Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Writing, with Len Gasparini

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Len Gasparini

Award-winning writer Len Gasparini's newest short fiction collection is The Snows of Yesteryear (Guernica Editions). He talks to Open Book about the state of short fiction today, moving between genres and the question everyone loves to ask.

Open Book:

Tell us about your new short story collection, The Snows of Yesteryear.

Len Gasparini:

The Snows of Yesteryear is my fifth story collection. It contains nine realistic stories set in Toronto, my hometown of Windsor, Ont., New Orleans and New York. The question I'm usually asked is: "Are they true?" What I do is fictionalize truth. It's called verisimilitude. My characters, the incidents I describe, are partly true. For the sake of entertainment, I fictionalize the rest. It's fun, like inhabiting two worlds simultaneously.

OB:

Can you explain the significance of the title?

LG:

The title is taken from a refrain in a poem by Francois Villon, which translates as "Where are the snows of yesteryear?" Admittedly, it concerns nostalgia in all its guises. William Faulkner once said: "The past is never dead. It's not even past." Right on. I think memory is the only thing one can call truly one's own. Memory is seeing who we are alter what we were.

OB:

As you are writing a short story collection, how conscious are you of wanting the different stories to hang together and work off one another?

LG:

I am conscious of the story at hand. How they cohere thematically doesn't excite me. Each story should stand on its own two feet. When it comes to placing the stories into some kind of order for the page of Contents, I flip a coin.

OB:

You write poetry as well as short stories and non-fiction. How does your writing process differ depending on the genre?

LG:

The writing process differs very much. In poetry, you write lines. In prose, you write sentences. It's like the difference between city driving and highway driving. Poetry depends on verbal rhythm and the logic of metaphor; each word must count for something; it's a language of compression, corners and tight squeezes. In prose, especially in the novel, you can often get away with wordiness.

OB:

What do you do when you are trying to avoid writing, as writers are often known to do?

LG:

I write during the fall and winter. I read. I play for hours with my lady friend's two Siamese cats. I visit my hometown, where I party every night with longtime friends.

OB:

Does it bother you that short stories can be harder to sell in the current publishing market? Why do you think readers can be reluctant to embrace the form?

LG:

Yes, it does frustrate me. In Canada there are too few magazines (I can think of only one) devoted exclusively to the short story. Readers prefer the security of a novel. A novel is a commodity. Readers feel that they are getting their money's worth; and they're in it for the long haul. Good stories are like epiphanies or jailbreaks.

OB:

Who is your favourite short fiction writer, and why?

LG:

Tennessee Williams, because his world is a dark wood with wildlife in it. I met him in 1977. (See my story, "The Space Between a Bed and Chair," in When Does a Kiss Become a Bite? (Ekstasis Editions, 2009). And Edgar Allan Poe. And others.

OB:

What are you working on these days?

LG:

I am doing research and making notes for my next story collection.


Len Gasparini was born in Windsor, Ontario. He is the author of numerous books of poetry and five short-story collections, including A Demon in My View (Guernica 2003), which was translated into French as Nouvelle Noirceur, and The Undertaker’s Wife (Guernica, 2007). In 1990, he was awarded the F.G. Bressani Literary Prize for poetry. Having lived in Montreal, Vancouver, New Orleans and Washington State, he now divides his time between Toronto and his hometown.

For more information about The Snows of Yesteryear please visit the Guernica Editions website.

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

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