Photography Portraits

Timothy Findley – Portrait


Sometimes you don’t need a face for a portrait.

I had photographed the late Timothy Findley for my first book First Chapter and following that photo session he sat down for an interview and lunch with then Calgary Herald books editor, now best selling author in his own right, Ken McGoogan. I joined the pair and Findley’s partner Bill Whitehead and continued to take a few photos but mainly listened in. What I was treated to was an entertaining hour and a half as Findley and Whitehead, the practiced tag team that they were, traded stories, memories, observations while eating, smoking and drinking wine. i think Ken just hung on and tried to get it all down.  It was an incredibly enjoyable lunch and I think this image showing Findley’s hand, glasses and wine remind me more of that encounter than the other, more traditional,  portraits I took that day.

Anonymous Bookshelf Interview

Bob Stallworthy – In Silhouette, Profiles of Alberta Writers – Interview

When I first began my project photographing writers, in Calgary in the late 90’s, Bob Stallworthy was my first subject. The photo above is from that shoot. The photograph is included in my first book of portraits First Chapter published by the Banff Centre Press.


LP: In Silhouette, Profiles of Alberta Writers is series of interviews but you can’t find them in print. How and why did Bob Stallworthy and Frontenac House decide to publish them online?

BS: In Silhouette began as a series of profiles written for the Writers Guild of Alberta’s magazine, WestWord. As the number of profiles written for WestWord grew, I started to think about what else I might do with the material. I made some very informal inquiries to several publishers in Alberta about turning the profiles into a conventional book. There was interest but the conversation always ended with the comment, “You should put these on a website.” I don’t have and didn’t have a website of my own.

I was talking with Rose Scollard, publisher of Frontenac House Ltd. and told her about the profiles and what I was getting as a response. Her initial response was similar. In frustration I said, “well, would you put them on your website?” To my surprise she said yes! From that point on In Silhouette began to take shape. To be fair to every publisher I talked to, including Frontenac House, I think the main concern was whether or not there would be a strong enough and prolonged enough market for a conventional book to make it viable.

LP: Will the collection eventually be printed?

BS: In the Frequently Asked Question section permission for use of the material has been given provided the specified conditions are met. Permission includes the downloading and printing off of a hard copy of the e-book. At the moment, there are no plans to publish In Silhouette as a conventional book. If I would ever consider this, I would negotiate with Frontenac House Ltd.

LP: What criteria do you use to establish someone as an Alberta writer? You’ve recently added an interview with Tom Wayman and one could say, despite the fact that he’s now teaching at the University of Calgary, he is considered a B.C. writer.

BS: There is no real firm criteria for determining who or who is not an Alberta writer. In my mind a person has to be a resident of Alberta for at least a full year before I would consider them an Alberta writer. Having said that, there are several writers who no longer live in Alberta who will be included in the e-book because they built the majority of their career in this province. I can make a strong case for each of those writers to be included in the e-book. In any event, the decision would always be on a case by case basis.

LP: Do you conduct your interviews, in person, by phone, email?

BS: The majority of the interviews have been done in person. A few have been done over the phone. I went out and bought a tape recorder that would plug into my phone line in order to be able to do interviews this way. So far, I’ve done one by e-mail. I much prefer the face to face interview but that isn’t always possible or practical.

LP: How often do you add profiles to the collection?

BS: There is no set schedule for the addition of profiles to the e-book. Because adding to In Silhouette means shutting the website down while making the changes, I only add profiles when I have a number of them done. When I’m ready I contact the web master and arrange to have them posted to the website.

LP: How much research do you find yourself doing before you conduct an interview?

BS: I’ve been around the writing community in Alberta for 23 years so I have come to know a lot of writers in that time. To date, all of the people I’ve profiled are people I’ve known well so the amount of hard research I’ve had to do is minimal. If I’m unsure of the titles of books or the number of books I will do a search to make sure I’ve got that kind of thing correct. Similarly, I will check on what awards may have been won, especially if I think I want to talk about a specific one. However, so far I’ve found that not knowing a lot about a person allows me to follow the conversation where ever it will go without having to impose my own knowledge on it.

LP: Have you or the publisher considered expanding the series to other provinces?

BS: There have been no formal discussions about expanding the e-book beyond the borders of Alberta. Obviously, I’ve fantasied about it. This is an ongoing project that could keep me writing until I get too old or too forgetful to do it any more.

LP: The profiles are wide ranging covering everything from biography to writing habits. As a writer yourself what do you enjoy hearing about the most?

BS: As a writer, hearing about the writing habits of others is obviously interesting. But, I must confess, I’m more interested in the person’s biography. It is the biography that tells me who that person is. I like knowing what issues each writer feels are really important in their lives and how or if those things influence their writing.

LP: During interviews people can sometimes reveal unexpected facets of their lives. Any moments like these that stand out for you?

