I’d like to thank my talented Camosun College colleague, Kari Jones, for tagging me on this Blog Tour. Kari’s latest children’s novel, So Much for Democracy, is set in Ghana, where Kari was lucky enough to spend part of her adolescence. I am currently gobbling it up! You can click back from Kari’s post to Julie Paul’s, then to Alice Zorn’s and beyond. Every writer is answering the same questions, which makes for an illuminating survey.
What am I working on?
The word “work” is well-chosen here. At this time of year, my teaching duties are lighter, and sometimes I can stay at my writing desk all day. It’s a privilege, but there’s no denying that it’s work. Right now, I’m rewriting a YA novel. My characters are slogging through mud on the Juan de Fuca trail, and I’m right in there with them, getting dirty.
A chapbook of absurdist prose poetry with the working title Tardy in Teal is also in the mix. The poems are playful, language-centred pieces in which the title of each piece provides most of the letters used in the poem or story that follows. Many are accompanied by collage paintings created by the inventive Brandi May. One of the text-and-image pairs, “Pomegranate,” has just been shortlisted in Geist Magazine’s Postcard Story Contest. It opens with the line, “My pet gnome is pregnant.” Here’s the artwork:
Then there are book reviews. I’ve just submitted a review of Sussex Drive: Inside the backrooms and the bedrooms of the Nation by Linda Svendsen and of Lucky by Kathryn Para to the scholarly journal Canadian Literature. I write book reviews for a few reasons. First, I like to keep my eye on what’s happening in Canadian fiction, and the free books are a bonus. Second, I think it’s important to keep my “lit crit” skills sharp because I teach literary analysis in college English classes. When I confront and make sense of new and challenging texts–and when I have to produce a polished work of literary criticism on a deadline–I’m putting myself in my students’ shoes. It’s important to me as a teacher not to get too far away from the student experience. I can better support student writers (not to mention commiserate with them!) if I’m simultaneously wrestling with writing issues myself. (That goes for teaching Creative Writing, too, of course.) Finally—and frankly—reviewing is the only kind of writing I do that is pretty much guaranteed to be published. That makes it rewarding and well worth the time.
Promoting a newly-released book is part of a writer’s work, too. In July, I’m reading from Blow at the public library in Red Deer, Alberta. The novel is set in Red Deer, but I’ve never been there, except via Google Maps! I can’t wait to follow in my characters’ footsteps.
How does my work differ from other work in its genre?
First, my prose poems have in common with lyric poetry a concern with sound, image, and patterns. They differ from most lyric poetry because they prioritize playing with language over capturing an experience or conveying an insight.
Second, most fiction for reluctant teen readers uses an urban setting where conflict between teens relates to a contemporary social problem. (This is certainly true of Blow.) My YA novel-in-progress differs because it’s set in the wilderness where the conflict lies between the characters and the setting.
Why do I write what I do?
I started working in YA because I wanted to hone my fiction skills, though I’d already published a literary novel, Touched. Young readers, and especially reluctant young readers, need to be hooked right away and swept away by the storytelling. A well-paced plot and three-dimensional characters are key. Convoluted sentences, static description, and passive characters won’t work. In writing YA, I try to keep the reader’s experience at the forefront of my mind, and it helps.
At the same time, the realistic plot and pared down vocabulary of a “hi-lo” novel like Blow is a constraint that I broke free from in Tardy in Teal. I love language and absurdity, and I indulged these passions in the prose poems.
How does my writing process work?
I usually write first drafts in a head-long rush. I keep up the pace because if I stop, I may never finish them. But once something’s on paper, I can rework it. Sometimes the rewrites are substantial (the published version of Blow is barely recognizable when compared to the first draft), but I’m able to rewrite with care only because I draft in a frenzy.