Michael Winter & Chad Pelley

Authors Michael Winter and Chad Pelley will both be presenting/reading this Friday and Saturday at Writers at Woody Point (Bonne Bay, Newfoundland). Besides both growing up in Newfoundland and having a number of acclaimed novels/works of fictions published under their names, the two literary gurus share at least one more connection.

Early this year, Pelley wrote a piece for the National Post entitled “How Michael Winter ruined my life by making it better”. In a nutshell, it describes how in 2003, after reading Winter’s novel This All Happened, Pelley left behind his biology career (and path to med school) and began to write…and write…a creative practice he continues successfully today.

Arts East thought it would be fun to catch up with both authors to find out about their careers, what they think of each other’s craft and about their upcoming appearances at Woody Point.


Michael Winter 
Photo by Michael Helm
Q&A with Michael Winter

When do you first remember being passionate about writing?
MW: Passion—with regards to writing—only seems to happen when I see or overhear something that I want to remember. I keep a notebook and a pen on me for these moments. The rest of the writing process is anything but passionate.

How much of your real life has played a role in your works of fiction?
MW: No one has ever written a good story that is a faithful copy of a life. Having said that, I don’t make things up. The key is in making the artificial thing—the story— somehow ring true to the life you're living. And the way to do this is to focus on an emotional truth, which is something I'm very interested in trapping.

The Death of Donna Whaler (your documentary fiction novel) sounds so intriguing! What does documentary fiction mean?
MW: I decided to take ten million words from a court transcript and erase my way to a 75,000 word novel. When my editor read the manuscript, she said it sounds exactly like the way I write. The lesson is, if another writer dove into those ten million words, they'd come up with a completely different book…Fiction from a document.

Congratulations on Minister Without Portfolio, your fifth novel, coming out later this month. What is it about?
MW: The new book is about finding oneself ambushed by love while standing on ground that once contained a lot of other history and grief and conflicting love.

What do you think of Chad Pelley changing his life course  after reading your novel, This All Happened…how you “ruined [his] life by making it better”?
MW: Chad is a wonderful writer and a very generous person and this makes me laugh that I'd cause him such conniptions and heartache. I understand the lure of art and the desire to articulate one's true feelings about the planet and another person. Chad does this very well.

What are you looking forward to at the Writers for at Woody Point festival?
MW: I've been to Woody Point before. As a child we drove there to get fish from the wharf. We'd drive there and spend one hour at the wharf and then drive back to Corner Brook the same day. It's wonderful to come and spend a few days here and my partner, Christine Pountney, will be reading at Woody Point too and so I'm looking forward to our son, who is five, seeing for the first time his parents in action. Wow, my parents actually work!

What are you up to these days—writing and otherwise?
MW: I've been cutting panels of polyisocyanurate and insulating a house—I mention the word polyisocyanurate just in case the poet Don McKay, who will be at the festival, reads this. I've been drinking a lot of rum punch and playing Phase 10, which is a card game you can buy at the cash register of many box stores. I'm reading a book by Ben Lerner and I'm writing small things about the First World War.


Chad Pelley
Q&A with Chad Pelley

Before reading Michael Winter's This All Happened, had you done any creative writing at all?
CP: I’ve always written lyrics for songs, but, I’d never written a word of fiction. Writing fiction simply wasn’t an aspiration. I knew nothing of the industry or the draw of writing. But there was something about Michael’s novel that resonated with where I was in my own life—going through a breakup, questioning my career choice, the city I lived it, etc—and my reaction to his novel was a real revelation about what a novel can do, in the hands of the right reader.  I finished his book, and started writing my own, and now there’s nothing that gives my life more meaning than writing fiction. Everything I write is like a conversation with myself about life/love/the world, wrapped up in a story.

How about other forms of artistic expression (like your music and photography)?
CP: Music was my first foray into any of the creative arts. I’ve been writing songs since junior high, and my mother used to have to sign permission slips for me to play underage in bars. I fell in love with photography about ten years ago, during a solo road trip across Newfoundland after a break-up. I started at one end of the island, and stopped into hundreds of communities taking photos during the day and writing my first novel at night. I came back with thousands of photos and found myself in love with photography—something my father and grandfather also got into later in life.  It’s a great way to earn a few grand a year. The thing with a matted photo in a tourist shop is that it never gets to be Old News the way a novel does, a year after it’s published.

