Initially I didn’t know what to say here. I feel in some ways ridiculous talking about [redacted] without letting the novel lead the conversation, because that’s what it’s meant to do. So I thought instead I would talk about my process, speaking about the construction of the novel in the most general terms, and to give a little background information, hopefully to partially inform the discussion that follows.
I’ve been working off-and-on on this project for the past four-to-five years, but I did the bulk of the work in the past year. I thought I had about two thirds of a book when I came into the program, but I think I really had, at most, one third or maybe even just twenty percent.
I spent a lot of time writing, and rewriting, and maybe an equal amount of time thinking about art and trying to feel things, letting the completed pages sort of percolate through me so that I could find answers to the problems that I needed to solve. Which I think is probably what most writers do. And although it makes use of the intellect, in my opinion writing fiction is not necessarily an intellectual process, which is why it is difficult for me to speak about it directly.
A lot of my life went into [redacted] – I don’t mean specifically, I don’t think there are any major events that are necessarily taken directly from my life. Mostly a lot of very minor, little things. More feelings than events. Some people. But I started writing the first part, Kent’s part, sometime after moving back to my hometown of C——, after seven years, more or less, of living in Toronto, three of those with my ex-wife. I didn’t fit in, and I didn’t try very hard to, either; maybe I didn’t have to. I was twenty-five, and I felt angry and alienated, even though in some ways moving back represented a kind of opportunity for me.
Something I noticed was that I felt much closer to the “idea” of high school than I had felt in a while, which is why I think it plays such a large role in this novel. High school was impossible for me to avoid for a number of reasons. Not just geography. One reason it was in my mind was that I looked around me and I saw a huge gap in the demographics – like any small town, there was hardly anyone between the ages of twenty and thirty-five, and the people who did seem in between that range acted like they were one or the other, not young adults, either old teenagers or the young middle-aged. I saw this in the way that teenagers, in particular, responded to me – like I was one of their peers, which I definitely was not. It was a jarring experience.
I had also completely forgotten how emptied and hostile it can feel in a small town, in direct contrast I think to the way that they are often represented in popular media, where they stand for a kind of “innocence” or “purity.” To me C—— felt backwards and malevolent, too aware of my presence, too eager to slot me into categories that I didn’t feel I belonged to. I realized that when I was in high school there hadn’t really been any models of the kind of person I wanted to be or of the life I wanted to live. I don’t know if I had any idea that either of those things were missing at the time, but it makes a lot of sense to me now. There was a sort of confusion hanging over everything then that I couldn’t see around.
It seemed to me that there was something vital missing, both looking back and in my new life in C——. I started writing the first pieces of what became [redacted], and a lot of that writing was angry. More angry than I think could have been sustained, especially for me (I am not an angry writer).
Some of that first impulse survives in the book, although very much tempered. Over time I realized the extent to which I was projecting my own feelings on my surroundings, even though I think many of the things I felt were true. I also realized how difficult it was to change or alter those feelings. My ex-wife and I separated, and I entered into what eventually became an abusive relationship with someone who had been in a position of authority relative to me, both of which I mention only to give context to my life then. I lived in a way that was so profoundly alone that I think it took me a while to return to myself again after I finally moved back to Toronto.
All of those experiences enriched and complicated the book. But not in a direct way. I can’t talk about that and I don’t know how I would. They gave me conditions to work through, feelings to try and parse and understand; they gave me an urgency, a desire to find answers—even though I also know that answers are often misleading or limited or false. Often or maybe always. Above all what I wanted to do was to think associatively about life and art and loneliness, and to create something that felt true, and perhaps more vital than what I had felt around me, what I was incapable of expressing in the moment, not in high school or as a frustrated adult. That’s what [redacted] is and what it eventually became: an attempt to capture that vitality without trivializing the confusion and unrest that I felt.