I recommend the writing exercises I included in The Writer’s Gym, (edited by Eliza Clark, published by Penguin). One is about writing and the other is about editing.
Tell us about yourself.
I write fiction (mainly novels, but sometimes short stories) non-fiction, and I secretly write poems. I’ve published the novels, Matadora, Smoke, and Ten Good Seconds of Silence. I’ve also published a novella for adult literacy learners entitled, Love You to Death. I work freelance as an editor. The first book I edited was the collection Bent on Writing: Contemporary Queer Tales. I also mentor and teach aspiring creative writers across Canada.
When did you realize you had a passion for writing?
I began writing when I could read in English, around the age of 6 or 7. I started with poems, and with creating a library in my bedroom, including using my own cataloguing system for organization. I committed to writing for the first time when I was in grade 4 and there was a competition for the grade 4, 5 and 6 students. When I didn’t win, I was determined to write until someone agreed it was worth reading.
What pieces of writing/authors have had the greatest impact on you?
Writers influence me profoundly, but that influence is mitigated by whatever stage I’m at with my writing and whatever is going on in my stage of life. Right now, I am on a non-fiction bender, and can’t get enough. I’m currently reading a memoir: I Await the Devil’s Coming by Mary MacLane. Before that, I loved An Arab Melancholia. What moves me most is an author’s passion for their subject, and a fresh look at life or the world around them. In my life, the following books have had a major effect on my sense of what is possible on the page: The Little Prince, A Prayer for Owen Meany, the poetry of Garcia Lorca, stories by Edgar Allan Poe, the work of Jeanette Winterson, Wild Dogs by Helen Humphreys, Headhunter by Timothy Findley, and others.
How and when do you find time to write?
Before my daughter was born I wrote every day 9-5, 7 days/week. Some evenings too. For the first 5 years of my daughter’s life, while I was at home with her, I began my writing “day” at 7:30 pm and wrote until 2 am. Now that she’s in school full days, I write for several hours in the middle of the day.
What has been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a writer?
After 15 years living full time as a writer, I would say the two biggest challenges are time and money. They are, of course, related. Finding enough of both to keep going with a project and with paying the bills. After that, it’s isolation. Novels require years behind a desk, on the other side of a window, watching the world go by.
How have you changed as a writer over the years?
When I began my first novel, I had no idea about the hell that could be a writing process. I was fresh, energized and nicely naïve. All good things. Now, I know better so I am pickier about projects going forward, have to know that I will live within them for years, because that’s how long it will take me. Also, now I know each project gets harder, not easier, funnily enough. You’re always chasing your talent, and ambition regardless of how many books are under your belt.