Tag Archives: Short Stories

Paris for One and Other Stories by Jojo Moyes

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In the follow-up to her bestselling novels, Me before You and After You, author Jojo Moyes has published  an  eclectic  collection of nine short stories each from a woman’s perspective and dealing with  a variety of themes from troubled relationships to near magical shoes. The longest story in the set is “Paris for One” and centres on Nell who by her own admission is “not the adventurous type”, but has given up a planned trip to Brighton to have a romantic trip to Paris with her boyfriend, Peter.  At the outset it is clear that Peter has no intention of joining her, and instead of following her routine inclinations and cancelling, she embarks for Paris on her own.  The weekend does not start promisingly when Nell finds her hotel has double booked her and she spends the first night sharing with a stranger.  Preserving she soon discovers the delights of the city and the company of an attractive Frenchman named Fabien.

My favourite tale is “Between the Tweets”  and follows a formerly popular TV personality with a squeaky clean image and sinking ratings.  Mr. Travis is being trolled on the internet by a woman who claims to have had a spicy relationship with him.  The story is a delight about a PR nightmare with an unusual twist.

Each tale in this collection is intriguingly written, and  the characters are well drawn (if not necessary all entirely likeable) using dialogue for the most part mixed with subtle narration . Moyes experience as a journalist as well as a fiction writer is evident in the succinct  use of description that give the barest of details and leaves much to the reader’s imagination.

This would be a great and quick read for Moyes fans and anyone would relishes the joys of an interesting short story.

 

Interview with Michael Christie

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Mike-ChristieMichael Christie is the author of If I Fall, If I Die, which was longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, won the Northern Lit Award, and was selected as a New York Times Editors’ Choice. His collection of short stories, The Beggar’s Garden, was longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, a finalist for the Writers’ Trust Prize for Fiction, and won the Vancouver Book Award. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Globe & Mail. He holds an MFA from the University of British Columbia, and prior to his MFA, he was a sponsored skateboarder and travelled throughout the world skateboarding and writing for skateboard magazines. Born in Thunder Bay, Ontario, he now lives on Galiano Island with his wife and two sons.  You can find him online at Michael Christie Dot Net.  He’ll be presenting a workshop this Saturday at Mary Black; head to nowwwriters.ca for more details!

Shauna Kosoris: If I Fall, If I Die is about the son of a woman with crippling agoraphobia who starts to venture Outside of their house.  Why did you write about this relationship, specifically from the son’s perspective?

Michael Christie: My mom suffered from agoraphobia while I was growing up. And Diane, Will’s mother in my novel, is partially based on her. I told much of Diane’s story from Will’s perspective because a child’s limited perspective of their parent’s behaviour is such a powerful and sad way for the reader to see them. I know from personal experience that any child of a mentally ill parent is very good at watching and observing, and Will is no different.

Your book is written from a third-person limited perspective.  Did you try any other points of view before settling on this one?

That’s a very good question! Point of view is something that I talk about a great deal whenever I teach creative writing. And my first book, The Beggar’s Garden, featured a good mix of first and third person, told in both present and past tense. But for this novel, it seemed like the third person limited was the best choice. Perhaps, I suspect, because the first person narration of a ten year-old boy is very difficult to pull off, and could really wear the reader down over 300 pages.

Yes, I guess it would be.  Why did you set If I Fall, If I Die in Thunder Bay, specifically in Port Arthur/County Park? Is that the area you grew up in?

Yes, you’re right, I did grow up in the Grandview area of Port Arthur, and much of the landscape of the novel is lifted from my own childhood: the culvert under the Expressway, the townhouses of County Park, Sir John A. Macdonald Public School, the grain elevators by the lake. I really wanted to capture that awe-inspiring beauty of Thunder Bay that I knew when I was growing up.

You definitely succeeded; I loved reading your elaborate descriptions of the area.  You later moved to Vancouver partly to pursue professional skateboarding. Is this why skateboarding features so prominently in your novel?

It is. Skateboarding has always been a huge part of my life. It’s truly a beautiful artform, and I really wanted to do it justice and to describe that beauty in this novel, because I felt like no one had done it successfully. It’s also a great metaphor for Will’s journey out from the safety of his home into the dangers of the world.

