Answers

So many great questions. I think I mentioned how much I love Q&A sessions. So, you did the heavy lifting with the questions, here come some answers. I’ll take them chronologically.

Cousin Bets asked: Who are you? (Haha!) Ok, I know who you are. What I didn’t know was that you are a singer?

For more on who I am, check the About page… as for the singing thing. Well. I am not a singer. I love to sing, I really love to belt it out, but I am in no way a singer in any formal sense of the word. Though I do, once in a great while, get to sing with Steven Bowers and Acoustic Theft, but only on very special occasions. Steve wrote a beautiful song called Homing, and you can hear it here. When the moon is full and we find ourselves in the same place at the same time with all the necessary equipment (his band, my book) we sometimes perform the song together. At the end, I sing along with the band. It is mind-blowingly fun. I think if I worked at it, I would have a decent alto. But I don’t work at it. Story of my life, really.

Heather H asks: Stephanie, what is the best advice you’ve ever received? Did you use the advice when it was given?

This is a tough one, Heather. Lots of people have given me lots of advice, and some of it was probably really great. I don’t remember most of it. But I can tell you two things that have resonated with me. I was taking a writing class with the amazing Sue Goyette. We were talking about how we write…how we get ready to do it, how we settle into it, all that. She put forward a theory that how you take a bath is how you do most things. Me, I take a bath at the very last minute, after thinking about it all morning. I am super efficient, and barely take time to enjoy it. While the tub is filling, I am washing my hair, and before the water is deep enough to cover my knees, I’m washed, rinsed and ready to get out. It’s the same exactly when I sit down to write. Always at the last minute, always after lots of thought first, and then once I’m there, I am fast, fast, fast, and out and on to something else before I know it. This wasn’t advice so much as it was a bit of a benediction. That it’s okay to just write the way I write. So I’m not an eight hours a day writer. So I don’t necessarily do it every day. I do it when and how works for me, and that’s good enough.

The other moment of revelation came courtesy of Joel Thomas Hynes, an extraordinary writer from Newfoundland. He told me he figured he could tell a book that’d been written by hand as opposed to one that’d been written on a computer for the first draft. He couldn’t say exactly what the difference was, but just that it did something to the sentences, the act of writing by hand. He went on to say that a first draft, when it’s written on a computer, gains an authority it hasn’t earned. Everything so neat and orderly. Too easy to fall in love with it and think it perfect. I am very susceptible to that anyhow, and soon as he said it, I knew I’d write my next book by hand. And so Fallsy Downsies is being crabbed out in hand in notebooks and on scrap paper and it’s really liberating in many ways…and when it comes time to write a second draft, I’ll be very happy at how easy it will be to sit down and do it. I’ll be forced to, that is to say, because I’ll need to get it into a word processing program.

My sweet childhood and beyond friend Kristin has two questions:

Well, the question I most like to ask you is: When are you coming home for a visit?!

But a meatier, more interesting question is: How do you silence the snarky inner critic who tells you that you’re not good enough? What do you do when the self-doubt creeps in? Or does it? Maybe it doesn’t…but if it does, whattaya do?

The answer to the first question is July.

The answer to the second set of questions is that I don’t have a snarky inner critic. I would probably be a better person if occasionally someone told me I’m not good enough, whether the voice came from inside my head or outside of it, but I have never struggled with that critic the way others do. I do freak out a lot about non-writing related things, and when that happens, I try to let myself freak out for some appointed amount of time. Say five or ten minutes. Then I take the freak out, say “thank you very much, but that’s enough for now,” put it in a box and put it away. The things that are not helpful to me, I try not to spend too much time with them. When something crops up, I think, is this helpful to me? If the answer is no, I just work on putting it aside. I don’t always nail it, but most times, I do. Has the inner critic done any noteworthy work? If not, perhaps it should shut its ill-mannered trap and let you get on with yours. And you can tell it I said so.

Ellen passes this question along: My friend who writes wonders, “Why bother? Hasn’t it all be written already?” Your thoughts?

I remember working on a story when I was in high school and feeling really excited about it. The central metaphor was going to be a bird in the house, which equals death (funny how Homing ended up being in some ways about that). I was super charged about it, till I discovered this. I was crushed. I mean, once Margaret Laurence has written about it, what could possibly have been left for a sixteen year old kid from the suburbs? Fortunately, I had an amazing writing teacher in high school. He pointed out that there are really only a handful of stories. You know, man against nature, man against himself, man against man. Someone sets out on a journey, a stranger comes to town. Inevitably, some other writer will always have written about the things you want to write about. Will even maybe have told the same story. But will they have told it in your voice? No, they will not have. And that’s why you should bother. Or at least, that’s why I bother. That and I really have very few other skills besides writing.

