Emily Pohl-Weary

Interview by Rachel White

tumblr_inline_nn34rnuBOK1qivqqz_500Emily Pohl-Weary is a Canadian novelist, poet, professor and editor. Emily has published four YA novels, two collections of poetry, and an autobiography about her grandmother Judith Merril. Her most recent collection of poetry, Ghost Sick (2015) explores the impact and complexity of violence in the Toronto neighbourhood where she grew up.

Emily has had a unique and multifaceted writing career. On top of publishing seven books, Emily has also worked as managing editor for Broken Pencil Magazine, created and published her own literary magazine (Kiss Machine Magazine), and for six years, ran Toronto Street Writers, an organization to promote writing and creativity for inner-city youth. Emily currently teaches at the University of British Columbia and is working on a new teen novel.

Let’s start with the biggest question first! Why do you write? Where did it all begin?!

I was the kid who pretended to be sick so she could stay at home and read. Stories saved me. I believed in their power. I wasn’t allowed to watch much TV, but I could check entire grocery bags filled with books out of the local library each week. In my early twenties, I figured out my dream job would be to transport readers the way I had been transported. At the time, I had more chutzpah than skill. Honestly, it was also a process of elimination. There was nothing else, except maybe teaching, that I could do for longer than a few months without hating my life.

I’m curious to know who some of your favourite writers are! Who do you look to for inspiration?

I admire authors who seamlessly weave magic into the real world, like Isabel Allende (House of the Spirits), Haruki Murakami (The Elephant Vanishes), Francesca Lia Block (Girl Goddess #9), Gloria Naylor (Mama Day), and Pablo Neruda (Twenty Love Poems).

Besides favourite writers, where else do you draw inspiration from? Your YA novels have super interesting plots and characters- Including a teenage girl werewolf, girl pirates and superheroes. Where do your ideas come from?

Oh, everywhere. I feel injustices strongly— they stay with me, and bleed into my imagination. My close friends are fodder. Everyone in my family is brighter and larger than life. If I made

them into fictional characters, no one would believe they were real! I remember going to the mall once, when I first started publishing, and bumping into my baby sister’s best friend Kashfia (she was about 16 at the time). She turned to the two girls she was with and warned them, “Be careful what you say to Emily–it might end up in a book.”

Have you always been interested in writing books for children and teens?

I definitely enjoy rewriting my teen years. They were so traumatic and I had no power. Being a writer gives you the power to revise. I haven’t tried writing for kids yet… the youngest I’ve managed is a middle-grade novel. Though I’ve been told I have the sense of humour of a toddler. It’s all fart jokes and silly names.

Why are you drawn to writing in the YA and new adult forms? How do you think these genres have changed over time?

There’s a writer’s truism about creating the books you want to read. When I was a teen, YA as an age category didn’t really exist. There weren’t any novels that reflected my reality, growing up in a poor urban neighbourhood with friends from many cultures, social classes, genders, and sexualities. Now we’re seeing powerful voices from so many communities. I’m so glad that authors are representing diverse perspectives. Teens need that.

I totally agree! I read on your website that you ran an organization in Toronto for six years which encouraged inner-city, at-risk youth to practice writing. That is so great! What inspired you to start the organization? And what impact do you think encouraging others to embrace creativity through writing had on their lives?

I started the Toronto Street Writers (a writing group for inner-city youth) in the neighbourhood where I grew up, after a teenage relative was shot and a young family friend was killed. In 2008, it seemed to me that there weren’t many places for artistic young people to meet like-minded folks. My entire doctoral dissertation actually looked at the benefits of participating in community-based writing groups and people reported finding community and support, developing identities, learning writing tools, communication skills, and a coping mechanism.

What is your writing process like? Do you fit in a little each day, or carve out larger chunks of time to work on projects? What do you do to “get in the zone?”

It’s always changing. A full-time job makes it challenging. I used to be better at writing 1,000 words a day, back when I could clear away weeks at a time. Now I regularly meet with friends to peer-pressure each other into writing a couple of times a week. Other days, I try to carve out mental space for my manuscript.

Yes! Your website mentions that you are currently working on a teen novel. How exciting! Can you share any details about this upcoming project?

Hmm. It’s still shaping into itself. I guess it’s about two teen girls who are chosen sisters? One of them goes missing and the other searches for her. It’s set in Toronto and it’s sort of inspired by growing up during the era of Paul Bernardo and the Scarborough Rapist.

What is your best advice when it comes to writing a novel? What is your process for completing the full length novel compared to a shorter piece of work?

Keep writing. Learn to love revising—it’s when the magic gets layered in and the story becomes full and wild. Outlines are your friends. Do what you have to do to stay interested in the same story for years.

Do you have different processes for writing in different genres? For instance, does it take different effort to get into the headspace for writing poetry versus YA?

Oh, definitely. Poetry is shorter, so it’s easier to write when you’re busy. But I tend to revise every poem a hundred times. Novels are so long, but I only revise them about ten times. When I’m working on longer things, I need a lot of space to keep all the story threads in my head and swaths of time to make real progress.

I saw you do a guest lecture in my second year creative writing class and I really enjoyed it! I was especially interested in how you got your start working in writing and publishing your own zines! I love working in the comics and graphic novel genre, but have noticed it’s not as popular and doesn’t have as big of a platform as some of the other genres.

Why were you drawn to create your own zine and publish your own work? Do you still create comics and zines?

See the response to question #1, about having more chutzpah than skill when I started writing. Zines were my way of showcasing young writers whose work I loved, but who weren’t being noticed by more established publishers. I published Kiss Machine Magazine for eight years, a true labour of love, and probably the best thing I did, in terms of my career. It taught me about editing, design, production, distribution, advertising, and framing my work. I met so many people who are now doing the most incredible things—writers, editors, visual artists, performers, curators, arts administrators, etc.

And, yes, I recently wrote the script for a YA horror comic. Such fun! Fingers crossed the publisher releases it in 2019 and I can say more.

So cool! Do you have any advice for someone who wants to be successful in the comics genre specifically?

I don’t know the industry as well, but I suppose my advice would be similar to my advice to novelists and poets, which is to make comics and keep making comics so your craft improves. Get to know the industry. Study the careers of people you admire and reach out to them if you can.

Your writing career has mainly included works of YA and new adult fiction, with some poetry, non-fiction and comics sprinkled in! Which genre do you feel most comfortable working in? Do you have any plans to try working in a new genre?

My big issue is that I feel comfortable in all of the genres. I love writing for screen, too! I won’t pretend I’m equally skilled in all of them, but I appreciate them all.

That’s amazing! I also noticed that you worked at Broken Pencil Magazine for a long time. I’m a big fan of that magazine! How did you enjoy working as an editor? Was it difficult to go home and be creative after working a job where you had to read other people’s writing all day?

Because I kept sending my own zines to be reviewed, they asked me to start writing reviews, then they asked me to edit the review section. I remember proofreading several issues (without being asked!) because typos mortally offended me. After that, I went on to become managing editor and co-editor for a couple years. It’s always hard to wear the different hats that writers in Canada need in order to make a living. Since my first book was published, I’ve always had jobs where I read other people’s writing as much or more than I wrote my own.

How has your experience working in editing influenced your writing practice? Do you get the same fulfillment from both writing and editing?

It’s a different kind of fulfillment. To me, editing is like playing Tetris with words. Writing is expansive and dreamy and very hard to prioritize, even though I’m a miserable blob when I’m not doing it.

In my careers class, we’ve discussed the massive gender pay gap for Canadian writers. Have you faced any challenges or hardships working in the creative writing field as a woman?

Certainly. There were years when I felt people patted me on the head whenever I spoke. But I was raised by feminists who taught me to speak up about inequality, so I try to do that whenever I can.

What strategies do you have for the times when you face writer’s block? Is it enough to simply take a step back or are there activities or therapies you employ to get yourself back to producing again?

Play video games. Read. Get bored. Go for a walk. Watch TV shows I’ve seen a million times. Gripe on the phone to a friend. Meet other writers at a café. Print out my manuscript and tape it to my walls, so I’m perpetually immersed in it. Talk to my agent. Go to a wonderful reading.

Do you usually write anytime you feel inspired? Or do you create opportunities in your life to feed your creativity and to write?

Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to write whenever I’m inspired these days. I have to create gaps in my life when I allow myself to get bored and the creativity bubbles up.

Thank you so much for the interview, Emily. Lastly, what advice do you have for young writers who hope to someday experience success in writing, publishing or editing?

Take risks. Try to find an unlocked window rather than going through the front door (i.e. a different way to get published than joining slush piles). Make your own opportunities. Find allies who support you and respect what matters to you.

Rachel White is a third year BFA student at the University of British Columbia. She likes to write creative non-fiction, poetry and make comics! She also loves being outside in the mountains.

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Emily Nilsen

Interviewed by Jordan Ewart

Em+Bio-8414_finalEmily Nilsen is about as “British Columbia” as a poet can come. Born and raised in Vancouver, Nilsen released her poetry collection Otolith in the spring of 2017. The following year, Otolith would be the winner of the 2018 Gerald Lampert Memorial Reward for poetry. Now residing in Nelson, BC, she has maintained roots in the lands that helped to form her unique perspectives and forge her inviting, yet striking pieces. Combining her observations on the natural world and worlds we create as individuals, Nilsen’s work is felt both in the head and heart of humanity. She’s had work feature in PRISM International, Lake, and the Goose, as well as the chapbook entitled Place, No Manual. Nilsen was a finalist for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2015, after having been longlisted for the prize on three separate occasions. Her work has also been longlisted for the UK National Poetry Prize.