Thinking of dangers of the world, why did you have the ending of the novel follow Will rather than his mother, Diane?

Another great question. I did have another chapter written from Diane’s perspective in the first draft of the book, but it really lacked narrative tension, and I felt like I could say everything I needed to say about the change that Diane undergoes through Will’s voice. I wanted the reader left wondering about Diane, and wanted to avoid any kind of easy resolution to what is a terrifically difficult problem for her to overcome.

So what are you working on now?

I’m writing another novel. It’s a family saga, told over 120 years. It’s been great fun so far. But I can tell it’s going to take me years to finish. Hopefully not 120.

Hopefully not!  You write about people from many different walks of life, but seem to have a particular attraction to telling the stories of marginalized people (including the Aboriginal people in If I Fall, If I Die, and the crackheads and mental patients you write about in Beggar’s Garden). What attracts you to their stories?

I really don’t consciously set out to tell the stories of “marginal” people in my work, it’s more just that I find stories about people from all stations of society interesting. I mean, what is the purpose of literature anyway? To describe the lives of happy, healthy, well-adjusted people? Boring! But now that I’ve been doing this for a while, I’ve realized that I just love to attempt to demonstrate through my writing just how similar all of our human experiences are, no matter what our socio-economic station is.

Let’s finish up with a few questions about what you like to read.  What book or author inspired you to write?

There are just so many. I was a huge reader growing up, which included Tolkien, Nancy Drew, Ray Bradbury, Beverly Cleary, Calvin & Hobbes, and a million others. But the first literary fiction that really blew me away and convinced me to give it a try was early Michael Ondaatje, books like Coming Through Slaughter and The Collected Works of Billy the Kid.

Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

A book that I push upon everyone is Train Dreams by Denis Johnson. It’s a slim little novella, but one that conjures so much pathos and emotion in its few pages that I still can’t believe that a human being wrote it. Denis Johnson is perhaps my favourite writer of all time.

I’ll have to check it out!  Finally, what are you currently reading?

I’m reading a book called The North Water by Ian McGuire, which is a brutally well-written novel about an ill-fated whaling voyage to the Arctic. Talk about unlikable characters! It’s a portrait of the very worst humanity has to offer. But it’s spell-binding nevertheless.

If I Fall If I Die Cover

The Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George RR Martin

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Like much of the planet, I am enamoured by the fantasy world author George R.R. Martin has created for his “A Song of Ice and Fire” series. The books serve as the basis for the television show, A Game of Thrones, so anything set there will have a built-in audience.  The collection “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” contains three previously published novellas set in the kingdom of Westeros about a hundred years before the action detailed on television.  The main characters are a hedge knight named Ser Duncan the Tall and his squire Egg. Unlike many knights, Ser Duncan also known as Dunk is a man of honour who spends much of this time trying to right wrongs and protect the innocent, unfortunately Dunk is not overly wise and more often than not his plans would do more harm than good.  His squire, Egg, who is actually the young prince Aegon Targaryen, is wise beyond his years, so the two are a perfect pairing. The tone is lighter and more amusing but still contains the types of writing twists for which Martin is known, as well as some violence, so it is definitely a book for adults.

 

The first of the three stories, The Hedge Knight, is the tale of the pair’s first meeting and shows how chance can play an important part in deciding one’s fate.  The second story, The Sworn Sword, follows the two protecting another knight’s water rights during a drought.  The final tale, The Mystery Knight, concerns a rebellion and the fight to win the Iron Throne.

 

This collected volume includes a number of illustrations that add a lot to the interpretation of the stories and make the work friendly to someone new to either the Game of Thrones world or to fantasy fiction. For a Martin fan, the history and hints of about future plots in the main series, should keep them reading with relish.

 

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Interview with Miranda Hill

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Photo by Mark Raynes Roberts

Photo by Mark Raynes Roberts

Miranda Hill is the author of the story collection Sleeping Funny, which won the City of Hamilton Award for Fiction, and of the story “Petitions to Saint Chronic,” which won the McClelland & Stewart/Writers’ Trust of Canada Journey Prize. Hill is the founder and executive director of Project Bookmark Canada, the organization building Canada’s literary trail.  Hill will be in Thunder Bay for the International Festival of Authors on November 4th.

