Interviews · Writing

An H and Five Ws with Fiction Author Karl Meade, Part 1

“Writing has made me a grotesque. And I love me for it,” says Karl Meade. His words reach out from the page and smack you in the face. All the while, even with the red outline of his palm on your cheek, you’re still smiling. So I asked this writer fellow to answer some questions for me, and he did not disappoint. I’m cutting this H and Five Ws in two posts to save you the pain of laughing so hard in one sitting, you break a rib. More to come next week. That is, if I make it back successfully from a college friend’s bachelorette party in Charlotte tomorrow.

About Karl Meade. (You choose the bio you prefer. For all YOU know, they’re both true explanations of a writer’s inherent split personality.)

1) The writer has never published so much as a matchbook. Long ago, a few lines appeared in obscure, bankrupt magazines to which he had donated heavily. No one has ever said anything positive about his writing or grooming. Brace yourself for greatness.

2) The writer has published an enormous volume of stunning fiction and poetry in a numerous literary magazines in Canada, such as The Fiddlehead, Open Letter, and Dandelion, and was an editor for the ground-breaking literary magazine, Absinthe. He was an upstanding member of the Creative Writing program at the University of Calgary, and has given many public readings from his work, to rave guffaws and standing ovations. He has been long-listed for the Woody-Nooker, and the prestigious Filler Prize, both of which even his enemies concede he should’ve won. He lives in Canada with his wife, two daughters, several animals, and a large pet cemetery, to which he reads nightly. For info about his upcoming fiction release, visit his website:

An H And Five Ws with Fiction Author Karl Meade, Part 1

How did you become a writer?
By writing.

I recently read Malcolm Gladwell’s theory (in his book “Outliers”) that it takes 10,000 hours of training and practice (failure) before you can do your best work, whatever your calling, whether it be arts, sports, science, or sex. He claims all great successes, including so-called child prodigies, had this kind of preparation. I think I’m somewhere around 20,000 hours of writing now. So by that theory, I’m either very dense, or a late bloomer.

My twin dreams growing up were to play in the NHL and to date Farrah Fawcet. I probably played 20,000 hours of hockey, to no avail, and spent 50,000 hours envisioning Farrah, to no avail. I did, however, enjoy great success in my head. So I turned to writing.

Gladwell’s theory is not unlike that definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result. To do your best work, then, to aspire to do something very good, or even great, you have to be at least semi-nuts.

Here’s roughly how I put in my 20,000 hours. I didn’t start writing seriously until I graduated from university, in engineering, and joined the working world. I began with the usual failed coming-of-age novel. From this I learned I needed help, and stronger drugs. I got both. I studied Creative Writing at the University of Calgary under Fred Wah, a Governor General Award winning “language” poet with a goatee and attitude. Fred completely blew my doors off. I literally exploded with language and stories and poetry. I wrote every minute I could for several years, taking further courses and rip-your-guts-out workshops with other writers much more talented than me. I wrote immense volumes of drivel. I papered my room with rejections. Eventually, about 30 pieces of poetry and short stories appeared in litmags over the years. I also read from my work publicly every chance I got, and co-edited a literary magazine for a time.

Who is your biggest literary influence?
All over the map. I am the Zelig of literary influence. Woody Allen, for example, in an early short story No Kadish for Weinstein (from memory, so maybe mis-quoted): “He reached out for her and she moved and his hand came to rest in a bowl of sour cream.” How can you get better than that?

In my early poet – prose writing days, Michael Ondaatje, Margaret Atwood, and Carol Shields. Then in my early novel-writing phase, Doctorow and Irving, as well as Updike and Morrison.

More recently, though, Charles Portis and Michael Chabon are the two I pull off the shelf most. They have the rare ability to combine the comic and serious, often in the same paragraph or sentence. Portis has the best wry voice of anyone I’ve read, especially in Dog of the South; but also in True Grit, an under-rated page-turner with an undeserved clichéd reputation from the John Wayne film. Chabon’s Wonder Boys is magic in both print and film.

But it also depends on what I’m trying to do at the time. For pure driving prose, you can’t beat Cormac McCarthy or Garcia Marquez. For dialogue, early Roddy Doyle wins hands-down. Few writers can match him, especially in multi-person dialogue. Most writers don’t even try to write dialogue scenes with more than two or three characters. Doyle does it with ease.

Elmore Leonard and Raymond Chandler never fail a re-read: deceptively simple and clear.

Hemingway is the best cure for adverbitis.

In short: I admire writers with heart and a sense of humour.

Thanks, Karl. I’d say you have both. END Part 1. Part 2 of this interview with Karl Meade next week. Best of luck surviving your weekend. I know I’m gonna need it.

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