Mohsin Hamid

hamidInterviewed by Rumnique Nannar

Mohsin Hamid would prefer that you to call him a “nomadic novelist.” Hamid is the author of Moth Smoke, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, and How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, but each of these novels were written in between continents. Hamid summoned his memories of 1990s Pakistan in Princeton, conjured up a post-9/11 New York in London, and shaded in an unknown metropolis while in Pakistan. His latest book Discontent & Its Civilizations is a collection of essays that touch on Islamophobia, travel, and global politics.

Hamid’s writing is consistently stylish and daring as he breaks down the boundaries between reader and story. Whether it is the dramatic monologue in The Reluctant Fundamentalist, a breakout book that hit the New York Times’ bestseller list, or the second-person narration in Filthy Rich, Hamid’s novels involve the reader in its narrative. We chatted over Skype about his journey as a writer, father, and even his favourite TV shows. (Spoiler alert for GoT fans!)

How did you start or decide to become a writer?

As a little kid, I was a big reader. I probably started with comic books and children’s stories, and then kept reading throughout my childhood and teens. I’m also quite a fantasist, so I would imagine countries and I loved atlases. I used to imagine little countries where no countries existed, and I was into Dungeons and Dragons as a kid (laughs). All of these things, in a way, were a real absorption into storytelling. When I went to university in the States, Princeton had a wonderful creative writing program with Joyce Carol Oates and Toni Morrison. I remember applying for one of the first creative writing workshops and getting in, and starting to write stories for them. Very quickly I realized that this was what I loved to do. So it was in university for the first time that I thought, I would like to be a professional writer. [Read more…]

Chris Abani

ChrisAbaniBytClausGretterInterviewed by Indu Iyer

Chris Abani is an acclaimed author whose most recent novel is The Secret History of Las Vegas. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, the PEN/Hemingway Award, the PEN Beyond the Margins Award, the Hurston Wright Award, and a Lannan Literary Fellowship, among many honours. Born in Nigeria, he is currently a Board of Trustees Professor of English at Northwestern University. He lives in Chicago. More at: http://www.chrisabani.com

My desire to connect with Abani comes from the potency and immensity with which his words have given me, and no doubt countless others, great inspiration to move forward in difficult times. We corresponded via email.

How did your journey as a writer begin, and what have been your most pivotal moments in this field?

I began writing very young. I published my first short story at ten and my first novel at 16. I can’t remember not being a writer. I would say that the most pivotal moment was publishing my first novel so young. It set me on the path that has become my life. [Read more…]

Elisabeth de Mariaffi

Elisabeth de Mariaffi_HowTOGetAlongWithWomen

Interviewed by Christopher Evans
Author photograph: Ayelet Tsabari

Elisabeth de Mariaffi’s debut story collection, How to Get Along with Women (http://invisiblepublishing.com/?p=30 ), was longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and shortlisted for the ReLit Award in 2013. Her work has won the Lawrence Jackson Writers’ Award , appearing in the New Quarterly, The Fiddlehead, This Magazine, Prairie Fire and more, and she was one of the masterminds behind the unique Toronto Poetry Vendors project (http://torontopoetryvendors.wordpress.com/). A graduate of Guelph University’s Creative Writing MFA program, de Mariaffi has recently moved from her hometown of Toronto to St. John’s, where she lives with her husband, the writer George Murray (http://georgemurray.wordpress.com/), their combined bevy of children, and one noisy dog. De Mariaffi’s first novel, The Devil You Know (http://www.harpercollins.ca/books/Devil-You-Know-Elisabeth-De-Mariaffi/?isbn=9781443434744), is a literary thriller set in 90s Toronto and will be available in January 2015.

I was fortunate enough to meet Elisabeth when she visited UBC earlier this year and read How to Get Along with Women shortly thereafter. It’s an incredible collection—sharp, intimate, and wry. I reached her through email at her home in St John’s.

Let’s start with something easy: what is your current day job? Besides financial stability, how have your day jobs affected your written work?

