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An Interview with Kathryn Mockler, author of Anecdotes
Poet, writer, and teacher Kathryn Mockler talks with us about the differences – or lack thereof – between writing poetry and fiction, what she’s reading right now, and about her new collection of stories, Anecdotes (Book*hug Press).
All Lit Up: Congratulations on your new book Anecdotes! Can you tell our readers about the collection? What can they expect from the stories in the book?
Kathryn Mockler: Anecdotes is a collection of stories organized into four parts that explores the ways in which shame, denial, male violence, and the climate crisis are all interconnected. The stories are told from the point of view of various characters such as children, teenage girls, middle-aged women, parks, disembodied voices, and the past and the future, and are presented in a range of styles, forms, and genres.
ALU: Your book has an unconventional format that, while distinct, the stories are in conversation with each other. What went into your decision to organize the collection in this way?
KM: The four different sections were written separately but alongside one another over several years, I’ve always had these two sides as a writer—one interested in comedy and the absurd, the other focused on realism and autofiction. I knew there was a connection between the two, but I didn’t fully grasp it until all the stories came together.
What does growing up in an alcoholic home have to do with climate denial? What does sexual abuse, bullying, and male violence have to do with planetary collapse? Gradually I began to see (with the help of my editor Malcolm Sutton) the connections between the stories I wanted to tell and the various conversations that bumped up against each other.
ALU: As a multi-genre writer, how does writing poetry inform your prose? What’s it like switching between poetry and fiction?
KM: To be honest, I don’t really think about genre. I feel like I’m a genre-less writer. My short fictions and poems are often like plays. My screenplays and films are like poems and plays and often adapted from my poems and stories. Perhaps I’m actually a playwright, but I’ve never worked in that genre before.
To me, genre is a box, a category I put a work in once I want to publish something. Generally speaking, the concerns of poetry are not my concerns in terms of poetic devices other than an interest in narrative and image. My short pieces could be considered poems. Some have been published as poems and some have been published as stories. Basically, I just hear voices in my head and then I write everything down. Sometimes they want to be long and sometimes they want to be short or only made of dialogue, and then the world of publishing asks me to categorize them. So now I’m saying it’s all fiction whether it’s one line or a longer story or whether it contains autobiography or is completely fabricated.
ALU: Do you have any writing rituals? How do you begin writing?
KM: I would describe my process as chaotic, which I used to think was a problem, but I’ve come to recognize that it works for me. I’m easily bored with a single work, so I flit around from project to project until one eventually gets finished.
I don’t write every day, and I’m prone to giving into fancy, impulse, and inspiration—all the things traditional writing advice tells you not to do. But fortunately, I’m often impulsive and inspired so I do get a lot of work done despite having a process that is a little all over the place.
Some things that tend to work for me include reading before I write, doing a short session of stream-of consciousness/free writing, using a Brain music app, thinking about a writing problem before I go to bed, and having a co-working partner.
ALU: What’s on your reading list these days? Is there a book you recently read and loved?
KM: I’m currently reading Palestine + 100: Stories from a Century after the Nakba, Edited by Basma Ghalayini, a critically acclaimed Palestinian science fiction anthology in which twelve Palestinian writers were asked to imagine their country in 2048. It won a PEN Translates Award in 2018.
I’m also excited to read Out There Screaming: An Anthology of New Black Horror edited by Jordan Peele and John Joseph Adams.
ALU: Last, what do you hope readers will take away from your writing?
KM: I hope this book makes readers who oppose oppressive systems feel less alone. I also want readers to enjoy the humour and the absurdity that can be found in many of the stories.
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Kathryn Mockler is the author of five books of poetry. She co-edited the print anthology Watch Your Head: Writers and Artists Respond to the Climate Crisis (2020) and is the publisher of the Watch Your Head website. She runs Send My Love to Anyone, a literary newsletter, and is an Assistant Professor at the University of Victoria where she teaches screenwriting and fiction. Anecdotes is available now.