Interview :: Meet Jessica Westhead

This is Jessica Westhead, author of And Also Sharks here to share her thoughts on writing, crafting characters, and her fascination with social awkwardness.

Photo sourced from Jessica Westhead

1. What drew you in to writing? How did you get started?

I can’t pinpoint anything exactly that drew me to writing–I feel like I’ve just always written. Since I was a kid, I was making up stories, and making little books out of those stories. I wrote plays, cast neighbourhood kids in the roles, and staged performances in our garage (mostly rip-offs of productions I’d seen with my parents–my masterpiece was a remount of Dracula complete with flying-bat-on-a-string special effects;) and I made my own versions of my favourite tabloids with fake news and illustrations.

2. What motivates your writing?

I’m actually so fascinated by socially awkward, unhappy, and unfulfilled characters that sometimes I worry I’m writing myself into a corner. I think maybe I need to bust out and write about something totally different…but then I’ll be walking down the street behind an older couple, and the wife says to her husband, hopelessly, “If you still want the onion powder, we could get it now.” And the husband replies with a sigh, “No, it’s okay. We’re probably fine for a little while.” And I’m in heaven imagining the relationship between these two sad people. So, what can you do?

3. How do you relate most to the characters in And Also Sharks?

I was fairly quiet and shy in high school, and was really insecure in social situations (beyond those with my family and close friends.) I’m a lot more social today, but overall I’m still an introvert–I can only handle so many big crowds. So I have a tender spot for those people who are unsure of and anxious about their place in the world, and who stumble around trying to figure out where they fit in. The majority of my characters in And Also Sharks are like that, so I relate to most of them.

4. Of your works, do you have a favourite story or character?

I have a few favourite characters, but the one I’m thinking of right now is Lee-Ann, who is a bit player in my story “Our Many-Splendoured Humanity” in And Also Sharks. She’s this passive-aggressive goof of a boss who annoys the crap out of Deb, the main character. In one scene Lee-Anne is eating St. Hubert chicken in Deb’s cubicle, and her hands are all greasy and she drinks the sauce right out of the container and says, “Mmm, this is good chicken sauce.” I love that part!

5. What advice can you give aspiring writers?

Attend other writers’ readings and book launches. Support your independent booksellers. Read, read, read. Get some peer writers together in a writing group, meet regularly to critique each other’s new work, and encourage and learn from each other. Help to thicken your skin by treating your writing like a business (not while you’re writing, of course, but when you have something ready to submit)—for instance, keep a record of where and when you send something for publication (and the result.) Be kind to yourself, and to your fellow writers (and everybody, really.)

6. What book do you recommend everyone to read? How come?

Joy Williams’ short story collection Honored Guest amazed the hell out of me. I read it as I was finishing up And Also Sharks, and it showed me a way of writing that just really clicked for me. It’s hilarious and weird and dark and sad, and deceptively simple—so much is going on beneath the surface of her everyday situations. There’s something shimmering and surreal about her fiction—it’s a little odd (in the best possible way), but hard to put your finger on why.

7. What’s in the works for you in the near future?

I’m currently working on another short story collection that I’m starting to get pretty excited about.

8. How do you keep your life playful & brilliant?

The most important thing for me is balance. My energy spirals up when I take a bit of time just for myself to do something frivolous that makes me happy, like go to a movie or bike around aimlessly or eat really good ice cream. And when I spend time with my husband and our baby daughter, especially doing stuff that’s outside the “okay-let’s-get-this-done-let’s-make-lunch-let’s-get-dressed-let’s-clean-up-the-toys-let’s-pack-the-diaper-bag” obligation parts of the daily routine. Derek and I like exploring random fancy hotels–and it just so happens that a small child is the ultimate credibility prop. It’s also fun letting Luisa crawl around in places that aren’t technically intended for that use. The Bay’s furniture department, for example, is a baby-crawling wonderland.

Thanks for sharing with us, Jessica. I love your curiosity of the elderly couple with the onion powder. That would definitely put me in heaven too! Such a touch of ordinary.

Neatos :: Disposable Camera Project

Meet Nick, right, and Paul, left, of Disposable Camera Project here in Vancouver. Disposable Camera Project is so cool, and international! I’ll let them explain.

Disposable Camera Project

1. What exactly is the Disposable Camera Project?

Disposable Camera Project (DCP) is an interactive and dynamic photo album on a global scale, profiling cool places through the eyes of the people that share them.

