5 Questions with Rebecca Rosenblum

IFOA: What are some of the main themes you explore in So Much Love?

Rosenblum: Stories and how they change depending on who is telling them, from where in time they are being told—present tense, recent past, long in the past. And love, in all its variations, from parent-child to friendship to romantic, from poisonous and violent to pure and tender. Love is a lot more various and complex than we give it credit for, much more than just the embrace at the end of the romantic comedy. So even though this is a book with two acts of violence at its centre, it is also truly about love and how it goes both right and wrong.

IFOA: In an interview with Kerry Clare you said that “So Much Love was born from undergraduate discussions about poet Gwendolyn MacEwen“.  Can you tell us more about that?

rosenblum-rebecca-credit-mark-raynes-robertsRosenblum: MacEwen was the spark for me because the way we talked about her life in an undergraduate poetry class seemed just really close to how we talk about her poetry, as if her personal tragedies were another kind of art we could explore and evaluate. Of course, biography is always part of the picture when we study artists—you can’t really avoid it—but I felt like this was somewhat different than how we talked about male writers, and I wanted to explore that difference and my discomfort with it. That exploration followed a really long and circuitous path to get to the character of Julianna Ohlin in  So Much Love, but MacEwen was the originating spark. The second thread—of a young woman who goes missing and what happens to her—came from a similar place of wondering how life stories get put together and by who, who gets to tell that story.

IFOA:
How does So Much Love differ from anything you have written before?

Rosenblum: It’s a novel, as opposed to a collection of short stories. My first book, Once, was mainly unlinked stories and my second, The Big Dream, followed a loose arc, but both were made up of stories written as stand alone pieces and intended to be read either by themselves or in the context of each other, whatever the reader chose. There was a version of So Much Love that was written that way too, but linked short stories is a very elliptical form, with a lot of gaps for the reader, skips in time, and less of a solid arc or build in action, much less a resolution or ending—and the stories in So Much Love really needed to take a reader through a plotline with these characters and arrive at a conclusion. I just didn’t know how to do that It was really my editor, Anita Chong, who helped me take my linked collection and build a structure and fill in the gaps in plot until it became a real novel, which it truly always should have been. That was a very steep learning curve for me, and I needed a lot of help from Anita, but it was really gratifying to see the book grow into itself.

IFOA: What have you learned about yourself by writing this book?

rosenblum-so-much-loveRosenblum: That I’m better than I thought, but still no where near good enough. I had attempted to write the stories in So Much Love a couple times over the 15 years prior to it actually being published, and I wasn’t able to even properly envision the project until about 2011. That history of failure made me really humble going in a third time to try again. Which is good, because even though this third try was successful in the sense that I wrote the book I wanted to in the end, there was so much failure over the six years it took to get there, so much getting things wrong and throwing them out, so much going back to the voices of women who had been through experiences like Catherine did and trying again to honour them and not feeling I was getting it right. It was a devastating process in many ways, but a story like this was never one I was going to feel completely comfortable with, and that’s fine—no writer should feel comfortable or confident writing about trauma. There’s always more to say—in another few months, I’ll probably think of another angle I could have taken, another chapter to add that would have been illuminating.I accept that I wrote the best book I could, and I’m proud of it, but I know it isn’t perfect. Cracks are how the light gets in.

IFOA: Do you feel there are now more female voices in Canadian literature than there were when you started writing?

Rosenblum: I have had the great advantage of always being surrounded by wonderful and inspiring female writers—in my classes at the University of Toronto Creative Writing Masters, in the Toronto Women’s Writing Salon, in the online sphere, every time I walk into a bookstore. I’m not sure if there are more than there used to be, because I’ve always been so attuned to what the women are saying and writing. There are plenty of male writers I admire as well, of course, but I do seem to have encountered a lot of women so far, and they have been a great and generous community for me.


Rebecca Rosenblum and Kerry Clare talk about love, loss and what it means to bear witness with Amy Jones on May 10 at IFOA Weekly. Join them as they discuss the lives of women looking for the truth. Sheniz Janmohamed will host.

Information and tickets, here!

Book Club Notes: April

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For the month of April we are delighted to welcome author Cordelia Strube to lead our Book Club! She invites us to read Kate Caley’s How You Were Born. Here is why she chose this book.


