Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Proust Questionnaire, with Chad Pelley

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Chad Pelley

This week Open Book: Toronto is featuring interviews with authors from Found Press, an innovative digital publisher which offers short stories by some of Canada's most beloved writers. Digital reading continues to evolve as we become comfortable consuming books on different devices and in different environments — but nothing will change the desire for great, engaging fiction regardless of platform.

Found Press' most recent season includes author Chad Pelley, whose literary website Salty Ink, chock-full of reviews, interviews and recommendations, is one of the most popular online destinations for lovers of Canadian literature.

Chad's story from Found Press is Trigger Finger Blues, the tale of a sniper who finds himself in love with his target.

In his answers to the Proust Questionnaire, Chad talks to Open Book about courting Virginia Woolf, a flower with a tough side and a real-life Indie movie romance.

The Proust Questionnaire was not invented by Marcel Proust, but it was a much loved game by the French author and many of his contemporaries. The idea behind the questionnaire is that the answers are supposed to reveal the respondent's "true" nature.


What is your dream of happiness?
Owning a time travel machine and setting it to anywhere but here. I don’t belong in 2013. We’re generation Photoshop, and we’ve forgotten what the real world should look and be like. It’s like 2013-ers care more about some Royal guy’s baby, or some celebrity’s lingering baby fat, than a genocide that’s killing kids, or the fact we’re destroying the planet for money, of all things. We like money a whole lot these days, and I can’t wrap my head around it. I’d like to go back to, say, Virginia Woolf’s era, and court her somethin’ proper, 1800s’ style.

What is your idea of misery?
I just watched a fabulous movie, The Sessions, starring John Hawkes as poet Mark O’Brien. He lived his life in an iron lung, able to move only his neck. He wrote by pecking at a typewriter with a wooden spoon. To not have my hands to type out fiction, to play guitar, to be with a woman, to turn my nephews into airplanes, God, I dunno. But Hawkes, in this movie, changed my mind on what misery is. Misery is letting the world pass you by, and living like you’re not in control of it.

Where would you like to live?
Italy, but I have an excuse for not living there. I am not big on scorpions. They’ve got claws, a barbed & poisonous tail, and a hard exoskeleton (so you can’t just squash them). They hide like insects, in your shoes; shaving kits. They’re out to get you, and they have this menacing prehistoric look going. They’re my irrational fear. I’ve never seen one.

What qualities do you admire most in a man?
A lack of a macho attitude.

What qualities do you admire most in a woman?
I hate making a generalization about women, but female grace really is a beautiful thing. I don’t mean a meek, ladylike demeanour — I have no time for that — I’m referring instead to whatever it is at the core of a woman that makes them so emotionally intelligent and such a pleasure to be around. I think I equate female grace to a sense that women have lived another life before this one, but men are still figuring things out. They’re better rounded, better conversationalists, better lovers and partners. I dunno.

What is your chief characteristic?
Being an indecisive fool. I’m 32 and I don’t know what I wanna be when I grow up, I’m in love with 20 women and none of them know it. I can’t even choose what to eat in the morning: my tea gets cold as I choose between a bagel or oatmeal.

What is your principal fault?
My overt honesty can make people uncomfortable. You compliment a woman in 2013, and she thinks you’re hitting on her. You play a song about the heartbreak of going bald, and the room falls awkwardly silent, like they didn’t get the levity. Hard to explain, but honesty can make people’s cheeks red, or, I plain get misunderstood.

What is your greatest extravagance?
I can’t get enough brie cheese. It works with every meal; it works alone.

What faults in others are you most tolerant of?
The kinds that don’t mar their character. I’ll forgive anything but poor character.

What is your favourite occupation?
Lottery Winner. Not to be lazy and avoid working, but to enjoy life by avoiding working.

What would you like to be?
Certain of something. Anything.

What is your favourite colour?
Brown. Or the colour dawn makes the Newfoundland coastline look: it’s a purple that looks like a porthole you could walk through.

What is your favourite flower?
Call me a cliché Newfoundlander, to cite our provincial flower, but the Pitcher Plant eats stuff. That’s pretty bad-ass, as far as plants go. They’re a metaphor for the province: pretty on the surface, but not quite as passive as you’d think, should you screw with one.

What is your favourite bird?
Birds are the best, and there’s more than 9,000. I’ll go with ducks in general. If they didn’t defecate, there’d be tons of them waddling around my house.

What historical figure do you admire the most?
People who tried to prove a point, outlaw style, above criminal law and into the realm of moral law. Like Ghandi, starving himself. Or Thoreau, going to jail instead of paying a tax to a government for a service he didn’t use. We don’t protest any more: we whine on Facebook and think “Share this Meme” or “Sign this Petition” will change the world.

Who are your favourite prose authors?
People whose strength is their style. That’s the true art of writing: could they write about someone brushing their teeth and be riveting?

Who are your favourite poets?
People like Blake and Bukowski eased me into the stuff. And this woman named Charlotte Smith no one seems to know. So, hats off to them.

Who are your heroes in real life?
I have a friend named Clay who has saved my life on two separate occasions: a near drowning and a near boy-meets-transport truck.

Who is your favourite painter?
I met my favourite ex because of her paintings. I was at her roommate’s party, asked about all the art of the walls, got this woman’s email address, asked to buy some of her work, and fell in love over the correspondence. It was a very Indie-movie romance ordeal. Her name was Peggy Tremblett.

Who is your favourite musician?
Josh Ritter, Damien Jurado. Maybe Gregory Alan Isakov.

What is your favourite food?
All of the olives and most of the soft cheeses.

What is your favourite drink?
Glenfiddich, straight up. A weight comes right off my shoulders, first sip.

What are your favourite names?
I’d name a daughter Ruby. I’d name a son Cohen or Darwin too, but I’d bet the mother-to-be would shoot me down.

How do you want to die?
Tragically, of course. Rescuing an old lady from a mugging, or, being the guy on the sinking boat who gives up his seat on the dinghy to a lady who won’t soon forget him.

What is your motto?
Expect nothing from life, and anything that happens will be a perk.

Chad Pelley's fiction has been recognized by more than 10 literary awards. His debut, Away from Everywhere, was a Coles bestseller, is being adapted for film, and was adopted by university classes. His latest novel, Every Little Thing, is new on the shelves, and CBC Canada Reads winner Lisa Moore called it “Stylistically fresh and can’t-put-it-down compelling.” His short fiction has appeared in several journals, anthologies, and textbooks. He is also the founder of Salty Ink, a photographer, songwriter and freelance journalist.

For more information about Trigger Finger Blues please visit the Found Press website.

Buy this story or subscribe for more great Canadian short fiction at Found Press.

Check out all the Proust Questionnaire interviews in our archives.

1 comment

If I hadn't been with my husband since Chad was born, I'd be hitting on him after reading this. Or at least sending him some brie.

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