Interview with Frank Black

Originally published in Stylus 13. 5 (2002)

[Photo by Rosario López]

Frank Black is the mastermind behind The Pixies, who paved the way for the alt-rock explosion of the early 1990s, and can count Kurt Cobain and David Bowie among his many fans.

At the time of this interview, Black had recently released two new albums with his band the Catholics, Black Letter Days and Devil’s Workshop, as well as the original Pixies demos (known to fans as The Purple Tape) as The Pixies.

You have a history of avoiding the press, and once claimed you’d never do another interview. So how come you’re talking to a loser like myself?

I do interviews all the time. I may not have done interviews on a particular record years ago, but I usually do interviews.

What turned you around?

I guess it’s just the nature of the business. You have to let your customers know you’ve got a record out, and the best way to do that is to talk to a journalist. Also, hopefully, it’s an opportunity to, you know, be misunderstood.

Why did you decide to release two separate albums? Are they meant to be companion pieces or are they supposed to stand alone?

Either/or, I guess. You can buy one, you can buy both. I made two records this year, so I’m releasing two records. If I made three records I probably would have — well, I probably wouldn’t have gotten away with three records, I would have gotten too much resistance from the powers that be. Seems that they can handle two records.

What I’m wondering is why not a double album.

Why? Oh, well, it’s two different sections, two different lineups, two different producers. So it’s sort of out of deference to some of the people involved. I didn’t mix and match, I just kind of left them separate.

On the two new albums, the American West dominates both the lyrical and the musical content. Why is there that focus?

I guess it’s just the whole idea of going west. The first time I went west I was a baby, so I don’t have any memory of it, but subsequently I ended up moving back east, and then back west again, back east and back west again . . .

I’ve done that a lot in my life, growing up, and of course I travel around as a musician, so I’m still very much in touch with that experience of heading west across the continent. And of course I live in L.A., so even though I haven’t moved for quite some time now I’m always coming back here from somewhere, most often moving in a westerly direction from other parts of the USA or from Europe. Or Canada.

Black Letter Days is bookended with two covers of the same Tom Waits song, “The Black Rider.” Why did you choose this song to cover in such a prominent fashion?

We started to play that at our show about a year and a half ago. We tried a couple of different covers when we were recording, but that was the one that we did the best. Even then, I wasn’t happy with the way we were doing it . . . so we started to fool around with it a bit and have some fun, and the result was one reel of tape with probably seven different versions of “The Black Rider,” one devolving into the next and getting sillier, so what you hear is the first take and the last take.

It wasn’t meant to be taken seriously, we’re just doing the song because we like it. Lyrically, the song is, on the one hand, really kind of dark and ghoulish, but on the other hand it’s very cabaret. It’s like, “Welcome everybody, to the night club. Let me sing you a song about the Devil.” It’s got this show biz-y kind of vibe.

Do you know if Tom Waits has heard the song?

No idea. He’s a busy guy, I’m sure he’s got other things to do than sit around with the new Frank Black record.

I understand that you recorded these albums in a portable studio of some sort.

Yeah, we’ve got a real vintage analog pile of gear, it’s all in flight cases. We move it around to different spaces and set it up and hopefully get a good sound going. We’ve set it up in three or four spaces now, all in LA, but we have hopes of moving it to other cities and setting it up in other warehouses.

Were you still recording live to two tracks?

Yeah. Or one track. Some of those songs are in mono. There are mono recordings on both albums actually. We have a mono machine and a stereo machine.

What is it about this method of recording that appeals to you?

I just like the challenge. It’s fun to have that parameter. We’re a band, so let’s all play together as a band. We’ll either pull it off together or fail, and we’ll put all our successes on an album and hopefully eliminate the failures. It’s very simple, instead of constructing this facsimile of a performance.

It’s interesting, because the trend now is towards overproduction. Every song you hear on the radio is, as you say, a construction.

Right. There are no rules, I’m not against anybody doing that, it’s just that what people do with that technology is they tend to iron everything out, so everything’s on 10 — as loud as it can be, as bright as it can be, as perfect as it can be — and the people who are doing that are the ones who are really trying to be on corporate radio, which is only playing 10 songs or whatever.

