When did you start writing poetry? What was, and is your inspiration? I began in high school, not long after my parents’ divorce. Looking back, I see that I turned to writing to sort out my confusion at the time. My world was upended when my parents sold the family house in 1968. I was 13 years old. My parents moved into separate apartments in different cities. My younger sister and I moved out with our mother, about 20 km away from our father. The change felt like we had moved to a foreign country. In many ways, that was true. My inspiration was initially the lyrics of Joni Mitchell. Her music continues to resonate for me, and millions of other fans. I lean on good literature and music to take me into poetry.
How did writing Stay and Never Mind differ from your usual writing method? I started “Stay” before I began writing “Never Mind” but I got bogged down. I needed more time to study other verse novels. I also needed to collect feedback on an early draft. I turned to middle-grade students at a local school for their opinions and then I set the manuscript aside. It was during this period that my mother died. I felt numb for a long time and was unable to write. One day, I recalled a letter from the Canadian settler Susanna Moodie (1803-1885). She wrote that once she touched the shores of the New World, she never saw, touched, or heard her mother back home in England ever again. It seemed to be something that she had not anticipated when she and her husband set sail for Canada. Or perhaps she hadn’t let herself dwell on the reality of separation from her mother and sisters. She was describing her grief and I understood what Moodie was saying. I also heard the voice that led me to invent the character I named Wife. I placed her in a setting similar to Moodie’s. I funnelled all my private grief and longing into Wife and built a story that was far removed from my mother’s life yet was emotionally similar. My mother was lonely in her marriage and eventually left my father for her own “new world.” I wrote into the emotional truth of loss. “Never Mind” taught me how to write in the tradition of the long poem. The book also showed me that I could hold a story in my head while developing poems in keeping with a narrative arc. I spoke to my mother by phone the night before she died. I didn’t know it would be our final conversation. Her last question was about “Stay”. She wanted to know how the book was going. I had put the manuscript away. About three years later, our final conversation returned to me as I was sitting in my office one day. I opened the file and finished writing “Stay” in about one month.
3. Can you tell us a little about the character Millie in Stay? Is she real, imagined or both? Millie is smart, observant, and passionate about two things: her family and dogs. She wants her family to stay together AND she wants to adopt a puppy. But Millie’s parents have decided to split-up. Her world has turned upside down but since she’s 11 years old, she’s also selfish in the way that every adolescent is self-focused. Millie wants what she wants: Mom and Dad to stay together in the same house so that she can bring home a puppy and not have to live between two homes. But Dad moves into an apartment where a sign on the front door reads NO DOGS ALLOWED. Millie is an imagined character who is informed by my knowledge and experience of family breakdown.
What message do you want to convey with the story? Nothing stays the same, not even our family— our foundational structure. We all must learn to adapt.
What did you learn when you were writer in residence? I loved my residency at the library. I learned that hundreds of people have stories and poems inside them. I learned that most people are looking for a little guidance and a lot of encouragement because writing is a solitary and somewhat mysterious activity. I have always turned to other writers for support and was happy to do the same for others.
When compiling a poetry collection, what is your main objective? I’m driven by narrative. I like my work to tell a story. I’ve just published my fifth book, a poetic memoir titled “Black Umbrella”. Again, it’s about family dysfunction and again it tells a story. I assembled the book by looking for the narrative arc once I’d written about 70 percent of the poems. I later went back and filled in any gaps in the story. I strive to write poetry that is inventive, accessible, and alive.
Which poet(s) inspire you? I read a lot of poetry. I’m currently reading the work of Calgary poet Micheline Maylor, but I often return to Emily Dickinson. I see something new in Dickinson every time I turn to her work.
What are you currently working on? I’m in research mode. I’m curious about the concept of ambivalent motherhood.
How can readers find you? Go to my website and contact me. I promise to respond and I love hearing from readers. Link:
Where and how often do you write? I have a small office on the second floor of my home in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. I live with my husband. I disappear into my office for several hours most days.
