Saturday, December 31, 2016

some christmas 2016, etc; a series of holiday reports,

Another year, another round of family etcetera around these holidays (see last year's version here). Here are some rough notes on such:

December 17-18, 2016: We did our fourth annual Montebello jaunt with father-in-law and Teri, and brother-in-law Michael and his family. Every year of such we've had another child in the mix, this year being our wee Aoife (I think the grandchildren are holding at four for a while).

The weather en route was minimal (compared to other years), but the storm immediately prior meant that many of the trails had yet to be cleared, reducing any attempt at outdoor activities (whew), although Christine did take Rose out for a bit of a walk on the Sunday morning, as I remained in our room so Aoife could nap (and I managed a few scratchings at poems-in-progress).

Given we'd four children in our group three and younger, I'd say we were rather contained, but wise, I'd say, to have us in the dining room earlier for meals, so we were less likely to bother the crowds (although we did find Montebello much less crowded this year; maybe the weather kept folk away?).

There was mayhem, certainly, but far less than you might think.

And Christine took Rose swimming not long before we left. Rose can now swim solo, if she's a lifejacket on. Terrifying. But the pool was nice and warm and completely empty.

December 24, 2016: We hosted my family again, as we've aimed to do every second year now (this was our second time hosting). Given how many of us there are now (my three children + my sister's three children + them + my father also) every photo in its own way was an action shot.

Kate managed to arrive immediately after she finished work, and just as we were sitting down to dinner. There is something about hosting that feels slightly sad to me, in that the event goes by far quicker than it used to. Back when I would head over to the farm for the same, I would stay at least a day or two, if not up to a week, making the reduction of my family's Christmas down to a few hours rather compact.

It was nice, also, to capture some pictures of all three of my daughters, together. Our two wee ones, of course, in matching pyjamas (apparently Christine has multiple alternate sizes, so they could even wear the same next year if they wished).

December 25, 2016: After the cat woke Rose, who then woke us (really!), we went through stockings and saw what Santa brought each of us. Rose got her bicycle and some jingly bells, Christine got socks, I got a can-opener, among other things (how did I get here?). The young ladies a shared dollhouse I slowly put together, like the 1950s dad I've become.

And, after stockings, we headed over to mother-in-law's house where we spent the day, along with brother-in-law and his family, and even his own mother-in-law. There were more stockings, as well as breakfast. Mimosas! Rose ran and ran and ran with her little cousin Duncan. She loves her cousin Duncan. We stayed the whole day (with a mid-afternoon break during which I delivered a load of presents home and managed to convince Rose to nap). Once we returned, there were toys and treats and crackers and paper hats (Aoife was less impressed with her paper hat).

December 26, 2016: We headed over to Christine's cousin's house in the east end, for Paul and Carla's annual extended McNair gathering. Another day during which Rose ran and ran and ran around with cousins. Food! Drinks! Cousins! I think Rose is in heaven during those days. She only approached me at all during the time we were there because she required a change. She wandered over and announced to me: I need a bum change! And such is my lot.

By the end of the event, leaning towards bedtime, we'd both girls in their pyjamas, as Rose played bongos and Aoife listened.

December 27, 2016: We didn't do anything Christmassy. We were exhausted. I took the young ladies out erranding, to allow Christine a rare solo breath. She did breathe. The ladies provided a valuable assist. Rose wore her new hat.

December 28, 2016: We hosted an extended McLennan/Page gathering far smaller than other years, given circumstance. It meant only my sister and her brood came by, which ended up even being a smaller gathering than what we had on the 24th. It all worked out, giving us a chance to actually hang out a bit more than we had a few days prior. And Rose ran around with her cousins again. She, as I've said before, loves that.

December 29, 2016: With Stephen Brockwell, I hosted our annual Peter F. Yacht Club Christmas party/reading/regatta at the Carleton Tavern, which I posted a report on here.

December 30, 2016: Nothing. We must be quiet now.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Notes on (some) books I haven’t had time to properly discuss:

I’m remarkably behind, in ways you can’t even imagine. Here are some scattered notes of reviews begun but never fully fleshed out. And yet, these are all books I thought were interesting. Must I wait until Aoife begins school in another, what, three or four years? (Answer: probably).

