Category Archives: Interviews

The Anna Dowdall Interview

Anna Dowdall was born in Montreal and recently moved back there after living all over Canada and the US. Her latest book, April on Paris Street, is a bittersweet literary mystery that has garnered early praise. Here’s my flash review:

“Dowdall’s main character, Ashley Smeeton, is a street smart PI who finds herself in a completely different situation from her normal sleuthing. Her client sends her off to Paris to convince his wife to return to Montreal but all is not what it seems. Dowdall deftly pulls the reader in with all the right ingredients for an entertaining and mysterious read. Her prose is worth the read alone, she has a terrific way with details and descriptions. There is a clever twist to the end of the story and it is not what you will expect. Well done Anna Dowdall.”

(Note: The following interview originally appeared at The South Branch Scribbler – Ed)

Allan: Thank you for taking the time to be our guest, Anna. Before we discuss your novels and writing, can you please share some personal details with our readers? Where you reside, family & friends or pets.

Anna: Hi Allan! Just as Ashley Smeeton must travel to the mysterious east end of Montreal, there to make all manner of discoveries, I’ve chosen to live a fully francophone life in east-end Montreal. I share a 115-year-old renovated coach house on one of the city’s picturesque green lanes with my part-time editor and full-time cat, Charlie.

Allan: Your website has a neat review – “A Lush, Gripping and Satisfying read” – Iona Whishaw. It doesn’t get much better than that. Tell our readers what to expect when they pick up their copy of April on Paris Street.

Anna: I wanted April on Paris Street to be a suspenseful detective story, first of all, with a relatable PI, but it’s also a mystery that operates on other levels. It’s a sometimes humorous Thelma and Louise “romp,” a sensory experience involving two cities I love, a narrative that invites the reader to contemplate sturdily alternate forms of family, and a revenge fable. But wait, there’s more. It’s a compendium of every form of doubling, fracturing, splitting and replication I was able to think of, suitably encompassed within labyrinthine twin cities. This dédoublement is intended to be decorative, and also intersects with the themes of social fractures, social disguise and competing truths. In a playful but slightly uneasy way, it invites the reader to consider Mirabel’s question, the snowy night when Mireille shows up at their door: how many Miras (or Belles) would in fact be too many?

Allan: When was the defining moment you decided to write stories and seek to be a published author?

Anna: When my mother read me all of Andrew Lang’s fairy tales. The Pink Fairy Book, unless it was The Violet Fairy Book, was like a two-by-four on the side of my little head.

Allan: The Au Pair is your second novel but the first in which we meet your MC Ashley Smeeton as an adult and a private investigator. It has garnered many positive reviews. What can our readers expect?

Anna: The Au Pair was my effort to write a Canadian “classic mystery,” with a mixture of cozy and noir elements and strong female characters. It has my signature obsession with setting and atmosphere. The reader will find in it elements of the Gothic but without the claustrophobia and fainting heroines. Gothic conventions are subsumed into a parable of a dysfunctional family’s multi-generational suffering, but the book offers a sense of resolution. All three of my books, in fact, bring the reader to the sunny side of the street. Female victimhood is a chimera, a misdirection of the mystery plot: the resolution reveals underestimated and misunderstood women playing a long game.

Allan: Where did the inspiration come from for your series and your MC?

Anna: My first book, After the Winter, is vintage-flavoured romantic suspense with that subtle feminist twist I like. It’s a tribute to a midcentury genre not much read anymore but with some fabulous neglected books. The Au Pair, with its Laurentian version of an English country house filled with privileged people, probably owes quite a bit to what is called Golden Age fiction, e.g., Agatha Christie. April on Paris Street has those influences, but also others: in my piling on of meaning around the doubles, there’s a playful invocation of high literature, everything from A Tale of Two Cities to Two Solitudes.

Ashley has been dear to my heart, as she evolves throughout. She is a pigtailed nine-year-old in After the Winter, a secondary character who somehow insinuates her way into the protagonist role in books 2 and 3. For my PI I wanted a working-class heroine, a young woman of the people, quintessentially Canadian in her multiple identities, and with an oddness about her that sets her apart. My background is neither middle class nor unicultural, and I’m sure there is something of me in her.

Allan: Please share a childhood memory or anecdote.

Anna: One summer I wrote a “book” on some waste paper my dad brought home from the paper mill where he worked. The heroines were called Gwendolyn and Marigold. They had eyes like twin sapphire pools and, like Thelma and Louise, they were preoccupied with breaking free. Their exotic adventures came to an abrupt conclusion when I went back to school in September.

Allan: From reading your bio – Bio – Anna Dowdall – you’ve lived an interesting life (even as a Maritimer while teaching at Dalhousie University) and have returned to Montreal to write full time. How much of your past adventures find their way into your stories? How many of Anna’s personality is evidenced in your characters?

Anna: I am in all of my characters, I swear! Even, really, the awful ones. As for the first part of your question—yes, adventure is the keyword. Why shouldn’t women have adventures? Unlike Ashley, however, I’ve avoided tripping over dead bodies—or so I will maintain.

Living in and travelling to different parts of this beautiful country of ours should be more common. It’s been my privilege to visit many different parts of Canada. I’ll never forget driving across the country, from Halifax to the Yukon. Among many captivating places, for some reason, the Qu’Appelle River Valley and the Saint John River Valley stick in my mind.

In New Brunswick, we were driving along some narrow road at dusk and began to follow this river. I wasn’t sure where we were, and then I saw the sign, St. John River. It had been pouring all day but now there was a yellow light in the west, lighting up the surface of the water. It was one of those moments in time. I’ll save emoting about the Qu’Appelle Valley for another Q&A. I grew up on the shores of the mighty Saint Lawrence and clearly, I have a thing for rivers.

Allan: Favorite authors? Books? Movie? Dessert?

Anna: Writers: Constance Beresford-Howe, Rebecca West, Mervyn Peake, Ursula Curtiss, Lucy Maud Montgomery. But I love many more.

Movie: Moscow Doesn’t Believe in Tears

Dessert: homemade apple pie, made from scratch with Canadian fall apples

Allan: Anything else you’d like to share with us?

Anna: Your questions are an ingenious mix of friendly and probing. I think I’ve said more than enough.

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Dean Jobb Interview

Author Dean Jobb has recently released a new Nova Scotia true crime collection: Madness, Mayhem and Murder through Pottersfield Press. The collection features a variety of true crimes stories from Nova Scotia’s past.

In an email, he spoke with Katie Ingram about this new book and his interest in the province’s criminal past.

You had previously written about Nova Scotia’s true crime, in this book’s predecessor, Daring, Devious & Deadly, published in 2020, and years ago in Bluenose Justice and Crime Wave. What makes Nova Scotia true crime such an interesting topic for you?

I studied Atlantic Canada’s history in university and when I started out as a journalist. I covered the courts for the Halifax Daily News and the Chronicle Herald. As I reported on current cases, I began researching and writing about important or forgotten crimes and trials from Nova Scotia’s past. So, my love of history dovetailed with my growing interest in the law and the justice system.

2. As mentioned above, you’ve covered this area extensively; how did you choose what to include in this most recent book?

Nova Scotia has a rich history of crime and justice, so I had plenty of stories to choose from. To make the cut, each story had to be a great read and say something about what life was like at that time. I also aimed to include stories from around the province — from Truro, Antigonish, Lunenburg, Windsor, Liverpool and Cape Breton, as well as Halifax.

3. How relevant is historical true crime today?

True crime stories offer a window on the past. They deal with major events and expose how our ancestors lived, what they believed in, how police investigations and forensic science have evolved, and how the courts have grappled to ensure that justice is done. The cases I’ve collected are filled with dramatic events, memorable characters, and surprising twists and turns. And they’re intriguing stories with a lot to say about how society and the law have changed over time. 

4. If not stated above, what would you like your readers to take away from the collection?

I hope these compelling stories will entertain as well as inform. Each one offers a mini-history of its time and place. Readers will learn a lot about the past and have a better understanding of how society, the law and the courts have changed, and how justice could be as elusive in the past as it can be today.

5. Do you have a favourite story in this collection? If so, which one and why?

It has to be the foiled plot to assassinate Prince George of Wales in Halifax in 1883. The future King George V was a young sailor on board a Royal Navy warship anchored in the harbour when two Irish-Americans were arrested for possessing a large cache of dynamite. Fenians, American-based terrorists fighting to free Ireland from British rule, had denoted bombs in London and other English cities, and there’s clear evidence the men arrested in Halifax had planned to blow up the prince’s ship as part of the Fenians’ “dynamite campaign.” Had they succeeded, and killed the heir to the throne, their act of terror would have changed the course of history. 

6. You included an overarching look at capital punishment in the form of hanging in Chapter 13. Why did you choose, in this chapter, to focus more on the history of the event instead of a specific person or story?

There are calls, from time to time, to reinstate capital punishment for murder in Canada. A look back at the history of hangings in Nova Scotia offers a reminder of the cruelty of executions and the often-arbitrary decisions that were made when condemned prisoners pleaded for clemency. And (it’s) a reminder, as well, that capital punishment did little to deter murderers. 

7. For each story, they have several credits, including other books and archival sources. How difficult was it to find enough information to ensure a well-rounded tale?

A surprising amount of information has survived. Newspapers are the most important source for the details of old crimes and in the nineteenth century, papers often published transcripts of major trials. The Nova Scotia Archives has files or records of some of the cases recreated in the book, and the Supreme Court published its rulings in several cases that involved important legal issues. I visited local museums and courthouses, to find out more about cases and the history of the community. And I gathered any previous accounts of the cases and scoured memoirs, published diaries, and history books for insights into people, events, and what life was like at the time.

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Katie Ingram
Some Rights Reserved  

The Rick Revelle Interview 2.0*

Rick was born in Smith Falls Ontario. He belongs to the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation. His books include, I Am Algonquin (2013), Algonquin Spring (2015), Algonquin Sunset (2017) and the final and fourth book in the series, Algonquin Legacy, which is now available. The series takes place on both sides of the St Lawrence River Valley and the Great Lakes and to the Rocky Mountains during the years of 1320 to 1350s. It follows an Algonquin Native family unit as they fight to survive in the harsh climate of warfare, survival from the elements and the constant quest for food of this pre-contact era. His readers are introduced to the Algonquin, Anishinaabe, Lakota, Mi´kmaq, Mohawk, and Lakȟóta, languages as they are used in the vernacular in the four novels. He lives in Glenburnie, Ontario.

For those not familiar with your work, can you talk about your artistic path?

I started writing this series of books when I was 55 years old. As an Omàmiwinini (Algonquin) person who reads as much historical non-fiction as I can lay my hands on I soon realized that there was nothing written about my own ancestors. After seeing the movie Apocalypto I knew how I wanted to write my novels. So I started doing intense research and created an Omàmiwinini family unit that lived in the 1300’s pre-contact and wrote about how they survived on Turtle Island from the ravages of warfare, starvation, nature’s elements and the animals that they tried to hunt for survival.

What inspires you to write about your People, and what new discoveries does each book bring?

I could not find anything written about my people. There was lots written about the Anishinaabe, Blackfoot, Cree, Haudenosaunee, Lakota, Ouendant (Huron), etc. So. I decided to change this literary error and write the books myself. Each book brings the reader to a different part of the country that they can actually visit. They are introduced to the Native communities that lived in these areas. The legends that they believe in and the cultural differences and the ways that they co-existed within their lands that may have been different from the Omàmiwinini people.

Where have you visited across Canada and what are your favourite memories of different parts of the country?

In doing my research I travelled from Newfoundland to South Dakota, Manitoba and all the lands in between. I visited every major museum in all these provinces and states and created friendships to aid in my research and storytelling. The only regret is that I could not travel while I wrote Algonquin Legacy. COVID put a hamper on that, but the three provinces that this book took place in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta I had travelled to before. When I needed clarification on certain research items I got on the phone and called people in these provinces.

Favourite memories would be some of the museums I visited:

  • The Rooms in St Johns Newfoundland
  • Thunder Bay Museum in Thunder Bay Ontario
  • The Manitoba Museum in Winnipeg Manitoba which has to be #1 on my list.

How important is talking to young people to you? You do a lot of work with schools and your work is studied in the classroom. What responsibility do you take on in this role?

I have a unique collection of furs, weapons and artifacts from that era that takes up six- 6-foot tables. I visit schools and talk to all classes from JK to Grade 12. I call my collection my Native Tickle Bag and Tickle Trunk; these things transport everything I have. I guess you could say I am a travelling museum. A great majority of the students have never seen the items I have and each piece that I have has a story connected with it. The children and teens get to touch and handle everything I bring into the schools which makes a great sensory experience for them. For the Grade 6’s and up I read passages from my books. The grade JK to Grade 6 students pepper me with questions. The older classes not so much, but you can see they are taking everything in and they are learning from my presentations.

What are you most looking forward to with the release of Algonquin Legacy this fall?

I am looking forward to the ending of the travels of Mahingan’s family. Plus I am looking forward to a new beginning of stories. The final chapter has an Easter Egg of what is coming in the future from myself and Crossfield Publishing.

What is your preferred method of writing – is it all on computers, notebooks, etc?

I write in a scribbler. I find my pen can keep up with my fast-moving ideas. If I get 30 pages written that way once I do the research and put in dialogue I will double that to 60 or 70 pages. I love writing on trains and buses. I have a favourite bar here in Napanee, Shoeless Joes, that I wrote the whole outline for my next novel which is now completed; The Elk Whistle Warrior Society. In fact, I am going there this afternoon to work on the 2nd book of that series.

