Sunday, December 03, 2023

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Nina Mosall

Born in Surrey to Iranian refugees, Nina Mosall attended Kwantlen Polytechnic University and the University of British Columbia, in which she obtained her BA in Creative Writing and MA in Library Studies. Currently working as a librarian, she writes poetry during her spare time when she is not singing and reading to babies, or helping seniors figure out how to use cell phones. Her poetry and short stories have appeared frequently in Kwantlen Polytechnic University's literary magazine, Pulp, and in the literary magazine, Event. Bebakhshid is her debut poetry collection, which explores Middle Eastern identity, immigration, familial relationships, and the romance of everyday life.

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

Well, Bebakhshid is my first book! I think it sobered me in relation to what it means to have a book published and be seen as an "official" writer. I guess I would say it's been humbling, anti-climatic, and surreal? Big words!

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
Without sounding pretentious, I think poetry is in my blood. I'm Iranian, and my father was born and raised in the city of Shiraz, known as the "city of poets." My father recited and read many Persian poems to me as a child, so it definitely wasn't a form I was unfamiliar with. But overall, poetry came to me secondary in the trajectory of my life. I initially thought myself a fiction writer, and had been slowly working up to full length novels by writing tons of short stories in my highschool years. During my time there, a teacher had told me that poetry wasn't my strong suit, and to stick to fiction instead - as a very serious, sensitive, and insecure kid, I took that sentiment to heart and didn't doubt it for a second. It wasn't until my time in university that I felt permission to experiment and explore where my gut told me to go. That's when I got serious about poetry.

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?
As of late, it's taken me a while to start projects. I'm learning to balance my non-writing world with my writing world, and hoping to be able to merge the two. As a result, I start and stop projects numerous times.

When the spark appears, the writing comes to me quickly, like I'm trying to catch what my brain is showing me before it's too late! But I edit poems a few time. I have a lot of scribbles, repeated lines, and synonyms written on the pages of my notebooks.

4 - Where does a poem or 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?
It usually begins with an image that comes up in my mind and leaves an impression on me. Sometimes it begins with a feeling I have and I can't place, but I can imagine it or think of words or sentences associated with that feeling.

As a younger writer, I believe I wrote pieces without any kind of cohesiveness or project in mind. Now, I think it helps me with focus and discipline to have some kind of plan in mind. But of course, the heart writes what it wants to write!

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Public readings have no influence or part in my creative process.

For the longest time, I disliked doing readings a lot. I had this idea that my work was only meant to be read internally, privately, amongst one's loved ones, or maybe in front of an audience...but not by me! Sometimes I still feel that way. My writing makes me feel vulnerable but honest, and to perform it (which is how I feel when I do readings) feels the opposite of that. I also fear being misinterpreted, or seen differently than how I or my loved ones see me. But I can't control that, and does it really matter? Once the words are out, they're not just mine anymore. On a more positive note, I do enjoy networking among fellow writers - it's always lovely to feel less alone and among people who also love what you love. Talking to people who resonated with my readings is also such a lovely, sincere experience. I cherish that. I've also had such amazing opportunities to share the stage with talented and experienced writers, such as yourself, rob. That is truly the highlight for me! I've been able to read with people I read in my undergraduate classes!
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?
In relation to Bebakhshid, I think a concern I explored was, "will I ever understand?"

Some of the questions I had during the process of writing the poems that ended up in the book were in relation to understanding my parents, their varied past, and my cultural and religious roots. Who are these people who raised me aside from being the people who raised me? What was their experience in and out of Iran during a time of immense political tension? What was their experience being refugees? What are they going through? Who am I in relation to my parents? Who am I in relation to my culture? I also had a lot of questions about familial relationships, as that has always been an area of concern and fascination with me. What does it take to be a family? What kind of bonds occur? Will my family ever be happy? Will I ever understand what it means to have a family bond? Etc.

Currently, I don't know. Sometimes I feel like the book was published so I could move on with my life. I still grapple with these questions and topics, but to go back to that book and fully explore it again feels like I'd be moving backwards in my writing and personal life. Although it is my first and something I hold dear, I also feel a bit combative towards my book now. I resent having the writer-of-colour label and tokenism that comes with it. I'm currently tired of exclusively focusing and talking about my ethnic and cultural identity. Books take a few years to publish, and so it's been around 4-5 years since the last poem that was written in Bebakhshid. I feel and am different now.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Do they even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
I don't know what the role of a writer should be. I also don't think I have much skin in the game to speak to that. But I see the role of a writer being one who can document, interpret, and convey information through many forms. To share things, whatever they may be. To inspire someone else to write, maybe. I don't know. Don't take my answer seriously.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Essential. It was a new experience for me to work with an editor. I value feedback and constructive criticism. Although I feel vulnerable writing, I am not precious with my work in relation to editing it. I would say it's essential because it gets you out of your own head and in the present moment.

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

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?
I find poetry my comfort and much easier now than it was when I was in high school. I haven't written much fiction as a result - it's a little daunting!

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?
Currently, I am all over the place and don't have a routine. But usually, when I'm more gathered, I try to write early in the morning by my window. Otherwise, I'll write when it comes to me - that can often be in a movie theatre, the park, a coffee shop that feels just right, or out in nature.

Lately, a typical day begins with taking my dog, Honey, out for a long walk. This is followed by some stretching, a cup of tea, and maybe a bit of reading if I have enough time.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I find reading doesn't usually encourage me to write. I don't often get inspiration from other books or authors. I usually get inspiration from the visual arts, or being present. Films, paintings, and performance art keep me curious. I also love learning about almost everything. Fixating on subjects, people, events, etc gets my wheels turning. People watching, fully engaging with the everyday (much which is mundane) has also provided me some mental clarity to be able to write.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Mowed grass.

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! Movies. I love movies. I love going to the movies, talking about movies, reading about movies, dreaming about movies, blah blah blah. Good movies do the same thing a good poem does for me. It leaves me feeling things I don't know how to convey, and makes me want to capture them. It leaves such an impression on my outlook on life and my understanding of other human beings. It makes me feel human! I love movies. Did I mention I love movies?

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I've enjoyed Ottessa Moshfegh's work. I like the ugliness of it. She writes well and she knows it - her confidence with herself is something I hope I can have a little of.

Shel Silverstein
has marvelous poetry collections that are cleverly written for children and adults to enjoy. I find them amusing. The Giving Tree is a heartbreaker.

Joyce Carol Oates
' short story, "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been" has left a haunting impact on my worldview.

Jon Krakauer
writes true stories so well. He balances fact and emotional vulnerability perfectly, to me. I enjoy his book Into the Wild, and re-read it every so often.

The Things They Carried
by Tim O'Brien
has taught me a lot about the power of storytelling and the approach to take when doing so.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Have my own form of family.

Act - specifically die a horrific death in a major horror film.

Work with animals on a farm.

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?
Since I'm not a full time writer, I am currently working as a Librarian. I'd probably be a homemaker if the stars aligned. Otherwise, maybe something in the film industry. A director if I'm feeling brave.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Writing has always come easy to me. I loved to read, and gained an advanced vocabulary for my age. I was also a quiet, shy child who often internalized a lot of my feelings. I spent a lot of time alone in my room, so I kept myself company with myself. I had many diaries and notebooks that I filled with all the things I didn't feel I could say aloud, and stories I hoped to experience. Writing had and has been my voice in the world.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
For a book, probably The Door by Magda Szabó.

For a film, The Sound of Metal

20 - What are you currently working on?
A Children's book of poetry. A collection of poems in response to films. Being kinder to myself.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

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