Everyone has a Facebook or LinkedIn profile, why doesn’t Robson Square or Olympic Village? We aim to do that by allowing the people that share these spots to provide their perception and in turn we see a collective profile of these locations.

We leave a disposable camera with attached instructions in cool locations. People either find them, or happen across them, they use the camera, then put it back. We come and pick it up when it’s done and put the photos on the website.

2. How did Disposable Camera Project get started? How did you become involved?

DCP just celebrated its two-month anniversary on September the 18th. It started as a simple school project of some friends of ours in Toronto. Paul and myself found out about it and immediately approached Mike Yambao and Mark Serrano about trying it in Vancouver, they loved the idea, and so we started it that weekend. That was about three months ago. The four of us joined up as a team and it has been a whirlwind since.

Paul and I are both new to Vancouver. We are creative and ambitious guys who have been talking about and searching for a new venture since we got out here. Once we heard what our friends back home had done we immediately saw the potential, joined forces, and re-launched.

3. Can you talk about the international aspect? Do you have coordinators in each city? How can someone get DCP in their own city?

Going international has been amazing, but it has also brought many new challenges. At this point we are still developing a structure and system that will make it easier for others to get involved. One aspect of this is a “build your own kit” video we have in the works, that simply teaches others how to build a kit and how to place it.

We refer to the people doing Disposable Camera Project nationally and internationally as “connections,” because they are connecting us to the world and in a sense brining people together, which is what DCP is all about.

Some of them have been friends, others have been people that have reached out to us that love the concept and want to start it to showcase their own city.

4. What do you like best about Disposable Camera Project?

The variety of the photos + the reaction of the people as they walk by a kit, see it, smile, and use it.

5. Tell me about a memorable photo or DCP event!

Paul and I have very fond memories of the first time, and specifically the first camera, that we ever put out in Vancouver. It was in Coal Harbour along the seawall. We put the camera out having no idea if it would work or not, tied it to a pole and quickly ran off, only to stop a few hundred feet away and spy. Within minutes people were stopping, reading it, and using it. We were ecstatic. That camera took eight hours, we have now done almost 50 cameras in Vancouver alone, and approaching 100 internationally.

One of our favourite photos is from that camera. Two kids, a brother and sister dressed in matching Mickey and Minnie mouse shirts giving the peace sign, it’s great.


6. What advice can you give ladies + gents looking to turn their passion into a business?

Rise to the challenges, because there will be many. It will be a rollercoaster ride so celebrate your accomplishments, persevere through the failures and progress each and every day.

7. What’s in the works for Disposable Camera Project in the near future?

We want to continue to grow and expand in the two cities we started in, Toronto, and of course beautiful Vancouver, but also to get as many other cities on the map as possible.

In the near future we want to also have a system that allows others to build kits and put out cameras so they in turn can see their album from their city on

8. How do you keep your life playful + brilliant?

Surround yourself with good people, people who will challenge you to be a better person, and if you work hard, play hard.

9. Oh! I almost forgot. How can I find a camera?

We post clues to camera locations on Facebook & Twitter, so like and follow us! For those of you that don’t have those social media accounts, not to worry, we have them on an integrated feed on our website, so just be checking the site.

I love that you two spied on your first camera! Must have been so awesome seeing the looks of delight. I’m on the lookout for Van’s cameras!

National Film Board of Canada (NFB)

The National Film Board of Canada (NFB) has a collection of over 2,000 free Canadaian-made films, trailers, excerpts, and interactive works. I’ve been perusing their selection and wanted to share a few of my favourites. You can find all sorts of films from arts to documentaries to animation to kids’ movies to interactive collections. You can search by topic or check out their channels and playlists.

Make sure to check out my story published on HyperLocal, their interactive collaboration with Canada Writes.

Have fun!

The Animal Movie by Grant Munro & by Ron Tunis, National Film Board of Canada

Walking by Ryan Larkin, National Film Board of Canada

Carts of Darkness by Murray Siple, National Film Board of Canada

Interview :: Meet Danielle Paradis

Photo sourced from Dani’s Blog

This is Danielle Paradis! A fellow writer and Grant MacEwan graduate, I met Dani when we were working on creating a nude calendar at our school. She writes, reviews, works on her Masters, and was the lead organizer for this year’s Slut Walk in Edmonton. Here, Dani talks about her life of writing, schooling, slut walking, and nail art!

