Monday, January 31, 2022

12 or 20 (small press) questions with Heather Campbell on Latitude46

Heather Campbell has spent over 30 years in communications and freelance writing, specializing in issues relevant to Northern Ontario communities. A graduate of York University (BA Sociology ’92), she has combined her education, experience and ‘need to initiate’ by starting a local chapter of the Professional Writers Association of Canada and the Wordstock Sudbury Literary Festival. She has held the position of Chair for LitDistCo, a small book distribution collective of literary book publishers, since February 2020 and she is a Board member of the Ontario Book Publishers Organization.

Latitude 46 is a member of Literary Press Group, Ontario Book Publishers Organization, Association of Canadian Publishers and eBOUND. We receive funding from Ontario Arts Council, Canada Council of the Arts, Ontario Media Development Corporation and Canada Book Fund.

1.When did Latitude46 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?

We started on March 31, 2015 and published our first anthology, Along the 46th: Short Fiction in November 2015.

Latitude 46 was started by myself and Laura Stradiotto, a fellow freelance journalist, who agreed that we wanted to ensure Northern Ontario continued to have a publishing house after Scrivener Press closed. Our mandate to publish Northern Ontario authors and stories has not changed. We receive approximately 50-60 submissions each year (increasing every year), plus I seek out diverse authors.

Laura left to pursue other interests in 2019 but remains supportive of the press. Our consulting editor Mitchell Gauvin now Dr. Mitchell Gauvin (English), also a published author (Vandal Confessions) continues to work with us.

I initially approached the owner of Scrivener Press to purchase from him, however, his response was “the learning curve is too much” which I took as patriarchal at the time. It has been an enormous learning curve indeed but certainly achievable. I have had many mentors including Leigh Nash, Karl Seigler, Hazel and Jay Millar and many professional development opportunities. I am never not learning about different aspects of publishing. Currently I am diving into exporting and foreign rights.

2 – What first brought you to publishing?

I spent the first 30 years of my life in Toronto before moving to Sudbury. When I was 19 years old I loved reading and had a dream of becoming a novelist. After finishing high school I met with a counsellor at Centennial College to explore the Book Design and Production program, however, I also was interested in university and was exploring social work. I decided on sociology with a minor in English at York University. The next 30 years I spent my career in communications and writing (freelance journalism). At 50, my kids were gone to university and Scrivener Press was closing. I had some experience ghostwriting and self-publishing for others so I understood a bit about making books. Before I started the press though, I met with ACP Executive Director, Denise Truax of Prise de parole (Francophone publisher in Sudbury) and Laurence Steven, retiring publisher of Scrivener Press to get their perspective on starting a brand new press. Based on what we learned, we then decided to climb this mountain.

3 – What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?

Small press, Indie publishing, is here to ensure that all voices are heard, particularly those who are overlooked because they don’t meet the criteria for selling enough copies to support a corporation. Indie publishing spends a great deal of time nurturing emerging authors, or at least I do! I am so impressed by the books being published by my fellow indie presses. Books that have the power to inform, inspire and tell the truth. We are focused on storytelling by Canadians for the whole world to read.

As a small press in Northern Ontario, where many authors are distanced from the “publishing industry”, I invest a great deal of time to answering questions, encourage young authors, and raising the bar on quality of writing. I also started Wordstock Sudbury Literary Festival in 2013 and we are presenting our 9th edition this year. I have such a passion for writing and books and wanting others to have access to the industry. I always bring professionals from the industry, award winning authors as well as local authors to the festival.

4 – What do you see your press doing that no one else is?

We are a regional press. It limits us in some ways, but at the same time creates a clear focus. We are the only English language trade publisher in Northern Ontario. For Ontario in particular, Northern Ontario is often overlooked. However, the culture and stories that reside here are connected to the land and unique experiences. I am not sure if other small presses find this but having a publisher who is accessible means I get a lot of people contacting me, approaching me at events to ask questions about publishing or pitch me directly. I am not able to hide in an office tower in a big city, or away from view in a rural location. I feel a certain responsibility, as a community member, to help in some way whether directing to a more appropriate publisher ie children’s, more writing assistance or even self-publishing.

5 – What do you see as the most effective way to get new books out into the world?

Interesting question as the world around us is “pivoting”. If this is a distribution question, lots could be done. We need to have the return of local independent bookstores. I have very recently been getting involved in the conversation between booksellers and publishers and so much can be done in this relationship that would move books better. My experience with the festival has shown me that readers love meeting and hearing from writers. They immediately go buy the books. Book clubs and video chats move books. In terms of marketing to move books, we have relied on social media and the digital environment but we are finding out that we have so little control over who actually sees those messages. I am also behind advocating for more Canadian books in Canadian schools.

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

The most editing I do as the publisher is a light touch to start and then hand over to an editor who can dig deep. We hire editors based on the book and author. For example, we just published Aurore Gatwenzi’s debut poetry collection, Gold Pours this past fall and she really wanted to work with Britta Badour. We had Britta at Wordstock Sudbury Literary Festival so we hired her to work with Aurore. I love that! Not only great editing but great mentorship too. Mitchell Gauvin will work on the majority and he is such a thoughtful and thorough editor. I also meet with each author I sign prior to signing and we have the discussion about their approach to editing. I need to see that they are keen and willing for a good edit.

7 – How do your books get distributed? What are your usual print runs?

Our books are distributed by LitDistCo and I have held the role of Chair for LitDistCo since February 2020. I also do a good number of sales from our online shop.

