Bill’s Back: An Interview with W.P. Kinsella


Interviewed by Maurice Mierau

According to Wikipedia, “W.P. Kinsella was involved in a car accident in 1997 which resulted in the end of his fiction writing career.” Obviously that conclusion is out of date: you have a new novel out titled Butterfly Winter. What motivated you to write this new story, your first novel in thirteen years, and when did you do most of the writing?

As we are finding more and more with sports figures concussion can be really debilitating. I did virtually nothing for five years after the accident. In fact I told my agents (book and movie) to consider me retired. Then I started reworking some things I’d started years earlier, Butterfly Winter, which I began way back in the 80s, a third book to the Box Socials Trilogy, The Grand Reunion for Anyone Who Ever Attended Fark Schoolhouse in Seven Towns County Alberta, and something I just finished that was also started in the 70s or 80s, Russian Dolls, which consists of one long story with 25+ small stories inside it.

I tried a new viewpoint when rewriting Butterfly Winter, the interview with the Wizard. The Gringo Journalist of the novel is essentially me, a rather inept interviewer, who likes to report overheard conversations. I was once hired by a Japanese magazine to interview Hideo Nomo the superstar pitcher. They flew me to Los Angeles to meet Nomo. I am a Sumo fan, so the only question I could think to ask him was did he like Sumo? If the answer was No, then there would be a terribly long silence. While I was in the air, Nomo changed agents and cancelled all his appointments, much to my relief.

The epigraph for your new novel is from Robert Kroetsch’s 1978 book What the Crow Said. Why is Kroetsch important to you and to Butterfly Winter?

I read Kroetsch before I read Gabriel Garcia Marquez, or Jorge Luis Borges, so his was the first true magic realism that I encountered. (The fantasy of Ray Bradbury influenced me greatly, The Illustrated Man and The Golden Apples of the Sun. I was thrilled to get an email from Bradbury a few years ago telling me how much he enjoyed Shoeless Joe, so I was able to tell him how much he had influenced me as a young writer– I read The Illustrated Man when I was about 17 and said, “Oh, that’s what I want to do with my life.”) The opening scene of What the Crow Said is one of the most wonderful in literature.

Why has baseball been such a rich source of stories for you?

As I’ve stated many times it is the open-endedness of the game.  On a true baseball field the foul lines diverge forever, eventually taking in a good part of the universe, and that makes for larger than life characters and allows magical events to be commonplace.

Even though the new novel is about baseball and has so-called magic realist elements that remind me of your earlier work, it’s also quite different from your other fiction. How would you characterize the difference?

I don’t see that BW is that much different from say, The Iowa Baseball Confederacy, or the many magical short stories I have written. Most of my baseball work is filled with magical happenings, the only difference I see is that there are perhaps more magical events in BW than in previous work.

Butterfly Winter is set in an imaginary country nestled between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, and two of the main characters are baseball players who play in the American major leagues. What makes this story Canadian, or is that question simply not relevant to you—and if not, why is that?

I have always considered myself a North American writer.

While the Pimental brothers’ baseball career, which starts in the womb with them playing catch, has many humorous aspects, Butterfly Winter is also a serious political novel. What is it you want readers to be aware of in terms of the novel’s political satire?

I leave people to draw their own conclusions about any political ramifications. An early editor, as a condition of acceptance by a publisher, asked me to make the novel more political. I said, “The novel is the way it is, I would have no idea how to do that, nor would I want to.” I never heard from her again.

What are you reading or re-reading these days that excites you?

I don’t keep up with literature like I used to.  I did all the reading for the Books in Canada First Novel Award, for many years, and I miss that. I’m rereading The Collected Stories of William Trevor, who I consider the best living writer in English. I reread The Great Gatsby, and Sharon Riis’s mysterious parable The True Story of Ida Johnson, frequently. I keep up with Alice Hoffman, Lee Smith, Anne Tyler, and James Lee Burke. For escapism, I’ve read all of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels.

In October you’re going on a tour that will include Scrabble tournaments and book promotion in Alberta. Why do you love Scrabble so much?

I am a very competitive person, one has to be to take on the writing establishment, and say, I can do as well or better than the rest of you. I’m going to put my work up for review, often by dimwits, something that almost no other profession has to undergo. I’m good at Scrabble, but I can’t play with the big dogs.  There are four levels of competition and I’m a top Fourth Level player.

As you know, the business of writing has changed a lot in Canada over the last decade, and not all for the better. One bookstore chain now has a virtual monopoly on bookselling, and one newspaper commands nearly every interested eyeball when it comes to book reviewing, even though they’ve decimated their books coverage. If you had a daughter or son who wanted to be a fiction writer, what advice would you give them?

Unlike me, don’t quit your day job.  I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time, and was able to make a good living for many years. It is almost impossible to do that today. The markets and the money are just not there.

One Comment

  1. Susie P. Chase
    Posted November 20, 2013 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    I read your interview and was surprised you never once asked about Kinsella’s books about Canada’s indigenous peoples. Starting with “Dance Me Outside,” “Moccasin Telegraph,” “Fencepost Chronicles,” “Scars,” and “Northern Lights,” these books are all gems. I grew up in Saskatchewan and went to school with many aboriginal kids. These books speak their language and tell their stories so eloquently. I would love to write to Kinsella to tell him how much his stories have meant to me. His works should be mandatory for all Canadian high school kids. Please pass on my comments to him if you can.

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Maurice Mierau

Maurice Mierau is editor of The Winnipeg Review. His new book of poems, Autobiographical Fictions, is just out with Palimpsest. His previous book, Detachment: An Adoption Memoir, was recently shortlisted for the 2016 Kobzar Literary Award.