1. Why do you write?
If I had to give a reason for why I write, I would have to say, Because I’m good at it. As early as seven, I said I would be a writer when I grew up. I wrote a lot during junior high. I wrote every day in high school. Of course in high school I wanted to be a poet, and I have many old notebooks still sitting in my old room at my parent’s house that I need to burn someday.
For a while I let myself be convinced that writing was not a viable career path (That may, unfortunately, yet prove to be true). I studied English in university until I dropped out after two years. Then I got a science degree in Anthropology, studying Osteology and Archaeology, until I realized I would, at best, be a mediocre archaeologist, and that simply wasn’t good enough.
One day I decided I would write, and that was that.
At the time I was living in a bush camp a hundred miles from civilization in the north of British Columbia. I still remember the exact moment when, in the middle of the forest, I stood up, looked around, decided I wasn’t going to go back to do an archaeological thesis – I would write instead – and I was happy.
At the end of the summer, I returned home and wrote a terrible novel.
2. How many books have you written?
I have completed three books. I have two in states of undress.
My first novel remains untitled, best left buried in my bookshelf. It was a compilation of true hitchhiking stories to a fictional place, tales that I had either experienced myself, or compiled from the experiences of people I knew.
My second novel was A String of Momentary Silences, which is the only novel-length piece I currently have available through Amazon and Smashwords, about a man who decided to step off the hamster wheel of his dreary life. He stutters rather badly and hates his existence, and decides he’d be better off never speaking to anybody ever again. After he does that, life is easier for him, and he explores his world as an unspeaking individual. He meets a fellow who runs the puppet show at the local market, a man who also doesn’t speak, and the two become friends. Meanwhile he meets a woman online, and struggles with wanting to tell her that he can talk to her as he feels terrible lying to her with his silence. A String of Momentary Silences is not a long novel, but I always have trouble describing it.
My third is unfinished Twice Against the Same Stone, about a woman nearing her golden years, but who’s lived a bit of a criminal life, and she’s trying to make amends for her many mistakes.
My fourth is Raw Flesh in the Rising, about a man exiled to the leper colony on the Hawaiian island of Molokai in the late 1800s. There, the one healthy man among the sick, he becomes the leper among the lepers.
My fifth, and current work in progress, is where I relinquish my grip on five-word titles.
Systematic Rube, my first non-fiction book, is a rough outline of the silviculture industry as it represents rite of passage in Canada. I received a grant from the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council to work on Systematic Rube in the spring of 2011.
3. What inspired you to write your (latest) book?
My latest book is Systematic Rube, exploring tree planting as rite of passage in Canada. It was not born from inspiration; rather it is a child of exasperation.
I spent thirteen months, working every day, writing Raw Flesh in the Rising. Then I spent sixteen months editing , every day, seven hours a day. I didn’t work for those two years; I wrote.
Six months into editing I needed a break. I wanted to write – firstly – something new, and – secondly – something fun.
I had learned so much from writing Raw Flesh in the Rising. I wondered what my first person writing would look like. One day I sat down and began to write, cataloging my favorite stories from my years working in the forests of British Columbia. At the time, thematically, it was very free-flowing. Having since gained purpose, it has become regimented and directed, though I still love working on it as I can do anything I want as long as I stay within the boundaries I’ve set for myself.
4. What is your favorite genre to read?
I read roughly equal amounts of literary fiction and science fiction, and then a smattering of fantasy, history, and science writing. If it’s well written, engaging, and/or introduces me to new ideas and concepts, I’m game to read it.
5. Is your writing style at all influenced by those of your favorite authors?
My style is influenced in different ways by different authors. Firstly, stylistically, I love writers with a flair for language, such as Jack Kerouac, Louis Ferdinand Celine, Henry Miller, Allen Ginsberg, Herman Melville, Thomas Wolfe, and others. I first fell in love with Kerouac when I was sixteen. I read On the Road, decided it was over-hyped, and set it aside. Back then, however, I would read every book twice; only by reading it twice, I had decided, could I truly get a good grasp on the flavor of the book.
I finished On the Road for the second time two days later, and already I was in love. The man was a genius with language. To think that everything he wrote is a first draft still blows my mind.
Steinbeck is my favorite conventional author. His stories capture straightforward characters doing everyday things – and they are stories told simply as well – yet they add up to an amazing thematic complexity which I love. Very powerful.
I won’t say I’ve been influenced by either. More like inspired and admired. In the end, they are benchmarks.
6. Which is your favorite book that you’ve written?
My favorite book, to this point, has to be Raw Flesh in the Rising. I spent two years writing and editing the novel to my satisfaction, crafting everything the way I wanted. Then, when I was finished, I cut 50,000 words out of it. To say that any other novel was my favorite would be a harsh pill to swallow at the moment.
Luckily, it’s paid off. In 2011, I won the Percy Janes First Novel Award for Best Unpublished Novel in the NL Arts and Letter’s competition. I’m currently shopping the book to publishers.
I should probably flash this around more often while I still hold the award:
7. What is your opinion of the art of writing?
Writing is an art like any other. One can be an artist who understands every facet of the history of his art and how his own work relates to all the other work which has come before him, or one can simply be an artist for fun and enjoyment. There’s value in both, and the best writing, in my opinion, combines the two.
8. What advice would you give someone who is just beginning their own novel?
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
Don’t rely too much on writing guides or you’ll just end up writing like everybody else who’s read them.
Remember the lessons of your high school teachers when it comes to making jot notes and outlines. They work.
Walk sometimes instead of driving. And without headphones.
Listen to critics, but don’t write their words in your heart.
Grammar, spelling, and punctuation, are supremely important. A writer not using the tools of his trade properly would be akin to a carpenter trying to build a house by hammering screws with a wrench.
Don’t emulate the best in your genre, but the best writers in general.
Read a lot; and again, read the best.
Write a lot. Make sure you love your writing for what you’ve written, not because it’s you who’s written it.
9. Do you have any funny and / or interesting stories about how you’ve come up with
plots or characters?
In my novelette, Do Unto Others, which I’ve published to Amazon, the mayor and priest of my fictional town of Scanlon are based on the real historical characters, Bernard and Pierre Clergue, the local bailiff and parish priest of the town of Montaillou, France, in the 13th century. Pierre was a womanizer who used the priesthood to seduce women, and Bernard a bit of a brute who used his authoritative position to become wealthy. Also, and I’m still not sure if I consider this funny or not, but I began writing Raw Flesh in the Rising on a whim. It was supposed to be about forty pages and take me a month. It consumed the next two years of my life.
10. Coke or Pepsi?
I never use caffeine while I work. I find the caffeine and sugar low balances out any
benefit you get.
Other than that: tea. Always.