Five Questions with… Janet E. Cameron

Janet E. Cameron, author of Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World 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 Janet on October 26! Don’t forget to tag @IFOA or use #IFOA2013. Good luck!

IFOA: Tell us about the inspiration for Cinnamon Toast, your debut novel.

Janet E. Cameron: It was a homework assignment, actually. I was taking an Adult Ed night class in creative writing in 2006, and one of our assignments was to write a story based on something in the news.

Janet E. Cameron

(c) Phillip Leonard

At that time in Dublin, two teenage boys had fallen into the canal and drowned, and the tabloid headlines were full of this. I didn’t read any of the news stories, but it did give me an image: two teenagers, an argument, water and

something dangerous happening. I wrote it as a piece of flash fiction, then as a novella, and eventually those boys became Mark and Stephen from Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World. The moral of this story? Do your homework.

IFOA: Cinnamon Toast is set in rural Nova Scotia, where you grew up. Now that you’re living in Ireland, do you have plans for a novel set there?

Cameron: I don’t, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. A lot of things seem to come about without my planning them. Still, I generally like a bit of distance between me and whatever I’m writing about. I’m not sure I would have set a novel in rural Nova Scotia if I still lived there. Perhaps if I move back to Canada there might be a whole series of novels about Ireland.

IFOA: What do you love most about Ireland?

Cameron: Guinness! There’s also the fact that the landscape is beautiful, which is true in Canada as well, but here it’s all very compact and accessible. You can be in the centre of Dublin, spend 20 minutes on a commuter train and find yourself on a lonely cliff overlooking the sea. And as a Canadian, I find it astounding that a coast-to-coast road trip can take three hours or less. Then there are the people. Irish people are very charming, particularly the writers.

IFOA: What are you reading right now?

Cameron: I’ve got three books on the go now. The first is The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, part one of the Chaos Walking series—I’m embarrassed to say I’d never heard of it until recently. I’m also reading Swimming Home by Deborah Levy and a collection of autobiographical essays by Edmund White called My Lives.

IFOA: Finish this sentence: The best part is…

Cameron: Hmm. I’m going to cheat here. The best part about being a Canadian writing in Ireland is hearing the setting of my book described as “exotic.” The best part about being invited to the IFOA is everything.

Janet E. Cameron is a Canadian author who was shortlisted for the Fish Short Story Prize and the Fish Short Memoir Prize. She will be discussing her use of time and place in her narrative on October 26 at 11am with writers Fiona Kidman, Mary-Rose MacColl and Alice McDermott.


Five Questions with… Wu Ming-Yi

Wu Ming-Yi, author of The Man with the Compound Eyes 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 Ming-Yi on October 26! Don’t forget to tag @IFOA or use #IFOA2013. Good luck!

IFOA: Where did  the inspiration for The Man with the Compound Eyes come from?

Wu Ming-Yi

(c) Chen Meng-Ping

Wu Ming-Yi: Around the year 2000, I wrote a short story called “The Man with the Compound Eyes,” about a butterfly valley in southern Taiwan. An ecological park had been built in this valley and a scientist had been employed to design a camouflaged multi-cam installation. At the time I wrote the story, we already had the technology to disguise cameras (as flowers, leaves and rocks) and to compile video mosaics. However, no iPad device had appeared. In the story, visitors to the park watch a butterfly video mosaic on an iPad-like device I called a Watcher. I like to think this was technological prescience on my part. Unlike the visitors, the scientist character takes a walk into the forest, meets a man with compound eyes, an encounter which shocks him into the realization that reliance on technology has deprived people of the ability to see and estranged them from nature.

Several years later, I read a news report about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a floating soup of garbage in orbit around Hawaii. At about the same time, the Hsuehshan Tunnel—an epic engineering effort that has sped up the development of Taiwan’s unspoiled East Coast—was completed. Soon I would begin writing the novel The Man with the Compound Eyes. The man with the compound eyes would make a second appearance in my fiction, but this time he would bear a different symbolic meaning.

IFOA: This is your first book to be translated into English. Who are some other Taiwanese authors you would like to see translated so that they could be read by a wider audience?

Wu: Taiwan has many outstanding writers. When I was growing up, I devoured stories by senior writers like Chang Ta-chun, Cheng Ching-wen and Guo Songfen. Some of their works are available in English. I highly recommend them! Luo Yijun, who is a bit older than I am, is a challenging, experimental novelist whose works would be very difficult, but also very interesting to translate. Kan Yao-ming, who is about my age, would give western readers a fascinating introduction to Taiwan’s history, language and culture.

IFOA: You’re a butterfly scholar. Tell us one little-known fact about butterflies.

