Latitude 46 Publishing: A Matter of Will
Last month, Latitude 46 Publishing hosted a book launch event where they introduced the five novels they will be releasing this fall. We had the chance to speak with each of these authors and find out more about their novels, their inspirations and any tips they might have for potential authors. Today we’re sharing our interview with Rod Carley, author of A Matter of Will.
Tell us a bit more about A Matter of Will
Will Crosswell’s decision to pursue acting shattered his father’s dream of him being a useful adult. When we first meet the young Will he is a wolf in wolf’s clothing. But in the ensuing years, from relationships to the theatre, his life has become one shipwreck after another. Dumped by his fiancée and desperate to pay the rent, he finds himself taking a job on the bottom rung of the Great Chain of Being – a telemarketer. The satire becomes serious when Will hits rock bottom. After a life-altering AA encounter with an unconventional minister, Will enrolls in divinity school and has to survive his most challenging escapade yet – a forty day fast in a Newfoundland outport in the middle of the frozen winter. As he struggles to keep from freezing and starving to death, he is confronted by a series of strange events, not the least of which is an encounter with Billy Blight, a bigger-than-life Newfoundlander headed for perdition. Funny, surprising, outrageous, and moving, A Matter of Will is the tale of a middle-age maybe minister and his journey to find a mighty purpose.
A Matter of Will is similar in style to Mordecai Richler and Robertson Davies in terms of its irreverent story-telling; a tall tale of a modern-day rogue seeking God’s existence. The novel reinvents the “quest narrative” in a quirky rural Newfoundland setting that finds Will Crosswell out of his comfort zone.
I have drawn from many of my experiences, indirectly, in the writing of this book. I have borrowed incidents and reworked them until they became fiction. To be clear, Will Crosswell is not Rod Carley, he is a combination of many individuals I have known filtered through the lens of my imagination.
Art imitates life in the sense that the Canadian theatre scene provides a backdrop for the narrative, a scene I am very familiar with. However, the story I am telling is fiction. I did do a brief stint as a telemarketer in my early 30’s but the characters and scamming in Will’s situation are pure fancy and bear little resemblance to my own experience (with the exception that the job is a pressure cooker and attracts people from a wide variety of backgrounds, from single mothers to struggling artists to downsized executives to ex-cons). Will’s fast is born of the magic Stanislawski “what if” – what if one had to take a course in divinity school that required fasting for forty days to see if you had the right stuff?
I spent a week in Witless Bay one summer ten years ago with the intent of looking for inspiration. The warmth and humour of the inhabitants stayed with me. The character of Billy Blight grew out of this experience.
My writing style is grounded in black humour and satire. I’m fascinated by the outrageousness of human behaviour, the extremes we often go to – passion battling with reason, foolishness finding the journey to hard-earned wisdom. We are all irrational creatures pretending to be rational. My characters struggle with this duality. I am drawn to scrappy underdogs stumbling to get a foothold in life to achieve a state of grace – a kind of alchemy of the soul that transforms my characters’ often base and saddened histories into precious metals of worth. And that transformation often includes elements of mysticism.
In terms of my writing, character comes before plot. I usually begin with dialogue and then fill in the details around it. I have a story in mind and I let the characters go at it. And thus the novel develops.
What inspired you to write this book?
I wanted to write a comic novel about a life in the theatre and a character’s struggles within that framework. I also wanted to explore themes of perdition and redemption. The novel’s title has a deliberate double meaning: literally, what’s the matter with Will, and, when it comes to redemption, anyone can do it, it just takes persistence. What matters to me is that people can change and with that comes the correction of many wrongs. Everyone deserves a shot at grace.
What has been your biggest creative accomplishment so far?
The writing of A Matter of Will certainly is. I have had many creative endeavours that are important to me. Highlights include creating the acting program at Canadore College and directing King Lear (starring David Fox for the Watershed Shakespeare Festival/Theatre Passe Muraille), the Ontario premiere of Martin McDonagh’s The Lieutenant of Inishmore at the Berkeley St. Theatre in Toronto and the Canadian premiere of Talking to Terrorists.
This October and November I am directing Maureen Cassidy’s powerful piece Eighteen Degrees (her true story of surviving a flesh-eating disease that required the amputation of her left arm, breast and shoulder blade) at the Stratford Springworks Festival and at the Discovery Museum, North Bay.
Winning TVO’s 2009 Big Ideas /Best Lecturer Competition is an accomplishment I am very proud of.
Plans for future titles?
I am currently working on a second novel.
Any writing tips for future authors?
- Write what you know. Use your past, your passions, your obsessions.
- Write what you want to see. “I wish someone would write a novel about an ice fisherman who wants to sing opera.” Great. Write it.
- Write characters you love and love the characters you write. Even if they’re jerks, on some level we have to see their humanity, their vulnerability.
- Write more than you will need. It’s easier to see what is essential and what is superfluous if you have lots to choose from.
- Kill your inner editor – at least for your first draft. Most people never get started writing because they can’t get past the fact that most of what they write will not be good enough. Know that at least half of what you write will be crap, another quarter will be mediocre. Maybe 25% will be worth something. Write without censoring, then walk away. Sleep on it before you start to cut.
- There’s no one way to do it. Improvise out loud. Write longhand, on a computer, in the middle of the night, first thing in the morning. You will discover your own process.
- Give yourself a deadline.
- Questions to keep asking:
- Characters: What do they want more than anything? What do they have to lose? How are they changed by what happens in the novel?
- Content: What’s the novel about (theme)? You don’t have to know this when you start writing. You may find out only when you’re done. But keep asking. You should be able to answer it with very few words (Fear. Freedom. Betrayal. Love. Family. Growing up. Getting old, etc.) Anything good is always many things, but there’s always one main thing.
- Make it fun for you. If it ain’t fun for you, it won’t be fun for the reader.
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