Author Spotlight

Author spotlight: Sherry D. Ramsey

Sherry D. Ramsey is a member of the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia and a prolific author of speculative fiction.

We talked to her about her work, the writing life, what she loves about her part of Nova Scotia (Cape Breton), and what can be expected in her upcoming workshop, Exploring Speculative Fiction.

How long have you been writing? What drew you to writing in general, and writing speculative fiction in particular?

I’ve been writing for a looong time…the first full, complete short story I remember writing was in Grade 7 (and I still have it, handwritten in a Hilroy scribbler!). I think storytelling is an inborn predisposition for me. I began to put serious effort into my writing after abandoning a law career in the early 1990’s, and have been writing more or less full-time since then (the “less full-time” part would relate to raising a family in that time, too). I grew up reading science fiction and fantasy, along with mysteries and other genre fiction, so I guess that’s a long-time predisposition, too. I love the wide-open breadth of imagination and possibility that speculative fiction offers.

What do you think is currently changing in speculative fiction?

Sometimes I hear people talk about how we’re living in the “science fiction future” and so there’s not much left to write about…but I think that’s a bit silly. There’s so much we still don’t know and don’t understand and haven’t explored; still huge scope for the imagination. I think spec fic has certainly changed a lot since the pulp era, in that it’s no longer enough to have a shiny idea—readers want well-rounded plots and relatable characters and everything they demand from other kinds of fiction. But it’s still the “literature of the imagination” and I think will continue to be.
 
What do you love about living in Nova Scotia?

Hmmm, that’s hard to articulate. Being able to see the ocean from my front window. The sense of cultural connection to earth and sea and the natural world. The innate kinship to Scotland that I felt viscerally and unexpectedly when I stepped off a plane in Edinburgh two years ago. Knowing that when the ice comes in, spring is not too far away. Donairs, and oatcakes. Not together, of course.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about writing speculative fiction?

That it’s somehow easier than other kinds of fiction! For instance, some people think fantasy is easy to write because you’re inventing worlds and rules. I think they don’t realize the effort that goes into creating worlds that are internally consistent, or integrated magic systems that don’t simply make everything easy for the characters. Or the research science fiction writers do to create aliens and worlds and technologies that align with known science. There’s also the idea that so-called “escapist” literature doesn’t have anything deep or meaningful to say. It does. It just approaches those things in a different way.
 
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Write a lot. Read a lot. Realize that writing is a craft to develop; few people are naturally great writers, but you can become a good one with work. Understand that 99.9% of first drafts are terrible, but that’s okay. Don’t doubt that you have a story to tell. Don’t self-reject because you think your story isn’t good enough.

What’s great about writing in your part of Nova Scotia?

We have a strong writing community in Cape Breton, although it can be a bit fractured at times because we’re spread out geographically. I also like the fact that “Cape Breton writing” is not a homogeneous thing—we’re very diverse in genres and styles and writing interests.

What are you working on now?

I’ve just written the first draft of a middle grade science fiction novel, so I’m anxious to start the editing process on that. It was a ton of fun to write, partly because I’d just done a Writers in the Schools visit before I started working on it. I felt like that “kid-energy” was really fresh in my mind going into the project. I have a fourth novel in my Nearspace series almost done, and the second novel in another series well underway. I’m a project-juggler, so there’s never just one open file on my desktop.
 
If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

Well…I tried the lawyering thing and that didn’t work out. I’ve been a school library volunteer in my local elementary school for the past fifteen years, and I think that kind of work would be something I’d enjoy. I have fun with the kids and I love swapping book recommendations with them and just generally helping them explore the world of reading.

What can participants in your workshop expect to get out of the experience?

I try to cover a lot of ground in the workshop, from finding ideas to writing strong stories to publishing them, so I hope participants will leave with new information whether they come in with spec-fic writing experience or not. It’s a casual environment and they should expect laughs along the way, so they’ll probably have fun. And we’ll be doing some writing exercises, so if they don’t leave with at least one new story idea, they’re just not trying!

Sherry D. Ramsey is a writer, editor, publisher, creativity addict and self-confessed Internet geek. She writes for all ages, and she loves mysteries and magic as much as she loves spaceships and aliens—so much that she often combines them in interesting ways. Sherry lives in Cape Breton with her husband, children, and dogs, where she consumes far more coffee and chocolate than is likely good for her. You can visit her online at www.sherrydramsey.com; keep up with her much more pithy musings and catch glimpses of her life on Twitter and Instagram @sdramsey.

Author spotlight: John DeMont

Between now and our awards ceremony on September 20th, we will be featuring the shortlisted authors for the 2014 East Coast Literary Awards.

