Mark Anthony Jarman’s new book Czech Techno is a gorgeous collection of short stories—both for the stories themselves and also for the graphic design they are enhanced by. This is his sixth book of short stories, but he also has written poetry, fiction, and travel. The five stories in Czech Techno weave in and out of music, musicians, dreams, lovers, haunted uninhabited islands, and along the streets of Victoria. There is something for everyone here.
Barbara Pelman is a retired high school English teacher and poet. She is involved in the literary community in Victoria, as an assistant at Planet Earth Poetry and as a workshop facilitator. She has three books of poetry and poems in many literary journals.
Barbara Pelman (BP): Your first story, Czech Techno, and I guess all of them, has a kind of jazzy fragmentation, a stream of consciousness—from dream to memory to thought, so that the reader is not sure what is ‘real’ and what is part of consciousness. It’s a trip! So much happening in the space of a sentence. So, my question is: how does this kind of writing happen for you? Do you have the idea and then ‘let it rip’ on the page, or do you wait for each sentence to appear and then write it down? What is your process to achieve this kind of dense, whirlwind writing?
Mark Anthony Jarman (MAJ): I like your word fragmentation. 100 years ago TS Eliot was using fragments and we live in a fragmented age (same as any time?), so I have always been drawn to the idea. I tend to start with small ideas and images and build sentences bit by bit, sound by sound. My early drafts are a mess and I enjoy dropping in lines where they do not seem to belong, but hope for some Jungian logic. I suspect David Lynch does the same. It’s a gamble, but I like randomness and accidents in writing.
You mention the word dream: the image of the woman standing by the childhood hedge came in a dream, was a postcard story at first, then grew; I am wary of using dreams in writing, but the image stuck in my head and seemed to resonate and in revisions (lots) the piece expanded and morphed quite a bit. I often jam several stories into one.
Re: what is “real,” at UVic my teacher WD Valgardson said to be concrete as much as possible, but that you can earn abstractions; I hope for a similar mix: a ratio of real and concrete versus a bit weirder and incongruous. I have been termed experimental, but I don’t see it; my writing is realist for the most part.
BP: For sure, the poet continues in you, from your first book, Killing the Swan: the repeated images, the richness of detail, the lists, the metaphors. Yet there has been no other book of poetry. Why is that? What has moved you from one genre to another?
MAJ: Poetry is very good for any writer, fiction or nonfiction, the language, compression, imagery, and I took workshops with very good people like PK Page and Phyliss Webb, but I was faking it and decided to move on and use the same techniques in my fiction and nonfiction. I’m always surprised when writers don’t care about language, don’t care about each sentence. Of course, I’m not great at plot, so I like to find other ways to advance a story.
BP: What does the short story offer you, that is different from poetry and novels and essays? You seem to be most at home here. What do you love about the short story?
MAJ: The short story is the best form. I’m happy to try a play or screenplay and I’ve been writing tons of CNF travel pieces lately, but the best writers in the world are and have been in the world of stories. My collection Knife Party at the Hotel Europa was supposed to be a slim sunny novel set in Italy, but it wasn’t working. I took it apart and worked on sections as if stories, put it all back together. It sold as a collection, but some reviewers said it was like reading a novel. Agents and the marketplace prefer longer books, but my brain is wired for stories. It’s an old form, whether around the fire long ago or telling stories after oldtimer hockey in the locker room; it seems the same impulse. Humans like stories.
BP: I love the graphics of Czech Techno, the silhouetted images and large print, the red separators. How involved are you in this aspect of your book?
MAJ: I’d be happy to take credit, but the work is by Chris Tompkins of Fredericton, where I live. Chris did the cover on Knife Party; for that book we met over beer to discuss ideas, what I like and don’t like on covers. But he did the work, a great cover on Knife Party. So then I suggested him to Anvil Press in Vancouver, they said yes; now he’s done two books of mine and they match! Take a look. He came up with pictures for each story, which is not the norm, and the resulting book has the feel and look of a graphic novel. It’s been a fun project