Five Fabulous, Very Different, Tremendously Exciting Spring Reads

March 11, 2015 by Lisa de Nikolits

It was a bleak day in the ides of winter and I needed a treat. What better self-gift than a book? All Lit Up was going to light up my day! Curious to see what goodies the Spring lineup had to offer, I took a look and found a plethora of fantastic reads. So many books, so little time… How to choose? All Lit Up has such a wonderful range. I selected five fabulous, very different, tremendously exciting spring reads, each for different reasons, and got in touch with the authors to chat about their upcoming books.

See more details below

It was a bleak day in the ides of winter and I needed a treat. What better self-gift than a book? All Lit Up was going to light up my day! Curious to see what goodies the Spring lineup had to offer, I took a look and found a plethora of fantastic reads. So many books, so little time… How to choose? All Lit Up has such a wonderful range. I selected five fabulous, very different, tremendously exciting spring reads, each for different reasons, and got in touch with the authors to chat about their upcoming books.

The five books are:

(Click the titles in the above list to go directly to their interview below)

There are two non-fiction books, one about comics and the philosophies behind them, the other about ancient plants that survive against the odds. There are two works of poetry and one work of fiction. I interviewed the authors of all five and we traversed many literary landscapes, from myriad philosophies to the poetic art of being bold, to ecological awareness and rage against Stephen Harper, and, to end, a quote by Leonard Woolf, Virginia’s husband.

* * *

Great Power and Great Responsibility: The Philosophical Politics of Comics by Douglas Mann (Wolsak & Wynn)

GreatPower

My first interview is with Douglas Mann, and Noelle Allen, publisher of Wolsak & Wynn, offered this comment about the work: “It took us a long time to bring out this title. Great Power and Great Responsibility: The Philosophical Politics of Comics is a wide-ranging book about a topic that we find fascinating at the press, comics and culture. In this case the comics are reflecting political culture back at us and delving into them gives a unique insight into how these philosophies are woven through our world. From existentialism to political satire, Doug found it all in comics and pulled it out for the readers. He poured years of work into bringing this all together and we’re more than happy to have the final book in our hands.”

Interview with Douglas Mann

LDN: What is the name of your latest work (and publisher) and when will it be published?
DM: Great Power and Great Responsibility: The Philosophical Politics of Comics. Published last week.

LDN: Where did you get the idea for your protagonist and is he or she your favourite character in the book? If not, who is your favourite character in the book?
DM: There are no protagonists in it since it's non-fiction. Though I would say that the central metaphorical figure in the introduction is Spider-Man.

LDN: What would you say if I argued that you don’t have a single protagonist in your book, you have many; from great philosophers to writers and pop cult figures – Sartre, Kant, Hume, Nietzsche, Locke, Ayn Rand and Fox Mulder of the X-files (just to mention a few)… and as, such your book offers a fascinating review of the opines of morality through the ages?
DM: Well, thanks. Yes, these great minds of history - excluding Ayn Rand, who I definitely disagree with - are in a sense the heroes of the stories I relate. Sartre and Nietzsche are the key ones here, since I'm very sympathetic to existentialism, a way of thinking that was very popular in the middle of the twentieth century, but has been sadly neglected of late. I think the reason why the existentialists have been neglected today is that our culture represents a radical break from the basic principles of this philosophy: you are condemned to be free, but all the same responsible for your actions even though we live in a godless cosmos. Many social forces militate against this philosophy: consumerism, which tells us to consume and be happy; Debord's society of the spectacle, which is about escape, not commitment; the rise of religious fundamentalism and the violence associated with it ("let's blame our murders on God!"); and last but not least, the rise of digital culture, which promotes anonymity, irresponsibility, and the notion that everything is socially constructed. If you don't believe me, read any comments section on any major website, e.g. YouTube. 

Further, the existential ethic, with a bit of Hume mixed in, was the foundation of the modern comic. Specifically, the existentialist themes in the early Spider-Man comic are crystal clear: a parentless kid searching for meaning, his identity crisis, his attempt to be responsible for the way he uses his power, etc. It's also all over Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, the seminal graphic novels of the 1980s. On the cutting-room floor I have a 50-page essay originally slated for this book on existentialist themes in the first season of the TV series Heroes: Peter as existential leaper, Isaac as the artist who creates his self, Sylar as living in bad faith, Hiro as existential knight, etc. 

Even Locke comes in during Civil War with a basic existentialist question two hundred years before the movement existed: do we have the moral obligation to obey a bad or corrupt state?

So yes, some of these thinkers are in a sense the heroes of my book.

LDN: How would you characterize your relationship with this book (as opposed to previous books that you have published?)
DM: I'd say that it's a bit more personal and engaged since I've read comics off and on in different periods of my life, and it's more of a popular work than my two academic textbooks.

