Sunday, November 17, 2013

Interview Sessions: Volume 5.5

Meet Lisa Hoffman.

You know what we like about Lisa Hoffman? She gets right to the point. When we asked her which novel she would take to a desert island, she responded with the SAS Survival Guide (which is infinitely more practical, it must be said, than Don Delillo's Underworld - sorry, Andrew Faulkner). When, on her CBC Music profile, she was asked to fill out her musical influences, she doesn't hem and haw about the diverse stable of artists which have tailored her sensibilities over the years. No, not Lisa. She wrote, to wit: "All kinds of things." And then, when we wanted to know what her least favourite thing about her cell phone provider was, she gave us an answer, all right: "They're assholes." (She must be with Rogers.) 

Oh, and did we mention that her music is incredible? (Maybe we shoulda led with that.) An extremely lyrically aware musician, Lisa's songs tend toward moving and emotionally complex lyricism, over finely-tuned and stripped-down guitar work that showcases her singing. Lisa's voice is a marvel unto itself, especially on tracks like "Red Blood" and "i never came to stay." Her timing, her cadence, and her perfectly exercised range (with just a touch of raspy raggedness around the edges) evokes a more restrained take on the best of Alannis Morrisette's most moving vocals with a contemporary twist. Listening to Lisa's music, you get the feeling that she knows very well just how far to push any given note or emphasis, and does precisely what the song needs. This vocal restraint gives her songs an irresistible simmering passion, and bodes well for the future of her musical career - she is clearly patient, talented, and very dedicated to her craft. 

If you want more of this incredible Canadian artist, we've got three (yes, three!) options for you to persue: 1) Head down to The Only Cafe tonight at 7 pm,  where she will be performing as part of RUCKUS READINGS VOL. V: THERE'S A RUCKER BORN EVERY MINUTE! 2) Check out her CBC music profile, where you can hear a few of her songs for free -, or 3) Check out the interview she did with us below, where you will learn all sorts of things about the budding musician, including a coulour she would never paint her living room (and, obviously, more!)


The Big Questions: 

1) To get the ball rolling: For any audience members who have never had the chance to hear your work before, how would you describe it?

It's difficult for me to say, since I have never been part the audience at my own performance. I would like to see myself as an evocative, lyrically driven songwriter that has a certain degree of emotional resonance and impact. Audience members, feel free to fill in the gaps here.

2) Can you remember the first time an artist's work really reached out and grabbed you? If so, who were they, and what about them caught your attention? Are there any elements that you still find yourself chasing, in some way?

It would probably have to be the first time I listened to Ani DiFranco's Little Plastic Castle. I was in seventh grade, and I hadn't found the stage of popular music too inspiring. I remember being drawn to the work's energy, strength, and softness. Ani DiFranco is a spectacular songwriter and musician, and her work has marked me tremendously over the years. Do I find myself chasing elements of her work? Not particularly.

3) In your own work, are there any themes, images, or melodies (etc.) that you find yourself drawn to, intentionally or otherwise? What are they? Why do you think they resonate with you?

 I write a lot about home, and the struggle to find a sense of it, the way the body can act as a container for it, and how we leave physical structures behind. I write a lot about outliving physical spaces, exploring the ways that memories haunt you, and the struggle to reconcile how all things pass. These are the core themes that keep coming up again and again.

4) If there's one thing that you'd like people to feel when they listen to what you’ve produced, or something that you’d like them to take away from your music, what is it?

I would like to inspire people, or at least make them feel less alone in the struggle to understand the passing of time. I would also like listeners to take away a sense of space, as well as a sense of terrain; I want listeners to be able to vividly imagine the way my live experiences are imprinted on my songs, and then projected onto them, superimposed with their own experiences.

5) Just for fun, give me a pairing: one of your favourite albums and one of your favourite beverages (alcoholic or not). Why do they go together? How do they complement one another?

For the moment, I’d go with white wine and Sam Robert’s Chemical City. Maybe I’m missing summer a little bit right now.

6) Last question: give us a short (less than 75 words) third-person bio blurb about yourself which covers any awards/distinctions you're proud of and what you're tackling right now.

Lisa Hoffman is a fairly competent human being who has done many insignificant things and several quite significant things. The Montreal native moved to Toronto in a storm after finishing her BFA in Studio Arts & Art History at Concordia. She’s played rugby for ten years, earning a silver medal at CIS National Championships in 2011 as part of the Concordia Rugby team. She’s working on her MA at Ryerson, writing her thesis on open source software for global development and humanitarian aid. Apparently she’s also quite the singer-songwriter. Who knew?

The Lightning Round:

1) Desert island novel: SAS Survival Guide

2) Best restaurant in Toronto: The cheap Mexican taco place in the Kensington Market

3) Least favourite thing about your cell phone provider: They’re assholes

4) An animal you’ve always wished you could have as a pet: Penguin

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

Friday, November 15, 2013

Interview Sessions: Volume 5.4

Meet Andrew Faulkner.

