Mike Sauve has written non-fiction for The National Post, Variety, and HTML Giant. His online fiction has appeared in Pif Magazine, Monkeybicycle, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, One Throne and university journals of moderate renown. Stories have appeared in print in M-Brane, Feathertale, Filling Station, and elsewhere. His novella Goodbye Pantopon Rose is forthcoming from the Chicago Centre for Literature and Publishing. His novels The Wraith of Skrellman and The Apocalypse of Lloyd are forthcoming from Montag Press. He lives in Toronto, Ontario.
Geosi Gyasi: Let’s begin with your work as a journalist. Who is a journalist, if I may ask?
Mike Sauve: Not me, that’s for sure. I do think there’s a big difference between the average civilian’s idea of what a journalist is, i.e. a Woodward and Bernstein investigative reporter type, and what the rank and file journalist actually does. Someone regurgitating facts and coming up with a cute lead once or twice a week can call themselves a journalist, so can the tightly-wound individuals working the righteous indignation beat over at Slate. So maybe some higher designation is in order. Because if you’re writing lists of the ‘ten least safe for work nipple slips’ and introducing yourself as a journalist at the dinner party, well what if Richard Preston, fresh from the frontlines of the Ebola crisis, a world-class story-teller, what if he’s at the same dinner party, and he’s asked what he does, and all he can say is, “Also a journalist.”
Geosi Gyasi: How much of your journalistic experience do you bring to your work as a fiction writer?
Mike Sauve: Not much. My early fiction was pretty minimalist. In a previous interview, I said this was a result of all the rigidly-enforced clarity and simplicity that’s expected of low-level journalists.
Geosi Gyasi: How did you end up writing for The National Post?
Mike Sauve: It was an internship during my last year at Ryerson. I wrote for the Arts & Life section. I reviewed Argentine films and interviewed Harvey Pekar. It was a great opportunity. Since then I’ve contributed several freelance pieces, usually weird, quasi-belletristic ‘scenes’ that don’t really belong in a newspaper.
Geosi Gyasi: When did you see yourself as a ‘real writer”?
Mike Sauve: Pretty early. I wrote for the newspaper in my hometown of Sault Ste. Marie when I was sixteen, and that made me a real writer in the eyes of peers. Being a journalism student kept the delusion alive for a few years. After the journalism career fizzled out there was a crisis of confidence. When you come from that background and begin telling colleagues, “I write fiction now,” most are thinking, “Sure you do.” Even after short stories were published I was reticent to identify as a writer. With three books coming out I still feel a little self-conscious about it. Let this be a lesson to all you jerks handing out “Writer” business cards just because you type some words on Tumblr. You are seriously ruining it for the rest of us.
Geosi Gyasi: Writing film and music reviews, which of them do you enjoy doing most?
Mike Sauve: At least half of the music I listen to on a regular basis is stuff I originally discovered through writing reviews, so that’s been rewarding.
Geosi Gyasi: Does your work as a journalist pay the bills?
Mike Sauve: Oh God no. Occasionally I’ll get some lucrative job that pays .25 or .50 cents a word, but I’ve probably made more money gambling on sports (only if you don’t account for the money I’ve lost gambling on sports) in the last few years than I have from journalism. I have a ‘real’ job that’s not too onerous and allows me to focus on writing fiction.
Geosi Gyasi: Is it profitable to be in the business of writing fiction, poetry or non-fiction?
Mike Sauve: Not for me. Not yet anyway. Poetry would be the least lucrative, and outside of grant money it’s strictly a labour of love. God bless those people. Small press fiction isn’t much better. If you get a $1000-$2000 advance for a small press novel you’re like the A-Rod of the alt-lit scene. Given the amount of time and effort it takes…it’s safe to say I’m doing this because of crippling ego dysfunction. A healthy person doesn’t need this crap.
Geosi Gyasi: Could you talk about your novel, The Apocalypse of Lloyd?
