Monday, September 29, 2008
Interview with Kate Story, and a giveaway!
Kate Story, author of Blasted (see review below), has generously agreed to an interview with me, and has also made a copy of her book available to give away to an interested reader. So, once you've read the interview or review, please comment on this post about what appeals to you most about this book for a chance to win a copy of your own! I'll be drawing for it in one week, so you have until midnight (EST) on Oct. 6/08 to enter your name.
1.This is your first novel, but you've written plays and work in theatre and music and dance. What made you want to tell this story as a novel, and how has your other artistic experience affected your writing?
My first run at this material was an awful attempt to write a play. Then I wrote a truly terrible short story. I have a writing group in Toronto, and the group leader Prim Pemberton said to me, “This seems to me like something that wants to be longer. You tend to write long anyway – why don’t you try this as a novel?” And, having never tried to write a novel before, I flipped my hair and chirped “Okay!” I am very glad I had no idea how hard it is to write a novel because there’s no way I’d have done it if I had. It’s a lot of damn work. And yet I must be hooked because I’ve written the first draft of a second book.
I think my other work does come into my prose writing. For example, I find dialogue comes fairly easily to me – I can hear the characters talking to each other, I can hear their voices. This is partly because I am always interested in talking (I’m a Newfoundlander) and listening; also the theatre experience must feed in here. You’re always being asked to improvise scenes and so on, to get into the body and mind of a character as an actor. And my work as a dancer too – I am always picturing very precisely what people are physically doing. In fact, a large part of editing the book was taking out these insanely detailed descriptions of people sitting, standing, moving, picking up beers – and exactly HOW they were sitting, standing, and picking up beers. (It was as if I was making blocking notes for a play or choreographing a dance.) I hope that my sense of rhythm and speech and breath, the life of the body, come through in the book.
2. As a Newfoundlander who has lived in Toronto and is part of the arts community yourself, how much have your own experiences been incorporated into Blasted?
The geography of the book is totally ripped off from my own life. I did grow up on the Southside Road (although my house was up the road from Ruby’s and very different, middle-class), and Ruby’s apartment in Toronto is an apartment I had on Shaw Street. Much of the rest of it is absolutely fiction. I did not have a friend like Juanita Cooper, or Blue, although both characters seem quite real to me now. I did use stories of friends for some experiences I have not had (with their permission) – for example, Joseph Naytowhow told me some Cree stories and also stories from his own past, and I spoke with other friends who helped me imagine a gay, middle-aged Cree man from Saskatchewan and what he might be like (Blue is very different from anyone I know, though, I must say!); another friend told me her herb-induced abortion story and let me use that.
Some of Ruby’s sense of alienation and rage is mine as well. I had a hard time adjusting when I first moved to Ontario – I found that some people (not all, mind you) assumed that the way they did things was the way everyone did things, that “Canada” was “Southern Ontario.” Some people were pretty quick with contempt for a “funny accent” or not knowing where to put a subway token. I didn’t even know what a bagel was, for Chrissake – the cultures are quite different and it was a big adjustment, even though my mother was from Ontario originally. Someone like Ruby would perhaps have an even greater sense of alienation. I don’t feel that way now – I’ve lived in Ontario a long time and have met people from diverse backgrounds in this province.
3. Tell me more about Ruby. How did you come up with such a wonderful character -- foul-mouthed, hard-drinking, and brazen yet also completely engaging and sympathetic?
What I learned first about Ruby was that she wanted me to tell her story. She is tough but also very vulnerable. She’s got a lot of blanks in her memory – partly substance-induced, but partly as a sane response to the chaos she grew up with. She’s a survivor. But she’s 25, and the coping mechanisms are beginning to fray around the edges. She faces a choice – to keep going on as she has been, courting chaos and disaster, or to fence with demons. She faces them, but in a very Ruby-like way. I think if I met her she’d irritate the hell out of me and I’d love her too.
With Ruby I had that experience I’ve heard other writers talk about – she seized me and demanded that I tell her story. She really sprang into my imagination fully-formed. I think too that part of what comes through in the novel is my propensity for alcoholics and dangerous people. I know a lot of them, I tend to fall in love with them. The book is in some ways a sort of love letter to the people I grew up with, who I knew and know. I suppose too that she’s a reflection of part of me. You’d have to ask my friends and ex-es about that.
4. Fairy folkore is a huge part of this book. What was your inspiration for drawing on this theme?
I grew up in Newfoundland, and I grew up with fragments of fairy stories, lore, that kind of thing.
One of my brothers was working on a PhD in Sociology and researching Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, which was very big at that point – he was researching how FAS was getting mobilized in the media and in medical texts. There was this whole culture of “blame the mother” going on that interested and worried me. At the same time I was researching changeling lore, just out of interest. I started seeing parallels in how both FAS and Changelings are/were mobilized in cultural narratives. I started asking around, and friends from very different cultures and places – a Saskatchewan Cree man (mentioned above), a friend from the Philippines, an Icelander – had similar sorts of stories about the little people. I began to wonder if maybe there is a human need to tell these narratives, that part of our experience has to be explained or stories need to be told about it. I’m not saying FAS and Changelings are real or not real – I actually don’t have an opinion.
