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Q&A with Alexi Zentner


This year, 17 Canadian authors made it to the Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist, the country's richest literary award for fiction. To get some further insight into their work and their inspirations, CBC Books asked the longlisted authors a series of questions. As the prize jury debates which books will be named to the shortlist, we'll be posting our Q&As for you to enjoy.

Here we have Alexi Zentner, author of Touch.

Q: Pitch Canada your novel in three lines or less.

Alexi Zentner: A pastor returning home to his dying mother has to confront the ghosts of his childhood, the memories of his mythic grandfather, and the magic and mysteries of the north woods. Also, it's a love story. And though it's a novel full of wonder, Touch is also scary and terrifying in places, full of monsters and witches. And the book will break your heart. But that's four sentences.

Q: Which Giller-longlisted book (other than your own!) would you like to see take home the prize?

AZ: The longlist is kind of stunning, but it's difficult to choose since I already admired the work of many of these authors before the list came out. Part of the power of literary prizes like the Scotiabank Giller Prize, however, is to help bring attention to authors who aren't already part of the national consciousness, and so, if I had to chose a book other than my own, I'd probably pick a debut author with a book that deserved more exposure, like Michael Christie's The Beggar's Garden. Though, that being said, I think that all of these books on this list deserve more exposure.

Q: What's your favourite bookish place in Canada?

AZ: One of my oldest friends has a cottage on Smoke Lake in Algonquin Provincial Park, and it's one of my favorite places in the world. Though I like to swim there despite the coldness of the water and there are some stunning places to hike, I almost enjoy it more when it's raining and chilly and the bugs are fierce enough so that I have every excuse to sit by the fire and just read. There's a quiet isolation that I love. There's no power, no running water, just propane and a hand pump, a wood stove, a fireplace, and the too many books that I always bring.

Q: Which Canadian author (alive or dead) would you most like to meet? Why?

AZ: Alice Munro. She's given me terrific pleasure as a reader and I'd like to be able to just say thank you, and then to have lunch with her or to spend an afternoon in leisurely pursuit, talking about reading and books in general, without pestering her about her own work.

touch-125.jpgQ: Who is your favourite fictional character and why?

AZ: Farley Drexel Hatcher, otherwise known as Fudge, from Judy Bloom's Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. I read this book and others from the series to my youngest daughter almost constantly for two years. They were the only chapter books she'd listen to, and I loved how much she loved them. She wouldn't let us name our dog Fudge because that's a people name, not a dog name. We ended up calling the dog Turtle, because that, evidently, is a dog's name. Trust me, it makes sense if you read the book.

Q: What would you be if you weren't a writer?

AZ: I'd be a teacher. I've been writing full-time for two years, and though I thought that was the dream, I find that I desperately miss teaching. There's very little that's comparable to seeing the spark in a student's face when she gets something that she's been struggling with. I love teaching creative writing, and I think I'm good at it, but in a different life, I could have been teaching elementary school.

Q: What book has moved or affected you most in the past year?

AZ: I just read Gordan Korman's No Coins, Please to my oldest daughter, and though I'd read the book when it first came out (when I was 11), as my daughter held her hands in front of her mouth and laughed at Artie Geller's antics, I was reminded of the delight with which children can encounter fiction. I had some of the same delight earlier this year when I read Joseph Boyden's Three Day Road for the first time. I'm still not sure how I managed to completely miss Three Day Road, but I'm glad that I rectified that shortcoming.

Come back soon for more Q&As with the longlisted authors. In the meantime, check out our exciting Scotiabank Giller Prize contests. This month, you could win a $1,000 gift certificate to Chapters Indigo to build your dream library as part of our Select Your Shortlist contest.


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