LDN: I have to ask the desert island question here! If you could only take three comics to a desert island with you, which three would they be and why?
DM: Well, that's really two separate questions. If it's about reading pleasure, then I'd pick things I haven't read yet, so probably whatever Warren Ellis or Grant Morrison are coming out with next. But if you include things I have read, then here's my list:

1. Ellis and Cassaday, Planetary, the trade paperbacks 
2. Moore and Gibbons, Watchmen 
3. A tie: Ennis and Robertson's The Boys or Ellis and Robertson's Transmetropolitan, or Morrison and Quitely's run on The New X-Men (2001-2). 

What unites these is an attempt to stand back from the superhero comic and deconstruct its main assumptions (Watchmen, The Boys), and/or take adult sexuality more seriously (The Boys, X-Men), or include paranoid scifi themes within the more traditional superhero narrative (Planetary), and to link back superheroes to pulp fiction (Planetary). These comics all are to some degree "meta".

LDN: How has social media changed the way you connect with readers?
DM: Not at all! I think social media and cell phones have seriously corrupted young people's interest in reading books and serious articles, which I see every day I visit campus.

LDN: Is this corruption reflected in their academic work?
DM: Absolutely. Though some students, usually those with sterner parents, have avoided this and can still write and speak intelligently, many cannot write even a single paragraph free from spelling, grammar, and vocabulary errors. I often find "blank spaces" of understanding in their work, where they say things that make no sense because they haven’t read the course readings or listened to the lecture. In addition, digital culture has crippled many young people's attention spans, creating a digital attention deficit syndrome (DADS), and also made many of them "shallow" in terms of knowledge of history, politics, and long-term social movements - unless they've been forced to study these in a class. The basic problem is that reading texts for pleasure (or even grades) is not cool for most young people, and far less entertaining than texting or going on Facebook or Instagram. An issue that has come up twice already this week talking to both students and other professors is the old expectation that students will come to class having read course materials: this is as dead as the dodo. Even in my comics class, my discussion on the comics I've assigned usually involves just me and one or two other people - the rest of the class is hearing about them for the first time.

LDN: What is your favourite part of the publishing process?
DM: When I open the box the publisher just sent me and saw the printed copies of my book!

LDN: How did you first come to the genre you write in, as opposed to something else?
DM: Well, just an interest in comics tied to teaching a couple of distinct courses at Western on comics, one of them multiple times.

LDN: What is the best piece of advice you've heard or been given?
DM: I honestly can't think of any advice I've been given with regard to publishing.

LDN: Okay, but given all the philosophical stances in your book, what advice would you give if a student was in trouble and came to you – let’s say a boy had sex with his brother’s wife and he wanted to confess, even if it meant ruining the marriage?
DM: Well, because of the "generation gap" accelerated by social media, this would never happen. But I would give Sartre-style advice to such a boy - "Can you live with what you've done? Can you take responsibility for it? If so, there's no need for guilt. If not, then fix the problem." I'm more of a liberal on sexual matters than on violence and war: I think that American culture makes too many excuses for acts of violence, yet is puritanical about sex.

LDN: What are you working on now?
DM: I'm working on two board game designs, one a strategic space opera, the second on medieval life.

LDN: What are you reading now?
DM: My reading this term is very scattered since I'm teaching three courses. I'm reading a bunch of sci-fi and horror comics from the early 50s and the 1980s on my tablet, plus student papers.

LDN: What is your current favourite quote, even if it only applies to today or even right now?
DM: My top three:
“All history is the history of class struggle.” Marx and Engels
“Reason is the slave of the passions.” Hume
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Dickens

LDN: What is a typical writing day like for you?
DM: Again, I write in dribs and drabs when my teaching load goes up. I usually write in bursts here and there.

LDN: Here’s a quote from the book: “Critics like Sterling North charged that the explicit sex and violence in comics corrupted America’s youth, leading to an epidemic of juvenile delinquency.” … This moral crusade was led intellectually by the German-American psychiatrist Dr. Fredric Wertham, whose classic 1954 work The Seduction of the Innocent argued that comic books promoted violent crime and sexual perversion.” Would you say video games are being (erroneously) blamed for the same thing today?
DM: Yes, indeed... in fact, that's how I relate Wertham to the students in my class on comics - I draw a parallel between the great comic debate of the late 40s and early 50s and debates over video game. I think that Anita Sarkeesian does this on Feminist Frequency, a YouTube project. So that the same urge to censor has left texts and moved to audio-visual media, including the Net.

