Wednesday, February 05, 2014

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Kelli Deeth

Kelli Deeth is the author of The Other Side of Youth, published by Arsenal Pulp Press in 2013. Her first book, The Girl Without Anyone, was chosen as one of The Globe and Mail’s Best Books of 2001. Her stories have been published in various journals and anthologies including Write Turns, Event, The Dalhousie Review, The Puritain, and Joyland. She holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of British Columbia and currently lives in Toronto, where she teaches creative writing at the University of Toronto.

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 publishing my first book really changed my life the way I thought it would when I was young. I was still the same person with the same struggles and the same desire to write narratives that in some way impressed me, the audience of one. I think my previous work reflected who I was and how I saw the world at that age and my work now reflects a different perspective. I have a whole new set of eyes now.

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

I began at a young age with poetry. When I was teenager, for whatever reason, I wanted to be able to write stories. I can’t really say why.  Maybe my take on experience could find the best expression in that form. Deep down, I think I was a detail and dialogue person.

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 really depends on the story. I usually begin with an image. Or I might hear or see something and need to see if there is a story there.  Most of the time, the pulling together of the story is a slow process. Sometimes , even though so much time is invested, and so much is changing and being realized, the final draft might have some resemblance to the first draft. Other times the final draft does not resemble the first draft at all. 

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?

So far, I work with whatever comes to mind. I tend not to plan a book.  Maybe that’s because I write stories, and I want there to be a certain randomness. Even in my first book, The Girl Without Anyone, a linked collection about Leah, each story popped into my head out of nowhere, and that’s the way I wanted it. I don’t trust planning.  Important things can be lost because they don’t fit the plan. I let things gather.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I do readings because I need to support the book, and I want to support my book and help it find an audience. Having said that, I do wish I could miraculously clone myself and have my clone do the readings. Still, I find other writers’ readings endlessly fascinating and helpful. I love hearing work read aloud.  The story just floats in the air and has a different kind of power. 

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 always working with images and details and characters and scenes. I’m not conscious of trying to answer any questions at all.

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?
Our world needs writers and artists, people who share various and crucial and sincere truths.  That is the role of the writer and artist as far as I’m concerned. 

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Working with an editor is an exciting opportunity to me—a good editor has a wonderful way of opening your work up for you.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
I’ve read and absorbed so much counsel from other writers in various interviews I’ve read and listened to.  Charles Baxter, in one interview, encouraged young writers not to give up.  At first, I thought it was so simple.  But it’s everything.  Imagine where we would be if writers gave up on their work.  It’s easy to want to give up in the beginning, or at any stage, really, especially if you have no support.

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

It’s quite easy. I love both genres. When I’m writing an essay, I think of the needs of the essay. When I’m writing a story, I think of the needs of the story. 

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?
When it works out, I like to write in the mornings. But in order to support myself, I teach all year round, so I have to find space each time my schedule changes.  When I’m ready to write, I need paper and pencil, a chair and a table.  Quiet, noisy, it doesn’t matter.  Sometimes I’m so exhausted by the time I sit down to write, but as I soon as I start, I get an energy back, and I’m not as tired.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I like to read, or to go for a walk.  I’m also willing to wait for things to unstall themselves.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Potatoes being boiled. My mother cooked potatoes almost every night I was growing up, and the smell brings so much comfort just thinking about it makes me want to close my eyes and go to sleep.

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?

I think everything—any kind of pattern or form —can feed your idea of what a narrative is and can be.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
It would be hard to think of a short-story writer I did not have immense respect for.  Different collections have been important to me at different times.  Alice Munro is one of those writers who has spoken to me the most deeply.  There are times I’m reading a story by her and I’m shocked into tears at what she has been able to know about “me”, her unknown reader.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
In writing, I would like to write a collection of essays. In life, I’d like to live in another country for a while, to see what that’s like.

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 know I’m in the right profession, even though it doesn’t pay or support me. If I had not been a writer, I hate to say it, but I would be a shell.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Like a lot of writers, I just needed to.  That need, for better or worse, has dominated my life.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
It would be hard to pin point anything. I loved There Will Be Blood.  I loved Anne Beattie`s Mrs. Nixon.

20 - What are you currently working on?
I`m not working on anything at the moment. I`m jotting and musing.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

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