Laurie Gough: Travel Writer
Lauded by Time magazine as "one of the new generation of intrepid female travel writers," Laurie Gough is author of the recently released Kiss the Sunset Pig, and Kite Strings of the Southern Cross, shortlisted for the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award, and silver medal winner of ForeWord Magazine's Travel Book of the Year in the US. Twenty of her stories have been anthologized in various literary travel books, including Salon.Com's Wanderlust: Real-Life Tales of Adventure and Romance; AWOL: Tales for Travel-Inspired Minds; Sand in My Bra: Funny Women Write From the Road; Hyenas Laughed at Me and Now I know Why: The Best of Travel Humor and Misadventure; and A Woman's Passion for Travel. Besides being a regular contributor to The Globe and Mail, she has written for salon.com, The L.A. Times, The National Post, Outpost, Canadian Geographic, and numerous literary journals. Gough is married, has a little boy, lives in Wakefield, Quebec (and sometimes San Miguel de Allende, Mexico) and likes traveling to places where she fantasizes living some day.
RUSTY TALK WITH LAURIE GOUGH
Melanie Chambers: What constitutes bad travel writing/ good travel writing?
Laurie Gough: A common mistake aspiring travel writers make is going on a trip and writing about it and assuming everyone will be interested in what you’ve written just because you’ve been to some place exotic. You have to assume the opposite: nobody is interested. It’s like showing someone your travel slides or making people read your day-by-day travel journal or blog. Simply writing what you did each day of your trip is not interesting. You have to tell a story. Oh, and clichés kill a travel story.
Good travel writing draws the reader in from the very first sentence. The story is especially interesting if there’s a quest, either internal or external of a combination of the two. If there’s internal struggle and reflection going on within the narrator, all the better. A good story leads the reader into the wonder and terror of the place, bringing that place alive with concrete original details. You want the reader to feel as if they’re there, with atmosphere all around them.
MC: How do you come up with story ideas? What draws you to a topic?
LG: Sometimes I don’t know what my story is until I’m half-way through a trip. Sometimes I don’t know until weeks after I get home and have time to reflect on my trip and come to see it more clearly. I start to see it as a story that could read like a novel with a story arc, full of the characters and plot twists. Usually you won’t know what your story is before your trip, even if you think you do. It’s really exhilarating though when an idea just hits you out of nowhere while you’re travelling and you know you have a story to write. You really start to live in the moment because you’re noticing details you might be writing about. Time slows down and your senses sharpen. You have to be much more aware than you would otherwise.
I’m drawn to the underbelly of a place, and to seeing how people interact with each other in different cultures. I’m also always interested in how much we’re defined by our culture. When I have a strong reaction about something in a different culture, I think, is this me or is this my culture? When we travel we come up against so many things that are difficult, but mainly we come up against ourselves. I’m interested in what happens at the point when two cultures meet. What do they take from each other?
MC: What is your routine for a perfect writing day?
LG: Before I had a baby, I’d stay up till 4 am writing. Now I have to write when I can. I guess my perfect writing day would mean being all alone in a cabin in the woods with no distractions and books all around me for inspiration. Oh, and dark chocolate nearby of course!
MC: What authors would you suggest --about five or more--new travel authors read?
LG: It’s funny. I read constantly but I don’t find myself reading a lot of travel books lately. I really like anything that evokes a strong sense of place and time. I also like books that make me laugh. I love the short stories of Lorrie Moore. She’s really quirky, and I love the memoir writer David Sedaris. I just read “Prisoner of Tehran by Marina Nemat which is excellent. Bill Bryson’s “The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid” really brings 1950s Iowa alive (who would have thought this could be interesting but it is!). I also like Alice Munro and Brian Doyle. An amazing book is “Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell. It’s so important to feed your mind with good writing, if you want to write. Look what authors do and learn from them. Books are your best teachers.
MC: How did you get into travel writing?
LG: I travelled through much of my 20s and always kept travel journals. I never realized my travels would turn into books. I just liked writing in my journal because it felt good and I wanted to remember all the eccentric people I was meeting and strange circumstances I was forever encountering. But after living in Fiji and returning to Canada, I woke up one night in the middle of a snowstorm with a panicky feeling that my travels were evaporating. I got up immediately and started writing a story about Fiji. I spent the rest of the night writing that story and just kept going after that. Soon I realized I was writing a book. I also started my writing career before the internet really took off (travel blogs etc.) so I was lucky. Travel writing is a hard sell, but if you have a passion for both travelling and writing, it’s amazing to be able to put these two passions together. People are travelling more now than ever before and want to read travel writing as much as they ever did.
