Here’s a video interview that I participated in recently with Coffin Hop Press and author Timothy Friend.
- Grace Awakening isn’t 155 pages, it’s 155,000 words!
- The publisher at Gumboot wasn’t Christina, it was CRYSTAL Stranaghan!
Here’s a video interview that I participated in recently with Coffin Hop Press and author Timothy Friend.
What inspired you to begin writing?
I always wanted to be a writer. Then one day I found myself fast approaching 40 and realized it was time to get on with my dream. So I took a 6 day writing course in Wells, just outside the restored gold rush town of Barkerville, with a wonderful teacher, Robin Skelton. Wells forms the setting for much of my first book, and I still carry a picture of Robin in my wallet, with the photos of the grandkids.
The first book you published was a lovely teen novel called Your Time, My Time that was set in the historical town of Barkerville. Having read the book, I’ve never been able to go past the old Barkerville cemetery without getting goosebumps. You’ve written four stories set in Barkerville. Can you discuss the importance of special places in inspiring story?
Thank you for those kind words. Barkerville still gives me goosebumps, the whole town, not just the cemetery. The first time I ever saw it, in the early l960s before the road in was paved or even more or less straight, I knew that it was a special place, one where the past and present nearly touched. In YTMT my protagonist, Elizabeth, expresses that feeling. She says “It’s as if the old times are jealous of the new and want to be, not the past, but the here and now.” Or words similar to that. That feeling of the past ‘looking over your shoulder’ still haunts me in Barkerville, and in some other historic places.
In your own books, who is your favourite character? Why?
Percival Theodore MacIntosh and Moses (from Moses, Me and Murder) and I have travelled together a lot, and done many, many school presentations together. They are my most entertaining characters. But my favourites change. Right it is Janie Johnson, an elderly (that means older than me) woman who is a central character in my new YA, Whatever.
What author do you read over and over again?
Arthur Conan Doyle; Shakespeare
You’ve recently been studying in Victoria. Why do you feel continuing education is important for an author?
Books need fertile ground in which to grow. A stagnant brain isn’t receptive to the seeds of ideas. I loved re-discovering Shakespeare’s words and themes and had an introduction to Women’s Studies. My brain woke up and a book was finished.
Do you have a favourite writing quotation to share?
“Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”
What do you like about writing for children and teens?
Recently I met a young mother and her two small children. She had been searching for a copy of Your Time, My Time to re-read because it had made such an impact on her when she was a teen. I signed a new copy of the book to her young daughter, even though it will be many years before the toddler can read it. When you write for young people your audience is always new and always changing. One day a teacher contacts you, one day a grown-up fan, one day an Indo-Canadian boy translating for his father who has limited English but who wants to know if a certain part of Shabash! is true. It’s a wonderful audience to write for, and young people are generous in their praise. My favourite quote, make by a young girl who must be in her 20s by now, is “Ann Walsh, do you know you’re world famous in Kamloops?”
What has been the most interesting thing that has happened to you because you are an author?
A difficult question. I’ve driven all over BC usually by myself, met people I’d only heard of like Margaret Atwood, Ann-Marie MacDonald and Farley Mowatt. I’ve danced with Pierre Berton, and eaten breakfast with Robert Munsch. I’ve learned so much, about writing, about people and about myself. It’s been a wonderful career, and I wish I’d started when I was younger so I’d have longer to write. However, I’m not done yet!
Which of your books was the easiest to write? Why? (or if you prefer, What is the easiest part of the writing process for you?)
Moses, Me and Murder! was easy and fast to write (after all, most of the story is true, there wasn’t an decision to be made about the ending for me to wrestle with.) However, it took over 5 years to sell to a publisher and got scathing reviews from ‘literary’ reviewers. It was first published in 1984 and, much to my delight, has just been re-issued as a new edition with a different publisher.
Which of your books was the most challenging to write? Why?
Whatever was difficult for me because in it I deal with the issue of aging as well as the Restorative Justice process.
What is the most asked question when you’re doing author visits in schools?
In every session someone asks at least one of the following three questions: “How old are you, how much money do you make, where do you get your ideas?” I now answer them before the question period begins—seventy one, not very much and anywhere I can, in case anyone else wants to know.
Thanks, Shawn. This was fun!
