Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Wayne Arthurson on naming his murder victims after his friends

The author of The Traitors of Camp 133 answers eight questions submitted by eight other authors.
Wayne Arthurson is the author of the novel The Traitors of Camp 133. (Shawna Lemay)

Like the title character in his bestselling Leo Desroches mysteries, Wayne Arthurson is the Alberta-born son of Cree and French-Canadian parents. Unlike that character... well, he'll explain that in a minute. Arthurson's latest novel, The Traitors of Camp 133, is the first in a series set in POW camps in southern Alberta during the Second World War.

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

1. Brian Brett asks, "Do you write detail, or are you more interested in the big picture?

The answer is both, because as a novelist of course I'm looking at the big picture of the book. But novels are also filled with lots and lots of details, and to ensure my novel fulfills that big-picture idea that I had in my brain before I started, I have to spend a lot of time on the details.

2. Will Ferguson asks, "How much thought/meaning do you put into the naming of your characters?"

In my new novel, The Traitors of Camp 133, researching the names for German soldiers in a Canadian POW camp took a lot of effort. A lot of effort. So did ensuring the spelling of these German names was correct every time they appeared in the book. In my other books, sometimes I use the names of real people, friends, etc., especially as murder victims. And you'd be surprised how excited people get when you do this, when you give a dead body their name.

3. Louise Penny asks, "What do you know now that you wish you'd know when writing your first book?"

That I can choose to ignore any advice someone's given me about my manuscript, no matter how many books they've written or what position they have in a publishing company or agency; that my gut instinct for what makes my story solid should not be ignored.

4. Russell Wangersky asks, "Have you ever had an appearance/festival event/book club visit/book store signing go horrendously, horrendously wrong? What happened (but no names)?"

Years ago I set up a signing at a local "chapter" of a major Canadian bookstore chain. Booked it a month in advance, did some promo, shaved, put on a shirt with a collar and showed up on the day only to discover that the store had forgotten all about me and booked another more well-known writer into my slot. They made it up to me with apologies and some promo for the next event, but it still hurts.

5. Linden MacIntyre asks, "Once upon a time there was fevered discussion about "The Great Canadian Novel." Is there a future for a "Canadian" novel, period? Or must works of fiction from this country transcend Canadian themes and experience in order to attract international attention?"

Maybe certain circles had that fevered discussion, but I never hung out in those circles. But I really don't think about this kind of stuff, especially when I'm writing a book. International attention for Canadian novels, is my novel Canadian enough or not, marketing, audiences, pleasing fans — none of that comes to mind when I'm writing because the only person I'm looking to please is myself.

6. Erín Moure asks, "Do you like winter?"

I live in Edmonton, 'nuff said.

7. Kate Pullinger asks, "How many books — fiction or nonfiction — have you written that feature yourself as a thinly disguised character?"

None. Although I bet others will argue with that. But I really get a kick out of how people sometimes confuse Leo Desroches from my first crime series with me. Probably because it's written in first person. Once I was interviewed by a TV reporter and her first question was "How did you get your life back together?" I was confused at first but then realized that she believed that I was a former homeless gambling addict, like Leo. I quietly reminded her I wasn't, but gave her credit for actually reading the book.

8. Gail Anderson-Dargatz asks, "Where do your best ideas find you? Shower, walk, kitchen sink, café, driving down the road?" 

Like Pokémon GO characters, ideas are everywhere and come to me anywhere, usually when I'm not expecting it. Walking is a great way to find ways out of those times you've written yourself into a corner. But some of my best ideas, especially when it comes to unexpected plot developments in my books, come when I'm sitting down and actually writing the damn thing.

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