Kristine Scarrow Interviews Chelsea Coupal

Kristine Scarrow: What was the impetus for The Slow Reveal? How did it come to be? 

Chelsea Coupal: The Slow Reveal is a chapbook – it’s a small sample of work from my second poetry manuscript. I’ve been looking for a publisher for that second manuscript, and in the process, Anstruther Press offered to publish a selection of the manuscript’s poems as a chapbook. 

KS: Your 2018 release Sedley is a favourite of poetry collection of mine; there is an honesty and rawness in the poems about growing up in rural Saskatchewan. How was writing this collection different for you from Sedley? What can readers expect from The Slow Reveal? 

CC: In a lot of ways, the work in The Slow Reveal isn’t a huge departure from the work in Sedley. If you like Sedley, I think – hope! – you’ll enjoy The Slow Reveal. I still write about rural Saskatchewan. I still write what might be considered coming-of-age poems. I still like the constraints of form poetry. Maybe I always will? 

I’m sometimes concerned that I return too often to the same sort of subject matter, but fellow writers have reminded me that even if we revisit certain topics, we’re not the same people we were when we wrote those earlier poems, so the work won’t be the same either. It’s impossible for it to be the same. I’ve also been reassured that this is a common concern among writers – that our work isn’t growing and evolving as it should if we continue to explore the same themes. 

I read some writing advice somewhere – and I can’t remember who wrote or said this – but the line was: “Write what haunts you, not what interests you.” And that stuck with me. I feel like that advice is often in the back of my mind somewhere when I’m writing. If it haunts me, it’s probably worth getting down on paper. Some other advice I return to was given to me by Sandra Ridley at Sage Hill a couple of years ago. She challenged us to ask ourselves, as we drafted and reread our work: “What’s at stake?” 

The main difference between drafting this collection and drafting Sedley is that I drafted the majority of the poems for Sedley as a grad student, so I had a lot of structure while writing that manuscript. I had thesis advisors I met with regularly. I had deadlines. It was a great environment to draft the manuscript in. It forced me to write regularly.

This manuscript, I wrote with a lot less oversight, so I hope it’s decent. Nobody’s asking where the poems are. There are no deadlines. I’ve found it a bit harder to stay focused and productive working mostly on my own, but I’ve had lots of generous readers along the way, even outside of a classroom setting, so I’ve been lucky. 

KS: Tell us about the process of curating your work into a collection. How did you decide what poems to include in The Slow Reveal?

There are only eight poems in the chapbook, so I chose a few of my favourites from the larger manuscript. I also chose some that hadn’t been previously published – I wanted to make sure the chapbook contained poems that people wouldn’t have had the opportunity to read anywhere else. 

KS: Have you always been drawn to poetry? 

CC: Honestly, no. I didn’t really get interested in poetry until I was an undergrad in university and started reading contemporary poetry and trying to write it in some of my early creative writing classes. 

I knew I was interested in writing in high school. When I started university, I was a pre-journalism major. I thought of writing in practical terms only: “Writing is a skill I have. Maybe I could get paid to write. Maybe I could be a journalist.” It didn’t even occur to me that there were people living and working in Saskatchewan who also published their own creative writing. I assumed you had to live in Toronto or New York to publish anything.  

I also didn’t expect to end up writing poetry. In high school, I read novels, mostly. And even my first year of university – before I discovered contemporary poetry – I thought of poetry as this challenging, mysterious form of writing. I don’t think I even realized that people were still writing poetry. Overall, I didn’t give poetry a whole lot of thought until I was studying creative writing.

With poetry, you don’t have to worry about plot. I like that. Whenever I tried writing short stories, people would ask me: “What was the point of that?” And I’d be like: “Oh, does there have to be a point?” 

KS: Who or what influences your work?

CC: My own experiences, what I’m reading, what I’m watching and the music I’m listening to. 

KS: What would you like readers to take away from your writing?

CC: Good question. It’s not really something I think about that much. Should I? Ha, ha. Other than – I hope they like it? I just want them to enjoy it! I hope they feel something when they read it. 


Chelsea Coupal’s first poetry collection, Sedley (Coteau, 2018), was selected by Chapters Indigo for an Indigo Exclusive edition and shortlisted for three Saskatchewan Book Awards; her work has won the City of Regina Writing Award; been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and appeared in more than a dozen Canadian literary journals and anthologies, including Arc, EVENT, Grain, Literary Review of Canada and Best Canadian Poetry.

Kristine Scarrow is the author of four young adult novels, all published by Dundurn Press. Her work has also appeared in several literary journals and anthologies. This past year, Kristine completed a short story collection Only Human through the MFA in Writing at the University of Saskatchewan. She is currently working on another YA novel and an adult fiction medical novel. She is currently serving as the Saskatoon Public Library Writer in Residence.

Walker Pityn Interviews Bill Gaston

Photo Credit: JenSteelePhotography

Walker Pityn: You’ve written novels, plays, a collection of poems, short stories, and non-fiction. With such an expansive and experienced body of creative work, how do you find your writing ambitions have shifted through time and experience? Are you more inclined to write in a particular form of literature now than you were before?

Bill Gaston: I’ve had a long career, and have been blessed, or cursed, with some degree of skill in all the forms—I used to think of the “jack of all, master of none” expression, and wince—so, yes, I’ve done a lot of shifting. My first book was a collection of poems, but somewhere along the way I learned that any poetic word-spasm I suffered could be put to good use in a sentence in a story I was writing. So I suspect I was never a poet to begin with. Similarly, I started writing plays and screenplays, I think mostly because I love writing dialogue, but then I became frustrated by the collaboration required in both those forms. I’m enough of a control freak that that degree of collaboration was painful. But it wasn’t just that—with fiction, I was able to sit back and imagine that anyone reading my work was experiencing exactly what I intended them to experience—they got all my jokes, they understood the objective correlatives, they were intrigued by my characters just as I was intrigued by them—which is all a delusion on my part, of course, but one I continue to enjoy. So fiction was it. Over the years I’ve published seven novels and seven collections of stories, with two more novels in my bottom drawer that will never see the light of day. And that might be it for novels. A short story needs only a seed to get it going but a novel needs a whole garden plot, and I just may have run out of those. So, it’s stories now. I still love writing stories, and apparently I’m better at them—three collections have been up for national awards, but no such accolades for the novels. Finally (I’m sorry for such a long answer to this question but, again, this has been a long career), I’ve turned to non-fiction, which in my case means memoir. I’m currently framing up a third. By “framing” I mean plotting, and voice. While memoir, and non-fiction in general, is in some sense easier to write because all you need to do is write what happened, but you do have to work very hard to make what happened interesting.

WP: In our previous discussions, you’ve mentioned that you both plot out your stories as well as write as you go. Could you speak on this process a bit more and why this process is effective for you? Do you have any suggestions for aspiring writers struggling to find what works for them in their creative process?

