Marsha Lederman wrote a profile of me and the book for the Globe & Mail. Click the picture to read the article.
Here’s a few screen captures of the websites of the four literary festivals where I’m so-far scheduled to appear at in the upcoming months October and November to read from my novel The Road Narrows As You Go. The Vancouver Writers Festival, the Ottawa Writers Festival, Toronto’s IFOA, and the Victoria Writers Festival. Click on the images to go to the actual sites for more details about these readings and the many other awesome writers.
Hope to see you there, buddies!
You can find out more about the book if you check out the Hamish Hamilton site or Amazon or wherever.
After the reading at Lucky’s, we’re going to go across the street to the A&N Legion for book signing and hanging out.
This Fall, Penguin Canada’s Hamish Hamilton will publish a novel The Road Narrows As You Go, based on these pages. Pictured are six years worth of sketches, early drafts, total failures, revisions, rewrites, and research notes. Not pictured is a final draft, completed about a week ago. I’m about to start copy-editing and I’m curious what changes I’ll make with the Penguin team in the final-final edit. Phewf! Already my head feels a little lighter on my shoulders and aches a little less knowing this is the home-stretch.
click the pic to read the rest of the short story over at Rusty Toque.
Annie Koyama is the founder and publisher of Koyama Press, a Canadian print house specializing in fine art books, creatively autonomous comics, as well as limited run minicomics and ‘zines. All her books are surprisingly affordable, and each is printed with such care and attention, that the whole Koyama project seems truly generous and creative for the artists and the readership. A look through the backlist of Koyama titles shows us just where the state-of-the art is at — the whole spectrum of radical approaches to sequential art is presented. Here are some of the great voices and visions of our time, and both Koyama and her artists have consistently won prizes for the quality of their work. Artists like Keith Jones and Michael DeForge offer radical figuration and atomized apocalypses of the schizocapitalist variety. Cinematic visionaries like Tin Can Forest create shadowy, elegant paper landscapes to present timeless fables. I interviewed Annie Koyama over e-mail.
Was it an artist or an idea that inspired you to start Koyama Press?
After a life changing illness, I decided to try something different than what I’d done before (film). I found a few artists whose work I loved and funded a few small projects. That lead to the making of TRIO MAGNUS: Equally Superior, the first book. TRIO MAGNUS is Clayton Hanmer, Aaron Leighton and Steve Wilson.
How did you know how to start a small publishing house devoted to extraordinarily artistic comic books?
I had no idea but learned as I went along. I have a film background, not publishing.
What were some of the earliest titles you published?
Chris Hutsul’s comic A VERY KRAFTWERK SUMMER, Jon Vermilyea’s PRINCES OF TIME, Michael Comeau’s PARADE OF HUMANITY, Team Macho’s PRECIOUS GEMS were amongst the first books/zines published.
What size are you doing, how many copies will you make of a new comic in its first printing?
It depends on the artist and the book. The initial run could be anywhere from 500 to 2500.
What is your relationship to the manufacturing, do you oversee every aspect of the creation of a Koyama book?
I rely on the artist and sometimes get some production and design advice. I’d like the final book to be as close to what the artist envisions with as few constraints as possible.
How do you connect with an artist you want to publish?
I look at a lot of work online and most of the contact is online.
Ideally I’d like to have met the artist in person before the process begins but that’s not always the case. For example, right now I’m working with an artist who lives in Japan.
In 2011 I learned about Baba Yaga, the character from European fables, and have since found out about the comic you published about this fable. Can you tell me something about this book?
I also learned of Baba Yaga when I talked to Tin Can Forest aka Pat Shewchuk and Marek Colek about their book idea. They are filmmakers and their complimentary artwork styles are beautiful. They are working on their next book WAX CROSS which will debut in the spring.
You also publish Keith Jones and Michael DeForge. How would you describe this generation of comic artists and their interests in abstraction and anti-narrative sequential art?
I’m fascinated by the variety of art styles I’m seeing now. I see artists widely influenced by other cartoonists and pop culture but I think that in Keith and Michael’s cases the influences are not as readily evident to me. Because I like the so-called art comics I’m always interested in how artists mix it up. I still think you need a little narrative to make the work cohesive.
Generally files are emailed.
What are some of the most successful titles you’ve published?
In terms of sales, Michael DeForge’s LOSE series and SPOTTING DEER, BABA YAGA & THE WOLF, CAT RACKHAM LOSES IT by Steve Wolfhard, SPIRIT CITY TORONTO by Aaron Leighton.
