Interview by Will Johnson.

WJ: Would you describe Calm, Ghosts as a ghost story? If not, how would you describe it?

MH: I love ghost stories. But as a writer you can look at a ghost story and see that they’re pretty thin, character wise. Ghost stories and jokes have a lot in common, as they’re all just about the set up and the punch line, or the scare. And this always bothered me, being someone with neuroses, too much imagination, and a lot of free time, I always wondered about the characters in ghost stories and what happened in the aftermath. Like that lady who wakes up with “Psychos Lick Hands Too” written in blood on her wall. I wonder what kind of weird phobias she developed after that happened. Or does that one end in dying?  I can’t remember. 

I think with Calm, Ghosts I was trying to write a ghost story that focused more on character instead of the punch line, the scare. I wanted the ending to be semi-ambiguous because I wanted the reader to leave the story thinking about what happened to Holly, instead of being afraid. 

That being said, I never write with intention. I usually stop writing when I’m no longer confused and never think too hard about my stories until I get interviewed. Which obviously happens every time I write a story. 

But yeah, so I’m pretty sure that’s what I was going for. I’ll have to ask me later. Or I’ll just write a story about it. Or just interview me about this interview. Okay, I’ll stop. Sorry. Yes, I’m single.  

WJ: I found (parts of) Calm, Ghosts really funny. My favorite line: “It is entirely possible they listen to Nickelback”. I guess that isn’t really a question… is humor a regular part of your fiction?

MH: For a long time I was trying really hard to be literary and I thought that meant serious. That didn’t work. I don’t wear glasses. I have no clue who Proust is. To top that off, I wasn’t publishing anything and I definitely wasn’t confident in what I was doing. As I improve, there’s this off-beat kind of quirky that is working its way into most things I write. Sometimes it means funny, sometimes it’s just weird. Generally though, I like funny characters. I have an easy laugh and I laugh hardest at my own jokes, like the biggest, douchiest Nickelback fan out there, so I guess, the answer to your question, is yes. And also, thank you for thinking it’s funny. Hooray! 

WJ: You graduated from UBC with an MFA in Creative Writing. What was your major? And what did you learn from your years there?

MH: I mostly focused in Fiction and Screenplay, with brief forays into poetry (rhymes? fail) and nonfiction (smarts? tears.) I think most of what I learned had to do with having confidence and work. I had a lot of stupid feelings when I first started pursuing writing seriously, and I learned to swallow them and just put my head down and work hard. It really is about the work and nothing else. And by nothing else I mean pouring champagne on girls butts. 

But those two things and nothing else. 

I think I also really learned the value of developing relationships with writers. It really helps, to be able to talk to someone who is walking on the same path as you. I feel like it’s almost similar to the immigrant experience. That’s a lie. I’m just trying to make myself more Canlit relevant. Zing! 

But being around writers — they make you work hard. They get drunk with you.  They become your roommates and write your Little Fiction Interviews for you

WJ: You work in television now. Can you tell me more about that?

MH: The hours are long. The food is free. I work in comedy, so I guarantee you that my job is more fun than yours. I’m an assistant in a writing room, which is the best. I’m the youngest and the stupidest, so I get made fun of a lot. But really, I get to sit in a room with some really funny people and laugh all day. Occasionally I’ll make one or two of them laugh, in return and I feel like a million bucks. Self-esteem and a pay cheque! What more could a girl want? Free gum? We get that too. Are you jealous yet? I had you at self esteem, didn’t I?

WJ: You chose to write this story in present tense. What advantages do you think that offers?

MH: Present tense, man, it’s just so present. But seriously, I like writing in the moment. Jesus. There is no way to discuss present tense without sounding like a massive wang. Anyway, I thought that it was especially important for this story. I didn’t want it to feel or sound like a ghost story.  I wanted it to be experienced and not told. Telling is for wimps. And anyone who disagrees with that can eat my fist.  

But really, it’s my preferred tense. I always write very closely to my characters. I’m not a big fan of past tense because I like writing scenes. I hate exposition. It’s boring and scenes in the past tense, to me, always feel disingenuous. When I write them, anyway.  There are a lot of writers who pull it off pretty well. And, on principal, I hate those writers. 

WJ: Have you actually ever met someone named Athan?

MH: Of course! It’s too ridiculous to be made up. But yes, I met him briefly. No, I didn’t get a chance to ask him how he feels about his name. I have regretted it ever since. Tevin is also a real person. I love these parents. I have no clue who they are, but I love them. They are either incredibly mean, incredibly dumb, or incredibly hilarious. Either way, I love them. 

WJ: What are you currently working on? And where can readers check out more of your work?

MH: I just finished a draft of a novel called All The Girls Love Jesus, which is based on a short story that I wrote a year or two ago about two girls at a single sex Catholic school. It’s a dual perspective coming of age novel with some high school girl drama and some jokes at God’s expense. It’s okay. I hear he can take it.    

You can hear me read the short story that inspired it on Episode Four of the Canadian Fiction Podcast. I’ve got work forthcoming (now out — Editor’s note) in Dragnet Magazine, in June, and I just found out that I’m going to be published in Descant in September, which was a big surprise. And when I found out I peed. Just a little. Enough that it was weird. 

WJ: Which Canadian authors do you admire, and who are you currently reading?

MH: Annabel Lyon! I think I paid, like, thirty bucks in late fees at the UBC library over one of her collections. And that’s after I lied about having to fly to Toronto for a funeral to get them cut in half. Susin Nielsen, who writes Middle Grade-YA novels and is a kickass TV writer is also a favourite of mine. Also, Joseph Boyden, Jessica Westhead, and Rebecca Rosenblum. My friend Michelle Kaeser has never written something I don’t like.  

I’m currently trying to read all of the Salinger, though so far, I like everything less than Catcher in the Rye. Yeah. I know. I’m one of those. 

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meredith hambrock
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