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Junction Reads

A Prose Reading Series.

Author

Junction Reads

This is a reading series where prose writers present their work. We are dedicated to promoting new work and prose published by Canadian independent publishers.

Our life is March weather…

“Our life is March weather, savage and serene in one hour. We go forth austere, dedicated, believing in the iron links of Destiny, and will not turn on our heel to save our life: but a book, or a bust, or only the sound of a name, shoots a spark through the nerves, and we suddenly believe in will.” ―Ralph Waldo Emerson

March is a month full of promise. Nature is changing. The sun shining through a window might actually mean it’s warm outside. It’s when I start thinking about my summer reading list. Here are two more books you might consider adding to your TBR pile.

March 6 at 5:00pm EST.

Home of the Floating Lily from Silmy Abdullah is “set in both Canada and Bangladesh, the eight stories in Home of the Floating Lily follow the lives of everyday people as they navigate the complexities of migration, displacement, love, friendship, and familial conflict. A young woman moves to Toronto after getting married but soon discovers her husband is not who she believes him to be. A mother reconciles her heartbreak when her sons defy her expectations and choose their own paths in life. A lonely international student returns to Bangladesh and forms an unexpected bond with her domestic helper. A working-class woman, caught between her love for Bangladesh and her determination to raise her daughter in Canada, makes a life-altering decision after a dark secret from the past is revealed. In each of the stories, characters embark on difficult journeys in search of love, dignity, and a sense of belonging.” From Dundurn Press.

Register on Eventbrite. You can win a copy of the book courtesy of Dundurn. PWYC. All proceeds to the author.

March 27 at 5:00pm EST

The Marriage of Rose Camilleri by Robert Hough. “When Rose Camilleri and Scotty Larkin meet, neither expects to spend a lifetime together, navigating a sometimes turbulent marriage and scraping through the process of raising a family. When he first enters the bakery where she works, she is a new arrival from the tiny island nation of Malta, fond of rabbit stew and Hollywood cinema. He is a thoughtful printer’s assistant recently released from juvenile detention after stealing and swiftly totalling a stranger’s car. Even after years of marriage and two children together, Rose struggles to shake the idea that perhaps she should have held out for someone as voluble and optimistic as herself. But while some marriages are weakened by trauma, Rose and Scotty’s union is strengthened by the act of survival, and they find their own kind of happiness along the way.” From Douglas & McIntyre

Register on Eventbrite. You can win a copy of the book courtesy of Douglas & McIntyre. PWYC. All proceeds to the author.


While you’re here, would you consider subscribing to our YouTube Channel? As we start planning our return to in person events, it is important we continue to serve the audience, and authors, in communities outside Toronto. This means we have to master our live-streaming skills. Getting more than 100 subscribers will help us do that.

Interview with Lindsay Zier-Vogel

On February 6, I sat down Lindsay Zier-Vogel to talk about her debut novel, Letters to Amelia. Published by Book*hug Press, it is part epistolary, part historical and all love! We talked about letter-writing, motherhood, and Amelia Earhart. What I felt so deeply in our conversation was love. Lindsay’s passion for letter-writing; her love of history, and her experiences as a mother are all bound up in this gorgeous novel and I hope you will all get a chance to read it.

You can check out the video of our full conversation and reading here.


The novel opens in the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library. You also have your own handbound books there and I urge people to go and see them. Can you talk about your experiences with the TFRBL and how it influenced the writing of Letters to Amelia?

I just love that library! I spent quite a bit of time there while I was doing my Masters and before I knew who the characters were in Letters to Amelia, or what the plot was, I knew I wanted it set there. I’m so grateful to John Shoesmith, the outreach librarian at the Fisher, who took me on tours of the backend of the library (deeeeeep into the sub-basement!) and answered all of my very practical questions about the realities of working in a library.

The letters between Amelia Earhart and Gene Vidal feel so real and authentic I had to look up whether they were in fact fictional. There must have been a lot of research that went into writing these letters. What inspired them? Were there other writers or biographers who were particularly influential?

I looked at a lot of Amelia’s archived and digitized letters that are housed at Purdue University to get a sense of her handwriting and the physicality of the letters. I originally hoped Amelia’s books and many articles would provide an entry into her written voice, but I found them to be quite formal and highly edited, lacking the personal quality I was looking for. Eventually, I found a collection of letters she wrote to her mother from when she was four years old until her disappearance—Letters From Amelia: An Intimate Portrait of Amelia Earhart by Jean L. Backus—and reading these letters unlocked her voice for me.

The heartbeat of the story for me is love, particularly motherlove. Amelia Earhart is this fearless, grounded, big dreamer and Grace is so afraid she won’t be able to raise a fearless dreamer. How did your experience as a mother affect/influence the story?

The story really took shape when I was very pregnant with my second child, and though I had taken many running starts, I began writing the book as it currently exists when she was a newborn. It was so helpful to be just on the other side of pregnancy to be able to write about the experience, something I couldn’t have done when I was deep inside the reality of it with my first child.

“I found a collection of letters (Amelia) wrote to her mother from when she was four years old until her disappearance…reading these letters unlocked her voice for me.”