Does it concern you a great deal when a comic doesn’t sell, or is that part of the risk?
Not really, I have such a diverse set of titles serving different interests that I don’t expect them to sell equally.
Does your website list all your titles or are there little zines and other small one-time comix that Koyama has done for conventions and art fairs and that kind of thing?
My site was recently redesigned by the talented folks at Squidface & The Meddler. All of the books and comics are up there with the exception of the zines I’ve published.
How connected is Koyama with the rest of the independent art book publishing world? Do you stay plugged in to the conventions and art fairs etc?
I try to keep up with the art book world but since there are fewer venues now to sell art books, I’ve shifted the balance to publishing more comics recently.
I still love art books and have just published Jeremy Kai’s photography book RIVERS FORGOTTEN about his underground explorations. I follow a lot of local artists and would like to get out to more gallery shows and fairs again.
Koyama Press exhibits at several book fairs and indie comics shows in Canada and internationally.
What are some of the best storefronts to find small press comics like Koyama?
This is only a partial list as I’m sure I’m omitting some good stores:
In Canada and the U.S.: The Beguiling, Strange Adventures, Librarie Drawn & Quarterly, Lucky’s, The Dragon, Quimby’s, Atomic Books, Meltdown Comics, Secret Headquarters, Bergen Street Comics, Desert Island, Big Brain Comics, Jim Hanley’s Universe, Dr. Comics & Mr. Games, DOMY, Copacetic Comics, Floating World, and Nucleus.
Internationally: Nobrow, Fatbottom Books, Neurotitan.
Where can you buy small press comix like Koyama online?
Some of the books are available directly from the artists on their sites, you can order from some retail stores like the Beguiling in Toronto, The Dragon in Guelph as well as from AdHouse Books http://www.adhousebooks.com/distro/distro.html and John Porcellino’s Spit and a Half http://spitandahalf.blogspot.com/.
Retailers can order from Tony Shenton http://shenton4sales.tumblr.com/,
Do you draw comics yourself?
In your daydreams, what artist would you love to have publish a comic with Koyama?
There are too many amazing artists to list whose work I’d like to publish and I often have to turn down work I’d love to take on if I had more time and funds. By publishing an anthology from time to time, I can include some of those on my wish list.
This year I published a short story available in issue 118 of Border Crossings .
Here’s my personal Top Ten list for 2011
1. University of Victoria’s Writing Department.
2. Prince live at Montreal’s Metropolis and then in Victoria at the Save-On Foods
2. tied with the rap duo Main Attrakionz
3. Co La’s song “Egyptian Peaches”
4. Soulja Boy’s mixtape “The Last Crown”
5. Roberto Bolano’s book of essays “Between Parentheses”
6. Kevin Chong’s novel “Beauty Plus Pity”
7.Anders Nilsen’s graphic novel “Big Questions”
10. Tree of Life. I didn’t see enough movies this year to know what’s good and what isn’t. I saw Drive. Drive was decent. But how could any movie turn out better than Tree of Life?
Anyone familiar with the Alabama rap scene has heard Henny, he’s the stylish rhymeflipper next to Yelawolf and Pill on “I’m A Freek,” he’s worked alongside Jackie Chain, Bentley, G Mane, and with Slow Motion Soundz. On his own, Henny has created a trio called I.B.I. with his cohorts Ziploc Moe and Icey Mike Shawty. I think these must be three of the best rap names out there. And these guys are stoked rappers. Henny’s got some amazing mixtapes, including Black Superman and I Make Alabama Look Good. Kind of the best thing going, I.B.I. has released an independent record titled S.D.M. (Sex. Drugs. Money.) that’s a loud pack of great tunes, including ‘Passport’ and the single ‘Bandz.’ I really listen to these tracks a lot. Enough to write and ask if I could ask them some questions, as a fan. I really don’t know how to interview rappers. I am still am not sure how exactly what questions to ask, but I conducted this one over email, which was easier than when I interviewed Bun B over the phone. I think what happened is I sent the questions and Henny read them aloud in the studio and transcribed the answers. First, here’s their video:
Henny, you’ve been rapping with Yelawolf and Pill and other MCs for a
few years now — how did you click together with I.B.I.?
H: I.B.I was always a label I wanted to start while I was a member of the rap group Greedy Money. When the group split due to legal troubles and moving me and the remaining members decided to start up the group again but wit a new attitude and new approach and Icy Mike
Henny, how do you describe your group’s approach to lyricism and flow?
