Five Questions with… Amanda Leduc

Amanda Leduc, author of The Miracles of Ordinary Men and a participant in this year’s International Festival of Authors, answered our five questions.

Share this article via Facebook or Twitter for your chance to win two tickets to see Amanda on November 3! Don’t forget to tag @IFOA or use #IFOA2013. Good luck!

IFOA: What was the inspiration for your debut novel, The Miracles of Ordinary Men?Amanda Leduc

Amanda Leduc: Miracles came about as a result of two short stories—one that I’d written at 16 and subsequently workshopped, a few years later, during my undergraduate years at the University of Victoria, and another one that I wrote during my time at the University of St. Andrews, when I was doing postgraduate work in creative writing.

The first story concerned a man who was visited by an angel—a thin, bald angel who seemed just as unsure of its place in the world as my main character. I was fascinated by the idea that perhaps even angels don’t always know what’s in store for them, and the story that I wrote in Scotland continued to explore this theme. I switched perspectives around and started to write about a man who transformed into that thin, strange, entirely un-angelic figure. And then Lilah and Timothy popped up as significant characters in the storyline, and things just grew from there. By the time I was halfway through my Masters degree, I was pretty sure I had a novel on my hands. It just took a few more years to get it down.

IFOA: Author Angie Abdou called Miracles “a brave book.” Sex and faith can be intimidating subjects to tackle—especially for a first-time novelist. Did you ever feel like you’d bitten off more than you could chew?

Leduc: All of the time! There were so many moments during the writing of Miracles when I was convinced that I was far too small for the book—not smart enough, not worldly enough and so on. Sometimes I still feel that way. I think the only way that I managed to finish the novel at all was by reminding myself that these things—God, sex and death—are so huge that all you can do is shape an attempt at understanding them. You’re never going to get all of the answers, and at some point you just have to make peace with that.

Likewise, there came a time in the writing of the book when I realized that asking the questions about these big things was what interested me most about the whole process. That’s when things became a little easier—once I realized that the questions I was posing were more important to me than finding all the answers.

IFOA: Do you have any rituals associated with your writing?

Leduc: Tea! Tea is a big ritual. I always have a cup (or an entire teapot) close by when I sit down to my computer. And I generally start my mornings by writing by hand, then move to the computer after half an hour or so of pen-and-paper time.

I like to write in the mornings, usually starting around nine o’clock and working through until one in the afternoon or so. I try to save my afternoons for emails/blogging/other computer business—key word being try!

IFOA: What are you reading right now?

Leduc: I’m about a quarter of the way through Night Film by Marisha Pessl, and really enjoying it. And next up on my TBR pile is Pilgrimage, the debut novel by Edmonton-based author Diana Davidson.

IFOA: Finish this sentence: It’s hard to believe, but…

Leduc: …I actually have a book out in the world with my name on it! My five-year-old self (who wrote, “I want to be an AUTHOR”, in her school notebook) would be very pleased.

Amanda Leduc has had her short stories, essays and articles published in Canada, the USA and the UK. She is one of the co-creators of Bare It For Books, a calendar that features nearly-nude Canadian authors and is being sold to benefit PEN Canada. She will discuss tackling faith and religion in her fiction alongside authors Hari Kunzru and Mary Swan on November 3.

Five Questions with… Wayne Johnston

Wayne Johnston, author of The Son of a Certain Woman and a participant in this year’s International Festival of Authors, answered our five questions.

Share this article via Facebook or Twitter for your chance to win two tickets to see Wayne at either of his two events on November 3! Don’t forget to tag @IFOA or use #IFOA2013. Good luck!

