Six questions with Anthony Armstrong

Tony Armstrong

Photo by Jana Armstrong (used with permission)

Find out more about Tony by visiting his web site: www.anthonyarmstrong.ca

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I first met Tony through our mutual friend, Kim Fahner.  He’d been one of her teachers, and she credited Tony for setting her on the writer’s path.

Tony is an award-winning author of short stories, a published poet, spoken word performer, and photographer.  I may have missed a few things in there.  This man does a lot of creative work, all of it excellent.

Now he’s published his first horror novel Penage.

Welcome, Tony!

WG: When did you first start writing, and when did you know that you were a writer?

AA: I realized the power of words when I was a boy and my father would tell us marvellous fantasy adventure stories at bedtime. In elementary school, I could amuse people with silly verse. My grade seven teacher read a poem I wrote and called me a communist. In high school I began writing for personal solace and satisfaction. But it was not until I was about twenty that I wrote anything that contained a poetic perception.

WG: You work in different genres and forms. How is each different, and what do you like best about each?

AA: Poems and short stories exist as completed entities before I record them. They seem to be whole when I bump into them, but I will do some mental editing before writing them down. The novel Penage was different in the sense that it was in progress for a long time, but it did seem to have its own existence. It flowed out of itself. Things I wrote down one night had a significance that became clear to me nights later as the story revealed itself.

WG: You were a teacher for many years.  How has that part of your career played into your writing, or was it the other way around?

AA: Sometimes my enthusiasm for literature was evident when I was in the classroom, but schools are the antithesis of a creative environment. Teachers and students are carried along by institutional inertia.

WG: When and how did the idea for Penage first strike you and how long did it take to bring your project to fruition?

AA: Judy and I have a small piece of land on the shore of Lake Penage. It was given to us by Judy’s parents. My father-in-law told me about a plane crash near our camp. He also told me about retrieving a frustrated fisherman’s lost gear. I was disappointed when electricity came to our area of the lake. All these events and a what if perspective blended together in my mind without much effort from me, and a horror novel was born. I wrote the story at camp over twenty years ago. During June and half of July, I would write for two or three hours beneath a propane light after everyone else went to bed. In the morning I would read the results to Judy. In July, my brother-in-law, who also had a camp on Lake Penage, died suddenly. I was staggered by his passing and can’t remember exactly when I got back to writing the story. Some time later, I did get back to my routine and finished Penage. It was not until this year that the original work got a serious editing by Ignatius Fay and me. The ebook is the final product.

WG: I’m a big process geek.  Would you mind sharing something about your process as a writer?

AA: I am not a process geek. I am even reluctant to emphasize the role of the writer. I feel more like a recording secretary. I bump into ideas and record them. I think this is especially true of my poetry. I perceive something and write it down. I am not responsible for what I perceive any more than I am responsible for what I hear or smell.

WG: What’s coming up next for you?

AA: A print version of Penage is in the works. I am toying with the idea of a short story collection. When I bump into poetic perceptions of godless spirituality (I hate the word spirituality), I record them. I may look for an opportunity to present them publicly in the future.

Thanks for this opportunity.

Thanks for a great interview, Tony.  Best wishes for your future creative endeavours.

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Penage is the story of Madison Green, a man with a violent, possessive personality. His distrust of others leads to his having too many x-rays. He pilots a plane that is struck by lightning—twice. The lightning and the overdose of radiation transform him into a physical and psychological beast. The plane crashes into Lake Penage, and the beast lives secretly in its waters for many years. The remains of the plane are his prized possessions, and when they are disturbed and displaced, unwanted contact with human beings becomes inevitable.

As the beast searches for its possessions, its anger increases. It secretes an ooze that

Penage Cover

Photo by Anthony Armstrong (used with permission) Graphics by Ignatius Fay

protects what is his but destroys almost anything else it makes contact with. As the beast reacquires his possessions he comes to see himself as master of the lake; he comes to think of himself as Penage.

Even some of those who encounter the beast doubt its existence, and any public suggestion of its presence brings ridicule. A drunk, a school teacher, a widow, a marina owner, and a truck driver are forced to deal with the beast. Facing the beast means facing danger, terror, and death.

