An Interview with Marc Herman Lynch
Read author Marc Herman Lynch's full conversation with Tasnuva Hayden about volunteering with filling Station Magazine, completing a creative writing thesis, and the horror of Japanese ghost stories.
Find a copy of Marc's debut novel, Arborescent (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2020) at your local bookstore or online at Arsenal Pulp Press.
Please note, this conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Tasnuva Hayden: We are meeting today to chat about your volunteer work with filling Station, your involvement with literary academia, and your first book, Arborescent. Can you please start by introducing yourself?
Marc Herman Lynch: My name's Marc Lynch. I also go by Marc Herman Lynch because there is another Marc Lynch who is also an author, so I usually throw the Herman in there to distinguish myself.
Tasnuva Hayden: That’s true. When I googled your name, it said you were a political scientist.
Marc Herman Lynch: Yes, there is a political scientist, and they have books that are on, I wouldn’t say Nazism exactly, but who specializes in middle-eastern conflict. So, I wanted to distance myself from the political scientist Marc Lynch in some ways. It was one of the last-minute factors in deciding what name to put on the cover of the book. I'm also doing my PhD in English and I've been volunteering with filling Station for probably over thirteen years now.
Tasnuva Hayden: Let’s talk a little bit about your time with filling Station Magazine. You’ve been the president for the past 12 years, and you’re now about to hand the torch to someone else. How did you first become involved with filling Station? And how did you end up in the role of president?
Marc Herman Lynch: So, I started to become involved with filling Station, because I started meeting people who were involved with the magazine, such as Laurie Fuhr and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Ryan, in particular, was instrumental in introducing me to more members of the magazine, and then I started going to some of the meetings, as well as some of the readings, and the reading series they were putting on. From there, I ended up kind of just falling into it. Before I became President, I was doing little bits here and there. For example, I was on the fiction collective for a while, and then I ended up becoming Vice President under Nikki Sheppy. It was a fairly informal process—the way I became Vice President, for example, was literally because we needed a Vice President!
Tasnuva Hayden: Can you tell us about what you’ve learned in your role as president and why this position appeals to you?
Marc Herman Lynch: So, I didn’t think the presidential position would appeal to me, since it’s pretty much just an administrative role. It’s stuff like ensuring that the reports are done, ensuring that our society status is up to date, ensuring that the fiscal part of the magazine is being run well. So, I didn’t think I would enjoy it, and I didn’t think I would end up being here over ten years. But one of the things I did enjoy was being able to funnel money into people who wanted to use the money for something fun. We’ve had a lot of managing editors over the years who have just asked for random things, and I have been of the position that we can always find the money for it. Some examples being: if they wanted to do a bigger issue or hold a more substantial launch party. That was really fun—to be able to support people and their vision. If the position didn’t have this aspect, the community aspect of the presidential role, then it would have been tiring and it would have been painful. The reason why I survived at least ten years is because of people like yourself Tasnuva, as well as a lot of the people who have come through the magazine, such as: Kyle Flemmer, Weyman Chan, Amy LeBlanc, Caitlin Cummings, and then just being able to connect with people in the reading series. One of the by-products of my time working as President is that I became sort of adept at submitting grants, which gave me the confidence to write grants for myself.
Tasnuva Hayden: Do you intend to continue being involved in the magazine/publishing sphere once you resign from your position, and if so, what are your plans?
Marc Herman Lynch: I am still going to be around for the transition, and I still have connections to the Flywheel Reading Series. I hope to stay on with filling Station as a Director-at-Large, as I want to keep the community element, but I really hope to volunteer in another capacity somewhere else, like Alpha House Society. You know, diversify.
Tasnuva Hayden: I’m glad you mentioned Flywheel. As per your author bio, you’ve curated the Flywheel Reading Series from 2014 through 2019. Can you tell us about how you got involved with that and what was one of your most memorable readings from that time period?
Marc Herman Lynch: I got involved with Flywheel though Natalie Simpson, actually. Initially, I was helping to support her by bringing alcohol and helping her find readers, and then, when she decided to stop curating Flywheel, I decided to step in and take over the production, as I already had exposure to it. Also, there’s something really beautiful about listening to other authors read their texts. It kind of focuses you. I am kind of an ADHD person, so I’ve never been an oral listener. It took me a long time to learn how to listen to these readings and to see the poetic construction of what they were saying. Essentially that was the reason I got into Flywheel and the reason I continued doing it for such a long time. Now Jani Krulc and Mike Jones have taken over, and they are doing such a great job. As for the most memorable reading, it really stems from being able to see the authors that I really admire. There was Lisa Robertson. Fred Wah was there when we were still in the basement of Pages in Kensington. Jaap Blonk, a sound poet from Holland, as well as many of the CDWP authors, everyone from Sara Tilley, Nick Thran, and Shane Book—all of these amazing writers who came into Calgary for a year stint as the writer in residence at the University of Calgary, and not to mention people like Suzette Mayr, who have been supporting Flywheel and filling Station for a long, long time.
Tasnuva Hayden: So currently, you’re a PhD Candidate at the University of Calgary. Can you elaborate a little bit on your thesis and current research?
Marc Herman Lynch: This is a question that always trips me up because I know I could rattle off a very stilted, production quality soundbite of what I am doing—now is that true? I don’t know. So currently I say that I look at East Asian diasporic fiction, particularly looking at the North American setting. I also say that I work with Chinese theories of fiction. I take those theories of fiction and see how I can apply it to a diasporic subject. But the reality is that I am mostly focused as a creative writer. My goal is to facilitate the product, the novel that I am working on. And if those theories suddenly start not working towards that outcome, then I might have to abandon them.
