Tag Archives: author

The Kayla Geitzler Interview

Those of you who follow the Miramichi Reader may be familiar with Kayla Geitzler’s series of articles on being a writer. If not, look them up.  Each piece deals with different aspects of writing, is honest, to the point and contains valuable information about the process. Often, she shares her own experiences in these articles. Today, I’m happy to share some of her personal stories with you.

When Kayla Geitzler was just two years old her mother taught her to read. This gift opened the doors to countless worlds and the unique cultures contained in books. By age five she was inspired to be a writer and announced this goal to her family. “My Dad said, ‘Oh dear God!’ But my grandmother said, ‘Don’t worry, Charles. She’ll be the next Lucy Maud Montgomery.’ And she went right out and bought me all of her books.”

Yes, Kayla became a writer. Not the next Lucy Maud Montgomery but an award-winning author in her own right with her own voice and style. She is published nationally and internationally. Years of determination, perseverance and persistence contribute to her current success, her belief in her unique voice supported her on this journey.  

“When Kayla Geitzler was just two years old her mother taught her to read. This gift opened the doors to countless worlds and the unique cultures contained in books. By age five she was inspired to be a writer and announced this goal to her family.”

Kayla’s school years don’t contain happy A-student stories with friends and family lauding every achievement. “At home, most messages to me were about how stupid and ugly I was and that no one would ever love me. At school, there was always a teacher who reinforced the idea that I wouldn’t achieve much in life, as I often daydreamed or wrote poems in class. My peers took a lot of joy in bullying me, pointing out the most obvious: I didn’t fit in, I was ‘weird’. At that time, I believed that great expectations were for kids who excelled at sports and did well in every subject. So, I wasn’t motivated to achieve much academically. At sixteen, I was already independent. I was working 40 hours a week as a supervisor at a fast-food restaurant. Sometimes when I skipped school, I went to work. The manager and the cook got used to my random appearances during the lunch rush or starting my shift early.

“All this translated into a life I had already failed. As much as I didn’t want to believe it, I knew that my dysfunctional home environments had already shaped my future and I didn’t think it would be a very happy one. I felt pressured to live up to an ideal middle-class life, to prove that I could be ‘normal’, that I could achieve conventional markers of success even though those weren’t the things I wanted for myself. I was strongly discouraged from becoming a writer, but it didn’t stop me from imagining poetry and story. I still spent most of my spare time reading and writing.”

Books were her friends, comforters and educators. “Lucy Maud’s Anne books are not my favourites, but I think they gave me a lot of encouragement to be myself and for making me into a writer. I actually preferred the Emily series. When I was thirteen, I read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. It is one of my favourites and I re-read it every year.” Literature by writers from other cultures resonated with her. “I come from a family of world travellers and I grew up reading National Geographic Magazine, so I’ve been reading about world cultures for most of my life. As I grew older, I didn’t find myself in a lot of the books that I was reading or in the TV shows that I was watching; shows with kids from privileged backgrounds and really stable home lives. When I read The Autobiography of My Mother by Jamaica Kincaid and The Lover by Marguerite Duras, they resounded in me. There was more life in those pages, more honesty. Nothing was being hidden, nothing was tucked away behind nice language even though their writing styles were beautiful.

“There are almost always parallels between cultures. When there aren’t any, it’s really exciting to me, because you have to stretch your mind, to know something from a completely different viewpoint. You are a stranger within those pages. You have no markers. You have to just go along and absorb the story that’s being told to you.

“Some of my favourite poets are Forough Farrokhzad, Pablo Neruda, Anne Simpson, Layli Long SoldierAlden Nowlan, Safia Elhillo, Kim Hyesoon, Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner, Jake Skeets. I also love to read Sei Shonagon, Helen Oyeyemi, Isabel Allende, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jeanette Winterson, Ocean Vuong and while he’s less than politically correct, I enjoy Hunter S. Thompson.

“One of my favourite authors is Tanith Lee, who wrote fantasy and sci-fi. Prolific, she wrote over 70 novels and 300 short stories. She had her own unique prose style and endless imagination that built striking worlds. She often pulled from Greek mythology or other classical references such as the Scheherazade or the Brothers Grimm, so these fantastically conceptualized retellings were fascinating to me. I believe the most valuable thing I learned from Tanith was the power of our true voice and our unique ideas. Even Einstein said that imagination was critical. I wish I could have met her. She died of breast cancer in 2016.”

In high school, only a few teachers recognized her talent, intelligence and potential. “Mr. Mitten was a great English teacher. I didn’t often hand in my assignments and he used to get annoyed, often telling me I should be leading the class. When we did Haiku, he was really impressed with mine. He told me I could write professionally. Had I thought of that? Not seriously until that moment. After that, he handed back all my poetry and made me rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, saying, ‘You can do better.’ He had a Master’s in English and he talked about what he learned and how that knowledge broadened his life. He used to keep me after school sometimes and read Chaucer to me. How many teachers keep a kid after class to read them Middle English?”

After graduation, Kayla decided to work for several years before enrolling at UNB. Kayla worked on cruise ships as a duty-free sales associate for Starboard Cruise Inc. They held the duty-free gift shop contract with Carnival Corporation at that time. Her experiences on the ships inspired her first poetry collection That Light Feeling Under Your Feet.  

On return, she enrolled as a mature student at UNB. “During the third year of my undergrad, I won the Angela Ludan Levine Award for my poetry. To receive it, I was invited to the Dean’s List Supper. When the MC asked us to stand up and receive applause for our academic achievements−making the Dean’s list requires a 4.0 GPA−I remained seated and this confused my peers. I hadn’t made the list, I’d won an award for my poetry. I got some weird looks from them. Mary Rimmer, the Chair of the English Department, struck up a conversation with me and said, ‘Come to my office Wednesday morning.’ I had no idea why and I didn’t dare say no.

“That morning in her office, she pushed some paperwork across the desk and told me to sign. ‘What am I signing?’ I asked and she pointed to the paper and said,’ Just sign.’ So I did. Dr. Rimmer told me she had pulled my transcripts and she thought I was bored. ‘Welcome to Honours,” she said and explained how the courses worked. Dr. Rimmer was right. I worked hard to prove I deserved my place in that program and despite also working full-time, I graduated from my BA with the distinction of First Class Honours.’”

Upon entering her MA in English Creative Writing, her poetry professor and mentor Ross Leckie observed that she was not only a natural writer but a natural editor. Kayla enjoyed that process and felt this is where she wanted to direct her career. While finishing her Masters and a Diploma of University Teaching, she was also working two part-time jobs—as a grammar instructor at UNB and for Aitkens Pewter in Fredericton, her favourite retail job—while writing her thesis, the first draft of That Light Feeling Under Your Feet. Masters completed, Ross asked if she was going to write full time. “As much as I want to,” she said, “I have to be realistic about paying down my student debt.” And like many, travelled west for work where she gained invaluable technical editing and writing experience. Poetry is just one of her amazing writing abilities.