This week, we feature John DeMont, author of A Good Day’s Work: In Pursuit of a Disappearing Canada. His book is shortlisted for the Evelyn Richardson Non-Fiction Award.

BIOGRAPHY
John DeMont is the best-selling and award-winning author of Citizens Irving: The Irvings of New Brunswick and The Last Best Place: Lost in the Heart of Nova Scotia. He has written for many publications, including the Financial TimesCanadian Geographic, The Walrus, and Maclean’s, where he was Atlantic bureau chief for ten years.


Describe your ideal writing space. 
Good chair, decent view with nice scenery. Instrumental music—for some reason baroque composers, particularly Bach works best—because lyrics distract. No people around, but a working espresso machine because my creative process, such as it is, is fuelled by cappuccino.  Some space nearby so that if I feel the need I can do my karate katas, stretch or just move around.

Tell us a bit about your process. Do you work in snippets or do you have a full draft? Are you a planner or do you feel your way through? Pencil, pen, typewriter, computer? 
I write on a lap top in scenes and sections that I tend to move around. I write multiple drafts. When I’m working on a book I “warm-up” by editing what I wrote the last time I sat down which may or may not have been yesterday. 
I work from the vaguest of outlines: a chapter for e.g. and the components that might go in it. Like a lot of writers I try to stop when I know where I’m going next so I don’t sit there staring at the cursor the next time my bum is in the chair. That usually works out to 900-1,200 words a day. 
My most productive times are first part of the morning and later in the afternoon. I could take noon until 3 p.m. off, so unproductive is that period, and sometimes do. Although when I’m really stuck on a bit of writing working out, meditating or even walking the dog can distract me and let my mind work subliminally to solve the problem. 

Give us the ‘elevator pitch’ of your book. 
The iconic Canada—of small towns and close knit communities—is disappearing. I tell that story through 10 old-style jobs that are on the cusp of going forever.

What was the biggest difference between your first draft and last? 
The first draft is unhewn lumber with no real voice. By the end I’ve moved entire scenes around. Hopefully the structure works and it sounds like me.

Do you feel public readings help writers develop their craft? Or are readings simply part of the business of being a writer? 
Reading out loud certainly helps make writing better. Public readings help build some momentum for a book. And they’re sort of the writer’s public responsibility to the world of readers.

Many writers have other roles, such as instructors, mentors, editors, cultural workers, publishers. What other roles, if any, keep you busy and do you view them as supportive of your work as a writer?
I’m a senior writer and columnist for Halifax’s Chronicle Herald newspaper which keeps me hopping every day.  It keeps me fresh and engaged and provides grist for my book writing mill. It also allows me to try lots of different things on the writing side.
Sometimes I talk to groups about writing non-fiction. (Teaching might be too strong a word.) That forces me to think about what I do and how I do it. That’s a helpful process for a writer.

Your thoughts on Twitter (in 140 characters or less.)
Great way to get the word out. On the other hand for me it can be a great time sucker upper. So overall it may be a wash.

What are you currently working on? 
A personal history of Nova Scotia.

What book out there do you wish you had written?
Great Plains, by Ian Frazier. Or John McPhee’s trilogy on geology, Annals of the Former World.

Who is your biggest cheerleader? 
My wife Lisa Napier. 


The winner of the Evelyn Richardson Non-Fiction Award will be announced in Halifax on September 20, 2014. 
John DeMont’s book, A Good Day’s Work, can be purchased from your local independent bookseller. 

Author spotlight: Mary Dalton

Between now and our awards ceremony on September 20th, we will be featuring the shortlisted authors for the 2014 East Coast Literary Awards.

This week, we feature Mary Dalton, author of Hooking. Her book is shortlisted for the JM Abraham Poetry Award.

BIOGRAPHY

Mary Dalton has published four volumes of poetry, the most recent of which are Merrybegot [2003] and Red Ledger [2006]. Her work has also been widely anthologized in Canada and abroad. Dalton has won numerous awards, including the EJ Pratt award and the Newfoundland and Labrador Book Award, and has been shortlisted for the Winterset, Pat Lowther, and Atlantic Poetry awards. She lives in St. John’s, Newfoundland. 


Describe your ideal writing space.
A large white room, with a gleaming wooden floor; a desk at a large bay window looking over water, a high-backed wooden chair, a cat or two lolling on a rug nearby. Floor-to-ceiling bookcases. Maybe a vase of honeysuckle or mock orange, Oliver Shroer’s violin drifting in occasionally. This room is nothing like any of the rooms I write in. But you did say “ideal.”  Perhaps, however, no writing would happen in such a room….

