Writer's Block: Claire Tacon

August 7, 2018

Award-winning author Claire Tacon takes us on a road trip in her sophomore novel In Search of the Perfect Singing Flamingo (Wolsak & Wynn), a charming story about a dad struggling with his daughter's independence. We had the chance to talk with Claire about writing rituals, inequality, and gender and writing.

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All Lit Up: What do you enjoy reading?

Claire Tacon: Thank goodness we’re finally getting over ourselves about “genre” fiction. At this year’s Festival of Literary Diversity, Cherie Dimaline summed up the previous attitude as “literary fiction or trash.” Most of my favourite reads from the past few years have been speculative works: Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline, Plum Rains by Andromeda Romano-Lax, American War by Omar el Akkad, and Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson. Can I also sneak in the experimentation of George Saunder’s Lincoln in the Bardo?

 

ALU: Do you have any rituals that you abide by when you’re writing?

CT: Making or buying a coffee is almost always part of my writing. If I’m drafting something new, I prefer to write by hand and in a public space. Somewhere big enough to feel anonymous and with some good people-watching opportunities. Mall food courts are perfect. 

 

ALU: Why do you write?

CT: We live in a time of terrible inequality. Even if you strive to be ethical, it is impossible to not be implicated in someone else’s oppression, whether it’s through the clothes you buy, the devices you use or the food you eat. I am always wondering how to be a person in this world, always wondering what obligations we have towards each other. Whether that’s on the scale of a family, a town, a country, or a planet.

My ability to write rhetoric or to engage in straight-ahead political debate is lacking. Instead, I think I’m better at asking questions. My hope is that my writing encourages the reader to question our status quo and spurs them to seek out answers on their own.

 

 

workspace

Claire's workspace.

 

ALU: What question do you wish someone would ask you about your book? Let us know, then answer it here.

CT: My writing has been described as domestic and I’d love to be asked why I write on that scale. My hunch is that particular label can never escape the traps of gender. No one calls Mordecai Richler’s Barney’s Version domestic fiction. When a man is wrestling with his internal state, reconciling his life, we call it an existential crisis.

Also, I think that writing about people, their immediate lives, can be more political than we give it credit for. Government policy is drafted at a high level, influenced by the ideologies of the people writing it, but its effects are manifested in people’s individual lives. In my recent book [ In Search of the Perfect Singing Flamingo], a father is struggling with giving his daughter, who has Williams Syndrome, more independence. Many of the concerns he has for her (will she find meaningful work, will she find safe and stable housing, will she have a loving community after he dies) would be alleviated if we had better public policy to support people with disabilities. We can hear the appalling statistics—only 25% of people with intellectual disabilities are employed in Ontario, over 80% of women with intellectual disabilities will be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes, 18,000 people are on the waitlist for Passport funding—but they tend to make a bigger impact when applied to people we care about.  

 

ALU: What’s the most surprising thing about being a writer?

CT: People really want you to give them advice on getting published! I was once waiting for a colonoscopy and the doctor asked what my job was. I mumbled something about being a teacher. She asked what I taught. Mumble mumble, creative writing. Oh! I like to write too! Can you tell me about the difference between writing picture books or writing for teens? How about self-publishing? I was lying on a gurney with my bare ass ready to be scoped, trying to find an efficient way to answer these very large questions.

On the one hand, I love that lots of people want to try it. On the other, I was very ready for the sedation.

 

 

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Claire's crafty advice.

 

 

 

ALU: What’s the toughest part about being a writer?

CT: For me, it’s the question of whether or not you’re just masturbating. So much of what happens to your book after you write it are things you have no control over. So much of finding an audience has to do with luck and timing.

On the one hand, you have to be willing to let your book go into the world and just be grateful it’s there, in print. At the same time, you’re writing to share something and it can be hard to reconcile a smaller readership.

Few writers are also able to recoup a decent income for the years they spend on a project. My advance was only slightly more than the month’s worth of childcare I needed to finish the last draft. I think it’s hard to balance that financial reality with my perception of my project’s worth. Especially when I consider the costs to my family—if the time I’d spent on the novel were paid hourly, what kind of difference would that have made to our household? Writing enriches my life immeasurably but it’s hard to have unfaltering confidence in its worthiness.

 

 

 

 

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More about Claire Tacon:

I am fascinated with absurdity and decay. Which is handy because I live in a Guelph century home, whose previous owner had used old t-shirts as insulation. Some other questionable choices include a sheet metal shower with bare wiring. Currently, I lecture at St. Jerome’s University but my oldest son has decided to open a pet shop when he’s grown up and has recruited me to be a matchmaker between customers and their pets. It sounds like a pretty great day job. Other interests are nerdy board games, cooking with my husband ( this is our current favourite recipe), craft beer, sewing, biking and swimming. Anxiety seems to be a life-long companion but we’ve been tolerating each other more lately.

For more, check out www.clairetacon.com 

 

 

 

 

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Thanks so much to Claire for these very thoughtful answers to our questions!  In Search of the Perfect Singing Flamingois available now. For more Writer's Block, click here.


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