Lindsay Zier-Vogel

I love when I read a novel and am introduced to characters so vivid, they could have their own novel, or short story: Patrick (a priest for 30 years); Jenna and Eric and their pregnancy dreams; Pat and Mike in Newfoundland. Do you create sketches or profiles for tertiary characters?

Patrick and Pat and Mike came very clearly, very quickly in early drafts, but it took a few passes before I really figured out Jenna and Eric’s stories. My writing group is in love with Patrick and they are petitioning for fan fiction about Patrick. I ended up cutting a lot of Patrick scenes and they’re still in mourning about it.

Grace takes an Internet dive into all the theories/conspiracies behind Amelia’s disappearance. Do you have your own theory? What are your thoughts on this obsession?

I, like Grace, prefer to focus on Amelia’s deep, rich life, rather than focusing on her disappearance. She was such a remarkable human and is so much more than her death. It’s pretty rare that someone truly disappears, which I think it what fuels the obsession with finding out THE TRUTH (all caps!), and I also think the impossibility of ever finding out what happened also fuels that often-obsessive search. My theories vacillate depending on the day. Some days I think she crashed into the ocean, some days I think she and Fred landed on Nikumaroro, though thinking of her agony is often too much for me to bear.

“People often say putting a book out into the world is like birthing a human, but for me it feels more like sending a kid out in the world—it’s so exciting and a little terrifying, but mostly just so wonderful.”

Lindsay Zier-Vogel

Have you written any more letters to Amelia since completing the novel?

I have! One! I wrote it the day the novel came out—on September 7, 2021. I took a picnic and the book to the lake, and sat on the edge of the water, where Amelia fell in love with flying and wrote her another letter.

At the heart of the novel is love and reading Letters to Amelia it’s all I felt. Love and a strong connection to you as its author. How did it feel putting the final touches on LTA and then seeing it in print?

Holding this book in my hands is truly a dream come true. Seeing the words (my words!) in print is surreal and still just so thrilling. As soon as it had a spine, and those beautiful end papers, it stopped being just mine, and now exists out in the world. People often say putting a book out into the world is like birthing a human, but for me it feels more like sending a kid out in the world—it’s so exciting and a little terrifying, but mostly just so wonderful.


Lindsay Zier-Vogel is a Toronto-based writer, arts educator and the creator of the internationally-acclaimed Love Lettering Project. After studying contemporary dance, she received her MA in Creative Writing from the University of Toronto. Her writing has been widely published in Canada and the U.K. Since 2001, she has been teaching creative writing workshops in schools and communities. Her hand-bound books are housed in the permanent collection at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library in Toronto. As the creator of the Love Lettering Project, Lindsay has asked people all over the world to write love letters to their communities and hide them for strangers to find, spreading place-based love. Lindsay also writes children’s books. Because of The Love Lettering Project, CBC Radio has deemed Lindsay a “national treasure.” Letters to Amelia is her first book.

Interview with Ceilidh Michelle

Vagabond: Venice Beach, Slab City and Points In Between

Ceilidh Michelle’s memoir of her experience living on the streets in California is a moving story about poverty, homelessness and community. We sat down on January 23 to chat about her experiences and how they were translated into this beautiful book published by Douglas & McIntyre.


Vagabond takes place over a 3–4-month period. It’s not a long time, and yet we meet so many characters. Are there any people you keep in touch with? Any moments or people that left a strong impression or that you still carry with you?

CM: I think as writers and storytellers you’re always going to carry elements of your experiences with you. I carry everything I’ve ever lived with me all the time and some of that will come out over the years in different incarnations. Because of social media we’re able to have these pseudo connections with people and so I’ve been able to connect with some after all this happened. One of the people in the book reached out to me recently because they saw that I wrote this book. My first reaction was, shit, you’re going to read this, oh and you’re in it by the way. But it’s hard. I live in Canada and most of the people I met live in America and our lives at the time were so transient that even if I wanted to reach out to them, it would be very difficult. For our own safety, many people change their names and so, I wouldn’t know where to start.

How did you record your experiences at the time and how much of Vagabond is memory and how much is from journals or conversations after that time?

CM: I carried a notebook with me everywhere I went and I anything interesting I wrote down. Even to this day, I love writing down interesting dialogue and words that I overhear out of context. I was writing down everything sort of like a travel journal. There were so many weird things I couldn’t not write down and I’m so grateful to my younger self that I had the wherewithal to take notes because now I have this record. I was also traveling with many artistic people. There is one instance where we go on this escapade into Compton. We all had our notebooks and we passed them back and forth, so there were a lot of perspectives I was able to get from other people, which was cool.

We all had our notebooks and we passed them back and forth.”

Ceilidh Michelle

Vagabond is not a linear story. It’s not like a journal with dates and times stamped on each page. This leaves these absences or disconnections in the voice. It feels like a real experience reading.

CM: It’s kind of like now. You’re in these situations of emergency and survival. Days fall off and go past. I find a lot of weird parallels living right now and living then. I don’t really believe in the linearity of time. It doesn’t feel that way sometimes. Your life can transform in the same span of time where a week before, nothing happened.