Tell us a bit about your process.  Do you work in snippets or do you have a full draft? Are you a planner or do you feel your way through? Pencil, pen, typewriter, computer?
I once compared writing centos to a Newfoundland outport activity engaged in by boys of a certain age: copying, i.e. leaping from ice pan to ice pan. I think all my writing of poems is like that, an intuitive, an aleatory process.  Materials? Pen and paper, then various drafts on a computer, some of these separated by months or years.

Give us the ‘elevator pitch’ of your book.
I don’t know what this phrase means. Something to do with buttonholing someone in an elevator? Not my style…

What was the biggest difference between your first draft and last?
Not sure I can answer this question…I am tempted to interpret draft here as draft beer, in which case maybe the difference has to do with the angle of tilt.

Do you feel public readings help writers develop their craft? Or are readings simply part of the business of being a writer?
It seems to me that that would vary from writer to writer. I myself always like to hear poets read their work, as I gain some sense of how they hear the rhythms of their work. And some poets are brilliant performers of their work—I think of Paul Durcan and Christian Bok, for instance. In my own readings I try to give voice to the underlying music of the pieces and enjoy doing so.

Many writers have other roles, such as instructors, mentors, editors, cultural workers, publishers. What other roles, if any, keep you busy and do you view them as supportive of your work as a writer?
I teach creative writing courses in poetry at university, among other courses on poetry. The teaching keeps me engaged in conversations  about the genre and it keeps me reading widely.

Your thoughts on Twitter (in 140 characters or less.) 
Something I am not inclined to spend my time engaged in.

What are you currently working on?
A collection of poems tentatively titled The Sideways Nod. I can’t say much more, as I find that talking about a project at certain stages can inhibit the process of creation.

What book out there do you wish you had written?
Dart, by Alice Oswald. It is a long poem, a dazzling many-faceted book, in many voices, about the River Dart.  It is a major work of our time.

Who is your biggest cheerleader?
Can’t say—was nonetheless glad to hear the doctor who saw me recently in the crowded emergency department of a hospital say, ” You’re a poet! I love your poetry!” (I note wryly that maybe I thought that such enthusiasm for my poetry could translate into a more deeply considered diagnosis in a frenetically busy set-up.)  Perhaps I can’t  answer this question  because I dislike intensely the concept of cheerleading, which suggests a kind of mindless enthusiasm. 


The winner of the JM Abraham Poetry Award will be announced in Halifax on September 20, 2014. 
Mary Dalton’s book, Hooking, can be purchased from your local independent bookseller. 

Author spotlight: Richard Foot

Between now and our awards ceremony on September 20th, we will be featuring the shortlisted authors for the 2014 East Coast Literary Awards.

This week, we feature Richard Foot, author of the book, Driven: How the Bathburst Tragedy Ignited a Crusade for Change. His book is shortlisted for the Evelyn Richardson Non-Fiction Award.

BIOGRAPHY
Richard Foot is a freelance writer for the Globe and Mail, the Toronto StarCBC RadioMacLean’s, and the Postmedia newspapers. He was formerly the Atlantic correspondent for the National Post and the Moncton bureau chief for the Telegraph Journal. His journalism has been nominated for three National Newspaper Awards, a National Magazine Award, and an Atlantic Journalism Award. He lives in Halifax.


Describe your ideal writing space.
A cottage on a quiet beach on the north shore of PEI, with a long expanse of sand on which to walk and think and let the words percolate.

Tell us a bit about your process.  Do you work in snippets or do you have a full draft? Are you a planner or do you feel your way through? Pencil, pen, typewriter, computer?
I’ve only ever used a computer. I need fairly large chunks of time alone — at least 4 or 5 hour writing periods — in order to accomplish anything. I have a pretty good idea of how the book will be laid out and how the narrative will be told before I begin.

Give us the ‘elevator pitch’ of your book.
Driven revolves around the 2008 Bathurst High tragedy. But it’s really the story of two unlikely agents of change — a pair of quiet, ordinary, small town mothers, transformed by the loss of their teenage sons, into a team of take-no-prisoners political activists. 

What was the biggest difference between your first draft and last?
I wrote the book as events were still unfolding, so the ending of the first draft was incomplete. Fortunately, political developments came to a head, as did developments in the lives of the protagonists, so a more natural and satisfying ending presented itself by the time I was writing the final draft.

