Yashin Blake, Heavy Metal Writer

Yashin Blake is riding the subway, reading Judge Dredd: The Apocalypse War for the umpteenth summer in a row and listening to Cecil Taylor's "Air Above Mountains Buildings Within". A Literacy instructor at the Toronto East Detention Center, Blake's first novel, the Heavy Metal themed: Titanium Punch, is in stores now. Blake is also the music columnist for Lola.




Q:Yashin, why do you write?

A:I've tried to be lazy and not write. But inevitably, I come up with a little situation or a line I want to riff on and next thing I know I'm polishing a print-out of it. Over the years I've realized the importance of having a creative outlet ... it makes life a richer experience. I guess writing allows me to engage life, to sink my teeth into it.

Q:What makes you think anyone will care about what you write?

A: I don't presume anyone will care about what I write. I suppose I do assume that there are readers out there who are my peers in one way or another and I hope they find my writing interesting or entertaining. But if they'll actually care ... I have no idea.

Q:Do you feel, as is widely argued, that writers live on the fringes of mainstream society and have a grudge against mainstream society?

A:Sure writers live on the fringes but taking the time and energy to write is a sort of fringe activity in the first place. I don't bear a grudge against mainstream society because I write. Besides, the fringe is the place to be ... it always has been! Oh, I do bear a grudge against all the buffoons who voted for Mike Harris.

Q:Do you think anyone has time to read your work or any new and unknown
writers work in this sped-up, modern life?

A:The market for new and writers probably swells and shrinks based on any number of factors but yes, there are people who seek out new writers.

Q:Your book, Titanium Punch, is about a rock and roll summer in Toronto. And I think it does a very fine job of establishing a sense of time and place. There are issues of racism and a certain innocent helplessness in the characters and while they are involved in a band they don`t seem to be entirely convinced of their purpose and their associations at times. Would you agree with this? There are some compelling but understated frictions as well in the characters. I sense a clear, simmering hostility between Iqbal and Earl. Was this your intention?

A:Here's a long winded non-answer to the first part of this question. I wrote a story called 'Unknown Soldier' thinking I had a pretty good idea of which character the title referred to. My wife read it and said that, with the very last line, she figured out who the soldier really was and explained why she saw it the way she did. I had to agree with her.
Sure there's some hostility between Earl and Iqbal, they're young and trying to figure life out and they drink a lot. But there's a lot more than just hostility there.

Q: You mentioned that you volunteered at a jail for some time and that the characters in jail fascinated you. Now your job as a literacy teacher is in a jail as well. Why are you so interested in a criminal element? Do you think that Canada needs to take more chances in fiction? We also talked of your next novel and I wondered if you are going to set that in jail as well.

A: Okay, this question's a little confusing. First, I can't really explain why I sought out the experience of being a 'jail house' teacher. I like it and my students tell me I'm good at it. I have no concrete plans to write a story primarily set in a jail but I imagine that, with nine years and counting on the job, I will write a jail story one day.
As far as Canadian fiction is concerned, ECW took a chance on me. Decision makers somewhere have taken risks on Traplines, by Eden Robinson, The Pornographer's Poem by Michael Turner and 1978 by Daniel Jones. I know I'm not really 'plugged in' as far as the whole fiction scene is concerned but I'm finding pretty good stuff to read and get inspired by.

Q:You mentioned that your book was written during the span of two years. And that Michael Holmes had expressed a keen interest in your book from a workshop you had taken with him. How did the relationship develop and how was it working with an editor for the first time on your first book?

A:Michael and I fine-tuned a handful of scenes regarding consistency of character and making sure the ending was perfect. Then Michael poured an ocean of energy into the book, considering every adjective, comma and paragraph break. He called it dotting Is and crossing Ts (can you say that in print?)but it added a final layer of bullet proofing to the story. He made Titanium Punch gleam. I learned a lot from this experience and feel like a better writer for it. Michael Holmes is a gem.

Q:Your interest in Heavy Metal is fascinating. What is it about music and heavier music that gets a nice young man like you all hot and wild with fancy for that kind of life? I get a sense of the alienation and lonliness in Titanium Punch, between the characters at times. How do you think the heavier music influences your writing in any way?

A:I grew up in the suburbs in the 1970s, Heavy Metal is my music. I wasn't at Minton's in the '40s listening to be bop happen, I wasn't in Haydn's parlour when he debuted the Opus 76 quartets, I wasn't in Trenchtown when Bob and the boys said "Get Up Stand Up" ... but I did witness the crossover of punk and metal in 1985 with my own ears. I bought "Morbid Tales" by Celtic Frost thinking, hey, these are the guys from Hellhammer. I still love the music and if my writing is going to excavate anything remotefully meaningful from me it has to come from a meaningful place. T-Punch was about Metal, my next book is going to be Metal.

Q:Witchery is a band from Sweden. Shalow ND from Hamilton. The smalls are from Edmonton. I know where Titanium Punch is from, but where do you think -- if they ever got the one big break -- they might be heading?

A: What a great question. I'm tempted to answer with the title of a fav instrumental: 'Nowhere Fast' but who can really say? Where is there to go in life? Inward? Closer to God? And how do we get there? Is one big break the answer? Ahh John, I've answered your question with a million of my own. Thanks for this opportunity buddy, it's been an honour.

Thanks a lot, Yashin.