Emily, how did you first start writing? What drew you, specifically, to poetry?

I started writing stories on a clunkety-clunkety typewriter my family inherited. I wanted to write about aliens and adventures in space, which seems strange now. Poetry, as in poetry as I know it now, didn’t come until much later. What drew me? The words of others, how their words opened kaleidoscopes in me.

Do you remember the first piece of which you felt particularly proud? Why is it so memorable?

Grade 6. I wrote a poem about Earth. It was published in the school newsletter with an accompanying drawing of a planet, shaped as an apple, with a bite out of it.

What do you consider your first “success” regarding your work?

Learning that a stack of my poems was found in my great aunt’s apartment after she passed away. There they were, after all these years, dozens of poems she’d held onto.

Has the process of writing changed for you over time? Do you need designated time to write or are you able to work on projects in the moment?

Yes, it has. As my life changes (shape) so does (the shape of) everything in it. For me, parts of writing get done fleetingly: jotting down notes, sending texts to myself to remember something that’s come into my head. But, to actually get down to it, I need relatively open-ended space — at least that’s what I tell myself.

What would you consider your ideal writing space?

I’m picturing a little cabin, a good table, a pile of books and a window over the kitchen sink that looks out to clouds or water.

How much influence has growing up in British Columbia had on your work? What makes it unique from other places you’ve either lived or visited?

Landscape definitely makes a mark. The ocean has always felt like a kind of eye I could spend hours, years, lives looking into.

Congratulations on winning the 2018 League of Canadian Poets Gerald Lampert Memorial Award for your first book Otolith. Could you explain where the title of the book comes from?

Thanks! An otolith. Oto, ear. Lith, stone. A tiny structure found within the inner ears of vertebrates. When a fish’s otolith is spliced, it’s possible to age it by counting annual growth rings — as you would the rings of a tree. This shape, the image of rings inside rings inside rings, stuck with me. It became an everything pattern. Islands inside islands. A ripple. Interconnections. The nothing-but-beauty of the fish’s environment physically imprinting. Every poem, a type of ring.

What influences do you find in science that differ from nature? How are they similar?

Science is the study of XYZ and nature is XYZ — both have their own languages. The limitations of science, that’s an interest. How can we / do we measure the spaces between quantifiable data? What are its parameters, and what falls outside of these parameters, and who is there to pick it up?

Has publishing Otolith and other works allowed for any opportunities you didn’t foresee?

It’s opened new conversations, reopened old conversations.

Were there any difficulties with publishing that you didn’t expect?

It’s out there and you can’t take it back. That line break. That image. That word choice. That poem you weren’t sure about, that you decided to include at the last minute.

If any, what sort of research and outside work goes into a collection like this outside of personal experience?

Many many hours of reading. I also spent weeks with an H4Zoom rowing around on the ocean, listening, sometimes recording, but mostly listening to the intertidal zone.

Have you worked in genres outside of poetry? Are there any that intrigue you?

As part of my MFA I wrote a series of non-fiction essays — having the space to stretch out and write in a longer form felt luxuriously good. Actually, every form intrigues me when it’s done right.

What drives you creatively?

Being human but not wanting to be the kind of human we’ve made ourselves to be.

Have there been times where you’ve felt creatively drained or worn out? If so, how do you cope with that feeling?

First, I go through a long drawn-out stage of bad behaviours and then slowly coax myself back. Reading helps. So does jumping into water.

Outside of writing, what are some of your interests and goals?

Being outside in a forest in winter: always good. Next year I’d like to grow an artichoke.

If you could offer a younger version of yourself any sort of words of wisdom, what would they be?

Be fierce.

What sort of advice would you offer to aspiring poets?

Turn off the computer or phone and go be in the world.

What are you working on next?

Right now I’m writing an essay about extinction, but once that’s finished: more poems.

Jordan Ewart is currently working on his BFA in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia. He enjoys working on pieces for both stage and screen, but is happy to fly blindly into any genre. He once wrote a pilot script about a centaur working in an office. It wasn’t very good.

Amber J

Interviewed by Natasha Silva

Amber JHailing from BC, Amber J, is a 25-year-old singer-songwriter. She might be new to the Toronto music scene, but she has been taking it by storm. Typically found with her guitar, Amber J creates an evolving sound that is a unique blend of Pop and R&B music. She stepped onto the city stage like, “Woah!” in 2016, and took home one of the grand prizes for her performance in Toronto’s esteemed music program, Honey Jam. In the past yearAmber J also received a grant from Toronto’s first ever Fund Me Fest put on by Z103.5 thanks to her organic storytelling and original perspective. Most recently, she has independently released her four-song EP Good Feeling, which drew an eclectic crowd to its premiere.

Capturing the essence of raw Canadian talent, Amber J is the one to watch. She has collaborated with Juno award winning and Grammy nominated producers as well as songwriters. Everyone is on the lookout for her upcoming projects.

Did you always want to be a songwriter?

Yes, but I didn’t know how to do it and make a career out of it. I thought it was more of a hobby. I’ve had a lot of in and out phases of “could this be a career” especially when I was younger.

What inspired you?

I’ve always liked telling stories and I always sang growing up. Music has always been in my family and singing songs was a way for me to tell my stories.

What was the first thing you wrote that you thought “this could be a success?”

I’ve always written and always had songs but when I was thirteen I wrote a song called “Don’t Judge a Book,” and performed it at my family’s house in Quesnel.

Would you say moving across the country and living in several strikingly different places affected your creative process?

Definitely. It’s a completely different style of music and writing in different places. What people respond to in Halifax isn’t what people respond to in Toronto. I’m not trying to get people to like my music alone. I’m mostly trying to get people to hear my story.

 Who has been your biggest influencer?

My mom. Watching her have the strength to go out and make a career for herself when she had to get an education later in life was inspiring. She doesn’t make excuses and fights for her dreams and successes. She really sets an example that if you want something you have to work for it.

What’s your favourite part of writing a song?

 The moment when you hit the sweet spot. When the melody and lyrics collide and you’re like “yes, this is a hit.”

What is your process like: music or words first? Or do they come simultaneously?

There are very few times I sit down with the thought of writing a song unless I’m in a writing room with a producer. When I’m working with a producer and they’ve given me a track, I see us as being a team. The producer was thinking something when they made that beat so I really try to hear the beat and what it’s telling me before I write.

Do you plan the arc of the song or write first, shape later?

A lot of my songs are written from an “I” perspective but are based off things that have been witnessed. Sometimes writing a song about the things I’ve witnessed is a way for me to process through the emotions connected to an event even when they’re not always my own direct experiences.

I try to be very authentic in how I write. I work through things pretty linearly and write from experiences and the songs are my way of processing.

How long does it take for a song to feel complete and in its best form?

It really depends on the song. Songs are like living creations, some can be worked on for a year and you are never satisfied with them. Others like demos are rawer and the rough edges are genuine which is a quality that can get lost in a song that’s been worked on for a while.

Would you say you write songs for a target audience or do you write them for yourself first?

Some are targeted and some are for me. I feel like everything ends up being targeted because I write about human experiences. Since we all share a lot of similar experiences there is a lot of relatability for audiences.

Do you find inspiration strikes on its own or do you go places or do things to encourage it?

I actually don’t ever go anywhere for inspiration. I write in my bed a lot with my lights off. I’ve written most of the songs I love when I’m walking around with my headphones in.

Which part of music do you like best: performing it, writing it, or both?

 Writing for sure. Performing is an area I’m working on. It’s vulnerable. I can sit in a studio and sing and tell my story and people listen to it through a speaker. But performance is in person and it’s like telling someone “this is how I got my heart broken” face to face.

Do you write in any other genres besides songwriting?

I used to write a lot of poetry and short stories. Then songwriting took shape and became my outlet because I realized I could do poetry and tell short stories within my songs.

Is there another artist you would like to do a collaboration with?

 It’s hard because it changes with the weather. There are so many dope artists I would love to have a writing session with or see how their process works.

If I had to choose, it would be Julia Michaels or Khalid. I enjoy their voices and what they have to say in their music. I find their music very raw and connect with what they’re saying.

Do you have any advice for songwriters wanting to break into the industry?

Put yourself in the room. No one’s ever going to give you a seat at the table unless you’re in the room.

What was the process of releasing your first EP like for you?

Stressful but because I didn’t do it right and it’s not a great release. It was made more for me than it was to be successful. I learned a lot from it and asking for help is the number one piece of advice I have about the process. I’m super impatient and that’s something I write about a lot. I rushed my EP because I was so excited and had been working on it for so long. I should’ve waited for the opportune moment to release it but that’s not a regret either because it was such a personal project and was really meant for me. The EP was very cathartic for me, I was dealing with a lot of shit and everything was a battle. I cut off everyone I’d been working with because things got too loud and everyone had a say about which song was or wasn’t a hit. I decided to work with only two producers, I picked the songs that were moving me and went with it.

Which is the most important song on your EP?

“Burn Brightly.” (It was originally called Staircase.) “Burn Brightly” is a metaphor for heaven and hell. You don’t know where you’re going because the light is bright on either side and the line between good and evil is very thin.

