Four writers, four questions #2 Susan Ketchen

Here’s the second installment of Four Writers, Four Questions. Installment #3 will be posted next week.

What are you working on right now?

I am working on a new novel. There seem to be a lot of dogs in it. A dead body is found and lost and found again but in the wrong place. People try to be helpful but make everything more complicated. The dogs behave badly, just as they often do in real life, and their owners are always in denial. Still, it is fiction. I’m about halfway in and don’t know what it’s about, though sometimes when I’ve completed a novel I still don’t know what it’s about. I prefer to leave that matter to readers anyway.

Why is this meaningful to you?

Relationships are perplexing. Whether they are between people, or between people and other animals, relationships are complicated, many-layered and in some ways unknowable. I like to explore this perplexity by writing about it.

What is your process?

I start each day with the usual eating/brushing/dressing routines, and before I park my butt in a chair for the no-longer-recommended period of sitting, I get a little exercise by tending to the horses. Then I have a coffee and reacquaint myself with my brain and my husband before heading to my office.

P1020091_2_2I re-read what I wrote the day before, do minimal editing, then plunge ahead. 1,000 words is the minimum satisfying amount. If I do 2,000 I am ecstatic. Usually I have only a vague sense of where I am going; this is where the magic happens.

I write until I have 35,000 words and some sort of ending, then I go back and edit. Some people edit down, but I edit up. I aim for 50,000 words, which is short for a novel, but my brain has trouble holding onto a larger universe.

When I have 50,000 and (hopefully) a great ending, I edit again, print each chapter and read it aloud to my guardedly critical husband.

I make a few changes, and send the manuscript to one or two trusted readers. I make more changes based on their comments. That’s the end of my writing process and the beginning of the “What am I going to do with this manuscript?” process.

Why do you write?

Brene Brown says that unused creativity is not benign. It’s something like a border collie that lives in an apartment: if you don’t give it a job, it will find one. Furniture may suffer.

Sometimes I use my creativity for tasks other than writing novels. I may need to deal with the medical system, or neighbours with dogs, or conflicting opinions about the longevity of my car.

At other times, when life is being agreeable, I use my creativity on imaginary worlds, because if I don’t I will create drama and difficulty where in fact there is none. Or probably there is none. Or there is none if I ignore it for long enough.

Outside of the potential malignancy problem, I write because I like to make people laugh. I like to explore things I don’t really understand by writing about them. And I like it when I can transmit my thoughts or explorations out into the world.

Susan Ketchen is the author of the Born That Way series, featuring a fourteen-year old girl born with Turner Syndrome. The fourth in the series, Rides That Way, will be published by Oolichan Books in the fall of 2016



Four writers, four questions #1 Paula Wild

After giving myself a short writing exercise, I invited three other authors to participate in Four Writers, Four Questions. The challenge was to answer each question in 200 words or less and to be as creative as possible. Here’s the first installment, a different writer’s answers will be posted weekly.

What are you working on right now?

Dark shapes flow over the hump of the hill as silent and ephemeral as fog. They move with intent focus yet are open to whatever possibilities the landscape reveals. Senses quiver, alert to what is present and what remains to be found. Their search pulls them forward in an enduring lope through the trees and down onto the plain. The wolves are hunting and will not stop until they find prey.

I too am hunting but I seek facts, fables and anecdotes rather than meat to fill the belly. Paula at UclueletI’m still climbing the hill, following a meandering path through the forest, sniffing the earth and air for leads. Sometimes I falter or get lost. But always I move forward in search of my prey: the wolf and all that word for an animal implies.

Why is this project meaningful to you?

On a December walk: a lime green coat of moss on trees, translucent rain drops cold on my cheeks and Millard Creek’s cappuccino-coloured froth battering the banks. And, at the beginning and end of the trail, a shiny, silver Christmas ornament.

The compulsion for humans to mark the land seems innate. We claim our territory with fences and houses, remove natural vegetation to grow crops and feed livestock and scatter or slaughter what we fear or find inconvenient. Some alterations are beneficial, benign or beautiful; others create environmental havoc that may impact future generations forever.

Now the wolf is at our door, standing in the soft shadows of moonlight howling to his kin silhouetted on the ridge. Inside, holding tight to their warm blankets, humans shiver with fear and fascination. Is it possible to untangle the complex web of myth and misconception, truth and terror that surrounds this carnivore? Curiosity and a keen interest in nature prompt me to try.

What is your process?

Gather enough facts, figures and stories to fill the Pacific Ocean and jump in after them. Float around for a while until I’m overwhelmed by a rough chop of endless white caps. Realize I’m drowning and will never make it to shore. Flail my arms and kick my legs, desperate to survive. An eternity later, find myself riding the crest of a giant wave giddy with relief that land is in sight. Tumble onto the sand exhausted and elated. Click send to email the manuscript to my publisher.

Why do you write?

Long ago, when a close friend and I were both mired in the sludge of depression we called it The Room. There was no door, it was impossible to get out.

When I write I enter a place in my mind where I feel extremely comfortable. There are many doors and endless opportunities for exploration and adventure.

Why wouldn’t I write?

Paula Wild is an award-winning author of six books and 1,000+ articles. Her book on wolves is scheduled for a fall 2017 release by Douglas & McIntyre.