Katie holds a BA in English Literature from the University of Toronto (1990). Her daughters, Olivia and Heather Saya, share her passion for nature and outdoor recreation. Katie loves to cycle, hike and cross-country ski with her husband, Will Stinson, and they are creating a remote home on Cortes Island, in Desolation Sound.
1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My first book, a self-published novelette, was an impetuous and ill-advised project. It was good practice, but like its musical equivalent, writing practice is best accomplished in private. It was a mistake to do something solo which in fact requires the combined effort of many professionals. Mad Honey, by contrast, is the result of seeking traditional publication and it feels fantastic, polished, the book I wanted to write. I’m deeply grateful for the excellent team at Wolsak and Wynn.
2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?
I fell in love with fiction as soon as I could read: escape, exploration, adventure! I told my little sister stories to soothe her after nightmares, and it wasn’t long before I was writing those stories down. These days I’m reading lots of non-fiction, so I’m beginning to have ideas for non-fiction projects. I enjoy and admire poetry but I am not a poet.
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?
When I have an idea paragraphs flow from me fast, as if I’m running out of time. I am running out of time! The first draft is very rough and requires many revisions before it’s ready for beta readers / an editor / submission.
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?
I think in terms of novels. I write short stories to hone my craft.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I didn’t expect to like public readings. I was fine with scribbling away anonymously in a cold garret until I keeled over, but to my surprise I discovered that engaging with readers in person is a fun and powerful experience. It’s a delight to meet someone who enjoyed a story that I wrote.
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 want to orient my characters in nature. We’re nothing without clean water, butterflies and skunk cabbage; all our modern problems point to the perils of self-congratulations and navel-gazing narcissism. It’s clear that colonial arrogance towards Indigenous people and Indigenous wisdom has gotten us into serious trouble. If humans are going to survive, we have to care deeply about all life forms on Earth. So are we going to survive? If so, how? I don’t know if these are the current questions; they’re my concerns, things I think about a lot.
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 should write honestly and to the best of their ability, full stop. Writers entertain, interpreting the world through their unique lens and incidentally holding up the proverbial mirror. Writing succeeds when it resonates with an audience and uncovers truths readers didn’t know they knew, but this achievement can’t be deliberate. “No matter how humble the spirit it’s offered in, a sermon is an act of aggression,” said Ursula K. LeGuin, answering a question similar to this one.
That said, we write from experience, and writers cannot help but reflect their milieu; I was dismayed in 2021 when many literary magazines refused to consider pandemic pieces. Shout-out here to The Quarantine Review, curated by Jeff Dupuis and Sheeza Sarfraz, a wonderful platform for pandemic-inspired creative work.
Many contemporary ‘larger culture’ arenas involve blurting contentious views in virtual echo chambers. Personally I prefer well-researched, well-reasoned essays to flippant mini-opinions. I appreciate writers who post links to thoughtful work.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
A brisk and unflinching edit is clarifying, inspirational and necessary. A writer needs to be capable of hearing the truth about their work. You can either have the best possible version of your project or preserve your fragile ego. Actually, unless you intend to burn / delete without publishing, you will never spare your ego. Eventually you’ll get feedback, and some of it will be negative, a larger percentage if the editorial process has been resisted. I choose the honest opinions of consummate professionals during development to the disparagements of disappointed readers.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Over the years and in many ways, successful writers have counselled me to (a) be patient and (b) persevere in spite of failures and setbacks: great advice for both writing and life. I find (a) particularly difficult. On the cusp of my debut novel’s publication, I would like to thank everyone who recommended putting my head down and getting back to work.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (short stories to the novel)? What do you see as the appeal?
For me, short stories are like little practice novels. I resisted them because I wanted to skip straight to novels (impatient!) which in retrospect is like a musician wanting to get directly to an album without writing any songs. Revising and submitting stories keeps me sharp and focused, and there’s quick gratification when one gets picked up by a journal or magazine, but I still prefer the size and depth of a novel.
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?
Coffee at the crack of dawn, start writing while the mind is fresh. I take breaks to cook, clean and exercise, and teach music in the late afternoon / evening.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I allowed decades to elapse without writing which created a kind of creative bottleneck: I have more ideas than I can use before I die. DM me on my deathbed!
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
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?
All of the above! Inspiration comes from everywhere! I never know what will tweak my imagination, bring up a weird memory and cause nuclear idea-fusion. Mad Honey was sparked in part by a Discover Magazine article about Barbara Shipman, an American mathematician and quantum physicist. I endeavour, with varying degrees of success, to bring my passion for nature to the page.
Music is a strong influence. During revision I scan passages for rhythm. I try to relax my jaw and get into a flow-state, a music performance technique. I recently read an adult novel consisting almost exclusively of short, one-clause sentences. Statement after statement, repetitive as hammer strikes. I was reminded of trance music. Not my cup of tea but the book is very popular; as with music, literary taste is infinitely wide and varied.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Ursula K. LeGuin for writing instruction and philosophy: Steering The Craft and Words Are My Matter. I also love her fiction. It’s essential that I admire what I’m reading while working on a manuscript so I often re-read favourites, to name a few: Washington Black by Esi Edugyan; Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien; Donna Tartt’s novels; The White Bone by Barbara Gowdy; All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews; The Magicians series by Lev Grossman.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
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 teach music and find it enormously gratifying, so I would probably teach music full time. I planted trees and love working outside, so maybe gardening or farming?
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I was meant to write. Writing is my vocation.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Ian Williams’ Reproduction blew my mind. I loved the gorgeous, precise language and surprising structure / grammar. Bonus, it’s also a gripping page-turner! I raced through the first read and have enjoyed it twice more at a leisurely pace.
Films: Denis Villeneuve’s Dune is beautiful, riveting and weirdly relevant. Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up, a smart satire of our planetary predicament, has an excellent script and some fabulous performances. Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire, released three years ago, is lodged in my head and heart.
20 - What are you currently working on?
I recently completed a short story collection, thanks to the generosity of a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts. I’m working on a second novel. A memoir/biography including stories from Ottawa and Fisher Park is in the planning stages.
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