Friday, January 30, 2015

The Marvel Universe is coming to an end in May 2015

As a long-time follower of Marvel Comics, I’m intrigued at the idea of the announcement that came recently about “the end of the Marvel Universe,” as it blends (or, really, crashes into) the Ultimate Universe this coming spring. Unlike DC Comics’ “the new 52,” which everyone seems to have hated (and managed to wreck my enjoyment of some of the very few mainstream DC titles I even paid attention to: Hellblazer (Constantine) and Batwoman), or even the 1980s reboot of Superman, Wonder Woman and other titles, this isn’t a reboot or a switch of any sort, but a way for the characters and universe to develop.

I’ve been following Marvel for quite some time, since I picked up my first issues in the early seventies, focusing heavily on The Amazing Spider-Man and Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man, and eventually extending further out into The Avengers, The Fantastic Four, The Uncanny X-Men and many others. I must have at least six thousand comics by now. Gerry Conway on The Amazing Spider-Man. John Byrne and Chris Claremont on the Uncanny X-Men rebuild, or Byrne on The Fantastic Four. Jim Starlin, really, anywhere in the 1960s and 70s. J. M. Dematteis throughout Captain America or just about anything Spider-Man. Wow.

There are plenty of other examples. Obviously.

As I saw it, the 1980s into the 90s were an interesting time for Marvel, shifting their attentions from individual titles and individual issues to longer and interconnected storylines, the beginnings of time travel storylines and the experimentation with “other universes,” to the frustrations of long-time readers like myself when Marvel would return to the “basics,” whether bringing back Aunt May or re-breaking Charles Xavier’s legs. Think of Peter David’s brilliant run which saved The Incredible Hulk, forced by the company to make the Hulk “stupid” again, thus erasing any character evolution he had accomplished throughout his run (he quit the book as a result). Think of the character Toad, who changed entirely throughout the X-Men books to coincide with the character as it was built in the movies; done to bring in new readers, but damned annoying to those of us who had been there the whole time.

And yet, how do you allow entry for new readers without forcing them to read half a century (or more) worth of continuity to know what the hell is going on? It made a certain sense, and at least one cynic I know in the industry claims that the real money in Marvel is in selling bedsheets to kids and not in selling books, so there’s only so much they can alter the characters (I hate that he is most likely right). Death is never permanent, and returning characters from the dead often belittles (in my mind) earlier plotlines and developments. They killed and brought back (as a clone) Gwen Stacey (mediocre). They killed and brought back Jean Grey (with X-Factor, which was pretty interesting) only to kill her again (which seemed rather arbitrary, but I enjoyed the development of Cyclops and Emma Frost). They killed and brought back (very well done) and re-killed Charles Xavier. They killed and brought back Norman Osborn (brilliantly, I thought). They killed and brought back Ben Reilly, the clone of Spider-Man (very nice). They erased Spider-Man’s marriage to Mary Jane Watson (unforgivable). They killed and brought back Guardian (nicely done) and killed and brought him back again (very poorly done). They killed and brought back Alpha Flight (unforgiveable; really, after Bill Mantlo left the book after following John Byrne’s incredible run, Marvel seems to be pushing the idea of “if we do it badly enough, readers will just stop asking us to bring it back.” Shameful).

Some of these deaths have actually allowed some interesting possibilities, temporarily allowing other characters to develop more prominence, whether Xavier’s death allowing Cyclops to develop further, or even Captain America’s death prompting Bucky’s own version of Captain America (I was disappointed to see that go). DC did the same when Bruce Wayne died, allowing the original Robin, Dick Grayson (Nightwing) to temporarily take over the role (another shift I was disappointed to see end).

Sean Howe’s 2012 book Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, unfortunately, shattered a few long-held beliefs I’d been carrying about how the stories at Marvel were build, shaped and told over the long years (and it made me grieve, just a bit, for the dark, petty and even ridiculous origins of many beloved tales).

