Tag Archives: author interview

“I also wanted to create a kind of tribute to people, like Trudy and Claire in the book, who attract and accept responsibility at a young age. I have always been deeply impressed by that.” | Q&A with author Missy Marston on her novel “Bad Ideas”

  • Missy Marston novel “Bad Ideas” has been a topic of conversation in many literary circles since it’s release last year. Most of the conversations have been how relatable how certain scenes and situations are to readers. So Marston has not only worked out a great read but created a piece of art that reflects life for so many people. So it was a thrill for me to have her answer a few questions for my blog

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  • 1) It has been a year since “Bad Ideas” has come out. How have you found the response to the novel been so far? Are there any memorable reactions to the book you care to share?
  • I have been thrilled with the response. People have been very kind. It has been especially heartening to hear from people who grew up, as I did, in the Seaway valley. Writing about where you come from can be intimidating and it was a great relief to hear from people who thought I got it right. One person sent me a photo of the book at the original Ken Carter super jump site, which was pretty cool.
  • 2) Was there any particular motivation for you to write the book? I know the character of Jules was loosely based on Daredevil Ken ‘the Crazy Canuck’ Carter and his attempt to jump the St. Lawrence River in the 1970s, but did any of the other characters have any real-life inspiration for you?
  • I grew up in one of the small Ontario towns that was flooded when the Seaway was widened in the 1950s. Remnants of the flooded town were everywhere: sidewalks that led under the water, old stone foundations broken up along the shoreline. My childhood home was right on the banks of the St. Lawrence and from our yard you could see a hump of the old highway breaking the surface of the water, forming a kind of island. That shows up in the book. My house was also just down the street from the ramp that Ken Carter built to jump the river, when I was about eight years old. These things made a big impression on me, obviously.I was motivated to write about these two very disruptive events from a personal perspective, the perspective of a single family of girls and women. I also wanted to create a kind of tribute to people, like Trudy and Claire in the book, who attract and accept responsibility at a young age. I have always been deeply impressed by that.
  • 3) How long did it take you to write “Bad Ideas?” Was it an easy book to write?
  • I wrote Bad Ideas on Sundays – I work full time – over a period of about six years. Some things about the book were easy and some things were very hard. The characters came easily, especially Jules and Mercy, and the basic plot was clear in my mind from the beginning. But it was a challenging book from a structural point of view. I wanted to tell the story from multiple points of view and I also wanted the book to have a lot of forward, plot-driven momentum. These two things can work against each other.
  • 4) You seem to have an active social-media presence. How do you using those platforms to connect with your fans and other writers?
  • I didn’t really have a social media presence until I published my first novel in 2012 and my publicist at the time encouraged me to create a twitter account. A few months later I posted a link to an article I had written about Margaret Atwood and her impact on me and my writing (the main character in my first book is named Margaret Atwood). Not much later – I think within the day – I received an alert that she had retweeted my article. I had to sit down. But that is the wonder and terror of social media. It feels like it erases distance. You meet people once and then you can stay in touch with them forever. You form these connections. People finish reading your book and reach out to you the same day to tell you what they thought. For me, it has been magic.
  • 5) Online listings have two novels accredited to you: “The Love Monster” (2012) and “Bad Ideas” (2019). Has your writing change much since you started? If yes, how so?
  • Writing a novel taught me something about writing novels, if you know what I mean. I think I will always struggle – it is not easy to write a book – but I struggled much less with the second book than I did with the first one. I gave up on the first one many, many times. I lost faith in the story and in my ability to finish the damn thing. When I started writing Bad Ideas I knew I could write a novel because I had done it before. So that’s one difference.In terms of changes to the writing itself, I would say that Bad Ideas is a more direct and focused book. They have a lot in common, though. If you’ve read one, you will recognize the voice in the other. You can tell it’s me.
  • 6) Your biographies have you listed as living in Ottawa. How do you like living there? Are there any benefits to living there that you as a writer enjoy?
  • One of the best things about living in Ottawa as a writer is the Manx Pub on Elgin Street. The great Canadian poet, David O’Meara, works there and organizes regular readings and spotlights. The crowd is always warm, the food and company, great. I was lucky to have the launch for Bad Ideas there. I love Ottawa. I have brilliant friends here, including a small writing group. I met the love of my life here, raised my children here. It is a beautiful place.
  • 7) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?
  • Yes! I have sixty solid pages of a new novel written. What can I tell you about it? There is an athlete and an explorer, a villain, and a mythical beast. As with everything I write, there is a love story. I feel like it is going to take forever but I just keep pushing it forward. One day it will be a book.
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  • Link to ECW Press’ website for “Bad Ideas”

