Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Andrew Pyper on happy-hour bribery and literary flirtations

The author of The Damned answers eight questions submitted by eight other authors.
Andrew Pyper is the author of the horror novel The Novel. (andrewpyper.com)

With six acclaimed (and increasingly terrifying) novels under his belt, including the instantly-optioned-for-film shiverfest The Damned, it would be understandable if Andrew Pyper seemed a little... creepy in person. Sorry to let you down, but Andrew is a charming, self-effacing and hard-working guy who always listens to his wife. Or is he?

Below, Pyper answers eight questions submitted by eight of his fellow writers in the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A.

1. Rudy Wiebe asks, "Who helped you most in becoming a writer? How?"

I never had a writing mentor, though I'm envious of those who have, if for no other reason than they seem more able to clearly answer this question. Of course, there were writers I read and felt close to, the influences I took subconscious core samples of, the masters I mimicked. But in the real world sense, I think the people who helped me most in becoming a writer would have been my parents. Not because they were so supportive (they were in some ways and weren't in others) but because they passed their inner toughness on to me.  

2. Emily St. John Mandel asks, "Do you write full-time, or do you also do other work? And if you write full-time now, what other jobs have you had in the past?"

I've been able to write fiction full-time for the past sixteen years, and this fact in itself is my proudest professional achievement. Prior to this, I've been a waiter, bartender and hockey arena scoreboard operator.

3. Alexi Zentner asks, "Do you ever bribe yourself to write? What with?"

When a book is running along reasonably well, the pleasure of the work itself is usually enough to keep me at the desk. On other days, it's the promise of the 5 pm glass of wine. Not 5:02. I'm talking 5:00:00.

4. Vincent Lam asks, "For you — what does the 'Ultimate Literary Event' look like?"

I don't see the Ultimate Literary Event so much as feel it, and the predominant feeling is excitement. It could be from hearing a transporting reading (a rare thing, but mind-blowing when it happens) or from meeting readers who tell you surprising things about your work (far more common). Flirtation is always a helpful ingredient (as it is in all things).

5. Linden MacIntyre asks, "Is there value in what I'd call 'literary collegiality'? How useful are the workshops and writers' retreats?"

In my experience, getting together with literary colleagues hasn't really changed the way I approach the work, but there's meaningful therapy in being reminded of our common sufferings. The book that won't tell you what it wants to be. The agent who won't return your call. The business that so often seems to not make any sense. These are topics that are important not to feel alone in worrying about.

6. Johanna Skibsrud asks, "What non-literary inspirations inform your work?"

The movies. Not in the sense of structure or topic or even storytelling style, but the way film is based on "moments." I like to build my books toward moments in the way a movie does — an image or reveal or line that remains in the mind after you leave the chair/cinema.  

7. Kate Pullinger asks, "Do you pay attention to the opinions of your family — parents, spouse, siblings, children, etc. — when it comes to your writing, both in terms of what you write about, but also how you write? "

I listen to my wife, Heidi, particularly when it comes to pitching Big Ideas. "So the UFO's doors open, and instead of aliens trooping out… it's human doubles, one for each of us! Whaddya think?" The shape of her face and the first words she speaks after I spitball something means a lot (and rightly kills off a good number of foolish first steps).

8. Shyam Selvadurai asks, "What is the hardest thing about being a writer?"

There's all sorts of hard parts, but you ask after the hardest. Probably the utter absence of what others call "job security." Or, more pointedly: the utter absence of what others call a "job."

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