Queers Fail Better – Q / A with Lydia Kwa

Queers Fail Better – Q / A with Lydia Kwa

In her book ‘The Queer Art of Failure’ Judith Halberstam offers alternative ways of knowing and becoming. Instead of valuing the conventional paths of belonging, achievement and completion, she thinks about and champions the ways of “failure”: losing your way, giving in, being excluded, forgetting, awkwardness, coming apart. Not just rejecting the “normal,” Halberstam shows alternatives to success as paths that have always been there, moving away from mastery and coherence. In this series of Q&A’s with contributors to our upcoming Queer issue, we play with these ideas. When we aren’t trying to finish first (or finish anything) where do we end up?

Think back to when you started writing. What’s an earlier influence you outgrew, abandoned, or turned against?

I grew up in a Protestant home environment that espoused strong Fundamentalist beliefs—when I reflect on the structures that supported those beliefs, I can see how patriarchal those structures were. I was raised to fear and reject differences in thinking or experience that were not the status quo of that inside culture. That resulted in a great deal of conflict for me because I had experiences and ideas that didn’t fit into that normative stream. Sexism, misogyny, homophobia—you name it, I was heavily hampered by those powerful shadows. What was at the heart of the oppressiveness was the lack of open-minded enquiry and openhearted curiosity. Dogma—unquestioned and undiluted--was the Soup of the Day and Every Day…

My father used to say, “Children are meant to be seen and not heard”.  I was punished for asking questions at home. Well, now, I’m working in two professions where I get to ask questions all the time—as both writer and psychologist. Whoppee!

When a piece of writing doesn’t work out, what do you do with it? Discard? Fold it into another project? Salvage parts?

One or all of the above. It all depends. I have some sections I didn’t use for my novel The Walking Boy (Key Porter, 2005) that I am considering using or modifying for the sequel I am writing.

What do you do with your rejection letters?

What rejection? Just kidding! I used to have a file folder of them. But I’ve since shredded the letters. And now…hmmm…I think I simply ignore them and keep writing and looking for people and places that like to publish or feature my work. Every writer has some kind of audience somewhere sometime…it’s a matter of accepting that so-called rejection happens when the match isn’t right, and then later, the right match happens. I often joke that I want to be famous when I’m dead.

Do you plan out the piece beforehand or find your way as you go along? A combination of both?

Combination. I like combinations and complexity. It’s never simple, the writing process. That’s why I am hooked.

When a project is finished, how do you start the next one? Or do your projects overlap?

In a semi-comatose state of exhaustion and dread. Usually, my projects don’t overlap, but the only great exception so far has been my poetry manuscript sinuous, which had been in the background since 1997-98 while I was working on two other novels. Nowsinuous has been slated for publication in Spring 2014 by Turnstone and I’m starting to write a novel. So I guess, is it safe to say I’m getting better at complexity as I age?

Have you ever not sent a piece of writing somewhere because it seemed “too gay/queer” for that publication?

No, never.

What do you do to procrastinate?

Lots of visits to thrift shops! Talking to friends. Cooking.

Has anyone ever said something completely discouraging to you as an artist? Did it take the wind out of your sails or did it drive you forward? Or both?

Oh yeah! Quite a few times. Usually I get momentarily disheartened. Then I manage to do some constructive swearing and move forward. Because I have to, if I want to continue being a writer, and doing what matters to me.

Can a piece of writing fail, or is that a bullshit notion?

All writing fails, in a sense. Someone once asked me what was the hardest thing about writing a novel, and I said, “Failing. Because the moment you write it down is already a moment of failure.” To keep writing requires being prepared to face that failure and failing all the time, and still enjoy doing it, for the sheer joy and satisfaction.

Lydia Kwa lives and works in Vancouver as a psychologist and writer. She has published one book of poetryThe Colours of Heroines (Women's Press, 1994), and three novels,  This Place Called Absence (Turnstone, 2000),The Walking Boy (Key Porter, 2005), and Pulse (Key Porter, 2010). A second book of poetry sinuous is slated to be released in Spring 2014 with Turnstone Press.