Wednesday, August 03, 2011

12 or 20 (second series) questions: with Gail Scott

Gail Scott’s novel, The Obituary, is a kind of ghost story with a fractalled narrator set in  a Montréal triplex (Coach House: 2010). Her other novels include My Paris (Dalkey Archive), about a sad diarist in conversation with Gertrude Stein and Walter Benjamin in contemporary Paris, Main Brides and Heroine. Spare Parts Plus 2 is a collection of stories and manifestoes. Essays are collected in Spaces Like Stairs and, with Nicole Brossard et al, in la théorie, un dimanche. (to appear as Sunday Theory from Belladonna in 2012). The anthology Biting The Error edited with Bob Gluck, Camille Roy, and Mary Berger, was shortlisted for a Lambda award. Scott’s translation of Michael Delisle’s Le Déasarroi du matelot was shortlisted for the Governor General’s award in translation [2001]. Scott is co-founder of the critical French-language journal Spirale (Montréal), Tessera (new writing by women), and the Narrativity website out of the poetry centre at San Francisco State University. She teaches creative writing at Université de Montréal.

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

I was a successful journalist before I published a book of prose fiction, and I was young and felt the fame I was achieving as a journalist was premature, embarrassing. I began writing for underground publications often under a pseudonym. For me writing has always been an investigation, not a marketing strategy to promote a brand. My later work is the same continuing investigation of language as an expression of the intersection of the everyday and the social, as has been from the get-go. It is an attempt to pressure thinking/language to work in freshly relative ways. 

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

I’ve always been interested in sentences and the relations between them. For me putting together a piece of writing is a process of composition. I borrow devices from many genres, including story-telling. Hybridity is normal.

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?

Your question puts a lot of emphasis on arriving at the ultimate product. I’m always working, which is the same as living. One investigation folds into another, producing a piece of work that immediately raises new questions in my mind. The main concern being to compose appropriate sentences and relations between them for a particular intersection of space and time. Sentences come from everywhere but will be fashioned « on paper » in a way that makes sen(ten)se to my own ear ; my ear is a secret agent.

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?

See question 3

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

I die with nervousness before reading, still. Since the sound quality of the work is important, I prepare well, in part, to steer people away from looking for straightforward narrative. Sometimes a reading comes off marvellously and sometimes not.

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?

Of course I have theoretical concerns. Writing is thinking. A story on some level, like a good poem, is a performance of a rhetorical posture. To really make it work requires tremendous artistry. The fundamental theoretical question is how to write, and that is a how to that is nourished by many vectors of thought and creative impulse.

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?

See question 6.

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

It depends on the editor. I have often had to explain to editors that writing a « novel » from a singular POV is not what I’m doing and furthermore seems retrogressive.

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

Write every day.

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

All of my work moves, as I implied above, between genres in the making. I am surprised that genre takes on such importance as an issue, here. Imagine if visual art had stuck with the traditional divisions between painting, sculpture, text, especially as regards notions of representation.

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?


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

Like most writers, I stop and listen or else open a book or else try to generate language by some electronic means.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

A great question : hmm, a musky basement, a dry forest, wet laundry, meat cooking slowly, especially if game, or baked goods fresh from the oven.

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?

See above.

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

Writing is conversation. It’s an ongoing conversation with writers and writing over time, in my case, avant-garde or post-avant or feminist or conceptualist or Indigenous or anyone who knows the species is both in serious danger and yet takes life as a thing of wonder.

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?

Probably something that would land me in trouble.

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


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

There are so many great books, let’s say relevant, instead. Antwerp, an early completely paratactic Bolano novel, read of late. It is an remarkably paratactic novel that makes total sense. Also, Carla Harryman’s Adorno’s Noise. Last week I saw the Terence Malick film Tree of Life. The narrative devices seemed similar to the way I think about narrative in novel writing—a tale told on many fronts at once.

20 - What are you currently working on?

I’m rejigging a radio play (actually a prose poem) I havent been able to find a home for, working on a cross genre piece set in New York and Montréal called Printing Dollars, etc. I have recently published The Obituary, a hybrid « novel » about hybridity.

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