Marilynne Robinson

m_robinson_krwinter300Interviewed by Josiah Neufeld

In 1980 Marilynne Robinson’s first novel, Housekeeping, astonished the American literary world with its beautifully wrought prose, eccentric characters, and elemental images. The novel has come to be regarded as a classic in American literature. Although she continued to write non-fiction after Housekeeping, Robinson didn’t publish another novel for more than twenty years. Her second novel, Gilead, written as a series of  meditative letters from a minister to his son, won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize. Robinson has since written two more novels centred around characters first introduced in Gilead. Home was published in 2008, and LILA will be in bookstores later this year.

Robinson teaches writing at the Iowa Writers Workshop and has mentored writers such as Paul Harding (also a Pulitzer winner) and Justin Torres. U.S. president Barack Obama counts Gilead among his favourite novels. In 2013 he honoured Robinson with the National Humanities Medal.

Robinson is also known for non-fiction. She writes with elegance and authority about subjects such as nuclear pollution, theology, the history of western thought, and the roots of American liberalism. She has published three books of essays and Mother Country: Britain, the Welfare State, and Nuclear Pollution, an excoriation of the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant in England.

I fell in love with Robinson’s contemplative prose several years ago while reading Gilead on a road trip across the American Midwest. Since then I’ve read everything of hers I can lay hands on. I was surprised and delighted when she agreed to answer the following questions by email.

How did you come to start writing?

I always liked books, and started writing poems when I was very young. Writing always seemed like something I would do, even when I was not doing it.

[Read more…]

Ruth Ozeki

ruth-ozeki

Photo Credit: Kris Krug

Interviewed by Kris Kosaka

Bestselling author Ruth Ozeki celebrates the Zen idea of the “positionless position,” the “not one not two” ambiguity of life with her being and her work. Her third novel, A Tale for the Time Being, was short-listed for the 2013 Man Booker Prize in Literature. Her earlier novels, My Year of Meats and All Over Creation were also critically acclaimed and have been translated into 11 languages and published in 14 countries.

Ozeki is half Japanese and half American in ethnicity, holds American and Canadian citizenship and divides her time between New York city and Desolation Sound along the Sunshine Coast in British Columbia. Ozeki started her artistic career as a filmmaker, and her documentaries and dramatic independent films have been shown on PBS, at the Sundance Film Festival, and in colleges and universities across the States.

In addition to being a filmmaker and novelist, Ozeki is also a Buddhist priest. Not one thing, not another, Ozeki is a true master. A fan of all her works, it was an honor to connect with Ms. Ozeki recently by phone from my base in Japan.

Describe an ideal morning in Desolation Sound.

Wake up early-ish, maybe six or seven, and it is raining outside.  It is clear that it is going to rain all day. Go down to my office, which is in a different building, and make a pot of tea.  Go to the zen-dō and sit.

Maybe read a little bit, and then go up to my office to spend the day writing.

*The is a spiritual hall or place where zazen, sitting meditation, is practiced. Ozeki has a small zen-dō on her property in Desolation Sound.

[Read more…]

M.A.C. Farrant

mac-farrantInterviewed by Michelle Kelm

M.A.C. Farrant is an award-winning Canadian author of fiction, nonfiction, and memoir. She is a regular book reviewer for the Globe & Mail and the Vancouver Sun and has taught writing at the University of Victoria, the Banff Centre for the Arts, and MacQuarrie University in Australia where she was Writer-in-Residence.

Farrant has been nominated for the Commonwealth Writers Prize, The Van City Book Prize, the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, the National Magazine Awards, and the Gemini Awards for the Bravo short film adaptation of her story, Rob’s Guns & Ammo. Her novel, The Strange Truth About Us was a Globe & Mail Best Book for 2012. Her latest stage play is My Turquoise Years.

I have admired Farrant’s intelligent and bizarre humour for years and was delighted when she agreed to speak to me by email.

It’s clear from My Turquoise Years that your upbringing was a bit unusual. Can you describe your childhood?

My childhood was highly unusual for the times – Post-war, fifties and early sixties – when the nuclear family represented something like 92% of all Canadian families.  So to have a willingly absent mother, a visiting father from Vancouver, and to be raised by my father’s sister, her husband, and the rest of the extended family, was an anomaly, to say the least.  Feelings of being different arose, of course, but, actually, I had a great childhood filled with inventiveness, creativity, and the freedom to be who I was.  The family was very tight-knit and they pretty much thought I was wonderful even though I was a pain in the ass a lot of the time.

[Read more…]

Alec Nevala-Lee

nevala-leeBy Zoë Gulliver

Alec Nevala-Lee is a novelist and freelance writer whose first book, The Icon Thief, is a thriller set in the New York art world. It’s the first in a trilogy published by Penguin. A second installment, City of Exiles, came out last year, with a third, Eternal Empire, to appear September 2013. In addition to writing short fiction, his essays and nonfiction have been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Salon, The Rumpus, and The Daily Beast. He lives in Oak Park, Illinois with his wife and baby daughter and somehow finds time to blog eloquently at http://nevalalee.wordpress.com/ and give smart replies to interview questions by email.

