Andrew Wedderburn interviewed by the Calgary Herald
Andrew Wedderburn, author of the new novel The Milk Chicken Bomb, was interviewed by the Calgary Herald in advance of his April 20th Calgary book launch and concert at Broken City. Follow the link or read below as Stephen Hunt asks Andrew Wedderburn about The Milk Chicken Bomb and the dual life of author and rock musician.
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Hot little novelist
Calgary rocker Andrew Wedderburn picks up a pen
Sunday, April 15, 2007
Calgary author Andrew Wedderburn's debut novel The Milk Chicken Bomb is a small-town Alberta tale that is at times funny, sweet and odd.
The Milk Chicken Bomb will be launched April 20 at 8 p.m. at Broken City, with readings by Wedderburn, Jason Christie (iRobot), Chris Ewart (Miss Lamp) and Julia Williams (The Sink House), and a musical performance by Hot Little Rocket.
Novelist Andrew Wedderburn, whose first novel is The Milk Chicken Bomb, has a unique way of working off the steam that the writing life produces inside its solitary practitioners -- he's the lead singer of Hot Little Rocket, a local art punk band.
Sure beats snorting your dead father's ashes alongside some Bolivian marching powder, right Keith Richards?
"I always wanted to write fiction," the 29-year-old Wedderburn says over an orange juice at the Higher Grounds Cafe. "Music is just something that happened to me, which has been fun. Years ago, I'd go to the Night Gallery twice a week, and see what was playing and I thought, 'I want to try this. I want to see if I can do this.' So I did, and it worked out.
"It's a good outlet for a lot of different things. Getting up on stage and singing and wailing and stomping around."
The Milk Chicken Bomb (Coach House Books, 298 pages, $21.95) is about one winter in the life of an unnamed 10-year-old narrator and his best pal Mullen in a small Alberta town not unlike Okotoks, where Wedderburn grew up.
However, this small town is hardly like one of those orderly, emotionally repressed small towns of Canadian Fiction Past that we're so very used to. When they're not trying to flee it, Wedderburn's pre-teens find themselves hanging out with a sad-funny collection of men, including Deke, a drifter trying to raise $400,000 to buy a used submarine off a guy he met in Uzbekistan, as well as a collection of Russians.
Led by one Solzhenitsyn, they live in the town, run a longstanding checkers game, and just generally add an element of international intrigue to small-town Alberta.
The tone of The Milk Chicken Bomb is as varied as the wildly conflicting images conjured up by its distinctive title. It's funny and sweet some of the time, weird other parts of the time and sad at others. It's the literary equivalent of a David Lynch film told by a sad, deadpan kid who recalls Oskar, the child narrator of The Tin Drum.
"I wanted to make it kind of dark," says Wedderburn, a graduate of the University of Calgary's creative writing program.
"I didn't want it to be too cute. I guess the essential thing I was trying to do was show that whether you're an adult or a child, your problems are real to you."
The novel is told in an unfolding series of episodes that have the sensibility of a Jim Jarmush film. They are the heavily subjective retelling of the narrator's days filled with a lot of the idiosyncratic details that kids notice and grownups take for granted. The boys sell lemonade on the street -- in the middle of winter. Deke, who is rebuffed in trying to raise money to buy that used submarine, plots his revenge against the local credit union. A furnace blows up in the middle of -30 degree C night, leaving one of the Russians with a house full of wilted houseplants that resemble melted spinach.
The one thing that's not particularly evident in The Milk Chicken Bomb is the narrator's parents, who are not part of the book at all, leaving the narrator to raise himself.
"That's the problem, isn't it?" Wedderburn asks. "The glaringly apparent things are what's absent, right?"
In a way, the narrator lives every kid's dream: he gets to live like a grown-up. The sadness comes from the realization that a 10-year-old kid is not equipped to deal with adulthood.
"Independence can actually only happen at a certain age," Wedderburn says. "If you're young, it can't. It can make a mess of you, if it's dropped on you and you're not ready for it."
Wedderburn himself grew up in a supportive family with a librarian mom and a carpenter dad. He has a younger sister who works at a Calgary public relations firm.
The flavour that emerges most strongly from The Milk Chicken Bomb, besides the voices of its narrator and hard-luck, odd-duck locals, is that of the place itself, something Wedderburn says emerged from his studies with author and University of Calgary professor Aritha van Herk. Wedderburn started writing the novel in van Herk's book-length manuscript class.
"She's so passionate about the history of Alberta," he says. "When I was in that class with her every time somebody would come with a story set, I don't know, in New York, you had to bring her a good reason why. She's like, 'This is where we are. What's wrong with writing about here?' "
Van Herk remembers Wedderburn as a "skinny guy. Member of Hot Little Rocket. Creative as all hell.
"You see so many students and, at a certain stage, you don't remember them. But I remember him," van Herk says.
"I always wondered whether the rock stuff would pre-empt the creative writing, but I think creative people are creative people, and they can work in more than one area. I'm really pleased about his book. I think it'll just be a killer."
But what about those Russians? Was there really a bunch of expatriate Russians running around Okotoks?
"I don't know if they're so much from Okotoks, as they're what I'm bringing back to Okotoks from the city," Wedderburn says. "They needed to be kind of exotic and fabulous and fascinating to the kids, you know?
"Probably they're not interesting in any way to the adults around them, but to the kids they're kind of super cool."
And what's with the milk chicken bomb of the title, which pops up throughout the novel as a kind of red herring, appearing and disappearing mysteriously without ever
being properly explained until the end. Where did that come from? Wedderburn explains how the waitress at the truck stop at the end of town teaches the boys how to make one.
"You take a jar, and fill it with milk, and raw chicken and seal it up as tight as you can so that it's hermetic," Wedderburn says. "When it's left someplace warm, it's going to expand." Needless to say, the disgusting result really, really stinks.
So why give the novel its name?
"Every time I'd tell people (the title), it would be a kind of non-sequitur," Wedderburn says with a smile, displaying just the right amount of enigma wrapped inside a riddle.
"The Milk Chicken Bomb is just a bunch of unrelated words with a threat built into it. It's like a question built right into the title."