Melville, Musings and “Moving Parts”: Lana Pesch (nee Starchuk) discusses her first collection of sh
TW: Where are you from?
LP: I was born and raised in Melville, the smallest city in Saskatchewan. My parents were elementary school teachers and my dad, who passed away 3 years go, was a principal. They knew everybody.
TW: Do you incorporate Melville into your stories?
I never got too specific with it. There’s a city description of Main Street City Hall in Natural Life. I used the images and recollection from Melville but set it in Weyburn.
Would you say the characters you write about are based on the characters you grew up with?
Character traits, yes. There’s no one person but there’s traits from everybody, from all parts of my life that forms bits of people in the characters for sure.
TW: How does being from Saskatchewan inspire your writing?
LP: I’m not sure if it’s a general trait of people from the Prairies, or from my father, but there’s a real openness and curiosity; everybody talks to everybody. I’m not sure if the spaciousness or curiosity inspires the talking. Physically and literally, the sky is so vast, there’s so much emptiness – maybe it’s a trick of the light, or a trick of the brain that leaves you wondering, “what if?”
TW: Did you always want to be a writer?
LP: To some extent. I’ve written for work and theatre and I’ve always liked that. My first 5-page publication was in grade school, “A Christmas on Mars” December 2, 1983. It’s dedicated to the Space Centre (laughs). In Montreal, I’d write plays that I’d act in for theatre school. I liked telling a story. After some encouraging pre-internet reviews, I thought writing might be something to work at. But I didn’t start to take it seriously until 2008. I wanted to write this novel. I had a great idea, sketched it out and tried writing it but it got stuck. Then I took Sarah Selecky’s class, which led to more classes, institutions, and writing. I eventually took her ten stories and she felt it was a collection. We honed them down to a proper manuscript for Banff’s writing program. Banff is where I finished it.
TW: Why Banff?
LP: I was always growing and developing my voice as a writer but in Banff, when I read my character, Yvonne’s, letter aloud to my teacher, ZsuZsi Gartner, it became crystal clear that this was how I should be writing. I was concerned my writing sounded repetitive and Zsuzsi said, “Who cares? Don’t you think Alice Munro sounds all the same? Margaret Atwood’s? Get over it. Write.” That helped.
TW: Describe your writing, and writing you like
LP: I’m not sugarcoating anything. I’m not shying away from difficult subjects that I don’t know anything about. I like to read really forceful, confident writing where the author is in control of their words and I am engaged and okay reading uncomfortable subject matter.
TW: What inspires your stories?
LP: Everything. I draw from the absurd. One story was inspired by an article in the Edmonton Journal about a man who asked his best friend to kill him because he was in love with his girlfriend. Another was inspired by a cross-country adventure I took. The blind date story was inspired by my friend’s first date with her husband when they met at the wrong subway station, not a restaurant like in the story.
TW: You credit “in memory of Jane Heller” – who is she?
LP: Jane’s a wonderful person who I wanted to photograph my cover art. She passed away last summer so we chose photographs from her archives that conveyed “falling, movement, crashing, in flux”. The cover also visually recalls Annie Proulx’s “Bad Dirt,” which I like.
TW: What does it mean to be human to you?
LP: Primarily, that we are flawed. Our failures, what is learned by failing and learning from it, and being curious about everything; questioning things. People see failing or making mistakes as a bad thing but I say, “Let’s see what happens.” As long as we learn something from mistakes, then they are good. The road to publication is the same.