Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

FADE TO BLACKOUT: talking turkey with John Goldbach

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FADE TO BLACKOUT: talking turkey with John Goldbach

Nathaniel G. Moore’s Conflict of Interest column appears biweekly.

Talking with John Goldbach about his wry debut collection offers as much hilarity as reading him — fitting, considering how the writer weaves a laugh along the lovely road to meltdown. Each story in Selected Blackouts (Insomniac Press) approaches neurosis or crisis in a variety of manners. It’s something evident upon reading the book; these stories are forensic morsels of lives turned upside down, lost in the peripherals of twenty-something. Oh, and there’s a psycho turkey (named Ninja) story as well. We’ll get to that shortly.

Goldbach says the road to publication began a few years ago, when he had enough stories that seemed cohesive enough to call a collection. “The earliest draft of the earliest story in the book I probably started about eight years ago but I don’t think I started to think of the stories as a collection till about four or five years ago,” says Goldbach about his debut. “When I began my MA at Concordia University, about five years ago, I got a little more serious about redrafting older stories and writing new ones and thinking in terms of a collection.”

In terms of crafting the individual stories in the collection, Goldbach says he approaches every story differently, and every story has its own specific demands. “It’s difficult to speak of structural paths but there are tricks I use to get myself writing, and rewriting, but they’re mainly just drafting techniques. When it comes to structural paths, it’s story specific. The story determines the paths.”

So, now the turkey story. Yes, early on in the collection we find a young boy and his extremely angry turkey in the throes of a carnivorous domestic-on-the-farm kind of meltdown. I couldn’t help but wonder, while reading it, if in fact the author had ever known a turkey growing up. “No, thankfully, I never had a pet turkey, though my best friend and neighbour growing up, Mike M——, whose family owned an old flour mill and had a house on the same property, had a homicidal pet rooster named Boogety, and Boogety used to attack me when I’d go over to Mike’s place, which was often. I’d take circuitous routes to get to his house in order to avoid being attacked by his rooster.” Goldbach says the memorable story in the book was also fuelled by teenaged drinking near a turkey barn. “There’s something horrifying about dozens of turkeys wailing in their pen, especially after a few drinks.”

Whether an intention or not, a lot of the stories in Selected Blackouts deal with facing mortality, drama, life, turkeys with what you’ve been given; whatever sort of obstacles or choices that pronounce themselves in your life. The stories are crafted with a direct assuredness and, what I would describe with a Patrick Bateman politeness, ‘hip urban dementia.’

I asked Goldbach to list some authors that have influenced his work. “This is a hard question to answer, especially because the stories took a while, so there are a lot of influences, or, rather, there are many great writers I love to read and reread, though it’s hard to say if they’re direct influences. But Gogol’s definitely one of my favourite short story writers — someone I read and reread — and same with Isaac Babel and Robert Walser and Kafka and Bruno Schultz and Borges and Leonard Michaels, etc.”

To end our little chat I probe the author about stories that he was considering for the collection but, for some reason, didn’t make it in the final cut. “Yes, there was a story, ‘Standing in Front of the Kazan Cathedral ’05,' that takes place in St. Petersburg, Russia, and it didn’t quite fit. A bunch of the stories are set in rural Ontario so it was a big jump to Nevsky Prospekt.”

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