Sunday, June 13, 2010

12 or 20 questions: with Julie McArthur

Julie McArthur grew up in Kanata, Ontario. She now writes and resides in Toronto. Her stories have appeared in Front & Centre and Other Voices. Black Bile Press published her chapbook, Men and the Drink in November.

1 - How did your first chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
It gave me confidence and I now feel less awkward talking about my writing with others.
My work has been described as economical, and remains so. I think the ideas behind my stories have become more complex and imaginative. The stories have grown in length, although I still enjoy writing short shorts. I also play around with points of view and different tenses, where as I originally wrote mostly in first person, present tense.

2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?
My first writings were in journals and depressing bits of poetry in sketchbooks. I signed up for a short stories class eight years ago. In the first class, the teacher asked us to write one page of dialogue that would be read aloud the next week. I panicked and dropped out. Five years went by, and I signed up again. That time it worked out.

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 do a lot of writing in my head before I put it to paper or the computer. Some ideas develop quickly while others simmer for a long time. My first drafts are often a couple, maybe a few pages with a specific scene or a short version that will expand. I often have trouble reading through the mess of early drafts. There are usually five to ten rewrites. 

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?
A story usually starts with a seed of dialogue or an emotion. Occasionally, I see connections between separate stories and think about the possibilities of a novel.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
They are not part of, or counter to my creative process. I have never done an official reading, just some impromptus at bars, to a handful of strangers. That phase seems to have passed. I am interested in doing readings in the future, although I may need to be forced to do the first one.

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 particularly. I try to write honestly.

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?
Writers tell stories. I like to think mine evoke emotions, entertain, and inspire.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Not difficult. I love editing my own work, but always welcome a fresh pair of eyes.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Hal Niedzviecki said to me, “Don’t be afraid to linger in a scene.” 

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 prefer to work on new or early drafts in the morning. Later drafts can be done almost anywhere, anytime. Most days start with instant coffee and cold oatmeal. If I’m not working that day, I will write, maybe take a trip to the gym. 

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
When my writing is stalled it is due to a lack of discipline more than anything else. Reading helps get me back to my writer’s mindset. Discussions with other writers can also be inspiring and motivating.

12 - If there was a fire, what's the first thing you'd grab?
My three cats - Annabelle, Harold, and Mona.

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?
The natural environment, animals, and songwriters influence my work. 

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I read a lot of Bukowski and Vonnegut when I was young. I reread Chekhov, Hemingway, Kennedy, Miller, Dickens, Bronte, and Lawrence. Robertson Davies, Cormac McCarthy, and Raymond Carver are more recent inspirations.

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Take my G1 road test. 

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 have had many occupations before I came to writing, or thought of myself as a writer. I’ve never been ambitious about careers. Time to myself has always been more important than money. The idea of being a writer was lurking inside me for a long time, but I wasn’t ready to acknowledge it, or get on with it for many reasons.

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
When I began taking classes a few years back, I knew it was right. It felt natural. I remember learning to print in Grade 1. It was that same excitement. On my Grade two report card, my teacher, Mrs. Hobbs wrote, “In her stories she writes good sentences and expresses interesting ideas.” So, there may have been an inkling of my future then, but with many things, I took the long roundabout route to get here. 

18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
The Deptford Trilogy by Robertson Davies. I don’t see movies often, Harold and Maude is a favourite.

19 - What are you currently working on?
A collection of short stories.

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