Monday, January 20, 2020

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Carolyn Bennett

Writer and comedian Carolyn Bennett cut her teeth performing at Yuk Yuks and hasn't stopped bleeding since. Selected TV credits include This Hour Has 22 Minutes, CBC COMICS and Chilly Beach. Produced plays include Mixed Media (CBC Radio) Pure Convenience (CBC Radio), Runtkiller, The Short List, Hitler's Ass, Canis Familiaris, Sick Kids Wanna Talk To You and Double Down Helix. She won a TIFF Studio Screenwriting Intensive Jury Prize for her feature comedy The Mac and Watson Springtime Reeferendum Show.

Bennett has worked as a senior writer for government and enjoys the perks of sharing the same name as a federal politician. Please Stand By is her first novel.

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

A:  My first book is my only book so far. Please Stand By was released in October by Now or Never Publishing. It has changed me in that I didn't know it was possible to make less money than I do in stand-up comedy. It has changed my life in that I don't hesitate to load my Presto Card (Toronto Transit fare card) $20 at a time. No more $10 these days.

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

A: When I was younger I attempted poetry. Poetry is the calculus of literature. It's convergence, a pining down of infinitesimals. I soon realized I'm more of a geometry type; I like studying the shape of things. That's prose for me -- matter and context.

3 Q: 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?

A: It all depends if deadlines are involved. I love deadlines. When I worked in television, we had to stick to a schedule. I like answering to people. When I'm writing of my own volition to express what burbles beneath the surface of my daily life, then I slow down. It's like stew. Where's the tenderness, the savour, in a rushed stew? I like stew, by the way. Any kind. Vegetarian, meat, what have you.

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

A: Oddly enough, I don't enjoy doing readings as much as I thought I would. I've been doing stand-up for a long time, so you'd think I'd be keen. My writing and my speaking ability are two different things. I write prose so I don't have to speak. I articulate on the page what I don't feel comfortable saying. I had a speech impediment as a kid, so maybe that has something to do with it. People expect me to be funny all the time too. That's why I write -- so I don't have to be funny all the time. But I usually end up being funny anyway. It's like an involuntary reflex, the reflex that got me kicked out of high school on a few occasions. Wait -- I think that's called being a smart-ass.

Q. 5 - 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?

A:  How are we evolving as human beings? That's a place to start. I suppose I strive to define, however elusive that goal may be.

Q. 6 – 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?

A: I'm old fashioned in that my favourite writing has to reveal truth. Truth with a capital T.  However, there are many permutations of truth. But I knows it whens I sees it.  

Q. 7 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

A: It is essential. Aren't all editors outside now? How many editors are on staff at publishers these days?  A good editor will want what's best for your work. A great editor will want what's best for your work, and tell you when you're being an asshole.

Q. 8 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

A: Lately? White space on a page. Lots of it. Most people can't focus on too much text.  Sad, but true.

Q. 9 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (fiction to playwriting to comedy)? What do you see as the appeal?

A:  It's easy for me, but it's not so easy for people who think of me only as a stand-up comic. I guess I'll encounter that when I apply for a Canada Council grant for the first time. I like to write plays to put words in other people's mouths, to let other people inhabit characters and situations. There are some tremendously talented actors out there. I get thrilled when I witness great performances. Any kind of great performance-- acting, dance, sports. Fiction for me is problem-solving and definitions and geometry. What do these shapes mean?

Q. 10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

A:  If I am working on a project, four hours a day and/or 600 words the aim. I have spent many years as a Senior Writer for government. Those are the lost years. Financially sweet, but lost as far doing any of my own writing.

Q. 11 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

A: Labatt 50 and Vicks Vapour Rub. Hops and menthol.

Q. 12 What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

A: Write a second novel. Make a feature film. Write another play. Narrow down this list and do one of them.

Thank you rob!

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