In this iteration of Blueprints for the Afrofuture – an AGGV program curated by local film and dance artist Kemi Craig – Angie Riley welcomes aspiring writers into her home studio for a virtual writing workshop. Join Angie as she chats with Kemi about her process of developing Clown Fish – the story of a young person learning to use their invisibility as a superpower and adapting to the environment around them – and dive into the detailed process of finding a protagonist and writing a story through a variety of fun writing exercises!
Learn more: https://aggv.ca/curatorial-projects/b…
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Videography and editing by Marina DiMaio.In this iteration of Blueprints for the Afrofuture – an AGGV program curated by local film and dance artist Kemi Craig – Angie Riley welcomes aspiring writers into her home studio for a virtual writing workshop. Join Angie as she chats with Kemi about her process of developing Clown Fish – the story of a young person learning to use their invisibilit …
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Kemi: I’m very happy for you to just kind of walk us through,
maybe telling me a little bit about the story that you’re working on now.
How it came to be? Angie: Well, it’s going to start off really pretentious
because I was in Morocco.
But again, we were talking about that earlier, my trip
when I went to for my 50th, when I went everywhere.
You know, France, England, Spain.
And I went down to Morocco. And so I just sitting in the bar in the Riad, which as you do.
Kemi: Yes, yes. [Laughter] And I was sitting down there with my notebook and I was a little tired of, you know, it’s like when you go on a trip it’s like, you got to see this,
you got to go out every day. It’s exhausting. Kemi: It is. Yeah.
Angie: So I just decided to stay in. And these young college girls, American girls,
19, 20, floated into the bar, loudly. You know,
these 19, 20 year old girls?
The shopping was so good. It was like, let’s get a beer.
And so it’s a group of girls. I think there was probably about four or five of them? And one was a mixed race girl.
She looked like Lisa Bonet. How old you are? I don’t know. Kemi: Oh, of course I know. I know. I know. Yeah.
Angie: So she came in. Beautiful girl and, you know, a bunch of other white women and
you know, and they all got their drinks loudly
and she’s just like…
And so it was beautiful. There’s tables, there’s the bar. And then there’s just this pit with these pillows
and these, you know… And she’s like,
and the other girls went and sat there, and she’s like,
why are we sitting over there?
Let’s sit over there. Over there. [Laughter] And she’s like, over there.
You see it? And they’re just ignoring her. And I’m just,
Me being the, let’s go with the writer that I am,
rather than snoop, [laughter]
I’m just watching and listening and,
you know, making opinions, which are my own.
And I’m watching and it’s like they’re just ignoring her. Like, she’s not there. Like, she’s invisible.
And it would be, I’m assuming, way more fun over there in the pit
than to sit on these hard chairs.
But they’re ignoring her and whatever. And she’s just like, she’s holding her beer,
trying to get them to come over and then they all sit down.
And it seemed like one was the ringleader. And they all sat down. So she just gave up and came back and sat with them.
And they’re talking and she’d say something, and the one girl would just like, gak!
Blatant. Blatant. And I’m just like,
come here, baby, and sit with me,
come and sit with me, I know who you are.
You know, and it’s just like I’d say mother instinct, but I don’t have kids, but,
you know, just Auntie wanted to…
You know, and just so I started thinking about this girl.
How does that happen? How did she grow up that she doesn’t know that she’s the prize?
They see that she’s the prize. And this is why the one girl, I mean I made up a whole scenario, is chopping her down.
And doesn’t want her to shine and doesn’t
want her to see how beautiful and how brilliant and how smart she is.
And so it’s like, okay, this is… So I started calling her Bonet.
Kemi: Okay. Yes, yes. Angie: That’s where the name came from,
because that’s who she looked like for me. And then I just started writing this scenario.
This is what happens when you grow up feeling invisible.
This is what happens. So that’s where this story started. That’s one of the first scenes in the book.
This is where it started. So how did this girl get to that point at 18, 19?
Kemi: How did she become invisible? Angie: Exactly. How did she grow up not seeing that her voice was just as strong or if not stronger than everybody elses?
So that’s where it came from. Her name is now Borno.
Because that was my favorite neighborhood in Spain. The El Born had the best market even though they overrated the other one. I ate so much fish. I have no shame [laughter].
And the other one was just overrated, over priced. Kemi: Yes. Borno, I’m going to remember that.
Angie: So that was her nickname. Gabriela is her real name. Kemi: Beautiful.
