Five Questions with… Arno Kopecky

Don’t miss Arno Kopecky at IFOA in the Ben McNally Travellers Series on Sunday, October 21.

IFOA: Who are you most excited to see at the Festival?

Kopecky: Junot Diaz – the pulchritude! Maybe John Ralston Saul.

IFOA: You’ve just written, sold, edited, published and launched your first book. What’s been the biggest surprise along the way?

Kopecky: That I still can’t levitate.

IFOA: You’re a world traveller. Where do you plan to go next?

Kopecky: Was going to try Pluto, but I’m not sure it’s still considered a world or just a frozen ball of gas.

IFOA: Tell us about one book that changed your life.

Kopecky: Voltaire’s Bastards, by John Ralston Saul. It opened my eyes to a lot of things, not least the tyranny of reason and the troubling historical lesson (for democracy) offered by the citizens of Renaissance Paris, who had to be forced against their will to exchange open sewers for indoor plumbing.

But the book’s greatest impact on my life happened after I gave it to my dad to read. He, a conservative Iowan corn farmer by birth and a professor of chemistry by training, i.e. a reserved man all his life, began displaying radical tendencies of the left wing persuasion. He wrapped his arm in a black bandana before going to parties, for instance, to represent the dead in Iraq. His behavior eventually got him excommunicated from the farm of his brother (a Republican), and it took years of back-door diplomacy to bring the family together again.

IFOA: Finish this sentence: It helps if you…

Kopecky:…can swim.

IFOA: Bonus question: International Festival of Authors in one word:

Kopecky: Novel.

Five Questions with… Vincent Lam

Vincent Lam will read at IFOA on Sunday, October 21 and with his fellow Governor General’s Literary Awards finalists on Monday, October 22. He’ll also participate in IFOA Markham.

© Barbara Stoneham

IFOA: Percival Chen, the gambling, womanizing protagonist of The Headmaster’s Wager, was inspired by your grandfather. Do you think this made his character easier or more difficult to write?

Lam: I think that having a protagonist inspired by my grandfather meant I had to understand my subject at various levels. I had to think very hard about why I was interested in my grandfather, and this gave me an emotional access point to the time, place, and story. Meanwhile, I had to free myself of attachment to actual personal history in order to let the character render himself in a way that was truthful to the narrative. So, I wouldn’t think of this issue in terms of making the writing easier or more difficult. Like all relationships between author and character, there were particularities, and in this case my link to my real grandfather was one of these particularities.

IFOA: If you could have lunch with one author, dead or alive, who would you choose?

Lam: J.D. Salinger.

IFOA: We’re always impressed by writers who hold down demanding day jobs, but yours wins the prize. We have to ask—how do you balance writing with working as a physician?

Lam: I’m not sure it’s so special. Most writers do something else, whether that is how they engage with the world, or out of financial necessity. It just happens that my work outside of writing—emergency medicine occupies more cultural prominence than other types of work, and so people notice it. In any case, I won’t disagree that it is very demanding to juggle two types of work. How is it done? It all comes down to scheduling, prioritization, focus, and the long view. Scheduling is key. It’s the only way to get things done. It is very important to prioritize the use of time, and avoid doing things that are unnecessary. If one does two kinds of work, it is absolutely necessary to focus on the immediate task while one is doing it. When I practice medicine, I am focused on it. When I write, that is where my head is. The long view is what keeps a project like a book alive, when day to day work and concerns in a field like emergency medicine have a natural tendency to feel more immediate.

A few logistical thoughts: Time with family is a priority. Groceries should be bought efficiently, and in bulk. Housing should be bought and changed as seldom as possible. Public events must be well publicized and organized, otherwise they are a waste of time for everyone involved. Personal fitness pays dividends. Cycling often saves time, and means keeping fit while getting from point A to point B. Television—forget it (some of it is good – but it is mostly a cultural sinkhole)! Lengthy commuting—no way, I live close to the hospital. Spending less money means having more time. Having less stuff means less tidying up.

IFOA: What’s your idea of a perfect day?

Lam: I am hesitant to prescribe such a thing…because a perfect day usually blooms like a flower. It occurs in the right conditions, but the exact timing and appearance is unpredictable. You have to let it happen. The perfect day starts with a good night’s sleep, probably involves family, books, excellent food though not too much of it, the outdoors, and ends the same way it started.

IFOA: Finish this sentence: If I’d only known that…

Lam: I should have been betting against credit default swaps.

IFOA: Bonus question: International Festival of Authors in one word:

Lam: Indescribable.

