Plus Size Active Wear

I know it is shocking to most that plus size chicks work out. Even more surprising is that there are online clothing shops that offer plus size active wear. plus size sport bra for activities

I made a lens to feature some of the best active wear providers. Not surprisingly, it’s called Plus Size Active Wear.

What do you do to stay active? I walk on a treadmill, kill a heavy bag, do yoga, tai chi and juggle. How about you?

Literal Latte Literary Magazine

a journal of prose, poetry and art

The paper version of the Literal Latte debuted back in June 1994 in the literary mecca of New York City. They printed their last print publication in July 2003 but have continued the online entity they started November 1996 ever since. The Literal Latte’s online presence has seen various incarnations over the years but their latest launch in November 2008 is by far their best appearance. Their primary goal is “stimulating minds with quality essays, short stories, art, and poetry by aspiring writers from all around the world”. They do this through a rich array of well known (Ray Bradbury, Gloria Steinem, John Updike) and unknown writers.

The new website (same address) uses a lovely WordPress format which is easy to read and fanciful to the eye. Although the table of content text could be a tad larger and the essays lack any illustrations, graphics or photos, the large size type of featured pieces, narrow columns and subdued tones encourage comfortable reading. Because the website uses a blog format you can easily add it to your RSS reader to keep on top of future content. Visitors are also given the opportunity to comment on the content they read, a gift often not given by literary magazines.

Literal Latte will be celebrating the start of 2009 with their first annual print anthology titled, The Anthology: Highlights from Fifteen Years of a Unique “Mind Stimulating” Literary Magazine. As the name suggests they will be celebrating the best of the last fifteen years of quality literature that graced their pages

For the person wanting to challenge their own creativity, Literal Latte has five annual writing contests in the categories of fiction, short short, poetry, essay and food verse. Each contest costs ten dollars to enter with a top kitty of $500 – $1000.

If you want to delve into the last decade (plus) of literary offerings you can do so by visiting their drop down menu of “past issues” which they are painstakingly rebuilding and adding to with the new format. Not everything is up yet but there is enough there to keep you busy.

I spent some time perusing through the essay, fiction, poetry and images sections and was pleasantly entertained as I’m sure you will be. If you haven’t been to this historical piece of literary enjoyment then I recommend visiting. And if you haven’t been in a while then it’s time you revisited. The Literal Latte introduces four new additions a year.

Visit Literal Latte for a dose “stimulating brew”.

Originally written 12/15/2008 for Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer – Author Interview

One has to wonder how a married mother of three who works as the editor of a literary website and teaches creative writing at two universities in Toronto still finds the time (and energy) to write. It may have taken some excellent time management but Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer has managed to get two books; the first, a collection of short stories (Way Up) followed by a novel (The Nettle Spinner), under her belt. And she has a new release set for next year. Please enjoy reading more about Kathryn’s perspective on writing and the writing life.

Moe: Looking back, did you choose the writing profession or did the profession choose you? When did you ‘know’ you were a writer?

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer: I would say there was a convergence of intention and happenstance. I do not recall being taught to read and write, and, in school, already at five I was being asked to mentor older children in the writing of stories. I had teachers along the way support this idea but really I didn’t know how one became a writer; I didn’t have a clue how to do that until I started meeting other writers about twelve years ago.

You know, the ‘writing profession’ is a funny way of putting it. Most Canadian literary writers can’t fully support themselves with a book out every three to five years. Writing is never a singular pursuit. It is that which you do because for whatever reason you need to do it. It is ingrained, for me, part of my identity.

Moe: What inspires you?

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer: I am inspired often by things that others find ugly: a clear-cut, war rugs, a car wreck, broken people, rust and decay. I don’t know why I search out beauty there. Maybe, it’s the perfectionist in me trying against the odds to make perfect what can’t be.

Moe: Every writer has a method to his or her writing. On a typical writing day, how would you spend your time?

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer: I don’t have a typical day. The writing process always changes for me and always has. Sometimes I work better in the morning, sometimes in the afternoon. I don’t have a routine except that I try to write everyday for at least an hour. With children, it has often been a challenge to write at all, and so I have become adept at writing in my head toward such a time as I can sit down and put it to paper. So, it can be argued that I am always writing, even when I am not. This gives me a great deal of freedom as I can always claim to working!

Moe: How long does it take for you to complete a book you would allow someone to read? Do you write right through or do you revise as you go along?

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer: I revise compulsively throughout the writing of a book. My current manuscript has been in the works for about seven years. The Nettle Spinner took me about three years to write. The collection of stories, Way Up, took ten. There doesn’t seem to be a recipe.

Moe: When you sit down to write is any thought given to the genre or type of readers?

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer: My ideal reader is curious, and willing to work; my writing requires the reader to come part way to make the thing work. I want to engage people, not entertain them.

Moe: When it comes to plotting, do you write freely or plan everything in advance?

