Garth Martens

GarthBioPicInterviewed by Patrick Murray

Garth Martens won the 2011 Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers. His first book Prologue for the Age of Consequence (Anansi, 2014) was a Finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award in Poetry. His poems have appeared in publications like Poetry Ireland Review, Hazlitt, This Magazine, Geist, Vallum, Fiddlehead, Prism, Grain, and Best Canadian Poetry in English. In collaboration with Alma de España Flamenco Dance Company, he wrote and performed the libretto for Pasajes, an international production staged in 2014 at the Royal Theatre.

For nine years Martens has worked in large-scale commercial construction throughout northern Alberta and interior British Columbia. As another writer who has worked in the oil patches of northern Alberta, and who dried up as a creative force in that environment, I was particularly interested in what drove him to keep writing, let alone maintain inspiration, in such a rugged and muscular environment. His book Prologue for the Age of Consequence is almost entirely concerned with the world of the tar sands, and the lives of those who work within it. I also couldn’t ignore his penchant for Flamenco, and what thoughts he might bring to bear on “cross-pollination” in the arts.

First off, and it’s a little belated, but congratulations on your book Prologue for the Age of Consequence. It is intensely, darkly beautiful, and can leave one quite staggered at times. Obviously the book draws a lot from your experiences in the tar sands, the oil patches of Alberta. Having worked there myself, and as another creative person, I related quite fully. But I also had questions. Did these poems start coming to you unexpectedly while you were already ensconced in that world, or did you have an idea that a project like this would emerge beforehand? Perhaps discussing what led you to seek work out there in the first place, and the alternating experiences living up there and living in Victoria.

Thanks, Patrick. That’s kind of you. In 2006, I was working a lookout tower in Lac la Biche under the header of Alberta Wildfire Management, and sharing the gig with a girlfriend. Although losing at cards, killing mosquitoes, and growing paranoid about phantom smoke and stray figures in the birch were all formative experiences, the pay split in half didn’t amount to much. Through a contact in Edmonton I was hired on with a large-scale commercial construction company, and subsequently worked at several job sites up until late 2014. I didn’t anticipate writing about it. I didn’t want to. A few years later, after an especially exhausting stint in construction, I wrote a prose poem in the voice of a labourer. Soon I had the terrain for a unified manuscript. In tandem I read Beowulf, Gilgamesh, and The Divine Comedy, which shaped certain choices at an early stage.

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Francesca Lia Block

c307e2cf505fbd4b585b1f26101f17fb_400x400Interviewed by Genevieve Michaels

The work of California-based writer Francesca Lia Block creates its own universe: a dreamy, gorgeous parallel reality that blends magic and danger to haunting effect. Among her many remarkable books is the Weetzie Bat series. The series was collected in the omnibus Dangerous Angels, which The New York Times called “transcendent” and Buzzfeed referred to as “a quintessential book of the 90s.” Block is a recipient of the Spectrum Award, the Phoenix Award, the ALA Rainbow Award, and the 2005 Margaret A. Edwards Lifetime Achievement Award. She is also a gifted teacher, which is no surprise – her warm, empathetic nature is evident in her compassionate treatment of both her readers and characters. I first came into contact with Block as a fan, when I sent her a piece of my writing in 2014. To my surprise, she responded  with thoughtful comments, and we have kept in touch ever since. In fact, I think of her as my virtual fairy godmother.

Weetzie Bat is a cult classic. What is the experience of being the author of such a well-loved book? Does it in any way “overshadow” the rest of your books? Is it still your most popular book, or do younger fans tend to start off with your newer works?   

Yes, it does overshadow everything! Usually when I meet a new person, they know all about Weetzie but aren’t familiar with much of my other work.  It can be frustrating. My fan base is definitely older now and those are the readers I’m in touch with so I don’t know what books of mine the younger ones are reading. In terms of sales, currently, Weetzie Bat, Dangerous Angels and Girl Goddess are my most popular, in that order. I really want people to take a look at The Elementals. It’s an adult book published by St Martin’s and I think it’s one of my strongest novels.

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Jennica Harper

JH PicInterviewed by Shaelyn Johnston

Jennica Harper hails from Brampton, Ontario, but now resides in Vancouver, BC, where she currently writes for the acclaimed CTV series, Motive. She has worked as a writer on such TV series as, Some Assembly Required (YTV), Shattered (Global), and Mr. Young (YTV/Disney XD), for which she won a 2013 Leo Award and was nominated for a 2014 Canadian Screen Award. Jennica also adapted a comic book, The Clockwork Girl, into an animated feature that was released in 2014.