1. Tell me about yourself.

I have a day job doing project coordinating of educational materials related to various trades. I am in school too, taking my Master of Arts in Learning Technology. I love reading. I review a lot of books on sex. Coming up soon I have a review for Violet Blue’s “The Adventurous Couple’s Guide to Sex Toys” and will be giving away a copy of the book on my blog. I like knitting too. And hula hooping.

2. What do you write about? What’s your favourite topic, genre, and avenue? What motivates your writing?

Oh a wide range of things! I write about current events, political musings, and intersectional feminism. I write about fashion and beauty. I also write some poetry and fiction. Like every other writer out there I would like to write a novel but I honestly don’t know what I would write about. I have one that I started about 8 years ago (!) In high school but I sort of lost interest.

3. You give voice to many sensitive subjects. What is your biggest struggle when writing a controversial article?

Yes I do end up writing about some sensitive topics. My biggest struggle is the argument. I write to bring awareness to issues where there are still a lot of misconceptions like sexual violence. Sometimes when writing the struggle comes from knowing what is going to happen when the article gets published some topics really bring out the dissenters and everyone expects you to have time to personally address their arguments.

4. You recently took part in Edmonton’s Slut Walk. Can you briefly explain what this is and why it’s important to you?

I was the lead organizer for this year’s slut walk. The movement began when a police officer said some less-than-sensitive remarks about how women should dress in order not to be victimized. Now every SW is slightly different because it conforms to the perspective of the organizer and the needs of the community. I participate because I and many women I know have experiences of sexual violence often without any hope of justice. I’ve been assaulted and never went to the police. A part of the stigma was highlighted by the remarks of the Toronto cop–women are blamed for their sexual assault. We’re scrutinized for behaviour and any hint of sexuality. Society needs to learn that the only person we should blame for rape are the rapists.

5. What advice can you give to aspiring writers?

Go to events where there will be other writers! So much of the time people assume writing is about isolation, but it doesn’t have to be the entirety. A part of getting your foot in the door is to actually know other writers and editors. New media is more social than its predecessors social media is now mandatory. Sure, there are some writers like David Sedaris who are able to get by shunning all technology but the vast majority of us have to get out there to make our voices known.

I also read a lot about writing. “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser is one of my favourites, and I also like Stephen King’s “On Writing” and “Danse Macabre”. “Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg is also worth checking out.

6. What’s in the works for you in the near future?

I’m just beginning writing my thesis right now. It is on Open Textbooks. I’m very interested in how technology and education intersect with one another and the ways in which we can enhance society through education. I’m going to keep writing too of course. I’m going to an Open Education conference in November that I am pretty excited about.

7. How do you keep your life playful & brilliant?

Whew boy. Um this can be a challenge when you are writing about dark topics. My friends on Twitter always help with a few pictures of bunnies and a good cat video here and there. In real life I try to go outside and go for walks I find myself cooped up in doors between work and study a lot. I travel when I can. We went to San Francisco and Seattle last year those were two great cities. I don’t think that I am particularly playful I have a pretty serious streak but I mindfully try to lighten up at least occasionally.

Nail art is fun I used to paint but I don’t have a lot of time to do that now. It was mostly water colors. I live in a small space so nail art allows me to still be creative.

8. Anything else you want to add?!

You know when they tell you to write everyday? It is true. Write and read every single day if you want to be a writer. After awhile it becomes a habit. Writing really isn’t that glamorous. You learn to face a lot of rejection. Keep pitching and you’ll get there.

More From Dani!

My Slut Walk Speech
Body Image and Fashion: How I Learned To Accept Myself Through Embracing Vintage
On Alberta Primetime Discussing Rape Culture

Thanks Dani! I love Stephen King’s “On Writing” too. I was skeptical at first because of his horror niche, but it was so beautifully written. You can find more from Danielle Paradis on twitter!

Interview :: Meet Photos by Adele

Photos by Adele :: Interview with Stylings + Stories

Photo by Photos by Adele

So, this is Adele! She’s the sweetie behind my Pick Me photo shoot. She’s an inspiration and and I wanted to learn about her quirks. Here’s our interview!

1. Tell us about yourself.

I’m a photographer who works in Calgary Alberta, I’ve been photographing people for the past five years, and I love it! Some other things that I love are my slippers, summer patios, pizza with just “cheese and pineapple on it,” and dogs running at high speed (that one is always hilarious!)

