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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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.

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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.

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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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