MC: What are you working on right now?
LG: I was recently in Bhutan, a country in the Himalayas, which measures its citizens Gross National Happiness. I’m writing an article called Pondering Happiness in Bhutan. It’s hard work but also exhilarating and fun.
LAURIE GOUGH'S MOST RECENT BOOK
Kiss the Sunset Pig, Penguin Canada, 2006
Penguin USA, 2006
Description from Laurie Gough's website:
In a beater car named Marcia, Gough reflects on a life spent traveling as she heads west across the USA towards her dreamland of California. Back in her early twenties, she lived in a cave on a beach in California and found purpose in life, listening to the waves in the moonlight. The trouble is, now she has lost that enthusiasm. As Gough makes her way across the country meeting a colorful variety of characters and heading towards that half-remembered cave, she recalls past adventures around the world-coming face to face with a ghostly crone on a Greek island; braving the jungles of Sumatra; paddling down the Yukon River; teaching native kids in Canada's sub-arctic; getting lost in Seoul, found in Thailand, and out of her head in Jamaica. As Gough closes in on the place of her dreams, she peels back the layers of cynicism that life builds around us, and finds that our old selves may still be inside us if only we bother to look.
Hard class across Sumatra (Globe and Mail, May 20, 2006)
Love Under the Midnight Sun (National Post, June 3, 2006)
"Kiss the Sunset Pig is a wonderful read that captures the delightfully insane spontaneity of travel. (Gough) manages the perfect mixture of humor and poignancy with the frightening and bizarre, all lyrically told and at times, poetic. A gifted storyteller, she writes a book very difficult to put down."
"Reading this book is like spending a glorious weekend reminiscing with a funny, intelligent, and well-travelled friend. Her vivid descriptions of the highs and lows, the people she meets and the real lives she steps into, are at turns, gripping, witty, profound and inspiring. An enjoyable read."
Real Travel magazine (UK)
"Part memoir, part travelogue, Kiss the Sunset Pig is a lovely exploration into a person's search for a home. (Gough) has the ability to situate a reader in a foreign landscape with the kind of vivid description that makes it possible to feel the land under her feet and to smell the air she is breathing."
The Globe and Mail
"Gough has a gift for self-deprecatingly wry humour. Her retelling of her ride on the Indonesian 'Bus of Death, Debauchery and Discomfort' is a true gem."
Winnipeg Free Press
"No ordinary American travelogue, Kiss the Sunset Pig is an insightful, personal odyssey."
"Thought-provoking, bursting with life and gorgeous in its descriptions of far-flung destinations, Kiss the Sunset Pig is a transporting read to be enjoyed on planes, trains and kayaks. And if you've been there, done that and bought the semi-detached, curl up with this book on your living room sofa for one last adventure by proxy."
"Kiss the Sunset Pig is elegant, funny and poignant. I couldn't bear it to end."
Polly Evans, UK author of Fried Eggs with Chopsticks, and It's Not About the Tapas
"Through tales of awe, exasperation and much humour, Gough drives the reader home."
The Ottawa Citizen
"In Naxos Nights the author brilliantly contrives to engage the reader so forcefully, it becomes impossible to put the story aside at the finish. It's a tale to savor, to read and re-read."
From the judges of the 2006 Tom Howard/John H. Reid Short Story Contest (where Naxos Nights has won second prize in a nation-wide contest in the U.S.)
"Kiss the Sunset Pig is a not just a traveler's travel book. Whether you journey from the comfort of your armchair, or you're on-the-move with a knapsack, Sunset Pig will remind you why we travel, dream, and live. Unlike many writers who use travel as a meditation on home, Gough's travels are meditations on identity. This gives the book a mythical quality: The reader is drawn into Gough's inner journey, where her cumulative wisdom is revealed tantalizingly slowly through each travel segment, the way a waking mind pieces together a profound dream, bit by luscious bit. Like conversing with an old, dear friend, reading Kiss the Sunset Pig is inspiring and enlivening. With her uncompromising need to explore her world, Gough inspires the reader to live an authentic, full life, to expand with the universe, and find her way back home."
"Kiss the Sunset Pig - a frequently funny, sporadically profound account of Laurie Gough's drive west across America. Five out of five stars."
