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.

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.

Five Questions with… Stacey Madden

Stacey Madden, author of Poison Shy, will participate in a Sunday, October 21 round table discussion called Novelists for a New Age.

IFOA: What are you reading right now?

Madden: I just finished reading The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas, which is a brilliant novel. I keep hearing that the Australian television miniseries is excellent as well, but I have this silly rule in which I refuse to watch anything adapted for the screen if I really enjoyed the book.

IFOA: What do you and your Poison Shy protagonist Brandon Galloway have in common? In what ways are you different?

Madden: Brandon and I have two things in common — our ages (he’s 29, I’m 30), and our solitary natures. We differ in a number of ways. Brandon dropped out of university and ended up working in pest control; I spent seven years completing two degrees and I work part-time at a book shop. Brandon’s mother is schizophrenic; my mother is very much sane. Brandon is an only child; I’m the eldest of four. Brandon is a bit of a loser, and I’m. . .well, I guess we have that in common too.

IFOA: What’s one thing you wish someone had told you five years ago?

Madden: Don’t sunbathe naked in the hot Dominican sun.

IFOA: If you could time travel, where and when would you go, and why?

Madden: I would put my time machine in storage, wait until my first cardiac arrest (which hopefully doesn’t kill me), then use it to travel back to my early twenties so I can be young and reckless all over again.

IFOA: Finish this sentence: The Internet is…

Madden: …both a useful promotional tool, and an assault to the very existence of privacy.

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

Madden: Full-bodied.

Five Questions with…Emily Schultz

Emily Schultz, author of The Blondes, will participate in a round table discussion on October 23 and a reading October 25.

© Brian Joseph Davis

IFOA: Who are you most looking forward to seeing at the Festival?

Schultz: Too many to list, but as  I lived in Toronto for quite a few years I’m looking forward to catching up with friends and local writers who I miss.

IFOA: You’re the co-founder of Joyland. What’s one thing you’ve learned from your contributors lately?

Schultz: Short fiction has different laws from novel writing but maybe something I’m reminded of all the time is don’t waste that first sentence. It’s the one free moment the reader gives you. Everything after has to be earned.

IFOA: In The Blondes, women with blonde hair turn into zombies—even if they have a dye job. We hear you’ve dyed your hair blonde in the past. Did you like being a blonde?

Schultz: I think what I learned, and what I tried to to put into the novel, was that small things divide women during our day to day lives—hair, culture, class, age—but more important issues will always unite us.

IFOA: If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?

Schultz: Well I’m working on a TV pilot right now and that feels like a vacation from novel writing. I guess I have no escape from writing.

IFOA: Finish this sentence: I wish I could…

Schultz: Zero-out my Visa balance once in my life.

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

Schultz: Opulent. (An adjective that most writers never get to experience, so thank you IFOA!)

Click here for more about Schultz and The Blondes.

Five Questions with… Linda Spalding

Linda Spalding, author of the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and Governor General’s Award-nominated novel The Purchase, will participate in several IFOA events.

© Michael Ondaatje

IFOA: Who are you most looking forward to seeing at the Festival?

Spalding: I’m keen to hear Michael Chabon read. He’s a friend of mine and I like his work but have never heard him read. Ditto Louise Erdrich. It’s all going to be fantastic.

IFOA: When and where do you prefer to read?

Spalding: To myself? I love to read myself to sleep, but then that’s just what it is! The best reading time for me is in the morning, sitting up straight with all the attention I can muster and a cup of coffee in hand.

IFOA: The Purchase is inspired by stories of your own ancestors. What made you decide to write about them now?

Spalding: I’ve been working on this book for several years and thinking about it longer than that. Ideas fester like wounds and then they either heal or require amputation. This one healed.

IFOA: You write both fiction and non-fiction, and The Purchase is a bit of a blend of both. What genre will you be working in next, and why?

Spalding: I’ll start another novel one of these days, but it may be slightly interrupted if Maryann Acker gets out of prison. When that happens, I’d like to do a little reprise of her story.

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

Spalding: But I can! When I was a girl I made myself write with my eyes closed on the city bus. It has served me well.

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

Spalding: Interconnectedness.

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