Miriam Körner is a writer, illustrator, photographer, and wilderness guide. Her YA debut novel, Yellow Dog, is currently nominated for four 2017/18 Young Readers’ Choice awards and her picture book (co-authored by Bernice Johnson-Laxdal), When the Trees Crackle with Cold: pīsimwasinahikan, won the 2017 Moonbeam Gold Medal in the multicultural non-fiction category. She lives with her husband and their twelve sled dogs near La Ronge in northern Saskatchewan. When she’s not out exploring the vast wilderness of her backyard, she writes about her adventures or — better yet — invents a whole bunch more for her novel characters.
Describe your workspace.
My workspace fluctuates throughout our hose. Depending on what I’m workingon, I occupy the kitchen/dining room table, my computer desk, the couch, the floor, the bed.
I try to keep either the couch or the table clear so we have a spot to eat, but that doesn’t always work out.
Describe a typical workday.
I’m still aspiring to a typical workday. It usually starts with best intentions to put my writing first and then morphs into checking emails and working down my to-do lists that seem to get longer rather than shorter as the day moves on. I usually free a block of time for writing and once I’m deep into a writing or illustrating project, I do not care about anything else on my list (including the ever growing pile of dirty dishes.)
List three of your most favourite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.
My computer — that’s where all my stories start to take shape and that’s where all my published and unpublished manuscripts live. I have about 30,000 photographs from adventures by dog team and canoe across Canada’s Far North on my computer and I like to look at them to evoke memories of places, feelings, smells that then flow into my characters’ description of places, feelings, smells, etc.
Pencil and paper — sometimes ideas don’t come in words but in images.
Whichever dog is lingering in the house (right now Bandit and Bianca.) Nothing keeps your mood up better than a dog begging you for a belly rub.
Do you have any rituals in your work habits?
I force myself to quit writing when I notice myself staring at the screen instead of typing — usually after about four to five hours. That’s all my brain can handle.
What do you listen to while you work?
Dogs barking. Ravens cawing. Dogs howling.
What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?
Water. And I eat lots of gummy bears.
How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?
I tried writing an outline once. In the first sentence I typed after I had finished my outline, a character appeared that wasn’t in my outline, Actually the opening scene wasn’t in my outline either. I gave up on planning after that. I kind of like it that way. It’s a surprise to me what will happen in the novel. Sometimes my characters do things I do not expect at all. That usually requires a bit of research. (It’s kind of embarrassing when your character knows more than you do.)
What media do you use and which is your favourite?
I use all sorts of media. Acrylic paint, pastels, watercolour, collage. I think watercolour is my favourite. I have a tiny set of paints and it’s put away quickly, so we can eat supper on a table.
If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of our choosing, who would it be?
My workspace? Sharing? Not possible. (Except of course with Salty, Pepper, Happy, Bianca, Ferdinand, Lucy, Silu, Grace, Earl, Mercedes, Snoopy, Fuzzy.)
What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received?
It was at a CANSCAIP Prairie Horizon’s conference. Sean Cassidy said to me: “If you are in this [writing/illustrating] for the long run, it’s inevitable that you will be published one day.” I then realized it’s not about writing a good manuscript and then finding a publisher. It’s about continuing to write/illustrate and not giving up.
Thanks to Jennifer Chambliss Bertman for the use of her Creative Spaces interview questions.