In Calgary, she worked at TERA Environmental Consultants as a technical editor on Canada’s largest pipeline projects. “Like my team members, I did copy editing for all documentation. Everything was formatted to TERA’S in-house style. I liked the long reports—Air, Water, and Soil reports each took an average of five days to read through, format and verify Act citations. Archaeology, First Nations Engagement reports, Wetland, Fish and Wildlife reports took me about three days. I often had to break from these to work on urgent client letters. One project was six months of seventeen-hour days with eight hours on the weekend. I went to work and came home in the dark.

“I worked with an amazing group of really accomplished and kind individuals. I learned a lot from them. We were very supportive of each other and had a lot of fun. They were never angry when I arrived late to work, received too many personal calls or became frustrated easily and cursed in my cubicle. I felt immature and incapable, but I think they suspected that my ex-husband was mistreating me. They were only concerned.” Hard work certainly, but in this position and the next, she gained invaluable environmental knowledge and honed her editing skills all of which she brings to her readers and clients.

After two years in Calgary, she moved to Denver, Colorado, a challenging time for her because she was struggling in an abusive relationship. Used to writing poetry freely, during that period, Kayla was only able to write one poem. Recently, she recounted some of her trauma in her poem “The Spiders” based on a particularly dangerous point in her former marriage. It is published in the American literary magazine Matter.

Separated from her husband, she returned home to Moncton, where she rewrote her manuscript That Light Feeling Under Your Feet. Her encounters with passengers and staff show strongly in this collection of poetry based on her experiences working as a “Shoppie” or gift shop employee on three cruise ships. At times the poems are chilling and sad and run the gamut of emotions.  This book won the WFNB Bailey Award for Best Unpublished Manuscript, was shortlisted for the Robert Kroetsch Award for Poetry and the Fiddlehead Poetry Prize. Once published, it became a Calgary Bestseller.

Poetry in Voice says this about her work. “Kayla’s poetry examines human relationships and the natural and spiritual worlds, using powerful language and styles that often echo traditional writings of her heritage. All Lit Up has named Kayla a “Rad Woman of Canadian Poetry.”

Next, she spent two years at NAV Canada as the Moncton Region’s sole Instructional Design Support. “I was working on national and regional (YQM) projects, away at the NAV Centre in Cornwall, Ont. on average one week a month. I designed, wrote and revised courseware for Air Traffic Controllers, among other things. Most of my ATC colleagues were unsure of what exactly I was doing but they valued me. They knew I could write and format documentation. That I could translate their technical speech into everyday language. Despite my hard work, I knew there was always the possibility that my contract might not be renewed. By the time the inevitable happened, I had developed real confidence in myself because I’d had to work alone juggling huge projects and deadlines.   

“The afternoon I lost my job, I went to Pointe Wolf in Fundy Park. ‘What am I going to do now?’ I thought. ‘OK, so I’ve decided to stay in New Brunswick. What does that mean for someone in my field? I’ll work on contract for the rest of my life, not get a pension. I can tolerate financial insecurity, but do I have any passion and enough stamina for that?

“I was floating on my back in the river looking up at the sky when I decided, Fuck it all. It’s time to do what I want to do! She received a year’s funding from the Westmorland CBDC and started her own writing business, Kayla Geitzler Editor & Writing Consultant in 2019.

First, though, she took a trip to the Philippines where she received a Kalinga tattoo from Fang-Od, a one-hundred-year-old mambatok woman, but that story is one for Kayla to tell.

In 2019, Kayla was honoured to become Moncton’s inaugural Anglophone Poet Laureate. Along with Jean-Philippe Raîche, the inaugural Francophone Poet Laureate, she was tasked with composing and presenting original poems during the Frye Festival and for council meetings and Moncton events.  She is the host of the Attic Owl Reading Series and has co-created Poésie Moncton Poetry with Jean-Philippe Raîche and the Frye Festival, a project using video poems to archive poets of the Greater Moncton region. She contributes to Kayla Writes, a column for established and new writers in The Miramichi Reader.

Now that she is writing and consulting in her full-time business, not only does she bring her skills in assessing all writing from technical to fiction, she brings the knowledge and gifts of multicultural writers forward to her students in her ongoing masterclasses. They are intrigued by the different voices and perspectives. Participants range in experience from poets to fiction writers and visual artists, all with the goal of improving their work. Several students shared they felt a shift in perspective and vision and were pleased because after finishing their English degree the reading and writing of poetry was far from a goal.

According, to Steven Spears her classes are transforming. He writes poetry and short stories, mainly in the genres of paganism, horror, nature, fairy tales, among others. Pleased with the impact on his work as a result of the classes, he says, “Kayla has improved not only my writing but how I look at it as well. Through her, I have been able to see my writing in a new light and take it further than I thought it could go. My stories and poetry have improved 1000% since I have been working with her.”

Nancy King Schofield is a well-known visual artist and writer. Many of her paintings have been selected as cover art for several anthologies, most recently Cadence a multilingual collection of NB women’s poetry curated and edited by Kayla and Elizabeth Blanchard. “I have taken several Masterclass Courses under the direction of Kayla Geitzler, MA.  As a teacher, she excels in every area. She presents a comprehensive study plan that coordinates the interests of participants in genres, cultures and literary forms and is able to bring out the best in everyone. I look forward to her next course offering.”

Elizabeth Blanchard recommends Kayla’s classes and editing skills to anyone who wishes to improve their writing. “Kayla’s classes and editing services have helped me sharpen my writing skills.  She teaches you to look at your work with fresh eyes, challenges you to think more deeply about how your life experiences shape your voice, and the value of writing honestly to that voice. As a writing coach, her critique and feedback are constructive, on point, and always respectful of your intent and what you are trying to accomplish.” 

Kayla believes authenticity is vital, “Write what you want to write. Your voice is unique and that’s why it’s important. Don’t let trends discourage you. And don’t listen to people who decide you aren’t a ‘real’ writer if you aren’t published, they’re wrong.”

In one of her articles in The Miramichi Reader, she stresses the importance of a supportive writers’ group.

  “When you decide to form your own writing group, be brave! Reach out to a few people who love to write, who have integrity (integrity builds trust) and connect. Trust between members creates a safe space for constructive feedback on writing.” During university, she discovered how cruel some students could be in critiquing work and possibly didn’t know they “didn’t need to be an ass to give feedback.”

Her masterclass students attest that her classes and workshops are safe spaces; they feel free to respectfully comment on others’ work and listen to feedback on theirs.