What advice would you give an eager first-time author wanting to publish their first book?

  • Write what you are passionate about.
  • Do your research.
  • Get your ideas down on paper and use that as your base.
  • Know what your first and last chapter are.
  • Never ever self edit. Do not sweat the commas, periods and sentence structures too much, that is what editors make their living on, fine tuning our ideas that we have on paper.

Who are some of your favourite authors?

My absolute three favourite Historical authors are:

  • James Willard Schultz (1857-1947) who lived among the Blackfoot and wrote many books on his experiences.
  • Richard Berleth who wrote Bloody Mohawk a non-fiction account of the French and Indian Wars
  • Thomas B. Costain who wrote The White and the Gold.

You wrote about Turtle Island – what was the most fascinating aspect of this region in your opinion?

How my ancestors lived pre-contact there. No jails, no alcoholism, no diseases. The land was untouched and the people here treated the land with great respect. The land and all the animals ensured their survival.

An Elder once told me that the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were:

  1. Guns
  2. Alcohol
  3. Disease
  4. Religion

For more information on Rick Revelle and his work, visit

*Editor’s note: Rick was first interviewed for The Miramichi Reader in 2015:

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Hollay Ghadery Interview

Hollay Ghadery is one busy writer, and in her debut memoir Fuse (Guernica Editions, 2021) draws own experiences as a woman of Iranian and British Isle descent, diving into conflicts and uncertainty surrounding the biracial female body and identity.

From the blurb by Nila Gupta, author of The Sherpa and Other Fictions, which was nominated for the Commonwealth Writers Prize:

“A searing account of the impact of toxic masculinity on a vulnerable young girl’s psyche. Hollay, born to an Iranian father and a White mother, explodes onto the page with her coming of age story. Told with wit and verve, Hollay zig zags through the minefield of familial and cultural expectations set for girl children in the 1980’s and ’90s, all the while battling an inherited vulnerability to mental illness. Hollay’s heroic story to find her authentic self is, at turns, zany, heart-breaking, and profound. A must-read.”

Recently appointed the new reviews editor at the Minona Review, she lives in small-town Ontario. She has her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Guelph. Her fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and reviews have been published in various literary journals, including The Malahat Review, Room, Grain, CAROUSEL, and The Fiddlehead. Her personal essays have also appeared on CBC Parents and LadyLatitudes.

Why was this the time to release your memoir Fuse?

The short answer is because this is when I finished it. I’d been trying to wrap up Fuse for years but my mental health wasn’t the best and I was really struggling to make it through the day-to-day. I was definitely trying to write it during this difficult time—and many of the rawest parts of the book were written at my lowest points—but I didn’t have the focus to finish the project then.

I managed to pull it all together once I was a few months sober.

For many mental health is a mystery or it has a particularly negative stigma. What were some of your early experiences with stigma?

Quiet conversations and back-channel talk: A great uncle who served in WWII and was never quite the same after, or my paternal grandfather, who may or may not have had a problem with alcohol and who may or may not have died as a direct or indirect result of it. There were dozens of half-shadowed stories like this growing up, and no one really talked about it. And the parts of the stories that were talked about were always changing, depending on when, where and who was there.

I get that this narrative transmutation is a trait of all storytelling—especially verbal story-telling—that we always, to an extent, perform for our audience and since that audience changes, so too do the stories. But what really stands out about the stories about mental illness is not just how hushed they were; how illicit. It was clear that while people were speaking of mental illness, they also felt they shouldn’t be. More specifically, they shouldn’t have to. It was shameful and taboo, yes, but more than that, these stories—and by extension, the people living them—were a burden. If only they’d just go away…

The quality I’m describing here is hardly unique to my family. As I grew up, I saw this same sentiment reflected elsewhere; in other families, as well as in the media. So, obviously, when I became aware that I had a mental illness (although I didn’t think of it in those terms then; I just thought there was something wrong with me) I didn’t feel like I should talk about it. And it certainly didn’t occur to me to ask for help.

What do initiatives such as BIPOC mental health month (July) mean to you? 

I think it’s good that this intersection is being acknowledged. It’s long overdue and the mental health issues that face BIPOC individuals can be quite singular. On a personal level, however, I always feel like an imposter applying the BIPOC term to myself, even though I understand I can and often do. It boils down to my continuing to feel conflicted about being mixed race—specifically mixed with white, like having that white in me cancels out my also being West Asian.

How pigmented does a person of colour have to be to qualify? I never asked myself this sort of question before I wrote Fuse, but after I wrote it, a smattering of people questioned my right to consider myself a person of colour because they considered me white passing—a confounding notion because I have been discriminated against precisely because to many people, I do not present as white. Obviously, this criticism stems from a highly colourized, subjective and narrow notion of race, but it shook me and made me feel like I wasn’t “other” enough to be “other” and not white enough to be white.

Fuse is highly personal. What was the hardest part of putting it down on paper?

“I wasn’t as worried about what the general public would think as I was—and to an extent, continue to be—concerned about offending my family, who features largely in my book. But how does one talk about who they are without talking about where they came from? How does one speak to where they came from without talking about their family?

I couldn’t, so I didn’t. I did do my best to remain compassionate and (I know it sounds corny) lead with love.  I also made sure to stay focused on my story and not venture into other people’s stories when it wasn’t immediately relevant to me. And even then, I really thought about my motivations for including something: If I was including something because I was working through unresolved feelings or felt any anger, I scrapped the section. The sections that are included serve as springboards for the reader to reflect and have conservations in their own life, and (I hope) they don’t feel muddled by resentment. I feel none.

How do you talk to children about mental health? Tips?

I don’t profess to be an expert on talking to kids about mental health, but with my kids, we talk about it openly and without judgement. I think discussions about mental health should be as prevalent as talking to kids about their physical health. Like understanding internal cues for their hunger, I encourage my kids to recognize when they are feeling something uncomfortable or distressing. Most of all, I encourage them not to bury their feelings or feel ashamed of them. I continue to make it clear to my children that I’m always here to listen to them and that no feeling—no random, nattering, scary, persistent, unsettling thought—is unnatural. If it is bothering them, it’s important.

“Feel the feels and talk it out when you’re ready,” is a constant refrain around our house.

Another is, “You’re allowed to be in a bad mood. You’re not allowed to take it out on everyone else.” This is a reminder for them to both honour what they’re feeling and respect other people, which can be difficult for kids (and adults for that matter) when they’re really struggling through something.

The pace of Fuse is impressive: the way in which you move from the present to internal memories of your mother’s face, its similarity – at times – to your own is quite effective. What was the editing process like?

Oof. It was a trip. In fact, in the early edits, a good chunk of the feedback revolved around providing transitional cues to the reader in certain spots. My mind—like the minds of many people—jumps around a lot and the connections I was making were clear to me but to someone trying to follow along, it would have been frustrating. So, I had to make sure I cued the reader a little more. It didn’t take much: readers are smart, but I did need to learn to be a better guide throughout my story.

In the essay Good Breeding, a family (yours) is discussing a family member’s drinking problem, while the conversation turns to possible societal stigma your parents may have faced for being from two different ethnic backgrounds. Do you feel that your thoroughness in exploring intergenerational conflict, solidarity and support has exhausted you from any further familial writing? 

For now, maybe, but probably not for good. Family stories and relationships are more fluid than perhaps people think—they’re not quite so fixed. Yes, I am definitely exhausted from writing about family at the moment, but I think there will always be something new to explore as I get older and my family gets older and relationships ebb and flow. Already, I see different ways I could have looked at some of the situations about which I wrote. The conclusions I draw now are similar to the ones I drew in the book but the way into the narrative would have been different, and this would have shown something different—something new—about me, my family and my understanding of the world.

This said, while I am fine writing more about my children and partner (because they are fine with it too), I am uneasy writing more about my birth family: my parents and brothers. I am thankful that no one outright objected to my writing Fuse, but I gather this book being out there is a little unsettling for them. I get it. I’m unsettled by it too, but I think that the issues I attempt to unpack are important and need space. I think we have to learn to be okay with discomfort to move past it enough to heal and grow.

What has been the most encouraging reader reaction so far since publishing Fuse?

There hasn’t really been one reader with a reaction that stands out to me more than any other, but there has been one reaction from multiple readers that never ceases to encourage me: when readers tell me they feel seen. Writing Fuse was one thing (part of me never expected it to be published), but signing the contract with Guernica and sharing it with others proved to be a pretty terrifying privilege.

So, whenever a reader tells me that Fuse resonated with them—whether it’s because they’re biracial too, or have experienced cultural clashes, or suffer from mental illness, or don’t check off all the neat little boxes that make someone a “good parent” or whatever—I feel this teary-eyed swell of accomplishment and relief. I wrote Fuse to make people feel less alone, and in reaching out to let me know that Fuse resonated, these readers make me feel less alone too.

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Aaron Schneider Interview

Aaron Schneider’s What We Think We Know (Gordon Hill Press) is a debut collection of short fiction that tests, expands, and sometimes explodes the limits of the short story, setting conventional forms alongside fragmented narratives, playing with perspective, and incorporating the instruments of data analysis (figures, tables, and charts) into literary fiction. Says Toronto Book Award finalist Jean Marc Ah-Sen, “one of the most daring books to come out in recent memory. Schneider is a literary marvel.”

Aaron Schneider is a Founding Editor at The /tƐmz/ Review and was a Founding Editor at The Rusty Toque. His stories have appeared/are forthcoming in The Danforth Review, Filling Station, The Puritan, Hamilton Arts and Letters, and Prolit-. His story “Cara’s Men (As Told to You in Confidence)” was nominated for the Journey Prize.   

Your book opens with a second-person narrative. There’s something about the distancing from Cara, whose sex life the narrator is recounting as to them in confidence. Is this a betrayal of trust, or is the narrator internalizing? Is this post-confessional?

This question is interesting because I don’t think of that story as having to do with confession, although it very obviously does. For me, the story, and the choice of narrative voice has to do with the listener/reader. Cara is unburdening herself to a listener who is, I think quite obviously, male and interested in her, and I see the story as being about him and his interest in her. He is, also quite obviously, using empathy and supportive listening to try to seduce her, and, for me, the story is about that uncomfortable dynamic that is created when empathy is enlisted on behalf of (you could even say, weaponized on behalf of) male desire. I chose the second person to collapse the listener and the reader. My hope is that the story will create in some of its male readers, in men who are undoubtedly empathetic and supportive listeners, a flash of recognition, and, perhaps, a minor frisson of discomfort. It is, in short, a story that I hope will make men like me just a little bit less sure of how we move through the world.

Is any of this work autobiographical or did you recreate the tone of knowledge and familiarity from scratch? For example, did your father really run the Hincks Farm rural treatment centre until 1987?

There is one piece of autofiction in the book, and that is, in many ways, more autobiographical than fictional. The details in that piece that have to do with my father, such as him running the Hincks Farm treatment centre, are as accurate as I have been able to manage within the limitations of my memory and the records that I was able to access through my research. He did run that centre. It might have been until 1987, or it might have been until the year before or after. In this case, the specific date is less important than the trajectory of his career. In other instances, such as when writing about his qualifications, I was very careful to check the facts, going so far as to contact him (although we are estranged) to confirm what my research had revealed.

Although much of that piece is autobiographical, some elements are fictional. In some places, I invented scenes. In others, I bent the facts. This was always with an eye to creating a piece that carried the reader into the emotional core of the experience that I was writing about. For example, there is a detailed description of bullying that is accurate in its details, but whose time frame I shifted. The bullying took place when I was in junior high school, but, in the book, it happens in the middle of grade school. I did this to dampen its impact on the reader and on the piece as a whole. It’s fairly extreme, and I worried, perhaps needlessly, that it would be too shocking for the reader, that it would dominate a work of which it was meant to be a, but not the only, part. Lowering the ages of the children involved made it less consequential—it reduced its gravity and allowed it to sit more naturally alongside the other elements of the piece. It was also a way of distancing myself from it, of setting it at a remove that made writing about it bearable.

“In my case, what works is consistency. I have a fairly demanding job, so I can’t write a lot all at once—I just don’t have the time. What I do instead is set a goal of writing about 150 words a day for a total of about 1000 words a week.”

A lot of the other pieces in the book draw to greater and lesser extents on my autobiography, but they also draw on the biographies of people whose lives have intersected with mine, on the stories of family, friends, exes. Lives move differently than narratives, they have their own logics, rhythms and ruptures, and I often find that the best way to create the sense of a life moving through and developing across a story is to ground that story in a person’s lived experience, or, at least, what I know of it. More than a few people will recognize versions of themselves in these stories. In some cases, I worry about what it means to borrow like this from a life, and about whether I am doing it responsibly, ethically. I have tried to address this is by consistently foregrounding the tenuous and uncertain ways in which we see and know other people, the essential instability of that knowledge, so that the stories are about those lives, but, also and equally, about my understanding of them. This is, in part, why I chose the title of the collection—“What We Think We Know.” 

In combining subjective emotionalism with cold objective data, such as in 106 Missiles: An Autofiction in Fragments, what did you find you were creating?

I have never been very good at explaining what it is that I have created, not least of all because I think that a mark of a piece’s success is that it resists straightforward explanations and easy categorisation. So, instead of explaining what it is I was making, I want to talk about the framing of the question. The question contrasts “subjective emotionalism” and “cold objective data.” This is a conventional juxtaposition, and one that is rarely interrogated, but it should be: if we look at it carefully, what we find is not a simply binary opposition, but a pair of concepts that overlap, bleed into and reflect each other. I think this may be one of the things that the pandemic has really driven home: numbers, data, figures, the whole apparatus of statistical and scientific knowledge is weighted with feeling. I don’t think that I am the only one who found myself having strong emotional reactions to daily tallies and trend lines, and who spent the past year and a half being terrified, depressed, and, now, finally, revived a little by raw data. One of the things that I was exploring in that piece and several others in the book is not the distinction between objective data and subjective emotionalism, but the way in which emotions attach to data and date evokes emotions, or, in other words, I was exploring the warmth of data.   

