Mosaic – The Claude Lalumière Interview

Claude Lalumière was born in Montreal in 1966. In his late teens and early twenties, he dabbled — in French — with filmmaking, poetry, fiction, and humour. In 1989, he opened the first of his two English-language bookshops, Nebula, followed in 1993 with danger!. In 1998, he sold the two-store business to devote himself to writing and editing, this time in English. He has edited nine anthologies, beginning with Telling Stories: New English Fiction from Québec (Vehicule Press 2002); he’s currently working on his tenth, Bibliotheca Fantastica, which will be released by Dagan Books in autumn 2012. Since 2001, he’s been the Fantastic Fiction columnist for The Montreal Gazette. He has published two books with Canadian press CZP: the collection Objects of Worship (2009) and the mosaic novella The Door to Lost Pages (2011). Objects of Worship was translated into French for Québécois publisher Alire in autumn 2011, under the title Odyssées chimériques, and Claude’s stories are regularly translated into French for Québécois genre magazines Solaris and Alibis. In 2010, in collaboration with Rupert Bottenberg, Claude co-created and launched Lost Myths ( an online archive of cryptomythology, a collection of pop artefacts, and a multimedia live show.

Tell me one little known fact about Claude Lalumière.

In my mid-teens, I used to compete in mid-distance races, 5 to 20 km,
both for my school and as part of a neighbourhood, city-run athletics
club. But I enjoyed the constant jogging that was part of training
more than the racing itself. I probably jogged 50 to 100 km a week
back then.

Do you still run or indulge in sporting activities?

No, not at all. I was very athletic from ages 13 to 16; I kept up some sports on an informal basis until age 22. But then I lost interest.

So how do you fill your leisure time now – when you are not writing?

My girlfriend Camille Alexa and I are completely addicted to Ticket to Ride. We have the European map, the Nordic map, the double-sided India/Switzerland expansion map, and the card-game version. Rarely a day goes by that we don’t squeeze in a few games. Usually during our lunch break, after we’ve spent the morning writing. We tend to get up early and get most of our writing done before noon.

Your girlfriend is a writer? That must be an unusual dynamic.

It doesn’t seem unusual at all. We talk about writing all the time, which I find extremely stimulating. It helps keep my mind in writing-space. Here’s a funny thing, though: we never read each other’s work before it’s published. Early on, she wisely suggested that we not crit or edit each other, and I think that was a great idea. We both love each other’s stuff, anyway. And we’re always eager for those author comps to arrive so we can read the other’s latest stories.

Do you ever ask anyone else to crit or edit your work?

From 1999 to 2006, I was part of a writers’ group — the Montreal Commune — that met regularly and critiqued each other’s works-in-progress. And I’ve done it one-on-one with a few people over the years, but I haven’t done any of that in years. It was an important part of my process, but I don’t feel the need for it anymore. I’ll make changes to editorial request when the comments makes sense — most often, on the rare times I’m asked for changes, they make sense (though sometimes not) — but otherwise I find that, as I gain writing experience, the less drafting I need to do. Most of my stories now go out, aside from a minor cosmetic cleanup after the initial draft, in pretty much the same form as I set them down initially. I spend a lot of time pondering, doing conceptual work on my stories, so that I have less tinkering to do later.
But, right now, I’m working on a mosaic novella or short novel (not sure of the final length yet), composed of self-contained stories that together form a larger story (the same structure as my second book, THE DOOR TO LOST PAGES). Working on a larger canvas, I find that I have much more rewriting and re-jigging to do than when I work on one-off stories.

Popular opinion says you can’t make money out of writing short fiction yet your entire output seems to revolve around this form. Why? And do you intend to move into novels at a later stage?

