Tina Chaulk was raised in Aspen Cove, Newfoundland and Labrador and now lives in Conception Bay South, Newfoundland and Labrador with her husband and two young sons. Her most recent novel, A Few Kinds of Wrong, was listed as one of the top books of 2009 by Current Magazine. One reviewer said about A Few Kinds of Wrong that “A book like this is the reason people read”. Her first novel, this much is true, was released by Breakwater in 2006 and gave us the unforgettable voice of Lisa Simms who starts her story by telling us, “I am a good liar”. Tina won a Newfoundland and Labrador Arts and Letters Award for short fiction and has been an adjudicator for a number of literary competitions. She received grants from the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council to write both A Few Kinds of Wrong and another novel in progress, tentatively titled Rewriting History. She is a member of both the Writer’s Alliance of Newfoundland and Labrador and the Newfoundland Writers’ Guild.
You’ve said that A Few Kinds of Wrong “took three years and one baby to write.” In what ways has your family, parenting or relationships with family members affected your writing?I said that because around February of 2008, I had almost finished A Few Kinds of Wrong and my publisher, Breakwater, asked if they could have it for Fall, 2008 but I was having a baby in March and knew I wouldn’t be able to fine tune the book without rushing it so it ended up taking another whole year. But it’s a much better book because of it, I think. Being a parent has made me focus much more on my writing while, at the same time, taking away almost any time I might have to actually write. I had three books completed when I decided to try to get this much is true published and would only have done that then because I was on maternity leave with my first son and could not handle the idea of going back to work and leaving him with someone I didn’t know. I knew being a writer wouldn’t be anywhere close to a full-time income but I knew it might help enough so I could stay home with my son. So, I focused on my writing to do that, in getting published and in getting grants to help out as well. But the writing is much harder when you’re a parent because finding the time and energy is hard.You used to write long-hand. Do you still do that and why?I do. I wish I didn’t because it takes me twice as long since once the longhand work is finished, I then have to type it, but there’s something about the pen on the paper that makes my imagination come alive. It’s like a direct connection between the characters in my brain and how they can flow right out my head, down my arm and out onto the page. The pen feels like an extension of me. I think a keyboard just feels like something that gets in the way of that. I’m very technical and a real computer geek but writing feels more personal when I write longhand. How has your knowledge of rural and urban life shaped your novels?Well, my first novel, this much is true, was in great part about that. A young woman leaving a rural life in Newfoundland and moving to Toronto so that was directly related. I think, since I grew up in a very small community, my head thinks in small groups of people so my novels don’t usually have a lot of characters but a small number of close-knit people. So even if I’m writing about living in Toronto or St. John’s, there is still probably a small-town feeling to it. But I’m told that with A Few Kinds of Wrong, people who live in St. John’s felt right at home with the book and all the settings felt so familiar to them. To the point, that people think of the main character, Jennifer, every time they go past the Anglican Cemetery on Kenmount Road, for instance. I’ve had a number of people tell me that so I guess I do manage to get the urban life too. I need help sometimes with that, though. I find that people who grew up in St. John’s, for instance, have a finger on a pulse that I don’t quite get so I look to them for help when they read my drafts. It’s good to have trusted first readers for things like that.
Tells us a little about nevereatadinosaur.com.
Nevereatadinosaur.com is a new website I started to just post quotes of wild things people say to their children. When you’re a parent or spend a lot of time around kids, you find yourself saying the weirdest things; things you never thought would come out of your mouth. Like, for instance, “What are you doing with those eyes in your mouth?” or “Who put the grenade in the microwave? “ I’d been thinking about this blog for a very long time and then finally did it. The name comes from when I told my son to never eat a dinosaur while he had a face full of stegosaurus. It’s a new blog but I hope to get more people submitting their own Never Eat a Dinosaur moments, as I call them. Right now, it’s heavily dependent on the foolish things my husband and I say to our two boys. My older son even stops me and says “nevereatadinosaur.com” when I say something wild. He’s always watching out for those moments. Maybe even more than I do. Some writers are very disciplined with their writing–they have a fixed schedule, routines–and some others are more haphazard. What is your writing process like?Haphazard, to say the least. It’s much better than it used to be. For years I could go weeks or months without writing but now if I do that, I think I get really crooked to be around and I have to go write. The people having conversations in my head need to get their stories out and they bug me about it. I mean that in a figurative way, of course, but it is true. Part of how I can manage to write with two young children and write in a haphazard way is to do a lot of what I call inside writing where I think out scenes in my head while changing diapers, emptying the dishwasher or walking. So sometimes, by the time I get to the paper, the scene comes out quite easily. That’s not to say I plan out my stories. I don’t. I never know what a character is going to do next and love finding out as much as the reader does.
Can you tell us about your next project?
Well, the truth is I have too many projects on the go right now. I have five actually. Two are written and in need of major editing before they go anywhere and three are works in progress. I tend to fall victim to creative procrastination and move onto a new idea when it hits me. I often work on more than one project at a time. Normally I’m working on three at a time but for this summer I’m focusing on just one. It’s a real departure for me because it’s a book for kids. My older son has been asking me since he knew I wrote books, to write something he could read so I’m finally getting around to that. It’s a chapter book for kids around ten or so, I guess, and takes place in rural Newfoundland. Scary and adventurous and fun, I hope, but that’s about all I’m willing to say about it right now. Can you recommend three books for Book Fridge readers?Just three? Wow, that’s hard. I’d say Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life because if you’re a writer it’s a must read and if you’re not a writer, there are still lots of great things in there to help you out in life. I’ve read and reread that book over and over. Next I’d say Jessica Grant’s Come Thou Tortoise because it’s funny, sweet, touching, unexpected and just a joy to read. And I think the third one I’d recommend is An Audience of Chairs by Joan Clark. I love flawed characters and Joan Clark gives us a great one in Moranna MacKenzie. She makes you sympathize with her even when you’re horrified by the things she does.