In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors—Krischan Stotz
Your creative nonfiction piece “The Jellyfish Tide” from Volume 23 is a philosophical lyric essay that explores simultaneities and fate. Our board members who read and voted on including it in Volume 23 said it has “strategic imagery and language, with strong questioning from the writer.” Can you tell us a little bit about the inspiration behind this essay?
It’s funny to think of it as an essay. It seemed more like an effort, which I guess essai is the French word for, to try something. And for me to try to write something, I need a voice with more confidence than my own, one which utilizes whatever details service its needs—and yes, sometimes copying those details from my life’s history, from my memory, as in “The Jellyfish Tide.” So it’s both an essay, for that reason, and a piece of fiction for the cohesion which knits it together, that I owe completely to the voice. Call it a literary alter ego.
The inspiration for this piece was my home, where I live on the Northumberland Strait, and my own life, my own dreams. It was written five years ago actually. Since then I’ve changed my approach quite a bit, I’ve begun to find ways to interact with my immediate environment—more effectively than sitting down in front of a computer can allow for. Now I walk around, outside, with my voice recorder. Go to the grocery store with my voice recorder. Go running with my voice recorder. Whatever it takes.
So the inspiration for this piece, and what has inspired me since, is immediacy.
Water is very central to this essay, from the setting where you witness the jellyfish tide, to the resonating metaphor that life and death very seamlessly flow into each other. How does place and natural settings play into your writing?
The world is the other half of it, the part I can’t control—not to say I can control my own writing, or how I write, but without the natural world I wouldn’t have anything to write about, except my states, except my change, which I could do, be like Beckett in his room—like Molloy or Malone or any of his avatars, getting down to the bare bones of what can be communicated in literature. But that’s Beckett’s playground. My playground is the natural world, the things that happen around me, my memories, the lives of my characters, affected by an occasional literary twist. At least for now.
You quote Nietzche in the epigraph—this idea of being in love with fate. Do you feel that writing is a fateful act? Or rather, what does fate mean to you and your writing practice?
In order to answer this question I’ve had to Google the definition of “fate.” It says, “a power beyond human control that is believed to determine what happens.” It’s funny how we so rarely know the full definition of the words we use. But I’ve trusted “fate” meant something like this. And is writing a fateful act? Well, I suppose if you’re a writer—one who writes—then it is. Especially if it comes to take up your whole life, as it has mine, especially since the beginning of the pandemic. I think if you write, and you search honestly in your writing, and try not to lie to yourself, it improves your conscience, sharpens it, which is a painful thing to do, but you become a better person for others and for yourself. Sure, maybe it heightens your nerves and shortens your life-span. Sometimes I think if I didn’t write I wouldn’t have to feel so guilty. So writing truthfully is a fateful act. You uncover yourself each time you do it (do it honestly I mean). And here’s the definition of honest, as I Google it: “free of deceit and untruthfulness, sincere.”
If you’re an artist you do it in your work. And perhaps as an artist you have the great privilege, which talent allows you, to live honestly, at least in your work—I think this is a quality missing in a lot of literature these days. But I’ve dedicated myself to it because I believe that it’s also a quality that’s slipping away from humanity constantly, and has been ever since we became humanity. There need to be writers and artists, who despite all odds, write honestly. I hope this answers the question.
But in summation, simplistically, what does fate mean to my writing, to my practice? It means the fulfilment of who I am at the moment of writing. It allows me to move past the strictures of my self into a new being.
A new being, you could say, I was fated to become. But only through writing do I become that being, so there’s the rub.
Because, if fate is beyond human control, then I didn’t choose to be a writer. But I choose each day to write, and that creates, perennially, and recreates who I am. So you see, also, this is why it’s hard to draw a line between fiction and non-fiction. Every writer, who writes truthfully, which I think is the greatest commodity in literature, the rarest commodity, embraces who they are, no holds barred, at the moment of writing. Disagree with me if you want, this is just how it seems to me at this moment.
This issue was birthed during this pandemic and the political and social unrest that’s been spilling over on the streets in cities nationwide. It feels like day after day we witness more violence and division, and we felt that the title “hunger for tiny things” took on a multi-faceted poignance for this issue. I’m curious—what tiny things do you hunger for these days?
As I answer these questions, I have my first dose of Pfizer coursing through my veins, and feel maybe a little bit feverish. So I’ll shoot from the hip and say what it is that I hunger for—tiny things—which are hard to pick, because there are really a lot of tiny things in the plenum of matter. Several of those tiny things are my friends. I hunger for my friends—I haven’t seen them, most of them, since before 2019, when I left England where I was doing my MA. If a city could be called a tiny thing, I would say I hunger for Berlin, where I lived before that. But now as I walk around my yard, I realize all that longing for faraway stuff, even my friends, is a poor substitute for this tiny thing I touch now: the fresh and nubile leaf of an alder. I hunger for this, I’m grateful for this—it’s such a peaceful thing.
Writers tend to write what haunts or obsesses them. What are some themes/topics that are important to your writing, or tend to show up a lot in your work?
At the time of writing “The Jellyfish Tide” one major obsession of mine was metaphysics. The philosophies of Rene Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibnitz. The idea that underlying all matter was a substance connecting us to it, and to each other, and to God. I think I liked Spinoza’s idea the best: that all things are one substance, all things are God.