I have been keeping our print runs low since initially printing 500 – 1,000 on early books only to have them sitting in my shed :<(  We have been printing with Rapido Books and they have a program where each print run on a single title adjusts unit price to reflect the total amount run. (Hope that makes sense). I will typically run 350-400 to start, and go up from there depending on demand.

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?

As mentioned before we hire editors based on author and book. I am currently working with Sarah Jarvis for our first YA Novel. I have hired Nathan Adler as a sensitivity reader. I hire local proofreaders.

We started with hiring a designer but I eventually learned to design because it was frustrating to wait for them to get to a small edit or rushing through a design.

I like hiring by book. I think we do well for the author and the story when we have an interested team working on the book. I have purchased local art for covers as well.

The only drawback I have encountered is timing on design work. There is an immense amount of administrative work to publishing and I find myself leaving the layout or design to the last minute.

9– How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?

When I initially started the press and read through submissions it made me want to write again. Over time, I am much too busy to even think about writing! I just read Linda Leith’s memoir and welcomed her to Sudbury for the Wordstock Sudbury Literary Festival, we have some similarities in establishing a literary festival and publishing house. I find her writing beautiful and maybe someday I will write a beautiful memoir too.

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?

I won’t publish my own writing at this point. For me, I don’t have time but I would likely do what Linda Leith did and find another publisher. I do believe there needs to be some objectivity to creating and promoting your work. If I published under Latitude 46, it would feel more like self-publishing.

11– How do you see Latitude46 evolving?

My dream for Latitude 46 is to have a long life – another 20 years and hopefully sell so it can live on after me. I hope we uncover some talented and impactful authors who provoke conversations. We are working on exporting more books into the US, but I also hope we can negotiate more foreign translation rights for our authors and attend book fairs around the world.

It has been an immense amount of time and work to reach where we are now. I decided in the beginning that we would make our mistakes in the early years but hone our craft of publishing in subsequent years. We are honing the publishing process now in order to reach that dream.

Building a committed and solid team is also important for longevity.

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?

The fact that we are still here after 2020 is such an accomplishment! That was a tough year. We were in operation for only 5 years when the pandemic hit.

I sometimes feel the industry wants Latitude 46 to prove itself, will it last? will they publish “literary” work? It has been a tough slog to get media attention on our books yet The Miramichi Reader has awarded recognition to our books a few times and we have received Northern Ontario Literary Awards. We published Danielle Daniel’s memoir and she eventually was picked up by Harper Collins. We have supported Rod Carley (A Matter of Will and Kinmount) who was longlisted for the Stephen Leacock Award. We have released 31 titles in 7 years and on a shoestring budget. I have yet to pay myself as well.

I have also given back to the industry by Chairing LitDistCo through challenging times and sitting on the Ontario Book Publishers Organization board.

My biggest frustration is that I am doing all the right things to build a publishing house from the ground up yet struggle for my authors to get any national attention. I am so grateful to be working with Nathaniel Moore who has been able to move some media to consider what we are doing in Northern Ontario.

13– Who were your early publishing models when starting out?

I am so grateful for making a connection with Jay and Hazel Millar in our second year of opening the business and watched them handle their publishing house name change. Was so impressed with their handling of the situation. Jay had said to me once, “Every week we make a toast we are still here this week!”. It let me know that our experiences were as they should be for starting out. We may never reach “midsize house” but I do watch House of Anansi and ECW. David Caron has always been encouraging with me and I love their innovative and progressive approach to business. What I love about publishing is how supportive most publishers are to each other.

14– How does Latitude46 work to engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large? What journals or presses do you see Latitude46 in dialogue with? How important do you see those dialogues, those conversations?

As mentioned earlier I am the founder and Festival Director for Wordstock Sudbury Literary Festival, and in both of these roles I strive to influence the literary arts community to work collaboratively to support and encourage writers to live and work in Northern Ontario.

I have not had the opportunity to connect much with journals but have a few of my favourites such as subTerrain.

I attend all the ACP, LPG and OBPO meetings to connect with other presses and contribute to conversations about industry challenges from funding, supply chain and marketing. I love that kind of work where we are moving the industry forward yet always keeping our values intact. To me it’s not just about the physical book but the voices, ideas and intellectual contributions from so many voices that we are ensuring have airtime.

15– Do you hold regular or occasional readings or launches? How important do you see public readings and other events?

Prior to Covid we held in-person launches to celebrate. In 2017 when we launched our 5 fall books, we welcomed 200 people to an in-person event. I believe that public readings are vital to the scope of reading and writing. Having a conversation about what we are reading is important to readers, and writers. It also makes an enormous difference to have author signings. We do not have a local independent bookseller in Sudbury, we do have a Chapters store though.

My perk as festival director is when I have programmed a diverse lineup of authors and they engage in a thoughtful conversation both among themselves and with contributions from the audience. I love watching the audience come out and give me feedback on the session with beaming faces and exclamations of “that blew my mind”, that is why I do this!

The festival has also held a regular Poetry Slam (I am fond of this genre) and have found a few poets through this community event. I do attend readings and Open Mics to be aware of what’s happening with local authors as well.

16– How do you utilize the internet, if at all, to further your goals?

I like to think we have a good presence online – website, social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn), YouTube and news items – we also have an online bookshop which are all accessible online.

17– Do you take submissions? If so, what aren’t you looking for?

We have always had an open submission. Our submission guidelines can be found on our website. I would really love to receive more diverse voices stepping forward. Our mandate is to publish Northern Ontario authors and stories about Northern Ontario. We publish literary fiction, non fiction, poetry and YA.

We do not publish children’s literature, fantasy, genre fiction. I am drawn to smart, provocative and unique stories.

