Kayla Czaga

Interviewed by Shaun Robinson

Kayla Czaga grew up in Kitimat, British Columbia and now lives in Vancouver, where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing at UBC. Her poetry, nonfiction and fiction has been published in The Walrus, The Puritan, Room Magazine, Event and The Antigonish Review, among others, and she has twice been selected for inclusion in the Best Canadian Poetry in English anthology series. She is the author of the chapbook Enemy of the People from Anstruther Press, and the full-length collection For Your Safety Please Hold On, which won the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award and the Canadian Author’s Association Emerging Writer Award, and was nominated for the Governor General’s Award and the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize, among others. She serves beer at “possibly the nerdiest bar in Canada,” according to the National Post.

Can you tell me about the first poem you ever wrote? What was it about? What led you to write it?

I wrote my first poem at age ten, after finishing A Ring Of Endless Light by Madeline L’Engle, a YA coming of age novel. I closed the book and had the weird sense of needing to write a poem, like there was a poem trapped inside of me trying to get out. I guess it was my first experience of “inspiration.” The poem was long, awful, written in rhyming couplets and was about these jeans I really liked, my cat, and cinnamon buns.

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Tamora Pierce

Syracuse Head Shot Photographer

Interviewed by Emily Pate

When I was still a pre-teen, my mom brought home Trickster’s Choice, then the latest of Tamora Pierce’s novels. I devoured this book, and quickly followed it with Pierce’s first two quartets. Then came her third, the Protector of the Small. These four books starred Keladry of Mindelan – sturdy, caring, and special only in the stubborn pursuit of her goals – a character more like me than any I’d ever before encountered. It was largely because of this series that I decided to become a writer myself.

Tamora Pierce has published short stories, essays, radio plays, comics, and over 28 young adult novels. She has also won the 2005 Skylark Edward E. Smith Memorial Award for Imaginative Fiction, the 2013 RT Book Reviews Career Achievement Award, and the 2013 Margaret A. Edwards Award for Lifetime Achievement in Young Adult Literature.

Pierce is currently working on Tortall: A Spy’s Guide, which will be release in October of 2017, and the first in the Tempests and Slaughter trilogy, out in the Spring of 2018. Here she offers insight into her fabulous female heroines, and gives advice for both young writers and young readers.

Pierce can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and at www.tamorapierce.com.

One of the aspects of your work that always stands out to me is your continuous use of female protagonists, and the wide variety of these female characters. What inspired this aspect of your novels, and has this added any difficulties to your career?

No, it hasn’t added any difficulties. There were very few female heroes around when I was a kid. Mostly in YA historicals, and Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote very strong female characters, but when you got through those, that was pretty much it. The rest of the girls I found stayed at home, cheered for the guys, helped with their homework. When I got to fantasy, there were three female heroes, all of whom were deeply flawed, so until I got to Anne McCaffrey in the mid-seventies, I wrote what I wanted to read, which was girl heroes. Even when there were more female heroes after McCaffrey, I still found things I couldn’t relate to. Most of them were gay or celibate, and I was neither. So I continued to write the kind of heroes I wanted to read. Which were straight, female, kid warriors. And then straight, female, kid heroes. And then heroes like my fans. But since there still aren’t enough female heroes out there, especially female kid heroes, that’s pretty much where I’ll stay. 

Is there something in particular that draws you to writing for a younger audience?

That’s my mental age. 

The Protector of the Small series is your first where the heroine doesn’t have magic. What was the reason for this?

I tried to do it with magic and discovered a couple of chapters in, if I had her training to be the first known girl knight, and added magic on top of that, there was no way I could cover page training and magic and make my page limit for the book. In fact, her page training as a girl was so complicated, I not only had to give up the magic, but I had to find a way to break off her first year, because it would take me a book at my then-page-limit to cover it. 

You’ve written for a broad variety of mediums, including comics and essays, as well as novels. How different is it to write for these various genres?

It’s just a different way of looking at the world. Writing comics, you have to pare your spoken script down as far as possible. You have to set your dialogue as sparely as possible. You have to see in your head what you’re writing, and you have to keep it down to the bone. There’s also the fact that you’re working with an artist, and it’s a collaborative effort. You have to concede some of your ideas and accept some of their ideas, so you have a harmonious piece. It’s like working with another writer. You can’t force your partner to give up every one of their ideas. They have to have some of their ideas in there too. What you have at the end is not your work plus their work; what you have is a combined work, hopefully more than the sum of its parts.

