Two women holding hands

She’s the first one you called after you woke up, got dressed, and stumbled out of an apartment—and she made you laugh even though your head hurt and you could barely remember your own name. She’s the one you trust as much as your own dog to sniff out suitors. She knows how many lovers you’ve had and how many you regret.

She answers the phone burping out hello because she knows it’s you without checking call display. You can’t use your fake-happy phone voice with her when you want to cry or shout because she’ll call you on it. Her voice picks you up faster than a triple-shot latte and she gives you more comfort than a huge bowl of pasta. She’s your ninja cheerleader in a power suit and she will take down anyone who fucks with you.

You send her half-naked selfies and ask if your boobs need more oomph. She’s the only one who’s privy to your retail-therapy sessions and your pizza benders. She has navigated every dark, dirty corner of your character. She’s the keeper of all your secrets and your best-of and worst-of moments. She’s your wonder woman and wonderwall and her love made you the beautiful, resilient woman you see reflected back at you in her eyes.

—Candice G. Ball



My Grandmother’s Flower Garden

Blooming sweet peas

The scent of sweet peas, a vintage tin full of assorted buttons, French toast with butter and icing sugar and my grandmother’s touch between my eyebrows, rubbing away my five-year-old troubles.

July sun on snapdragons, pansies and marigolds. She teaches me the names of flowers and how to nurture beauty. Later, at her kitchen table, we play I spy with my little eye and then she lets me guess her thoughts so I think I’m psychic. I fall asleep on the living-room floor under a pink comforter while she watches Johnny Carson and does her crossword puzzle.

Hidden money and notes, gathering up loose thoughts in a journal. She must have been so scared. Chronologies scrambled and names of simple items forgotten: salt shaker, coffee filter and dish soap.

No longer a child in my grandmother’s garden, I tell her the names of the flowers she planted—snapdragons, pansies and marigolds. I tell her my name. If I brought her sweet peas, would she remember her own name?

Four decades between me and my grandmother’s fingertips on my face, but she still makes me feel safe. My grandmother’s touch, Oil of Olay scent, and her telepathic, magical love. The last time I saw her, she had a glint in her Irish eyes when she said I know you.

—Candice G. Ball

The Dame, The Detective, and Dahmer

Dahmer Detective

When I sat down to have my first face-to-face coffee with Robyn Maharaj in 18 years, I thought we’d talk about Canadian literature, dogs, and perhaps West Indian cuisine. When she told me she had just completed a book about Jeffrey Dahmer, the light-hearted talk came to a screeching halt. I looked into Robyn’s enormous brown eyes and asked her what compelled her to pursue this journey into the heart of darkness.

I knew Robyn as a poet and an important figure in the Winnipeg literary scene, not as a true-crime lit fan. As we drank coffee on the patio at the Starbucks on Pembina on a sunny afternoon, she explained how her email exchanges and meeting with Detective Patrick Kennedy compelled her to finish the detective’s manuscript and tell the Dahmer story though his eyes.

Jeffrey Dahmer’s story has been told before and he has been psychoanalysed ad nauseam. Robyn Maharaj and Patrick Kennedy’s forthcoming Dahmer Detective: The Interrogation and Investigation that Shocked the World (Poisonberry Press) is the story about a good detective and a good man. Dahmer Detective chronicles the six weeks Kennedy spent with Dahmer leading up to his confession.

The conversation Robyn and I had was too good to keep to myself, so we turned our coffee date into an impromptu interview. The Q&A offers some insight into the process that Robyn went through working on the book. Dahmer Detective officially launches at McNally Robinson in Winnipeg on September 20, 2016. 

What led you down this macabre trajectory?

I wanted to write a piece on Jeffrey Dahmer and to speak with someone who knew him well. I wanted to know how evil Jeffery Dahmer was. I knew his crimes were evil, but he always struck me as polite whenever I saw him sitting in interviews talking about the crimes he committed and why he thought he had done them. I felt compelled to learn more about his story and see other sides of him rather than just the evil serial killer, necrophiliac, and cannibal.

I started to reacquaint myself with the case and looked up some videos online. That’s how I learned about Patrick Kennedy. Patrick Kennedy was the lead detective on the case and he interviewed Dahmer extensively. He wasn’t one of many detectives on the case; he was the one detective that Dahmer insisted on speaking with.

Through email, I got in touch with Patrick Kennedy and we wrote back and forth. Those exchanges compelled me to want to meet him. Normally, as a freelance writer, I don’t meet the people I interview, but something about Patrick made me want to take the trip.

I drove down to Madison, Wisconsin for a film festival and saw a film Patrick Kennedy was interviewed in called The Jeffrey Dahmer Files (now called JEFF: the movie when purchased by IFC). He was one of three people featured in the film. We met in person and I interviewed him. That interview gave me the framework for the magazine story I wanted to write. At the time, he asked me to read a manuscript he had written about the Dahmer case almost 20 years before and offer him some feedback. I felt honoured he asked me.

I took the manuscript and about five days after we had our initial and only meeting, he died from a heart attack. I went ahead with my article and got it published and sent his widow the link to the article. We corresponded and decided it would be a great legacy for Patrick to see his project through to the end and get his book published.