(Note from Shawn: I am SO JEALOUS that you danced with Pierre Berton and had breakfast with Robert Munsch!)
Here is a blog chain contribution by Carol Mason. Carol’s website is being stubborn, so we’re posting her responses here. 🙂
Thanks to author Shawn Bird for inviting me to participate here. You have asked some really great questions!
1. What inspired you to begin writing?
When I was graduating university, a fellow student was about to start writing Harlequin Romances. She believed she could write one easily, and that it would be a fast way to making money. Of course, she was deluded, as I’m sure she later learned. Writing is not easy, be it literary fiction or a Harlequin bodice-ripper! And getting published is even harder. But it planted the seed. I’d always wanted to write. So I thought, Ok, if she’s going to try it, maybe I will too…. (I started to try to write Harlequins then wondered what on earth was I doing! I didn’t even enjoy reading these books. But it gave me a starting point until I found my feet so to speak and discovered that it was women’s contemporary fiction that was my calling, not necessarily romances.
2. How does being a British ex-pat living in Canada impact your writing?
My voice is very British. Despite living in fabulous BC for many years, I still feel very British. But I want my books to be sold in more countries than just the UK so I have to remind myself not to use words that are too regional. Sometimes I try to sound more North American but it feels wrong. We have to be who we are at the end of the day, don’t we? That is never more true than when it comes to writing…
3. In your own books, who is your favourite character? Why?
I loved Leigh in The Secrets of Married Women, my first novel. Leigh is a bit of a dark, complicated woman, capable of having great fun and being a great friend, yet equally capable of deceit at the worst level. This makes her fascinating to me. Writing her, I was intrigued by what she was going to do next and how her friends seemed to underestimate her until there was an eye-opening event that changed everything… As far as my male characters go, then Mike in The Love Market. Mike is not your typical hero. He’s not tall. He’s not especially good-looking, or successful or ambitious, and he’s got strange dress sense. But no one could love their wife as much as Mike loves his wife – or, now, ex-wife. He’s the kind of guy we all want in our life – as a 100% reliable friend, definitely. As a romantic interest… well, you would have to decide. Yet as we discover, Mike might be a nice guy, but he’s not a door mat. Mike has a breaking point that gave me as an objective reader of my own novel, tremendous respect for him.
4. What author has inspired you?
So many! Rosie Thomas, initially. I remember reading her novel Other People’s Marriages and thinking Whoo! This is the kind of book I want to write! Then I read all of hers and didn’t dislike any of them. I have read so many novels yet this one always sticks in my mind for some reason. Then chicklit came along and some of it was good and so much of it was bad… I never totally latched onto a great, great chicklit author, preferring the more complex stories of the type Rosie writes.
5. You frequently write about your travels on your Facebook page. What is your most memorable travel story?
Just the other day my husband and I were recalling our visit to Tuscany 2 years ago, and laughing about this. We were in the very charming Montepulciano, and it was April and not especially warm. There were few tourists around and we were looking for a place to eat dinner. A charming young Italian lured us into his restaurant with a very long and engaging speech about the purity of his ingredients, his wife’s skill as a chef, and a certain kind of local and rare wild boar that his wife specialized in cooking. (my husband speaks Italian). Anyway, we love our food and his restaurant sounded amazing, so we dutifully trotted back there at 7pm when he opened for dinner. Basically it was a small place of about 10 tables, and his wife worked the kitchen and he worked the floor. There was no other staff. We were to receive a 5 course meal he told us, but little did we know that each course would be introduced with a lengthy description of the origins of the food, his wife’s rationale for pairing ingredients, the history of the various condiments that were served with each course…..a twenty minute lecture on the various types of wine that would accompany each dish… It was a bit like going to cooking school, only instead of the teacher addressing a classroom, this young man addressed each table individually, repeating the same story with everyone who walked in the door, which left him little time to actually serve food. By the time all 10 tables were occupied and he’d repeated his spiel 10 times, we had been in there two hours before we’d even seen the first course – a rather disappointing pasta with dry bits of beef in it. The build-up to his famous wild boar main course was almost more than any of us could stand. Wasn’t that the real reason why we were all here? We had certainly worked up an appetite. My husband and I were salivating with anticipation, as were the two Americans at the table next to us. I had a feeling we were in for something fabulous that would live in our memory for years to come as our truly authentic gourmet experience of Italy. I even had my camera at the ready. When the boar finally arrived, my husband and I looked down at our plates just as we heard the American woman say, “It’s a slice of ham!’ And it truly was. No adornment. No accompaniment. Just one, thin, flat, pink slice of pleasant-enough but highly boring old ham. We suffered through the courses that followed – each one more underwhelming than the one that had gone before. Then the chef came out to take a bow! Yes. And we applaud her because we felt so bad for her, plus we were just glad the whole thing was finally over. I could have gone to the theatre and had dinner and after-theatre drinks in the time we sat there. We weren’t let out until nearly midnight. I suppose I should have known – you know, Boar=Ham. But somehow, being in Italy, and being wooed by a handsome young restaurateur who seemed so passionate about food, I had hoped for a fabulous experience. Well, an experience it was, but fabulous, not so much!