5. I found it difficult to categorize this novel. It started out as a standard Canadian novel but by the time I finished I thought it was leaning toward "urban fantasy". What is your take on genre? Who or what were your influences?
I did a reading tour to help promote the book recently, and Newfoundlanders are coming out of the woodwork, talking to me about fairy lore. People talk about this stuff, but it’s usually someone they know who was led astray, or they heard of a man who was a changeling; it’s not usually presented as direct experience, although I’ve talked to more than one person who describes being fairy-led or led astray. My father (a prominent university professor) told me two separate stories of being led astray on familiar terrain, and seeing strange trees and so on, and having a panic, then eating bread and finding his way out. Certain places in the world seem to breed these kinds of experiences and narratives.
For me, honestly, this book is not fantasy (although I like your phrase “urban fantasy”! – that’s great). Genre in literature is pretty slippery, and getting slipperier, and I think this is a good thing. It seems to me that it’s only English Lit that is so obsessed with the idea of reality versus fantasy. I’ve read literary theory and/or criticism conveying an impression that when other literatures blur those boundaries (for example, Latin American and Caribbean literature, or the literature of Canadian Indigenous writers like Tomson Highway), we are usually a little condescending about it – and call it things like “magical realism” and assume that those brown people do it. I am being crude here – but it does make me a bit hot under the collar. I feel that boundaries in literature are changing – we acknowledge that there are different ways to tell the truth, that sometimes the most direct way to a truth might seem fantastical, and that the world is not exclusively what the dominant cultures call “real.” The issue to me is why it is we tell stories.
(At the same time I feel compelled to say that truth is very important to me. For example I see some politicians twisting the truth and using words to manipulate the populace, and I feel this is dangerous and wrong. I’m talking about fiction here!)
Perhaps in the context of Can Lit, “Blasted” is dancing on some boundaries. I hope it’s interesting for people to read, and trust that you don’t have to be from Newfoundland to feel the resonance and power of the stories, of the lore I drew on. They are human stories. One of my favourite authors is Ursula K. LeGuin, who writes science fiction and fantasy – but always I feel like her “thought experiments” help us find out more deeply what it means to be human.
6. What was your experience of writing this -- did it flow, was it difficult? What does your 'writing life' look like?
I started by writing images, fragments, ideas, anything at all, on little pieces of paper. These piled up and took over my kitchen table. I went through them several times and weeded out boring ones, then started piling them in what seemed like a natural order. Then I started in with the computer. It was a little like connect the dots, and very freeing. The first draft took maybe less than a year of part-time work. I had the support of Prim and my writing group, and did a second draft with them. A few years went by – my writer-friend Ursula Pflug read it and gave me feedback which inspired another draft – I got a very lovely rejection from a now-retired editor at Goose Lane who made some detailed and very smart suggestions in her letter to me, which inspired a major re-working of the book. Then Killick Press accepted it for publication. I had a wonderful editor Marnie Parsons, and she helped me clarify and edit like crazy (because it was very over-written, and still is, in my opinion – I wish I could have another go at it!) and made it so so much better.
I always loved the characters and the story always gripped me. Whenever I hadn’t been working on it for a while I’d feel Ruby glaring at me. She really wanted her story to be told, to come out.
My writing life… Christ. I feel perpetually guilty that I am not writing enough. I try to squeeze it in between work and play and other things. I am one of those “busy” people – I say yes to too many things. And then my writing slides because it feels selfish, and when I am not writing I get this nervous, irritable, tense feeling inside. I turn into a rotten version of myself, get bitchy and strung-out and drink too much. Then I remember that this always happens when I don’t write, and I make myself write again. And that feels good.
I write best in the morning. That’s my favourite time – I need to be fairly sure I won’t be interrupted, because I am so prone to finding other things to do that aren’t writing. I love to have a couple (or more, if possible) of private morning hours to write in. That’s my happiest time. I think most of us have inner judges or critics – at least, I think I am not alone here! – and mine like to come blasting in. “That’s no good,” they say, “that’s derivative.” “That’s weak, that’s stupid, that’s banal.” You get the drift. Luckily for me they seem to sleep in. So I fool them by getting at it early in the day. Editing, I can do any time. I love editing.
I wouldn’t wish becoming a writer on my worst enemy. Except that I love it above all things. What I’d like now is to not have to work other jobs etc. and to be able to work at my writing more full-time. I am working towards that.
I am always encouraged when I read statements from other authors who claim to be lazy or to procrastinate or to only write occasionally. Thank you to those honest people.
And thanks very much to you too, Kate, for sharing all this with us. Like I mentioned I'll be drawing for a copy of this book on Oct. 6/08, but if you don't win, you can always buy a copy online through
Creative Book Publishing/ Killick Press
Kate's Website itself