The Chat With Erin Frances Fisher

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TREVOR CORKUM cropped

It’s not every day you come across a collection of short stories with settings as diverse as revolutionary Paris, the moons of Saturn, and the ice roads of the Northwest Territories. But that’s exactly what Erin Frances Fisher offers up in her stellar debut, That Tiny Life.

Canadian Living says, “the stories offer honest and stripped-down snapshots of the human condition.” Author Eliza Robertson calls it “a bold, impressive collection.” This week Erin is our guest on The Chat.

Erin Frances Fisher’s stories have been published internationally in literary journals such as Granta, PRISM International, the Malahat Review, and Little Fiction. She was the winner of the RBC Writers’ Trust of Canada Bronwen Wallace Emerging Writers Award, The Malahat Review’s Open Season Award for Fiction, and PRISM International’s Short Fiction Grand Prize. Erin holds an MFA in Writing from the University of Victoria and teaches piano at the Victoria Conservatory of Music. She is working on her first novel. She lives in Victoria, B.C.

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THE CHAT WITH ERIN FRANCES FISHER

Trevor Corkum: With That Tiny Life, you are officially a debut author. Congrats, Erin. How does it feel to have this first book out into the world?

Erin Frances Fisher: Thanks, Trevor! It feels great. Well, a mix of excitement and anxiety—I’m not sure how to tease those apart anymore. I’m glad the collection is out, and am happy to be working on new projects.

TC: These are stories that span entire worlds—deep space colonies, the brutal desert, falcon farms. The breadth and quirky verve of the stories remind me of collections by writers like Wells Tower and Annie Proulx. Who would you say has influenced you most as a writer? Any particular heroes?

EFF: Some books that have recently amazed me are: Her Body and Other Parties, by Carmen Maria Machado; Fever Dream, by Samanta Schweblin; Letters from Liselotte, translated and edited by Maria Kroll; and How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction, by Beth Shapiro.

Collections I’m about to read (and I’m sure they will influence me) are Things Are Good Now, by Djamila Ibrahim, and The Dark and Other Love Stories, by Deborah Willis.

TC: Imagine you’re shooting off into space on a five-year space voyage to Titan with one of your characters. Who would you want to travel with? What would you talk about?

EFF: Five years in space? One of the golden retrievers.

TC: This is a collection with an impressive amount of research behind it. Each of the details—from ice roads in Northwest Territories, to the temperature of the moons of Saturn—is precise and exact. What piece was the most interesting to research, and which was most challenging?

EFF: They were all interesting—I don’t think I would have finished the stories otherwise—but some topics were easier to find a way into than others. My family spent a few years in Inuvik, NWT, so I have some memories and stories from the north, and my sister is a falconer. Titan and space was the most fun—if you don’t follow the International Space Station on Instagram or Twitter, you should.

The most time-consuming of all the research was revolutionary Paris. Although almost all Paris’s streets and museums are available virtually, the smaller details were difficult. Like when it rains, who would use an umbrella? And then, were umbrellas even invented? (The answer is yes, waxed parasols, and the wealthier merchant class.) I spent most of the summer in the university library reading through the history of harpsichords.

TC: You’ve been honoured with a number of prizes for prominent writing contests, and were awarded the RBC Bronwen Wallace Award (for most promising Canadian writer under 35). What advice do you have for younger or emerging writers hoping to get published for the first time?

EFF: Writing a book, or getting a story published, can be a glacially slow process. Find a way to work writing into your life in a way that will be sustainable for the long term. Support other writers, make time for family, eat well, and get outside.

Writing a book, or getting a story published, can be a glacially slow process. Find a way to work writing into your life in a way that will be sustainable for the long term. Support other writers, make time for family, eat well, and get outside.

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Excerpt from “Winter Road”

I’D BARELY CLOCKED out of my shift bolting roof screens at Diavik Mine when Trista rang.

“Dad highsided the Husqvarna at the ice races and his back is messed,” she said. “Couple of pins and fused vertebrae. He’s okay, but he’s in a wheelchair for now and can’t manage himself. And Jack,” she raised her voice when I tried to interject, “you’re not going to believe this — Mom has dementia. Early-onset. Dad’s been hiding it.”

“Why would he do that?” I sat on my dorm bunk with the phone.

“Why does he do anything?” she said.

I couldn’t get my head around it. Fourteen hours of hydraulics and circulated air in the mine shaft — I wanted sleep. “Didn’t the neighbours notice?”

“Notice? Probably. But most of them have left. Lots of houses boarded up. And Dad was there to care for her. He hides shit from us, not them.” She sounded tired, and I wondered how long she’d been at the parents’ place. “You know Dad,” she went on. “He gets his first pension cheque last month and still thinks he can tear around like a teenager. Says he lost traction on the rear wheel over-steering into a turn, then the studs caught the ice and the torque flipped him headfirst over the handlebars. Bike came after him, ripped right through his parka. Good thing he held his hands up or he’d have stitches down his face not his forearms. Plus the damage to his back.”

I unlaced my boots and stretched my legs and waited for her to continue. She sounded like she was waiting, too. I didn’t know what to say. I had a hard time picturing Dad in such bad shape — and Mom? My mind started to wander, to lope inward to its own hinterlands. The parents still lived where I grew up, a tiny cluster of trailers at the edge of the Beaufort Sea. No roads in or out except in winter, when you drove the frozen Mackenzie River. I remember Mom’s twelve husky-cross runners tugging the titanium sled over the packed snow at the dog races, or to the traplines. Dad revving his Ski-doo or motocross down the Run-What-You-Have ice track the town plowed on the frozen ocean. Dump res in summer and the watery croak of the ravens.

“I can’t do this alone.” Trista broke the silence. “I can’t deal with the two of them and the dogs by myself.”

“How about the neighbours? They’ll take the dogs at least.”

“Didn’t you hear me? It’s not the same. Everyone’s moved south. You haven’t seen how bad she is and how sick the dogs look. No one’s been running them — I honestly don’t think anyone’s fed them.”

“All right,” I said, although it wasn’t possible everyone had gone. And I’d seen the community come together over drilling and poverty and childcare, hell, even to organize the tea-boiling race for jamboree. If there wasn’t family, there was always some gossip or do-good to enlist. Of course Trista could still feel no one was helping, and that people were shirking responsibilities — by people she’d mean me. “Fine. I’m coming.”

I hung up. The snow patted the window in gusts. I wished I’d missed the call, or was asshole enough not to go. It had been years, a real chunk of time, since I’d been to the parents’ place. Parents, neighbours — I didn’t want to deal. I suppose the land, too: the planned retirement of the ice road, and the migration south coupled with the melt and refurbishment of that part of the world — I was sad.
I pushed myself to think about next morning’s shift — the blast of the heated air in the mineshafts and the chug of the water-pumps. But I was only trying to think about work, and memories cracked open like the ice late spring — one frozen sheet then boom, fragments on open water.

Excerpted from pgs. 13-16 That Tiny Life copyright ©2018 Erin Frances Fisher. Reproduced by permission of House of Anansi Press Inc., Toronto. www.houseofanansi.com

March 26, 2018
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