It seems one of the major themes in the book is the importance of the Self, nurturing it and relying on it to get you through life, and even that maybe all we really have is the Self. Is that something you were aiming for with the book?
Not consciously, but you’re right. I didn’t set out to write about such big themes. I often don’t know what each story is about until I write it. I think the reader’s in a better position to see motifs.
In many of the stories the characters are travelling somewhere new, widening the regular lines of their lives, such as Lorrie and Katie who push their physical limits on a trip to Alaska, and the speaker in Sacrifice who is traveling in Tibet, “the farthest place from home.” How important, do you think, is it for a writer to explore new places and cultures?
As a reader and a writer I love the theme of ‘character in a foreign place.’ Have you heard of ‘beginner’s mind’? It’s a Zen term for being in a state of openness, without preconceptions, being present enough to observe things as they are. When you travel, especially in a place where you don’t know the language, you end up feeling pretty vulnerable. My first night camping on the Tibetan plateau, some local kids stood around staring while we put up the tents. I figured they were looking to steal our stuff. I struggled with the fly; the pegs were folding like chewing gum in the hard ground. The kids were making me nervous, so I left my tent flapping, stuffed my camera and money belt inside my sweatshirt and headed to the campfire. I heard a shout and turned to see a boy holding up a rock, smiling. He’d used it as a hammer to fix the fly. That’s what travelling does. It reminds me to not be judgemental. If you’re judgemental of your characters that comes across in the writing.
What’s the difference between hearts and penises?
Ha! Nothing. Nothing at all. You’re referring to the story about high school washroom graffiti. Female vs male graffiti. When you’re a teenager that’s what love is: girls = hearts; boys = penises.
What is a regular writing day like for you?
Well, my old life looked like this: head to the cafe first thing in the morning, write for a long uninterrupted stretch, come home, daydream, nap, edit all afternoon. Now that I have one year old twins: I sit perched on the edge of the couch protecting my laptop from swatting hands, frantically trying to find yesterday’s plot thread until the babies howl like caged animals. Then I throw them in the wide load stroller and walk the streets of Toronto, writing in my head. I get home, with every intention of recording after I put them down for a nap but I somehow I end up napping, too. I’ve finally given over to the fact my writing day starts at about 9 pm.
Do you have Short Fiction recommendations for Book Fridge readers?
Miranda July’s No One Belongs Here More Than You. The Collected Stories of Grace Paley. Reasons to Live by Amy Hempel.