We recently sat down with F. G. Paci to chat about his new collection of short stories, Talk About God and Other Stories, which will be released by Guernica this spring.
GE: Could you tell us about your new book, and about some of the stories in the collection?
FGP: TALK ABOUT GOD and Other Stories is a collection of short stories that are at once thought-provoking and whimsical, informative and absurd.
“Reading Boot Camp” is about recruits going through tough training exercise to become an elite cadre of readers to wage war against the Internet Culture.
In “Talk About God” an atheistic teacher has a near-death experience that makes him re-evaluate his life.
In “Rousseau’s Children” an academic abandons his kids and meets them again as adults.
“Chef For All Reasons” is about a celebrity chef who uses his TV cooking show to re-connect with his family.
Four movie fanatics go for a last binge of movie-watching in cottage country in “Last Movie in Kinmount.”
“Philosophy For Idiots” is an actual question and answer course on ethics and epistemology.
In “The Wager” a self-made billionaire tries to get people to buy into his methods of achieving of inner peace.
GE: Tell us about some of the characters in your stories.
FGP: The second story, “Talk about God,” is about two couples who have dinner together. One of these characters is a teacher at the local university of a small North Ontario city who has had a near-death experience. He’s a whimsical type who’s an atheist and into drama, specifically the works of de Sade, and likes to épater les bourgeois. His near-death experience, however, changes his outlook on things – and the other characters find out why.
In “Rousseau’s Children” the main character is a modern academic who has sacrificed the normal life of a family in order to pursue his academic interests. The question for him is: Has he done the right thing? The story concerns how he meets his grown-up kids to find out his answer.
In “Chef For All Reasons,” a renowned chef prepares a meal for his family on his own TV cooking show. As a person who loves food, he’s dedicated not only to his family, however, but to the TV audience as well. He wants to teach them about good food. This puts him at odds with the food industry, of course, which is not necessarily concerned with good food. And with his own son, who’s a teenager. His challenge is to make good food good-tasting food.
GE: How did the book evolve during the writing process?
FGP: The stories resolved themselves with their particular characters and situations, of course. The more I worked on them, however, the more they assumed a light-hearted tone in order to engage the reader. They turned out to be at once informative and amusing, provoking and entertaining, whimsical and serious.
Most of them are easy to read, I’d say – and yet they deal with serious topics.
GE: Would you say that there is a central thematic concern in your stories?
FGP: My first collection of short stories, Playing to Win, has a definite thematic strain. Each story is about a sport or game which brings out character.
In this collection, however, the stories are very different from each other. If there is a thematic overview, it would concern the art of teaching – whether it’s a drill sergeant instructing recruits in a boot camp, actual teachers in classrooms and in real-life situations, a chef preparing a meal on a TV cooking show, or a self-made billionaire offering people a channel to inner peace.
GE: Do you have a writing routine or any specific writing rituals?
FGP: I’ve been writing for a long time. I write every day. Same place. Early morning. No exceptions. Unless it’s an emergency. At one time I couldn’t write except long hand with a fountain pen. Now I work directly onto a computer.
There is a ritual, yes, but everyone has their own way of getting into the zone. It’s a matter of slipping into an almost a trance-like state of mind, one in which the words come of their own accord. But that’s only for the first few drafts.
Afterwards, of course, one has to slip in and out and try to keep one’s head and be rational and crafty and revise over and over until it feels right. One is never completely sure, however.
GE: What, in your opinion, qualifies a great book over a good one?
FGP: The great books, I suppose, are the ones that have withstood the test of time. The ones that were able to remain true to their time and place and yet transcend the factual world of time and place and speak to all time and place. The books that can change one’s perspective and even one’s life.
The Iliad. The Upanishads. The Tao Te Ching. The Bible. The works of Plato. Of Nietzsche. Etc. If you mean the great novels, that’s another story. But most people know what they are.
GE: Have you been working on anything recently? If so, what can we expect?
FGP: I have another collection of short stories, some of which cross over the line between the real and the absurdly real.
I also have a novel about high-school teachers and one in particular who develops an obsession with the Bible.
F.G. Paci was born in Italy and grew up in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. He was the Elia Chair writer-in-residence at York University and has an honorary degree from Laurentian University. He is the author of 13 novels, the last of which was The Son (Oberon, 2011). Among the novels he has published with Guernica are: Italian Shoes (2002), Hard Edge (2006), and Peace Tower (2009). His first collection of short stories, Playing To Win (Guernica), came out in 2012. He lives in Toronto with his wife and has one son.