Wednesday, September 30, 2020

12 or 20 (small press) questions with Netta Johnson and Lisa Murphy-Lamb on Stonehouse Publishing

Stonehouse Publishing: Founded by two friends who share a love of literature and history, Stonehouse Publishing is an emerging Canadian publishing house now in its 6th year with a third partner, specializing in literary fiction, Canadian stories and historical fiction. As a newish and small company, Stonehouse Publishes five titles per year

Netta Johnson is the Publisher at one of Edmonton’s newest Publishing houses, Stonehouse Publishing. She loves coffee, tea and a story well told. In her fleeting free time, you will find her curled up with an historical novel, putting everything else on hold until she has finished. Aside from being a writer, editor, reader and lover of literature, she dabbles in bread-making and stone masonry. Netta currently serves on the board of the Book Publishers Association of Alberta and the Waldorf Education Society of Edmonton.

Lisa Murphy-Lamb began her career as an elementary teacher, inspiring young students to put words to page. Then one day in her jam-packed grade 5 classroom, Lisa realized that she could trade in the life of a teacher for the glamorous (and silent) life of a writer. So she did. But not before she moved cities, went back to university and began her family. Lisa Murphy-Lamb is a writer, educator, and the Director of Loft 112, a creative space for writers in Calgary’s East Village.

1 – When did Stonehouse Publishing first start? How have your original goals as a publisher shifted since you started, if at all? And what have you learned through the process?

Netta: When we first started in 2014, it was to see more historical-fiction in Canada, including historical fiction about other parts of the world. We still love to look at the broad world of history, but we have also found ourselves drawn into the many incredible stories set in Canada in this past, along with a number of thrillers. Starting out, we didn’t realize how much we love thrillers.
2 – What first brought you to publishing?
Netta: So many things! Who doesn’t want to be in publishing? Well, for starters, we were/are inspired by the idea of publishing first-time authors, and making decisions beyond the p/l calculation. Sometimes this means that decisions don’t make financial sense, but in some ways, that is the charm of it all. In other ways, we are still struggling to pay ourselves. A connection?
3 – What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?
Netta: Representing community. This was something we did not fully understand to start with. Publishers have to give people/readers/writers a reason to support them, and in that way they are symbiotic.

4 – What do you see your press doing that no one else is?
Netta: Well, my deceased cat, Unsworth, is one of our acquisitions editors. Who else is doing that?  But perhaps more seriously, I think all publishers are unique, and in that way, they are all bringing something unique to the marketplace, and Canada is better with more publishers operating than less.

5 – What do you see as the most effective way to get new books out into the world?
Netta: Choose books you sincerely love so your advocacy for them is so genuine, readers know it, and trust you to bring them to continue to produce good books.

6 – How involved an editor are you? Do you dig deep into line edits, or do you prefer more of a light touch?

Netta: It depends on the book, but we have done both. I would say sometimes we ask questions about things, which lead to redevelopment, but mostly we ask for smaller edits, and are more likely to say 'this scene is weighed down by details; trim this section by 1/3’ rather than ‘get rid of this character’.
7 – How do your books get distributed? What are your usual print runs?
Netta: Through LitDistCo in Toronto. 1,000 is our average, 500 is the lowest, and 2,000 is the highest ever.

8 – How many other people are involved with editing or production? Do you work with other editors, and if so, how effective do you find it? What are the benefits, drawbacks?
Netta: There are many people involved in editing and production, but I am sorry to say that there are not too many people paid throughout that process, including us. The larger first edit is always done in-house, by either Netta, Lisa or Julie, and sometimes all of us. Small errors are caught by everyone and anyone, on the way to the final print. It takes a village to remove typos from a manuscript.
9– How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?
Netta: It has made me realize that writing really is just the first of many needful steps on the way to broad readership and material success.
10– How do you approach the idea of publishing your own writing? Some, such as Gary Geddes when he still ran Cormorant, refused such, yet various Coach House Press’ editors had titles during their tenures as editors for the press, including Victor Coleman and bpNichol. What do you think of the arguments for or against, or do you see the whole question as irrelevant?
Netta: We give it a fair amount of thought, and try to ensure some sort of objectivity enters the decision. We want it to be more than just a ridiculously easy submission process… We can see many upsides and downsides. It is way easier to promote others, for example, than to promote oneself, so if the book is mine, the promotion really suffers.

