Turnstone Press - Turnstone Press - AOTM: Author of the Month http://www.turnstonepress.com Mon, 22 May 2017 16:24:08 -0500 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb AOTM: Katherine Lawrence http://www.turnstonepress.com/item/1494-aotm-katherine-lawrence http://www.turnstonepress.com/item/1494-aotm-katherine-lawrence AOTM: Katherine Lawrence

Katherine Lawrence is November's Author of the Month. The author of three collection of poetry, Katherine's work has been recognized with several awards. Among other awards, her work has won Best First Book, Saskatchewan Book Awards, the City of Regina Writing Award, and the John V. Hicks Long Manuscript Award.  In 19 Questions about Process: An Interview with Katherine Lawrence, she shares a few thoughts about her creative process.

Katherine Lawrence is November's Author of the Month. The author of three collection of poetry, Katherine's work has been recognized with several awards. Among other awards, her work has won Best First Book, Saskatchewan Book Awards, the City of Regina Writing Award, and the John V. Hicks Long Manuscript Award.  In 19 Questions about Process: An Interview with Katherine Lawrence, she shares a few thoughts about her creative process.

Katherine Lawrence's  books with Turnstone Press:

Never Mind

19 Questions about Process: An Interview with Katherine Lawrence

When did you first come to think of yourself as a professional writer?

I became a writer the moment I learned how to read. I love the printed word, the spoken word, the world of language because all I want in my life is to connect and communicate. Every book I open and every book I write extends my concept of a universal and ongoing conversation with the questions, Who Are You? Who Am I?

Do you still submit individual poems to magazines and journals for publication? Why or why not?

I’m inconsistent, though a bit of a sucker for competitions because the price of a submission often covers the cost of an annual subscription and I like to support our literary journals.

What inspires you?

A line in a novel or a poem or a play. Words in a letter, words in a song. For example, the poem “More Than Winter in the Air” was triggered by the line in Wordsworth’s poem, “Lucy,” specifically, “When she I loved look’d every day.” I turned the line into “when he I loved.” But don’t let me mislead you into thinking that most of my sources are literary. Glossy ads, billboards, overheard conversation—it’s all language, all potential material.

Is there a particular time of day at which you write best?

I write best after breakfast when the coffee is fresh and so am I. But I often return to my desk in the evening after dinner because I get my second wind when the curtains are closed for the night. I’m also motivated by deadlines. Pressure focuses my wandering mind. I write (almost) every day.

How has your writing routine changed from that at the time of your first publication?

Once upon a time, I waited for something I thought of as inspiration. I had some romantic notions about how and when to write. But experience has taught me that my job is to show up at my desk every day and to treat writing like a job. Start, write, stop when the whistle blows.

How do you know that a poem is finished? Is a poem ever finished for you?

For me, every poem is a conversation where I do most of the listening. So a poem is finished when I can’t hear it anymore. What I mean is that the voice I hear goes quiet. I can tell the difference between the voice that is stalled and the voice that is silent. The stalled voice needs to be put away for a week, a month, a year. The quiet voice has nothing more to say (to me) and is ready to go out into the world.

As a collection, Never Mind is carefully structured. How much of a game plan did you have in place before you dove into the individual pieces?

Never Mind began as a singular voice, a woman’s voice. The voice was female, ancestral, and mannered. What I mean is that I heard a distinctive form of expression. I listened, I wrote, and I began to read early Canadian history, especially letters written by women. Soon I had a character and I named her Wife. I felt curious about her.

I knew early in the writing that I had a manuscript on my hands. I loved writing the poems. I loved the research, especially paying attention to Wife’s psychological landscape. Her voice drives the entire collection. I eventually mapped the poems so that I could sort out the seasons, the passage of time, and the movement of history without fixing Wife to specific issues. I think that my efforts taught me something about writing into the atmosphere of a poem.

I like every aspect of writing a manuscript – research, writing, revision, and especially the work that arrives when a publisher assigns an editor to the process. Turnstone handed the manuscript to Edmonton poet and editor Alice Major. Our discussions help me to deepen and enlarge Never Mind. I became more conscious of the narrative arc and re-wrote many poems accordingly. It was like a one-to-one master class. My bliss. Alice was also attuned to the sequence of the poems and helped me to realize the overall arrangement.

While editing a manuscript do you ever start writing or working on something else?

Always! My writing practice is crowded. When I lose the sound of a poem I’ll turn to one of my other projects. Just now I’m working on a stage play and a new collection of young adult poetry. Everything is in dialogue with everything else.

Do you only write poetry or do you write in other genres/modes as well?

My job as a writer is to become a better writer. For me, the best way to grow is to read widely, study other writers, and experiment. I’ve written a young adult novel-in-verse, a stage play, and I have another play underway. But always and forever there is poetry in my practice.

Never Mind received some serious accolades before it was even out of the gate (2015 John V. Hicks Long Manuscript Award and the 2014 City of Regina Writing Award), and much more praise since its release. What kind of pressure did the early honours put on you and the collection?

The honours felt like big hugs. I felt encouraged to stay the course and keep writing. It takes all my courage to share my uncommon view of the world with others. So I think that the accolades helped me to feel braver. I sat taller in my desk chair and got back to work with a renewed sense of connection. The work was understood!

The response to the collection continues to delight me. I feel grateful to every reader who takes the time to enter the world of Never Mind. Every response is a gift.

You often write about marriage and family in your work. What is it about this theme that keeps you coming back to it in a variety of different ways?

I’m drawn to the domestic—to all the rooms in a house if you will. Wandering up and down the stairs of a marriage allows me to behave like an observant chatelaine. I feel like I write with a collection of black iron keys clipped to my belt.

The constraints of the domestic world is a way for me to investigate love. I wonder what creates love, what holds love, and what destroys love. I wonder about violence in a place (the home, the family) that is supposed to be safe.

Every family is endlessly fascinating to me. Tolstoy said it best in Anna Karenina: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

As a writer, I believe in happy beginnings but I’m suspicious of happy endings.

Do you journal? How does journaling figure into your creative process?

Some women don’t go anywhere without their lipstick. I don’t go anywhere without my journal. I don’t write in my journal faithfully but I do litter the pages with ideas, ramblings, observations, grocery lists, to do lists. I recently cleaned out a cupboard in my office and found twenty years worth of old journals. I flipped through a few at random and was shocked to see that my obsessions, my tropes, my personal symbols, remain unchanged. And no, I didn’t burn the lot.

Do you enjoy giving public readings?

Give me an audience and I’ll give them a performance. I love to read out loud and entertain. I practice everything I write and I feel a huge responsibility to win over every single person in the room. Reading is a fabulous opportunity to connect with readers and have a chat.

What do you think about a writer’s need to be part of social networks?

It’s all about community. Finding your community, expanding your community, connecting communities like one endless paper chain.

And now a few fun questions:

Do you keep any talismans or lucky charms nearby when you write?

I keep a small menagerie on my desk. I don’t regard my collection as lucky charms but I do harbour fond feelings for my mute friends. Perhaps we keep one another company.

Are you a habitual consumer of anything while you write?

Hot coffee with cream in the morning. English Breakfast tea in the afternoon. Tap water.

Just the other day I told a group of writing students that I like to feel wobbly when I write, sort of drunk, I said. Yet I’m a sober woman as you can see from my answer. I think that a deep immersion in process, the complete and total giving over to the task in the moment unbalances me in the way that I love to topple.

Favourite music to listen to while you write?

Silence. The inside of my head is noisy. I block out all the sounds in my house yet I welcome natural sounds. Rain on the roof, wind rattling leaves on the trees.

Do you draft long-hand or do you compose at the keyboard?

I scribble in pencil on big sheets of paper to get random words and phrases on the page and then I study the mess for patterns and connections. But it doesn’t take me long to begin composing at the keyboard.

I was originally trained as a journalist at The Hamilton Spectator so I learned how to race back to the newsroom and write to deadline. The training is muscle-memory. I’m fixed to my keyboard.

If you could not be a writer, what career might you have?

Mrs. Lawrence, high school English teacher.

Katherine Ann Lawrence, lawyer (family law).

Kate Lawrence, actor.

I’d say that writing takes me where I want to go. I teach, coach, mentor, negotiate with language, and perform my own material.

Many thanks for the good questions.

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production@turnstonepress.com (Production) AOTM: Author of the Month Tue, 01 Nov 2016 16:11:20 -0500
AOTM: Wayne Arthurson http://www.turnstonepress.com/item/1483-aotm-wayne-arthurson http://www.turnstonepress.com/item/1483-aotm-wayne-arthurson AOTM: Wayne Arthurson

October's Author of the Month is Wayne Arthurson. Wayne joins us from our  Ravenstone imprint  and is our first genre writer to be featured as part of Turnstone's AOTM series. A journalist, freelance writer and the author of over a dozen books, Wayne Arthurson is the 2016 Writer-in-Residence at the Edmonton Public Library. Fall from Grace, the second novel in his popular Leo Desroches series, won the 2012 Alberta Readers’ Choice Award. The Sergeant Neumann Mysteries is his latest mystery series that looks at the intrigues of a POW camp near Lethbridge, Alberta during the second World War. In 19 Questions about Process: An Interview with Wayne Arthurson  he shares a few thoughts about his creative process.

October's Author of the Month is Wayne Arthurson. Wayne joins us from our  Ravenstone imprint  and is our first genre writer to be featured as part of Turnstone's AOTM series. A journalist, freelance writer and the author of over a dozen books, Wayne Arthurson is the 2016 Writer-in-Residence at the Edmonton Public Library. Fall from Grace, the second novel in his popular Leo Desroches series, won the 2012 Alberta Readers’ Choice Award. The Sergeant Neumann Mysteries is his latest mystery series that looks at the intrigues of a POW camp near Lethbridge, Alberta during the second World War. In 19 Questions about Process: An Interview with Wayne Arthurson (below) he shares a few thoughts about his creative process.

Wayne Arthurson's books with Ravenstone:

The Traitors of Camp 133

19 Questions about Process: An Interview with Wayne Arthurson

When did you first come to think of yourself as a professional writer?

In Grade 8 when I convinced a social studies teacher to let me write a fictional adventure story set in Africa rather than the typical non-fiction report. I got an A.

You are well known for writing mysteries. What is it about the genre that you drew you in?

I’m not entirely sure. I read a lot of mysteries, as well as other genres, but one day I was writing a story about an ex-journalist with a gambling problem living on the street. I needed him to get up from his panhandling position so I got him searching for a missing friend. Soon it became a mystery and that’s where it all began.

Many novelists have “day jobs” and fit their writing in when they can. As a full-time writer, on the surface, for many, you’re living the dream. What challenges are there to making one’s living solely on writing? What do you have to fit in amid all the writing?

The biggest challenge as a freelance writer is lack of a regular paycheque. There are times when there are a lot of projects and money coming in. But there are more times when jobs are few and so is the money. But that lack of regularity, especially the need to go to the same job day in and day out for years is a huge positive.

Your work ranges from feature writing in magazines to nonfiction and fiction projects. Do you have several works on the go at any one time or are you single task oriented, head down on one project until it’s finished before moving on to another?

Good question. And that varies because the job is so varied. If I have plenty of projects with close deadlines, I have to be flexible, I can’t just say I have to wait till I finish this job before I start this one because there are moments in all projects when nothing’s happening, when you won’t get an interview till next week or something. So you can go onto the next job and see what needs to be done there.

How do you balance your workload?

Very delicately.

Please describe your typical writing routine.

I don’t really have a typical writing routine. Sometimes, especially with fiction, I go back and forth on the project, writing continually for weeks and then nothing for more weeks because something else has come up or I’ve written myself into a plot corner that’s hard to get out. I usually do get out but it can take time.

What inspires you?

What inspires me to write? Or what inspires me overall. If I’m looking for inspiration to write, I just start writing. If I’m looking to be inspired by life, I hang out with my kid, my wife.

The idea for your first Sergeant Neumann mystery, The Traitors of Camp 133, came out of research for a different project. How does your writing in other areas inform your mystery writing?

Not just my writing in other areas but everything I do informs my mystery writing. I joke that no matter what I’m doing, watching TV, playing video games, eating, hanging out with friends and family. etc., I’m writing. But that’s true because when you’re actually writing, I mean sitting down and writing stuff, ideas can come from any part of your mind, any part of your experiences and it’s best to accept those ideas and use them, for story, dialogue, descriptions, fights scenes, anything in my novels,  in order to make the story and characters more alive.

