Michael Mirolla

1. You were able to write five novels, three books of poetry and two collections of short fiction in a period of twelve years (between 2008 and 2020), what contributed to this period of productivity?

I would love to say a sudden burst of inspiration coupled with determination and intense work habits. But the truth is more prosaic. While these books were published between 2008 and 2020, in actual fact, they had been created and polished over a much longer period, starting as far back as 1970. It leads to an interesting dilemma: a writer working on brand-new material while at the same time trying to put together past work accepted for publication. The great thing about that is that this combination often infuses new life into older material and also stimulates the new writing. At least it did for me. So, the flurry of publications and productivity are connected but not in a straight line.

2. What questions were you looking to answer in Interstellar Distances (2009); Light and Time (2010) and The House on 14th Avenue (2013)? Did the essential questions integral to each of these collections change over time?

The questions I struggle to answer are what it means to be human, how much can be stripped away from us before we come to what is essential to remain human, and how does the concept of creation come into the picture. In my poetry, I strive to do away with intermediaries between the person and the objects of the world, to bring the word as close as possible to the thing-as-it-is while realizing it’s an impossible task. The word isn’t enough to capture who we are in the world because, as direct and concrete as poetry can be, no one will ever touch the “thing-as-it-is”. I don’t think the questions changed over time. But they may have been sharpened somewhat.

3. You had described “The Photographer in Search of Death” as a “collection of short stories (that) combines magical realism with speculative fiction”. In an interview you had said (I am paraphrasing) you see magical realism as a way to force the reader to think more deeply. Could you please elaborate on this?

Magic realism allows the reader to see things they wouldn’t otherwise extrapolate from a typical realistic description. It’s a type of code, a pattern or symbolic structure that reconnects at some point with the “real” world while pulling the reader with it. More importantly, magic realism is the first level in a series of writing gambits – culminating in meta-fiction – that bring out the “falseness” of attempts to identify a piece of writing with the furniture of the world. The act of writing creates a new world, even when it appears very similar to the old. Magic realism pulls us out and says: “Hey, look at me. Maybe I’ve accessed your latent subconscious dreams/nightmares. Maybe I’ve burst open entire new worlds.”

4. How did you conceive your first book?

My first published book, The Formal Logic of Emotion (1992), had been swirling around in my head since my UBC MA creative writing program days 20 years earlier. I had a notion of this character, Giulio, who looked out into and interacted with the world without understanding himself or that world. It was here that I came up with “The Giulio Metaphysics” idea. I became obsessed with Giulio to the point that I created a set of linked short stories (The Giulio Metaphysics III) where Giulio is the main character in each but, at the same time, there is no real connection between the characters all named Giulio. I later followed up with Giulio in my novels Berlin and Torp.

5. What does it mean/suggest for you to think about your craft that you are able to grow with each published work? How do you do that?

I think it’s a matter of practice and the sharpening of your tools. You learn from your missteps. If you can do that, your focus deepens. You dig a little deeper into the creative soil and hopefully come up with new responses and answers. Again, however, one must distinguish between the creation of a manuscript and its publication. It often happens that a later manuscript is published before an earlier one. When that happens, I like to go back to the older manuscript and “update” it. The novella The Last News Vendor was simply The News Vendor, written before digital technologies cut deeply into newspapers and journals. As The Last News Vendor, this further element of futility was added.

6. What memorable or formative experience around learning to write springs to mind?

In my final year of secondary school, I had a teacher, Brother Batterton, who allowed me to substitute my own writing for questions on English Literature exam papers. I was able to practice writing what today we’d call flash fiction rather than answer questions about Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale.” That encouragement and leeway made me think that maybe I could become a writer, although it took a creative writing course at university to convince me to switch from a Joint Majors in Physics and Chemistry to an English Lit program.

7. What writers (or artists in other forms/media) have been formative in shaping how you write? How?

Kafka, Joyce and Beckett are the Holy Trinity for me, the writers who spoke to me directly. Kafka taught me that there is no true continuity in life, that it is all a matter of starts and stops, of fragments and bits and pieces, that there is no such thing as normal, and that judgment day is every day. Joyce revealed the world of language, the delight in playing with words, the magic of painting a canvas. Joyce created a universe where neither thought nor action takes precedence and where it is the sheer joy of creation that is important. As for Beckett, he stripped everything down to the essentials, to show that there were no essentials.

8. What writing rituals or behavioral patterns do you follow in where, when, or how you write?

While I served as Writer in Residence at the Historic Joy Kogawa House in Vancouver in the fall of 2019, I set myself a plan to polish the first draft of a 200,000-word novel The Second Law of Thermodynamics during my three months there. This was what I came up with:

The author of a clutch of novels, plays, film scripts and short story and poetry collections, MICHAEL MIROLLA describes his writing as a mix of magic realism, surrealism, speculative fiction and meta-fiction. Publications include three Bressani Prize winners: the novel Berlin (2010); the poetry collection The House on 14th Avenue (2014); and the short story collection Lessons in Relationship Dyads (2016). His novella, The Last News Vendor, won the 2020 Hamilton Literary Award for fiction. Two short stories – “The Sand Flea” and “Casebook: In The Matter of Father Dante Lazaro” – are Pushcart Prize nominees. Born in Italy and raised in Montreal, Michael now lives in Hamilton, Ontario.

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