Monday, November 12, 2018

new from above/ground press: Townsend, Archer, Kaminski, McElroy, Izsak + Mangold,

Pyramid Song
Jamie Townsend
See link here for more information

Autopsy Report
Sacha Archer
See link here for more information

Each Acre
Megan Kaminski
See link here for more information

LAOS (Some Julian Days)
Gil McElroy
See link here for more information

Emily Izsak
See link here for more information

Sarah Mangold
See link here for more information

Touch the Donkey [a small poetry journal] #19
with new poems by Michael Robins, Ken Hunt, Rob Manery, Rae Armantrout, robert majzels, Stephanie Strickland and Kate Siklosi
See link here for more information

Can you believe above/ground has produced fifty-seven poetry chapbooks so far this year (more than four hundred and fifty chapbooks in total, across nine hundred-plus publications)? And did you see the Claire Farley "poem" broadsheet that appeared last week?

keep an eye on the above/ground press blog for author interviews, new writing, reviews, upcoming readings and tons of other material;

published in Ottawa by above/ground press
October-November 2018
celebrating twenty-five years of above/ground press
a/g subscribers receive a complimentary copy of each

To order, send cheques (add $1 for postage; in US, add $2; outside North America, add $5) to: rob mclennan, 2423 Alta Vista Drive, Ottawa ON K1H 7M9. E-transfer or PayPal at at rob_mclennan (at) or the PayPal button (above). Scroll down here to see various backlist titles (many, many things are still in print).

Review copies of any title (while supplies last) also available, upon request.

And don't forget about the recent silver anniversary broadside series, also available! And the clever anniversary t-shirts!

And the 25th anniversary essays; you've been reading those, yes?

Forthcoming chapbooks by John Newlove, Claudia Coutu Radmore, Franco Cortese, Heather Sweeney, Ralph Kolewe, Ben Meyerson, Isabel Sobral Campos, Mary Kasimor, Andrew K Peterson, Virginia Konchan, Evan Gray, Joshua Collis, Cole Swensen, Dennis Cooley, Anthony Etherin, Sandra Ridley, Jennifer Stella and MC Hyland, as well as the first issue of G U E S T [a journal of guest editors], edited by the delightfully talented Amanda Earl! And there’s totally still time to subscribe for 2019!

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Arc walks, 2018 : Hintonburg,

photo pilfered from the internet ; not actually from the event

This is the text of the penultimate of four “Arc Walks” [see links to the whole series--Centretown, Glebe, Hintonburg and the Byward Market--as it appears here, including post-walk texts, notifications on the final walk and links to the poem handouts] I’d been commissioned to do this year, thanks very much to Arc Poetry Magazine and the Community Foundation. The third walk, through Hintonburg, sat in the midst of the wind and the cold and the snow, so the walk ended up being theoretical, held in the upstairs of the Carleton Tavern, as Blaine Marchand pointed in various directions to illustrate different locations (“imagine you are on Wellington Street West right now…). Thanks very much to Blaine Marchand, Anita Lahey, Steve Zytveld, Clare Latremouille, Colin Morton, Craig Poile, Paul Tyler, Stephanie Bolster, Merise Brebner and others who provided some details I might not otherwise have known, and to Marchand and Claire Farley, who were good enough to read (a poem of theirs, alongside a poem by, respectively, Diana Brebner and Anita Lahey). And to the small, shivering crowd! The final walk will be on December 7th in the Byward Market; keep an eye on my link here for confirmation on where we shall be meeting to begin that one.