H: we just get in the studio and vibe…we’ver known each other for a while so the chemistry is there. All we need is some exotic weed and a hot beat
Icey Mike Shawty, when did you start rapping and when did you acquire
such a hype alias?
I.M.: I started rapping the day I was born. And I came up wit my alias to describe my persona. I’m icy cause I’m cold I’m mike cause that’s what’s on my government and I’m shawty cause that’s how I hustle
IMS, how did you know you wanted to make music as part of I.B.I.?
I.M.S.: Just the energy every time we be in a session together the chemistry was perfect
Ziploc Moe, with the unbelievable rap name and the nasty rasp — when did you start writing rhymes?
Z: Shit around the beginning of 2009
Ziploc aka Maury Gator, you have a serious, funny and unstoppable style. Describe for readers how you came to rock it so fucking hard:
Z: Aww man you know I just put my heart in everything I writeand I try not to be a one dimensional rapper. I got many styles wait til ya meet Mauri Gator
How does a track like “Bandz” get made — do you go to the studio
together with lyrics prepared or do you sit down and work it out while
the beat is getting made?
I.M.S.: I don’t even remember I rolled up and wrote my verse
Z: Klassik produced a funky track and God sent it to us
H: I don’t really remember but we just went in and did what the beat said do
Do tracks start from a chorus or hook and work out from there or off
the first 16 bars?
H: it don’t really matter to me
Z: sometimes we do the hook first or sometimes we do the verses
You just put out a really tight mixtape — did those tracks come out
of a big recording session, or do publish your tracks almost as fast
as you can make them?
Are there other members of I.B.I. behind-the-scenes besides the three
I.M.S.: Yeah ibi is a nation. We the faces
Z: We the faces. But we got members we aint even found yet
H: and don’t forget the in house production team. Klassik Keys, Joe Air, and Tech beats
Who are some of your favorite producers to work with?
Z: myself, Klassik Keys, Grade A
I.M.S.: Klassik Keys, Beat Champ, Joe Air, Lbo Keys, Dr Fangaz, Mellow Rich, & JB
H: Block Beataz, Grade A, JPlymp, Lbo keys, Klassik Keys, man I got a lot of em
What do you like to hear in the recipe of the sounds on the drumkit,
the speed, the samples, for I.B.I. to want to jump on a beat?
Z: I like a nice drum track. The synths gotta be there
I.M.S.: Tracks that speak to ya. Tracls that already got direction
H: just make a hot & timeless track and we on it.
I’ve been listening to Alabama rap for five or six years now, I guess,
especially the guys in Paper Route, Slow Motion, and Small Tyme Ballaz
— are you affiliated closely with any producers or labels in Alabama?
H: I’m affiliated wit a couple people from the Slo like Mali Boy, Kristmas, & Codie G. I got BGM fam shout out Eldorado Red. And my selma fam DBD
I.M.S.: yeah BSB, King South
What’s your take on the Alabama music scene? What was it like to grow
up there? Did you grow up going to shows by Last Mr Bigg when he was
just diamond-eye Bigg? Is Alabama on the map now in a way it wasn’t
when you were a kid?
H: Nah Bigg from Mobile we never grew up on him like that
IMS: but yeah we on in a major way now. Wit artist like Yela
Is there a place you go in town to drop a new track and see it play
out in the club?
IMS: the whole city. We plugged in wit the djs in the city. when we drop something the whole city know
Do you go to a lot of rap shows? Who have you seen live that you
thought put on a great show?
IMS: not being bias but Yelawolf. Even tho he reached new barriers he still displays that “still trying to get on” in each of his performances
H: yea Yela. Cyhi, Gside, & Malachi from the Dungeon Family his live show is remarkable
There’s something innovative in the countrified rhythm of the Alabama
scene, with all the different rappers and producers something connects
the sound, makes it homegrown. I don’t know if you can describe how
you like to represent your home in your sound or if that’s even
important to you?
IMS: its definetly important cuz our sound is a sound that aint been displayed yet. and its Alabama soul
Z: its very important wit us being from Alabama cause we the underdog
H: I like to rep my hometown just by telling true southern stories and if I do that right I know I did my job
Are there some local legends in the scene who inspired you growing up
to strike out on your own and become an artist and part of the music
Z: Rick rock, the commodores
IMS: Big Pimp, King South, Henny, & Leon Carmichael
H: PeeWeeDee, Icy, Killa Kat, man its too many to name for real. My city been packed wit talent for over 10 years now
Ziploc, I get the impression you have a thing for women’s shoes — do
you guys hope to grow I.B.I. into an accessories and apparel business?
