Eliza Robertson heralds from B.C., and has been both nominated for and won several prizes, including the Commonwealth Short Story Prize and Prism magazine's fiction contest. Her first book, Wallflowers, a collection of short stories, came out last month.
Why did you write your new book?
This question gives me too much credit because I never decided to write a book. I decided to write a story. Then I made that decision 16 more times. Then I spent a long time arranging the stories in a Scrivener file and eventually exported them into a vertical, book length document. Actually, I wrote 22 stories and cut five. I wrote them over five years at UVic and one year at the University of East Anglia. I suppose you could say I collected the book. Why? Because I love short stories. Because I have never read a novel that can be playful and grim and rambunctious and quiet and surreal and realist and spare and dense all at once.
Whose sentences are your favourite, and why?
Mark Anthony Jarman, Zsuzsi Gartner, Annabel Lyon (specifically, Oxygen), Michael Ondaatje (Coming Through Slaughter), Lydia Davis, Lorrie Moore, Beth Nugent, Raymond Carver.
I suppose I like some sentences acoustically (Jarman, Ondaatje, Lyon, Nugent), and some for their pearls of hilarity and truth (Gartner, Moore), and Carver because his sentences contain whole narratives.
Here's one that does all three: "This danish is too sweetish to finish." (Lorrie Moore, Self Help.)
What's the best advice you've ever received?
In my second-year workshop, Lorna Jackson told us to submit any story that received an A- or higher. I took that very literally and have adapted it since.
She also told us to never use the adverb "suddenly."
Which historical period do you wish you'd lived through, and why?
Once, during my M.A. year, we had this conversation over pints. Or rather, we laughed while one student, Jack, assigned everyone else decades. "So-and-so is from 1650." "What's-her-name is from the nineties." "You-know-who is from 1910." Then he turned to me with a look of clarity and revelation. "Eliza," he said. "You're from the future."
At the time I felt flattered, though I am not sure it's true. I like the optimism of the twenties, though that answer feels hackneyed since the Gatsby remake. I prefer the music and fashion of the thirties and forties, though I wouldn't want to live through the Depression, or World War Two, or B.C.'s internment of the Japanese. The late fifties, early sixties sound fun. That was a good time for rock and hair and French cinema and poetry and miniskirts. I think I would hang out there.
Would you rather be successful during your lifetime and then forgotten, or legendary after death?
I am not going to be philosophical about this. I would rather enjoy my success. What does legendary after death mean, anyway? That I'd be incorporated into the curricula for high-school students, who must hypothesize what I meant by the birds, or inexplicably recurring pain au chocolat? I'd rather spare them and make a living off my work.
What agreed-upon classic do you despise?
I have never read anything by Jane Austen, so I don't despise Pride and Prejudice, but I do think that gap on my shelf is notable. I generally dislike Victorian novels. I find them rangy and overwritten. But Wuthering Heights really shook me, so perhaps I haven't given them their due. Generally, I prefer contemporary work.
Which fictional character do you wish you'd created?
The narrator of Herta Muller's The Land of Green Plums, which follows four young dissidents in Ceausescu's Romania. I couldn't have created her, though. I think she's autobiographical. Her relationship with the other characters is murky and complex, blurring the lines between friendship and romance when you least anticipate it.
Which fictional character do you wish you were?
I would like to be one of the dry-humoured, well-meaning women in a Lorrie Moore story, though I am not sure which one. I would also like to be one of the characters at a dinner party in Lisa Moore's Open or Rebecca Lee's Bobcat. Everyone's so witty.