Paul Quarrington Opens The Window A peek into the novel life of a millenium man
By Diego X. Jesus and Mark London
Poet, screenwriter, visual artist, songwriter, playwright, sports fan, musician and one of Canada's greatest living novelists Paul Quarrington isn't in it for the money. He's in it for the fun.
And after such great and memorable books as The Spirit Cabinet, Whale Music, Home Game, The Life Of Hope and Civilization, a plethora of awards and fingers in every conceivable artistic pie, he's no stranger to anything.
The second son of a Don Mills computer programming pioneer and a psychologist, he did U of T for two years while perpetuating his passion, from his earliest days, for the guitar, clarinet, squeeze box, bass, harp, and piano. He had a number one single in Canada in 1980 -- Baby And The Blues with Martin Worthy -- and toured and recorded with Canadian and famously notorious protest singer Joe Hall and The Continental Drift.
But writing won out, for the most part, and Quarrington's literary awards are voluminous: Foundation for the Advancement of Canadian Letters, most promising new writer in 1986; Periodical Distributors of Canada Authors Award in 86; Stephen Leacock Award for Humour in 87 for King Leary; finalist for Trillium Book Award for King Leary in 87; Governor General's Literary Award for English Language Fiction in Canada in 89 for Whale Music; Genie Award for best screenplay for Perfectly Normal.
He also nailed a Genie Award for best song, Claire (from the movie Whale Music); was nominated for Gemini Award for Best Writing In A Dramatic Series (Due South: All the Queen's Horses with Paul Gross and John Krizanc); short-listed for the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour in 98 for The Boy On The Back Of The Turtle; short-listed for Trillium Book Award in 98 for The Boy; The Writers Guild of Canada's Annual Top Ten Award in 2000 for Manipulation, an episode of the television series Power Play, to name a few.
Quarrington's career has been a long and illustrious one, and he has much to say about what it took to get where he is, and what it takes to stay there. He's generous and gregarious and really just a regular guy. He was gracious enough answer a few questions for IN.
IN: It's been almost a year to the day since your last book, Galveston, came out last May. What have you been writing, or doing, or not doing, since then?
PQ: Good question. It seems to me there's been much busy-ness, but I don't have a lot to show for it. I'm supposed to be writing a non-fiction piece about pirates, but I'm having trouble coming up with the right angle. I'm trying to finish a novel entitled The Window, which I refer to as "semi-autobiographical" in order to alarm my friends.
Another thing that keeps me occupied is my band, PorkBelly Futures. Our CD, Way Past Midnight, came out last year and we've been playing various places in support of it. Now it looks like a small label in the United States -- Wildflower Records, owned by folk legend Judy Collins -- is going to release the CD there, so we'll be playing New York City in June. The band is very excited about that -- we're actually rehearsing. That's how excited we are.
IN: Of all the genres you work in, which is most difficult.
PQ: Well, now, I don't really think of things as being "difficult." Hmmm. I would have to say filmmaking is the most difficult because so many things have to be co-ordinated. In many ways actual production is like going to war. But it's fun, too, or else I wouldn't do it.
I do all these things because they're fun. I know writers who really seem to have a hard time getting the words out, they're frustrated and always complaining that it's torture, etc., etc., and I'm always asking, "Why are you doing it, then?" If I'm not having fun, I stop.
IN: Which type of work is more rewarding personally and which financially?
PQ: Novel writing is the most rewarding personally. That's what I'm about. I'm a novel writing addict and all the other stuff helps me support my habit. Financially, the place to be is TV land. As a producer friend of mine once said, "Television is a river of money into which we must jump." The river's drying up here in Canada, but you can still find the occasional pool.
But let me just point out, I've recently learned that there is a rumour circulating to the effect that I'm rich. Well, I'm not. I may have made some money over the years, but I've managed to lose most of it through divorce and, um... well, mostly through divorce.
And the only sound financial move I've ever made was to not return my empty beer bottles for a few months -- this was years ago -- and the return went up from a nickel to a dime. The only thing I've ever invested in has been Need A Penny, Leave A Penny. But I don't care. While it's true that there's no money in poetry, it's equally true that there's no poetry in money.
IN: What would you tell new writers about your process(es) that might help them to establish their own routine?
PQ: That's the big thing. Establish a routine. The only way to get anything down on paper is through sheer habit. If you wait for inspiration, you'll remain uninspired. And the process has to be habitual, because if you pause to consider whether or not it's worthwhile, well, any sane person would decide no, not at all. So, I guess I'm saying to those new writers, unless you're insane, then acquire a routine -- doesn't much matter what it is, writing five minutes every hour, writing every other day, whatever -- and stick to it.
IN: Where do you write?
PQ: I have a small house, it's not like there's an office or anything. I have a big computer set up on a desk in my bedroom -- that's where I'm writing this -- but for the most part I like to set up my laptop on the kitchen table.
IN: What advice do you have for first time writers trying to get published, or acquire agents and/or publishers?
PQ: Just keep at it. It can be very frustrating, and I know that agents and publishers always claim not to have time to read anything, not to be taking on new clients, etc., but the truth of the matter is that discovering hitherto unknown writers is their bread-and-butter. We the writers hold the hot hand, not them, they're just snootier (for the most part.) So we shall prevail.
IN: Is it advantageous for a writer to be part of a union or guild, such as The Writers' Union of Canada?
PQ: Speaking as the former Chair of the Writers Union of Canada, um, no.
IN: How important it is for writers to have an Internet presence with their own small web site, such as yours at http://www.quarrington.org/ to contain and present their portfolio?
PQ: I think it's very important, but I'm not very good at managing my site, indeed, the picture there is of a young man that doesn't even remotely resemble the current edition. I guess when I'm at the computer I like to write.
I Google things occasionally -- I'm just reminding myself now that I want to Google the CIUT radio site so I can access their programming schedule -- but I don't do much else on the Internet. It's exciting technology, to be sure, but that phrase is kind of oxymoronic as far as I'm concerned.
IN: Favourite authors?
PQ: I seem to like authors named John -- John Fowles, John Gardner, John Irving. John Gardner is my favourite -- he's sadly not so well known these days.
IN: Favourite comedian?
PQ: Richard Pryor, absolutely. Of the new crop, um, I don't know, there's kind of a sameness to them. I enjoy those Blue Collar fellows, Jeff Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy.
IN: The future?
PQ: Well, I'm hoping The Window (see above) will be worth the wait. It's a very personal book for me, I deal with some things that I've had on my chest (or back) for quite some time.
IN: The Beatles or Stones?
PQ: Oh, The Beatles, definitely. But when I was in grade 6, I thought the Dave Clark Five was the best band. That should give you some insight into the kind of guy I am.
The Service - 1978 Home Game - 1983 The Life of Hope - 1985 King Leary - 1987 Whale Music - 1989 Logan in Overtime - 1990 Civilization - 1994 The Spirit Cabinet - 1999 Galveston - 2004 The Window - 2005
Diego X. Jesus is a Dominican-born American freelance underground journalist and associate editor of IN who makes Toronto his home approximately half the time. Otherwise, we don't know where he might be.Email Jesus
Mark London is a Toronto based writer and associate editor of IN who has been with the FWO-Int'l since it's inception and volunteers much of his time in assisting young writers' careers. Email Mark:firstname.lastname@example.org