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The Bruce Meyer Interview

Bruce Meyer is the author of numerous books of poetry, short stories, flash fiction, and non-fiction, including three national bestsellers (The Golden Thread, Portraits of Canadian Writers, and the anthology We Wasn’t Pals that he co-edited with Barry Callaghan).

His short stories have won or been shortlisted for numerous international fiction awards including the Tom Gallon Trust Fiction Prize from the Society of Authors in the UK, the Anton Chekhov Prize for Short Fiction, and the Retreat West Fiction Prize, among others. His latest collection of stories, Toast Soldiers, was just released by Crowsnest Books.

Meyer lives in Barrie, Ontario, and teaches at Georgian College and at the University of Toronto.

Toast Soldiers is an evocative short story collection teeming with dark and beautiful incongruities and absurdities, the stories center on characters grappling with a confounding universe. Toast Soldiers tells the stories of individuals who fight against the invincible fates they confront and attempt to assert themselves even though they know they are facing defeat.

Poetry has been often dubbed the hard sell, but some will say the short story is the hardest of all – why is that or do you agree?

Meyer: Just about any market for the printed word is a hard sell these days. Newspapers do not pay freelancers the way they once did, and poetry, despite more poetry books being published now than ever before, is a crowded and competitive art form. The stories in Toast Soldiers are more expansive works and my hope is that each is a small novel that will hold a reader’s attention for more than a few minutes. Canada is known for the short story. My friend, Al MacLeod, was likely our best. Close behind him are Barry Callaghan, Mavis Gallant, and Leon Rooke. Our sole Nobel Laureate, Alice Munro, made her name with the form. Readers will engage the short story but from the first word to the last of each one, the writer has to make sure the piece dazzles. The days of mundane realism are long gone. There has to be a revelation of ideas, facts, and discoveries of characters and character development — all elements that the best novels achieve — within a confined space.

When did you start writing the stories that make up Toast Soldiers?

Meyer: Usually, a book of short stories takes me about four years to write. I rarely work on just one book at a time. I work on a number of manuscripts and when I have a pool of stories that could be sorted in various ways, I begin to assemble the bones for a book. I never throw anything away. There are, however, three to four times the number of stories in Toast Soldiers than I needed so I was able to practice a process of selection. The title story was triggered about three years ago by a menu in a Barrie bakery where my wife and I were having brunch. I asked what “toast soldiers” were. They came with eggs. The owner made me a plate, gratis. I was intrigued by the pun build into the name, the idea of someone becoming ‘toast’ in the sense of meeting their end, and the question of what happens when something new appears on a menu. About the same time, my sister returned from an academic conference in Holland where she had visited Nijmegen and “the Bridge too Far” from the Second World War. Some of the other stories were written during the pandemic when I’ve been teaching from home but found I had time late at night to hear myself think. My books are gradual accumulations of selected material. The same is true for my books of poems.

A few of your stores take place in 20th century Americana. What are some of your influences from the 20th century – be it art, music, writing, etc.? What drew you to this era?

Meyer: I had an epiphany years ago when the late Peter Stevens too me to the last of the old time Detroit jazz clubs, Baker’s Keyboard Lounge. Kenny Burrell was playing and Robert Cray joined us at the table to listen. The place had the original Naugahyde aquamarine booths. That evening brought back a lot of memories from my childhood. I was a very aware child in the late Fifties (he said giving away his age). I have a story in Goodbye Mr. Spaulding, a collection of baseball stories, titled “Calling Time” which is set in Las Vegas around the same time as “Badlands.” I’m fascinated by the Fifties partially because I lived in them and partially because they were the moment when the Twentieth century began to show the change, universally, that all the larger and more violent events had foretold. I love cars with fins, especially those that slide by on grease as in Robert Lowell’s poem “For the Union Dead.” When I went to school, I did so under the shadow of the bomb as in “Jenny.” There was a brilliant, summer light glinting off cars (that were meant to look like rockets) that was blinding even as a spirit of the thanatic hovered over everything. We sang songs in school about going to the moon. It was the last gasp of optimism. In the follow-up book to Toast Soldiers, The Leavening, I tell a story that emerges from a Bacharach/David song, “Twenty-Four Hours from Tulsa.” The world was just beginning to rock during the late Fifties. Then the Americans sent troops to Viet Nam and men to the Moon and JFK, MLK, and RFK and Malcolm X were shot and people began believing in a very different reality.

Many of your stories have been published in journals. How has the role of literary magazines changed or remained the same as your career has developed?

Meyer: John Robert Colombo has a poem that was famous in the early 70s, “Everyone Begins in a Little Magazine.” I learned a lot by working as an editor with a number of magazines — Descant, Cross-Canada Writers’ Quarterly, Argo (UK), and guest editing gigs with Windsor Review, Quarry, and Ice Floes (Alaska).  My first term at the U of T I worked for the nation’s oldest literary magazine, Acta Victoriana. Pratt, Frye, Avison, Atwood, Lee, and Macpherson were all editors at one time or another. In October of my first year, I got a call from the psych ward at Wellesley Hospital for me to come and pick up a book. I was appointed the youngest editor of the oldest magazine because the editor, in his 4th year had signed off the project. I did that for two years, and then took on a campus-wide lit mag, the University of Toronto Review where I had to raise six thousand dollars per year to publish the thing. Not easy. I published the first poems of Anne Michaels, Cary Fagan, Jeffery Donaldson and Denis Stokes, and then started a mag, Nimbus, with two friends, Andrew Brooks and Lawrence Hopperton where we published the first poems of Richard Harrison. Editing is an excellent way to learn about writing. An editor gets to see what is being written, what works, what doesn’t and the chance to meet established authors such as Layton, MacEwen, Acorn, Purdy, and Livesay. The friendships I struck up with the established poets led to the two books of interviews, In Their Words (Anansi, 1985) and Lives and Works (Black Moss, 1991). One thing leads to another.

