Psychomachia, appeared in September 2016 with Quattro Books. She is currently working on her first play, The Blissful State of Surrender.
1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different? My first chapbook, City in the Clouds, was published by In/Words Magazine & Press in August 2015, just before I came on as co-editor. It's too early to tell how it changed my life. I don't believe important moments can be understood as life-changing until we look at them in retrospect. We make narratives about our lives when we look back on important events, but when they happen in the moment or when they are about to happen, as for example, the upcoming launch of Psychomachia, we are faced with pure possibility. I have no doubt the launch of my first book will change everything, but in what way and how remains to be seen. The first chapbook, for example, opened the door for an opportunity to edit with In/Words. That opened countless other doors to connect with the literary community in Ottawa and make friends, to co-edit the themed issue of Refug(e)e with Lise Rochefort. It will be launched at the Ottawa International Writer's Festival in October, yet another opportunity that may change everything.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction? Poetry always precedes prose. I am of the opinion that good prose reads like prose poetry. All great writing, including drama and non-fiction, is sensitive to poetry. What do I mean by poetry? The love of words; the intense care that goes into every sentence; being sensitive to and seduced by poetic devices such as imagery, metaphor, assonance, alliteration, rhyme and repetition and so on. So to answer your question, it's not that I came to poetry first, but rather, I think poetry naturally comes before prose, or at least that's how it is for me.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes? Writing is rewriting and I have never had a first draft that didn't require extensive editing. At first, that used to discourage me. Now, it's just part of the process and I accept it. Someday I hope to enjoy it. Psychomachia, for example, was written in a week. It was like being in a trance, I was processed by the story and the characters. I didn't sleep well for a few days after I had written it. Almost as if I was going through withdrawal from the high of writing with so much intensity and concentration. But that's not how I normally write; it's an exception to the rule. Usually, I write and write and write and then let it sit. I go back to it and realize that, as Anne Lamott says, it was a shitty first draft and then the real work begins. I have received funding from the OAC to finish a novel set in the Siege of Sarajevo which I have been working on for the last two years. It's nowhere close to being done. What I've come to understand about my process is that while I write quickly, I edit slowly.
4 - Where does a poem or work of fiction usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning? I know from the beginning, generally, if I'm writing a piece of short fiction or a larger work, such as a novella or a novel. The forms don't behave in the same ways, so it's impossible for me to let a short story leak into a novella or a novella into a novel. A short story is usually leading to a single, decisive moment, with the focus on one character or perhaps a handful of characters that move around a single thread toward this moment. A novel is much more complex. There are many characters with sub-plots and the story has many threads. The novel allows for dead-ends, contours and detours as it leads the reader toward some resolution, be it climactic or not. A novella stands in between these two zones. Of course, I'm grossly oversimplifying, but generally speaking, I know what form I'm dealing with from the start because I know what the story demands.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings? For me, and as I will argue in my Master's thesis next year, writing is a technology for the care of the self (or, as the Greek called it, "epimeleia heautou"). Through writing, I am able to transform the relationship between my self with the self, as well as the self's relationship with others. The others, in the context of writing, are readers. This can be done in two ways, one of them is private, and the other is public, through readings. Not only do public readings create a space for the relationship between the self and others to take place, I believe readings are essential because they are the only spaces where this relationship is ephemeral and dynamic. It is never the same twice. There is an aura around them that cannot be replicated and that, to me, is valuable. It is magic.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are? I think writing, in the modern and post-modern contexts anyway, is concerned with the role of the writer (consider "Death of the Author" by Barthes) and the effects of language (semiotics). Writing is also concerned with power and knowledge, and for this reason, it is political. There are many Canadian writers, some of them local, such as Pearl Pirie, some not, such as Daphne Marlatt, who deconstruct language in critical, intelligent and sometimes humorous ways. I think poetry and experimental writing is well-suited to do that: to question and challenge the medium--words and language--itself. Though I am fascinated by this, my own writing is more interested in the role of the writer. I argue that writers are truth-tellers (specifically, writers must fulfill the criteria of "parrhesiastes," in the ancient Greek sense) and that writing, as an activity, is a technology for the "care of the self" as defined in an earlier question. I will express all of these ideas with more clarity in my Master's thesis, as well define a will of poetry, all in an effort to articulate the role of the writer in our ultra-modern context.
