Friday 8 November 2019

Grant Tracey and the Double Space

Grant Tracey is the featured reader at the November Final Thursday Reading Series, which happens one week early on November 21, due to Thanksgiving. Tracey is the author of the Hayden Fuller Mystery Series, which includes the books Cheap Amusements, A Fourth Face and the forthcoming Neon Kiss. Tracey is also Fiction Editor at the North American Review and a Professor of English in the Department of Languages & Literatures at the University of Northern Iowa. 

Can you share a bit of your writing process for the recent book?
GRANT TRACEY: The first two drafts of Neon Kiss were written by hand. My mind works differently when I put pen to paper. I don’t chase the narrative as much; instead I develop the characters, context, and situation. Mood resonates. Even with final revisions I have to work off computer printouts to really see the story, to really feel and live it.

What led you to write it?
GT: I enjoy writing an ongoing series. Each novel is self-contained, but there’s a larger character arc, involving Hayden and his girlfriend Stana and Hayden and his father Ira, that closes out with the fourth book, Shot, Reverse-Shot (which I wrote on sabbatical last spring and I will be substantially revising this summer). I guess I’ve always liked serialized stories, and that’s part of the fun of a series like this, seeing how the characters evolve across the various adventures and challenges they take on. How are they constantly re-defining themselves?
I also really like mysteries, hardboiled detective stories, and since I was seventeen, I’ve been writing them. There’s something about a figure who is both inside and outside the law that’s fascinating to track. Hayden sports a 1950s buzzcut, but he has a 1960s liberal outlook, valuing people and believing in collective responsibility.
But aside from all this serious-minded stuff, I want to tell crackling stories that entertain. I know I’m writing in part for other writers, but I get the biggest kick when I hear folks at Bob’s Guitars have read my books and dig them.

What are you most hoping readers will gain from reading your books?
GT: Hardboiled detective stories are more than just entertainment. Yes, the best stories are wonderfully told yarns, but they also say something about love and loss and pain. My hero was a victim of child abuse and that’s something he carries with him, and over the course of these four books he learns to forgive about himself. There’s a perception that the hardboiled tradition is rich in sexual prurience, pornographic violence, sadism, and sexism. That’s not why I read the genre, and that’s not what I’m about.

What writers inspired you?
GT: Favorite writers? Raymond Chandler. He was a master of interiority; mood, and presenting us with a lead character who is a tarnished knight who empathizes with those he encounters. Chandler’s prose is literary and lyrical, rich in similes and psychological nuance. 
Mickey Spillane. He always said he wrote thrillers not whodunits. I love the energy of his two-fisted prose and the shock endings to his books. They’re a cathartic rush. For some critics, Spillane is an American primitive; for me, he’s just a great storyteller. 
Ed McBain. Inspired by the documentary realism of Jack Webb’s Dragnet, McBain took the police procedural to new levels of crime writing, humanizing the detectives of his 87th Precinct, and opening his narratives up to the lives of the criminals too. His stories have incredible pacing. And they’re smart.
Jim Thompson. His characters are unreliable and nuts. Reading Thompson is like hanging out with a bunch of alcoholics: the day starts off slightly slant; by late afternoon the characters are irrational, full of mood swings; and by late evening they’re violent and deadly, and there may be a body in the kitchen. Savage Night, The Getaway, and A Hell of a Woman are tour-de-forces.

You’re a citizen of Canada. How does this impact your writing?
GT: Well, I love hockey which goes without saying, and in the latest Fuller novel, Hayden’s back in the NHL, playing for, of all teams, the bleu-blanc-rouge of the Canadiens. I’m a Torontonian, so having my hero play for Montreal is, well, it just is. 
Anyway, on a serious note, I may be a Canadian citizen, but I love the US and I love Iowa, and every day of my life I live in a space of double-ness, here and there, drawing connections, comparisons. My Fuller novels all set between 1965-1966, and the Canada I’m writing about is the Canada of my childhood, not the Canada of today, so even in my fiction I live in that double space, between past and present. It’s a place I’ve kind of grown accustomed to. I guess in that way, I’m like Hayden: I’m a retro guy who loves 1950s porkpie hats, short hair, and blue jeans; but I’m also a product of the 1960s, someone who cares about social justice and change. Hayden is me, but I’m not him.

