Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Losing My Religion: The Andrew Kaufman Interview

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Losing My Religion: The Andrew Kaufman Interview

By Nathaniel G. Moore

The Waterproof Bible (Random House Canada) is the new novel by acclaimed Toronto author Andrew Kaufman, whose previous novel, All My Friends Are Superheroes (Coach House Books), was a runaway success, now translated in eight languages. In his new book, Kaufman explores a new nautical species who intermingle with land humans. Kaufman also confronts a few contemporary ideas about religion, emotionalism (baggage), love, family loyalty, marriage and loss, all in entertaining ways that almost defy genres, teetering on the brink of science fiction, romance and new-age religious texts. I caught up with the author just as he was launching his new book to ask him about putting his second book together, inspirations and the differences between large- and small-press publishing.

Nathaniel G. Moore:

How was your writing process for The Waterproof Bible different from your first book?

Andrew Kaufman:

All My Friends Are Superheroes came out easily and simply, while the writing of The Waterproof Bible was one of the hardest experiences of my life. I'm not exactly sure why this was. The metaphor that I always use is that AMFAS was a Trans-Am that I was fixing up in my garage – after work I'd go out and tinker with it and have fun with it. It wasn't anything that I was taking seriously and something that even a lot of my closest friends didn't know existed. When I finished it and I got it out on the road it performed way better than I thought it would. Next thing I knew people were calling me a mechanic and that's something I wasn't even prepared to call myself. I had a pretty typical Second Novel Syndrome experience where I made a lot of mistakes and threw out more pages than I kept and had month-long bouts of self-doubt. You know, the usual stuff.

NGM:

Toronto Singer Courtney Farquhar recorded a song based on your first novel, called All My Friends Are Superheroes, what did you think of it when you first heard it? How did that come about?

AK:

I loved the song, but I had absolutely nothing to do with it. She just liked the book and decided to write a song about it.

NGM:

Can you tell us a bit about your residency at the Canadian Film Centre? What were you working on?

AK:

The main thing I was working on was getting Marlo Miazga to fall in love me! We met there in ‘99. She was in the editor's stream and I was in the director's stream. She thought of me as a friend and it took me almost the whole program to convince her I could be more. Now we're married and have two kids! But I did learn a lot about storytelling and narrative there. My writing gets called cinematic or visual and I think it's because studying film was really influential on my writing style.

NGM:

Your new book is with Random House Canada. What was it like working with a much larger press?

AK:

It's been great! I think I'm in a pretty unique situation where my work is generally something people really like, or simply just don't get. Anne Collins and Angeika Glover, my editors at Random House, were fully aware that the novel came with two six-foot, green-skinned talking mermaids and a woman who projects her emotions and someone else who may or may not be God – so there was never any question about the stranger aspects of the book. They just went with it and really helped me flush it out and take it to that next level. Actually they helped make the finished Waterproof Bible levels and levels above the manuscript that came in the door. Of course, the main reason they even knew anything about me was that Alana Wilcox at Coach House Books took a big chance with All My Friends Are Superheroes. I don't think there are that many small presses that would have published a 100-page novella using superheroes as a metaphor, written with literary bent. And Alana pulled it from the slush pile! I've been seriously blessed with both the houses that have published me.

NGM:

Did you feel any pressure to live up to the magnificent success of your first book?

AK:

I didn't feel the need to live up to the success of AMFAS, but there was a big worry that I'd disappoint people. A lot of readers really connected to AMFAS in a very personal way, and I really wanted everybody to feel that with The Waterproof Bible as well. There's nothing worse than when you loved a band’s first album and then their second one fails to rock your world. But even though AMFAS and The Waterproof Bible are very different books, with very different characters, I do see The Waterproof Bible as being a continuation of AMFAS, at least thematically. AMFAS is full of the joy and the rush of falling in love: The Waterproof Bible is about the trials and troubles of sustaining that love into a long-term relationship. I feel like I've pulled it off, but we'll see. It's not up to me to decide.

NGM:

Would you say that our personal emotions and our attachment to them is a form of a new religion?

AK:

Right now I'd say that not being attached to your emotions is the new religion. I don't think we're attached enough to our emotions at all! Emotions often make you weak and needy and vulnerable and those are some of the biggest sins you can commit right now. If we can call Oprah and the Self-Help Books and TV shows and all of that a religion and it certainly is a life-style then the emphasis is on being independent and self-reliant. Being in love or scared or happy are all things you have to share with people. I think people are way more attached to this idea of being completely self-sufficient and not being a burden on anyone than they are to their own emotions.

NGM:

Who were some of your influences while writing The Waterproof Bible?

AK:

There are three American writers who I'm pretty crazy about: Aimee Bender, George Saunders and Chris Adrian. They all write about really unbelievable things like a hospital that survives an Old Testament apocalypse, or tiny people taken as pets, but they do it in a really naturalistic way. Where the reader is never asked whether they're supposed to take this all metaphorically or not – inside the story, it's all real and I love that. I also took a lot of influences from music and movies: a Montreal band called Wolf Parade, Cohen Brother's movies as well as illustrations by Marcel Dzama and Amy Cutler.

NGM:

There's a certain element of science fiction in your new book, what inspired the frog-like creatures and their society? Were you at all worried they would be seen as something too far fetched in the book? They are fully realized and obviously a lot of time went into creating them. Perhaps you could explain how you "discovered" their species.

AK:

I soaked up a lot of science fiction as a kid. I loved the Twilight Zone TV show, and Tom Baker vintage Doctor Who and I loved all those Universal monster movies from the 50s like Frankenstein and the Mummy and, of course, the Creature From the Black Lagoon. The character of Aberystwyth is actually someone who I've been writing about since the late 80s. I have a ton of tiny stories about her, but it wasn't until this book that I got around to playing with the idea of what her underwater world would be like. But I spent more time working on Aquaticism, the religion that Aby believes in. For that I just kinda made a wish list of all the kinds of things, rituals and things that I wished I had, that I don't because I don't practice any one religion. As for worrying that they're all too far fetched – ya, I worry about it a lot. All the time! Every time I sit down to write something I have the intention of doing a nice little story about a young girl coming of age on the Prairie and it always ends up that she can fly, or her that she keeps getting telephone calls from a future version of herself. Where does it come from? I really don't know. I can tell you that I grew up in Wingham, Ontario, which is the same town that Alice Munro grew up in and, depending on who you talk to, the town she still writes about today. So it became pretty clear to me pretty early on that if I wanted to distinguish myself as writer, realism might not be the way to go. I'm still and will always be the second best writer to come from a town of 3000.


For more information about The Waterproof Bible please visit the Random House Canada website.

Read an excerpt from The Waterproof Bible on Joyland.ca

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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