BWS 11.11.20: Larry Baer

Larry Baer was born and raised in Montreal and moved to Toronto five years ago. Partly out of sheer laziness, he prefers writing short stories over a novel, especially stories about people coming to terms with their true selves, either through suppression or expression, and the consequences of that process.

What’s the perfect way to conduct an in-person interview during the pandemic? Larry Baer serves it up in his latest interview with himself!

An interview with Larry Baer

by Larry Baer

This is the unedited transcript of an interview conducted on the patio of the Ritz Carlton hotel in Toronto. Social distancing guidelines were respected. The interviewer and interviewee were seated less than six feet apart but wore masks.

Larry: It’s an honour to meet you. May I call you “Larry”?

Larry: Yes, of course.

Larry: Larry, you haven’t been writing for very long, only a few years. Perhaps you could tell me what motivated you to start writing.

Larry: I’m sorry, I couldn’t quite make that out through your mask. Could you repeat the question? Maybe we could ask them to turn the music down.

[A server is summoned and a few moments later, our request is carried out.]

Larry: As I was saying, you have only been writing for a few years. Could you tell me what motivated you to start writing?

Larry: Sure. Part of it was just having so much time to myself as a newcomer in the city but I also realized that, after finishing grad school and settling into my profession, I craved something creative in my life. I’ve always had an affinity for and, I would say, a respect for writing so it was natural to turn to this medium as a means of creative expression.

Larry: I feel I have to ask the inevitable question: Who has influenced your writing?

Larry: There are definitely some writers whose styles and story structures I have used as models for my own. I feel like I am still developing my own style and I think my style changes from story to story. Some recent influences are Lydia Davis, Lucia Berlin and Garth Greenwell. I’m pretty sure it was Lucia Berlin who once gave the advice to her students to get out of the way of the story. I think, at this point, I’ve very rarely succeeded in doing that but when I have, I’ve really seen the difference. I think the best stories are those that don’t feel like they were written. They feel like they just are and have always been.  

Larry: Could you tell us about your creative process?

Larry: I used to think the main obstacles to writing, or really any creative act I suppose, were time and stamina. I would read about these people who raised families and had full time jobs but got up at 5am to write and I’d just be blown away by their dedication and their productivity and I still am. But I realized that for me the main obstacle to writing was anxiety. So not too little time but too much anxiety: Will I discover by writing that I am actually terrible at this? If so, what’s the point, etc. And, of course, there is the uncertainty of a blank page—where do I start, and so on. So for me it’s been less about too little time and more about too much anxiety. I find I’m often crawling through a tunnel of anxiety before I get to the writing at the other end. What has been very liberating for me is to read about the similar struggles of other people who engage in any creative pursuit, to realize it is OK to write something mediocre, to write something awful and it will get better if you keep at it. Maybe the second thing you write will be a little less awful and eventually, you write something good. I once heard Philip Roth say, in an interview he gave shortly before he died, that being a writer is great because you just keep getting better at it, the more you write and he felt that way about his own writing even at the end of a long and distinguished career, that he was still getting better at it. For me, that was a wonderful thing to hear. It gave me permission to suck at writing but to write anyway, because I will get better at it. The funny thing is that I know this very well at an intellectual level. I studied motor learning in grad school, I know that the path to expertise is paved with your mistakes. This is true whether your goal is to be a tennis pro or a piano virtuoso. But it’s also true if you want to be a writer. It’s the only way. But sometimes our emotions can be harder to convince than our intellect. So I still get anxious about my writing but less and less, the more I write.

Larry: Do you have any advice for people who want to start writing or any creative activity?

Larry: Not really, other than what I’ve just said about overcoming anxiety. I feel like I am way too new at this. But if anyone has any advice for me, I’d be happy to hear it!

Larry: You don’t have a large portfolio of work…

Larry: Yet!

Larry: Yes, of course, sorry, not yet. But in the pieces you have written, are there common themes?

Larry: I would say that a primary focus for me is exploring the space between how we are and how we wish to be and what happens when we don’t bridge that gap. I think most of us live in that space at least some of the time and sometimes most of the time. So a lot of the action in my stories is internal to the characters as they struggle through this space.

Larry: I know how much you dislike interviews so thank you for agreeing to meet with me. I hope it wasn’t too awful.

Larry: Actually, it went much better than I expected. But you do realize this is nuts, right? I mean, you are me and I am you.

Larry: Well, that is very profound. A great closer for the interview.

Larry: I think I need a drink now. Join me at the bar?

Larry Baer visits Brockton Writers Series via ephemera series on Wednesday, November 11, 2020 starting at 6:30pm alongside Joshua P’ng, Zoë S. Roy, and Jamie Tennant. Dina Del Bucchia, writer, podcaster, literary event host, editor, and instructor, will give her talk on, “Podcasting for Fun (And Zero Dollars”.

Special note: As we adapt to current social distancing regulations, we’re happy to announce our event will be hosted by the wonderful ephemera series! They have already done their show online multiple times, so we are thrilled to benefit from their technical expertise, while also increasing collaboration within the literary community and growing connections between organizers, authors, and audience. You can attend the event by watching on the ephemera series YouTube channel. Please log in at 6:15.

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