They’re all trying to fit into a certain super tiny niche because of the rewards available to those that make it into the exclusive club of commercial radio . . . I don’t listen to the radio, the music’s too bland and there’s just too much advertising. It’s just so, so corporate. [Makes disgusted sound.] I have no interest in it at all.

Why did you decide to release The Purple Tape [as The Pixies] at this time?

It’s just the way that it worked out, it’s been talked about for a couple years but we never got all our paperwork together or whatever until now, so it’s just a coincidence it came out in the same summer as the other albums.

What about the decision to re-record “Velvety,” with lyrics?

Well, that’s just some song I wrote in junior high and I never wrote lyrics for. When the Pixies did a version of it as a B-side I called it “Velvety Instrumental Version” as a reference to the Velvet Underground, because I was really into them at the time and I fancied myself able to pull off that kind of sound, which is maybe not that accurate. So I kind of painted myself into a corner, I was like, “Okay, I called it the instrumental version, so now I have to write a song called ‘Velvety.’ ”

So that became the lyrical direction of the song, I had to write a song about some woman name Velvety. I like those kinds of random parameters. That’s what songs are a lot of the time, they’re just games that you play, sometimes it’s a language thing, sometimes it’s a meter thing or a rhyming thing, there are all kinds of neurotic little games going on.

It seems that your past success has put you in this position where people demand that you grow as an artist, but then when you do they start condemning you for not sounding like The Pixies.

Right. Thank you for saying that.

Is it frustrating working under the shadow of that band?

Yeah, it’s occasionally depressing, when you read some review that totally pans you or something . . . The only thing that’s would give me revenge would be if I had a hit that somehow overshadowed it.

Unless that happens, that’s always going to be the thing hangs over me and, well, that’s okay. People like to talk about successes, frequently a success happens to someone early on in their career and it’s hard to escape that, not just for me but for anyone.

You’ve claimed to have had UFO experiences in the past. Would you care to tell me about them? (I’m a huge UFO fan.)

Well, there was a UFO that hung out over a house I was staying at when I was a baby and I heard about it years later from my family members. I was so surprised to hear this story, that they all saw this thing floating in the sky above the house, called the police and everything. They thought it was the end of the world.

I had another experience that I do remember, that my brother and I had involving kind of a missile or a rocket-shaped craft that passed over us in the morning or afternoon when we were outside playing. It was completely silent and passed slowly over us and we stopped and looked at it. And then we went back to our playing, you know, we were fairly young.

We never talked about it to anyone, not even to each other, and it came up in conversation 25 years or so later. We were both surprised that the other one remembered it, we each thought it was our own weird personal memory, and we just found it really surprising that we both had this kind of shared memory of the same thing.

I’m not really sure if I believe in UFOs, but I’ve had a couple of odd experiences.

You’ve also talked about a comet making you decide to start a band.

Well, I was down in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and I was getting ready to go on a world trip. I was going to go down to New Zealand to look at Halley’s comet which was passing by that year. It just seemed like a cool thing to do.

I had begun to make preparations to drop out of school and to go do that, when I thought, “Wait a minute, what am I doing? I’m going to go to New Zealand and look at a comet? It’s cool, but what is it that I’ve been dreaming about my whole life? It’s to be a rock musician.”

So it was kind of interesting how the whole comet thing brought this to the top of my head, like “That is not my calling, to wander right now, my calling is to do this.”

8-Ball Interview with ryan fitzpatrick

ryan fitzpatrick lives in Vancouver and lived in Calgary. He wrote two books of poetry: Fortified Castles (Talonbooks 2014) and Fake Math (Snare, 2007). With Deanna Fong and Janey Dodd, he helped assemble the Fred Wah Digital Archive. He co-edited a questionably funny anthology called Why Poetry Sucks with the guy who runs this website.

I co-edited the anthology Why Poetry Sucks with ryan and also was the editor for his book Fortified Castles, and we co-created the #95books hashtag and reading challenge.

