Five Questions with… Benjamin Percy

Benjamin Percy, author of The Dead Lands and an upcoming IFOA participant, answered our five questions!

Share this article via Twitter or Facebook for your chance to win two tickets to his October 24 event. Don’t forget to tag @IFOA!

IFOA: What inspired you to write your new novel, a post-apocalyptic re-interpretation of the Lewis and Clark expedition?

Benjamin Percy: I grew up in Oregon, and my mother is a hobby historian obsessed with Lewis and Clark. We visited Fort Clatsop so many times we should have had a punch card. We attended the bicentennial and snapped photos in front of the giant covered wagon. We stopped at historical markers and suffered through impromptu lectures on why the expedition was the greatest adventure story in American history. I read their journals, read Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage. I had a deep well of information to draw from, and originally I thought I might hammer out a non-fiction project.Percy, Benjamin (c) Jennifer Percy

I would recreate their passage—that was the idea—pedaling and paddling and hiking, joined by friends and family. A modern-day adventure. And a reflection on how I grew up, which was rather wild, gifted with a freedom kids don’t have today.

An editor heard about this idea—unofficially, at a bar—and bid on it alongside my novel, Red Moon. I hadn’t up to that point figured out the logistics or really talked it over with my wife. When we crunched the numbers—the time and money it would take—we decided it wasn’t the best choice. My kids were young and I’d have to step away from the teaching position I held at the time.

So I decided to make some stuff up instead.

Historical novels about the Corps of Discovery have been done, and done well, so I decided on a fresh angle. Post-apocalyptic Lewis and Clark. Lewis and Clark 2.0. Which made the story fresh and perilous once more. Not just a story resigned to the archives of history, but a revisionary future in which our nation hangs in the balance.

IFOA: In the event of an actual apocalypse, what would be in your survival kit?

Percy: I could list off the usual suspects—knife, water filter, plant guide, good boots and socks—but that would be boring. So let’s say trampoline, crayons, kittens, Twinkies and bourbon.

IFOA: Do you see similarities between the current state of America and the one described in The Dead Lands?

Percy: I’m always channeling cultural anxieties in my work. You can read The Dead Lands and get caught up in the thrill ride alone. But if you look deeper, you can see a cracked version of our world. Is it about environmental degradation? The swelling divide between the 1% and the rest of the population? American imperialism? Yes.

IFOA: How has your upbringing in the high desert of Oregon influenced your work?

Percy, The Dead LandsPercy: I moved around a lot as a kid, but central Oregon is where I lived longest—on several acres of sage and juniper. That kind of isolation was great training ground for a novelist. I had no one to play with, so I read. Several books a week. And when I wasn’t reading—or doing chores—I was caught up in my imagination, dreaming myself into a knight, a jedi, a cowboy, an adventuring archaeologist.

The high desert backdrop has also influenced the stage of my fiction. So much of it takes place out West. That’s the place I know best. The geography, history, politics, culture, myths. Maybe one day I’ll set a novel in the Midwest, but right now I still feel like I have a tourist’s perspective on the region.

IFOA: What was the best piece of writing you read in the past year?

Percy: Tough one. Maybe A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara or Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. I’ll also throw out an endorsement for Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud, which I’m re-reading. It’s extraordinarily smart, and its analysis and craft lessons apply to every storyteller, every reader and viewer, no matter if they’ve never read a comic in their life.

Benjamin Percy is the author of the novels Red Moon and The Wilding, and two short story collections, Refresh, Refresh and The Language of Elk. His writing has appeared in Esquire, GQ, Time and elsewhere. His honours include the Pushcart Prize, an NEA grant, the Plimpton Prize for Fiction and a Whiting Award. Raised in the high desert of central Oregon, he lives in Minnesota. Percy presents his new thriller, The Dead Lands, a post-apocalyptic re-imagining of the Lewis and Clark saga, in which a super flu and nuclear fallout have made a husk of the world we know.