In addition to writing for film and television, Jennica is also an accomplished poet whose books include, The Octopus and Other Poems, What It Feels Like For A Girl, and Wood. In 2014, Wood was nominated for the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize, and her poem, “Linear Notes”, received the Silver National Magazine Award for poetry. Her poems have also appeared in literary journals across North America, as well as on buses and skytrains as part of Translink’s Poetry in Transit project.

As someone interested in writing for television, I reached out to Jennica via email with a few questions about the business and her career path. She provided great insight about what it’s like to write for Canadian television, and had some excellent advice for writers such as myself looking to break in to the industry.

You completed an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia. Did you find it beneficial to your career?

I did. One of the best things about studying writing is you get used to receiving feedback from others, and figuring out what’s worth implementing, and how. While I don’t think any specific degree is necessary to becoming a screenwriter, I do think workshopping helps you learn to hit deadlines, develop perspective on your own material, and learn to rewrite.

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Ben Ladouceur

Screen Shot 2016-04-24 at 2.26.30 PMInterviewed by Halle Gulbrandsen

Ben Ladouceur is a writer and teacher whose debut collection of poems, Otter, was published by Coach House Books in 2015. It quickly impressed the literary world with its honest voice and lyrical charm. His work has been featured in many literary magazines such as Arc, The Malahat Review, PRISM international and The Walrus. He was awarded the Earle Birney Poetry Prize in 2013 and was shortlisted for the Type Book Award in 2015. Originally from Ottawa, now based in Toronto, Ben graciously agreed to converse with me over email and again showed his wit in answering these questions about his life as a writer.

Why poetry?

This is a question I’ve fielded a few times since Otter came out, and a question I’ve read in many interviews with poets. I have never seen someone ask a novelist, “Why novels?” Everybody writes poems in elementary school. All I did was remain in that state of poem-production. I don’t see that as misconduct, though apparently it is, because most adults aren’t writing poems. But sometimes I want to grab strangers on the subway and shake them and ask, “Why not poetry??”

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Cole Nowicki

Screen Shot 2016-04-24 at 2.22.10 PMInterviewed by Curtis AuCoin

Cole Nowicki is a writer, illustrator, comic, and graphic designer based in Vancouver, BC. His Portraits of Brief Encounters, a series of “run-ins, pass-bys, overhears and introspections,” is a self-published collection of stories and art. Dealing with the menial and hilarious moments of his everyday, his Portraits have been tweaked to fit comedy clubs, and collaborative art shows. His last exhibition, (Another) Portraits of Brief Encounters, featured eleven local artists visually interpreting his stories, as well as a gallery game. Nowicki also runs an online skateboard, art, and lifestyle magazine called Sunday Drive Digest, and has been published in McSweeney’s, Sad Mag, and King Shit.

Nowicki’s blurring of life and art reveals how trivial moments can create meaning in our contemporary media driven setting. We spoke over email to discuss the ups and downs of self-publishing, poor comedic delivery, and what it means to hold someone’s attention.

Why portraits? Why brief encounters? Why not write the next great American novel?

This effort isn’t going into the next great American novel because I’m obviously Canadian, but also because I use these usually small, inane, or revelatory moments as a nice writing exercise of sorts. Did the Starbucks barista really just write “Coal” on the cup? How can I expand on this? What other ways am I like a harmful fossil fuel? Can I tie in the fact that my dad works at a coal plant? Absolutely. It gives me the opportunity to flesh out an otherwise throwaway idea and send it out into the digital world almost immediately for appraisal, which is one of the boons of the social media age. It’s like the Antiques Roadshow, you don’t know the value of the junk in your attic until a bunch of strangers tell you. The visual side is important because it can aid, deter, and influence the reader in many ways, which I find interesting. And I’ve always mixed the things I like together—the cream corn gets swirled in with the mashed potatoes, which get spread over the lasagna. 

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Carlos Algara

Photo by: Alejandro Seyffert.

Photo by: Alejandro Seyffert.

Interviewed by Tomas Nepomuceno.

