Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Halloween Special! At the Desk: Evan Munday

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Evan Munday

It's spooky how many great writers live in Toronto! To celebrate Halloween, we're talking to authors who put the "boo" in "book".

Evan Munday's The Dead Kid Detective Agency (ECW Press) was a book of firsts — it launched ECW Press' young readers' publishing program, it was Evan's first text-based book (as an illustrator, Evan had a long history in comics and graphic novels) and it launched the eponymous Dead Kids Detective series. Not only that, it garnered award nominations for both the Sunburst Award and the coveted Silver Birch Fiction Award.

On the heels of that success and just in time for Halloween, ECW Press has released Evan's second book in the middle grade series, Dial M for Morna. In Dial M for Morna, loveable Goth protagonist October Schwartz is back again, with her five ghost friends in tow (and two living ones), and she gets down to the business of solving of crimes immediately. From the spookily ghostly to the socially ghastly, the story will keep readers devouring clues and cheering for October until the very last page.

Today Evan joins us as part of Open Book's At The Desk series, in which writers speak about their creative processes and the workspaces that inspire them, telling the stories behind the books we love.

He talks with Open Book about the difference between writing and praying, why the dining table is covered with newspaper and what he has in common with Bartleby the Scrivener.
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I do actually own a desk, but I rarely use it for writing. I also own a drawing table — a proper angled drafting table — but rarely use it for illustration. Both those spots are predominantly storage spaces at this point in my life.

Instead, I accomplish most writing on my bed (pictured here). Not in it, but on it. I kneel like a penitent monk before the side of the bed whenever writing. I'm not sure when this started — my early teens, I think. At first, my mother thought I was praying, which I'm sure confused, but pleasantly surprised her as a Catholic who had never taken her children to church. But no, I was praying to the God of comic book making at that time (Jack Kirby, maybe? Jim Steranko?). This habit, which is probably worse on the knees than Aerosmith would have you believe falling in love is, continued into adulthood. If your knees are sore afterward, you know that's good writing.

The first Dead Kid Detective Agency book was actually written in the Toronto Reference Library, in one of those study carrels. I was unemployed at the time, but given my innate need for structure and routine, I made myself a schedule: every day, I'd arrive at the library when it opened, write until 2 p.m., then go home to eat lunch and search for jobs. The first drafts of my books are written in spiral-bound notebooks. I wish I could say it was for some romantic or nostalgic reason, but the truth is there are too many distractions for me to compose a first draft on a computer. And there's something pleasing about taking a pristine, blank notebook and just ruining it with your words over the course of a month or two.

When I started work on the second book, I had a full-time job at Coach House. I was working a lot, so the first draft of the second book was written kneeling at my bed. Usually I have at least a few other notebooks, a sketchbook and the previous book in the series open on the bed as reference. In the staged picture (Yes, it's fake! But accurate!), I've also put my trusty Discman, but it's nearly impossible for me to listen to music and write at the same time. I'd probably just end up writing Baltimora lyrics into the manuscript or something. Purely instrumental music is required when writing. The only problem is, I don't own much instrumental music. So I typically listen to the same two CDs over and over: Listzt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 (or as I think of it, the source of nearly all Looney Toons musical cues) and Daft Punk's soundtrack to Tron: Legacy. This can only have had some adverse effect on the books.

The other side of the bedroom has a window, but that window faces another building, the base of which is a Tim Hortons franchise. The view forces me into a Bartleby-esque focus on my work. Perhaps the kneeling has a humbling effect, keeping me in awe of the craft of writing itself, but in truth, my writing is nothing much to be awed by. I think it's just a weird habit.

Not all creative work gets done in the bedroom. (Make of that phrase what you will.) Illustration happens on the dining table. I am well aware that illustrating on a surface that's perpendicular to the ground is bad for illustration. You're supposed to draw at an incline to the ground — that's why drawing tables are angled that way — something to do with the shape of the human eye. The angle prevents distortion in perspective. I think I learned that from How to Draw Comics, The Marvel Way. Regardless, I rarely use my drawing table, and my illustration is usually done at the dining table. At least it's a high table, so I can stand while drawing (or perch on a high chair).

When I'm at work on illustration, I can listen to music with words (bonus), and the table is cleared of all dining accessories. Instead, it's piled with old newspapers, as if I'm about to housebreak a puppy on the kitchen table (or serve a lot of fish 'n' chips). There's usually a couple of sketchbooks and a plastic mug of water (to clean ink brushes) in that mess, as well. I have another bad habit (it's really the only kind of habit I have) of sharpening the point of the ink brushes with my mouth &mdah; leftover oral fixation, I imagine, but it also works really well — so by the end of an illustration marathon, I'll have ink all over my lips, as well as my palms and arms.

The illustrations sessions do tend to be marathons. I have yet to work out a writing or illustrating schedule since working full-time. The work comes more in frenzied cram sessions, as if I was a first-year engineering student. I suppose the infrequent and rushed bouts of writing and drawing explain the makeshift and awkward nature of my workspaces. But De Profundis and Letter from Birmingham City Jail were written in prison, so I really can't complain.

— Evan Munday

Evan Munday is the author and illustrator of The Dead Kid Detective Agency, which was a finalist for the Sunburst Award for fantastical young adult literature and the Silver Birch Fiction Award. He also sometimes makes comics and works as a book publicist for indie press Coach House Books. He lives in Toronto.

For more information about Dial M for Morna please visit the ECW Press website.

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

Check out all the At the Desk interviews in our archives.

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