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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

12 or 20 questions: with Anne Stone

Anne Stone has taught creative writing at Capilano College and at Concordia University. She is an editor at Matrix Magazine, and has an imprint at Insomniac Press (Wayside Editions) that focuses on publishing first fictions (this month saw the release of Louis Rastelli's debut novel, A Fine Ending). Together with Amber Dean, she's guest editor of the current special issue of the journal West Coast Line on representations of murdered and missing women. Her latest novel, Delible (Insomniac Press, April 2007), tells the story of Melora Sprague, a 15-year-old girl whose sister has gone missing. This novel offers a glimpse into a sustained experience of uncertainty and, in so doing, explores how our identities exist in those traces we leave behind.

Her first novel, jacks (DC Books 1998), is experimental, conveying aspects of the story through the book's design. Part fictional memoir and part fairy-tale, jacks tells the story of a young girl whose fabulated world is an interlacing of myths, rhymes, incantations and memories. Her second novel, Hush (Insomniac Press 1999), is set in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. This lyrical narrative traces the intertwined lives of two generations of women at a local hotel in De'ath Sound. In 2005, Hush was the subject of a Masters of Arts in English (Julie Boulanger's "What Language is this: A Study of Abjection in Djuna Barnes' Nightwood and Anne Stone's Hush").

1 - How did your first book change your life?
It meant a lot to see that project given tangible form. That's something I'll always be grateful to DC Books for (though it did come awful close to having a clown's head on the cover). I consider first books to be small miracles; I think about the way they are produced and it's amazing to me, such work, without any hint (most times) that there is anyone out there listening.

2 - How long have you lived in Vancouver, and how does geography, if at all, impact on your writing? Does race or gender make any impact on your work?
I've lived in Vancouver since 2000. As for geography, it's not landscape so much as the cultural threading of this place that influences my work; the biggest connection, of course, is with absence, with disappearance, and with the shape my theoretical concerns and writing practice has taken these last years (though that work did begin when I was in Montreal). Race and gender make impacts as well, of course, in all of our works, whether we think about how we are positioned or not.

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 always think in terms of longer projects -- if only because I need to form a kind of theoretical backcloth for the fiction, one which seeps into the surface -- and so far, longer narrative has offered me the scope to do both of these things at once.

4 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process?

Other people's readings are part of my creative process, for sure. My own tend to be a distraction, though do I see readings as a moment in which I can understand how the work is received -- and that's a rare experience for a writer -- to watch it taken in.

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

An editor offers a formalization of a certain kind of conversation, I think. I worked with an editor on Delible, with Jon Paul Fiorentino, an amazing writer, organizer, and poet. It was very much of a piece with the conversations I'd had and been having with a small circle of writers with whom I share my writing and writing concerns -- only more instilled, condensed -- so I really appreciated the opportunity to work with Jon. The previous two books were without formal editors (though, with my first book, Robert Majzels was incredibly generous with his time, and gave me an in-depth reading of jacks that really clarified my thinking).

6 - After having published more than a couple of titles over the years, do you find the process of book-making harder or easier?

In certain ways, it's just as hard. You still need to search for the precise form for a given project, and you always start at sum zero. But it's easier in other ways. I've come to accept that, before I find a project, I'll noodle a lot. Too, I now have a sense of the minimum density required for a serious project. That said, at this moment I'm noodling, and while I love the feeling of being onto something you can't quiet articulate yet, I'm already hungry for the feeling of total emersion in something, that filter that announces itself in all of your predilections, what you hunt out to read, to see, to hear.

7 - When was the last time you ate a pear?

Years. Years and years. I guess I'm not much of a pear freak.

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

If needed, to create the context for the work to be read, along with the work itself. When reading with other folks, to be gracious enough not to go over your allotted time (nothing worse than listening to someone whose work you like go on for so long you begin to resent them). Too, in the early stages, to protect your project: To write for your first circle, for those real or imagined intimates who, early on, regard your work in a sustaining way.

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

Hmm. Interesting. In my thinking, genres are a means. By this question, I might address moving from poetry to prose, but more relevant to me, I guess, is the movement, between the novels. There have been huge shifts in concerns and for me, that's all about finding a form (perspective, language, etc) that somehow distills the particular kind of knowing that a given novel embodies.

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?

Noodling is, for me, the most undisciplined part of the process (sort of like being a teenager: I follow impulses). As soon as I'm onto something, I always spend the last hour of each day on something related -- rereading draft, reading related works -- feeding, basically. The next morning, I'm up and re-reading the last thing I wrote, combing through until I snag on something, a small space opens up, and that crevice becomes a chapter. Novel writing as fractal process.

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

Everywhere, everything. Visual and auditory arts. The street corner. Voices on the bus. I'm just a giant sponge, ruminating all the time.

12 - How does your most recent book compare to your previous work? How does it feel different?

This latest book makes the most feints at straight narrative: It passes for or approaches mainstream fiction, but frustrates expectations when it comes to resolution and movement. Delible is in some ways the most linear and straightforward of my works, less coded. That, for me, felt like a real risk. But an important one.

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?

For the latest, Delible, the visual arts were huge. I looked to the work of Doris Salcedo, her installation "Unland." The hinging of the two tables with human hair, for me, communicated something about the sisters I write about in the novel, something about fragility, and the danger of being approached, of being seen. Or, to invert that, when you come close to Salcedo's work, close enough to really see it, you put her piece at risk. There is something incredibly perceptive and powerful about all of her works, something that speaks forward, from its moment of construction, to the transient moment in which you are, right now, seeing her work.

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

The one thing I really want to see (and hear): the northern lights.
15 - 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'd like to be a mathematician.
16 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

It's something I've always done to make sense of the world, though it never occurred to me that it was my practice: Someone else had to point it out to me. As soon as it was pointed out though, something clicked: I dropped out of law school and started writing a novel. (I had to spend three days considering my life from the perspective of geological eras in order to quit. Good thing U of T law school is so close to the dinousaur exhibit at the ROM).

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

I love the short experimental films of Maya Deren (the ones that are less laden with symbols). The dreamy weightiness articulated through musculature, the repetitions, the craggy breaths. I love the work of Salcedo: Again, the weight of concrete, the sublime 'wrongness' of the images -- a lace blouse 'floating' in concrete, or enmeshed with furniture. Absolutely and beautifully awry. In terms of writing, I am very much about the kinds of questions David Chariandy poses in his first novel, Soucouyant -- about interruption, memory, what we carry there, and absence. For similar reasons, I am excited to see Jenny Sampirisi's first novel in print (it'll be released next September from Insomniac Press).

18 - What are you currently working on?

I've just returned to grad school after 10 years as a teacher. So, I'm taking Criminology at SFU and working on a book length non-fiction project about missing women. At the same time, I am making forays into longer fiction pieces (waiting for one to gather up enough weight to announce that it owns me for the next five to ten years).

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