Vancouver
3 min

Writing over coffee

Robert Gray's back for another serialized novel

BOOK TWO. Robert Gray cherishes the power of close friendship in his own life. It's something he brings to the pages of Waterboys, a novel celebrating gay life, love and friendship in Vancouver. Credit: Xtra West files

He can often be spotted alone, writing stories in a restaurant. Sometimes he uses his laptop; other times, pen and paper. Working to get it just right. “I spend a lot of time in cafes,” Rob Gray muses.



“If I’ve got to be alone doing something, I can almost delude myself into thinking it’s social if I’m in a café.” In addition to his workspace at home, “I have a secret cafe that nobody knows about,” he whispers.



The author of Waterboys describes his most recent work as “kind of a spin-off,” from his first book, Tide Pool Sketches, which ran serialized in Xtra West in 2001.



“Tide Pool ran for the whole year. I did a lot of stupid things (during that series),” Gray recalls. “One of them was that I agreed to do it for the whole year,” he laughs, but he’s not entirely kidding.



“There were 26 episodes of around 2700 words every two weeks,” he sighs. “I didn’t know what I signed on for at the time.” He was never more than two or three episodes ahead of deadline. As a result, he feels he was too rushed and that he might have done a better job on some episodes.



“So this time it’s been a lot different. I’m somewhere around episode 10,” he smiles. Waterboys, which kicked off in the last issue of Xtra West, will continue for 14 episodes. Gray assures his readers there will be a third book. “I kind of imagined it as a trilogy,” he says.



Being published in Xtra West provides him with a larger audience than he’s used to.



“When I wrote it last time I had people come up to me and tell me what they thought should happen. And to have that kind of immediate audience, to have people reporting back how they felt-you don’t get it on that scale when you write poetry or short stories.”



Gray has had gay poetry published in several anthology books. “Those are my more literature pieces. This is my fluff,” he jokes. Not all his writing is gay-themed. “I’ve written three short films in the last six months that have been made but these [books] are the gayest thing I do.”



With degrees in poetry and psychoanalysis, Gray has been head of the writing department at the Vancouver Film School since September. “I feel really lucky. It’s like being able to be part of a community of writers Monday to Friday. It’s just a great place to be. I feel honored to be there.”



He wanted Waterboys to reflect and honour his relationships. “I feel incredibly lucky in my 30s that I’ve found a great group of friends-guy friends, a family that I never really imagined I would find.” For Gray, writing Waterboys is “kind of a way of cherishing and reflecting that,” the 34-year-old author shares. “We have Sunday night dinners together. It’s a real kind of family feeling.”



At this point in his life he’s looking forward to reconnecting with those around him after spending years somewhat isolated by his work. “I want to have more fun,” Gray says. “I feel like I put my life on hold in several places and my friends and family have been patient about it.”



But his fish is frustrated by Gray’s lack of attention. “I have a fish named Mel who’s bitter. There’s nothing in his bowl and I’m never home. He’s a Siamese Fighting Fish. He’s blue,” Gray continues. “Mel’s short for Melancholia.”



He finished his PhD dissertation (the topic was the role of melancholia and depression in creativity) after writing Tide Pool Sketches.



“I spent my 20s and the first part of my 30s being a bit too much of an overachiever,” he says. “My main goal right now is to actually not accomplish a lot. I think I can coast a bit-although signing up the new series again wasn’t exactly coasting.”



At deadline, Gray was on his way to Cuba-his first vacation in more than a decade. “I’m going to be lying on the beach trying to learn how to be still and empty my mind. That’s all I want to do. I’m just going to lay there and do nothing.”



MEET ROBERT GRAY.

Author Reading.

Thu, Feb 19 at 7 pm.

At Little Sister’s.

1238 Davie St.