Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Kenneth Oppel on weird research and amazing readers

The author of The Boundless answers eight questions submitted by eight other authors.
Kenneth Oppel is the author of the young adult novel The Boundless. (Mark Raynes Roberts)

Kenneth Oppel, the author of the beloved Silverwing and Airborn trilogies, brings a locomotive adventure to life in his young adult novel The Boundless

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

1. Heather O'Neill asks, "What's the strangest thing you've done while researching a book?"

I took a video camera into Toronto's High Park and ran it along the ground and up trees and along branches, so I could watch the playback and get a sense of what the world would look like to a small arboreal creature (perhaps a bat ancestor). While scrabbling about in the dirt filming, I was spotted by a mother and child who stared and thought me odd.

2. Jane Urquhart asks, "Could you write a novel about two square meters of outdoor space? (urban, rural, or wilderness)"

Sure. I'd likely just dig straight down into some exciting fossil, tomb or undiscovered world.

3. Todd Babiak asks, "Do you want to change anything with your writing? Or do you simply want to entertain and stimulate as many people as possible?"

Well, I'm all about entertaining, but "stimulate" to me suggests a lot more than mere entertainment: it could introduce a new way of seeing to the reader, new information, new ideas. And that is the first step to changing people's views. The best books do it all: entertain and stimulate. I'd like to do it all. But I do think the worst thing you can do as a writer is hector or bore people.

4. Robert Currie asks, "What book by someone else do you wish you had written, and why?"

Feed by MT Anderson, the perfect dystopian novel. It's smart and stylistically innovative. It's social satire, a comedy, an environmental cautionary tale, a romance, a tragedy. It's got it all.

5. Charlotte Gill asks, "What does your afterlife look like?"

A bit underexposed.

6. Anthony Bidulka asks, "What has been your best experience with a reader of your work?"

I had this family from Michigan drive to Toronto to see me at a reading: their two boys were big fans and could actually recite any line from my Airborn trilogy, as long as I read the first bit of the sentence. I tested them a couple times, and they got it right each time. They were amazing. It was so flattering to think my books had meant so much to them, and that they'd read them with enjoyment so many times!

7. Susan Juby asks, "What do you tell new writers about the economics of being a writer? Are you a hope-giver or a hope-dasher?"

I try to walk the tightrope between encouragement and cold hard reality. If I sense the writer is incredibly talented, I'll probably be more pessimistic, just because I don't want any more competition.

8. Claire Holden Rothman asks, "What keeps you writing, year after year?"

The illusory quest for the perfect story. And money.