Poet and short fiction writer Dina Del Bucchia is the author of three collections of poetry, a recent book of short fiction, Don’t Tell Me What to Do, co-host of the Can’t Lit podcast, and a UBC Creative Writing instructor.She is also a senior editor of Poetry Is Dead magazine and the Artistic Director of the Real Vancouver Writers’ Series.
Interview by Sue Fast.
Sue Fast: What intrigues you about, to steal wording from your book jacket, “things that might seem ridiculous”? Why do these make great stories — as they do in Don’t Tell Me What to Do?
Dina Del Bucchia: I think in our regular lives ridiculous things happen regularly. Or things we might perceive as normal are ridiculous to others. I’m interested in the way people interact with the world when something unexpected happens or when a person makes a decision that has ridiculous consequences. When we take risks, or allow ourselves to do something outside of what’s comfortable, there is always a story in that.
SF: You have an ability to balance humour with sadness in a way that makes readers feel for and relate to your characters. How do you achieve this balance?
DDB: I think this question stems from the previous one. The ridiculous brings both despair and hilarity, depending on the situation and how it plays out. Sometimes it’s both at once. The surprise of something can be funny or sad. Or thinking about juxtaposition, like when you consider the structure of a joke. Sometimes the premise of a joke might seem odd, and then the punchline is funny because it’s devastating.
SF: Your stories in Don’t Tell Me What to Do are often poetic. Do you have a favourite genre? If so, which one? And will you tackle any others?
DDB: I love them both! The way you can explore ideas and use tone in each is what draws me to writing short stories and poetry. And like everyone else I am trying to write a novel, but I do not love it. Haha. I have tried to write non-fiction, but so far I don’t have a lot of confidence and think it’s pretty bad. I’d love to write a picture book, a weird TV show, a musical. I am pretty greedy.
SF: In your acknowledgments you credit—among others—your writing partner in Rom Com, Daniel Zomparelli, as a “creative companion for life”. How does writing with someone compare to writing solo?
DDB: You have to do so much less. Just kidding. Mostly. We are working on another project now and it’s early days, but I already feel an excitement. There’s an energy you feel when you’re riffing with someone else, a thrill to see what they’ve come up with and how you can make it work. Writing alone is kind of lonely, especially for an extrovert like me. Having another person to discuss ideas with, and also work out problems, whether they be structural or thematic or whatever is so much better when you have a writing partner that you trust. And a different perspective is great. Sure, you can leave something for months at a time to get perspective, or you can sit down in a Google doc, or over a glass of wine, and hash it out. You can always send your work to someone you trust for notes. When you are collaborating with someone you trust, you feel like the support is there the whole time.
SF: You’ve said you don’t write every day and that you don’t disconnect (electronically) when you write. What does your writing schedule/process look like?
DDB: I think it can be useful for writers to know what other writers are doing, to get ideas, to try things out and see if they work. I also think when we try to model ourselves after someone else it can lead to disappointment if we aren’t as productive or perceive that it’s not “working.”
The process of writing is every-changing for me. I used to write in the mornings a lot, but lately life has been exhausting so I have only been able to really connect with work on my days off — which are two on a good week. I do well when I can make a schedule, but also don’t always have that ability. And different stages of writing call for different types of things. In an early draft I can write for a while and just let myself go off. If I’m a few drafts deep I need very focused time, and if I am revising something for submission or publication, I have to create a schedule for myself and an idea of how much work is ahead of me in order to be able to get it done. When it’s crunch time, I might tell myself I can’t go online for an hour, and then after that I’ll get back on and look at Instagram for otter photos to motivate me to revise for another hour.
I also don’t isolate well. Sometimes I connect through social media, but usually I like to have plans to see people in order to be able to feel motivated to continue. Social interaction fuels the times I need to focus — and not constantly living in a sweaty writer mess of laptop and papers and chips is better for my brain in general.
SF: Why are short stories cool?
DDB: Are they cool? If anything I feel they are less popular than novels or non-fiction, and often less popular things are seen as cool. So maybe they are cool by this definition. But also I do think they are disliked by a lot of people. Ask a group of people if they like short stories and I bet half will say they don’t read them. I love them because they are so varied in what they can do in a shorter format. I think you can really distil an idea, and provide clarity and sustain a more poetic tone. Also, you can leave people wanting more which is also good advice for literary readings. Don’t go over your time, kids!