by Jordan Wilson
Thomas King (1943 – ) grew up in California. He has a PhD in English and American studies from the University of Utah and is currently Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Guelph. He is the author of fifteen novels and short story collections, includingA Coyote Columbus Story(1992) and Green Grass, Running Water(1993), which were both nominated for the Governor General’s Award. In 2003, he was chosen to deliver the prestigious Massey Lectures, published as The Truth about Stories. A year later, Thomas King was made a member of the Order of Canada.
Jordan Wilson is a fourth year undergraduate student in the First Nations Studies Program and a member of the Musqueam Indian Band.
Jordan Wilson (JW): You write in different genres, and you write for—well I think you write for different audiences—because you have kids’ books, you have short stories, and you have novels, and you have the Massey Lecture series—
Thomas King (TK): Detective fiction.
JW: Detective fiction—
JW: Poetry. Is this an easy transition to make, to cross between these different genres?
TK: For the most part it has been, the only genre that I have not had anything published/produced in is drama. I’ve written a couple of plays but they just haven’t had … the shape. I don’t know what it is, they’re just not there yet. And drama is not an area that I have a burning interest in. I like theatre, don’t get me wrong, it’s just that for some reason writing plays has never been something that I have pursued. Poetry, I’m not a good poet, but I do poetry and I’m working on a book of poems right now. The other ones haven’t been too tough, the biggest transitions, novels and short stories are pretty much the same animal. There’s not much of a stretch. It’s just when you go from short story to novel you’re just writing a longer piece and you have to sustain the plot in an overall longer period of time. But when it comes to radio plays for instance, and scripts, film scripts, that’s a big jump. You just can’t walk from writing a novel to writing a film script. It’s a different animal. That was an okay transition for me. I didn’t have a lot of trouble doing that, but I know a lot of people who do, and I know a lot of novelists who cannot write a film script to save their lives. But I don’t notice those things. The things that I do easily enough I don’t notice that they were difficult to begin with. I notice they’re difficult if I can’t do them. For instance, I can’t sing. I can’t act very well. I can’t play a musical instrument, which just kills me. Just kills me. I tried a guitar for years and years, it was awful. Now I’m trying harmonica. And at least there’s a kind of justice to harmonica—either I’m blowing or I’m sucking on that instrument and most of the time I’m sucking. But I like it, and it’s not too difficult to play poorly. Probably more difficult to play well. But, yeah, most of those transitions haven’t been that tough. It’s a creative transition. I was an art minor, or I took a minor in art, and so I’ve done visual work as well, as a photographer. So all of those things are storytelling, primarily. I mean you’re just telling a story with what you’re doing. I take a picture I’m telling a story. I write a poem I’m telling a story. So as long as I can keep it in that storytelling mode I’m okay, and the transitions aren’t difficult.
JW: With your photography, do you feel like you’re telling a story with your photos as well?
TK: Yeah, I mean a part of the story is actually doing the photography itself. So one of the first trips I took was with my brother. We went down into the American Southwest. When we went I decided I would do a little Curtis routine, so I packed a whole bunch of Indian paraphernalia into the car: really bad wigs, little bows and arrows, and little tomahawks, and whatnot. And I also brought along some Lone Ranger masks, about maybe a dozenLone Ranger masks—looks pretty good, huh?—and I wasn’t sure what the Native artists would want to play with in the box, but after I did the regular shoot which was just a straight portrait of them I said, “Listen, if you want to put any of this stuff on I’ll photograph you with this.” So we were down in Window Rock and I met with Carl Gorman, a major weight Native artist down there, Navajo guy, older guy, probably in his eighties I would guess. And we finished the shoot, the straight shoot, and I said, “Do you have any interest in taking your picture with any of this junk?” He pulled out the Lone Ranger mask and was just delighted to put it on. And he put it on and it was one of my best shots, is the shot of R.C. Gorman, pardon, Carl Gordon, his father with this Lone Ranger maskon. Here’s this old, eighty-year old guy, who’s just happy as a pig in mud to be looking like theLone Ranger. And then we photographed his son, R.C. Gorman, who’s probably better known than his father is. And when R.C. found out that his father had said yes to the Lone Rangermask he wanted to do a shoot. And from there on out, the most popular item was the Lone Ranger mask in the box. And I’ve got quite a few native artists in the Lone Ranger mask. So I’m doing two series now, I’m doing one that is on just straight black and white portraits of Native artists and the other is of Native artists in Lone Ranger masks. And some of the artists have said, “No, it’s the stupidest thing they’ve ever heard of,” and were sort of insulted I’d even mentioned it to them, but a lot of them said, “Oh yeah, that would be fun. It would be fun to see what it’s like to look through the Lone Ranger mask as the hero of the piece.” I don’t wear mine all that often, contrary to popular belief and some of the rumours that have been going around. I tend to keep it just for special occasions.