I wrote this song when I had just moved to Toronto. It was a transformation period in my life. Amber Joy came before Amber J and becoming Amber J is really a lot of what the song’s about. The bridge goes: “watch who you make deals with, you better know your worth.” Those lines signify the whole process of “I’m not going to take everything that comes my way.” That song was like past Amber warning me about all the bullshit that happened these past two years and if I had listened to what I was writing then, I could’ve saved myself a lot of trouble.

That song was a moment when I thought I could actually do this. A lot of people started coming and wanting to put a claim on my gift. They gave off this feeling of wanting to own me. I don’t think I’m anything special. I just work hard and I have something to say and sometimes I don’t know that I deserve to have that voice. I feel like I’m still nowhere but looking back on the past two years also makes me realize how far I’ve come.

What was your favourite song to write?

“Good Feeling.” It just felt good to write. I was sitting on my couch in my Mickey Mouse onesie. It was winter. I had my guitar out and I started playing this rhythm. I’m not a great guitar player and only use it to write. I don’t even know chords. “Good Feeling” is one of the only songs of mine that has a fun sound in contrast to the darker tones of the others. My songs often come off as sad even when I’m not sad. They can come off as very dark but I think the brokenness is beautiful.

What’s coming next?

I don’t know. I’m working on a bunch of shit. I’m trying to learn from my EP. There’s naivety in putting things out there and thinking it’ll do what it needs to do. I’m trying to be more mindful and ask the questions I need to ask. I’m growing confidence in believing that I have something to say and I want people to hear it. I’m writing stuff that people can relate with and I try to say it in a way that people haven’t said it. I write colloquially like I’m trying to have a conversation with you. So yeah, I’m working on writing and trying to get better at performance right now.

Natasha Silva is an undergraduate student in the Creative Writing program at the University of British Columbia. She is currently working on a poetry collection and a YA fantasy novel.

 

Beni Xiao

Interviewed by Esther Chen

 

BeniX Beni Xiao is a writer and nanny based in Vancouver, BC, whose work has been featured by Room Magazine, Sad Magazine, The Real Vancouver Writers’ Series, and Can’t Lit. They like to nap and snack. They are very into fruit. Their poetry chapbook, Bad Egg, was published just over a year ago by local publisher Rahila’s Ghost Press. I asked Beni about life post-chapbook, process, tips, and what’s coming up next.

It’s been about a year since Bad Egg came out with Rahila’s Ghost Press; how has the past year been for you? How have things changed (professionally, personally, socially, spiritually)?

The last year has had a lot of ups and downs for me. I’ve been working full time as a nanny; it’s a job that I enjoy and find fulfilling, but it’s been difficult to balance working, writing, and my personal life. I’ve also been in pretty shit health which hasn’t helped things. I would like to focus more on writing and my personal life but most of my life has been working (nannying) for the last year.

From a writer and author’s perspective, what was the publishing process like for Bad Egg?

I’m really thankful that my book was published by Rahila’s Ghost Press. From my end, I found the process smooth and transparent. I’ve heard a lot of publishing nightmares, but Rahila’s Ghost was a dream to work with, especially my editor Selina Boan. The editing process was very collaborative, not at all the push and pull/power struggle it turns into sometimes.

As someone who sometimes get this label/comment about my own work, I want to ask: how do you feel about being labelled a “funny poet”?

I didn’t realize I was funny until I started doing readings and people were laughing. I’m never worried about people finding me funny. I didn’t set out to be funny and they thought I was funny then, so I have to trust that they’ll still like and find me funny now. It works to my advantage though because I think people find my work more relatable or memorable because they think it’s funny. I’m cool with it.

Do you think of poetry/writing as a career? What relation is there between writing and the other kinds of work you do to earn a living?

I would like to think of it as a career. When I was in school and writing I saw myself as a writer, but now that I’ve graduated and am working full time, I definitely consider my day job as a career more than writing. That is not how I want it to be, but it’s how I’ve been thinking about myself at this point in my life. I’m currently on something of a writing hiatus. Perhaps when I can find a better balance between things, and am writing more, I’ll start thinking about myself as a writer again.

The difference for me between writing and nannying is that I get paid to be a nanny. Ha. Ha.

Do you have any tips for emerging writers regarding self-promotion and “getting your name out there” as a poet?

Go to events and talk to people, that will help you so much more than you might think. My experience with the writing community here in Vancouver is that a lot of people and organizations really want to help emerging writers, so if you put yourself there and it should (hopefully) come together. That’s what I did anyway.

What’s your writing process like?

I have a thought that I think is amusing, or that I want to think more about later. To not forget it, I write in the notes app on my phone. Usually, these evolve into poems when I do have the time to revisit them.

Describe your ideal writing environment.

I’m a billionaire who doesn’t have a day job because I don’t need one. I wake up at noon, have some tea and a blueberry danish. After breakfast, I sit down at a cute fancy desk in my living room and do some writing with a cat curled up on my lap. It’s sunny and it’s spring.

If you don’t mind sharing, what are you working on now? What do you think is next for you, writing-wise?

I would like to have my first full length book out by the end of 2021, but again, I’ve not been doing as much writing as I’d like to lately, so we’ll see how that goes. I have a feeling that whenever my first book comes out it may be very Greek myth heavy.

Esther Chen writes and draws in Vancouver, BC. More of her work can be found on her website estherchen.tumblr.com.

Sheryda Warrener

Interviewed by Olivia Scarlet Hoffman

Sheryda Warrener is poet and professor currently teaching at UBC’s Creative Writing BFA program in Vancouver. She is the author of two books of poetry, Hard Feelings (Invisible, 2010) and Floating is Everything (Nightwood, 2015). She has been shortlisted for the Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry, the Arc Magazine Poem of the Year, the Malahat Review Long Poem Prize and was awarded runner up for Lemon Hound’s inaugural poetry contest. Sheryda received her BFA in Creative Wrting at University of Victoria in 2001, and her MFA from University of British Columbia in 2008.

I’ve had the personal pleasure of being Sheryda’s student throughout my years as a UBC student. Sheryda’s workshops depict the dedication she gives to poetry; it is both a serious responsibility to create poems, but also, something that must be done with a loose hand. Her workshop styles focuses on the play that can be done once there is a foundational understanding of form. Exploration is intrinsic to the type of poetry Sheryda both writes and teaches.

Sheryda Warrener

 What is your background, and how do you feel it shows up in your writing?

I’m from a small town in southern Ontario. I have a big extended family, I received lots of love as a kid. I think this has left a meaningful impression not just on my character, but also my art. I have written lots of poems about my family, travel, visual art. The speaker of my poems doesn’t stray too far from my personal experiences.

What do you think led you to be a writer?

There are lots of things in my childhood that likely inspired me, but I think it was the fact that my family was encouraging and supportive that allowed me to really pursue poetry in a serious way.

Are there certain image sets and themes that reoccur throughout your writing? Or do these develop as time goes on?

Objects, collections of oddities. The speaker of my poems always seems to be at a market, putting things in baskets. Visual art, portraits. A speaker moving around her environment alone.

I know you are a big fan of the revision process, can you walk through what you feel is important to be present in a poem to know that it is finished? Or, do you think a poem can ever be fully finished?

I take the poem as far as I can, which means it’s alive but uses no unnecessary language. After that, it’s up to the reader to activate the poem; the poem becomes alive in a new way I can’t know or anticipate. So, I think the answer to this question is yes and no.

How has teaching influenced your writing, if it has?

Teaching gets me thinking about poems on two levels, as someone who can just wonder at poems for her own personal pleasure, and as someone who is required to articulate answers to questions like: What’s up with diction? Or, Why did that poet turn the line there? Learning how to articulate in meaningful ways how poems work while sharing my huge passion for poetry takes a particular form of attention, and it’s this attentiveness that makes my own work stronger.

Why do you write? Is it something you have ever tried to go without doing? How do you think being a writer enriches your life, or conversely, do you think writing inhibits you in anyway?

It’s not that I have to keep writing to feel fulfilled, it’s that my life without poem-making would be unbearable. Poem-making makes the world come alive for me. There are lots of times I haven’t written; those breaks here and there are good for my poems, they offer a chance to gain perspective on the work. Or, I just get excited about something else for a while, like swimming in a lake every day, or binge-watching Fargo or Top Chef. Getting too far away from poems is never good, but a little respite keeps the language and ideas fresh.

How do you use form to influence your writing? Do you find yourself choosing a form first and then writing to fit that certain mode? Or do you find the poem you are writing demands a certain form?

The content demands the form, but it takes my making many versions to know for sure exactly what’s best. And that takes researching all the possible ways a poem might move. I get really excited by the formal possibilities of poems, I think there’s no end to what a poem can be and do.

Do you have any projects you are currently working on? Either actively or something stowed away in your brain for the future?

Yes! I’m working on a book of poems about how it feels to be a woman who is, as they say, “in her prime.”

How do you try to approach truth in your writing? Do you find it something concrete or as more illusive?

I try to create an intimacy between speaker and listener, and while it’s not necessarily truth I’m after, there is an authenticity to that voice I hope to achieve. Creating vulnerability in a piece of work is, I think, the greatest struggle any writer faces.

How do you feed yourself, as a writer? (As in, what kind of art do you consume and how do you incorporate it into your writing? How do you find inspiration?)

I incorporate visual art and whatever I’m reading into my writing all the time. I start the day out with a book, a cup of tea. At some point without really noticing, I’ve put the book down and started taking notes. Sometimes I include direct quotes, sometimes I’m just borrowing a rhythm or a structure. Sometimes an image has prompted a memory, and I freewrite into that space. At the art gallery, I’ll sit and write in front of a painting or photograph or weaving or sculpture. And while it doesn’t directly influence my writing, I love television!

