‘Glittery pyrotechnics’: An Interview with Daniel Zomparelli


By Trevor Corkum

Daniel Zomparelli’s debut collection of fiction, Everything is Awful and You’re a Terrible Person (Arsenal Pulp Press), comes at you like an evening at The Festival of Lights celebration of fireworks in Vancouver’s English Bay: glittery pyrotechnics, moody suspense, that jittery feeling in your gut that something could go terribly wrong at any moment, and the gloomy sadness when the show’s suddenly over. This is a collection that breaks all the rules of first fiction and then some. Zomparelli’s experimental stories dwell on themes of heartbreak, personal anxiety, and existential despair. If this sounds like a downer, don’t worry. These are stories also laced with impeccable wit, wry observation, and generous humour.

Daniel Zomparelli is the founder of Poetry Is Dead magazine. He is a co-podcaster at Can’t Lit. His first book of poems, Davie Street Translations, was published by Talonbooks. His collaborative book with Dina Del Bucchia, Rom Com, was published by Talonbooks.

It’s a pleasure to chat with Daniel about his fiction debut.

Congrats on the release of your first fiction collection, Daniel. What inspired the collection? And where did you gather inspiration as you wrote?

I should, by now, have a thoughtful way of explaining this, but the inspiration was basically me being a sad weirdo and noticing a commonality in the sadness and loneliness within the gay community. A lot of it also came from the grief of losing my mom, and all the ways grief made me a sad monster who was still attempting to date at the same time. All of this was happening while attempting different forms and experiments with short fiction. It all kind of came together over time when I started piecing the book as one object, and connecting the characters within the stories.

What’s the first thing you ever wrote?

I wrote a short story called “The Shadows Have Eyes” in elementary school, where quite literally the shadows had eyes. Nothing really happened in it but it was my first attempt at horror. I got in trouble for using the word “hell” in it. Magical realism was always my jam, I guess. I won’t even go into the weird Harry Potter-esque thing I wrote in high school.

Oh! Also, when I was super young I once wrote a short comedy piece that I stole from a Friends episode and passed it off as my own. It was my first attempt at plagiarism. Didn’t work out. My Zia Elide knew very well I had no idea what a tampon was, and she knew damn well who Ross and Rachel were.

Much of the collection confronts the anxieties and fears that many of us have—that we are broken, that we are not enough. You mix humour and raw wounds into inventive, fresh, wry fiction. What were you afraid of most in putting the work out there into the world?

I’m always afraid of hurting the people who are the most vulnerable in any of my writing. I had told my ex and other friends if they had inspired something or (in some very flimsy non-fiction pieces) made it into the book. My ex texted me a photo of himself reading the book with a thumbs up, so we’re ok.

I’d also have to admit, as an anxious person, I am afraid of putting myself out anywhere. A lot of my writing in this book is about vulnerability and a lot of my “self” is on the page. I was definitely terrified people would hate it, but a lot of my feedback has been about also feeling those vulnerabilities. As you said, there were “raw wounds” and I didn’t want to put salt on them, I just wanted us all to look at them. I’m gross like that.

Describe your ideal literary dream date.

I’d love a very intimate evening with Chuck Tingle and all my close writing friends on the patio of the Vancouver Art Gallery drinking rosé (chocolate milk for Tingle, of course) during an eternal summer sunset. I won’t explain who Chuck Tingle is, but I will recommend you Google him.

The book received some pretty cool praise in the New York Times. What was that like?

Impossible. I always dreamed of that as a kid. I literally have a fake New York Times blurb on my terrible faux-Harry Potter project from high school. I am forever thankful to Cynara Geissler who is such a hard-working person in publishing and who made it happen. That review was about four new short-story collections from small presses using surrealist techniques, so I just kept thinking to myself “oh boy, Daniel, you are so lucky and you better pay it forward.” I imagine that this is my career peaking and I will go back to writing poetry nobody reads.

You’re a BC-based writer. Some of my writing friends in Vancouver sometimes feel cut off from the literary maelstrom of Toronto. What’s your experience? How would you compare the two writing scenes?

I’ve had very good experiences with Toronto. I’ve definitely felt cut off from certain things, but that’s usually because I don’t live there and so I can’t get too heavily involved in a community I’m not present in. I imagine there probably are things I’m not noticing as I don’t want to dismiss your friends’ experiences. I imagine it’s the same way for Toronto to Vancouver, or any other city really. But every time I have gone to Toronto, there has been such nice writers who make me feel at home. For me, literary community is much more about the people, so I enjoy when I get to see new writers and buy new books and make friends. When Dina and I were on tour for Rom Com, I got to dance while she read a poem, Evan Munday made us a Rom Com–themed trivia game, and then I hugged a lot of people (since I’m name-dropping, shout out to Bianca Spence and Paul Vermeersch who hug like no other). I wouldn’t trade that in for any review or book deal.

What’s a superpower you wish you had?

I think I stole this from my husband, but I’d like to be able to slow down or speed up time. Sometimes, there’s these moments that I wish could last a little bit longer, and sometimes I just want to get out. Also, I’m always workshopping a way to have two dinners in one night. If there was a superpower where I could have two dinners every night, I would want that.

If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about CanLit, what would it be?

There’s a lot of things that I’d like to change, and smarter people have said a lot of this in recent articles (check out anything by Gwen Benaway), but I have one thing that pops to mind and that’s financial stability for all writers. There are so many friends I know who are just trying to get by and my privilege definitely involved financial stability in my life. If I didn’t have that, there is no way I would be where I am now. There are writers who are way more talented than me, but who have to fight for writing time. I finally get time to write now thanks to my mother passing along a successful family business that my sisters and I manage. It has been a very sad gift, and I would give this all back to have my mother here, but unfortunately that’s not how magic wands work.

But also, while I have this magic wand, can I be selfish and wish that all literary events had free delicious snacks and open bar?

You work hard in both poetry and fiction, and you’re active as an editor and co-collaborator as well. What do you have on the go now?

I will be changing over and giving up some of my roles to make space for new projects. andrea bennett has already taken over (and is honestly doing a better job than me) at afteryou.ca. Ben Rawluk and Dina Del Bucchia will help take over Poetry Is Dead as I retire my position in the next few months. I’m prepared to spend the summer just reading books, making pies and watching Ink Master.

I do have a couple of writing projects on the go, but they are just ideas and nothing tangible yet. Getting married really took up a lot of my mental space. I was thinking about writing something happy next, but knowing me, probably not.

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Trevor Corkum

Trevor Corkum's fiction and non-fiction have been published widely. Among other awards, his work has been nominated for the Journey Prize, the CBC Prizes for Fiction and Nonfiction, and the National Magazine Award for Fiction. His novel The Electric Boy is forthcoming with Doubleday Canada.