For many of us, reading for enjoyment is such an integral part of our lives. However, for our adult students, the ability to read can be a struggle when navigating everyday life such as reading road signs, ingredients on food packages or filling out forms at the doctor’s office. Over time as their reading and comprehension skills develop, some discover the joy of reading a book for the very first time.
I recently had the pleasure to chat over Zoom, with a local author who’s work in poetry and fiction has won numerous awards. Earlier this year, his latest book, Kill The Mall was released showcasing his talent for the imaginative and hyperbolic. In September he will be the Writer in Residence at McMaster University – to mentor creative writers from the Hamilton community, supported by the Department of English and Cultural Studies and the Hamilton Public Library.
Life for this writer during this pandemic has been atypical. Please join me in –
Conversation with . . . . . . . . . . Pasha Malla
I’m not originally from Hamilton but I came to live here with my husband who felt drawn to come back to his hometown. I wondered Pasha, what drew you to Hamilton since you grew up in London, Ontario? Well, my partner and I were living in Toronto in separate places, and we wanted to move in together; she teaches at Laurier at the Brantford campus. It’s quite a long commute from Toronto. So, a half an hour drive versus an hour and a half—Hamilton just made sense. It was obviously more affordable to buy a house, six years ago. I immediately just really liked it here a lot. I got involved in coaching youth basketball pretty quickly, something I never had a chance to do in Toronto. Though obviously that’s been on hiatus for the last year and a half.
I find people here interpersonally much warmer—maybe just a function of being a smaller place. But in Hamilton people hang out on their front porches and talk to one another. And obviously having a dog helps. People always want to talk to me when I am walking the dog around.
You couldn’t have picked a better time to have a dog than in this past year. I know. Well, yeah, the dog was getting us out of the house until the dog tore a ligament in his knee and then he was laid up after a big surgery. We’re near Gage Park in the East End and it’s just a great neighborhood. Yeah, I love Hamilton, I think it’s a great town.
Has the pandemic impacted your life as a writer? Yeah, I have barely done any writing, but I’ve also been very fortunate. The past two years I’ve had a full-time teaching job at York (University), and teaching full time, especially online, has been so time consuming. In other years, making a living would have been more of a scramble. Like a lot of writers, I usually rely on gigs and a lot of that stuff just got shut down. So, I was really lucky relative to a lot of writers and relative to how I’ve made my living in the past.
Was this the first time you were teaching on-line? Yeah, pretty much. I mean, I’ve taught one kind of asynchronous class before online, and I’ve designed some online teaching modules. But this semester I had one day that I was teaching almost straight, online, for six hours.
It can be so exhausting, I’ve had meetings on Zoom where it’s two hours, and then I needed a break. Being on Zoom can feel long but I was fortunate that my students were incredible. I mean, it’s entirely a testament to their enthusiasm and support of one another, general positivity, and engagement—they were just so into it.
I write best when I’m emotionally grounded and centered, and I personally feed off community and socialization—like, seeing friends and playing sports. Like everyone else, I didn’t have that to round things out for me. I struggled a lot just to find the wherewithal and focus to do any writing. So, I didn’t write a lot. I’m hoping now to get back into it. The semester’s over so I’m refocusing. I have started doing some writing in the past few weeks.
I read that you are going to be mentoring through the Writer’s Trust mentorship program. So, when I saw the Writer’s Trust had this program I was like, please consider me for this next year, it is just the kind of work I love doing. I reviewed all 138 applications and ultimately chose Emily (Pegg) because of the stage she was at with her manuscript, and I thought I could be more helpful to her. She’s super smart, super enthusiastic, really motivated and the project is really interesting.
Is there a writer scene in Hamilton, do you have a lot of interaction with other writers in Hamilton? There are a lot of writers here I know and really like. People are really welcoming. But my closest friends in Hamilton aren’t really writers. I mean, I do have friends who are writers, but I feel like our friendships are because of things other than writing.
When you’re writing, do you have schedule that you follow? I do usually have a very regimented schedule that has just kind of fallen apart this past year. I’m trying to get back into that.
How many hours a day do you usually spend writing? It really depends. I mean, some days, eight; some days, one; some days, zero. I do try to go into my office and write for so many hours. Now that I’m kind of moving into the summer I’m going to try and redevelop that schedule I used to have. Generally, the afternoon is my block of focused writing time. So, I’m hoping to kind of return to that, that’s when I work best—with a second cup of coffee. I used to be more of a morning person, but it would drive my partner crazy that I would rock out of bed at six in the morning and you know, start singing. My husband is a morning person, it drives me crazy too!
Do you have plans to work on anything specific? I’m working on a sequel to Kill The Mall. It’s a similar kind of format that I used to write the first book. It’s going to be in 12 parts, and I’ll write one part each month, with the goal of being done in a year. And then, concurrently while I’m working on that, I’m working on this other much more complicated, serious book that has required a ton of research. I’ve been working on it in some fashion since 2002. It’s about a physicist who went missing, set in Italy and Germany in the 1930’s.
I really enjoyed Kill The Mall, I loved the language in this book, and I wondered if you spent a lot of time agonizing over the tone and choice of words? When I hit on that voice, it just felt very natural writing to stay with that ridiculous, formal, antiquated, neurotic and overly analytical style. It was the most fun that I’ve had working on anything since high school.
I think that comes through because despite being considered horror-fantasy, I laughed out loud at so many parts. I mean, it made me laugh to write it sometimes. It’s nice to hear that you found it funny because I think it’s funny.
Your imagery is also very powerful although I have to say, you may have ruined red wine for me. I’m referring to the line, “There’s (grape) wine by the gallon, as rich and purple as wet as liver, and twice as sweet.” Sorry. I hope not, I like red wine too.
Were your parents surprised you became a writer; did they have other expectations of you? Yeah, it didn’t surprise them. I mean when I was a little kid, I said I was going to be an author from the time I was like five, so I don’t think it was a big surprise. I did go to university initially for film, so I think that maybe there was some sense that I was going in that direction. My dad, who’s a doctor, saw I was not going into the sciences, so I think they were sort of prepared for me to do something else.
I’ve really enjoyed our conversation today, thank you for taking the time. I’m also looking forward to the sequel to Kill The Mall so get back to work! Yeah, thank you so much! It was nice to meet you and thank you for reading my books. I appreciate it.