatEditions: Timothy L. Phillips, Bruce Hunter, and Betty Jane Hegerat.
And, if that were not already enough, Michael and his wife, Fay Martin, always provided me with a bed, plenty of coffee in the morning, and two cats to pat, whenever I visited Minden. Plus, they loved my crazy notion to start up Literary Salons once again by opening their home and inviting friends to a reading and launch of our eBooks we had just published. A truly generous gesture!
So, while Michael Fay may have now left this mortal coil, he will never be forgotten, as he lives on for me through his generosity, kindness, sense of humour, thoughtfulness, and friendship he shared with me, and so many others, throughout his life. And he will be remembered through his fine writing in the number of publications it was my great privilege to help him bring to the attention of readers worldwide! Michael Fay was the first author I promoted in the series Authors-Readers International for good reason … He had entrusted me with his own writing, but he also gave back to me just as much by supporting my own writing and publishing endeavours – and for that I could never have thanked him enough! So I will pay tribute to Michael Fay for the rest of my life, and will continue to promote the man and his work.
And words from a few of Michael’s friends and fellow writers …
Shirley Black (blurb for Michael’s print book, Tenderness and Other Stories): It all started with a small ad in the community newsletter: Writing Lessons, contact Michael Fay, and that is why eight of us were gathered around a large wooden table. We were there to learn W.O. Mitchell’s Freefall method as modified by Michael. Put your pen to paper and write, he told us, don’t worry about grammar, sentence structure or paragraphing – just write. And so we did, memories poured forth, the smell of freshly washed laundry, the sound of a train whistle on a cold winter night. For six days we wrote and on the seventh we rested while Michael studied every single word we had written and picked out the best phrase, sentence or paragraph that he read back in class. With Michael’s gentle encouragement we gained confidence, reality turned into fiction, short stories emerged and we were on our way to becoming writers.
Bruce Hunter: On Sept. 29, 2013, I had the pleasure of reading with Susan Toy and Michael Fay. It was a sunny afternoon at a literary salon hosted by Michael and Fay at their home with their friends from Minden. Although, I’d not known him long, Michael’s grace and generosity of spirit and intellect made every visit special. He was a remarkable and talented gentleman. He is missed by many.
Timothy Phillips: I was very sorry to hear of Michael Fay’s passing. Fay, you wrote “his gift to writing was probably the writers he supported …” Yes, that is true and I was one of those writers he supported. He read my memoir, reviewed it with a true understanding of my journey and endorsed it on the back of my book. As a new writer, he helped give me credibility.
However, he was no slouch when it came to his own writing and I particularly liked his story, Passion, of being called to enter a seminary when quite young and his journey there.
I only met Michael and Fay once at their house in Minden. I drove up from Toronto for the day because they had organised a reading for authors. It sort of reminded me of how the French Salons might have started in 17th and 18th century Paris – an invite to elegance and sophistication and a chance for an author to be heard.
Thank you Michael for all that you have contributed to encourage us all to take risks and put pen to paper. You are missed.
Chad Ingram wrote this about Michael Fay for The Minden Times.
And I was thrilled beyond belief when Michael wrote this article about me and my connection to the town of Minden! My family owned a cottage on a neighbouring lake from the year I was born (1953) until just after Dad died and we decided to sell in 1996.
One last bit to add to this tribute, and that’s a song I know Michael – the political activist part of Michael, that is – would have loved to hear again during these current troubling times …
And to leave you a more positive note, I know Michael would have approved
of this song as well …
J. Michael Fay
Michael Fay studied creative writing with W. O. Mitchell, Alice Munro, and Richard Ford through grants from Alberta Culture.
Twice-elected president of the Periodical Writers Association of Canada, he was also the founder of the Alexandra Writers’ Centre Society in Calgary.
He has written five plays, including the award-winning Never Such Innocence Again. Michael lives in Minden, Ontario, with his wife, Dr. Fay Martin.
I first met Michael Fay online when he commented on a mutual friend’s Facebook post that he lived in Minden, Ontario. That’s the town near the lake where my family owned a cottage! So I wrote to Michael to mention this connection, and we quickly discovered we had also both lived in Calgary, Alberta, and The Beach neighbourhood in Toronto, which was where I was born and grew up! We also began discussing the new format of eBooks and the possibility of publishing long-form fiction and non-fiction individually – something no publisher would ever publish in print format. And thus was born the idea of IslandShorts and Michael’s story, Tenderness, was the first to be published as eBook-only. Since then Michael has published five long-form stories with IslandShorts. And in September, 2019, IslandCatEditions published an anthology bringing together those five stories into one edition, both in print format and as an eBook.
