Sitting Down with Ron Charach: Part Two

A guest post by Luka Pajkovic

Ron Charach is a practicing psychiatrist and author based in Toronto, Ontario. He writes poetry, with ten published collections, and is a Canadian letter-writer, with his work often published in The Toronto Star, The National Post, and The Globe and Mail, as well as American venues such as The New Yorker, The New York Times, and The Atlantic.

I recently had the chance to sit down and talk with Ron about his first novel, cabana the big, which was published through Tightrope Books last year.

You can read the first part of our discussion here.

LUKA: Was there any specific inspiration that led you to cabana the big?

RON: I’ve always been fascinated by just how easily power gets abused and how easily it can get used to do the most awful things. I’m also interested in this whole notion of being co-opted, why do we ride with the eight? There are many reasons, and they’re explored in this book.

But it is hard to know exactly what got you started.

I was also curious about the stylistic choices in cabana, notably dropping quotations around dialogue. What led you to these decisions?

I like to keep the reader off-balance a little bit, and dropping quotation marks always manages to do that, it’s always a little more challenging to read. I don’t like everything to be cut and dry, because sometimes it’s not really clear who said what. I try not to make it impossible, but cabana is a challenging read, it’s a literary book. cabana seems like it’s having lots of fun, and not taking things seriously, but it is.

cabana is also described as a cautionary tale, is there something specific it’s warning us about, or strictly the gun obsession?

A move towards gun obsession is really a move towards masculinity obsession, obsession with maleness, and determination to use it to dominate the world and rape it of all its beauty and resources. And not caring about the consequences.

In big ned’s dream about the young girl, he is fully made of metal, then he becomes flesh again except for his dick, which stays metal. I saw this as being his gun; they are literally one and the same for him.

And is that crude? I don’t think so, take Kim Jong Un, he’s a porn addict, and his biggest joy is having those missiles, long phallic things with so much power, paraded by. He could majorly fuck up the world, and so can Trump.

What I’m saying with cabana is let’s drop the gloves, this man they’ve elected is a crude man, so it’s time to get crude. It’s time to realize that unless people stand up to him all the time, constantly, he’s going to drag everyone down to his level.

Do you have any advice for any budding poets or fiction writers?

I would say develop an ear for dialogue, listen to people talk. I would say have a day job. I believe it becomes a self-contained little world if all you’re doing is talking to the same students who are reading the same stuff.

The other thing is, recognize that if you come up with something totally new, people are going to revile it. So don’t worry about it. It may even mean you’re onto something.

 

You can find cabana the big here.

Posted in guestposts, News |

Sitting Down with Ron Charach: The Story of cabana the big

A guest post by Luka Pajkovic

Ron Charach is a practicing psychiatrist and author based in Toronto, Ontario. He writes  poetry, with ten published collections, and is a Canadian letter-writer, with his work often published in The Toronto Star, The National Post, and The Globe and Mail, as well as American venues such as The New Yorker, The New York Times, and The Atlantic.

I recently had the chance to sit down and talk with Ron about his first novel, cabana the big, which was published through Tightrope Books last year.

RON: cabana the big is a dystopic, post-nuclear novel. Billionaire harold galloway sets up his little world in an ecosphere, and he sets it up like a grade B western. Of course, the novel predicts Trump coming to power, which is kind of nice.

LUKA: That’s interesting. It’s your first novel too, right?

It’s my first novel; but I’ve actually been writing prose as long as I’ve been writing poetry.

I’m also one of Canada’s main letter-writers. My letters largely comment on gun control, and of course, cabana is an outrageous gun book. They love guns in this book, galloway loves having the big eight, his ‘one-better’ version of the magnificent seven; he loves all that kind of stuff. It keeps him alive, it keeps him hopping; he’s the kind of guy who needs a fight in order to feel real, just like Trump does.

Yeah, this story seems like a dream for the gun-obsessed, the environment is built around carrying guns; and everyone sees guns as part of a person’s identity. I noticed a lot of it felt related to compensation and ‘dick-measuring.’

Absolutely, cabana is a very genital book, and Trump is a very genital president. He’s deeply misogynistic, but also deeply homoerotic. When Trump was running against the other Republican candidates he was just grabbing at their nuts. He was criticizing their manhood left, right, and center, and they didn’t know what to do. No one had ever done that. No one had behaved in public like that.