Traveller Magazine (UK)
"Gough is a fearless and inveterate solo traveller who thinks nothing of hitchhiking or grabbing a second-class bus to her destination, or throwing down her sleeping bag on the beach once she gets there..There are several refreshing things about this book but mostly, I liked Gough's down-to-earth, unhurried, unassuming tone and the way in which the stories simply unfold, as if you were listening to them while sitting around a campfire with a bottle of wine."
"Laurie Gough's writing is often intimate and always inviting. Even those who have never gravitated towards travel writing will be pleasantly surprised by the fresh and intriguing view of the world that Laurie Gough offers in Kiss the Sunset Pig."
Marcie McCauley, Author and Reviewer
"The way she writes about California is reason enough to pick up the book."
Sunset magazine (US)
Bonnie Bowman: Novelist
Photo by Teressa Fulker
Bonnie Bowman’s debut novel, Skin, won the inaugural ReLit Award. Her writing has bee published in The Vancouver Review, subTerrain, Reader’s Digest, and in the anthologies Exact Fare Only I and Body Breakdowns. Bonnie is also a songwriter, journalist, freelance writer and has been a finalist for the Western Magazine Awards. When she’s not writing, she’s singing in the band Tomboyfriend.She was born in Toronto, where she now lives after a longish stint in Vancouver. Spaz is her second novel.
RUSTY TALK WITH BONNIE BOWMAN
Kathryn Mockler: How did you first come to writing?
Bonnie Bowman: I think most people, including myself, don’t come to writing…writing comes to them. It’s something you are basically born to do and likely have done since a very young age. That said, I came to the world of published writing first through journalism because I thought it would be fantastic to actually be PAID to write. Once, while being a reporter in Vancouver, I did a story about the International 3-Day Novel Contest and thought: “What the hell”. I entered, I won, my first book, Skin, got published and went on to win the inaugural ReLit award. So, in my case, despite all the novels and short stories I had written over the decades and hidden away in boxes and drawers, it was a contest and a novel that was written in only three days that started everything.
KM: What keeps you going as a writer?
BB: Short answer: Espresso. Longer answer: All the glamour and fame and wealth! (obviously not). What keeps me going is when I haven’t written anything for awhile and I start getting all twitchy and feeling like I have scabies. The only cure for this is to write something, anything.
KM: What is the revision process like for you?
BB: The revision process is not at all onerous for me. In fact, I shouldn’t even admit this, but I don’t revise much at all, compared to most other authors I know. I do not write countless drafts. I do not sit at a desk with zillions of post-it notes plastered to my wall, guiding my characters’ every action. I write one draft, and then I dick around with it. This, I believe, comes from my years in journalism, where I was trained to write quickly and accurately, to bang out a story that you know won’t even have time to be edited. And on the editing front, I was also an editor for years in newspapers, which further honed those chops. However, all that being said, I generally write character-driven stories and don’t have to deal with super-tricky plots and subplots, in which case I might need a post-it note or two. I’d probably suck at writing mysteries.
KM: How did you deal with rejection when you first started out?
BB: Okay, I almost don’t want to answer this question because I’ve never been rejected (yet). I’d like to say this is because I’m such a fucking brilliant writer, but I’m sure it’s more likely due to the fact that I don’t write hundreds of short stories and then send them all out blindly in a blitz attack to every single literary magazine that exists on the planet. I’m sure if I did that, I would get rejections. I send stuff that I know will be a good fit for a particular magazine, or sometimes I’m asked to contribute to a literary anthology, in which case they pretty much know the style of story they’ll be receiving. In terms of book publishers, because I won the 3-day novel contest and it was sponsored at the time by Anvil Press, I had a ready-made publisher. Everything I’ve published since has been with Anvil. If/when I do get rejected, I’ll probably just deal with it by thinking: “When I win the Giller, YOU’LL BE SORRY!!!!” No, in all seriousness, I usually don’t wallow in disappointment. I just move on. The most important thing is that YOU believe in your book or story. Fuck everyone else.
KM: What authors or books would you recommend to new writers?
BB: That’s a tough question. If you’re a writer, you’re likely a voracious reader too. You should read what you like, and that’s different for everyone. In general, it’s probably good to have a lot of the classics (dead authors) under your belt (CLICHÉ! DON’T EVER WRITE ‘UNDER YOUR BELT’!), just as it’s good to read your contemporaries. If you’re thinking of publishing with an independent Canadian press, it’s a really, really, really good idea to read their lists. Likewise, if you’re aiming to do genre writing, read everything you can get your hands on in your preferred genre.
