An Interview with Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay

By Derek Newman-Stille

Today, I chat with CanLit scholar Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay about some trends in Canadian literature, ideas of belonging and the Canadian Nation State, and Canadian music. Thank you to Sebastian for joining us here and sharing his insights.

Spec Can: To begin our interview, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay: Absolutely, I’m currently a PhD Candidate at the Frost Centre for Canadian Studies and Indigenous Studies at Trent University. I have a broad interest in Canadian literature and cultural history, specifically how they interact with ideas of nationalism(s) and national identity.

Spec Can: A lot of people hear “Canadian Studies” and they think this means pro-nationalist. Can you tell us a little about your perceptions of nationalisms and national identity?

Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay: That is something that I have to constantly confront within myself and my work. I think that what Canadian Studies as an interdisciplinary field of study which includes within it the possibility of a multitude of interpretations and approaches to Canada’s past and present has historically aimed to resist easy readings of nationalism. I understand why people would feel that way, however, the field was more of less created at a time in the mid-twentieth century when there was legitimate worry about the state of Canada. For many, higher education became the locus of their anxieties. We can debate in retrospect whether or not their concerns were justified, but we can’t discount that these were real concerns being expressed. The field that would eventually find its home at Trent, is now one which is actively resistant to singular readings of Canadian history. In my own work, especially some of the papers I’ve given on Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip, have demonstrated is the untenability of a unified national culture in Canada. I feel like nationalizing statements which followed The Hip around for most of their career and culminated in the CBC produced “National Celebration” is wonderful, but the sentiments tend to fall apart as soon as you begin to expose them to level of scrutiny. I think that’s a good thing, and from all the interviews and articles I’ve read with Gord Downie, he would have been the first to agree and resist that kind nationalizing message.

Spec Can: Can you tell us a bit about some of the anxieties that shaped the development of Canadian Studies?

Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay: Gladly! In my opinion, the basis of these anxieties is the question of our relationship, in the twentieth century, to Britain on the one hand, and the increasingly powerful and influential United States. I would say these tensions have underpinned Canadian history since Confederation, and arguably before, but I think they begin to take on a popularized tone in the years immediately following the Second World War with the advent of new forms of mass media. Large numbers of Canadians suddenly became acutely aware of the fact that the majority of the television and radio shows they were consuming were American and the novelists and writers, and the magazines they wrote for were as well. Add to this the fact that Canadian universities were hiring almost exclusively British or American Professors and I think it’s understandable that people became alarmed about the lack of Canadian representation in these institutions. One of the most illustrative novels from this period, in my opinion, is “The Watch that Ends the Night” by Hugh MacLennan where the main character George Stewart constantly reflects upon the generational and ideological shifts following the war and its relation to Canada’s place in the world. He’s also the host of a radio show and lives in constant fear of one day being made redundant by the growing popularity of television. These kinds of concerns would eventually lead to the Massey Report of 1951 which outlined the need for the government of Canada to intentionally promote and develop a “distinct” artistic culture. I use the word culture with hesitation as Vincent Massey was notoriously reluctant to use it in the report, due in large part to its slippery definition and my own reluctance to suggest there is any unified “culture” in Canada. We’re lucky enough here at Trent to follow in the footsteps of founding President, Professor Tom Symons, whose report “To Know Ourselves” outlined the need for Canadian content in universities. Prior to that, there was of course the more radically nationalist document “The Struggle for Canadian Universities” by Robin Matthews and James Steele. Both documents provide the rationale for Canadians teaching Canadian topics in Canada, which at the time was quite radical. It’s hard to place ourselves in that place, and I think it can be temping to under estimate just how palpable these concerns were for those involved in bringing about these changes. I just hope we never take it for granted!

Spec Can: Why, in your opinion, does Canada constantly seem to be seeking its own identity and trying to articulate what it means to be Canadian?

Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay: Ahh, the eternal question!

Spec Can: What are some of your thoughts on the subject?

Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay: In all seriousness, this is, for me at least, the motivating question behind my work here at Trent. I think it’s based in the fact that as a nation, Canada has never really had a unified sense of self and as I said earlier, that’s absolutely a good thing! I think it’s been true at a broader constitutional level since confederation. While the original BNA Act of 1867 was a far from a perfect document, I think it achieved a certain recognition of the regional and ethnic differences of the nation, as these ideas were then recognized, again, imperfectly, and with terribly racist exclusions, but which set the stage for the next 153 years of searching for a some sort of a unified identity. I think the closest we’ve come is the Charter’s vision of a civic, constitutionally endowed right to belong to and relate to the “nation” of Canada as one chooses at an individual level. It’s imperfect, yes, but evolving and I would be out of a job if we ever settled it.

Spec Can: What got you interested in the work fo Gord Downie and the Tragically Hip?

Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay: You could say I was born into it, almost literally as my Mom was pregnant with me when she first saw The Tragically Hip perform. My parents are huge influences on me in many ways, but one of the biggest ways was fostering and encouraging my love of music as well as my love of reading and writing.

Spec Can: Oh wow, so it is very personal for you!

Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay: Yes it is. The Hip’s music has always been in my life. When Gord Downie passed away in 2017, I was a year away from starting my PhD, but I remember thinking about how interesting it would be to work on a project that explored Canadian identity through their music.

Spec Can: Speaking of reading and writing, you mentioned that your research involves Canadian literature. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay: Yes, of course! I’ll admit that my interest in Canadian literature tends towards the conventional ‘big names’ of the post-war period through to 1960s and 70s and mainly with fiction. I spend a lot of time with Hugh MacLennan, Margaret Laurence, Mordecai Richler, Adele Wiseman, Leonard Cohen, Robertson Davies etc. I’m also quite interested in the journalistic work of Peter Gzowski. My main interest, however, is in exploring how their work interacted with larger historical or social themes of those decades in a Canadian context. It’s also the period of time when the idea of what we might call “CanLit” today really took shape alongside the necessary publishing industry. Today, there’s a lot of criticism of CanLit both as an idea and an industry, much of which I think is absolutely warranted and important. The idea, in Alicia Elliot’s provocative words, that CanLit is a raging dumpster fire motivates me to figure out how the fire got started. In a way, my focus on these writers is an attempt to perform a crime scene analysis to find out how the fire got started, while it’s still raging, because it most certainly is!

Spec Can: What are some of the social themes that you notice keep being explored in CanLit?

Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay: I think the biggest thing historically, and it’s no surprise given the overall theme of our discussion, is the pervasive questioning of identity within Canada. To add to this, however, there is a constant theme of belonging, both to a community and within the nation of Canada itself. I don’t think that these are necessarily unique to CanLit, but I do feel that the way Canada is constituted almost begs these questions rise up in literature written within it and about people living here, no matter where they were born. On a side note, I’ve always found it interesting that some of our foremost contemporary writers here in Canada came here as adults and have written so movingly about the experience and challenges of coming to live in Canada. Writers like Dionne Brand, Michael Ondaatje, and Rawi Hage spring immediately to mind when I think of this specific aspect of CanLit.

Spec Can: What ideas of belonging are explored particularly amongst marginalized Canadians? And what does this say about Canada’s portrayal of itself as a “multicultural” and “welcoming” community?

Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay: I think that it’s important to separate the concept of multiculturalism from its legislative history. As legislation, it gives a name to the embodied experience of marginalized peoples in Canada without doing much to actively change the circumstances of their experience of belonging within the nation. You don’t have to dig very deep into the writing of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) writers in Canada, both presently and historically, to understand the fact that issues of belonging have been at stake within the geographic space we now call Canada since the beginning of colonization and that these voices, though historically under represented and under studied, have always provided a critique of the Canadian state as a welcoming space. I think it’s also important to recognize that the context out of which Official Multiculturalism came about was at a time of resurgent Québec nationalism which was seen as a legitimate threat to the unity of Canadian federalism. Playing minority interests off of each other is hardly the definition of being warm and welcoming, but it has certainly served its purpose of keeping the federation together, at least for now!

Spec Can: What are some other trends you are noticing in CanLit?

Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay: I think the larger academic discussion over the past few years has been to rigorously question the project of CanLit. The collection “Refuse: CanLit in Ruins” has brought to popular attention the ways in which the publishing industry has worked to further marginalize BIPOC voices as well as those of women and members of the two spirit community. One of the most powerful arguments coming out of that collection is Joshua Whitehead’s commitment to remain accountable to community while the larger CanLit project continues to remain complicit in exclusionary and silencing practises. I don’t want to co-opt Whitehead’s words here or use them to make arguments about other writers and their relations, but I do think that discussions around accountability to community instead of institutions is a major trend and conversation happening right now amongst writers and academics surrounding literary work in Canada. I think it’s extremely important.

Spec Can: What things need to change to actually make CanLit responsible to the public? How can we make a socially just literature?

Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay: I think a really important thing is to gain an understanding of the history of the writing in this country. Part of why I’m so interested in reading works written from the 1940s onwards is that it serves to remind us that the issues we’re discussing have a history and that they’re not new discussions in any way. I think we’re better equipped to talk about the present when we have a firm understanding of the past. When I read people like Margaret Laurence, I get the sense that she would have been at the front lines of current debates surrounding racial justice and the necessity of the recognition of Indigenous rights. She, like all of us, was writing out of her own context and circumstance and is limited by that, but I think it’s humbling to be reminded that we’re part of an ongoing conversation about the concept of justice and are hopefully always making progress while also recognizing where new forms of injustice are located and never settling the conversation, either with the past or the future.

Spec Can: To wrap up our interview, is there anything further you would like to add?

Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay: Thank you so much for the opportunity! This has been a lot of fun!

Spec Can: I want to thank you for taking the time to do this interview and share your insights with us.

Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay is a PhD Candidate at the Frost Centre for Canadian Studies and Indigenous Studies at Trent University. My main research interests include twentieth century Canadian literature and popular culture, specifically the interaction between political movements/ideologies and expressions of Canadian cultural nationalism(s) in texts written between 1940 and 1990. To this end, I have written and presented papers on the Tragically Hip and Gord Downie through the lens of cultural and celebrity studies. A related interest is in Canadian life-writing and biography in all its forms from across the twentieth century. I am currently working alongside Dr Whitney Lackenbauer, on the editing and publication of an Arctic Memoirs Series which will bring to light previously unpublished memoirs in accessible e-book format.

Interviewed by Derek Newman-Stille, MA, PhD ABD (They/Them)

An Interview with Nathan Caro Frechette on SFCanada

I have had the wonderful opportunity to do some writing for SFCanada and as an introductory interview, I was able to interview author and Renaissance Press editor Nathan Caro Frechette.

Here are some quotes from our interview:

“So often, our stories are told by people who’ve never even met a person like us. It’s not just a question of it being annoying or disappointing: it can be downright dangerous for us to be misrepresented.”

“As marginalized people, we tend to come up against huge and frequent barriers in everyday life that prevent us from doing a lot of things, or even existing in some spaces. Because of that, we tend to spend a lot of time thinking about solutions and possibilities that people who have fewer or no barriers would never think about, because those possibilities aren’t missing for them. So I think we have a natural ability to imagine worlds where these barriers are removed or worked around in original fashions.”

“Good representation matters now more than ever.”

“We were also noticing that a lot of the complaints from authors around us included the fact that there was a lot of gatekeeping in the publishing industry preventing marginalized authors from publishing, and since Renaissance was made to elevate the voices of those who were often left behind by the industry, it seemed like a natural conclusion that we would focus on marginalized authors.”

You can check out our interview at SFCanada here

Authors in Quarantine – Mark Leslie Lefebvre

With this this series, I am hoping to capture how this cultural moment is affecting our speculative fiction authors and how our authors are surviving during the COVID-19 outbreak

Spec Can: What have you been up to during the COVID-19 outbreak?

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: I’ve actually been re-discovering a creative exercise that I used to formerly use as a writing warm up. Writing parody lyrics to songs and poems. I have always enjoyed the way that such a bit of work forces you to fit something into a forced structure but take the meaning in a new direction. It becomes something with a familiar pattern and sound, but something new. And often, something humorous.

Early on during Covid-19 isolation, my partner Liz and I started creating parody music videos. I’d write the lyrics, then we’d workshop them into something, record the song, and then make a video. We put out “Stuck In This House Here With You” a parody of the old Steelers Wheel classic. But it’s not just a spoof, there’s a ‘story’ in the tale of two people forced into isolation with one another, initially finding the annoying things about it, and one another, then coming to realize how fortunate they both are to be stuck with THAT special other person.

Our second parody video was a compilation of short parodies of Rogers and Parton’s “Islands in the Stream” (Sharing Broadband Streams), Patsy Cline’s “Walking” (I Go Shoppin’), The Carpenters’ “There’s a Kind of Hush” (You Just Need to Hush), and others, done in the style of an old K-Tel commercial.

