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.
How important are the arts and your creativity to you?
Life is nothing without the arts. Think of what we do to relax: listen to music, watch movies, read books, go dancing. And yet, when it comes down to a budget crisis, these seem to be the things that are cut because they’re considered somehow “non-essential.” I beg to differ. They’re life-affirming and allow us to share the human experience through the eyes and imagination of others. You can’t put a price on that. As for my own creativity, it’s present in almost everything I do.
How did you come up with the idea of the title, Music from a Strange Planet?
The book title for my short story collection is from one of my stories. In that story, “Music from a Strange Planet,” a talented and precocious girl wins an award for her composition called “Music from a Strange Planet,” a contemporary orchestral piece based on the convergence of cricket choruses. I, too, was a little girl who loved insects and nature (still do). There’s an undercurrent of insect references in the collection and small references to music throughout, so I thought giving the book this title would convey a sense of wonder and suggest to readers that they’ll be entering the particular, idiosyncratic worlds of a variety of characters in a particular moment in their lives. The “strangeness,” to me, is not so much weirdness, but points to a sense of mystery.
What drew you to write short stories rather than longer narratives?
In writing, in both poetry and fiction, I’ve always been a minimalist. I like writing and reading works that are succinct, compressed and convey a distinct mood in a few words or pages. I do read novels, but because I’m so attuned to concision, I find them wordy, even if they aren’t! I’m a writer whose problem is not wordiness but a tendency toward spareness. That, however, is why I love to write and read short stories. They’re a leap into a crucial point in a character’s life. We usually meet the character at a turning point and sometimes at the end there’s a sense of closure or development and sometime there isn’t. Some readers dislike short stories for that reason. That’s why I love them.
Where do you find your inspiration?
In many art forms! When writing’s going slowly, or when I’m not writing, I turn to the writing, music, art, dance of others. Or I slip into the garden and merge with the plants. I read critical works or essays about writing, I pore through literary journals. I subscribe to art and décor magazines, and garden design magazines, so I get a dose of creative ideas and people from all angles. A lot of my friends are also musicians, poets and visual artists so they inspire me with their own creations.
What exactly is a short story?
First of all, I wish we had a different term for the short story. These two words sound a bit dismissive to me. Not that long ago, the short story was denigrated as the shorter, lesser cousin of the novel. But rather than saying what it isn’t, here’s my take on what a short story is. It’s compact, it implies, it suggests. It contains subtext that requires the reader to work a little harder to unlock its meaning. Every detail in the story works hard to point the reader to the underlying context: setting, back story, character history, tone, imagery. It’s brief and intense and often does not give the reader closure. A novel is expansive, its narrative, plot and cast ever-widening. A short story goes in the opposite direction: inward and compressed. It doesn’t explain. It allows the reader to experience an intense event in a character’s life which often ends in a moment of awareness.
Your stories and poems deal with deep inner perspectives and emotions – what draws you to these topics/themes?
It’s characters themselves who draw me toward their stories and so unknowingly to certain themes or emotions that are operating in my subconscious.
Does your music influence your writing or vice a versa (or is it a symbolic relationship)?
Yes, it does! I’ve written several flash and poetry pieces that were inspired by musical recordings. And I’m a musician (voice and piano).
With regard to poetry, music does subtly influence my writing. Lots of people have remarked that my poetry is “very musical,” but by that they don’t mean it’s “rhymey.” I simply have an inherent and ingrained sense of melody, rhythm, pacing, and it shows up when I write. In prose, for example, I’m very particular about how a sentence reads and sounds, how it unfolds, whether it needs to race ahead or proceed slowly, how it reflects the character’s voice or emotions. Every sentence, in that respect, is like a tiny musical score that can influence the reader.
You designed the cover of your book. How did this come about?
