Ursula Pflug is author of the critically acclaimed novels Green Music (Edge/Tesseract) and The Alphabet Stones (Blue Denim), as well as the story collections After The Fires (Tightrope) and Harvesting the Moon (PS). An illustrated flash novel, Motion Sickness, has just been released by Inanna. Her award winning stories have been published in Canada, the US and the UK, in genre and literary venues including Fantasy, Strange Horizons, PostScripts, Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, Tesseracts, On Spec, NOW Magazine, The Antigonish Review and many more. Pflug has been shortlisted or nominated for the Sunburst Award, the Aurora Award, and others. She has served on the executive of arts boards including SFCanada, and has worked as an editor. Her first edited book, the fundraiser anthology They Have To Take You In (Hidden Brook Press) has just been released. She teaches creative writing at Loyalist College and co-organizes Cat Sass Reading Series.
Interview by Christel Bodenbender
Could you tell us about your inspiration for this anthology?
As a teen following my artist mother's suicide, I travelled extensively with often no money at all — a way of life that can be an adventure but also dangerous, so, in one way, this project is a way of looking after the person I was, or someone like her. In addition, the inspiration was the 2012 cuts to the Community Start Up and Maintenance Benefit. Some of this money has been replaced by funding to municipalities to fund housing and homelessness services but there is always a gap between what's available and what's needed, both financially and in terms of awareness. Around the same time, Kingston poet Bruce Kauffmann edited an anthology entitled That Not Forgotten. It was a fundraiser for the renovations on the Purdy House in Prince Edward County with the goal of turning it into a writers’ residency. I met publisher Tai Grove at the launch and he asked me if I had any ideas for projects. After giving it some thought I decided I'd like to do an anthology that focused on family, showcased local and national writers, and also benefited families.
I spoke to a few potential partners, but Gordon Langill is an old friend and he has a literary background so that gave him specific insight from the outset. The Dana Fund, administered by the Peterborough CMHA is a vehicle for making available a little extra. The fund was inspired by Dana Tkakchenko, a young recovery activist who passed away in 2010. An excerpt from her remarkable semi-autobiographical novel, Anna's Story, appears in the anthology.
Readers can buy the book but there's also a direct link for making donations to the fund: http://www.cmhahkpr.ca/get-involved/donate./.
The title of the anthology has a reference to families, but do they really have to take you in?
The anthology title is a reference to the Robert Frost poem “Death of the Hired Man.” It's about a dying farmhand who reappears at his former employer's rather than go to his brother's house. Many of us have families of choice in addition to our blood families and some of the stories in the book address that. According to Mary, the protagonist of Frost's story-poem, home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in. Warren and Sally known Silas better than anyone else does, and, obviously, he felt safer there than he did with his relatives.
Here is the text of the poem in it's entirety: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/173525
Your anthology provides valuable space for Canadian authors. What do you think are the unique struggles of Canadians to break into the market as an author?
We're competing with Americans. The US has a much larger population, hence larger print runs, larger budgets for promotion. In Canada a small press author isn't competing just with Canadian best sellers, but with books from the US lists. There are folks who are curmudgeonly about our granting system but that's one reason for it — to level the playing field.
Tell us what writing means to you?
Writing is a place that has always taken me in.
What is it like interacting with so many authors to bring together a cohesive issue? How do you make sure the multitude of stories reflects your vision? Or do you let the pieces guide you?
I've edited for journals and magazines and individuals for decades, but this is the first time I've edited an anthology. There was a fair bit of line editing involved in some of the pieces, so that we could get the very best story possible into the book. And just general correspondence with the publisher and writers was more than I'd anticipated, definitely. You can make friends while you're working with people, or cement or reawaken a friendship you already have. And that can be delightful. As to cohesion — mostly it just fell together, partly because many stories and poems were solicited from writers whose work I already knew I loved, such as Jan Thornhill, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Leanne Simpson, Joe Davies, Tim Becket, Robert Priest and others, but there are also stories I asked for which I then didn't include, because the fit wasn't right, and many stories by emerging authors who came very close that I was sad to turn down. And a few are 'slush pile' pieces from writers I'd never met or heard of, and it's gratifying when that happens.There were three more pieces I wanted to include but they all required a little work. This was last winter, during the polar vortex. There was ice everywhere, and then snow on top of the ice, and like a million other people I fell and broke my arm. I figured that was the proverbial message to 'close the book,' as it were.
How are you going to distribute/publish the anthology?
It's just been released by Hidden Brook Press, located in Brighton, and they distribute their own list. We just had a great launch event in Peterborough at Ryan Kerr's Theatre on King, an incubator for alternative theatre. We'll be doing another event in Toronto, date and location TBA but the amazing slam poet Cathy Petch is going to host, so it promises to be equally fabulous.
Here is the Chapters link for They Have To Take You In: http://www.chapters.indigo.ca/books/they-have-to-take-you/9781927725139-item.html
It's also available on Amazon.
Could you tell us about some future projects?
I had a crazy time the last couple of years — four books were accepted and edited and went to press — so I'm in promotional mode and expect to be for a while. Toronto's wonderful feminist press Inanna Publications has just released a flash novel, Motion Sickness. Governor General award winner Heather Spears wrote us a really nice endorsement. It means a lot, as Heather is both a writer and an illustrator so she understands both aspects of the book. Each chapter is 500 words long, and is accompanied by a woodcut like scratch-board illustration by SK Dyment. I'm touring the book this fall in addition to They Have To Take You In. We launched recently at Librairie Drawn and Quarterly in Montreal, and there will be an event at the Supermarket in Toronto on November 17th. You can find out more about Motion Sickness on Inanna's website, here: http://www.inanna.ca/index.php/catalog/motion-sickness/
PS Publishing in the U.K. has recently released Harvesting the Moon, a hardcover collection of previously published short stories with a gorgeous cover by Francois Thisdale and an endorsement from Jeff VanderMeer. In addition I'm still doing promotional events for The Alphabet Stones, a fantasy novel that came out with writer Shane Joseph's micro-press Blue Denim a year ago. The book takes place near Perth, on one of many ramshackle communes and Tim Wynne-Jones, who lives in that area, told me I'd nailed the milieu and that's flattering. Here's the Blue Denim link for The Alphabet Stones: http://www.bluedenimpress.com/alphabet-stones.php
I've also got a novel, Down From, in draft form that I'd like to finish one day. It's about a couple of witches who live in neighbouring villages. They're both artists, mothers and gardeners. The story tackles the ways in which women undermine instead of support each other. Gossip as black magic. Strong stuff.