I hadn’t read Kate Caley’s work before pulling How You Were Born from a box, one of ten or so boxes delivered to me as a juror for the Trillium Book Award.  Jury duty in the literary world expands the margins of writers’ minds because we are forced to read books that we might not otherwise have noticed, not because the books aren’t good but because we haven’t heard about them.  An independent publisher as outstanding as Pedlar Press does not have a publicity punch equal to that of corporate-powered Random House.  Jurors are given the opportunity to see beyond the packaging and promo and assess books from all publishers, large and small, that meet the award’s submission guidelines. get-to-know-them-first-how-you-were-born-short-stories-by-kate-cayley_alu_blogfeatured

Testing the pulse of each literary work, we diligently wend our way through the big name authors, best sellers and award winners as well as the emerging or lesser known ones.  Occasionally we are gobsmacked by a book so masterful that we write it down immediately in felt marker, alongside the penciled titles.  Kate Caley’s collection How You Were Born was such a marvel for me.  Two years later, her stories Boys and The Fetch continue to linger in my imagination.  Her skill as a playwright is richly evident in her use of dialogue.  Characters are revealed through behaviours and their use of settings, enabling us to learn about Caley’s worlds as her characters move through them.  Her use of specific, animate detail never slows the narrative and eases us into the complexity of the human condition.  With grace and pathos, Caley teases out unexpected insights, connections, dark secrets and moments of transcendence.

How You Were Born well deserved the Trillium Book Award.


Strube, Cordelia _by Mark Raynes RobertsCordelia Strube is an accomplished playwright and the author of nine critically acclaimed novels, including Alex & Zee, Teaching Pigs to Sing, and Lemon. Winner of the CBC literary competition and a Toronto Arts Foundation Award, she has been nominated for the Governor General’s Award, the Trillium Book Award, the WH Smith/Books in Canada First Novel Award, and long-listed for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. A two-time finalist for ACTRA’s Nellie Award celebrating excellence in Canadian broadcasting, she is also a three-time nominee for the ReLit Award. Her latest work On The Shores Of Darkness, There Is Light won the City of Toronto Book Award.

What makes a good story? – Shari Lapena

Lapena, Shari Photo © Joy von Tiedemann 2016Shari Lapena was a lawyer and later an English teacher before she turned to writing. She is the author of three works of fiction: Things Go Flying, Happiness Economics and, most recently, the psychological thriller, The Couple Next Door, which was the Number One bestselling book in Canada in all of 2016. Shari has been nominated for the Goodreads Choice Award and the Sunburst Award.

Shari will act as a judge with Danila Botha and Joseph Kertes at IFOA’s Lit Jam event on February 1st. Join them and CBC’s Gill Deacon for a night of on-the-spot creativity and storytelling like never before!

Here is what she had to say about what she is looking for as a judge.


I’m really looking forward to Lit Jam. I think it’s going to be fun to see what people come up with on the fly. I think we’re going to see some very creative ideas.

In my opinion, a good story is one that makes you really want to know what’s going on—what’s already happened in the background to make your characters who they are and the situation what it is, and what’s going to happen next. It has energy and a life of its own.  And ideally, it also makes you reflect in some way on your own circumstances or on life outside of the story.

My advice to the participants is—put your internal censor aside. Your subconscious is always bubbling up with good ideas just dying to land on the page. But we tend to censor everything we write before we even write it down. I say, let it out, and worry about making it coherent later! That’s how you find the gems.

What makes a good story? – Danila Botha

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Danila Botha hails from Johannesburg. She moved to Canada when she was a teenager. She is the author of one novel and two volumes of short stories, Got No Secrets, Too Much on the Inside, and most recently For All the Men (and Some of the Women) I’ve Known. She is a winner of the Book Excellence Award for Contemporary Novel.

Danila will act as a judge with Joseph Kertes and Shari Lapena at IFOA’s Lit Jam event on February 1st. Join them and CBC’s Gill Deacon for a night of on-the-spot creativity and storytelling like never before!

Here is what she had to say about her expectations as a judge. She also shares some tips of what makes a good story!


IFOA: What are you looking forward to as a judge at IFOA’s Lit Jam?

DB: I am really looking forward to to watching and encouraging emerging writers. This event is so unique-first of all, there’s the spontaneity and inventiveness of live storytelling, there’s the resourcefulness and talent of improvisation, and there’s also the collaborative nature of writers working in teams to tell stories. I can’t wait to see the brilliant and original ideas and hear the stories they come up with. I think it’s going to be really inspiring for all of us.

IFOA: What, in your opinion, makes a good story?

DB: I think regardless of writing style, or subject matter, what the best stories have in common is desire. We read about a character who desperately wants something- and we feel deeply invested in them finding, or achieving or struggling to have the thing that they want most.

Lisa Moore described it perfectly in an interview a few years ago: “Desire is luminous and [it makes characters] alive and indelible. It doesn’t matter if… they are worthy of what they want. What matters is if we [the readers] are caught up in the sweeping spotlight of that desire.”

