What literary character did you most identify with as a child, and why?
Mowgli. I was so disappointed that I was growing up in Don Mills rather than the jungles of India. Much as I loved my parents and siblings, I was sure I’d love them much better if they were covered with fur and fought over who got to eat first. I memorized the poem “the Law of the Jungle” and used to recite it to myself on the long (half mile) walk to school, as I hopscotched over the lines on the new cement sidewalks.
Can you recall the premise of your earliest ‘work’?
My first “novel” was a mystery a la Trixie Belden or Nancy Drew involving a horse thief. My girlfriend typed it up for me, because she had a typewriter, but she skipped several pages by accident and missed a few significant events. I didn’t realize this – I had stapled the 5 ½ x 8 ½ sheets into a chapbook and drew a genetically-altered horse on the front. I was so dazzled by seeing my work in typescript that I didn’t think to proofread the whole thing (It was about 20 pages). Then Mr. Dixon, my beloved Grade Seven English teacher, actually read it out loud to the class. When he came to the warp-speed jump in the action I was so horrified that I zoned out and missed the rest of the reading. Even now, forty years later, I can feel the shame of that moment – the desperate panic to explain that the story I had written didn’t have that lame-o gap in development and logic.
Does food often feature in your writing? If so, can you describe one thin slice of one memorable scene?
“My mother doesn’t know about gardens and stuff. She can’t waste time like that. She has to hustle, make money.”
Lilah regarded her. Kenna couldn’t read the look in her eyes.
“Your mother knows lots about gardens,” she informed Kenna. “When she was a kid, this used to be her job. She looked after the garden, chose what to plant each year, helped me bottle spaghetti sauce with all the tomatoes in September.
Kenna couldn’t picture it. The only spaghetti Diana ever made for her came from a can.
Back in the house, Gram suggested she sit on the bar stool on the other side of the kitchen island. Gram cooked some chicken, made rice, sliced tomatoes, and chopped up all that green stuff. The kitchen filled with a wild sharp green smell.
the lock on the door that keeps slavering Boredom permanently barred from entering. Reading is endless Russian dolls that get bigger each time instead of smaller. Reading is living in someone else’s skin. Reading is jumping into the pools in C.S. Lewis’s Wood between the Worlds.
Recite a favourite passage from a favourite book…
“Art has the power not only to soothe a savage breast, but to change a savage mind. A novel can make us weep over the same events that might hardly give us pause if we read them in a newspaper. Even though the tragedy in the newspaper happened to real people, while the one in the novel happened in an author’s imagination.
“A novel works it’s magic by putting a reader inside another person’s life. The pace is as slow as life. It’s as detailed as life. It requires you, the reader, to fill in an outline of words with vivid pictures drawn subconsciously from your own life, so that the set feels more personal than the sets designed by someone else and handed over via TV or the movies. Literature duplicates the experience of living in a way that nothing else can, drawing you so fully into another life that you forget you have one of your own. That is why you read it, and might even sit up in bed till early dawn, throwing your whole tomorrow out of whack, simply to find out what happens to some people who, you know perfectly well, are made up. It’s why you might find yourself crying, even if you aren’t the crying kind.
“The power of fiction is to create empathy. It lifts you away from your chair and stuffs you gently down inside someone else’s point of view. It differs drastically from a newspaper, which imparts information while allowing you to remain rooted in your own perspective. A newspaper could tell you that one hundred people, say, in an airplane, or in Israel, or in Iraq have died today. And you can think to yourself, “How very sad,” then turn the page and see how the Wildcats fared. But a novel could take just one of those hundred lives and show you exactly how it felt to be that person rising from bed in the morning, watching the desert light on the tile of her doorway and on the curve of her daughter’s cheek. You would taste that person’s breakfast, and love her family, and sort through her worries as your own, and know that a death in that household will be the end of the only life that someone will ever have. As important as yours. As important as mine.”
Barbara Kingsolver— High Tide in Tuscon
A choice (or seven):
cat or dog? Both, though at the moment I only have a dog who is, sadly, as dangerous as a 60 lb unfriendly cat.
coffee or tea? Oh coffee. Coffee. Coffee of every stripe. I need coffee to expresso myself!
