Lost Animal Club by Kevin A. Couture
Over the last year, The Puritan’s Town Crier blog has featured short interviews with BC authors conducted by BC publishing professionals. The latest in the series is an interview with author Kevin A. Couture with publicist and author Nathaniel G. Moore.
Kevin A. Couture grew up in a BC mining town and has spent the last decade waking before dawn to write. The stories in his debut collection, Lost Animal Club, have all appeared in Canadian or American journals. In recent years, he has been nominated for the Writers’ Trust of Canada/McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize, and was included in the anthology Coming Attractions. He lives on Vancouver Island with his wife, two children, and their Brittany spaniel, who spectacularly defies animal training. Lost Animal Club was released September 2016. He will be appearing at WordFest in October.
In his debut story collection, Kevin A. Couture creates a world where the veneer of humanness stretches thin and often cracks, while burdened characters take on a variety of beast-like traits. In his desperate survival plan, a preteen “rescues” dogs in order to sell them back to their well off owners. A hare-like marathon pacesetter reflects on the pace she sets, for others and for herself, both on and off the race route. A man confronts his drive for alcohol and the deadly and isolating consequences that leave him to risk his last scrap of control. And two kids, for different reasons, execute their plan to capture a bear cub.
Nathaniel G. Moore: Lost Animal Club is a collection of diverse stories. According to your bio, you write early in the day. Can you take me through a typical good day of writing for you?
Kevin A. Couture: A typical day of writing begins at 5:00 a.m. It begins with coffee from this good old French press I’ve had for about ten years. I take it with me to the office where the dog, (a Brittany spaniel named Rolo, also ten years old), waits; he has his favourite comfortable chair, I have mine. And after a few minutes acclimatizing to the morning, I’ll start.
I write slowly and edit as I go, which I know is not generally recommended. When it goes well I’ll get two or three pages, when it’s a struggle, a sentence or two. When it’s an extreme struggle, I’ll delete some of what I’ve previously written and end up with a deficit. But you asked about a good day. Let’s stick with that. I try to have a few pieces on the go at once. That way if one story is being problematic, I’m not obligated to climb into that rut. Instead, I can work on story number two or three, or start on a new idea. Sometimes I can shock myself into the right mindset by exercising choice, by switching gears. I know I’m occasionally just trading one rut for another, but either way, I settle on a project for the day and give it a go. After a couple of hours, I usually take a break, walk the dog, get outside. And then continue writing until the fog creeps in and things get blurry. I rarely write at night or in the late afternoon. I know some writers do it all the time, pulling a hardcore all-nighter or a sundown marathon. That’s not me. Unless I have a specific deadline to meet, by noon I’m done.
NGM: BC shaped you as a writer. Can you talk about how growing up in BC influenced your writing?
KC: I grew up in a place called Logan Lake, a mining town in the interior of BC, close to Kamloops. There are about 3,000 miners/retired miners in that town and they’ve been slinging copper and molybdenum there for over 40 years. It’s the third biggest open-pit mine in the world, the biggest in North America. Yes, you can see it from space.
I often write from that place, the small town. I have this idea that everyone, everywhere, goes through the same anxieties—loss, love, disappointment, elation, discovery—but I think maybe these understandings resonate more in a small place, the smaller population allowing the individual human experience to have more weight, at least in the eye of that individual. This is not a truth by any means, nor is it a judgment. It’s a sentimentality I carry from my youth. Don’t get me wrong, I love big-city stories, too. I’m just more at ease in an environment where the characters have fewer places to hide.
NGM: Can you talk about development of these stories over the years? Take a story or two from the collection and talk about its major changes. What story took the longest to let go of?
KC: This collection took shape over many years. However, the stories didn’t present themselves as a “collection” until four or five of them had been written. The realization that this was becoming a singular project was a big shift for me in that I had to think about cohesion when starting a new piece. It was, for me, somewhat constraining to think big-picture. It took a while, but eventually I got used to the idea I was writing a book. Major changes—well, one story in the collection, (which shall remain nameless so as not to taint it), was rejected 13 times by various literary journals. Truth is I couldn’t puzzle out what was wrong with the story, so I kept working on the incorrect issue.
After all, everyone can relate to the experience of feeling stuck, trapped, or oppressed. … Everyone in that situation hopes to have someone beside them, if they’re lucky, to share that experience.
The problem: I didn’t know the characters as deeply as I thought I did, and kept trying to fix the plot. There was a pretty good storyline already, I think, except the story was being played out by mediocre characters. It got accepted only after I took the necessary time to get to know who the hell I was writing about. Another major change came during the editing process. My editor, Nicole Markotić, read the final story in the collection, “Into the Sunset,” and said, “I like this one. It’ll be a good closer. But do you think you could perhaps … write a completely new ending for it?” Ouch. Her guidance and reasoning for this change: the original ending completed the story, yes, but didn’t satisfactorily complete the book. She was correct and the new ending feels, to my mind, just right.
As for the story that took the longest to let go of, it was all of them. It’s not a fair answer, I know, but true. I attended a literary event one evening by a highly regarded short-story writer and I watched him read from his award-winning book. At one point he stopped, took out a pen and made an edit in his copy, then continued reading. It made me realize that for all of us, not just me, the stories are never good enough; they’re never done. But one day you have to close your eyes and push them out of the nest anyway.
NGM: Do you think society has a diluted idea of irony? Do you care about irony?
KC: When people start talking about having an ironic moustache or wearing ironic socks, irony no longer means what it once did. (Is that irony?) But yes, absolutely, I still care about it. I very much enjoy a hint of irony in the stories and books I read. Not the face-punch of irony, but the hint. In my own writing, however, I find I rarely use it, at least not intentionally. That is, I don’t sit down to write a super-ironic story. I don’t have that idea in mind at the outset. But if irony happens to show up organically in the end product, I think that’s great.
NGM: “Lost Valley” is a story that really stood out to me. “Sharp as an egg” and “world-class pout” are superlative phrases. This is a story about coming into the real world, and realizing, perhaps, that comic books are decoys on the way to the meaning of life. What is the Wiki, behind the scenes of this story?
KC: I’m glad you liked “Lost Valley,” thank you. It holds a special place in my heart being the first story I ever published. Plus, I’m quite fond of the two brothers in this story; I spent a lot of literary time with them.
I first wrote “Lost Valley” trying to tell the story of Ernie, the grandfather. He has a big, sad history that never made the final cut because it didn’t hold the same emotional weight as what Terry and Riley (and ultimately Galeno) were experiencing. Ernie had enough on his plate navigating everyone else’s despair, and adding his backstory just became clunky. I switched gears and wrote a brother story instead. As for the use of comic books as decoys—I love comic books and had wanted to incorporate them as a device for a long time. I began re-reading some issues from the boxes downstairs for inspiration and as soon as I came upon some old copies of Turok, the theme of being Stuck-in-Lost-Valley appeared and felt perfectly right. After all, everyone can relate to the experience of feeling stuck, trapped, or oppressed. The disorientation of being completely lost. Everyone in that situation hopes to have someone beside them, if they’re lucky, to share that experience.
Then, just to mess with things further for these characters, I threw in the bees.