In today's Read the Provinces, we chat with Winnipeg-based author Seyward Goodhand about her debut short story collection
Even That Wildest Hope (Invisible Publishing)—a quirky and inventive collection that takes you on an unnerving but satisfying journey to antique and futuristic places—what it was like growing up in rural Hastings County ("Lord of the Flies-y"), how Winnipeg mirrors her feelings, and who some of her favourite Manitoba-based authors are. Read on for our short interview and get an excerpt from her short story collection.
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INTERVIEW WITH SEYWARD GOODHAND
All Lit Up: Tell us about your short story collection Even That Wildest Hope and how it came to be.
Seyward Goodhand: I wrote these stories over a number of years alongside a PhD dissertation on sympathy—on how we’re sometimes drawn to things even if we don’t want to be. For a long time I thought of my academic and creative work as enemies, but they’re not! These stories are all about my sympathetic relationship to a whole variety of things: to animals, mythological figures, wax, molecules, outer space, landscapes, appliances, statues—at the moment I’m trying to write a story about a girl’s relationship to a thin black line. I’m obsessed with how weird it is that we’re conscious creatures with inner depths of thought and feeling, while at the same time we’re made of totally inhuman material that seems to have no particular interest in us. Unless it does.
The stories also ask some really basic questions. What’s eating? If no one sees me, do I exist? How do we find a moral foundation when so many moral codes have been immoral, and what is the ground of that judgment? My stories explore these questions and sometimes make hypothetical claims—emphasis on the hypothetical. I played around with genre and form to get to where I felt most on-the-outside. I wanted the book to feel diverse and weird and plentiful, and I wanted it to enter my life and expand my way of seeing. I succeeded a few times—after writing this book I have a different relationship to the moon.
ALU: It's been argued that physical geography shapes our identity, that there's a connection between our physical place in the world and who we are. As a writer, in what ways does your natural environment inform your writing?
SG: I grew up in Hastings County, Ontario, in a hamlet on the Moira River, and then moved to the Toronto suburbs as a teen. At that time, kids roamed around the country like animals. We were in the woods or on the river all day, and it was wonderful, but also Lord of the Flies-y. There was a waterfall about five kilometers from my house, and sometimes all these snakes would fall over it and kids would be standing there in this idyllic setting with snakes all around them, screaming. Our babysitter’s brother was swimming in this spot when someone threw a rock and knocked out his eye, and my younger brother had a friend who chased his little sister through the woods and shoved Smarties up her butt when he caught her. This cannot have occurred regularly but I feel like it did. I may live in a city now, but my heart will always be rural. In Winnipeg the city, the suburbs, the farm, and the wilderness are all mixed up and only minutes away from each other. In that way, Winnipeg mirrors how I feel all the time.
SG: Who are some of your favourite Manitoba-based writers?
Sally Ito, Ariel Gordon, Sharanpal Ruprai, Jenny Heijun Wills, Lauren Carter, Jonathan Dyck, Joan Thomas, Julienne Isaacs, Barbara Romanik, Keith Cadieux, Joanna Graham, Patricia Robertson, Katherena Vermette. Tanya Tagaq lived here for a while, too, and of course so did Miriam Toews. Zsuzsi Gartner and Astra Taylor were born here.
Excerpt from the short story "So I Can Win, the Galatrax Must Die"
Galatrax is a rare woodland creature. The size of an otter, it has shiny, orbed eyes, a pugnacious black snout, and a short brown tail with a tuft of white hairs thrashing out the tip. It will swim, climb, and dig for grubs. Its most idiosyncratic features are its teeth. The long, pointed canines are in the front incisor position, not in the cuspid or fang area of the jaw. The French name for the galatrax is petit morse—little walrus. It can digest nearly any organic matter it finds: grass, lily pads, weevils, hornets’ nests, carcasses at any stage of decomposition, scat. If desperate, it might pillage a nest. Like its distant relation the bear, it is a partial hibernator, sleeping in the hollow root system of a dead tree on a mattress of forbs, spruce needles, and milkweed for the months of January and February. The galatrax has the same predators as the muskrat, beaver, porcupine, and raccoon: these are coyote, wolf, lynx, and, if starving, fox.
Galatrae are beloved by culture. There is a popular series of picture books starring a quiet but bold family of galatrae, there are teddy galatrae, wall stencils of galatrae, and other paraphernalia. In clement seasons, galatrae will live close to humans, in the woodpiles outside of cottages. They adore the scent of warm spices; if you desire a sighting, make satchels filled with cloves and leave them about your garden. You may train a galatrax to take nuts from your hand. Galatrax has a gamy taste. The meat is not as lean as chicken or bison, but only healthy nutrients saturate the blubber. Because the fat is nutritional, your body wishes to discard it. Remember: toxic fat is, in a classically tragic paradox, the hardest to lose. Your body is very attached to its pollutants. Even if you ate an infinite number of galatrae, your body, after digesting only the amount necessary to sustain life, will void the excess. Gorge all day: pounds will depart, muscles swell, veins protrude. Galatrax is one of the miraculous superfoods of our age. Unfortunately, in order for the galatrax’s beneficial properties to be actuated, it must be eaten raw, while living.
You sedate the galatrax first, of course, with a natural ginger compound. But if you’re really serious, you may purchase a large glass hibernator to put in your kitchen, garage, or basement. The hibernator is a transparent cube with a sophisticated ventilation system on one side that lowers the temperature and oxygen content of the interior, while misting it with a steady stream of hydrogen sulphide. Do not keep more than fourteen galatrae in the hibernator at one time—enough for a week. Expect the area to smell vaguely of rotten eggs.
The weightlifter does not want to think of herself as a person who devours two galatrae a day. She would, of course, prefer not to. She is as fond of galatrae as anybody else. But she doesn’t indulge like this all the time. It is her pre-competition diet, which lasts only a month, and all the other weightlifters are eating galatrae, too. To abstain from galatrax is to lose. There is no need for citrus, vegetables, or water. Galatrax is completely sufficient on its own. And if she is regular and systematic—if she eats on a schedule rather than waiting to feel ready—it is much easier. First the workout, then the refuelling.
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Seyward Goodhand grew up in Hastings County and the North York suburb of Newmarket. Her work has been short-listed for the McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize and a National Magazine Award and long-listed for the CBC Short Story Prize. Her award winning stories have appeared in Found Press, Riddle Fence, Cosmonauts Avenue, subTerrain, PRISM international, Grain, and Dragnet. She is a PhD student in English at the University of Toronto, and lives Winnipeg where she is a sessional instructor of academic writing. Even That Wildest Hope (Invisible Publishing) is her debut collection of short stories.
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