Poverty is an important part of Vagabond. There is a sense that many cannot escape the cycle of homelessness, hunger, and addiction. At one point in the novel, you say that needing charity was a constant shame. How has that changed for you or how has your perspective changed since living your experiences in Vagabond?

CM: I think back then I felt that there was less of a cost. Homelessness for me was circumstantial and I believed I could bounce back easily. I was twenty and I had no sense of consequence. I bounced from place to place and crashed on people’s couches, and it was fine.  As I get older, I’ve gotten angrier. I had to control myself when I was writing Vagabond to not make it a rant about housing being a human right. I can’t even wrap my mind around the fact that some people in this world believe that other people don’t deserve water or shelter. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve had to marry this sense of defeat with the injustice, like what can we do? I hate the sterility of corporate gentrification and I’m watching cities fall so it’s really and it’s just totally disheartening. But I don’t want to be defeated by that, so I focus on thinking about what I can do, as an individual.

I think you did that beautifully here. Vagabond isn’t political. It’s a genuine sharing of experience and thought. The people you met got to speak for themselves in the issues of homelessness and there were so many diverse experiences and opinions.

CM:  I hope they feel that they got to speak for themselves because so much of their experiences was not my own ideology. There is a lot of like weird ageism with homelessness, like it’s something you’re just expected to outgrow. Like, homelessness is fine for young people, you know to be bohemian, to embrace poverty and this #wanderlust or whatever. I think the elderly are out on the streets and we don’t protect them. I met a real mixed bag of characters down there and they were all on the streets for different reasons.

There are many moments in Vagabond where you were vulnerable to some scary people or situations. In one section, a character says, it’s best to be invisible, being a woman is a dangerous trade. What was the scariest moment for you?

CM: I think the scariest moment for me was when I got home. The ending of the book was also scary. I won’t give it away for those who haven’t read it, but the ending was very sobering for me. To realize that some people would make it and some people wouldn’t and I don’t think that any of it really caught up with me until later. I think I was quite foolish, but I was just so young that when I was out on the street it never really occurred to me to feel fear necessarily. There was one night when I was sleeping alone, and I had a switchblade with me. A group of men walked past, and I was terrified they were going to spot me. I realized that all of these true crime stories and things that you hear are real stories, they are real women, sisters and daughters who go missing all the time. As a young person I didn’t really know what that meant, but it caught up with me later, like PTSD. I can’t believe I did that.

Are there any experiences or moments you wish you could go back to?

CM: That is a complex question. I don’t know.  Circumstantially, I don’t think I could really go back. I couldn’t do it physically. Looking back, I think maybe I wouldn’t have always tried to find a boy or a man to protect me. I was raised in a very overbearing evangelical environment. You needed to either be subservient to a man or you needed to find a man to protect you so even in this most vulnerable and independent living situation that I found myself in my first motivation was to find a male to protect me. That so often backfires on young women because men are dangerous a lot of the time. You have to be careful around them especially ones that you don’t know. If I could go back – and what I’ve learned from most situations – I’d seek out more women. Especially if I’m in a vulnerable situation. I’ve gotten a lot of good mentors that way.  

“The elderly are out on the streets and we don’t protect them. I met a real mixed bag of characters down there and they were all on the streets for different reasons.

Ceilidh Michelle

You embarked on this journey to find a Yogi in California and that doesn’t end up happening. I’m curious if you still practise if it is still an important part of your life.

CM: I do practice yoga, but I find a person’s spiritual journey kind of hard to talk about. I think it’s kind of private but I also I think it’s such a blundering track. Two steps forward, one step back and I think that was really reflected in my experiences in Vagabond. There’s so much subculture built up around spirituality now. It’s expensive and it’s inaccessible and you have to pay a premium or wear the right clothes. I think spirituality functions better when it’s quiet and done in private.

What are your thoughts about the ability of literature and writing to make social change? Do you feel it is still as powerful a tool today than yesterday or less so or do you think that our stories merely exist for our own personal feelings?

CM:  I hope that writing has an impact when it comes to social justice. I know there are a lot of gatekeepers and I know that it’s hard for writers to survive financially. You have to hope writers have the time, which is the ultimate gift. I’m seeing a lot of people getting the ability to speak now in a way that we never have before, especially in Canada. I’m proud of what people are doing in publishing right now. They’re working hard to make sure that there’s justice and equality in publishing. I’m very grateful to everyone in Canada who’s doing that right now. Ultimately, writing should be about your personal feelings. There are so many fictional books I love to just sink into like a warm bath and I’m so grateful for the escapism so please more fantasy and fiction and all kinds of stuff.


Ceilidh Michelle is the author of the novel ButterfliesZebrasMoonbeams, which was shortlisted for the Hugh MacLennan Award for Fiction. Michelle has had work published in EntropyLongreadsThe Void, Broken Pencil, Matrix Magazine, McGill University’s Scrivener Creative Review, Cactus Press and Lantern Magazine. Ceilidh holds an MSc in Creative Writing from the University of Edinburgh and a BA in Creative Writing from Concordia. Ceilidh calls Montreal, QC, home. You can find her on Instagram @ceilidh_michelle.

February is for flying!