“My Moleskine notebook is never more than three feet from my left hand (I am sinister). I carry several fountain pens in case one goes dry. I write both poems and stories (or notes for stories) in my notebooks. I sleep with a lap desk beside my bed in case I wake up with an idea.”

What advice would you give a young writer of poetry and fiction who wants to connect to their community and learn how to get published?

Meyer: Do not write like other people. I was given a lousy piece of advice to that effect. The writer said I should write like this person or that person. Via Jeffery Donaldson, a manuscript (one of about a dozen) ended up on the desk of the Pulitzer Prize winner, Richard Howard — a great sage. He wrote to me. “What do you want to know?” I responded “Richard, how should I write?” His advice was simple: “There is no right way or wrong way. There is only your way.” He also suggested I take my poems apart and put them back together using meter, rhyme, and form. That was a breakthrough for me. There weren’t workshops when I was a younger writer. Those who were admitted to Creative Writing classes were just epigone of second-rate poets who were professors in disguise. Young writers can, if the chemistry is good, learn from each other. I recall the evening spent in the booth at the back of the Duke of York Pub on Prince Arthur Avenue with Brooks, Hopperton, Donaldson, Harrison, George Elliott Clarke (who hitchhiked to Toronto to sit in with us), James Deahl, and sometimes Marty Singleton. Di Cicco would join us sometimes. He had a book out and a leather jacket. Often, though, peer workshops are the result of the blind leading the blind. Younger writers should read, not just what they can find in local bookstores, but everything, anything, they can lay their hands on in second-hand shops. Read two books of poetry per day. Study the poems not for what they say but for how they say it. Writing is the engineering of the language and the imagination. Examine how the poet has solved a particular problem. I read short stories now for how they begin and how they end. As for getting published, I’d say don’t worry about that. Look after the writing and the publications will follow, but also know when to push a piece of work out of the nest. Eventually, it has to live a life without its author. Where young authors should aim themselves is the finished manuscript and that’s a whole separate topic for discussion. Go to readings and listen. Take notes. Don’t write with a paper bag of your head. Look at what it is you are writing about. Notice things. Describe things. As Rilke said, “Write about things.”

What are some essential tools you keep near you when you’re writing?

Meyer: My Moleskine notebook is never more than three feet from my left hand (I am sinister). I carry several fountain pens in case one goes dry. I write both poems and stories (or notes for stories) in my notebooks. I sleep with a lap desk beside my bed in case I wake up with an idea. I never remove my glasses and if I do (because I can’t see without them) they are on top of the notebook with two fountain pens. I travel in the car with a lap desk. I write things down. Sometimes there is nothing to them. Charles Tomlinson, a family friend who used to visit from the UK, always carried a notebook. Never rely on the brain to hold an idea. Details get lost inside a mind. When an idea strikes, write it down. I also carry a leather writer’s satchel and in it are usually two books I’m reading (I love anthologies because quite often too much of one writer is irritating), my notebook, spare pens, and a small folding umbrella. That bag goes everywhere with me if I leave the house. If I am working on poems, I often carry a formalist’s ephemeris, Lewis Turco’s  The New Book of Forms. If I am near the end of a Moleskine (the 8 x 5 400 page hardback, regular lined) I carry the next notebook. Ideas appear out of nowhere. The key is to notice them, listen to them, converse with them, and write them down. Never leave an idea out in the cold.

What was it like working with Crowsnest books?

Meyer: Wonderful. Lewis Slawsky is patience personified. I’m what you might call a high-strung writer. I’m a perfectionist but am also the world’s worst proofreader. I’m an excellent substantive editor (I do that work for several literary presses) but I can’t see my own small problems. I become snow-blind to accidentals. Lewis has a profound sense of what works artistically and what doesn’t. His feedback has been great. He told me he had followed my career for many years and that my Great Books broadcasts with Michael Enright had been one of the reasons he decided to study the Great Books in Santa Fe. His knowledge of literary is very extensive and that’s a relief. I have had editors in the past who had no idea what I was saying when I wrote something and rather than ask me, they just drew a line through it. Lewis and I have had some very wonderful conversations. Crowsnest is a new press that is going places. A former student of mine, Benjamin Berman Ghan, is one of their authors and he suggested I approach them. Ben is an excellent writer and I am glad Lewis and Alex Wall acknowledged Ben’s talent.

What were the books you read as a young person that helped shape your reading appetite?

Meyer: Wow. Where would I begin? I own over 24,000 books and now that we’re having to downsize I have to cull them which will be like shooting a herd of Bambi’s mothers. I’d say Larkin was a breakthrough for me in poetry. I opened up The Whitsun Weddings while I was stuck on a bus to Hamilton during my doctoral years and I was glad the traffic was snarled. That was the first time I looked at poems and asked “how?” I missed meeting Larkin a year later at the Arts Council Poetry Library on Piccadilly although I am certain we passed each other. Heaney was another revelation and he became a correspondence mentor to me until he won his Nobel. I fell in love with Graham Greene at grad school, especially his short stories although recently I haven’t gone back to his short fiction because there is something snarly about it. I tended to read poetry as a young person. Whenever the topic of the short story was raised, people got all spooky and mystical and began talking about “the craft of fiction.” Fiction has fewer rules on the front end than poetry and more things to look after on the back end but there is nothing spooky about a good story. Fiction says “pay attention to the details and edit, edit, edit, to reduce the narrative to a very precise and focused conversation between the author and the reader.”

Can you talk about the title? What inspired it?

Meyer: As I mentioned, the title was inspired by brunch. What I haven’t told anyone is that I had a set of 78 rpm recordings by the Canadian comic (who lived and worked in England in the Thirties) Stanley Maxted, and his gem was A.A. Milne’s “The King’s Breakfast,” which he set to music.  The Milne poem is about hierarchies, ranks. It should be played in every office in Canada. “The King asked the Queen / And the Queen asked the Dairymaid / Could I have a little bit of butter for my bread…” The cow eventually gets the message but answers “Many people nowadays prefer marmalade instead.” The poem is the classic statement on administrivia. My point is that inspiration, even in its most profound sense, does not come from profound places or ideas. The challenge is for the writer to drill down into a fragment of the commonplace and make it into something more than anyone could have foreseen with the source. Isn’t that what resides at the core of invention?