For more about Lam and his appearance at IFOA, click here.

Five Questions with… Hilary Davidson

Hilary Davidson is at IFOA to share her new novel, The Next One to Fall. Catch her in events Saturday, October 20 and Tuesday, October 23.

© Trish Snyder

IFOA: You and your protagonist Lily Moore have many things in common – you’re both travel writers, for example. In what ways are you different?

Davidson: When I started writing my first book, The Damage Done, I was wary about having Lily be my alter ego, especially since we have our day jobs in common, and we both love vintage clothes and old movies. But our personal lives couldn’t be more different. Lily lost her parents when she was a teenager, and she’s been estranged from her sister for some time. I’m very close to my parents, and I don’t have a sister. (I do have two brothers, and I used to think about trading them in for a sister.) Lily’s single; I’m married. My personal life is boring next to hers. When I pictured Lily, Ava Gardner came to mind, so I put a print of Ava on my desk, and I ended up thinking of her as Lily’s role model. Like Ava, Lily has a lot of chaos in her romantic life, and she’s not afraid to take big risks, like pulling up stakes and moving to Spain on a whim.

IFOA: You’re a world traveller. Where do you hope to go next?

Davidson: This has been a great year for me, because I was able to visit Israel and Argentina, two countries I’ve always wanted to see. I’m dying to visit Cambodia, but I don’t have anything planned yet. I’d also love to return to Peru. I was there for three weeks in late 2007, and it remains the destination I love best. My second novel, The Next One to Fall, is set there, and poring over my photos and notes while writing the book only made me long to go back.

IFOA: Why is crime fiction your genre of choice?

Davidson: I’m fascinated by human psychology, and I love exploring what motivates people to make the choices they do — especially when they know they’re doing wrong. Crime fiction lets me put characters in extreme situations, so the emotional volume of the story is turned up high. That lets me get into the heart of a character quickly. Even though I love plot twists and cliffhangers and puzzles, the most important thing to me is always character.

IFOA: What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done for a story?

Davidson: Learning to scuba dive in the St. Lawrence River. It was a crazy idea, because I’m a lousy swimmer. But when I was starting out as a freelance writer, I met the editor of Equinox. We were both fascinated by astronaut training, which includes scuba diving. The magazine had already covered that story, but the editor wanted to do a piece about learning to scuba dive and asked me if I’d take it on. I told him I was terrified of the water and he laughed and said that would make for a better piece! I’m glad I did it, but it was a harrowing experience to dive a shipwreck. A year later, I went diving with sharks in the Bahamas for another story. I should know better, but I get curious.

IFOA: Finish this sentence: I write best when…

Davidson: I understand what motivates my characters. I need to figure out what each character in the book wants and what they’re afraid of. Until I figure that out, I feel like I’m writing in the dark.

IFOA: Bonus question: International Festival of Authors in one word:

Davidson: Inspiring!

For more about Davidson and her appearance at IFOA, click here.

Junot Díaz & Michael Chabon bring humour and literary insight to IFOA stage

By Iain Reid

© readings.org

A full 20 minutes before Junot Díaz and Michael Chabon take the stage at the Fleck Dance Theatre, a chatty crowd has formed outside. It’s a sell out.

The evening’s moderator, Siri Agrell, welcomes the audience, joking about the possibility, depending on seating arrangement, of being the insides of a “Pulitzer sandwich.”

Chabon reads first. He explains how pleased he is to be included in an event with one of his favourite writers, saying, “I thought he was awesome before you guys did.”

Díaz stands slightly to the right of the podium, shielding his eyes from the overhead lights to get a better look at the crowd. He calls reading with Chabon, “a profound honour.”

Their mutual respect and admiration seems genuine. They appear comfortable together. Along with both authors and Agrell’s inclusion of humour (handfuls of hilarious one-liners that at times border on stand-up) the discussion touches on a variety of more contemplative topics. Chabon and Díaz express their strategic concerns when starting a new work and how it’s essentially a kind of “world building” while creating the proper language.

Also discussed is the practice of writing from the perspective of a different gender or race; its challenges and its potential worth. “Artists aren’t boosters,” says Díaz.

Chabon explains how our desire for strict originality is a relatively new cultural emphasis. Both authors agree a writer is foremost a reader and that it would be impossible to write anything good without attribution. All writers have debts.