One might say that Hintonburg has had infestations of poets for years, living lives of quiet desperation, even amid increasing gentrification. One of Michael Dennis’ first apartments in Ottawa during the early 1980s was on Spadina Avenue, as was poet Wanda O’Connor’s last apartment, circa 2006, where she held poetry salons in her apartment’s unfinished attic. O’Connor authored a handful of self-published poetry chapbooks as well as a title through above/ground press before heading to Montreal to participate in Concorida’s Creative Writing Program. Marianne Bluger (1945-2005) lived on Clarendon Avenue, in a house since torn down and replaced, as Blaine Marchand says, “by a monstrosity.” During her medical studies in Montreal, Bluger took poetry classes with the poet Louis Dudek. She eventually moved to Ottawa where she raised two children as a single mother, and published numerous books of poetry, including Summer Grass (Brick Books, 1992), Tamarack & Clearcut (Carleton University Press, 1996), Scissor, Paper, Woman (Penumbra Press, 2000) and the posthumous Nude with Scar (Penumbra Press, 2006). More recently, poet and editor Pearl Pirie also lived relatively close, spending half a decade at 202 Hinton Avenue North until 2017, when she and her husband Brian, a performer in multiple of jwcurry’s Messagio Galore sound ensembles, relocated across the river into rural Quebec, to a house they built themselves. Jean Van Loon, who, until recently, was director of The TREE Reading Series, and is the author of Building on River (Cormorant Books, 2018), a poetry debut focused on and around Ottawa’s J.R. Booth, lives on Mayfair Avenue. Blaine Marchand, discussed during both my Centretown and Glebe walks, lives on Warren Avenue, and has, as he says, for 36 years.

FIRST STOP: 1242 Wellington Street West: Our first official stop is the site of the former Collected Works Bookstore and Coffeeshop (1997-2012). As well as being a focal point for numerous literary readings and events, Collected Works hosted a series of writing workshops conducted by local writers, including multiple sessions run by the poet Diana Brebner (1956-2001). Brebner was an incredibly supportive mentor to younger writers, including myself, when we would meet for coffee in the Glebe circa 1993-95, and talk about poetry and exchange tales of our children. She lived just north of the Civic Hospital, at 21 Sims, with her huband and two daughters from October 1992 to February 1999, before she briefly relocated to Sherbrooke Avenue, and finally to an apartment building at 420 Parkdale, right next to the old fire hall, where she lived until she succumbed to cancer in 2001.

Brebner, a proponent of the sonnet during a particularly fallow period for the form, won the CBC Poetry Contest in 1992, and published three trade poetry collections with Netherlandic Press: Radiant Life Forms (1990), The Golden Lotus (1993) and Flora & Fauna (1996). Stephanie Bolster, a poet Brebner had mentored during their shared Ottawa time, edited Brebner’s posthumous The Ishtar Gate: Last and Selected Poems (2004) for McGill-Queen’s Hugh MacLennan Poetry Series. Here’s a poem from her second collection, The Golden Lotus:

The Perfect Garden
for Blaine

Nothing grows in asphalt. But here I 
am trying to grow something, as well
as nothing. Each year some hibiscus
appears, either side of my doorway:
blood-red soldiers, or are they angels?

And the violets, quietly given to my
little daughter, by her dying friend
(a woman of my present age) three years
past. They appear in cinder-blocks
again, and again. Some things will not

forget how they came up from emptiness:
bluebells (called weeds and torn up), lily-
-of-the-valley (between concrete wall
And asphalt plane) green asymptotes
never quite giving up the ghost, never

blue morning-glory on the Frost fence,
and Siberian irises up against the invisible
walls, and old lilac invading the thick
black lie which says: death, which
says: nothing is perfect, or even close.

After Brebner became too ill to continue, the workshops were run by a couple of different poets, including Bolster, before I started conducting my own workshop sessions, which ran throughout the remainder of the store’s existence. After the store closed, I continued running poetry workshops upstairs at the Carleton Tavern, before shifting to our house on Alta Vista Drive. Over the years, participants in the poetry workshops included numerous writers who have since gone on to impressive publishing cvs, including Una McDonnell, Anita Lahey and S. Lesley Buxton, all of whom met in Diana Brebner’s workshops. Poets in my own sessions, which still occur occasionally, have included Pearl Pirie, Sandra Ridley, Amanda Earl, Marcus McCann, Frances Boyle, Suzannah Showler, Roland Prevost, Claire Farley, Nina Jane Drystek, Chris Johnston, natalie hanna and Catriona Wright. Former bookstore owners Craig Poile and Christopher Smith still live in the neighbourhood, on Hamilton Avenue North, and Poile, a poet, playwright and theatre producer, won both the Archibald Lampman Award and the Ottawa Book Award for his second full-length poetry collection, True Concessions (Goose Lane, 2009).

