Author Interview Series: An interview with untethered 3.2 contributor, Ellie Sawatzky

Check out the first instalment of our new author interview series!

Interview by Matthew Walsh


untethered recently published Ellie Sawatzky’s story “Retreat” in their current Spring 2017 issue. Sawatzky, a graduate of the University of British Columbia’s MFA program for creative writing, has had work published in numerous places, including Room, SAD Mag, The Puritan, Prairie Fire, and Arc. I got to sit down and talk to her about her new work, her characters, and where her stories come from.

In the opening paragraph of your story, readers are introduced to Nora, the main character. She admires persistence, and likes succulent plants because she can leave them. She’s a great, well-rounded character with a lot of insight in some ways, not in others. How did you come up with this character, and is she based on anyone you know?

I went through a few stages with Nora as a character. This story first came into the world as a narrative poem I wrote called “The House Where My Mother and I Began” and it was a mostly fictionalized conception story. So before Nora was Nora she was this mother figure in my (“my”) conception story. But I actually think there’s a lot of me in Nora, in the way she thinks and processes, and especially her guilty conscience. Usually my characters are based on people I know, or they’re collaged together with bits and pieces of people in my life. Nora’s a collage.

The details of the driving route Nora takes is very vivid and real, as she drives through rural British Columbia. Is this a drive you have done yourself?

I haven’t done the drive as an adult, but my parents lived in northern British Columbia (in Houston, where the story takes place) until I was four, and we went back to visit when I was eleven or twelve. The house and property in the story are inspired by the house I lived in until I was four. Many of the details — such as the garden, the garage, and the outhouse from Nora’s parents’ wedding — come from my own memories of my first home. Nora’s memory of the baby mice comes from one of my own experiences as well. My dad actually gave me a nest of baby mice to play with when I was three or four years old. I think it scarred me a little.

Nora moves between her memories and her reality in this story, and there’s a lot of detail in this story. Are there any memories or moments you cut out, either because it didn’t ring true to Nora’s character, or because you felt it belonged in another story, or part of another project?

So as I said, this story was originally a poem, and when I first wrote it as a short story, I maintained the framing of it as a conception story. So the story unfolded from the perspective of Nora’s future daughter, imagining the events leading up to the moment she was conceived. I was inspired by the Alice Munro story “My Mother’s Dream”. I still like that framing of the story, and I think there’s still an echo of it in this version, but I cut it because I felt I should allow the story to unfold from Nora’s perspective.

Having read a few of your poems and stories at UBC, I noticed that horses and animals show up in your work a lot. Are horses something you grew up around in Ontario?

There were actually horses in the neighbours’ yard in the house we lived in in BC, and I loved them. I always wished I lived on a farm. After we moved to Ontario we had some neighbours who kept goats, and I milked their goats for them when they went away.

I love how art figures into this story, down to the last scene and moment. There is a mention of painters Kandinsky and Pollock, and one character who “smears paint around trying to make sense of the mess.” Nora is sort of doing something similar, trying to put her memories together, and pulling things apart. Is there some relation between this story, and the messy, pulled-together feeling that abstract paintings sometimes have?

Definitely. I intended for Dale’s abstract paintings to function as a metaphor for the messiness of our lives, and the stories of our lives. I think those two things are very different — our lives vs. the different versions of stories we tell ourselves about our lives. How we interpret our lives. And this starts to get especially messy when you factor in other people’s interpretations of your life. For example, Nora’s version of things vs. her brother Jack’s version of things. Nora and Dale are on the same journey, in that they’re both trying to make sense of their messy lives, and they are both working through this on a surface level — Dale by smearing paint around, and Nora by cleaning all the junk out of her childhood home.

Nora “had once read that birthmarks were caused by unsatisfied wishes of the mother during pregnancy.” Was that something you heard growing up, or something you came across in a book, or the internet?

I can’t actually remember where I read that. I think I may have just been googling random things (as I do) and came across it on Wikipedia or something like that.

There are a lot of details that tell readers something about the characters and environment in this story. Is that how a story comes to you, through these little details, or is it based on a personal moment, something you read in the newspaper?

It’s usually a landscape that comes to me first, and with that come the little details of that landscape, the trees, plants, roads, houses. Then I can start to build the narrative, once I’ve imagined that place.

Is this story part of a larger project, a series of stories or a manuscript?

Yes. This story is from my short story manuscript, The Study of Hidden Animals.


If you’d like to read Ellie’s story, “Retreat”, you can order a copy of untethered 3.2 here.

Issue 3.2 Saskatoon Launch Photos!

Thanks so much to everyone who came to our FIRST ever Saskatoon launch party! Thank you to all of our exceptional readers, from our new issue as well as almost every other issue, and to our amazing performers, Goose Lake (did you know they have a bandcamp site where you can buy their music on the internet — check it out!). Thanks as well to Amigos for hosting us, to our awesome untethered table volunteer, Simon Bohm, and to Shannon McConnell for taking some great photos! Let’s do it again, yeah?