Very crude.

And galloway is a very deceptive, crude man in his own way. But what intrigued me about writing cabana was henry morgan. He used to be Dr. Henry Morganstern, but now he rides with the big eight. His psychology is intriguing because he went from being a doctor and poet, to riding with the eight. And really, we are all riding with the eight; all of us are colluding with the powers that be, which are moving in a fascist direction.

I noticed that idea does come up in the story; at a town hall meeting henry basically accuses all the townspeople of wanting to be a part of the eight.

That’s right, and it’s like these people who love Trump. They love the brash power he has to do whatever the hell he wants. It’s the American outlaw tradition, adulation of the outlaw.

Being a psychiatrist, I imagine that also has an influence on how you write.

It does, I spend my whole day listening to people talk. I know how people talk. Sometimes I’ll read in other books people talking, and I know nobody talks like that. I have an ear for the colloquial, an ear for dialects and accents. I love accents.

I also have a knowledge of psychodynamics, so hopefully what happens between my characters is recognizable to people. I hope they understand why my characters act this way.

I imagine writing characters is pretty interesting when you have so much insight into how real people think and behave.

Characters are based on real people, but you always put some of yourself into every character. I’m a bit like everyone in cabana, because I wrote it, I chose how to set everything up. I like to think I have empathy with my characters, that I understand them and their insecurities.

Like galloway being jealous of the bulge in henry morgan’s pants.

I hope people get a real hoot out of this book; I think it’s hilarious. But you have to be able to get into it.

Get into that bit of crudeness that’s part of the world.

And part of everyone’s unconscious. It’s going on in all our minds. I started writing cabana when I was eighteen or nineteen, that’s why it’s so raw and sexual. As a psychiatrist, I didn’t see the need to censor any of that, because that’s what our unconscious is all about. Cognitive psychologists have lined up with the psychoanalysts, and they say most of what people do is done for emotional reasons. They agree there is such a thing as the unconscious mind.

And that’s what everyone is saying about Trump, his reasons are emotional, and based on his desire to be the best and most powerful.

Definitely. Trump lined up very quickly with the NRA, and he’s refused to criticize various paramilitary groups. He’s going where the power is. It’s very disturbing. People are saying he’s looking for a war; he needs a war, to draw attention away from his other failures.

You can find cabana the big here.

Part two of this interview is here.

Posted in guestposts, News |

Catching Up with Trillium Book Award Finalist Danila Botha

Cover photo by Jowita Bydlowska

A guest post by Kathleen Anderson

The short fiction collection, For All the Men (and Some of the Women) I’ve Known, by Danila Botha is a finalist for the Trillium Book Award 2017, and I had the chance to chat with Danila about her nomination and her love of short storytelling. She was overjoyed when she learned that she was a finalist for the award, comparing the nomination to getting an incredible and unexpected present. “It’s wonderful for the book to be recognized like that, and it’s wonderful to be in the company of such incredible writers,” she said. “It’s an honour and I’m so thrilled.”

Our conversation about short stories sent Danila’s mind reeling with the many collections she’s read, as well as the long list of reasons that she loves the medium. “I really enjoy the economy of the form,” she said. “Every word and every sentence has to be quite meaningful. You sometimes have two or three sentences to tell a backstory, and I really like the challenge of that.”

The stories that make up For All the Men (and Some of the Women) I’ve Known, Danila’s second short fiction book, explore the complexity of love and relationships. Though there is connectivity between a few stories, each one holds the reader in a moment. We peer into the characters’ lives as they experience joy or confusion or heartbreak, and their emotions are real. The ability to pinpoint snapshots in time and draw the reader into individual moments of emotion makes short stories unique from longer fiction. “You can leave the reader in a place where they continue to wonder what happened to the character long afterward,” Danila said.

I asked Danila what writerly advice she would give if she could speak to her younger self. She had a long list: she’d tell herself to read a lot, remind herself to persevere through frustration and the many drafts that aren’t quite right, and assure herself that her work will be greeted by an incredibly warm and supportive community.

