Set in the near future in the mountainous and fielded cusp between BC and Alberta, The Plotline Bomber of Innisfree by Josh Massey is the story of Jeffery Inkster, an ex-hipster-turned elk farmer, and a community of artists and eccentrics who all become suspects in a series of pipeline bombings. But, amid the activism and counter-terrorism, there are other, more mysterious forces at play.
Terrifying, hilarious, and suspenseful, this novel offers a satirical perspective of industrial society that will at once unsettle readers and present them with a cathartic release from the exasperation they might feel living in a civilization teetering towards environmental collapse.
“Through elements of art, mythology and suspense, Massey creates a humorous yet unnerving satire about the turbulent sociopolitical and economic powers of Canada.” —Maisonneuve
“The satire and hidden messages intertwined in Massey’s words will challenge readers to question the seemingly obvious.” —This Magazine
Malcolm Sutton, BookThug’s Fiction Editor, sat down recently with Josh Massey to discuss The Plotline Bomber of Innisfree.
Malcolm Sutton: Your novel The Plotline Bomber of Innisfree imagines a “new” kind of oil pipeline under construction in the north of a province called PC Columbia, and it imagines a community that is affected by its toxic presence – it is, needless to say, topical, given the amount of press around pipelines in our post-millennial moment. What is it like to write a fiction about something that has such a serious and wide-reaching reality (i.e., that is a news story)?
Josh Massey: The real-time developments in the energy narrative made for some totally interesting creative challenges. The pipeline is never just a pipeline. Opposition and promotion of such an entity is multivalent and the aversion to a massive conduit means facing up to the inadequacy of a singular solution, a symbolic lightening rod for deterministic industrialism and unidirectional growth models. Promotion of such a thing brings the short term comfort and stability of the status quo and an ethical vantage point from which to criticize the hypocrisy of the change-promoters. I became disaffected with reported news, feeling that it numbed me with its constant onslaught of ADD information so that important issues were anesthetised and polarized worldviews predominated. So I slashed out at this model of the world with poetic prose and a lampoon-style fictional journalism that challenges these others media narratives. The fact that I was writing from inside the situation, I mean in Northwestern B.C. where $100 billion in proposed industrial projects cluttered the horizon for a time, I had to develop certain distancing mechanisms to avoid pinning my story to the headlines.
MS: You work as a journalist in rural BC. Can you tell us if and how that work has affected your writing, either in terms of prose style (and your prose comes in many forms in the novel) or content?
JM: I have partitioned my writing brain at this point, and can disassociate into those different styles—newsy, prosy, poetic. I work at protecting my poetic brain cells from my journalistic language processes. From what I can tell, the only two beneficial influences that news writing has on creative writing style is what comes from the exercise of dialogue by continually inserting quotes from multiple sources (each speaking in their unique way), and practice in conceiving the orders of events. In terms of content, I’ve been focused more on the outside world these days, whereas previously I was an inner space psychonaut of sorts. Actually, who am I kidding, I still am.
MS: Your novel is in part a satire of the present-day political landscape of Canada, as projected into the future of the 2030s. It really feels as though this novel came out of a dark and heavy decade of Conservative party reign. Yet towards the end of writing it, the NDP came into power in Alberta, and soon after it was published the Liberals had their national sweep. Do you think you would have written Plotline Bomber if the Tories had not been in power for so long?
JM: Probably not. The novel was spawned by the concurrence of an increasingly intrusive political climate with my need to come up with an idea for a long piece of creative writing. I started this book in 2011 after a challenging road trip to Edmonton during the Conservative apogee, where many things went sideways for me. Then I submitted the novel in 2012, a much shorter version of it. It’s been interesting to see the text ride the political waves and changes since then, and to expand the narrative through that time. That aspects of the text are tied to current politics worried me at one point—maybe my premise would be outdated because of the new flavour of governance, I noted pessimistically. During the recent federal elections, a golem on my shoulder whispered into my ear: don’t you secretly want Him to win, to prove your gloomy vision true? After smashing against the breakwater of recent events, and then settling back into the calmer waters, maybe the book has become a futuristic retrospective on darker times. Maybe I captured the feel of those days. And maybe people really don’t want to think about it anymore! But then again, perhaps there is still some healing to be done, demons that still need to be stared down. Things can change, says the golem… what would happen if in 2030 oil prices sky-rocketed? I hope the road is paved with moss, personally. Reading my Harper parody section on the eve of the election at my Ottawa book launch, it actually felt like a personal victory to me. Because during the whole Bill C-51 thing—when acting contrary to “national interests” now fell under the definition of terrorist threat—I felt that I was really doing something illicit, and radically funny in the writing. Now, post-election, there is a great release, like a freedom to talk about how I felt, that feeling of being a bad guy for expressing certain things on page, for … scientifically researching … different topics. But yes, you know fiction has a longer shelf life than reportage. I can give Plotline Bomber to my nieces when they are older and say: this is how it felt being an open-minded, peace-loving environmental idealist living in Canada circa 2011-2015. Felt like shit some days.
MS: Were there any fiction or non-fiction books that you were thinking about as you wrote this, or that, having finished it, you see were an influence on it?
JM: I read Saboteurs, the non-fiction book by Andrew Nikiforuk. It comes to mind, and there are some similarities between the character Jeffery Inkster and the real life Wiebo Ludwig, however they are superficial ones and I did not set out to base the character on Ludwig. News reports on The Tyee out of Vancouver, those had an influence. It’s really tough for me to narrow down literary influences because over four years of writing you are just absorbing so much; and influence is subliminal for the author, best left for the critics to figure out. There were a couple pieces of artwork that I drew inspiration from which I detail in the acknowledgements page. The discursive, multiform structure has antecedents in books like House of Leaves, The Collected Works of Billy the Kid, Hard Core Logo, Beautiful Losers, though I didn’t squeeze very far down that rabbit hole.
MS: What comes next? Are you working on another novel?
JM: I do have a novel that’s fairly well along, past the “turning back point” you might say, that I’ve been working on since 2008. It’s set in two countries, Austria and Northern BC. I am still trying to figure out if the characters should have super powers. Malcolm, should they? It’s the kind of book where parts are so disturbing they made me want to puke. But I think I am in a better place now, so I will be able to handle it without it taking such a toll on me. It’s a story about the search for a damaged person whose knowledge may hold the key to averting a universal threat.
Our thanks to Malcolm and Josh for this wonderful interview. Want more? Order your own copy of The Plotline Bomber of Innisfree here.
Josh Massey’s fiction and poetry have been published in journals in Canada, Italy, the US and the UK He is the author of the novel We Will All Be Trees (2009) and has won a Canadian Community Newspaper Award for his journalism. His literary film work has been screened at the Ottawa International Writers Festival, the Arts Wells Festival in BC and other events. Massey holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Cultural Studies from McGill University, and a Master of Arts degree in English from the University of Northern British Columbia. Originally from Ottawa, Massey currently lives in Terrace, BC. Connect with him on Twitter @Northwestism.
Malcolm Sutton is a writer, editor, and interdisciplinary artist living in Toronto. His fiction has appeared in Maisonneuve, Joyland, and Drunken Boat, and his writing on art has appeared in C Magazine and Border Crossings. He is the Founding Editor of The Coming Envelopejournal of innovative prose, and the Fiction Editor at BookThug. In addition to editing and writing, he works as a graphic designer and collaborates with artists on text- and performance-based projects. His first novel, Job Shadowing, is forthcoming from BookThug in Spring 2016. Learn more at malcolmsutton.wordpress.com/