IFOA: Confidence paints a satirical portrait of urban city dwellers and their dark secrets. Where did you gather inspiration for your characters?
IFOA: You write a weekly column on the arts in The Globe and Mail. How does the process of writing a novel or a collection of short stories differ from writing a column for a newspaper?
Smith: Fiction and non-fiction exercise different muscles. I find non-fiction much easier to write: it is explanatory, linear. The object is clarity. Information is conveyed differently in fiction: it is imparted obliquely. The explicit must become implicit. Writing fiction requires entering a kind of trance in which one must imagine a space—the light in it, the smells in it—and make oneself hypersensitive to emotion and irrationality. I can write a newspaper column while having a fight with my wife and answering calls from my mechanic. I can’t do that with fiction. That’s why novelists like to isolate themselves. A newspaper writer must be fully present to the world and its phone calls.
IFOA: When and where do you write?
Smith: You know, it’s funny, that question: it is the one that is most commonly asked of writers and it is the one whose purpose I understand the least. I don’t get how it is important or could be important to anyone reading the story. I understand that lots of readers are also writers, and so they are interested in questions of process because they feel they might glean some secret from them, but the truth is that the process really doesn’t matter. Some people write in cafes, some people write lying on their backs, some do it drunk; there’s no secret, no technique that will actually change your sentences. Anyway, the boring answer is that I write on my computer at my desk in my study in my house between the hours of nine and five.
IFOA: What other short story writers do you read and enjoy?
Smith: Ernest Hemingway. J.D. Salinger. Guy de Maupassant. Edgar Allan Poe. Julian Barnes. Michael Winter. Caroline Adderson. Annabel Lyon.
IFOA: Finish this sentence: “When I’m not writing or reading, you can find me…”
Smith: Mixing techno in my basement on my Traktor S4 controller.
Russell Smith is one of Canada’s funniest and nastiest writers. His previous novels, including How Insensitive and Girl Crazy, are records of urban frenzy and exciting underworlds. He writes a provocative weekly column on the arts in The Globe and Mail and teaches in the MFA programme at the University of Guelph. Smith presents his latest collection of short stories, Confidence, which shows a darker side of urban dwellers, including mommy bloggers, PhD students and experimental filmmakers.