What was the most difficult story to complete in Toast Soldiers?

Part of me wants to say all of them. Stories are easy to begin but the real work resides in finishing them. The hardest one to complete was likely “Oglevie,” because the character is so beaten down by life and the art of boxing. That story was inspired by Tolstoy’s remark that there are really only two stories (and I had the feeling he was thinking of Homer’s Odyssey which is the underpinning story in “Oglevie”). A stranger leaves town. A stranger returns. I kept asking myself if justice in an unkind, hostile universe, would be possible, and if even an inkling of it is possible, what would that justice (or call it mercy if you wish) look like? With the other stories, I can see then end the moment I thought of the beginning, and I knew what I had to do to reach the finale. Not so with “Oglevie.” In the end, I gave him a shred of the mercy he deserved. I had been inspired by the line from Richard Hugo’s poem, “Degrees of Grey in Phillpsburg” where Hugo says the misery won’t let up “until the town inside you dies.” The question I was wrestling with was “how does one find life and redemption in that town inside the protagonist when it is apparent to all the town has died?” Endings are never a problem for me, though getting to them can be a test of my wits.


This article has been Digiproved © 2022 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Season 2, Episode 3: January 16, 2022

In episode 3, we continue our look at the Best of 2021 books with audio clips from Ian Colford and Rachel Fernandes. Also, an interview with James was conducted by Jessica Robichaud and our Patreon campaign with an Atlantic Books Today incentive.



This article has been Digiproved © 2022 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Douglas Coupland Interview

Nathaniel G. Moore:

The cover of Binge is a timestamp for some culture junkies out there.

Douglas Coupland

It was a highly curated image.

NGM:

What has been your experience with feedback from the young Bruce Springsteen fan in the midst of dancing with the boss? It was very intimate because, as someone born in the mid-1970s, I knew immediately where and who it was. Out of its context as a music video – the image becomes so much more tantalizing. Any thoughts?

DC

I had to reach out to Courtney through a few mutual friends to make sure it was okay to use the image. What I’ve noticed about that specific video [Dancing in the Dark, 1984] is that every single person who ever watched it (which is pretty much everyone) thinks that they are the only person on Earth who knows that it’s Courtney Cox dancing in it. It’s this massive unacknowledged shared memory, and I thought it would be interesting to foreground this.

NGM:

With the stories in Binge being shorter – and plenty of them to sink into – do you see their order as absolute or do you envision readers being able to flip anywhere and be content?

DC:

Random is fine by me, although there are a few stories that follow a loose sequence of events.

NGM:

The format of Binge is reflective, in a way, of our cultural viewing habits.

DC

Yes. The project began a few months before Covid and then Covid put a brick on the gas pedal. What makes something, anything, bingeable? What’s in the secret sauce? I came up with my own recipe, but I wanted to recreate in fiction what is happening in most peoples’ heads right now in real life.

NGM:

Reading and books are finding themselves not so much adapting to this trend, because consuming things have always been in high fashion – but perhaps the concept of a story and what makes a story work is changing.

DC:

Yes and no. Dialog will always be mandatory no matter what happens to fiction, as will people being truthful in written words in a way that they are nowhere else. The big shift in the past 20 years has been the way we’ve redefined honesty.

NGM

Do you think that the stories being told now have to do more to compete with what seems to be a golden age of storytelling in podcasts or streaming series?

DC:

Years ago, I was unwillingly dragged into writing a biography of Marshall McLuhan, which ended up being one of the most fortunate things I’ve ever done. That man was amazing. One of his predictions (his family hates it when you say predictions, but they were, and he was always right) was that when a new medium obsolesces an older medium, it allows the older medium to become an art form. That’s what happened with TV once the internet eclipsed TV. It started with the Sopranos, but now it’s an embarrassing trove of nightly riches. People now discuss binged series the exact same way they once described a Cheever novel.

NGM

In the the story ‘Gaga’, it’s almost like you purposefully steered the narrative away from the singer Lady Gaga. Do you recall any conscious decisions of what you were not going to go for in these stories?

DC

I went into a lot of “ungoable” places in the book, sometimes with a deliberately cringe-inducing effect, but that’s the nature of our world. The Queen and Nicole Kidman are not that different from you or me or anyone randomly chosen from the internet anywhere on earth at any time of day when we all look at a plastic sex toy and try to figure out its relationship to our own bodies. Yes: even the Queen.

NGM

Writing, in a way, is like art curation. When you write, are you visualizing a reality that doesn’t exist – or are you trying to add your own creations to a world that already exists in your mind?

DC

I like to create a more interesting version of this thing called the real world which I am forced to inhabit with every awakeness cycle.

NGM

A line from the story ‘Liz Claiborne Sheets’ (about a Canadian border patrol worker) stood out to me as the perfect tagline for life in the new world we live in. “On top of the wear and tear of all that lying, we’re also bored out of our minds.” Are humans bored?

DC

We’re not bored but we are easily bored.

NGM

Can we trust that the world and its governments are really telling us the whole truth?

DC

Good God, no. Most of the time I think they don’t even know the truth. If this whole covid mess taught us anything, it’s that our politicians all got C+’s in science in high school.

NGM

You turned 60 a few days ago – what did you celebrate?

DC

Last week I got blind-sided by a surprise party — 25 days before my birthday — which is what made it such a surprise. Has anyone ever thrown a surprise party for you? When they do a good job (and they did) it is absolutely terrifying yet fun at the same time. I can see why people die of heart attacks when everyone shouts Surprise! I had PTSD for 48 hours afterwards. My actual birthday is now inconsequential.



