Saturday, September 29, 2007

12 or 20 questions: with KI Press

Bio: I was born in the hospital in Peace River, Alberta. For most of the years until I was 14 I lived on an acreage near the hamlet of North Star and went to school in nearby Manning (for those of you not in Alberta who don't know where I am talking about, Manning is about a 6 or 7 hour drive north and slightly west of Edmonton). I moved to Edmonton the same year I started high school and went to the U of A, then the U of Ottawa, then the U of A again, then Simon Fraser for a year, then I moved to Toronto and worked mainly in the "big-time" book publishing industry there. It was during that time I published my first two books of poetry. Pale Red Footprints (Pedlar, 2001) is a re-telling of my grandfather's private memoir (it's a pioneer narrative, mostly). Spine (Gaspereau, 2004, shortlisted for the Pat Lowther Award) is a collection of poems around the theme of being a reader. I moved to Winnipeg in 2005 where I now pay the bills by working in the glamorous field of arts administration (at the Winnipeg Folk Festival, which kicks butt by the way). My most recent book is Types of Canadian Women (Gaspereau, 2006, shortlisted for the Pat Lowther Award and for the ReLit Award). It is poetry and short prose fragments and archival photographs pretending to be an illustrated biographical dictionary from 100 years ago. I live in Winnipeg's River Heights area with my sweetheart and our dog.

1 - How did your first book change your life?

"Change your life" is a pretty strong phrase for something like publishing a first book of poetry. A few people perhaps started to take me more seriously, but only a few people who cared about that kind of thing. Some people maybe started to take me less seriously for all I know.

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

I have lived in Winnipeg for two years. I don't think its geography has impacted my writing. I don't often write about my surroundings directly, and I don't think I do it indirectly, either. Race and gender, yes, well, but do you mean mine or everybody else's? My own race and gender do clearly impact my writing. Types of Canadian Women is all about the secret lives of boring white chicks.

3 - Where does a poem or 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?

Occasionally I will write a poem out of an experience, or idea or feeling or opinion that seems like it ought to be a poem. But more often I start with a larger idea that I think of as, if not book-length to begin with, then at least longpoem- or series-lenth. Partly this is just because I don't often get those ideas that I want to latch on to and write about - so I have to milk the ones I get as much as possible, doing variations on a theme. It also has to do with having written too many grant application project proposals.

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

Neither, they are just separate.

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?

Theoretical concerns: not exactly, not in a way that other people might define "theoretical." I am interesting in trying to escape convention; I can hardly stand to read books that I find too conventional anymore, in poetry and in fiction, and some of them are critically acclaimed, award-winning blah blah blah, but I get part way through and go "what, that's IT, haven't I read all this heartfelt lyricism before?" Not to say that I don't also fall victim to convention; it is not easy to be original. And there are plenty of other conventions to be wary of other than heartfelt lyricism. But I would say that is the number one "concern" behind my writing.

A question I am trying to answer: what are the effects on the present of the way in which history was recorded and has been passed down? This can apply to our personal/family histories or to broader history. I've only defined this question recently but I think I have been working at it through all my books.

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

I think it is essential, but I wish that editors would be harder on me, they seem to ask so little! I don't think I have ever caved to an editorial request that I didn't agree with. Even the relatively small amount that I have been edited, sometimes I just come back and say "no," but I only do so if I can articulate my reason for keeping something. In that way even the comments that don't get used are useful, because I have to articulate my reasons for doing something a certain way.

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

Book-making, as in publishing, is the same. There is no mystery in it for me, though, since I have studied book publishing and worked in it professionally. I find writing books harder at present. After having published a few, I feel like I need to go for gold so to speak and write something bigger, more ambitious. But then I have also gotten to the point in my life where there is a mortgage and a dog and shingles practically falling off the roof so it is exactly the time when I can't afford to not be gainfully employed!

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

I didn't eat a whole pear, but the other day I used some pears that were getting mushy along with the last of the rhubarb to make a crumble with oats and almonds on top, I ate some, it was pretty good, but I put too much orange blossom water in it (it was an experiment).

