Interview by Mikaela Asfour.
Leanne Dunic is a writer, multidisciplinary artist, singer/guitarist of The Deep Cove, and winner of the Alice Munro Short Story Prize in 2015.
Her poetic travelogue, To Love the Coming End, was published in 2017, and takes place in Singapore, Japan, and Canada. The narrator, thrown off balance by a personal loss, deftly juxtaposes the impact of grief on the human body and psyche with the patterns and rhythms of historical and natural disasters— all the while haunted by the “curse of 11.”
Leanne is featured in two upcoming events at the Vancouver Writer’s Festival. She will be reading and performing with her band, The Deep Cove, at Dance to the Coming End on Thursday October 19th at 8:30 PM at Performance Works, where the Open Book Art Collective will be showcasing their artworks inspired by To Love the Coming End.
Leanne will also appear on the True Confessions and Tall Tales panel with Hera Lindsay Bird, Dina Del Bucchia, and Zoey Leigh Peterson on Friday October 20th at 8:30 PM at the Revue Stage, where they will discuss the line between fiction and nonfiction.
The Deep Cove’s release show for their first upcoming album, To Love the Coming End of the World—a companion to Leanne’s book— will take place on Saturday November 4th at the Fox Cabaret, with a solo guest performance by José Miguel Contreras (By Divine Right).
Three tracks from The Deep Cove’s upcoming album can be downloaded for free at bookthug.ca/thedeepcove.
Leanne, what’s your morning routine?
I wake up, make a smoothie, take my dog to the dog park, and do my pseudo-tai chi with my neighbours in the park.
How does travel inform your writing process?
When I travel, my perspective is constantly adjusting. I like long bus or plane rides because I can be alone with my thoughts and figure out creative projects.
In To Love the Coming End, you wrote: “Within me, a gaping crevice. The more I change my environment the more I lose track of myself, yet I traverse.” While traveling, do you tend to reflect more on your sense of identity?
Personally, I don’t think too much about my identity unless it’s thrown in my face. Yesterday, my Uber driver asked me if I was Jewish, and that was the only thing she asked or said to me in the whole drive.
And then the day before that when I was in Kingston (Ontario), after my event, someone came up and was so sure I was of Mayan descent. She said, “I know you identify as Asian, but are you sure you don’t have any Mayan heritage?” And I said, “yes, I’m sure.” So in those ways, I think about my identity when people try to label me [based on their assumptions]. And I tell you, they sure want to be right.
What inspired you to write your book, “To Love the Coming End?”
I didn’t think about it consciously. I had made notes about the number 11 coming up in different circumstances— usually unfortunate ones. And my own travels around the Pacific Rim were of course a huge inspiration. Living on the Pacific Rim, we always have The Big One in our brains. The threat of it is always there. And as I spend a lot of time in Japan, I have a fear of earthquakes when I’m there too. So from there, it all sort of came together. Especially with the Japanese earthquake happening in 2011 on March 11th.
You’ve mentioned that a lot of the things you wrote about in your book have come true.
There was one point where I was researching this earthquake that happened off of Tofino in 1700, and the day I was doing that research, an earthquake happened in the same spot. It freaked me out—like I had conjured this earthquake somehow.
What else from the book came true?
The narrator is very academic, and talks a lot about Asian identity type issues, and when I wrote the book, I didn’t have a bachelor’s degree. But then after I got the contract for the book, I magically ended up starting my MFA.
The narrator also talks about their book, “Performing Asian,” and right after my book launch, I was asked to present at an Asian studies conference in Toronto. I felt like I was the character in my book. I didn’t see that coming, and it was very cool.
What do you think the line is between fiction and non-fiction?
I don’t abide by lines. I think my book is a good example of this. Sometimes you need fictions to tell truths, and so I made a lot of stuff up, but while I was making it up, it felt very true. I did want to make sure that the facts that were historic were true, with regards to the Japanese involvement in Singapore, and the earthquakes that happened in the past, because I think that’s important, but I made up experiences and habits for my character to help enhance other kinds of truths.
What advice would you give to a young writer?
I’d tell them to just keep writing, not to get discouraged, not to take things personally, and to embrace rejection.
What’s one risk that you’re glad you took—in life, or with writing?
I have a lot of friends who are really good writers, but they can’t deal with rejection very well, so they never send work out—and I think that’s unfortunate, because their work should be out there, and I know it will get published—but they just can’t deal with the pain of it all. And I’m talking about some pretty established writers here.
On my end, I was constantly putting myself in a vulnerable position by submitting stuff every day at one point; I did that for months. And so I would get a hundred rejections, and in those hundred rejections, there would be one really good acceptance. I think that’s a risk—making yourself vulnerable and taking a chance that no one’s going to want you. I would encourage people to take that risk as well.
Is there any advice that you like ignoring?
They say if you want to be good at something, you need to spend 10,000 hours on that one thing to be good. And so I’m often told that I should focus on one art form, like writing or music, and not all of them. I don’t follow that advice. And I think that advice may be true, but it just doesn’t suit me to focus on one thing. I need to express myself in different formats.
What are you most proud of?
I’m really proud of my band, The Deep Cove. I think that everyone in it is super talented, and it’s magical that we can work together.
How would you describe your music?
I try not to. A word that comes up in a lot of other people’s descriptions of our music, and a word that’s also used to describe my writing, is “cinematic.”
Do you tend to remember your dreams? Could you share a vivid one with us?
I was having a dream that I was hanging out with Paul McCartney, which is a dream I have quite often. I’ve actually kept a journal of all my Paul McCartney dreams since I was in elementary school. He was playing me this new song of his, and I didn’t think it was very good, so I said: “Paul, this song is too adult-contemporary. Let me fix it.” And the way I fixed it was with the song called Biting Ones on our album.
What are you working on next?
My MFA thesis is a concept album based on a short story I wrote called “The Gift.” My band and I will start recording the album in January.
I also have a book called “Hysteria” that I’m working on. It takes place in an unspecified city in Asia, and it touches on migrant workers in Asia, as well as violence in America, and sexuality.
Mikaela Asfour is a writer and upcoming graduate of the UBC Creative Writing MFA program.