BG: First I’ll just say that every writer needs to find the process that best works for them, because there isn’t any right or wrong. It’s all about setting a stage for inspiration. For instance, some need a special room, time of day, type of beverage, etc., and some need a more chaotic opposite of all that. I had one phase where words would come most easily if I was in a noisy, crowded, clattering cafeteria where I worked at my day job, a university. It’s the same with process itself, and whether it’s best to plot the whole thing out or just plunge blindly in and hope for the best, because again there’s no right or wrong. There’s an upside and a downside to both the planned and the spontaneous approaches. If the whole idea is plotted out and the dramatic and emotional movements well-conceived, it’ll probably get written and be good but, in the writing of it, how many opportunities were missed? How good could it have been, artistically? Then, the other way, just plunging in and going line by line, is exhilarating and by definition open to all and every opportunity, but will it find a good shape? This method can be doubly scary if it’s a novel, because you might give years of your life to it and it goes nowhere. Not that writing is ever a waste, but. In any case, I’ve found that a combination of both ways can be best. I often come up with a “bendable structure,” meaning that, once I have an interesting character who’s in an interesting dilemma, it’s a solid enough foundation to proceed with. Just like a reader, I sit there and see this interesting person with their interesting problem and I wonder how they might solve it. I have to say that maybe the biggest joy I take from writing is the surprise of a good sentence, but also the surprise of your character doing something you never imagined, or planned. 

WP: As writers, so much of our writing—if not all of it—comes from our own experiences and engagements with the world. From our conversations this past summer and from snooping around the internet a bit, it really does seem like you’ve had a plethora of life experiences to help shape and guide your writing. What I’m particularly interested in now is how those experiences are utilized in writing over time. Does your attention lie more in the subtle details or scenes from perhaps a memory, or do you abstract larger themes from your experiences? Or both?

BG: It’s true that I have done a lot of different things in my life, and I suppose because of that I have many colours to paint with, but let me say that this is just background, and no life is any better than any other in terms of what might be called “material.” I encountered a saying, which I half believe, which is, by the time you’re twelve you have enough experience to write for the rest of your life. Again I only half-believe that, because at twelve you don’t have much experience with such things as sex or failure or wine pairing. But every life has its own plethora of detail, and its own core of confidence and suffering. Life is hard, and a person who is alone their entire life simply has a different reservoir of material, and palette, than someone who lives surrounded by children and friends. It’s all about finding the interesting dilemma, and those are everywhere. Then it tests your ability to see deeply and vividly, and then translate what you’ve seen into words. And then it depends on whether readers understand your particular translation. You don’t have much control over that, other than that both seeing and translating can and must be practiced, and learned. Some can fling open those two doors with genius, but most of us have to keep knocking, and hunting for those keys under the mat.

WP: Your writing has been described as humorous, gentle, zany, spiritual, absurd and many other descriptors. As a writer (me) who struggles with getting out of the confines of the world that I live in, I wonder if you could share how you tap into an ‘otherness’ or the ‘unconventional’? Is it a morphing of something concrete and grounded?

BG: “Morphing” is a good word for what I sometimes do, or did. When I lead workshops in creative thinking I refer to it as “artful exaggeration,” and sometimes its sibling, “artful incongruity.” Artful exaggeration is simply taking something ordinary, or even deadly-ordinary, like a cliché, and nudging it back into the light. Many of the details of my first novel, Tall Lives, were pretty much driven—or morphed—with this technique. I wanted to write a love story, but the romantic story had been told a billion times, so I ventured into a story of two brothers, twins, identical twins, which is itself a cliché. So I decided to magnify, or exaggerate, the cliché. One twin was good—so good that he might thank an elevator when it opened its doors to him, so good and fair that he became a Canadian Football League referee—and the other was bad, so bad that he stole whatever he could steal, treated people badly just because, and sabotaged his brother whenever he could. Not only that, but they were born conjoined, or “Siamese” twins, but joined, impossibly, at the big toe. Not only that, but their horrible father, a vet who wanted to be a doctor, believes it was his fault they were joined, blaming his hubris after demanding that he, a lowly vet, deliver his own children (even though they weren’t) in his backyard clinic. Then he saws them apart. Since he’s drunk, one toe ends up a bit longer and the other a bit shorter, resulting in their respective goodness and badness. And on it goes. Like all identical twins, they share emotions telepathically, but in their case through their severed toes. Havoc, marriage, adultery, and prison ensues. Now, since those early days when I didn’t care much for realism, I’ve dialed this technique back, towards not only realism but subtlety, or less garishness anyway. Back then, a childhood bully might have all molars in his mouth. These days, I might create a bully with teeth that are noticeably yellowed, and uniformly very small.

WP: Finally, is there anything you would like to share with the writing world about any upcoming work?

BG: As it happens, just this morning I sent my new collection of linked stories to my agent. Who knows how long before it’s in stores? In any case, it’s called Gavel Island.


Bill Gaston taught Creative Writing at the U of New Brunswick (and edited The Fiddlehead, Canada’s oldest literary journal) then at the U of Victoria, where he retired as Professor Emeritus in 2020. His eighteen books have garnered nominations for the Giller Prize, the Governor General’s Award and Charles Taylor Prize, and won the Ethel Wilson Prize, Relit Award, a CBC Prize and the inaugural Timothy Findley Prize for a body of work. He lives with writer Dede Crane on Gabriola Island in the Salish Sea. 

Walker Pityn is currently an MFA candidate at the University of Saskatchewan, where he writes poetry and realistic fiction. His stories explore coming of age, codependency, and anticipatory anxiety. His work has been published in in medias res. He is a contributing editor at ARC Poetry magazine.

Dawn Muenchrath Interviews Joanne Leow

Dawn Muenchrath: How does your work in literary criticism and analysis translate into your own creative practice? Do you see these two kinds of writing as complementary, or, possibly, in tension with one another?

Joanne Leow: Definitely complementary in many ways because when you are doing literary criticism, you have the great honour of being immersed in other people’s amazing and brilliant work. So, you have poetry, for example, from someone like Dionne Brand, but you also have a lot of critical theory, and, in my line of research, archival materials and artist statements too, and this vocabulary and diction influences what goes into my creative work. 

I think there is a lot that cannot be said in academic writing, because, in part, there are inherent limitations due to the way it is expected to perform a certain kind of knowledge and power. Also, as a Singaporean academic critiquing a lot of stuff [about my country], I sometimes find myself holding back––I try not to do that––but taking my body and positionality out of the writing. When I write poetry then, I feel a lot freer to express the things that can’t be said, and the emotions that I carry when I am confronted with ecological devastation, or hyper-planning and authoritarian power. 

DM: Your new poetry collection Seas Move Away (Turnstone Press 2022), explores questions about displacement, loss and belonging on an intimate, personal scale, and then on a national and even transnational scale––ideas that are linked together with images of water and tides. I’m wondering, did you always know these pieces were going to come together in this way, or, at what moment you decide that? 

JL: As I started putting together all this poetry that I was writing in Saskatoon, in the States, in Vancouver, and in Singapore, I started thinking about the metaphor of seas moving away. But then, one of my editors, Joanne Arnott, said, “You know, you are very critical about Singapore, and you’re not as critical of Saskatchewan.” She told me that Saskatchewan used to be an inland sea, and I thought this is too perfect. I did some geological research and found that this used to be the Western Interior Seaway, which is why we have so much oil––why Alberta and Saskatchewan have all these deposits. Literally, seas move away

I have the poem, “Western Interior Seaway,” and I was thinking, how is this different than the crude oil, the refineries, and the barges that come into Singapore? Both places are essentially petrostates. So, there was that ecological thread, and then I’m always wondering, what does that do to people’s bodies? My grandfather was an employee of Shell and he moved around Southeast Asia to support the drilling, and so there is this familial history there. So much of my life, then, is shaped by travel, diaspora, migration, and extraction. 

