Samantha Garner’s short fiction and poetry have previously appeared in Broken Pencil, Sundog Lit, Kiss Machine, The Fiddlehead, Storychord, WhiskeyPaper and The Quarantine Review. She lives and writes in Toronto. Her debut novel The Quiet is Loud was published by Invisible Publishing.
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
It helped me to better understand myself as a writer: the things I wanted to say, the ways I wanted to say them. It was the first thing I'd ever written that had speculative fiction elements, and it was the first time a project captivated me almost to the point of obsession.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I wrote little stories and even a couple of short novels as a child and young teenager, but when I decided to take writing seriously, I was writing poetry. I can't remember which came first, the poetry or the Taking It Seriously, but it felt natural. I loved the way I could use language in poetry to say something very personal without having to say it as plainly as in prose.
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 used to write poems and short stories that I imagined fairly fully-formed before I started to write them. Now it takes longer, involving more notes and pre-planning and outlining and research and worldbuilding. Sometimes spreadsheets.
4 - Where does a poem or work of prose 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?
The Quiet is Loud started out as a couple of short stories which became a novel, and my current novel-in-progress started out as a tweet, of all things, which morphed into the beginning of a short story. Maybe one day I'll know what it's like to work on a book from the very beginning!
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Embarrassingly, I've never done a public reading! I imagine they're terrifying and then, later, gratifying.
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?
Being biracial, I've always been fixated on the ideas of identity and belonging: how we define ourselves and where/why/how we fit in. It's been the pebble in the shoe of my entire life, so it extends out to every application of the concept, whether it's in friendships, families, anything. I'm also interested in the ways we shift and adapt within relationships, the people we become to others. Memory and the failings of nostalgia are also big preoccupations of mine, but those feel more difficult to pin down.
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 think a writer should observe and record as faithfully to them as possible. Commentary is a nice bonus, but sometimes that's better left to the reader.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Essential. Working with Bryan and Leigh at Invisible was honestly one of the most rewarding experiences of my entire life. A novel is such an intimate product of the heart and mind, and developing it with someone who believes in it and honours it as much as you do, and works to see it thrive, feels almost like sorcery.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
This bit from a Kazuo Ishiguro interview in The Paris Review:
"At the time, people weren’t talking about books. They were talking about TV plays, fringe theater, cinema, rock music. Then I read Jerusalem the Golden by Margaret Drabble. By this time I’d begun reading the big nineteenth-century novels, so it came as an absolute revelation to me that the same techniques could be applied to tell a story of modern life. You didn’t have to write about Raskolnikov murdering an old lady, or the Napoleonic Wars. You could just write a novel about hanging around."It's not advice specifically, but I return to it so often that it has started to feel like advice to me.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to short stories to the novel)? What do you see as the appeal?
Quite easy! Each activates a different area of my brain depending on what I want to express, so it's a natural thing for me to move between them.
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 would love to evolve one day into a very disciplined writer with a routine, but that day has not yet come. I'm decent at sitting down to write regularly, but the only constant elements in my unroutine are tea and lyricless music.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I either talk it out with my life-changing writers' group The Semi-Retired Hens, or I move to another creative project that isn't writing.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
My dog's fur or the scent of cooking rice.
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?
Video games, certain music, historical stories of everyday people, taking the scenic route, walking silently through a forest.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Margaret Drabble and Kazuo Ishiguro are perennial idols and inspirations. Also important in various ways: NK Jemisin, Robin Hobb, Jane Austen, Doris Lessing, Teri Vlassopoulos.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Write historical fiction. I'm a huge history buff but am daunted by all the research.
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?
Photography is my main non-writing hobby, though I worry about how much I'd still like it if I had to make a living from it. Realistically I think I would be a web designer - in the nineties I discovered I loved hand-coding my Geocities websites' HTML. I still like to tinker today.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I didn't like anything else as much and as consistently. I'm also slightly superstitious about it, like there's a certain inevitability to it that I couldn't influence even if I wanted to.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
The last book in Robin Hobb's Tawny Man trilogy tore my heart out in the best way, as her books always do. Her mastery in depicting the intricacies of relationships is just ridiculous. I also was unable to read anything for a while after finishing Octavia E Butler's Xenogenesis trilogy, and couldn't stop thinking about it. It was the perfect example of the way genre fiction can illuminate real-life issues in the most unexpected, otherworldly of ways. For films, I've been slowly working my way through Aki Kaurismäki's movies and have been enjoying them a lot.
20 - What are you currently working on?
A space-magic novel that may be too ambitious for me, but fingers crossed.
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