The Essential D.G. Jones, selected by Jim Johnstone: I’ve known that The Essential D.G. Jones (The Porcupine’s Quill, Inc., 2016) was in the works for some time, and was pleased to know of it, although I’d hoped that there might have been another books’ worth of material that Jones was sitting on. I’d been months gently prodding him to allow me to produce another chapbook (after the one we did in 2002); despite the fact that he occasionally sent me unpublished poems in the mail that he would allow me to produce in a variety of venues (including dusie and Touch the Donkey), it was the only part of my letters he wouldn’t respond to. I envy Johnstone’s ability to work on such a project, even if not the fact that this becomes a “last collection” for the late poet [see my obituary for him here]. Jones truly was one of our finest lyric poets and as Johnstone writes in his introduction: “The Essential D.G. Jones is the first volume of selected poetry to span the poet’s entire career.”


a flock, a body, the birds
moving, moving the air, moving
the bank behind the house, the snow
sieved by sun and rain, the
seeds, the fallout from trees, hedge
a feeder

            nervous, a percentage of feathers
lift off, sheer off, a percentage
arrive, others remain, picking their
way, a jittery wave of scavengers, cleaners
over the snow

the body of spring emerges
the body of winter emerges
the body of spring, engages
feathers and debris

Ben Estes, Illustrated Games of Patience: Massachusetts poet Ben Estes’ first full-length poetry collection, Illustrated Games of Patience (The Song Cave, 2015), is a sharp and witty combination of straight lyric and prose poem. There was a subtlety here that I liked, that drew me back into this collection even after I’d put the book down.

A Rainbow Sign

I just don’t think that
this is what it’s supposed to feel like,
shaking my big one to break the stream
and make a pool for moving my tools,
for they weigh only half as much
when moved under water.
I emerged in the morning, covered in blood and fine acid sand
and decided to remain partially submerged a little while longer.
Itching for more exercise,
and cooled not by water but by air,
I spent the afternoon collecting sea shells,
and found each one heavily carved
with the numbers of pretty village girls
offering to take tourists to the ultimate level.
A spring and summer service they offer.
I meant to call one, with a headline ready on my lips,
but a gull would dive down wheeling and screaming
each time I tried to dial.
One can fool the animals,
but must forgive this wild, beautiful country.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

12 or 20 (small press) questions with C.A. Mullins on Bottlecap Press

Bottlecap Press is an independent publisher of poetry and fiction, chapbooks and full lengths, based in Alton, Illinois, and on the internet. Its goal is the publication of works that strike the reader as alarmingly, frustratingly, artistically human.

C.A. Mullins is the founder and editor in chief of Bottlecap Press and author of a handful of things that don't really matter in the long run, as well as a half-written novel that he swears is going to be good. He tweets as @iseveryonealone, and he also tweets as @BottlecapPress, but those ones are a little more corporate.

1 – When did Bottlecap Press first start? How have your original goals as a publisher shifted since you started, if at all? And what have you learned through the process?
Bottlecap started in mid-2014 during a period of my life where I was looking for a publisher for some of my own writing, but had trouble finding one whose philosophies aligned with mine. I had a lot of trouble understanding mainstream publishers' royalty rates and strict rules for submission, and I was terrified of editors stripping my intent as an artist. Since then, I've become more acquainted with the thriving community of small press editors, many of whom I've found to have similar goals. I think the biggest change in Bottlecap's philosophy has been that in the beginning, I believed that the key to keeping royalty rates high was trimming fat and cutting out middlemen. Over time, I've become a lot more open to making bigger investments into more of the secondary functions of a publisher (setting up readings, marketing, etc.) where in the beginning, a lot of those aspects were more barebones. At first, our primary service was printing, and that suited our goals at the time. Since then, we've evolved into something much more community oriented. We experiment with a lot of new ideas, but our core philosophy has remained the same: to respect the rights of the artist.

2 – What first brought you to publishing?
For me, it was a eureka moment more than it was something that had ever been a part of my long term plan. I was living in a small town in Alaska, working a summer job, and my landlord raised my rent without my knowledge or consent. I needed then more than ever to become self-sufficient. Because I was having so much trouble finding an appropriate publisher for my own work, it's only natural that the idea of self-publishing would cross my mind. So I learned how to bind books, left Alaska, and blew my last $500 on printing supplies. It was right around then that I started introducing myself to people in writing and publishing communities. Within six months, I started getting involved with other authors, and soon after, I invited my old friend Brendan Kolk to be my co-editor. I haven't looked back since.

