Frances Boyle

1. In a previous discussion with Open Book you had said “My work has a very long gestation period, and I find it hard to give up on a story. I will rework it and rework it until it ultimately releases me?” Could you explain a bit more? What is the release you allude to and how do you know of it outside of the practical fact of the piece being published?

Release ebbs and flow. Sometimes, the release is simply feeling I’ve done the best I can, and an instinct that to push revisions any further at that moment would break the story’s magic. Or it can be deadline-driven; I may still be fiddling with story structure or tweaking language or line breaks in a poem, but a submission window about to close or an upcoming writers’ group meeting prompts me to send it out in its semi-formed state. So, a “release” isn’t necessarily final. Even the previously published stories in my collection, Seeking Shade, were revised before I submitted to a publisher. And, of course, further revised in consultation with my Porcupine’s Quill editor, Stephanie Small.

2. You have produced a rich body of poetry and you have written a collection of stories and a novella? Do you work on all forms at the same time? Or do you work in compartments? Could you talk a bit more about how you straddle between the forms?

Poetry is almost always with me, thanks to a practice that includes writing sessions at our weekly writers’ group. I usually have poems in various stages of drafts on the go. Fiction tends to be more focused and intentional. For short stories, I try to back my way in, often via my regular journaling: making notes, noodling about a character’s history or personality. Once I’m ready to begin the actual writing, I try to get the first draft written over a fairly short period of time, putting other writing (or writing-adjacent) projects on hold. The novel I’m working on is my first, so I’m still feeling out what rhythms will work in revising and revisioning something so much larger.

3. In a previous discussion with Splintered Disorder Press you had said “one of the stories in Seeking Shade, began as a reworking of Sleeping Beauty but in revision, it ended up being far more meta?” Can you walk through that process and the artistic choices you had to make in the course of this discovery when the story ended in a different place than you had intended?

This contemporary reworking approach had been fruitful before: I retold Rapunzel in linked stories that I later revised as my novella, Tower. This time, however, early drafts emerged very impressionistic and stream-of-consciousness. Feedback from my writing group was that it was too ungrounded. I included a storytelling group as a frame, and my protagonist emerged as I explored that. As she struggled with how she wanted to tell her own history, the layers of story within the story developed. I had to make choices among the rich themes in the fairy tale – one I dropped was the lack of consent inherent in being “woken by a kiss”, deciding instead to focus on repercussions of nursed grievances and over-protective parents.

4. What made you a writer?

At some level, I’ve always been a writer. A chatty pre-schooler who loved making up stories, I grew into a shy child who retreated into books, starting to write novels about kids discovering the magic of becoming superheroes. My books never made it beyond a couple of chapters, but the urge to write always remained, a spark I guarded through the university, then a career and raising a family. In large part, I credit a new city, a stretch of months when I wasn’t working outside the home, and a gift of Julia Cameron’s The Artist Way with moving me from intent to reality. But the main thing that spurred my writing was becoming part of a community of writers.

5. How did you come to write your first book?

My first book, Light-carved Passages, is a poetry collection, and it was literally a gathering and shaping of what I considered to be my best poems written over the previous ten years. I was fortunate to have Barry Dempster as a mentor, through the Banff Wired Writing Program, and he helped me hone many of the individual poems and tease out themes to organize the collection in a meaningful way. Individual poems and the book’s structure morphed further with input and advice from fellow writers, including my writing groups. I was honoured that Buschek Books, an award-winning press based in my Ottawa neighbourhood, ultimately accepted it and made a beautiful book.

6. Would you consider your writing practice as an interdependent activity, something that is sustained by contributions from people around you?

Very much so! My poetry practice in particular is highly dependent on my writing group, the Ruby Tuesdays. A large percentage of my poems begin via the guided freewriting exercises with which we start each session. I revise a draft begun as freewriting until it feels solid enough for other eyes, then bring it to the group, whose comments help me further refine it (or occasionally confirm my instincts as to why I don’t want to make certain changes). I also belong to another poetry group as well as a fiction workshopping group, and their feedback provides an incredible contribution to making the writing better. Working with others is always mutually beneficial I’ve found. 

7. Can you reflect on a specific performance, song, painting, film, or other non-written artwork that generated or strongly influenced any of your recent work?

A recent poem published in long con magazine (a journal that is all about ekphrasis) was inspired by Suzanne Vega’s song “Tom’s Diner”. Or, more precisely, by that song’s beats and pauses. The Dah-da-dah-da Dah-da-dah-da reminded me of my arrhythmic heartbeat when I was experiencing heart conditions. I followed along with it on a rhyming journey, which also includes nods to Ursula K. Le Guin, James Taylor, and Tolkien.

8. Do you train your subconscious in certain ways to deal with success or rejection?

I began a practice to deal with rejections a few years ago – I set out to receive 100 rejections each year. I wrote about it in a Q&A on Rhonda Douglas’s blog. Briefly, the intent is to reinforce that one has no control over whether or not work is accepted: what you do control is submitting. I’ve trained myself to simply focus on submitting, so rejections are something to celebrate. That has been helped take the sting out of rejections (though never 100% — some certainly do still hurt.) Dealing with successes? I generally don’t expect them, so I approach any successes I do achieve with surprise and gratitude.

9. Can you name a source of inspiration from your pre-teen years that impacted your writing in some way? Unsurprisingly given some of the earlier discussions here, stories involving magic or the supernatural have long inspired me and definitely had an impact on very much of my writing. I devoured classic fairy tales (especially Andrew Lang’s “colour” series) and books like those by E. Nesbitt and Edgar Eager where contemporary kids encountered magic, as well as comic books, retellings of myths, and YA science fiction books including ones by Madeleine L’Engle and Robert Heinlein.  In addition to the influence of fairy tales on my fiction, in my poetry, I also tend to draw on and explore a sense of the uncanny or mythic, with an “incantatory everywoman” often appearing.

Frances Boyle’s most recent book, the story collection Seeking Shade (The Porcupine’s Quill, 2020), was a finalist for the Danuta Gleed and ReLit Awards and a first-place winner of The Miramichi Reader’s Very Best! Award. She is also the author of Tower, a Rapunzel-influenced novella, and two books of poetry: This White Nest (Quattro Books 2019) and Light-carved Passages (BuschekBooks 2014). Her third poetry collection, Openwork, and Limestone will be published by Frontenac House Press in fall 2022. Frances’s short stories and poetry have been published throughout North America, in the UK, and in continental Europe, including recent and forthcoming work in Bandit Fiction, Paris Lit Up, Best Canadian Poetry 2020, Blackbird, The Maynard, Echolocation, and Event. Originally from Regina, Frances has long lived in Ottawa.

Listen to Frances Boyle Read Latchkey Fragments

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