What do you do when you're not writing?
During the school year, I teach. During the not-school-year, I hang out with my family, I read, I ride my bike around.
What are some of your favourite short story collections?
This list changes periodically but Lorrie Moore's Birds of America is always near the top. Also near the top, just about any Alice Munro collection. These days it's Hateship etc. (I can never remember the full title). Daniel Orozco's Orientation and Other Stories is a relatively recent discovery. James Salter's Last Night is one I go back to again and again. I've probably bought 4 or 5 copies of it. I keep giving it away. Etgar Keret's The Nimrod Flipout. That guy's stories are bonkers. George Saunders' Tenth of December. His stories have so much heart and warmth and weirdness. I love his stories. Another recent addition to the list is Aimee Bender's The Color Master. Oh, and Lydia Davis' Varieties of Disturbance. Again: bonkers.
There are also the collections that made me want to write stories in the first place: Raymond Carver's Cathedral, Katherine Mansfield's The Garden Party and Other Stories, Anton Chekhov's The Lady With the Dog and Other Stories, Ernest Hemingway's In Our Time and James Joyce's Dubliners. I could go on like this all day.
Do you only read short stories?
Haha. No. I read novels and non-fiction and poetry and skateboard magazines. The last poetry collection to really knock my socks off was Ian Hamilton's Collected Poems. His poems are so exquisitely understated and restrained. I really admire his work a lot. And as for non-fiction, I've been reading a lot of autobiographies lately. The late Oliver Sacks’ memoir On The Move is a recent favourite. I have learned all kinds of surprising things about the good doctor. (His New York Times op-ed about learning that he had terminal cancer was incredibly inspiring and moving. He operated on another plain, as they say.)
Do you listen to music while you write?
No. Writing with music playing in the background is, to me, kind of like riding a bike while eating cereal. Sounds interesting on paper but I can't concentrate on two things at once. Although I do sometimes drink coffee in the shower. That’s more of a time-saving thing, though.
City or country?
Do I have to pick? Two of my favourite places in the world are New York City and Duncan's Cove in Nova Scotia.
Is it true that you are a skateboarder?
It is true. I've been a skateboarder for 30+ years. You'd think I’d be better than I am but I ride my skateboard like an old man now. That is to say, within my limits. Most of the time. I still fall off it now and then while trying things that are beyond my skill level. Last summer, I sprained my ankle and broke a toe. On two separate occasions. That was a long summer.
Why do you spend so much time in New Brunswick?
One of my good friends lives there. (This same friend, Jon Claytor, illustrated Meticulous, Sad and Lonely.) He and a friend started a festival in Sackville, NB and called it The Sappy Records Music Festival (later shortened to SappyFest). He asked me to read at the first one. That was in 1997. Every year, I got a little more involved: helping out with odd jobs, curating the writing stage, MCing shows, stage managing, pretending to be a talk show sidekick, screen printing flags and giant stage backdrops, picking people up at the airport, breaking up fights, mopping up spilled beer, stacking chairs, weeping quietly on sidewalks. Several of the stories in my book were first read at SappyFest. SappyFest also published some of the stories on posters, postcards and in their program. I owe those guys a lot.
I could have also answered by simply saying that I love New Brunswick.
What are you working on now?