3 – What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?
In my mind, the biggest role of independent publishing is to be a viable alternative to mainstream publishing. It's important for an independent publisher to take on challenging work and give voices to those who might be taken advantage of by the mainstream system. Being able to keep up with the big fish in publishing and being able to offer the same or equivalent services even when resources are limited. Thriftiness is a big one. Finding creative solutions to problems, and learning from them. Small presses are not just smaller businesses that do the same things in the same ways-- we are the innovators in this industry. You've got to be scrappy, and you've got to find ways to make things work even when they seem impossible. You've got to treat your authors like human beings and prove to them that they made the right decision in publishing through your press. Support them and thank them for supporting you.

4 – What do you see your press doing that no one else is?
Of course, I have to preface this question by saying there are a lot of great indie publishers doing a lot of great things. I can't stress that enough. But I think one thing that makes Bottlecap unique is our experimentation. We're full of ideas, and when we get a new idea, no matter how off-the-wall it may seem, we act on it. This especially comes into play in our marketing. We're not afraid of losing touch with our roots, of changing, of growing, and this gives us a lot of freedom to explore. We have active plans not only to publish books, but publish other types of media as well. When our authors have requests, even if it's not the sort of thing we'd usually do, we figure out how to do it, and we make it work, even when it sounds crazy. Another thing I see in Bottlecap that I don't see in many other presses is a certain level of efficiency. We do have our weak spots as far as efficiency goes (specifically time management, which we're trying to get better at), but we've only got two main editors and we've published more than 40 books in the last two and a half years, each fantastic in its own right. Both our quantity of new releases and our quality of new releases are very high, and it's something we're really proud of. Somehow we're still able to find time to print, to distribute, to market, and to answer interview questions (even if it takes a little longer than we'd want it to.)

5 – What do you see as the most effective way to get new chapbooks out into the world?
From my experience, most certainly performance. Our authors who do the most readings almost always sell the most books. Because of this, one of our biggest goals for 2017 is to become much more active in helping our authors book readings (no pun intended) and find venues. Twitter is great, blogging is great, connecting with reviewers is great, but especially with chapbooks (and still to some degree with full lengths), nothing connects literature to an audience quite like seeing it come from the author's own mouth.

As for how a chapbook might physically come into the world, I am a firm believer that print will always find more readers than digital. There are a lot of amazing things digital distribution can do, but let's put it this way: chapbooks are cool. You see someone reading a chapbook, you think “oh, cool, what's that? I'd like to have one of those.” It's the sort of thing that's a lot more fun to own than it is to download. They make for kind of a social objet d'art, and because of this, I consider print distribution to be a vital part of the chapbook as an art form. Full lengths are a bit trickier in this regard, but I still believe roughly the same thing: that print media is important, and that it continues to be cool.

6 – How involved an editor are you? Do you dig deep into line edits, or do you prefer more of a light touch?
Tying in with Bottlecap's philosophy regarding artists' intent, I prefer the light touch, especially with poetry. Even when we find something like a typo, we usually tend to ask the author if it was intentional, and if it was, we're happy to leave it in. Formatting is a bigger deal. We like our books to be well formatted, and if the author hasn't provided us with a good place to start, we often tear books apart line by line and put them back together in a way that's more pleasing to the eye. Formatting also happens to be one of the things that a lot of writers know very little about, so we tend to be a bit strict over whether it needs to be changed.

7 – How do your books get distributed? What are your usual print runs?
We do all our own distribution, though our books are available at several bookstores (and we're actively working at adding more stores to that list.) We're in a bit of a transitional phase-- until recently, we mostly printed books as they sold as opposed to doing traditional print runs, to ensure that copies didn't stack up in boxes in our closet never to be read. As sales have picked up over time and our catalog has grown, that's gotten harder and harder to do, so we started printing more backstock, keeping copies on hand for when someone throws us a curveball and wants a lot of books all at once. It's been a challenging transition, considering that often, just keeping up with orders is a full time job. We often keep our printers running overnight, and we're finally getting to the point where we can comfortably keep up with bigger orders. Running this press has been a learning experience, and a very challenging exercise in managing and anticipating expectations.