Right now I’m the marketing coordinator at Breakwater Books, an indie publishing house here in St. John’s. I’ve been at it since 2012, and for the first two years it was a full-time gig—now we’ve split it into a job-share, where I handle mainly publicity (rather than sales) and only work two and a half days a week. The thing about day jobs, at least for me, is that they are really mainly about financial stability and if I stop and think about it too much, the effect on my writing feels mostly like, “I get to write less,” and that’s a bit depressing and counter-productive.

Having said that, there are real pros to day jobs, beyond finances. I once spent a year working as flight crew. I was a purser on Porter Air, which means I’m the flight attendant who stands up front and tells you what to do and is basically in charge of the cabin. Ninety-five percent of the training for that job is emergency evacuation scenarios and drills, which is stellar if you have a loopy imagination. You travel all the time, you’re constantly out of your element, which I think is good for the interior life of the writer. And mid-flight, you’ve got a ton of time to stare out the window at the clouds—also good. But did I use all that time in strange hotel rooms to write? I did not. I was very tired from flying and I just wanted to go have a beer.

Working in book marketing, you get to have relationships with festival directors and booksellers and reading series coordinators, and then they know your name, which is handy. And I do think that working a full-time job, you learn to value your writing time and, moreover, your ambition. I’ve become very efficient at both my day job and my writing over the years, in order to live up to my own expectations. [Read more…]

Lee Maracle

Aboriginal authorsInterviewed by Francine Cunningham

Lee Maracle is the author of many critically acclaimed literary works including Sojourner’s and Sundogs, Ravensong, Bobbi Lee, Daughters Are Forever, Will’s Garden, Bent Box, and I Am Woman; and the co-editor of anthologies including the award winning My Home As I Remember. She is also co-editor of Telling It: Women and Language across Culture. She was born in North Vancouver and is a member of the Sto: Loh nation.

The mother of four and grandmother of seven, Maracle is currently an instructor at the University of Toronto. She is also the Traditional Teacher for First Nation’s House and instructor with the Centre for Indigenous Theatre and the S.A.G.E. (Support for Aboriginal Graduate Education) as well as the Banff Centre for the Arts writing instructor. In 2009, Maracle received an Honorary Doctor of Letters from St. Thomas University. She recently received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for her work promoting writing among Aboriginal Youth. Maracle has served as Distinguished Visiting Scholar at the University of Toronto, University of Waterloo, and the University of Western Washington.

What made you realize you wanted to be a writer?

It’s sort of hard to tell you know. I was a little girl and I remember lying to my granddad and him staring at me for a long time and then telling me it was a good story. After that he started telling me stories and then telling me to tell them back to him, different but the same. We played that game quite a lot. When I was older I came across Legends of Vancouver by E. Pauline Johnson, about Capilano and his wife Mary Agnes both telling stories to E. Pauline. I really liked how they told the double headed serpent story, like it was going on right then, and I remember talking to my granddad about that and he called it myth making. You know, we’re supposed to tell stories that way, we don’t tell stories for no reason. When somebody needs a story you tell it to them, but you tell it to them like it’s happening now so that they’ll get the lesson in it. Also, when it comes to myth making, there is a kept version— somebody is the keeper of the story—and everybody else tells the sort of fictitious version or the “un-kept” version. That’s applicable to today, and I decided those were the kind of stories I wanted to write. It took quite a long time to get to the place where I thought I could write those kinds of stories. [Read more…]

Gail Carson Levine

Interviewed by Monika Davies

gailcarsonlevine_photoGail Carson Levine has been a prolific children’s author since she published her debut novel, the widely beloved Ella Enchanted, a 1998 Newbery Honor Book. She has since published a remarkable collection of novels for young readers, including Dave at Night, an ALA Notable Book and Best Book for Young Adults, Ever, Fairest, The Wish, The Two Princesses of Bamarre, The Fairy’s Return, A Tale of Two Castles, and several others. She is also the author of two picture books, Betsy Who Cried Wolf and Betsy Red Hoodie, the nonfiction Writing Magic: Creating Stories That Fly, as well as her newest, Forgive Me, I Meant To Do It, False Apology Poems.

Gail has a keen sense for what will resonate with young readers, and her characteristic wit and humour are key aspects of all of her published works. She is also a great encourager and supporter of budding authors, and her blog is a robust compilation of advice for writers young and old.

