Matthew Firth was born in Hamilton, Ontario in 1965 and raised in that fine city. He now lives in Ottawa with his wife and two children. His latest book is Suburban Pornography and Other Stories (2006, Anvil Press). Other books are: Can You Take Me There, Now? (2001); Fresh Meat (1997); and he co-edited Grunt & Groan: The New Fiction Anthology of Work and Sex (2002). He edits/publishes the litmag Front&Centre. He also publishes chapbooks with his micro press Black Bile Press. He works by day for a national trade union.
1 - How did your first book change your life?
It gave legitimacy to what I was doing. Realizing that there are folks out there who aren't related to me or close friends and they read my shit was a revelation that came with my first book.
2 - How long have you lived in Ottawa, and how does geography, if at all, impact on your writing? Does race or gender make any impact on your work?
Seven years. Place is important to me. My fiction is always set in a real, recognizable place. In Suburban Pornography (latest book) stories are clearly set in Ottawa, Hamilton and points in between (e.g., Peterborough, Marmora, Norwood, etc.). The location is never disguised, never vague. Race has no impact. I don't think of characters' race or ethnicity, unless the real person that a character is based on might be of a certain race or ethnicity but even then, it doesn't come into the writing of the story. Gender is huge, however. Much of what I write about is the bullshit between men and women, how they come together, how they tear each other apart, how they fuck each other over. And I write explicitly from a male perspective. I don't believe in changing points of view. It strikes me as pretentious bullshit. I can monkey with age, write from different points of view in terms of the age of the characters and keep it real. But men writing as women only fictionalizes things further, dampens the authenticity and clarity of the voice of the writer, which is not something I want to do with my work.
3 - Where does a piece of 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?
I write individual short stories, whether they come together as a book does not enter into it until afterward when I look at a batch of stories and assess whether there's enough good material to make up a manuscript or not. If so, it then becomes a matter of choosing stories and putting them in some sensible order. But all of that happens later, when the work is done. Otherwise, it's one story at a time. And those stories, typically, stew in my head for a few days. Then, when I have time and energy, I sit down and hammer it out, usually a complete first draft of a story in one sitting.
4 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process?
Counter to my creative process. I do readings to promote my work/books.
5 - 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?
There are theoretical concerns, yes, but these are never explicit. Meaning I never sit down and write thinking I'm acting upon those theoretical concerns. I strive to make my shit real, authentic, direct, unambiguous, relevant, entertaining, provocative, accessible, etc. That comes through in the style and subject matter of the fiction. When I write, I tell a story, simple as that. I don't come to it with premeditated plans to write a story that fits all those adjectives above. The story telling first but in the writing of that story my style also makes the story all of those things I mentioned above.
6 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Well, if you want a book it's essential. But I don't deal with editors - in terms of having them edit and alter my stories - until I've signed on to do a book. Otherwise, I'm my own editor.
7 - After having published more than a couple of titles over the years, do you find the process of book-making harder or easier?
It's about the same. I never take it for granted, even though now I've had a few books out. My next batch of work might be shit, might be unpublishable; who knows.
8 - When was the last time you ate a pear?
No shit, it was with my breakfast about three hours ago.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
"If you let them kill you, they will." - Charles Bukowski
"The men in the factory are old and cunning/ You don't owe nothing/ Boy get running/ It's the best years of your life they want to steal." - The Clash
"Be patient." - my wife
10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I don't have a writing routine. It depends on whether stuff is coming or not. Typical day starts with coffee for my wife and me. Then make breakfast for my kids. Kiss my wife as she leaves for work. Take a shit (you asked). Breakfast for me, which sometimes includes a pear. Get my kids off to school. Ride #18 bus. Get myself to work (my day job). Work the day job. Pick up kids. Ride #18 bus. Supper. Read to kids, play with kids, give 'em baths, put 'em to bed. Hang out with wife. Sometimes eat pears. Sometimes have sex. Sometimes go to the computer and write. If I do write, it's because something has been simmering in my head for days. In which case, I spew it out. Then read and then go to sleep.
11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I don't turn anywhere. I just do something else. I have lots of things to do. My writing comes when it comes. I'm patient enough to wait for it.
12 - How does your most recent book compare to your previous work? How does it feel different?
Suburban Pornography feels different because it's a better-looking book. Feels different in terms of content because there's more sex in it and I feel like a dirty old man. Feels different because the prose is nicely stripped down, quick and dirty.
13 - 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'm not naïve enough to think that books don't influence what I write; anyone who says otherwise is a lying sack of shit. All writers feed off other writers. Other influences are many: work, sex, music, what I had for supper, the weather, how much physical exercise I've had lately, the laundry, etc. Seriously, just about anything can influence my writing. Writing is a social exercise, meaning it incorporates the social world around you. It never just hangs in a writer's head. Only idiot writers think their shit is so holy that it's detached from reality. And those idiots can think that but they're wrong.
14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Many writers are tremendously important to me: Bukowski, John & Dan Fante, Henry Miller, Hubert Selby, Daniel Jones, Raymond Carver, Cormac McCarthy, Michel Houellebecq, Alexander Trocchi, WS Burroughs, Tony O'Neill, William T Vollmann, Laura Hird, Sal Difalco, Len Gasparini, Clint Burnham, etc. etc. ... but I also love discovering new writers who grab me by the nuts. Just last week I read a novel by Peter Plate that I really liked. Had never read him before and now I want to read more. Same thing with Marie Darrieussecq, who I read for the first time a month or so ago. That's the beauty of it. Others, like Bukowski and Selby, I go back to all the time. Music is important to my writing: The Clash, Gogol Bordello, Nick Cave, Tom Waits, The Ramones, etc, etc.
15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
That's too personal a question.
16 - 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?
I am not a writer by occupation. I have a day job, working for a national trade union. I don't love my day job but I know it's necessary, in terms of feeding my kids and keeping us housed. I would not want to be a full-time writer. I would die doing that. I would hate to live in a world where, professionally, I spent so much time engaging other writers and the writing industry. It would drive me insane. I prefer to be engaged in the mundane muck of day-to-day living and working. But I'm also a misanthrope. Maybe I'd like to be a farmer. A meteorologist in some distant and remote weather station. I've been a gravedigger, garbageman, janitor, clerk, soup kitchen cook - you name the shitty job and I've done it. I also don't want to do any of those jobs again.
17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
You mean other art forms? I can't do the other ones, for one thing. I tried singing in a band and that didn't work out so well. Can't draw or paint to save my ass. I can write. So I do it. Plus, more seriously, I like that writing can be a very direct and non-bullshitty art form. You write exactly what you want to say. There's no window dressing, wiggle room. It's right there in black and white on the page. It says what it says.
18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Book: Spitting Off Tall Buildings by Dan Fante and Child of God by Cormac McCarthy. I read them both in the same week about two weeks ago when I had trouble sleeping in the hotel where I was staying for some day job gig. I have read both before. Like I said, I often re-read books I love. Film ... whatever the title of the last porno I watched was. Otherwise, film rarely moves me much. I'd have to go back a bit. Short Bus was good.
19 - What are you currently working on?
This interview has taken me quite a while ... Um, I assume you mean my fiction, so just a bunch of new short stories. Where I'm going with them I won't know until I get there. They come. I write them down. I send them out. The usual. Maybe there's a book in it to follow up on Sub Porn. Thanks for asking me all this stuff.