Writer's Block: Nathaniel G. Moore's Savage Scrapbook
March 25, 2015
It's said that it takes a village to raise a child. In writer Nathaniel G. Moore's case, writing the ReLit Award-Winning Savage (Anvil Press, 2013) took its own village of friends, partners, musical influences, and Star Wars. In this "scrapbook" generously shared with All Lit Up, Nathaniel details the influence of fellow writer
Spencer Gordon, lists the varied pop- and just-cultural references that permeate the book, as well as what's next for him. Read on.
For me writers block comes in the form of working, living and family planning. When I do have time to write and I'm stuck, I often pretend to make short films or actually make them. These are by-and-large films that have little to no audience or (at times) purpose. They will be mostly audio in nature, with me reading some short story and then I'll throw a related or unrelated photo onto the video's loom and watch it later to see if it sounds like actual writing. Or I'll record a podcast and then put it into my Recycling Bin.
As Savage was completed, the person who helped me unblock my brain was my friend Spencer Gordon, author of the brilliant book of short stories Cosmo(Coach House Books, 2012). He helped me both on camera and off figure out what Savage was all about. He'd say things like, and I'm paraphrasing here, "For this chapter it's like Nate (the character) has his video camera on his shoulder right, so write it that way." He was more eloquent than that. When I took six months off from writing Savage in 2010, he encouraged me to finish it. Sometimes when you're writing you think, “well no one will ever read this, not even my garbage man of a landlord.”
As the book came into finality,
I had a short film made: Toronto artist Paule Kelly-Rhéaume edited and shot it and put together for me at Charles Street Video in the summer of 2013. The film was for promotional purposes only but also, because I had been involved in the prehistoric popularity of book trailers ten years ago, I thought I should do something different. Suddenly, there was Spencer, interviewing me with prepared questions I hadn't previously read about my book. I answered them as honestly as I could. It was while under the bright lights in the sparse film studio – even though the book was completed and being copy-edited – that I finally figured out what Savage was actually about. That film prepared both myself and the world to delve into very personal and terribly depressing, but also hilarious, territory.
When the final edits with questions came back, I was confronted with a few concerns about why this character was acting this way and not another way. So by doing this interview (in wrestling speak they are called "shoot" interviews, I gather because one is shooting oneself in the foot by speaking openly about a protected industry) I had uncomplicated my mind around Savage and knew how to fix it. I'm not recommending everyone do this and I doubt anyone will, to quote Allen Ginsberg, "follow my path to extinction" but it worked out perfectly for me. By speaking about the book in a language the book wasn't written in, I was able to decode myself. And that's how I solved the Savage writing block fiasco:
Nathaniel's workspace, in his Protection Island, BC home.
The Influences that make up Savage: a Recipe Since I spent more than a decade working on Savage, I wish that people had asked about the my influences – meaning, what books or films or artistic movements inspired and helped shape the novel. Here’s a list:
Gore Vidal’s The City and the Pillar
“November Rain” by Guns n’ Roses
New Order (I imagined the entire book and project to be a New Order/Nathaniel G. Moore box set)
“The Last Savage”, a poem by Roberto Bolano
Herculean myth, specifically the twelve labours
Nirvana’s “You Know You’re Right”
The Menendez Brothers trial
And, of course, wrestling.
My next project is to be a fan and support my partner Amber McMillan’s debut book of poetry,
We Can't Ever Do This Again coming out with Wolsak & Wynn this spring. These poems are incredibly candid, raw, humane and haunting.
Beyond that, I'm happy to say my debut collection of short fiction is coming out with Anvil Press and this marks the first time in my illusionary career that I've done more than one book with a publisher. The stories vary from one about a man who is the son of Arthur Leigh Allen, the alleged Zodiac Killer. I've brought Catullus back to my repertoire for the first time since my 2007 release Let's Pretend We Never Met. This time around, instead of poetry, I've written him into a dysfunctional horror story in which he is both haplessly inept at adapting to modernity but also capable of destructive, near-maniacal behaviour on par with any 1980s low-budget horror film. Plus, there's some sad romance; a tribute to Douglas Coupland's future back catalogue; a story about a woman who, as a teenager, was obsessed with then Prime Minister Paul Martin; plus special fictional insight into the Disney Corporation the day the Star Wars deal was announced. The book will be called Jettison. I believe the title has both mystique and accessibility and has a "greatest hits collection" feel to it. Earlier versions of several stories have appeared in magazines over the last decade, but each have been reworked to the back teeth. The book has inspired a short film by me that will include indie music by artists including Eamon McGrath, Warren Auld, Gregory Cochrane and Anisa Cameron. As I used to say at live readings,
let’s take a look at the clip.
Why do you write? I write because when I communicate in other mediums it falls flat. Despite my seemingly performative nature as a "literary entertainer" (TM) socially, I find it a struggle to translate that which I want to say in an oratory way. Not that I can't order a sandwich or do my grocery shopping; but when it comes to the important things I wish to tell people, I feel like my mouth is full of marbles and I don't know what words are. In my senility, nearing 41, I find I'm also losing my hearing. Writing is my only hope. Plus it makes me feel connected to my brain and the process, (especially when I complete a new book) is highly stimulating, possibly the same feeling of elation that horseback riding instructors must have when they look back and their class is prancing around and doing all the things they learned over their intense horseback riding lessons.
Nathaniel G. Moore is a Toronto-born writer. He is the author of
Savage 1986-2011 (Anvil Press, 2013) winner of the 2014 Relit Award for best novel. His other books include Let’s Pretend We Never Met (Pedlar Press, 2007) and Bowlbrawl (Conundrum Press, 2005). He is a columnist for subTerrain magazine and writes regular book reviews for The Georgia Straight. His next book is a collection of short fiction called Jettison forthcoming with Anvil Press. He currently lives on Protection Island, B.C. with his partner, Amber McMillan, daughter and two cats, Bernie and James. His favourite travel destination is Rome, Italy, which he’s been to zero times.
Many thanks to Nathaniel for his candid retelling of the work that went into Savage, as well as his tremendous support.
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