Having grown up immersed in the imaginative and colorful worlds of Gail’s novels, I was delighted to have the chance to interview her via email from her home in Brewster, New York.

Who were the writers you admired most when you first began writing? Which authors most excite you now as a reader?

I began writing for children when I was thirty-nine, and I read most of the Newbery bookcase at my local library. I especially loved Joan Aiken and E. L. Konigsburg. At the moment, oddly enough, I’m a full-time student going for a Masters of Fine Arts in poetry, and poetry is what I’m reading. I admire Sharon Olds, Ted Kooser, James Wright, Robert Hayden, Lisel Mueller, and many more. [Read more…]

Kendare Blake

kendareblakeauthorphotoInterviewed by Sam Markham

Kendare Blake is the author of one New Adult and three Young Adult novels. She has an MA in writing from Middlesex University in London, and her award-winning teen horror novel, Anna Dressed in Blood, was recently optioned for film by Stephenie Meyer’s production company, Fickle Fish. The second novel in her current Goddess War series will be released later this year, and she’s also written short stories.

Kendare is a fan of classic Stephen King, saviour of multiple animals roadside, and the author of a fantastic blog that includes tags like “Tyrion Cattister” (her second feline) and “pre-lasagna procrastination.”

I contacted her after being blown away by her Anna series, and was thrilled when she agreed to speak to me by email about such writerly subjects as ulcers, the nebulous world of self-promotion, and moving back in with one’s parents.

What drove you to begin your career as a writer? What did you do before that?

Writing has always been the thing to do. The only thing I’ve ever been compelled to do. But, there’s also the nasty necessity of, er, paying for the necessities, so I went to college for something else and worked as a project manager for a bit. It was gross. After a while, I blew up the car and walked away, started a new life. A writing life, starving be damned, a.k.a. I went to London for grad school and then moved back in with my parents. [Read more…]

Billie Livingston

Billie-Livingston-webInterviewed by Kyla Jamieson

Billie Livingston is the author of seven books, including her recent novella The Trouble With Marlene, which has been adapted for the screen and will be released this year (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2814080/). Billie’s first book, the novel Going Down Swinging, was published by Random House in 2000. Her debut short story collection, Greedy Little Eyes, won both the CBC Bookie Award and the Danuta Gleed Literary Award; the Globe and Mail called it “dark, funny, graceful, witty.” One Good Hustle, Billie’s most recent novel, was long-listed for the Giller Prize, and her essay “Hitler Sea Skank” (http://eighteenbridges.com/story/sea-hitler-skank) earned her a nomination for a National Magazine Award. Her recent stories have appeared in both print and online editions of Hazlitt (http://www.randomhouse.ca/search/node/billie%20livingston).

Billie and I met for coffee and continued our conversation over e-mail. Up for discussion were Evil Application Forms, mental furniture, and the job of the writer.

You’ve said you once thought of writers as “those people,” referring to the Oxford and Harvard-educated, and I’m wondering when your perspective shifted: When did being a professional writer start to seem possible?

In hindsight, my feelings were a sort of familial hangover. My mother was of the opinion that only people from the other side of the tracks wrote books, people with PhDs. My perspective shifted when I started reading and submitting to literary journals. I couldn’t get published to save my soul in Canada. What I was writing didn’t seem to be in vogue in this country, so my first publications were in England, Ireland, Australia and the U.S. The journals were often independent—i.e. they didn’t come out of academic institutions—and they published fiction and poetry with an urban feel, which was more in line with what I was doing. Having said all that, Banff was the significant turning point in terms of seeing myself as someone who could be a professional writer. [Read more…]

Joseph Boyden

boyden-newInterview by Rachel Jansen

Joseph Boyden is a Canadian novelist whose books on First Nations people have been internationally acclaimed. His first novel, Three Day Road, won the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Award. Through Black Spruce, published in 2008, received the ScotiaBank Giller Prize. Most recently, Boyden published The Orenda; a thrilling epic that weaves together the lives of a Jesuit missionary, a captured Iroquois girl, and her captor, a great Huron Chief, in an unforgettable story of our past. On March 4th, The Orenda was announced the winner of CBC’s 2014 Canada Reads competition.

