Interview by Troy Palmer, 2013.

LF: Your Little Fiction story Year of the Dragon is part of a larger project. What can you tell us about that?

WJ: I’m currently working on a book-length thesis called Whatever you’re on, I want some. It is comprised of a number of inter-related stories that all fit into a single narrative, like what Jennifer Egan did with her book A Visit From the Goon Squad. The stories all somehow involve a character named Neil, who is sometimes central to the plot and other times completely peripheral.

Year of the Dragon is a story I’ve been playing with for years. I originally wrote it as a 10,000-word one-woman show. Then I edited into a 5,000-word short story, and finally into a 250-word flash fiction piece, which was published by Dragnet earlier this year. For some reason, this character really stayed with me, and I’m glad she’s going to be a part of my manuscript. 

I’m working on this project with novelist Steven Galloway at UBC, and I’m hoping to finish it by the end of the summer. I have a publisher who has expressed interest in the book, but I have to finish it before I can make any decisions.

LF: Both Paint by Numbers and Year of the Dragon are set in Vancouver. How much of your writing is Vancouver-centric, and do you expect that to change with your recent move to the East Coast?

WJ: I love the West Coast, and most of my fiction is set around the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, or on Vancouver Island. Having lived here for my entire life, I think I have a pretty solid finger on our pulse. And I’ve always thought that Vancouver deserves to be mythologized–the same way New York, L.A., Toronto and other big cities have been. 

I think my two characters–Vanessa and Miriam–are both quintessential Vancouver women. People from the West Coast will recognize them. 

I’ve been kind of a West-Coast elitist for years now (which is not uncommon for us Vancouverites) and repeatedly people kept telling me that I would love the East Coast too. So when I got offered an opportunity to move to Nova Scotia with my girlfriend, I jumped at the chance. I’m expecting it to provide all kinds of inspiration. I think it’s interesting how unique and vastly different the various regions of Canada are. And I can’t wait to explore them more, both in my writing and in real life.

LF: You pitched your novel Sea to Sky to Anansi. How was that experience?

Will: Sea to Sky started out as an antiphonal short story, about a teenage girl living with her dying father. It was published in The Fiddlehead last April, and it won their annual fiction contest. I was broke at the time, so the $2000 prize was a welcome relief from my student financial woes. 

This December, The Fiddlehead got a hold of me to let me know they nominated Sea to Sky for a National Magazine Award. I thought it was as good a time as any to try to capitalize on that momentum, so I decided to expand it into a novel-length narrative and start sending it out. 

I had recently finished reading The Antagonist by Lynn Coady, which was published by Anansi. As I started looking through their catalogue, I realized that a number of my favorite Canadian books were coming from them. So I sent them the first 10 pages of my manuscript, and now I’m waiting to hear back. Keep your fingers crossed for me. 

LF: What is your writing process like?

WJ: I love my desk. I like closing the door to my bedroom with the knowledge that I’m going to spend a few hours sitting in front of it. Usually with a coffee, sometimes an energy drink. 

The trouble is the Internet. Jonathan Franzen has been making headlines lately for shitting on Twitter, and he once said that a writer with an Internet connection is not producing good fiction. I think he’s partially right, because the Internet is my #1 productivity killer. I recently deleted Facebook to try to salvage some of that time.

Another important part of the process is reading, which is something I don’t do nearly enough.

LF: Does music ever factor into your writing process? If so, was there any specific music that inspired either Paint by Numbers or Year of the Dragon?

WJ: I find certain types of music extremely nostalgic, and sometimes playing songs from my childhood will help me get into the right writing headspace. I usually write in silence, but if I feel like having something on in the background, I usually go with Dan Mangan, Arcade Fire, Jack Johnson or something really mellow. Lately I’ve been obsessed with the song Little Talks by Of Gods and Monsters. You should go watch the video. It will blow your mind.

LF: What do you like most about writing and reading short stories?

WJ: I’ve heard novels compared to long-term relationships, and short stories compared to a quickie in the dark. I think the best part about a good short story is the opportunity to get inside someone else’s head. For some reason, I’m drawn to female narrators and characters. Maybe because I’m fascinated by women? Maybe because I want to understand what’s going on from their end? 

One of my favorite short stories is Goodbye Porkpie Hat by Michael Christie, which is a hallucinatory story about a crack addict on the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. Giving that character a voice, a name and a story humanizes someone the reader might not otherwise consider. And in the same way my story Year of the Dragon invites readers to get inside the head of one of the ubiquitous yoga girls that populate Vancouver’s streets. 

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