Download the poster here: Submit
Download the poster here: Submit
Ashley Opheim: Where did you write this poem and what kind of frame of mind were you in when you wrote it?
Alex Manley: I wrote this poem in my small apartment, on my twin-sized bed, on my laptop, around 4:00 a.m. on a Monday morning, about five hours after the shift ended. At the time, I was usually working the Saturday opening shift and afternoon shifts during the week, so it had been a while since I’d been there until 11:00. It’s a bit of a different crowd at night, but it can also be nice and peaceful and comparatively empty for these long stretches. I guess I wanted to sort of represent that duality—sometimes you’re at the mercy of intimidating people, and sometimes it’s quite slow and pleasant. Anyway, it felt like an “eventful” evening, and I wanted to capture it in my memory before it slipped into nothingness like so much sand in an hourglass. I think it worked on that level.
AO: Your writing this year has been largely inspired by the magazine shop you work at. Is this a conscious intent on your behalf, or does it just happen to be a rich source of inspiration for you?
AM: It’s not conscious, or at least, it was less conscious than it is now when I wrote “Sunday Night Shift,” but you’re right: I submitted pieces about my day job to all three workshops I was in this year. It’s an interesting place, and it serves up a lot of life experiences I wouldn’t have expected, going in. In theory it’s a magazine and newspaper store, but given the decline in revenue/profitability in the print industry, it sells a lot of other stuff to get by, and some of that stuff (drug paraphernalia, knives) attracts a certain clientele. In any case, everyone seems to be addicted to something—porn, cigarettes, soft drinks, whatever. I’ve been there for about two years now, and every now and then I think I want to compile all the writing I’ve done about it into something bigger.
AO: These work-focused pieces often deal with strangers. I find this interesting in the sense that we never really get to know them on an intimate level, but we get to know them on a level of either conversation or consumption. What is it about a stranger or customer that inspires you?
AM: It’s hard not to see people for brief snippets of time over and over without developing an idea about them, putting them in a certain box, but sometimes you realize that your perception is totally based on context. I appreciate some of my regulars because they’re quiet and they always buy the same cigarettes and they don’t hassle me, but every now and then I realize that they’re probably people that I would never get along with or like in any other situation, and sometimes someone will reveal himself to be a nasty, conservative old man who hates immigrants or something. It’s interesting, seeing the sides of people they’re willing to expose to a corner store clerk. There are a lot of lonely people downtown with no real opportunities for conversation, I guess, and often you’ll get these snapshots of someone’s personality or character that you tend not to get from strangers. So that’s really interesting, from the perspective of a writer, being able to see these details of these lives you’d otherwise never get a peek into.
AO: It has always perplexed me that you write (for the most part) simplistic poetry, as there seems to be a lot left unsaid in the poem. Your poetry, in this way, seems to come from a place of restraint. I find this interesting because, knowing your experience in journalism (aside from opinions-based writing), I would think that poetry would be a medium that you would utilize to free yourself from any restraint you feel in journalism. Could you speak to how your journalism and poetry differ or complement one another?
AM: I feel like my poetry has always been a place where I’m afraid of being too free-flowing. I think I instinctively seek out constraints; without a container to hold me, I don’t know what shape I am. The journalistic pieces I write are easier, because I’m supposed to use the constraints of journalism. I can write an opinions piece, or a review of something, or a feature, and it’s important—valued, even—to be able to copy aspects of the genre. In that sense, a good journalistic piece will act as a copy in many ways of the pieces that have come before it. Whereas with poetry, I’m trying to be original; I don’t want to use specific constraints of past poems. So I have to come up with my own, and I think I often over-compensate. That’s something I’m working on now: de-constraining myself. Often I’ll end up making new constraints as I’m working to make the poem freer, but working in that instinct towards freedom is important, I think.
AO: I know that the term flaneur is thrown around a lot in literary circles, but I do find your writing deals consistently with societal observation that is so characteristic of that style. I guess I wonder if you are a conscious observer, or is it something that comes naturally to you?