Angie: So then, I started collecting pictures
of her, who I thought she was.
That’s what… remember I showed you that picture? That’s her
when she figures out who she is, and growing into herself and,
So I just started writing from there, trying to figure out
then who were her parents?
What kind of imaginary people raised child
that this is… Where would she grow up?
So that’s where the story came from. So then her mom is Linette, who is a mixed race bisexual woman.
Probably the one I knew the most about. Do I want to tell this story on camera? [Laughter]
I was in Barcelona. There was this, I saw the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen, you know, and I’m not on that side.
But I considered, you know, good 30 seconds, you know. [Laughter]
And I just like and then you start thinking, what would happen if
I know who I am and I jump the line and fell in love and followed this through.
Who would this person be? What would their marriage be? What would their bond be?
Kemi: Wow, okay. That pretty. [Laughter] Let me tell you. Europe is a whole different world. And Morocco, a whole different world.
Kemi: Oh, yeah. It’s amazing. Yeah. Angie: Who knew? So it’s just imagination.
What if somebody like me met the man of their dreams?
What did that look like? What if they had children?
So that was Mateo. He looked like a Mateo, right. Of course he did. [Laughter]
And she was Linette. And so that’s Borno’s mother and father and Borno
because she met him in the El Born.
You know how people name their children… Right. I mean, her given name is Gabrielle, because he’s Spanish.
She’s Canadian. Came over. Right. So that’s how.
So if they had this attraction, this love,
how could anybody, including their child, get in there?
Right. Like, how is that? Right. So how does a child grow up
in that family? Right. And be a person that is seen when they’re used to not being seen.
And then it came down to, okay, it’s a girl. What if it was a boy?
Would it be different? I don’t know the answer. This is what the book is exploring. Is it different?
Would it be different as a boy versus a girl?
So in my story, it kind of flips as though it’s Gabriel and Borno
that are siblings, but they don’t really know each other. So it’s like you’d have the scene with them in the living room
and they’re doing whatever.
And then in this scene, she chokes on an olive
because she’s just wandering around
and they’re so into each other that they don’t see her.
She’s wandering around the room, she chokes and you know, things happen and she doesn’t die obviously, but and he chokes.
So just different reactions. So it’s like when she’s crawling around, he’s crawling around, and she’ll crawl out of the scene and he’ll crawl into the scene.
And then do the same scene with different reactions
or same reactions depending on whatever happened.
Just writing it to see if there’s a difference.
Kemi: And all the different threads and possibilities. Angie: Exactly. Boy, girl. They’re both artists, but different kinds of art,
you know, just to see how he developed, how she developed.
At one point, I thought maybe it’s a transgender person,
but it didn’t seem to go that way, but I’m not sure why.
Kemi: In some ways, it has that aspect of almost seeming like an, I don’t want to say allegory, but…
Angie: Yeah, but inside your…
Kemi: that exploration… Angie: But it didn’t seem to be that, and I also I didn’t think
and that could just mean pulling myself out of the story but it’s like,
do I know enough to write that?
Is it my place to write that? And I did… I did like in the process of this,
I sent a whole bunch of emails to friends and family.
Do you feel invisible? Tell me a time when you felt invisible. Interesting, I didn’t get a lot of response.
Oh, I’ll get to that, which I thought this interesting.
A friend that was trans answered and it just didn’t,
it’s yes, but it didn’t, I didn’t think that that was where I was going.
That was a different story to follow, than where I thought that was going.
Kemi: Yeah, very, very interesting, because it’s like the exploration is definitely there.
And then I wonder, you know, as artists,
you know, whatever your medium is, whether it be the written word or
dance or film, like there is that element of, you know, your intention
and what’s behind it,
when you create something and then how it’s received and read by
the person that’s kind of like bearing witness or like receiving it.
Angie: I thought that was a bigger story then I was giving it. I didn’t want to just,
oh and this, check that box. Because it was way bigger than that.
And a whole level of understanding that I don’t have right now
that I would have to do to get there.
And that’s not where I was going in this. Kemi: And so it’s kind of like writing from a place that you know?
Angie: That I know. Exactly. And that I understood. Mostly understood.
You know, there’s a whole bunch, it surprises me, too,
but there’s a whole bunch more to learn.
And to go but from the base that I’m starting out, it’s a bigger…
Kemi: Well fascinating, and the other thing is I remember you saying that
and I don’t know if you finished this story
or it’s still a work in progress, but we were talking about superpowers
and supernatural, which kind of comes up in your work
like from Sophia Firecracker to this story.