In 2002, Arc Poetry Magazine founded The Diana Brebner Prize. Awarded each year for the best poem written by a National Capital Region poet not yet been published in book form, winners over the years have included Conyer Clayton, Claire Farley, Sneha Madhavan-Reese, Anne Marie Todkill, Marilyn Irwin, Lauren Turner, Jenny Haysom, Robyn Jeffrey, Frances Boyle, Rhonda Douglas, Sylvia Adams, Michael Blouin and Mary Trafford, many of whom have gone on to produce first full-length books.

Collected Works is also where I first met my dear wife, Christine McNair, when she participated in one of my poetry workshops during the summer of 2008. After moving from Toronto earlier that spring, she first came through the store for the sake of the Canadian Author’s Association, which were hosting gatherings within the space. Since those days, she has gone on to publish two poetry collections, including her second, Charm (Book*hug, 2017), which recently won the Archibald Lampman Award, an annual prize for the best book of poetry by an Ottawa-area resident.

SECOND STOP: Wellington Street West and Huron: Paul Tyler, author of the Archibald Lampman-winning poetry debut, A Short History of Forgetting (Gaspereau Press, 2010), lived at 73 Huron from 2004 to 2012 before relocating to the Glebe. During some of the same years, from 2003 to 2008 or so, he was also on the Arc Poetry Magazine editorial board, before spending a few years as a member of their “advisory board.” Another writer on the same street during that period was poet and editor Anita Lahey, who lived on Huron Avenue before relocating briefly to Fairmount Avenue. While in Ottawa, she published two poetry collections—Out to Dry in Cape Breton (2006), nominated for the Trillium Book Award for Poetry and the Ottawa Book Award, and Spinning Side Kick (2011)—both of which were published by Véhicule Press’ Signal Editions imprint. In 2004, Lahey inherited the mantle of editor for Arc Poetry Magazine from Rita Donovan and longtime editor John Barton, a position she held until 2011, when she left Ottawa to head east, and eventually west. She currently lives in Victoria, B.C., where she continues her work as a poet, journalist and editor, having published a third book, The Mystery Shopping Cart: Essays on Poetry and Culture (Palimpsest Press, 2013). More recently, she changed positions from assistant editor to series editor for Best Canadian Poetry, an annual anthology produced the past decade-plus by Tightrope Books, scheduled to shift to Biblioasis as of 2019. During Lahey’s tenure at Arc, assisted in large part by Reviews Editor Matthew Holmes, the magazine saw numerous expansions, including one of format, as well as the Arc Poetry Annual and the Arc Poet-in-Residence program, making Arc the only Canadian literary journal to host a virtual residency. From her debut, Out to Dry in Cape Breton, composed during her Ottawa period, comes a poem on The Prince of Wales Bridge, a bridge that has also been a favourite of Ottawa poet, publisher, collector and bpNichol bibliographer jwcurry. A bit east of where we are now, The Prince of Wales Bridge is an abandoned rail bridge on the Ottawa River, just north of the boundaries of the repurposed O-Train line. Constructed in 1880 as one of the few crossings of the Ottawa River into Quebec, it connects the south channel of the Ottawa River to Lemieux Island before crossing the northern channel into Gatineau. In February of this year, according to the Ottawa Citizen, the Canadian Transportation Agency ruled that the City of Ottawa “must restore the Prince of Wales Bridge and the railway that approaches it in the next 12 months or formally discontinue the operations [.]” The City is, of course, fighting the decision, saying that the timeline is impossible.


Everything is designed to remind us of our smallness. We walk
to prove it doesn’t matter, trespass on the CPR line, tromp
into its black-trellised hovering on narrow planks god-knows
how old. Metal arms criss-cross, criss-cross; their taunting,
their gaps. The river tarries beneath puckered skin. There is no alone,
not here. November hurls itself at us, elbows and knees drawn. Pigeons
fuss and coo; clouds stare back; somewhere is a man who fitted rocks
into pillars, laid rails, hammered steel and died. There were men in canoes
who didn’t stand a chance. They whisper back and forth. The dead
want peace, but only sometimes. Kids have been here wielding
cans of paint, accusations: How could you want more than this? Their uneven
letters lie whitely, backed gainst flagging sun. A scrubby shore