AM: I don’t consider myself actively a flaneur, although I don’t mind being considered (or not) in that tradition. I think flaneurs are cool, but I think having a job probably precludes me a bit from being one, too. I feel like my observer status and my outsider status are sort of a snake eating its own tail, inside of an egg, which may or may not have come before a chicken. I’ve always felt like one or the other, I think, but who knows which grew out of which.
AO: What, if any, literary traditions are you drawn to?
AM: I guess I’m primarily drawn to the literary tradition of white men writing about their feelings, especially their feelings with regards to women. I don’t know if there’s a specific term for that.
AO: What have you been reading lately?
AM: I haven’t been reading much fiction or poetry lately, unfortunately. I’m pretty swamped by my job and extracurricular projects. I do read a lot of stuff in magazines at work, though; Paul Theroux’s “Our Raccoon Year” in Harper’s, Jonathan Lethem’s “The Porn Critic” in The New Yorker, and Johanna Skibsrud’s “The Homesickness of Astronauts” in Maisonneuve are all bits of short fiction I’ve read in the past month that stayed with me long after my shift was over. Also, the latest issue of The Void—which, admittedly, I got published in—had a lot of compelling stuff in it. It’s free, so if you’re around Concordia you should try to pick up a copy.
AO: If you were to re-write this poem in one sentence, what would the sentence say?
AM: I edited the poem a bunch after deciding on a final version with you guys; I got rid of some of the guiding constraints and made it much more free-flowing, and re-introduced my friend Sara, who was there in the original version. I like one of the sentences from that new edit; it feels like a fractal of the larger poem. It goes, “For stretches here and there, the city leaves us alone to converse.” Do you know about fractals? Michael Crichton describes them in Jurassic Park. “A big mountain, seen from far away, has a certain rugged mountain shape. If you get closer, and examine a small peak of the big mountain, it will have the same mountain shape. In fact, you can go all the way down the scale to a tiny speck of rock, seen under a microscope—it will have the same basic fractal shape as the big mountain.” I think poems might sometimes work the same way.
AO: What is, or what should be, the purpose of poetry in 2012?
AM: To give people the experience of reading poetry, which is important, I think.
Alex Manley is a Creative Writing major at Concordia University. He was born and bred on the island of Montreal. He is left-handed. Despite this natural handicap, he won Concordia’s 2012 Irving Layton Award for Fiction. His work has also been published by The Void, Ribbon Pig, and the Scrivener Creative Review.
Paula Haley Wilson: You recently had an exhibition and sale of your photography in Montreal. Is this the first time you’ve done this? Three of your pieces, “Transmission,” “Landlocked,” and “Paper Specter” are included in Soliloquies 16.1, which will be available in print this May as Soliloquies 16. In them, people are either absent or once-removed, as through the television screen in “Transmission” or as a shadow in “Paper Specter.” Are they part of a series from the exhibition?
Christopher Honeywell: I showed the three pieces that will be published in Soliloquies 16 at Galerie Nota Bene in February as part of a series I called “Not Far Afield.” It was my first formal exhibition, so I had a lot of material to draw from that had never seen the light of day. Most of the photos in the series I shot while living in Montreal, and some (like “Paper Specter,” which I shot in Prague last summer) were shot while traveling over the past two years or so. In both cases I tend to take a relatively passive stance in terms of direction; when I do direct a photo, I’ll see a potential image or arrange the setting in a particular way and give pretty subtle cues to the subject to make the photo work. Otherwise, I’ll just stand still with the camera at my eye and wait for the image to align in front of me. Mostly I just photograph interesting scenes I come across.
Going through my archives to come up with a bunch of work to fill the gallery with was a great exercise in understanding the kinds of images that I’m attracted to. What I found was that a lot of the photos I was most happy with were portraits of people that were obscured in one way or another. A lot of the subjects in my photos are made less visible by the weather, or by another medium like television or a window, or by an outfit or make-up. Also, a lot of the subjects relate to their setting in kind of uncanny or ironic ways. I like to play with the ways that subjects can be manipulated by the way they relate to their setting. Like how a person photographed in an entirely man-made setting takes on a completely different character than someone shot alongside natural elements, even if they’re just in a city park.
