John Vaillant on The Next Chapter

Every year, the Canada Reads authors sit down with The Next Chapter host Shelagh Rogers to discuss their life, writing and what it's like to have their book up for national debate. We will share all the interviews on the Canada Reads website. 

This week, we bring you Shelagh's conversation with The Tiger author John Vaillant. This interview originally aired on the January 9, 2012, episode of The Next Chapter.

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John Valliant takes the stories that run way "below the fold" in a newspaper or website and fleshes them out to find the complex truth behind the headline. He did it first with The Golden Spruce, a book about the clash between logging and environmentalism. Last year, he did it again with The Tiger, an award-winning story about a Siberian tiger out for revenge that also digs deep into the complex history between the tiger and the people in his path.

Digging deep has always been a passion for Vaillant. "I've always been frustrated by the simplicity in which particular stories are told, particularly reported. The news has its limitations," he said to Shelagh Rogers. "[What] you really want to know, is 'so this story happened. Why? What made her decide to do that? What was the motive?' The underpinning influences, the ripples that come from off-screen -- those really fascinate me."

However, Vaillant didn't find the story of the tiger. It found him. He was given a free pass to see the Sasha Snow documentary Conflict Tiger. Vaillant didn't know much about Siberian tigers, but he had a passing interest in the exotic creatures. That all changed mere minutes into the film. "I hadn't gone there looking for a book to write, but 15 minutes in, it was announced to me in an unequivocal way that this is a book and somehow you have to figure out a way to tell it," he said. "I realized I was in the presence of something extraordinary."

The tiger plays a central role in the book, and this posed a difficult dilemma for the writer. How do you get inside the tiger's mind and understand what he is doing without succumbing to anthropomorphizing the creature? Vaillant kept himself "on a very short leash" during the writing process, and refused to call the tiger's systematic stalking of the poachers "revenge." "Revenge is a word that humans can relate to," he said. "But if I was going to think about it, assuming animals make considered decisions, I would say that the tiger was removing a threat from its environment."

These days, the biggest threat Vaillant is dealing with is the other four books in contention for Canada Reads 2012. But he's not worried. After all, he has litigator Anne-France Goldwater on his side -- a woman who has made a living making arguments. Vaillant is confident his story of justice and its justice-seeking defender will do him proud in the debates in February.

"It's a perfect match."

Anne-France Goldwater will defend The Tiger in the Canada Reads 2012 debates. The debates will air at 11 a.m. (11:30 a.m. in Nfld.) on CBC Radio One and will be livestreamed on CBC Books at 10 a.m. ET on February 6,7, 8 and 9.

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