June has turned our thoughts to graduation, the last rite of spring and harbinger of patios, cottages and beaches – all great places to read books. To celebrate, we will be feting three recent graduates of King’s College’s new Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction, each of whom has scored a book deal. The program is designed to help writers turn good ideas into completed books, and connect them with agents and publishers who can take said book to a wider audience. The program, now in its second year, has so far resulted in at least six book deals.
Today we chat with New Brunswick’s Jason Murray, who turned his youthful participation in Moncton’s mid-80s punk revolution into a biography of the seminal Atlantic Canadian indie band, Eric’s Trip, which will be published by Nimbus Publishing.
Jason, what were you up to when you decided to apply to the MFA program at King’s?
Well, I had just finished a B.Ed. and was teaching. I was writing a bit of poetry, fiction and nonfiction, working on a few projects. I got a chance to work with David Adams Richards through Humber College and their correspondence program and wrote a novel. That gave me a lot of confidence and taught me the discipline to follow through on a large piece of writing. It turned out to be about 84,000 words or so. After that, I started looking at new ideas to write about and found the King’s program that worked perfect for where I was at the time.
Why did it appeal to you at this point in your career?
Lots of things aligned for me and the King’s MFA when I applied. I had just finished a large fiction project and was ready for nonfiction. I had just started thinking about new ideas and what I might write about next. I had also just started teaching, so going back to school and leaving work was not an option. The King’s MFA is low-residency, with the majority of time done in the summer, so it worked perfect for my schedule. It is also nonfiction, has a great cast of mentors, professors and contributors, so it couldn’t have been anymore perfect for me.
Did you already have this project in mind when you entered the program or was it an idea that came up during study or workshops?
This was an idea I had been kicking around for many years but wasn’t really sure how I was going to tell it. I originally thought I might fictionalize the characters and write it as a novel. I also thought about writing it as a screenplay or script. I even struggled with how I wanted to present it as a nonfiction book. I didn’t really want it to be a traditional rock book. After years of travelling across Europe, Canada, South America and Australia and meeting people who knew the band, I decided I had to follow through with my idea. So it was one of four or five ideas I brought with me into the program and I quickly realized this one was the one to pursue.
Why Eric’s Trip? Why was this particular book the one you wanted to write?
I grew up in Moncton, skateboarding with two of the members, Rick White and Chris Thompson. And Mark Gaudet, the drummer, raised us all on punk rock and heavy metal, as he was the resident godfather of the local record store. We spent our Saturdays hanging around, listening to what he said and buying what he recommended and I was at the heart of this Distorted Revolution when it was happening in Moncton. It was a weird flip, growing up skateboarding in the mid-80s, listening to punk rock, when nobody cared but a half a dozen people in the city. Then all of a sudden, the whole dynamics of our high school changed. The captain of the football team and cheerleaders were suddenly the outcasts and the outcasts, who played music and had long hair, were now the cool kids. It was strange, disturbing and not everybody liked it.
A lot of writers are now going to school specifically to hone and develop their craft. What, based on your experience, are they getting from writing programs that they can’t get elsewhere?
I don’t personally see any downside to getting together with other writers, setting goals and pushing yourselves to do your best work. I think one of the greatest things you learn from a structured program like this is discipline. We all wish writing was about inspiration but it’s not. It’s about sitting down and doing the work. The other thing you learn is how to take criticism and use it to move forward. We all want to think everything we write is gold but it’s not. We need to write a lot to mine the good stuff. It takes a second or third pair of eyes to find the quality in our work and having others go over our work and teach us to be more critical helps.
Do you have another book planned or in the works yet?
I do have another book planned, some of it written. I can’t always focus on the same material all the time, so I write other stuff when I get unfocused. I’m always looking for a new idea. The challenge, now that I know how much work goes in to writing a book, is following my ideas through and writing 300 pages about them. They have to be ideas I really care about in order for me to spend a year or two, staring at my screen, at three in the morning, worried about them like children.