Transcript: Russell Smith | Feb 07, 1999

(Rhythmic string and wind music plays)

In animation, a word in pink slides by against a gray background as hands paint strokes using paintbrushes, play a piano, and touch as in a ballet performance.

The title of the show reads “Dialogue.”

The title of the episode pops up “with RUSSELL SMITH Author.”

Richard and Russell sit in a restaurant with two glasses of water on the table.

Then, Richard appears facing the screen as a caption reads “Richard Ouzounian.” He's in his late forties, clean-shaven, with short side-parted blond hair. He's wearing rounded glasses, a black and gray striped shirt, and a black suit.

Richard says I'M RICHARD OUZOUNIAN.
ABOUT FOUR YEARS AGO, A
NOVEL CALLED
HOW INSENSITIVE
BURST ONTO THE CANADIAN
LITERARY SCENE
AND IT MADE AN
OVERNIGHT CELEBRITY
OUT OF ITS AUTHOR,
RUSSELL SMITH.
WELL, EVERYBODY'S
BEEN WAITING TO SEE
WHAT RUSSELL
HAS IN STORE.
IT'S FINALLY
COME ALONG.
IT'S CALLED
NOISE AND
HERE TO DISCUSS IT
WITH ME IS THE AUTHOR.
THIS DIALOGUE IS
WITH RUSSELL SMITH.
SO, RUSSELL,WELCOME.

Russell is in his mid-thirties. He has black hair combed to the back. He is wearing a black silky shirt, and a black suit.
Russell says HI.

Richard says FIRST THING IS EXPECTATIONS
ARE BEING LAID ON YOU.
YOU HAD A REMARKABLY
SUCCESSFUL FIRST NOVEL.
FIRST OF ALL, DID YOU
THINK HOW INSENSITIVE
WAS GOING TO BE AS
SUCCESSFUL AS IT WAS?

Russell says OH, OF COURSE NOT.
NO, ABSOLUTELY NOT.
HAD NO IDEA
WHATEVER.
THE FIRST NOVEL WAS A
LOT EASIER TO WRITE
FOR THAT REASON BECAUSE I
WAS WRITING IN THE VOID.
I WAS WRITING
FOR MYSELF.
I WAS HOPING TO
GET IT PUBLISHED.
I DIDN'T HAVE
A PUBLISHER.
AND IF I GOT PUBLISHED,
I WAS HAPPY.
I EXPECTED IT TO
VANISH INTO OBLIVION,
PARTICULARLY SINCE I WAS
PUBLISHED BY A SMALL PRESS,
THE PORCUPINE'S QUILL, WHICH
IS A VERY RESPECTED LITERARY
PRESS, BUT DOESN'T HAVE
A HUGE DISTRIBUTION
BUDGET OR ANYTHING
LIKE THAT.
AND I REMEMBER THE CALL
I GOT ONE AFTERNOON.
I FREELANCE AS A
MAGAZINE WRITER
AND SO I WAS
WORKING ON A STORY.
I HAD SOMEBODY
ON MY OTHER LINE.
I ANSWER A CALL
AND SOMEBODY SAYS,
I'M FROM THE
CANADA COUNCIL.
I JUST WANT TO TELL YOU THAT
YOU'VE BEEN SHORTLISTED
FOR THE GOVERNOR
GENERAL'S AWARD,
I DIDN'T UNDERSTAND
WHAT SHE WAS SAYING
BECAUSE IT WAS
INCOMPREHENSIBLE.
BECAUSE I WAS DISTRACTED,
I THOUGHT THAT SHE WAS
TELLING ME THAT MAYBE
THEY'D RECEIVED MY BOOK,
THAT MY PUBLISHER
HAD SUBMITTED IT
AND THEY HAD
RECEIVED IT,
OR THAT I WAS BEING TOLD
ABOUT THE ANNOUNCEMENTS
OF THE GOVERNOR GENERAL'S
AWARD SHORTLIST
AS A JOURNALIST, AS SOMEBODY
TO GO AND COVER IT.

Richard says BUT YOU DIDN'T THINK
IT WAS GOING TO BE YOU.

Russell says I WAS VERY BLASE WHEN
SHE TOLD ME AND I SAID,
OH, OKAY, WELL, THANK
YOU, AND SHE SAID, WELL -
SHE WAS A LITTLE TAKEN
ABACK AT MY COOLNESS
AND SHE SAID, WELL,
CONGRATULATIONS.
THEN I REALIZED WHAT
SHE WAS SAYING
AND I STARTED TO
HYPERVENTILATE.

(LAUGHTER)

Russell says AND THE REVIEWS
CHANGED AFTER.
THE REVIEWS OF MY FIRST BOOK
HAD BEEN QUITE GRUDGING
UP TO THAT POINT AND
LARGELY NEGATIVE.

Richard says RIGHT.

Russell says AND AFTER THE NOMINATION
FOR THE GOVERNOR GENERAL'S
WAS MADE PUBLIC, THE
REVIEWS MIRACULOUSLY
GREW MORE POSITIVE.

Richard says THIS IS INTERESTING.
WHY DO YOU THINK A
BOOK THAT THE PRESS
SEEMED NOT TO LIKE,
THE PUBLIC LIKED?

Russell says WELL, YEAH, IT
WAS VERY CONFUSING.
AND THE AWARDS' COMMITTEES -
LIKE WHEN I WAS SHORTLISTED
FOR THE TRILLIUM, FOR
THE GOVERNOR GENERAL'S,
FOR THE SMITH BOOKS, BOOKS
IN CANADA FIRST NOVEL AWARD,
AND THE CRITICS
DIDN'T LIKE IT.
I HAVE LOTS OF VIEWS ON
CRITICS AND THE STATE
OF CANADIAN LITERARY
CRITICISM AND I THINK
THAT IT'S BAD
ON THE WHOLE.
IT'S BAD AND I DON'T JUST
SAY THAT OUT OF BITTERNESS
BECAUSE I WASN'T
WELL REVIEWED,
BECAUSE I DID
WELL ANYWAY.
I THINK THAT THERE WAS
A LOT OF DISAPPROVAL
OF THE SUBJECT MATTER, A LOT
OF RESENTMENT OF TORONTO
ITSELF IN THE REVIEWS
OF MY FIRST BOOK.
I THINK THAT PEOPLE
DISAPPROVED OF THE BEHAVIOUR
OF THE CHARACTERS AND
SO JUDGED THE BOOK
BECAUSE OF THAT.
A LOT OF REVIEWERS, USUALLY
FROM SMALL UNIVERSITY TOWNS
OR FROM SMALL-TOWN NEWSPAPERS
TALKED ABOUT THE PATHETIC
RELATIONSHIPS, THE FAILED
RELATIONSHIPS IN THE BOOK.
WHO COULD POSSIBLY BE
INTERESTED IN A BOOK ABOUT
PEOPLE WHO AREN'T MARRIED
WAS BASICALLY THEIR –