A few years ago a social media whiz friend of mine told me that as a writer I should be on Instagram. Since I don’t have a cute dog or a photogenic cat, I wondered what I could post about. Because Instagram’s mostly a visual medium, I came up with the idea of collaging my writing. Except that I didn’t know how to collage! So the self-imposed crash course began, and I really started to enjoy dealing with visuals for a change. It was fascinating to choose a very short excerpt from a poem, flash or short story and illustrate it in paper. I continue to challenge myself to try different approaches and now have a small following, which is both surprising and pretty delightful. When my Caitlin Press publisher Vici Johnstone learned about my collages, she asked me if I would be interested in collaging my own book cover! I said yes, and after five or six trials, arrived at the illustration of a woman transforming into a caribou, which seems to intrigue people. It’s also based on a character in one of my stories.
Where do you write?
When cafes were open before the pandemic, I often went for a coffee, took my teeny-tiny Moleskin writing journal with me and found inspiration among the hubbub of chatter and clatter. I always write first drafts by hand and never, ever, at a desk. I prefer to slump on my small sofa in the living room or go out to my back garden studio and write from a low-slung chair while the birds twitter outside.
Just how tiny is your writing journal and why?
There’s a story to this! A few years ago I attended the Disquiet International Literary Program in Lisbon. On the first day, we each got a gift bag from the organizers which contained, among other things, a very compact writing journal. At the time I always wrote in a lined 8 X 11-inch coiled workbook. I scoffed that I would never use such a tiny journal. Off I went that afternoon to a café to write, except that I had forgotten my usual workbook. I wrote in that tiny, unlined book. I loved it. I have now filled over 40 of the compact Moleskin journals. In fact, all the short stories in Music from a Strange Planet were composed in them!
A writer’s not a writer without readers. Thank you, readers, for making my book come to life in your own imagination. And many thanks for the interview, Mandy.
Barbara Black writes fiction, flash fiction and poetry. Her work has been published in Canadian and international magazines and anthologies including the 2020 Bath Flash Fiction Award anthology, The CincinnatiReview, The New Quarterly, CV2, Geist and Prairie Fire. She was recently a finalist in the 2020 National Magazine Awards, nominated for the 2019 Writers’ Trust/McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize and won the 2017 Writers’ Union of Canada Short Fiction Award. She lives in Victoria, BC, Canada. http://www.barbarablack.ca, @barbarablackwriter and @bblackwrites.
1. How old were you when you wrote your first writing project? What genre was it?
That’s hard to say. I was writing short stories and designing cover art when I was in second grade. I was writing screenplays and making movies in middle school. I published poetry in college. I started writing my first novel, A Year Since the Rain, when I was in my late twenties, I guess. It was a magical realism novel, and it took a few years for me to finish it.
2. Do you have a favorite genre? What draws you to it?
I like contemporary fantasy/ magical realism because I think these genres allow for an interesting exploration of human experience. I appreciate the ways that realistic characters and settings are allowed to bump up against elements of magic.
3. How does your expression differ from your poetry to short stories to novels?
I look for poetic language in everything, so I try to find something poetic in narrative work as well. Obviously, it’s harder to keep this up for 70,000 words than it is in a page of poetry, but I still look for ways to elevate the diction of my prose with poetic language. With poetry, we’re talking about a stricter economy of language—more limitations based on form and so forth. As a rule, though, my poetry plays with narrative and my prose plays with poetry. I like to explore the marriage of different forms.
4. Magic plays a vital part in your stories – is it a fascination for you?
Like I said before, I think the incorporation of magic in otherwise real settings allows for an interesting exploration of human nature and human experience. If most of the setting and characters feel somewhat familiar, I think readers can buy in a little more. Also, I think the world is full of magic, right? We all experience wonderful and terrible things that we can’t explain. These inexplicable moments are a very human kind of magical experience. That’s how I see it, at any rate.
5.How did you create the characters in your World of Muses Universe?
A lot of my characters are just conflations of real-life people. There are no direct translations of real people, but I definitely mine real life experience for characters.