calls to one you left behind. Midway, the rope, lashed to a jutting
beam. Twenty feet of braided yellow fixed to the sky, fretting
over water. Evidence of swimmers, or worse. Someone climbed
and clung to tie that far-off end. The sky sweeps the river
roughly, without pity. The question is whether to exist in two
places or one. Keep keeping all you’ve amassed or fling it off
this old bridge. Teeter on rotting boards, tethered by hope.
Or tautly arc into glory and back, glory and back, each triumph
less graspable than the last, until, wind-whipped, with calloused
palms, you yo-yo about, doodling on little sheets of air. In wonder
resides no footing; kicking won’t get you home. You’re bound
to blackening yellow, nighttime’s impressive arrivals, the immoveable
bridge with its slime-plastered legs. Ward off, longly and without
sound, that sweaty, red-palmed slippage as you undulate
with memories of height, the wooden, underfoot sureness that was.

THIRD STOP: 1233 Wellington Street West: Poet and fiction writer Elisabeth Harvor lived for years in an apartment building across from the Rosemount Library, before relocating to one of the condos above the Great Canadian Theatre Company. A poet, short story writer and novelist, she was the first and seemingly last writer in residence through Carleton University’s English Department in 1993, a position the Department shared with the Ottawa Public Library. She won the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award for best book of poetry by a Canadian writer for her 1992 collection, A Fortress of Chairs (Vehicule Press), was nominated for a Governor General’s Award for her short story collection Let Me Be the One (1996), and her first novel, Excessive Joy Injures the Heart (Penguin, 2010), was chosen one of the ten best books of the year by The Toronto Star. That same year, she also won the Alden Nowlan Award. In 2003, she won the Marian Engel Award, and in 2004 The Malahat Review’s Novella Prize. In 2015, she placed second in Prairie Fire’s fiction prize. Her most recent poetry title is her third, An Open Door in the Landscape (2010).

FOURTH STOP: 1084 Wellington Street West: From 2011 to 2012, The Dusty Owl Reading Series was held at the Elmdale Tavern, surrounded by a plethora of rock memorabilia and posters from decades of musical performances. Originally built in 1909 as a general store, the tavern was purchased and repurposed as the Elmdale Oyster House and Tavern in the fall of 2012, becoming part of a handful of Whalesbone Oyster Houses in Ottawa.

Cathy hosting ; photo by Pearl Pirie
Dusty Owl was founded by Steve Zytveld, who had emerged from the Carleton Literary Society at Carleton University, a group that brought Michael Ondaatje to read on campus in March, 1995. Zytveld and his wife Cathy Macdonald-Zytveld ran Dusty Owl as a reading series hosting featured readers and an extensive open set, providing a home to poets, fiction writers, spoken word performers and musicians, and even hosted a series of benefits for the food bank, as well as at least one performance (where everyone who showed up was given a role) of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream. To get a sense of the tone of the series, I might mention that there was much giggling, for example, whenever the stage direction “Enter Bottom” was read aloud. Dusty Owl also produced a series of chapbooks in the mid-2000s, curated by Dusty Owl associate Kate Hunt, including titles by myself, Roland Prevost, DeAnne Smith (who has since made a name for herself as a stand-up comedian, writer and performer) and novelist L. Brent Robillard. I long described Dusty Owl as “not the best reading series in town, but certainly the most fun.” Dusty Owl could boast an incredibly welcoming, lively and casual atmosphere, especially as Zytveld would often host sporting vintage aviator pilot goggles, referring to these as his “poetry goggles.”

Originally held at the former Café Wim (537 Sussex Drive, the current home of Social) from 1996 to 1999, The Dusty Owl Reading Series reemerged in Centretown from 2004 to 2010. When Zytveld was forced to step back to begin a Masters of Divinity Degree at St. Paul University in 2011, Macdonald-Zytveld took over the series, and for a brief period, readings were co-hosted by myself and held upstairs at the Carleton Tavern before relocating here, where Zytveld managed to appear on occasion to host. Once the Elmdale was purchased to be repurposed, Dusty Owl lost another home, and went on haitus.

