Ayelet Tsabari

Ayelet TsabariInterviewed by Nicole Boyce

Ayelet Tsabari is the author of the short story collection The Best Place on Earth, which won the 2015 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature. In 2013, she was named as one of ten Canadian writers to watch by CBC Books and in 2014 she was awarded a Chalmers Arts Fellowship. A graduate of the MFA program at Guelph University, Ayelet teaches creative writing through the University of Toronto and the University of Guelph.

I first came to Ayelet’s work through her powerful non-fiction, for which she has won a National Magazine Award, a Western Magazine Award, and the EVENT Creative Non-fiction Contest (twice!). In both her fiction and non-fiction, I admire the way she depicts complex characters and relationships with confident, energetic prose. It was a pleasure to speak to her via email during her recent research trip to Israel.

You’ve been writing your whole life, having published your first poem at age ten. What drives you to write?

I can’t explain it. It’s like love. I feel like it chose me, not the other way around.

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Susannah Cahalan

clahanInterviewed by Jeri Knopp

Susannah Cahalan got her start in journalism in the summer after junior year, when she got an internship at the New York Post, and worked her way up from grabbing coffee and making photocopies to a general assignment reporter.

One day in early 2009, Cahalan woke up in a strange hospital room, strapped to her bed, under guard, and unable to move or speak. Her medical records from a month-long hospital stay showed psychosis, violence, and dangerous instability. Her New York Times bestselling memoir Brain on Fire chronicles the swift path of her illness and the lucky, last-minute intervention led by one of the few doctors capable of saving her life. As time passed and she moved inexplicably from violence to catatonia, $1-million worth of blood tests and brain scans revealed nothing. The exhausted doctors were ready to commit her to the psychiatric ward, in effect condemning her to a lifetime of institutions, or death, until Dr. Souhel Najjar joined her team. He asked her to draw a simple sketch of a clock, which became key to diagnosing her with a newly discovered autoimmune disease in which her body was attacking her brain.

Also in 2009, Cahalan was the recipient of the Silurian Award of Excellence for the article “My Mysterious Lost Month of Madness,” on which Brain on Fire is based. Her work has also been featured in The New York Times, Scientific American, Psychology Today, and Focus, and she still works for the New York Post, now as their books editor.

As a huge fan of Brain on Fire, I emailed Cahalan requesting an interview, and we spoke on the phone shortly afterward.

When did you decide that writing was something that you wanted to pursue?

Probably for as long as I can remember. You know, those are the classes I enjoyed most. I kept journals when I was really a little kid, I still have them.

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Rob Ulin

Rob Ulin headshotInterviewed by Chloe Rose

Rob Ulin graduated from Harvard College in 1984, where he was an editor of the Harvard Lampoon.  He got his first job in show business writing for TV producer Norman Lear.  He went on to write for the Jim Henson-produced TV show Dinosaurs. and was later  head writer and executive producer for the hit comedy Roseanne.  He has also been a co-executive producer on Malcolm in the Middle and The Middle.

When I was five, I travelled to Los Angeles with my family to visit Rob Ulin—my Uncle Rob, who at that time was working on Malcolm in the Middle. Too young to understand the complicated machine that was a full-scale production, my most distinctive memory of that visit is of the famous “candy cupboard”: a room brimming with every candy bar in the known universe and reserved for the writing team on Malcolm. I was immediately convinced that writing was a worthy career.

Only years later would my passion for screenwriting grow beyond my love for skittles, and the questions I want to ask my Uncle Rob are no longer limited to “how many of these Starbursts can I take home with me?”

Based on your years of experience, what top five (or two or ten) pieces of advice would you have for someone looking to make a go of it as a screenwriter?

Look for valid, constructive criticism of your writing, and then don’t take it personally or be hurt by it.  Don’t give your screenplay to someone hoping they will just tell you how wonderful it is.  Give it with the hope that they will see something wrong that you didn’t notice that will open up your mind to new possibilities. 

Always be nice to people.

Learn everyone’s name.

Read your favourite screenplays or TV scripts and try to figure out why you like them so much.  It’s not just that they have the best jokes.  Map out the structure of your favourite scripts or shows.  Write scene-by-scene outlines of them.  You will be surprised at the ingenuity of the structure when it is laid out in front of you.

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Lucia Frangione

LUCIA3FINALwebInterviewed by Veronique West

Lucia Frangione is an internationally produced, award winning playwright and actor residing in Vancouver. She has had twenty-five plays produced, including Leave of Absence (Pacific Theatre), Paradise Garden (Arts Club Theatre) and Espresso (Pacific Theatre). Lucia is a recipient of the Gordon Armstrong Award, the Sydney Riske Award and the Stage West CAEA emerging artist award.

Lucia’s work inspires me because it is fiercely uncompromising. When she writes about a contentious subject, such as the role of women within Christianity, she tackles every perspective without simplification. Moreover, she does not hesitate to bring intensely personal experiences to the stage.

How did your playwriting career begin, and was it linked to the beginning of your acting career?

Playwriting, acting and spiritual practice have always been linked for me. I took drama in Grade 12 to get over my fear of public speaking so I could be of service in the church as a minister or teacher. I very quickly adopted the theatre as my church, in a sense, because I prefer to ask questions rather than give answers. I went to Rosebud School of the Arts: sort of a Bible college and theatre school combined. I took acting but I wrote a play my first year there and they liked it so much they paid me and produced it that summer for their dinner theatre. I switched my major to playwriting and studied for four years, but I always performed in my own plays. I continue to do so, but also work independently in both fields. It still is weird for me to write something and not perform in it. It feels like throwing a big party and not attending. [Read more…]