Saskatoon writer Katherine Lawrence has published four poetry collections and the award-winning novel-in-verse, Stay. Her work has been published across the country and has been long listed twice for the CBC Literary Awards. Originally from Hamilton, Katherine has lived on the prairies for over 35 years. She is a former writer-in-residence for the Saskatoon Public Library and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Saskatchewan. You can find her online at http://www.katherinelawrence.net
The novel originated as a short story that I wrote in a creative writing class my senior year of college. The character of Lazer was loosely based on a friend of mine who played in a heavy metal band in the 80’s and never quite moved beyond his rock n roll heydey. Lazer isn’t just a carbon copy of him though, but rather an amalgamation of several people, a list that seemed to grow the more I worked on the book. But ultimately, at the start of the book he represents the downside of staying too firmly in your dream for rock stardom. When we meet Lazer he has hit rock bottom and is stuck in a loop of meaningless flings and surface level friendships, all while playing the same songs over and over and over again. He’s something of a prisoner of his own failed ambitions. I would meet a lot of people who suffered from this sort of stunted personal growth when I played in bands and was heavy into gigging. The folks who never said die even though they should have moved on decades ago. I’m all about living the life you want and staying true to your passions, but its always good to make sure you don’t lose yourself in the process.
2. Did you have fun creating Lazer and Streek?
Giving dimension to Lazer and Streek was a lot of fun, because you’re not just -, but building the relationship between them. A lot of times when they are bantering back and forth it’s almost like different aspects of my personality are having a conversation with each other. Lazer, as he developed really kind of took on parts of my own history of being in a band and how I approached that lifestyle. Streek meanwhile has more in common with my wife; this sort of introverted, second-guessing nature that acts as a counter balance to Lazer’s shoot from the hip and hope for the best ethos. Having them play off each other is one of my favorite parts of writing these stories. I really want the growth of their friendship to feel organic as the story unfolds, not in just this novel, but in the rest of the books in the series to follow. Friendship dynamics shape-shift over time and it’s a really interesting topic to explore. Even though its a story set in space with all sorts of fantastical elements, at the end of the day its a story of finding out who you really are once the comfort of routine is stripped away from you, and how your friends can help you get there.
3. Have you always had an interest in sci-fi stories?
I absolutely love science fiction. I feel like you can go anywhere or do anything with it. As long as you stay consistent within the rules you set up, its an excellent vehicle to give commentary on everything from politics to personal relationships. I grew up with things like the twilight zone, outer limits, tales from the crypt and the x files. I’ve always loved stories about aliens and monsters and the unknown. My wife is wonderful, she’ll watch the most ridiculous B movie nonsense with me just because she loves me. Though lately its mostly been kids programming. I’ve got a one year old and a four year old. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen Encanto.
4. What or who influenced your writing?
Kurt Vonnegut is my favorite writer of all time and really kind of opened me up to new concepts of narrative, like how slaughter house 5 is both fiction and memoir, or Galapagos is told out of order from the perspective of a ghost. Absolutely brilliant.
5. Do you see a sequel to the novel or are you happy for it to stay a standalone?
The Sunset Distortion series will be 5 parts. Part one is “The Pyramid at the End of the World.” Part two will be titled “Live! From Valhalla” and is maybe 3/4’s finished. Though that being said, I put that one on pause while I work on a collection of short stories. I sort of follow where my creativity takes me, and right now, its horror and sci fi short stories with a few novellas thrown in the mix. I’m currently finishing up a 10k word story about a piece of recycling equipment that becomes self-aware and decides that the best way to sort non-compliant materials from recycled bottles is to murder the entirety of the human race. Fun stuff!
6. What is your writing process? Plotter or panster?
Both. It depends on what I’m writing. I like to plot out the sandbox first if you will. The world, the characters, and the broad strokes of the plot. From there I’ll sort of freewheel it from point A to point B and see what comes out.
7. Are you part of a writing group? If so, how has this helped your writing?
I’m a part of several writing groups online but I don’t check in nearly as often as I should. I do have a half dozen friends who are writers themselves and we’ll share works in progress with each other and give feedback. It’s absolutely vital to have other eyes browse through what you’re doing. We all have blind spots and our work only gets better from sharing with others. You need to have people willing to tell you that your ideas are garbage.
8. Do you have a favorite place to write?
I write short stories on my phone, usually while putting my daughter to bed. She’s doing this thing right now where she will only fall asleep if I’m in the room with her, longer form stuff is on my laptop. I will honestly write whenever I get the chance. Between running my business and having two small children, personal time is at a premium. I used to have a specific chair I would sit in, but it was so old and natty that I threw it away after book 1 was finished. Now I’m something of a nomad, moving from couch to bed to rocking chair of office desk when time permits.
9. Are you working on another manuscript? Can you tell us a little about it?
I currently have maybe 4 short stories in the can and 10 more in development. My goal is to have at least 60k words worth of short stories assembled before I release them as an anthology. Book 2 in the Sunset Distortion series will probably follow within a year after that. The second book in the series will see Lazer and Streek get drafted by a private security company to stop a terrorist plot onboard a space station that hosts the Galaxy’s collective entertainment complex apparatus, all while helping their new friend escape the clutches of her jerk of an ex-boyfriend who also happens to be the galaxy’s biggest rock star. Like the first book, expect lots of jokes, weird aliens and music references.
