Wednesday, September 12, 2007

12 or 20 questions: with Andy Brown

Andy Brown is the co-editor of You & Your Bright Ideas: New Montreal Writing (with rob mclennan, Véhicule Press) and Running with Scissors (Cumulus Press), the latter co-edited with Meg Sircom. He is a contributing editor for Matrix magazine, the author of the short story collection I can see you being invisible (D.C. Books, 2003) and the novel The Mole Chronicles (Insomniac Press, 2006), as well as founder of the acclaimed small publishing house Conundrum Press. He lives in Montreal.

1 - How did your first book change your life?

My first "official" book was I can see you being invisible which was published by DC Books under the editorship of the late Robert Allen. This did not really change anything because the book was partly a collection of chapbooks I had self published through what became conundrum press. My first chapbook changed my life I suppose because I saw how I could assemble my work in an interesting package and try to get it out there. This was the single story for a single dollar chapbook Sleeves Sewn Shut. It was well received and made me realize that I could continue to both write and publish.

2 - How long have you lived in Montreal, and how does geography, if at all, impact on your writing? Does race or gender make any impact on your work?

I've been in Montreal since 1991. I think in a lot of my writing the city becomes its own character. I suppose for me the first step of writing is observing and since this is where I live that is what I observe. I guess race and gender only impact my work in their absence, since I am caucasian and male. Perhaps this is part of the invisibility I write about, I am part of the great unwashed mainstream and to be unique must focus on something else.

3 - Where does a piece of fiction usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

It used to be that I would sit down to write without a set plan and produced short stories which may eventually lead to a book. Now I don't have the luxury of time, so everything is planned for a greater whole, when I actually get anything done at all. This is difficult because there is no immediate gratification, such as with a poem or short story, and when the book is finally published the gratification is lessened due to the time it takes to come out and you're already on to the next thing.

4 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process?

I would say they are not part of my process but I do them and sometimes enjoy myself. Often I can see what's wrong in a sentence by reading it out loud to an audience. If I want to skip over it then there is something wrong...

5 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

I am not too interested in theory. I want to tell a story but I suppose there are certain themes which continually spring up. One of which is the absurdity and randomness of everyday life. What happens when we interrogate moments? Part of the absurdity and randomness of course is tied to death since it is the most random and absurd thing about life. However, I try to be funny when writing about these subjects. The last thing I want to do is be morbid. I will probably start writing more about children since that's where I find myself. They are endlessly facinating.

6 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

I appreciate the outside eye an editor can provide but the editors I've had have been too easy on me.

7 - After having published a couple of titles over the past few years, do you find the process of book-making harder or easier?

Book-making is a loaded term for me since I am a publisher, writer, editor, designer etc. I'd say all aspects of book-making have become easier except the writing part and this is because the other book-making projects have taken up all the time. Also since I really think only in terms of larger projects their completion seems daunting to me.

8 - When was the last time you ate a pear?

Two days ago. Shared it with my two year old.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

Don't be ashamed to show your hairy chest in public and never have any regrets. Words to live by.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (short fiction to the novel)? What do you see as the appeal?

Reasonably easy I guess. The more you write short bits the more you can see how to make them longer.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

A typical day for me does not include writing at all. As for a writing routine I try and write down snippets of ideas and scenes in a notebook, then every labour day weekend write like crazy using the notes and hopefully get 50 pages done. Then the same thing next year. And after that until there is a novel. In between I think. Germinate. When I'm on deadline for an article or something I need to have three solid days with nothing else and that's all I do. I need to be immersed you could say. I have no idea how people can write every day. I'd never get any work done.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

Taking a walk around the neighbourhood (wherever I happen to be) and observing very closely what's happening, listening to strangers' conversations. Paying attention is the best inspiration. And of course reading.

13 - How does your most recent book compare to your previous work? How does it feel different?

My most recent published work was the novel The Mole Chronicles. I would say this was the natural extention of what I was already doing into novel form. What I am doing now is a collaboration on a comic strip, which in form is very structured like a daily in the newspaper. So it is a VERY different project for me because I'm writing comics, doing storyboards essentially, but also because of the collaborative aspect. I think I needed both those things to move on.

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

I would agree that books come from books but there is more to that statement of course. It's a chicken and egg argument. I would say that art and nature are strong influences for me, however you define those terms. I read a lot of comics (or graphic novels), publish them too, so I think in a visual language, or rather the combination of image and text which can produce something other. As a publisher I'm amazed how many solid writers have absolutely no visual sense. Yet we primarily absorb the world through our eyes. I guess I'm an imagistic writer for that reason.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

I have turned a lot to non-fiction lately. Biographies. Cultural history. But the novels I read in my formative years come back to influence me for sure. Auster, DeLillo, Ondaatje, Saramago. These authors I would continue to check out their latest books. But mostly I am influenced by the writers I am publishing, all of whom I respect, and many of whom blow me away as much as any other writer. Kidd, Frost, Blomgren, Kalynchuk, Merrick. In this sense I have no life outside my work.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

Humanitarian Aid. Build a well for a village or something. Help someone become a publisher in their own country to tell the stories of their own people.

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

Professional athlete.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

Wasn't a good enough athlete. And factory work was mind numbing.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

The second half of Jose Saramago's The Double. Editing Maya Merrick's The Hole Show now which is pretty awesome. Don't see many films anymore but remember liking Babel.

20 - What are you currently working on?

The aforementioned "daily" comic strip called "Milo and Sam" with award-winning cartoonist Joe Ollmann. Also a non-fiction book about comics legend Jack Kirby.

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