LDN: How would you respond to the statement “Art is War?”
DM: No quick reaction, except to make a distinction between good art and mass, generic art like American sitcoms. Good art could be seen as having a conflictual element, but mass art is little better than propaganda for consumer capitalism and celebrity culture.

LDN: Do people ever express surprise at the sociological and philosophical meaning that you attribute to comics? Isn’t a cigar just sometimes a cigar?
DM: Well, not really, but that's because I'm teaching undergrads who expect me to do this. But if I hung out with 15-year-old boys, they might well do so.

LDN: Quote from the book: “In the end, Sheena (Queen of the Jungle) looks more like a proto-icon of thirdwave feminism than an objectified pin-up designed solely to appeal to male teenage lust.” You support this statement with writings by Naomi Wolf’s Fire with Fire: The New Female Power and How to Use It, and Camille Paglia’s pagan view of sex and beauty. Your argument makes me think of Miley Cyrus: “I’m a feminist in the way that I’m really empowering to women,” Cyrus told Cosmopolitan U.K. for the magazine's December 2013 cover story. “I’m loud and funny and not typically beautiful.” Would you agree that Miley Cyrus is another proto-icon of thirdwave feminism? Wouldn't Amal Clooney, Angelina Jolie, and Kathryn Bigelow be more worthy of the title?
DM: I think the third wave is distinguished by a few things - a more positive attitude toward sex and beauty, a recognition that all art (including pop culture) isn't just one long bleak story of enforcing patriarchy, and most importantly, the idea of choice. Having said this, I can't take Miley Cyrus seriously because her choices seem to center on promoting herself and her music and not much else. So it’s capitalism + narcissism. But yes, I think Angelina is a better icon of the third wave. I only know Bigelow through her movies, which she directs skillfully... so her status as icon is to do with her profession (a female American director), not especially her views. Sheena fits because she was the first heroine to get her own comics title, she clearly doesn't need Bob to save her, and many of her adventures feature her fighting injustice: slavers, plunderers, exploiters of natural resources. When I researched that chapter, I was shocked at how much critics like Wertham, William Savage, and Bradford Wright got her wrong! (excuse the pun). I really saw myself as an archaeologist on that one, unearthing something everyone else has missed.

About Douglas Mann

Douglas Mann is an adjunct professor the University of Western Ontario in media studies and sociology. He is the author of three previous books, including Understanding Society: A Survey of Modern Social Theory, and over a hundred academic and newspaper articles.

* * *

This World We Invented by Carolyn Marie Souaid (Brick Books)

ThisWorld

My second interview is with Carolyn Marie Souaid and I was drawn to This World We Invented by the blurb: “The world in Carolyn Marie Souaid’s latest collection is both an act of the imagination and a responsibility. Souaid’s poems zoom in and out, shifting focus to accommodate varied dimensions of experience. We move from the breakdown of a relationship to primordial ooze to a suicide bomb to a son doing his math homework. In a disarmingly personable voice, Souaid investigates our darker moments, faces up to losses and failures both intimate and public, often with wry humour. If our world is an imperfect invention, it is also, for Souaid, a source of wonder— where ‘the trick was not to fall asleep but to notice everything / in its brevity.’”

I asked Sue Sinclair, Brick Books editor, if she would like to comment on the work and she said: “Because we live in the same city, Carolyn and I had the privilege of working on the edits for This World We Invented face to face, at a bakery called Mamie Clafoutis. It was winter, and I looked forward to these cozy sessions. What stands out for me when I think about Carolyn's process is her commitment to finding the mot juste. She pays intense attention to her diction. I grin when I remember a discussion about exactly what adjective would best describe the way Catherine Deneuve might walk after winning big at the casino: was “chipper” not elegant enough?  “Sophisticated” too many syllables? How about "suave," which sounds good with “Deneuve?” Carolyn finally settled on “cool,” which works beautifully, makes the lines absolutely smooth. It’s her sensitivity, humour, and precision in this kind of discussion that I also appreciate as a reader of her poetry.”

Interview with Carolyn Marie Souaid

LDN: What is the name of your latest work (and publisher) and when will it be published?
CMS: This World We Invented by Carolyn Marie Souaid, Brick Books, May 2015.

LDN: Are there people you are channeling in your poems, or did any real life person inspire you for a particular poem, or did you write a poem with anyone in mind - or did you write any of the poems 'to' anyone?
CMS: Several of the poems in this collection are addressed, directly or indirectly, to my son. One poem turns the tables on the bullies who intimidated him in elementary school; another tries to come to terms with my own fears about letting him go off into the world. Some poems were written for people who died as I was working on the manuscript. The last poem is addressed to my partner in art and in life, Montreal poet Endre Farkas.