IFOA: Some of what’s explored in The Son of a Certain Woman is quite risqué—especially Percy’s attraction to his mother. What prompted you to write about this?Wayne Johnston

Wayne Johnston: As with all my books, I started this one with the question: what if…? In this case, what if a sex- and love-craving adolescent finds himself in circumstances that leave him with no one to “turn to” but his mother? This gradually grew into a larger question: what if all the characters in the book have no one to “turn to” but Percy Joyce’s mother? The circumstances of their lives are largely dictated by the intolerant, dogmatic, totalitarian Church, so it seemed to me that I’d have an explosive combination if all the main characters wanted things considered taboo or anathema by the Church. Also, The Son of A Certain Woman uses Joyce’s Ulysses much as Joyce used Homer’s Odyssey—as a kind of structural template, a mythical framework. So, in the same way that Stephen searches throughout Ulysses for his spiritual father, Leopold Bloom, Percy Joyce, in a reversal of genders, “searches for” his mother, Penelope, whose name happens to be the same as that of Ulysses in Homer’s Odyssey.

IFOA: What do you love most about Canada’s East Coast, the setting for much of your fiction?

Johnston: It never leaves me no matter how long I leave it for. I don’t mind the hold it has on me. I use it. For me, “Newfoundland” is a fictional place, wholly my own, distinct from the real Newfoundland. I live far enough away from it that it excites my imagination without overwhelming it. Islands serve as ideal microcosms of the planet, which is, after all, just a speck of an island in a vast universe of stars and other planets.

IFOA: How has your writing changed over time?

Johnston: That’s a tough one, as I’m so close to each of my books it’s hard to think of them collectively. I think the scope of my fiction has grown with each book, regardless of the setting of the book. I’m better now at finding the balance between comedy and pathos than I was starting out. I make greater, and better, use of history, and the history of ideas, than I used to.

IFOA: Your novel The Divine Ryans was adapted for film in 1999, and you wrote the screenplay. What was that process like?

Johnston: I wrote the screenplay for The Divine Ryans because I thought I knew the book better than anyone else. It was difficult at first—I had to cut and reshape an enormous amount of “stuff” that I had come to think of as being set in stone. I had to be a ruthless editor of my own book, a lot of which was left on the cutting room floor. On the other hand, writing the screenplay and being on the set when the movie was filmed gave me a rare chance to create collaboratively and burst the bubble of “novelist” in which I spend so much of my time. I just finished writing the screenplay for The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, a massive task that will soon pay off. Shooting of the film begins not long from now.

IFOA: If you could swap lives with any author, past or present, whose life would you choose?

Johnston: I’ve never been much of  life swapper. Authors’ lives are dwarfed by those of their characters. I wouldn’t mind being a character in a novel. It might be fun to be Huck Finn or Jane Austen’s Emma for a while. But I’d reserve the right to come back to “life.”

Wayne Johnston is the author of five Canadian bestsellers, including The Colony of Unrequited Dreams. He will be reading from his most recent work on November 3 alongside authors Lauren B. Davis, Anthony De Sa and Don Gillmor, and participating in a round table later that day with writers Michael Crummey and Peter Robinson.

Five Questions with… Mathew Henderson

Mathew Henderson, author of The Lease and a participant in this year’s International Festival of Authors, answered our five questions.

Share this article via Facebook or Twitter for your chance to win two tickets to see Mathew on November 2! Don’t forget to tag @IFOA or use #IFOA2013. Good luck!

IFOA: The poems in your debut collection, The Lease, were inspired by your time working in the Saskatchewan and Alberta oilfields. Can you tell us a bit about this experience?Mathew Henderson

Mathew Henderson: I graduated high school just as my family decided to move from Prince Edward Island to Alberta in an effort to make a more livable income. My late university application was turned down, and I ended up having to follow the family west. My father set me up with a job at my recently deceased uncle’s production testing company. I had no work ethic and no idea what I was doing and the muscle and bone density of a boy, but I was suddenly in this very rough, very adult and masculine world. I think that transition and contrast inspired a lot of the book.

IFOA: Do you have a favourite of the poems in this collection?

Henderson: My favourite poems are “You Ask Your Father What a Lease Is” and “Kelsey” because they both started as pretty mediocre poems, and through the editing process, they really came around.

IFOA: If you could swap careers with any poet, alive or dead, whom would you swap with?

