Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with JonArno Lawson

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Ten Questions with JonArno Lawson

In his Ten Questions with Open Book, JonArno Lawson talks about reading and writing, offers advice for writers who are trying to get published and tells us about his book, A Voweller's Beastiary (The Porcupine's Quill).

Open Book: Toronto:

Tell us about your latest book.

JonArno Lawson:

My last book was A Voweller’s Bestiary published by Porcupine’s Quill in 2008. It’s a book of lipograms for children – I was very pleased with how it came together. Porcupine’s Quill let me illustrate it, which was a lot of fun. I had always wanted to illustrate my own book. The Inksters are a complete pleasure to work with, as well. My next book is called Think Again it comes out in the spring of 2010 through Kids Can Press – it’s a sequence of quatrains – a sort of tortured philosophical love story. I’m very happy with how it came together too. Sheila Barry is a phenomenal editor. Julie Morstad illustrated it. She’s great – she has great lines, and she’s smart.

OBT:

Did you have a specific readership in mind when you wrote your book?

JAL:

Both books I wrote with my kids in mind – I wanted to write books that had language play they’d enjoy, but worked at other levels too.

OBT:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

JAL:

I seem to write best when I’m walking around. When my body is distracted, so my mind doesn’t have to look after it. But to edit I have to sit down. I like my office. But sometimes it’s fun to work in a coffee shop. I loved “To Go” on Yonge Street, near Birch Avenue. But they only open on the weekends now. And I often have good ideas when I’m away from home, on vacation.

OBT:

What was your first publication?

JAL:

A prose poem called “The Automatic Biography of Sally”, which came out in a San Francisco-based journal that quickly disappeared (but was beautifully produced) called Madrugada. It was sometime in the mid or late 1990s.

OBT:

Describe a recent Canadian cultural experience that influenced your writing.

JAL:

Wordfest 2008 in Calgary. I presented with a great and generous writer named Hazel Hutchins. She helped not only with my presentation (she was very encouraging), but also by encouraging me to write picture books using family stories. I haven’t done this yet for publication, but it’s given me a lot of ideas, and starting points.

OBT:

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

JAL:

Alligator Pie by Dennis Lee. The Wars by Timothy Findley. Anything at all by bpNichol.

OBT:

What are you reading right now?

JAL:

A few things. Rory Maclean’s Magic Bus. Maclean is Canadian, but he lives in England. It’s about how the hippies influenced the Eastern cultures they passed through, as they in turn were being influenced by these same Eastern cultures. A wonderful book. And Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics – a fascinating read. Lenore Look’s Alvin Ho books – they’re so good, such good clear writing. And Joey Pigza swallowed the key by Jack Gantos. Gantos is absolutely first rate as well.

OBT:

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received as a writer?

JAL:

Not to spend time schmoozing, pursuing power circles, or inner circles – to avoid power. To just write, away in the margins, and let the rest take care of itself as much as possible.

OBT:

What advice do you have for writers who are trying to get published?

JAL:

The same. Don’t waste your time getting to know the “right” people. There are no right people. There’s no right way of going about it, except to write well, and to not try to convince yourself that your second rate work is first rate. Just write well and send things around, to presses and to journals and to authors you like, and hope for the best.

You need patience and you need luck. The more patience you have, the more likely that you’ll eventually get lucky.

It can be discouraging, watching the arbitrary way awards are given out and grants given and the way that publication and review and festival decisions are sometimes made - a lot of this does happen as a result of knowing the "right" people, but none of that masks bad writing - the biggest advance in the world can't mask it - you have to keep your eye on the ball and forget about it, as much as you can. Try presses and authors and journals outside of Canada as well - it's a small community here, and there's a big English (and French) speaking and reading world outside of Canada.

OBT:

What is your next project?

JAL:

I can’t tell you. I’d like to tell you, but I’m working on a few things and I’m not sure yet which one is going to end up dominating my time. I think it might be a travel book – but if so, I won’t be traveling very far to write it.


JonArno Lawson’s Black Stars in a White Night Sky received the 2007 Lion and the Unicorn Award for Excellence in North American Poetry administered by Johns Hopkins University. His other books include The Man in the Moon-Fixer’s Mask,Inklings and Love is an Observant Traveller. His most recent publication, an anthology which he compiled and edited, is Inside Out: children’s poets discuss their work (Walker Books). He lives in Toronto with his wife and two children.

For more information about A Voweller's Beastiary please visit The Porcupine's Quill website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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