Do you feel public readings help writers develop their craft? Or are readings simply part of the business of being a writer?
I would say the “craft” of writing either comes from within, or is learned and honed through the concentrated process of writing stories. It’s deeply personal. Public readings, on the other hand, aren’t personal at all, they’re part of the business of marketing books and reaching audiences.

Many writers have other roles, such as instructors, mentors, editors, cultural workers, publishers. What other roles, if any, keep you busy and do you view them as supportive of your work as a writer?
I’m a journalist and editor, so I write and read other people’s writing every day to make a living. Being a journalist certainly taught me how to write clearly and tell good stories. Anyone who goes through the fire of daily journalism will also know how to focus the mind, meet deadlines and write under pressure. 

Your thoughts on Twitter (in 140 characters or less.)
Twitter is past its prime. What’s the next big thing?

What are you currently working on?
A book about politics, and the Canadians trying to save our broken democracy.

What book out there do you wish you had written?
Any of the Harry Potter books. They sold quite a few copies.

Who is your biggest cheerleader?
My two children. They have this mysterious belief that I can accomplish anything.


The winner of the Evelyn Richardson Non-Fiction Award will be announced in Halifax on September 20, 2014. 

Richard Foot’s book, Driven: How the Bathurst Tragedy Ignited a Crusade for Change, can be purchased from your local independent bookseller.  

Author spotlight: Ed Kavanagh

Between now and our awards ceremony on September 20th, we will be featuring the shortlisted authors for the 2014 East Coast Literary Awards.

This week, we feature Ed Kavanagh, author of the short story collection, Strays. His collection is shortlisted for the Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award.

BIOGRAPHY

Ed Kavanagh grew up in Kilbride, Newfoundland and Labrador, and now lives in Mount Pearl. He received an Honours B.A. in English and a B. Ed from Memorial University of Newfoundland, a B.A. in Music from Carleton University, and an M.A. in English and Creative Writing from the University of New Brunswick. He has worked as a writer, actor, musician, theatre director, university lecturer, and editor. His stories, essays, dramatic scripts, and poetry have earned many awards in the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts and Letters Competition. Ed has taught creative writing through the extension services of both Memorial University and the University of New Brunswick. He is a past-president of the Writer’s Alliance of Newfoundland and Labrador.


Describe your ideal writing space.
Anywhere I can comfortably curl up. Chairs, couches—even propped up in bed if I can’t sleep. My music room is also good: I like being surrounded by my instruments. Certainly not a desk. I write with a pencil (usually a Blackwing 602) on pads of yellow paper, so I’m pretty mobile. But I do need quiet, although I’ll sometimes temper that with very soft classical music.

Tell us a bit about your process.  Do you work in snippets or do you have a full draft? Are you a planner or do you feel your way through? Pencil, pen, typewriter, computer?
Well, we all need what I call a “point of departure,” but for me that doesn’t need to be much: an image, a snippet of conversation etc. Anything intriguing. I can usually tell pretty quickly if it’s something I want to explore. And I don’t worry if the final destination of the story isn’t immediately clear. You don’t write stories as much as you discover them. So my stories are always a revelation, arrived at by embarking on the process. I’m always surprised by my completed stories—especially the endings.
I have one particular quirk: at the top of my pad of paper (sometimes an exercise book) I always write two things: Have faith and Don’t break the dream. Have faith that you’ll eventually discover the story. The second idea comes from the creative writing teacher John Gardner. He stressed that writers create a “fictional dream” for readers. It’s the writer’s job to not break that dream—i.e., pull readers to the surface instead of keeping them submerged in the story. That’s a sobering thought because there are, of course, many pitfalls that can break the dream—poor dialogue, clichés, weak characterization. So trying not to break the dream certainly keeps me on my toes. And, of course, we all need a little faith.
As I said above, I write with pencil and paper until about the third draft. At that point I’ll put the piece on the computer. Putting it on before that makes the work look prematurely finished—to me, at least. And as Holden Caulfield said about why he liked horses better than cars: a pencil is at least human.

Give us the ‘elevator pitch’ of your book.
That’s a tough one when you’re talking about a collection of ten short stories. I’d like to think they’re all different, so I’d have to give you ten different pitches. But generally I’m exploring people who are a little on the outside, a little astray. That might involve a ten-year-old boy or a ninety-year-old woman. I think everyone feels astray at some time or another. But I don’t want to sound too negative: there’s lots of humour in the book!