(LAUGHTER)

Russell continues PARTICULARLY FROM THE
WEST OF THE COUNTRY.
THIS WAS A
CONSTANT REFRAIN.
WELL, I DON'T NEED TO
COMMENT ON HOW IDIOTIC
THAT IS A STANDARD FOR
JUDGING LITERATURE.

Richard says BUT NOW, DO YOU FEEL THAT
MAYBE YOU TOOK SOME OF ITS -
WELL, YOU'RE GOING TO
TAKE IT PERSONALLY
BECAUSE YOU WROTE IT.
BUT THERE WAS A CERTAIN
AMOUNT OF FUZZINESS
AS TO HOW AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL
THE BOOK WAS.

Russell says YEAH.

Richard says NOW, IT'S
FAIRLY, WASN'T IT?

A caption on screen reads “Russell Smith. Author.”

Russell says OH, YEAH, SURE, IT'S
AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL, YEAH.
MY SECOND BOOK IS TOO.
I CAN'T POSSIBLY
DENY THAT.
AND SO I THINK THAT THERE
WAS A LOT OF RESENTMENT
AT THE KIND OF PERSON
WHO WOULD LIVE IN THIS
DOWNTOWN TORONTO WORLD AND
UNASHAMEDLY WRITE ABOUT IT,
THAT THE RESENTMENT WAS
DIRECTED, I THINK IN PART,
TOWARDS ME, THAT - NOW, I
GOT SOME GOOD REVIEWS, TOO.
I HAVE TO ADMIT THAT.
I'M JUST TALKING ABOUT
THE BAD REVIEWS NOW.
THERE WAS ONE LINE FROM THE
CALGARY HERALD THAT SAID,
THIS IS A BOOK ABOUT A GROUP
OF EXPENSIVELY DRESSED,
PATHETIC LOSERS.

(LAUGHTER)

AND I CAN'T HELP THINKING
THAT THAT REVIEWER MUST HAVE
UNDERSTOOD THAT THIS WAS A
LARGELY AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL
BOOK AND KNEW THAT SHE
WAS LAUNCHING A PERSONAL
ATTACK ON ME,
WHICH IS FINE.
I'VE NO PROBLEM WITH
EMOTIONAL POLEMICS IN LITERARY
DEBATE, BUT CLEARLY THAT
WAS A PERSONAL COMMENT.

Richard says BUT AGAIN, HAVING GONE TO
THAT WELL ONCE AND HAVING
PUT YOURSELF AND YOUR LIFE
INTO A BOOK AND HAVING
BEEN ATTACKED FOR IT,
YOU'RE DOING IT AGAIN.
YOU SAVED ME THE QUESTION
I WAS GOING TO SAY,
NOW, COME ON, RUSSELL,
ISN'T JAMES THE HERO
OF NOISE QUITE
AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL
AND YOU ADMITTED HE IS.
WHY ARE YOU DOING THAT
TO YOURSELF AGAIN?

Russell says OH, GOD, I
DON'T KNOW.
I CAN'T HELP IT.
IT'S A COMPULSION.
THERE'S SOMETHING
NARCISSISTIC ABOUT
NOVEL WRITING, I THINK,
EVEN IF YOUR NOVEL ISN'T
OVERTLY AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL.
THERE'S ALWAYS SOMETHING
OF THE AUTHOR IN IT.
IN ANY PIECE OF ART THERE'S
A CONFESSIONAL URGE,
AN URGE TO EXPRESS,
AND AN URGE TO DISPLAY,
WHICH IS NOT VERY FAR FROM
A KIND OF EXHIBITIONISM,
I THINK, IN ALL
THE ARTS.
AND SO MY PUTTING MY ANGST,
AND EXAGGERATING IT SLIGHTLY
IN JAMES'S CASE, MY PUTTING
IT INTO THE PUBLIC EYE
IS PERHAPS ASKING FOR
ABUSE, BUT IT'S ALSO
A KIND OF ENJOYABLE
EXHIBITIONISM.

Richard says DO YOU THINK
YOU MAYBE HAVE,
AS THE OLD BRITISH
PHRASE USE TO HAVE,
BLOTTED YOUR COPYBOOK A BIT
WITH NOISE IN THE SENSE
THAT THE OPINION OF EDITORS OF
MAGAZINES IS NOT VERY HIGH,
AND JAMES'S ATTITUDE TOWARDS
HIS WORK IS SOMEWHAT CAVALIER?
I REMEMBER ONE SEQUENCE
WHERE HE'S CALLING FROM A PUB
WHERE THERE'S A POETRY
READING AND IT'S HOT AND
SWEATY AND THE EDITOR
TELLS HIM THAT SOMETHING
GOT BUMPED AND HE
NEEDS 50 MORE WORDS
FROM JAMES'S
RESTAURANT REVIEW.
AND JAMES STARTS AD LIBBING
THE REVIEW BASED ON FRAGMENTS
HE'S HEARING FROM
CONVERSATIONS AROUND HIM
AND TRYING TO REMEMBER
THE MENU AND ALL OF THAT.
DO YOU EXPECT PEOPLE TO
HIRE RUSSELL SMITH
AS A RESTAURANT REVIEWER
AFTER HAVING HEARD THAT?