It all started with a small ad in the community newsletter: Writing Lessons, contact Michael Fay, and that is why eight of us were gathered around a large wooden table. We were there to learn W.O. Mitchell’s Freefall method as modified by Michael. Put your pen to paper and write, he told us, don’t worry about grammar, sentence structure or paragraphing – just write. And so we did, memories poured forth, the smell of freshly washed laundry, the sound of a train whistle on a cold winter night. For six days we wrote and on the seventh we rested while Michael studied every single word we had written and picked out the best phrase, sentence or paragraph that he read back in class. With Michael’s gentle encouragement we gained confidence, reality turned into fiction, short stories emerged and we were on our way to becoming writers.
~ Shirley Black, Calgary
Tenderness and other stories is the compilation of all five long-form short stories written by J. Michael Fay that were originally published individually in eBook format by IslandShorts. Now published by IslandCatEditions in a single volume, in print as well as eBook formats, Fay’s exquisitely crafted stories, first realized and begun during the 1970s and completed 40 years later, are available to a wider reading public to receive the recognition they definitely deserve.
For more information: Tenderness and Other Stories.
And for more information on the individual eBooks written by Michael Fay, click here.
Michael Fay has been guest-posting here about his early days as a writer, attending the Bread Loaf Conference in 1978 and as a participant at the Banff Centre in 1976. Michael is back now to tell us about writing in Calgary during the 70s and his part in the beginnings of the Alexandra Centre as a place that has encouraged and educated writers for decades since.
Remembering Alexandra Centre
by Michael Fay
I first entered Inglewood in the fall of 1978 as a tenant in the Dandelion Co-op, known in history as the Deane House. The Co-op offered office space to writers, painters, potters, artists, fabric artists, as well as a superb exhibition space in the glass-enclosed veranda.
I had just moved to Calgary with my family. My partner had taken a social work position with the Alberta government and I had recently returned from a summer course at the Bread Loaf Conference in Vermont. I was a writer of short fiction and had received grants from the Alberta government to study creative writing, first at the Banff Centre in 1976, then at Antioch College in 1977, and finally at Bread Loaf. I was a newly named instructor in the Correspondence Course offered by the Literary Arts Branch of Alberta Culture and hoped to continue my budding career as a freelance journalist and writer. We had spent the previous three years in Camrose, Alberta, my partner’s home town. Since most of my life had been spent in cities, that time in Camrose felt a bit alien to me. I was happy to be in a big city again and eager to enter the literary life.
The Dandelion was a funky place, to say the least. I was there five days of the week, hammering away on my portable electric typewriter, beginning to do book reviews for the Calgary Herald and articles for Alberta, Calgary, and Edmonton Magazines, as well as honing my short stories for the literary market. The other Co-op members would come in through the day and retreat to their studios to paint or pot or run material through their sewing machines.
I was on the second floor with a tall and wide window looking down on the pleasant run of the Elbow River, with great, bending trees on both shores. And, beyond the river, the open fields surrounding the Fort Calgary exhibition centre, a bunker built into the hill leading down to the Bow River, often inspired me to imagine the first peoples who raised their teepees and speared the abundant fish rushing in the current.
My artistic peers at the Co-op and this magical connection to the ancient landscape made it a great place to write.
I was alone for the most part that first fall and winter in the Dandelion, and began to explore the streetscape along 8th and 9th Avenues, looking for places to eat, pick up necessities, and, of course for a curious writer, to find people who would stir my interest and imagination. I passed the beautiful sandstone of the Alexandra Centre many times that fall and winter, admiring the restoration, with the sleek new windows complementing the historic stone structure, but never curious enough to go inside to find out what was going on. That is, until I heard through the walls of the small gym the sound of a basketball bouncing. I was in my early thirties at the time, relatively fit, and just dying to get a basketball in my hands.
One day I decided to take action. I met Molly Cropper, the manager, down in the basement of the Centre, sitting at a desk and, like so many people, myself included in those days, having an afternoon smoke.
“There’s a gym?”
I was introduced to Molly’s reluctance to waste words in that very first encounter.
“And somebody is shooting a basketball?”
I considered myself a fast thinking and talking kind of guy, but Molly left me speechless for a long moment.
“Is it possible to play?”
Molly looked up from the papers on her desk and not wasting a word, took a significant puff on her cigarette. I wanted to pull a cigarette from my own pocket, but decided to wait.
“I mean, for me to shoot some baskets at lunch? I…ah…I work down at the Dandelion.”
“Oh,” said Molly. “I see.”
What did she see?
“I’m looking for some…exercise.”
“Yes,” said Molly.
“Why, sure. We’ve a young man on a community service and he found the ball and took to shooting at lunch. I’m sure he’d like the company.”
