Zoe Whittall is the author of two literary novels: the Lambda award-winning Holding Still For As Long As Possible and Bottle Rocket Hearts, which was named a Globe and Mail Best Book of the Year, made the CBC Canada Reads Top Ten Essential Novels of the decade, translated into French and optioned for film. Holding Still for as Long as Possible was shortlisted for the Relit Award, and named an American Library Association Stonewall honor book. Her poetry books include The Best Ten Minutes of Your Life, The Emily Valentine Poems and Precordial Thump.
When did you first know you wanted to write books?
I read voraciously as a child, several books a week. When I was 12, my parents bought me an electronic typewriter – yes, I’m dating myself here – for Christmas and I spent the entire winter vacation writing little 20-page ‘novels’ and binding them in wallpaper samples. I lived outside of a very small town and when I told the librarian that I was moving to the city when I was 13 his response was, “Well, that’s good because you’ve read all of our books here.” I had a brief period in my late teens where I put aside the writing dream in lieu of trying to be a musician and activist, but I always came back to writing.
How does writing fit into your typical day?
I work at a day job three days a week, and write two or three days a week, with one day ‘off’. Theoretically. I tend to also write at night, on my lunch hour, any time I can fit it in. I write fiction, and I also write for TV, and freelance as a literary critic and sometimes journalist, so I have a lot of things to do on my writing days.
Do you type or write by hand?
Type. Although with poetry I tend to write my first drafts by hand.
What have you read recently that you loved?
I loved the novel Caught by Lisa Moore, and Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station, The FlameThrowers by Rachel Kushner, and Nevada by Imogen Binnie. I also read a really funny book by Dawn Dumont called No One Cries at Bingo.
What are your all-time favourites?
Sarah Schulman’s Rat Bohemia, Heroine by Gail Scott, Ben Lerner’s poetry, Jeanette Winterson’s The Passion, Douglas Coupland’s Life After God, too many others to mention.
You can either write or read for the rest of your life – but not both. Which do you choose?
Does this mean I can write but not read what I’ve written? That would be the worst. First drafts are always awful, and that would mean I’d only be able to write wretched first drafts for the rest of my days? So I suppose I would choose reading, and then I’d make someone transcribe my stories for me as I spoke them out loud. Is that cheating? I think it is.
What’s your third R?
Riding my bike.