In conversation with Irene Gentle

Our readers would like to know your inspiration (or story, if any) behind Crash.

Crash, as you can probably tell, came from a pretty dark time. My brother had recently died an agonizing death, another close relative was diagnosed with dementia and my mother died within these months. Since I was a kid I processed life and hurt through writing, and after my brother died, the words stopped. Oddly I’d written some fiction before any of this about words stopping, blank writing, a novel without words, all kinds of concepts around the absence or metamorphoses of words. But then it happened. 

My brother was unable to speak for a couple of months before he died. He was always a vivid, funny texter or emailer but in the last month that left too. I saw his words dry up into single emojis, and then even those ended. My mother also had a good way with words and her illness was fast, but her last email to me from the hospital starts normally and trails into gibberish. Words and writing got me through all my hurt and fears before, I made my career on words through journalism, and here they were dissolving like smoke. Anyway, I stopped writing. It was like words had betrayed me, or failed to meet this ridiculous moment. Except this piece, which I must have written at night, very quickly before I could stop myself. And sent it to you very quickly before I could stop myself. But even in this little piece is the analysis of words, like redemption, salvation, words I’d taken solace in as a kid brought out again for evaluation. 

Tell us more about your creative process in general.

Write fast, edit lots. I get stuck in a loop if I edit too much as I go, so I aim to get it out before my brain kicks in to ruin everything. Meaning a logical, practical brain is helpful in many situations but can get in the way of writing, rationalizing what needn’t be rationalized, second-guessing, protecting instead of letting the words or characters fall all over the place before trying to get back up. I don’t love structure and so have generally worked without character analysis or outlines in the past but I’m rethinking that now. Maybe the way to short-circuit the rational brain’s intervention is to have an outline you can go back to that shows it’s nosing in where it doesn’t belong. Get back in your corner, rational brain! But lots of editing. For clarity, length, tone. Paragraphs and sentences get shifted all over the place or deleted. And read it out loud. Amazing how doing that shows drags or lags or unhelpful oddness of language. Finally I’m always on the lookout for a word, sentence, fragment, image or feeling that leads to a story or adds to one. Anything can become something, eventually. 

Do you have any creative influences? What do you like the most about their work? Does it have a discernible effect on your writing?

I read a lot. A lot lot. But some things I love: Ancient Greek plays, mostly tragedies. I keep going back to them. They’re mesmerizing to me. For poetic writing, Anne Carson and Valzhyna Mort. Carson practically puts me in a trance, Mort is beautifully heartbreaking. I would love for either of them to influence my work but they’re leagues beyond me. Three novels I treasured this year are When We Were Birds by Ayanna Lloyd Banwo, magical, loving, beautiful, tragic, uplifting. Ghost Town by Kevin Chen, an incredible story set mostly in rural Taiwan of one family with people often behaving just appallingly badly but by the end you get it and want to comfort them and wish there was more. The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka, propulsive, vibrant, joyous writing even about the some of the worst things humanity has had to bear. I loved each of these and did try to take lessons from each. Aside from beautiful language, those things include magic, allowing characters to be the worst selves and resist tidying up after them, and vibrant, joyous life force even amid destruction. Korean dramas are also inspiring, their use of silence, of blank spaces, tropes and musical cues to carry plot forth without delay and character arcs that through small details unveiled slowly manage to turn a despicable character into one you may not be rooting for exactly, but you have empathy for. You get how they got there. Characters that start out as either all light or all shadow and wind up like tweed, threads woven so tightly you can’t tell when one starts or ends.  

Are there any creative genres, forms, themes, techniques etc. you wish you could employ in your writing which you haven’t yet?

Yes. So many. Or at least I’d like to do some more effectively. Writing that’s part story, part poem, or part play part story part poem, stories that start from animating a photograph, story in the form of dictionary, fictional mythical memoir, and I haven’t even mentioned music yet. Yes is the answer. Very much yes.

What are you looking forward to in your creative career?

Exploration. Like many people, I made choices and to make those choices work I gave up parts of me and things I love. Loss is in some ways a great liberator. There’s so much I want to try and some of it will be stupid or bad or self-indulgent, whatever. I don’t care, I want to give them the chance to live. In an ideal world, they could possibly inspire something in someone else out there, and give them a thread that leads to their own distant, wavering light getting a little closer. Creativity is such a vital thing for the human soul however you define that, and is so economically devalued. Every output is a fight against that. Cheering on all of you who engage in it despite the odds and the cost, because we’re already seeing the human cost of devaluing art, and it’s atrocious.

Irene Gentle is a journalist, editor, writer and aspiring drummer in Toronto, Canada, with words in the Eunoia Review, Litro Magazine and JAKE. A former editor-in-chief of the Toronto Star, she’s currently a VP in a Canadian media company.