A Conversation With a Friend:
Matthew Miller

Matthew MillerMatthew Miller joined the Friends of The Malahat at our Summer issue launch in September, 2012. Since then he's been enjoying lavish gifts, attention, and now, thanks to Malahat volunteer PJ Grace, fame.

What brought you out to the Summer issue launch of The Malahat Review back in September, and what led you to join the Friends of The Malahat group?

I was invited to the launch by participating writer Danielle Janess, a friend and fellow conspirator. That night she read her German translation of poet Jan Wagner published in Poetry London. I couldn't miss that. If you've heard her read in German - well, let's say that for me there's something special about hearing the source of English root words, they grip tighter and twist a little closer to the core of our language; and though I don't speak German, it resonates. Or that could be just an Old English class coming back to haunt me.

After the readings, The Review's Susan Sanford Blades asked me if I was a friend of the Malahat. Sure, I said. Little did I know once you add capitals to that phrase, a Friend of The Malahat is something Very Different. Friendship includes a subscription, a few special edition back issues, a selection of hand drawn illustrations of previous Malahat launch readers. (I chose Jay Ruzesky. He came to one my writing group sessions a few years back.) And. So. Much. More. Even an interview. Go figure.

Can you tell us what you enjoy about The Malahat Review, and if there are any editions or pieces that inspired you in any way?

I think I moved to Vancouver Island in my mind, through its literature, long before I settled here. Thumbing through recent back issues and smoggy memories of discovering the Malahat as a teen in late eighties Toronto, the journal has consistently presented a distinct and necessary West Coast voice. That voice was something I needed to hear then and still do.

The 2012 summer issue (#179) is an inspiring example: Shane Rhodes' "as may have been grunted" effectively translates the density of an 1875 treaty using only legal gibberish; the harrowing "Winchester .30-30" by Laura Trunkey; "Cinema Rex" by well-deserved Novella Prize winner Naben Ruthnum includes a nod to Borges with his not-to-be-skipped footnotes; and even a book review of Linda Besner's The Id Kid I first listened to/glistened to at the debut Linden Sofa Salon.

You mentioned that you're part of a writing group. Can you talk about some of your own writing, and how the workshop process is beneficial within a steady group of writers.

I've been in the Barocca Writers Group – a bastardized name for an Australian hangover cure – for nearly 10 years, meeting every second Tuesday to praise and pulverize our work. We are poets, short story writers, novelists, screenwriters, and critics.  Like a lot of writers I've tried different forms, but I would identify as a short story writer.

While I can go from intense crack-of-dawn daily writing sessions bordering on addiction to somewhat longer periods running an all-consuming design business, the workshops continue without fail. (If you are a writer get thee to a group. There's nothing better than a regular strip-down from a trusted group, the more diverse the better. If you can get a story accepted by your writer's group, I'd say you have a much better chance of getting it published.)

Our workshop process is based on a simple recipe of platitudes.
– write as often as possible, if not daily 
– share your hot stuff before it's polished to death
– read voraciously
– critique truthfully and thoroughly
– submit your work to the "hardest" places imaginable
– celebrate (and dissect) rejection letters from those same places
– put a spike in the wall to hold your rejections (if you are doing things right, there will be many)
– celebrate each success
– respect the craft and those who are doing so much better than you

You recently attended the reborn Victoria Writers Festival that took place October 12-13, 2012. What were some of the event highlights for you? How do you feel about the Victoria writing scene in general?

I volunteered at VWF as a room host (one who gets the writers to the stage on time), not to be confused as an MC (one who actually hosts the event), though I was, indeed, mistaken for MC Matthew Hooton as I was on stage pre-show to check the mics. Apparently, we are both incredibly witty, damn handsome, and just all around good guys. Off stage and with a wink, we decided I could be his stand-in if anything went awry or even at future events if he was double-booked. Works for me. He can do the writing, I can sign his books.

The highlight of the event was seeing Sara Cassidy, John Gould, and Julie Paul pulling off a well-attended, high caliber festival. I know it's not easy to make it look easy. Kudos to them.

The Victoria writing scene? I'm no scenester, but I’d say Victoria’s writing community is thriving. I recall squeezing into the well-attended double book launch of Bill Gaston and Marjorie Celona recently. The Malahat summer launch was equally packed. Common elements: beer, more writers in the audience than on stage, and a passionate, fully-engaged community. Surely rich loamy conditions in which Victoria writers can sprout. 

Tell us a little about what you're currently reading, and if there are any genres or authors you tend to gear toward when choosing something new to read.

I told myself to keep these answers short, but this is the internet. Scroll on.

I usually have a selection of books cued up and on the go. I love fiction and non-fiction equally. I read poetry like a former smoker might steal an occasional puff: it’s mood-dependent, solitary, intense, fully enjoyed to the last syllable. Right now, I'm reading a byzantine novel called 2666 by Roberto Bolaño, Bill Gaston's The Order of Good Cheer, Anatomy of Keys by Steven Price, and 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus, and lastly a short story by workshop writer and friend Frankie Blake.

Someone (Google says Schopenhauer) once said that reading is a way of thinking with someone else's head. That said, I like to tuck into writers with the scope of Don DeLillo, the absurdity of Phillip K. Dick, and the paradoxes of Jim Crace and Italo Calvino. I also enjoy “socio-econo-neuro-entertainment” writers like Jonah Lehrer who explore behavioural theories with anecdotes – a la Malcolm Gladwell –  while sometimes providing life lessons in Ethics 101: How Not to Get Ahead with Plagiarism.

PJ Grace

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