1. What do you want to talk about, but nobody ever asks?

I’d like there to be less of an imperative to talk.

2. What advice do you wish you’d received, but didn’t, when you first started to take writing seriously?

The older I get the more I hate advice. Advice, especially when it’s unsolicited, is like a diagnosis and a prescription. I’ve certainly been guilty of doctoring other writers, but it’s something I’ve actively been trying to stop myself from doing (so if I do it to you please tell me to get lost). To be honest, as a young writer, I would’ve preferred less advice. Sometimes, it’s just enough to listen.

3. What are your regular habits as a writer?

My writing practice is increasingly wrapped up in other work, so regular habits don’t work for me. There is no getting up every morning to hit a word count (unless you’re talking about a word count for my dissertation and even then I don’t always hit that). For me, what has been important is the maintenance of a project/series, one that’s easy to slide in and out of, alongside an ongoing research practice that has a cross-disciplinary casualness and that doesn’t intersect with my academic research too much.

4. What is your editing process?

Rewriting through revised procedures that encourage increasingly layered complexity.

5. What is your greatest difficulty as a writer?

Time and money (natch), but also living in (and helping reproduce) coercive forms, structures, spaces, and relations.

6. How do you decide which book to read next?

A combination of whatever’s on the top of the pile, whatever other folks I trust are talking about, and whatever I have to read for work.

7. What is your greatest single ambition?

Pass.

8. Why don’t you quit?

No, thanks.

8-Ball Interview with concetta principe

concetta principe writes prose poems and creative non-fiction, and writes academic articles exploring the bond between messianism and secularism. This Real is her fourth book of poetry, and, in being a project on love, is a sequel to Hiroshima: A Love War Story. She is Assistant Professor of English at Trent University.

I first came to concetta’s work when asked to write a blurb for This Real, which I read and loved—I felt there were a number of interesting parallels to my book The Politics of Knives, although it certainly stands alone as a much different book.

1. What do you want to talk about, but nobody ever asks?
 
I want to be asked about the origins of my name and who my parents are because everyone makes massive assumptions about me based on my name, and so no one ever knows that half of me is New Brunswick Scottish, way back, with a distant uncle who married a Mi’kmaq woman and had children and that whole clan has disappeared from us … it never comes up because everyone assumes I’m Italian, a failed colonizer, and eat lots of pasta—not.
 
2. What advice do you wish you’d received, but didn’t, when you first started to take writing seriously?

Never give up: never take a rejection personally because it rarely is and if it is personal, avoid or confront the source of that ‘personal’ attack; never believe that the so-called supposed-to-know knows better than you what you’re doing; never give up; take a break, take lots of breaks, but don’t give up; don’t do it for someone else; write it for the one you love; you are the only one who knows what you mean; trust yourself; give your work space to take shape; trust yourself.

3. What are your regular habits as a writer?

There are certain habits I should do regularly and don’t. I don’t regularly exercise. I don’t always trust myself. I don’t have perspective, not regularly enough, at least. There are certain habits I do, regularly: read and write. I read and write a lot of different things, so the writing and reading are activities that are ongoing. I am not always so disciplined in sticking to one thing, but I never give up, so I’ll come back, eventually to something I’ve started and failed at. One habit I have developed is to never throw anything out. A habit which may or may not be good (undecided on this one) is that I rarely give up.

4. What is your editing process?

My editing process is one I would say is gross and crazy and destructive and not at all pleasing to early readers of my work. It wasn’t until I saw a documentary of Picasso painting and his process, how he’d start with an image, such as a woman lying on a couch, outlined in broad strokes, paint around it and through it and then paint over it and bring back an element, a short curve, a twist of the neck, of that first image and then cut up that image, and then reshape that image, then bring back more of some of what he took away, and move some elements over, and recreate her across the page with every iteration, until he brings her back to that original position on the canvas, but with these other dynamic elements working through it… it wasn’t until then that I realized his process was my process.

