First American Art Magazine No. 21, Winter 2018/19 - Page 87

ART+LIT as a book critic, and that helped me learn a lot about writing. Mostly I just wrote whenever I could. Slowly. Bad Endings took seven years to finish. Do you have a writing philosophy that drives your work? Is there something behind each word written on the page that is always with you? I’m not sure I have a philosophy exactly, but I do have a lot of opinions! I believe in using plain, unadorned language, saying what I need to say as economi- cally as possible, and honoring the reader. Although I’m not big on unnecessary exposition, I think a lot about what the reader needs in order to understand what’s going on inside the characters. My writing is definitely character driven. I also pay a lot of attention to moments when a little bit of comedy might be necessary. A good laugh in the middle of a tense or highly emotional moment can really take the pressure off! I do try to use my writing for personal growth. Mostly to help find empathy for myself and for humanity in general. A lot of the stories in Bad Endings are about people behaving badly, myself included. Since characters need clear motivations in order to be well-rounded and believable, I spend a lot of time thinking about why someone is behaving badly and I try to see both sides of the story. I have to love my characters in order to portray them honestly, so finding empathy for them is a must. If a character happens to be based on someone who treated me carelessly in real life, then trying to figure out why they acted that way allows me to forgive them. Is there someone or something that you write for? Do you have an audience in mind when you’re writing? Many Indigenous authors write with only an Indigenous audience in mind, and I really respect this, considering that the publishing world is dominated by white people, and many of them believe that only white audiences should be catered to. I’m a writer of mixed heritage, and I tend to write with Indigenous and non-In- digenous readers in mind, with the goal of building bridges between us. I am white coded, and there is a lot of privilege that comes from that, so I consider it my responsibility to use fiction as a way of building empathy and understanding in white readers who, frankly, still have a lot of trouble seeing Indigenous peoples as people. Stories create space for people to learn and grow, especially if you’re not wagging your finger at them. So I try to keep it subtle. Do you reflect on how a publication—be it a book, short story, or poem—affects you personally? By this I mean, how does your writing practice help you grow as an individual? energies, people, and things of the world around them? This is the most important part of my work. I’m that weirdo in the corner at social events, watching everyone, soaking it all in. I think a lot about people. I build narratives around people I see every day on campus but don’t know personally. That sounds creepy, I guess. I like to think of it as quirky and creative! What you consider the most difficult aspect of your writing practice? Well, to be honest, focus is the hardest part of my practice. I’m that writer with a zillion tabs open on my laptop, checking Twitter every five minutes. If I write some- thing I’m really proud of, I post an excerpt on Facebook. I’ve been told that it might be a better idea to keep that energy inside myself instead of leaking it out via social media, but I’m not totally sure I buy into this. We all create differently. But man, I really wish I could spend hours focused inside my stories, instead of minutes. There are magical times when it happens, like when the wi-fi goes down or a dead- line is looming. I’m hoping my focus will improve as I get more experienced. What is the best writing advice you ever received? above Cover of Bad Endings (Anvil Press, 2017). opposite Carleigh Baker. Image courtesy of the author. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life, so the same goes for me. I have to forgive myself for my mistakes in order to present the characters based on me in a well- rounded way. I’ve also had a lot of therapy to help with this, thank goodness. Writing can be therapeutic, but sometimes you need to bring in the big guns. How important is it that a writer be a sponge of experience, soaking in the There is so much crappy writing advice out there! And everyone contradicts each other, because writing is so personal! For me, “Write what you know” was the best writing advice, but that’s only because I’ve had a very generative life, conflict wise, and conflict fuels fiction. I’ve made a lot of big mistakes and lived to tell the tales. People who lead boring, white-bread lives should probably not follow this advice. I’m being a bit sassy there … I really respect writers who can fabricate entire worlds! How do they do that? Let’s turn focus toward your recent short-story collection, Bad Endings. The book reflects your relationship to the West Coast of Canada and especially to the natural world. Some of the characters you’ve created here fuse together with animals, including WINTER 2018/19 | 85