The Adirondack Review: Have people been labeling your writing style
magical realism? I noticed that in the Canadian press they use "magic realism."If so, how do you feel about this? Is it accurate to label Vandal Love magic(al) realism?
D.Y. Béchard: I have been a bit uncomfortable with this label if only because it
isn't necessarily a clear one, and in my novel the fantastic has much to do
with memory and the conscious creation of story. We easily invest the past
with the significance those events hold for us in the present. Ancestors
often appear more powerful and concise in their actions and identity than we
do in the present. I don't think that magical realism as a title excludes
this notion. However, in regards to technique Vandal Love looks more to
Faulkner than to the magical realists. For instance, in the beginning, there
is a sense that we are at times seeing the Hervé family through the eyes of
the villagers, that it is the conscious creation and perpetuation of their
story that lends the narrative its magical quality. But in truth, through
the course of the novel, the giants and runts of the family encounter many
others across North America who could qualify as giants and runts. For
instance, the Chicano family in New Mexico parallels the Hervés in Gaspésie.
TAR: You've been compared to Marquez. Is that comparison justified?
DYB: I have a difficult time saying whether a comparison between my work
and that of Marquez is justified. While Marquez's writing has certainly
inspired me and taught me a great deal, I'm too close to my own work to make
a clear evaluation of where those influences ultimately present themselves.
In truth, there are many writers who have influenced me, and many of my
critics have been able to point out those influences. But comparisons are
often blunt, equating too directly, and I think that when a writer strays
from what some critics consider the norm or verisimilitude, their tendency
is to draw parallels with well-known writers who have done so.
TAR: You had a pretty interesting, if not colorful, childhood, replete
with extensive travel and an ex-con father, yet you maintain that you write
for the craft of writing, not for emotional or psychological release. Your
background must have given you some great material with which to fuel that
powerhouse imagination, though.
DYB: Though I had an interesting childhood insofar as it was extremely
abnormal by most people's standards, I have been hesitant to exploit it in
my writing. I wouldn't necessarily say that I don't write for emotional or
psychological release, however, because I think that a writer can tell any
story and still be telling his own story within that and exploring his
deepest concerns. I have simply chosen not to tell that precise story yet,
of my childhood. My upbringing influenced Vandal Love more in terms my family's displacement and my parents stories about their own families, who were absent. The worlds from which they came seemed immense and far more interesting than my own. Of course, I no longer think so, but story and identity often emerges from our constructed consciousness of the past, and in Vandal Love I am exploring this notion, among other things. I was also interested in themes of displacement and travel and the way North America and the U.S. in particular offer an image of success and belonging that is often unattainable and shared by few.
TAR: Have you been criticized for your stylistic choice to forgo quotation marks in Vandal Love's dialogue?
DYB: Not at all. Some critics have mentioned it, but I think many writers do this now. My own reason to do so was because I have always felt that quotation marks lend an air of factuality to what is spoken in a narrative. I wanted the voices of the characters to emerge from the rhythm of the narrative, to create a tension between the present and the past in the way that the characters struggle to find their own voices. Early in the novel very little is said, the language conveying the landscape just as the characters' identities are an expression of that landscape. However, by the end the characters own the language to a greater degree and are able to articulate their desires and struggles rather than be articulated by what is external to them. In this way the language serves them rather than contains them.
TAR: You spent eight years writing this novel, your first, and you are 31. What does it feel like to have finally finished it after having spent a full quarter of your life working on it? Euphoria? Relief? A little bit of sadness?
DYB: Mostly relief. There are many other things I want to write, and I was happy to let Vandal Love go and move on. Of course, I often think of things I should have done. But this is unavoidable. In many ways the novel took so long because I was trying to pay my bills working manual labor while writing, and this slowed the process. I was also young when I started and I had a lot to learn.
TAR: It must have come as none other than pure shock when you received a call from your agent letting you know that Vandal Love had been sold to Doubleday Canada on one chapter. How did you react?
DYB: I really can't recall what I thought. Shock, I suppose. To be honest, I'd been working on the novel so long at that point that I was starting to think that publishing it would be hopeless. I was mostly relieved. I realized I would have the time to think the novel through and rewrite the sections that didn't work. In fact, Vandal Love came out a year later than it was supposed to because, finally having money to write it the way I wanted to, I didn't want to rush it. But when my agent had called and told me that Doubleday Canada had made a preemptive offer two hours after having received the first twenty pages by email, I was mostly happy that I wouldn't have to work other jobs anymore. Making a living as a writer seemed like a possibility for the first time. That in itself was pretty thrilling.
