Interview with Shani Mootoo — Author of Moving Forward Sideways Like A Crab

9780385676229-1I read Moving Forward Sideways Like A Crab by Shani Mootoo in March and was truly moved by the story. Imagine being raised by two loving parents in a comfortable home in Toronto. At the age of nine your mother vanishes entirely from your life and it isn’t until you’re a grown man that you find her again. But she isn’t who you remember, she is no longer a lovely woman named Sid but a man named Sydney. This is Jonathan Lewis-Adey’s story, he is a writer in search of answers, hopeful that he will find the woman he knew so well inside the man sitting in front of him.

This novel is unlike any that I’ve every read. It is smart, thorough, and incredibly moving. It is honest and complicated in the most delicious way. It starts with pages from Sydney’s notebook and then moves on to Jonathan’s own memoir — moving in and out of time, Sydney’s story and the answers Jonathan finds can move its reader to tears.

authMoving Forward Sideways Like A Crab is the first book I’ve read by Shani Mootoo and I’ve fallen in love with her storytelling, with her voice. As such, I am thrilled that I was given the chance to interview Mootoo. Check out the interview below and let me know if you’ve read anything by her.

What was the biggest inspiration behind Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab?
There were two equally compelling motivations. First, the desire to write something new and challenging. I settled on snow, an all-too-familiar material to me, but not something I had ever tried to translate into literary language. Second, I witnessed a particular moment when a young man tried in public to grapple with his relationship with his mother who had undergone a gender transformation through surgery. I wanted to explore the son’s point of view and to see how such a relationship might endure. In the novel, it is the mother who walks in a snowstorm before she undergoes her surgery.

Where and when do you get most of your writing done?
The great thing about writing is it can be done just about anywhere. So, I write wherever I am: at home in my writing closet, or at a coffee shop, in a hotel room, at the kitchen table in my parent’s home when I am visiting. I don’t write everyday, but I’ve come to know that writing doesn’t always mean putting words down on paper or typing on a computer. It means, too, thinking, dreaming, imagining, sorting out a line, an angle, a dilemma while staring up, in a sort of daze, at the sky or into the trees. When I’m in the midst of creating a novel, then, I am writing even when I am sleeping. Really.

From your dedication to Sydney’s pages, you write about time being a gift, about running out of it when you need it most — what does time mean to you and are you happy with how you’re using your time?
There isn’t enough of it. There’s a leak in the system. I wish I could find it and plug it, and then, rather than always running out of time, we could overflow with it. I am happiest when I am creating something- when I’m writing, that is, or painting, or cooking, or hanging with good friends. But- and there is always a but- but, how time flies (leaks out) when you’re having fun!

When did you realize you wanted to become a writer?
Although I had a long career as a visual artist before coming out as a writer, writing is what I first and always wanted to do. I was very young when I knew this, before age ten. I wanted to write because I understood that things didn’t just happen, that they happened in a context and context was wide and deep. I wanted to write stories that explored a direct link between cause and effect. Very early, I saw that language itself created meaning and had the potential to colour a situation- for better or for worse. I was writing poetry at that young age. It was terrible poetry, of course. But it was a beginning.

Who are your favourite writers and why?
Virginia Woolf because context for her was non-linear, wide and deep. Gabriel Garcia Marquez because he indulged in a prose that was like lush jungle vines. Vidya Nailaul because he does the opposite of these two- he is sparse, to the point, his own people and the places he loves. Earl Lovelace because he can put two words next to each other and through them perfectly evoke a very specific place and its potpourri of cultures.

What are you reading right now?
Dinaw Mengestu’s third novel, All our Names.

Are you working on a new novel at the moment? Can you tell me about it? 
I am working on a new novel. Forgive me if I don’t talk about it right now: after five years of writing, Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab has just been published and I’d like to acknowledge and revel in its release. A book’s season is so short. What I mean to say is that to speak of another work, one that is in its gestation, is to deny the present moment. Time, as we spoke about earlier, is a funny thing. Isn’t it! You’ve got to keep moving to accomplish all your dreams, and yet if you keep moving forward, if you don’t insist on halting- despite such an impossibility- you lose something. You lose time. We’re always, it seems, losing time.

Talk soon,

Vanessa Xo

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