18– Tell me about three of your most recent titles, and why they’re special.

Our Fall 2021 titles are two of my favourite. Adam Mardero’s Uncommon Sense: An Autistic Journey. Adam shares how he navigated the darkest dungeons and brightest triumphs of life on the Autistic Spectrum and through it all discovers the ultimate treasure: what it really means to find yourself and live life on your own terms. He has an incredibly generous personality. I met Adam in 2015 at a community event. We were standing beside each other and he introduced himself, not knowing I was a publisher. Through our conversation he shared that he was thinking of writing about his experience with Asperger’s. We encouraged and guided Adam for the next several years until he had a manuscript ready for publication. I am thrilled with the end result.

Aurore Gatwenzi is a young Black poet who is born and raised in Sudbury by Burundi immigrants. Her debut poetry collection is called Gold Pours. She talks about God, identity, heartbreak and passion. She has an honest approach to writing that exposes readers to humility, surrender and lessons learned from courageous acts of vulnerability. I met Aurore when she performed her poetry at a festival poetry slam. She is also an aspiring actor.

We are publishing another emerging Northern Ontario poet, Noelle Schmidt with her debut collection Claimings and Other Wild Things in April 2022. She is a young queer, non-binary poet and sheds light on growing up in Northern Ontario but also about her German heritage. She has some impressive blurbs. Noelle approached us in 2018 to complete her university placement with us and later submitted her manuscript.

These three emerging writers with diverse perspectives shed light on growing up and finding their authentic selves despite the distance from a large urban centre and limited diversity.

12 or 20 (small press) questions;

Sunday, January 30, 2022

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Aimee Wall

Aimee Wall [photo credit: Richmond Lam], a Newfoundland native, is a writer and translator. Her essays, short fiction and criticism have appeared in numerous publications, including Maisonneuve, Matrix Magazine, the Montreal Review of Books, and Lemon Hound. Wall’s translations include Vickie Gendreau’s novels Testament (2016) and Drama Queens (2019), and Sports and Pastimes by Jean-Philippe Baril Guérard (2017). She lives in Montreal. We,Jane is her first 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?

I don’t know that I’ve considered it in those terms or whether I am far out enough from the experience yet to see it clearly, but there was definitely something thrilling about finally feeling the little heft of a physical book. It felt like all the work I’d done over the years had led up to this thing.

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

I read pretty widely but it always comes back to novels. Fiction just felt like the most natural way for me to explore the questions I wanted to explore.

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 spent a lot of time circling the novel before I found my way into it. I read a lot, took a lot of notes, tried on different perspectives. But then once I found my way in, it came faster, if still in fits and starts.

4 - Where does a 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?

For We, Jane, I envisioned it as a novel from the very beginning. It was a question then of trying to wrap my brain around something that big. Sometimes it felt like trying to hold a jellyfish.

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

I admit to loving readings. I read aloud to myself as I’m writing so I can work toward a certain rhythm and speed, and so it’s fun to get another opportunity to sing the song you wrote, so to speak.

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?

There are different questions at different times, and I am maybe more interested in the asking than the answering, but for We, Jane, I was thinking a lot about collectives and the desire to belong. I was also thinking about intergenerational friendships and the way we put people on pedestals and whether we ever forgive them for falling from them, and about duty and inheritance, and about obligation.

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 have been thinking about this again lately, whether it is to reflect the world as it is or present something else, something new or unexpected, and probably it is some measure of both, in a balance that is ever shifting—I guess I maintain a healthy sense of uncertainty on this front.

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

Working with an editor was one of my favourite parts of publishing a book—it never stopped feeling like such an honour to have this smart person engaging so thoughtfully with my book, and asking interesting questions, and making suggestions, and just helping me see the novel more clearly, and ultimately make it better.

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

I remembering reading something once by Alexander Chee where he says something about how being too afraid of your own bad taste is a trap, and I think about that a lot.

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

It’s fun to move from writing to translating and back again. Translating lets me “write” in other voices and other styles that I would maybe never take on myself as a writer, which is endlessly interesting. There’s also never a blank page in translating. But then I’m always happy to regain my own voice too.

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 have a day job as a translator so I often write in the early mornings before work, and then try to steal longer sprints of time, a week or two here and there, where I can hole up and go a little deeper.

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

Favourite books, old movies, conversations with friends, a lot of long walks.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Summer savory.

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?

Film, often. Photography, sometimes, and occasionally visual art.  

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

So many, but among them and off the top of my head, Lucia Berlin, Lynne Tillman, Michael Winter, Zadie Smith, Joni Murphy, Lisa Moore, Nicole Brossard, Gail Scott, Elif Batuman, Deborah Levy, Nicholas Mosley, Jane Bowles, Brigid Brophy.

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

The kind of hike that’s so long you might call it a trek.

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?

Lately I wonder how I could spend all day with a nice gang of dogs, is dog foster mom an occupation?

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

I don’t think I ever seriously entertained doing anything else.

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

I just finished the third instalment of Deborah Levy’s living autobiography, Real Estate, not long after reading her novel The Man Who Saw Everything, and both are brilliant and invigorating. For film, I recently watched Costa-Gavras’ 1969 film Z for the first time and it blew my mind.

20 - What are you currently working on?

I am putting final touches on my translation of Alexie Morin’s Open Your Heart, which will be out this fall [ed. note: this interview was conducted in the summer of 2021].

