Faye Guenther is a writer living in Toronto. Her writing has appeared in Joyland Magazine and she has published a chapbook, Flood Lands, with Junction Books. Swimmers in Winter, published by Invisible Publishing, is her first collection of short fiction.
1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
I wrote each of the two projects at different times in my life. I had begun the work that appears in the chapbook, Flood Lands, many years earlier, and the poems and story were one way that I came to understand myself in the world. They were a form of slow excavation. The chapbook was published by Carleton Wilson’s Junction Books, in 2017.
By the time I wrote the stories in my first book, Swimmers in Winter, and then revised them after the manuscript was accepted by Invisible Publishing, the process was more extensive, more precise, and more revelatory. I enjoyed being able to push myself beyond old limits, and it was an experience that really engaged me. It filled up my life with creative work in a way that was new to me, and I will never forget that feeling. Swimmers in Winter was published by Invisible Publishing in 2020.
I can see that there are some similar themes and preoccupations that run though both the chapbook and the short story collection. In each work, I’m exploring different experiences of intimacy, of seeing and being seen, of creating, and of the city as a queer space. In both projects, I’m writing about how histories and memories are held in the land and in cities and carried in the body and mind.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
In my poems I was tracing images and fragments of situations that I wanted to represent with language, but I was still trying to understand what their stories were. As a reader, I love the concision of poetry and the ways poetic form can transcend narrative or transform it into something else. At first, I read and wrote poetry to learn how to express what I wanted to put into language when I was still searching for the stories. Poetry is an essential source of inspiration for me. But I’m usually preoccupied and driven by a character as I create. As I read a poem, I often think about the speaker as a character, and I want to know more about their story. Still, when I write fiction, the birth of a story starts with the essence or trace of a poem.
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?
The time it takes to start a writing project, and the pace of that initial work, really depend on what the project is. I revise a lot. It’s how I find and understand my own voice and what it is I’m creating. I use revision as a means of discovery, or as an excavation, and it often takes me in a different direction from where I started. It’s intuitive. It requires a kind of giving in to the writing process, letting it take me where it will or might, and the time and the space that are needed to do this.
4 - Where does a poem or 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?
I begin with an image, or an emotional charge, or the tone and sound of a phrase, or a piece of dialogue. As I write something, and it grows and changes, I do think about how it could be read in a book.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Public readings are part of my creative process. They happen after the book is finished so they’re a chance for me to meet my characters again on the page. I approach my readings as creative performance because I want them to be worthy of the audience’s attention.
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?
For me, theoretical concerns are a result of the creative work rather than what generates it. In Swimmers in Winter, one of those theoretical concerns is about making meaning out of certain embodied experiences of queerness.
A broad question, or a set of questions, I’m exploring in the story collection, is about the different kinds of relationships that the characters, as queer women, find, as friends, as lovers, as fellow workers and fellow artists, as strangers, and also about the ones they have with themselves. These relationships take place in different settings, at different points in history, but they all occur within a wider culture that is often directly or indirectly hostile to queer people. So, the consequences of connection and disconnection in these relationships are significant for queer women. That’s true for the characters, and I think it’s true in the world as I’ve experienced it. In the stories, I also ask questions about the shape and movement of these consequences in the characters’ lives.
I think the current questions often have to do with the future, of communities, of cities, of the earth and the living world. Looking at the future also means asking questions about the past, and about how this past is unfolding in the present, sometimes almost imperceptibly, sometimes as a state of emergency.
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 believe there’s a one current role for a writer. There are many activities and positions that writers can have within larger culture. For myself, I understand that to be a writer is to be a witness and a perceiver, and to create or recreate what is witnessed and perceived, through language, for potential readers. It’s a relational way of being, receiving through the senses and giving through language in order to be read. It requires the sometimes painful and sometimes liberating practice of sustaining an openness and tenderness, regardless of what happens in life.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Here are two ideas about ways to live that have stayed with me over time:
“You who let yourselves feel: enter the breathing / that is more than
(From Sonnet 4 in Part One of Sonnets to Orpheus by Rilke.)
“Pour yourself out like a fountain. / Flow into the knowledge that what
you are seeking / finishes often at the start, and, with ending, begins.”
(From Sonnet 12 in Part Two of Sonnets to Orpheus, by Rilke.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to short fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?
It happened for me intuitively. It felt necessary.
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?
The creative process has its own changing rhythm. Sometimes the rhythm is hard to find or to follow, but it’s at the centre of my life. I need it, and I also need to practice staying open to it.
Every day, I try to read something closely, I try to write something new and revise something I’m working on, and I also go outside to be able to listen and look, closely, if I can, and gently. Sometimes the reading and the writing and the noticing are contained by everything else in my life, and sometimes they come before everything else. The consistency of my practice is where the routine comes in. It feels like a promise I can make to the rhythm of the creative process, like the lungs work with the heart.
It seems that if I can begin a day with a still mind, I’m more receptive to the rhythm and how it changes. A meditative practice is one way I know of to find this stillness.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I turn to moving and being moved. But I also turn to stillness. I look out the window. I try to focus on my breathing. I go out for walks or bike rides. I find creative work that startles me or takes my breath away or changes my ways of thinking or soothes me, and I try to pay close attention to what this engagement feels like. It also helps sometimes to read or listen to interviews with writers and other creators of all kinds.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
The way the air smells just after a rainstorm.
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?
The living world and all the elements of nature, and music, photographs, visual art, film, and theatre.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Writings that give me new ways to think and to feel, and new ways to understand someone else’s experience, are important for my work and for my life. I’m always discovering or rediscovering writers that offer this.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I turned 40 this year and the list is long.
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’ll try the second part of this question: I’m certain that if I had not been a creative writer, I would be a really different person in a lot of ways. It’s possible that because I did my PhD in English, and I work as a college professor now, maybe I would have tried to be an academic full time. When I think about it though, that would be another way to be writer.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
It feels right and it feels necessary, even when it’s difficult.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
20 - What are you currently working on?
A novel. It’s still very new to me so I’m not going to try to describe it just yet.