In terms of your novels, do you create an overlying outline of the story you hope to tell before drafting the narrative, or do prefer the story to organically evolve as you write? Do you know how it ends before you begin?

No. And no.

How does planning vs evolving figure in with a writing a series, where readers will get further adventures from some of the same characters they meet along the way?

I try not to plan too much with my characters, especially in a series, because characters, like real people, usually evolve over time. There are things you can do, such as plan what time period you’ll set your next book in a series, or what themes you might want to tough on. But I think it’s best to let the characters evolve naturally.

Some writers prefer the process of composing a first draft while others prefer the editorial stage of fine tuning and polishing. Do you have a preference? Why?

I’m not a fan of editing but realize it’s part of the process. But my editing usually occurs when I’m writing the so-called first draft. Sometimes I’m stuck and need to go back and edit in order to move forward. And what usually happens is that I’ll do this while writing the “first draft” so that once I’m done that I’m actually finished. Although there will be another read through for clarity and proofing.

As a mystery writer, you are very well known for the Leo Desroshes series. Your newest protagonist, Sergeant August Neumann from The Traitors of Camp 133 is as far from Leo as possible. Leo, is an unreliable narrator, he has a passel of personal issues, etc. whereas Neumann is very solid, a war hero, trusted and respected in the camp community, even feared at times etc. When you set out to write Camp 133  did you consciously try to separate your new protagonist from what fans had come to know and love about Leo? How easy (or difficult) was it to keep his voice out of this narrative?

I specifically set the POV for the Leo books as first person, so the readers could get into his head and realize that he is an unreliable narrator. As well as a person with a lot of personal issues. In the Camp 133, I specifically picked third person because I knew I really couldn’t get into the head of a German soldier in WW2. And it wasn’t that hard to keep Leo out because Leo is a totally different character who lives in a totally different time.

Do you enjoy participating in public readings? Why or why not?

I like participating in public literary events although I prefer not to read that much. I like to tell stories about my life as a writer and then, if necessary, read for about 5 minutes or for however long it takes to read the first chapter of the book I’m promoting at the time. I’m not a fan of writers reading for longer than 10 or so minutes unless the writer is a very engaging reader, but that’s very rare.

You are the Writer-in-Residence at the Edmonton Public Library, consulting on projects and mentoring new writers. Any words of wisdom to emerging writers out there?

I’m usually asked how people can become writers. And while there are educational and networking opportunities out there that people can try, I always say if you want to be a writer, you just have to start writing.

And now a few fun questions:

Do you keep any talismans or lucky charms nearby when you write?

No. I’m not a superstitious guy.

Do you draft first in longhand, or on a computer/keyboard?

Ask, I have terrible handwriting so keyboard has always been my choice of instrument.

Are you a habitual consumer of anything while you write? How about when you edit?

No, not really. Sometimes I need liquid so I might grab a Coke, or some tea, water, or even a glass of milk. I don’t usually drink alcohol when writing except the odd time I’m at the Banff Centre for the Arts on a retreat. At night I’ll go to the pub there and have a beer or two while writing.

Favourite music to listen to while you write?

I like most kinds of music so it all depends on what comes up on the shuffle or what kind of mood I’m in.

If you couldn’t be a writer, what occupation might you have?

To be honest, I have no idea. It’s not something I’ve really thought about.


9780888015877 700Wayne Arthurson is the author of The Sergeant Neumann Mysteries, The first book, The Traitors of Camp 133 is available from our Ravenstone imprint.

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production@turnstonepress.com (Production) AOTM: Author of the Month Fri, 14 Oct 2016 07:16:20 -0500
AOTM: Sharron Arksey http://www.turnstonepress.com/item/1470-aotm-sharron-arksey http://www.turnstonepress.com/item/1470-aotm-sharron-arksey AOTM: Sharron Arksey

Sharron Arksey is September's Author of the Month. A journalist by training, Arksey's turned her eye to fiction in her debut novel The Waiting Place. In 19 Questions about Process: An Interview with Sharron Arksey, she shares a few thoughts about her creative process.

Sharron Arksey is September's Author of the Month. A journalist by training, Arksey's turned her eye to fiction in her debut novel The Waiting Place. In 19 Questions about Process: An Interview with Sharron Arksey, she shares a few thoughts about her creative process.

Sharron Arksey's books with Turnstone Press:

The Waiting Place

19 Questions about Process: An Interview with Sharron Arksey

When did you first come to think of yourself as a professional writer?

If by ‘professional’ you mean “earning a living at”, I guess I have considered myself a professional writer since I graduated from Ryerson all those years ago. I worked full-time at newspapers before I married and then supplemented the farm income by freelance writing for various publications. While I had many other jobs along the way (I worked in a bank, several schools as a secretary, librarian and teacher assistant, for example), I always considered writing as my ‘career’. However, I am only just beginning to think that I could possibly be a professional fiction writer. I won’t be giving up my day job, though!

What inspires you?

Oh gosh, you ask hard questions. The seasons inspire me—spring, summer, fall, winter— and repeat. Their colours and smells and sounds as background for human activities. Other people’s stories inspire me. I know that once somewhere a farm wife really did phone a stress line because the cows got in her garden. That piece of information inspired me to imagine a scenario leading to that phone call. Obituaries can inspire me. Some of them tell such interesting stories or at least hint at stories that could be told. Notes tucked inside an old book. Snippets of information that make me ask questions.

Is there a particular time of day which you write best?

I am a morning person, definitely. That applies to everything in my life, not just writing.

Please describe your typical writing routine.

I don’t have a typical writing routine. I fit my writing into the day where it best fits. I spend a lot of time thinking about my characters, their motivations and backgrounds, jotting down notes along the way. Then when my schedule permits, I spend time at the computer. Ideally though, I would get up in the morning, brew the coffee and spend the next three to four hours writing.

Before turning to fiction you wrote a nonfiction column for a number of years. For you, do these different disciplines function to inform each other? How?

Of course they do. I wrote a column “Rural Routes” for a number of years. It began as a weekly look at events on the farm and in the area where I lived. Over time as our children were born and our lives changed, the column became more focussed on The Man, The Girl and The Boy. I introduced dialogue to make it read like a story. I used humour whenever possible. I took real events that happened in our lives and made them into stories. Now I am employing similar techniques to write fiction, using my knowledge of what has happened in the real world to people a fictional world with characters who act and react as they would in real life. That is my goal, anyway.

When you did turn to fiction you wrote short fiction before turning to the novel format. What is it about this format that you like?

I enjoy reading short fiction because one story is an entire world in fewer pages. You can read a story over a coffee break and let it simmer in your thoughts for the rest of the day. Naively I thought that writing a short story would be easier because of its length. But there is actually less room to maneuver within its pages than with a novel. I used to think of short stories as self-contained— sometimes circular—with the content digging deeper and deeper rather than spreading out beyond the walls of the story. My ideas on that have changed over time—a story needs to have an open door to the future. A ‘what if’ question that can live on in the minds of the reader and keep the characters alive. I still enjoy short fiction for the same reasons I always did, but I have a whole new respect for the skill they require.

Some writers prefer the process of composing a manuscript while others prefer the editorial stage of fine tuning and polishing. Do you have a preference? Why?

I am not sure that I have a preference. The two stages are different, but I enjoy them both. My kids gave me a fridge magnet that says “Write drunk edit sober” and I have seen it as a Facebook meme as well. It does rather encapsulate for me the difference between the two stages. Composition is a ‘big picture’ experience, lots of room for experimentation and imagination (with or without the assistance of a glass of wine). It is more exciting to me. Editing on the other hand is more about the detail—not as exciting, but satisfying in its own way. One process uses the left side of my brain; the other the right.

What role does research play in your writing?

It depends on what I am writing. In The Waiting Place, for example, there was not as much need for research. I did search out baby names and their meanings, the contents of 1945 National Geographic issues, and uses for a placenta, for example. But most of the book came out of my personal knowledge of farm life. I was writing about what I know. But research ensures or helps to ensure authenticity; if I move outside what I already know, it is imperative. Research is another example of a skill used in non-fiction that can be transferred to fiction.

While in the editorial stage do you ever start writing or working on something else?

I might, if I felt the need to get away from detail. Time away from a project can lead to a clearer perspective when you get back to it. And competing deadlines sometimes demand it. On the other hand, it can be difficult for me to forcibly remove myself from the fictional world in which I am living. All my focus is there.

Please walk us through how you go about character development.

I try very hard to stay away from family and close friends; it is safer that way. But other people, yes. I think it is an advantage that I have held jobs in different sectors and that my recent jobs have involved a lot of travel, taking me to communities outside my own. Not only do I meet a great many people, but I can better see and understand different perspectives. My original concept of a character may be based loosely on someone I have met or know about. Then I introduce fictional scenarios and imagine how that character, given his or her personality and experience, would react.

What’s your favourite moment in the life of your work? And why?

When it all comes together. The Waiting Place is perhaps not a good example of process for novel writing, because it began as a collection of short stories, not as a fully-formed larger story. My task here was to assemble all the parts, assign stories to particular characters and move the pieces around until they fit. It was rather like doing a jigsaw puzzle with the wrong number of pieces. I had to discard some that didn’t belong and add others to hold the puzzle together. My favorite moment in the life of this particular work was when I realized that I had something that held together on its own. It wasn’t finished, not by a long shot, but I had a sense that this was going to work.

What do you think about a writer’s need to be part of social networks?

I think it is increasingly important since social networks seem to have replaced other means of communication. That said, I am old enough to remember when electric typewriters were a big deal. Social networks are a learning curve for me.

Do you enjoy giving public readings?

I do, actually (although I am always nervous beforehand). I often read my work out loud to myself to hear how it sounds. If the words don’t sound right to my ear, I rearrange them or find new words. And I enjoy the opportunity to present the story the way I imagined it, which may or may not be the way the reader interpreted it.

 What are you currently working on?

“Working on’ is probably a bit premature, but ‘thinking about’ definitely. Since thinking about is part of the process, perhaps it’s not so premature after all. I am thinking about a novel in which the main character runs away to a Scandinavian country to escape some fairly catastrophic life events. You cannot run away from yourself, of course, but it is never too late to learn new things about who you are.

Writing The Waiting Place has given me the confidence, I think, to begin a new novel. I wrote short stories because an entire novel seemed too huge a task. It’s still a huge task, but I know it is doable.

In the meantime, though, I am doing some memoir writing, mining the reams of family history documents I have accumulated. It will be a gift to our children, not for publication.

And now a few fun questions:

Do you keep any talismans or lucky charms nearby when you write?

A framed postcard from Carol Shields. Carol read the book Rural Routes: The Collection, a selection of excerpts from my column. She sent me a post card that said “I’ve recently read your Rural Routes with great pleasure. Thank you so much.” When I look at it, I am reminded that a skilled writer found something to enjoy in my words. I am also reminded that kind words and generous acts can have long-lasting positive effects. I don’t carry the postcard around with me, but it is a treasured possession.

Are you a habitual consumer of anything while you write?

I drink coffee— plain, ordinary coffee, the stronger the better.

Favourite music to listen to while you write?

I listen to a fairly eclectic mix of country and western, old rock and folk music. But when I am fully immersed in what I am doing, I don’t hear a word of it.

Do you draft long-hand or do you compose at the keyboard?

I compose at the keyboard. Years ago, when I attended Ryerson, I and other journalism students who had no typing experience were required to take a course that would bring them up to a minimum 35 words per minute typing speed since all stories had to be typewritten. I learned to think at the keyboard and I have never gone back to longhand.

If you could not be a writer, what career might you have?

An educator perhaps? I had also applied and been accepted for education after high school graduation and had to make a decision between education and journalism. Or a librarian maybe. Someone who reads to people. Even if I couldn’t write stories, I would still want to tell them.

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production@turnstonepress.com (Production) AOTM: Author of the Month Fri, 23 Sep 2016 17:27:11 -0500
AOTM: Larry Verstraete http://www.turnstonepress.com/item/1450-aotm-larry-verstraete http://www.turnstonepress.com/item/1450-aotm-larry-verstraete AOTM: Larry Verstraete

Larry Verstraete is August's Author of the Month. The award-winning author of 13 books of nonfiction, Verstraete turned his eye to the Western Interiror Seaway with his newest title, 'Dinosaurs' of the Deep: Discover Ancient Marine Reptiles. In 19 Questions about Process: An Interview with Larry Verstraete, he shares a few thoughts about his creative process.

