Monthly Archives: June 2016

“(W)ith fiction I can build a world already ravished by climate change and invite (people) to witness it | Q&A with author Zack Metcalfe

Kingdom

You do meet the most interesting people in the most unusual situations. A few years ago while cleaning out my closet, I listed an old typewriter on an online classified site. A few hours later, I received a reply from Zack Metcalfe for the item. I had since been following Zack on several media sites and reading some of his writing. He has been keeping busy in the last few years and has published a few books, including his most recent work, Bring Clouds to the Kingdom. Zack was kind enough to enlighten us all about what is new in his life by answering a few questions for me here.

******

1) First off, could you give a bit of a outline of Bring Clouds to the Kingdom?

“Two men are pulled from their places in time and discarded in a strange future, where sand abounds and sorrow is universal, and here they exercise supernatural talents to shape a dying world. One gives birth to empire, exploiting the remnants of the human race as brick and mortar to realize ambitions from centuries past. The other corrals what life remains in an attempt to drive back the sand and build a kingdom of green, repurposing the desperation of his fellow human beings to recreate the Earth he once knew. These visions, lofty and indomitable both, prove incompatible.”

This is the description you’ll find on the back cover, but I’m of the opinion this book defies any true summary by virtue of its strangeness. In essence I have two characters, one personifying old ideas and the other personifying new, simplifying the crises of our time in their conflict. It follows this theme to surprising depths and I’m immensely proud of it.

2) Goodreads.com has this book listed as your second work of fiction. Is writing fiction something you enjoy doing? If yes, why?

If we’re counting properly this is my ninth work of fiction to date, the first six being self-published and the latter three at various stages of professional publication. Bring Clouds to the Kingdom is number eight.

I adore fiction writing because it unties my hands. If I wanted to discuss the issue of climate change using non-fiction for example, writing a story for a local newspaper let’s say, I can only tell people the available facts and hope they care enough to imagine the future on their own. But with fiction I can build a world already ravished by climate change and invite them to witness  it. By telling them a story, I can bring issues to life and accomplish more than I ever could with non-fiction.

3) What are you reading right now? Who are your favourite writers?

Right now I’m reading Islands in the Stream by Ernest Hemingway and Resurrection Science by M.R O’Connor. I try to have a work of fiction and non-fiction going at once, one to keep my writing sharp and one to keep me informed, respectively.

My favourite writers are Ernest Hemingway, Tim Flannery, Carl Sagan, Jane Goodall, Jack London, Farley Mowat, George Orwell, Jules Verne, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Daniel Quinn, Harper Lee and I suppose Mary Shelley.

4) How long did it take you to write Bring Clouds to the Kingdom? How did you get involved with Iguana Books to publish it?

This novel, or novella, if you like, took one year and seven months to finish. It was originally twice its present length as I was trying to cram too many plots into a single narrative. I finally cut out the majority of it and the result was a surprisingly linear tale which I sent to Iguana Books in the fall of 2015. They told me it was weird in all the right ways.

5) Your biographies have you listed as a environmental journalist. Do you add themes of environmentalism to your works of fiction?

Yes, without fail. For me fiction writing is as important a tool as journalist for raising public awareness. But I always aim to spin a good yarn regardless.

6) Are you working on any new fiction right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?

I’m presently working on a full length novel which explores the potential of resurrection biology, the science of reviving extinct species. The technology has make extraordinary leaps in the past decade but the only reference most people have to it is Jurassic Park. That bothered me so here I am. This novel tells the story of people rebuilding the ecosystems we’ve destroyed in the last two centuries in a way I hope is engaging.

7) Have you done any public readings of your work? If yes, is that something you enjoy doing?

I’ve done two public readings in the past but not yet for this book. I will in time.

8) Again, your biographies have you listed as growing up in Ontario but now living in Halifax. How do you like living there? Are there special cultural items/event/places in Halifax that inspire you to write?

I grew up in Ontario then followed by journalism career to Prince Edward Island for a couple years. Two years ago I moved to Halifax to join the environmental movement and there’s no doubt these places have each inspired their share of my work. I never would have written book number five, Abel, without the red sands and solitude of West Prince County, PEI, nor would book number seven have seen the light of day without the bus terminals of Halifax West and the rocky landscapes surrounding my apartment. It’s difficult to say which aspects of Atlantic Canada inspired what, but my best writing has been done here on the coast.

9) You seem to have an active role on social-media platforms like Facebook and Twitter? How do you like using those apps. in relation to your writing?

I think of social media as a necessary evil, to be frank. I’ve always enjoyed the big stories and big topics most of all, and fighting for attention on those bite-sized platforms can be exhausting and reductive, but it must be done. I have things to say I think people need to hear and that’s often where they look for enlightenment. So it goes.

10) We first met when I sold you a typewriter via an online classified site. Do you use a typewriter for your writing? If yes, why?

I remember buying that typewriter. The last typewriter manufacturer in the world had shut down a few hours beforehand so I immediately scoured Kijiji. I still have it, too.

Word processing software is superior in every way to a typewriter but I keep one around for one reason above all – power outages. They are rare but when they happen, I have the pleasure of lighting some candles and hammering those outdated keys. I refuse to ever be without writing equipment and on those few occasions when my computer wasn’t an option, my typewriter became indispensable. Wrote most of a newspaper on it once, during a three day power outage on PEI while a snowstorm made all roads impassible. My fingers were bruised by the end and it felt wonderful.

*****

Link to Iguana Books website for Bring Clouds to the Kingdom

 

 

 

Thought and Reflection through a Great Read | Review of “On the Shores of Darkness, There is Light” by Cordelia Strube (2016) ECW Press

shores

Trying to understand another person’s perspective is a hard task to do in today’s fast-paced world. We are so wrapped up in our own issues and concerns that we forget to take into consideration other people’s feelings and views. Yet they do have them and ignoring them causes pain and hurt. Cordelia Strube refreshes readers that other people besides themselves exist in the world through her novel On the Shores of Darkness, There is Light and it’s lead character, 11-year-old Harriet.

Page 5-6

Just this morning, her mother blamed her for losing the plastic pitcher for bagged milk. “Why can’t you put things back in their place?” When it turned out Harriet’s little brother used the pitcher to shower his plastic animals, her mother didn’t apologize to Harriet. Or scold Irwin. There’s no doubt in Harriet’s mind she’d be better off without her little brother. She should have snuffed him when she had the chance, after they took him out of the incubator and handed him to her, all red and wrinkled, with his stretched head and veins pulsing weakly under his see-through skin.

“Say hi to your brother,” her mother said. She no longer looked like her mother because she’d stopped eating and sleeping when Irwin was out of her. The furry-lipped nurse who’d helped Harriet put on the sterile gloves said, “Your brother is a miracle baby.” Harriet didn’t see why.