The strength of Marvel against DC was supposed to be in the fact that it refused to remain fixed. A far older company, DC held to archetypes (which made reboot far easier than rebuild, and movies far less complicated to get off the ground), and Marvel kept developing, shifting and building. The X-Men team was never stable for terribly long, nor were The Avengers, and yet, at some point, Marvel decided to stop moving, perhaps to keep a non-reading audience interested in what was happening. Teams and characters had to look familiar. It took Brian Michael Bendis destroying and rebuilding The Avengers into a decade-long arc to break down so many standards and held assumptions (including Civil War, the Skrull Invasion, Siege, Age of Ultron and other impossibly good storylines), thus saving Marvel, ultimately, from itself. Suddenly, it seemed, Marvel had the permission to change: Nick Fury no longer ran S.H.I.E.L.D. (allowing an evolution that saw it run, variously, by Tony Stark, Captain Rogers and Norman Osborn), Daredevil took over the territories of both the Kingpin and The Hand, and Spider-Man was taken over entirely by Doctor Octopus. The Human Torch took over the Negative Zone. The Shi’ar Empire saw the return of D’Ken, the savagery of Gabriel Summers and the beginning of the reign of Gladiator. Cyclops became an angry rebel, and Wolverine became Schoolmaster. The Black Panther lost his throne to his sister. The Illuminati were created. The Inhumans returned to earth and broke apart. The status quo could shift, and allow characters, situations and stories to develop in real, permanent ways, without betraying the central core of certain characters.

I’ve followed a few iterations of Marvel’s alternate universes, from Jim Shooter’s “New Universe” titles from 1986 to 1989 (including Star Brand, Spitfire and the Troubleshooters, Nightmask, Mark Hazzard: Merc, Psi-Force, Justice, DP 7 and Kickers, Inc.), the multiple 2099 titles that ran from 1992 to 1996, the Marvel 2 titles that launched in 1998 (Spider-Girl, Fantastic Five and A-Next, among others), the completely terrible “Heroes Reborn” titles from 1996-1997 that directly rebooted Captain America, Iron Man and other characters (thankfully, the entire experiment, seen as horribly failed, was reversed) and the “Age of Apocalypse” storyline throughout all of the X-Men titles from 2011 to 2013 (a rather good run; rumours had at the time that this storyline might have remained, had it been more popular). Most of these have been rather interesting, and some, like the first three examples, simply didn’t catch on, and were seemingly cut off at the knees. One wonders if this constant refreshing has been a matter of attracting new readers, while attempting to keep from alienating long-time readers, many, I’m sure, who either age out, get tired of the constant “back to basics,” or move their comic reading out of the “big company” stuff into more independent titles. I never have enough time or money for all of my reading, but some of the important titles on my own shelf also include Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, Mike Carey’s Lucifer, Warren Ellis’ The Authority, Grant Morrison’s Kill Your Boyfriend, Kyle Baker’s Why I Hate Saturn, Peter Milligan’s Shade, the Changing Man and Garth Ennis’ The Preacher. And does anyone remember Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children?

The “Ultimates” universe, one of the main components of this new collision, was launched in 2000, allowing new origins for a variety of characters already familiar in the main universe: Ultimate Spider-Man, The Ultimates (The Avengers), The Ultimate X-Men and The Ultimate Fantastic Four (for example), and opened new readers to an entirely different world of well-known characters. Readers could see how Spider-Man, for example, might begin today (and the first three feature films were very much based on Ultimate Spider-Man storylines, as opposed to the original), or The Avengers (two animated features, again, based on The Ultimates, as are much of the current live-action features). Because they weren’t part of the main continuity, characters and stories were allowed to develop, and a number of main characters have even been killed off, seemingly permanently, including Spider-Man, Captain America and Wolverine, something the main continuity could never imagine doing. Imagine the Hulk actually killing Wolverine, for example (it happened).