Larry Verstraete is August's Author of the Month. The award-winning author of 13 books of nonfiction, Verstraete turned his eye to the Western Interiror Seaway with his newest title, 'Dinosaurs' of the Deep: Discover Ancient Marine Reptiles. In 19 Questions about Process: An Interview with Larry Verstraete, he shares a few thoughts about his creative process.

Larry Verstraete's books with Turnstone Press:

'Dinosaurs' of the Deep: Discover Ancient Marine Reptiles

19 Questions about Process: An Interview with Larry Verstraete

When did you first come to think of yourself as a professional writer?

I wrote my first book on the fly, more for fun than anything else. Scholastic Canada picked it up relatively quickly, a pleasant surprise, but I wondered if that was just a fluke. It took a second book published two years later to convince me that perhaps it wasn’t just happenchance, and that maybe I actually had some ability. If there is a point where I began to think of myself as a professional writer, it was after the publication of my second book.

Has your writing routine changed from that at the time of your first publication? How?

My first books were written while our kids were still young and I was teaching full time. Finding time to write was a challenge. I started waking up an hour earlier than usual to write, and then tried to squeeze another half-hour out of the day to do research in the evening. When possible, I would devote more time on weekends. Now that I no longer teach and the kids are long gone from the nest, I write for longer stretches, but I keep the same format as before. Early mornings are for writing; periods later in the day are for revision and research.

At the beginning of my writing career, social media was pretty much non-existent. Now it’s a major component of almost every writer’s life. To be productive, I try to restrict my access during my morning writing period. Normally, I don’t even check email until I’ve made some headway, and I save most other exchanges for afternoons or evenings.

What inspires you?

As a kid, I read every book I could. Books – and the authors that created them - were major influencers in my life. In books, I found alternate worlds and great possibilities. When I write, I think of the readers who might be influenced by my words. That inspires me not only to write clearly, accurately and in an interesting fashion, but also to do in such a way that informs readers while at the same time enlarging their view of life’s possibilities.

How do you select the topics you elect to work on?

Writing a book is a long term commitment. Before I tackle a topic, I ask myself a few questions. Is this a subject that I am eager to know more about? Is this a subject that readers will embrace, too? What challenges will I face if I write about it? Is there something new that I can bring to the table—new information, a new approach, a different message?  

All of these are important questions, but they pretty much center around the same thing. If the subject doesn’t genuinely intrigue me, if I won’t feel challenged on some level as I write about it, then it’s going to be a hard slog to finish the book.

While many of your books have been nonfiction you also write Young Adult fiction. While both forms have challenges and quirks (not to mention charms), they must be very different creative processes. How do you approach your fiction vs nonfiction projects?

I’m not a pantsy (flying by the seat of my pants) type of writer. In both cases, I work from an outline, but the process is fluid. The outline is a starting point, not the end point, and I add, delete or reroute as necessary.

With non-fiction, I revise on the go, each section as I finish it, then I’ll do a major revision when all of the pieces come together. I usually know the overall theme and message I’d like to deliver at the start. Revision becomes a process of distillation—strengthening the message and making sure that pieces support one another.

With fiction, the process is more holistic. Adding a new character or plot element impacts what came before and what follows. Revisions are broader and more extensive. Voice, mood, and theme grow out of revisions. It not so much a process of distillation, but ensuring that the elements synch together in an organic manner.

You were a classroom teacher for a number of years. How has that influenced your writing?

Teachers who write have a unique skill set, especially if they write for the youth market as I often do. Teachers know young readers, their interests, the curriculum, and many have previous degrees in specialty areas. Most can explain concepts in simple but not dumbed-down terms, and they know how to sequence ideas so they build upon each other.

My teaching experience impacts everything I write. I have a science degree which is a natural fit for certain kinds of topics. When I write, I visualize my readers. They’re no different than the kids and adults I’ve taught. I’m writing for them, and trying to make whatever I write captivating and understandable.

When working on nonfiction, how dependent are you on outlines while drafting your project? Do your outlines evolve as you write? How much, if any, do your outlines change?

Once I have a theme or subject in mind, I test the waters by writing an essential piece.  That way, I have a sense of the tone and voice I’d like to use, plus I have a better grasp of the scope of my subject. Once I’ve sculpted the piece, I work on a rough outline. The outline keeps me on target, but it’s only a loose guide. New ideas sometimes surface during research that are must-adds while other items that seemed important at the beginning fall by the wayside later.

You’ve had the opportunity to travel extensively. How does travel figure into your creative process?

Travel gives me a chance to step back from daily routines, take a deep breath, and absorb new experiences. Call it clearing the decks, tilling the soil, priming the pump or whatever metaphor you’d like to use, but I find that travel feeds the creative spirit. And you never know when the next great idea will jump out at you, too. On my travels, I’ve tapped into some great leads.  A visit to Hot Springs, South Dakota unearthed a story about ancient mammoths caught in a sinkhole that I added to Mysteries of Time. Becoming lost on a mountain hike in Colorado inspired Survivors: True Death-Defying Escapes. And then there was the time when I was in Calgary and dropped by for the monthly meeting of the Calgary Metal Detecting Club—truly an experience—an eclectic group of eager treasure hunters displaying their latest and greatest finds. The information I gathered then became an instrumental part of Lost Treasures: True Stories of Discovery.

As a non-fiction writer, research must play a significant role in your writing. How do you approach research? Does your methodology change depending on the subject matter?

The starting point is much the same. I do a round of general research to scope out the topic, take a few notes, and bookmark the most fruitful resources. At this stage, I’m just trying to get a grip on the topic to determine the breadth and depth of the subject matter and what, if anything, I can contribute to the existing pool of information. I keep a running list of potential sources and categorize them into groups—good, better, best—depending on how helpful, accurate, and authoritative they are. From there, I rough out an outline and write a few test entries.

Every book requires a slightly different approach to research. For Surviving the Hindenburg, archival footage, blueprints, and journal entries provided the backdrop that I needed to tell the story of Werner Franz, the zeppelin’s cabin boy. 'Dinosaurs' of the Deep required something different. The book was a collaboration with the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre. Research involved visits to Morden, getting hands-on experience at a dig site, and frequent consultations with Victoria Markstrom, CFDC’s field and collection manager, to ensure that I had the latest and most accurate information.

Some of your work, such as 'Dinosaurs' of the Deep are very visual books. How much do potential illustrations and photography figure into your creative process—do you write with visuals in mind?

I am a visual person. As I write, I see the information as I think it will be displayed on the page complete with sidebars, text boxes, charts, illustrations and other visual supplements. If specific visuals are essential to the understanding of the text, I’ll leave notes for the editor or illustrator indicating what kind of visual I have in mind. Usually, the manuscript speaks for itself, however, and I trust design experts to decide what visuals work best.

Some writers prefer the process of composing a first draft while others prefer the editorial stage of fine tuning and polishing. Do you have a preference? Why?

The fine tuning stage. Much of what I write for non-fiction consists of separate pieces— individual stories, sidebars, explanations. In the draft stage, I write with a rough idea of how the pieces will fit with others. Assembling the draft pieces into a cohesive unit later is a bit like putting a jigsaw puzzle together. It’s the most fun part for me. At this stage I juggle pieces around, test their position in different places, fine tune leads, adjust wording, add new pieces if necessary or delete those that don’t contribute to the theme. The goal is to create a unified package where each piece supports and enhances the others.

What’s your favourite moment in the life of your books? And why?

Starting a new project is exciting. If it’s one I initiate, it means developing a proposal from scratch. While I might have what I think is a whopper of an idea, it’s my job to pitch it to a publisher. Out of a multitude of approaches and possibilities, I have to figure out what I want to say and how I will deliver the message. It’s very much a creative process.

Do you enjoy public readings? What is your favourite format?

I enjoy public readings. Many of mine are for the younger crowd, and that’s always fun because youngsters don’t hold back. They’re inherently curious and they’ll ask questions that adults wouldn’t dream of asking. My favourite format is an interactive one that encourages audience participation. My goal when visiting classrooms or libraries is to leave students as excited about writing, reading, and the subject matter of my books as I am.

What are you currently working on?

Right now, I am on a self-imposed time-out. Over the past few years, I’ve published 4 non-fiction books and 1 novel. As exhilarating as that experience was, I need a little respite to recharge my creative batteries before tackling another project. Then again, I’ve tried taking time-outs before— and failed. Sometimes ideas or opportunities pop up that are just too good to pass.

And now a few fun questions:

Do you keep any talismans or lucky charms nearby when you write?

Not really. I have favourite writing tools like certain types of pens and paper, but no troll dolls, rabbit’s feet, or other such lucky charms.

Do you draft first in longhand, or on a computer/keyboard?

Normally, I write the first few paragraphs in longhand. Often I’ll write two or more versions of the same thing, then choose the one that I feel works best. Once I have a good start, I’ll jump on the keyboard for the rest.

Are you a habitual consumer of anything while you write? How about when you edit?

I write first thing each morning, and strong coffee (any kind) is essential to the start-up process. I have an incredibly sweet tooth, too, and sometimes I use chocolate or candy as an incentive to keep plowing ahead. My wife likes to bake, so the combination is magical. She bakes. I eat. Life is good.

Favourite music to listen to while you write?

Usually I don’t have music playing, but often I’ll tap into talk radio programs. I don’t really listen to the conversations. I just like the soothing sound of voices in the background. Perhaps that goes back to my teaching days when chatter filled the classroom. Occasionally, if I’m working on a gripping story or a novel, I’ll put on rousing music to get the juices flowing. “We are the Champions” by Queen is one of my favourites. Come to think of it, almost anything by Queen will do.

If you could not be involved in the literary arts, what career might you have?

Besides being a teacher? Architect. There’s something appealing about designing a structure that stands for generations.

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production@turnstonepress.com (Production) AOTM: Author of the Month Sat, 20 Aug 2016 13:14:05 -0500
AOTM: Carla Funk http://www.turnstonepress.com/item/1439-aotm-carla-funk http://www.turnstonepress.com/item/1439-aotm-carla-funk AOTM: Carla Funk

Carla Funk is July's Author of the Month. Carla's fifth book of poetry, Gloryland, is a meditation on endings and offers poems for an apocalypic age. In 19 Questions about Process: An Interview with Carla Funk, she shares a few thoughts about her creative process.

Carla Funk is July's Author of the Month. Carla's fifth book of poetry, Gloryland, is a meditation on endings and offers poems for an apocalypic age. In 19 Questions about Process: An Interview with Carla Funk, she shares a few thoughts about her creative process.

Carla Funk's books with Turnstone Press:

The Sewing Room

Apologetic

Gloryland

19 Questions about Process: An interview with Carla Funk

When did you first come to think of yourself as a professional writer?

Am I professional? Sure. Do I write? Yes! But I still find it hard to think of myself as a pro writer, in part because I mostly write poetry, which doesn’t offer an income. Lately, I’ve been venturing into prose and so feel more legitimized in thinking of myself as a professional writer.

Do you still submit individual poems to magazines and journals for publication? Why or why not?

I rarely do. I always intend to submit to journals, but never seem to have stamps in the house! More and more journals are using online submissions, so this will solve my stamp shortage problem.

What inspires you?

Memory, childhood, family, my hometown, the old stories passed down through the years.

Prayer and what words and pictures come humming through from behind the thin veil.

The beauty of the earth. Sun flashing over lake water. The neighbour’s cows. Crows leering from the telephone wire. The sound of a housefly bumping against the window glass.

The earth’s brokenness and my own culpability. The shredded wasp nest I knock down from a corner in the eaves. The tent caterpillar I crush to save my own garden. All the scowls and judgments and resentments I wear and carry.

Strangers on the walking trail, like yesterday’s old fellow in his denim overalls, asking me where he can find some greengage plums, the kind he ate as a child, the sour ones that make the best preserves.

Is there a particular time of day at which you write best?

I tend to revise best in the morning hours when my inner editor is fully awake and ready to critique, but early first drafts—those rushes of raw thought and image—come best later in the day or evening when my body is tired and my editor is lazy.

How has your writing routine changed from that at the time of your first publication?