About the Author

DOUGLAS COUPLAND is a Canadian writer, visual artist and designer. His first novel is the 1991 international bestseller Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, still celebrated for its biting humour and cultural relevancy thirty years since its initial publication. He has published fourteen novels, two collections of short stories, eight nonfiction books. He has written and performed for England’s Royal Shakespeare Company, is a columnist for The Financial Times of London and a frequent contributor to The New York Times. In 2000 Coupland amplified his visual art production and has recently had two separate museum retrospectives, Everything is Anything is Anywhere is Everywhere at the Vancouver Art Gallery, The Royal Ontario Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, and Bit Rot at Rotterdam’s Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, and Munich’s Villa Stücke. In 2015 and 2016 Coupland was artist in residence in the Paris Google Cultural Institute. In May 2018, his exhibition on ecology, Vortex, opened at the Vancouver Aquarium. Coupland is a member of the Royal Canadian Academy, an Officer of the Order of Canada, an Officer of the Order of British Columbia, a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and a recipient of the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence.

Binge is published by Penguin Random House Canada.

  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 272 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1039000525
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1039000520

This article has been Digiproved © 2022 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Nathaniel G. Moore
Some Rights Reserved  

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 Zachari Logan Interview

As poet Molly Peacock points out in her endorsement of Zachari Logan’s debut collection, A Natural History of Unnatural Things, (Radiant Press) “Poetry and visual art have an intimate relationship, and the brilliant artist Zachari Logan demonstrates just how magnificent the exchange of imagery can be.”

An experienced and much-lauded visual artist, Logan turns his deft hands at the printed word, where he stays true (at least in part) to his artist statement: “Zachari Logan evolves a visual language that explores the intersections between masculinity, identity, memory and place. In previous work related to his current practice, Logan investigated his own body as an exclusive site of exploration.”

Zachari Logan is a queer Canadian poet and artist whose art is exhibited widely in both group and solo exhibitions throughout North America, Europe and Asia. In 2014, Logan received the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for emerging artists, and in 2016, Logan was long-listed for the Sobey Award. In 2010, his chapbook, A Eulogy for the Buoyant, was published by JackPine Press.  Zachari Logan lives in Regina, Saskatchewan.

The poem ‘Bouquet’ is a cold feeling poem about the human body engaged with medical mechanics for the hope of achieving a return to health. The title is illusory and strange. Can you talk about your intention for this poem? Was it inspired by any particular event?

A bouquet, not that much unlike our bodies, is a gift that breaks down in varying degrees over a given span of time, the title eludes to this reality. We are often given, or gift flowers in times of grief, loss, stress, celebration and sickness, all of which are life-altering in some way. Visually, cut flowers are reminders of intense beauty in the world- but also the inevitability of change and endings, be that in regard to relationships, ways of thinking or bodies. I’m often drawing flowers as stand-ins for the body; the self, so this is not so much of a conceptual leap for me. I find flowers visually interesting in all stages of their decay, the colour shifts and textural changes are also wonderfully challenging to draw, to represent- they require an attention to perception that I’m always engaged with. Our bodies change in a similar way over a longer period of time; skin-folds, blemishes, frown lines and loss of teeth are external visual examples of this. The fact that these changes happen is a part of our decay, the process of all life, accepting them can be difficult, denial is a common reaction- but death is simply a part of life from the start. When ‘fresh’ flowers are cut they are dead, but continue, before our eyes to transform; like a dead body. Water in a vase can act as formaldehyde for a period of time, but breakdown is already well underway by the time an arrangement of flowers reaches one’s home. A few years back I was sent for an ultrasound and a small cyst was found- I was fascinated by the machine and its imaging. My sister-in-law is an MRI tech and was explaining the process of measuring the body in this way for cancer and tumour detection. Aside from the scans themselves being so visually compelling, (in fact beautiful), I was enamoured with the physical process itself; how particles are measured for change, and I just immediately linked this infinitesimal measuring of decay and mutation to my recording of the external changes that happen with a flower or bouquet. Unlike in flowering plants that are farmed for floristry, regeneration is limited in mammals, certain tissue and organ regrowth is possible, but really healing in a human sense, is a process of bodies coping with time and change; basically, life is terminal, which is what is meant in the last section, ‘A bouquet of cut limbs, planted across my back. Green fringe of thumbs incapable of amputation. There are no spaces between blood and healing’

How did you come into poetry?

I have always loved reading poetry and in my undergrad, I took a great class with Tim Lilburn. A few years later my father passed away and I began writing about the experience of his death. This process was diaristic and not intended for a broad audience, but in 2010 I was encouraged to apply to create a chapbook with Jack Pine Press that combined my visual work with writing from this period and thematic, the resulting book was titled A Eulogy For The Buoyant. I didn’t know if I’d ever approach a longer project, but at the onset of the pandemic,  I was approached by Radiant press- and the timing felt right to delve into materials I’d been working at for several years.

How does your visual art practice influence your poetry?

As a visual thinker, I tend to anatomize with a micro-attention to detail in my writing, this is definitely a strategy that I’ve honed in my visual practice and have adapted and integrated into my writing. I tend to layer imagery as well in my visual practice; intersecting themes of body, recollection and landscape, this has influenced my writing greatly.

‘Boxes’ is a childhood memory stretched out in all directions: “imagine a child actor pulling [the toy] through the outskirts of astroturf” and later “harnessed by the suburban skin of childhood”. The language here is precise and effective. It was no surprise to see Sylvia Legris endorsing this book – quoting the poet “Logan has crafted a record of smaller worlds, of elegiac gardens of skin and loss, of impermanence and beauty.” The question is: what does this purging of the past (in some cases) feel like for you to share with readers?

I often feel my writing to be diaristic, I use these vignettes of personal experience to get at what I see as possible commonalities in understanding the world- and to describe, I suppose how I’ve come to be a person in the world. This does feel purgative, and a bit raw at times; especially so when I use precise language.

You designed the cover – can you talk about your process?

Sure, it was always my thinking to do the cover art and something visual inside as well. I wanted the visual elements to be an echo of the themes one encounters as they read. Primarily ideas of queer embodiment, memory and the natural world. I am often referring to flora, and wildflowers throughout the text, sometimes as stand-ins for self, other times just as quietude or as a cataloguing, and I just imagined a graphite drawing on black paper- where the pencil glows on top of the black surface. The cover is a silhouette of tall ditch-flowers and wildflowers, like a border swaying on either side of the book. The interior images are detail images taken from three of four new drawings titled ‘Canto 1-4’ which explore landscape two-dimensionally from multiple dimensional viewpoints.