Shauna Kosoris: When you’re in Thunder Bay for the International Festival of Authors this November, you’re going to be reading from your collection of stories, Sleeping Funny.  What can you tell me about it?

Miranda Hill: Sleeping Funny is a collection of nine short stories. And it’s a real mix of voices and styles and time periods, with everything from a story from the perspective of a 14 year-old girl in a sex-ed class where everyone starts seeing each other’s conceptions, to a story about a 19th century Presbyterian minister witnessing the demise of the passenger pigeons, to a modern day look at a group of neighbours in an upscale community, dealing with an outbreak of lice. I like to tell people it’s like a box of chocolates — if you don’t like the coconut cream you got this time, try again the next one might be cherry-filled.

That analogy sounds pretty fitting.  Why did you decide to write a collection of short stories?

I love writing and reading short fiction. It’s a tighter focus than a novel, but there’s so much that you can do with it. It’s wonderful to me that in a small slice of a life or a world, you can create such resonance.

That’s so true.  What was the hardest part of writing Sleeping Funny?

Accepting that so many different kinds of stories could go well together. I thought nobody would want to publish it, because all the stories were distinct. But in the end, it turned out to be something that my publishing company — and many readers — loved.

I’m glad to hear it.  How has living in two places (Hamilton, Ontario, and Woody Point, Newfoundland) influenced your writing?

That’s a good question. I’m not sure. I have been working on the same book for more than two years now, and that encompasses the time that we’ve had our place in Newfoundland. Mostly, our place in Newfoundland is a wonderful retreat for me — a place that’s great to write in.

Along with writing, you have a coaching service called Page to Podium where you help writers launch their new books.  Why did you decide to offer this assistance?

I really like to perform my work, and I know so many writers who don’t like to do readings, or don’t do a good job at it. I thought that I had something to offer, to help people transform their on the page talent to something that could be communicated to a live audience.

Sounds like a fantastic idea.  You’re also the founder and executive director of Project Bookmark Canada.  What’s that all about?

Project Bookmark Canada puts excerpts from stories and poems in the exact Canadian locations where literary scenes take place, so that you can stand right where the characters or narrator stand in a story, and read it right there. We call these installations “Bookmarks,” and we have 15 around the country. (Our most recent unveilings were of Alistair MacLeod’s No Great Mischief in Port Hastings, Cape Breton and Lawrence Hill’s Any Known Blood in Oakville.) Piece by piece we’re building a Canadian literary trail so that Canadians and visitors can read their way across our country.

How exciting!  How did you come up with this?

I was a mom of very young children, living in downtown Toronto without access to a car. I was doing a lot of walking — pushing baby carriages — and trying to sneak time to read while my children slept. Coincidentally, I wound up reading a lot of fiction set in the very places I was living or walking, and I realized that my experience of the space was heightened by knowing the stories set there, and that my relationship with the stories were deepened by having visited the places. I wanted everyone to have that same experience. It took a lot of thinking, learning and planning, but that idea became Project Bookmark Canada.

Between Page to Podium and Project Bookmark Canada, I’m surprised you still find the time to write!  Are you working on anything new now?

I’m at work on a novel that stretches from Pittsburgh in the 1890s to Muskoka in the 1960s. It’s exciting to work on such a big project after many years of being focused on the smaller world of short stories.

Sounds like a lot of fun – good luck!  Let’s finish up with a few questions about books and reading.  What book or author inspired you to write?

So many! I’ve been a reader since I was young. It’s the way I experience the world, and the way I escape from it. So everyone I read and love, from Lloyd Alexander and Ursula K. LeGuin in my youth to Lisa Moore and Michael Crummey in my current life, have been influences.

Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

No! Wait, yes. There is a book or an author that everyone should read. But it’s different for each person. If you read enough, you’ll find out who that person, or what that story, is for YOU.

And what are you currently reading?

I just finished Weathering, by Lucy Wood, and am in the midst of Outline, by Rachel Cusk. I’ve loved them both.

SleepingFunny soft cover

Interview with Alexander MacLeod

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Picture by Heather Crosby.

Picture by Heather Crosby.

