Friday, May 2, 2014
Interview with Dennis E. Bolen
Dennis E. Bolen is a novelist, editor, teacher and journalist, first published in 1975 (Canadian Fiction Magazine). He holds a BA in Creative Writing from the University of Victoria (1977) and an MFA (Writing) from the University of British Columbia (1989), and taught introductory Creative Writing at UBC from 1995 to 1997.
In 1989 Mr. Bolen helped establish the international literary journal sub-TERRAIN, and served there as fiction editor for ten years. He has acted as a community editorial board member at The Vancouver Sun, sat on the boards of a literacy advocacy organization, a literary collective and a theatre company. He has written criticism, social commentary, arts advocacy and editorial opinion for numerous journals and newspapers in Canada.
Recently Mr. Bolen has branched into video production to highlight his fiction and poetic works. In addition to creating the photographic still video composition Everybody (included in Cinépoetry’s issue for Poetry International, 2013):
He also wrote the script for a trailer of his book Anticipated Results (Arsenal/Pulp, 2011):
A written and directed trailer is forthcoming (April 2013) for Dennis E. Bolen’s 2009 novel Kaspoit! (Anvil Press).
How/why did you start to write?
I was bookish from the first but by high school I seemed to have talent for nothing in particular—I failed two grades overall, three and ten—so certainly did not distinguish myself as a scholar. It was assumed among most of my teachers that I would meld into the industrial ranks operating the various forestry mills around the stupefyingly boring town within which I endured my teenage years.
But in my heart I knew I would do something special...my Grade Eleven English teacher was miraculously (for that town, for the early 1970's) a well-traveled, older ex-pat American from the eastern seaboard. She'd have us read something from a poet like Carl Sandberg (his Chicago still gives me chills) and mention sitting around an Adirondack fireplace in the 1940's listening to Sandberg himself read unpublished material. She'd been a young woman on a major literary scene! This blew my mind.
I determined I'd be worthy of such sacred instruction and, under the influence of some pharmaceuticals I weirdly came into possession of (another story, too long to tell here), set about writing. I showed the results, a couple of poems, to my cherished English teacher (Mrs. Gayne was her surname, I've forgotten her first) who found them interesting and took a heightened interest in me, at one point uttering—if I remember correctly—that with work I might become a great writer. I've been trying to come through on that ever since.
How did you become an author?
I did a BA (UVic) and MFA (UBC) in fine arts. Hammered away at manuscripts. Sent them away. Ignored the rejections. Believed in my ability. Finally got lucky meeting up with a guy (Brian Kaufman) who wanted to start up a small press (Anvil). Collaborated. Had Anvil put out my first novel—Stupid Crimes—as more or less a vanity project. Got it reviewed in the Globe & Mail (Editor's Choice, third week of June, 1992). Got an agent, then a three-book deal at Random House.
What was your first published piece?
A short story called 'The Fatality' in the Spring 1975 edition of The Canadian Fiction Magazine; later re-published in Gastank and other Stories, (Anvil 1998).
What did you do before embarking on your writing career? Was it an asset to your writing? How?
In Canada we're fortunate in that our miniscule literary market supports piteously few writers, so the 99% who don't make a living have to find some other source of income. This means that our writers have actual experience in life and work and might even know desperation and despair, fear and loathing, anger and disgust. All the wonderful character-building things that go along with trying to make a living. I was lucky in that I snagged an interesting career as a federal parole officer, so made decent money in a job that offered endless character study and demanded endless expressive writing exercise. I also worked on a Saskatchewan grain farm, lumber mill (see hometown description above), department store, government clerical office, winery, newspaper (part-time), small press publisher, teacher (UBC 1995-97), etc.
My drawing upon these experiential epochs is particularly plain, I think, in my first poetry collection, Black Liquor. The title refers to industrial chemicals, as well as other things real and representational, and the cover illustration shows how you can take a dreadful image of childhood memory and wield it to one's own devices.
What inspires you?
Good writing about real things. And serendipitous fortune. In the early 1980's my then girlfriend (whom I haven't seen in thirty years and still love!) was friends with people connected to Warren Tallman, the famous UBC literary scholar who was the earliest academic to take a serious interest in The Beats. One night at a party at his house I got to pour a glass of wine for Alan Ginsburg. We spoke generally and some about poetry. I will never forget this. When I write I feel that whatever my output the greats come along with me because of who I am and who I've known.
I began to enjoy the writing life when I got serious about poetry. For twenty-odd years I toiled at fiction, put out five novels and two collections...and was miserable and alone. Since I've been hitting any and all poetry spots I can, writing verse and reading it in public, I've met and befriended such lovely people, joined in worthwhile projects like Pandora's Collective, pitched in to help the Vancouver Writers Festival, got involved with the Canadian Authors Association, mentored other writers (as I always did) and generally felt I was contributing something worthwhile. I don't know what this means—everyone's experience is what they make of it—but I offer it as an exhibit in the overall display of my life's evidence.
Black Liquor, poems, Caitlin Press, Halfmoon Bay, 2013.
Anticipated Results, short fiction, Arsenal/Pulp, Vancouver, 2011.
Kaspoit!, novel, Anvil Press, Vancouver, 2009.
Toy Gun, novel, Anvil Press, Vancouver, 2005.
Gas Tank and Other Stories, short fiction, Anvil Press, Vancouver, 1998.
Krekshuns, novel, Random House, Toronto, 1997.
Stand In Hell, novel, Random House, Toronto, 1995.
Stupid Crimes (revised), novel, Vintage, Toronto, 1995.
Stupid Crimes, novel, Anvil Press, Vancouver, 1992.