One Good Question is a series in which two authors ask each other a single question. In this installment, Andrew Forbes and Seyward Goodhand talk about literary neighbourhoods, eating artichokes with Doris Lessing, and do their best to squeeze in more questions.
Andrew Forbes: Genre tags are, of course, problematic. At best they’re reductive, and at worst they’re cynical marketing distinctions concocted by number-crunchers who’ve never bothered to engage with anything more than the jacket copy (if that). But in the interest of extending charity, let’s frame them as invitations to loiter in certain literary neighbourhoods so that our work might happen to bump into other interesting works/writers and thereby fall into fascinating and enriching and/or titillating conversations that begin on street corners, progress to kitchen tables, and end the night in backroom speakeasies. So, given that your beautiful, thrilling, and horrific book contains elements of fantasy, sci-fi, historical fiction, speculative fiction, and even horror, where do you see your work fitting, in terms of genre? With what works do your stories converse? At the dinner party of your dreams, who (or what) is seated nearby?
Seyward Goodhand: In this book I’m discovering my views on life. It’s taking me a long time to reach anything like a coherent, vigorously held view. To that end, I was committed to the idea that I would let the stories dictate how they would be told. I wanted to write things that are intimate and true to experience, yet somehow I gravitated toward science fiction, fantasy, weird fiction, horror, which are so good at exploring large social issues and moral questions—but also physical questions like what is my hand? As soon as you pause to zoom in and ask ‘what is this?’ the form you’re working in starts to bend. Are molecular physicists realists? Yes, but that level of reality looks surreal. I’m as interested in the physical (this includes artistic forms) as I am in the social. Not because of lack of feeling. It’s just curiosity. Part of it is I’m becoming a monist. I think life is very strange and the kind of realism I love (it’s actually my favourite mode to read) contains visions and dreams, diaries, hallucinations, political manifestos, microscopic crosscuts of moss, metaphysics, multiple viewpoints and styles, hopes, terrors, and quiet scenes where one person eats dinner while everybody watches. At the dinner party of my dreams sits Doris Lessing eating an artichoke.
Seyward Goodhand: Funny that you ask about my book’s many genre experiments because I want to ask about unity. Like other great story collections, both of yours explore a certain place, class, and milieux–labouring men and women from the rural Great Lakes region of Canada and the US–so they both feel beautifully unified and have a natural aboutness. Like stories by, say, David Bezmozgis, Alice Munro, Zalika Reid-Benta, Alistair MacLeod, yours seem to be working in the same parallel world, one that mirrors a part of ours, to reveal aspects of it that normally go unspoken. Andrew, why is it that some writers have a subject and others have more roving obsessions? What is a writer’s ‘subject,’ Andrew?
Andrew Forbes: I think a writer’s subject is typically herself, whether using the first person or not, or more correctly her perceptions of what it is to be a human being alive in her particular moment, even if that moment and its specific circumstances are obscured or written over or rendered completely unrecognizable to the reader through the use of dragons and swords or Imperial Star Destroyers. The writer, through her subject, brings to bear all of her pain, her untreated wounds, the caustic injuries inherited from life in a barbed world, filtered through place, effect, memory, and sensibility. My obsessions are trees, lakes, love triangles, baseball, dead jazz musicians, alcohol, but my subject is, I think, characters trying to do the hard work of paying attention, even if those efforts are not apparently or immediately rewarded.
Seyward Goodhand is the author of the short story collection Even That Wildest Hope, a “dark, gleaming, and sophisticated collection.” Andrew Forbes is the author of the short story collections Lands and Forests, which is “rendered with Munro-esque mastery and restraint,“ and What You Need, as well as The Utility of Boredom: Baseball Essays.