I was overcome with sheer joy. This was the beginning of a four-year relationship with the Alexandra Centre, which went from basketball to helping others create stories, poems, and books, and, by gosh, it’s still happening!
I carried on at the Dandelion Co-op for another few months, helping to launch the Dandelion Magazine with fellow Co-op members Joan Clark, Edna Alford, and Dale Fehr. I was in charge of marketing the magazine and placing it in bookstores across the city. (Note from Susan: Michael’s and my lives have intersected over the decades in many synchronistic ways and places, but I only just realized while preparing this guest post that I was an employee of one of those Calgary bookstores Michael would have approached when selling copies of Dandelion Magazine in 1978-79!) “A Little Green Book” was published in the fifth number, a story based on my time in rural Alberta. I gave my first public reading at the Co-op and was in the audience when my partner’s high school English teacher, subsequent Governor General Award Winner Gloria Sawai, read her famous story about Jesus and the laundry in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. There were exhibits and small shows and I was fortunate enough to be able to write about my fellow Co-op members in an article for Calgary Magazine. I was particularly fond of Cathy Work’s paintings, some of which still hang in our home.
And then suddenly, the City of Calgary decided to withdraw its arrangement with the Co-op members in order to develop the space into a fine restaurant. This whacked me, but got me to thinking quickly about the possibility of relocating to the Alexandra Centre. And in a remarkably short period of time, Molly got authority from the management group to rent an office to me, with access to the small board room just down the hall. This proved to be amazing on three fronts: a wonderfully quiet and contained space to carry on as a writer of both journalism and fiction; a superb place to have creative writing classes of ten or so people, and a remarkable neighborhood from which to begin recruiting students. I mimeographed a small poster, tacked up copies all over Inglewood, and, ta-da, students began to enroll. This was a cozy and creative place to nurture writers and, believe me, they never ceased to astonish me in our evening classes.
But what really tickles me now is forty years later the Alexandra Centre continues to produce writers in that magical place where the Elbow meets the Bow and creativity has flourished from pre-history to the present day.
Michael Fay has published four long-form short stories with IslandShorts, the most recent being Passion. For information on all publications from IslandShorts click here.
A couple of days ago, Michael Fay wrote this guest blog post on his experience at the Bread Loaf Writing Conference in 1978. Here’s Michael for a return visit and more reminiscing about writing during the 70s, this time in the Literary Arts Program at the Banff Centre, Alberta.
Bill Mitchell and the Banff Centre 1976
I was tingling with excitement in the spring of 1976 when I found out I had been accepted into the Creative Writing program at the Banff Centre. It was early in the history of that venerable institution, but not too early to attract participants from across North America. And what a lively gang they proved to be.
I was young and struggling and couldn’t really afford six weeks at the Centre, so I managed to cobble together a job as the ID checker in the cafeteria and a spot at the nearby campground to pitch my tent.
W. O Mitchell was the titular head of the program. But he was really raconteur-in-chief. He sat in on all the seminar sessions, regaled us with tales of boyhood summers, and became the steady beam keeping us on his writing methodology.
Freefall was designed to shut out the ‘critical self’ and let the ‘creative self’ out to play, by getting the writer to write swiftly, checking consciousness for sights, smells, sounds, tastes and touches, which would bring concrete substance to the writing. I spent mornings in a hut on the periphery of the campus banging out Freefall on my electric typewriter and afternoons in the seminar sharing it with my fellow students, W. O., and the brilliant seminar leaders, Ruth Fraser and Sandra Jones. And, as you might have guessed, nights were filled with talk, pints, and camaraderie with the most brilliant folks I had ever encountered.
I managed to bang out over two hundred pages of Freefall that summer. And believe me, that wasn’t out of the ordinary in the writing huts. I also learned to listen carefully to what made writing sing and soar and reach for the wonder of dreams that seemed more real than reality.
I still have those pages with me, yellowing sure, but with me every day as I revisit some of the magical people and places that appeared in the writing hut that special summer. And I continue to write about them every day.
The very smart directors of the Centre assembled leading artists, playwrights, writers, dancers, and musicians in a wild celebration of the best in the arts. Big Miller belted the blues, Alice Munro shared her inner self, Aaron Copeland led the orchestra through his magnificent Appalachian Spring. I saw him alone one evening, rushed up to him and took his hand, and thanked him for the wonder of his music. He was shy and embarrassed by this bold young guy, but he still seemed to beam.
All of this made the hours checking IDs in the cafeteria and the nights snuggled deeply into my sleeping bag seem incredibly romantic, something a struggling young writer should be doing. And, by golly, it’s what I did! Hemingway had his Paris and I had my Banff…
by J. Michael Fay
Published by IslandShorts
(Michael Fay has been promoted on Reading Recommendations.)