What is your writing process? Does your writing come to you all at once, or do you plan it out carefully?

My process has changed over the years, and I imagine it will continue to change as different priorities take precedence in my life. I’m not a planner, I never know what I might write about at any given time, but I do have a morning ritual on those days I know I’ll have some time to myself to spend making poems. Reading is a big part of my process, reading drives the work.

What advice do you have for young writers, either those just starting to delve into their voice or ones who are beginning the publishing process?

Hold yourself to as high a standard as your favourite writers or artists. Find your people! That is, the writers & thinkers your own work might be in conversation with, those voices who make it possible for you to write in the first place.

Olivia Scarlet Hoffman is currently pursuing her BFA in Creative Writing at University of British Columbia. She is primarily a poet and a non-fiction writer. Her work has been published in Barzakh’s spring issue and Poetry for Breakfast’s online site.

Jen Sookfong Lee

JSFL

Photo Credit: Sherri Koop Photography.

Interviewed by Alyssa Hirose

 Jen Sookfong Lee’s stories propel readers through space and time with emotional, troubled, and courageous characters. Lee is the author of several fiction and non-fiction books for children and young adults, including The End of East, Shelter, The Better Mother, The Conjoined, and Chinese New Year: A Celebration for Everyone. She was born and raised in East Vancouver, talks on CBC radio, and has a killer twitter profile.

I was interested in interviewing Jen Sookfong Lee firstly because she is a fabulous Asian-Canadian female writer, secondly because I’ll never forget the day I finished devouring The Conjoined and could do nothing but stare vacantly out my bus window contemplating morality, and thirdly because her funny and feminist tweets are a welcome presence in the dumpster fire that is Twitter politics.

When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?

I started writing with the intent to be a writer as a career when I was 10 years old, but I don’t think I knew what I was getting into then! At 16, when I was in my last two years of high school, a poem of mine got published in a student journal, and it was at that time that I thought, “This writer thing could actually work out.” Ever since then, I have never had an alternate plan. I have no real skills other than writing! So this is it. I will be a writer until I die.

I think it’s common for emerging artists, even when published, to feel like they still aren’t a “real writer.” Do you remember when you first felt like a “real” writer, or the first time you claimed that title?

I’m quite sure I never called myself a writer in public until I had sold my first novel manuscript and I could conceivably whip out that contract as evidence if I ever needed to. I think when you’re at the beginning of your career, especially if you’re a woman of colour, your confidence is shaky. Who was I to be declaring I was a writer? I was no David Foster Wallace!

How have you noticed the writing field changing from when you first started writing to today?

A few years ago, the big publishers started to change their publishing philosophies, and were much more interested in acquiring books that they thought were safe bets, and that would make money easily. Which meant that the more experimental books, often written by authors from marginalized communities, were pushed aside. Those manuscripts then went to the independent presses, which led to an interesting expansion of titles for small to medium publishers. What I think this has done is levelled the playing field a bit more, meaning that the literary prizes are not just going to the books by the big presses, that the bestsellers can and are coming from independents. The power, if we can call it that, in Canadian publishing is more horizontal, which allows for a greater diversity of voices and styles. I think this is a hugely positive change.

Can you explain the process you went through in having your first book published?

The End of East took seven years to publish! I know, so depressing. When I had finished the fifth draft, I sent queries to five agents, two got back to me, and I went with Carolyn Swayze, who is still my agent to this day. Back then, everything took a lot longer because we had to send hard copies of the manuscript to publishers, and we didn’t do simultaneous submissions as often in 2005. It took about a year for it to be rejected about five times, and then Knopf Canada offered on it as part of its New Face of Fiction program.

In The Conjoined, there are several moments that are very dark, intimate, or uncomfortable. Is it difficult to share those scenes with people who are close to you, or is it easy for you to remove yourself personally and just share work professionally?

The wonderful thing about writing fiction is that you can hide behind the “I just made it up” curtain for everything you ever write. I highly recommend this! Actually, The Conjoined didn’t bother me so much because it was my third novel and also everyone understood I was writing a literary crime novel, so the darkness was a matter of course. It was my first book, The End of East, which is quite obviously based on my family and their stories, that worried me more than anything. However, my family, who I think loves me, understood that this novel was the most important accomplishment of my life, so if they had any criticisms about how I wrote sex or violence or abuse, they kept it to themselves.

Do you have any advice on how to deal with rejection?

I only really read rejections once or twice. I will read them, transcribe any feedback that is useful into my notebook, and then immediately delete it. You take what is helpful, and forget about the rest, and move on. Do not dwell.

When you get feedback for a piece of writing, how do you decide what feedback to use and what to ignore? In other words, how do you make sure that your work remains yours even after being workshopped, critiqued and edited?

My philosophy is that feedback is often spot on about pinpointing what isn’t working, but not always right about how to fix it. So, if someone points something out to you that they don’t like, it is always worth your time to look at it and give it some thought. The solution you come up with to deal with that problem may not be what anyone suggested, and that’s fine and great. You need to find your own solutions! Having said that, some feedback isn’t helpful and I think if it makes you cringe or feel bad, then ignore it. There is nothing wrong with this. One thing I do to keep my own voice apparent is I insert a header into my Word doc that states the themes I want to be present in every scene. So, for The Conjoined, it read, “Missing and murdered women from the Downtown Eastside, cycle of working poverty, intergenerational trauma.” This helps keep everything on track.

What has surprised you most about being a writer?

That community would so important to me. Writers are often people who are quite happy being alone, but the sense of community is more important that you might think. We need to talk about our projects with others who care, and we need to have those supports when we go forth and promote our work. But also, we just need other humans, to interact, to be part of the world.

Are there any specific obstacles that female-presenting, Asian Canadian writers can expect to face that male-presenting or white writers do not?

Well, we are always confused for one another, meaning about 33% of the time someone thinks I’m Evelyn Lau or Madeleine Thien. I think there can be a real push for Asian women to write trauma stories, or stories of systemic oppression, or immigration stories, and that’s just wrong. Why shouldn’t we write graphic novels or romance or spec fiction if we want to? I call it The Joy Luck Club Syndrome. Which is to say publishers can often pressure us to rewrite that novel over and over again. No shade at Amy Tan! She is a pioneer and a human delight! Also, she wears BDSM outfits and sings in a punk band, so I’m into her always.

If you feel stuck on a story or article, are there activities or methods you use to inspire you or push you forward in your work?

Freewriting helps for sure. Give yourself 10 minutes to just write out the junk in your head and by the end of it, you will have come up with an idea for your story that you will likely be able to use.

What encourages you to keep writing when you feel discouraged?

The love of books. Honestly, that’s it.

How do you prepare for readings or panel discussions? Do you get nervous for them? How do you deal with those nerves?

I write speaking notes usually, which helps quell the nerves. I am rarely nervous anymore, but I find preparing a lot helps with those nerves. Also understanding that book audiences are very forgiving. They want to like you!

If you could go back in time to before you became a writer, what advice or words of wisdom would you have for yourself?

Write what you want. Don’t listen to all those gatekeepers who told you to write something different. Protect your voice.

What is your favourite thing about being a writer?

Meeting my readers. What a wonderful experience that is! It is never bad and never grows old.

How do you choose when to engage with problematic and potentially exhausting topics in the writing community, and when not to engage for your own wellbeing?

This is something I am still learning, as controversy comes and goes and changes over time. Some issues are not mine to take on, only mine to listen to and support. Others feel very personal to me, like UBC Accountable. It’s a balance of what I have energy for and what demands to be addressed. I have found that there are times I need to step away for extended periods just so I don’t exhaust myself so much that I can’t write. I guess my only advice is this: protect your energy so you can write. Your writing is your legacy.

What are you reading/watching/listening to right now?

Mostly Youtube makeup tutorials. I am legitimately writing an essay on them, but really they are AMSR therapy to me. Without them, I would never sleep.

What are you working on right now?

I have a few projects on the go. A kids’ book of non-fiction, about immigration and refugees. A poetry collection that will be published in 2020 by Wolsak & Wynn. A collection of essays that are part pop culture, part memoir.

Who inspires you?

Zadie Smith, Celeste Ng, Ariana Grande, Gus Van Sant, Kylie Jenner. I am totally not joking.

What advice do you have for emerging writers (particularly local, Asian-Canadian ladies!)?

Give yourself time to write in obscurity. It can be so tempting to jump into a literary scene right away, to make connections before you’ve had a chance to solidify what you want to be writing. You need the time to write, try new styles and genres, and to do so in an environment that is safe and yours alone.

 

Tanya Boteju

photoInterviewed by Artemis Saatchi

Educator, writer, and debut-author Tanya Boteju was born and raised in Victoria, BC. She moved to Vancouver to attend the University of British Columbia, and then never left. She completed her Bachelor of Arts degree in English at UBC, then her Bachelor of Education immediately after. She has been teaching English and Creative Writing at the high school level for almost 17 years now. She completed a Masters of Arts in Educational Leadership from Columbia and a diploma in Creative Writing from SFU in that time as well. KINGS, QUEENS, AND IN-BETWEENS is her first novel. The book is slated for release in May of 2019, by Simon Pulse. She is currently working on a second YA novel, as well as on a short story for a YA collection called ALL OUT NOW slated for release fall 2020.

Could you describe your relationship or history with writing? Have you always known you wanted to be an author? What role has writing played in your life?