I’ve been reading with great interest the work that Jonathan Hickman has been doing with The Avengers over the past couple of years, a storyline that seems directly heading into this new collision, as is Bendis’ incredible work in All-New X-Men. What is impressive to me is how well some of these stories are being written, and how the interconnectedness of it all I didn’t even see coming. There is a very long game being played here, and I’m thrilled for it, even if I might not agree with every single choice of every single title or character (Civil War, for example, broke apart a stellar run on the then-new Young Avengers title, from which it never fully recovered; the subsequent run of the book had some intriguing developments, but overall, was mediocre at best).

What has also been interesting about how the current Marvel continuity has developed is how they’ve slowly brought a number of these “alternate universes” into normal continuity, reintroducing Star Brand and a few other ideas from Shooter’s “New Universe,” stranding Spider-Man 2099 into the present, or the current iteration of Spider-Man (a storyline I am not entirely convinced by, as unwieldy and as silly as the “Maximum Carnage” or “Clone Saga” storylines), bringing in every iteration of the character that has ever been written (from Spider-Girl and Spider-Ham to multiple new iterations).

I wonder if this collision of universes might even be Marvel’s way of ending the Ultimate Universe, even as they rejuvenate their main continuity. Possibly?

Okay, Marvel: you have my attention. Just don’t mess it up.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

12 or 20 (second series) questions with D.D. Miller

D.D. Miller (photo credit: Neil Gunner) is originally from Nova Scotia but has lived, worked and studied all across the country. His work has appeared in a number of journals and anthologies. Writing as the Derby Nerd, Miller is known around North America for his writing and commentary on the rapidly growing sport of roller derby.

He currently lives in Toronto and his first collection of stories, David Foster Wallace Ruined My Suicide and Other Stories, was published by Wolsak and Wynn in Spring 2014.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

I don’t know that it has changed my life in any way other than I’ve been doing a lot more interviews like this lately!

I have identified as a writer for so long and spend so much time with writers and that has all stayed the same. It does give you confidence though: that there are people willing to publish and read your work. It makes it all that much easier to get up and write in the morning.

2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?
I’ve been writing fiction for as long as I can remember. I loved reading fiction and I think it was as simple as that. I wanted to write the kinds of stories that I was reading.

I wrote a lot of poetry when I was younger, in high school in particular, but it didn’t last much beyond that. I’ve written some short and longer screenplays to varying degrees of success as well, but in the end I always come back to fiction in terms of my creative writing.

I do write non-fiction—mostly sports writing—quite a bit. But I do so as an alter ego, The Derby Nerd, and it is about something super specific: roller derby. I came upon it by chance: I fell in love with the sport and no one in Canada was writing about it. I basically copied the style of coverage others were doing south of the border and eventually adopted my own style for covering the sport. There was no precedent, really, so it’s been fun to make it up as I go along!

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?

I write a lot and all the time. So things generally come quickly, but they usually fall apart quickly as well, which is good because I am able to move on when something just isn’t working.

Rarely do I write a first draft that is “complete.” Of the twelve stories in my collection only one really resembles its first draft (and it’s, not surprisingly, the shortest piece in the book). I have a tendency, especially in short fiction, to write big and then whittle away until I find the core. It’s not rare for a 3000-word story of mine to have begun as a 7000-word first draft.

Usually, the first draft is a way into the story and the characters for me, so I am learning a lot about them and the way to tell their story. Then it’s a process of finding what it is that the reader needs to know, which I find usually isn’t that much.

4 - Where does fiction usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

It depends. I’ve set out to write novels before (two are buried in the proverbial drawer) and am currently trying to finish one, and in all three cases, I had a particular story in mind that I simply knew was too big for a short story.

As for my short fiction, they begin a number of ways: sometimes an end point comes to me, or an opening, or just a scene or bit of conflict. Very rarely it’s a character, but that has happened as well.

Once in Northern Alberta, I was in the washroom at a small truck stop and there were these little pocket-porn magazines for sale in a vending machine. Almost immediately I knew that this moment was going to be a pivotal scene in a story. It eventually became one of the stories in the book. That’s usually where fiction comes from for me.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I don’t enjoy doing readings of my work.