Lisa: I published my novel, Jesus on the Dashboard through Stonehouse Publishing and through this relationship as writer/publisher I was asked to join the Stonehouse team when a third member was required. If I ever get my second novel published, we will have to have this discussion…publish in house or look elsewhere! But Netta is right. I spend a lot of time looking at ways to support the writers of Stonehouse and then forget to apply these opportunities to myself as a writer of Stonehouse.
11– How do you see Stonehouse Publishing evolving?
Netta: This may sound trite, but I see it making money someday. But honestly, that is part of a mature organization, and we have had an influx of energy in the past few years (mostly due to Lisa coming aboard!), so our outlook is quite positive and hopeful, despite all the rational reasons to feel glum (COVID, lack of money, closed bookstores, etc…)

Lisa: As we’re preparing for our Fall launch, we are also, of course, reading through our submission pile. I think the first 7 years of establishing Stonehouse as an exciting publishing house is beginning to pay off. We’re actually asking more writers to send in their full manuscripts then not. The quality of submissions is really exciting.

12 – What, as a publisher, are you most proud of accomplishing? What do you think people have overlooked about your publications? What is your biggest frustration?
Netta: I think I am most proud of starting a publishing house in the first place. It is a gargantuan effort, and sometimes I sit back and thinking about how much it took to do. I don’t think we are overlooked, but I do think that because we started from scratch, rather than acquiring an existing house and backlist, we have pursued an unusual path and are harder to categorize.

13 – Who were your early publishing models when starting out?
Netta: We didn’t start with a model in mind, only the idea of what might be possible. In starting out, we had many mentors and many other generous publishers who were willing to sit down and have a coffee with us and tell us some of the things we didn’t know. The publishers we met with often did things differently from each other, and were very kind in explaining which ones of their processes they had created and still liked a lot, and which ones were more historical, and had begun to feel like restraints upon them. This was incredibly helpful.

14 – How does Stonehouse Publishing work to engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large? What journals or presses do you see Stonehouse Publishing in dialogue with? How important do you see those dialogues, those conversations?
Netta: Our community involvement mostly comes via the groups we are members of, like the Book Publishers Association of Alberta, the Literary Press Group, and so on. We are always happy to accept invitations to be on panels, or help with workshops. We know this is vital.
15 – Do you hold regular or occasional readings or launches? How important do you see public readings and other events?
Netta: We hold one group launch for all of the authors/books we release each year, and we think they are very important. This year will be our first virtual launch, so we are looking for other creative ways to involve community and support the forthcoming titles.

16 – How do you utilize the internet, if at all, to further your goals?
Netta: By communicating via social media and selling from our website. It is very important, especially in times where bookstores are closed or limited.

Lisa: We also communicate a great deal with our writers via email. We have an active relationship with many of them, some less so, but we like to offer different ways to keep sharing their books, or what’s happening in the publishing world or what we are doing as a publisher on their behalf.
17 – Do you take submissions? If so, what aren’t you looking for?
Netta: We do take submissions. What aren’t we looking for? I suppose we aren’t looking for poetry or short-stories, or anything too formulaic or cynical. Or gratuitously violent.

Lisa: We also don’t publish non fiction or children’s books.
18 – Tell me about three of your most recent titles, and why they’re special.
Netta: While our minds are taken up with our 5 upcoming novels Humane, Rough, Censorettes, Fall of Night and All the Night Gone, it would be impossible to limit the list to 3, so I will take some time to send some more love towards our previous 3 books, released Fall 2019:

The Wheaton: The rare novel set in a senior’s home, both funny and poignant. John, recently retired but still young and healthy enough to work, takes a job at 'the Wheaton’ while grieving for his late wife. The reader develops a bit of a love/hate relationship with John, as we re-live his memories, and discover the insular and sometimes selfish way he had lived his life.

