Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Line of Inquiry: Andrew Hood

Andrew Hood studied in the creative writing program at Concordia in Montreal and won the Irving Layton Award for Undergraduate Fiction there.

His first collection of stories, Pardon Our Monsters (Vehicule Press), won the 2007 Danuta Gleed Literary Award for the best first collection of short fiction in English. The Montreal Review of Books called it “a powerhouse of artistry” and the Globe and Mail calls it “uncannily, magnificently good.”

After graduating from Concordia, Hood filtered beer at the McAuslan Brewery, and then returned to his home town of Guelph where he now lives and writes.

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1) As a writer (i.e. someone whose artistic practice is predicated on time spent alone) how do you approach performance? What do you get out of it?

The last step of editing I take - before I consider a final draft "done" - is reading the story out loud, refining the rhythm and diction that way, so I think my prose is generally conducive to performance. And performing a story is certainly more immediately gratifying and constructive, what with your being able to gauge a listening audience's reaction in a way you'll never be able to with a reading audience. When I'm alone and plugging away, I really relish the thought of eventually taking that piece out of that shut off place and into the fresh air. Over the two or so years that I was working on the stories in Pardon Our Monsters I had a lot of chances to perform the work, usually in a rough form, and I think that really helped shape them. At that time in Montreal (and probably still) poetry was fairly ubiquitous and I was often the only story writer on those bills.

The thing with poetry is that there's always something lost in either direction from page to the stage - I find that poetry which works really well on the page often falls flat when done live, and poetry that works well live just doesn't work in a book. Prose yarns, on the other hand, tend to be gangbusters in either medium. So much of reading poetry has to do with rumination over time, whereas fiction relies much more heavily on reaction in time. I find that nothing susses the proof out the pudding better that reading a story for a live audience; it either works or it doesn't, and your listeners will let you know.

2) What do you want people to know about Pardon Our Monsters?

Trying to work out a brief synopsis for the back of the book was all kinds of painful. The thing should speak for itself, hopefully. But if I had to speak on behalf of the book, then I'd probably assure people that, for the most part, the stories in there are all about love. There is plenty of violence, ugliness, confusion, rancor, and cruelty in the stories, sure, and it's easy to dwell and focus on those elements, but maybe more difficult is seeing that all of that bad business comes from want of love, or loss of love, or the stress of love. There's a line in the first story that, for me, sums up those that follow. It goes something like: "It's the hardest fucking thing in the world to love someone who hates themselves so much." The "fucking" might have been edited out, but that's the way it was originally written, and that sentiment is at "the heart" of the book. Probably.

3) Will this your first time in Winnipeg? What have you heard?

I drove from BC to Montreal this summer. A friend was supposed to join me, though he bowed out on the trip a day or so before. I had planned the trip to get him to Toronto in time for a wedding in Toronto, and I just went ahead and kept that schedule anyway, so instead of taking my time, I blew through the country in five days, driving for as long as I had sun. So I passed through Winnipeg, but was then fairly delirious and pushing for Kenora.

That's the only time I've been to Winnipeg and I haven't heard much about Winnipeg except for that Weakerthans song that goes "I hate Winnipeg." And the people I have known from Manitoba have expressed the same sort of attitude. (On the other side of dour, I've also heard a great deal of good things about the tight, but crazy active art scene there.) But, like any real hate, there has to be a fundament of love. I think you can't help but hate the place you're from. I've moved back to my hometown, Guelph - which is the Corbet in the book - to do some research and some work, and I say every day that I hate it. But nowhere else feels like this place. I don't think you can have any sort of full, round love without a stain of hate somewhere in there. I suspect that we resent most those things that mean the most to us. So I'm sure Winnipeg is lovely.

4) What are you reading right now? What are you writing right now?

Flannery O'Connor's Everything That Rises Must Converge
blows my hair back; I read it at the beginning of summer and have been coming back over and over again. Just recently I've read Capote's Other Voices, Other Rooms along with his Collected Stories. Those two - maybe by dint of their both being Southern - create these amazing children - children characters I mean - kids that are as smart as the Glass kids, but without the intelligence. Besides those, I've been reading a lot about the Russian Mennonites that settled in the prairies, so a lot of Rudy Wiebe and this guy Frank Epp. I just finished Lee Henderson's The Man Game. I enjoyed that.

As for writing, I've been about as distractable as a cat in an aviary this summer, so it's been all over the place--I can't seem to sit still with a story these days. I've been working away at some short stories that I've mentally collected as "Traps and Attractions", the title coming from a novella-in-progress about the vortexes in Sedona, the recreationists in Tombstone, and the notion of "sexual tourism." Alongside those stories, I've been working on some connected historical yarns that I see as, if not a sort of history of Canada, then at least one of Ontario, ranging from the Scots failed attempt to create a colony in Panama, the founding of Guelph by the novelist John Galt, the Great Toronto Fire of 1904, the Mennonite Selbstshutz during the Bolshevik Revolution, and the moon landing, with some diving horses, two headed colts, and decapitated cats thrown in there somewhere. (If it never gets around to being written, then I figure I'll at least have this description of it to remember it by.)

5) How is filtering beer like/unlike writing?

I'm glad you asked. Filtering and editing share many similar qualities, I've found. During the time I was editing the manuscript of POM and finishing up a few final stories for it I was working the 10pm to 6am shift filtering beer, so I had a lot of time to think about the correlations - it's called the graveyard shift because you're basically dead to the world. What it comes down to (or distills to, ha!) is patience. Brewing, filtering, and bottling beer on a rather strict weekly schedule is no easy feat, as you can't do squat with the brew until it decides it's ready. The beer calls the shots. Fermentation time can be predicted and controlled fairly well, but each batch will behave uniquely. Sometimes the beer will ferment quickly, and sometimes the yeast will be sluggish and take forever. When the time comes to filter the beer, the objective is to get all the shit out of there - the yeast is gotten out with a centrifuge, and the proteins with diatomaceous earth. Beer needs time to sit before it's filtered, the yeast that is suspended during fermentation needs to settle, otherwise your filtration will be hell.

Given time to sit, I find that a story sort of edits itself - all the redundant and cockamamie elements fall to the bottom, will separate themselves in time. For me, the best thing I can do from a story is walk away from it for a while, so I can come back to it with a perspective that's a little bit more on the outside, somewhat closer to a reader's perspective. And oftentimes, for me, it is those initial elements of the story, those impetuses and self-prompts, that are necessary to the writing of the story, that are the first to go in editing. The story has used up those activating ingredients, like the yeast eats up the sugar to make the alcohol, and when you've got your story just boozy enough, you need to get out the yeast.

Granted, all that's a bit of a stretch, but it made perfect, clear, sterling sense at the time.

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Andrew Hood will be appearing at THIN AIR, Winnipeg International Writers Festival:
September 23 - Mainstage, with Maurice Mierau, Mary Swan, and Saleema Nawaz.
September 24 - Campus Program, Red River College, with Rosanna Deerchild.

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