I actually quite enjoy speaking in public and talking about writing (my own or others), and I actually like QandAs and would much prefer doing these than having to read my own work. But I understand its function, so I do my best to entertain.

I usually have to read excerpts, and I find this awkward. Rarely do I have a story short enough to be read in a comfortable sitting (nothing bothers me more than when people read for too long, especially from fiction), and just by coincidence, my shorter works have not been conducive to readings (IE: they’d be boring or depressing read aloud). I feel that my writing is meant to be read, not heard.

Since I knew that I would have to do a lot more readings after the book came out, I decided to experiment with something: I’ve been trying to find stories within my stories—sometimes cutting bits and pieces out—sometimes reading excerpts that only include one secondary character, and I’ve actually enjoyed this process and think that my readings have been better because of it. And I also think that I end up understanding my stories better.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

Putting the collection together was an interesting process. There definitely is a consistent theme throughout, but I did not start writing stories with this in mind or with the idea of a collection coming together out of particular stories. I compare it to a band putting together an album: they usually have a whole lot of songs from which to pull the tracks for the album, and often bands will find “through lines” in the songs that eventually make the collection. I felt like putting together this collection was like that. However, the decisions were made on thematic connections, not theoretical ones.

In terms of those larger literary questions, I do my best to stay as far away from them as I can. I did an English Lit. undergrad right out of high school thinking it was the logical thing for a writer to do. In the long run, having access to all that great writing and an environment where people respected it and wanted to talk it about was obviously a huge influence and important introduction to the literary tradition, but my writing suffered considerably during that time. All that I produced were smart-assed, self-indulgent metafictions about writers and writing. It was fun and cathartic and actually ended up teaching me a lot about craft, but the work itself was horrible. So I leave larger literary questions to the critics.

This purposeful distance has also made me unaware of what questions are being asked in current theoretical literary discussions. When I was immersed in that world in he mid-late 90s, it seemed as if we were at the end of something: the implosion of “deconstruction” or postmodern/structuralist theory as the dominant mode of criticism. It seemed to be a way of thinking about literature based centrally on the notion that it didn’t, or couldn’t, exist. At that time there was this awareness arising that the logical conclusion of post-structuralism was in the deconstruction of deconstruction.

So after this implosion, what has emerged at the “ground level” is a certain return to a more “traditional” form of style or writing. I am definitely noticing this in short fiction trends.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

I think it’s probably the same as it has always been: to tell the stories of our times, to entertain.

I think writers are the front line of exploring the human psyche, probing it, not necessarily to find answers, but to express the complexity of it.

Because of its intimacy, I also think that reading is an excellent way to nourish a sense of empathy. So maybe that’s the role of the writer in the “Me Era”: maybe writing is the way we remind ourselves how to empathize with others.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

Essential, and so far in my life, not difficult at all. I’m not particularly precious about my writing. If there is a craft or mechanics thing that I am doing wrong, I want to know and learn how to fix it. Most importantly, I know that I am not a very good judge of how a reader will respond to my work; I have a tendency to be straightforward and linear and sometimes too blunt (the over writing I mentioned earlier), so I have always thought it was incredibly valuable for me to have an outsider point these things out to me.

Traditional publishing is changing significantly right now and I fear that the close-editing process is something that could easily be lost or cast aside. I feel incredibly lucky to have had an editor work so conscientiously on my writing through the production of my book. I’ve always felt so lucky to have anyone care enough to want to read my writing so closely.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

I don’t know about advice, but I have two mantras that I follow, and I don’t really know where they come from. One, I think, may be Alice Munro, but I may also have made it up: “Everyone can write, but writers write.”

The second comes from Jack Hodgins who I think was quoting someone else (and who I am now paraphrasing!): “To write good fiction you have to write one good sentence and then follow it with another good sentence…”

It reminds me that this is, first and foremost, a craft. It’s not just thoughts and ideas (everyone has those); it’s the putting them to paper in good sentences and well-constructed stories that makes a writer.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (fiction to non-fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?