TAR: I ask almost everyone I interview this question, not only because it has been a debate for so long, but because so many of The Adirondack Review's readers are interested in the subject of MFA programs. What are your thoughts on them, as well as writing workshops and conferences in general?
That is a tricky subject. I attended a handful of writing conferences, and from some I learned almost nothing and from others a great deal. But I dropped out of an MFA program, feeling that there was too much emphasis on manageability. While MFA programs do provide time and support and sometimes funding to write, I think that it is incredibly valuable for a writer to have to win his audience and make his own mistakes. Of course, during my time away from the university setting, I referred back to what my teachers had said and I think I internalized it and was able to find my own way of understanding all that. I believe it was Carver who said something about the ease with which people who have had a good education play down its importance. However, more specifically, in workshops, writers have a guaranteed audience, and I found that it was important for me not to. Alone, working manual labor, I spent a lot of time thinking about what would engage my readers and make them want to enter my world.
TAR: Are you already at work on your next novel? Do you foresee taking eight years to write this one?
DYB: I have already started and no, I think it will take much less than eight years. Four maximum. Two if all goes well.
TAR: Who are some of your most important literary influences?
DYB: I am often more influenced by one book by a writer than by all of them. The authors who most influenced me most profoundly were of course the ones I read when I was young and hungry to learn. Most of the titles will therefore seem rather obvious, though they were not to me years ago, as a teenager from a poor and relatively uneducated background. That said, a tentative list of authors, with titles, would be as follows:
Faulkner: Absalom, Absalom! Sound and the Fury. As I Lay Dying. Light
Delillo: White Noise.
Marquez: A Hundred Years of Solitude. Love and Other Demons.
McCarthy: Blood Meridians.
Michael Ondaatje: In the Skin of a Lion
Denis Johnson: Jesus' Son.
Toni Morrison: Sula.
Flannery O'Connor: A Good Man is Hard to Find
Saul Bellow: Herzog. Humbolt's Gift
TAR: Did you do a lot of research for the settings of Vandal Love?
I did do a great deal of research. The settings were all familiar to me to a certain degree, though in a few cases I had to go and get to know an area better. But I've traveled a great deal and for the most part the places I have written about are places where I have lived or spent a substantial amount of time.
TAR: How has the press received the book in Canada so far?
DYB: The response has been largely positive. It has been reviewed by almost every paper in Canada. A few people have taken issue with the book as a whole, its approach and vision, but I'd rather a strong response of this sort than indifference or tepid approval. So far nothing said about it has been tepid.
TAR: Any plans for a film option of the book? Would you object to that because of literary concerns (how much of Vandal's literary style might get lost in a film?), or do you think Vandal Love is the perfect kind of book to be made into a film: exciting locations, characters, etc.?
DYB: I don't think Vandal Love is a book that would adapt well to film. Too many characters and different narratives. But films have been made out of stranger material, so who am I to say? However, it won't be anytime soon that I'll be thinking about how to spend that money.
TAR: There has been some talk in the Canadian press of your — let's put this subtly — "photogenic" quality. I quote The National Post: "Count the illiterate, goggle-eyed girls at heartthrob D.Y. Bechard's Harbourfront reading in Toronto today" (March 1, 2006). Do you fear this reputation of "literary hotness" (once again, The National Post) will tarnish your image as a serious writer, or do you get amusement out of it, or both -- or neither?
DYB: I was pretty shocked and vaguely annoyed when this started. The National Post claimed that my press kit mentioned my looks, but in fact my Canadian agent took an e-mail someone wrote and forwarded it to my publicist who put it in the hands of a reporter. Given that my novel isn't very commercial, I think the focus is misplaced. But, in truth, I don't take this sort of stuff too seriously. I'll be old and perhaps dead before we'll all know the real value, if there is any, of my contributions, and as far as newspapers are concerned, thousands of new exaggerated articles on topics of far greater public interest appear every day. I don't think discussions about my looks make much of difference, positive or negative.
TAR: When is the book due out in the States?
DYB: So far I don't know. World French rights have sold, but my agent wants to let the novel gain momentum in Canada before she approaches US publishers again. This isn't a very good time for fiction or first novels, especially not those with a lot of what publishers will sometimes call Canadian content. I'm not too worried about it. The book can be ordered through Amazon Canada, so people who want to read it can. I have many other projects and I'm sure that my writing will eventually find its way into the US.