Marina Endicott

  1. What does it mean/suggest for you to think about your craft with each published work? If you were to associate an image with the development timeline of your writing craft what would that look like?

I am thinking about craft with each book, of course. Experimenting with form and time and how to tell each story best. Because I also teach, I’m forced to articulate (at least to mumble about) craft between and around books. When I check back through my courses, I find that I’ve been more interested in teaching character at one point; teaching action, or how a story moves, at another; or teaching poetry and attention to language, and so on, depending on the book I was writing. I guess the image might be a screensaver twisting and unfolding, looking at story and shape from different angles, zooming in and out.

2. What was the most satisfying aspect of your recently completed work?

The travel. Researching The Difference I travelled to Tonga (twice), New Zealand, Fiji, Bali, Hong Kong, China, and the Bahamas, where I spent a week on a clipper ship. Not all of it was comfortable but every minute of it was useful, in fact vital for the creation of a book that is essentially two long journeys.

3. In a University of Alberta interview about the making of “The Difference,” you had stated that the novel was part inspired by an accidental discovery about your childhood piano teacher in 1990s; the title was published in 2019. In the same interview you say, “In writing historical fiction, without actual memory of the period, we create a memory not just from the text (diaries, logs, letters, laundry lists, ship’s manifests) but by assembling sense detail: photographs and paintings, deck-plans, clothes; detritus from trunks, cupboards, the attics of old houses.” Could you take us through your process of sensory world-building around history, or rather, an account of history?

I think I just did, see above. I snoop in people’s cupboards and read their mail. With The Difference I was lucky because the Yarmouth Museum had inherited the papers and furnishings of my piano teacher, Miss Kay Ladd. I read the letters Miss Ladd’s mother wrote to her own father, with their myriad lively details: growing plants in the Aft Saloon, descriptions of souvenirs, eccentrics they met on their long voyages. Those letters and furnishings helped to call to mind tactile memories from my childhood: the intricate whorls of the narwhal’s tusk over Miss Ladd’s piano, the rotted silk of that famous Hundred Faces fan. Those reanimated memories become the characters’ present sensations.

4. The screenplay for “Vanishing Point” was likely a different experience for you as you were collaborating on a screen-writing project after writing several novels and the screenwriting process for a documentary was likely different than the process in your earlier works (given that you had worked extensively in theatre). Could you reflect on this experience? From a process point of view, was it an easy transition to write collaboratively in a new medium?

I was so happy to be asked to work on Vanishing Point! The film was already put together by the time I came to the project to write the narration track. After watching the rough cut a few times, I pored over hundreds of pages of interviews with Navarana Kavigak, the focus of the documentary, and pulled up the story of her shaman ancestor’s journey from Baffin Island to Greenland, bringing lost skills which saved the community in Greenland. It was a privilege to write for Navarana, whose life has been astonishing, and pure pleasure to work with Stephen Smith and Julia Szucs. 

5. You have said somewhere “I write novels instead of plays because I like the intimate link of the silent writer and the silent reader.” My reading of this statement is that the emotional payoffs are different. Could you elaborate on this?

Of course they are. In theatre, the actors and the playwright are right there in the presence of the alive and noisy audience, all of us breathing through the work together. There’s really no better art form, when it works! But it is ephemeral, unrepeatable, frustratingly imperfect. A book distills the shared experience into a mysterious alchemical exchange of spirit in which the writing and the reading can take place centuries apart, but still convey—how is this possible? —living emotion and understanding from writer to reader. There’s really no better art form… Okay, both.

6. Writers or artists in other forms or media sometimes influence the way one writes. Can you recall or reflect on a similar influence in your case that might have been proven to be formative over the years?

A bunch of old women: Penelope Fitzgerald, Ursula Le Guin, Grace Paley, Gertrude Storey, Alice Munro, who already seemed old to me when I began writing but I now realize was probably about forty. They all write with clarity and exactitude. I try, and I do grow older.

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

I think we should, but it’s hard. Rejection is debilitating. It’s absurd to be such a pathetic baby, but it means I don’t get any work done for a while, until I’ve buried the shock and surprise. (What? They did not want this amazing thing? There must be some mistake!) Success is also hard to deal with; it’s hard not to let your head swell when your suspicions of your own genius are confirmed. Luckily, I married a champion head-shrinker, who is also very helpful when I have to deal with rejection, by bringing out his own sheaf of rejection letters and making me laugh.  

8. Is pleasure an emotion that you would associate with any of the stages of your writing practice? Or is it not pleasure but a different positive emotion? Can you reflect on that?

First drafts are almost physically painful for me. But the process of second/third/eighth draft editing is a pleasure—a complicated pleasure. When I finally see where I’m going, the serious work can start. I love the work of trying to get there in the most economical, elegant, unexpected, beautiful way; of linking and counterpointing, pulling up those hidden relationships of people and place and time that are only visible once the work comes to an end—to a kind of end, but not yet the eventual ending. I love the feeling of space and possibility—there is so much work to do still! Final drafts, the tidying up, the closing of all those gates, are not so much fun.

9. How do you know as a writer if a piece of work that you have been labouring on, is finally completed?

I have sent it to my editor in compliance with the final publishing deadline—but I would still keep working if I could. It can always, always be better.

Marina Endicott’s novel Good to a Fault was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and CBC Radio’s Canada Reads, and won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book, Canada/Caribbean. Her next, The Little Shadows, was short-listed for the Governor General’s award and long-listed for the Giller Prize, as was Close to Hugh. The Difference, published in the US as The Voyage of the Morning Light, won the Robert Kroetsch City of Edmonton Book Prize. She teaches creative writing at the University of Alberta, University of Toronto, Humber and the Banff Centre for the Arts. http://www.marinaendicott.com

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