Are there fashion items that you are each really focused on, lyrically
IMS: first off I been said fuck rap let’s sell clothes. Women buy more clothes than music
Z: yeah I love making women beautiful cause they the ones doin g all the shopping. But yeah in thf future we wanna do that we already selling shirts and hats
H: Big Krit, 9th Wonder, Sha Money
Z: Scott Storch & Dr. Dre
Who is a really under-rated rapper you feel deserves more attention?
H: Slimm Calhoun, Sean Paul (young bloods), my whole team
What is your favorite rap lyric — is there a lyric you listen to and
it reminds you to make your style loose and original?
H: I got too many to name
Z:I aint got no favorite I’m a chameleon to all genres
Can you quote a few lyrics from I.B.I. you want to make sure people
take a moment to listen carefully to?
H: all the verses from every song for real…but “Heaven Help Us” hook is a good one
& maybe you could explain why you chose those lyrics?
H: I say “Heaven Help Us” cause it just sums up the whole cd…Sex Drugs Money
Your lyrics make a lot of wordplay around money and earning good pay
— but there’s also this sense of independence and uncompromising
attitude in what you write…can you talk about what are some of the
dangerous pitfalls you hope to avoid in the business side of things,
and the creative side?
IBI: we don’t wanna not be consistent. Longevity is the key. And just staying out of the everyday troubles of the world like our previous legal problems
Speaking of: The crime life has always been a great source for
metaphor in rap, and all I.B.I. lyrics keep it very real, very fresh,
funny, hard as hell, and you drop tons of common 2011 slang as well as
plenty of your own personal touches to your lines — and what I want
to ask about is the music industry. Have you observed, and is true,
that the music industry is truly full of criminals?
IBI: most definitely. They say the rap game remind em of the crack game.
Alabama seems like a more peaceful place, at least there aren’t any
tragic stories in the news like what’s going on around Lil Boosie and
what’s always playing out with rappers elsewhere getting shit on by
police, and what seems like a very complicated thing Alabama seems
like it’s not a part of?
IBI: well we don’t have hip hop police but a lot of rappers from Bama have legal issues. More so because most if not all are from the streets
You guys all plan on releasing solo albums and then another group
album? When can we start hearing tracks from the solo albums?
H: well ICY’s got his solo coming first its called “Plug Luv” so you should start hearing songs from that soon. I’ve got 2 cds I’m working on now and I’ve got 2 online “Black Superman” & “I Make Alabama Look Good”. And Zip’s got “Liquor & Loud” coming soon. So be on the look out
Will we see you guys working with. other rappers on features for these
albums andleading up to the solo albums?
I.B.I: well we already got the song wit Yung Ralph “Demonstr8” bubbling but future features will include Kristmas, Bentley, King South, Attitude and a lot of other people from Alabama too many to name
What the hell happened to D4L that you can be sure to avoid? Damn,
what a tragedy. That whole show fell apart. Maybe it was just internal
struggles. You guys have a harder, more of a RUN/DMC vibe in that I
imagine your live shows are almost like rock shows. It’s a very
different vibe what you’re doing, even if a lot of the sex themes are
there in both.
H: well we got a homie that’s signed to D4L that’s from Montgomery Alabama named Jurrari. But D4L is still kickin they just got a deal wit G-Unit too I think…but yeah as with any family you gonna have disputes and setbacks you just gotta keep it moving Ànd stay prayed up ya know
Describe a day in the life of I.B.I.
H: just studio all day really
IMS: Loud…music loud weed loud
What’s your favorite music to listen to outside of rap? Do you listen
to any of that UK stuff or kwaito from South Africa or kuduro from
Angola or whatever?
IBI: we all listen to a lot of other genres from R&B to Reggae to Blues and even Jazz and Rock
Outside Juice and Scarface, what’s your favorite rap-related movie?
Z: Belly or Shottas
Who is the most famous rap video starlet today?
Z: Lola Luv
IMS: Amber Rose
Aren’t you making a video for every track? You guys look like
billionaire beasts on film.
H: yeah were trying to finish the year out by shooting a video to the whole cd as well as solo project vids
You see the Lil B Youtube grind and he’s blown up in a silly way — do
you think the video style is working for him? Would you keep up that
ridiculous tempo? I think people could handle it if you guys were
dropping tons of Youtubes but some of those 500 B tracks cause
migraines. I like his stuff.
