Toronto Tuesdays: Kari Maaren

I can’t remember exactly when I met Kari — it was most likely at a TorKidLit meet up — but she has become one of my favourite people on the planet. There are so many things to love about her, but one of the things I love most is her sense of humour — she’s absolutely hilarious! And for someone who loves to laugh, being around her is a real treat! The second thing I love most about her (well, actually, maybe it’s tied with the first thing) is that Kari (pronounced car-ee) is the most down to earth, real, and unassuming person you’ll ever meet. And she’d never tell you this on her own accord, but she has a freaking PhD! I’m so glad she agreed to contribute to the blog today and I bet you’ll enjoy this interview as much as I did.

Welcome Kari!

What’s your favourite creative medium? What draws you to expressing yourself this way?

I can’t pick just one. That may be my problem. I like writing novels, making comics, and creating music. They’re all my favourites.

I guess the thing all three media have in common is that they’re different forms of storytelling. With writing, I enjoy immersing myself in the story worlds, whether those worlds are “right around the corner, only with time travel” or “in a completely different universe, also with time travel.” I like time travel. My stories usually have a speculative element, even when they’re set here and now. It’s fun to push the limits of reality and actively try to make people’s heads explode.

With comics, my favourite bit is that I never quite know where the story is going, but I sort of fling myself haphazardly into it and hope it all works out in the end. With music, I go in two directions: I write silly songs about hobbits and Batman, and I have a musical improv YouTube channel in which every day, I post an improv played on one of a variety of instruments. Lately, I’ve been shaping some of these improvs into long-form stories. The stories get into everything and multiply, like tribbles.

Why is creating important to you? 

1) It’s an escape from the drudgery of a job that takes 130% of my time and leads to a lot of crying and screaming.

2) There are 600 stories in my head, and they want out. Most of them aren’t ready yet, but I know they’re there.

3) I like to torture myself. It’s fun.

4) It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s gotta do it.

5) I tried to stop once, and I found myself involved in a conversation about mortgages. I did not like it.

6) When I was seven, I was cursed by a wizard, and everything has been downhill from there.

7) If I have to spend all my time with fictional characters yelling at me inside my brain, you’re going to have to deal with the consequences.

What, or who, is your greatest creative influence?

I’m going to blame folk tales. When I was in my 20s, I went through a “find and read every folk tale everywhere” phase. Folk-tale collections are still the biggest part of my personal library, which has taken over my apartment and made it so I have nowhere to sit. I like the way stories are just chaos held together by patterns. That’s certainly the way I write them.

What is your favourite time of day to create?

The six seconds a day I am not grading undergraduate essays. These six seconds can occur at any time.

Which of your creations is your personal favourite, and why?

Weave a Circle Round, the only book I have managed to get published, holds a special place in my heart because it’s a story about stories, and the characters are almost as strange as I am.

How do you deal with creative slumps?

By eating too much chocolate and crying. Also, I find that even when I’m struggling with one form of creative expression, I can continue creating other things, so there’s always some sort of creativity going on. For instance, when my mum was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, I went through a few years where I couldn’t finish a novel. My brain didn’t want to produce any long written stories with endings. I’m not sure exactly why grief hit me like that, but my slightly shaky theory is that everything with my mum felt unfinished, and in light of the feeling that any real resolution had been stolen from my mum’s life, all my stories remained incomplete as well. That may just be me trying to turn inexplicable reality into a story. Anyway…during this period, I was still writing comics and music. Eventually, I regained the ability to finish novels.

One extra note: there are creative slumps, and there are career slumps. These are not always the same thing. Being in a career slump when you are not in a creative slump can be extremely frustrating. There may, in fact, be a reason I am bringing this up.

The best way of dealing with this is again chocolate and crying, but that’s not actually true. It’s dogged perseverance and possibly a little bit of denial. Okay, that may not be true either. The power of love? Clearly, I haven’t figured this one out yet. At any rate, it’s hard, but there are other people in the same situation, and they will sympathise. You can all get together and work out your feelings at an axe-throwing range.

Who are you beyond your art? Give us three insider facts about you.

