‘Sinking’ signals a career on the rise

Robert Russell // Special to Western NewsEnglish PhD candidate David Huebert’s short-story collection, Peninsula Sinking, is out this month from Biblioasis.

Over the past four years, Peninsula Sinking has shed its skin many times.

English PhD candidate David Huebert first workshopped the short-story collection in 2013 with award-winning writer and University of Toronto professor David Layton. It was only after one of its stories, Enigma, won the CBC Short Story Prize last year that the book – on shelves Oct. 24 from Biblioasis – started to take shape.

“It’s a book that has been around for a while,” Huebert said of Peninsula Sinking. “After winning the CBC prize, I got an agent, submitted it to the publisher and the publisher accepted it. At that point, I think it was 13-14 stories.”

John Metcalf, Biblioasis Fiction Editor and renowned writer and critic, worked with Huebert to cull and polish the collection. He cut two stories and requested two new ones take their place. This guidance jumpstarted the creative flow for Huebert, a writer of fiction, poetry and creative prose praised by Quill & Quire as “one of Canada’s most impressive young writers.”

“I was really feeling I was hitting my stride and getting into my best work. I wrote two more stories, cut two more, wrote another two, cut two more. About 50 per cent of it was written in the last six to eight months,” Huebert explained.

The final product features eight stories, with Enigma being the shortest. Seven of the eight are set in Nova Scotia, Huebert’s home. The remaining story is about a Nova Scotia expat living on Ottawa.

“In a way, the book is like a long version of James Joyce’s Eveline, which kind of asks the question, ‘Should I stay, or should I go?’ That’s the heart of it. I left Nova Scotia because I saw better prospects elsewhere and that makes me sad. A lot of my friends did the same and those who stayed are struggling,” he noted.

“It’s kind of about that tension between places you love and feel you belong and the lure of elsewhere.”

The other main theme in Peninsula Sinking is animals and human and animal love, Huebert added. There are animals in almost every story in various forms, including encounters with animals and ways the natural world calls and beckons us. This theme reflects his dissertation on animals in American Literature, he said.

Now that the book is coming out ­and he has returned from touring it with Biblioasis, Huebert is ecstatic.

“It feels good. I worked really hard on this book and it’s been a long time coming,” he sighed. “It feels so satisfying to publish it at last, and I’m so happy with the publisher.”

Biblioasis, an independent bookstore and publisher in Windsor, Ont., was founded by Dan Wells, MA’97 (History). While the bookstore continues to flourish, the relatively small press has seen great success in recent years with a number of its titles landing on the Scotiabank Giller Prize shortlist.

“I very much felt fully supported. They take my work very seriously. My agent was shopping it around and Biblioasis was kind of a dream home for me, especially for this book, because of how well their books, and short fiction particularly, have been doing and how beautiful their books are,” Huebert said.

“And John Metcalf – I wanted the chance to work with him. He’s kind of a legend. And you don’t get that at every press, even some of the big presses,” he added.

“I had a sense they would be hands-on and really get behind me and do a lot of work for my book. I wouldn’t just be a footnote to the press, whereas with a bigger press, with short story collections, that might happen.”

Having taken a brief hiatus from working on his dissertation to finish Peninsula Sinking, Huebert noted his academic work and his creative work tend to go hand-in-hand.

“There’s a lot of cross-pollination that happens because my dissertation is about animals in American Literature, so a lot of the research I do kind of gets poured directly into my own work. I spent a lot of time, writing, reading, thinking – there’s a lot of back and forth. I think it’s doable, to do something outside.”

One of the stories in Peninsula Sinking is forthcoming in Best Canadian Stories. Another is forthcoming in Fiddlehead and yet another in Canadian Notes & Queries.

“What I’m working on next is a top-secret fiction book about oil – southwestern Ontario oil, which I’m very interested in since I moved here,” he said.