Kevin Connolly - poet, editor, critic
1 V. S. Naipaul has declared there are not any important writers anymore, Philip Roth has predicted the novel will become a cult activity, Peter Stothard has asked if fiction writing simply used to be better, Cullen Murphy, David Shields, Lee Seigel, and Geoff Dyer have all stated that non-fiction is superior to fiction. The list of people of letters who apparently have lost faith in literary fiction goes on and on; it is clear that an elementary questioning of the novel is not a passing cultural phase. Furthermore, the short story seems to be under siege as well: many agents and multinational publishers do not handle/publish story collections, small magazines seem perpetually underfunded, and a YouTube-ification of text and image seems to be taking short narrative in new directions.
What is your opinion? Do the novel and short story have a future? If so, what kind? And will e-technology alter the very forms of them? If so, how?
I feel sad that people are not onboard with the short story at the moment, but that has not always been the case and will change eventually. I’ve met Geoff Dyer and can more or less confidently tell you he was being cheeky. I don’t know how cocky a human has to be to believe that your work will have a lasting impact, but seriously, if Roth and Naipaul are worried, maybe it’s a dumb thing to worry about. Lady Gaga is a passing phase, the novel will be here as long as people write. As will poems and plays and short stories.
2 Are the very significant structural changes taking place in the publishing industry having an effect on novel or short story writing? If so, how? And is poetry -- the "odd kid who's adapted", being affected? Or has it got used to evolving according to its own set of rules?
Poetry is more or less exempt from this kind of discussion. Which is its strength and its problem. The good side of technology is that people can find things they normally wouldn’t otherwise. My feeling is that this helps poetry more than it hurts it, because sales of poetry books more or less mean nothing.
3 One occasionally hears calls for "less and better", including at presses specializing in poetry. Two questions here: first, do you agree there is too much poetry being published in Canada? Could we do with less?
Maybe. My real worry is that there are more very good Canadian poets publishing than ever before, and that the lousy stuff outshouts the good.
4. Second: Since publishing poetry in either English or French Canada is ipso facto not a way to make a living, should poetry presses be held to the same standards as presses which strive to be commercially successful (e.g., the Toronto based larger independents as well as the multi-nationals?)
I’m more or less sure no press in North America makes money on publishing poetry, period. Maybe in French Canada, but it would be a small amount. The idea that Anansi or M & S or Coach House are making money on their poets is nonsensical. They may make enough to support still doing it for all the right reasons, but that’s a different answer to a different question.
5. Is the cutting back of mid-lists and a general cautiousness about taking risks on new or relatively unknown writers affecting the caliber of writing that does manage to get into print?
It’s interesting you didn’t ask me if there was too much literary fiction being published in Canada, to which my answer would also be yes. Not to be bitchy, but I sort of despise terms like “mid-list,” which is a label that seems to attach itself to good writers who don’t sell. Most challenging writers don’t sell. And when they do, no one really knows why. Of course most crappy writers don’t sell either. You can see the problem.
6 Do you have an author's website? Does it help you sell books?
No. And I doubt it would, at least in my case.
7 How do you feel about running an author's website? Do you feel its a labour of love – or an annoying imposition? Or something else altogether?
It’s something else altogether. Have a look them. Narcissism at worst. Desperation, in many cases. There are exceptions, but if it’s a labour of love it’s usually one of self love. I find most of them as nauseating as Facebook and twitter.
8 Is the selection system for literary manuscripts fair? Should it be made blind?
I can’t speak for all presses, but Coach House bends over backward to find good writers and good manuscripts. Some writers do not understand where their work belongs, or that there’s a fairly stiff level of competition when each press publishes a very finite list every season. I declined several top-notch manuscripts a year because they did not fit the press, or would be held up longer than they should be by other commitments, etc. But good work always gets published; that much I know.
9 According to media reports, e-book sales now represent a significant percentage of overall sales. But small bookstores see them as more a threat to their survival than anything else, and a lot of book people remain print people. Are you enthusiastic about e-books? Do they hold the potential for a renaissance in literary publishing? Or are they over-rated and too susceptible to piracy?
I think we’re all in a wait and see model with this. I have no idea where it will go, but there are ways to protect electronic delivery from piracy. See steam and video games.
10 What do you think of literary prizes? As Jason Cowley has commented, they reduce our culture's ability to think in a critically complex fashion? Do they suggest, “this book is worth reading and all these others aren't?”
There will always be readers who are told what to read and others who read what they happen on or what interests them, the latter being the vast majority in my experience. I’m just happy people continue to read at all at this point, but I’m also not particularly worried it’s going to change all that much. It’s a pleasure to read a book, just like it is fun to go to the movies, or a ballgame or eat a good sandwich, for that matter. Literature should aspire to be a pleasurable part of everyday life, no more and no less. We’re not splitting atoms or exploring the surface of Mars after all.
11 What are you working on now that you're excited about?
I’m (slowly) working on a new bunch of poems. They’re not good enough to be excited about yet, but I’m trying. I like writing when it’s going well, and it’s getting there. Thanks for asking.