A couple of weeks ago, Janie Chang invited me to participate in the Tour de Blog des Auteurs. I thought this was an excellent way to discover new books, and I told her I would love to contribute, but there was one small problem: I don’t have a blog. I have a website where I post news about my work and the occasional photograph, but I don’t have a space where I can post ideas on writing and life in general, so Janie—kind and smart person that she is—offered to host me on her marvelous blog. It’s a little like being a guest in a beautifully kept house with mints on the pillows and towels that smell of lavender. Thanks for inviting me, Janie!
So read on and find my answers to four questions about writing. Make sure to do lots of clicking on the links below to find some of the other writers who have participated in this blog tour.
And although I am quite comfortable here on Janie’s blog (can I stay for a while, Janie?) please do have a peek at my website. There you can find book news and more of my photography of the Lynn Canyon cliff jumpers. The North Vancouver park is the setting of one of the stories in my collection, Clear Skies, No Wind, 100% Visibility, which was published last year by House of Anansi Press.
What am I working on?
Right now I am working on my first novel. This is not an enjoyable experience for a short fiction writer. Over the past year, I have approached other writers who have successfully made the leap from short fiction to novel, and without exception, they have all described the transition as painful. Many of my instincts as a short story writer do not apply to writing a novel, and so, in a way I feel like I am starting from the beginning and acquiring an entirely new set of skills.
There are, however, aspects of the longer form that are pure delight such as the depth and breadth of time spent with ones characters. With the short story, a character comes over for tea, but they are out the door after an hour or so of chitchat. With a novel, characters come to the door with luggage. They are moving into the house and they refuse to tell you how long they will stay. (For some reason I can’t get away from the house guest theme today. Maybe I need a vacation?) Luckily the characters in my first novel are an interesting and lively bunch, so I don’t mind that they are here indefinitely.
How does my work differ from other work in its genre?
This is a difficult question for a writer. When I read I am looking for parallels, for a connection to my own work, and if I find that connection, a way of continuing the conversation with that particular book. All of the stories in my collection are set in British Columbia and they have a strong sense of place. In some ways this sets my work apart from other books in its genre, however, this distinction also groups my book with other writers who worked with that same regional focus in their story collections, writers like Michael Christie, D.W. Wilson, and Zsuzsi Gartner. These are a few of the writers I turned to for inspiration while working on Clear Skies, No Wind, 100% Visibility.
Why do I write what I do?
That’s a mystery to me, but when the hairs on my arms stick up I know I have a story to write. Often these telltale goose bumps come without warning and happen anywhere but at my desk. The idea for the title story in my book came during a night with friends at a Gastown pub. One of the friends at the table was a flight service specialist in Kamloops and that night he mentioned that a water bomber fighting a forest fire in the Okanagan had crashed on his watch. He summed up the event in two sentences and then the conversation moved on to other things. But several days later, I was still thinking about that water bomber and I contacted my friend to ask if I could interview him for the story.
How does my writing process work?
At this time in my life, my writing process is chaotic. (This is not the easiest thing when working on a novel.) I have a young child, so I steal time where I can. This often means writing in coffee shops, parks, or rec centers. Sometimes I write at my bedside table, which is just big enough for my laptop. Sometimes I write in the car (not while driving!) I have a super-size box of earplugs. It’s not an ideal way to work. In my writer dreams everyone is off to work or school early and then the house is quiet. I go straight to my desk with coffee, work until lunch, read in the afternoon. There may even be time for a nap before reviewing my work from the morning. Maybe I’ll have that writing life one day, but until then I pop in my earplugs and disappear onto the page.
Don’t forget to follow along next week with two other wonderful writers on the next leg of the tour:
I met the talented Ayelet Tsabari at the Vancouver Writers Fest in 2013. Don’t pass up an opportunity to hear her read. She is dynamite! Her first collection of short fiction, The Best Place On Earth, was nominated for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award.
I had a blast reading last summer with Bradley Somer at the New Voices event during the Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts. His first novel, Imperfections, won the 2013 CBC Bookie Award for debut of the year and his forthcoming book, Fishbowl, will be published in 2015.
Happy reading! -- Théodora Armstrong
Note from Janie: A pleasure to host you, Théo, but please don't expect lavender-scented linens if you stay in our real guest room! For those who don't know, Théodora Armstrong's collection of short stories Clear Skies, No Wind, 100% Visibility was short-listed for the BC Book Prizes.
And, the blogger guesthouse remains open next week when I'll be hosting another BC Book Prize shortlisted author, Kathy Para. Here are some other great entries in the Tour de Blog so far:
If you like this blog, please tweet it out or share or like on Facebook. (below) That would be awesome. Leaving a comment is equally awesome! -- Janie