Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with David Carpenter

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Ten Questions with David Carpenter

David Carpenter talks to Open Book about his first publication, writing lessons with Robert Kroetsch, his latest book, Welcome to Canada (The Porcupine's Quill), and more.

Open Book: Toronto:

Tell us about your latest book.

David Carpenter:

My new book is a collection of novellas and stories entitled Welcome to Canada. This is my Canada, so it's more earthy than worldly. I live on the prairie, and up north, where the distance between communities is great and the emptiness leans in on you. My characters really come to life once they've left the house or left the city and hit the road or landed in the bush, where they have to make adjustments to an inhospitable world. Their journeys are unpredictable and their paths can lead to sad awareness or comic moments or epiphanies or real danger. I wrote these stories over a period of 30 years, and they are my favourites.

OBT:

Did you have a specific readership in mind when you wrote your book?

DC:

No. When I finish a story, I sometimes wonder who would most want to read it, but I've never been sure about who my audience is. When I see the words "my audience," I almost blush, because it sounds presumptuous.

OBT:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

DC:

I write in a cabin up north, and no one phones me and no one knocks on our door, and when I'm finished for the day, I go fishing. If it's winter and I need to finish something, I head for St. Peter's Abbey, a monastery east of Saskatoon. They have a rule of silence out there for the entire day, so I'm just as isolated as I am at the cabin in the warm half of the year. My only gripe is that a monastery in winter is a lousy place to go fishing. What do you do, eh?

OBT:

What was your first publication?

DC:

I used to do stories for Saturday Night. They published my very first one, "Protection." It's about a kid who is a gentile who plays for an all-Jewish football team. I sent off the story and forgot about it. One evening I was in my kitchen, which was in an old house with a very high ceiling. Too high to touch, unless you were tall and could leap like a basketball player. The phone rang and the editor from Saturday Night said they liked my story and that they would like to "buy" it. No one had ever said that sentence to me before. When the conversation ended, I leapt for the ceiling and touched it.

OBT:

Describe a recent Canadian cultural experience that influenced your writing.

DC:

I have a father-in-law who lives in Texas. I go down there every year to visit him, and I often attempt to explain my country to a host of bewildered Texans. This yearly exercise, trying to explain such things as Quebec separatism or federal/ provincial relations or official bilingualism, is for me a profound Canadian cultural experience. My title novella, "Welcome to Canada," is a direct response to the annual Canadian/ Texas dialogues.

OBT:

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

DC:

My new book is called Welcome to Canada. No guff, that's what it's called. I'd give them my book (complete with an explanation of what my country is all about), and I'd give them Alice Munro's Selected Stories, and if they were from Texas, I would give them Fred Stenson's Lightning. If they weren't from Texas, I'd give them a copy of Marina Endicott's Good to a Fault.

OBT:

What are you reading right now?

DC:

I am reading Trevor Herriot's nonfiction book entitled Grass, Sky, Song. It's real food for the soul. I'm also reading Rudy Wiebe's autobiography, Of This Earth, which is pretty humbling.

OBT:

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received as a writer?

DC:

One day in 1977, Robert Kroetsch lifted my manuscript high in the air and hurled it onto the floor of an old schoolhouse in Fort San, Saskatchewan. The impact of my manuscript on the linoleum sounded like the principal giving someone the strap. He glared at me with Kroetschian intensity and roared out, "Carpenter, you have to know this stuff!" He did this in front of an entire class of students in attendance at a summer workshop for beginning writers. By "this stuff," he meant that I had to know my characters well before I began writing about them. It wasn't his words that impressed me the most; it was the intensity behind the words. I suppose I could have been offended by Kroetsch's outburst, but instead, I was grateful that he would take my writing seriously. I'm still grateful.

OBT:

What advice do you have for writers who are trying to get published?

DC:

Learn your technique and read like a sonofabitch. Read promiscuously in all directions.

OBT:

What is your next project?

DC:

I am through with fiction writing for a while. I am now at work on a book that examines the culture and the history of hunting in North America. I often turn to nonfiction writing because it gets me into interesting stuff, and a change is as good as a rest.


David Carpenter is the author of several books, including a series of novellas and long stories — Jokes for the Apocalypse, Jewels and God’s Bedfellows. Jokes for the Apocalypse was runner up for the Gerald Lampert Award, and his novella The Ketzer won first prize in the Descant Novella Contest. His first full-length novel, Banjo Lessons, was published in 1997 and won the City of Edmonton Book Prize. Writing Home, his first collection of nonfiction, explores his engagements with such writers as Richard Ford, Mordecai Richler, the French writer/scientist Georges Bugnet and the late Raymond Carver. Several of these pieces won prizes for literary journalism and for humour in the Western Magazine Awards. One of these essays was featured in an expanded form on CBC Radio’s "Ideas." He brought out a second book of essays about life around home, a month-by-month salute to the seasons entitled Courting Saskatchewan. It won the Saskatchewan Book Award for nonfiction.

Throughout the years he has always been a passionate outdoorsman and environmentalist. This abiding love of lakes, trails, streams and campsites translates into city life in Saskatoon as well, where he lives with his wife, artist Honor Kever, and their son Will.

For more information about Welcome to Canada please visit The Porcupine's Quill website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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