Wednesday, September 5, 2007

12 or 20 questions: with Thomas Wharton

Thomas Wharton is the author of The Logogryph (Gaspereau Press, 2004; winner of the 2005 Writers Guild of Alberta Award for Short Fiction, nominated for the Sunburst Award for Canadian Fantasy and shortlisted for the IMPAC-Dublin Prize, 2006), Salamander (McClelland & tewart, 2001; shortlisted for the 2001 Governor-General’s Award for Fiction, shortlisted for the Sunburst Award for Canadian Fantasy, winner, Georges Bugnet Award for Fiction, Alberta Book Awards, 2002, shortlisted for the Grant MacEwan Author’s Award, 2002 and finalist for the Roger’s Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, 2001) and Icefields (NeWest Press, 1995; Grand Prize & Banff National Park Award at the1995 Banff Mountain Book Festival, Henry Kreisel Award (Best First Book) at the Alberta Book Awards 1996, 1996 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book, Canada and Caribbean Division, shortlisted for the Boardman-Tasker Prize in Mountain Literature and chosen as Grant MacEwan College Book of the Year, 1998). He lives in Edmonton, where he teaches at the University of Alberta as an Assistant Professor in the Department of English, and his The Shadow of Malabron, the first novel in a YA fantasy trilogy, will be published by Doubleday Canada and Candlewick/Walker US/UK in fall 2008.

1 - How did your first book change your life?

I was a painfully shy person and suddenly I had a public persona as an author. Doing readings was terrifying at first but I did get better at it. After the book was published I started to meet writers, publishers, critics - I had never been part of this community before. And I got to travel to exotic places like Europe, Africa, Canmore.

2 - How long have you lived in Edmonton, and how does geography, if at all, impact on your writing? Does race or gender make any impact on your work?

Moved to Edmonton to go to school in 1983. Since then have lived elsewhere (Peace River 1992-95) and Calgary (1995-98) then back to Edmonton and here ever since. I rarely write about the place I actually live, but I have no doubt the setting, climate, culture, etc., are major (if often unperceived) factors in how I see the world.

Race and gender in the same question as geography???

3 - Where does a piece of fiction usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

I start with fragments of imagery, ideas, characters, and slowly fit them together, like a jigsaw puzzle with no finished picture on the boxto guide me.

4 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process?

I used to hate em. Now I look forward to meeting readers and talkingabout books. Often the energy at a reading is helpful to my writing; I'm less bummed out now by small crowds. I write because I love to write. Give me one intelligent, sensitive reader and I'm happy.

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

Both. I've worked with great editors, but there are always moments where their vision departs from mine. Sometimes you know they're probably right but you do it your way anyhow, just to stay in creative control.

6 - After having published more than a couple of titles over the years, do you find the process of book-making harder or easier?

A bit easier - I now trust the process more. I know that all thefloundering and uncertainty and sheer plod of the process willeventually bear fruit. It may take longer than I hoped...

7 - When was the last time you ate a pear?

Several weeks ago. It was one of those pears that looks like an apple. It was like eating a very watery apple. Grilled pear and brie sandwiches are so yummy.

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

Quit playing author and get back to work.

9 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

I try to get an hour in the morning on my teaching days. And two or three hours on the non-teaching days. Ha ha ha ha...

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

Other arts. Music, drama, film. I have also made a collection of"creativity" cards with images from art and culture - when I'm stalled I'll pull out two or three of these cards at random and usually the unexpected juxtaposition will burn a new synaptic path in the brain, hopefully toward something that will kick-start the writing.

11 - How does your most recent book compare to your previous work? How does it feel different?

My new book is a fantasy novel for younger readers. I've noticed myself becoming more of a storyteller in the process. It has been great fun - make contact again with the reader I was as a kid. The way I could climb inside a book I loved for weeks at a time and live there.

12 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

See above about art, music, etc. I'm also very interested in science.That's where I find new and exciting metaphors for the human condition. And from spirituality, too. Buddhism and contemporary science both point toward the instability and fragility of many of the things we consider stable and familiar. I'm tired of what I see as an underlying assumption in a lot of fiction (realist fiction anyhow) that human nature is essentially selfish, that everything is power relations, and that life basically ... sucks. We've inherited that morose outlook from the 20th century (from miserable Frenchmen like Sartre etc) and I think writers try to adopt it or mimic it to give their work a veneer of toughness and relevance. A lot of genuine creativity gets stifled that way. What new forms and subjects of literature can come from shedding these sorts of ingrained assumptions? Milan Kundera talks about great literature rending the veil of preconceived ideas and attitudes (the stuff we see and believe because we’re told that’s all there is.)

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

Write a novel about emptiness. Emptiness in the Buddhist sense: that everyone and everything is empty of separate, inherent existence. How would character, plot, etc have to be reconceived from such a point of view? Will I ever write the thing? I haven't yet found the way in, or the story...

14 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be?


15 - Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

Graphic artist, probably.

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

Don't know. The impulse followed almost immediately from learning how to read, and I don't know where the love of reading came from. None of my siblings read much.

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

18 - What are you currently working on?

Book Two of the Perilous Realm Trilogy: The Fathomless Fire

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