I think it’s interesting to see how changing the setting of a photo can have such drastic effects on the viewer’s perception of the photo’s relation to reality, like how when you see an image of a person set against a building’s facade or in a city park you assume the image was taken spontaneously, but when you shoot a photo indoors you immediately change the viewer’s relationship to the image; it becomes less clear whether the photo is a spontaneous snapshot or a staged scene. I like to hope that in my most successful photos it’s clear why I took the picture but the scene looks as though it arose naturally, regardless of the setting.
PHW: Does living in Montreal shape your subject matter? How has this evolved for you?
CH:I really enjoy shooting photos in Montreal because the city looks so timeless. I tend to avoid photographing details that reveal when the photo was taken. It’s not like I look for old cars to include in the shot to trick the viewer into thinking the photo was shot in 1960, but I’m generally happier with the photos I take that are free of modern signifiers. It’s easy to find lively places to photograph in Montreal that look as though they could have existed anytime in the last 50 years, which I find makes a photo more relevant in the long run.
PHW: Finally, if our readers want to get a hold of some of your work, where can they do this?
CH: I co-operate an artist-run centre in Mile End called La Plante/The Plant where we host all kinds of cultural events from art exhibitions to music shows, to a community kitchen that runs every Sunday evening. On May 20th we’re holding the second installment of The Plant Art Market, where we offer a free venue for artists to display and sell their work. I’ll be selling some work, so anyone interested should come say hi and check out some other local artists’ work! If you’re interested in participating you can submit any kind of visual art to firstname.lastname@example.org and reserve space. You can also find more details here: http://www.facebook.com/events/279841088771575/?ref=ts
If you want to get in touch with me directly about my work or anything else that happens at La Plante/The Plant, you can email me at email@example.com. You can also take a look at some work on my website, christopherhoneywell.com.
Christopher Honeywell is a Montreal-based photographer shooting exclusively in film with an emphasis on natural and improvised lighting. He practices both traditional darkroom and digital transfer processes. Christopher recently graduated from Concordia University with a BA in English Literature. For more of his work visit http://christopherhoneywell.com/
Matthew Dunleavy sits, or so he would have me paint the picture for us all, picturesquely, holding a glass of scotch and smoking a very large cigar, which only seems to make his English accent all the more appropriate (in actuality he’s drinking PBR on a balcony/fire escape—he does have the accent, though). He also prefaces the interview, because it was originally recorded, that when recorded his voice sounds like Grimace. Yes, Grimace the large, purple, blob-like thing from McDonald’s (I had to clarify myself).
Liv Albert: So, Matthew, how about we start with the basics and you provide a little background as to how you got introduced to photography?
Matthew Dunleavy: My dad used to be into photography, pre-the birth of Matthew Dunleavy, and basically his camera went to the depths of a cupboard somewhere for years because the way he puts it to me now is that he had the choice between rolls of film and nappies. I luckily had nappies instead of him having rolls of film.
I was into art growing up, drawing, painting a lot, eventually just talking to my dad about his photography when he was younger and finding some old photos of his. He let me have his old camera to use, but it had a broken light metre. It was relatively old, like early eighties. So because of this what I had to do was carry around a little notepad and write down the settings I used and then when I got them printed up, match the different settings—the different aperture and shutter speed. I wasn’t brought into it in the digital world; I have an appreciation for the actual method of photography.
Then I started working as a photo restorer, doing Photoshop work. I started editing my photos and playing around with the different things I could do, not Instagram kind of stuff. Basically it was then costing me a lot of money because I was developing the film, having it scanned to CD, then printing off the edits again. I eventually bought a used Nikon D70S, which I very much enjoyed. But then I started doing model and wedding photography, so I upgraded to a D300. I actually got one of the first twenty in Canada. I got it before it was released because I worked for a photography company, and that’s what I use now. I still like using film but it’s so costly now.
LA: Your photo “Kerouac”; I think the title is pretty self-explanatory for the subject matter, but where exactly was this taken? Were you just struck by the particular scene before you? Is there a story behind the photo?
MD: I actually chose that name just for the submission to Soliloquies. I never name my photographs because there’s no reason unless you’re printing them and displaying them or something.
