author of Love Is A Canoe
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I was born in New Haven, but I was raised in what is called ‘Brownstone Brooklyn’ and after brief periods away for college in New England and some time writing for money in Los Angeles, I returned to Brooklyn and now live within half a mile of where I grew up.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
At twelve I thought I’d be a fashion model but then a family friend sought me out at a party and gently told me I was an inch too short and far too pimply.
At eighteen I imagined I’d be a school teacher who wrote short stories in the evenings. Sometime after that I became more ambitious.
So, by the time I was thirty I knew I was a writer but was still young and dumb enough to deny to myself how painful and hard such a career choice would be. But I was fairly bald by then so fashion model remained out of reach!
At eighteen I believed no one should have the right to mess with your art. Now I wouldn’t be able to hold on to that belief even if I wanted to.
4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?
DeKooning’s paintings of women meant a lot to me when I was young and still do. Nick Cave’s No More Shall We Part and, in general, his ability to paint dark and funny pictures that make you want to laugh while you’re crying have been a source of reassurance for me. Isaac Babel’s Red Cavalry stories work the same way.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
There’s too much compromise in movie-making. And you can live (alongside the rest of your life) in a novel for years without having to tell anyone what you’re up to. It’s a sweet pursuit and a noble craft.
Love is a Canoe is about a self-help book called Marriage is a Canoe that’s revived by a publishing house via a contest where one lucky couple meets that book’s author. It’s meant to be funny and sad and a ‘kitchen sink’ novel, where I threw everything I had into it and stirred and waited to see what happened.
(Editor’s note: Praise for Love Is a Canoe:
‘Schrank has done something here that may sound impossible: He’s written a funny novel about publishing that is not caustic but optimistic, not biting but bighearted.’ New York Times
‘Sharply funny, beautifully original.’ Kate Christensen, author of The Austral and The Great Man
‘Our bookshelves all have an empty space waiting for the book we long for but cannot imagine because it can’t be described as ‘the next A’ or ‘Author X by way of Author Y.’ Love Is a Canoe fills that nameless void. Funny, tender, wholly original—it’s as if all the good fairies came to its christening. (Story, dialogue, character, heart.) I loved it.‘ Laura Lippman, author of And When She Was Good and The Most Dangerous Thing
‘Love Is a Canoe captures the most essential difficulties of marriage and commitment—our fears of love and loss. A brilliant book of do-overs and second chances, Schrank’s novel is mordantly funny and an all too real meditation on modern life.’ A. M. Homes, author of May We Be Forgiven and This Book Will Save Your Life
‘As ethical lines blur, Schrank makes New York seem sharp and new.’ The New Yorker on Miracle Man
‘Brilliantly observed story about the desire to live in an egalitarian world.’ Time Magazine on Miracle Man
‘Love Is a Canoe is a wonderful and deceptively breezy novel—heartfelt and wise; light as feathers, strong as iron.’ Adam Langer, author of The Thieves of Manhattan and Crossing California)
I hope they love how I stirred it! I don’t expect readers to love all the characters, but I do hope they read with an eye toward the nuances in the story, that they understand that the character’s undulations from sentimentality to cynicism and back again are the heart of the story.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
I can’t lie. I admire Bruce Wagner, a writer based in Los Angeles who throws everything he’s got into his novels. He is not always perfect, but I’m bored by perfect novels. His great messy ones are, to my mind, close to genius.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
I want some people to love the story and characters that make up Love is a Canoe. I want a few others (or even the same ones) to embrace the story’s undulating themes. That’s all.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Take advice from anyone who’ll bother to give it to you. You can figure out if the advice is any good after you’ve acted on it. And don’t quit—because if you do quit, the only thing you’ll ever know for sure is that you’re out of the game.
Ben, thank you for playing.
About the Contributor
While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.