When it comes to non-fiction, writing straight articles, you still have to keep economy in mind, but you also have to keep rhythm in mind. It’s like fiction, in that you have to build up, but economy is still a factor. You have to make sure what you include is absolutely what your audience needs to know, and you have to check your facts very carefully.

As such a prolific writer, are there characters or series that are your favorites?

It changes depending on the day, on my mood, on what I’m writing. At the moment, my favorite is the Graveyard Hag. She’s so lovable!

Do you have any advice for young people, and young women in particular, who are aspiring to be authors themselves?

Keep writing. Don’t listen to advice that depresses you. If all advice depresses you, only listen to your agent and your editor. Don’t be discouraged if at first you don’t finish things. The more your write, the farther you’ll get, and the more you write, the more you finish things, and the more things you finish, the more things you’ll have to send out. And the more things you have to send out, the better your chances of getting work accepted. Or, as we say in my house, be too stupid to know when to quit. 

What do you want a reader to take away from your books after they’ve read them? What do you hope your books achieve?

I hope that they take away that they can be whatever they make themselves into. That they can shape their own selves, their own future. That they can do anything they want to do. 

Emily Pate is a first year MFA student in UBC’s Creative Writing program. She is on the PRISM International Editorial Board and formerly a staff writer for the Western Oregon Journal. She has published poetry and creative nonfiction in Blending Magazine and The Northwest Passage, and is currently working on a comic book about young female superheroes, as well as her first novel.

Anne T. Donahue

Interviewed by Raven Nyman

A quick scroll through Anne T. Donahue’s Twitter feed might leave aspiring writers feeling overwhelmed. After all, she’s written for MTV, Cosmopolitan, the Guardian, the Globe and Mail, Refinery29, Sportsnet, Nylon, and Paper Magazine, just to name a few. Her publication credits are remarkable, and the diversity of her subject matter? Impressive. Originally from Cambridge, Ontario, Anne is a writer who admits to knowing way too much about The Great British Bake Off and holding a unique affection for Leonardo DiCaprio—see the hilarious Leo memes that accompany each of her newsletters. Her first book, Nobody Cares, will be published by ECW in September 2018. You can find her on Twitter @AnneTDonahue.

Her work seems to be everywhere, and Anne succeeds in maintaining an active social media presence while also completing a degree, freelancing regularly, and writing a weekly newsletter for her followers. Despite her full schedule, I was able to get in touch with Anne to find out just how she does it all.

Was writing always the career path you had in mind?

Not at all. I went to Conestoga College for journalism, but dropped out when I was nineteen. Then I worked in a hardware store, at American Eagle, and at a bank. At the same time I was re-doing high school courses and aiming for a kinesiology degree which I planned to use as a pre-med. Then I failed math, so that dream died. Finally, I applied to Wilfrid Laurier for Communications/History and dropped out after a year once I started freelance writing. But even then, even when I was doing almost exclusively music journalism, I thought I’d end up writing TV or doing comedy or doing some semblance of what Tina Fey was doing at the time. I didn’t think I’d be writing the way I was now. I thought I’d eventually make my way into TV full time or movies or something. I remember thinking there’s no way I wanted to be a “freelance writer.” Now, I don’t think I could handle working full-time in an office.

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Nigel Chapman

Interviewed by Carter Selinger.

Nigel Chapman sings, plays guitar, and writes songs for the burgeoning Halifax rock group Nap Eyes. The band’s critically acclaimed 2016 album Thought Rock Fish Scale was nominated for the Polaris Music Prize, and is “brimming with passion and protest” according to Pitchfork magazine. I was introduced to Nap Eyes about two years ago, and since then I’ve thought at length about Chapman’s lyrics. The significance of the images, and ideas in Chapman’s songs seemed in accordance with my own changing perception, and open to countless interpretations. Maybe Chapman’s work as a biochemist with gene theory has influenced the “adaptability” of his lyrics—though he’s hung up the lab coat now to focus on music. He simply can’t think about one thing one way, and in an age where people with hardened beliefs seem to get the loudest microphones, this perspective is refreshing. During our conversation about alcohol and drugs, art, existence, self-doubt, science, and spirituality, I found the strength of Chapman’s ideas and beliefs comes from a place of empathy and flexibility. His beliefs bend and contort around ideas to allow opposing viewpoints, and can lead him to two seemingly valid opinions that are almost irreconcilable. This thought process can make him laugh, and say, “It’s a paradox.” He is alive to contradictions, and therefore alive to both the great struggle, and “great value of human existence.”