No doubt one of the best reads I have come across this year. Eleven-year-old Harriet is an old soul surrounded a group of immature adults around her. She is forced to create art in order to express herself, which in turn is dismissed even further by those around her. So she decides to plan to escape. She runs errands for seniors who live in her run-down apartment building (Humorously enough named Shrangrila) to earn money to manage her escape. But her efforts bind her down deeper and deeper, frustrating her more. There is only one person who truly sees the wonder and depth of Harriet-  her sickly little brother Irwin.

Page 199-200

Harriet pours Irwin’s Cheerios and reads him Curious George even though she thinks he’s too old for it. He chimes in whenever the Man in the Yellow Hat appears. Harriet’s explained to Irwin that she needs to buy more paint before she can paint him with wings, but he doesn’t want her to leave the apartment without him. As usual Gennedy is flicking urgently through the newspaper, as though it’s imperative that he read it and that the mere knowledge of world events makes him important. When the paper’s late he gets hysterical, like life on planet Earth will end if he doesn’t read about it.

“Is Mum getting up today?” Harriet asks, fearing her mother has relapsed into smoking-in-bathrobe mode.

“Your mother went jogging.”

“Wowee wowee!” Irwin bounces. “I want to go jogging. Buck said he’d take me and show me one-arm and clap push-ups.”

Gennedy looks over the paper at him. “When did you see Buck?”

“Yesterday, when me and Mummy got freezies. He let me steer his truck.”

“What?”

“It was parked,” Harriet explains.

“Oh, so you’re in on this too? Am I the only one who doesn’t know about the rendezvous with Buck? What kind of name is Buck anyway?

“What kind of name is Gennedy?” Harriet says.

“Excuse me? Is there something wrong with my name?”

“Shouldn’t it be Kennedy, like, what’s with the G?”

“Your small-mindedness never ceases to amaze me, Harriot.”

“You’re welcome.”

Irwin waves his spoon. “No fighting.”

“You’re right, champ. Let’s do something fun today. Just you and me.”

“Harry’s going to paint me with angel wings.”

“What?”

Her brother’s inability to keep a secret is another thing she can’t stand about him. “I have to get paints first.”

Any book that makes a reader ponder and feel empathy after they are 20 pages into the story is a sign of a great read. And Strube doesn’t hold anything back – be it thoughts, words, emotions. A reader will almost laugh, cry or shout out in anger at the same scene at times.

Page 173

Gennedy is lurking in the kitchen when Harriet returns buy says nothing, just stares at her with eyes dulled by life’s disappointments and she knows she has been one of them. She tries not to care, although his loathing has started to burn holes in her. He shakes his head slowly and goes back to drinking milk. This is another thing she can’t stand about him. What kind of grown man drinks milk?

“So tell me about your little art projects,” he says. “What’s the glued garbage supposed to represent, you angst?”

“I’m going to be now.”

“Of course you are.”

She lies very still in he bed, pretending she’s Tutankhamun in his tomb, surrounded by treasures. Uma, when she was till trying to impress Harriet, took her to King Tut’s exhibit at the AGO. That’s when Harriet learned that nobody knew about Tutankhamun’s tomb because Tutankhamun was a runt pharaoh with one leg shorter than the other. Bigger pharaoh’s with legs the same length had bigger tombs that were raided for hundreds of yeats while Tutankhamun lay forgotten and undisturbed. A man with BO beside her said, “The little twerp slipped under the radar.” This is what Harriet will do at Lost Coin Lake.

 

No doubt, On the Shores of Darkness, There is Light by Cordelia Strube is one of the best reads of this year. It is enlightening, funny and heartbreaking. Anything any serious reader could hope for in a book.

*****

Link to Cordelia Strube’s website

Link to ECW Press’ website for On the Shores of Darkness, There is Light

 

 

 

“I see as the reappearance of the nineteenth-century dream-child both in the Harry Potter series and in other works that have reached unprecedented status in our world today” | Q&A with Amy Bilone on her book “The Future of the Nineteenth-Century Dream-Child: Fantasy, Dystopia, Cyberculture”

DreamChild

It is interesting to actually look at the themes of the works we hold dear and see the patterns emerge. Is there something in common in the popular works of today that were apparent in the works of the past? Amy Billone has discovered some common themes several different books. And perhaps has given us something to ‘dream’ in our future readings.

First off, can you give me an outline of The Future of the Nineteenth-Century Dream-Child?

My book The Future of the Nineteenth-Century Dream-Child: Fantasy, Dystopia, Cyberculture (Routledge 2016) looks into what I see as the reappearance of the nineteenth-century dream-child both in the Harry Potter series and in other works that have reached unprecedented status in our world today. By “nineteenth-century dream-child” I mean, on the one hand, beloved characters from the Golden Age of Children’s Literature like Lewis Carroll’s Alice and J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. Both of these authors were passionately attached to the fictional characters they wrote about, linking them to real-life children—Alice to the stunning real-life little girl Alice Liddell whom Carroll photographed compulsively and Peter Pan to the 5 Llewelyn Davies brothers that Barrie fell in love with and eventually adopted. But both authors at the same time resist these real-life associations with their characters. I argue that Harry Potter functions as a combination of Carroll’s Alice and Barrie’s Peter Pan. He begins in Peter’s world, able to fly effortlessly and to enter a kind of Neverland where the worst problems of his life are left behind him. But like Alice he must also grow up (which Alice does symbolically) and like Alice he grows angrier and angrier as the books progress. Like both Peter and Alice, Harry dreams—Neverland is a land made up of children’s dreams and children only see Peter in their dreams until they grow up and forget what he looks like. Peter, too, is troubled by traumatic dreams in Barrie’s novel which Barrie attributes to the riddle of his existence. Alice, too, realizes at the end of her adventures in Wonderland that she has dreamed the entire story; in Through the Looking-Glass she is baffled the dream might not be hers at all but in fact the dream of the Red King.

 

I begin my book by looking at how Harry Potter responds to Gothic literature that was immensely popular at the turn between the 18th and the 19th century. I look at how dreams function prophetically in Gothic literature or are at least superhumanly driven. I’m particularly interested in the character of Catherine Earnshaw/Linton from Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1847) which is a mid-19th century Gothic text. I argue that both Carroll and Barrie based Alice and Peter on the ghost-child/dream-child of Catherine.

 

After my first chapter on Harry Potter I move to a second chapter called “Sentenced to Neverland: Three Contemporary Resurrections of Carroll’s Alice and Barrie’s Peter Pan.” That chapter is divided into three sections: in the first I discuss Tim Burton’s vision of Alice (always potentially “not the right Alice”) in his Alice in Wonderland (2010); in the second section I talk about Michael Jackson as a man who was obsessed with Peter Pan and in the third section I talk about another grown-up Peter Pan, Ian Fleming’s James Bond, who is able to magically side-step the impact of mortality but who remains a “tragic boy.”

