canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

TDR Interview: Andy Brown (II)

On the heels of releasing his first novel The Mole Chronicles and continuing to run Conundrum Press in Montreal, TDR caught up with a most busy manÖ

Inteview by NGM, Fall 2006.

From the files: Andy Brown (I)


TDR: How long have you been working on The Mole Chronicles?

AB: The novel began as a series of short metatexts after the death of my aunt. I
wrote about twenty of them in my parents basement over a few days one Christmas vacation. It was intended to be a chapbook with pictures of malignant moles etc which I did for Intrepid Tourist Press. Fortunately they were not interested and the press dissolved soon after. I say fortunately because it made me think about what I was writing and how to expand it. The texts were going to go in my first book of stories I can see you being invisible but I started to realize that there was something more significant going on and that I should expand it. I took out the stuff about my aunt and focussed more on the moles. Then almost all the writing happened over a series of labour day weekends. So it took three years in one sense but nine days in another.

TDR: Where do you find time to write books whilst running Conundrum, designing
Matrix, having a family?

Again, I only write three days a year but itís amazing what you can get done with a plan. Obviously I am taking notes and running things through in my head all the time. Also there was a short stint back in Vancouver doing research that the climactic scene got written. Yes there is a climactic scene. I need to completely disassociate myself from Conundrum, family, Matrix etc in order to write. It becomes harder and harder. I may never write again.

TDR: What was it like working with Insomniac Press? (Cain as editor, etc.)

AB: Iíd known Mike OíConner for years as a fellow publisher and had respect for his hard work getting Insomniac from a small press to a mid-size press. Stephen Cain was the editor of the implosion imprint and it was he who took on The Mole Chronicles. I really just met him the once to discuss the book and from that I wrote more filler scenes to give more context to the plot. The book can seem like two books, a straight forward memoir and this rollicking eco-terrorist subterfuge unreal dreamscape. I like the mix of the two but I can understand people's confusion. After meeting with Stephen I think motives were made more clear and the transition is better. He's a very intelligent fellow. Also Insomniac got me a publicist so I feel like a real author now.

TDR: Do you like Moles?

Itís not really a question of like or dislike. Iím stuck with them. I was reading Susan Sontagís Illness As Metaphor at the same time I was starting the book and I realized that these moles could be little brown metaphors and the novel could become a connect the dots puzzle. So the plot centers around a guy and his sister getting their moles removed. When they are younger they go to the dermatologist together, then they move apart and have separate lives but are still obsessing about those moles. Each one has the potential for change and we fear change. The novel is about fear. Fear of regret. But also the idea that our society has made itself sick on the fear of the disease without having the disease itself. Itís a plague narrative.

TDR: Where did the mole motif originate?

Of course I began to play off the idea of moles so The Mole Man from The Fantastic Four comics becomes a character, there are moles in a secret society, blind rodents which become guides to the underground, and even the characterís favourite form of measurement is the mol, a unit used in chemistry. So there is a more whimsical side to it as well.

TDR: Do you think the landscape of Can-Lit is changing in the right way? Do you think you have helped this change in anyway? What are some of your favourite accomplishments?

I think people are constantly complaining about the sincerity in Canlit, making jokes about the prairie girl coming of age novels. And yes there are plenty of these novels and they get way too much attention. But prize winning books are marketed into winning those prizes, the juries are influenced by the publisher and the marketing budget. Thatís why only large presses ever get nominated for big awards. The books are not written they are a construct. But there is so much more than that.

TDR: Regardless of whether they are large or small press Canadian books, how do you think the general population detects Canadian books in their general life?

Most Canadians probably only ever read some Agatha Christies and maybe the shortlist of Canada Reads, or maybe whatever Oprah recommends. This will never change. But there are plenty of people, mostly a younger generation, which has a shorter attention span, has a sense of graphic literacy and can multitask at will. These are global citizens. They are not trapped in the marketing machine of Random House. In the same way university kids embraced Spider Man and Marvel comics in the sixties I think for this new generation anything goes. I think there has always been a minority in every population like this. But the key is that it is in the extreme minority, especially when it comes to selling, and more importantly marketing books.

TDR: And as both a writer and publisher, how do you surmise your recent output?

AB: I think The Mole Chronicles is my greatest accomplishment. But Iím also proud to be seen as in some way involved in the tradition of this countryís culture. I just never expect to win an award. I think conundrum press has tried to fill the gap between whatís being offered as "Canlit" and what people actually want to read. But so have many others. As far as my writing is concerned I think it is an extension of this. I hope it is quirky, engaging, beautiful, but also that it is a lasting piece of Canlit. Only time will tell.

Nathaniel G. Moore is TDRís features editor.







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