The Work: This novel looks at the longing inside each of us, looking for meaning and community. The setting, a theatre troupe which bears more than a passing resemblance to a cult, brings so much of our (often hidden) lives into view. Toronto arts scene in the 80s comes to life in this clever book.

Advice for Taxidermists and Amateur Beekeepers: The sudden death of Margot Morris and her two young daughters in a house fire sends shock-waves through a small rural community. The Morrises are a close-knit family, long associated with the mysterious arts of taxidermy and bee-keeping and the town is enveloped by speculation about this eccentric family whose close bonds are now being tested by tragedy.

12 or 20 (small press) questions;

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Rick Barot, The Galleons


Her story is a part of something larger, it is a part
of history. No, her story is an illumination

of history, a matchstick lit in the black seam of time.
Or, no, her story is separate

from the whole, as distinctive as each person is distinct
from the stream of people that led

to the one and leads past the one. Or, her story
is surrounded by history, the ambient spaciousness

of which she is the momentary foreground.
Maybe history is a net through which

just about everything passes, and the pieces of her
story are particles caught in the interstices. (“THE GALLEONS 1”)

Having only recently discovered Tacoma, Washington poet Rick Barot’s work through his chapbook, During the Pandemic (Albion Books, 2020) [see my review of such here], I was eager to see more of his work, which led me to picking up a copy of The Galleons (Minneapolis MN: milkweed editions, 2020). The Galleons is Barot’s fourth full-length poetry collection, following The Darker Fall (Sarabande Books, 2002), Want (Sarabande Books, 2008)—which was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award and won the Grub Street Book Prize—and Chord (Sarabande Books, 2015)—which won the UNT Rilke Prize, the PEN Open Book Award and the Publishing Triangle’s Thom Gunn Award. How is it I’ve not heard of his work until now? As the back cover of The Galleons offers: “Barot’s poems are engaged in the work of recovery, making visible what is often intentionally erased: the movement of domestic workers on a weekday morning in Brooklyn; a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, fondly sharing photos of his dog; the departure and destination points of dozens of galleons between 1564 and 1815, these ships evoking both the vast movements of history and the individual journeys of those borne along by their tides.”

Barot’s poems are graceful, expansive and composed with incredible care, moving through and into unexpected places. His poems have the sense of being all over the place, managing a series of collages that each hold a through-line, carefully put together with great thought and care. Consider the poem “STILL LIFE WITH HELICOPTERS,” which moves through a history of a Chinese toy two thousand years prior to Leonardo da Vinci, a history of helicopters, “as many / different kinds of helicopters now as there are // uses for them” to the sounds he hears from the inventory of his desk, including “what the Oakland Police Department helicopter // is doing now, while the protesters swarm onto / the 580 Freeway and shut it down, protesting // the grand jury’s decision in Ferguson, Missouri, / not to indict the police officer who killed Michael / Brown.” The poem is moving, moves and elevates, pulling and piecing together elements that might not connect but clearly do, through Barot’s narrative meditative threads of intimate knowledge, collecting and conjoining information and trauma, loss and heartbreak. The poems in this collection are remarkable for how much Barot manages to contain in such small spaces; over the two or three pages of a single poem, working through his own curiosities and attentions to attempt comprehension. How does the centre hold? How do these ideas piece together? His poems are very much a space of deep attention, attempting to listen and step out of the way, working to understand just what it is he is hearing. As the poem “THE GALLEONS 10” ends:

I had a fate, it took me

across an ocean. It has taken half a life
to turn back and see

what it was I left behind.
I came from teachers and soldiers.

