As for Deep Too, I didn’t set out to write a book about anything in particular. In fact I didn’t set out to write a book. I started writing out some stories that happened to fall together on the subject of male washrooms – odd experiences I’ve had that were mostly funny. I used to tell some of these as anecdotes and I eventually came to want to give them some shape. When I start almost anything, I never know where it’s going; that’s one thing I love about writing. As the thing grew, it gathered ancillary material, especially e-mails re penis enlargement but also graffiti, limericks etc. After early response by good readers, it lengthened out and took a more serious turn. I hope the book now prepares for that turn, offering along its course various takes on male behaviour, some of them funny or ironic, some of them regrettable or deeply appalling.
Find out what compelled author Stan Dragland to depart from his usual—although usual in and of itself may be a poor term to describe him at all—as well as some of the highlights of writing it, and what you might want to put on your future reading list if you enjoyed it. Find out more about Deep Too on the BookThug website, or find out more about the author in his Author Profile.
What compelled you to write Deep Too? The subject matter—not to mention format and approach—seems to be quite a departure from much of your other writing.
I thought it was something of a departure myself, though that may be because I don’t keep all that I’ve written fresh in my mind. In a letter that a friend wrote in appreciation of Deep Too he surprised me by mentioning that I was exploring the same territory in my first novel, Peckertracks. That novel began as a prose sequence in the voice of a young fellow with a low mind; it grew out of that, though the main character is a male of some sensitivity as well as confusion. With that book I was not thinking either to valorize the sensitive male or put down the macho. I was trying to tell a story, one that honoured the demotic in language, including the linguistic vitality of the unleashed proto-misogynist. Given the impetus to think back, I can think of material in Journeys Through Bookland that fits. Writing about Daphne Marlatt’s poetry and fiction in The Bees of the Invisible also. And I think the sensibility of my novel The Drowned Lands is compatible with that of Deep Too.
So the subject matter is not entirely new. As for the form, there is nothing exactly like it in my other work, but I do think of Deep Too as allied in formal ways with two other non-fiction sequences: 12 Bars and Stormy Weather: Foursomes. I have the feeling that a book made of the three sequences would be pretty organic. Different but related experiments in form.
What was your favourite part about writing Deep Too?
Hm. The project jumped into focus as such when I was sent a series of strange e-mails from a concern called Megadik. The subject of penis enlargement is standard enough in e-mail spam, but these missives were couched in such strange English that I laughed my head off every time I received one. I enjoyed working up the humorous material. I liked finding a voice for this stuff – my written voice as distinct from my spoken voice.
What fiction or non-fiction texts most influenced or inspired you, leading up to or during the composition of Deep Too?
I’m not aware of anything that helped me write the book, but in it I write about or quote from movies (Sling Blade, Out of Sight) and books (George Bowering’s novel, Caprice, Loren Eiseley’s All the Strange Hours, the poetry of Jan Zwicky in Forge, my favourite Margaret Atwood book, Murder in the Dark), and so on.
As entertaining as Deep Too is, it also addresses very poignant themes and critically assesses such stereotypes as male bravado and masculinity. In fact, I’ve heard that you consider the book a feminist text—could you discuss your feminist intentions with this book?
I had no explicit feminist intentions as such, really no pre-formed intentions at all. It was only when the book was finished and I looked back at what I had that I felt able to voice the hope that it would pass muster with feminists. In fact I would regard it as a failure if it didn’t. The masculine and the feminine are on a continuum. They are not simple opposites. I like to think of ways for them to meet somewhere in the middle. In fact I am a middle.
For readers who enjoyed the tone and content of Deep Too, what books might you suggest for continued reading?
Anything by Daphne Marlatt. Listen to the songs of Ron Hynes. He often jokes in concert about having a feminine side – ha, ha, a real man like me – but his lyrics back up the assertion. I’ve just finished reading Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. First book of his I’ve picked up. It’s fantasy rooted in myth and grounded in realistic character and setting. The protagonist is a young boy, but the real power and the love in the novel is feminine. As context for writing about the poetry of Joanne Page, I’m reading her feminist columns, published in the Kingston Whig-Standard, a primer of continuingly relevant feminist thinking. This is a column carried on in the activist spirit of Bronwen Wallace, who began it. Read Joanne Page and Bronwen Wallace. Read Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. Read Anne of Green Gables, a so-called girl’s book that I loved as a boy and still love as a man. Read that early post-modernist, generically unstable novel Peter Pan for its take on gender roles, and other strongholds of stereotyping. Read anything that offers a serious take on the relationship between the sexes, but, for males especially, anything that helps unsettle or dislodge the inherited patriarchal patterns. Adrienne Rich. I could go on.
Well, I got off the track of Deep Too. The book is dedicated to Robert Kroetsch, another man who thought a lot about traditional male roles and wrote a lot about hyperbolic male foolishness. Also, his work in fiction, poetry and criticism is highly original in formal terms. I don’t know if I learned more from him or from Daphne Marlatt – not particulars, but the importance of making the sort of book I myself need, stretching form of necessity rather than accepting the standard genres that most people greet with comfortable recognition. Easy to fly under the radar when you offer something unusual, but it’s important to be oneself and no other.
I absolutely adore the cover of this book—could you discuss the significance of the image?
Me too! I wanted the first thing a reader sees to be something not only strong but poignant and reflecting something of the betweenness the book moves toward. That meant something from Dave Sheppard, a Newfoundlander who now lives in Toronto. His subjects often have an elegiac feel, melding different species in dynamic and often disturbing ways. The image on the cover of Deep Too is an androgynous human with the head of a fish. The figure is in a boat and appears to be contemplating the water, whether of a lake or an ocean. In what spirit? The title is “Safe From the Waters,” but I feel longing in that gaze. Longing would fit the fish more than the human, unless we were to invoke our ancient ocean origins. There is something very tentative, quite unbelonging, about that solitary mixed-species creature. Vulnerably naked. My heart goes out to her or him.
What is your favourite piece of writing advice, whether or not it was bestowed upon you directly?
Don’t be satisfied until you’ve pushed it as far as you can. Then find a tough but sympathetic reader to show how far you have yet to go. Then don’t be satisfied even with what she says.
What is your favourite part of being a writer?
There are many unfavourite parts. I once thought that experience would bring competence. Not so. Not without arduous work and failure after failure diminishing by degrees until the time comes to let go. But I do like writing lost, not knowing in advance where I’m going. And whatever I’m at I love to work other writing in. The first piece I wrote after hearing Ron Hynes in concert bore a reference to his music and so does just about everything I’ve written since. I’m never on my own as a writer. I have lots of company.
There will be a book out from Pedlar Press next year, now entitled The Bricoleur and His Sentences. I’m also working on a book of essays on various aspects of Newfoundland culture.
Beth Follett and I will be offering writing workshops in Chile come January. I’ve been fingered to deliver the 3rd annual Page Lecture at Queen’s University, Kingston, next October. Etcetera.
Feel free to add anything else you’d like to address.
I’d like to complain about the Harper government.