Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Lucky Seven Interview, with Laura Trunkey

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Laura Trunkey

Laura Trunkey's debut short fiction collection, Double Dutch (House of Anansi Press), is the kind of career-launching book that heralds an important new voice in CanLit. Magically creative, these stories are slightly bizarre and entirely human, from the man who has to figure out how to go on when his wife's body is taken over by a bear to the titular character, a body double for Ronald Reagan, who falls in love with the most unattainable of women.

Today we're speaking with Laura as part of our Lucky Seven series, where we talk to authors about their new books, their writing process and more.

Laura tells us why obsessiveness works for her as a writer, the timeline of how the book came together (and the stories it shed along the way) and "productive" procrastination.

Open Book:

Tell us about your new book Double Dutch.

Laura Trunkey:

Double Dutch is a collection of nine stylistically varied short stories. In the title story, Ronald Reagan’s body double falls in love with the first lady. Topsy, the elephant on the book cover, relives her past during her Coney Island execution. In other stories biblical miracles are performed, animals communicate or share bodies with humans, and spirits tend to the souls of the dying. About half of the stories were written during my time in UBC’s optional residency MFA program from 2006-2009. Most of the stories are a result of my obsessiveness. When I discover something I consider fascinating, I usually attempt to learn everything I can about the subject. Then I feel the compulsion to share. Some obsessions that have made their way into Double Dutch are political doubles, blastocysts, Edison’s animal experiments, xenoglossy, mountain goats, a trial held in Edmonton in 1917. This is why short stories are a good fit for me. I can’t imagine a novel that could contain all these threads. Though if there were one, I’d definitely read it!


Is there a question that is central to your book, thematically? And if so, did you know the question when you started writing or did it emerge from the writing process?


A reviewer recently wrote about a thematic link between most of the stories in my collection, but I have to admit I didn’t plan for that, nor am I convinced it actually exists. My favourite short story collections are varied in both form and subject, and I consider Double Dutch to fit that description. Neil Smith blurbed the book and said the stories are: “rooted in reality but tinged with the fantastic.” If there is a common element, that would be it.


Did the book change significantly from when you first starting working on it to the final version? How long did the project take from start to finish?


The manuscript I submitted had eight stories and a novella. It was accepted December of 2013, long before the slated publication date. I used 2014 and the first months of 2015 to write three new stories and another novella. Neither novella made the final book, but the new stories displaced older ones that I was ready to part with. The oldest story in this book, “Second Comings and Goings,” was written in 2007, and the most recent, “Electrocuting the Elephant,” was written just last year.


What do you need in order to write — in terms of space, food, rituals, writing instruments?


I used to have writing rituals: I wrote early in the morning and I needed silence and a particular blanket over my legs. When my son was born in 2011 my rituals disappeared. It felt wrong to wake up early when sleep was at a premium, so I scheduled my writing hours with his naps — a couple short stints a day. When my mum came to look after him, I’d head to the coffee shop around the corner and work there — a far cry from silence. It was difficult at first, but it was useful to shake off my routine. Now I don’t really have one. I write daily, but at no particular time. Noise is no longer an issue. Last year, every Tuesday morning I wrote in the rec. center coffee shop outside my son’s preschool while the stamp collector’s club held their meetings. I have never encountered a rowdier group of senior citizens, but I always got a lot done in their company. I don’t carry the blanket around with me, but maybe I should. I’m always cold when I write.


What do you do if you're feeling discouraged during the writing process? Do you have a method of coping with the difficult points in your projects?


When I’m discouraged I often have a crisis of confidence. I stare at the screen, decide I will probably never write anything decent again, wonder if I even wrote anything decent before, then do “productive” things, like clean cupboards in the kitchen. After this, I get mad at myself for wasting time and usually shift to writing something else. This means I have a number of false starts cluttering my hard drive, but they’ve proven useful. “Night Terror,” and “The Windspir Sisters’ Home for the Dying” were written from story scraps I had cast aside for years. I consider them a collaborative effort between two different writers, and they’re stronger as a result.


What defines a great book, in your opinion? Tell us about one or two books you consider to be truly great books.


This is such a difficult question. There are so many great books, and books can be great for different reasons. There are books like Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, which are great because of the attention to language. Any book I need to read slowly so I can enjoy the sentences is a great book, in my opinion. And then there are great books I can’t help racing through, paying no attention to the writing — wooly books packed with plot like Zadie Smith’s early novels. And then there is Catcher in the Rye, a book I read whenever I need cheering up — sometimes the whole novel and sometimes just a few pages at random. For me to consider a short story great, I want it all — a thick, unexpected plot and beautiful language. Jim Shepard, Deborah Eisenberg and Zsuzsi Gartner are short story masters. Eliza Robertson’s Wallflowers is a great book. Lauren Groff’s 2009 collection Delicate Edible Birds is a recent discovery, and blew the top of my head off.


What are you working on now?


I have a small handful of new short stories, but I’m also juggling three longer projects: a half-written midgrade novel, a YA book I may never finish revising, and an adult novel that’s just taking shape. Lately most of my focus is on the latter, but I’m wary to provide details for superstitious reasons. I don’t want to jinx anything!

Laura Trunkey’s fiction has been published in journals and magazines across Canada, and was included in the anthology Darwin’s Bastards: Astounding Tales from Tomorrow. Her non-fiction has garnered two honorable mentions at the National Magazine Awards. She is the author of the children’s novel, The Incredibly Ordinary Danny Chandelier (2008). She lives in Victoria, BC, with her husband and son.

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