JW: Going back to that question about genre hopping, do you have a preference? Do you prefer one genre over another?
TK: Do I prefer one genre over another? I suppose I’m most comfortable with short stories and novels. And I think that’s true because I don’t have to deal with anybody else. When you’re a novelist, when you write short stories you don’t have actors, for instance, to deal with. You don’t have a script editor to deal with, you don’t have producers to deal with, like you would if you’re working in film, or even radio for that matter. And for stage, you’ve got to deal with directors and actors again, and stage managers, and whatnot. I tend to prefer that part of writing, that takes me as far away from people as I can possibly be. And especially those forms where I don’t have to submit an early draft. I just work on my pieces until they’re done, then I ship them off to the publisher. And then I have to play around with people back and forth on editing, but it’s not so bad because I’ve done most of all the work myself, already, and I’m happy with it, and it’s too late for anybody to make substantive changes to my pieces. So, I tend to be a hermit. I have to get out on the road to make a living, but if I didn’t have to I wouldn’t. I’d stay at home and just hide away. I much prefer that. Very comfortable, very organized, very normal. I did a lot of traveling when I was younger. I think I got all the traveling out of my system. And I’ve just simply discovered that the world is an interesting place, no doubt, but its pretty much the same, people are pretty much the same world over. And once you’ve seen one group of people you’ve seen them all. It’s not completely true, but you know, essentially, it’s true. So, I’d rather stay home. Novels and short stories allow me to stay home.
JW: I recently interviewed Richard Van Camp, he teaches [at the University of British Columbia] and does creative writing down at Musqueam and stuff like that—
TK: Where is Richard? I figured I’d see him on this trip.
JW: I don’t know where he’s been.
TK: He must be out of town.
JW: He has a book launch on Sunday, I know that, for his recent collection of short stories—
TK: Just as I’m going out of town.
JW: Yeah, I was wondering if you’d be around or not.
TK: I take off Sunday morning first thing to get out of here. Where’s the book launch at?
JW: It’s going to be here on campus, at the Great Hall, the Sty-Wet-Tan hall—
TK: Well if you see him, tell him that I would liked to have stayed but couldn’t.
JW: Sure. So in my interview with him we were talking about the sort of darker subject matter that he deals with, and he was talking about other Aboriginal authors and he noted that in your recent short story collection that you had also taken a direction towards some darker subject matter and darker material in your writing. My first question about that is, was that a conscious or deliberate move?