Alexander MacLeod was born in Inverness, Cape Breton and raised in Windsor, Ontario. He holds degrees from the University of Windsor, the University of Notre Dame and McGill, and currently teaches at Saint Mary’s University. MacLeod presents a reading from his celebrated first collection of stories, Light Lifting, which offers a suite of darkly urban and unflinching elegies that explore the depths of the psyche. It was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, and won the Atlantic Book Award.  MacLeod will be in Thunder Bay for the International Festival of Authors on November 4th.

Shauna Kosoris: When you’re in Thunder Bay for the International Festival of Authors (IFOA) this November, you’re going to be reading from your collection of stories, Light Lifting.  What can you tell me about it?

Alexander MacLeod: I tried to make the collection as varied as possible and I hope there’s something in the book for everybody. The stories focus on different kinds of people in different contexts, at different stages of their lives, but in every case, the characters are faced with fairly substantial decisions and I tried to imagine these decisions as active physical choices and fairly dramatic either/or situations.  I have a story about long distance runners who have to train for years to lower their times by half a second and there is one in there about parents who face an apparent crisis with a sick newborn and one that touches on an elderly woman who is trying to hold on to her house while her children would prefer she enter a more reasonable institution.  I was interested in turning points, those quick moments where whole trajectories change and a person is transformed from one way of being in the world to another.

Why did you decide to write a collection of short stories?

I never really set out to write a “collection.” Each story was its own separate project and I tried to work each of them out on their own terms. It was only when we pulled them together that we noticed the thematic connections and the recurring concerns that seemed to hold the whole book together.

That’s fair.  What was the hardest part of writing Light Lifting?

Finding time was the hardest part. It kind of lurched along for many years, advancing a bit now and then, but it took a big consistent block of concentration at the end to finally get the thing done.

So what first drew you to writing?

It’s hard to find explanations for this kind of stuff, but I think story-telling was always important in my family. We grew up in an environment where stories mattered, both on the page and in the air, and that likely influenced me in fundamental ways that I don’t really understand.

Stories in the air?

Oral stories, stories that go through the air and don’t ever need to be held down on the page. In our house, people were always telling stories about their lives and the lives of people we knew and shared. The flow of chat was (and continues to be) strong and steady and we still spend hours filling up the evenings with stories.  It’s how we pass the time.

That’s an excellent way to spend time with family and friends.  But thinking of stories on the page, what are you working on now?

I just finished a new story for a British Anthology and a big essay for the Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature. Those two things took up much of last year, but I’m eager to get to work on a new piece and I’m not sure yet if it will be another story or maybe something longer.

Good luck with your new piece!  I know you have some experience with the Scotiabank Giller Prize because Light Lifting was a finalist in 2010.  But how did you end up a judge for the 2015 Giller?   

I don’t know exactly how the selection  process works. I was honoured when they first asked me to consider serving on the jury, but at that time, I only thought of it as a distant possibility that “might” happen two or three years down the road. When it suddenly became a very real pile of work for this year, it was a bit of a shock at first, but then I just settled into the pace and went one book after another for several months.  I am happy to do it because I feel like I personally owe the Giller Prize a great deal and I think the support the Rabinovitch family has given to Canadian literature, and to a broader idea of Canadian Culture, is pretty astounding and should be appreciated a little more. Every country in the world has a literature, but not every national literature has an award like the Giller that draws so much attention and so much reader interest to our books every Fall.  I know it all seems flashy on the outside and everybody likes to focus on the ball and the fancy outfits, but behind the scenes, it’s a very down to earth operation and if you peek on the other side of the thick velvet curtain, you just see a couple of hard working people scrambling to make sure the whole thing keeps trucking along.

As well as writing and being a judge for this year’s Giller, you also teach at Saint Mary’s University.  Is that why you were chosen to teach the Master Class at Lakehead University during the IFOA?

I think so, but I’m not sure. I’ve taught a senior level creative writing workshop here in Halifax for most of the last eight years and I’ve also taken some visiting appointments at the Banff Centre and in Scotland and at the occasional festival. I enjoy this part of the job very much, but really all I do is join in the process as the individual writer crafts his or her own projects and in the end, I don’t know if I ever actually “teach” anybody anything.

Was the guest appointment in Scotland different from the Banff Centre?

