SK Dyment is a writer and visual artist. SK has an illustrated blog with The BuzzMag called Inking Quickly, and his humour and illustration work have appeared in Peace Magazine, This Magazine, Briarpatch, Open Road, The Activist, Kick It Over and Fireweed among others. Steel Animalsis is their debut novel.
Ahead of their July 10th appearance, SK Dyment opens up about their debut novel, Steel Animalsis, and their inspirations and journey as a writer.
There doesn’t ever seem to be a queer philosophical adventure fiction category, which is what my debut novel Steel Animals features, so even though people love it in their displays, because the cover design is evocative and pretty, on the shelf it becomes mysterious.
The book is based around a rag-tag group of welder friends, while two of the male friends grew up together and were intimate as teens and as young men. The book definitely has a hot relationship between a young dyke leaning to gender fluid or trans and a bisexual in it, but the plot is more widely around these other events as well. So besides the entertaining story of a bank robber who needs to learn forgiveness not to mention impulse control and not drag her new true love into a plot for revenge, there is a whole secondary event happening, as one of the teen boys has grown up to become a top man in a corrupt construction firm while the other one opposes him.
The issues of loyalty, ethics and moral issues also are themed into the plot, which weaves together with the building of a squirrel-shaped glider and a number of other playful devices and funny events of magical realism. Of course, redemption and salvation are there too, as well as the wildly terrifying and reportedly funny finale, but the loyalty theme is very catalytic and it revolves around a male love relationship while a female love relationship powers a rebuilt vintage motorcycle through the middle. To me, this is queer fiction. The book contains queer people, bisexuals, a straight couple who stray, a gay couple who bring a baby to the New York MOMA, the two hot dykes with their motorcycle romance, and it is really written for readers who are interested in the deeper contemporary questions around relationships and around the problem of corruption as well as those readers simply interested in reading something fun.
My first experiences with publishing things was in the form of cartooning, and editorial-type drawings for magazines. I decided to tackle the novel-length form a few years ago, after I had written smaller articles for student newspapers and had short stories published here and there. I approached it in a different way than some novelists, really like I was going to war at first with the prose. I forced myself to write a set amount every day and to not leave my space until I had produced tangible results and had met my required word count. I used to write with my rollerblades on, and skate around my carpeted apartment, descending the stairs finally sideways at night, one frazzled step at a time, to go rollerblading alone for miles under the moon. So the bare bones of the manuscript was developed in that way.
The influence and purpose behind my narrative voice however, was formed, as mentioned on my website www.skdyment.ca to a very large extent from my experience growing up working in the family bookshop, which I had to do after school. The shop had a massive collection of Western philosophy among other features which speaks about purpose. It was from the philosophy that I developed a sense that people abstracted intellectually on the “art of living a good life” and that the “love of wisdom” was a pursuit, but as I came of age in the 1980’s, I was aware that it was a sexist, racist society that excluded the good life based on arbitrary categories and required LGBT people to be in the closet or be fired and excluded from Canadian government jobs.
As a teenager I had another job as a night cleaner at the Department of Defence, pushing a little cleaning cart from office to office, and so I had actually seen lying next to an eighties-era shredder a list of names of Defence employees who had been reprimanded for overly-out behaviour. This was not fiction. This was a reality that was playing itself out around me while I tried to focus on my own life, and my own sprawling existential questions surrounded by Camus, Foucault, Hegel, Socrates and Plato. So besides the philosophy tomes, which had more questions than answers, I was required to evaluate boxes from people downsizing their libraries of those quickly-devoured paperback books that truly reached out by authors such as Tom Wolfe or Nora Ephron, and in the midst of this I discovered Robert Pirsig who blew my mind.
So I developed a sense, in a true tactile way, of the type of writing that people actually loved-up and grimed-up and shared with friends and that ultimately arrived in boxes for someone unknown stranger to discover, and it wasn’t the dusty philosophy books, the vast collection of military history or even the well-meaning pop-psych books that populated the shop. I told myself that I would some day write a snappy little book that ended up with that grunge effect like that, or at the very least, a debut novel that showed I knew how to write. People are telling me they find it an entertaining romp, which encourages me to write another one.
When I moved to Toronto just a few years ago, I saw the beautiful motorcycles lined up in front of Ryerson University as I sat in a coffee-shop composing essays for an art director in Canadian film who was teaching a course. I saw Ducatis and Harley-Davidson and even a Norton. Cafe racers. And I thought, this is it, if I want people to know I can write things, I’ve got to take that incredible restrained energy from that row of bikes and create a fast-paced novel that could be on the screen. And although I’ve only owned one and only had it for a little while I fancy motorcycles, they are proletarian, use very little fuel and are easily converted, they roar with energy and thrum with animal excitement.
So the next semester I took a course in publishing, and stayed up late in the Ryerson Library self-publishing the first version, which ultimately was re-edited by Inanna. I am very grateful to Inanna Press. And as I write the screenplay, I realize that the sound of a grunge music band such as the Riot Grrls might quite fit nicely as a sort melodic background growl. I did live that era, roamed Seattle and San Francisco and the West Coast as a hitchhiker. So the rebellious power chord strum of grunge and punk rock has a mood-music place in the writing. I’ve recently written a Coles notes style study guide for the book so that it can be taught in an academic setting, because there’s a helluva lot in there, hidden things, secret meanings, little poems, an encrypted code. I wanted my readers to be able to identify cultural references along the way.
Hopefully through the book people sense they have looked into the interworkings of human relationships and found relevance, and have visited the world of poetic and philosophical abstractions while enjoying an adventure.
So now I continue to write and spend time developing fresh ideas in different forms, and I always come back to these philosophical questions. Why are we here? To cynically damage our beautiful planet, I think not. To enhance the current ways we have to tear down corruption and in the same stroke nurture an egalitarian society? That sounds like the right message to me. Without being a spoiler, the book tries to land in this optimistic place, using magic realism to take things a little past normal but also using the basic magic everyone has in them to shift culture and save everyday lives.
SK Dyment visits Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, July 10, 2019 at Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church Street, Toronto, starting at 6:30pm (PWYC) alongside Teddy Syrette, Jenny Yuen, Terri Favro, and guest speaker Leah Bobet who will be exploring word building with a focus on character in her talk, “Worlds are Made of People.”