Russell says I HOPE THEY DO BUT I DON'T
BLAME THEM IF THEY DON'T.
YEAH, I HOPE THAT I
HAVEN'T BURNT ALL MY BRIDGES
BECAUSE I AM IN A LOT OF
WAYS BITING THE HAND
THAT FEEDS ME IN THIS
BOOK, BUT YOU KNOW,
WHAT THAT REFLECTS IS MY
LOVE/HATE RELATIONSHIP
WITH THE MEDIA, WHICH
I'M VERY MUCH A PART OF.
AND I'M VERY MUCH
COMPLICIT IN IT.
I THINK ALL SATIRE
THROUGHOUT HISTORY
HAS BEEN WRITTEN
BY INSIDERS.
MY FIRST BOOK, A LOT
OF THE CRITICISM SAID,
WHO IS THIS GUY TO COME IN
AND KNOCK ALL THIS WORLD.
HE SHITS ALL OVER
TORONTO, PEOPLE SAID.
HE HATES IT.
I DIDN'T FEEL
THAT AT ALL.
I FELT THAT I WAS
WRITING AN ENJOYABLE -
I WAS WRITING ABOUT A
WORLD OF GLAMOUR TO ME.

Richard says MM-HMM.

Russell says I WAS WRITING ABOUT WHAT
I SAW AS SOPHISTICATION.
AND I MADE FUN OF IT,
BUT AT THE SAME TIME,
I, LIKE TED, THE CHARACTER
IN MY FIRST NOVEL,
DELIGHTED IN THE URBAN
SOPHISTICATION AND PRETENSION.
THAT PERHAPS DIDN'T
COME ACROSS AS WELL
AS I WANTED IT TO.
THE SECOND BOOK IS
EVEN MORE NEGATIVE,
BUT THERE'S STILL A
SENSE THAT THIS IS
AT LEAST A FUN WORLD
TO BE MAKING FUN OF.

Richard says YEAH.

Russell says THAT I'M ENTIRELY
A PART OF IT.
I DON'T SEE MYSELF
AS A SUPERIOR,
CONDESCENDING
CASTIGATOR.
IT'S ALL ABOUT ME AND
MY INVOLVEMENT IN IT.
YOU KNOW, I WAS INTERVIEWED
IN A TRADE MAGAZINE,
QUILL AND QUIRE, RECENTLY, AND
I MADE FUN OF TELEVISION
PANELS THAT I HAD
BEEN ASKED TO BE ON.
AND I NOW REGRET THINGS
THAT I SAID IN THAT PANEL
BECAUSE I VERY MUCH OFFENDED
SOME TELEVISION PRODUCERS
WHO ARE FRIENDS OF MINE
AND WHO ACTUALLY PAY ME
GOOD MONEY TO COME AND TALK
ON THEIR TELEVISION PANELS,
AND SO THEY WERE
UNDERSTANDABLY UPSET
THAT I WAS MOCKING
THE PROCESS.
I MADE GROVELING APOLOGIES
AND TRIED TO EXPLAIN THAT
WHAT I WAS ATTEMPTING TO
DISCUSS IN THAT INTERVIEW
WAS THIS LOVE/HATE
RELATIONSHIP AND THIS
COMPLICITY IN AN INDUSTRY
WHICH GIVES ME DOUBT,
BUT WHICH I ENJOY
AT THE SAME TIME.

Richard says YOU TALK ABOUT THE
LOVE/HATE RELATIONSHIP
AND DOUBTS AND THINGS.
TO GO BACK TO
HOW INSENSITIVE,
FOR A SECOND, AND TO TED.
THERE WAS AN ODD DYNAMIC
HAPPENING THERE,
THAT THIS WAS THIS GUY WHO
CAME FROM THE MARITIMES
AND WANTED TO MAKE
IT BIG IN THE CITY,
WANTED TO JUST
BE IN THE CITY.
AND I FELT SOMETIMES
IT WAS SIMULTANEOUSLY
THAT YOU WERE PRESSING YOUR
NOSE AGAINST THE GLASS
AND THEN TRYING TO THUMB
YOUR NOSE AT THE SAME TIME,
WHICH IS BIOLOGICALLY
IMPOSSIBLE.

Russell says RIGHT.

Richard says BUT BY THE TIME
WE GET TO BOOK TWO,
JAMES IS PART
OF THE SCENE.

Russell says YEAH.

Richard says HE IS ACCEPTED.
HE IS REASONABLY SUCCESSFUL,
SO HE DOESN'T HAVE
AN AXE TO GRIND.
DO YOU FIND THAT CHANGED HOW
YOU FELT ABOUT THE MILIEU?

Russell says YOU'RE RIGHT THAT TED IS
AN OUTSIDER AND JAMES
IS VERY MUCH AN INSIDER,
AND HE'S A JADED INSIDER.
THIS OF COURSE REFLECTS
MY OWN PROGRESS

(LAUGHTER)

Russell continues IN THE YEARS SINCE
THE FIRST BOOK.
AND I THINK JAMES
IS MORE NEUROTIC
AND MORE UNHAPPY
THAN TED.
HE'S NOT HAVING THIS GLEEFUL
FIRST INTRODUCTION TO THE CITY.
HE WANTS OUT.
HE'S UNHAPPY WITH THE
CITY AND HE'S UNHAPPY
WITH THE MEDIA WORLD
THAT HE WRITES FOR.
HE DOES HAVE AN AXE
TO GRIND, JAMES,
AND IS VERY CONFUSED BECAUSE
HE IS BITING THE HAND
THAT FEEDS HIM, AS WELL.
JAMES'S BIG PROBLEM IS THAT
HE HAS A SECRET LIFE,
WHICH IS ART, WHICH IS AN
INTEREST IN SERIOUS ART,
WHICH THE MEDIA WHO'S HIRED
HIM FOR HIS INTELLIGENCE
IS NOT INTERESTED IN AND IS NOT
ALLOWING HIM TO TALK ABOUT.
I DON'T PLAY A MUSICAL
INSTRUMENT LIKE JAMES.
JAMES PLAYS THE VIOLIN.

Richard says ALTHOUGH, WHAT'S INTERESTING
TO MENTION THAT IS,
WHAT I FOUND REALLY
REVEALING IS,
JAMES TALKS ABOUT, NOT JUST
HIS PLAYING THE VIOLIN,
BUT HE ALSO TRIED TO
WRITE SERIOUS MUSIC
AND IT WAS GARBAGE.
HE CLAIMS IT WAS GARBAGE
AND HE THREW IT OUT.
AND I PAUSED AND SAID,
WHAT IS RUSSELL SAYING,
IF HE IS SAYING, THAT HE
TRIED TO WRITE AND COULDN'T?
HAVE YOU TRIED TO WRITE
NON-AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL FICTION?
HAVE YOU TRIED TO WRITE
THINGS THAT AREN'T SO MUCH
ABOUT WHAT YOU ARE
SEEING AND BREATHING
AND FEELING EVERY DAY?