At the start, I waited until the poem showed up before I’d sit down at my desk to write. The word or image or idea had to come to me—like the cliché jolt of inspiration or some fickle muse’s gift. Now, I sit on the other side of mystery. Instead of waiting for the poem to find me, I go looking for the poem. With butt in seat, hands hovering on the keys, and the mind tuned and ready, one never knows what poems exist out there in the hours, waiting to be found.

How do you know that a poem is finished? Is a poem ever finished for you?

For me, a poem is done when it has nothing more to say. When the final lines run out of music, then the parts have found a whole. That said, even after a poem is in print, I’ll see lines I’d like shuffled, stanzas re-ordered—but, too late, time to move on. New poems are waiting to be written.

Some writers prefer the process of composing a manuscript while others prefer the editorial stage of fine-tuning and polishing. Do you have a preference? Why?

With Gloryland, my allegiance shifted. The revision process was—dare I say—fun! I’ve always loved the first draft fiery rush and dreaded the labour of revising, but this time around, I enjoyed the tinkering and polishing far more. I’m learning to see more clearly how to solve a poem’s pre-revision riddles. And I love how a single word or line or new metaphor can transform a poem into more than it was before the polishing began.

While editing a manuscript do you ever start writing or working on something else?

When stuck on a poem, I’ll procrastinate by starting new poems. I figure as long as I’m writing, it looks like progress.

Do you only write poetry or do you write in other genres/modes as well?

I’ve collaborated on some children’s stories with an artist friend, and have recently embarked on some prose projects, and still would love to write a stage play. But I always come back to the poems.

How conscious are you of form when you compose poetry?

Iambic pentameter is the musical fuel that powers so much of my poetry, at least in early drafts. Sometimes the iambic groove stays, other times it leaves in revision. While composing, I pay great attention to line breaks and sentence structures, but it’s not until the final stages that I really look at stanza shapes.

You often write about “home” in your work. What is it about this theme that keeps you coming back to it in a variety of different ways?

I’m more than a little obsessed with my hometown, in large part because I’m convinced that small towns cultivate a particular and peculiar kind of imagination. I keep returning—literally and poetically—to “home,” because it’s the forge where I was formed, from which the smoke of memory rises. It’s etched into the heart, I think—this inkling and urge to return to where we began. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust—that kind of truth.

Do you journal? How does journaling figure into your creative process?

I don’t keep a daily journal, but I do have many notebooks into which I chicken-scratch images, ideas, lines, fragments, and titles. Picture a lined page that holds a grocery list, a few telephone numbers, a quote from Wendell Berry, a Bible verse, crossed-out words, and a doodle of a cartoon bird. That’s what my journal looks like. Seemingly random bursts of disconnected thoughts all held together on a single page = my brain!

Do you enjoy giving public readings?

I do! I love the opportunity to meet readers (and listeners!)—and to let the poems be part of that meeting. In the same way that story creates community, poetry read aloud in a room full of people can turn strangers into friends.

What do you think about a writer’s need to be part of social networks?

If these literary and social networks exist for the benefit of both those inside and those outside, then I’m all for them. If the network yields strength in numbers and encouragement in community, hooray! If what happens as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts, then a resounding yes!

And now a few fun questions:

Do you keep any talismans or lucky charms nearby when you write?

I’m too practical for talismans. But please, can I have a puppy?

Are you a habitual consumer of anything while you write?

It’d be so much cooler for me to say that I always drink a shot of Pappy Van Winkle whiskey before writing, but I’m more of a peppermint tea or chai drinker.

Favourite music to listen to while you write?

Every once in a while, I’ll throw on some music to conjure a tone or mood—Satie, Debussy, Chopin for melancholy, Ferlin Husky, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash for small town childhood nostalgia, The Punch Brothers, The Avett Brothers or Patty Griffin’s “Downtown Church” for gospel honesty. But most of the time, I prefer a quiet room in a quiet, clean house with only the sounds of outside life—windchimes, bird-chatter, traffic hum—floating in.

Do you draft long-hand or do you compose at the keyboard?

Though I’ll jot scraps of lines and notes in a journal, I always compose at the keyboard. I know it’s more literary and romantic to longhand with pencil to the page, but my typing is faster than my handwriting, so I keep things practical by working on my laptop.

If you could not be a writer, what career might you have?

I’m a sucker for legal dramas, so I like to imagine myself as a prosecuting attorney—or better yet, a judge presiding over nail-biting criminal cases. Realistically, though, I think I might have made a good children’s librarian. Or radio host. Or farmer. Or some farmer’s wife with a sharpened carving knife. Or a theologian.

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production@turnstonepress.com (Production) AOTM: Author of the Month Mon, 11 Jul 2016 11:12:54 -0500
AOTM: Jeffrey John Eyamie http://www.turnstonepress.com/item/1424-aotm-jeffrey-john-eyamie http://www.turnstonepress.com/item/1424-aotm-jeffrey-john-eyamie AOTM: Jeffrey John Eyamie

Jeffrey John Eyamie is June's Author of the Month. Eyamie's debut literary novel, No Escape from Greatness is making people laugh from coast to coast and beyond. In 19 Questions about Process: An Interview with Jeffrey John Eyamie, he shares a few thoughts about his creative process.

Jeffrey John Eyamie is June's Author of the Month. Eyamie's debut literary novel, No Escape from Greatness is making people laugh from coast to coast and beyond. In 19 Questions about Process: An Interview with Jeffrey John Eyamie, he shares a few thoughts about his creative process.

Jeffrey John Eyamie's books with Turnstone Press:

No Escape from Greatness

19 Questions about Process: An interview with Jeffrey John Eyamie

When did you first come to think of yourself as a professional writer?

I’ve been a professional writer since 1997, but I hadn’t really given myself to permission to say, “hello, Jeff Eyamie, author and screenwriter” until 2010. I rededicated myself to my life’s passion in 2007, and I have to credit a screenwriter/mentor named Deborah Dean Davis for forcing it out of me in 2010. Thanks, Deborah Dean!

A lot of things came together for that moment to arrive. I had been giving writing the time and energy it deserved, finally, and I managed to get a development deal with a Los Angeles production company. I had been taking lots of courses related to the craft of screenwriting, and all of it led me full-circle, back to my original passion, which was writing fiction. I wrote my first novel (and completed it) in Grade 3, and I’ve never really stopped. But being so brash as to call myself “professional” at something I wanted to be so badly? That took a lot of work.

What inspires you?

People. Always always people. I long for connection. I want to understand why people are how they are (and why I am how I am, which quite often seems to be a certain measure away from the norm). People are amazing to me, and I love their differences, in mannerism and perspective. I am a people-watcher and face-scanner. I tend to observe and remember people a little better than most.

Writing inspires me just as much, though. Usually the themes I’m dealing with come from my own deep-seated questions about life and how to live it. Things that fascinate me in a story usually connect to things that fascinate me about existence. Typically you don’t want to find an answer to those questions, but the questions are there, all the same!

Is there a particular time of day during which you write best?

Morning for creating and drafting and flowing, afternoon for editing, self-flagellation and other left-brain things.

Please describe your typical writing routine.

I have become very patient when it comes to actually drafting pages of a project. I am a planner. I like to outline, revise the outline, examine the outline, make sure my characters make sense, make sure the thematic and emotional cores of the story are enough of an engine to drive the story, and then make sure everything in the story reflects that internal core to some degree.

So when I say “Writing,” I also mean planning, outlining, plotting, carding, developing, and, of course, rewriting!

I usually give myself the first hour of the day to coffee up and get ready for the day. I might read a little but I try to avoid activating analytical parts of my mind before I get going. Then I get going. I subscribe to the Hemingway trick of leaving yourself an easy pick-up spot so you can write immediately, so hopefully I am mid-scene and I know exactly what’s going to happen next.

Typically I will write for two or three hours, with constant breaks for breakfast, a second coffee, Googling and other distractions.

Afternoons are for rewriting. If I have edits going, or if I want to review things, I leave them for after lunch.

For two weeks every year, we rent a cottage at Victoria Beach and it has become my writer’s retreat. I get about a quarter of my year’s writing done in these two weeks. I power through, writing for ninety minutes at a time, several times a day, writing at all times of day, trying to let writing take over and throw regimens, routines and assumptions away. I love this time.

You write both fiction and for the film industry. For you, how do these different disciplines function to inform each other?

I write stories, first and foremost. All stories have characters, actions, themes and some rudiments of structure. Having adapted scripts to fiction and vice versa, I’ve come to believe that the media really do reflect different things: screenwriting is far more restrictive, while fiction allows for a camera angle that is unavailable to the film director: dollying straight into someone’s mind to hear what they’re thinking. That internal aspect, as well as the ability to sit in one place and observe every single piece of minutia for page upon page, can be both advantage and disadvantage in fiction. I like pace!

I love creative collaboration, and that’s where the formats really differ. TV writing is a team sport, and sometimes writing for film can be the same. So much of fiction happens on one’s own, and I find the editing process and its challenges and interactions to be hugely beneficial.

In the end, you’re writing for an audience, and every story is for a different audience. Format is less important than content.

How does the short fiction form figure into your work?

Short fiction is like a sandbox for me. I use it to plan my feature film scripts, test out characters and voices. The latest short piece I wrote involved a voice I’m considering for my next novel.

Some writers prefer the process of composing a manuscript while others prefer the editorial stage of fine tuning and polishing. Do you have a preference? Why?

I can’t pick! I believe I will always be in the process of telling a story, which is a happy place for me. Editing is like getting a good sweat at the gym, and working with an editor is a privilege one may not always have. If I sent out what I drafted without editing, it wouldn’t be as good as it could be and I wouldn’t connect with the audience the way I hope to. I can’t pick!

What role does research play in your writing?

I tend to wander intellectually during the drafting phase. I try to pepper little facts in without falling into research rabbit holes, so I’m typically on Google and Wikipedia looking up things a few times every hour, but not to a great level of depth. I will read and view similar works as I prepare to draft something, and it may inform character or plot structure. I’m curious all the time, though, so research never fully stops. I just try to keep my eyes on the prize.

While in the editorial stage do you ever start writing or working on something else?

You have to! I am a project stacker. I typically have one project in development stage, another in editing stage and drafting pages of something else. It helps when they are divergent. I like being a little bit backed up with projects and demand for projects because it forces me to work harder. These days I get to send projects to people who might want to do something with it, so that’s another phase in the life of the project I need to deal with: waiting for projects to come back! It feels like limbo sometimes so it’s good to keep busy with other stuff.

Please walk us through how you go about character development.

I’ve actually been working on broadening my influences for characters. I definitely like to have a real human person in mind to begin with (doesn’t have to be someone I know very well), but soon the character takes over and becomes someone else. Invariably, like an actor, I put myself into the role as well. There’s a part of me in all of them! Does that make me crazy? Ha ha! The boats! No, you did!

Sometimes I have a place for a character, and that character needs to be a certain way, and that leads me to a person I’ve met somewhere. One thing I always do for major characters is give them a method for solving their problems (a “skill”) and a way to react to difficult situations (a “mask”).

What’s your favourite moment in the life of your work? And why?

My favourite moment is that moment when feel like you’re busting because you’re so full of story and you have to get it out.

I always card my plot points up on a wall, and when you solve all the main story problems and come up with twisty new ways to get to the point of the story, that’s the best. I actually try to stay in this moment and keep it going as long as I can before I relent and start drafting. There’s something almost ascetic about that moment, I think, but you elevate your story structure as high as you can, then you keep working and elevate it even more before you gratify your need to tell it.

What do you think about a writer’s need to be part of social networks?

For me, writing is about connecting with people. I want to connect with an audience and share my view of things, but I also want to connect with other creators and people who need support and help.

Social networks are a miracle, despite all the horrors they can muster. Far more positive than negative come from them, and I feel like writers should crave that connection, otherwise they are just … well … shouting into the abyss.

Do you enjoy giving public readings?

Yes and no. I am a well-trained introvert who gets a little funny when under the influence of cortisol and adrenaline. So yes, I like the readings, but no, I don’t gain a lot of energy from them. I really like doing them but don’t care for the anticipation of doing them. Waiting for the moment kind of stresses me out a little.

What are you currently working on?

I have a TV series in development with ZellKoj Studio that deserves more of my attention … I’m working on a feature script that is in a new genre for me, and I’m collaborating on that with some talented local people … and my next novel is germinating. I think it will be funny.