 

In the chapters that follow, I turn to the franchises that gathered momentum at the end of the Harry Potter series of novels in 2007. I first study Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight novels, books that came to Meyer in a dream and that feature a protagonist with a rich and compelling dream life. Next I look at the fanfiction that destabilized Meyer’s own popularity, E.L. James’s 50 Shades of Grey series. I juxtapose James’s series with the book her characters are obsessed with, Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891). I argue that as is the case for Tess, sleep and dream-states lead only to nightmarish conclusions for Anastasia Steele. However, because Christian Grey also functions as a dream-child that haunts both her dreams and his (the starved neglected abused/tortured little boy who mutely watches his mother die) he is able to be forgiven no matter what harm as an adult he causes Ana.

 

Finally, in my fourth chapter, I carefully examine Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games series (2008–10, films 2012–15). What interests me here is that Katniss’s relationship with Gale Hawthorne is presented to readers and viewers as natural and real whereas her relationship with Peeta Mellark is shown from the beginning to be an act she and Peeta must play in order to win prizes from sponsors. It is in effect what I call elsewhere in my book an “implanted dream.” Nightmares and insomnia plague both Katniss and Peeta throughout the books and the question I ultimately seek to answer is how an implanted dream can become justified and genuine in light of the inhumane tyrannical government that invented it. Here, too, I look back at Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Far from the Madding Crowd (1874) as Collins explains Hardy’s influence on her work and the way Katniss Everdeen takes her last name from that of Bathsheba Everdene, the lead character in Hardy’s novel. Throughout this chapter and all of the others, too, I examine reincarnations of Carroll’s Alice and Barrie’s Peter Pan as I struggle to find hope and optimism in a progressively darkening landscape in Children’s and Young Adult literature.

 

Where did the idea for the book come from?

 

Truthfully the idea for this book came to me in childhood when I was cast in the part of Peter Pan in a play for an after-school theater program. I read Barrie’s novel at the time to help me learn about his character and as the play was improvisational I wanted to learn how to “become” Peter so that I would always know how to speak and act exactly as he would speak and act. What ended up puzzling me as a child was that I was not a boy but a girl—this meant I was unable to act fully as Peter would (though I looked like a boy at that age.) I became at that time baffled by the progression of time and by the necessity of growing up. I also believed in the real Peter Pan so I had to undergo disappointment when he never showed up at my window. Because I grew up before the Harry Potter age, when I read Rowling’s books in order to teach them to college and graduate students I was able to see in them the references to earlier characters like Peter and Alice that I had studied so deeply before. I suddenly seized upon the idea of dreaming as I saw it reappearing throughout Rowling’s books and then, intriguingly for me, throughout all of the works I study in my book: all of which have broken global records in popularity.

 

How much of a role being: a mother; an academic; and/or a poet, help you with writing this book? Or was it a combination of all three roles?

 

Even though my work on the book on one level began long before I was a mother, in my own childhood, I have been amazed to have boy children and to watch them learn how to interact with the world. I want the best possible future for them and that has led me to think about the dream-child of the future—the child that could live in a world we are all happy with and proud of. The book is a scholarly book so it benefited from all of the conferences I have been able to attend and at which I have been able to present, articles I have published before and the Barnes and Noble Classics edition of Peter Pan that I wrote the Introduction and Notes for in 2005. It also benefited greatly from the undergraduate and graduate classes I have taught regularly on Children’s and Young Adult Literature. At the same time, it has ended up inspiring a long series of Midnight Haiku that I have been sharing on Twitter and now on Instagram with the hopes of condensing these down into a series of polished volumes. The Midnight Haiku were inspired by the word “midnight” in Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games books and the way midnight is the time the worst tortures begin in Catching Fire. The word comes to stand in for both utter hopelessness and also the possibility of new beginnings: the time before a new Dawn. In other words, as with most of my life, the various different parts all played important roles in the shaping of this book.

 

How long did it take you to write this book? Was there any unique sources you used for research?

 

I wrote my first article that appears in the book—about the first 5 books in the Harry Potter series—in 2004 so in this sense the book took 12 years to write. But at that time I was working on another scholarly book, Little Songs: Women, Silence, and the Nineteenth-Century Sonnet (The Ohio State University Press, 2007). So I was only able to devote time to researching this new book exclusively after 2007, which was ironically the year my second son was born. This was also the year the last Harry Potter novel came out. I found myself continually needing to change gears with the book. For a while Harry Potter was going to be the end of the book and everything I knew about the long 19th century was going to precede that. But suddenly Harry Potter became dated (though I know it is very alive today). My students wanted to end the semester with Twilight; then they wanted that off the syllabus and they became obsessed with The Hunger Games. I felt I was constantly trying to bring the book up to date. Harry Potter might have started as the last chapter but he ended up as the first chapter. And the additional material on Tim Burton’s Alice, Michael Jackson, James Bond, Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey and even The Hunger Games was all at one point new to me as well. It has been a very exciting process.

 

Has there been any reaction to the book so far? If so, any memorable comments you care to share?

 

The book is just in the process of coming out now. For this reason the positive reactions I have heard about the book have happened along the way as I wrote it. I am excited to hear responses and to engage in conversations once people have had a chance to read the book as a whole. Right now the book can be purchased on Kindle:

 

https://www.amazon.ca/Future-Nineteenth-Century-Dream-Child-Cyberculture-Literature-ebook/dp/B01GVDXZFQ/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1466752048&sr=1-1&keywords=amy+billone

 

In America, the Kindle copy right now costs $43.41. The list price for the hard copy is $140 as it is initially being sold to a library market. For this reason I would be very grateful if people around the world could ask their libraries to order a copy. I would love to make the book as easy as possible for people to be able to read.

 

Do you have any public speaking engagements planned for this book?

 

So far, I have been invited to give a lecture and a class visit at another university this fall, and I am looking forward to that. Other public speaking engagements will develop as time goes on. I am planning to present conference papers and publish articles on the sections of the book I needed to delete to meet the correct word count (on television shows and on a number of other popular series that make interesting uses of dreams in them).

 

Do you see any role for  Facebook and Twitter in relation to The Future of the Nineteenth-Century Dream-Child? Perhaps for any feedback from readers?

 

Facebook has been the most reliable way for me to get in touch with scholars in the field of children’s literature and with other friends and colleagues around the world. I look forward to using Facebook more in this way in the future.

 

Are you working on anything new right now? If so, are there details you care to share?

 

At the moment in my scholarly work I am working on a series of articles that were originally going to be in my book but that did not in the end fit into it. I am also discovering new works to write about and tracing my interests through them, imagining a book-length project that will evolve from these interests.

 

Poetically, I am excited about my Midnight Haiku project. I have been sharing these almost daily on Twitter for the past year and a half and now on Instagram as well. My plan is to have a PDF put together by the end of this summer by a great designer I know. The PDF would be the first publishable volume of carefully edited poems.

