Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The In Character Interview with Scott Gardiner

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Scott Gardiner

After AMC's Mad Men, the life of charismatic advertising types became a topic of fascination for many, with the glitzy — and at times, manipulative — backdrop of the ad world acting as a perfect backdrop for storytelling. Scott Gardiner mines this fertile ground in Fire in the Firefly (Dundurn Press), where his Don Draper is one Julius Roebuck, husband to Anne, father to three lovely children, and boyfriend to Lily. As if this wasn't enough to keep life interesting, Anne's friend Yasmin enters the picture.

A fierce, witty satire of both the war of the sexes and our cultural obsession with romance and "the chase", Fire in the Firefly is a rollicking read and laugh-out-loud send up of the emotional labyrinths of romantic relationships.

We're pleased to welcome Scott to the site today to tell us about Julius and the rest of the cast of Fire in the Firefly, as part of our ongoing In Character series. He tells us about Julius' moral ambiguity, commuting Julius' death sentence, and the difference between dialogue and speech.

Open Book:

Tell us about the main character in your new book.

Scott Gardiner:

Julius Roebuck is a clever and charming advertising executive. He's a fairly complex character; not exactly good but not precisely evil, either — both seductively deceitful and devotedly naive. Roebuck runs an award-winning boutique agency. He works and lives by the motto only women count. (80% of consumer products, he'll tell you, are purchased by women.) As a business strategy it’s wildly successful. Applied to his personal life, it leads him into a fair bit of trouble. If there's a line that sums up Julius Roebuck and the larger theme of this novel, it's that. Only women count.


Some writers feel characters take on a "life of their own" during the writing process. Do you agree with this, or is a writer always in control?


In one of the earlier drafts, I killed Roebuck then changed my mind and decided to let him live. Which I think bespeaks a fairly undeniable level of authorial control. When people say that writers are gods, there's just no argument against, at least as far as their characters are concerned. We murder them, we maim then, have them rape or be raped; warp them with whatever hardships or pleasures we choose. So it's hard to claim that the relationship is anything other than omnifically one-side. Still, a relationship does exist and, like all relationships, it can grow in surprising directions. That being said, if we decide we're uncomfortable with where it's going, we cut it, kill it, change it to our liking.


How do you choose names for your characters?


Two of them got their surnames from streets in my neighbourhood. One is named after a town in Saxony where my wife has family, another I borrowed from a girl in university whose first name I always thought was wonderfully sexy. A couple of the goofier characters are named after old friends. But the main guy, Julius Roebuck — his is totally made up. Roebuck had another name, originally. Sadly, it belongs to a former colleague of my wife's. It's the ideal moniker, would have been a perfect fit. In my mind, it's still Roebuck's real name. But I'm not allowed to use it. This is what happens when authorial omnipotence meets real-world authority.


What is your approach to crafting dialogue, particularly for your main character? Do you have any tips about writing dialogue for aspiring and emerging writers?


The difference between a novelist and a playwright is that one relies on dialogue exclusively while the other can provide the reader with information that none of his characters knows. Many of our greatest writers are playwrights. Shakespeare is the obvious example, which tells you how infinitely far a real expert can go with dialogue. I love composing dialogue; it's writing at its purest. But the thing to remember is that written dialogue is in no way normal speech. It's more like poetry, in the sense that every word needs to carry meaning. Cut everything that doesn't say more than it's saying.


Do you have anything in common with your main character? What parts of yourself do you see in him or her, and what is particularly different?


I made a point of making Roebuck rich, successful and good looking. So there's no possibility he could ever be confused with me. He's a flawed character, deeply; to be honest, a bit of a dick. But he does have an admirably cynical joie-de-viver — a willingness to be interested — that I like to think I share. There's mirthfulness in Roebuck that you have to admirer, whatever his other assortment of flaws. I hope that people say the same of me.


What are you working on now?


Income, ideally. Novels are expensive things to write.

Scott Gardiner began his career in journalism at Maclean’s and has written for Toronto Life, the Globe and Mail, and Canadian Geographic. He is also the author of The Dominion of Wyley McFadden and King John of Canada.

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