 

Five Questions with… Damian Rogers

Damian Rogers, author of Dear Leader and an upcoming IFOA participant, answered our five questions!

Share this article via Twitter or Facebook for your chance to win two tickets to her event October 27. Don’t forget to tag @IFOA!

IFOA: Tell us about your new poetry collection, Dear Leader.Rogers, Damian

Damian Rogers: I wrote Dear Leader over a pretty intense stretch of my life, after my mother had been diagnosed with frontal-lobe dementia and during the years that I decided to start my own family. I’ve always been interested in oppositional forms of consciousness—what I started to call “non-consensual reality” when faced with the solidity of my mother’s delusions—as well as doomed utopian communities, the search for transcendence through group or private worship, occult forms of information, paranoia, conspiracy theories, the attempt to elevate the self through gestures of resistance. My mother raised me to have a rich inner life, and this book explores all of these preoccupations as a way of capturing the atmosphere of disordered thinking. Maybe I was trying to find some beauty in the violence of cognitive failure, to imagine an alternate landscape for my mother to inhabit.

IFOA: When did you first start writing poetry and why?

Rogers: I don’t remember when I started to write poetry. It seems like it was something I always did. My grandmother and my mother were both big fans of poetry and they encouraged me in this direction. My grandmother used to quote bits of Shakespeare and Dorothy Parker around the house and I’d try to write poignant one-liners, earnest clichés that just made my mother laugh. I wrote reams of stuff on notebook paper as an adolescent that I would love to read again—I’m sure it was hilarious—but at some point it all got lost. When I was about 12 years old, I gave an oral report in my English class on Lawrence Ferlinghetti, my favorite poet at the time. It was a little controversial, I think. My mother had photocopied poems she chose for me out of a classic early-70s anthology called From Beowulf to Beatles and I would carry these around in a folder, I loved them so much. When I went to university at 17, the first thing I did was start taking writing workshops and I basically never stopped.

IFOA: How has your writing process developed and changed?

Rogers: It took me a long time to find the confidence to be honest. I’ll spend the rest of my life struggling to be better.

IFOA: Who are some favourite poets you can recommend to our readers?Rogers, Dear Leader

Rogers: I love the poet Hoa Nguyen, who has been living in Toronto for about four years now. She has a very clear vision of who she is as a poet within the context of her own poetic lineage that I find inspiring. Wave Books recently published a selection of her early work called Red Juice; they also published her most recent collection, As Long As Trees Last. Her poems have such a distinct, individual life force in them. Claudia Rankine’s most recent book, Citizen, blew me away. I think Matthea Harvey has a magical mind, and I especially love the work she did with miniatures and erasure in her last book, If the Tabloids Are True What Are You? There are these great American women poets with astonishing bodies of work, like Joanne Kyger and Alice Notley, Anne Waldman and Bernadette Mayer, Eileen Myles. The Indigenous Canadian writer Leanne Betasamosake Simpson is doing beautiful genre-crossing work that is challenging and fierce. Suzanne Buffam is wonderful, sharp, wry. I’ve been reading Baudelaire’s essays over and over for a writing project of my own, so he’s on my desk all the time. Shane Book’s Congotronic is fantastic. I love Robin Blaser, Jerome Rothenberg. Sina Queyras and Karen Solie. I’m all over the place these days with my reading.

IFOA: What’s next for you?

Rogers: I’m currently doing research for a memoir about my mother. I’m also working on my next collection of poetry. I think the less said about unfinished work the better.

Damian Rogers is from the Detroit area and now lives in Toronto, where she works as poetry editor of House of Anansi Press, poetry editor of The Walrus and as creative director of Poetry in Voice, a national recitation contest for Canadian high school students. Her first book of poems, Paper Radio, was nominated for the Pat Lowther Memorial Award. Rogers presents her latest poetry collection, Dear Leader, with poems that provide instructions for what to leave, what to take and what to fight.

 

 

Five Questions with… Anakana Schofield

Anakana Schofield, author of Martin John and an upcoming IFOA participant, answered our five questions!

