Hingston: Edmonton writer creating anthology about winter

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It’s unavoidable. Take part in any conversation about winters in this city, and it won’t be long before you hear that famous temperature invoked: –40° C.

Jason Lee Norman has noticed this phenomenon, too. But for the local author, it’s less an actual weather forecast than a kind of symbol that binds Edmontonians together.

“It’s that state of mind, that extreme,” Norman says. “It never really gets to 40 below, but people say it a lot. ‘These boots are good to 40 below.’ You have to add the wind chill, with the other thing. It sounds like it makes sense. We all use it.”

He continues: “What happens when it hits 40 below? Like flying over the equator, you think something weird is going to happen. Do the lights go on and off? The Northern Lights—is there a fourth colour that nobody ever sees?”

That mysterious, unifying temperature is also the impetus behind Norman’s latest project: an anthology of writing all about winter in Edmonton.

Combining short fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry, The 40 Below Project is Norman’s attempt to create a panoramic, multi-faceted tribute to the season that, in many ways, defines our everyday lives. (“You feel the way everything slows down,” he says of the annual October–April deep freeze. “And that’s probably because it is: your metabolism slows down. It’s night longer. But it’s a nice feeling.”) Norman will act as editor of the anthology, which is set to be published under his own Wufniks Press imprint in November 2013.

Of course, some of our obsession with winter does come from a less happy place. Too often we seem to be united through our complaints about road conditions, or wind chill. But we also persevere. We shovel. We put on layers. We get on with our lives. Like city council’s recently adopted winter strategy, Norman says The 40 Below Project will also serve to combat some of our frostier stereotypes.

“I think it’ll give a new dimension to the whole season,” he says. “The fact that people aren’t hibernating. It gets cold, but people don’t become cold. From that idea—this bleak situation—life comes out of it. Story comes out of it.”

And since diversity is the anthology’s raison d’etre, Norman, who’s also a co-founder of the reading series Words with Friends, is actively looking for writing from all corners of the city and Edmontonians of every stripe. That means old and young, pros and amateurs, optimists and pessimists, and everyone in between.

Submissions are open now, and Norman is already receiving at least one piece every day. So far poetry is dominating the field, but he’s hopeful the end product will be evenly balanced between all three categories.

“The best thing I’ve read so far is about the day Kennedy was shot,” he says. “It was in November—and our Novembers look very different. Simple, right? We were having a shitty November day, and feeling sorry for ourselves about it, and this news filters out. That [writer], I’m sure, is in his 60s right now.

“If it’s a good story, it doesn’t matter who wrote it. They’re going to like stuff written by an 18-year-old, and an 18-year-old is going to like stuff written by a 60-year-old.”

Norman is an accomplished fiction writer himself—his story collection Americas was featured in these pages back in September. Looking around the city these days, he says he sees literary potential at every turn. “The sound that your feet make in the snow. The way things seem muted. When you start the car at six in the morning, for some reason. It’s a different kind of quiet. It seems like a blank page—like it’s waiting for stories to be written on it.”

The deadline to submit to the 40 Below Project is December 31. Contributors will receive an honorarium, as well as copies of the finished product.

For more information, visit 40belowproject.ca.

(profile originally appeared in the Edmonton Journal, November 30, 2012)

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