Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Interview Sessions: Volume 5.2

Meet Becky Blake. 


At least for this particular installment of the Ruckus Reading Series, we think it's safe to say that Becky Blake is going to take the award for "Writer with the Most Interesting Side Careers." (Unless, that is, Andrew Faulkner turns out to be a bounty hunter or something.) 

"If it can be written, it shall be written" seems to be the motto with Becky Blake, who -- when she's not writing award-winning short stories, or working on her forthcoming novel, Yours to Keep -- has served as a travel writer, a playwright, and (our favourite) an advice columnist. 

When you dive into Becky's stories, it isn't hard to feel the diversity of those positions rising to the surface, providing her work with the texture that transports her readers into her stories so effectively. In "The Three Times Rule," the story that won her first prize in CBC's annual short story contest (link above - see "award-winning short stories"), the beauty lies in the way that, on a surface level, the reality of the story is entirely believable and suitably gritty -- and yet, on a deeper level, the story extends like a series of underwater caves in all directions, allowing a patient reader to explore at will. The story's dialogue also manages to walk that fine line all writers must necessarily be familiar with: at once believable and interesting; words one feels that they may have heard before, and yet still somehow strangely riveting. 

If it isn't hard to imagine that perhaps some element of having written an advice column came out when writing "The Three Times Rule," it is even easier to imagine that experience as a travel writer definitely made an appearance in excerpts from Yours to Keep. If you read the teaser which Becky has posted on her website (again, link above - see, predictably, Yours to Keep next to the photograph), the city comes alive with an eye for detail that must be the byproduct of having a developed sense of "writing in other places for people who have yet to go," (aka travel writing). Her descriptions of the Barcelona metro jump out at you, and you'll practically feel the crush of people crowding around you as you enjoy the all-too-brief selection. 

Becky Blake is, no question, a name to keep watching. Keep an eye out for Yours to Keep, and on Becky's blog for any news on upcoming work -- we're sure it will be worth your while. She answered a few questions for us below, although we somehow missed the chance to ask her for advice (a regret we will carry to our dying days). her answers will help you get ready for November 17th! 

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THE BIG QUESTIONS

1) Just to get us warmed up, let’s start this interview off with a perennial Ruckus favourite: For someone who’s never experienced your work before, how would you describe it? (Bonus points if you can also describe your writing for us as a dish that would be found on the menu of a fancy bistro.)
By way of introduction to my work, I’d say I have a few thematic fixations: sex, science, and larceny. Friends have pointed out that I also like to describe my characters’ teeth. I’m not sure what dish my writing would be, but I think it might be served at El Bulli, the Catalan restaurant of molecular gastronomy where Ferran Adri√† prepares food using tools and techniques from a laboratory.

2) Becky, you have a novel which is still in progress, titled Yours to Keep, which deals with a Canadian woman in Barcelona who is dealing with a loss by apprenticing as a pickpocket. You’ve also worked as a travel writer in the past. We’re wondering: do you think that traveling is an important activity for a writer, if only to gain a perspective on the world they inhabit? How has travel impacted your own writing, on a broader scale?

I think travelling can be advantageous for a writer, but it’s not a critical requirement. For me, I’ve been lucky enough to travel quite a bit, and the experiences I’ve had have been a key source of inspiration. Travelling provides me with an instant burst of “new-seeing” and that feeling is a close approximation to the curiosity that drives me to start a new story. Travelling has also allowed me to write from a more global perspective, but I don’t think everyone’s writerly projects require that.

3) Besides having worked as a travel writer, you’ve also worked as an advice columnist, a journalist, and a playwright (among other things). We can only imagine that fiction is your preferred medium, but are there things you miss about any of the other hats you’ve worn? Are there elements you still take from those other fields that you incorporate into your writing now? And if yes, how so?
Fiction is definitely my preferred medium. I don’t need anyone’s permission to do it, and it gives me the most pleasure. I occasionally miss the rushof writing an article to deadline. I also miss writing for the stage, but I make up for that by often writing in first person which feels a bit like monologuing.

4) Your short story, "The Three Times Rule", won last year’s CBC Short Story writing contest. You have, of course, done at least one interview about the story itself [and this one, and this one], so we won’t make you answer all the same questions again, but in that interview, you do raise a few interesting points. First in our minds: you mention that you’re never nervous to write about sex. With that said, are there any things you find that you do have trouble writing about? If so, what are they and why do you think that is?
I have the most trouble writing action scenes. In my novel there’s a scene where the main character breaks into an apartment through a window. I had to try to imagine that scene as it would appear on film to help get the kinetics of it right: where she would put her foot, how much strength she would need, how much time it would take, how her body would feel etc. I think I have trouble writing physical action because as a writer I spend so much time in my head. I also failed gym in Grade 8.

5) Also, I’m wondering if you can give us a peek into what your Grade 1 masterpiece "Seaweed Souffle" was like?
All I remember is that the story was about an underwater dinner party and I think there was a lot of alliteration in it, like all of the dishes served had double-letter names. My Grade 1 teacher still talks about this story with my parents when they run into each other at the farmers’ market, so I guess you could say it was my first critical success.

6) To wrap up the longer questions: Give us a pairing of one of your favourite authors and one of your favourite beverages (alcoholic or not). Why do they go together?

Jean Rhys and Ricard Pastis

I always think of Jean Rhys’ characters drinking cloudy liqueurs as they pick up gigolos on the terraces of Parisian cafes. I also like to imagine that their kisses taste like liquorice.

THE LIGHTNING ROUND:
1) Desert island novel:
One Hundred Years of Solitude

2) Best restaurant in Toronto:
I’m currently partial to Zocalo which is in the Junction Triangle where I live.

3) Least favourite thing about your cell phone provider:
The animated dog contest entry forms they email me.

4) An animal you’ve always wished you could have as a pet:
So easy. Finger monkey. 100%.

5) A colour you would never paint your living room:
Creamsicle orange.

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