In Bill Gaston’s latest collection of short stories, Juliet Was a Surprise, a beautiful, French weather girl wrestles with the sudden death of her brutish husband, a high-powered lawyer with a fatal desire to tell – and be – the punchline.
But ask Gaston how he so convincingly crawls into the mind of the French ex-pat and her intuitive yet witty observations of American life, and the author’s humour shines through.
“You haven’t seen me, obviously,” he jokes wryly. “I liken it to method acting, when you try to not just look at the outer trappings of someone, but try as best as you can to climb inside and see the world through their eyes. When I’m brave, I’ll take on a female persona with the belief that we’re more alike than we’re different as human beings. We have the same desires and frailties and insecurities.”
Gaston has made a career out of exploring the darkness in everyday characters, and his latest acclamation to the short list of the Governor General’s Literary Awards proves he’s a master at his craft.
The University of Victoria writing professor is quick to point out the success of others who have come through the respected program: former student Arno Kopecky, shortlisted in non-fiction for The Oil Man and the Sea: Navigating the Northern Gateway (Douglas & McIntyre); and poets Arleen Paré and Garth Martens, both graduates of UVic’s poetry program.
“For our population, Victoria really is punching above its weight this year. I think we have more short listed people than Toronto,” Gaston says.
It’s not the first time Gaston has been on the GG’s literary prize list, but he says it’s always “a thrill” to be nominated for his work.
His advice to aspiring authors and his students at UVic remains the same as it did when he began writing: “To look inside, delve deep for truly felt experience rather than to mimic TV-land stories. People today are more attached to the screen and get a lot of their ideas from there, but often the trap can be a superficial spectacle, as opposed to something authentic and felt. We’re more alike than we are different, and if you can access your own dark places, chances are that will resonate with everybody.”
The winners of the 2014 Governor General Literary Awards will be announced Nov. 18 with the winning author in each of seven categories taking home $25,000. For a full list of nominees, see ggbooks.canadacouncil.ca.