Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Lucky Seven Interview, with Daniel Allen Cox

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Daniel Allen Cox (photo credit: Alison Slattery)

Daniel Allen Cox is known for his groundbreaking, award-nominated novels, and his newest offering, Mouthquake (Aresenal Pulp Press) showcases his continued creativity — an outlook so completely his own that it will draw in readers from the first page. Mouthquake is a coming of age story, but it plays with time and language in the story of a boy whose stutter shapes his life.

Daniel joins us today as part of our Lucky Seven series, where we talk to authors about their new books, their writing process and more.

We talk to Daniel about Mouthquake, and he tells us about why he couldn't have written this book several years ago, why socks are the enemy of creativity and the problem of categorizing "great books".

Open Book:

Tell us about your new book, Mouthquake.

Daniel Allen Cox:

Mouthquake is an experimental text on stuttering and the myth of fluency, arranged in the format of a stuttered narrative. It’s a fictionalized memoir of Montreal winters, and an elegy. Through a longer lens, it’s about queered and otherwise different speech, and the ways people signal to each other unconventionally. It also deals with memory loss and memory recovery, which are fraught subjects to begin with, and perhaps even more fraught in the jaunty ways I’ve dealt with them.

I wanted to write this book years ago, but I suppose I wasn’t courageous enough at the time, because what came out back then was something so far from the gritty guts of Mouthquake, so tame. I guess I wasn’t ready until now. Every song has its moment. What finally pulled it out of me, I suspect, was playing my 1970s LPs, the really soulful stuff, refracted through disco balls into shards I could piece together.

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?

DAC:

Now that I’ve had some time to think about it, I would say a main point of interrogation is, “Is there anything wrong with identifying so strongly with what some consider an impediment, a weakness?” Mouthquake posits stuttering as a strength, perhaps even an underground superpower. I have learned much from my friends this year about disability and how it is named and presented, and this has helped tint how I talk about Mouthquake.

OB:

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

DAC:

From the time that I became obsessed with the book, it took about two years. And yes, it changed dramatically whenever I did one of my writing retreats in Quebec City, where I’d hole myself up in the smallest room I could find, and endlessly re-arrange the sequences, shuffling the pages to see how they felt in new arrangements. Then I would visit the river each night to ground myself. There’s something magical about watching ice floes break off and float down the seaway while you’re editing a book.

OB:

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

DAC:

I can’t write while I’m wearing socks, I need to be barefoot. I’m fueled by either coffee or wine. I like to nap between scenes to hopefully work out certain narrative problems in dreams. I drum rhythms on my keyboard in a misguided effort to hear the musicality of the text. I blast music when I’m writing a first draft, and when editing, I work in silence or in the static whoosh of a white noise generator. Writing makes me weird!

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?

DAC:

Sometimes that means talking to someone and crying it out. Other times it means playing music that will needle out the emotional problem so that I can turn it into something usable. I suppose I fall into the camp that believes that pain is useful to writing, but I don’t seek it out; joy produces its own flashes.

OB:

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

DAC:

I would like to problematize the notion of “a great book.” I think this expression has been misused by too many institutions in an effort to create canons based on narrow standards or ideals. But I do have favourites. I still can’t get over the way Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin leaves me breathless: as if the pages disintegrate and blow away after reading them.

I recently reconnected with People in Trouble by Sarah Schulman, published in 1990 in New York. It documents a time during the AIDS crisis when, in the face of ignorance, apathy, and oppression, a community came together to take care of itself, define new activist strategies, and create a new language of empathy. I look forward to two of Schulman’s upcoming new books, one of which will be published in Canada.

OB:

What are you working on now?

DAC:

I’m working on short stories, and on collaborative projects with writer friends in Croatia. And I imagine I’ll start a new novel soon — I can’t not do it.


Daniel Allen Cox

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