Will McClelland is the author of The Minted, a novel about a Canadian animal revolt set in the near future. Lead by a moose, animals native to Canada come to the conclusion that the Royal Canadian Mint is systematically destroying their souls through the process of ‘minting’. Described as part memoir, part reportage, and part confession, The Minted is a truly original work of fiction that brings readers to a reckoning with the malevolence buried not so deeply in our colonial past.
Stephen Remus interviewed novelist Will McClelland for The SOUND over email.
Will, congratulations on your novel, The Minted. It’s one of the freshest, weirdest things I’ve read in a long, long time. You take your readers on a pretty wild ride and its invigoratingly original.
The Minted came out just last year and I’ve read that it was a bit of an odyssey for you to write it. Can you tell me a bit about the book’s origin and the road you travelled to get it written?
In the late winter of 2002 I decided to hitch-hike across Canada, and by the time I got to Vancouver I was so filled with pride and disgust that I was writing every day. Despite having studied Canadian history for years, the casual violence of our endless rape of the north was a real shock to me. And the Moose’s voice grew out of that shock and disgust. But I also started writing this book because, on the other hand, I was so annoyed with our unshakable colonial mentality. I thought: empires never hesitate to create works of art that are completely inward-looking, so why can’t Canada have one? I got the idea of making a kind of nationalist’s truffle out of our official aesthetics – ya know, something only a Canadian could get. (I still believe The Minted is Canada’s first completely aesthetically centripetal work of literary fiction). So, yeah, rage and pride, that’s how it started; trying to have it both ways.
The book is about an animal revolt perpetrated by the wildlife depicted on our Canadian currency: caribou, loons, beavers, polar bears, rabbits, all lead by a charismatic moose. Although it’s a type of science fiction, and metaphorically poetic, you have loads of interesting scientific information, typically footnoted. There’s a lot going on. Were you an avid outdoors/rural person with knowledge of wildlife or did you set out to research that stuff?
I spent most of my twenties doing research [for The Minted]. At one point I even started skinning road kill in the hopes of really understanding the fur trade. I accompanied a couple moose hunts and immersed myself in everything moose and everything Canada for years. One night I even got Temple Grandin on the phone to ask her what she thought a moose would do in situations X, Y and Z. I spent a lot of time trying to imagine what it’s like being a moose.
There’s a great literary tradition of attributing human characteristics to animals in order to shed light on our foibles and weaknesses. The Minted does some of that and twists it. Are you fond of books like Animal Farm, Watership Down, maybe even Alice in Wonderland? Are there books that influenced the way you wrote The Minted?
Well, those are all great books – I love Alice in Wonderland. For a time I was gonna call my novel Alces in Wonderland but in the end thought better of it [Alces is the genus of moose and elk as well as the name of a peer-reviewed journal devoted to the biology and management of moose]. Of any one book though, I’d say Cohen’s Beautiful Losers is the single biggest influence on The Minted. My novel is also, in many ways, a prayer in disguise.
Just about all the Canada 150 confetti has made it to the floor, I think. What’s your take on our nationhood at a century and a half?
If you look at the 350-year history of Westphalian nationalism you won’t find any thing like Canada. As John Ralston-Saul says, the modern nation state is linear, it’s an arrow, and like an arrow it’s easily brought to violence, but Canada is a weird, Franken-experiment of a nation sate. At its best it’s a circle, an ever-widening circle, a communication state. The First Nations taught the French and the English this and we need to remember it always. We have a talent for living with diversity that makes the rest of the world scratch its head, but we can’t even see it most of the time. As I see it, Canada is a ‘land of talk’ and that’s something to be both nurtured and proud of. So when this summer some were saying ‘how can you be progressive and celebrate Canada?” my answer is that for all of the evil history — and there’s lots of it and, yes, much of it continues — we have still built something unique here worth preserving.
The Minted is about a revolution and things unravelling as they tip out of balance. These days it sure looks like we’re going to hell in a handbasket, it’s a daily diet of fresh disaster sauced up with zombie serials. The alarm bells are ringing, where do you think the fire exit is? Well, ya know faith inevitably implies a certain foolishness in worldly terms, but faith is where we’re gonna have to get to in a big way. I think ours is ultimately a spiritual crisis
I got word of The Minted by way of a friend of yours, Dallas Good of The Sadies. Can you tell me something of your relationship with that band? They’re local favourites so you can sing Sadies praises to welcoming ears in St. Cathrines.
My brother, Li’l Andy, is a country rocker here in Montreal and he got to open for The Sadies at [the now defunct] Le Jailhouse Rock back in 2001. From that first night, I knew they’d be my favourite band for the rest of my life, so I decided to make myself as valuable as possible to them. I started going to as many shows as I could and I think they’d agree that nobody can sell Sadies merch like me. That’s essentially how I went from fan to nuisance-fan, to employee and friend. They’re the best rock n roll band in the world.
Will McClelland’s novel, The Minted is published by Blue Leaf Press. He will be reading at a Dine with Authors event on Saturday 4 November at the Odd Fellows Hall in downtown St. Catharines. The event is part of the weekend-long St. Catharines Festival of Readers. Dine with Authors is co-presented by VegFest and features a five-course vegan meal prepared by Rise Above Restaurant and the Mahtay Café & Lounge. It also includes readings by Will McClelland and acclaimed vocal sound poet Kaie Kellough, as well as music by the Leafy Greens. The readings are free, ticket information on the dinner is available at festivalofreaders.com