Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Lucky Seven Interview, with Liam Card

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Liam Card

In Stopgap (Dundurn Press) Liam Card brings his screenwriting background to his second novel, creating a tense, otherworldly pageturner with a wildly creative premise. In Stopgap, Luke Stevenson has been saddled with a terrible coworker — but his problem is more serious than most, because Luke is dead, and his ghostly protege, Safia, is killing a lot of people in her twisted attempt to rid the world of violence. Safia is intent on pre-empting violent crime, even if it means killing the would-be perpetrator. As her plan spins out of control, Luke is left as the only thing standing between a vengeful ghost and billions of living people.

Liam joins us today to talk about Stopgap as part of our Lucky Seven series. He tells us about how television news programs sparked the start of the novel, creating rules for the afterlife, and "the Page 100 Hurdle".

Open Book:

Tell us about your new book and how it came to be.

Liam Card:

One of my university professors told me that writers should look to create stories that are borne out of their frustration and dissatisfaction with the world around them (or with themselves). Stopgap was borne out of my ongoing sadness and frustration from simply watching the evening news. To deal with this frustration, I wanted to write a novel whereby the innocents of the world were protected — a world where violent crime was rendered impossible. The novel centres on a young girl who is killed in a suicide bombing. After being “processed” in the afterlife and electing to return to earth as a ghost, Safia finds that (due to her rage) she is capable of things that are unheard of among ghosts. Mainly, that she can end the lives of violent criminals before crimes are committed. Thus, in her attempt to rid the world of violent crime, she becomes the most notorious killer in history. The story is told through her Mentor Spirit, Luke Stevenson, who is paired with her in the afterlife. After becoming ensnared in her operation to rid the world of violent crime, he must ultimately derail her when Safia’s mandate changes for the worst.

OB:

Is there a question that is central to your book?

LC:

My central questions were the following: What would it take for humans to stop committing acts of violence? What would that look like? What would have to take place for that to happen? Clearly, morals and values don’t get us there. Laws and the justice system... not even close. The threat of prison... yeah right. Religious beliefs... gimme a break! These core questions spun around in my mind for several weeks as I came up with all sorts of situations whereby acts of violence became a thing of the past. Finally, after discarding dozens of scenarios, I landed on one that was worth exploring. However, in order to make the scenario work, I had to create a clearly defined process in the afterlife whereby ghosting is made possible. For me, the process of one electing to return as a ghost and the conditions surrounding the opportunity to even make that choice was a thrill to write.

OB:

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

LC:

With Stopgap, I spend a great deal of time mapping out the general story flow in advance of any writing. However, after creating an afterlife with rules, I found that I kept writing myself into a corner and (ultimately) breaking the rules of the world I had created! I must have written from page fifty to one-hundred ten times, before deleting everything and landing back on page fifty. It was incredibly frustrating, especially after having mapped out the story in advance. Candidly, it took me almost a full calendar year to get past the ‘Page 100 Hurdle.’ After that, the story flew off the fingertips. (NOTE: I’m not sure the ‘Page 100 Hurdle’ is a thing, per se. However, it certainly was in this case — hence the caps).

OB:

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

LC:

With two kids under seven years old, writing is much, much more difficult. If you don’t be believe me, try it. I dare you. So, I need a block of time that is uninterrupted in order to make a dent in the story and feel like I’ve accomplished something. I’m not one of those writers who can steal ten minutes here and forty minutes there. I’m just not. I need a three to four hour block of time and the first thirty minutes are spent warming up — just getting my head focused and into ‘writing mode.’ For me, it’s like a track meet in that the warmup is not something optional, it’s required. I just have to factor it in. This could be re-reading a section of work and making small tweaks. This could be writing a diary entry for a character in the novel that I ultimately delete. The goal with the warm-up is to do anything to get back into the flow and into the minds of the characters. Other than a serious block of uninterrupted quiet (and a warm-up), I need my Macbook Pro and a comfy chair.

OB:

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

LC:

As mentioned above, there were many months of feeling discouraged with this novel. I had thrown in the towel a few times and my wife, Kelda, encouraged me to get back in the ring and keep working on it. She was a huge driver in the completion of this novel. She believed in the concept from the beginning and kept at me to break through the ‘Page 100 Hurdle,’ and finish the story. Every story is going to have sections that are frustrating — you know that going in. You sign up for it. However, when the major hurdles present themselves, I think every writer someone to vent their frustrations to. This could be a close friend, a fellow writer, a professor, mentor, or family member. For Stopgap, Kelda was equal parts confidante and cheerleader. The novel is dedicated to her because of this.

OB:

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

LC:

For me, a great novel makes you laugh and makes you think. This is why I love the dark comedy genre so much. Here, writers are tackling difficult and (often) disturbing subject matter, and shining a flashlight of comedy into the darkness in order make it all palatable. Sadly, for a number of reasons, the world is not a nice place for a large percentage of people on the planet. Dark comedy address these historical, political and social issues that desperately need discussing, but does so in a way that doesn’t alienate the reader. Kurt Vonnegut was the master at this. Slaughterhouse Five, Breakfast of Champions, and Cat’s Cradle are some of my favourite novels of all time. Chuck Palahniuk is another brilliant, darkly comedic mind. Pretty much everything he writes impresses me to no end. I imagine that even his personal emails are a masterclass in dark comedy. Choke and Invisible Monsters are two novels I would recommend to anyone. I just read Damned, and have never laughed so hard (and so often) while reading a novel.

OB:

What are you working on now?

LC:

Philip Svoboda, a film producer in Toronto, optioned the rights to my first novel, Exit Papers from Paradise. The screenplay is now at the second draft stage and has just been awarded development funding from Bell Media’s Harold Greenberg Fund. So, for the next few months, my time will be spent polishing this second draft into a third draft. Once delivered, my hope is that the producer can use that draft to attach a noteworthy director and cast. Not often does a novelist have the opportunity to tell a story that is very close to them in a completely different medium. Of course, Emma Donoghue did an outstanding adaption of her novel, Room. And I thought that Maureen Medved did an exceptional job adapting her novel, The Tracey Fragments. The adaptation of Exit Papers from Paradise has certainly been a wonderful and challenging experience so far. I hope to see it on the big screen in the next few years. That would be a total thrill.


Liam Card studied writing at the University of Iowa and the University of North Carolina. He is a screenwriter and author of the novels Stopgap and Exit Papers from Paradise. Liam lives in Toronto.

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