H:yeah I think the consumers of today are more about visuals than anything so we do feel obligated to give them that “look” but we prolly won’t do it to the annoying level of Lil B but there will be a lot more videos and video blogs
What do you spend most of your money on besides your home and food?
Was there a time in your life when you were crazy like me and a lot of
your money went to buying music?
H: yeah most def bought a lot of music at one pooint wÉ all have really but now I just spend it on sneakers
Z: I take a lot of trips
IMS: Loud…you know Keshia Cole?
If you could put someone’s face on a new American dollar bill
currency, who would it be?
Have you guys ever thought of doing a track sampling Betty Davis
(Miles Davis’s hot as funk wife)?
H: bro we’d sample you if it sound good lol
by Lee | Filed under News
G-Side, Block Beattaz, and Slow Motion Soundz, my best friends in the rap world, straight out of Hunstville, Alabama, just released another classic record on the first day of 2011. I’m really amazed by what they’ve done here. I feel like I’m listening to Low End Theory for the first time, with my jaw on the floor. A thinking, feeling, lyrical revolution in sound. I’m excited as hell for them. It’s a beautiful record. Amazing production by Block Beattaz, and lyrics that are epic from ST 2 Lettaz and Yung Clova, plus lots of Alabama rapper guest appearances. I’ve been listening to Alabama rap since the PRGz put out ‘Wood Grain,’ and score ”Lacs and ‘Prices’ by PRGz and T.I. as the greatest rap song ever written. G-Side are kind of like superheroes of this scene. Huntsville is really taking the hip hop sound to a whole new place, very independent, and very fuckin cool — fans of raps, preview G-Side’s new album and buy it here.
by Lee | Filed under News
I interviewed you for my website when The Middle Stories was published, and you said many astounding things, and offered many fascinating, provocative ideas. Your story collection was quite the same — alarming, prescient, familiar, scary, and full of wit. Now, your third book is out, your second novel, and I have a new look for my website. I upgraded just in time to interview you again. In that period of eight years though, you have developed and designed many personal websites — before I ask you about your new book, will you talk a little about your experience with the web, what it’s meant to you as an artist, and how you approach the medium, creatively?
You have so much up there now! Before it was just a photograph of your bookshelf with a few links!
Margaux and I always talk about how it’s nice to have a website because you can change it when your mood changes, to suit what you now know or think is important, while you can’t change a book or painting once it’s out there. So it’s art that can evolve with you. One day the website feels great and like a real representation of what you’re interested in, and a week later it feels out-of-date and worthless. It’s neat to be sensitive to those changes. A person’s website can really be a living artwork, a changing artwork, with no record of what it was.
I’ll only ask one more internet question, to segue to conversation about your book. Your new novel How Should A Person Be? discusses ideas surrounding idolatry, art, desire, fame, celebrity, and influence. Social networking has given audiences a feeling of unfiltered access to the people who fascinate them, in a medium that feels more intimate, but is still very much an entertainment valve. But there’s the opportunity to actually communicate, which is so strange. Have you been in contact with any celebrities online?
I follow Steve Martin on Twitter. To me, he feels like the most celebrity of all the celebrities that exist today. He’s not so great on Twitter, but no one is. It’s like we’re at the beginning of a new expressive medium and no one knows quite what to do with it, so it’s always this weird artificial mixture of self-promotion and attempts and humour and forwading interesting things – I think to counter the self-promotion – and failed attempts at communication, and shoddy, transparent networking, and name-dropping. It’s like we’re all babies.
Perhaps this decade was the first in which becoming celebrity outweighed our culture’s fascination with celebrities. Has celebrity been democratized?
Maybe. Someone misquoted the Andy Warhol quote to me the other day, not realising she was doing it. She said, “It’s like Andy Warhol said, ‘In the future we’ll all be famous for fifteen seconds.’” I was like, Fifteen MINUTES! But fifteen minutes seems impossibly long now.
Do you make a distinction between fame and celebrity? There are people now, like Paris Hilton, who are celebrities first, and then do various things with that celebrity. Fame seems to come from having done something in particular?
I’ve never thought about it before. To me those words have always been interchangeable. I don’t think there’s a single person in the world who deserves the level of fame they have today. Who deserves to have their name passed down through the ages? That would be great if we all, everyone today, agreed to it – shook hands over that: None of our names will outlast our bodies. Agreed. What freedom! It would be a much more friendly world. We should be the first generation to say, Forget it. We should all, collectively, opt out of posterity.