2. What drew you in to photography?

My parents bought me a six-dollar film camera when I was about eight for our family trip to Mexico. I can remember being so excited to get my film developed, which took about a week, and finally when I got that package back of 25 pictures about 24 of those were blurry pictures of my thumb. However, there was one slightly crooked ocean picture of the sun setting. I loved it so much I framed it and put it next to my Aaron Carter poster. If you would have asked my eight-year-old self, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I know my response would have been something like, “a singer!” At the time I wouldn’t have guessed that I would fall in love with photography as much as I have, but I love everything that photography stands for and I think I subconsciously knew that even at eight years old.

3. What do you love most about your job?

There are lots of different aspects that are extremely rewarding about photography. My favourite photographs are the ones of people. There is always a story that can be told through a photograph and I love being a part of it!

4. What has been the biggest challenge?

I think the biggest challenge for me has been how much there is to learn in photography. Accepting criticism and learning from it has been challenging, but also the most rewarding to my photography.

5. What advice can you give aspiring business ladies & gents?

Never stop learning. Take the opportunities every day to push yourself out of your comfort zone. Reflect on your work and make a list of the things you can work on, and the things you did well, it will only make your work improve!

6. Tell us about a memorable photo shoot!

Last April I assisted on a wedding and it unexpectedly dumped snow on the wedding day! Traveling from the ceremony to the reception was slippery and terrifying, but we made it! The snow was so fresh and beautiful it made for stunning photographs!

7. What’s in the works for you in the near future?

The upcoming summer I have weddings to photograph, which I am very excited about! I also hope to have my own website up by the end of summer, so all my pictures will be online for everyone to view!

8. How do you keep your life playful & brilliant?

I try to surround myself with inspirational people, who work hard and also play hard.

Thanks so much, Adele. You are truly charming and a pleasure to work with. I love how you find beauty in everything, from the crooked ocean sunset to sparkling snow in April.

How to Overcome Writers’ Block

How to Overcome Writers' Block

“Just write,” they say. “I don’t believe in writers’ block. It’s all in your head. Here’s a pen.”

I want to stick my tongue out at they. They doesn’t even know how it feels to have such genius ideas dancing a sexy tango in your head only to become floppy 1990’s boy band choreography on the page. Not only is it a total mess, it’s embarrassing.

It’s like one of those bad dreams where you show up to work in your underwear and everyone laughs, only it’s actually happening and you’re not caught in your underwear but a tacky neon leotard and everyone just stares uncomfortably because they can’t tell if you’re joking or not.

It’s not a joke.

So, writers’ block, instead of working her tacky neon leotard like a Cirque du Soleil acrobat, awkwardly sits at her computer fidgeting with her hair, shoveling snacks down her throat, and wiping away wet mascara running from the frustrated tears that pour out.

Never. Typing. A. Single. Word.

Maybe they has good advice after all. Just write.

Just write the cringe-worthy choreography, get it out of the way so you can smooth it into a sensual, heart-stopping tango. Wear that leotard like hot red lipstick.

I’m tellin’ ya, if you work it, those stares will be wrung with jealousy, because secretly, deep down, we all want the confidence to squirm in our most embarrassing indulgences. We fear our most intimate desires because they aren’t what we thought they would be, they aren’t what we were told they would be. They’re more like cheesy boy bands and bright, clingy spandex.

Trust me, once you’re done with it, people will want all your tacky like a popsicle in the summer sun, like beer by the barbecue, like kisses in the morning and cuddles at night.

I mean, you’re stuck in that damn leotard anyway, might as well make the best of it.

If that doesn’t work, just give up. Become a clown like all those high school career tests told you to. You’re half way there anyway, right?

Wrong. Big fat wrong.

If working it isn’t your style, chill out, there are a million ways to get out of your rut. I like to start with taking a break. Go for a run, walk through nature, meditate, make lunch or dinner or midnight snack, take a shower, call your mom and cry your poor little encumbered heart out. It’s okay. Everything is going to be okay.

Then, pour yourself a tall glass of malbec and sit back down to your notebook, or laptop or napkin, and write.

Just write.

Here are some writing prompts to get you started:

  1. I remember …
  2. The last time I …
  3. The more I think about ____ the more I wish …
  4. I wish …
  5. If I were …
  6. The colour ____ always reminds me of …
  7. My mom thinks I’m ____ but I’m really …
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