Sylvain Neuvel on Wookieepedia, Battlestar Galactica and other obsessions
Montreal author Sylvain Neuvel is a linguist, translator and science fiction superfan whose hobbies include creating ridiculously impressive Halloween costumes and building a working R2-D2 replica. Neuvel's novel Sleeping Giants was longlisted for Canada Reads 2017.
Below, Sylvain Neuvel answers eight questions submitted by eight of his fellow writers in the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A.
1. Lazer Lederhendler asks, "Do you have a favourite word or expression that you've often tried to work into a piece but found (or were told by your editor) it just didn't fit?"
Kyber crystals. I wrote a short story in Star Wars Insider magazine called "TK-146275," about the life of a stormtrooper. I had a scene where the Empire is attempting to recover a stolen shipment of kyber crystals, and... no one said anything, it was published as is. I was just looking for an excuse to talk about Star Wars. If you're a geek like me, writing Star Wars canon is a really big deal. I'm in Wookieepedia. How cool is that?
2. Ami McKay asks, "What's the most prized book on your bookshelf?"
I bought two books that were part of the set of Battlestar Galactica (they were in Admiral Cain's quarters on the Pegasus). I keep bringing one of them to conventions and it's now signed by about 10 cast members. That's my most prized book. Technically, it's about the tax code or something like that. They just slapped new covers on them.
3. Timothy Taylor asks, "Writers often use their own life as a springboard for fiction. Could you relate a real incident in your life and then tell us how it got changed into fiction?"
That's a tough question. There are bits of my life everywhere in Sleeping Giants. For starters, there's a Québécois linguist from the University of Chicago, though he's probably the character that resembles me the least, if you ignore the obvious. Just about everyone in The Themis Files has gone through some version of events that I lived through. There's a scene in Waking Gods, out next April. I don't want to spoil anything, but it has to do with convincing doormen to let someone back into a bar. That's a copy-paste from my own life.
4. Alissa York asks, "Have you ever strengthened a bond with a loved one through something you've written?"
I'd co-written a screenplay when I was a teenager, but the first book-size thing I ever wrote was for a girl. I'd met her in Venezuela, though she was from here, but she'd found a boyfriend by the time I got back. I eventually wrote her a book and mailed it to her chapter by chapter. Yes, it worked. We spent a few years together. It's a good story; we're still friends.
5. Claire Holden Rothman asks, "What draws you to fiction written by others? What are the ingredients of a good novel? What do you look for when you read?"
It's usually the premise that draws me in. If I'm curious about what the author will do with it, I'll read. I'll admit I also respond to good covers. Once I crack the cover, I like to be surprised — I'm really good at predicting plot points in books, movies, I often guess the dialogue. It ruins many stories for me. But more than anything I want to feel like the author thinks I'm a reasonably intelligent human being. I like to be pointed in the right direction, but the more the author lets me figure out on my own, the happier I am.
6. Jonathan Auxier asks, "If you could write an authorized sequel to someone else's book, what would it be?"
I love that question. I'm tempted to pick something like The Hunger Games just because it has great characters. I'd love to write an older Katniss dealing with more subtle things than survival. A Hunger Games without the games. A more practical choice would be a sequel to The Princess and the Pony. My son wants us to read it two or three times a week, so we're long overdue for some new Princess Pinecone adventures.
7. Sigal Samuel asks, "What are the trashiest guilty pleasures you enjoy (books, movies, TV shows) and is there any way in which they inspire your literary writing?"
I love movies, though I don't watch nearly as many as I once did and I do watch a fair amount of TV, but there's really nothing weird about what I watch. I'm catching up on Homeland now. The one thing I go crazy for is toys. I buy toys, lots of them, expensive ones. Nothing screams "BUY ME!" more than an action figure with a great human likeness. I'm turning my laundry room/workshop into a spaceship, and half the room is display cases for my toys. And yes, they do spark my imagination.
8. Roo Borson asks, "What would you like to do in writing that you haven't yet tried?"
Historical fiction. I love research and I know I'd have a blast exploring the past. I research the hell out of everything I put in my books, but I'd like to dig deeper, learn as much as I could about a different time in a different place. I have an idea, but I'm not sharing.