On the island my father comes from,
the people covered their bodies

with tattoos. I come from soot,
from ink. I come from people who honed

their teeth to sharp points,
who buried their dead in coffins

Shaped like boats for a journey.
I come from horizons. I come from water.

The through-line of the collection are the ten individual and numbered title poems, running from “The Galleons 1” to “The Galleons 10,” exploring a sequence of ships through a concurrently deep yet sideways glance, writing empire and colonialism. As Jane Wong describes the book to introduce her recent interview with Barot for BOMB, the collection “moves through the marrow of a family’s journey from the Philippines to the Americas—simultaneously widening and pinpointing the trauma of colonialism.” In one poem, he writes on the effects of colonialism and immigration through writing about being attentive about sharing days in New York City with Frank O’Hara poems; there is something rather remarkable in the ways in which Barot clearly tells you about one thing through the lens of something else entirely. Wong’s interview includes:

RB In Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “Over 2,000 Illustrations and a Complete Concordance,” there’s a beautiful line that goes, “Everything only connected by ‘and’ and ‘and.’”  That line pretty much summarizes the research method—if you can even call it a method—that informed my work on many poems in The Galleons. When I noticed something—a bit of information I came across, say, or a bit of visual vividness occurring in front of me—I used that as a starting point to look closer and to look wider, knowing that the trail of connections from one thing to another, from one and to another and, can be intricately strange.

One night, reading in a chair in my house, a flea jumped onto my forearm. This led to me to look up fleas online, which somehow led to re-reading John Donne’s “The Flea,” which then led to some self-pitying thoughts about my shortcomings as a poet. In terms of research that took place on a grander scale, I had the good fortune of getting a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship in 2016, and this funding made it possible to do research on the galleons and the Spanish galleon trade that I could only have dreamed of without the funding.  I went to the Naval Museum in Madrid, to the incredible silver galleries of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and to the National Museum in Manila. In all of these places I came across astonishing things that ended up in the poems.    

JW Tell me about one particular astonishing thing as you moved through these museums.

RB The most aching experience during my travels was seeing a portrait of Ferdinand Magellan at the Naval Museum in Madrid, in an exhibit that celebrated the three-hundred-plus years of the Spanish galleon trade in the Pacific. Magellan “discovered” the Philippines for Spain in 1521, which led to Spain’s centuries-long control over the country. The painting of Magellan was not contemporaneous, so it was a speculative portrait of the man, showing him looking grand and wise and triumphant. Still, seeing the ersatz portrait gave me a wave of nausea anyway. I thought of how this one man’s errand set so much in motion—a history that was still rippling five hundred years into the present, with me standing there in front of him, one more speck in that long and painful story. 

Monday, September 28, 2020

Ken Babstock, Swivelmount



On her seesaw, a kerchiefed woman comes out
into dry air, clean light, high swan-white strips,
while inside he waits for the cat gut

to swell, for drizzle or a downpour to gallop
over windbreak and field, lowering cast

to the cloud pile, slugs blooming on the cowpath
like fungus. Traps and blades could up and rust.

From her separate door she’ll re-emerge with
blue breaking through grey. Another thin day,

another spell of keeping her balsa-wood
twin in his unlit room playing skunk or solitaire,

losing weight by not drinking. Dry he could
be a manageable dream she keeps in a hand-tooled

box. She, the law that regulates his mood.

In Swivelmount (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2020), Toronto poet and editor Ken Babstock’s first poetry title since his Griffin Prize-winning Methodist Hatchet (Anansi, 2011) and subsequent On Malice (Coach House Books, 2014), his poems don’t as much describe as disassemble, pull apart piece by piece so as to set aside and open the lengthy process of meditative study. Babstock’s poems are restless, moving through elements of history, biology, geology, sports and art, wandering along the Scarborough Bluffs or Leslie Street Spit, musings on a hockey game, or an unexpected comparison between punk and classical music. In his particular blend of intellectual inquiry and study against hard truths or brutal consequences, Babstock explores the elements upon which we may have, or even decide we have, little or no control. “Buffalo south over the marbling lake seen / pitching an errant new mall.” he writes, to open the poem “Milk and Hair,” “Clear mornings // I’m meant to be comfortable with the American / vernacular, it was meant to happen between channels. // Stop pretending you can just up and start thinking— / it’s mostly snooker, sardines over ham, the sense / of having pointed to Door Number 3 / at the business end of some steamy // ruminations.” Babstock writes on the human capacity for beauty and violence, two sides that don’t reconcile easily. “Consider / the atom;” he writes, to end the poem “Edge,” “if there’s a way / of breaking down / a thing we’ll find / a way to break it.”

