Author Bruce Meyer is currently a Visiting Professor at Victoria University. He most recently published a collection of short stories, A Chronicle of Magpies (Tightrope Press, 2015).
Bruce Meyer: Magpies is in some ways my first book of short stories. I did two before this. One was a book of baseball stories that was called Goodbye Mr. Spalding, and TVO called it one of the best books of baseball stories written in Canada. The other one was a book called Flights that wasn’t properly edited and it was burned by its publisher. Ah, the entire edition was burned by its publisher.
Ben Berman Ghan: That’s awful.
Meyer: Yeah, he had a fight with me over Korean translations, and so he burned the entire edition. So Magpies is really, in many ways, my first book of short stories.
Berman Ghan: At least spiritually it seems.
Meyer: Spiritually yeah. And it’s the first one where I was consciously attempting to write short stories. I have about maybe sixty, seventy stories in total, and I put the ones together that seemed to work. I was very lucky with this book in that there’s an editor Deanna Janofsky who I worked with. I gave her a great lump of stories, like about twenty stories. And I think she set it down to like six or seven in there. Is it eight?
Berman Ghan: I think so.
Meyer: Ah, I lose track, is it- one, two, three, four, five, six, seven. Seven.
Berman Ghan: Seven stories.
Meyer: Seven and the, ah novella.
Berman Ghan: Right. I was counting the novella.
Meyer: What keeps them together is that they’re all working around is the theme of family.
Berman Ghan: Right.
Meyer: I keep coming back to the notion that family is, is in some ways the thing that shapes you and also misshapes you. Tolstoy said every happy family is unhappy in its own way. I think with family you’re looking at the dynamics between people. What are people prepared to do for each other in a family?
Berman Ghan: The forms of the families in the stories do seem to vary. A good majority of them seem to be like the nuclear of parent and child, but there are ones about relationships formed through time.
Berman Ghan: Forty-seven books. How’d it all start?
Meyer: I had a lot of false starts. I had three phantom books in the beginning that were accepted. One, an American press wanted me to sign over all the copyright to them. I said no. Another press took the book and went bankrupt. Another press burned, and took the book with it.
Berman Ghan: That’s a theme with you.
Meyer: I’ve had two more phantom books since then. A book called The Presence got left on a loading dock one winter and it got pulped in the snow. And there was the one that was burned in the garden, the book Flights. An English edition of my first book of poems ended up being burned at Manchester airport. So early on, I had a very badly accidental career. And I could not for the life of me get a book published. And now I’ve just won the MacEwen Prize, for poetry.
Berman Ghan: Yeah, congratulations.
Meyer: Well thank you. It meant a lot to me because another poet James Deal had given my manuscript to Gwendolyn MacEwen when she was a writer in residence here at the University of Toronto. She phoned me up on the last Boxing Day she was alive and said, “I just spent all Christmas Day reading your book.” And I said, “Well it’s been rejected a thousand times. A thousand presses, or close to a thousand have rejected this book, all over North America, England, and Ireland, and I even tried Australia, all over Canada.” And she said, “This deserves to be published.” And she sent it into Black Moss, and a week after she died, I got the acceptance letter from Black Moss. So the book was dedicated to her. It was hard to get started.
I think this used to be a terrible country for young writers, but it’s better now. I think the younger writers are encouraged in Canada. If they’re not, tell them to come and see me [laughs]. The whole field of Can Lit is much broader, it’s much more inclusive, and it’s much more exciting because there’s an energy. There are few countries in the world that are publishing per capita as many books as Canada’s publishing. And despite having had governments pushing back at us for a long time, I think that the publishers in this country are brave, they’re determined, they’re talented, and they serve writers in such a way that I don’t see in other countries.
This interview was condensed from its original transcript. Image courtesy of the L3 Writer’s Conference.