In July I was invited on an author blog tour, like a transCanada train full of interesting, writing-minded souls, (better than the wheels-off-the-jeep-failed-donkeypresent-endeavour on the left). In July, however, my own train was derailed by vacation and work (and I’m not complaining about either – I’m just saying they have the strength to knock the vehicle off the tracks!) and the post didn’t get posted.
The deal was that I answer four questions, invite two other writers on the train, and enjoy all the other blog posts/writers in the bar car. I make no invitations, but I’ll post all the same. I liked the process , and I liked the tour – writers divulging and encouraging. Sort of like criss-crossing the country on the iron horse with a gin and tonic in hand. Well, not really. I was at my desk, but I pretend for a living, see?
What are you working on?
I’m working on a way to work writing into my everyday life. I got a big job and now writing is harder to get to (and by that I mean finding my way to that path in the forest with the rickety sign that says ‘writing this way’). I’m excited about my new job but I’m acutely aware I need to have a thesis written by this time next year. I’ve written a novel for my thesis. It’s half way there. I think. (I hope!). We’ll see what my advisor thinks.
I have a new book of poems out with Brick Books this year called orient. I’m really excited about it. I edited orient and my novella, Grayling, at the same time which was such a brain stretcher, but it made me glad I work in multiple genres – it’s more fun, it makes me work hard, and it is a way to reach all the subjects I’m interested in. Sometimes poetry is the best way and sometimes fiction is. I’m jumping up and down to get at the new work. All I want for christmas is two vacations this year – one with my family and one in the land of writing.
How does your work differ from others in its genre?
My work differs from others in its genre mainly because other fiction writers are focused on short stories or novels. The novella is wonderfully out of fashion so the field I get to run in is quite wide and empty. I also come at the novella from a poetry background so my attention is on language composition as well as character and plot. I spend as much time on how the story sounds as I do on where the story is going. Luckily there are a lot of similarities between a novella and a poem – same attention to detail, same focus on tempo, same drawing in toward inevitability and wonder – so I feel very much at home in the genre.
I’m also very interested in entertainment. I think I differ from some poets in this regard – if you are going to lend me your time and attention, I will entertain you, whether on the page or in person. The integrity of the poem is tied up to whether or not I’m moved or amused by it or hurt or amazed in the writing of it.
Why do you write what you do?
I’m so interested in making the place I live visible and known to others far away. I think about how much I care for Tim Winton’s Australia and Ian McEwan’s or Zadie Smith’s England and I love the opportunity I have to make northern BC real to people who have never been here, and real on the page for people who live here. It’s amazing to me how well we know New York and Paris and how little we know other places, equally important places, because they are rural or small. Margaret Laurence gives me hope with her Manawaka and W.P.Kinsella with his version of Wetaskiwin.
I grew up reading Dennis Lee’s poems about Lake Ontario and Yonge and Bloor streets and they seemed to me to be storybook places, but Lee also has poems about Moose Jaw and Trois Rivieres and I always felt that if he’d come to my house he would have put our place in a poem, too. I couldn’t wait on Lee, though. When I was fifteen I found a book of poems in my mum’s bookshelf called ‘Circling North’ by Charles Lillard and in it was a poem titled ‘Vanderhoof’ – my home town! I read it and wondered how someone passing through could have the final word. Was this the definitive poem about the place I grew up? No, I realized my versions hadn’t been written yet. I write what I do because it helps me to understand where I’m from and where I’m going. Basically, writing’s the best tool I have for figuring things (the world) out.
How does your writing process work?
I write as fast as I can. That’s a joke but it’s also true. I don’t get a lot of time for writing so I prepare in advance and write like hell. I’m super grateful for my high school typing classes.
Remember that crooked path to writing I mentioned above? Well, I’ve got one foot on it most minutes of the day. I’m doing my work but I’m also traveling down that path. When I get the time I write what I’ve been living in my head. It makes for some scattered conversations, and I think if my work knew what percentage of my brain was constantly engaged with imaginary things they’d rethink my effectiveness at my job, but it keeps me living – thinking about writing, writing, reading and rereading. Reading is totally necessary to my process, for both fiction and poetry. With poetry my method involves a lot of pretending that I’m not writing poetry, that I’m off the hook for poetry, and that way when I write it I let myself play. A lot of good comes from play for me. With fiction it’s more disciplined – I sit and I get ready, get back to the place I was writing, and then I write for an hour. I never usually get more than an hour so I go for it. There is massive pleasure in it. It’s like a treat to get to do it.
I think that path in the forest is one of my favourite places. Even though it’s tough to find (because of the dailiness of days – the work, the driving around, the making sure homework is done, the dishes), it’s probably why I’m okay. It’s my private land of okay-ness and I nurture it. I spend as much time there as I can. I’m really grateful for it.