Were you seeking, and what did you find then, in the eroticism or neuroticism of becoming celebrity — not the obsession with celebrity, but the act of trying to make oneself a celebrity?
I discovered – and I think Margaux discovered, too – just from me taping her and writing down what she said — that it must be impossibly hard to be a famous person unless you’re okay with misrepresentation. You’d have to understand that who you are and who your persona is – that thing that celebrity attaches to – are radically different. If not, celebrity would become a highly painful state, because then you’d always be trying to attend to your image, which is idolatry.
I’m trying to think of a male equivalent to the pure celebrity of Paris Hilton. I wonder if that kind of pure erotic celebrity is only granted to young men if they die prematurely.
Rock stars, too, though – that’s pure erotic celebrity, right? Jack White and so on?
Who else in fameworld fascinates you?
Just Steve Martin.
In writing this book, you often thought to describe it as something like making a Reality novel — as a response to Reality TV. But your new novel is also wonderfully indebted to Henry Miller and the many autobiographical novelists of that first wave of the sexual revolution, sensual humiliationists who made their obscurity legendary — all of which is now mainstream enough to be TV. Can you tell me a bit about your thoughts on the historical parallels between novelists and Reality TV stars?
I love Henry Miller. I’m so glad you brought him up! It’s wonderful to think about him in relation to the cast of The Hills. I think it’s true that sometimes an artist has to use themselves in their work – like Cindy Sherman did, or Agnes Varda in Les Plages d’Agnes – in order to get people to pay attention. All humans are interested in their limits and capacities, and I think these days we all sort of feel like we can’t learn about our limits and capacities from fiction, because fictional characters can do anything. But when you’re looking at journalism or memoir or autobiographical novels – well, that’s about real people, right? So the limits and capacities of those real people surely tells us something about our own limits and capacities.
Both Henry Miller and Heidi Montag are pretty playful about persona – like that totally wasn’t Henry Miller, and I’m sure that totally isn’t Heidi Montag; obviously they’ve both used life as an artistic medium – and their selves as characters in it.
I think it’s like Cubism, but instead of collapsing the foreground and background, you collapse life and art.
Your openness about sexuality in the book is a little unlike Reality TV — it’s more common for novels to have the kind of candour you employ, TV still has to be shy. But I like this idea you begin with that along with the painting of the nude, the readymade urinal, the real sex act is now art, too. Is this the sexual revolution documented in, and accentuated by, Reality TV?
I think the sexual revolution is documented in, and accentuated by internet porn, not Reality TV. I don’t think reality TV has anything to do say about sex, but it has a lot to say about relationships and dating. These shows where women compete for the love of one man – or one woman picks from a bunch of men – the idea that there are “a bunch of people out there” and you pick the one that’s best – I think that courtship structure is particular to our culture. That’s not how people always conceptualised the search for a mate.
What I learned with Margaux is that there’s something to be said for the inevitable happiness and the inevitable misery and the inevitable compatibility and the inevitable incompatibility of whoever you might be with. Love is not about finding the best person, but has more to do with recognizing the valuable singularity of every person you deal with – and it’s always difficult, and the value is in the difficulty.
I think Reality TV says the value is in the search, and that one’s intelligence is activated in their search is for the “best” or “perfect” one. But the more I learn about life, the more disgusting and destructive that idea becomes.
Your Reality, though, is not TV but language — in breaking up the narrative into memories, transcripts, e-mails, incantations, you also maintain a clear structure — the language guides the reader through your themes quite clearly. I guess I’m thinking right now of the aspects to do with faith, God, Moses, and prayer. Before writing this book, had you ever prayed? There is a prayer in an e-mail Sheila Heti writes to her self, but as Moses might write it. Has this book brought you to a different place in terms of that big question, that first step beyond?
I was not someone who ever prayed, really, and am still not, but I think it’s one of the most beautiful human acts possible. It doesn’t matter whether there’s a God who hears; just the idea of a human humbling themselves is very profound – I don’t mean the kind of prayer where you ask for something, but the kind of prayer that is about thanks and awe of what surrounds us.
In your novel, there’s a little mention of doing the I Ching and some other experiments with random actions — did this process of letting chance decide one’s actions help you at all in writing the book?