Link to my review for “Bad Ideas”

“The readers who have contacted me love Harriet almost possessively, and take a few days to forgive me for what I put her through.” | Q&A with writer Cordelia Strube

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Culture is suppose to deal with the ‘human condition’ – to take note of an element in our society and bring it forth for us to consider and discuss. But that rarely seems to happen anymore. We are bombarded with more and more items that seem to be ‘marketed’ to us and our pocket books. So when we come across an item where a person carefully crafts an item to show something about the ‘human condition’ many of us still do take time to ponder that item. And we try to share our thoughts about that item with others.

Cordelia Strube states she is a private person. In being that private person she quietly observes the world around her and then crafts her observations into works for us to consider. Her novel “On the Shores of Darkness, There is Light” certainly became a topic of conversation for my many circles these past few months.  So it not only a thrill but a bit of chance to gain some enlightenment when Strube agreed to answer a few select questions for me.

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1) You seem to have put quite a bit of thought into “On the Shores of Darkness, There is Light”. Was there anything specific that inspired you to write it? How long did it take to write?

I was sitting in a Tim Horton’s, people-watching through the window, and noticed a small boy with an over-sized head. He was gripping his mother’s hand as they walked, both of them ignoring the stares of passersby.  In the mother’s expression I recognized a look all too familiar to mothers a.k.a. if you hurt my child, I will kill you.  There was a grace and nobility about these two seemingly frail people, pushing courageously through their daily grind despite disability.  Once home I googled causes for skull enlargement in children and, shazam, Irwin was born.  Then I started what if-ing, which I do constantly while writing novels.  What if the sick child has a well sibling?  What love and tenderness is left for the well sibling who will always, in the eyes of the mother devoted to the sick child, get better?  How do the well and sick children feel about one another?  I wanted to reveal this complex sibling connection from both points of view, which resulted in two protagonists in a two part novel.

2) A lot of fellow readers in my circle seem to feel a certain empathy for the protagonist, Harriet, or they are very confused by her. How have you found readers’ reaction to her and her family? Are there any reactions to the book that you care to share?

The readers who have contacted me love Harriet almost possessively, and take a few days to forgive me for what I put her through.  I did not set out to write a lovable 11 year-old.  She is prickly, fierce, stubborn, determined and, in her own estimation, unlovable. This devotion from readers surprises and cheers me.  Maybe it’s because Harriet is a rebel and there’s a bit of rebel in us all.

3) Your website lists both books you have written and stage/radio plays you have produced. How do you contrast the two forms of writing (if at all). Is there one form you prefer over the other?

I love all narrative forms.  Radio plays are the toughest because you reveal everything through sound effects and dialogue.  I avoid the the voice-over device to reveal exposition, and never plug dialogue with expository writing, preferring sparse speech.  I put each line through a sieve repeatedly.  Few people talk in huge chunks, and if they do, they’re usually boring.  So it’s just me, the actors and the sound effects crew building worlds and people in listeners’ minds.
Stage plays have actors, sets, lighting and sound effects.  Many choices that are limited only by budgets.   Often the most intriguing stage plays make much from very little.
With film, a primarily visual medium, you have the added bonus of close-ups to reveal subtext.  My screenplays have considerably fewer spoken words than my radio or stage plays.
Novels know no limits.  You can build worlds, civilizations, multiple galaxies.  You can jump in and out of thoughts, introduce characters in one scene then ditch them in the next, straddle continents and time zones in a sentence. Novel writing means absolute artistic freedom.  And you have the added bonus of the reader’s unbridled imagination.  They will envision and feel things you didn’t know you were writing.  Many times readers have mentioned elements in my novels I didn’t realize were there.  Readers come to the narrative with their own histories which add colour and dimension.

4) You have a complex list of literary events in which you are partaking over the next few months. Many writers that I talk to seem to have a level of fatigue that comes over them when they do public events. Are public readings and discussions of your work something you enjoy doing? 

It depends on the crowd.  If they get it, I’m buzzed.  If they don’t, I feel crummy and regret showing up.  With On The Shores Of Darkness, There Is Light, my 10th novel, I decided to only do events that pay some form of honorarium.  I’ve never understood why authors are expected to offer their time and services for free.  This request narrows invites down and slows the pace.  Q and A is more interesting for me than readings because I get to ask questions of readers.  I never stop learning from them.  But yes, you need stamina, both mental and physical, when you’re promoting a book.  Everybody’s a critic and you better be able to suck it up.