I then did short dad jokes converted into short films, and a Cheers-parody of me drinking alone in isolation called Mark’s Tavern.

Those exercises helped keep my creative juices flowing, satisfied the part of my soul that yearns to be a storyteller, but then helped re-clear the path to get back into the prose writing that I had initially been having trouble with when the lockdown and isolation from the pandemic first started.

Spec Can: How are you adapting to social distancing?

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Prior to the social distancing, I spent about 60% of my time working from home anyway, as a writer and a book industry representative. Just under half of my time was spent on the road, traveling to writer conferences, etc. So a lot of that time was spent in airports and hotels.

I do miss the fun of interacting with people in person, with the pleasures that come from exploring different locals, discovering great local micro and craft breweries, etc. So that has been a bit difficult. But I’ve doubled-down on doing virtual interviews with authors, both for my podcast, as well as the regular Draft2Digital live author spotlight interviews I’ve done. I’ve also done live readings and live beer and scotch tastings on my various social media outlets, as well as ongoing dad jokes. Just trying to do my job as a storyteller and entertainer – but that work also, as I mentioned already, reward me intrinsically.

Spec Can: How is the outbreak affecting your writing?

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Initially, it was stifling. I was feeling blocked and having difficulty focusing on the writing that I figured I would now have time to do – particularly with the cancelation of all the time-consuming travel. But, as I mentioned, I channeled that creativity into lyrics, music, videos, and that helped path the path to get back into writing.

I also looked at a series I had started and planned on working on a while back, my “Canadian Werewolf” novels, and decided it was time to make some forward progress on it. I had the previous two titles, THIS TIME AROUND (a short story), A CANADIAN WEREWOLF IN NEW YORK (a novel), re-branded with a cover designer I’d had, in time for the launch of the next book in that series STOWE AWAY (novella), as well as two other works in that series. I also invested in getting audiobooks out for them. That exercise has re-inspired me to dig back into the writing of those books.

I have also committed to writing another non-fiction book about the business of writing and publishing (WIDE FOR THE WIN in my Stark Publishing Solutions series to join THE 7 P’S OF PUBLISHING SUCCESS, KILLING IT ON KOBO, and AN AUTHOR’S GUIDE TO WORKING WITH LIBRARIES AND BOOKSTORES is slated for release in early 2021), as well as a couple of non-fiction ghost story books that have been on the back-burner for a while.

And I’m sure that the pandemic, in general, will also inform and inspire more works as time goes on. I think that most writers will agree that a good part of what we do is we absorb things around us, re-adapt the things we experience, see, hear, and feel into fiction, into poetry, into other forms of creativity. I look forward to both writing about, and reading what other writers and artists create from this.

Interviewed by Derek Newman-Stille, MA, PhD ABD (They/Them)

Mark Leslie Lefebvre is the author of more than twenty books that include fiction and thrillers, and paranormal non-fiction explorations. He has also edited numerous anthologies. With three decades of experience in bookselling and publishing, Mark is a seasoned and trusted book industry professional who embraces both traditional and indie publishing options. His website is: http://www.markleslie.ca.

Interview with Regina Hansen, August 2020

Spec Can: It’s great to chat with you again Regina. Last time we chatted was a couple of years ago and it will be wonderful to catch up. Can you start out by telling us a little bit about yourself?

Regina Hansen: Sure. I’m a writer and scholar of supernatural subjects. I was born on Prince Edward Island, raised partly there, then in Montreal. I moved to Massachusetts – where my mother’s family lives – when I was a teenager. I live in Somerville, Massachusetts with my husband and three kids. I’ve written a bunch of scholarly work, and some non-fiction for kids, and now have a YA novel coming out.

Spec Can: I am fascinated by the supernatural subjects that you research. Can you tell us a little bit more about those?

Regina Hansen: My scholarly research tends to be based in myth and religion, and how these are reflected in horror/fantasy film and television. I’ve written a lot about angels and demons and have a scholarly collection coming out with Jeffrey Weinstock – his idea – called Satan and Cinema. I’ve also worked on Stephen King – with Simon Brown, and on the TV series Supernatural, with Susan George. And somewhat related I’ve enjoyed writing on A Christmas Carol, on Neo Victorianism and Victorian Medievalism, but all with a mythic slant.

Spec Can: That is a fantastic scope of research. Do you find that your scholarly work informs your creative writing? Is there a lot of crossover in the ideas you explore?

Regina Hansen: I started studying and thinking about myth and folklore when I was very small, and so finding ways to work it into my scholarship was a joy. Of course, at the same time, I’ve always done creative work that makes use of myth and folklore. My upcoming novel combines stories I heard as a child from my Prince Edward Island family, as well as different elements of world mythology. Celtic, of course, because it’s set on PEI, but also going back much further — but that’s kind of a secret for those who end up reading the book.

Spec Can: Your book sounds absolutely amazing. Could you tell us a little bit about it?

Regina Hansen: Sure. It’s called The Coming Storm, and features a 15-year-old apprentice fiddle player named Beatrice MacNeil, or Beet — which is actually the nickname of one of my great-great-aunts, and I always thought it was kind of cool. Anyway, Beet’s older cousin, more like a brother, dies under mysterious circumstances, leaving behind his baby son. Beet decides to be the boy’s protector. This decision becomes much more dangerous when a woman — Marina Shaw — shows up trying to claim the boy.

Meanwhile there are all these tales of a shapeshifting sea creature and a woman who shows up at the sight of drownings and shipwrecks, singing a frightening but seductive song. Beet and her friends have to find a way to protect the baby and get to the bottom of the strange and scary events that have been happening in the town. Beet’s training in music will come in handy, but so will her learning to trust other people.

Spec Can: I love a good sea creature story. What inspired the focus on the sea? Have you had a long fascination with the sea?

Regina Hansen: Yes! The sea is the one place I am always happy.

I think it is being born on an island.

So combine that absolute joy whenever I am at the ocean with a love of folklore and music … that’s where the book came from.

Spec Can: One of my areas of interest is nissology (Island Studies), so I adore discussions of islands. In what way do you think your story is shaped by being an “island story”?

Regina Hansen: First of all it makes use of the geography and some history of a specific island, Prince Edward Island. But also, there’s this general character of island people where everyone tends to know each other and each other’s stories, a whole world in microcosm. I’ve spoken to people from other island about this. I have cousins from Martha’s Vineyard and friends from some of the Hawaiian islands, and you often hear the same thing, same experience of seeing someone in the bank and they say “Oh, are you staying and so an so’s cottage this year?”And you just met the person in the bank.

