Saturday, May 4, 2013

Day 4 - Joelle Anthony

Day 4. Another BC author today. I know, I know. "What about the other provinces?" ;)

Joëlle Anthony currently lives on a small island really close to Vancouver Island in BC with her musician husband and their cats. After getting a B.A. in theatre, she got some headshots made and called herself an actress. The desire to write remained strong, and in between acting gigs she scribbled out her first book for teens. After many years of practice and lots of reading, she found her wonderful agent. Her YA debut, Restoring Harmony, came out on May of 2010, and her second, The Right and the Real, was released on April 26, 2012, both with Penguin. You can sometimes find her at her website or on Twitter, but more often than not she's enjoying the view from her writing cabin. ;)

Q: Since it's an event featuring Canadian authors, I figured I'd ask all the authors who chose the Q&A to say how they would count as a Canadian author, be it they were born here, lived here, or moved here. So, how Canadian are you?

A: I’m not as Canadian as I hope to be in a few months. On July 4th, 2011 we applied for Canadian citizenship. It’s taking about 22 months to process, so we’re still waiting, but we’re hopeful! I know all the words to Oh, Canada, so I’m ready. And I plan to set a book in Canada sometime soon. I have one in mind, but others are more pressing right now.

Q: On more than one occasion I've seen you mention your writing cabin. What brought about the idea of having such a place for you to do your writing? (Also, I imagine the view from your writing cabin is stunning.)

A: I think most writers have the dream of someplace special to write where no one will interrupt them, but I hadn’t really considered making it a reality because I had an office in the house. It seemed superfluous. However, not long after we got to Canada, my husband started volunteering in the community for all sorts of projects. Within a few years, he was sitting on boards, even chairing them, and our once silent phone started ringing all the time. I mean, all the time! Not only was it annoying, but it made it so hard for me to work…my husband is one of those very quiet people unless he’s on the phone. And then…well, anyway, let’s just say we were spending half of our time negotiating writing versus phone time. “If I can write until my snack break with the phone on do-not-disturb then you can make calls for fifteen minutes, but then I really need to write until one o’clock.” Stuff like that. In the end, we were both so frustrated that we decided a cabin was the answer. Ironically, about ten months after I got it, he was so burnt out he stepped down from almost all his committees and our phone hardly rings at all anymore, so I feel pretty lucky to have it!

Q: What's your favourite part of teaching workshops for kids and teens? How much of a difference is there between running a workshop with kids and running one with adults?

A: The thing I like about teaching kids is that they can be fearless. Especially those in Grade 6 & 7, which is one of the ages I teach a lot. You have to be a bit silly with them, but once they see that wacky is okay, they really let their imaginations take off. One of the most important things I incorporate into my workshops is sharing aloud. I make the kid come to the front of the classroom, too. It sounds daunting, but it really builds confidence in them once they try it.

There are a few differences between teaching kids and adults that really threw me at first. For one thing, adults are so quiet! And they take notes. The first time that I happened I wanted to say, “Really? What I’m saying is that important???” I was kind of flabbergasted. Also, when I teach kids, generally someone else is paying me to be there. Adults have forked over their money themselves and I have to admit, I worry…. “Are they getting their forty dollars worth?”

Another thing is the whole writing time. When I give kids a writing exercise, I will lie about the time to avoid arguments. If I tell them they have five minutes, they’ll freak out, “That’s not long enough!” So I always say, “Okay, you have ten minutes, go!” And then, after about three or four minutes, I say, “Just take two more minutes or so.” Then at five minutes, I say, “Okay, wrap it up.” And they never notice. But if you tell adults they have ten minutes, they want their ten minutes and they look pointedly at their iPhones if you try to cheat them.

Also, adults aren’t nearly as brave about sharing as kids. The kids are dying to share, if not actually stand up in front of the class, then at least with their friends sitting next to them. Adults, not so much. They’re too afraid of not being perfect. Kids aren’t locked into that idea yet.

Q: Your first book, Restoring Harmony, takes place in the near future after the world suffers an economic collapse. What first inspired you to write Molly's story? How important was it to have music be such a big part of Molly's life?

