1. In an earlier conversation with Dave Gregory @ Blake-Jones Review you had said “Never write like anyone else. Write like yourself. Pay the price and await the outcome. Copying other people is not art. It is manufacturing. I don’t write like other people. I never have and never will. I write like Bruce Meyer, even if Bruce Meyer is the only person who gets it.” Could you elaborate what you meant by “price” and “outcome”?
Yes. As Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” A writer has an obligation not only to the art but to originality. Honoring the language means finding your own voice and being heard in your own way.
2. In the same discussion (Dave Gregory @ Blake-Jones Review) you say “Writing is not about what. Anyone can fill a shopping bag with what. Writing is about how. That’s where the art resides.” Can you reflect on that?
Writing is problem-solving and at the root of each solution is a familiarity with the tools of form. A surgeon knows what each instrument in an operating room is for. Each tool is designed for a different purpose. A writer must learn the complete art or else they are not complete writers. Writing is more than just putting words on a page. It is the knowledge of what each word, line, stanza, or narrative form can do.
3. In a conversation with Berman Ghan @ The Strand you said, “I keep coming back to the notion that family is, in some ways the thing that shapes you and also misshapes you.” What did you mean by that in the context of writing – family as the single source of all wounds, or something else?
Tolstoy said each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. No two families are the same. Each family evolves its own group dynamic, hierarchy, and even terminology for household goods. A person who is close to his or her family members is very lucky because siblings, parents, and grandparents not only see the world in the same way but understand how people who are related, go about confronting the challenges life presents. Life is all about challenges. How we meet those challenges is what makes us individuals. In other words, the family teaches us how to be individual. Sometimes the lessons work and sometimes they don’t/
4. In a discussion with Open Book, you said “All of my books, either poems or short stories, revolve around a single word.” Can you talk a bit more about this idea?
Yes. And so do each of Shakespeare’s plays. The core organizing principle in a book that I find useful is a single word. Macbeth’s magic word is Time. Coriolanus’s word is Honor. A book requires an axis on which to spin, just like a planet (a manuscript is a self-contained world) or a wheel (a good manuscript begins, cycles, and returns to where it began but with a bevy of discoveries that have been made in the rotation). The more complicated the organizing principle, the harder it is for a reader to grasp the depth of a book. My most recent collection of poems, Grace of Falling Stars, uses the word Heaven. My new collection of short stories, Toast Soldiers, turns on the word Challenge.
5. What made you a writer?
People telling me I shouldn’t or couldn’t write. The greatest impetus to literary creativity is resistance. The first book I wrote, a Grade One storybook, was torn up by my teacher in front of me and the entire class. My professors at university openly discouraged me from writing. I don’t recall what they taught me by I have what I wrote.
6. What specific incident incited/inspired your last piece of work (of any form or length)?
My wife and I were eating brunch at a bakery in downtown Barrie and the menu noted that the eggs were served with toast soldiers. I had never heard of them. They gave me a free order. That got me thinking of what Ovid said: Every soldier is a lover. The stories evolved from there. They are about the challenges of facing the world and soldiering on.
7. What was the most satisfying aspect of your recently completed work?
8. Do you have a writing routine? Or writing rituals? Or patterns you must follow regularly? Or rituals that you practice say, when you are writing in certain forms, say a longer piece of work like a novel, as opposed to a shorter piece, say a poem?
I am an addicted writer. I become physically ill with nausea and headaches if I don’t write every day. I travel with a lap desk in the car. (I don’t drive). I keep my notebook no more than three feet from my left hand (I am sinister). I carry several pens in case I run out of ink. I don’t listen to music. I write late at night like Proust because it is quiet then and I can hear myself think (as I am doing right now). I draft and imagine in the morning, make notes in the afternoon, and write in the small hours. I work on both poems and fiction at the same time. One feeds the other. I talk to my characters and I walk through their worlds in my mind. I look in closets and drawers. My characters probably consider me an annoying snoop but I’m telling their story and they’d be lost to the silence if I didn’t. Writing permits me more control over the world than, say, reality.
9. Is your writing practice influenced or in any way informed by a sense of writing to or for others? Do you have an audience in mind when you write?
I read a book of stories every two days. I read two books of poems every two days. I do not think I am influenced by other writers. Influence is a form of contagion where a writer catches style from someone else. What I read for his how writers have solved various problems – how they open a story or how they end it. I love the engineering aspect behind language. That sounds cold but someone has to understand how literature is built and I have spent my life in pursuit of the answer to that question.
10. What is your definition of a successful piece of writing? Who decides that?
Do not confuse success with perception of completeness. Success is for someone else to decide. A writer should never pat themselves on the back and say “I’m a success” because that sort of perception is always short-lived. I have watched hundreds of writers come and go through my career. They had their moments and then were forgotten. The American poet Jack Gilbert in his poem “The Abnormal Is Not Courage” ends with the great line that courage is “The normal excellence of long accomplishment.” A writer is only as good as his or her current work and bringing that work to life means pouring their soul into it. But it is not for the writer to say what is successful or not successful. The writer is only permitted to say “that works” and if it doesn’t to use his or her skill to fix the problems. A successful piece of writing by someone else goes “Ping!” and that is when all the parts come together and the memory of the piece doesn’t leave my mind.
Bruce Meyer is author of 68 books of poetry, short stories, flash fiction, and non-fiction. His most recent collections of short stories are Down in the Ground (Guernica Editions, 2020), The Hours: Stories from a Pandemic (Ace of Swords Publishing, 2021), and the soon-to-be released collection Toast Soldiers (Crowsnest Books, 2021). His recent poetry collections include McLuhan’s Canary (Guernica Editions, 2018), Grace of Falling Stars (Black Moss Press, 2021) and Telling the Bees (Libretto/Nigeria, 2020). He lives in Barrie, Ontario.