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer: It is impossible to plan everything in advance. The writing process belies all best laid intentions there, in my experience. You set out to do such and such and your writing brain brings you somewhere wonderfully better! I wouldn’t trade that in for a static outline. Having said that, though, I do have a clear idea of character, setting, plot, theme etc, before I begin. So I have a direction, and a purpose, but lots of freedom to play inside that.

Moe: What kind of research do you do before and during a new book? Do you visit the places you write about?

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer: I love research and so will do all sorts of it, sometimes as a complete distraction from the work. With The Nettle Spinner a lot of the research was easy to access locally, online and through libraries. The book is partly set in a northern Ontario treeplanting camp and, as I treeplanted quite a bit though my early twenties, I drew on experience for those scenes. My new novel is set largely in New Mexico, and so I traveled there to verify aspects of my research and to gain access to an oilfield, research that was necessary to fully apprehending the place. I might have gotten away without this trip, but it did give me a feeling that the foundation of the book was solid, which I hope translates into a feeling of verisimilitude for the reader.

Moe: Where do your characters come from? How much of yourself and the people you know manifest into your characters?

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer: There is a notion in the oral tradition of storytelling (fairytales and legends) that all the characters in a story are aspects of the individual. I like to expand that notion to suggest that every character I write is me, in some truth, or some fantastical projection, else how could I imagine him or her. This gives me a level of commitment to the characters, in that they are always investigations of my own humanity, what I am capable of, what seduces me, what darkness and what light, and shades thereof, I can achieve.

Moe: Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If yes, what measures do you take to get past it?

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer: I don’t suffer from writer’s block but there are times when I do not write. Ideas are forming in these times, whether I can recognize that or not.

Moe: What do you hope readers gain, feel or experience when they read one of your books for the first time?

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer: I would like readers to have questions when they finish my books, questions they might go in search of answers for, and questions they might ask themselves about their own humanity. I want to direct readers to themselves and to the world in ways they hadn’t before imagined. I want to help people open their minds, and keep their minds open. It is a beautiful thing, to have an open mind.

Moe: Can you share three things you’ve learned about the business of writing since your first publication?

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer: I have learned everything I always knew but may have forgotten from the publishing world: writing is about writing, writing is art, writing is an intellectual pursuit.

Moe: What is your latest release about?

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer: The Nettle Spinner is about how stories are transformed by whoever is telling them. It is about a young woman who becomes fixated on the rendering of an old folktale into a weaving only to find that her own life magically begins to parallel the original story. The book is like those Russian nesting dolls in that it retells a real Flemish folktale, then it retells that folktale within the weaving, then it retells that story in the main character’s parallel modern story. The story has, in fact, then lived on in various retellings inside reviews. I am playing with the notion of orality, how women’s stories have traditionally been transmitted, and how transformative these transmissions can be.

The idea came slowly over a number of years as I searched for a way to tell a story set in the north. I wanted the story to be a dystopian about the earth, about our regard for nature, about storytelling.

Moe: What kind of books do you like to read?

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer: I like to read intelligent novels, well-written non-fiction, graphic novels, children’s literature, books about writing.

Moe: When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer: I read. I also like reading. Oh, and going to readings!

Moe: New writers are always trying to glean advice from those with more experience. What suggestions do you have for new writers?

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer: I suggest taking a course or two at a reputable university. I think a great deal can be accomplished by having the right sort of guidance early on, and a group of people who like to do this crazy thing, and who will respect your interest in doing this thing, too.

Moe: If you weren’t a writer what would you be?

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer: I used to have fantasies about being a fireman or a baker. But in reality I’d likely be an academic, which amounts to being a writer of sorts, I suppose. I’m cheating you out of an answer.

Moe: What is your favorite word?

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer: Oh, there are so many. I like words that fill the mouth: Helvetica, conundrum, widdershins, and words that don’t look how they sound, so there is an implied secret to them: plumbing, segue, knife.

My interview with Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer was first published on 1/17/2008 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.

Visit Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer’s official website.

Book Buzz Book Club

The Toronto Public Library has an online book club for adult readers called Book Buzz. Every month a new book is featured. You can read interviews with author and reviews about the book and afterwards join in on discussions in their book forum. If you live, work or go to school in the Metropolitan Toronto area and have a TPL card, you can also place a hold for the book online. But this is the only function of the club not available to everyone.

Book Buzz is run by the Book Buzz Librarian Sheila Dalton or B.B. Buzzword as she’s known online. It is an “active club with over 200 members” and membership is open to anyone anywhere with computer access. They boast having members as far away as England and France. And are always on the lookout for more interested readers.

The group is still experimenting with their genres at the moment having only been online for nine months. They have covered “literary fiction, Canadian fiction, travel/adventurer, mystery, speculative fiction and modern novels”. The main page also features an introduction for the following month’s book.

Deciding on which book to feature may be determined on a vote with the moderator suggesting five books or sometimes the library will choose depending on ideas expressed by members and title availability.

Besides reading and forum discussions they have live author chats and contests for free books. If you join any discussions about books be sure you’ve read the book as there are no spoiler warnings. It’s assumed whoever visits a specific thread has done the required reading.