Wu: Taiwan has over four hundred kinds of butterflies, an extremely high number for a country of Taiwan’s size. Butterflies have been a source of inspiration for my fiction. The park in The Man with the Compound Eyes is based on the Purple Butterfly Park in the Maolin National Scenic Area, where species like the purple crow and the blue tiger butterflies travel via a “butterfly stream” to overwinter. Such a long journey! Like the journeys monarch butterflies make along migration corridors in North America as they hasten to spectacular seasonal gatherings. Though lepidopterists can explain this butterfly behavior, it is still a mystery to me, a kind of revelation.

IFOA: If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?

Wu: I would travel back to the 19th century, when people discovered the virtue of sticking metal bars (rebar) in cement to make reinforced concrete. Without reinforced concrete, modern and postmodern architecture would not have been possible. In some sense, modern civilization wouldn’t have been possible. As a visitor from the future, I would not try to convince 19th-century people to give up this marvelous building material. But I would let them know about the drawbacks. It has made it too easy for people to invade natural spaces (like rivers, marshes, the ocean itself). It has allowed us to construct living spaces in which we can almost totally ignore mud, wind and water. It has caused us to lose our native respect for nature.

IFOA: What are you currently working on?

Wu: I’ve just finished a collection of literary essays about photography. I’m thinking about calling it Above Flame. Then I’m going to write a few other works, the most important of which is a novel. This novel is rather hard to describe, but I’m going to name it after Vittorio De Sica’s Ladri di biciclette (The Bicycle Thief), and it’s going to be about a man who obsessively buys the same kind of bicycle—the same make and model—on the internet, until he finally finds the one he wants. It turns out to be his father’s bike. He goes on to track down the owners of this bicycle, hears their stories, which allow him to shed light on the first chapters of his own story: his father went missing when the traditional “mall” where his family worked and lived was torn down for the sake of urban renewal, and soon after the bike went missing, too.

His search for this bicycle is a search for his father and for himself. In telling this tale, I will set the protagonist’s search in the context of Taiwan’s urban development and the growth of Taiwan’s bicycle industry, and trace the transnational trajectories of modern Taiwanese lives. The novel will deal with issues of conflict, ecology and identity.

Wu Ming-Yi is a Taiwanese writer, painter, designer, photographer, professor, butterfly scholar and environmental activist. He will be discussing process of translation on October 26 at 4pm with Darryl Sterk and Rui Zink.

Five Questions with… Gordon Korman

Gordon Korman, author of The Hypnotists 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 Gordon on October 26! Don’t forget to tag @IFOA or use #IFOA2013. Good luck!

IFOA: You wrote your first novel in seventh grade. Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?Gordon Korman

Gordon Korman: Not at all. My first book was sort of a happy accident. In my school, the track and field coach had to teach language arts. For creative writing, he just told us to work on whatever we wanted for the rest of the year. I wrote This Can’t Be Happening at Macdonald Hall!, which was published a year and a half later when I was 14.

IFOA: In your new novel, The Hypnotists, you introduce readers to young Jackson Opus, who comes from a long line of hypnotists. What sparked your interest in hypnotism?

Korman: I’ve never been hypnotized, but a good friend of mine is a licensed hypnotherapist in California. He says we’ve all been hypnotized without even knowing it. You know when you’re driving on a familiar route and you zone out and lose track of where you are? That’s the equivalent of a hypnotic state. My friend would induce that to make patients more receptive to, let’s say, a suggestion on how to overcome the fear of flying.

For The Hypnotists, I wanted to up the ante and create a true paranormal ability. But I’ve never written much fantasy, so I didn’t really have the tools. Where I do have a lot of experience is research-based adventure series like Everest and Titanic. So I got the idea to create my own concrete “rules of mesmerism” and substitute them for my research.

IFOA: Where do you look for inspiration when creating the characters in your books?

Korman: Unlike many writers, it’s quite rare for me to base characters on friends or family members. For me, characters are mostly about the choices they make. So I try to immerse myself in the world of my story and face the kinds of choices my people will have to make. For example, for Jackson Opus in The Hypnotists, it was “how would a kid handle the power to make people do whatever he wants them to?” And, of course, just as he’s wrapping his mind around the tasty possibilities, it starts to sink in that nothing less than the fate of the world just might be riding on how he chooses to use his unique gift.

IFOA: What would you say is the best thing about being an author of children’s and young adult books?

