Friday, June 05, 2009

12 or 20 questions: with Dayle Furlong

Dayle Furlong studied English Literature & Fine Arts at York University. Her poetry & fiction has appeared in Kiss Machine, The Puritan, Word & The Voice. She works as a literary publicist and has worked as a screenwriter’s assistant for the Showcase television series Slings & Arrows. Her debut collection of poetry, Open Slowly was published by Tightrope Books in spring 2008. [photo credit: Liz Martin]

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 did get a generous review, which was great. My back seized the day of my book launch and it hasn’t been the same since. – does that count?

Poems I have written since the book was published tend to be longer and more ‘relaxed’. I notice a lot of poems of late generally tend to be of the ‘so-this-is-life-and-I’m-amused’ variety.

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

The very first book I wrote was entitled, Impossible Imogene and Ridiculous Ryan. I wrote this in the third grade. My school had a Young Authors’ Conference and I remember being extremely excited. We made Mr. Men and Little Miss bookmarks. Ever since then I’ve been writing short stories and experimenting with words, language, sentence structure, shapes and form – with age-appropriate topics. I started to write narrative/lyrical poetry when I was fourteen.

Although I love reading non-fiction – I do permissions research for a Canadian textbook company and I generally read all of the essays - I don’t have much interest in writing non-fiction. I’d rather write sketch-comedy.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing intitially 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 write something everyday, whether it is a research note, a scene, a line, a conversation or a character sketch. I write everything by hand. I’ve written a lot of poems that maintain their initial shape but have copious editing notes around them. I’ve written a lot of prose that came out of copious editing/research notes. I tend to write quickly then struggle with editing. I don’t like to edit at all.

4 - Where does a poem 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?

Poems generally come out of some emotional impulse or some mental reaction to the visual spectacle of human bodies in space, landscape, or architecture. My short fiction generally has one complication or character objective and when it is reached the story is over – I know that from the start. Novels tend to come from my observations on the complexity of human life and involve many complications and objectives that my characters either achieve or fail to achieve. Then whatever ‘narrative voice’ I decide suits the project will have its say and prove its point about life. I am of the mind that you can prove/demonstrate something about life that may or may not even reflect your personal values.

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

I like going to readings because I enjoy the friendships I have in the community. I prefer to listen. I really love poetry that is different to mine. I really love poetry that is similar to mine. I love outlandish performance poets. I love gentle quiet readers. I tend to fall on the side of ‘gentle quiet reader’. I don’t quite know why. I can often be seen dancing all over the city or behaving as if I’m in some kind of comedy sketch. I attract all kinds of attention and I share laughs with people I don’t know through this aspect of my personality, but put me in front of a microphone with a handful of poetry and I get really shy.

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 enjoyed lit theory while in University, then I started studying languages and travelling, my mindset evolved. I am not really interested in theory of any sort at all anymore. However, I did read an amazing article in Scientific American about the necessity and power of narrative. If I remember correctly the article said that reading & writing keeps our perceptions ordered and our minds focused so that we can comment on and connect with one another through language. Basically reading and writing keeps us sane.

I love writing that leaves the question (specific to the book) unanswered and forces the reader to answer the question, for example at the ending of Oryx & Crake the character Snowman can’t decide what to do which leaves me free to imagine the outcome. What would happen if he killed the humans? Then my mind imagines life without man. Then I imagine what would happen if he doesn’t kill the group of humans. Then I think life would re-build itself and the initial problems the characters in the book were combating would just re-occur.

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 primary job is to stock library shelves - or the equivalent of the i-tunes bookstore - get books in classrooms, show up at events and represent our art form. Through the written word we should aggrandize, be bold, criticize, denigrate, elevate, freak out, gut, harmonize, illuminate, joke, knock-out, love, mollify, nourish, open perceptions, question, reject the status quo, support the status quo, tease, unify, venture, win over, Xerox (copy) (can’t think of anything that begins with X), yip, and be zany.

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

I have first and last say during the spewing and writing process, I am completely alone with it and I don’t talk about it with anyone. When I handed my poetry book over to my editor, I literally handed it over. I let her do her thing without objecting and she was amazing.

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

‘Suck it up Buttercup’ and ‘Settle Petal’. Direct clear advice like ‘toughen up’ and ‘calm down’ using foliage as a part of speech amuses me.

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

It’s pretty easy. I fictionalize both in some form or another. I think that’s the appeal, I get inside of different people’s thought processes and then I get to tell stories through fiction or poetry about what it must feel like to think and behave that way.

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 am extremely disciplined. I studied dance at one point so I can’t imagine not working hard every day to the point of injury. I am up at 6 or 7 am. I write, work on my publishing projects then practice yoga and do household tasks. I mix up the order but everything gets done.

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

Folk music, punk rock music, yoga, books, books, books, watching a film or going to the theatre or a live music show.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Artificial apricot, cherry, strawberry, and grape scents. Sharp 80’s hairspray, nail polish remover, nail polish, Noxzema, and baby powder. I have two sisters; we are all one year apart. We were all teenagers at the same time and those smells remind me of those years when we were all living together – before everything became organic and wholesome and vanilla and green tea scented.

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?

Singer/songwriter types have influenced me more than they can imagine. Especially Canadian singer/songwriters.

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

English Romantic poets, Russell Banks, J.M Coetzee, John Irving and every Canadian female novelist & Canadian poet under the sun.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

Elope and get married on a beach in a white bikini with “Just Married” emblazoned in silver on my bottom. During aforementioned ceremony I want a bee-hive hairdo, false nails, large hoop earrings and rings of black kohl around my eyes.

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 have loved to have a job where I could solve algebraic equations all day long. I would also like to have been a bricklayer, a construction worker, or a plumber.

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

I don’t know. It just dominates my daily life. The urge to read, write and contemplate literature is just stronger than any other impulse. I am grateful it has translated into a means of making a living.

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

The Darling by Russell Banks & Fingersmith by Sarah Waters. The perceptive tricks these two authors play are fantastic. I love Canadian Film so I’ll have to say Away From Her and The Saddest Music In the World.

20 - What are you currently working on?

Several poems. A novel about foreign correspondents working abroad. A short-story collection.

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