Russell says YEAH, YEAH, YOU MAY
SEE THEM APPEAR
IN THE NEXT
FEW YEARS.

Richard says SO THEY
HAVEN'T FAILED.

Russell says WELL, THE THING IS THAT,
FIRST OF ALL, IT'S NOT
QUITE AS SIMPLE AS SAYING
THE FIRST TWO BOOKS ARE -
THEY'RE NOT ENTIRELY
AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL,
THAT OBVIOUSLY ANYTHING THAT
YOU WRITE DOWN IN A STORY
WITH A BEGINNING, MIDDLE,
AND END IS FUNDAMENTALLY
CHANGED FROM YOUR
EVERYDAY LIFE.
YOUR EVERYDAY LIFE
DOESN'T FEEL THAT WAY.
IT DOESN'T HAVE NEATLY
CONTAINED ANECDOTES
WITH BEGINNINGS,
MIDDLES, AND ENDS,
AND OBVIOUSLY THERE ARE LOTS
OF DETAILS IN THE BOOKS,
BOTH BOOKS, THAT ARE
NOT AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL.
I DON'T HAVE A
BROTHER, FOR EXAMPLE,
AND I DIDN'T GROW
UP IN A SUBURBAN,
SOUTHERN ONTARIO TOWN.

Richard says RIGHT.

Russell says AND I DON'T
PLAY THE VIOLIN.
IN FACT, I'VE NEVER PLAYED
ANY MUSICAL INSTRUMENT
OR TRIED TO WRITE MUSIC.
AND EVEN IF YOU WRITE
ABOUT - IN THE PROJECTS
THAT I'M
WORKING ON NOW,
WHICH ARE NOT ABOUT
EXACTLY THE SAME MILIEU,
AND I'M WORKING NOW ON A
COLLECTION OF SHORT STORIES
WHICH INVOLVE SOME
FEMALE PROTAGONISTS.
EVERYTHING HAS TO BE THINGS
THAT I HAVE OBSERVED.
I'M NEVER GOING TO WRITE A
BOOK ABOUT THE WILD WEST
OR I'M NEVER GOING TO
WRITE A BOOK ABOUT BEING
A DRILLER ON AN OIL RIG,
UNLESS I GO AND RESEARCH
THAT VERY CAREFULLY.
I'M A BIG ADMIRER OF
NATURALIST WRITERS
OF THE 19TH CENTURY LIKE ZOLA,
WHO WOULD SPEND MONTHS
RESEARCHING THE WAY
A COAL MINE WORKED,
GOING DOWN INTO THE MINES,
MAKING DETAILED DRAWINGS
OF THE BUILDINGS THAT
HE WAS DESCRIBING.
HE USED A JOURNALISTIC
TECHNIQUE.
AND I LIKE TO THINK THAT I
USE TO A CERTAIN EXTENT
A JOURNALISTIC
TECHNIQUE, AS WELL,
IN THAT I'M OBSERVING
THE MILIEUS AROUND ME
AND I'M WRITING DOWN THE
DIALOGUE THAT I OVERHEAR.
YOU CAN TELL IN NOISE
THERE'S A LOT OF DIALOGUE
THAT'S CLEARLY OVERHEARD.
AND I'M TRYING TO OBSERVE
THE SURFACE OF LIFE
AS WE KNOW IT.
SO WHATEVER THE
SUBJECT OF THE STORY,
I'M ALWAYS GOING TO BE
USING THAT TECHNIQUE.
I'M ALWAYS GOING TO
HAVE EXPERIENCE.

Richard says YOU TALKED ABOUT JOURNALISM
AND STARTING WITH ABOUT
THE MID '60s, THE NEW
JOURNALISM BEGAN WITH WOLFE
AND BRESLIN AND MAILER AND
EVERYONE WAS THE WRITER
OF THE PIECE WHO USED
TO MAKE HIMSELF
AS INVISIBLE AS POSSIBLE
NOW STOOD FRONT AND CENTRE.
SO, IT COULD BE ARGUED
THAT YOU ARE STILL
DOING JOURNALISM.
BUT YOU'RE MAKING YOURSELF
AS MUCH A PART OF THE PIECE
AS JIMMY BRESLIN DID WHEN
HE WOULD PUT HIMSELF IN,
OR NORMAN MAILER WOULD
WHEN HE'D PUT HIMSELF IN.
SO WHEN YOU'RE WRITING YOUR
REVIEWS AND YOU'RE DOING
YOUR MAGAZINE ARTICLES,
YOU'RE KIND OF KEEPING NOTES?
DO YOU FIND YOURSELF DOING
IT AT THE TIME OR AFTER?

Russell says BOTH.

Richard says BOTH?

Russell says IT DEPENDS IF
IT'S POSSIBLE TO -
SOMETIMES IT'S NOT POSSIBLE
TO HAVE A NOTEBOOK.
I HAVE BEEN A RESTAURANT
REVIEWER FOR SEVERAL
MAGAZINES AND FOR A RADIO
SHOW AND I HAD TO ALWAYS BE
INCOGNITO AND SO I HAD TO
HIDE MY NOTETAKING UNDER
THE TABLE AND SOMETIMES
JUST STEAL A MENU
AND DO IT WHEN
I GOT HOME.

Richard says WELL, THERE IS A SCENE IN
NOISE WHEN IN THE MIDDLE
OF A DINNER WHICH IS PROVING
TO BE A BIT OF A FIASCO,
JAMES'S DATE STARTS TO MAKE A
SCENE AND BECAUSE OF THAT,
JAMES'S PICTURE IS NOTICED
AS ONE OF THE RESTAURANT
REVIEWERS AND THEN SUDDENLY
HE'S CATERED TO AND ALL THAT.
TO ME, THAT INCIDENT IS
ONE OF THE PIVOTAL ONES
IN THE BOOK AND I WANT
TO TAKE TWO PARTS OF IT.
THE FIRST PART IS, DID
THAT EVER HAPPENED TO YOU?
WERE YOU EVER SUDDENLY
RECOGNIZED AND THEN CATERED TO?

