Anna Kate MacDonald chats with Michael Winter about his new book The Architects are Here.
Even for veteran writer Michael Winter, writing a book is still pretty damn hard.
“I don’t really know what I’m doing for a couple of years. I just have a hunch that I have some characters and a few scenes that I know I want in the book. And then I have to figure out a way to hook them all together.”
In his latest novel, The Architects are Here, Winter successfully finds that hook with temptress Nell Tarkington, who links the novel’s three main characters.
Winter’s narrator, Gabriel English, is a character that Winter fans have been introduced to in his previous books—One Last Good Look and This All Happened. Here, Gabriel, his childhood friend Dave Twombly, and Dave’s father all fall under Nell’s spell at different times. Their actions combined lead Gabriel and Dave on a road trip from Toronto back to their hometown of Corner Brook.
Unlike the Gabriel of his other books, this time around Winter did not put so much of himself into the character.
“All the characters are made up. [I wanted to] invent brand new characters who don’t resemble anyone,” Winter says. “Even though most of the book either happened to me or I heard stories that I wrote down and gave them to characters.”
He says the book’s dialogue is a collage of conversations overheard.
“I’m not very good at making things up. I recommend getting cheap notebooks and writing in them a lot. Don’t get those Moleskine leather bound books ‘cause you’ll have an idea and think ‘oh, it’s not good enough for the Moleskine’.”
The Architects also differs from Winter’s previous work in its inclusion of serious tragedy—including a drowning, an explosion, a collapsing billboard, and a Corner Brook-style gang battle.
These tragedies are balanced with lighter moments and strange events like a meeting between the narrator and the Prince of Wales.
“I wanted every sort of encounter to—while at the start it might be friendly enough—have a sinister potential to it,” he says, “just to sort of mirror what I thought was reality.”
Winter finds great inspiration in reading. He lists some of his favourite Canadian authors as short story authors Mary Borsky and Norman Levine. He describes Gil Adamson’s latest book as “really good,” and Darren Wershler-Henry as “a good writer, a crazy poet.” And when a case of writer’s block hits, Winter starts reading.
“I just read a paragraph of a writer that I like and I think ‘oh yeah, that’s how you get from point a to point b’. Some people don’t like to read when they are writing, but I do it all the time,” he says. “And I steal all over the place. You’ve got to.”
It also interests him to sit down and think about the choices he made in his writing. Earlier this year, before the book was released, Winter and his publisher used Facebook to get readers excited about the novel. They used the opportunity to not only provide excerpts, but to show readers the process behind writing and publishing.
“It is sort of like the extended DVD version of the movie,” he says. “I found it really interesting to analyze what I had done and why I had done it. To speak of it aloud. I enjoyed it just to see my whole process.
“I think people who don’t write are amazed sometimes at what actually happens to get a book written. The whole process of it is a mystery.”
He says his work is evolving as a writer. Writing for fifteen years has taught him a few things—including, most importantly—knowing when your writing needs work.
“When you are young, you don’t know,” he says. “When you get older and wiser you realize ‘oh this is pretty bad writing.’ You have to strike the balance between knowing how to write and recognizing how bad of a writer you are, and getting in the middle there somehow.”
Michael Winter will be reading from his latest novel, The Architects are Here on November 27th at 7:30 pm in Room A-1046 in the Arts & Administration Building Atrium at MUN. His book The Architects are Here is available now.