is the charismatic editor-in-chief of
Poetry Is Dead
magazine and the author of two works of poetry published by Talonbooks,
Davie Street Translations
Rom Com —
a book of poems deconstructing romantic comedies co-authored with frequent collaborator Dina Del Bucchia. His latest book
(Arsenal Pulp Press) is out now.
Everything Is Awful and You’re a Terrible Person
is a series of short stories about relationships, love, loss, loneliness and identity, bridged by dynamic characters and probing themes. The Vancouver Sun called it “brilliant, funny, moving, profane,” in a rave
. Zomparelli spoke with me about his new book.
Mark Abbott: Can you give me some background on Everything Is Awful and You’re a Terrible Person? What went into writing this book of short stories?
I started this book a long time ago when I was getting back into writing fiction after my first two poetry collections (one of which is co-authored with Dina Del Bucchia). I was starting to date again and going through the grief of losing my mother, so I was very tender. As I started to bring together some of the stories I had written, I noticed a few themes and let myself create sequels to stories and bring in repeating characters. I guess this was my way of dipping my toe into novel writing without having to write a novel. Once I had about 60 per cent of the book done I realized I could weave them all together, and other stories kind of emerged out of that. I was reading
The Outer Harbour
by Wayde Compton at the time and was really inspired by how he turned a short-story collection into a connected web of stories.
MA: There’s a lot of cynical wit and humour here, but also some darker themes — loneliness and depression to name a couple. How much of this is personal? Was writing the book cathartic?
With these characters I pulled in stories from friends and myself to get at a loneliness or disconnect that is sometimes felt by gay men (and people in general). I wanted to go into the murkier times of our lives when we’re not being our best, or are being “terrible” people. A lot of the stories touch on depression, grief, anxiety to get at those moments. For me, the book was cathartic to discuss grief and being closeted. It was a difficult thing to mentally wrap around, and editing a couple of these stories over and over again helped me to process. Those were the personal stories which are focused on the character “Daniel.” The other stories are pulled from tales and actions (both real and imagined) from people who would be considered “mean.” I wanted to put myself in those positions; what the person is going through to get there, or what they are avoiding. So you’ll find Internet trolls and bad dates and a literal monster in this book, who don’t necessarily see themselves as terrible. Whenever someone has done something cruel or mean, I become a bit obsessed with why, and the psychology behind it, and these stories are a bit like that.
MA: Do you view Everything Is Awful as a social critique of contemporary life, especially in the digital age? Do you think your book will appeal more to digital immigrants or digital natives?
I don’t know if it is necessarily a social critique. I wanted to lay it all on a page, and since the characters are living in modern times they deal with a lot of digital interactions. The characters are supposed to be deeply flawed, so it is easy to blame apps and such, but that could be said of any generation and advances in technology. I think the book may not appeal to digital immigrants because it’s easy to dismiss a younger generation for their obsession with their phones, but I’m also the type who will read any book, so I hope people will pick it up. I like being transported to unfamiliar territory when I read books, so that’s why I would say yes to the digital immigrants: buy it please! The typesetter and I tried our best to lay out the text messages and phone app messages in a way that is readable and not too confusing; hopefully it worked!
MA: The first story, “Ghosts Can Be Boyfriends Too,” resonated with me the most. How did this story come about? Ghosts as both metaphor and the practice of ghosting are themes that run throughout the book. Was it on purpose to start Everything Is Awful with this particular story?
I wanted to start with this story because I wanted the reader to be placed into a fantasy world right away so that, as the stories developed, they can see the subtle magic within them, and start to notice some of these characters reappearing in other stories. I wrote this story because firstly I love ghosts and ghost stories, but also because I wanted to show how past relationships can sometimes come back to haunt current ones. Also, ghosting is an interesting concept of ditching someone you’ve been dating without explanation, and I’ve done it before and had it done to me, and it’s very common. I realize that I had a certain lack of maturity and felt it easier to just disappear than to deal with the conflict, and while I’m more mature now, I can see how technology makes it easier to shut people out. You can block, delete, unfriend, etc., all with the click of a button. Throughout the stories there is always the option to disappear and some take that option, both literally and figuratively.
MA: I found Ryan the most interesting character. He seems to be some sort of composite or metaphor for the gay male community. Is he based on someone you know? What about Ryan intrigues you? Frustrates you?
Ryan is a composite of many, many people. I wanted the reader to get to know him only through dates. You see him in a couple other stories, but you really get to know him through the dates. Those dates range from a few chats on dating apps, to full one-night stands. Ryan intrigues me because he is smart and handsome and funny and actually quite kind, but he doesn’t present himself as such. He has everything going for him, but frustratingly he refuses to deal with what he wants in life. He assumes a relationship, but he doesn’t know what that looks like or which qualities he’s interested in, so his aims in his partner are a bit superficial. He also lets his anxiety disorder control his desires because he doesn’t know how to work with it. Ryan is a mix of every wonderful person I know who doesn’t know they are wonderful, and it causes them to stumble.
MA: Is everything awful? Are we terrible people? Am I a terrible, awful person? Is there a silver lining interwoven throughout these interconnected stories, and, our lives?
I think that there are awful and terrible things that happen in our lives and that happen around the world, but getting consumed with them isn’t healthy. For some, it’s not an option, the terrible things that stem from oppression may be impossible to escape. For those living in a certain level of privilege, there are ways to escape that awful feeling. In this book, I wanted to highlight the bad but always give an escape route. I wanted to show the moments before someone decided to change or escape dark feelings. I even snuck in a few happy endings! Based on this book, it may not look like it but I’m really hopeful that people can grow out of bad behaviour. I probably should have written about nicer people, but nice people aren’t that funny. That can be for my next book.
Mark Abbott is a journalist, writer and editor covering arts and culture. He lives in Vancouver.
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