To become a member all you need to do is create a username (like JaneAusten100) and a password. When joining online groups, privacy is often a concern for people. Sheila insists the group is very private. “Only their screen names show on the club, and we never sell or give out email addresses.”

Visit Book Buzz.

The Mercy of Thin Air Review

Amy Richmond and Scott Duncan buy an antique bookcase for their home in Baton Rouge from the Washington’s; along with it comes a little book on “Family Limitations” and the ghost of Raziela Nolan or Razi as she was known to her…

The review for this book was published at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline in 10/24/2006. The full review of The Mercy of the Thin Air can be read at SquidLit.

Elizabeth Crook – Author Interview

Austin, Texas is the home of this full time writer who has been writing for “as long as I can remember”. Her husband, two “terrific” children and a Korean exchange student are a delightful distraction from her writing. The Night Journal is her third published title.

Moe: Looking back was there something in particular that helped you to decide to become a writer? Did you choose it or did the profession choose you?

Elizabeth-Crook-AuthorElizabeth Crook: I believe the most formative thing was that my mother read to my brother and sister and me for hours every night when we were growing up, and long after we learned to read for ourselves. From this we learned to love stories and to connect with characters. Her reading transported us to foreign places and other centuries, and this was a great gift.

As for becoming a writer myself, I just seemed to inch steadily in that direction from childhood on. I was not especially gifted at anything other than writing, and even my talent for this was dubious and manifested mostly in strained metaphors and whimsical, undisciplined flights of verbiage that had, at best, an admirable sense of pacing. I had the typical aspirations of being a dancer, a singer, an “Aqua Maid” feeding Ralph the swimming pig under water from baby bottles for mystified audiences watching from the submarine theatre at Aquarena Springs–the local tourist attraction in my hometown of San Marcos, Texas. I tried to play the guitar for a couple of years, and sat around strumming Mac Davis songs like “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay”, but had no talent and was (rightly) not encouraged. Writing became what I did best. I began to do it compulsively, and wrote in a journal every night from sixth grade on through college. Recently on looking back through some of these notebooks, I found myself stunned and a little deflated at the inanity. There was not a glimmer of talent there; not a single moment of insight. Really no promise at all. I thought of getting rid of the journals, but only briefly, as they are a nice keepsake, a stack of detritus that serves to remind me of the hours of obsessive chronicling that must–now that I look back on it, no matter how little talent displayed at the time–have in some way improved my writing. At the very least, the effort perfected my discipline.

Moe: What inspires you?

Elizabeth Crook: Weather. Other books. Tragedy. Life in general. ( I just asked my husband “what do you think inspires me to write?” “You aren’t inspired,” he said. “You’re driven.”)

Moe: Every writer has a method that works for them. Most of them vary like the wind while some seem to follow a pattern similar to other writers. On a typical writing day, how would you spend your time?

Elizabeth Crook: I have two kids, so how I spend my time and how I would spend my time productively are two different things. Fortunately I don’t need solitude or unbroken time to write. I write whenever I can. This truthfully is less and less, as my kids’ schedules become more hectic. Basically I’m able to sit down at my computer on weekdays mid to late morning, and then write…. off and on… throughout the day until about four thirty. There’s no writing time on the weekends. Before I had children, I wrote all the time, usually seven days a week. Not that I was ever very productive: I’m inherently inefficient and write dozens of drafts of a book before it is satisfactory. But there were more hours in a day then, and more work days in a week. I was extremely focused. Now I’m far less focused, and accustomed to writing in snatches. When I find myself with unbroken work-time I often get up and make a phone call just to interrupt myself. If I sound nostalgic for the days when I could write as much as I wanted, then I’ve given the wrong impression. I’d rather raise two great kids and write fewer books in my lifetime. I figure I can write about seven good books at the rate I’m going, and for me, that’s plenty.

Moe: How long does it take for you to complete a book you would allow someone to read? Do you write right through or do you revise as you go along?

Elizabeth Crook: The Night Journal was ten years in the making. I got married in that time, and had the kids, but any way you look at it, this is not a lot to show for a decade of labor. However, I’m not sorry about the time. I think it improved the book. Trite as it sounds, the longer we live the more we know, and the more informed our writing becomes. By allowing myself to stumble along through so many years and so many faulty drafts, I ended up writing a book I could never have plotted beforehand.

Moe: When you have your idea and sit down to write is any thought given to the genre and type of readers you’ll have?

Elizabeth Crook: No, none at all. However, this is problematic when it comes to marketing, as The Night Journal floats in a no-man’s land between genres. The story is part historical fiction, part mystery, part contemporary domestic drama. It doesn’t settle into a known market. Reviewers have a terrible time describing it. But I love that the book cannot be categorized. While I was writing it I never had to worry that anyone else was writing about the same topic, or even the same themes. These were my people, my places. The story was entirely mine.

Moe: When it comes to plotting, do you write freely or plan everything in advance?

