1. What do you want to talk about—which question do you wish interviewers would ask, and what is your answer?
The older I get the less and less I know what it is I want to talk about. Conversations have become more and more like bowls of chowder. They’re all creamy on top. Dip in a spoon and you get a carrot. Some corn. A potato. Maybe a bit of bacon. A clam. Who knows. Sometimes it’s thin. Sometimes it’s cream right to the bottom.
As far as questions go, I wish interviewers would always ask writers to name the most mind-bending book they’ve read lately. Earlier this spring my answer would have been Sea Sick by Alanna Mitchell. But then I read Ecology Without Nature: Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics by Timothy Morton. Now I’m rethinking everything I’ve ever written. It’s as if I’m rebooting.
2. What advice do you wish you’d received, but didn’t, when you first started to take your writing seriously?
I wish someone would have told me to join the Saskatchewan Writers Guild. I was serious about writing for a good ten years before I knew the SWG existed. Once I joined I became aware of all the opportunities. The possibilities.
3. What is wrong with the publishing industry, and what are they getting right?
For the most part, I don’t think there’s much wrong with the industry. It’s a business and consumers are increasingly difficult to read. However, I do pause every time I hear someone describe things as homogeneous and conservative and wonder how my own tastes have been shaped by the industry. While the industry might well be homogeneous and conservative, I trust that there are always artists tugging at the edges. I’d love to see A Little Distillery in Nowgong: a novel across media, for instance, which deals with the tyranny of the book. Just imagine the viewers of this work. Artists, writers, publishers. Imagine the questions. If you tug enough and tug with power, eventually the logs will move.
I think they’re getting lots right. I see a great variety of publishers and a great variety of voices in print. Thanks to the internet, the books are just a click away.
4. How will technology change writing?
Starting when? The rate of change from the invention of the printing press onward has been phenomenal. Digital technology has set a pace no one can keep up with. There are so many options now as far as process and product goes. Whatever you can imagine. To think I, in a mining town in northern Saskatchewan, can hit Send and you, in Calgary or maybe holidaying in France, can receive, copy and publish this interview all in under a minute is just boggling. And it will appear in feeds just as quickly. But how will any writing, be it this online interview or a novel of genius, be received in the current climate? How will the matter of dilution, social network fatigue and feed rage change writing? It’s anyone’s guess.
5. What is your process for a typical piece of writing, from idea to publication? (Give a specific example.)
Sometimes an idea will strike me as I’m going about my activities of daily living. Like when I’m pulling weeds or flossing. Sometimes an idea will strike when I’m reading. I tend to let ideas brew for a long time before they hit the page. I don’t force the writing. It happens when it happens. If it’s a poem I’ll pin it on my bulletin board. A million revisions and several years later, I’ll send it to a publisher.
6. What are your daily habits as a writer, and as a reader?
I start my day with coffee and poems. It’s been that way for many years. Then I read the news. Then I read something else. And so on. I end the day with a book of nonfiction or fiction.
7. What is your ambition as a writer—what do you want to accomplish, personally and professionally?
Ambition is an interesting thing. Ambitions change. These days I simply want each piece of writing to be stronger than the last. Or closer to whatever I’m reaching for. I want to spend my time reaching. I also want to be part of the conversation. Part of a community.
8. Why don’t you quit?
Why quit what you enjoy?