The Dark and Promised Land of Writers

The Dark and Promised Land of Writers

Posted on April 1 by Kyle in Fiction, Interview
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What is your new project?

Being a history buff means the setting is usually number one for me. I start with a place and time, and from that viewpoint imagine what might have happened to someone closely involved. My preference is the underdog, and so while history is written by the conquerors, my preferred point of view is that of one of those unnamed corpses that the toffs and princes and sundry big shots rolled over while making history.

So the context of my next novel is something I’m not sure has been covered in fiction before – the surveying of the 49th parallel in the 1870s. It was quite a feat for the US and Canada to finally get their act together and mark the damned thing, especially given the ill-humour of Fenians and American annexationists. The west was in real turmoil at that time: the Metis were on the verge of giving Orange Canada another black eye, the whiskey forts were raising hell, Gen George Custer was preparing for a new haircut, the antics of American wolfers were raising howls of protest in Canada for mowing down “our” Natives in the Cypress Hills, while we were busy starving the same Natives into submission, and the much ballyhooed NWMP were busy getting themselves lost in a swamp during their so-called great march west. In the middle of all this some poor schlep has to mark a boundary, through whatever unbelievably remote and desolate landscape happens to fall in his way. I can’t imagine a better time and place to drop some characters into the mix and see what comes out of it. I’m sure it’ll be fun.


How did you research your book?

I drank a lot. Honestly, I don’t think I could have chosen a worse time and place for this kind of story. I wanted it to be intimate, which required I paint as detailed as picture as I could, without getting a Master degree in the history of the fur trade in Rupert’s land. It wasn’t all that long ago, so I didn’t realize how hard it would be. I wrote it over a number of years, and when I started the Internet had only just found its legs, and not everything was available with a few clicks.

The reality was that 99% of those who witnessed life in early 19th century Rupert’s Land were illiterate and left no written record of what they saw and did. Sure, you had records and diaries of Factors in the Hudson’s Bay forts, but they tended to be a pretty dry and sterile accounting, knowing full well they would be read by the unamused type in London. There some accounts written by adventuring gentlemen, but they were few and far between. The good news was when I found a few of these books, it was very exciting to hold 100-year-old printings of books describing the places covered in my novel.


What's the best advice you've ever received as a writer?

Don’t give up. It’s my opinion that the biggest single thing that separates the published from the unpublished is the published don’t stop trying. By this I don’t mean rattling off a piece of crap and spending the next twenty years trying to find a publisher for it, but by failing, trying again, and failing some more, as a writer.

Nothing beats the time one spends writing. I honestly don’t know how much innate talent plays out in all this, but until you’ve written maybe a half dozen or so books, complete with lots of feedback, you haven’t really tried. If you keep writing and keep submitting and keep writing, regardless of rejections and the opinions of others, you will reach your apogee, regardless of where that is.  Some bright sparks can do it fairly quickly, but most of us will take years and years of tripping and stumbling and embarrassing ourselves before we start to shine. And don’t expect much positive feedback until you make it; unlike university with its grades and scholarships, with writing you only get kudos once you’ve already graduated. But with writing there’s no diploma, no notification until you get someone actually willing to publish you. Nobody will encourage you, nobody will tell you you’re almost there.


What was the hardest part of writing your book?

The rewrites. Oh, God, kill me now. The best way to end up loathing your work is to read it ten times or more. Rewriting, rewriting, and rewriting it again. The first few times it’s an experience of glorious unfolding and epiphany, but by the 8th rewrite you want to drink battery acid to lighten the mood a bit. Even when you contract out to an editor – which every author should before submitting – you still have to go through all those edits. And then the publisher throws it back to you to edit again. It’s like recurring herpes outbreaks without the fun.       


What inspired you to write your first book?

Failure in life, and I’m not kidding. I’ve had a lot of careers and spent ten years in university, and after all that searching I’ve found I’m happiest sitting at home writing. For guys like me, writing is the refuge of last resort, the next step being living under a bridge somewhere. When you feel like you’ve done it all and got nowhere, you might as well write about it. Honestly, I would much rather be pulling in a 6-figure salary designing the next frakencrop for Monsanto, but I would end up slitting my throat before the first seed sprouted. It makes lots more sense to simply buy a fedora, develop a drinking habit, and acquire loose morals, to becoming a greeter at Walmart. But it’s not my fault; due to developmental delays and a weak constitution I’m doomed to a low stress, low wage and low expectation job where various addictions are not only accepted but actively encouraged. Being an artist is the one occupation where the more messed up you are, the better your reviews.