8 – How many other people are involved with editing or production? Do you work with other editors, and if so, how effective do you find it? What are the benefits, drawbacks?
Our main editing team consists of Brendan Kolk and myself, and Erin Taylor is in charge of our blog, which we've begun accepting single-piece submissions for. We each have our own styles and our own tastes, but it's our combined tastes and styles that make Bottlecap what it is. Because our team is small, were able to communicate effectively about our goals, and our visions for the future. We often joke about how, though we're just three people, we're doing the work of a much larger team. We each have our own specialties, and forgive me for using a cheesy corporate buzzword, but there's a lot of synergy in our work. When one of us can't do something, another usually can, and when none of us can, one of us is always willing to learn. Because it's such a small team though, it is sometimes hard to keep up. We've got a million ideas, but we can only work on three ideas at once. It's taught me a lot about growth, and setting realistic goals.

9– How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?
I think I'm less sloppy as a writer than I used to be, and more willing to cut out ideas that aren't working, even if I really like the ideas. I've always kept meticulous notes about every thought I have that I might be able to integrate into my writing, and in the past, I felt a stronger need to use each and every one of them. I don't have as much trouble getting to the meat and potatoes as I used to. I no longer hold on to bad ideas.

There's also a less straightforward secondary effect that my publishing has had on my writing: I don't have nearly as much time to do it anymore. Bottlecap is often a more-than-full-time job for me, so if I want to get any writing done beyond scribbling down those notes, I have to schedule time in advance for it. Writing used to come to me in bursts, and I felt that I had to be in a certain mood to get it right, but because I have less hours in a day to dedicate to it, I've had to learn how to make those bursts happen whether they felt like they were coming on or not. I went through almost the entirety of 2015 without writing anything at all, because from my perspective, I was just too busy. It took a lot of work to change that perspective, and now I'm finally making a little headway into a novel that I'm pretty proud of so far.

10– How do you approach the idea of publishing your own writing? Some, such as Gary Geddes when he still ran Cormorant, refused such, yet various Coach House Press’ editors had titles during their tenures as editors for the press, including Victor Coleman and bpNichol. What do you think of the arguments for or against, or do you see the whole question as irrelevant?
In the very beginning, Bottlecap did have a self-publishing aspect to it, but I don't think I would do it again. It's not that I have any philosophical qualms with it, it's just that publishing has taught me a lot about networking, and how working with different teams can help an author to reach new audiences. I do think, though, that having been a publisher, I would be very selective about the publishers I would choose to submit to. It's more important now than it ever has been that my writing ends up in the hands of someone I respect.

11– How do you see Bottlecap Press evolving?
Goal number one is to provide more services to our authors. When authors ask “can you do this for me,” I want to be able to say yes, no matter what this is, and I want to be able to offer them some cool things they might not have even expected. Goal number two is to widen distribution. I want to have a presence at more bookstores and more festivals. Goal number three, and this is a more ambiguous, long-term one, is to begin connecting communities cross-media. I'd like Bottlecap to act as indie books' cultural ambassador to indie music, art, film, gaming, virtual reality. I want to begin to offer not only books, but also multimedia literary experiences with contributions from artists across the spectrum. I have this vivid idea in my head of an immersive literary work that stimulates all the senses, and I want to take steps toward being able to curate that work. That's my dream, anyway. Literature is too conservative. I want to shake things up and throw more elements into the mix.

12– What, as a publisher, are you most proud of accomplishing? What do you think people have overlooked about your publications? What is your biggest frustration?
Honestly, the thing I'm most proud of is just that people actually want to publish books through Bottlecap Press. We've even had a few authors come back to us because they liked working with us so much. It means everything to me that I've created something people want to be a part of. I think people might not know just how strong a community we've created. We set up readings where a lot of our authors perform together, many of us interact over Facebook and Twitter, we've all become friends. When you publish through Bottlecap, you're becoming part of a big, awesome family, and that might not be something that's quite so obvious from the outside.

My biggest frustration, I think, is how much some books outperform others just based on the size of the author's fanbase. Every one of our books is special for one reason or another, but we sometimes encounter difficulty marketing books that don't have a large built-in audience. I feel like if people gave more of our smaller books a chance, they'd find something to love, and more folks would realize just how expansive Bottlecap's vision is. I am eternally grateful to the cadre of Bottlecap readers who keep coming back, who keep trying out new books, who keep discovering, but it's not enough, and we believe that our lesser known authors deserve the same support our more known authors get.

