October 16, 2011. Toronto. An Interview With Derek Hayes, Author of the New Book “The Maladjusted”

Daniel Garber: I’ve read all of your stories many times, but now I’d like to hear you talk a bit about them. There’s a tone of black humour in this book, Derek, but would you say most of the short stories in your new collection, The Maladjusted (October, 2011, Thistledown Press) are comedies or tragedies… and why?

Derek Hayes: I think they are tragic for some of the characters, but not in any way that matters to anyone but themselves. And for this reason I hope readers will find the stories funny. I’m interested in characters that for their own personal, deeply-rooted reasons have bad habits about how they think about the environment they live in.

I know the title of the book comes from the name of one of the short stories, but is it safe to say that the protagonists in most of them are having trouble fitting in… in social situations, workplaces, or relationships?

Yes, each story has at least one character who has trouble fitting in. I’d also add that it’s not the social situations, workplace or relationship per se that is inherently troublesome, but the characters thinking that is distorted or “off” in some way.

Most of the stories are told through the point of view of the male characters; do you see a bit of yourself in those guys, or is it more often your impressions of people you observe?

I definitely see myself in some of the characters. And others. It wouldn’t be much of a surprise for people close to me to know that I suffer from anxiety sometimes. But the actual details of the stories are madeup. It’s easy to take material from my own life and adjust, exaggerate, fabricate in order to make a narrative that works on its own terms.

A lot of your stories take place overseas — why is that?

About twelve years ago I worked in Istanbul for a year and then Taipei, Taiwan for two years. Three of the most enjoyable years of my life. I met a lot of interesting people and for lack of a better way of saying it, felt “alive” for the first time in a few years.

What’s your favourite story from the collection?

I think most writers of short stories would be reluctant to pick one, or maybe some writers would. I can’t speak for others I guess. I tried to arrange the collection in a way to keep the reader engaged, interspersing the more neurotic of the stories throughout so as not to exhaust readers.

I think some of your characters are just a little bit odd or off, while others are way out there. Which type of personality is harder to capture in writing?

The ‘way out there’ characters are more difficult to capture. Perhaps like the author is trying too hard. For a story to work readers have to feel a connection to a character, and if a character is too strange, readers may feel manipulated or put off. But having said that I’m not so sure I’m thinking about any of this when I’m writing a story.

Congratulations on your first published book, Derek! I know you have some great novels to follow.

Yeah, I have three novels. Mentee is about a struggling teacher. Kadikoy is about expats in Istanbul, and The Streets is about a basketball coach. It’s also about a guy who is looking for his mentally ill brother. All of which, you, Daniel, edited by the way 🙂 And you edited The Maladjusted. I’ll take this opportunity to thank you for that as well.

Thanks Derek, and thanks for the interview.

Derek Hayes will be launching his book across Canada with a series of readings, beginning October 19th in Toronto.

  • October 16: Ottawa, Nicholas Hoare (downtown), 5-7p.m.
  • October 19: Toronto, Type Books on Queen West (near Trinity Bellwoods Park), 7-9p.m.
  • October 23: (with Sean Johnston) Vancouver, Cafe Montmartre (downtown), 7-8p.m.
  • October 29: London, Oxford Books  (Oxford and Richmond), 2:30-4:30p.m.
  • November 20: Edmonton, Thomson/ Wright House, 1-2 p.m.

Here’s an excerpt from Derek Hayes’s The Maladjusted:

I climb out of my fourth floor window and onto the fire escape landing, where I look down the alley for Ming. Spring has come and it’s starting to warm up a little. I’m wearing a white robe and flip-flops, and carrying a basket that is attached to a long rope. Inside the basket is the exact amount of money for a medium vegetarian pizza, a bottle of Pepsi and a side order of garlic bread. This is the special from Tony’s. Like an old house-ridden Middle Eastern woman, I lower down the basket of money to Ming, who is standing below the fire escape. Ming is non-judgmental, waiting patiently on the ground, as if all his customers order in this way. He takes the money and places the food into the basket. I carefully pull my dinner towards the fourth floor, stopping just before it reaches the metal landing. I remove the box of pizza and bottle of Pepsi and the garlic bread and yank the basket over the rail. I lie down on the cool surface of the fire escape landing and rest my arm on the warm pizza box.

