Tracey Waddleton is the author of the short story collection Send More Tourists…The Last Ones Were Delicious which is published by Newfoundland’s Breakwater Books. I put Tracey’s book on the 2020 long list for “The Very Best!” Book Awards in the Best Short Fiction category. Tracey was kind enough to take some time to respond to a few questions that I had emailed her.
Tell us a little about your background, education, employment, etc.
Well, I grew up in Trepassey, a beautiful little town in Newfoundland, two hours south of St. John’s. Spent most of my time on the beach, in the woods, or at the library. Moved to the city when I was 17. Did a bit of university. Worked a lot of different jobs; everything from government and large corporations to small businesses and non-profits. I did years of contract work.For a long time, writing wasn’t something I considered as a career. I never even thought of it as work. It was just something I did. A sort of compulsion. I was almost 30 before I decided to give it a shot for real.
Tell us about some of the books or authors or other people (such as teachers) that may have influenced you to write.
There were a lot of influences. Most of them probably unintentional.
My parents read to me every night when I was little, which started my obsession with books. I had my first public library card when I was four or five. When I was pretty young, I ran out of stuff to read and started in on the adult fiction section and then the history section. I even read some of the encyclopedias. I used to volunteer at the school library and the Scholastic book sales so I could get the first pick of the new stuff. Total book nerd. The librarians were all pretty great to me. They would order stuff in to keep me interested. The library borrowing limits never applied to me.
I mean, this was the 80s in rural Newfoundland. No such thing as the internet. And until I was 9 or 10, there wasn’t even cable TV in my town, just two channels, one of which barely worked. When I was home, I was curled up with a book. After a while, I started to write little stories and poems.
Of course, a lot of my teachers were supportive of my writing as well. Some took a particular interest and let me know it was something worth pursuing. And when I got older and some of my friends started pursuing careers in the arts, I saw that it was possible for me as well, even if it didn’t seem so probable at the time.
Do you have a favourite book (or books), one(s) that you like to revisit from time to time?
I go back to the same short stories over and over again, for sure.
Nikolai Gogol’s “The Overcoat.” So relatable and tragic and hopeful. For similar reasons, Herman Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener.” “The Book of Sand” by Jorge Luis Borges. When I read Borges, I feel like my brain is being rewired. Fascinating, somewhat painful and often without resolve. Always worth it.
Really anything from Italo Calvino’s Numbers in the Dark or Harlan Ellison’s Deathbird Stories. All of Alice Munro’s work. Anything by Edgar Allen Poe, Shirley Jackson, Stephen King, Franz Kafka. Probably no surprises there.
My favourite story, though, is Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings.” Just mentioning it means I will have to go read it again after this interview. No joke, I will do it. Marquez was a literary magician. It’s incredible. I highly recommend it.
Your book, Send More Tourists, was fun to read, but I also thought it had its dark side. One Amazon reviewer picked up on this and said: “These stories bleed craft, purpose, inventiveness, & a sense of humor less cynical than darkly knowing.” (I wish I’d said that!) For example, “It Lunged” the story that kicks off the book. Are you conscious of this as you’re writing, or does your mind lead you in that direction? Do you look back and say “Did I really write that?”
Definitely the latter, the “did I really write that?” I never really know what I’m getting myself into. It’s not at all conscious. I try to create some kind of flow and just let things happen as they happen. The endings surprise me as much as anyone.
Do you have a few favourites in the collection Send More Tourists…?
“Russia” is probably my favourite, though. I had dreams about Russia when I was a teenager, which is what inspired the story. Maybe it hits on my subconscious somehow, I don’t know. That opening sequence. The little kids pulling on winter coats and being brought out to the woods. The paintings in the trees. I can see it. Not sure I did the image justice, but I’m glad it’s set down somewhere for me to remember later.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a novel and I’m writing a stage play for Roles 4 Women. Both firsts for me.
I know you currently live in Montreal, but can you tell us what do you enjoy most about living in Newfoundland? In Montreal? They both have vibrant writing communities, don’t they?
Yeah, they both have very tight-knit, accessible writing communities, which is nice.
I’m tethered to Newfoundland somehow. I can’t explain it, but I know other Newfoundlanders feel the same way. This kind of overwhelming connection. It’s very primal. No matter where I am, I am always there in relation to Newfoundland.Living in Newfoundland, you’re very aware of your place in the ecosystem. It’s wildly beautiful. Lots of storms and a good heaping of snow in the winter. Endless forests and walking trails. Magnificent cliffs and all that sea. It’s a spectacular, meditative kind of life. The arts scene is incredibly vibrant, and pretty much hemmed into a few blocks downtown. It’s easy to stay on top of the latest in film, music and theatre. There’s live music every night of the week.
Montréal has its own magic. For a big city, people are surprisingly friendly. Each neighbourhood has its own kind of flavour and is kind of insular, so it can feel like you’re living in a small town. Lots of parks and greenery, old buildings, easy to get around. There are painters in the parks, unicyclists in the bike lanes, poets on the corners. It’s a cabaret kind of life. Kooky and unexpected and full of wonderful art. Never boring.
Finally, what do you like to do when you are not writing (or reading)?
I research random things. I can spend hours online reading about historical figures, how certain machines are made or the practices of cults in California or what have you. I’m addicted to natural disasters and all the havoc the universe can toss at us when it feels like it. I assume this kind of work is all part of some greater plan that will reveal itself eventually. Maybe I’ll write books on tsunamis someday, who knows.
If I can get myself off the internet for a while, I will sometimes attempt to leave the house. Maybe even socialize. Usually, this kind of thinking devolves into a movie night or a pretty serious Netflix session, though.
Of course, my sister visited recently and got me interested in plants. I went from having two (near-dead) plants to thirty-one (mostly thriving) plants in a matter of weeks. Now all of my off time will likely be dedicated to adjusting watering schedules, blocking drafts and tinkering with humidification levels. It’s a noble pursuit, perhaps. The cat is jealous, but what can be done about it now.