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.