Wednesday, May 15, 2024

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Nadine Sander-Green

Nadine Sander-Green grew up in Kimberley, British Columbia. After living across Canada—in Victoria, Toronto and Whitehorse—she now calls Calgary, Alberta, home. She completed her BFA from the University of Victoria and her MFA from the University of Guelph. In 2015, Nadine won the PEN Canada New Voices Award for writers under 30. Her writing has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Grain, Prairie Fire, Outside, carte blanche, Hazlitt and elsewhere.

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

Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit is my first book. Writing it for the past decade has been the most humbling and gratifying process. I wrote it living in different cities across the country, through marriage and divorce, suffering and healing from a chronic illness, pregnancy and the birth of my first child—this list goes on. Having the manuscript as a project to lean into during the highs and lows of my 20s and 30s, was, in retrospect, such a beautiful thing. It was a constant companion during the good times and propped me up through the hard times.

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

I was a journalist first, and then naturally shifted into essays when I wanted to dig into more creative projects. When I finally started to dabble into fiction about ten years ago, I felt a great relief and freedom to be able to just…make things up. I find the genre so much more joyous than 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 generally write slowly. When I sit down to write, I go back over what I wrote the day before to tinker and edit. That helps me get back in the flow of things and can take up much of the writing time. By the time I finally get to the end, my draft isn’t too far off from a final draft. Sometimes I wish I could write messy and just dive into the heat of the moment, but it doesn’t work like that for me.

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?

With Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit, I knew it was a book from the very beginning, but many other ideas start and stay as shorter pieces. A work begins with a certain feeling of heat and energy inside of me. I’ve learned to trust that feeling and that it means there is enough substance there to create a story with resonance. If I just go, Oh I would like to write about this character or this thing that happened to me, it’s not enough. It falls flat. As wishy-washy as it sounds, I wait for the energy in feeling or theme, and then I start from there and move towards story.

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

I like doing readings. There’s a part of me that enjoys being in the spotlight for a few minutes and entertaining a crowd. I think I’m right on the cusp of the introvert-extrovert continuum, so I do get nervous for readings and I really only want to be on stage for a couple minutes, and then I’m happy to hide in the crowd 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?

I wouldn’t say I’m trying to answer any specific questions with my work. If I did frame it that way, I suspect it would paralyze my writing process and leave me with nothing on the page.

I do think a lot about who has the right to tell what story. These are not new questions, but do I write about a place—a land and a culture—from where I am not deeply rooted? If I visit or live in a place but then leave and write about it, am I “taking” stories that aren’t rightfully mine? When I wrote non-fiction, I felt deeply conflicted about writing about “real people”, and this is partly why I switched to fiction. The freedom in fiction is a relief on multiple levels.

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 think the role of the writer is to cut through the theatrics of our everyday lives; to look deeper and see what’s there. Ever since I was a kid, I felt like there was a certain boredom to the daily routine of life. It was only when I started writing as a teenager when I understood that art is medicine for that unfulfilling feeling of solely living on the surface of life.

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

Essential. As a journalist, I got used to the big, red editors’ marker and understand how helpful it was to have an outside perspective on my work. With my novel, Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit, my editor took it in directions I would never have thought of on my own. His keen eye made it a far better book.

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

Don’t obsess over renovating your body or renovating your home. It’s a never-ending cycle.

This advice isn’t particularly about writing, but I do think that if you want to have a deep writing life you have to put less energy into the more material, physical things of life.

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

The hardest leap for me was when I was much younger and moving from journalism to essays. I was so accustomed to writing short, quippy pieces that it was a challenge to go deeper into a piece and really let my mind wander. Once I got the hang of that, moving from essays to fiction was more of a breeze.

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?

When I was writing my novel, I managed to scrape enough money together to work part-time and then could spend a good chunk of the day writing. I usually wrote for about three hours. Now that I have a toddler, my writing life looks much different. When I do find time to write, it’s in short bursts while my son naps on the weekend, or during lunch hour in my office boardroom. Having a child has helped me be looser with me writing. I just don’t have time to be precious about it.

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

When I am deep in a writing project, I find reading books I love to be more of a distraction than an inspiration. I worry that my own voice will start to resemble that of my favourite writers instead of being authentically my own. Getting outside an going for a walk helps me immensely. It loosens the agitation and anxiety in my brain, that stuck feeling, and allows for ideas to flow again.

13 - What was your last Hallowe'en costume?

I haven’t dressed up in years. As an adult, I have never enjoyed Halloween. There’s something about the sickly-sweet candy and the booze and being forced to find a costume (last minute, for me) that never sat right with me. I also find Halloween is a time where the destructiveness in people comes out and it always puts me on edge.

That being said, I dressed my two-year-old son up as Einstein last year and it was a hoot.

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?

The wilderness inspires my work greatly. I grew up in a very outdoors-y family, and after a brief stint rejecting that lifestyle as a teenager, it’s always been a big part of my life. Living in the Yukon, in particular, defined my relationship with the land, which features prominently in my novel Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit. In my late 20s I went on a 16-day canoe trip in northern Yukon. Being immersed in the wild for that long changed everything from the way I saw myself to how I incorporate nature into my work.

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

I’ve been really into writers like Rachel Cusk and Deborah Levy, lately. There’s something so sharp about their work that I deeply admire. They don’t seem to care to stick to any rules about genre or style. There is never an explanation or self-deprecation, just a distilled, even steely, view of what it means to be a woman and a writer today. I find their work incredibility refreshing and I hope to be as confident and unapologetic as these two women one day.

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

Learn how to cook steak perfectly. Swim in Greece. Get my son ready for his first day of kindergarten. Adopt a dog. Teach a class at university. Take a long train trip.

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’d like to be a therapist. I understand that dealing with the weight of other people’s problems every day would be exhausting, but I am just so intrigued by other people’s lives and how they work through their darkest times. I think it would be deep and meaningful work, like writing.

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

I was no good at anything else in high school, when I was thinking of what I wanted to pursue in university. To be honest, I was no good at writing either, but I had an inspiring creative writing teacher who made me feel like writing was a worthwhile thing to do with your life. I started my degree in creative writing quite young, at 17, and again, I really didn’t have the life experience or wisdom to write anything meaningful, but it was all practice and I truly believe practice is everything. At some point in my 20s I realized there was nothing quite like the feeling of having written for a few hours, and I have followed that feeling ever since.

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

I’m going to go back to Deborah Levy here, and her brilliant memoir The Cost of Living. After going through a divorce, she rents out a shed in an artist friend’s backyard and finds a new way of living. It’s somehow inspiring and bleak at the same time, which I find true to much of life.

As for films, I’ll jump on the bandwagon and say that Past Lives, from Korean-Canadian filmmaker Celine Song, has stayed with me for a long time. It hits the tone of bittersweet just perfectly.

20 - What are you currently working on?

I have a couple different idea for novels floating through my head, but I am in the thick of early motherhood right now and haven’t figured out how to dedicate significant time writing. I shaped my 20s and early 30s around writing and now the task is to figure out how to write when it feels like every hour of the day is taken up by these beautiful and complicated little people. At the same time, I’m trying to allow myself to transform as a woman and I understand my artistic practice might look very different for the next few years.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

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