Spec Can: I love that closeness that islands can bring for people. How about you, personally – how do you think being from Prince Edward Island (PEI) has shaped you?

Regina Hansen: It probably shaped my sense of humour, the turns of phrase I use, the kinds of flowers I like, the fact that I like flowers at all! Seriously, the kinds of baking I do. My grandmother taught me to read and crochet. Spending every summer with my grandparents after we moved away, it helped me to appreciate peace and quiet, and clean air, and knowing when certain plants grow and what the tides are. Not being spoiled. I get a lot of that from both sides of my family, of course, but there are things I can do and that I know about that other people my age don’t know — everything from how to read a recipe using an oil stove to what sound certain birds make.

Spec Can: You mentioned that folk music was an important part of The Coming Storm. Can you tell us a little bit about how music has influenced your book and what inspired you to weave it through the story?

Regina Hansen: First of all, I come from a family of musicians. My father and brother are professional musicians. There are are also many performers on my mother’s side of the family. The kind of music in the book — folk or roots, music, fiddle music — that was something I heard all the time on the Island, on the radio and also live. Also my father has won awards for playing and promoting regional music and has a radio show called Bluegrass Island. There’s vocal music in the book, too. I’m an amateur singer — and have been taking lessons recently — I also used to play the trombone. All of this experience and training went into the book.

Spec Can: That is fantastic! Do you find that there is any Prince Edward Island folklore in the music you have encountered?

Regina Hansen: Yes, there are songs and tunes based on ghost stories and Island legends, like Lennie Gallant’s Tales of the Phantom Ship.

Spec Can: I always love a good ghost story. Could you tell us a little bit about some of the ghost stories you remember?

Regina Hansen: So some of them are very specific to the town where my Dad grew up and around there. There’s one about a woman who waited on a bridge for her son to return from seeing a girl she didn’t like. She died there, and now haunts the bridge — at least that’s what my Dad says. There are stories of people being seen in their homes when they were actually in the process of dying hundreds of miles away — some cultures call that a “fetch” although I never heard that term used. There are stories about the Devil showing up in disguise or of black dogs bringing omens. Some of these I heard from my family. Some were things kids talked about at swimming lessons.

I think you can hear these stories in a lot of places. I just happened to pay attention because like you I love a good ghost story.

Spec Can:You are living in Massachusetts now, have you noticed a difference between the way that ghost stories are told in Massachusetts versus how they are told in Prince Edward Island?

Regina Hansen: Interestingly there are a lot of similarities. There is a long historical connection between Massachusetts and Atlantic Canada.

I owe my existence to it.

Spec Can: Oh, fascinating! Can you tell us more?

Regina Hansen: Well, my parents met when my mother went up to the Island for school. She heard about what was then St Dunstan’s University from neighbours who were from PEI. Somerville, There was a period in the 70s when a third of the population of Somerville was originally from somewhere in the Maritimes. I still know people from Boston to Cape Cod who have family on Prince Edward Island, or in Antigonish or Cape Breton. My family and many others called the US the “Boston States.”

Spec Can: The Coming Storm is a Young Adult book. What got you interested in writing YA?

Regina Hansen: I’ve written all my life, but I focus on children’s and YA supernatural fiction because those were the books I most loved.They were my escape. They made my life better in every way. If I can, I would like to recreate for young readers the joy I experienced reading those books at 11, 12, 13, 14 years old. You know that feeling of hiding a way on a summer evening to read a book, that spiritual lift. I would love my work to do that for a kid.

Spec Can: What would it have meant to you to have a book like yours when you were a teen?

Regina Hansen: Honestly, in some ways I would just like to live up to some of the books I was lucky enough to read when I was a young teen. But I do think I would have liked to have encountered my heroine, Beet, as a teen. She’s strong and sort of vinegar-y. She’s from very limited means and has a lot of responsibility for a young girl, and she just does what she has to do. I personally understand that experience, and I also see in her women like my grandmothers and mother — good hearts in tough packages.

I really appreciate my agent and editor for not pushing me to decentralize the female character. Especially this character.

Spec Can: When is The Coming Storm coming out and how do we find it?

Regina Hansen: The Coming Storm is due summer 2021, so there’s a bit of wait still. It will be published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon and Schuster — and I couldn’t be happier.

Spec Can: Is there anything further you would like to add to our interview?

Regina Hansen: Only that I feel honored to be interviewed about this work.

Spec Can: I want to thank you for a fantastic interview and for taking the time out of your busy schedule to chat with me today. I am extremely excited to read The Coming Storm when it comes out!!

Regina M Hansen is the author of the forthcoming young adult supernatural novel The Coming Storm (Atheneum Summer 2021). She teaches at Boston University and (as Regina Hansen) is the co-editor (with Susan George) of Supernatural, Humanity and the soul: The Highway to Hell and Back, author/editor of Roman Catholicism in Fantastic Film (McFarland 2011) and co-editor (with Matthew Parfitt and Stephen Dilks) of the reader Cultural Conversations: The Presence of the Past (Bedford-St. Martins, 2001). Her recent scholarship has appeared in Science Fiction Film and Television and the anthologies Neo-Victorian Families (eds. Christian Gutleben and Marie-Luise Kohlke, Rodopi 2011) and Fathers in Victorian Fiction (ed. Natalie McKnight, Cambridge Scholars Press, 2011). She is also a contributor to The Ashgate Encyclopedia of Literary and Filmic Monsters (ed. Jeffrey Weinstock, Ashgate 2014), and has reviewed for The Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts.

Interviewed by Derek Newman-Stille, MA, PhD ABD (They/them)

An Interview with Terese M Pierre about her Book Look Makeovers and Poetry

Interviewed by Derek Newman-Stille

Spec Can: To start our interview, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Terese M Pierre: Sure! I’m a writer and editor, based in Toronto. At this point, I’m mainly writing poetry, but I also sometimes write essays, about my experiences in the writing community and my family. I’m also the senior editor of poetry at Augur Magazine, a speculative literature magazine in Toronto.

Spec Can: What inspired you to start doing Book Looks?

Terese M Pierre: I started doing book looks as a way to celebrate two novels that I had read and loved (Eternity Martis’s, “They Said This Would Be Fun,” and Tessa McWatt’s, “Shame On Me”) near the start of the quarantine. It was also during a time when I was feeling very down and fatigued, and wanted to use makeup as a creative outlet.

