My friend and colleague Aaron Shepard, author of When is a Man and this thoughtful guest post on my own site, recently asked me to take part in a blog tour happening in the literary community across Canada.

He was tagged by fiction writer Julie Paul who was recruited by Alice Zorn. So far, I’ve found it a great opportunity to get to know some new (to me) writers in our bustling CanLit community and get a sense of what they have to say and why. I hope you’ll follow a few links and take the tour with me!

Basically, I’ve been assigned four questions and then the task of inviting two other writers to take part. Which I’ll do. Right now.

What am I working on?

A few things actually. I’m currently changing the entire draft of my new novel, all 300-and-some-odd pages, to past tense from present. So, that’s fun.

But, also, under the creative joy heading: I returned last week from the Sage Hill Writing Experience where I spent two incredible weeks working with poet Jan Zwicky and seven other amazing writers to complete a poetry manuscript called Migration.

The collection explores the experience of my great-great-grandparents who moved from Louth (near modern day St. Catharines, Ontario) to homestead in a village near Southampton, on the coast of Lake Huron, and then continued north into the wilderness to eventually arrive on Manitoulin Island.

Me on the ferry from South Baymouth to Tobermory, Summer 2008

Me on the ferry from South Baymouth, Manitoulin Island to Tobermory

The island has long been a sort-of spiritual home for that side of my family and so I dig around in that legacy and my own feelings about the place, as well as exploring the past journey of attempting to have children.

I’m also finishing up a collection of short stories (some of which are linked) called Extraordinary Things (read the title story).

How does my work differ from other works in its genre?

This is a difficult question to answer as, of course, nobody could read all of the vast range of literary fiction (or, in my case, poetry and short fiction, as well) being published in this incredibly prolific country of ours.

I suppose, though, that I could report on what people have said about my work.

Swarm, for example, was praised for its true-to-life take on the future by readers and reviewers. The Toronto Star called it “one of the more realistic recent imaginings of the shape of things to come.” I think this sets it apart from other dystopian novels (ie. Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy) which push farther in time into a more darkly complex future.

My take was simpler: chaotic disintegration when cheap oil runs out.

But, also, I have to say that despite its confusing occasional categorization as science fiction, the book is literary fiction. At its heart, it is the story of a woman striving to come to terms with her past in a time of limited options while addressing her desire to be a mother.

Why do I write what I do?

Short answer? I’ll take a page from Joyce Carol Oates: “We work in the dark—we do what we can—we give what we have.”

A bit more: I’m captivated by history, nature, the silences built around catastrophes and difficult life events and monumental human shifts (ie. peak oil, climate change, personal traumas).

In terms of form: sometimes detail overwhelms my eye and the thing I’m trying to say can only be painted in a poem. Other times I simply want to tell a story that’s short and to-the-point. And then there’s the desire to dwell in long plot and build a bigger structure through the architecture of the novel.

How does my writing process work?

Organically.

Some days a sprout grows and stretches and I feel the hint of spindly, white roots and hurry the pen to sketch them (in other words, write, freehand, for an hour minimum upon waking).

Other days it’s all manure, the slow heat of compost, the need to tackle mechanical tasks like research or changing all the ‘says’ to ‘saids’ (ie. days when I complain to my husband about my “crap novel”).

But I start every day with 20 minutes of yoga because, haven’t you heard, “sitting is the new smoking” and we writers sure know how to sit.

Next up: poet Ariel Gordon and novelist Chadwick Ginther, both from Winnipeg