Monday, November 05, 2007

12 or 20 questions: with Mark Frutkin

Mark Frutkin, an Ottawa writer, editor and journalist, has published seven books of fiction and three books of poetry. His work has appeared in Canada, the US, England, Russia, Poland, Holland, South Korea, Spain and India. In 2007, his novel, Fabrizio’s Return, won the Trillium Prize for Best Book and the Sunburst Award, and was nominated for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book (Canada/Caribbean region). In 1988, his novel, Atmospheres Apollinaire, was short-listed for the Governor General's Award for fiction and was also short-listed for the Trillium Award, as well as the Ottawa/Carleton Book Award.

As a journalist and critic he has written articles and reviews for The Globe & Mail, Harper's, the Ottawa Citizen, Montreal Gazette, and other publications. His poetry and fiction have been published in numerous Canadian and foreign journals including Descant, Canadian Fiction Magazine, Prism International and many others. He has received five major writing grants from the Canada Council and numerous grants from the Ontario Arts Council.

He has also worked as a speechwriter for a Member of Parliament and for various federal ministers and has taught creative writing at all levels. He was formerly the editor of ArtAction Magazine and co-editor of ARC Magazine, a poetry journal. He has taught creative writing at the University of Ottawa, the University of New Brunswick, University of Western Ontario and Naropa Institute in Halifax.

He currently lives with his wife and son in Ottawa.

1 - How did your first book change your life?

It changed my life in the doing of it -- proof that I actually could write a book.

2 - How long have you lived in Ottawa, and how does geography, if at all, impact on your writing? Does race or gender make any impact on your work?

Race and gender, none. I've lived in the Ottawa area since 1970. To steal a phrase and book title from Guy Davenport, I'm most interested in the Geography of the Imagination. I think I could write my books just as easily from southern France or northern Italy. I don't know why I haven't...

3 - Where does a poem or piece of fiction usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

I've done both. The beginning is always a flash of insight and inspiration. Could be from any source: something I've read, seen, heard, etc. Sometimes, I write a series of poems on a subject that later get turned into a novel, but not always.

4 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process?

They aren't integral but they are part of an effort to get the word out (literally!)

5 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

There are as many questions as there are writers. I don't write to a theory (I don't think many good writers do). The story is paramount. Of course, one's interests (political, social, artistic) are always interwoven with the language and the tale.

6 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

It can be difficult. My last novel practically ruined my right shoulder from all the mouse work I had to do. But it can also be enlightening and extremely helpful, as in the case of Fabrizio's Return, which was edited by Diane Martin at Knopf, a very astute editor.

7 - After having published more than a couple of titles over the years, do you find the process of book-making harder or easier?

It's always the most intriguing mix of hard and delightful.

8 - When was the last time you ate a pear?

I've been waiting years for someone to ask me that question. I once saw a line of pears on a tree branch just above a stone wall at Monet's gardens in Giverny -- it was one of most beautiful things I've ever seen. I've always had a thing for pears -- a glass pear rests on my kitchen windowsill. Something about their suggestion of fecundity. Over the years, I guess (like many others I know), I've actually come to resemble the shape of a pear. I don't know -- a couple weeks ago maybe.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

1) Change your attitude and relax as it is.

2) You can't always get what you want but if you try sometimes you can get what you need.

3) The love you take is equal to the love you make.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?

Very easy. The appeal? Of moving between genres? Or the appeal of each genre? The appeal of poetry is that it's short. The appeal of fiction is that it's long.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

No routine, although lately I tend to write a lot in the late afternoon, I don't know why. The day begins with a tumbler of bourbon and a cigar (not really!)

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

What's wrong with the word 'inspiration'? A lovely word, a respectable word, a word that works for a living, and so on. Language itself is always a big inspiration. I don't get stalled (knock wood).

13 - How does your most recent book compare to your previous work? How does it feel different?

My most recent book is exactly 118 pages longer than my previous work and it's on a completely different subject! It feels heavier because it has more pages.

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

That's a ridiculous comment. Maybe for McFadden books come from books, but they come from lots of other places too -- people you meet, places you've been, art you've viewed, life you've experienced.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

I read for work and enjoyment. Best novel I've read in the last five years: Seven Lies by James Lasdun. I love the classics (Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Cervantes, etc. -- btw, did you know that Shakespeare and Cervantes died on the same day same year?)

Also, on my #1 bookshelf are: Joyce, Beckett, Conrad, Marquez, which basically means I've read almost everything by them.

Also, fond of Melville, Rushdie, George Steiner, Julian Barnes, William Boyd, some McEwan (just Black Dogs, really), Nabokov, Durrell, early Ondaatje, travel books, Kapuscinski, the Russians, Japanese novels, etc, etc.

In poetry: Tang and Sung Chinese poets, Japanese poetry, Apollinaire (of course), Eliot, Don McKay, some Beats, many many others.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

Finish the book I'm presently working on and start the next one.

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

I'd love to paint or draw but simply cannot. I'd love to be able to play the piano but can't. I'd love to be one of those long-distance runners from Kenya (one with the wind and all that) but my legs are too short.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

An inner compulsion; the need for the creative to burst out like that scene in Alien.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

Kapucinski's Travels with Herodotus. Film: enjoyed Avenue Montaigne; not a great film, but delightful. There are only a handful of great films and mountains of trash.

20 - What are you currently working on?

A novel set in present day Toronto, concerning a curator of Chinese art at the ROM, and also set in Sung Dynasty China (1200s).

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