TK: No, I mean, Medicine River, my very first book, I had stuff in there that was a little on the darker side—alcoholism, physical abuse. I’ve never shied away from it, I just don’t make it a centre point of my writing. I like a balance, and there’s enough gloomy stuff out there already. I prefer to allow people to see the humorous side, even of a bad situation. I don’t think of myself as a comic writer, although a lot of people do. I think of myself as a satirist, and satirists generally handle serious topics with humor. It’s a way of making the medicine go down. I’ve had any number of short stories that are little bit on the grisly side, if you want to call it that. Medicine Rivercertainly has that side to it. Truth and Bright Water, my third novel, certainly has that in it as a part. So it’s nothing new for me. I don’t think about doing it or not doing it, it’s just what the story will allow. I’ll decide to write a particular story and then I have to figure out what needs to go in there. Sometimes it’s humorous, sometimes it’s sad—I mean, the story I read the other night, A Short History of Indians in Canada, is that a funny story? Or is that a kind of, “Oh,” you know, kind of story. Well I don’t know, it’s for the listener, I suppose, to make up their mind. It can cut either way. You can say, “Oh my god, Indians flying into buildings, this guy’s talking about serious shit. You know, destruction of cultures, you know, death of individuals, blah, blah, blah.” Or, you can say, “Oh it’s a funny little metaphor for Native life and, boy, it was hysterical.” So do with it what you want. I prefer writing short stories that are open-ended in the sense that people can make of them what they want to make. I don’t tell them how to feel about that. I don’t say, “Hey, this is a story about death and suicide, and whatnot, or the destruction of a culture.” I just put the story out there and try to make it entertaining, try to make it well shaped and well written, and then people can make their own minds what the thing is about—how they react to it.
JW: That leads me to another question that I wanted to ask you. One of the things that really struck me with your talk last night was the sort of transformation that occurred—at least for me hearing you tell that story—because I’d recently read that story, and I think my reaction to it was a lot different when you read it because it took on this whole new life and it was a lot funnier for me, because the audience was laughing. I was part of the audience and [it was] just in the way you told it. So my question was, what’s it like with the translation between a written story and a spoken story? I was wondering if there’s any stories that you have that don’t make that translation either one way or the other, in terms of speaking it or writing it?
TK: Well A Short History… is an oral piece. There’s no question about it, it’s not a written piece. I mean, I wrote it, but it is an oral performance piece. And you’re quite right that when I perform it, the impact is a lot different than if you simply read it. You don’t hear the same change of pace in the voice, you don’t hear the change of tone in the voice. It’s there in the story, but you could read it a lot of ways, actually; you don’t have to read it the way I read it. I mean I move everything towards that last line, okay, and I drop my voice for that last line, and I just really flatten it right out to where it’s, like, hitting the pavement. I try to keep my voice lively and bouncy as if I’m flying through the air and then smack … boom! But that’s the performance aspect. You don’t get that with a written piece. That’s always been my complaint about stories. Oral stories are so much more; it’s like shooting a raw file in photography as opposed to a JPEG. You get more information on the raw file; the JPEG is just, sort of, the basic nuts and bolts of the photograph. That’s what a short story is for me, and even a novel for that matter. The real thing is the oral performance. So even if I performed a novel orally, it would take on a whole new life of its own from the written word. What has to happen is, people who are reading my pieces, I’d love for them to read them out loud and to perform them themselves and see how they turn out. I think, I think that I have a fairly strong oral voice in terms of my written pieces, so that as you read my written piece you can hear a voice there. It’s not just a third person narrator. I’m not sure about that, but someone like Harry Robinson was able to do that. Robinson created a wonderful voice within a written piece of work and you could hear it, and you’d read Robinson’s stuff out loud. At least I would, that was a great joy for me. What a storyteller he was, whoa, really fantastic. Yeah, I even forgot what the question was, but we got off on that, didn’t we?
JW: In terms of voice you just mentioned that you feel like you’re speaking with your voice when you write the story. Do you take on different voices for different works?
TK: Yeah, yeah, I do. I mean I’ve got some pieces where I take on a much younger voice for it; I try to hear a younger voice as I write the thing. Sometimes I take on a much, much older voice. So yeah, I mean the voice differs with a piece that I’m writing. If I’m writing about two teenage boys, then the voice needs to be a little bit different, especially if I’m writing in third person or first person … Or it can take on a more scary voice, depending on the subject matter. It just depends. I have lots of voices that I can use for that.
JW: I also noticed that with your recent short story collection that it seemed like some of the short stories aren’t as explicitly—
JW: Yeah, [as] ‘Aboriginal’ as some of your previous writing.
TK: Yep. Yep, yep.
JW: Would you like to talk about that?