Terese M Pierre’s book look for Eternity Martis’ They Said This Would Be Fun
Cover photo for Eternity Martis’ They Said This Would Be Fun

Spec Can: Many of your Book Looks bring attention to books by marginalized authors. Can you tell us a bit about the importance of supporting marginalized authors and the way that your Book Looks highlight the important work being done?

Terese M Pierre: I didn’t start doing the book looks as a way to promote specific books or authors per se, but because it was fun and it made me happy. Later on, I chose to do book looks for marginalized authors to bring attention to the great work they were doing, their craft and skill and talent. Some people online would comment that they had never heard of the books that I was doing, which I found interesting. Since the pandemic started, a lot of in-person book launches were cancelled, so it was important for me to promote the books of marginalized authors at that time—maybe it was a kind of marketing, hopefully they found it helpful. Nowadays, I’m doing a lot of Black American authors, to show my support their art during a time of great turmoil.

Terese M Pierre’s book look for jaye simpson’s It Was Never Going to be Okay
Cover photo for jaye simpson’s It Was Never Going to be Okay

Spec Can: How did you come to be interested in make up art? What inspired you to get into make up art?

Terese M Pierre: I turned 19 and decided that it was time for me to start wearing makeup. I don’t know why—maybe I associated it with adulthood, like alcohol. Still, I barely touched the makeup I had for a few years, save for special occasions. I started watching YouTube tutorials to practice. I think my makeup book looks are quite conservative, to be honest, or perhaps, more wearable. At the time when I started doing book looks, makeup was the only thing I had around that I felt most comfortable using. It would have always been my first choice.

Terese M Pierre’s book look for Jordan Ifueko’s Raybearer
Cover photo for Jordan Ifueko’s Raybearer

Spec Can: Make up art is highly personal, literally using your own face as a canvas. What is that experience like — to literally be part of your art?

Terese M Pierre: While it is incredibly personal, I try not to see it that way. My face is very front-and-center, and it’s very easy for me to get caught up on my blemishes, how wide my cheeks are, how my skin tone is “clashing” with the makeup. There are makeup book looks I’ve shared that I didn’t personally like, but I knew that other people might not see it the same way I did. At the same time, knowing that my face is necessarily part of the art has made me more confident. I’m finding things about my face that I love.

Terese M Pierre’s book look for Tochi Onyebuchi’s Riot Baby
Cover photo for Tochi Onyebuchi’s Riot Baby

Spec Can: What is it like to have your own art work (in the form of make-up) in conversation with another artist’s work – the book cover artist? How do you decide what elements to pull out of the book art and adapt?

Terese M Pierre: As I like to make my looks a little more wearable, there are a limited number of eye shapes I can do. After I choose one, it’s a matter of picking which colour goes where. I love colourful covers for this reason. If there are other details on the cover, such as leaves, flowers, smoke, wings, and the like, I add them where it makes sense, to the best of my artistic abilities. I don’t think I go too off-base when it comes to interpreting the cover-artist’s art. I know I don’t—and can’t—get things perfectly. A few cover artists have reached out to say they liked my makeup look, and that meant a lot to me. I like that they still appreciate my iteration of their art.

Terese M Pierre’s book look for Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon
Cover Photo for Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon

Spec Can: What are some of your favourite colour palettes for your book looks?

Terese M Pierre: I like blue/purple palettes, and sunset (red/orange/yellow/pink) palettes. They’re really easy to blend, and I think they look great on me.

Terese M Pierre’s book look for Tade Thompson’s The Rosewater Redemption
Cover photo for Tade Thompson’s The Rosewater Redemption

Spec Can: What are some of the books that you were the most excited to create Book Looks for and what did these books mean to you?

Terese M Pierre: The book looks for the first two books I did (Eternity Martis’s, “They Said This Would Be Fun,” and Tessa McWatt’s, “Shame On Me”) were the ones I believe I was the most excited to make. It meant a lot to me to showcase the new work of Black women. I’m always most excited to do book looks for Black women authors.

Spec Can: How have authors responded when they have seen you perform your Book Looks on social media?

Terese M Pierre: Almost all authors who’ve seen the book looks that I make—I tag them on Twitter, but they don’t always see it—have responded positively, and have shared the looks with their audiences. What I always try to get across is that doing makeup book looks is that I’m doing this for fun, not for work.

Terese M Pierre’s book look for Amanda Leduc’s Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space
Cover photo for Amanda Leduc’s Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space

Spec Can: I know I said that I was going to focus on Book Looks, but if you have time, could you tell us a little bit about your own poetry and your recent chap book Manifest?

Terese M Pierre: I write a lot about nature and romance, and the variations those themes could take. A lot of my poetry—like my first chapbook, Surface Area—deal with desire, tension and self-reflection regarding love and (in)dependence. My second chapbook, Manifest, is something different for me. It’s entirely composed of speculative fantasy poems, and it’s the first time I’m putting out something in that style—it’s sort of an experiment. I’d only started writing speculative/fantasy poetry in the past year, but when I performed my work at readings, they were well-received. Hopefully this chapbook is well-received, too.

Spec Can: In your poem “Fortune”, you focus on foods and the visceral quality of food, but food takes on meanings of space, place, and identity. What guided your interest in places and their relationship to food?

Terese M Pierre: For me, the focus of that poem was the relationship between the speaker and their beloved, and food was a means through which love was expressed. The fact that the beloved made the effort to find the brand of ice cream the speaker loves was part of that emphasis on connection and love. Food—the ice cream in this case—in this poem, is a path to learning about someone’s history, their fears, their desires, especially a person who is not immediately trusting. I try, whenever I can, to ground my poems in concrete things—physical places and foods, and the relationships they bring, are ways in which I can do that.

Spec Can: In your poem “Lines”, what inspired your linking of place and story? What do you notice about the way that places where we have lived are linked to the stories we tell… and perhaps have shaped our own stories?

Terese M Pierre: As someone who’s lived in 3 countries, location, narrative, and memory were interesting things to think about in the context of relationships. We are physical people—the way we move through the world is filtered through our bodies and where our bodies are, the space we take up. I think that the fact that different bodies can experience the same space differently is fascinating, and can definitely inform stories in unique ways. I try to consider that when writing poetry—the speaker isn’t me, so how do they move about the world? What space does their body take up? What stories can they tell? Trying to inhabit the world of the poem and the mind of the speaker in the context of bodies and space is a challenge that never gets old.