Elizabeth Crook: You’re hitting a nerve here! The truth is, I had no idea where I was going with this story when I started. I wanted to have an idea; I tried to settle on one; I made up scenarios that could be passed off as ideas and attempted to convince myself they would carry me. But I’ve never been a writer with a clear vision. I can barely see as far as the next chapter. Writing this book was actually a lot like driving in a fog. I ended up going down wrong roads, doubling back, cursing the darkness. Wondering where in the heck I was. But the great thing about being lost in a fog is you end up in unexpected and often wonderful places you would never have otherwise thought to go. You make discoveries; you feel your way along. It’s similar to living your life: you might do a tidier job of it with an outline. But, how boring that would be. I am certainly not stupidly advocating that writers should begin their stories without a plan. I’m only saying my own plans never seem to hold together very well and I usually have to scrap them along the way and replace them. In the end I think the stories have strangely benefited from this lack of vision.

Moe: What kind of research do you do before and during a new book? Do you visit the places you write about?

Elizabeth Crook: Research is the fuel for my writing. It gives me most of my ideas. It’s like a treasure hunt: one discovery leads to another. I start by reading everything I can find on the place and the period. This is more exciting to me than reading fiction for pleasure, as the information is all there for the using. In fiction, it has already been filtered through someone else’s imagination. After I’ve read the basics and settled on the historical moments or topics I want to dramatize, then I start to research the details.

And yes, I usually have to see the places I’m writing about. It’s nearly impossible to describe a place with any authenticity if you haven’t been there. You have to know what a place feels like, not just what it looks like. Photographs are not enough. But the problem of course, in writing historical fiction, is you can’t go back in time. You can go to the place, but not the time. This is why you have to rely on your research: you have to have enough information to be able to disappear on a daily basis through a wormhole to the past, and arrive at the location of your story and get around without being recognized as a foreigner. However, the major trick to writing good historical fiction is not in compiling research or knowing the details, but in knowing which details to leave out. Writers of historical fiction tend to be overly conscientious and excited by minutia. We have to discipline ourselves to avoid giving excessive explanations or descriptions. My own rule of thumb is that the information has to move the plot along, or inform the reader significantly about the character. If it doesn’t manage either one of these, then it doesn’t make the cut.

Moe: How much of yourself and the people you know manifest into your characters? Where do your characters come from? Where do you draw the line?

Elizabeth Crook: None of my characters are exactly like anyone I know. But they often have characteristics of people I know. Friends might recognize a line of dialogue… a gesture… a certain moment. In my second novel—Promised Lands—I killed off (in the Goliad massacre of 1836) a number of minor characters that vaguely resembled some of my old boyfriends, (and let me assure you, they went down begging.) However my fictional characters in general are not fashioned after my friends. My historical characters are always as true to the original as I can make them. And my female protagonists are not me.

Moe: Writers often go on about writer’s block. Do you ever suffer from it and what measures do you take to get past it?

Elizabeth Crook: It takes me a long time between books to settle on what to write next. It’s like choosing the people I’m going to live with, and where we’re going to live, and under what circumstances, and experiencing what happiness and heartache, for the next ten years. But once I’m into a book, I’m steadily up and running. There’s no block, whatsoever. There’s never a moment when I want to write and can’t think of what to say. There are plenty of moments when I write drivel and have to go back and delete it all, but that’s a different matter.

Moe: When someone reads one of your books for the first time, what do you hope they gain, feel or experience?

Elizabeth Crook: I think readers want to be entertained by a book, and informed. They want to care about the characters, and be moved by the story. I always hope my books will manage this.

Moe: How do you handle fan mail? What kinds of things do fans write to you about?

Elizabeth Crook: There’s nothing nicer than receiving an unexpected email through my website, or a letter; it gives me a great feeling of connection. Writing is more solitary than most jobs, and it’s always good to know there’s someone on the other end of the line. I always try to reply; it’s nice of people to write, and I would hate not to respond. The only kind of mail that’s problematic and difficult to answer is from people seeking advice about their own writing. Up to now I’ve tried to answer these emails but this becomes time consuming, so in the future I might have to let these queries go without reply.

Moe: What’s your latest book about? Where did you get the idea and how did you let the idea evolve?

Elizabeth Crook: The Night Journal is a book about family legacies, and what it would be like if we could actually go back and reconstruct the entire truth about our ancestors, and see them as they were and not as they have come to be represented by a record that is necessarily depleted and distorted by time. The story takes place in two time frames—the 1890’s, depicted in the journals of Hannah Bass, and the present day, in which Hannah’s great grand-daughter is confronted by a profound and shocking discovery that casts doubt on everything recorded in the journals. It involves a mystery that comes to light when two dog graves on the sight of the old family home near Pecos Pueblo in New Mexico are excavated and expose a number of things one would never expect to find in dogs’ graves.

Moe: What kind of books do you like to read?

Elizabeth Crook: History and historical fiction. Also historical and contemporary mysteries. Off the top of my head, I think of these novels: Possession by A.S. Byatt, Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner, Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, historical novels by Leon Uris and Herman Wouk, mysteries by Le Carre and P.D James.