 

I would like to offer the PDF for free to anyone who joins my email list (you can click Follow Me on my website http://www.amybillone.com and provide your email address to be signed up to receive it). I will later put this out in hardcopy and eBook form and hope to continue the series with a more polished books of Midnight Haiku. My goal over the past year and a half has been to write as many as I can, fully aware of how rough some (most?) might be, in order to have enough there to chisel into good book material.

 

In our last interview you asked me about my current poetry and I said I was still looking for a form to put my poems into. That form turned out to be the haiku, though because of my intense background in sonnets (the subject of both my dissertation and my first academic book) my haiku are meant to read like short sonnets in many ways. I enjoy the breathlessness and the compactness of the form.

 

******

Link to my first Q&A with Amy Billone “I associate poetry with my first written words”

 

The Telling of a Heartache that a Young Girl must Endure | Review of “Rodent” by Lisa J. Lawrence (2016) Orca Book Publishers

Rodent

We all don’t live fairy-tale lives. Many of us have issues to deal with that are difficult and ugly which take their toll on us emotionally. The same counts for many young people. So why should they have to endure fairy tales when their lives really “suck” and they need some way to better understand their world around them. Lisa J. Lawrence has written a book that reflects a grittier side to a young person’s life called Rodent.

Page 6-7

There have been five schools in the past three years, not to mention all the ones I passed through before I even hit junior high. I’ve seen it all. If I keep my head down, after two more years of this I’ll be free. Then it won’t matter if Mom has a good day or two when she finds a new job, drags us off to some other hellhole, the brings the whole thing crashing down. I won’t be a puppet in this stupid game anymore.

I don’t realize how hard I slam my locker until the girl next to me jumps. I give her a look like, What? and march off. Then I have to pull out a map of the school because I have no idea where I’m going. English. Room 102. Okay

When I find it, I make a beeline for the back row, which is already taken by other students trying to be invisible or goof off. I end up sitting in front of a tall guy with a mop of dark hair and glasses that look like they belong in the sixties. He’s reading a thesaurus. To my left, a chubby girl with stringy hair picks at her split ends. I think I’ve found my corner.

We are thrown into Isabelle’s life right at when it’s most traumatic. She is starting out in Grade 11 and facing all the usual teenage problems that come up in young girls lives. But she is also the caregiver to her younger brother and sister while her mother suffers from alcoholism. We witness Isabelle face crisis after crisis while we silently see the tension take their toll on her emotions until she snaps.

Page 10-11

“Pick it up yourself,” I say again, louder. Something grinds inside me. The redhead flees.

It happens in an instant. The blond narrows her eyes and moves to take a step toward me. Between the eye-narrowing and when she lifts her foot, I form a fist. I know how to make a decent fist. My cousin Jacquie taught me – thumb on the outside, knuckles not too tight. It has served me well, especially at these ghetto schools I usually end up in.

The blond opens her mouth to say something, shoulders squared for a fight. Before she can get the word out, I slam her in the face. She staggers back into the arms of her friends. Grabs her nose to stop the gush of blood spraying down her turquoise tank top. Shock is all I see on the face of every single person, including her. They weren’t expecting this. Ice floods my gut. Tears form in her squinty eyes. Then something else, something I recognize instantly: rage.

Lawrence has capture a big slice of the human condition by bringing the story of Isabelle forward. The lifestyle endured by the main character does actually exists as does much of the responsibility and the angst she has. And Lawrence hasn’t tempered the language for publication at all. She has Isabelle talking and thinking the way a teenager talks and thinks today. Easy enough for any reader to relate too.

Page 122

Monday morning. Will’s eyes light up as I drop my backpack by my desk. He doesn’t look away, waiting for me to give something back to him. A word, a smile. something I barely nod at him before sliding into my seat. You don’t want this, Romeo. How could I think for an instant that he could be part of my world?

I picture Will sitting on the ugly sofa as Uncle Richie hurls beer bottles and we all scatter like cockroaches. Isn’t that what every guy wants? Congratulations, Will. You just won yourself a nice, dysfunctional family. Even worse if he tried to help, to fix. The girlfriend who’s also a project. It’s for his own good that I walk away. He’ll never know about the Molotov cocktail he just avoided. Still, the ache in my chest makes it hard for me to lift my head today.

Gritty. Honest. Bold. These words certainly describe this story. But most importantly Lisa J. Lawrence’s Rodent has captured a slice of life that a good number of people (not just teens but adults) have to endure. This book should start a number of conversations and great deal of soul searching by many. Exactly what a great piece of literature should do.

*****

Link to Orca Book Publisher’s website for Rodent

Link to my Q&A with Lisa J. Lawrence – “I think most of my inspiration . . . comes from those very human moments that can happen anywhere”

A Complex Look at a Personal Life | Review of “Carry Me” by Peter Behrens (2016) House of Anansi

Carryme

One of the greatest issues of the 20th century was that people had their identities thrust upon them by others due to some sort of arbitrary label. People were harshly judged by: their nationality, their  religion, their gender, their social standing and even their occupation. Prejudices were harsh, ignorant and pushed to the extreme, very painful to endure. Yet those persecuted persons always seemed to dream about some distant land where they could dissolve to and become something different, something new. Peter Behrens has documented that reality in his complex novel Carry Me, brilliantly showing a common struggle of the human condition.

…Our story would have been quite different if, instead of being born on a German Ship on the high seas, Buck had waited a few weeks to be born in a comfortable San Francisco hotel room.

Buck Lange an American citizen? How much simpler everything might have been.

But you can’t operate on history that way. An American Buck might have joined the American Expeditionary Force in 1917. I can see him answering the call to colors. He have been shipped to France and killed in one of the ugly, costly battles the AEF fought in 1918 –

I don’t want to lose you over tedious genealogy and history that must be very dim to you. This is a story of real people who lived and died, about their times and what went wrong. I shall try to be honest even when it’s apparent I am making things up, delivering scenes I couldn’t have witnessed.

I know the truth in my bones. And that’s what I shall give you.

I have been waiting for a long time for an epic like this. The story deals with Billy Lange. Born in 1909 on the Isle of Wight, Billy’s father (Buck) is the skipper of a racing yacht belonging to a wealthy German-Jewish baron. Life there seems somewhat idyllic enough until the clouds of war begin to rise and angry eyes turn towards the family.

Page 34-35

All accounts insist there was sunny weather all over England the day the war began. On fair days the English Channel was dark blue, and white manes of foam blew off the tips of the waves. Following my afternoon nap my mother instructed Hamilton to take me into the village and by ices at the shop. This was a rare treat.

Where was my father when Hamilton and I quit the house that afternoon? He might have been taking a nap himself or standing at the top of the cliff with his Leitz binoculars, looking out over the fair blue of the Channel. Cowes Week was on, but probably no so many yawls or racing schooners were out that afternoon, only battle-gray warships.

While Hamilton and I were enjoying our ice-cream treat at the village shop, a pair of policemen – one in uniform, one in plainclothes – arrived at Sanssouci, arrested Buck, and took him away.

