Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Alexis von Konigslow

Share |

Alexis von Konigslow has degrees in mathematics from Queen's and creative writing from Guelph. Her debut novel, The Capacity for Infinite Happiness, was recently called Arcadia for the connected age. She lives in Toronto.

You can contact Alexis throughout the month of September at writer@openbooktoronto.com

The Lucky Seven Interview, with Alexis von Konigslow

We are thrilled to welcome debut author Alexis von Konigslow as our September 2015 writer-in-residence. Alexis' hotly anticipated first novel, The Capacity for Infinite Happiness (Wolsak & Wynn) combines math, family history and a mysterious lodge (that rates a visit from no less than Harpo Marx). We talk to Alexis today about The Capacity for Infinite Happiness and how her own family history shaped the narrative. She tells us about the book's themes that took her by surprise, how having a toddler affects writing life and her next novel, a radioactive love story. Stay tuned to the site throughout the month of September to hear from Alexis!

Recent Writer In Residence Posts

Writing Through Life Change

I used to think that writing was an all-alone endeavor: I thought that all you need is a laptop and some time. I don’t know why I thought that. It’s not true, it turns out. I’ve had help. This help has been life-changing.

I should explain the context of this post first: in the past few weeks, my son has more than doubled his tooth count, gone through some sort of cognitive leap that’s making him loathe to leave his socks, and our building owners have noisily gutted the apartments next door. I feel like my brain has been torn into sections. So I’m going to write my signoff post in fragments, and hope that readers can follow. I apologize for being weird, but I’m having trouble stringing ideas together.

The musicality of language – an interview with David Arcus

We learn so much from each other, particularly from other artists.

This month, I’ve been thinking a lot about rhythm, and what rhythm does to story. It’s so important, and it’s not a static thing either: it changes as the tension increases, as different people talk, as moods shift and as people change. It’s so hard to nail because it’s such a shifting target. It’s also so apparent when it’s used well. I thought that Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me was a stunning example of the ebb and flow of rhythm. As I was reading it, I kept thinking that I want to be able to do this, this thing that he’s doing that I can’t even properly explain. So I went looking for help.

"You shall go through it all."

I wish that I could say that I’ve spent the month reading and re-reading Virginia Woolf novels, but I haven’t. It’s been a month to make you reel, and I’ve been reeling through it, through work, construction next door, apartment evacuations, teething, so much teething. Instead of reading Virginia Woolf, I’ve been re-reading my favourite kids’ books to get ready for the next stage of bedtime stories with my son. It’s been really nice, really nostalgic, but also kind of sad. These books have been bringing back so many memories. Childhood can be rough at times, and my little guy is still so new - he’ll have to go through it all. I wish I could prepare him. I wish I could prepare myself for watching it all happen to him.

I started by reading The Witches by Roald Dahl.

Welcome to the Non-Literal World

Recently, when I was in the park with my son, he found me a stone (as he often does). He presented it to me. We’re in the finding and naming stuff stage, so I told him, “stone.” He said, “No. Star.” I teared up and blamed allergies (as I often do). His favourite book is How to Catch a Star by Oliver Jeffers. We read it easily twenty times a day. He knew that what he’d found was a stone because we often find and name stones, but he was pretending to be the Boy Who Loved Stars.

I got my M.D. on an internet forum

I have a certain amount of scientific literacy, and I like to puzzle things out; I’m not afraid of new notation or difficult terms. In other words, I’ll wade right into the technical stuff. Usually, this is a good character trait, but it can quickly get out of hand. When I have free access to WebMD and parenting forums and a crying baby in my arms, for example, it can be a distinct problem. The best traits can be ugly. Some of the people on the forums know how to zero in on my insecurities too. Other people can make our best selves ugly. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. Emotions are rough. For a set of things so common and inescapable, they’re hard to think about.

***

A love letter to the TPL and to YA fiction – and an interview with Cameron Ray

If you've been reading along, you'll know I’ve been really interested in literature’s ability to help people to change, and the literature that I always felt changed me most was what I read when I was young. I remember so often putting down a book and thinking that I’d just been changed forever. I love YA lit. I fell in love with it again last winter.

Neuroscience and Literature – An interview with Dr. Marissa Maheu in which I don’t know what I’m talking about

Okay first, I want to say that I try. I do! I will freely admit that I have no idea what I’m talking about here, so this post is a half-formed thing (ha!) in which I’m trying to figure stuff out.

In an earlier post, I wrote about Such Stuff as Dreams by Dr. Keith Oately. I read the book months ago, and I can’t stop thinking about it. Dr. Oatley wrote that readers can sometimes change their personalities when they read literature, particularly literature that they judge to be artistic. He wrote that his results ‘’imply a process in which the artistic component of literature temporarily unfreezes one’s personality system, as its narrative components allow the person to incorporate others’ experience in their own personality system and restabilize it.’’