BS: I think the most unexpected finding of doing these profiles is how many people who I’ve looked up to as writers have all of the same fears about their careers that I have about mine. Many of them have now over come those fears but when they started out, they were just as unsure of whether they could get the stories out there that they wanted to tell as I was about whether I could tell the stories I wanted to tell.

A second revelation is the sudden contrast between those writers who’ve had support from their families from the very beginning and those who have had to work at their craft with little or no emotional support from those closest to them. Part of the reason for this to stand out for me is that I’ve had total support from my wife since the very beginning. It is somewhat amazing to me that those who have not had any support have continued to work hard at their writing and have turned a tough situation into a successful one.

LP: Do you have any personal favourites among the profiles?

BS: As with my poetry, my favourite profile is usually the one that I’m working on at the time. There are some which have been a bit easier to do than others, simply because I knew that individual better than others. But no, in the end there isn’t one that I could pick out as being a favourite.

LP: Who can we look for in the future?

BS: I have such a long list of people who I would like to include in the e-book, I’m not prepared to give specific names right now. It might be a surprise to the individual to find their name mentioned here before I have had a chance to talk to them about being in the e-book. I can say that I have been in touch with some well known Alberta writers who have yet to appear in the e-book. I hope to include their profiles in the e-book as soon as possible.

LP: Give us a brief profile of Bob Stallworthy.

Bob Stallworthy-
After working as a social worker for a number of years, Bob left that field and began writing professionally at the age of 37. His poetry has been published in a number of magazines and anthologies in Canada. He has self-published two chapbooks of poetry, had a nonfiction chapbook on the history of the Old Y Community Center in Calgary and three full-length books of poetry published. His fourth book of poetry will be launched in April 2009. His work has been read on both CBC1 and CBC 2. He performed his poetry at the first Spoken Word International Writers Festival in Calgary in August 2004. His third book, Optics, Frontenac House Ltd., 2004 was short-listed for the W.O. Mitchell City of Calgary Book Prize, 2004.

Bob has been active in many areas of the writing community in Alberta over the last 23 years; participating on the Executives of several writers organizations, as a member of the Literary Festival Committee for the 1988 Winter Olympics, as a member of the Steering Committee for the first Banff-Calgary International Writers Festival, as the first Writers Guild of Alberta’s Regional Co-ordinator for the Southern Alberta Region, and the founding co-chair of the Calgary Freedom to Read Week Committee. In 2002 he was the co-recipient of the Calgary Freedom of Expression Award.

He has given workshops and readings in schools all over Alberta as well as readings in Sackville, NB, Halifax, NS and Toronto, ON. He was the Writer-in-Residence at the Drumheller Public Library in February 2005.

Bob is a full member of the League of Canadian Poets, a Lifetime member of the Writers Guild of Alberta and a member of Young Alberta Book Society.

LP: What, apart from the profiles, are you writing now?

BS: I’ve put aside writing the profiles in order to complete my 4th book of poetry entitled, Things That Matter Now. This book will be launched by Frontenac House in April 2009. Once I’ve finished working on it I’ll return to writing profiles.

LP: You’ve been involved in the Alberta writing world for a long time, any general thoughts on the state of the Alberta writing community?

BS: When I worked for the Writers Guild of Alberta in the late 1980s as Book Display Co-ordinator I was often asked, “Are there writers in Alberta?” And, of course, the answer was, “ Yes, there are a lot.” Back then I believe the display that I took around the province had less than 100 books in it. When I stopped traveling with the display after five years, in 1990, the number of books was well over 200. At that time, Alberta’s writers were just beginning to garner some real national attention, albeit that attention was still a bit hit and miss.

I think it is safe to say that the number of writers now working in this province has increased phenomenally. And now national and international recognition of Alberta writers is a regular occurrence. To the point, there are five Alberta writers short-listed for the Governor General’s Awards for 2008.

The increase in the number of writers and the number of awards being won needs to be viewed against a backdrop of political disinterest with regard to culture in general and writing in particular during the 1990s. To be sure, the Alberta Foundation for the Arts was maintained by the government of the day but the lack of interest was demonstrated year after year by the lack of increased funding for the Arts. During the same period of time there was a dramatic increase in the desire to control what was being published by Alberta publishers by controlling the funding that they received. Thankfully, this never really came to fruition.

Since the last provincial Conservative leaders’ race and the last election, and with the huge increases in revenue due to the oil patch, there seems to be an increased interest in government support of the Arts in general. The current Minister of Community Spirit seems to be making a concerted effort to show support for the cultural industry in general and writing specifically in the province. In spite of the increase in optimism, unfortunately, for Alberta writers, over the last few years a number of Alberta publishers have moved out of the province or been swallowed up by bigger organizations. This does make getting published by an Alberta publisher that much more difficult.

Despite all of the problems that seem to still be associated with a genuine support of the Arts in general and writers specifically, I believe there is good reason to be optimistic. I certainly don’t expect the number of writers in the province to decrease nor the attention that they receive.