Did you get the answer to your original question about whether Dahmer was truly evil?

Kennedy and I—and maybe a handful of people in the world—can separate Dahmer’s actions from his personhood. He was a very strange, lonely guy. He had no friends at all and he had a difficult time connecting with people. He had a lot of time on his hands that allowed him to explore dark fantasies. How Patrick put it, after spending weeks with Dahmer, is that Jeffrey was a pathetically lonely man. Although Patrick viewed Dahmer’s actions as evil, he admitted that Dahmer often came across as likeable and unassuming.

I think we can learn some lessons about loneliness and fantasy from the Jeffrey Dahmer story. When you hear accounts about mass murderers shooting up theatres, you later learn that they’re often very lonely and live in a violent fantasy world. It’s only by hearing these terrible stories that we can glean insight into how to address the root of the incredible loneliness.

Dahmer’s confession provided insight and showed the complexity of different facets of his personality. The fact that his father stood by him also humanizes Dahmer. He loved his father and grandmother very much and made it clear that they were not to be blamed for his own sickness. He was a gay alcoholic who worked at a chocolate factory and had very little ambition.

What drove Dahmer to kill?

It was his sexual drive. His sexual fantasies were very twisted, but he wasn’t a torturer. There are serial killers who feed off the fear and pain of their victims, but for Dahmer, he felt that when he killed people, he was doing it in the most painless way possible. He drugged them, waited until they were unconscious, and then strangled them. He didn’t want the confrontation and he didn’t want to fight his victims. His real goal was necrophilia. He wanted to fulfill his sexual appetites and not have that person ask anything of him.

How did you cope with being immersed in Dahmer’s world while working on the book?

I am a fan of the true-crime genre, but I do not like violence and gore. Although Patrick’s manuscript did go to some very dark places, a lot of it is written in a matter-of-fact style. He did a really nice job going into some of the detail that invariably is going to make some people very uncomfortable. We’re talking about necrophilia and cannibalism. For the record, my mom hopes my next book will be on something nice, like organic gardening, but I had to see the manuscript through to publication.

Although the book focuses on Kennedy’s experience extracting a confession, we may as well get the uncomfortable facts out of the way. What were Dahmer’s crimes?

Dahmer had 17 victims from 1978 to 1991. His very first victim he killed at age 18. He had about a nine-year-hiatus and then he killed again. He tried to stop himself but he eventually succumbed to his desires. He dismembered the bodies and would eat parts and put other body parts in acid drums to destroy evidence.

Most of Dahmer’s victims were African-American men. People questioned whether he was racist, but Dahmer said his victims were the men he found attractive. He would go to the gay clubs and watch them dance and a lot of them had the body type he liked. He liked their musculature and skin colour.

There is something called somnophilia also known as the “Sleeping Beauty Syndrome,” and those afflicted by it really want a lover who is incapacitated. It’s the desire to be able to do whatever they want without having a reciprocal lover. That is the fantasy that fuelled Dahmer’s crimes.

Did you feel close to Milwaukee Homicide Detective Patrick Kennedy while working on the book?

I did. He was a great guy. Because I was reading his manuscript when he died, it really shook me up. Even though I didn’t know him well, I felt there was a connection. The other thing was that the day he died of a heart attacked marked the sixth-year anniversary of my own heart attack. I fully recovered but Patrick’s proved fatal. I survived my heart attack and he didn’t and I felt a responsibility to get Patrick’s story in print.

He had a very full life with three grown kids and six grandchildren. He was also a professor of criminology at two universities. He gave back to the community through his involvement with an inner-city sports program. The focus was on sports, but it allowed police to connect with kids and mentor them. The police would help the kids with homework and listen to the kids’ problems. This six-foot-seven police officer became known as “Coach Kennedy” and he organized basketball competitions.

I felt compelled to take his project through to completion. The investigation took place in 1991. Detectives did not have all the forensic tools we have now. To get a confession involved great skill as an interviewer. He was a gifted detective.

You mentioned that systematic racism in the Milwaukee police force may have played a role in Dahmer’s getting away with his crimes for so long. What led you to draw that conclusion?

There was a crime involving a 14-year-old Laotian boy named. Konerak Sinthasomphone. Jeffrey Dahmer mistook the boy for much older and picked him up. Back at Dahmer’s apartment, he gave the boy drink with drugs in it and the boy passed out. Dahmer decided he wanted more beer—he was a raging alcoholic— so he left the boy and went to the store. The boy woke up intoxicated but managed to stagger out to the street.

A woman saw the boy and took a windbreaker from the back of her lawn chair, covered up the boy, and tried to help him. A neighbour had called the police and they waited for the police to come. When the police arrived, the woman said, ”This boy is in trouble. He looks like he has been assaulted. You need to help him.” The police said that before they did anything, they would need to gather some more information. They were trying to talk to the boy, but the boy didn’t speak English and he slurred his words.

So this blonde-haired, blue-eyed man shows up with a six-pack and asks, “What’s going on here?” The police say that the boy came out of the apartment and they were trying to ascertain what’s going on. The people around identified Dahmer as a resident of the building, but Dahmer tells the police that the boy isn’t a teenager. “He’s of age and he’s my boyfriend,” he said.

