Five Questions with… Shani Boianjiu

Shani Boianjiu, author of The People of Forever Are Not Afraid 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 Shani on October 27! Don’t forget to tag @IFOA or use #IFOA2013. Good luck!

IFOA: The People of Forever Are Not Afraid chronicles the experiences of several young men and women in the I.D.F. Do you have a favourite of these characters?

Shani Boianjiu: Avishag, Lea and Hagar are my favorite characters. Shani Boianjiu

IFOA: When did you decide to write about your experiences over those two years in the I.D.F.?

Boianjiu: I would not say my book is necessarily just about female soldiers in the I.D.F., and it is most certainly not a book about my own experiences in the IDF. It is a work of fiction, and there are many characters in it that are not soldiers and not even Israeli. Several of the Israeli female characters are not soldiers in several of the chapters in the book. I never sat down and said, “I shall now write a novel.” I just happened to write one word, and then another. And then before I knew it, I had something that looked like one day it could be a novel.

IFOA: What did you consider when choosing the title for your novel?

Boianjiu: It chose me, but I considered language, overall appropriateness for what was happening in the book, sound and emotion.

IFOA: You have said that every piece of your writing “represents the music it could never quite become.” Is there a song that is particularly meaningful or inspirational to you?

Boianjiu: I have mentioned, elsewhere, many of the songs I listened to as I was writing, although there are thousands of others, of course. But one song that is sort of (in an extremely indirect way) parodied in the book and that I haven’t mentioned in interviews before, is the song “Still Alive” written by Jonathan Coulton and performed by Ellen McLain.

IFOA: What are you working on now?

Boianjiu: A vast novel that is at the same time also very small. And that will try to silence the least amount of people in the world as possible. Those are at least some of the futile hopes.

Shani Boianjiu is one of the youngest writers on Random House of Canada’s prestigious Bond Street Books list. She will be discussing her riveting debut novel with award-winning writer and filmmaker David Bezmozgis on October 27 at 1pm.

Five Questions with… Krista Bridge

Krista Bridge, author of The Eliot Girls 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 Krista on October 27! Don’t forget to tag @IFOA or use #IFOA2013. Good luck!

IFOA: The Eliot Girls follows both 15-year-old Audrey and her mother during a year at George Eliot Academy. Whose story did you enjoy writing more?

Krista Bridge

(c) Jacklyn Atlas

Krista Bridge: It surprises most people to hear that I more enjoyed writing the story of Ruth, Audrey’s mother, mainly because it was much easier to write about a grown woman having an affair than a confused teenager trying to fit in. Trying to remember the experience of being a teenager (although the Audrey character is very different to me), and then to render that in fiction, was so difficult. Everyone knows that adolescence is both awful and exhilarating, but trying to create the actual experience of that on the page was a challenge. Also, because I attended private schools, I found that at first I was trying to create fiction out of real memories—I imagined that I could almost translate the experience—but when I realized I couldn’t, and that only trivial autobiographical details would be useful, I felt much freer.

IFOA: You attended both public and private school. How did the experiences differ?

Bridge: The experiences were vastly different in almost every way. I only went to a public school for my final two years of high school, and though the experience of going to a much larger school was daunting at first, I found it freeing. The private school I went to for most of my formative years had only four hundred students between grades one and thirteen; my public high school had two thousand. My private school was all girls, and it was gossipy and competitive and enclosed. At my public school, the diversity of the student population, not only racially but also socioeconomically, opened my eyes. My family was not wealthy, but I had never met anyone who lived in an apartment before going to a public school.

IFOA: Beginning, middle or end—which do you find the most challenging to write?

Bridge: The beginning, by far. I wasted a lot of time (over a year) fussing over different beginnings, trying to get it exactly right. I now know it is impossible to get a beginning right so early in the process and that whatever beginning you start out with will not end up as your beginning. I kept rewriting the first couple of chapters from different points of view and struggled with how many points of view to include in the book. When I finally got past the beginning, writing got easier—but the whole process was really difficult. I’d only written short stories before. I referred to The Eliot Girls as “the manuscript” rather than “the novel” the whole time I was writing because I never really believed it would come together into a novel.

IFOA: You live in Toronto and The Eliot Girls is set here. What do you love most about this city?

Bridge: I’ve never imagined living anywhere else, yet I’ve never thought much about what I love about the city. I’ve always taken it for granted as the place where I live. The things I love about the city now are connected to my life as a parent. I love my neighbourhood, Riverdale, and the sense of community there, the leafy streets, the various farmers’ markets nearby, great parks for my kids, the ROM. So close to home, there are amazing restaurants and shops, but also trails, Evergreen BrickWorks. At the base of my street is the most beautiful view of the whole city spread out before you.

IFOA: Please complete this sentence: Bullying occurs because…

Bridge: We’re human. Our lust for our own needs outweighs our better judgment.

Krista Bridge is the author of The Virgin Spy and The Eliot Girls, which has been shortlisted for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. She will be discussing the differences between writing and publishing in Ontario and Quebec on October 27 at 2pm with author Perrine Leblanc.

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.

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