KM: Is there an author that had a significant impact in your life?
BB: There is no single author who had a significant impact on my literary life. Since having been published, there are a lot of Canadian authors I am now fortunate to count among my friends. They have all had an impact in their own ways, whether it’s from me being inspired by their writing, or for just being able to sit around, drink and talk about writing, or the issues faced in publishing, or gleaning valuable information on grants, retreats, agents, readings, events, film options, or anything you, as an author, need to know. And, it should be noted, once this high-minded literary conversation hits the second bottle of wine, it will typically degenerate into a catty bitchfest, which is where all the really valuable information lies. So, drinking with other authors is important.
KM: A piece of literary advice for new writers?
BB: Some people say, “Write what you know.”I agree with that insofar as, say, you’ve worked in a slaughterhouse once and you want to write a novel set in a slaughterhouse. In that instance, writing what you know about slaughterhouses is entirely useful and relevant. Not so much if you then take it further and the novel ends up being a thinly veiled account about YOUR life in the slaughterhouse and YOUR coworkers and friends. So I guess my advice would be, if you’re going to write like that, and it’s not a memoir, don’t be surprised if you lose some friends.
KM: Your funniest literary moment?
BB: Perhaps the funniest moment was when I was nominated for the ReLit award and attended the ceremony, which was held on a beach on Vancouver Island. Because I had been nominated for Skin, I was certain that my nasty little 3-day-novel would not win against the other fantastic heavyweight contenders. So, I drank way too much free wine and was peeing in the bushes when I heard my name being called out.I basically ran down the beach, pulling my pants up, spilling my plastic cup of red wine all over myself, and arriving out of breath to discover I’d won and had to make a fucking speech. That brilliant literary moment was, of course, then written up by the media in attendance and I had to re-live it in print the following day. Yay.
BONNIE BOWMANS' MOST RECENT BOOK
Spaz, Anvil Press, 2011
Description from publisher
Meet Walter Finch, an ungainly kid who survives his cloying suburban childhood to make it only as far as the local mall, where he rises through the ranks to become manager of a shoe store. Unlike his other childhood friends who either flee suburbia or remain as resigned fixtures, Walter is content with his lot and finds the shoe store an ideal environment in which to pursue his grand ambition: designing the perfect woman’s shoe.
As he delves further into his passion, alone in his apartment at night, Walter comes to believe that his path will ultimately lead him to the perfect foot to fit his creation. On an all-consuming mission to find his princess, Walter is plunged into a separate reality, his own fairytale. As things spin steadily out of control, Walter’s eventual salvation arrives in an unlikely form, should he choose to recognize and accept it
Illustration by Malcolm Jamison
More About Bonnie
Bonnie Bowman grew up in Agincourt, Ontario, like Spaz did. When she was in Grade 5, she got a gold star for a story she wrote called: “If I Were A Scrub Brush”. When she was ten years old, she was writing novels about horses with “taut, sweaty flanks” and reading them to her parents at the dinner table. Decades later, in journalism school, she got a “metaphor” assignment handed back to her in magazine class with the words “I refuse to mark this” scrawled across the paper. The story she wrote was called: “Oral Sex in the Barnyard of Life, or, I Bet You Didn’t Eat Broccoli as a Kid Either”. (You can see the progression.) Her biggest fear is being pronounced dead when she’s not really dead, so she wants to be propped up in someone’s apartment until she starts to smell. She actually has people who have agreed to do this for her. She wears black a lot and not because it’s slimming. She despises the colour pink. When she was a restaurant critic in Vancouver, she developed an adult allergy to shellfish, which didn’t stop her from being a restaurant critic. What did stop her was when they implemented a smoking ban in restaurants. She has perfect feet.
Christian Bök: Experimental Poet
Christian Bök is the author not only of Crystallography (Coach House Press, 1994), a pataphysical encyclopedia nominated for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, but also of Eunoia (Coach House Books, 2001), a bestselling work of experimental literature, which has gone on to win the Griffin Prize for Poetic Excellence. Bök has created artificial languages for two television shows: Gene Roddenberry’s Earth: Final Conflict and Peter Benchley’s Amazon. Bök has also earned many accolades for his virtuoso performances of sound poetry (particularly Die Ursonate by Kurt Schwitters). His conceptual artworks (which include books built out of Rubik’s cubes and Lego bricks) have appeared at the Marianne Boesky Gallery in New York City as part of the exhibit Poetry Plastique. The Utne Reader has recently included Bök in its list of “50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World.” Bök teaches English at the University of Calgary.
