Friday, September 03, 2010

12 or 20 questions: with Nicholas Ruddock

NICHOLAS RUDDOCK's [photo credit: Koko Bonaparte] writing has been published in The Dalhousie Review, The Antigonish Review, Fiddlehead, Prism International, Grain, sub-Terrain, Event, and Exile. His short story "How Eunice Got Her Baby" was published in the Journey Prize Anthology in 2007, and a short film adaptation, narrated by Gordon Pinsent, has been made by the Canadian Film Centre. Ruddock is a family physician. He lives in Guelph, Ontario.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

My first book was a book of short stories (How Loveta Got Her Baby). It had been accepted for publication when my novel suddenly went into high gear. So I put the short stories away and opted to go first out into the world with the novel (The Parabolist, Doubleday Canada). There was no change in my life, just a step in a different direction. The novel differs in style and location, but it's much the same in theme. It's a bit more serious than the stories, but preserves the same sense of humour.

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

I have never written non-fiction. Reality seems to be off limits for me. I went from one-sentence short stories--published as poems-- to short fiction, then to the novel, the classical progression.

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?

I start with one simple idea and let it loose. I have no plan. It is not a slow process; I stop if it's a struggle. First drafts can be altered, thrown away, deleted, cut-and-pasted, dragged several paragraphs further, or left entirely intact. I like to compile inventory, in the hope that the light of another day will prove that the spontaneous work hit the mark. I do not work from notes.

4 - Where does 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 have worked on my one book as a soon as I recognized it was not a short story.

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

I have always enjoyed public reading. I don't see how they could be counter to any other activity.

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 not consciously worked from any theoretical concerns. As far as I am aware, I am not trying to answer questions. If there are current questions, they have possibly been approached in dialogue between my characters.

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?

Some writers serve as the conscience of their generation, others as entertainers, and there's everything in between. S/he should be provocative, not boring.

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

Not difficult. Essential and rewarding.

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

For dialogue, just use "he said" and "she said". No "groaned", "ejaculated", "laughed", "responded", "cried","guffawed" etc etc (Elmore Leonard, I think).

For characters, be inclusive, understanding, sympathetic (Cheryl Ruddock).

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

I haven't had much problem moving between genres, though that may just be inexperience. Short stories hit one precise target; novels blow holes out of the ground, and therein lies their different appeal.

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 not working at the office (medical), I write in the mornings. Some late evenings, briefly, only 10:00-11:00. Some very early mornings, if there's a time crunch editing, 5:30-7:30 AM.

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

I pick up a different character or point of view. If that doesn't do it, I go and do something else.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

No fragrance. Maybe wool in winter.

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 would have a hard time writing without weather, birds, clouds, rain. I have done my best to leave music out as a cultural reference, though I have failed once or twice in that regard. Science exists in my novel only as a backdrop or a curtain. Visual art is importamt, but has not played a role in anything I have written so far except in one short story which has been rejected coast-to-coast.

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

Canadian: Mordecai Richler, Barbara Gowdy, Guy Vanderhaege, David Adams Richard, Kenneth Harvey, Guy Beauchemin.

Non-Canadian: Nabokov, Celine, Sebald, Bolano, Vollman, David Mitchell, the Russians all, Mario Vargas Llosa; the list could go on and on as there are many.

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

Not a lot. Simple personal things, that's all.

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 am a medical doctor and feel lucky to be so. Otherwise the usual Canadian list: hockey, Bingo caller, canoeist, tin-whistler, unsuccessful trapper.

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

I was driven to it by other books, the fictional worlds they created. I wanted to be able to do the same thing.

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

The Savage Detectives. Cloud Atlas. Film: Mouchette. Cache (no soundtrack).

20 - What are you currently working on?

The next novel and, simultaneously, my short-story collection.

12 or 20 (second series) questions,

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