Welcome Lounges AMA AMA with Saleema Nawaz

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    • Saleema NawazSaleema Nawaz
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      Ask Me Anything

      with Saleema Nawaz

      thin air winnipeg international writers festival international ecrivains logo

      Saleema Nawaz is the author of two novels, most recently, Songs for the End of the World. Her first novel, Bone and Bread, won the Quebec Writers’ Federation Paragraphe Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction and was a finalist for the 2016 Canada Reads competition. She is also the author of the short story collection Mother Superior, and a winner of the Writers’ Trust of Canada / McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize. Born and raised in Ottawa, she currently lives in Montreal.

    • Amber O'ReillyAmber Amber O’Reilly
      Participant
      Post count: 4

      Hi Saleema!
      So happy to get to know your work as part of THIN AIR!

      Do you believe fate/destiny had any part in the intertwining stories of your characters?

      What are the similarities/differences between the character Owen and yourself as a writer?

      Thanks!
      Amber

    • Maureen ArnasonMaureen Arnason
      Participant
      Post count: 4

      Hi Saleema. You spent 6Years writing and researching this novel so the pandemic had to have been something you were thinking about on almost daily basis. Now you are immersed in a relationship pandemic. You must be exhausted! How do you remain upbeat?

    • Saleema NawazSaleema Nawaz
      Moderator
      Post count: 14

      Hi Amber!

      Thanks so much for your questions.

      The first one is tricky! As the orchestrator of their respective fates, it’s hard for me to say yes. Sometimes I think I believe in fate when it comes to real life, but only kind of in a fond way, like I wish I believed it. In the novel, destiny does seem to be working in a clearer way than in real life…probably because I was behind everything!

      As a writer, I imagine Owen and I are somewhat similar, at least in terms of our insecurities. I have always imagined his prose to be a bit more poetic and abstract. As people, I hope we are fairly different!

    • Maureen ArnasonMaureen Arnason
      Participant
      Post count: 4

      Oops! Not relationship pandemic, but real pandemic.

    • Barbara SchottBarbara Schott
      Participant
      Post count: 3

      Hi Saleema,
      Welcome to a virtual Winnipeg. I loved the title of your novel. It reminded me of Olivier Messian’s “Quartet for the End of Time” which he composed while he was a prisoner of war in WW II. I was just wondering if your title “remembers” that
      title?

    • Saleema NawazSaleema Nawaz
      Moderator
      Post count: 14

      Hi Maureen,

      Thanks for your question. Honestly, sometimes it is hard, especially when the people in charge are making decisions that I think are wrong, based on research and thinking about this type of situation for so long. But I do think that human beings are resourceful and (for the most part) basically good, so I have to hold on to that. Also, I try to be kind to myself and recognize that this is an extraordinarily difficult time for everyone.

    • Saleema NawazSaleema Nawaz
      Moderator
      Post count: 14

      Hi Barbara,

      Thanks for your question. Mine doesn’t reference that one intentionally (though that is a very elegant title! and how amazing to have written it as a POW) as I wasn’t specifically aware of it, but when I was Googling my title to see what else was out there, I found that there are a LOT of artistic works with similar titles… It seemed to be the best title I could come up with that worked for the novel, so I decided to just with it nevertheless!

    • Saleema NawazSaleema Nawaz
      Moderator
      Post count: 14

      By the way, sorry that these replies are not threading correctly! When I hit reply, it starts threading but then the page reloads, so…. oh well. 🙂

    • Amber O'ReillyAmber Amber O’Reilly
      Participant
      Post count: 4

      No worries, it’s great to read your thoughts! How did your relationship with the work evolve as time went on? Do you feel any differently about your book now that it is out in the world?

    • Joy RenwickJoy Renwick
      Participant
      Post count: 16

      Saleema, I know you lived in Winnipeg for a bit at the start of your writing career. Do you think this city has imprinted itself on your work in any way?