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Katie Peterson, Life in a Field: Poems


Maybe it wasn’t a narrative at all. Maybe it was a sequence or a constellation. I think the storyline came after the fact. The lines were drawn through the facts after the facts happened. At the beginning of what is now England, in that dark part of history, humans learned certain abilities, for example, literacy, for example the ability to make pottery on the wheel, and lost them when violence between tribes overtook the skeleton of the Roman system. They used cups and bowls made on home soil for hundreds of years, not knowing how they had been made.

I’m charmed by the prose sweep of Davis, California poet Katie Peterson’s fifth poetry collection, Life in a Field: Poems (Berkeley CA: Omnidawn, 2021), winner of the “Omnidawn Open,” as judged by New York poet and essayist Rachel Zucker. Peterson is the author of This One Tree (New Issues, 2006), which was awarded the New Issues Poetry Prize by judge William Olson, Permission (New Issues, 2013), The Accounts (University of Chicago Press, 2013), which won the Rilke Prize, and A Piece of Good News (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2019). As her author website writes, Life in a Field is built “as a collaboration with the photographer Young Suh,” a photographer who also happens to be Peterson’s husband. As Rachel Zucker begins her piece to open the collection: “I found the book you are about to read delightfully easy to enjoy, and yet I find it difficult to explain what I love about it, and why I knew, with conviction, that from among a group of extremely strong entries, I would pick this manuscript for publication. Like most great poetry, Life in a Field is impossible to summarize or paraphrase. More than most poetry, it eludes formal categorization. Life in a Field is hybrid, mongrel—part allegory, part parable, part fable, part fairytale, part futurist pastoral set in the past or an alternate reality. In this short collection, Peterson has created her own original, heterodox form.” Peterson’s texts exist as the best kind of collaboration, in that the connections between text and image aren’t obvious or even replicated between them. These aren’t pieces depicting in photography or written word, for example, what is offered in the other form; it is as though the text and image exist in a curious kind of conversation with each other, each in turn reflecting upon and building beyond the other. As Peterson offers, herself, towards the end of the collection: “I have always thought that the opposite of chance was focus.”

In this story there is a girl and there is a donkey. The girl approaches the donkey because the girl has something to say. What is it?

Through blocks and stretches of contained prose, she writes the narrative of the donkey, and the narrative of the girl: two threads that run throughout, occasionally meeting, mingling and spiralling out again, in among the other elements. One could offer how Life in a Field is a story of how perception works to telling a story, or how narration shapes perception, whether the truth of the donkey or the truth of the girl, or the truth of the girl within her church, and the boundaries such offers, contains and constricts. “Because we are so far past this story,” she writes, “I wish to linger on it. This story is not your story. You are not meant to relate to it. You are meant to pitch a tent inside this page like a down and out person might do by the American River, under the trestle tracks, where the outgrowth and heat and greenery and shade in proximity to water makes a drought as unlikely as a marriage of equals in a century where women can’t read. You are meant to believe you can live there.” Between text and image, this is a book of mood, tone and shifts, writing far more than the writing might first offer, and threads of narrative that float, rather than hold, hang or pull.

Peterson writes of a donkey, and of a girl. One could almost suggest the collection as a whole—prose poems, poems and image—is constructed not as a narrative-per-se but as a collage across a large canvas, one that speaks around privilege, love, labour, time, decay and empathy. The book, Life in a Field, is simply the final, completed single image; one simply has to stand back far enough to get a good look, and take it all in.

The donkey never knew the difference between a game and labor, but he knew he could get bored. And he did, pulling a rope between his teeth in a kind of race. But it wasn’t a race, there wasn’t another donkey! And the part of the field they had him in, closed off on all sides by fences, didn’t make sense for racing—in a race it seemed you should be able to go as fast as you like, as far as you had to. In this game, the object was to cover the same track again and again with the plow, and at the end of the row, sometimes as a kindness, never really as payment, because they were good to him, they gave him a drink of water before they turned him around.

Friday, January 28, 2022

12 or 20 (second series) questions with John Brady McDonald

John Brady McDonald is a Nehiyawak-Metis writer, artist, historian, musician, playwright, actor and activist born and raised in  Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. He is from the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation and the Mistawasis Nehiyawak.  The great-great-great grandson of Chief Mistawasis of the Plains Cree, as well as the grandson of famed Metis leader Jim Brady, John’s writings and artwork have been displayed in various publications, private and permanent collections and galleries around the world, including the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.  John is one of the founding members of the P.A. Lowbrow art movement, and served as Vice President of the Indigenous Peoples Artists Collective for nearly a decade. John also served a term as vice-chair of the Board of Directors for Spark Theatre, and as a Senator with the Indigenous Council Committee of CUPE Saskatchewan.

John is the author of several books, and has had his written works published and presented around the globe.

John has studied at England’s prestigious University of Cambridge, where in July 2000 he made international headlines by symbolically ‘discovering’ and ‘claiming’ England for the First Peoples of the Americas. John is also an acclaimed public speaker, who has presented in venues across the globe, such as the Anskohk Aboriginal Literature Festival, the Black Hills Seminars on Reclaiming Youth, The Appalachian Mountain Seminars, the Edmonton and Fort McMurray Literary Festival, the Eden Mills Writers Festival and at the Ottawa International Writers Festival. John was honoured with the opportunity to speak in Australia in April of 2001.  John was also included in the Aboriginal Artists and Performers Inventory for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, BC.

John’s artwork and writing have been nominated for several awards, including the 2001 Saskatchewan Aboriginal Youth Achievement Award. John was awarded the 2017 BOB Award for Best Artist. He has been honoured with several grants from the Saskatchewan Arts Board.   

A noted polymath, John lives in Northern Saskatchewan.