Moe: When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?

Elizabeth Crook: I guess I’m pretty goal-oriented and there’s not a lot of lounging around. I do love being with my friends and family. Talking on the phone. Walking my dog. Watching movies. Dining out. Always with family and friends. I love my moments late at night when the house is quiet and I settle in with a good book.

Moe: New writers are always trying to gleam advice from those with more experience. What suggestions do you have for new writers?

Elizabeth Crook: Read a lot. Revise constantly. Read your work aloud to hear what it sounds like. Don’t get into writing if you can’t handle criticism. See it as a job—a craft—not a romantic endeavor. Make notes on what you think of in the middle of the night; otherwise you won’t remember it in the morning.

The-Night-Journal-Book-CoverMoe: If you weren’t a writer what would you be?

Elizabeth Crook: God forbid.

Moe: What is your favorite word?

Elizabeth Crook: It varies by the week. This week it is “unsavory.”

My interview with Elizabeth Crook was originally published 8/31/2006 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.

Visit Elizabeth Crook’s official website.

Sally Cooper – Author Interview

Imagine living communally on a farm with other artists. Sally doesn’t have to imagine, she’s done it. Now she’s living in Hamilton, Ontario with her boyfriend, Newfoundland dog and a cat. Two days a week she’s a professor at Humber College and the rest of her time is devoted to writing. This “intuitive writer” first book Love Object was published in 2002 and ventures into the lives of one family and the affects of mental illness. I hope you’ll enjoy Sally Cooper’s perspective on the writing life as much as I did.

Moe: Looking back was there something in particular that helped you to decide to become a writer?

Sally-Cooper-AuthorSally Cooper: As a child I had intense experiences – outer body, waking dreams – and more notably, I craved intense experiences. My grandparents had great gardens where I would read Alice in Wonderland then close my eyes and try to will myself unconscious. At dawn, I’d search around the stone bench under our pear tree for fairy rings. Writing made sense – if I couldn’t will those experiences, I could tell them. So I wrote. And I drew. But I was better at writing, and with writing, I could direct the dream. As a teen I wanted to be a poet-waitress or a librarian. My poems veered from angst to unicorns. I won contests! After university I lived communally on a farm with musicians who jammed in the barn. My voice was off-key and I was shy. My first story came soon after. I can’t say how I knew I was a writer. Like love, I just knew.

Moe: What inspires you?

Sally Cooper: Other writers inspire me, other artists, my friends. Art inspires me, too – paintings, sculptures, photographs, films, songs, stories. And life. Love Objectcame out of feelings I had for the town I grew up in and the people I knew there. Other times an image nudges me or I hear a character.

Moe: Every writer has a method that works for them. Most of them vary like the wind while some seem to follow a pattern similar to other writers. On a typical writing day, how would you spend your time?

Sally Cooper: My writing day varies depending on what I’m doing in the rest of my life. When I worked full-time, nine-to-five, I wrote before work and on weekend mornings. When I’m not working I get up, putter for a couple of hours with my dog, my journal, breakfast, a shower, then write for three to four hours. Sometimes I spend more time but I often pay for it the next day. There is much brooding, some reading and frequent snacking. The time of day changes. Right now I start mid-morning. What’s key for me is establishing a daily rhythm, same time, same place, day after day without interruption to the schedule.

Moe: How long does it take for you to complete a book you would allow someone to read? Do you write right through or do you revise as you go along?

Sally Cooper: I like to write my first drafts in a burst. I wrote the first drafts of both novels in a couple of months then spent years revising them. I used to show my first drafts to trusted readers. Now I wait longer. It took me a few years before I showed a draft of my second novel but the feedback I get is invaluable.

Lately I’m writing more slowly. I’m technically stronger so I build a story’s spine sentence by sentence, trying to see my way clearly through a story rather than writing in a blur. I end up with a stronger, more careful draft. At least I hope I do.

Moe: When you have your idea and sit down to write is any thought given to the genre and type of readers you’ll have?

Sally Cooper: With Love Object I gave little thought to anything beyond the characters and their stories and how to get them down. I opened myself up to the story first. Then, I concerned myself with how to shape it, learning as I went. With the new novel, I’ve made more decisions earlier in the game, decisions about who’s telling the story, where to start, that kind of thing. That said, I am at heart an intuitive writer and with each revision, I question those decisions and often make great changes.

Moe: When it comes to plotting, do you write freely or plan everything in advance?

Sally Cooper: I like to let an idea grow inside me for awhile before I write so I can get a sense of its mystery, the kinds of answers I’m chasing. I do little planning, though. There is a mystery about a story and where it’s going. Each choice one makes, as in life, opens up possibilities. Deciding where a story is going in advance, as in life, invites chaos. I like to let the story reveal itself to me, to follow it down. This method makes for much revising. My new novel, for instance: I started out with 500 pages and pared them down to fifty. Then I wrote hundreds more and cut back again. But I’m an “experiential learner.” I learn by doing and for me, the biggest energy is in writing.