Yeah. A whole section of the book was written with a contrivance of various cards with numbers on them and a dice and lists of words and a map – I was like a D&D geek. It worked really well for two weeks, then it stopped working. But it was very useful for generating scenes that I couldn’t have come up with otherwise. Basically, it was an elaborate way of combining real things from life in a way that they could be made into fiction, because it’s hard to fictionalise what you’ve experienced and is real. So one list was a list of “actions of the gods” and the other was “contingent variables” and the other was “human gestures” and there was one more list, and these lists came from distilling 600 scenes I wrote, on the advice of Robert McKee, who said that no good writer writes one scene; they write 600. So I wrote 600 scenes – each a paragraph long, and distilled each scene’s essence and made them into these lists… and then the die and the cards led me to combine words from these lists in a random fashion, and from those four words – which had depth because they came from those scenes – I wrote a bunch of new, imagined scenes.
One book I’m reminded of, have you ever read Andre Breton’s novel Nadja?
No. I used to really like Breton – when I was 18 – and then I got a bit older and he reminded me too much of all the pompous men I was meeting who believed they were starting literary movements!
What’s Nadja all about?
Nadja reminded me of the sections in your book with Israel – although Nadja’s a lot less graphic in its obsession with the mate.
What seemed like a crucial book to you while writing How Should A Person Be?
There were a few: A to Z by Andy Warhol. Art and Artists by Otto Rank. Art as Experience by John Dewey. The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde. The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles. Those were the books I thought about the most. And a bunch of self-help books, but not one in particular. And the Bible, of course.
What seems like a crucial book for you today? Yesterday?
Yesterday I liked The Normal Personality by Stephen Reiss, which argues that personality is an assemblage of values – and he gives, I think, 16 possible values. And any combination of those values is “normal,” like one can really value and be driven by success and romanticism and family, and that’s normal, but also normal is to be driven by athleticism and status. He also makes the point that good marriages occur when people with similar values marry. It’s not rocket-science, but it’s the kind of science I love, which is when people try to make science from the human sprit.
Today I want to read “The Female Eunuch” by Germaine Greer.
Part of your inspiration for the book was to search for a way to be more at-ease, less neurotic about book-writing, to emulate Margaux Williamson, a close friend of yours and a happy painter. Or did Margaux end up becoming more neurotic?
She became a public writer, with her amazing movie review blog, Movie Is My Favourite Word. And she does that neurotic writer thing of worrying over sentences now, which is really the essence of neuroticism: a sentence in your head that is worried about a sentence. So I’m happy to say I made things worse for her, while she made things better for me. I have much less patience with my desire to make things beautiful all the time. I’m pretty sure it was bad for me and resulted in my work and life being rather lacking in oxygen.
Are you pleased to have had the chance to see and document the Miami Art Fair in its heyday? Would you think going back might reignite some of the same ideas you had about the strange democratization of the pursuit of fame? It’s still happening but so much has changed, it’s even funnier now.
Wow, what’s it like now? I feel really amazed to think that we were there at its peak – its total, decadent, insane peak. I really felt sorry for the art there, but not for the artists.
It’s so rare one is at the right place at the right time, but that was definitely the right place at the right time for us. One has to give thanks for those moments in one’s life. When were you last at the right place at the right time, Lee?
I really can’t recall ever being in the right place at the right time.
Did you find a narrative to the ascent to Famous, is it a state of ease or anxiety? fixed or fluxed? is it a vice?
I think it’s a vice, yes – vanity, idolatry, avarice. You make yourself into an icon to get there. You can’t actually be what a human is – this creature whose only nobility, only divinity – is that it changes and learns and grows. Instead, you have to be this fixed thing, like a car, so that other humans can understand you and worship you. Wanting to be famous is wanting to be worshipped. I think that creates a tremendous amount of anxiety when it works, because being worshipped is a sickness for both the worshipper and the worshipped – it’s a perversion of the human relation.
I think many people in this culture feel a particular kind of anxiety but don’t know where it comes from, and I think a lot of that contemporary anxiety comes from this unconscious desire to model ourselves – our beings – after things like perfume bottles.
Do the tabloids matter?
Yes. I can always ruin a good day by looking in a supermarket tabloid. The problem is they are so certain about who is important. But who is important is your mother, your father, your brother, your wife, your best friend, your grocer… The tabloids fuck that up.
Are you fond of the kind of writing that appears in magazines, and what do you find is the best way to prevent writing in that fashion?