How do lit journals factor into your goal-setting ways as a writer?

I have always paid attention to the notes on publisher’s websites that tell you that you need to have a track record of literary publications for your manuscript to receive serious consideration, and I regularly submit stories to journals, but I have never thought of this in terms of goal setting beyond “get some stuff published.”

What is more important to me is the other side of literary publishing. For the past decade, I have been involved in running literary journals. First, The Rusty Toque, and, now, The Temz Review. This work doesn’t directly intersect with my writing, and I don’t link it to my writing through goal setting, but I see it as integral to the work of being a writer in the sense that I see contributing to the literary community as a necessary extension of writing and a compliment to it. So, if I have goals when it comes to literary journals, it is to publish new and unique voices, and, if that has anything to do with my writing, it is that it is a small contribution to creating the kind of literary community I would like to be a part of.

 What’s your favourite Gilles Deleuze quote or book and why?

Probably his and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, simply because it was my introduction to his work and the book whose ideas I find myself most often returning to. Although, I don’t return to them that often. I was introduced to his work in graduate school and I have a difficult and fairly complex relationship to a lot of the thoughts I encountered during my doctorate. I have managed to return to some of it, but I am still not yet at the point where I can read Deleuze easily, without evoking any number of quite unpleasant memories. This is not an uncommon experience, and it’s one that one of the characters in the books shares. I should say that this is not the fault of Deleuze or a comment on his work. It is a comment on how the milieu in which we encounter a thinker can deeply influence our response to them, and on the way in which alienation from a thinker can be one of the unfortunate effects of grad school.

Who are some of your favourite Canadian authors?

I am a die-hard Alice Munro fan, although not of the Munro that I think most people see when they read her. My favourite book of hers is Who Do You Think You Are?—I reference it in the collection. That book is both quietly political and very much dedicated to chronicling the violence that was/is endemic to Southwestern Ontario. As someone who has lived most of his life in Munro country, I have always appreciated the way in which she has grappled with the less than pleasant aspects of the region.

I admire the work of D.A. Lockhart. He’s amazingly prolific, and he has a moral clarity and willingness to address the powerful in his books that I really appreciate. He also manages to run a small press and write as much as he does, which makes his output doubly amazing.

There are also a lot of younger/emerging writers whose work I appreciate and find energizing: Isabella Wang, Manahil Bandukwala, Khashayar Mohammadi, and Ben Robinson, to name just a few.

Finally, I would say that Canadian writers are great, but one of the most important things for me is reading writers from around the world. Probably every third book I read is in translation, and I don’t think my writing would look anything like what it does if that weren’t the case.

What is something that you never thought you would ever write about but ended up writing about anyway / eventually?

It’s not so much subject matter as an approach to that subject matter. I would never have thought that I would write autofiction. I am still not entirely comfortable with the fact that I have, but here I am…

What advice would you give someone struggling to complete their first book?

This is difficult because there is no one-size-fits-all formula for writers. Every writer is different, and every writer needs to find the way that they work best. I think part of finishing your first book is figuring this out. So, listen to all the conflicting advice that writers give about writing, try it, and throw out the stuff that doesn’t work.

In my case, what works is consistency. I have a fairly demanding job, so I can’t write a lot all at once—I just don’t have the time. What I do instead is set a goal of writing about 150 words a day for a total of about 1000 words a week. This isn’t much, but, if I keep doing it steadily week after week, it starts to add up. That’s my approach, and it’s what works for me; someone else’s approach might be, likely is, entirely different.

What are you working on next?

Right now, I am wrapping up a novella set during the last big flood in Houston called “Susan, Alan and the Storm.” The two title characters are a couple, and, in the opening pages of the novella, they divide four times each into four Susans and four Alans moving through separate realities—it’s both as strange and not at all as strange as it sounds. After that, I’m going to focus on finishing a collection of stories that I have started called Death Drawing. Each story begins in the same moment in a high school life drawing class, and follows one of the students through their life to their death. I also have a novel called The Supply Chain coming out in the spring of 2022, so I expect that I’ll be working on edits on it fairly soon.

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The Sydney Warner Brooman Interview

Sydney Warner Brooman (they/them) was raised in Grimsby, Ontario. They attended Western University in London, Ontario, and currently live in Toronto. The Pump is their debut short fiction collection. Their story “The Bottom” was shortlisted for The Malahat Review’s 2020 Open Season Awards, and they have recent work in American Chordata, Thorn Literary Magazine, and other literary journals.

Miramichi Reader: Tell us a bit about your background, education, employment, etc.

I graduated from Western University in London, ON with an Honours BA in English Literature & Creative Writing in 2018, which is where I actually started The Pump. The book began as a thesis project under the supervision of poet Tom Cull, and I wrote most of it before I graduated. I’ve worked a few odd jobs, the weirdest being a pioneer village actor and tour guide. That job makes an appearance in The Pump.

MR: Tell us about some of the books, authors, poets or other people (such as teachers) that may have influenced you to become a writer.

I probably wouldn’t be a writer if I hadn’t read Gordon Korman and Roald Dahl when I was young. Dahl’s Danny The Champion of The World is a book I return to often. I had a lot of teachers in public school and university who certainly encouraged me on my writing journey, but I honestly can’t remember a specific moment in which I ‘decided’ that I would be a writer. It always just felt like something that had to happen.

MR: Tell us a little about your debut short story collection, The Pump. How long has it been in the making? Had you considered making it a novel first?

The Pump is a book of heavily interconnected short stories that follow the townspeople of a Southern Ontario small town with an apathetic municipal government, a tainted water supply, and an environment that has turned against the townspeople after being mistreated for so long. The book is about queerness and love and living below the poverty line and attempts to explore how we separate where we grew up from who we are. It was never going to be a novel—I knew I wanted the book to be made up of stories from the outset.

MR: In her review of The Pump for TMR, Anuja Varghese observed: “Through the beavers, we get both a deeply unsettling bit of magical realism and also an interesting disruption of the beaver as a patriotic Canadian symbol. In Brooman’s stories, the very notion of “home” is turned on its head, and what is exposed in the process is unremorseful violence and all-consuming rot.”  Does that sound like what you were trying to convey?

The beavers are definitely more symbolic than a literal pull from my upbringing. I wanted something that honoured the Can lit tradition while also turning it on its head—a part of nature that is typically non-violent, especially towards humans. We humans intact so much violence on each other and on the land we live on, so I wanted to give the land some of its power back.

MR: Do you have a favourite book (or books), one(s) that you like to revisit from time to time?

All of Heather O’Neill’s books are favourites of mine, particularly her most recent The Lonely Hearts Hotel. That book teaches me how to be a writer in a new way each time I read it.

MR: If you could write a biography of any person, living or dead, who would that be and why?

Heather O’Neill 100%. But it could never be a written biography—it would be like, some kind of experimental stage show with film and live art and audience participation and everyone could bring their pet cat to the venue. Her daughter Arizona O’Neill is one of the best short filmmakers I’ve seen in a long time, so she would probably be the best person to make it. I could just attend and cry and clap and be president of the fan club. Arizona’s at the top of my list of other artists/creatives I’d like to work with someday. 

MR: Tell us about your writing space. (Do you always write in the same area? Do you use a laptop or a desktop computer, etc)

I do most of my writing on my phone actually! My process is that I draft dialogue and scene structure on my phone, with little notes like “add description of house here”, and then I send it to myself and do all the descriptions and editing on my laptop afterwards. All my best words are written in my notes app on my phone though.

MR: Amazing! Covid question: how have you been coping with the pandemic? What changes (if any) has it made in your life?

The pandemic has made me a real homebody honestly. I always used to write at libraries or coffee shops—always out of the house. Now I’m much more comfortable creating things at home, and doing things like cooking and cleaning and just relaxing in my space. Pre-Covid, my house was kind of just that place I slept at. Now, it’s a sacred space.

MR: What do you like to do when you are not writing (or reading)?

Life is really busy right now. I’m usually working my day job, or running errands, or helping at church. My partner and I love going for these really long walks around Toronto and finding new places to have coffee and just exploring until our feet hurt and we’re lost. I try to get outside as often as I can so that working from home doesn’t make me too restless and anxious. All of these little everyday things make up a life at the end of the day.

Thanks, Sydney!

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The Genevieve Chornenki Interview

When Genevieve Chornenki escapes a brush with blindness, things never looked better—city pigeons, people, stainless steel pots. But questions about her experience linger: Who was responsible for her close call? Can she safeguard other people’s eyesight? How do our eyes work, anyway, and why do they give so much pleasure? With a newborn baby and a background in dispute resolution, Genevieve sets her sights on answers. The results aren’t always what she went looking for. 

Don’t Lose Sight is the author’s quest, pursued with humour, hubris, and tenacity.

There is a novelistic quality to your book – the character development, story arc and tone, often emulate the tone of a novel. What was it like to mine your own life and repurpose it for telling this story?

Mining my own life and conveying my experiences to engage or amuse others was, for the most part, enormous fun. I try not to take myself—or human existence—too seriously and tend to be amused by quotidian absurdities, including my own neurotic preoccupations. So, I enjoyed arranging what happened to me and my ill-fated left eye in a way that might catch readers up. Several readers have called the book a “page-turner.” My little book? Splendid.

For me, writing is both pleasurable and satisfying. It was fun to figure out how to convey my social pretensions without spelling them out or to decide what titles to assign to the parts and chapters of the book. I relished the challenge of conveying a notion like beauty without using that word. I also got a charge out of recreating oral exchanges between me and others, and, trust me, I didn’t have to invent any of the dialogue outright.

There was, however, one thing that I had to come to terms with—revealing personal details. I’m not generally comfortable with personal disclosure but came to understand I was addressing book readers, not mind readers, who need context and background. My editor reinforced this when he puzzled over why I was upset about how my complaint against an optometrist was handled. He more or less said, “What makes you so special?”

People don’t really think about vision as being a privilege. The eyes are such sensitive things and injuries do happen often. Do you think you have a new appreciation of vision now?

The sense of sight has always been my most treasured sense (as opposed to hearing which, living in construction-riddled Toronto, mostly annoys me), so I wouldn’t say I have a new appreciation of vision now. Rather, I would say that I have a much, much more informed appreciation of what it involves and what can go wrong.  Until my detached retina and the sequelae, I was profoundly ignorant about my eyes. Hence the title of Part I, “Nothing Is Obvious to the Uninformed.” Over time, I became more literate with respect to eyesight.

Before Don’t Lose Sight was published, friends and acquaintances with emerging Boomer eye issues would tell me about experiences that were novel to them and, not knowing what I’d been through, would be astonished that I knew that a cataract distorts depth perception, could identify the vitreous humor, or understood the function of the choroid. “How do you know so much?” they would ask.

What was the scariest moment as it relates to your eye that you felt you had to capture in the book – and was it easy, hard, painful to do so?

The scariest time was making my way to the eye clinic at St. Michael’s Hospital. I’d just been told I had an “ophthalmic emergency.” I didn’t know what the emergency was other than that it had something to do with my eye and, in any event, I wouldn’t have been able to process technical explanations. I was overwhelmed by a sense of urgency—panic, really—and dread, and I was alone.  This was in the day before I carried a cell phone, so I had to use a payphone in the damp subway station to call my husband, and I distinctly remember saying, “William! Ophthalmic emergency!” (Readers who workshopped early drafts of my manuscript commented that no one would talk like that and that most people can’t even pronounce ophthalmic, but both William and I remember that’s exactly what I said.)

It wasn’t the least bit painful to revive that memory, nor was it particularly difficult since I tend to retain highlights of moments that have had an emotional impact on me. It was the writing that was challenging—finding the vocabulary and the pacing, for instance, to convey those moments, and sticking to the immediate details instead of waltzing off into a retrospective analysis.

What is your background as a writer – where did you first get interested in this creative form?

Memoir, particularly “small” stories where people metabolize their life experiences, has always interested me. I read a lot of it, and I don’t look for celebrity authors. But I didn’t have the skills to do justice to memoir or any other genre until the last several years when I was able to study and practise the craft of writing. Before that, I was unknowingly constrained by my experience with informational writing that requires exact, explicit language and an orderly presentation—documents like consulting reports, information bulletins, FAQs, training materials, and arbitration awards. The literary cage first opened when I studied “scribal arts” with Kim Echlin at the University of Toronto and began to appreciate that I was free to use repetition for effect, apply different words to the same concept, or invent combinations that were pleasing to the ear, none of which meant I was ill-disciplined or self-indulgent. Writing was always how I processed my experiences, but journal writing is private and personal. What interests me now is conjuring a place or evoking feelings for someone else to enjoy.

What are some books you felt inspired you as a young person that you still cling to these days?

I tend to be future-oriented, so I can’t honestly say I cling to any books from my past. Moreover, while I have a pretty good long-term memory for visual impressions, I have a bad one for static details like book titles and authors. In responding to this question, I had to pull out a tattered notebook where I recorded quotes from books I read in my early twenties. Imagine my surprise at seeing quotes from Don Quixote and The Brothers Karamazov; when I read both of those books last year, I believed I was doing so for the first time! In my notebook, I saw that I also favoured books by Steinbeck and Kazantzakis, both of whom I respect and have (knowingly) reread in the last few years.