RUSTY TALK WITH CHRISTIAN BÖK
Kathryn Mockler: How did you first come to writing?
Christian Bök: When I was four years old, I was seated on the knee of Santa Claus at a shopping mall, and when quizzed about what I wanted for Christmas, I requested a typewriter. Even though St. Nick tried to talk me out of this oddball request, I nevertheless insisted—and to the credit of my parents, they bought me a plastic green typewriter, which I used to recopy pages from an encyclopedia of machines (my favourite book at the time...). I could not read, of course, so I hunted and pecked my way through the text, typing out the pages, merely by comparing the symbols in the encyclopedia with the symbols found on the keyboard. To me, this was writing....
KM: How would you describe experimental/conceptual writing to someone unfamiliar with the genre?
CB: Works of conceptual literature have primarily responded to the historical precedents set by two disparate movements in the avant-garde: first, the systematic writing of Oulipian pataphysicians (like Queneau, Roubaud, et al.); second, the procedural artwork of American conceptualists (like Kosuth, Huebler, et al.)—precedents that, in both cases, reduce creativity to a tautological array of preconceived rules, whose logic culminates, not in the mandatory creation of a concrete object, but in the potential argument for some abstract schema. Ideas that we conceive for works now become systemic “axioms,” and the works that we generate from these ideas now become elective “proofs.” The concept for the artwork now absorbs the quality of the artwork itself. The idea for a work supplants the work. The idea renders the genesis of the work optional, if not needless. For the proponents of conceptual literature, a writer no longer cultivates any subjective readerships by writing a text to be read, so much as the writer cultivates a collective “thinkership”—an audience that no longer even has to read the text itself in order to appreciate the importance of its innovation.
KM: How did you get interested and involved with it?
CB: Darren Wershler and I made a pilgrimage from Toronto to Buffalo in the late 1990s, in order to see a performance at SUNY by the poet Kenneth Goldsmith (whom I wanted to meet after reading his book "No. 111"). We struck up an immediate friendship with him, and all of three of us were very enthusiastic to discover that our poetic output was converging toward a set of shared motifs about the "concept" of poetry itself--and so, over beers at a bar in Buffalo, we decided to found an avant-garde school of writing (which eventually adopted the moniker of Conceptual Literature...).
KM: What artists, writers, poets would you recommended to someone aspiring to be an experimental writer?
CB:Recommended texts are probably too numerous to mention—so I am just going to cite a few titles by some younger, Canadian poets in the hope that your students might use them as launching platforms into their own exploration of the influences upon many of my peers in the field….
Derek Beaulieu: How to Write
Greg Betts: If Language
Jeff Derksen: Transnational Muscle Cars
Helen Hajnoczky: Poets and Killers
Kelly Marks: Important Instructions for Changing the World
Lisa Robertson: The Weather
Jordan Scott: Blert
Sina Queyras: Lemon Hound
Darren Wershler: The Tapeworm Foundry
Rachel Zolf: Human Resources
KM: Do you have a piece of advice for those entering the genre?
CB: Poetry is a test of endurance, not of merit. Write in a manner that surprises you. Strive to make, heretofore unknown, pataphysical discoveries about the unexplored potential of language itself.
KM: What are you working on now?
CB:I am currently striving to address the sociological implications of biotechnology by manufacturing, what I call, a “xenotext”—a beautiful, anomalous poem, whose “alien words” might subsist, like a harmless parasite, inside the cell of another life-form. I am striving, in effect, to create an example of “living poetry.” I have written a short verse about language and genetics, whereupon I have used a “chemical alphabet” to translate this poem into a sequence of DNA for subsequent implantation into the genome of a bacterium called Deinococcus radiodurans (an extremophile, capable of surviving in even the most hostile milieus, including the vacuum of outer space); moreover, I have composed this poem in such a way that, when translated into the gene and then integrated into the cell, the text nevertheless gets “expressed” by the organism, which, in response to the inserted, genetic material, begins to manufacture a viable, benign protein—one that, according to the original, chemical alphabet, is itself another text. I am engineering a life-form so that it becomes not only a persistent archive for storing a poem, but also a functional machine for writing a poem—a poem that, I hope, might literally survive forever, existing on the planet until the very day when the sun explodes….
