Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions, with Jessica Westhead

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June 1, 2011 -

Open Book: Toronto:

What was your first publication and where was it published?

Jessica Westhead:

My short story “Patrick Josephine Meets the Meatball from the Moon” was published in the now defunct CRUNCH! magazine when I was in grade 3. I remember thinking, This is the big time.

OBT:

Describe a recent Canadian cultural experience that influenced your writing.

JW:

I go to a lot of concerts with my husband, and I do some good story-brainstorming when I don’t know the band that well and I’m just half-listening. Last year we saw Diamond Rings open for another band — that we were actually there to see, but I can’t even remember who they were now. At first we thought his act was a joke, but then we were totally mesmerized by him. My mind had been wandering, but now I was tuned right into this pretty, long-limbed and velvet-voiced man wearing make-up and a robot space tracksuit. Then I started noticing other people’s facial expressions — confused, horrified, curious, enraptured. And suddenly I was back in storyland in my head, but with this amazing creepy-jingly Diamond Rings soundtrack playing. Let’s just say that notes have been made.

OBT:

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

JW:

Stuart Ross’s short story collection Buying Cigarettes for the Dog, Sarah Selecky’s short story collection This Cake Is for the Party, and Andrew Kaufman’s mini-novel All My Friends Are Superheroes. Plus I would throw in one of those maple-leaf-shaped maple-flavoured fudge candies.

OBT:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

JW:

When I’m feeling obligation- and distraction-free. This perfect storm usually occurs in a pub, where I can zone out or eavesdrop to my heart’s content. I bring my notebook and pen, turn off my cellphone, start out with a pot of tea and work my way up to a pint(s).

OBT:

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?

JW:

Lorrie Moore’s Birds of America and Joy Williams’ Honoured Guest.

OBT:

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

JW:

Short fiction by Lydia Davis — but I recently bought her Collected Stories, which is calling to me from the “to read” section of my bookshelf.

OBT:

What are you reading right now?

JW:

I’m finishing up Julie Booker’s debut short story collection Up Up Up, which I’ve really been enjoying. I’ve just started Zsuzsi Gartner’s new story collection Better Living Through Plastic Explosives and Meg Wolitzer’s new novel The Uncoupling, and I’m already hooked on both.

OBT:

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

JW:

I have three ideal readers, who are also all wonderful writers — Sarah Henstra, Grace O’Connell and Sarah Selecky. Their combined forces embody the readership I’m hoping to reach and entertain: smart and curious people who like to have fun.

OBT:

What are you working on right now?

JW:

I was excited to write a new short story recently, though it’s not quite finished. Otherwise I’ve just been scribbling random ideas in my notebook, and I feel satisfied if I get 20 minutes of writing done in the morning. I’m concentrating most of my energy these days on promoting And Also Sharks, which I like doing. I have a feeling I’ll write another short story collection next, but it will probably take me a while.

OBT:

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

JW:

I do, and I’ve compiled them into my handy-dandy “Writerly Items!”— you can view it HERE.

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