12 Junot Diaz and Michael Chabon interview IFOA (c) readings.org

© readings.org

Appropriately, during the Q&A someone asks Díaz about the feeling when reading a perfectly constructed sentence. Díaz acknowledges this feeling and references The English Patient, and a single sentence that has stayed with him since his first reading of the novel. Another audience member calls out that Michael Ondaatje is in the crowd. It’s another moment of a writer expressing sincere gratitude to another. “Well, it’s an honour he’s here,” says Díaz. A fitting end to an excellent evening of readings, insights and discussion.

Visit readings.org for more event listings. Follow Iain Reid on twitter at @reid_iain.

Five Questions with… Matt Lennox

© John Brisbane

Matt Lennox will share his debut novel The Carpenter in a Sunday, October 21 round table discussion called Novelists for a New Age.

IFOA: You were a Canadian Forces captain in Afghanistan before becoming a writer. What do soldiers and writers have in common?

Lennox: I don’t know if soldiers and writers have anything directly—any more so than, say, doctors and writers, or garbage collectors and writers—but I am often perplexed at the number of times people have been surprised over the fact that both the writing and the military have played dominant roles in my life, as if the two must necessarily be mutually exclusive, somehow. I suppose my experiences with the military have given me a glimpse into certain facets, shall we say, of the world that inspire the writer’s mind, since the writer’s mind must necessarily nourish itself on different and unique experiences. On the other hand, there have been a number of historical writer/military connections—Tobias Wolff and Hemingway, both of whom I admire, to name a few—so I’d say it’s not so anachronistic as one might think.

IFOA: Tell us about one book that changed your life.

Lennox: A book that changed my life was Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. My mother read it to me, a chapter a night, when I was young, which I think engendered in me both a love of reading and of adventure—or misadventure, in many cases – which was most likely the genesis of the writer I am today. Huck Finn remains controversial, even now, due largely to the frequency of a certain word in the text. Although I would characterize the controversy as misguided, that’s a conversation for another day—I mention it only because at the time she read it to me, and this is 25 years ago, my mother explained what the word was, why it was hurtful, and why it was ultimately important to the context and the moral of the story. That was the beginning, for me, of critical thought and dialogue, which I’d say is the most important byproduct of literature.

IFOA: What are your favourite and least favourite words—today, at least?

Lennox: Ha, this is a funny question. I’ll try to answer it as a writer, and I’d like to disclaim to anybody reading this that my thoughts are purely subjective of course. As a writer, my favourite word, or words, are the ones that tell the story with the least amount of extraneous bullshit. If the prose or action or dialogue can be conveyed best, and most directly, with a one- or two-syllable word, my preference is always for that. A good example of this, for me, is the verb “say” or “said,” which is almost always what I’ll use to construct dialogue—said Mary, for instance—over any of the lofty synonyms an over-trying writer can get from the thesaurus. So my least favourite word or words, in this theme, would be interjected or quipped or rejoined, et cetera. I’ve said many things in my life, but I don’t think I’ve ever quipped anything. At least I hope not.

IFOA: Your protagonist in The Carpenter, Leland King, is an ex-con and, as the title suggests, a carpenter. Who or what inspired you to create him?

Lennox: Leland King, ex-con and carpenter, is at once wholly his own—which I have to say, as the author—but also owes his creation to a number of real-life people. First, I chose to make him a carpenter because of my own love for the trade, and my own understanding—gained through my dad—of how essentially good it feels to put something together. In German they call it “fingerspitzengefuhl,” which translates more or less as “that finger-tip feeling.” In any case, I knew from the get-go that Lee was to have learned carpentry in prison, which was the start of his redemption.

The real-life people who informed his creation were chiefly Gary Gilmore, from Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song (as a small tribute, I gave the name Gilmore to one of the characters in my novel), and Roger Caron, Canada’s infamous “Go Boy.” In fact, when I saw Caron’s author photo on an old paperback copy of his book Bingo!, very early in my writing of The Carpenter, I had that fingerspitzengefuhl, and from then on, I knew exactly how Lee appeared in my mind.

IFOA: Finish this sentence: I can’t write unless I…

Lennox: I can’t write unless I have a small glass of bourbon to keep me honest while I try to put together my silly little stories. This has been making writing difficult lately, since I’m training for a boxing match at the end of October, and on my trainer’s orders I haven’t had a drop of liquor in the past few weeks. A writer’s dilemma.

IFOA: Bonus question, the International Festival of Authors in one word:

Lennox: Boketto (another word with no direct English analog, this one Japanese).

For more about Lennox and his appearance at IFOA, click here.
Page 72 of 77« First...102030...7071727374...Last »