Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Dirty Dozen, with Erika Rummel

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Erika Rummel

Erika Rummel is the author of Head Games (Guernica Editions). In Head Games, both Lisa and Don travel to Argentina in search of lost relatives... or so they say. Set in the late 1970s, the story weave sin séances, deception, kidnapping and the violence of South America in that era, keeping the reader guessing until the end.

Today Erika speaks to Open Book as part of our Dirty Dozen series, which asks writers to share twelve unexpected facts about themselves. We hear from Erika about vowels and seatbelts, cockroaches in Bulgaria and learning Hebrew, and much, much more.

  1. I don’t tweet. It’s embarrassing, I know. I wish I could hire a surrogate tweeter, preferably in the coveted 20-40 year age bracket and fluent in the txting vernacular. Publishers want books that appeal to that demographic. Would it help if I left out all the vowels in Head Games and started it with: Th Smmr f ’78 ws fll f sgns, bt Ls…?
  2. Sometimes people ask me how many languages I speak. The correct question is: how many languages have I forgotten? I once took a beginner’s course in Hebrew and advanced as far as reading the first ten lines of Genesis. All I remember now is the word for chaos: tohu-va-bohu. I think it struck a chord with me. I also learned Bulgarian while living in a village there. I acquired enough words and grammar to haggle for food at the local market, exchange pleasantries with the neighbours, and follow directions. All I remember now is the word for thanks: blagodaria. I wonder how you tweet that. BLGDR? There are four or five other languages that I have forgotten. So here’s a challenge to my readers: Check Head Games, which is set in Argentina, and spot the Spanish I no longer know.
  3. I am a voracious reader, by which I mean: I like to eat and read at the same time. Many of my books bear the marks of this foible, which is probably why the cockroaches in Bulgaria loved my library. If you are thinking of ways to recycle Head Games, that’s one possibility: feed it to the insects. Composting might work, too.
  4. I’m unbalanced. No, not what you think. I’m in good mental health. I just can’t ride a bike. That’s why I own an adult-sized tricycle.
  5. My partner and I put a second story on our bungalow. With our own four hands and assorted tools. That was a long time ago. How long ago? I can remember the zing of driving 8 inch nails into wood, a sound that has now been superseded by the pock of nail guns.
  6. I was an academic once and spent many years in archives and libraries in search of the historical truth. Then I realized how much easier it was to make it up. So I’m a fiction writer now. They say that selling 5000 copies makes you a Canadian bestseller. I’ve hit that mark with my non-fiction books. I hope to do as well or better with my lies.
  7. I miss the dark Gothic churches of Europe, the smell of incense, the hush of piety, the voice of authority thundering from the pulpit — the way churches were when I was a small child. Not like today when they teem with tourists taking pics with their cell phones, and when the voice of authority has been subpoenaed to testify about clerical abuse. So, to feed my nostalgia, I decided to resurrect the past in my next novel, entitled Love and Heresy. I’ve just finished the manuscript. It’s set in 16th century Spain and has everything: love and heresy, naturally, also anti-Semitism, water-boarding, drug addiction, blackmailing priests…. Uhm. I guess it’s not feeding my nostalgia.
  8. I forget names. Everybody does? Even the names of the characters in your own stories? But I think I’ve hit on a method to avoid embarrassment in future. I use the same name (or a slight variants thereof) for all my female protagonists. Thus, in Playing Naomi, my heroine is “Liz”. In Head Games, she is “Lisa”. In Love and Heresy she’s “Luisa”. Is that genius, or what?
  9. I refused to wear seat belts for a long time, but eventually I got caught. I decided, if I have to pay a fine, I might as well appeal, get my day in court, and mouth off: “Don’t these cops have anything better to do than lie in wait for decent people like me?” I told the judge. “The local pharmacy has been broken in twice. Where were the cops when that happened?” I ranted and raved. I gave the performance of my life. Presiding over traffic court must be a boring affair. The judge seemed to enjoy the diversion and thanked me by reducing my fine to a nominal sum. So being a wordsmith comes in handy once in a while.
  10. I was hooked on comics until I was well into my thirties. Still read them occasionally. Does it show in my novels?
  11. Rummel is a pseudonym. Head Games was actually written by Michael Mirolla. Naw, just kidding. But he did a terrific job editing my manuscript. Thanks, Michael!
  12. Things I have and don’t need:
    -Little bracelets that go on the stem of wine glasses, so that your guests know which glass is theirs. Let me tell you, it doesn’t work. Every time I give a party, I end up with about twice as many dirty glasses as guests.
    -A closetful of office outfits, and no office to wear them to, but you never know when they might come in handy, right?
    -Pens that don’t write. One of these days I’ll throw them out.
    -Many, many books that I might reread one day, or not. But they look so handsome on my shelves and weigh so nicely in my hand.
  13. I can see that this is going to be a long list, so I stop here because Open Book imposes a word limit on its —


Erika Rummel grew up in Vienna and came to Canada in 1965. After obtaining her doctorate from the University of Toronto, she worked for the University of Toronto Press on a project to publish the works of the 16th century humanist, Desiderius Erasmus. Hired by the Department of History at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, she managed to put out a book a year, and was rewarded with a Full Professorship, SSHRC grants and with fellowships in Germany and the US. She spent 1999/2000 in Los Angeles as a Getty Fellow and fell in love with the city, its museums, beaches and mountains. Her novel, Playing Naomi, published by Guernica in 2009 builds on that experience.

For more information about Head Games please visit the Guernica Editions website.

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

Check out all the Dirty Dozen interviews in our archives.

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