The Three Rs: Daniel Griffin

July 6, 2012 § Leave a comment

Daniel Griffin‘s short stories have appeared in numerous magazines and journals across North America, have twice been selected for the Journey Prize anthology and were collected in the 2008 edition of Coming Attractions. His new book, Stopping for Strangers (Vehicule 2011) is a collection of short stories. He is at work on a novel.

When did you first know you wanted to write books?

In school my English teachers would have voted me the least likely student to become a writer. I couldn’t spell. My hand writing was illegible, my grip on punctuation poor and understanding of grammar limited. I didn’t do well in English. I couldn’t have told you the difference between a metaphor and a simile in high school and really couldn’t define irony. I loved stories but was lost in literature. Being a writer, I mean a writer of fiction, didn’t seem within reach when I was younger.

At the same time I loved books, loved stores, and did have a desire to write and record using the written word. And that stretches way back. When I was seven or so we were living in England and I remember on a trip to Cornwall, I wanted to keep a journal of it, wanted to record events, but I wasn’t really able to do it. I couldn’t form words well, wasn’t a great reader by that point. So I asked my mother to write it for me. I think she did for a day or two. I’d tell her what to write and she wrote it out.

Do you type or write?

I write by hand for the most part. Every one of the stories in this  book I started writing long hand in a spiral notebook with lined paper. From there I typed it into the computer then printed it out, marked it up, edited the page. And it would be pretty close to illegible from all the scrawl across it as I deleted, added, edited, rewrote, tore apart, rebuilt. I then typed those changes back into the computer and printed it out again. And that goes on again and again and again ad nauseam until I’m moving commas around, which is typically 20-30 drafts later. (And then it comes out in print and you look at it and think, oh no, look at all the problems!) Once it’s out I try to read my work only at public readings or gunpoint.

What do you read while you’re writing?

I write all the time. I’m not one of those writers who waits for inspiration or a project or until certain tasks are off my plate or until the time presents itself. I write every day. Through thick and thin. I write on my birthday, I write on Christmas. And I’m also always reading. So I’m not sure what I’d read if I wasn’t writing. Probably the same thing. I suppose it’s true that I’m drawn to writers who I’d like to emulate in some way, whom I admire.

What have you read recently that you really loved?

I’m writing this from India and was just in the Delhi airport and picked out some books I’m looking forward to. People worry about what’s happening to books and literature, well, like so much, it’s booming here in India. Growing middle class, increasing literacy, more English speakers here every day and more readers of English too. While I don’t see more people reading books about business here than literature, print is alive and well here. It’s also cheap. I picked up paper back copies of Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks, Country of Men by Hisham Matar, The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty by Sebastian Barry, and Ablutions by Patrick DeWitt. All for just 1,500 INR.

Of course, that’s not fairly answering your question as I haven’t read any of them. I just finished Nancy Huston’s Fault Lines and loved that. Almost done David Mitchell’s Black Swan Green. I love everything that man writes. Good books are just such gems and such joys. But you need to read a bunch of good ones and some average ones to find a really outstanding book. The hunt, as they say, is half the pleasure.

What does your day look like while you’re writing a book? 

I write for two hours every day. On a typical weekday I’ll start early in the morning and write for an hour then. Now that my day job is more tied to work here in India, while at home I sometimes have to make early morning calls for work to my colleagues here in India. So lately I’ve been starting my day with phone calls to India and then writing after that, before going into the office.

I also write for another hour in the afternoon. I go to a cafe near the office, bring ear plugs, hide in a corner with a printed-out manuscript and scratch away at it. I’ve been going to the same cafe in Victoria for about 5 years, but I also had a regular cafe I went to in San Francisco when we lived there. The barista and I had a little arrangement after. I gave him a dollar tip and he gave me a latte for free. Then one day he was gone and turned up as a security guard at the building next door.

You can either write or read for the rest of your life – but not both. Which do you choose?

Oh, ouch. How can you ask that? The two are inseparable. I suppose I can conceive of other creative outlets, other ways to exercise my desire to make, build, create. So I could pursue those and still read. On the other hand, it would be pretty hard to be a writer without reading. You’re asking me if I’d choose to live without a brain or a heart. How does one answer?

What’s your third R, and why? 

Reading, Writing, Recycling has a nice ring to it. Suits me better than reading, writing and arithmetic, but I’d be wrong to suggest it has the same importance in my life. Reading, Writing, Wife. Or maybe Children. They are cornerstones in my life—my family.


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