13– Who were your early publishing models when starting out?
The first publisher to teach me that a publishing company could have a heart was McSweeney's, and I still consider them role models to this day. They have such a clear vision, and they execute it beautifully. They understand that literature is about more than just books, and in that understanding, the books themselves become even more important. My own vision as a publisher is always changing, but there's something at the heart of what they're doing that I agree with, and that I've always agreed with. To throw in a bit of a tongue-twister, their being the best them that they can be inspires me to be the best me that I can be. People know a McSweeney's book when they see one, and I'd like for that to one day be true about Bottlecap. I suppose I have something of a business-to-business crush.

14– How does Bottlecap Press work to engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large? What journals or presses do you see Bottlecap Press in dialogue with? How important do you see those dialogues, those conversations?
Our two biggest allies in the publishing community right now are Nostrovia! Press and Maudlin House. I have personal friends at both, and in Nostrovia!'s case, I've helped them with quite a bit of printing. There are loads of journals and presses we interact with now and then, but as for the community at large, we have a lot of inroads left to build. I'd like to have more of a presence at book fairs, get to know publishers working in other genres, with other core communities. If independent publishing ever wants to stand up proudly beside mainstream publishing, it's important that we foster diplomacy and work together to solve some of the larger problems we face. At their best, I think that's what good publishers are: diplomats. Building a system that works for everyone can not be done by a single publisher working in isolation. Getting to know each other and having each other's backs is a part of the job.

15– Do you hold regular or occasional readings or launches? How important do you see public readings and other events?
Right now, Bottlecap readings are only occasional. We officially sponsored two big ones this year (though our authors have set up dozens for themselves.) Next year, it's very important to me that this changes. Visibility is a major problem for independent literature, and I don't believe that the average reader even knows the difference between small press publishing and self-publishing. I want Bottlecap to be a part of the solution to this by showing its face everywhere. We're already working on a list of venues, organized by location, and I'm dreaming that one day, we'll be able to not only sponsor dozens of large readings every year, but offer personal service to our authors, helping them set up readings and even tours no matter where they live. Readings are the only way to look a mainstream audience in the face and shout we're here.

16– How do you utilize the internet, if at all, to further your goals?
Bottlecap is very active on Twitter and Tumblr, and our biggest sales channel is through our web store. I sometimes like to think of Bottlecap as as much a tech startup as it is publishing house. We believe in further developing literature as a technology as much as an art form, and presence on the internet is integral to those goals. We owe our existence to the internet, and to social networking, but it goes deeper than that. The internet acts as an economy, and as a business on the internet, you deal in terms of fungibility: i.e. presence in one place equating to dollars in another, dollars equating to readership, the relationships between keywords, Twitter followers, page views, and sales. We use a lot of statistics and algorithms in our business. Bottlecap is very much a millennial press, and as millennials, the internet is a part of who we are.

17– Do you take submissions? If so, what aren’t you looking for?
We are always looking for new submissions (our submission guidelines can be found at, and I love this question. We aren't looking for ordinary works. We get way too many submissions with zombies in them. We don't even like zombies. Zombies are boring. We aren't looking for submissions that tread old water, unless they tread old water in a completely new way (although, even the genre-with-a-twist formula rarely, if ever, works on us.) We aren't looking for cliche, but we also aren't looking for stuff that's so far out-of-the-box that it resembles word salad. Word salad is just another box in its own right. We're not looking for stuff that doesn't make us feel anything. If you do something kind of fun with words, but there's no feeling to it, no deeper meaning that makes us contemplate humanity, we probably aren't the press for you. We're not looking for sappy shit either though (can I say shit?) We like our feelings genuine. Laughing counts as feeling something. We love funny books, and people don't submit enough of them. We're generally not looking for religious works, though of course a religious theme isn't a dealbreaker. We're not looking for your sexual fantasies, either. There are a million other presses for that. Like religion, sex isn't a dealbreaker, but we're not a publisher of erotic fiction, and if that's your primary genre, no thanks. We're not looking for fanfiction unless that fanfiction takes place in the Super Mario universe, in which case we might actually consider it. We love Mario. We're not looking for books with long boring stretches. Edit it down to the good parts, and if the good parts alone aren't long enough to be a book, then keep writing before you consider submitting. We're not looking for anything that might infringe copyright, even if it seems plausible that a court might call it fair use (this includes erasure poetry.) We're not looking for books that are formatted in such a way that it looks like they got hit by a hurricane. I liked House of Leaves too, but come on, everyone. It's been done, and it makes for an InDesign nightmare. We'd also prefer not to get submissions in any font color other than black. We are absolutely not looking for anything that degrades anyone because of their gender, sexual preference, or ethnicity, and this includes “subtle” objectification. We reject so many submissions on a basis of objectification, and it's insane that people still think they can get that sort of garbage published. We're not looking for your memoirs unless you're literally the only person in the world to have done something really interesting. We're also not looking for books over about 200 pages due to technical limitations right now. Sorry about that.

