Alas, The Morris House Reading Series event scheduled for Thursday, March 28th has been cancelled. Douglas Gibson can’t make it but we hope to have him come see us in the Fall. We apologize for any inconvenience but would like to thank all those who’ve come out to this season’s events and supported another great year of the Morris House Reading Series.
As the cap to another great season of the Morris House Reading Series, we have invited Douglas Gibson, author of Stories About Storytellers and, coincidentally (but not really), our next and last guest, to answer a few questions. We now have a sample of what we can expect when he comes to Bishop’s Centennial Theatre on March 28th. He graciously agreed to answer our questions and share some of his thoughts.
MHRS – You’ve worked with some very big names in Canadian Lit. I suspect it’s not as simple as any one thing but in your mind, speaking to your experience, what defines a “Great Canadian Author” and what sort of pressures have you encountered in your partnerships with such iconic voices?
DG – First, what defines a “Great Canadian Author”? This is harder than you might think, since there is some argument about what makes someone “a Canadian Author.” Clearly, someone who writes books and was born and raised in Canada qualifies. But do they still qualify if they move elsewhere and take up citizenship there (and even, in one famous case that may occur to you, actually renounce Canadian citizenship)? This is not merely a rhetorical question since many “Great Canadian authors” were born and raised elsewhere, before coming to Canada and becoming writers, although they may choose to continue to set all of their writing in the country of their birth.
Clearly, we have decided to be expansive in our welcome to writers born elsewhere and in our continuing inclusion of expatriate writers. So the summary definition would seem to be “anyone with links to Canada that causes them to describe themselves as “Canadian.”
As for the “Great,” ask me to write a book about it. Thousands of others have tried to define greatness in a writer, but the question is still open.
What sort of pressures have I encountered in working as an editor with such iconic figures? Surprisingly, no greater than working as an editor on any piece of writing. It’s always a professional job, whereby the editor coolly tries to do his or her best. Ironically, I always found that the truly experienced professional writers – people like Hugh MacLennan, Morley Callaghan, Robertson Davies, Alistair MacLeod and Alice Munro – actually welcome the active involvement of an editor…even a young ( possibly bumptious) editor like me, if I was willing to put blood and sweat into making their book as good as it could possibly be
MHRS — Stories About Storytellers has been adapted into a stage show and you clearly have a love of performance. What, for you, is the value of taking your stories to the stage? What is it like to go from the relatively solitary position of a writer imagining his audience to engaging with one so directly?
DG — The difference between writing for a book and saying the same words on a stage is exactly as you would expect. I find the instant response both fascinating and delightful. Every audience is different, every evening a new experience. I was discussing this with my friend, the great actor R.H. Thompson, and he said, “Yes, you get to where you can hear them thinking!”
The book author is so isolated and distant from his or her readers that, in my humble case, a letter or an e-mail from a reader saying, “Hey, I really liked your book!” can set me beaming for hours. So if you’re ever tempted to thank or congratulate an author, by writing to the book’s publisher, do it!
MHRS – If I’ve learned anything, self-editing is an important but difficult and even painful part of being a writer. You are accustomed to the role of publisher, which complicates that process. That said, when you were writing Stories About Storytellers, did you have to take a few steps back from Douglas Gibson, the Publisher in order to freely and fully engage with Douglas Gibson, the Author?
DG — As for your last, very interesting question, I’d agree that a good writer has to become an expert self-editor. I think I have that ability. If it slows up the process of getting words on the page, I firmly believe that it speeds up the over-all process, because the self-edited words that make it through the process don’t have to be totally re-worked.
I think that I was unable to drop my Publisher role even as I wrote. Two examples: I could have called the book something personal like “My Fascinating Career as a Publisher.” The Publisher in me knew that such a title (and such a focus) would have sold only a handful of copies. So I built the book around the interesting part…the authors I encountered in the course of my publishing life. So the essential shape of the book was dictated by me as Publisher.
A second example: When I had finished the book— before I had sent it to a publisher— I approached the brilliant caricaturist Anthony Jenkins of the Globe and Mail. I gave him the list of authors to whom I had devoted a chapter and made a private arrangement with him to buy the right to use his drawings in my book and in promoting my book (I was even at that early stage thinking of doing unusual things on stage with his brilliant portraits). Only then did I approach the publisher saying, “Here’s how the book should look.” I knew, you see, that my written descriptions of these authors made an illustration obviously appropriate. But what kind of illustration? A photograph would be too formal, even dull, and might make my book seem academic. So, with Tony’s lively caricatures I was sending an important message about this book being lively, even, I hope laugh-out-loud funny.
I hope people will agree when they read it, or see STORIES ABOUT STORYTELLERS: An Evening with Douglas Gibson…and Many Famous Canadian Authors.
