Winston interviews Nathan Whitlock

Nathan Whitlock and Winston

Nathan Whitlock plays many roles at TINARS: notably featured author (A Week Of This), interviewer and loyal audience member. What’s he been up to recently? Winston found out.

W: Over the years, you have conducted interviews with writers of all stripes. Can you share your strangest exchange (no names)?

N: The strangest was probably conducting the entire interview on a stage-sized board game while my son rolled an oversized die. The most awkward was interviewing a minor celebrity who had written an entire memoir but hadn’t seemed to have given the events related therein much thought prior to my asking about them. She projected vulnerability, I think, while I tried not to project panic.

W: Do you write everyday? Or are you the sort of author who collects observations, let’s them germinate for a while, and then sits down at the keyboard?

N: I definitely think about writing every day. And I definitely plan to write every day. And I most certainly chastise myself when I don’t. When I am actually up to my eyebrows in something, then it’s every day for a good long stretch. The trouble is getting into that stretch.

W: What, if any, steps are you taking to avoid the so-called sophomore slump with your follow-up to A Week Of This? Or do you believe in such superstitions?

N: That’s assuming I consider A Week of This a dizzying success… It did well, I think, and certainly got noticed by more people than I thought it would, but it is not false modesty to say that it is, in the end, a Promising First Novel, and thus not hard to top. I take the long view, which is in part a coping mechanism for the lack of stellar advances and invites to teach in Europe.

W: Where do you stand on that perennial conundrum: rock, paper, or scissors?

N: I choose to see it all as less a conundrum and more a game.

W: Did you start to approach your day job as a literary critic differently after your first novel came out?

N: “Literary critic” is more of my night job, since my day job mostly consists of enabling other literary critics. As far as lit crit goes, I haven’t really changed my approach, aside from doing a little less of it. I said before my own book came out that harsh reviews were not really going to throw me, given that I’ve read, written, and edited enough to be a little bit desensitized to them in general.

I certainly don’t think I’ve gone soft or anything, though maybe a little of the “why them and not me?!” edge has gone out of the enterprise – it’s not so much a matter of going easy on a given author as seeing some literary sins as being a little more venial, of being more likely to shake my head sadly rather than grind my teeth.

I’m sure that particular well of bitterness will replenish itself now that I am working away at my second book, though.

W: You recently shifted your beat at Quill and Quire, from the Reviews Editor to the Books For Young People Editor. How would you characterize the basic difference between the worlds of Adult and Children’s / YA publishing?

N: I haven’t been doing it long, but so far it seems like there is more genuine enthusiasm about given books in kid-lit publishing, more of a sense of optimism, because there are some genuine surprise hits dark horses. I mean, Munsch will always win in the end, but because the pool of readers is always changing and being replenished, there’s more room for lesser-known authors and publishers. Plus, there is more anthromorphism, which adult lit hasn’t really had a lot of since White Bone…

There is a similarity, however, in the fact that some authors/publishers on both sides of the divide seem to forget the pleasure principle entirely, and produce books that are deadly earnest, and thus lifeless. It’s not a matter of all books having to be “fun” – given the nature of my first novel, I would be a bit of a hypocrite if I said that – but there should at least be some sense of engagement, something for a reader to grapple with, books that are not merely inert discourses on virtue disguised as fiction. I often see kids’ books come through that seem intended for no one – other than grant juries, I suppose. It’s at those moment that I feel like I’m the adult review editor again.

W: If you could put one trend in Canadian publishing on ice, what would it be?

N: Given the current state of publishing, it would be redundant to put anything on ice, wouldn’t it?

I’ve ranted about historical fiction enough elsewhere, I think, so I’ll just repeat that a discourse on virtue is not necessarily the best use of this fragile, shifting, much-abused, and much-maligned thing called literary fiction.

Also, more pitiless editing should maybe come back in vogue, I don’t know.

W: What books are currently on your bedside table?

N: That I am reading to other, smaller people: Thing-Thing by Cary Fagan and Nicolas Debon, The Spiderwick Chronicles by Holly Black and illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi, Stuart Little by E.B. White, Shrek by William Steig.

That I am reading for other people, for money: You or Someone Like You by Chandler Burr, How to Sell by Clancy Martin, Hiding Man: A Biography of Donald Barthelme by Tracy Daugherty, plus some unpublished manuscripts by authors people have actually heard of.

That I am reading to myself: Fools of Time: Studies in Shakespearean Tragedy by Northrop Frye.

W: Who is your favourite Sesame Street character? Why?

N: Stevie Wonder when he performed “Superstitious” on the Street in 1974. Seriously. What a character.

W: What five songs would you put on a mix-tape for a bookish girl you were courting?

N: The specific songs would change, depending on the girl, but they’d probably all be murder ballads.