5) This is a question I am really eager to ask you. Many writers I talk to about their presence on the internet seem to make a comment about it being something they ‘need’ to do. The only presence I can tell you have as a writer is through your website. (And your comment on your siteIn a world overrun by technology and advertising designed to make us hunger for material gain, the value of human connections cannot be measured” is very reflective of many people’s thoughts around me.) What are your thoughts in relation to the use of the internet with regard to promoting your writing? Do you get many people commenting about your books through your website? Are you avoiding social-media platforms (like Facebook and Twitter) on purpose?

 
I’m a private person.  I don’t like having my picture taken.  It takes me a long time to compose a sentence.  I don’t enjoy staring into screens of any size; don’t have a cell or a TV.  These are not social media-friendly qualities.  I have two laptops, one connected to the internet, the other remains a disconnected island for my fiction.  Briefly, when traveling, I tried a tablet and found myself checking my email accounts frequently because it was so easy.  The checking became compulsive and interfered with my thoughts, and fiction–for me–is all about allowing thoughts to wander.  
 
I’m more comfortable socializing one on one in real life, in real time, with all kinds of people in all kinds of real circumstances.  But even the word real has become unreal, hasn’t it?  Which is why I called the reality show about people who think they’re on reality shows in my novel Milosz “Reality Check”. 
 
 I want people vulnerable around me, not playing a shiny, scratch-proof role they’ve devised for themselves online. Twitter etc works wonderfully for writers who think it’s wonderful.  I’m available to readers via my website and when they take the time to contact me, I always respond, have even made real friends that way.
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“Anything that isn’t writing is hindering my writing, although many life experiences, such as being a husband and father, are really a great help to my craft in the long run” | Q&A with writer William Kowalski