His language is incredibly dense, but there’s a curious meander that Babstock has in his diction, that somehow exactly gets to the point, such as in the poem “Dream of the Cerne Abbas Giant,” as the narrator writes on his reluctant son: “He // wanted, he said, to not be the age that he / in fact was, wanted / to no longer be // even the he that he was and couldn’t not be, / inexplicably snagged in the cross- / currents of now and here.” His language is precise, but capable of a lightness, of a dexterity, that refuses to be weighed down. There is a particular kind of precision that Babstock does brilliantly, managing the complexity of straightforward possibilities.

I remember attending a reading Babstock did at Concordia in November 2001, and being quite taken with how quietly and deeply articulate he was, answering questions posed to him by students and faculty alike. Whereas a part of me might wish Babstock wrote critical prose—a sequence of essays, for example, on writing and thinking (comparable, I would suspect, to essays by Don McKay or Robert Bringhurst)—one could argue that everything he might have included in such a volume is already there in his poems. As the closing of the poem “Die Zwitscher-Maschine” offers:

Which of us now
inhales the city

as though mock
orange were in bloom.

My burner, my
balaclava. What a

notion, honestly,
what a notion


Sunday, September 27, 2020


The latest from Perth, Ontario poet Phil Hall is the volume NIAGARA & GOVERNMENT (St. John’s, Newfoundland: Pedlar Press, 2020), a suite of meditations carved from lyric fragments (alternately: lyric fragments carved from a suite of meditations). Notwithstanding his Governor General’s Award win and Griffin Poetry Prize nomination, I always think there should be larger attentions provided Hall whenever a new volume of his poetry emerges, given how solid his centre remains, how collected his lyric collages, and how pervasive his wisdoms that tun through these myriad threads of reference, articulations, pauses and speculations. Phil Hall weighs, considers and stitches together a myriad of disconnects, excising the white noise from a potential overload of information into something uniquely coherent. The poems concurrently shudder, and remain sleek. At the end of the poem “Ars Poetica,” he writes:

I work toward an intimacy    an intricacy     approaching absurdity

from eked notes    of self-loathing    & affinity
I invite a discordance

that cherishes    & defies

Through more than a dozen trade poetry collections, Hall has mined further and deeper into the complexities of language, his histories of abuse, addiction and recovery, and his attentiveness to mentors, contemporaries, tokens and folk art. As he writes in the sequence “Stan Dragland’s Wall”: “So folk art   & fine art   are one // folk   in its shed materials / fine   in its poetics of   amodal   disrepair // as with the first papier collés  by Braque 1912 / we must bring to this wall   a multiple perspective [.]” He stitches together a whole cloth out of scraps, and something valuable out of what others might easily discard, or overlook, allowing for a perspective more humble, and more democratic in scope. He writes Roy Kiyooka, Dolly Parton, Stan Dragland, Nudie Cohn, Lorine Niedecker, Emily Dickinson, Robert Duncan and Eugene Mcnamara. He writes of “the legendary Joe Junkin,” “the goalie for the Bobcaygeon Ti-Cats [.]” He writes of rude songs, typos and the bottom of the seemingly bottomless bottom. 

