Gabriel Verveniotis is a writer, bartender, and U of T student. He has recently published his first novel, The Sanguinaires: Or What I Hate Most About Everything, partially set on U of T’s campus, while completing his undergraduate degree in English.
The Varsity sat down with Verveniotis to discuss his novel, writing process, and mental health.
The Varsity: This is your debut novel! How does it feel?
Gabriel Verveniotis: It’s satisfying — it’s fulfilling to see something materialize and actualize, because before this point they had just been ideas in my head, and now there’s a sort of objective reality, something someone else can engage with.
TV: Can you tell us us a bit about the plot and characters of The Sanguinaires?
GV: It’s about a group of people who experience a collective vision of their own death and how they are forced to deal with this discovery. The government is threatened by how society are going to react to such a phenomenon, so they attempt to inhibit their ability to encounter their faith by drugging them. I wanted to tackle mortality and the fact that people don’t want to talk about the most important issue in their life — death. The novel really draws attention to the themes of free will versus fate and the individual versus the state.
TV: Have you always wanted to be a writer? Was there a particular moment you thought, ‘I can do this!?’
GV: It came out of necessity. I find with writing that there’s issues you feel as though you need to tackle and the only way to resolve them is to articulate them. There was no other way I could live with all these ideas in my head without actually finding a way to express them. I’ve actually wanted to be a writer for a long time, and I’ve always been sort of enamoured by literature, so it was a big goal for me to fulfil that.
TV: What’s your writing routine — a typical day in the life?
GV: It’s pretty random — I find that states of inebriation help.
TV: Was it Hemingway who said, “Write drunk, edit sober?”
GV: Yeah! It’s a bit of a cliché, but it also works with the fact that with writing I find that it’s a manic process, and so whenever you’re in a state of creative ecstasy, you’re going to find that you want to satisfy these impulses. And the whole thing about being creative is not being afraid to say what you want to say, so losing that sense of reluctance is actually what gets the words on the page. There’s an honesty to it — so many other times you have to maintain a façade out of security and with alcohol or with whatever, you don’t care — there’s an anarchy to it, and I think anarchy breeds good writing.
TV: The Sanguinaires is set in Toronto, especially around the U of T campus. Why did you decide to set the novel here?
GV: In a lot of ways, [the campus] has been the centrepiece of my life — the decisions that I’ve made outside of school have been based on completing my degree and staying here. I also felt that as a setting, [the campus] was very appropriate because in the book I deal with who controls information, who controls culture, and a lot of that is disseminated from academia, from media, and from government. I felt like [the campus] was a great setting because it is the sort of place that those themes would be best discussed and challenged. Another thing is that I’m a Toronto patriot, I was born here, I love this city, and so I really wanted to incorporate some of the main fixtures of the city and give them the credit that is due.
TV: One of the prominent themes in The Sanguinaires is mental health – what was your reasoning for including this theme in your novel?
GV: I have had a lot of experience with people who have suffered [from mental illness], and I’ve had some personal experience with them. It was a personal struggle that I was trying to capture in a fictionalized way. With literature you want to communicate something very specific and personal, but you need to universalize it. The best way to do that is by applying it [in] such a way so that it’s not confessional but objective.
TV: What does literary success look like to you?
GV: A paycheque. The only issue with literary success is that you can be successful in certain communities and you’ll do reading lists and become evolved in artistic circles, but they’re very self-sustaining communities, and their reach doesn’t exceed their own individual groups. Even if you achieve success within those small groups, there is no reach beyond those circles. And so it’s not so much that I have a materialistic end to it, but even though I am a successful artist, it doesn’t help me in any meaningful way in terms of employment… I can’t afford to be an artist all [the] time. That’s why there is a liberating factor that comes with material success, because then you can reach a larger audience and survive off that.
TV: Do you have any advice for students who want to be writers? Or any advice in general?
GV: In terms of being a writer, just ask yourself, ‘Why would I want to read what you’re writing?’ Would you read what you wrote if someone else wrote it? I think that’s the biggest thing, knowing how to look at your own work and identify the qualities and characteristics of it that would make someone else want to read it. In terms of the undergraduate program, I would advise you to have a backup plan and enjoy and engage in the arts for the arts — don’t look at it as a means to employment.
The book launch for The Sanguinaires takes place at the Garrison on Wednesday, January 31 at 8:00 pm
This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.