18– Tell me about three of your most recent titles, and why they’re special.
Killer, by Kimmy Walters ( This is Kimmy's second Bottlecap book, and it's one of my favorite books we've published for a lot of reasons. Her poems are witty and relatable and thought-provoking. Her first book, Uptalk (, helped cement Bottlecap's reputation as a publisher of fresh and original poetry, and remains our biggest seller to this day. Killer feels like such a strong evolution on all the things that made Uptalk great. It's one of those books where you can flip to any page and find something worth sharing with everyone you know. There's not a single line that doesn't leave you amazed. It's also a bit of a technical achievement for Bottlecap Press, as it's our first book with a waterproof matte cover. Flipping through it reminds me of how much better Bottlecap is getting, but also how we haven't lost touch with our roots, or with the people who helped to make us into who we are.

I Am Trying to Fall in Love With Myself But Instead I Keep Falling in Love with Unemployed Noise Musicians Who Do Coke and Believe in the Power of Crystals, by Emma Shepard ( This book is as brilliant as its title. Its poems are visual and emotional, its two personal essays really cut to the core of what it means to be human, and it's full of really clever illustrations. I love a good illustration. It feels like a book full of memories, all expressing themselves in different ways. You read it, and you think “this feels real.”

a nt, by Elijah Pearson ( Elijah's writing reminds me of my own writing when I'm on a creative high and want to express all the things I've felt over the last year. It's exhilarating and emotional and fluid, and comes in an adorable little 4”x5” package. It's a fun book to print, and it's a fun book to read, and it expresses such a wide array of interesting thoughts, both beautiful and mundane.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Jared Young

Jared Young grew up in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, and currently resides in Ottawa. His short stories, essays, and reviews have been published around the world in places like MaisonneuveThe Millions, the Bangkok Post, Toronto StarOttawa Citizen, and more. His writing has also been anthologized by McSweeney’sYou can read his work at The Jared Young Review. Jared is also a co-founder and contributor at the film writing website Dear Cast and Crew. You can read his film reviews here. His debut novel is Into the current (Goose Lane Editions, 2016).

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 is at the bottom of a closet, in a box. My second, too. This most recent work is different, primarily, because it’s out in the world where people can read it. Which feels weird, despite the fact that, you know, that’s kind of the whole point of writing a book.  

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

My father is a writer. Growing up, he’d send me audio cassettes filled with stories about werewolves and time-travelling cowboys and curious kids who accept homemade cookies from mysterious old ladies and get turned into cats. When we’d drive at night, he’d tell stories about ghostly hitchhikers and killers lurking in backseats and generally scare the shit out of me. Throughout my childhood, a lot of value was placed on storytelling; making things up to provoke a reaction. To this day, if someone asks me what time it is, I’ll tell them it’s a half hour earlier or later than it actually is, just to see their reaction—I feel like that’s somehow symptomatic of some primal storytelling urge. Either that, or I’m just a jerk. 

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?

Slow. Painfully slow. And not just for the usual logistical reasons (ie. social/professional responsibilities and general human needs like food, sleep, etc). I used to compare my process (favorably, for some absurd reason) to downloading a torrent: it’s not linear, the story isn’t developed in chronological order, rather in random bits and pieces – scenes and phrases and individual words – which you then must assemble into something that resembles a coherent, sequential story. I did work from copious notes, but those notes came after the fact, as I tried to apply some sort of rational narrative logic to all these beautiful little pieces of prose I had created. To be honest, it wasn’t ideal, which is probably why it took me almost a decade to finish Into The Current. I am trying to get into the habit of writing first drafts longhand. I’m hoping it will enforce the big-picture aerial perspective that is essential for big projects like a novel. I’ll let you know how it goes.