LDN: How would you characterize your relationship with this book (as opposed to previous books that you have published?)
CMS: I feel more confident about this book, partly because it has more universal reach and partly because I feel more mastery over my craft. Previous books were more restricted in their themes and content. Though they were important books to write, most dealt with the collision of cultures (Arab/Jew; French/English; Native/non-Native) and the difficult bridging of worlds.

This World We Invented mirrors our flawed world back to us. It asks the Big question. Not “Does God exist?” but “What sort of perfect God would create an imperfect reflection of Himself?” It posits wo/man at the centre— the creator, the architect, the inventor. The one who imagined and engineered it all. Finally, there is no great Answer.

LDN: How has social media changed the way you connect with readers?
CMS: I only recently joined Facebook. Prior to this, I felt it was just a big time suck. But I have come to understand how it works and I use it carefully and strategically. I have fewer than 100 friends, by choice. I’ve joined a handful of private Facebook communities. Most of the feeds I see are things I am interested in – writing- or writer-related, political, philosophical. I intend to expand the way I use it once my new book comes out. I think Facebook can be an excellent promotional tool, as long as it isn’t abused by people constantly tooting their own horn. That just gets annoying. I’m not interested in Twitter for now.

LDN: What is your favourite part of the publishing process?
CMS: I don’t really have a favourite part. I enjoy the copy edit – making sure every last word is right – and, of course, seeing the actual book for the first time. But nothing compares to the excitement I felt when a publisher accepted my first book. For months, I kept the message on my answering machine so I could replay it and listen to the YES. And when the technology changed, I stashed the little cassette away for my archives. At this point, I don’t really know where it is.

LDN: How did you first come to the genre you write in, as opposed to something else?
CMS: I used to write really bad rhyming poetry in my youth. Then I gave it up for fiction. Then I gave all of it up, altogether. I wanted to wait until I had some real life experience under my belt, something to draw from. I began doodling a few short stories and poems again after I returned from a three-year teaching experience in the Far North. Then I got it in my head that I wanted to meet other English-language writers in Montreal. (While the francophone literary scene was thriving at the time, the anglophone one was fairly dead or at least dormant). It was the late 1980s, early 1990s. I decided to enroll in the Creative Writing Masters program at Concordia University, mainly to make contact with other writers. I had no real intention of completing the degree. At the same time, I was in the middle of trying to adopt a child from the Middle East. After the baby came, feedings and diaper changes kept me up into the wee hours of the morning. It was the only time to sneak in some writing. Poetry was short and manageable. I ended up writing my entire thesis in these stolen moments, a collection of poems about infertility and motherhood.

LDN: What is the best piece of advice you've heard or been given?
CMS: Always be bold. This was P.K. Page’s advice when I sent her a postcard one day requesting a blurb for a poetry manuscript. Someone had told me that she didn’t readily write them, but I took a chance and contacted her after having been on a CBC-Radio panel with her and Stephanie Bolster for National Poetry Month back in 2000. (Back then, CBC actually devoted a whole hour to poetry!) The program was This Morning with Michael Enright and our conversation was pre-recorded earlier in the week with P.K in the Victoria studio, Stephanie in Ottawa, and I, in Montreal. Soon after that, when Snow Formations was about to be published, I sent off my timid, apologetic request. She wrote me the blurb and dashed off her quick, but thoughtful word of advice about taking risks and always “going for it.” It opened the door for me.

LDN: What are you working on now?
CMS: I’m reworking the umpteenth draft of my first novel, which I began during a paid writer’s residency at The Banff Centre two years ago. In seven weeks, in a small studio in the woods (a converted fishing boat), I was able to get down the first draft, the “vomit” draft of a story that had been turning around in my mind for about thirty years, a story set in a fictional Inuit community in the Far North of Quebec. It has been a most satisfying, exhausting, exhilarating ride.

LDN: What are you reading now?
CMS: I am thoroughly enjoying Denise Roig’s latest collection of short stories, Brilliant, published by Signature Editions and set in Abu Dhabi, where the author and her family lived for a few years. She really takes me there.

LDN: What is your current favourite quote, even if it only applies to today or even right now?
CMS: Listen to many, speak to a few. – William Shakespeare