I’ve always enjoyed English as a subject, but wasn’t much of a writer or reader when I was younger. And my high school didn’t offer a creative writing class, so I really just dabbled in writing and journaling until much later in life. I can’t remember when exactly I knew I wanted to write a book, but it was some time in my mid-20s. My experiences with drag, being queer, and teaching young people made me feel like there was a fun novel in there somewhere that might make queer kids feel better about themselves. It took me until I was 37 to start writing it though!

Has your teaching career influenced your writing, in terms of style, voice, or content?

Absolutely. I did things a bit backwards—I taught creative writing for 10 years before actually writing much of my own. Having to teach it forced me to learn more about it and practice it alongside my students. And as I started writing KINGS, I found the practice of writing easier because I had encouraged my students to fully participate in and trust the writing process—especially freewriting—so I took my own advice and just kept writing, even if the first draft was “shitty” (shout-out to Anne Lamott). Additionally, there’s no way I could have written this novel without spending so much of my time with teenagers. One, my work with young, queer kids has inspired my desire to write something meaningful and hopeful for them. Two, I think/hope my teenage characters feel more believable because I spend so much time with them. And all of this is a two-way street, of course. My writing informs my teaching as much as my teaching informs my writing!

Do you have a favourite genre when it comes to what you like to read? Could you tell us about some of your favourite authors? KINGS is classified as YA—what genres would you say your writing resides in?

I love literary fiction. And discovering female writers when I took a Women in Literature course at UBC my second year changed my reading life. It was the first time studying English where everyone we were reading wasn’t white, old, male, and (usually) dead. Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Jeanette Winterson, and more opened up a whole new world for me. And I continue to gravitate towards writers of color and queer authors now too—Toni Morrison continues to be a favorite, plus Sarah Waters, Ann Marie MacDonald, David Chariandy, and people like Amber Dawn who are changing the way we write and read about queerness.

Before starting to write YA, I never really read YA. But I knew that if I wanted to write it, I’d need to read a bunch to get a sense of what’s out there and how it might differ somewhat to adult fiction. I read a lot of YA over the past three years, especially YA that included queer stories, and really fell in love with it. There are so many wonderful stories being told now that include diverse characters and experiences. I continue to keep a YA novel on the go almost all year long now, for when I need a slightly faster read and also to keep myself “in the know. To escape I’ll read angsty YA with girl-girl romance, even if it’s not that well written. Some of my favorite YA so far has been The Miseducation of Emily Post, The Hate U Give, and The Marrow Thieves. Miseducation really influenced KINGS—it was the kind of novel I wanted to write in terms of realistic, well-developed characters and storyline. I prefer to read and write realistic fiction.

Is there any kind of writing that you tend to stay away from? Both in regards to your personal consumption and in what you teach?

I teach poetry and short stories because I value them and think they’re important, but I don’t consume a lot of either on my own. I also don’t read a lot of non-fiction. I consume non-fiction-type stories via podcasts and TED Talks instead of through books. Over the years, I’ve also moved away from the ‘“traditional literary canon” in my teaching because…who decided on that canon anyway? We still teach Shakespeare, and we should, because how’d he do all that? But I try to insert as much writing by POC, female, queer writers as possible these days. So I guess I tend to veer away from old, white, dead men and towards more contemporary, within the last 100 years, writing. And feminism! I lean towards complex, diverse female characters, and immigrant and indigenous experiences.

Is there something specific that you’re reading right now or just finished reading?

I’m reading Roller Girls: Totally True Tales from the Track, as research for the YA book I’m writing, which will take place in the roller derby world. By my bedside right now are: Carry On by Rainbow Rowell, Boy Erased by Garrard Conley, and Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. And I just finished I’m Afraid of Men, a short but heartbreaking and courageous memoir by Vivek Shraya.

 

Can you describe the events and emotions that led up to you writing your upcoming debut novel, KINGS, QUEENS, AND IN-BETWEENS? Can you describe your path—was this something you’ve wanted to write for a long time, did the idea come to you all at once, did you get it down on paper quickly, or did writing it span a longer amount of time?

KINGS began as a tiny germ of an idea resulting from my time as a drag king. Since then, I always thought there was a story in there somewhere involving the drag world, since it’s so colourful and fascinating. I’m not sure what finally clicked for me to make me start writing the book—maybe it was the feeling of ‘“what next?” after completing my masters. But I wrote the first words of the book while in France on my own in the summer of 2015. I had a general idea of who my protagonist was—17, female, naïve, queer—and I knew she’d somehow find herself in the drag world. That’s about all I knew. To find out more about her, I began monologuing. It was by far one of the most useful things I did as part of my writing process—getting to know her better helped me write in her voice throughout the novel. She ended up telling me what to write in a sense. I still use that monologuing strategy to get to know my primary characters better as I write.

I only wrote a bit of her monologue that summer. Once school starts, I find it very difficult to write consistently. The next time I sat down to write KINGS in earnest was May-July of 2016. I began taking myself on week-long writing retreats each summer to have focused writing time. I enrolled in the Writers Studio at SFU for the 2016-2017 school year to keep myself on track, and it really helped. I was able to hammer out a manuscript over that year and complete it by the summer of 2017.

Mainly, for KINGS, I wrote out the entire story as it came to me. I’d write a section, and then the next time I sat down to write I’d read over what I’d written and clean up any obvious problems, and then keep writing. I didn’t have an outline for KINGS, but found this problematic later on in the process when I wasn’t sure where I was going for the last third of the book. Now, I try to have a loose outline and a sense of the protagonist’s character arc before writing. I think and have heard from other writers that this helps with efficiency, which I can believe since I wrote about 30,000 words extra for KINGS that I may not have written had I had an outline first!

Can you also offer a rough outline of what happened once the book was written—how you started sending the story out, what you focused on in your query letters, interactions that took place through the story—positive or negative? Are there any specifics you learned through this process that you could share, or any advice you could offer other debut writers?

I had just finished the Writers Studio, which was helpful, as we learned how to write query letters and my mentor, Eileen Cook, guided me through the process. She suggested a few agents to query, and I used online sites like Publishers Marketplace and Bookends to find other agents who specialize in diverse lit and YA.

I sent out about 10 to 15 letters, making sure to emphasize my POC, queer character and the drag element, which, from my research into other YA and even adult novels, I knew to be a unique part of the story.

I received back two requests for the manuscript quite quickly and then a couple more over the next few months. This, from what I’ve heard, is not typical and I am very lucky. I also received two or three rejections and some didn’t reply at all.

Jim McCarthy was the first agent to respond, and ended up becoming my agent. I love him. I signed on with him in August 2017, about a month after completing the book.

He has a great reputation in the publishing world and is with a well-established agency in NYC. He started shopping my book around, and we got a couple of offers. The quickest to read the book and show love for it was Jen Ung at Simon Pulse, however. Her written response to my book won me over—it was heartfelt and glowing. She seemed to really get what I was hoping to do with the book in terms of making a difference for young queer POCs.

Some advice: write from your unique experience; diverse voices are finally in. But don’t write diverse voices just to write diverse voices—write from a true place or the voice will feel superficial. Be ready for rejection, look for agents that are looking for what you’re writing, and find a writing community to help you navigate both the writing process as well as the querying process. Don’t write for fame or fortune—keep writing because you love it. Also, stay open-minded to others’ feedback, but also true to your story and characters. No one knows them better than you do.

What was a highest and lowest point for you, as you underwent your writing and subsequent query process?   

So many high points. I loved the writing process, I lucked out with amazing beta-readers and feedback, I loved my story and characters, and I had probably the most positive querying/publishing process a writer could ask for. Obviously, having someone actually want to publish my book was mind-blowing—I still can’t quite believe it—and since then, every new little thing with the editing and publishing process has felt like a celebration. I’m just riding the wave!

I don’t really have any “lows.” I guess the hardest thing has been balancing writing with teaching full time. I’m tired at the end of the day and feel guilty when I don’t write. I did get a taste of rejection recently when I wrote 13,000 words of what I thought would be my next book and my editor didn’t love it. But it led to me writing my current project, so the rejection turned into another high. I think partly I’m lucky because I love teaching too, so I have this fulfilling career and now I have this other fulfilling career and I feel like everything is just an opportunity to grow.

Could you provide a description of your upcoming novel, KINGS, QUEENS, AND IN-BETWEENS, touching on genre, subject matter, and why you think it’s relevant for today?

KINGS is really a love letter to the drag community as well as to young, queer, brown kids. I wanted to write a hopeful story for queer kids that wasn’t a coming out story. Nima [the novel’s protagonist] isn’t so much struggling with her sexuality as she is with her insecurities, though she is new to the world of dating. I hope the relevancy is obvious. We need more diverse lit. Kids need to see themselves in the lit and media that surrounds them. Kids need happy endings. And I hope people get an inside look at drag too—it’s a magical community and deserves more recognition beyond RuPaul’s Drag Race.

I’ve taken a look at your Goodreads page, and so many people have had a positive reaction—to say the least—to the fact that your Nima is biracial and queer. You really seem to be representing groups of people that have rarely felt seen in the media. What are your thoughts on what has been available as far as minority representation in literature and media? Did you feel a certain responsibility to tell this story? Are there any stories out there that you think did a good job making other people feel seen and heard?