Henderson: Swapping careers doesn’t appeal to me very much, but I’d certainly steal other poets’ abilities. If I could write about the body and the physical world like Sharon Olds, for instance, I think my poems (and my career) would get a whole lot better.

IFOA: What does a perfect writing day look like for you?

Henderson: 6:30am: wake up and run. 7:30: breakfast. 9:00–10:00: write. 10:00–11:00: video games. 11:00–12:00: write/read. 12:00–1:00: lunch. 1:00–2:00: video games. 2:00–3:00: write/read. 3:00–6:00: mixture of the previous. 6:30–8:30: muay thai. 9:00–11:00: mostly reading/television/games.

But that’s a “perfect” day that I just made up. Most of my writing happens in unscheduled two hour chunks at coffee shops, or in the classroom while my students write exams.

IFOA: Are you working on anything now?

Henderson: I’m in the early stages of a collection that deals with video games, addiction, alternate reality and comics.

Mathew Henderson lives in Toronto and has had his work published in The Walrus, Maisonneuve and Brick. He will be talking about writing today with Brave New Word authors Tamara Faith Berger, Craig Davidson and D.W. Wilson on on November 2 at 12pm.

Five Questions with… Stéphane Michaka

Stéphane Michaka, author of Scissors and a participant in this year’s International Festival of Authors, answered our five questions.

IFOA: What prompted you to write about Raymond Carver and his relationship with his overzealous editor, Gordon Lish ?

Stéphane Michaka

(c) Elisa Pône

Stéphane Michaka: It’s a universal story. I see it as a modern version of the Faustian myth or of Pygmalion and Galatea. It speaks to everyone, not only writers and editors, but anyone who is trying to create something and is both helped and hindered by his or her mentor. In fact, the “Scissors” in my title are not so much a nickname for the editor as a byword for our everyday addictions and our attempts to deal with them.

IFOA: Were you ever nervous about what Lish might have to say about your novel ?

Michaka: Not really. Lish is a controversial figure, but he is also a living legend. As fiction editor of Esquire, he left an indelible mark on American letters. I was well aware of that when I wrote a character based on him. At the beginning of my novel, Raymond describes him as “someone who has a vital need to hear good stories.” Scissors does not depict the powerful editor as a white-collar villain and the vulnerable, blue-collar writer as his victim. My storyline suggests that it takes many talents to bring a great writer to fruition.

IFOA: Describe your idea of the perfect editor.

Michaka: Someone who can guide a writer from beginning to end, in moments of self-doubt as well as bouts of exhilaration—which can be as damaging as doubting everything you write. Rebecca Saletan, a wonderful editor of both fiction and essays, once told me her favorite compliment was when a writer told her : “You’re like a car mechanic who knows why it’s knocking under the hood.” The perfect editor has to be a great diagnostician—as good mechanics are.

IFOA: If you could have lunch with any author, alive or dead, whom would it be ?

Michaka: Probably Shakespeare (I started as a playwright). I would ask him to give me a tour of the Globe Theater in 1600, dressed as the ghost in Hamlet and preferably by night. Wouldn’t that be great ? Having said that, I fear he would take me to a pub instead and make me drink more ale than I could swallow.

IFOA: Finish this sentence: I write best when…

Michaka: …I forget the time, date and feel I am inside the scene with my characters. I write best when I absent myself from the world. And the wonderful thing is that the published book forces you back into the world and makes you meet real people who are far richer than your own creations.

Stéphane Michaka is an editor, playwright, translator and novelist. He discussed the role he played in the translation of his book and the experience of being translated into English for the first time today, with authors Viola Di Grado and Mieko Kawakami.

Five Questions with… S. Bear Bergman

S. Bear Bergman, author of Blood, Marriage Wine, & Glitter and a participant in this year’s International Festival of Authors, answered our five questions.

Share this article via Facebook or Twitter for your chance to win two tickets to see Bear on November 2! Don’t forget to tag @IFOA or use #IFOA2013. Good luck!

