Friday, March 13, 2015

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Suzanne Alyssa Andrew

Suzanne Alyssa Andrew is the author of the novel Circle of Stones (Dundurn Press, March 2015). She also writes for digital media, including games, interactive documentaries and cross-platform TV projects. She is a guest associate editor for Taddle Creek magazine and plays bass in an indie rock band. She grew up on Vancouver Island, went to Carleton University in Ottawa for Journalism and English and now lives and writes in Toronto. Visit her online at

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

I’m so excited to finally be sharing Circle of Stones with readers. It took me many years to write and I’m hoping readers will enjoy the characters as much as I did while I was writing them. For awhile it seemed weird to be done the book, sort of like a major break-up, but I’ve slowly moved on to a new book project, like moving on to a new love.

2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?
I’ve always loved storytelling in all its forms and have always written across genres. I have a journalism degree from Carleton and have written extensively for the digital industry—mostly non-fiction, but my digital work is shifting into fictional story-based games and experiences now. What I enjoy about the novel form in comparison is the level of depth you can achieve in it, and the freedom of it. You can take the story anywhere.

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?

I have tons of ideas for new writing projects always, and my usual problem is there’s never enough time to work on them all. Trying to balance bill-paying work with passion projects is a constant challenge. When I do get down to work on my own stuff my drafting process is slow and painstaking, and I revise a lot. I do write copious notes—index cards are my favourite because it makes it easy to organize them all.

4 - Where does 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?
My new work starts with ideas on index cards and then I decide whether a project merits a long effort or a short one. I like the novel form because I get attached to my characters and I want to know more about them. When I started writing Nik and Jennifer, the two main characters in Circle of Stones, I couldn’t let go. I wanted to keep following them and see what they’d do.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Readings used to scare me, but as I’ve done more of them I’ve come to enjoy the performance aspect. Being in a band really helped. I’m not sure whether it’s because I’ve learned to command a microphone, or on the Scale of Things That Freak Me Out singing in front of people is even more terrifying than speaking to them. There are a few sections in Circle of Stones I like performing. You can listen to an online reading here:

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?
Universal themes of how to live and how to create, with a focus on what’s happening or lurking in the shadows that might force characters off course or cause them to stop and think. Struggle, because we all struggle. I also like to write about city life and various adventures that keep people moving and changing.

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?
Writers are observers and interpreters. Everyone is concerned with how to live, and writers hold up examples and ideas in the form of ripping stories. I’m doing a guest associate editorship right now at Taddle Creek magazine and I love the variety of points of view different writers bring. Writers provide perspective and give you an inside view on things you wouldn’t normally see or experience.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
The editors I’ve worked with have been so helpful, and it’s a wonderful experience to talk about your work with people who engage with it on a detailed level and care about making it as good as it can possibly be. My editor at Dundurn Press, Shannon Whibbs is lovely, and I also had great insights from Robyn Read.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Keep going. It’s the best mantra for anyone working in the arts. It’s not easy!

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (short fiction to the novel to non-fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?
I write across genres constantly, especially in my digital work. It’s fun for me that way and keeps me challenged. Right now I’m experimenting a lot with writing song lyrics.

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?

Oh, I’d love to establish a typical day, and attempt to do so all the time, but I freelance full-time and am working on tons of other projects, so most weeks are a jumble. Falling into bed happy-exhausted is a good sign I’m getting stuff done.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
My writer friends and the guys in my band keep me going.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Sea salt in the air.

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?
Music. I play bass and sing in an indie rock band, and collect records. Music is always on at my place.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
When I need inspiration I look to Jeannette Winterson, Etgar Keret and Haruki Murakami. My writer friends and colleagues are integral too. I like to talk things out.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Write lots more books and release an indie album online with my band.

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?
I would have been equally happy to be a musician with literary aspirations as I am to be a writer with music daydreams.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I’ve always wanted to write, and there’s only so much time. I’m squeezing music in, somehow, but it’s more of a flirtation or affair. Writing is the love of my life.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Book: American Innovations by Rivka Galchen.

Movie: Tie between 20,000 Days on Earth and Only Lovers Left Alive

20 - What are you currently working on?
A new novel, original songs with my band, digital storytelling projects, a smattering of essays and I have a couple of ideas for other books I’m slowly working out. It’s a lot but I like it this way!

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

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