He convinces the police to come up to his apartment. There’s actually a dead body in the apartment, but of course the police don’t know that. They take the boy back up to the apartment with one arm on each officer and Dahmer claims he can produce the boy’s identification. He looks for it and eventually says he can’t find it but offers some Polaroids he took earlier of the boy smiling with a drink. He finally convinces the police that his story is true and they leave. A half hour later, Dahmer killed the boy.

He had this uncanny ability to convince the police because he was white, polite and soft-spoken. The woman on the street was African-American and there were other teenaged girls who said, “I think this boy goes to our school. I think he’s only 14.” The police chose to believe the white guy and dismissed the woman and girls as hysterical. The issues of race and criminal justice were problems that Patrick wanted to work on. Police behaviour is very timely right now in light of Black Lives Matter and the deaths of black people at the hands of police.

How did you structure the book?

The story is told in first person. Patrick begins the book by describing getting ready to work the third shift. He tells the story of catching Dahmer and interrogating him. The story wraps up on the final day when Dahmer plead guilty. The only thing that was up for debate was whether he was sane or not. Dahmer was found sane and sentenced to prison for the rest of life. Patrick ends the story in and amongst all the media hoopla about the guilty verdict and the families’ receiving closure. Kennedy comes home and he’s alone.

I did an introduction that places the story and 1991 and describes the milieu. I kept the story in Patrick’s first-person narrative and added an analysis at the end of the book. The final part is my interview with Patrick and his observations and insights on Dahmer and a biography about Patrick.

Who’s the target audience for this book?

I think this book will appeal to anyone who is interested in the true-crime genre. I think it is also interesting from a criminal history perspective. I am hoping too that there might be some interest from the criminal justice side of things because Patrick did teach criminal justice. He tried to work very closely with the training of new officers and better screening. As I previously mentioned, there were incidents where Dahmer managed to fool police. Patrick wanted to make sure history did not repeat itself and address the systemic issue in the justice system. It’s a tragedy that he died at the age of 59, but this book will allow his legacy to live on.

Written by Candice G. Ball
Copy Edited by Vikki Wood



Darling, I saw the ending before we even began.
I knew you were a player
with your well-rehearsed romcom script
John Cusack smile and man-of-the world swagger.

I surrendered to the sport
of hunting the hunter,
leading the minotaur into my labyrinth
walls inside walls—
you didn’t know if you were going or coming.

Even though our post-coital confessions
comforted me in the rosy-cheeked aftermath,
I counted on your withdrawal.
I needed you to play your part. If you cared,
there would be no poem.

—Candice G. Ball

Red Wine


Some jazz and a glass of shiraz
wild black currant and black pepper—
making me sloppy-tongued and rosy.

Even though I try to pace myself
I am a varietal drunk—
wine and trouble is the only pairing I know.

Oh pinot noir!
Your ripe cherry scent seducing me
with notes of clove and allspice—
you played me like a blood-red violin.

Red red wine you make me feels so fine
until the memory curtain drops to black
long before last call.

The morning after—
a purple-stained mouth
and sobriety crushed over sour grapes.

—Candice G. Ball


By the Campfire, You Tell Me You Are Dying

A beautiful poem.


on mountains beyond rock lake
clouds tear themselves apart
while we huddle together
i cremate a photo
of us growing old together

our paper arms curl around each other
emulsion smiles bubble
then burst in brilliant flame
our future: a spark that flew up
carried off by Alberta winds

the cackle of magpies
a cry halfway between laughing
and choking
haunts these lodge pole pines
their faraway cawing echoes         echoes…

like i’ve tumbled down a well at night
and swimming up through icy water
i see your celestial face
flickering orange and red
like mars          black birds circle you
look down and my voice drowns

…now i stumble from the fire
to a clearing full of old horses’
skulls and bones
in a crazy circle

they grazed as shots rang out
dying more of surprise
than of cold lead

aspens tremble
i clasp…

View original post 40 more words

Q&A with Etiquette Expert Dorenda McNeil


Dorenda McNeil - photo - February 25 2016If I am at a lavish gala and I see someone cutting a dinner roll with a knife, I do not get upset. Sure, you’re supposed to tear a roll with your fingers, but I’ve met many good people who never learned it’s a faux pas. I am more bothered by business or personal encounters where the person seems to not care enough to try and engage in a respectful, professional manner. At this stage in my life, I no longer take things personally, but I do know that some people will take what they perceive to be rude behaviour or poor social skills very personally—and it could cost the offending party a job or a referral.

Ironically, all our communications devices have made connecting even more difficult. On the one hand, we are constantly texting, emailing and posting; however, every time we turn our gaze to our phone, we are shutting out those who are right in front of us. There is also the temptation to overshare online, whether that’s posting a photo of yourself in a bikini on a booze cruise or tearing someone you know professionally to shreds on a Facebook post.

Toronto-based etiquette expert Dorenda McNeil tackles these challenges in her book Virtually Perfect Business Etiquette: Workplace Tips for the Digital Generation. With more than 20 years’ experience in public relations, Dorenda identifies some common blunders she has observed over the years and takes etiquette into the 21st century by offering guidelines about how to be technology and socially savvy.

