Peter Norman: The book takes place in the office tower where a respectable dictionary is compiled (but in fact something far more sinister is going on). When I was a kid, my parents had this whopping dictionary in the house—I believe it was by Random House. As a young bookworm, I was drawn not only to the main substance of the dictionary (the definitions) but also to all the information listed at the front. In particular, there was a roster of consultants: experts in geology, psychology, entomology, plumbing, whatever, who’d been hired to help the editors with terminology relevant to their fields. This got me imagining some vast tower where a bunch of knowledgeable people congregated to determine the lexicon. Eventually, the story grew from there.
IFOA: You’ve written two poetry collections and had your short fiction and poetry published in many literary publications, but Emberton is you first novel. Which part of the novel-writing process proved most challenging for you?
Norman: If you write the first draft of a poem and it turns out to be a lousy poem altogether, no problem; it probably didn’t take very long, and you can just recycle it or burn it or delete the file. A novel is a different beast altogether. If you write the first draft only to discover that the idea’s a lemon, then you’ve just wasted anywhere between three months and ten years of your life. My novel required many rewrites before it was press-ready, and it was hard to keep the faith. Is this project worthwhile? Is the idea worth the effort? True novelists—and I don’t count myself among them yet, because I’ve written just one—must have great reservoirs of faith in order to stick with one idea and plug away until it’s done. Acquiring that faith is my greatest challenge as a (would-be) novelist.
Norman: Different types of compliments are meaningful in different ways. But here’s one that I’ve really appreciated. (It has to do with poetry rather than fiction because there hasn’t been enough time yet for me to get much reader reaction to the novel.) I love it when someone comes up to me after a reading and says, “I’m not normally into poetry, but I really liked your stuff.” To win a convert who’s not already a fan of the genre… that’s really gratifying!
IFOA: If you were to choose a pseudonym for yourself, what would it be?
Norman: How about Ed Kent? That’s my dad’s name (which doubles as my middle one) and my mom’s maiden name. Or maybe I could go with J.K. Rowling, to boost sales.
IFOA: Finish this sentence: I feel most creative when…
Norman: …the pressure’s on. I thrive on deadlines and other forms of external pressure. In the early stages of a project, when I’m not sure I’m even going to finish it, let alone submit it for publication (again that lack of faith in the overall idea), I sometimes have trouble generating creative sparks. But when I know something’s going to be published, and soon, then I can really motor. Some of my best creativity goes into the later parts of the editorial process.
Peter Norman is the author of two books of poetry, At the Gates of the Theme Park and Water Damage. His fiction and poetry have been published in The Walrus, SubTerrain, Literary Review of Canada, The Malahat Review, Arc Poetry Magazine and many other publications. He is based in Toronto. Norman presents his first novel, Emberton, a literary Gothic tale aimed at lovers of books and language, alongside authors Alena Gradon and Harry Karlinsky on April 23.