If you happen to find yourself in Marmora, Ontario sometime soon, and if you happen to have already frequented the numerous tourist attractions (including, but not limited to: the Marmora mine, Marmora SnoFest, and two annual country jamborees), and if you happen to start hungering, in a mental/emotional state that is, for a little something-something to take the edge off -- you know, something poetic... well, you may very well be in luck. 

Why? Because Andrew Faulkner, the poet behind the 2009 bpNichol chapbook award-shortlisted Useful Knots and How to Tie Them, and the new full-length collection Need Machine makes up one half (the other half being his partner, fellow writer Leigh Nash) of Marmora, Ontario's newest residents (1) & (2).

Now, we are not telling you to seek him out and knock on his door or anything, no matter where you are. Don't be a weirdo. But -- hopefully the relocation of one of Canada's most dynamic young poets to the small community will inspire at least a few of the local shops to carry his work, thus allowing you to buy it (if, for some reason, you haven't already). And then, if you see him out walking the dog or buying whiskey or whatever it is that poets do in their spare time, he'll sign it for you. And that alone would be worth the trip. 

Maybe it's all this talk of small towns, but we can't help but feel that Andrew's poetry is like great diner food: like the best diner food, something about the work feels so effortless, so unpretentious. Tucking into Andrew's work (we have Useful Knots at our elbows right now, in fact) is refreshing and filling all at once; soul food for the poetic palate. Of course, again like diner food, no matter how simple it may seem, the second you bust out the griddle and spatula at home, you quickly realize that there are so many elements of the experience which you simply can't replicate. There's a science to it, or maybe more accurately a sort of magic somehow ("science" seems to fall short of doing the spirit of the thing justice), that keeps you coming back for more. Andrew's work is not difficult to read (it is a pleasure, in fact) -- but it is difficult not to read again and again and again. 

When he's not writing poetry or following baseball, Andrew co-curates (again, with partner Leigh Nash) The Emergency Response Unit, a small chapbook press, which has published chapbooks from over a dozen up-and-coming writers. Andrew managed to find a little time between everything else to answer a few questions for us about his poetry, The Emergency Response Unit, and why we all need to take a little time to better understand our cell phone providers. Read the interview below. 

(1) Don't quote us precisely on "newest." We're bloggers, not census-takers. 
(2) If you're interested in learning more about the marvels and wonders of living in Marmora, you can find the Drafty Farmhouse blog here.


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.)
I will close my eyes and shoot blindly for bonus points: My work is slightly kitschy, a little discordant, and winking at itself on the menu, but relatively standard fare nonetheless (after all, they’re just poems) – so, something like a handmade veggie burger ordered from a throwback 50s diner where the wait staff wear roller skates and everyone wants to pay their bill with their MasterCard.

2) Andrew, we have to admit - you’ve done quite a few excellent interviews, with some excellent interviewers (including Rob Mclennan and The Toronto Quarterly), to the extent that most of the go-to questions that we have in our back pocket have already been eloquently answered elsewhere. We know about what you would be doing if you weren’t busy poem-ing (either a left-handed relief pitcher or an insurance salesman), what you believe makes a great poem (an attentive and sympathetic reader, above all else), and we’ve had your self-described “flaky” take on what you hope people will be taking away from your latest collection, Need Machine (in the form of a poem entitled “Hot Mess,” no less).
So, the first thing that comes to mind to ask you is: are there any questions that you’ve been hopefully waiting for an interviewer to ask you? Are there elements of your work which you feel are too often overlooked? Alternately, casting aside humility for a moment, in which area of your craft do you feel you are strongest?
A meta-question! That’s awesome. There are no answers to unasked questions that I’ve been pining to blurt out. But in thinking about the handful of reviews and verbal feedback I’ve received, I’ve been surprised at the extent to which the pop cultural and sometimes sarcastic/glib tone have been seen to dominate the book. But then, having stared so closely at the book for so long I likely have the worst perspective on it of anyone.

2) You’ve met with a great deal of success in the past few years. From being included in The Best Canadian Poetry in English 2011 to having your first full-length collection of poems (the aforementioned Need Machine) released with Coach House Books this year, it seems like everything is coming along very nicely for you. We’re curious: was there a specific moment in which you began to feel successful, or is that a feeling you’re still chasing? What do you think constitutes “making it” as a poet?
It’s kind of you to suggest that I’ve had my share of success; it certainly doesn’t feel like it. There have been some glowy moments, such as when someone I respect says something nice about the book, but overall I don’t feel successful. Partly, that’s because the process is such a long one – you maybe have some poems show up in journals, and then you wring your hands over the manuscript, and you get your manuscript accepted but you fret over changes to the book, and then the book appears and you sit at home and worry as it drifts through a series of warehouses and out into the world. And that’s all over a span of, what, half a decade? And all for sixty or so pages of poems. I’m happy with what I’ve achieved, but it feels so small and so contingent. If I have sympathetic readers on juries then maybe I win some prizes and I’m a Success! But maybe if I had less sympathetic readers working at journals then maybe I don’t ever have poems appear anywhere.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I think the safest thing for me (and this is something it’s taken me a long time to determine, and I still struggle to come to terms with it) is to focus on reading and writing and the other things I do. The rest will take care of itself, or it won’t.