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be? My Master's thesis, under the supervision of professor and philosopher Stuart Murray, is titled, "The Role of the Writer in the Ultra-Modern Context." I have, as Nabokov would say, "strong opinions" about the writer's role and the role of writing independent of the author. To have an opportunity to work with Stuart Murray, I have pushed back my work on theorizing Canadian novellas to later on, at the PhD level. I want to argue that writers are truth-tellers and that the process of writing is a technology for the care of the self. That writing, be it fiction or otherwise, such as works of philosophy, are a way for the self to transform its relationship with the self and with others.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)? It is absolutely essential. As a writer, I know I have blind spots. I know there are moments when I am on autopilot and the story is losing some of its momentum but I cannot see it without someone else pointing it out to me. As an editor, I can see how a few essential changes strengthen a piece and bring it to life and I know, from experience, that when you enter the process of editing with the focus on the story (not the writer or the editor), this collaboration always results in better quality, vivacity and flow for the text. For this reason, I would never self-publish. "Writing is a collaborative act," to quote Nadia Bozak, who was once my fiction teacher and is currently the Creative Writing Director at Carleton's English Department. I can't say it any better.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)? "Believe in yourself; I believe in you." My lovely partner, whose wisdom and love moves me to write and brings endless beauty and love into my life.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to fiction to plays to journalism)? What do you see as the appeal? Poetry to fiction is easy; journalism is hard. Poetry and fiction are lovers. They are truth-tellers and speak from the heart, mind and gut. Everything is aligned and in harmony. Journalism, which is supposed to be the ultimate truth-telling, does not seem to understand, or refuses to admit, that the observer always changes the observed and vice-versa. It takes (f)acts and delivers them through the mind, impartially, seemingly objectively, and cuts itself off from the heart and the gut so that in the end it hypnotizes itself into a discourse that is sometimes insensitive and cold in its delivery. It is not for me, though I have done it and may even do it again.
11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin? This summer has been a complete write-off. I am desperately trying to establish a routine, some kind of discipline that does not depend on inspiration but it isn't working for me. A typical day, if we are talking of the last few months, looks like the myth of writer's block is dangerously close to reality.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration? That is the question. The problem is, even when I am inspired, and a breath of fresh air has pumped my lungs, it does not seem to affect my pen.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home? My partner's hair. The zest of fresh bed sheets. The olfactory sense is not one that reminds me of home as our home is fragrance-free and what we eat is always changing. It feels like home wherever my partner and my son are.
14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art? Life influences language, which creates narratives about our experiences and by extension, the books we write. Intertextuality is inevitable because we read and are moved by certain works but that has its limits. All that is required to write books, I think, is to be alive to our experiences, both internal and external. The more I think of it, the more I realize that writing a book is a journey inward, into our selves, rather than an external process. Nature, music, science, visual art, travel, gastronomy, relationships: they are all expressions, mirrors, of our selves. They cannot help but inform us and by consequence, the books we write.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work? Woolf, Nabovok, Kundera, Wilde, Tolstoy, Camus, Joyce, Neruda, Stevens: these are the ones I read over and over again. There are many others. Lately, I've been reading a lot of non-fiction. Right now, I'm reading Earthing: The most Important Health Discovery Ever? by Ober, Sinatra and Zucker, The Backpacker's Field Manual by Rick Curtis and The Presence Process by Michael Brown. The most essential experiences that inform my writing are the relationships I have had or currently cultivate with other human beings and, more and more so, with Mother Earth. These connections touch and move me and have the power to change who I am.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done? Experience a continuous state of present moment awareness. It would be nice, for example, if it's not too much to ask of the universe, to have a year where my mind is not concerned with the past or the future.
17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer? Either I would have been a chef with my own restaurant or I would have been an artist, preferably a sculptor. I have a deep need to express myself creatively, can you tell?
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else? I began to write when I was six years old and cannot recall why. I remember in Croatia, Geneva and Ottawa, teachers telling me, in Serbo-Croatian, French and then English, that my stories were well beyond my years and that I should be a writer. I didn't take them seriously and got a Commerce degree to impress my parents instead. Ironically, I ended up in communications, writing and editing full time until it became evident that I had to express myself artistically. I suppose those teachers saw something in me that I couldn't about myself at the time.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film? War and Peace by Tolstoy. It's great because, finally, there you have a text as long and as intense as the Bible, but a little bit more to my taste. Not that I've read the Bible back to back, but it sure felt like it in some points, after the second and third week of flipping through the world's thinnest pages and not being able to stop, so spellbound was I by Tolstoy's book. Plus: it is a miracle that I finished it, considering the many other obligations that I have and the investment in time the book requires. Last great film: Nymphomaniac by Lars von Trier. Lars von Trier disturbs me and, at the same time, captivates me. He makes me feel uncomfortable and sometimes outrages me (as in Antichrist) but I know, without a second of doubt, that what I am watching is brilliant. This is not just a movie, this is a work of provocation, of art, of extraordinary beauty even amid the violence and horror.
20 - What are you currently working on? I am collaborating with two Toronto-based theater directors and an editor on my first play, The Blissful State of Surrender. I am on my third rewrite, waiting for further edits. I'm also editing the prose component for the Refug(e)e themed issue of In/Words in collaboration with Lise Rochefort, who is editing the poetry. I am also translating from French to English a chapbook of poetry by award-winning Quebec poet, writer and translator Sylvie Nicolas.
12 or 20 (second series) questions;