Five Questions with Deb Loughead

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Deb Loughead is the author of more than thirty books for children and young adults, ranging from poetry and plays to picture books and novels. IFOA has asked her to talk about her inspiration, new work and how stories define us!

Join us on December 14 for Toronto Lit Up and celebrate her new work!

IFOA: In your bio you mention that you have kept everything you have ever written. How do you feel when you go back and re-read your work?

Deb: I would have to say both nostalgic and satisfied.  Nostalgic, because it’s an opportunity to revisit my childhood and my tween-hood.  I began writing poetry at about age ten and stories shortly afterwards.  My mother always read to me and told me stories so I was fascinated with words, maybe even obsessed, from an early age. I see a natural progression, a little girl who lived in her imagination and daydreamed constantly.  And put it all down in words. I can also see that it was inevitable that I would become a writer, from the very first story I ever wrote, “A Narrow Escape for a Mouse”, which I always read to students on school visits.

IFOA: What is the most exciting and the most difficult thing when you write for children and young adults?

Deb: The exciting part is creating credible characters that young readers can relate to and identify with.  I write contemporary realistic fiction so it is also a challenge to keep it current, and to imagine and capture their environment of home and school and friendships. Perhaps my readers will see themselves and some of their own problems in the dilemmas my characters have been faced with. There is never a perfect ending in my stories, but there are answers and solutions that I hope they can take away with them and apply to their own lives.  Often the difficult part is coming up with the premise that I hope will work. I don’t plot my stories in advance, so there are times when I have no idea where a twisting plot-line will lead me, and I’m usually pleasantly surprised when I get there. I hope my readers will be as well.

IFOA: In your bio you also ask yourself if the stories that we carry around with us make us who we are. Do they? If yes, can we ever change our narrative, can we change who we are?

loughead-the-secret-we-keepDeb: Every event in our life, every situation we experience becomes a part of the narrative of our lives.  These are our life stories, this is what shapes us, the good, the bad, the happy and the sad of it. For example, I grew up on my mother’s stories, of her childhood, her young adulthood, her life as a teacher, wife and young mother.  She is a great storyteller and always willing to share. I learned who she was because of the stories that shaped her life. I’ve developed a clearer understanding of who she is now, because I know who she was so long ago. I believe that who she is must be innate. But it’s how she reacted to and dealt with every event in her life that determined the outcome. I don’t think we can change who we are. That would probably take a lot of psychotherapy, probably to no avail! Like that saying “a leopard can’t change its spots.” But I think that every opportunity in life offers the possibility to create a new narrative and to enrich yourself no matter who you are.

IFOA: What inspired you to write The Secrets We Keep?

Deb: Believe it or not, a question and answer in an advice column in the Toronto Star. And asking myself ‘what if’!

IFOA: What is most important for the characters in the book, the truth or the secret?

Deb: Learning the truth was vital to Clem and her friends. It was the only way they could find closure and move forward. But keeping the secret was even more crucial by the end of the novel. If the secret were to be revealed to Kit’s family, they knew it would open old wounds and delay their finding a measure of closure themselves. So keeping the secret is essential for the sake of the Stitski family.

The secret is the bond that the four of them share.  They are all aware that they are connected by the role that each of them played leading up to Kit’s death ‘by misadventure’. I think Clem pretty much sums it up in the second last paragraph.  Sometimes keeping secrets is imperative ‘Not just to protect ourselves, but to protect the other people in our circle of family and friends who could be even more damaged by them than we are.’

Five Questions with Mary Jennifer Payne

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Mary Jennifer Payne’s writing has been published in journals, anthologies, and magazines in Canada and abroad. She is the author of several YA graphic novels and the YA novel Since You’ve Been Gone. She teaches special education with the Toronto District School Board and lives in Toronto.

Join us as we celebrate her new work at Toronto Lit Up on December 14.

IFOA:  Finding Jade is part of the Daughters of Light fantasy series. What are some of the themes you want to explore in the trilogy?

Mary Jennifer: Some of the themes I wanted to explore in the Daughters of Light series are very much grounded in reality and in our contemporary world. Perhaps the most pressing theme concerns the ravaging of our planet and the impact of that on our daily lives and on global human rights. As the series continues, the theme of “othering”, and the corrupting nature or power become more dominant. There are many themes pertinent to teens in Finding Jade, some of these include: living with a single parent with chronic illness, bullying, and the trials and tribulations of young love. I also wanted to re-frame some of the traditional, gendered narratives about leadership and mainstream ideas about “superhero” protagonists as they are largely male-centric.

