Lizy Mostowski in Conversation with Jeremy Hanson-Finger

Jeremy Hanson-Finger is a new contributor, his short story Black Clouds is forthcoming in Soliloquies 15.

Lizy Mostowski: Soliloquies, in the past, has been more Concordia-based and has only recently expanded to accepting submissions from all over Canada. Having done your Master’s degree at Carleton University in Ottawa, how did you first hear about us?
Jeremy Hanson-Finger: I went to high school in Victoria with Andrew Battershill, a previous Soliloquies contributor, and Peggy Hogan, a previous Soliloquies editor. We've stayed friends since.

LM: Your thesis is on “dirty bits in postmodern American novels”, what inspired your interest in American postmodern lit in particular? How do you feel that studying it has influenced your writing?
JHF: My dad mainly. He was born on Long Island and started university at Rochester in 1967, so he was in an interesting place in a really interesting time. He took a class called "Literature of the Apocalypse" or something like that, which was all Coover and Barthelme and Pynchon and all those guys. So I got really into Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Robbins and Richard Brautigan in late high school on his recommendation, and then moved on to the heavier stuff during university.
My MA thesis was on the politics of carnival imagery and terror in Pynchon's 1973 Gravity's Rainbow and David Foster Wallace's 1996 Infinite Jest – Wallace's novel being in some ways a response to what he saw as the supposed co-optation of the postmodern techniques of Pynchon's generation by mass media.
Anyway, what I got out of working on that was a really solid understanding of the various theories of transgression in art and literature. The most useful was Julia Kristeva's concept of abjection, which allowed me to contextualize a lot of the stuff I was getting at in my own writing in terms of ideas about human subjectivity and psychoanalysis. I think for a long time my writing has been about making people uncomfortable, but the academic approach at least gave me one framework for understanding what I was doing and some of the possible reasons why.

LM: Do you believe that it is important for a writer to have an academic background? Do you think that there is a strong relationship between your academics and your creativity?
JHF: I don't think it's necessary. Some of the greatest writers are great because they didn't know what writing was supposed to be from the canon. For me, I think it was a good choice, because I'm all about big ideas, and it's big ideas that get me excited to write something, not narrative. Which means that my major problem is with narrative drive, something I'm still working on. My current inspiration is Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia.

LM: What inspired you to pursue a Master’s degree?
JHF: I originally applied for a few creative writing MFA programs in the last year of my undergrad, but didn't get in anywhere, just wait-listed at UBC. I had initially planned to just work for a year and try again, but job prospects were not promising in Ottawa at that time.
Basically it was just a, "well, if the economy sucks and I can get a scholarship and a TAship so that I come out more or less even, and I can spend a year studying really interesting stuff, why not?" sort of decision, but I'm really glad I made it. I loved being a TA – I gave the filthiest lecture my prof had ever heard to his third-year American Satire and Utopia class about Gravity's Rainbow.
I did consider going on to do my PhD, but I was so burnt out by the end of the MA (and my hundred-page thesis on two 1000-page books) that I'm glad I didn't commit to going straight through.
I might go back at some point, but now I have a job as an editorial assistant with a publishing house in Toronto, which is a really fascinating and useful thing to do for money while I work on creative projects at night.

LM: Can you tell us about the collection of short stories you’re working on, entitled Airplanes and Bad Things Happening to Women?
JHF: My old roommate once pointed out that two things showed up in every single story she'd read of mine – airplanes, and bad things happening to women. So I figured I might as well embrace it. It's currently 18 stories, ranging from one sentence to a 10,000 word story and a 30,000-word novella. They all combine humour with serious topics, generally focusing on the way in which men and women relate to each other. And airplanes. I guess in that respect it's very influenced by David Foster Wallace's Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. Sort of David Lynch meets David Foster Wallace.

LM: You’re co-editor of Dragnet Mag, a new online literary journal, launched recently by yourself and Concordia graduate Andrew Battershill. What inspired the creation of Dragnet Mag? What do you hope to see for the future of the journal? Can you tell us more about it?
JHF: Andrew and I have always seen eye-to-eye on what sort of writing we like, and we realized that there were no electronic Canadian literary mags who published the kind of stuff we wanted to publish and took advantage of the unique opportunities of digital publishing. So we started Dragnet with the idea that it'd be a journal that published writing that didn't take itself too seriously, even if it dealt with serious topics, and did so in a format that made it easy for everyone to read no matter what device they used.
As a result, Dragnet can be viewed on the website in columns that fit on one screen (nobody likes reading an endless single column of text), as a print magazine layout on, and as an ebook that works on eReaders and mobile devices. We had stories from Sheila Heti, Jacob Wren, and J.R. Carpenter in the first issue, along with a bunch of new writers, and so far we have something lined up from Susan Musgrave for the new issue, which comes out July 2.
We will have a booth at The Word on the Street literature festival in Toronto in the fall, which will hopefully get a lot of people interested – we will likely be the only digital-only magazine with a booth there. Our long term plan is to approach the government for funding and to get enough web traffic to sell ads, so that we can cover our costs and pay our amazing contributors.

Jeremy Hanson-Finger attended Carleton University, where he wrote his MA thesis on dirty bits in postmodern American novels. He now lives in Toronto, where he is the co-editor of Dragnet Mag. He is currently working on a collection of short stories entitled Airplanes and Bad Things Happening to Women. Let it be known, however, that he likes women and doesn’t want bad things to happen to them.