LDN: What is a typical writing day like for you?
CMS: Typical writing days don’t exist for me. Aside from freelance contracts, I work as a substitute teacher (my bread and butter). Most mornings, I have no idea where the day is headed. If the dreaded call to teach comes, then my day is essentially mapped out by 7 a.m. If it doesn’t come, then I know I’m free to write. But, there is never any obligation to do so. I might spend an entire (“free”) day wanting to write, intending to write, but finding a million other things to do, instead. On teaching days, when the students are busy with an assignment, I dip into a book of poetry or mindlessly drift into space, opening myself up to any ideas percolating in the atmosphere. I take note of them and when I get home, or later in the evening, after supper, I hit the computer. Occasionally, I write straight through until three o’clock in the morning without even realizing how long I’ve been at it. This is my ritual: squeezing in time whenever I can. When I’m “in the zone” – that is to say, when I’m having a productive week – ideas will strike at the most inopportune times. While driving, for example. I’ve been known to get the bones of a poem down in the time it takes for a red light to turn green. (Usually, I pull over to the side of the road.) In an ideal world, I would wake up at the crack of dawn every day and head for the computer, stopping only for lunch and a cup of strong coffee. I’m a morning person, but I’ve become a night writer because it’s the only real uninterrupted time I have in my day. Another writing environment that works for me is the noisy café. Some of my best ideas find their way onto serviettes. I love writing with a ballpoint pen on a clean white napkin.

About Carolyn Marie Souaid

Carolyn Marie Souaid is the author of six books of poetry. Her work has been shortlisted for a number of literary awards, including the A.M. Klein Poetry Prize and the Pat Lowther Award. She was born and raised in Montreal, where she still makes her home. This World We Invented is her seventh poetry collection.

* * *

Quiver Trees, Phantom Orchids and Rock Splinters by Jesse Vernon Trail (ECW Press)

QuiverTrees

Next up is a book I am really excited about; Quiver Trees, Phantom Orchids & Rock Splitters: The Remarkable Survival of Plants, by Jesse Vernon Trail, ECW, June 2015. And when you read the interview, you’ll see why I think this is such a great topic for a book!

LDN: What a fascinating topic! I encountered the quiver tree in Namibia and it seemed wholly mysterious in its enduring nature. Is there a common denominator for survival, with regards to enduring plants and trees? What makes some survive while others die?
JVT: Yes, the quiver tree is truly amazing, as are all of the plants included in my book. Survival of plants is really not that different from survival of people and wildlife — it depends on where you are born and where you live, your environment (immediate and surrounding), the climate, the availability of quality food and water, your particular metabolism, your genes and a myriad of other factors. In other words, there is no simple answer to this question.



LDN: It seems that we humans are almost single-handedly responsible for the demise of so much in nature and yet, in a way, we are powerless to stop it - we remain in the hands of dictatorial governments who are driven by greed and market share. What can we do, in our daily lives, to make a difference?
JVT: Thankfully, nature often adapts. Man is not the only culprit. Take plants for example — they often have to cope and adapt to many environmental and ecological challenges, such as diseases, pests, and much more. Once again, people, animals, and of course, plants are similar in wanting to survive. What can we do? Each of us can be the best stewards we can possibly be in our small sphere of influence. Just a few related words that come to mind here: reduce, reuse, recycle, conserve, and sustain.

LDN: What is your favourite plant or tree or flower and why?
JVT: Virtually all plants and trees are my favourites. I am fascinated by plants, as my book demonstrates.



LDN: Why was it so important for you, to publish this particular book?
JVT: That’s easy! I want to share my appreciation and knowledge of the remarkable plants of the world with readers.

LDN: What do you hope to achieve with this book? To create more environmental awareness, educate, or perhaps inspire?
JVT: I definitely want to encourage readers to be more environmentally and ecologically aware, and to better understand plants and how they function. Inspiring readers is important in helping them to learn and appreciate the remarkable survival strategies of plants as well as the plants themselves. I believe that my book has achieved this.

LDN: What are you working on now?
JVT: I continue to work on many articles and instruct the courses that I have developed. I am also in the beginning stages of another book, or even two. Topics include: natural history of plants, conservation, ecology, environment, sustainability, and horticulture.



LDN: What are you reading now?
JVT: Most of my reading right now is researching (which is a passion of mine).

LDN: How much of the demise or change to flora and fauna can be 'blamed' on natural evolution of the species? After all, plants, animals and even humans, as well as the earth, have always been evolving and adapting and even dying out.
JVT: Some plants do struggle to survive within their changing environments, while many others adapt in a manner which benefits the species rather than leading to its demise. My book, Quiver Trees, Phantom Orchids & Rock Splitters: The Remarkable Survival Strategies of Plants, as the title indicates, is on the remarkable survival strategies of the many survivors.

LDN: What is your current favourite quote, even if it only applies to today or even right now?
JVT: Today! “Be like a duck. Calm on the surface, but paddling like the dickens underneath.” – Michael Caine

About Jesse Vernon Trail

Jesse Vernon Trail is an author, instructor, and curriculum developer in environment, ecology, sustainability issues, horticulture, and the natural history of plants. He has had articles published in The Ecologist, Garden Making, Canadian Gardening, Plant and Garden, Fine Gardening, Gardenwise, Harrowsmith Country Life, Alive, and Outdoor Canada. Jesse lives in Vernon, BC.

