Don McLellan

Self Photos / Files - McLellan-mug

 

Editor in Chief Ralph Lam had the opportunity to speak with Pushcart Prize nominee Don McLellan. The Vancouver-based author has written two short story collections: In the Quiet After Slaughter and Brunch with the Jackals.

 

Check out Don McLellan's profile! 

Watch the interview here!

 

Here are extra answers provided by Mr. McLellan in response to: 

"How do you deal with hardship in writing? 

What was your biggest and most memorable piece of criticism?"

I believe my harshest critic, certainly in later years, has been myself, In the seemingly endless revision period, which can last years, I change titles, intros, and conclusions.  A word, paragraph, or scene I inserted on a Monday might be dumped on Friday when the addition sounds pretentious or inappropriate. This can go on and on. A writer whose name is lost in the fog of time said that in a morning of writing, his only accomplishment was the insertion of a comma. In the afternoon session with the same material he only managed to delete it. A writer must listen first and foremost to one’s inner voice, for that is the voice of the creator.

 

"How do you find inspiration for your stories? 

Do you like scheduling times for when you write?"

On the practical side, I tend to stalk a story for some time before sitting down at the computer.  I let the ideas and images that intrigue me marinate until I find the best way in. This can go on for a very long time. (Alice Munro, the Canadian Nobel Prize-winning short story writer, say it’s not about what you write, but how you write it.) I like to know from whose viewpoint the story is being told, and it helps to hear in my head their voice. It might be the voice of a friend, or someone I heard speaking on the train, or even a character on TV. I build my stories scene by scene. When I’ve finished a reasonably acceptable draft scene, I move on to the next, right through to the end. A story is like a house. The intro is like the front door, the conclusion is the back door. The kitchen, bathroom and bedrooms represent the action. Sometimes it’s good to walk away from writing. Recharge, let the well fill up again. As you probably know, many literary journals won’t print stories of more than 3,000 words. For some, the cutoff is 5,000 or 7,000. This can actually serve a young writer, as it forces him/her to write to length, and make every word justify being part of the story. As a journalist, where word count is dictated by available space, I was comfortable with this requirement and enjoyed the challenge. As a sub-editor, a chief sub would give you a 17-inch story about, say, the riots in Hong Kong, and tell you he needs only 7 inches. You had to turn it around in about five minutes. You’re doing this every day, year after year, so it becomes routine. There’s a sportswriter for the Globe and Mail, Canada’s national newspaper, by the name of Cathal Kelly. He’s recently published a wonderful memoir called Boy Wonders, in which he says, and I paraphrase, a good book is one where you can pick it up and shake it, and all the unnecessary words fall out. In the biz,  it’s called tight writing. I think it was an editor with Associated Press, a pal of the American poet Allen Ginsburg (Howl), who coined the  phrase “Kill all the little darlings.” It refers to a writer’s tendency to fall in love with certain words or phrases in one’s writing. Sometimes the piece is better without it.  Kill it.

As to what might have compelled me to write in the first place, I cannot definitely say. Being a reader, of course, plays a major role, but that’s true of every writer. Like all young folks your age, I was obsessively wondering how the hell I was going to support myself when school was over. This was before the factory gates opened up and forward I marched. The kid who lived behind us in the housing project became a professional baseball player, spending two years in the New York Penn League before he tore up his knee sliding into second base. My friend across the street became a professional hockey player, a real all-star locally.  He played in Europe for ten years. I played both sports with them, but unremarkably. What on earth am I to do? I received an answer when I read somewhere that 90 percent of writing entailed gazing out the window.