3) You’ve also made the jump into chapbook publishing - in 2008, with Leigh Nash, you founded The Emergency Response Unit, a small chapbook press located in Toronto. What inspired you to make that move, and how has the day-to-day reality of having a hand in TERU influenced your approach to poetry, if at all?
Leigh and I had been talking about making chapbooks for a while – and she had just discovered Greenboathouse Press’s stunning books – and thought we’d like to try our hand at it. And then I came into enough money from a small academic prize that we could do a print run of several titles without taking a significant hit to the wallet.

Making books – the act of literally putting words on a page – has given me a much different understanding of the length of a line, how many lines fit on a page, and how stanzas might end up breaking in half when split onto two pages. Whether that’s ended up being useful or not, though, I don’t know.

4) What has the proudest moment been for you so far as co-founder of The Emergency Response Unit? Have there been unexpected benefits or challenges?

We couldn’t produce a TERU highlight reel without including the chapbook we did of David Antin’s “What It Means to be Avant-garde”. We made it for an event he was doing at the Scream Literary Festival (RIP), the deadline was rather tight and we only had a print copy of the essay’s original publication to work from. The lines are a little all over the place on the page, so I had to re-type the essay and then try to get as close as I could to the original typesetting.

I think we did a pretty good job of it, except I later learned that where the essay mentioned Harold Bloom I’d accidentally typed “Harold Blood”. Antin was the one who discovered the typo, but he refused to tell us about it because he didn’t want to discourage us. We corrected the typo when we reprinted it, but for a while kicked around the idea of creating a long poem-like errata slip: “For Blood, read Bloom/ For avant-garde, read at the mall/ For….” (Though, now that I read that over, it doesn’t seem like such a good idea…. and doesn’t Kevil Connolly already have a poem like that? In drift, maybe?)

The challenge is to keep it up. We’ve got several good manuscripts that we struggle to have enough time and money and energy to turn into chapbooks (though in Leigh’s defense, it’s me who’s the foot-dragger). I am endlessly impressed with the arts-workers who are able to constantly keep the machines running and the lights on.
5) Coming back to your work for a moment, you’ve gathered a reputation for a poet with a finger on the pulse of popular culture - is there, or has there been, any particular event/person which has particularly stood out to you and inspired work? What was it, and why do you think it resonated with you?
There hasn’t been, no – and I think that maybe at the core of contemporary popular culture there is the fact that there’s no core. There are so many big figures, events, memes, platforms, etc., and there is the feeling that no matter where you look, there’s always something happening in the periphery. There’s simply too much to pin down. So you end up with an image of popular culture that looks like it was produced in a photo booth with too many bodies jammed into it – everything is blurry and in the foreground. The challenge is how to make real sense of it.

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?
Al Purdy and flat beer, on account of this:
Gertrude Stein and enough coffee to give you serious jitters, on account of try it and you’ll see.

1) Desert island novel: Don DeLillo’s Underworld, probably.

2) Best restaurant in Toronto: The best pizza place is Buddha Pie. That’s close enough to count as a restaurant, right?

3) Least favourite thing about your cell phone provider:The things I dislike about my cell phone provider are the same things that I find frustrating with most other large companies. What I want from them is simple – in the case of Fido, I want to be able to reliably make phone calls, I want to only be billed for the services I feel I’ve used, and I want their services to be reasonably priced. Is that so much to ask? Actually, probably, yeah. Because I always forget how massive of a system it is. And of course in a system as large as Rogers Communications, there are bound to be mistakes, like a call gets dropped, or charges appear on my bill by mistake and so on. You can’t handle that many customers and having that many moving parts without some errors getting made.

And when I call Fido’s customer service number to deal with it, I have to wait for a really long time to speak to someone, because of course there are other people calling to resolve other mistakes. And the CSR who answers the phone, who’s getting paid borderline minimum wage and has been listening to people like me bitch about their bill or whatever for hours, is understandably numb to my individual frustrations. And their hands, I’m sure, are tied as to what they can do to resolve it. I could demand to speak to a manager but by the time I get to speak to someone a little higher up on the corporate payscale, I’ll have ended up spending close to half an hour idly on the phone solely to have the opportunity to speak to someone who is paid to be a professional asshole. Or worse, someone who has been meticulously trained to provide just enough compensation to stop me from cancelling my account, but not enough to resolve that frustrated feeling that’s lodged itself behind my eyeballs. So at the end of it all, I maybe have the errant charge removed from my bill but my sense of low-level irritation is still there. And after a while, that irritation becomes chronic. And this is generally what bothers us, and why no one ever has nice things to say about phone companies or Internet service providers or newspaper publishers or public transit operations.