Dorenda graciously gave me some of her time to discuss her book and offer some tips for young professionals trying to network and build strategic, professional relationships.

Why did you choose to write a book about etiquette? 

The inspiration to write the book was a trifecta of sorts.

First, as a public relations professional, a big part of my job is helping my clients with their communication skills and effectively deal with the media.  I began to realize that no matter how succinct, smart and compelling their messages were, if they didn’t have the polish to carry off their ideas it was often a wasted opportunity.  More importantly, it was the little things that sabotaged them as they interacted with reporters—not standing to shake hands, sketchy eye contact, or poor follow-up email communication.  The world is becoming more frenetic and virtual, and I recognized that there was a need to talk about the importance of mastering softer skills in communication.

Second, my interactions with the younger generation helped push me to write this book.  Specifically, I had an encounter with a young employee in my firm.  We were at a client event and I asked her for the time.  The associate pulled out her phone, made a few swipes, and flashed the screen in front of me.  She literally flashed it, because along with confirming it was 8:35 a.m., I saw that the wallpaper on her screen was a photo of herself and her boyfriend—naked in bed.  I froze.  She didn’t flinch.  For some strange reason, it didn’t occur to her that it was incredibly unprofessional to display a photo like that to her boss in a work environment. I later learned that these types of incidents weren’t isolated.

Third, I found that the people I most admired in business, the workplace, and life in general had a good grasp of etiquette. They were confident, self-assured, and excelled in those softer skills of communication. Even though they may not have been the smartest, wittiest or most accomplished of professionals, they thrived. On a measurable scale, universities around the world were seeing it in their graduates. It was a trend I couldn’t resist exploring.

As you researched for your book, did anything surprise you? 

Two things surprised me. First, there are so many different approaches and nuanced standards when it comes to etiquette. It can become confusing for people, and I sometimes have to defend certain approaches. As a communication professional, I was confused myself at times. I always remind people that the premise of etiquette is “to make the other person more comfortable.” I stress that as long as you use that definition as a guiding principal, you’ll be stellar.

Second, the younger generation—the millennials—actually really want to learn about etiquette.  They know it’s important to brush up on their skills, but they haven’t been given the tools or reinforcements to do so.  I began to think that perhaps it was the older generation that has failed them by not reinforcing the importance of these skills.

Has social media made good etiquette more challenging? 

Absolutely.  On a positive note, social media has brought millions of people together.  So much good is being done on a global scale because the world has become smaller, and people have been given a voice and platform to enact changes and voice their opinions.

On the negative side—and it’s a big one—social media has enabled people to become incredibly narcissistic and self-absorbed.  In addition to constantly looking at screens and devices, people focus on themselves and don’t actually engage with others. Eye contact has gone down the tube.  Conversation skills have suffered. In general, civility has declined. As an example, let’s imagine that 15 years ago you brought 150 printed “selfie” photographs into the office and placed them on a lunchroom table for everyone to admire. It sounds absurd, right?  Yet, we accept that type of behaviour with social media. Working with people every day is challenging enough. Throw in a big dash of narcissism and it’s even more difficult.

What is the worst blunder you have come across? 

Clipping fingernails during a meeting.

What etiquette advice would you offer young professionals who are trying to make a name for themselves? 

If I could summarize my etiquette advice into one word it would be—engage.  Quit focusing entirely on yourself, and work towards making other people more comfortable and interested in what you have to offer—which is the essence of etiquette. Ask questions. Put down your phones, look into people’s eyes, and give people your undivided attention when you speak to them. Take pride in how you dress and present yourself. It may seem like common sense to most of us, but you’d be surprised. In the words of Maya Angelou, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I really believe that’s key when you’re trying to make a name for yourself.

The competition is tough in the job market. Learn the soft skills that are going to make you more confident, more memorable, and give you a competitive edge.

Oh, and buy my book.

Q&A with Radio Personality & Program Director Claudia Garcia de la Huerta

Claudia Huerta Blog photo 620

Even if you don’t recognize Claudia Garcia de la Huerta’s warm, open face, if you’re a Winnipegger and you’ve listened to CBC radio or Classic 107.1 FM, you’ve probably heard her mellifluous ‎voice on-air. Claudia’s current role as Program Director at Classic 107.1 FM involves working behind the scenes, but you will hear her on-air at least once a week. Aside from a hiatus when she worked in the film industry, Claudia spent most of her career on the airwaves as a CBC radio host both in Winnipeg and in Toronto. As a student in Red River’s Creative Communications Program, Claudia serendipitously landed an internship at CBC Radio and fell in love with the medium. 

How did you break into radio?

I didn’t pay my dues. I was very lucky. Ironically, my work placement at CBC came about because I had a dispute about a comment one of my instructor’s made about Chilean President Allende’s government. It was inaccurate and racist, so I took issue with it and called her out in front of the entire class. Our relationship was strained after that and she happened to be in charge of work placements. I had listed radio as my last choice. I had no interest in radio and I did not listen to CBC, but that’s where I got placed and that’s how my career began.