I love complex, three dimensional characters whose motives aren’t always clear. The more outside of my own experience or frame of reference a character’s choices or experiences are, the more I enjoy reading about them (and writing them!) I think the best stories show us new perspectives, and insights, and help us understand, or be more compassionate. I also love great dialogue and a good sense of humor. My favourite stories always contain elements of the unexpected.

IFOA:  Have you ever participated in an event like this one? Do you have any advice to share with the participants?

DB: I wish I had, I’m sure I would have loved to have participated in an event like this.

The first time I ever read to a large group was when I did the Humber School for Writers Summer Intensive Program in the mid 2000’s. I read from a short story called Paradox (which later became part of  my first collection of short stories). On the surface, the story is actually very dark, but I realized that I could play with the tone, and emphasize humor or aspects of the story that might not necessarily be obvious on the page. It was such a great feeling to hear the audience react- to hear them laugh, or gasp in shock, or just see them listening intently. Reading and performance is such a great way of engaging readers- enjoy the process, because it’s a wonderful way of getting an audience to connect with a story. Also, (and I think about this all the time, too) it’s important to believe in your ideas and to have the confidence to tell the story, or stories that you most want to tell. Those are the stories that resonate the most.


 

 

Five Questions with… Bare it For Books

For those who haven’t heard, Amanda Leduc and Allegra Young began work on the Bare It For Books project after a series of tweets in 2012, which led to a conversation about putting together a calendar of authors posing tastefully in the almost-nude. Following the tweets the two came together in real time and the calendar was born.

IFOA is delighted to support this initiative so we sat down with both Amanda and Allegra and asked them our five questions.

IFOA: I suppose the most obvious question is why. Why bare it for books?

Bare It For Books: We’ve probably mentioned this ad nauseam at this point, but Bare It For Books originally came out of a tweet that Amanda sent into Internetland back in July of 2012. That tweet, in turn, came out of a sudden little thought: we have fireman and model calendars galore, but when’s the last time you saw an author posing in the almost-nude? Wouldn’t that be fun, if enough people were game for it? Allegra was game.

And then, of course, as we came together and started brainstorming about where we could take the campaign, we began to realize that there was a lot of potential in the idea. As so many people have noticed, authors bare themselves on the page every day. So we thought: how could we use a fun project like this to more fully explore that experience? And how does that connect to the mandate of our 2014 charity of choice, PEN Canada, i.e. the fight for freedom of expression? We think there’s a lot of potential in a fun project like this to look closely at these kinds of questions.

IFOA: How did you recruit your 12 brave models?

Bare It For Books: The power of the cold call! (Or cold email, in this case.) We amassed a list of Canadian authors that we loved and admired, and then set about contacting them all. We figured we’d have a better chance of recruiting 12 models if we tried to cast a wide net, and that’s more or less exactly what happened. People started emailing us almost immediately and offering to be part of the campaign. The response that we got was very nearly overwhelming, and so positive! It was lovely to hear.

From that initial response, we then set about curating a list for 2014. We had more than 12 authors to choose from, but we wanted to make sure that the calendar showcased a wide variety of talent – authors working in different mediums, both male and female, from across the country. We’re really proud of our 2014 list and just as proud of the line-up that we’re already working on for 2015! (Hint: it’s pretty awesome.)

IFOA: What do you hope to achieve?

Bare It For Books: First and foremost, we hope that the Bare It For Books calendar can provide some additional exposure (no pun intended) for our showcased authors. We’re diehard CanLit fans and more than happy to spread the love – there’s a wealth of literary talent in this country and we’re pleased to be in a position to shine a light on some of these names. The 2014 calendar includes a mix of both well and lesser-known authors, and it’s our hope that we can extend the reach of CanLit beyond the booklover and into the everyday!

But we also hope that the calendar, being as it is a nearly-nude project, can spark discussions in our literary community about censorship, expression in art, and how lucky we are as Canadians to be able to exercise this expression on a regular basis.

IFOA: You two did a promo photo together. What was that like?

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Promo shot for Bare It For Books with Amanda Leduc and Allegra Young © Shelagh Howard

Bare It For Books: So much fun. Our Toronto-based photographer is Shelagh Howard, who did our shoot, and with the help of her business partner, Carole Tothe, we had a great time. It was very relaxed and hilarious and professional all at the same time. There was a moment when we looked at each other before we doffed our fluffy white bathrobes and thought, “Well, there’s no going back now!”

IFOA: Finish this sentence: The Internet is…

Bare It For Books: The greatest, most dangerous rabbit hole you’ll ever fall into.

Interested in donating to help make the Bare It For Books calendar become a reality? Donate to their indiegogo campaign here. Hurry, there’s one day left! For more information on the project including a list of this year’s participants visit bareitforbooks.ca.