Mike Sauve: Here’s the synopsis:
A clever but obnoxious teen (think Youth in Revolt’s Nick Twisp) is stuck in his parents’ basement during a uniquely literary yet crowd-pleasing apocalypse. It involves not zombies but a breakdown in general logic and order. Lloyd’s mother, a William Blake scholar, goes mad in a flurry of Blakean invective. Lloyd’s neighbour clips toenails on her lawn. An acting group believes a tribute to Dennis Hopper might save the world.
Mayhem, murder and forced cuckolding are kept on the periphery while Lloyd’s picayune concerns over allotments of Diana Sauce are rendered in lavish detail. Gradually, the unchecked lust of the adolescent male turns out to be the primary horror. First Lloyd rescues his new girlfriend Monica, causing tension in the household because he’d never brought a girl home prior to the Anger outbreak. Then he rescues the prettiest girl in his class and her sister. Three’s Company-style sex comedy ensues. Later, with his girlfriend in toe, Lloyd flees his childhood home and joins the Lac-Sainte-Catherine Community Theatre Workshop to help stage the Hopper play.
Lloyd narrates from hell, making the novel a morality play in which Lloyd’s selfishness and infidelities ultimately mire him in the pit for eternity. The book is a high-wire act blending ribald farce, horror, and heartfelt elegy, the emotional core of which is Lloyd’s sadness over lost friendships and lost youth, brought into painful focus by the nearing end.
The novel that will come out before Lloyd, also from Montag Press, is set in the same fictional town. It’s called The Wraith of Skrellman. Here’s the synopsis for it.
Set against the pomposity of a small-town theatre community, The Wraith of Skrellman is the story of a nearly-delusional, completely-homeless 46-year-old troubadour’s ill-fated pursuit of a beautiful teenage actress, the resentment this breeds in her precocious classmate Dave String, and the wraith of Skrellman who haunts them all with his “pornographic play-by-play” and frequent acts of occult mischief.
Elegiac at times, downright smutty at others, it’s like The Virgin Suicides if that book were a little less masterpiece and a whole lot more teen sex romp. Beneath the populist slapstick exists a literary ode to lost youth, and a mordant satire of the social conservatism of small towns.
Geosi Gyasi: Could you give us an insight into your forthcoming novella, Goodbye Pantopon Rose?
Mike Sauve: Sure, it’s the biblical allegory/teen sex comedy I reference later on in this interview. Here’s the Chicago Centre for Literature and Photography’s synopsis of it:
“It’s a dark and surreal slapstick comedy with an urgent message about the evolution of lust in the digital age. Sarah Montgomery is a soup kitchen volunteer of singular altruism and bustiness who decides that having sex with her neck-bearded and virginal high school classmates is the greatest charity she can put forth; the resulting “sexual pay it forward” ring grips the town in an obsession when the increasingly perverse trysts produce medical and religious miracles, and eventually draw the interest of sinister forces. The second coming of Chuck Palahniuk…pun intended.”
Pre-order a paperback copy of Goodbye Pantopon Rose here: www.cclapcenter.com/rose/
Geosi Gyasi: Where do you get your ideas when starting a novel?
Mike Sauve: My first novel, The Wraith of Skrellman, just came out of the ether. I started typing and soon I had about 5,000 words and thought, “Okay, it’s time to really write a novel.” Then it got difficult. With the first one you’re thinking, “Is this a real novel?” “Can I show this to people or will I be perceived as another terrible flake?” Apocalypse of Lloyd is based on a short story I wrote called Everything You Can Think of is True. I get a lot of ideas, most of which don’t go anywhere. It’s a real nice feeling when realizing I can make it to the ‘novel finish line’ which I’ve arbitrarily set at about 60,000 words.
Geosi Gyasi: Have you ever experienced a real setback as a writer?
