Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with Zoe Whittall

Share |

Zoe

September 28, 2007 -

OB:

What was your first publication and where was it published?

ZW:

I was first published in 1995, in a magazine called Index in Montreal. They printed a spoken-word poem I used to perform at slam type venues. It makes me cringe now but was a big deal at the time. Erin Moure had a poem in the same issue - made me feel insanely lucky / unworthy. I was 19.

OB:

Describe a recent Canadian cultural experience that influenced your writing.

ZW:

Not sure how that would be defined... I saw three one-man plays by Daniel MacIvor this year and was very influenced by them. His monologues make me almost catatonic afterwards, that feeling of being so inspired that your teeth almost hurt and your bones feel awkward under your skin.

OB:

If you had to choose three books as a “Welcome to Canada” gift, what would those books be?

ZW:

I don't think any three books could really encapsulate one kind of Canadian experience. If it were a top three I'd choose Douglas Coupland's Life After God, the Anansi Anthology Ground Works: Avant-Garde for Thee to cheat a little, and Heather O'Neill's Two Eyes Are You Sleeping. If you want regional coverage, I'd choose Lynn Crosbie's Queen Rat, Lynn Coady's Mean Boy, Chandra Mayor's Cherry, Gail Scott's Heroine – god, no, the country is too big.

OB:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

ZW:

I have a daydream involving the house I might eventually own, it contains a library with floor to ceiling built-in shelves, a gorgeous old desk and a patio door with huge windows leading out into a garden. This is my ideal environment. But right now I tend to write at a café down the street, with a friend who is working on her dissertation. We pause on the half hour to give each other punitive stares and don't allow the internet. It works for the meantime.

OB:

William Faulkner was once asked what book he wished he had written; he chose Moby Dick (with Winnie the Pooh as a close second). Is there a book that you wish you had written?

ZW:

I would say it's a tie between Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer and The Passion by Jeanette Winterson.

OB:

Is there a book that you think you should have read by now but haven’t?

ZW:

It seems like everyone around me has read Lori Lansen's The Girls, but I just can't get past the first chapter. This is rare for me, so I feel like I have to get through it. I always feel like I should have read more Atwood, I have a near-full shelf of books of hers I've been given. I've actually only made it through two. Also odd.

OB:

What are you reading right now?

ZW:

Londonstani by Gautam Malkani and Seeing by Jose Saramago, am halfway through Language Acts – Anglo-Quebec Poetry, 1976 to the 21st Century edited by Jason Camlot and Todd Swift, and I'm really looking forward to the new novel by Maya Merrick coming out this fall with Conundrum Press.

OB:

Do you have a specific readership in mind when you write?

ZW:

I try not to. I'm not one of those queer writers who, when s/he writes about queer characters, tries to make their stories universal so that everyone can handle it, or has a particular thesis in mind when it comes to putting them through certain situations. I hope it doesn't matter what your bent is when you read my novel, that the writing is strong enough for readers who are struggling with heterosexist assumptions to get over themselves and enjoy it.

OB:

What are you working on right now?

ZW:

I'm working on a new novel set in Toronto in 2005 called Doing Nothing For As Long As Possible. I've finished the first draft but it might change significantly, so I won't say much else. I'm also hoping to write a book-length poem, but it's just a little germ of an idea.

OB:

Do you have any advice for writers who are trying to get published?

ZW:

Spend as much time reading as you do writing. Grants and juried-awards are lotteries. Editors, publishers and people in charge are not bestowed magical powers, they just like what they like. Submit to a lot of journals. Get a friend who can edit and can tell you when things are really terrible. Don't be afraid to erase five pages and keep one sentence. It's true that your life will not change once you have a book. When you read in public don't be that asshole that reads for 45 minutes when they told you 10. (There are people whose books I still don't buy merely because they did that and it pissed me off.) Don't cold call publishers. Send cover letters with the exact names of the current editor spelled correctly. Basically - don't act like an over-entitled moron and you'll get published eventually if you're any good. Everything takes more time that you think it will, unless you're the slush pile unicorn and then get used to other writers hating you (behind your back.:).

Related item from our archives