Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with Todd Babiak

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August 21, 2007 -

OB:

What was your first publication and where was it published?

TB:

My first publication was a shamelessly autobiographical short story, in Blood & Aphorisms, back in 1995. I’m a terrible record keeper and I forget the title now, but it was about a young man who is caught stealing a Bugs Bunny DVD from an Army and Navy. This experience ruins the young man, and he must rebuild his life. It all sounds fairly ridiculous to me, because the man was 22. The fiction editor at the time was Dennis Bock, now a very successful Ontario author. I remember he called it “funny/sad,” which is still my thing and will probably always be my thing.

OB:

Describe a recent Canadian cultural experience that influenced your writing.

TB:

I recently attended one of the Longest Night celebrations in Whitehorse, Yukon. It’s a yearly winter solstice celebration and arts review in the Performing Arts Centre. In much of the country, we spend a lot of time pretending we aren’t a northern people. We’re embarrassed about the unhip winter weather and its effects on our souls. In the Yukon, which isn’t really that cold — thanks, jet stream! — the people embrace northernness enthusiastically. They make art about it. Which is something we should all consider. I’m planning a novel set in Whitehorse, about a disgraced RCMP officer implicated in a kidnapping.

OB:

If you had to choose three books as a “Welcome to Canada” gift, what would those books be?

TB:

The more I think about this question, the more impossible it seems. How about Surfacing, by Margaret Atwood? It says something essential, I think, about the Canadian soul. Then, The Studhorse Man by Robert Kroetsch. It’s a crazy book of the west. Then The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordecai Richler. Once the newcomer is finished with these, I would give him or her three contemporary novels.

OB:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

TB:

My ideal writing environment is quiet and dark, with a lamp. I like to have something to drink — coffee, hot chocolate, water, a spritzer — and a free chunk of time. Ideally, I would be in a cottage somewhere, a room with a view. I prefer a rainy day. Knowing that my wife and daughter are safe and happy, nearby if possible, helps me relax and concentrate. It’s better if I don’t have Internet access.

OB:

William Faulkner was once asked what book he wished he had written; he chose Moby Dick (with Winnie the Pooh as a close second). Is there a book that you wish you had written?

TB:

I wish I had written The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway.

OB:

Is there a book that you think you should have read by now but haven’t?

TB:

So many! A Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust is at the top of the list, though I tell myself I must read it in French. So, I need a few more French lessons, first.

OB:

What are you reading right now?

TB:

Right now I’m reading a book of short stories called A Finely Tuned Apathy Machine, by Mark Paterson, a Montreal writer.

OB:

Do you have a specific readership in mind when you write?

TB:

I don’t know if I have a specific readership, but I’m probably not writing for devotees of experimental or avant-garde fiction. It would be lovely to be more punk-rock about writing, but I’m more of a story-story guy — as a reader and a writer.

OB:

What are you working on right now?

TB:

I’m re-writing a novel called Toby A Man, about a TV style and etiquette commentator living in Montreal.

OB:

Do you have any advice for writers who are trying to get published?

TB:

Small presses in Canada are excellent. Oh, and try not to take rejection, humiliation, financial distress, errors, and insults personally. Don’t read reports about declining readership and never watch bad movies and television: it will only drive you crazy.

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