Upcoming Celebration

I am excited to be part of the organizing committee for the upcoming celebration of the Tenth anniversary of the jointly offered Trent-Carleton Ph.D. in Canadian Studies. Please join us at Trent University in Peterborough, ON on May 13 and 14 to celebrate the past ten years of accomplishments, present research, and a discussion of what the future might hold in our interdisciplinary field. Scholars from Canadian Studies, English Literature, Gender and Women’s Studies, Cultural Studies, Anthropology, Indigenous Studies, Political Studies and others will be part of the program. The event will kick off on Friday evening with a keynote address by award-winning author Thomas King. Please click here for details about the event and how to register to join us.

 

Chatting With Kathy

Author and activist, Kathy Ashby, recently took some time to respond to some questions that I had for her. What follows are her honest and thoughtful responses on topics ranging from childhood dreams to her environmental ethics to her work in various artistic pursuits.

JO: Social activism and protecting the environment are obviously extremely important to you. Can you discuss this and why you integrated these elements into your novel?

KA: I became a member of an anti-pollution group in 1967, at 14 years of age. It was very exciting. We participated in the Town parade and cleaned up roadside garbage. One year, we organized a Town meeting for the public in order to raise awareness about pollution. I remember the panel of guest speakers sitting on stage behind a table. During question period one man stood and held up a mason jar full of murky brown water, shaking the muck for all to see. He said that as a boy he remembered that the water would have been crystal clear. What happened? He asked the authorities to explain how/why this is? The faces of all the panelists went beet red. There was only a moment of awkwardness then an unsatisfactory answer, then, nothing. The man was not happy. He sat down. There was relief on the panelists’ faces. We went home. I was young. I was naïve. But I remember that something wasn’t right. Something was fishy. From the anti-pollution movement, I learned that, “If you are not part of the solution then you are part of the problem.” I know now that these very types of questions get asked today and still there are no answers. This book is my testimony to that man and for all of us. We hold up our glass of murky water and ask, “Why?” Carol ‘A Woman’s Way’ is my glass of brown water held up to the world. But, I have a plan for Planet Earth. Good men and women will see this.

JO: Kathy, you are an accomplished visual artist. Can you talk about some of the key differences in creating a piece of art versus writing a novel?

KA: I have been a 3-dimentional artist for 35 years and respect the skill I have acquired, however I believe that I can change mediums and transfer skills to a new endeavor. It takes time to learn a new medium but I have been enthusiastic.

JO: Did your work in the visual arts help you in the writing of this book? If so, how?

KA: Very much so. When I imagine creating a hot glass elephant from scratch, for example, I start by forming a body then create the back legs then the front, then form the head, ears and so forth. As I wrote the book, Carol ‘ A Woman’s Way’ I built it from top to bottom, mathematically. The book is composed of 7 waves and there is a pattern to the language of these waves or cycles. When a reader picks up the book from the bedside table they may sync in to the pattern and might more easily fall into the story line from where they left off. As the character Carol feels the pressure of her cycle the reader may not be aware of it but the words form a pattern and he or she may think, “Oh oh, here we go again, she is going to get into trouble.”

JO: In what ways did you change during and following the writing of your novel?

KA: I was forever worried about losing the manuscript. What if I lost it in a fire or something? When it was finally off to the publisher I was relieved. Since then, last September, we were hit by lighting and had a fire. I felt so lucky that the book was out there and safe. Of course I back up files once a week now. You can’t be too careful.

JO: When did you begin working on Carol ‘A Woman’s Way’? Have you had to work hard at your writing or is it something that has come rather easily?

KA: I think that I have always been a writer; I just didn’t know it, and I didn’t really take it seriously until 2000. I have since learned the trade, the ups and downs. It took a long time to train to be a writer and even longer to find a publisher. I am grateful to Elizabeth Margaris from DreamCatcher Publishing to take a chance on me, an unknown writer.

JO: Kathy, what do you enjoy doing in your leisure time?

KA: I think, write, read, think, snowshoe, hike, climb volcanoes, climb mountains, think some more, play, swim, snorkel, scuba-dive, power-walk, think harder, dream and think.

JO: As a child, what did you hope to do when you entered adulthood?

KA: I wanted to stop war. I wanted to stop injustice. I wanted to be like Robin Hood, take from the rich and give to the poor. I wanted to run in politics to make a change. I tried but didn’t win. I don’t think that today it is possible for an individual to make a change in the system since today it is more complicated in the sense that some people are richer than some countries. Participating in NGO’s may prove more useful and get better results. Besides I think it is the courageous heart, behind the mind, guiding the hand, and holding the pen, that is mightier than the sword.

JO: Can you tell us about some of your writing projects in the immediate future?

KA: I am planning another environmental fiction book. I anticipate non-fiction articles on the environment and women’s issues.

JO: Kathy, are there some books that you haven’t been able to read yet that you hope to get to soon?

KA: I am working on the 100 Century of Good Books, voted on by Librarians, the list chosen by Modern Library in1998. I am at 42 so far.

JO: What has been the most rewarding or fulfilling aspect of writing and publishing a novel?

KA: My mom has newer respect for me. She loves that I am a writer. She is very proud of me. I like that!