It was challenging at first, but I think mostly because it took me a while to find the voice for my non-fiction writing. Aside from sometimes lacking the time I’d like to have to do both, I actually appreciate having both genres to give me a break from the other. But when it all comes down to it, all writing, for me, is work—sentence building and story telling—so I see it all intertwined at the level of craft.

I’ve been working on a book-length work of non-fiction and a big part of the early struggles have been in finding my voice, or the point of view, for the book. It’s been an interesting challenge though. It’s as if I’m right back at the beginning, but it’s an interesting process.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

Because I teach at a college, my schedule changes ever-so-slightly every semester, but generally I like to get up and write right away, at least for a few hours. Then, ideally, I go for a run and either teach or get back to writing in the afternoon (usually switching from fiction to non fiction).

Whatever my schedule, I try to write five days a week, at least for a few hours a day.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

I find I work a lot of things out in my writing while I’m running, so if I am having a bad morning or just a morning where I am lacking focus, sometimes I go for a run to mull things over.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Salt water. Atlantic ocean salt water specifically. I smell it as soon as I get off the plane or train in Halifax whenever I get home.

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

I think all of those things are just wrapped up in life. That’s so broad, I know, but I think books come from everywhere all the time.

I think maybe McFadden was speaking to tradition, to the shape that a book has and how it is part of a larger and much longer dialogue. I am not recreating the form every time I sit down to work on short fiction; I am engaging in a long tradition of creating short stories, and the way I write and my goals in writing are shaped by that tradition.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

There has been such a resurgence in the short story as of late, and this has been incredibly inspiring to me. There have been so many collections by new(ish) writers that have been excellent: Sarah Selecky, Elizabeth De Mariaffi, Nancy Jo Cullen, Kelli Deeth, David Derry, Spencer Gordon to name a few.

Bill Gaston has a new collection coming out in June as well. This will be his first collection in seven years (he’s published a few novels in between). I think he is one of our best short story writers.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Publish my fourth book.

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

Postal worker—mail deliverer. I still kind of want to do it. I like the endurance aspect of it. 

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

I honestly have no idea. Perhaps just being read to as a child, which led to a voracious reading habit, which led to my wanting to create the kinds of stories I enjoyed reading.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

This is tough: I guess I’ll take ‘great’ to mean a certain thing: namely, something I think everyone should read/see. I’m going to say Boyden’s Orenda as my book choice. It feels like an easy answer, and it’s not necessarily my favourite book published in the past year, but at the same time I couldn’t believe how much I liked it as I was reading it. Plus, the whole time I was reading it, I just kept thinking to myself that everyone who lived in this country needed to read this book. I’m not sure that the story of early colonialism in Canada has been told as well or in as readable a way.

In terms of film that’s tougher. I really, really liked Inside Llewyn Davis, but everyone else seemed to hate it, which has made me question why I liked it so much (and I haven’t had a chance to rewatch it yet). Fruitvale Station was a pretty phenomenal movie that also didn’t seem to get much critical attention; but I did like Her and thought it was dealing, even if lightly, with pretty important questions about contemporary culture and the way we interact with technology and each other in light of this technology.

20 - What are you currently working on?

Right now, I’m getting pretty deep into a non-fiction book about the current roller derby revival, but I’ve also been jumping in and out of working on a novel for the past few years that I am determined to finish.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

ottawater: Ottawa's annual poetry pdf journal / 11th issue now online!

