Marc Herman Lynch is currently in his PhD
at the University of Calgary and the president of filling Station magazine. He resides in
Moh'kins'tsis, otherwise known as Calgary, in Treaty 7 Territory, Alberta. His
debut novel, Arborescent, was published by Arsenal Pulp Press in 2020.
1 - How
did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to
your previous? How does it feel different?
Rather than directly
change my life, the book seems to have inflamed deep-seated anxieties. But then
again, this type of reaction is not unique to publication. Alexander Chee in a
2020 Instagram interview said that publication alienates the writer from their
private self. For someone to read Arborescent
— I feel both excitement and fear. Excitement: a book can’t exist in a vacuum;
the characters are there to be emboldened and enlivened beyond myself (I owe them
this) and the reader is an integral (if not essential) part of the conjuring.
Fear: I’ve presented a part of myself (the most vulnerable parts) for people to
openly interpret and judge. These twin emotions don’t exist in tandem but
require self-abnegation (i.e., that I will beat critical voices to the punch by
preemptively tearing myself apart). All this to say, I desperately want to be
good at writing but recognize all my shortcomings.
What keeps me sane is
thinking about the characters: Hachi and Zadie and Nohlan. I consider them with
such tenderness that this remonstrance rebounds — to do them poorly is the same
as letting a loved one down. I never thought I would feel sympathy for
characters, whom I had always thought amounted to nothing more than
accumulation of random language play. What Arborescent
does better than any text I have written before is give the characters life. I
used to imagine fiction as an elaborate magic trick, but all my earlier efforts
felt more like an aimless groping. Somehow these people, in this book, were
given the breath — how or when, I have no clue, but I felt randomly one day
they just got up and walked out on me.
2 - How
did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I’ve always found that
most of my writing originates within the poetics. More often than not a
character emerges from the aleatory process of free writing. I find the longer
I sit on a poem the more it wants to be a novel. Once I know the poetic cadence
of a character then I understand how to write them. Probably the rhyming
ditties of Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin
and Hobbes, were the first poems I actually read. I remember, as a
teenager, loving Shakespeare, particularly Much
Ado About Nothing; in my first year of undergrad, I tried to write
Spenserian stanzas. Milton, Wordsworth, Shelley, Byron, Frost — all of these
were a part of my education, but had little to do with my growth as a poet. All
these forms felt disengaged and substanceless, and my attempts within these areas
had less to do with feeling gratified poetically and more to do with ignorance
(I thought that those forms constituted poetry). When I became connected with
the Calgary writing community, my sense of poetics began to flourish, and
suddenly I was reading contemporary greats like Lisa Robertson and Claudia Rankine. Additionally, I began to read writers like Weyman Chan and Fred Wah
whose poetics resonated with me on a deep emotional and aesthetic level.
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 restart a project maybe
six or seven times. This is not to say rewrite because a rewrite implies
growing from a foundation. To restart is idiocy. It means to scrap everything
because in the completion of a previous draft the kernel of something caught
your eye, and so you pursue the kernel and burn the field. Sometimes I can save
a few sentences here and there. Sometimes I can rescue a character. But more
often than not the whole project falls by the wayside at the behest of what’s
next… this is not a good process. I would never recommend this method of
writing. It works for me because I’m scatterbrained. I always see a project in
terms of the number of years it will take. My draw towards the long form means
I often jump straight over the short story. The final project continues to
mutate until the very day it can’t anymore — which is why workshops have been
so helpful; they provide a hyper focussed and contained duration during which I
am asked to produce and share.
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?
Strangely enough, a piece
of fiction begins in the spark between disparate words. Can this be called
syllogism? A person begins to coalesce in the language and then that person
becomes a plot. I’m sure there are more methodical ways of approaching a
project: a criteria of character traits, wants, desires, etc. For me, writing
is a geological process: tectonic plates are shifting—give or take a million years
and a mountain might form. I feel invariably inclined towards the long
endeavour: the marathon, the ten-year project, the eight-foot-tall painting. A
project wants to take years, and I need to believe it will because the initial
draft feels terrible, feels hopeless. I have to believe that the slow accrual
of work over years will save it. A poem is a figurative call: maybe of a
sweetness congealed or a politics upended. A novel drips saline, emerging from
the resistance between opposing poles.
5 - Are
public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort
of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I love sharing my work,
but I rarely perform because of a deep-seated fear that somehow I’m taking up
more space than I should, which is why I participate mostly through
organization. As I write, I consider sound, as though I were at a public
reading. The way I choose a word is based upon whether it would sound good
being read out loud. As I write, I’ll perform a line out loud giving pause to
people in coffee shops or bars. Listening to others read, I find has been just
another part of the process of learning how to write. Maybe this tool could be
called “listening.” I’m sure some people are born with the talent.