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

My first poetry collection, The Glass Lodge was actually both a blessing and a curse. I was a young, brash, still relatively angry young man from the ‘hood when I wrote it, and after spending a few years trying to get it published without success, to have it finally published and then to have it go out on tour and take me across Canada and into the US broadened my world beyond the small, isolated life I was living. I suddenly found myself sharing stages with people like Drew Hayden Taylor, Lee Maracle and Margaret Atwood. I was rubbing elbows with some of the most intelligent people I had ever met in my life, being feted and treated like some sort of wunderkind Indigenous poet on the scene. My name was getting out there and being noticed by other Indigenous writers, and I fully admit that it went to my head. I loved flying to literary festivals, staying in hotels, doing readings and book signings. I felt like I was somebody important. For the first time in my life, I felt acknowledged and respected. However, when the forward momentum of it petered out as quickly as it did, the rejection letters for my new work started piling up again, and my fifteen minutes was over, it was a very crushing, very humbling, yet very educational experience, and there were many times when I very nearly quit writing altogether. I’m forever grateful for The Glass Lodge, but it caused as much grief as it did joy.

Both of my new collections, Childhood Thoughts and Water and KITOTAM, come from the same desire to chronicle and express my emotions and experiences as an Urban Indigenous man living in this rapidly disconnecting society. However, I feel that, as I have gotten older and have moved away from the angry young man of my youth, the poems take on a somewhat more wistful look back on my life. The new work has also allowed me to be a bit more creative and experimental with my words, toying with themes that are beyond simply, “This happened, and this is how I feel about it.”

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

I came to poetry as a failed singer-songwriter. I’ve played music off and on for many years, more off than on, and early on I was always trying to emulate the music I was listening to and trying to play, which was the angst-filled jaded music of Grunge and Generation X. Many of my early poems started out as the lyrics and choruses of songs I was writing, and I had envisioned myself one day being a Neil Young-like figure, some scruffy cat sitting with a battered guitar singing my words to patrons in smoky dive bars. Luckily for me, life took a different path. I began to discover that the words and lyrics I was writing were pushing against the constraints of a rhyming verse-chorus-verse -bridge-chorus-coda structure, and they began to grow and expand into longer pieces of dialogue that were better delivered as spoken word. It was around this time that I also began to discover the free-verse Beat Poetry of writers like Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, and, when I moved away from structured writing, I felt more fulfilled artistically, while at the same time I felt a greater sense of freedom. My poems could be as long or as short as they needed to be, and I could create a greater emotional connection with an audience via spoken word, far greater than I could with longer fiction or non-fiction.

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 never really start out with a completed project in mind. More often than not, the pieces that end up in my poetry collections will first see the light of day as live performance spoken word pieces, read direct to the audience. I’ve always gauged my work by how it plays live, and then I can edit and tweak to ensure that what I am saying is connecting with the listener. When it comes to my most recent published collections, many of the poems go back twenty years, and were just waiting for the right pieces to go alongside them in a collection. The words themselves may come quickly enough to perform live, but to accumulate enough of them takes time. That being said, when the inspiration hits, or when there is a message that needs to be addressed quickly, such as in the case following the murder of Colten Boushie, I can create a performance piece or a spoken word set that translates into a large chunk of a collection. I tend to try write as modular as possible, which gives me the ability to pull and add pieces here and there to make the pieces fit more cohesively.   

4 - Where does a poem 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 am in a constant state of creating, writing down little snippets of ideas as they come to me, adding to it here and there, and so on. More often or not, I will think of a phrase or a line, walk around for a while, saying it over and over again, trying to commit it to memory, and then, when I sit down to actually write it out, it flows into a complete poem or piece of prose, building a flow around the anchor line or phrase. I will write on little scraps of paper or torn out pages from notebooks, then I throw them into a cardboard shoebox on my desk. When the box is full, then I start looking at the pieces as possibly a complete manuscript. I start culling what doesn’t fit with the general overall theme of what’s in the box. I am not sure that I would ever be comfortable setting out to write a poetry book cover to cover from page one. My style of poetry hardly seems conducive to that type of setup, and I would be worried that such a book would seem artificial and disingenuous, given the subject matter I am often addressing.

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

I absolutely thrive on live public readings. As a free-verse beat poet and spoken word artist, from a creative point of view, I need to perform my work before audiences, as I use it to see whether what I have to say is making an impact as a storyteller. Performing live is instant gratification, and it is the proving ground for the strength, validity and overall value of the poems.  I’ve written pieces that, on paper, I was absolutely sure were amazing pieces, only to have them crash and burn live. Live readings also allows me to edit on the fly. The setup on a piece of paper might look okay, but then, when you get on the stage and try to perform it, you discover that the words don’t flow as nice as they did on the paper, and you end up stumbling over them, getting tongue-tied and looking the fool. On a personal level, I love that feeling when you look out into the audience and you see and hear the fingers snapping, the nodding of heads, and the eyes staring at you and not their phones. It is powerful medicine for a performer. It is a sacred ceremony to me, the creating of a moment between storyteller and audience, creating a spiritual connection that goes back to time immemorial when our ancestors gathered around fires to share stories. As the Global Pandemic has progressed, I have discovered how much I dislike doing readings over platforms such as Zoom. They are so impersonal and distant, and there is not that energy of an audience to feed off, not like there is when you are in the same room with someone. The emotional connection is lost over the internet, and the energy and magic of the piece is strongly lacking. It’s like the old saying about being able to play the blues but not feeling it. I cannot wait until we can do live readings again.

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?

