Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Lucky Seven Interview, with Cherie Dimaline

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Cherie Dimaline (photo credit Robin Sutherland)

Last March, at Cherie Dimaline's debut appearance as writer-in-residence for the Toronto Public Library, her forthcoming collection of short fiction was announced. A Gentle Habit (Kegedonce Press) is inspired by a quotation from Charles Bukowski, who said, "In between the punctuating agonies, life is such a gentle habit." Six new short stories focus on addiction and the quest for normalcy in an abnormal world.

Today we're speaking to Cherie as part of our Lucky Seven series. She tells us about one book growing out of another, writing as its own addiction and the great books that have taken her around the world.

Open Book:

Tell us about your new book, A Gentle Habit.

Cherie Dimaline:

A Gentle Habit is one of those odd parasitic kind of works that grow on the side of another work in progress. The stories started developing while I was finishing work on my last novel, The Girl Who Grew a Galaxy. I think they were my brain’s reaction to being forced to concentrate and get a book done. That being said, it’s a collection of short stories that are very diverse but also, have the same underlying belief in the need for escape.

OB:

Is there a question that is central to your book, thematically? And if so, did you know the question when you started writing or did it emerge from the writing process?

CD:

Out of the process I came to recognize that these stories spoke about addiction in numerous facets. It was kind of a surprise to find the same desperate bone-grinding need for something or other in each of these very different stories.

OB:

Did the book change significantly from when you first starting working on it to the final version? How long did the project take from start to finish?

CD:

A Gentle Habit, unlike my other two published books, didn’t change significantly from the outset. Of course, the works were rewritten a couple times and the order was altered more than once, but overall the pieces remained true to their stubborn selves from the beginning. This collection took about a year, with a few months of being ignored thrown in there sporadically.

OB:

What do you need in order to write — in terms of space, food, rituals, writing instruments?

CD:

In an ideal (read: imaginary) world, I require a quiet room, to adopt my children out, to have arts councils deliver rent-paying grants without having to submit the applications and a personal assistant. In reality, I’ve come to learn that writing is a bitch of an addiction, and all I really require is to be awake, have a pen and a false sense of hope.

OB:

What do you do if you're feeling discouraged during the writing process? Do you have a method of coping with the difficult points in your projects?

CD:

Vodka is a great coping tool. Other than that, I read. I read my favourites; Francine Prose, Charles Bukowksi, Anais Nin, William Burroughs, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Maria Campbell and Lee Maracle. I read them and I try to remember what its all about in the end; the story that must be told, that refuses to lay quiet, that tears the night to shreds with images and words that links arms and block your path to sleep.

OB:

What defines a great book, in your opinion? Tell us about one or two books you consider to be truly great books.

CD:

What makes a book great is highly subjective, but there are those answers that you hear again and again because they are largely universal truths; that you are miserable when it ends, that you live with the characters even after the story is over, that you are changed. For me, a great book is one that makes me seethe and twist with jealousy because I didn’t write it. A great book fills the neighbourhoods it depicts with colour and voice and makes me want to travel there. I went to Paris because of Nin and Hemingway. I went to New Orleans because of Capote and Bukowski.

OB:

What are you working on now?

CD:

Right now I am finishing a young adult manuscript set in the near future and a book about a girl who lives in a cemetery. In my spare time I’m coordinating the next Indigenous Writers Gathering and continuing a partnership between the Mardi Gras Indians of New Orleans and a group of powwow dancers from Ontario. Life is pretty f*cking amazing.


Cherie Dimaline is an author and editor from the Georgian Bay Métis community. Her first book, Red Rooms won Fiction Book of the Year from the Anskohk Aboriginal Book Awards. Her novel, The Girl Who Grew a Galaxy, was shortlisted for the 2014 Burt Award. Cherie has edited numerous publications including Spirit, FNH and Muskrat magazines. Her fiction has been anthologized internationally. Cherie was named the 2014 Emerging Artist of the Year — Ontario Premier's Award, and was named the first Writer in Residence — Aboriginal Literature for the Toronto Public Library. Cherie currently lives in Toronto, Ontario, where she coordinates the annual Indigenous Writers' Gathering and is at work on her next book.

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