Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions, with Raymond Beauchemin

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Raymond Beauchemin

Raymond Beauchemin is the author of Everything I Own (Guernica Editions), a novel which follows fictional Quebec songwriter Michel Laflamme through both his artistic and romantic lives but also weaves in larger narratives of the political and cultural history of Quebec.

Raymond talks to Open Book about structuring a book as a song, the importance of couches and the complicated history of la Belle Province.

Also check out the book trailer for Everything I Own, which was featured as Open Book's Video of the Week.

Open Book:

Tell us about your book, Everything I Own.

Raymond Beauchemin:

Everything I Own is the story of a Quebec songwriter, Michel Laflamme, who recalls the ups and downs of his love for and marriage with a Quebecoise singer named Bijou. The relationship roughly parallels the turbulence in Quebec political and cultural history from the 1970s to the present. But, like the song “Everything I Own” recorded by Bread in the ’70s, the novel is not just about a guy and his girl. There’s another very strong subplot to the novel.

The book is structured in a modified thirty-two bar blues form, so the chapter breakdown goes like this: two verses, chorus, two verses, chorus, bridge, chorus. Like a song where the chorus is basically the same, the choruses in the novel go after a particular theme of the novel while the narrative is carried along in the verses. The bridge is the span that pushes Michel to a kind of self-realization. Anywhere else, we’d probably call it the denouement!

OB:

In what ways do you relate to your character Michel and in what ways are you very different?

RB:

Michel was born in Massachusetts as was I. But his family returned to Quebec. My father had had an opportunity to return the family back to Quebec as well, but he didn’t take it and we didn’t move. The novel is perhaps my attempt to answer “what if.” What would have happened had I returned to Quebec as a kid? Michel is a diehard separatist for a good part of the novel until he grows disillusioned with the Parti Quebecois. In some romantic way, I was independantiste as well, until I moved to Montreal and actually got the lay of the land. There are also creative parallels between Michel and me as writers both concerned with sound and rhythm and images.

OB:

Music is important in Michel's life. What is your own relationship with music like?

RB:

Music is central to my life. I’ve always got something on the radio, the stereo, in the car. Or if I don’t, there’s something playing in my head. Although most of what I listen to comes from the rock/pop playlist, my earliest memories of listening to music were country and Quebec/French singers. Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Charles Aznavour. And now, I pretty much listen to everything. For pleasure, to learn, for nostalgic reasons, for mind-numbing. Music speaks to us in ways that are different than literature or the visual arts or dance. It’s more elemental, it’s older, more universal.

OB:

How does your experience as an editor and teacher inform your fiction writing?

RB:

There are fewer typos in my manuscripts perhaps! Being an editor helps in the rewriting portion of the work: being able to step back and see what works and what doesn’t; or at least it should. Anyone can get too close to their material.

OB:

What recurring themes or obsessions do you notice turning up in your writing?

RB:

Fathers. Every novel I’ve ever written deals with the father-son relationship.

OB:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

RB:

I don’t really have an ideal environment. I have whatever space in the apartment or house is left to an office after the bedrooms have been assigned. I’ve shared my office with my wife, Denise Roig, who’s also a writer; and that kind of works. Though I prefer to have a space to myself where I can be quiet or loud when I want to be. Or nap when I want to. So, maybe I do have an ideal writing environment: any room with a couch.

OB:

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

RB:

To not get too married to what I’ve written (Susan Bell’s The Artful Edit); to write shorter, less rambling, sentences (my wife).

OB:

Who are some people who have deeply influenced (fellow writers or not) your writing life?

RB:

Everyone you come into contact can influence your writing life, whether it’s as a source for a character or a piece of dialogue. As for deep influence, I’ve learned a lot about character and the human psyche from editing and reading my wife’s stories. She’s generally right on the mark. Her stories also begin and end really well and that’s a hard craft to master.

OB:

Is there a book you’ve read recently that you wished you had written?

RB:

I just reviewed Walk Like a Man: Coming of Age with the Music of Bruce Springsteen by a Victoria writer named Robert Wiersema. When I first saw the title — before having cracked the book open — I thought, shit, I should have written this. Then of course I realized I couldn’t have. Certainly not the book I eventually ended up reading. But that’s natural. We all have different responses to music, just as we have different responses to literature.

OB:

What are you working on now?

RB:

I’ve always got several projects going at the same time. I’m nearing completion of the first draft of another novel, again set in Quebec, but this time a little earlier than some of the material in Everything I Own. I also have a collection of essays about my time in Abu Dhabi that I must finish. Most of the material is done, and I can see the arc of the book; I just need to write an intro and a few closing pieces. There’s also a novel about Abu Dhabi that’s starting to formulate in my head, so I’ll need to get to that soon, before my memory of the desert fades.


A former senior editor at The Montreal Gazette, Raymond Beauchemin is the author of Salut! The Quebec Microbrewery Beer Cookbook and editor of several anthologies of Quebec literature in English. He has taught creative writing and international journalism at Concordia University in Montreal. A Massachusetts native, he has lived and worked in Abu Dhabi and currently lives in Ontario. He is married to the writer Denise Roig.

For more information about Everything I Own please visit the Guernica website.

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

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