BJI: Can you give us some background on Obscure Objects?
CA: I was an ESL teacher for more than a dozen years, a wonderful job for someone beginning to write. You feel you are actually doing something useful, for one thing. Vancouver is full of ESL “colleges”, some of them appalling, scams nearly, others decent places. In either case, they are story troves.
BJI: Has your experience teaching ESL influenced your writing? If so, how?
CA: Not only did it give me a great appreciation for other cultures and a sense of purposefulness during my apprentice years, it compelled me to learn the grammar of my own language. Language is the writer’s tool, just as a paintbrush is a painter’s. Understanding how it works can’t help but lead to a more nuanced craft. I always encourage writing students to get hold of Strunk and White at the very least. Many are unable even to underline the verbs in a passage of their own writing.
BJI: One of the most interesting aspects of Obscure Objects is the fluidity of Renata’s character. Can you give us some insight on that her specifically?
CA: I had a dear friend, a teaching colleague, who died of a brain aneurism at the age of 45. She was not Renata, but a little like her – funny, outspoken, unflappable. So unflappable she once hitchhiked to university with a man who wasn’t wearing any pants, an incident I use in the story. Even though I meant the story as a bit of a tribute to my friend, I was worried that people would think she was Renata and that she had also done the more outlandish thing that Renata does. I also felt in a quandry because I couldn’t get my friend’s permission to use the true incident from her life. The easiest way to deal with these problems was to change Renata’s ethnicity so no one would confuse her with my friend. I tried Italian, but she still seemed too recognizable, so I tried another. Before I knew it, I was writing a metafictional story, my first and likely my last.
BJI: What are the advantages of working with short stories? What are the challenges?
CA: The challenge is they are very, very hard to do well. Novels are easier. The advantage is it doesn’t take as long to come up with a draft to work with. That being said, the longest I ever spent on a writing project was eight years. It was a short story.
BJI: Last question. What excites you most about online/digital storytelling?
CA: I like the accessibility of it. When you publish a story in a literary magazine it is more or less available only to subscribers or in the few outlets that carry such magazines, and then only until the next issue, after which it can be sourced in library stacks by the very, very diligent, but few others. An on-line story is a click away.
stories by Caroline Adderson