Russell says SEVERAL TIMES, YEAH.
YEAH. AND ONCE BECAUSE MY
GIRLFRIEND HAD A BIT
TOO MUCH TO DRINK.

Richard says AS THE LATEST
HEROINE IN DID.

Russell says THAT'S RIGHT, AND SHE
LOUDLY ANNOUNCED MY NAME,
INTRODUCING ME TO
SOMEBODY RIGHT IN FRONT
OF THE OWNER OF
THE RESTAURANT.
AND HE WAS PRETTY
SUBTLE ABOUT IT,
BUT I DID GET A COUPLE OF
BRANDIES APPEARING FREE
OF CHARGE AT THE END.
AND ONCE I WAS IN A VERY
EXPENSIVE RESTAURANT -
SEE, I'M IN THIS WONDERFUL
SITUATION - ALWAYS IN MY
PAST SEVEN YEARS IN TORONTO,
I'VE BEEN IN THIS GREAT
SITUATION THAT I'VE BEEN.
MY FRIENDS HAVE BEEN
IMPOVERISHED, STRUGGLING
ARTISTS AND DANCERS
AND WHATNOT, AND THEN I
PUT ON THIS OTHER HAT AS A
RESTAURANT REVIEWER AND GO
AND SPEND SOMEBODY ELSE'S
MONEY IN THE LUXURIOUS
RESTAURANT LIKE THIS
AND SPEND UP TO 300 DOLLARS
ON DINNER FOR TWO.
AND SO I GO INTO THESE
PLACES AND I RUN INTO
BARTENDERS AND WAITERS
WHO ARE FRIENDS OF MINE.
THEN MY COVER'S SURELY
BLOWN COMPLETELY.
IT'S A RISK THAT I'VE
RUN THAT I DON'T THINK
ANY OTHER RESTAURANT
REVIEWER IN THE CITY RUNS.

Richard says THERE'S ALSO A GREAT IRONY
THAT EXISTS ALL THE WAY
THROUGH THE BOOK, IS THAT
YOU KEEP KEEPING TRACK
OF JAMES SAYING,
HAVE I EATEN TODAY?
MAYBE I OUGHT TO HAVE
A SLICE OF PIZZA.
MAYBE I OUGHT TO DO THIS,
AND THEN GOING OUT AND
DISCUSSING THE TEXTURE OF -
MAYBE PERHAPS IT WAS
KISSED BY GRAPEFRUIT,
THE SORBET OR THAT.

Russell says JAMES ONLY
EATS PIZZA.
I DON'T THINK OUTSIDE
THE RESTAURANT REVIEWS
HE'S PICTURED EATING ANYTHING
ELSE IN THE WHOLE BOOK.
HE'S NOT INTERESTED
IN FOOD.

Richard says NO, AND EVEN AS
HE'S SITTING THERE,
HE LOSE HIS
APPETITE, RIGHT?

Russell says YEAH.
THIS IS WHAT
HAPPENED TO ME
WHEN I WAS A
RESTAURANT CRITIC.
I AM INTERESTED IN FOOD,
BUT I GET TENSE ABOUT
THE WORK OF HAVING TO WRITE
DOWN THE DESCRIPTION.
THE BIGGEST WORK IS NOT
YOUR JUDGMENT OF THE FOOD,
BUT IT'S THE WRITING.
THAT'S THE MOST
DIFFICULT THING.
AND SO THE WORK OF EATING
BECOMES A WORK ABOUT
WORDS AND WORDS IS WORK.
AND SO, IT'S TENSE.
AND I GENERALLY DON'T ENJOY
MYSELF BECAUSE I'M WORKING.
I'M TENSE AND I'M
CONCENTRATING AND
I'M THINKING ABOUT HOW
TO DESCRIBE THINGS
AND WHAT I SHOULD TRY.

Richard says NOW, THE OTHER THING ABOUT
THAT DINNER THAT GOES AWRY,
SOMETHING GOES DRASTICALLY
WRONG WITH THE CHEF,
AND IT'S KIND OF, FOR PEOPLE
WHO ARE INTO THE TORONTO
RESTAURANT BUSINESS,
IT'S KIND OF,
I KNOW WHO THAT CHEF IS.
IT IS A WELL-KNOWN CHEF WHO
OPENS RESTAURANTS EVERY
TWO OR THREE WEEKS
AND IS KNOWN TO HAVE
A MAJOR DRUG PROBLEM.
AND WITH THAT SEQUENCE, IT
KIND OF LIKE POPPED UP
OUT OF THE NOVEL LIKE
A POP-UP DRAWING
BECAUSE IT IS SO MUCH
RECOGNIZABLE.
DID YOU INTEND THAT?

Russell says NO.
I MEAN, FIRST OF
ALL, I DON'T KNOW
WHAT YOU'RE
TALKING ABOUT, OKAY?
THERE'S NO BASIS IN
ANY REAL PERSON
AND EVERYTHING'S
STRICTLY COINCIDENTAL.
SECONDLY, I MEAN -
FIRST OF ALL,
ONE DOESN'T WRITE A NOVEL
WITH THE INTENT OF BEING SUED.
SECONDLY, I WOULD HATE THIS
BOOK TO ONLY BE INTELLIGIBLE
OR AMUSING TO PEOPLE
IN DOWNTOWN TORONTO
WHO KNOW A CHEF
WHO'S LIKE THAT.
THE POINT IS THAT IT COULD
BE READ BY ANY ENGLISH
SPEAKING PERSON ANYWHERE
IN THE WORLD WHO KNOWS
WHAT CITIES ARE LIKE AND WHO
CAN IMAGINE A CHEF LIKE THAT.
I THINK THE BIG CRITERION
THAT I HAVE TO CONSTANTLY
KEEP MY MIND IN IS NOT,
IS IT TRUE TO LIFE,
BUT IS IT PLAUSIBLE THAT,
COULD THIS HAPPEN?
NOT IS THERE A CHEF WHO IS
PARTICULARLY LIKE THIS?
SO I HOPE THAT THIS BOOK -
I REALLY HOPE THAT THIS BOOK
DOESN'T BE CALLED
A ROMAN A CLEF,
WHICH IS A DEATH
FOR ANY BOOK.