You say on your website that you wrote your first novel at the age of thirteen, but that “thankfully, only one copy survives.” How many copies were there? What is the general premise, and does it relate to or foreshadow some of your work now?

The only remaining copy consists of two hundred faded double-spaced pages from an ancient dot-matrix printer, and although there’s probably a version of it somewhere on floppy disk, it’s in a format that’s no longer readable—which is true of almost everything I wrote before high school. I haven’t looked at it in almost two decades, but it was heavily influenced by Dune and the work of Orson Scott Card, and involved intelligent fish and a religious matriarchy on a planet covered entirely by water. I still love science fiction, but these days, I tend to focus on contemporary settings, and leave the world-building to the experts. [Read more…]

Annabel Lyon

annabel_lyon By Nathan Smith

Annabel Lyon is a Canadian novelist and short story writer, born in Brampton, Ontario, but raised in Coquitlam, British Columbia. Her short story collection, Oxygen, was published in 2000. Since then, she has published a second short collection, two young adult novels, and two historical novels.

The Golden Mean, published by Random House in 2009, was the only novel that year to be nominated for the three major Canadian fiction prizes: the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, the Governor General’s award for English Language Fiction, and the Scotiabank Giller Prize–the first of which it won. Her most recent novel, a sequel to The Golden Mean, is The Sweet Girl.

Annabel currently teaches in the Creative Writing department at UBC.

What did you do before you were a writer?

My very first ambition as a child was to become a musician. I studied piano intensively and taught it for years, but to make another sports analogy, I was like someone who was 5’5″ and wanted to be in the NBA. It just wasn’t going to happen. I studied philosophy in my undergraduate program with English and French literature minors. I also did a year in the Law program. I initially didn’t think I would be able to sustain myself as a professional writer, so I thought I’d better have a backup. It seemed like the logical next step. After a year I was miserable and I dropped out.

Eventually it just came down to finding the confidence to say, “Okay, I’m going to throw myself into fiction writing wholeheartedly and work as hard at it as with any other profession.” The next day, I woke up at six in the morning and decided to start writing a novel. [Read more…]

Stacey May Fowles

SMFowlesBy Ginny Monaco

Stacey May Fowles has published two novels, Be Good and Fear of Fighting – which was later adapted for the stage. Her third novel, Infidelity, is due from ECW later in 2013.  She is a regular contributor to the National Post and her writing has appeared in Taddle Creek, Prism, and Maisonneuve.

In July of 2012, she was accepted into the Banff Writers Centre. She had taken time off from her job as the Director of Circulation and Marketing for The Walrus and intended to write a memoir “about coming of age in serial rapist and murderer Paul Bernardo’s hometown during his crimes as the Scarborough Rapist.”

Fowles was forced to confront her own assault in ways that left her “a walking open wound, telling stories I never intended to tell.” Her National Post essay  “What can’t be published”  is a thoughtful exploration of what it means to write about assault. Like most of her work, the essay is informed by two of Fowles’ major titles: writer and woman.

I recently spoke to her about what it means to be a female writer in Canada, how she deals with rejection, and her new obsession with sports writing.

Can you give me a quick rundown of your career path as a writer? How did you come to work at The Walrus?

I always wanted to write – knew that for most of my life. I was just never sure if that meant it would be my “job,” or something I just had to make time for. Early on I was writing fiction exclusively, and it was pretty clear there wasn’t going to be a living wage in that, certainly not for a long time.  In my early twenties I was working on a novel and got a part time job with a literary journal as their circulation manager. I think initially I had hoped that it would be a door to becoming an editor, but instead I fell in love with magazine circulation and how well it compliments a writing life.  I’ve been doing it for about a decade now, and have been with The Walrus for five years. It’s really helped me fund my writing projects while remaining connected to a writing community. I’ve paralleled my work there with writing more non-fiction – book reviews, essays, and more journalism-style work. [Read more…]

Nancy Lee

nancy-leeBy Kat Haxby

Hailed by the Globe and Mail as “a masterwork of revelation,” Nancy Lee’s collection of short stories, Dead Girls, (McClelland & Stewart, 2002) was named a Best Book of 2002 by the Globe, Toronto Star and Vancouver Sun, and NOW Magazine. Winner of the 2003 VanCity Book Prize and finalist for the Ethel Wilson Prize, the Danuta Gleed Literary Award, the Pearson Reader’s Choice Award and the Wordsworthy Award, Dead Girls has been published in the UK, Germany, Italy, France, Holland and Spain, and has been optioned for film.

Nancy Lee is the recipient of numerous fellowships, residencies and awards, including a Gabriel Award for Radio and a National Magazine Award. An Adjunct Professor in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia, she also teaches at the Simon Fraser University Writing & Publishing Program and the UBC Writing Centre. Nancy has served on numerous prize juries and panels, and was selected as the first Canadian Writer-in-Residence at the prestigious University of East Anglia Writing Program in the UK. She most recently served as Writer-in-Residence for the city of Vincennes, France from September to December 2011. Her novel, The Age, will be published by McClelland & Stewart in 2014.