6. Do you have a favourite writing quotation to share?
“If you can’t tell stories, create characters, devise incidents and have sincerity and passion, it doesn’t matter a damn how you write.” Somerset Maugham. Because it’s true. Being a good writer is not even close to enough.
7. What do you like about writing for ‘women’s fiction’?
I can explore issues that interest me, or ones I’ve personally had experience with, or am familiar with through my encounters with friends. I can really get into that endlessly fascinating territory of what makes women tick – the good, the bad and the entirely preposterous. I don’t have to do massive chunks of research. Nobody is going to think I’m an idiot when I wrongly interpret history. Sometimes I get to shock people because they assume I’ve experienced everything I write about! If only that were true!
8. What has been the most interesting thing that has happened to you because you are an author?
For the launch of my first novel, my publisher, Hodder, invited me to The Grove (a very posh destination spa/resort in England) for a media event. It was attended by 10 other authors – many of whom I admire, and whose novels I have read. It was a fancy event with many of the country’s major media present, complete with an overnight stay and fabulous meals with ever-flowing champagne. I felt so privileged to be included among so many successful novelists. I could never have afforded to stay there if the publisher hadn’t been paying. I got to dress up. I wrongly assumed a writer’s life would be glamorous like this everyday. It isn’t. But I still wouldn’t change a thing about it.
9. Which of your books was the easiest to write? Why?
Send Me A Lover. For some reason I really related to the young widow who wanted so badly to believe her husband was up there looking after her and helping her find new love. Plus it includes a lovely trip to Greece where I had recently been. And the young widow’s mother is a lot like my own – so I felt I could write their quirky dynamics so easily! It was a funny and sad book that somehow just flowed for me.
10. Which of your books was the most difficult to write? Why?
I think my first one. Or at least, the first one to get published (The Secrets of Married Women). Mainly because I had what I thought was a structure, then it had to change as my editor at my literary agency thought it wasn’t working. Then it went through so many edits when my agent found me a publisher. I constantly felt like it was 100% good enough, only to be told that I still had far to go before it was up to the standard it needed to be at. It really showed me how you can write a good book, in fact a knockout book, but there are lots of other published writers out there writing knockout novels, and the competition is very very stiff. If you’re not as good as the best, then you simply aren’t going to compete. You won’t get published. Then you won’t stay published.
11. I remember you telling me that someone broke into your house and stole your computer, and the two completed novels on it. Was losing those works a blessing or a curse in the long run?
Those were the two Harlequin novels I wrote in the very beginning! I was really just cutting my teeth on them. I learned how to start a book, finish a book and give a book a middle. So that was valuable, of course. At the time it felt like a huge trauma to have them stolen. But really, it was probably a blessing. I really don’t think they were all that great anyway!
Next in the chain!
I am going to ask 11 questions of Kim Hornsby, author of The Dream Jumper’s Promise and Necessary Detour, to name two. http://www.kimhornsbyauthor.net/ Kim, here goes…
1. Describe the type of books you write, as I believe you also write under a pen name.
2. You were once photographed with Sylvester Stallone. Is there something about you that we need to know?
3. What is your ultimate dream as a writer if you could map the course of your writer’s career?
4. What is the best novel you have read recently and the one that disappointed you the most, and why?
5. Describe your writing process – to plot or not to plot, before you begin?
6. Since you first started writing, up until now, how would you say you have grown as a writer?
7. How do you come up with a book idea?
8. How secure are you as a writer (given that creative people are thought to be quite insecure about their art)? If you had a great book idea and 5 of your writer friends shot it down, would you write it anyway?