Until that point, I thought I had no process. Until seeing Picasso’s working through, I thought I was a crazy loser who didn’t know which way was North. So when I saw what he was doing, and how fluid he was, and how much joy he expressed in recreating the page at least ten times over without worrying about harming the page or being redundant in the process, but giving in to testing the ‘edits’ and allowing for the palimpsest of method to be the creation, I realized I could relax with my crazy writing method.

So I do. I move things around, I push things here and there, and sometimes, I do come back to what I began with, but with these other delicious elements. Most of the time though, my end is barely every like my beginning. So, I am like Picasso in that I have a manic active process.

5. What is your greatest difficulty as a writer?

Publishing: selling: convincing people my work is worth reading. I’m an introvert. I don’t like stage situations—I’m a poet who loves music and the music of poetry, and would prefer someone else make my poetry heard. I write and I like my writing life, even if it can get lonely: the difficulty is being published and going out there and marketing myself. I don’t know how to convince myself that I’m the best writer there is so that I can convince people to buy my books.

I’m reminded of Russell Smith’s article in The Globe in which he talked about Proust who paid his publisher to publish Remembrance of Things Past, already rejected by the main publishing houses. He was convinced it was the most important work written and so he made sure to share it. He had the luxury of money to make his fame happen by buying its publication and then planting (writing/commissioning) good reviews in newspapers to draw attention to the book … So, while Smith does believe that Remembrance of Things Past is a masterpiece, it is hard for me not to wonder if it is really the masterpiece it is considered, since, if it hadn’t been published and hadn’t had those reviews that gave readers a reason to see its ‘virtues’, it might have disappeared into some historical slush pile with all the other unknown masterpieces written by nobody.  
 
6. How do you decide which book to read next?
 
I have several books on the go, partly because I need to keep up with the newest publications in my fields (creative and academic and teaching), partly because I have a secret passion for suspense, murder mysteries, and science fiction, and partly because I don’t have enough time to spend all my time reading. So, I read them all, and am moved by my mood and by deadlines. Low moods have me looking for comfort reads like suspense, and high moods get me reading theory, biblical studies or philosophy, and hungry moods, poetry and literary fiction, or anything new. If I have a course to prep for, or an article to finish, or a conference paper to write, then my reading is very focused, usually involving re-reading, and is determined by the deadline. Mostly, I’m toggling between serving my mood and meeting deadlines.  
 
7. What is your greatest single ambition?
 
Ah to rule the world—not. To save pedestrians by being a super-hero that can slash tires or kill engines with a flick of my wrist—big wish. To not feel anxious that people will hate me for what I write—big anxiety, obviously. To have a book of mine be reviewed. That’s not the greatest single ambition, but it’s a great ambition. To write the masterpiece, as per Gertrude Stein—sure. Or how about that luxury Anne Carson talks about—to write and not worry about conforming to an audience or a publishing mandate because it will be published because she wrote it. That would be a brilliant achievement. Or to live in a house in a small town and write and not worry about money, and follow in the footsteps of Gertrude Stein, chasing masterpieces.  
 
8. Why don’t you quit?
 
I don’t quit not because no one is asking me to write because no one is and right now, that’s a very comfortable position for writing.

There have been many critical events when it would have been alright to quit. For example, my grade 5 teacher showed me that my verb tenses were wrong, my subject/verb agreement was bad, my spelling was worse, and my plot was non-existent. I didn’t quit. In grade 12, a guy in class laughed at my awkward archaic language. Mortified, sure, but I didn’t quit. I could have quit when I was rejected by both Windsor and Concordia U creative writing programs—the first time round. I could have quit when my Master’s supervisor in Creative Writing wrote to break up our relationship blaming it on my ‘portentous’ writing. I could have quit in response to any of the thousand rejections—oh and every rejection burned like venom and I bristled and splattered bitter cursing tears and trashed my work for a few days or a week, but did not quit writing. I could have quit when my manuscripts were rejected, each response a long deep sinking into darkness. I could have quit when someone confided to me that my writing was no good, or when a publisher, a long time ago, in reaction to my trying to negotiate a clause in the publishing contract, told me my writing was bad and this negotiation was not worth the issue.