Artist Interview

Interview – Robert Amos – James Joyce & Finnegans Wake

What do you do when you find yourself obsessed by a writer and one of
his books?

If you’re artist Robert Amos and the writer is James Joyce and the book
is Finnegans Wake you use your art training to investigate the text. By
this process Amos has created a new art with Joyce’s words.

This interview with Amos was constructed from emailed questions and                                                                             answers, information supplied by Robert, and
from questions and answers in a one-on-one interview in, where else,
the James Joyce Bistro. It is literally more of an assemblage than an
interview but gives I think a real sense of what Amos is trying to do

Amos was given “the commission of a lifetime” to decorate the James
Joyce Bistro, Decorate isn’t really the right word. Paintings, murals
and assemblages hang on the walls. Text and Celtic knots encircle the
table tops. More Joycean text scrolls down the bar’s counter top.
Maureen the barmaid told us she plans to “read the bar” one evening.
All of this art was created by Amos.

It was quite an experience to sit with Robert in the pub, surrounded by
his murals and paintings. Here I was, resting my elbows on tables he
had inscribed with Joyce’s text, while I was listening to him read
Joyce, not only from the book but from the table top and the bar.

We met on a quiet afternoon with only a few young men playing pool in
the bar and I’m sure it was a novel experience for them to be hitting
balls to the accompanying sound of James Joyce being read aloud.


LP: Where did the idea for the Joyce related art come from?

RA:  As an artist I am constantly in need of subject matter. Finnegans
Wake is a paramount work of literary creativity and is currently all
but lying fallow. At one point, I needed some words to inscribe on my
paintings, and I after trying others, I chose Joyce, who has been my
longstanding literary interest.

LP: You wrote out the text of Finnegans Wake in a “poetic” format of
short lines. Why?

RA: After years of trying to understand the book and getting nowhere,
I discovered an on-line group which was reading Finnegans Wake at the
rate of one page a week. The group was instigated by Charles Cave of
Australia, and by following the postings I began to make some progress.
I stayed with the group for two years.

My first inclination to write out the text came when I was reading the
chapter called “The Mime of Nick, Mick and the Maggies”. It seemed to
be  concocted as an old-time theatre poster and I could imagine it
typeset in old woodcut type. I thought I’d give that a try myself, to
see if I could space the lines, exactly as they were written, in a way
that was circus-poster-like. It worked out well. I tried it first on
the keyboard and then by hand.

Next, while reading the “Washers at the Ford” chapter, I realized that
there were two women involved in the text, one on either side of the
river. I thought it would be helpful for me if I separated their
speeches, so that I would know who was talking. I did this by
downloading the text (the Trent University site) and adding lines and
spaces to make it look like a dialogue. That was a lovely challenge,
and took me to the heart of the matter.

I was hooked, and went on and on with the text. First I divided the
text into  sentences by putting two returns – an empty line – after
each period. Where the commas, semi- and colons occurred I made a new
line with a single return. It was a great realization to me that
Joyce’s punctuation was entirely sensible and his grammar was (almost)
always correct and complete. Clearly, JJ meant every jot and tittle of
this huge and puzzling book.

I posted a bit of my reformatting on-line and one of the group members
commented that it looked like a reading script for a radio play. In
fact, for a long time I had the feeling that Finnegans Wake could be
best understood when it was read aloud. My friend David Peacock was
enjoying the audio book of Ulysses and provided me with the 6-hour
selection of readings of Finnegans Wake by Jim Norton (Naxos) which
convinced me that this book made sense (though I have always felt that
Norton reads too fast to allow any thinking about what he i is saying).
Subsequently I have sought the other bits recorded by a variety of
readers – Joyce himself, Siobhan McKenna, Cyril Cusack, Brendan Behan,
and Joseph Campbell for instance. I learned that Patrick Heaney had
made a once-through flat-out recording (in the course of four days,
using amphetimines) of Finnegans Wake, though I have never heard it.

I reflected on how useful Norton’s reading of Ulysses was. In a bid to
capture David Peacock’s interest for Finnegans Wake, I proposed to make
a spoken word recording of the entire book for him. Though by no means
in possession of a complete understanding of the book – I hadn’t read
as much as a third of it by that time – I began. At first I made a home
recording using an old cassette tape recorder. This took about four
years, and eventually it filled about 36 90-minute tapes.

Progressively some things became clear. First, my pace of going through
the book was different than the page-a-week group, so I left the
Internet behind. Second, the keystroking to reformat my script was
tedious. I don’t much like sitting at a keyboard. Third, I needed to
get to a recording studio if my recording was to have a future.

I had been corresponding with Charles Cave of Australia, and described
to him how I was “short-lining” the text. When I explained my process,
he said that, as a computer programmer, he could easily set up the
algorithms to take care of much of my key-stroking effort. To this end
I defined and wrote out a set of six “rules”, by which the text could
be newly formatted by the computer.

