Daniel Scott Tysdal Examines the Darkness, Strangeness, & Flickering Hope of Life in the 21st Century in His Spectacular Debut Story Collection
Daniel Scott Tysdal is a beloved creative writing professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough and a decorated poet. And of course, Tysdal is also an Open Book columnist and the subject of one of our all-time favourite author photos (that shirt!).
His newest book and first foray into a full length fiction project, Wave Forms and Doom Scrolls (Wolsak & Wynn), showcases his keen eye, deep compassion, and wire-taut prose. In stories that delve into topics both timely and timeless, from suicide cults and internet trolls to lost friends and bad decisions, Tysdal goes straight for the heart with insight and depth. These stories are the opposite of sentiment, instead unflinchingly peeling back the artifice of daily life to expose the beauty in our most tragic moments and the tragedy in our most beautiful ones.
We're thrilled to talk to Daniel today about Wave Forms and Doom Scrolls as part of our Keep it Short series for short story writers. He tells us about why he leaned into the strangeness of modern life, including YouTubers and online trolls amongst his complex protagonists, the unusual route he took to finding his excellent title (bending a genre rule in the process) and why it works, and the heart-warming explanation for the book's dedication.
What do the stories have in common? Do you see a link between them, either structurally or thematically?
Daniel Scott Tysdal:
My gut response to this question is: “I really hope these stories are linked by not being terrible!” This is my fifth book, but my first book of fiction, so I’m nervous. I hope readers get something out of the collection and find the works united by authentic, absorbing, and surprising characters and immersive, rewarding, and startling stories.
If these stories realize even a sliver of this hope, I imagine it’s because of their shared relationship to the twenty-first century. What stood out to me as I put this collection together is that these stories don’t just take place in the twenty-first century. They really engage with, and are entangled in, the strangeness, structures, politics, and technologies that make twenty-first century experience distinct.
The roots of these stories are elemental: a young man is cast out from his community, a hero seeks to uphold the law, a father betrays his daughter. Yet these elemental roots manifest in Wave Forms and Doom Scrolls in ways very particular to our contemporary moment. What happens when the cast out young man is a YouTube creator whose Luka Magnotta-vilifying video is interpreted as a threat against his teacher? What happens when the “hero” is an anonymous internet troll attacking a teenager for breaking the “Rules of the Internet”? What happens when a father’s betrayal involves the creation of a nightmarish Holocaust-themed amusement park?
How did you decide which story would be the title story of your collection? Why that story in particular?
We took a somewhat unique approach to titling the collection: choosing two title stories, “Wave Form” and “Doom Scrolls.”
Before we selected this title, these two stories had already settled, in terms of order, as the core of the book—stories five and six of a ten-story collection. “Wave Form” is a hopeful, personal meditation on surviving mental illness with the help of film and its communities. “Doom Scrolls” is a much less hopeful tunneling into the underworld of the internet through its eruptions into the lives of otherwise disconnected strangers. “Wave Form” is an adaptation of a short film, so it plays with words, images, and page layout. “Doom Scrolls” is told by an omniscient narrator as internet-user—obsessive yet infinitely distracted.
Following the “title story” convention, then, never felt right. “Wave Form,” on its own, brought too much lift, and was, potentially, too technical sounding, while “Doom Scrolls” was too heavy and foreboding. Combining the two titles immediately landed.
I think there are a few reasons for this. These two stories embody the emotional, thematic, and formal tensions and ranges of the collection. Wave Forms and Doom Scrolls has the chance to maybe catch a reader’s eye and spark their curiosity. And, to get nerdy, the poet in me really digs how the title scans: a dactyl and a trochee, falling rhythms.
Do you have a favourite short story collection that you've read? Tell us why it is special to you.
I’m going to put a twist on this question and ask: “do you have a favourite short story person?” My answer: Michael Trussler, brilliant poet and equally brilliant short story writer, critic, theorist, and teacher. In 2001, when I returned to university a third time to finally finish my undergraduate degree, I took my first class with Mike and my life changed.
Taking Mike’s class, and then reading his criticism and stories, really opened my eyes to the distinctiveness and possibilities of the short story. His short story collection, Encounters, then became a major source of inspiration and guidance. His influence on me as a poet and teacher was just as profound. I highly recommend reading everything he has written.
What story collections were you reading for inspiration while writing your book? What did you learn from them?
This is such a tough question. I learned so much from so many different short story collections while writing Wave Forms and Doom Scrolls. Three books that really stand out are Carrianne Leung’s That Time I Loved You, Spencer Gordon’s Cosmo, and Matthew J. Trafford’s The Divinity Gene.
As a short story fan, I was transfixed, challenged, moved, and enlivened by these exceptional collections. As a teacher, I had the joy of witnessing first-hand the inspiration and lessons the students drew from these collections and from the brilliance the author’s shared during their generous class visits. As a writer, I could probably compose a chapter in a creative writing textbook on the insights I gained.
I’ll save that chapter for another day and limit myself to one lesson from each writer. Leung is just so good at developing those precise details that seamlessly build character, story, and world and variously leave you shaken, laughing, and lifted. Gordon showed all the different ways new structures can arise from the voices and needs of truly distinct contemporary characters. Trafford expanded my understanding of the relationship between realism and, for lack of a better phrase, the “not real.” Rather than heading in Trafford’s marvelous and imaginative fabulist direction, though, I took this as the opportunity to delve into autofiction and speculative creative non-fiction, to explore the boundary between story and essay.
Who did you dedicate your collection to, and why?
I dedicated this collection to my siblings, Jayne and Nathan. I wanted to honour them and thank them for their love and support. They have helped me endure through hard times, and I am so grateful our relationship grows through our love of stories and art of all kinds.
Daniel Scott Tysdal is the ReLit Award-winning author of three books of poetry, the poetry textbook The Writing Moment: A Practical Guide to Creating Poems, and the TEDx talk, “Everything You Need to Write a Poem (and How It Can Save a Life).” His short films have screened at festivals in Canada, the US, Mexico, and Australia, and his debut short story collection, Wave Forms and Doom Scrolls, is forthcoming from Wolsak & Wynn. He teaches at the University of Toronto Scarborough.