Saturday, December 30, 2023

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Brandon Reid

Brandon Reid [photo credit: Kevin Cruz] holds a B.Ed. from UBC, with a specialization in Indigenous education, and a journalism diploma from Langara College. His work has been published in the Barely South Review, The Richmond Review and The Province. He is a member of the Heiltsuk First Nation, with a mix of Indigenous and English ancestry. He resides in Richmond, BC, where he works as a TTOC. In his spare time, he enjoys cooking, playing music and listening to comedy podcasts.

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

I stopped worrying about what happened to me, as I no longer had to protect myself to finish the book; I don’t sleep as much, now. I still take care of myself, of course (from time to time), but I no longer feel I have a duty to fulfill. The book also gave me confidence I didn’t have before. I would be hesitant to call myself a writer, but now I’m proud to do so. I have a published book out, that’s quite the accomplishment.

Beautiful Beautiful is my debut novel, although I self-published a book called Angel Hair Pasta on Amazon before. It was about a female chef working in LA and Seattle. It almost made me a toonie. I still enjoy that book—it has satisfying sections of modernist first-person writing—but Beautiful Beautiful is a much more thorough, meaningful work.

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

When I was six or so, my friend and I had a competition who could make the better character/fighter. I came up with a multi-headed dragon that could only be staggered by firing a fireball from the sun into its chest—wasn’t clear how it could ever be defeated. We drew our characters, and then created backstories for them. I continued creating characters, and I’d usually act out their stories by myself in the park or living room. Then one day, a relative bought me a journal, so I tried writing down these oral stories I was telling myself. They hardly went anywhere, but that was the genesis. I drew and wrote a lot in school, too, during lessons, to keep myself occupied. I’d burn through several drawing books a year, as most teachers were kind and encouraging enough to bestow as many as I requested.

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 really depends. Generally, I try and let ideas blossom for a few weeks before starting, even if I’m eager to use new premises. Words flow easily while I’m inspired, and incubation can generate inspiration. It’s not like an ice-cream cone, where you have to lick it all at once. I force myself to meet a word count, once I’ve begun writing a manuscript. I write at least 2,000 words a day, which takes approximately 2 to 3 hours. Some manuscripts require more research or thought, like I wrote a lot of sci-fi, which involved constant googling and conversing with ChatGPT about existentialism, aliens or space technology. Sci-fi requires lots of details.

            My first drafts are usually completely different than the finished works. My words aren’t precious to me, so I like sacrificing them for something better. To be honest, I don’t think the manuscripts always get better; the first drafts are like sketches, which have their appeal, opposed to the meticulous final-drafts. It’s like Bob Dylan versus the Beatles: the former preferred minimal takes, usually, while the latter would sometimes perform dozens of takes, especially in the later years. Beautiful Beautiful was linear in the beginning, then I utilized in medias res later, shifting parts around. Stephen King said try and write the first draft in three months, so I aim for that, then lend myself as much time required in the editing process.

4 - Where does a 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?

I’m only concerned with writing books at this point, so that’s my initial intention. I think of certain scenes, like a storyboard, and then I work from the beginning until the end in one constant flow. I don’t plan a lot of it, I just add scenes that make sense—one after the other, shifting from positive to negative—progressing until the end. I may have a clear idea of where I’d like to end up, but I usually can’t predict the result. It’s like decoding a movie in my head: I’ll write a scene, then the fog will clear, and the best way forward is revealed.

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

I think they aid the creative process in the same way teaching does, in that I gauge the reactions of the audience, and realize what works and what doesn’t. That being said, I recognize reading aloud is different than reading quietly. I enjoy sharing pieces intentionally crafted to be spoken, but I don’t necessarily desire to read my books to people—it’s a different experience, auditory instead of visual, that sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t.

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?

Wow, those are great questions, I’ll do my best to answer them. I would say I’m equally concerned with the theoretical as I am the plot. This is evidenced by the title Beautiful Beautiful itself, as I strive to uncover the aesthetics of words and literature. I’m constantly thinking about why I write, the higher meaning. To me, Redbird is a songbird, singing the words. You can read into the differences between Indigenous and Western storytelling with Beautiful Beautiful. You may also apply a feminist reading using the internal logic of the tarot, that water and earth represent femininity. Or perhaps one may enjoy reading Raven as the archetypal raven. There were many lenses I applied to the book. Of course, there’s plenty of cheese, as well.

            There are so many questions I try answering through writing: what’s the difference between depicting dialogue and communing with spirits? How can I better articulate the thought chains of my mind? Does this work better to reach into the reader? Stuff like that. My writing is me capturing epiphanies I have along the way—about myself, about others, about life. I hope that makes it exciting for the reader.

            One current question I’m fascinated with, is what can a human do that an AI won’t be able to? I heard AI will develop to the point it will be able to produce literature of any kind upon request. “I want a sequel to The Return of the King,” you’ll say, and your wish will be granted. What, then, will set humans apart from AI? It’s something I’m constantly thinking about, how to stay ahead of the robot, basically.

