Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with Cary Fagan

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Ten Questions with Cary Fagan

Tundra author Cary Fagan has written award-winning books for both adults and children. He has won the City of Toronto Book Award, the Jewish Book Committee Prize for Fiction and the Mr. Christie Silver Medal. His latest novel for children is Ten Lessons for Kaspar Snit. Visit Cary's website at caryfagan.com.

OB:

Tell us about your book, Ten Lessons for Kaspar Snit.

CF:

Ten Lessons is the third in a trilogy featuring Eleanor Blande, her younger brother Solly, her mother Daisy and her father Manfred. In the first two books Eleanor used her ability to fly (a talent passed down in the family) to defeat the self-declared "evil genius" Kaspar Snit. But this third book is different because Kaspar Snit asks for Eleanor's help. He has falling in love with Eleanor and Solly's nanny, the Widow Leer, and wants to give up his life of evil. Eleanor and Solly come up with ten lessons to turn Kaspar Snit into a decent human being, ranging from "Build a rowboat" to "Tell a Joke" to "Take care of a baby." It was, I have to say, a lot of fun to write.

OB:

Did you have a specific readership in mind when you wrote your book?

CF:

When I write a kid's book I don't think to myself, "Oh well, I better not use words that are too difficult or complex sentences or ideas the kids won't be able to follow." I just try to write a good story. But in this particular case I knew who the audience would be - all those kids who have already read the first two books (and more, I hope). Kids who like to fall into a novel and like to laugh.

OB:

Which books made a great impression on you when you were young adult?

CF:

This is an easy one for me to answer. When I was sixteen I knew that I wanted to be a writer and so I went into my high school library determined to start reading the "great books." I picked up a copy of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, expecting to be bored out of my mind. From the first line I was enthralled. I read about ten more Dickens right after and I still love his writing. A little later, I became hungry for a greater exploration of personalities and lives and I moved onto the Russians. Chekhov above all.

OB:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

CF:

I'm not all that fussy, to be honest. For about six years I wrote in the dining room and had to push the work away when it came time to make dinner for the kids. Now I have a third-floor study. It's small, but I love the privacy, the view to the garden, the little balcony. For me, it's pretty much ideal. Now maybe if I could just replace the spindley IKEA furniture for some rustic country stuff!

OB:

What was your first publication?

CF:

It's rather funny now, but my first published story, in Descant magazine, was about a would-be writer so frustrated by rejection that he starts sending editors threatening letters. A dark little comedy, very slight, but it was a way of exorcising my own frustrations at the time.

OB:

What are you reading now?

CF:

A few different things. I keep dipping into Haruki Murakami's Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, a book of rather mysterious and fetching stories. Also Mohsin Hamid's novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Also Mark Zwonitzer's Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone: the Carter Family and Their Legacy in American Music because of my great interest in traditional music.

OB:

If you had to choose three books as a “Welcome to Canada” gift, what would those books be?

CF:

What a question! Books aren't supposed to make you love your country. They aren't intended as little acts of patriotism. I would just give some great writing to show what fine work has been done here and not worry about the impression they made. A collection of stories by the late Norman Levine. Mavis Gallant's collection, From the Fifteenth District, which aren't even set in Canada. And a poetry collection by Don Domanski to show that there is a wild heart beating in this increasingly urban country.

OB:

What's the best advice you've ever received as a writer?

CF:

The best advice I ever heard was, "Don't try to write the big story. Write the little stories and that will be the big story." I heard this on the television show "The Waltons" which I adored as a young teenager. I still think it's good advice.

OB:

Describe the most memorable response you've received from a reader.

CF:

Well, the most fun response happened last year, on Halloween night. I opened the door to two little kids in masks. One of them elbowed the other and hissed, "That's the guy who wrote Kaspar Snit!" My younger daughter was with me and boy was she impressed.

OB:

What is your next project?

CF:

I'm just doing final revisions on an adult novel called Valentine's Fall that will be out next year. It's about a Jewish bluegrass player living in Prague who returns to Toronto. I can't seem to write anything straight. Also next year will appear Jacob Two-Two on the High Seas, the sequel I've written in the series by the late Mordecai Richler. It'll be pretty interesting to see what reviewers think of that one, although as always, it's the kids who count.



Read more about Ten Lessons for Kaspar Snit at the Tundra Books website.

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