Moe: What kind of research do you do before and during a new book? Do you visit the places you write about?

Sally Cooper: I’ve visited every place I’ve written about, which is easy enough, since my work tends to be set in Ontario where I live, though some places I’ve traveled have made such an impact I’ve had to write about them. A backpacking trip to Europe, for instance, has come up a few times. And New Mexico: I spent a couple of summers in Taos and the desert is finding its way into my stories.

Most of my research, I’ve done as I write, often after the fact. I should change this method. With my new novel, I didn’t do any research until well into the second draft. Since this novel involves a murder trial, I went to court, visited a jail, consulted a Crown Attorney only to find out I’d gotten some key procedures wrong and had to redraft. I didn’t mind. The detours got me closer to the characters. Next time I will start earlier, though not too early. I like to see where the story wants to take me.

Moe: How much of yourself and the people you know manifest into your characters? Where do your characters come from? Where do you draw the line?

Sally Cooper: I never think about how much of myself is in my characters anymore. I used to, though, and I suspect it took me so long to publish because I worried about what people would think of me. I like to believe I’m transparent but writing is trickery, after all. Certainly my fiction hits on my concerns, my deepest thoughts and feelings, everything I know, really, is in my books. As for the people in my life: ask my mother! The core of a character might come from someone I know (or think I know) but once I’m writing, the character becomes a made thing, not real, except in my mind, and yours as you read it. I don’t draw any line, but people keep telling me things, so what I’m doing must be okay.

Moe: Writers often go on about writer’s block. Do you ever suffer from it and what measures do you take to get past it?

Sally Cooper: I’ve suffered from writer’s block. I had one, famously, for three years after I wrote Love Object. I surrendered to it, moved from Toronto to a log cabin in the Mono Hills and found ways to make life fun again. Was I blocked, or did I just not want to write? Is there a difference? I’m not sure. Perspective is key, taking art lightly, playing on the page and accepting that droughts do happen. There are reasons behind our refusals to write. Sometimes it’s best to lay the pen down and explore them.

Moe: When someone reads one of your books for the first time, what do you hope they gain, feel or experience?

Sally Cooper: I want readers to get a hit from the story, a sense of recognition. Some of the best responses to Love Object came from readers who connected to what Mercy goes through when the girls pick on her at camp or to Nicky when he tries on his missing mother’s clothes. I want someone to feel the dream as intensely as I do.

Moe: Can you share three things you’ve learned about the business of writing since your first publication?

Sally Cooper: I learned the world of publishing and book-selling is full of good people who love books. Publishing is a business like any other and it’s smart for writers to be savvy about the process of selling. Oh, and book launches rock.

Moe: How do you handle fan mail? What kinds of things do fans write to you about?

Sally Cooper: I handle fan mail with glee. I’d love to get more. People write to tell me how they’ve interpreted Love Object’s central mystery. Or to ask me what I think happened after the end of the story. As if I know!

Moe: What’s your latest book about? Where did you get the idea and how did you let the idea evolve?

Sally Cooper: Love Object is about Mercy Brewer who witnesses her mother’s nervous breakdown. Her raucous grandmother comes to live with her and the novel explores her coming-of-age as she tries to get to the heart of her mother’s disappearance. It’s set in a fictional town, Apple Ford, in Southern Ontario, in the seventies. I’d started writing a story about a friend of mine who’d committed suicide at nineteen. Mercy was a side character. By the second draft, she’d taken over and he’d changed into her best friend Duncan who, while mildly tormented, is not suicidal.

Moe: What kind of books do you like to read?

Sally Cooper: I like good fiction, short stories and novels, some poetry, artist biographies, true crime, interviews, essays.

Moe: When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?

Sally Cooper: Anything I can get away with. Actually, I’m rather boring. I go to movies, play guitar, practice yoga, renovate my house, travel, hang out with my boyfriend, see friends, bathe the dog, surf the Web.

Moe: New writers are always trying to glean advice from those with more experience. What suggestions do you have for new writers?

Sally Cooper: I’m not the first to say this, but my strongest advice is to read everything, not just what you like and not just what’s easy, from all eras. Write as much as you can. Try new things, in life and in writing. Pay attention. Believe in it and be greedy for words. Travel. Listen.

Moe: If you weren’t a writer what would you be?

Sally Cooper: Probably a small-town librarian with a drinking problem. Or a poet-waitress.

Moe: What is your favourite word?

Sally Cooper: I love them all equally.

Originally published 2/20/2006 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.

Joyce Hackett – Author Interview

If you have one passion in life, you’re lucky. If you have two you must be blessed. Besides being a full-time writer Joyce Hackett is also a community activist with “emphasis on the active”. Her first novel Disturbance of the Inner Ear won the 2003 Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize and has been published in the U.S., U.K., Holland and Argentina. At the moment she’s working on Manhattanville while dividing her time between New York and Berlin. I hope you enjoy getting to know Joyce Hackett.

Moe: Looking back was there something in particular that helped you to decide to become a writer? Did you choose it or did the profession choose you?

