I met Guillaume Morissette in Toronto in May, and read his novel, New Tab, soon after that. Guillaume is quick, smart, and deadpan, very easy to talk with. He also looks good in photos. New Tab (Vehicule Press) was shortlisted for the 2015 Amazon.ca First Novel Award, and manages the tricky balance of despair and wit. He creates an engaging picture of how many live now, working at pointless office jobs and wriggling in and out of apartments and relationships. Guillaume's work has appeared in Maisonneuve Magazine, Little Brother Magazine, Electric Literature, and many other publications. He is the co-editor of Metatron, a small press based in Montreal, where he lives. www.guillaumemorissette.com
1. Did you have any alternate titles for your book? What made you pick New Tab? Did that come to you fully formed at the start, or later?
In 2012, I published a collection of stories and poems called “I Am My Own Betrayal” through a small art press in Montreal. I still like that title, but it’s also melodramatic a little, so I was looking for a title that was maybe broader and more neutral for my novel.
My working title for a while was “All my relationships are ambiguous relationships,” but it still seemed too self-involved. “New Tab” started almost as a joke, like it just made me laugh to imagine a novel titled that. Over time, I grew to like how it would signal to the reader that this is a “contemporary” novel, and how it went well with the theme of self-reinvention that runs throughout the book. By that point, titling my novel New Tab seemed both perfectly stupid and perfectly logical to me.
2. How did you start this book--an image, a word, a general idea?
When I was studying Creative Writing, a short story that I submitted to a fiction workshop got kind of trashed. My stories usually did well, so the negative feedback for this one caught me off-guard a little. Several months later, I re-opened the file containing that story and re-read it in full and was like, “Holy shit, this is really bad, I have no idea why I thought this was good.” Still, there was something in that piece that I liked, like it was trying to do too much but at the same time, it was also full of ideas and creative energy and stuff. I started re-writing the story from scratch and a part that was 500 words became 5000 words and then it didn’t seem to me like I was writing a short story anymore. In the final version of New Tab, you can still find a few descriptions that were in the original story, like they’re haunting the text or something.
3. How did you find the sense of an ending--did you know when to finish? Did the ending remain the same through different drafts?
Novels and poems are similar in the sense that you usually know where something starts, what the first line is going to be, but you rarely know where it’s going to end. You just hope that you’ll be able to figure out an ending that sort of makes sense and ties everything together nicely.
I had no idea what the ending of New Tab was going to be until I had a draft that was maybe 80% done. I was walking home from the grocery store or something and the last four-five sentences that end the book just came to me in a rare moment of clarity. I ended up working backwards from there, knowing that I wanted those four-five sentences to close the book.
4. Could you choose a symbol to represent your book? A shape, person, piece of music, anything you like?
New Tab, to me, is about self-sabotage/self-reinvention, so maybe some sort of depressed phoenix, I don’t know.
5. Did the book grow out of autobiographical experience? Did writing it change your view of the past?
New Tab is semi-autobiographical. I had material from real life that I felt strongly about, but I wasn’t interested in writing a memoir or something, so I decided to allow myself to play with the material a lot and just write something that I would enjoy reading, without caring about what’s “real,” what’s embellished and what’s made up. In the end, I like how the book has one foot in reality, how it’s both close to me and totally removed from me, like you can read it without knowing or caring that it’s based on my own experiences.
I'm the author of My Name is a Knife, All True Not a Lie In It, and The Old Familiar.