In Scotland I did a residency at Moniack Mohr. It is a writer’s retreat up in the Highlands just a little bit away from Loch Ness. The classes are held around the kitchen table in a small house on a misty moor so it’s not quite as massive or sublime as Banff and its Rocky Mountain vistas, but the intensity with the students is definitely there. We cooked all our own meals together and hung out in the evenings around the fireplace. As far as the teaching went, I led a paired class with the amazing Claire Keegan, a writer I admire very very much. And we also hosted Bernard MacLaverty as a visiting writer for one of the evenings. It was incredible.

Sounds like it!  What do you most enjoy about teaching creative writing?

I like helping students see their own vision, their own plan, coming together and starting to make its way in the world. In my classes, we focus on very practical concerns, the nuts and bolts stuff, that often gets lost in the emotional fog that sometimes surrounds creative work. We talk a lot about reading, about the way that literature operates, and we just try to build stories that make a small contribution to this amazing art form that we all love so much.

To finish up, let’s talk a bit about reading.  What book or author inspired you to write?

I was definitely inspired by my father’s writing and his stories will always be close to me, but I also hoovered up anything that was lying around and the quality control was less than rigorous. I read all the Sherlock Holmes mysteries and yards of Trixie Belden and The Hardy Boys and The Three Investigators.  Also Robert Louis Stevenson and Jules Verne and later every single Kurt Vonnegut book.

Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

I think JM Barrie’s Peter Pan is pretty well perfect for the way it balances the raw imaginative power of the story itself with so many wise and self-reflexive side comments that insightfully foreground the art of telling the story. There’s so much emotional wisdom in there, mixed with so much pyrotechnic prose. Every time I come back to it with my kids, I’m surprised by it again and I find myself shaking my head in wonder. Such a sad, exuberant book; it’s very hard to pull off that particular combination.

I’ve never actually read it – that’s something I’ll have to remedy soon!  Finally, what are you currently reading?

I just finished my Giller reading so now I’m back to the basics of my course work and my teaching. The mixture of the classes means that the books are all over the place. In the past week, I’ve re-read Atlantic Canadian fiction from Michael Crummey (Sweetland) and Hugh MacLennan (Barometer Rising) as well as classical theoretical arguments from Plato, Aristotle, Horace, Saint Augstine and Christine de Pizan. That crew doesn’t have much in common but they do make for an interesting soup brewing in your brain.

Light Lifting

Interview with Michael Winter

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Picture by Stephen Crocker

Picture by Stephen Crocker

Michael Winter is the author of the novels This All Happened, The Big Why, The Architects are Here, The Death of Donna Whalen, and Minister Without Portfolio, as well as three short story collections.  Michael will be presenting his first work of non-fiction, Into the Blizzard: Walking the Fields of the Newfoundland Dead, in Thunder Bay at the International Festival of Authors on November 6th.

Shauna Kosoris: Into the Blizzard: Walking the Fields of the Newfoundland Dead is your first work of non-fiction.  What inspired you to write it?

Michael Winter: The idea that I could write about an old war in a new way. To remove all the militaristic bombast and illuminate the vulnerability of what life as a soldier or a nurse might have been like. I’m fed up with the glorification of war, its ability to sneak itself in to our modern lives as though it were merely a more heightened form of sport. It is not sport. It is death.

SK: Why did you decide to physically follow in the dead’s footsteps?

MW: I’m not a good researcher. But I’m good at describing what I see. And there are plenty of very good, well-researched books that are currently in print about what happened during World War One. Battle narratives, is what I mean. But there are few books telling us what it feels like to walk across land where an old war occurred – the modern experience of walking into a museum or reading a plaque. My talents are limited, but I thought I could tackle that.

SK: Into the Blizzard isn’t the first book you’ve written about World War 1.  Why does that time in history fascinate you?

MW: I’ve stumbled upon characters who happened to live a hundred years ago that I connect with. You can’t write about these people without mentioning that they also happened to live through a major war. As you get older you tend to think about where you’ve come from. There’s a rise, I think, in the interest in family ancestry. I get some reassurance that it’s okay for me to feel the way I feel when I discover that someone a hundred years ago had the same thoughts, the same joys of living, the same troubles, as I’m experiencing.

SK: Your other novels, particularly The Big Why and The Death of Donna Whalen, are also very grounded in history.  Did you ever consider making them works of nonfiction as well?

