Jennica Harper

JH PicInterviewed by Shaelyn Johnston

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

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

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

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

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

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Ben Ladouceur

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

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

Why poetry?

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

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Cole Nowicki

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

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

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

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

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

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Carlos Algara

Photo by: Alejandro Seyffert.

Photo by: Alejandro Seyffert.

Interviewed by Tomas Nepomuceno.

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

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

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

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

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

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Mark Leiren-Young

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Philip Reeve

11221446_890212321024294_334471840868687876_oInterviewed by Ray Clark

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

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

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

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Ernie Crey

Creyoppenheimer (1)Interviewed by Wawmeesh G. Hamilton

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

What is Ernie up to these days?

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

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Evelyn C. White

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

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

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

I was fortunate to correspond with her by email recently.

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

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

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

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

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Brett Josef Grubisic

Brett_Josef_Grubisic_photoInterviewed by Joshua Robinson

To regard reading and writing as, in a way, an exercise in the exploration of self is no revelatory concept for Brett Josef Grubisic.  Growing up, he found his passion early and preferred the company of the written word and a quiet corner to the bluster and bombast of social gatherings in his family home.  

Years removed from childhood, Grubisic occupies many roles within the writing world.  As a professor of English at the University of British Columbia, a contributor to Maclean’s and other publications, and an editor and writer himself, Grubisic has turned his childhood passion into a sprawling career. 

The editor of Contra/Diction: New Queer Male Fiction and co-editor of Carnal Nation: Brave New Sex Fictions, Grubisic’s debut novel, The Age of Cities, was a 2007 finalist for the Vancouver Book Award. His upcoming novel, From Up River and For One Night Only—due out in April 2016—is the next in a solid sequence of compelling prose that draws on experience-as-catalyst, attesting to the fact that to write is more than just an exercise in mechanics.  To write is to reach back into one’s life, to pull at the past to create something entirely new. 

I spoke with Brett about his influences, his upcoming projects, and how he approaches the craft of writing. 

What inspired you to become a writer?

My oldest memory of “being a writer” takes place in St. Mary’s, a weird once-upon-a-time segregated half-residential elementary school near Hatzic Island, BC. A teacher granted a few girls and me a spare because we’d finished our work earlier. We were being handpicked as “accelerated” I think. Alone in a room we were allowed to do anything creative and we came up with a gory play about a giant chicken’s heart terrorizing girls who were camping. We made a monster/chicken’s heart costume out of red construction paper. My first rejection slip came in the form of the teacher’s disappointment with the direction our unfettered creativity had taken. She told us that we couldn’t perform it and that our spare classes were cancelled. I’m pretty sure the essence of that boy was still in me when I began writing my first novel a few decades later!

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Moira Young

Young%2c Moira Please Use This for Publicity 2Credit www.benjaminharte.comInterviewed by Jessica Bradford

Originally from New Westminster, BC and a graduate of UBC, Moira Young moved to the UK to attend The Drama Studio, becoming a tap-dancing chorus girl in London’s West End before returning to Canada and retraining as an opera singer. She spent several years performing in Europe until 2003 when she fell off a bus on her way to her debut as a sketch comedienne, broke both her wrists and suffered a concussion. She decided it was a “sign from the universe” and took a course in writing for children.

Eight years later her debut novel, the YA fantasy Blood Red Road, won the Costa Children’s Book Award, the British Columbia Book Prize for Children’s Literature and France’s Le Prix des Incorruptibles. It is now being developed for film by Ridley Scott. Her second book, Rebel Heart, was a finalist for the Sunburst Prize, BC Stellar Award and Monica Hughes Award for Science Fiction and Fantasy. The final book of the trilogy, Raging Star, was published in 2014. Moira’s writing has been described by the New York Times as having “an elemental power, unfolding across achingly barren landscapes, full of blistering hot winds and swirling clouds of orange dust.”

Moira kindly took time out of finishing her latest novel to answer a few questions.

You have said that the landscape of your trilogy is influenced by your childhood in BC, by descriptions of the dust bowl and the landscape of westerns.  Living in BC and reading your novels I often felt like I was in familiar country, the descriptions were so tangible. Do you find yourself being drawn to the British landscape in the same way?

That large, visual landscape is in my DNA, it seems. I put that down to our summer driving holidays during my first nine years, exploring British Columbia. Those landscapes have been altered, filtered through memory and movies, to become something mythic; I mean, in a deeply personal sense. And it’s nothing to do with being an outdoorsy person. Generally, I find most Canadian landscapes too large for comfort, too immense to even comprehend. Yet if I’m away from them for too long, I feel an urgent need to return.

Much of the UK is on a much more human scale. You feel that you’re walking where people have walked for thousands of years and worn the land to their lives. The right to roam makes it easy to get off the beaten track. I love to explore the British countryside and I read a lot of UK landscape writers, Robert Macfarlane, for one. I’m more drawn to the fringes – Cornwall and Scotland, where my family come from – so perhaps I’ll write something set there one day. But it can only ever be from the viewpoint of an outsider. It’s not my land. I’m connected to Canadian landscape in a visceral way.

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