Douglas Gibson has garnered our sincere thanks for his time and insight. Be sure to attend his talk at Centennial Theatre on Thursday, March 28th and 4:30 PM!
Dear Past Jeff,
This is your future self. I have no idea how this will get to you because time travel is still mystery to me, where I’m at. We don’t even have Hoverboards yet. I know! Just another reason why Back to the Future, Part Two remains such a disappointment – but I digress. I’m in the future. Your future. I can’t give you an exact date because it’s all relative but my intention is to make sure you get this on February 21st, 2013 the evening Jeramy Dodds comes to Bishop’s. If I recall correctly you were/are a little anxious because you had/have to introduce him to a room full of people and public speaking is not a thing you’re good at. You’re still not. I’m you, I know. Anyway, relax. The reading will go great. You’re well over that other problem of being tongue-tied when you meet an author. I think the term you once used was “cheese-eating semi-colonite”? Jeramy is a swell guy and, aside from the public speaking bit, you were aces.
You’re probably wondering what this is all about. Why, on the evening of the penultimate Morris House reading for the 2012/2013 season, have I contacted you from the future? Well, I think time travel may actually exist. I know I just said that time travel is a mystery and that’s true but notice: it’s a mystery to me. I think there’s someone who’s mastered it. Someone knows the secret and on February 21, 2013, if you get this letter and you play your cards right you can get the goods on time travel. We’re a team! There’s no I in team, it’s true but there’s a U and I in space/time continuum so pay heed because here’s what I’ve figured out:
Jeramy Dodds is a time traveler.
Don’t even laugh. This is serious business and I have evidence. In front of me is copy of Jeramy’s collection of poems, Crabwise to the Hounds. At this point, you have a copy as well but mine is inscribed. I know you’re a sucker for signed copies but what matters is what Jeramy will write in your copy of his book: “Jeff, The future will be kind to us all. Promise. Jeramy Dodds” That is a not a thing one simply tosses off, especially in an age of global warming, economic collapse, and Republicans. I think, and it’s only with the benefit of hindsight that I’ve been able to come to this conclusion, that Jeramy Dodds has seen the future and he is not afraid of it.
Sure, I can imagine your skepticism. It’s what makes Past Jeff so intolerably endearing but I’ve had a lot of time to think on this and there’s more. I will dazzle you with incontrovertible, iron clad evidence that Dodds is the Poet Laureate of the time streams. You’ll find it in his poem Depth of Field which he will read, tonight, at the Morris House event. He wrote it for a friend of his which seems fairly innocuous but, at the reading, Dodds himself will reveal it’s a time-travel poem. This is where you can add “dun dun duuuuuun” because I know you still think you’re funny at that moment in time. From where I’m standing, you’re a smug wise-ass but that’s neither here nor there. What’s important are these lines in the last stanza of the poem:
Noticing that we had lost ten years watching
that horse come apart. You had married, twice.
Consider the rhetorical power of poetry and I think you’ll find it it’s difficult to ignore what’s happening here. Keep in mind that Dodds admitted/will admit this is a bit of time travel business, so let’s do a close reading of that line about losing ten years. You may want to Google what I’m about to describe (In the future, The Search Engine Wars are devastating, worse than the Cola Wars of the mid-eighties. I can’t say who wins so don’t ASK. *Ahem*): Temporal Causality Loops. If I know anything about science-fiction, they are completely real and a legitimate threat to the time traveler. Dodds says they lose ten years and that his friend “had married twice” (emphasis mine!). See where I’m going? See where I’m going? Losing time happens in one of two ways: alien abductions and Time Loops! Time Loops! Dodds is clearly familiar with The Groundhog Day Theorem. It’s obvious, really. Obvious!
You’re in a unique position to make this happen- unless you never receive this letter but that seems unlikely, knowing what I know. Sure, there might be some sort of paradox that results in this letter never getting written once you get the secret of time travel from Dodds but you’ll still have this letter. See? Look, I’m not explaining it very well but you really need to trust me on this. Dodds knows. How can I convince you? Wait! His jacket. When he arrives at the bookstore, look at his jacket and take note of old fashioned sheriff’s badge on his lapel. Dodds claimed he got it in Calgary but he never said specifically when he got that badge! Clearly he acquired it at some point in the past! Remember Back to Future, Part Three, which was much better than part two but still not as good as the first one? Where Marty and Doc wind up in the old west?
Alright, that’s all I’m comfortable putting to Future Science Paper (patent pending). You have your mission. Make it happen because this is so big, it’s practically Quantum.
P.S. If you’re still not convinced, I assure you, Dodds is right. The future is kind to all of us, just not at the same time.