In the spotlight: Lana Pesch
Lana Pesch jumps out of planes. Literally. When she's not skydiving, she writes stories. Here is a woman who knows risk! She throws herself at life, on and off the page. She's also the only author whose stories were selected for both Vols I and II of Little Bird Stories (2011 and 2012). You can read those stories here.
I love the abundance of clear energy that's in Lana's voice - and how it shows up differently in each of her stories. She has a wicked sense of humour. Even when her characters are impossibly sad or broken, she makes you laugh -- yet her writing is always respectful, never mocking. Lana is a writer who loves life, and her work is a beautiful expression of that love.
Lana Pesch was born in Saskatchewan, studied in Montreal and currently works as a Writer/Producer/Director in Toronto. She has written and produced plays for stage, radio and film and her fiction has appeared in Little Bird Stories: Volumes I and II. When not working on her short story collection she enjoys skydiving, cooking and travel. Lana lives in the Junction with her husband and two cats and updates her blog as often as she sees fit.
Handwriting or computer?
Beginnings, freewrites, story starts and chunks are handwritten. Revisions on the computer.
Page count or time count?
Word count. 500 – 1000 on a good day.
First drafts or revision?
First draft freedom, neurotic revision.
Writing solo, writing partner, or writing group?
Solo. Then drafts critiqued by two writing groups: one in person; one online.
Earplugs/quiet or headphones/music?
Quiet. But sometimes music to suit the piece to get it to flow.
Who are you reading these days for influence, and why?
The books on my bedside table are: Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden, George Saunders’ Civilwarland in Bad Decline, The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, Jeff Rubin’s Why Your World is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller, The Fionavar Tapestry by Guy Gavriel Kay, Changing My Mind, essays by Zadie Smith, The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking, Things Feigned or Imagined by Fred Stenson, and Lynda Barry’s What It Is is on the floor beside the bed because it’s too big for the table.
It’s a bit much.
I tend to skip from book to book, picking up a certain one when I need it. It depends on what I’m working on. At the moment I’ve got a few stories that are influenced, and inspired, by George Saunders. I think his work is fearless, smart, hilarious, absurd, and I like the way Thomas Pynchon put it (back cover of Civilwarland in Bad Decline), “An astoundingly tuned voice—graceful, dark, authentic, and funny—telling just the kinds of stories we need to get us through these times." This speaks to what I am trying to do.
The non-fiction material is for context. What is going on in the world around us and how we, including my characters, reacting to and dealing (or not dealing) with certain issues.
The Fionavar Tapestry is to escape.
Through Black Spruce is helping me with structure for a novel.
And the Fred Stenson and Lynda Barry books on craft speak for themselves.
I also have a stack of Canadian literary journals on a bookshelf that include Grain, Prairie Fire, Geist, The Fiddlehead and The New Quarterly. In no way am I reading any of these back to back. I enter a lot of contests that include subscriptions to the journals and after a while, they pile up. I do read stories from each, and editor’s notes, to see what my contemporaries are up to. I also subscribe to The Walrus and Elle Canada.
More authors I have been reading lately for inspiration and style are Miranda July, Julie Hecht, Lisa Moore, Jessica Westhead, Raymond Carver, Charlotte Gill, Pasha Malla. I’m also a fan of Annabel Lyon, Lorrie Moore, Amy Hempl, Alice Munro, Zsuzsi Gartner and Sarah Selecky. And, last week, I picked up Pema Chödrön’s When Things Fall Apart, which is a particularly grounding read.
What's the best advice you would give a new writer?
I heard this somewhere along the way and it resonated with me. So simple, so true and goes hand in hand with Woody Allen’s quote, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” Which is in line with what Elizabeth Gilbert says near the end of her TED talk, “Don’t be afraid, don’t be daunted, continue to show up for your piece of it [the work] whatever that might be…Olé to you for having the sheer human love and stubbornness to keep showing up.”
And I think it was Zadie Smith that said, “It takes about ten years to get good.” That stuck with me. Hearing that helps me get through and keep going when I feel like things aren’t moving as quickly as they should. When I’m not producing as much as I should. When I’m not getting published. When I’m not winning contests. When my stories are falling flat. When I run out of ideas. When I’m thinking all these thoughts, I push through and think, “It’s going to be okay. I’ve still got time.”
Also, I’m currently taking Peter Levitt’s Found in Translation course and came across this golden nugget of advice re: writers being open to seeing things both new and recognizable.
