Tag Archives: Cordelia Strube

“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

shores

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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Learning from Poor Milo | Review of “Milosz” by Cordelia Strube (2012) Coach House Books

Milosz

The works of Cordelia Strube have been the topic of many discussions these past weeks since my review of her latest work On the Shores of Darkness, There is Light (Link to that review) Many of those discussion have spark personal reflections and considerations to the human condition – ponderings about family members, friends, lovers, neighbours, etc. – which is a attribute of a good piece of literature.  And for those people who enjoyed that book will certainly gain the same insights with her book Milosz.

Page 7-8

The banging stops at two a.m. Milo lifts the pillow off his head but still can’t sleep and considers going next door to ensure that no one has been hurt. They can seem so comfortable, the three of them, in the backyard flipping burgers, tossing the ball for the dog. Sometimes Milo sits in darkness, undetected, on his side of the yard, and looks in their windows. Tanis and Christopher often share a bottle of wine at the kitchen table, conversing easily. Milo envies their intimacy, their shared troubles, their abnormal son. When he moved back in after his father disappeared, he could hear them making love. It sounded as though they were trying to save each other from drowning.  Not anymore. Now the only noise coming through the was is the TV. Or screams.

The beauty of this book is (again) Strube has a protagonist who has profound insights into the world yet is stuck with mundane people around them. We witness Milo’s acting career stuck in neutral. His girlfriend has dumped him. His father has disappeared.  And a collection of freeloaders have taken over lodging in his house. Yet the only person that poor Milo can truly relate to – an autistic eleven-year-old boy who lives next door – is being bullied, Milo jumps into action to try to improve at least one life. And the consequences spiral out of control.

Page 122-123

‘Do you know this man?’ the bodybuilder (cop) asks Tanis.

‘He’s my neighbour.’

‘We found him with your son.’

I found him.’ Milo interjects. ‘Actually he found me.’

‘Shut up,’ the wrestler (cop) says.

‘He built some kind of wigwam with your son last night and slept in it.’

Tanis, who has been looking and acting like a madwoman, opens and closes her mouth several times. Already she has further alienated the police by accusing them of mistreating her son. ‘Get away from him,’ she kept yelling at them. Milo had to restrain Robertson while she strapped on the protective helmet. They can hear him thumping as they stand in the front hall.

Tanis looks at Milo with eyes completely unfamiliar to him. “You knew where he was?”

‘Not until the early hours of this morning,’ Milo explains. ‘He didn’t want to come back and I didn’t want to force him. I mean, it was dark. We could have gotten lost.

‘So how long were you planning to stay in the wigwam?’ the bodybuilder inquires.

‘Hopefully not long. I was hoping he’d get hungry and I could interest him in some pancakes or something.’

Tanis sits and stares at nothing. ‘Why didn’t he want to come home?’

‘He didn’t want to go to school.’ Milo says, which is easier than explaining that the pressure to be normal has overwhelmed Robertson.

‘Well, ma’am, if you’re satisfied that your son’s safe, we’ll be on our way.’

‘What do you mean “safe”? He’s never safe.’ She starts getting loud again. ‘He’s bullied in the schoolyard every single day. What kind of sick world allows a boy to be bullied every single day? What kind of sick, perverted world?’ Both cops edge towards the door.

‘So you want no charges laid?’ the bodybuilder asks.

‘Charges?’

‘Against your neighbour here.’

‘For what?’

‘He kept the boy in the wigwam, ma’am.’

‘It was a debris shelter,’ Milo interjects.

‘Get out,’ Tanis orders.

Milo and the cops look at each other because they’re not sure whom she’s talking to.

‘All of you. Get out. Now.’ She starts swinging her crutch. The cops hurry out but Milo lingers. The wrestler reaches back for him. ‘You too, asshole.’

While there is a noble desire that moves Milo into action, the results are strongly bittersweet. Milo is pushed into doing something and he then fumbles around the muddled results. Yes, it is funny at times but there is almost something enlightening about considering his actions.

Page 154

When he was small Milo found solace in his collections of marbles, matchbooks, condiment packets, stir sticks, plastic cutlery, mini soaps and shampoos. All went into shoeboxes under his bed that Mrs. Cauldershot had to remove when vacuuming. ‘What in God’s name have you got in those boxes?’

‘Treasure,’ he replied. The boxes were carefully bound with elastic bands. He knew Mrs. C. didn’t have the patience to open them. When he was supposed to be sleeping he’d take out his flashlight and examine his acquisitions, wishing he could share them with the baby he imagined would have grown into an adoring little brother. His mother assured Milo that he didn’t kill the baby, that it was already dead when he flushed and that she left it in the toilet because she wanted the doctor to see it. Milo hadn’t looked in the bowl, only noticed the curled-up, watery and bloody fetus swirling around after he’d pressed the lever and his mother shrieked, ‘Don’t flush!’

From then on, when he heard his mother making terrible sounds in the bathroom, he held his teddy bears against his ears. Once he peed himself rather than look in the toilet. He only went into the bathroom in the morning after his father had shaved.

Pushing open the door to Gus’s house, he longs for shoeboxes full of treasure.

Cordelia Strube has given readers not only empathy but a means of discussion with her protagonist in her novel Milosz. It is a wonderful piece of literature.

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Link to Coach House Books website for Milosz

Link to Cordelia Strube’s website