TK: Yeah, I mean, there’s nothing much to it. The first book, they didn’t want to publish anything but Native material. Okay, fair enough, it was my first collection of short stories; all right, I can go along with that. But I had some really great stories that didn’t have anything to do with Natives, just storytelling. And so this book it’s sort of half and half. Half Native, half non-Native. I mean, I’m a mixed blood, half and half. But I don’t want to close myself off from writing—see, I’ll write about anything, as long as I can do it competently. And I don’t care if anybody else writes about anything they want as long as they’re competent in what they do. So there was an old debate that went on about whether or not whites could write about Indians. And the reverse of that, I suppose, is if whites can’t write about Indians, can Indians write about whites? Well it’s a silly debate as far as I’m concerned. You write about what you can imagine as long as you can do it well. If you do it poorly—if you do it poorly, you deserve getting whacked around the head and shoulders by the critics. W.P. Kinsella, just as an example. Kinsella’s written some really great short stories that involve Natives, but for the most part it’s a cash cow for him, I think, and he’s written some real crap, things that are no more than extended jokes. So, we’ve got to pick and choose through Kinsella on what you like and what you don’t like, or what’s well written and what’s really poorly written. So do it competently, do it with some kind of respect, then I don’t mind. There’s a fellow named William Eastlake who wrote four novels that involved Natives. And Eastlake is terrific, one of my favorite writers, non-Native, but boy that guy has got a voice for story-telling, just … The Bronc People, Go In Beauty, Portrait of an Artist with 27 Horses … just really tremendously well-written novels. Native writers have entrée into a whole different world than non-Native writers do and I think that’s where we bring something more to the table than other writers bring, than non-Native writers bring. I mean some non-Native writers were just about born and raised on reserves around the country, not many of them, but a number have been around Native peoples much of their lives and so they have some of the same entrée as we do. But it is one of those things that we have available to us, is being able to dip into that oral story-telling world and also, the world outside of the large cities and even the larger towns, and back to a different kind of existence. Some of that can get really romantic from time to time but [there are] enough good writers out there who handle that material in a particularly engaging way. Richard Van Camp is one. His title story, I think it’s the title story from his new collection, is really a great little story. I think he’ll read that probably when he does it.
JW: So you’ve received the Order of Canada, and you’ve done the Massey Lectures, and you’ve done a nationally broadcasted radio show … And, so, I was wondering if there was any sort of—if you’ve felt any sort of added pressure or responsibility in being this widely known and celebrated Aboriginal author?
TK: Well, I mean, there is this expectation that I’ll go all over the countryside to do gigs, I suppose. That sort of comes with the territory and, unfortunately, somebody else would be better with my reputation, in terms of travel, than I am because I don’t like to travel much. There’s that obligation. I don’t know, I mean, I tend to be a hermit, and so I don’t pay a lot of attention to those pressures. I know other Native writers do. But I’m concerned about—the chair’s a little wobbly, weee! Yeah, that’s, ha-ha, really wobbly. Anyway. There are other Native writers more gregarious than I am. And good for them, because I don’t tend to be as gregarious as I probably need to be. I don’t know, I mean my obligation is to write well. If I have any obligation at all, it is to write well, and help out the next generation of writers who are coming along, either by example or by talking with them. I do some of that, not as much as other people do, but I do some. But I think the main obligation is write well and do your work as best as you can. I think good work, good work carries over to other writers. It helps in the publishing industry, in the major publishing industry, because if you have a Native writer who is writing and selling, and the material sells, the next Native writer who comes along who’s got some interesting looking stuff, well the publishing house might take a chance on them, whereas in the past they would not, just simply wouldn’t.
JW: I want to know, why the use of a pseudonym for your detective stories?