IFOA: Your work has been called many things—provocative, insightful, humorous. What do you hope readers will say about your most recent collection of stories?

S. Bear Bergman

(c) Zoe Gemelli

S. Bear Bergman: There’s a Yiddish word, heymish, that typically gets translated into English as cozy or homey. In Yiddish, it’s used almost as the incantation for a sense memory of home—a noisy table, your Bubbie’s stuffed cabbage, Uncle Marvin’s pipe smoke, being brusquely preened by your mother—that’s mostly comforting but also a little challenging, sometimes the nicest possible fit and sometimes just hilarious and sometimes you’d rather scream than spend another second with these people and their opinions. Honestly, that’s what I hope for. I really value that sense of push and pull, and I often write towards it. I dream of readers gritting their teeth but choosing to read a piece about a topic that challenges them or pushes their buttons because there’s been some other part of the book that felt so welcoming. And I try to keep the jokes coming, just in case.

IFOA: You’re both a writer and theatre artist. Which do you find easier: expressing yourself on paper or on stage?

Bergman: Really, what I am is a storyteller—writing things for paper and writing things for a stage are just that same one skill wearing different hats. I usually think whichever I’m not doing at the moment is easier. Writing for performance is easier in some ways, because I am in the room with the audience. If they don’t get the joke or the concept, I can give them more explanation or more tone or more facial expression until they get it (or if they get it immediately, I can skip ahead). I can make that choice afresh for every audience, rather than averaging the difference and hoping it works out, as I have to do on paper.

But a page is more patient. Because there’s so much less for a reader to take in, in the absence of the tone and face and gestures and so on, I can do more intricate things with language. I can sustain a metaphor longer, or return to a previous piece of imagery and mine it again, or use the very best word instead of a more familiar one, knowing that the reader can re-read if necessary.

If you were to compare two versions of a piece like “Gathering Light Out Of Darkness,” the one used for performance in my show Machatunim and the one as printed in Blood, Marriage, Wine, & Glitter, you’d see a whole array of places where I have thinned or tightened the text for performance. I feel good about both versions. The text probably gives readers a slightly fuller, more nuanced argument. But the performance has the potential to send a shiver up the back of someone’s neck.

IFOA: What’s been the most important lesson you’ve learned in your life?

Bergman: I can’t remember anymore where I read about this. Somewhere I came across the concept that if each of two people—whether in disagreement or in collaboration or whatever—are only willing to go halfway, they can’t succeed. Their halves won’t quite mesh. The solution is that someone needs to go 51 percent of the way, as a matter of commitment to making solutions. We generally imagine that there’s value attached to this, that one person/organization/entity or the other ought to go further, that going further demonstrates culpability or virtue or guilt or something else.

Jews are very big on the concept of tikkun olam—mending the world as an ongoing task. After reading about 51 percent, I made a commitment that I would just resolve to always go a little more than halfway. The extra one percent is my commitment to mending. I find it tremendously helpful and strangely freeing. No more guilt-calculus, no more obsessive Virgo tallying of responsibility and value. Just rough out half and shoot a little past it, for good measure and the repayment of past generosity and in honour of mending.

IFOA: How do you hope to be remembered?

Bergman: As someone who showed up. In good times, in tough times, for meals and games and shows and recitals and demonstrations and prom photos and hard talks and graduations and weddings and funerals and every other thing that still wants actual three-dimensional, warm good-smelling people to be there in person, I would like to be remembered as someone who could be counted upon to find his pants and his good cheer and show up. Probably I’ll be remembered as the guy who showed up… 15 minutes early because he hates to be late and doesn’t much enjoy feeling rushed, either.

IFOA: Finish this sentence: Family is…

Bergman: …an evolving concept, a source of comfort and a lot of work.

S. Bear Bergman is an acclaimed author, performer and gender-jammer. He will be discussing writing about the queer experience and the changing face of the Canadian family with author Alison Wearing on November 2 at 11am.

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