Ottawa’s annual pdf poetry journal
edited by rob mclennan

The eleventh issue of ottawater is now online, featuring new writing by Steven Artelle, Jennifer Baker, Selina Boan, Frances Boyle, Jamie Bradley, Ronnie R. Brown, Catherine Brunet, Jason Christie, Faizal Deen, dalton derkson, Amanda Earl, Phil Hall, Chris Johnson, Matt Jones, a.m. kozak, Brenda Liefso, rob mclennan, Cath Morris, Colin Morton, Alcofribas Nasier II, Pearl Pirie, Nicholas Power, Ryan Pratt, Monty Reid, Sonia Saikaley, Dean Steadman, Rob Thomas, Dennis Tourbin, Lauren Turner and Vivian Vavassis, well as new interviews with Matt Jones (conducted by Amanda Earl), Brecken Hancock (conducted by Lesley Strutt) and Phil Hall (conducted by Jennifer Baker). Artwork by: Allen Egan, Charlene Lau Ahier, Diane Lemire, Gayle Kells, Guillermo Trejo, Herman Ruhland, Manon Labrosse, Meaghan Haughian, Sharon VanStarkenburg, and Whitney Lewis-Smith.

Come out to the launch (featuring readings by a number of this issue’s contributors) on Friday, January 30, upstairs at The Carleton Tavern, Parkdale at Armstrong; doors 7pm, reading 7:30pm.

Founded to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the City of Ottawa, Canada's glorious capital city, "ottawater," and its chemical formula/logo "O2(H2O)," is a poetry annual produced exclusively on-line, in both readable and printable pdf formats, and found at An anthology focusing on Ottawa poets and poetics, its first issue appeared in January 2005, 150 years after old Bytown became the City of Ottawa.

All previous issues remain archived on the site as well. Thanks to designer Tanya Sprowl, the ottawa international writers festival, and Randy Woods at non-linear creations for their continuing support.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics #11

the eleventh issue of seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics is now online!

Eleventh Issue: Winter 2014/15

Cameron Anstee - Living now In Ottawa: Williams Hawkins at the Margins / Michelle Detorie - The River / Claire Molek - The Valley / Sean Moreland - Cont(r)act: an interview with Mark Goldstein / Chus Pato - In Conversation with Elvira Riveiro (translated from the Galician by Erín Moure) / Andy Weaver - ssalGlass

seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics
comes out as the natural extension of the eight issues of edited by rob mclennan and Stephen Brockwell. Highlighting the diversity of voice, style, practice and politic, seventeen seconds continues the resolve to provide a forum for dialogue on contemporary poetics, with a focus on Canadian writing. Over the past two decades, the amount of critical writing published in print literary journals on Canadian poetry, specifically, seems to have decreased dramatically, but slowly returned through a number of online journals. seventeen seconds simply wishes to help strengthen the dialogue and the ongoing conversation about writing through publishing new writing, and conversation about new writing. Check out all eleven issues! All previous issues remain on the site.

rob mclennan: editor

roland prevost: founding managing editor

mdesnoyers : design & (re)compiler

Friday, January 23, 2015

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Colin Winnette

Colin Winnette is the author of several books. He lives in San Francisco.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
When I wrote my first novel, Revelation, a big part of me thought I might never finish (let alone publish) a novel. I’d worked on a much longer, much worse novel for years and it had spun completely out of control. Several years into writing it, I was a different man than the one who started it, but I couldn’t see that. I only saw the book slipping away from me. When I finally set that novel in a drawer and decided to write some short stories just to remind myself that I could finish something, I didn’t see a new novel popping up. But it did. So, partly out of fear that I was just setting myself up for another massive failure, I thought of a few rules (a writing schedule, a strict 7-chapter structure, a fixed number of central characters) and stuck to them. I was also slowly learning that first novels didn’t have to be long or formally virtuosic to be good. They just had to be what they were. I worked routinely and in a goal-oriented way. And at the end of all that, I had a new novel—surprisingly, one I liked.

My new book, Coyote, is really different from Revelation. Coyote takes place entirely in the mind of its narrator. It’s her voice, her story, her language. She determines the boundaries of the story’s reality. By comparison, Revelation is sprawling (though fairly short). It takes place over 60 years. It details the end of the world. Also, the perspective is really different. There’s far less interiority, if any. You’re watching the characters from the outside as they weather the apocalypse. You don’t get a lot of their thoughts or worries. In that way, the reader is kept at a distance. It’s a quieter book too. Muted. Coyote flares up. They’re both pretty sad books, but in really different ways.