For the first fifteen days of each month I order a pizza from Tony’s. Then I run out of money. Until the end of the month I live on crackers, canned tuna and tomatoes, which I buy in bulk. My belly fluctuates in size according to the time of month, just as a python’s shape changes depending on what it has eaten.

I’ve got to find somewhere else to buy my groceries. Three weeks ago, as I was leaving Value Mart, I said goodbye to two men, probably fathers, who were waiting for a taxi. They gave me a look, from which I inferred that they thought this was strange. So I told them that I have a mental illness. They said that they were sorry. I refuse to go back there.

I don’t watch TV. I have nothing in common with Chandler, Joey or Ross. My alley’s good for entertainment. My fire escape is on the fourth floor and, because of some creepers – really weeds that I’ve tended that have climbed up from some dirt in three mouldy flowerpots – I am afforded some camouflage, allowing me to watch while being unobserved. The alley teems with life, with meth-heads providing the main drama. Look at them now. The one with the stringy blonde hair, all ninety pounds of him, has picked up a dead mouse and is holding it by its tail. The other has a garbage can lid, thrust out as a shield. He’s trying to knock the rodent from the other kid’s hand, his head craned back in revulsion.

October 7, 2011. Changes? Solar Taxi, Waking the Green Tiger, Restless, PLUS Planet in Focus.

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies, for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, genre and mainstream movies, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and what the difference is.

You’re listening to this on Friday morning but I recorded this on Wednesday, so I’m taking an intentionally neutral tone – I don’t know yet what changes the election has brought. Are people saying: plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose? Or: hooray! Change at last! Right to strike and no more diesel fumes! Or maybe: Hallellujah! Our prayers have brought the Tea Party to Canada with no more of them-there sexiness kidnapping our babies away and stealing our tax breaks! Or even, OMG – Look! There’s a triple rainbow, halley’s comet, a total eclipse… and hell just froze over! …if you’re a faithful Green Party supporter.

Like I said, I don’t know… But I do know that change is happening on a global scale and we ignore these changes at our own risk. So this week, I’m going to look at two informative documentaries playing at the Planet in Focus festival, and also review a new, offbeat romance film that played at TIFF.

So, what is Planet in Focus? Well, it’s an annual Toronto event that brings together video and filmmakers, environmental experts, and activists from around the world for a week-long look at what’s happening to our planet. It’s a good place for youth and adults to learn more about the environment and what to do about it.

There are some big documentaries opening and closing the festival – one, called Revenge of the Electric Car (Narrated by Tim Robbins), and another called The Whale, narrated by Ryan Reynolds about an Orca named Luna separated from his family off the coast of Vancouver.

First let’s look at the movie

Solartaxi: Around the World with the Sun.

Dir: Erik Schmitt

Louis us a Swiss-German school teacher who loves cars but doesn’t like what they’re doing to the planet, with all their inefficient carbon-burning engines, and the disgusting and dangerous emissions that come out the back end. And ever since he was a kid, he dreamed of going around the world by a sort of a race-car. So how does he reconcile his diametrically opposed goals? Well, he manages to find sponsors, battery manufacturers, a mechanic, and a builder to make him the car of his dreams. It’s a cute, low-rolling, blue-and-white three-wheeler that he hopes will carry him out of the Swiss Alps and across many continents.

And behind it is a flatbed covered in solar panels. He dubs the whole thing his “Solar Taxi” and wants to bring it to the world’s attention, that not just hybrids, but purely electric cars really do work. Here’s the thing – the solar panels being made today, aren’t strong enough to power a two-person car. But his home back in Switzerland has a lot more solar panels that feed into the power grid, so he juices up with more power on the way, but never more than he’s actually producing.

