5 Questions with Kevin Hardcastle

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Kevin Hardcastle discusses subverting the idea of poor communities in his work and what (and who) influences him in our Five Questions series. Hardcastle will be interviewed by award-winning author John Irving at our next IFOA Weekly event on Wednesday, November 29 at 7:30 pm about his debut novel, In The Cage.

IFOA: You’ve written short stories in the past. What was it like completing your first novel and then having that published?

Kevin Hardcastle: It happened kind of backwards, because I’d actually written the novel before most of the stories that I published, those that ended up in my collection, Debris. I kept rewriting and working on the novel while I was improving my skills with my short story work, and eventually got it to where it is now. In those rewrites, I tried to use all of the tools I’d sharpened while writing short fiction, and bring them to bear on the novel.

There is a difference in the way that novels are received though, and the attention they’re likely to get, and I’ve noticed that as I’ve gone through the process. It’s not on the NYT bestseller list, by any means, but the reach of a novel is plainly longer, for the most part. And, as a result, the work you have to do to support the book is much more involved.

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Five Questions with Becky Masterman

Becky Masterman. A Twist of the Knife.

We asked Becky Masterman five questions (and a bonus!) about what inspired A Twist of the Knife, how she got into writing crime novels, and how she approaches suspense. Masterman will be at an IFOA Weekly event with Emma Dibdin on Wednesday, November 15th.  Andrew Pyper, Author of The Demonologist, will moderate the conversation.

IFOA: What inspired the story for A Twist of the Knife?

Becky Masterman: My agent Helen Heller, who is based in Toronto, told me of a Canadian case that had haunted her for many years about two children being taken from their home and their bodies never found. That began to haunt me too. What if, I thought, you were convicted of killing your children but were innocent? Waiting on death row wondering if they’re somehow still alive and you can’t get to them and help them?

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5 Questions with Kerry Clare

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IFOA: What are the main themes you wanted to explore in Mitzi Bytes?

Kerry Clare: The idea of a woman who finds out people are reading her blog who aren’t necessarily her intended audience, to put it delicately, turned up in a story I wrote a long time ago, and that idea preoccupied me for a long time after. At some point I made a connection between this idea and the children’s novel Harriet the Spy (which itself explores some mature and complicated themes), in which Harriet writes nasty things about her friends and classmates in her notebook, and then her notebook falls into the wrong hands. I realized that an homage to Harriet the Spy would give me the framework I needed to write my novel, and that the idea of my character not knowing who’d found her out would inject the story with some necessary and urgent plot.

IFOA: Marissa Stapley, bestselling author of Mating for Life,  has called Mitzi Bytes ‘provocative’. What makes this story provocative?

Kerry Clare: Mitzi Bytes is provocative because (like Harriet the Spy) it’s part of a fine literary tradition of books whose protagonist doesn’t learn her lesson and change at the end. It’s not a tidy book, and all this is less common and more controversial than one might expect. The last few months in particular have shown me that we live in a world in which women can be so reviled for the fact of their gender, and so I think it’s more important than ever to tell stories of people resisting narrow notions of how women should be.

IFOA: For the last 15 years you have been blogging about books, experiences, family and the world. You have said that blogging “is about showing one’s work, being open to and curious about the world…”. What advice would you have given your heroine when she first started blogging?

Kerry Clare: I’m not sure she would have needed my advice, or that anybody does, for that matter. Because the point of blogging is to be blazing a trail, which is what Sarah was doing when she started her blog in 1999, and she was just one of a handful of people who were doing that then. And she did it really well, which is why she built up a huge audience without even intending to do so—she was just telling her stories. Maybe I would advise her not to keep her online self and actual self so divided—I think blogs are best approached with a spirit of openness. But then again she was writing about blowjobs in taxicabs and sex with ventriloquists—her blog was much more interesting than mine has ever been—so perhaps that advice might not apply to her!

kerry-clare_credit_tracey-nolanIFOA: Who is Mitzi, who is Sarah? Can these two “identities” exist in the same realm?

Kerry Clare: This is the central question of the novel, I think, and the answer is: of course they can! Only on stupidly provocative magazine covers do women have to decide between being one thing or another. In real life, we’re all lots of things. We contain multitudes. And while negotiating these can be tricky, it also keeps the world interesting. It keeps us human too.

IFOA: What’s most exciting about having your debut novel published?

Kerry Clare: As a ridiculously avid reader, it’s been thrilling to learn about the process of bringing a book into the world, and all of the people who are part of that process. Production editors, proofreaders, and copyeditors are now superheroes to me, and I’ve been lucky to work with people who are so good at what they do. I am also excited to start visiting bookstores and festivals, because these are my favourite places to be. And finally, to know that people out there are actually reading this story I sat down and wrote three summers ago. It’s the very best thing, and such a great privilege.


 Kerry Clare and Rebecca Rosenblum 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!

 

 

 

 

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!

5 Questions with Sarah de Leeuw

Sarah de Leeuw, award-winning researcher and creative writer, answers IFOA’s 5 Questions about her new work Where it Hurts.  Sarah will be in Toronto on April 12th for an in-depth interview with Ariel Smith, Executive Director of imagineNATIVE.