A few days ago, I was listening to the song, “Click Clack” after a few friends had come to visit me for the weekend, and we had spent a great deal of our time drinking together. The lyrics “Sometimes drinking I feel so happy but then / I can’t remember why / I feel sad all over again / Sometimes drinking I / don’t know my best friend for my best friend,” felt especially poignant to me because of the terrible emotional and psychological hangover I was going through. To what extent do you think alcohol (and other substances) have helped or hurt your creative process?

It was really hard to tell because sometimes I used to think drinking and smoking weed were a way I could get into a head space where I could write. I almost didn’t have the confidence in myself to believe what was happening when I was creatively inspired could be achieved without altering my consciousness chemically. It’s like when you’re learning to swim, you think you still need flotation devices, and you don’t want to test yourself without them. For a few years, I sort of assumed smoking weed and drinking would be necessary for song writing. Even though I was usually only doing that in moderation, I think using those substances revealed an inhibition, and they can help you overcome your inhibitions. It’s the idea of thinking you need a crutch even when you don’t need one, but some people do need a crutch. There is real medical value in some of these things, but there needs to be balance. I don’t think I have a final conclusion about the value, or lack of value, of these substances in my practice; sometimes they seem to relax me and be conducive to work, and other times they drain me of energy, make me paranoid, and so inhibited that I don’t work. It’s almost like they enhance things when they’re going well, and exacerbate things when they’re not going well. I think these substances are interesting things, they have a unique phenomenal value in the world, they aren’t things you want to lean into completely, or treat with reckless abandon, or without thinking about how you’re using them.
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Charlie Jane Anders

Interview by Einar Leif Nielsen

Charlie Jane Anders is the author of All the Birds in the Sky which was one of Time Magazine’s “Top 10 Novels” of 2016 and is nominated for a Nebula Award. She’s the organizer of the Writers With Drinks reading series in San Francisco, and a founding editor of io9, a website about science fiction, science and futurism. Her stories have appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Tor.com, LightspeedTin House, ZYZZYVA, and several anthologies. Her novelette Six Months, Three Days won a Hugo award in 2011 and was shortlisted for the Nebula and Theodore Sturgeon awards. You can follow Charlie Jane online @charliejane or on her website http://allthebirdsinthesky.tumblr.com/.

I have been following Charlie Jane’s career ever since I started reading her writing advice columns on the blog io9. The blog will always be very special to me because it introduced me to the SFF community which has influenced me greatly in my writing and in my life in general. So, I owe Charlie Jane a lot of gratitude for her work at io9. Her book All the Birds in the Sky was one of the most anticipated in 2016 in the science fiction and fantasy community and was very well received. I read it recently and loved it. Also, as part of my research for this interview, I read Six Months, Three Days which is accessible online; I definitely recommend everyone check it out. So I was excited to get a chance to interview Charlie Jane and ask her about her career as a writer.

Do you have any moment or a piece of writing that inspired you to become a writer and do you ever revisit that moment or piece to remind yourself how and why you began to write?

There are a lot of books that made me want to be a writer. But in particular, I remember that around the same time, I read Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks and Geek Love by Katherine Dunn, and those two incredible books made me feel like I really wanted to try writing speculative fiction. I felt like, even after having read a lot of SF before that, the one-two punch of those two very different approaches to the genre kicked me in the head and made me see a whole bunch of new possibilities. I knew I could never come anywhere remotely close to equalling either of those writers, but I wanted to see what I could do anyway.