I have done this reformatting entirely for my own purposes. There is
not a single key stroke added to the text. I simply create the line
lengths to suit my understanding and put appropriate spacing between
lines. The original typesetters had done the same thing for different
reasons in 1939. Though I make no interventions in the text, I expect
that scholars consider even adjusting the line lengths to be heresy.

Yet I believe that the short lines are a great advantage to anyone
beginning the study of this book. If there was nothing standing in the
way of publishing Finnegans Wake this way – in an edition more than
2,000 pages long – I think that formatting the line lengths this way
would be a real help to readers.

Here’s why. The words on the page, as they have been typeset, appear to
be one solid mass of uninflected verbiage, compacted for the
convenience and economy of typesetting. The rythms of the text are
entirely missing. The dynamic of the oral tradition is based on the
grammar of each sentence and itis encoded in its punctuation. Short
lines are a visual equivalent of that dynamic.

I used to have the feeling that I was holding my breath while reading
Finnegans Wake, waiting to reach the end of a phrase or clause.

“You is feeling like you was lost in the bush, boy? You says:
It is a puling sample jungle of woods. You most shouts out:
Bethicket me for a stump of a beech if I have the poultriest no-
tions what the farest he all means.”

The aprehension is dissipated by this visual correlative of mine – at a
glance you can see where you are in a sentence. Thus, with short lines
we can tell where the subordinate clauses begin and end (separated by
commas, for example). Very long lists, which are such a part of
Finnegans Wake, form into columns and pop into view. The parallel
structures so dear to Joyce (“they lived ant laughed und loved end
left”) are suddenly given a shape.

They lived
ant laughed
und loved
end left.

When you know where a list begins and ends, you can relax and examine
it for what it is. Or you can ignore it. But it is no longer an
annoying challenge.

What follows is a random example of what happened when the text is

Like Jukoleon, the seagoer, when he bore down in his perry
boat he had raised a slide and shipped his orders and seized his
pullets and primed their plumages, the fionnling and dubhlet, the
dun and the fire, and, sending them one by other to fare fore fom,
he had behold the residuance of a delugion: the foggy doze still
going strong, the old thalassocrats of invinsible empores, maskers
of the waterworld, facing one way to another way and this way
on that way, from severalled their fourdimmansions.

Like Jukoleon,
the seagoer,
when he bore down
in his perry boat
he had raised a slide
and shipped his orders
and seized his pullets
and primed their plumages,
the fionnling and dubhlet,
the dun and the fire,
sending them
one by other
to fare fore fom,
he had behold the residuance of a delugion:
the foggy doze still going strong,
the old thalassocrats of invinsible empores,
maskers of the waterworld,
facing one way
to another way
and this way
on that way,
from severalled their fourdimmansions.

LP: You recorded yourself reading Finnegans Wake, why did you do that?

RA: in fact, the entire reformatting project was in aid of making a
“reading script” of the text, to use in my recording of the text.
Realizing that my home recording was never going to be good enough, I
made the acquaintance of a neighbour, Robert Martin, who has a
professional recording studio in his basement. I decided to record the
first hundred pages with him as a test, and it took us a number of
sessions to learn how to work together. By now we have had sessions
over the past four years – both of us are quite busy and can only free
up a few weeks each year, it seems. We meet at 9.30 am, set up the
microphones and levels, and I read for an hour – then a break – than
half an hour more. By that point I notice my concentration is beginning
to falter, errors crop up, and so we repair to the control room where
we edit out the page turnings, coughs, misspeaks and anything else.
At the moment we are at page 442 of 628.

When people hear that I am doing this they often ask if I am using an
Irish accent. The answer is no. I’ve never even been to Ireland. My
family came to Canada from the Scottish borders in the 1840’s. But with
a Canadian upbringing, a home in Victoria and a British wife, I think I
have the sort of mid-Atlantic tone, which makes most of the words
clearly spoken. Of course, being a natural ham actor, I have taken it
upon myself to create all the characters as they occur to me. At any
rate, Joyce developed the book with the European voices of Trieste and
Zurich and Paris in his ears.

I have no plan to release the recording commercially, but it is
professional quality. When the copyright issues surrounding Joyce are
extinguished I will have the text ready for its audience – should there
be one.

I have no idea who an audience for this will be – no one has so far
shown any inclination to listen to me read. I believe it would be a
real benefit in a university library – if  Finnegans Wake ever makes it
onto a curriculum, and if students ever have to confront what Joyce’s
words might sound like. In fact, as I read it I feel it makes perfect

This audio version of the text and my reformatted version are
intimately conjoined. After I finished recording the first hundred
pages I made a CD for my own use, in MP3 format. At the same time I
copied the text, in its reformatted form, on the CD. Anyone listening
to it on a computer can also have my script appearing on the screen.
(When I found there was more space left on the CD I also added some of
my own calligraphy of my favourite phrases.)

LT: How else have you incorporated Joyce’s text into your own work?