—Interview conducted by Joshua Baird

Wednesday 16 October 2019

Crystal Gibbins returns to FTRS

Hey! The Final Thursday Reading Series is one week early this month due to Halloween. Mark your calendar for Thursday, October 24 with featured reading Crystal Gibbins. Gibbins is the founding editor of Split Rock Review, author of the poetry collection Now/Here, and co-editor of the recent collection, Waters Deep: A Great Lakes Poetry Anthology. She also writes and illustrates Up North, a comic blog about her travels and life in the Northwoods. She last read at the Final Thursday Reading Series in October 2017.

What was the initial impetus that led to creating Waters Deep: A Great Lakes Poetry Anthology? I understand it is part of a new series?

In 2016, I moved from the North Shore to the South Shore of Lake Superior near Bayfield, WI, a place of great beauty and severe weather, but also a region that shows environmental degradation caused by humans and invasive species. I began having conversations with the Split Rock Review editorial team about creating and publishing an anthology. Since many of us currently live in or are from the Great Lakes Basin, we wanted the anthology to focus on the diversity, culture, history, ecology, and importance of preserving this region.
      In early 2018, I wrote and submitted an Arts Initiative Grant project proposal to the Chequamegon Bay Arts Council (CBAC) to help fund a portion of Waters Deep. Fortunately, CBAC accepted the proposal and we got to work on the anthology project right away since it needed to be completed and published by the end of 2018. It is my hope that Split Rock Press (an imprint of Split Rock Review) will continue to publish volumes of Waters Deep every two to three years. The next call for submissions for the second installment of Waters Deep will be in 2020.

Has the anthology received any notable responses so far? It seems like it could help readers see and value the region they live in in new ways.

I was so thrilled to learn that Waters Deep was nominated for the 2018 Northeastern Minnesota Book Award for poetry and Raymond Byrnes’s lovely poem “Personal Effects” was featured in The Writer’s Almanac this past July. Having the book nominated and the poem reprinted on TWA certainly helped create a larger readership for all the poets in the anthology.
       I also received several thoughtful and positive emails from folks. They really enjoyed the variety of poetry styles and voices from a diverse group of poets living in North America—many of which are new and emerging writers. I think the poets in the anthology provide a deeper appreciation and understanding—environmentally, culturally, historically—of this vast and vital region. I can guarantee that you will be seeing a lot more work from these writers in the near future.

What are you working on these days in your own poetry or other writing? Will you be sharing your own poetry during your Final Thursday reading? I hope so, as I found Now/Here one of the most beautiful collections I’ve read recently, and especially enjoyed hearing it read aloud.
Thank you so much for your incredibly kind words about my first full-length poetry collection! I’m thrilled that you also enjoyed my previous reading in the fall of 2017. Thank you for saying that! I can be extremely introverted at times, so knowing that I connected with the audience really means a lot to me.
       Right now, I’m working on my second poetry collection, Re: Wild, which focuses on environmental issues and concerns. The poems in this new collection are more ecocentric and experimental than the poems in Now/Here. In a way, Re: Wild acts as a reply to and reconciliation with the wilderness. I’ve had a little bit of luck publishing these new poems, such as  “Rescue,” in journals and magazines. I do plan on sharing a few of them at the reading on Thursday night. I’m also working on a comic blog series, Up North, about my travels, musings, and life in the Northwoods. I’ve always loved to draw, paint, and read comics and graphic narratives, so creating pieces for this new comic blog is another outlet for me to tell a story. My hope is to one day publish these comics in book form.

You also do a lot of editing. Are there any other projects are you involved with right now?
Yes, thank you so much for asking! I’m also editing a new environmental poetry anthology titled Rewilding: Poems for the Environment, which will be published by Flexible Press in 2020. The anthology will be approximately 250 pages in length and feature poems that address the current state of the environment in varied, thematic, and innovative ways. What’s really great about this project is that all proceeds from the book will be donated to Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, a nonprofit environmental organization based in Minnesota. The anthology is coming together nicely. Ted Kooser, Joy Harjo, Camille Dungy, Louise Glück, Sharon Olds, Karen Solie, Fleda Brown, and Ada Limón are just some of the poets that will be included in Rewilding. We have some real star power, but we are still accepting poetry submissions for consideration until December 31st via Submittable.
We’re also seeking submissions for Issue 14 (Spring 2020) of Split Rock Review and poetry chapbook manuscripts for the Split Rock Poetry Chapbook Series (published under the imprint Split Rock Press) until November 30, so the SRR editorial team and I have been pretty busy reading submissions and getting ready for the next installment of the journal, poetry chapbooks, and the Rewilding anthology. It’s a real exciting time for us!

-- Interview conducted by Anne Myles