Five Questions with… Mathew Henderson

Mathew Henderson, author of The Lease 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 Mathew on November 2! Don’t forget to tag @IFOA or use #IFOA2013. Good luck!

IFOA: The poems in your debut collection, The Lease, were inspired by your time working in the Saskatchewan and Alberta oilfields. Can you tell us a bit about this experience?Mathew Henderson

Mathew Henderson: I graduated high school just as my family decided to move from Prince Edward Island to Alberta in an effort to make a more livable income. My late university application was turned down, and I ended up having to follow the family west. My father set me up with a job at my recently deceased uncle’s production testing company. I had no work ethic and no idea what I was doing and the muscle and bone density of a boy, but I was suddenly in this very rough, very adult and masculine world. I think that transition and contrast inspired a lot of the book.

IFOA: Do you have a favourite of the poems in this collection?

Henderson: My favourite poems are “You Ask Your Father What a Lease Is” and “Kelsey” because they both started as pretty mediocre poems, and through the editing process, they really came around.

IFOA: If you could swap careers with any poet, alive or dead, whom would you swap with?

Henderson: Swapping careers doesn’t appeal to me very much, but I’d certainly steal other poets’ abilities. If I could write about the body and the physical world like Sharon Olds, for instance, I think my poems (and my career) would get a whole lot better.

IFOA: What does a perfect writing day look like for you?

Henderson: 6:30am: wake up and run. 7:30: breakfast. 9:00–10:00: write. 10:00–11:00: video games. 11:00–12:00: write/read. 12:00–1:00: lunch. 1:00–2:00: video games. 2:00–3:00: write/read. 3:00–6:00: mixture of the previous. 6:30–8:30: muay thai. 9:00–11:00: mostly reading/television/games.

But that’s a “perfect” day that I just made up. Most of my writing happens in unscheduled two hour chunks at coffee shops, or in the classroom while my students write exams.

IFOA: Are you working on anything now?

Henderson: I’m in the early stages of a collection that deals with video games, addiction, alternate reality and comics.

Mathew Henderson lives in Toronto and has had his work published in The Walrus, Maisonneuve and Brick. He will be talking about writing today with Brave New Word authors Tamara Faith Berger, Craig Davidson and D.W. Wilson on on November 2 at 12pm.

Five Questions with… Stéphane Michaka

Stéphane Michaka, author of Scissors and a participant in this year’s International Festival of Authors, answered our five questions.

IFOA: What prompted you to write about Raymond Carver and his relationship with his overzealous editor, Gordon Lish ?

Stéphane Michaka

(c) Elisa Pône

Stéphane Michaka: It’s a universal story. I see it as a modern version of the Faustian myth or of Pygmalion and Galatea. It speaks to everyone, not only writers and editors, but anyone who is trying to create something and is both helped and hindered by his or her mentor. In fact, the “Scissors” in my title are not so much a nickname for the editor as a byword for our everyday addictions and our attempts to deal with them.

IFOA: Were you ever nervous about what Lish might have to say about your novel ?

Michaka: Not really. Lish is a controversial figure, but he is also a living legend. As fiction editor of Esquire, he left an indelible mark on American letters. I was well aware of that when I wrote a character based on him. At the beginning of my novel, Raymond describes him as “someone who has a vital need to hear good stories.” Scissors does not depict the powerful editor as a white-collar villain and the vulnerable, blue-collar writer as his victim. My storyline suggests that it takes many talents to bring a great writer to fruition.

IFOA: Describe your idea of the perfect editor.

Michaka: Someone who can guide a writer from beginning to end, in moments of self-doubt as well as bouts of exhilaration—which can be as damaging as doubting everything you write. Rebecca Saletan, a wonderful editor of both fiction and essays, once told me her favorite compliment was when a writer told her : “You’re like a car mechanic who knows why it’s knocking under the hood.” The perfect editor has to be a great diagnostician—as good mechanics are.

IFOA: If you could have lunch with any author, alive or dead, whom would it be ?

Michaka: Probably Shakespeare (I started as a playwright). I would ask him to give me a tour of the Globe Theater in 1600, dressed as the ghost in Hamlet and preferably by night. Wouldn’t that be great ? Having said that, I fear he would take me to a pub instead and make me drink more ale than I could swallow.

IFOA: Finish this sentence: I write best when…

Michaka: …I forget the time, date and feel I am inside the scene with my characters. I write best when I absent myself from the world. And the wonderful thing is that the published book forces you back into the world and makes you meet real people who are far richer than your own creations.

Stéphane Michaka is an editor, playwright, translator and novelist. He discussed the role he played in the translation of his book and the experience of being translated into English for the first time today, with authors Viola Di Grado and Mieko Kawakami.

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.

Edge-of-your-seat entertainment at this year’s IFOA

Didn’t snag tickets to see horror master Stephen King kick off this year’s IFOA? Why not check out some of these other horror, thriller and mystery specialists appearing throughout the Festival’s 11 days!

Stephen King

(c) Shane Leonard)

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