RA: Throughout this time I have inscribed my favourite phrases with ink
and brush on Chinese and Japanese papers. The act of selecting the
texts is a pleasure. Unlike transcribing other authors, writing out the
Joyce texts is challenging, like practicing the piano. One has to focus
on every single character Joyce wrote, for he takes delight in
confounding our expectations. I have created hundreds of these pages,
and they are now posted on a variety of Joycean websites. Over the
years a number of correspondents have commissioned from me their own
favourite phrases. In about 2002 a batch of my originals was exhibited
at a conference at the University of California at Berkeley under the
sponsorship of The Riv, a man we came to know on the list as the
Riverend Stirling. (His rare postings on the internet were the most
cogent comments about the Wake I ever discovered.)

Before his death The Riv wrote me a lovely letter, from which I quote:

“The lively freedom, the riverine adaptation of the literal to the
littoral, the rebirth of Celtic knotwork in Chinese brush strokes —
all these emerge by your creative gifts and merge seamlessly before the
beholder’s eyes, thanks to your authorial ability to connote the
mysteries of “correctness.” I do not exaggerate, though it might look
as such. Robert Amos is one fine Joycean artist!

“It was neatening to see your cover on the James Joyce Quarterly 39;02
Winter 2002. May Brighid’s light flicker lambently on Carol Kealiher
and the rest of the JJQ staff for their good taste in selecting you.
Keep up the good work, Robert.”

With no way to have my pages of calligraphy mounted as scrolls, which
was always my goal, I changed tack. I initiated a collaboration with
Harumi Ota, a Japanese potter living in my home town. Over the course
of four years I have decorated about 400 pieces of porcelain with
Joycean phrases, decorations (Celtic knotwork, Ming Dynasty patterns)
and other imagery. These plates, bowls and cups have been a great
success with my clients. Some of them were taken to Dublin in 2006 for
the centenary of Bloomsday.

Later it became possible to have my calligraphy mounted as scrolls in
Taiwan and in Beijing. In 2006 David Peacock, my friend and fellow
Joycean, commissioned me to do the decor of his new top-end restaurant,
the James Joyce Bistro, located in his Peacock Billiards, the
“ultimate” pool hall, in Victoria.

There is much more to say. As I became more deeply immersed in the
text, I eventually wrote out the entirety of the text with a fountain
pen, in a series of hardbound blank books, a project which took me two
and a half years. I write it out with Roland McHugh’s annotations on
one hand and The Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake (by Joseph Campbell)
and Understanding Finnegans Wake (by Danis Rose) on the other.

This is the way I have found to get closest to the author. Every
other method – reading with eyes, listening to a recording, reading
aloud, typing, for example – allows one to move right along without
actually taking in what’s been written.

This was a way of slowing myself down sufficiently to understand what
Joyce was writing. After all, he actually wrote the book – he didn’t
type it. And of course writing a book is different from reading it.

I have been scrupulous to take Joyce exactly as I find him. The
resulting creations work for me. So far the public’s reaction utterly

Canadian Interview

Interview: Ken McGoogan – Race To The Polar Sea

LP: You have a new book coming out any day now called Race to the Polar Sea: The Heroic Adventures and Romantic Obsessions of Elisha Kent Kane. What can you tell us about this book?

KM: Race to the Polar Sea tells the story of Elisha Kent Kane, a nineteenth-century explorer who sailed north in search of an Open Polar Sea, hoping to rescue survivors from the lost expedition of Sir John Franklin. After surviving two horrific winters in the Arctic, discovering the so-called American Route to the North Pole, and forging a unique alliance with the Inuit, Kane led his men in the most dramatic escape in northern exploration history, man-hauling sledges and sailing hundreds of kilometres in small open boats. Kane was the most literate and artistic of all northern explorers, and he left a vivid portrait of the Arctic that speaks to the contemporary debate about global warming. Once celebrated, Kane has been largely forgotten. In my book, I trace this to his relationship with Maggie Fox – a “spirit rapper” from Ontario whose tragic death has been wrongly blamed on Kane. Race to the Polar Sea also draws on a long-lost journal I found in the possession of a Calgary antiquarian. There’s more at

LP: This will be your fourth book dealing with early Arctic exploration. These books have been extremely popular. What’s next, do you have plans for more books looking at the same eras? Do you have any plans for a contemporary Arctic book?

KM: Race to the Polar Sea is the fourth and final stand-alone volume in what I consider an Arctic Discovery Quartet. These works augment and resonate with each other, and can be read in any order. I see the four as speaking to contemporary concerns, and for the moment, at least, they represent all I have to say about the Arctic.

LP: What aspect of the Arctic region appeals to you personally?

KM: I seem to be obsessed with exploration history: so many dangerous voyages and disastrous expeditions, so many complex and revealing encounters with native peoples, so many heroic figures and damn-fool idiots, so much hubris, so much cheating and lying, so many mistakes, so many tragic deaths. Arctic exploration is Canada’s answer to the American Civil War: we can’t get enough of it. Certainly, I can’t.

