Pawelski’s novella, The Finest
Supermarket in Kabul, was
published by Quattro Books in December 2017. Her short stories have appeared in
the Nashwaak Review and Flash Fiction Magazine. A ten-year
Toronto resident, this avid adventurer has also lived and managed human rights
projects in Afghanistan, South Sudan, Bosnia, Kenya, Uzbekistan, and Kosovo. Ele
teaches International Development Law and is writing her next book, a novel featuring
parallel stories about a German mother and son trying to find each other after
becoming separated during World War II.
Please welcome Ele Pawelski.
found Moosemeat Writing Group long before I became a fiction author.
Thankfully. Otherwise I’d probably still be a struggling memoirist.
2010, when I joined Moosemeat, I sought to expand my circle of friends and find
a group of like-minded artists willing to help shape my ideas into something
readable. The year before, I’d moved to Toronto after working overseas on
development projects for twelve years and was still trying to find my footing back
at “home.” I liked writing and a few friends suggested I put my experiences of
life in post-conflict environments like Afghanistan and Bosnia into a book. I
knew how to write academically, but creative writing was a different beast.
I did what everyone with a problem does: searched online. Moosemeat’s website
called out for writers of any ilk. I was in!
history goes back to circa 1995, when a group of committed writers wanted to
continue meeting up after having taken a writing course together. The name was
provoked by an animated debate over a story in which the main character has 10
pounds of moosemeat in a freezer. At least that’s what I’ve heard; Moosemeat membership
has completely turned and the originators are long gone. Certainly the moniker gets
a laugh, especially when we call ourselves meese
or the herd
Moosemeat would become the foundation of my writing accomplishments. But first,
I had to get up the confidence to submit a story! I remember that meeting very
well. I’d submitted a satirical narrative entitled, “Where Taxis Go To Die,”
which poked fun at the poor quality of taxis in war-ravaged countries.
format is straightforward: in advance of every meeting, two writers submit
pieces of less than 6,000 words, either a stand-alone short story or part of
something longer. Generally, attendance is between four and fifteen individuals
who provide feedback one by one. The writer also has a chance to speak at the
end. In addition to regular meetings, once a year, the group collaborates on a
chapbook of flash fiction stories and hosts a public reading for
could feel sweat gathering under my armpits. The critiques came fast and
furious – it was overly funny, not enough of a story line, too little
information about my work colleagues, not enough depth…I got sweatier. When it
was my turn to talk, I barely said anything, crushed that my story didn’t seem
to work for most members. Upon reflection, the earnestness of the reviewers was
obvious; they wanted to help. And a lot of their comments were useful, if only
to point me in new directions.
got easier. Two more similar stories later, I was far less sweaty, and had determined
that writing a funny memoir in the style of Bill Bryson was not going to work as I had
envisioned. In the process, I read and critiqued a lot of short stories, and listened
to the critiques of others. I started to see what worked and what didn’t work on
the page. Notably, there isn’t always agreement amongst the meese, which confirms
the absolute subjectivity as to how much and why a reader enjoys a certain story.
example, during a recent critique, half of us thought a short story that ended
with no character development was fine as it indicated the protagonist stuck to
his guns, while the other half wanted to see some learnings. This kind of
diversity signals it is crucial to write to a target audience. But more
importantly, it hooked me on the value of other people’s opinions and how those
could enrich my own writing.
a year after being in Moosemeat, I sent out the first chapter of The Finest Supermarket in Kabul. I received
an immediate, and very encouraging response via email: “Let me just say “wow!”
The verbal feedback at the meeting was also quite positive, but in addition,
the previous twelve months had prepped me to take all comments constructively. Over the following three years, I presented
the middle and last chapters. Again, the critiques were affirming and helpful, and
motivated me to dig deep in terms of a generous re-write when I put the story
all together. While I could have submitted the rewritten chapters for further
critique – no problems in doing this if a writer chooses – at this point, I
felt the story was ready for more directed suggestions.
exchange for wine, two meese agreed to look over the entire draft novella before
I submitted to my publisher and give structural and big picture comments. After
I signed on with Quattro Books and incorporated my editor’s suggestions, I
convinced one more moose to give me line edits, and check for typos and verb
agreement as the story had changed from past tense to present. Without this
roster of beta readers, I would have been severely limited as to who I felt
comfortable and confident in asking for this kind of help.
has no fees, and membership is fluid, ranging from authors with more than one
book under their belt to aspiring novelists to writers who enjoy putting pen to
paper but are not looking to publish. The only criteria are the willingness to
give honest feedback and periodically submit a story.
part of a writing group has spurred my writing to evolve in ways I could not
have imagined eight years ago: I’m confident writing in the third person and
have tried out the second; I can fashion a decent story arc; I get that a twist
at the end doesn’t always make for good reading; and finally, I treat writing
more like a job than a hobby. The fact that meese are also excellent cheerleaders
means I’m unlikely to drop out anytime soon. We each email the group with any good
writing news, attend each other’s writing events, and go out for beers from
time to time. What’s more to want from a bunch of random creatives!