Francesca Lia Block

c307e2cf505fbd4b585b1f26101f17fb_400x400Interviewed by Genevieve Michaels

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

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

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

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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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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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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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Monica Heisey

Monica HeiseyInterviewed by Christine Bortolin

Monica Heisey brings the funny, but she also brings the heartbreak. She is able to openly and honestly reveal herself, using her personal experiences to explore larger themes.

Her website lists her as a comedian and writer living in Toronto, but those titles don’t do justice to the many ways she works her craft. She has a history of performing live improv and stand up, which is probably why she can weave tragedy and comedy so deftly. She could break a pen and, as the ink spilled out, it would form an essay on her first break up, foiled by the history of the burrito. Her essays, articles, and short fiction have appeared in VICE, Broadly, The Hairpin, Rookie, The Guardian, Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, FASHION, Playboy, Noisey, and the list goes on. She was an editor at She Does the City and is now editor-at-large at VICE’s female-centric channel Broadly. Her fantastic new book I Can’t Believe It’s Not Better: A Woman’s Guide to Coping With Life is as hilarious and heartfelt as Heisey herself.

She kindly took the time to answer a few questions for me.

What was your first piece of professional writing? What do you consider “professional writing”? Were you scared about it?

My first piece of professional writing was for my grandfather’s Penetanguishine quarterly newspaper in Georgian Bay. I was 11 and we went out in this helicopter to take pictures for their spring issue. I wrote up a little first-person account of the experience. A few weeks after my story was published, I got a cheque in the mail for $65. My grandpa had processed an invoice for me and paid me like the regular writing staff. 

These days I consider “professional writing” to be writing that helps you earn your income, although I’m not convinced financial gain is a good metric by which to judge creative pursuits. “Professional” writing and “good” writing can be very different things.

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Karim Alrawi

DSC_9245_3Interviewed by Jasmine Ruff

Karim Alrawi has written stage plays, radio plays, children’s books and most recently a novel. He was born in Alexandria, Egypt and writes in both Arabic and English.

He earned an MFA in creative writing at UBC and was an International Writing Fellow at the University of Iowa. His plays have been produced internationally. His work in stage has won the John Whiting Award (UK), the Samuel Beckett Award (UK), and the Jessie Richardson Award (Canada) among others.

His debut novel Book of Sands received the inaugural HaperCollins Publishers/UBC Prize for Best New Fiction Award. The novel is set during the Arab Spring and follows the lives of a small family as they struggle against an oppressive political system. Tarek, a father and husband, has to flee with his young daughter to avoid unjust persecution and leaves his pregnant wife behind. As the novel progresses it explores tradition, religion, love and freedom.

What initially drew you to writing?

I was working for an engineering company in London (England) and was writing up my thesis for a third degree. One morning as I was having breakfast at a small cafe waiting for the office to open, I realized that this was going to be a typical day of the rest of my life and couldn’t bear the thought. So I quit. I started writing a stage play. I supported myself by working as a barman in a Soho bar, as well as doing various other jobs. But then paused to write a radio play for a BBC competition. The play won and was produced. I then returned to writing my stage play and eventually got it produced. It won an award and I was offered a job at a theatre company as literary manager. And life rolled on from there.

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Anosh Irani

Interviewed by Abeer Yusuf

Anosh Irani was born and brought up in Bombay, India and moved to Vancouver in 1998.  He is the author of the acclaimed novels The Cripple and His Talismans and The Song of Kahunsha, which was a finalist for CBC Radio’s Canada Reads and the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, was published in thirteen countries, and was a bestseller in Canada, China, and Italy. His play Bombay Black was a Dora Award winner for Outstanding New Play. Irani was nominated for the Governor General’s Award for Drama for his anthology The Bombay Plays: The Matka King & Bombay Black.  His latest novel Dahanu Road was longlisted for the 2010 Man Asian Literary Prize.  He is currently working on a film for director Irena Salina (Flow) and producer Leslie Holleran (Chocolat, The Cider House Rules).

