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.


Do you want to learn more about the book and the author? IFOA and HarperCollins Canada invite you to the release of Mitzi Bytes on March 16 at 7pm at Ben McNally Bookstore. More info here!

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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

Five Questions with…Tim Lilburn

Tim Lilburn, author of The Names and a Toronto Lit Up participant, answered our five questions.

IFOA: Tell us a bit about your latest collection of poetry. 
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Lilburn: It’s a collection that’s interested in my family, aunts, uncles, and some of the people I grew up with in north Regina. The book also has quite a bit of Vancouver Island in it. From both places it draws a bunch of names, all of them, in Ibn al-Arabi’s way of seeing, divine to a degree.

IFOA: If you could give your younger self any piece of professional advice – say just before you were about to publish your first book of poetry – what would it be?

Lilburn: Have a good time. Enjoy yourself. Find your music. Indulge your enthusiasms. This is more or less what I’ve done.

IFOA: Who are some of your favourite poets you can recommend to our readers?

Lilburn: Oh, this would be a very long list. Maybe I could say who is on my desk right now – Ronald Johnson; C.D Wright; Basil Bunting; Reliquiae, an annual brought out by Corbel Stone Press; Roy Fisher. I’m interested in looking at Neal Mcleod’s Cree Narrative Memory and his Indigenous Poetics in Canada, once I can find copies and a patch of free time.

IFOA: You currently are a professor at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. Have you found teaching writing over the years has affected your own writing at all?

Lilburn: We’ve had some great students in our poetry program these last several years, poets like Melanie Siebert, Kayla Czaga, Garth Martens, Kevin Paul, all Governor-General nominees, and Arleen Paré, who won the award. Then there is Anne-Marie Turza, Ali Blythe, Maleea Acker and numerous others who’ve produced superb books. Both Lorna Crozier and I worked with them – it’s been an exciting time. I also teach a class on nature writing and a few ideas have come out of it for me. Assiniboia, a previous book, grew from one version of that class.

IFOA: What’s next for you?

Lilburn: I was commissioned over a year ago by Edward Poitras to write what felt to me like an opera –a long, multi-voiced poem – on Honoré Jaxon for the dance company New Dance Horizons. It’s been performed, with music by Jeff Bird of Cowboy Junkies, and choreography by Robin Poitras, and the whole spectacle may be toured. I’d like to write an essay on the experience of helping to put this together. I’m also working on an essay collection (poetics, politics, eros, land), called The Larger Conversation. This will complete a trilogy on these themes that began in 1999 with Living in the World As If It Were Home.