Five Questions with… S. Bear Bergman

S. Bear Bergman, author of Blood, Marriage Wine, & Glitter and a participant in this year’s International Festival of Authors, answered our five questions.

Share this article via Facebook or Twitter for your chance to win two tickets to see Bear on November 2! Don’t forget to tag @IFOA or use #IFOA2013. Good luck!

IFOA: Your work has been called many things—provocative, insightful, humorous. What do you hope readers will say about your most recent collection of stories?

S. Bear Bergman

(c) Zoe Gemelli

S. Bear Bergman: There’s a Yiddish word, heymish, that typically gets translated into English as cozy or homey. In Yiddish, it’s used almost as the incantation for a sense memory of home—a noisy table, your Bubbie’s stuffed cabbage, Uncle Marvin’s pipe smoke, being brusquely preened by your mother—that’s mostly comforting but also a little challenging, sometimes the nicest possible fit and sometimes just hilarious and sometimes you’d rather scream than spend another second with these people and their opinions. Honestly, that’s what I hope for. I really value that sense of push and pull, and I often write towards it. I dream of readers gritting their teeth but choosing to read a piece about a topic that challenges them or pushes their buttons because there’s been some other part of the book that felt so welcoming. And I try to keep the jokes coming, just in case.

IFOA: You’re both a writer and theatre artist. Which do you find easier: expressing yourself on paper or on stage?

Bergman: Really, what I am is a storyteller—writing things for paper and writing things for a stage are just that same one skill wearing different hats. I usually think whichever I’m not doing at the moment is easier. Writing for performance is easier in some ways, because I am in the room with the audience. If they don’t get the joke or the concept, I can give them more explanation or more tone or more facial expression until they get it (or if they get it immediately, I can skip ahead). I can make that choice afresh for every audience, rather than averaging the difference and hoping it works out, as I have to do on paper.

But a page is more patient. Because there’s so much less for a reader to take in, in the absence of the tone and face and gestures and so on, I can do more intricate things with language. I can sustain a metaphor longer, or return to a previous piece of imagery and mine it again, or use the very best word instead of a more familiar one, knowing that the reader can re-read if necessary.

If you were to compare two versions of a piece like “Gathering Light Out Of Darkness,” the one used for performance in my show Machatunim and the one as printed in Blood, Marriage, Wine, & Glitter, you’d see a whole array of places where I have thinned or tightened the text for performance. I feel good about both versions. The text probably gives readers a slightly fuller, more nuanced argument. But the performance has the potential to send a shiver up the back of someone’s neck.

IFOA: What’s been the most important lesson you’ve learned in your life?

Bergman: I can’t remember anymore where I read about this. Somewhere I came across the concept that if each of two people—whether in disagreement or in collaboration or whatever—are only willing to go halfway, they can’t succeed. Their halves won’t quite mesh. The solution is that someone needs to go 51 percent of the way, as a matter of commitment to making solutions. We generally imagine that there’s value attached to this, that one person/organization/entity or the other ought to go further, that going further demonstrates culpability or virtue or guilt or something else.

Jews are very big on the concept of tikkun olam—mending the world as an ongoing task. After reading about 51 percent, I made a commitment that I would just resolve to always go a little more than halfway. The extra one percent is my commitment to mending. I find it tremendously helpful and strangely freeing. No more guilt-calculus, no more obsessive Virgo tallying of responsibility and value. Just rough out half and shoot a little past it, for good measure and the repayment of past generosity and in honour of mending.

IFOA: How do you hope to be remembered?

Bergman: As someone who showed up. In good times, in tough times, for meals and games and shows and recitals and demonstrations and prom photos and hard talks and graduations and weddings and funerals and every other thing that still wants actual three-dimensional, warm good-smelling people to be there in person, I would like to be remembered as someone who could be counted upon to find his pants and his good cheer and show up. Probably I’ll be remembered as the guy who showed up… 15 minutes early because he hates to be late and doesn’t much enjoy feeling rushed, either.

IFOA: Finish this sentence: Family is…

Bergman: …an evolving concept, a source of comfort and a lot of work.

S. Bear Bergman is an acclaimed author, performer and gender-jammer. He will be discussing writing about the queer experience and the changing face of the Canadian family with author Alison Wearing on November 2 at 11am.

Five Questions with… Charlotte Grimshaw

Charlotte Grimshaw, author of Soon and a participant in this year’s International Festival of Authors, answered our five questions.

Share this article via Facebook or Twitter for your chance to win two tickets to see Charlotte on November 2 plus a copy of Soon! Don’t forget to tag @IFOA or use #IFOA2013. Good luck!

IFOA: Philip Matthews of Metro Magazine described Soon’s ending as “one hell of a cliff-hanger”. Had you already determined how the story would end when you began writing it?

