The Three Rs: Théodora Armstrong

February 22, 2013 § Leave a comment

Théodora Armstrong is a fiction writer, poet, and photographer. Her work has appeared in numerous literary magazines across the country such as Event, Prairie Fire, The Fiddlehead, Descant, The New Quarterly, and Contemporary Verse 2. In 2008, she won a Western Magazine Award for fiction, and her stories have been included in both the Journey Prize Stories 20 and Coming Attractions 10. Her debut short story collection, Clear Skies, No Wind, 100% Visibility, will be published by House of Anansi Press in March. Théodora lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, with her husband and daughter. She is at work on her first novel. Follow her: @TheoArmstrong.

When did you first know you wanted to write books?

I’m not sure I thought about writing an actual book until I was in grad school. I knew I wanted to tell stories at around age seven. At that time, I went to one of the only all-French schools in BC. They bused kids in from all over the Lower Mainland, so it was a long ride every morning. To pass the time, I’d make up elaborate stories with lots of play-acting to entertain my bus mates.

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

My day starts with dropping my daughter off at preschool. Then I come home, make some coffee, and sit down to work. I work best in the morning. On occasion I do good work at night after everyone is asleep. Afternoons are mostly for reading, emails, and anything that gets me away from my desk, usually a run.

Clear Skies, No Wind, 100% Visibility

Do you type or write?

I always type unless I’m working on a poem. I scribble story notes, when they come to me, on post-its that I stick all over my office. I like to move them around, arrange them in groups. Once they find their way into the work, I throw them out. I have a small stack of post-it story notes that have never found a home.

What do you read while you’re writing?

I try not to read anything new that might be similar to what I’m working on. I do go back to skim through favourite books that I feel have inspired my work. Right now I keep going back to the The Sportswriter by Richard Ford. I admire his talent for elevating everyday life, for combining lyricism with the vernacular.

What have you read recently that you really loved?

I just finished Malarky by Anakana Schofield. The book explores the depths of grief with a dark, electrifying humour. ‘Our Woman’ is a truly original character, one I won’t soon forget. I’ve also been reading a lot of great BC short story writers lately: The Beggar’s Garden by Michael Christie, Once You Break a Knuckle by D.W. Wilson, Better Living Through Plastic Explosives by Zsuzsi Gartner. All great stuff.

What are your all time favourites?

I have so many. For short fiction, anything by Lorrie Moore, Raymond Carver, Flannery O’Connor, Tobias Wolff, J.D. Salinger, Mavis Gallant, Alice Munro. Simple Recipes by Madeleine Thien encouraged me when I started my own story collection in grad school. Richard Ford’s The Sportswriter and Independence Day, Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, Miriam Towes’ A Complicated Kindness, and Keith Maillard’s Gloria also informed the writer I am today. Roald Dahl for my earliest reading years.

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

If I couldn’t read, I think I would stop growing as a writer. I would be afraid of the writer I would become. So I’ll go with read, but I wouldn’t stay sane for very long.

What’s your third R, and why?

Running. I’m not good or serious about it. I forget to stretch. I don’t have proper running gear. I never have a place to put my keys, so I tie them to my shoelaces. But a long run, as far as I know, is the perfect end to a day of writing. Being outside in the fresh air, hammering the pavement, helps bring me back to earth.

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