Interview: Adam Lindsay Honsinger

Adam Lindsay Honsinger is a writer, musician, and illustrator. He completed an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Guelph, and his debut novel Gracelessland (Enfield & Wizenty) was published in 2015.

His newest book, Somewhere North of Normal (2018), is a collection of short stories that takes the reader to a place where the less stable elements of reality bend. Many of the stories in this collection have been published in literary journals such as Descant, Prism International, and Exile Quarterly, two of which were nominated for The Journey Prize Anthology, and one was awarded a Silver at the National Magazine Award.

Jeremy Luke Hill: The publishing credits on many of the stories show that they were written over quite a span of time, some of them more than a decade ago. What criteria did you use to select the stories from across that whole period?

Adam Lindsay Honsinger: Novel writing is a marathon, and I like to keep writing when I take a break from writing, which is to say, it’s important for me to step away between drafts so that I can come back to the work with fresh eyes. Most of the stories in this collection were written either while working on my first novel Gracelessland, or while revising the novel I’m currently working on. And so the idea of a collection was born out of an accumulation of work completed over a long period of time. This book is in the end like a retrospective of the writing I have done amidst the work of novel writing. The criteria for what stories I chose to be included in the collection, was simply a matter of selecting the work I felt was the strongest. In some cases I chose stories that had previously been published in literary journals, though even some of these went through significant revisions, and in some cases I chose newer work or stories that I felt a strong emotional connection to.

JLH: The stories often have some mildly surreal element to them, and with a title like Somewhere North of Normal, this is clearly an element that you intend to foreground. What is it about this approach that allows you to tell your stories in the way you want?

ALH: The primary thing that drew me to writing fiction was the freedom or creative licence to colour outside the lines, to creatively tell stories in rich and imaginative ways. In other words, to stay within the confines of the purely rational is to limit the way a narrative unfolds. The magic and the surreal, or whatever you want to call these elements, are aspects of how I experience the world. Ultimately, I read and write fiction because I love how reality and the imagination converge to express a unique and in some cases truer articulation of a character’s experience.

JLH: The game of chess appears in several stories with various degrees of significance. What brings you back to that game so often in your stories?

ALH: There are several recurring motifs that I am aware of that appear in my writing and this has something to do with my writer brain attempting to layer a story with things that reflect aspects of a character’s particular dilemma. Like poker or checkers, the game of chess, suggests different things about the characters who play it. Chess is fundamentally a sophisticated game of strategy.  In one story the chessboard may be a contained battlefield where victory determines some weighty outcome, and in another it may represent a meeting of minds, a cerebral but friendly way of connecting. The intention then, is that the character of the game and how it plays out in a given story reveals something about the characters themselves.

JLH: Similarly, butterflies play a role in three stories, a central role in one. Is there something that draws you to butterflies as an image?

ALH: Once again, for me, butterflies are representative. They are beautiful, and fragile, and yet incredibly resilient. And most importantly they are symbols of metamorphosis, the journey of becoming, which plays out to varying degrees in many of the stories in this collection.

JLH: The first story, “Flotsam and Jetsam”, has a poet go back in time to bring a gift to one of his literary influences, which reverses the typical portrayal of contemporary writers as receiving gifts from their predecessors. How would you understand this function of writerly inheritance?

ALH: This story attempts to explore the creative process—a sort of deconstructive chronicle of a writers’ method—and in doing so, maps a journey of creative discovery that concludes with an honouring of the poet Pablo Neruda. The gift aspect of this story is not so much of a reversal as it is a response to the initial gift, a thank you that completes the circle.

JLH: One story, “Red”, interweaves two narratives about cultural appropriation: a teen boy learning a little about why his hat offends his Indigenous school mate, and a historical account of Grey Owl’s life. What would you hope the story contributes to the current conversation on this subject?

ALH: “Red” began as an intentional exploration of cultural identity. I come from a line of colonists on both my mother and father’s sides and so my relationship to what it means to be Canadian has always been something I’ve been at odds with. My intention was simply to articulate the importance of grappling with this country’s complex colonist history, and just as importantly, to consider the future—to move forward in ways that are facilitative and respectful.

JLH: The art on the cover of the book is your own, part of your ongoing work as a visual artist. You’re also a musician, having released a new album recently. How much do these various artistic pursuits inform your writing?

ALH: In my mind, writing, songwriting, and illustration are more or less genres of creative expression with different constraints and freedoms. While all three artistic pursuits satisfy in different ways, I find the work of writing fiction to be the most involved and therefore the most informative. The first story I ever published in a literary journal involved a concept that later inspired an illustration and a song. I’m contemplating a concept for a children’s book which is another example of how the writing would inform the illustrations. And this is also true with regards to the short story “Ophelia” which I illustrated for the Vocamus Press’ Offcuts series. And so I’d have to say writing fiction tends to inform the other two pursuits, more so than the other way around.

JLH: What are your current artistic projects, literary or otherwise?

ALH: My primary focus right now is on the upcoming release of this collection of stories, but I am also working on visual art for a show in the new year, I’m preparing for a featured artist spot at an upcoming open mic, and I’m working on my second novel, which I hope to complete in the next year.

Jeremy Luke Hill is the publisher at Vocamus Press, a micro-press in Guelph, Ontario. He has written a collection of poetry and short prose called Island Pieces, along with several chapbooks and broadsheets. His writing has appeared in The Bull Calf, CV2, EVENT Magazine, Free Fall, The Goose, HA&L, paperplates, Queen Mob’s Tea House, The Rusty Toque, The Town Crier, and The Windsor Review.

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