All Saints: A Conversation with Liam Callanan

by Ben Elmadari

Liam Callanan, a popular creative writing professor at UWM, is author of two nationally acclaimed novels. His latest, All Saints, has been praised for capturing the voice of a 50-yearold woman who struggles with her temptations and their consequences. Callanan responded to the Currents from a coffee shop in Alexandria, VA, where he is on a book tour over Spring Break.

Riverwest Currents: What inspires you to write?

Liam Callanan: Everything inspires me. Other writers, other books, my kids. Things I see, or hear, strange details during the course of a normal day. I find so much of daily life so extraordinary, so unusual, that I can’t believe it goes by unremarked upon. So I do my best to stir it up, distill it, and try to understand it through the device of telling a story.

RWC: What is All Saints about?

LC: Same thing as the first book: belief. Now, the first book was also about Japanese balloon bombs in WWII and this new book is about a co-ed Catholic high school in Southern California – so ostensibly they’ve got nothing in common. But to me, belief is the tissue that binds them together. Not just belief in God, but what it means to believe in someone, something, invisible, intangible – a friendship, a love, a connection.

RWC: How do you feel about the reviews All Saints has received?

LC: For the most part, great. For whatever reason – or every reason – the reviews of this new book have been more fervent than the first. It seems to bring out the passionate side of people, which is good.

RWC: How has the local writing community responded to your book?

LC: Fairly well, I think. One of the great things about Milwaukee is what a lively and supportive local writing community we have. I’m proud, and humbled, to be a part of it.

RWC: How do you feel All Saints has helped your growth?

LC: It’s helped me grow as a writer in that it taught me that it was OK to take risks. My first book was set in Alaska, a place I’d never been. So that was a risk. But the new book is narrated by a 50-year-old woman – and she gets into a lot of trouble. So I was a bit fearful of pursuing it, but once I did, I felt quite excited by the direction it took.

RWC: What are your promotional plans for the book?

LC: I’m going to be in Los Angeles in late April, and also teaching a course at the All Writers Workshop in Waukesha on April 21.

RWC: What is a misconception about writers?

LC: That it’s easy, writing, and that we don’t work hard. A friend of mine, a poet, once went through a period of writing a poem a day, and people reacted with, “So? Poems are short.” Her response was no, that’s like slaughtering a cow every day. Then again, that’s poetry.

RWC: When is the first time you were referred to as a novelist?

LC: In Milwaukee? With this question.

Riverwest Currents online edition – April, 2007