That’s a neat question. I never thought about “the kind of writing that appears in magazines” before, but you’re right. There’s something about it that’s different from writing that appears elsewhere. I once worked as a magazine editor and the main question you had to answer at editorial meetings – if you wanted the magazine to cover something – was: “Why is this important NOW?” In fact, nothing is any more important now than anything else, so I think there is a kind of desperation in magazine articles to prove to the editor and some imaginary reader who supposedly cares about NOW that this is important NOW!
I believe that’s why Lawrence Weschler quit writing for The New Yorker – because it had once been a place (like The Believer or Geist magazine are today) – that didn’t care about NOW. It just cared about good writing and good stories. Then that changed. The stories he wanted to write about were things that seemed important for all time, and that’s not what magazines are selling: they’re selling urgency, the feeling that if you don’t buy the magazine you’ll be out-of-step all month.
Did you go through many revisions? Are there parts of How Should A Person Be? that didn’t suit the final manuscript that your readers may see published later in lit journal or magazine?
Nothing but revisions. There are chapters that could have been in it, but aren’t, and chapters that are, that easily might not have been if I had worked on it six months more or less. I thought for a day about putting some of the sentences that I liked but that didn’t end up in the book on Twitter, but for one thing there weren’t enough characters on Twitter, and for another, it ultimately seemed stupid.
Is part of the project still ongoing?
What do you like to see in a finished sentence (you write some perfectly epic lines of prose)?
It has to sound like it does in my head. I’m still disappointed with some sentences I edited in The Middle Stories to please my editor’s sense of how a certain sentence should be. Every time I read those sentences, I feel a pain. It’s like music, like a wrong note. I just think it needs to have its own music, which is probably the music of my metabolism, just as your sentences are the music of your metabolism. Or maybe it’s like a gait. Reading my writing feels to me like walking down the street, and when I read a sentence that I’ve compromised on, it’s like I stumble. I assume the reader stumbles too, but I might be wrong.
What do you prefer to see from contemporary fiction (in this case I mean another person’s writing)?
Just something really alive. The best genre of fiction today is probably amateur porn – the written kind – found on bulletin boards on the web; really out-there stuff like incest porn and other taboo stuff like having sex with animals. It’s not that these works have great literary qualities, but they have something better – they’re vibrant and vital – because the author HAD to write it. Much contemporary fiction lacks a connection to real life; it’s like someone standing up and singing in a warbly voice beside a piano; it’s some recital in a 19th-century drawing room, and you have to smile and nod while they display their talent. But that amateur porn stuff – they’re real writers, to me.
I don’t know if you can answer for yourself if it feels different now that the book is published and the overlap with your life and the text is no longer a concern, but I know this novel has been an important part of the lives of your friends, can you talk a little about the feeling of having these overlapping projects completed?
This is the happiest time of my life.
Thank you, Sheila!
by Lee | Filed under News
The latest issue of Border Crossings is available. There’s an interview with Ed Pien I look forward to reading. I wrote a profile of artist Amy Lockhart for the issue.
Also my friend Jack Goldbach has done an interview with Christopher Sorrentino for Matrix in which they discuss the life and writing of Sorrentino’s father, the late Gilbert S., who wrote many astonishing novels that are hardly read up here in Canada but highly regarded in lit circles down in the US. I first came across both father and son’s writing in the journal Conjunctions.
A profile of the artist Aurel Schmidt that I wrote for the visual arts magazine Border Crossings won a Manitoba magazine award earlier in the year and is now up for a Western Magazine Award. After I wrote the article, Aurel was chosen to appear in the 2010 Whitney Biennial — and a lot more articles on her work followed that announcement. But I can only claim to know of her amazing work before every other writer because she began her life as an artist here in Vancouver and lived half a block away from me when she started doing the infamous zombies. I had already written an introductory essay for her first show of abstract paintings at Anti-Social a year or more before that…
by Lee | Filed under News
by Lee | Filed under News
Sometimes there’s a leaky car up the street. I’m not sure this is the case in the video posted here.
I love Jeet Heer’s rebuttal to André Alexis’s essay ‘The Long Decline’ printed in Walrus magazine regarding the state of the critical literary review in Canada. Here we have two of Canada’s best critical minds stewing over the relative value of serious book reviews versus snarky slams or pat applause. The debate is worth a look, and John Metcalf’s obscure journal of letters Canadian Notes & Queries is strangely considered Ground Zero to both arguments. The magazine just got redesigned by Heer’s colleague in the comic world, Seth. Time to subscribe!