What was the biggest difference between your first draft and last?
You wouldn’t say they had anything to do with each other. As is often said, the secret to writing is rewriting. And what you see out the window at the beginning of a journey is certainly not what you see at the end. I tinkered with some of the stories in Strays, off and on, for over five years. The longest story in the book, “The Strayaway Child,” is nearly 19,000 words. I don’t know how many words I actually wrote to arrive at those 19,000 but I have stacks and stacks of draft pages. I looked at the first draft page a little while ago and I hardly recognized my protagonist! But why should I have recognized her? She was, after all, just beginning her journey. And journeys always change people.

Do you feel public readings help writers develop their craft? Or are readings simply part of the business of being a writer?
I’ve done some writing for children, and for that audience the readings definitely help. Children are usually a little more honest and forthcoming with their reactions, so you can easily pick up on what they find charming or funny. Adults, however, can be more inscrutable. You might give the exact same reading to two adult audiences on successive nights and get two very different responses. Children, though, are more consistent—whether they like something or not. But public readings do help me get a sense of the rhythm of my work, and that’s useful. My biggest problem in reading from Strays is what to choose. There are ten stories, ten worlds . . . it’s like trying to pick a favourite child. I’m always second-guessing myself.

Many writers have other roles, such as instructors, mentors, editors, cultural workers, publishers. What other roles, if any, keep you busy and do you view them as supportive of your work as a writer?
I teach first-year English at Memorial and that obviously involves looking deeply into some fine stories, plays, and poems. Seeing how great writers have gone about their work can definitely help you with your craft. It certainly makes you aware of the options. I also work as an editor and that helps my work on a technical level. I’m also a musician and my concern with sound and rhythm in writing is probably attributable to that. I read all of my work aloud many times during composition. So musical ideas are never far from my mind.

Your thoughts on Twitter (in 140 characters or less.)
I don’t use it.

What are you currently working on?
Nothing. I’d like to begin a novel but I’m still recovering from Strays. As any writer will say, the final drafts of a book—making those last-minute decisions!—editorial meetings etc. can be exhausting. They certainly are for me. So at the moment I’m just enjoying the short NL summer. Having said that, do writers ever really stop working?

What book out there do you wish you had written?
My next one! 

Who is your biggest cheerleader?
I have a number of close friends who make a special effort to promote my work. In particular, my sister is always helpful. The writing community in NL is also close-knit and supportive. The Writers’ Alliance of NL is another great booster. And I tend to get a lot of emails from my readers. That, of course, is the best.


The winner of the Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award will be announced in Halifax on September 20, 2014. 

Ed Kavanagh’s collection of short stories, Strays, can be purchased from your local independent bookseller.  

Author spotlight: Stephen Kimber

Between now and our awards ceremony on September 20th, we will be featuring the shortlisted authors for the 2014 East Coast Literary Awards.

This week, we feature Stephen Kimber, author of What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of the Cuban Five. His book is shortlisted for the Evelyn Richardson Non-Fiction Award.

BIOGRAPHY
Stephen Kimber is a professor of Journalism at the University of King’s College in Halifax and an award-winning writer, editor and broadcaster. He is the author of one novel and seven non-fiction books.


Describe your ideal writing space.
We put an addition on our house this past year that includes a basement walk-out office. There’s a built in horseshoe-shaped desk/air-traffic-control console with windows overlooking my wife’s garden. Having spent much of my writing life in basement offices without a view, I’m slightly nervous I’ll be too distracted by my new window on the world to actually write. But not really… I acually have several offices: the new one at home, another at our cottage overlooking a lake in Lunenburg County and a new one — probably in a basement too!— I’ll be moving into at the university. But I also write on planes, in airports, in hotel rooms and, perhaps too often, in my head when I’m driving on the highway. 

Tell us a bit about your process.  Do you work in snippets or do you have a full draft? Are you a planner or do you feel your way through? Pencil, pen, typewriter, computer?
I’ve become a planner. I develop an outline of the book I want to write — one that almost always changes and evolves as I write it — and then I write, revise, edit and polish chapter by chapter as I go. Each morning, I sit at my computer (I’ve been writing on a computer for so long I can barely write with pen and paper any more), begin at the beginning of whatever section or chapter I’m writing and revise up to where I ended the day before, then add new material. That not only helps me to get into the “swing” of my story and writing each day, but it means that the beginning of a chapter will have been reviewed and revised a dozen or more times before I move on to the next one. The result is that when I come to the end of the first draft of the book, I’ve usually already completed my-next-to-final draft. I try to set aside the manuscript for at least a few days before returning for a final beginning-to-end polish, which I turn in to the authorities.