Penage is available at Kobo, the itunes bookstore, Smashwords, the Sony ebook store, and most major ebook sellers. Smashwords will have the lowest price:  https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/318759

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Our Lakes Shall Set Us Free – November 6, 2012

A chilly night for a poetry anthology launch, but as several of my Sudbury Writers’ Guild friends were featured in its pages, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to blog the event 🙂

A very well-attended event, as it turned out.  Parking was at a premium at the Living with Lakes Centre of Laurentian University.  With the poetry of 26 of the Northeast’s best and brightest featured, 15 of them reading that night, and with family and friends in tow, the lobby was filled to capacity.

Editor of the anthology, Roger Nash, started off the evening in lieu of publisher Laurence Steven, who was unfortunately ill.  Roger spoke of the anthology’s inception, the contest that generated its content, and how he was able to encourage Margaret Atwood (not having read her Web site and not knowing that she didn’t do such things) to write an introduction for the collection.

The Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences spoke to the interdisciplinary evolution of Laurentian’s programs: students in the sciences may minor in social sciences or humanities, and vice versa.  The Director of the Living with Lakes Centre then offered a few words about his support for the anthology and how the centre is invested in the local arts community.

Then the poets in attendance were invited to come up and read.

Tom Leduc, the contest winner, read his poem “My Northern Lake.”

Mandy Steele, the youngest poet in the anthology, asked her father to read her poem, “White Water.”

Kim Fahner read “Tai Chi on Ramsey,” a poem inspired by fellow writer Rick DeMeulles.

Irene Golas, fellow SWG member, read not only her haiku sequence, “Weekend at a Northern Lake,” but also returned later in the evening to read the tanka sequence of her Breccia collaborator, Ignatius Fay.

Dillon Daveikis recited her poem, “A Lake’s Journey,” from memory.

Rebecca Salazar read “First Alchemy”; Danielle Pitman, “The Dive”; and Dr. Dieter Buse read his poem, “To Children Under Ninety in a City of Lakes.”

Connie Suite read her poem, “Born to Fish” and 90-year old Greg O’Connor asked his daughter to read his poem, “Gone Fishing.”

Christine Poropat read “Pure Dreams” and Rosemarie Mirfield read “World Under.”

The evening came to a close on two more SWG members, Betty Guenette, reading “Poor Minnow,” and Margot Little reading “Shell-Shocked.”

It was a wonderful night of great poetry in a variety of forms.  The anthology is divided into themed grouping of poems: Our Lakes Shall Set Us Free, Voyaging, Taking the Plunge, Gone Fishin’, The Seasons, and Urban Jungle Lakes.

The first printing of the anthology, priced at a reasonable $12, is already almost sold out.

Get yours while they last 🙂

Breccia: An interview with Ignatius Fay and Irene Golas

Irene Golas discovered the world of haiku when she purchased a slender volume of Japanese nature poetry in a gift shop in Elmvale, Ontario. She was immediately drawn to the brevity and concision of the haiku form. Her first haiku were published in 2005, followed by her first tanka in 2006.

Ignatius Fay is a retired invertebrate paleontologist who began writing haiku and related forms of poetry primarily for his own pleasure and as a means of personal expression. His first published poem appeared in 2008, the same year he published a small book of haiku/senryu, Haiga Moments: pens and lens, with photographs by Ray Belcourt, of Leduc, Alberta. In 2011, he published Points In Between, an anecdotal history of his early years.

Irene and Ignatius have been published in many print and online journals, including Acorn, Eucalypt, Frogpond, and The Heron’s Nest. Irene’s poems have also been chosen for a number of anthologies. Both authors reside in Sudbury, Ontario.

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WG: How long have the two of you been working together?

Irene: I’d known about Ignatius since 2008, but it took me a while to find any contact information. I emailed him in the summer of 2010, asking if he’d be interested in corresponding about the art and craft of haiku. There aren’t many haiku poets in town! At first we talked in general terms about books, haiku and other poetry. Soon we were exchanging haiku books and journals and some of our unpublished work. By the fall of 2011, we had developed a mutual trust and a respect for the other’s judgment. This is when the idea of a collaborative publication first came up.

Ignatius: Irene and I are alike in that we are straightforward when asked an opinion. Our intent is always positive, to help each other become better poets. I don’t think a collaboration would have worked had we not first gone through this process.

WG: Whose idea was Breccia? When did you actually begin work on it?

Ignatius: I suggested we consider doing something jointly. After toying with the idea for a time, we got down to it in January 2012.

Irene: We were ready to prepare the manuscript for publication by the end of July. Since then we’ve spent good chunks of time writing promotional material and otherwise spreading the word about Breccia.

WG: By the way, who came up with the name, Breccia? What is its significance?

