Jesse Gilmour gave us The Green Hotel (Link to my review) which gave us insight to a reality that is bitter yet honest. Although a small novella, it contained some themes that many mainstream novels wouldn’t dare look at. Gilmour recently answered a few questions for me which provides insight not only to his writing but his character.
1) You have quite the literary family. Was it difficult for you to write “The Green Hotel” with others in your family who have written books as well?
One of the main themes in The Green Hotel is competition. In the book the father and son are competing for life, for oxygen. In real life, I remember in my early twenties telling my mother, the wonderful actress Maggie Huculak, that I wasn’t competing with other writers my age – I was competing with my father. I think that was the proper course of action, too. One should set the bar as high as possible.
There were troubles that came along with that, though. My father was my main influence and favourite writer growing up, and there are parts of us that are quite similar, and so for a while there I found myself, consciously or sub-consciously, working the kind of subject matter that he’s generally been associated with. I stopped letting him look at my work when I was about twenty one because I’d take in his notes and start writing and all of a sudden this unmistakable tinnyness would come into the dialogue; the narrative, just hours before something organically mine would have distorted and I’d be hitting brick walls on almost every turn. I stopped discussing my work with him altogether by the age of twenty-two. I knew it was going to be difficult to break away from his influence but I knew it had to be done. Whatever’s left over, I’m comfortable with.
And finally there’s the paranoia. For about a solid year before the book came out I entertained fantasies of people yelling “nepotism!!” out of car windows. Pretty much the opposite’s been true. The book has been reviewed generously and it’s barely been brought up.
2) How has the reaction been to “The Green Hotel?” Any memorable responses you care to share?
The reaction to The Green Hotel has been pretty favourable right across the board. Good sales, good reviews – it seems to have deeply affected many young women I’ve spoken with. There really aren’t any women in the book, and I suppose The Green Hotel could be classified as a “young guy’s book” or whatever so that was a nice surprise. It also seems to have spoken to young men who don’t generally read. It’s no secret that our education system has a tendency to suck the joy, the mystery, the entertainment out of reading; and young guys today don’t have the strongest attention spans – so hearing things like “that’s the first book I’ve actually liked in ten years” makes me really, really happy.
I still don’t feel like I’ve been given my due as far as attention for the book.
I believe I should win The Giller or The G.G or both….and I’m not joking or being provocative when I say that.
3) Where did the inspiration for “The Green Hotel” come from? Did you do any research for the novella?
That’s always and interesting question and always a difficult one to answer.
There was an interesting article in Granta by Richard Ford entitled “Where does writing come from?” that anyone reading this should check out.
I’m not going to get into whether I was a dope addict or if I lit fires or anything like that…but I will say that the book came from me sitting down and writing about a world I knew. And then re-writing and re-writing until this odd, unexplainable electricity started to take over. Myself, I can feel it in my body when it’s happening: you’re being truthful, but you’re not telling the truth. You’ve hit a point where you’ve distanced yourself enough from the actual feelings behind the story so that their still alive yet malleable. I suppose you could say that you’re ‘distilling’ the truth. Catching these moments, these people, these situations, on the side – that’s where the electricity is, on the side, if that makes any sense.
5) Who are your favourite writers? What are you reading right now?
Raymond Carver was the first writer that really affected me; where I’d put one of short-stories down and smoke a cigarette and feel kind of cozy and lost at the same time.
Cormac Mcarthy, especially Blood Meridian. He isn’t afraid to go after big terrain, big philosophy. I also really like the lack of humour in that book. Everything is a joke these days, there’s an undercurrent of irony to everything. It can disguise itself as intellectual superiority but when I read stuff like that I get the feeling that the writer (a) doesn’t really believe in anything (and who would want to read a book by someone like that?)
Or…and this is probably closer to the real situation, that they’re too scared too fall into cliché (which means they’re unable to accept that every story has been told…but not by you…”
So they’d rather polish irony in a corner somewhere until it’s gleaming and walk it around as if it actually fucking means something.
As Nietszsche said: write it in blood or save us the time.
Right now I’m going back and forth between Martin Amis’ The Information and Heather O’Neill’s The Girl who was Saturday Night – both of which I’m really digging.
Others of note: Ron Currie Jr. Ernest Hemingway, Leonard Michaels, Jules Lewis.
6) Have you participating in any public readings of “The Green Hotel?” Has it been the subject of any book club reading? If yes to any of those questions, what was the experience like for you? If no, is it an experience you would like to partake in?
I’ve done some readings. I enjoy them. And would do them again. The only issue is that I believe writers should be paid to do those things. Even at the very small level I’m at…it took me a while to get here and I think it’s just fair that I’m compensated.
7) You used Toronto as a setting for “The Green Hotel.” How do you like living there as a writer/playwright? Does it’s cultural scene offer you enough to engage you for your writing?
The manuscript was originally called “Toronto” but my publishers nixed it. They were right to.
Just the city’s name kind of explodes for me…I’m deeply, deeply connected to this city – but I’m a writer, and I grew up here, so I don’t think there’s much mystery there.
8) You seem to use both Facebook and Twitter a bit. How do you like using those platforms as a means of communication?
As an emerging artist; if you don’t have Facebook or Twitter…you don’t have a shot.
9) How did you get involved with Quattro Books?
My agent Sam Hiyate introduced me to Luciano and Allan. Those three guys saved my life.
10) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?
I am working on something new. It’s been a real slog since the book came out and just in time for spring I hit something on the side…just the other day.