What literary character most influenced you when you were young, and why?
Francie Nolan, in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. This book was my introduction to poverty, and a young woman’s longing for a better life. My life was so ordinary compared to Francie’s and, despite their difficulties, there was something exotic about their lives. I was fascinated by Francie’s admiration of her father, despite his inability to provide for the family, and I must have been just the right age to feel the ache of her longing.
Can you recall the premise of your earliest work?
The earliest work I can remember was a children’s adventure story about two boys who discover their teacher has invented a magnificent machine that can create sensory illusions.
Do you have a favourite place to write? Certain conditions that make the process easier/impossible?
I write best in front of my computer screen. I have a laptop, with which I could curl up just about anywhere, but I prefer my widescreen monitor. The quieter the better, and absolute silence is perfection.
“June dawns, July noons, August evenings over, finished, done, and gone forever with only the sense of it all left here in his head. Now, a whole autumn, a white winter, a cool and greening spring to figure sums and totals of summer past. And if he should forget, the dandelion wine stood in the cellar, numbered huge for each and every day. He would go there often, stare straight into the sun until he could stare no more, then close his eyes and consider the burned spots, the fleeting scars left dancing on his warm eyelids; arranging, rearranging each fire and reflection until the pattern was clear… So thinking, he slept. And, sleeping, put an end to Summer, 1928.”
—Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine, 1957
Ray Bradbury was my first and most powerful writing influence, and Dandelion Wine was my first Ray Bradbury book. He was the first author who showed me how to transform the ordinary into magic. This passage closes the book and it’s one of hundreds that could have illustrated his ability to evoke something as ethereal as summer in such simple words.
Reveal some themes that often come up in your work… (hummingbirds, one legged ferrets, Herb Alpert…??)
No real common themes, but my stories are often set in forests or by the water (river or seaside).
A Choice (or seven):
Atwood or Munro? Munro (and then Atwood)
Canoe or Jet Ski? Canoe
Notebook or Keyboard? Keyboard
Paper or Screen? Screen (paper only on holidays)
Outline or Revision? Revision (though I’m training myself to like outlines)
Poetry or Song? Song (I’m a bad poet)
Comedy or Mystery? Comedy
Who could you read if you had to read someone exclusively?
Who would have thought this would be the hardest question? One? I usually devour any author I like (Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Robertson Davies, Alice Munro, etc.), so by the time I’m on that desert island, I’ll have nothing left to read if I don’t try someone new. Maybe Wally Lamb. I’ve just discovered him and loved his first two books. Oh, what about Ayn Rand? Barbara Kingsolver! Anne-Marie MacDonald! Annie Proulx! MG Vassanji! Khaled Hosseini! Oliver Sacks! Tolkien! Rowling! Oh, I get it. It was a trick! Forget it. I can’t answer this one.
Sherry Hinman has been a full-time freelance editor/writer for the past eight years, and specializes in technical and consumer health care. She is a certified structural and stylistic editor as well as an experienced copy editor. Sherry has had over 100 magazine articles published, as well as the odd personal essay and work of short fiction. She is a professor at Durham College and teaches at Oshawa Senior Citizens’ Centres. Sherry is also past president of The WCDR and vice-president and inaugural chair of the Ontario Writers’ Conference.
She can be found at www.thewriteangle.ca
Sherry is also author/compiler of the WCDR ’book list’ .
What literary character most influenced you when you were young and why?
It’s not one character, but many. I grew up on Grimms fairytales (in the original German) as well as many folksongs. All part of the first generation experience. These tales are not Disney-esque (gag, gag!) in the least and really prepared me for other medieval writings that I was exposed to in University. I believe it led to the dark, gritty, haunting quality of much of my prose and poetry.
Can you recall the premise of your earliest work?
Spending entire summers at the cottage with only the radio and record player, my first writing accompanied drawing (cartoons to be precise). I would assemble my own comic books to fill the gaps for me and my sibs between weekly purchases of Archies, Millie the Models and Huey, Dewey & Louies at Pearson’s Landing general store. That quarter went a long way back then, but I felt I had to augment their meager selection by creating my own.
Do you have a favourite writing place/routine/pen?
I’m scattered so routines are out. Any place will do. I write with pen and paper therefore I have a whole collection of pens that are comfortable between thumb and fingers – I’m very fussy! These pens are all around my house, in every bag I carry and my car.
Reveal some themes that often come up in your work (fog, Figi, love letters written in chalk)…
Loss. You’d think I hadn’t grown up with a perfectly happy childhood. I’m be nature a glass-half-full person, but I tend to write about the underbelly of things.
Recite a favourite passage from a favourite book; what makes it specail?
Recite? Are you kidding? I don’t memorize things (even bible verses). My brain-space is more valuable than that. I believe we don’t have to remember, just remember where to look it up! And I have stacks of books that I just HAVE to OWN all around my house.
A choice (or seven):
Long fictionor Short? I have a warm place in my heart for short fiction (but like long too).
Waltz or Polka? (my father was always a mean polka dancer – Eastern European – my feet would leave the floor and I’d be flying!).
Notebook or Keyboard? Those white lined pads ten-to-a-pack.
Billy Collins or Mary Oliver? Sorry, both!! I’m a poet, remember? (Editors’ note: yes, I do remember… that’s precisiely why you got this question—what, you thought this was going to be easy?)
Shaw Festival or Stratford? Shaw
Movie or Book? Love both – and sometimes like to read then watch to compare (that’s why some friends and I are writing a screenplay).
Munro or Gallant? Both because of their different voices. (Editor’s note: ok, that’s it, brother, I give up…)
What advice would you give someone who said: I’m thinking of writing my life story…?
Start small. Tiny fragments noted over a long stretch of time can then be quilted together, embroidered and shown to the world (or just your family). Remember, everyone remembers things differently. Tell them this is YOUR remembrance of things…
Barbara Hunt is a dry-eyed nostalgic who delivers contemporary bites of naked truth wrapped in a rich appealing texture. She writes poetry, fiction and non-fiction from her home in Port Perry, Ontario.
Reviewed by: Ruth Zaryski Jackson
Maile Meloy is a young American writer I’d never heard of before my son gave me a book of her short stories for Christmas last year. I only got down to it recently in my beside pile. I was sorry I’d delayed reading it.
The title of the book Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It, taken from a short poem by A. R. Ammons, is the theme of her eleven short stories set mostly in Montana where she grew up. All the characters want it both ways in tricky emotional or sexual circumstances. All are caught in a dilemma of sorts. What is the socially or morally right thing to do versus what does the character want to do? In ‘Travis B.’, a young ranch hand with a gimpy leg falls in love with a young lawyer who commutes 9 ½ hours to town to teach a class he chanced to wander into. In ‘Two-Step’ female friends discuss one’s husband’s infidelity while the reader squirms realizing that the ‘other woman’ is one of them. The author doesn’t shy away from unsavory, slightly creepy motivations and feelings that are part of her characters lives. The stories are layered and rich with details.
All the stories have a tension that makes the reader uneasy. The dialogue carries the story and makes the reader feel like a fly stuck to flypaper wanting to leave but compelled to stay. Having first observed particular details, the author paints her characters with a few deft strokes leaving an indelible impression on the reader. Her spare and fast-paced prose takes the reader along for a thrilling ride to a surprise conclusion.
Maile enjoys writing short stories where the way out leads to an ending that opens possibilities. She is the author of two story collections and two novels.