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
The title of my book Arborescent actually comes from Deleuze and Guttari, who have a bone to pick with trees as symbols. Essentially, they
discuss how conventional symbolism can become oppressive and keep people from
blossoming. I suppose I see these types of oppressive forces in almost
everything (Deleuze and Guattari just provide a framework for speaking about
it)—it’s all about subconscious programming that ends up becoming
self-defeating. All that to say, I don’t ever start a project from theory,
which seems to have a presumption of knowing. I don’t think you can write
fiction or poetry from a space of knowing: it would be too facile. I just
stumble into the theory later and begin to find the threads in the writing
process, pulling on them and doing the necessary research until they’re nice
Additionally, as someone
who is mixed-race, I find myself drawn to the complexities of race, sexuality,
culture, and heritage. I suppose this would be called Critical Race Theory, but
really, I’m just interested in representation, probably because I don’t feel
any real sense of everyday belonging.
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 think the writer
chooses their role in larger culture. Then again, I’m as far removed from larger
culture as one can get (just ask people about the size of the rock I live
under!). So I’m not sure that I have enough experience with this topic to
comment. It seems the writer is a sort of peripheral figure whose work gophers
about, appearing here and there, generating this or that. But the writer as
celebrity… do we have them anymore? I’m sure we do, but even when I think of
someone like Margaret Atwood, I’m not sure I understand the weight of their
role. But then again, I guess we all live and breathe within all-encompassing
microcosms. So maybe the cultural role of the writer is as a god of the dinner
table at award ceremonies.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an
outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Not only do I love
working with an editor, but I seek it out. My hope is that an editor will save
me from myself — I’m not the only writer for whom a grammatical error could
curdle the entirety of a project. I can care less when I see those mistakes in
others’, but mistakes in my own writing trigger a whole head of neurosis:
imposter syndrome, anxiety, fear. At Arsenal, I worked with Shirarose Wilensky—usually, I don’t want to bother people with talking about my writing.
It seems to presumptuous to assume that they care. But when you’re working with
an editor, you’re given permission to think that your work is valuable! So I
would abuse the opportunity and just talk Shirarose’s ear off! She was
enormously generous and kind about it. It is a privilege and a joy to have
someone who is invested in your work talk with you about the material.
Actually, I don’t think I had a real end of Arborescent
until the editorial process. I think people like to imagine that a pure
source text emerges from a personal vacuum. Rather, I see the creative impulse
as passing through bias, so the more people who can help me adjust my lens, the
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard
(not necessarily given to you directly)?
“If someone tells you
that something in your writing is not working, they’re right 90% of the time.
If they tell you how to fix it, they’re wrong 90% of the time.” — I’m not sure
who said this, and I would ask where they got these numbers, but this advice
helped me approach feedback in a productive way. Having someone point out a
problem focalizes it within your mind. Robert Majzels called this the problem
of the O-ring — the Space Shuttle Challenger
blew apart 73 seconds after liftoff because of faulty o-ring seals… a seemingly
small and innocuous part can compromise the whole. But no one has the same
vision for the piece that you do, so only you can tell if it’ll blow the ship
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between
genres (poetry to fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?
I find it difficult to
differentiate between the two (or three, as I also try to write as much
non-fiction as I can). I find that I set out to write something and more often
than not it’ll turn into fiction. Very rarely have I found that my writing has
gone the other way, but it sometimes does. The appeal is that the texts that I
love the most — The Baudelaire Fractal,
Jonny Appleseed, The Undying — blend
content with poetic profluence (what I find propels me through prose — some
might privilege “plot” more, but to each their own). So for me the best texts
are balancing almost all three genres, so much so that the seams are perfectly
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?
I think about writing all
the time: every conversation, every outing, every experience. For how much I
think about it, I feel I should be a much better writer than I am! My writing
routine consists of thinking about why I’m not writing. I try to do a little
every day; again, the process of slow accretion is very important. In bed, at a
coffee shop, or even on vacation — wherever I find myself that day, I feel an
overwhelming joy that I made it, that I sat down, and writing is about to
happen. I tell people to just write whatever comes to mind, and I’ve gotten
better and better over the years at trusting the process of drafts, but I can’t
help but tediously, endlessly revise each and every sentence, many of which
will never make it. I need to feel there’s some beauty before I can feel any
purpose or sense to moving on.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you
turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Reading — the better the
book, the slower I read it because I will get such a creative jolt that I just
have to get up and write. I find that sometimes even just the infusion of
language, from a random sentence generator (I used to use pyprose) will create
a spark. Or I’ll do research, and the very specific prose of the topic will
generate some motivation. There are some books that you experience like Lisa
Robertson’s Occasional Works and Seven Walks from the Office of Soft
Architecture or Lyn Hejinian’s My
Life that are just so full of poetic propulsion that you can’t not write. Worse comes to worse, I’ll
open a new document and just write as fast as I can without grammar, syntax,
meaning or sense. That material sometimes becomes revised into some of the more
obtuse sentences… almost all of which get cut in the editing process… but I’ve
managed to salvage a few of them.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
My mother cooked with a
lot of ginger and star anise — I started cooking with a wok and oil on high
heat because I find it wondrous to be able to produce such calming scents.