Richard says BUT AGAIN, IF YOU DON'T
WANT THAT TO HAPPEN,
WHY DO YOU - EVEN IF
IT'S NOT INTENTIONAL,
LARD SO MANY SPECIFIC DETAILS
ONTO LIKE ONE CHARACTER?

Russell says OH, FAILURE OF
IMAGINATION.
THAT'S ALL.
I'M JUST TAKING
ANECDOTES FROM REAL LIFE
AND THEN MELDING
THEM TOGETHER.
I THINK A LOT OF THE
CHARACTERS - MOST OF
THE CHARACTERS ARE NOT
ANYBODY SPECIFIC.
THEY'RE TYPES.
AND PARTICULARLY THE
PRIMARY CHARACTERS,
I MEAN, THAT CHEF APPEARS
IN A SMALL SCENE,
SO THERE ARE LITTLE
CAMEOS LIKE THAT.
AND IF YOU KNOW THAT
THERE'S SOMEBODY LIKE THAT
IN TORONTO, YOU GET
SOMETHING EXTRA FROM IT.
YOU ABSOLUTELY
DON'T HAVE TO,
TO FIND THAT A CRAZY AND,
I HOPE, AMUSING SCENE.
BUT THE PRIMARY PEOPLE -
JAMES, NICOLA, ALISON -
ARE STEREOTYPES THAT
I'VE MADE COMPOSITES
OF PEOPLE WHO I KNOW.
THE CRAZY VIDEOGRAPHER
IS A TYPE IN MY LIFE.
THE SQUARE, SMALL-TOWN
GIRL IS THE GIRL FROM
MY HIGH SCHOOL WHO
STAYED BEHIND IS A TYPE.
SO THEY'RE NOT
ACTUAL PEOPLE.

Richard says NOW, AGAIN, ONE OF THE
THINGS THAT HAPPENED
WITH HOW INSENSITIVE IS
PEOPLE WENT AFTER
THE RELATIONSHIPS.

Russell says MM-HMM.

Richard says IN HERE, JAMES BECOMES
SMITTEN WITH NICOLA,
THE VIDEOGRAPHER, AND DOES
THIS MAD PURSUIT AND
IS CLIMBING ON ROOVES
AND THINGS AND GOING
ALL OVER THE PLACE.
OF COURSE, WHEN NICOLA
FINALLY DOES WIND UP
IN BED WITH HIM, AROUND
3:00 IN THE MORNING,
IT'S THE TEARS AND I REALLY
FEEL I COULD COMMIT MORE
IF I FELT THAT THERE WAS A MAN
WHO WAS GOING TO MARRY ME.
ON THE OTHER HAND, WHEN HE
GOES BACK TO THE SMALL TOWN
AND MEETS AND HAS A
COURTSHIP WITH ALI
WHO IS YOU THINK THE
NICE GIRL, RIGHT?
THE SWIMMER.
SHE TURNS OUT TO BE THE
WOULD-BE DOMINATRIX.

Russell says YEAH.

Richard says ARE YOU MAKING A POINT
THERE ABOUT -

Russell says YEAH.

Richard says THE CITY GRUNGE GIRL AND
THE SMALL TOWN NICE GIRL?

Russell says WELL, YEAH.
THE POINT SIMPLY,
YOU CAN NEVER TELL,
THAT'S THE PROBLEM.

(LAUGHTER)

Richard says YEAH, YEAH.
BUT WHAT IS JAMES LOOKING
FOR FROM THESE TWO WOMEN?
OR IS HE LOOKING
FOR ANYTHING?

Russell says YEAH, THAT HE
DOESN'T KNOW.
I MEAN, HE REALLY
DOESN'T KNOW.
HE TALKS ABOUT THIS
AT GREAT LENGTH,
THAT HE DOESN'T KNOW.
SO I COULDN'T
TELL YOU.
I DON'T KNOW EXACTLY WHAT
JAMES IS LOOKING FOR,
OR IF HE'S LOOKING
FOR ANYTHING.
I THINK THAT HIS PRIMARY
ATTRACTION TO WOMEN
IS PHYSICAL;
IT'S JUST LUST.
AND HE'S INTERESTED IN THEIR
CLOTHES MORE THAN ANYTHING.

Richard says GREAT DESCRIPTION OF
HOW MUCH CLOTHES COVER,
WHAT THEY DON'T COVER,
AND ALL OF THAT, YEAH.

Russell says RIGHT, RIGHT, THAT
HE'S LIVING IN A WORLD
THAT TAKES SURFACES VERY
SERIOUSLY AND SO THAT'S
WHAT HE'S DRAWN TO AND IT'S
NOT SATISFYING TO HIM.
THAT'S ABOUT THE ONLY
MORALIZING I'M EVER GOING
TO DO IN MY FICTION, BUT I
THINK THAT'S PROBABLY
WHAT IT IS.
IT'S A KIND OF MORALIZING
ABOUT THE INADEQUACY
OF THAT ATTRACTION.
IT'S SPOKEN FROM DEEP
PERSONAL EXPERIENCE.

(LAUGHTER)

Richard says IS THERE ANY KIND OF
A PERSONAL ATTRACTION
THAT IS NOT SHALLOW AND
ULTIMATELY UNFULFILLING
TO YOU OR YOUR
CHARACTERS?

Russell says WELL, LET'S KEEP
THEM SEPARATE.

Richard says WELL, NO, YOU SAY THEY
ARE ALL INTERTWINED.
IT'S ALL
AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL.
IT'S ALL COMPOSITES.

Russell says WELL, YOU KNOW, I'M
A SERIAL MONOGAMIST.
I'VE HAD MANY LONG-TERM,
LIVE-IN RELATIONSHIPS.
I'M NOT LIKE JAMES WHO
HASN'T HAD A GIRLFRIEND
SINCE HIGH SCHOOL AND ALWAYS
GOES FOR THE WRONG WOMAN.
I THINK THERE'S A CERTAIN
AMOUNT OF FANTASIZING THAT
GOES ON WHEN YOU'RE WRITING
A NOVEL ABOUT THE KIND OF
WOMEN I'D LIKE TO SLEEP
WITH AND YOU PUT THEM -
YOU CAN SLEEP WITH
THEM IN THE BOOK.