MW: Yes. In fact, I don’t really think about genre when I’m writing. I just write the book I want to write and my publisher usually tells me whether it’s fiction or non-fiction.

SK: That’s fair enough.  Thinking of your other books, I’ve read that Gabriel English, the narrator of This All Happened and The Architects Are Here, is your fiction alter ego.  Where did he come from?

MW: That is too simplistic a comparison. But “Madame Bovary, c’est moi” is something I don’t disinherit. With first person narration you have to be careful that the reader doesn’t smell an agenda: the agenda of “dear reader, look at my burden”. The reader doesn’t care about the author’s burden. They want to feel like a writer is being fair to his protagonist, and that means portraying bad qualities as well as the good. And so, I raid my own experience.

SK: Your books have focussed on more contemporary history, from WW1 to Afghanistan.  Do you think you’ll ever write something set further in the past?

MW: No, but I might write something set further into the future.

SK: What are you working on now that you’re finished Into the Blizzard?

MW: I’m reading a lot. And writing some scenarios. I’m not joking about the future idea. I wouldn’t mind trying that. I’m trying to figure out Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Ray Bradbury’s stories. Having a son that I tell stories to has made me remember that I’m good at making things up, and so fantasy holds some kind of allure.

SK: I look forward to reading some future fantasy stories from you!  Finally, I have a few questions about what you like to read.  What book or author inspired you to write?

MW: It might have been the lack of books and authors. I remember as a kid staring hard at an illustrated book of rocks. It was a geology book, I guess. And I remember thinking surely a book can be more entertaining than this.

SK: Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

MW: No. You should read widely and find things you love and then figure out why you love them. I’m opposed to this opinion that your life is not complete if you haven’t read Dante. I’ve tried reading Dante, and I’m not going to shame myself any longer for not enjoying him. The Illiad, impossible. But I do love Christopher Logue’s version of the Illiad. As well as Alice Oswald’s Memorial.

SK: What are you currently reading?

MW: Walter Tevis’s The Man Who Fell to Earth.

Into the Blizzard Michael Winter

Interview with Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer

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Kuitenbrouwer, Kathryn_cr. Ken Woroner

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer is the author of the novels All The Broken Things, Perfecting and The Nettle Spinner, as well as the short story collection Way Up. Kathryn’s short fiction has been published in Granta Magazine, The Walrus and Storyville. Kathryn will be in Thunder Bay for the International Festival of Authors on November 6th.

Shauna Kosoris: Your newest book, All the Broken Things, is about a Vietnam boat person living in Toronto who becomes part of the bear wrestling circuit.  It’s also about his little sister who was severely disabled because their parents were exposed to Agent Orange.  What inspired you to put these two things together for All the Broken Things?

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer: I had read an op-ed in a local rural paper where my parents live about a bear wrestling circuit in Ontario in the 1970s and was trying to conceptualize about a boy who wrestled bears with this carnival company. Sometime during the period of thinking about this I discovered in a footnote that Agent Orange was manufactured under contract with the US military at a small chemical factory in Elmira, Ontario. These two details became linked somehow in my mind and the boy who wrestled bears became a Vietnamese boy and his sister, this girl you speak of, began to tell me her story. Of course, in the end, the novel is told from the point of view of the boy, but it started differently. There was something between the idea of bear wrestling and Agent Orange that sparked story. That is often how creativity ignites for me. The novel is about war, its effects, family, love, responsibility, carnival, freak show, and seeing.

SK: Why did the narrative switch from the girl’s perspective to the boy’s?

KK: I shifted to Bo’s point of view because as I wrote from Orange’s I began to know how limited the world would be and I wanted the novel to feel more open, and more broadly drawn.

SK: What was the most difficult thing about writing All the Broken Things?

KK: It was very difficult and painful to research Agent Orange and its devastating effects. I wrote quite a lot of the novel sitting in cafés, sometimes weeping as I watched video clips of children and adults affected by Agent Orange. I felt a horrible guilt and a sense of deep desolation that Canada had been involved in this atrocity, and I still maintain that Canada has a debt to repay to Vietnam as a result of its economic involvement there. There are plenty of videos on Youtube if any of your readers are interested.