The first book Kayla edited was Life a Gift Passed On: An Anthology of Elders’ Stories. It was nominated for a New Brunswick Book Award and has been distributed as far as Australia, the United States and western Canada. She loved the stories, particularly those from First Nation members. “When I accepted the project, I didn’t dare let on that Life a Gift Passed On was my first ever manuscript that I would be preparing for publication. But Judy’s sharp, so it didn’t take her long to figure that out. I was concerned about my lack of experience, but she was thrilled with my edits. She appreciated how I remained true to each elder’s voice and culture. I always feel that I owe a lot to my clients, that honouring each person’s voice and story is crucial. I will always be grateful that this legacy project was my first book.”

Shortly after, Kayla manifested a dream she had since high school.

The Story of Cadence.

“When I was 17 and supposed to be concentrating on my final high school math exam, I was daydreaming about creating an anthology of NB women poets in their mother tongues (English, French, Mi’kmaq, etc.).  Regardless of the passage of time, the idea never left.  Finally, in 2018, I approached Frog Hollow Press and the editor of the NB Chapbook Series at Frog Hollow Press accepted the idea. I began emailing NB cultural associations to ask if they had any female/female-identifying poets who might be interested in joining us. That’s how I met Dzung T. Dang, through the Vietnamese association. Dawn Arnold, the mayor of Moncton, put me in touch with Reem Fayyad Abdel Samad. I went to Elizabeth Blanchard to ask for her help with the Francophone poets. I was beyond thrilled when she accepted. Elizabeth is a phenomenal writer and as a black hat, there may be none better!”

For Elizabeth Blanchard, it was an excellent experience. “In the fall of 2018, we met on Main Street in Moncton at Café C’est la Vie, a coffee shop that also serves as the venue where Kayla hosts Moncton’s long-standing Attic Owl Reading Series every month. Sitting at a small table near the front window, she shared with me her vision of a poetry collection reflective of New Brunswick’s unique linguistic, social and cultural plurality as seen through the lens of its women poets. A short 18 months later, Cadence Voix féminines Female Voices was launched. Published by Victoria, B.C.’s prestigious Frog Hollow Press, the anthology celebrates the work of twenty-five New Brunswick women authors and translators of Mi’kmaq, English, Acadian, French, Vietnamese, German, and Lebanese heritage. “Cadence is but one of the many literary projects with which Kayla has been involved. A gifted and acclaimed poet laureate in her own right, she invests a lot of time and effort in working with writers, emerging as well as established, and in doing so, furthers the writing community as a whole. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to work with her.”

On reflecting on her process and success, Kayla is proud that she achieved more than she could imagine in the writing field. She has worked tirelessly to rise above the low bar set for her. Most of all, Kayla has proven to herself that she can overcome the unfounded projections of others. Entrepreneurship presents many challenges, but she belongs to a network of strong women who support each other. “Look at all the amazing people in my life. I’ve got Judy and Nancy and Shannon, Elizabeth and Zina and Shoshanna, a great community and we can all be ourselves with each other, on the page and off.”

The following is a picture of Kayla’s grandmother and a poem in her honour: Dear Apple Blossom Queen of 1942

It won an honourable mention for the Great Blue Heron Contest and was published in The Antigonish Review. She wrote this poem for the grandmother who bought her the L.M. Montgomery books. “The poem is about her resistance to infirmity and the fire she always had. So I felt I had to give it the same sort of sass. I couldn’t write something pretty. She was a proud woman, hale but hindered. She had to be told to stop. I also wanted to show what’s handed down or remains through the stories she told me about herself when I was a child.”

Winnifred Wilcox Geitzler, Cheverie NS, 1942

This article has been Digiproved © 2022 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Judy Bowman
Some 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 https://crossfieldpublishing.com/product/algonquin-legacy-by-rick-revelle-book-four-conclusion-an-algonquin-quest-novel/

*Editor’s note: Rick was first interviewed for The Miramichi Reader in 2015: https://miramichireader.ca/2015/11/rick-revelle-interview/

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.

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

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!

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

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.

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 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 Marjorie Simmins Interview

Marjorie Simmins is the author of Coastal Lives, a memoir about living on Canada’s East and West Coasts (2014), and Year of the Horse (2016), which details her life with horses in British Columbia and Nova Scotia. In the spring of 2020, Simmins’ third non-fiction book, Memoir: Conversations and Craft (2020) was published. Somebeachsomewhere: The Harness Racing Legend from a One-Horse Stable, is Simmins’ fourth book. She lives in Nova Scotia.

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

MS: Thanks so much for your interest in my writing. Born in Ottawa, raised in Vancouver, I am a Maritimer now by luck and by choice. I’ve had the good fortune to attend the University of British Columbia, Dalhousie University, and Mount St Vincent, focusing on English literature, adult education, and memoir studies. I have been a freelance journalist and teacher for many years. I came to writing books later in my writing career – and have had a grand adventure with each book. I have several writing projects on the go at the moment.

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.

MS: I come from a family of readers and writers so I cannot remember a time in my life when I wasn’t happily reading. My family were also mad letter writers and keepers of journals. So writing, too, was a daily part of my life since I was a girl. From there I began writing articles and essays for newspapers and magazines. Because so many of my essays were personal stories, and because I loved reading biographies, I developed an interest in memoir writing. I continue to put on memoir writing workshops around Nova Scotia, and when possible, at venues across Canada. I love teaching and I love learning from both emerging and established writers. And yes, I now teach on Zoom, too!

MR: Your newest book, Somebeachsomewhere, while it was about a horse, (an animal dear to your heart), it really was a new type of venture (or adventure) for you. Can you tell us how long it took to compile it into the final story?

MS: I have been a lifelong equestrian and have written many personal stories and one book, a memoir, on my life with horses. So it was a logical next step to write a non-fiction book on a superstar Canadian racehorse, using my skills as a journalist. It was a lot of work and included a lot of adventures. I did fifteen major interviews and many other ones I wanted to use but did not have room for. From start to finish the book took over a year to write.

MR: Where were some of the places that research for the book took you?

MS: I travelled to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to attend the Harrisburg Yearling Sale, where I met with some of the principals in the story and learned so much about the Standardbred breed and industry. I also went to Hanover Shoe Farms, in Hanover, Pennsylvania, where Beach stood as a stallion for nine years. Of course, I spent time in Truro, where Beach was developed, talking to some of the co-owners who live there. And I did a lot of interviews on the phone, including calls to Avenel, Australia, where Beach stood at stud for six months. I also visited Nova Scotia’s three harness racing tracks – Northside Downs in North Sydney, Inverness Raceway, and Truro Raceway, to talk to people and learn more about the industry.