(LAUGHTER)

Russell continues SO I THINK MAYBE YOU'RE
LOOKING A LITTLE
TOO DEEPLY FOR
MEANING IN THERE.
THERE ARE A LOT OF SEXY
GIRLS AND HE GETS TO -
HE GETS TO SLEEP
WITH ALL OF THEM.
THAT'S CLASSIC MALE PATTERN
IN FICTION WRITING.

Richard says THE CITY OF TORONTO
THAT WE GO THROUGH
IN THE SHORT PERIOD OF
TIME THE BOOK TAKES,
IT IS HOT AND NOISY.
YOU KEEP TALKING
ABOUT THE HEAT.

Russell says YEAH.

Richard says THE TEMPERATURE RISES.
JAMES IS SWEATING
CONSTANTLY.
GRAPHIC DESCRIPTIONS OF HIM
IN THE MIDDLE OF A POETRY
READING TAKING HIS T-SHIRT
AND WIPING HIS FACE WITH IT.
YOU OBVIOUSLY CHOSE THAT
KIND OF A TIME-SPACE
CONTINUUM FOR A REASON.
HOW COME?

Russell says IT'S HELL.
TORONTO IN THE
SUMMER IS HELL.
IT'S TOTALLY HELLISH AND THE
NOISE IS - COMPARED WITH
THE HEAT, IS ABSOLUTELY
INFERNAL AND THAT'S WHY
THE BOOK'S CALLED NOISE.
THERE'S NOISE IN
ALMOST EVERY SCENE.
THE JACKHAMMERS AND STEREOS;
IF YOU'RE NOT PRIVILEGED
IN THE CITY, IF YOU DON'T
HAVE A LOT OF MONEY,
YOU ARE CONDEMNED TO
LIVING IN EXTREME NOISE,
PARTICULARLY IN THE SUMMER
WHEN WINDOWS ARE OPEN
AND PARTICULARLY
FROM CAR STEREOS.
NOISE POLLUTION IS THE
WORST PROBLEM IN THE CITY.
PEOPLE ARE INCAPABLE OF
DOING ANY ACTIVITY WITHOUT
A RADIO ACCOMPANIMENT, WHETHER
THEY'RE WORKMEN WORKING
IMMEDIATELY OUTSIDE YOUR
WINDOW OR DRUG DEALERS
DOING DEALS IN
THE ALLEY.
I DON'T MIND THEM DOING
THE DEALS IN THE ALLEY
AT 4:00 IN THE MORNING.
I JUST WISHED THEY TURN THEIR
BOOM BOOM BASS STEREO OFF.
AND SO, IT'S A REFLECTION
OF EXTREME ANGST ON MY PART
THAT THIS BOOK IS ABOUT
THIS KIND OF HELLISH,
STRESSFUL WORLD.
ALSO THE LIFE OF A FREELANCE
WRITER IS VERY STRESSFUL.
YOUR PHONE IS RINGING ALL
THE TIME AND YOU'VE MADE
COMMITMENTS TO LOTS OF
PEOPLE WHICH YOU'RE HAVING
TROUBLE FULFILLING AND
ALSO THE PAY IS VERY BAD.
YOU'RE DEALING WITH -
YOU'RE INTERVIEWING SAY
AN IMPORTANT WRITER ON THE
PHONE FROM WHAT HE THINKS
IS AN OFFICE, BUT IN FACT
YOU'RE SITTING ON YOUR BED
COVERED WITH DIRTY CLOTHES
AND YOU'RE WORRIED THAT YOUR
ROOMMATES HAVING SEX NEXT
DOOR ARE GOING TO INTERFERE
WITH THE PHONE CALL OR THAT
THE LANDLADY'S GOING TO
POUND ON YOUR DOOR ANY
SECOND AND COMPLAIN ABOUT
THE BICYCLES ON THE DECK,
OR THAT THE DRUG DEALERS
ARE GOING TO TURN
ON THEIR STEREOS.
IT'S AN IMMEDIATELY
COMIC SITUATION TO ME
THAT ALL THESE FREELANCE
WRITERS ALL OVER THE CITY
ARE PRETENDING TO BE THESE
SERIOUS BUSINESS PEOPLE
LIVING AT HOME AND DEALING
WITH THIS HOME STRESSES,
TALKING TO PEOPLE IN
AIR-CONDITIONED OFFICES.
IT CREATES THE GREATEST
RESENTMENT WHEN YOU'RE
SITTING IN YOUR SHORTS,
DRIPPING WITH SWEAT,
TALKING TO AN EDITOR IN AN
AIR-CONDITIONED OFFICE.

Richard says AND THAT COMES THROUGH.
THE EDITORS OF VARIOUS
TYPES IN THE BOOK
ARE ALMOST ALL
UNSYMPATHETIC.

Russell says MM-HMM.

Richard says HAVE YOU NEVER MET A
SYMPATHETIC EDITOR?

Richard says OH, SURE.
NO, I'VE HAD
TERRIFIC EDITORS.
JAMES'S BIG PROBLEM IS THAT
HE'S NOT ALLOWED TO WRITE
ABOUT ANYTHING SERIOUS.
HE CAN ONLY WRITE ABOUT
CELEBRITIES AND HE CAN
ONLY - HE WRITES AN ARTICLE
FOR AN AMERICAN MAGAZINE,
WHICH IS HIS BIG BREAK,
ABOUT A CANADIAN POET,
BUT HE'S NOT ALLOWED
TO MENTION THE FACT
THAT THE POET IS CANADIAN.
THIS WAS LARGELY BASED
ON AN EXPERIENCE I HAD
WITH AN AMERICAN MAGAZINE,
WHICH WAS NIGHTMARISH.
AND JUST TOTALLY NIGHTMARISH
AND YOUR WORST FEARS
ABOUT MAGAZINES
WERE PROVEN.
Richard says AND IS THAT PRETTY
MUCH WHAT HAPPENS
TO JAMES IN THE NOVEL?

Russell says I THINK IT WAS WORSE
IN MY OWN EXPERIENCE.
I DIDN'T GIVE JAMES
THE FULL RUNAROUND.
THIS HAS NOT BEEN
MY EXPERIENCE
WITH CANADIAN
MAGAZINES.
CANADIAN CULTURE ACTUALLY
IS MUCH MORE LITERATE
THAN THE MAINSTREAM.
THE MAINSTREAM OF
CANADIAN CULTURE IS MORE
SOPHISTICATED THAN THE
MAINSTREAM OF AMERICAN.