Like the idea of the superpower and attaching
the invisible to that. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Or like a theoretical underpinning, like there’s something underneath your work that then these various stories emerged.
But definitely that idea of like superpowers, superheroes… Angie: Did I not show you that superpower issue in the… [laughter]
Kemi: And so, you know, I’m curious like is that something that’s remained
in this story? Or is that something that you also moved away from?
Angie: I think that my true belief is that invisibility is a superpower, like flying.
Wonder Woman and an invisible plane. Right? So it’s a superpower.
It’s one of the secret superpowers. So it’s just like, yes, you grow up, Borno grew up invisible.
But how do you use that in your life as a power? As part of your
abilities, assets to get through life? So is this like
I don’t see it as a negative to have to change it.
Like you have to acknowledge in yourself that it’s there.
It’s basically using what you have to get where you need to go.
Kemi: Kind of working through… And I have to ask, if there’s any kind of relationship or inspiration
with the prolog of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man?
Angie: That’s a that’s a good question. I would say it’s more
when you say that, I think about Toni Morrison more as my influence.
Because I remember her talking about how
that was written for white people.
Kemi: Invisible Man? Uh huh. Interesting. Angie: And it’s just like she didn’t write for white people.
So it’s hard for me to say, well, it’s no.
Because it’s just like I’m telling our story. Not for somebody else to understand us, it’s for us to
grow and for us to tell our stories. Which I mean, I remember we talked about
my personal mandate years ago. I don’t know if you remember?
Kemi: No, let’s hear it. Angie: So it’s like empower, educate and give voice to Canadian
Black women and girls and boys by telling our stories.
That’s my personal mandate. So it’s like everything that I write comes from that.
So telling Borno’s story is coming from that.
Telling Sophie… I’ve got other books.
Just, they’re all coming from that. So yay Ralph Ellison, but no. [Laughter]
Kemi: So I feel like it’s so helpful to understand how you you know, if you will, create your like literary vision board.
So it’s like we can see where you have that initial spark
and then what you do, how you kind of collect these pieces
to build on that spark and then create a narrative.
Okay, so it’s good to hear that. And now it would be amazing if we can maybe look at a few exercises
that you used to like kind of get into that.
Angie: Well, we can… I think my apartment’s interesting, there’s always stuff to look at.
But I mean you can go to a coffee shop, you can go to the train
station, you can walk downtown and just sit there
and just write what you see. So we can just start here. We can just get some paper, look around, and then we’ll do some exercises from what we see.
Angie: All right, so we’ll do, like, five minutes?
Kemi: Okay, so this is a five minute, just write what you see? Angie: Whatever you see. Orange book…
you know, whatever it is you see
and it doesn’t really matter what you see. I’ll show you how to work with what you got.
Angie: So you’ve written a bunch of stuff. And then you take one of them and then we’ll do an exercise.
Kemi: So one thing that I saw? Angie: Yeah, you just pick one and then what you do is, for example,
I have striped chair,
blue bottle, glass bust, open velvet curtains, stickers on fridge.
You take one of them and I’m going to pick timer stuck in time.
So you put timer stuck in time, and then your next sentence has to start with time.
Timer stuck in time. Time is elusive. Elusive is, whatever.
And you just… it doesn’t have to make sense, you just keep going, keep going, keep going.
Kemi: Okay. Almost like dreams don’t make sense. But there’s one thing from the last scene that shows up in the next.
And there are these transitions that
don’t make any sense. But just… Angie: Keep writing. And then you take that
when you’re done with that, you’re going to take one of those lines
and write a little short story. So that’s the writing exercise, it’s like you’re
starting with nothing, or just little tiny things
you’re making it just a flow. And then from that flow, you take and you write a little blurb.
Angie: I’ll read mine because it doesn’t make any sense, but just to show you that you’re not making a paragraph, you’re not,
It can be silly. It doesn’t make sense. You’re just writing. Just letting it out. Timer stuck in time. Time slips away from me.
Me and my friends always have fun together. Together is good
but alone time is my favorite. Favorite is a personal choice.
Choice, belief of a bunch of things. Things happen and we don’t always have a choice of when.
When I’m alone I think a lot. Lots of alone time makes me happy.
It doesn’t flow, it doesn’t make sense, whatever. So all we’re going to do, all I would do is pull something out of there
and write a story based on whatever.