When I think of the colonization of continents or archipelagos, I also think about the colonization of my own body––my voice, my language, and everything else. 

DM: In the third section of your book, “All Submerged Lands,” you are repurposing words and phrases from the statutes of the Republic of Singapore. I’m wondering how the process of using “found language” to write poetry is different from writing other types of poems, and how do you know when that’s the right avenue?

JL: I find that protest poetry or dissident poetry is very hard to write. I spent a long time working as a journalist in Singapore, and when you’re a journalist in Singapore, you’re really a state mouthpiece, and there’s no room to question what’s being said. I was very fascinated with this language [in the statutes] that could be instrumentalized to produce a particular kind of culture and obedience from the population. I was fascinated by the laws themselves because they try to contain everything, to account for every possibility of what could happen in this land. I think that kind of totality needs to be challenged through the language. 

Sometimes when you are writing a poem, you are just trying to describe some insight you had, but with these poems, I felt like I was actively fighting with this language that was attempting to reshape reality. I had an adversary. I was very angry when I wrote these poems, but it was very empowering in many ways. It was very creatively productive.

DM: You have a poem titled, “How Not to Settle,” and I was thinking how that idea runs throughout a lot of the book, and I was wondering if you could speak to what that phrase means? 

JL: We battled with that poem because I wanted to retain the line length, but it’s hard to retain line length when you have the constraint of book format, so I asked my editor, “Can we turn it on its side?” It’s the only poem in the collection that’s turned on its side. I thought, what will that do? It will unsettle the reader––and that’s exactly what I wanted to do. Visually, the form will speak to its content. 

[When I wrote the poem] I had just bought this house that I’m living in, and I wondered, what does it really mean to live here, on Treaty land, on Indigenous land, in this house that was constructed in the 1960s, and is so thoroughly suburban? The previous owner’s point of pride was his immaculate lawn, and I can’t stand grass. I was thinking, what violence do we do to this land? What kind of omissions and lesions are unnecessary for us to settle? I don’t want to settle. I want to be unsettled. Even as a migrant, they talk about settlement when you come here, but if you want to strain, bristle against that, how do you do that? Do you have to listen really carefully? Do you have to be really conscious of what is going on? When I garden and work the land, what are the implications? 

DM: Are you working on anything new, and is it related to this collection, or is it something different?

JL: I just wrote a long poem that interrogates settler ownership and naming. It was inspired by a wedding I attended at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. The Stoney Peoples were kicked off this beautiful land and here we are dancing and partying on it. What does that even mean? 

Then I’m working on a hybrid creative/critical memoir about my time as a journalist in Singapore, and my uneasy relationship with it. So, it’s related to the poetry, but in a more narrative form.


Joanne Leow grew up in Singapore and lives as an uninvited guest on Treaty Six Territory and the homeland of the Métis. She is an Associate Professor at the University of Saskatchewan. Her writing  has been published in Brick, Catapult, Evergreen Review, The Goose, Isle, The Kindling, The Town Crier, and Ricepaper Magazine. Seas Move Away (Turnstone, 2022) is her debut collection of poetry.

Dawn Muenchrath is a writer originally from a farm in rural Alberta. She currently lives in Saskatoon where she is completing her MFA in Writing at the University of Saskatchewan. Her work has been published by Arc Poetry Magazine, Every Day Fiction, and Grain (forthcoming). She has two cats.

Gunnar Ohberg Interviews Kristyn Dunnion

Kristyn Dunnion, author of Stoop City

Gunnar Ohberg: Have you always wanted to be a writer or was there something in particular that drew you to writing?

Kristyn Dunnion: Growing up watching a lot of bad TV in the 1970s, I was heavily influenced by tough chicas like Pinky and Leather Tuscadero (Happy Days), by the Lady Detectives of Charlie’s Angels, etcetera. I wanted to be like them. Writing is something I’ve come to, more and more, as other excitements have fallen away and as my attention span (and ability to sit still!) has grown. I appreciate the solitude of writing and the discipline of playing with language to get things ‘just right’ in a way that’s so different from collaborative theatre or activist/community projects, from other work I’ve done over the years.

GO: Your books cover a wide range of genre: dystopian, domestic drama, murder-mystery thriller, sci-fi fantasy. Does your experience as a writer change depending on the genre? Have you found some genres easier or harder to write than others?

KD: With each new project, I try to stay open, curious about exploring the world of the story. For me that includes style and genre — I’m more concerned with discovering the aesthetic and getting to know the characters, really inhabiting their bodies and dreams, than with categorizing how it will be told. For me, genre is more of an internal discovery than a conscious choice. One exception is short fiction, which I actively pursued with the misguided notion that it would take less time to write. Ha! I spent almost eight years revising some of the stories that ended up in Stoop City(Biblioasis, 2020). Each book is compelling and challenging (to write) in its own way. Each has been driven by an emotional landscape or unanswered question, by stark imagery and sometimes by an audacious character/voice that will not be dislodged from my head, otherwise. 

GO: In addition to writing, you are a performance artist, a former cabaret performer, and have been the bassist for multiple rock bands. Have these creative performances influenced your writing in any way?

KD: Yes! Visual arts, too, are a deeply satisfying medium to balance the two-dimensional world of text. I am happiest in a studio, mucking about, experimenting. I urge writers to balance that part of their life with physicalized movement, with martial arts or dance or something like that. Making music, co-writing songs, working with other artists to stage something, these are all invaluable experiences that help flex creative muscles and teach us new vocabulary, new ways of thinking, communicating, being. I resist the convention of committing to a single modality within the vast artistic universe, or to a single genre in all of literature; categorization like this, which might serve to inspire expertise and deep understanding for some people, feels restrictive to me. 

GO: You’ve also worked in a shelter system since the COVID pandemic began. How has COVID impacted your writing, if at all?

KD: At first, things weren’t too different, in that I was deep into final revisions for Stoop City, which gave me a framework for continuing to write. Launching a book during the pandemic was strange. One of my favourite parts about being an author is travelling and giving public readings, meeting readers and other writers, and that dynamic in-person element was missing. But it’s astounding to have access to online technology that facilitates connection, and those advantages have been pretty cool. The paid work I do outside of writing is so focused on pandemic response and active front line work, which brings its own stressors and challenges. There have been points during the pandemic when I was unable to read for any length of time (I’d switch to short essays and poetry), or felt too despondent to write (I completed two jigsaw puzzles, instead). People say, “Oh, are you going to write about the pandemic?” and I’m like, “No way, so redundant!” I’m working on a sequel to the dystopic Tarry This NightGlean Among the Sheaves explores abundance, reciprocity, alternative concepts of the Divine. For a change, I want to conceive of a possible future which is not in itself terrorizing: the antidote to white supremacy, to patriarchal capitalism.

GO: It’s been noted that punk and heavy metal have some influence in your work. Can you tell us more about that relationship between music and literature for you? Are there particular songs or bands you listen to for inspiration?

KD: Oh, yes, music fuels me. Each book has its own playlist — what I played while writing, that (hopefully) seeps into the text, contaminating readers. I listened to a lot of doom/sludge metal for Tarry This Night, and wrote hymns in the stairwell of my building: creepy! As a bassist, I’m partial to Black Sabbath, the Melvins, Sleep and Bolt Thrower, to name a very few. 

