What am I working on? How does my work differ from other work in its genre? Why do I write what I do? How does my writing-process work?
These four questions were passed on to me by novelist and short story writer, Kathy Page, on the fascinating tour through writers’ minds called the Blog Tour. (You’d think a bunch of writers could have found a fancier name!) Kathy’s new work, Paradise and Elsewhere, is a book of dark fables that takes the reader through a beguiling, wickedly imagined looking-glass. Click on the links at the end of this post to get a sense of some of the other interconnections, fractal replications, blood-vessel colonisations and cranial crenelations going on in the Blog Tour sphere.
All of the Answers at Once: A wander through the questions
One of the problems of being a writer is knowing when it is all right to talk about a work-in-progress. It may be superstition, but I’ve found the more I admit I am ‘doing’ something, the longer it takes to finish. Thoughts like these, along with various writing rituals, cluster thickly as mussels on a piling: every now and then it strikes me these are unnecessary and I scrape them away. Some people have trouble with this (try asking Sidney Crosby to stop his pre-game routine) but it is easily done. The most satisfying de-ritual of all is to incinerate letters, old manuscripts, treasure maps and spells– whatever you have: whoosh goes the past and opens up new space. As a young poet I found and collected animal bones whenever I walked a trail or on a beach; but soon I decided that skulls and bones were best left where they lay. It wasn’t interdiction, like taking rocks from volcanos which is said to offend the goddess Pele, but that bringing bones indoors was, well, counter-intuitive.
And then, too, you find what you’re looking for.
I’d been brought up to ponder death: my small body and soul destined for the lake of fire. This now seems absurd, but as a child it was easy to imagine that a lie told to get a bigger slice of lemon pie led straight to the burning abyss; and if I couldn’t visualize this sufficiently on my own, there were religious authorities to help me.
I own an early 18th century primer, Emblems, meant for the edification of school-boys. Its illustrations seem like recollections of nightmares. What I was being taught, in part, was to develop a medieval mind-set. (Emblems was printed about 1710, but its spirit resides in the Middle-Ages.) Medieval mind-sets are commoner than ever these days; you can find them East or West; although why an age of brutal intolerance should be found attractive puzzles me. It does promote an interest in dramatic imagery, though, which you can find in bloody display on YouTube. The rehabilitation of torture as a method of réal politic is among several reasons why the fate of children in war is a thread in the novel-in-progress I’m getting around to mentioning.
Another influence on my childhood was the Apocalypse of the Book of Revelation, codified in the 19th century into a form popular with the religious right today. Paradoxically, the apocalyptic narrative’s headlong impetus towards Armageddon, which lies behind the religious right’s attitude towards the future– “Bring on the disasters, because we’ll be out of here” (via the Rapture)– may be provoking its opposites of kindness and reverence towards all life, in harmony with the actual modeling’s of the world’s great teachers.
Likely I write what I do because I began consciousness concerned with survival of body and soul; and likely, too, I was influenced by the sound and pattern and imagery of Biblical story: they are great myths and I regret their fading from currency. Adam and Eve and the hunger for knowledge; the first jealous sibling murder; the Tower of Babel—what a badge of globalization; the beautiful stories of Joseph the Dreamer. These were riches added to the loving, story-telling extended family in which I grew: and if there are paradoxes in this account, it is because these threads– love and crippling beliefs– were woven in the same tapestry.
Raised in ambiguity, ambivalence, and with the ability to hold contrary beliefs at the same time, it was inevitable I would be a writer.
I use whatever genres I need to explore what comes up: not only fiction and poetry, but history, ‘fabulism’ and YA. I should point out that the most outrageous incidents are those that are true.
I’m working on a novel, The Swimmer’s Tale, that has changed its nature and length (getting shorter), as I’ve drafted it. It combines elements of what I’ve spoken of here– marvels and horrors and a sweep of time–grounded in a present day journey of a young woman who wants a life of value in a world that crouches behind the protective rock of irony. The Swimmer’s tale begins in the sea and ends, for the protagonist Pearl, with her in a river.
I am lucky to live in British Columbia, home of great rivers: it is on ongoing fight to keep them that way. No one would call me a political writer, but social and cultural and multi-cultural concerns are at the heart of my fiction. Nothing unique in that–but this novel-in-progress is also a fish-tale: and for my fish-love I am grateful to my father who introduced me to the thrill of trolling abundant waters.
Even the book of Emblems isn’t all dark: threaded through the castigations and fear-mongering are strands of gold like this:
I love the Sea; she is my fellow-creature,
My careful purveyor; she provides me store:
She walls me round; she makes my diet greater;
She wafts my treasure from a foreign shore….
Some other stops on the Writers’ Blog Tour