Although I don’t smoke often, I have good friends who do so the smell of
tobacco and cannabis has become quite comforting as well.
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?
Sometimes I worry that
the only reason I’m curious about the world, that I learn anything about
anything, is to write about it. So in that sense, almost everything from
mathematics to painting to embalming influences my work. For that reason I
really enjoy texts like Robert Sapolsky’s Behave
that discusses behavioural psychology through a biological framework or Janna
Levin’s How the Universe Got its Spots which
documents the scientific shifts that brought about our understanding of the Big
Bang. Additionally, every beer that I’ve had with my teammates after soccer and
every hike that I’ve gone on seem to have manifested themselves within the
book. I feel the writer’s ultimate skill is to see inspiration or character or
scene in something that might otherwise look innocuous.
What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life
outside of your work?
I think other people’s
writing is so important which is why I’ve been listing authors throughout my
responses. A list of some of my favourites: László Krasznahorkai, Lisa Robertson, Nicole Brossard, Dionne Brand, Larissa Lai, Joshua Whitehead, Han Kang, Haruki Murakami, David Markson, Suzette Mayr, Weyman Chan, Edouard Levé.
I find myself drawn to
literary upheavals or ruptures; I’m thinking of the term rupture as Larissa Lai
uses it in her book Slanting I, Imagining
We to catalogue the way East Asian writing in North America has undergone
momentous shifts. I find that the authors above have created these upheavals
(at least personally), shattered my previous conceptions and remade me in the
What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I would love to live in
France or China. I find that, while I have travelled, I haven’t lived in
another space long enough to really soak up the climate or its nuance.
Additionally, I would love to professionalize in other creative avenues; at the
moment, I’m playing with animation and painting and coding. But they all seem
to be more like pastimes. Still, I carry around a dream of versatility — the
actor, songwriter, director trope, so to speak.
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
I never realized how much
I love to perform; I’m histrionic by birth, eccentric by practice. I would love
to have acted more, maybe even danced, maybe box — there’s something about
writing’s lack of physicality that makes me starved for movement. If I had not
become a writer, I probably would have focussed on some other creative
expression like painting, drawing, film, as creation is very important in my
life (as it should be!).
What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Writing seems to
complement some fundamental aspects of my personality (the quiet, creative, and
bombastic sides). However, I don’t like being alone so I am always writing
alongside others. Growing up, I wasn’t a voracious reader or talented with
language. The joy of reading precipitated from a desire to write, and my desire
to write leapfrogged from language that ruptured. I am enamored with the idea
of one day writing something incredible. Sometimes I wonder “why write?”. There
are so many other art forms that seem, not necessarily more lucrative but more
accessible. Writing is ubiquitous but starts off as hidden. It’s easier to
share a song, painting, or performance than it is to “share” a book — a book
requires someone to open it, to invest. If I were to directly answer the
question, “what made you write?”, I would have to say proximity — I don’t need
to travel very far to get to a page.
What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I have read so many good
books in 2020: Anne Boyer’s The Undying,
Billy-Ray Belcourt’s A History of My
Brief Body, Lisa Robertson’s The
Baudelaire Fractal, Larissa Lai’s The
Tiger Flu. I am swimming in amazing books and feel very blessed to live at
this juncture in literary history. The last great film I saw was The Lighthouse with Willem Defoe and
Robert Pattinson — I’ve been drawn to horror more and more since I realized,
after publishing Arborescent, that I indeed
write modern horror.
20 - What are you currently working on?
After quitting my job at
Mount Royal University, I started my PhD at the University of Calgary. I’ve
been wanting to pursue my PhD for a long time, and thankfully my previous work
situation had become so intolerable that I forced myself to leap. During the
degree, I will be generating a novel called A
Wasp’s Waist which I hope will be a picaresque romp — a mixture of Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en and Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. At
the moment, the novel only exists theoretically, by which I mean I still have
to find some kind of beating heart for it.
Additionally, I’ve been
co-writing a young adult novel with Andrew Barbero called The Huddle of East Hope, a somewhat absurdist speculative fiction
piece about a bobbing commune called East Hope and a city on the precipice of a
disaster. When the central pumping station the Crossness of Tottle-Paw breaks
down, a toxic miasma is released from subterranean channels affecting minds,
mutating bodies, and unleashing a flying shark-fish into the city of Ramsey.
Also, also! I have been
playing around with non-fiction quite a bit and have just finished a manuscript
entitled On Blackholes, Fathers, and
Marbles, in a workshop led by Aritha van Herk. Probably, this project will
stay underground until I know how it functions as a whole, but this foray into
creative non-fiction has been eye opening, particularly about the crossovers
12 or 20 (second series) questions;