Garry Thomas Morse is a Vancouver writer with two books of poetry published by LINEbooks, Transversals for Orpheus (2006) and Streams (2007) and a collection of fiction, Death in Vancouver (2009), published by Talonbooks. Two additional books of his poetry will be available from Talonbooks in 2010, a homage to San Francisco Renaissance poet Jack Spicer and a poetic/familial exploration of Kwakwaka’wakw myth and the local history of the potlatch ban.
1. What do you want to talk about—which question do you wish interviewers would ask, and what is your answer?
Jonathan, why didn’t you ask me how it’s going with The Chaos Quincunx, my series of five serial surrealist speculative novellas? First it was a trilogy and then a friend suggested a tetralogy (think of Sigrid Unset!) and then when I realized there was an opportunity to go around saying “quincunx” all the time, I set to work on a fifth part at once.
Why, it’s going great! Thanks for asking! I have completed three of the novellas and am close to completing the other two. I am still in tentative talks about how this might possibly go to print. Recently, I came up with this theory about this work being the reverse-engineering of a graphic novel, but how does one even put that into words? Notwithstanding, it is lovely to wake up in the morning with the lingering taste of quincunx all over my lips…
2. What advice do you wish you’d received, but didn’t, when you first started to take your writing seriously?
For some reason, this question reminded me of a direct quote from South Park:
BUDDHA: It’s alright. Everything is as it should be.
JESUS: Oh, shut up, Buddha!
I think the only hint of advice I can remember when I first started to really really really take my writing seriously was looking to George Bowering petulantly and expectantly for a response to a pile of poetry I’d given him and he said something like “there are some good poems and some bad poems.” I suspect from that point onward, I had interpreted this to mean there is no advice one writer can give another. Oh sure, you can advise someone not to invest in a pyramid scheme, but I tend to perceive the act of writing as an ultimately solitary activity. If we dare to call it Art with a capital A, then it stands to reason that our mistakes have their own value without our seeking to interfere with them. Marcel Proust suggested a link between neuroses and self-examination and writing, and in my case my various flaws and failings are part of my literary capital. I hardly wish to be advised out of making these mistakes. Perhaps all excellent writing is a series of magnificent mistakes, eh? I say to myself, it’s alright, everything is as it should be.
3. What is wrong with the publishing industry, and what are they getting right?
This question reminded me of the scene in Balzac’s “Les Illusions Perdues” where the impoverished Lucien de Rubempré takes his sonnets to the printer/publisher, only to be informed they are currently looking for historical novels in the style of Sir Walter Scott. I am of the opinion it takes a small-to-medium-sized press to get some interesting writing to print. Of course, at the other end of the spectrum are the profit margins and irresponsible torchings of too many copies of a given title and marketing so much discount tripe to death. So far, I have had two great experiences, first with LINEbooks and more recently with Talonbooks. In my own experience, I feel very fortunate to have hooked up with a press like Talonbooks, since there is a certain amount of trust placed not only in the creative expression of my text(s) but in my ability to perform my works and hence, move some books. It was quite the honour and experience for a reclusive poet such as myself to tour Canadian cities with such intense performative poets Adeena Karasick and bill bissett. Although I was reading from my current collection of fiction Death in Vancouver, I think the audience recognized an aural synthesis between our respective texts and how there was a sensate resonance of sound lingering behind in the rooms where we read. This is a sign to me that Talonbooks is getting it right.
4. How will technology change writing?
So far, technology appears to be shortening sentences and attention spans. I’ve been a computer programmer musing about various forms of language and grammar for at least sixteen years, and probably for this reason, it seems to me everything has been moving in slow motion with regard to the relationship between writing and technology. At present on a societal level, I feel there is a primitive surface fetishization of infotainment-driven gadgetalia, although I have my doubts how informed it is. If I look at the work of Gertrude Stein or Charles Bernstein, I feel they are still way ahead of us in terms of addressing the relationship between semantic structures and the relationship (or lack of it) between them, which is really the nuts and bolts of writing the simplest of software programs or online applications. Of course, there are delicious bits of satire about technology gone wild in my rather delectable quincunx…
5. What is your process for a typical piece of writing, from idea to publication? (Give a specific example.)
I don’t have a specific answer for this question, since I don’t have typical pieces or processes of writing. I know that I wrote Death in Vancouver while working for my own educational software business, and that afforded me the luxury of setting my own hours outside of ongoing projects and writing it all out in notebooks. I have noticed that I get about the same amount of work done while working at a 9-5 job as I have the past three years, but the writing process feels more fragmentary to me, and since it is written on a computer directly, the style feels quite different. In two books of The Chaos Quincunx, I use what William S. Burroughs called the “fold-in” method, which feels rather like battering some batter in a bowl. This process is exciting, because of its sense of immediacy. I’m never sure what the characters are going to do next. However, I am looking forward to a time soon when I may be able to garner the fleeing luxury of a different state of awareness and concentration, perhaps for a short novel project. This process would again be different, and rely upon a continuation of certain fluctuations of consciousness from day to day, likely within the parameters of a few given routines. Already, I’m wondering if I will become mildly infamous for writing innumerable voluminous attempts, none of which I can accept as a “novel”, per se…
Regarding publication, I have to decide which works are worthy of sending off and putting into print. I have enough of a backlog of poetry I wouldn’t mind going to print that I have concerns about übersaturating the market with it, although instinctively I also want to shift the stuff in the back first, like milk.