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

The only piece of advice I can remember at all right now is "Take everything seriously, but nothing personally." There's a guy at work who is always complaining to me about stuff and that is his way of softening the blow. Still, I guess it is good advice, but only in certain contexts. I can think of a lot of things that don't deserve to be taken seriously at all.

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

Not too easy, but in the end I would prefer to work between genres, in the land of no genre. A lot of the pieces in Types of Canadian Women I don't consider to be poetry at all, but they certainly aren't short stories. I would like to do more in that direction. (A book I read last year that I liked for its between-genre-ness was called VL (Vera & Linus) by Jesse Ball and Thordis Bjornsdottir.) In the end you just have to call it something - poetry, usually, because the name is more elastic than "novel" or "short fiction" -- for official purposes. Part of why I am stuck on the novel I talk about in question #12 is because I am SO bored with the regular old novel structure it currently lives in.

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?

I rarely write when I have a proper job. I might get a burst of writing energy one weekend here or there. Mostly I write in bursts of a few weeks or months at a time when I get a grant or a residency. As such, years can go by with my hardly writing anything, then all of the sudden I will produce a draft of a new book. If I do have a good draft, though, I find it much easier to work on revisions on a regular basis. It is the creating new work that I find takes a lot of concentrated energy.

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

Usually I have several projects going at one time, until I get to the period I describe in question 11 where I choose one and write the heck out of it. So if I get stalled I figure it is because I am not working on the right project, and I move on to a different one, possibly coming back to the other one later. Actually that happened to me recently, during my last writing period (almost a year ago now) I finished a draft of a novel, but I am stuck on it so I have started a new project for now. (I have a very short attention span, which is why I may never finish writing a "novel"!)

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

I get a different feel off of each of my three books. The first was maybe slightly peculiar and passed through the world without much comment, so it gives me the feeling of untapped potential, or the poor little book that could. The second book was my most conventional so far and I think about it, "Man, I should have worked harder to do something more original there." The third one is different because of the whole faux-1903 concept and in that it got a lot more reviews that the other ones, so I think about it, "I guess a couple more people paid attention. But is that an illusion? Was it just kind of goofy? Now what?"

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?

Man, that is a tough one, because my books come so directly and transparently from other books that it is hard to make room for other stuff. I would have to say photography is the runner-up, then music. Popular music.

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

A.J. Levin is pretty important to life outside my work. (Hi!)

Kristjana Gunnars' books have been important to me, it's funny, I studied with her at the U of A but her writing didn't hit me until after. I did my M.A. on Lola Lemire Tostevin, her books influenced me a lot, especially my first book, which I wrote at the same time I was doing my thesis.

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

Win the lottery.

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?
Since I do have to have another job, and I am writer only part time, the question kind of doesn't make sense. But I do often think that I missed a calling as a librarian. I love organizing things, and data entry! And if it has to do with books, so much the better!

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

I had a lot of arty hobbies as child, and I read a lot, so writing became one of them. I think I found out early on that I was better at writing than, say, drawing, or music, or theatre, and so it became the most reliable and rewarding way to express myself. Nothing like positive reinforcement.

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

"Great book" is a strong phrase. There are a lot of books I have liked, but few that I get blown away by. A few years ago I read Ciaran Carson's novel Shamrock Tea, which I never stopped raving about. It's in 101 short chapters, each named for a colour of paint. The book is about time travel, Irish nationalism, drug use, Wittgenstein, the Lives of the Saints, and the Arnolfini Wedding Portrait. I adore it.

With movies, I usually just watch whatever is on even if it is terrible. It's all kind of a blur, I watch a lot of movies (on TV or DVD, not in theatres). I can't think of a great movie I watched recently for the first time, but the other night I did watch Psycho, which I hadn't seen for a long time. Anthony Perkins is so great!

20 - What are you currently working on?

I am in a strange burst of quasi-writing right now, in all my spare moments I am working on planning a project that has to do with travelling around the world and through history. It involves pouring over timelines and atlases and a complicated Excel spreadsheet. It's an insane project that would take a massive amount of research to complete and which I may never actually write, but it's a heck of a lot of fun to organize all the information (see what I mean about being a librarian?).

12 or 20 questions archive

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