If you missed the chance to buy a copy of the new issue, or any of our back issues, no worries — you can still do so on our website!

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Danica Lorer reading poems from our new issue, as well as others from the same series!

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Lindsay Kiesman reads poems from our new issue — and some new work!

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Credence McFadzean drove up from Regina to read from his personal essay, “Taking the Greyhound from Regina, SK to Revelstoke, BC.”

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Co-editor of untethered, Nicole Haldoupis, introducing the amazing Dave Margoshes.

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Dave Margoshes reads poems from issue 3.1 and a brand new poem (that he wrote the night before the launch and still managed to blow us away)!

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Shannon McConnell reads work from issue 3.1 as well as probably the most entertaining tinder poem you’ve ever heard.

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Rachel Laverdiere reading for the FIRST time ever, from her story in issue 2.2 of untethered!

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Meaghan Hackinen (did you know she just biked across the continent?!) reading us some sweet nonfiction from issue 2.1 and talking about her experiences on bike! 

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Sara-Jane Keith (Gloutnez), our first and only first place poetry contest winner so far, whose winning poem was published in issue 2.1 and who we were so excited to finally have on our stage, doing an eco-friendly reading of an excerpt from her novel — part of which is published in issue 3.1 of untethered!

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dee Hobsbawn-Smith reading some new poetry, as well as excerpts from her essay, “Floodplain” in issue 1.2 of untethered! 

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Goose Lake, made up of Ashton Klassen and Courtney Loberg (a contributor to issue 2.2 of untethered — buy her graphic novel!), treating us to some moody pop tunes after the readings.

Saskatoon Launch Party for Issue 3.2

Hey Saskatoon! We’re having a second launch party for issue 3.2 in your fine city and we want you to join us! We’ll be featuring Saskatchewan contributors from our new issue, as well as past issues.

Where: Amigos Cantina in the back room (806 Dufferin Avenue, near Broadway and Main)

When: Thursday, July 6th at 7pm

What to expect: 

  • readings by Saskatchewan contributors from a variety of issues, including Meaghan Hackinen (issue 2.1), dee Hobsbawn-Smith (issue 1.2), Lindsay Kiesman (issue 3.2), Sara-Jane Keith (Gloutnez) (issues 2.1 and 3.1), Rachel Laverdiere (issue 2.2), Danica Lorer (issue 3.2), Dave Margoshes (issue 3.1), Shannon McConnell (issue 3.1), and Credence McFadzean (issue 3.2)
  • performance by Goose Lake, an electronic folk pop duo that includes a contributor to untethered issue 2.2, Courtney Loberg
  • cash bar (and the amazing food of Amigos)
  • copies of our NEW issue at a special launch price of $10, AND copies of our back issues for $5

Reader Profiles

Meaghan Hackinen

Meaghan Hackinen is a Vancouver-born bicycle enthusiast, roller skater, and adventure seeker. Meaghan graduated from the University of Saskatchewan’s MFA in Writing program in the fall of 2016. Her thesis South Away: The Pacific Coast on Two Wheels and other non-fiction work explores relationships, experiences on the road, and encounters with wild places. Meaghan’s work has appeared in Cargo Literary, The Fieldstone Review, One Throne, untethered, and the Tonight It’s Poetry anthology, Poetry All Over the Floor. Her essay “Where the Tide Rushes Between” was a 2016 National Magazine Awards finalist.

dee Hobsbawn-Smith

dee Hobsbawn-Smith’s poetry, essays, fiction and journalism has appeared in newspapers, websites, magazines, anthologies and literary journals in Canada, the USA and Scotland, including Grain, Gastronomica: The Journal of Culture and Food, The Malahat Review, Prairie Fire, The Antigonish Review, Vallum, CV2, FreeFall, and others. In 2015-16, she served as the Saskatoon Public Library’s 35th Writer in Residence. A retired chef, ex-restaurateur and former newspaper columnist, she lives west of Saskatoon and earned her MFA in writing at the University of Saskatchewan. She has published seven books. Foodshed: An Edible Albert Alphabet (Touchwood, 2012) won three international awards for its unflinching examination of the politics and challenges of small-scale sustainable food production. Her first collection of poetry, Wildness Rushing In (Hagios, 2014) was a finalist for Book of the Year and Best Poetry Collection at the Saskatchewan Book Awards. It was followed by her first short fiction collection, What Can’t Be Undone (Thistledown, 2015). Most recently, she has completed a new poetry manuscript, and is nearly done working on her debut novel. Last year, she contributed to the SK poetry anthology, Line Dance (Burton Books, 2016), edited by Gerald Hill, and was part of a contingent of Canadian poets who read at The Bowery Poetry Club in New York City. Visit her online at www.deehobsbawnsmith.com

Lindsay Kiesman

Lindsay Kiesman is a writer from the prairies. She is currently completing an MFA at the University of Saskatchewan. Though she primarily explores science and speculative fiction, she enjoys stretching her creative imagination in other genres.

