A Conversation With a Friend:
Teresa Houle

Teresa HouleTeresa Houle took out a two-year membership as a Friend of The Malahat this February. On a beautiful April day, at Beacon Hill Park, Malahat uber-volunteer and fellow Friend, Stephen Leckie, interviewed her for this edition of Malahat lite.

Why did you join The Friends of The Malahat?

A big part of why I wanted to join, was to force me to connect locally. I've been connected with a writer's network through the internet, but most of them are American, people I have very little chance of meeting and interacting with in real life. For introverts, like most writers, it's a nice safety zone; though now I am trying to get out of my own safety bubble, meet people in real life.

I wasn't even aware of the Friends of The Malahat, to be honest, until they sent me a notice about it at the end of my subscription. And I thought, sure, get some of these other discounts and maybe attend some readings. Meet this literary culture in my own town that I am completely unaware of.

How long were you a subscriber before becoming a Friend?

It was probably a year. I went nuts a few years ago and subscribed to about eight or nine magazines at once, and I'm still catching up. It's a lot of reading to do and every so often I get an itch to read a novel, put the lit. mags down, catch up on the novels, and pick back up the lit mags.

How do you feel about a community of writers, whether online or in real life?

I think they are both important. They both serve separate purposes. It's easy to get started in the community through the online world, because it's so anonymous. You can put whatever you want out there. You don't even have to put your own name to it, just to get reactions. There are so many online writing networks. I think Urbis was one of the first sites that really got me connected with specific writers and making some long-term friendships. It has been a good experience that way, helping each other, finding our own voices that way. Oddly enough it is easier to start out globally than it is locally.

Where are you from and how long have you lived in Victoria?

I am originally from Selkirk, Manitoba, but I've been here most of my life. My dad was in the navy, so we moved over here when I was just a baby. So, I've been here most of my life, moved away for a couple of years. I grew up in Langford, lived in Sooke for a while, Victoria and outer areas, and now I'm back in Langford.

Any favourite authors in the recent issues of The Malahat Review?

I really liked Hoarding by Anne Marie Todkill. I lived in Ottawa briefly, so I know the references. There are always at least one or two stories that make me cry.

Did you receive a copy of Mocambo Nights at the Winter issue/Best Canadian Poetry in English 2011 launch?

I did. I haven't read it all yet, but I honestly didn't know that it was happening. I thought that it was so cool. Ah, so there is this cafe that people go to and read poetry, OK. I knew that it happened in some cities. I was pretty impressed that the literary current of Victoria can support publishing a book of poetry.

You mentioned that your most recent published piece is a silly poem written on a dare?

It's funny because a writer friend of mine and I have been sending our work back and forth, edit for each other, and neither of us wrote poetry, but on a dare one day, he said, “Just write a poem. I want to see what kind of poem you'd write.” So, it was about a beanie baby that gets trapped behind a refrigerator and catches fire. It was about five lines, really short. He loved it. I sent it out to four markets and three accepted it. It's the only thing I have in print form. I couldn't believe it.

You also mentioned that you write flash fiction, what is that?

Basically it is a complete story in under a thousand words. It's funny, until I discovered a writing network online, I actually considered myself a really terrible writer because I couldn't write long stories. Everything I tried to write I wrapped them up super quick. I said, “Obviously I don't know how to write a real story.” And then I found this category referred to as flash fiction. I discovered what I write naturally is this: I condense. I cut as many words as humanly possible. There seems to be a world for my style of writing out there that I didn't initially know existed. I am working on a short story right now, trying to get past that thousand word mark.

Family and work influence a lot of our lives, how does it influence your writing?

Most of my writing is my fears. I have a tendency to write out things that I am afraid of, or that give me anxiety. It's a catharsis for me. Quite often my stories will have this weird twist to them. There is usually some sort of tragedy involved. They have a very emotional base; a way of working out my own demons. Oddly enough, I have a tendency to not write when I am very happy.

Do you have a process?

It involves a lot of tea. Usually I will know, with a horrible gut wrenching feeling, where it will end up. I just have to get us there. That is the hard part for me: how do I get this story to my tragedy?

What do you consider excellence in your own writing?

I am usually impressed that I can stay in the same tense throughout the story. That tends to be my number one thing. It might be common with any writer or artist: you write in the moment, it’s where you need to be. And then you're done with it, you start work on the next piece. I always look back on the last thing and am usually embarrassed. As long as I think I am feeling that, I am progressing, even if I don't see the progress; it must have happened.