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.

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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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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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Andrew Battershill

Interviewed by Michaela Bray

Andrew Battershill is a Canadian writer whose debut novel, Pillow, a story of an aging boxer caught up in a small-time crime syndicate, was long-listed for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Sunburst Award, and a finalist for the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize. He graduated with an MA from the University of Toronto’s creative writing program, and was the fiction editor and co-founder of the online literary magazine Dragnet Magazine. He currently lives and teaches in Columbus, Ohio.

After reading Pillow, I reached out to Andrew, who agreed to correspond over email.

What sort of research did you do for this book? There are various themes and references from history — did these themes interest you before, or did you discover them along the way?

I wouldn’t call the research I did for this book historical, but more, as you say, thematic. The cast of characters is drawn mostly based on Surrealist artists and poets of the 1920s and 1930s, but I didn’t want to depict them in a historically accurate way so much as a spiritually accurate way. The Surrealists loved the idea of playing with temporality and sense, so just throwing a bunch of them into a modern crime thriller seemed like it would be fun and in keeping with the ontological principles that guided Surrealism as an intellectual movement.

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Douglas Coupland

Interviewed by Jackson Weaver

Douglas Coupland is the author of over thirty books of fiction, non-fiction, film and teleplays, as well as a world-renowned visual artist with instillations displayed throughout Canada and abroad, including a major survey of his work at the Vancouver Art Gallery everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything. His breakout novel, Generation X, popularized the term that has since come to describe every person born between the early 60s and late 70s and, since then, has had a career spanning over 30 years of continuous publication and critically acclaimed work. He has been described variously as “iconoclast,” “exegete,” and “genius.” We talked about his past, an artist’s struggle, and never taking vacations.

You’ve written for almost thirty years in fiction and non-fiction, create and showcase visual art around the globe, and have a fan base that spans generations; that’s not a bad CV at all. That said, was there ever a time you were afraid an artistic life wouldn’t work out, or didn’t seem to be working out in the moment?

Not to be disingenuous but every single day. I have been, if nothing else, self-employed for 29 years, and the thought of not being free always keeps me on red alert. Having said that, there are moments like the past year-ish where I can’t imagine writing fiction. It will return — it always does — but what I write will be different from anything else I’ve ever written. Every book is different from every other book; I have no genre.

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V.V. Ganeshananthan

 

The South Asian Women’s Creative Collective (SAWCC) presents its Fifth Annual Asian Literary Festival. Titled “Electric Ladyland,” the two-day event featured a series of readings, panels, and workshops at the Asian American Writers’ Workshop and the New School for Social Research. Photo by Preston Merchant.

Interviewed by Seema Amin

“We must go on struggling to be human

though monsters of abstraction

police and threaten us.     

~   Robert Hayden

V.V. Ganeshananthan is a novelist, short story and non-fiction writer, as well as a journalist and poet. Her debut novel, Love Marriage (Random House, 2008), received widespread acclaim; it was named one of Washington Post World’s Best of 2008 and a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection, and was also longlisted for the Orange Prize. Spanning the fraught margins of war, diaspora, ethnicity, identity, nation and geopolitics, her work has been distinguished as passionate, and continues to be unrelenting, lucid, and fierce. Tracing the political and personal genealogy of a Sri Lankan Tamil American girl called Yalini, whose immigrant family’s move from the US to Toronto acts as a catalyst for the unravelling of secrets, both familial and national, personal and transpersonal as Yalini grapples with an ex-militant uncle, a link to the 25 year war still raging (at the time) in Sri Lanka, Love Marriage is the seemingly innocuous title of a courageous debut novel that had its origins as a series of vignettes composed while Ganeshananthan was still a student finishing her Bachelor thesis at Harvard in 2002.  In the years between, Ganeshananthan had established herself as a journalist and non-fiction writer.