FIFTH STOP: 188 Armstrong Avenue: Clare Latremouille lived here from 2001 to 2015, during the time when Ottawa publisher Chaudiere Books published her first novel, The Desmond Road Book of the Dead (2006), as part of their debut quartet of literary titles. Referring to herself as a “displaced British Columbian,” she returned to Ottawa in the late 1990s after a decade out west, including some time in Vancouver, as well as her hometown of Kamloops. She has published poetry in numerous anthologies, including Written in the Skin (Insomniac Press, 1998) and Shadowy Technicians: New Ottawa Poets (Broken Jaw Press, 2000), and even published a small chapbook with above/ground press: I will write a poem for you. Now: (1995). I first met Latremouille in as a teenager, attending Glengarry District High School in Alexandria, Ontario, as a small handful of us poked at writing poems and short stories, even going so far as to start producing a small literary journal through our English teacher. Some of our classmates published within the pages of our Zine included Ottawa musician Chris Page, known since as frontman to bands such as Camp Radio, Expanda Fuzz and The Stand GT, as well as four solo albums, and playwright, theatre director and Concordia professor Louis Patrick Leroux, who not only founded Ottawa’s Théâtre la Catapulte in the 1990s, but had twenty-three of his plays produced by the time he was twenty-three years old. It was actually through Leroux that Stephanie Bolster first came to Ottawa in 1995, after first meeting each other at the Banff Writing Studio in 1994. They now live in Montreal with their two daughters.

A decade or so after our high school years, Latremouille was a founding member of The Peter F. Yacht Club, an informal writer’s group I first organized in the late 1990s as a conversation between those of us who were writing and submitting and reading. During those first few years, it was far more of a social gathering, not evolving into an occasional journal until 2003, with early members including b stephen harding, Latremouille, Stephen Brockwell, Anita Dolman, James Moran, jwcurry, Jennifer Mulligan and Laurie Fuhr. Since then, issues have been intermittent, but continue, with an issue produced annually as a handout as part of VERSeFest. Since 2015, Latremouille and her family have lived on a large wooded property in North Glengarry.

SIXTH STOP: 220 Armstrong Avenue: Dennis Tourbin (1946-1998) was a lively and engaged poet, painter, performance artist, writer and art and poetry-magazine publisher. As I mentioned during my first walk, Dennis Tourbin was one of a handful of writers to emerge in Ottawa from Peterborough in the early 1980s, alongside Michael Dennis and the late Riley Tench. Further Peterborough writers from the same period, including Maggie Helwig and Yann Martel, headed west, to Toronto and Saskatchewan, respectively. One of the founders of St. Catharines, Ontario’s Niagara Artists’ Center, Dennis Tourbin left Peterborough for Ottawa in 1983, where he eventually became Director of Gallery 101 (during a period that included Rob Manery and Louis Cabri’s The Transparency Machine poetry and performance series), and published a collection of fiction, The Port Dalhousie Stories (1987) through Coach House Press, as well as multiple poetry titles with small and micro presses, including two poetry chapbooks (including one posthumously) with above/ground press. Predominantly known as a painter, he was larger-than-life, uniquely colourful and engaged with the world around him, connecting a series of literary and artistic communities throughout Ottawa and beyond.

Tourbin spent decades focused on and fascinated with the 1970 October Crisis, producing numerous watercolours, artist books, word paintings, performance art, and videos incorporating headlines and imagery from a sequence of events still seen as politically charged. As The Canadian Encyclopedia writes: “The October Crisis began 5 October 1970 with the kidnapping of James Cross, the British trade commissioner in Montréal, by members of the Front de Libération du Québec (FLQ). It rapidly devolved into the most serious terrorist act carried out on Canadian soil after another official, Minister of Immigration and Minister of Labour Pierre Laporte, was kidnapped and killed. The crisis shook the career of recently elected Liberal Premier Robert Bourassa, who solicited federal help along with Montréal Mayor Jean Drapeau. This help would lead to the only invocation of the War Measures Act during peacetime in Canadian history.” National Gallery director Shirley Thomson famously cancelled a long-awaited solo exhibition of black-ink drawings on the October Crisis by Tourbin in 1995, due to the pending referendum in Quebec, a decision that was loudly and publicly condemned by the arts community in Ottawa and beyond. Scheduled to be paired with an exhibition of his large-scale paintings on the same subject at the Ottawa Art Gallery, an exhibition which went ahead as planned, the outcry at the cancellation helped turn Tourbin, as Paul Gessell wrote, “into a national star.” Seven years later, Thomson was quoted as saying: “I think I will never know if I made the right decision or not.”