I interviewed Nancy Lee in her office on UBC campus. She was hilarious, inspiring and entirely gracious. She also didn’t make fun of how ridiculous I looked fumbling with the iphone app I used to record the conversation, or how many bad jokes I made.

Is there a story to how you became a writer? Was it a flash of inspiration or more of a slow realization?

Well, there is actually a story, and it’s a very strange story. I was twenty-five and working as a publicist. I had my own cottage public relations company and I was working as a publicist for a bunch of live theatre things in Vancouver. I had a business partner and while my business partner and I were in LA taking a series of meetings with a potential client, we went to see a psychic in Santa Monica. It was one of those trashy LA shacks with a neon storefront, a TV on and some kids screaming in the back. We went just as a joke, just to get our palms read. My business partner got the usual, “You’re going to meet a man, have adventures,” your stereotypical palm reader stuff. So when the palm reader looked at my palm, She said, “Oh. You’re not doing the right thing with your life, and until you do the right thing you’re not going to be happy.” And that was about all she said. After when my business partner and I went out for coffee, I said it was a bunch of horseshit and she said it was actually an interesting question, “What would you be doing if you weren’t doing this?” [Read more…]

Michael V. Smith

michael-v-smithBy Reece Cochrane

Michael V. Smith, originally from Cornwall, Ontario, is a writer, filmmaker, and performance artist now living in Kelowna, British Columbia. Smith is an MFA in Creative Writing graduate from UBC, and he currently teaches creative writing at UBC’s Okanagan campus. Smith’s short story “What We Wanted” was nominated for the McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize. His first novel, Cumberland, was nominated for the Amazon.ca First Novel Award. His book of poetry, What You Can’t Have, was published by Signature Editions in 2006, and his most recent novel, Progress (Cormorant Books, 2011), is a compelling story about a woman’s struggle to conceive her own notion of progress amidst a changing landscape and revelations about her past.

What in your childhood do you believe contributed to your wanting to become a writer?

I had a terrible childhood. I needed a lot of escapism, so I read a lot of books. And books were civilizing. People in books were moral; the heroes ultimately made good decisions, and their lives were better for it. I found books very educational in terms of other possibilities for how to live. I’ve always learned well by example—maybe that came from books. They saved my life, and so I’ve always been really interested in the arts. [Read more…]

Dennis Cooper

dennis-cooperInterviewed by Leah Mol

With nine novels under his belt, Dennis Cooper has been called “the most dangerous writer in America,” (by the Village Voice) although he’s humbly stated that the tag is nothing more than a “journalistic convenience.” Along with his work as a novelist, he’s also published poetry collections, short story collections and nonfiction, has worked as an editor and publisher, and has collaborated on projects with artists of all kinds. His most recent collaboration is his seventh work with French director Gisele Vienne, a theatre piece called “The Pyre.” It will premiere in Paris in May.

Dennis is best known for his five-book George Miles Cycle (http://www.dennis-cooper.net/georgemiles.htm), which he planned for over a decade and then spent another ten years actually writing. The cycle was heavily influenced by and written as a result of his relationship with friend and lover George Miles. It’s been thirteen years since the last book of that cycle was published, but George Miles has certainly not been forgotten. Dennis is currently working on his tenth novel, a retelling of his real-life relationship with George, which he hopes will give people an opportunity to get to know “the real George.”

While working on both his theatre collaborations and a novel, Dennis still, somehow, finds the time to update his blog, which has become an artistic project in itself. You can read it here (http://denniscooper-theweaklings.blogspot.ca). He also found the time to answer some of my questions about his work and his life as a writer.

Was there ever anything you wanted to do other than be a writer?

Right before I decided to be a writer at 15, I wanted to be an archeologist. My parents arranged for me to go assist on an archeological dig in Peru for a summer, and the work was so tedious that I changed my mind. In my later teens, there was a period where I wanted to be a visual artist and filmmaker in addition to being a writer, but I didn’t have anywhere enough talent in those other two areas.
[Read more…]

Lee Henderson

Lee HendersonInterview by Anita Bedell

Lee Henderson is a Canadian writer and Associate Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. He has published two award-winning books with Penguin Canada — the short story collection The Broken Record Technique and the novel The Man Game, which won the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, the BC Book Prize and the Vancouver Book Prize in 2009. Lee’s fiction and art writing is regularly published in The Walrus and Border Crossings magazine; other short stories have appeared in numerous magazines and journals. He has curated exhibitions of contemporary art and experimental music.

Prior to moving to Victoria, Lee taught Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. I was fortunate to have Lee as my fiction teacher at UBC during my first year there. His feedback was always insightful and I especially liked the cartoons he drew on my stories—I’ve kept them all.

I welcomed the opportunity to reconnect with one of my favourite teachers for this interview.

When you were little, did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I loved making up stories, for sure, but for most of my childhood and adolescence I wanted to be a cartoonist. [Read more…]