Mike Sauve: After I graduated from journalism school I struggled to get a job in the field. I could have moved to some far-flung region of the country to make $25,000 a year, but I just didn’t care enough to do that. It’s been for the best. I wouldn’t have taken fiction seriously if I was getting my writerly ego massaged with daily bylines. Even if those bylines were attached to stories with headlines like “Day at Beach Enjoyed by All”
Geosi Gyasi: One Throne Magazine recently published your story, “The Careless Fuckery of Tim Ingersson”. How did you come to write this story?
Mike Sauve: I’d planned on using Goodbye Pantopon Rose as the cornerstrone for a collection of short fiction, and most of the stories were about young males, so I wanted to write some female protagonists. This also resulted in a story that’s not yet published called A Real Night in Versailles that I’m quite pleased with. As for Careless Fuckery, it’s like a lot of my early fiction, and a lot of apprentice short fiction, in relying too heavily on a big swerve at the end. This one is a little better off because the swerve itself, the press release for the Teen Abortion show, is more interesting than anything that precedes it. So there’s this kind of whimsical imbalance.
Geosi Gyasi: Where do you often write?
Mike Sauve: I used to live in a one-bedroom apartment and wrote in the main room on a giant Ikea desk found on the side of Carlton Street. I recently moved and now my desk is in the bedroom. I live with my girlfriend, known in legal circles as my common-law wife, but I only write when I’m home alone because the risk is high that she’ll interrupt me to ask some question regarding my preferred doneness of pasta. Revisions, I can do anywhere, on the subway, in the Toronto Reference Library where I have office space in the Writer’s Room, sparring with Lloyd Mayweather, etc.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you keep a dictionary beside you when you write?
Mike Sauve: Until recently I owned both a giant dictionary and thesaurus. But it’s quicker and easier to use online references. Another affectation I had to forego when I moved was a non-functioning typewriter.
Geosi Gyasi: Why did you decide to study at Ryerson University?
Mike Sauve: It has the best journalism program in the country. Plus I wanted to live in Toronto. I’d considered going to Western for English, but journalism seemed more practical. I would learn to write. I would graduate with a marketable skill. The joke was on me. The paid journalism market has shrunk, and when I eventually got serious about fiction, even with all sorts of reputable news credits to my name, I found myself in the awkward position of having to teach myself grammar from scratch.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you write solely in English?
Mike Sauve: Unilinguist here. I have enormous respect for people who can write professionally in second or third languages. Nabokov’s one-two punch of Pnin and Lolita almost hurts my feelings.
Geosi Gyasi: Living in Toronto, could you tell us about the literary culture there?
Mike Sauve: It’s the only literary culture I know. I assume it’s comparable to other big cities. Everyone seems fairly supportive of each other, superficially anyway. You see the same dozen or so literary wonks at most small-scale literary events. I assume you’d see a lot of ‘industry people’ at the large-scale ones. Last year I was doing readings quite frequently and the response was positive. I’ve slowed down a bit, but once my books are released I’ll get back out there.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have any favourite writers?
Mike Sauve: Sure, I just finished Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon. In that book Pynchon is the master of rhythmic dialog. My highest aspiration would be some cut-rate forgery of the melancholic repartee between those two fucking astronomers.
I read a lot of non-fiction, some history. A couple favourites are Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song and Shelby Foote’s three volume history of The Civil War. One novel that has influenced my writing is C.D Payne’s Youth in Revolt. I first read it as a teenager and have read it several times since. It’s a teen sex comedy, but with an adult level of erudition and sophistication. All of my books are teen sex comedies that aspire to at least some level of erudition if not necessarily sophistication. Teen sex comedy meets apocalypse; teen sex comedy meets biblical allegory. As I mature I fear it will be “This is a teen sex comedy meets Ulysses/Moby Dick, etc.”
Geosi Gyasi: What do you regard as your biggest achievement as a writer?
Mike Sauve: An early one was getting a story on the McSweeney’s website. That legitimized me among writers and publishers to some extent. Creatively, my biggest achievement is the novel I’m just finishing now, a time travel/teen sex comedy called I Ain’t Got No Home in This World Anymore, which I hope brings my work to a wider audience.