Interview with Lani Russwurm

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Today, I interview Lani Russwurm. He is an historian with long expertise on Vancouver History. You can follow him on Twitter and on his blog Past Tense

Let´s begin.

-You have been blogging about the history of Vancouver since 2008. How decisive your experience has been in the online world for your career as a writer?
I think of myself as a historical researcher more than a writer. I began blogging not long after I finished a masters degree in history. My thesis topic was related to Vancouver history and I realized I had accumulated a lot of interesting unrelated Vancouver history that I felt should be shared. The owner of vancouverisawesome.com came across my blog and asked if I would cross-post on his site periodically. Eventually a local book publisher approached vancouverisawesome.com looking for Vancouver-themed book ideas and my name came up, so we collaborated on Vancouver Was Awesome. Another Vancouver historian, John Belshaw, found my work online and approached me to write a chapter in a noir-themed history anthology, Vancouver Confidential. So although I don’t try to monetize my blogs, getting my name and work out there online has been important for making connections in the local writing scene here.
-Recommend an article of your blog pasttensevancouver.wordpress.com that could be interesting for the users of westerncycles.site.
On a global scale, Vancouver is a young and fairly small city, especially the further back you go, and it’s far away from big urban centres such as New York or London. Even Canada’s biggest city, Toronto, and capital, Ottawa, are 3000 miles away. So I find it fascinating when I find some local connection to international phenomena. One of the best examples of this “think globally, write locally” approach is “Acid Al,” a post I wrote about LSD and psychedelic research and popularization that was going on in Vancouver, long before the hippies popularized it.
-In your book Vancouver Was Awesome: A Curious Pictorial History you describe Vancouver as a city of contradictions. What characteristics distinguish Vancouver from the rest of Canadian cities?
Vancouver is nestled between the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, which I think, along with distance, makes people here feel remote from the rest of Canada, perhaps similar to how island cultures and identities often feel distinct from the mainland. I think Vancouver has also been more influenced by the United States than other Canadian cities; in many ways it makes more sense to think of it in terms of the West Coast of North America than as part of Canada. It shares a lot of history with Seattle and San Francisco that it doesn’t with Toronto or Montreal, for example. It’s also, thankfully, much warmer here than most other Canadian cities.
-You also wrote the chapter “Red Shadows: A Spy’s Eyeview of Vancouver in the Depression” for the anthological book Vancouver Confidential. Describe us the subject.
Vancouver has always had a feisty political left wing, and during the Great Depression, the Communist Party was behind much of the social and labour activism. So even though most rank and file protesters were working or unemployed people simply looking for jobs or better working conditions, the authorities treated much labour organizing as if it were a revolution. “Red Shadows” is based on a stack of reports written by labour spies that I found in the archives tracking activists in Vancouver in 1934 and 1935. The spies were concerned with such things as where the communists were hiding the mimeograph machine (photocopier) that they used to flood the city with newsletters and propaganda, and whether Moscow was somehow behind Vancouver’s labour activism.
-As you know, I am the writer of Western Cycles: United Kingdom and Western Cycles: Canada, published independently on Smashwords. Do you think there is a future in the self-publishing of digital books?
I think it’s still yet-to-be-determined what the future of publishing will look like, or the role of digital technology. From what I hear, ebooks are becoming less popular these days because it turns out most people would still rather read a physical book. But on the other hand, writers have never had so many options to get their stuff out to a wide audience, whatever technology they use, and obviously most people do spend considerable time reading their computers or phones. Besides blogging and ebooks, there’s also print-on-demand and other innovations in self-publishing. The tricky part is how to monetize your work. Drawing on my own experience, I’d advise writers to get their work out, build your skillset, brand, and reputation, and worry about making money once you’re established. In the meantime, keep your day job. Also, I still have an unrelated day job, so take my advice with a grain of salt.
And the interview is finished.
Remember that if you are a writer, a journalist or a blogger and you have some knowledge on economics, politics or history you can be interviewed by Western Cycles!

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