Raymond Fraser has been called “the best literary voice to come belling out of the Maritimes in decades" (Farley Mowat) and “one of the most gifted writers I know” (Alden Nowlen). Fredericton-based author, poet and editor has a bevy of great works under his belt, including The Bannonbridge Musicians, The Fighting Fisherman: The Life of Yvon Durelle, When The Earth Was Flat and his latest works The Madness of Youth and Repentance Vale.
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Once when I was in Montreal and trying to keep off the bottle I smoked some marijuana (which never did agree with me; I was strictly a drinking man) and experienced what it was like to be cut off absolutely from man and God. I was in a room with people but it was as if I wasn't, and I was terrified. I felt so disconnected I actually thought I was dead. It wasn't an experience I'd like to repeat, but it was a great lesson, for I knew then that without a linking spirit – without God, in other words, the author of our existence – there is no fellow feeling, no communication, just an intolerable isolation and loneliness. It showed me that we don't own the comfort of companionship – that with a flick of a switch it can disappear, leaving nothing behind but one's abandoned self. A solitary human ego. The closest comparison I can make is how an astronaut would feel when his lifeline broke, setting him adrift in the vast emptiness of outer space, drifting further and further away from his fellows and never coming back. Only in his case the agony would be temporary. What I experienced was to have no end, or wouldn't if I should find myself there for real. I've also known a depth of misery that is described as follows in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous: “Some day [the alcoholic] will be unable to imagine life either with alcohol or without it. Then he will know loneliness such as few do. He will be at the jumping off point."
Where would you like to live?
When I'm out on the street and it's minus-22 degrees Celsius and a thought comes to me that I have to write down and I take my mitts off and dig out my pen and notepad and start writing and my fingers almost break off like icicles... at times like this I wish my ancestors had been less cunning and had got caught and transported to sunny Australia instead of eluding the law by stowing away on a random ship and ending up in the frozen wastes of Canada. I think, going back further yet, that I must be descended from one of William the Conqueror's men who came from the south of France, or going back further yet, from a Roman soldier... because I really feel the ideal place for me to live would be on the Mediterranean. I have spent several years in southern Spain and France and if I could speak Spanish or French and had sufficient money and a lot of friends in those places I think it would be a fine place to reside. Because of my distant ancestors I'd be at home there, in a sense. It's not just the weather, its being in Europe where there's so much history and so many romantic places within easy reach of wherever you are. However, when all is said and done it's better to live in the cold among friends than be a stranger in paradise. So I'm still here in New Brunswick.
No surprise here. Writing. I'm glad it's not something else because that would mean I missed my calling.
What is your idea of earthly happiness?
Unless you're a child, periods of real happiness are short-lived, in my experience. I don't think life is about earthly happiness so it's better not to search too hard for it. In adult life the kind of bliss I equate the word "happiness" with comes from being passionately in love while at the same time doing useful and satisfying work. My problem has been getting those two conditions to come together. For a number of years I had several wonderful romances but couldn't get my writing off the ground. Since then my writing has gone well but I've had to do without a romantic entanglement (for want of a better word). I've had to content myself with being Canada's most eligible bachelor. The trouble with highs is they're sooner or later balanced by equal or greater lows ("greater" because in some cases interest seems to be charged). As a youth I read all the philosophers of the world and wasn't that impressed with Aristotle, but now I think he was probably right about the middling way being the smartest way to live. Take the days as they come and don't expect too much and when something nice happens treat it as a bonus and enjoy it.
To what faults do you feel most indulgent?
Any faults that I'm aware of having myself. It's the good thing about having faults – at least when you acknowledge them; you're less likely to be unsympathetic and self-righteous.
Who are your favorite heroes of fiction? The Hardy Boys, the Mercer Boys, Nancy Drew, Huckleberry Finn, Sherlock Holmes, Inspector Maigret, Don Quixote, Sancho Panza, the Mad Hatter, Long John Silver, Sir John Falstaff, Harry Flashman, Percy "Sully" Sullivan, Ralph Ramsay, Tommy Waggoner, Dan Kiley, Walt Macbride, etc.
Who are your favorite characters in history?
History is full of bizarre humans. It would take too long to go back through the ages and list them all. I don't have any few that jump out at me.
Who are your favorite heroines in real life?
I don't have heroes and heroines anymore. I used to but I got over it. People are people, not gods or demi-gods, although they sometimes rise above themselves and do heroic deeds.
Who are your favorite heroines of fiction?
Sonia in Crime and Punishment... there's a touching innocence about her. The scene where when she reads Raskolnikov the story of Lazarus from the Bible is very moving. Alice in Alice in Wonderland (the first real book I had read to me). Becky Thatcher in Tom Sawyer. Estella "who was very pretty and seemed very proud" in Great Expectations. Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With The Wind (I never read the book but saw the movie). And some ladies in novels I've written myself.
Your favorite painter?
That would be Van Gogh, though I like the other great Impressionists – Monet, Pissarro, Sisley, Renoir. Painting reached its peak with them, and then went into a downhill slide. I like the street scenes of Edward Hopper. My favourite living painter is Gerald Squires.
Your favorite musician?
My favourite classical composers are Brahms, Beethoven, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakoff, Dvorak. My favourite single work of classical music is Brahms's 2nd Piano Concerto (preferably played by Sviatislav Richter). The songwriters I admire most are Robbie Burns, Woodie Guthrie, Hank Williams, Larry Gorman, Charles Aznavour and Bob Dylan.
The quality you most admire in a man?
I admire talent in men, whether they're athletes, musicians, actors, magicians, acrobats or whatever; the ability to do something exceptional. I can admire their talent but that doesn't mean I'd like them as people. The people I like are good-natured, good-humoured, easy-going, kindly, and generous – and genuine. I don't care for synthetic or imitation people.
The quality you most admire in a woman?
I admire women in their capacity as mothers, the self-sacrifice they're capable of making. As for admirable qualities from a suitor's point of view, I have never gotten involved with a girl because I admired her good character. There is so much illusion involved that character never enters into it until later. In general though, aside from physical and sexual qualities, one would appreciate a bright mind, an affectionate nature, a sense of humour, an abundance of tolerance, and a dash of common sense.
Your favorite virtue?
Probably tolerance, since I have so little of it myself, although I'm always working at it.
Your favorite occupation?
Who would you have liked to be?
I've never had a desire to be anyone but myself. That doesn't mean I haven't envied attributes in others which I felt I lacked, or that I wouldn't have preferred someone else's material circumstances to my own. But if I somehow got what I wished for I'd still have to be me. If I were someone else I'd just disappear as me and couldn't enjoy anything about being someone else anyway.