In all this, every one of these terrible things had a reason, but they were only the series of failures that I eventually accepted or healed over, like sword or shrapnel wounds, and through it all, even through the pain sometimes, I kept writing. After a while, those failures turned into other failures—successes are always qualified and I may never write a masterpiece—but I haven’t quit and it’s not because I might be an almost good writer now, but mostly because I am in the middle of things. It’s habit now.

8-Ball Interview with Dina Del Bucchia

Dina Del Bucchia is an otter and dress enthusiast and the author of three collections of poetry: Coping with Emotions and Otters (Talonbooks, 2013), Blind Items (Insomiac Press, 2014), and Rom Com (Talonbooks 2015), the latter written with her Can’t Lit podcast co-host Daniel Zomparelli. She is an editor of Poetry Is Dead magazine and the Artistic Director of the Real Vancouver Writers’ Series. Dina created and updates “Dress Like a Book” (on tumblr and Instagram) to unite two of her great loves: literature and fashion. Her first collection of short stories, Don’t Tell Me What to Do, is out now with Arsenal Pulp Press. There is some stuff about her at dinadelbucchia.com.

1. What do you want to talk about, but nobody ever asks?

I want to talk about the kind of writing I don’t want to do. People in creative fields are always being described as the next _________. I think writers are often asked to compare themselves to other writers. And I am inspired by so many amazing writers I aspire to be half as good as, to attempt to reach heights of writing I will never achieve. I’m more interested in who not to be. What kind of writing are you not inspired by? That’s a fun question. Is that too negative? Oh well!

2. What advice do you wish you’d received, but didn’t, when you first started to take writing seriously?

I wish someone had told me it was okay to be funny. I spent so much time trying to be the most serious, deep, obnoxious writer because I assumed that was the only way writing could work. I needed to take the work seriously, but I needed to lighten up to find my writing self. I’m also kind of happy that I figured it out myself. I put in all those brooding hours.

3. What are your regular habits as a writer?

My most regular habit is that I write in the morning, or daytime (if I happen to have a day off). I live in a small apartment. I don’t have a separate ooh la la office. I have a corner and I write in it. Or in bed. Or on the couch. I don’t write in coffee shops. I don’t even drink coffee. I like it to be quiet, no music or anything. Just me and my computer getting down to business.  

4. What is your editing process?

I write a lot of notes to myself about what is going on in the writing. Sometimes the notes are very mean, and I have to contend with why I called myself an idiot for not taking a character’s motivation seriously, or for a weak line break. Sometimes the notes are more gentle, and let me find new ways into the work through self-encouragement. These notes are my way through. I also do a lot of thinking away from the computer. Let things just settle, or get super amped up, in my brain. Then I come back to the work. I feel that each piece of writing requires different techniques. That also just might be my way of justifying a messy process.

5. What is your greatest difficulty as a writer?

Finding time to write. Vancouver is expensive and you basically have to work all the time to live here. And also, I’m a very social person so I don’t necessarily prioritize writing if there’s a party or an event or someone texts me that they’re at happy hour. I love writing, but I love hanging out with people more.

6. How do you decide which book to read next?

Sometimes, like for Can’t Lit, I’ll have to read a book to prepare for the podcast, so it jumps to the front of the line. Otherwise, it’s all about mood. If I want to be cheered up I’m not going to read the deepest, darkest, most tragic memoir. And often I’ll be anticipating a new release and have to read it right way due to extreme excitement.

7. What is your greatest single ambition?

I want to host a talk show. On television. I want to be paid to wear nice clothes and have interesting conversations. 

8. Why don’t you quit?

I respect people who quit things. It takes a lot of ovaries to step away. But I just am too invested in all of it. And I love it. And I love all the people I’ve met and the community around me. And the attention. I can’t lie. It feeds my need for attention.