4 - Where does a work 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?

Into The Current actually began as a collection of short stories. I had published a handful of stories in literary journals and magazines, and, after realizing that all of them shared in common a straight white male protagonist of about my age and socioeconomic background, I thought, hey, these could all be stories about the same dude. To be honest, it was a shortcut to writing a novel; I’d been obsessed since my teenage years with the idea of being a prodigy – the next Bret Easton Ellis or Michael Chabon – and wanted to accelerate my ascent into the annals of literary superstardom. The narrative conceit I came up with (someone re-experiencing their memories) was, at first, a simple framing device that was introduced at the beginning and end of the collection. But it ended up being so much more interesting than the stories around which it was built that it kept expanding and expanding, until eventually it pushed all that old material right out of the manuscript. Sort of like how your body expels a sliver.

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

I’m not sure I’ve done enough of them to truly know whether I like them or not. I invest a lot of meaning (rightly or wrongly) in the physical structure and appearance of words/sentences/paragraphs – I’ve often changed things I’ve written because I don’t like where lines break in my Word document – so the idea of reading text aloud being relevant to the writing process has always seems very weird to me. But I think I could come around to it. How the rhythms of speech can inform the way you put your words together on the page. Yeah, sure, I could be convinced. I’ll try it.

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’m not overly conscious of it, but, looking back, I suppose much of my work deals with time and memory and nostalgia. The past, generally. Observing the past, trying to change the past. 

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?

It has never been easier to publish your writing and share it with the world. The sheer volume of words/stories out there is overwhelming: from Buzzfeed lists to travel blogs to self-published fantasy novels to tweetstorms about Star Wars casting rumours and everything in between. In that sense, everyone is a writer, and everyone has an audience—George Saunders, Tim Ferriss, me, you, your wacky aunt who posts Facebook statuses about the squirrel who has been eating her peonies. Everyone is writing and publishing, constantly. I suppose the trick, then, for Writers, is to apply a superior level of craft and a depth of understanding to the writing they produce so that it convinces and enlightens and affects (and, sure, entertains) in a way that squirrel-hating aunts simply can’t. The question that really interests me is: what is the role of the reader in the larger culture? If we’re all producing content, who is left to consume it? At what point does the literary community become an echo chamber: writers writing for other writers.

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

Essential, absolutely. For years I had been acting as my own editor; going through my manuscript, marking it up, redacting, adding—even writing notes to myself in the third-person, like I was a completely separate entity, a sort of editorial split-personality. Besides being psychologically unhealthy, it was also inefficient. You hear stories about Raymond Carver and Gordon Lish and you can’t help but think of the editorial process as this brutal, bloody, antagonistic, hyper-emotional process. But my experience with it was the complete opposite of that: an act of professional sympathy. In the end, the book ended up being a more accurate expression of my worldview because other people had gotten involved—far more accurate than it would have been if I’d been the sole arbiter of it’s size and shape and content. Weird, huh? It’s almost like you can’t truly understand your own aesthetic perspective without a separate perspective to gauge it against it.

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

I recently met David Mitchell, the author of Cloud Atlas and Black Swan Green and The Bone Clocks and basically every great epic genre-bending book of the last twenty years, and after I stuttered my way through an introduction about how I had just published my first book, he told me, “now do the next one.” Which happened to be exactly what I needed to heat at that exact moment. I’m also a fan of Steven Pressfield and his approach to making art, just because it’s so damn practical, and practicality really seems like the only meaningful way to talk about the creative process. A quote that I particularly like is: “Stay have to be clueless enough to have no idea how difficult something is, and cocky enough to think you can do it.” Stupidity is very easy advice for me to follow; it’s important to set achievable expectations for yourself. I’m operating at peak stupidity on most days.

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

I write both, and like both, but sometimes get stuck in this hazy grey zone between them, where, when writing fiction, I find myself relying on real experiences and memories and transcribing them beat for beat, and then, when writing non-fiction, I’m constantly stifling the urge to stretch and twist and fold the facts to suit my narrative aims.