Fascinated by how image could be shaped and presented, one could say that bulk of his work engaged with how media, whether television or newspapers, helps to create, and not simply replicate, reality. Here is a poem from his posthumous THE STREAM and other poems (above/ground press, 2014), a chapbook produced to coincide with a retrospective of his work at the Carleton University Art Gallery.

Real Television

I don’t want movies.
I don’t want life.
I want real wind
to determine
the wonder of
the next sentence.
not a criminal sentence,
a natural, natural

I want life
not movies.
I want life to tell me…

I want to swim
in pools of aqua
coloured water,
lights flashing,
dreams of Olympic glory.
One step closer to,
one step closer to
the wonder
of a time
changed by plazas
and shopping malls.

I want to swim in dreams,
in night life,
night time, darkness…

I want to swim.
I want to live.
I want television
to be the only thing
in my life.

SEVENTH STOP: Parkdale Park: In June 2015, a collaboration of a handful of Ottawa-area writers organizations, including The Ottawa Independent Writers, l’Association desauteures et auteurs de l’Ontario français, the Capital Crime Writers, the Ottawa Science Fiction Society and the Ottawa Storytellers collaborated to organize the first annual Prose in the Park as a single all-day outdoor book fair featuring readings and panels. The festival has been held every year since, with the exception of 2018, but promises to return for June 2019. Not only held as an event for both French and English publishers, writers and panels, Prose in the Park provides a marked difference from events such as the Ottawa International Writers Festival or the ottawa small press book fair for its focus on genre publishers and writers, as well as self-published authors.

EIGHTH STOP: The Carleton Tavern has been home to literary activity going back years, including my own Factory Reading Series for the past eighteen years or so (a reading series I founded in Centretown back in January, 1993), as well as the semi-annual readings as part of the ottawa small press book fair. Other events have been held here as well, including the aforementioned stretch of readings hosted by the Dusty Owl Reading Series, and individual readings hosted by Brick Books, all of which occurred on the second floor, as well as years’ worth of local theatre on the main floor. For years, my poetry workshops at Collected Works would regularly retire here, post-workshop, for libations and conversation, which I suggest that we do as well.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Natalia Hero

Natalia Hero is a fiction writer and translator from Montreal. Her work has been featured in places like Carte Blanche, Cosmonauts Avenue, Peach Mag, and Shabby Doll House. Her translation of Laurence Leduc-Primeau's In the End They Told Them All to Get Lost will be published by QC Fiction in April 2019. Her first book, Hum, is out now from Metatron Press.

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 wrote Hum over the course of 2016, which was a pretty bleak year for everyone, and a particularly difficult one for me on a personal level. I don’t know if I would classify it as a coping mechanism, but I definitely felt more grounded having this one project to devote myself to. Because of the subject matter, it was a heavy thing to write, which made it really hard to work on sometimes. I had to take a lot of breaks because it would put me in a really negative headspace that was hard to shake. So it felt really satisfying to finish and step back from it and get it out of my head and onto the page.

I think it’s similar to my other writing because I often have these sort of misanthropic, tormented narrators, and I guess a lot of my work flirts with magical realism. I guess it’s just different because it’s longer, and maybe a little darker. All of my stories up to now have been really short and concise. Length-wise, Hum sits somewhere in the purgatory between a longer short story and novella, but I really envisioned it as a standalone book, so I’m glad Metatron was on board with it because it felt like a good fit. I wanted this to be a more intimate psychological portrait of someone dealing with trauma. I wanted the reader to feel as trapped in the narrator’s mind as she is, to suffocate along with her. And I feel like I’m usually much kinder to my readers, or anyway, I try to be.

2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?
Poetry just feels like a language I don’t speak. When I read fiction I feel like I’m an adult at a magic show - always aware that it’s not real, that it’s a trick and just for show. But when I read poems I feel like a little kid watching a magician. I’m like holy heck, how did they just do that?? And I’ve tried writing nonfiction but it never comes out the way I want it to. Maybe because I’m too much of an embellisher of real life events and a chronic daydreamer.