MR: Harness racing: was it something you were familiar with before writing Somebeachsomewhere?

MS: I was aware of harness racing before I wrote the Beach book, but I hadn’t been involved in the industry or been to a racetrack in some years. Once I realized that Somebeachsomewhere was the Secretariat of harness racing and that he was owned by six Maritimers, I couldn’t wait to get started on the story.

MR: Were you able to meet any of Beach’s offspring?

MS: I met perhaps the most famous of all his offspring, Captain Treacherous, who stands at stud at Hanover Shoe Farms. Apparently, he even sounds like Beach when he whinnies, and he sure looks like him: big, strong, and handsome. I also get messages on Facebook on the time, from people showing me photos of their horse, all related to Beach in some way.

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

MS: I have some favourite children’s books I return to now and again, and these include horse stories. But mostly I like to read new books, especially Canadian fiction and non-fiction. We have an astonishing amount of writing talent in Atlantic Canada, and in Canada overall. It is particularly exciting to read the work of First Nations’ writers, in all genres. Whenever I need a reminder of how beautiful and meaningful writing can be, I return to the work of the late Richard Wagamese. The younger generations of aboriginal writers are amazing in their range and power.

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

MS: There are actually two biographies I would like to write of two particular Canadians – but I don’t want to say of who they are, because who knows? I might even be able to write these biographies, and I don’t want to give away the surprise!

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 write every day. I have a very nice office on the main floor of our house. In it, are three big bookcases, my guitars, and if I am lucky, a Sheltie or two who wants to keep me company. I use an old laptop that serves me perfectly.

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

MS: Well, I guess I am coping with pandemic not too badly, though, like everyone else, I’d love for the world to be an easier, less hostile place again. I haven’t seen my family, who live in ON, AB, and BC, for a year and a half. That’s been hard. I am grateful I had a very small bubble of friends to help me through the worst times of the pandemic. And I am very grateful to have had my two vaccinations.

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

MS: I like to be outside! Walking, boating, riding horses, going to the beach, hanging out at a horse barn, working and learning. And I love going to the harness races!

MR: Thank you, Marjorie!

(Photo of Marjorie Simmins with “Lady” taken by Rhonda MacGrath)

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Ian Colford Interview

Ian Colford’s short fiction has appeared in Event, Grain, Riddle Fence, The Antigonish Review, The Fiddlehead and other literary publications. His previous books are Evidence, The Crimes of Hector Tomás, Perfect World and A Dark House and Other Stories. His work has been shortlisted for the Thomas H. Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award, the Relit Award, the Journey Prize, and the Danuta Gleed Literary Award. He lives in Halifax.

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

I grew up in urban Halifax, came of age in the 1960s and 1970s. It’s hard to fathom now, but when I was young, I had little interest in books and reading. I was too busy with all the things that kids do at that age: being outside, sports, TV, music. In school, I was a science nerd. Both of my parents were readers and there were always books around the house, but I could rarely be persuaded to pick one up. My first university degree was in Mathematics, which I received from Saint Mary’s University. At SMU the Bachelor of Science program required a humanities credit so I signed up for a first-year English course. That’s where I first felt the allure of reading seriously and for pleasure and started to pick up on the magic involved in the process of creating fictional worlds with language. After graduating from SMU, I wanted to continue my education. But I’d had it with math so I did a Master’s in English at Dalhousie. Eventually, I realized that to establish myself in a career and make a living—since I didn’t want to teach—I’d have to complete some sort of professional program, so I did a degree in Library Science. With that degree in hand, I landed a job at Dalhousie and stayed there until I retired at the end of 2017.

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.

Everyone follows their own path to writing. In my case, it was a gradual dawning. I didn’t come to reading until late in my teens and came to writing later. A few things happened to push me in that direction. One—that my science degree required an English course—I’ve mentioned. The others took place before that, in my last year of high school.

“I got a part-time job at a branch of the Halifax County Library. All at once, I had access to a bottomless supply of books.”

My high school English teacher wanted us to read, and he had a system to encourage us to do it. He posted the class list and when we finished reading a book, we were to make a mark beside our name. For each mark, we were given a point toward our final grade. It was an honour system and I’m sure people cheated. He didn’t care what the books were. I read all sorts of stuff: thrillers, sci-fi, sports biographies. For some reason, I even read a history of the Easter Rebellion of 1916. And the other thing that happened around this time was that I got a part-time job at a branch of the Halifax County Library. All at once, I had access to a bottomless supply of books. With my curiosity piqued and influenced by library staff members, I started picking up novels and story collections by writers I’d never heard of: John Cheever, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Margaret Drabble, Eudora Welty to name a few. All at once, I was reading books that weren’t trendy titles or the latest bestsellers. I was reading books that explored human behaviour and psychology, that depicted characters dealing with the effects of social inequities. Books that challenged commonly held assumptions. Books that did astounding things with language. Books that raised questions but didn’t feel the need to answer them. I started making decisions about what to read and developing opinions about what I liked and didn’t like. Eventually, I started reading about books and authors and the process of writing, and that’s when the idea of becoming a writer began to seem not so far-fetched.

MR: Recently, you were asked to be a jury member for the Danuta Gleed Literary Award. What did this entail?

Reading a lot of books of short stories and deciding which are the best. For anyone who doesn’t know, the Danuta Gleed Award goes to the best first collection of short fiction published during the calendar year, so 2020 in this case. The Writers’ Union approached me late last year to take part. The other two jury members were Lisa Bird-Wilson and last year’s Gleed winner Zalika Reid-Benta.

The Union started mailing the books out in December and by late January we had about 20 titles to consider. A few I had already read. The reading was enjoyable and not onerous. The quality was generally high, and a lot of the books were excellent. So in some ways, the decision was not easy. I kept lots of notes so that when the jury consulted (virtually) I was ready for the discussion. I was prepared to argue a case for the books I felt should receive strong consideration, but amazingly the three of us were very much on the same page when it came down to deciding on a shortlist and, ultimately, a winner.

I have to say it’s gratifying to have the chance to serve on a jury like this and to help an organization like the Writers’ Union of Canada, which advocates for Canadian writers and helps the government formulate policy.  

MR: Your work has been shortlisted for the Thomas H. Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award, the Relit Award, the Journey Prize, the Alistair MacLeod Prize, “The Very Best!” Book Award, and the Danuta Gleed Literary Award. As an author, it must feel good to have your work so consistently listed for various awards. How important is that to you?

There’s no question that being nominated or shortlisted for a prize bolsters confidence and exposes your book to new readers. So many wonderful books get lost in the constant parade of new titles. Inevitably some are ignored and fall through the cracks. The time in the spotlight that your book receives when it’s initially published is absurdly, tragically brief, and some publishers don’t do much by way of promotion. So awards are important because a nomination extends a book’s shelf life, gives it another small opportunity to make an impression and find an audience.