It doesn’t have to be true. You don’t know what’s true in here, what’s not. Kemi: Doesn’t need to be perfect. Release that word.
Angie: And nobody technically, nobody’s going to read this. It’s just to get your mind going and thinking and free.
Kemi: So the next part of this is that we take one sentence. Angie: That’s your topic sentence. And you use it to write whatever.
Angie: So I picked, things happen and we don’t always have a choice of when. I was a happy eight year old.
I was a happy child when I was eight. I ate cereal for breakfast,
my favorite kind that goes snap crackle pop,
and then catch the school bus. Then one day there was a new kid in the bus and she sat in my seat.
I always sit in the second seat. It’s mine. Everyone knows this.
I sat next to the new girl and she said hi. She was sweet and nice and she gave me a cookie.
From that day she became my best friend. Her name is Sarah. Kemi: So beautiful.
And I’m with you on that bus, I had that feeling. [Laughter] I love it.
Angie: It’s like, what am I going to do with this?
I don’t know. I made something up.
Kemi: Yeah, it feels like a beautiful opening. And I’m also, like, very much intrigued, like, what happens next?
Angie: You know,
you could keep going on, you take parts of it, whatever.
Kemi: So it’s like someone could even go back, choose a different sentence, write another thing, and then maybe there’s something that…
Angie: Has nothing to do with Sarah.
Sarah didn’t exist until this paragraph.
Kemi: I love that. Angie: So it just gets you writing. It gets you thinking. It gets you…
Kemi: Yes. Yeah, I love that. Okay. Okay. Angie: So this is just how like when I’m not writing
how to get back into the mode, how to get back into a thought process.
So you could take whatever your story’s about, do some point form. My story’s about this,
my story’s about that, my story’s about this.
Take it, do that exercise. Take it, expand on one of the characters.
Once you’re writing, it’s easier to write. Right? Kemi: Yes. Right. [Laughter]
And then from there
it’s like you said, it’s easier to write when you’re writing.
It’s easier to choreograph when you’re dancing. It’s easier to create an installation when you’re, like making
and you’ve got that kind of like understanding of what it’s about. And then you’re just playing.
Angie: And words are powerful. Seeing written words is powerful. Like a big chalkboard.
You just write it out. Write it out. Step by step by step. Okay. It just shows you your pattern.
Kemi: There was something that you said, Sarah didn’t exist
until a minute ago. And so that just made me think about character development.
And I remember you sharing the image… Yeah, yeah.
Angie: So the father in my book is Mateo. Linette was easy for me as a queer person to imagine her.
Or to find her voice. She’s not me, but a lot of things are me, because it’s not that far of a stretch.
Borno I could understand, the son I could understand, Mateo other than hot man, who is this man? Right?
He was also a police officer in Spain. Yeah, and so it’s like I needed to find him.
So I wandered around. I ended up thinking that he’s…
Excuse me, I think we should show it… he smokes. So then I had to run around, and it’s just like I just sit here sometimes with my cigar.
I don’t smoke, you know I don’t smoke. But this feels… well you can hold my cigar.
Right. Like it’s a different feeling. Kemi: It’s a tangible way of embodying…
Angie: Smell it. Like the smell… It’s a different kind of smell.
And it’s a different kind of… And it’s like, he smokes.
Kemi: And now you can feel the story. You can smell the story. Angie: I can know who he is. Yeah, I can move like him.
I drive with it out the window. It hangs in your mouth. You know, like it’s just a prop, but it’s like
I learned who he is and I thought about who he is and who he would be
and who would be the man to marry
this bisexual woman from Canada? Right? Kemi: Very interesting. Angie: So again, the props and, you know, just trying to find out who he was and to give him a fair shake, you know. I wanted to like him.
Kemi: Do you find that when you write stories,
you want there to be that… Do you want all of the characters to be liked?
Angie: No, they’ve got to be human. No, I mean, no, it can’t be.
It can’t be, because that’s not human. You don’t like everything.
I like everything about you though. [Laughter]
There is, there’s things that you don’t like because everybody is different. Right? So, and it’s a story, I want people to read it. There has to be a conflict.
If there’s no conflict, there’s no story like. Sitting around and happy all day.
Well, that’s great to live, but that’s great to read.
There has to be a conflict. Kemi: And it’s kind of like the story
that you told at the beginning of being in this cafe in Morocco,
and there were characters that came in that I didn’t like. Right? I didn’t like the friends that Borno is with, or at this time Bonet is with.
And then it makes me think, not so much that you want
all of your characters to be liked.
