Alex Custodio in Conversation with Guillaume Morissette

Paths to Crippling Anxiety

Excerpted from Guillaume Morissette, Little Brother Magazine, Issue 2.

Alex Custodio in Conversation with Guillaume Morissette

Alex Custodio: On October 8th, you’ll be reading at the first event in our new Soliloquies Reads reading series. How do you feel about coming back to a journal you were published in nearly half a decade ago?

Guillaume Morissette: It’s good, and a little weird. In many ways, I feel like I am still learning how to transition from “being a student” to “being a professional.” I’ve done a few class talks at Concordia now, and it always seems odd to me to be on the other side, to be standing where a teacher would normally be standing. Do people take me seriously now? Is that what’s happening?

At the same time, I really enjoy working with younger writers, so I try to focus on that aspect. For Soliloquies Reads, I think I am looking forward to seeing writers I am not familiar with perform.

AC: Earlier this year, your novel New Tab was a finalist for the First Novel Award. Can you tell us a bit about what that experience was like?

GM: I kind of want to say “fucking insane.” Is that okay? Can I say “fucking insane?” I am saying it. For the Amazon award, I was flown to Toronto & they made me stay at the Four Seasons, which is good except I don’t do well with luxury, like I tend to have impostor syndrome. My hotel room felt to me like it had been imported from the year 2146 or something. The gala itself took place in this fancy-ass ballroom (can I say “fancy-ass?”). I ended up reading to a roomful of Toronto writers, publishers, journalists, and industry people, all conveniently assembled in one place to listen to me and the other finalists.

As a writer, I am used to struggling with money and relying on grants and freelance work and occasional dog-sitting gigs to survive, so being kidnapped from my life and thrown into a night of pretending to be prosperous definitely felt surreal. On top of that, I also felt a little apprehensive about taking money from Amazon, like it seemed depressing to me to attend a gala knowing that things like aggressive price-cutting and bad working conditions for warehouse workers had paid for it.

Side anecdote: at the Amazon thing, I met a person who told me they had read to Alan Shepard, Concordia’s president, the section of New Tab in which the protagonist shit-talks Concordia’s website. That seemed really funny to me.

AC: You have both a Tumblr and a Twitter on which you post fairly frequently. Does the ability to easily communicate with fans and other writers enrich your experience of writing?

GM: Social media shapes my writing in the sense that I think my work is “aware” that it’s going to exist on the internet in some form. Online, one good quote from a book can sometimes proliferate in really interesting ways, providing an entry point into your work for an audience who might not have been exposed to it otherwise. When I am working on a long novel thing, I think I consciously or unconsciously try to come up with little sentences here and there that a reader could maybe choose to share on social media, sentences that seem witty or funny or catchy and could make sense out of context.

In general, I also want, I think, my writing to appear approachable and deceptively simple at first, instead of academic or pretentious. I remember reading something about Matsuo Basho, about how he wanted his haikus to appear “light,” almost as if children had written them. I feel like my writing philosophy is somewhat similar, though my apathy towards literary pretension is probably something I got from social media.

AC: In addition to your own writing, you also co-edit Metatron, a Montreal-based independent publisher. Your upcoming Fall catalog features three first time authors from Toronto, Montreal, and Berlin. What has the process of expanding your network from Montreal to Toronto and overseas been like?

GM: Metatron is a small press specialized in contemporary literature that publishes books and booklets by new or rising authors, many of whom are based in Montreal. We started in late 2013, with a small grant from Jeunes Volontaires. At the time, it seemed like a lot of writers around us weren’t being published, or had to go outside of Montreal to find a publishing house. Since then, Metatron has grown, though we’re still very much building things and figuring it out as we go, one step at a time. Earlier this year, we put together the inaugural Metatron Prize, a writing competition in which the winner (Sofia Banzhaf, a writer, filmmaker, and actress who lives in Toronto) won $150 and a publishing deal with Metatron.

While we’ve started working with writers from all over, it’s still important to us to publish young, emerging, Montreal-based writers. As part of the Fall catalog, we’re publishing a booklet of short stories by Fawn Parker, who was born in Toronto, lives in Montreal, and studies Creative Writing at Concordia. We also want to continue organizing events, like readings and workshops for Montreal writers, hopefully with a mix of local talent and writers from outside of the city.

If you’re a Montreal-based writer and we don’t know you, come say "hi" at one of our events, or check out Metatron’s blog. Also, the Metatron Prize will be back early next year, if you have a manuscript you’ve been working on.

AC: Is there any advice you would like to give to upcoming writers?

GM: Enjoy your problems, be weird, spend all your time alone, talk to yourself while walking down the street, don’t feel like you need to have an MFA, appreciate the imperfect.

AC: Lastly, can you talk a little about what’s coming up next for you?

GM: Second novel, hopefully in 2016 or 2017.

Guillaume Morissette is the author of New Tab (Véhicule Press, 2014), a finalist for the 2015 First Novel award. He lives in Montreal, where he is the co-editor of Metatron.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

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