IFOA:  Finding Jade transports the reader to 2030. How have you imagined our future? Why?

Mary Jennifer: Initially, the series was set at a later date around 2050. However, it became apparent, as I went through the final revisions of Finding Jade, that climate change was rapidly intensifying, and that precipitated the need for the series to be set closer to our contemporary times. The Arab Spring uprisings were in their infancy when I began writing the series about five years ago, and, as such, the tragedy of the Syrian war and the subsequent refugee crisis were not even on the horizon. I based many of the climate change refugee issues and the description of our world in the year 2030 (which- spoiler alert– becomes more important in the series’ later books) on what was happening in Darfur, the rise of demagogue leaders, and the history of internment and/or genocide in places like Canada, Germany, Rwanda, etc. Jasmine lives in a world largely shaped by climate change. In many ways, it parallels are own: countries are closing their borders to refugees fleeing nations ravaged by drought and other environmental disasters, and much of the world is experiencing political, economic and social unrest due to this. Resources are scarce and energy is being conserved due to the warming climate- even in relatively resource-rich Toronto. I think, especially in light of the political and social transformations happening in the US this past year and the increasingly urgent scientific information emerging about the speed at which our global climate is changing, the world I imagined for 2030 appears to be less fictional than ever.

IFOA:  You have published graphic novels for young adults. Why did you use this medium to tell the story?

Mary Jennifer: I’ve published both graphic and traditional novels and novellas. The Daughters of Light series just seemed to fit the novel format, but it could definitely also translate into a graphic structure. Honestly, I’d love to see it on the big screen someday!

IFOA: Where do you draw inspiration from for your work?

payne-mary-jenniferMary Jennifer: The inspiration for this series came from so many different things. Most of the time, the germ of a story comes from my students, and the Daughters of Light series is no different. However, for the trilogy, I also was inspired by a plethora of ideas: the growing threat of climate change and the dismissal of this by certain politicians and special interest groups; Santerian beliefs about twins; by Christian and Islamic texts about the end of time; the need for more female superheroes, especially diverse superheroes, and the way in which our world has historically treated refugees and the shameful practice of “othering”. As my partner can attest, my mind is rarely quiet, except maybe when I am by the ocean.

IFOA:  What are the things you consider when devising young characters?

Mary Jennifer: There’s not a lot I consciously think about when devising my young characters. They kind of just form themselves in my mind. I have the great privilege of spending most of my time with young people, and am always amazed by their intelligence, resilience and courage. The students I teach are often navigating a huge amount of intersectionality in their lives. They inspire and teach me so much, and I could never express my gratitude. I am aware, when writing, that I am a white woman who, though from working-class background, is now pretty firmly middle-class and, thus, I occupy a place of privilege that is not necessarily earned. I try to really reflect on this when developing characters. I’ve always felt that one of my favorite characters, Jermaine, from my first novel, Since You’ve Been Gone, has a further story to tell and that the narrative needs to be set during the London riots of 2011. However, I don’t feel that is my story to tell. Maybe in collaboration, and certainly not in the first-person voice I usually use with my writing. I’d love to tell his story in collaboration with someone like Malorie Blackman. She’s such a consummate YA author.

 

 

 

Five Questions with Chris Hedges

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IFOA: Can you tell us a bit more about what you will be discussing at your keynote address: The Price of Truth in Journalism in a Post-Fact World at the Humber Liberal Arts Conference at IFOA?

Chris Hedges: The decline of print as a medium to impart information has given primacy to the image, and therefore the skillful manipulation of emotion.  The electronic mediums that impart images eschew complexity and nuance.  They speak in easily digestible cliches and replace information and fact with entertainment and spectacle. This is the template for all forms of totalitarianism, including our corporate totalitarianism.

IFOA: You currently teach prisoners at a maximum-security prison in New Jersey. What is your favourite and least favourite part of this role?

Chris Hedges: My favorite part is teaching brilliant students with a deep hunger to learn. My least favorite part is dealing with the prison administration.

IFOA: You speak English, Arabic, French, Spanish, Latin and Ancient Greek. Is there another language you would like to learn?

Chris Hedges: Russian.

IFOA: Can you describe your time as a foreign correspondent in fewer than 10 words?

Chris Hedges: A study in human depravity and violence.

IFOA: Foreign correspondent, author, professor, ordained minister. What’s next for you?

Chris Hedges: That’s enough.

 

See Chris Hedges deliver the keynote address at the Humber Liberal Arts Conference.