Tasnuva Hayden: So, what is your novel about? This current one that you’re working on obviously.
Marc Herman Lynch: The novel is taking a North American autobiographical construction and blending it with the Chinese novel The Story of the Stone, which was first introduced to me by Robert Majzels, back in my undergrad days. Basically, I want to blend a sort of North American autobiographical tradition as concerned with diaspora—I’m hoping to avoid the excavation of family history and particularly the traumatic aspects. What I want to do is just a joyful representation, something that is whacky and disconnected, that tends to be autobiographical, but is not autobiographical. But where is autobiographical? That’s where the ambiguity lies.
Tasnuva Hayden: I hear you are teaching your first undergraduate English Literature course at the U of C. What does the reading list look like for this class and are you featuring any local authors?
Marc Herman Lynch: The course is a first-year undergraduate course called Literature and Society, which is a vague enough title that you can pretty much put anything in it. I am focused on looking at post-humanist discourse and queer theory. That’s my main goal. And a local text I’m using includes Billy-Ray Belcourt’s A History of my Brief Body. Some other international books include Dictee by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, a beautiful avant-garde text, as well as Yellowface by R.F. Kuang, which I hoped would connect with the students, particularly those students who are concerned with cancel culture.
Tasnuva Hayden: Besides being involved with publishing and literary academia, you are also the author of the novel Arborescent, described by Joshua Whitehead as a reimagined Yotsuya Kaidan, one of the most famous Japanese ghost stories of all time, on Treaty 7 prairie lands. Can you start by discussing your inspiration for writing this novel, and in particular, can you expand on how the story of Yotsuya Kaidan has influenced your work? Additionally, what other literary influences has informed this work?
Marc Herman Lynch: The reason why I picked the Yotsuya Kaidan is because it influenced a lot of Japanese horror movies, which then influenced a lot of North American adaptations of Japanese horror movies, which in turn influenced the horror traditions that we see in North America today. The Yotsuya Kaidan in my novel was one of the main character’s attempts at looking back at tradition. So really, the Yotsuya Kaidan behaves as a piece to connect the character to a history that they feel disconnected from. I also wanted to showcase how the tradition of horror films can cross seas, how it can influence other traditions, as well my own literary craft. I began writing this book in my master’s program, and later I workshopped it through a creative writing class at the University of Calgary. That was the class where I met Joshua Whitehead, Richard Kelley, as well as Amy LeBlanc. As for other literary influences, you can probably see some glimpses Haruki Murakami, particularly in the oddness of the first narrator as a disconnected male figure. It’s funny, I realized this later, but the text is a horror story, but the horror is about the modern horror of landlords!
Tasnuva Hayden: I did wonder if the text was a metaphor for the current housing crisis.
Marc Herman Lynch: Yes. It’s about being a renter. It sucks!
Tasnuva Hayden: As filling Station is known as Canada’s Experimental Literary magazine, would you consider your novel to be experimental? If yes, can you elaborate on the elements that you believe makes it experimental?
Marc Herman Lynch: I would say that Arborescent is not necessarily an experimental novel, but it might borrow some of the experimental traditions of the past, such as As I Lay Dying. To tell you the truth, even with filling Station, I kind of don’t know what to make of the concept of experimental literature. I think, for example, certain managing editors have had a really good conception of what experimentalism meant to them, such as Kyle Flemmer. As far as I’m concerned, experimental literature is so open. It should be breaking something, right? Anyway, I don’t know if I necessarily trust the term experimental.
Tasnuva Hayden: So, what category would your novel fit into then?
March Herman Lynch: Somebody called it horror. I think it is as close to horror as it possibly can be. I was trying to write a book with the most mundane realistic descriptions and then have it coincide with the most extravagant surrealistic kind of happenstance, which would force the reader to think that these surreal elements are in fact truthful, at least within the scope of the novel. So, in a way, it’s realist as well. The goal of it was to lure you into a mundane everyday character, but then also have these ridiculous extreme oppositions. I wanted to move away from concept of Magical Realism, where the magic is just up front the entire time. But even the surreal aspects, those are just natural to the reality of the story.
Tasnuva Hayden: I would definitely categorize it as a ghost story.
Marc Herman Lynch: Yes, it’s like a ghost story.
Tasnuva Hayden: I would like to talk a little about the form of the novel. Why did you choose to write it from multiple characters point of view, specifically in three major parts? Also, what is the significance of the prologue and Jeb Buckles’s character? What I mean to ask is, why does this character get the prologue vs. one of his own sections?
Marc Herman Lynch: The reason the novel is written in three sections is because it mirrors my own development as a writer. One of the issues I had when I was writing very early drafts, I realized that oh shit, every character I’ve been writing from, I’ve been writing from the perspective of a white male. I don’t know where I learned it from, but I realized I had to move away from it. I think the other two characters are more representative of my experience, even though they are women. Now Jeb Buckles, was a literal blowing up of the patriarchal male figure—that could be considered very symbolic.
Tasnuva Hayden: So, that one instance is a metaphor—
Marc Herman Lynch: But everything else is completely literal!
Tasnuva Hayden: Lastly, can you tell us about your current writing practice and the project and/or projects that you are currently working on?
Marc Herman Lynch: Right now, I am working a few projects. I have book of short essays that are written in the style of Brian Blanchfield. Brian Blanchfield is a queer author from the States who writes these beautiful essays that focuses on strange and mundane subjects. I’ve been working on these types of essays. I’ve also been working on a New Adult project, which looks at a futuristic world that is on the cusp of a refugee crisis. The reason I call it New Adult, is because this genre allows for more grotesqueness, a lot more swearing, and coincides more closely with the reality that young adults actually face than the traditional Young Adult definition.