Hoping to make meaningful money from writing fiction is like hoping to win the lottery. It might happen, but don’t count on it. Mostly, I want this to be fun. I want to explore where my imagination takes me. And I can’t predict where that will be. I very much like the idea of “mosaics” — books composed of linked stories to form a larger story. It’s an underexplored form, mostly because it lacks an officially recognized name. But there are great books written that way that would not have been better served as novels or if their stories had simply been included in catch-all collection. Think of THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES or CITY OF SAINTS AND MADMEN or THE ATROCITY EXHIBITION or ORSINIAN TALES or THE WORLD INSIDE…
If there were an awards category for “best mosaic” I bet we’d quickly see much more of these pop up. I can think of several novels (but I won’t name them) that would have been much improved by the freedom of the mosaic, works that were hurt by being corseted into the novel form.
The story, the mosaic, the novel … it’s a question of finding the appropriate form for the work in question.

Are there any publishers out there looking kindly on mosaics?

It’s slightly easier than selling a collection, but not as easy as selling a novel. Publishers are hungry for novels. If any publisher really likes the idea of a mosaic, they should contact me…

Tell me about your editing work. You have a great track record with anthologies. How difficult is it to generate high quality submissions?

I’ve worked on three kinds of anthologies:
1. What I call “contract anthologies” — specifically, the series of
four anthologies I edited showcasing the best stories from the CBC/QWF
Writing Competition: these are publisher-initiated, and I don’t choose
the stories. All I do is work with authors on their texts and then put
the book together so as to make it as rewarding a reading experience
as possible.
2. Invite-only: I’ve only done one of these — WITPUNK — and it was a
learning experience. I came out of that knowing what not to do,
knowing what mistakes to not do anymore, knowing what doesn’t work for
me. I’m not fond of invite-only as a format. My co-editor on that one,
Marty Halpern, was great to work with, though.
3. Open-call, which constitutes the bulk of my output as editor. I
love open calls. I love discovering great stories by writers new to
me. I love slushing. I love the entire process. I always invite
specific writers to submit to my open calls, but all submissions are
treated equally. I just want to maximize my odds of putting together
the best book possible.
When possible, I love having a co-editor. It makes the process more
fun, and it’s a good thing to have a dialogue with someone else on
story selection. That’s how you discover the stories you’re willing to
fight for, the ones that inspire the most passion. And that’s the kind
of stories that make a book memorable.

Have you discovered anyone ‘great’ in the slush pile or given a debut to someone you think will become a top pro?

Every open call I’ve done has resulted in me discovering and selecting
stories I adore from writers I did not previously know.

So, who are your favourite (well-known) writers?

My favourite writer ever is J.G. Ballard. Other influences include
R.A. Lafferty, Robert Silverberg, Philip José Farmer, Rachel Pollack,
Theodore Sturgeon, Geoff Ryman, Paul Di Filippo, Lucius Shepard…
Probably my two favourite currently active short-fiction writers are
Ray Vukcevich and Garry Kilworth.

Do you think of yourself as a Canadian writer? And/or what defines you as a Canadian writer?

Yes, I definitely think of myself as a Canadian writer. But I have no idea what that means or what defines me as such. That said, Paul Di Filippo’s introduction to my second book, THE DOOR TO LOST PAGES, tackles the question of my being a Canadian writer. To quote: “Claude Lalumière is not only a universal author but a regional writer. His native Canada, specifically the city of Montreal, is as much a player in these stories as the people, even when not specifically named. There’s some numinous element of these tales that acts as a counterbalance to the hegemony of US fantasy trilogies. We are hearing a voice literally from beyond the lands we (we American readers) know.” When Quill & Qiure (a Canadian publishing magazine) reviewed OBJECTS OF WORSHIP, they used it, along with two other CZP titles (by David Nickle and Robert Wiersma), to define a new niche in Canadian literature.

What affect does being so close to the US giant, cultural and marketing, have on you as a writer. Is the Canadian market dominated by US product?

I don’t know that it has any particular effect on me. I mean, I’m affected by it as I am by anything else I come into contact with, but I don’t feel it’s overwhelming my imagination or anything.
And, yes, US product is indeed everywhere in Canada. But that’s not a bad thing.

What media do you find influences you most?

Comics is my biggest influence, followed by (in order): prose fiction,
music, cinema, TV.