8-Ball Interview with GMB Chomichuk

GMB Chomichuk is an award-winning writer, illustrator and public speaker. His work has appeared in film, television, books, comics and graphic novels. Sometimes he writes and/or illustrates occult suspense stories like The Imagination Manifesto, Midnight City and Underworld, science fiction works like Raygun Gothic and Infinitum, or inspirational all-ages adventure stories like Cassie and Tonk. He wants you to join the fight and make comics. Watch his creative process in the Kelly-Anne Riess documentary Artists By Night. (Photo credit: Michael Sanders)

twitter : @gmbchomichuk
instagram : @gmbchomichuk
facebook: GMB Chomichuk
www.alchemicalpress.com

I go way back with GMB Chomichuk, to an amazing creative writing class with Dennis Cooley that included Journey Prize-winning author Saleema Nawaz and many other luminaries, half of whom have gone on to publish multiple books. Greg is also my daughter’s favourite of my artist friends, so that’s the feather in his cap.

1. What do you want to talk about, but nobody ever asks?

As I do this for a living, more and more I realize that the distinction of what is popular and good isn’t up to the writer. If you want to endlessly craft and rewrite a single manuscript you might be a great writer but you aren’t likely to be able be a professional writer. To write as a job requires you to work everyday if the muse shows up or not. There isn’t much room for self doubt or worry, those are the enemy of momentum. These days I try to save my criticism for the finished piece, then be ruthless.

2. What advice do you wish you’d received, but didn’t, when you first started to take writing seriously?

That lots of short stories are failed novels. Use everything.

3. What are your regular habits as a writer?

Carry a notebook. Write down ideas, when book is full move forward the ideas you like into the new book. Repeat each month. When I need an idea but don’t have one, I check the books. Ideas that I cary forward tend to become stories. Sum up the whole thing on a single page before I start. Infinitum, Midnight City, Snow Troll’s Daughter and the forthcoming The Good Boys and Minus Institute all started that way. Send submissions. Often.

4. What is your editing process?

I write it the way I want, sit on it for a bit while I work of something else, return to it and realized I have to redo everything. Redo everything. Pass it to my editor, who suggests that I change everything back to the way it was.

5. What is your greatest difficulty as a writer?

Recognizing when a new idea I have for a current project would be better as its own thing.

6. How do you decide which book to read next?

I look for things that feel like the opposite to what I’m working on.

7. What is your greatest single ambition?

To convince others that they can and should use their time to create things. Even if people have no intention of publishing or exhibiting their work, the act of making something will reveal a lot about themselves they might not have had a means to reveal before.

8. Why don’t you quit?

Making up stories and writing them down has been the single constant in my life since I could read and write. I don’t know how to quit because I can’t remember starting.

8-Ball Interview with A. P. Fuchs

A. P. Fuchs is the author of many novels and short stories. His most recent efforts of putting pen to paper are The Canister X Transmission: Year Two, Axiom-man Episode No. 3: Rumblings, The Dance of Mervo and Father Clown, and Mech Apocalypse. Also a cartoonist, he is known for his superhero series, The Axiom-man Saga, both in novel and comic book format.

Fuchs’s main website is www.canisterx.com

Join his free weekly newsletter at www.tinyletter.com/apfuchs

I met A. P. Fuchs way back when we were all young and foolish and driven. He stuck around while others fell. My warrior-brethren!

1. What do you want to talk about, but nobody ever asks?

 
Why the mid-listers who bashed self-publishing and the writers who also did suddenly started doing it themselves. Seems extraordinarily hypocritical and I don’t buy the answer you can now make money self-publishing. You could make money self-publishing before the eBook boom — I did — so a better answer is required.
 
My whole take on what happened is simple: their market dried up so out of desperation to keep things afloat, they self-published their backlist when they either got dropped by a publisher or the publisher closed its doors. The irony is, back in the day, they called us self-publishers desperate and not real writers, and eBooks weren’t real books, etc. My, how the tables have turned. But no one will ever admit to this because it’ll make them look bad and/or foolish and/or desperate. Which is a shame because writing and publishing is supposed to be about honesty and telling the truth (even truth veiled in fiction).

So, in my opinion, they’re dropping the ball in that regard and need to step up their game because publishing goes beyond simply writing books and releasing them. I like the idea that writers — sorry, “authors” — should also be journalists. Again, the idea that truth is prevalent in whatever they’re concocting. I just don’t see it happening and the almighty dollar is part of that reason. Writing should transcend money despite publishing being a business. Art should come first, then the check. I also realize I’m in the minority on this one.
 

