Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Zoe T. Leroy asks author about Britney, Chris Crocker, David Miller, Unicorns, Babies and her First Novel!

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Zoe T. Leroy asks author about Britney, Chris Crocker, David Miller, Unicorns, Babies and her First Novel!

When I was a newly signed novelist editing the final drafts, I met up with an acquaintance at a party, also newly signed. We had the same excited/terrified glow about our saturn-return era faces. We quickly divulged how we'd recently experienced colossal panic attacks related to certain first-novel fears - what it will mean to finally have a novel, and what do you do if you wake up every morning at 4 from a dream about accidental plagiarism, or reviews that confirm your worst fears about yourself? I'm thrilled to report we made it through unscathed. I interviewed the Toronto author over email.

ZW: Your first novel, Be Good, is out this November. Can you tell me what it's about?

SMF: I used to think the book was "about" something completely different, used to tell people it was about love, memory and lies. I came to realize that it's really about that space of time in your early twenties when everything seems simultaneously possible and impossible, and how completely overwhelming that can be. I remember so distinctly how painful, dramatic and frightening things seem when you're twenty-one, but how beautifully reckless and careless you can be about that feeling. It's this wonderful, simpler time before you care about investment strategies, visits to the chiropractor or long-term career goals, but somehow you can manage to make it really complicated and devastating. I suppose the book is about navigating that time and that feeling, and surviving it. There also isn't a huge amount of literature about University-age women in their early twenties, unless it's patronizing mass-market reading about how much they love boys, shopping and martinis.

ZW: When did you start writing it? What was the process like?

SMF: Be Good has seen many drafts and probably been about five different novels over the last five years. Characters, conversations and places have been written in and out and back in again. I initially started writing it simply because I wanted to write and not because I ever imagined I could or even wanted to publish it, but as time went on and I had more success as a writer I found the confidence to commit to finishing it, to creating a thing that someone else would actually read. The final year it took to complete it was when most of the real work was done; that's when I made the decision to take time off of my day job and really write a novel. The process involved a lot of self-criticism and became obsessive at times, mostly because I can be a pretty obsessive person - I had a huge piece of kraft paper where I'd drawn out a visual chronology of the book hanging on my bedroom wall, and it was covered in postcards, clippings and post-it notes with random phrases written on them. When I finally finished Be Good I felt a sense of relief and then sadness, wondering "what the hell am I going to do now?" I rolled up the huge piece of kraft paper, hid it in the back of the closet and tried to find a publisher.

ZW: What book do you tell everyone to read?

SMF: My long term three favorites, which haven't changed since high school, have always been:

Rules of Attraction: Bret Easton Ellis
Play it as it Lays: Joan Didion
Shampoo Planet: Douglas Coupland

ZW: Do you have any advice for emerging novelists?

SMF: I feel totally unqualified to give any advice to anyone about writing, as I'm still trying to figure it out myself and probably will be trying to figure it out forever. I tend to get really bogged down with that constant feeling of personal dissatisfaction, always comparing myself to others and feeling like I'm not doing enough, writing enough, publishing enough. I think after every rejection, you have to keep going and not let it get to you, but at the same time you have to learn how accept criticism when it's warranted. And accept the compliments, of course. I am terrible at that.

Actually, someone a lot more qualified to give advice to emerging novelists and a better writer than I can ever hope to be gave me this (perfect) advice today: "Float above it all a little and play the game, keep the rest of it for yourself. All will be well."

ZW: How do you feel about Britney's recent come-back?

SMF: Sometimes I like to count the things I do in a single day that, if caught by the paparazzi, would be worthy of mockery. You know, flashing my underpants while I get out of a cab, food on my face, bad fashion choices. You could probably get hundreds of shots of me if you followed me around or actually cared.