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?

To bring book clubs together. I think most popular books help establish a community or tackle pressing issues. I don’t read many contemporary books. They’re often too focused on plot for my liking. I enjoy reading books I either hardly comprehend or that are inventive with language. It’s a viable function, for a writer to appeal to the masses, but I realize most of my literary influences died penniless or lacked popularity in their times.

            I think it’s fair some writers excel at marketing and business, but I’m interested in writers who convey a mind-set not yet found in literature, above all else. The writer is one who documents their experience reaching into the realm of spirit so all may behold a glimpse, because even that is insufficient to describe the vision I have of what writing is. Sometimes it’s easy to explain what is seen, other times, simplicity only mars the glory of that sight unfolding. Writers fall somewhere along that gradient, and they’re all equally writers.

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

It’s a difficult question. As I said earlier, some of my first drafts are interesting and enjoyable. The editor is someone who hones the work so it’s accessible for readers. In that sense, they’re essential; I wouldn’t expect Angel Hair Pasta to be found on bookshelves. I view working with an editor as a collaboration, and I really enjoy that element of the process. If it’s difficult, it’s only difficult because we both set a standard that I ultimately have to reach, so I have to push myself which I wouldn’t say is easy or lovely, it’s hard work that requires dedication and focus. I feel all the better for it, however.

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

A teacher gave me an appropriate grade for a mediocre piece of writing I submitted, then at the end of their comments, they wrote, “Keep writing!” That’s all it took to encourage me to keep at it.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (fiction to journalism)? What do you see as the appeal?

Writing for journalism was easy, it was interviewing people while seeming credible that was difficult. Journalism is a fantastic foundation for writers, as it teaches you to make a word count, respect deadlines, write concisely, edit thoroughly, handle information accurately, format well, and accurately record dialogue. There’s a rich tradition of journalists who learned the essentials then branched out creatively. Hunter S. Thompson is a classic example; he really blurred the line between each. The appeal for me is, there’s only so many ways I can objectively write about a situation before getting bored and seeking the alternative means of expression fiction offers.

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 wake up, put on headphones, listen to Spotify for an hour or two, get up, make my bed, adore the sun, brush my teeth, get an espresso, check the web, pray, meditate, exercise, stretch, adore the sun for noon, make myself a cappuccino, hopefully sit down to some fresh fruit and madeleines supplemented with vitamins, then, generally speaking, I’m in peak writing-form. That all goes out the window if I must head out to work.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

Usually, music or reading other books. Inspiration can come from anywhere, though. Could be something I read online, something someone said to me—usually comes out of thin air. I force myself to meet my word-count, regardless, otherwise I don’t bother. Sometimes it’s good to sit around, waiting for inspiration, but if I’m immersed in writing, I trudge on, even while uninspired by what I’m writing, as I know I can improve it in the edit. Craft endures while inspiration falters.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Smoldering sage smoke.

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?

As a polymath, I’m a strong believer all my experiences affect my writing. Cooking allows me to better capture the senses affected while cooking, which helps me translate them to the page. It’s true, reading books helps writers learn the craft, but you get to a certain point—where you develop your voice, your ability and your style—that you don’t necessarily need to be an avid reader. John Lennon said something similar, in that he didn’t listen to popular music, as it was all variations of music he heard growing up.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

I don’t know if I’d consider them important to me, more so integrated into my consciousness—probably the same thing. You know, James Joyce is my biggest influence. Aleister Crowley restored my faith. Moby Dick was a profound novel for me. Most writers that influenced me have passed.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

I’d like to travel across Canada, perhaps by train. I feel that’s a true Canadian experience.  

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’d try being a musician. I’ve played various instruments throughout my life: guitar, piano, drums, saxophone. I wrote many songs in my 20s, and performed them with a friend, but I didn’t really desire to play for anyone but us.

I promised myself, in high school, that if I was still single and had nothing going on by 23, I’d drop everything and join the army. I wound up quitting my job, at 23, to write over 3,000 words a day by hand, every day, for a year. I suppose I fatigued myself manifesting various partners through writing, instead.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

I just found myself alone, a lot, so I manifested my own worlds of companions. Writing is the ultimate solitary act, after all. Perhaps I made a shell of sorts. Writing got me through many troubling times, as did playing music. Writing satisfies me more than anything else, so I keep doing it. It sort of avoids definition beyond that.  

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

I recently finished Dante’s Paradiso, of all things. It was fun, following the rhythm, but it was an archaic version that was difficult to comprehend, which I state too often I enjoy.

I don’t watch many films. I used to. I watched Titanic a few months back. Go ahead and laugh if you want. I’m pretty sappy.

20 - What are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on a novel about Raven, from Beautiful Beautiful, utilizing my experience in the culinary industry.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;


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