Tuesday, April 27, 2010

12 or 20 questions: with Brian Joseph Davis

Brian Joseph Davis is an artist and writer based in Toronto. He's the author of (Coach House), the novel Portable AltamontI, Tania (ECW), and the new short fiction collection, Ronald Reagan, My Father.

L.A. Weekly recently declared, “Davis has an amazing head for aural experiments—creating expansive compositions out of found sounds and computer manipulations—that are smart on paper and fascinating in execution.” Slate.com called I, Tania, “The book of your fever dreams.”

He is the co-founder of Joyland.ca

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 was an accident that turned me into a spoiled, unbearable, monster. I think I even said at one point, "See, I don't need no stinking university degree. I got a Coach House book!"  while hitting someone across the face with Portable Altamont.

I, Tania humbled me. Some tell me it's a good book but it will be years before I'll ever read it again. My life was absolute shit when I wrote it and I learned art is not transcendent. Writing is like a recording. Whatever sound is in the room at the time will be on tape.

Ronald Reagan My Father was 100% entertainment to write and I assume, for readers to read.

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

I come from art so those three things weren't separate to me when I started. Text was just something you used to achieve something. I really try not to forget that. In the States it's a little easier. In Canada, designations matter more as a side effect of granting. In the States they just want to know what you do, minus the adjectives.
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?

Depends. The huge  monologue projects like Johnny or Voice Over take years--I just did one more edit on Voice Over for inclusion in Ronald Reagan, My Father. Since being exposed to theatre and working with actors, the fiction stuff is getting easier the more I understand dramatic structure. A short story I'll think about for a few weeks then I'll get three plot points down  on paper then get into it. The new novel I just started on is coming out of  five pages of bullet points and then will end up in years of re-writing.
4 &5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

One thing that annoys me about the idea of "a writer" is the assumption that a book is this separate thing from other art forms, that having a book is its own reward.  I think writers should work more with performers, musicians, scientists. I'm just in the middle of doing a radio play of the short stories in Ronald Reagan, My Father and it's great. It reminds me that all that matters is the writing and performing. A book, again, is kind of a side effect and the least entertaining part of the process.
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 do have those concerns, everyone does, but if they find their way into the writing, you're fucked.  Art does not/cannot provide answers. If it did it would make way more money.

Canadians, I'm just figuring out, are a dogmatic lot. "Entertainment" here is always this "teachable" crap.

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?

Society will always need people who can manipulate other people with words.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

I am an excessive mess of a person.  If I didn't have editors like Darren Wershler, Michael Holmes or my wife Emily Schultz who sees the worst of it, you wouldn't be talking to me.

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

You can always lose the first reel.

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

I've been a journalist off and on for 10 years. It's tough but fiction is more difficult-- as its laws are completely up to you.  One rule that applies to both is this:  get to the point.

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?

On days I'm paid to write I wake up and do it. I can't do fiction and journalism on the same day.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

I'd like to say problem solving always comes from being relaxed, from maybe just firing up the Moog and noodling or playing with the dog but the truth is ideas hit you when they do, sometimes because of the noise or distraction. I just cracked the spine of my new novel in the middle of simultaneously dealing with Joyland's first cease-and-desist letter and coaching an actor through the problems of doing a British accent.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Cold gasoline. 

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?

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

I'm afraid of reading fiction I really like. I am truly terrified of how much it could effect me.

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

Nothing. I'm as happy as a hard-on.

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 don't have an occupation, which I think is the only qualification for writing.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

See above.  That's the exact same question.

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

20 - What are you currently working on?

Oh please. Like I didn't plug that 10 times already.

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