GO: What books were essential to your formation as a writer, and are there any books you’d recommend for any beginning writer?

KD: Books were a lifeline for me as a kid; the public library in town was a safe haven. It’s so subjective, what book (or band) will knock someone’s socks off, and I continue to be astonished by new or new-to-me writers. The stories I remember most vividly from childhood were emotionally devastating, so much so the books were sometimes confiscated until I’d ‘calm down.’ Books that told me about another person’s struggles in their differently-lived life nurtured deep empathy in me as a reader, as a human. This is probably why I write – primarily to express those intimate longings and, secondly, in hopes for some kind of connection, however anonymous it might be.

For a beginning writer, especially, read widely. Read outside your comfort zone: different genres, diverse writers. Listen to authors speak about their work (so much is accessible online now); this is how we learn to talk and think about our own work, and to place it in the context of what has come before, what’s current, whatever will come next.


Kristyn Dunnion was raised in the southern-most tip of rural Canada and now lives in Toronto. She has authored six books, most recently Stoop City (Biblioasis, 2020), winner of the 2021 ReLit Award for short fiction, and Tarry This Night (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2017). Recent work appears in Best Canadian Stories 2020, Toronto 2033 and Orca. A queer performance artist and heavy metal bassist, Dunnion is also a community mental health support worker.

Gunnar Ohberg is a member of the University of Saskatchewan’s MFA in Writing program. His poems and short stories have recently been featured in The RacketThe Mark Literary Review, and in media res. He is currently working on a dystopian novel set in South Carolina. Sometimes he plays in rock bands.

Brandon Fick Interviews Guy Vanderhaeghe

Guy Vanderhaeghe, author of August Into Winter

Brandon Fick: With your first novel in a decade, August Into Winter, you’ve returned to historical fiction. What sparked your interest in learning and writing about history? Growing up, were you aware of major historical events as they were happening, or interested in your own family’s personal history?

Guy Vanderhaeghe: From a very early age, I was interested in the past. It began with the stories my grandparents told me about their lives, which I drank in. The things they had lived through: prairie fires, the Spanish influenza pandemic, the First World War, the Depression, The Second World War, always seemed richer, more momentous than my own stale existence. These anecdotes prompted me to read history in an attempt to learn more about the world as it existed then.

And yes, even as a child, I was aware of major historical events. Not to make myself sound too precocious, but I was a news nerd at quite a young age. I can recall the world teetering on the verge of nuclear war, sitting at my desk with my classmates listening to the radio as the Russian ships carrying missiles to Cuba approached the United States Navy’s blockade, which was determined to prevent the weapons from landing. Kennedy’s assassination made a huge impression on me. I watched and listened to Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream speech” on television. And so much more, the Hungarian uprising, the Berlin Wall going up, Gary Powers’s spy plane shot down over the U.S.S.R. and the embarrassment that debacle caused the United States. The Cold War and the dread of nuclear annihilation was very much part of my childhood psychology.

BF: What was the impetus to write August Into Winter and what did the research process look like? Having written multiple historical novels over many years, has your research process changed in any way?

GV: The initial impetus was one of those stories I mentioned earlier, which was told to me by my father. Immediately before the outbreak of the Second World War, my hometown experienced a string of house break-ins that turned out to have been committed by the son of one of the most prominent families. He killed the RCMP officer who arrested him and fled. A posse was formed by veterans of the First World War, and they went off in pursuit of him. Unlike the character in my novel, Ernie Sickert, the murderer killed himself when he was tracked down, brought to bay, and surrounded. But the actual incident was nothing more than a nudge that got the narrative moving forward, unfurling. The characters in my novel bear virtually no relation to the real-life murderer or to much else that has to do with what I know of the incident. They are pure invention.

I did a lot of research on the Spanish Civil War since one of my characters served there. Aside from conventional histories, I read a lot of first-hand accounts written by veterans of the International Brigade. I used the Winnipeg Tribune as a source for news about the early months of the Second World War because I wanted a sense of what people were thinking when the course of the war was still so uncertain. Unlike us, they didn’t know how it was going to end and capturing that mood of uncertainty was important for the book.

My research process has changed very little over the years, aside from the fact that the internet now supplies a wealth of easily accessed information, which wasn’t true when I wrote The Englishman’s Boy, my first historical novel. I always sift through far more material than ever makes its way into a novel. A fairly comprehensive knowledge gives me a measure of confidence as I write, because I feel I have a solid grip on the times and events that are part of the novel.

BF: Having reread The Englishman’s Boy earlier this year, I was struck by its themes – violence against Indigenous people, reckoning with the past, the dangers of fascism and propaganda – and how they’re even more relevant in 2021. And in an introduction to Timothy Findley’s The Wars, you said “serious historical novels are always as much about the present as about the past they claim to place before our eyes.” Keeping that in mind, what do you think August Into Winter says about today?

GV: For a long time, I’ve been concerned about the rise of the radical right in the United States and in Europe. Those men and women who went to fight for the Spanish Republic, to defend it against the military uprising of General Franco, believed by taking a stand there they could stop the worldwide spread of fascism. They failed, largely because democratic governments refused to aid the Republic, and Italian Fascists and German Nazis were only too eager to help Franco and the fascist Falange. The Second World War was a bloodier reprise of the struggle against totalitarian, anti-democratic movements. What both wars remind us is that human rights and human freedom are never completely assured.

In part, the book was written because I believe that the radical, populist right, as exemplified by men like Trump, Bolsonaro, Duterte, Modi, Erdogan, Putin, Orban, Duda – the list goes on and on – are slowly eroding the hope for a world of international law and individual liberty. August Into Winter asks the question: What is the proper response to a crisis such as this? The storming of the United States Capitol by militiamen was a page out of a book written nearly ninety years ago by Nazi SA storm-troopers. Nevertheless, so-called “respectable” politicians attempt to minimize how dangerous such actions are and they are not being called to account for it by the electorate.

BF: One of the key characters in August Into Winter is Ernie Sickert, described as a “spoiled, narcissistic man-child.” Is he comparable to Addington Gaunt from The Last Crossing, or Michael Dunne from A Good Man, characters who do “bad” things for compelling reasons? Is it a challenge to get inside these deeply flawed characters?

GV: I’ve always been interested in what motivates people to do what they do. The presence of evil in the world reminds us that it has a source, and that source is human beings. Ernie Sickert is probably the character who has given me the greatest challenge to write. At one point, my editor remarked that she felt that he bore many similarities to Donald Trump. When I think about it, she might be right. Sickert is self-pitying, vain, arrogant, childish, dangerously impulsive – and above all, forever the “hero of his own story.” I think to write awful human beings, you need to turn off your self-censor, and not be afraid to go to places that are dark, disgusting, or even terrifying.

BF: Speaking of characters, August Into Winter has a huge cast, each with layered backstories. How do writers not only manage, but do justice to so many characters?

GV: That’s a very hard question to answer and the best advice I can offer is that when you write characters be those characters. Write them from the inside, not the outside. If you do that, they have a habit of occupying the spaces in a novel that belong to them.

BF: How has Canadian literature changed since you began writing? Is there less focus on “writing Canada into being” as there was in the 1970s and 1980s?

