Vivian Zenari lives, works and writes in Edmonton.
1. What is your educational background, and how has that influenced your writing?
VZ: I have a PhD in English literature with a specialization in 19th century American literature. I am sure my training has influenced my writing, though I am not sure how. Many of the writers I admire are from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; perhaps it’s more like I have tried to work in fields that reflect my interest in reading and writing.
2. Who has inspired you as a writer? Why are avant-garde authors so important to you?
VZ: These days I like Henry James (always), Flannery O’Connor, Rawi Hage, George Eliot, and the usual modernist suspects (Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Edith Wharton). I just finished reading Sean Michaels’s Us Conductors and loved/admired that. I like the absurdists like Franz Kafka and Nikolai Gogol and postmodernists like Don DeLillo and Paul Auster. I admire writers who take chances, I suppose. I like the idea of transcending tradition in form as well as content. As well, as a reader and writer I am a bit jaded, perhaps, so it takes a lot to stimulate me.
3. Did you have a personal interest in Dewey before you began this short story? Why did you decide to feature him in your story?
VZ: I have training as a librarian as well, and so I have been familiar with him as a figure in library studies history. I have always found him to be a hilariously awful person. Once I read more about him, my appreciation/contempt for him grew. He also typifies the mentality of the late 19th-century American (an area of history I know something about). His ambitions and upbringing put him in the right place at the right time. That aspect of American society interests me too–he is a self-made man, but he demonstrates the dark side of the self-made man syndrome: monomaniacal, overly rational, greedy.
4. What, in your opinion, are the key distinctions between literary fiction and genre fiction? In which category would you classify yourself?
VZ: I tend to think of genre fiction as formula-dependent and literary fiction as aspiring to be outside formula. I suppose I aspire to be outside formula, though I realize all writers model themselves on something, and formulas are a kind of model. Literary versus genre seems to be a useful distinction for publishers, but the term is likewise important to writers and readers, who have to work with what publishers want to give them, for better or worse (okay, for worse). It’s true, though, that some people only read detective fiction and romance fiction, some people never read anything by women writers or written before 2000. I don’t think this is good, but considering all the people writing, reading, and publishing (past and present), I see why categorization is practical.
5. What is your next writing project? Can you tell us a little about it?
VZ: I’m sending a short-story manuscript around to publishers, and I’m slowly working on a novel. I’m starting to rev myself up for writing nonfiction too: we’ll see how that goes.