Ignatius: Irene suggested the title. She was unfamiliar with the term when she read it in one of my poems. I was referring to the Sudbury Breccia, a rock formation that is part of the Sudbury Basin. Both the basin and the breccia were formed by an asteroid impact about 1.85 billion years ago. The nickel-iron-copper ore bodies of the Sudbury area are all associated with this rock.

A breccia is made up of fragments of preexisting rock that have been re-cemented. By analogy, our collection may be considered a haiku ‘breccia,’ poems from two sources cemented together to form a unique whole.

Irene: When Ignatius sent me his manuscript, there were a few poems about his childhood in Levack. They shone a light on a way of life that was unique. It occurred to me that the Sudbury area should have a larger presence in our book. Sudbury is our home, after all, and has shaped our lives in so many ways. I encouraged Ignatius to write more. He did, expanding his focus to include details of miners’ lives and the changing face of Sudbury. I added several of my own and soon we had a ‘Sudbury Breccia’ section.

WG: This type of collection is rather rare in that it is a collaboration and in the way your poems are intermingled. What made you decide on this format?

Ignatius: Our original intention was to put together a small collection of selected and new haiku and senryu. A poem had to satisfy us both to make the cut. A fair number of poems were edited or rewritten.  We ended up with more good poems than expected. Then we complicated matters by deciding to include tanka and haibun.

Irene: At the same time, we began to discuss layout. We wanted Breccia to be a true collaboration rather than a joint publication with two sections, one for his poems, one for mine. We also wanted something different from the traditional grouping by season, something with a more organic feel. Eventually we decided to integrate our poems, creating several extended sequences in which each poem suggests some relationship to the immediately preceding poem.

WG: Breccia is 208 pages long. That’s a lot of poetry. Did you find the sequencing difficult? How long did it take?

Irene: Sequencing turned out to be the longest part of the process. And the most satisfying. We spent hours trying to get short bits of sequence to feel right, then emailed it to the other. Often the response brought suggested changes. Occasionally, emails passed each other in cyberspace and we found we had very different ideas for the next part of the sequence. This process alone took more than two months.

WG: How did you like the experience of collaboration?

Ignatius: Delightful. We’re a good match. Sure, there was lots of hard work, but we work well together. We share an interest in the English language and a commitment to our art.

Irene is an extremely efficient editor…far better than I. She has such patience and attention to detail. Many of my poems have benefited from her insights. She is straightforward in her criticism, encouraging growth. And she doesn’t hesitate to praise something I’ve written that she likes.

Irene: We both look for honest assessment of our work. We strive for improvement, which includes acknowledging a weakness in our poetry when it is pointed out and being open to editorial suggestions.

WG: Why did you choose to self-publish Breccia?

Irene: We both got the same story when we looked into traditional publishing. Finding a publisher for your first book can be a long, drawn-out process. Then it may take a couple of years for the book to appear. Our biggest concern was getting our work out there. And Ignatius had some experience with the process, which is becoming increasingly popular.

Ignatius: Another problem with using a traditional publisher is the need to travel and do personal appearances to promote the book. My inability to do that lowers our prospects significantly.

WG: This was a strictly do-it-yourself project. Did the two of you also design the cover and do the layout?

Irene: Yes, we did everything. From the beginning, we agreed we wanted this to be 100% our project. But I have to give credit to Ignatius for carrying the weight when it came to the actual layout and other aspects of desktop publishing. He’s been in graphic layout and design for 22 years.

WG: What was the most difficult part of publishing Breccia?

Irene:  Definitely the promotional writing. First we had to distill the essence of what Breccia is about – a slow process. Then we had to present that essence – sell it, really – in a catchy way, often in a hundred words or less. Too often we found ourselves reverting to a dense academic style of writing, or reaching for clichés.

Another challenge was reworking this material into different packages – a flyer, a press release, and at least half a dozen blurbs. To avoid sending out carbon copies, we had to rephrase, augment, emphasize or completely delete things from one piece to the next. A case of “how many ways can you serve hamburger?”

Ignatius: For me, the most difficult part was not being able to work regularly with Irene in person. Face-to-face, so much more can be accomplished in a short time. But my health and Irene’s other obligations were limiting factors.

Thank goodness for email! Much of the work was done through the back and forth of emails. It could be frustrating, waiting for a response or trying to iron out a miscommunication, but it allowed us to proceed. We may never have completed the project without it.

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You can purchase Breccia on Lulu.

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