When I first started writing KINGS, Nima was white. I had to stop myself about a third of the way through the first draft and give myself a kick. I had to consciously and very deliberately re-image Nima in my mind to make her brown. This just reiterated to me how insidious and ubiquitous whiteness is in our world/media. I’m brown, I’m feminist, I’m hyper-aware of race and do anti-racist work…but my go-to characterization was a young white girl? So yes, I do feel a responsibility to represent POCs and queer characters and characters that go beyond traditional gender constructs. Thankfully, more YA authors are seeing this need to and writing voices we haven’t always heard. Fat kids, POC kids, immigrant kids, Muslim kids, queer kids, trans kids, indigenous kids, asexual kids, “ugly” kids, “loser” kids, intersex kids…I think YA is doing this better than most genres in general. But two books I read recently that are not YA but tell stories we’re definitely not seeing enough of are Little Fish by Casey Plett and Johnny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead. Trans and Two-Spirit lives told without apology or the need to ‘clean things up.’ Amazing.

Why do you think that there are more minority stories being told today—both in books and in movies? For example, two of the biggest movie phenomena of 2018 centred on East Asian characters and culture, and neither of them relied on the other-ing tropes, or stereotypes, that films tend to employ when discussing people of colour. Do you feel good about the direction in which the media seems to be leaning, in terms of representation?

I do feel good about it overall. Obviously, there’s so much work to be still done as the percentages of these kinds of movies/roles are still abysmally low. But the good news is that when movies like this do come out, they do well financially, so that whole “well, these kinds of stories don’t sell” line can be put to rest. I think the ‘why’ of it has to do with plain, hard work—POCs fighting tooth and nail to have their stories heard and some resolute allies supporting them. And social media has definitely played a positive role in all of this too—even as it has its massive downsides, it’s made these voices more accessible.

How important is it to you that stories centred on minority characters be told by people of the same minority?

You’ve opened a can of worms here! I do believe it’s important for marginalized groups to be able to tell their own stories. I think it’s possible for dominant groups to tell marginalized groups’ stories if they do some serious work/research. And I don’t think it’s always possible for all characters to be written by authors with the same identities. If that were the case, I’d only be writing about brown, queer characters forever. But, the ideal in my view is for people to tell their own stories. Which is why I think it’s important for those in privileged groups to bolster and create space for marginalized artists to tell their own stories. If you’ve got some power and prestige behind you already, find a way to bring marginalized voices up beside you.

Do you feel as though today’s climate is a good environment to release your book into? Is there another time or place that you wish you could share your story?

I feel this is the perfect time to release this book. Diverse YA lit is exploding, RuPaul has made drag mainstream, and people are looking for queer stories that go beyond the tragic coming out trope. I feel very lucky to have written this book when I did.

If you could give the version of Tanya Boteju that existed before KINGS, QUEENS, AND IN-BETWEENS entered your life one piece of advice what would it be?

You can write while teaching, Ms. B. Quit making excuses and figure it out, woman!

How do you feel about the period of marketing that is coming your way, prior to the book’s publication? Is it something that excites you? This might be a silly question, since this is exactly one of those marketing-style things.

It’s not silly at all. I’m really excited about it. I’m not sure what to expect—all of this is so new—but I love the idea of sharing my book with others and being able to talk to people about their responses and hear their stories as well. And my agent and editor have been amazing, so I feel good about where they’re taking me as a writer. My blue-sky desire is that I get to hold lots of book launches in lots of great cities and each one opens with a local drag king or queen act. I don’t know if it’ll happen, but the prospect is thrilling.

Are you planning any other novels right now, do you have any ideas that you’re jotting down for a next project?

My next YA novel is tentatively titled Bruised. It takes place in the roller derby world, which is another subculture I find fascinating. I’ve never done roller derby myself, so I’ll need to do my homework, but that sounds like fun research to me! I’ve heard the sophomore project is very hard, and I can see why. KINGS was a book that was just kind of inside me, waiting to be written. My next book will feel less natural than that, I think. But I’m still excited about it.

Artemis Saatchi is an undergraduate student in the Art History and Creative Writing programs at the University of British Columbia. She specializes in fiction and creative non-fiction. She is currently finishing a YA manuscript, and applying to graduate programs.

 

Katherena Vermette 

vermette

Interviewed by Napatsi Folger

Katherena Vermette is a Métis writer from Treaty One territory, the heart of the Métis nation, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Her first book, North End Love Songs (The Muses Company) won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry in 2013a. Her novel, The Break (House of Anansi), was a bestseller in Canada and won multiple awards, including, the 2017 Amazon.ca First Novel Award. 

Ms. Vermette is also the author of the children’s picture book series, The Seven Teachings Stories, and recently published the first book, Pemmican Wars, in the young adult book series, A Girl Called Echo. Ms. Vermette’s second book of poetry, river woman, was published in the fall of 2018. Her National Film Board documentary, this river, won the 2017 Canadian Screen Award for Best Short.

Vermette lives with her family in a cranky old house within skipping distance of the temperamental Red River.

 

You’ve written poetry, fiction and other genres, do you have a favourite genre?

I always say that poetry is my favourite because it feels most like home. But the others all have their merits too, except for fiction.There is nothing comfortable about fiction. 

 

I’m intrigued by your statement “there’s nothing comfortable about fiction.” could you elaborate on this? I know it is not your main genre but your piece of fiction The Break was so strong and successful. What about fiction makes you uncomfortable? Is it just writing fiction or does reading fiction also feel uncomfortable for you?

 

Reading fiction is so comfortable. I love fiction. I love reading a story by a writer I trust and just knowing I will be led to beautiful places. I meant writing fiction. It doesn’t feel as natural to me as poetry. It feels hard and layered. There are so many things to keep track of – you have to remember where you put characters, you have to follow some sort of plot, or not, which arguably is even harder. I just meant it feels like work. Poetry is home; fiction is work. I love my work, but it’s work.

I recently read your poem “When Louis Riel Went Crazy” and thought it was fantastic. It seemed like a non-fiction poem, but people don’t tend to link non-fiction and poetry together.Would you consider the combination of poetry and non-fiction as a sub-genre that your work could fall into?

I have always thought of poetry as non-fiction. It might be because at my local library, poetry has always been in the nonfiction area—is that not normal? For me, poetry is far closer to my life story or a life story than anything else. I don’t know what it’s like for other writers. I do know poetry always feels more personal. It feels closer and immediately intimate somehow.

 

As for poetry not being non-fiction, now that I think about it, it does seem like the right fit, I guess we tend to discuss them as such separate things, and I think people sometimes associate non-fiction less with creativity and more with a sense of textbookishness.

 

I have never written CNF and have no ambitions to, but from what I hear, it sounds an awful lot like poetry – you look at something, you try to see and portray it in a different way, and take truth and make it fancy. That sort of thing. 

What kinds of literary works inspire you? For example, I am a non-fiction and fiction writer but I find the most inspiration from poetry and music, are you similar or do you get inspired by good work in your specific genres mostly?

I get inspired by young people’s stories. I love watching new writers find their voice. I’m never limited to genre. You’re right- it comes from all sorts of places.

 

If you could work with an author (in any capacity) of your choice living or dead, who would you choose?

I am currently doing a deep dive into Métis history so these days, I’m thinking a lot about my ancestors. I would love to sit down and chat with Louis Riel, talk poetry and politics. That’s the dream to me.

 

What inspired you to become a writer? Has your inspiration for writing changed since you began?

For many years, through childhood and young adulthood, I was really just writing to stay alive. It was a way I could process and think about things, mostly bad things but that’s just how my life looked at the time. But it’s always been a way of making sense of the world, either through fiction or poetry, it was a filter and a lens. It hasn’t changed much in that way. It’s still a very cathartic experience for me, at least at first. But when you write for others, in school or for publication, you add other steps to the process- many, many more editing steps, for one. I do like editing. It lets you write away and around the initial idea. You can polish it and make it better. Usually better. Sometimes not so much.

You cover very intense themes in some of your work.Has your writing been embraced by your community? Have you ever struggled with backlash from those community members close to you (encountered people thinking you are writing about them or exposing the darker aspects of life in your community)?

I’m not sure what you mean by community, really, but I’m going to assume you mean this place now called Winnipeg and the Métis folk I tend to write about. So no, I haven’t gotten any backlash from them. I’m sure there are critics but I’ve never heard anything like that. It’s also worth noting that the only people who think my community would be mad at me for “exposing darker aspects” are not from my community. My community knows where these “darker (I would say negative myself) aspects” really come from- these are systemic and colonial abuses that were imposed upon us. An oppressed community doesn’t have the privilege of having any aspect of its lives free from that oppression.

 

I find your response to that interesting and I asked because, and I’m not sure if this rings true for Metis people as well, but, Inuit were very much integrated into Christianity. I’ve found that these factions of modern evangelical Christian Inuit often dislike the exposure of our imperfect lives to the larger outside world. What I’d like to know is do you come across barriers or negativity in the world of CanLit because of your heritage or subject matter? If so do you have advice for other Indigenous writers who encounter similar treatment?

 

Yes, I get that. And I have no doubt there are critics who hate what I am writing, but I have been lucky to be insulated from that. I say lucky because though there is always criticism, and I have taken a lot of creative writing classes so I think I have a thick skin about some of it, but I have no skin about criticism from my own community. For them, I am just raw and vulnerable. I try my best to be respectful in all things, speak truthfully, speak from my own individual experience and never on behalf of anyone, so if I was ever accused of the opposite I think that would break my heart.

