Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with John Moss

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September 21, 2009 -

Open Book: Toronto:

What was your first publication and where was it published?

John Moss:

My first publication was a poem in the Huron College literary magazine, Quarto, in 1959. My first book was Patterns of Isolation, published by McClelland and Stewart in 1964. It sold 10,000 copies, which was pretty good for literary criticism back then, especially dealing with Canadian literature.

OBT:

Describe a recent Canadian cultural experience that influenced your writing.

JM:

Experience is cultural or else it is just filling in time. In personal terms, an incident while scuba diving in the Thousand Islands this spring ended my diving career, but not before I had worked scuba adventures into my mysteries, especially Grave Doubts, where action in the last fifty pages occurs underwater. From a broader perspective, attending the annual Crimewriters of Canada Bloody Words festival in Ottawa just before my dive incident was illuminating. I became engaged with a community of writers I didn’t know existed and discovered the exceptional diversity and generosity of fellow Canadians immersed in murder.

OBT:

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

JM:

Apart from my own? Here’s a threesome: any collection of Alice Munro’s short stories; Giles Blunt’s Forty Words for Sorrow, not just for the title but for the first three chapters which are as good as anything ever written in Canada, or elsewhere; Wacousta (1832), by Major John Richardson, or Frances Brooke’s The History of Emily Montague (1769)—how can you know us without knowing our imagined past. Or Joan Barfoot’s Exit Lines (2008). I’d give away more than three books. Apart from my own.

OBT:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

JM:

Anywhere, so long as I have my Mac ‘laptop.’ I never write by longhand; I can’t read my own writing and there’s no delete button. I’m lying, actually. I write better surrounded by the sounds and smells of home.

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?

JM:

Without question, William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, with any story by Alice Munro running second, third, fourth, ad infinitum.

OBT:

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

JM:

I had to read what I should through an academic career that spanned decades and I have no doubt it was good for my soul and sensibility, but now I tend to read whatever appeals at the moment. As a fallen Presbyterian, I thrive on guilt; but I don’t read through guilt, anymore. If I did, I’d take a crack at War and Peace. Anna Karenin is among the best novels I ever endured.

OBT:

What are you reading right now?

JM:

Non-fiction: Beverley Haun’s Inventing ‘Easter Island.’ I’ve read it before. Fiction: J.D. Carpenter’s Bright’s Kill; Alice Munro’s Too Much Happiness (a title almost as resonant as Blunt’s Forty Words for Sorrow).

OBT:

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

JM:

Whoever likes P.D. James and finds the on-going appeal of Dashiell Hammett puzzling but reads him anyway. I write to a literate, culturally informed and socially engaged reader who will meet me half-way, who wants something more than Peanuts, perhaps less than Paradise Lost.

OBT:

What are you working on right now?

JM:

The next two novels in my Quin and Morgan mystery series from Dundurn, tentatively titled The Gibraltar Coordinates and The Dead Scholar. Both are almost done. Not sure which comes first.

OBT:

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

JM:

Write! Writer’s blocks aren’t because the words aren’t there, just the writer. Then sell. Manuscripts in desk drawers don’t count. The selling part isn’t easy; you’re a writer, after all. You’re best with an agent, but agents are hard to come by. Believe in your work; if you’re reading aloud, whether to three or three hundred, make the words fresh, read like you love what you’ve written. Approach publishers and agents the same way. Don’t despair. If your work has merit, and we’re not all Shakespeares or Munros or Rowlings, you’ll eventually find a publisher. Fill that bottom drawer with rejections slips, not rejected manuscripts.

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