‘The Two Most Beautiful Buildings’ would be the ultimate postcard message to receive from a friend. It’s a highly memorable piece in the collection. What is it about architecture, technically, an unnatural creation, that captivates us humans?

I don’t think anything humans do is unnatural- but I get what you are saying- it’s ‘man-made’… we are of the world and we inhabit spaces we build. Architecture is one of the key ways in which we have come to inhabit space- out of necessity, but also out of luxury. Architecture is itself a visual language that defines and redefines aesthetic cultural epochs and entire philosophies about the world and our place in it, this is why it captivates me. In the case of this poem, I knew about the two buildings (by the architect Otto Wagner) and had been looking for them on my first of many visits/residencies in Vienna back in 2012, and because of my vantage point, I had been walking down the same street over and over, and I was right in front of them, but one day I walked across the street and glanced back- and there they were, these radiant buildings with floral motifs in the Vienna Secession New Style, and I was gutted. I stood weeping for a few minutes to the horror of people passing, this truly began the love affair with Vienna, likely my favourite city in the world.

Are you working on any new writing?

Yes. I am continuing to write all the time – things come to me in waves, always have. The pandemic was/is furtive for me in terms of writing and visual work, and I feel stimulated to carry on in a similar energy these past few months since the book came out. It’s a very interesting place to be in cognitively.


This article has been Digiproved © 2022 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Chris Banks interview

Deepfake Serenade (Nightwood Editions) is Chris Banks’s sixth poetry collection, irreverent charm, emotional distance and surprising hot takes leap off every page. He writes in the title poem, “Inside every one of us is a deepfake. A holy ghost,” suggesting people have a choice to feel either like sad imposters or, if they’re brave, like survivors staring down a world both utterly familiar and strange.

Raised in the Ontario communities of Bancroft, Sioux Lookout and Stayner, where his father served postings as a small-town police officer, Chris Banks took his BA at the University of Guelph, a Master’s in Creative Writing at Concordia and an education degree at Western. He currently works as an English and Creative Writing instructor at Bluevale Collegiate Institute in Waterloo, Ontario.

What is Deepfake Serenade saying about our current culture with social influencers, and where our social media profiles become advertisements that hide, rather than illuminate, ourselves? If we are not selling ourselves, what are we selling?

I think we are selling little “packets”— ourselves, the world, cute animal videos, human feelings— things that become toyed down and easily digested in a culture obsessed with consumption. We live in an accelerated society. We want the quick opinion piece, or rapid Covid test, or even fast food conjured from pressing a few buttons on our smartphones. Now even our news is boiled down to the essence of a story on Twitter so it can be easily shared. I think the new book reflects that kind of quick energy.

Why the change in poetic voice in recent books? You went from a lyrical, deeply meditational approach to poetry, ground in verisimilitude, i.e. real-life things, to a more loose associational, surreal “scatter-gun” approach to writing?

I think I ran out of things to say about my life and this can become a crisis of voice for a poet. I was in my Forties and I had run out of things to say about my childhood and my worldview was changing. When I was writing my book The Cloud Versus Grand Unification Theory, my marriage was ending and I was a single father to young children.

I was also not having much fun writing anymore, and I noticed some American poets like Dean Young and Bob Hicok and Kim Addonizio seemed to be having much more of a good time in their poems. Their poems seemed more mischievous, more daring, more reckless, and in a word, more interesting than lots of what I was reading so I started to write much more quickly, more aphoristically, and so my poetic approach and overall voice changed. Deepfake Serenade is the product of opening myself up more to word-play and being less intentional, less calculated, and more spontaneous in my poems.

“I think the title Deepfake Serenade refers to how each of us is and is not ourselves online. We have become avatars for the way we wish to be seen.”

In the poem “Avatar, Sweet Avatar”, you write that you “smashed / all the lamps inside words but still connections shine through”. What do you mean by this or are you just having a bit of fun with the reader?

I think what I mean by that line is that you have to let go of this idea that you know where a poem is going to go. For my first three books say, I would think of an idea for a poem, mull it around for a while, and then slowly construct the stanzas, the images, the lines. It was agonizing work. I did not want to do that anymore. I felt in a hurry to start saying lots of things, even if I was not sure exactly what it was I wanted to say. But I still knew I wished to be surprised by what I wrote, and you cannot be surprised if you sit and think too much about your subject matter. The element of surprise, of just sitting at a table in the morning and seeing if a poem shows up or not, has become very important to me. And I think that kind of improvisational energy runs through all of the poems in Deepfake Serenade.   

As much as this book is a rich inventory of playful associations and images, some real-life things still find their way into the poems — your recovery from alcohol dependence, vasectomies, teenage concerts, new love, on and on—so what is the connection, the divine glue, holding those real-life subjects, the good, the bad, to the more imaginative word-play in your poems?

I think of what Richard Hugo says about triggering subjects and the need for a stable base in a poem. “The more stable the base, the freer you are to fly from it in a poem,” he writes in one essay. I like to keep real-life memories and events in the periphery of my poetic vision. I rarely approach them head-on anymore. But I do believe that life experiences need to find their way into a poem as they can often make a bridge to some other off-the-wall image or connection that you might not have imagined otherwise. “All things belong in a poem,” says Richard Hugo, and my book is a product of that kind of thinking.

You talk in your poem “Escapism is Fabulous”, about the importance of epiphany in your poems. Could you elaborate on its significance when putting together a poem or a manuscript?