Since then, she has continued writing across genres, though themes and areas of interest, whether intellectual, personal, aesthetic or regional, certainly overlap and reinforce each other.  Formerly Vice President of SAJA (South Asian Journalists’ Association), her articles, reviews and essays have regularly appeared in The New York TimesThe Atlantic MonthlyThe Washington PostColumbia Journalism ReviewThe San Francisco ChronicleHimal Southasian, and The American Prospect, among others. Her short stories have appeared in Granta, Ploughshares and Best American Nonrequired Reading 2014.  She has served on the board of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop and is presently part of the graduate board of The Harvard Crimsonas well as a contributing editor for Copper Nickel. A graduate of Harvard College, the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a Bollinger Fellow at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, she was Delbanco Visiting Professor of Creative Writing at Helen Zell Writers Program at University of Michigan from 2009 to 2014 and has been teaching at University of Minnesota since 2015, with a stint as visiting assistant professor at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in fall of 2016 as well. Earlier, she was awarded fellowships by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard, Philips Exeter Academy, Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony. She is a founding member of Lanka Solidarity and serves on the board of the American Institute for Sri Lankan Studies.

How has your sense of place and childhood (where you grew up) and school experiences influenced your decision to pursue journalism, write novels? I know you later worked with Jamaica Kincaid in Harvard, who supervised your thesis, what was that like?


I grew up outside Washington, D.C., in Bethesda, Maryland, and my friends and I talked about politics all the time. We read the newspaper voraciously and liked to dissect things going in the White House and on Capitol Hill. It makes some sense to me now that this might have contributed to my political interests in storytelling. I always thought and was taught that life and politics were intertwined. And I saw people tell stories to gain political power, or to take it from others. 

Jamaica Kincaid was a generous editor and teacher; she used to have me read my work aloud to myself, and then she would help me edit as I was reading. Being her student was a transformative experience.

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Linda Bailey

Interviewed by Elizabeth Leung

Linda Bailey is a reader, traveller, daydreamer, and the award-winning author of more than two dozen books for children.  Born in Winnipeg, she has travelled around the world by ship, working in England and Australia.  She earned a B.A. and M.Ed. at the University of British Columbia and later worked as a travel agent, college teacher, instructional designer and editor.  Linda didn’t begin to write in earnest until she had two daughters, Lia and Tess, and published her first book in 1992.  She has since written more than twenty others, including novels, picture books, graphic novels, and non-fiction.  Her books have travelled as widely as she has and have been published in places such as Greece, Latvia, Korea, China, Australia, Denmark, U.K., France, and Poland. 

Linda now lives in Vancouver within strolling distance of the sea.  She is a full-time writer and still loves to read, travel, and daydream.  I had the pleasure of speaking to Linda over email. 

On your website you describe how life as a writer snuck up on you.  Can you tell us what steps you took once you finally decided to publish your first book, How Come the Best Clues Are Always in the Garage?

Actually, it wasn’t my first book. At the time I finished that first novel, I had already been writing and submitting for five or six years — all picture books. I had gotten encouraging nibbles from publishers, but no bites. I had also learned a few things, including the fact that it’s extremely hard to break in with a picture book manuscript. Why? Because the slush pile is ceiling-high! Publishers receive a deluge of picture book manuscripts from people (including movie stars) who have never, and will never, do any serious writing but who read a picture book one day and think, “Is that all? Jeez! Short, easy. Even I could do that!” Two days later, they fire off a manuscript. When I figured that out, I decided to try a different genre. 

At that time, there was a popular adult genre that was a lot of fun — female/feminist, slightly hardboiled detective novels, usually with a strong hit of humour. I wondered if I could do that kind of novel for kids. I wrote a couple of pages about a smart-mouthed girl named Steve Diamond — and was hooked. Several hundred pages and multiple drafts later, I submitted How Come the Best Clues Are Always in the Garbage? to Kids Can Press. It got an offer within two months. They liked the book, yes. But it was also, I imagine, the only female funny 12-year-old Canadian detective story they had received that day/week/month or maybe year. So it got my toe in the publishing door. (P.S. It also got my picture books in the door. To date, I have 15 published picture books.)

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