I don’t remember if my mother tried to explain his absence or if I wept or sulked or how I otherwise behaved. And I have no memory at all of the hours and days that followed, when she went up to London trying to learn what had happened to him and was met by official blankness and scorn. In the aftermath of my father’s arrest as a German naval spy she must have been reeling, but I didn’t notice. Or don’t remember. It’s as though a light was switched off. leaving me in the dark, and nothing of those days left any impression that has lasted, not even the darkness.

The plot is at times disjointed. It jumps back and forth on the timeline and is not only told through a narrative by  Billy but also moves along by letters, journal entries, and other material that have been archived. This disjointedness is a brilliant tactic in the novel. It  gives the reader a feel of what Billy’s emotional life was at times like and a reader who ponders the story while reading it shares some of the uneasiness that was Billy’s life.

Page 248-249

It was warm and close in Heidelberg. I could smell the river as we hiked up to the ruined castle. We sat on wall overlooking the town and smoked cigarettes. I started telling Mick my idea of heading out across El Llano Estacado aboard the motorcycle I’d seen in the BMW showroom in Frankfurt.

“And once you get across, Billy, what then?”

“You sound like my father.”

Buck was worried because I hadn’t fixed on a profession. My mother said the problem of my future was keeping him awake at night. If the law wasn’t what I wanted, then we ought to ask the baron about finding me a place at IG Farben when I graduated. With headquarters in Frankfurt, IG Farbenindustire was the largest corporation in Europe, fourth largest in the world, and the baron had a seat on the board of supervising directors.

My father wanted iron security for me because his life had been improvised, scattered, even reckless. Born out of sight of land. A jockey at fifteen. A cavalryman. An ex-prisoner. A man whose two careers – racing yachts in the English Channel and raising thoroughbred horses for the highest levels of European competition – were all about risk, chance, beating the odds.

The west wall of my bedroom at Newport was covered with oil company road maps, courtesy of the U.S. consul at Köln. I’d pinned the states in sequence and traced a route in blue pencil from New York to California that dipped south to cross El Llano Estacado. That blue line floated over me as I slept and was the first thing my eyes fixed on when I awoke. Sometimes it seemed a skeleton, the bones of a dream. Sometimes a skeleton key, unlocking a life I couldn’t even imagine yet.

The afternoon was too hot and close to inspire us to take in the sights of Heidelberg. Neither of us had any interest in being tourists. I could feel a thunderstorm starting to build. The azure sky was foaming over with gray. The air was thick, with scarcely a breeze, even along the Neckar.

That was where we met the two girls, Lilly and Coco.

Carry Me by Peter Behrens is a complex novel. It closely reflects a section of the human condition of the 20th century that is personal yet was a common experience for many people. Not a light read but one that is worthy of one’s time.

*****

Link to Peter Behrens’ website

Link to House of Anansi’s webpage for Carry Me

Coming to Terms with our Younger Pains | Review of “Saints, Unexpected” by Brent van Staalduinen (2016) Invisible Press

Saints

A thank you to J. H. Gordon Books of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada for making this book available (Click here for their website)

We tend to be very private about our teenage years. All that growing up and enduring whatever issues that came up was hard on our psyches yet – in many cases – we tend to bury those issues deep inside us. That isn’t healthy. A good coming-of-age novel can force us to open up about those years and come to terms about our experiences. And one such novel that can help us relate to those years is Brent van Staalduinen’s Saints, Unexpected.

Page 15

I woke up on the couch with an earache, but able to hear again. The sun hadn’t yet risen so the living room was quiet and dark. Someone had turned the lights off while I slept. I got up, tied my hair back and padded into the kitchen. In the dim light cast by the range hood, as the fridge hummed its quiet, insistent tune, I spooned back some cereal, holding the bowl above the sink to protect the hardwood floor from soggy drippings. I didn’t look any different, I thought, staring at a ghostly, suspended reflection of myself against the dark city outside. But should I? An occasional set of headlights zipped through my dark reflection, racing down King like impatient, earthbound stars.

The story deals with fifteen-year-old Mutton who is spending the summer helping out her mother’s thrift store. What should be a routine day at work is shattered when Mutt is robbed at gunpoint then in turn the family is sent into a spiral of events that just seem to much for her. Her father looses his job. Her first love is found and then dumps her via a text message. And a baby brother has a serious illness that just might claim his life. Mutt must deal with each situation as best as she can. But at times, it  can be too much for her.

Page 38-39

Have you ever missed someone who is still right in front you you? I missed my mother. Where was the old hippie, sunshine and light, happy to dispense unsolicited organic medical advice along with Second Chances’ second-hand stuff? The one who looked forward to the Niche’s daily offerings as much as Leich and I did? It was like life had become fine sand paper, and she hadn’t noticed the abrasion until it had worn through the skin and drawn blood. It wasn’t just the money – she was happy to break even while Dad paid for the regular expenses – she probably saw the closing of Razza’s and Luigi’s as a loss of something bigger than rent revenue. Solidarity, perhaps, like they were in a good fight together. The terror of her kids being robbed while working in her downtown store. Wu’s sickness worsening the abrasion.

She came out of the back room with that day’s Niche offering, a heavy -looking, tarnished candlestick, and put it on a shelf without making sure it would fit. It ended up half on, half off an antique drink coaster and leaned precariously into the aisle. She was distracted, like she hoped her shadow might take care of the chores that needed doing.  She even averted her eyes and took an extra step to the side as she passed the bullet hole as if they had the same polarity and were pushing away from each other.

An important element in this book is the setting. Mutton’s home town is Hamilton, Ontario and van Staaldulnen has documented the city well through her eyes. Hamilton is a unique city and Mutton’s experiences with both the positive and the negative elements of the city give the story a realistic feel to it.

Page 152-153

At the eastern end of Gore Park, a couple of old cannons stood guard, cold hard sentinels that spoke of a simpler time when enemies were obvious, alliances clear. I imagine they’re still there, pointing along King like an invasion from Stoney Creek might be imminent. The statue about them, a weepy tribute to Sir John A., has moved a few times and has been part of Hamilton’s downtown lore for over a hundred years. But those cannons are a mystery to me. How far had they travelled? Had they ever been fired? I’ve set a number of my stories right there in that park and have created worlds around that monument. but the truth behind those cannons? I have no idea.

Wu loved them. He didn’t care about their history or their pedigree or whether they had defended our shores; he’d run around the monument’s granite base oohing and yelling, boom! Boom! Boom! I’d lift him up and he would climb all over, sitting astride them and imagining himself riding into battle against conjured foes. He’d lay his head against the cold iron for minutes at a time, his wrinkled cheek taking on the subtle texture of the ancient metal, listening to the park and traffic sounds, imagining who knows what.

