Nico Rogers is a storyteller and performance artist, and has appeared at writing and folk festivals across the country, as well as on TV and radio. He has taught writing and literature in post-secondary institutions in Ottawa, Winnipeg, and Edmonton and now lives in Toronto, where he is working on a novel which will be a thematic continuation of his first trade poetry book, The Fetch (Brick Books, 2010).
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 don’t think a book changes a life; at least, that hasn’t been my case. When you finally publish one, you get to go on a book tour and you finally get to meet authors who’ve shared some of your experiences, and have had experiences that you want to hear about.
My most recent work doesn’t compare to my previous work. If it did, I’d have become bored with it a long time ago.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I came to poetry first because I was romantic.
I’ve had to turn to fiction to clear my throat.
Since then, I’ve started to trust my poetry again.
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 can’t answer any of these questions with clarity.
I just write and then I edit and then I write and then I edit.
Writing is a weather system. Sometimes it rains. Sometimes it shines.
As for drafts: I consider everything a draft until the editor says: Okay. It’s done. Leave it alone. And then I need to move on to something else.
4 - Where does fiction or 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?
I try to work on a “book” from the beginning. Key word, “Try.”
Lately I’ve been researching mining and have found it compliments writing: Some veins are richer than others and offer considerable yields. Still, the short veins are worth mining. You never know what they might lead to. It doesn’t have to be a mother lode to be worth mining. In fact, most of the gold extracted in a mine is invisible gold, not the visible gold that non-miners think of when they imagine the underground.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I used to write for performance only. I have trouble justifying putting energy into that anymore, though I do enjoy reading in public. The shyness I have known as a writer comes from letting go of the page poem. To this day, I’m terrified of releasing a printed poem into the world. In fiction, I find comfort in knowing that the story owns the page, not the author; with poetry, or at least poetry that isn’t driven by narrative (unlike my writing in The Fetch, the proximity of the reader to my person has been too intense, and so I get shy. I hope that will change with time.
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?
All my concerns are very real (not theoretical!) I doubt that they are new or current; frankly, I hope they aren’t. I want them to be as ancient as the act of writing itself. I just want it to matter to whoever is reading it. That’s what I strive for, even though I know it’s impossible.
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?
The current role of the writer should be the same as always: to write, and to do the best job of it possible. I fundamentally hope that never changes. I don’t think any reader out there cares what an author has to say if it isn’t to do with writing, or something that they have written about. The first thing you are judged for is your writing. After that, you’re just another head talking.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I’ve only worked with a few editors, and they were essential to improving my writing.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Keep your head up.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to fiction to performance/storytelling)? What do you see as the appeal?
It hasn’t been easy at all; each creates its own demands. Ultimately the question in all genres is the same and it’s twofold: Is this the right word, and if so, is it in the right place?
The appeal is simple: It keeps me writing.
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?
Lately I’ve been able to write full time. When this is possible, I do it seven days a week. Sometimes that means ten hours and other days it means six. When I find I’m really out of wind, I rest, but even when resting, I’m doing it to be productive—so it’s just part of the job. That said, when I have other responsibilities occupying my day, I don’t get much writing done. I’m an all or nothing personality.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I tell myself that my writing is never stalled. It sleeps, but sleep isn’t stalling. Using the term stalled imposes some kind of negative stress. As for inspiration, if I feel it is lacking, I am in need of a rest.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Wow, I truly wish I had an answer.
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, including everything that is without any kind of specific intention (including the crazy dance that the two barristas are doing at Transcend Café in Edmonton where I now answer this question.)
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I used to have an answer for this. I don’t anymore. What I read, I read because it is satisfying. The recently read books on my coffee table are Lolita (which I didn’t like, much to my surprise), Saul Bellow’s novella The Actual (loved it!), Orham Pamuk’s The Naïve and Sentimental Novelist (extremely helpful), Roberto Bolaño’s The Amulet (I’d give my soul to Bolaño if it meant he could write another book), Muriel Barberry’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog (which I felt ambivalent about at the start, then fell in love with, then finished in ambivalence). I’m now reading Gabrielle Roy’s Where Nests The Water Hen, and Anna Karenina (actually, that’s a lie. I just drive around with it on the dashboard of my truck.)
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Fall in love with the woman I’ll marry and be with for the rest of my life so that we can have a garden and grow pumpkins that get the red ribbon at the fall fair.
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’d want to be an architect. But I would only want to design libraries. And they would be the world’s greatest libraries. They would windows that open and little hotel rooms that you can rent, allowing you to wander the place at night and meet other people among the stacks.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I don’t only write. I’m also a carpenter and I’ve taught post-secondary English. But I only do those things in order to writing, and because they are pleasurable (and sometimes almost as rewarding as writing.)
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
The Amulet (Bolaño) impressed me for its narrative fluidity.
I was blown away by Coming Home (a 1979 film by Hal Ashby) the other night and I can’t believe I had never seen it before.
20 - What are you currently working on?
12 or 20 (second series) questions;