Maggie MacDonald is everywhere. She recently performed with the Toronto Dance Theatre as a member of the HIdden Cameras, her other band the Republic of Safety have been playing gigs all over town, she’s putting the finishing touches on the Rat King, a chamber-rock-opera, and just recently published Kill the Robot (McGilligan Books), her first novel. Got all that?
Torontoist e-mailed her recently and asked some probing questions about her politics (she ran for the NDP provincially, at an age where most of us are still struggling to figure out who to vote for), music and her novel.
This book has a long history can you tell me a bit about it?
I wrote the first draft at my parents’ house in Cornwall in June 1998. I put it away until the summer of 2000 when I was working at Killarney Provincial Park, and my friend Kim Fry encouraged me to work on my fiction. I sat in the porch in our cabin on the pine grove and typed away on my laptop every night. I put it away again until 2001, when I workshopped it in a writing seminar led by A.F. Moritz at U of T. Dana Snell of The Bicycles was also in the class and she was working on a draft of a hilarious satirical novel which I hope she publishes soon.
After the class with Moritz ended I left the book in a silver box on my shelf. I took it with me when I moved, but I didn’t show it to anyone other than a couple of friends. I worked on another story, ‘The Rat King’ for a long time,
and didn’t think much about submitting ‘Kill the Robot’ to a publisher until Hadassah Hill (Trash & Ready) pushed me to send it to McGilligan in the spring. I had met Zoe Whittall from McGilligan before, so I thought based on her
writing and her interests it might be the kind of thing McGilligan would like. And they did like it. And now, after a final round of edits with Zoe and Ann Decter, it is published.
Calling you political would be a gross understatement, how did you get started with “politics”?
In 1986 I went to camp Kagama near Cornwall, Ontario. There was a white South African exchange student working as a camp counsellor, and one night she presented a slide show about life in South Africa. After her presentation I put my hand up and asked “There are only white girls at your school, but I thought that black people live in Africa. Where are the black girls?” She answered that they had different schools, and later that evening I saw her crying. I didn’t understand what was wrong at that moment, but I think that was probably the first political question I ever asked aloud. Though I didn’t become an activist until I was a teenager.
There’s a very cold waresque mentality to a lot of your work: the end of the world, nuclear weapons, etc. why is that?
I should explain this with a reference to someone more articulate than I. Recently I saw Astra Taylor’s documentary about the philosopher Slavoj Zizek (pictured here), (entitled Zizek) and in the film he talks about our cultural obsession with apocalyptic disaster movies. Films like ‘Armageddon’ and ‘Terminator 2: Judgement Day are hugely popular because audiences can imagine the rapture with ease. Zizek goes on to claim that it is easier for people in our culture to imagine the end of the world as we know it than to imagine the economic and social changes that would bring about an ideological shift away from capitalism. Kill the Robot is about a character who gets fixated on the apocalyptic, and as a result, for much of her life she is incapable of noticing the impact of gradual social changes.
Were there any writers (songwriters count) that really had an influence on you while writing this book?
Some of the Writers: Donna Haraway, Katherine N. Hayle, Philip K. Dick, Witold Gombrowic, V.V. Mayakovsky. Some of the bands: Huggy Bear, Fugazi, Joy Division, New Order, Daft Punk, Bikini Kill.
Three things you’d improve in Toronto?
More social housing, more bike lanes, more cancer treatment facilities.
What’s next for you?
The Rat King Rock Opera, featuring music by Bob Wiseman, co-directed by myself and producer Stephanie Markowitz, featuring: Magali Meagher (Phonemes), Cab Williamson (Hank), Gentleman Reg and more, will run at Alchemy Theatre on Tecumseth Street from January 19th to the 22nd in Toronto. Tickets will go on sale at Rotate This and Soundscapes in a week or so, and a website will be up at www.ratking.ca soon, very soon. Email [email protected] for info.
Kill The Robot is now available at finer bookstores everywhere. MacDonald will be at the Gladstone Hotel, Wed. Dec. 7 8pm as part of This is Not Reading Series. The event will also feature DJ Will Munro, Kids on TV, Republic of Safety and robot spanking.