Get your tickets here.

5 Questions with Naomi Guttman

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IFOA: Where did you draw inspiration from to write your latest collection?

Naomi: I spent a brief time in my twenties studying music, for which I had very little talent. They say that for writers all experience is grist, so I guess that the beginnings of writing about music and musicians go back to that time. I’ve always been interested in food and in the past dozen years as I’ve created courses on food and participated in conferences on food, I’ve met a wide array of people who are also interested in food, with eating it, researching it, and writing about it.

Needless to say, those of us obsessed with food are in many ways hedonists, and Donny is a character who embodies the Dionysian qualities that stress life’s sensory pleasures, including food. You might say that I created Ari as an ascetic counterweight. Their “opera,” or song, is a conversation I have with myself every day: do I indulge in the pleasures of the world as they are given to me, especially those of food, or do I choose restraint in the recognition that the planet’s resources are in fact dwindling under population and environmental pressures?

IFOA: What is your writing process?

Naomi: It’s very slow. With this book I began by setting myself the goal of writing prosy blocks of poetry, 10 lines per poem. At first I wanted to capture each character’s point of view, via an omniscient narrative voice. Because I wanted to tell a story, eventually I had to figure out how to create more dramatic poems rather than simply meditative ones. I also realized that I wanted to do more formal experimentation, and that took some time to develop. I teach, so the book was written in fits and starts, mostly over summers. I’d say it took about 4 years to complete the manuscript, and another year or so to polish it.

IFOA: If you could collaborate with any writer, who would it be and why?

Naomi: I’d love to collaborate with a composer and a librettist, perhaps using “Donny & Ari” as the basis of a contemporary opera. I’m also very interested in the personal documentary and would love to collaborate with Alan Berliner, or someone like that. But most writers are solitary types, so it’s hard to imagine it happening.

IFOA: What are some of the subjects aspiring authors explore in your creative writing classes? Do you have advice for them about finding inspiration?

Naomi: Young people, naturally, gravitate to writing about what they know. I often begin a course with childhood memories, important places, and dreams as sources for their writing (I have them read Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet”); at the same time, I want them to turn the usual advice on its head: as the writer Brett Lott said, “Write what you don’t know about what you know.” I ask students to consider the mystery, the gaps between what they think they know and what they actually know.

IFOA: What’s next for you?

Naomi: I’m working on a personal documentary in video. I don’t know that it will ever be of a quality that I’d want to show the world, but I’m enjoying the exercise of putting visual material, recorded voices, and music in relationship to one another. I’m also working on some personal essays. I’m still writing poems, but I haven’t zeroed in on collecting a new manuscript, though I believe that if I looked at my notebooks, I might be able to see the beginnings of another volume of poems.

 

See Naomi read live at Brick Books’ 40th Anniversary Celebration on May 25th at 7:30pm.

Five Questions with…Carolyn Smart

Smart, Carolyn

IFOA: What inspired you to write Careen?

Carolyn: For the past few years I have been interested in writing the unrevealed truths behind certain historical figures. Reading a recent biography of the outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, I learned that their lasting fame was based on one set of staged photographs left behind in a getaway, and a 1967 Arthur Penn film that to a large degree invented their story. I was drawn to tell the more realistic tale: the hardscrabble existence of two young people with absolutely nothing to lose in Depression-era Texas, an area and time with which I have a personal connection: my maternal grandfather was a failed gun-runner who died in penury in Laredo.

IFOA: What is the hardest part about writing poetry that resembles dialogue?

Carolyn: I wanted the poems to have recognizable and distinct voices, to be revealing information but also working as rhythmic language; I wanted lyricism and narrative linked. And for this book I took the leap to write in dialect, which to me felt revolutionary.

IFOA: What piece of advice do you give to aspiring authors in your creative writing classes?

Carolyn: I encourage emerging writers to avoid self-censorship, to edit thoroughly, and to remember why you write: because you love it.

IFOA: What are you reading now?

Carolyn: I am reading “Inferno (A Poet’s Novel)” by Eileen Myles, also “Speedboat” by Renata Adler. I just finished “Night Sky with Exit Wounds” by Ocean Vuong and “Bluets” by Maggie Nelson.

IFOA: What’s next for you?

Carolyn: I’m writing poems about all kinds of different things, in lots of different forms. I’m not sure where it’s going yet, but I’m open to anything.

 

See Carolyn read live at Brick Books’ 40th Anniversary Celebration on May 25th at 7:30pm.

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