 Who are some of your favourite authors?

In no particular order and among many that I respect, Flannery O’Connor, Orkney writer George Mackay Brown, Primo Levy (his complete works), Kazuo Ishiguru, Oregon author Brian Doyle, W.O. Mitchell, Michael Pollan, Joseph Campbell (I own everything he wrote), Patrick Radden Keefe. For their cookbooks (yup), Madhur Jaffrey, Claudia Roden, Paula Wolfert, and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Don’t get me going about anthologies of poetry, personal essays, and short stories which I love to peruse while lying on the loveseat in front of our south-facing window.

That said, I predominantly read nonfiction. I tend to make book choices according to issues as opposed to authors and am strongly influenced by reviews I might read in The Economist, The New York Times, etcetera. Recent choices have been Steven Heighton’s Reaching Mithymna: Among the Volunteers and Refugees on Lesvos, Christina Lamb’s Our Bodies, Their Battlefields: War Through the Lives of Women, and Behrouz Boochani’s No Friend but the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison.

What did you learn about yourself while completing this book?

I am not sentimental and I most certainly don’t go on about love. Sure, I might say, “I love walking” or “I love bread” or “I love silence,” but I’m otherwise parsimonious in my use of that word. It, therefore, intrigued me to hear readers say that love pervaded Don’t Lose Sight. Some even said they cried at certain points, especially in Part I where I describe my husband. So I learned in a more explicit way that I am a fish oblivious of the water where I swim.

On a more pragmatic note, I also learned how much I value feedback from a competent, qualified individual. Feedback from friends and colleagues as well as from participants in writing workshops is good, but it pales in comparison with that which a good editor can provide, especially an editor who is able and willing to entertain questions. What I ask about can be annoying, but unless I understand the basis for a suggestion or the assumptions built into a comment, I cannot act.

What are you working on next?

I have one or two short stories that are in need of serious work and am gestating more ideas, but right now I am privileging poetry—practising the craft regularly and independently, meeting by Zoom with two others whom I met in a poetry course, and building up my reference library. I am slowly working on how to find what poet Mary Oliver called “the best possible conjunction of words” to convey “an experience (or an idea or a feeling).” But, come to think of it, that conjunction is what I strive for in all of my writing.

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The Lesley Krueger Interview

This fall, ECW Press releases Time Squared, the new novel from Toronto writer Lesley Krueger. The novel, A richly atmospheric portrait of women’s agency and the timelessness of love, Time Squared explores the enduring roles of rights, responsibility, and devotion throughout history.

Robin and Eleanor meet in 1811 at the British estate of Eleanor’s rich aunt Clara. Robin is about to leave to fight in the Napoleonic Wars, and her aunt rules out a marriage between them. Everyone Eleanor knows, including Robin, believe they’ve always lived in these times.

But Eleanor has strange glimpses of other eras, dreams that aren’t dreams but memories of other lives. And their time jumps start as their romance deepens. Robin fights in the Boer War, the First and Second World Wars, in Vietnam and Iraq. Meanwhile, Eleanor struggles to figure out what’s going on, finally understanding that she and Robin are being manipulated through time.

Lesley Krueger is an award-winning Canadian novelist and filmmaker. Her upcoming novel, Time Squared, jumps centuries as a reluctant time traveller fights to discover where she truly belongs. Her previous novel, Mad Richard was published 2017. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly calls it “a remarkable piece of historical fiction” and “a terrific read.” The Globe and Mail says it is “alive with wit and rebellion.”

Lesley Krueger is also a filmmaker. She has worked as a screenwriter, script doctor, story editor and co-producer on sixteen produced films over the past sixteen years, ranging from micro-budget shorts to studio features. Lesley was born in Vancouver and now lives in Toronto.

How soon after (or during) the completion of Mad Richard did the ideas for Time Squared come to you?

I keep a notebook of ideas for possible novels, stories and films, jotting them down as they occur. Often I look back at an idea a year later and think, No, no, no, and cross it out. A few grow on me, and when I find myself thinking about one of them a lot, I open another notebook dedicated to that idea. There, I jot down ideas about characters and incidents along with the titles of books to read as research. Thinking of a title for the project itself is important. Don’t ask me why, but I can’t start writing a book until I have the title.
Eventually, I end up feeling sure that I’ll write a particular book, maybe after I finish one or two others ahead of it in the queue. I had been thinking of Time Squared for a good ten years before I started Mad Richard, and knew I would write it afterward. Sometimes it doesn’t take that long for a thought to ripen. Some can elbow quite quickly their way to the front of the pack. I’d only been thinking of Mad Richard for four or five years before I started writing it.

Did you set out to explore specific time periods?

My main characters Eleanor and Robin find themselves living in different places and times, ranging from Roman-era Britain to New York during the 1960s. I picked eras and locations that I already knew something about—for which I had an affinity—and delved into them further as I wrote each chapter. In this case, that included reading novels, so I could pick up the vocabulary and diction of the time. I listened to period music and watched films. And as we approached modern times, I re-read my journals. Particularly useful was reading what I wrote about a trip I took to Paris in 2010 with a crew of fashion designers. That provided vocabulary, too. Runners? It doesn’t mean sneakers when designers say it.

How many drafts do your books go through before publication?

I know people who can dash off the entire first draft of a novel very quickly. One dear late friend used to keep writing ahead even when she changed the name or even the gender of a character partway through a draft, completing three hundred pages in three months. I can’t do that. I start each day by rewriting what I wrote the day before. When I finish a chapter, I go back and rewrite it. When I’ve got a full manuscript, it’s in pretty good shape, but it’s still far from finished. I rewrite the full draft, then show it to friends for their comments. Do another rewrite, then show it to my editor. If she likes it, my editor gives me notes and I do, you guessed it, another rewrite. How many is that?
My friend who wrote drafts in three months each, by the way, took just as long to finish a book as I do. She just did it differently. There’s no one right way to write.

What is the funniest typo you’ve ever written?

Spellcheck helps. I recently asked a friend to sell me her sled, when I meant to ask her to tell me her sched.

Being a writer is like having a mysterious part of your life no one will fully understand. Have you ever seen a fictional depiction of a writer’s life done well on the small or big screen?

I like Charlie Kaufman’s film Being John Malkovich. John Cusack plays a puppeteer who enters the mind of a fictionalized John Malkovich. Okay, a puppeteer, but he’s really a writer like Kaufman. The film is about the creative process and the recalcitrance of one’s characters. It’s also very funny.

What do you suggest a writer do to avoid writer’s block or dwelling, getting stuck on a scene or character?

Keep going. Don’t try to be perfect. Just get it down, knowing that you can always rewrite the scene or paragraph later. Knowing that you’ll have to rewrite it, even if you think it’s perfect. Rewriting is most of writing.
Often, when I can’t think of the right word, I just write in an X. “She Xed the gate.” Jumped, opened, cursed? You can fix it later.

Do you think you’d like Eleanor if the two of you met in person?

A main character expresses a lot of a writer’s personality, although she’s also different. She has to be different or she doesn’t work as a three-dimensional character. Jane Eyre is Charlotte Brontë, although after writing about Charlotte in Mad Richard—reading her letters and a half dozen biographies—I think Charlotte was a lot more savvy and calculating than Jane. A little cold, in fact. She had to be to succeed as a woman writer in the nineteenth century. Jane Eyre is, I think, a more vulnerable and relatable version of Charlotte, which is why we cheer for her.
Eleanor is something like me when I was her age, questioning life, trying to find a role for herself, slowly coming into her own. I knew from the time I was very young that I would be a writer, so I’m different from Eleanor in having had more direction. But Eleanor has a better sense of humour than I did when I was her age. I was terribly serious and intense. If we could meet in our twenties, as she is in the novel, I think she’d quietly take the piss out of me. But she’s kind, too. I’d like her. I think she’s sweet.

For more info about this author, visit their website.

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The Bruce Hutchison Interview

Now more than ever, we live in a time when we face an invisible enemy. The pandemic surges and social relations are fraught with turmoil. Emotions are on edge and people fear for their lives. We face turmoil, but turmoil does not come without emotions. Little has been written about the power of emotions and emotional contagion in this time of global turmoil until now.

In his new book, Emotions Don’t Think: Emotional Contagion in a Time of Turmoil, now available from Crossfield Publishing, Dr. Bruce Hutchison describes emotional contagion as one of the most powerful forces at play in society and in politics in the last few decades, building to the 2020-21 crescendo.  We need to learn about how to handle it to help us adapt to today’s stress. Dr. Hutchison’s book helps us learn how to do that.

(You can read an excerpt from Emotions Don’t Think here.)

Emotions are contagious and infectious and often spread from one person to another, so you can get infected by emotions when you are around people. This affects people during troubled times. Emotions don’t think and yet so many people base their decisions on emotions, including their votes.

Dangerous, infectious emotions spread like a virus and infect others. Pessimism, cynicism, depression, fear, hate, panic, anxiety, disgust and suspicion are all contagious. So are violence and conspiracies. These emotions spread and put people into turmoil. People use these emotions to think, but emotions can only feel. They don’t think.

Bruce Hutchison, Ph.D. writes the kind of book that is needed in the times of emotional turmoil that we live in. A retired clinical psychologist with over 50 years of experience performing psychotherapy, counselling, consultation and assessment, Dr. Hutchison has experienced and identified emotional contagion in many of his sessions with his clients, when emotions move and flow from client to therapist. He has appeared on TV, radio, and has travelled giving many speeches and talks about various topics in bettering oneself. He lives in Ottawa with his wife Catherine and their cat.

Is the world properly equipped to handle the amount of stress in today’s climate?

No, there is a lot of stress in today’s climate. Many people learn how to handle it with various strategies of stress management. They usually handle stress as it relates to daily living, stress with spouses, family, children, neighbors, and workplaces, among others. Strategies such as Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and related therapies are very effective, as are strategies such as meditation, relaxation, and mindfulness. 

“Many people get a sense of a worried emotion flowing around them. I write about how to overcome emotional contagion in our lives today.”

But in 2020 and even in the years leading up to it, stress has increased from other impersonal, social and political sources. We often hear people say “What is the world coming to?” In the past year the coronavirus and the pandemic, which are understandably very stressful for most people, added to the stress.  There have also been impersonal aspects involving social trends, like cancel culture, and political

developments, with much conflict and divisiveness. Feelings that politicians are corrupt and ineffective have been with us for many years, and have seemed to be worsening in the past year. In my opinion, contagious emotions related to these issues have been circulating and making a significant contribution to the increase in stress. 

Some businesses are powerful and impersonal, and many seem dishonest and unethical. People question whether many of them can be trusted. This triggers contagious emotions like suspicion, cynicism, pessimism, depression, demoralization, panic, anxiety and helplessness. These emotions about these impersonal social trends seem to strengthen, worsened by the pandemic, and feelings about whether governments were prepared for it and are handling vaccines properly.  Emotions about these issues add stress to our lives. This is a different type and degree of stress than we have experienced before.  It is hard to get a handle on, it is impersonal and yet affects us personally, and we feel helpless in overcoming it. These emotions become contagious as they spread and strengthen. Many people get a sense of a worried emotion flowing around them. I write about how to overcome emotional contagion in our lives today.     

Is being aware of your emotions still seen as being weak? What are some stigmas that you think are still detrimental for people to overcome and what can be done to improve things?

I think some people, especially with the advent and growth of advanced information technology, are less familiar with emotions and may see being aware of them as a sign of weakness. In fact, however, this is a bias. Being aware of them is a strength. People usually prefer to deal with the visible and tangible, like numbers and keyboards, hammers and nails, and let advanced information technology do the rest for us. Intangible, abstract aspects such as emotions are unfortunately relegated to a lesser position in society, to the detriment of all of us.  

Emotions become very powerful when people are unaware of them. They lurk under the surface where they become very powerful. You can’t have turmoil without emotions and yet very few people write about them as significant factors or identify them as a significant issue despite the emotional turmoil affecting the world recently. Society has been in turmoil in many places in the world in recent years, to the point that it and it has become prevalent in the western world. And when emotions are shown in research in psychology to be contagious, so that we catch emotions from others, it is not hard to see how emotional contagion is making a significant contribution to the turmoil we have been experiencing. You can’t control what you are not aware of. 

Some people see emotions as “soft” aspects as compared to strength and character.  Many people in the military and in police forces have thought of emotions as “soft”. Historically they have had to fight in wars where they had to be “strong,” and emotions were thought of as an indication that a person was “weak”, as being emotional may mean they couldn’t handle weapons. We live in a different time now, a time

where being aware of inner emotions, how to handle them, and the effect that emotional contagion can have is a strength. But it is not “either-or”, as I talk about in the book, as there are times that we need to suppress emotions to function, and other times where we need to be aware of and sensitive to the emotions we are feeling. This enables us to learn how they affect us and how we should best handle them.

There are many methods of emotional regulation developed in psychology and they have usually been reserved for dealing with various emotional or psychological disorders. It is past time that they need to enter society’s mainstream, as society itself seems to have a disorder, given all the turmoil that has been present. I attempt to help this happen because Emotions Don’t Think. I introduce them in this book along with the application of Emotional Contagion to the mainstream of society.

Are emotions somewhat still a mystery to us?

Yes, very much so. They are abstract, intangible, hard to define. Scientific research has a hard time with emotions so it is not surprising that most people do. Some people have a hard time recognizing their own emotions and tend to push them down instead of accepting them and dealing with them. Clinical psychologists, however, assist people with emotional regulation and we are attempting to do so in this book on a societal-political level, hoping that the mainstream of people will realize the value in looking at ways to manage emotional contagion since it seems so destructive. 