Sara-Jane Kieth

Sara-Jane Keith (Gloutnez) is a graduate of the MFA in writing at U of S where she is currently completing an MA in English (cultural studies). She was the co-founder of The River Volta Reading Series and co-editor of Between the Lines (Vol. 3), an anthology of hockey poetry. She is currently editing her first novel, writing articles, and finishing a thesis (about Donald Trump). Among publishing credits with (parenthetical), The Quilliad, and untethered, her poem “Jared and Luann pt. 2” was selected by George Elliott Clarke as the winner of untethered‘s 2015 poetry competition. A graduate of York University (English, writing), she resides in Saskatoon with her husband and two cats. You can sometimes find her on stage performing improv and stand-up.

Rachel Laverdiere

Rachel Laverdiere writes and teaches in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Her prose and poetry has been published in over a dozen North Amerian literary journals, including Gravel, FreeFall, filling Station, Dime Show Review, and The Oleander Review. You can follow her on Twitter @r_laverdiere or learn more at www.rachellaverdiere.com.

Danica Lorer

Danica Lorer’s name sits in the word explorer. She has always lived in Saskatchewan where she finds curiosities in fields, forests, riverbanks, cities, small towns, and libraries. Over the past eighteen years as a professional storyteller, Danica’s favourite listeners and workshop participants have been 0-103 years old.

Dave Margoshes

Saskatoon-area writer Dave Margoshes has published five poetry collections. The most recent, Dimensions of an Orchard, won the 2010 Saskatchewan Book Awards Poetry Prize. His short fiction has appeared six times in the Best Canadian Stories volumes and he’s been a finalist for the Journey Prize. His Bix’s Trumpet and Other Stories was Book of the Year in the 2007 Saskatchewan Book Awards and was a ReLit Award finalist. His collection of linked short stories, A Book of Great Worth, was named one of Amazon.ca’s Top Hundred Books of 2012. A new poetry collection will be published next spring by Coteau Books.

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Shannon McConnell is a writer, teacher and musician from Vancouver, British Columbia. She is currently completing her MFA in writing at the University of Saskatchewan. Shannon’s fiction and poetry has appeared in The Society, Tonight It’s PoetryPoetry All Over The Floor anthology, The Fieldstone Review, The Louden Singletree, untethered, and The Rat’s Ass Review.

Credence McFadzean

Credence McFadzean is a Saskatchewan-based fiction writer and poet with an MA in creative writing. His work has appeared in Matrix and Road Maps & Life Rafts, and he is pleased to have a new personal essay in the latest untethered. Credence will be teaching English at Luther College (U of R) in Fall 2017.

 

Band Profile

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Goose Lake is a moody pop band made up of Ashton Klassen and Courtney Loberg. They started playing together eight years ago in Northern Alberta.

Issue 3.2 Launch Photos!

We are so thankful to all the folks who came out to the Supermarket in Kensington to celebrate the launch of the sixth issue of untethered! We could not have been more impressed by the performances from our featured readers and the massive turnout (we had to set up more chairs during the break because it was so jam packed)! It was one of the nicest days we’d had in Toronto this spring so far and we PACKED the back room! We had an amazing night and we hope you did too. Big thanks again to everyone who read and came out to support the magazine and hear our talented contributors.

We had record number of raffle ticket sales, and everyone we saw leaving was clutching our new beloved issue, so THANK YOU for your incredible ongoing support!

If you missed your chance to buy a copy at the launch, you can do so on our website here!

A night before the launch, we realized that four of six of the evenings readers have graced untethered’s pages and launch stages in the past few years and we’re so happy they wanted to partake in another.

Unfortunately co-editor, Nicole Haldoupis, couldn’t make it to the city this time, and her presence was deeply missed (but she was able to catch the readers via video chat!). A huge shout out to untethered’s Fairy Gawdmother, Lesley Kenny, who helped co-editor Stephanie McKechnie host the night!

We owe a huge thank you to Andrew Jehan, our amazing photographer for the evening. We hope you enjoy these stunning pictures!

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The new issues were on sale for a special $10 launch price!

We are now officially sold out of both issue 1.1 and 1.2 and only have a handful of  2.1 and 2.2, so if you’ve been longing to complete your untethered collection, you’d better order your back issues soon!

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Co-editor and co-host, Stephanie McKechnie, welcoming everyone and introducing the first reader.

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Our first reader, sarah duignan, reading an amazing poem about motherhood.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Lesley Kenny, untethered‘s fairy gawdmother and co-host of the evening, introducing Christine Ottoni.