So, the first novel attempt was an important lesson in what not to do, at least for me. Or, more accurately, it taught me about myself as a writer: what works, what feels rights, and where I get in my own way. The second novel was a strict retraining program. I’ve never written in the same way, but having done it that way once fundamentally shifted my sense of what could be done and how I could go about doing it.

2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?
Honestly, I feel like fiction is the most natural thing for words to do. Every sentence is a product of the imagination anyway. We have to struggle to get them anywhere near something like the truth…or reality. And regardless of how accurately you describe something, it has to be processed by the listener, too. You try to generate a picture/feeling in the mind of another human being. Even something like…asking for a glass of water requires that you express something clearly enough to evoke the image of the completed act in the mind of another person. I mean, repetition has made all of this easier. There’s a shorthand for certain things…like water. But still, the other person has to understand what you’re saying and be able to imagine the thing you’re describing before they can act or respond. So…every communicative act is sort of like telling a story. And…it’s fiction because you’re describing something that hasn’t actually happened. Or not yet. Later, after you’ve mastered the skill of making a simple request, asking for a glass of water, you can start manipulating words to achieve a more complex effect, like a lie or a poem.

And I’m not sure I 100% believe in non-fiction as a thing.

But, to answer your question, I feel like fiction was there before I knew what it was.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
No time at all. If I’m writing, I’m starting a writing project. Once I’ve started writing, I’ll start thinking about it and working it out. I spend a lot of time thinking about fiction, about stories, about myself, the people I know, the way we think and act and seem to feel, but the writing project doesn’t start until I’m putting words on the page. And I try to do that every day.

But I’m superstitious about it all. When I was a young writer, I used to take a lot of notes, but nothing ever came of them. The only thing that ever led to finishing a story or a book was actually writing it. It’s sort of like cleaning a house. When I clean, I want to see it through from top to bottom. If I’m just walking around pushing random bits into little piles, I don’t feel like I’m cleaning—I feel like I’m putting off cleaning. Also, if I had an idea for a sentence or something and I wrote it down, it always felt a little cheap or lesser than to try to incorporate it into a story later. I prefer to work in one direction and discover things as a byproduct of writing the story…if that makes sense?

4 - Where does a poem or a story usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

Usually, I have a sense of how long the thing will be from pretty early on. A lot of that has to do with the time I want or have to put into it. There’s always more to tell, but if there’s only one part I’m interested in I’ll focus on that and get it done. I rarely go back and try to add things or make a project longer than by inserting new ideas/chapters. It’s all too Frankenstein.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I love doing readings. It’s probably my favorite part of the whole thing. It’s also terrifying and horrible and extremely stressful for me.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
Not really, but each book, at least so far, has been the product of my grappling with questions of how to live, how to think, how to deal with suffering and mortality, how to connect to people in the best possible way, how to get out of unproductive or even destructive mental, emotional, and psychological loops. More than “theoretical concerns” or “current questions,” I think my characters are dealing with the slippery question of how to live…and why/if one should live in a particular way, especially in the face of circumstances that directly contradict your understanding of reality. I’m interested in how people make sense of the world, and how they react when their understanding begins to unravel or is called into question.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
It’s changing, as it always has been. As long as we’re using language to communicate, the world needs writers. And by “writers” I mean people who are committed to the process of trying to communicate with words as well as they possibly can. There are a lot of ways to do this. There’s an abundance of text available now. Language continues to grow and adapt and become more complicated. More and more people are writing, in one way or another. As a fiction writer, I honestly think the best I can do is write something that means something to me, something that changes me a little, or changes the air around me, and hope it does the same for other people, for the same reason you bring a friend to a swimming hole or show them a movie you love or take a photo of something with your phone: in one way or another or many, you think it’s special.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
A good editor is an incredible blessing. By “good” I mean someone who gets the project and can help you get it to a point where it is doing all that it possibly can in the most efficient way. The trouble comes when you’ve got two egos approaching the same project from different angles and there’s a lack of active understanding between the two. A bad editor can really muck things up, especially for a young writer. But a good editor is invaluable.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Best is impossible to say, but my boss has a Post-It note in his office that reads, “We’re all faking it. Hackery is a continuum,” which I love. I’m a terribly insecure person, so anything that normalizes my self-doubt is motivating in a weird way. That was another great piece of advice I got. A teacher of mine once told me, “You’re never going to get rid of your self-doubt. But you can figure out ways to keep it in the backseat and away from the steering wheel.”

