TDR Interview: Alexandra Leggat

Alexandra Leggat studied journalism at Ryerson in Toronto. Her poetry and articles have been published in magazines across Canada and the United States. Leggat’s collection of poetry, This is me since yesterday was published in the spring 2000 by Coach House. Pull Gently, Tear Here (Insomniac Press), her first short story collection, was nominated for the Danuta Gleed First Fiction Award. Her latest collection of fiction is Meet Me In The Parking Lot (Insomniac Press, 2004). She lives in Niagara Falls, Canada.

Nathaniel G. Moore conducted this interview in May 2004 by eavesdropping.

TDR: How do you approach fiction? What devious methods do you have to come up with the blunt and well-timed constructs of your well-paced dialogue and highly inviting, situational prose?

AL: A final way of editing for me is to read a story out loud but mainly to discard of any superfluous words, if when reading out loud I stumble over a word I cut it. But I don't read it aloud to create a section or dialogue. Dialogue comes very naturally to me. I never write anything separately in the initial creation of a story. Again when editing I'll rework the parts that need it. The characters voice is established before I write what they're saying. I couldn't imagine creating the dialogue separately. It wouldn't sound as natural or be as natural. My method is a pretty organic one, I go with the flow.

TDR: In the story "Good and Happy," you really take the reader bedside to a macabre event. What inspired this piece?

AL: With regard to "Good and Happy," I wasn't aware until its completion what the hell had just happened! It actually freaked me out, scared me. The twist just happened. I lost myself for a few hours somewhere in the pit of my subconscious and every turn was a surprise to me. When I was writing it I could feel when it was reaching its conclusion and it was beginning to dawn on me how it was about to wrap up and I was quite happy with the outcome, happy and freaked-out. 

But again as with any of my stories I don't know what's going to happen but I noticed when re-reading them, especially "Aberdeen," and "Good and Happy,' that they move in circles, like a kaleidoscope I guess. And that pleases me. They are very psychological stories though, absolutely. It's the way I write, now and always. Human nature is amazing, confusing, diabolical and unpredictable. But, again if I forced the kind of thing that happens in "Good and Happy," I don't think it would be as effective. I have to let go of myself and get as far into a character's psyche as I can. I really want to capture the feeling and set the scene so the reader feels and witnesses as much as possible. Like, "welcome to my nightmare"! (email laugh)

TDR: Do you plan to follow up This is me since yesterday, your first poetry book? 

AL: I've been writing poetry since I was a kid. It's what I've always done but one day my hand kept going to the end of the page, had more to say and different ways of wanting to express it. So I evolved into prose which Pull Gently, Tear Here was the result of and then from there to longer more specific short story writing, Meet me in the parking lot, and have since finished a novel. I always wanted to write fiction but still love writing poetry.

This is me since yesterday was my first book and will always be special because I am a poet at heart. I think the fact that I have been writing poetry for so long has helped my fiction writing; the economy of words, being able to say a lot with a little. But I don't think a writer has to be one or the other. All my favourite writers, my teachers really, Samuel Beckett being the most influential, wrote everything - poetry, prose, plays and so on and so on. Right now I'm concentrating on honing the craft of fiction writing but once I've purged myself of these current projects, I look forward to harvesting a slew of poems. In fact I've already titled the next collection. And then who knows. I think I'll go the way of J.D. Salinger.

TDR: Is the motor vehicle a symbol in this collection, a character? 

AL: I see the car as a vehicle to deliver one from entrapment, it is a mode of independence and of achieving freedom. Cars are powerful, attractive, sturdy, comforting and driving for some is a thrill. I'm one of those people who loves to drive on open highways with the radio/CD player blaring, singing at the top of my lungs. The car to me is representative of a way out. You just hop in your car and go and cars are cool - bottom line, cars are cool. 

TDR: How do these stories come to you? They are, for the most part, character-lead perspectives. What is your method for approaching these brief encounters with these particular lives? 

AL: Well the stories aren't premeditated. I shape them as they're happening and become aware of what's going on as it's going on, so the initial writing of them doesn't take long. Learning what they are about and editing takes a little longer. The nature of the stories themselves creates the atmosphere. That's where my head was at the time, floating around in that atmosphere! My work will always be a portrait of people, all types of people, their psyches, their minds. That's what these stories are they are the character's perception of what's going on around them, the tricks, delusions, illusions, paranoia that their minds are creating. They are psychological, these stories, and metaphysical on many levels. 

TDR: What if, by some stretch of the imagination, this interview turned into an infomercial, and you had a table and your book was on it, maybe a blender and some other props. What if you were required suddenly to give the world a crash course, a sort of Leggat 101. What would you guarantee your readers should they invest in your product? 

AL: I wouldn't guarantee a reader anything. I just don't think about that. What I'm doing is what I do. I am very conscious of craft and creating the best work I possibly can. I go over sentence after sentence after sentence to make sure that it's right. It's like architecture to me. I wouldn't open my new house to visitors if I thought the roof might cave in. And I don't choose what I right about it just happens. And I'm grateful for that. This particular voice or voices is and are mine. It's me. I do what I do very naturally and write from my heart, from the very core of me. So I guess on my infomercial I'd say nothing and let my work speak for itself.

Nathaniel G. Moore is an ongoing infomercial.