Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Out-of-Town-Authors: Guy Gavriel Kay II

Winnipeg Free Press—PRINT EDITION
By Ariel Gordon 

A little over 30 years ago, Guy Gavriel Kay published his first fantasy novel, The Summer Tree. Since that time, the former Winnipegger has published 11 more novels.

On Friday, Kay will return to the city to give the Writers' Trust of Canada-sponsored Margaret Laurence Lecture at the University of Winnipeg's Eckhardt-Gramatté Hall.

The Toronto-based Kay recently took the time to discuss the changes to the city—and to his writing—over those three decades.

Q: Has your process changed enormously the 30 years you've been writing? I'm thinking specifically about the amount of research required to write "history with a quarter-turn to the fantastic," as your recent work has been labelled, versus the high fantasy of the Finovar Tapestry...

A: Yes, the migration towards historically based or driven work does require a great deal of research, slows me down, though I am aware that my readers worldwide allow me that luxury of being able to go slower, write at the speed that feels like I am closer to doing justice to the story I want to tell. I'll add that the research phase is by far my favourite: I'm just learning things, interacting with very smart scholars—and I don't have "responsibilities" till that evil moment when I know it is time to start writing!

Q: You've gone from fan letters sent to your publisher to readers tweeting at you. What's changed in terms of how you engage with readers, over the three decades that you've been writing?

A: That one needs an essay! There is enormous complexity to a cultural age where we are so readily and easily in contact with artists whose work we admire (or hate, sometimes!). The idea of the author as his or her own "marketing director" is a new one, puts a lot of stress on young writers, and has absolutely changed the process, as you suggest. James Joyce spoke of "silence" as part of what a writer needed. That can get harder and harder to find.

Q: How do you think you wound up as a fiction writer, despite training as a lawyer, despite your early forays into TV and journalism? Did growing up in impatient/activist/practical/arty/small-town/fantastical Winnipeg have anything to do with it?

A: Winnipeg, for me and my peers, was a source of tremendous energy. In Toronto, at the CBC where I was involved for some years at the beginning of my career, the idea of "the Winnipeg mafia" was a given. This city made a lot of us driven and ambitious. Something in the water and the air, the city "punching above its weight" in terms of the national culture. My honest answer when I started would have been that I expected to practise law and try hard to find time around that to write a little. Every author who is able to make a living, work full-time at fiction (it can't even be imagined for poetry or short stories), needs to be profoundly aware of good fortune that this is so. I am.

Q: Speaking of poetry, tell me about the last poem you wrote.

A: I started with poetry (at Grant Park High and U of M) and I still write it. The shift over the years and decades is that for the most part the poems are for myself—everything else, just about, is for readers. The poetry isn't always.

Q: Tell me a bit about your Winnipeg. What burns brightest from your childhood? What is your latest discovery?

A: Another essay! I have only good memories of Winnipeg, and a great deal still burns brightly, from various hockey rinks (frozen toes burn!) to Assiniboine Park to campus lounges to Junior's hamburger stand by the train station. Every time I come back it is, as the sage Yogi Berra said, "déj vu all over again." The new thing? What comes to mind is food—this is now a seriously good dining city! That's so despite the heartbreaking loss of Kelekis. Not sure I'll forgive anyone for letting that happen.

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So this is the second interview I've done with GGK for my Out of Town Authors column. Which is great fun, especially considering how I cried over The Finovar Tapestry in my twenties.

The first interview is here, should you want to see...

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