As Indigenous artists, we are responsible for ensuring that the perspectives, issues and stories of our people are brought forward and shared in such a way that society is reminded of our unique position in this country, and the role that this society has played upon where we all are now at this point of history. That being said, too often in the past, there is/was the mistaken belief/stereotype that every single piece we create as Indigenous artists, be it visual art, literature, performance, etc., needs to have its entirety based upon Indigenous imagery, culture and tradition. I found myself early on chafing against what I often referred to as the “Buffalo Skulls and Eagle Feathers” style of art. I was trying not to be pigeonholed into what gets labelled as “Indigenous Art.” This went with my writing style, as well. For a long time, my poetry and performance art strayed far from the narrative of Indigenous issues, not out of a sense of cultural or personal shame, but out of a sense of trying to free myself from what I felt was artistic restraint and limitation. Truth be told, I was still young, naïve and undisciplined in my craft, and I needed to be humbled enough to see the path I needed to be on. I needed to see what I was doing as something serious, and not as a mere trifling diversion. I needed to understand my role as a warrior, and the role I have to play as an Indigenous artist.

As events across Canada continue to cause massive change and turmoil, as people fight harder than ever to defend and protect Indigenous rights, the land and water, Indigenous identity and sovereignty, and as the issues of the true extent of colonization, cultural appropriation, racism and genocide are brought to the surface, the role of the Indigenous artist as a protector of the People, the storyteller, the defender and the voice for those no longer here to share their stories has never been more important. We as Indigenous artists have all had to step up and add our voices to the growing calls for truth, recognition and basic human rights. The crafts we have been given as creators of art are powerful spiritual medicines, and they are proof that the decades of Residential School, the decades of oppression, the decades of racism and violence have not succeeded in silencing us. When I write, I do so with the mindfulness that I am adding my voice to the masses fighting for change, and that I need to do my best to ensure that I am writing to enlighten, to educate, to entertain and to heal.

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 that the current role of the writer in today’s society is one of fighting what can often seem like a losing battle, while at the same time creating some of the most amazing written works of the past 60 years. We live in a society with severe emotional disconnect and an ever-shrinking attention span, roughly around the length of a TikTok video, and we are competing with these stupid little electronic devices in our hands, these addiction-driven balls and chains, tying us to our social media accounts at all times. At the same time, the need for articulate, educated, well read and well-versed individuals has never been greater. I remember seeing a post online juxtaposing the scientists in 1999 with scientists of today, with the scientists from back then saying, “We’ve cloned a sheep! We’ve landed on Mars!”, and the exasperated scientists of today saying, “for the last time, the earth is Round.”

The world has become a hostile place to the world of books. The nearest city to where I live no longer even has a bookstore. The nearest bookstore is nearly two hours away in Saskatoon.

As deeply depressing as this is, I feel that we as writers are still bound by our craft to create work that will continue to educate, entertain and, above all, cause the reader to have an emotional reaction, to remind them that they are a living, breathing human with primal emotions that go beyond a heart emoji. I work in elementary education during the day, and I am very delighted to see the students still accessing the school library, still taking out stacks of books from their favourite series and voraciously reading them cover-to-cover, then returning to beg the librarian for more. I will forever be grateful for the authors of the Dog Man series, the Big Nate series, the Captain Underpants series and the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books for keeping the love of reading alive within our children. We as writers continue to be the candle in the darkness, keeping the flame lit not matter how hard YouTube and TikTok videos try to blow them out.

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

For me, working with an outside editor can be wonderful or difficult, depending on the editor. One can become like an overprotective parent when it comes to our manuscripts, and the thought of handing them over to what can be a complete stranger can be nerve-wracking, and it leaves you feeling extremely vulnerable. I’ve worked with some amazing editors, and I have worked with absolute butchers, and, in thankful retrospect, I’m glad that the butchered manuscripts never saw the light of day, because they were ghastly shells of what I have written, mangled beyond my recognition solely to ship units. As a spoken word artist, I always hope that any potential editor can come to one of my performances and see the original environment for which the pieces were created, and witness the original way in which they are intended to be read. By this, I hope that they will have a better understanding of how the poem is to be presented on the page. I have always found that the best editors are people who have been published, and who have been on the receiving end of criticism and critique themselves. It provides an empathetic bedside manner that makes it a more personal and meaningful journey to telling a better story, and not just, “how can we make this sell more books.”

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

One of the best pieces of advice I ever heard in terms of creating was “don’t try to shock people for the sake of being shocking.” I have seen a lot of pieces written where the poet was intentionally trying to shock the reader, using way too much profanity, writing exaggerated violent scenes, referencing vile or repulsive actions and behaviour, and exploiting the pain and trauma of others solely for the sake of causing a reaction in people, without care to the audience or the reader in terms of trauma or triggers. I have always taken my cue from the Elders when they speak: leaving long, pregnant pauses between their words, carefully thinking about what they are about to say and what it will do to those who hear it, because the Elder must take responsibility for it once it leaves their mouths. The world and the issues I write about are shocking enough in and of themselves, without me having to add to the pain. We are to take our readers on a ride through our words, and there’s no need to constantly threaten to drive the car off a cliff just to keep the reader interested. One must be mindful of what others have gone through, and, as I have said many times, people should not have to suffer re-victimization as a sacrifice to the Altar of Artistic Expression.

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

Very early on in my adult life, someone hung the label of “polymath” around my neck, because I am able to transition easily from situation to situation with relative ease, adapting and gaining a strong enough knowledge base and skill set to make somewhat of a success out of whatever I try to do. I say this not to boast or brag, but my ability to adapt, learn, perform, retain and teach others about many different subjects is something which I have am very honoured and fortunate to possess, as there have been times in my life where this ability has meant the difference between paying the rent or starving.

