I was born in Vancouver, the youngest of four in a working class family. My mother was a pianist and played the Hammond organ; my father was a machinist, a mechanic, and read widely. They divorced when I was five and I lived for Saturdays when my father would have me for the day and take me to the movies. And to bookstores.
I attended UBC and received my BFA in English in 1977, but took several courses in the UBC Creative Writing Department. The faculty were inspirational and I returned for an unclassified year to focus on fiction and film. My first short story, “Afternoon at the Lido,” a mash-up of Mrs. Dalloway hosting a soiree with Molly Bloom and some D.H. Lawrence heroines, was published by the venerable Vancouver literary magazine, Room of One’s Own (now Room).
New York! I moved in 1978 to attend the MFA Program in Fiction at Columbia University. Heady times: CBGB, seeing the B-52s at the Mudd Club, double bills at the retro cinemas, Broadway, and sneaking upstairs in Dodge Hall to take film courses with Andrew Sarris and Samson Raphaelson (The Jazz Singer). I lived on West 96th, West 110th, on Duke Ellington Boulevard, on Riverside Drive behind the Cotton Club, and even in Jersey for a stretch. And there were writers everywhere: Borges, Nadine Gordimer, Mavis Gallant, Alice Munro, Stanley Elkin, Leonard Michaels, Toni Morrison.
After graduating from Columbia in 1982, I won the Wallace Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University. I drove my Honda Civic back across the U.S., moved into the Haight in San Francisco, and commuted to the campus where I worked with John L’Heureux, my revered Nancy Packer, and Earnest Gaines. The Atlantic Fiction editor, Mike Curtis, published two short stories and suddenly I knew I was writing a linked collection.
In 1981-82, I was awarded the Mary Ingraham Bunting Fellowship at Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Mass. I lived on Ware Street just behind the Fogg Museum and walked to the most beautiful office to write.
Between 1982-89, I moved back to New York and the East Village, and worked as a writer-in-residence for a few terms at the Writers Community and also as a freelance story analyst at Tri-Star Pictures and Samuel Goldwyn. At Tri-Star, I also temped in the executive and publicity offices and keenly followed the marketing and publicity for their first release, The Natural, and their Oscar winning Places in the Heart. When I read in Variety that the Canadian company, Atlantis Films, was optioning short stories for an anthology series, I sent them a couple of pieces and was thrilled to work with them on Esso (starring Yannick Bisson, The Murdoch Mysteries).
After Esso, they offered Margaret Laurence’s magnificent novel, The Diviners.
In 1989, I accepted a tenure-track position at the UBC Creative Writing Department, teaching fiction and screenwriting. In the last twenty-five years, I’ve had the honour of working with the best writers, published and unpublished, in Canada.
My story collection, Marine Life, was published by Farrar Straus and Giroux (U.S.), HarperCollinsCanada, and Residenz Verlag (as Happy Hour) in Germany. The stories appeared in the Atlantic, Saturday Night, O. Henry Prize Stories, Best Canadian Stories, literary magazines in the U.S. and The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction. Marine Life was nominated for the LA Times First Book Award, the B.C. Book Prize (Ethel Wilson) in Fiction, and produced as a Canadian feature film.
After my children arrived, I focused on television for almost two decades. With my husband, Brian McKeown, I co-produced and co-wrote the miniseries, Human Cargo, which garnered seven Gemini Awards, including Best Movie or Miniseries, Best Screenplay, and a George Foster Peabody Award. In 2006, I received the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship.
Sussex Drive (Random House Canada, 2012), a satire exploring what happens when a Conservative Prime Minister’s wife and a leftish Governor General can no longer play “Follow the Leader,” is my most recent publication. It’s a novel.