I discovered a couple of videos from the 70s posted online of interviews with W.O. Mitchell (who really was quite the character in real life …) and Alice Munro.
Here’s Big Miller and his big blues sound.
This is a complete recording of Aaron Copeland’s Appalachian Spring.
A couple of weeks ago, I saw this article online, A 26-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Mid-August, 1977, and immediately remembered that author, J. Michael Fay, had talked about his time at the Bread Loaf Conference. When I asked, he told me he was there the year following and that he remembered his time fondly. So I asked if he would write about that time …
Bread Loaf 1978
by Michael Fay
I was thrilled to attend the prestigious Bread Loaf Writers’ Program in 1978 with financial support from Alberta Culture. There were 850 applicants that year and only 230 were accepted. The buzz in Vermont that summer was all about two key presenters, John Gardner and John Irving.
Gardner was a key theoretician in the literary community with his classic On Moral Fiction. Irving was on the verge of entering the super-star stratosphere with The World According to Garp. And for two weeks in the mountains of Vermont, those two icons seemed to have permanent circles of supporters surrounding them, day and night.
As presenters, they each soared in his own way: Gardner, the philosopher, and Irving, the raconteur.
It was all magic for me, thousands of miles away from my home in Camrose, Alberta, taking it all in with thirsty relish.
Gardner was all about the head, the structural issues that built strong stories and novels. Irving was all about the heart, the beating centre of a tale that enraptured the reader.
And there were more than these two and others who made formal presentations in the theatre.
Oh my! My fellow students and the carefully selected young writers, working as assistants and fellows, were on their way to successful careers. I only mention two; both had a profound impact on my writing.
Meredith Sue Willis was an amazing novelist who dug deep into the soil of Appalachia to weave tales of intensity and resonance. Richard Ford was a spare and cerebral stylist who examined American life with a probing scalpel.
And thirty-three years later I carry their words as inspiration as I settle in front of a blank white screen and dare to create people and places and events which lurk inside of me and clamor to come to life.
Here’s a photo of Michael taken around this time …
J. Michael Fay has published three long-form short stories under my IslandShorts imprint and I’m pleased to announce that his most recent publication, Passion, will be released very soon!
It’s been just over a month since I began posting to a new blogsite, Reading Recommendations, where I ask authors to reply to a list of questions, to tell us a bit about themselves and their work, and ask that they in turn recommend an author or book they are reading. I’m very pleased with the response I received from authors – some known to me, some recommended to me, and others who contacted me out of the blue – and have been happy to give all of them some promotion on this site. I thought that, since I was taking a break from this blog over the holiday season, it might be interesting to recap what’s been happening over there on Reading Recommendations, just in case you readers of this main blogsite have not yet gone over there to check it out. I’ve created some handy-dandy lists for you with links to all the authors. I’m hoping this will be of help to those of you who are seeking out your next great read!
For those who read according to an author’s nationality …
Canadians (A = Alberta author): Michael Fay, Mike Martin, Inge Bremer-Truman (A), Brian Brennan (A), Lisa Bowes (A), John Gilchrist (A), Lockard Young, Jerry Auld (A), Jacqueline Guest (A), Jo Dibblee (A)
And here is a list of genres …
Armand Rosamilia (Horror)
Tim Baker (Thriller/Suspense)
Michal Fay (Literary Fiction/Longform Short Story)
Mike Martin (Mystery)
Inge Bremer-Truman (Coming-of-age Novel)
Mitzi Szereto (Erotica)
Jerry Auld (Mountain Short Stories)
Maria Savva (Dark Fiction/Short Stories)
And a list of the authors/books each featured author has recommended …
Tim Baker’s Unfinished Business and Mark Tufo’s Zombie Fallout 7
Greg Isle’s Black Cross
Bruce Hunter’s In the Bear’s House
Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda
Fran Kimmel’s The Shore Girl
Wayne Grady’s Emancipation Day
Lisa Wheeler’s Dino Baseball
Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project
Will Ferguson’s 419
Jaclyn Aurore’s Standing Up
Jennifer Bogart’s Remember Newvember
Stephen King’s Gerald’s Game
Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses
Flann O’Brien’s At Swim Two-Birds
Lois Lowry’s The Giver
Andrew Peters’s Blues Detective series and Joe Soap
Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Cecelia M. Fernandez’s Leaving Little Havana
For 2014, I have already heard from four Canadian authors (all Albertans!), and one author each from the US and UK, so I’m excited to continue bringing you even more Reading Recommendations in the months to come!
If you are a published author (self or traditional, in print or eBook format) and would like to be featured on the Reading Recommendations site in 2014, please read the About Page on the site and contact me.
And if you are a Reader or an Author and have not yet subscribed to Reading Recommendations – what are you waiting for???