That’s one of my favourite photographs because it’s one of my oldest. When I was in that transition from film to digital, I was working at the photography studio at the time and we were able to borrow cameras, which was very nice. It was an official thing; they wanted the staff to know the cameras. Before I got the used D70S, I borrowed a D50 one night. I went out for a drive, so this was between the store’s closing at nine and then I had to have it back by the morning. So I went for a drive just outside the town I moved to when I emigrated, which was Ajax. It’s like most of the GTA east of Toronto, so close to nice countryside. I went for a drive around; it was the middle of the night and completely dead. So I got out into the middle of the road to take the picture, and I just like it because I don’t do scenery usually; I’m especially not a flower guy, things like that. But that scene I liked because it felt very North American, you know what I mean? Like in England we have countryside but it’s all winding roads. This was a massive stretch of tarmac which you just imagine as the road trip kind of thing, and then just the fields. I liked that.
LA: The photo is in black and white; is there a reason for that?
MD: That photo was my test photo, when I was doing all my Photoshop edits, practicing for restoration work, testing things I could do for customers. So that photo, I have so many of them; I have natural colouring which is nice because it’s a really blue sky. I have ones where it’s different monochromes, but I ended up just really liking the black and white. And especially when you get into the road trip mentality. Road trip photos should be in black and white. I don’t know why any time I think of a road trip I think of On the Road, and I think that it was just at the beginning of colour photography, so if Kerouac was carrying around photos on his trip, they would be in black and white.
LA: The current idea of black and white photography as a whole is a funny thing. I hope we all can appreciate my quoting Community (I know for a fact, Matthew, you will) when I say, “just because something is in black and white, doesn’t mean it’s good.” How do you feel about using black and white? Obviously it is appropriate in many cases; it can often add to the effect the photograph has on its viewer that its natural colour would have lacked. But I think that nowadays it means the photo has to have a little extra something that is able to push it beyond its black and white status. You’ve already told me why you chose it for this particular photo, but of the style in general, what do you think?
MD: I used to shoot in black and white film as well, so it’s not like, “oh this photo isn’t good on its own, I’m just going to hit the black and white button.” I don’t do the desaturate on Photoshop, you know? I do manual adjustments to choose how the black and white looks. If it were in a dark room I would choose how it looked: do I want it really contrasty, or do I want the subtle grey shades?
But I think this idea that was brought up very well by Community; it’s great that there’s an access to photography for everyone now, especially because, like I mentioned, my dad had to give up photography for family. Basically it’s that the access is there but people misuse it. You can pick up a Digital SLR and use it for high quality photos, but people think that they should just put it on auto, don’t take it off auto, click it around and then hit the black and white button.
Then you have the issue that started with Facebook and Picnik, or whatever that was called. I remember doing a photo shoot, because I used to do weddings and things, and somebody took my family portraits and Picniked them, and I was so offended, so offended. And then there’s the Instagram thing. It’s amazing that the iPhone has the camera that it has but it’s become, “let’s just instagram this and make it hip and retro.” You can tell that it’s more of a gimmicky thing because Facebook bought it.
LA: They did, and for a billion dollars! When it makes no money. What a symbol of its reach.
MD: And that guy’s laughing because he’s taken the basics from a system like Photoshop and made them just buttons, and there you go.
I remember, during the transition to digital, I was in high school and doing photos for the yearbook and they gave me a digital camera not to keep but just to have as mine. And I used to have to carry around two packs of six floppy disks because that’s what the camera took. I could get two photos to a floppy disk and had to carry them all around with me with this massive camera.
LA: Okay, Matthew, you seem to be dating yourself, and incorrectly I imagine, because there must have been better cameras out there then, when you were in high school. You must have just had the worst camera in the school.
MD: Well, I was from not a really small town but just now a really good high school. But that was what I had.
LA: I didn’t even know those existed! But I guess it’s given you a good grasp on the variety of camera technologies.
MD: They were in a really small period, because before that they had disks; Kodak’s first one used disks. Then you had these floppy disks for a while; the whole back of the camera was this floppy disk spot. And then you had the compact flash cards.
LA: The other photograph you have published in Soliloquies is “Gale Ferris, Jr.”, which I think is particularly “trippy” (I’m not sure I’ve ever used that word before now) [Matthew then suggests the use of “radical”]. Now, call me a photography amateur, but that effect comes from leaving the shutter on your camera open for a particular amount of time, doesn’t it? What made you decide to try that and did/do you do it often? The effect it gives to the photograph is pretty incredible. I think it really captures the moment; the excitement of a fair and the effect of a Ferris wheel in general.