I sat down with Irani in a bagel café to talk about books and Bombay. Over the course of an hour, we talked about what one needs to be a writer, what Bombay means to Irani, immigrant woes, and how important alcohol is in making someone a writer.

How does a story come to you?

Most stories start in the form of an image.  With my first novel, The Cripple and His Talismans, it was an image of amputated limbs hanging from the ceiling in a very dark, dungeon-esque sort of place. You realize that the image doesn’t leave, and you’re compelled to explore it. When that happens, it’s both a curse and a blessing because the more you try to shake it off the deeper you end up going into it. Every story has a different starting point—some have images, some have stories that have been told to me by my family, so when I began my novel Dahanu Road, it was based on my great-grandfather digging holes in the ground on his farm to hide whiskey bottles: it was Prohibition in India at that time. So the beginnings are different, but in the end we always end up exploring character, that becomes your centre, especially in fiction.

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Anthony McCarten

TTOE_D05_ 02461Interviewed by David Geary

Anthony McCarten was nominated for two Academy Awards in 2015: one for best picture producer and one as writer of the adapted screenplay for The Theory of Everything. The film is based on Jane Hawkings’ book, Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen, about her first marriage to world-renowned physicist Professor Stephen Hawking. McCarten describes the story as about the love of physics and physics of love. The film was up for five Oscars in total (star Eddie Redmayne won for Best Actor), and this interview took place before the results were known.

McCarten is an all-rounder; an accomplished playwright, producer, screenwriter and novelist. His novels have been translated into 14 languages and have been finalists and award winners in both his homeland of New Zealand and internationally.

When asked for an interview about his career – from the wilds of New Zealand to the red carpet – he sent this link.

Your writing career started as a journalist?

No, at 17, I wanted to be a rock star. I had a Springsteen/Dylan/Neil Young/Tom Waits phase  (which is still on-going), and I cut a record. I wrote all the songs for the  album, did vocals and lead guitar. Oh, the folly of youth. I was wise enough to know that I sucked.  For a couple of years after that I was a journalist, the only one serving a small rural part of New Zealand. This served as my apprenticeship in writing on time for money to serve an audience. I got a free house, a car, and a cat. I was miserable. At some point I thought – Is that all there is? 

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Álvaro Miranda

alvaro-miranda1[1]Interviewed by Camilo Castillo R

Álvaro Miranda is a poet, fiction writer, and biographer. I met Álvaro last October, when we were at a writing retreat in Saladoblanco, a small town in the state of Huila, Colombia. On the long journey from Bogotá we discussed poetry, literature, life. Later, in the workshops, I had the opportunity to listen to his poetry and was captivated by his sense of humour and his sensibility. After the trip, I read his book Simulación de un reino (2014) which includes old and new poems, and his novel La risa del cuervo (1992), where Caribbean rhythm, history, and poetry combine in a very stylized manner. I also read his recent biography of Toto La Momposina, Columbia’s most famous folk singer. In this book Álvaro illustrates that he sails easily between genres and forms. Some of his other books include Indiada (1971), Los escritos de don Sancho Jimeno (1982), La risa del cuervo (1992), Simulación de un reino (second edition, 2014). He also wrote Colombia la senda dorada del trigo: episodios de molineros, pan y panaderos (2000) an exploration of how bread was developed in Colombia, and the biography León de Greiff en el país de Bolombolo (2004). For this interview, we spoke about his poetry and his interest in history. The interview took place in Spanish and I translated it into English.

Álvaro, which author most influenced you to become a writer?

Santa Teresa de Jesús (Teresa of Ávila). I discovered her in an old book at school. I read that she was a fat lady who rode in a carriage in order to found abbeys, where she coerced women, those red-cheeked young Spanish ladies who laughed and pried at clean houses of high stone, to become novices. When I read her poems, I was transported to the century of Santa Teresa, the 16th century, but especially I was transported by the simplicity of her rhymes that put me in dialogue with another time and another light, a light that was more than Ávila, more than Spain: I discovered myself. I found something, a kind of meadowland artificially blooming over Teresa’s words. But her words were not hers anymore, they were mine.

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