Author Tags: Fiction
“I’ve come down with Faulkner’s Disease,” says John Moore, one of the West Coast's foremost book reviewers. “Margaret Laurence Fever, Hugh Hood’s Herpes—call it what you will.”
Although Moore is joking, he has nonetheless produced a trilogy of novels about West Coast life that carves out a fictional landscape of his own. As in its predecessors, The Blue Parrot and Three of a Kind, an unintentionally prophetic title that referred to card playing, Moore’s third novel The Flea Market arises from rough North Vancouver haunts. Unlike the first two, however, it’s narrated by a woman, Eve, and ex-model, pushing forty, who escapes her marriage to a successful Canadian sci-fi writer, sublets a heritage apartment in Kits, but can’t bring herself to furnish it. When her high-end friend Laine takes her slumming at the flea markets to get some ideas, they get a lot more than they bargained for. Laine, who runs a talent agency, first appeared as the ex-wife of the "Bogardesque" narrator/bartender in Moore’s second novel, The Blue Parrot. “Laine is a character we all love to hate—one of those Vancouver movers and shakers who go around chanting ‘We’re a world-class city’ as if it was a mantra,” Moore says. Eve gets involved with Laine’s ex-husband, Buzz, and entangled with Laine’s deaf ‘n’ dumb daughter, Lisa—who is now 14, beautiful and wants to be a writer. Several of Lisa’s stories get worked into The Flea Market. Eve gets drawn further into the urban gypsy world of second-hand dealers. Try to imagine Balzac writing for The Beachcombers and you get some notion of Moore’s mordant wit and his highly fallible characters.
Favourably reviewing the novel in Event Vol. 32, #2, fellow novelist Bill Schermbrucker concludes, "Using his Casablanca personas and themes as an entertaining device, Moore is addressing important moral issues: Eve's rejection of Laine's world is a revolutionary act. In both The Blue Parrot and The Flea Market, Moore is attacking image-making and other forms of materialistic deception and exploitation and asserting the solid human factors of caring and true craftsmanship...."
CITY: Squamish, B.C.
DATE OF BIRTH: April 4, 1950
PLACE OF BIRTH: Vancouver, B.C.
EMPLOYMENT OTHER THAN WRITING: bartender, bar manager, deckhand, taxi driver, truck driver
The Flea Market (novel) Ekstasis Editions, 2003. 1-894800-28-1
Three of a Kind (novel) Ekstasis Editions, 2001
The Blue Parrot (novel) Ekstasis Editions, 1999
New Moon and Money (poems) Harbour Publishing, 1983
BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS: Full name, John William Moore. Freelance book reviewing for The Vancouver Sun for 15 yrs as well as long general interest features for the Sun's Mix section. Book columnist, wine reviewer, general features, (mostly male fashion & outdoors,) occasional news reportage for the North Shore News during the 1990s. Various magazine features. Educated erratically at Capilano College and U.B.C. Married (Mary), three children: Will, Joe and Patricia.
[BCBW 2005] "Fiction"
Three of a Kind (Ekstasis $19.95)
John Moore of Squamish has set his first two novels in North Vancouver where he grew up. The first, The Blue Parrot, is narrated by a disaffected bartender in a Lower Lonsdale cocktail lounge. The second is a three-tiered tale about paperboys, military trainees and cab drivers called Three of a Kind (Ekstasis $19.95). Both have autobiographical undertones. The new one is Woody Allen meets Catch-22, West Coast style.
BCBW: Your novels both capture North Vancouver as it once was-a pretty rough place. Is that why you had to write 'em?
MOORE: Well, I guess if you stop and think about it, most of us are expatriates from somewhere. After his big successes, Doug Coupland turned around and wrote Life After God, a bunch o£ stories about growing up in white bread West Van-that's the other side of my tracks. I'll bet you the bar tab it'll be one of his favourite books. You are where you come from. I like to say writers who drift too far from the local diner usually lose weight.
BCBW: What was so special about North Van? MOORE: Nothing! [Laughter] Except we were a small town right across from a small city. That made us smaller than small.
BCBW: Three of a Kind is clearly divided into three parts-,--the young kid, the teenager and the grown-up. Is that the basic idea?
MOORE: Right, but three-of-a-kind is also a poker hand. It looks good at first, so you keep your ante up, but a lot of hands beat it. As far as this story goes, every time things start looking good, the ace of spades turns up. That's the death card. When I was growing up, people kept dying around me.
BCBW: This new novel seems a bit more autobiographical than The Blue Parrot.
MOORE: Yeah, this new one is a squaring of accounts. Sort of a fictional repentance. Everyday memory edits out our failures of courage, losses of faith and betrayals. I wanted to retrieve some of that. I think people write fiction and they read fiction because it lets you look at what's really in the mirror. It can give you that slow-motion clarity of vision that people experience when they watch a terrible accident and can't look away. BCBW: In your youth, I suppose the only local role models for being a writer were Eric Nicol or Roderick Haig-Brown. Hardly anybody knew Ethel Wilson.