This goes back to what I was saying about the element of surprise, but surprise can not be just for surprise’s sake. Surprise has to be attached to new knowledge, to wisdom, for instance, which is when hopefully epiphany enters into a piece you are working on. This is what I mean when I write in that poem, “I am trying to sieve a few epiphanies / from palatial glass skyscrapers, sunspots, / microwave ovens, fake antiques, honeybees /nuzzling yellow stamens, daily clickbait, / a thousand poetry books, a blurry future, / old debts, new intuitions, as if it all adds up, / composes a self hiding inside a lumpy body.” Epiphany generates that little electric shock or zap! people feel when they read a really good poem, and that is certainly why I write and still read poetry. New knowledge, new ways of thinking, new uses of language are what remind me I am alive.

So what do we really learn about Chris Banks the poet from Deepfake Serenade? And what do you think the audience will come away learning about themselves?

Well, they will learn a version of who I am, but the speaker in my poems is far more wise, far more silly, far more risk-taking than I am in real life. As for what people will learn about themselves, I think the poems capture that accelerated, frenetic energy of modern life. It holds a mirror up to the World Wide Web, and to ourselves as consumers, whether we are consuming a cute Cat video, or the latest celebrity scandal, or rain slicking the windshield of our car on a morning drive to work. I want to create the illusion that all things can find their way into my work, and in so doing, the invisible rivets, what holds all things together, are stamped into my poetry.

Why is the title Deepfake Serenade?

I think the title Deepfake Serenade refers to how each of us is and is not ourselves online. We have become avatars for the way we wish to be seen. I say in the title poem “inside each of us is a Deepfake. A holy ghost” and I think I am trying to get at this idea that to simply exist now is to wear a disguise, or that we make of ourselves a disguise, we take to our places of work or into online spaces. We are selling that disguise to the world. 


  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Nightwood Editions (Oct. 30 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 80 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 088971410X
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0889714106

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Jacob Lee Bachinger interview

Earth-cool, and Dirty (Radiant Press) is a timely debut poetry collection by Jacob Lee Bachinger, a poet who calls Lethbridge, Alberta home. Full of wisdom, and beautiful reflections on the state of humanity. It is a call to pay careful attention to the earth, to nurture it in the same way we attend to the people we love. In “My Son Asleep, Age 4,” he observes: “What no one told me,/what I’ve had to learn for myself:/to love this much is painful.”Jacob Lee Bachinger lives and works in southern Alberta on the edge of coulees and the Oldman River. He teaches at the University of Lethbridge and has had his poems published in literary magazines across Canada. He is currently working on a book about his time in Labrador. Jacob lives in Lethbridge, Alberta.

This is your debut collection. When did you begin to write poetry and what were some poets who really impressed you from the start?

I began writing poetry seriously (though not successfully) in my early to mid-20s.  When I was in university, I took a course on 20th-century Canadian poetry and it opened up possibilities for me, introducing me to poets like Michael Ondaatje, Margaret Atwood, Gwendolyn MacEwen, and Christopher Dewdney.  Later, in another course, I met the Modernists: Pound, H.D., Eliot, Marianne Moore, and, of course, William Carlos Williams.  Using these poets and their works as models, I began to write regularly, slowly, ploddingly figuring it out.  I hesitate to call these poets influences, but maybe I’m just in denial? What you learn to love when you’re young, you love all your life. 

Poets are natural observers who tend to get distracted in the tangle of their own thoughts. What advice would you give a young poet starting out, trying to get some poems published?

The tangle of our thoughts can be a wonderful and awful place all at once — so my sympathies for this young poet! As for advice: if the young poet wants to get some poems published, just send them out.  Simply send them out.  Don’t be discouraged if they all get rejected; just continue the practice of poetry, continue to write, and continue to send them out.  Persistence is likely the key to poetry; it’s certainly the key to getting published. 

Can you talk about the title of your book and its significance?

The book’s title, Earth-cool, and Dirty is also the title of the collection’s first poem.  The poem is an ars poetica statement, and perhaps even a philosophical statement, evoking my way of looking at the natural world: the earth is cool, dispassionate, even cruel, and yet also dirty, passionate, disorderly.  This duality echoes throughout the book and then culminates in one of the final poems, “The Green Man for Dinner,” in which an ordinary, unsuspecting family enjoys “an evening without apologies” due to a surprise visit from the legendary Green Man who is both cool and dirty all at once. 

In “The First Snowfall”, you write, ‘the sky will be featureless and ominous’ – it speaks of the impossibility of nature and the vastness of the world, sometimes referred to as ‘our world’. Did you write it during the winter? Can you talk about this piece?

I feel pretty sure that “The First Snowfall” was written in the early weeks of winter in northern Manitoba about 10 years ago.  And in northern Manitoba, the early days of winter can feel like the beginning of an ice age.  That said, I’ve always liked watching the winter set in; I’ve always liked witnessing that first snowfall of the season.  Perhaps the arrival of the first snow is a real Canadian motif?  It’s a truly northern recognition: that moment when, as I write in the poem,  you feel “silence/ all around you.” 

The images in “Poems” are terrific. ‘boys with rakish cigars and foaming steins.’ I love the idea that poems are like old picture postcards arriving in the mail. How do you approach the concept of nostalgia and memory and history in your work?

Nostalgia and memory are, for me, sources of anxiety.  My poems “Constellations” and “Grief” touch on this feeling of anxiety.  I suppose nostalgia and memory are closely tied to feelings of regret and the feeling that time, place, and people are slipping inexorably away.   In the back of my mind, I associate memory with subtraction (rather than addition).  Instead of enjoying a growing body of memories, I worry that it’s a signal I have less life ahead of me.  That’s a rather gloomy assessment, I admit, but it’s balanced by the desire to look at the here and now with care and reverence.

What poems are you looking forward to reading /performing from your new book?

When I lived in St. John’s, I was invited to read at a few literary kitchen parties — and those were a lot of fun.  But, for the most part, these poems were written and edited in silence.  Now I’m looking forward to reading any and all of the poems in my book.  I’m looking forward to rediscovering them when they are spoken aloud to an audience (whether that audience is online or in-person). I imagine that the presence of listeners will allow the poems to develop in interesting ways for me.  I’ll also soon record an audiobook of Earth-cool, and Dirty, which will be, outside of a handful of kitchens in Newfoundland, my first real attempt at performing them. 

