Today, I'm so pleased to welcome fellow Canadian Karen Schauber to gilagreenwrites. If I would have known Karen one year ago, I would definitely have met up with her last year in Vancouver to talk flash fiction, something I taught online for a decade. As it turns out, I met her virtually only after my trip to participate in the Vancouver Jewish Book Festival and now, of course, I don't go much farther than my corner store. So, I will have to meet Karen on my next visit to Canada when we are allowed to travel once more. In the meantime, enjoy my interview with this talented artist.
Karen Schauber's work appears in fifty international literary magazines, journals and anthologies, including Bending Genres, Cabinet of Heed, Cease Cows, Ekphrastic Review, Fiction Southeast, New World Writing, and Spelk Fiction; and a 'Best Microfiction' nomination. 'The Group of Seven Reimagined: Contemporary Stories Inspired by Historic Canadian Paintings' (2019), her first editorial/curatorial flash fiction anthology, achieved 'Silver' in 2020 in The Miramichi Reader's 'Very Best Book Award" for Short Fiction. Schauber curates Vancouver Flash Fiction, an online resource hub, and in her spare time is a seasoned family therapist. A native of Montréal, she has called Vancouver home for the past three decades. She is a member of the Canadian Authors Association, the Federation of British Columbia Writers, and the Writers' Union of Canada.
GG: What inspired you to work on a book about the Group of Seven? Do you paint?
KS: The impetus for this book began as a writing prompt. I am always looking for interesting, layered prompts/inspiration: a phrase, paradox, scenario, image, to inspire and formulate a story around. I happened to be walking my dog along Vancouver's Jericho Beach early one frigid but bright wintery morning and was struck by the awesome beauty of the snow-peaked North Shore mountains looming across that stretch of ocean. I imagined that Lawren Harris would have wanted to paint that stunning vista, and in that glance, had the inspiration for my story. It was only later, when conducting background research for my piece that I learned that the one-hundred-year anniversary of the Group of Seven was coming up in 2020. A lightbulb went off! The anniversary presented a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the enduring genius of these painters, in story. I approached fellow flash fiction writers with the idea of putting an anthology together inspired by the landscape paintings of the Group of Seven and the enthusiasm for this project was immediately infectious. As a student living in Toronto in the early 80s, I often visited the McMichael Gallery to view many of the gorgeous landscape paintings on display. What better tribute so many years later.
GG: Do you paint?
KS: I haven't painted for many years, but the pandemic has opened up an unexpected opportunity for me to spread out my acrylics and canvasses once again; taking over my empty office space now that all my psychotherapy sessions are conducted over the phone. I paint abstract art saturated in vivid colour.
GG: "With the current and all-important resurgence, concern, and respect for our land, our environment, and our very future, we believe that a reawakening of appreciation for the Group of Seven Canadian Modernist Landscape Painters may help illuminate what is dear to us all." This is a very interesting quotation. Can you be more specific? Do you think Canadians are only now concerned for the environment (as opposed to five or ten years ago)? Do you believe you have achieved this goal of reawakening with the publication of your book?
KS: I think this anthology has rekindled an appreciation for the extraordinary oeuvres of the Group of Seven, including introducing some rarely seen paintings, and lesser-known members of the group. Canadians have a keen affinity for the natural and pristine world. It is part of our zeitgeist. The Group of Seven has captured that affinity through its interpretation of the more remote and wild landscapes of Canada, from coast to coast to coast. There is a reification that takes place with each viewing of a Group of Seven canvas, I believe. —Canada's leadership role in the Paris Accord, the national and regional legislative efforts to preserve vast territories of land (notwithstanding the blight of the Alberta tar sands; we're working on it), personal lifestyle changes to incorporate green/clean practices, adopted by Canadian's of all stratum, heralds a concern for the environment that is increasing exponentially in Canada. —It gives me great pride to think that my book may contribute, even in the tiniest way, to this awesome respect of the land that the Group of Seven brought into full relief some one-hundred years ago.
GG: Do you work full time as a therapist and see writing as a hobby or how do you see the balance between these two elements of your life? Does one feed into the other?
KS: Writing for me, writing fiction, is relatively new. It has become a diversion from the intensity of trauma and grief I am far too close to in psychotherapy sessions. Since discovering flash fiction, it has become my happy obsession. Both writing and reading the masters of the flash fiction form give me great pleasure. I enjoy the hand-picking of words and how flash (written in under 1000 words, and for me, closer to 500), can paint a picture of the human experience in a brief ordinary moment. Each flash fiction—a marvel of compression, sumptuous imagery, and emotional resonance. Writing fiction is unlike clinical or academic writing. It is where I am most myself, and farthest away from what I think about when I am working. It is so interesting that I never found this outlet sooner; I've been in private practice for thirty years.
GG: What role does Judaism play in your writing, if any?
KS: I think my Jewish heritage, sensibility, aesthetics, and ethics inform my writing; my religious affiliation is not a factor—I am an atheist, observing high holidays as cultural tradition. I sometimes write about Montréal, which for me is about my Jewish upbringing and the fond memories of growing up in a vibrant close Jewish community. My piece 'The Ornithologist' originally published in the Jewish Independent re-visits some of these early memories. https://www.jewishindependent.ca/the-ornithologist/
GG: Do you believe flash fiction is trending? Why or why not?
KS: Most definitely! Flash fiction is the hottest rising literary trend in Canada. There are online workshops springing up everywhere. MFA Programs have begun to appreciate the value/benefit in teaching compression, and are including flash and micro in adjunct classes if not general curriculum. Canadian literary magazines' submission guidelines now include flash and micro fiction parameters / word counts. It's pretty exciting. The Miramichi Reader out of New Brunswick, —Canada's best regarded source for the finest in new literary releases— https://miramichireader.ca/tag/flash-fiction/ an exclusively review and interview publication, has bit the flash bug; and now features a regular flash fiction column, with some of the Reader's most popular posts being flash fiction. Chapbooks, novellas-in-flash, collections, anthologies, small presses, journals/magazines/even poetry magazines, i.e. The Ekphrastic Review out of Toronto, and SoFloPoJo and Rhino, have expanded their repertoire to include flash fiction. - I find this so exciting. I curate an online resource hub at https://www.facebook.com/VancouverFlashFiction with an active following of 1500 flash fiction writers and enthusiasts. It is a candy store out there—so much to choose from!
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