In Daniel Bryant's debut short fiction collection, Rerouted (forthcoming from Porcupine's Quill), nothing is quite as it seems. A new route for a postal worker turns out to be cursed, musicians on a long tour meet shape shifters on the road, and thieves get more than they bargained for in the surprising aftermath of a robbery. Another world flickers at the edges of the everyday in these linked stories, making for a wonderfully eerie, freshly creative, and darkly witty collection.
We're pleased to welcome Daniel to Open Book today to take on our newest interview series, the Keep it Short series, which celebrates all things short fiction.
He tells us about how taking a suggestion from one's partner can kickstart something great, the strange character who kept popping up in the stories as he wrote them, and the iconic author with whom who he shares a unique day job.
How did you decide what stories to include in the collection? When were they written?
Two of the stories ("Mocha El Grande", "St. Eliot") were written over a decade ago. The other ones were written within the past five years as a focused effort to put together a collection. They previously existed as sketches or outlines. It was my wife’s idea that perhaps I should finish something for once. Just a suggestion.
What do the stories have in common? Do you see a link between them, either structurally or thematically?
The stories in this collection follow a similar arc. Each linked narrative begins in the mundane and slowly morphs into a world of nightmare and dark humour. The characters are flawed but likeable. They have goals. They make plans. Life intervenes. The final story articulates this sentiment and suggests the key to surviving this madness is to create narratives, to force some kind of structure on a chaotic universe. Beginning. Middle. End.
As I worked on these stories, an odd character named Benny Tak kept insinuating himself within the narratives: a speaking role here, an action part there. I couldn’t think of a good reason to exclude him. He is the cipher.
How did you decide which story would be the title story of your collection? Why that story in particular?
I did not choose a story from the collection to be the title story; however, the first story's setting and main character influenced the title for the collection. "Deadwalk" is about a postal carrier who encounters a mysterious death on his route. As a result, his life is Rerouted. Each story in the collection follows a similar trajectory: plans are made, plans go awry.
The "Deadwalk"/ Rerouted synergy has other implications. As a letter carrier for Canada Post, people may foolishly think I will be writing about what I know – something all new writers are encouraged to do. Foolish, foolish readers. More importantly, the aggregated impact of "Deadwalk"/ Rerouted is my 'tip of the cap' to Charles Bukowski, who quit the U.S. postal service at age fifty to write full time. His first novel Post Office is an interesting read.
One can dream.
What do you enjoy most about writing short fiction? What is the toughest part?
I enjoy the shorter time frame to complete a full story. Also, if I run out of inspiration with one story, I can quickly jump into another, or start something fresh. I am constantly toggling between different projects. It diminishes the fear and frustration of looking at a blank page. I work full time and have a family. I have only two or three of hours of quality writing time a day – which I squander quite happily with the least provocation. Snapchatting with my daughter in Ottawa is a huge temptation.
The toughest part is formatting. Just when you think you’ve set up your template correctly, something happens, and you’re staring at 11 point Calibri with an extra half space between paragraphs!
The second toughest part about writing short fiction is that it is hard to say goodbye to some of your characters. I always imagine that they have other adventures ahead of them. I am in the process of writing those other adventures.
Did you do any specific research for any of your stories? Tell us a bit about that process.
Generally, I read a lot of nonfiction: science, history, politics, economics. I am constantly appalled at how we mistreat each other and every living creature out of our own sense of entitlement and for the sake of expedience. Entitlement and expedience are the wellspring of some very dark humour.
When four indigenous characters showed up in the text of "Ghost Note" and began interacting with three of the main characters who were musicians, I found myself detouring into the world of texts written by Thomas King, Wab Kinew, Tanya Talaga, Evan Pritchard, Brian Swann, and others. I asked two friends who are First Nations for advice. I got some advice. I read more books and proceeded with sincere humility. Writing fiction is an organic process. You start off with characters and a situation. You don’t always know who those characters are going to meet or where they are going to go. It is not unlike herding cats.
Research is also a great procrastination tool. When a blue eyed cockatoo showed up in "Dead Walk" I took out every single book at the local library that had 'parrot' in the title. Parrots are fascinating creatures. My wife no longer agrees. She was only mildly relieved when I switched to researching lichen.
What was the strangest or most memorable moment or experience during the writing process for you?
The most memorable and strangest experience was the beginning of this journey. This book came into existence because I asked the right question, of the right person, at the right time. Serendipity. Just over two years ago I was chatting to a freelance editor on my route about writing and editing. I asked her if I could show her a sample of my work and get an honest appraisal. I had been writing for many years out of passion and compulsion (mostly compulsion) but I had not managed to finish a project satisfactorily. She agreed and thought there was potential. Together we worked to make it happen. Since then I have met other people – artists, musicians, creative types – on my route who are enthusiastic and supportive. Together we will make this happen – unless of course I totally fuck up and then everyone will hate me.
Did you celebrate finishing your final draft or any other milestones during the writing process? If so, how?
Upon completing the final draft I celebrated with a shot of gin and a good night’s sleep. Upon acceptance for publication by Porcupine’s Quill, I celebrated by buying a second-hand surf-green Stratocaster. Maybe at some point I will buy a Fender Twin Reverb amp.
One can dream.
Born in Montreal, Daniel Bryant grew up in the small town of Aurora, Ontario. He graduated with an Honours B. A. In English from York University and received the Timothy Findley/William Whitehead Scholarship to attend the Humber School for Writers Correspondence Program. He has mentored with Paul Quarrington and Will Ferguson. Rerouted is his first collection of short stories. When not writing, Dan has worked many interesting jobs: printing press, tannery, tart factory, film crew. He currently works for Canada Post as a letter carrier. He lives in Toronto with his wife, Nancy, and occasional appearances by their grown son and daughter.