I was recently interviewed by a friendly journalist, Mr. Tim Switzer, who visited me in my studio. I wore my very best slippers. That interview became the cover story of the latest issue of QC, published this weekend.
Here’s the full article:
The day firefighters had to help him from his perch, clinging to a chimney, Rolli knew he was done as a roofer.
He’d been through life as a telemarketer already. Working at the car wash wasn’t much fun either.
He’d already been dabbling in the writing world and had the pen name (his real name is Charles Anderson) so why not give it a go full-time?
It wasn’t a path he necessarily expected to take.
Growing up on a farm north of Southey, he was a self-described asthmatic, wheezy kid who “wasn’t very much use” to his parents, Marion and Charles Sr.
So he stayed inside a lot. He read a lot. “I think a lot of kids become creative that way,” he says.
He’d find other creative outlets growing up.
“In things like art of English class he would come out with awesome creations,” says Mike Weber, a friend who has known Rolli since kindergarten (Mike still calls him Charles, though).
“As opposed to talking a lot like me, he expressed himself more through things like that.”
Charles and Mike would spend recesses and bus rides telling one another stories — an almost Seinfeldian analysis of their lives.
That seemed to bring out the creativity in each other, says Mike, who also found a career in creativity as a videographer. They’d eventually pass cartoons back and forth during class satirizing teachers and giving each other their first reviews.
“Strange solitary kids grow up to be strange, solitary adults which is as good a definition of a writer as you’re going to have,” Rolli says.
Post high school Rolli made his way to the University of Regina and an English degree, where he was exposed to writing of all kinds.
All through that time he felt he wanted to become a writer, but had no idea how. He had stories circulating in his mind, he was writing a lot of them down, but how to get noticed was a mystery.
He had some successes early on. He won the John Kenneth Galbraith Literary Award for short story writing in 2007 and a 2008/09 Commonwealth Short Story Competition prize.
So while there were some wins, he paid the bills through that series of odd jobs.
“I did a lot of honest work, which I don’t really enjoy,” he says now.
While all of that was going on, in April 2009, his father passed away. It’s likely not a coincidence, Rolli says, that he pushed himself to further his career as a writer after that.
“It was the only thing I was ever particularly good at and the only thing I liked, so I thought, ‘Might as well be happy if you can.’ ”
In 2010 — even before giving writing a go full-time — his first book, Plum Stuff, a collection of poems, was published. From there followed short story collection God’s Autobio in 2011.
From there, his decision to give up the “honest work” appears to have been the right one for him.
Since deciding he could write full time, he has published Dr. Franklin’s Staticy Cat (2013), Mavor’s Bones: A gothic Novel in Poems (2014), I am Currently Working on a Novel (2014) and then last year saw his most successful works to date.
First came Kabungo last April that details the adventures of a 10-year-old girl and her best friend, the titular cave girl who lives in a cave on Main Street. It has been a critical and commercial success (a paperback is being issued and an Italian printing is in the works) and is shortlisted for the Joan Betty Stuchner Award, a new prize that honours the funniest in children’s books.
On the other side of the coin was an August release, The Sea Wave, a short novel a young disabled girl who has been kidnapped by an elderly and damaged man, told through diary entries of the girl. The audiobook has just been released (Rolli provided the voice of the old man) and it was long listed for the Saboteur awards that celebrates small-scale publishing.
Even Weber has found himself reading his friend’s work to his own kids in recent months.
“(His success is) very satisfying for me,” says Weber. “When you’re in a small-town like we were … you sort of get shunned if you aren’t into hockey or on the football or track and field team and unfortunately they didn’t really cater to the arts. Sometime people would cast certain stereotypes on people like us and to see him keep going with what he’s doing and rise above … it’s pretty cool to see. It makes me proud as a friend.”
While success has been swift, he’s still living the life of an up-and-coming Canadian writer. He lives in a small apartment in central Regina with his cat and regular Twitter subject, Tummywumps. He spends a lot of time in coffee shops downing somewhere in the neighbourhood of 25 cups a day (he’s cut back to that — yes, cut back — on doctor’s orders).
His office is neat, decorated with various knick-knacks. And one wall is even starting to fill up with fan mail.
Unlike many other bachelor’s apartments, there’s his bookshelf; half filled with his own works (he acts as his own online store) and the rest filled with the works of his favourite authors — Agatha Christie, Ray Bradbury, Lewis Carroll.
The differentiated taste might be somewhat of an indicator of how Rolli’s differentiated writings came to be.
“I enjoy the stuff that I do and it’s growing. I’m building a bit of a following, but I’m more of a cult author. As long as that continues to grow … you see a lot of cult authors grow and even become legendary. That’s always your hope. But I’m so flexible in what I write and have a lot of things going at once it increases the chances of having something really big.”
Ted Dyck, a Saskatchewan writer/editor/teacher/publisher, sees big things for Rolli’s future. He has ever since he first read God’s Autobio and invited Rolli to submit some work to Transitions, Dyck’s magazine that publishes fiction, non-fiction, poetry, book reviews, and visual art on a theme of mental health.
“He’s quirky,” said Dyck. “He’s very intelligent and kind of hilariously funny, but also viciously dark.
“(His writing) is two sided like that. It gets you laughing, but then thinking, ‘Wait a minute, I don’t think I’m really laughing at this, am I?’ ”
For reasons Dyck can’t explain, Rolli is still under the radar in Saskatchewan while gaining steam elsewhere in the country.
“He’s a totally contemporary writer,” Dyck says. “He’s fluent in the Internet. He’s a man of the times. One of the best, I think, that I’ve seen.”
Part of that work of getting him noticed of Rolli’s agent Olga Fillina. Knowing full well he’ll cringe at the comparison to a couple of notables, she says Rolli’s work is along the lines of Roald Dahl and Shel Silverstein.
But Fillina also works with Rolli on his adult works and knows it can be a challenge marketing it all.
“They say if you specialize and hone in on one thing, it’s a faster path to success, but at the same time … narrowing on one thing can be a major case of boredom,” she says. “I would never try to restrict him or force him to do any one thing. All of his creative endeavours feed on one another. That makes his work all the more dynamic.”
Indeed, Rolli has all kinds of creative outlets and just a few years ago branched out to cartooning, and has since appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Walrus, Adbusters, Reader’s Digest and even kids publications like Highlights.
He still, though, likes the challenge of bouncing back and forth between everything he does. This year he released two micro collections of stories The Big T (for adults) and Jelly (for kids) and is working on a new children’s novel, The Dream Egg, that follows two fraternal twins on a mystical quest to find the dream egg led by their smart-alecky, coffee-drinking cat named (you guessed it) Tummywumps.
He’d like to try and write a book that carries out a full narrative over connected chapters but admits, “it will probably end up being like 150 pages because I can’t stand filler. If I’m reading a book that has a lot of filler, I’ll just toss it across the room. If there’s a lot of filler, people start to skim even if the writing is solid. If you make it short, it forces them to read every word.”
His style of “flash fiction” is catching on more and more and could even be what readers in the Internet age glom on to.
Until that nationwide or worldwide success comes, he seems happy trying to perfect his craft — or crafts in this case —and delve deeper into his own mind.
“I’m ambitious and I have a hyperactive imagination,” he explains. “I never had any practical skills growing up … so I figured I would make the best of it.”