Give us the ‘elevator pitch’ of your book.
What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of the Cuban Five is a narrative nonfiction thriller about terrorists who blow up airplanes and try to overthrow governments, and intelligence agents who try to stop them. The twist is that these terrorists are not Muslim. They’re Cuban exiles. And the men trying to stop them? Cuban intelligence agents. The Cuban Five were members of an intelligence network dispatched to Florida in the early 1990s to infiltrate militant anti-Castro exile groups hatching terrorist attacks against their country. In 1998, after the Cubans passed on to the U.S. government information their agents had uncovered about a plot to blow up an airplane filled with beach-bound tourists heading for Cuba, the FBI arrested … not the terrorists plotting the attack but the agents trying to stop it!

What was the biggest difference between your first draft and last?
Despite what I said earlier about planning and outlining, I initially wrote a significant chunk of the Cuban Five manuscript focusing on a string of hotel bombings that took place in Havana in 1997. I thought when I wrote it that this would become the opening chapters of the book. Later, I decided to begin the book seven years earlier with the arrival of the first Cuban intelligence agent in Miami and then unfold the story chronologically. Luckily, the chapters I’d written fit neatly into the middle of that chronology.

Do you feel public readings help writers develop their craft? Or are readings simply part of the business of being a writer?
A bit of both, I’d say. Public readings are definitely part of the writing business these days, but they’re also a chance to test out passages you think worked well on the page, and see how readers respond to them. I’ll often find myself wanting to edit already published passages to make them read better. Sometimes I do! With the Cuban Five book, readings have been doubly important because they provide a chance to introduce readers to a story most haven’t heard before.

Many writers have other roles, such as instructors, mentors, editors, cultural workers, publishers. What other roles, if any, keep you busy and do you view them as supportive of your work as a writer?
I’m incredibly lucky. I teach journalism and creative nonfiction in my day job, which means I get to think about what it is I do as a writer, as well as to write myself. And writing — practicing my craft — is considered part of my job too. Which is both exciting and humbling.

Your thoughts on Twitter (in 140 characters or less.)
Twitter? I tweet. I use Twitter to spread the word about what I write. For a book writer, 140 characters is daunting, but great discipline.

What are you currently working on?
I’m working on a film treatment for What Lies while trying to decide what book project I want to tackle next, and whether it will be fiction or nonfiction. Unusually for me, I’m having trouble settling on a next subject… which probably means I’m not ready yet.

What book out there do you wish you had written?
Too many to count or catalogue. I try not to think about that. Sometimes, I’ll wander through a bookstore, look at all the wonderful, eclectic, brilliant, awe-inspiring titles on the shelves and ask myself, does the world really need my next book? At the end of the day, of course, the answer doesn’t really matter. Like most writers, I write for me and not for the world, and because I can’t imagine myself not writing.

Who is your biggest cheerleader? 
Until she died a few years ago, I would have said my mother. She unconditionally supported me and my writing, even when she didn’t agree with it, which was a fair amount of the time. These days, it’s my sister — I’ve seriously thought of asking her to be my publicist! — and my wife who can, thankfully, be supportive and gently critical at the same time.


The winner of the Evelyn Richardson Non-Fiction Award will be announced in Halifax on September 20, 2014. 

Stephen Kimber’s book, What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of the Cuban Five, can be purchased from your local independent bookseller. 

Author spotlight: William Kowalski

Between now and our awards ceremony on September 20th, we will be featuring the shortlisted authors for the 2014 East Coast Literary Awards.

This week, we feature William Kowalski, author of The Hundred Hearts. His novel is shortlisted for the Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award. 

BIOGRAPHY
William Kowalski is the winner of the 2001 Ama-Boeke Award (South Africa) and was shortlisted for the Ontario Library Association’s Golden Oak Award. He is the author of four novels, including Eddie’s Bastard. His work has appeared on numerous international bestseller lists and has been translated into fifteen languages. He lives in Nova Scotia. 


Describe your ideal writing space.
I’m lucky enough to be able to say that my ideal writing space is also my actual writing space.  When we bought our house in Mahone Bay in 2002, there was a very nice tool shed already in place.  It’s really more like a small house.  I remodeled it and have been using it as a writing studio for several years.  There is very little I can think of that should improved.  I can think of plenty of things I’d like to add, such as a nice couch, plumbing, and possibly a small kitchen, but those would all be distractions.
I wrote a piece about my shed for my friend the poet Liz Ahl’s blog:  http://lizahl.wordpress.com/tag/william-kowalski/

Tell us a bit about your process.  Do you work in snippets or do you have a full draft? Are you a planner or do you feel your way through? Pencil, pen, typewriter, computer?
I am a discovery writer, though I’ve tried to force myself to become a planning writer.  Many times, I’ve outlined a book, only to pitch the whole thing as I work on it and discover what it’s really about.  The Hundred Hearts was this way.