You’ve been working and living inside your new book now for some time – how has it changed from how you first felt about it when you began to now?

Interesting question.  I first started writing the book at the beginning of 2020, based only on the political developments at the time, where it was apparent to me that unbridled emotions were running rampant in the political world without many people being aware of what was happening.  When emotions run rampant, as they were in 2020, you can end up with the annis horribilis, or horrible year, that we had. People need to be aware of the flow of their emotions internally and how they can derail their plans, so they can manage their own emotions, as strong emotions uncurtailed will usually result in an end to a political movement.

What research went into your new book?

One of the disadvantages of my retiring and moving to a new province as I did, where I was semi-retired for five years before fully retiring, is that I lost access to a university library that I had while I was an assistant professor. It was good that I had a membership with two national psychology associations, the Canadian and American Psychological Associations, so I could still have reference to many library resources. I was never a researcher in emotions or emotional contagion. Emotional contagion is a field in social psychology and it has a close link to my area, clinical psychology, because of the spread of contagious emotions like cynicism that occurs when people gather that affects their health. I gathered a lot of material from the internet on the field of emotional contagion that I discuss in the book, especially articles in those areas that are not part of the field of psychology, like newspaper articles on social trends.  I combined that with my knowledge from clinical psychology, experiences with clientele and the perspectives I take on things as a trained psychologist to write the book.

You’ve retired from practicing psychology – what are some of the biggest changes you noticed in your half a century in the field?

When I entered the field in the late 60s psychologists were just moving into the field of providing psychotherapy and counselling. Primarily we were doing psychological testing and diagnostic assessment and still do that in a consultation we provide. But more and more psychologists, particularly those of us in clinical, counselling, health and rehabilitation psychology moved primarily into providing treatment with various forms of psychotherapy and counselling. With the research that psychologists perform into psychotherapies to determine what works, we have developed many various empirically validated approaches, which means treatment approaches that have been proven to work effectively with different people with different problems.  They are available for us to use with people who need psychological therapies. As well, more and more psychologists entered private practice to provide service, whereas earlier on most of us worked in hospitals and other institutions, especially in Canada. I began private practice in the mid-80s and moved into it full-time later in my career.   

You explore something called interpersonal trust and say that this type of human trust is on the decline. Can you elaborate on this?

Almost daily in the news or in our personal lives, we hear about situations that happen that reveal issues of corruption, favoritism, personal enrichment, bribery, patronage, police brutality, etc. So it is hard to trust people because they may be more on guard. People do not necessarily know their neighbors well as they used to decades ago. We have heard of cheating in sports, relatives being awarded government contracts, and many other unscrupulous situations. The Pew Research Centre says that 71% of Americans feel that interpersonal confidence has worsened in the past 20 years and that 49% of Americans think that people are not as reliable as they used to be. People are not as close and as trusting as they used to be, not being sure if they can trust others, some having no one to confide in or share concerns with who they can trust to handle it well. There is more loneliness. There are fewer opportunities to be open and trusting with their emotions and feelings. Doing this is crucial for mental health. This is one of the reasons why mental health and physical health issues are on the increase, as bottling up feelings, emotions and concerns have serious costs on our physical and emotional health. I think this is why emotional contagion is now on the increase, as some people are likely so needy for emotional affection and validation that they absorb it from strangers they observe or people in the public persona through emotional contagion.  

Is emotional contagion a mental illness?  Isn’t emotional contagion a healthy, uplifting phenomenon?

No, and yes. Emotional contagion is an important part of healthy living in our lives. People who are happy and well-adjusted will absorb healthy emotions from others when they assess them as adding to their well-being. When we absorb negative, contagious emotions from others, such as fear, anxiety, anger, cynicism, suspicion and others without being aware of it and managing it, it can contribute to unhealthy emotional, social and mental lives, and can constitute a serious emotional and mental problem and contribute to physical problems. Absorbing unhealthy negative emotions, however, does not constitute a mental illness.     

Why have emotions been overlooked as important in this regard?

Some people are secretly uncomfortable with their own emotions and the emotions of others and prefer a cognitive, rational, thought-based approach to understanding life’s issues so they can get a handle on things. We can be in charge of our thoughts and behavior but our emotions are abstract and hard for some to understand so they often get buried and ignored. The role of emotions is therefore unfortunately overlooked, as many mistakenly regard emotions and even psychology as a “soft” field in comparison to law, medicine, engineering, and others, although physicians, lawyers, police and politicians deal with the negative, often destructive emotions of others on a daily basis. There is no doubt that emotions are one of the most central, crucial part of our existence as human beings and now we are discovering that contagious emotions can affect us in society to the point that they become problematic. As I say in the book, you can’t have turmoil without emotions and so we have to learn to deal with emotions and manage emotional thinking when forming decisions and positions on controversial, important topics to prevent turmoil in society.

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Lucy E.M. Black Interview

Lucy E.M. Black is a Canada-based writer and educator. The author of The Marzipan Fruit Basket and Eleanor Courtown, Black’s award-winning short stories have been published in Britain, Ireland, the USA and Canada. A dynamic workshop presenter experienced interviewer and freelance writer, she lives with her partner in Port Perry, Ontario. Lucy studied creative writing at the undergraduate level and later earned her master’s degree in nineteenth-century British Fiction. She has also been a student at the Sage Hill School of Writing and the Humber College School of Writing. Her latest novel is Stella’s Carpet (published in fall 2021 by NON Publishing).

Exploring the intergenerational consequences of trauma, including those of a Holocaust survivor and a woman imprisoned during the Iranian Revolution, Stella’s Carpet weaves together the overlapping lives of those stepping outside the shadows of their own harrowing histories to make conscious decisions about how they will choose to live while forging new understandings of family, forgiveness and reconciliation. As the story unfolds, readers are invited to ponder questions about how we can endure the unimaginable, how we can live with the secrets of the past, and at what price comes love. An artful and engaging story of struggle and survival, Stella’s Carpet will resonate for those forced to find non-traditional ways to create community, and those willing to examine the threads that draw our tapestry together in this everchanging world.

Any advice for writers out there working on their first or second novel. Specifically, what do you do before you send the manuscript out to publishers?

I never show anyone the first draft.  When I sit down to write, I begin my session by editing the previous day’s pages.  I find this helps me to slide back into the manuscript.  When I have the second draft roughed out, I read the pages aloud, to feel the sound of the words in my mouth and also to listen for glaring inconsistencies and grammar issues. I revise and rewrite and edit the manuscript anywhere from 12 to 15 times.  This often includes major restructuring.  After about draft 10, I hire a trusted story editor who checks one of my final drafts for things like narrative arc, character development, and tension. I will also ask close friends and family to read it at this point and ask for general comments and feedback.  When the story editor gives me their recommendations, I incorporate the changes along with the general feedback I have received.  Then I re-write the manuscript again and again, weighing what I have been told and incorporating the changes that make sense to me.  At that point, I let it sit for a couple of weeks before reading the whole thing through again to make sure it’s doing what I set out to do.  If so, I send it off to a copy editor, who then fine-tunes and polishes the language, catches any inconsistencies and gives me detailed feedback about language, grammar, formatting, and other items that catch their eye.  A final edit comes next.  Only then do I decide that it’s ready to share with potential publishers and/or literary agents.  I’m not interested in wasting anyone’s time and I want to be sure that I am sharing only my very best work.

What else is ‘a little less brilliant’ in Stella’s collection of memorabilia? Or in general.

Stella impulsively purchases an expensive marionette based on the character Pinocchio.  She was avoiding a staff party and hiding out in a toy store to kill some time when she saw him.  He had a detachable stubby nose as well as a much longer one that could be inserted in its place when he told a lie.  This really appealed to Stella and although she had no use for such a toy at the time, she decided to buy him.   Telling the truth, keeping secrets, and telling lies within the family is very important to the story as it unfolds.  Everyone in the novel has secrets, and most of them have told lies either by commission or omission. She gifts the marionette to her half-brother and the gift is significant in that she is both acknowledging him as family but also offering him a representation of discernment.

What is a Palladian window?

A Palladian window is most often a large, round-topped window structure in three sections, with the center section arched and taller than the two side pieces.  The name comes from Andrea Palladio, an important Italian architect from the sixteenth century, and refers to a period of late-nineteenth-century classical revival architecture.  I think you ask me this because the novel mentions Palladian windows as a feature of the school’s design where Stella teaches.  The building is a composite of architectural styles as it was initially built in a rather classical style and subsequently added to with more modern wings.  It is the contrast between the old and the new coming together in this one building that I found so intriguing when I worked there (yes – it’s based upon a real school), and I thought that this contrast said something important about Stella’s life experiences.   

Did you base any characters on people you know – sub-question – even if we as writers claim or deny suspected influences – isn’t that rather private? The bank teller with the cheery demeanour do we question the source of such behaviour?

The short answer is ‘no.’  I freely admit to being a notorious eavesdropper – I love to sit in a restaurant or café and listen to the conversations around me, not so much for gossip as for a turn of phrase, a dialect or a speech pattern. I look for indications about who these people around me are and what I can guess about their stories and truth.  However, my characters do not come from real people.  They are instead composites of ideas and decisions that I make about who could best represent the character I need.  I study photographs and do a lot of research before I begin to shape a character.  I name them, I describe them, I think about their clothes and eating habits, the way they walk, quirky mannerisms they might have, their dark sides, their personal values and belief systems.  And when all of this has percolated for some time, they suddenly become three-dimensional and very alive for me, and they sort of walk into my head and show me where the novel needs to go.  I have learned how to listen to them and how not to force my own plan on the manuscript as it unfolds.

Who are your writing influences?

I’m a voracious reader.  I believe that good writers must also be good readers.  The written word is powerful and it plays an important role in my life, both when I’m writing and when I’m reading.  Some of the touchstones in my personal canon include: Dickens – for his wicked characterizations, Austen – for her social commentary and novels of manners, Alice Munro and William Trevor – for their short stories.  But there are so many others, including: Susan Swann, Jane Urquhart, Donna Morrissey, Frances Itani, Michael Ondaatje, Nino Ricci, Alistair MacLeod, Michael Crummey, Ann Michaels, and on and on…

Rugs as symbolism in the pursuit of extending, discovering domestic virtue in the 21st-century novel. Write your novel’s Jeopardy answer.

I love how Austen writes scathingly about domestic virtues in her novels.  She is very clear that the business of the Empire is entrusted to men, while women are relegated to the sphere of the household and their social engagements.  The making of Persian carpets, in a very traditional way, is actually a complex undertaking that encompasses an art form, a cultural legacy, and an economic domestic enterprise involving many members of one family group.  The weaving of a single carpet involves the purchasing of materials, the dyeing of the wool, the actual weaving, and then the finishing work which includes tying the fringes, washing, clipping and ironing.  It can take a family unit a year or more to complete one such handmade carpet.  Understanding the complexity of creating such a carpet is helpful to fully appreciate them.  I would like to think that the carpets have much in common with Stella’s family.  I’ll leave it to the readers to determine why I think so and whether or not they agree.

“I wanted to write about intergenerational trauma, about families and about new Canadians.  Those were the things that I felt were at the heart of the story.”

How did you decide on the use of italics?

I’m always going back and forth over my writing to see where it would be most effective. As you know, italics are traditionally intended to show emphasis.  I have used italics in this novel, as a way of indicating speech, following the contemporary Irish model. I really like eliminating quotation marks as a way of embedding speech within the text, without fracturing the flow of language by imposing the traditional markings.  I find it visually soothing, and feel that it moves forward very naturally without those quotation marks.  Moreover, the emphasis usually associated with italics makes it possible to emphasize all speech, when used in this way.  And that’s kind of intentional, as well.  This is a short novel, and there is a lot packed into it, so I have worked sparingly with dialogue – curating, if you will, the scenes I have chosen to present and leaving them fairly sparse.  This was really quite deliberate.  In its original form, the novel was about 120 pages longer.  My editor challenged me to cut it down in order to really focus on the heart of the story.  Deleting so much text and boiling it down to its current length was tough, but it was intentional.  I hope that the leaner shape allows the reader to engage without imposing on them a sense of how to respond.  What I mean by this is that some novelists writing about WWII often draw vivid, painful portraits of horrific scenes that are quite haunting and deeply upsetting.  That was not my objective with this project.  I wanted to write about intergenerational trauma, about families and about new Canadians.  Those were the things that I felt were at the heart of the story.

Is Pamela an antihero? What was the funnest thing to write about her character?

When we first meet Pam she is self-absorbed, slightly eccentric, and fairly neurotic.  She has a great deal of resentment about her divorce and her upbringing.  She is a damaged woman, in that she is a child who grew up under the shadow of the Holocaust.  She suffers from what is known as intergenerational trauma.  This is a term used to describe those people who are second and third generation removed from people exposed to deep trauma (i.e., through the Holocaust, residential schools, the Bosnian war, and the Vietnam war), and who have inherited a legacy of distress which is manifested in any number of ways.  So yes, Pam is a little bit funny because she is so extreme.  But she is also hurt and I hope that by showing her evolve as the novel progresses, that I have been a little bit kind to her.  Her relationship with Tony was fun to write.  He calls her out on her outrageous behaviours and I really love the interplay between the two of them.  I think my favourite scene is when he walks circles around her.

If your novel was a rock band what element would play bass, drums, lead vocals, fee free to assign other instruments.

