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.

[Read more…]

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.)

[Read more…]

Angie Abdou

Interviewed by Bri Dempsey

Angie Abdou is the award-winning Canadian author of Anything Boys Can Do (2006), The Bone Cage (2007), The Canterbury Trail (2011) and Between (2014). Her first novel, The Bone Cage (2007) was a finalist on the 2011 Canada Reads competition, defended by Georges Laraque, as well as named the MacEwan Book of the Year in 2012. The Bone Cage was ranked first on CBC’s list of Top Ten Sports Books in 2010 as well as featured by Kootenay Library Foundation for the first annual “One Book, One Kootenay” celebration in 2009. The Canterbury Trail won a 2012 IPPY (Independent Publishing Award) Gold Medal for Canada West. Between received the “Best of 2014” accolades from PRISM Magazine, 49th Shelf, and The Vancouver Sun

In addition to being a novelist, Angie also frequently participates in and moderates panel discussions at writers’ festivals across the country. She regularly contributes to Quill & Quire, a leading Canadian magazine for the book industry. She taught at College of the Rockies for fifteen years before joining the faculty at Athabasca University where she is currently an Associate Professor of Creative Writing. She has a new novel, What Remains, out with Arsenal Pulp Press in September 2017 and is hard at work on a memoir called Hockey Mom.

When she is in between books, Angie is constantly involved in furthering the discussion in Canadian Literature. My favorite quote about her comes from Hal Wake who said, “When it comes to moderating a panel, I could take a chance on somebody new or I could fly out Angie Abdou and know it will be money well spent.” I wanted to interview her about the career she has outside of writing books because I believe they inform each other. I also believe that in the modern definition of being a writer, wearing many hats is the best way to get the most out of your career. 

You have such a diverse portfolio of work: Everything from teaching to moderating panels to reviewing books to writing and promoting your own. How do you find new challenges and where do you get your inspiration from?

I don’t think of my interests as that diverse. Most everything I do, I do for a love of books, and also for a love of the kind of people who write those books. I like being deeply immersed in a world where stories and art matter and where people are motivated by something other than the obvious financial interests that drive so many people. The typical bores me. People living un-examined lives bore me. Writers don’t tend to be typical. 

Like many writers, I write because I can’t help it. That’s the only reason to write. But over the years, the more involved I have become in the Canadian writing community, the more I have felt I’ve truly found my people. And as I immersed myself in that culture, I found I didn’t need to seek out new challenges; those challenges mostly seem to come to me. Festival hosts and editors have been very generous in reaching out to me and involving me in their projects.

I get inspiration from anyone engaging with books in new and exciting ways – whether it’s Hal Wake or Shelley Youngblut with their energetic festivals or Martha Sharpe with her curated collection of flying books or Trevor Corkum with his insightful author blog or The New Quarterly and all the other magazines putting out high quality work of new and established writers. All of that inspires me.

[Read more…]

Ellen Hopkins

Interviewed by Meagan Black

Ellen Hopkins is a life-long writer who exploded onto the New York Times’ bestseller list in 2004 with Crank, a novel written in free verse that was loosely based on her daughter’s real struggles with “the monster”—crystal meth. Verse novels and “difficult” subjects have become her trademark over the past fifteen years; since Crank, she has published twelve more YA novels in verse, tackling topics from suicide to sex trafficking to eating disorders, and three adult novels, two of which are also in verse.

Ellen lives on 1.25 acres of Nevada hills overlooking Washoe Lake, on her website, and—for about a hundred days each year—on the road. She is also currently raising three grandchildren under twelve, but was kind enough to make time for this interview over email.

Though your big splash was Crank, you actually published over 20 nonfiction books for children before your first novel in verse (and YA bestseller) came out, and before that you were a freelance journalist. How did you make the move from writing articles to writing books? And what was it like when your very first book came out?

Some of the articles I wrote as a freelancer required heavy research, and through that, the subject matter drew me to write about it deeper. I’ve always loved flight, so writing about air racing made me think about the history of flight through man’s love of competition. Who was first into the sky? Who was the first woman into the sky? How did they fly? (Kites and balloons, in case you’re interested.)

First book to now, every time I see a cover with my name on it, there’s an immense sense of satisfaction.

[Read more…]

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.

[Read more…]

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. 

[Read more…]

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.

[Read more…]

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!

[Read more…]

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.

[Read more…]

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.

[Read more…]