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?
At the very beginning I just let things swim around in my head and barely write anything down. I kind of tell myself a very basic version of the story, over and over until it’s fully absorbed, and then eventually it starts to speak on its own. Or, on rare occasions, one sentence just bursts out of my head and I ride it like a mechanical bull until it knocks me on my ass.

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?
Most of the time it’s all scraps and leftovers. I have little bursts of ideas in the middle of the day that I’ll put down in the notes in my phone. Sometimes just a sentence, a paragraph, or a weird little prompt with some random cryptic words I have to try to decipher later. And I let them ferment for a little while, and come back to them much later with fresh eyes and string them together with some of the other bits. There have also been times when I’ve hammered out a full draft of a story in one go, though. But usually it’s just a beginning. I have a huge backlog of beginnings right now that are desperately begging me for an end.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I think it’s important for writers to interact with each other in person. Otherwise a lot of us would never go outside and only ever tweet or talk to our cats.

Readings are a chance to get out of my head for a while and into someone else’s. I often find them very inspiring. That’s when I’m in the audience. I’m very shy, and truth be told I absolutely despise reading in public. I hate the sound of my own voice, and the things I feel totally comfortable publishing suddenly make me feel really vulnerable once the words are actually coming out of my mouth. But I still always say yes if I’m invited to one, because I know they’re part of the game and I need to get over myself and get used to it.

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?
With Hum, I wanted uncover a taboo and shove a survivor’s experience into people’s faces, and make it as real and ugly and naked as possible. I wanted to write about it in a way that’s difficult for a reader to confront. Because there’s this glaring absence of a counter-narrative in the current stories of sexual assault and abuse that are being discussed publicly that I felt needed to be screamed, however inconvenient and uncomfortable it is for people to acknowledge. The same level of pain survivors of assault experience seeing themselves erased when this topic is discussed, I wanted to flip that and make it hurt people to acknowledge their truth.

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?
Maybe it’s just my little internet echo chamber, but I feel like in public discourse lately there’s a lot more open and frank discussion about mental health and relationship dynamics and overall just how we interact with each other, how we take care of ourselves, not just navel-gazing like classic straight white dude lit but a deeper exploration of how we analyze our thoughts and feelings and communicate them while also knowing how to listen and be receptive to one another. I think that emotional fluency is reflected in a lot of writing currently, I guess especially among younger writers. Anonymous internet oversharing has transformed into a new brand of confessional literature. And I think it’s slowly helping build a culture of empathy. I hope it is, anyway.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

I was so lucky to have A. Light Zachary edit my book, because it felt like a collaborative project with a very encouraging friend who made the effort to really understand what I was going for. And since this was an emotionally exhausting project to spend so much time on, it felt nice to have somebody to accompany me on that journey.

The best thing about working with an editor, for me, is learning what parts are actually important to me. It often surprises me what things I’m willing to fight for, and it isn’t until someone suggests changing them or taking them out that I jump to their defense.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Never pass up an opportunity to go to the bathroom.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (short stories to the novella to translation)? What do you see as the appeal?
To decide whether something is a short story or a longer form thing I usually just ask myself, how much time do I want to spend with these insufferable characters? Do I need to dive into just how broken these people are or is surface-level brokenness sufficient (or even more effective at conveying it)?

Translation is different. Since true equivalence between languages is inherently impossible, any attempt at literary translation always feels like a failure right from the start. Strangely, all the literary translations I’ve done so far, whether they were projects I chose or that I was approached about, I’ve had a kind of symbiotic relationship with. They often coincidentally deal with some ideas I was already grappling with or at the very least with experiences I can relate to and that I’ve been thinking of writing about. So they feed into my own work, and in turn my literary voice will sort of blend into the way I translate them. I have a love/hate relationship with the practice in general. In a way it’s like writing with a very specific prompt, so you get the chance to be creative with it without having to worry about the story you’re trying to tell and how to tell it. It’s a nice break from obsessing about my own projects, because someone has already done the hard part for me. But it’s also a lot of pressure to be entrusted with someone else’s creative work. The whole time I’m translating I’m just thinking “sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry” because you can never fully nail it, you’re going to contaminate it with your voice no matter what, the language you’re translating into is inevitably going to fail you at some point as you’re trying to capture the original and I think you need to accept that first before you can even hope to do a good job.

