David Whitton: Fiction Writer
Photo by Millie Whitton
David Whitton grew up in London, Ontario and now lives in Toronto. His stories have appeared in the following journals and anthologies: The Dalhousie Review, The New Quarterly, Taddle Creek, The Fiddlehead, Best Canadian Stories, The Journey Prize Stories, and Darwin's Bastards.
David Whitton is launching The Reverse Cowgirl in London, Ontario at the Forest City Gallery on December 2, 2011 at 8:00pm. See the Facebook event page for more details.
RUSTY TALK WITH DAVID WHITTON
Kathryn Mockler: What is your first memory of writing creatively?
David Whitton: I wrote a Hardy Boys novel when I was eight or nine. Can't remember the title, but it was probably something along the lines of The Mystery of the Fuzzy Kitten Bellies. It was three, four, five pages long. I remember nothing about it, except that I desperately wanted to impress my oldest brother, Jim, who made an effort to fawn over it. His reaction to that novel kept me motivated for decades.
KM: What keeps you going as a writer?
DW: The three Ds. Delusion, denial, and desolation. Also the feeling, for just a few minutes every day, that all the moments in my life that I’d thought I'd pissed away actually have some sort of purpose. Because it all comes back to you, doesn't it? The girl you made out with in the park in grade ten. The surreal conversation you had with your uncle three months before he left the earth. It all comes back. These evanescent moments that you, privileged person that you are, now get to sink into amber. What a gift.
KM: What is the revision process like for you?
DW: It's like a women's prison movie. Except that I'm both the perverted, sadistic warden and the wrongfully convicted inmate. It's full of relentless self-abuse and almost existential self-questioning. But what can I do? It’s what I signed up for.
KM: Rejection can stop new writers before they start. How did you deal with rejection when you first started out?
DW: I rewatched Alexander Mackendrick’s great sleazeball drama, The Sweet Smell of Success. I reread Jesus' Son and A Good Man is Hard to Find and Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? I listened to Raw Power and The Velvet Underground and Nico and No Wow and confirmed to myself that my aesthetic was sound. It's important to remember that tons of people, even people in positions of power, don't know what they're talking about. Editors, publishers, and agents will often make decisions based on the most superficial of criteria. But if you’ve placed yourself in a continuum that includes Denis Johnson, Flannery O'Connor, and Raymond Carver, then no one can touch you.
KM: What authors or books would you recommend to new writers?
DW: I wouldn't. One thing I've learned, or am trying to learn, is that no one else's opinion counts for shit. Taste is identity. When you figure out what rocks you out, you figure out who you are and how you write. No one else matters.
KM: Do you have a piece of literary advice for aspiring writers?
DW: Avoid writers. Spend most of your time with electricians. Or bipolar No Frills cashiers. Or new-age construction workers. Or downward-spiralling Coffee Time franchise owners, or schizophrenic former bread-truck drivers, or women who used to be men. These are the people who will teach you how to live, and therefore how to write. And they'll give you your best material.
KM: Your funniest literary moment, if you have one.
DW: Most of my literary moments are unspeakably tragic. But I do cherish the memory of my wife Brenda coming into the kitchen and telling me that my book, The Reverse Cowgirl, had reached number 69 in the Amazon.ca short story charts.
KM: What are you working on now?
DW: My dream project. An epic southwestern Ontario white-trash crime novel. A while ago I met James Ellroy and got him to write "I'm yo daddy" in my copy of Blood's a Rover. I intend to prove him right. He's my literary daddy, at least for one book.
DAVID WHITTON'S MOST RECENT BOOK
The Reverse Cowgirl, Freehand Books, 2011
Description from Freehand Books:
Keen, intense, and darkly comic, the short stories of David Whitton are full of misfits, oddballs, dropouts, klutzes, and loners. You might dress em up, but it’s just a matter of moments till they unravel back into their fallen, and fascinating, selves. Their mistakes and misdeeds, temptations and transgressions thread their way through these stories, stirring up surprises on every corner.
Whitton navigates current life and future worlds, dirty truths and murky fantasies, continually setting up, if only to send up, modern romantic scenarios. In the end, whether the lovers meet online or on acid, at a wedding or in battle, the object of ardour might be in for a rough ride. Maybe they’ll stay afloat—tremulous and tentative—or plunge to earth in delightful and refreshing ways.
Praise for The Reverse Cowgirl
“The Reverse Cowgirl is both hilarious and horrifying, as startling and poetic as a gargoyle dropped on one’s head, a corpse with a plastic flower instead of a face. Whitton writes the way a master painter paints—just a few well-placed strokes of his brush and he reveals worlds of vast and mesmerizing complexity. The characters in these stories are all at a loss in some way, and with his frightening talent Whitton makes readers care deeply for them, even while ashamedly laughing at them. He is marvelous in his ability to show the comic in the tragic, and he constantly forced me to question my own ethics, my own place in the world. A truly gifted writer and a truly kick-ass short story collection.” —Suzette Mayr
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