Give us the ‘elevator pitch’ of your book.
A young army veteran of Afghanistan struggles to adapt to his severe physical and emotional injuries years after returning home.

What was the biggest difference between your first draft and last?
The narrator.  In the first draft, the story was told in the first-person voice of Henry, an eighteen-year-old boy with moderate brain damage.  In the final draft, it was told in the third person, mostly from the point of view Jeremy, Henry’s cousin and a 25-year-old army veteran.

Do you feel public readings help writers develop their craft? Or are readings simply part of the business of being a writer?
Bringing a book out into the public eye is always a strange feeling.  I don’t know how many readings I’ve given in the past 15 years, but at every single one, I’ve always had the sense that it’s only when I’m standing up in front of an audience and reading aloud that I understand how the world sees my work.  It’s really unnerving, because writing is such an intensely personal thing in the beginning.  I’m always shocked by people’s reactions, no matter what they are.   I appreciate it when they laugh at the funny parts and cry at the sad parts.  What really freaks me out is when they laugh at parts I never thought were funny.  I always come away feeling like there is this huge gap between the way I see my work and the way the world sees it.  I guess this is helpful to my craft, in the same way swimming in an icy lake in February is helpful.  It builds character.

Many writers have other roles, such as instructors, mentors, editors, cultural workers, publishers. What other roles, if any, keep you busy and do you view them as supportive of your work as a writer?
I teach underemployed, unemployed, and undereducated adults who have decided they would like to upgrade their skills and enhance their employability.  I’m also a father and husband.  These roles are hugely instructive, because they are what gives my life its real meaning.  I used to think that writing was my life, but now I understand it’s just a reflection of it.

Your thoughts on Twitter (in 140 characters or less.)
It’s like a constant stream of telegrams from everyone.  Who reads it?  I dunno.  Not me.

What are you currently working on?
I’m working on three books at the moment—a non-fiction book about writing, a novel, and another non-fiction book that I can’t say anything about yet.

What book out there do you wish you had written?
The Bible.  Imagine what that royalty statement would look like.

Who is your biggest cheerleader?
My wife, and my daughters. 


The winner of the Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award will be announced in Halifax on September 20, 2014. 
William Kowalski’s novel, The Hundred Hearts can be purchased from your local independent bookseller. 

Author spotlight: Shashi Bhat

Between now and our awards ceremony on September 20th, we will be featuring the shortlisted authors for the 2014 East Coast Literary Awards.

This week, we feature Shashi Bhat, author of The Family Took Shape. Her novel is shortlisted for the Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award

BIOGRAPHY
Shashi Bhat’s short fiction has been published in several journals, including Threepenny Review, Arcadia, and Event Magazine; her story “Indian Cooking” was a finalist for the 2010 RBC Bronwen Wallace Writers Trust Award. She received her MFA in fiction, was born in Richmond Hill, Ontario, and resides in Halifax. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Dalhousie University. The Family Took Shape is her first novel.


Describe your ideal writing space.
An airplane, because there is no internet, and I am confined to my seat. And sometimes they give you pretzels. I wish Air Canada would introduce a writing residency program, similar to the Amtrak residency in the US but without the sneaky copyright issues.

Tell us a bit about your process.  Do you work in snippets or do you have a full draft? Are you a planner or do you feel your way through? Pencil, pen, typewriter, computer?
I am an obsessive planner, and use colour-coded, numbered lists for my outlines. There’s quite a bit of percolation time before I start composing a story, during which I keep notes on scrap paper. I also google everything. I use google for research and use google images to inspire descriptive passages. I google words to look at their connotations and I google my phrases to see how original they are. I tend to revise as I go, rewriting a paragraph or sentence several times before I move on to the next one.

Give us the ‘elevator pitch’ of your book.
The Family Took Shape is about a girl in a South Indian single parent family, growing up outside Toronto with her autistic brother. Whether she knows it or not, nearly every action she takes in her life is somehow influenced by the experience of growing up with him. It’s a kind of coming-of-age story. Both children are under the care of their mother; their father dies when they are very young.  It’s called The Family Took Shape because I wanted the novel to follow the growth of the family, and the way the members of the family shape each other.

What was the biggest difference between your first draft and last?
My first draft was told from multiple perspectives, whereas the final version is a close third of just one character. It was a time-consuming rewrite, but I think it made the story more cohesive.

