Q (Matt Cheney): With so many other possible things to do in the world, why write?
A (George Ilsley): This is the hardest question on the list, because there is no clear answer.
It probably has something to do with the influence of books in the life of a
sensitive bookish boy growing up in a rural area of Nova Scotia. Books and
language brought the whole world to me as a reader, and now language and
writing helps me somehow to better understand the world. Books are still a
major source of inspiration in my life, and books themselves make me want to
write. Reading and writing are very intimately intertwined. Whatever the
reason, I did start writing as a child, and my first "book" was about
Q: When a friend of mine read the back cover of ManBug, where Sebastian is described as "an entomologist with Asperger's Syndrome" and Tom as "a dyslexic bisexual", she said, "Why does every character in contemporary fiction have to have quirky descriptions!?" I was a little scared when I started reading the book, myself, because I worried that it would feel like some kind of extended writing-workshop exercise -- "Give your first character 3 attributes and your second character 3 different attributes, and then write a story!" -- but I thought the labeling worked wonderfully, because the characters seem (to me, at least) aware of living in a label-addled world, and part of the fascination of the book for me was watching Sebastian and Tom play with, struggle against, embrace, and cast off labels. I think there's a question in here somewhere. Something like, maybe: What do you think of labels?
A: The fit and application of labels is a major theme in ManBug. There is a human impulse to use clear labels (right and wrong) but we live in a world where meaning is incremental, relative, and contextual. For example, the character Sebastian wonders as an adult if the diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome might have applied to him, but this diagnosis was never made. Autism is considered as presenting on a "spectrum," and a particular diagnosis for an individual is often not clear. Similarly, human sexuality is often labeled gay or straight, but the Kinsey scale gathers everyone together on a continuum of expression, where a label is best used to describe a type of behaviour, but not a person. The binary expectations of a label-crazy world do not match the reality of experience. Everyone uses labels, yet the meaning of labels often does not translate into a substance the literal-minded can comfortably grasp. Sebastian at first looks to labels to help bring order and structure to his world, but eventually he learns that he must instead, in the world of men, become comfortable with paradox.
Q: How did you develop the narrative voice of ManBug?
The voice of ManBug developed over several years. I have early drafts which I felt were unsuccessful. However, the voice of Sebastian did emerge and then the book became his book. At one point I had intended there be two voices, that Tom and Sebastian would each present his version of events. However, I never felt comfortable with the "Tom" voice, and so now even the parts about Tom are intended to be Sebastian repeating what he has learned from Tom.
Q: Are there any books you've enjoyed reading recently? Any perennial favorites?
A recent favorite is Murakami's Kafka on the Shore. Works I enjoy even more with each re-reading are Mark Merlis's novels (American Studies and An Arrow's Flight) and Gertrude Stein's The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas.
Q: Will you be dressing up for Halloween?
The short honest answer is "no." However I do dress up every day as half-man, half-geek. My personal fashion statement is "clashing is good."