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Kyung-sook Shin

Kyung-sook Shin 4_no credit line

Interviewed by PP Wong

Kyung-sook Shin’s answers were translated by Charlie Chung

Kyung-sook Shin is the bestselling author of Please Look After Mom which was published in nineteen countries and has sold over a million copies. In March 2012 Shin was awarded The Man Asian Literary Prize —beating out Haruki Murakami, Amitav Ghosh, Banana Yoshimoto, and other worthy rivals for the prestigious prize.

Shin was born in 1963 in a village near Jeongeup in Jeolla Province in southern Korea. The notable author left her hometown at the age of fifteen to attend a night school program for low-income households. She juggled working in an electronics plant during the day while studying at night. Her literary debut was in 1985, at the age of 22, with the novella Winter’s Fable which went on to win the Munye Joongang New Author Prize. This has been followed by seven novels, six short story collections and several non-fiction books that have won a wide range of literary prizes including the Hyundae Literature Award, Hankook Ilbo Literature Prize, Manhae Literature Prize, Yi Sang Literary Award, Dong-in Literary Award and the Prix de l’inaperçu.

 Shin’s writing is a delightful example of how authors can turn dark and difficult questions about society into art that affects the reader in a profound way. When asked what her three favourite words were, she chose Closeness, Freedom and You.

What was the very first story that you ever wrote?

I grew up in a country town until I was fifteen. In my hometown was a railway, where animals and even sometimes humans were hit by trains and lost their lives. Trains ran so fast that even when engineers noticed danger ahead and stopped the train, the object had already been broken into pieces, only leaving the smell of blood in the air. That is how I first experienced death. I remember my first writing was about the shock I had felt. Since then, I kept writing in the form of a diary. Later I made up new names for actual ones and added extra description to daily events in fear of others peeping into my diary. I just wanted to keep it a secret for myself.

I left my hometown at the age of fifteen to attend a special night school program for those who could not afford high school. These schools were called “Special Industrial Classes.” Since I was too young to apply for the school, I had to submit the papers under someone else’s name and started working for an audio company. I worked during the day, but I could study at night as I had wished. Around the time when I started working and studying in Seoul, labor unions began to form in Korea. There was constant conflict between laborers who were determined to form a union and companies trying to stop them. My company was no exception to this situation. Eager to continue my study, I could not side with either of them but stood before the worktable. It was then when I began to read novels, write down what’s happening around me and transcribe books I read in my notebook.

While I was reading and writing, I could see my self-esteem restored. Then I realized that I would become a writer, and reading and writing would be my job for the rest of my life.
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Monia Mazigh

Interviewed by Zehra Naqvi

Monia Mazigh is an author, human rights advocate, and an academic. She was born and raised in Tunisia and immigrated to Canada at the age of 21. She has a PhD in finance from McGill University, ran in the federal elections in 2004 as an NDP candidate, and was the National Coordinator of the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group between 2015 and 2016. She lives in Ottawa.

In 2002, her husband, Maher Arar was arrested and deported to Syria. He was tortured and held for over a year without charge. Mazigh entered the public eye as she campaigned tirelessly for his release. In 2008, she published her first book, Hope and Despair, a memoir about the ordeal of releasing her husband and clearing his name.

In 2014, she published her first novel, Mirror and Mirages, which follows the lives of six different Muslim women living in Canada. The novel was a finalist for the Trillium Book Award in the original French. It was translated into English by Fred Reed.   

Her latest book, Hope Has Two Daughters (translated by Fred Reed), is also about Muslim women. It explores two critical uprisings in Tunisian history—the 1984 Bread Riots and the 2010 Jasmine Revolution—through the eyes of a mother and her daughter.

When Monia Mazigh was in Vancouver on book tour for Hope Has Two Daughters, I had the chance to sit down with her for a conversation.

When did you realize you wanted to be writer? You have a PhD in Finance. Was writing something that came to you later in life, or was it something you were always pursuing?

I always wrote. I always loved writing. It was a part of my education, but also a part of my own life. I have always had a journal. I didn’t have a particular idea about writing for others, but for me writing was one of the best ways to express my feelings and to share my ideas with others. Yes, I went to a field that is far from writing. It is assumed to be in a way contradictory or in conflict with what I am doing right now. And there’s truth there. But also, my life is not only my academic background. I think writing came to me, probably as a rescue when my husband was arrested. This is where I started writing opinion pieces, and sharing them with newspapers—basically writing publically. Later on, when I decided to write a memoir about this period of my life, I think this is where I decided to take writing as not just a hobby, but as a tool for me to just survive in this world.