We’re at the worst of winter. Shorter days, mean longer nights, it’s cold where I am, and it’s about to get colder. Every morning, when I see the sun shining through the window, I imagine, maybe it’s not that cold. I dream of warm spring rain falling and carrying it away. When I flick on the stove, I think about sitting by a roaring fire in a big cottage somewhere. I go online and search beach vacation and I just look at the stock photos of people running in the sand, frolicking in the water.

What is her point, you might be asking? Well, my point is that winter is for dreaming. Winter is for sitting in your favourite chair and imaging another world. I’ve said it before (maybe even in my last post), winter is for reading! And because winter is for flying and traveling around the world, we’ve got two PERFECT books to talk about this month.


Join us on February 6 when we welcome Lindsay Zier Vogel with her epistolary novel, LETTERS TO AMELIA from Book*hug Press. Register through our EventBrite page. PWYC. Tickets are $0-$20. All proceeds go to the author.

“Grace Porter is reeling from grief after her partner of seven years unexpectedly leaves. Amidst her heartache, the 30-year-old library tech is tasked with reading newly discovered letters that Amelia Earhart wrote to her lover, Gene Vidal. She becomes captivated by the famous pilot who disappeared in 1937. Letter by letter, she understands more about the aviation hero while piecing her own life back together. When Grace discovers she is pregnant, her life becomes more intertwined with the mysterious pilot and Grace begins to write her own letters to Amelia. While navigating her third trimester, amidst new conspiracy theories about Amelia’s disappearance, the search for her remains, and the impending publication of her private letters, Grace goes on a pilgrimage of her own.”


On February 20, we welcome Cheuk Kwan with his collection of essays, HAVE YOU EATEN YET? In this collection, Kwan takes us on his documented journey to Chinese restaurants around the world. Published by Douglas & McIntyre. Register at EventBrite. PWYC. Tickets are $0-$20. All proceeds go to the author.

“From Haifa, Israel, to Cape Town, South Africa, Chinese entrepreneurs and restaurateurs have brought delicious Chinese food across the globe. Unravelling a complex history of cultural migration and world politics, Cheuk Kwan narrates a fascinating story of culture and place, ultimately revealing how an excellent meal always tells an even better story. Dotting even the most remote landscapes, family-run Chinese restaurants are global icons of immigration, community and delicious food. The cultural outposts of far-flung settlers, bringers of dim sum, Peking duck and creative culinary hybrids like the Madagascar classic soupe chinoise, Chinese restaurants are a microcosm of greater social forces—an insight into time, history and place. From Africa to South America, the Jade Gardens and Golden Dragons reveal an intricate tangle of social schisms and political movements, offering insight into global changes and diasporic histories, as the world has moved into the 21st century.”

Happy New Year and Happy Reading!

As we start a new year, you may have your to-be-read list in front of you and you might be thinking about all the books you want and need to add to that list. Have you set yourself a challenge? Will you read 50 books this year? Will you read over 200? Or, like, me, do you set a time per day or week that you dedicate to reading?

However, you choose the words you’ll read, Junction Reads is a source for recommended books. There are short story collections, memoirs, novels, personal essays and not only do we have a vault of past readers (with videos and interviews) to choose from, we have upcoming authors with newly, or yet to be, released books that you will definitely want to add to your TBR list.

On January 9, we kick off the new year with Nic Brewer and her powerful debut novel, SUTURE. It is innovative story-telling with provocative prose and great characters. From Book*hug Press: “Suture shares three interweaving stories of artists tearing themselves open to make art. Each artist baffles their family, or harms their loved ones, with their necessary sacrifices. Eva’s wife worries about her mental health; Finn’s teenager follows in her footsteps, using forearm bones for drumsticks; Grace’s network constantly worries about the prolific writer’s penchant for self-harm, and the over-use of her vitals for art. The result is a hyper-real exploration of the cruelties we commit and forgive in ourselves and others. Brewer brings a unique perspective to mental illness while exploring how support systems in relationships—spousal, parental, familial—can be both helpful and damaging. This exciting debut novel is a highly original meditation on the fractures within us, and the importance of empathy as medicine and glue.”

Register now and pay what you can. All registered attendees have a chance to win their very own copy from Book*hug.

On January 23, Ceilidh Michelle joins us with her humorous and lyrical memoir, VAGABOND, Venice Beach, Slab City and Points In Between. From Douglas & McIntyre: “At twenty-one, Ceilidh Michelle was homeless, drifting through countercultural communities along California’s coast, from Venice Beach to Slab City to Big Sur. This restless and turbulent time began when she was sleeping on her sister’s couch in Vancouver and decided to become a yoga disciple in California. Denied entry at the US border in Washington state, and stuck overnight in the Greyhound station, her already shaky pilgrimage began to take another direction, away from the inward sanctuary of an ashram and toward the sea and light and noise of Venice Beach, and eventually up Highway 1 to the desert.” Register now and pay what you can. All registered attendees have a chance to win their very own copy from D & M.

Follow us here and check out all the Junction Reads events on our EventBrite page. Subscribe to our YouTube channel and get all the interviews of past events.

