20 Questions with Susan Smith-Josephy


1. So, what’s your book all about?

My book, “Lillian Alling: the journey home” is the true story of Lillian Alling, a European immigrant to North America, who hated her life in the New World and wanted to return home.

I n 1926 she set out on a journey home from New York. She had little money and no transportation, but plenty of determination. In the three years that followed, Alling walked all the way to Dawson City, Yukon, crossing the North American continent on foot. 

She walked across the Canadian landscape, weathering the baking sun and freezing winter, crossed the rugged Rocky Mountains and hiked the untested wilderness of British Columbia and Yukon. Finally, on a make-shift boat, she sailed alone down the Yukon River from Dawson City all the way to the Bering Sea. 

Lillian Alling is a legend. She has been the subject of novels, plays, epic poems, an opera and more tall tales than can be remembered. Her life has been subjected to speculation, fiction and exaggeration.

 “The Mystery Woman,” as she came to be known, is as intriguing to us now as she was to those she met on her trek. Lillian’s name lives on in the folk tales of British Columbia, the Yukon and Alaska, but her life leading up to her journey and what waited for her at home in Eastern Europe still remains a shadowy mystery.

The book is non-fiction, and is published by www.caitlin-press.com
It can be ordered via their distributor http://www.harbourpublishing.com/title/LillianAllingJourneyHome or online from Amazon in Canada or by Amazon in the U.S.  and from Barnes & Noble

2. What inspired you to write this tale?
I was initially attracted to the mystery of the story, and the process by which a regular person like Lillian gets turned into a folkloric figure. Because I love research, I enjoyed digging around in archives and museums and interviewing people whose grandparents met Lillian. Then, the character of Lillian emerged and I was so impressed by her determination and grit, I was inspired to write a book about her. I felt she deserved it. After that, Lillian’s story took shape in the form of the hero’s journey, and then things really took off.

3. Do you have a favorite quote about creativity/inspiration etc…? What is it?
“Be regular and orderly like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work,” – Gustav Flaubert.

I live by this quote. I clean my house, keep up with social media, correspond with other researchers, return my library books on time—all to keep myself in order, because I’m a naturally louche and chaotic person.

4. What things do you keep in your “writing space”? Do they inspire you? Confound you? Hold wires in place?
For quasi-shamanistic purposes, I have two deer antlers, one just loose on my windowsill and the other in the stem of a lamp. I also have a deer antler handle that closes my glassed-in bookshelf. I have a rattlesnake mug (see my blog http://writersglob.blogspot.com/2011/10/rattlesnake-mug.html for a photo of this beauty) and a plastic dismembered hand. I have my files for my current projects, reference books, a wireless modem, office supplies and a bunch of non-yet-complete scrapbooks.

I also have a huge copy of the above Flaubert quote, which I refer to all the time to remind myself that writing is a job, not just something to do when inspired.

5. What is your perfect “writing space”?
My roll-top oak desk is where I do the majority of my writing but I also do very well while on the road. When I’m a passenger on a long road trip, I can write a chapter in an hour or two. I write in $1 notebooks I get from Staples.

6. If your car horn could play any song, which would it be? Can’t say Dixie.
A Belgian police vehicle sound. Like the one on this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kMbkzD_16AQ

7. What would you name the first permanent settlement on mars?
What a horrible question. I hate the idea of being on Mars. I think Limbo would be a good name for the first permanent settlement on Mars.

8. How tall is the perfect sidekick? Please explain why it even matters.
A foot high, if it’s a cat. Do you mean for me? Or for my characters? I write non-fiction, usually, so I have to accept that most of the sidekicks will be humans between 5 and 6 feet high.

9. If you were to mess with the time stream, what would you change? Let’s assume a hundred other people already took care of Hitler so you don’t have to say, “Kill Hitler.”
How can one hundred other people take care of Hitler? Did they act independently in a bunch of different time streams? If so, that means that Hitler is still up for grabs in my time stream. So, regretfully, I would have to say “Kill Hitler.”

10. Let’s say your character has a pet brown bear. What’s the bear’s name?
As a Canadian, I cannot allow any character to have a pet brown bear. But if it must have a name, how about “Lunch.”

11. If you had to give an antagonist an annoying trait, what would it be?
Having a pet brown bear as a pet.

12. What kind of car would your ultimate protagonist drive?
One that can’t be traced, and he or she has paid for in cash.

13. You’ve got a year to travel anywhere. Where?
Anonymously, in Europe. Seeking out Cold War haunts.

14. You just bought a boat with your book fortune. What are you going to call it?
I have a boat. It’s called Old Style.

15. What kind of music, if any, gets you typing the fastest?
I like Middle Eastern music, Cuban music, jazz and blues. But it would be 70s disco like this http://youtu.be/_jLGa4X5H2c is my favourite for giving energy.

16. What’s the punch line to your favorite joke?
“Is that all you people think about?”

17. What lyric do you sing poorly, yet loudly?
“Roooooxanne.”

18. You find a portal to another world in your sink’s drain. What is this other world called? And what is the best way to clean the portal so it doesn’t smell like old food?
I’m a bit concerned that I didn’t know about this portal in my sink’s drain, since all the other portals around my place are in trees (sets of two). Sigh. But if I MUST have a portal in my sink’s drain, it goes to the past. So I can kill Hitler, obviously. Portals don’t care if they’re clean or not, because it’s not a physical thing, but I use vinegar and baking soda to clean my kitchen sink’s drain.

19. Where can people learn more about you, your work or any pets you have?
I have a website: www.susmithjosephy.com and I have a blog http://writersglob.blogspot.com where I believe there is a photo of my cat. I also have a German shepherd dog. He’s very needy. Come to think of it, the cat’s pretty insistent, too. I am also on Twitter @susmithjosephy

20. What’s next?
I’m writing more books. Non-fiction history, and information can be found on my website (click on the tabs for the different projects). I have started another project separate and entirely unrelated to the ones I’m supposed to be working on. I’m researching a missing persons/murder case that happened in Quesnel, British Columbia in 1920. I’ll see how much information I can get on this. If there’s a lot of info, it will become a book. If not, it will be a chapter in my upcoming “Bad Guys of British Columbia” book.


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