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Q&A with Zsuzsi Gartner

CBC Books recently asked the shortlisted Scotiabank Giller Prize authors some questions about their literary inspirations. Here we have Zsuzsi Gartner, the author of Better Living Through Plastic Explosives. To read an excerpt from her short story collection, click here.


Q: Pitch Canada your story collection in three lines or less.
ZG: Dear Canada, forget everything you've ever heard, read, or personally experienced of Vancouver. Or take all that and amplify it by several hundred decibels and you'll have Better Living Through Plastic Explosives, a journey through the heart of darkness that is the wet coast, accompanied by dire laughter, and a cast of characters that includes an AWOL movie director, an Olympic-mascot-suited kidnapper, a recovering terrorist-turned-master gardener, one of the greatest motivational speakers of New Amerika, and five naughty celestial beings.
Q: What's your favourite bookish place in Canada? 
ZG: My favourite bookstore is Vancouver Kid's Books; my favourite "bookish" milieu has to be the Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts.
Q: Which Canadian author (alive or dead) would you most like to meet? Why?

ZG: Leonard Cohen. Because of any Canadian writer he's come closest to the sacred without losing his wit. (And he's Leonard Cohen!) And Elise Levine, whose remarkable first book, Driving Men Mad, was such an inspiration to me.

Q: Who is your favourite fictional character and why?
ZG: There are a handful of memorable ones, all are larger than life, and who don't suffer fools gladly (or are wonderfully self-deluded). Imagine the following at a dinner party together: Barney Panofsky (Barney's Version by Mordecai Richler), Edward Rochester and Jane Eyre (Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë), Ignatius J. Reilly (A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole),  Barbara Covett (Notes on a Scandal by Zoë Heller) and Sherlock Holmes (The Stories of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle).
Q: What would you be if you weren't a writer?
ZG: If I lived in another era, I'd say a newspaper dame (but then, that's a writer, too, and I have been a newspaper dame). Impresario and party planner. I throw a mean party. Or a beachcomber. Or a board-game tester. Or one of those people who writes an enraged letter to the editor of the Globe & Mail every day.
Q: What book has moved or affected you most in the past year?
ZG: Again, hard to pick just one. Kalila, by Calgary author Rosemary Nixon, a bold and heart-rending novel about losing a baby. Tough and tender, a miracle of a book that really should be on this longlist. And Tom Rachman's The Imperfectionists, a novel about a fictional international newspaper based in Rome -- simultaneously old-fashioned and au courant, and such a varied and believable cast of characters, many of whom made me feel a profound empathy.

Related link: Zsuzsi Gartner speaks to NXNW about satire and short fiction

We'll be posting more Q&As in the weeks to come. In the meantime, check out the responses from our other shortlisted authors.



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