“Those literary magazines were absolutely essential.  They helped build my confidence and helped provide credibility, which helped to ensure that a press like Radiant would look at my manuscript seriously when they received it.”

Lit mags continue to be a source of hope for debut poets. How valuable were publications in these magazines before you submitted your finished manuscript to Radiant Press?

Those literary magazines were absolutely essential.  They helped build my confidence and helped provide credibility, which helped to ensure that a press like Radiant would look at my manuscript seriously when they received it.  Every publication in every one of those magazines was a real occasion for me, but one moment I remember very clearly: going into the World’s Biggest Bookstore in Toronto and buying a couple of extra copies of The Fiddlehead magazine which featured one of my poems.  It was my first publication in one of the important Canadian journals.  I’d bought books by many of my favourite writers at World’s Biggest Bookstore; it was a real treat to be able to walk in there and buy myself, so to speak.  

What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?

One trip, almost a decade ago, to Ireland became something of a literary pilgrimage.  My wife, son, and I were in Dublin for Bloomsday and attended many Ulysses-themed events.  Later, we travelled to Sligo, and I saw the small island that inspired Yeats’ “The Lake Isle of Innisfree.”  We also visited Yeats’ grave, where my son, who was just under two years old, began cleaning the gravestone with a baby wipe.  We wanted a photo of the grave and decided to clear the dirt and bird droppings from it — so, according to my son, what better than a fresh, lavender-scented wipe?   We have photos of him scrubbing the Nobel prize winner’s tombstone.  Incidentally, I told this story to my friend Roger Bell, a poet from southern Ontario, who then wrote a poem about it.  Roger got more poetic grist out of the moment than I have, but I’m sure those Irish memories will find their way into future poems.  A poet can’t pass through Ireland without being touched by the country’s deep appreciation for poetry and language. 

Does writing energize or exhaust you?

Normally, it energizes me.  To sit at my desk with a notepad and pen, with a cup of coffee or a glass of scotch, is wonderful.  It doesn’t feel like work at all.  However, that’s a rare luxury.  I’m a full-time university instructor and the father of a home-schooled child as well, so the days around my house are brimming for my wife and me.  Perhaps that’s one reason why I still respond strongly to William Carlos Williams’ poetry.  Like him, I know what it is to make a few hasty scratches on a pad, a few on-the-run drafts of a poem, telling myself that I’ll get back to it later.  If I had more time, if I could write full time, I expect my attitude would change and writing would just be a job. I might then, like so many other writers, begin to dread the sight of my desk.  I tell myself it’s better the way I have it now. 

If you could read a poem to anyone living or dead who would it be, which poem, and why?

Generally speaking, I’d prefer to read to the dead.  If they don’t like the poem, they’d have no way of letting on (unless of course, they rattle the daisies from below).  The living, on the other hand, can be more particular and vocal about their preferences.

However, if I could meet any poet from history, I’d pick Su Tung-p’o, who I write about in my collection.  Su Tung-p’o lived about a thousand years ago in China, so even if we could somehow meet, we’d have no way of communicating with one another.  We would have to be silent with one another, and, for poets caught in their tangle of their thoughts, caught in the net of words, such silence would be comforting.  If he were a guest in my house in southern Alberta, we’d take our bottles of wine (Su Tung-p’o often wrote lovingly about wine) and we’d head into the fields and coulees to watch the stars appear, watch the Oldman River flow, feel the dew fall, and stare deeply into the night. 

(Author Photo Credit: Shannon McAlorum)


This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Anna Dowdall Interview

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Allan: Please share a childhood memory or anecdote.

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

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

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

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

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

Allan: Favorite authors? Books? Movie? Dessert?

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

Movie: Moscow Doesn’t Believe in Tears

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

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

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

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Dean Jobb Interview

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. How relevant is historical true crime today?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The Rick Revelle Interview 2.0*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Favourite memories would be some of the museums I visited:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who are some of your favourite authors?

My absolute three favourite Historical authors are:

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

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

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

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

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

For more information on Rick Revelle and his work, visit 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/


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Bill Arnott’s Travel Beat: Talking Writing and Viking with the UK’s Alex Pearl

(Bill) Hi Alex, thanks for the invitation to this great group of writers! I’m author, poet, songwriter Bill Arnott, and I live on Canada’s west coast. I’ve been a full-time writer for a few years, my work ranging from suspense thrillers to poetry, indie folk music to all-ages fiction. But I may be best known for my nonfiction travel memoirs, Gone Viking: A Travel Saga and Gone Viking II: Beyond Boundaries, bestsellers that have won some literary awards. For this, I extend heartfelt thanks to my amazing friends, readers, and our #GoneVikingCommunity.

I grew up in British Columbia, next to a lake, and that connection with water and its inherent pull to drift, dive, and wander seems to have followed me through life and is probably evident in my writing. And while I still thrive on outdoor pursuits, something I love now is the connection I enjoy with our reading and writing community, knowing each of us is part of something more, the whole being much more than the sum of its parts.

Like most of us, I started writing as a kid, no doubt a transition from colouring. But I like to believe I started writing well in the last ten years or so, the result of a few decades of dedicated reading and the inspiration to create something a bit better than the time before. Now, one of my “soapbox lectures” to writers is to perpetually improve their craft and raise a bar no one else needs to see but that we’re inherently aware of with respect to our work.

(Alex) How would you describe your writing, and are there particular themes/stories that you like to explore?

(Bill) Something I feel strongly about (and say frequently) is that I take the writing seriously. I don’t take myself seriously. Which I suspect comes through in the work. I admire writers who write beautifully but aren’t afraid to “take the piss” or share something ludicrous if it’s genuinely funny and in keeping with the story. And when it comes to travel writing, I have no patience for writers who justify their travels with fabricated rationale. Don’t pretend you need to embark on a journey to a) save a relationship, b) recover from a relationship, or c) raise environmental awareness. If, for example, you want to cycle the continent and write about it, do it! But tell the truth, and don’t pretend what you’re doing is somehow part of something grander. And when you write, make the work exceptional.

