Hot Lit: A Down & Dirty Interview with Jon Paul Fiorentino

As Montreal gears up for the internationally acclaimed literary festival Blue Metropolis, which begins this Wednesday, April 22, Black Heart had a chance to ask one this year’s participants a few questions. One of Canada’s bad boys of poetry, Jon Paul Fiorentino launches his first novel, Stripmalling, at the festival, though it’s already been receiving positive (and some spitefully negative) reviews. Covering a variety of themes including writing, literary crushes, and groupies, in this quick Q&A we let the man speak for himself.

Jon Paul Fiorentino (photo: Marisa Grizenko)

Jon Paul Fiorentino (photo: Marisa Grizenko)

Q: How’s the feedback on Stripmalling so far?
A: So far it’s been pretty positive. I have been somewhat surprised at the number of people who have come up to me and told me that they enjoyed the book. Right now that number is two.

Q: People these days seem obsessed with “realism” in their fiction. How much of your writing is autobiographical?
Realism and autobiography are two different components of fiction. And neither of them interest me.

Q: Most people agree that you can’t make a living as a poet. Did your decision to write a novel have anything to do with this fact?
A: My decision to write a novel was not really based on any monetary considerations. But I do plan on buying a ranch or a yacht, or a yacht with a ranch on it, with the royalties.

Q: Will you be writing more novels in the future, or will you return to poetry?
A: I have an idea about the Hartford Whalers that I want to pursue in novel form. Mentholism, my next book of poetry, is out in 2010.

Q: In the video “The Way of the Smock: The Making of Stripmalling,” you say: “Who am I, Margaret Atwood? No. I’m Jon Paul fuckin’ Fiorentino. Which is BETTER.” So I have to ask: What do you really think of Margaret Atwood?
A: Ha. I like her writing! I am especially fond of her poetry.

Q: How do you hope to connect with your audience?
A: Genitally. Or congenitally. Whichever is funnier.

Q: Do you have any groupies?
A: Obviously not.

Q: When did you first start writing, and was it to impress a girl?
A: If my mother counts as a girl, then yes. In 1975.

Q: Who are your literary crushes?
A: Gilbert Sorrentino, Oscar Wilde, Robert Kroetsch, Stevie Smith, Gertrude Stein…

Q: How do you write? Are you an “x amount of words per day” guy, or a “write when inspiration strikes” kind of person, or what? Do you ever write by hand, or are you purely a computer type of person? Do you think it makes any difference how you write?
A: I really do need to write on a daily basis when I’m in mid-project. When I am between projects, I just read a lot and watch Star Wars and cry. But when I write, I write exclusively in the bathtub, on an etch-a-sketch.

Q: Do you think the literary scene in Canada is an Old Boys club? I mean, when it comes to literary magazines, where are all the ladies?
A: I don’t think it’s an old boys club anymore. Which is great. Anita Lahey runs Arc, Jenny Penberthy runs The Capilano Review, Jeanette Lynes co-runs The Antigonish Review, Lindsay Gibb runs Broken Pencil, Laurie Fuhr runs fillingStation. And they are all awesome magazines and people.

Q: Is writing “recession-proof”? What about editing a literary magazine?
A: Writing should be. And strangely, it seems more literary books and periodicals get sold in tough times.

Q: Is it hard to switch between writing, editing and teaching hats? Do you prefer one over the others?
A: I prefer writing. But all the occupations feed each other. For instance, if I am not working on my writing, I am generally working on others’ writing. And that renews my interest in my own projects.

Q: What’s the most fun part of your job(s)?
A: The alcoholism.

Q: What advice would you give to young writers?
A: Don’t read too much Ted Hughes. Avoid people who want to turn you into an apprentice. If someone tells you that you’re not ready yet, tell them to fuck off. Be weird; be interesting.

Q: What’s the best and/or worst piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
A: Best—You should try writing a novel. Worst—You should try writing another novel.

Jon Paul Fiorentino’s novel, Stripmalling, launches at 7 PM on April 23 at the Delta Montreal (777 University).