A: There’s a book out called THE LONG EMERGENCY by James Kuntsler and in it he predicts what the world will look like after the end of oil. His take is that there will be a period of mayhem while people figure out how to recreate society. I wasn’t much interested in writing about an actual economic crash, but the time period after seemed like an interesting setting for a book. I guess you could say his theories were the impetus, but I don’t really agree with all his says or anything. I do think economic collapse beyond what we’re seeing now is possible though, and I was interested in exploring how people might react.

Music is terribly important in my life because my husband is a singer/songwriter/musician and so we have a lot of live music. One thing he often talks about is how “cheap” music has become because of recordings. Back in the day before radio and records, if you were a musician, you were highly valued. He wrote a song called Keep the Faith with the line: When the fiddler leaves, the dancing stops. What it means is that if you’ve got no fiddler to play, the dance is over. I liked the idea of a crash like in Restoring Harmony bringing back the value of live musicians and their talents.

Q: The Right & the Real is different than your first book, it's rather powerful but also frightening. How important was it to make Jamie flawed and still able to make mistakes but still be strong enough to keep moving forward, even after being abandoned by her father?

A: I think all characters have to be flawed to be real. I would say that Molly from Restoring Harmony is possibly a little too perfect. I would probably mess with her a bit more now that I know more about writing. So when I got to Jamie, I wanted her to be real. I wanted some of the problems she has to stem from her own flaws so that the world around her is not entirely to blame for what happens to her.

When I look back on troubled times in my own life, I can see ways that I increased the misery by the choices I made. At the time, I was doing the best I could, and that’s true for Jamie, but I hope (theoretically) that when she’s twenty-five or thirty, she can look back on her situation and realize she should’ve asked for help. If not from an adult, then at least from her friends.

Q: I know you and Eileen Cook are good friends. How did the two of you first meet? What's it like having Eileen as a critique partner/early reader/author friend?

A: Eileen and I met online. I was searching for an agent and hers had posted an excerpt from her upcoming book and it was about an American in Vancouver. We were in the process of immigrating to Canada, so I emailed and told her how funny it was and how I’d had some of the same issues as her character while visiting Canada. That was about eight years ago and our friendship blossomed from there.

I wouldn’t have any books published without her. She’s a total star. I mean, I’m not saying she wrote my books or anything, although, that is always something worth considering! She’s just always there for me. She not only reads early drafts and gives great critiques, but I can send her a revised scene and she’ll read it on her break from writing her own books and get right back to me. She’s truly a champion for me, and everyone needs one (I have several, actually, so I’m pretty lucky).

Eileen helped walk me through finding an agent, too, and when my first agent didn’t work out, she held my hand as I started over. In the last year, we’ve had a lot more opportunity to see each other in person. Even though she’s not technically that far from me, Vancouver is two expensive ferry rides from my island, so the first four and a half years we lived here, I never got over there at all and she only came here once. But now we’re booking events together and just making more of an effort to see each other because we’ve realized that there’s nothing like a good meal and a glass of wine together. So much fun. Sometimes we even talk about things besides writing and publishing!

Q: Since you're a vegetarian, what is your favourite vegetarian dish (an entree, soup, salad, sandwich, etc.)?

A: Anything someone else makes! Isn’t that the answer all cooks give? I make almost all of the food we eat, so it’s true that I really do like it when someone else cooks for me. Let’s see…I’m a big fan of a red lentil dal soup with sautéed onions and lemon slices that I make. Actually, I guess you could say my favourite type of food is Indian. I’m a sucker for nan bread, rice, and lentil yumminess.

At home, I really love to make plates of what we call “snackage” which is just a silly word my husband coined for a snack. What I usually end up doing is making the same thing over and over for snackage until I’m sick of it, and then I come up with something new. Right now, a plate of snackage consist of some whole wheat crackers with (vegan) sharp cheddar cheese spread (I make this from cashews), some carrots from the garden (yes, we’re still eating last year’s carrots and they’re a hundred times better than anything you can buy in the store) with ranch dressing, maybe a dill pickle, and a piece of dark chocolate with some dried fruit. I love to eat this around 11am when I take my first writing break. Mmmmm…now I’m hungry! Thanks for having me to chat. It’s been fun.

So many thanks to Joëlle for dropping in and taking part. Go check out Restoring Harmony and The Right and the Real now!


  1. This is a fun interview! I feel privileged to know Joelle--she's a super sweet lady and a terrific writer. Thanks for interviewing her!

  2. Great interview! Now I feel like some snackage :)