10 for the Top 10: Carmen Aguirre

The panelists are in the process of deciding which book they want to bring into the ring for the February debates. We'll reveal who they are — and the titles they choose — on November 23 on CBC Radio's Q and right here on CBC Books.

In the meantime, we want to introduce you to the authors you voted onto the Canada Reads: True Stories Top 10 list.

Today, meet Carmen Aguirre, author of Something Fierce.


Chilean-born Carmen Aguirre is an actor and playwright based in Vancouver. She has written or co-written 18 plays, and her work in film and television includes a leading role in the 2006 feature Quinceañera, which won the grand jury prize and the audience award at the Sundance Film Festival among other festival prizes. In 2010, her play Refugee Hotel was nominated for a Dora Mavor Moore Award for outstanding new play. She has published two of her plays, Refugee Hotel and The Trigger, which was critically lauded as "a knockout."

Q: In three lines or less, describe your book to Canada.

CA: Something Fierce is a darkly comic tale of my coming of age in South America in the 1980s. My mother and stepfather were members of the Chilean resistance against Pinochet, so we lived dangerous double lives from the time I was 11. At 18, I became a militant myself, plunging further into a world of terror, paranoia and euphoria.

Q: What inspired your book?

CA: There are no first-hand accounts of the Chilean resistance written in English, much less darkly comic ones. My stepfather Bob Everton, a Canadian internationalist, urged me to write this story a few months before he died in 2004. I wanted to honour him, and all the others who gave their lives. I did not want these stories to die with the people who lived them.

Q: What do you most enjoy about writing non-fiction?

CA: I grew up in a family of storytellers. Hours of my childhood were spent listening to the adults tell tales of their childhood, of the country of Chile, of their own elders, of a vast world that went far beyond our daily existence. For me, it was natural to follow in their footsteps and recall events in my own life.

Q: What are the biggest challenges?

CA: The biggest challenge in writing non-fiction is how much not to tell. What you leave out is as important as what you leave in. It's a fine balance.

Q: What makes you fall in love with a non-fiction book?

CA: The quality of the writing is as important as the story itself. I like to read memoirs by writers. I believe it is my favourite form.

Q: Describe where you write.

CA: I write in a small corner of my house and at a local Italian café.

Q: Where are your favourite places to read?

CA: In my bed, on the beach, on an airplane.

Q: Is there a non-fiction book that had a great influence on your writing?

CA: There are many. The first ones that come to mind are The Autobiography of Malcolm X, co-authored by Alex Haley; Lillian Hellman's memoirs An Unfinished Woman, Pentimento and Scoundrel Time; and Jeannette Walls's The Glass Castle.

Q: What did you want to be growing up? Why?

CA: An actor. Because I went to the circus when I was three and I knew I'd found my calling.

Q: What's your guilty pleasure when you take a break from writing?

CA: Devouring the tabloids.

Q: If you could pick any Canadian personality to defend your book, who would it be and why?

CA: Donald Sutherland. Because he is a brilliant actor and I grew up watching his work. And because he has progressive politics; I saw him the other day at Occupy Vancouver, with his fist in the air. Or Naomi Klein. Her book The Shock Doctrine was able to articulate neo-liberalism to North Americans in an accessible, passionate, informed way.

Do you agree with Carmen that either Donald Sutherland or Naomi Klein would be the best defender of her book? Enter our "perfect pairings" contest for a chance to win a complete set of the Canada Reads: True Stories Top 10!

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