I’m not very knowledgeable about rock bands, actually.  But something that always amazes me when I listen to ensembles is the wonder of such different, talented musicians playing together as one.  So, in that light, if we could talk about a string quartet, I might better be able to respond.  Goethe was reputed to have said that a quartet was like four people having a conversation.   And in this conversation, there is one instrument (perhaps the violin) that introduces the melody, while the others answer back and respond to it.  So, in my novel, Stella would have to be the violin – she is the main voice that sets the melody – but William and Pam and the Lipinskis are the other voices.  They contribute to the overall composition while still following the melody.  And just as an aside, the violin, is the single instrument that most closely resembles the human voice in terms of the tones, the nuances and the resonance.

Why do family’s avoid, thrash and burn in the attempts of being transparent? Why is it so hard why are there so many layers? Are families always out of sync?

I think this question is better suited to someone with some clinical training.  But in my experience, I will say that the short answer is that FAMILIES ARE MESSY! The longer answer, I think, is that individuals are complex, with unique personalities and distinct characteristics, abilities, talents and gifts.  Human nature is such that when you put a group of us together, we rub up against one another, and learn what buttons to push and how to get a rise out of someone.  Siblings in particular are brilliant at this. But the other aspect of things is that we are, by nature, closely bonded to our family members.  We depend upon them for our basic survival needs when we are young, and for some of our emotional needs as we mature.  And we have expectations for ourselves and for our siblings and for our parents.  Petty disappointments and jealousies and inflicted pain compromise those intimate bonds and we haven’t all learned how to rise above such things.  The family in my novel is a blended family that embraces people from various countries and cultures, and its members cleave to one another with a fierce bond that eventually transcends blood relations.  In a certain respect, we all CHOOSE our families as we progress through life, and Stella’s family is a family that has chosen to encompass members from outside, keeping them close, as intimates.  And this is something that I believe is very important for us as a larger community to recognize and celebrate.  Our country is a country filled with indigenous people as well as newcomers from every part of the globe.  Understanding that together, we form the fabric of the nation, and a country to be proud of, is key for me.  The other part of this is that many newcomers are fleeing their homelands out of necessity and not by choice.  People come from war-torn countries where they have been tortured and persecuted and have witnessed terrible atrocities.  These people deserve our compassion and our kindness and respect.  I hope that they find new families here and become proud of the larger community to which they now belong.

What is your favourite Greek myth and why?

I have always loved the story of Icarus.  We have a ceramic sculpture of him in our home, actually. The idea of wearing wings and flying through the sky like a bird is very appealing, somehow.   We used to live on a farm, and I loved to look out the windows and watch the birds swooping and soaring over the fields.  There is such an elegance to birds in flight, particularly when they flock and ride the currents.  The other part of the story refers to Daedalus, and his deep grief at the loss of his son.  Any of us who are parents understand the desperation and sadness of his mourning, and I think that also resonates with me – the strength of such a strong bond.  

What is essential for a good writing day beyond quiet, money, privacy, time and resources like a computer or electricity?  

For me, currently, the best time to write is in the still of the evening until the early hours of the morning.  I depend upon complete silence and an interruption-free block of time to enter into my creative process.  It also helps to have the background of living under control:  I don’t want to be distracted by something that needs attention.  I try to eliminate all such worries and distractions before I sit down to write.  It’s the only way I can feel calm and centred and focussed.  But I should say, that not all of my writing processes involve actually writing.  The pre-thinking and problem-solving and research that goes into the work is something that can happen at any time.  I squeeze in all of these things throughout my day, as my schedule allows.  Once my characters have become fully formed and have joined me, they often interrupt my day with something pressing or prescient.  I can hear their voices weighing in on things and I find that they are often quite opinionated.  In terms of equipment, which was part of the question: I do write both my first draft and all of my planning on the computer.  My editing, however, I do using a hard copy with a purple pen.

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Tristan Marajh Interview

Tristan Marajh is a young emerging writer who as of this interview is unpublished (but not un-awarded for his short stories). He is a Toronto-based short story writer with work appearing in the Canadian journals The New Quarterly, Ricepaper Magazine, Existere, Blank Spaces Magazine and The Nashwaak Review. His accolades include winning 1st-Prize in both The Stratford Writing Competition (Canada) and The Free Association Books Short Fiction Competition (England), 2nd-Prize in The Scugog Arts Council’s Ekphrastic Writing Competition (Canada) and 3rd-Prize in the William Faulkner Literary Competition (USA).

He recently reached out to The Miramichi Reader to enquire about getting one of his short fiction pieces published here. He submitted two, and “The Lesser Man” was chosen as the first fiction ever published here at TMR. A serious and polite young man, I thought Tristan would be a good interview candidate. Here is the result.

Miramichi Reader: Tell us a bit about your background, education, employment, etc.

I was born in and spent half my life in the Caribbean island known as Kairi, Iere or Trinidad and Tobago; the other half in the region popularly known as Toronto. I did primary and secondary school in the former; some high school then university in the latter. I currently work at a public library near the city.

“You’re a human being first before you’re a writer. Devote your energies and efforts into making the former a masterpiece, before trying to write one. The rest should come into place.”

MR: Tell us about some of the books or authors or other people (such as teachers) that may have influenced you to become a writer.

I’ve enjoyed quite a few books, authors – even speakers – who fanned the writerly flames, though it is the condition of being human that has compelled me the most.

MR: Tristan, as an emerging and as of this interview, unpublished writer, can you tell us about your approach to eventually getting published and perhaps some lessons learned along the way, for the benefit of other emerging writers out there?

You’re a human being first before you’re a writer. Devote your energies and efforts into making the former a masterpiece, before trying to write one. The rest should come into place.

MR: Tristan, you kindly sent me two of your award-winning short stories to read and I was impressed with the maturity of your ’voice’ in each one. I could see why they were awarded. They also had optimistic endings, which is nice in a world where optimism is difficult to maintain (or come by). Would you say that your outlook is an optimistic one that comes through in your stories?

Well, you were kind enough to request and read those stories, James – so thank you.

Recently I was talking with my aunt, who is an avid reader and former English Literature teacher; she was lamenting that she hasn’t come across much edifying literary work lately. I would like to think that those two stories – The Lesser Man and The Complete Works of Min-Ju Kim – contributed to filling that perceived lack in some way.

On optimism as an ending: it is near-impossible to overlook at least some degree of it. Life is awash with pain but the converse is also true. Optimism is, at the very least, ever always tiny, trembling and tentative.

MR: If you could write a biography of any person, living or dead, who would that be and why?

There have been a couple of requests – not to mention individuals in mind – but whether or not I would give them due justice is another question altogether.

MR: Tell us about your writing space. (Do you always write in the same area? Do you use a laptop or a desktop computer, etc)

Well, I normally use a laptop in the writing spaces (plural) that I’ve chosen: libraries, hospital food courts, cafés, parks…the one place I’ve hardly ever written is upon the actual writing desk I own.

MR: Covid question: how have you been coping with the pandemic? What changes (if any) has it made in your life?

Personally, I needed the slowing-down of things. I took the time to regroup, reconcile and retrain myself. I do sense that I’m better-equipped now – but that remains to be truly proven after more time has passed.

MR: What do you like to do when you are not writing (or reading)?

I’ve come to quite take to looking at nothing in particular because that’s where everything is.

MR: Finally, tell us an interesting fact about yourself!

Well, I was involved in Improv theatre prior to things having to shut down. It was a lot of fun. The hope of fellow participants – and myself – is that it’ll soon restart.

Thanks, Tristan!

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Lee Gowan Interview

Lee Gowan’s new novel is an audacious sequel to Sinclair Ross’ prairie classic, As for Me and My House. The Beautiful Place* is about a man who is in trouble in love and work—a darkly funny cautionary tale for our times.

Bentley is facing a triple threat—in other words, his life is a hot mess every way he looks. Like anyone who feels that he’s on the brink of annihilation, Bentley thinks back to his misspent youth, which was also the year he met his famous grandfather, the painter Philip Bentley, for the first time. To make matters worse, he has inherited his grandfather’s tendency to self-doubt, as well as that cranky artist’s old service pistol. Our hero is confused about so much. How did he end up as a cryonics salesman—a huckster for a dubious afterlife—when he wanted to be a writer? And who is the mysterious Mary Abraham, and why is she the thread unravelling his unhappy present? What will be left when all the strands come undone? Lee Gowan’s The Beautiful Place is the best kind of journey: both psychological and real, with a lot of quick-on-the-draw conversations and stunning scenery along the way —and only one gun, which may or may not be loaded.

Release date: September 30, 2021

Lee Gowan grew up on a farm near Swift Current, Saskatchewan, and studied at the University of British Columbia, where he earned an MFA in creative writing. He is the author of three previous novels: Confession, The Last Cowboy, and Make Believe Love, which was shortlisted for the Trillium Award for Best Book in Ontario. He is also an award-winning screenwriter, and was nominated for a Gemini Award for his screenplay Paris or Somewhere. He is currently Program Director, Creative Writing and Business Communications, at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies.

What was your starting point for The Beautiful Place?

I began in the summer of 2009 with no plan but to get something down on the page. In fact, the working title for the book in those infant stages was “Something”. What emerged was the beginnings of an examination of a post-modern family from the perspective of a husband in Toronto in his second marriage. He is intent on correcting the mistakes of his first marriage with his second, but things aren’t working out the way he planned. Two things added to the mix and formed a plan: my eldest son recommended a podcast about a cryonics company in California in the 60s and 70s. My protagonist became a cryonics salesman. At about the same time my boss, Ed Carson, who had a long and illustrious career in the publishing industry, told me I should write a sequel to Sinclair Ross’s classic prairie novel As For Me and My House. That novel is about a minister who doesn’t believe in God, and mine is about a cryonics salesman who doesn’t believe in cryonics. I tracked down a memoir by Keith Fraser called As For Me and My Body about his friendship with Sinclair Ross, and discovered that when I’d moved to the West End of Vancouver in 1985, Ross was living only a few blocks from me. From there the novel, and Bentley’s relationship with his grandfather, took on a clearer shape.

The protagonist is 50, so Generation X. His daughter possibly Gen Y. How does the post-modern family exist in the twenty-first century and is it better or worse than things were when Bentley was coming of age?

How the post-modern family exists and whether it is better or worse depends on the family. There are certainly more “blended” families than there used to be, Bentley’s experience being an example of that delicate balance and how things can go awry. The blending has its strengths, but also its fault-lines. In the end, for Bentley, it’s a question of figuring out how to make things better and how to avoid making things worse.

How do creative types approach the concept of humour in this ever-serious world in which we live?

The more serious things get, the more necessary it is to see the humour in things. For the writer, one danger is that humour might undermine your work by allowing the audience not to take it seriously, but being overly serious seems to me to be an even greater danger. At any rate, for me it’s impossible. Another danger in the humorous approach to serious things is glibness or an irony so stark that it doesn’t let in any light or humanity. The ultimate goal of humour should be to make the audience sit down and have a good cry.

The novel opens with chaos, problems of all sorts, financial uncertainty, etc. How do things such as the global housing crisis, Canada’s house market, etc., influence the novelist in today’s world?

We tell stories to make ourselves and our place in the world real. My novel is a sequel to As For Me and My House and the reason that novel is important to me is that it came out of a real place close to the place I come from, a place that I was not accustomed to seeing represented in fiction. Sinclair Ross had his first job at the Royal Bank in a town called Abbey, which is not far from the farm where I grew up. That town was the main model for the town of Horizon in his novel. So the place was all around me and I recognized the time from the stories my father told me about what he called “the good old days”: his childhood on the same farm where I grew up, during the dustbowl years of the Dirty Thirties. Ross was writing about his place and time, and I’m writing about mine, and though I spend most of the novel writing about Vancouver in the 1980s and Toronto in contemporary times, and so the Canadian housing market is part of the story, like him I ended up writing about the prairies.

What did you learn from your last novel and did you apply this to The Beautiful Place?

My last novel, Confession, was a sad story with a sad ending. I suppose this is a sad story too, but I wanted it to have a happier ending. I think I succeeded.

When was the last time you watched Paris or Somewhere?

It was in the summer of 2012, nine years ago, at the beginning of my relationship with Ranjini George. She’d read my three novels and my stories and wanted to see Paris or Somewhere. We watched it here, in the basement of her home. Now it is my home. I had not seen it in a decade. I don’t recall my impressions, seeing it through her eyes. Some pride and some shame, I think, though perhaps more shame, as I seem to have blocked the memory. My son found a VHS copy for sale in Melbourne, Australia. He bought it and brought it back to me, so it is sitting on my desk right now, but I have no technology to play it.

What advice do you give someone who wants to write the great Canadian novel? What would you suggest they do first?

The great Canadian novel? Does that mean the Canadian version of Moby-Dick, a novel that was a complete failure on publication, and was out of print when Melville died, so that he left this earth feeling very bitter and that he was a failure as a writer? My advice would be to be careful what you wish for. By comparison As For Me and My House actually did much better, selling a hundred thousand copies by the time Ross left us, but he still seems to have gone feeling that he was a failure. Writing a good novel about the place you come from, wherever that may be, is a noble pursuit, and so I would encourage them, but I couldn’t really give them any advice except to persevere. Writing a novel is a marathon. What to do first? Write the first sentence, I guess. It’s just one sentence after another, unless the great Canadian novel is another book that’s only one sentence. I don’t think so.

What is your favourite place to write?

Right now it’s my desk in our bedroom, where I moved last fall, during the pandemic, just in time to write the final drafts of The Beautiful Place. I’d been using the study until then, which has a view of the ravine out back. Ranjini is also a writer and used to prefer working at the kitchen table. However, the pandemic, with everyone working from home, made that impossible, as we all kept walking into her office to get food and beverages and were constantly distracting her. She tried writing in the bedroom, but it didn’t work for her. So I gave her back her study, moved to the bedroom, and the next thing I knew I had a book deal. They don’t recommend putting your office in your bedroom, but it worked out okay for me.