YEJIDE KILANKO: An Interview

On December 5, I sat down to speak with Yejide Kilanko about her latest novel, A Good Name, a complex and tragic story about a marriage; the unreachable American dream, and the oppressive expectations of family.

“Twelve years in America and Eziafa Okereke has nothing to show for it. Desperate to re-write his story, Eziafa returns to Nigeria to find a woman he can mold to his taste. Eighteen-year-old Zina has big dreams. An arranged marriage to a much older man isn’t one of them. Trapped by family expectations, Zina marries Eziafa, moves to Houston, and trains as a nurse. Buffeted by a series of disillusions, the couple stagger through a turbulent marriage until Zina decides to change the rules of engagement.” Guernica Editions


It will be hard to talk about this novel, without touching on the burden of family expectation, or cultural expectations. There is point in the novel where Zina says: “one should never underestimate the destructive power of the village gossip.” How does this play a role in Eziafa and Zina’s dysfunctional marriage in A GOOD NAME?

Zina was right. Village gossips are skilled at airing people’s dirty laundry in public. And in the world, she and Eziafa grew up in, one followed the rules and did everything not to attract their attention. Family expectations and cultural expectations play significant roles in AGN. Eziafa went back to Nigeria to find a bride because of his mother’s demands. And his ideas about what it means to be a man, a husband, are shaped by his cultural socialization. Zina entered into the marriage because of her parent’s wishes. Her decision to challenge cultural expectations changed their marital rules of engagement.

Eziafa is a character I feel like I have to hate. He is so self-centred and deluded, but as a reader, I also felt sorry for him. How did you manage to create such a selfish character and yet trigger so much sympathy?

I was relieved when one of my first beta readers echoed your comments. It is easy for us to have strong negative feelings about self-centered and deluded people. I knew I had to provide readers with enough information on Eziafa’s thought processes. When we catch glimpses of other people’s humanity, we may be open to understanding why they act the way they do without needing to approve or disapprove of their behaviour. 

Friendships are very important in AGN. As a connection to home or a welcome to a new life and new love, but they are not just a beacon or promise, they are warning signs, flashing lights that Zina and Eziafa ignore. Can we talk about the development of these secondary characters? Felix, Nomzamo, Raven, Jovita and even Billie Lou? I’d love to talk about their names as well. First names and last names are very important and I wonder how important naming these secondary characters became?

One should never underestimate the destructive power of the village gossip.

Zina, from Yejide Kilanko’s A Good Name

I’ve always felt that one does life better with the right friends. In an earlier interview about AGN, I had talked about how character naming is a crucial part of my writing process. As a Yoruba woman, I grew to believe that the names given to babies shape their personalities and destinies. Therefore, I spend quite a bit of time pondering the names I give to all my characters. Nomzamo’s Zulu name was a nod to Winnie Mandela. Her Georgia peach namesake exhibited her boldness. 

The pacing of the novel matches the slow revelation of character: Eziafa is a man who unfolds, revealing himself a little bit at a time. Zina is a woman who goes along with the life she is supposed to live, until she can no longer. How did you think about plot and character when you sat down to write AGN?

Goal, motivation, and conflict are essential story building blocks, and they are what shape my plotting and characterization processes. The characters have a way of telling you what they want. After my first novel, I started writing with a detailed outline. I found that breaking down my chapters into scenes helped with the pacing. The length of time it took to birth AGN also helped with the crucial simmering process.

The perspective is balanced between Zina and Eziafa, but Eziafa dominates as his presence is so large. The novel opens with a lot of Eziafa and closes with more Zina. This matches Zina’s coming into her own, as she finds her own voice, she takes up more space in the novel.

I’m glad you noticed the balance. I had mentioned earlier that I knew I had to provide readers with enough information about Eziafa’s ways of thinking. That’s why he took up space at the beginning of the novel. And as Zina grew from a teen to an adult and made more independent decisions, she claimed more space. 

When we catch glimpses of other people’s humanity, we may be open to understanding why they act the way they do without needing to approve or disapprove of their behaviour. 

Yejide Kilanko

As always, at Junction Reads, we get insightful questions from our audience. Here are a few of them. Dividing a large manuscript into several parts is a fascinating process. Do you consider the resulting three books to be a series, or as freestanding books?

All three books, the published ones which are Chasing Butterflies and AGN, and the work-in-progress, In Our Own Ways, came from the manuscript I’d titled, When Land Spirits Cross Big Waters. They are all freestanding books with some similar themes. The central character in Chasing Butterflies, Titilope Ojo, appeared in AGN. Readers wanted to know what happened to Titilope, and I thought it was an excellent way to tie up her story.

What made you interested in writing about couples?

I’m interested in exploring intimate partner relationships and understanding why people act the way they do. I think I write about couples because their interactions offer layers one can peel back.

Have you always combined writing and your profession in mental health? Or did you begin writing later?

Writing came first. I started writing poetry when I was twelve and became a social worker at thirty-three. Writing is a solitary pursuit, while social work practice demands interaction. They complement each other.  

You’ve published so many different types of writing: novels, short stories, kids books… how do you choose whether an idea becomes a novel, a short story, etc?