LP: With the Arctic seeming to suddenly emerge as an important environmental and news story do you find yourself in demand now as an Arctic expert?

KM: I have experienced an increase in requests, yes. Some people say I’ve never seen a microphone I don’t love.

LP: You’ve been visiting the Arctic on a fairly regular basis over the past decade, what changes are you noticing?

KM: Because I have spent ten years immersed in the history of Arctic exploration, I carry in my head a vivid picture of the Arctic of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. As a result, when I look around today, I see the changes that have happened since then – both among the Inuit, but also in the landscape. Last year, while sailing in the Northwest Passage, where once Elisha Kane struggled through upraised tables of ice fourteen feet thick, I looked out and saw nothing but open water. That contrast shocked me. Obviously, it speaks to global warming.

LP: What do you see transpiring in the Arctic over the next couple of decades?

KM: More melting of the ice cap, less sea ice, worsening conditions for polar bears, more ships arriving from around the world, more chest-thumping from polar nations, more disputes about who controls the Northwest Passage, more searches for Franklin, more argument and contention, more ships carrying diamonds, more tankers carrying oil, and maybe an environmental disaster or two.

LP: Other books you have written have used Jack Kerouac and the Beats as a subject, any plans to return to that theme?

KM: Jack Kerouac was the first explorer I went chasing. Not long ago, I published a final revision of my first novel, called Visions of Kerouac: Satori Magic Edition. It’s available online and at I had fun with it, and like to think it stands up.

LP: You spent many years as a working journalist and books editor. Do you miss that world at all?

KM: These days, while I put most of my energy into books, I do write some journalism – articles for The Beaver and The Globe and Mail, a books column for Active magazine. Of course, that’s different from daily newspapering. I don’t miss the stress or the office politics, but for sure I interacting with so many interesting people. Also the soapbox and the regular pay cheque – they were big positives.

LP: You grew up in Quebec, spent many years in Calgary and now live in Toronto. As a writer what are the differences?

KM: For someone who writes in English, no matter how well you speak French, living in Montreal means dealing with the French-English dichotomy, one way or another. You can’t get away from it. A writer in Calgary is up against it locally. Slowly but surely, neo-conservatives have decimated a once-thriving book publishing industry. Toronto still has a viable book-trade infrastructure. The barbarians are at the gates, but writers at all levels can still find places to publish.

LP: What are you reading now?

KM: We recently returned from five weeks in Scotland, my wife and I, and I’m reading a whack of books about Scots in Canada.

Canadian Interview

Robert J. Wiersema – Interview

First off, let’s look at who Rob Wiersema is. You’ve been described 
as a writer, journalist and bookseller. You’re also married and a 
father. How do you balance all these roles?

Not all that well, depending on the day, to be perfectly honest.
The fact is, my job at the bookstore is full time. Writing is a 
full-time job (to say nothing of the on-going mental detachment from 
the “real” world which seems to plague me fairly often). And the 
amount of reviewing I do is pretty much a full-time job. As a result, 
”balance” doesn’t really enter into it, and things end up sacrificed. 
One of the main things I’ve sacrificed is sleep. I get up at about 
3.30 every morning to write, and get to bed around 11, so… the math 
is actually pretty brutal. I went to the doctor a few weeks ago and 
he actually prescribed me 2 nights of 9 hours sleep each per week, 
and at least two naps of more than 3 hours duration per week. I 
haven’t filled that prescription as yet… maybe once the new book 
is done. The level of busyness has actually been pretty hard on my family 
life. I miss out on a lot of stuff with Xander, my son, being locked 
in my writing studio for the bulk of most weekends. I try to make up 
for it, though — we toured as a family through the Pacific Northwest 
for Before I Wake, which was a terrific time (family-wise, at least). 
And we went on a cruise and to Europe for three weeks this spring, 
which was lovely. I comfort myself with the awareness that he’s watching me, and 
gaining life lessons from what I’m going through. When I was growing 
up, dreams were too-big things that were unachievable for most mere 
mortals. My dream of writing was, as a result, seemingly out of 
reach. I’m hoping that Xander, in seeing what I do on a daily basis, 
and knowing what has happened with my dreams, learns that dreams CAN 
and DO come true, but that they don’t come free — there’s always a 
price to be paid.


Your first novel “Before I Wake”, published in 2006, received 
positive reviews and a fair bit of acclaim. You’ve been involved in 
the book trade a long time. Did you expect this kind of response?

I didn’t expect it at ALL. As a reviewer, and as a bookseller 
especially, I’m very familiar with what gets published and what gets 
well-received, especially in this country. All the old 
CanLit/Can-Publishing cliches are rooted, at least partially, in 
fact. And Before I Wake conforms to none of those cliches. Plus, 
it’s a book that’s hard to pigeonhole, genre-wise. It’s a book that 
has an unorthodox narrative structure, with the multiple voices. 
It’s a book that straddles a lot of lines. When I wrote it, I had no 
notion that it would even be publishable. And once it was in the 
publication process, I had no hope that it would have any kind of 
success. I was thankful that I had a large family, as I really 
believed that they would be the only ones buying copies, the only 
ones reading it. I’ve never been so happy to be wrong.