I have been blessed and consider myself very fortunate to have had the opportunity over my career to try my hand at theatre, film and television roles, music, academia, visual arts, dance and literature, and in my personal life, I have gone from roadie to front line street outreach worker to firefighter to historian to educator to an elected Labour Union Senator. I have tried to meet each new role and new experience with the same amount of pride, determination and desire to do my best as I always have, while at the same time, filling my toolbox as much as possible.

The appeal of being able to do this really boils down to the fact that, if something needs to be done, or someone is in need of assistance, I can offer to help, using the tools that I have acquired, not for glory or accolades, but just because it is the right thing to do. As a multidisciplinary artist, these transferable skills are vital to ensure that the output of creative work can be appreciated by those coming from all different disciplines. I would hate that anyone ever feel left out by my work.   

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 am either lucky or unlucky to be what is referred to as the “Sleepless Elite.” This is a minuscule segment of the population who require less than five hours of sleep a night. If I sleep longer than six hours in a night, I wake up feeling absolutely ill, similar to a hangover. As a result, my writing takes place entirely at night between the hours of 11:00 PM and 2:00 AM, long after my household goes to sleep. I make a pot of tea, turn on some soft background noise, and begin to write, compiling the little bits of flotsam and jetsam into a stream of coherent consciousness, if I can. By 3:00 AM, I usually fall asleep, then I am up at 6:00 AM for work.

In terms of routine, over the past few years, I have been experimenting with the Dadaist Cut-up technique, much like William S. Burroughs was doing in the 1960s. I acquired a 1960s Commodore typewriter, typing a phrase or two whenever I think of one or whenever I walk by it. There is no structure, no context, no connections between them. Some are a few lines long, while others can be a paragraph or more in length. When I fill a sheet of paper, I cut it into its modular segments, then I try to create a poem out of the pieces. By doing this, I have been creating Avant Garde, experimental beat poetry, trying to harken back to the days of the Greenwich Village Coffee Houses of the 1960s.

One of the hard and fast routines which I have always done is to basically commit my poems to paper or computer at least three times. Each work starts out as a random scribble on a piece of paper, which I will compile into a longer, handwritten piece. This is then entered into my computer as a word document, with the various “shoebox” papers eventually creating a manuscript.  The last process is to once again write each and every poem by hand into black, hardcover notebooks. Every poem or performance piece I have ever created has been meticulously written into these little 112-page hardcover notebooks from Staples, which line one of the bookshelves in my office. The reason behind this goes back to when I was a frontline youth outreach worker, working at a drop-in youth centre in the downtown core of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. I was encouraging the youth who came to the centre to journal and write down their thoughts and experiences, to use writing as an emotional and creative outlet for the pain and trauma that they were experiencing. There is a spiritual, emotional reverence to a blank, hardcover notebook, and the youth were drawn to them, they took care of them, and they filled them up very quickly. So, I kept supplying them with these little black books. To this day, my former clients still thank me for introducing them to the medicine of writing and the little black books. I always want to honour those youth today by continuing to use those books in my own writing, to remember that I too once came from such a situation and used writing as a way to cope with it all.

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

One of my artistic influences is the early 20th Century landscape artist Tom Thomson. He drew his inspiration from the waters and land around Canoe Lake in Ontario’s Algonquin Park. I have always been fascinated by the story of Thomson, from his amazing catalogue of work, to his mysterious death in July 1917 in the waters of Canoe Lake, and the mystery surrounding his final resting place. Like Thomson, I too draw my inspiration from the waters and lands of a park. In my case, it is Prince Albert National Park, approximately 80 KM north of my birthplace of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. I live less than a half hour drive from the park boundary, in the northern boreal forest of Saskatchewan, and I am a regular and frequent visitor to the Park and to its townsite, Waskesiu.

Although I spent most of my life within driving distance of the Park, I had never actually been there until I was well into my 20s. It is my “Happy Place,” and it is where I go to sit beside the frigid waters of Waskesiu Lake, to wander the trails through the untouched boreal forest ecosystem, and to recharge. In our culture, when we want to get grounded, we literally go to the ground. We draw our spiritual and mental healing and medicine from the land and the water. It is sacred to us, and we continue the interconnectedness as Stewards of the Land even to this day.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

There are many smells which remind me of home. The one that most takes me back is the smell of rain upon the wet pavement on a summer’s day. I am immediately taken back to a day when I was 11 or 12 years old, just after a summer thunderstorm, as the sky to the east was dark and grey as the stormclouds moved eastward, while the sun in the late afternoon sky reflected off the wet pavement and grass, even off the beads of rain upon the cars. The smell of rain on pavement puts me back into the orange rays of a setting sun as I walked down the busy streets, heading nowhere in particular. It is the one scent that anchors me to a specific time of day at a specific moment in my life.

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?

My first influence has always been, and will always be, music, As a poet, my biggest influences are those poets that just happened to be musicians. I have been deeply influenced by the written works of Leonard Cohen, Patti Smith, Jim Morrison, Joni Mitchell and Neil Peart, the lyricist for the band RUSH. The books of Leonard Cohen and Patti Smith still rank as some of my greatest sources of inspiration.

I am also deeply influenced, as sad as it is to admit it, by the horror, negativity, vitriol and reality that is often on full display upon social media and in the news. A large portion of what I have written of any substance over the past few years has been in response to, and in some cases, the defense of, things that have been posted on Facebook, such as the continued efforts of Land and Water Protectors across the country, as well as the horribly negative and racist commentaries when it comes to Indigenous issues. Some of the most evocative words I have created over the past four years have been born out of online Facebook arguments with trolls and racists. I take comfort in the fact that some good has come out of these verbal jousting matches in that, while I might not be changing their already made-up minds, I can take the words I have written, and expand upon them at greater length elsewhere.