What was the hardest part of putting The Beautiful Place together?

The beginning and the ending. And the middle. It was all difficult. It took twelve years. I sometimes lost faith it would ever come together. I couldn’t find the right opening, but in the last eighteen months I got some excellent feedback from Ranjini and Dennis Bock and Chris Gudgeon and Kim Echlin and the beginning fell into place. Kim and Ranjini helped me make the middle work. Most of the first three quarters had existed in one form or another for many years, so it was just a matter of shuffling and cutting until everything was in the right order. The ending, on the other hand, was not working at all. While I was polishing the middle, I got an idea for a new ending.  Last September (or was it October?) Liz Philips, an old friend from Saskatchewan, started a job as an editor for Thistledown Press. She knew I’d been working on the novel for years and asked if I’d be interested in submitting it, but I still hadn’t written the new ending. I dove right in and wrote the last quarter of the book in less than a month. Liz and the Thistledown readers liked it, and I had a contract. I did the first big edit that pandemic Christmas, working every day including Christmas day. Actually, I only did half a day on Christmas day, because I had to make the Christmas dinner.  

*The Beautiful Place will be released by Thistledown Press on September 30th, 2021

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Joanne Culley Interview

Inspired by true events, Claudette on the Keys (Crossfield Publishing) is a novel that tells the story of Ida Fernley, whose stage name is Claudette, and her husband Harry, a Toronto-based duo-piano team called the Black and White Spotters. At the height of the Great Depression, the pair are hanging onto their livelihoods by their fingernails. It is the winter of 1936, with the unemployment rate at 17 percent, when they find out that they are being laid off from their live weekly radio program on CKCL due to a pullout by the sponsor, Shirriff’s Marmalade. After their home is repossessed, they and their two young sons move into Harry’s parent’s home where they try to figure out their next steps. When Ida plays free of charge for a charity concert at Shea’s Hippodrome, she happens to meet a British talent agent who is impressed by her virtuosic rendition of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” He invites her and Harry to come to London to work, where Ida experiences firsthand the rise of fascism and becomes embroiled in pre-war intrigue. Whenever she finds herself in a tough spot, she draws inspiration from her movie-star hero Claudette Colbert. A gripping read for fans of Letters across the Sea by Genevieve Graham and The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff.

Joanne Culley received her MA in English Literature from the University of Toronto and her Graduate Certificate in Creative Writing from the Humber School for Writers. Her work has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Peterborough Examiner, Local Parent, Kawartha Cottage, Legion Magazine, Our Canada, on CBC, Bravo Network, Rogers Television, TVOntario, and in several anthologies. Her books are Claudette on the Keys and Love in the Air: Second World War Letters. She received the “In Celebration of Women” media award for her documentary “Be My Baby.” She grew up in Toronto and now lives in Peterborough, Ontario.

“Claudette on the Keys is inspired by the real lives of my grandparents who were a popular piano duo from the 1930s to the 1950s.”

How did you get started writing?

I’ve been writing most of my career, writing scripts for documentaries and writing articles for newspapers and magazines. In 2015 I discovered over 600 letters my parents wrote during the Second World War – my father was a musician in the RCAF and my mother worked at the TTC in a job that would normally have been done by a man. I wrote my first book, Love in the Air: Second World War Letters, combining excerpts from their letters, imagined scenes and historical background. It was well received and got a lot of media attention, as it was released on the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. After that, I decided to go back another generation to write about my grandparents, who were a duo piano team, also drawing on what they left behind – show programs, sheet music, photos, newspaper clippings, to create a fictionalized account of their lives.

Tell us about your previous book, Love in the Air: Second World War Letters.

After my father’s death, while clearing out a closet, I found an old Eaton’s box with over 600 airmail letters that my parents wrote to each other during the Second World War. My father, Harry Culley Jr. played clarinet in the RCAF No. 3 concert band, as well as playing saxophone in the smaller 12-piece dance band. They played dances for the Army and Air Force officers, for troops on the bases, at the legions, at special events and as a backup for travelling entertainers. They accompanied popular songwriter and musician Irving Berlin when he came to the Pavilion Theatre in Bournemouth, England in 1944. My mother worked at jobs that would have previously been done by men, at the Department of Munitions and Supply in Ottawa and at the Toronto Transportation Commission as it was then known. In the book, I have blended excerpts from the letters with a narrative inspired by the correspondence and historical background to bring to life a unique story of enduring love amidst global turmoil, providing a glimpse into what was going on on both sides of the Atlantic. It came out on the 70th anniversary of the end of the war to much media attention.

What inspired you to write Claudette on the Keys?

Available September 30, 2021

Claudette on the Keys is inspired by the real lives of my grandparents who were a popular piano duo from the 1930s to the 1950s. They played on two pianos with four hands, and had shows on many Toronto radio stations such as CKCL and CFRB as well as playing live at theatres such as Shea’s Hippodrome. They were described at the time as “Toronto’s Premier Two-Piano Artists.” When they lost their radio work and their home in Toronto during the Depression, they travelled to London at the invitation of an agent and orchestra leader who arranged work for them on Radio Luxembourg and in touring to music hall theatres in the British Isles. I’ve taken the germ of their story to create a fictionalized account of their time overseas.

In the novel, Ida has problems travelling with her marital passport – she doesn’t have her own, but rather is listed on her husband’s passport. What aspects of independence do women have now that perhaps we take for granted?

During the pandemic, while sorting through a box of my grandparents’ possessions, I came across their passport from 1936. Yes, their passport, not passports, as at that time, married women were listed on their husband’s passport – they didn’t have their own document. Inside, their photos were placed side by side, and on the opposing page, my grandfather’s information took up two-thirds of the page and he was listed as “musician,” while my grandmother’s details took up just a third of the page, and didn’t list her profession, even though she was as famous or even more famous than my grandfather.

We take individual passports for granted now, being issued them in our own names as women, but there was a time when women didn’t have their own. Even though women could vote in Canada in 1918 and officially became persons in 1929, the concept of their being independent entities while travelling took a lot longer.

Sometimes married women were not able to travel on their own even though their husbands could do so freely. In the book, Ida/Claudette encounters numerous difficulties as a woman travelling on her own with a marital passport in pre-war continental Europe and meets face to face with Nazi officials who detain her on suspicion of espionage. She attracts attention by the mere fact of travelling without her husband.

In 1947 in Canada, married women were finally allowed to have their own passports, when the Canadian Citizenship Act came into effect.

The book takes place in 1936 and 1937 when fascism is rising not only in Germany but in England. How does Ida become aware of this?

When Ida is asked to play at a fancy men’s club in London, she meets Sir Oswald Mosely, leader of the British Union of Fascists, and hears about his close ties with Hitler in Germany. She becomes aware of the Cable Street uprising in London, where Mosely organized an anti-Jewish, anti-Irish march through that impoverished East End neighbourhood. Once she arrives in Berlin, she sees the blatant signs of anti-Semitism through the shuttering of Jewish businesses, the imprisonment of Jews and the detention of political prisoners at Sachsenhausen, the prototype concentration camp that was used as a model for the other concentration camps during the Second World War.

What was vaudeville or music hall?

Vaudeville shows were popular in the early 1900s. They were live performances in theatres where a variety of performers appeared one after another, often with only the master of ceremonies to tie them together – quite a hodgepodge of acts, including jugglers, comedians, magicians, clairvoyants. The Ed Sullivan show on TV in the 1960s and 1970s was a modern version of this vaudeville form.

Harry and Ida were a novelty act, on two-pianos, four-hands, playing music specially composed for that genre, by contemporary composers such as American pianist and singer Olive Dungan created songs especially for this genre, including “White Jasmine” and “Enchantment.” Another American pianist, Morton Gould, created two-piano arrangements of well-known songs, including “Bolero Moderne” and “Rumbolero.”  The piano duo appeared on the same stage as comedian Red Skelton and singer Kate Smith.

In the book, Ida/Claudette struggles to make her way in a largely male-dominated society. Discuss how the lives of women were different in the 1930s.

In the 1930s music was a field dominated by men, and women, if they were performers or composers, were underappreciated and lesser-known, or their sex appeal was highlighted instead of their talent. In the book, when Ida tries to negotiate business dealings with her and her husband’s musical career, often the person will ask to speak to her husband. Throughout the story, we see her becoming more confident in her own abilities and in how she continues to wend her way through the new world she finds herself in without losing her sense of self.

Describe the two pianos-four hands genre.

In the 1930s and 40s, there was music specially composed and arranged for playing on two pianos, with two pianists. Sometimes they’d play the same notes, other times, they had completely different parts, but the important thing was to present a unified front, starting and ending at the same time.  We may remember the popular musical that came to Toronto’s Royal Alexandra Theatre a while back, called “2 Pianos 4 Hands,” by Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt which was a funny and comprehensive look at this art form. In fact, Harry was the musical director at the Royal Alexandra during the 1940s and 1950s. I think he would have approved of that musical.

How you did settle on the title?

Claudette is the stage name that Ida takes to add mystery and allure to their act. Ida’s heroine is Claudette Colbert, who was one of the most well-known and best-paid actors at that time, asserting herself in productions, insisting that she only be filmed from her left side. In the book, whenever Ida finds herself in a tight spot, she draws on the strength and assertiveness of Claudette Colbert to get her through the difficulty.

In the book and in real life, one of Ida’s favourite tunes is “Kitten on the Keys,” a short, snappy song by Zez Comfrey that was popular at that time and that becomes her signature piece. It uses a lot of the black notes, and many of the riffs are meant to emulate a kitten walking over the piano keys.  A technically difficult piece, Ida gives it a lot of flourishes, including palm plants and glissandos up and down the keys to show off her talent.

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Joanne Gallant Interview

Joanne Gallant is a nurse, wife and mother. She recently wrote her first book, A Womb in the Shape of a Heart, a memoir about her numerous miscarriages in her attempts to have children. A review of her book can be found here. It will be released by Nimbus Publishing in September 2021. She lives in Nova Scotia.

Miramichi Reader: Tell us a bit about your background, education, employment, etc.

I graduated with a BSc in biology from Mount Allison University in 2008 and I completed my nursing degree at the University of Alberta in 2011. For the past nine years, I’ve been working at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, and I worked in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) for six of those years. Those years were the most challenging and rewarding of my career and they altered me in ways I find challenging to articulate in a sound bite. It was an immense privilege to spend time behind the doors of the PICU.

Currently, I’m working part-time as a Clinical Leader of Development for the Children’s Health Ambulatory Clinics—which is a lengthy title for nurse educator. I provide guidance to my teams on current, best medical practices, I support new research initiatives in the health centre, and I’m actively involved in the professional development of other nurses and health care professionals. It’s rewarding in a very different way from my time in PICU as I’m able to help teams in the hospital thrive and provide incredible care to the patients and families who rely on the IWK.

MR: Tell us about some of the books, authors, poets or other people (such as teachers) that may have influenced you to become a writer.

My grandmother has always been a writer. When I visited her as a young girl, she always had her typewriter out on the dining room table, or she’d be writing notes on scrap pieces of paper that could be found all over her house. She used to write a column for her local newspaper, The Oxford Journal, which was mostly about who was visiting whom and what social events were taking place. Seeing her incorporate writing into her daily life influenced me greatly because it never looked like something that was hard or that you struggled with. It just looked like a natural part of life. At 93, she still gets a lot of joy from writing, and when I visited her recently, she had her typewriter out and was working on stories from her childhood.

My mother was also instrumental in why I wanted to become a writer. She was an English teacher for most of my childhood and she was always reading or speaking about books she’d read. To see her read often and to really value literature made it feel like a worthy pursuit. To have two women in my life engage deeply with reading and writing certainly laid the foundation for me becoming a writer.

“When I lost my fourth baby—and began therapy—I ended up writing with much more intention. It was as though seeking help unlocked this overwhelming desire to share my story and that of my babies’.”

I was fortunate that I had access to a lot of books as a child, partly because my mom valued reading so much. I grew up with the Babysitter’s Club, Harry Potter, and many of Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume’s novels. As a teenager, I was deeply affected by Judy Blume’s novel, Summer Sisters, and I even tried writing my own version of that story—which was terrible of course—but something about that book inspired me to write, which feels magical now looking back. I hold onto those moments of inspiration now when I read authors like Maggie O’Farrell or Beth Powning because there is something that stirs within me—inspiring me to write—and it reminds me of that spark I felt as a girl.

MR: Your debut book, A Womb in the Shape of a Heart, is a highly-anticipated book. At what point did you decide to make your (and your babies’) stories into a memoir?

When I was first going through my miscarriages, I was initially writing for myself. It was a way to process the things I was experiencing, and to try and understand what I was going through. When I lost my fourth baby—and began therapy—I ended up writing with much more intention. It was as though seeking help unlocked this overwhelming desire to share my story and that of my babies’. It may have been a way for me to control things that were uncontrollable, but I also wanted to join the conversation that I felt was finally happening in our society.

Speaking out about miscarriages—or any form of infertility or perinatal loss—has been taboo for many years and suddenly it became more mainstream to talk about. I saw more articles and books published on this topic than ever before and I wanted to contribute. My desire to turn it into a memoir became less about me and more about reaching someone who might be struggling as I had. I didn’t want anyone to go through something similar and feel as lonely or as ashamed as I had felt during each of my losses.

