Erin Emily Ann Vance holds a Masters Degree in English Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Calgary and is pursuing a Masters Degree in Irish Folklore and Ethnology at University College Dublin. Vance attended the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry summer course at Queen's University Belfast in July 2018, and was a fellow of Summer Literary Seminars in Nairobi in December 2018. She attended the Writers Guild of Alberta Banff Centre Residency in February 2019 and worked with author Kimmy Beach as part of the 2019 WGA Mentorship Program. Vance was a recipient of the Alberta Foundation for the Arts Young Artist Prize in 2017 (nominated by Aritha van Herk) and a finalist for the 2018 Alberta Magazine Awards for her short story “All the Pretty Bones.” Her debut novel, Advice for Taxidermists and Amateur Beekeepers will be released November 1, 2019 by Stonehouse Publishing, and her most recent chapbook of poetry, The Sorceress who Left Too Soon, was published by Coven Editions in June 2019.
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 was published by Loft on Eighth press in 2016 with their Long Lunch, Quick Reads Program, which occurs nearly every month with a new chapbook and lunchtime launch. The Night Will Be Long But Beautiful was an adaptation of my undergraduate honours thesis, which was a hybrid poetry memoir about the life and death of my uncle, Jeff Lakes, how his death had a ripple effect on our family, and an investigation of mountaineering and writing about mountaineers. It was unique because it utilized my uncle's photography and ephemera from his expeditions, particularly the 1995 expedition to K2 that led to his death. This chapbook absolutely had a profound effect on me and my my career, because it was later anthologized in a year-end collection of Loft on Eighth's chapbooks and then became part of the Print(ed) Word Project with Loft 112 (a Calgary arts organization) and Alberta Printmakers. I was paired with artist Tim van Wijk, who turned the chap into an exquisite art book. For Print(ed) Word, twelve artists and writers were paired with the intention to create limited edition art books. Copies of these art books are now on permanent display outside of the TD Great Reading Room in the Calgary Central Library, and a catalogue with all of the artwork and writing is available as well. The books have also been on exhibition in several galleries along the way. Not only did my first chapbook lead to amazing things (a speaker series, an upcoming salon series, and now a documentary!), it was a hugely important book for me to write. It allowed me to process parts of my family life that I didn't understand, and connect with my living family on a deeper level, as they were by my side every step of the way. I participated in this project alongside writers such as Aritha van Herk, Jani Krulc, Lee Kvern, and Barb Howard, and being considered in the same league as writers I have admired for years gave me the confidence to pursue more publishing opportunities.
Recently, I've published two more chapbooks, Someday I Will No Longer Write About You: Poems for My Family (Loft on Eighth), and The Sorceress Who Left Too Soon: Poems After Remedios Varo (Coven Editions). My chapbook with Coven was illustrated by Manahil Bandukwala. This was my first experience of having a book illustrated and the finished product is absolutely exquisite. The Coven team, (Stephanie Meloche and Mia Morgan) was a dream to work with, and I am over the moon with how it turned out. The Sorceress Who Left Too Soon feels very different to my two previous chapbooks because it was a longer journey from acceptance to publication, and there was the added element of illustration and design. Each Coven publication is completely different and I believe this is their first full-length chap! An immense amount of thought goes into every element, from paper to ink to incredible attention to editing.
Loft on Eighth produces multiple chapbooks a month, so their process is very different. Editor Igpy Kin is incredible to work with and one of my favourite artists, Stacey Walyuchow recently joined the team as designer. I love working with Loft on Eighth and hope to do more with them in the future!
My first novel, Advice for Taxidermists and Amateur Beekeepers, will be out on November 1st with Stonehouse Publishing. It's sort of surreal to go from chapbooks to a novel! Most people go from chapbooks to full length poetry collections, rather than poetry chapbooks to novels. I always thought I would, too, but I can't for the life of me stick to one genre and when I finished my first novel, I was still only about 1/4 done my first full-length collection. The editing process for a novel is more involved- there are more people at a publishing house than a small or micro press!
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I've always written poetry and fiction, and I honestly can't recall a time when I only wrote one or the other. Being a poet makes my fiction infinitely better, and being a fiction writer gives me the liberty to take an image or a line and turn it into a book. I love writing in both genres because I never get bored this way, and an image or a story will appear to me and I have the freedom to find the right genre for it.
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 am an obsessive self-editor, so the first draft feels like I am running on a very slow treadmill. I write in slow bursts. I also research constantly, so from idea to pen on the page may be weeks. A first draft for a chapbook can take two weeks to two months. I will spend hours writing a poem and then put it aside and edit at a later time. I approach fiction in the same way. It’s usually a slow but steady process all they way through.
4 - Where does a poem or work of prose 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 never used to work from the place of "is this a book?" but now I do. I think that after a few bigger projects your brain just starts to organize poems and scenes and stories into larger projects. It's subconscious, really. I took part in this year's Writers Guild of Alberta Mentorship Program, with Kimmy Beach as my mentor, and she showed me how amongst the pages and pages of poetry I gave her, were common threads tying all of the poems together into what I hadn't yet realized was a book.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I enjoy doing readings and have been doing them for over a decade now. As a teenager I competed in poetry slams and did spoken word. I worked with Sheri D Wilson who taught me so much about performance that my readings are infinitely better because of her, even though I no longer write spoken word.
Readings are part of my process, because they are a way to stay involved in my community and meet and interact with other writers. I am quite shy so I don't go to as many as I should, but whenever I do they are always a lovely experience. I love hearing other writers read their work, and then carrying their voice in my head when I return to their books.