Later that day, I took Wu out to the cannons. It had been a simple thing to volunteer to babysit. Yes, I used my baby brother as a salve for my pain – he always made me feel better, so why not? But he wasn’t entirely himself. When we got to the end of the park and he saw the cannons, he smiled, but didn’t demand to be taken out of the stroller. He had a lovely sparkle in his eyes as he stared at the statue and the big guns, and part of me knew that he should have been laughing and climbing and pretending. In the end, the outing made me feel worse.

Saints, Unexpected by Brent Staalduinen is a stunning first novel and unique coming-of-age story. It is a read well worth re-reading and pondering over.

*****

Link to Brent van Staalduinen’s website

Link to Invisible Publishing’s webpage for Saints, Unexpected

 

Project Bookmark Canada #16 -Rachael Preston’s The Fishers of Paradise

A
It was a flourish of activity as Hamilton City Councillor Aidan Johnson and author Rachael Preston unveil Project Bookmark Canada #16 to adoring fans along the Desjardins Trail.

It was a exciting day for me on June 9, 2016 as I took the time to attend to two of my favourite activities: traveling and tending to my library. I had the pleasure of making my way to Hamilton, Ontario to witness the unveiling of Project Bookmark Canada’s plaque in honor of Rachael Preston’s book The Fishers of Paradise. (Link to my review)

Not only did I get a chance to meet Preston and get my copy of The Fishers of Paradise signed. I had the opportunity to learn a bit about the Project Bookmark Canada program (Link to their website where they are “literally” trailblazing Canlit sites across Canada) And I had the pleasure of meeting some of Hamilton’s cultural figures who told me about some of their city’s authors. I then made my way down to J.H Gordon Books (Link to their site) to purchase some of those books. No doubt I will be blogging about some of those books soon!

 

 

c
Rachael Preston honored the crowd of her fans and well-wishers by reading a selection from The Fishers of Paradise.

It was a great day, a productive one and certainly an enlightening one as well.

 

Fishers
Scanned image from my copy of The Fishers of Paradise. Signed: To Steve, Thanks for the fabulous review and for trekking out to the unveiling all the way from (London, Ont.) Best Wishes, Rachael Preston

Link to Rachael Preston’s website

Link to Wolsak & Wynn’s webpage for The Fishers of Paradise

The Strategy of a Privateer and a Pirate| Review of “The Man Who Saved Henry Morgan” by Robert Hough (2015) House of Anansi Press

Morgan

We were all raised on the classical stories of pirates. They were fantastic tales that kept us spellbound with concepts of adventures on the high seas brisk with sword fights to find buried treasure. But must the stories end because we have matured into adulthood and our heads are now filled with serious facts and reason. Robert Hough doesn’t think so and he has given us adults the book The Man Who Saved Henry Morgan to rationally spellbind us.

Page 1-2

The judge was a drunk bastard, all right – swaying in his tall-backed chair, that gin-rosin smell wafting off him, his nose a mound of headcheese run through with purple thread. I wasn’t surprised. The world was filled with people who couldn’t bear to be in their own company, and it made no difference if you were rich or poor, loved or loathed. Sometimes, there was only one thing for it.

“I didn’t do it!” I pleaded. “It was an honest game, Your Honour, no foolery or nothing, just a friendly match between men! I’m an upstanding sort, see . . . ”

“I see nothing of the kind, Mr. Wand. As far as I can tell, you’re as slick as an oiled weasel. and you’ve a choice to make. A dozen years in Newgate or deportation to the Isle of Jamaica. The choice is yours. You’ve ten seconds before I decide for you.”

Ten seconds? I didn’t need three seconds. No one survived twelve years in Newgate, not unless you belonged to someone, and even that was no protection against typhoid or madness. On the other hand, Jamaica’s best-known town, a devil’s warren called Port Royal, had a reputation I’d heard about in seamy rat-run taverns, and from the sounds of it I’d fit right in. There was another sorry fact to consider: my pitted face was known by constabulary types all over England, which was making it harder and harder to ply my ignoble trade.

“Jamaica,” I said.

He slammed his gavel and was on to the next.

I was twenty years of age, and up for pretty much anything.

Hough has told the story of Henry Morgan through the eyes of Benny Wand. Wand is a thief and chess player whose actions in 1664 find him deported to Jamaica. There Wand joins up with the infamous Captain Henry Morgan to raid Spanish enclaves in the New World. Wand shows his ability in “hustling” chess games to earn a bit of extra coin. One day he is called upon to visit Morgan and they engage in a game.

Page 102-103

“Good game,” I said. “That was a brilliant gambit, like.”

Yet instead of turning all red and grinny, as if he’d just bedded an earl’s daughter. Morgan studied the board. His chin was in his slender hand, the muscles in his face gone tight as wire. Those grey eyes, knifing through space – he couldn’t take them off the board. He was calculating, thinking, drawing his conclusions. In fact, he looked just the way he had at Villahermosa, staring out over pink bubbling waters. Inside, I felt all wrong.

He looked up. “You ever throw a game with me again Mr. Wand, I’ll have you in the stocks for a fortnight. Do I make myself clear?”

I said nothing. Couldn’t believe it. I’d never met a posh bugger who liked the game more than the idea of winning. It’s the reason none of them are any good at it – it’s just the win they want, their self-regard stoked.

But not Morgan. Not him.

“This time I’m white,” he said as he reset the pieces. A moment later he moved a pawn to queen’s fourth, again warning I’d better give him my best game. We played three more times. Like I said, he was a good player – better than good, even – though no match for someone born with an understanding that on every board there lies a glorious truth and it’s your job to reveal it. Fact was, I heard music when I played chess. When I was getting at that truth, it was like birdsong. When I was crapping it, it was rusty pots clanging together. It was a hammer striking metal. It was a hippo blowing farts from a sackbut.

In two of the games, Morgan stayed with me, through the last was a rout. He lost each game by growing restless and launching attacks that would’ve worked with the burghers he was used to playing but not with me.

“So,” he said when we were done. “You’re a professional.”

There is the right mixture of research and imagination here to make this both an enlightening and entertaining read. We get an understanding of history, planning, politics and even human nature through the thoughts of Wand to appeal to our intellect but we also get the a sense of adventure and emotion too to thrill us. In short the plot has the right amount of strategy and swashbuckling.

Pages 214-215

We marched back through dense jungle and found the dried creek bed we’d left a day earlier. Here we turned right and marched to the edge of the jungle and waited for orders.

Morgan sent a few men into the trees. They came down with branch scrapes on their faces, though they all agreed Panama was a few miles off and beyond that a blue bank of ocean. We trudged through light woods dotted with streams. Around noon the trail opened at the top of a plateau. Down below was a green plain about a mile wide and a mile deep and beyond that was the city.

Course, they were waiting for us, fifteen hundred or more Spaniards on horseback, all in rows. Morgan took this in, jaws gnashing. Beyond the enemy was the city, which looked like Portobello though bigger: it had the same square with a church and lanes leading away, the only difference being there was a square beyond that and another square beyond that as well. My eyes roamed, looking for weakness, and I knew Morgan was doing the same.