Joyce-HackettJoyce Hackett: I’ve been writing since I was ten, when I won a poetry contest and received a fifty dollar U.S. savings bond, and the loony idea that you could make a lot of money as a writer. Then I won another essay contest entitled “Why I am proud to be an American” by rewording a bunch of John F. Kennedy quotes into my own pastiche. It was a small town, and there wasn’t much going on.

Moe: When did you ‘know’ you were a writer?

Joyce Hackett: I guess, in graduate school, I finally understood something when, writing by candlelight, I missed a long New York City blackout and didn’t know it for quite a while.

Moe: Were you a good writer as a child? Teenager?

Joyce Hackett: In high school I was good at sports, and listening to depressing music over and over, but didn’t write much, as the mental landscape was somewhat abysmal: a backhoe of sky blue eyeshadow, along with a lot of cheerleader outfits worn as normal garb. Only when I was in college did I remember how much I loved to sit alone with a pen and a dictionary.

Moe: Can you tell us a bit about being a community activist?

Joyce Hackett: I’m obsessed with land use, and public space, and was the chair of a coalition of community groups advocating for more effective land use practices and better public spaces. My most recent project is Washington Write-a-Story Day.

Moe: What inspires you?

Joyce Hackett: The reason I love New York, which is perhaps the toughest city in the world to live in for an artist, is the talk on the subway: the conversations one hears there, and in restaurants, and in museums. There is so much talk, and the only word for it is wonderful. New Yorkers are fully themselves in a way I often find the rest of the U.S. isn’t. People don’t isolate in cars, and they don’t watch much TV, and they walk on sidewalks, where they have to bump into each other, not malls, where you could wander around for miles with nothing but food as a companion. Scratch the “you” there and insert “I”, because growing up, that’s what I did, a lot.

Moe: Every writer has a method that works for them. Most of them vary like the wind while some seem to follow a pattern similar to other writers. On a typical writing day, how would you spend your time?

Joyce Hackett: I have no idea how I spend my time. I live with a writer who gets up like clockwork and produces like he’s at an office. I’m up in the middle of the night working, then go back to bed, get up late, walk the dog and work another chunk of hours. Mostly I do an enormous amount of research for a book and then when I feel I am stuffed, to the point of disgust, I have to go off in a hole and digest and then spew.

Moe: How long does it take for you to complete a book you would allow someone to read?

Joyce Hackett: It takes a year for me to have a draft of a book that I don’t think anything is wrong with–or rather, I’ve worked as far as I can and don’t know what is wrong with it.

Moe: Do you write right through or do you revise as you go along?

Joyce Hackett: I write through for a while, try to, especially when I’m not writing and trying to write, but then let myself edit, because I find that in the pursuit of specificity in sentences, I actually come to understand what it is I’m writing about.

Moe: When you have your idea and sit down to write is any thought given to the genre and type of readers you’ll have?

Joyce Hackett: Well, I think about inventing a new form to match the content of a book. That’s what Shakespeare did–Troilus and Cressida is perhaps his ugliest language but most appropriate to the content. I think more about the dominant metaphor and tone than about genre, though. For me, tone is all.

Moe: When it comes to plotting, do you write freely or plan everything in advance?

Joyce Hackett: I’ve given up planning in advance: trying to be efficient, I spend months doing nothing if I do it that way.

Moe: What kind of research do you do before and during a new book?

Joyce Hackett: I think research is mostly about, not being “right”, but about being “not wrong”. So often it introduces a vocabulary for a life and a set of concerns and a way of perceiving, but once a writer knows everything, she is able to write very little on a topic.

In my own book, Disturbance of the Inner Ear, is about a cellist, and I interviewed about 400 cellists for that book. While I was doing my research, at a certain point a cellist I was interviewing, Gary Hoffman, quoted a sentence to me almost word for word that I had written the week before in the voice of my narrator. He said: “When you are playing in that perfect zone, the notes come in slow motion, like a series of home run pitches you can smack–one after the other.” Well, my narrator knew nothing about baseball, but I’d written in a line about how in a perfect performance the notes come in slow motion, and time stops. And when Gary Hoffman said that to me, I thought, Bingo. I’m there. And I didn’t do any more research. I think on that day I knew more about the cello than I ever had before, and than I ever have since.

Moe: Do you visit the places you write about?

Joyce Hackett: I do visit the places I write about, but only afterwards (Though I took a wonderful drive over the Brenner Pass in Italy that informed much of the last part of my book).

Moe: How much of yourself and the people you know manifest into your characters? Where do your characters come from? Where do you draw the line?

Joyce Hackett: I tend to write about people very different from me, but people whose emotional centers I can relate to, even if my life circumstances are different. As I mentioned, I live with another writer, so I think it’s part of the deal that you don’t scavenge too close to home.

Moe: Writers often go on about writer’s block. Do you ever suffer from it and what measures do you take to get past it?