9. Without giving away any plot, what is your favourite scene in a book you’ve written?
10. If you were forbidden from writing novels, what would you do that might come close to satisfying you?
11. Tell me about Beach Read Authors. What can readers hope to find there?
Today a group of my students were interviewed for an upcoming documentary about living in a small town. It was interesting to hear their feedback after the experience. They wondered if the interviewer was trying too hard to ‘connect with the youth of today’ by “dropping f-bombs in every sentence” and telling them that she and her friends had taken acid in the 90s. They weren’t impressed.
In the staff room the other day, we were commenting about the kids in the smoke pit. At our school, it is an area about eight feet square, marked by cement barricades a couple of feet high off to the side of our entry, just outside of the parking lot (and therefore, presumably not technically ‘on school grounds’). There are maybe a dozen kids who hang out there off and on over the course of the day, though I’ve never seen more than six at any one time. There are around five hundred students at our school. The teachers were discussing how ‘once upon a time’ the smoke pit was packed, and it was full of cool kids. Now, the kids in the smoke pit are the losers, generally looked at with disdain by the other kids.
I can remember teaching in Prince George, where probably a hundred kids stood in minus twenty, being cool, and smoking. Once, they watched a moose wander past, and then get shot by conservation officers. The smoking area was always lively and crowded, murdered moose, not withstanding.
Not these days. It seems that kids are getting the message about healthy living. They smoke less than their parents and grand-parents. Since according to experts in the workshops attended by my ex-social worker spouse, the real ‘gateway drug’ is tobacco, does this decrease of activity at the smoke pit mean kids are less likely to graduate to harder drugs, and therefore less likely to find themselves popping acid by the train tracks like the interviewer, who’d attended this school a decade ago?
I don’t know, but I hope so. I’m really happy they weren’t impressed by her stories and foul language. Whoever says youth are getting worse isn’t keeping their eyes open. Personally, I like what I see.
Here is the rest of my interview with author Brian Katcher:
In my experience, there is a germ of truth from our own lives in every book we write, and each character we craft. Where are the germs of truth in Playing with Matches and Almost Perfect? What were the geneses of the stories?
Leon from Playing With Matches is me at seventeen. I was funny, smart, and terrified of girls. Actually, Melody is the only purely fictitious character in that book, everyone else (even the crazy twins and the mad chemistry teacher) were people from my teenage years. While writing Matches, I kept having to remind myself that this wasn’t my autobiography.
As for Almost Perfect, I simply wanted to tell a boy meets girl story that hadn’t been told a hundred times. I hit on the idea of a boy who meets the girl of his dreams, except she wasn’t born a girl. Would a purely heterosexual guy be able to swallow his fears or would he simply be too scared of where such feelings would lead him? I first tried writing this as a short story. When I showed it to my writers’ group they said it was an interesting concept, but there was no way I could pull it off in fifty pages. So I wrote it as a novel.
How do you write? i.e. Are you a linear writer? Do you use outlines to pre-plan? Do you write in scenes and integrate them later in the process? Do you have a regular writing routine? If so, what it is? If not, why not?
I’m chaotic to the nth degree. When I start a novel I usually know how it’s going to end and then go from there. My plot trajectories are all over the place. This allows my characters to surprise me with the new an unexpected things they do, but I have to resign myself to an additional rewrite to fix all the plot inconsistencies I write into my story. I rarely use outlines. Sometimes I write specific scenes long before I conceive of a plot. The grave that Logan discovers in Perfect (remember friend as you pass by/you are now as once was I) is a real one, for instance. I knew I had to use it in a story some day. I actually included it in Matches, but it was edited out. As for writing, I’m blessed with a job that gives me summers off and an understanding wife who takes our daughter to grandma’s on Sundays. I also don’t need a lot of sleep, so I write after everyone goes to bed. Of course, not all my writing takes place at the keyboard. My wife quickly learned that when I’m frantically pacing in the basement, I’m not upset, I’m just writing scenes in my head.
