Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with Nathan Whitlock

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Nathan

May 21, 2008 -

OB:

What was your first publication and where was it published?

NW:

Fairly sure the first thing I ever had published was a movie review of Oliver Stone’s J.F.K. in the Ottawa Citizen when I was around 18. The review was in the form of a final address to the jury, which is one of the more lazy review conceits around. Pretty sure I still stand by the ultimate judgement, though, which is that the movie was essentially The Untouchables with trickier editing and a lot of wasted cameos from good actors. Which just goes to show that I was up on my high horse making sweeping review judgments from a tender age.

OB:

Describe a recent Canadian cultural experience that influenced your writing.

NW:

Since I’ve not yet been able to write about Toronto – where I’ve lived for the past ten-plus years – in a novel (though I often do in short stories), the cultural experiences that influence my novel writing tend to occur whenever I drive out of town for various reasons – usually to visit relatives and in-laws. Each time I come across some detail of life in small and medium-sized towns that I’d either never noticed before or had simply forgotten about. My antennae are always up, wherever I am, but they seem to really start pinging at those times. And not because I feel small town life is more "authentic" or anything, it's just the reality I am most involuntarily interested in writing about for the time being. At some point, I will have accumulated enough emotional information about Toronto to start writing about it, I hope. Though even then, it’ll probably be books about somewhat dull and disconnected pockets of the city.

OB:

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

NW:

Thin Ice: Coming of Age in Canada – Bruce McAll

Manual for Draft Age Immigrants to Canada – Mark Ivor Satin

Solomon Gursky Was Here – Mordecai Richler

OB:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

NW:

Nicholson Baker has a novel called The Fermata, in which the protagonist can halt time at will. He uses that power to various self-indulgent and pornographic ends. Not saying I wouldn’t do the same, but I’d probably get some writing done on the side. Other than that: a chair, a table, paper and pen or a computer, and silence.

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?

NW:

My next one.

If I have to pick an actual book, I’d say there are chunks of James Joyce’s Ulysses – specifically the Bloom chapters – that I’m still trying to write. Same with Loving by Henry Green.

OB:

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

NW:

Proust’s doorstop a fleuve is the obvious answer, isn’t it? I’ve read the first third of that one, but long enough ago that I’d have to go back and start all over again, anyway. The question should really be what book I should have re-read by now, and that would be a very long list, starting with Anna Karenina, which I read years ago but remember mostly as an act of will. I’d like to actually read it for enjoyment this time.

OB:

What are you reading right now?

NW:

Am still beavering my way through Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time, which should get me Proust points, I think. Just finished re-reading Down to the Dirt by Joel Hynes, which is a great little book. Also, The Finishing School by Muriel Spark, though that one’s so short I’ll probably be done before I finish answering these questions.

OB:

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

NW:

I got asked this recently, and my answer is the same: my ideal reader is myself, but alternately more forgiving and more critical. And gentler, more charismatic, more prone to spontaneous laughter and joyful abandon, and with lots of spending money put aside for novels by relative unknowns.

OB:

What are you working on right now?

NW:

I am slowing working my way back into my second novel, which I put aside to launch the first one.

OB:

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

NW:

“Stay out of my way” comes to mind.

The only real piece of advice I have is to become schizophrenic: one half of you should be the absolutely uncompromising writer who pursues his own vision at any cost; the other should be the weasel who does his homework, learns how publishing works, learns who the people are, and has a sense of where he can sneak his way in. Those two sides, it should go without saying, must never communicate. The weasel can’t advise the writer, and vice versa.

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