Storytelling in the sciences: An interview with Dr. Gwen Healey

When I decided that I was going to look into the link between science and storytelling, the first person that I contacted was Dr. Gwen Healey. She’s very connected to her Arctic community, and her community places a high emphasis on storytelling, and she uses all of this in her scientific research.

I’ve known her for a very long time, and I’m very grateful for that. She’s from Baffin Island, close to the farthest North you can get in our northern country, and I only got to meet her because she came to Ontario (which she calls the South) (!) to do her undergrad. We studied physics together. She’s brilliant. She also has an incredible amount of insight into why storytelling matters, even in, especially in, the sciences.

I’ll leave it at that, and include our interview below.

***

Daydreaming During the Sixth Mass Extinction: A Conversation with Chris Szego of Bakka Phoenix Books

The most horrifying things that I’ve been reading lately haven’t been horror fiction, but non-fiction. I’ve been reading about climate change that’s accelerating faster than anticipated, potential earthquakes that could affect millions (including people I love), and instances of mass animal deaths that nobody can explain, among many other upsetting things. I don’t know what’s going on.

I’d prefer to describe my recent past using the genre of horror fiction

The above title probably makes it sound like I’ve been unhappy, but that isn’t at all the case. I’ve been through a major life change, though, and it’s hard to describe what that has felt like. Obviously, I’m trying. It’s a bit cliché, but what can you do.

I hate to keep mentioning my kid here, but he is by far the most interesting thing that’s happened to me in a very long time (read ever). I’ve been starting to write about his birth and how my life changed after. The project has morphed from the genre of memoir, I guess, to horror fiction. I can’t really explain why. I’m into fiction and I like to make things up, but it’s also hard to express the depth of the emotion that was involved.

Don’t Think About it All at Once

Here’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. A friend recently advised me what a friend had advised her: don’t think about it all at once. She was referring to the world after having a baby. She’s just gone back to work, to a job that she hates at the moment, probably because she spends whole days yearning after her child. And she knows that many of her daycare providers have babies in yet another daycare, and so they spend their whole days thinking about their own children. We find ourselves in Paul Murray’s twinned spirals of yearning and desire, each thinking about someone else. We’re none of us closed loops anymore. She’s right. Her friend is right. Don’t think about it all at once.

Literary perturbations: math, rhythm, and the unforgettable sentence

I want to write about perturbations created by literature, how when you’re reading something that connects to you, you can feel shaken, disoriented almost, like everything in the world has suddenly stopped. I’m sitting by myself in the dark right now. My son is sleeping in the next room. I have a stack of my favourite books beside me, and I’m looking up some of my favourite passages, paragraphs that I’ve read and re-read a million times before, whispering parts to myself, and still I feel it. It’s like an earthquake has just hit. Like I’m looking around to ask everyone, “did you feel that? do you feel it too?” even though I’m all alone and reading by laptop light.

A Piece of Fiction is a Piece of Consciousness– a conversation with Dr. Keith Oately

This summer, I pestered Dr. Keith Oately. He’s a Professor of Cognitive Science at the University of Toronto, and the author of three novels and many works of non-fiction. He’s specialized in, among other things, what he describes as the psychology of emotions and the psychology of fiction, and I wanted to learn more about literature and empathy. I’ve had to write and rewrite this post several times. I wanted to include quotes, but I keep including an entire article and a half of another and most of a book. I have it on good authority that this is too much and that I’m being ridiculous. The material is mind blowing.

A Literary Will

There have been many articles written lately about literature’s power to improve empathy, to lead us to happiness, and there have even been essays that suggest that reading can make us better people. What if we could use literature to transform ourselves like a Mendel plant-splicing experiment, or like a Frankenstein monster? It’s an oversimplification, I know, but it’s a nice thought.

An Interview with Bibliotherapist Susan Elderkin: The Science of Better Living Through Literature

Is it possible to fall in love with a service?

I’ve used books to help me survive every difficult period in my life, and I can always remember the book that got me through. I read Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone when I was studying for my final exams of undergrad. When I was about to teach in a classroom the first time, I read Mr. Pip by Lloyd Jones, and Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris. I brought Anil’s Ghost with me to the hospital when I went into labour. I’ve chosen books to match my situation, to escape, to show possible futures. There have also been times in which I’ve been overwhelmed, tried book after book, read the first pages and put them down again. I remember the relief of finally finding the right one.

Everyone loves differently - loving science from a safe distance

I heard a story about Richard Feynman, the Nobel Prize winning physicist. Or maybe I read it. I can’t remember, and I can’t track it down now, but I love the story a great deal, and I think that it’s an appropriate introduction to my blogging project this month:

When he was young, Richard Feynman wrote a physics paper that was torn apart by his professors. His wife tried to console him. She told him, “Everyone loves differently. You love physics, and so you wrote that paper. Your professors love physics, and they’re doing it by questioning your theories. Maybe they’re doing it very rigorously, but those are just the forms of your devotion.”

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.