Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with Vikki Van Sickle

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Ten Questions with Vikki Van Sickle

Vikki Van Sickle talks to Open Book about her sources of inspiration, her writing nooks, her work in children’s theatre and her first book, launched this September, Words That Start With B (Scholastic).

Open Book:

Tell us about your book, Words That Start With B.

Vikki Van Sickle:

Clarissa Delaney, the self-described “unexceptional daughter of a bona fide beauty queen,” has been looking forward to grade seven ever since she was rescued from the principal’s office by enigmatic grade seven teacher, Miss Ross. Now that summer is ending and grade seven is just around the corner, she decides this year will be different. She’ll be smarter, nicer, more talented; the best possible version of herself. But this proves to be more difficult than she had imagined once September rolls around and all her plans start to unravel. Words That Start With B is the story of how a feisty girl battles a year of surprises, if not with grace, then with a lot of humour.

OB:

This is your first novel. What inspired you to write it?

VVS:

Words That Start With B came out of a series of scenes I had written about a girl named Clarissa, who first appeared in a monologue that began with the line, “Of all the cancers in the word, my mother had to get breast cancer.” I liked the honesty, selfishness and embarrassment in this line, which is still in the book today. As I started exploring Clarissa’s character and writing more scenes, I decided I wanted to do a few things: I wanted to write about a boy-girl friendship that didn’t blossom into a romance, I wanted to include a male character who was more comfortable hanging out with girls than with boys, and I wanted to use a rural setting (I grew up in rural South-Western Ontario). Through the magical alchemy of writing, somehow these elements came together and Words That Start With B is the end result.

OB:

Tell us about your writing process.

VVS:

I start with character or setting and work from there. As a result, I often write a number of scenes and eventually a plot or storyline emerges and I go from there. I don’t like outlines or too much plotting, because I find it makes my writing too formulaic and I miss the element of surprise. Some of my favourite parts of Words That Start With B were totally unplanned and surprising!

OB:

Do you spend much time revising your work?

VVS:

I revise as I write. Sometimes I will write for weeks without looking anything over, and then take a few writing sessions to go back and clean, re-order, or cut as I see fit. I try not to spend too much time agonizing over a line or a scene. If it’s not coming, I move on to the next scene and go back to it later.

OB:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

VVS:

I do most of my writing in two places. In the morning, I like to write in my living room because it has a sunny bay window. In the evening, I write in my room at my desk, lit only by an old banker’s lamp that I’ve had for ages. I’m very superstitious about where I write. I would estimate that 95% of my writing happens in one of these two places.

OB:

You work as a bookseller in a children’s bookstore and are one of the co-founders of Lock and Keynote Productions, where you run theatre day-camps for children. What inspired you to work so closely with children and the arts?

VVS:

I’ve been working with children my entire life. I’ve also always been a writer, in some form or another. At one point, my writing became geared primarily towards children. I think this was a natural progression of my love of kids and how I am ceaselessly amazed by their intelligence, complexity, and struggles. In many ways, my writing comes out of a deep respect for children and the process of childhood and adolescence.

OB:

What Canadian writers inspire you? Why?

VVS:

I first fell in love with Kit Pearson’s books as a young reader, and I love them just as much today. She writes with such emotional authenticity. Janet McNaughton is another one of my favourite Canadian children’s authors. She writes equally well in all genres—historical fiction, fantasy, science fiction, contemporary fiction, you name it! Recently I have fallen in love with Susin Nielsen’s writing, which is fresh, funny, and full of unique characters. With adult fiction, I look for clean prose, beautiful language, and memorable characters. Helen Humphreys, Lisa Moore, and Kathleen Winter are among my favourite Canadian writers of adult fiction.

OB:

What are you reading?

VVS:

I like to read all over the map. At the moment, I am just finishing a quirky novel called The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex, after which I am looking forward to Camilla Gibb’s The Beauty of Humanity Movement, and like the rest of the world, I am eagerly anticipating Suzanne Collin’s Mockingjay.

OB:

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

VVS:

First and foremost, read! People say you are what you eat; I believe writers are what they read. There is no better way to absorb structure, storytelling, and language than by reading widely. Second, write everything down. I keep journals full of all sorts of random information: books I need to read, anecdotes people have told me, words or names that I like, interesting facts or news clippings, etc. You never know what might turn into a great story. Third, find a buddy. Taking a writing class was the best thing I could have done for my career, not only because it introduced me to great books and writing techniques, but it was in this class that I met my writing soul mate. We send each other something every month, no matter what, and encourage and inspire each other to keep on writing.

OB:

Do you have any upcoming projects in mind?

VVS:

I always have a few projects on the backburner. Here a few key words from stories I’ve been noodling around in my brain: badminton, timeslip, FLQ, Perdita, family resort, Elvis. Note: these key words do not describe a singular project, but come from four different projects. Although if they were from the same novel, it would definitely be one that I would want to read...


Vikki VanSickle is kid’s book enthusiast and dramatist who works as a bookseller in a children’s bookstore and holds an M.A. in Children’s Literature from the University of British Columbia. When she isn’t reading, selling and promoting great books to children and their parents, she pursues the theatrical arts. As co-founder of Lock and Keynote Productions she runs two-week long theatre day-camps every summer, which culminate in a full scale production of an original musical. Through this initiative she brings arts programming to underserviced communities in Ontario and Newfoundland, and works with amazing children who have inspired her own efforts as an author! She has previously published work in Chameleon, a journal of writing for children. Words That Start With B, published by Scholastic, is her first novel. Vikki lives in Toronto, ON. Visit her at www.vikkivansickle.wordpress.com.

For more information about Words That Start with B please visit the Scholastic website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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