But then, nothing is ever a completely impersonal system. We just moved and when we needed to set up Internet at our new place, the Bell technician showed up at 7:30 am (which was frustrating in its own right, because we were told he wouldn’t arrive until 9am at the very earliest by the person who booked the appointment – this is one of those inevitable errors I was talking about – and we woke up to him pounding at the door). We were clearly the first stop in his day because we lived between his house and the Bell location he works from – this means he’s someone in my neighbourhood, and at some point he and I will be in the same lineup at the grocery store or waiting at the doctor’s office to have the same medical practitioner diagnose our maladies – and he was friendly and chatty. He told us a story about his son’s place in Brockville. Which is all to say that he’s a regular person. But I’m not supposed to like him because on some level he’s just a temporary extrusion of The Big Bad Bell System. But, y’know, he’s also a person, which hurts the brain to sort out how I should feel about everything, because it’s not like I can just like him but hate his company, as Bell helped him put his kid through college so that his son could grow up and buy a house outside of Ottawa.

And so when people say that poems aren’t very useful because they don’t provide answers to anything I think of issues like this and realize that I (and I can only imagine that this goes for others as well) don’t need more answers to things. What I need is help sorting out how I should understand and feel about cell phone providers.
4) An animal you’ve always wished you could have as a pet:All the cats.

5) A colour you would never paint your living room:My living room is currently covered in wallpaper that’s been painted a dull pink, and it’s exactly as awful as it sounds. We can’t change it fast enough.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Interview Sessions: Volume 5.3

Meet Get Reacquainted with Nicholas Daniel Michelis.

We know him. We love him. We couldn't get rid of him if we tried. Nicholas Daniel Michelis, the mind and voice behind the excellent "Grazers," which appeared as part of our second reading, is coming back for more. 

In case you missed the first interview and profile we did with Nicholas, here's a brief primer to get you up to speed on the man and his manuscripts.

We here at the Ruckus Headquarters [ED.'S NOTE: see "basement"] recently had the chance to accompany NDM on a visit to David Bowie Is, the exhibit now running at the AGO. Now, we still don't know exactly what David Bowie is (a man with worse than average handwriting? a pretty decent painter? frequently overdressed?), but we do know one thing: Nicholas hasn't lost his edge. 

In person, NDM cuts an imposing presence. Blue eyes so intense that they can reheat your coffee, and a sharp, contemplative intelligence which never fails to dig deeper -- exactly the man you want at your side in an art gallery. It is unsurprising, of course, that this same intensity and intelligence carries over to his writing. Having read an earlier version of the story he plans on reading for us on November 17th, we're tickled pink to tell you all that this is the norm, and not the exception. 

Nicholas' writing is complex. It is carefully thought out, painstakingly executed, and, when read aloud by the author himself, absolutely enticing. We could go on for hours about Nicholas and his work, but we think that maybe we'll let the man speak for himself. Nicholas was kind enough to answer the interview questions we sent him recently, and we think that his answers will give you exactly the insight you need into what Nicholas brings to the table. In fact, we would be surprised if, after reading the interview below, you weren't chomping at the bit to sit down with a pint and bask in the man's work. We know that we'll be there.

Enjoy Nicholas' answers below, or check out our Interview Sessions Vol. 2.2 for more.



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.)

Ahem. For those of you who have not dined at Ruckus before, I personally recommend
the Michelis Lamb Burger. The burger is made of fresh ground lamb meat imported
from Greece that has been aged 2-3 years in dark sarcasm, hung low in a hand-dug pit
of despair. Served on a brioche bun and glazed with unrelentingly complex storylines,
our talented chefs top the sandwich with avocado purée, micro tabouleh, spicy tomato
compote, aioliv, and deep fry it all in fear and confusion. The dish is served with
explosive, manic prose, fingerling potatoes, and smoked eggplant hummus. $25.

2) Nick, you’ve read with us before. Now, on the cusp of your second appearance, what
has changed? How has your writing progressed? Are there any new projects you’re

I feel like everything has changed since that reading in July. I’ve discovered a passion
for teaching and am currently applying to Bachelors of Education programs so that I can
focus on my future as an educator of primary students. It all sort of happened around the
time of that first reading. I was asked by my brother’s grade 6 teacher to help her class
record and edit short films they had been working on. That turned into an opportunity
to teach a media literacy class on media texts, purposes, and understanding the concept
of a target market. It’s now November and I’m back in the classroom two days a week
as volunteer teacher. I have a math lesson to teach on Tuesday. Decimals! I am very
nervous. Numbers make me edgy.

As for my writing, I dip back into the work now and again without the grand delusions I
used to carry. For example, I thought I’d one day see myself on a mammoth cruise ship
delivering lectures on how awesome my work is and how everyone should buy it and
revel in its importance for $200 a pop. I don’t do that anymore. That’s not to say I don’t
want to write any more, but I am a lot less angry with myself for taking my time and
thinking up a story worth writing.

No new projects, just old ones renewed.

3) You’ve mentioned before that “Grazers,” the piece you read for us last time, took a
very long time to bring to a point that you were happy with (around 1-2 years, as I recall?
). Anyone reading your work can tell that you are very, very careful with your sentences,
but what about your process specifically benefits from the time it takes?

