August 23, 2014

Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch: Author interview for Dance of the Banished

Dance of the Banished
by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch
Pajama Press
978-1- 927485-65-1
288 pp.
Ages 12+
August 22, 2014

With the official release of
Dance of the Banished 

award-winning youngCanLit author
Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch

graciously agreed to answer a few questions
for CanLit for LittleCanadians about her new book.

I'm pleased to share that interview with you here. 

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HK: Your notes at the conclusion of Dance of the Banished explain how you heard of the story and your research. Why did you choose to pursue the story?

MFS: I couldn't not write this book.  It touched on so many things that I had already written about, but from an entirely different angle. As well, the First World War internment barely registers with most Canadians, and those few who do know about the internment have only ever heard about it from a Ukrainian point of view. Here was a story originating in my own home town about a mysterious group of internees that no one seemed to know much about. I like to think of myself as a librarian-detective and this one took all of my skills to piece together.

The other part of this story that intrigued me is that within Canada, Ukrainians were the minority and were persecuted in WWI, but in the internment camps, they were the majority. As a person of Ukrainian heritage myself, that flipping of the dynamic intrigued me and I wanted to explore it.

HK: The culture of the Alevi Kurds is so distinct. Have you had any opportunities to witness the semah and experience their traditions first-hand?

MFS: I have not witnessed a semah first hand yet. I've seen videos only, and descriptions in documents. There are very few Alevi Kurds in Canada and it took me a long time to gain the trust of people in that community.  I began my research for this book in 2009 but it wasn't until last year that I was finally able to connect with Suleyman Guven, who is an Alevi Kurd and also the editor of a Kurdish-Alevi-Turkish newspaper here in Canada. He was incredibly patient and very generous with his time. He corrected my scenes to ensure accuracy and gave me great insight into Ali's character. Without Suleyman's assistance, I would have been up a creek.

HK: The plight of the Alevi Kurds reminds me that throughout history and around the world, even now with the Yazidis in Iraq, a group of people has been persecuted by the majority, and there were those who showed compassion and tried to right the wrong as the consul does in your story. Do you consider them and him heroes?

MFS: The Yazidis and Alevis have very much in common. Both are very old religions that over time have taken on some aspects of the religions they come into contact with. Both groups have suffered genocide for their beliefs, and both groups have helped others who have also been persecuted.

Leslie Davis was the American Consul in Harput during WWI and the Armenian Genocide. He was most definitely heroic and I have been so fascinated by this man that he has walked into two of my novels, Dance of the Banished, and also Daughter of War. Leslie Davis had a very modern view that all people are equal and he went to extraordinary lengths to save as many people as he could.

I especially admire the Alevi Kurds of the Dersim who saved 40,000 Armenians from the genocide, openly defying the Young Turk government, and risking their own lives in the process. I also admire the director of the Red Crescent hospital in Harput who saved nearly a thousand Armenians, and the vali (governor) who turned a blind eye as the Dersim Kurds rescued the Armenians. I also admire the Muslim women who passed out bread to emaciated Armenians in the caravans, and others who rescued children.

HK: Your book provides readers with an opportunity to learn about little known historical events and those poorly understood.  While I loved learning more about this story, are you ever concerned about those who might condemn your efforts as partisan, biased or propaganda, happier to not have the story told?

MFS: When I began writing this novel I had no idea what the story would ultimately be and I guess that makes me a bad propagandist, but I write about genocide and war from the victim's point of view. Since the Republic of Turkey still does not acknowledge that the Armenian Genocide happened, yes, some people will be angry with this book.

HK: The love story in Dance of the Banished provides one foundation upon which Ali and Zeynep's determination and courage are based, yet for most of the book, they are at opposite ends of the world. What sort of challenges did this give you, as the writer?

MFS: I didn't come upon the format of writing the novel like two intertwined journals until I had already written and scrapped an entire novel length draft. In that initial version I had tried to use the same narrative technique that I used for Daughter of War, which was third person intimate, mostly from two key characters' points of view. It did not work. Ali and Zeynep were both speaking to me in first person, and they were not interacting with each other because they were apart. The challenge here was how to intertwine the two stories, how to keep the love story intimate, when Ali and Zeynep are an ocean apart.

My editor Ann Featherstone posed the idea of two journals. Once I got my head around it, I realized how well it would work -- especially because both Ali and Zeynep were bursting out of my brain in first person anyway. After spending three years on that first tortured draft, I hit delete and started anew. This one blasted out of me in about five fevered months -- the first draft of it, that is! Subsequent drafts were slower.

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My sincere thanks to Marsha Skrypuch for her honest and insightful comments into the writing of Dance of the Banished and to her publicist, Kim Therriault, for arranging this Q & A.  Many thanks.

1 comment:

  1. Marsha Skrypuch is a brilliant author. Thanks for this great interview. I love learning about other authors and how they create their work.