Rona Altrows – Seeing Life Through an Author’s Eyes by Mara Palahniuk
It was an honor to interview Rona Altrows. Upon researching her, I discovered that she is a woman of many talents and passions: fiction writing, editing, essay writing, playwriting, and advocating for human rights. This Calgarian is extremely accomplished, having published six major works, earned seven awards, and been nominated or a finalist for many others. Even after all these accomplishments, Rona Altrows is surprisingly humble, and one of the kindest people I have ever met. The thoughtful, Montreal born and raised author finds a narrative that has not been shared and immerses herself in it. She expresses her wonderment of the world through her different characters and their diverse walks of life.
MP: Your children’s book, The River Throws a Tantrum tells the story of the Calgary flood in 2013. What impacted you to take on a subject so close to you and at the time so recent?
…When we knew the flood was coming, the mayor asked that everyone mark their front door with an X as they evacuated, so the authorities would know the house was vacant… [Altrows’ grandson Ollie] was reluctant to go… And Ollie asked, ‘When we come back, can we mark the door with an O?’ … [This] made me wonder how other children were reacting to the disaster and the strangeness of what was going on. In the news coverage… I noticed nobody was talking about the children. Their stories were not being told… I felt compelled to write the story and I did… The response was immediate. Kids were so happy someone was talking about a child’s flood experience.
MP: Looking at your works, which one were you most affected by when you wrote it?
…[S]ome pieces are more emotionally wrenching to write. “The World to Come,” a story in [the short story collection] A Run on Hose, was like that. It is written in the voice of the mother of a child with progeria. It was hard because the little girl, Robin, is so likeable, so full of smarts and good energy, with no self-pity at all, and you know she’ll die soon…
MP: Do you believe that your career as an editor has affected your career as an author? Do you look at your texts differently, or more critically?
I have an editor’s eye, for sure. It helps me with crafting in the later stages of working on a writing project and it just helps me in general…Sometimes to write effectively, especially in fiction, you may want to break some rules. But to do that well, you need to know what those rules are and why you are breaking them. It’s kind of like when a clown falls…it looks like an accident, but that clown knows what she’s doing.
Rona Altrows provides her readers with new perspectives and insightful ideas of humankind. Altrows connects with her readers using current events, like the 2013 Calgarian flood in The River Throws a Tantrum. Also, in “The World to Come” Altrows creates meaningful emotions through Robin, a little girl with progeria. Altrows shares that she joined the Writers’ Guild of Alberta to meet other writers and feel more like a writer herself, for she was just beginning to write seriously when she joined. Rona Altrows sees the small details in all she does and portrays an understanding of the world that could only be seen through an author’s eyes.