Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with Jacob McArthur Mooney

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Jacob

August 11, 2009 -

Open Book: Toronto:

What was your first publication and where was it published?

Jacob McArthur Mooney:

Like most of the ones that followed it, it was from an online journal. The journal’s name is Zygote in My Coffee, and it was also their first issue. As with any good online journal, it died a hero’s death a few months back, only to be resurrected and ordered back into the good fight under new leadership.

OBT:

Describe a recent Canadian cultural experience that influenced your writing.

JMM:

I could be a contrarian here and ask for a definition of “Canadian cultural experience,” but I think I know what you’re getting at so I’ll bite. I got a lot out of the last Federal Election. I mean, I got nothing inspiring or otherwise beneficial out of it as a citizen. But as a writer the disorienting depths of the national problems, and the impossibility of legitimate dialogue in the slap-or-be-slapped political arena, sent me to writing as a sort of reactionary mechanism. I retired into writing about things like citizenship and community because I felt like there was no way to engage with them directly. I didn’t see the “way in” when it came to politics, even as an outsider, as an activist.

Art can do that sometimes, stand as a screen behind which you can remodel the world into something with cause and effect, something with logic or truth. It’s a source of guilt though, for me, because this is the same way people use religion, or xenophobia, or whatever. Even if I felt like my motives were right-minded, I was only ever playing pretend.

OBT:

If you had to choose three books as a “Welcome to Canada” gift, what would those books be?

JMM:

How about: a. Why I Hate Canadians, by Will Ferguson, b. What We All Long For, by Dionne Brand and c. Civil Elegies, by Dennis Lee. There, welcome to my country! I advise trying the bagels and staying out of Moncton.

OBT:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

JMM:

I’m pretty easy to please. I write at night mostly, though I’m permanently attached to my notebook and make a lot of jotnotes throughout the day. I need to be in a good mood. I need to have my rent paid and the heat turned on and some sense of where my next ten or twenty meals are coming from. That’s all. I don’t write well from worry, or from anger. If a poem strikes the reader as particularly dark or charged, you can bet that I felt better about the whole thing once I eventually sat down to write about it.

OBT:

William Faulkner was once asked what book he wished he had written; he chose Moby Dick (with Winnie the Pooh as a close second). Is there a book that you wish you had written?

JMM:

Winnie the Pooh would be a good one. Really, it would have to be some sort of children’s book. If you can write a truly classic picture book, one that crosses generations and sort of imprints on multiple decades of kids, that’s paradise, for a writer. I have a draft of a children’s story locked away in the nether reaches of my hard drive right now. I’m the only one who gets to read it.

OBT:

Is there a book that you think you should have read by now but haven’t?

JMM:

OHMYGOD! Are you kidding? Where does a person begin with that question? How about “All of them”? Is that acceptable? No wait, I can probably deal with not reading technical manuals, or career-coaching books, or anything by Ayn Rand…. So my answer is “Everything: with the exception of Atlas Shrugged, You Can Do It and How to Write in C++”

OBT:

What are you reading right now?

JMM:

As I’m dealing with a lifelong struggle with the pressures of literary monogamy, I am presently splitting time between the following suitors: Pictures at a Revolution by Mark Harris, February by Lisa Moore and the newest Adrienne Rich.

OBT:

Do you have a specific readership in mind when you write?

JMM:

Anyone and everyone. Poetry holds the interest of too few readers as is to further separate them into “my” readers and “not my” readers.

OBT:

What are you working on right now?

JMM:

I have a draft of a new collection. It’s inspired, at least at root, by the 1999 crash of Swissair Flight 111 just off-shore from where I grew up in Nova Scotia. The book sort of starts there and then moves off, using themes of grief and community and recurring motifs like geography and airports and the history of commercial flight. The second half of it is mostly set in the shadow of Pearson Airport, near where I lived when I began writing it.

And I’ve also been tinkering with a novel for a few years now. So I’m busy. I have stuff to do. And if all else fails, I’ve got that children’s story, locked away somewhere, where I can occasionally dig it out and blush.

OBT:

Do you have any advice for writers who are trying to get published?

JMM:

Beyond any talk of craft or effort or professionalization, just to embrace the chase, and to embrace the euphoria when it finally happens. But to understand that like any burst of euphoria, it’s short-lived and often as confusing as it is elating. It’s just a book. It’s not going to make your life make sense.

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