“It takes openness, and intimacy, for it to come about. True vulnerability. It takes the dropping of our usual preoccupations, obsessions, masks and predictable themes, and allowing receptivity to what is right in front of us to lead the way.” – Peter Levitt
For me, as a new writer, it’s allowing myself that sense of openness to see where things can, might and will go.
But it’s mostly about showing up.
Tell us about the excerpt you're sharing today.
Deffer’s Last Dance is a first draft of a new short story. It originated from a Sarah Selecky prompt: write a story about an annoying relative and has since morphed into a story about suffering, regret, longing, belonging, love, life, death, and family. I am experimenting with a man’s point of view and trying to be more fearless.
Excerpt by Lana Pesch, from Deffer's Last Dance
Uncle Deffer is the kind of guy who tells you about the kind of shit he had. He’ll describe what it looked like, taking pride in every detail.
Little rabbit turds floating there, he’ll say. Pinched off like Hershey’s kisses.
Or, It was a perfect goddamn heart shape. Where’s a camera when you need one eh Max?
He’ll say this out loud at the dinner table or standing in line at the hardware store. Then his laugh turns into a cough and he’ll lean over to support himself with whatever is around. Which could be the counter, or his denim clad thighs, or, lately, me.
I’ve been sitting down the hall from his room for two hours now. I’m in this worn out, pea soup coloured Lay-Z-Boy that is meant for older visitors or patients who want to come here and watch TV. I’m just going to close my eyes for a minute. If someone wants the chair they can ask me to move. If they want to change the channel from the tennis match I am not watching, please do. It’s there to distract me. It’s not working.
The last time I lived under the same roof as Deffer was when he got divorced from Auntie Betty. I was sixteen. My mom would send me to do the grocery shopping with him. Once, I saw him take a jar of roasted red peppers off the shelf, undo the lid, take a sip, put the lid back on, and put the jar back on the shelf. He said it kept his blood pressure regulated.
There is a woman at my office that I think would be a good match for him. She wears slippers to work that peek out from under her long shapeless skirts. Her name is Sara. I’ve seen her in the lunchroom eating tuna, her face right up close to the tin. She pokes around at the meat with a fork and eats it just like that, straight from the can. Sara shuffles around in the hall where she sometimes bumps into the photocopier or a cubicle partition because she’s always looking down. A dance lesson from Deffer couldn’t hurt. Like Deffer, Sara talks to herself. I’ve stood beside her at the elevator and caught her mumbling about deadlines and routine. She’s not like the rest of us and I want to tell her that her behavior is unacceptable. But I can’t do it because, truthfully, I’m jealous. I have so much admiration for her slippers and her tuna and her grumbling that I wish she would fold me in half and tuck me away into that canvas bag she leaves with everyday.
I have done forty-two crossword puzzles and drank six cups of vending machine coffee since I’ve been here. All the powdered creamer has made the inside of my mouth feel like the cheap cotton batten in a dollar store gift box.
Earlier, The Specialist met with us in the waiting room. She told us we should stand at the end of his bed and pretend like he is there with us. Not him now, incapacitated and unconscious, but the he that Deffer was two months ago, living with me in my condo, before any of this happened. She said to imagine he is standing there and then ask him what he thinks we should do.
What would Deffer say looking at a still life version of himself hooked up to tubes and monitors? He’d ask for a whiskey and a shave. He’d ask what the chances were of him walking away from this bed. He’d ask if he would ever regain enough strength to dance another polka and The Specialist would smile and say, Likely not, no. Then he’d say pull the fucking plug, let someone else lie here and die.
But I’m in love with The Specialist and don’t have the balls to tell her any of this.
That, and there is no fucking plug to pull.
So instead, my mother answers her by saying, It’s not like I haven’t dealt with death before.
Clearly she had neglected her meditation practice before coming to the hospital today.
I had a cockatiel once, Mom said.
Like some kind of extraterrestrial land mermaid an iridescent glow surrounds The Specialist, making it impossible to look away. I didn’t want to let her out of my sight. She is a thing so perfectly sculpted as if out of a fairytale it puts her at risk of being kidnapped or proposed to or stabbed to death. The Specialist looked my mother directly in the eye when she spoke.
Try to think about what he would want.
I’m just saying, Mom said, That bird had a stroke and lived for another two years. Comfortably.
What remains with you after reading Lana's work?
Can you articulate what's working in this excerpt - and more importantly, why it's working?
How is your own writing practice like Lana's? How is it different?
Please leave a comment below.
And thank you, Lana Pesch!