Born in Mexico City, Carlos Algara is a rising filmmaker and screenwriter. During his undergraduate program he wrote, produced and directed his first short The Intruder, which screened in film festivals around the world. When he met fellow filmmaker Alejandro Martinez-Beltran, who became his friend and business associate, they started a production company called The Visualistas and produced El Firulete, based on a script that Algara wrote. This short made its way to major festivals including Warsaw and Raindance, and defined Algara as a passionate writer.

In 2012 he graduated from the Vancouver Film School with a degree in screenwriting and shortly after co-wrote a thriller screenplay entitled Veronica, which was optioned and is now being made into a feature film. That was Algara’s big debut into the feature world.

Currently writing for Sony Pictures Television, he is in the process of developing a TV series, which is scheduled to begin production in mid-2016.

Screenplays: how did that start? Do you remember the first time you thought, “I want to write a script”?

I wouldn’t say that I remember the exact moment, no. I always enjoyed writing and telling stories, ever since I was a little boy. Then, of course, came puberty, and with it, the strangeness of discovering who I was. And yes, I wrote cheesy, colorful poetry back then. And yes, my peers gave me a hard time for it. But it was back then that I discovered I actually had a passion and a calling for writing. And I mean writing in general. I also always loved films, so the screenplays came almost instinctively afterwards, starting with short films, and later on, with feature length screenplays.

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Mark Leiren-Young

Mark Lairen-Young Colour head on hands high resInterviewed by Max D’Ambrosio

Mark Leiren-Young has worked across many genres and media. He serves as editor for Reel West magazine, and his journalism has appeared in the Walrus, the National Observer, TIME, The Hollywood Reporter, Maclean’s, and many other publications. Never Shoot a Stampede Queen – A Rookie Reporter in the Cariboo (Heritage), his account of working at a small town newspaper during his early career, won the 2009 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour. That book and his more recent memoir Free Magic Secrets Revealed (Harbour) are both being adapted into films. Other nonfiction works including The Green Chain: Nothing is Ever Clear Cut (Heritage) and This Crazy Time (Knopf), written with activist Tzeporah Berman, addressed the subject of environmentalism. His debut feature film The Green Chain, which he wrote, directed, and produced, earned him the most recent of his three nominations for the Writers Guild of Canada Award, and won the El Prat de Llobregat Award at the International Environmental Film Festival (FICMA). His stage plays have been widely acclaimed and produced in at least four countries, and translated into four languages. He has also written for a large number of television shows, including beloved Saturday morning cartoons such as ReBoot.

Shortly after meeting Mark in person for the first time on the streets of Victoria, I encountered him again in Vancouver, as we were both new students working towards the University of British Columbia’s Master of Fine Arts in Writing. Having enormous respect for his work, and for how he has handled himself as a working writer, I wanted to glean as much insight as I could from his extensive experience. Hence, this interview. 

You’ve been writing in one form or another since the 80s. What are some of the most significant changes you have observed in the industry? Have journalism and entertainment writing changed to a similar extent, or in the same ways?

I started working for “real” newspapers while I was still in high school (not sure that can happen today). As a journalist the most significant and shocking change is the implosion of mainstream and alternative media. When I worked at the Williams Lake Tribune in 1985/86 we would complain that it was impossible for a staff of seven to properly cover a town with as much news as Williams Lake. 

When my book about working at the Trib was published about two decades later I was interviewed by a student at the University of Victoria who’d worked at a paper in a Victoria suburb and she was in awe of the idea of a seven-person newsroom. 

A few years later that same student (who I’d hired briefly as a researcher) went on to work in Nelson – a pretty sizeable town – and I think she was one of only two people at the paper there. And she was also expected to do video files.

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Philip Reeve

11221446_890212321024294_334471840868687876_oInterviewed by Ray Clark

Philip Reeve is the award-winning UK-based author of many beloved books for children and young adults, including the Mortal Engines and Goblins series, Here Lies Arthur, and most recently, Railhead. He has collaborated with artist Sarah McIntyre on a series of illustrated books, and has illustrated numerous books himself, in addition to his work in film, theater, and even a musical. In 2001 he published his first novel, Mortal Engines, which went on to win the Smarties Gold Award, the Blue Peter Book of the Year Award, and the Blue Peter “Book I Couldn’t Put Down” Award. Mortal Engines was my first introduction to Reeve’s writing, and it captivated me immediately with its fascinating world and richly nuanced characters. I was thrilled to have a chance to speak with him online recently about his thoughts on writing and the creative process.

