In part two of our in-depth conversation with Joel Thomas Hynes, the prolific writer tackles success, celebrity and navigating the future
To say the past couple of years have been big for you would be underselling. The Governor’s General Award, NL Reads nomination, Winterset, etc. What does critical praise and accolades mean for you at this stage in your career? Both here at home and nationally/internationally.
I suppose it’s great to get the awards and accolades, as ever. I’m certainly not driven by a desire for acclaim, but it does feel good at times. Then again it can be very complex.
With my latest novel, the battle was just to get it published and by the time it came out and hit the shelves I just wanted to have a little launch and then move on. I was truly done with it and had no expectations, and I had other work going on so I was fine. I got some good reviews that I was content with, then a few months passed and I barely thought about the book. Next thing I wake up to the Giller longlist. And although I don’t put much stock in longlists, suddenly it was this little revival and my book started to float to the top.
Then the Governor General’s thing happened and that was just crazy. So I rode it all out, went and shined my boots and smiled and kinda just watched it all unfold like it was happening to someone else. I supposed I was scared to process it and I didn’t want to get all up in my own head. It was somehow vindicating, for a lot of personal reasons, but then it all blew over and really felt like a fluke. Then, wow, the Winterset Award. For some reason the Winterset made the GG actually feel deserved and much more real. I guess the Governor General’s felt kind of abstract. But all that aside, it’s the same book as it was before the hype. And I’m well aware of that.
One day it has no stickers on the front and the next it does and that’s the only difference. Does it make a difference for me moving forward? I really hope so. I really hope it opens a few doors for me out there. Writing is not an easy path, and it’s hard to stand out, no matter how good you are. So, stickers on the cover and award references after your name, you can only hope they help somehow. But I refuse to let any of it influence me creatively. I think that’s a huge mistake a lot of artists make, believing they’ve arrived somewhere just because they had a good year last year.
As an aside to that, would something like a Governor’s General Award brings with it certain stresses or expectations that now there is a benchmark to be reached? Or do you feel you’ve always let your work speak for itself – praise or trophies be damned?
It all blows over. No matter what anyone thinks of my work, whether it sells or not, whether it gets praised or trashed, well that shouldn’t matter. It does, I mean I’m only human, but it shouldn’t matter. I know that. So I try my best not to let any of it get to me. I’ve only ever wanted to get better at what I do and have fun while I’m at it. Once it stops being fun and once I stop learning then I guess I’ll move on to something else.
From brief interactions with you and from what I’ve seen/read throughout the years, you’ve always struck me as reluctant of ‘celebrity’ status. You’ve struck me as a down-to-earth guy who doesn’t necessarily feel the need for being spotlighted. What’s your thoughts on the idea of ‘celebrity’ and whether or not you’d embrace or shun the idea?
There’s a certain degree of hypocrisy about so-called celebrity status that really annoys me. I despise preferential treatment and I’ve known some famous people who are f*****g horrible humans who get away with their behavior because of their fame, when anyone else would get a well-deserved smack in the mouth. And I also don’t see why the arts should be celebrated any more than any other vocation, really. I don’t get it. If you give it some real thought, it’s baffling. But on the flip side of that, I suppose I’d rather be known and recognized for what I do than to float around in general obscurity. Doesn’t mean I’m going to exploit it, or walk around with unreasonable expectations. But ultimately I’d rather be the best artist I can be and remain on the sidelines than rise to the top for the wrong reasons.
Between your literary career, acting and now songwriting, I can scarcely imagine how you fit it all in. How do you navigate that balancing act?
I’m actually not much of a multitasker. I know it appears that way but I’m not. I burn out on a regular basis. Sometimes I bounce back quickly and sometimes it takes longer. I just tend to take each day as it comes and in truth I spend a lot of time being miserable about not putting the work in. Any time away from creative work is time spent feeling guilty and fraudulent. And then when you bounce around different industries like I do, well you can fool yourself into feeling like you’re working a lot more than you are. When in fact, that movie that you’ve got in theatres right now, or that show that you got running on TV, well that’s all work that you done last year. You are not actually working, you’re just tangled up in the aftermath of work. Awards, reviews, accolades, that’s all the result of something that you executed months ago, a year ago. So, you better be in the middle of something else. I haven’t yet mastered the art of pacing myself. So sometimes things bottleneck. I actually wish I’d waited another couple of months before I released my album, for example, so I’d have the time and energy to get behind it, when it instead became something I had to juggle. And you inevitably drop the ball sometimes because it’s too much to carry at once.
What would you like to see the next weeks, months and years look like for Joel Thomas Hynes? What can we expect coming down the pipe moving forward?
I suppose I’m gonna ride out this TV show, see where it takes me. Got plans for another album, I’m mapping out a new novel. I have a feature film script that I’d like to direct at some point. No shortage of work.
And I know I’m going to have to up my game. I maintain, there is no destination. You are right back in the hustle the moment the curtain goes down. I just hope I can continue to push myself outside my comfort zones because God knows I’ve exhausted my comfort zones. And as I get older I find I’m more and more keen to collaborate and be a part of a community.
I tend to isolate myself a lot and it’s not always good for me. So the goal I guess it to make a few dollars having fun and working with people I love, working with artists who challenge me to step up and better myself.