canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

TDR Interview: Maya Merrick

Maya Merrick is author of Sextant (Conundrum Press, 2005), the debut novel narrated by the perpetually displaced Cassy Peerson, a young woman who lives in a car on a beach in an unnamed California town and works as a mermaid at a strip club. It is only underwater that she feels at peace. According to press material: 

Although this is her first publication Merrick writes with the maturity of someone who has absorbed the classics of literature, as if Dorothy Parker had channeled William Faulkner.

(Recorded at Café Esperanza, Montreal by Mary Williamson in fall 2005. Photo by Mary Williamson. Typed by Mary Williamson.)


TDR: Do you write in a notebook first or type straight to the screen?

Maya Merrick: I grew up writing everything longhand and was always encouraged to write everything by hand. My dad is kind of an "old-school dad" and I went to an "old-school" school where we didn’t have computers or typewriters. We did everything long hand. And then when I discovered how much faster and more fluid it was to write on a computer I thought: This is Awesome!

TDR: I noticed that both your parents were at the book launch. Did you grow up in an environment that supported creativity?

MM: I grew up in Vancouver in a family of five children. Some of the chaos of Cassie and her sister’s childhood is based on the chaos of my own.

TDR: Your dad was an "old school" kind of dad?

MM: My dad is a fairly well established architect on the west coast so there were always a lot of architects and painters around the house. An architecture world surrounded me when I was a kid.

TDR: I’ve always had a silly reverence for architecture and painting, I think this is because I really don’t understand either medium.

MM: Architects are a very different breed. It's such a strange thing to do. They’re always doing these projects that are beautiful and weird.

TDR: And functional.

MM: I drew with them often and it was a supportive environment.

TDR: Maybe this is a major generalization--and apparently people who move here from Toronto make a lot of generalizations--

MM: Did someone from Montreal tell you that?

TDR: Sort of…

MM: Because that’s a generalization!

TDR: Good point. It just seems that people who grew up in spaces where creativity was supported have an easier time accepting themselves as artists.

MM: There was a long time when I had no idea what I was doing. Like, ten years. Sometimes I think my parents may have been a little too supportive. I think I could have used a bit more of a push.

TDR: Where does Cassie [Sextant’s main character] come from?

MM: Parts of her certainly come from me and people that I know…but she’s certainly not an amalgamation. Cassie is definitely her own character.

TDR: She’s a writer, (I think); there’s that wonderful line near the end of the novel: "Like I’m some fucking fiction, some fucking character in a book".

MM: Yes. She is a writer…and a character in a book.

TDR: She has her own set of languages and will often flip between slang and proper grammar, however you manage to never betray her with a word or a phrase she wouldn’t use.

MM: It can be very exhausting, dealing with these characters that are, you know "up here" (points to head) and try to be true to them and true to the work…it can be draining. This happened to me more than once --when I was working on this--I’d write something and Cassie’d be like: "No, No, I wouldn’t do that" Then I’d say "sorry! delete, delete".

TDR: There is a tendency in some Canadian literature wherein writers position the subject outside and above the place they come from, and then essentialise the inherent goodness of another place. The transposition is more abstract in Sextant, like a painting or a short story…You’re not avoiding place in this novel so much, however sometimes I feel like I could be in Vancouver’s East side, China Town, Toronto, the Plateau Montreal, Queen’s New York…

MM: I wanted to give a flavour of where I come from without being specific about it; a flavour for which side of the continent the story might take place in. Maybe the narrative takes place where it would have or could have happened for them--or someone they might have known.

TDR: Maybe this story wanted to be a little more disengaged.

MM: I wanted to give people enough so that they could tie their own experience to it or have a sense of where it is, but part of the novel is that Cassie doesn’t really know where she is all the time.

TDR: Is she a sextant? Or does she desperately need one?

MM: She has one somewhere but she doesn’t really know where it is.

But when she finds it…!

TDR: Do readers confuse you with Cassie?

MM: Many people who read the book say things like "that didn’t really happen to you did it?" My mom called me up after she’d read it and was very concerned: "I love the book, but, are you okay?!" Maybe the fictional autobiographical thing can be pulled off well, but I can’t do it. I always wander off into more fictional realms.

TDR: That might be safer.

MM: Yeah, less lawsuits!

TDR: I get the sense that this is not the last time readers will be hearing from Cassie.

MM: I have a feeling she is going to pop up here and there and I know she is going to be referenced in something else.

TDR: I really like the art in Sextant.

MM: The art is by my boyfriend, Lyle.

TDR: I love the bike.

MM: I had one that was fire engine red when I was a kid. I was really sad when I out grew it.

TDR: I had one just like this one too. It was baby blue with a big black Easy Rider banana seat. I still have it. I didn’t really grow much after age 12…

MM: So you can still ride the bike?

TDR: Sort of.

Mary Williamson is a Montreal-based writer, editor and visual artist whose work has appeared in Kick it Over, Broken Pencil, Eye Weekly, Lola, Carousel Literary Journal, Quill & Quire, AWOL Gallery, Art System, Sisboombah Gallery, and Harbourfront Centre. Her short film "Allez-y" (with Adam Thompson) was screened at the MS8 Film Festival in Montreal, Nov. 2005. 







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