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An Interview with Miriam Toews

Saturday, Aug 30, 2008 at 5:33pm

Miriam answers my questions about life, writing, and transplants.

Tory: What have you been reading lately?

Miriam: Distant Star, by Roberto Bolano

TM: I have a friend who is throwing a Flying Troutmans dinner party, and she would really like me to ask you to name three bands/musicians you think accompany The Flying Troutmans.

MT: Joe Strummer, The Horribly Awfuls, and The Hold Steady.

TM:Three meals that accompany The Flying Troutmans

MT:Burritos, cheese dogs, and Kraft dinner.

TM: When I was in Britain in the spring of 2005, I saw copies of A Complicated Kindness stacked up at the front of every bookstore there. Do you find that having a broader readership influences your writing in any way?

MT: Not really - that whole thing is just part of the business which I don't pay a lot of attention to and I'm not just trying to be humble. I think I'll always write the way I do, for better or for worse - really I just try to be honest and hope to get better at it as I go.

TM: Although there is nary a Mennonite to be found in The Flying Troutmans, a lot of the same character themes are there without the small town references. Were you trying to leave the whole Mennonite pigeonhole behind or did you just find yourself with a cast of characters this time out who were not part of the communities that you've explored in previous works?

MT: After A Complicated Kindness I was certainly done with answering questions about Mennonites and small towns, but I never made a conscious decision to avoid that with this novel. The characters I was interested in developing were closer to my urban and travel experiences and as a result, ended up manifesting themselves in the same ways.

TM: I was told that to be a great writer, read, read, read, and live a life worthy of writing about. I have always wondered, when you're a huge success, and with all of the things necessary to properly support a book, it must be difficult to retain the perspective you had starting out as a writer. Do you feel pressure to ignore the marketing, to be able to retain the writer?

MT: Absolutely. I don't now, and never have understood the business end of writing. The marketing side leaves me cold and confused. I understand the necessity of it but also can't wait for it to end so I can get back to work. To ignore it entirely, however, is probably unrealistic. Whoever told you that gave you great advice - though I don't consider myself a "huge success" - more of a work in progress. In my case, I know that the whole marketing/P.R. thing is temporary so I just try and get through it, enjoy meeting some genuinely nice people and take a lot of notes along the way.

TM: I'm an aspiring writer and I always wonder where to start. The momentum of the road trip is used to excellent effect in this book. Is that what you started with or did you develop the characters and they needed a road trip?

MT: I always start with character, but in this case, I also had the intent of working on a road story. I know that doesn't help much in terms of advice, but I guess I would say knowing and being honest with your characters is more important than ....plot - I'm never been a big plot fan (obviously).

TM: I don't mean to go all Doctor Phil on you, but. . . You are known for writing from your experience, the experience of your family, or community. In this book it seems that the main character, Hattie, seems to have escaped her community, but is drawn back in. Your life has been more worldly as of late. Do you feel drawn back against your will, or do you miss small town life?

MT: I think all writers draw to a large degree from personal experience. My fiction is always a composite from both my life and the lives of people I know or have met. As for small town life, I sure as hell don't miss it personally - give me urban! As a fictional device it sometimes works in the sense that it's a compact environment to worth within, much like setting a piece in a specific city neighbourhood.

TM: I have two friends who both need new spleens, are you up for some transplants? They'll put it on Youtube.

MT: Yes, though I found out I had three spleens several years ago, it feels as though they have multiplied or somehow reproduced. I have "spleens-a-plenty" so by all means you're welcome to as many of mine as you need.

TM: Have you had enough of people not seeing the difference between your work and your life?

MT: A little bit...there are some similarities and obviously, there will be fragments and elements from my own experiences, but you're right, I always hope that readers don't assume that anything I write is a literal transcription of my life.

TM: How much would it cost for you to write my thesis in creative writing?

MT: How much do you have?

Categories: Interview, Authors

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