“Wand,” he said while pointing. “Do you see it?”

“The hill? Yeah, I do.”

Though the Spaniards had covered the right and centre of the plain, off to one side was a large rise where their horsemen were fewer. Separating this hill from the rest of the plain was a dip in the land; if we stormed that hill via that dip we might draw the enemy to engage us there. And once they were there. And once they were there, it wasn’t hard to imagine all those Spanish horses gumming up and being more hindrance than help. On foot, we’d more easier than them, and if enough of our number weren’t felled, we might even take the hill. From there we could storm the city, flintlocks blazing, murder in our souls, the best part being our plan just might work.

Robert Hough has certainly matured tales of the high seas in his book The Man Who Saved Henry Morgan. It is both enlightening and entertaining read and one worthwhile to enjoy.

*****

Link to Robert Hough’s website

Link to House of Anansi’s website for The Man Who Saved Henry Morgan.

 

“I’ve always wanted to write and draw graphic novels, since I was a kid, especially stories like this – just straight forward genre-less fiction.” | Q&A with Illustrator Michael Cho

shoplifter-cover-final-lores
A few weeks ago, I reviewed Michael Cho’s graphic novel Shoplifter. A lot of conversations I have had since then stated that people recognized many of Cho’s images but didn’t relate his work to his name. Cho graciously took time out from a very busy family life to answer a few questions for me, hopefully enlightening many people to his work.
*****

1) It has been a few years since Shoplifter has been released. How did you find the reaction to it? What inspired you to create that book?

 

Shoplifter debuted on the New York Times Bestseller list and got a lot of positive press and reviews. (Link to my review) As things progressed, it was also translated into several languages.  There’s a French, Spanish and German edition with an Italian edition and more on the way.  So I would say that the reaction has been fantastic.

 

As for what inspired the book, that’s a pretty big question.  On a general level, I’ve always wanted to write and draw graphic novels, since I was a kid, especially stories like this – just straight forward genre-less fiction.  I enjoy the opportunity to write and draw my own stories and to have total control over the project.  On a more specific level, Shoplifter was based on my own personal experiences and from talking to friends and colleagues.  I wanted to write a story about the kind of person who’s smart and sharp enough to critique, but is unable to create, for whatever reason.  I thought that was an interesting and relatable character trait to explore in a story.

 

2) I am also seeing that you have a book that is a collection of sketches of Toronto called Back Alleys and Urban Landscapes. What inspired you to do that book?

That book came from my desire to improve my ability at drawing landscapes, actually.  I was always more interested in the figure, so I had a real deficiency in that area.  When I became an illustrator, I knew I had to fix that.  Hence, I started drawing what I knew – the neighbourhoods around me in Toronto.  Eventually, I fell in love with drawing buildings and the urban landscape and saw in them the same quirks of character I saw in people.  So that book was a record of my growth as an artist but also a labour of love.

7348256487
Cover image of Back Alleys and Urban Landscapes. Image linked from Michael Cho’s online portfolio

 

3) How did you get involved in illustrating? Are there illustrators that you admire? If yes, who are they and why?

I graduated art college here in Toronto with a diploma in “Experimental Arts” – which is a contemporary art studio diploma.  What it really meant though, was that I was broke all the time.  After a few other jobs, I fell into illustration as a way to pay the bills.  Initially I treated it like a day-job, but gradually learned that it’s a creatively rewarding artform of its own and that if I wanted to be good at it, I had to take it seriously.  I did, and I studied and worked harder and it became my passion.

As for illustrators I admire, there’s way too many to list here.  They range from older masters like Noel Sickles, Al Parker and Austin Briggs to contemporaries like Paul Blow, Meg Hunt, Edel Rodriguez and others.  I tend to like artists who prefer to “keep it raw” and work for emotional effect, but that’s not always the case.  Often I admire an illustrator for qualities that I don’t have myself.

4) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?

I’m working on a follow up book to Shoplifter, but it goes a bit slowly as I’ve recently become a father for the 2nd time.  Aside from that, I do my usual freelance illustration assignments, drawing editorial illustrations, covers, etc.

5) Many of my followers would be very familiar with your cover illustration of the 2009 Penguin Classic edition of Don Delillo’s White Noise. How long did it take you to create that cover? What do you think of the novel?

Well, White Noise is one of my favourite novels, so it was a real treat and honour to be asked to create the 25th anniversary edition cover of the book.  I can’t really say how long it took to create the cover – that’s a tricky question.  It was a tough assignment though, since I was so familiar with the book.  Sometimes being too familiar with something makes it hard to have the proper overview and editing skills you need to make a successful cover.  But in the end, I was happy with the results.

WN
Cover to Penguin Classics 25th Anniversary edition of Don DeLillo’s White Noise.

6) Your blog lists events and appearances to partake in where you get a chance to meet the public. How do you like those events? Are there any upcoming events that you are looking forward to attending?

I enjoy the conventions and signings quite a bit.  It gives me a chance to travel and meet fans and also to catch up with other artist friends who are also at those conventions.  It’s a bit harder now with a new baby, so I’ve limited my appearances quite a bit this year.  I think I’m doing a convention in Austin Texas and possibly Europe in 2016.

7) You seem to be an active participant on Twitter? How do you like using that platform to promote your work? Do you use any other social-media sites to promote your work?

I don’t really use any other social media except twitter, unless you count my blog where i post new artwork.  Initially, I didn’t join twitter to do promotion, but rather to hang out and chat with fellow artists and creators around the world.  When you’re up at 4am working on an assignment, it’s nice to be able to share a few words with other artists who are also up at that hour (and there’s quite a few).  So that was the driving force for my joining.  I rarely follow anyone that I haven’t met in person, for example.  

Still, I understand the need to do self promotion, so I do a little of it on twitter – sharing sketches, showing work in progress and mentioning completed projects, etc.  I never feel comfortable playing the salesman though, so I probably don’t do it as well as other people do.

8) Your biographies have you listed as living in Toronto. How do you like living there? Does it’s cultural scene inspire you in any way? Do you do a lot of travelling for your work?

I love Toronto.  It’s my favourite city in the world.  It’s a safe place to raise my kids, but it’s also very diverse and tolerant.  Having grown up in some places where that wasn’t always the case, I really appreciate how everyone in Toronto gets along and respects other cultures, lifestyles, etc.  It’s also full of creative people – I meet with other illustrators and cartoonists regularly and I’m very thankful for that.  When I moved here to attend college, it was the first place where I didn’t feel like an outcast for being an artist; where I felt like there were lots of people just like me.  I knew then I’d found my home.

