Saturday, June 4, 2011




(1) I read in your bio that you grew up with a German mother and Belgian father. Did their cultures influence your upbringing?

Very much so. I grew up in a remote pulp and paper town of twenty thousand people, surrounded by ocean and wilderness. The community was an immigrant, labouring community, and childhood was very much a Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn one. We were always forming and reforming gangs to build forts, to fight wars with bracken fern spears and lumps of rotten cedar, to catch fish and, yes, to build rafts. At home, though, we were not allowed to speak English. Mom would read to us nightly in either French or German. I vividly remember Tales of Perrault, The Arabian Nights, Grimm's Fairy Tales, The Count of Monte Christo, and Les Miserables. By mail, Mom would borrow books sight unseen from the UBC library, and as a twelve year old I remember suffering through Thomas Mann's Die Buddenbrooks. Mom sometimes read to please herself. Both my parents were very European in their attitudes, though dad deliberately left as much of Europe behind as he could, whereas mom was intensely nostalgic, and our kitchen fridge was papered over with pictures of the vineyards, churches, castles and art treasures of her native Wurzburg in Francony. We would regularly receive care packages from our German aunts, and all four of us children were mercilessly teased at school for wearing hand me downs. Lederhosen still make me cringe.

(2) This anthology you've so lovingly put together will mean so much to other children. Can you tell us about your father and if he was a driving force in your decision to do this book?

My father is ninety-one now, frustrated by the debilities of age but still very bright and full of joie de vivre. He was eighteen when WWII broke out, doing compulsory military service. He tried to flee through Spain, was imprisoned for six months, escaped, made it to Morocco, then from there to Paris, where a cousin refused to help him for fear of the Nazis. A prostitute working for the underground plucked him from a cafe and hid him for three days while arranging for false identity papers. With those he made it to England, was given training, and then was flown back to France where he was given the rank of Captain, and he spent the rest of the war in the country doing reconnaissance and training French farm boys. He was with General LeClerc when the 2nd Army marched into Paris, and he has wonderful stories about meeting Maurice Chevalier and Josephine Baker. To this day he still has some of Chevalier's Gallic charm. Like my mother, he emigrated to Canada to recover from the horrors of the war. My parents met in Canada and both of them poured their energies into raising a family. They were strict, yet loving, and they were always there for us. They both valued books highly, and when I felt too pressured by their European strictness I was always able to escape into books.

Indirectly the anthology may be a tribute to my father, but I don't see it as compelled by him. I started it because I was tutoring Asian teenagers, so-called "astronaut kids," boys whose fathers were working on the other side of the planet. The fathers were making incredible sacrifices for their families, but of course the children could not understand that. The anthology grew out of trying to give those children ways of understanding. It also came out of my efforts to make sense of my own role as a father. Fathers is meant for fathers as much as it is meant for children. More than that, though, Fathers is meant as a celebration and affirmation of literature.

(3) You have two teenage children of your own, what are some of the values you try to instill in them throughout their lives?

I try to teach them to be passionate and not to be afraid to follow their passions. My daughter has followed that advice and is now apprenticing to be a chef, while my son is still trying to find out who he is, though he may well become a scientist like his mother. Caring about others and respecting others is also very important to me, and I delight in the friendships my children are building. A love of literature is also something I think I have also transmitted to my children. I believe deeply in literature as a way of creating empathy, transmitting values, and I also see it as a tool for shaping the self. If I champion literature, I rant against consumerism and mindless consumption, and I'm pleased to say both my children value experiences more than material things. Mind you, I also rant against cell phones, YouTube, and video games, and those rants fall on deaf ears.

(4) If you had any advice to other fathers out there, that would be paramount to their relationship with their children, what would it be?

Give your children unqualified love. Make them feel valued. Lead by example, and try to show courage and self-belief. If you can instill a sense of self-worth to your children, they will be free to discover who they really are. To that advice, I would also add, "Don't be afraid of mistakes, but also try to learn from them." Good parenting is a chemistry or alchemy of personalities, and it will always be a trial and error process.

(5) What's a typical day in the life of Andre Gerard?

There is no typical day. I manage a thirty unit apartment building and I tutor and mentor a dozen students on average, so most of my days are free-form chaos. I'm also a marathoner, and I try to run at least an hour five days a week. I've always been able to dive in and out of books at will, so doing reading and research was something I was able to do between tutoring and toilet repairs. Writing was more difficult, as I needed uninterrupted blocks of time for that. Luckily, I am an early riser so the first two hours of every day could go to writing.

(6) When did you first realize that you wanted to be a writer?

In my high school annual I wrote that I wanted to rewrite the Bible as science fiction. I'm more of a reader than a writer, though, and that statement in the annual was teen-age bravado. I find writing incredibly painful and difficult, which is why I waited fifty years before tackling a book. I also waited that long because I lacked the courage to tackle a major writing project. I preach a good game about following obsessions, but I haven't always practiced what I preach.

(7) Do you have plans for future books?

Perhaps. I'm a closet poet, and now that I've risked one book, I may risk another. I don't have enough good poems for a whole book, but I'm toying with the idea of a book which would include my best poems along with some of my favorite poems by Andrew Marvell, Donne, Milton, Keats, and Wordsworth. I know that sounds very presumptuous, but I have a framework in mind which might justify the project. One thing I don't want to do is to repeat myself; nor do I want to have to deal with permissions again.

(8) If you had to choose one part of this anthology that was your favorite, what would it be and why?

There are no favorite parts, though I am delighted with the way certain sections seem to suggest that literature can be an instrument of social change: Hayden leads to Baldwin leads to Dove; Woolf leads to Rich leads to Bechdel; or Bellow leads to Richler leads to Roth. I am also delighted by the discoveries I have made on this anthology journey. Rita Dove was unknown to me before I started this project, and she is now one of my favorite poets. John Berryman means so much more to me now. Miriam Toews's Swing Low, Patrick Lane's There is A Season, and Philip Roth's Patrimony are now on my desert island list of must books, and Alison Bechdel's Fun Home changed my whole conception of literature.

(9) What are your main goals in life now? Are there other anthologies you'd like to do?

My main goal at the moment is to see that Fathers achieves bestseller status. Writing a book brings a lot of personal satisfaction, but I want Fathers to be more than a solipsistic exercise. I also want the satisfaction of knowing that other people are reading it and using it to make their own discoveries. As for other anthologies, I've already said I may do a poetry book. I may, however, focus on publishing instead. I now refer to myself as an "accidental publisher" (even if the reality is that I became a publisher out of necessity), and I enjoy that new aspect of myself. Because ofFathers several people have already approached me for help, and it would be fun to see if I could continue to build Patremoir Press. Publishers get to enjoy free-form chaos and they don't have to write nearly as much as authors do. There is the slight necessity of financial success, yet with modern technology some forms of publishing are surprising cheap.

(10) Do you have any advice you'd like to give to other aspiring authors?

Be passionate. My biggest piece of advice is the old cliche of "follow your dream and don't get discouraged." The journey really is what it is all about. Be a Werner Herzog.

Read more:

No comments:

Post a Comment