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?
I’ve been trying to establish a consistent routine my whole life and fail at every turn. A typical day for me begins with procrastination and then ends with me lamenting all the time I wasted.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Writer’s block doesn’t actually happen to me very often. And if it does, it’s honestly kind of a relief, because I’m like okay, now I can revisit these other bits and pieces of ideas I’ve had and actually develop them. I’m in the middle of this creative burst of ideas right now and I’m struggling more with where to put them, how to organize them. I’m at a point where I actually want less inspiration so that I can actually follow through on the things I’ve started.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Coffee and cinnamon. My mom likes her cappuccinos. Maybe waking up to the whirr of a coffee grinder every morning growing up unconsciously gave me the idea for the hummingbird’s buzz in my book, who knows.

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?

I played the violin and the viola for most of my life. I spent a few years not touching either but lately picked them up again, and I’ve been finding that a lot of my ideas will randomly pop into my head while I’m playing. I like the way my brain goes on standby and my mind clears and focuses when I play. It’s like a reset button that makes my mind a fertile ground for new things to grow. I think the main thing about it is that it neutralizes all my busy thoughts and makes room for pure emotions to flourish.

I’ve been wondering if that’s what’s behind my recent creative burst, actually. I think being around words as much as I am makes my engine idle sometimes. When I was a kid and I played N64 for too long it would overheat and the characters in Goldeneye would glitch and start walking backwards. Perfect allegory for my creative process, I think.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
During my undergrad I studied Latin American literature in Argentina for a semester, and I was introduced to all these writers I had never been exposed to and they made a huge impression on me. The short fiction of Julio Cortázar and Virgilio Piñera have probably had the biggest, most direct impact on my writing. I love the grotesque sexuality of Piñera’s writing and the tragic surrealism of Cortázar.

That and all things absurdist. I was obsessed with Waiting for Godot in high school, and actually performed it twice, once in French and once in English—that probably set the stage (lol) for my interest in translation, actually. It was also in high school that I was introduced to Eugène Ionesco, and I was like, this is it, this is my shit right here. The Chairs, to me, was just absolutely perfect. And then Camus’s The Plague is probably my favourite book.

Also Nelly Arcan! I can’t write a book like Hum and not mention her.

So yeah. Weird gross sex and quirky darkness.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Climb some mountains in the Andes. Overcome my fear of open water and swim the English Channel. There are a few specific pieces of music I want to learn to play. Visit Slovakia, where my family is from. Learn to chill the heck out.

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 want to say music, but I know my level of shyness is way better suited to literature than any of the performing arts.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

I think I’ve always just had a hard time expressing myself verbally, because I'm shy but also because I think in neverending tangents that take me on rides that people have trouble following. So writing is this instinctive practice for me that I use to organize my thoughts. That and growing up bilingual—having two mother tongues gave me this awareness from the moment I learned to speak that there are concepts that swell up beyond the constraints of one language, so I was always grappling with how to express myself. It made me really self-conscious about whether I was using words incorrectly as I moved between different social circles where different languages were used. I always wanted to make sure I was understood; that became a huge concern of mine and still is.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I haven’t been able to read anything for myself in a long time since I just finished grad school a hot second ago. There’s a short story collection Pétalos y otra historias incómodas by the Mexican author Guadalupe Nettel that I read fairly recently and really loved. It hasn’t been translated into English yet, actually, maybe I should look into that. And I haven’t watched a movie in forever either! Wow, what the hell have I been doing? But I liked The Death of Stalin.

20 - What are you currently working on?
I’m in talks about translating a book right now, so I’m finishing up a sample of it for a pitch. In terms of my own work, there’s a short story I’ve been working on that I’m really excited about finishing, so I’m looking forward to having the time to focus on it. At the same time, I’ve started something else that I think might end up being another book. I am also working on learning not to bite off more than I can chew with these kinds of projects, but those efforts have not been fruitful so far.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;