Share this article via Twitter or Facebook for your chance to win two tickets to her event October 28. Don’t forget to tag @IFOA!

IFOA: Your anticipated second novel, Martin John, expands on a character from your first novel, Malarky. Why did you decide to delve deeper into the character of Beirut?

© Tom Delamere

© Tom Delamere

Anakana Schofield: A conflation of circumstances led to this. The first was the cheeky insertion for pure devilment of a single footnote in Malarky that read “See Martin John – a footnote novel” not knowing whether or not I’d ever actually write that novel. I had material that I’d chucked out of Malarky, which initially was a parallel narrative of two mothers and sons.

Then came an urgency to respond to the plethora of reports of clerical sexual abuse during recent years, which I felt left me with no choice but to address some aspect of deviancy, somehow, in fiction.

I guess in both examples “response” was the impetus.

In Malarky, the Beirut/Martin John we met is an endearing man. In Martin John, Martin John has become something other. He departed or reversed (since we met him older in Malarky) very far from where we started with him.

IFOA: In addition to fiction, you also write essays and literary criticism. How are these different forms of writing connected?

Schofield: I’m a reader before I am a writer. My thinking on literature and reading towards what it is I want to write are very much informed by reading and writing criticism. I’m also over interested in very random topics, so essays and the blogs, which I pen for the London Review of Books, help me explore these curiosities. I’m fortunate to have editors who encourage and support my rambles.

IFOA: Your website lists reading, the weather, bird flu and labour history as some of your preoccupations. How do these interests inspire your writing?

Schofield: I suppose they are four quarters of a whole. Basically I have a hearty appetite for what most would consider entirely redundant information. There’s very little that I’m not curious about.

IFOA: If you could meet any author, living or dead, whom would it be?

Schofield, Martin JohnSchofield: I think Rosa Luxemburg. I would like to discuss her cold baths, high consumption of milk and fury with that printer in Paris described in her letters. Then we’d progress to the spindle statistics in Poland and she could educate me on Marxist matters. But mostly it’s the milk that intrigues me. Nietzsche went heavy on the milk. I haven’t checked, but did they both have bad acne?

I think one should be careful of meeting one’s heroes; they may disappoint and sadly are not the only person who ever understood you. They can be tired, short tempered and bad mannered. Apart from the ones who are lovely. All are best met on the page methinks.

For example, if I met Beckett, we would sit next to each other beside a coal shed on uncomfortable chairs and discuss the weather and possibly sigh a great deal. Essentially I don’t need to meet him because I’m perpetually sighing a great deal and have seen plenty coal sheds. Also he’d smoke, which would make me cough, then he’d offer me whiskey and my left kidney wouldn’t like that. It could be very awkward for us.

IFOA: What is the best compliment a reader can give you about your work?

Schofield: To read it or attempt to read it or to read widely. I’ve a few favourite readers: one wrote me a lovely email that said she was going for a walk to think about Our Woman. Another is Bill in Ohio and he took to Google Maps and did all kinds of additional research to understand Malarky. I also rather enjoy the very angry man who wrote invoking the mafia, hookers and my mother in one line. I’m quite acquainted with some of my readers through social media and they are splendidly intelligent, jovial and patiently answer my random queries on things like bad foot pain and weather reports.

Anakana Schofield won the Amazon.ca First Novel Award and the Debut-Litzer Prize for Fiction in 2013 for her debut novel, Malarky, which was named on 16 Best Books of 2012 lists. She has lived in London and Dublin and presently resides in Vancouver. Schofield has contributed criticism and essays to the London Review of Books BlogThe Guardian,The Irish Times and The Globe and Mail. She presents Martin John, a footnote novel to Malarky that expands on the storyline of a character nicknamed Beirut.

Five Questions with… Mitsuyo Kakuta

Mitsuyo Kakuta, a contributing author to March Was Made of Yarn and an upcoming IFOA participant, answered our five questions!