 

Ashby Finds the Right Way

Carol ‘A Woman’s Way’

By: Kathy Ashby

DreamCatcher Publishing, November 2009, 206 pp, Paperback $18.95 CDN

Reviewed by: James Onusko

Author Kathy Ashby has written an important and vibrant novel about environmentalism, social activism, and sisterhood in the fullest sense of the word. Ashby’s crusading and likeable protagonist Carol is supported by male characters throughout the novel, however, the narrative is shaped and driven forward by her and her supportive female friends. It reinforces an important aspect of social movements across the globe, both historical and contemporary – women were and are there, and more often than not, lead these movements on many levels.

Kathy Ashby lives in the Muskoka region of Ontario. She is an accomplished artist as well as being both an environmental and social activist. She is a graduate of Sheridan College in Mississauga. Her area of expertise in the visual arts is the art of blowing glass. While this is her first novel, she has been published on CBC and in other print publications.

The narrative of the novel is not complicated. The story is told from the point of view of Carol exclusively. From the outset, a proposed snowmobile trail begins to be built right next to her family’s property without any consultation of the local landowners, nor with the appropriate local government’s approval. The individuals doing the work begin the work in a haphazard manner with little regard for the surveying that has been completed – this also seems to have been done poorly. From there, Carol begins a quest, with the support of her husband and a tribe of other women, to stop the construction of the trail. The support that Carol receives is on multiple levels – financial, social, and emotional. Her husband’s support is at times limited and lukewarm though. The always growing alliance uses various methods, generally within their legal rights, to halt the ongoing trail construction. At times, she puts herself in grave physical danger while engendering a great deal of contempt from much of the surrounding community and in particular, the local snowmobilers’ association. Ashby does a very good job of maintaining suspense throughout the novel and the novel has a staggering and tragic twist right near their end – there’s a good hook for all readers.

One of the greatest strengths of the book is that despite the force of Carol’s convictions, Ashby is able to convey her moments of doubt in a meaningful way. Her relationships with her brother, husband, and son are tested throughout the novel and it is clear that Carol is fighting a battle on more than one front. Another strength is that Carol is also forced to explore some of the lifestyle choices that she and her family have made in choosing to live their lives according to some key values, not necessarily aligned with the consuming, industrial-capitalist life that most of us have succumbed to. There are profound moments where her fight against the trail induces a very real internal battle. Without question, readers will empathize with Carol and this internalized struggle. Finally, the book will likely make most thoughtful readers evaluate what they might be able to do, at a local level, to make some changes that will help preserve the environment with an eye to a future beyond next week. The novel is implicitly a call to action that may inspire people to realize that the lonely voice can be heard with a willingness to risk some of the things held most dearly.

In this excerpt, Carol is attending a public Town Council meeting to discuss the proposed alternate snowmobile route:

Carol feels her eyes heavy, separating from the upper lids, draining downwards as she registers the moment of their stumble pass.

As if the meeting is now in fast forward the mayor calls out, “Time for a vote.”

Carol stands. She forces a stretch with her mouth, pulling it downward in an attempt to stop the tremble in her cheeks. “What?”

All those in favour of the club adopting the alternate route say, Aye?”

“Aye,” comes a quick roar.

Then the mayor asks “Nay?”

No one speaks.

“Abstain?”

John Bennie puts up his hand.

“One abstain,” says the mayor, “noted,” nodding towards Donna Hill to do her secretarial duty.

John Bennie’s head stays down.

Shame thinks Carol.

The Wall-Gang, the Muskogee Sledders, as if one collective unit get up and move toward the door. Club President, Tom Long, throws Carol a look of triumph before they exit the council chambers.

“Next order of business,” calls Mayor Langdon and rubs the back of his neck.

The cold evening air that hits Carol when she exits the building feels refreshing on her burning cheeks. Her body feels heavy sitting in the van next to Bonnie, both of them silent the whole drive home.

In the dim bedroom light, Carol looks down at her sleeping son, then at the tissue sticking out of a book. She picks the book up, smiling that Logan used a tissue for the bookmark and notices that he’s three quarters of the way through the ‘Never Ending Story’. Carol goes back downstairs and lights the paper garbage in the wood stove. There’s enough packed in there, with the dampers open just a little, it will take the chill out of the house for the remainder of the night.

Carol ‘A Woman’s Way’ is not without weaknesses. At times the writing seems overly saturated with the emotion of some characters, principally Carol. While in some ways this could be viewed as a strength there are times that this, coupled with the enlarged print to emphasize the thoughts of Carol are heavy handed. As readers, we understand the importance of certain events, discussions, and consequences to these events and discussions. Therefore, some of these techniques come across as juvenile. Another significant drawback is that there were no scenes of release insofar as tension was concerned. I understand that the subject matter is serious, but the novel would have benefited from some moments of levity. Readers need time to gather at certain moments and a novel’s characters can then be seen in a new and fuller way following these lighter scenes.

None of this should dissuade you from reading this good novel. It is inspiring, moving, and highlights an ongoing and integral response to the flouting of laws, by-laws and rules in the pursuit of unadulterated pleasure-seeking or profit gain by certain groups. We can never have too many individuals seeking to ensure that despite the efforts of many, pockets of resistance can develop for a broader and more long-term good for all.

*A copy of Carol ‘A Woman’s Way’ was sent to me to read and review by DreamCatcher Publishing. It was not purchased.