As an intern, I did break a story about Mount Carmel Clinic. They had the only program for survivors of torture. They had started it when Chilean refugees arrived in Winnipeg. Over the years, the program grew as people came from other parts of the world where torture was prevalent. I learned that the province was about to close the program down. This was right in the midst when they were dealing with refugees from Serbia, Croatia and Rwanda. So I did a story because it was something that was near to my heart due to the fact my father experienced torture. The province ended up not closing the program down.

Once I started working in radio, I fell in love with it as a medium. I started to see how much more you can do in radio than in television. There weren’t the same barriers. Having a little microphone or hand-held device is far less intimidating than a camera and a crew. I loved that I could get into places so easily. It was just me and my recorder—and you could have that intimate conversation. That is so difficult to do on-camera.

You’ve interviewed many artists, writers, politicians and public figures over the years. Which interview stands out most in your memory?

I would have to say a Toronto-based jazz singer named Serafin LaRiviere. She was kicked out of her house at a very young age and lived on the streets, but she still found the strength to pursue the life she wanted—as a person, a beautiful jazz singer and the sex that she wanted to be. That attitude of “I don’t care what anyone says, you have to accept me, and if you don’t, fuck off” was juxtaposed with the incredible love inside her. I was in tears during the interview. She has since adopted an Aboriginal boy and blogs about not only the prejudices she encounters as a transgendered person but also as a parent. To this day, whenever I think about her, I feel deeply moved.

What has been the highlight of your career in radio?

Interviewing the Chilean author Isabel Allende. I have been reading her books since I was a young girl. I was so in awe that I could barely interview her. I overthought every question. I wanted to impress her and I wanted a good interview, but the reality is that I just wanted to sit there and stare at her. I was with CBC Toronto and my producer knew how much she meant to me. So we set up an interview through HarperCollins. Really, there wasn’t that much of an angle. It wasn’t the best interview because we were grasping. The focus was her connection to Toronto and looking at how Latin Americans had flourished in Toronto, but she really couldn’t answer that question. I think she had maybe one friend in Toronto. We talked quite a bit off-air. I told her a bit about my father’s former position as a secret service agent for President Allende and his exile.

How has being the daughter of a Chilean exile influenced you?

Being the daughter of an exile has influenced me greatly. My whole life I’ve been straddling two cultures. Although my family felt it was important to assimilate to Canadian life, it was much easier said than done. My father was extremely strict and dealing with what we now know to be post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). We had a very difficult relationship growing up; however, he did instill in me a strong sense of independence and the notion that I must always be well informed about the world around me. He taught me to question and to investigate. He taught me respect and discipline—and he taught me loyalty. He would have given his life for President Allende. He has greatly influenced my political persuasions and taught me to be my own person. He’s also taught me to never forget the past and most importantly that the truth always comes out.

Author Interview

I am transferring over some of the published author interviews I posted on my Facebook page. This piece appeared in the Calgary Herald more than a decade ago. Camilla Gibb recently published a memoir called This is Happy. She is a fascinating, brilliant woman and I can’t wait to read it.

Gibb finds her mature voice:
Political tale needed adult narrator

For the Calgary Herald
Saturday, April 2, 2005

By Candice G. Ball
After writing the original draft of Sweetness in the Belly from a child’s perspective, Canadian writer Camilla Gibb arrived at a devastating conclusion — she had to write an entirely new book. When she discussed the novel with her editor at Doubleday, it became clear that the story needed to be told by an adult narrator.

“I was trying to comment on grownup politics. I couldn’t do that from a child’s perspective,” she says. So the original draft of Sweetness in the Belly (Doubleday Canada, 420 pages, $32.95) became the “back story” — only about five sentences of it ended up in the final version. But much as she says she kicked and screamed and resisted, the rigorous re-write helped her grow up as a writer.

In Gibb’s previous internationally acclaimed novels, Mouthing the Words and The Petty Details of So-and-so’s Life, she mastered young voices. In her latest book, she examines the racially charged world of Thatcher’s London and Emperor Haile Selassie’s Ethiopia from an adult perspective.

The protagonist, Lilly, is a nurse, who grapples with her identity or “otherness.” As a white Muslim nurse raised in Africa and forced to flee to London, Lilly exists “somewhere between what they know and what they fear, somewhere between the past and the future, which is not quite the present.”

As the daughter of two solitary renegades who’d met at Trinity College in Dublin in the 1950s and were drawn together “by the magnet of shared disenchantment,” Lilly spent her childhood living a nomadic existence in Europe and Africa. But her Bohemian existence came to an abrupt end when she learned her parents were killed.

During Lilly’s parents’ last journey back to Tangier, she received an introduction to the Qur’an from the Great Abdal at a Sufi shrine, where her parents left her, on the Moroccan edge of the Sahara. Although she wasn’t born a Muslim, once she experienced absorption in prayer and the mysteries of the Qur’an, something troubled in her became still.

Her faith leads her on a pilgrimage to Ethiopia, where she struggles to gain acceptance as a white Muslim. In Harar, she also falls in love with an idealistic young doctor, Aziz. Just as their fondness transforms into love, the political upheavals wrench the lovers apart. Lilly flees to England while Aziz remains and vows to make a difference.