Charlotte Grimshaw

(c) Jane Ussher

Charlotte Grimshaw: Soon is the latest in a series of novels and story collections of mine that are loosely connected by character and plot. The novel stands on its own as a complete story, but I did want to leave the reader wondering what would happen next, so I could pick up some of the storylines in a subsequent book. The novel is about the unsettling forces affecting the characters’ safe, orderly lives, so I wasn’t going to give them a completely secure and nicely resolved ending.

IFOA: You’ve written five novels and two short story collections. Which form do you most enjoy reading? Why?

Grimshaw: I enjoy both forms. I like short story collections that are connected, like mine, but I have nothing against reading stories on disparate subjects. So long as it’s well written, the form doesn’t matter. I love the economy of short stories, the discipline required to write them. I particularly admire Alice Munro’s ability to pack a huge amount of telling detail into a small space, also her ability to structure and layer stories. She is a great stylist. I love reading novels too. It’s the quality of the writing that matters.

IFOA: What influence has your father, the author C.K. Stead, had on your writing?

Grimshaw: My father has often given me practical advice about agents and publishers and so on. I admire his poetry, and when I read it I hear a strange, indefinable tone in it—the kind of writing I think of as excellent. I think we come up with very different novels though, because we’re two very different people.

IFOA: You previously worked as a criminal lawyer—an experience you drew on when writing your debut novel, Provocation. If you could pursue any career for the benefit of your writing, what would it be?

Grimshaw: I’ve always been interested in crime, not because I want to write sensationalist or genre fiction, but because I’m interested in human stories. The criminal law is an excellent area to work in if, like me, you’re interested in free will, human fallibility and life’s cruel ironies. I attended quite a number of murder trials, and they gave me rich material. My aim has always been to write literary fiction, though. I don’t want to write a thriller. Material for stories can just as easily be found in ordinary, everyday life.

IFOA:  Finish this sentence: I am most content when…

Grimshaw: …a novel I’m working on seems to have all its elements properly aligned, and I can see the characters and scenes so clearly that it’s as if I leave my own life and go to work in my fictional place every day. That’s when I really feel I’m on the right track.

Charlotte Grimshaw is the author of five critically acclaimed novels and two short story collections. She will be discussing how she uses the burdens and secrets of her characters to help drive plot and narrative with authors Justin Cartwright, Louise Doughty, Aminatta Forna on November 2 at 4pm.

Five Questions with… Chad Pelley

Chad Pelley, author of Every Little Thing and a participant in this year’s International Festival of Authors, answered our five questions.

Share this article via Facebook or Twitter for your chance to win two tickets to see Chad on November 1! Don’t forget to tag @IFOA or use #IFOA2013. Good luck!

IFOA: Every Little Thing is about a life shaped by the butterfly effect of a bad decision. The novel begins at the end, with your protagonist, Cohen, in prison. Did you actually write the story backwards?  Or did you know what Cohen’s bad decision would be from the very beginning?Chad Pelley

Chad Pelley: It was more about getting a hook in the reader and making them curious enough to keep turning the pages. I find it more interesting when a story keeps alluding to things that happen later, because the reader knows that it’s all going somewhere. I thought that opening the novel with a good man in prison, reflecting on his failed relationship, was a good way to make readers interested in how he got there. Throughout the book, Cohen keeps making decisions with an extreme sense of morality; he disregards law and social norms. But you don’t know what decision or suite of decisions land him in jail until the second half of the book. It’s a structure that keeps you guessing, I hope, and intrigued. A slow reveal, if a writer can pull it off, tends to be more powerful than a linear plot.

IFOA: You’re a songwriter, photographer, a regular contributor to several major publications, the founder of the literary blog Salty Ink and president of the Writers Alliance of Newfoundland & Labrador. How have you managed to find the time to write novels?

Pelley: Passion, I guess. It’s not diligence and discipline that keep me writing fiction, but the fact that I like writing. There’s a pretty simple approach to life that I’ve embraced: enjoy how you spend your time and your life can’t not be enjoyable. I’ve been bold enough—or financially reckless enough—to structure my professional life so that it takes a backseat to the writing.

IFOA: Tell us about a book you’ve read that made a lasting impression on you.

Pelley: A book by a fellow IFOA 2013 author, Michael Winter. His first novel, This All Happened, actually changed my life. And you can read all about why in this piece in the National Post.

IFOA: Do you have any advice for aspiring novelists?

Pelley: Write. I know far too many aspiring writers who aren’t actually sitting and writing. No one is going to publish your novel idea. Get it on paper. Revise it 100 times. And if you find you’re not enjoying the act of writing, then don’t be a writer. Despite what unrealistic TV shows and movies imply, it’s a rough profession, financially. Advances and award wins aside, you’re going to make approximately two dollars per book sold. So you want to be sure you love writing enough to write often. I, for example, think writer’s block is a fictional affliction. Or an excuse. If a plumber is called onto a job, and it’s a tough call to assess what to do next, he doesn’t just go watch TV instead.

