Roy Blomstrom, born in Port Arthur (now Thunder Bay), Ontario, is the son of Finland-Swede parents who lived through the Finnish Civil War and came to Canada. His first novel, Silences: A Novel of the 1918 Finnish Civil War, was shortlisted for the Whistler Independent Book Award and the Northern Lit award. Roy has published poetry, stories, and essays. His ten-minute plays have been produced in Thunder Bay, Ontario; Helsinki, Finland; and at the Brighton Fringe Festival. He lives and writes in Shuniah, a community north of Thunder Bay, Ontario. You can find him online at www.royblomstrom.ca; more information about him is also available at www.shuniahhousebooks.com.
Shauna Kosoris: What was the inspiration for your new novel, The Iterations of Caroline?
Roy Blomstrom: That’s a good question. I don’t rely on just one inspiration. For me, the starting point for something with the potential to become good reading always begins with a question. The question pops into my head, selects its own genre, picks its own characters, and suggests its own plot and denouement. Rarely does the written project end up being what I thought it’d be like when I started writing. I’m as surprised by what happens as my reader is. So normally, there are many, many individual inspirations – each one clamoring for a little space once I begin to write.
One of the early mini-inspirations for this novel was to make the backbone of the story a journey. I had a road map of North America, so I decided to build some of the plot around a roughly circular trip from Thunder Bay to the Yukon to California, then following old Route 66 to Chicago, and thence back to Thunder Bay via Duluth.
Another inspiration was to incorporate the multiverse into the storyline. One of the scenes, for instance, is set in Kingman, Arizona, where, in the real world in July of 1973, a train pulling cars of liquified propane blew up and almost levelled the whole city. I remember seeing news footage of the accident and its consequences. The multiverse allowed for a much more tragic result of the explosion. Plus, it was useful as a device for illustrating that the villain was becoming increasingly powerful.
When I had first started thinking about writing The Iterations of Caroline, one of my thoughts included an image of someone standing between two mirrors – one in front and one behind – and seeing an infinite number of images of himself. That image, modified, became the start of the novel and turned out to be rich in opportunities and consequences.
And, slowly, day by day the novel built itself.
In the book, your main character, David Williamson, almost runs into a mirror version of himself, but later finds himself travelling through a multiverse. Did you originally set out to explore a multiverse, or were you originally intending to stick with only one alternate universe?
The first major decision I made as I began to write the novel was whether I should clarify David’s situation or keep it fuzzy. Fuzzy won. On I went to writing page two. I was as curious to know what would happen next as I hoped the reader would be. The first page, after all, would set the structure of the entire novel. If I was in David Williamson’s shoes, I decided, I wouldn’t know what was going on, so I couldn’t let him know it either – at least not for a while. I was pretty sure that I’d come up with something.
Your first book, Silences: a Novel of the 1918 Finnish Civil War, was historical fiction. What drew you to science fiction for your new novel?
I’ve been an avid reader of science fiction since I was about eight years old. I began with comic books. They gave me a love of science fiction (once I could read more than the pictures), and then got me hooked on historical fiction. When I became a high-school teacher I got to teach both genres. When I retired from teaching, I got to devote time to writing both. Life doesn’t get much better than that.
Did your writing process change when moving from one genre to the other?
Some elements of it did, some didn’t. Both historical fiction and science fiction require a ton of research. In my view, the storyline of a work of historical fiction needs to be true to its time period and to the known actions of any of its historical characters. Similarly, science fiction demands no tinkering with “magical” science, no violations of the cube-square law. (That’s the law which explains why you’d weigh eight times as much as you do now if you doubled your height but kept your good looks.) Break the cube-square law and you’re writing fantasy – not science fiction.
In either genre, the characters have to behave realistically. That’s what gives science fiction its ability to make the reader identify with the protagonist, and dislike the villain – even when the storyline drags the reader into the currently implausible.
Along with writing novels, you also write short fiction, poetry, essays, plays, and nonfiction. Do you have a preference for one form over the others?
One of the things I enjoy about writing is that the various genres provide writer and reader a variety of rewards. I love to read short fiction aloud, for instance – especially to an audience. I like being able to write poetry that is both linguistically and visually interesting. Essays reward me with the chance to argue for or against something that is important to me, and they challenge me to express my ideas briefly and with emotion. When my plays are produced I like to watch the audience to see how it is reacting – especially to that scene I worked so long on. And as for nonfiction . . . what writer wants to miss the sound of his own voice pontificating?
So having worked in so many different genres, what are you working on now?
Currently I have finished the first drafts of two more science fiction novels and one historical novel – a companion to Silences. I’m also working on a book of poetry (60 poems finished so far), and I’m putting together a family-history package of written material (stories, photos, documents, and bios) to pass on to my children and grandchildren.
Good luck with everything! Let’s finish up with a few questions about reading. What book or author inspired you to write?
Oddly, it was neither a book nor an author. It was my grade five and six teacher at Oliver Road School, Mrs. Cupples, who gave me a love of literature and, indirectly, writing. Once a week – sometimes more frequently – she had me read to our class for half an hour. She would pick a novel, a good one, and set me the job of holding the class’s attention while she marked some papers. I got hooked on the sound of my own voice, the quiet of the classroom, and the attention of the class. And, of course, on the magic of the printed words which had the power to make all that happen, as well as to catch and hold the attention of the class’s most hyperactive students.
What a fantastic opportunity! Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?
Some years ago, Roxanne Coady and Joy Johannessen edited a book called The Book That Changed My Life. Seventy-one writers contributed essays that backed a personal choice. Except for one exception, no book was chosen more than once. Two writers selected To Kill a Mockingbird.
When my children were young, I used to tell them bedtime stories. I made them up as I told them. The one they remember best was the story of a locomotive that learned to climb trees.
So no, I don’t think there’s an “everyone should read it” book. If you aspire to be a writer, however, I think reading The Book That Changed My Life could give you a broader sense of what readers and writers value in their personal choices.
The best book I’ve read this year is The Road by Cormac McCarthy.
And what are you currently reading?
Since I belong to a book club, the next book I read will be Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel. Currently I’m in between books. But I also like crime fiction, especially those by Carol O’Connell—they’re puzzles.