In London, Lilly becomes an integral part of the Ethiopian refugee community. As a volunteer for a community organization dedicated to reuniting exiled families, Lilly reads through the lists sent from Rome of recent arrivals who may have relatives in London. While she’s committed to family reunification, she admits her motives aren’t entirely altruistic: she wants to find Aziz and never stops yearning for him. Gibb, 37, recently spoke to the Herald about her new novel and shared her views on literature.

Candice Ball: Why did you want to write about Ethiopia?
Camilla Gibb: Ethiopia is a country we know so little about. Our exposure is largely limited to stereotypical images of famine. I lived in Ethiopia in 1994 and 1995 when I was conducting field research for my PhD in social anthropology. I was interested in the intersections between religious practices and political processes.
I always knew I wanted to come back to the material as a writer, but I had to become a writer first. You ask different questions as an academic, you look for different things; you attach yourself to “facts,” but in order to create fiction you really need to forget facts and create the space to imagine and invent.

CB: Why did you leave anthropology to pursue a writing career?
CG: I always knew I wanted to be a writer and have always written. In high school, a well-meaning English teacher suggested that perhaps I go and live a little before I started to write seriously.
In university, I was drawn to anthropology because it turns everything you think you know on its head. After finishing my PhD, the desire to write was still there, but now I was a trained anthropologist and supposed to be looking for a proper job. I kept the writing as a hobby — almost a dirty secret — but then it began to spill out and contaminate my days. I left academia to write full time in 2000.

CB: What impact does your academic background have on your writing?
CG: It informs everything I do as a writer. I’m concerned with the same themes as I was as an anthropologist — questions about identity, culture, relationships and meaning. Both writers and anthropologists are observers who stand at a certain remove from life around them and try and make connections and associations that are difficult to see when you’re otherwise busy living life.

CB: As an anthropologist, what’s your view of literature?
CG: I think it’s the most civilizing thing we create. I think it’s a mirror of our intimate lives; we gain access to people’s interior monologues and thoughts. In this way, we can learn what it is to be someone else, and that can enable us to have empathy and compassion for others as well as reassuring us that we are not alone.

CB: As you launch the book across Canada what do you hope to achieve?
CG: I think literature is a great starting point for dialogue about bigger ideas. For the past three years I’ve been so close to the text. I want to know if readers find it interesting, relevant or horrible. I look forward to those conversations. Canada is a good country for literary readings. People, especially in communities outside Toronto, make the effort to come out and engage.
In Calgary, in particular, I’ve had some amazing experiences — at Wordfest, at Banff, at the University of Calgary and the Alberta College of Art and Design. There’s a welcoming, vibrant community of writers, readers, patrons of the arts and academics interested in literature.

CB: What do you hope readers take away from Sweetness in the Belly?
CG: First and foremost, I hope people just enjoy it as a good read, one where you’re compelled by the plot and care about the characters. I don’t think literature should have a “point” or be pushing an agenda, but it can expose people to new things and ideas. I hope I’ve offered readers some interesting insights into Islam, Ethiopia and refugee experience. I hope I’ve undone some of the stereotypes we tend to be fed by the media.

CB: Tell me about the novel you’re currently working on.
CG: I am currently working on a novel that explores a community bound by isolation and “otherness.” The members of this community have an illness which I don’t fully describe or label. I examine the idea that these people have a legitimate culture. For instance, there’s a movement within the deaf community of people who argue that deafness is a legitimate culture and reject the idea of cochlear implants so that they can join the land of the hearing. I’m exploring the whole idea of normalcy.

Losing their religion or pursuing new paths?

I have written hundreds of magazine articles since I started working as a journalist in 1998, but this piece ranks up there as one of my favourites. It appeared in a Canadian magazine for high school students called What Magazine. I hope to take on the subject of alternative spirituality again. It’s time to put together a query letter.

Losing their religion or pursuing new paths?
By Candice G. Ball 
Source: What Magazine
Date: 4/1/2001

Many Canadian teens are abandoning the religious of their birth right — and seeking out spiritual alternatives. We wanted to know why … and whether this signals the demise of traditional religious.

You won’t find Stephanie Morgan burning crosses or publicly slagging the pope. But dissatisfied with the “rigidity” of her Catholic religious background, 16-year-old Stephanie from Prince George, B.C., is quietly pursuing her own spiritual path — one that is deeply personal and constantly evolving.

She’s not alone. An increasing number of Canadian teens are abandoning the traditional religions of their birthright — usually temporarily, but sometimes permanently — in their quest to seek out spiritual alternatives.

With the buzzing information highway, celebrities’ publicized spiritual journeys and revelations as well as exposure to various religious traditions at school and through friends, today’s teens are perhaps more knowledgeable about their spiritual alternatives than any other generation. This information presents them with the opportunity to explore and discover what feels good and what doesn’t, what answers the big questions that wake them up at night and what leaves those questions unanswered.

Alternative Spiritualities vs. Traditional Religions

Dr. James Mullens, Head of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Saskatchewan, says there’s a constant human need for spiritual nourishment and that traditional religions don’t always fulfil that need for teens. “Traditional religions may seem a little old fashioned or like they’re something that belongs to an older generation,” he explains.

