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C A N D A S   J A N E   D O R S E Y : Saving the World
(excerpted from Locus Magazine, August 2000)

Candas Jane Dorsey
    Photo by Beth Gwinn

Candas Jane Dorsey was born November 16, 1952, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. She has degrees in English/Drama and Social Work, and from 1973 to 1979 she was a social worker and child-care worker. Since 1979, she has been primarily a publisher/editor and a freelance writer. Dorsey edited and managed arts monthly The Edmonton Bullet from 1983 to 1988. Through her involvement in small-imprint publishers’ group The Books Collective and its purchase of Canadian specialty publisher Tesseract Books in 1994, she ended up as publisher and editor for both Tesseract and River Books. She has co-edited two of the Tesseract anthologies: Tesseracts3 (with Gerald L. Truscott, 1990) and Tesseracts8 (with John Clute, 1999).

Her first books were collection Machine Sex and other stories (1988), and very quickie novel Hardwired Angel (with Nora Abercrombie, 1987), winner of the International Three-Day Novel Writing Contest the previous year. Black Wine (1997) won the Crawford Award, the Tiptree, and Canada’s Aurora Award. Her latest, Vanilla and other stories (2000), collects mostly mainstream and slipstream works. She has also had a number of books of poetry and non-fiction published.


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Index to Locus Interviews

‘‘Canadians often feel like aliens, like observers, in North American culture. I remember one Canadian author saying, ‘Marshall McLuhan could not have happened inside the US. He had to happen as a Canadian, sitting next to the US and observing the Imperium.’ That seems to be true on so many levels - ontogeny and phylogeny recapitulate each other. The more of an outsider you are, the better an observer you are. And that’s better for a writer. We’re generically outsiders as Canadians, because we’re not full-fledged Americans but we live like the Imperium, next door to it. That also applies to genre writing.

‘‘Geographically, Canada goes around a quarter of the globe. In some senses, it is 30 million people strung along a strip 300 miles from the border, but there’s more to it. We’re very conscious of being on the edge of something, even those who live in cities. I’m a city person, always have been, but I still have very much a consciousness of the land I came from, as well as that connection with landscape.

‘‘The problem with being Canadian is, we’re too damn nice! At Peterborough, we were doing this workshop, and every time someone discussed a story, they started by saying, ‘I really like this story, but....’ And then trash it, but in the nicest possible terms. Finally, the second day, someone said, ‘I really like this story, but...’ and Judy Merril said, ‘You Canadians are too fucking polite!’ It became a catchphrase. At the end of the week, someone said, ‘I really hated this story,’ and everyone applauded, because we had transcended our Canadianess."


‘‘I wrote short stories for a long time. I was actually terrified about typing all those words in a novel. My first book, the collection Machine Sex and other Stories, started off slowly but got a lot of favorable reviews. Still, it was clear that at some point I had to write a novel. I started to do that in the early ’80s and put it aside, because I didn’t know how to write that novel. So I thought, ‘I’ll start a nice simple story: This woman looking for her mother, a sort of fantasy quest with all the easy outs such a plotline would give me.’ Of course my subconscious wouldn’t let me get away with that, and I ended up writing Black Wine.

‘‘Part of that is about a woman looking for her mother, but I got impatient with this woman very quickly. She was very passive, and I didn’t like her. So I made things happen to her that forced her to become an actor in her own drama. At the same time, that wonderful subconscious force took over. Suddenly I found myself typing, ‘There was a madwoman in a cage in the courtyard.’ It ended up being the first sentence of the book. I had no idea where it came from. These scenes began to develop that were tougher and leaner, and certainly not a nice sylvan little quest novel. The book began to demand more and more, and I attempted to do it justice. By the time I finished, I had not learned to write a novel by writing a nice, simple, pseudo-dramatic arc. I had struggled with some of these extremely tough and mean-minded images and ideas, and a narrative voice to go with them, and had quite a lengthy and interesting learning process.

‘‘That book won the Crawford Award immediately after its emergence, and then the Tiptree Award and the Canadian Aurora Award for best novel. That was nice -- more than nice. (The Canadian understatement thing.) It got some wonderful reviews, which was also absolutely tremendous. I don’t know what I had expected, but I was continually surprised and delighted."


‘‘I’ve been really fortunate to do a lot of travelling because of the publishing company. There’s a wonderful grant program run through the Association for the Export of Canadian Books, where they will partially subsidize publishers to go abroad to conferences or places where we could encourage export sales or rights sales, or just promote our books. I’ve been able to go to four or five conferences a year - which has been great for my career, as well as for the publishing company. I’ve been to Australia, Scotland, London, Dublin, and all over the US.

‘‘Plus my partner is an opera singer and was involved in the Phantom of the Opera Far East tour, so I was able to go to Singapore and Hong Kong. I loved it! I went to Hong Kong just before the changeover and I haven’t been there since, and I’m a little afraid for them. I was only there two weeks. There’s a thing in China: Be there a week, write a book; be there a month, write an essay; be there a year, can’t write anything at all. ‘‘One of the things I became aware of in Singapore and Hong Kong was that for the first time, my external and internal realities meshed. I’m sure it comes from being ill as a child, from being a writer, being queer, feeling very much like I’m not part of a majority. I’m always feeling outside. So it was quite wonderful to really be outside, to not speak the language and to not really care. I enjoyed floating through that setting and being able to make contact at certain times but not being in a false state of acceptance."

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