SK: For your novel Perfecting, you wanted to maintain control of the cover’s design.  Was this difficult to do?

KK: It wasn’t so difficult because I presented the designer with the perfect image. It was her insight to wrap it around the back. The novel is largely set in New Mexico and follows a Canadian woman as she sets out, post 9-11, to uncover the lies and deceptions of her former lover, a man who has fled as a conscientious observer from soldiery in the Vietnam War, but who has in fact run away from a criminal past. I wanted an image that was by a southern artist, and I wanted something that resonated faith, and a kind of dark love. Thematically, the novel is about betrayal, about family, faith, the perversion of these things, too — and also about the relationship Canada has to the US. The photographer, Polly Chandler, is from Austin and I love the vibe of her work.

SK: Did the Flemish folktale “The Nettle Spinner” inspire your novel of the same name?  

KK: The fairy tale “The Nettle Spinner” basically gave me a way to write about my experiences tree planting. The fairy tale is set in a verdant European forest, with a duke, castle, a girl being pursued and her lumberjack fiancé. Northern Ontario (well, Thunder Bay was one of the places I planted, actually) has these forests that have been clear-cut and scarified. The contrast was marvelous to my mind, and allowed me to play around with the idea of the earth body as a feminine space, and to talk about the novel as a tradition of repetition, of story being handed down. So, the fairy tale gathered by Andrew Lang and his wife, is retold first by the protagonist, and then retold again this time as it begins to magically influence her own storyline. I’m glad you asked about The Nettle Spinner. It’s my first novel and I’m still very fond of it!

SK: No problem! Along with writing novels, you also write lots of short stories.  Do you prefer one medium over the other?

KK: No, I like both but it’s very fun to write short stories when they arrive in my mind. There is a certain pleasure to the short form. The novel is a different time investment, but I really like its challenges, the way the pieces have to speak to each other, and the way memory works inside the pieces. It’s an echo chamber.

SK: Can you tell me about the first short story you had published?

KK: The very first story I published in Canada is called “The Vastness of the Lie” and was published in a really really small journal edited by Ailsa Craig and George Murray called Smoke. The story is a coming-of-age story about a girl realizing some dark secrets about her best friend. It can be found in my collection of stories, Way Up.

SK: What are you working on now?

KK: I am working on a PhD! I’m also writing a novel set in part in the American Civil War.

SK: How exciting! What’s your PhD in?

KK: The PhD is a literature degree at the University of Toronto and I am interested in the way novels create a space upon which readers attach their belief. My PhD will be focused on the way that credulity operates in the novel form and more broadly addressing and theorizing the question: what is belief?

SK: Good luck with that! To finish up, I’d like to ask you about the books you read. What book or author inspired you to write?

KK: That’s a tough question and I’m not sure I have a ready answer. I learned to read at a young age and was writing stories very early on – certainly by grade one. I’m not sure if books inspired me to write in the beginning or if I simply had a rich imagination and lots of time. I have two older sisters who often played together and so I spent plenty of hours playing on my own. I grew up in the country and we were sent outside quite a bit, too. I would make up stories. I did love Rudyard Kipling as a child. And also C.S. Lewis. I also read fairy tales. Most of my own work emerges in some way from early stories. The Nettle Spinner is the obvious example, but Perfecting uses the story of Parsifal (from the Arthurian Legends) as parallel story, and has a vested interest in character as archetype. All The Broken Things uses Sir Orfeo as a structuring device. Sir Orfeo is based on the myth of Orpheus. And all my recent stories trade in the idea of re-inserting fairy tale strangeness into a realist text – we must never forget how very strange fairy tales are, I think.

Some of your readers might enjoy my most recent story in The Walrus: http://thewalrus.ca/care-and-feeding-of-the-amish/

SK: Thank you for that. Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

KK: No, not a particular book. But I do think everyone should read novels and short fiction. Reading fiction is an exclusive entry point into our deepest humanity. We have so much to learn about the mechanisms of why this might be, but at the very least, it enlarges our capacity to know one another.

SK: Finally, what are you currently reading?

KK: I am currently reading a delightful debut novel by Christine Fischer Guy called The Umbrella Mender, a brilliant manuscript by the American writer Stephen O’Connor, and as much civil war material—especially diaries—as I can fit in.

All the Broken Things