This panel was moderated by Carrie Snyder and included panelists Nancy Jo Cullen (Canary), Elisabeth de Mariaffi (How to Get Along with Women), Colette Maitland (Keeping the Peace) and Claire Tacon (In the Field).
CS: I would like to hear you talk about your work process, themes and obsessions for you books.
EdM: The elaboration of my book, How to Get Along with Women, was like a moving camera shooting the same scene over and over until it changed completely. It was written in two years and tells stories of power. The relationships are different, but they're always about power.
NJC: The stories in Canary were written without a thought about their connections. They are stories about intimate relationships that veer off, about bad decisions and how they affect our lives and also about addictions. They explore how we hold everything together through disaster.
CM: Keeping the Peace was written over a long period of time with an arc going through the short stories. It's as if an older version of me wrote those stories. I had no idea what the theme was until I presented the book to an editor. It is about trying to find peace in a family context.
CT: In the Field circles back to family and family dynamics. It explores what is the product of chance (the family in which one is born) and intention (decisions we take as we get older). It explores the different experiences siblings have although they belong to the same family.
CM: The place in the story is important. I like to think of how important it is to the people who live there. I love small details. I like to look at situations and think of all the details that should be there. If the people in the town I talk about in the book don't like it, they haven't told me. Every time I sit down to write, I reread the entire piece and edit. I don't always know how it's going to go but details help me move the piece forward. I don't want to work with a plot; I enjoy working with the characters. I also like to wait until I can't not write.
NJC: The place is the West in my book, but time is more important.
CT: I grew up grounded. My parents were refugees from Eastern Europe. I had a family with a strong narrative about people I had no access to. We did a lot of travelling, which is probably why my characters move around a lot and never find a home
I'm drawn to the insider vs outsider theme and I like to write about it. I'm interested in how the outside defines the inside.
CS: Could you tell us about your career development?
NJC: There is a big difference between publishing poetry and short fiction. Poetry launches are smaller and much more private. When publishing a work of fiction, it<s much more public and there are more event. I felt very exposed, almost panicked. I got more stress from all the attention.
EdM: Being listed for the Giller Prize was positively overwhelming. It truly was the last thing I would have expected. I got a lot of attention which sped up the process for my next project.
CM: I have always written. I got my first typewriter at thirteen and wrote until I got one of my stories rejected when I was in University. Having kids also prevented me from writing. Eventually I decided to stay at home and give myself permission to write. It took me about two years to write this book. One day I was on the high way and I saw this woman by the side of the road; she was the start of everything. I needed to write her story. I gave myself a time frame and started writing,
I took some class but I write intuitively, it's a very organic process. I keep on writing what I wand and on sending stuff out.
CT: I wrote shorter fiction at first. It was difficult to transition to longer pieces and I learned while writing. Rejection is an amazing push. I was first drawn to theater but rejection moved me to fiction. This time, for my second book, I'm doing it with more of a map.
NJC: Rejection happens; you have to be strong. People will not all love what you write. You have to believe in your vision and trust it. You have to learn that you can survive rejection. You just need to try to understand if there's something you need to change.
EdM: It would have been overwhelming for me to start with a novel. The order for me is poetry-short story-novel. You have to work quietly and experience rejection and work on yourself. To build confidence, you have to know what your obsessions are and write about them.
NJC: Short stories and novel don't have the same structure. Short stories are easier to navigate.
CS: How do you know when a piece is good to go?
CM: I make it as good as I can and let it go. You HAVE to send it. Don't take rejections too personal. If you're sick of your piece, set it aside and go back to it later. Work on it, and send it again.