Sally Ito tagged me for a stop on the Canadian writers’ blog tour. More about the tour in a moment, but first about Sally. She’s a Winnipeg writer of poetry (most recently Alert to Glory), memoir, and non-fiction, as well as teacher, translator, and artist (see her “tour” posts at Sally’s Visualandia). She often writes a haiku as her Facebook status, like this evocatively colorful one:
On the window sill
replacing ripe tomatoes
empty blue bottle
Now about the tour. Someone described the Canadian writers’ blog tour as a chain letter for writers–except that there’s no threat of misfortune should it be broken! I don’t know who started it or all the places it’s gone, though a google search uncovers some of its pathways. Essentially one answers four questions, and then tags another writer or two for a further stop.
So, welcome to my place on the tour, and here goes:
1. What am I working on?
I’m finishing a novel that’s been some years in the making. Finishing, for me, is a rather flexible concept. I think I’m finished, and then I discover, no, it’s not ready yet. But soon, soon, I hope, this manuscript will be on its way to publication. I dread this next stage, which may take months or years, but I don’t think about it much when it’s off my desk. — And, you may ask, what’s the novel “about”? An archivist, an odd uncle, a mysterious death, shame and loss.
Between the stages of the novel, there have been and will continue to be other projects. I’ve been fiddling with some more short stories and working on some creative nonfiction pieces. My goal for 2015 is to explore the nonfiction genre. I plan to write an essay on our two-and-a-half years in Paraguay, from which I’ll read a few excerpts at Mennonite/s Writing VII: Movement, Transformation and Place in Fresno, in March.
2. How does my work differ from others in its genre?
I’m not sure I can assess my work comparatively. I’ve been writing literary fiction. I’ve sometimes mined my Mennonite background for content. I’m interested in women’s lives. My style probably tends to the reflective end of the spectrum rather than quick-paced drama.
3. Why do I write what I do?
Another hard question. I don’t really know why one idea rather than another grabs me. Not just grabs me—for I start more than I finish—but holds me tight enough to carry me to the end of it. In the case of the novel This Hidden Thing I wanted to set a story in Winnipeg and I was curious, for a number of reasons, about secrets (their positives and negatives). Maria and her story grew out of that.
It seems that when I open myself to the possibility of a new idea, something is always given. In the case of the recent novella “Mask” (published in The Malahat Review), it was a single sentence in a book about the quest for Everest—that there were camps or retreats or something like that for men who had head wounds from the First World War. This stuck with me, and before I knew it, I “saw” this girl chancing upon her father without his mask on (if the men couldn’t be repaired properly, they were fitted with masks) and the shock for her of that. Which became a way to consider not only the effects of war but the dynamics of woundedness within a family. And perhaps, in a larger sense, about how we “uncover” our parents in the process of growing up, yet want to love and protect them. I’ve always been fascinated by people and how they manage, sometimes well, sometimes not so well, within the circumstances in which they find themselves.
4. How does my writing process work?
I let myself write a terrible beginning or first draft, not thinking about it too much but just getting it out, usually with pen and paper, often sitting warm and cozy in bed. If these scribblings continue to interest me, I transfer the best bits to the computer, adding and improving as I go. From then on I work at the computer. I revise a lot. I have to. I use various tricks to see the thing freshly, like the print preview option or changing the font or margins. I always read my work aloud, to myself and often later to H. More than once I’ve had this crazy experience where a rejection will clarify a piece for me. I don’t know if I just get stubborn about it then, to make it work, or what. I’d just as soon leave that step out, however.
Okay, that’s the end of my stop. I’m tagging an up-and-coming poet whose work I admire and who is also a wonderful reader/performer of it: Angeline Schellenberg. She has a book in her future, but she can tell you more.