MR: It must have been difficult to relive and re-experience all that had happened since you and Joey decided to start a family. Was there any point at which you wanted to dump the project as not worth it emotionally?

The most challenging part for me emotionally has been during the last few rounds of edits. Most of the book takes place several years ago and there are some painful scenes that are very raw on the page. In the years since they occurred, and since I first wrote them, the sharp edges of those experiences have softened. And so, to relive those times as the person I am now became difficult because it stirred up feelings as if no time had passed. I didn’t ever want to dump the project per se, because I always felt it was a worthy pursuit despite the emotional weight, but I certainly needed to take breaks from it in order to sit with my grief and process those emotions again.

MR: Do you plan on writing more books? Any works in progress?

I really hope to have another book someday. Right now, I’m working on a novel that’s loosely based on my experiences as a PICU nurse and as a mother who has dealt with loss. I’m drawn to stories of heartbreak and grief—not surprising I suppose—and I spend a lot of time reading books in that genre. It may sound intense or gloomy to spend so much time in those spaces, but I find grief beautiful and fascinating. We all experience a life-altering event (or events) at some point in our lives, and I love when those experiences are captured on the page. I’m enjoying the process of writing fiction and letting my imagination take me places I couldn’t go with my first book. It feels freeing after the last few years of writing my memoir. So, we’ll see if I have another book in me when this is done! It’s in its early days, but I’m still writing, which is just as important as the end-product.

MR: Do you have a favourite book (or books), one(s) that you like to revisit from time to time?

Oh gosh, so many. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith is one of my most beloved books. I relate so much to the main character, Francie, and I connected with her deeply as a girl. I like to re-read parts of that book to remember how it felt when I read those words for the first time. It’s like visiting a younger, more innocent version of myself. I’ve also re-read the Judy Blume book I mentioned earlier, Summer Sisters, six different times throughout my life. I’ve been reading it since I was about twelve years old. It’s about two girls who grow into adulthood and I have related to the characters differently as I grew up too. Sometimes my memory of that book bleeds into memories of my own childhood and I need to remind myself that I didn’t live through the events of that novel.

More recently I’ve been revisiting passages from Beth Powning’s book, Shadow Child and Kate Inglis’ Field Guide to Grief since they act as a source of comfort and guidance. They’re usually left out on my side table or are within reach because I read them so often. Books feel very spiritual to me, and I revisit many of the books on my shelves to search for answers or to simply feel understood. It’s like visiting an old friend when I open a book I know intimately, and I love the solace they provide.  

MR: If you could write a biography of any person, living or dead, who would that be and why?

I’m really drawn to stories of women who have done incredible things in science, which is where my love of literature and science intersect. If I were to write a biography, I’d love to write about Dr. Linda Griffith. She’s a contemporary biological engineer and after winning the MacArthur Genius award for the famous research project where an ear was grown on the back of a mouse, she used the prize money to open the Center for Gynepathology Research at MIT. Its main objective is to study things like endometriosis, infertility, and other pathologies of the female reproductive system, things that have been historically under-researched for centuries. These are topics that are obviously very close to my heart, and Dr. Griffith suffered from endometriosis for most of her life as well. I’m in awe of her brilliance and just how far she is pushing the boundaries in the field of regenerative science. Not only is her work inspiring, but I am fascinated by the strength of her character, how she worked so intensely while hiding a debilitating condition, and how she navigates the very male-centric world of engineering.

MR: Tell us about your writing space. (Do you always write in the same area? Do you use a laptop or a desktop computer, etc)

I have a small room in my house that we call “The Library” that is next to our living room. It’s only the size of a walk-in closet but it’s filled with bookshelves, has a column of windows that look out toward the ocean, and it’s where I have my writing desk. I spend most of my time writing in there, but I often find inspiration in other places, so I’ll use my phone to type notes whenever a thought strikes or I’ll pull my laptop onto the couch and play Legos with my son while also trying to type out a few ideas. As a parent to a small child, I can’t be too restrictive in my writing practice because he still needs a lot of my attention so I will write wherever I can.

MR: Covid question: how have you been coping with the pandemic? What changes (if any) has it made in your life?

Working in health care during the pandemic has been incredibly challenging. When the pandemic first hit, my work-life got tipped upside down. I went from working part-time as a nurse educator to working 70+ hours per week managing the operations of the covid unit, which was very stressful. I worried about bringing the virus home to my family or infecting someone without knowing, and there were a lot of fears in those early weeks. We didn’t know how bad it would get or if our hospital was going to be filled with patients on ventilators like the images we’d all seen from around the world. With that being said, I only dealt with a tiny fraction of the stress that other health care teams around the world had to endure. I often think of the nurses and health care teams in Italy, India, or New York City who are likely still processing the incredible amount of loss that took place over the last year and a half.

The pandemic has given me a deeper appreciation for the things I’ve taken for granted my whole life, like visiting friends or being able to go places for fun. Before, it felt like those things would be a certainty forever, but now it feels like a privilege to be able to spend time with our neighbours at their house or visit our family in New Brunswick. I’ve learned to be grateful for the simplest of life’s pleasures because the world is an uncertain place and I understand that in a visceral way I didn’t before.

MR: What do you like to do when you are not writing (or reading)?

I’m usually spending time with my husband and son. I’m fortunate that we get to spend a lot of time together and that we are as close as we are. My husband works from home and on the days I’m not at the hospital we’ll all sit together for lunch and chat about our days so far. I love listening to my son, Teddy, talk about the things he’s interested in because, at four, he is now at the age where he has a lot of thoughts about the world. I love getting to know more of who he is with every passing year.

I’m also really enjoying time outside these days. I take my dog for walks, visit the park, or go for a jog in our neighbourhood, and I feel energized whenever I come back inside. I’m always looking for new things to do outdoors and I recently bought a skateboard for the first time—at thirty-five—and my husband is teaching my son and me how to skate. It’s fun to learn alongside Teddy who is encouraging and sweet, saying things like, “Nice try, Mama,” when I nearly fall or make a mistake. My favourite way to spend my time is when I can combine a fun outdoor activity with the two people I love most.

MR: Thanks, Joanne!

Joanne’s book, A Womb in the Shape of a Heart, will be released by Nimbus Publishing in late September 2021.

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The John Brady McDonald interview

Kitotam: He Speaks To It is the new poetry collection from John Brady McDonald. The Neyhiyawak (Plains Cree) word “Kitotam” translates into English as, “He Speaks to It.”   Written in two parts, these poems chronicle John’s life and experiences as an urban Indigenous youth during the 1980s. The second half of the book is a look into the inspirations and events, that shaped John’s career as an internationally known spoken word artist, beat poet, monologist and performance artist. 

John Brady McDonald is a multidisciplinary writer and artist originally from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.  A sixth-generation direct descendant of Chief Mistawasis of the Plains Cree, John’s writings and artwork have been displayed in various publications, private and permanent collections and galleries around the world.  John is one of the founding members of the P.A. Lowbrow art movement and is the former Vice President of the Indigenous Peoples Artists Collective. 

John has studied at England’s prestigious University of Cambridge, where in July 2000 he made international headlines by symbolically ‘discovering’ and ‘claiming’ England for the First Peoples of the Americas. John is also an acclaimed public speaker, who has presented in venues across the globe, such as the Anskohk Aboriginal Literature Festival, the Black Hills Seminars on Reclaiming Youth, The Appalachian Mountain Seminars, the Edmonton and Fort McMurray Literary Festival, the Eden Mills Writers Festival and at the Ottawa International Writers Festival. John was honoured with the opportunity to speak in Australia in April of 2001.  John was also included in the Aboriginal Artists and Performers Inventory for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, BC. John lives in Northern Saskatchewan. 

 How does working in different art mediums help your poetry? Or does it?  

I wouldn’t say that my visual artwork, like painting per se, has much impact upon my poetry. That being said, both my visual and written works often come from the same muse or inspiration, though in vastly different ways.  An event or a memory might inspire a bright, bold painting, yet also be the source of a dark, brooding piece of poetry.  When it comes to Spoken Word or One-Person Monologue performance art pieces, the work is absolutely influenced by how I am going to present it, or how the character I am going to portray will say it. In those situations, the poems are influenced by how I am going to verbally execute the words onstage with ease and good flow, and not stumble over words or get tongue-tied.  

What were some of your earliest memories of writing poetry? 

My earliest poem was in 1989, Grade Two, just after I had gotten out of Residential School. I wrote a poem about Remembrance Day, and the teacher sent it to the local radio station. I was brought into the radio station to read it on-air. It was my first media spot. I was about 8 or 9. In terms of traditional Indigenous storytelling, my first memory was finding a booklet of Wesakechak legends in my grandparent’s house on the Rez. Wesakechak is the Nehiyawak Trickster character of our legends. It was a pretty graphic retelling of some of the legends, like Wesakechak’s father cutting his demonic mother’s head off, and the head chasing after Wesakechak and his brother across the land. It was my first exposure to the horror and brutal imagery which would influence much of my artwork during my “PA LowBrow” period.  

Who do you list as influences in your work?   

My first influence has always been, and will always be, music, As a poet, my biggest influences are those poets that just happened to be musicians. I have been deeply influenced by the written works of Leonard Cohen, Patti Smith, Jim Morrison, Joni Mitchell and Neil Peart, the lyricist for the band RUSH. The books of Leonard Cohen and Patti Smith still rank as some of my greatest sources of inspiration. Of course, I am hugely influenced by the works of the Beat poets, Kerouac and Ginsberg.  

I am also deeply influenced, as sad as it is to admit it, by the horror, negativity, vitriol and reality that is often on full display upon social media and in the news. A large portion of what I have written of any substance over the past few years has been in response to, and in some cases, the defence of, things that have been posted on Facebook, such as the continued efforts of Land and Water Protectors across the country, as well as the horribly negative and racist commentaries when it comes to Indigenous issues. Some of the most evocative words I have created over the past four years have been born out of online Facebook arguments with trolls and racists. I take comfort in the fact that some good has come out of these verbal jousting matches in that, while I might not be changing their already made-up minds, I can take the words I have written, and expand upon them at greater length elsewhere.  

Can you talk about the PA LowBrow art movement?  

PA LowBrow came about as a group of three Prince Albert, Saskatchewan (known colloquially as P.A.) artists, myself included, who all shared a mutual love of the darkest subgenres of Metal and a similar style and technique in painting. The original Lowbrow art movement came about in the late 1960s, with artists such as Robert Williams. The term denotes that the work is somewhat “less-than” the academic “highbrow” art of classical paintings.   

As the three of us all come from the artistic backgrounds of tattoos, comic books, graffiti, album cover art and such, we began to meet in-studio, listen to the heaviest, hardcore death metal we could find, and we would paint.  We had several regional and provincial exhibitions of our work and also branched out into both grants from the Saskatchewan Arts Board, as well as CARFAC Mentorships. PA LowBrow only lasted a few years, but we all still create in that same LowBrow style.  

Your new book is divided into two parts. What was the hardest or most enjoyable part of putting these two factions together for this collection?  

The most difficult aspect of joining the two halves of “KITOTAM” is that the first part of the book is a very autobiographical narrative collection, recollecting memories of my youth along with current issues, whereas the second half of the book contains many lyrical, ambiguous, surrealist freeverse poems that, at times, didn’t follow the flow of the book, but were still important to the story. However, that juxtaposition between the narrative and the ambiguous ended up giving the book the feel of the mixtapes I used to make in my teen years, which I love. That mixtape feeling is probably my most enjoyable aspect.  

Your practice has always contained a great deal of performance and activism. What was it like in 2000 when you made headlines in the UK?  

The July 2000 “Flag Thing,” where I symbolically “Discovered,” then “claimed” England for the First Peoples of the Americas, was the culmination of what I must say was the greatest life-changing event in my life. I was a young, urban Indigenous youth, a Residential School survivor, who had been awarded a scholarship to study History at the University of Cambridge. My world had been expanded far beyond what I had ever imagined it would, and the doors which opened before me changed the entire trajectory of my life, and I felt that, as I had a lot of people who took a chance on a street kid, I owed it to them not to let them down. That being said, I also knew that I was going to the homeland of the Colonizers, and I needed to make a statement and add my voice to the fight and say that what is taught in history books is not always true. I always wished that there had been more coverage of it when it happened. Those were the days before social media, and, while I originally had Canadian and International press lined up, the Concorde crashed in Paris the day before, so the media’s attention all but evaporated. As I am still recognized here in Canada for it, even twenty years later, I’m still very proud of what I did.  

How do you see poetry as a form of activism or do you?  

I think that any time you put your thoughts and emotions creatively into words and then share those thoughts in front of an audience or in print, you are participating in activism. Any form of poetry or Spoken Word is standing up for something. We live in an increasingly detaching world, where everyone is chained to a device and human interaction is becoming difficult. As writers and as artists, if we can make someone feel something with our words, if we can cause an emotional connection or response, then we have added to the fight for humanity. I call myself a “hypocritical Luddite.” I loathe technology and social media, but I need and use both on a daily basis, and, especially with the Pandemic, I have needed both to share my words with the world. Using the tools of our mental, social and emotional destruction, as it were, to share political, poetical or emotional messages is probably the most subversive and rabblerousing thing that we can do right now because it happens in real-time. The murder of George Floyd shook the world because someone held up a phone and shared it as it happened. The news of the bodies of those who didn’t make it home from Residential School being re-discovered is moving around the world faster than it would have without social media. As creators, we too must add our voices and our talents to the struggle. We too must stand and be recognized. It’s our responsibility to both the art form and to the world.      

For more information on this book visit Radiant Press’s website 

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