I want to thank Jane for answering my questions. You can read more about this poet, story writer, and non-fiction author at her website.
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
I lived in NYC in the mid-70s. I went to see “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide but the Rainbow is Enuf” and walked out writing.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
I often write about topics that others find challenging, like suicide, sex, abortion, battering, cancer. In “The Lost Boy,” which won the 2003 CBC short fiction prize, I wrote the story from the point of view of a girl whose family was interned in the second world war, and whose mother tried to kill her. In “Smiley,”which won the same prize in 2014, my protagonist was trans and seeking to communicate with her difficult mother this gender truth. I am a feminist, and thus, a feminist author.
Did you learn anything from writing a poetry collection that helped you write your fiction collection, or vice versa?
There is a very keen attention to language in poetry that is simply not present in prose. One can counter by saying there are poetic novelists like Michael Ondaatje or Anne Michaels, of course, but for the most part, authors don’t carry concision and poesy into prose, and we don’t carry narrative into poetry.
Do I learn something from doing both? I probably do, but I’m at a loss to tell you what. But writing is like going to the gym. If you lift the weights, you get toned. Very likely some of the poetic muscle helps lift fictional weight, and vice versa.
At what point do you decide something is a poem, a story, or non-fiction? How do you decide?
It’s not a thing I decide in any conscious way; works announce themselves as one or the other, or as non-fiction. They aren’t malleable. Maybe 50-90% of started pieces don’t work out, but I don’t ever rework them in a new genre.
Do you think there is a certain “achievement” a writer must “unlock” before she can call herself a writer?
I have been writing for 35 years and 9 books, so this question is a little far back for me. Maybe with publication? It’s a question every writer has to answer for herself—just don’t let someone pronounce it for you one way or the other.
What is your general attitude toward reviews on places like Goodreads or Amazon? Do you read them? Do you comment on any of the reviews?
Sure, have at it. Nah, I don’t comment on reviews. (Saying that, I realize I did comment on one review up on CBC this spring after I won their fiction contest, but only to say thanks.)