Mullens describes alternative forms of spirituality as a way to explore and expand spiritual awareness. In contrast, he describes traditional religion as an orderly, regulated, system. “Religion’s like the bottle; spirituality’s the wine. Religion is the form; spirituality is the content. The problem is there’s too many old, empty bottles lying around that you can’t get much from,” Mullens says. He claims that teens’ journeys are a search for the wine — or the content that keeps things interesting and vital.

Quenching the Thirst

It’s 8:00 a.m. Sunday morning, and your parents are banging at your bedroom door, commanding you to put on your Sunday best and get your butt to church. Later, as you’re half listening to the sermon you’ve heard about nine times before, you decide there’s got to be another path to spiritual enlightenment — one that doesn’t interrupt your prime sleep time. It’s like the cod liver oil experience: you know it’s “good” for you, but you don’t like the taste or the fact you have to swallow it.

Mullens argues that some teens look outside their traditional religions for a couple of reasons. The biggest one is that they were told they had to attend, had to believe. “They were forced to go to church … by their parents — and their parents didn’t really want to go, but felt the kids had to go. Second, teens may be doubtful of the power of spirituality of traditional religions because they’ve seen so many wars ostensibly fought in the name of religion,” he says.

There are other reasons. Stephanie Morgan dislikes the fact that the Catholic Church doesn’t allow women to become priests. “I don’t think it’s right. A woman can be just as in touch with her spirituality and God as men can.” She adds that Catholic views on gays and lesbians reek of homophobia — a phobia she doesn’t appreciate at all in individuals and institutions.

Another Good Reason: A Spiritual Path that Works Your Body

When was the last time you really worked your body when you went to church or synagogue? Sure some Jews put their whole body into prayer — rocking back and forth as they worship — but that type of bodywork has nothing on yoga, tai chi and the martial arts.

Because teens are very body-conscious, Mullens suggests there’s an attraction to the alternative forms of spirituality that incorporate body movement. “We’re not encouraged in most Christian or Jewish beliefs to stimulate our senses and focus on our body; if you’re a Hindu or a Buddhist, they [encourage] you to do yoga or meditation — exercises that are a part of your religion,” Mullens says.

With the growing acceptance of traditional Chinese medicine in Canada, teens aren’t the only ones who are looking Eastward for alternatives or practices that acknowledge the importance of the body, mind and spirit connection. British Columbia now regulates traditional Chinese medicine and it’s rumoured that Ontario may do the same.

Transforming the Self: The New Age Movement

Dating back to the 1980s, the “New Age movement” is hardly new, but today some teens are embracing the wide variety of practices and beliefs this movement straddles. Emphasizing personal transformation and growth, the New Age movement draws from a myriad of other movements and traditions like Theosophy, Eastern religions, the holistic health movement, Native American Shamanistic spirituality and Feminist spirituality. Like other alternative spirituality movements in the West, celebrities like Shirley MacLaine — the actress and author of several New Age books — and talk show host Oprah Winfrey have been big promoters of the movement.

Although Stephanie Morgan is leery of labels, she says New Age is probably the most accurate one to describe her spiritual path. “It is an incorporation of many different beliefs — like the chakras, divination, reincarnation,” Stephanie says.

She believes there are many gods and goddesses at work in the universe and that each person must find his or her own personal god or goddess. “I haven’t found my personal goddess yet, but I believe I’ll find my personal deity,” she says.

As part of her spiritual journey, Stephanie writes about her beliefs and reads voraciously. To date, she’s studied Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism and Wicca. Like other New Agers, she believes her spirituality evolves — it’s a process, a journey.

Nature Spirituality: Neo-Paganism and Wicca

Long after the major world religions attempted to snuff out the pagan, nature-oriented religions, teens are finding spiritual meaning rediscovering the ancient paths. In stark contrast to what are said to be God’s words, according to the Book of Genesis, proclaiming man is to have dominion over the fish, birds and every living thing, practitioners of Wicca and pagan religions believe in the interconnectedness of all living things. Plurality and equality are valued; patriarchal rules and hierarchies are frowned upon.

James Greenough was attracted to Wicca — a revival of the old religion of witchcraft — because of the freedom of belief it allowed him. “Not every Wiccan has the same belief, where, in other religions, everyone tends to believe the same thing,” Greenough says. Wiccans place great emphasis on freedom of thought and the will of individuals.

For 17-year-old James, the belief in the Goddess and God is the foundation of his faith, but he adds that the Goddess is more important. He also honours the four elements — earth, air, fire and water — and every aspect of nature. Although Wiccans typically form covens (a gathering or band) and engage in rituals, James doesn’t partake in group gatherings. “I consider myself more of a solitary witch,” explains the teen, also from Prince George, B.C.

He does, however, move natural energies and casts spells. “For me, moving energies involves putting positive energy into a stone and you can later draw upon that energy,” he says. The spells he casts promote well-being, like healing and feelings of love. He adds that he’s a fervent believer in the few rules Wiccans must follow, including never going against someone’s will and never harming anyone when casting a spell.