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

That is a really tough question to answer, as the majority of my reading as of late is done more out of a research sense than as recreation or entertainment. Outside of the poets I mentioned earlier, I have rather enjoyed the work of Saskatchewan author and historian Bill Waiser, who has written extensively on the history of Saskatchewan. I have also been a longtime reader of my friend Harold Johnson, who has written several amazing books as of late addressing such topics as addictions in First Nations communities and the biases and incompatibility of the Canadian Justice system when it comes to Indigenous people. I also adore the “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” books for their sheer absurdness and imagery.

 I fully admit to a guilty pleasure, however. My go-to books when I am reading to unwind or to disconnect from the real world are British “locked room” or “cozy” mysteries. I absolutely love the works of Agatha Christie, M.C. Beaton, and Caroline Graham. I have set a goal to read my way through the entire British Library Crime Classics collection one day. They are cheesy, simple, wonderful books from an earlier time, which provide me with a joy which is difficult to describe as to why. They are short enough that I can take one or two of the books to the beach, or curl up with one in the afternoon and be finished before suppertime. Some people read Harlequin Romance, some read Zane Grey, while others read true crime paperbacks. I love my little mysteries, where the butler rarely, if ever, does it.

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

I have been blessed to have so many of my dreams and goals come true, from having my work be part of high school curriculum to having my name recognized alongside so many of my idols. In spite of it all, I would still like to see my work one day win some of the major literary awards in this country, like the Giller Prize and the Griffin Prize, perhaps even the Governor General Award. I want to be able to show that, in spite of unbelievable amounts of rejection, self-doubt and the Fear of Missing Out, goals can be achieved by those who set out determined to meet them, no matter how lofty they are or where you came from. As a Residential School survivor, I have experienced first hand what its like to have your spirit crushed and what it’s like to made to feel as if what you are and who you are is not good enough. To win big awards would be, for me, the ultimate vindication, for it would prove every single one of those people wrong.

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 had actually, at one point early on, had my heart set on joining the military, following in a long line of family members who have served in the Armed Forces. I had gotten as far as meeting with a recruiter in Edmonton to begin the process of joining the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. Alas, the fact that I cannot swim put an end to my dream of a military career. I had also had aspirations of becoming an Elementary School teacher, but could never secure the funding to do it. That being said, my 20-year career working with youth, including the last ten years as an Educational Associate in an Elementary School has been the most rewarding and fulfilling job I could ever ask for.  If I had to pick another career, I would absolutely see myself living in some quaint little English village, running a small bookstore or tea shop, perhaps teaching at a university somewhere, then returning home to a cozy little Tudor cottage to warm myself before a fire. My wife and I are devotees of the British mystery series Midsomer Murders, and, having experienced quaint pastoral English life firsthand while at Cambridge, I would love to live that quiet, stereotypical rural English life.

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

I think that the major reason I became a writer was to find a better solution to addressing and releasing the emotional pain and trauma I had experienced. In my early teen years, I became heavily addicted to drugs and alcohol, trying to mask the pain of my childhood and the world around me. The ability to vent that pain onto paper, as opposed to numbing it with substance abuse, allowed me to finally begin the healing process, and to address the trauma of my Residential School experience. If not for the ability to string words together in a legible and understandable way, I would have rather quickly found myself an early grave due to the destructive life I was leading. I am forever fortunate for the gift of writing. It has truly saved my life.

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

The last great book I read was Cold Case North, by Deanna Reder, Eric Bell and Michael Nest, and published by University of Regina Press. It is the true story of the recent search for the remains of my grandfather, James Patrick (Jim) Brady, and Absolom Halkett, who disappeared in June 1967 in Northern Saskatchewan. My grandfather was one of the most influential Metis leaders of the 20th Century, and his disappearance while in Northern Saskatchewan spawned decades of mystery, conjecture and conspiracy. The book chronicles the underwater search for the remains of the two men at the bottom of a northern Saskatchewan lake, and addresses the circumstances surrounding his disappearance. My grandfather vanished 14 years before I was born, so I never got the chance to know him, but his life is the example by which I live every single day, and this book provided me with a clearer vision of who he was and what had happened to him.

I must admit that, when it comes to films, I rarely watch new releases or summer blockbusters. I am extremely disinterested in anything that is popular among the masses or in theatres. I rarely go to the theatre, even before the pandemic. My tastes run to older, black and white films, a lot of film noir, Hammer Films, Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes, Vincent Price in pretty much anything, Tim Curry in pretty much anything, etc. Of course, I’m also a major viewer of documentaries, and the majority of what I watch are documentary films.

The last great documentary film I watched was There Are No Fakes, which tells the story of Kevin Hearn, from the Barenaked Ladies, who purchased what he thought was an original painting by the Woodland artist Norval Morriseau. It turns out that the painting is a forgery, and the film quickly spirals into the world of a massive art forgery ring, the likes of which is unprecedented in the Canadian Arts world. It was a sobering and chilling documentary.

20 - What are you currently working on?

I am currently working on a collection of nonfiction essays pertaining to many topics concerning contemporary Indigenous issues, as well as anecdotes from my experiences in 21st Century Western Canada.

I have also just filled up the shoebox on my desk again, which means that I will be blocking out another poetry manuscript sometime soon. We shall see what shape it takes.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;