* * *

The Purpose Pitch by Kathryn Mockler (Mansfield Press)

PurposePitch

My fourth interview is with Kathryn Mockler and I wanted to feature Kathryn for a number of reasons; I love her work, I admire her brain, her viewpoints and her incredible talent, and also, that this work is ‘a stuart ross book’ makes it irresistible for me. Poetry is, I believe, the finest essence of wordage distilled down to its purest form and in this interview, Kathryn points out the link between poetry and screenwriting, so I am not alone in seeing poetry as having a relevance to all writing forms.

Interview with Kathryn Mockler

LDN: What is the name of your latest work (and publisher) and when will it be published?
KM: My 3rd poetry book The Purpose Pitch (Mansfield Press, ‘a stuart ross book’) will be published in April 2015.

LDN: Are there people you are channeling in your poems, or did any real life person inspire you for a particular poem, or did you write a poem with anyone in mind - or did you write any of the poems 'to' anyone?
KM: There are quite a few people who inspired the poems in The Purpose Pitch. There’s a series of poems called “Harper” in which I create a fake biography for Stephen Harper as way to deal with my fury and lack of understanding of how he can do all the things he’s done since he’s been Prime Minister such as eroding Canadian democracy, attacking scientists and environmentalists, turning his back on 1200+ missing and murdered aboriginal women, pushing through pipeline projects for his corporate buddies, and, his latest stunt, stripping away the civil liberties of Canadians through his anti-terror bill.

There’s another series in the collection called “You Look Like a Puppet” which comes from an interview Joni Mitchell did with the CBC in 2013. I wrote down fragments of the things she said during the interview and then mashed them together to form short poems. Her line “I never liked poetry” gave me the idea for the series.

The poem “Pardon Me” is written for Gary Barwin. I put up a video on Facebook a couple of years ago that was called A Hillbilly Dancing to Aretha Franklin with a Fat Raccoon. Gary wrote a poem about it and then I wrote the poem “Pardon Me” as response to his poem.

LDN: How would you characterize your relationship with this book (as opposed to previous books that you have published)?
KM: Unlike my other two poetry books, which were collected over several years, I wrote many of the poems in The Purpose Pitch in a short period of time last summer without actually thinking of putting a book together. I was on a bit of a writing binge, and then once the binge was over, I realized that I had written a collection. This almost never happens. So it was quite exciting. Many of the poems feel very new and even a little foreign to me.

LDN: How has social media changed the way you connect with readers?
KM: I was a writer before social media, and I think one of the biggest changes is that it has allowed me to feel like I'm a part of the literary community. Social media allows me to connect with a variety of writers, publishers, and readers, particularly through the two journals that I’m a part of. I publish an online literary journal—The Rusty Toque and I’m the Toronto Editor for Joyland: a hub for short fiction. Having a presence on social media enables me to share the work from these journals widely and to discover new writers.

For my own writing, social media (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr) can be helpful to let readers know what I’m up to. But because no one wants to be on the receiving end of constant self-promotion and readers rarely buy a book because the author tells them to, I’m careful about how and how often I present my own work through social media.

Twitter strangely has become a part of my writing process. I like to tweet out random things that come into my head—most of which don’t make sense. And sometimes I get a poem out of it. Several of the poems in The Purpose Pitch started from tweets.

LDN: What is your favourite part of the publishing process?
KM: I like the book getting accepted. That feels great. Everything else after that is stressful in one way or another.

LDN: How did you first come to the genre you write in, as opposed to something else?
KM: I write in several genres—poetry, fiction, and screenwriting. In the last couple of years, I’ve been focusing on poetry, but before 2010 most of my writing life was in film. When I first started writing in my early 20s, I began with poetry and probably feel most comfortable in that genre.  

For me, there is a big connection between poetry and screenwriting. Screenwriting is dependent on image and concise language as is much poetry. In fact, several of my short films started out as poems.

LDN: What is the best piece of advice you've heard or been given?
KM: M. Norbese Phillip did an interview for The Rusty Toque in 2013. Our interviewer, Scott Beckett, asked her what her advice to young writers would be and she said: “At any point in time, there are at least two poems, two stories, two novels that are there: the one you think you want to write, the other, the one you have to get out of the way of to let it write itself through you. What I’m talking about is getting your ego out of the way to let what has to be written write itself through you. So writing then becomes an act of surrender and revelation to yourself. And ultimately to the reader.”
I thought that was a great way of looking at the creative process for any writer of any genre.

LDN: What are you working on now?
KM: In May of 2015, I’m headed to the Vermont Writers Center for a writing residency and will be working on a feature film script called Weak People Are Fun to Torment.