If you were recommending comics – perhaps graphic novels – for a beginner, what do you feel are the must-haves or the best places to start, or both?

It really depends on what you’re into, genre-wise or style-wise. I’d recommend Larry Marder’s Tales of the Beanworld over just about anything; everyone I’ve ever introduced it to has loved it. For the general reader, I’d say Patrick McDonnell’s Mutts is a sure bet. Probably the best SF comics series is Finder by Carla Speed McNeil. In nonfiction, Joe Sacco’s political reportage is top-notch. In crime fiction, anything by the duo of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. For pure pulp pleasure, nothing beats Mike Mignola’s Hellboy. For over-the-top, surreal soap opera, the Locas series by Jaime Hernandez cannot be praised highly enough. My personal favourite is Jack Kirby, whose legacy is all over pop culture these days, but I realize that the very idiosyncrasies that make his work brilliant to my eyes also might make it a bit rebarbative for some.

Are you a planner? Have you got a list of projects lined u or do you simply write the story that most demands it next?

I flip-flop, or rather at different times I find myself at different
points on the continuum between those two approaches. The last few
months, I wrote mainly to anthology calls, but now I feel my attention
focusing on my VENERA DREAMS mosaic,, which I hope will be my next
book. But most stories I write end up slotted in one future thematic
collection or another. I’m gradually building a few of these right
I do find it hard to flip-flop between LOST MYTHS mode and fiction
mode, as they are two very different types of storytelling. For the
last few years, I focused on LOST MYTHS and produced very little
fiction, but now I’m mostly producing fiction and very few LOST MYTHS.

For a while it seemed to me that every time I saw news of you it was from a different country. Are you travelling much these days?

For the last three or four years, it feels like I’ve had no
permanent address. Always on the go, go, go. It never feels like I’m
living anywhere, but just that I’m staying until I have to go to the
next place. It’s exciting and fun, but also exhausting. I planned to be more sedentary in 2012, but already this year I’ve stayed in Portland (Oregon), The Bay Area, Austin (TX), Dallas (TX), and Montreal. And my schedule until early July already includes Québec
City, Rome, Naples, Palermo, Genoa, Trieste, Venice, and Toronto.

Where was your best foreign destination to date, where would you most like to visit and do you have a decent writing excuse for going there?

I love different cities for different reasons: London, Barcelona, and
Venice are probably tied for top three. But for me the best place for
inspiration and writing is Italy — hence the heavily Italian itinerary in the answer
above. I started VENERA DREAMS in Italy back in 2006. It’s been a slow
gestation, but the last few months have seen great strides in
advancing that book and I’m hoping our forthcoming trip to Italy
will get me at least close to concluding it entirely.

You are on death row convicted of murder (You’re innocent, I know, everyone on death row is), no late reprieve. What is your last meal?

I’d fast. Why waste food on someone who’s about to be killed?

You’re such an old romantic.
And finally…
If you were an artist (musician, painter, actor, film director etc.) in a discipline other than you currently operate, and you were going to be remembered for only one piece of work (a one-hit wonder), what would that piece (song, painting, movie) be? One single existing piece of ‘art’ by someone else.

This one’s hard. But if I have pick one thing right now at this
moment, my gut tells me to go with comics:
The Jam: Super-Cool Color-Injected Turbo Adventure from Hell, by Bernie Mireault
And not just because it has the best title ever, although that helps.


About Bob Neilson

Bob Neilson lives in Dublin with his wife, two daughters, son, two dogs, one cat and a growing feeling of claustrophobia. In partnership with his wife he runs a successful retail business in Dublin city. His short fiction has appeared extensively in professional and small press markets and he has had two plays performed on RTE and one on Anna Livia FM. He also presented a radio show on Anna Livia for a year. He has had two short story collections published, Without Honour (1997, Aeon Press) and That’s Entertainment (2007, Elastic Press) as well as several comics and a graphic novel. His non-fiction book on the properties of crystals is a best-seller in the UK and Ireland.
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