GV: I think that the cultural nationalism of those decades is largely a spent force. As far as I can see, younger writers have different preoccupations than writers of my generation. When I was a student, we were seldom taught Canadian books; in literature departments, there was a general assumption that Canadian was another adjective for “second rate.” Writers like Alice Munro and Margaret Atwood, along with many others, put fiction, poetry, and plays written by Canadians firmly on the world stage.

BF: Do you think your writing style has changed over the years, or can you identify certain “phases” in your writing career?

GV: Looking back, I suppose my preoccupations as a writer have changed. My early work was much more “personal,” more “intimate,” and less concerned with presenting characters in a “social” or “political” context. Structurally, the novels have grown increasingly complex, and the prose is likely simpler than when I was beginning as a writer. When I was young, I was much more enamoured with fancy flourishes and rhetorical fireworks. I hope I’ve moderated and restrained some of that now.

BF: Is there a certain book or short story you’ve written that you’re particularly proud of? Or on the other hand, a work that you wish had turned out differently?

GV: I’m a harsh critic of my own work so I’m not particularly proud of anything I’ve written. I do wish that all my fiction had turned out differently. That is to say, better.

BF: Going back to history, is there a certain historical event or figure that you think is deserving of a new or updated fictional treatment?

GV: As far as I know, nobody has ever written a novel about Leon Trotsky. He is a fascinating character, multi-dimensional, a subject worthy of Shakespearean tragedy.

BF: And finally, if you could sit down with one or two writers in history, who would they be and what would you ask them?

GV: I would ask Chekhov whether he thought he was a better playwright than short story writer. I would ask Philip Roth how it was possible for him to write so well, for so long.


Guy Vanderhaeghe was born in Esterhazy, Saskatchewan, in 1951. His previous fiction includes A Good ManThe Last CrossingThe Englishman’s BoyThings as They Are (stories), HomesickMy Present AgeMan Descending (stories), and Daddy Lenin and Other Stories. Among the many awards he has received are the Governor General’s Awards (three times); and, for his body of work, the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Fellowship, the Writers’ Trust Timothy Findley Award, and the Harbourfront Literary Prize. He has received many honours including the Order of Canada.

Brandon Fick grew up in Lanigan, Saskatchewan. He primarily writes fiction and has been published in Polar Expressionsin medias res, and The Society. He received a Writing Diploma from St. Peter’s College and a B.A. Honours in English from the University of Saskatchewan. Brandon is currently in the MFA in Writing program at the U of S, working on a short story collection exploring masculinity and small town life.

Karen Wood Interviews Merilyn Simonds 

Merilyn Simonds, author of The Holding and The Convict Lover

Karen Wood: Tell me a story about you being or becoming a writer.

Merilyn Simonds: I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t telling stories. I made them up for my little sister. In Grade Ten, I started a weekly column of school news in the local newspaper. At the same time, I started writing little vignettes. I’d see two people talking and would write a story, adding my own dialogue. At university, I studied journalism, but that wasn’t the kind of writing I wanted to do, so I switched to English literature. Ironically, that stopped me in my tracks. We studied novels from a thematic viewpoint and I thought ‘Oh my goodness, I don’t have a theme. I guess I’m not a writer.’ I stopped for a decade or more, then when my kids were little, I started writing magazine articles and how-to books. When my marriage ended, I moved to Kingston to work at Harrowsmith, a magazine that espoused the New Journalism of Hunter S. Thompson. Kingston had a thriving writing community, and so when I found a cache of letters in my attic, that gave me the confidence to write my first literary non-fiction book, The Convict Lover—the real beginning of my writing life. 

KW: Tell me about that first literary book, how you wrote it.

MS: The Convict Lover was a wonderful first literary book because I was sure no one would want to read it. I was free to bring the story to light in the most authentic, honest, engaging way possible, because my contract was solely with the material. Out of that experience I developed an ethic for literary writing that has served me well. 

KW: Your publications cross multiple genres. On your website you’ve been described as someone who refrains from categorization. Can you speak about that?

MS: The Convict Lover forced me to think through the notion of genre. What was this story? An epistolary novel? Narrative nonfiction? An exposé of Canadian prisons? A penal history? I decided that genre was not something that interested me as a writer. It is of great interest to publishers, to booksellers, and readers—it’s a shorthand way of finding the kind of books you like. But for a writer, genre brings baggage, and for me, the last thing I want when I have a body of material is to wrap chains around it and say, ‘It has to be written like this.’ The Lion In the Room Next Door, for example, was published first as a book of non-fiction stories because it was important to me to signal to the reader that these are stories, but they’re not made up. But it was also published as short stories, as auto-fiction, as memoir, and as a novel. I love the flexibility of the definition of story: a series of events; a fiction.

KW: With categorization there can be porous boundaries between, for example, fact and fiction. As a writer, have you had experiences where that provoked any ethical or moral dilemmas?

MS: Absolutely. To me fact and fiction are not two sides of a coin, but a continuum. The telephone book is extreme non-fiction. Conventional biography is closely tied to facts, but as you move into towards the centre of the continuum, through memoir, interpretive biography, personal essays, the prose becomes more subjective, more informed by the writer and their memory. At the centre is a grey area, where as one reviewer of The Convict Lover said, fact and fiction meet and fornicate. At the opposite end of the continuum is speculative fiction. 

To me, it’s a question of readers’ expectations. I had to figure out how to write The Convict Lover, how to deal with the gaps in the story. I wanted to be frank with the reader about those decisions, so I wrote an Author’s Note. I think an Author’s Note is vital, especially for experimental work. And so with The Convict Lover, I said everything in italics in the letters was drawn directly from the letters, the letters had not been changed at all, no characters had been invented, all characters actually lived, etc. However, the dialogue between the characters was invented and the emotions and feelings of the characters were surmised from circumstances. I think readers are sophisticated. As long as they know what’s going on, they willingly fall into a book. 

KW: Can you speak to what is delightful for you about writing?

MS: Writing is hard, but it never feels onerous. The moment when the words fall into place and they actually say what you want them to say—well, it is profoundly satisfying. There’s an ecstasy to writing that I don’t get anywhere else, which is probably what keeps me at it. The feeling has to do with story, and all the elements of story, but equally if not more so, it has to do with language. Sentence structure is heartrate, right? You’re designing sentences to control the reader’s heartrate. There’s nothing more elemental than that.

One of the things that keeps me in this work is that I’m pushed back to kindergarten with every new project. Every body of material is new, and every body of material requires its own form. Every book thrusts me right back into a position of not knowing, and I think not-knowing is about the most exciting place to be. A writer is, in some respects, always a newbie, even though you do become adept at revision and the deep mechanics of writing, of making sentences. You learn how to dismantle something knowing that you will make it better, without being afraid that by taking it apart you’re going to wreck it. 

KW: Do you have a routine? And if so, what is it?

MS: I work well within a routine. I like to get up with the sun. I go right to my desk and work. Take a break, exercise and then go back to work. Have lunch. Normally I can manage about six hours of creative work. I write my first draft long-hand. I use a spiral-bound notebook. I only write on the right-hand side of the page. As I’m writing, I go back to the left side of the pages and make notes like, ‘Introduce George here.’ That first draft is really an exploration of the limits of the story. Some call it the ‘puke draft’. I call it the donné draft—the gift. From that, I write the first draft into the computer, print it, work it over in longhand, then go back to the computer, make those changes, and print it out, work it over.