Spec Can: Are there any resources that you would like to point fans to so that they can support your work?

Terese M Pierre: I have a website, www.teresemasonpierre.com, and that’s where most of the links to my work are, as well as where to go to pre-order my chapbook. I’m afraid I don’t have anything else, but I’m always happy when others support my work.


Spec Can: I want to thank Terese M Pierre for taking the time to share some of her amazing Book Looks on Facebook and Twitter and for taking the time to chat here on Speculating Canada about her brilliant art work.


Terese Mason Pierre is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in Canthius, The Puritan, Quill and Quire, and Strange Horizons, among others. She is currently the Senior Poetry Editor of Augur Magazine, a Canadian speculative literature journal. Terese has also previously volunteered with Shab-e She’r poetry reading series, and facilitated creative writing workshops. Terese lives and works in Toronto.

Interviewed by Derek Newman-Stille, MA, PhD ABD (They/Them)

Authors in Quarantine – Julie Czerneda

With this this series, I am hoping to capture how this cultural moment is affecting our speculative fiction authors and how our authors are surviving during the COVID-19 outbreak

Spec Can: What have you been up to during the COVID-19 outbreak?

Julie Czerneda: It’s been work as normal for us in many ways, especially coming out of winter. I turned in a book in February and the next is due early June. That’s a good pace. My publisher, DAW Books, has all their staff working from home and eager to see material flow. As I’d already been driving hard to turn in my current WIP, SPECTRUM, early, to give me more time ahead for a “secret project,” I haven’t lacked motivation. Now? Because spring is like a tonic, especially to see the green things and birds, the struggle to balance outside and office is pretty familiar. It’s not a bad thing.

Spec Can: How are you adapting to social distancing?

Julie Czerneda: I’m very fortunate to live with my best friend and partner (coming up to 44 years, btw) Roger. We have offices and room to roam in our house, and much to do. For breaks and exercise, we love walks and biking, so that’s all good. I won’t lie, it’s agony at times being apart from the rest of our family and friends. Videos of loved ones are bittersweet. Sometimes I’ll sniffle a while afterwards. Not being able to help is the worst, but we know we’re protecting one another and are in it together. The end of this will come.

Like many, I can say we’re getting a great deal done on several fronts simply because we’re not leaving town or dividing our time. Oh, and I must applaud Roger for being our designated Seeker of Needful Things. I haven’t shopped since March 14th. (When I bought my wonderful new keyboard, so there’s that.)

Spec Can: How is the outbreak affecting your writing?

Julie Czerneda: I am grateful to be writing Esen. She’s family and joy, along with the suspense, and there’s a great release in finding new weird aliens around every corner. I don’t know if I could have written MAGE during this. Maybe. Glad I don’t have to find out.

The first week I couldn’t focus as well. The significance of the news was overwhelming–trouble with a science background, we both had a sense of how huge the problem would become. By the second, I’d regained my rhythm, but my daily word count was down maybe 20% overall until lately. (I track it) I do allow myself to walk away, then try again later. We leave the news till after our workday, as best we can. That helps. Plus we’re wary of what we watch or read for pleasure. Some themes cut too close right now and that’s normal.

Fortunately, the new book has hit the climatic portion–so much happens!–and that’s always the smoothest/fastest for me to write. I’m already seeing my numbers head back to normal. As for tone…that’s interesting. When I need to decompress, I’ve gravitated to rereading favourite mysteries, Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe. Bonus? That tingly sense of oooh REVEAL CLUE!!!! has crept in to my story, which is fun.

Coffee and cheesecake from the local bakery

Interviewed by Derek Newman-Stille, MA, PhD ABD

Authors in Quarantine – James Alan Gardner

With this this series, I am hoping to capture how this cultural moment is affecting our speculative fiction authors and how our authors are surviving during the COVID-19 outbreak

Spec Can: What have you been up to during the COVID 19 outbreak?

James Alan Gardner: Writing, reading, and playing computer games. Lately, I’ve also been playing a lot of tabletop role-playing games via Zoom. Gaming is good way of interacting with people; I’d feel a little strange just calling people up and talking to them, but playing games together makes things a bit more structured than just chatting.

Spec Can: How are you adapting to social distancing?

James Alan Gardner: I went to buy groceries this afternoon, and I felt as if shoppers were far less scrupulous about distancing than even a week ago. Personally, I still try to maintain the 2-metre distance, but it’s difficult when other people are less cautious. Something I reflect on when I go for a walk around my neighbourhood (which I do every day): a few months ago, it would have been horrendously rude to cross over to the other side of the street when you see someone coming toward you. Now, it’s civic virtue.

Spec Can: How is the outbreak affecting your writing?

James Alan Gardner: I’ve been working on the third draft of a novel throughout the quarantine, and for better or worse, most of the basics of the story are staying pretty much as they were in the previous draft. In other words, the disease isn’t having much effect on the work itself. But what about future work? How much will COVID-19 affect fiction in all the years to come…especially now when most of what I write takes place in a contemporary setting (albeit in a fictionalized world)? What will SF look like in two years? I think about that a lot. There should be huge effects, but I don’t think I’m ready to face that yet.


Interviewed by Derek Newman-Stille, MA, PhD ABD

Authors in Quarantine – Douglas Smith

With this this series, I am hoping to capture how this cultural moment is affecting our speculative fiction authors and how our authors are surviving during the COVID-19 outbreak

A pic of our backyard from the room where I write. Centred in it hanging from the tree is a bird feeder which keeps my attention throughout the day. At least the birds are free to roam in the world.

Spec Can: What have you been up to during the COVID-19 outbreak?

Douglas Smith: Thank you for inviting me to participate in this discussion on Speculating Canada. What have I been up to? Basically, staying home with my wife and our youngest son. We’ve shopped online more in the past two months than any previous two years. We’re both in a high-risk category for the virus, so we’ve moved to ordering online and doing delivery or curbside pickup at stores for everything.

Spec Can: How are you adapting to social distancing?

Douglas Smith: Lots of video calls with family, friends, and writing friends. I’d worked in global roles for about 15 years, so I was used to lots of video calls and meetings, but for business, not social. Now it’s weekly calls with family, a couple of times a month for virtual game nights with friends, playing bridge online with my wife. And our regular weekend trips to the movies have moved online, too, of course.