Do you want them to be understood in some way? Like do you dig into the past
of say the characters of these women that are shutting Bonet out?
Or do you concentrate on your… Angie: Because I want them to be human
I would say yes. Who is this girl? Why is she jealous of all these things? But that doesn’t show up as
words. That shows up as subtlety. Because she’s not the girl that was jealous.
She’s not a monster. She’s not a monster. All these scenes that she grew up, how she grew up to make her.
So me just knowing that on paper
feeds, so you don’t have to show it but it’s there. But everybody’s human.
So you to be… I want humans, I don’t want you know…
Kemi: And I love that like play with like understanding something as a superpower, but also
the humanity of it all. And okay, so I’m kind of wondering, if you could lead us through a character development exercise?
Angie: So we talked about the girl who was mean to Borno.
Why don’t we do her? Who’s her mother? Who’s her father? Where did she grow up? What’s her favorite color?
Does she have a boyfriend? Does she want a boyfriend? Everything. Everything you can think of.
She’s probably about 19. Why don’t we do it? Let’s do it.
Angie: I named her Peggy. Two parents
a man and a woman. She’s blond.
Has a perfect older sister that she wants to be like, boyfriend who she should be with,
who everybody thinks she should be with, good grades, but she struggles, doesn’t understand
her privilege, thinks life is hard, easier for others, works hard
for others to believe she is the best, wants a husband, two kids, to be a stay at home mom.
Perfection is important. Kemi: Wonderful.
Angie: That’s how we do it. So none of this would be in the story.
None of this. But when you’re writing her dialog,
when you’re writing her facial expressions, this is the person.
So we wrote the person which would feed the dialog. Made them human. What would they say?
Because deep down, she’s insecure. Why is she insecure? She’s you know,
she wants to be your older sister.
She can never be perfect like her big sis. So when she sees Borno, who seems to have it easy,
who is actually prettier than her,
nicer than her, she’d love to be her.
She could never tell her that. Kemi: I like this. So then, you know,
like when you talk about like, this as an exercise and then
the way that you bring Mateo to life. Would you then, for example,
is this something that you just kind of understand
and like she’s a minor character,
you understand as background or backdrop for the dialog.
But then when you go into an embodiment exercise
is that for main characters, or?
Angie: You could do this for everybody. Right. Him, he’s actually more of an A character,
you actually need to know him a bit better. But it all, it’s all the same.
You could go out and buy her a t-shirt or draw her room, or
do whatever you needed to do.
For him, I wanted to be fair to him because I didn’t want him to be flat.
I need him to be a human. So it’s all the same. I can do this with him and make all the points for him. I needed,
I was in the library and I was thinking about it, I knew he smoked. I had to find a cigar.
And it does it makes sense. No, but it made my day.
And it’s also a good thing to do when you’re stuck. So if I’m writing it and I’m stuck, you need to do more work.
You need to find out who he is. Kemi: So you have these characters. From that, I know where the characters are. I know what their space…
Like I’m beginning to understand, like,
how I would conceive of how their, what their space looks like.
And like, maybe it’s more important
for us to stick to the character, but part of me is like,
how do you decide the very general story arc?
Do you like, is there an exercise that you have for that
which is just kind of like roughly getting folks…
Angie: It’s hard to do
because you don’t want to stick to it. Kemi: Got it.
Angie: You’ve got to let the story be the story. In the beginning, I have like… I wish,
I should have brought a chalkboard.
You have Borno in the bar here. And I thought about where in her life would that
go. And I’m not telling her whole life.
Where in the story would have go? So then maybe I go back to, do all these point forms.
Let’s, without going into detail of your story,
you know your story, I’m going to get you
to go to the dollar store. And is this child is in an adult?
Buy something she’ll like or he’ll like. Just something you can hold.
Something that makes you happy. Something that’s not Kemi’s, that’s her’s. And so go somewhere and buy something she likes.
Kemi: So it’s like an object or an embodiment exercise. Angie: You follow whatever it is. So that’s also important
is to take your character on an artist date.
Where do they want to go? Just try and imagine how they would feel in this.
Kemi: Where they want to go, and what do they want to do? And I guess what was one of the things like when you were speaking
part of me could almost imagine
just planting a seed for the future, a blueprint for the future, if you will,
but like this scenario, where there’s like a group of us that come together and each of us can take people from a scene and write the background for that.
Angie: It’s fantastic for that. Kemi: I would love to do that.
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