Increasingly, Hall writes an unbroken, elegiac line composed of lyric fragments, cadence and the pregnant pause, moving further along a path he constructs as he walks, following bpNichol’s “poem as long as a life.” In NIAGARA & GOVERNMENT, more than he has done with his other recent works—including Conjugation (Toronto ON: BookThug, 2016) [see my review of such here] and My Banjo & Tiny Drawings (Toronto ON: Flat Singles Press, 2015) [see my review of such here]—he writes as though his life depends upon it; how recovery is a process not a goal-post. He writes with the perspective that the true way, or at least his way, through and potentially past the far end of trauma is through language: “without a mask I am no past / without a past I am an amalgam devoid of loyalty // except to the presenting moment / its deep accordion sigh // the next word has / my true ancestors within it [.]” (“Bottom”).

As Hall’s friend and contemporary Stan Dragland offers in his essay “DIFFICULTIES,” from The Difficult (Pedlar Press, 2019):

“I guess to be sincerely, honestly difficult,” says poet Phil Hall, “a poem has to be heard by the poet who made it as merely the clearest possible talk its maker could come up with.” Difficult English poet J.H. Prynne has a related thought about poetic responsibility. He differentiates “post-modernist playfulness, where meaning is allowed to skim across a surface in a deliberately arbitrary way” from something that goes deeper. “[T]he use of difficulty as a method of poetic thought is different both in intention and effect from difficulty as a playground or a funfair.” I offer my own “clearest possible talk,” realizing that it’s difficult to avoid a certain amount of difficulty in writing about the difficult. However, part of the pleasure of writing this, for me, has been just to tell some stories about writers, writing and readers. About the stories there is nothing difficult.


Saturday, September 26, 2020

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Andrew Unger

Andrew Unger is best known as the author and founder of the satire website The Daily Bonnet. An educator based in southern Manitoba, his work has appeared in Geez, Rhubarb, Ballast,, the Winnipeg Free Press, and many others. If you go back far enough, he’s probably related to you. Once Removed is his debut novel.

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

Does a website count? I started the satire website The Daily Bonnet in 2016, and have written at least one satirical article every day since then for four years. About 1800 articles at this point. The website is kind of like the Mennonite version of The Onion. I think most people are used to it by now, but occasionally new readers are shocked to discover that Mennonite satire is even a thing. When they think of Mennonites they envision a man in a dark suit, long beard, and suspenders milking a cow or raising a barn, rather than some dude in a Purple Rain T-shirt churning out satirical articles about Donald Trump’s plans to build a wall to keep out the Mennonites.

So how has this changed my life? Someone recognized me and paid for my pho at a local Vietnamese restaurant the other day. That was nice. It’s good to know your work is appreciated. I think the success of the website also made my novel an easier sell.

My new book Once Removed feels both similar and different. It is a comedy, although not strictly satire, but the process of writing book-length fiction is obviously quite different than writing short satirical articles.

2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?

Poet Sarah Ens, who edited my novel OnceRemoved, once told me that one of the things that attracted her to poetry was the fact that the writer was not confined to telling a story. Poetry can be about a feeling, a moment, a memory. I’m not a poet, but I like that aspect of poetry. It’s free. In the same way, I feel fiction is freeing, at least compared to non-fiction, in that you’re not confined to the facts.

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?

The first draft of Once Removed looks absolutely nothing like the finished product. I think perhaps the only element that remains from that first draft is that the protagonist is a ghostwriter. I think the story comes to life in the editing. That’s where I really discovered the story I wanted to tell.

4 - Where does a 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?

As a satirist, the fiction begins with observation, more so than imagination. You look at the world and people around you – you look at yourself – and then you write what you see. My novel, although not strictly satire, also had its genesis in observation. I write shorter and longer pieces of fiction but in the case of Once Removed, it was intended to be a book from the beginning.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

When I read publicly I can hear where people laugh and where people don’t laugh. Sometimes it’s unexpected. So, yes, public readings have made me a better writer.