*****

Link to Michael Cho’s “sketchbook” blog

Link to Michael Cho’s portfolio at illoz.com

Link to Knopf Doubleday’s webpage for Shoplifter

“ ‘We are all settlers’ was a prevalent thought as I was writing Kalyna.” | Q&A with author Pamela K. Clark

Kalyna.png

A few weeks ago, I shared Anne Logan’s blog review about Pam Clark’s Kalyna. (Click this link for that review) That action caused not only a number of retweets/shares on my social-media sites but also garnished some anecdotal conversations about the book in real life. I reached out to Clark for a Q&A and she graciously agreed. Her comments will no doubt continue even more interest in her book to my followers.

*******

1) Could you give a bit of an outline of Kalyna?

Kalyna is a novel about our collective history as Albertans. It explores the story of one family’s journey from Galicia, Ukraine who settle in the developing bloc settlement of Edna Star, but I hope it will resonate with the thousands of families whose ancestors undertook similar journeys from a multitude of countries. “We are all settlers” was a prevalent thought as I was writing Kalyna. Themes of love, forgiveness, injustice and belonging are woven throughout this novel which seeks to share the little known history of Ukrainian Canadians’ internment in Banff National Park in World War 1. The novel is an ambitious work, spanning over seven decades in Alberta. I hope readers will see their own histories whether their families came in the first wave of settlement or their families have just settled here.

The story begins in Ukraine in the early 1900’s, a time of changing borders and conflict; a time of collective farms under controlling owners, a time of poverty and fear. A young couple is wooed by Clifford Sifton’s promise of land and freedom in the “last best west” and embark upon the journey to Canada’s prairie land. The bulk of the story takes place in Edna-Star, a bloc community of settlers, banded together by culture and determination to prosper in the new land. Banff, Alberta figures prominently as the setting of the internment camp becomes like one of the main characters, Wasyl Federchuk, is interned in Castle Mountain camp in the summer months and Cave and Basin camp in the winter months during WW1 – 1915 – 1917 and his family’s life is thrown into turmoil.

Which character do you most identify with and why?

I most identified with the strength and courage of Katja. She is a complex and complicated character, radiating charm and humility coupled with fierce determination and fear at times. She makes mistakes, is a great friend, moves forward with calm serenity and loves her family very much.  I was inspired to write the character of Katja as a tribute to my Grandma Olga.  Many readers have told me I’m like Kalyna though. I keep looking for resemblances.

How did this novel compare with your own family’s story of settlement?

My Great Grandparents came to Canada in the second wave of Ukrainian immigration in the 1890’s and my Grandma Olga was born in 1905 in Edna Star Alberta. Growing up, there was not a great deal of talk about the past, my family seeming to prefer thinking about the future.  I remember meeting Great Aunts and Uncles and hushed conversations about the “Old Country”.  It was when I was an adult that I began to ask my Grandma more about her life:  her childhood, her memories and her home.

What relevance do you feel this novel has with present day immigration to Canada and our role as a society?

One of the reviews of Kalyna stated that, “ it is a timely novel,” as we face ongoing immigration to Canada.  I believe that our wonderful country has tolerance, peace and security for all citizens as its foundation and as we welcome refugee families from Syria and other countries, I trust that Canada will continue to be as welcoming as we can be.  Our quality of life and freedom from tyranny has such a base in history and that is why Kalyna is an important story to share.  When we understand our collective history as a nation such as reconciliation in the First Nations communities, there is great opportunity for communication and progress.

Were you surprised about anything in the novel? If yes, what was it and why were you surprised about it?

Surprise is a part of the process of writing for me. Sometimes, as I was writing Kalyna, there were two or three paths I had ruminated about and then I had to decide which path the novel would follow.  At the time, I would ask myself, “Really? This is going to happen to Ivan or Katja or Wasyl?” and on I would write.    This is the element of surprise in the writing process as a whole.  I am also surprised how much I still think of Aya left alone in Montreal when Katja, Ivan and Wasyl make the trek out West.  I have had readers ask my about her and she must have resonated with them too.

2) The Stonehouse website states that  ‘Kalyna was inside of you for many years.’ Is this a story based on memories, anecdotes, research or a combination of factors? How long did it take you to write Kalyna?

Kalyna was written with my  passion of Ukrainian culture and Canadian history,  family memories, and from research.  I first heard of the Ukrainian Internment in 2000, on CBC Radio.  My research led me to uncover the brilliant book by Lubomyr Luciuk entitled, In Fear of the Barbed Wire Fence. This book led to other archival sources and journals, thus the story began to unfold.  Although I told the story out loud to my family and began to write it many times, the novel finally unfolded in 2012/13 while I was living in Newfoundland.

3) How did you get involved with Stonehouse Publishing?

I found out about Stonehouse through the Alberta Writer’s Guild.  I knew I wanted Kalyna to be published locally as that is where I felt it’s initial audience would be.  Stonehouse was a wonderful fit for Kalyna, a maverick publishing house supporting historical fiction.  I am thrilled to be one of their inaugural five authors this year.

4) I see by your website you have a list of dates already set for readings and discussions of Kalyna. Are public events something you enjoy doing?

Absolutely!  I love meeting the readers and setting in motion a discussion about the characters and sharing the readers’ own settlement stories.  I believe that everyone is a storyteller and this comes out at readings, book clubs and events!

5) Who are your favourite writers? What are you reading right now?

I have so many and often say, “ This is my favourite book,” for the time.  I revel in Canadian literature and my go to author of fiction and poetry is Michael Crummey, whose writing style is very engaging and inspiring to me.  I have just finished Katherine Govier’s, The Three Sister’s Hotel which featured my favourite place of Banff and showcased her historical research. (Link to my Q&A with Katherine Govier: For years I’ve been fascinated by the characters who came to the Rockies in the early twentieth century . . .(t)hey never made it into the history books) I am currently reading A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler and next up is Elizabeth Hay’s His Whole Life.

6) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?

I am….it is a departure from historical fiction that takes place in Japan.  Perhaps, I’ve been inspired by all the thrillers I’ve been reading the past year.

7) You seem to be active on Twitter quite a bit?  How do you feel about using it in relation to your book?

I see Twitter as a platform for finding out lots of information in a short time and letting users delve deeply if they choose, sort of like reading the headlines and then following up on the stories that interest them the best.

8) The biographical description on you on the Stonehouse websites says you are currently living in Calgary. How do you like living there right now? Does the city’s cultural scene inspire you in any special way?

Calgary is such a vibrant city with a maverick spirit that radiates unity in community.  I treasure the natural beauty of the city and it’s incredible proximity to Kananaskis, Canmore and Banff and am inspired by the people around me everyday.  I love the theatre, music and art exhibitions here and, of course, love to attend readings by fellow authors at Owl’s Nest and Shelf Life in town!

 

Again, thank you for answering these questions. I am looking forward to reading Kalyna and telling my fellow book-fans about it!

 

Thank you for sharing the story of Kalyna with your readers!  I’d love to hear what they think of the novel!

******

Link to Pamela K. Clark’s website

Link to Stonehouse Publishing webpage for Kalyna

 

Save