Share this article via Twitter or Facebook for your chance to win tickets to her October 24th event. Don’t forget to tag @IFOA!

IFOA: How did you become involved in the March Was Made of Yarn project?

© Hisaaki Mihara

© Hisaaki Mihara

Mitsuyo Kakuta: I was asked by an editor of the anthology to write a short story related to the Great Tohoku Earthquake. I heard a part of the royalties would be donated towards post-disaster reconstruction. I liked the idea, so I participated.

IFOA: You’ve said that you wanted to become a writer from an early age. Is there something (or someone) you can attribute this to?

Kakuta: I read a children’s book by Miyoko Matsutani, and that made me think I wanted to write stories like hers. I was seven years old at the time.

IFOA: Several of your books have been adapted for film. What has it been like seeing your stories transported to the big screen?

Kakuta: I believe that the purpose of a film is not just to animate a novel. It is a different medium of expression. Therefore, it is particularly interesting for me to see parts of the film, which are different from my novel. I often even forget that it is based on my own novel.Kakuta, March Was Made of Yarn

IFOA: Do you have a favourite Japanese writer you could recommend to our readers?

Kakuta: I would recommend Mr. Shuichi Yoshida, Ms. Yoko Ogawa and Ms. Kaori Ekuni.

IFOA: What are you working on now?

Kakuta: Now I am working not on an original novel, but on a modern translation of “The Tale of Genji.” It will take me three years to complete the entire project.

 Mitsuyo Kakuta is one of the most popular female novelists active in Japan today. Born in Yokohama in 1967, she graduated from Waseda University’s Faculty of Literature in 1989. She has received numerous literary prizes, including the Naoki Prize, the Chuo Koron Literary Prize and the Renzaburo Shibata Prize. Two of her bestselling novels, The Eighth Day and Pale Moon, have been made into acclaimed films in Japan. She presents a reading from March Was Made of Yarn, which explores the March 2011 earthquake that devastated Japan. Kakuta is one of 22 writers to offer insight into this tragedy.

Five Questions with… Zachariah Wells

Zachariah Wells, author of Sum and an upcoming IFOA participant, answered our five questions!

 Share this article via Twitter or Facebook for your chance to win two tickets to his event October 24. Don’t forget to tag @IFOA!

IFOA: What got you hooked on poetry?

Zachariah Wells: Probably the vatic vision of Irving Layton. Initially, at least, as a young man. As I’ve aged and altered, I’ve been hooked anew by so many different poets’ peculiar gifts. Wells, Zachariah

IFOA: For you, how does a poem first take shape?

Wells: Usually as a crystallized structure of sense and sound, which, as crystals do, starts to expand and ramify, almost spontaneously.

IFOA: Working for Via Rail, you must have the opportunity to travel the country quite extensively. How does this experience influence your writing?

Wells: I’m not really conscious of how my work has directly influenced my writing. I have written a lot about place and rootlessness. I’m not sure to what extent my choice of jobs has reflected that and to what extent it’s been a thematic spur.

IFOA: Where is your favourite place to write poetry? Wells, Sum

Wells: I have none. I’m more concerned with how an individual poem takes shape than where it happens. And when    you travel as much as I do and have as many occupations as I do, you can’t really be too fond of particular work places.

IFOA: Which poet are you most excited to meet at this year’s Festival?

Wells: Probably Ulrikke S. Gernes. I read and reviewed her first Canadian-published translation many years ago and was really taken with her poetry.

Zachariah Wells is the author of three collections of poetry, several chapbooks, a children’s book and a collection of critical essays. He is also the editor of Jailbreaks: 99 Canadian Sonnets and The Essential Kenneth Leslie. His poems have been translated into Bosnian and Spanish and adapted into operatic songs by composer Erik Ross. Wells lives in Halifax where he works for VIA Rail as a service attendant and as a freelance writer and editor. He presents his third collection of poems, Sum, which weighs the mutability of the self against the forces of habit, instinct and urge.

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