Trillium Book Award Author Readings June 16

Profile on Christian McPherson, with a few questions

 
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Christian McPherson (Photo Credit: Judith Gustafsson)

By rob mclennan

Christian McPherson was born in Ottawa, Ontario in 1970, where he lives with his wife and their two children. He is the author of seven books, including the poetry collections Poems that swim from my brain like rats leaving a sinking ship (Calgary, AB: Bayeux Arts, 2008), The Sun Has Forgotten Where I Live (Vancouver, BC: Now or Never Publishing, 2011) and My Life in Pictures (Now or Never Publishing, 2013), the novel The Cube People (Gibsons, BC: Nightwood Editions, 2010) and its follow-up, Cube Squared (Nightwood Editions, 2013), and the short story collection Six Ways to Sunday (Nightwood Editions, 2007). His work has been shortlisted twice for the ReLit Awards (for Six Ways to Sunday in 2008, and for The Cube People in 2011).

In a review of the short story collection Six Ways to Sunday for Quill and Quire, Matthew Fox praised the pacing of McPherson?s longer stories, writing: ?The slow pacing, the unadorned prose, and the space McPherson affords himself all pay off; the characters are sufficiently revealed for the reader to extrapolate on their fates.? McPherson?s style has been described as stark, focusing on developing character and plot in a stripped-down prose, and some of his influences have included, as he discussed in his ?Proust Questionnaire? at Open Book: Ontario, ?Elmore Leonard, Kurt Vonnegut, John Steinbeck, Thom Jones, Carl Hiaasen, Charles Bukowski, David Gilmour, Richard Brautigan, Paul Auster.? Speaking of his most recent poetry title, the autobiographical prose-poem collection My Life in Pictures for Apartment 613, McPherson is quoted as saying:

   Honest writing will move the reader. You can?t hold back when it comes to writing and you definitely can?t hold back    when it comes to writing about your life. If you don?t put your soul onto the page, who the fuck cares?

His most recent book is the novel Saving Her (Now or Never Publishing, 2015), ?a portrait of a woman coming unglued after devastating events send her spiraling out of control.?

rob mclennan:

Your first two novels, The Cube People and sequel Cube Squared, explored the ?mundane reality of government cubicle culture,? both as critique and satire. In your third novel, Saving Her, you deliberately move into other territory, of a ?woman coming unglued? after serious trauma. What made you move in such a different direction?

Christian McPherson:

I had the story for Saving Her kicking around in my head for close to a decade. As time went on, the story became more refined. Finally after two Cube novels it was time to put it down on paper. I was also ready to write something different. Completely different. Julie Cooper is a woman and a triathlete, both of which I?m clearly not. So to write a book from her perspective made me work new writing muscles I?ve never used before. Creatively this was a challenge but also a lot of fun. And here is the thing, I didn?t want to be known as Christian McPherson, the guy who writes funny cubicle novels. Saving Her is a thriller and a rather dark book. I wanted to see if I could pull that off. I have lots of other books I would like to write which aren?t funny cubicle novels, so this was my first step through a different door. It?s doesn?t mean though that Cube books are done. I?ve got a third one growing currently in my brain but it?s competing with a lot of other novels in there.

rm:

Your fiction favours a stark realism, pushing little in the way of stylistic flourish for the sake of furthering plot. What authors have influenced the ways in which you approach fiction?

CM:

The American writer Thom Jones who wrote three collections of short stories (and has since dropped off the face of the earth) was one of the writers who inspired me to try writing in the first place. A friend of mine gave me his first collection called The Pugilist at Rest and man I loved this book. Not since Catcher in Rye have I loved a book as much. The stories have energy coming off the page. I was like a kid watching Tony Hawk and saying, ?I want to ride like that guy.? I wanted to write like Jones. When I write fiction I like a lot of plot and I like to keep things moving along. I call Saving Her my Stephen King novel without 400 pages of bloat. Not that I don?t enjoy Mr. King?s work, I do. However I don?t need to read fifty pages about people grilling steaks. Reading Elmore Leonard novels in my youth—stories that don?t slow down and have little in terms of bling and lipstick—I?m sure have had a big impact on my writing.

rm:

In an interview published at The Danforth Review (February 27, 2012), referencing your first published book, the short story collection Six Ways to Sunday, you mention that you are working ?a new collection of stories, with some of the same characters as the first book.? Given the fact that you produced a sequel to your first novel as well, what is it about certain characters or stories that don?t feel finished? What brings you back?

CM:

I'm about two stories away from being done the new collection. I?ve got a long short story coming out in next month?s Nashwaak Review. I guess what draws me back to the same characters is that I feel some connection to them as if they were real people. I want to know what happens to them like you would in a TV series. I care about my characters. They live in my head and I suppose they would like to be not forgotten. Every once in a while they manifest themselves and demand their five minutes. I?m happy to give it to them. Unfortunately they may not always like what they get.

rm:

You move from poetry to fiction; how difficult is it for you to move between genres? What do you feel you can accomplish in one genre that you can?t in another?

CM:

I move easily between the two. However when I write poetry, it comes on suddenly like vomit. It just comes out of me in one fast shot. I don?t agonize over it. I actually spend much more time on the fiction I write. I edit the poems I write, but again I spend far more time on fiction. I think the difference between fiction and poetry is the size of the canvass; snapshots VS. wall sized murals. With prose you can create large worlds and fill them with fully formed characters. I don?t think you can do that with a poem. Not in the same way. That doesn?t mean you can?t fill up on tapas. Poems can be dense and pack a punch. A small poem can bring me to tears and can be far more satisfying than a 300 page novel. Again, it?s a size of canvas thing for me. Sometimes I need to go big to tell the story I want to tell.


Born in Ottawa, Canada?s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa with his brilliantly talented wife, the poet, editor and bookbinder Christine McNair, and their daughter, Rose. The author of nearly thirty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, he won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2010, the Council for the Arts in Ottawa Mid-Career Award in 2014, and was longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2012. His most recent titles include notes and dispatches: essays (Insomniac press, 2014), The Uncertainty Principle: stories, (Chaudiere Books, 2014) and the poetry collection If suppose we are a fragment (BuschekBooks, 2014). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books (with Christine McNair), seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics (ottawater.com/seventeenseconds), Touch the Donkey (touchthedonkey.blogspot.com) and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater (ottawater.com). He also curates the weekly ?Tuesday poem? series at the dusie blog, and the ?On Writing? series at the ottawa poetry newsletter. He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at robmclennan.blogspot.com. He currently spends his days full-time with toddler Rose, writing entirely at the whims of her nap-schedule.

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