  1. I once spent six months ferociously teaching myself to juggle. I can now juggle three balls in one pattern. I cannot juggle four balls. I cannot juggle anything but balls. But I do enjoy juggling. You don’t have to be good at things to like doing them.
  2. Way back at the beginning of the pandemic, I started going for lots of walks in the Don Valley. At one point, I saw an American Goldfinch and took a picture of it with my phone. The picture appeared to be of a small yellow smudge surrounded by brown smudges. For whatever reason, that was the moment I decided that I had to photograph every bird I saw until the end of time. I started taking my 14-year-old point-and-shoot camera on walks with me, as it had better resolution than my phone. Eventually, I bought a DSLR. Now I know almost as much about photography as I do about juggling, and even more about birds.
  3. I murder plants, but I really want not to. I dream of living somewhere surrounded by plants. Unfortunately, I can never move out of my tiny north-facing apartment because if I did, my rent would immediately triple.

What’s one of the best – or most memorable – questions you’ve ever been asked, and how did you answer it?

This one counts as “most memorable,” not “best”:

Q: “Why does your comic have so many female characters in it?”

A: “You mean…like…four? As opposed to the three male characters? Uh…because  that sounds kind of like real life?”

Please never ask anyone a question like this, even if you really want to.

What’s something you’re excited about right now?

  1. Birds.
  2. Particularly baby birds.
  3. I have some new musical instruments to play with this summer.
  4. My comic has hit an exciting bit, and I’m having a really fun time creating it for my ten readers.
  5. After 395 days of construction, including lots and lots of jackhammering, I have a balcony again.
  6. I also no longer have COVID.
  7. Is it time for me to buy a longer camera lens? I think it may be.
  8. I have marginally less marking than usual right now.
  9. I have acquired some buugeng staffs. Whenever I am sad, I find a new juggling or flow prop to fail to become proficient at. I will be frustrating myself with buugeng all summer.
  10. Have I mentioned birds?.

Is there anything else you’d like people to know about you and/or your work?

I and my work tend to fly under everybody’s radar, no matter how enthusiastically I jump up and down and wave my arms at the Internet, so if you find it and like it, you will belong to a very small, very select club. We have signature cookies and a secret handshake. If this interview has not caused you to run away screaming, here are some things I have made you can check out:

Weave a Circle Round: (<–link) a novel the publisher called “all ages” and sold as adult fantasy, for some reason. It’s actually a coming-of-age fantasy adventure featuring a stroppy fourteen-year-old girl, mysterious neighbours who may be immortal, the reckless breaking of the laws of physics, time travel, way too many spider plants, and the poetry of Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

It Never Rains: (<–link) a webcomic (2014 – present) that also involves time travel because I like time travel, okay? Apropos of nothing, do you know what no one should ever do? No one should ever pants a time-travel webcomic. Pantsing, or writing by the seat of your pants, is a completely legitimate writing method I use 100% of the time, but have you ever tried to do it while completely failing to keep track of who has jumped to what point in the past and/or future, how many versions of a character were present at an event at the same time, or where in the actual Hades that microscope we’ve now seen six times in four different places in the wrong order came from? I didn’t think you had.

West of Bathurst: (<–link) an earlier webcomic (2006 – 2014) that started out as a gentle satire of a U of T graduate college I used to belong to and gradually transformed into a labyrinthine tragicomic fairy tale involving a character who was almost certainly the devil and who is now wandering around It Never Rains as well. I even have a few copies of the print collection left. It costs $90 and weighs as much as a small child, so you do not want it.

YouTube channel #1: (<–link)This channel contains all my geeky ukulele songs, plus several videos in which I tell oral folk tales. Marginally more professional-sounding versions of some of the songs can be found on Bandcamp via the albums Beowulf Pulled My Arm Off and Everybody Hates Elves. I have way too many CDs of both of those too.

YouTube channel #2: (<–link) This one’s called The Improvyssey, and it’s where I collect my daily musical improvs. I’ve got some musical stories here as well. (<–link)

Lightning round: me on Twitter (as @angrykem) and me on Instagram (also as @angrykem).

Do not go to my website. I paid someone to fix it in 2017, and now I don’t know how to make changes to it.

Anyway…I’m pretty sure Claudia would like me to stop now. Thanks for asking me these questions, Claudia. You didn’t know what you were in for when you did.

And as usual, I’ve enjoyed every minute of my time with you! Thanks, Kari!

6 responses to “Toronto Tuesdays: Kari Maaren”

  1. Love Kari and love this interview!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Bev! I loved yours.


  2. Great interview!


  3. I just KNEW there was a wizard in the story somewhere!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There is always a wizard in the story somewhere.


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