CHRISTIAN BÖK'S MOST RECENT BOOK
Eunoia, Coach House Books, 2009, ed.
Description from Coach House Books:
The word ‘eunoia,’ which literally means ‘beautiful thinking,’ is the shortest word in English that contains all five vowels. Directly inspired by the Oulipo (l’Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle), a French writers’ group interested in experimenting with different forms of literary constraint, Eunoia is a five-chapter book in which each chapter is a univocal lipogram--the first chapter has A as its only vowel, the second chapter E, etc. Each vowel takes on a distinct personality: the I is egotistical and romantic, the O jocular and obscene, the E elegiac and epic (including a retelling of the Iliad!).
Stunning in its implications and masterful in its execution, Eunoia has developed a cult following, garnering extensive praise and winning the Griffin Poetry Prize. The original edition was never released in the U.S., but it has already been a bestseller in Canada and the U.K. (published by Canongate Books), where it was listed as one of the Times’ top ten books of 2008.
This new edition features several new but related poems by Christian Bök and an expanded afterword.
'Eunoia is a novel that will drive everybody sane.' – Samuel Delany
'Eunoia takes the lipogram and renders it obsolete.' – Kenneth Goldsmith
'A marvellous, musical texture of rhymes and echoes.' – Harry Mathews
'An exemplary monument for 21st century poetry.' – Charles Bernstein
'Bök's dazzling word games are the literary sensation of the year.' – The Times
'A resounding success ... brilliant.' – The Guardian
'Brilliant ... beautiful and strange.' – Today Programme, BBC Radio 4
'Impressive.' – Sunday Telegraph
'No mere Christmas stocking filler for Countdown fans. Rather, it's an ingenious little novel ... playful and irreverent ... charming.' – Metro
Michael Turner: Writer
Michael Turner is an award-winning writer of fiction, criticism and song. His books include Hard Core Logo, The Pornographer’s Poem and 8x10, and his writing has appeared in journals such as Art Papers, Art on Paper and Modern Painters. A frequent collaborator, he has written scripts with Stan Douglas, poems with Geoffrey Farmer and libretto with Andrea Young, as well as catalogue essays on Julia Feyrer, Fred Herzog, Brian Jungen and Ken Lum.
RUSTY TALK WITH MICHAEL TURNER
Kathryn Mockler: How did you first come to writing?
Michael Turner: Like many of us, I came to writing in kindergarten, forcing that thing in my
hand—P-E-N-C-I-L—to mimic the letter professionally printed before it. Before that I composed with whatever was lying around the house. Even before we learn to write, we are writing.
As I learned to write I wrote for myself and pasted my writings into a scrap book. Because the writings we were reading in elementary school were often accompanied by images, I would paste images above, below or beside my writings. Sometimes I would find a piece of writing in a magazine, cut it out and draw the accompanying image myself. Sometimes I would compose a page with both my own writing and my own drawing; others times "found" writings and "found" drawings. I did not distinguish between my work and the work of others because for me it was about the composed page, the total composition.
After a while the page became pages, a sequence. If you look at my first two books, Company Town (1991) and Hard Core Logo (1993), you will see evidence of the child I once was.
KM: What keeps you going as a writer or why do you write?
MT: For the longest time I would say, I write because I have to write. I still say that, but the more accurate answer is I write because that is what I do, and I feel I am too old to do anything else.
KM: How would you describe your writing process? How does revision figure into your process?
MT: I write best in the morning, when my mind is fresh. After dinner I return to it, clean it up. The following day I reread it—reading up to where I left off, making further changes. Then I start writing again.
When I have completed what I think is a manuscript, I take off for a few days, hole up somewhere and polish it. Then I send it off.
KM: Rejection or criticism can often stop writers before they start. How did you deal with rejection when you first started out?
MT: I did not study Writing at university, though writing was something I knew I wanted to do. If I had the opportunity to do it again, I would give a writing programme greater consideration (than less) because, among other things, writing programmes provide a focused community, and writing, like any art, is most relevant when it comes out of the kinds of conversations a community provides. And that includes sharing in the rejections, as well as the acceptances. I was very much alone when I began reading the literary journals and sending them my work. I am certain that had I a peer group to read and comment on my work as I was writing it, as well as read and comment on the work of others, I would have been more comfortable with rejection, and more humbled by acceptance.
KM: You write in a variety of genres and often mix genres. How do you determine the genre for each piece or is it something that happens naturally?