Shannon Webb Campbell wonders: What sort of writing rituals, if any, do you have?

Also, what inspires or motivates you to write?

I don’t really have writing rituals. With Homing, it was all about quiet early mornings. Waking up in the dark, trying to get out of bed without jostling my head around too much, getting the laptop powered up quickly and diving in, before anyone was awake and before I was even really awake. With Fallsy Downsies, it’s all different. I write in bars, cars, cafes, line-ups, wherever I happen to be when I get a good line or image. I do really like to read through what I’ve already written. It places me in my story, among my people, which is right where I need to be.

What inspires me or motivates me to write. Honestly? A deadline. That motivates me more than anything else. The thought of getting in trouble for missing a deadline is a really strong motivator. Now, what inspires me, well, everything. I am particularly moved, as a writer, by gesture and phrase. I can get a whole character out of some stranger’s way of moving along the street. A turn of phrase that rings can just about write the novel for me. But those are just the things that make me think of story. As for what gets me to sit down and actually write…either a deadline, or a string of really cranky days…at the end of which I realise (or my husband points out) that perhaps the reason I’m so miserable is that I’m ready to write.

Jane Kansas posed this stumper:

How steep an incline can a commercial airplane taxi up? Does it make a difference if the fuel tanks are full or empty?

Thanks in advance!

Not sure why you need to know, Jane, but fortunately, my Uncle John Longo was the head mechanic for Air Canada for many decades. And he furnished me with this answer: “The answer depends on the type of aircraft… Turbo prop or pure jet; a heavy B747-400 or CRJ size.

Obviously level surfaces are optimum. However, if the hill (why would a commercial airliner be on a hill?) is 15 – 30 degrees as a maximum it would probably be workable.
Other serious considerations would be jet blast (would need lots of engine power to make it up the hill) and more critically a tail strike as the aircraft tips to go up the hill.
I have seen jet blast pick up tarmac pieces and be ingested into the intake of the jet engine. Tremendous forces (thrust) are generated by these jet or turbo jet engines.
If it were a light aircraft with a propeller; again, would need lots of engine power and associated prop wash (debris flying around) same problem if a tricycle gear aircraft like a Cessna 172.
Hope this helps.
Fondest regards
Unc/John”

Next up, my old high school pal Kevin Byrne with a two-fer: First, to what manner of experiment-gone-awry do you attribute the origin of your awesomeness?
Second: Do these jeans make me look fat?
I’ll take the first one first. Some time after my father died, my mother and I were uncharacteristically discussing birth control. She said, and I quote: “We used the rhythm method and I guess it worked. Every two years there was another one of you guys. After your sister was born, your father got a vasectomy. The pope probably wouldn’t have approved, but then, the pope wasn’t paying to feed you all.” So, there’s that.
As for the jeans, try a trouser cut.

Speaking of high school, Ann Labbe wants to know: Is consistency really a virtue? (You probably don’t remember that conversation, but I do. It was one of my favourites.) I could be obvious and ask about tides…
As a matter of fact, I DO remember that conversation. And yeah, I think consistency really is a virtue, in just about everything, except for times when the element of surprise is just too good to ignore.
And finally, from my fashionable sister (the one who apparently inspired a parental vasectomy): Okay, here’s a question, what are you wearing?
Which is an unfair question, frankly. And the answer will appall her, but in my own defence, it’s quarter after ten and I had a yoga class tonight (Donna, I’m sure you see where this is going)… I am wearing black lululemon yoga pants with a light dusting of cat hair, a grey ribbed tank top and a purple v-neck from Joe Fresh, silkscreened with the words “latkepalooza ate.” Please believe I was ever so much better put together before 6:30pm.
Thanks for all the great questions… keep ’em coming.
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3 Comments on “Answers”

  1. Erica says:

    Great answers! Maybe you could help me out with the following food/science questions: Why are some eggs brown and some white? Do white eggs only come from white chickens? Is there some kind of matching pigment gene? If so, why are robin’s eggs blue?

    Thanks!

  2. That is way cool about singing with the band. I would LOVE to have a chance to do that once in my life. How cool would that be!
    I’ll stick to singing 24/7 alone for now. 🙂

  3. Donna says:

    I don’t know that I inspired a parental vascetomy, i like to think perhaps it was the four of us combined, but mostly Jeff.
    I’m just saying.


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