This was your first published novel but you had been writing for a 
long time. Was it the first novel you’d written or do you have other 
manuscripts tucked away?

There are four or five “first novels” kicking around in various 
drawers and on 5 1/4 inch floppy disks. Most of them are there for 
eternity, though there is one that I’m thinking of revisiting at some 
point in the future — starting with the premise and building it from 
scratch. The writing is terrible, but the idea is too good to walk 
away from. I think.


You were very up front in a number of interviews that you took a 
calculated approach to getting this first novel published. Getting 
your name known through reviewing, meeting editors and publishers so 
that when you sent out that first manuscript people would know who 
you were. Was there much reaction to those statements from other 
writers? Did people see you as too calculating or just working smart?

Ah ha! Somebody other than me has been googling me! Part of that WAS calculated, part of that was just a function of reality.

The reality part: as the event coordinator at Bolen Books, I make an 
annual pilgrimage to Toronto for BookExpo (the annual trade 
show/gathering of the publishing tribes), and as a result I’ve gotten 
to know a lot of people in the trade. Not with any nefarious plan to 
get published, but just as a function of the business. Well, that 
and the nefarious plan to cadge free drinks — publishing types are 
always good for a free drink or two.

Distinct from that, though, I did, semi-consciously at first, then 
with more deliberateness, set out to be noticed as a writer. Every 
young writer does. Every young writer has to. If you write 
non-fiction, maybe you get your name out there by writing journalism, 
or becoming known in your particular field. As a fiction writer, 
they typical path is the get some short stories published in the 
literary quarterlies, making your name known through those credits, 
so when a novel or collection is being submitted there’s some 
awareness there. This is a process that’s been going on for 
generations — it’s like the farm team system in hockey and baseball.

The type of writing that I do, however, isn’t the sort of stuff that 
finds a home in the literary quarterlies. And around the same time I 
finished the first draft of Before I Wake, I was starting with 
reviewing. And it occurred to me that with the literary quarterlies 
being unavailable to me, this would be the way that I had to get my 
writing noticed. So I made a point of reviewing a lot, and reviewing 
well, knowing that the pieces were being read by others in the 
industry. I My copping to this (which, again, is the same thing writers have been 
doing for generations, just not usually with reviewing) met with 
considerable disdain from some fellow writers, who assumed that if I 
was writing reviews with an awareness that I had an audience in the 
publishing community, then I MUST have been pandering to those 
publishing types, writing puff pieces and the like. Which is 
fundamentally NOT the case — I stand by my reviews, positive and 
negative. I calls em like I sees em, and if that means that I go on 
the record as saying that a certain CanLit figure pulled her punches 
in her latest book, I don’t hesitate (though she did manage to 
bad-mouth — without naming names, naturally — the length and 
breadth of her ensuing book tour). If it means I review books from 
even my own publisher negatively, well, so be it. I And I have reviewed books from Random House negatively, both before 
they were my publisher and after I signed the contract. I stand by 
those reviews. Robert J. WiersemaPeriod. 

But, sadly, some people couldn’t wrap themselves around what I felt 
was a fairly clear matter of integrity and continued to look down 
their noses on my publication. So be it.

The fact is this: unless you’re a celebrity, a book doesn’t get 
published because you know someone to say hello to them. And a book 
doesn’t get published because you might have reviewed other books 
from that publisher. Brass tacks: a book gets published because a 
publisher sees merit in it, and thinks it might sell. Period.


Would you recommend the same route to aspiring writers?

It takes a certain mindset to be able to review. You have to have a 
certain fighting spirit, and a willingness to piss people off. You 
also have to have the opposite: a willingness to praise when you feel 
a book deserves it. And you have to have the fortitude to stand by 
your opinions, no matter what happens.

An example: there was a novel published a few years ago which I 
thought was fundamentally flawed, and I said as much in my review. 
The book went on to become a bestseller, and to win prizes in its 
category. Do I think I was wrong? Nope. I stand by my well-argued 
and supported position. Though I’ve just about managed to get over 
my fear that the writer is going to punch me in the head.


What is the latest update on “Before I Wake” now? (Sales, What 
countries has it been published in etc)

Let’s see, it’s been sold into ten or twelve countries, the German 
and Greek editions came out in July, along with the US paperback. 
Poland, Israel and China are coming this fall, I think…

Sales in Canada have been very good, and the book keeps trucking 
along. It’s too early to tell how it will do overall in the US — 
the hardcover performed fine. And it’s done gangbusters in paperback 
in the UK over the past few months. Gangbusters.


You signed a two novel deal. What is the status of the second book?