Despite the fact that she is a ridiculous train-wreck, I adore Brit completely and will support her to the end. I find it so offensive that the media feels they have the right to shamelessly critique her the way they do- after the VMA's The Toronto Star actually printed that she was "embarrassingly out of shape," and I found that disgusting. Having said that, I am completely part of the problem - the day she shaved her head I found out about seven minutes after she did it and then searched the web constantly for updates.

Ultimately, I would really like to see her reject show business completely and start up a rural llama rescue in the middle of nowhere. I'd donate to that.

ZW: Steven Harper?

I like Britney Spears a lot more than I like Stephen Harper. A tax credit for parents who sign their kids up for hockey? Please.

ZW: David Miller?

SMF: The land transfer tax was a really damn good idea. A fantastic idea. It would have meant $300 Million for Toronto and only people with money and houses would have had to have paid it. But people with money and houses whined and complained. Now everyone's mad at Miller, wondering why their libraries are closed on Mondays.

Also, I had a friend who worked at City Hall and he said that Mr. Miller has a big furry hat and is really fun to party with, which doesn't surprise me in the slightest.

ZW: Chris Crocker?

SMF: I find that video of him so difficult to watch. I am forced to look away, yet I'll leave it on with morbid fascination. Let me clarify: my adoration for Miss Spears is nowhere near that of Chris Crocker's.

ZW: How do you feel about babies? Unicorns?

SMF: I went to a Bob Dylan concert with my Mom, my Dad and my partner at Casinorama a few months ago and right in the middle of "Like a Rolling Stone" I turned to my partner and said "Let's have a baby." By the time the show was over, the feeling had completely passed. I'm at that age now where everyone I went to high school with is having children and I just drink my whiskey and coke and look at them and their babies like they're complete aliens. Frankly, children frighten me. I got a "troubled" shelter dog named Shelby recently and that's seemed to fulfill any strange, biological urge to mother.

As for unicorns, I like them much more than Stephen Harper.

ZW: Tell me about a re-occuring dream you have?

SMF: If I'm honest, I often have dreams about my partner leaving me and when I wake up I'm usually mad at him for the entire day while he stares at me confused. Recently I had a dream about Lindsey Lohan in which I was dressed in drag and she told me that I was "the only person in the world that understood her." God only knows what that says about me and my suppressed desires.

ZW: The first three songs on a mixed tape soundtrack for Be Good?

22 - Magneta Lane
God's Gonna Cut You Down - Johnny Cash
Out of the Races and onto the Tracks - The Rapture

Will you read your reviews?

SMF: I am a notorious self-Googler so it's likely that yes, I will read them. I know writers who don't and I really admire that, primarily because it seems like they're writing for the purest of reasons; a relationship with a reader. Sadly I am one of those overly-sensitive people who has since childhood cared very deeply about what other people think. I've been mastering the art of pretending that I don't. Hell, I think that's probably what my book is actually about.

ZW: What's your biggest fear about publishing a novel?

SMF: That there isn't another one in me. That this is it. That I have to go back to a 9-5 office job and various pointless excel spreadsheets.

ZW: What novel have you really despised this year?

SM: If I even vaguely dislike a book I will never finish it. I just don't have the attention span for something mediocre. There are many abandoned books hanging around my apartment, but I as a result can honestly say that every book I've read this year I've really enjoyed. Currently I really dislike this new phenomenon of pop-lit; a billion people blindly buying and reading a book because "someone" told them to. I think it's fantastic that authors are getting this kind of recognition, but at the same time I'll read the first few pages of an award-winning book that mini-van loads of soccer moms have been told to buy and I'll question whether or not it ever met an editor. No critique or questioning, just crazed consumption, and then a blockbuster movie deal. For struggling, indie writers with talent that kind of thing can be infuriating, even if it is simply jealousy.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Zoe Whittall

Zoe Whittall is the author of the novel Bottle Rocket Hearts (Cormorant, 2007) and two volumes of poetry, The Emily Valentine Poems (Snare, 2006) and The Best Ten Minutes of Your Life (McGilligan, 2001).

Go to Zoe Whittall’s Author Page