I had an English teacher in high school that once told our Writer’s Craft class to “kill
your darlings.” I spent years trying to figure out what the hell he was talking about, but I
think it means something like “hold no attachments” and “edit your work ruthlessly.” On
the opposite end of that spectrum, you have the philosophy that reads, “first thought, best
thought,” which is all well and good if you’re Jack Kerouac but not so much if you’re

Often times, when I start out writing a story, it’s because I think it’s the most important
thing going on in my life. The story is. Like really, really mind-crushingly important. It’s
so important that I don’t sleep. I can’t eat because it’s so important. I think about ways to
boost its importance in the eyes of others. And then I stop. Hours, days, weeks, months,
years later. The story isn’t done and it’s not done because it’s not important. I’ve inflated
the idea, overkilled it with solipsism; I think it’s the most important thing, but it doesn’t
make sense to anyone else I read it to. Hours, days, weeks, months, years later. I carefully
plot the murder my favourite words, chop down my favourite sentences, and then glue
together the remaining fragments. Eventually, the work gets back to the point where it’s
readable and someone says that they like it and I begin to love again. I don’t know what
about this process specifically benefits from the time it takes me to write. I am, however,
100% certain that this process is not for the feint of heart. I used to spend the majority of
my time worrying about not writing. Now I walk my dog more often.

4) For our chapbooks at the second Ruckus, you contributed a collection of four poems.
Though Ruckus is a little more familiar with your short stories, we are curious: is poetry
something that you pursue with any regularity? How, for you, does the experience of
writing poetry differ from constructing a short story?

I have no idea what poetry is. I spent a long time thinking about how to best answer this
question and I just can’t figure out what, at the root, poetry is. So I guess that means I
don’t know how to write it, or have any idea what I am doing when I am writing it, so I
don’t write it very often. I, like any creative writer, would like to think my eyeballs are
hearts and my fingers are pithing needles and that I can extract the beauty from beauty-
filled things and the truth from truth-filled things and stick it in a .docx file and send it
to magazines and website inboxes and friends. But the reality is that I probably wouldn’t
know what either of those things looked like if they wore signs around their neck and
tried to pick me up from the airport. However, I can say that that I feel like I can get away
with a lot less explaining in a poem than in a short story. Because I don’t know anything
about poetry, I’m under the impression that readers of poetry want to feel something first
and understand it later, where as writers of poetry feel a feeling first and never really
understand what exactly it’s all about no matter how much they write about it and that’s
what keeps them writing. When I say something in a story, I try not to say it again. In
poetry, you can say the same thing over and over again and never get bored of it. But
don’t quote me on that.

5) Since last we spoke, you wrote a great interview with us for Siren Song. What can you
tell us about Siren Song and their work? Are your blogs going to be a regular feature?

So what I can tell you about Siren Song is that my good friend Zachary and his father
Zsolt Alapi basically run the thing. Zsolt probably more so because Zach, though
originally from Montreal, currently lives in Banff where he’s working as a Literary Arts
Work Study with Banff Centre Press, housed at The Banff Centre for the Arts. (Follow
him on Twitter @ZacharyAlapi.)
Zach approached me during the prelaunch of their new website (
) and asked me for some content. So, I put together our interview. I think that, since I
am virtually incapable of writing regularly, whenever I have something I can send it to
Zach and he will tell me if it’s good for the website or not. Which reminds me that I still
have to write a review of my very funny, Vancouver-based, spoken word artist/friend
Matt Loeb’s ( new album, Enough Has Happened.
Basically the only reason I’ll listen to spoken word poetry is if Matt Loeb tells me to.
Actually, he probably has a better idea of what poetry is than I do. I should get him to
answer that poetry question…

6) To wrap up the longer questions: Give us a [in your case, new] pairing of one of your
favourite authors and one of your favourite beverages (alcoholic or not). Why do they go

I’m going to pair up Thomas Pynchon’s new offering Bleeding Edge with Coca Cola (and
white Bacardi rum) because their true identities are pretty much unknown and they’ll be
damned if they’re ever gonna let the secret recipe out.


1) Desert island novel: From Panic to Power: Proven Techniques to Calm Your
Anxieties, Conquer Your Fears, and Put You in Control of Your Life by Lucinda Bassett

2) Best restaurant in Toronto: Caplansky’s Deli

3) Least favourite thing about your cell phone provider: Everything! Am I right folks?

4) An animal you’ve always wished you could have as a pet: Dragon

5) A colour you would never paint your living room: Beige

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! 



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 Adrià 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.

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.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

DOUBLE SURPRISE: Performer List & Interview Sessions: Volume 5.1

Hey there. 

So. We're getting prepped up for another round of beer-drinkin', ruckus-raisin', generously-apostrophie'd fun. And we know you're just dying to know who all is a-gonna be there. Don't fret, pussycat -- we're here to help. 