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?

Routine is difficult to maintain, for all sorts of reasons that are unique to my living/working situation, but the little rituals of writing – those basic components of a routine –  are something I depend on. Whether it’s where I write (my desk at home, Black Squirrel Books on Bank Street in Ottawa) or what I consume while writing (espresso, dark chocolate, those little mini-cans of Coke Zero), I do my best to maintain some little bit of consistency. I have this formative memory (which, even with the infinite power of the internet at my disposal, I can’t verify) of a Michael Crichton profile on 60 Minutes in which he’s taking a reporter through his New York apartment. He gets to the kitchen and opens the fridge and the shelves are filled with cans of Coke and ham sandwiches, and he explains that he doesn’t want to disturb his rhythm by having to make choices about what to eat. So he eats the same modest lunch every single day. I was twelve or thirteen when I saw that, and it seemed like a profound (and very practical) insight into how to become a writer: eat the same thing whenever you write.

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

For a while, I used to begin my writing routine by transcribing another writer’s work (this is back when I had ample time to practice these kinds of indulgent rituals). I’d spend twenty minutes copying random pages from a Norman Mailer novel or something; it was like stretching before playing sports, or singing registers before going onstage. Think of how people learn to play the guitar; they play other people’s music, figure out chords, progressions, all that. Writing isn’t that different. And when you get stuck, its nice to go back to basics. You have to remind your brain what prose is supposed to sound/feel like, prepare your fingers for the physical act of writing.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Rock. The dusty, mineral smell of rock. Which is a cousin to the smell of dirt, and a second-cousin to the smell of wood, but which is its own unique smell and the singular perfume of Yellowknife, where I grew up.

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?

There are three forms of art that are perpetually vying for my love and attention: books, movies, and comic books.

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

My dad (see above re: how he terrified me during long drives). Michael Crichton was the first writer I wanted to become; I aspired to be like him the way other kids aspired to like Mario Lemieux or Kurt Cobain. John Updike was the first writer whose greatness I felt I could understand; like I was able to open up the back of a Swiss watch and see all the miniscule gears and wheels and whatnot.

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

Write a movie (like, a movie that actually gets made). A real movie with real actors. It doesn’t have to be anyone famous—maybe someone semi-famous, maybe Nicolas Cage. Yeah, I’d love to write a Nicolas Cage movie. Not a weird art film or self-serious drama. A good thriller/suspense flick. With an outrageous plot twist in the final act. And I’d go to theatres where the movie was screening, sit in the back with a big bag of popcorn, and listen to everyone gasp when it’s revealed that Nic Cage is actually a ghost or whatever.

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?

Movie director, comic book artist. I have tried to do both of those things before, and hope to try doing them again in the future. It’s all storytelling, I guess. Writing just happens to be the easiest (for me) to actually execute. All you need is paper and a pen. Maybe, in whatever dystopian future awaits us, when I’m forced to develop some sort of practical skill in order to survive, I’d be a craftsman of some kind; like, a really top-notch door-hanger. Something obscure like that. (Also, I think it says a lot about me that I think door-hanging will be an essential skill in the post-apocalyptic wastelands).

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

I love being alone. I love being inside my own head. I love having total control over the world, which is something that can only happen inside your head.

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

The last great books I’ve read have been Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel and The Break by Katherena Vermette. The latter cast a unique magical spell; that a thirty-something white guy could read a book about indigenous women in the north end of Winnipeg and feel like it represented, both directly and indirectly, his own feelings and anxieties and experiences in the world, speaks volumes about the universality of great art, and is proof of why it’s so important to search out worldviews that are different than your own, because, when it’s done well, as in the case of The Break, they’re actually not that different at all. The last great film? Well, this is going to be a terrible subjective answer, but when I first saw Captain America: Civil War, I was inexplicably disappointed by it—not because it was bad, but because it was so different than I had envisioned it (to be specific: different than the 12 year-old version of me who lives inside my brain and, when it comes to certain contemporary things like superhero movies and, usurps my sophisticated tastes). But I watched it again, recently, and must say that, as far as big-budget, fan-servicing, corporate-controlled, global entertainments was pretty great. I also really liked Carol, which I’ll mention here just to assuage the weird guilt I feel about a superhero movie being that last great film I saw.   

20 - What are you currently working on?

A book about the future.