Korman: The fans. First of all, you couldn’t ask for a more honest audience. If they like what you’re doing, you know it. If they don’t, you know it even better. They’re also incredibly loyal. On my website, I get a remarkable number of posts from “old” fans of my early novels. They’re now in their thirties and forties, yet they’ve stuck with my books through the decades, even as they’ve grown up, started families and built careers. That’s something I never could have imagined. The Macdonald Hall generation has grown up—and now they’re in charge!

IFOA: Name one thing on your bucket list.

Korman: Mount Everest. When I was writing the Everest trilogy, I got hooked, and now I’m obsessed with the idea of seeing the real thing. I don’t think I’d ever attempt to climb the mountain, but there are treks in the region that take you to base camp, and I’m determined to get there someday.

Gordon Korman is a New York Times-bestselling and award-winning author. He will be reading from and discussing The Hypnotists on October 26 at 11am with Kids’ CBC host Patty Sulliban.

Five Questions with… Grażyna Plebanek

Grażyna Plebanek, author of Illegal Liaisons and a participant in this year’s International Festival of Authors, answered our five questions.

IFOA: The protagonist of Illegal Liaisons, Jonathan, is a stay-at-home dad, while his wife, Megi, is a very ambitious career woman. Why was challenging traditional gender roles so important to this story?

Grażyna Plebanek: It was hard not to notice that this sort of challengingGrażyna Plebanek happens everywhere nowadays. In Brussels, Stockholm, Warsaw, I see more and more fathers pushing strollers. Whether it’s the effect of feminism or the economic crisis, the stay-at-home dad is no longer a rare phenomenon. Men are becoming more involved in the everyday life of their families. In the case of divorce, they share custody, half-half. A society of equality has been born, we are half-men, half-women in our family roles, for better and worse. One can ask if this is really good, but that’s another question.

The exchange of roles in Illegal Liaisons tempted me because I wanted to see if a man “playing the woman’s part” and captured by romance would behave like a woman. How would Anna Karenina behave today if she were a man?

IFOA: The novel is packed with very explicit sex scenes. Did you find them difficult to write?

Plebanek: Surprisingly not. This novel showed its own character from the very beginning. The scenes were almost writing themselves, erotic and otherwise. I was fascinated by the process of finding the language for the body. Most sex scenes in literature are based on words, they come from characters’ minds rather than bodies. I wanted to capture the way the body speaks. The lovers (Jonathan, a Pole who speaks perfect English and French, and Andrea, a Swedish journalist with Czech roots) mix languages, which lets them overcome the inefficiencies of any one language. Before I started to write, I feared that Polish could be too rigid a language to describe the passion, considering the influence of the Catholic religion over centuries. Luckily, I was wrong. Polish was a graceful language for this task.

IFOA: What’s been your most unusual source of inspiration?

Plebanek: Parrots. When I moved to Brussels, I was surprised to see green parrots flying in the parks, even in winter. They shouldn’t have survived  here, seeing as they belong to a much warmer climate. Yet here they are, green, noisy, cheeky birds, who displace kindhearted pigeons and sparrows, flying in squadrons like an attacking army. It reminded me of stray dogs from Moscow, who also form packs. The way they manage to survive shows high intelligence. Animalistic intelligence is something that touches the lives of my characters—their bodies rise in revolt against social rules and restrictions. I was wondering if this wild part of my characters would overcome the social uniforms, whether they would turn into green parrots, wild dogs or stay well-fed pigeons.

IFOA: You received Poland’s Literary Prize Zlote Sowy for your promotion of Poland abroad. What do you love most about the country you’re from?

Plebanek: People. When I go back to Poland I feel something melt inside of me, because the people are warm, hospitable. Nowadays they know how to earn money, but they still remember the communist reality and therefore, they know how to share, to give without counting or asking for something in return. I love this part of our tradition as well as our colorful history—the kings, queens, knights, fat bishops—a thousand years of becoming who we are now with all of our complexity. I also love the literature, especially the great Renaissance poets who playfully used our language. I love the sense of humor typical for Polish intelligentsia. I love the richness of our culture. And I love Vistula, the longest and most unpredictable Polish river, which flows through Warsaw. She has always mesmerized me with her capricious character.

IFOA: Which of your novels would you like to see make it to the big screen?

Plebanek: Illegal Liaisons would be the natural choice as love is universal. It would be interesting to see a film in which Brussels, a great multicultural city, gets a new, passionate face that defies stereotypes—particularly that it is simply the city of EU officials. But my secret dream would be to see another one of my novels filmed: Girls from Portofino. This is a story of a friendship between girls who grew up in communist Poland and became adults in the capitalistic reality after ’89.  Warsaw, my natal city, plays an integral part in this story.