I appreciate this question because it made me think about how this determination happens. With my children’s books, I’m deliberate about the themes. I want to write about mental health issues, special needs, grief, on topics we don’t usually talk about with children. My poems come in a self-assured way. There are no doubts about what they are. It’s hard for me to explain. In my short stories, whether flash or longer, I write about themes I want to explore immediately rather than teasing them out for years which is what happens with my novels. I’m grateful that I can explore life in many ways


Yejide Kilanko was born in Ibadan, Nigeria. Her debut novel, Daughters Who Walk This Path, is a Canadian national bestseller. The novel was longlisted for the 2016 Nigeria Literature Prize. Kilanko’s work includes a novella, Chasing Butterflies (2015), and a children’s picture book, There Is An Elephant In My Wardrobe (2019). Kilanko’s short fiction is in the anthology, New Orleans Review 2017: The African Literary Hustle. When she’s not busy dreaming about more stories and poems, you’ll find Yejide online playing simultaneous games of Scrabble. She lives in Ontario, Canada, where she practices as a therapist in children’s mental health. (Transatlantic Agency)

An Interview with Wayne Ng

On November 21, I had the honour of sitting with Wayne Ng to talk about his new novel, LETTERS FROM JOHNNY. Published by Guernica Editions, the epistolary novel has Johnny at its centre. “Set in Toronto 1970, just as the FLQ crisis emerges to shake an innocent country, eleven year old Johnny Wong uncovers an underbelly to his tight, downtown neighbourhood. He shares a room with his Chinese immigrant mother in a neighbourhood of American draft dodgers and new Canadians. In a span of a few weeks his world seesaws. He is befriended by Rollie, one of the draft dodgers who takes on a fatherly and writing mentor role. Johnny’s mother is threatened by the “children’s warfare society.” Meany Ming, one of the characters by the rooming house is found murdered. He suspects the feline loving neighbour, the Catwoman. Inspired by an episode of Mannix, he tries to break into her house. Ultimately he is betrayed but he must act to save his family. He discovers a distant kinship with Jean, the son of one of the hostages kidnapped by the FLQ who have sent Canada into a crisis.”

I loved the strikethroughs, language mistakes and run on voice of Johnny. How difficult was it to learn to speak with Johnny’s voice? Particularly choices like “verses you to a fight” instead of challenges to a fight. It feels so perfect and I imagine little Johnny’s finger scrolling through his new dictionary as the story moves forward.

I love talking to children and youth and of course I’ve been doing it for the past 30 plus years as a social worker. So, to be honest, tapping into that voice, especially when coupled with my biographical elements, made Johnny-speak feel natural and easy. I was essentially channeling much of my childhood and the many characters who’ve dotted my day job.

There is honesty in letter writing, particularly to a complete stranger like a pen pal and it also feels like we’re watching Johnny mature through his writing. What is it about the epistolary voice that drew you to it as the best choice for LFJ?

I had tried 1st and 3rd person POVs. But given that so much of the novel is based on biographical elements, they felt like artificial barriers, neither giving me the voice, the intimacy nor confessional tone I was looking for. I also wanted to give readers a natural, authentic experience that wasn’t hindered by an authorial presence. Letter writing comes with great risks, rendering the writer completely vulnerable. That sort of stripping away of Johnny’s boundaries and privacy felt exactly like where I wanted the reader to be – up close and completely immersed.

The novel is set in the middle of the October Crisis. Communism and an underlying anti-“the man” theme run throughout. There is Rollie, the draft dodger and the repeated run-ins with the principal and Children’s Aid. Was it a deliberate mash-up of historical events and personal crises, or was this a time in your own personal history that stood out?

Most of us have poignant memories of our childhood if not whole stories worth sharing. When LFJ was first written as a short story, it was very much about him and Henry St. Years later I returned to it and felt that I had more to say. I saw broader themes of change and coming of age, not only for Johnny, but the community around him, and the country. Like most children, I looked for heroes, and a sense of belonging. I was only eight during the FLQ crisis but I remember how it consumed people. Situating it within the crisis and during the early days of Toronto’s branching out from WASPY-ways became deliberate. It gave me an historical backdrop to amplify and parallel an immigrant boy’s story with a community and a nation trying to grow up.

Most of us have poignant memories of our childhood if not whole stories worth sharing.

Wayne Ng

Your childhood neighbourhood (Henry Street) and the neighbours, play a big role in the novel. But there is also this bigger backdrop of separatism and the Felquistes planting bombs and killing people. The Irish police woman sums it up nicely, “sometimes a country is like a family. We don’t always get along. Sometimes neighbours don’t either.” How did community and your own personal history influence the story?

Just about every character in the story is a derivative of someone from my childhood. The tree-lined urban oasis of Henry St. was a ghetto of rooming houses for draft dodgers, students, immigrants and more established residents. We grew up with very little, including parental supervision as I was very much free-ranger, roaming the streets and alleyways of Chinatown and downtown Toronto. Really, I thought it was the best place to live. Thus, the setting is integral to both my childhood and LFJ.

How can I not ask about hockey? Have you been in touch with Dave Keon or his son? I’d love to think about Dave Keon reading little Johnny’s letters.