I’m finishing it even as we speak. It should be delivered on time to 
Random House in September. I think we’re looking at a fall 2009 pub 


Where and when do you write? Do you have a personal space /office or 
are you scribbling away between book stacks before the bookstore 

One of the smartest things I did for my career was to start renting 
an office last spring (2007). It’s actually a 2 bedroom basement 
suite on the same block as my house. I get up every morning at 3.30, 
and I physically GO to work — I get dressed, I leave the house, and 
I go to the work space. It’s a valuable psychological tool, to 
separate work from home — if at all possible, I highly recommend it.


When that book is finished, what’s next? Any thoughts of writing in 
other genres, say non-fiction (since you’re written a lot of 

After that book, the next one. A collection of short stories this 
time, perhaps — I wrote quite a lot in the fallow time around the 
publication of Before I Wake. But I’ve also got a couple of novels 
percolating in the the cerebellum, so we’ll see.

I don’t see a non-fiction book in my near future — I think it might 
be laziness, but I’m not big on research. And I like conversations 
where I get to make up both sides — it’s easier that way.


You have done a great deal of book reviewing, for quite a number of 
publications. Those reviews, as would be expected, are not always 
positive. You also host a great number of writers through the book 
readings you arrange at Bolen Books. Is that ever a problem? Have 
you ever had to introduce a writer whose book you’ve been less than 
kind to?

Oh, it’s been a problem, that’s for sure. It’s made for some 
uncomfortable evenings. Those two authors I mentioned previously? I 
hosted both of them shortly after the respective reviews ran — to 
say that there was tension would be vastly understating the case.


You’ve seen a lot of writers come through on book tours and heard the 
stories, good and bad. Any great stories out of your tours for 
”Before I Wake”?

Well, certainly none fit for a family-friendly operation like this!

 Nah. To be perfectly honest, there wasn’t a whole lot unique or out 
of the ordinary as far as book tours go. I had some fabulous events, 
including a couple on the Gulf Islands (at Galiano Island Books and 
at Phoenix on Bowen) that were great reminders of the value of small, 
closely knit communities. The book’s launch in Victoria was one of 
the highlights of my life — I just wish it wouldn’t have passed in 
such a blur. And the event I did with Pages in Toronto, an 
audio-visual presentation about the music that shapes my process and 
my work, was unbelievable. As was the follow-up reaction, which 
included a blogger referring to me as something along the lines of 
”the rock-star of CanLit”. That makes me smile… I always wanted to 
play guitar.

One thing that touring did remind me of, though, was the strangeness 
of this country. I went out in late September, leaving Victoria on 
Sunday morning. The Saturday afternoon, we were out playing 
miniature golf in shorts and t-shirts, with temperatures in the 
mid-20s. The next day in Edmonton? Minus 3 with the windchill. Two 
days later in Toronto? Almost 30 degrees. How do you pack for that?

The US tour of the Pacific Northwest was a bit of different 
experience. The audience attendance wasn’t quite what we had hoped, 
and as we were driving across the plains, from Spokane to Oregon, I 
realized I was doing what every fledgling rock star (see, there it 
is again!) does: I was paying my dues. That made it easier to 
swallow. As did a great off-night on the water in Cannon Beach, and 
a great event in Bellingham.


Now that you’ve got a published novel behind you, do you get many 
requests for book cover blurbs from other writers?

I’ve had a couple of requests, and if I’ve got the time, I’m happy to 
do it. It seems strange to me to be in a position where my 
imprinteur might be construed as a hallmark of quality, but every bit 

The thing is, if given a choice, I’d prefer to review a book than to 
blurb it. If I’m in a position to blurb it favourably, I think 
there’s probably more value, in terms of attention and public 
profile, to a positive review.


Who are you reading right now?

Let’s see, what have I read recently. The new Paul Auster (Man in 
the Dark), which is a very strong book, very human. The new Rawi 
Hage (Cockroach), which is a tour de force, and certainly pays out on 
the promise he showed with DeNiro’s Game. The new Tim Winton 
(Breath) is fabulous. And probably the best book I’ve read recently 
is Andrew Davidson’s debut, The Gargoyle. This is one of those rare 
books that actually delivers on the hype, and on the news of 
multi-million dollar advances.


Any writers you hope to host for readings during the upcoming fall book season?

That’d be telling, wouldn’t it?


Finally, if you could get any writer for a reading at the bookstore, 
who would it be?

You know, I’ve been doing this for a decade now. I’ve had a lot of 
’visiting author’ dreams come true. Hosting Neil Gaiman a couple of 
times (if you ever get a chance to go for dinner with Neil, you 
should — the man knows his sushi). Hosting Timothy Findley for what 
turned out to be his last book-tour event. Introducing Salman 
Rushdie was such an overwhelming experience that I actually had to 
stop and savour the moment.

 Having said all that, though, I would love to host Stephen King. And 
getting the opportunity to welcome John Irving would be a dream come 
true — The World According to Garp made me a writer, and I’d love 
the opportunity to thank him in person.

You can find out more about Rob at his website.