An Interview with Jason Lee Norman

If you are involved in the #yeg literary scene, you’ve likely heard Jason’s name. He is the driving force behind some of the coolest and most creative writing projects Edmonton has seen: 40 Below, an anthology featuring works about winter in Edmonton; #yegwords coffee sleeves, coffee sleeves featuring flash fiction from Edmonton writers; and most recently with Jeremy Bibaud, Funicular Magazine, a literary magazine that publishes short fiction, flash fiction, and poetry from emerging and established Canadian and global writers. You can subscribe to Funicular here:

1. Could you tell us a little bit about how Funicular Magazine came about?

Funicular Magazine came about at a time when I thought there was room out there for another literary magazine coming out of Edmonton, and at a time when I personally thought I could devote the time necessary to such a project. Jeremy Bibaud and I had been dancing around the idea for awhile and it was such a great feeling to have a partner to work on the project with. So many things I have started in the past were solo endeavors and it can be a lonely business.

2. What do you look for in submissions? Is there a certain subject matter, or a quality you are searching for?

Jeremy and I always say that we are looking for that knockout punch, that punch in the gut. It’s all very violent. In terms of quality, I think what that really means is we are looking for those pieces of poetry or prose that reached out off the page and connected with us on an emotional level. It’s probably that simple. We started off with just the two of us but we are growing our staff of readers and volunteers that will help us connect with pieces we may have missed on a first glance. Our belief is that if you read our magazine, in any issue, you will see variety there in every aspect.

3. How has the pandemic changed running Funicular?

Editors meetings are online now, like everything else! No big changes right now that we are noticing. We are a magazine in Edmonton but we don’t just publish people from Edmonton. This was always something that could provide a setback when we wanted to have launch events, because we want to feature these writers from outside the city, but now that everything these days is virtual it may help us down the road. We still need to come up with ideas that cut through the monotony of a typical magazine launch event. That’s probably more the case now with the pandemic driving most activities online.

“Perfection doesn’t exist in our profession- at least not for very long.”

image from edify edmonton/aaron pederson

4. You are such a pedestal in the Edmonton literary community. From Funicular, to the short story machine at the airport, to the short story coffee sleeves, you have your hands in so many different pots. How did you reach this level, and what advice would you give to young writers looking to do the same?

This is the most flattering question in the history of questions! I have no idea what level I am actually at. Everything I have done with literary projects in Edmonton is based on my experience at university in England and spending so much time with other writers. I was inspired by the friendships that were formed while living there and by the sheer talent, brilliance, and kindness of the writers I encountered. When I came back to Canada, all I wanted to do was try and recreate that sense of community with other writers that I had never felt before. Making these projects that feature writers and writing in unique ways was the only way I knew how to do this. The literary community in Edmonton is unrecognizable to me now, compared to ten years ago, and all of that in a positive way. If I have contributed at all to the way things are now then I’m happy about that, but there’s barely any time to reflect on progress in that way. There’s still too much to do and things move faster now than they did before. From a literary perspective I have aged fifty years in the last ten!

5. Follow up- how do you maintain your involvement when you have so many projects?

The big secret is that being involved in all these projects is the ultimate form of procrastination. It keeps me from the hardest thing to do, which is write and focus on my own words. The busier I am on these projects the more slack I can cut myself when I haven’t written anything new in a few weeks or months or even years. The truth is that Edmonton needed these projects to happen, whether they were my own or not. It needed Glass Buffalo and Words with Friends, and the Bolo Tie Collective and the coffee sleeves and the story machine and Funicular and all the other chapbook presses and events and podcasts that have been created for writers in this city in the past decade or so. Edmonton is a much more attractive place for writers to live in today than back then, in my opinion. Especially younger writers. I got involved in these projects to build a community and to fight off complacency and despondency and flat out depression. I keep myself involved today because the younger writers are kicking my ass!

6. What has been the most influential piece of advice you’ve received?

I wish someone at some point had sat me down to dole out some wisdom but the advice seems to just fly around much more randomly than that. I do remember an author telling a class I was in that basically our job as writers is to always get better. We have to work on getting better, and getting better is always something that is possible. Perfection doesn’t exist in our profession- at least not for very long. It’s always something I think I have believed but after I heard it I felt like that sentiment really stayed with me. It’s an approach and piece of advice I always proffer to other writers when asked for advice and it’s the thing I most believe in. I’m not as concerned with finding an agent or a publishing deal as I am with trying to get better as a writer so I can make that emotional connection with strangers.

“Edmonton is a much more attractive place for writers to live in today than back then, in my opinion.”

7. Edmonton has such a vibrant and unique arts scene. What do you think makes the Edmonton writing community so special?

I feel like it is a choice to live and be an artist in Edmonton. People who make that choice feel a responsibility to make Edmonton the best possible place it can be for artists. They take ownership and accountability the way any citizen should. It’s hard work.

8. Is there anything you want to add?

Please buy my magazine. Funicular Magazine. A better magazine does not exist.

You can purchase Funicular Magazine here, and follow Jason on Twitter and Instagram @bellyofawhale.

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