And now a few fun questions:

Do you keep any talismans or lucky charms nearby when you write?

I am a bit of a nomad when it comes to my writing space. I like a nice view, but it can be a streetscape, a back yard, a lake … something to glance at (but not stare at!). I do have a few Tibetan items at one workstation.

Are you a habitual consumer of anything while you write?

Full confession: I am a poseur of the highest level. And so, as I button up my collared shirts to the top button and remove my socks from neath my leather shoes, I have become addicted to the V60 hand-poured coffee from our local independent purveyors of fine coffee. Once you’ve had the round flavour and mule-kick of caffeine from the V60, you will know why I’m hooked!

Also, there is no better brain food than sardines in chili oil. Inexpensive, uber-healthy omega 3s AND sustainable. I love my white tuna sashimi but I can eat sardines every day forever and feel good about it. Sardines are my go-to brain food.

Favourite music to listen to while you write?

None. Zero. I never, ever listen to music while I write. Music is for dancing and singing. I would rather hear the messy din of squirrels chattering in a tree, or of the freshly caffeinated.

Do you draft long-hand or do you compose at the keyboard?

When I wrote songs and poetry, back in the 90s, I was so enamoured with long-hand that I actually felt different pens gave me different moods and different outcomes. I would write with every colour under the rainbow. It was weird.

While I haven’t become any less weird, journalism school taught me to type on a keyboard and to do it tirelessly, steadily and cleanly. Full confession: I have written screenplay changes on my phone from a golf course. I have embraced technology.

If you could not be a writer, what career might you have?

A writer. Rules would not prevent me from being a writer. I am a writer because I have to be a writer and I decided in 2007 that nothing in existence was going to prevent me from being a writer of stories. I decided not to quit for any reason. I am zealous about this.

But okay, let’s say something horrible happened and I could no longer form words with my fingers … I know that if I don’t write for a week or two, I start getting a tightness in my throat. My wife believes this to be associated with the throat chakra and my energy of expression being repressed. Well I don’t care for this sensation, not at all, and so I would likely find some way to relieve the feeling. I guess I could tell stories with my voice. In fact, I could probably get some voice recognition technology to help me jot it down.

So I guess I would be a writer.

Ah, you ask, but what if you had a sudden trauma and could no longer possess the intellect required to write good stories that last a long time?

That sounds utterly terrifying. I would definitely need to write about that experience to deal with it. 

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production@turnstonepress.com (Production) AOTM: Author of the Month Wed, 01 Jun 2016 00:00:00 -0500
AOTM: Dave Williamson http://www.turnstonepress.com/aotm-author-of-the-month/aotm-dave-williamson.html http://www.turnstonepress.com/aotm-author-of-the-month/aotm-dave-williamson.html AOTM: Dave Williamson

Dave Williamson is May's Author of the Month. Dave is the author of six works of fiction, a memoir as well as drama for television and stage and over 1,000 book reviews. In 19 questions about Process: An Interview with Dave Williamson, he shares a few thoughts about his creative process.

Dave Williamson is May's Author of the Month. Dave is the author six works of fiction, a memoir as well as drama for television and stage and over 1,000 book reviews. In 19 questions about Process: An Interview with Dave Williamson, he shares a few thoughts about his creative process.

Dave Williamson's books with Turnstone Press:

Accountable Advances

Dating: A Novel

Visiting Fellow

Beyond Borders

19 Questions about Process: An Interview with Dave Williamson

When did you first come to think of yourself as a professional writer?

Back in the 1970s. Actually, years before that, the late professor and award-winning poet James Reaney encouraged me to write a novel in his evening Creative Writing class. He had me write a chapter a week and usually got me to read the latest in class. He took my fledgling novel and recommended a portion to the CBC national radio show “Anthology.” It was read on air and I received $75 and thought I was on my way. But, the novel, originally called The Individualists, kept getting rejected by Toronto publishers, though an editor at Clarke Irwin had me re-write it three times before finally saying “No.” But in the mid-seventies, CBC-TV in Winnipeg approached me about dramatizing my short story “Courting in 1957,” which appeared in Queenston House’s first book, Winnipeg Stories (1974). That was the first of four television plays I wrote for them, two of which were shown nationally. One was sold to CBS and in other countries; the resulting royalties made me feel professional. Meanwhile, in 1975, that first novel, now called The Bad Life, was published by Queenston House. It was widely reviewed (the good old days!), went into a second printing and was chosen to be placed in Canadian embassies around the world.

What is your typical writing routine like?

I usually read in the morning and write in the afternoon and evening. Since retiring from Red River College in 2006, I have kept to this most days when there aren’t other distractions. Most writers I’ve admired, many of whom I’ve made a point of meeting, wrote in the morning. The idea is you’re sharper and more clear-headed in the morning, and I have tried, with little on-going success. When I do get down to writing, I try to get up and walk around about once an hour.  

How has your writing routine changed from that at the time of your first publication?

Though my wife Janice and I had four kids, we always made sure I had a room I could call my office or den. Janice was a stay-at-home mom, so she handled most of the domestic duties and, in encouraging my writing, she knew I needed a portion of most evenings to myself. I had season tickets for the WHA Jets and went to every game, so sometimes writing time was squeezed. I reviewed books for the Winnipeg Free Press, about three a month in those days, so of course had to read the books first. With kids’ functions and social events and dog walking factored in, I was lucky if I could work at fiction for any good length of time. And of course those were the days of manual typewriters, so mistakes could cost valuable time. No wonder I wrote first drafts long-hand. In fact, for fiction I still do write first drafts in long-hand.

The biggest change is that I can write at any time of day, now that I am retired, but I still prefer evening for writing fiction.

What inspires you?

Two main things inspire me: the books I read and the state of the world. The books show me the huge variety of ways stories can be told. Meanwhile, the world is so crazy, it—meaning society, the way people live, the things people consider most important—demands to be interpreted and exposed. I try to write fiction that shows the way people behave in such a way that the reader will smile and nod with self-recognition.

You have written in a variety of different forms—novels, short fiction, drama, memoir. While each has its own charms, which is your current preferred form? Why?

I have also written non-fiction—a history of Red River College, many reviews and columns—and they have their own attraction for me because they tend to be easier somehow (probably because they are based on accessible factual material). I think I prefer them these days because I can see them to completion faster than I can fiction. Yet I do aspire to do another novel because that’s what I started with and also because I feel I have another novel in me that will surpass those I’ve done. I just have to discover it!

Dating started out as a collection of short fiction before becoming a novel. What were the challenges of going through this process?

Dating actually began as a much longer novel called Jenkins, which had its roots in a pair of short stories in my collection, Accountable Advances. Bob Jenkins first appeared in a story called “Retrieving,” and its genesis came about this way: It was March, 1991, and I was down in La Jolla, California, in a self-imposed retreat attempting to write eight short stories I had planned ahead of time. The object was to flesh out eight in eight days. Each day, in my beach cabin, I’d write longhand at a kitchen table for as long as I could, with at least two breaks for a walk down the coast. As a day wound down and my hand ached, I’d try to wrap up the story. One of the eight ideas just didn’t work, so I conjured up something new on the spot. I refined it over a couple of days and had it ready to read at a literary conference March 19 at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. The reading went so well that I read the story again at Harbourfront in Toronto in April, 1993, when I was Chair of The Writers’ Union of Canada. Jenkins also appeared in a story called “The Last Two Rooms in Jasper,” published in the literary magazine Grain. Jenkins was going over so well that I wanted to capture his whole life in a long novel, but I didn’t get started on that until about 1999, after Weddings, another novel with a lengthy gestation period, finally appeared. I wrote Jenkins fairly quickly and it grew to 700 pages of manuscript. A Toronto publisher gave me a thoughtful critique and I considered a re-write. For much of that time, 2003-06, my wife was fighting pancreatic cancer. She was able to enjoy a few good years, thanks to chemo, but she died in 2006. I meanwhile had retired to be her main caregiver for the last six months of her life. By then, Jenkins had lost its appeal for me. I did however see a way to take some of it and both commemorate my early years with Janice and consider what it might be like to be a widower. I wrote a novel broken into two halves, “Dating Then” and “Dating Now.” When Turnstone accepted it for publication, editor Wayne Tefs suggested I alternate the then and now chapters, and that was a revelation for me. I was rejuvenated by having to do considerable re-writing, putting the “then” chapters in the past tense and the “now” chapters in the present. It seemed to come together beautifully.

Both Dating and Visiting Fellow either are, or have portions which are, set in the near past. What was it about this approach you found attractive in drafting your novels?

As the Prism International review of Dating creatively pointed out, the novel presents a man’s life through his dating. As mentioned above, the book evolved as a contrasting of dating in the present with dating in the past. A scholarly book called By Himself: The Older Man’s Experience of Widowhood, by Deborah K. van den Hoonaard, appeared just as Dating was being released and it confirmed what I had suspected: that, whereas newly widowed women look to other widows for role models, widowers tend to look at their young single selves. So looking to the past was essential to the depiction of a present-day widower.

In drafting Visiting Fellow, I had two main factors that dictated the timeline: one was that I wanted to set Wally’s visit to Australia in the time frame of when I went there—1997, so that I could feel that what I described was pretty accurate. The other factor was the ages of the main protagonists. His time of being married had to be a fair length, with his son a teen-ager at the time of the divorce. Yet I wanted him to be not that much older than the woman he takes to Australia. But making him younger than I was in 1997 did cause a few problems that I hope have been dealt with.

Do you approach short fiction different from the way you approach a novel?

Yes. I usually plan a short story from beginning to end before I start to write it. For the collection Accountable Advances, I thoroughly planned eight stories before going into retreat (in a vintage motel on the ocean in La Jolla, California). I wrote all day every day (with breaks consisting of walks on the beach) and had the eight pretty well fleshed out at the end of a 10-day stay. I tinkered with them a lot when I got home, and I replaced one completely, but the substance of each of the other seven was more or less kept intact. (Three others were reprinted from previous publications.) With a novel, I tend to write myself into it, try different beginnings, different points of view, and re-write and re-write well before I know what I’ve got. At some point, I will make up an outline for what I’ve done and what I project, but that can be changed at any time and usually is.

What role does research play in your writing?

I turn to research when I reach the point in the writing when I think it is necessary. In other words, when writing a novel, I do not do a whole lot of research first. I’ve seen young writers whose originality and excitement are destroyed by doing a lot of research prior to writing the first words of the novel. Carol Shields showed me the way to go about it. When I worked with her on the stage play Anniversary, we wanted to have the male lead, Tom, be concerned about endangered species. Carol made one phone call to Fort Whyte Centre and got all the information we needed about burrowing owls and piping plovers.

Some writers prefer the process of composing a first draft of a manuscript while others prefer the editorial stage of fine tuning and polishing. Do you have a preference? Why?

I think I prefer the composing of a second or third draft. I believe that one should do at least three drafts, the first to get the story down, the second to “say it better” and solve technical problems, the third to tighten, edit, alter pace, refine. Getting the story down can be most enjoyable if you are the “blast ahead no matter what” kind of writer, discovering the plot as you go. But the process will be more workmanlike if you want to “perfect” a couple of pages at a time. Going over the whole thing for a second time is often thrilling in that you “have something to work with.” You will see problems but it’s fun to solve them because you have a context. You might see a need for another character, and that fresh face itself is energizing for the writer.

While in the editorial stage do you ever start writing or working on something else?

Since I do a lot of book reviewing and the occasional informal essay, I often compose shorter pieces while working in the editorial stage of a book. Those are nice diversions. I did publish three different kinds of books in three years (Anniversary, a play co-written with Carol Shields, 1998; Weddings, a novel, 1999; Author! Author! Encounters with Famous Writers, a memoir, 2000), but the first two had their gestation periods well before final publication. I have been known to start making notes on a new work while finalizing a manuscript, but I have seldom begun to write in earnest until the current book is in the stores.

Please walk us through how you go about character development.

In all but one of my novels (Weddings), the main character bears considerable resemblance to me. That is, he has many of my preoccupations and he lives in a middle-class environment. I start out in his point of view (in either Subjective Narration—the “I” voice—or Restricted, Single Character—the “he” voice) and move him into the early stages of plot, which I have usually sketched out ahead of time. He will immediately come in contact with other people and the circumstances will dictate what kind of people these will be. Some of those secondary characters will be based on my memory of friends or my idea of what those friends were like. Most often, they will be my “creations,” embodiments of the kinds of characteristics I need them to have for the situation. I do not write character sketches of the characters. I agree with American writer Ellen Gilchrist who says, in her book The Writing Life, “You write your way into a character or characters. You cannot think up characters or outline them. You have to write them in action with other characters.”