MOORE: You forgot Paul St. Pierre. In the 60s when I was writing lame imitation Beat poetry, his stories about the Cariboo changed the way I thought about fiction. Smith reminded me of my Uncle Johnny on his scrub ranch in Cache Creek. For the first time I read funny, tragic stories about a place and people I actually recognized. Paul St. Pierre showed me you could be a writer without moving to Paris, New York or even Toronto. He still writes columns about Likely and Horsefly Whenever I see one in some local paper, it reawakens the 16-year-old would-be writer inside me. He got that B.C. Gas Lifetime Achievement Award last year, a big honour, but when I queried The Sun about doing a profile, the response was luke-cold, like he was old news or something. It was a piece I really wanted to write because I think a lot of B.C. writers owe him more than they realize. Paul once wrote, "A journalist is a reporter who can't hold a steady job." That's stuck to my shaving mirror in 72 point bold.
BCBW: Did you really write a letter to Castro as a kid? Like the paperboy in Three of a Kind? MOORE: Yeah. He didn't answer, but hey, he was sort of busy at the time. [Laughter] BCBW: Did you know Castro wrote to the President of the U.S. when he was a kid? Asking for ten bucks?
MOORE: Well, I'm not surprised. It's the kind of thing certain kids do when they stop writing to Santa Claus or God. FDR should've sent him the money. That ten-spot could've saved the U.S. a world of grief, not to mention the Cuban people, still taking it on the chin after 40 years for the crime of refusing to bend over the rail and hand the Vaseline to a bunch of American gangsters and pimps.
BCBW: In Three of a Kind there's that great scene where two 13-year-olds share a first kiss in a house under construction. Then the paperboy rushes off to do this paper route he hates. In retrospect it's poignant because he has to turn into a tough guy. Was that you?
MOORE: Even though I majored in juvenile delinquency, I faked being tough in my teens. It was the only way I could escape being bullied as one of the geeks in Balmoral High. Life was a living hell for those geeks. I write a lot about that in Three of a Kind. I betcha part of my motive for writing it is to purge some of the survivor guilt I feel for not having stuck up for them more. BCBW: Each part of Three of a Kind involves being part of some mostly male peer group--paperboys, militia recruits, cab drivers-and tending bar. They're all good training grounds for a writer.
MOORE: Absolutely. You meet lots of people in a short time in an accelerated but not always pleasant intimacy. If you're lucky, you learn to listen to their stories instead of the drone of your own voice. Creative writing departments ought to make a year of graveyard shift hacking and bartending a required internship. And I'm not kidding.
BCBW: Maybe a writer living in Squamish gets to be an outsider automatically.
MOORE: Hey, don't knock Squamish. We've got the world's longest, most scenic driveway. And for writers, small towns have always been an all you-can-eat buffet. Lots of local scandals and petty politics. They play big on a small stage. There's also a supportive bookstore, Mostly Books, and I'm a member of two book clubs, one at the Howe Sound Inn brewpub, another in my neighbourhood. In both, I'm the only man who apparently wants to drink wine and talk books with dozens of gorgeous and intelligent women. It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it...
BCBW: To what extent do you recognize that you're a humourist?
MOORE: I tried to write very serious stories at first, but after boring myself narcoleptic I finally admitted I'd always secretly liked light humourists like Leslie Thomas, Jean Shepherd and Peter de Vries better than self-inflated fartsacks like Hemingway or Mailer. I can't imagine how people write a whole novel without telling themselves some jokes. Besides, humour can be a very effective way of saying something serious.
BCBW: After 20-odd years as a reviewer, how do you characterize the literary climate in B.C.? MOORE: Sunny with cloudy periods. BCBW: Seriously. George Fetherling, newly arrived from Ontario, has been made The Sun's leading books columnist. But they could have hired you.
MOORE: Why marry me when I'm such a cheap lay? Who knows, maybe this guy will be better than the usual cronyism of the most blatant kind-writers who only review books by their friends. We'll see whether he consistently writes about B.C. books or not.
BCBW: So are you mellowing with age? MOORE: I hope not. I've written stuff that would raise welts on a rock, but that's usually for reviews of over-hyped books by overrated American and British writers. I've only taken bike chains to the shins of Canadian writers when they're running a con so calculated or clumsy it insults the reader. So aside from the occasional middle-aged erectile dysfunction, no, I'm not getting softer.
BCBW: Where can you learn to be a good critic?
MOORE: Some writers would argue there's no such thing as a good critic. I only got into writing criticism because The Sun had all this Canadian poetry and fiction around. No staff writer would touch it with sterile gloves. Reporters like to review non-fiction books. I guess it makes a change from the fiction they write all day.
BCBW: Nobody loves a critic. So tell me about your domestic situation.
MOORE: Being Mr. Mom has certainly changed the way I regard women writers from the generation just before mine. How Alice Munro and Margaret Laurence did it when it was "Sure, write, honey, as long as the housework is done, the kids bathed, martinis chilled at five-thirty and dinner on the table at six" I can't imagine. Anyone who says "She's just a housewife" in my hearing better have his BC Med paid up. Between housework, school, soccer practice and swimming lessons, I skim women's mags for recipe suggestions and household hints. I skip articles about "Multiple Orgasms That Will Make His Forehead Cave In" and such. With kids around 'multiple orgasm' is an oxymoron. A dry bed without a child tucked between you, or being mutually awake and energetic, is an event as frequent as a full solar eclipse. But really, this time with the kids is a gift Mary gave me, one most men never get. When I finally drag my ass to the desk in the mouse hours, I may look bushed, but I'm. the cat that got the cream. 1-896860-87-7