It was mid-afternoon, late winter when we met at the local Commercial Drive pub for a chat.
One of those afternoons washed out by weak sunlight. Floor to ceiling windows letting it all in.
We sat at a cocktail table and ordered a couple of beers, bullshitted for a minute and then Dennis started talking.
Started the discussion by going way back into the past. Into another lifetime, practically.
All of these memories flooded in taking over from the sunlight. Men and their cars. Men and their troubles, their addictions, bad ideas and confused decisions.
Friendships and altercations and brief moments of grace.
Here’s an interview that originally appeared on the Arsenalia blog:
Of the six books I published between 1992 and 2009, four of them, though not of the “crime writing” genre per se, were nevertheless set within the murky milieu of the west coast, street-level criminal world. I have always prided myself in these books as having invented a sub-genre: hard-hitting sociological fiction. My second book, Stand in Hell, is a contemporary/historical novel aligning the Holocaust with the general dis-ease of life in the western world post-war. While not overtly involving criminals, it could be considered to be a novel of crime; in fact the biggest crime known to humanity. My earlier short fiction collection, Gas Tank, contains general subject matter—war, employment, relationships, etc.—with no specific reference to criminal activities.
Thus, with Anticipated Results and its cast of benign characters—social and serious drinkers, cab drivers, computer sweat-shop nerds, and office slaves but scant content of criminal personages or capers—I pull a hard turn away from my former motif. My characters here are suffering the prosaic, they are enduring the mundane, and are exhibiting the exhaustion of boredom and spiritual stasis. Alcohol, sex, and car-love are the salves they generally resort to, but nary a dishonest thought typically enters their minds.
2) You have a distinctive pared-down narrative style—can you tell us why that seems most appropriate for your subject matter and what/who are your influences?
Early on I was enraptured with the wave of early 20th-century prose innovators—of course primarily Hemingway, but with Chekhov and Fitzgerald as sidemen. I was particularly taken, once my own writing began to insist upon itself, with later wizards like Cormac McCarthy at the novel, Raymond Carver at the short story.
The stubby sentence serves my story-telling well, but you will see that on occasion I venture into the protractedly intricate—take, for an example, the paragraph-sized third sentence of “Paul’s Car,” the first story in Anticipated Results. This rambling list of clauses and qualifiers gets a pass because it follows two terse declarative statements which hopefully open enough questions in the reader’s mind to create a desire for immediate satisfaction. And so forth.
My method is no more sophisticated than that.
3) Why did so many second-wave of the Boomers, “try to make a mark in the world, but it was just a scuff…”?
Among the plethora, these specific afflictions plague my characters:
-The delusion that the post-war economic rise was a permanent phenomenon, and the resulting miscalculation and lack of forward planning that was the result;
-The notion that self-actualization was more important than sacrificing ones future for the good of a corporation or country or even a family; while successful in creating a culture of individuality, this diverted many into non-profitable pursuits, making for uncertain financial stability, mental-emotional stress, and the resulting tendency toward substance abuse;
-An unrealistic expectation of “specialness” created by the post-war media explosion—creating the impression that everyone would be famous—resulting, once disappointed, in a general depression and a further impetus to drown one’s disillusioned soul in a slow suicide by alcohol and drugs.
4) What purpose and meaning can they/these characters–who do not seem to feel passionately about their jobs or their love lives or children and are even ambivalent about their long friendships with each other–draw out of life?
See #3 above: this is precisely the problem.
5) Do you want to say anything about why you draw such a harsh portrait of these casual/social alcoholics?
I am surprised by the assessment ‘harsh’, though I have heard it more than once; I don’t feel I’m being harsh on anybody. As lost as many of my generation are, we honour the legitimacy of truth, and seldom flinch in the face of it.
6) Since the stories and characters in the book are so intertwined, why did you choose to keep this a collection of short stories rather than structure it as a novel?
Now, in its finished form, I consider it to be a novel, albeit one which employs the conventions of the short form within its novel-esque arc. Certainly earlier in the process it was truly a series of loosely connected short fiction pieces, but now that the final story has been welded on, it is clearly a novel to me.
7) Are you working on a new book right now—and please tell us a bit about it. I also wonder if, given the volatility in the biz that’s on everyone’s lips right now, if you want to offer any commentary on the literary/publishing scene.
I am continuing research and preliminary scene-sketching for a magnum opus Vancouver Island historical novel, which will likely take up coal mining as its central concern, but will encompass the prevailing political, social and legal issues of the era between 1890-1920, a seminal period in the development of BC.
Re publishing: I try not to think about how hard it is to sell books in today’s climate and just proceed as always, writing the best books I can, of a nature which encourages at least some segment of the public or other to read them. I welcome technical advances and do not fear the ebook, whether it survives, dominates, terminates the print tradition, or whatever.
I was lucky enough recently to attend a local literary festival, well-attended by nationally-known, prominent writers. While the participants were a cross section of Canadian society—comprising more or less equal samples of each gender and representatives of several ethnicities—there was of course at least a slight proportional bulge of white male authors of the 30-to-50-something age group. At the same time I was slightly taken aback to see that the attendees to the festival were, on the other hand, at least 90 percent female, and 75 percent elderly. Not a middle-aged white guy to be seen buying a book or attending a reading.
This seems indicative of the weird schism between those who wish to write and those who read. I find it troubling.