This week I am hosting a guest blogger as part of the blog tour that has been going around. It is my first time ever. I’m pretty excited about it! Devyani Saltzman, author of Shooting Water, to whom I’d passed the baton last week, answers four questions about writing and speaks of her transition from literary nonfiction to fiction.
I had the pleasure of meeting Ayelet at the National Festival Director’s social at Harbourfront Centre. The night was winding down and a group of wonderful writers, including Ayelet, Martha Baillie and Alissa York, shared a beer and caught up. Since we’ve met, I’ve been looking forward to reading her collection The Best Place on Earth.
What am I working on?
I’m working on my first novel, currently entitled Army of Peace. It’s been a big transition for me, coming from literary nonfiction (Shooting Water, a memoir) and journalism. That said, it’s the form I’ve been the most drawn to. As Ayelet echoed in her post, “writing a novel requires a lack of control I find terrifying. It’s just so big and uncontainable.” I feel the same way, and I think because of this the novel draws on a real political group, and historical idea, which gives me a framework to work within. The novel is based on a group of individuals I’ve been fascinated by for a long time, civilian peacekeepers, and an idea I’ve been equally fascinated by, nonviolence. The narrative follows a strong female protagonist on a delegation to the subcontinent, with the history of pacifism (from Gandhi to the Quakers) woven into the story.
I wrote the first draft while programming the literary portion of the Luminato Festival in Toronto. In a way programming is the perfect counterpoint for me (it’s my teaching gig), and it provides a way of having a finger on the pulse of contemporary writing globally whilst doing my own work. I also review for the Globe and the Post. The reviews have actually kept me sane during the marathon process of the novel. I never thought I’d touch the dreaded arena of criticism, but I actual find the thousand-word sprints of review writing refreshing, challenging, and instantly rewarding. It’s an important art form, and reading and thinking about the work of others has only helped me hone my own work as a writer.
Ayelet mentioned E.L. Doctorow’s quote “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
I’ll add another one to our virtual conversation. I think Stephen King said writing is like crossing the Atlantic alone in a bathtub. That’s the image I think of when I’m stuck in the process and need a good laugh.
How does my work differ from other work in its genre?
I’d like to think my nonfiction, and now fiction, as just good story, but I know they are of course informed by my background. Specifically being born into two very different cultures, Indian (my mother’s family is from the Punjab) and Jewish (my father’s family are Russian Jews who immigrated to Canada in the 19th and early 20th century). The characters in Shooting Water, and now the novel, are on some level searching for personal/internal reconciliation within a global space. They are not hemmed in by nationality or religion, and in that sense they are also seeking their own sense of global citizenship.
Why do I write what I do?
Because I love reading work which balances the political and personal. Because I love reading novels where I learn. Because, as Michael Ondaatje said, it helps me clarify myself. Because books are the only world I ever wanted to play in (although at one point I thought I could escape that and become a geneticist…it didn’t last)
How does my writing process work?
Discipline. Discipline. Discipline.
I can’t function without structure. Five years at the festival meant that I kept a regular work day. Programming meetings, coffee breaks, commuting. I need that same structure to write. I wake up in the morning and head to work. That involves a quick coffee and a stroll down to the office (one of three coffee shops). I sit down at the ‘desk’ at nine and start my day. I usually write (or revise) from 9-1pm. Then I take a quick lunch break and then do a few more hours. My freelance work happens in the afternoon, but the morning is pure book. I try to swim three times a week and see friends in the evenings so I don’t feel like I’m going crazy.
The hardest, and most essential thing for me during the process of the novel, is setting my own deadlines. It’s easy for me to deliver on journalism/reviews, even the first book, but with fiction I feel I can endlessly tinker, and need to create deadlines (even if false) to ensure progress. i.e. It must go to one my core readers on a a specific date. I’ll revise a specific number of pages a day etc. I need to create that forward momentum in order to function.
Don’t forget to check out some of the other authors who contributed to this blog tour.
Angie Abdou * Kathy Para* Theodora Armstrong * Eufemia Fanetti * Janie Chang * Lorna Suzuki * Barbara Lambert * Matilda Magtree * Alice Zorn * Anita Lahey * Pearl Pirie * Julie Paul *Sarah Mian * Steve McOrmond * Susan Gillis * Jason Heroux