But since then, and probably beginning in “The Jellyfish Tide”, I grew the balls needed to write about my sexuality, my changing sexuality—what I’d missed out on in high school by trying to be heterosexual. So, maybe not sexuality, which seems to tokenize desire, but rather the psychology of change, the psychology developed under the strife and pressure that are set upon young people who cannot lie to themselves but are forced to lie to those around them and end up lying to themselves—like me trying to be heterosexual, being in a relationship with a girl, whom I did love. The psychology that I’m obsessed with exploring is the emergence of a self that has been pushed under, that has been terrified into hiding. This is not an easy thing to write about, but it’s a cathartic thing to write about. And I suppose you could say, for the last five years since writing “The Jellyfish Tide” I’ve been obsessed with this catharsis. The catharsis of denuding oneself of shameful or limiting fictions.
What books, writers, art, or artists inspire you and your work? Do–or have–you had any mentors in your writing life?
Yeah, I’ve had a handful of mentors—people who’ve told me to keep to my path, no matter how far it strikes out from the norm of publishable literature. People who’ve told me that writing is all that matters: Nathan Filer, Richard Kerridge. Novelists and poets I studied with in England. My therapist, from the time I lived in Victoria, BC, Madelaine Tiller—who I credit with being the first person who actually listened to me.
Writers who I admire immensely include Dostoevsky, as you can guess because of his psychological and deeply personal profiles. How much of his novel consists of page-by-page spiritual evolution. The same with Clarice Lispector. And I know I’ve probably misinterpreted all my favourite authors, you know, as Harold Bloom says, but I also think I’ve taken from each of them what it was I needed to begin writing my own way. To begin giving page-by-page the spiritual evolution of my avatars.
Writers who write sex, like Marguerite Duras in The Lover. Jean Genet. Bolaño. I even have a soft spot for Louis-Ferdinand Céline, that disturbed human being, who tromps roughshod through Europe, Africa, and North America, hating equally all people he sees, with such style and passion, uncovering hypocrisy like it’s nobody’s business.
There are other writers on this list, but I think it’s risky telling people all of your favourites.
What craft element challenges you the most in your writing? How do you approach it? What is your quirk as a writer?
Haha! What is my quirk? Like, what is my Zooey Deschanel quirk, what are my bangs? I don’t know what my quirk is. I suppose I tend to ramble a bit in my writing. I’ve been accused of that before by my professors, but I do it to fill the spaces between truths that are apparent to me at the moment of writing, and all the in-between stuff is necessary for the synthesis of said truths.
“I’m searching, I’m searching,” Clarice Lispector’s book, The Passion According to GH, begins.
So I suppose, due to this, due to the way I write, and due to the demands of what I’m trying to write, plot is definitely something I’ve yet to completely get comfortable with. It so often seems arbitrary—this happens, that happens. Things are happening all the time. I believe between two trees, walking across a lawn, you could contain an entire psychological novel.
So, plotting, in the novelistic sense, I’m not sure I know how to do that. I’m not sure I wanna know how to do that, but still sometimes, I feel pushed, from beyond, perhaps by the demands of the publishing world, and the demands of the novel form, to plot my novels. However, that’s a part of the literary world that enough writers already occupy, and if it makes it harder for me to get published because I don’t feel like walking into their territory and trying to fit into their camp—a thing which I tried to do so much throughout my life, walk into other peoples’ territories and fit into their camps—then so be it. I’ll strike my own path as usual. Maybe that’s my quirk, I’ve always been very solitary, and rarely know how to do anything that adds up to something of use, except pursue a thought and hopefully reach a conclusion that relieves me, or the reader, of some spiritual agony.
What projects are you working on right now?
The last two years I’ve been isolated on the Northumberland Strait with hardly anyone to talk to. So you can imagine a lot of writing’s gotten done. There are three projects, novel-sized, and one collection, which “The Jellyfish Tide,” will appear in, that I’m working on. One of the novels is called William’s Workbook and it’s about a young man who was molested as a child, and who has no memory of the event, but is visited as a thirty-year-old by his abuser. That novel caused me a lot of pain and took me to quite a few personal hells. I still have a hard time looking at it. I’m also working on something lighter at the moment, called The Heir, and it comprises the day-to-day life of a person waiting for the pandemic to end. It’s about a young white guy, Burpee Walker, who inherits property on the beach after the death of his fiancé, Thomas, who was much older than him. The idea of the book is that everything Burpee experiences, whether its Hey Google! playing Ravel, or his disquiet over what’s happening in Modi’s India, whether it’s his Wikipedia search into “Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima”, that terrifying piece of music, or the property disputes with his neighbours over his inheritance, all of it is permitted to the page as he looks out and sees a world that seems to have no use for him. Or at least that’s what the book seems to be at this point.
*Thanks for these wonderful questions, I hope you enjoyed reading my answers as much as I enjoyed answering.
Krischan Stotz is a queer writer from Canada. His writing is concerned with finding the new and unused parts of the modern soul and expressing them in symphony with nature. His work has appeared in EVENT and The Antigonish Review and has been published in chapbook by Anstruther Press. Currently, Stotz writes from his home province of Nova Scotia, where he’s querying agents for his first novel, Trespassing, and creating his second novel. Krischan is a co-collaborator at www.locussolus.club. You can learn more about him at his website.