TK: Ah-ha-ha-ha, that question. Well it’s an easy answer. I wanted to separate my serious work from my detective fiction, and I didn’t want to get the two mixed up. I mean I’d done quite a bit of work under Thomas King. And now all of a sudden I go into a detective genre, and I wanted some way to separate those out. So we decided to go with Hartley Goodweather, which is a pun on hardly good weather, and it didn’t sell because … nobody really knew it was me. I’m not really sure if it would’ve sold even if they knew it was me. So that was sort of a bust, and before the day was out the publishing company was putting “Thomas King writing as Hartley Goodweather.” So I said okay, and the next one came out under my name. I’m working on the third one, I don’t know what they’ll do with the third one, the second one didn’t sell well either, I guess. I’m not sure why, I quite like them. I don’t think they’re badly written, I think they’re a lot of fun. I think they’re a decent attempt at the genre, but so far, no, no … I’ve got four of those that I want to do, I’ve written the first two and now I’ve got to write the other two because I’ve got to settle this mystery that I set up at the very first one, the Obsidian murders. I’ve got to get that out of the way and I don’t want to do that until the fourth book at least, so we’ll see, we’ll see.
JW: This is jumping a bit now. When you were first starting to write, or when you were younger, which authors were an inspiration to you?
TK: Well certainly, I mean, obviously some of the early ones that I read in that library when I was trying to keep myself from getting beat up by the guys in the neighborhood. So, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars series, and it’s not so much writers, so much as particular novels, because Burroughs wrote a whole bunch of stuff that I can’t stand to read. And some of the Baum books,The Wizard of Oz, but not all of them. Melville’s Moby Dick certainly was a major weight novel for me. N. Scott Momaday’s House Made of Dawn, one of the first books I read by a Native writer. Harry Robinson, absolutely, for oral voice. But there have been lots of people along the way who have taught me things about how to write. Leon Rooke, in terms of voice, Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, I mean the list goes on and on, and on. William Eastlake, a fellow I mentioned earlier, certainly. Evan Connell, who did fiction, but also did a book on the Custer massacre, that was terrific, called Son of the Morning Star. So a lot of books, mostly it’s books, not so much authors, but just the particular book that caught my fancy.
JW: Did you have any mentors when you were first writing?
TK: A few for short periods of time. People who certainly stood up for me and helped me out in various ways. Audrey Thomas, Leon Rooke, Margaret Atwood, all gave me assistance and encouragement … But I tend to be, like I said, I tend to be a hermit, and so once I got going and got up to speed more or less, then I sort of stayed to myself. Stayed in the sort of semi-shadows, if you will. But in the early days, yeah, those people were instrumental in getting me published and helping me with the writing. Sometimes just talking to you about the writing is enough. They don’t have to say, “You’ve got to make this change or that change, or you know, do this, do that.” Just talking to them about writing and their process can be inspirational, or at least just handy.
JW: I know this was briefly covered last night, but I’d like to know if you see yourself returning to broadcasting, maybe not just in the form of Dead Dog, but in any form?
TK: Yeah there’s always a chance that I’ll return to broadcasting in some way, but I think for right now with the shape that CBC is in, I think that’s a long shot. I think it’s a long shot. I think probably—and because I’m of an age where it takes so long to get one of those programs mounted and get it up and running and all the kinks worked out of it, it may be that I won’t do any more broadcasting, I don’t know. If the opportunity comes along I’ll look at it … but I don’t hear anything coming down the pike right now. Now, I’ve got to make something up so I can give it to them and say, “What do you think of this?” And I’m not doing that right now—just getting back to my novels.
JW: In a recent—or not recent at all … Ten years ago you did an interview with Margery Fee forCanadian Literature.
TK: … Yes.
JW: At the time you spoke of Dead Dog Café being political activism through satire.
JW: So now that you aren’t doing Dead Dog Café, I’m wondering what your outlet for this type of activism was now?
TK: Well right now I don’t have an outlet for it. I’m … I feel as though I’m too old to go walk on the lines anymore, and I’m not sure that did as much as good as I had hoped it would when I was doing it. Yeah, right now there isn’t much activism kicking around. I still do my public speeches, and I suppose you could argue that there’s some of that there in some of the speeches that I give. Most of it used to reside with Dead Dog Café. Now it will probably wind up in the novel without Dead Dog Café. The activism always has sort of waned and then come back, and then waned and come back. I think activism does that for everybody. It wears you out. It really wears you out. So you have to take a break from it every so often. Even the most hardcore activists need to take a break from it every so often. So maybe now is my break time. And then maybe in a year or two, who knows? I’ll be back at banging on the gates to the fort.