6. Are there messages in your stories for your readers? What are they?
Absolutely. These messages vary, but I think that mostly I want readers to consider their relationship with the world, with other people, with creativity, and with their own experience. I’m not prescriptive in my messaging. I just want a reader to think.
7.You combine music with poetry/stories – how did this idea/collaboration begin?
I wanted to write a story that would explore creativity and the different goals artists might strive toward. I settled on musicians and visual artists (because, again, I don’t want to write things that are too close to home). When I decided to write about musicians, I started teaching myself to play guitar. I wanted to understand what I was writing, and I wanted to be able to describe it in an organic way that would provide the narrative with a realistic texture. In the long run, I fell in love with the guitar and started writing songs. I even wrote some of the songs from that novel. It’s a cool experience to play these songs at live readings. I think it lends an air of legitimacy to the story.
8.Has your teaching influenced your writing?
I’m not sure that teaching has had a direct influence on my writing. I’ve never written about a teacher or even students. I actively try to avoid writing stories that would hit too close to home in that way. So, I guess in my attempts to write stories from outside of my experience as a teacher, teaching has indirectly influenced my writing.
On another level, though, I do teach literature courses. Reading these classics with my students offers me a great refresher in these stories. I think reading and analysis of stories is incredibly important to a writer, so the fact that this is my job gives me ample opportunity to dive back into those stories from time to time.
I think that my writing has probably influenced my teaching, but that feels like a whole other conversation.
9.Has your MFA course in Creative Writing changed how you write?
I think the most important thing I’ve learned from the MFA is how to better discipline my writing. I have a better sense of how planning and outlining can help streamline a project. The MFA program also forced me to read and work in genres I was less comfortable with, and I think all of that experimentation is good for the process. We could all do with a little more of that experience with discomfort.
10.Do you have a message for your readers?
This is an interesting question. I’m not sure that I’ve ever considered the prospect of speaking directly to the people who read my books. I’ve long considered the writing to be the final word in my part of the conversation. Once a reader has read my book, I’m interested in what that reader has taken from that experience. So, I suppose if I could say anything to the people who read my books it’s this: Thanks! I hope you found something to enjoy.
12. Do you have a blog? Where are you on social media?
I don’t really have a blog that I keep up with consistently at the moment, but people can always catch up with me on social media. I’m @ThatShaneWilson just about anywhere you might care to look.
Shane Wilson is an award-winning author of magical realism and low fantasy. His two novels, A Year Since the Rain and The Smoke in His Eyes are available through all major retailers. He has also published short fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry. He maintains a blog that focuses on a variety of topics including topics in publication.
Shane has a Master’s degree in English from Valdosta State University and has taught English at community colleges in Georgia and North Carolina. He has been te
Shane Wilson is a storyteller. No matter the medium, the emphasis of his work is on the magical act of the story, and how the stories we tell immortalize us and give voice to the abstractions of human experience. His first two contemporary fantasy novels as well as a stage play, set in his World of Muses universe, are currently available.
Born in Alabama and raised in Georgia, Shane is a child of the southeastern United States where he feels simultaneously at-home and out-of-place. He graduated from Valdosta State University in South Georgia with a Masters in English. He taught college English in Georgia for four years before moving to North Carolina in 2013.
Shane plays guitar and writes songs with his two-man-band, Sequoia Rising. He writes songs as he writes stories–with an emphasis on the magic of human experience. He tends to chase the day with a whiskey (Wild Turkey 101) and a re-run of The Office.
Shane’s novels are A Year Since the Rain (Snow Leopard Publishing, 2016) and The Smoke in His Eyes (GenZ Publishing, 2018). Shane’s short story, “The Boy Who Kissed the Rain” was the 2017 Rilla Askew Short Fiction Prize winner and was nominated for a 2018 Pushcart Prize. An adaptation of that story for the stage was selected for the Independence Theater Reading Series in Fayetteville, NC. More information about Shane can be found at: Shane Wilson Author