 

I do understand the Christianity thing. I do understand that idea that we should keep ourselves to ourselves, but I suspect that comes from fear, and fear should always be challenged. Fear is a completely reasonable, valid response, but I also think Indigenous nations have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. Ever. Always. I also think ignoring and avoiding truth, and hard, negative things, serves no one, least of all the persons most affected by them. I also understand and try to convey that the issues affecting my community affect all communities of every walk of life, everywhere, but are exacerbated by the long term, intergenerational effects of attempted genocide and perpetual colonial abuses. There is a reason things are the way they are, and it is by design. Nothing else. 

 

In this era of Canadian “reconciliation” talk, what do you think non-indigenous writers can do to support reconciliation and their Indigenous counterparts?

Support Indigenous writers, stories, books, voices. Make space. We all have stories to contribute to this idea called reconciliation. We just need to support and give space to each other, I think.


Who would you consider your target audience?

I write first for my community, and also myself, in some respects. I don’t know that I have a target audience. That sounds like something marketing people deal with. I’m the worst at stuff like that.

 

What do you most want readers to get out of reading your work?

I would like Indigenous persons to feel seen and respected. I would like non-Indigenous persons to see and have respect for Indigenous subjects. 

If you had an assignment where you had to write a piece of fan
fiction what work would you choose to cover?

I wish fan fiction was a thing when I was a teenager. I would have loved it. It would have been all about bands, like Pearl Jam and Nirvana. Road trip stories, bands on tour, probably. That sounds like something I would do. Or I’d make everybody vampires. It was the 90s after all.

Will you please write a choose your own adventure poem?

I love this idea! But it’s yours, so you know what that means. I look forward to reading it one day.

Napatsi Folger is a freelance short fiction and non-fiction writer from Iqaluit, Nunavut. She is currently in her first year of study in the MFA Creative Writing Program at the University of British Columbia. Napatsi studied history and English at the University of
Toronto, and worked in policy for the Government of Nunavut for 12 years. She has written both fiction and non-fiction for publications such as Word Hoard, Puritan Magazine, The Walrus, Matrix Magazine, The Town Crier and published her first Young Adult novel, Joy of Apex, in 2012 with Inhabit Media.

Anna Holmwood

Interviewed by Yilin Wang

Anna+HolmwoodAnna Holmwood translates from Chinese and Swedish into English. In 2010, she was awarded one of the first British Centre for Literary Translation mentorship awards and has translated novels and short stories for publication and samples for agents and rights sellers. She co-founded the Emerging Translators’ Network to support early career translators in 2011 and served on the UK Translators Association committee in 2012. Anna was the editor-in-chief for Books from Taiwan from 2014 to 2015, and has previously worked as a literary agent, representing some of China’s top writing talent. She is now the Foreign Rights Manager at DKW Literary Agency.

Most recently, Anna Holmwood translated A Hero Born, the first volume of Jin Yong’s martial arts novel series Legend of Condor Heroes, from Chinese into English. The series has a huge readership among Chinese readers across the world, so this is a milestone translation. As a writer, a fellow translator, and a fan of martial arts fiction, I reached out to Anna to interview her about how career and her translation process.

Can you describe the behind-the-scenes process for how you obtained the English language rights for A Hero Born and found its English publisher?

I met with a UK agent, Peter Buckman, to talk about working on Chinese books together. We decided that martial arts fiction, and Jin Yong, in particular, had great potential. I negotiated the right to represent Condor Heroes with Jin Yong’s representatives, and then we set about producing the pitch and a long sample. This was crucial; the UK editors would only have the sample to go on initially to make their decision. Several editors were interested, but Christopher MacLehose at MacLehose Press was determined to be the one to publish Jin Yong in English. Christopher MacLehose is an extremely well-respected editor who is known for having a great eye, so the thought of working with him was extremely exciting. This first stage took about a year in total, and after that, I was commissioned to work on the translation for the publisher.

The process you described sounds both challenging and rewarding. What advice do you have for emerging translators trying to navigate this for the first time?

So much of publishing operates on trust and personal taste, so when you’re first starting out, the biggest challenge is often getting the gatekeepers to trust you. Getting to know other translators is crucial. Firstly, because it can be a lonely job without a network of peers, and because so much vital information is shared in these networks. This was why I founded Emerging Translators Network along with Rosalind Harvey and Jamie Lee Searle. We want to collect that energy in a positive space where we could pass on our knowledge to those trying to get a foot in the door.

Let’s discuss the art of translations itself. In this NPR article, you spoke about the “emotional, instinctual aspect” of connecting to a language and that “it’s far more important for a literary translator to have had relationships … in a language than to be certified as a translator.” Can you speak more about your emotional connection with Mandarin and the emotional journey of translating A Hero Born?

In the beginning, studying Mandarin was an intellectual exercise for me, borne out of a fascination with China’s history and literary culture. But as I started making friends in Chinese, I realized that there were concepts and words I started using with them which I simply wouldn’t think about in English. A good example would be 缘分. I really don’t think or talk about “fate” in English, but somehow I took onboard 缘分 in Chinese because it seemed to connect with how I felt about certain connections I made. This became far more potent to me as I met my husband, got married, and then had our first child. I speak three languages now to my child—English, Mandarin, and Swedish. He can feel my love in all three, and that is a profoundly different kind of linguistic relationship than one borne predominantly of books and the classroom. Many big life events, including marriage and giving birth, happened in the background while I was working on A Hero Born, so this book will always be associated with my own maturation as a person and as a translator.

One of the challenges of translating A Hero Born is working with unique diction, such as martial arts terms like wulin (“the martial forest”) and jianghu (“river and lakes”), the honorifics (shifu) and titles of characters (Seven Freaks of the South), and the martial arts moves that are both descriptive and filled with allusions (Lazy Donkey Roll, Drive the Boat Downstream, Soaring Phoenix Rising Dragon). When translating these, how did you navigate the balance between domestication and foreignization?

The balance between domestication and foreignization is the fundamental tightrope any translator has to walk. Some of the terms in this book have been translated elsewhere and have long entered English through martial arts communities. The concept of shifu, for example, is familiar to anyone who has taken a class in some form of martial arts in the west, whether in its Mandarin form or through the Cantonese term sifu.

Wulin and jianghu have entered parlance through the gaming community, but I did feel that adding some extra information in a prologue, to set the scene, would help to evoke the unique linguistic and cultural meaning behind those words. They are not just their literal translations; these concepts contain a world of meaning. Their translation occurs over the course of the whole book, rather than as one word or phrase.

When it comes to the martial arts moves: I have had feedback from Chinese speakers that people would have preferred me to use pinyin, because any attempt at their translation is futile. But I think that attitude is a real shame. These weird, quirky names are just that in Chinese, and they’re so much of what people love about Jin Yong. I have faith that English readers can and want to experience that part of Jin Yong’s writing rather than have it locked off from them through the use of pinyin. It’s precisely the fact that there is no genre of fiction like it in English that makes translating and reading Jin Yong’s work so exciting.

Since martial arts fiction doesn’t exist as a genre in English, did you look at western narratives such as epic fantasy or heroic sagas for inspiration during your translation process? Or did you consciously go against them?

I did read things like The Three Musketeers, some of Walter Scott’s work, and Lord of the Rings in the early stages of the translation process, just to place myself a bit in the western tradition. I especially looked at them for their fight scenes. The thing that struck me the most, however, was that these western classics often didn’t go into as much detail in a fight—they were more likely to build drama into the moments before and after, and not say as much about the physical combat. This made me aware that the aesthetics of a fight scene is crucial to martial arts fiction, but also makes it uniquely challenging to translate. Many people assume it’s all the specialized diction that is hard to convey, but for me, the pacing and the fight scenes were the things I really had to get right.

The novel also quotes a number of classical Chinese poems. How did your process for translating those differ from translating prose?

I did a lot of research, which included looking up glosses in Chinese as well as, where relevant, previous translations of the poems. Classical poetry in Chinese is so different from modern English in terms of syntax, structure, and imagery. Comparing and contrasting other people’s versions is very instructive for a translator. There is a fantastic book, 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei, which I think should be compulsory for every translator of Chinese literature.

What other resources and tools did you use when translating?

The Internet is my biggest friend. I made extensive use of fan forums where people discuss names, vocabulary, and weapons that are unique to Jin Yong. Even things that are not unique to Jin Yong, such as historical weapons, are discussed in detail there. I used a lot of online dictionaries from all over the Chinese-speaking world. The Taiwanese government has a fantastic online dictionary, for example. Then, I also asked my husband, who is a native Chinese speaker, and friends.

To make a generalization, the Chinese language seems to be more accepting of ambiguity than English. (E.g. Lack of conjugated verbs, tense, prepositions, plural nouns, or articles like “a” and “the”.) How do you navigate these ambiguities when translating from Chinese into English?

Ambiguity functions differently in different languages, yes. As a translator, I ask myself, is the ambiguity here artistic and stylistic in nature, or does the Chinese reader in fact know the tense and number because of context. If context is providing key information, then I think it is appropriate for a translator to build more certainty about that into the English version. Just because Chinese doesn’t conjugate verbs for tense or person doesn’t mean that a reader doesn’t understand or know the tense or person. It’s important that we don’t essentialize too much about a culture based on some grammatical quirks of language—yes, they can and do shape expression, but often you can achieve similar or “equivalent” effects in a new language. 