PAUL BAHOU is the author of Sunset Distortion: The Pyramid at the End of the World. He holds a B.A. in Political Science from Cal State University Long Beach with a minor in music. He began his career writing grants while playing in his rock band, eventually moving out of music and into the sustainability sector. He lives in Southern California with his wife Melissa, daughter Sophie and son, Harrison. He writes fiction, music and the occasional dad joke in his spare time.
Last week, I was rather popular with two podcast interviews. The first with A Hot Take on Thursday with Jenna Greene and Miranda Oh and then another with Alive After Reading with Tim Niederriter You can find the links here:
Your novels tend to have unexpected protagonists/settings. Was this a conscious decision or the spark of an idea that evolved? My ideas hit me just as unexpected. It is not like I want to come up with this or that like a contract writer where an idea is developed and catered to a market, I am on the other end of that spectrum. I am not in control of my ideas, and there are plenty, and many I can’t even tackle, most of them I won’t finish in my life time. The once that make it are pressing, have an immediate impact on me and when they linger over weeks I know I have to sit down and deal with them. What brings us to …
Do you plan an outline or free flow write? … this question, and yes I do. For the longest time I had to keep up a job to buy myself time to write (and food and the other trivialities), so I couldn’t just write into the blue and hope the novel turns out well somehow. I had to be sure. I could not waste any time. Early on I developed my outline technique where I work only on 1 letter sized piece of paper, which I could take anywhere (jobs etc.) at all times. Everything is on that 1 page, the entire outline, like “They steal the car”, that’s a beat, at that time I don’t know where they do this for example. Only when I see these beats work and I understand my protagonists, hear them, feel them, know them, and I clearly hear the narrating voice I start the novel. This planning phase takes between 2 and 15 years before I start writing, but then the 1st draft is the novel.
Can you explain how the process of writing with a fellow author works? Is it a chapter each or a combination of thought and writing? I did this more than once, but always we agreed one of us writes a quick first version and the other expands on that. This way the voice of the novel is not flopping back and forth – except there are 2 distinct views or narrators, then this would make sense.
What differences are there from writing a novel to a film script to a song? A song or a poem is the entire opposite to a novel to me. These happen in an instance, a spontaneous outburst in under an hour, unplanned, unmanaged, quasi anarchic in character. A film script (as well as a radio play or a theatre play) is planned like the novel, but the writing is a fraction of it. I love film scripts, I wish more people would read them and they’d become an own literary genre.
Does your music affect your writing or the other way around? All the different media I am working in influence each other, ideas bleed from one form into another (example my song “Joyride Sky” was inspired by my novel “For a Spin”, I invented a band that pops up in a number of my novels, and for the dystopian novel “2112” (working title) I am currently working on I recorded an entire album you can listen to on Bandcamp, the band is called JENNY HAS TRAFFIC. It is fun and adds to the characters.
You have been prolific in the number of publications. Are the ideas still coming as quickly? Do you have a folder of ideas pending? Oh yes, ideas come constantly, I have to dodge them, write them down and put them in the folder. That folder is full with ideas, no way I can write all of them.
What challenges do you face with language? English is my 2nd language. The biggest challenge for me as a writer is not so much the spelling, grammar, vocabulary (you can work on that), but the fact I did not grow up in the English culture, I miss out on most childhood references, sport and political events, etc. I have to live with that, there is no way I can catch up with that.
When you write songs what influences you? My mood. My mood dictates the feeling of a song. Many lyrics come from darker places, I am not a musical comedian although I wrote many funny novels and had the pleasure to experience their impact first hand during my readings in schools between Denmark and Italy.
What propelled you to start you podcast? I was the kid (14 years old) that stayed up late to listen to radio shows at midnight. I always loved the medium, for music and word. I worked for radio in Germany, and as a volunteer I had an own 4 hour show at CJSW at the University of Calgary called PolterZeitGeist where I mixed words and music. Since technology evolved digitally I was able to get the equipment and do it myself.
Can you tell us about your latest project? I received this year the Literary Arts Individual Project Grant by the Alberta Foundation for the Arts to write the dystopian novel “2112”, and I document this process on my homepage in words, photos, audio and video until February 2022.
Is there a message you would like to share with your readers? Don’t judge a book by its cover, please read the first page. Even with my novels, because the narrating voice changes.
