Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Lucky Seven Interview, with Clifford Jackman

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Clifford Jackman

Every year, Random House's unique New Face of Fiction program finds one talented debut author and publishes his or her novel or collection of short fiction, signalling to readers and the industry that this is a writer you want to pay attention to. This year, Clifford Jackman rose to the top of the pile and his The Winter Family (Random House Canada) became the debut title to watch.

It's easy to see why — The Winter Family is a fresh, wild addition to the NFOF list, tracing the story of a band of American outlaws over three decades.

Today we welcome Clifford to Open Book 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.

Clifford tells us about beginning his novel as separate stories, the challenges of writing as a young parent and the importance of a couple of pages.

Open Book:

Tell us about your new book.

Clifford Jackman:

The Winter Family is a dark western that follows a band of outlaws from their days as scouts during the American Civil War to their last stand in Oklahoma twenty five years later. I actually wrote the final section first, in the spring of 2008, and self-published it as a standalone. But I had more ideas for the same characters, and so I wrote four more stories set in that world and combined them into a novel.

OB:

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?

CJ:

The central theme of the novel is best summarized by an anecdote told by St. Augustine. Supposedly Alexander captured a pirate and asked him by what right he terrorized the seas. The pirate answered "the same right by which you terrorize the whole world, but because I only have a ship, I am called a pirate, whereas you have a huge army and are called an emperor."

The outlaws in this novel are terrible people — but are they any more terrible than the racist and expansionist government of the time? Or the governments of any time? And if so how? That's the question that drives The Winter Family.

OB:

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?

CJ:

The complete journey from typing the first line to publication was seven years. The book changed enormously over that time, as some sections were cut and others were added, the order of the chapters moved around, and one large section set in California was cut in its entirety (although it will be released it as a standalone ebook through Vintage Shorts in June).

OB:

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

CJ:

Oh man, these days I have an infant son at home and writing is not as easy as it used to be. Basically I just need to get out of the house (it doesn't really matter where) and I'm fine. I also make sure I disconnect the computer from the internet.

OB:

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?

CJ:

The more you write, the more gets written. Just make sure you get a couple of pages every day, even if they are garbage pages that you have to cut out later. You can fix garbage but nothing can fix nothing except for writing a couple of pages a day.

OB:

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

CJ:

I think by definition you can't define a great book. I don't feel like greatness comes from doing certain things and avoiding doing other things and then bang, your book is great. There are lots of books that don't have anything precisely wrong with them that aren't great and there are plenty of great books that freshman English students can (and do) find something wrong with. Great books don't have anything in common other than their greatness. Two of my favourite books are The Little Prince and Blood Meridian, which I think tells you all you need to know about greatness.

OB:

What are you working on now?

CJ:

Right now I'm writing a ghost story just to change things up a bit. This fall I intend to write a historical novel a little more similar to The Winter Family. Once the rough drafts of both are done I'll try to figure out what to do next.

Clifford Jackman received a Bachelor of Arts from York University, a Master of Arts from Queen’s, and a Bachelor of Laws from Osgoode Hall Law School. He practices law in Richmond Hill

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