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.

 

 

 

IFOA Staff’s December Reading List

The holidays are characterized by a lot of hustle and bustle–the parties, the shopping, wrapping up the end of the year. There’s also some quiet time–reflection on the year that’s passing, time with family, and planning for the new year.

For these quite moments consider picking up one of the books that our staff is reading this month! (Psst! Festival books are currently 15%-20% off at the Harbourfront Centre Shop!)

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Catherine Coreno just finished Zoe Whittall’s The Best Kind of People and started Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things. She also picked up Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey.

Rebecca Hallquist is currently reading A Gambler’s Anatomy by Jonathan Lethem and re-reading  A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, but this time in Swedish!

Dean Keranovic is planning to read Alejandro Jodorowsky’s sci-fi space opera The Metabarons.

Tina Kessler is finishing Kate Taylor’s Serial Monogamy.

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Madeline McCaffrey just finished Rowan Hisayo Buchanan’s Harmless Like You and is moving on to Emma Donoghue’s The Wonder.

Zviko Mhakayakora’s TBR pile consists of Emma Donoghue’s The Wonder, Nathan Hill’s The Nix and Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing.

Eirini Moschaki is reading Zadie Smith’s Swing Time.

Julia Yu is excited to read Trevor Noah’s Born A Crime.

We wish you the glitz and glam of holiday parties, the excitement of gift-giving, fun with family and friends and a lot of extra time to snuggle with a new book!

 

IFOA and the 24th Toronto Jewish Film Festival Co-present: Call me Bullie and Louis-Ferdinand Celine

We are delighted to partner with the 24th Toronto Jewish Film Festival to co-present two films about authors, stories and writing.mash-up trailer tile logo

TJFF presents feature films, documentaries and shorts from Canada and around the world, on themes of Jewish culture and identity.

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CALL ME BULLIE / KRAA LI BULLIE
Hailed by The New York Times as “Israel’s Faulkner,” and the recipient of the Israel Prize for Hebrew literature, A. B. Yehoshua is one of Israel’s most beloved authors. In this intimate portrait of the man known to his friends as “Bullie,” director Omri Lior offers invaluable insight into Yehoshua’s writing process and the meticulous research he undertakes for each novel.
Director: Omri Lior | Israel 2015, 61 Min. English

Sunday May 8 • 1:00pm • The ROM Eaton Theatre
Thursday May 12 • 5:30pm • Cineplex Cinemas Empress Walk

Louis Ferdinand Celine

LOUIS-FERDINAND CELINE
Denis Lavant (Holy Motors, Beau Travail) stars in this elegant adaptation of Milton Hindus’ book The Crippled Giant. Filmmaker Emmanuel Bourdieu tells the true story of Hindus, a Jewish American professor, as he meets the notoriously anti-Semitic French writer Louis-Ferdinand Céline. With the intention of writing a memoir, Hindus visits the now-isolated writer and discovers the charismatic but troubled man behind the books he so admires.
Director: Emmanuel Bourdieu | France 2016, 90 Min. French

Monday May 9 • 6:30pm • The Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
Wednesday May 11 • 8:30pm • Cineplex Cinemas Empress Walk

For a full list of films and to order tickets visit: tjff.com

Five Questions with…Jacob McArthur Mooney

Jacob McArthur Mooney, author of Don’t Be Interesting, and a Toronto Lit Up participant answered IFOA’s Five Questions.

IFOA: Tell us a bit about your latest collection of poetry.
Jacob: Sure. Don’t be Interesting is a very loosely-thematic collection. When it does stoop to having a theme, though, it’s about the future: both the current future and all the historical examples of future, futures, and futurisms from about the beginning of the 20th Century onward. It’s also (more sneakily) a book about being a new parent.

IFOA: You’re a literary critic as well as a poet – do you find this makes you more critical of your own work, as well as the work of your peers?
Jacob: I don’t know if it makes me more critical. Being a critic and being “critical” in the contemporary sense of the term aren’t as closely entwined as the etymology would have it. I would say that it makes it easier for me to read my work as an other would. I think that’s the muscle most exercised by writing about writing: being able to move from how something reads to me to how it might have read to its author, and back. This is a good skill to work on for an author because it’s helpful to have that polyphony available to help you imagine how someone who doesn’t share your brain might process a work.

IFOA: How important is for you to curate the Pivot Reading series and host bi-weekly at the Steady in Toronto?
Jacob: I think everyone who wants to participate in the insider economy of public poetry, by publishing or reading published work, owes a debt to the community that helped grunt it into being. It is not enough to just gift the world your beautiful words and your great brain. Everyone should have to serve. How they do that is up to them: mentorship, reviewing, teaching, hosting, grant-writing, paid and unpaid work. But everyone should get out and push the bus up the hill a bit. And running Pivot is how I choose to push.

IFOA: Who are some of your favourite poets you can recommend to our readers?
Jacob: I’m going to stick close and pick newish Canadian poets with books out last year. I think Liz Howard’s Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent was great. I thought Eva H.D.’s Rotten Perfect Mouth was great too. Lucas Crawford’s Sideshow Concessions was a lot of fun. I’ll go off-theme and pick a non-debut collection I felt was wonderful too, in John Wall Barger’s The Book of Festus.

IFOA:  What’s next for you?
Jacob: I’m going to go to sleep early and get up for work tomorrow. I’m reading through Robert Gordon’s The Rise and Fall of American Growth and Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s The Mushroom at the End of the World and those are keeping me busy. I started writing a novel in 2007, which is also the year the novel is set. Maybe one day I will finish it and it will be published as historical fiction.

McArthur Mooney, Jacob (c) Elyse Friedman

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