The unfortunate downside of awards is that they perpetuate a competitive climate that turns writing and publishing into something that resembles a horse race.

“Every page you fill up is a triumph over incredible odds.”

But as a writer, you can’t help but be gratified when your book is included on an award shortlist. It validates the time and effort that went into writing it. It allows you to think, even briefly, that maybe you’re on to something, and to some extent provides an incentive to continue what you’re doing.

It all comes down to confidence. The writing life is a daily battle to keep the faith, and anything that provides a reason to persevere is to be welcomed and cherished.

You have to keep in mind though that the real prize is the page filled with words. Every page you fill up is a triumph over incredible odds. Awards come and go. People forget. But once the words are on the page, that’s forever.

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

I do revisit some authors from time to time. There are many, but John Cheever tops the list. I often return to his short stories. I read Cheever for the first time when I was around 20, and 40 years later his stories and novels still resonate and can still take me by surprise. A lot of it has to do with language: the absolute control, his ability to shock and persuade the reader with just a few elegant phrases, a judiciously chosen image, a couple of startling lines of dialogue. His fiction is crammed with imaginative incident. Astounding things happen, people lose their way. There’s not much by way of tragedy in his work, but it’s frequently deeply moving. If I were to describe his fiction in just a few words, these would be humour, nostalgia and absurdity. His work also has a solid moral foundation, and he exhibits great compassion for human vulnerability and weakness. He takes a sardonic view of modern society and acknowledges the essential futility of human endeavour. The combination of all these factors results in a body of work that remains relevant and that continues to find new readers, and deservedly so.

If anyone reading this is curious enough but has time for only one of Cheever’s stories, read “The Country Husband,” which is a stunning example of the form. I guarantee it will make you laugh and cry, possibly at the same time.

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

This might come as a surprise. Maybe not. But I would choose my father. Horace Colford was born in 1910 and grew up in Chezzetcook, a coastal community in rural Nova Scotia, on the province’s north shore. His mother died of tuberculosis when he was ten, and from that point the three children pretty much raised themselves. His father provided for the family with subsistence farming and fishing. My father completed school (a rarity in those days), got a teaching certificate, and by the age of twenty was teaching in a one-room schoolhouse. I believe he taught for several years, though I don’t know the details of his life in the 1930s. He served during WWII, stationed in Newfoundland. He never spoke to me about his military service so I don’t know what he did. After the war, he attended Dalhousie University and graduated in 1955 with a medical degree. 1955 was also the year he married my mother, who was a nurse. He then went on to get a degree in public health (from Harvard). By the late 1950s, he was working for the NS Dept. of Health and was involved in data collection and policymaking in the field of communicable diseases at a time when there was a TB crisis in the province. His professional career was spent in the sciences, but all his life he was drawn to the arts. He was a fan of opera and loved books and reading. He spoke several languages and knew Latin and some Greek. In the years before he retired, he took up painting and gradually over time grew quite proficient. He died in 1986.

I doubt it will ever happen, but you can see how his life would provide the outlines of a compelling story.

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)

At the moment, I’m using a corner of a spare bedroom where I have a small setup with a desk and a laptop. I don’t need much when I’m writing, especially when it’s going well. In the past, I’ve been able to write almost anywhere. I wrote parts of Evidence while at work either during coffee breaks or at lunchtime in a busy food court. I’ve worked on my fiction while riding the bus home. Sometimes I write at the dining room table. I like to have classical music playing at a low volume while I write, as background, I suppose because absolute silence is so easily disturbed by sounds that are fatally distracting to creative work.

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

There’s a joke that in various forms has been circulating since Covid-19 came along: “How do you know you’re an introvert? When a global pandemic hits and nothing in your life changes.” Last year my wife and I, once we got over the shock of the pandemic, adapted more easily than we would have thought possible to isolating ourselves, staying home 95% of the time, and venturing out once a week to the grocery store. We’re both retired, so other than a few appointments there were not many events on our schedule to draw us away from the house. We subscribe to several concert series, and those converted over to virtual events. Our local independent bookstore was taking orders online and doing curbside pickup. So even with the restrictions in force, we were able to satisfy most of our essential needs without having to go anywhere.

In the early months of 2020, I was also getting close to the end of a novel manuscript. By that point, I had been working on it more or less steadily for about eighteen months. Being confined to the house by the health restrictions allowed me to press forward on the project and by the end of July, the manuscript was complete. Next, with time on my hands, I decided to polish up some unpublished fiction that had been sitting around, most of it for years. I reviewed two previously completed manuscripts: a new collection of linked stories about Kostandin Bitri, the main character from my first book, Evidence, and a novel called The Confessions of Joseph Blanchard. By early January I’d completed revisions and rewrites on these and also polished up the new novel, which is called A Momentary Lapse. Since we were still confined to home by the pandemic, I started the process of submitting them to publishers, which in most cases these days can be done online.

Of course, we missed friends, going to restaurants, live theatre. But social media allows you to share the pleasures and the pain. You’re separated physically but you’re still connected and communicating, and you know you’re not alone in your suffering. Sharing makes the isolation bearable.

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

Apart from writing and reading, I really enjoy cooking and baking. I like testing new recipes and making cakes and pies. When I retired in December 2017, one of my goals was to perfect my pie crust. I wanted to start making quiche, which I hadn’t done before, and now I’ve made about a dozen that have turned out well. My specialties are a killer carrot cake with cream cheese icing, rum cake and apple pie.

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

My favourite band is and always will be The Beatles.

Thanks, Ian!

Ian has written many reviews for us at The Miramichi Reader. You can access his profile page here: https://miramichireader.ca/author/ianc/

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The David Homel Interview

David Homel was born in Chicago in 1952 and left in 1970 for Paris, living in Europe the next few years on odd jobs and odder couches. He has published eight novels, from Electrical Storms in 1988 to The Teardown, which won the Paragraph Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction in 2019. He has also written young adult fiction with Marie-Louise Gay, directed documentary films, worked in TV production, been a literary translator, journalist, and creative writing teacher. Lunging into the Underbrush (Linda Leith Publishing, 2021) is his first book of non-fiction. He lives in Montreal.

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

David Homel: We revise our childhoods all through life, it’s a job that’s never over. Mine was a background of conflict, within my house and outside it. What do you expect, it was Chicago in the 60s. I was good in school when I wanted to be, and athletic, and had problems with authority. Money was always an issue, again, in the house and outside. I wanted a job without a boss – that was more important than having a paycheck.

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.