MT: It took me a while to understand what I was doing as a writer, how my first two books are related to what I did as a child, and how the writing I wanted to contribute to was based more on sequences than discrete poems or stories. This caused me a lot of frustration in my early writing/publishing years because the poems I wrote were more documentary narrative than interior lyric, where my subjects spoke to the reader in casual tones, like the subjects in Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology (who spoke from their graves). Not poems in the way Lorna Crozier wrote poems, nor bpNichol, for that matter, but poems attuned to the rhythms of everyday people, whether cannery workers or touring musicians.
Generally speaking, the poets and poetry editors who read my early work never saw my work as poetry. Same with fiction writers and fiction editors, many of whom could not see the narrative sequences for the spoken poems that linked them. Add to that my inclusion of photos, drawings, handwritten notes and other aspects of the material culture that attend life in a cannery town or a touring punk rock band and you get more confusion, a situation that has me describing my earlier works more as collage and montage, and less as books of poetry (even though they were marketed that way).
My frustration with a traditional, genre-specific literary culture led me to a study of genre, and from there the idea that genre, as a category, is in itself its own form of content. This is something I took up in American Whiskey Bar (1997) and The Pornographer's Poem (1999), where I use the screenplay as a compositional device. For me, the written screenplay is a powerful form because it implies a transition--in my case, a transition from one genre to another (and how that transition can transform a character), but also the form's material transition into a motion picture and the inflated economy motion pictures are a part of. Indeed, to use a screenplay is to use the ways in which that form is perceived. In American Whiskey Bar (inspired as it was by Nabakov's Pale Fire, with the screenplay replacing the poem), what happens in the screenplay echoes the ostensibly non-fictive elements that encase it—from William Gibson's "Foreword" to my "Preface" to Monika Herendy's "Introduction" to Milena Jagoda's "Afterword". Same in The Pornographers Poem, where the narrator's film projects (his screenplays) and everyday life (rendered as screenplays) meld into one.
KM: What authors or books would you recommended to someone aspiring to be an writer?
MT: I would recommend the books aspiring writers keep rereading and ask that they consider why, specifically. If it is the prose, then I would suggest writing out those prose passages, allowing their rhythms to seep in, guide the aspiring writer to that which attracts her.
Here's an exercise: if, as a reader/writer, you come across a paragraph that excites you, rewrite it, and, once done, keep writing, see where it leads. I did something similar in the Spring 2009 issue of The Capilano Review, where I took three newspaper articles Malcolm Lowry wrote for the Vancouver Province newspaper (December, 1939), evicted the words and, like Lowry did at Dollarton, squatted in the remains, occupying his syntax and grammar with words of my own—words I wrote in response to his articles.
KM: Your funniest literary moment, if you have one.
MT: Most of these moments are unrepeatable. But one I can relate happened on April 5th, 1994, when I ran the Malcolm Lowry Room, a 99-seat lounge in the North Burnaby Inn. A patron had asked to do a Tribute to Charles Bukowski night, and I said yes. When the date rolled around, it was announced that Kurt Cobain had died, and everyone headed to the bars to talk about it--including mine. So there we were, one half of the room filled with weepy grungers, the other half filled with middle aged men and women in various states of Bukowskian dereliction. When the Bukowskites took the stage, the grungers cried even louder, and an argument ensued, with the grunge choir chanting "Kurt Co-bain!"; their counterparts, "Bu-kow-ski!"
KM: What are you working on now?
MT: There is always a new book, just as there is always a reason to do other things, other kinds of writing. At this point my writing practice has broadened to include book writing, essays (mostly on the visual arts), a blog, WEBSIT; teaching, ECUAD; curation, Free Concert. That's what I am working on now.
MICHAEL TURNER'S RECENT NOVEL
8 X 10, 2009, Doubleday Canada; Canadian First edition
Description from Amazon.ca
Fearless in form, Michael Turner’s 8x10 casts aside traditional narrative structure and characterization to delve deeper into the issues gnawing at today’s global society. Through a sequence of possibly intertwined events, Turner creates a challenging portrait of our modern age, drawing solely on the actions of people rather than their appearance—whether advertising executives or soldiers, tailors or doctors—they fall in love, have children, fight in wars, and flee their homes. In 8x10 there are no names, no racial or ethnic characteristics, and only a vague sense of time. Turner’s characters, familiar yet implacable, are both no one and everyone.
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