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 one thing my website and my novel have in common is the question of identity and the role of minority cultures within the macroculture. Once Removed is about a ghostwriter in a small town trying to preserve the stories of the aging population, while the town’s mayor is trying to demolish historic buildings and silence writers he sees as an embarrassment or “bad for business.” Doesn’t sound that funny … but it is. I think comedy can be an effective tool to raise important questions.

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?

I think writers can play a role in reflecting culture back to itself. This obviously is the role of satirists and comedians, but I think even writers of non-comedic works do this as well. At the same time, I think writers can’t deny the fact that people read to be entertained, though I don’t think we should think of “entertainment” as the equivalent of “distraction”, as it’s sometimes portrayed. Readers need to be engaged in the work in some way, and this might mean the writer is not distracting people from the reality of their lives, but boldly presenting the truth – both can be “entertaining.”

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

I found the editing process on Once Removed absolutely wonderful. Sarah Ens always had a way of asking the right questions. The book is much better for her contribution.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

At the risk of repeating a cliché, “write what you know” is absolutely true. When I was younger I was reluctant to write about my own cultural background, thinking that people wouldn't be interested in reading about Mennonites. I was wrong. Only when I finally did write about what I knew, did my writing reach a wide audience.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (journalism to fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?

There is a direct link between the satirical “journalism” on The Daily Bonnet and novel writing. The satirical articles have a tight organizational structure that frames the ideas. The novel shatters all that, but still maintains some of the tone of The Daily Bonnet. Because I wasn’t confined to a faux journalistic structure that I’m used to on The Daily Bonnet, writing Once Removed was freeing.

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 usually write in the evening, sometimes late into the night, but I have no set routine. I have noticed a few things that don’t have an explanation. When I’m writing satirical articles I’m not nearly as sensitive to distraction as I was working on the novel. While working on Once Removed I could not tolerate any background noise or music. And I love music. I just couldn’t have it playing while I was writing or editing.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

I take a walk. Of course, in the town where I live this peaceful stroll is usually interrupted by young men in loud Honda Civics cruising up and down Main Street. But, if I stay away from Main, I can clear my head and think.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Farmer sausage.

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?

Yes, a lot. Guy Maddin’s films, for example. I don’t think my novel has much in common with his surrealism or his visual style, but his exploration of loss, community, and identity, especially in My Winnipeg was a significant influence.

The cover of my novel also contains a traditional Mennonite floor pattern by artist Margruite Krahn. The brightly-coloured patterns were often hand-painted by women on the floors of Mennonite housebarns. This is mentioned in my novel. These women lived such austere and restrictive lives, but as Margruite told me “you cannot squelch beauty.” That need for beauty found its outlet on the floors of Mennonite homes.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

Many. Sinclair Lewis, Par Lagerkvist, Armin Wiebe, JM Coatzee, Miriam Toews, Allen Ginsberg, Jonathan Swift, Anthony Bourdain, Gabrielle Roy, David Bergen, Antoine de Saint Exupéry

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

I’d like to visit the village in Ukraine where my grandfather was born. In 1925, at the age of five, he came with his family as a refugee to Canada and, to my knowledge, no one in my family has been back there. The name of the village has changed, but my understanding is that it still exists.

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?

Well, I am a teacher as well as a writer. I think those occupations go together well. “Sont les mots qui vont très bien ensemble?”

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

My professional bowling career just wasn’t taking off …

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

Oh, wow, I loved Casey Plett’s Little Fish and Katherena Vermette’s The Break. Five Wives by Joan Thomas was also fabulous.

As for film, I love watching Billy Wilder movies. Of course, The Apartment and Some Like it Hot are more well known, but my favourite Billy Wilder comedy is One, Two, Three, a brilliant cold war satire that I return to often. I must say I also really enjoyed Sean Garrity’s new film I Propose We Never See Each Other Again After Tonight, a romantic comedy about a Mennonite man and a Filipina woman set in a frigid Winnipeg winter.

20 - What are you currently working on?

I just finished Once Removed so I’m not too far into another project, though, of course, I do keep writing The Daily Bonnet.

12or 20 (second series) questions;