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Kevin Chong

Interviewed by Nico McEown

Kevin Chong was born in Hong Kong and raised in Vancouver. He’s the author of five books of fiction and non-fiction. As a journalist, his work has appeared in a range of publications, including Taddle CreekChatelaineMaclean’sMaisonneuve, Vancouver Magazine, and The Walrus. He teaches creative writing at the University of British Columbia and SFU’s The Writer’s Studio, co-edits Joyland Magazine, and lives in Vancouver with his family.

http://www.kevinchong.ca/

If you’re looking for a biography on Kevin Chong, do not go to his Wikipedia page. During my interview I learned firsthand just how untrue some Wikipedia facts can be.

I met with Kevin at his office at the University of British Columbia. We sat at a round table, each of us with our respective object in front of us, he with his cup of coffee and me with my recording device.

When did you first know you wanted to pursue a career in writing and what were you doing at that time of your life?

I don’t remember the exact moment. I used to joke that I was painting myself in a corner, that there was nothing else I could do. A product of being really sure of yourself I guess—ignorance is bliss—where you study writing and enjoy being a writer so much that you don’t take practical matters into consideration. I studied creative writing here at UBC. After that I did a graduate degree in New York. My parents helped put me through a very expensive grad program. A lot of parents would say no to a fine arts degree, but my parents were really supportive. I knew I wanted to be a writer and I had full-hearted confidence that I could do it. I wasn’t a star student, but my thesis was good enough to get published. Once I had a book out I thought I had made it. That’s really not true, but I thought so at the time. I guess by my early twenties, I knew that this was my path, for better or for worse. I never had a day job. This is my day job, teaching.

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Jeffrey Innes

Interviewed by Kaylan Mackinnon

Jeffrey Innes is the lead singer and writer in Yukon Blonde, a Vancouver indie rock band. Since starting the group in 2008 he has gained an international following and acclaim for hits like “Saturday Night.” The band, originally from Kelowna, BC, are currently working on their fourth album. I was inspired to interview Jeffrey Innes because his songs tell such beautiful stories, and it is incredible knowing that Yukon Blonde belongs to our very own Canada. I talked to Jeff about his writing process, how it all got started for him, and

advice on how you can jumpstart your own writing career. 

Yukon Blonde is an internationally acclaimed band! You must be happy with the success you’ve had. Would you say there was a song the band and you wrote that put Yukon Blonde on the map?

I would say our song “Stairway” did pretty well for us, but both “Saturday Night” and “I Wanna Be Your Man” would be the two songs that helped get us out there much more that any others.

For readers who haven’t heard your music yet, please describe your sound and style in a few words.

This is always the hardest question for any songwriter. Either you compare yourself inaccurately to your influences and inspirations or, in my case, you feel you’re constantly changing and don’t want to pin yourself down. I mean, ok, I recognize that we’re an alternative indie pop/rock band with electronic or psychedelic tendencies and sometimes we’re pastiche. What does that even mean? I think it means we just sound however we want to whenever we want to. In the past, we’ve had guitars, drums, harmonies, cool bass lines and synths.

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Arushi Raina

Interviewed by Dominika Lirette

Arushi Raina is a young adult fiction writer who lives in Vancouver. A consultant by day, she fills her remaining hours with writing. Arushi grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa but, at 25, she’s a citizen of the world. So far she has lived in Egypt, Nigeria, India, the US, UK and now Canada.

Her first novel, When Morning Comes, was published in June of 2016. Publishers Weekly described it as “a riveting and accomplished debut.” The book centres around the fictional lives of four teenagers living in Johannesburg in 1976, right before the Soweto uprising. I caught up with her over the phone.

I read that you’ve been trying to write a novel since high school. What drew you to wanting to be a writer from such a young age?

To some extent, escapism. I think most people who start wanting to write, especially early on, they’re very attracted to living in alternative worlds. That’s one thing.

And then two, I think there’s just an overpowering need to have stories turn out a little bit different or characters say something a little bit different than they did. So you start creating your own versions of stories that you love in the way you’d want to tell them.

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