DH: An English teacher in high school had us read famous local authors starting with Hemingway, moving on to Nelson Algren, Willa Cather, Gwendolyn Brooks and more. I learned that someone from my neighbourhood could win the Nobel Prize with the stuff that was lying around on the street, waiting for someone to notice it. That was the biggest lesson from those years: there are good stories everywhere.

MR: You’ve had many books published over the years and have been awarded many times. Is there a particular highlight of your career that you are most proud of? Is peer recognition important for you as a writer, translator, educator, etc. to keep on doing what you’re doing?

DH: Peer recognition means friends, and that’s important. “Lunging” is, among other things, a book about those people who have helped me along the way. A book of gratitude. You ask about pride. I was proud of “Electrical Storms” in 1988 because I’d never written a novel before, and it was published by a major house. I was proud of my first kids’ novel in 2006, “Travels with my Family,” because I’d never written for children before. And proud of “Lunging” because I had never written a non-fiction book. You get the picture: keep doing things differently.

“The story of almost dying by walking off a cliff in 1971 has been with me for a while, but I never realized until recently what that event had to do with me, the person I am today.”

MR: Your recent memoir, “Lunging into the Underbrush: A Life Lived Backward” was a most interesting read. Was now the time to write it, since so much of it happened during your youth?

DH: The story of almost dying by walking off a cliff in 1971 has been with me for a while, but I never realized until recently what that event had to do with me, the person I am today. Strange, but true: I didn’t know how to talk about it. Then, when I understood that it was the ultimate preparation for aging while getting stronger, I knew I had to tell the tale. Of course, that tale branched out in many ways to show how I got to this point.

MR: I highlighted many gems of wisdom throughout your book, such as: “I counsel friends to be charitable to their younger selves, and love the confused young woman and man they were, but I can’t always bring myself to make that effort for the person I was.” If you had never “lunged into the underbrush” what would have been the outcome of your life? I’m sure you have speculated on that idea throughout the years.

DH: Yes, that’s why this book can’t be a how-to guide about aging, because you can’t write something that encourages people to have catastrophic accidents when they’re young. But the book is about using adversity to become stronger. That is not an original idea. But the particular adversities I write about, from opiate addiction to confronting the military-industrial complex that gave us the Vietnam War, those do make for some original adventures. I am very self-critical about my past actions – hence, the need for self-forgiveness. I didn’t see myself as heroic because I opposed the Vietnam misadventure. I didn’t see myself as avant-garde because I participated in personal liberation movements. There where I surprised myself was when I started writing about aging and sexuality, Melancholy and Eros. That brought me to interview a good number of women my age (everyone was promised anonymity, except for me), which let me see what a mess male sexuality is, in general, at all ages. Again, more self-forgiveness was needed.

MR: How many books are in your personal library? Are they organized in any way?

DH: Who knows? A lot, and I’ve read them. I’m a disorganized person. During this pandemic with the local gyms closed, I built one in my basement with the stuff I could find. The books are stored down there as well. All the Freud is together, and the Raymond Carver and J.M. Coetzee, but otherwise, it’s anyone’s guess where anything is. I found some buried treasures, like Marianne Wiggins’ “John Dollar.”

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

DH: Back last century I was on a panel with Han Suyin, a Chinese writer, a proponent of Mao, many times married, and a doctor as well. She said, “All my patients are like my characters, and vice versa, they’re all liars.” I liked that. I don’t know if anyone’s written her biography. No doubt there are biographies of Pablo Neruda, the poet who was also so many other things, but I’d like to do him too before I run out of time.

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.)

DH: I have a small apartment, 500 or 600 square feet. I go there just about every day. It’s the ideal – no one there but me. I don’t go for writing in cafés because I make too much noise when I write. It’s a little embarrassing. I wrote my first three novels on manual typewriters, but then this thing called the computer took over. I have a laptop and feel nothing toward it, whereas my manuals still inspire great tenderness in me.

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

DH: It hasn’t been as bad for me as for others. I was never confined because every day I went to my studio. Early on I read this sentence in a book by evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers: “Anxiety damages the immune system.” I have taken that sentence to heart. The other day, I saw a friend Dimitri Nasrallah and at the end we shook hands. Flesh to flesh. It was wonderful. I mean, contact renewed…

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

DH: I’m still an athletic guy, so there are endless ball games in the summer. I don’t know when basketball and ball hockey are going to open up again. One thing I don’t do enough is contemplate, since I’m too interested in things that demand physical exertion.

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

I won a prize for best poem written by a high school student in the Chicago public schools. The poem was about the el train. Urban romance was my thing! The prize was $100 worth of poetry books from Kroch’s & Brentano’s. A fortune…

Many thanks to David Homel for taking the time to participate in this interview. (Photo of Mr. Homel by Marina Vulicevic and is used with her permission)

The Estella Kuchta Interview

Estella Kuchta is a writer, researcher, and postsecondary instructor, currently teaching at Langara College in Vancouver, Canada. Her first novel, Finding the Daydreamer, was recently published by Elm Books in the US. She has worked as a writer and researcher for international management consultants, a research assistant to renowned author Dr. Gabor Mate, and an editor for Susila Dharma International. Her creative writing and journalism projects have been published, aired, and broadcast in newspapers and literary magazines, and on radio and TV in Canada and the United States. Her current academic research centres on experiential ecocriticism and the biological impacts of reading love stories. She is the winner of the UBC Undergraduate Creative Writing Award and her ecocritical research into Canadian love stories earned a SSHRC award.

Though set in the past, how does the novel still reflect social issues such as equality, abuse, etc?

The novel works through tangled layers of secrets and secrecy, unknowns and taboos. One of my goals was to tell—to reveal—the unheard stories. I hope people will forgive me for doing this. I tread into some ‘unmentionable’ territory. My goal is to expose these injustices to light, to make some survivors of those abuses feel less alone, and to draw attention to the complexities surrounding these issues.

People have told me the book also deals with many issues of women’s rights. This happened almost by accident. I simply wrote, based on my own experiences as a woman, some of the events I suspected my protagonist might encounter.

A great many of the social issues reflected in the book have, unfortunately, not changed very much in the last hundred years. We’re still coping with the fallout of the residential school system, with the oppression of women’s and children’s bodies, and with a culture that prioritizes individual egos and economics at the expense of love.

 What books did you read earlier in life that helped shape your debut novel?

I think a novel is like a gift, and each sentence can be a treat, a tiny present that might delight, inspire, or clarify. As a poet, this idea came naturally, but I saw it enacted in vivid way in Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha. The protagonist’s childlike and poetic worldview is evidenced in her description of her childhood home, the fishing village, and a decaying moth.