Grażyna Plebanek is a bestselling Polish author and journalist. She will be reading from Illegal Liaisons, her first novel to be translated into English, on October 25 at 8pm alongside authors Kelly Braffet, Aleksandar Hemon and Sam Lipsyte.

Share this article via Facebook or Twitter for your chance to win two tickets to this event! Don’t forget to tag @IFOA or use the hashtag #IFOA2013. Good luck!


Five Questions with… Dorris Heffron

Dorris Heffron, author of City Wolves, answered our five questions.

IFOA: City Wolves is about Canada’s first female veterinarian, Meg Wilkinson, who becomes the notorious “Dog Doctor of Halifax,” tending sled dogs during the Klondike Gold Rush. What sparked your interest in her story?Dorris with Ike and Yukitu at totem 2012 by Erika Engel

Dorris Heffron: All my life, I had had dogs from the farm or dog pound.  When our youngest daughter went off to university and our beloved Frausie dog died, living long enough to bark at the postman leaving the contract for my previous novel at the door, I was bereft. I didn’t want to carry on without kids or dogs in the home. I wanted an indigenous Canadian dog I could ski or swim with. The Newfoundlander was vetoed on account of  its size by my husband. Not knowing what he was getting into, he agreed to my second choice, an Alaskan Malamute, which is actually an indigenous Canadian sled dog, directly descended from Arctic wolves. We named her Yukon Sally.

I was so fascinated by Yukon Sally’s wolf-like traits, I researched the history of Alaskan Malamutes, which led me to research wolves and then to decide to take Yukon Sally to the land of her ancestors. By this time, I was following Yukon Sally, not leading her, she so intrigued me. She led me round the Yukon and Klondike Gold Rush trails, including Skagway, Alaska. Clearly, my next novel would be about wolves, malamutes and the Klondike Gold Rush.

Then Yukon Sally and Jake, the companion we knew she wanted, kept leading us to the vet. I thought it was to get their porcupine quills removed so they could carry on teaching porcies not to mess with malamutes. Then I clued in. Yukon Sally wanted my main character to be about a woman vet, an extraordinary woman vet, like hers, but one who would  go to the Klondike. Thus, I researched the history of  veterinary medicine and came up with Meg, the Dog Doctor of Halifax.

IFOA: What is your favourite memory from that time in the Yukon with Yukon Sally?

Heffron: When we lived in Toronto, Yukon Sally was always running off down the street to play with her pal Sacha, a Siberian Husky. I feared that when we went camping in the Yukon, she would run off with wolves, abandon us. No way! She slept by our tent and came into it at night. She escorted me everywhere, making sure I was safe as I walked off to fetch water, wood, go to the toilets, anywhere. When we ate in restaurants in Skagway or Dawson City, Yukon Sally would wait patiently outside and pose regally while tourists took photos of her. In the land of her ancestors, she became a model show dog. Other sled dogs deferred to her.

IFOA: You and your husband sold your home in Toronto and bought 52 acres in Beaver Valley that you named “Little Creek Wolf Range.” What is a typical day like on the Range?

Heffron: I have an easy life now, my children raised, my parents laid to rest. On an ideal day (no chores, meetings or emergencies), I rise with the sun to let out our malamutes, now Yukitu (which I say is aboriginal for Yukon Sally the Second)  and Ikey, and feed them. After my mug of tea and checking out the blizzard of emails that came through to me as TWUC Chair the evening before, I hike our trails with Yukitu and Ike, down to the pond, through backwoods and up Sunrise Hill, back to our home on the Wolf Range. I go to my desk for the rest of the day, taking breaks to go outside and watch the “wolves” sport with each other, wrestling and leaping over each other. At 4pm, I swim or play tennis. In the evening, we say goodnight to the sun, settle in for some reading by the fire, the malamutes up on the couch with me, until it gets too hot for them and they retire to their beds in the garage for the night.

IFOA: As the current Chair of TWUC, why would you encourage other authors to join The Union?

Heffron: So that they might enjoy the company of Canada’s renowned professional writers and join in advocating for copyright enforcement, good contracts and learning how to better promote their own writing in this age of digital and other technological innovations. So that they can help ensure the continuance of payment for the library and other use of their work, and to take advantage of all the programs TWUC has put into place for promoting Canadian writing and insuring health benefits for writers. Mainly, so that they can build upon and give back to the only national organization of professional book writers.

IFOA: Finish this sentence: I feel most inspired when….

Heffron: ….I see or hear about something that happened in the real world I can’t stop thinking about. When I’m dogged by an important reality, I feel the need to explore it further in a novel.

Dorris Heffron is an author and Chair of The Writers’ Union of Canada. She will be participating in The Writers’ Union of Canada Showcase on September 25.


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