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Paulete Jiles
by Eleanor Wachtel

'For me a train Is a moment of suspended time be two points. It's like being cast away, only it's a lot more comfortable'

Travel is an important theme for Paulette files. Trains figured in her 1973 book of poetry, Waterloo Express (House of Anansi), and one of her two new books, Sitting ha the Club Car Drinking Rum and Karma Kola (Polestar Press), is set on a train. Her other new book is The Late Great Human Road Show (Talonbooks), a first novel that she began to write 11 years ago. A winner of the Governor General's Award in 1984 for her book of poetry, Celestial Navigation (McClelland & Stewart), Jiles was born in Salem, Missouri, in 1943. She came to Canada in 1969 and has worked for CBC Radio and as a journalism consultant with active people in the Arctic. Now a resident of Nelson, B.C., she was interviewed is the Vancouver Via station by Eleanor Wachtel as she waited to board a train to Sudbury:
Books in Canada: You've written a couple of plays, a film script, erase poems, a children's book, a novel, poetry. What do you really want to be doing?
Paulette Tiles: I want to keep writing the sort of thing I did in sitting is the Club Car Drinking Rum and Karma Kola. It's a mini novel, a lot of intense prose poems. I've always had a narrative impulse in my writing. I want to tell a story. I want to tell something about people and the problems they run into, and how they deal with it. And yet I want to write poetry. So a lot of prose poems strung together making a mini-novel is a technical solution far me, and I want to keep doing it.

BIC: Did you make a decision once you won the Governor General's Award far poetry that that was it - you'd hit top arid could write in another genre?
Jiles: I was free to write after I won the award because I could support my writing by doing some readings and with a few advances - a bit of money from here and there. It allowed me rat to live a luxurious life but to be free to write.
BIC: Why did you write "a post-holocaust novel, "The Late Great Human Road Show?
Jiles: It's a story about cities and what they do to people. The holocaust is never named. It never says exactly what happened - whether the characters are living in a nuclear winter or whether a comet has hit the earth. That's not important. What's important is what these people are doing. Four different groups of people wake up one mores is Toronto and flail out the city's completely empty. OK, now what? We're so used to electricity, to toilets that flush, electronic communications that keep us in contact with the world - what happens wheat all that is reduced drastically? It's happened to people throughout history in natural disasters. How do you operate on that scale? How do you get along with other human beings when there are no police around to keep you from harming others? It's close to being a spoof on pose holocaust novels, very close. It may be a spoof at certain points. But the theme is genuine: how dependent we get an some very large systems.
BIC: You're writing about a very grim subject - people isolated, systems decaying perhaps even bodies decaying. Is it a grim novel?
Jiles: There's s lot of grim humour in it. Some of try characters have the courage to laugh at things and have a sense of the ridiculous, but at the end maybe laughter will carry people through. It is a grim situation we're living in now, with nuclear war threatening, the problem of environmental destruction, environmental wastes. We're insulated from this because of the shiny chassis of the stuff around us. Everything looks good, but it's not.
BIC: In what sense then is it a spoof?
Jiles: It's a spoof in that a lot of characters reflect on their situation by saying, "Gee, I read a post-holocaust novel and this isn't supposed to happen." People who've depended too much on the written word to inform them about the world.
BIC: How did you come to put together that particular assortment of characters - two married couples living in a high-rise, some kids, an aging street busker, and a pregnant cow?
Jiles: When I first wrote the novel 11 years ago, I just Winged it. Whatever character appeared next came next, until I found that they all provided enough contrast and conflict to keep the plot rolling. I didn't come up with them deliberately - this character to contrast with that one - but basically vie think in contrasts. Life is made of contrasts.
BIC: Do you think of yourself as an angry writer?
Jiles: Yes, probably. I think as writers we can all get into our prophet mode and turn into Isaiah and say, "Look, the end of the world is nigh, the apocalypse is upon us." That urgent voice is there in The Late Great Human Road Show, but it was exhausting writing and rewriting that book. I'd like to back away frown that a little. I think in the next year or so, I'm going to write about more intimate subjects.
BIC: Where did you get the idea for Sitting in the Club Car Drinking Item and Karma-Kola?
Jiles: I travel by train a lot, because I hate flying. I'm always convinced we're going to fall out of the sky any second. It's relaxing to take a train. Nobody can get you on the phone. I've traveled back and forth across Canada quite often on a train and I wanted to write something about it. Something romantic. I sat down and wrote the book basically in a month and then it took a lot of rewriting.
BIC: Why did you subtitle it "A Manual of Etiquette for Ladies Grossing Canada By Train"?
Jiles: Well, that's ironic. She does everything you shouldn't do on trains: falls in love with strangers, drinks too much karma-kola, the whole thing. So it's not a manual of etiquette, it's a manual of anti-etiquette.
BIC: You have this line: "What life on a Canadian train needs is some vigorous presence, some dash: a, few lies, some inventions, a script . . . whatever it is, it's starring Katherine Hepburn." Are you trying to romanticize our good of Via Rail?
Jiles: Why not? I think we should be more open to that in Canada. What you're asking is, "What is romance?" There has to be a definition of romance that isn't the clichT we think it is. It's Dionysian, I guess, rather than Apollonian - the place where you take emotional risks.
BIC: In Karma-Kola you fool around a lot with form: you start off with a spoof of film noir, a rather self-conscious heroine you even call "Our Heroine. "
Jiles: As writers, we've inherited a lot of old and respected techniques from our forebears. We've inherited the detective novel, which basically comes out of the picaresque. We've inherited the ballad form. All of those forms are interesting because people faced certain technical problems and came up with certain technical solutions -- solutions that still work and provide a definite frame. But you can have the opportunity to jump out of that frame, if you take that extra step of awareness. You're appealing to the readers' intelligence as well as their emotion. In Karma-Cola the heroine escapes by walking out of the book. She says, "You can have the book, I'm getting out of here." And that's just one jump out of the frame.
BIC: Now you're about to board The Canadian and travel across tire country. Are you going to have an adventure on this train?
Jiles: No, for me a train is a moment of suspension, of suspended time between tyro points. You lose all the responsibilities of your life because you can't do anything about them. It's like being cast away, only it's a lot more comfortable. It's just floating.
BIC: "Our Heroine" lies about herself throughout the ride and creates a fantasy persona: who will you be on this train?
Jiles: I must insist on separating the author from the character. I listen to lies. I might even be so terrible as to encourage them. People are very inventive.

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