Thorsten Nesch is a German author who lives in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada. 2008 Nesch’s first novel Joyride Ost was nominated for Oldenburger Kinder- und Jugendbuchpreis and the Landshuter Jugendbuchpreis. 2012 the book won the Hans-im-Glück Award
You have experienced a multitude of jobs – have these experiences given you insights for the characters in your stories, within your book Rage and other writing?
Yes and no.
Yes in that I have based characters on past jobs for some of my writing. For example, two stories which appear in Rage are about archaeologists (“Deposition” and “The Edmore Snyders”) and I did work as a salvage archaeologist for about six years. Consequently, both of these stories carry elements which are very much true to life.
However, most of my stories are not based on past employment. To keep looking at the stories in Rage, I’ve never been a mountain climber, a priest, or a teenage girl (and probably never will be). To look at some of my other past jobs, I’ve never published a story about writers, software developers, or graphic designers–in fact, I find most of my past employment doesn’t excite me enough to craft share-worthy fiction from it. It’s the experiences I’ve had (which may or may not have come tangentially from those jobs) which inspire me, shock me, give me joy, disgust me, scare me, or piss me off so much I find myself mining for my fiction.
I’ll wrap this up by saying I am a strong proponent of thorough research and writers getting their facts as correct as possible. If I can use a past job to get my facts right, I’ll do it. If I need to interview people who’ve experienced the things I’m writing about, I’ll talk to them. I find story elements which don’t ring true to life (or at least my experience of it) can bring me out of a story faster than anything else–and I try very hard to never do that to my readers.
Your path into writing was the result of an unusual message, please tell us about it and if now you are convinced or otherwise to the validity of that message?
I’m not sure if the message you’re referring to was actually my path into writing (I’ve been making stuff up for almost as long as I can remember), but that message was most certainly the catalyst which finally got my ass in gear and helped me focus on my dream of becoming an author.
The message was this: you’re on a path for destruction and unless you change your ways, you are going to die. The deliverer of that message was a tarot reader I’d met at a party in New Orleans, and when she told me this, it scared the shit out of me. At the time I was a rather unhappy software developer and I chose to interpret her message to mean I should abandon my career in information technology and give writing a real, honest, both-feet-in effort (I also remember hoping this was not a medical thing).
As a result, I completely refocused my life. I enrolled in some continuing education classes in creative writing and for the first time in a long while felt truly happy (like I was where I was supposed to be). My instructors were encouraging, my classmates were invested, and everyone took the writing thing seriously. I learned a lot. When I got enough decent material together for a portfolio, I applied to Simon Fraser University’s year-long program, The Writer’s Studio. Coincidentally enough, that was the time I got downsized from my software development job, so I was given the luxury of being able to focus on my studies full time. At SFU, I got involved in the local literary community, met many interesting people, and learned even more. Then, I took my biggest leap and applied to the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program at the University of British Columbia. I’ve got to say when I got my acceptance letter from UBC, I did the biggest happy dance of my life. UBC was a fantastic experience for me, where I met even more interesting people, got involved in teaching creative writing, and learned an awful lot more.
In the end, whether or not I’m convinced of the validity of that message doesn’t really matter–I acted on that message, destroyed my old life, and created a new one I’m very happy with.
In teaching creative writing is it an advantage or a disadvantage to your own creativity?
Advantageous in that I get to meet many people with creative ideas so very different from my own. As a writer I don’t get out much, and talking to other writers about stories and other creative things is something I both enjoy and constantly learn from.
The downside for my creativity I experience from teaching is that I let it pull me away from my writing time. When I’m teaching a class, I feel it’s only fair to give my students my full attention, so whether I’m critiquing homework assignments or preparing lesson plans, I find I’m not writing as much of my own material as I’d like (in fact, I find I don’t write at all while I’ve got a course in session).
What writing process is the most comfortable for you – pantser or planner?
I’d like to be able to say I’m a planner, but that’s not entirely the truth. While I outline meticulously (not only do I take comfort in an outline, I’ve also discovered outlining saves me from having to write at least a full draft or two), I almost always deviate from my outline and end up pantsing to some degree as I go along. Now that could mean I’m further refining within the scope of my outline, but it could also mean I’ve got to throw away my current outline when I come up with something better (which happens often). As I’ve discovered my own writing process, I’ve realized my first drafts don’t look very much like my second drafts, and my final drafts are very different from what I first envisioned for my story (that’s not to say I only write three drafts–my current work in progress is on draft 10.7). So, um, yeah, I’m a bit of a hybrid.
How do you find inspiration and time to write?