IFOA: Finish this sentence: The best part is…

Pelley: …going on a fall book tour that includes stops at the country’s finest festivals, like IFOA,               Vancouver Writer’s Fest, Writers at Woody Point, Word on the Street Toronto, etc, and being able to say it’s not the first time I’ve shared a bill with the likes of Margaret Atwood and Lisa Moore. It helps me feel a little more assured that becoming a writer was the right decision. I left a promising career in biology for this racket!

Chad Pelley is an award-winning author who runs the popular literary blog, Salty Ink. He will be discussing the influence of the East Coast on his writing with authors Michael Crummey and Lisa Moore on November 1 at 8pm.

Five Questions with… Kevin Barry

Kevin Barry, author of Dark Lies the Island and a participant in this year’s International Festival of Authors, answered our five questions.

Share this article via Facebook or Twitter for your chance to win two tickets to see Kevin on November 1! Don’t forget to tag @IFOA or use #IFOA2013. Good luck!

IFOA: You’re an avid traveler. What has been your favourite of all the places you’ve visited, and why?Kevin Barry

Kevin Barry: Probably the place that I’ve finally ended up in: a swamp in county Sligo in the north west of Ireland. I live in a former police station here. I look out the barred window to a smoke-grey lake, green hills and some puzzled-looking cattle. It rains 300 days of the year. Once you’ve got past the Breaking Bad DVDs, there are very few distractions from the desk. To be here on a winter night’s, by the fire, with whisky and some dub reggae on the record player, while the gales are rattling hard outside, it’s as cosy as the womb.

IFOA: You’ve written two short story collections and a novel. Do you ever start out with the intention of writing one form and end up with the other?

Barry: That may yet happen. For the last year or two, I’ve been thinking of a short story about a love triangle, but the more I think about it, it keeps opening out. I want it to be a kind of grey and beautiful piece. I think it could be a novella now, or potentially a slim novel.

IFOA: Of the 13 stories in Dark Lies the Island, which did you find the most challenging to write? Why?

Barry: The title story, because it’s the only thing I’ve ever written that doesn’t have even an ounce of funny in it. It’s a tar-black piece about a young girl who is cutting, and she may be about to go further. I rewrote the ending about 40 times.

IFOA: What has been your most unlikely or unusual source of inspiration?

Barry: One really gorgeous June day, my wife and I were driving around a lake in county Sligo when we passed a small neat Japanese car containing the two sweetest and most blameless little grey-haired old ladies you could ever imagine. They waved, and we waved back, and a twisted voice inside my head told me—”They’re out to steal a child.” Which led to my story “Ernestine and Kit.”

IFOA: Describe your writing in one sentence.

Barry: Laughter in the dark. (And I acknowledge that this is borrowed from Mr Nabokov.)

Kevin Barry is the author of City of Bohane, which won the 2013 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award.  He will be reading from his most recent short story collection on November 1 at 8pm alongside authors Craig DavidsonPaul HardingColum McCann and C.K. Stead.

 

Five Questions with… Elizabeth Wennick

Elizabeth Wennick, author of Whatever Doesn’t Kill You and a participant in this year’s International Festival of Authors, answered our five questions.

Share this article via Facebook or Twitter for your chance to win two tickets to see Elizabeth on October 30! Don’t forget to tag @IFOA or use #IFOA2013. Good luck!

IFOA: Whatever Doesn’t Kill You deals with some pretty tough subject matter. What inspired you to write it?

Elizabeth Wennick

(c) Beth Downey Curry

Elizabeth Wennick: I often come up with a character long before I come up with a story to go along with them, and in Jenna’s case, I imagined a girl who was sort of mentally stuck in an era she hadn’t actually experienced—in this case, the world of 1980s and 1990s sitcoms with perfect families who work out all their troubles in 22 minutes flat.

When I hear about some terrible tragedy that’s in the news, like the one that happens to Jenna’s family, I always wonder “What happens next? Where do people go after something like that happens?” Obviously, the story continues, but “life goes on” isn’t enough to warrant a front-page news story. So, what happens when you have a family who can’t work out their problems at all, let alone with enough time left over for commercial breaks?

IFOA: Did you always want to write fiction for young adults?

Wennick: I’ve always wanted to write. I don’t really think I meant to focus on one age group when I started writing fiction, but I have always been fascinated by stories about people who have character-forming experiences, and so many of these types of experiences happen during adolescence that it just seems like a natural fit.

IFOA: Name one book that has made a lasting impression on you.

Wennick: Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson. My teacher read it to the class when I was in grade 2, and I took a copy out of the school library and reread it over and over. It was a complete revelation to me that children in a book could have such complex emotions, family dynamics and experiences—just like in real life! I think that was the first time I realized that reading was an amazing way to live all sorts of other lives, in other places, and still be able to come back to my safe little world at the end.

IFOA: What’s the best compliment someone can give you about your writing?

Wennick: “I believed in the characters.”

IFOA: Finish this sentence: I feel most creative when…

Wennick: I’m supposed to be doing something else.

Elizabeth Wennick has written two novels, several short plays and a weekly newspaper humour column. She will be presenting her most recent novel with Charles de Lint on October 30 at 10:30am.

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