With Weddings, I broke the novel into five parts, five weddings, five time periods, with five different first-person narrative points of view. The first, Paul’s, was probably easiest since he was much like me as a young man. The other four—those of a young woman, a middle-aged woman, a middle-aged man unlike myself, and a female TV announcer—were a lot of fun to write because I could “be” someone else, I was happily schizophrenic. Doing this was perhaps easier than I thought it might be because Anniversary, the play, had forced me to know and understand the psyches of five different people. You have to be ready for the actor who says to you at rehearsal, “Why would I do that?”

Do you enjoy public readings?

Yes, I do. I especially like reading a piece after I have tried it out once and seen whether the audience laughs in the “right” places. As a writer of fiction generally regarded as comic, I know that laughter is a sign of good listening and understanding. Of course, if the audience does not laugh, it can be mortifying. It’s important for the reader to have read the piece aloud a couple of times to know exactly how it should be read, and he/she should try to avoid such problems as fiddling with glasses, or fumbling with the book. I think a good idea is to print off the selected chapter in large type for ease of reading.

You’ve been involved in the writing industry for many years and have taught a variety of creative writing classes and workshops. What do you have for those just starting down the literary path?

The English novelist Anthony Powell once said, “I am not sure that you can learn to write in a Creative Writing class, but you can certainly learn to read better.” I believe I’ve had a certain amount of success conducting Creative Writing classes, but I heartily agree with Powell that “learning to read better” is an important first step in becoming a writer. Part of this is to be exposed to the basic elements of, say, fiction, how to recognize them, how to deal with them. The most important six elements are Plot, Character, Setting, Point of View, Style and Structure. I give countless examples of these from published books. It’s invaluable for a young writer to see the many, many ways that different authors handle the elements. I often say that there may only be two kinds of plot, Love and Death, but there are as many different points of view as there are people on this Earth. So it is best that the beginner learn the basics and see scores of examples first. Creative Writing classes in which students read their stuff aloud without having learned these basics are simply pooling ignorance.

And now a few fun questions:

Do you keep any talismans or lucky charms nearby when you write?

For fiction, I don’t, but when I’m working to a deadline to produce, say, a review, I wear my “New York” sweatshirt. It seems to have a mystical power that enables me to finish something without my becoming tired or cranky.

Are you a habitual consumer of anything while you write? How about when you edit?

Nothing exciting to reveal here, I’m afraid. I usually like to have coffee (lately a Tim Hortons dark roast or my homemade Maxwell House) while I read in the morning. When I write or edit, I usually have a glass of water by my side, but, since most of what I do to occupy my time is sedentary, my main ritual is to get up from the computer once an hour and take a quick walk around or up and down stairs. Before dinner, I almost always have a rum (Appleton’s or Sailor Jerry) and Diet Pepsi while I watch the 5:30 Global News (mostly because the anchor, Dawna Friesen, is a graduate of Creative Communications).

Favourite music to listen to while you write?

Sounds good! However, I prefer quiet. I have an office on the main floor, with full book shelves surrounding me, and that is my main prerequisite for writing.

Do you draft long-hand or do you compose at the keyboard?

For a novel, I have always written a first draft long-hand in notebooks. The type of notebook I use is a hard-cover with 192 pages, page size 7-1/4” by 9-3/8”. The lines are “wide-spaced”, 29 to a page, and there is a red margin-line on the left of each page. I like the 1-1/4” margin for notes that can be inserted later. This notebook forty years ago was a “No. 9” produced by the Dominion Blank Book Co. Ltd. Subsequently, it was produced by “Blueline” (made in China), and it now comes from Staples—The Business Depot, Ltd., Richmond Hill, Ontario—and is made in Mexico. The hard cover (usually black but now available in other colours) makes it easy to handle and store.

John Updike always wrote his first drafts of fiction in long-hand, believing that the brain and the cursive-writing hand work together well, one keeping up with the other. He did type first drafts of essays and articles. I tend to follow his lead.

If you could not be involved in the literary arts, what career might you have?

I have recently been teaching Creative Writing and requests for that seem to be growing—but perhaps that is a spin-off from the literary arts. Years ago, I used to enjoy cartooning and had some success with it. While at university, I did editorial and sports cartoons for The Manitoban. After I graduated, the editor at the time hired me to do a semi-weekly comic strip, which I called “Rolly Stone,” about a typical U of M undergraduate (before the birth of Mick Jagger’s Rolling Stones). I think that if I couldn’t satisfy my urge to write, I might get back into drawing. The current popularity of graphic novels might entice me to try one … but then I suppose I’d be back in the literary arts again.

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production@turnstonepress.com (Production) AOTM: Author of the Month Mon, 02 May 2016 12:45:38 -0500
AOTM: Dennis Cooley http://www.turnstonepress.com/aotm-author-of-the-month/aotm-dennis-cooley.html http://www.turnstonepress.com/aotm-author-of-the-month/aotm-dennis-cooley.html AOTM: Dennis Cooley

April is National Poetry Month and who better to be our Author of the Month than Dennis Cooley. The author or editor of over twenty books, Dennis has been influential on the Canadian, and in particular the prairie, poetic landscape. In 19 Questions about Process: An interview with Dennis Cooley, he shares a few thoughts about his creative process.

April is National Poetry Month and who better to be our Author of the Month than Dennis Cooley. The author or editor of over twenty books, Dennis has been influential on the Canadian, and in particular the prairie, poetic landscape. In 19 Questions about Process: An Interview with Dennis Cooley, he shares a few thoughts about his creative process.

Dennis Cooley's books with Turnstone Press:

departures

the stones

this only home

seeing red

Irene

The Vernacular Muse

Inscriptions

19 Questions about Process: An Interview with Dennis Cooley

When did you first come to think of yourself as a professional writer?

In the late 1970s. I had been teaching English at the University of Manitoba for four or five years and intently working on the American poets Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, and Robert Duncan. I was also soon swept up into the excitement in Canadian literature, a lot of it buoyed by Canadian nationalism and the flood of writing and publishing from elsewhere in Canada and I began with a sense of adventure and purpose to teach it. At the same time I joined with a rambunctious bunch of graduate students and young professors—Robert Enright, John Beaver, David Arnason, and Wayne Tefs—to get a new press, Turnstone, going. A colleague, Ken Hughes, who had immigrated to Canada, supported us with a passionate belief in local culture. It was a time of permission, much of it enabled by Arnason's illimitable presence and daring. We all were young and filled with dreams of what could happen. We were all from the prairies, excited about literature. We had grown up in a world that told us these things were not for folks like us. If you were really venturesome you allowed for Toronto maybe, possibly even Vancouver. But not the prairies we all knew and cared for. For almost the first time in our lives we lived with the heady promise that we could be part of making things happen. And we poured ourselves into it all.

We were all involved in reading and editing. All my life I had loved poetry and now here I was, closely involved. It wasn't long after pouring over those manuscripts that I realized I could write something myself. Editing, it seemed to me, is very close to writing. I still believe that.

Do you still submit individual poems to magazines and journals for publication? Why or why not?

I don't send much out. I never did, really. It may be that I was discouraged by early rejections. It may be because I suspect, perhaps unfairly, that editors would not like what I was doing. Most of all, I suspect, it has been simple inertia. I am always caught up with half a dozen manuscripts. As long as the writing is rolling I'm not much inclined to stop long enough to pour over heaps of manuscripts to drag out little batches of poems and get them off. I am one of those easily deterred by nuisances and I loathed the process of shipping out batch after batch after batch through the mail. And getting them back. A lot of my writing consists of long poems, whose parts necessarily speak to one another, and in part depend on that conversation, so extracts will not always work as stand-alones. Mostly I'm happily writing away and the manuscripts get bigger and bigger and more and more and stopping to sort and select and submit seems a nuisance. I find that taking a project further and further is enormously challenging, and I am reluctant to leave the pleasure of its momentum.

What inspires you?

I'd be hard pressed to name anything specifically. I run with what puzzles, entertains, pleases, nags at me. What strikes me and haunts me, what most matters to me, what I most want to speak of. What moves or amuses or intrigues me. Pretty much what incites other writers too, I'd imagine. Other writers and other books fire me up. Sometimes that means a general sense of excitement, sometimes it means very identifiable sources. One of my titles derives in part from Dracula, another from a book on astronauts, two others from a Sinclair Ross novel. Another builds around a legendary figure in early twentieth-century Manitoba. So, there's a lot of happenings-upon and lucky openings. Family and friends occasion a lot of the writing.

Is there a particular time of day which you write best?

Not that I'm aware. It's depended on what calls on me there have been. The times when I did write, for years, were controlled by my work as a professor, which during the academic year was enormously consuming, and left very little time to write, except for a few stolen minutes here and there. For years much of my writing was done in the summer when I was at the cottage on my own. Now, retired, I write at almost any time, though mostly in the morning and afternoon.

How has your writing routine changed from that at the time of your first publication?

The first little chapbook assembled assorted poems, as did a few other titles in the mid 1980s. It's almost predictable that a writer's first poems would be occasional. I soon began to think of writing toward a book. For decades I have worked almost exclusively on books whose individual pieces are part of a long poem. Well over half of them have been constructed that way. The writing has probably also become increasingly metalingual, as it is in, say, abecedarium.

How do you know that a poem is finished? Is a poem ever finished for you?

I don't know when it's finished, or how I could know, and I don't especially want it to be finished. I want it to be "good," which for me means that the language is vital and venturesome. I don't want it to be "finished," which implies a fixity and a finality that for me is not particularly desirable or even possible. What does happen, typically for me, is an initial draft, sometimes only a phrase or a few lines, which I amplify or intensify. I try to draw out the potential. What can be done with this? What's there that could migrate into a more intriguing version of itself, or something else? The poem may grow and grow and change. I work through a dozen, or a lot more, revisions (some of them small) but I never reach a point at which I say "That's it, I've got it, don't change a comma." Somewhere I get thinking the thing has got tired and I cut it back. I try to make it as strong and lively and interesting as I can and I move on, though I seldom leave anything alone for long. In the end, though, it's a matter of letting it go. W.H. Auden (he took this from Valery I think) once said a poem is never finished, it is abandoned. I was deeply offended when I first read this. I thought it was an excuse for slovenliness. Now I think it is absolutely right. It is for me at least.

Some writers prefer the process of composing a manuscript while others prefer the editorial stage of fine tuning and polishing. Do you have a preference? Why?

I like them both, though I don't find them to be distinct stages. I'm constantly revising and editing. I move poems around inside a manuscript, transpose lines from one poem to an entirely other manuscript, delete chunks of poems, insert words, change the lineation, nudge parts of a poem into new positions, constantly change wordings. I read and daydream in search of whatever might strike my fancy and set off changes. By the time a manuscript gets to an editor I will have put in hundreds of hours tuning it. But I'm always grateful for whatever wisdom or information I can get. It's a gift to find someone who understands what you are trying to do and who goes carefully over what you've produced. Where else do you find anyone willing to so freely offer a special kind of intelligence and a lot of time? Editors get little thanks for their generosities, and more than their share of blame. But they are a boon to writers.

While editing a manuscript do you ever start writing or working on something else?

Yes, constantly. I always have a batch of manuscripts on the go, and I move easily among them. Part of what happens is accident—the serendipities of the brain. When it's working on one site it hits a spark that elicits a word, a phrase, a sound that nicely drops into a different project. The neurons bounce back and forth, and so do the words.

Much of your career saw you mentoring other writers and teaching university literature. How did you balance your work/writing lives?

I was lucky. It was all of a parcel. Almost anything I did spoke to whatever else I did. Teaching provided familiarity with texts. Working with others' manuscripts asked for special care with form and style and structure. Sitting over coffee with young writers in their marvellous sense of how much writing matters heartened me. Writing reviews and critical essays increased a sense of how and why writing might be done. Literary theory helped to show what I was doing or might be doing. All of the work made it easier to supervise theses, which exposed me to texts and ways of reading. My own writing informed the teaching and editing. The reciprocities went on and on.