As for time, I’m very lucky in that aside from the occasional teaching gig, all I do professionally is write (I’m also very lucky to have an extremely patient and generously supportive wife). As for inspiration, that’s been a bit trickier for me these past two years (as I suspect it has for a lot of people). I usually find my inspiration (whether it’s from things which shock me, give me joy, disgust me, scare me, or piss me off) from meeting new people, going to new places, and doing new things. As those stimuli have been somewhat curtailed lately, being inspired has become a bit of a challenge. I’m currently relying on memory and my outlines to carry me through my work.
What determines which genre/style your write in? (Short story, play, or poetry)
I haven’t been writing for the stage lately, and I’m not doing much short fiction or poetry, either. What I’ve been focusing on is longer fiction (the word count of the latest complete draft of my current WIP is about 120,000 words).
That being said, I did take a break from my novel and publish a short story in Speculative North last year. It’s about a werewolf desperately trying to keep her shit together while contending with increasing provocations from sources which have no regard for her as a person whatsoever (by the way, there should be an adult content warning if anyone decides they want to read that story–which anyone can for free by following the Free Downloads link on my website [http://www.johnmavin.com/downloads.html]). I knew that story would be short (it’s only about 7,900 words, admittedly long for a short story) as what I wanted to say wouldn’t have filled a novel.
So I guess that’s my answer–it’s what I want to say about a given idea that determines which genre or style I’ll use. My current WIP is too big and has too much world building to be effective in short formats so I’ve gone long. For my stage plays, it was usually the effect on a live audience I was going for (for example, my one-act play Daguerreotype–also available on my Free Downloads page–is an intentionally uncomfortable experience which is different for each person in the audience, depending on when they figure out what is really going on). For my poetry, if what I’m looking for is the emotional equivalent of a quick punch, that’s the genre I’ll choose.
You offer writing courses – what made you decide to do this?
I like to share and I like to teach. Back when I was taking my MFA, my grad advisor looked at my proposed schedule and called me in for a meeting. She said I’d signed up for too many courses and had to limit my choices–specifically, she asked me to choose between a class on teaching creative writing and a class on journal publication. While I was disappointed I couldn’t take both, making that choice was easy (I chose the teaching class).
Do you have a current WIP? Can you tell us about it?
I’m currently working on (and have been for far too long) a dark fantasy trilogy. I’m not yet at the stage where I can publicly say much about it, but I will say it’s set in a secondary world and deals with belief, deceit, and what happens to the soul after death. Oh, and yeah, the cast is very much filled with morally questionable characters (as with most of my writing, no one is truly good and no one is truly evil–they’re all hybrids, which I find true to life, or at least my experience of it).
How important do you feel creativity is – no matter the medium?
Very, very important. I believe humans have an innate need to create in almost all situations. Whether that creativity is expressed through writing short stories, composing music, painting pictures, solving problems, completing work, or even getting dressed is immaterial–everyone is creative. I realize I’m not expressing this very well, but I do know someone who can: his name is Jim Jackson and he has a podcast called Radio Creative, in which he looks at ways to expand people’s natural creativity and tap into it when they want to in their life, work and art. Full disclosure–Jim had me on as a guest a while back–but he’s also interviewed chefs, business consultants, and lawyers besides editors and writers). I recommend giving Radio Creative a listen. [https://anchor.fm/radiocreative/]
Where can readers find you?
The best place to find me online is my website, http://www.johnmavin.com, where I’ve got links to both my Facebook page [www.facebook.com/author.john.mavin] as well as my Goodreads profile [www.goodreads.com/author/show/16623050.John_Mavin].
Do you have a message for your readers?
Um, you mean beyond “hello, thanks for reading my stuff, please read more of my stuff, and I’d really appreciate it if you gave my stuff an honest review on Goodreads and/or Amazon”?
Okay, for something much less self-serving, how about this…I came across a meme on Facebook the other day which struck me as apropos. It went something like this:
List of Books to Read Before You Die
1. Any book you want.
2. Don’t read books you don’t want to read.
3. That’s it. The meme goes on, but at its core, I really liked its message
A chilling collection of stories unraveling the consequences of longing, broken trust, and deceit.
John Mavin is the author of the dark literary collection Rage who’s taught creative writing at Capilano University, Simon Fraser University, the University of British Columbia, with New Shoots (through the Vancouver School Board), and at the Learning Exchange in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. He’s a graduate of SFU’s The Writer’s Studio and also holds an MFA in Creative Writing from UBC. A past nominee for both the Aurora Award and the Journey Prize, his work has been translated, studied, and published internationally. He invites you to visit him online at http://www.johnmavin.com or follow him on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/author.john.mavin.