Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Lucky Seven Interview, with Adam Lindsay Honsinger

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Adam Lindsay Honsinger

Adam Lindsay Honsinger is a Toronto-based writer, teacher and illustrator. His work has been published in several literary journals including Descant and PRISM International, has twice been nominated for The Journey Prize and his story "Silence" won Silver at the National Magazine Awards.

His debut novel Gracelessland (Enfield & Wizenty) follows sixteen-year-old Kepler Pressler as he strives to come to terms with his dysfunctional family and piece together his broken memories after an attempt to set free a family of chimpanzees lands him in a mental health institute. Writer Annabel Lyon praises Adam's writing as doing "for the family-dysfunction novel what Elvis did for rock ’n roll: he makes it bluesier, edgier, funnier, better.”

Today Adam speaks with us as part of our Lucky Seven interview series, which asks writers seven questions about their newest books, writing process and more. Adam tells us about finding truth in memory, the messiness of first drafts and the project he is working on now.

Open Book:

Tell us about your new book and how it came to be.

Adam Lindsay Honsinger:

Well, the book is a tragic and comic look at the suburban dream. Told through the POV of a sixteen-year-old kid, Gracelessland chronicles Kepler Pressler’s struggles to negotiate his parents’ inability to deal with their regrets and failures, which are exasperated by the fact that the house they have inherited is slowly falling apart. The novel was born out of an interest in the uncertainty of memory and the narratives we create to make sense of our lives—Gracelessland is, at its root, a story about storytelling. Both the character’s and the novel’s structure are dedicated to this theme—the father is a storyteller, Kepler is studying Ulysses at school, and his mental well-being hinges on his ability to confront through narrative the parts of his life that have wounded him.

OB:

Is there a question that is central to your book, thematically? And if so, did you know the question when you started writing or did it emerge from the writing process?

ALH:

From the outset, I was interested in questioning the notion of truth—whether it exists, especially in terms of memory. I am very much interested in the space in between what we recall, and how we structure and embellish in order to, not just create order out of the fragmented nature of our past, but to compensate for the parts that make us uncomfortable. The question of truth and its relationship to memory are perhaps the two coiling strands of the novel’s DNA.

OB:

Did the project change significantly from when you first starting working on it to the final version? How long did the project take from start to finish?

ALH:

First drafts for me are very messy. They are messy in that I allow myself to follow whatever connections come to mind: dreamer, astronomy, Cetus, the constellation of the whale, Ham the first monkey launched into space, the infinite monkey theorem et cetera. In the case of Gracelessland, many of the themes that found their way into the story in the early stages remained, but they had to be integrated in a way that seemed believable within the novel’s narrative. Also, because the novel is darkened by such themes as alcoholism and dementia, the greatest challenge, beyond the countless challenges imbedded in writing a novel, was to balance the sadness with humour.

I began Gracelessland back in 2004. It took five or six years to write but like many manuscripts it didn’t have a linear and neat road to publication. The manuscript was agented, but it didn’t sell so I shelved it and began a second novel, which became my thesis while working on an MFA. After completing my degree I came back to Gracelessland and spent some time revising it, which led to its publication a decade after I started writing it.

OB:

What do you need in order to write — in terms of space, food, rituals, writing instruments?

ALH:

I write in my home office. The wall in front of my desk is papered with notes that remind me of the key threads that hold what I’m working on together. I listened to a lot of Elvis while writing Gracelessland. Sometimes when I’m writing I forget to eat, and days go by when I haven’t stepped outside. For me novel writing requires not only that I create a world, but that I submerge myself long enough to hold that world in my head, which means that I need more than anything, long stretches of uninterrupted time.

OB:

What do you do if you're feeling discouraged during the writing process? Do you have a method of coping with the difficult points in your projects?

ALH:

I am not easily discouraged in terms of the writing, however, I have been discouraged by rejection and the state of the publishing industry. As a result, I try to concern myself only with the things I can actually control. When it comes to the challenges inherent in writing a novel, I have found that putting a manuscript away for a while can be very useful. Coming back to work with a fresh set of eyes helps me make connections and solve problems that I couldn’t see before.

OB:

What defines a great book, in your opinion? Tell us about one or two books you consider to be truly great books.

ALH:

What initially drew me to fiction was the freedom—the freedom to push the boundaries of reality. One Hundred Years of Solitude blew my mind because it artfully married the beauty of imagination with serious and weighty subject matter. Ultimately, I am interested in being transported by fiction. Most recently, I was very impressed with John Vigna’s collection Bull Head, which manages to cast a palpably atmospheric spell by immersing the reader in a masculine landscape of struggle, yearning and regret. The art here is how these sometimes brutal stories are elevated by the stark elegance of the prose.

OB:

What are you working on now?

ALH:

I am working on my second novel, which is a construct of multiple narratives, each of which (no surprise) follows the estranged members of a family in crisis. Set in Toronto, the central thread in the story focuses on Vanderlay Bach, a workaholic whose son was killed while serving in Afghanistan. The force at the heart of the story is the notion of fragmentation—the son was literally blown apart by an IED, the family’s resulting estrangement is a disconnect which sets each member of the family on their own unique trajectory. I’m interested in the chaotic force of crisis, in this case the loss of a family member, and the point where this momentum leads to reflection and ultimately understanding and healing.


Adam Lindsay Honsinger is a Toronto-based writer and teacher. Many of his stories have appeared in literary journals such as Descant, Prism International, Other Voices, The Pottersfield Portfolio and Exile Quarterly. Two of his stories were nominated for the Journey Prize, one of which won Silver at the 2010 National Magazine Awards. He has been fortunate to have studied under Michael Winter, Russell Smith, Wayson Choy and Annabel Lyon. He recently completed an MFA in creative writing at the University of Guelph. Visit him online at http://www.adamlindsayhonsinger.com.

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