Heavyweight Poetry Champion & Publisher ANDREW FAULKNER 
Graphic Novelist & Award-Winning Creative Non-Fiction-er TERRI FAVRO
CBC Short Story Contest First-Placer BECKY BLAKE 
The Dashing Short Story Thrill Ride that is NICHOLAS DANIEL MICHELIS

PLUS (hold onto yer hats!) 


The Incomparable Folk Experience of LISA HOFFMAN 



We're all a-tremble! Be there. 

Now, moving right along..... 

Meet Terri Favro and Ron Edding.

It's been a hell of a summer for award-winning writer Terri Favro: first place in Red Line magazine's "End of the World" story contest, shortlisted for the CBC Literary Prize in Creative Non-Fiction, and the publication of her new graphic novel, Waiting for Mario Puzo - among other things. Not bad for someone whose single driving ambition has always been to become a famous writer. In fact, we'd say that all those things about puts you up there. 

It ain't like this summer is a peak, neither. Terri's list of published works is only growing more and more impressive: you can find her in everything from GEIST to PRISM International, from Grain to Oh, and did we mention her book, The Proxy Bride?

It's not hard to tell why Terri is going nowhere but up. Her work is a careful balancing act of clear, emotionally evocative subject matter, and disarming humour. In fact, with many of her stories, it's all but impossible not to succumb to expertly crafted fist that grips your heart, despite the smiles that'll keep erupting on your face. She manages to capture familiar events and places from her childhood, to crystallize them into moments that you will practically remember as your own - except better. As much of her work deals with Southern Ontario (she is herself a product of the Niagara Peninsula), her stories may bring you back to landscapes you've left - or bring you to places you've never visited. Either way, she manages to brighten a little piece of this great province in the minds of her readers, providing her own valuable contribution to the artistic landscape of Canada.

And then - a graphic development.

No, we don't mean that her work suddenly became more explicit. Terri, along with her partner Ron Edding, decided to branch out into the colourful world of Graphic Novels with The Bella Stories, an ongoing collection of tales surrounding a young woman in a small Italian-Canadian community in Southern Ontario. Terri and Ron work together tirelessly to create the excellent synthesis of  words and images, which have most recently resulted in the second installment of the series, Waiting for Mario Puzo.

We sent a few questions to Terri and Ron to ask them about the mechanics of working as a team on a graphic project, and to help us chart the course of Terri's career move into graphic fiction. Check out their answers below, and come out and see them for yourself on November 17th at The Only Cafe.



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.)

“Bella” comics are story-driven, darkly humorous, visually dense, and set in an industrial Niagara border town in the sixties and seventies. Bella is a girl from an Italian immigrant family trying to fit in. She’d love to be anyone but who she is (including Laura Secord and a member of the Corleone crime family.) Inspirations include pulp comic books and movies (especially Fellini and the Godfather films).

If “Bella” was a menu item, she would be a fusion of Canadian diner grub and Italian comfort food: hot roast beef sandwiches with mushy peas and a side of baked polenta con funghi, and for a dessert, instant coffee and cannoli. Or maybe something gooey made with marshmallows and caramels from the Kraft Kitchens. (In her first comic, Bella desperately wants her mom to stop making all this Italian stuff and start cooking like a real Canadian mangiacake.)

2) Terri, your writing displays a remarkable range  Icarus, the piece you wrote which was shortlisted for the CBC LIterary Prize in Creative Non-Fiction, is a touching, intimate story, while a story like Stardust, for example, is a much more tongue-in-cheek work. That said, many of your pieces noticeably employ humour. What is your take on the importance of “funny” in a story? Is there an ideal ratio of funny to serious in your stories? If so, how do you go about feeling around for it?

I don’t consciously try to write humour. It just comes out that way. I don’t try to force it. A reader once told me that the humour in my writing seemed to mask something dark and threatening. That’s true in my fiction writing and also in the Bella comics – you’ll go from seeing a kid arguing with her Nonno at the dinner table to some guy crushed under a hoist. I like that play of light and dark and a general sense of absurdity.

3) Something else that seems to figure prominently into your fiction is the figure of the Italian immigrant. Especially given the subject matter of The Proxy Bride and your “Bella Stories” (notably Waiting for Mario Puzo), why does that particular experience resonate with you? Are there specific aspects of the Italian immigration experience that you find especially fascinating? Why?

The easy answer is that my stories are inspired by my life. I wasn’t an immigrant but my parents were. There is an element of escape and reinvention in immigration that I find interesting – also, a sense of dislocation. How does an immigrant, living in a mixed immigrant neighbourhood close to the U.S. border, know what a “Canadian” really is? Italian characters also allow me to mine stereotypical cultural archetypes and obsessions – epic tales, myths, opera, food, sex, and even organized crime.

4) With Waiting for Mario Puzo, and its predecessor, Bella and the Loyalist Heroine, you and your husband (illustrator Ron Edding), have begun an ongoing series of graphic novels. Why the switch? What inspired you to move toward a more visual format? Are there any advantages to working in the graphic medium that you’ve found? Any restrictions?