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Christine Ottoni reading from her piece “Ghost Letting.”

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The audience listening to some phenomenal prose.

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Engrossed in the readings.

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Hedieh Mehdi Zadeh Kashani reading a brilliant translated poem.

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Pulling some raffle tickets before the break!

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The amazing crowd having fun during the break.

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Reader, André Babyn chatting with friend of untethered, Kimberley Griffiths.

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Great shot of some friends of untethered enjoying the break!

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Reading from the newest issue.

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Perusing a fantastic piece in a back issue.

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Featured reader, Cassidy MacFadzean, chatting up a fan during the break.

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These two heard about the launch online and came! Hope you liked what you heard and we see you again!

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Justin Lauzon, founder of Lexical.ca, telling the crowd about Lexical and the Slant Reading Series (next one June 7th @ Montreal Bar & Grill). — with Justin Lauzon.

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Always a pleasure to mix it up a little bit with amazing reader Rasiqra Revulva and her Cephalopod-inspired poetry.

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Rasiqra Revulva reading her multi-layered piece from the issue “”Miss World” or “The Efficacy of a Rasp.””

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“I’ve seen Rasiqra read, but never had to follow her!” — André Babyn

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André Babyn reading from his short story “Progress.”

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The best crowd we’ve had out to the Supermarket for sure.

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Our last reader of the evening, Cassidy MacFadzean.

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Cassidy MacFadzean reading her poem “Oblivion” from the new issue.

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Justin Lauzon, founder of Lexical.ca, giving a hand to all of our amazing readers.

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Editors, Stephanie McKechnie and Nicole Haldoupis (who was in Saskatoon), celebrating an amazing Toronto launch via video call!

We had so much fun, and were impressed by all of the readers who shared their work, and truly inspired by the feedback we received from the audience. untethered would be nothing without all of you.

Big shout out to all of our helpers throughout the night: Lesley Kenny, raffle ticket pusher and co-host extraordinaire; Joanne and Matthew Haldoupis, untethered table volunteers;  Andrew Jehan, our badass photographer for the evening; and all our friends and family who came out to support us.

THANK YOU!

We hope to see you all at the fall launch of 4.1!

Spring issue launch in one week!

We’re launching our newest issue in one week and we can’t wait for you to see/touch/smell it with us!

Where: Supermarket in Kensington (268 Augusta Ave)

When: Wednesday, May 17th at 7pm

What to expect:
• readings by André Babyn, sarah duignan, Hedieh Mehdi Zadeh Kashani, Cassidy McFadzean, Christine Ottoni, and Rasiqra Revulva.
• raffle prizes from Brick, The Fiddlehead, Words on Pages, Taddle Creek, prints by Robin Richardson of Minola Reviewand more!
• cash bar
• copies of our NEW issue for sale for $10 (launch exclusive deal) AND copies of our back issues for $5

Reader Profiles

Andre Babyn

André Babyn’s work has appeared in Maisonneuve, Bad Nudes, The Fanzine, Hobart, Grain Magazine – the Journal of Eclectic Writing, PANK Magazine, and elsewhere. In 2015 he was the recipient of the Adam Penn Gilders Scholarship in Creative Writing, and in 2010 he won the Norma Epstein Award for Creative Writing. He recently obtained his master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Toronto, and he serves as the fiction editor of The Puritan.

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Sarah Duignan is a Toronto-based writer and PhD candidate at McMaster University in the Department of Anthropology. Her poetry and creative nonfiction have appeared in untethered, Coping Cont’d, The Quilliad, Leaf Garden Press, and blue skies poetry.

Hedieh

Hedieh Mehdi Zadeh Kashani is originally from Tehran, Iran but moved to Toronto to do a master’s degree in English and diaspora studies. She once won a poetry contest by default on the grounds of being the sole contestant. She wrote about the moon and was presented with a 4GB USB flash drive that she still uses to this day.

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Cassidy McFadzean is the author of Hacker Packer (M&S 2015), winner of two Saskatchewan Book Awards and a finalist for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award. Cassidy recently moved to Toronto where she is at work on a second collection.

Christine

Christine Ottoni is a writer based in Toronto. She graduated from the University of Toronto with a bachelor of arts degree in English and philosophy and then went on to study at the Humber School for Writers. She was short-listed for PEN Canada’s nomination for the 2016 PEN International New Voices Award.

Rasiqra Revulva

Rasiqra Revulva is a Toronto-based writer, multi-media artist, editor, musician, performer, and Databat. In 2016, she began an Emerging Writers Mentorship through Diaspora Dialogues, which she is currently completing. Her debut chapbook Cephalopography was published by Words on Pages in October 2016. Find out more at @rasiqra_revulva, andwww.rasiqrarevulva.com.