Poetry-wise, I’m working on another collection called One Single Catastrophe in which the past and the future are personified as characters who antagonize each other.

LDN: What are you reading now?
KM: Last year, I got into the habit of buying books online and then never reading them. So I decided to make a new rule that I had to start using the library. The time limit of borrowing books makes me actually read the books. I’m currently reading On Malice by Ken Babstock and Janey’s Arcadia by Rachel Zolf—both of which are due next week!

LDN: What is your current favourite quote, even if it only applies to today or even right now?
KM: I just finished a book by the late American poet Robert Lax called A Thing That Is. My favourite poem in the book is untitled and starts with the lines “he / realized / quite / young // that / he / hated / people // & / would / like / to / see / the / world / laid / waste”.  It’s a circular poem written in one-word lines in which the speaker tries to come to terms with his “dark / thoughts’ and turn his hate to love. The more he is kind, the closer people come and the closer people come, the more he hates them. It’s an unexpected poem in the collection and is as humorous as it is bleak.

LDN: What is a typical writing day like for you?
KM: I teach creative writing and work on two literary journals so finding time to write can be tricky. I write when I can fit it in and mostly during the summers. I don’t have any typical writing day. It’s always different (which I prefer) and my process depends on the project.

I work on many things at once, and I don’t write every day. I can’t pay attention to life if I’m writing every day and I need to pay attention to life in order to have anything to write about.

I have a writing office outside of the house, and I write there and at home. But the one constant in all my writing (poetry, fiction, and screenwriting) is that I handwrite my first drafts.

About Kathryn Mockler

Kathryn Mockler is a writer, screenwriter, and poet. She is the author of the poetry books The Purpose Pitch (Mansfield Press, 2015), The Saddest Place on Earth (DC Books, 2012) and Onion Man (Tightrope Books, 2011). She received her MFA in creative writing from the University of British Columbia and her BA in Honours English and Creative Writing from Concordia University. Her writing has been published in Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Lemon Hound, Pilot Pocket Books, Descant, The Windsor Review, The Capilano Reivew, Geist, and Joyland.

* * *

Moments of Joy by Cecilia Frey (Inanna Publications)

MomentsOfJoy

My fifth interview is with Cecilia Frey and I chose her book because her most recent novel with Inanna, The Long White Sickness (2013), was a real treat of a read.
I posted this review about the book and you can understand why I am so excited to read this author’s next work: “The Long White Sickness is a funny, taut, observant, thoroughly-engaging, suspenseful and lyrical read. You don’t want to miss out on this book; it’s a page-turner and you can't wait to see what happens next. Filled with unusual characters from all walks of life, the narrative is rich with wise insights about love, marriage and age, and the neatly layered and original plot will be one you will not have read before.”

Interview with Cecilia Frey

LDN: What is the name of your latest work (and publisher) and when will it be published?
CF: Moments of Joy, Inanna Publications, spring 2015.

LDN: Are there people you are channeling in your novel? (Did any real life person inspire you, or did you write your novel with anyone in mind, or did you write the novel 'to' anyone?)
CF: The story revolves around Manfred Weiszl who lies dying in the upstairs bedroom of a large family home in Toronto. His last wish is to see his son, Rupert, from whom he has been estranged for sixteen years, and much of the action derives from attempts to get Rupert’s cooperation. However, other characters are equally prominent: Manfred’s sister Pauline, the housekeeper Marie, Marie’s boyfriend Steve. In refining my idea for the book, one of the challenges I faced was to see how close I could come to a dying person’s thoughts and feelings. You might say, I wanted to go through the experience with Manfred, keep him company on his journey.

The novel is divided into sections: The Family (and a dysfunctional family it is); The Angels who come to the rescue of the family (in strange unorthodox ways); At Play in the Fields of the Lord (the capricious workings of fate and the human heart); and Manfred’s Dream (the outcome). I love all of my characters but, if pressed, I’d say that my favourites are Marie and Steve, the angels who demonstrate that the quality of mercy is definitely not strained.

LDN: How would you characterize your relationship with this book (as opposed to previous books that you have published?)
CF: I always have a close relationship with the book I’m writing now. Moments of Joy was no exception. I become totally involved with my characters, even the naughty ones, totally engrossed in their lives and in working out their problems.

LDN: How has social media changed the way you connect with readers?
CF: Social media has made it a small world. To elaborate, I can be involved with people all over the world whereas in the past I could know only my small community. Readers at a distance can review books online, comment, critique, all of which helps me to understand my readership. I can keep up with what other writers are doing and let them know what I’m doing. I can get out the news of publications, readings, and talks. In other words, social media has proven to be an effective publicity tool.

