canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

TDR Interview: Ibi Kaslik

Ibi Kaslik is a writer, journalist, and teacher. She graduated with her masterís degree in Creative Writing from Concordia University and her short stories and articles have appeared in literary magazines such as Matrix and Geist. Skinny is her debut novel (Harper Collins Canada, May 2004). She dreams of one day owning her very own banjo. Nathaniel G. Moore interviewed her in winter 2004.

TDR: Where did the concept for Skinny come from?

I wrote the first versions of Skinny in a Creative Writing novella class and it eventually became my thesis project.  It is indeed cut from myself.  As a topic that I experienced directly in my personal life and social group, I never saw eating disorders represented in media discourse in the way it played itself out in life. Somehow Kate Moss, the Karen Carpenter story, and After School Specials never cut it for me.  Eating disorders and distorted body issues seemed, to me at least, to be about something more significant than the media influence on young women, and had less to do with the formulaic pop psychology pursuit of blaming it on overbearing parents.  In one sense yes, anorexics are products of their upbringing: in Skinny the anorexic character, Giselle, is a twenty-two-year-old med student, who grapples with her dead father's rejection and the high standards her immigrant parents have set for her. Yet many people coming from ambitious and over-achieving families are not anorexic. 

One of my aims with Skinny was to demystify clichés about anorexia, one of them being that anorexics are these vestal virgins who fear sexuality. Growing up, having an eating disorder was almost a common rite of passage, like experimentation with drugs and alcohol.  In a society so obsessed with food and youth consumption, kids, especially girls, are likely to succumb to one of the aforementioned modes of experimentation and for most people itís a phase.  My interest was to follow a character, Giselle, who never outgrew the anorexic stage, and made rejecting food, and the values of abstinence and purity, a way of life.  I also wanted to glorify the notion of perfection implicit in anorexia that some theories about the disorder dismiss so rapidly, for at the heart of it is a sort of idealism and romanticism, the desire to arrest change, and resist the carnal world.  Evolutionary psychologists are now saying anorexia was a way for tribes to survive long periods of famine and nomadic life, and that women leaders starved themselves to enable their tribes to survive, so I donít think Iím too far off on this tip of martyrdom. 

At the same time I wanted to juxtapose Giselleís somber and cerebral approach to another view of the body as manifested in Holly, Giselleís younger sister, the second narrator in Skinny.  Hollyís a junior-high athlete who pushes her body to physical extremes, but she does so in the glorification of her bodyís capacity, not in its destruction.  I guess I always had two voices of women who pushed their bodies to extremes in my head and never really saw anything like that reflected in society. That, and I had just finished reading As I Lay Dying by Faulkner.  Good mentors and editors are also critical in shaping the mess of voices and ghosts in one's head.

TDR: With a seemingly dearth of amicable paths for certain publishers to get their books into giant stores without being compromised financially, are you at all extremely happy you have avoided a lot of the LPG pitfalls and frightening mess that a lot of small presses have to fight for to stay afloat?

Of course, but there are many thriving presses out there still whose books are selling and being read.  We read them, right people?    

TDR: And how has it been working with a large publisher?

As I mentioned earlier, having support of your work, great editorship, and a good community of artists around you is necessary.  Basic ass-in-chair work philosophy also helps.  It's been a long haul for me, I started this book six years ago, gone from grad school to the publisher with it and, while Iím well aware that I live a charmed life having the opportunity to work with a major publisher, Iíve done my time like anyone; this is the book I wrote in my early twenties and I am now thirty.  You really make a choice as a writer, like any artist, to commit to being alone for long periods of time to work, or daydream, or stall. Orwell wrote that anyone who writes a novel is vain, selfish and lazy and at the bottom of their desire to write was a mystery, and I tend to concur.

TDR: When you write how thick is the veil or veneer or aluminum siding that separates 'you' from the 'I' in the writing, even if you write in third person?

Obviously experiences and ideas for characters come out of real-life but thereís a transformative thing that happens, hopefully.  Like acting, you can inhabit characters, see the world from different perspectives.  I like to give characters strong occupations: In Skinny Giselle is a med-student so thereís also third voice, a medical textbook voice that narrates the action.

TDR: When you write dialogue, do you hear two voices or one? do you hear both voices or just one? Then do you imagine the other voice?

So many voices talking! A product of post-modernist attention span, writing for newspapers, watching TV. 

TDR: Can you talk about creative control and the cover art? Did you take that bite out of the popsicle?

I like that the book has an iconic symbol, a popsicle.  I sort of thought thereíd be a body but Iím glad there isnít, in the end.

TDR: Anorexia and bulimia have been portrayed as cool diseases in the fashion world. (Even Ben Stiller jokes about them in his film "Zoolander".) For those who have suffered with the ailment, or who have been affected by someone who has suffered from the aforementioned, how does the narrator's purpose change beyond carrying the story, when these issues are so human and relevant to modern culture?

Without being annoying, I think the book examines those very questions but through a personal framework of experience and history.  Make the personal universal, I guess, is what weíre striving for here, with all these words.

TDR: How do you think it affects the tone of a book, versus a comedy? Do you think books are a more serious platform for dealing with issues? Do you think the power of voice, for example can convey truths that other mediums can't because they require less audience or reader attention?

With the visual, you canít have a voice and obviously the physical is displayed in film media while writing draws on individuality, character and detail; thereís a humanity with words you canít transmit the same way in other arts, the internalized caprices and quirks of people have to be described and the characterís face has to be imagined.

Nathaniel G. Moore is Nathaniel G. Moore.






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