On a more selfish level, readings are a great way to gauge how people react to your work, and an avenue through which people can discover your writing.
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 the current questions have a lot to do with who is telling which stories. We are finally, as a literary world, understanding that this idea of ‘giving voice to the voiceless’ is absolute fallacy and thus I think that the biggest and most important concern is that you are not telling someone else’s story for them, for your own gain. I think that whenever we decide to write a new book or story we have to ask ourselves if we are taking space away from others. It is important that we are not co-opting the experiences of others for our own gain.
More specifically, my writing often addresses fear and grief relating to the bodily experiences of women. I often find myself grounding my work in the female gothic and Kristeva’s work on abjection.
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?
The writer always has a role, especially in a culture that is continuously devaluing the arts and upholding an unsustainable gig economy. It is an act of resistance to dedicate your life to something that capitalism deems unworthy. In a continually plugged-in world, it is also the writer’s job to provide a reprieve from screens and notifications; as a fully-engaged with the internet millennial, one of the most powerful things is a book that makes me ignore my phone and computer until I have finished it. I want my books to be the sort of books that people leave their phones in the other room for.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
It is essential AND enjoyable. All good writing needs to be in collaboration with a good editor at some point, and so far I’ve had amazing editors.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Stay curious and question everything.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to the novel)? What do you see as the appeal?
It’s really easy for me, though I do occasionally favour one over the other. Writing in multiple genres helps me to stay limber in my writing and to not lose sight of the joy in writing. Whether you write multiple genres or not, it is vital to move between genres while reading.
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’m moving to Dublin in a month, so with all of that preparation I don’t have a routine at the moment! I write whenever possible, whether it’s dictating to an app on my hour long commute to work, or scribbling something down half awake in the middle of the night. I do try to take a half-day off of work to go to the library and write every week. With my most recent chapbook just having been released and with a novel coming out, my work is mostly follow-up and admin at the moment, however!
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
History and folklore. When I am stuck, I read history books and folklore. Without a doubt, something always piques my interest.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Wet dogs, coffee, pipe-smoke, chickens, whiskey, cigarettes, grass, sawdust, wood smoke, English breakfast tea, and lavender
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 write ekphrastic poetry so art is a huge influence on my work, especially surrealism and dadaism. I dabble in mixed media collage art. My father and brother are both musicians, so music is also important to my practice; I use it to get into the tone of a particular piece, or to help transport myself to a time or place in history. I mentioned before the importance of history and folklore to my work, so I spend as much time as possible steeped in that; I’m even beginning a second masters degree in folklore in September!
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
The writers most important to my work right now are Shirley Jackson, Barbara Comyns, Sandy Pool, Sandra Kasturi, Doireann Ni Ghriofa, Annemarie Ni Churreain, Seamus Heaney, Miriam Toews, Anna Burns, Joy Williams, Carmen Maria Machado, Amber Tamblyn, Camilla Grudova, Gaetan Soucy, Marie-Claire Blais, Toni Morrison, Helen Oyeyemi, Christine Dwyer Hickey, and Emma Donoghue.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I’m very interested in non-fiction, particularly investigative journalism. I would love to branch into True Crime writing one day. I’d also love to start a podcast.
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?
Funeral director, criminologist, or forensic anthropologist. I wanted to be an FBI agent and catch serial killers when I was growing up, probably because of all of the X Files, Six Feet Under, and Criminal Minds I watched. I don’t really believe in only ever having one job or occupation, and I am still in school with hopes to work as an archivist in the future, in addition to writing.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I always loved writing, and other things that interested me (like the aforementioned serial killer catching) involved a lot of science and math, which I did not excel at in school. I toyed with being a teacher for a long time and was even accepted to an education program, but I decided to do my MA instead, which I am very thankful for, because although I do enjoy teaching, teaching grade school just isn’t in the cards for me! I worked in the Archives and Special Collections at the University of Calgary during my undergrad and first masters and found that environment to suit me much better. Turns out this introvert likes the quiet- who knew?
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Can I go by genre? It’s been a good year for books!
I just finished Maryse Meijer's new short story collection Rag, and was blown away by it. I couldn't put it down. The stories are disturbing and fascinating and deeply, deeply human.
I think my favourite novel of the year so far was Milkman by Anna Burns. I read it at the beginning of February and haven't stopped thinking about it. It’s lead to what may be a bordering on unhealthy obsession with The Troubles. Milkman is quirky, nuanced, and nothing short of brilliant; it’s a great companion novel to my favourite nonfiction book of the year, Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe. At its core, this book explores archival practices during and after conflict, something I am absolutely fascinated with and on the surface is concerned with the disappearance and murder of Jean McConville in 1972.
I'm reading Robin Richardson's poetry collection Sit How You Want right now, and it's highly addictive: intelligent, sharp, and exciting.
I don’t watch many films (that’s my partner’s territory) but I recently watched the documentary I, Dolours written by Ed Moloney and directed by Maurice Sweeney. It uses archival footage of IRA activist Dolours Price to tell her side of the Jean McConville story.
20 - What are you currently working on?
Right now, my second novel is with beta readers and my first full-length poetry collection is out on submission. I am in the idea stage of a third novel, which will be a slight shift in genre (diving into a bit of historical fiction), and 2/3 of the way through a short fiction collection. I am also working on two follow-up chapbooks to The Sorceress Who Left Too Soon, each one responding to the work of another female surrealist painter. I’m also working on a true crime essay about a murder that occurred in my hometown
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