Interestingly, the situation has increased some social contacts. I now have a monthly call with a group of friends from around the world from one of the global jobs I held, where we used to get together physically once every couple of years. And I’ve reconnected via Zoom with a writer friend I hadn’t seen for almost a decade. 

I also have a daily “writing sprint” Zoom call with my critique group, where we chat for a bit then do 25-minute Pomodoro writing sessions, then chat some more. Rinse and repeat for a couple of hours every afternoon. We set it up as a standing daily call, but I don’t think any of us expected we’d all show up every day, but that’s generally what’s happened. We’ve moved our critique meetings online, as well.

I was scheduled to give a series of three workshops up at the Newmarket library in April, based on my writer’s guide, Playing the Short Game: How to Market & Sell Short Fiction. The in-person workshops were cancelled, but we managed to move them online to great success. I’ll be giving another in the series online on June 18 to the Writers Community of York Region.

I work out at home. I still get out cycling, but only around our area here in Markham, and I wear a buff as a mask and stick to the streets. We have great ravine and park cycling paths here but sadly they’re too crowded to maintain social distancing. The upside is that there are much fewer cars on the roads these days.

Spec Can: How is the outbreak affecting your writing?

Douglas Smith: The daily writing sprint Zoom calls with my critique group have helped. I wrote a new 10,000-word short story (ok, yeah, not so short at 10k) in April using those meetings. Hopefully, the powers-that-be aren’t monitoring my search history, because my research for that one included “How long does it take to dig a grave?” I had a scary number of writer friends provide detailed answers. I don’t think I want to know how they know, you know?

Now, I’m trying to get back into writing book 3 of an urban fantasy trilogy I’ve been working on. I’d be curious to know what writers are reporting. My productivity varies, I’m finding. A new 10,000-word story in a month is good for me (I’m a slow writer and 10k in a story is harder than 10k in a novel). But there are days when I struggle to make any progress on any creative tasks.

There is a sameness to the days now. Even when you’re talking to different people on video calls, you’re still sitting at the same computer screen at the same desk. I used to shake up my writing routine by switching locations where I wrote—the local library, different coffee shops, as well as at home. These days, my options are limited to what room I sit in.

But it’s also given me time to do some much delayed work on my website, including setting up a new online store. As a thank you for this interview, your readers, if they wish, can use the discount code SPEC-CDA-25 on my store to get a 25% discount on all titles for the next few weeks.


Interviewed by Derek Newman-Stille, MA, PhD ABD

Authors in Quarantine – Ursula Pflug

With this this series, I am hoping to capture how this cultural moment is affecting our speculative fiction authors and how our authors are surviving during the COVID-19 outbreak

Spec Can: What have you been up to during the COVID-19 outbreak?

Ursula Pflug: Folks have told me they feel as though they are living in one of my stories and there is a story in my third collection, Seeds and Other Stories, which has just gone to press, that’s about a pandemic.

Seeds is launching virtually on June 11 — it’s possible to register online in advance — please do. This book spans decades, it includes work that has appeared in award winning genre and literary publications in the US and the UK as well as at home in Canada. It’s my third collection and is coming out from Inanna, a Toronto scholarly and feminist press. The cover, which includes seeds and spaceships, is by Val Fullard who does all the Inanna covers. I know her from the old days in the Queen West scene in Toronto when she played in women’s bands with mutual friends. It’s one of my fave covers ever, and illustrates the cover story.

The pandemic story is called “Judy”, and was first published in 1983 in This Magazine, back when it was still edited by Lorraine Filyer. The first line is “That was the summer all the non smokers died”, and it follows a citizen scientist who stays up all night crunching data and then joins her roommates on the roof for a drink and to watch the sunrise. They’ve been there partying all night and mock her, just a little, but it’s her science that makes the correlations between smoking and survival. My husband is high risk not just because he’s over 65 but because he smokes and he was gratified when I told him about this surreal science fictional premise.

I spent the early days of lock down in copy-edits for this book, the usual fiddly and time consuming back and forth and it was actually a welcome relief because while the amazing Luciana Ricciutelli and I discussed whether hanafuda, liliko’i, poi, and wasabi should be italicized (yes, yes, yes, no) time went by during which I wasn’t, gratefully, thinking about Covid at all.

Spec Can: How are you adapting to social distancing?

Ursula Pflug: We spend a lot of time working at home together anyway so our life hasn’t appreciably changed. I lost an eight week spring workshop — I prefer classroom teaching to online teaching. I’ve been doing more mentoring by email, mainly for short stories and do feel free to get in touch if you’re interested — but I do miss socializing with other bodies. Sometimes I organize drop offs or pickups of car seats or plants with friends and neighbours just so we can chat in the yard for a while. A good friend in Victoria has organized a weekly Happy Hour on Zoom for members of the electronic arts community and that has now become something we look forward to.

I felt shamed by all the baking pics on social media and made muffins. The muffins were good, but I gave up baking for a reason. Not so the victory garden. I’ve been an avid organic vegetable gardener for decades but in the last few years cut back, largely because our raised beds have gone feral and now are filled with jewelweed (Impatiens capensis), used in traditional indigenous medicine as an antidote to poison ivy. It’s beloved by pollinators — enough reason to not rip it out so I can give the beds back to tomatoes. Instead, we’re building new ones. We plan to fill them by the ancient method of Hügelkultur or hill culture. It’s a permaculture method hailing from Germany and Eastern Europe that no one here had ever heard of but which now shows up in our feeds not quite as often as sourdough but close. I’m only a little smug about being able to pronounce it properly. We are putting more time and effort into resusitating the garden than in recent years and glad of it. For one thing, we will be able to share with friends and neighbours who are living exclusively on their CERB. 

I’ve been on the Sunburst Award jury for short fiction. I stepped in as one of the jury members dropped out when the reading period had already begun. My wonderful fellow jurors were Sarah Tolmie and Omar el Akkad and we had interesting video chats — Portland, Toronto, Peterborough. I lobbied for WhatsApp, so dead simple you’re unlikely to say embarassing things in a livestream to Facebook from Zoom meeting as I have in fact recently done. Your friends, family and colleagues will love you once they have used it for the first time. We have an amazing Sunburst shortlist this year and the winning story is by a writer I hadn’t yet known which is always a delight. Stay tuned.