That said, I like to push myself as a writer. There’s an old adage along the lines of, “if you’re not stretching, you’re not growing.” (Maybe that was a motivational speaker.) However. There’s truth in there. Like exercise. Breaking down muscles, for example (in moderation) makes you stronger, capable of greater accomplishment. The same goes for writing, honing the craft to create more engaging, sensory stories and deeper connections with readers. Which applies to fiction and nonfiction alike.

(Alex) How do you go about finding an interesting story and how do you sell it to a newspaper or magazine?

(Bill) I write what I like to read; simple as that. I remember reading an interview of a musician I admire, and he was embarrassed to be “caught” listening to his own music in his vehicle. Egos aside, for me, it spoke to artists creating the stuff they (we) genuinely enjoy seeing, hearing or reading. I cringe to think of someone creating something they don’t personally enjoy. So as I read, learn and escape through books, eventually, I catch glimpses of stories I feel have yet to be told. And that’s when I go to work: researching, writing and sharing.

I know I’m not alone in this but I write because I’m a fan of books and reading. My latest travelogue, Gone Viking II: Beyond Boundaries, a follow-up to Gone Viking: A Travel Saga, came about (partially) in response to the pandemic. While the world was on lockdown and travel wasn’t an option, I took it as a personal challenge to create a rich, engaging travelogue irrespective of limited (physical) movement between locales. Which provided a perfect opportunity to stretch my literary wings and share something unique with readers who appreciate the craft (and enjoy my adventures.)

I’m privileged to now enjoy a somewhat established readership, so finding outlets is less of a challenge than it was when I began as a writer. But with respect to selling my work, I’ve enjoyed wearing a range of hats, from entrepreneurial indie publisher to staff writer and editor for newspapers, magazines and literary journals, as well as being part of a stable of writers for a mid-sized publishing house. Each facet of the business has positive aspects as well as challenges, but I love being able to jump between roles, often every day.

(Alex) What was the first book you read?

(Bill) I think the first book I read (on my own) was a Hardy Boys detective story. But two titles that truly expanded my young mind and no doubt planted a writerly seed were Stephen King’s Different Seasons and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Tolkien’s work still strikes me as the ultimate travelogue – engagement, adventure, and human endeavour. While that particular book of King’s (four stories in fact) left me thinking, “You can say that in a book?!” It was quintessential literary empowerment, as though realizing we can, in fact, fly!

Now Available! Click the cover to order.

(Alex) How much research do you do and what does it usually entail?

(Bill) My first traditionally published travel memoir, Gone Viking: A Travel Saga, was an eight-year project (trekking the northern hemisphere). The follow-up travelogue, Gone Viking II: Beyond Boundaries was ten years in the making, between travel, writing and research. So I joke that at this rate, I should be able to bang out the next book in a mere twelve years! (But don’t tell my publisher.)

When I write travel lit, I need it to be engaging and sincere, but I also want to ensure that readers know they’re getting my very best work. Proper research, I feel, is part of the equation. Something I tell writers is, “Don’t bore me with details or backstory. But do put your back into it, and make sure you know those details.” That comes through in the end result, which may include seemingly simple, concise references, but the whole will be significantly better because of the effort that’s gone into thorough research.

(Alex) How do you market your books?

(Bill) I’ve incorporated a range of marketing efforts for book sales. Some of my past titles were of a genre that made companies want to hire me to speak to staff, and they’d purchase books for a meeting or seminar attendees. So that was more about speaking gigs with books being distributed or sold “at the back of the room.” I also enjoy the intimacy of signing events at bookstores, which creates great engagement with readers and subsequent sales. More recently I’ve utilized social media and cross-promotion, nurturing relationships with booksellers and partnering in our promotional efforts, which consistently results in ongoing, win-win experiences.

One of my indie-published titles, Bill Arnott’s Beat: Road Stories & Writers’ Tips (a #1 Bestseller) is a blend of travel memoir and author reference material, and outlines a range of ways in which I’ve generated successful sales. So rather than sharing all my secrets here, I’ll let you find them (as often as you like) in the pages of Bill Arnott’s Beat. Maybe that’s another marketing advice nugget; answer questions in a forthright manner, but expand on it in another book!

(Alex) What are your interests aside from writing? And what do you do to unwind?

(Bill) My social media handle, @billarnott_aps, is a reference to my being an author, poet, and songwriter, which pretty much answers the question, “What do I do to unwind?” Then again, maybe it winds me up as well! But I do love reading, writing, and playing music – usually indie folk on acoustic guitar. And while I do each of these things professionally, they’re actually how I spend my downtime as well. One of the best lessons I received from a mentor (who happens to be a composer) was to hop between creative outlets to stimulate respective activities. I think most writers are aware of this. Even alternating genres for a while can generate great new stuff. It’s the same premise as going for a walk if you feel stumped, or simply doing something different for a while, effectively shifting focus between the hemispheres of your brain to tap into different sensory stimuli. In addition to the creative stuff, I love being outside, going hiking, irrespective of the terrain – beach, desert, forest, mountains – you name it, I enjoy it.

(Alex) Which authors do you particularly admire and why?

(Bill) Some of my favourite authors are Robert Macfarlane, Anna Badkhen, Michael Palin, Monisha Rajesh, Patrick Leigh Fermor and Tim Winton. I consider each in their way a fellow Viking, mentor and friend, contributing to my love of the written word and making me want to consistently create better work.

Thanks, Alex, for this fun opportunity and all that you do for our writing community!
Bill.



This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Hollay Ghadery Interview

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

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

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

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

Why was this the time to release your memoir Fuse?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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The Aaron Schneider Interview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who are some of your favourite Canadian authors?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are you working on next?

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

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The Sydney Warner Brooman Interview

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks, Sydney!


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The Genevieve Chornenki Interview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Who are some of your favourite authors?

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

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

What did you learn about yourself while completing this book?

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

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

What are you working on next?

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


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