Find more info here!


IFOA: Missing geographies and people, how do we talk about those who are lost, but not forgotten?

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Sarah de Leeuw: With great care. With compassion. With an understanding about the sociocultural and historical contexts and powers that have produced hierarchies of worth, that have produced and positioned some people and places as mattering more (or conversely less) than others and that, consequently, result in attention being paid to certain entities/subjects/people/sites while ignoring so many others.

With that said, I think it’s imperative to note that for the people who inhabit the bodies, families, communities and geographies that are actively maligned and sidelined, that are deemed to ‘not matter’ or that are overlooked and forgotten, there is SO OFTEN a tremendous sense of worth, of resilience, and of value, love, caring and connection. In so many ways, that’s the confusing thing: those of us who inhabit places of the margin (and certainly even here there exists hierarchies – as a settler woman, I occupy spaces of privilege and power not offered to others —Indigenous women— who live and work in rural remote or northern geographies) understand ourselves and our spaces as having value – yet we are devalued in normative discourses, in the gridlines of power that are circulated beyond and without us. I think we want to see ourselves, to take up space, to be heard. We are confident we are worth more than a writing-off. So I think we have to write ourselves back in, in part by talking about the missing and the forgotten, the overlooked and dismissed. I can say that is what I devote a lot of my writing to doing. I by no means have the ability (or right!) to tell all stories – butI  hope by telling mine, new possibilities for more and different stories might be availed.

IFOA: Why did you choose to write creative nonfiction to tell your stories?

Sarah de Leeuw: As I’ve mentioned in other places, I think creative (or literary) non-fiction has always occupied a kind of ‘outsider’ genre status in writing, a kind of in-betweenness, a balancing of multiple worlds with different expectations and constraints and conventions. There is an energy in that uncertain status, in the edge. The genre itself is thus especially well-suited, in my mind, to documenting people and places on the margins, those with marginal status in circuits of power . I also genuinely believe that ‘fact’ (for what that word is worth, given I don’t really believe in any ultimate, singular, or universal truth) is often as exciting as ‘fiction’ – and I do feel that something rich and resonant can arise when a writer puts literary traditions (word and sound experimentation, metaphor, rhythm, etc.) to work in the service of (re)telling or illuminating “real life” people or events.

where-it-hurts-final-cover_rgbIFOA: Do you incorporate your academic research, if at all, in your creative nonfiction work?

Sarah de Leeuw: In so far as I enjoy undertaking research, including interviews or archival research or doing searches of literature or data bases, to inform my creative non-ficiotn then, yes, I suppose I do integrate some of the ‘tools’ of the more ‘academic trade’ into my creative writing. Also, I’d say very broadly that ALL my writing work (creative or academic) is preoccupied with some kind of aim toward social justice (and I don’t have any firm summary of what the end goal of that might be!) that tries to unsettle taken-for-granted disparities and inequalities. With that said, my academic and research scholarship really has a much different look and feel than my creative work – and I think it’s also destined for different audiences and markets! What is interesting, however, is that I think in the last 5-7 years, academics and scholars are increasingly taking an interest in the methods and methodologies of creative practitioners. I can only hope that interest doesn’t become predatory!

IFOA: Is there some kind of catharsis in Where It Hurts?

Sarah de Leeuw: What an interesting and engaging question. The honest answer is: I don’t know. I don’t think so. I shy away from complicated issues being tidily wrapped up. I think the action of “closure” allows for the (mis)conception that we can ‘move on’ – I think (especially non-Indigenous) Canadians, especially in this time of Truth and Reconciliation, in this time of Idle No More or Standing Rock (in the USA) want a comforting sense that there’s a happy ending, that we’re headed toward some kind of conclusion, that soon there will be some relief or release – or, put in the manner of your question, that we’ll have a catharsis. I’m not sure we deserve that right now. Or even that it would productive, enlivening. I think there is too much to be done. I don’t want to despair and I hope my writing never results in a closing down (I know sometimes people say my essays are downers – but hope there can also be found in them the humour and resilience that I also try hard to document and celebrate) . I hope my writing, by being open–ended (and perhaps not very cathartic) behaves more like a calling, an invitation, for more attention to be paid to the missing, the forgotten, the overlooked.

IFOA: What are you working on now?

Sarah de Leeuw: On the creative writing side, I recently completed a new book of poetry (Outside, America) that I’m shopping around. Perhaps more interestingly, however (well, at least to my mind!), I’m working away, still in infancy stages, on a long poem about growing up on Haida Gwaii (the Queen Charlotte Islands). Haida Gwaii is a (somewhat problematically, I think) romanticized place especially by non-Haida people (of course if you’re Haida, it makes sense to love your traditional homeland and territory!). The islands have a long and fascinating geological, ecological and anthropological history. I am excited to juxtapose those histories against my own somewhat inconsequential (except not to me!) childhood and adolescence. I’m also working on a variety of academic papers and texts on colonialism, humanities in medicine and geography, and the determinants of Indigenous peoples’ health.

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