What do you love most about your writing career?
CP: Part of the reason I started writing was a personal conviction that I ought to enjoy the thing I spend most of my time doing. I love writing, so if I devote most of my life to writing, I’ll love life? Most people can glean satisfaction for their day job, and others do not need to glean satisfaction from how they spend their week, but personally, I feel like if I was a doctor or cab driver or plumber, and I stopped doing the work one day, someone else could just swoop in and do it. I’d be replaceable. But the books I write: they’re all mine and wouldn’t exist without me. I created something that didn’t exist before. There is a profound sense of accomplishment in that.

Are you still fascinated by the biology field?
CP: Absolutely. And knowing how the world works has enriched my life quite a bit. It’s hard to explain how, but, as an example, I was hiking along the coast with a friend last weekend, and I knew why the diving birds had white bellies (camouflage, so the fish wouldn’t see them coming). The world is a little more amazing when you know how amazing what you’re seeing is. Everything about every bird exists for a reason: their colour, the shape of their beak, etc. And I guess, on a grander scale, once you’re aware we’re all just some big accident of evolution, and there is no meaning to life, you can relax and not take life so seriously. I’m partially joking, of course, but, that has let me focus more on doing the things I want to do, like writing, and worry less about a more stable, secure career.

Has Four Letter Words been released yet? Is it a collection of short stories? Is there an interconnected theme?
CP: Four Letter Words will be my third book of fiction, and yes, it’s a book of short fiction that I think is the best book I’ve written so far. It’s written, but the industry is so slow I figure it won’t be out for another year or two. The stories in Four-letter Words feature a cast of sad saps longing for something they’ll never have. Funny, sad, or funny-sad, the beautifully broken characters in this collection are all haunted by one four-letter word or another: love, hate, lust, or loss, i.e, the emotions that unite, and divide us all.

What inspired you to start Salty Ink and what is most fulfilling about running the site?
CP: I felt like traditional media coverage of books was scant, focussed almost exclusively on the Big Buzzed books of the year or books published by Random House and its affiliates (and therefore missing so many gems), and I personally feel dry reviews aren’t the most exciting way to promote and talk about Canadian fiction. So I started a casual blog, that talks about books in a different way, and it’s quite surprising how well Salty Ink has caught on. I haven’t had to buy a book in years, so the free books is enough pay, but, I do it because I know how much heart and time go into a novel, so I am happy to help spread the word about fiction and poetry I enjoy. I’ve certainly gotten to know some great people through running the site.

What are you working on these days?
CP: A new novel tentatively called Cold White Wind. There’s a lot going on, so it’s hard to pitch, but essentially a man’s two-year-old son appears to have been kidnapped during a snowstorm in a small Newfoundland community. The storm lasts for weeks, and the community turns on each other. So it’s partially a mystery (the kidnapping), partially a new twist on the apocalypse story (the storm that may or may not end), and mainly about the two main characters—their divorce and relationship and the things they’ve gone through before the storm.

Have you ever been able to meet Michael Winter and talk about the role he's played?
CP: Well, almost every Newfoundland author knows every Newfoundland author. Just the way it goes here. Plus, I’ve written quite a few articles about Michael Winter’s contribution to both CanLit and my own writing. In addition to his contribution to my writing, I also own a great ’67 Thinline Fender Telecaster on account of Michael: I got paid $800 for an article I wrote about him for a high school textbook. So, he knows all about the role he’s played in my becoming a writer and book blogger, which I have mixed feelings about. My hope is I’m not coming across as a fanatic, but simply a fellow writer who admires his work. His work singlehandedly made a writer out of me, which changed my life drastically, and the attention to detail and care he puts into every line in his books made me appreciate that plot without emotive, engaging writing is just not good enough. Also, his eclectic body of work inspires me in that a man can try it all, experiment, grow, and get away with it. Unlike most writers, you just don’t know what he’ll do next, and more impressively, he reinvigorates every genre he works in.  He’s also a great guy, and he’s answered some questions I’ve had about the industry when I first started writing.

What are you looking forward to at this year's Writers at Woody Point festival?
CP: I’m simply looking forward to being in Woody Point in general, the place is ethereal and Gros Morne National Park is probably the nicest place in the country. It’s an honour to be in the company I’m in (I’m on a panel with last year’s Giller Winner, Will Ferguson, for example), and it’s also great that a good friend of mine is there as a musical guest: Bryan Power of Pilot to Bombardier. You should all go download Pilot to Bombardier’s album and forthcoming album.


To find out when Michael Winter, Chad Pelley and others are presenting/performing at Writers at Woody Point (which runs until August 18), visit:
http://writersatwoodypoint.com