MD: Yes that is how you do it, with the shutter. And it was a period which I don’t think I’ve left behind fully, but it was a period where I did a lot of nighttime photography because I was working all the time during the day. I really experimented with long-exposure photography. I did try the long exposure like, say, the night scenes, like that perfect landscape of the nighttime with the stars, but I’m so impatient that I couldn’t do that. When I say long exposure I’m talking thirty seconds to a minute; like I think that one was a minute.
I would drive around with a friend who didn’t do photography himself but enjoyed the experience of being involved with the process and seeing the finished product. So he would drive me around and I would hang out the window doing long exposure trying to get the lights of the night going by, so I have a lot of these really trippy ones. Or I’d purposely leave the house while I was really drunk to do long exposure while I’m walking. There’s this one where everything’s really shaken up, but because I must have been swaying the same way as this tree in the wind I kept on level with it, so the world is really fucked up but the tree isn’t.
Anyway, there was this little carnival; you know the ones in the Wal-Mart parking lots? It wasn’t even a real fair but I went there to take photos, but I feel like when you do a long exposure and capture the moment of the ride you sort of get that experience of being there. Because when you’re walking around even in a shitty Wal-Mart fair there’s just so much going on that you never really get anything, there’s just a blur.
So I did it with all the rides but I have so many of the Ferris wheel ’cause I was experimenting with the changes that would come with just a little switch in the shutter speed. I have some that are just blurs of light and some that have a little trickle in and you can still see it as stable. This photo was middle ground: you haven’t lost the Ferris wheel but you’ve still gained the motion. I have a lot of them. I also have a couple photos where I did do regular photos as well so it’s half; half of it is going and the other half is stable.
LA: So of all these photos of the rides you took, why the Ferris wheel over any others?
MD: The reason I picked the Ferris wheel instead of the other rides is because this carny, carnival man, whatever is politically correct, came over to me while I was taking the photos and tried to take my camera. I asked him, “what are you doing?” and he says [putting on some sort of “carnivalesque” accent], “you’ve been out here with your tripod and whatever this thing is.” So he basically started getting on me like I’ve been taking photos of the carnival people trying to capture them. So I went through all of my photos with this guy trying to prove that because they’re long exposure you can’t see anybody. I remember him leaving and he was still trying to be all tough and he just says, “well, they’re pretty good.”
Matthew Dunleavy started taking photos when his Dad allowed him the use of his Praktica that he had eyed since childhood. Due to this particular camera being broken he was forced to learn the tools of the trade in the most difficult way. Matthew uses his interest in drawing and painting to influence the way he captures images; from balanced, traditional scenes to abstract light paintings his subject differs as much as his style. His photos were published in Soliloquies 16.1.
Lizy Mostowski: Aga, your short story “Why Yesterday I Keyed My Father’s Car” is the first chapter from your novel Giant, forthcoming from Pedlar Press. Does this in any way comment on how you first wrote the novel? I am aware that some writers construct their novels from a series of short stories; is that the case here as well?
Aga Maksimowska: Yes and no. When I first attempted this novel it was a different thing entirely: different title, different premise, more characters, albeit the same narrator and settings. It was during the second attempt that I gave myself a constraint of ten chapters, each one named after an event from the decathlon. (Decathlon was the title of the second attempt of the novel.) As a result, each chapter of the book was a sort of standalone story loosely inspired by a decathlon event. Mind you, I have a hard time writing short stories. I think they’re the most difficult thing to write; that’s why I admire short story writers so much. The published incarnation of the book, Giant, has eleven chapters, so as you can see, the work has really evolved over time.
LM: I know that you were born in Gdańsk, Poland. I also know, as a Polish-Canadian myself, that some people live a sort of half-life, one that is here and there in almost equal parts. Do you feel this way at all? How often do you go back to visit? Do you still have family there? Is Poland a large part of who you are today?