LDN: What is your favourite part of the publishing process?
CF: Holding the finished product in my hands, much like holding a child after birth. For so long (nine months or nine years) the child or the book you carry inside is a mystery. At birth or publication you have the satisfaction of seeing how it all comes together. It’s magical. What was invisible becomes visible.

LDN: How did you first come to the genre you write in, as opposed to something else?
CF: I came to the genre of the novel after publishing both poetry and short story collections. But I think I always wanted to write human drama novels. My first degree was in psychology which likely means I was always interested in people (characters). When you think of it, it’s not much different, a social worker dealing with people’s problems and a novelist working out her character’s problems. After publishing one novel, I transitioned to poetry because of time constraints. I was working on a master’s degree and raising a family. Short stories, too, were easier to fit into small periods of writing time and concentration. I still like writing poetry. I feel like a child let out of school for summer break when I take a break to write poetry. No matter how much joy and satisfaction you get from it, writing a novel is a long arduous job.

LDN: What is the best piece of advice you've heard or been given?
CF: Raymond Chandler: Work every day whether or not you feel like it. To paraphrase: sit down at your typewriter for four hours every day. Don’t let yourself get up. You don’t necessarily have to write but you can’t do anything else. You’ll find yourself writing something, out of sheer boredom if nothing else.

LDN: What are you working on now?
CF: Another novel, The Lovers Fall Back to Earth. This one is about three sisters and their husbands. Three couples. John Updike wrote a novel called Couples and that could very well be the title of this one. They all meet at university in the late sixties, one fellow is a draft dodger, another a musician, the third a professor. They all have hopes and dreams. We pick them up approximately twenty years later after a tragedy impacts their lives.

LDN: What are you reading now?
CF: Wait for it.................. Don Quixote. All 900 pages. I’ve never read this classic and feel that, if I want to claim true literacy, I should. I’m predicting it will take me a year. For lighter reading, I’ll probably sneak in some John Grisham.

LDN: What is yourcurrent favourite quote, even if it only applies to today or even right now?
CF: Current favourite quote: ‘Performance is composition...’ Glenn Gould. This quote arrived at my house today through a very good friend and I thought, yes.

LDN: What is a typical writing day like for you?
CF: Every day is a writing day and this is what it looks like: Get up about 5:30 or 6:00, my favourite time of day when I do coffee and the newspaper. Then practice guitar and do stretching exercises for about an hour. Then the writing, long or short depending on time available. Then swimming or exercise class. Chores such as answering email, filing, organizing papers are relegated to late afternoon. Household chores and grocery shopping happen late afternoon or evening when I’m more or less brain dead anyway.    

LDN: Anything else you’d like to add?
CF: Writing every day is such a good habit because there’s a carry over. You don’t forget from one day to the next what you’re saying. Also, another quote: ‘It’s the journey not the arrival that matters.’ That’s Leonard Woolf, Virginia’s husband.

About Cecilia Frey

Cecelia Frey was born in northern Alberta, grew up in Edmonton and now lives in Calgary. Her short stories and poetry have been published in dozens of literary journals and anthologies as well as being broadcast on CBC radio and performed on the Women's Television Network. Her last novel, A Raw Mix of Carelessness and Longing, was shortlisted for the 2009 Writers Guild of Alberta Fiction Award and she is a three-time recipient of the WGA Short Fiction Award. She has also won awards for play writing. Cecelia is the author of poetry collections: the least you can do is sing, Songs Like White Apples Tasted, And Still I Hear Her Singing, Reckless Women, and Under Nose Hill; short story collections: The Nefertiti Look, The Love Song of Romeo Paquette, and Salamander Moon; and novels: Breakaway, The Prisoner of Cage Farm, A Fine Mischief, and A Raw Mix of Carelessness and Longing. Her play, The Dinosaur Connection, was produced on CBC's Vanishing Point series.

* * * * *

Originally from South Africa, Lisa de Nikolits has been a Canadian citizen since 2003. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and Philosophy and has lived and worked in the United States, Australia and Britain. Her first novel, The Hungry Mirror, was published by Inanna Publications in 2010 and was awarded the IPPY Gold Medal for literature on women’s issues in 2011, as well as long-listed for the 2011 ReLit Awards. Her second novel, West of Wawa, was published by Inanna in 2011 and was one of four Chatelaine Bookclub Editor’s Picks and was awarded the IPPY Silver Medal for Popular Fiction in 2012. Her third novel, A Glittering Chaos was recently awarded the 2014 IPPY Silver for Popular Fiction, and she recently released her fourth novel, The Witchdoctor's Bones. Lisa lives and works in Toronto.


Discuss


comments powered by Disqus