JW: In that same interview, ten years ago, you claimed that Eden Robinson was the brightest talent, in terms of young Aboriginal authors. So I was wondering, who are the promising young talents today?
TK: Well, it’s true, Eden Robinson was very good, I don’t know what she’s doing these days … I don’t know many of the really young Native writers now anymore. I don’t know who’s coming up the line. I haven’t seen anyone that I can think of right off the bat. It’s sort of a group that is more matured now. Eden Robinson, Drew Hayden Taylor, people like that … I don’t know. That happens too. You’ll have eras where you don’t have writers that jump out at you, but the next era they do. So it may be we’re in a decade where we won’t see any prominent Native writers come along. Maybe I’m just wrong. Maybe I haven’t been paying attention. And that’s very possible, that I’ve been sort of snuggled down in my own little comfortable place, working on my own work, I haven’t really been watching to see who’s out there that’s bright and a good storyteller. I’m the wrong person to ask that to, probably.
JW: You just mentioned that your role is to do writing well and also to be there to help other writers who are trying to make their way, so I was wondering what sort of words of advice you’d have for young authors, Aboriginal writers?
TK: For young writers? Don’t do it. Be a banker. No, it’s a hard life to live if you’re trying to do it for a living. If you’re doing it on the side in addition to a day job then you just don’t put as much time into the writing, and that’s a problem too. But it’s a difficult thing to do as a full time living. I don’t think there are any Native writers in Canada who can make a living off of their writing. I may come as close as anybody does. And I can do a reasonable job but I don’t think I can support myself just on my writing. And I do all sorts of other things, I do radio, I do television, I do film, I do blah, blah, blah, broadcasting. So you’d think I’d have a pretty good chance of doing that. My advice? My only advice I can give is write well. If you’re going to be a writer, write well. Figure on writing well. Don’t screw around with half-assed attempts at it. Do it well or do something else.
JW: I guess this question is along the same lines as that one, and it’s looking back at your career. If you knew then, when you were starting out, what you know now, is there anything you would have done differently?
TK: No, writing is a maturation process. It’s a journey. You don’t know where it’s going to take you. I don’t know what I would’ve done differently. I’ve had been pretty lucky in terms of my writing. I got up and running quickly. When I started writing seriously I got published almost immediately. Didn’t have to get rejection letter after rejection letter. It was as though I was sort of blessed, I suppose. Lucky, if you want to call it that. No, I don’t know if I would have done anything differently. Maybe start earlier, or try to start earlier. But sometimes starting earlier doesn’t do you any good. There’s a maturation process to that, too. You can’t expect to be a terrific writer at eighteen; you haven’t lived enough life yet. You haven’t seen enough sorrow, you haven’t seen enough joy. Some of that just comes with age, just comes with age. And yet there are writers I know—Louise Erdrich when she was first starting out was a very young writer, she was just terrific. Just terrific. I was just stunned by how good she was. And you know, it sort of pissed me off too, because nobody that young should be that good—I think she was in her teens or twenties, and she was quite a writer. So I don’t know that I’d do anything differently. And if I did, it might mean that I wouldn’t be the writer that I am today. That’s the other thing. Sometimes getting hit over the head with a hammer hurts at the time, but it may lead to something later on, besides brain damage, of course. Whereas if you don’t get hit by a hammer, well you’re not the person that you might’ve been. That great thing with Jean Luc Picard on Star Trek where he gets stabbed at the academy and has to have a heart transplant or something like that—before he’s kind of a mealy mouth but kind of a shy, not the dynamic captain we know, and getting stabbed changed all that for him. Well, you know, what happens to writers? I don’t know. Something comes along, some epiphany, probably, maybe, and all of a sudden they’re good writers. They’re great writers for that matter, but there’s no way of knowing what’s going to do that. The only reason to go back is if I could take all my talent with me, go back to twenty-one, have my talent and my reputation and everything else; I’m happy with that. My partner and I have this little game we play, we say, “Look, if you could be twenty-three again, with everything you know, with all your talent, with your reputation intact and all you had to do for that was to raise three kids from scratch, would you do it?” And my answer probably is, “No.” Not because I don’t like kids, it’s just that raising three kids from scratch—as I did—is hard work. It is terribly hard work; it just wears me out thinking about it. So, yeah, I don’t know if I want to go back. I like it where I am. I’m fairly … fairly comfortable, right now for the first time in my life. Not sitting here talking to you, particularly, with a camera on me, but back in Guelph in this house—we just finished building a house—and it’s just comfortable. I like being there and I don’t like to leave.