In the afternoons I edit, make notes, take care of business, until about 3 or 4 pm. In the evenings I usually read. The last thing before bed, I review what I wrote that day. I always stop in the middle: I never end my writing day by finishing a sentence, a paragraph, or a chapter. I always stop mid-thought. I read that little last bit over, and all through the night my brain is working on it so that when I get up in the morning, I have something to grab onto to get started again.


Born in Winnipeg, Canada, Merilyn Simonds grew up in Brasil, where she acquired a taste for the fabulous. She published her first book in 1979 at the age of 29. She is now the author of 19 published books, including the novel The Holding, a New York Times Book Review Editors’  

Choice, and the creative nonfiction classic, The Convict Lover. In 2017, Project Bookmark Canada installed a plaque to honour the place of The Convict Lover in Canada’s literary landscape. Her 20th —Woman, Watching: Louise de Kiriline Lawrence and the Songbirds of Pimisi Bay—will be published in spring 2022.    

With roots in New Brunswick and Saskatchewan, Karen Wood is an MFA student whose writing is informed by years of research and community practice, and fueled by a commitment to address gendered violence. New to the world of creative writing, Karen continues to be delighted by the extraordinary capacity of artistic expression to create space for social and political engagement, activism, and change.   

Aliza Prodaniuk Interviews Gail Bowen

Gail Bowen, author of the Joanne Kilbourn Shreve series

Aliza Prodaniuk: What drew you to the mystery genre? When did you begin to take your writing seriously?

Gail Bowen: I came to writing late. I was in my mid-forties when I got asked to write a lighthearted piece for Prairie Books. It was fun! The fellow who was the publisher liked it enough to suggest that Ron Marken and I write a book. We called the book The Love Letters of George and Adelaide, 1919. It ultimately became a play called Dancing in Poppies that Prince Edward came to see, which was very exciting. After that, I was bit by the writing bug.

In graduate school, my summer reading list was always mysteries. I thought to myself, “I’d like to write a mystery,” one that was set in Saskatchewan and captured the local flavour. That was very important to me. It was also important to create a main character that reflected myself: someone who lived in Saskatchewan, someone middle-aged and ageing, someone with a family, not a superwoman, but an academic like me. That’s really how things started. 

AP: Do you pre-plan your writing? Or do you write by the seat of your pants?

GB: The first chapter is very important for me in setting up my story. It takes me forever to write the first chapter. My latest book, An Image in the Lake, took me three months to get through the first chapter. However, when I get the first chapter done, I know where I’m going. There are always surprises along the way, and that’s the joy of writing. But at that point, I have a good idea of what will happen in the book. That first chapter never gets easier for me. Twenty books in, and I still think, “What if I can’t pull the rabbit out of the hat this time?” Luckily, even though the writing hasn’t become easier, with experience, I can tell when I’m doing something that isn’t working. 

AP: Congratulations on your recent publication. An Image in the Lake is the 20th novel in the Joanne Kilbourn Shreve series. How did you get here? How do you keep such a long series healthy and fresh?

GB: As I said before, I made several decisions early on that have helped keep things going and keep my readers and me interested. I get an awful lot of mail about the books — I’m grateful for it, and I answer everyone, even the cranky ones — and I think the biggest thing that people continue to care about is Joanne, the protagonist, and her family. Joanne is very approachable. She is not extraordinary in any way. She is every woman. Because she has aged throughout the series, many readers have gone through their middle ages with her and can identify with her experiences.

Joanne keeps me coming back to the series, too. People are like onions; the more time you spend peeling and peeling away their layers, the closer you get to what that person is. That’s the exciting part for me. Joanne constantly surprises me, even after all this time! 

If it ever becomes a chore, then I’ll stop. I think we’ve all read series that have gone on too long, and you can tell that the writer hates the story and their protagonist. I’ve gotten so much out of these books. Six of them have been made into movies, and we got to go to Toronto and be part of that process. We have had so many travels and met so many people, and now they are being made into audiobooks. The series has been so good to me that I’m not going to let it go on too long and be terrible at the end. I’m noticing now that I’m starting to put proper endings on the novels that would be satisfying just in case it’s the last one. I don’t leave anyone hanging. 

AP: What advice would you give to emerging writers?

GB: Take a great deal of time developing your protagonist and getting to know them. The time you put into pre-writing is well worth the effort. It will save you from making an awful lot of mistakes along the way or from simply running out of gas. 

The other thing is, no matter what kind of book you are writing, get your money’s worth out of secondary characters. They can do so much for you. They can keep the interest up so that you’re not totally plot-driven in your narrative. 

Learn about pacing novels. That’s really important, too. Periods of actions and reflection are equally important, and you will want to learn how to balance them. 

Write every day and never leave your work in a bad place! That’s the most important thing I can say. 

AP: What’s next for Gail Bowen?

GB: I just got through chapter one of my next book, and I’m feeling really happy with it. After Christmas, I will be participating in a program through the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild that provides writing advice to rural areas where it’s not readily available. In November, I will also be giving a lecture on Canadian Literature at Marburg University in Germany. So, I will be very busy in the coming months. 


Gail Bowen is a prolific author, playwright and teacher. Her best-known works are the Joanne Kilbourn Shreve series of mystery novels, all of which are set in Saskatchewan. The twenty novels in the series have received national and international acclaim for their realistic, continually evolving heroine and examinations of contemporary social issues ranging from child prostitution to feminism, racism and domestic abuse. Six books in the series have been successfully adapted for an international television audience. Among her numerous writing awards are a lifetime achievement award from the Crime Writers of Canada and the Distinguished Canadian Award from the University of Regina and the Lifelong Learning Centre. Readers’ Digest has called her Canada’s best mystery novelist. She is also a playwright, specializing in children’s literature, and has adapted a number of classic works such as Peter Pan and Beauty and the Beast for the stage and radio. In 2018, she was awarded the Grand Master Award of Crime Writers of Canada, and the Saskatchewan Order of Merit.

Aliza Prodaniuk lives in Hamilton, Ontario and is a current graduate student in the MFA in Writing program at the University of Saskatchewan. She has had recent work appear in East by Northeast Literary Magazine & The River Volta Review of Books.

Interview with Lenard Monkman

Özten Shebahkeget Interviews Lenard Monkman

Lenard Monkman, writer and associate producer with CBC Indigenous

Özten Shebahkeget: When did you begin to take writing seriously? And what motivated you to start?

Lenard Monkman: I didn’t take writing seriously until around March of 2015. I set it as one of my goals that year to become a better writer. That month, I started a personal blog just to get used to having a space for my writing, but also just to get into the habit of writing all of the time. Another thing that I started doing was putting out long Facebook statuses. I wanted to get into the habit of writing every day and getting used to having feedback from my online Facebook community. It was a good practice for me, and those long-winded Facebook statuses eventually became newspaper op-eds, which eventually became a job as a journalist. Truth is, I have always been a journalism nerd, I just needed to get used to writing every single day.

ÖS: What obstacles have you encountered as a writer? 

LM: If you take it from 2015, I would say that there haven’t been too many obstacles. At the beginning of that year, I went from barely being able to write a properly formatted email and typing very slowly, to being able to write 500 words in 5 minutes by August. Although now, when I look at the things that I was writing five years ago, it is hard to read because I can see how much I have improved since then. The best advice that I ever got from anyone was: if you want to become a writer then you need to pen to paper every day. I always thought about that and recognized that every single time that I write, it’s an opportunity to improve with each story and each sentence.

