Lindsay Zier-Vogel is a Toronto-based writer, arts educator and the creator of the internationally-acclaimed Love Lettering Project. After studying contemporary dance, she received her MA in Creative Writing from the University of Toronto. Her writing has been widely published in Canada and the U.K. Since 2001, she has been teaching creative writing workshops in schools and communities. Her hand-bound books are housed in the permanent collection at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library in Toronto. As the creator of the Love Lettering Project, Lindsay has asked people all over the world to write love letters to their communities and hide them for strangers to find, spreading place-based love. Lindsay also writes children’s books. Because of The Love Lettering Project, CBC Radio has deemed Lindsay a “national treasure.” Letters to Amelia is her first book.
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
Letters to Amelia is my first book, though I did get a two-book kids’ book
deal before signing my “Letters to Amelia” contract (kids’ books just take
longer to get out in the world). But I found the self-confidence of having a
book deal has made me feel like less of an imposter.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I can’t remember if I started
writing poetry first, or started dancing first—contemporary dance and poetry
were so intertwined for me. Though, I will admit, it has been years since I’ve
written a poem.
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 generate a lot of material (like,
A LOT), and Letters to Amelia was no exception. It took a lot of writing
and revising and more writing before I uncovered the narrative, the point of
view, and the form. My process definitely involves writing terrible drafts, and
then I edit and edit and edit before they’re even readable. Even after that, I
still have years of editing ahead.
4 - Where does a poem or work of prose usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
Letters to Amelia began as a series of poems from many years ago that then
shifted into a novel-in-letters in 2017, that then shifted into its current
form shortly thereafter. But my next project, “The Fun Times Brigade”, arrived
as a novel from the get-go.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I love public readings! I love the
energy of an audience and I love experiencing feedback in real time.
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 am very interested in exploring
the various ways we connect, and long for connection. I’m also interested in
exploring the underwritten realities of mothers and new mothers in my work.
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
Writers are, and have always been,
so vital in reflecting back the culture we live in, and that is more important
now more than ever.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Oh, I LOVE IT! I just love it. I
love getting feedback on my work, and honing a narrative, and further
developing characters. Having that first conversation about my imaginary world
with my brilliant editor, Meg Storey was truly one of my highlights of writing
“Letters to Amelia”.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
I heard an interview with Sarah Selecky a few years ago and she spoke about approaching writing with joy—not
that it’s always fun, or that it’s not work, but bringing joy into the writing process.
That was really transformative for me and I’ve carried with me ever since.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to fiction to children's books)? What do you see as the appeal?
I love having different media through
which to tell different stories. I can’t write poetry when I’m writing
fiction—the lens through which I see the world is too narrative-focused—but I
love bouncing back and forth between novels and kids’ books. Alternating
between the length of a novel, and the brevity and conciseness of kids’ books
is so refreshing.
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 write in the early mornings,
always. Never quite as early as I intend, but always first thing with a cup of
coffee in my sunroom. The mornings are only time in my days as a freelance
grant writer, arts educator, prof at Humber College, and parent of two young
kids that is truly mine, and I am such a better teacher, parent, and human if
I’ve done the thing that fills me up the most first thing each day.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Being in the water, length after
length, is how I solve narrative problems, how I figure out characters’
responses, where I find my voice.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
The smell of lake water and sun on
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?
Contemporary dance is hugely
influential for me—the lack of narrative, the varying structure, the
physicality—transport me from the world of words in such a powerful way.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I have a writing group with Samantha Garner, Teri Vlassopoulos, and Julia Zarankin, who are all exceptional writers. We call ourselves the Semi-Retired Hens, from a quote from Julia’s memoir. These three writers are so influential, so crucial to my writing process. Reading their in-process work, and giving feedback, and workshopping my work, and ideas before they’re even on the page in such a generous forum has improved my writing beyond measure. Working with the Hens has helped me understand the mechanics of writing in ways that I had not yet fully realized before. Having the time and space to experiment with ideas with such a supportive and generous team of fellow writers is such a gift.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I’d like to visit Londonderry, where Amelia Earhart landed her red Vega when she crossed the Atlantic solo for the
first time. I’ve visited the airfield she took off from for that flight in
Harbour Grace, Newfoundland, and I’ve visited her plane in Washington, D.C.,
and I’d like to see where she landed after that harrowing flight.
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 think I would be a professional
day camp counsellor. I think at my most essential self, I am singing songs, and
making up games and doing crafts with kids.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I always wrote, but as I was finishing high school, I decided to train as a contemporary dancer, so I started my creative career as a dancer. Throughout my dance training, I was writing poetry and making books, but I really thought that dance going to be my creative path. After three years of professional training, and a few short months as a professional dancer, my hips were having none of it. It was devastating at the time, but after realizing that I was too injured to ever have a sustainable career as a dancer, I leaned on writing, and realized my voice was so much stronger as a writer than it ever could’ve been as a dancer.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I just finished reading The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton, and it was truly unputdownable.
I do not watch a lot of films, though I just watched Space Jam 2 with my kids. It got panned by the critics and is just beloved by my basketball-obsessed-6-year-old and I loved every second of it.
20 - What are you currently working on?
A novel titled “The Fun Times Brigade” about a failed-singer songwriter turned kids’ musician who has a child, and has to reckon with the reality, and potential impossibility, of being a touring musician and a new mother.