TK: Does your grandfather go to sleep on you?
JW: Does my grandfather—yeah, he nods off sometimes.
TK: Lovely, nothing like nodding off.
JW: But he’s, like, 87 years old [laughs]; he’s an old timer.
TK: So you’re suggesting to me that I have no excuse to go to sleep?
JW: You can go to sleep if you want. I can think of some more questions, maybe.
TK: Geez, twenty-one years. That’s okay. You should be able to put this together as a cartoon—
JW: I should.
TK: I can do [sound effect], “That’s all folks!”
JW: Some wacky sound effects, maybe?
TK: Yeah, some wacky sound effects, yeah, Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny. [Sound effect] “What’s up doc?” We can do all of that. I love doing voices. I don’t do them very well, but I used to love Mel Blanc and some of those guys who did all of those great voices over the years. I did that when I was growing up. That was one of the things I did for performance was try to imitate people. I wasn’t very good, but it didn’t stop me. Didn’t stop me … Anyway, enough of that.
JW: Well now you’re doing other voices through your writing, so.
TK: What’s that? Yeah, now I do voices, yeah. I hear those voices. It’s important to hear those voices in your writing. If you can’t hear the voice in your writing then you can’t write it. And when I do radio stuff I want to know who the actors are so I can hear their voices in my head, so I know what their cadence is, so I know what they’re comfortable saying in terms of sentence structure. Once I have that down I can write for anybody. But I like to write for people with distinctive voices and distinctive styles, because once I hear those then they’re in my head and, whap, I can get it.
JW: After your talk last night, another thing that really struck me was how much you made people laugh. And we’ve talked a bit about this in this interview, about dealing with serious things in sort of a funny way, but I was wondering about the notion of Aboriginal humour and if you’ve noticed if there’s any either consistent themes, or uses, or characteristics, of what we might consider an ‘Aboriginal humour’?
TK: Well, I mean, many Native people use humour just to try to deal with the tragedies that they encounter. I don’t know that Aboriginal humour is different in major ways from other humour from other cultures. I think certainly subject matter has a lot to do with humour. I think though that Native humour tends to be more self-deprecating. I think Native humour tends to be more involving the whole community to where you don’t set up situations where everybody laughs at one person, where the humour is directed at an individual. I think Native humour tends to be more communal in that sense. I think white humour tends to be at an object of some sort. Now those are general, sweeping statements, and the minute I say them I know that they’re not true. But nonetheless there is a kind of pattern to that, if you look at stand-up comics, a lot of them are … a mother-in-law they can’t stand, or they’ve got a younger brother they can’t stand, or a member of the audience that they can’t stand, or their wife doesn’t understand them, blah, blah, blah. Native humour, I think, is more about the community, or it involves—everyone can laugh, rather than one person being left out of the equation. But I’m not even sure that’s true anymore, but certainly I’ve said that before so I’ll say it again. Maybe it will be true, who knows?
JW: I think I’m pretty much done; I don’t have any more questions.
TK: Oh good, because I’m almost dead asleep.
JW: You’re fading.
TK: Not you! No, I’m just fading for some reason. What time is it? It’s 2 o’clock! Ten after two, right?
Stay calm, be brave, wait for the signs. That’s the sign off.