Louis has a weedy moustache and rectangular wire-rimmed glasses and a bit politically naïve; but he does manage to take it across Europe, Asia, Australia and North America, giving rides to local politicians, celebrities and movie stars along the way as he spreads the news about his car. The movie shows mainly touristy sights – like snake charmers in India, kangaroos in Australia, and TV celebs in America – but it’s a fun trip. And in China, he sees countless electric mopeds, solar panels on every roof, and even gets a red carpet laid down for his car to drive on!

Which brings us to the next movie:

Waking the Green Tiger

Dir: Gary Marcuse

Is China a green paradise? Or an environmental nightmare? I think the answer’s somewhere in between. This movie gives the issue a balanced look.

In the early days of the People’s Republic, environmentalism didn’t exist. Any potential problem could be solved by the peasants and the workers putting their efforts together and working with all their might. Except… it didn’t always work. In the early 60’s Mao declared there was a shortage of steel, and no factory’s big enough to smelt all the iron the country needed. So they said if collective farm made their own little factory they could all work together and make it happen. Unfortunately, most of the stuff it produced was unusable. And when they decided that the sparrows were eating too much grain they told all the farmers to clap their hands and shake their trees until all the sparrows fell to the ground. Well, they did manage to tire out and kill all the sparrows, but without birds eating the insects there was a horrible plague of locusts that destroyed that year’s crop. So perhaps good intentions, but horribly environmentally unsound practices.

So this movie traces that period to the present, and how the growing awareness of environmental and cultural destruction taking place is awakening a huge number of people as to what’s going on and what they can do to change it. There are thousands of environmental NGO’s in China, some maverick journalists and filmmakers showing the country what’s behind the curtain, and local activists who are fighting the huge corporations and government entities there building dams, mines and rerouting lakes and rivers.

It focuses on the Salween or Nu River and in particular the Tiger Leap gorge, a dramatically beautiful canyon where they might be building a series of dams, and moving out the people who live around there. The Salween river is one of the world’s biggest free-flowing rivers, surrounded by unusual monkeys, diverse wildlife and ecosystems, and unique languages and cultures that exist only there. So, a filmmaker, Shi Lihong, took some of the Salween villagers in a bus across the country to talk to a similar place on the Mekong river. When they saw and spoke to the people there, how they were living now, (compared to what their lives were like before they were evicted) they were horrified and galvanized to take action back home. And the documentary itself, along with a series of newspaper articles, captured the interest of many people across China who also felt it would be an environmental disaster.

This is a great documentary showing the grass-roots environmental campaigns and public reactions in a vast country we know very little about. Using archival footage, great Mao-era propaganda posters and photos, and interviews with contemporary journalists and government officials, it goves a good overview of what’s happening right now in China, and what people are doing about it.

Next, here’s another movie about people who are restless… but in a different way.

Restless

Dir: Gus van Sant

Enoch (Henry Hopper) is a teenaged boy who only wears black and white, and hides his emotions. He talks, plays battleship, and seeks advice from Hiroshi, the ghost of a WWII kamikaze pilot (Ryo Kase). He lives with an aunt since his parents died, never going to school, and trying never to show emotions. For some reason, he enjoys going to funerals and memorial services. Well at one of these funerals he’s caught by pretty Annabelle, (Mia Wasikowska). Although an odd match, they eventually hit it off. But here’s the catch – and maybe there’s another funeral to crash on the horizon. You see, Annabelle has cancer and her future does not look great.

Can the two cute blond High Schoolers make a morbid but happy life together – dressing in funny 1920’s era costumes, walking around cemeteries, and acting out potentially romantic death scenes? Or will sad, real life disturb their fantasies?

This is a nice little romantic drama, and a bit of a tear-jerker. I thought she was much more convincing than he was – she’s a much better actor – she lights up the screen, while he seems to drag it down a little. The whole movie feels like any Japanese girl’s manga: a good place to moon over sad, sad love with some witty humour, a lot of posturing and pretty costumes thrown in. I admit it did make me cry — it was touching — but it didn’t seem up to the level of most Gus Van Sant movies.

Restless is now playing, and Planet in Focus starts next Wednesday – check planetinfocus.org for listings and times. And look out for the ImagineNative festival, coming soon!

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site, Cultural Mining . com.

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