Sneak Peek: Brian Francis Reads from Natural Order (Doubleday Canada)

Brian Francis (Photo credit: Paula Wilson)

June 9, 2010, four intrepid writers took to the stage at The Gladstone Hotel to participate in Literary Death Match, an international touring event created by Todd Zuniga. It's good fun and not nearly as cutthroat as it sounds, just four writers reading from new or published works, then judged onstage by a panel of peers, the winner decided by a random task such as a cupcake toss or dance-off. (And, somehow, it's one of the more literary gatherings you'll hope to attend.) I had the pleasure of judging last winter's Toronto event and produced and co-hosted June's. (Look for us again this November with a special Giller des Refuses edition!)

That night, a fresh-faced, pleasantly-groomed fellow approached me to ask if it was going to fly with the audience if he read a sad passage from his upcoming novel. It was Brian Francis and this is what you need to know. The same guy who will make you cry this fall when Natural Order publishes with Doubleday Canada is the same guy who wrote the hilarious 2009 Canada Reads contender, Fruit about a boy with talking nipples and the same guy who maintains one of the most earnest blogs I've encountered in a good, long time, Caker Cooking—"from casseroles to canned corn, this is the best of the worst of mangiacake cuisine."

But, remember, he will make you cry. On that night, the Death Match's heart grew three sizes as Brian read to a captivated crowd. So, you have to know I asked Brian if we could meet up, and I come bearing the gifts! If you ever get a chance to see Brian read in person, do take it. Until then, enjoy this podcast.

I also had a quick chat with Brian about the writing life and that special something in his voice that keeps you wanting more.

Julie Wilson: Natural Order is very different from Fruit, which while recent in the memory of Canada Reads fans is now six years old from the date of publication and features a young boy. What happened in the phase between that drew you to inhabit the voice of a 72-year-old woman?

Natural Order by Brian Francis.

Brian Francis: Honestly? A lot of rewrites. It was hard finding an adult voice, especially after Fruit, because I didn’t know what that voice would sound like. Maybe, on a subconscious level, I went to the opposite end of the spectrum to try and shake myself out of the Fruit mold. I really struggled with this book, so much so that I wondered if I should chuck it. But, eventually, the voice came. And I’m proud I got through it. I hope it makes me a better writer. But if it takes me six years to write the third book, I’ll be really bitchy until 2017. Just sayin’.

JW: When you arrived at Literary Death Match you were wearing a pastel, plaid shirt. I can't remember if you asked me if I thought you looked like a picnic table or if I offered that freely—and you didn't—but you went on to say that your co-workers had noticed the new shirt. Do your co-workers take an interest in your writing life? What kind of other feedback do they offer other than what you may or may not wear to events?
BF: You make it sound so ugly when you refer to it as a “pastel, plaid shirt.” Who knows? Maybe it is ugly. The older I get, the blurrier the line between “fashion” and “hideous” becomes. (Ed. It was lovely and Summery. It wasn't paisley, after all.)
My co-workers are mostly supportive, but I’ve worked within the arts and publishing sectors for 15 years or so. While I may be a writer, the guy sitting next to me is a drummer and the person in cubicle number three is a poet and the guy in accounting writes screenplays. Everyone has a side gig. While it’s kind of depressing to think that none of us can support ourselves fully by pursuing our passions, there’s also comfort in numbers. And there’s sincere enthusiasm for people’s accomplishments outside of the day job. We share in our successes.
JW: You asked me if you thought the celebratory nature of Literary Death Match would be impeded if you read a sombre passage from Natural Order. I said it wouldn't be sad because you don't come across as a sad person. There's a quality to your voice that's thoughtful—that's not the word I want. It's not sing-songy, either. You know what it is—it's the sugar that makes the medicine go down. Similarly, your humour comes across as quite dry, because you don't hit the notes hard. It's all very subtle. Have you been told this, that there's something about your voice?
BF: Last year, I was out walking my dog in the park across from my house. This girl, who I’d spoken to a few times, approached me.
“Can I ask you something?” she said.
“Sure,” I said.
“I don’t want to offend you, but are you gay?”
I was taken aback a little. I mean, she was about 11 or so. Talking to kids about the whole gay thing always makes me nervous.
“Yes,” I said. “How did you know?”
“I’ve seen your partner walking your dog,” she replied.
“Oh,” I said.
Then she leaned in. “And, no offence, but you have a really gay voice.”
So yes, I’ve been told there’s something about my voice before. But I prefer your description of it. No offence to the 11-year-old.

August 17, 2011
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