Dave Keon’s persona was that he is a humble, gentleman, in it for the team, a real sportsman who believed in fairness and respect. He’s also a very private man. It would be disrespectful of me to publicly share his thoughts and feelings about anything. I respect him too much to do that. What I am prepared to say is that he personally answered every piece of fan mail, and that the persona I spoke about is not a facade. He really is a class guy if that doesn’t sound too archaic.

Letter writing comes with great risks, rendering the writer completely vulnerable. That sort of stripping away of Johnny’s boundaries and privacy felt exactly like where I wanted the reader to be – up close and completely immersed.

Wayne Ng

The sequel has been shortlisted for the Guernica Prize. The Family Code finds Johnny years later in another important moment in Toronto history. How did you discover Johnny’s more mature voice? How is life for Johnny in your new novel?

The Family Code is a completely different novel actually.

The sequel Johnny Delivers, is still being drafted. The voice hasn’t come as easily but I’ve extrapolated that street-wise, independent wanderer child into a parentified 18 teen year old. Thus, he’s rather cocky, believing he’s ready for prime-time. Why shouldn’t he believe that? He’s a master at holding everything and everybody together. The challenges in his life are edgier, the stakes are much much higher for him. Bickering family, mah jong, egg rolls, drugs and a very seedy Yonge St. form the backdrop. But he’s not quite ready for the big show, and won’t be until he reconciles his own infallibility. Shadows replace the child-like charm as he’s learned to spell, write and drive a car. Plus a first love. Can’t be 11 forever. Readers will grow with him.

Some have described your novel as YA and others see it as a novel for adults. Who do you think about when you imagine a reader of Letters from Johnny? Did you find it difficult to write or incorporate the very adult themes (FLQ crisis, murder, child welfare) while narrating from a child’s point of view?

I wrote LFJ for the generation who lived through and with the cultural references of 1970. I imagined only they would appreciate the many pop references and understand the tectonic societal shifts happening at that time. The child’s perspective was a shameless hook to our love for nostalgia and our romantic notions of childhood innocence, even if they are imagined. Honestly, I didn’t anticipate nor even consider the younger readers enjoying it as much as they have. However, a child’s perspective allowed me to use humour, dramatic irony and the unreliable narration to indirectly and perhaps more effectively tackle some of the sub themes–whether they were about race, class or dislocation. I love how a child’s lack of filtration and innocence allowed us to see things that might otherwise obfuscate truth.


Wayne Ng was born in downtown Toronto to Chinese immigrants who fed him a steady diet of bitter melons and kung fu movies. Ng works as a school social worker in Ottawa but lives to write, travel, eat and play, preferably all at the same time. He is an award-winning short story and travel writer who continues to push his boundaries from the Arctic to the Antarctic, blogging and photographing along the way. Wayne was recently nominated for the Guernica Prize for his latest book, THE FAMILY CODE.

December Readings

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, summer reading has nothing on winter reading. Curling up in a chair with a cosy blanket and a comfy pillow, I can’t wait to finish A GOOD NAME from Yejide Kilanko. I am a short story super fan and Frances Boyle brings our first collection of the season, SEEKING SHADE.

You can register now for both events. As always, you have the chance to win your very own copy of the books. Thanks to the publishers for supporting our events with these great raffles! Pay what you can in support of our authors. See you there!

December 5Yejide Kilanko joins us with her novel (and fabulous eyeglasses!). A GOOD NAME from Guernica Editions is a must read. I’m about half way through and the tension is incredibly taut. 

“Twelve years in America and Eziafa Okereke has nothing to show for it. Desperate to re-write his story, Eziafa returns to Nigeria to find a woman he can mold to his taste. Eighteen-year-old Zina has big dreams. An arranged marriage to a much older man isn’t one of them. Trapped by family expectations, Zina marries Eziafa, moves to Houston, and trains as a nurse. Buffeted by a series of disillusions, the couple stagger through a turbulent marriage until Zina decides to change the rules of engagement.”

December 12: Frances Boyle comes to Junction Reads with her collection of stories from The Porcupine’s Quill. 

“In Seeking Shade, ordinary situations are imbued with extraordinary emotion as women and men explore identity and independence, navigate complicated relationships and confront the fallibility of mind and body.

A reckless young woman dances through the Second World War—and through the lives of many a man in uniform. A graduate student considers a popular film and revisits a past tragedy as she watches flames devour her apartment building. A hardworking man struggles to come to grips with his own helplessness at three stages of enforced quietude. A wife and mother questions her health—and her sanity—when she is plagued by phantom pains and visions of ghostly twins.”

An interview with Hollay Ghadery

I sat down with Hollay Ghadery on November 7, to talk about her beautiful memoir, Fuse. It is a collection of memories expressed like short stories, that bring together Hollay’s life experiences and her sometimes raw and always honest reflections on mental illness, addiction, motherhood, family, and growing up biracial. It is truly one of the most poignant and self-reflective memoirs I’ve ever read. I was in tears at many moments while reading.


You talk about how these “truths all came tumbling in and they didn’t come in a manner that made sense” Were there any essays that didn’t make it into the book, or moments that didn’t find space in an essay?

