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Friday, April 20, 2012

12 or 20 questions (second series) with Tamara Faith Berger

Tamara Faith Berger was born in Toronto. She has published three books: Lie with Me, The Way of the Whore (published in the U.S. as A Woman Alone at Night) and Maidenhead with Coach House Books.

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'm not sure my first book changed my life. It did make me aware that I could write a book and so I buckled down and continued. I think that I worked harder on my most recent book, Maidenhead, than the other two only because I learned in the intervening years how to work hard and thoroughly on a text. I also had a great editor, Alana Wilcox of Coach House Books, in the last year of writing this book. She helped me see the cracks and gaps.

2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?
I like all books but I really like fiction. I never thought about another genre.

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?
It is a slow process. I fumble around a lot and write until there is a heap of ideas and material and until something clearer emerges. My first drafts and final shapes are barely related. I wouldn’t recommend this process because it seems to waste a lot of time, although the benefit is that the plot of a book ends up remaining mysterious in its construction.

4 - Where does a story 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 am working on a book from the beginning.

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 counter to my creative process at all. I feel a responsibility to perform a reading.

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 have theoretical concerns behind my writing, perhaps the most encompassing being: what is art? What is ‘high’ art and what is ‘low’ art? (Or what is ‘literary’ fiction, what is ‘commercial’ fiction, what is ‘experimental’ fiction?) What is a book and what can it be? Edmond Jabes writes: “You think you are dreaming the book. You are its dream.” (from The Little Book of Unsuspected Subversion.)

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?
I think the role of the writer is to dig up unspoken about things and present these things as ideas or in a story. I think it is the role of the writer to express, to digress, to construct or deconstruct, to share.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I find this process essential and not difficult. It’s collaborative, which I welcome.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
I think that advice should be a little irritating. So this is not the best piece of advice that I’ve ever heard but I find it both annoying and true as it relates to writing: “Sometimes, you’ve got to ship out the goods.”

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (pornographic to literary fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?
It has been easy for me to move between these two genres because I went to art school. The appeal of combining pornographic text and literary text is the ensuing possible incitement.  

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 have a child so the beginning of the day is all about him. In terms of a writing routine I write whenever I can and hopefully for a sustained number of hours. I also have another job, so again, I work at writing whenever I can. Even a half hour of looking something over is valuable. I also see reading as part of my work as a writer.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Books and food and alcohol. If I smoked, I would smoke. I like reading book reviews and discovering writers that I don’t know. 

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Irish Spring.

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?
It could be feats of performance whether this is in the realm of art, music or dance. I love the performances of PJ Harvey, Peaches and recently, Azalea Banks and Njena Redd Foxx, women either adorned or unadorned, who stand up in front of people and give it to them.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
The works of Kathy Acker, Chris Kraus, Roberto Bolano, Georges Bataille, Simone Weil, Heather Lewis and recently, Slavoj Zizek. Actually, pretty much each book I read is important for my work and my life. Right now I am reading Assata: An Autobiography by Assata Shakur.  It’s amazing.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Travel to Morocco and Tangiers. Travel to Russia, Ukraine and Poland. Travel to South Africa and Zimbabwe. Travel to Argentina, Brazil and Chile.

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 like to attempt to be a translator at some point (and learn my second language, and another language better.) If I had not been a writer, I would’ve likely done something that involved travelling and speaking other languages but I’m not sure what that would be.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Because I realize that I am addicted to the sneakiest way of self-expression.

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

Roberto Bolano, The Third Reich and My Perestroika, a documentary about the last generation of Russians to grow up behind the Iron Curtain.

20 - What are you currently working on?
A novel about a young Russian woman who gets caught up in the Anti-Zionist movement.

Tamara Faith Berger reads in Ottawa as part of the ottawa international writers festival on Sunday, April 29, 2012.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

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