2. What advice do you wish you’d received, but didn’t, when you first started to take writing seriously?

 
A lot, but if I were to pick just one thing, it would be the importance of point-of-view in a narrative. I didn’t know about point-of-view on my first two books — the first was published by a vanity press, the second one is unpublished — but I wish I did. I hired an editor to edit my second book and what I got back was a manuscript that looked like someone spilled red paint over it. It was the best monetary investment I’ve ever made in my career and I learned so much from the editor’s notes.
 
Nowadays, I’m a massive stickler on point-of-view and any time it strays I get mad. It’s such a simple concept yet writers don’t seem to understand it. You can explain it to them this way: be one with the character. You can only know, think or feel what the character knows, thinks or feels, and you can only know what they perceive through their five senses. Anything beyond that is a breach of point-of-view. It’s the same in life. I only know what I know, feel, and think, and I only perceive what I perceive. I don’t know or feel or think or perceive what you do, Jon, unless you tell me.
 
I also want to take this opportunity to share the greatest piece of writing advice/perspective I’ve ever received, and it’s this: It’s only a book. Kingdoms won’t rise and fall because of it.
 

3. What are your regular habits as a writer?

 
Getting shit done every day, whether a little or a lot. My first book took a total of eleven months to write, nine of which were actually writing it. Two of those months were the only time I had writer’s block until I realized writer’s block is horseshit and only an excuse not to write. There is no reason a book should take eleven months to write unless you’re writing an obscenely long fantasy epic or are writing every third or fourth day or something. Case in point: I’ve written a book in a week, and wrote two books in three weeks. The readers loved them. Speed doesn’t mean poor quality so long as you’re invested in the project.
 
I also drink a stupid amount of coffee like most writers and vape and smoke a lot. I’m also on medications to keep me stable so I can work without worrying about falling apart.
 
I keep notes, but not a whole lot. Sometimes I outline, if you want to call it that, because it’s more a point-form list of this happens, then this, then that, then this, each point on the outline — which are no longer than a sentence — the core of a scene.
 
There’s more, but I don’t want to give away all my secrets.
 

4. What is your editing process?

 
This will be a short answer because there is not much information to give. My book goes through six stages and then it’s press time.
 
1) Write the first draft
 
2) Write the second draft (content editing, proofing, expanding or shortening scenes)
 
3) Write the third draft (which is basically the same as number 2)
 
4) Book goes to my editor who does a thorough edit for the same stuff I do.
 
5) Get the book back from my editor and go through his edits to accept or reject them. I accept, on average, about 95% of his edits. The remaining 5% are matters of taste and opinion and I typically stick with what I originally wrote.
 
6) Partially format the book for press then go through it one more time. After that, it’s press day and I don’t sleep for 24 hours while I finish the formatting and do the remainder of the work to turn the galley into a published book.
 

5. What is your greatest difficulty as a writer?

 
Sometimes I can’t get into the story as much as I would like. It’s a dream when you live and breathe a book during it’s writing process, but when your heart is not completely into a project — even though you want to do the project — it takes discipline to hit the keyboard anyway and punch out 500 words as a minimum. However, I’ve been fortunate in that the books I’ve found the hardest to write and are the ones that come out the best. No idea why. Maybe some sort of subconscious fuck you to myself to show myself up. I don’t know.
 

6. How do you decide which book to read next?

 
Either whatever’s next on the TBR pile, or whatever one speaks to me. It’s like browsing your DVD collection. Oh, sorry, Blu-ray collection. A movie just jumps out at you. Same with books.
 
Nothing complicated or over thought here.
 

7. What is your greatest single ambition?

 
To be a popular writer and artist, and to finish The Axiom-man Saga, my fifty-book superhero epic. I know you only asked for a single ambition but those two are tied together.
 

8. Why don’t you quit?

 
Because I suck at everything else in life so might as well stick with what others have told me I’m good at.

