1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
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?
4 - Where does a poem or 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?
With prose, it's always a book from the very beginning. I'm not a collage artist. And I start at the beginning and work through to the end. I read somewhere that Michael Ondaatje writes sections for a novel with no idea where they will fit into the finished book. I'm not like that.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I really enjoy readings. More and more, in fact. Some of that has to do with believing the work will stand up to scrutiny. And I guess I like the attention it gets for the book, and maybe for me too. I don't want to toil away forever in obscurity. Having people know who I am, and saying positive things about me, takes me one step closer to being able to concentrate full-time on the writing again. A reading is bald-faced promotion, I know, but if you take it seriously, it's also an art show. I think it can be real entertainment. Not enough writers take this part of it seriously. Most readings are boring and if the writing is good that's a real shame.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kind of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
As I get older I become more interested in how to construct a narrative that is capable of immersing the reader totally. And so I do study voice and characterization and plot etc more seriously than I used to. James Wood's The Art of Fiction (I think that's the title) is a marvelous primer for that sort of thing. I am experimenting all the time, but I'm not as interested in experimental prose as I used to be.
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 don't, in most instances, think the writer has much of a role. If any person with a voice chooses not to speak out in the presence of atrocity, or horror, or simple injustice, then I think that represents a failure. But that sentiment doesn't just apply to writers. There's nothing special about us. And I don't really want the airwaves to be filled with the wafflings of bad writers either.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?
There is more money in prose, of course, and I won't deny that that is part of the appeal. If I'm going to labour for a few years on a project I'd like to get reimbursed for that work. And there is a readership for prose that just isn't there for poetry.
Right now I don't have a writing routine. The Carnivore is out and I'm still reading from that, responding to questions about that book. I also sell real estate full time now, and so there's not much time left over. In the new year my plan is to carve out three or four hours a day (or night) to draft the next book. When I am writing I usually get down to it by nine or ten in the morning, then fiddle around with emails and news sites for a while. But eventually I'll hit my stride and go for three more hours or so. Then I think about whatever I've made for the rest of the day and night, then start again. Because of the real estate job and the two small children I have now, I think this next project will get written to a much more random schedule. That frightens and excites me.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I don't tend to stall, once I've got the engine running. I do head down a lot of blind alleys, but I'm okay with that. When I was writing The Carnivore I was offered a house on Martha's Vineyard for a couple of weeks. I wrote my heart out but barely a word made it into the book. It was heartbreaking because the time was so precious and the place so lovely. But you know, it's a better book because I was able to digress and then rein the book in again. (There's a lot of metaphor mixing going on here, so I'm going to stop. That happens when I tire I think. I lean on metaphor and florid prose that doesn't impress anyone very much).
As a kid growing up in England I had a gym teacher who would have us run by a pig farm every week, and I've never forgotten that smell or that ritual. I have a strong nostalgic attachment to those times, but it's not the most poetic of reminiscences, is it?
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?
All of the above, yes. I actually read less than I used to. I see patterns everywhere now. The arrangment of tree limbs from trunk to tip is remarkably similar to the way blood flows into a kidney, for instance--from major artery into a thousand increasingly small capillaries; the blood blooms in the organ. And I think it's making those connections that is imprtant to the writing. Anything that makes me think, feel intensely, can be marshalled for inspiration. David is right of course, but I don't think he would claim that it was true every time. And you know, thinking on the fly here, I doubt that it is true for very many poems at all.
Corny, but I need to travel more. I haven't seen nearly enough of the world. I don't want my children to be able to say the same thing.
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?
Well I sell houses now and I'm okay with that. I don't know if I ever expected to save the world, or rule it, and now I've found something that allows me to stay out of an office, and lets me listen to my music in a nice (not too big) car, and also to think freely and to pay my bills. It's really not a bad way to make a living if practiced with integrity and hard work. And I think I can carve out enough time soon to write another book as well. And I can't ask for much more than that. Or I can, but it'll just make me bitter and angry, and my partner has had enough of that from my years as a singleminded poet.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I don't know.
I'm reading Jonathan Lethem's Chronic City right now, and that's pretty great. As are poetry collections I have on the go by David O'Meara and by Damian Rogers. And I was talking yesterday to someone about Vinterberberg's The Celebration, which is a fantastic film, and the talk made me want to see that again soon. But I'm halfway through watching Star Trek and hey, that's pretty damn good too, in it's own way and on its own terms. It's not the answer a film major's supposed to give maybe, but there you have it.
20 - What are you currently working on?
[Mark Sinnett reads in Ottawa on Saturday afternoon, 5pm, at the Manx Pub as part of the Plan 99 Reading Series]
12 or 20 questions (second series);