Joyce Hackett: I do suffer from writer’s block, which I think is a feeling of irrelevance and uselessness that relates to being disconnected from people. When I do community service, and go out and create good things for others, it feels like an antidote, and often I’m able to come back out of my own self-evaluation, thinking about someone else and what their world is like.

Moe: When someone reads one of your books for the first time, what do you hope they gain, feel or experience?

Joyce Hackett: Well–there are books that have saved my life simply by setting down experiences I thought no one else felt. So, I hope to do that for others.

Moe: Can you share three things you’ve learned about the business of writing since your first publication?

Joyce Hackett: My novel was rejected by forty publishers and agents, and often, I’d get letters from them that objected to its idiosyncrasies in an irritated and even a nasty way. Later, when it was published, the dazzling reviews cited, in a positive way, exactly what people had objected to when it was unpublished, which was that it was different from what they’d seen. So I guess I learned that if you’re willing to work hard enough to really set down your unique vision, it makes sense to stick with it and not allow people to commercialify your work.

Moe: How do you handle fan mail? What kinds of things do fans write to you about?

Joyce Hackett: I get a nice letter from someone every so often telling me how the book changed their life, but I get about one letter a month inviting me to be the featured cellist at some middle school Cello-fest (that was actually the title of the event) in the midwest. At which point I have to write back and tell them I don’t play the cello, and they really wouldn’t want me to get up there and hack away, onstage. My best letter ever was from my own physician, who said when he’d first started the book he hated the physician in the book, whose also a gigolo and a compulsive liar, but by the end, he had a new model for soulfulness. He told me I was a jewel of our civilization. And ironically, I take much better care of my health since I got that letter. Now, if I have even a sniffle, I get it checked.

Moe: What’s your latest book about?

Joyce Hackett: I’m writing one book about a family that lives in the tunnels under Riverside Park and is being displaced by Harlem’s gentrification, it is called Manhattanville. I’m writing a second book, Reconstruction, about Frederick Douglass and his white, German-Jewish mistress of 26 years, Ottilie Assing.

Moe: What kind of books do you like to read?

Joyce Hackett: Well, I mostly read what I need to know for my fiction. I love diving into a novel, but it happens less than it used to. The more solving of technical problems one has under one’s belt, the more a writer thinks as a craftsman and less as an amateur, or lover, of books.

Moe: When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?

Joyce Hackett: Walk my dog and paint.

Moe: New writers are always trying to glean advice from those with more experience. What suggestions do you have for new writers?

Joyce Hackett: It’s like the old joke where the guy with a violin case rushes up to a stranger on 57th Street and asks, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” And the stranger answers, “Practice, practice, practice.” I think the only way to write well is to write badly, often, a lot. The difference between the pros and the ams is one simple factor: how hard they work. Meaning, strictly, how many books one reads and how many hours one spends learning the language and writing.

Moe: If you weren’t a writer what would you be?

Joyce Hackett: I’m not that stable, so if I weren’t a writer, I might be a bag lady or in prison. Who knows, maybe I could have made it through to a normal profession, but I don’t think so.

Moe: What is your favourite word?

Joyce Hackett: In response, I think I can only tell a joke I heard during the Monica Lewinsky era.

Hillary Clinton, after an illness, dies and goes to heaven, where she meets St. Peter at the gates. Peter says, Hillary, we’ve been waiting for you. And Hillary says, Peter, great to see you! What is the procedure here and how do I master it? Peter says, Hillary, all you have to do is spell one word. Hillary says, Actually, as you may know, one of my best traits is how accurately I spell. What is the word? And Peter says, “Love”. And Hillary says, That’s easy! L-o-v-e. Peter says, You’re in! Listen, could you watch the gate for a while? I have to go to the bathroom. Sure, Hillary says.

So she’s going through the routine with the people in line to get into Heaven, when way back, she sees Bill, glad-handing. And he makes his way up to her, she says, H-Hi, honey… I mean…what are you doing here? And he says, Honey, I never been so happy to see you mah whole laaf. And Hillary says, It’s… it’s good to see you too, Bill. But… what happened? And he says, blubbering, Hil, I was so broke up after your funeral, I met a nice girl and took her home, and in the car, you know, one thing let to another and I crashed into a tree. Hillary says, Wow. And Bill says, but I’m SO glad to see you. So what’s the drill here? Hillary says, It’s easy, honey. All you have to do is spell one word. Bill asks, What’s the word? Czechoslovakia, says Hillary.

Ok, so it’s a silly joke, but the point it makes, other than to comment on the state of their marriage, is that any word can mean anything in context. I love thinking about how that basically factual, neutral word, Czechoslovakia, conveys so much!

Originally published 11/12/2005 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.

Visit Joyce Hackett’s official website.

The Adventures of Flash Jackson Review

Who is Flash Jackson? Flash is the alter ego of 16 year old Haley Bombauer, a tomboy in search of her authentic self. The self she learns was there all along. This was a coming of age story that I thoroughly enjoyed.

This review was originally published at Linear Reflections then again at Literary Fiction, Bellaonline. Read full review.