We’re both over 60 so we’re not really supposed to go to the store unless we go from 7- 8 a.m. However morning brain, as I call it to Doug, is the time during which one which can most efficiently edit so I’m not going to waste it sanitizing my hands and wandering the  aisles while trying to remember not to touch the cans. As well as being in the semi-retired demographic a lot of our friends are wildcrafters. We figure, if you don’t want to go to the store, you can go outside and pick dinner. Today it will be day lily sprouts, a first for me. Staying healthy isn’t based only on social distancing and hand washing, important as these are, but also on what you put in your body and wild foods will boost your immune system more than spaghetti. Trent Hills Homegrown Hamper delivers prepared meals from The Bakery in Warkworth and we have almost grown tired of their amazing Shepherd’s Pie. 

I read The Plague by Albert Camus. It was possibly rec’d online by Sang Kim who like me is a Camus fan. I read a digital library copy from Overdrive. This book was startling as it describes, note for note, what we are going through — quarantine, both fudged and effective official responses, the scramble for vaccines, hardworking medical staff, community solidarity, tragic losses, the effects of separation. It was published in ’47 and is considered an allegory for the occupation of France. As a description of an epidemic it’s eerily familiar. Not for the faint of heart but brilliant and startling for its echoes.

There’s a 6 k walk on the side roads around my village and I do it almost every day, Covid or not. I get ideas but mostly I clear my head. There are more people out walking now; we wave and stay on our own sides of the road. And I observe birds, even though I’m not really a birder. There are often ravens fluttering around the hydro poles, and on the fence of one of the farms there is a sign which reads, Raven Predation Project Participant. Me being me I had to find out what raven predation was so I went home and looked it up. The raven predation project is a Ministry of Agriculture initiative. Apparently ravens will prey on livestock, pecking out the eyeballs of living sheep and other animals. Now when I come home Doug says, “I see you foiled the ravens and still have your eyeballs.” I am not making this up. If I was a horror writer I would use it but I’m not. Go ahead and you’re welcome.

Shameless self promotion for June 11 virtual book launch:

https://www.crowdcast.io/e/inanna-booklaunch1/register

Join us for a virtual evening of readings and revelry featuring Lisa Braxton, author of The Talking Drum, Paul Butler, author of Mina’s Child, April Ford, author of Carousel, Rebecca Luce-Kapler, author of The Negation of Chronology: Imagining Geraldine Moodie, and Ursula Pflug, author of Seeds and Other Stories. Books discounted for event, Author Q & A & more! https://www.inanna.ca/


Ursula Pflug is author or editor of ten novels, novellas, edited anthologies and story collections. Her fiction has appeared in Canada, the US and the UK, in award winning genre and literary publications including Lightspeed, Fantasy, Strange Horizons, Postscripts, Leviathan, Now Magazine and Bamboo Ridge. Her books have been endorsed by Jeff VanderMeer, Tim Wynne-Jones, Candas Jane Dorsey, Charles DeLint, Mathew Cheney, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Heather Spears and others. Her short stories have been taught in universities in Canada and India, and she has collaborated extensively with filmmakers, playwrights, choreographers and installation artists. Her fiction has won small press awards abroad and been a finalist for the Aurora, ReLit and KM Hunter Awards as well as the 3 Day Novel and Descant Novella Contests at home. Pflug’s work has been funded by The Ontario Arts Council, the Canada Council for the Arts and The Laidlaw Foundation. A new reprint collection, Seeds, is forthcoming in May. (Photo Credit Andy Carroll).

Interviewed by Derek Newman-Stille, MA, PhD ABD

Authors in Quarantine – Kate Heartfield

With this this series, I am hoping to capture how this cultural moment is affecting our speculative fiction authors and how our authors are surviving during the COVID-19 outbreak

Spec Can: What have you been up to during the COVID-19 outbreak?

Kate Heartfield: The priority has been distance learning for my 10-year-old son, and I’ve also carried on with my regular freelance editing and online teaching jobs, in addition to trying to keep up with writing.

Even though I haven’t really had any extra time, I have been starting all kinds of new creative projects, because it helps my mental health. Projects help to remind me that today is different from yesterday and tomorrow will be different again, that change will happen. And I’ve always used work as a coping mechanism, rightly or wrongly! So in addition to everything else, I’ve been painting and assembling a hurdy-gurdy from a kit, baking a lot, and trying to get my garden in decent shape. I’ve signed up for an online course in Old Norse, because I figure, if not now, when? A lot of my projects (such as baking bread and making masks) also serve to help our household cope with the pandemic.

I’ve also been allowing myself the time to do a fair bit of relaxation activity, such as playing Civilization VI (my comfort game!) and watching TV with my partner and son. We just finished Tales from the Loop and are currently finishing up the last season of Clone Wars together.

Spec Can: How are you adapting to social distancing?

Kate Heartfield: Our household is pretty fortunate, all things considered. My partner, my son and I are all introvert homebodies at the best of times, so on a day to day basis it doesn’t feel that strange. But the uncertainty about the future, the stress of distance learning and the inability to see people I love is wearing, for sure. I feel like my heart is a rubber band that’s been stretched into the same position for two months and is weakening at the edges.

I’ve been using Zoom and other online platforms to keep in touch as much as I can with my writing community, although I miss all my writer pals terribly and nothing can make up for their physical presence. I’m taking part in two virtual conventions this month, including the Nebula awards weekend at the end of May, and that helps to keep me in touch too.

Spec Can: How is the outbreak affecting your writing?

Kate Heartfield: My creative brain is my coping mechanism, so I’m enjoying dreaming and plotting out my current novel. But when it comes time to sit down and write, I frequently struggle these days with a kind of brain freeze — I can’t execute and get the words down very well. An effect of long-term low-level stress, I think, and I’m sure a lot of us are feeling the same way. Also, I’ve lost a lot of the options I used to have to get into a fresh headspace by going to work at the library or my favourite coffee shop, which sounds trivial but was a bigger part of my working life than I realized.

So it’s slower than I’d like, but I’m getting work done. Soon, my editor will send some edits for my next novel, The Embroidered Book, which is coming out next year. When that happens, that will become my writing priority. In the meantime, I’m working on a novel that isn’t sold yet, so I don’t have a deadline, which is a blessing in some ways as it means there’s less stress, but it also makes it hard to keep at it, because writing a novel on spec is an implicit act of faith in the future and that’s hard right now. I really love the book, so that’s helping. I also wrote a story for The New Decameron Project, which was great, because it gave me a reason to take out an old half-finished concept and finish it up. The result was a story called “In a Hansom Cab at the Liberty Street Ferry Terminal” and it gave me great joy to write.


Interviewed by Derek Newman-Stille MA, PhD ABD