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Q&A: Cary Fagan



fagan_cary.jpgTo celebrate this year's Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist, we asked each longlisted author a series of questions to help us gain insight into their work and their thoughts on the craft of writing. Here we have Cary Fagan, author of the short story collection My Life Among the Apes.

Q: What inspired you to write My Life Among the Apes?

A: The book is made up of 10 stories and each had its own inspiration, of course.  Most of the time the kernel comes from life. For example, Dreyfus in Wichita was partly inspired by an old friend who wrote a full musical that was performed by students at the school where he taught. The origin of Wolf is much darker -- a visit to a Nazi concentration camp. But I`ve never been interested in writing biographically, and real life is just the starting point for an imagined story. Writing is both a way into life and an escape from my own, I think, so I write about what I've seen or experienced but in an imaginative way that takes me beyond my self. I think I approach the story form a little differently, as well. I treat each one as if it were a little novel, a world in miniature.

Q: What would you say is at the core of your book?

A: I'm interested in how we imagine our own lives, and how that fantasy intersects or contrasts with reality. So in the story The Little Underworld of Edison Wiese, the young man working in a café has an image of what he wants life to be like that isn't matched by the dim reality, at least not until one particular night.

Q: If your book was being made into a movie, which actors could you envision taking on the main characters?

A: Well, there would have to be 10 movies! Or one of those films with many characters and storylines that cross and merge. I'd like to have Michael Caine as the narrator. I just love his voice.

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

A: Actually, as soon as I saw the list I began to acquire the books. For me, this has become one of the pleasures of being on the list.  And like other people, I`m excited to discover some writers I haven`t read before. But I've just started, so it`s too early to say.

my_life_among_the_apes.jpgQ: Where is the absolute best place for you to write?

A: I`m not someone who is particularly fussy. In fact, I like to think that I can write in most environments. I do have a small third-floor study but I`ll often write in the dining room if nobody`s around. I also like to go to cafés and restaurants -- sometimes my concentration is better there. I have a new novel for kids coming out and I wrote a large part of it sitting on a bench in Tompkins Square Park in New York. After all, you don`t need anything besides a pen and a notebook.

Q: Is there a specific subject matter, event or location close to your heart that you'd love to write about in the future?

I love music and although I've written about musicians before I`m sure the subject will appear again in my writing. As for place, I want to write about Rome. Actually, my wife Rebecca and I were there last year and it was one place where I had a great deal of trouble writing.  There was too much beauty, I was overwhelmed. But I have a story I want to tell.

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

A: Philip Roth's Nemesis. I've rarely read anything as powerful. He has become the master.  Before that it was Henry James's Portrait of a Lady. I`d read it years ago without liking it as much as some of his other work. But this time I was in awe.

Q: What is one insight into the craft of writing or the writing life that you wish you'd known much earlier?

A: Trust your instincts.  Let go.

Read more longlisted author Q&As


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