The Three Rs: Tricia Dower

September 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

Tricia Dower was a business executive before reinventing herself as a writer in 2002. Her short-story collection Silent Girl was long-listed for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and the George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in Literature. Stony River, released in July by Penguin Canada, is her first novel. A dual citizen of Canada and the United States, Dower lives and writes in Brentwood Bay, BC. Her website is www.triciadower.com.

When did you first know you wanted to write books?

Not that long ago. I started writing short stories in 2002 primarily as a post-business-career creative outlet. Even I could tell those stories were bad so I signed up for online courses with Gotham Writers Workshop and joined Francis Ford Coppola’s critique-swapping workshop Zoetrope. In 2004, The New Quarterly gave me my first pub credit. After seeing a University of Toronto production of Othello that same year, the idea grew in me for a story collection based on Shakespeare’s female characters. And I had enough chutzpah to imagine someone might want to publish it. The feminist press Inanna did so in 2008 with Silent Girl. And four years later I’m thrilled Penguin Canada has picked up my second book and first novel.

What does your day look like while you’re writing a book?

I’m not an early riser. My brain doesn’t get revved up until about 10 am. After that, I can easily spend eight hours or more writing or researching. I struggle to fit in other activities that would make it appear I’m living a balanced life but honestly I’m boringly obsessive about writing.

Do you type or write?

I scribble into journals when I’m researching or blue-skying but use the keyboard when drafting and editing. An exception is when I’m having trouble getting into a character’s head in a particular scene. At those times, I take pen and pad into a different room and have a heart-to-heart with said character, asking intrusive questions until he or she hands over the goods.

What do you read while you’re writing?

Examples of excellent fiction for inspiration and/or books that help with my research. When writing about an earlier era, I look for books actually written then to capture the vernacular and attitudes of the times. For a story in Silent Girl that dealt with racial issues in the 1960s, for example, I read Sex and Racism in America by Calvin C. Hernton (1965), Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin (1960) and The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965).

What have you read recently that you really loved?

Malarky by Anakana Schofield, a challenging read, with a voice to which all you can do is surrender, but also the most original novel I’ve read in a long time. And Afflictions & Departures by Madeline Sonik, written in an experimental nonfiction genre she terms a “fracture.” It’s simply wonderful.

Silent Girl

What are your all-time favourites?

Almost anything by Alice Munro. Also, Leaves of Grass (Walt Whitman), A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Betty Smith), The Picture of Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde), The Good Earth (Pearl Buck), Not Wanted on the Voyage (Timothy Findley), Transformations (Anne Sexton), The Wind in the Willows (Kenneth Grahame), The Women’s Room (Marilyn French) and, unlike most of my ninth grade classmates, Beowulf – I loved all that mead!

You can either write or read for the rest of your life – but not both. Which do you choose?

Such a cruel choice. But it would have to be reading. I could at least imagine what I might write if able to. I would feel more bereft if deprived of being transported to other worlds through reading.

What’s your third R, and why?

Reconnaissance. Defined as: “exploring beyond the area occupied by friendly forces to gain information about enemy forces or features of the environment for later analysis and/or dissemination.”

I relentlessly patrol the Internet via news feeds, Facebook, Twitter and e-mail. “It’s ten o’clock. Do you know where your children are?” Sometimes I do and it comforts me. Does all this online intelligence give me the illusion of being mentally prepared for what might be “going down?” Do I just want to be a smarty-pants when someone asks, “Have you heard about…?” Or do I have too much time on my hands? Beats me.

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