You also work as a school librarian. We have seen our government cut funding to libraries and non-enrolling teachers in the names of austerity and progress. In their minds, libraries are outmoded and unnecessary. In your experience, how important is the library to students? How are libraries changing to continue to be relevant? What do you as a librarian contribute to kids’ growth and development?
Unfortunately, there is a big move in education to judge everything based on test scores. If you’re not doing something that directly teaches reading or math (and possibly science), then a lot of officials see it as unimportant. Librarians, along with teachers of music, art, and PE are often viewed as not real teachers, and are more valued for giving breaks to the classroom teachers than for any lessons they impart. A lot of administrators envision some vague future where libraries are paperless, but have cut the library funding long before any plan is in place for a digital facility.
As a library junkie, I know how important libraries can be for kids. It gives me great pleasure to show children the simple joys in a book. However, a lot of people believe this is only for small children and that older kids don’t read. Actually, young adult literature is in its golden age. For the first time, people are writing books with a literate teenage audience in mind, and teenagers are among the most difficult readers to please. A well-funded media center with an enthused staff can do more for a child’s education than a thousand standardized tests.
Thank you very much for your interest.Brian Katcher
In July, I discovered author Brian Katcher’s work while browsing the stacks of my local library’s YA section. I enjoyed his Almost Perfect so much that I ordered Playing with Matches. I really enjoyed it, too. I was pleased when I posted reviews here, that Brian stopped into the blog to say hello, and he was willing to do an interview with me. Of course, I managed to procrastinate for a month or two, but at long last, here are the fruits of that serendipitous discovery in the stacks.
Part two will appear tomorrow!
Interview with Brian Katcher:
Your protagonists are very realistic young men with very unexpected challenges to their romantic theories. In some ways they have similar attitudes and expectations. How are Leon (from Playing with Matches) and Logan (from Almost Perfect) similar to and distinct from each other?
Thank you for interviewing me. You know, the problems of Leon and Logan are both so similar, sometimes I feel like I’ve written the same story twice. They’re two young men who want nothing more than to meet a girl who could be both their girlfriend and their friend. And when they find her, they end up losing her because of an issue that, in retrospect, should not have been a deal breaker. As for their distinctiveness, I think Logan was the slightly more mature of the two. He’s had a rough home life and is more worldly and less trusting.
In Playing with Matches, Leon has to sort out the privilege of dating the cheerleader against the honour of having a true friend with physical imperfections. Part of his dilemma relates to the pressure of ‘what everyone else will think.’ How do his choices reflect what you see in the boys at the school where you work?
Actually, I work at an elementary school, but I remember those feelings well from when I was a teen. I don’t think there’s a man alive who didn’t once see a girl they’d really have liked to have asked out, but then thought ‘but she’s overweight/plain/dresses funny/isn’t cool. What will the guys think?’ And we’ve all lived to regret it. And nine times out of ten, the same guys who’d make fun of you for having an imperfect girlfriend are the same ones staying home watching TV weekend after weekend. The older you get, the more you realize that you want to date someone who you enjoy hanging out with. And by then, all you can do is look back and the wasted opportunities and try to learn from them.
Of course, I remember similar behavior in girls, as well. My incredibly smart and talented sister used to act dumb around the popular kids so she wouldn’t be thought of as a nerd.
In Almost Perfect, the story explores Logan’s feelings when he discovers the new girl he’s wildly attracted to, is biologically male. The story could have been about Sage’s journey to become herself. Did you consider telling it from Sage’s point of view? Why did you choose to tell Sage’s story from Logan’s perspective?
In my original draft, I punctuated the chapters with excerpts from Sage’s diary, detailing her feelings about Logan and their relationship. However, since I did not reveal that Sage was transgender until page 100, I had to deliberately not mention a lot, which was kind of jerking the reader around. In the end, I used Logan to tell Sage’s story. I felt more comfortable writing from the point of view of a young man who was meeting someone like Sage for the first time. I considered writing from Sage’s point of view, but I feared that I wouldn’t be able to accurately capture the first person feelings of a young transwoman. The last thing I wanted to do was make Sage an unrealistic character.
See the rest of the interview tomorrow!
I like interviews. I enjoy meeting people, and I enjoy the fun of discovery that comes from questions.
Recently I was asked if Grace, Ben and Josh would consent to participate in an interview. With some difficulty, the three of them were assembled in one place, and this is the result: