ISSUE 2 VOL 2 PROFILE: Terri Favro
HLR: When and where did you write the work published in this issue?
I wrote my essay, “Hemingway’s Bird,” at home in Toronto in the spring of 2015, with postcards from the Vienna Kunsthistorischesmuseum taped to the wall in front of me: a wedding feast by Brueghel, an erotic nude by Rubens and a crucifixion by Caravaggio.
HLR: Was the essay inspired by anything particular?
In 2014, I attended a short story writers’ conference at the University of Vienna. My husband, Ron Edding, and I built a longer trip to Italy and Germany around the event. At times during the conference, I found myself feeling uneasy and out of place. I wasn’t an academic, nor was I well known as a short story writer—what was I doing there?
I found a metaphor for my sense of displacement at a plenary session of literary translators who discussed the challenges of translating puns, jokes, figures of speech and, in the most significant example, a mistake in an early story by Hemingway in which he placed a North American bird in the sky over Italy.
At the end of the conference, Montreal writer and editor Licia Canton proposed that five of us— four women writers from Canada and one editor/professor of Canadian literature at a university in Spain—write intersecting “meta” stories that referenced one another’s experiences in Vienna. I started writing “Hemingway’s Bird” as a response to Licia’s prompt, but it grew to include other examples of displacement, from the migration experience of my Austrian mother-in-law, to the history of Vienna, to a tragedy that gripped the world in the summer of 2014.
HLR: Do you consider your work to be cross-pollinated by other disciplines?
Yes. I’m interested in history, so the essay contrasts the present-day ‘cream cakes and waltzes’ of Vienna with its darker, more powerful past. The past always has a way of pushing its way into the present like wildflowers growing through cracks in a sidewalk.
I also have a background in art history, and I’m married to a visual artist with whom I collaborate on graphic novels, so my writing tends to be highly visual. I’m interested in what can be seen, and what tries to remain hidden.
HLR: Where is your favourite place to write outside the home?
Hotel rooms. I like the anonymity of a comfortable, transient space where I can step out the door for a drink, a walk or a bike ride. I revised my novella, The Proxy Bride, at Hotel Ten in Montreal during the Blue Met Festival, and scripted a third of a graphic novel with Ron while sitting in the garden of a monastery’s tourist house in Rome. But my best out-of-home writing space was a camper van that we rented to take on a hiking trip along Lake Superior in 2013. When we weren’t on the trails, I was writing on my laptop. Over two weeks, I wrote the first draft of a short story that was published the following year and started work on a novel, Sputnik’s Daughter, which will be published by ECW in 2017.
HLR: How does travel affect your writing?
I like to write while travelling but not necessarily about what I’m experiencing at the time. I find the break in my day-to-day routine helps because I’m away from the writing deadlines of my day job. (I’m a freelance copywriter.) If I’m writing about travel, I need the passage of time to help shape a narrative out of the experience. For example, I’m just starting to think about writing about a trip to Belgrade that we made with our sons in 2004, not long after the railways reopened after the end of the civil war in the Balkans. Ron was invited there for an art biennale and we decided to go as a family. It was a surreal experience, as the region had been a war zone just a few years earlier and people had lost the knack of knowing how to interact with visitors. People were reluctant to talk to us. We were billeted in a nursing home in a town not far from Belgrade where the elevators had broken down and the residents wearily dragged themselves up and down the stairwells. It’s taken me until now to figure out how to approach that essay.
HLR: How does the Internet and your presence on the Internet affect your thinking and writing?
Research is so easy online that a Google search can lead to happy accidents that cross-pollinate the work or lead to other stories. To give an example from “Hemingway’s Bird,” when I started writing about the Viennese translator’s plenary session, I couldn’t remember the name of the short story that she was trying to translate. I was able to track down an online version of Hemingway’s collected stories and it took me about an hour to find the chimney swift in “A Very Short Story.” In doing so, I stumbled into the Hemingway archives online and learned that this particular story was completely autobiographical. Hemingway was wounded in Austria in the final months of World War One and spent six months in a Red Cross Hospital in Milan. Coincidentally, my mother’s parents met each another while visiting my great-uncle Mario at a soldiers’ hospital in Milan, right after World War One. I’m going to do a bit more research but it is possible that while Hemingway was having the love affair with a nurse that led to the writing of “A Very Short Story,” my own grandparents were falling in love with each another in the same hospital. I wouldn’t have made that connection without the information I stumbled over while researching Hemingway online.
Unfortunately the Internet also enables far too much time lost to playing Facebook Scrabble and checking my Twitter feed.
HLR: What are you currently reading?
As the result of one of those happy online accidents, I’m reading “Fear and Fashion in the Cold War” by Jane Pavitt, published by the Victor & Albert Museum (2008). I was placing a hold for a different book about fashion history on the Toronto Public Library’s website when the Cold War one popped up on my search. The novel I started in the camper van, Sputnik’s Daughter, concerns itself with an alternative-reality cold war, including the invention of wearable bomb shelters. According to Pavitt’s book, fashion designers and industrial designers in the 1960s and ‘70s came up with prototypes for clothing to protect against everything from nuclear fallout to environmental disasters. My favourite is the “suit-home” which you take off and inflate around you.
I just finished Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer’s All The Broken Things, which I loved for its blending of a story of Vietnamese refugees in Toronto in the 1980s with the imaginative story of a bear and a boy that reminded me of the Russian fairy tales I used to read to my sons.
I’m about to start Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust, translated by American writer Lydia Davis. I became interested in reading translations because of the translators’ panel in Vienna.
Also on deck: Trees on Mars: Our Obsession With the Future by Hal Niedzviecki, Escape Plans by Teri Vlassopoulos; and, to help me write a dystopian story about two sisters fleeing an attack of bloodsucking ice spiders unlocked by melting polar ice, I’m going to re-read Shirley Jackson’s novella, We Have Always Lived in the Castle. It better be a long, cold winter!
Terri Favro is a Toronto-based freelance writer. Published in numerous literary magazines and shortlisted for the 2013 CBC Creative Non-Fiction Prize, Terri is the author of the novella The Proxy Bride and co-creator of the Bella graphic novel series. Her recent work includes a story in the 2016 Steampunk anthology, Clockwork Canada, and two novels upcoming in 2017: Sputnik’s Daughter (ECW) and Once Upon A Time In West Toronto (Inanna). She blogs at terrifavro.ca