Before writing novels, you worked as an illustrator and in small stage productions and films. You’ve mentioned films such as Star Wars and John Boorman’s Excalibur as inspirations. To what extent would you say that your experience in fiction outside the world of books influences your writing?

I think a lot of my influences come from films, TV, art, etc. When I was growing up I loved books, but I think I loved films and TV equally – it’s the story and the imagery that matters, not the form. When I started writing Mortal Engines it really was because I didn’t have the means to put it on film. There’s always a very strong visual element to my stuff: most of my books are basically me describing a movie which I’m screening in my head.

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Ernie Crey

Creyoppenheimer (1)Interviewed by Wawmeesh G. Hamilton

Cheam First Nation leader Ernie Crey understands the plight of aboriginal foster children better than most. At age 13 he and his eight siblings were taken from their mother and placed in separate foster homes. In 1997, Crey and Vancouver journalist Suzanne Fournier co-wrote the book Stolen from Our Embrace, a tome that revealed the gritty realities of foster care, residential schools, and other aboriginal issues. Stolen from Our Embrace won the BC Book Prize and the Hubert Evans Prize for nonfiction. It is also required reading for social work, political science, and aboriginal studies in colleges and universities across Canada, including UBC. I came to know Crey after interviewing him for a news story.

What is Ernie up to these days?

Well, I start my days by scanning Facebook and Twitter and reading news sites. My days – well, I still have my hat in the ring. I serve on my tribe’s council and our elections are coming up in November. I’m going to run again and may run for chief councillor. I’m 66, and it’s a lot to consider at my age but I’m still up for it. I’m also the fisheries and media advisor to the Stó:lō Tribal Council. I sit on various boards and foundations, and I lecture frequently at colleges and universities as well. And I still read books, at least two a day; I have for years now.

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Evelyn C. White

Evelyn C White%2c by Joanne BealyInterviewed by Clara Chandler

Evelyn C. White is a dual Canadian and American citizen and a resident of Halifax, Nova Scotia. She holds degrees from Wellesley College, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and Harvard. Coming from a background in journalism and civic advocacy, she is now a celebrated writer of nonfiction. Her most ambitious project to date was the ten years of research she put into her authorized biography of Alice Walker. Booklist wrote that Alice Walker: A Life (WW Norton, 2004), “meticulously traces and analyzes the stages of Walker’s life, emphasizing the impact on and importance of her literature in American culture.” 

White’s writing is informed by feminism and African American culture, as well as her ceaseless curiosity. She is passionate about ping pong and okra.

I was fortunate to correspond with her by email recently.

At what moment in your childhood/adulthood did you understand that you needed to be a writer? Not so much that you wanted to make money being a writer, but that you were one of the tribe who has to write things down. Where did you go from there? 

I started writing book reviews (of my own volition) while living in Seattle in the late 1970s.  I wasn’t assigned, wasn’t trying to make a name for myself. Would just go into the used bookstore on Capitol Hill and buy a book and write a review. I believe that my first published piece was about The Coming Out Stories, an early gay/lesbian anthology.  Some pioneering feminist publishers in Seattle who’d started Seal Press saw my book reviews (in papers such as the Seattle Gay News) and (long story short) invited me to write the first commercial general market book on the physical and emotional abuse of Black women — Chain Chain Change: For Black Women Dealing with Physical and Emotional Abuse. (In later editions the subtitle changed to “For Black Women in Abusive Relationships.”)

These pioneering feminist publishers took me to what was then called a “fern bar” in Seattle: a quasi-fancy restaurant with fern plants decorating the interior. Before this, I had received a check for $13 for one of my book reviews. That was like magic money as I hadn’t asked for any payment. I can still see the check. It was printed on goldenrod. Anyway, the feminist publishers took me to this bar and showed me the contract for Chain Chain Change. The advance was $500. They gave me a check for $250 immediately after I signed my name. This was even more amazing than the $13 check because I hadn’t written a word. The deal was that I got half of the advance upon signing, half upon delivery. 

I realized then that I had an innate talent for writing, that people would pay me to write, but I had no formal training in journalism. Hence, I decided to go to journalism school. I applied only to Columbia and was accepted. Had I not been accepted, I would have taken it as a cosmic sign that I wasn’t meant to be a reporter.

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