Peter Norman lives in Halifax. His first novel, Emberton, is forthcoming from Douglas & McIntyre. His poetry has appeared in numerous periodicals and anthologies, including The Best of Canadian Poetry 2008 and Jailbreaks: 99 Canadian Sonnets.
1. What do you want to talk about—which question do you wish interviewers would ask, and what is your answer?
Q: What’s the secret of your godlike sex appeal? And how do you manage to temper it with such winsome modesty?
A: Funny, George Clooney asked me the same thing the other day. Honestly, I don’t know. Equally mysterious is my inexhaustible wealth.
2. What advice do you wish you’d received, but didn’t, when you first started to take your writing seriously?
“You are not as good as you think you are. You don’t know much. You’ve read only a fraction of what you need to read. Work harder, write more, sweat, learn craft, revise like you’re possessed. Get cracking, son.”
3. What is wrong with the publishing industry, and what are they getting right?
The traditional infrastructure is geared to feed a demand that may no longer exist. Publishers sell something that consumers don’t value much, or think they can get for free.
A lot of smaller houses are doing a terrific job of sticking to their guns and publishing exciting work. So are some of the big players. Whether this makes money for anyone, I don’t know. I’m no finance whiz—just ask my student loan officers.
4. How will technology change writing?
I’m hoping it will allow me to write without contracting carpal tunnel syndrome.
5. What is your process for a typical project, from idea to publication? (Give a specific example.)
There is no typical project. Each one’s different.
I like projects that come out of the blue and blindside me, things I never would have imagined I’d be doing. One day, the poet Stephen Brockwell told me he didn’t think sonnets were relevant anymore. An ardent sonneteer, I disagreed. Stephen hatched a plan: he’d write a sonnet lambasting the form, and I could reply with a sonnet in the sonnet’s defence. We swapped our poems, then he wrote another, and I replied, and on we went, fourteen times. We published our battle as a chapbook, read it on CBC Radio and at the Ottawa Writers Festival. This totally unexpected and wonderful thing turned into the most successful publication that’s had my name on the cover. (Which is, admittedly, a bit like saying Ashley is the brainiest Olsen twin.)
6. What are your daily habits as a writer, and as a reader?
I wish I had daily habits as a writer and as a reader. My unpredictable freelance work life makes “habits” a longshot. (Good habits, that is.).
Here are the things that I do every single day, without fail:
1) Wake up
7. What is your ambition as a writer—what do you want to accomplish, personally and professionally?
There are ten books I hope to write and publish. It will please me very much if I finish all ten, and if each of them finds its right readers. In other words, I don’t really care how well they sell (though my student loan officers might); I merely hope that, in the vast Lavalife of the literary marketplace, they hook up and click with the readers likeliest to appreciate them.
For me, goals, aspirations, ambition etc. have to do with books, not self. I’m ambitious for specific poems and stories and novels I may write; I want them to excel. But I’m not interested in walking into a room and having people gasp and say, “Holy shit, it’s an author!”
Admittedly, though, it would be nice to become a surname:
—Say, Bill, what do you read when you’re not too busy waterskiing and practising dentistry?”
—Well, Stan, I’ve been trying to get into Proust, but who has time for that? So it’s been back to the regular diet… you know, Le Carré, Murakami, Norman.”
That would be cool. Especially if it meant I could score some free dental work.
Outrageous daydreams, aside, though, there’s really only one reason I became a writer: when I was a tot, stories held me in absolute thrall. They were the dearest things. The relationship I had with a story (especially a long story, a novel) was a grand adventure, epic yet intimate. All I ever wanted to do was create that same experience for others.
8. Why don’t you quit?
Don’t have the balls.