Anna+HolmwoodYilin Wang’s fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld and What If? Magazine, while her poetry has appeared in The Best of Abyss & Apex Vol.2, Grain, Contemporary Verse 2, and Cerebration. Yilin is as an assistant editor for Room and the Volunteer Coordinator for Growing Room: A Feminist Literary Festival. She is currently writing a novel inspired by Chinese martial arts fiction.

Carol Shaben

Interviewed by Peter Takach

Shaben

Photo credit: NT Photo

Carol Shaben is an award-winning nonfiction author and journalist. Her first book, Into the Abyss, is a national bestseller and was selected as a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Pick, a BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week, and an Amazon.com Book of the Month. Her most recent book, The Marriott Cell, co-written with award-winning Egyptian-Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy, was named one of the Globe & Mail’s 100 Best Books of 2016, and won the Ontario Historical Society Huguenot Award. Of Lebanese Muslim heritage, she is a former CBC writer/broadcaster, and at twenty-two worked as a journalist in Jerusalem.

I am a huge admirer of Carol’s work and was lucky to sit down and chat with her about how she finds and plots a story and the advice she has to offer up-and-coming writers. The interview has been edited for length.

Carol, what are you reading right now?

I’m reading Tanya Talaga’s Seven Fallen Feathers. And I’m also reading Tara Westover’s Educated.

Do you find that your reading seeps into what you are writing? Do you seek out books with an eye to study form or content?

I’m always reading for language. When I read and the language is so perfect and lyrical and elevated, that’s a high bar that inspires me. When I’m writing nonfiction, I tend to read for plot devices, character arcs, for how to make a real story as compelling as fiction can be. But I also want to be true to my own voice, so when I’m writing intensively, I try not to read work that is going to take me away from my own voice.

What books have you found the most helpful in improving your craft?

I’ve gotten a lot from screenwriting books, especially Robert McKee’s Story. When you are trying to animate nonfiction, craft is really important. McKee changed my game by getting me to think at a more conscious level about scene, and to cut any scene that does not “turn” or have a value shift for the character. That to me makes propulsive writing, really thinking about scenes and beats. Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat talks about what should happen at various points in the arc of a screenplay, and to me, having that global sense of story, of midline, of turning points, has been helpful in plotting an entire book.

So what does your drafting process look like?

When I’m writing a larger project or a work of nonfiction, I really work with structure. First, I develop an overall arc to get a sense of chapters. Within each chapter, I figure out what the scenes are and within each scene, what the value shift is. If a character is happy at the start of a scene, what shifts for them to keep the tension? Another thing I do in both fiction and nonfiction that sounds cliché is to figure out what my character wants. If the character wants something, they will do something. You have to have the motivational piece nailed down.

There are four storylines in Into the Abyss, and for each of those characters, I knew the conflict (man against nature, man against self), and what each character’s arc was. And also, right out of McKee, you need to identify the gap between where each character is and where they want to be. If you look at a character’s journey as a broken staircase, the interesting stuff in fiction and nonfiction happens where your character is standing on a stair just below a broken or missing section, and knows they want to be higher up, and how do you get them there? That gap is where risk and conflict lie, where the real creative and compelling work can happen. I map those staircases out for each character.

When you read Into the Abyss, you can see how carefully you’ve woven these threads into a gripping story, one of only a few books that have ever moved me to tears.

Well, as long as you’re not crying over the language! I felt like that was a good story well told, but I have regrets about the prose because I had just a year to deliver a manuscript. If I’d had more time, I would have elevated the language. To me, there are two elements to exciting and memorable writing: one is the execution of the form and structure, and the other is language. And that is the luxury of being able to polish and to redraft and in my mind, that’s the difference between me, who I consider to still be a novice and someone whose writing slays me. Time is a really important part of the equation, giving yourself time to really work the language.

I was going to ask how you know when a book is complete. So this was a case of external deadlines?

Yes. Deadlines drove the timelines for both books and both were intensive to write. For The Marriott Cell, we wrote it in ten months and I was working fourteen to sixteen-hour days. I really work well to deadlines, but I also think there’s a feeling when things are falling into place. After all the hellfire and the gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair, there’s kind of an organic place where you feel intuitively that things are working in the way that serves your story. If you can get to that point, you’re either plain lucky or you’ve done the work. I also think you can polish language forever, but there’s also a time to let a book go and just know you’ve done as well as you could in the time period.

Do you have any tips for a writer muddling through the middle of their project?

One thing that helped me to write both books was to get off my screen, and use another form, like large index cards. Once, when I was stuck and had written myself into a muddle, Nancy Lee, who’s in my writing collective, suggested I go out and buy myself the biggest bulletin board I could find and start putting scenes on that board and moving them around. Getting away from the limitations of a computer screen can be really creatively liberating, because you see different possibilities. Some people use Scrivener or whatever and can do it all on a screen, but I really like that bigger canvas.

It feels a bit more tactile to have those, like you’re actually making something.

Yes. And you can get those moments when you say, “I’ve cracked the nut!” You’re digging around on this hard shell of a story with no idea and all of a sudden it cracks open for you and something is revealed and how that process happens creatively, I have no clue.

You have a magic touch for finding and telling stories of, in your words, “overlooked or underrated individuals who, through their courage, heroism and conviction, deeply move and inspire us to be our best selves.” What is the importance of telling these stories?

We’re so into this mindset of our public personas, of how many followers we have, and I think we miss that there’s power and potential in people who seem powerless or who we dismiss because they don’t tick off the boxes that we define as making them successful or worthy. Those kinds of individuals can sometimes offer stories not only about human potential but about humility, about compassion, about ignoring the artificial barriers that race or politics or economics or social status create. I feel particularly strongly at this time of rising fascism that the key we all have is to look for those stories that make us see each other in a more humane and compassionate way.

Where do you find these stories?

Talking to people, reading. Just being open. I am currently researching a longform piece on a woman who’s working in the cacao industry lifting Central American farmers out of poverty. She’s from Texas and she’s changing the way the chocolate industry operates. I think the most interesting stories are those where you can find a person who can take you inside a world that you would never otherwise have access to. Those kinds of stories are exciting. I also think that if we pay attention to others and to our environment, as writers and as human beings, we all resonate at the same level. When there is a story, we instinctively know it. We understand what heroism or courage looks like.

The world can seem rather dark these days. How do you keep your positivity and mission in the face of what can feel like insurmountable adversaries?

I look for the people and stories that move me and I try to get out of my comfort zone. Last June, for example, I went to an event called The Shoe Project featuring refugee women who had fled war in their countries. Vancouver writer Caroline Adderson had helped them write their stories of fleeing and coming to Canada. I was so moved that I invited these women to dinner, because they inspired me. And so I had fifteen women from everywhere from Eritrea to Somalia to Mexico in my home, and we broke bread together.

I think being open and reaching out across a boundary or what feels like a barrier, these small acts of humanity, open up whole worlds. And when you take a moment to look at those worlds, to get to know a person who you think is “other,”, you’ll find inspiration in the human condition on an individual level. Sometimes when you watch the news and you think of things on a global level, it’s overwhelming. But a conversation with someone who has struggled or who is different, and seeking to understand, that feeds me and fills me up. It shows me my own privilege and reminds me of our human potential. And that’s worth writing about. Also, I try to limit my consumption of CNN.

We’ve spoken in the past about the differences between fiction and nonfiction. What is the most powerful thing for you about writing creative nonfiction?

I think it’s how flawed and perfect and inspiring and courageous and heroic and terrible we can all be. It’s this range of human action and emotion that’s fascinating to me. We can all choose to walk in the world in a different way. If I can write a story that causes a reader to pause and think differently about another person or their own actions, or how they live their lives, that would be the greatest reward of writing I could hope for.

What are you currently working on, if you don’t mind talking about it?

Various smaller projects. I was hollowed out after doing The Marriott Cell. It was really intense and hard work, and then I got blocked for quite awhile. The block came from feeling like I had to have the next big idea in hand, and that it had to be fully formed so that when it came out of my mouth, other people would say “Wow! That’s amazing!” I think that’s part of the reason why some authors don’t talk about their current projects.

If there’s one thing the last few months of mucking in my own writing has taught me, it’s that we can sometimes defeat ourselves by looking around and seeing how everyone else is doing and taking a count of publications. It can be very destructive for the creative muse. We need to find the joy that got us here, that made us take the leap into believing we could do this crazy thing. Right now, I feel fortunate and excited and happy, and I’m jotting down ideas all the time, whereas when I was pushing before, there was nothing. I’m full of a sense of possibility, which I think is as good as it gets when you’re in a creative realm.

So I’m writing poetry very badly, I’m working on a kid’s book, I’m jotting down ideas for short stories. I’m researching this long form piece on cacao—it’s got its hooks into me. I’m just trusting, and enjoying the privilege of this vocation we call writing. I’m letting myself enjoy it rather than thinking it has to be a certain way, and then something will happen, something exciting.

One final question. What is the best piece of advice, writing or otherwise, that anyone has ever given you?

A writer once told me four words key to writing: put ass in chair. It’s hard work, it’s discipline, it’s just doing it. It’s not magic. The magic comes from putting your ass in your chair everyday. The best thing writers can do for themselves is not let life take them away from that one shining priority. It should be the most important thing on your to do list for the day. Nothing has served me better than that advice.

Peter Takach is a writer and teacher whose works have surfaced in some of the nation’s finest magazines, literary festivals, and recycling bins. Banished from his hometown for crimes against humanities, he can be found at the University of British Columbia toiling away at MFA in Creative Writing or perched on driftwood staring out at great Neptune’s ocean.