Grading papers and handling forms and writing reports for an increasingly debilitating bureaucracy wore on me.

You’ve travelled extensively. How has travel figured into your creative process? Do you write on the road, or do you prefer to just take it all in and compose once you are “home” in your usual writing environment?

Yes, I do some writing when I'm travelling but mostly I'm taking notes. The most substantial writing has taken the form of journals in which I felt less compelled to generate literary and publishable work, though I amplified and refined and keyboarded them when I got home. I have been able to return to those records and plumb them for more literary purposes. One of the journals, passwords, from when I taught Canadian literature in the ancient and fabled city of Trier for the summer of 1990 in Germany, I did keep with the thought of bringing it to publication. I entered it and revised it with that in mind.

Is there a particular trip which you favoured above others? What piece of work evolved from that journey?

I've been unbelievably lucky in my travels, and I've loved all of them, so it seems ungrateful if not mean-spirited to choose among them. I have made many pleasurable trips to Portugal, each of them a special joy. I had been there briefly for the first time in 1994 and returned the next year to an international poetry conference. I find it hard to choose but I would say that was probably my favourite trip—intense days of hearing poetry, reading it, wonderful and varied sites for performance, audiences that responded strongly to everything, the excitement of meeting other poets. It was sheer joy. Best of all I was there with Robert Kroetsch, a wonderful friend and fabulous poet. Besides, Portugal's a place of stunningly varied landscapes, delicious seafood, curious cities, warm and hospitable and unpretentious people who, best of all, love poetry. I immensely enjoyed how rural and almost primal parts of the country are—the handsome cork trees, equally beautiful cattle, the astounding conglomerations of Celtic stones, the sweeping empty spaces in the northeast where you happen suddenly on handsome frontier towns that had been built as a defence against the Spanish. And always in Portugal a wonderful love of poetry. In Portugal they put up statues of poets.

A few poems have come out of the visits to Europe, especially Scotland and Germany (which I've happily visited about a dozen times).

Do you enjoy giving public readings?

I love doing readings. It's exhilarating to give voice to poems that otherwise doze on the page, waiting for someone, yourself too, to wake and hear them. You actually hear them in ways you never did before and never could and they can seem at times to be wonderful discoveries, gifts to you. They become new poems to you too and you hear in them more than you did when they lie silent. That's not always a good thing, of course, but mostly it's good.

My very favourite site for reading is radio. There's no one to worry about your posture or your stained sweater or your unshaven state or your unseemly scratching. There's no one to distract you. (Few to encourage you either.) At public readings there can be people talking loudly among themselves or looking at their watches or standing up to abandon the room. I once had a woman who showed up at a reading in Regina. She sat conspicuously, demonstratively, in the front and waited for 5 or 6 minutes before she stood up, dramatically, to make her departure. She made a show of her leaving, played it out emphatically. I was pretty sure she had planned the scene.

But radio. Radio gives you the very best sounds, those microphones and studios and technicians, those reassuring rooms with a comfortable chair and a table and a friendly host. (I didn't always feel this way. The first time I appeared on radio I was so nervous I was hyperventilating and my mother, hurt, said when I got home it didn't even sound like you.) You don't have to worry about being heard in the corner of a room or honoured at a table that is more interested in hearing itself than the reading, or the sounds of accident. I love the energies of public readings, love the kibittzing, love to speak with people who are in the audience, and to hear from them. But I still prefer radio. With radio you get just the exact pick-up of the sound. You can read clearly, expressively from inside the poem, even the most quiet and inward poems, to whomever might be listening. Despite the total physical removal from audience, you can speak with the finest range of tone and volume and pacing to the audience. I find it powerfully intimate.

If you had only one piece of advice to give aspiring writers what would it be?

Lots of advice. Be patient. Be curious. Be open. Push yourself. Be humble. Take pride in what you do. Take chances. Learn things. Take joy in what you do. Respect the language.

You’ve always been an advocate for poetry and Canadian literature, being involved at the ground floor of many literary ventures including festivals, journals, our own Turnstone Press and the Manitoba Writers Guild, among others. Why has literature been so very important to you, and why in particular poetry?

For the longest time, when would-be Canadian writers looked in the mirror, they saw every face but their own. We were never written into somebody's else's literature. In writing our own, we can speak to the things that we most care about or most need to address, give them some shape and credence. Until quite recently, and maybe still, writing has for many of us meant speaking as if for the first time of what most matters and what most moves us. So we needed venues for that to happen. The romantic notion of the tortured and bold soul writing his solitary genius into eternity is totally inadequate. There can be no ongoing and fully developing literature without the wherewithal that enables and sustains it. That's what a lot of us were after in those years.

In literature you get all those wonderful challenges and permissions. You can try out things, let 'er rip, dredge up your muddied resources—memory and research and fantasy and observation and craft. You get to do this with people who share those ridiculous desires and your own outrageous behaviour. There are few things as gratifying.

But poetry. Poetry above all. Forget the embarrassing sales numbers, disregard the avowed aversions, set aside for the moment your own panicked flight when you were caught unsuspecting at a poetry launch. Poetry's the lucky terrain of what-ifs and just-supposings. It's in poetry that we speak most urgently, most eloquently, most pointedly, most succinctly to our unspoken selves. It is there that we happen upon anticipated or forgotten lives. When you fall in love you want a poem, you might even steal one and hope it will find favour, or at least speak for you. Else why the booming business for greeting cards? They perform a useful function, sometimes skillfully, but they are so generic that they immediately and everywhere become everyone's poem. Sometimes we want more, better songs to sing. When your spouse dies only a poem will do, and you wish you could find one or write one—a good one that says what for the rest of the time you cannot quite say or know how to say or bring yourself to say. No ordinary remembrance will do. You want, at least for yourself, a poem that can give contours to your loneliness and sound to your yearning. A poem to speak in wonder of what might touch you, or delight you, or bewilder you. In reckless moments you might even welcome a poem that challenges your understanding of what language and knowledge is, jolt you open to what strangely has been made and laid before you. You would like something to surprise you, with the sting of a mosquito bite, perhaps, to tip you into intimacies you had not quite realized were yours. When that happens you may feel a small shiver: yes, that's right, that's how it feels. Sometimes poems tell us what we don't know we already knew, and there's that rush of pleasure. Though you might not have said so, you have been waiting for a poem whose wit and rhythm rinses you with newness. You want lines, you hunger for lies, clever and unusual lies, that do not take as irrevocable what at our most tired and resigned and obstinate we suppose is the real and only world. When we are looking for something adequate to our desires we know that literalness and acquiescence won't hack it. We want to be alive to the world and stirred into something more. It's a more expanded and a more charged world we hunger for, even when we don't know it. That's why we secretly want the intensities and misadventures that we call poetry.

And now a few fun questions:

Do you keep any talismans or lucky charms nearby when you write?

I hadn't thought of it like this but, yes, I guess I do. A moon-shaped stone, smooth on all sides, light brown with green and blue seeping through, and lines and fissures. It fits nicely in the palm of the hand, feels perfect, and every now and then I pick it up, hold it in the palm, polish it on my nose. I don't remember where I got it, but it's always there beside the computer.

Are you a habitual consumer of anything while you write?

Nothing peculiar—dark roast coffee. Fair trade. I drink lots of coffee all morning. Lots of water at night.

Favourite music to listen to while you write?

I have a conglomeration of music, lots of it from the 50s and 60s, mostly pop—rock, rhythm and blues, folk, doo wop, country, big band, bits of jazz and classical, lots of other stuff I don't know how to name—in my iTunes library and I listen to it often. I don't usually listen while I'm writing, though, not when I'm writing poetry that is.

Do you draft long-hand, or do you compose at the keyboard?

Depends on what I'm writing. I do all of my correspondence on the keyboard, and most of the prose: reviews, statements (such as this one), essays. I invariably begin poetry with hand-written notes and snippets and drafts and I diddle with them in more hand-writing. After a bit of that I type up what I have, print it out, and write more notes, revisions, suggestions onto the page. Then it's back to keyboarding. This goes on interminably. I also keyboard scattered notes into a series I gather in a folder, "notes for poems." I add to the files week after week, month after month, so that I gather what are sometimes enormous files of material. Right now I have nearly 250 pages of notes for love in a dry land, a long poem I have been writing forever. A lot of the notes will be repetitious since I don't keep track of what's in there, or what I add. I simply insert stuff as I think of it, most of it from bits I scribble on bits of paper as they occur to me.

If you could not be a writer, what career might you have?

Well, the thing is writing has been in a practical sense a second career to my life as an academic. My greater love has been writing so it makes sense, I guess, to speak of it as my career. But I've worked most of my life in the academy and an immense part of my energies and attentions went into that life, which for the most part I enjoyed immensely. I've been one of the very fortunate people whose vocation and avocation have been happily related. But, to answer the question: I've been so long immersed in my world that I find it difficult to name an option. Had video and the new media been around decades ago I might have given that a go, but for me, given where and when I grew up writing was about as likely a route as any. I had intended to become a highschool teacher of English and biology when I went to university. But the other arts seemed far away from me. I couldn't keep a tune, in public school endured with an acute sense of misery art classes, which I found humiliating and impossible to enter. As a kid I set six or so track and field records, loved basketball, was a pretty good baseball player, and I had a fantasy of being a professional athlete. One of my public school teachers had an enormous influence on my love of writing and poetry and I may have been set afloat way back then.

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production@turnstonepress.com (Production) AOTM: Author of the Month Wed, 06 Apr 2016 10:11:14 -0500
AOTM: Paul Nicholas Mason http://www.turnstonepress.com/aotm-author-of-the-month/aotm-paul-nicholas-mason.html http://www.turnstonepress.com/aotm-author-of-the-month/aotm-paul-nicholas-mason.html AOTM: Paul Nicholas Mason

March's Author of the Month is Paul Nicholas Mason. Paul is the author of three novels, one short fiction collection, and two plays.  In 19 Questions about Process: An interview with Paul Nicholas Mason, he shares a few thoughts about his creative process.

March's Author of the Month is Paul Nicholas Mason. Paul is the author of three novels, one short fiction collection, and two plays.  In 19 Questions about Process: An interview with Paul Nicholas Mason (below), he shares a few thoughts about his creative process.

Paul Nicholas Mason's books with Turnstone Press are:

Battered Soles

The Red Dress

 

19 Questions about Process: An Interview with Paul Nicholas Mason

 

When did you first come to think of yourself as a professional writer?

I’m not sure that I do think of myself as a professional writer, given that my total earnings from plays, novels and screenplay options have never been enough to support me and my family. I aspire to be a professional writer. The day may come. … I did, some years ago, receive a truly extraordinary advance, but when I realized the horrific nature of the project, I returned it.

Has your writing routine changed from the time of your first publication?

Yes. For years I wrote in an unstructured way, never knowing where I might end up. When I wrote my first published novel, Battered Soles, however, I plotted things out from the beginning, and this is the strategy I’ve followed ever since. Now, this doesn’t mean that I don’t make changes—even very substantial changes—but it does mean that I have at least a rough map.

Do you submit work to literary journals and 'zines?

No—but only because I don’t often write short-form pieces.

What inspires you?

The people I meet in my daily life. The characters I meet in my reading. Things I see while out walking. Beautiful architecture. My (very liberal) Christian faith.

You write in a variety of formats—novels, short fiction, dramaeach genre having its own set of charms and quirks. Do you have a current favourite? Why?

The novel has commanded my allegiance for the last twelve years, but I have just finished a chapter-book for children. I write novels because I enjoy reading them. I relish immersing myself in a world someone else has created.

Do you create an overlying outline of the narrative you hope to tell before drafting the work?

Yes, I prepare a foundational outlinebut I leave a great deal of room to be surprised.

Many of your works in some way or other explore the notion of journey—whether physical or personal. What is it about the idea of the journey which interests you?

Well, it is, of course, one of the great themesand I have taken many journeys, literal and metaphorical, over the last many years. My first novel, Battered Soles, was about a walk (between Peterborough and Lakefield) that became a kind of pilgrimage, and so, in the process, a metaphorical journey. My second novel, The Red Dress, was about a moral journey, as a teenager moved from innocence, through sexual corruption, to become a decent man. My most recent novel, The Night Drummer, is about the two different journeys two friends make, before coming to a place of love and respect without, perhaps, a full understanding of the path the other has taken. … But, you know, even as I write these slim synopses, I wonder if most stories are not, at some level, journeys.