ÖS: You are a co-founder of Red Rising Magazine. Why was creating a literary magazine for and by Indigenous people important to you? 

LM: I wanted to get into producing media before we started Red Rising Magazine. It was definitely a collective effort to get it off the ground with a bunch of energetic, intelligent folks from Winnipeg. We went from not having a whole bunch of skills, to having all sorts of publishing related skills in just the first year. I think the main idea behind everything that we did was to give Indigenous writers and artists an unfiltered platform that existed outside of the traditional forms of media. The magazine became a place where many people that I know had their first opportunity to be published and it is something that I am proud of. Although I haven’t been with the collective for a couple of years now, I still believe there is a space for that type of work and would like to see it continue in one form or another.

ÖS: You have been a journalist with CBC since 2016. The Canadian media has always had such a profound impact in framing Indigenous stories, and storytelling is an integral aspect of Indigenous cultures. What do you feel are your responsibilities as an Indigenous journalist, and what have you learned from telling the stories of a vast array of Indigenous peoples in Canada?

LM: I think the biggest responsibility is to make sure that what I am doing is truthful and that people feel like they were accurately represented in the work that I have done. I haven’t done as much “accountability” type of journalism as much as I have done the “here are some Native people doing really cool things” type of journalism. I really want to use the mainstream media platform to try and boost our people’s presence and to highlight their successes. But I also strive to make sure that the reality of what our people go through is being heard in newsrooms like the CBC. What I have learned from talking to so many Indigenous peoples across the country over the years is that we are brilliant and that our cultures are diverse. I’ve also come to realize that so many of our struggles are similar from coast to coast. There are a lot of things that I continue to learn as the years go by, but getting a chance to talk to Indigenous people all over the country is easily the most enjoyable thing about my job.

ÖS: What are some of the books that have influenced you? 

LM: I always give credit to Indians Wear Red. The book spoke to my reality of what it was like growing up in Winnipeg’s inner-city in the 90’s-00’s. It really was a “light bulb moment” for me to understand that what I was seeing in my life was happening not just in my life, but everyone else in my community as well. The last chapter “What Can Be Done?” was also a call to action for me. I think that the more we are able to try and create changes within our communities, the less healing the next generation will have to do. Another book that I really like is Franz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks. There are a lot of really good psychological gems inside that book that are applicable to the Indigenous community.

ÖS: What do you write outside of journalism?

LM: I still love Facebook more than the other apps. It allows me to joke without feeling like I’m being judged. It allows me to write in long-form if I ever need to get a thought out. I also really just practiced everything that I could in terms of writing on that app. I also like to use Twitter, although it’s more of a professional space. Twitter has made me a better writer because I put a little bit of thought into trying to make those sentences a bit stronger.

ÖS: Where would you like your writing to go next?

LM: I feel like I have been thinking about this question for a couple years now. I try to improve with each story that I write. I also try to improve with each radio script, TV script and everything else that is journalism related. I have thought for a long time about whether or not I would like to write children’s books, graphic novels, fiction or nonfiction. I guess the biggest thing that stops me is feeling like I need to be an incredible writer before I actually start writing. Eventually I will settle on a subject, and hopefully I can dedicate enough time to sit down and hammer out something that is loosely based on some of the things that I have seen in my life.


Lenard Monkman is Anishinaabe from Lake Manitoba First Nation, Treaty 2 territory. He has been an associate producer with CBC Indigenous since 2016. In 2021, he received the Manitowapow Award from the Manitoba Book Awards for his contributions to the Indigenous writing community.

Özten Shebahkeget is a member of Northwest Angle 33 First Nation and an MFA candidate at the University of Saskatchewan. She grew up in Winnipeg’s North End and holds a BA in English from the University of Winnipeg. Her poetry has appeared recently in CV2Prairie Fire and The Winnipeg Free Press.

Interview with Louise Halfe – Sky Dancer

Özten Shebahkeget Interviews Louise Halfe – Sky Dancer

Louise Halfe – Sky Dancer, award winning poet and Parliament’s ninth Poet Laureate

Özten Shebahkeget: What draws you to poetry as opposed to other forms? Who are some of the poets that have influenced you?

Louise Halfe: I’ve written poetry all my life and have explored other genres, but other than essay presentations the other forms have not captured my muse. So, I honor the gift I have been bestowed. I do not allow other poets to influence me, though I highly respected the late Patrick Lane and his raw honesty.

ÖS: Your latest poetry collection, awâsis – kinky and disheveled, contains a lot of shapeshifting. Did this affect the writing process for awasis at all? Does your writing process differ with each book?

LH: Yes, shapeshifter had me glued to its arrival and I had to pay attention to her/his shape as she/he settled on the page. Bear Bones and Burning In This Midnight Dream are similar in nature, The Crooked Good and Blue Marrow are both epic poems and follow a different thread. And naturally awâsis, as the character (him/herself) holds her own court.

ÖS: The use of humor is also an important facet of awâsis. Why is humor important to you and your writing?

LH: People discuss humor in their writing; however, there is a need to show rather than just talk about it. My previous work has been dark so to speak, though I myself am not at that place. Therapy is extremely useful, and I wanted to highlight the great humor people possess that is so essential to one’s survival.

ÖS: Do you consider writing a form of personal ceremony? Why or why not?

LH: Yes, it is. Spirit is very much in our bodies and it speaks through all of us. But most of the time people take it for granted that they are just human entities, and behave as such, not being mindful that we are all spiritual beings. Hence, spirit works through the body – fingers, heart- emotional intelligence, mind – the rational being.

ÖS: What would you like readers to take from your writing?

LH: I wish that people learn to dialogue with one another across cultures and their so-called class privileges. We’ve only one life and there isn’t time to waste it being racists – which is a form of low self-esteem. This low self-esteem is really a need to feel superior.

ÖS: Are there art forms outside of literature that influence you? What are they?

LH: I’m not influenced per se, but I can travel with their images as in painting and go on a wayward journey. I can watch a dance and create my own interpretation. I can listen to music, whatever it is: jazz, symphony, orchestra, country, and allow my emotions and have free flowing thoughts.

ÖS: Where do you want to go next, with writing and with life?

LH: Where-ever the spirit takes me, and it insists I will listen and discern.


Louise Bernice Halfe – Sky Dancer was raised on Saddle Lake Reserve and attended Blue Quills Residential School. Her first book, Bear Bones & Feathers (Coteau, 1994), received the Milton Acorn People’s Poetry Award and was a finalist for the Spirit of Saskatchewan Award, the Pat Lowther Award, and the Gerald Lampert Award. Blue Marrow (Coteau, 1998) was a finalist for the 1998 Governor General’s Award for Poetry, and her fourth book, Burning in This Midnight Dream (Coteau, 2016), won the 2017 Saskatchewan Book Award and the Raymond Souster Award, among numerous other awards. Her newest book is awâsis – kinky and dishevelled (Brick Books, 2021). Brick Books is publishing a new edition of Burning in This Midnight Dream in May 2021. Halfe was awarded the Latner Writers Trust Award for her body of work in 2017, and was awarded the 2020 Kloppenburg Award for Literary Excellence. She was granted a lifetime membership in the League of Canadian Poets, and currently works with Elders in the organization Opikinawasowin (“raising our children”) and lives near Saskatoon with her husband, Peter.

