Interview by Will Johnson.

WJ: You are currently working towards your PhD in neuroscience. When did you decide to pick up fiction?

JH: I always wanted to write fiction but never knew what to write. In the spring of 2010 I barfed out a couple of short, related fragments of weird fiction, just some ideas that came out of the blue. I got in touch with the inimitable Lee Henderson, an awesome author and professor of creative writing, and after showing him those fragments he was really enthusiastic/supportive about me giving writing a shot.

WJ: Analogue is your first published story. I understand you’ve had some trouble finding a home for your stories, perhaps due to their genre. What do you think about the Canadian literary magazine landscape, and how do you feel about finding a home with Little Fiction?

JH: I’m not sure genre has been my problem for getting published. Hah. In all seriousness, though, a couple of the literary journals have been really encouraging in their responses to me, despite me not writing traditional literary fiction. I think rejection letters are probably just a reality for most writers, both mediocre ones and the eventually “successful” authors. I won’t speculate which category I fall into.

As for Canadian literary journals, I think they have a lot to offer. I mean, there are magazines I avoid entirely because it feels like the editors prioritize content or genre at the cost of quality, and it would probably be foolish to think anyone could buy a literary magazine and be satisfied. But there are some real gems. On a recommendation from a writer buddy named Will (ahem), I just picked up an older copy of Prism and was blown away by a Kris Bertin story in it, Is Alive and Can Move. That story is a great example of how good fiction can find homes regardless of genre or content.  And I think it’s also how literary journals work best: word-of-mouth recommendations about stories, from people whose opinion you trust, rather than hoping that the entire magazine issue is good.

That leads me to Little Fiction and why I love it. It changes the standard “unit” of short fiction from a magazine issue to a single story. If a writer I like publishes with LF, or if a story is recommended to me by somebody I trust, I don’t have to pick up a magazine that also caters to other crowds (e.g. nonfiction, poetry, lovers of traditional literary fiction); I just download that one story, nicely packaged and treated as its own entity, and enjoy. And then, if I read a couple from LF, I start to trust the site as a place to give new fiction a shot. As a comparison, I’d rather buy albums from one band/artist than compilation albums full of different artists who may or may not appeal to me.  It makes LF more of an “imprint”/label than a magazine, and I prefer that. I’d say that I read more digital fiction now, single pieces in PDF format usually, than I do the paper lit journals. (Editor’s note: we in no way paid for this response, though we may one day name an award after Jay. And Will.)

WJ: How would you classify Analogue? I feel like it’s science fiction, but maybe with a touch of fantasy?

JH: Hmm. I don’t think I’d put it into science fiction or fantasy, mainly because I have pretty specific (and non-Atwood) ideas about what those terms mean. Kevin Lee, another great writer and friend, calls it “psych-fi”, which I think is pretty accurate. I suppose I’d classify Analogue as the uncanny, like Freud’s concept, or like a lot of Edgar Allen Poe’s writing. It’s about the boundary between the known and the unknown.

WJ: Who are you currently reading, and which Canadian authors do you admire?

JH: What I’ve recently read and loved: James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice, re-read Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita (Pevear & Volokhonsky translation), George Saunders’ In Persuasion Nation, and Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy.

Canadian authors whom I admire and are “peers” in some sense: Jen Neale (read her Bronwen Wallace award-winning Elk-Headed Man online), Kevin Lee (publication forthcoming!), and Will Johnson (both Little Fiction stories are great) are all deserving of attention for their powers of fiction.

Canadian authors I admire as literary heroes: Mordecai Richler’s Barney’s Version is easily my favourite book. Margaret Atwood has impressive scope, work ethic, and wrote the amazing Oryx & Crake. Timothy Findley’s Headhunter and Not Wanted on the Voyage are immensely, disturbingly good moralist books.

WJ: You’re working on a full-length project called Three Years with the Rat. What can you tell me about that?

JH: I can tell you it’s about half-finished.  Everything else is tentative, including the title. It’s probably about Toronto, science, music, love, loyalty, rats, and lots of the uncanny.

WJ: Analogue is set in Vancouver. Why did you choose it as a setting?

JH: I moved here a few years ago, so I had the dual advantage of seeing a city with fresh eyes and knowing the city well enough to describe it. Plus, it was a good break from writing about Toronto, my sort of hometown.

WJ: I love the opening of your story. It reads like an ode to old-school records. The description is beautiful. Is this something you’re passionate about as well, or just your character?

JH: Hey thanks!  Yeah, I like vinyl. I’m listening to Bry Webb’s Provider LP even as I write this. That said, I’m just a listener, not the type of person who casually uses words like plinth in conversation, or fusses about what type tone-arm they have on their turntable.

WJ: How did the music mentioned in the story (Pinback, Sonic Youth, Rachel Grimes, Ladyhawk, Blonde Redhead, The Cardigans) find its way in there? Was that stuff you were listening to at the time?

JH: I think the only one on heavy rotation at the time was Rachel Grimes’ Book of Leaves. They’re all albums I love, though, and I think there’s a certain sort of music fan (ahem, Troy Palmer, and me of course) who will recognize them as fitting some sort of good-modern-rock-n-roll-vinyl-community pattern.

WJ: Is any of your work autobiographical?

JH: Thankfully, no. I steal tiny details (like the vinyl), but I’ve been fortunate enough not to encounter extra-dimensional beings in my day-to-day life, the amazing Steven Galloway excluded.

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