John Lavery is the author of Very Good Butter and You, Kwaznievski, You Piss Me Off. Very Good Butter was a Hugh MacLennan prize finalist. He has twice been a runner-up in the annual Prism International contest, and his stories have appeared in This Magazine, The Canadian Forum, The Ottawa Citizen, and The London Spectator. Lavery appeared in Coming Attractions, The Journey Prize Anthology and Decalogue 2: ten Ottawa fiction writers. He lives in Gatineau, Quebec, with his wife and children.
1 - How did your first book change your life?
Exteriorly, very little. Interiorly, ahhh. In the video game of my life, I was suddenly the guy with the red arrow over his head. Wherever I went, the arrow was there, tracking every move I told myself to make. Incredible feeling, especially as I was over forty by then. Incredible. Except that whenever I sat down to work on something that might one day be a second book, the arrow, if it was there, was all but invisible.
2 - How long have you lived in Gatineau, and how does geography, if at all, impact on your writing? Does race or gender make any impact on your work?
Almost ten years now in Gatineau. But a great many of the best moments in my life have been lived in settings where English hasn't been the language spoken. A gigantic factor in my writing. I really think my linguistic development has been made possible by my getting outside English, a language I truly love, even though I cheat on it all the time, so that I have been able to see English not, in a child-like way, as the quintessential, perfect language intimately bound to the phenomenal world, but as one language, the language of my childhood, with strong points that are weaknesses and faults that are stengths, and its own music that is not always easy to sustain.
Race and gender are such elemental aspects of humanity, I mean can you say anything at all about people without getting into race and gender?
3 - Where does a piece of 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?
I had a great idea for the ending to a story once. I wrote the story right up to the ending and thought yeah, this is pretty half-decent stuff...the ending's a bit weak though. So I changed it. Everything happens. But most stories, longer or shorter, begin as circuits. Once I've got the circuit I can plug in switches, resistors, capacitors, relays.
4 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process?
I really like reading in public and read all my stuff out loud to myself. Not necessarily out very loud. I hear all the voices, whether or not I can reproduce them myself. Or even to myself.
5 - 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?
No theory nohow. No ask questions. Just go.
6 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Never been edited much, unfortunately. They usually send me out there naked. The editing experiences I have had have, for the most part, been, initial outrage aside, constructive and reassuring.
7 - After having published more than a couple of titles over the years, do you find the process of book-making harder or easier?
Not hard-er. But fucking hard.
8 - When was the last time you ate a pear?
A pear of what?
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
“Fuck you.” Given to me directly.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (fiction to poetry)? What do you see as the appeal?
Poetry, to me, is basically goofing off. I can get lost in English easily enough, but I'm not too crazy about it. I keep wanting to get into race and gender. I've written quite a few songs.
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?
A typical day, every day, begins with a lengthy micturition. When I'm going good, I head out to the Gatineau Public Library every day about ten, ten-thirty, and work there until three-thirty, four. There's a quote (Jules Renaud) painted on the wall there: “When I think about how many books I still haven't read, I have the firm conviction that I'm still happy.”
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Other writing. Other books. I turn to the guitar a lot too, but not for inspiration. To de-obsess.
13 - How does your most recent book compare to your previous work? How does it feel different?
Oh it's a whole lot better. But wait to you see the next one.
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 is very true that books work in a way that is livresque, unique to books. The only way to investigate their operation is by reading them. And writing your own. Music has been a big influence. There are little refrains in my writing, word sequences that repeat, not always with the same stress pattern, codas, crescendos, I mean I think in those terms. Also I like sports, and sports writing in some cases.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
So many, really so many. Although I'm a constant but not a massive reader. The only two writers I've really binged on have been Faulkner (that aristocratic southern drawling diction read with an 18-year old, clipped Montreal accent) and Colette. Well Zola too. Shakespeare (a really good writer despite the way-over-the-top, not to say juvenile, adulation). Flan O'Brien. The truth is, I don't keep track of what I read very well.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
My son's going to Africa this summer. Niger or Senegal. All I can do not to ask him to take me with him. He would, too, the jerk.
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 almost did become a seaman for life. I'm happiest just working, physically. Surveying's a cool job, I did that for quite a while.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
That is the question, isn't it. I do know what made me not write. Terrified of not being good at it. But I have to do other stuff.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
The film is easy: Babel. It has replaced Amarcord as my all time cinematic fave. Books are different. Every book I read, if I read it through to the end, has a greatness about it. Which perhaps is tantamount to saying none of them do. Elizabeth Hay's will be great. Daniel Kehlmann's Measuring the World. Alaa al Aswany The Yacoubian Building. Michel Quint Effroyables Jardins (not translated as far as I know). For anybody into Spanish, José-Luis Mañez's Yo soy un escritor frustrado is a horrid, small-minded little book that I think is fabuloso.
20 - What are you currently working on?
A thing called Crutches. I have another thing written from the point of view of a foetus, of course. Not too far along with that, but what I've got is pretty cool.
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