What role does research play in your writing?

A supplementary role. When I was writing Battered Soles I walked the Rotary Greenway Trail between Peterborough and Lakefield and took notes and photographs. When I wrote The Red Dress and The Night Drummer, both of which are set in the mid-1970s, I had to keep checking details on the internet: what was the cost of bread in 1976? When was such-and-such song released? What was the minimum wage? So the research doesn’t inspire the stories, but it helps me paint in the details accurately.

To date, your novels have been set in Ontario, though you’ve resided for periods elsewhere. Why set your work so close to home?

Simply because Ontario is the landscape that I know best. But, without question, I will write novels (and plays) set elsewhere in the years to come. I have a novel underway that’s set partially in New Brunswick, and I have a play I’ve started plotting that’s set in England.

Some writers prefer the process of composing a first draft to a story, while others prefer the editorial stage of fine-tuning and polishing. Do you have a preference? Why?

I don’t, you know. There are happy momentsand intensely frustrating ones!at every stage along the way.

What’s your favourite moment in the life of your books?

Again, there are many satisfying moments along the way: the glee that comes when you know a certain passage will make other people laugh; the quieter (but no less real) satisfaction when you believe you’ve got something absolutely right; and, yes, the receipt of the first box of books in the mail, with the knowledge that the book is now being shipped to stores.

Do you enjoy public readings?

Yesbecause I know I do them well. Whenever I’m invited to give a public reading, I sell books. I am frustrated, frankly, that I’ve done so fewthat I’ve yet to tap into the literary circuit in which some of my writer friends now seem comfortably ensconced. If there is any festival programmer reading this, please know that I give a lively and memorable reading.

What are you currently working on?

I’ve just finished the first draft of a book for children, A Pug Called Poppy, and I must now choose among two novels (The Rogue Wave and Colin’s Picnic), a play about Charles Darwin, and a creative non-fiction account of my aborted ghost-writing project. The latter is a kind of horror story and it scares me a bit.

And now a few fun questions:

Do you keep any talismans or lucky charms nearby when you write?

I have photos of my daughters and of my parents in my study, and there is a small statue of an angel to my left, and of a Buddha to my right, but I don’t see any of these items as charms or talismans: I don’t endow them with magical properties.

Do you draft first in longhand, or on a computer/keyboard?

I make my first notes in longhand, but do all my writing on a keyboard. I learned how to type fairly young, and it’s one of my few manual skills.

Are you a habitual consumer of anything while you write? How about when you edit?

A robust blend of teawith condensed milk.

Favourite music to listen to while you write?

No. I like quiet. At the moment, however, one of my daughters and her husband and baby live with me, so there are often domestic sounds coming through the door. They ground me.

If you could not be involved in the literary arts, what career might you have?

In the last three months I’ve launched a second (post-teaching) career in voice-over and acting, and have been lucky enough to find film-work. If I ceased to write, I’d put all my professional energy into performance.

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production@turnstonepress.com (Production) AOTM: Author of the Month Tue, 01 Mar 2016 14:10:52 -0600
AOTM: Bob Armstrong http://www.turnstonepress.com/aotm-author-of-the-month/aotm-bob-armstrong.html http://www.turnstonepress.com/aotm-author-of-the-month/aotm-bob-armstrong.html AOTM: Bob Armstrong

February's Author of the Month is Bob Armstrong. Bob is the author of a baker's dozen threatre plays, countless trade and governmental articles and publications, as well as one comedic novel. Dadolescnece was shortlisted for the Eileen McTavish Sykes Award for Best First Book. In 19 Questions about Process: An interview with Bob Arnstrong, he shares a few thoughts about his creative process.

February's Author of the Month is Bob Armstrong. Bob is the author of a baker's dozen threatre plays, countless trade and governmental articles and publications, as well as one comedic novel. Dadolescnece was shortlisted for the Eileen McTavish Sykes Award for Best First Book. In 19 Questions about Process: An interview with Bob Arnstrong (below), he shares a few thoughts about his creative process.

 

Bob Armstrong's book with Turnstone Press is:

Dadolescence

 

19 Questions about Process: An Interview with Bob Armstrong

 

When did you first come to think of yourself as a professional writer?

Although I’ve been writing for money since I landed my first newspaper job at the age of 20, I don’t think I used the word “writer” to describe myself until I managed to write a creative work that found an audience, which would have been in my mid-30s. That was when my play Fred Turner Tames the Last Frontier won the Alberta Theatre Projects 24-hour playwriting competition and, following a year of rewriting, was performed by Edmonton’s Workshop West Theatre at their new play festival.

You are a freelance writer for a number of publications both for government and trade. Have you always wanted to be a professional writer?

I think I always thought of myself becoming a writer, specifically a novelist. Journalism appeared to me as a career when I was in high school and read Hemingway and became convinced that the way to become a novelist was to work as a reporter until one could simply emerge as a novelist like a butterfly breaking out of the chrysalis of the newsroom. Of course, butterflies only live a couple of days, so this may or may not have been a very apt career metaphor.

Has your writing routine changed from that at the time of your first publication? How?

I’m busier with my contract writing now than when I wrote Dadolescence or my earlier plays. I’ve written three novel-length reports for a government environmental advisory body since 2012, so that makes it harder to find time to write my own stuff. As a result, I have to takes steps to keep myself producing my own work. One step was forming a writing group in 2014, in order to ensure that every second month I will need to have a piece ready to show the group (and in order to help with generating thoughts for rewrites). A more recent step was adopting the Jerry Seinfeld Writing Productivity Technique. Seinfeld advises writers to get an empty calendar and write an X on every page in which new material is generated. This is as an alternative to the more common commitments, like “I’ll get up every day at 5:30 and write 1,000 words.” Since all you need to do is write a sentence to get your X, you can enjoy the feeling of accomplishment as your line of Xs grows. And that feeling of accomplishment will encourage you to spend more time and produce more words. With these two prompts to writing, I work to find an hour here, an hour there, and sometimes actually do find myself with a full day when I can work through 3,000 words in one long push.

What inspires you?

One big inspiration would be travel, or, at the least, getting out of my regular routine and environment. I’ve had short stories grow out of things I’ve seen and heard or moods I’ve felt while travelling in Newfoundland, Belize, Arizona and northern Manitoba. Another story grew out of standing in the background at an Occupy demonstration in downtown Winnipeg, so the travel need not involve great distances. I think being away from my day-to-day environment just makes me a bit more receptive to things that can grow into an idea for writing. Another inspiration is work, specifically other people’s. I’m fascinated to learn about the workplace challenges of other people, whether they are fisheries biologists, flooring installers or home-care nurses.

You write in a variety of modes—non-fiction, fiction, and drama. Do you have a current favourite? Why?

I enjoy writing fiction the most these days, and I’m most focused on producing a new novel. In my contract and freelance work, I write speeches, environmental impact reports, magazine articles on health and research, and book news tidbits. I enjoy fiction because I’m not bound by the needs of others, as I am in my (much appreciated) day-job writing. I enjoyed writing plays for a number of years, but there is something limiting to the challenges of telling a story with a financially manageable number of characters, taking place on a single surface of hardwood, told almost entirely through dialogue.

In your creative projects, do you know at the moment you start to write something what format it will take when complete?

I usually know from the start whether something is going to be a play, a novel or a short story, but to be honest I don’t always know if something will actually work as a play, a novel or a short story, so I do have a number of abandoned projects, including one 145,000 unpublishable monster of a novel and a play that spans 15 years and thousands of miles and requires a minimum of eight actors, which hardly any theatre company could afford to produce.

Your novel Dadolescence was originally conceived of as a play. What made you want to take the story and shape it into a novel instead?

Pure opportunism. Seriously, I performed the play with my son Sam at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival and we received some very nice reviews and actually managed to sell out a few shows. One of the reviews said the play would be a great read if it were in book form. That got me wondering if this monologue-intensive two-person play could grow into something bigger and find a new audience.

Dadolescence was a comedy and it seems several of your plays were as well. Is comedy an important element in your writing?

Much of what I write has an element of comedy in it because to me the human experience is essentially comic. Comedy grows out of the gap between perception and reality, particularly self-perception and reality. As humans, we can’t help but think of ourselves as something higher and purer than mere animals. We’re made in God’s image. Our souls journey to enlightenment. Our minds contemplate perfection and eternity. And yet these souls and minds are tethered to a noisy, and, at times, noisome digestive tract that depends on the work of billions of micro-organisms. As I put it to my creative writing students “homo sapiens is the angel that farts.” I try to embrace both sides of that duality in my writing (though I can’t actually think of anything I’ve written that has employed a fart joke).

Do you create an overlying outline of the narrative you hope to tell before drafting the work, or do prefer the story to organically evolve as you write? Do you know how it ends before you begin?

I sometimes start with nothing more than an image. For example: “Rotting fruit and tropical heat as a Canadian slowly walks toward a Belize fruit stand.” Other times I’ll have an action: “Man searches for stolen tuba.” Or a predicament: “Mutual fund marketing guy needs heroic image for ad campaign.” Then I start writing, thinking, and thinking while running in an effort to see where it leads.

What role does research play in your writing?

I majored in history at university and spent several years following ideas and events, not very systematically, through the library stacks. So depending on what I’m writing, I am likely to do a lot of reading to feel comfortable with the place or period. I’ve spent time at the Manitoba Archives, wandered the streets of Lower Manhattan, and planned holidays around specific destinations in order to get a feel for places or people.

In your opinion, how necessary is it for authors to be widely read in the genre they are working in?

You have to be widely read. You have to know how words work. Reading also gives you some necessary humility, by reminding you that you aren’t the first person in the world to have ideas. And, to be mercenary for a moment, reading in your particular genre can tell you whether or not there’s a market for what you want to do, or can help you see how to differentiate your work from what’s out there already.

Some writers prefer the process of composing a first draft to a story while others prefer the editorial stage of fine tuning and polishing. Do you have a preference? Why?

Composing a first draft is more enjoyable at those times when the first draft is moving ahead well, when you can hear the characters and see the action and everything seems to be making sense. When your first draft is hitting those “now what?” moments it’s not quite so fun. I’d rather have the more predictable pleasures of polishing an existing draft than those terrors.

What’s your favourite moment in the life of your work? And why?

I sometimes start with an image or a situation and will begin writing before I really know if I have a story. So one of my favourite moments would be when I first realize that, as rock climbers say, “it goes.” That is, when I see that I can turn that image or situation into a story that goes somewhere in a satisfying way.

What are you currently working on?

I’m about 60,000 words into a new novel. At one point, early on, I thought it might be a YA novel, but then I realized that I don’t really want to write a YA novel. It’s set in Gilded Age New York, Appalachia and the American Wild West and it’s got all the things I look for in a novel: street criminals, period slang, gunplay, wolves, circuses, steam engines, cameos by figures from history, stand-up comedy, and a role for Daniel Day Lewis in the movie adaptation.

And now a few fun questions:

Do you keep any talismans or lucky charms nearby when you write?

I have a framed footprint of my son from when he was in Kindergarten on one side of my computer and on the other a cheap reproduction of an anonymous painting, signed on the back by my friends from grade 1 and given to be at a going-away party when I was six years old. Also a framed poster of my first professional theatre production.

Do you draft first in longhand, or on a computer/keyboard?

Computer only.

I write long-hand in my travel journal, but I feel that my IQ is about 30 points lower when I use a pen to compose anything other than notes.

Are you a habitual consumer of anything while you write? How about when you edit?

Coffee until 11 am, then tea. Kicking Horse Three Sisters blend is my coffee of choice (French press, Nespresso milk foamer) for writing or reading. My consuming weakness is cereal: oatmeal with blueberries if it’s a cold day, Shreddies otherwise.

Favourite music to listen to while you write?

These days I’m likely to call up an internet radio station (alt-country, or what Americans call Americana music, despite the fact that the genre was created by The Band) and have it play in the background while I work.

If you could not be involved in the literary arts, what career might you have?

My wife, Rosemary, says I should manage a backcountry hut in the mountains, but frankly, too much of that job is about keeping the composting toilets functioning. I’d say, looking back on my summer jobs in university, that being a park interpreter in Banff, Jasper or Kananaskis would be pretty sweet.

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production@turnstonepress.com (Production) AOTM: Author of the Month Mon, 01 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0600