William Kowalski has a direct yet simple outlook on the human condition. (In fact his bio on his website refers to the fact that he wears socks with sandals, and doesn’t care what anybody else thinks about that.) That is what makes his writing so unique. He answered a few questions for me here which allowed insight into him and a glimpse into his future works.
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1) What inspired you to become a writer? Was it an easy job for you to get published?
A:  I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was very young, probably about six years old.  I wrote short stories as a child and as a high school student, and when I was in my early 20s I decided to try writing a novel.  Eddie’s Bastard was the result.  It was very difficult for me–the hardest thing I’d ever done, up to that point in my life. It took about three years. Getting it published also felt very hard, but I was told that I’d had it a lot easier than some.  I landed an agent within about six months, in January of 1998, and she had sold it to HarperCollins by that July.  It can take much longer than that to get a book published.
2) Your writing seems very personal. Is there much research/personal experience you use for your writing or is it pure imagination?
A:   I don’t really do any research for my books.  I believe in writing what I know, and I’ve never felt that I could do a convincing job of writing about something just because I’d read about it.  Of course, that doesn’t really explain how I can write about things I’ve never experienced, like war, for example.  I do sometimes spend a very long time trying to put myself in the necessary head space for a book, and that might involve some general reading about it.  But it’s more like me just asking myself a very hard question, and spending months or years coming up with the answer.  For example, while I was writing The Hundred Hearts, one of the questions I was asking myself was, “How could the My Lai massacre have happened?  How could American soldiers just mow down innocent people like that?”  I had to go to some pretty dark places to find the answer.  It took me eight years to write that book.  But eventually i did arrive an AN answer.  I don’t say it’s THE answer.  But it’s an answer that worked for me.
3) What are you reading right now? Who are your favorite writers?
A:  I just finished a book of short stories called Knife Party at the Hotel Europa, by Mark Anthony Jarman.  It’s one of the best things I’ve read in years.  But I don’t have much time to read these days, and when I do, it’s usually non-fiction.  I’m also reading Atlantic, by Simon Winchester.  He’s such a great writer.
4) Do you do much in the way of speaking engagements and public readings? If yes, is it something you enjoy doing? Have there been any memorable events that occurred during any of your readings?
A:  Between 1999-2005 I did about five US speaking tours, and one in Europe. These were both exciting and torturous for me.  I’m an introvert, so speaking in public requires a lot of work.  Once I’m up there, I’m fine, but I’m a nervous wreck for days beforehand, and afterward I’m exhausted.  I do a lot less public speaking these days, which is partly a relief, but I also miss it.  The attention can be very uncomfortable for me, but I need it to succeed as a writer, and if I’m to be honest there’s a part of me that likes it, too.  The most memorable thing that occurred was when one gentleman showed up at a reading to chastise me for using the word “bastard” in the title of my first book.  It turned out he didn’t really have a larger point than that, and he hadn’t even read it.  He just wanted to give me a hard time, because he believed it was an evil word.  You really never know what kinds of people you’re going to meet on the road.
5) You seemed somewhat surprised that I had reviewed “Eddie’s Bastard” recently. Has your writing changed much since you first started being published?
A:  I feel that I am a very different writer now.  I wrote that book between the ages of 25-28, and I’m turning 46 this year.  I don’t even feel like the same person.  I know my writing has changed drastically.  David Adams Richards put it beautifully when I saw him read last summer in Port Medway.  He talked about how young men are often prone to very lyrical writing, and as they age, they become more analytical.  This was a really valuable insight for me, because I didn’t understand why I had changed–I just knew that I had.  I actually wrote a blog post about this:  https://williamkowalski.com/wise-words-from-an-older-writer/
6) You have written several books for the Rapid Reads series for Reluctant Readers. Is there much difference writing a book with that audience in mind as opposed to a regular novel?
A:  The Rapid Reads books are shorter, so they’re easier in that sense.  But they’re harder in that I have to keep my voice very simple, which requires a great deal of restraint.  I regard this as excellent practice for my craft.  Showing off all the time is self-indulgent.  Keeping it deliberately simple is very hard.  If anyone doesn’t believe me, try doing ten pushups very, very slowly and see how you feel afterwards.
7) You seem to have an active presence on social-media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. How do you feel about using those apps? Does help or hinder your writing?
A:.  Anything that isn’t writing is hindering my writing, although many life experiences, such as being a husband and father, are really a great help to my craft in the long run.  My real problem with social media is that I absolutely love computers.  I am obsessed with them.  They’re a huge distraction. About ten years ago I started building websites for myself, and it’s gotten to the point now where I actually have several clients for my web design services.  It’s a nice bit of extra money, but mostly I do it because I love it.  Twitter and Facebook are fun for me.  They’re a great way to tell people about what I’m up to, and I get a little thrill when I see something I’ve written or tweeted take off, even in a small way. This is why everyone likes those things, I think.  It’s like being micro-published.
8) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?
A:  I’m currently writing a novel about the Polish immigrant experience in Buffalo, NY around the turn of the last century.  It’s told from the point of view of a young woman who is based on my great-grandmother, Aniela.  She came from Poland when she was a teenager, in 1908, and lived until 1990, so she saw a lot of changes in her life.  I was privileged to know her and have always found her story fascinating.  It’s really a very common story for a lot of immigrants in that time and place, but I think that’s what makes it valuable.
I’m also working on a web project: My Writing Network.  My goal with this is to provide anyone with an interest in writing with a free website and membership to our online forums, so they can connect with other writers and promote their own work online in any way they see fit. This is all done with open-source software, and it’s free for everyone.  It’s up and running now at https://mywriting.network.  I hope some of your readers will check it out.
9) No doubt you have seen the debates over what we consider Canadian literature. I have seen some of your books tagged in libraries with little maple leaves denoting that it is Canlit, and sometimes not. You are born in the U.S. but now live in Canada. Do you consider your writing as Canadian or is it in a more broader scope of literature.
A:  I am a Canadian citizen now, but I don’t try to label myself as a Canadian writer or an American writer.  I moved to Canada when I was 30 years old, so I was pretty much formed by then.  I love Canada, and especially Nova Scotia.  Moving here was one of the best things I ever did.  I came because of my then-girlfriend, who is now my wife of 14 years.  But if I were to try and write a book that was set in Canada, or that set out to be a deliberately Canadian book, I think I would probably fail.  I didn’t grow up here and I don’t have the same frames of reference Canadians have.  It goes back to “write what you know”.  I would probably fail just as much if I tried to write a book set in Texas or Tajikistan.  I do understand why Canadians are so bent on distinguishing their literary culture from that of the US.  American media is so dominant everywhere that it threatens to stamp out anything unique in other parts of the world.  I think if I had been born Canadian, I would probably have a strong dislike for anything American.  So, people who stick up for CanLit have my full sympathy.  I will leave it up to others to determine whether I belong among the ranks of Canadian writers or not, the same as I leave it up to others to interpret my work and discuss what it’s about.  It’s not for me to tell people what to think.  It’s just my job to write, and I hope to keep doing that until the day I drop dead.
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