What follows is a recent interview with the very talented Julie Booker, author of Up Up Up from House of Anansi. Her candour and sense of humour can be found throughout the entire exchange. I wish her nothing but the best for her ‘percolating’ projects; and remain pleased that I escaped the interview with my life intact (see her response to my final question). I hope you enjoy her responses almost as much as her short story collection.
JO: Julie, can you discuss some of the unique features to writing a short story collection?
JB: I think it’s unique for anyone to even attempt to write a short story collection when the whole industry states loud and clear: short stories don’t sell.
JO: As a reader, do you enjoy short stories more than novels?
JB: I love both. But really good short stories remind me to pay attention, to really look. Several years ago I went to art college to be a better writer. I knew my eye needed training. Some of my best poems were written during life drawing class. In my plein air class, I sat for a whole week on the grass near Queen’s Park and painted a portrait of a tree. You’d think the bark was brown, right? It was green, blue and orange, with changing tones depending on the time of day. Now I can’t look at a tree trunk without seeing those colours.
JO: Do you have any plans to move your writing to other genres in the future?
JB: Well, I’d be smart to do a novel next. Isn’t that what people expect after a first book of short stories? For awhile I asked every writer: how do you write a novel? The best answer I got (from a first time novelist): “I have no f-ing clue.” The language of short prose is so tight; like poetry, every word counts. I’m trying to figure out how to sustain that same interest/energy in a longer work.
JO: To term many of your characters as complex and interesting on many levels would be an understatement, where do you find them?
JB: The characters are full-blown imagined versions of people actually walking around in the world. They begin with an overheard conversation, an encounter on the streetcar or something scribbled down in the many journals I kept travelling through Asia, Australia, Africa.
JO: We don’t seem to see nearly as many short story collections as in years past, any thoughts on why this might be?
JO: Julie, whose work do you enjoy reading when you get the opportunity do so?
JO: Which writers have had some of the greatest influences on your writing? Why?
JB: Lisa Moore. When I read Open, I remember thinking, wow, you don’t have to write a story in the traditional straight-ahead trajectory. She directs the eye to look at specific details, kind of dot-to-dot style, until you’re left with a complex picture that always surprises.
JO: Julie, as a child, what did you hope to be when you ‘grew up?’
JB: I wanted to be a teacher. I used to practice reading picture books to my stuffed animals turning the pages like my grade two teacher, Miss Homer, with her long nails, only I didn’t have any. I was a nail biter. Then I won ten long red Dracula nails at a fun fair and they were perfect. I spent hours wearing those blood-red hooks pointing to details in the pictures, then at my teddy bears: “Yes, Paddington, do you have a question?”
JO: What have you learned and what did you find surprising in the process of publishing your first full-length collection of stories?
JB: I’ve learned that writers can’t exist without editors. I’m shocked at how many times you go through the material. After many many rounds with Melanie Little (my Anansi editor), there’s the line editor, and the proofreaders. I found things I’d missed right up until the final hour.
JO: Can you discuss what readers might be seeing from you in the near future?
JB: Well, it’s just percolating. If I tell you I’d have to kill you.