AM: I was actually born in Gdynia, a former fishing village that’s now a modern, vibrant city near Gdańsk. It’s much less Gothic and Soviet than Gdańsk; I love it very much.
I wouldn’t say that I live a half-life. I think of myself as a Canadian first. I’ve made a pretty conscious choice a long time ago to immerse myself in Canadian culture and make this place my one and only fixed home—at a cost, of course. As a result, my spoken Polish is horrible for someone who only spoke that language for the first twelve years of her life. I’m ashamed of it from time to time, especially when I meet other Polish-Canadians who are beautifully and functionally bilingual. I do have moments when I feel neither here nor there, neither Polish nor Canadian. Those are pretty vulnerable, unstable moments. But I suppose many people feel this way—displaced somehow, whether physically, emotionally, spiritually, or what not. I tried to channel those feelings of belonging and isolation while creating the protagonist of Giant.
Finally, no, I don’t go back to Poland often, even though I do have oodles and oodles of family there. (I’ve been back four times since my family emigrated.) It’s prohibitively expensive. When time and finances for a vacation are available there is always the temptation to go somewhere new, somewhere unknown. I’ve also had other “homes,” because of work abroad and travel, that I am yearning to visit again one day: Australia, Spain, Italy, Mexico… But I will go back to Poland soon. I have to. The duty and drive to introduce that complicated and wonderful place to my daughter is definitely there. I just wish it were a little bit closer. I envy my Polish cousins and friends who live in the U.K., Ireland, or Germany. They have Ryanair!
LM: When did you decide that you were going to be a writer? What was your mother’s reaction?
AM: I don’t think I ever decided to be a writer, to be honest. I know—that sounds terrible. I always wrote, since I can remember. As a child, I wrote stories about girls with very English surnames and ‘published’ them with hardcovers made of shoebox cardboard and bound them with yarn I’d steal from my grandmother. My mother kept everything I did in these great big files that could be tied together with string. She still has boxes of my “work” somewhere. I have the best mom. But regardless of unconditional family support of my art form, I have never been able to say to someone at a dinner party, “Hi, I’m a writer. What do you do?” I suffer from a terrible case of A-type personality; hence I have always considered writing a hobby, not a viable career choice. Today, I’m a high school teacher. I love what I do. And, as it turns out, writing and teaching are agreeable companions, so I hope to continue juggling the two for as long as I can.
LM: Writers have various writing habits and schedules. What is yours? Is there a time of day in which you feel most productive?
AM: I used to be a morning person. Giant was written predominantly at 5 a.m., before the teaching day would begin. At the end of the day, there were always too many personalities, too many events, too many conflicts running through my head. It would have been a messy novel had I written in the evenings. However, now that I have other people relying on me at home, I will have to explore writing in the evenings. I don’t think creative writing at 5 a.m. will ever happen for me again, or maybe not until my daughter is a teenager. My former office is also now her bedroom, so I’m pretty sure that I will do the bulk of my work on the next novel at Robarts Library or at the dining room table.
LM: Do you write in any medium other than prose?
AM: No, but I would love to try my hand at a screenplay one day, which is a kind of prose but a very different genre of writing.
LM: Which writers do you admire? Who has influenced your writing style?
AM: Arundhati Roy, James Baldwin, Jhumpa Lahiri, Jeffrey Eugenides, Jamaica Kincaid, Camilla Gibb, Lawrence Hill, Heather O’Neill, Helen Humphreys, just to name a few whose work I keep coming back to consistently. I don’t know which one of them has influenced my style the most. All of them, I suppose. Each one of them humbles me when I read and reread their work and then reflect on my own writing. I’m learning all the time. I still have a long, long way to go. I’m excited to try all the tools and techniques I learned while writing this first novel on my second one.
LM: You recently graduated from Guelph’s MFA program. How do you feel about the workshop environment? Do you think that it is always a valuable environment for a writer to be in or does it sometimes feel stagnant?
AM: I loved the workshop environment. It really pushed me. It forced me to produce, but more importantly, it forced me to ask questions of my own work, and to rewrite. Plus deadlines. Deadlines are key to transferring one’s novel from the bucket list to the desk drawer, then to the hands of family and friends, and finally, out into the world, which I suppose is the goal of every writer. You want strangers to read your books, not just your husband and your best friend. The entire MFA experience was wholly valuable to me and I would recommend it to anyone serious about the craft of writing.