I’ve always been drawn to books that deal with magic, the supernatural, intuition, and the many invisible links between us all. A couple of my favourite books are Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony and Isabella Allende’s House of Spirits. Two of my writing mentors, Stan Rushworth (Sam Woods) and Joseph Stroud (Country of Light) taught me to write with honesty. Although they write memoir and poetry, respectively, I’ve discovered that fiction can be as truthful as nonfiction when written with emotional honesty.

When did you know you were writing a novel? Did this story start off as anything else? A short story perhaps?

This novel began as a CBC radio documentary interview with my grandmother who lived in the Cariboo during the 1930s and 40s. I developed the idea to interview her after attending an English class with Laurie Ricou at UBC where I first learned of the concept of telling stories through place—the idea that land itself contains stories and can be mapped through storytelling.

From there, I began graduate research on the qualities of Canadian love stories and how those stories related to land. I decided to explore my developing theories through a creative project—a novel—using my grandmother’s stories of life in the Cariboo as the setting.

“We heal through stories. While my writing has often been a personal healing journey, ultimately, I hope it brings comfort, insight, illumination, and healing to others.”

Despite your book being set almost 100 years ago, are there any biographical elements in the book that you drew from for any characters or plot points?

My grandmother, a settler of British descent grew up in a beachfront house in West Vancouver and spent the 1930s and 40s teaching and raising children in the Cariboo. A great many of her descriptions of the Cariboo, ranch life, the local culture, food, work, automobiles, and relationships between settler and Indigenous culture derived from my grandmother’s stories of her life in the Cariboo in the 1930s and 40s. In several places in the book, I’ve quoted her almost verbatim.

All my life, she told me tales of washing laundry in -40C degree weather, feeding starving cowboys who talked almost entirely about beef, and many other things that found their way into the book. For example, her mother really did give secondhand clothing in exchange for handwoven baskets to Indigenous women who canoed up to the West Vancouver house a couple times a year.

However, all of the characters and their actions are entirely fictional and my grandmother does not appear in the book. I’m deeply indebted to her rich storytelling and grateful she trusted me with her tales.

In a previous interview, the poet Ann Carson, was quoted Jacques Lacan, the French psychoanalyst and philosopher, who said that we don’t go to poetry for wisdom but for the dismantling of wisdom. How does poetry do that? Care to answer that one?

When you let the poetic mind take over, invisible constraints of culture, education, value, and perception can be shed. So, in essence, the poetic mind can enable us to do the hardest kind of learning: Unlearning. Within this unlearning, whole new ideas and values can be born.

What is the Vancouver lit scene like these days? I think folks would like to hear about what goes on out west – what writers do you admire, what stores do you like to frequent (bookstores) and what magazines or reading series do you like?

I’m lucky to live in a city with a number of amazing bookstores within a short bike ride. My favourites are the Indigenous owned and operated Iron Dog Books and the fabulous secondhand bookstore Canterbury Tales. Prism Magazine is my favourite local creative writing journal. Somehow, year after year, they hire consistently talented editors.

As a writer, I tend to cross-pollinate with other artistic disciplines for inspiration. For example, I’m huge fan of Vancouver’s modern dance scene and have found tremendous inspiration from performances at Edam Dance and The Cultch. I also frequent the Vancouver Fringe Festival and see every performance from the theatre company Fight With A Stick. These dancers and actors continually push the boundaries of artistic creation to new levels. I’m truly humbled watching them.

What advice do you wish you’d received, but didn’t, when you first started to take your writing seriously? 

I wish someone told me: The things you are most afraid to write are the things you most need to write.

What is your ambition as a writer—what do you want to accomplish, personally and professionally?

We heal through stories. While my writing has often been a personal healing journey, ultimately, I hope it brings comfort, insight, illumination, and healing to others.

 Are there any people in your life who are no longer with you (read: they died) but you really wish they could read this novel?

My mother-in-law, Lillia, was a great source of love, support, and artistic inspiration in my life. She was an avid reader, a potter, and a painter, and introduced me to many of my favourite books. She helped me choose the title for the novel, but she passed away in 2020. I think—I hope!—she would have really liked the novel.

The novel wouldn’t even be possible without my grandmother. I started it while she was still alive, and she knew I was working on it. She passed away several years before publication. I suspect it would have been a very strange experience for her reading her descriptions in my words in a world so very similar yet different from the one where she lived! She was one of my biggest supporters in life, so I suspect she would have been a fan.

How does geography play into your writing process? Do you like to stay in one place to write, can you write anywhere you go, and do you wish you could go somewhere on the earth just so you could write for a few hours?

During the research stages of this book, I sat near cow pens, went down horse trails, studied and listened to the land. I tried to truly hear what the clouds, birds, and mountains wanted to share with me. When I actually sit down to write—I could be anywhere. My imagination is huge and very consuming! Reality becomes remote, pale, and far away. So, as my work took me to different places, I wrote this novel on a ranch in the Cariboo, in cafes in Vancouver, in a cabin in California, in an apartment in China, and a house in Japan.

What do you hope readers will take away from your novel?

Despite the constraints of her culture and upbringing, the protagonist, Annabelle, learns to listen to some impulse inside her that knows how to find the right way in life. All of us in this society have constraints of one kind or another that prevent us from listening to that inner knowing. If we can find a way back to it, learn to listen and trust it, we can find our way back to healing and to love.

Although your characters are from another time, what similarities do your characters share as it relates to romance – have things changed all that much in the land of love?

The landscape of Canadian love has not changed much in the past 100 years. Canadian society still struggles with how to accommodate love in a culture of heightened propriety, politeness, economic-orientation, and inequalities. In some way, the novel poses a question: What do we want of love? and: What are we willing to do for love?

For more information on Finding the Daydreamer, visit Elm Books https://www.elm-books.com/daydreamer_p/n-02.htm

The Darryl Whetter Interview

Professor Darryl Whetter is the author of two books of poetry and four books of fiction, including the new climate-crisis novel Our Sands. His writing has appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, The Walrus Online, The Globe and Mail, The Toronto Star and The National Post (etc.) He teaches Creative Writing and English at Université Sainte-Anne. His new novel Our Sands was just published.

Can you sum up your novel in one sentence?

Our Sands is a novel of eco-terrorism and bike-courier love that asks how our climate crisis is impacting the heart and the family, not just the wallet and the state.

The novel came out in Asia in 2020 and is just now released in Canada. What’s the story there?