I agree with Honore de Balzac: “This coffee falls into your stomach, and straightway there is a general commotion. Ideas begin to move like the battalions of the Grand Army of the battlefield, and the battle takes place. Things remembered arrive at full gallop, ensuing to the wind. The light cavalry of comparisons deliver a magnificent deploying charge, the artillery of logic hurry up with their train and ammunition, the shafts of with start up like sharpshooters. Similes arise, the paper is covered with ink; for the struggle commences and is concluded with torrents of black water, just as a battle with powder.”
country or jazz? – both. I love the storied quality of country lyrics and the melodies are easy to harmonize with. I have a permanent stop at KX96 on my car radio and I harmonize as I do those long drives up to Lindsay or Peterborough. I also cry – country music is horribly, unabashedly sentimental. I know that but it STILL gets to me sometimes. Country both documents and valorizes the best and the worst of North American culture and I find it fascinating and enraging. I want to do a PhD on cultural perpetuation through New Country songs.
I love instrumental jazz – it requires more attention than other kinds of music but makes something wonderful happen in the neurons.
But if you’re asking county or jazz when I write? Neither. I need complete silence. No music of any kind. Particularly no music with lyrics.
glazed or unglazed? My eyes? Usually glazed…
mystery or romance? Mystery for reading. Romance for real life.
Bob Dylan or Dylan Thomas? Dylan Thomas for the rhythm, but not the histrionics. Bob Dylan for the brilliant imagery but not the singing voice which is my particular fingernail on a blackboard.
Alice Munro or Margaret Atwood?
Don’t make me choose!
Why write? Ahhhh. To live twice, to make sense of the world, and for the pure pleasure of dreaming aloud. Also, when it’s going well, for the delight inherent in skilled performance – there are moments of mastery that make me feel like a figure skater must when he correctly performs a triple axel. Of course, there are also moments that have me feeling like a high diver must when she does a belly flop. It’s a classic intermittent reward system – as addictive as gambling.
Susan Lynn Reynolds is a novelist (Strandia won the Canadian Library Association’s Young Adult Novel of the Year), poet, freelance editor and journalist, and an accredited writing instructor in the Amherst Writers and Artists method. She is also President of the Writers’ Circle of Durham Region this year.
Her area of specialty is the therapeutic use of journaling and memoir, and her thesis on that topic received the Canadian Psychological Association’s Award of Academic Excellence in 2006. She has been leading writing workshops for female inmates at Central East Correctional Centre for three years and received the 2007 June Callwood Award for Outstanding Volunteerism for that program. She is currently working on her Masters degree and a new novel.
Reviewed by Ruth Zaryski Jackson
This heartbreaker of a first novel by Shandi Mitchell, a Canadian film maker, is based on stories she heard about her Ukrainian maternal ancestors pioneering in Alberta in the 1930s, interwoven with stories gleaned and imagined from archival photographs and written records. Using multiple points of view, she weaves the story cinematically; a technique that is sometimes confusing, but in the end packs a wallop that lasts long after the final page is turned. I sometimes loved it and sometimes hated it, and I couldn’t put it down. I’m left with such a deep feeling of the tragedy of human lives, caught in a web of circumstances they can barely fathom. All they know is to keep going, whatever the direction. This book is a gift in particular, to readers of Ukrainian heritage. So many stories yet untold. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by Ruth Zaryski Jackson
Daniel Mendelsohn is a well-known writer and teacher, a classicist at Bard College, and the family historian. He began his quest as a child, fascinated by his grandfather’s stories and the flimsy details of his great-uncle’s family’s disappearance during World War II. His search for survivors from the small village in present day Ukraine takes him to 12 countries and 4 continents. Interwoven with his personal quest are stories from Genesis in the Hebrew Bible with timeless themes of wanderings, searching, betrayal, and violence. Sometimes repeating himself, Mendelsohn tells the tale his way, the old way his grandfather told a story and in fact, the way the Greeks told their stories. He meanders in and out of the narrative, between past and present, Biblical texts and survivor’s dialogue. After over 500 pages, the reader is left with the feeling of having read an epic. Indeed, it is an epic. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by Myrna Marcelline
I just read Linden McIntyre’s, The Bishop’s Man. What a well-crafted page turner! Father Duncan is a full-fledged fictional (oops too much allit.!) character whose story moves through a believable plot line. When fiction based on current issues ( in the Catholic Church in this instance) is so engaging, that it blurs the lines between reality and artifice, then it’s what we, as writers, need to read. There is something eerie about the fact that this book hit the stands and the national awards just before the big blowout about the Antigonish affair.
I will not proffer a plot summary here since it will do little justice to McIntyre’s craft as a Canadian novelist of merit. I was intrigued not merely by his gallery of characters, but by his exploration of their psyches and relationships with each other. On completing the novel, I immediately began reading his first novel, The Long Stretch in which some of the characters’ stories begin.
The Bishop’s Man is a classic Canadian novel with a strong evocation of the Cape Breton landscape and milieu. If the reader is looking for a theme there are many with
Atwood’s theme of survival at the top of the list.
It’s a five-star!