Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Cory Doctorow on auctioning off character names for charity

The author of For the Win answers eight questions submitted by eight other authors.
Cory Doctorow is the author of the young adult novel For the Win. (Paula Mariel Salischiker)

The writer dubbed "this generation's William Gibson" avows his love for tree-climbing, broadband and auctioning off character names.  

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

1. Zsuzsi Gartner asks, "How do faith and science intersect for you as a writer?"

That's easy. I'm a total nonbeliever, a militant atheist. To the extent that I struggle with faith in my work, it's to restrain myself from being too vitriolic in the way I treat it.

2. Todd Babiak asks, "Do you ever feel so scared in the dark, when you're alone, that you have to turn on a light? If so, what are you afraid of?"

Nope, sorry!

3. Drew Hayden Taylor asks, "How do you decide character names?"

Depends on the character. Sometimes I auction off naming rights for charity — usually that involves renaming a character after the fact (thank you, search-and-replace!). Other times I'll use the US census data, which is sorted by gender and popularity. If I need a name from somewhere else, I'll Google e.g., "Common Swedish surnames."
I just wrote a story on a long airplane trip and needed a Finnish surname. I have 20-some years of email on my computer, so I searched my email for anything originating from a .fi email address, and used that as a corpus for choosing a Finnish name.

4. Shyam Selvadurai asks, "Do you think the portrayal of certain character types are beyond you? Can you name a character in a novel, whose personality/point of view/ character traits etc you know you could never write?"

Revisiting #1, I don't think I could write a person who was reasonable, rational and still believed in gods, fairies, spooks, etc.

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

I love going to literary events, but especially since I became a dad, mostly I want 'em to be quick and efficient so I can get back to the family. I also like it when they have broadband and low-carb treats. And power outlets.

6. Sharon Butala asks, "What do you think of the age-old notion that the best writing comes out of a life led outside the bourgeoisie, where so-called 'rules' of normal middle-class life are deliberately broken and impulse is your guide, rather than duty or convention?"

Sounds self-indulgent to me. I've done great writing while working a bourgeois day job, while working a bohemian day job, while working no day job. I've also written bad stuff in all those contexts. The best writing comes from practice, discipline, insight and talent (in that order).

7. Lynn Coady asks, "Is there a poet, philosopher, musician, painter or any other type of artist outside the world of fiction who has inspired your work in a concrete way at some point or another? If so, who?"

Musicians especially — in totally irrational, impossible-to-describe ways. There's just some music that puts me somewhere else. It's like the best part of taking drugs. Some of those musicians are David Byrne, Tom Waits and Leo Kottke (there are others).

8. Kate Pullinger asks, "What relationship does your writing have to your own childhood, both in terms of where you grew up as well as whether or not you were a happy child?" 

Through most of my childhood I knew I wanted to be a writer. I was a pretty happy kid, and I'm a pretty happy adult, but having become a writer as an adult, I'm sometimes struck by the profound silliness of plying a trade that you set on when you were six years old. I'm just lucky I didn't end up a professional tree-climber (my number-two choice).


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?