Richard says BUT WHAT'S INTERESTING,
WHAT HAPPENS TO JAMES,
LET ME GO TO THIS
PARTICULAR SAGA.
HE GOES TO INTERVIEW THIS
POET WHO, OF COURSE,
IS DRUNK, HAS BEEN
DRUNK FOR YEARS,
IS PRACTICALLY
IN A COMA.
IN THE COURSE OF
THE INTERVIEW,
JAMES FINDS OUT THAT THE
ONE WORK THAT EVERYONE'S
ACCLAIMING HIM FOR, HE
ACTUALLY HAD WRITTEN
ABOUT 25 YEARS BEFORE,
AND THEN RE-DISCOVERED.
THE WIFE FILLS
IN QUESTIONS.
THE GIRLFRIEND WHO'S
TAKING THE PICTURES
NEARLY LOSES
THE FILM.
HE HAS TO RETRIEVE THE
FILM, SENDS IT ALL OFF,
AND OF COURSE WHAT HAPPENS,
THE PHOTOS BECOME THE MAJOR
POINT OF THE ARTICLE AND
THEY GUT - LIKE A FISH, THEY
GUT ALL OF HIS COPY AND TAKE
EVERYTHING OUT JAMES LIKED.
IS THAT HOW BAD IT GETS?

Russell says THAT WAS MY EXPERIENCE
WITH DETAILS, YEAH.
IT'S CERTAINLY NOT
MY EXPERIENCE WITH
CANADIAN MAGAZINES.
YOU KNOW, I'M
NOT LIKE JAMES.
I'M ENCOURAGED TO
WRITE LITERARY THINGS.
I CAN WRITE SUBJECTIVE
AIRY-FAIRY ESSAYS
AND CONSERVATIVE MAGAZINES
AS TORONTO LIFE
WILL PUBLISH THEM,
SO I CAN'T COMPLAIN.
I HAVE TOTALLY EXAGGERATED
THINGS IN JAMES'S LIFE.
I HAVE THE IDEAL JOB
SOMETIMES THAT JAMES
WISHES HE COULD HAVE.
BUT CERTAINLY THERE ARE
POINTS THAT I WANT TO MAKE
ABOUT THE MEDIA IN
DESCRIBING THINGS THAT WAY.
THE PHOTOGRAPHS
BEING MORE IMPORTANT
THAN THE TEXT FOR SURE.
I MEAN, IT'S
ALWAYS THE CASE.
AND SECONDLY, THE MEDIA HAS
THIS DESPERATE NEED TO -
THE TWO WORDS, WHICH I'M
SURE YOU'VE HEARD A MILLION
TIMES IN YOUR LIFE, THAT ANY
FREELANCE TV FIELD PRODUCER,
OR FREELANCE MAGAZINE WRITER
IS CONSTANTLY HEARING
FROM HIGHER UP PRODUCERS
AND THAT IS, HOOK AND PEG.

(LAUGHTER)

Russell says THE HOOK IS THE THING
THAT MAKES YOUR STORY
INTERESTING, THAT'S
UNUSUAL ABOUT IT.
AND THE PEG IS THE
EVENT IN THE NEWS
THAT YOU COULD PEG IT
TO, THE TOPICALITY.
AND THIS MEANS THAT YOU
CANNOT PITCH A COMPLETELY
ORIGINAL IDEA BECAUSE
THERE'S NO PEG.
NOBODY'S TALKING
ABOUT IT, SO IT'S
A COMPLETELY SELF-DEFEATING
SET OF CRITERIA.
IT MEANS THAT YOU'RE ALWAYS
GOING TO BE BEHIND SOMEONE ELSE.
IT MEANS THAT THE MEDIA
OUTLETS ARE TERRIFIED
TO WRITE ABOUT SOMETHING
WHICH IS NOT YET NEWS,
TO MAKE IT NEWS.
SO THERE'S THIS
DESPERATE NEED
TO FIND TRENDS
EVERYWHERE.
THREE THINGS
MAKES A TREND.
SOMETIMES JUST TWO
THINGS MAKE A TREND,
AND THINGS GET SHOEHORNED
TOGETHER WHICH AREN'T REALLY
VERY SIMILAR BECAUSE WE
HAVE TO HAVE A TREND.
AND WE HAVE TO FILL THE
SHOW BY 8:00 TONIGHT.
WE HAVE TO HAVE SOMETHING
ON AND WHETHER IT'S TRULY
A TREND OR NOT, AND SO, YEAH,
I'M MAKING FUN OF THESE -

Richard says BUT DO YOU THINK YOU'VE
EVER BENEFITTED BY THAT?

Russell says OH, ALL MY
LIFE, YEAH.

Richard says NOW, YOU'VE BEEN
ONE OF THE THREE.
LET'S SHOEHORN
TOGETHER THE URBAN
CANADIAN WRITERS OR
LET'S PUT YOU TOGETHER
WITH JAY,
MAC, AND ERNIE.

Russell says EXACTLY, YEAH.

Richard says SO IF THERE IS
A THIRD NOVEL,
ARE THE CHANCES ARE THAT
IT WILL CONTINUE TO BE
THE PILGRIM'S PROGRESS OF
A YOUNG MAN IN TORONTO?

Russell says NO, NO.
IN FACT I KNOW
ALREADY THAT IT WON'T,
THAT I'M MOVING TOWARDS
KIND OF DARKER, MORE
APOCALYPTIC SCENARIOS AND I'M
MORE INTERESTED IN THEM.
THE NOVEL THAT I'M
WORKING ON NOW, IN FACT,
IN POLITICS, THAN
LIVING ARTS.

Richard says WELL, RUSSELL, NOISE
MORE THAN FULFILLS
THE PROMISE OF
HOW INSENSITIVE.

Russell says THANK YOU.

Richard says I WANT TO SEE WHAT
YOU COME UP WITH NEXT.
I KNOW IT WILL CERTAINLY
BE INTERESTING.

Russell says THANK YOU.

Richard says THANK YOU FOR
TALKING TO US.
FOR DIALOGUE, I'M
RICHARD OUZOUNIAN.
GOODBYE FOR NOW.

(music plays)

Music plays as the end slate reads “Dialogue.”

A production of TVOntario. Copyright 1997, The Ontario Educational Communications Authority.

Watch: Russell Smith