David Huebert is the author of the poetry collection We Are No Longer The Smart Kids In Class (Guernica 2015) and the chapbook Full Mondegreens (Frog Hollow 2016), co-authored with Andy Verboom. His work has won the 2016 CBC Short Story Prize and the 2016 Walrus Poetry Prize and appeared in magazines such as enRoute, EVENT, Prairie Fire, The Puritan, and The Walrus. David's book of short stories, Peninsula Sinking, is forthcoming from Biblioasis.
1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My first book, a poetry collection called We Are No Longer The Smart Kids In Class (Guernica 2015), changed my life most substantially in the experience of writing it. This was during a time when I was just getting brave enough to give myself permission to write creatively and to try, however faultily, to Be a Writer. For me, there’s a way in which the poems in the book tell that story (don’t worry—this writerly genealogy shouldn’t transmit to the reader).
My more recent poetry is massively different in that it is much more formally conscious and draws as little as possible on my own lived experience. Full Mondegreens (Frog Hollow 2016), the chapbook I co-wrote with Andy Verboom, is a strange, sustained experiment in the misheard lyric. My recent fiction is different in that it is, I hope, getting better while dredging the same thematic bathymetries.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I came to poetry and fiction at roughly the same time, but I received a bit more early recognition with my poetry (i.e. people would occasionally publish it). The fiction was brewing.
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?
I recently read that 85% of writing is pre-writing, which sounds right to me. But much of my pre-writing time is spent foolishly pretending I’m producing good material. The other 15% is editing. When I’m writing prose I keep a file of “deleted sections” that usually ends up being at least as long as the piece itself.
I’m currently thinking towards a novel, and I’ve realized there’s a risk of spending months and months planning something and then when you actually try to write it there will be a frenzied wave and you will be a miniscule surfer simply struggling to hold on.
4 - Where does a poem or work 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?
I’m trying to work on working on a book from the very beginning. With stories, I’ll hear some anecdote or news story and it will right away strike me as Fiction Material. I’ll enter it in the back of my notebook in the “story ideas” section, then eventually get to it or not. Poems usually begin aurally, with a line. The line usually circles around an idea- or emotion-cluster that’s been occupying brain space for some time.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I like going to readings more than doing them. There are a lot of events in London and the scene is pretty small, so I often feel like I’m in people’s faces too much. I don’t love schmoozing, or seeming like an overconfident asshole. I also don’t like to reveal the inner narcissist that lurks within all writers and is particularly Gollumesque in me. I do think readings are important for building community, and I’m super lucky that we have a robust and flourishing community of writers here in London.
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?
I have a lot of theoretical concerns; most of them circle around human/animal/mechanical interaction (posthuman theorists like Dominic Pettman and Donna Haraway are some of my more charismatic and well-known guides). I’m also interested in how literary form relates to “organic” life. But I’m not trying to answer any questions—that’s not the point of literature for me. I’m trying, if anything, to feel alongside some questions I find compelling.
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?
I think the writer should offer new ways of encountering what we’ve known all along.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Both. Good writing is always a conversation. Good editors help to elevate that conversation. Bad editors often inadvertently turn out to be good editors because asking questions of your work will always help the work.
9- What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
“Writing a novel is like building a chicken coop in a hurricane.” –William Faulkner
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to collaboration to short fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?
I move between genres out of desperation. I like to have multiple projects going on, and sometimes I just like to finish something. Moving between genres can be a way of skirting what you’re supposed to do (as I write this interview, I “should” be working on a book review). But this is also a form of what my good friend and writing comrade Aaron Kreuter calls “productive procrastination.”
Collaboration is a bit of a different thing. That’s Andy Verboom’s fault. It’s good to have an ear you trust close by.
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?
This is boring so I’ll be quick: I wake up around 8 a.m. and write until around 1 p.m. Afternoons are for reading, emails, submissions, and other writerly housekeeping stuff.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I get my inspiration in my off hours, and when I’m writing I write. For me, the best way to get going is to read over yesterday’s work. Research can help as well.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Saltwater and marine life. The sweaty waft of donairs.
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?
I grew up adoring sci-fi movies and listening to Prince, David Bowie, T. Rex, Alice Cooper, and (yes, I admit it) Green Day. The movies taught me about story and the kind of aesthetics I liked. The music taught me about rhythm, melody, and figurative language—Prince and his “pocket full of horses.” It’s taken me a while to realize how formative these early influences were.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Homer’s Odyssey was my first great ocean-myth. Dante’s Inferno was my first great underworld. It remains surprising how richly these works continue to inform the David Huebert imaginary. Reading them at 19 was invaluable in the way it shaped my world.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I’d like to learn to sail, play the piano, and speak French fluently.
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?
I would love to be a biologist like Hal Whitehead, sailing out among the whales.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Apology letters got me out of trouble and my grade 2 teacher, Mrs. Coutreau, really liked my first story, “Big Beard Ben.”
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
20 - What are you currently working on?
A novel about oil, a PhD dissertation, and a poetry collection called Alkaline Purr.