Do you feel public readings help writers develop their craft? Or are readings simply part of the business of being a writer?
Public readings definitely helped me. I did my first ones at a reading series we put on in grad school, at this weird bar with beds in it, called The Den. The people in attendance were our undergraduate students, mostly science majors, who were forced to attend. In fear of their potential disinterest, I thought much more about timing and rhythm, and about being compelling for an audience. It made me less self-indulgent (as a writer, at least).

Many writers have other roles, such as instructors, mentors, editors, cultural workers, publishers. What other roles, if any, keep you busy and do you view them as supportive of your work as a writer?
I teach creative writing – for the past four years at Dalhousie and starting this fall at Douglas College in BC. I’ll also be taking on the editor position at EVENT Magazine. While teaching can be all-consuming, I find reading and discussing raw work interesting and inspiring. It’s refreshing to be around writing students, who are often earnest and excited to be there. 

Your thoughts on Twitter (in 140 characters or less.)
I think it’s pretty nifty but I don’t use it much.

What are you currently working on?
I’m writing a collection of short stories, experimenting with dark humour and magic realism. Several of them concern ways of dealing with illness.

What book out there do you wish you had written?
Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. It combines two of my favourite genres – dystopia and coming-of-age. It’s quietly devastating. 

Who is your biggest cheerleader?
My dad. He’s a civil engineer, and I think the last book he read was probably about fixing nuclear reactors. But he is the most fiercely supportive father I can imagine. If I made a shirt with my book cover on it, he would wear it.  


The winner of the Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award will be announced in Halifax on September 20, 2014. 
Shashi Bhat’s novel, The Family Took Shape can be purchased from your local independent bookseller. 

Author spotlight: Ami McKay

Ami McKay, WFNS member and author of The Birth House, has again received the Booksellers’ Choice Award for her second novel, The Virgin Cure.  Ami was first presented with the award in 2007, and received her second Booksellers’ Choice Award at this month’s Atlantic Summer Book Fair on Prince Edward Island.  Presented annually by the Atlantic Independent Booksellers’ Association, past recipients of the award include Donna Morrissey, Alistair MacLeod, and Michael Crummey.  The Virgin Cure is published by Alfred A. Knopf Canada and is a CBA Libris Award Book of the Year Nominee, and was named a “Books of Summer” pick in the July 2012 issue of O Magazine

We chatted briefly with Ami following her win about our region’s independant bookstores and booksellers:

Why do independent bookstores matter?

Because thought, imagination, conversation and community matters. These are the graces bookstores bring to our lives.

What is your relationship, as both a reader and a writer, with independent bookstores & booksellers?

As a writer, I’ve had the great privilege of visiting many independent bookstores for readings and signings. I’ve been well cared for and inspired at every event, on every occasion, without exception. 

Countless times as a reader, the right book came into my life at the right time because a thoughtful bookseller took the time to place it in my hands. The Stone DiariesFall on Your Knees, and Execution    Poems by George Elliot Clarke are but a few books that come to mind. There was something electric in the words of each of these authors, sparks of truth and beauty that challenged me as a person and pushed me forward as a writer.

Do you have any favorite or notable experiences with an indie store or bookseller?

Here’s one of many…

As the mother of two sons, I owe a great deal of thanks to Mitzi DeWolfe and the entire staff at Box of Delights Books in Wolfville, NS, for always taking the time to talk about books and life with my boys.My eldest son, Ian, has just finished his second year at NSCAD, and from his first Harry Potter novel to his collection of paint spattered art books, Mitzi’s store has played an important role in fostering his creative life. He’s currently spending a month in Paris, cat and flat sitting for one of Mitzi’s former employees. He first met her when he was searching for a book to help him learn to speak Russian. He was twelve.


Here is what Michael Hamm, AIBA member and manager of Bookmark Halifax, had to say upon presenting the Association’s award:

“Ami McKay is truly an author of rare talents. It was proven with her first novel, The Birth House, a Canadian and international bestseller. With the publication of her second, Ami has again managed to create a world of historical specificity, so rich and textured in its detail. In The Virgin Cure, we walk through the streets and tenements of Lower Manhattan in the 1870’s, breathing its air of soot and squalor. It can be no other place and time. It is the through the creation of Moth, a girl not yet a teenager who is forced to acquire the skills and wile of an adult in order to survive, that the author reveals her magic once again. Moth is a creature of another century yet she is so immediate that she could be our daughter, sister or beloved of today. The Virgin Cure is a polished gem and with it, this author has secured a place in the hearts and minds of Atlantic Canadian readers and booksellers. For the second time in her short career, Ami McKay has been chosen as the Atlantic Canadian Booksellers’ Choice Award Winner of 2012.”

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