My writing is already very visual – my novel “The Proxy Bride” has been called cinematic – so jumping into graphic storytelling seemed natural. Specific streetscapes and interiors of homes could come to life and add a new dimension to the story. Graphic novels provide visual subtext without any text, especially through family photos on the walls of Bella’s house and the behaviour of their evil cat, Serafina. Bella would absolutely love being a comic book heroine (if she were real). She’s the kind of kid who would have grown up reading comics: she would probably like to be a superhero, given the chance.

“Bella” was immediately fun to do, too, because I collaborate with my husband Ron Edding, who knows my childhood home and neighbourhood very well. Ron and I have a history of collaboration, going back to the beginning of our relationship in the 1980s. When I first met Ron, he was part of the Toronto arts scene, painting and making experimental films. I started writing stories for him and we had a number of short films shown at a place called The Funnel on King Street East – it was an alternative, underground, cinema and production space. we saw a lot of amazing work there, including by Peter Greenaway who was involved in the alternative film scene although already famous as a major filmmaker.

The Funnel eventually closed and Ron went on to teaching, painting and collaborating with other visual artists. I focused on freelancing as a copywriter and writing my own fiction and articles. And we had kids to raise. It wasn’t until about seven or eight years ago that we decided to work together again.

The first Bella story started out as a short story about a little girl trying to finish a school project about the United Empire Loyalists over a Thanksgiving weekend. She’s left everything until the last minute, her facts are all wrong, and her sister, home for the long weekend from university, is too busy with her seminarian boyfriend to help Bella out. (Bella’s pretty disgusted that her sister is dating a wannabe priest – “it would be like kissing God,” she says) The family is trying to having a ‘traditional’ Canadian Thanksgiving but everything is going to hell.

Ron read it and suggested he reinterpret it as a graphic story. Ron knew the neighbourhood, family history, what the house looked like, what Bella’s family was like. So it was enormously gratifying because he was invested in the story and didn’t just illustrate it: he reinterpreted it and gave it a visual power that I loved – very dense, and dark, and visually rich. With two of us telling the same story in our own ways, it become more than the sum of its parts. We then went on to create “Waiting For Mario Puzo”, set a few years later when the novel version of “The Godfather” became a bestseller. This is when Bella is weirdly introduced to another aspect of  her identity.

5) As a follow-up to that, what is your projected scope for the Bella Stories? is there a long term plan at this point, or are you experimenting and feeling it out as you go?

For the last year or so, we’ve been developing a full-length graphic novel called “Bella and the Boy with the Bedroom Eyes”. The writing is complete and Ron has finished the rough drawings – but he still has about a year of work ahead doing the finished pages. The scope of that story is much broader because it contrasts Bella’s grandfather’s love affair in World War One with teenage Bella’s semi-romantic involvement with a biker in the ‘Facer Street Gang’ (an actual gang in my childhood neighbourhood).

There may be up to two more “Bellas” after that – including one that riffs off “Anne of Green Gables” -- but we also have a couple of other graphic novels planned out that are completely different: one is a crime drama based on an actual unsolved murder in Toronto in the 1930s, the other is a speculative fiction/sexy ghost story set on the Leslie Street Spit.

6) For Ron: You’ve mentioned that your style is largely inspired by MAD magazine and Roch Carrier’s The Hockey Sweater. In which elements of your style do you feel those influences are most evident? For Mario Puzo, are there any other graphic works which you look to for inspiration?

The Hockey Sweater doesn’t inspire my work but there are parallels between it and “Waiting For Mario Puzo”, particularly the way the two books end with a kid, in a church, praying.

MAD Magazine was an influence, though. As a kid, I started drawing what I saw in MAD. I’ve read many graphic novels but I’m not sure there is one particular one that’s influenced me…although I have to say the urban portrayal of “From Hell” is remarkable. The art is quite something. I also really enjoyed “Essex County”.

I also love the urban portrayals in Japanese comics. To some extent, I aspire to that. I try not to think about a particular style, though, but just draw and draw, and let the style evolve on its own.

The city of St. Catharines plays a bigger and bigger role. Setting the scene is important to me. I also use photographs of street scenes and buildings as reference, especially in “Mario Puzo” and the longer book we’re working on now, “The Boy with the Bedroom Eyes”.

And there are influences from the world of filmmaking too – you have to know how to edit. Half a page of dialogue can be six pages of drawings. It’s easy to imagine a camera cutting back and forth.

7) Ron, you’ve had work exhibited all over the world. When you’re not illustrating for the Bella Stories, what is your usual medium? Do you have other projects on the go at the moment?

Drawing is what I really want to do now. Graphic novels and comics are what I’m focusing on. Outside of “Bella”, I’m researching and doing preliminary drawings for a story based on an unsolved crime in Toronto from the thirties.

8) Following up on that as well: You’ve mentioned that you enjoy pursuing collaborative relationships with other artists in Toronto. Do you have any favourite artists active in the Toronto scene at the moment? Or any dream collaborators from the city?

I’ve collaborated with visual artist Amelia Jimenez who’s active right now in Toronto and with artist Adrienne Reynolds in New York. I’ve also collaborated on work with other visual artists, dancers, poets and other writers.

