Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Lucky Seven Interview, with Andrew Pyper

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Andrew Pyper

Andrew Pyper's last book was the internationally bestselling The Demonologist, and this winter he returns with The Damned (Simon & Schuster Canada), cementing his reputation as the Canadian king of goosebumps.

The Damned tells the story of Danny Orchard, who wrote a bestselling memoir about nearly dying in a tragic fire that took the life of his twin sister. He's become famous and wealthy but his success brings him no joy. It's not memories haunting Danny though — it's his sister. Ash was cruel and unhinged while she was alive, and death hasn't improved her temperament.

Danny's suffered through his sister's torment for twenty years, but now he's falling in love and has a chance at a real life. His sister is none too happy about the turn of events, and Danny — and his new family — are in more danger than ever before.

Today we're speaking to Andrew as part of our Lucky Seven series, a seven-question Q&A that gives readers a chance to hear about the writing processes of talented Canadian authors and gives authors a space to speak in depth about the thematic concerns of their newest books.

Andrew tells Open Book about family bonds in The Damned, working from an outline and what his office has in common with a zoo.

Open Book:

Tell us about your new book.

Andrew Pyper:

The Damned is a supernatural thriller about Danny and Ashleigh Orchard, fraternal twins who both die in a fire under mysterious circumstances in downtown Detroit on their 16th birthdays. Danny returns to life after a near-death experience, however, leaving his sister on the “other side” — a sister only he, his family and a handful of others knows is not the beautiful, Ivy League-bound gifted child she presents herself to be, but a sociopath whose cruelties are swiftly escalating toward unthinkable violence. Even in death, Ash haunts Danny, preventing him from friendship, from a life in the world. But when Danny meets a single mother and fellow “Afterlifer” and wants to make a family with her and her son, Ash returns with a vengeance. To stop her — and to protect the first people he’s ever had the chance to love — he will have to travel to where she now resides and anchor her to her place in the darkest corner of the underworld.


Is there a question that is central to your book, thematically? And if so, did you know the question when you started writing or did it emerge from the writing process?


What binds us as family? I think that’s the main question of The Damned, and I think I knew it before I started writing. Of course, when it comes to the big, thematic questions of a book, these things start spinning off new questions on their own. But at its core, the book looks at family as offering both paths to freedom and damnation.


Did the book change significantly from when you first starting working on it to the final version? How long did the project take from start to finish?


I’m a detailed outliner, so I spend a lot of time figuring out the contours of the story before I begin the “Once upon a time…” But that doesn’t mean surprises and changes and problems don’t pop up all the time. From beginning of the writing to the final edit was probably fourteen months.


What do you need in order to write — in terms of space, food, rituals, writing instruments?


A computer with the simplest word processing software available installed by somebody else because if I do it I’ll screw it up. No food in the office (it’s like a library, or a zoo — Don’t Feed the Writer). I used to drink a lot of coffee in the mornings when I do most of my work, but I’m trying to cut that out, so there are few pleasures in here now other than the writing itself. And, in the winter, a view of the bank towers downtown.


What do you do if you're feeling discouraged during the writing process? Do you have a method of coping with the difficult points in your projects?


Stop writing and read a page or two of a book you love. You don’t have to start at the beginning, just a random sample of a master’s prose. For me, this reignites the desire to pull off my own tricks again, to just throw down some words and see if they glow.


What defines a great book, in your opinion? Tell us about one or two books you consider to be truly great books.


I think literary greatness turns on excitement. The book must bring something to life inside you, and if it’s a neglected or previously unacknowledged thing, all the better. Heart of Darkness. Frankenstein. The Progress of Love. The Good Soldier. All great.


What are you working on now?


The next book. It’s about a unicorn who finds his mate by riding a rainbow to the Land of Light. Just kidding!

Andrew Pyper is the award-winning author of six internationally bestselling novels. Lost Girls won the Arthur Ellis Award, was selected as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, and appeared on the New York Times and Times (UK) bestseller lists. The Killing Circle was a New York Times Best Crime Novel of the Year. Three of Pyper’s novels, including The Demonologist, are in active development for feature film.

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