Jamie Tennant is a writer, author and broadcast(er) director based in Hamilton, ON. He has covered music pop culture both locally and nationally. His debut novel The Captain of Kinnoull Hill was released in 2016. Jamie also hosts the weekly books and literature program/podcast Get Lit. River, Diverted is his second novel.
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 was the realization of a childhood dream, having a book published. That's indescribable. It also opened up doors to a new community of people - Canadian writers, publishers, etc., which has led to speaking engagements, substantive editing jobs, and the radio show I do, Get Lit, on which I interview authors (and others in the book world). I feel like my work hasn't changed too much; it's more of a constant evolution. I only have two books published and they're quite different, in my opinion, though readers may disagree. My second book feels different in that, while the protagonist is less like me, the story is more personal.
2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?
That's hard to answer other than to say I was always interested in stories. As a child I got so excited reading Richler's Jacob Two-Two Meets The Hooded Fang that I wrote what is essentially fan-fiction based on it (if you can call stealing the Child Power idea and turning myself into the Fearless O'Toole - or was it the Intrepid Shapio? It's been a while - fan-fiction and not simply outright plagiarism).
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?
It varies. I stopped writing fiction for about a decade, due to fatherhood and an overwhelming amount of freelance journalism. Since I started again, though, the ideas have been accumulating and there's always something to work on. The first two books were initially part of one long, impossible-to-write, even-more-impossible-to-publish novel. I separated them and finished them as separate novels. It's a slow process for me, though, because of the limited writing time I have. First drafts generally approximate the shape of the final novel, but the changes within that frame are often huge.
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?
So far, it has always been a "book" from the get-go. I get ideas for stories and just kind of jump into them. Recently I had two ideas for a novel - one is well underway, while the other I've just started. Yet the newer idea seems to be giving me more inspiration, so I'm going with that one.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I wouldn't say they're part of the process, because I'm always hesitant to read works-in-progress. It's a confidence thing. As for readings in general, though, I absolutely love it. I'm a former theatre kid, and always appreciate a chance to "perform" especially if it's my own work.
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?
At this point I have not really delved into too many of the "big" questions. What might those even be? I don't know. There's so many of them, in this fouled-up world. I guess I think there are others who address the questions so brilliantly that I don't feel I'm the best person to approach them. I'm often trying to answer questions on a personal level; questions about an individual's existence within society. My first book was largely about the possibility, within an individual, to change who they are and how they behave in the world. My second was about nostalgia and memory, and the unreliability of knowing our own past.
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Do they even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
Writers have many roles. I feel that mine is to tell stories that entertain but also reflect on what it means to wrestle with our inner demons (if I may use that over-used term). Reflecting society and addressing the injustices of our world is important. Connecting with readers - of any kind, in any number - is important. Connecting to a book is remarkably powerful for readers.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
More essential than difficult. It's one thing to write and produce your own album, for example. If I wrote twelve songs, I could imagine honing those three or four minute chunks into something resembling a finished work. With a novel it's so easy to get lost in the woods because the words go on for what seems like forever. Also, my grammar is questionable, so a copy editor is crucial.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Think of writing as a practice, like yoga. Something you make time for and do every day (or close to it). This completely changes your attitude and even your goals. Writers write because we're writers. That sentence barely makes sense, but it's true. Writing is a part of us, not just something we do.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (fiction to journalism)? What do you see as the appeal?
That's been easy for me. Certainly journalism has given me the tools I need to be straightforward and direct with my prose. Fiction, on the other hand, has always shown me the importance of turning an article into a true story instead of simply a bio and a re-worked press release.
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 wish I had one! The day job and freelance work really messes up my attempts at routine. For a spell I woke up at 5 am to write, but my sleep is not the best, so that idea went by the wayside. Now, I simply try to fit it in where I have the time. That's often at lunch or after work, and usually for no more than an hour, which is difficult but not impossible (somehow I have managed two published novels with this non-routine).
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I don't stall too much. I"m lucky that way. That said, I turn to art of any kind, or I turn inward. Taking a couple of days to go away somewhere and write isn't always possible, but it's very effective. Half that time is spent pacing the AirBnB talking out loud to myself.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Incense. My spouse burns it, so no matter which fragrance it is, it reminds me of home.
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?
Fun fact: David was the first "real" writer to help me with my work, when he was writer-in-residence at the HPL in the '80s! I think all those things are influential. Everything is influential. Music has always been a big part of my life, as well as film, so they're fundamental. However I've been inspired by everything from friendships to chronic illnesses to 1970s television commercials.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I doubt I could pick anything recent, as I read about a book a week for the radio show. It builds up into one giant mass of influence. In my life, I'd have to go with Stephen King. He taught me how to tell a story, how to make a character real, and how to use the surreal/horrific (though I don't write horror both my novels have wee monsters in them). I'd also add that reading works from within my community (i.e. by people I know) is important to me because I often get to talk to the author about what they've done; I get to hear the ideas, inspirations and processes behind the work.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Write the next novel. Ask me again in a decade, it'll probably be the same answer.
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?
Well, I probably would have ended up exactly where I am, running a community radio station. I do think, though, that I might have gone on to do more theatre, or possibly continued making music (I was in a band very long ago). Something creative or performative would have been in my life, no question.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Habit. Love. Need. History. A love of books. A love of words. A day job, so I didn't need to make money at it :D
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I truly enjoyed Andrew F. Sullivan's The Marigold. Satire, horror, humour, all in my wheelhouse. The last great film was probably Everything Everywhere All At Once.
20 - What are you currently working on?
That depends on the day. I've been messing with my Hamilton rock'n'roll opus for a while, but it's coming together in segments and I'm finding it difficult (maybe it's too close to home?). Either way, I shelved it for now, and started on another novel instead. It's about two boys who become friends; one is a disturbed creative genius while the other has a secret gift. It's about friendship and forgiveness and fake religions and magic powers. I think of it as a cross between A Prayer For Owen Meany and the film Rushmore. Now that I write that down, it sounds entirely wrong! Still, if it ended up being one thousandth as good as either of those, I'd be happy.
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