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Wilderness and Memory: An Interview with David Szczesny, author of Anywhere I Lay My Canoe

David Szczesny 1

David Szczesny grew up in Erie, Pennsylvania, and currently lives in Colorado with his wife and two children. He wears a lot of plaid and occasionally navigates by map and compass. David can often be found in his basement watching old movies. In the process, he has seen every film directed by Alfred Hitchcock. OK, not The Mountain Eagle, but the rest of them. And that includes Mary for darn certain. In fact, anyone who claims to have watched every Hitchcock movie without having seen Mary is only kidding themselves. More to the point, David enjoys fried rice, the outdoors, and the Velvet Underground. In 2022, his article about historic buildings in the national parks was included in a respected academic journal. In 2023, his first book, Anywhere I Lay My Canoe, was published by Atmosphere Press.

You can buy Anywhere I Lay My Canoe here.

Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

I began writing to counteract the limits of memory, attempting to document the fading details of personal experience. My first book remained devoted to this concept at its core. Its initial development into something larger was inspired by the work of Canadian artist and filmmaker Bill Mason, its evolution guided by both the structure and content of Chris Marker’s classic film Sans Soleil. To detail various modes of thinking and accumulated insights pertaining to the canoe, I sought to weave personal experience into the tales and legends of North American exploration, tipping my hat to often-overlooked authors of the genre such as Florence Page Jaques, Grace Nute, and Sigurd F. Olson.

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

While I understand the tendency to score wilderness tales using acoustic string instruments, I wish the practice wasn’t quite so ubiquitous. If left to me, the soundtrack would sound a bit different. But, despite my efforts at avoidance, a banjo still managed to slip into the mix:

“Time” – Sly and the Family Stone

“Aguas de Marco” – Elis Regina & Antonio Carlos Jobim

“Le Pain Perdu” – Cibo Matto

“Uncle Jerry” – The Lounge Lizards

“Surely You Don’t Work All Night” – Daniel Johnston

“Plutonian Nights” – Sun Ra and his Myth Science Arkestra

“Angel-Land” – Jim White

“Night Shift” – Mary Halvorson

“Anywhere I Lay My Head” – Tom Waits

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

Many books about canoeing chronicle wilderness journeys of hundreds, even thousands of miles. Others document entire lifetimes devoted to exploration of remote rivers and lakes. While my book does neither of those things, it attempts to convey the meaning and importance a single canoe trip can hold for an average person who may only get to experience such a voyage once (or in my case twice) in their lifetime. Ideally, someone who reads my book might decide to acquire a canoe, learn to paddle, or possibly read some of the books that inspired me during my trip planning. At minimum, I hope readers will gain an appreciation for the canoe’s importance in the history of North American exploration, settlement, and trade, as well as its influences on art and literature. My perfect reader, however, would be any winter-bound canoeist, conceiving and planning their ideal wilderness trip, anticipating spring’s arrival and a long-awaited return to the water.

What new writing projects are you currently working on? Or, other projects that are not writing?

In discerning whether I am now a writer or just somebody who managed to successfully complete a book, I’ve determined with some certainty that I have nothing else to say about canoeing, at least for now. So, I’ve recently turned my attention to a fictional story about public land and individual seclusion. It is still quite early in its development, but I’m hopeful the project will gain momentum as it materializes and evolves over time. After an extended period focused on various tasks associated with publication, it has been enjoyable to simply put words on a page again, despite some associated anxiety and insecurities.

How was working with Atmosphere Press? What would you tell other writers who want to publish?

Atmosphere Press was a reliable guide through my initial experience with the publishing process, and I enjoyed having the opportunity to work with them. From editing and cover design to interior layout, printing, and distribution, their team is experienced and knowledgeable, providing sound advice and support while acknowledging and respecting the author’s creative control over their work. As a first-time author, the numerous steps required to see one’s time and effort into print can seem overwhelming and discouraging. Atmosphere simplified many of the tasks that I was least familiar with, enabling continuous progress until the proof was finalized and copies released for sale.

You can buy Anywhere I Lay My Canoe here.

Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.

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