Daniel Zomparelli has always been told that he’s weird. But as a kid, he had trouble understanding what the word really said about him.
“I could never comprehend what that meant,” he says. “I was always just existing in my brain.” Was his existence really so different than that of those around him?
When Zomparelli was at a summer day camp as a preteen, a counsellor overheard another kid calling him the W-word, and changed his perception entirely. “One of the leaders said, ‘That’s okay to be weird—what is normal?’ And after that point I always thought about that. When somebody calls me weird, I’m like, ‘Well, what is normal?’”
The idea of being or feeling weird is prominent in Zomparelli’s debut collection of short stories, Everything is Awful and You’re a Terrible Person (Arsenal Pulp Press, May 2017). The engaging and witty fictions explore the trials and tribulations of gay relationships, while at the same time introducing some enchanted elements that hover above the surreal. There are Grindr hook-ups and ruined sunsets, sure, but there are also ghost boyfriends. Some of the pieces are pure fiction, while others are based on or built off of Zomparelli’s own experiences or those of his companions.
Though the stories are full of wit and humour, including a series of awkward text messages and ambiguous emoticons, Everything Is Awful is also dark at times, even sad. The interwoven tales portray the realities of being a gay male in the 21st century—anxiety, depression, loneliness, and all. It’s a topic not often explored to such a degree, and Zomparelli asserts it well on the page.
“I mean I guess for any book, the hope is to see some form of self-reflection, and this one is specifically about checking in on yourself mentally,” he says. “Some people sidestep that and it causes a lot of issues; unchecked anxiety and unchecked depression can really turn you into an asshole and make you self-destructive. Also, there are points of grief, not dealing with grief properly. My hope is that somebody goes through it and goes, ‘Oh, maybe I should go talk to a therapist about this, or check in with myself to see if I might have an anxiety disorder.’ Something along those lines. It took me having to deal with grief and going to a therapist to be like, ‘Okay, I have some issues that need to be dealt with and are causing me harm that I can’t see directly.’”
Of course, he concludes, “My real hope is that someone just reads it and enjoys it.” And then, jokingly adding another reason to pick up a copy: “This book is so short! It’s so short, there are so many blank pages.” Zomparelli is the editor of Vancouver-based Poetry is Dead magazine, and the author of two poetry books (one of which, co-written with long-time friend and collaborator Dina Del Bucchia, is entirely about romantic comedies), so switching to writing fiction was a challenge. There is the sentence structure, for one thing, and the narrative flow, for another. “In poetry, you don’t have to worry if somebody’s going to get it or not,” he explains. “Whereas in short fiction you’re like, ‘Somebody has to understand what I’m doing here.’” Everything is Awful has been over five years in the making, but maybe that’s the reason it feels so resonant: it was written as social media really exploded, changing the face of modern love and society.
“The gay male community is very small, it feels like everyone has dated everyone, and I wanted to relay that in short stories—but also that there’s a broader concept of that community,” says Zomparelli. “I also really wanted to highlight the mental health issues gay men go through. Because if feel like that gets ignored a lot, and I wanted to heighten that by making certain elements magical without it being a gay Harry Potter.” He pauses for a beat, then adds: “Although I would love to write gay Harry Potter.”