    • Saleema NawazSaleema Nawaz
      Moderator
      Post count: 14

      Amber, my relationship with the work went through SO many ups and downs over that long time period, which I think is typical of any long artistic project. There were times where I would reread the draft and think “this is pretty good,” and other days where I thought it was terrible. I would say there were more negative feelings towards the middle-end where I became quite discouraged, but at the very end, by the time I was looking at proofs, I actually felt very good about it. Dare I say…even sort proud of it! I haven’t gone back to read it except to do a few readings here and there (e.g. the one I taped for Thin Air), but I have decided to just try to hold on to that last good feeling. I think so much of the writing life is feeling inadequate and like you’re not quite getting it right, so I will try to restrict that negativity to whatever I’m currently struggling with! Ha.

    • Maureen ArnasonMaureen Arnason
      Participant
      Post count: 4

      Hi Saleema: I’m Carol Dahlstrom ( former board member), and I’m here with Maureen. I wonder about your response to her question — could you clarify “people in charge”? And what decisions are they making that you would disagree with given your own research. Thanks

    • Sabir NawazSabir Nawaz
      Participant
      Post count: 3

      Hi,
      Before writing, did you create a “map” of how the characters connected? Also, is the order of the stories the same order in which you wrote them?

    • Bernice FraserBernice Fraser
      Participant
      Post count: 21

      Hi Saleema, what are the perfect conditions for you to write in? Do you have any strategies for “writer’s block” or just when a story doesn’t feel like it’s coming easily?

    • Maureen ArnasonMaureen Arnason
      Participant
      Post count: 4

      Your novel deals with people’s relationships with each other during an incredibly stressful time. Has this current pandemic affected your own relationships in either a positive or a negative way?

    • Amber O'ReillyAmber Amber O’Reilly
      Participant
      Post count: 4

      I completely empathize Saleema, thanks for your honesty! Kudos for sticking it out – as writers we need to celebrate every win, big or small!

    • Saleema NawazSaleema Nawaz
      Moderator
      Post count: 14

      Hi Joy. Thanks for your question. YES. I really think so. Even though I always wanted to be a writer, from the time I was a very small child, I feel like I learned and developed so much as a writer in Winnipeg. I moved there shortly after graduating from my undergrad and was working at a video store and really trying for the first time to *be* a writer and nothing else. I found it very hard and eventually enrolled at U of M where I knew they had a creative thesis option that would force me to write something longer. And I took a creative writing workshop with Dennis Cooley where I learned a lot, and Warren Cariou was my thesis advisor, who also taught me a great deal, and I made some wonderful writing friends. All of those things had a huge impact. And even after I moved away, I continued to visit a lot as I was in a relationship with someone from Winnipeg, so the city really holds a place in my heart. I think any time one lives somewhere it imprints on you, but perhaps especially because of the formative years I lived there as well.

    • Saleema NawazSaleema Nawaz
      Moderator
      Post count: 14

      Hi Carol via Maureen!

      I mean various levels of government. Especially here in Quebec, there has been an incoherent process of “deconfinement” or reopening. They opened bars, allowed gatherings of 250, etc., wouldn’t authorize the use of the Covid Alert App until recently, and even when it was clear a second wave would be triggered, reacted too slowly (in my opinion). They did not prioritize the safety of schools and the (related!) health of the population over the economy and now we are paying for it. I think they should mandate masks in schools, even for the younger grades. Anyway, I could go on and on when it comes to this subject!! It is so incredibly frustrating.

    • Saleema NawazSaleema Nawaz
      Moderator
      Post count: 14

      Hi Sabir! 🙂 Thanks so much for your questions,

      No, I did not create a map. There is an incredible “web of connection” graphic on the inside fly leafs of the print edition, but this is one of the last things created…my editor did a draft, then I proofed it, then I did one, and she proofed it, and then the designer did one based on those, and it went through a lot of proofing from all of us to make sure we had all of the connections right! But coming up with some of the connections was one of the first things I did in creating the novel.