One of her key pieces of advice was about cultivating her own individuality as a writer and having confidence in her uniqueness. She said, “The things that are different about us, which can be scary because we love other people’s work for completely different reasons, are sometimes the things that are the most interesting about our work and the things that we should explore.” While she is captivated by the work of many other authors (for example, Etgar Keret’s ability to be simultaneously emotionally impactful and incredibly succinct, and Heather O’Neill’s “magical” metaphors), she insisted on the value of trusting her own instincts as a writer.

The Trillium Book Award nomination is an indication that her instinct has led her right. The book went through a long process to reach this point of celebration: from its initial inspiration that came from reading love-and-heartbreak-laden books, poems, and stories, such as Lynn Crosbie’s Liar; through her research process, where she spoke to people about their relationships; and through the writing process, sometimes frustrating, sometimes emotion-filled, but always underpinned with “an element of pure pleasure,” Danila said.

Now that the book has landed in the hands, eyes, and minds of its audience, Danila is effusively grateful for the encouraging and thoughtful response it has received. “You always feel a little bit vulnerable when something comes out, whatever it is,” she said, “especially when it’s emotional in nature. But people have been absolutely kind and supportive.”

You can find For All the Men (and Some of the Women) I’ve Known here.

Posted in guestposts, News | Tagged , , |

“Writers on Rights” Poetry Event: A First-Timer’s Impression #2

A special guest post about the May 14 “Meet Me in the Aga Khan Museum” event by Luka Pajkovic

“Meet Me at the Aga Khan/Writers on Rights” was my first time at a poetry reading, I went in not knowing what to expect, and I’m happy to say I was blown away. I had never really considered poetry readings before, I tend to read poems myself and leave it at that. But the poets I saw on the fourteenth read their works so passionately and with so much intensity that their words took on power and life that I don’t think I have ever seen captured on the page.

Vivek Shraya’s performance, where she sang lyrics from a range of black female artists, was incredible, and turned the reading into a concert. It was an experience that couldn’t be matched by just reading the poem. Hearing Vivek’s piece, as well as all the other poems, made me think about everything that is added to a poem when you hear someone read it. Especially if they read it with true feeling, like all the speakers at Sunday’s event seemed to do. Through their reading, every poem was filled with the emotions of its author. I think this carried over to the audience, and it influenced the way the poems were understood. I know it was like that for me at least.

Considering the heavy subject matter, human rights, and some recent events, things got pretty intense during more than a few readings. The audience even had to be reminded to breathe. Listening to these poets reminded me of the power that poetry can have, and how moving it can be; the tension and energy in the theatre was enough evidence to convince me.

The Aga Khan is a beautiful museum, and its auditorium made the perfect venue for such a powerful display of art and language. It was an amazing event, and well worth it when the only price of admission was being inside on a sunny day.

 

Posted in guestposts, News |

“Writers on Rights” Poetry Event: A First-Timer’s Impression #1

A special guest post about the May 14 “Meet Me in the Aga Khan Museum” event by Kathleen Anderson

The closest thing to a poetry event I’d ever been to was a small reading crammed into the corner of a library. I was excited to experience something more elaborate and hear from people whose work has and continues to make an impact, exploring different facets of human experience.

The event took place on a sunny afternoon inside the stunning Aga Khan Museum, and Amnesty International was present to provide information about human rights issues.

A poetry event on the topic of human rights demands seriousness, of course, but I wondered just how charged the environment would be. There were certainly intense and emotion-filled moments, but there were also jokes and smiles. The blending of these different emotions, for me, made the event even more valuable, a real expression of human experience.

I liked the effect of hearing different readers speak one after another because it revealed similarities and differences in the way people express their experiences creatively. The writers all talked about topics connected to human rights, but the poetry they chose to read was so interestingly varied: the type of poem, the content, the context (personal and political), and even the verbal expression.

The vocal element of the event really struck me. Hearing poetry spoken aloud is such a different experience than reading the off a page. I could hear the passion, the anger, the sadness. The words were brought to life.

For me, the most rewarding part of the event was that I couldn’t just sit in the audience and passively listen. The poems and the authors’ commentary on the link between art and activism made me think as I heard it. Then I spent my drive home turning the words and ideas over in my head. It’s fascinating to find an experience that doesn’t end when you leave the building.

 

Posted in guestposts, News | Tagged , , |