In a word—COVID-19. My wife and I lived in Singapore from 2016 to 2020. We were actually on a little trip to northern Laos in late February of 2020, just as things started to heat up. First we worried that we wouldn’t be able to get back into Singapore from Laos, then we worried we’d be stranded in Singapore indefinitely. I taught for years at this cool art college, LASALLE College of the Arts. The whole time that my colleagues were having painting shows or jazz concerts or film screenings, I kept waiting to launch my novel. Singapore was the world’s second COVID hotspot, though, after China, and we were in lockdown there long before the rest of the world. In a country that might hang you for buying drugs, I was buying boxes of face masks from guys in alleys. First my Singaporean launch was cancelled, then the Ubud Festival of Writers and Readers in Bali, where I’d been chosen to read from the novel, had to go online. Each year at Ubud I’d get a slightly better reading slot, but in 2020 I was finally supposed to have a main event—all that got wiped away with disinfectant and cancelled flights. My novel is like our last piece of luggage to get shipped over.

What inspired you to write Our Sands?

Shame, rage, terror. Most of us think we’re aware of how significant the Alberta tar sands are to Canada, both economically and politically, yet this is the first novel I’ve seen that addresses what Our Sands calls “the black mark on the national soul.” American literature reckons with slavery, and German literature confronts the Holocaust; until Our Sands, no novel in landscape-obsessed CanLit has addressed our most defining landscape. With a global climate-crisis worsening each year, I felt duty-bound to confront our biggest, and globally unique, contribution to global warming. The tar sands are the drunken uncle of the Canadian family. Wishing he would just go away isn’t enough. Beyond the environment, there are also these fascinating social issues, including drug use and sex-trade work in Fort Mac. As someone who has lived in the Maritimes for more than twenty years, I had to put into fiction that question I’ve overheard far too often at Sobey’s: “When’s he back?”

What was the most difficult part of writing the novel?

The risk of despair. I started the novel in 2012, and then in 2013 I fell head-over-heels in love. Our Sands has a birth-control plot not unlike the real people who call themselves Birth Strikers. The woman who is now my wife—who designed the book cover, actually—Gisèle and I were falling in love as I was putting my life-long concern for the environment under the microscope like never before. As a senior in high-school, in Orillia, Ontario, I helped lead a successful citizen protest to overturn our municipal government’s bone-headed plan to create an incinerator to burn all of Toronto’s garbage. After one protest I organized, the mayor went on record saying he wished he could have had us shot. How to go from that or my being the Green Party of Canada candidate in Halifax in the 2008 federal election to this Extinction Rebellion novel and have kids? To fall in love writing this novel was also to decide that we could do more for the world by not having children. That’s not all smiles over the breakfast table.

Is there really an entertaining story in all that doom and gloom?

Not only that, there’s a love story. Two young, car-free urban cyclists literally meet over the crossbar of a bicycle, not at a wine bar. There’s hope alongside the doom. Rory’s a bike courier in Calgary, paid to move oil contracts around but secretly scanning them for a group known as The Green Army. Ocean grew up the rich daughter of a former geologist turned oil executive, so there’s an ecological Romeo-and-Juliet plot. There’s a love story and a family story, as well as attention to how our tar sands are knowingly poisoning Alberta’s Indigenous. I shouldn’t give too much away, but it’s not wrong to describe the plot as “explosive.”

How do you respond when Maritimers ask how they’re expected to feed their families without tar-sands work?

By saying the b-word billions as quickly as I can. No Canadian should ever forget that ‘our’ oil industry is subsidized with what some reports cited by the CBC call more than half-a-billion dollars a year and others say is more than a billion. If you firehose that kind of public money, our taxes, at any industry, you can create jobs and provide high salaries. When these jobs are created by politics, not economics when they are a public charity, why not create jobs greening government buildings or pursuing renewable energy? If Our Sands has one main character in its ensemble cast, it’s the young woman, Ocean Janak. As Naomi Klein points out, “care” is low-carbon. Why, as a nation, have we decided that we’ll funnel hundreds of millions of tax dollars predominantly to men to work in an industry NASA’s whistle-blowing climate scientist James Hansen calls “game over for the climate,” when, as COVID has shown, supporting the women who work caring for the young and old helps the health of all of us, not just one employee? The tar sands aren’t paying all the Maritimers who work in it; we taxpayers are.

Is the novel set exclusively in Alberta?

Most, but part of is set in Nova Scotia. The father/husband character is a geologist who, his teen daughter claims, sells his soul to the devil in working for Alberta oil companies. He never fully forgets his love for fossils, evolution and extinction, so of course, he has to visit Joggins, Nova Scotia. One of my life highs was working as the editor of the Joggins Fossil Cliffs’ nomination dossier for inscription on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. I did that editing years ago, but I’m still obsessed with everything it taught me about evolution. I dealt with some of that in my 2012 poetry collection Origins, but Joggins also deserves the broad canvas of fiction.

Do you really think a novel can stop the tar sands?

Many claim that when President Abraham Lincoln met Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of the anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, he said, “So you’re the little lady that caused this big war?” referring to the US Civil War. We know from Sixties music and the successful resistance of American citizens to its crazy Vietnam War that art can light the match. Culture lays the tinder and kindling, but art is often the match.

This is your third novel. How does Our Sands differ from your pot-smuggling novel Keeping Things Whole [Nimbus, 2013] or the bicycle odyssey of your first novel, The Push & the Pull [Goose Lane Editions, 2008]?

Our Sands is my first epic novel, with a national story, not just a personal one, and more than one main character. It’s my first novel with a truly ensemble cast. There are five major characters here, and the contemplations run from mass extinction to geo-engineering to, “The species committing murder-suicide with the planet, that preferred crime of the jealous boyfriend.” But it’s still funny in places. Eco-terrorists still make jokes and meet someone who makes their heart go pitter-patter.

What are you most proud of in the novel?

Two things. One, that I filled the gap, that I’m shining a light on the dark heart of our economy. University researchers of all types are generally encouraged to go the research frontiers that haven’t yet been crossed. I hope Our Sands is the first of several Canadian tar-sands novels. Then, more technically, I’m proud of what I can only describe as the tantrically long climax. It just builds and builds.

Now that this novel’s done, what’s your next project?

In August, the big academic publisher Routledge will release an anthology of essays I’ve curated called Teaching Creative Writing in Asia. Boring title; fascinating subject. A few years before I taught in Singapore I was the Coordinator of the Creative Writing program at Dalhousie University. In the anglophone world, Creative Writing is one of if not the only growth areas in the Arts and Humanities. Many Asian countries are embracing Creative Writing as an example of STEAM education, not just STEM (i.e., adding some art to the sciences), but those Asian countries are the next phase of what was once the educational revolution of Creative Writing by offering it to students for whom English is a second or third language. One of my fellow Asian writing profs writes about “self-translation.” I love that. We often translate ourselves.

  • Publisher : Penguin Random House SEA (Feb. 18 2020)
  • Language : English
  • Paperback : 398 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 9814882186
  • ISBN-13 : 978-9814882187

*Please note if you choose to purchase this book through Amazon using the link below we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: https://amzn.to/2RNZ5r7 Thanks! 

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved