As a Speaker

Erika’s interest in writing and speaking about animals began with her best-selling novel THE HIDDEN LIFE OF HUMANS (Key Porter Books, 1997, reissued 2009) which examines male-female relationships with the help of an observant dog. The success of the novel—and the voice of the dog narrator “Murphy”-- led to a regular humour column in “Dogs in Canada” magazine, and also to a series on CBC Radio about animal-human relationships called “Noah’s Arkade.”
Working on those radio programs made clear to Erika how much more there was to explore on the theme of animals and us. She began work on a book called THE DOG BY THE CRADLE, THE SERPENT BENEATH: SOME PARADOXES OF HUMAN-ANIMAL RELATIONSHIPS, which was spurred by an invitation from the University of Manitoba’s Institute for the Humanities to take part in a speakers’ series called “Animals and Us”, in March 2006. Around the same time, a memorial in Toronto for a police horse called Brigadier gave her added insight into the paradoxical nature of the bond between humans and animals—especially those animals we profess to love. (To read Erika’s essay about Brigadier, written for the Globe and Mail newspaper, please click on “A horse is a horse”)
Two years of research into the psychology and philosophy of human-animal relationships, as well as interviews with a range of experts in various animal-related fields, not only helped Erika write her newest book, but has also given her a host of topics to speak about. These range from animals in art, to urban leash laws, to humane livestock slaughter, to the astonishing story of a 700-hundred-year cult dedicated to worship of a martyred greyhound.

As a sought-after speaker and lecturer, Erika specializes in using her radio, writing and stage experiences to give audiences a fresh look at the world they think they know, in ways that are surprising but recognizable. Whether you make a living from killing your audience with comedy onstage, or simply managing to survive in your workplace on your wits, Erika firmly contends that humour is often your only salvation. From her widely-produced stage play “AUTOMATIC PILOT”—which focuses on a female standup comic who milks her own rocky romantic life for laughs—to her comic essays on topics ranging from the social significance of women’s purses to the private lives of bicycles, Erika has always been seriously intent on examining comedy. In her onstage presentations, she explains how differently men and women use humour, why a restrictive convent school education is the best preparation for a free-wheeling future, how dog-leashes and men’s ties both help and hinder comic creativity, and how women got to be the world’s only self-oppressing majority.

Erika’s acclaimed book, THE GREAT BIG BOOK OF GUYS: ALPHABETICAL ENCOUNTERS WITH MEN (McClelland & Stewart 2004), has helped fuel her lively lectures. Just as THE GREAT BIG BOOK OF GUYS takes the male gender both seriously and for a wild comic ride, in anatomizing men by the alphabet, from “Amigos” to “Zealots”, so do many of its chapters provide material for Erika’s entertaining talks on gender, celebrating the similarities between men and women, as well as dining out on the differences. “It’s not that men are from Mars and women are from Venus,” Erika assures her audiences. Both sexes are definitely from planet Earth—although, women, possibly, from a slightly better neighbourhood. Reading the signals men and women send each other--whether in what they choose to wear, how they dye their hair, or what they put in their coffee and their office emails—is, in her view, a vital—and often comical—study in communication.

humour and gender / animals and ourselves /
The Writer’s Life - public and private

Over a professional writing career that spans more than 30 years, Erika has also taken a keen interest in translating the processes of creativity into seminars, discussions, workshops and speeches aimed at reconciling the private and public spheres of the writing life. In her opinion, the conflicting demands of internal imagination and public citizenship are among the most difficult aspects of being a writer of any kind of fiction, creative non-fiction or drama. Such demands come in many forms, from political, social and personal involvements, to collaboration with editors, theatre directors or other creative partners in the production and publication of your works-in-progress, to researching material for future works, to participating in media interviews, panel discussions, readings, and other public presentations designed to bring already-completed works to the attention of the wider world.

How to establish and maintain an acceptable balance between exterior and interior life is the focus of the courses, workshops, seminars and lectures that Erika gives in both academic and informal settings. As a playwright, fiction writer and non-fiction writer, she has dealt long and often with finding a balance between research in the field and solitary creativity, between the power of the private imagination and the pull of directors and actors in the rehearsal hall, and between the desire for a silent communication with a single reader, and the excitement of a public performance that engages a large audience.

As well, in her role as a radio broadcaster, she has observed the dilemma of the writer on the other side of the microphone, required to explain verbally and off-the-cuff a piece of writing that was the product of hundreds of hours of careful creation, crafting and polishing. And because she has frequently been interviewed about her own work, she know how difficult it can be to explain a book or play. Especially if one wrote it in the first place precisely BECAUSE the theme and ideas it contains seem impossible to explicate in a few spontaneous words into a microphone!

In her talks and seminars on the writing life, Erika focuses on helping writers develop a positive attitude toward intelligent self-promotion in a marketplace where it has become more and more necessary for creative artists to participate in—and even to instigate—the publicizing and marketing of their own work. From the unique perspective of both interviewer and interviewee, she knows better than almost anyone the importance of catching the attention of media bookers and interviewers in a competitive field. Most importantly, Erika believes explaining one’s work in public can be enjoyable, as well as profitable. Creative people are all, after all, consumers of culture as much as creators of cultural “product.” In discussing what interests them as consumers, writers can also come up with provocative ways to interest other consumers in the works they’ve created.