Dave Margoshes is a poet and fiction writer who lives in Regina whose stories and poems are widely published in literary magazines and anthologies throughout North America, including six times in the Best Canadian Stories volumes. Last fall, he was a finalist for the Journey Prize. His Bix’s Trumpet and Other Stories was named Book of the Year at the 2007 Saskatchewan Book Awards. A new collection of poetry, The Horse Knows the Way, was published last fall by Buschek Books; and another, Dimensions of an Orchard, his fifth, will be out this spring from Black Moss.
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
Hey, that’s 3 distinct questions. This 20 questions or 22?
The arrival of my first book, 23 years ago, coincided with my leaving newspaper work and moving to Saskatchewan. All of a sudden I was a “full-time writer” – a life-changer indeed.
As for comparisons between old work and new, there’s a continuum. The only “difference,” it seems to me, is that the work gets better, more complex, deeper. (At least I hope so.)
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I started writing when I was a kid, a loner who lived inside my head a lot, inside my imagination. Story came first – I read them, and wrote them, mostly in my head, not on paper. I didn’t write my first poem until I was about 14 or 15. It had something to do with a girl.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
Things usually start quickly, then drag on. I’ll often write the first draft of a poem in minutes, a story in a day or two. But I’m a serious reviser, and that goes on for a long time, through multiple drafts, although not as many these days as years ago. I think of that quick first draft as art, the revisions as craft.
4 - Where does a poem or piece of fiction usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
Poems come from almost anywhere, sometimes just out of the ether, something I see or hear, often from reading or hearing someone else’s poem/poems – you know, art begets art. Stories usually begin with a character, an incident, I begin to follow a thread without any idea where it might lead. I rarely am working on a “book” (except when it’s a novel) – I write individual poems, individual stories; when I have enough of them, I start thinking about how they might come together as a book.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I enjoy doing them – it’s contact with readers who are otherwise abstract and anonymous – but they play no role in my creative process, either pro or con. On the other hand, I rarely go to a poetry reading (and I go to a lot) at which I don’t scribble the beginnings of a poem. As I said above, art begets art, and that’s how it should be.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
Nope. I’m a poet who is not overly concerned with poetics.
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
This is kind of an old-fashioned notion, I guess, but I see the writer (fiction writer, at least, and, to a large extent, the poet) as story teller, period. I don’t really subscribe to the “unacknowledged legislator” theory, appealing though it may be. I don’t approach my story-telling with any sort of message at all. On the other hand, I have, as do all writers, a certain world view, and it seeps into the work.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I like working with a good editor. I think all work, any writer’s, can benefit from another pair of eyes. But I used to be a journalist, and editing is an essential part of that process, so I’m quite used to it. As a journalist, I certainly had my work edited by some butchers – I’m fortunate, I guess, that, in the book world, I haven’t run across any of those.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
I did hear this advice directly (and indirectly) and give it myself: read, read, read!
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?
I writer both fiction and poetry, and move easily back and forth – often working on both on the same day. I think of it as being fluently bilingual. That said, poetry is definitely “another language” (which is why some people have trouble reading it), so I guess fiction is my mother tongue, poetry my second one.
11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I “try” to write every day (I put “try” in quotes because there are many days when it just isn’t possible, for a variety of reasons). I like to write in the morning, when I’m fresh; but I often spend the whole day writing, even into the evening. One thing I learned long ago: you can’t sit around waiting for inspiration; you have to make it happen. I often go to as writers' colony or retreat, and that's my best time - I just work all day and into the evening till I'm exhausted.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Writers get stalled, it just comes with the territory. Going for a walk is my best way of loosening the gears. A drive can do it too sometimes. Showers are also good.
13 - Have you have a lucky charm?
Ha ha – not really – though I have a “special pen” for making entries in the notebook I use to record work I’m sending out.
14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
This is the second time I’m repeating this: art begets art. I‘ve written a lot of poems after reading or hearing poetry, and some after listening to music, viewing art shows, etc. Science, not so much – my mind doesn’t go that way. But nature, of course – it’s probably the single greatest inspiration not just of poetry, but of all art. My fiction is also influenced by other fiction writers.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
The list is endless – and fluid.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Again: The list is endless – and fluid.
17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
Well, I was a journalist for years, and still do some freelancing. I loved being a newspaper reporter – most days, anyway. I’ve also done some teaching (both creative writing and journalism) and found that rewarding too.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
This is a cliché, I know, but: it’s in my blood. It’s who I am, what I do.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Munro’s Too Much Happiness, probably; as for movies, I’ve seen a lot of good ones, but no great ones for quite a while.
20 - What are you currently working on?
A new story collection and a new poetry collection. But that would probably have been my answer to that question had it been asked at any point over the last 20 years.
12 or 20 questions (second series);