Tanis Rideout (TR) is a Toronto, Canada poet and author. While both of my reviews of her works on my blog (Link to my review of “Above All Things” and link to my review of “Arguments with the Lake” received very positive responses here, her novel has recently been placed on the long list for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. She recently agreed to answer a few questions via email for me.
1) You write both poetry and fiction. Is there one form over the other that you prefer to write or are they equally the same for you?
TR: Poetry and fiction are both tremendously appealing. Up until very recently I’ve always bounced back and forth between projects – having a novel I’m working on and a poetry project. It’s a great way to take a break and keep working – to go from the massive scope and size of a novel to the tiny detail work of poetry and vice versa. I hope that each of the practices feeds in to the other.
2) Who are some other writers that you admire? What are you currently reading right now?
TR: I love Atwood, and Hemmingway, Alessandro Barrico. I like writers with a mix of poetry in their prose, for sure. I just finished reading The Goldfinch – which was such a huge book that I feel like I need a little breathing room. I’m teaching a class at the moment and so am re-reading Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer.
3) I recently reviewed a poet who became ecstatic over the review I wrote about her work. She said I was the first reviewer who didn’t complain that “her words didn’t rhyme.” Do you find that poetry suffers from a ‘stereotypical’ image that keeps readers away?
TR: Oh! absolutely! I think there are people who are attuned to what poetry is now, but most of us walk around with a dusty old image of it, put in our heads in school, mostly by teachers who were terrified of poetry as well, and so couldn’t really instill any love or awe in us. And I think finding your way in, as a casual reader can be difficult – where to begin? Who to read? It can be much more difficult to find something that will speak to you, though I have no doubt with enough looking almost anyone will find something that moves them.
4) Are you planning any new writing projects in the future?
TR: I am. I’m currently at work on a new novel. I’m hoping to have a first draft done in the spring. It’s strange to be back to the early stages of the process – the finding your way around in this dark room part of it – but exciting as well.
5) How has the reaction to “Above All Things” been since it’s release?
TR: The reaction has been really great, I feel really fortunate that it’s been received so well. It’s quite terrifying to put this thing out into the world that you’ve held so tight and worked so hard on then send out to be judged.
But it’s so fantastic to go to book clubs and events and have people talk about the book, and be excited by it. It’s been really astounding.
6) There seems to be quite a bit of research involved with “Above All Things.” Did that take quite a bit of time? What exactly did you do to research it?
TR: I did do a ton of research – which I love! If I could just do research and never have to write anything I might. I started out by just reading everything I could get my hands on about Everest, and George Mallory and 1920s climbing – online, in the library, in old bookstores. It’s amazing in this day and age what you can learn from the comfort of your own home. But I also received a grant from the Canada Council early on, part of which was to be spent on travel and research and so went to England where I spent lots of time at the Royal Geographical Society reading letters and documents from the time. It was extraordinary.
7) I have seen both “Above All Things” and “Arguments with the Lake” on the readings lists of several different reading groups/book clubs. Have you had much experience in dealing with such groups? If so, explain.
TR: Yes! I’ve been to quite a number of book clubs for Above All Things – some small events in people’s homes, who have just tracked me down through my website, and some others, that are larger community events.
It’s an extraordinary experience to go and sit in a room full of readers who are attentive and engaged in something that you’ve written – they’re passionate readers, people who are in book clubs, so they have opinions and ideas. It’s great to see them forget a little that I’m there and just really get in to what they thought of the book and its characters.
8) Environmentalism is an important theme for you. Is there anything else beside you do besides writing to promote that cause?
TR: I’m involved with an organization here in Toronto called Lake Ontario Waterkeeper. They’re an environmental justice organization committed to protecting our rights to swim, drink and fish our watersheds. I try and do whatever I can to help promote their work.
9) I just found out that “Above All Things” made the long list for this year’s IMPAC DUBLIN AWARD (Congrats!) How do you feel about this? Does recognition like this help with any future writing projects.
TR: The IMPAC Longlist is pretty extraordinary – there are some truly astounding books on it! It feels really great to be included on a list like that, and of course, it’s great affirmation for the work that’s been done. It’s really nice to be able to remind myself of those things when I’m stuck on new work, or feeling really lost. It’s nice to remember that somehow I found my way out of it before!
9) You have a steady presence on Twitter. Does social media help you in your writing at all?
TR: I’m not sure that Twitter and other social media help with writing necessarily – but it does feel like it connects me to a community – of both writers and readers, which is a really wonderful thing.