LM: Writers have to deal with a lot of rejection when they start out. What is your advice to dealing with it? What is the strangest rejection you have ever received?
AM: Oh Lord. I would like some advice on dealing with rejection myself. I think writers always deal with it, no matter what stage in their career they are at. I’m the proud owner of a four-inch-thick file folder of rejection letters from literary journals, and a Gmail folder packed with rejection emails from agents and publishers. The key is to see rejection as part of the process. Some of the letters can help you improve your writing. I remember an editor at PRISM who would send me lovely, hand-written notes of detailed feedback about my stories. I really appreciated the time he took and his generosity of literary expertise. This leads me to the weirdest rejection, which was an email from an agent that went on and on about how good my writing was and how alive the world of the novel was and how engaging the characters were but how he could never sell my novel—ever—because no one’s interested in Eastern Europe.
LM: Finally, what is your advice for young, emerging writers? What has been the key to your success?
AM: I was about to correct you and say, “What success?” but I suppose having a novel published is success in itself. My advice to emerging writers would be to keep going. Everyone’s got a story to tell, and if you have the desire, the talent, the interest, and the drive to tell it, do it! Don’t keep that novel in a drawer, or worse yet, in the back of your head. Work on it. Even if it’s an hour here and there. Write it, read it to a group of friends, organize a writing group, polish, rewrite, submit it somewhere. Take continuing ed. courses at your local university or college. That’s how I started writing this novel. Having a supportive, nurturing writing community will fuel you to get it done.
Aga Maksimowska lives in Toronto. She is currently Head of English at an independent day school for boys. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Guelph, a Bachelor of Education from the University of Toronto and a Bachelor of Journalism from Ryerson University. Her work has appeared online and in print in Canada and Australia. Her first novel, Giant, is being published in May 2012 by Pedlar Press. Her short story, “Why Yesterday I Keyed My Father’s Car,” has been edited as a stand-alone piece from the novel’s opening chapter.
When I talked to Ali for a pre-interview interview, she was full of good stories. Like how her grandparents immigrated to Canada from Finland fifty years ago when her grandmother got pregnant, and how they still can’t really speak English. Then about her parents, her older sister, and a 960 dollar dry cleaning bill she got recently. I tried to write everything down, and had the idea that the whole thing would sort of be about family.
The second time around, when things were actually being recorded, the whole thing felt a bit forced. Like you can’t really have the same conversation twice. But the good news is that Ali seems to be just interesting all the time, and she’s got lots of thing to talk about. So much so that it was hard to pare it into a short interview.
Of the five poems Ali’s going to be reading, “In Very Mountainous Country” and “Hot’n’Heavy” are featured in issue 16.1 of Soliloquies. Also, the poems, “Equal Opportunities” (in twoparts) and “In Very Mountainous Country” are set into visual collages that that Ali has put together.
More good news is that Ali’s an excellent reader. Theatrical in the best sense. It’s funny, but I always seem to forget just how important that is.
So, this has been a little while in the making. It’s the first of a series I’m calling The Audio Files. It’s going to have Soliloquies contributors and maybe other Montreal readers reading their work, and then talking with them a bit afterwards.
The first person up is Frankie Barnet, and she’s reading her story “Décarie” out of issue fifteen.
I first read this story a few months ago, on the way on the way home from the launch of the same issue. Frankie read that night, and I’d heard her read once before, but nothing of this length. I had a wait before the last metro came, so I started in. As I read it everything hit me at once; the quick prose and real characters, the humour of it, and this sort of sadness, loneliness, that carries through the whole piece. I finished it right as I got to my stop (Frontenac at the time), and as I walked to my place I kept thinking: ‘this is the writing I want to be reading.’ I’ve been wanting to record it since.
And a note on the audio. As you’ll be able to tell pretty quickly, I don’t really know what I’m doing. So much so that I actually recorded this in a hallway on the tenth floor of the library. You’ll have to deal with elevator’s beeping, doors shutting, papers rustling, people coughing. Along with a bit of choppy editing.
But bear with me – the story’s worth it.