Friday, August 28, 2009

12 or 20 questions: with Mike Spry

Mike Spry is a writer and editor who lives in Montreal. He is currently the Programs Coordinator for Summer Literary Seminars and the Managing Editor of Matrix magazine. He is the author of JACK (Snare Books 2008)

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

My first book (JACK, Snare Books 2008) changed my life in that I no longer felt sheepish to say I was a writer. I had some tangible artefact to back me up in vocation based barroom brawls.

My most recent work differs in that it’s not poetry. I feel like poetry and I are taking a break and are dating other people. I’ve been seeing fiction, and poetry is off at the bar feeling sorry for itself. And some point we’ll end up at the same party, have a few adult beverages, make some mistakes, and perhaps get back together. I guess that’s how it feels different.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?

Poetry just allowed me to get thoughts on paper faster, without expectations of narrative or form. I didn’t know what it was. It just kind of ended up as poetry.

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 have no formula, nor patterns. I tend to binge write, however. I’ll write nothing for several months, and then bang out a whack of pages in a three-day blackout. My writing (at its best, I think) tends to barrel forward, so I revel in the sudden bursts.

4 - Where does a poem or 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?

Poetry tends to be born of the personal, for me. I guess I find it therapeutic to dissolve fact in fiction. My fiction has to come from an absurd thought, or sentence, or idea.5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

Readings are a huge part of my process. Huge. My writing leans towards the absurd, so I need to gauge its effectiveness in a crowd. I think readings should be a part of every writers process. I run a reading series with Jon Paul Fiorentino in Montreal called The Pilot, and I’ve seen a positive reading do wonders for the confidence of writers, especially emerging writers.

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?

I’m answering nothing, and I have little if any concerns. I’m trying to entertain. It’s all storytelling, at least at its best it is.

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?

The role of the writer is the same as that of the custodian: clean up the shit and pay your rent. Writers have no role, no more than an accountant or a zookeeper or a prostitute has. We do what we do, because that’s what we’ve chosen. If we can eat too, well then good work.

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

I love working with an editor. Dave McGimpsey edited my book, and it was an engaging and organic experience. I’ve worked from the other side as well, in editing peoples work, and I love trying to get the most out of a writer in a one-on-one arrangement. It is more than essential.

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

Vancouver DJ Innis McCourty once told me: “When you’re down to your last twenty bucks, buy food.”

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to fiction to critical prose/reviews)? What do you see as the appeal?

I find it easy to move between genres, though I can’t work in more than one at a time. It’s not so much appealing as it is natural.

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?

I don’t have a routine. When it’s coming I write, otherwise I find other activities. Like most people I have to make a living, so the typical day (for me) begins by going to work.

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

Ya, inspiration. It’s one of those words, like soul or love or mortgage. I just don’t really know what they are. People are good for fodder. I guess I look for ‘inspiration’ in social constructs and the inherent fallibility of social relationships. I like to record human interaction and then fuck with it. Emil Cioran claimed: "I’ve invented nothing; I’ve simply been the secretary of my sensations." I kinda go with that.

13 - What was your most recent Hallowe'en costume?

Dude, I despise Hallowe’en.

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?

McFadden rawks. I get a lot of influence from music, in that I tend to fill the space around me with music at most times, so it seems natural that it would affect my writing.

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

Writing is very much my life, in that I work for a unique writing program (Summer Literary Seminars) as well as Matrix magazine, and I have an office in the English Department at Concordia University, and so I tend to be surrounded by writers.

I can’t say enough about how my writing community invigorates me. I’m fortunate enough to have friends who are at once peers and mentors; Jon Fiorentino, Dave McGimpsey, Nick McArthur, Mikhail Iossel, Ian Orti, Jeff Parker, Jason Camlot, John Goldbach, Greg Seib, and countless others, these people not only shape my days, but my work as well.

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

Holy shit. Really? Everything, rob. I’d like to do everything I haven’t done yet. Twice and with cocktails.

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?

I would have liked to try my hand at acting, I think.

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

It just happened.

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

The last great book I read was Edisto by Padgett Powell. The last great film I saw was The Big Lebowski. It may be the last great movie.

20 - What are you currently working on?

I’m trying to finish a novel (Working up the Bottle), a collection of short stories (30lb Monkey), editing a book (The Taste of Penny by Jeff Parker), and put together the Summer Literary Seminars writing program in Vilnius, Lithuania for late July.

12 or 20 questions (second series);

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