9) Between the two of you, how does the layout and panelling happen? Is the layout of each panel laid out in the initial scripting, or do the two of you discuss the panelling as you go?

Panelling is done in a rough format to begin with, working through text with small pieces of paper, quickly and roughly, laying things out as they could look. Once that’s done, Terri reads it and we talk about whether it’s working and what should change.

It’s very important to make changes early on and make sure both of us are happy with the way the story is paced. That’s the time when it’s useful to give it to someone else to look at, to see if they like the pacing, to see if they get it and understand the progress of the story. We give it in rough form to someone who has never read it before.

10) For that matter, I’ve noticed that you eschew the normal rectangular-panel-and-gutters style of page layout for a style that seems to bring all the individual images together. Are all of your images drawn at the same time, or are they done individually and assembled after the fact? Was this style of page layout chosen with a particular purpose in mind?

For the first Bella comic, I did the drawings separately and put them together on the computer. For “Puzo” and the newest book, the page layout and images are drawn in rough on one single page, all at once. We looked at a lot of graphic novels together in which the artwork completely broke out of the framework of the ‘window panes’ – for example, the “Sandman” books and a lot of Will Eisner’s work.

11) How has working on this project impacted the two of you, if at all? Do the two of you mesh well artistically, or have any problems arisen over the course of the project? How do you balance work and play at home?

Terri: We don’t do ‘down time’ well. We’re both pretty driven to create so working on “Bella” is something we enjoy doing. We try, a couple of times a year, to leave home for a few days and just focus on what talking about the graphic novels – those our ‘general business meetings.’

Ron: The character is a creation of both the writer and the artist. She has a life because of that.  Plus for Terri, it’s not so much a switch as another project. She starts by writing the story and then moves on to other projects – hopefully writing the next Bella story – while I finish the drawings.

Terri: What is interesting for me is the process of doing it as a partnership because Ron sees stuff that I don’t  – it’s two different sensibilities. That’s at the heart of it. The advantage is that we’re both interested in the character, and we’re both contributing. One small example is the invention of Serafina the cat – she didn’t exist in the source material (my short story). Ron invented her, as well as the subtextual commentary that goes on, on the walls of Bella’s house. The crucifixes and family photographs watch and react to the action.

Ron: Artists can and do get very specific directives from writers and they execute. But that’s not what we do.

Terri: It’s not a storyboarding process for us. It’s two people seeing the same thing and bringing their own sensibility to bear. I write the story, but I’m not married to everything that’s on the page. The strength of graphic novels is that you don’t need everything described in dialogue or narrative text – you can let the visual images tell the story. If you’re not going to do that, there’s no sense in doing a graphic novel. It’s not a story in words with a few illustrations…that’s boring…it needs a certain dynamism. I want the feeling of watching a movie.

12) 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?

Ron: Hergé (creator of the Tin Tin books) paired with a 2009 Merlot from Angel’s Gate Winery on the Beamsville Bench. “The Calculus Affair” is my favourite.

Terri: I’d like to pair Umberto Eco and his masterpiece, “The Name of the Rose witha Negroni cocktail: one part gin, one part Campari, one part red Vermouth, over ice in a double vodka glass with a slice of blood orange. Like heroin in a glass.


1) Desert island graphic novel (not your own):

For Terri: 2010 “Best American Graphic Novels” anthology, edited by Harvey Pekar

For Ron: Hard to pick one to read again and again – possibly “From Hell” (Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell).

2) Best restaurant in Toronto:

Best restaurant in Toronto (for us): Gerrard Pizza and Spaghetti House, Danforth and Coxwell – nowhere better to enjoy Four O’Clock in the Morning cappellini or a Vulcano pizza with a big jug of wine and the hockey game on over the bar. Vito likes to rib Ron for being a Canadiens fan. (Ron is a Montrealer originally.) We also enjoy holding up the bar at Allens. They pour a generous pinot noir and have an excellent beer selection.

3) Least favourite thing about your cell phone provider:

Every time we bike on trails on the Canadian side of the Niagara River, Bell switches us over to U.S. Roam (with ridiculously high roaming fees). Yes: Bell Canada thinks that Niagara-on-the-Lake and Fort Erie are actually in the United States. It’s like the other side won the War of 1812. Sub-complaint: the Bell network completely disappears north of Sault St-Marie. Even Wawa is no longer serviced by Bell Mobility. Which means when we were hiking we needed to find gas station pay phones to let our son know we were still alive

4) An animal you’ve always wished you could have as a pet:

Terri: A falcon. I’d like to do that thing with the little leather hood over the falcon and the big leather glove and the green miniskirt and the hunting and people saying, what ho!

Ron: A horse. A nice one.

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

Ron: Orange. My least favourite colour.

Terri: Brown. Blecchhh. It would be like sitting inside a big turd.


Terri Favro lives in Toronto. Her personal website can be found here, and more information on the first installment of The Bella Stories, Bella and the Loyalist Heroine, can be found here