8-Ball Interview with Keith Cadieux

Keith Cadieux is the co-editor of the weird fiction anthology The Shadow Over Portage & Main, published by Enfield & Wizenty and recently shortlisted for a Manitoba Book Award. During the day-job hours, he is the administrative coordinator for the Winnipeg International Writers Festival. 

I met Keith Cadieux through the Manitoba Writers’ Guild mentorship program, where he excelled under my tutelage (possibly because he didn’t need my help).

Keith kindly included “Waiting Room,” a short story by my pseudonym Richard Crow, in  The Shadow Over Portage & Main.

1. What do you want to talk about, but nobody ever asks?

I haven’t done many interviews so I’m not sure how I can offer much here. One thing I have noticed in quite a few interviews with authors is that there usually isn’t much discussion of the work itself. There are always questions about the writing process, something I value as a writer, and occasionally some talk of inspiration, but that’s usually it. There isn’t much talk of thematic fixations or intention versus the final outcome. I suppose I would like someone to ask me what are some themes I’m trying to work through with my writing. That’s something I don’t think anyone has asked me, in my limited experience. 

2. What advice do you wish you’d received, but didn’t, when you first started to take writing seriously?

Probably not to take every piece of advice you’ll receive. I’ve that found picking and choosing advice, tips, criticism that particularly resonate is far more effective than having to accept something in its entirety. This is true for everything in life, really, but particularly true of writing advice. A writing manual, for instance, may offer some great thoughts, but it’s unlikely that one author will be able to take every single item in that manual and apply it effectively to their writing. Much like writing itself, you need to be a bit of a scavenger and only hold on to the bits that are pertinent or helpful to you at that moment or for that specific project.

3. What are your regular habits as a writer?

These tend to change depending on the writing project. When I first started trying to write seriously, I did so almost exclusively at night. I would put on a pot of coffee, re-read what I had written so far, making adjustments and corrections along the way, and then blast forward with new material once I’d gone through all of the older stuff. Eventually, what I had written got to be so long that this became a serious problem and I wouldn’t get to the point of writing new material. More recently, I’ve taken a tip from Stephen King’s On Writing and set a daily word count for myself. I also tend to do a lot of pacing and wandering around when I write, so I usually try to do it when I have the house to myself.

4. What is your editing process?

Usually, I write my first draft by hand. The first revision comes when I type it up, making corrections and line changes along the way. After that, my stories usually need some kind of overhaul, like new scenes or removing scenes, changes to characters, voice, narration, verb tense. So I write it out by hand again, making these substantive changes. Then, when I type it up again, it’s usually pretty lean so the only revision still needed is typographical.

5. What is your greatest difficulty as a writer?

Definitely discipline. You may have noticed that a lot of the “habits” are things that can quite easily be interfered with or thrown off track. Sometimes, having an empty house simply isn’t an option so I need to just sit down, be a little hard on myself, and get the work done.

6. How do you decide which book to read next?

This is pretty random. As I assume is the case with most writers, my to-be-read pile is a chaotic and unruly beast. It’s simply not humanly possible to read everything that I would like to in one human life span. I’m usually reading more than one book at a time and I make an effort for them to be different types of books, say a novel and a story collection, or nonfiction. Sometimes poetry but pretty rarely. I also tend to alternate between moods. I usually read mostly horror but eventually I need a break so I’ll lean into things that are more lighthearted. 

7. What is your greatest single ambition?

I suppose it would be to write something that earns some real money. Like a five-figure payday from one book. In Canadian publishing, I think that’s about as ambitious as it gets. 

8. Why don’t you quit?

I doubt I could, even if I wanted to. It’s definitely a compulsion. Sometimes I’m more into it, more productive, more passionate. But even during periods of low productivity or when I’m feeling disheartened, the drive to write never completely goes away. It might dulled. Usually, it comes roaring back if I’ve seen something that really gets to me, that connects to the core of me as a person somehow, and I feel a drive to write something that good, to contribute something of equal substance. Or, sometimes I encounter something so bad that I can’t shake the feeling that I could write something better and that rage drives me to actually get back to work.