Yes, there definitely were. Sometimes, the stories didn’t make it in because ultimately, I realized they weren’t my stories to tell. They belonged to family members or close friends. Other moments didn’t make the cut because they were not closely linked enough to my thesis—which is saying a lot because my thesis, in many ways, casts a broad net. Then there were stories that are mine but I am not yet ready to tell. Maybe I never will be. Not including them doesn’t make the stories I did share any less valid, nor does not detract from the momentum of the book overall. At least I don’t think so. I told the stories I did tell honestly. As for the stories I didn’t…well, I don’t owe anyone all of me.

The essays in FUSE are so deeply intimate, there are moments when I can feel the courage it took to bear so much pain. Did you know with each essay how deep you were going to go? Were there moments when you questioned whether you were sharing enough or not enough?

I often didn’t know until I got there. At times, I had to prod myself to go deeper—to not settle at what Adele Wiseman calls “secondhand epiphanies.” Of course, many of the experiences I discuss are common, and experienced by millions of other people, but the precise way in which each individual feels the shared experiences is unique. I wanted to tap into the current of shared experience while also exposing what makes my experience worth telling. This was tough, both in terms of craft and personal vulnerability. 


“I wanted to tap into the current of shared experience while also exposing what makes my experience worth telling. This was tough, both in terms of craft and personal vulnerability.”

Hollay Ghadery

The book is dedicated to your family and you mention in the foreword how afraid you were readers wouldn’t see how much you love them given how honest you are about your experiences growing up. I really felt the love, but I wonder how has the experience been for you and your family?

My immediate birth family has not read the book, so there’s little to report on this front. I know they haven’t read Fuse because they would find the experience too unsettling and I can appreciate that. There’s a large part of me that’s relieved, because no matter how much love I put into the book, I know my parents in particular would feel raw. I’d feel raw having them read it too.

My husband read the book long before it was published and was supportive, and my kids are proud that I wrote a book, but don’t have any interest in reading it at the moment. The stories they are in I have read to them, and they were comfortable with their inclusion.

Members of my extended family have read the book and have been wonderful and supportive. I’m grateful for them.

Motherhood is a strong theme that runs through the book. Both your relationship with your own mother and your experiences as a mother of four. As a mother, I was so moved by the moment with Nuala in bed when you say, “It’s strange how I’m an endless comfort for them and I’ve never been one for myself.” So many of your the moments with or about your kids I think about how hard it is to be a mentally healthy role model when we’re in the midst of our own crises. Do you hope when your kids are older they will read FUSE?

I do, yes. And I think they will. I hope they will see how much they mean to me, and how much I try to get better for them. I also hope they’ll see how none of us are infallible, and it’s not only okay not to be okay, but it’s absolutely normal to not be okay.

You recently published a piece of flash in Sledgehammer, and I laughed that when you shared it, you mentioned your husband Matt is not the man in the shower. Do you feel this conflict with fiction that is also very intimate in subject matter? That with your essays being out in the world, people might think that your fiction is also truthful?

I’m absolutely certain some readers will think my fiction is based on my life. I have been delighted to have people tell me they feel like they really know Matt and I after reading the book—that they have a sense of who we are. And they probably do!

My fiction is fiction, though. Of course, there are parts from my real life that I draw on to inform some (not all) of it.

But Matt was not the guy in the shower.

Here’s the story, if anyone wants to read it. Caviar, in Sledgehammer Literary Journal

It’s more typical for people with a confluence of challenges like what you’ve experienced, to go under, and remain quiet. Whether it is the stigma, loneliness, fear of judgement or myriad other reasons. How do you remain solid while remaining so exposed? Does the vulnerability not overwhelm you?

It can be overwhelming, but what overwhelms me more is not talking about it. I’ve seen what silence can do. I’ve spent most of my life being quiet. I’m terrified of that. It almost killed me. I can handle the stigma.


“I’ve seen what silence can do. I’ve spent most of my life being quiet. I’m terrified of that. It almost killed me.”

Hollay Ghadery

The essays are not structured chronologically. How did the essays come to you and how did you decide the order in which they appear in the book?

The essays were triaged: which one felt the most urgent to tell (it was the title essay, Fuse, for the record), and which came later on, when things felt less desperate (Monster was the last essay I wrote, after the book was already accepted for publication).

The order was another matter. There was some moving around and earlier editors and readers helped with some of that. For me, the order reflected my trying to establish the issues first, and then explore them further as the book progressed.

I’d like to say the process of ordering the book was very intentional on my part, but it was really…a feeling. The final order of the book was done by instinct more than logic. Like with memories, how they jump around but are connected. I tried not to overthink it too much and ordered the chapters in ways that felt organic.


Hollay Ghadery is a writer of fiction and non-fiction and a writing consultant with River Street Writing. Hollay earned her BAH in English Language and Literature from Queen’s University, as well as her Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Guelph. Her short stories, poetry, non-fiction, and reviews have appeared in literary journals across Canada, including The Malahat Review, Grain, Understorey, The Antigonish Review, The Fiddlehead, and Room. FUSE is her first book of non-fiction. Hollay lives in small-town Ontario with her family.

You can purchase Fuse directly from Guernica Editions and from your local independent bookstore.

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