      The order of the chapters is completely mixed up compared to the order in which I wrote them. The oldest chapter is the one with Emma and her family on the boat, the next oldest is Edith’s chapter, I think, and then the flashback chapter of Sarah and her family at the cabin. Those were written as stand-alone stories, initially. The first present-timeline chapter with Sarah (where she is trying to get in touch with Owen) is, I think, the first one I wrote intentionally for this novel, and the second one I wrote was Owen’s first chapter where he is coming up with the idea for the book. A lot of the present timeline Elliot chapters, i.e. the major through-line of the novel, are the last ones I wrote.

    • Sabir NawazSabir Nawaz
      Participant
      Post count: 3

      Hi,
      A book of brief “glimpses” into a set of connected people seems like a ‘hybrid’ of short story writing, like Mother Superior, and a straight forward novel, like Bone & Bread. Between these three styles, do you have a preference in writing? Do you enjoy READING one style over the others?

    • Saleema NawazSaleema Nawaz
      Moderator
      Post count: 14

      Hi Bernice,

      My perfect conditions are a desk in a room with a door that closes, starting earlyish in the morning (just after, or with a breakfast I can bring to my desk, like kefir and coffee) before I have to do anything else, and with a long block of time that allows me to still get work done in spite of procrastination/avoidance/slow-writing/the inevitable email distractions. I should mention that this rarely comes to pass, especially as I have a kid to wake up and get ready for the day! Back in the Before Times, I also used to enjoy writing at a cafe that had good music, nice light, and a lot of other writers working there.

      A good general strategy for writer’s block I’ve found is just to go away from your computer and just read something…anything. Sometimes going to a notebook if you’ve been on the computer or vice versa can also unlock something.

    • Saleema NawazSaleema Nawaz
      Moderator
      Post count: 14

      Hi Maureen,

      Yes, inevitably this pandemic has affected my relationships, though I feel like it still remains to be seen what the impact will be, long-term. One positive impact is that I have tried to be more considerate of isolated family members and I have prioritized more time in reaching out to them (virtually). I feel like I still face some of the same struggles I had before, which is that I am sometimes not as in touch with my friends as I wish I was… self-isolation is probably a default mode for me at times. Only before I would make it a priority to SHOW UP. But now, there are a lot less opportunities for that.

      There have also been some slight conflicts regarding people’s different levels of comfort regarding safety. Some people I know just attribute this to me being a little intense about things because of having written this book! (Whereas I think I am just completely reasonable about what is safe.) I am pretty careful and basically have not been seeing anyone, so on the other side of this, I am sure I will have some relationships that have suffered…

    • Sabir NawazSabir Nawaz
      Participant
      Post count: 3

      Hi,
      What is the next crisis you predict? I need to get my bunker ready 😋

    • Amber O'ReillyAmber Amber O’Reilly
      Participant
      Post count: 4

      Thank you so much Saleema for sharing with all of us, I wish you and your loved ones a happy weekend!

    • Saleema NawazSaleema Nawaz
      Moderator
      Post count: 14

      Hi Sabir,

      The true in-between you describe sounds like an interconnected short story collection, which was how SONGS was originally conceived, though I later decided to make it into a novel…which is partially why the writing and editing process took so long. With just glimpses, as you say, you don’t need to have arcs for every character…you could show a character once and then never again. But for a novel, you want to bring every character on a journey. So in taking an interconnected short story collection and turning it into a novel, I ended up with a huge job of creating arcs for a LOT of characters, more than you would typically have in a novel. So that was challenging, and I do NOT recommend the process, haha.

      That’s a good question re: form. I don’t think I have preference in writing one over the other, though there’s no doubt that the effort-to-reward cycle is a LOT faster with a short story than a novel or even an interconnected collection! I love reading all three forms, though if for some horrible, perverse reason I had to choose between them, I would opt for novel. Just looking back over time, it is definitely novels that have had the most impact on me in my life.

    • Saleema NawazSaleema Nawaz
      Moderator
      Post count: 14

      Sabir: probably climate change. 😐 Choose higher ground!

    • Saleema NawazSaleema Nawaz
      Moderator
      Post count: 14

      Thanks so much, Amber! Thank you everyone for your questions. It was fun answering! Take care and stay safe.

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