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to short fiction to novels)? What do you see as the appeal?
It was hard at first because I felt like poetry had to be this whole other thing. I was intimidated, mostly because I hadn’t really found any poetry that I loved, so I wasn’t sure I liked what I thought I was going to have to do, if that makes sense. Anyway, I kept reading and trying until I started to find my people. Then I started to see how I might fit in with them.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
Since I’ve been in San Francisco, I’ve noticed a cycle developing. I decide I need to write every day, and block out some regular intervals to do so. I write some junk, some little good things, and suddenly a longer project starts boiling up out of everything. I stick with it and, if I’m lucky, it comes together well and finds a home. Then I ease up. Then self-doubt and anxiety creeps in. Will I ever write again? Will I ever write anything good again? Have I ever written anything good? Oh, god, I’ve written so many terrible things and no one will ever care. Oh, god, I wrote one good thing and everyone is going to hate anything else that isn’t that. Oh, god. Oh, god, I should be writing a little more. Oh, god, I should be writing a lot more. Shit, I better block out some regular intervals and just do it. Oh, god.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Everywhere, really. I read. New things, old things I love or that are difficult. I watch movies. I take walks. I do some readings. I listen to a lot of music. Anything that might knock something loose.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Dust, probably.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

I got a wild hair to write a kids’ book, so I’m trying that now. It’s a picture book. It’s been pretty challenging, actually—but part of that is due to the fact that the illustrations are already done and I’m responding to them, rather than the other way around. Also, the illustrations are by the artist Scott Teplin, who’s great and whose work I absolutely love, but they’re very unique illustrations, filled with funny, great, dark details and oddness. They’re really wonderful, but so rich that it’s a real challenge to write a story that does them justice.

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
For a very long time, I thought I was going to be a musician. I still play, but not seriously. If I hadn’t left my hometown to study writing, I’m pretty sure I would still be there, playing in bands and making a modest living. I’d probably be smoking by now, too, or trying to quit.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Nothing really. Nothing made me do it. I just wanted to do it. In a very idealized way, at first. Then I started realizing what it would take, at least for me, and it was a little daunting. But at that point, I’d tasted some of the rewards, on a personal level: the frustration and relief, that weird click when things start going the right way, the odd lift when a story is somehow, inexplicably working. The satisfaction of this weird, nebulous job done well. That’s when I started making myself do it. When I realized what it could be like. I’m still making myself do it, in a lot of ways.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I really loved Climates by Andre Maurois. I read it a few weeks ago for the first time. It’s very good, and an absolute pleasure to read. It was a painful book but the experience of reading it was like finishing a glass of water.

The last great film I saw is harder to answer. I really liked Inside Llewyn Davis, though I’m not sure it’s a great film. Part of what I loved about it is the marvelous consistency of the Coen Brothers. They just know what they want and they execute it so flawlessly, it’s remarkable. It’s something I aspire to. Their weird combination of commitment, experimentation, and consistency.

20 - What are you currently working on?
I’ve started a new novel that I don’t have much to say about. It’s in early stages. I’m working on the kids’ book I mentioned, which has been fun but challenging. I’m revving up for the release of Coyote this fall, and then the release of Haints Stay next summer (Two Dollar Radio 2015). It’s going to be an intense year.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;