6. What are your daily habits as a writer, and as a reader?
Sorry, my daily habits as a writer are classified. Oh, if you knew!
As a reader, I really enjoy reading novels at night. Otherwise, I tend to read poetry when I am composing poetry. I have always read novels for pleasure, but more and more, I am noticing a certain analytical part of myself emerging and taking notes, which interferes somewhat with my usual hedonistic reactions. That said, I read for pleasure and write for pleasure, hoping my own readers will share some of this pleasure. It is rather charming to me to consider the notion of a stranger picking up my book and taking pleasure in it. I am also of the opinion my personality could only be an unpleasant interjection to this experience, just as I find the authors of texts I enjoy have the capacity to suck the mystery out of my reading experience with their excessive self-revelations. More mystery, please.
7. What is your ambition as a writer—what do you want to accomplish, personally and professionally?
As for personal ambition, it’s something of a race against ghosts for me. I guess it will end when I am a ghost myself. Am I a ghost yet? On a good day, it feels neck and neck and by a nose. I think that I am living up to my ambition, creating decadent things like The Chaos Quincunx which I feel is unique, at least in terms of Canadian Literature. I still think producing a novel I can accept as a thing of quality is a worthy goal, although at times it feels like a tantalizing abstraction. Or maybe the best goals to have are abstract ones?
8. Why don’t you quit?
Writing, I wish I knew how to quit you! Umm…no I don’t. Well, I wanted to be a writer, at least since adolescence. Then at some point, I realized there’s a ****load of work involved in becoming a writer. Then I realized the ****load of work IS being a writer, and everything else is pretty much incidental. I find that the imaginative conceits of the writing life imbue life itself with an inherent richness that might not otherwise be perceived. The act of writing provides a way to illuminate diurnal/nocturnal beauty in a way that might otherwise be missed. I find myself in a constant state of excitation in which I suffer no boredom.
A good friend of mine has said that without literature and his kids, he’d do himself in. Since I tend to see my abundant voluminous texts as my brilliant gifted adorable progeny, I would readily concur with this statement. Oh sure, I’ll quit tomorrow…
Below are a couple of pirated clips from Carbon Harbour, book five of The Chaos Quincunx, in which the future is frighteningly green. Let’s watch.
NOTHING BLITS THE SPOT LIKE READY-MEDI MEALIES
Werner Gig removed each fingerless and blew upon his much benumbed hands. He had been tending Wind Pharm 207818-072008A for most of his life and it showed in his cracked and scarred digits. He chewed some dried fava beans thoughtfully, spitting out an excess of Genethax. As a young man, the surrounding fields had been rife with beans and sprouts and corn, before the Infestation of Fiver-Niner. He had filed the application himself to order a shipment of terminator seeds. After that, the cockadas scarcely bothered to come round, although there was nothing to eat either. He had long ago given up on breeding phishes. Werner had discovered it was necessary to order Ready-Medi Meal Packets, and like the other pharmers, he was soon hooked. Because nothing blits the spot like Ready-Medi… Thanks to these compressed mealies, he expected to live up to the duration of his contract without putting up much of a fuss when his own termination date arrived. He watched the turbines turn in the stellar wind and creakingly crank out a meager supply of nutrient paste, wondering for a moment whether his own stool could nudge along the growth process. But due to the amount of Genethax in his system, he expected not.
Sky Sapphire was minding her own highs and lows when abruptly out of nowhere she was poked right off her feet.
“For quality control, this interaction will be recorded and oddcasted.”
“For quality control, all expletives will be censored.”
Sky looked up fretfully at the looming figure of Amicus Object. She tried to recall when their flirtation had begun. But she had learned (the hard way) he was only hard for pure product and as many of them he could transfer in a single meeting.
“Sky Sapphire, long time no touch. Are you rebuffing me?”
“Amicus, I did like you. But you never said you were with Friendination.”
“Let’s discuss it over Brillo.”
“No. Stop trying to sell me stuff.”
“Feeling tense? I know where we could go for a discount nethersage…”
“For how many carbon credits, Amicus? For just how many?”
“You are killing the environs with your frigid avarice. For less than a credit per tick, each fetus…”
Sky flew into a bilious rage, due primarily to her last helping of Halibutella. She knew from his profile settings that Amicus was a Foreign Object about to be replaced in the final stages of the merger with Bildung Endustries.
“Why don’t you just friendinate off, Amicus? I know you’re about to be reclassified as an utter Abject.”
Amicus Object snarled and bared titanium teeth. He seized her shoulders with the previous version of pincers.
“Now you don’t want to get friendinated.”
“Sorry! I know I still owe you a splenetic fortune.”
“Let’s discuss it over a savoury cup of Reconstitute. You can buy more Friendination paraphernalia to remember the occasion you will never forget.”
Sky wept, knowing the drill. She turned to the media outlet and smiled through her tears.
“Friendination. How else would I have gotten hooked up to someone like Amicus?”