Boyden was born in Willowdale, Ontario. He completed his BFA in creative writing at York University, and then went on to earn his masters at the University of New Orleans. He currently splits his time between Louisiana and Northern Ontario, and teaches in the Optional Residency Creative Writing MFA Program at the University of British Columbia.

With his long list of credentials, and my deep admiration of his work, my hand shook as I dialed his number to conduct our interview over the phone. I soon found my anxiety dissipating; Boyden is humble, soft-spoken and quick-to-laugh.

What was your first publication?

I published a collection of poems in my undergrad. At the time there was something called Proem and they took a liking to a lot of the poetry that I was writing, the first time I tried to send out my work.
[Read more…]

Rob Byrnes

Rob ByrnesInterviewed by Jeffrey Ricker

Rob Byrnes has been making me laugh since I met him in 2009 at a writing conference in New Orleans. He also deserves credit for prodding me to submit an essay to an anthology that became my first published piece of creative writing. The author of six novels, he won a Lambda Literary Award for When the Stars Come Out (2006) and was a Lambda finalist in 2009 for his novel Straight Lies. His most recent novel, Strange Bedfellows, was published in 2012 by Bold Strokes Books. Originally from Rochester, New York, Byrnes is a graduate of Union College and lives in New Jersey with his partner.

Your first novel, The Night We Met, came out in 2002. What inspired you to become a writer, and what was the process that led to the novel’s publication?

I was encouraged to read a lot as a child, which no doubt was an influence, but I think the desire to write is innate – like the desire to create music, or even become an accountant. That said, I was in my early thirties before I tried to tie the desire to actual work. I failed at first, of course, but I kept writing, and sought out peer support through the CompuServe writing forums. (Remember – this was the early ’90s!)

The men and women I met online became mentors and taskmasters, and the forum served as a workshop for the novel that eventually became The Night We Met. And let me add that when you’re getting personal feedback from people like the writers Diana Gabaldon and John L. Myers – not to mention the artist who eventually became the noted novelist Rabih Alameddine – you’d be a fool not to take their advice.

That’s not to say that publication of The Night We Met was a slam-dunk after that. It took a few more years, a lot of rejection, and perhaps a bit of luck before the book was published in 2002. Still, my willingness to put my words out there and listen to some (occasionally raw) feedback was the most significant step I took on the path to becoming “A Writer.” [Read more…]

Douglas Glover

gloverInterviewed by Jane Campbell

Douglas Glover is an itinerant Canadian, author of six story collections, four novels, two books of essays, and The Enamoured Knight, a book about Don Quixote and novel form. His bestselling novel Elle won the 2003 Governor-General’s Award for Fiction and was a finalist for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. In 2007 he won the Rogers-Writers’ Trust of Canada Timothy Findley Award. His most recent story collection Savage Love (Goose Lane, 2013) was a Quill & Quire Book of the Year and also named to the Globe Books 100: Best Canadian Fiction list. Steven W. Beattie in the National Post called it “hands down, the best book I read in 2013.”

Glover teaches in the MFA in Writing Program at Vermont College of the Fine Arts, and he is the 2013-2014 Writer-in-Residence at the University of New Brunswick. He is the publisher and editor of the online literary magazine Numéro Cinq.

In your essay “Nihilism and Hairspray,” in your collection Notes Home from a Prodigal Son, you argue that being a writer is a calling or vocation rather than a career one consciously chooses. I agree with this, yet in my experience, there are many people who feel called to be writers, but instead choose to be become doctors or engineers or farmers in Southern Ontario. How did you decide to make writing your career?

That’s an interesting question. “Nihilism and Hairspray” is a polemic; I was setting up an antithesis: vocation against the institution-based professionalization of writing. The larger argument of the essay is an attack on words, categories, and forms deployed to control and define behaviour. Words like “writer,” “Canadian,” and “career,” often represent a set of values and expectations, a box, as it were. I think words like this have much the same effect on everyone. Like commercials on television, they make you, at the very least, anxious because suddenly you have entered the field of someone else’s desire.

[Read more…]