Designer Spiritualities

Mullens has observed another trend, which he’s pegged “designer spiritualities.” “Today we have a lot of choices. People are designing their own dimension[s] that arrive out of the alternatives that are out there,” he says.

On one end of the spectrum, there are devout Christians and Jews who dabble in alternative spiritualities — though they may not be aware they’re dabbling. They may gain strength and wisdom from the Bhagavad-Gita (a widely known Hindu text) or embrace the Chinese notion of yin and yang (the harmonious interaction of the passive, earthly, feminine force in nature — yin — and the active, heavenly male force — yang). Does this mean they’ve given up their religion? Absolutely not. “[Many] Christians read their horoscopes,” Mullens says. I don’t think that horoscopy has anything to do with Christianity and, during certain times, would’ve been considered a black art, but people read their horoscopes and they haven’t given up their belief in God.”

Kimberly Commodore has no problem reconciling the fact that although she’s a devout Christian, she feels more spiritual when surrounded by nature. The 16-year-old from The Pas, MB admits she feels more in tune with her spirituality in a forest or near a lake than she does at church. “It’s more natural. I feel uptight in church, with people watching my every move and telling me what to do.”

Kimberly views the earth as a living and breathing entity, so it’s hardly surprising she feels most at peace when she’s alone with Mother Earth. Every day, she ensures she’s doing all she can to protect the planet. “I don’t litter. I recycle. I want to preserve the earth. It feels good to know I’m doing something that’ll help every day.” The fact that she attends the United Church, while holding what were once considered pagan beliefs, doesn’t cause her to lose a second of sleep.

On the other side of the spectrum, there are people who completely reject their former religion and pick and choose from the alternatives available, literally designing their own religion. “There are people who say, `Okay, I’ll have nothing to do with my previous Christian or Jewish religious background. I have a statue of the Buddha, a statue of the Mother Goddess and I’m a vegetarian and I like to go to the Summer Solstice,” Mullens explains.

Does he find the mixing of traditions troublesome? Not at all. In fact, he sees rhyme and reason in it given that we live in a multicultural society, which encourages the acceptance of others. So why not religion too?

It’s Usually Better If Parents Butt Out

If you’re dancing around in the living room, wearing a necklace made of chicken feet or casting wicked spells on your family and peers, your parents are going to try and put an end to your spiritual journey.

But the reality is the vast majority of teens aren’t attracted to the dark side. Like Stephanie, teens are reading about Buddhism, Taoism and nature-centred religions. They’re figuring out what yin-yang means in their own lives, or if they feel closer to their God in church or in nature.

Stephanie’s parents have no qualms about her exploration of alternative spiritualities. “Sure, they’d prefer it if I remained a Catholic, but they’re very supportive of my studies. They want me to know what’s out there and to make informed choices,” she says.

And why shouldn’t they? Set against the creepy hiss of a modem, the bleeps and blips of computers and the constant drone of TV talk — the soundtrack in most Canadian homes — a teen contemplating a mantra is likely music to most parents’ ears.

Mullens believes most spiritual exploration is healthy and important. “We live in a very pressured, goal-oriented and materially focused world. We don’t feel good about ourselves unless we’re acquiring more stuff,” Mullens concedes. As he discusses our industrialized, computerized, mechanized society, he can’t hide his smile when he returns to the subject at hand — teens who are concerned about their spiritual well-being and are doing something about it. He stops short of yelling, “Bravo” and says it’s indeed good.

But will all these explorations put churches and synagogues “out of business?” Mullens says no way. He anticipates the majority of teens who have explored alternative spiritualities will return to their traditional religion when they get married and have their own children.

In the meantime, one could argue that alternative spiritualities are providing healthy competition to traditional religions that are no longer speaking to teens.

“There’s nothing dangerous about looking at Eastern religions or following Wiccan practices. I’m more inclined to think that traditional religions are recognizing the spiritual thirst out there and it’s healthy for traditional religions because they’re having to wake up and smell the patchouli,” Mullens says.

Certainly, many Christian and Jewish leaders have recognized it’s time to dust off the old texts and present teens with more palatable versions of Christianity and Judaism — and, of course, some ventures into nature, more music and poetry wouldn’t hurt.

But if the New Form Fits … Celebrate

Most teens — and adults — don’t pursue alternative spiritualities because they think it’s the cool thing to do. Searching for a form that fits comes from a deeper place — the restless place with the dry tongue and tough questions: How do I make sense of the world? How do I find the good in a world that seems so messed up? How do I feel at peace in my own skin?

One of the great things about spiritual exploration is that a few people will find precisely what they were looking for and won’t experience that spiritual thirst again. James Mullens and Stephanie Morgan are in complete agreement that when it comes to spirituality, ignorance isn’t necessarily bliss. “Let people explore and choose. You may find out that you’re a Taoist, or a Buddhist or a Jew. You may find that’s the form most suitable for your temperament,” Mullens says.

Stephanie is also a big believer in self-education and exploration. “The more I read about different religions, the more I evolve spiritually. I think it helps me grow. People who say `I’m Catholic and that’s it’ probably haven’t studied other religions. Maybe they’d be happier being a Buddhist monk,” Morgan says.

Maybe they would be.