Today we are speaking with Dolly Dennis. Thank you, Dolly, for joining me on my website.
Dolly: Thanks, Eva, for giving me this opportunity to talk about my work.
My family came to Canada as refugees after the war and settled in Montreal when I was 5. I consider myself a mutt as I was born in Kiel, Germany; my ethnicity is Lithuanian and I speak French badly. I mispronounce a lot of English words because I didn’t speak the language until I started school. Let’s say I read a lot. I moved to Edmonton in 1993.
I could have followed many paths in my twenties: songwriter, writer, dancer, actress, playwright, producer, visual artist. I had no one really to guide me. My high school art teacher said I should be an artist so I auditioned at the L’Ecole des Beaux Arts and froze, ran out of there at the first opportunity. My 9th grade teacher said I should be a writer and read all my compositions out loud to the class. I always wrote and didn’t realize I could do more than one thing at a time.
So, 39 years later, I am also a visual artist and my work has been in five group exhibitions so far. I do representational paintings in acrylics, and one of my recent paintings will be exhibited at the Kaleido Family Arts Festival on September 9, 2016 (Nina Haggerty Gallery, located at 9225-118 Avenue NW, Edmonton, AB). The painting is of the Koffee Café in Mill Woods where we used to hold the Glass Door Reading Series and is my first acrylic in 30 years. It was accepted based on artistic merit and gallery space. So I’m thrilled about that.
What books have you written, and what are their genres? What audience are they aimed at?
My readers have said that they loved the book because it was entertaining, funny, and informative. It had a story. When I write, I don’t think about my audience. I just write because I have something to say.
Thirty copies of Loddy-Dah are in Connecticut, where a class of students at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, CT, will be reading the book in September under the Women’s Studies program. Afterward, they will interview me via Skype.
“An impressive debut novel by Canadian writer Dolly Dennis, Loddy-Dah offers a kind of coming-of-age narrative that deftly weaves themes of family, identity, friendship, and loss against the turbulent political and social backdrop of late 1960s Montreal. At the center of it all is a richly drawn protagonist, Loddy, who must unshackle herself from her immigrant family’s abuse and dysfunction in order to find her value and her voice. She is aided by an array of quirky and colorful characters, members of The Garage Theatre, who lend texture not only to Loddy’s story but to the portrait of Montreal that also emerges.”–Jill K. Weinberger, Amazon
What prompted you to write what you did? Where do you get your writing inspiration? What message(s) do you want readers to take away?
I always knew I would write about that time in Montreal, 1967-1970, because it was the best time to be young and I didn’t want to forget. It starts with EXPO 67 and ends with the October Crisis in 1970. Canadians seem to want to ignore that part of our history as though it never existed. It is not a historical or political book though. We do follow a theatrical troupe as their lives unfold against the backdrop of political events at that time. I wanted to show how people who enter our lives influence us for good or bad. It was at that time when the supermodels like Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton came on the scene, and we all wanted to look like them. I wanted to tell women that they were beautiful just being themselves, and I wanted them to feel empowered. Some readers enjoyed the tour of a Montreal they once knew. It really is a coming-of-age book, semi-autobiographical in some respects, like most first books.
I get inspired by characters first and then story.
Do you write short stories, articles, or have a blog? Where can we find them?
I’ve written only three short stories to see if I could do that, and they were immediately published, but short stories left me unsatisfied. So then I wondered if I could write a novel. I’ve written articles, which have appeared in newspapers and corporate newsletters, and I wrote a life commentary column for 10 years for a non-profit newspaper in Montreal. I call this part of my life my apprenticeship in writing as I am the rare writer here in Alberta who does not have an MFA in Creative Writing from UBC.
What do you find the hardest about writing? The easiest?
The hardest is finding a structure for the story. The easiest and most enjoyable is the editing, as that is where the creative process really takes shape.
What’s next for you after Loddy-Dah?
Right now I’m doing the final revisions to my second book, They Burn Forests, Don’t They? which is set in Mill Woods, Edmonton. Totally different from my first book. I write about Edmonton and Montreal because I’ve lived in both. I don’t believe a writer has to go to some foreign country to find interesting stories. I continue to paint Mill Woods, my neighbourhood, because nobody else has. Hoping for a solo show one of these days, maybe in combination with my book launch.
And I dip into adapting Loddy-Dah for the stage. I worked with Perry Schneiderman in Montreal at the Revue Theatre, who later became the head of the National Theatre School for 23 years, and he also developed the drama program at Ryerson. I wanted him to direct. He’s read the book and found it poignant with a flood of memories. He feels, as some folks do, that it should be a movie. He is encouraging and will provide one of his student directors when I’m ready.
I worked at the Revue for ten years in various capacities. It was a professional avant garde experimental theatre, which was also one of the first to do Canadian plays. After my play, the Plexiglass Box, won a couple of awards at the Quebec Drama Festival around 1977, it played at the Revue for two weeks to full houses. I also have theatre contacts here from Montreal, so Loddy-Dah, the play, is a long-term project but it will happen. I also am working on a book of poetry, which will include some of my sketches. For an old broad, I still have a lot to say so I better hang around.
What special thing about yourself would you like to share with readers?
That it is never too late to be what you were always meant to be. Don’t give up on your dreams. Don’t be afraid to be outspoken. Follow the path least travelled and discover your uniqueness, originality. The most interesting people do not belong to any clique or “tribe.” And don’t be afraid. Write, paint for yourself, and the rest will follow. And yes, allow yourself to cry once in a while. It’s good for the writer’s soul.
How can we follow or contact you?
Where can readers buy your books?
Also, if they Google my book, they will find it’s available in various countries around the world.
Awards / Recognition
- “Perennial” creative non-fiction, shortlisted for the James H. Gray Award, Alberta Literary Awards, 2012
- “Plexiglass Box,” Quebec Drama Festival of One-Act Plays, winning Best Director and Best Production, Montreal, circa 1977
Added October 2016