Özten Shebahkeget is a member of Northwest Angle 33 First Nation and an MFA candidate at the University of Saskatchewan. She grew up in Winnipeg’s North End and holds a BA in English from the University of Winnipeg. Her poetry has appeared recently in CV2Prairie Fire and The Winnipeg Free Press.

Interview with Waubgeshig Rice

Özten Shebahkeget Interviews Waubgeshig Rice

Waubgeshig Rice, author of Moon of the Crusted Snow and journalist from Wasauksing First Nation.

Özten Shebahkeget: What are you currently reading, and what are some of the books that have influenced you?

Waubgeshig Rice: I recently started a podcast with my friend Jennifer David called “Storykeepers” that focuses on literature by Indigenous authors, so I’m doing a lot of reading and re-reading for that. Our next episode features Split Tooth by Tanya Tagaq, so I’m giving that another look. Otherwise, I’m chipping away at a re-read of Stephen King’s The Stand just for fun. As for the books that have influenced me, there are so many, but if I was to highlight the books I read as a teenager that changed my life, I have to mention Keeper n’ Me by Richard Wagamese, Tracks by Louise Erdrich, Green Grass Running Water by Thomas King, The Lesser Blessed by Richard Van Camp, and Ravensong by Lee Maracle. There are so many more, too!

ÖS: What does your writing routine look like?

WR: It’s been pretty varied due to the pandemic and how it’s affected our life at home. For most of the school year, our older son was in class physically. So I’d take him to school, and then write for the rest of the morning, take a break for lunch, and then write in the afternoon until he was home. But for our most recent lockdown in Ontario, schools here in Sudbury went online in March, so he’s been at home since and I’ve been helping him with his schooling. So I moved most of my writing to the evening when both of our kids (we have a one-year-old son as well) were in bed. I’ve always tried to be adaptable and flexible with my writing routine, and the pandemic has been a good test of that!

ÖS: You were a journalist for a number of years with CBC before moving on to fiction. What do you feel are your responsibilities as a writer? Do they change as you hop genres?

WR: I feel my responsibilities first and foremost are to the people who share stories with me, and to the cultures and communities they come from. When I worked as a journalist, I always saw myself simply as a conduit for the real-life experiences of others. I was there to help them share their stories with wider audiences. And now that I work primarily as an author of fiction, a lot of the stories are inspired, influenced, and informed by my Anishinaabe heritage and community. So my responsibility is to my people, if I’m going to write about Anishinaabe experience in fiction. That means respecting culture and history, and sharing stories in a respectful and meaningful way. I need to be aware of my limited perspective, and the permissions around sharing certain details, specifically about culture. For me, I don’t think those responsibilities change much as I move across genres and formats. I always have to be accountable to the communities I inhabit and participate in, because they’re what influence just about everything I write.

ÖS: You’re currently working on the sequel to your novel, Moon of the Crusted Snow. How has the writing process been compared to MCS?

WR: I wrote Moon of the Crusted Snow while I was working as a full-time TV reporter for CBC in Ottawa, so most of that writing happened in the early mornings, evenings and on weekends. It was basically a spring to get as much written as possible in those short windows! I was fortunately able to take a couple leaves of absence for a couple months at a time to really finish it up. But that process was entirely different from my current work on the sequel. My family and I now live in Sudbury, and I left my job at CBC here in May of last year to focus primarily on my career as an author. That’s really when the heavy lifting for the next part of the story began. I was able to spend my daytime hours developing and researching the story, and I’ve never really had that full-time opportunity before. It definitely hasn’t felt like a frantic or rushed process. It’s been nice to be able to take my time and let the story unfold naturally. After spending most of the rest of last year dreaming up and plotting out the story, I started writing out the manuscript. I just finished the first draft, and I’m excited to begin the revision process.

ÖS: What drew you to apocalyptic fiction?

WR: Initially it was reading classic books in the genre back when I was in high school. In Grade 12 English class we read Brave New WorldFahrenheit 4511984, and more. I was really drawn to the speculative imaginings of life after the end of our current world. I saw those stories as commentary on the flaws and detriments of our current society, and just how bad things can get if we don’t live in a good way. But also around the same time, I had a conversation with my grandmother on the rez about how Anishinaabeg (and all Indigenous people) have already survived the end of the world. She reminded me about our people’s history on the shores of Georgian Bay and how our ancestors were displaced from our homelands, which were then exploited for capitalism. It’s a perspective and knowledge of history that really reminded me of the resilience of Indigenous people, and how our modern stories are all basically post-apocalyptic. That really inspired me to try to capture that experience in literature, which a lot of other Indigenous authors like Louise Erdrich and Cherie Dimaline have done expertly.

ÖS: Do you pre-plan your writing? Or do you write by the seat of your pants?

WR: I pre-plan almost everything! I always write a story outline and character profiles before I write the actual manuscript. I also make pretty detailed notes of some of the elements I want to include in the story, no matter how minor or seemingly mundane. That all helps me build the world the characters inhabit before jumping in to explore it myself as the writer of the story. I write a lot of the imagery that I imagine in my head, so I sometimes create visual references too, whether that’s taking photos on my own, or finding images and representations of what I want to write about online. Even though I do a lot of meticulous planning, I still approach the actual writing process with a pretty open mind. I let the story do what it needs to, even if it deviates from some of that original planning. I think writers really have to be flexible and allow stories to unfold organically. In that sense, all that pre-planning can be a good foundation or guideline. All that to say, it’s important to remember to have fun! 

ÖS: Who do you write for besides yourself? And what do you want readers to take from your work?

WR: I write for anyone who wants to read. I just want to create a compelling story that a reader can connect with. All I want them to take from my work is that it comes from a writer who is trying to do their best, who stays true to themselves and their background. It’s important for me to be as genuine and candid as possible in my writing, and I hope that comes through. I also hope they learn something, and that my writing potentially opens their eyes to new experiences or stories, regardless of their cultural background.

ÖS: Where would you like your writing to go next?

WR: Well, after spending so much time in recent years working on post-apocalyptic and dystopian settings, I would like to write something a little lighter! I have some ideas for funnier stories I’d like to explore. We’ll see how that goes once I’m done with all the revisions to the sequel of Moon of the Crusted Snow. I’d also like to gain more experience with screenwriting. It seems like a wide and exciting world with a lot of potential for interesting storytelling. But at the end of the day, I’m just really thankful for any writing opportunity that I have. I’m very fortunate to have ended up on this path. It’s a dream come true!


Waubgeshig Rice is an author and journalist from Wasauksing First Nation. He has written three fiction titles, and his short stories and essays have been published in numerous anthologies. His most recent novel, Moon of the Crusted Snow, was published in 2018 and became a national bestseller. He graduated from Ryerson University’s journalism program in 2002, and spent most of his journalism career with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation as a video journalist and radio host. He left CBC in 2020 to focus on his literary career. He lives in Sudbury, Ontario with his wife and two sons.

Özten Shebahkeget is a member of Northwest Angle 33 First Nation and an MFA candidate at the University of Saskatchewan. She grew up in Winnipeg’s North End and holds a BA in English from the University of Winnipeg. Her poetry has appeared recently in CV2Prairie Fire and The Winnipeg Free Press.