Within the past month, I turned thirty-four, which isn’t a huge milestone, in the grand scheme of things. But I also noticed that a lot of other men have been turning thirty-four. Just days after my birthday, J.K. Rowling released a new story (well, fictional gossip column) about Harry Potter on the cusp of his thirty-fourth birthday. The Hogwarts celebrity was spotted at the Quidditch World Cup and Rita Skeeter wrote a column to catch readers up on Mr. Potter and friends in their adulthood. Then just last week, I saw the new Bong Joon-hoo movie, Snowpiercer, in which the only survivors of a global catastrophe live in a long, perpetually moving train. The protagonist, Curtis Everett (played by dreamboat Chris Evans), says he’d spent seventeen years of his life before getting on the train, and seventeen inside the train. (With my math skills, I was able to establish, he, too was thirty-four.) So, as a way of assessing my own life, I thought I’d compare myself to two other men – Harry Potter and Curtis Everett – at thirty-four. I mean, maybe I’m not a famous wizard, but at least I haven’t spent half my life on a train. Many spoilers lie ahead. You’ve been forewarned.
|Curtis Everett||Harry Potter||Evan Munday|
|Looks Like||Down-on-his-luck Captain America.||Distinguished older Daniel Radcliffe.||Bald Jim Nabors.|
|Job||Squalor cultivator? (It’s not clear, but whatever he does certainly gets a lot of dirt under his fingernails.)||Plum government job as an Auror at the Ministry of Magic.||Part-time bookseller, part-time author, part-time publishing freelancer.|
|Location||The Snowpiercer train, which travels around the world in a big loop. (So, he’s done, like, way more travelling than I have.)||England, but the magical part of England.||Toronto.|
|Hair||He wears a hat for most of the movie, but has a pretty killer beard.||Full head of hair, but with streaks of silver. Probably as the result of some traumatic childhood events.||N/A|
|Relationship status||Single, though I was shipping him and Edgar (Jamie Bell) pretty hard. (Which would be weird, given the final revelations in the movie.)||Married to high school girlfriend Ginny Weasley with kids named after his dad and his principal, basically.||Briefly engaged, recently single. (Though if I had kids, I wouldn’t name them after my dad and high school principal, as I don’t really like the name ‘Tony,’ and my high school principal was charged with accepting illegal campaign donations when he was Mayor of Hamilton.)|
|Most-consumed Food||Mostly ground-up insects formed into protein bars.||I’m guessing lots of Yorkshire Pudding and Cornish pasties and jauntily named British stuff like that. All washed down with Butterbeer, obvi.||Mostly pasta and breakfast cereal.|
|Social Status||Respected as a leader. People willing to risk their hand integrity for his safety.||They still call him ‘The Chosen One,’ and he’s still famous enough to cause a stampede at the Quidditch World Cup final.||At least ten people were at my last party, so …|
|Special Skills||Able to understand basic Korean. Pretty good with an axe.||About a billion magical spells.||Those seven months of hip-hop dance classes speak for themselves.|
|Water Under Bridges||Has a pretty good relationship with his mentor Gilliam, despite having maybe eaten his arm in the past.||Was recently seen embracing old rival Viktor Krum.||My nemesis has yet to reveal himself.|
|Murder Bidness||Has killed at least one unarmed woman and dozens of axe-wielding dudes. (But in that case, it was, like, a political action.)||Killed his fair share of Death Eaters.||I was once in the car when my mom accidentally ran over a dog.|
|Worst Advice Ever Received||‘Be a shoe.’||‘There is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it.’||‘Don’t walk around with your hands in your pockets. It looks like you’re playing with yourself.’|
|Has He Eaten A Baby?||You bet he has!||Not that we know of. (Though I’m sure he was tempted by that fetal Voldemort thing.)||No.|
So, at least I haven’t eaten a baby.
The other day, I was interviewed for the keen writerly website, Nineteen Questions. Nineteen Questions asks various writers how they became who they are. Kind of a play on the ‘Twenty Questions’ game, the site explores the career trajectories, challenges, and writing lives of writers. It’s a project of the University of British Columbia Creative Writing program, and the site has interviewed Joseph Boyden, Miriam Toews, and Hiromi Goto, among many others. Somehow, I snuck in there, too!
I think the main reason I snuck in there is UBC student and writer Aaron Chan. Here’s how he introduces me in the piece:
A few years ago, when I took a Children’s Lit class in college, The Dead Kid Detective Agency was the only book on the reading list written by a Canadian author. As the instructor told the class, “He’s not that much older than you guys, too.” Charmed by the snappy humour as well as the unabashed Canadiana of the novel and the sequel, Dial M for Morna, I had the opportunity to chat with Evan via email about his illustrating background, rejections, and The Postman.
(Ah, to ever be known as ‘not that much older than’ somebody. Those were the days. But what Chan humbly neglected to mention is that, as part of his study of The Dead Kid Detective Agency, Chan composed and recorded a score to the book. Check it out on YouTube here. It’s beautiful! (Chan is a composer, in addition to his writing talents.) You should read the full interview at Nineteen Questions, but here are a couple of my favourite parts:
The protagonist of The Dead Kid Detective Agency is a teenage goth girl with ghosts as friends. Based on the darker content, how difficult was it to get it accepted by a publisher, especially since the series is targeted to children? What challenges did you face in getting your manuscript published?
The fact that five of the characters are, in essence, murdered children, has never been an issue. Oddly. I think children’s books often trade in fairly dark subject matter, especially those that take the form of mystery. And they have for some time. So the morbid title of the book has never led to many conflicts with schools or parents or publishers. (Though it has led to some really depressing Google Alert results.)
More of a challenge to getting the manuscript published were the CanCon, the language, and the constant references to popular culture. I was surprised at how many Canadian publishers weren’t keen on the Canadian history angle of the book, probably because so much of the children’s publishing business is foreign rights sales, and the Canadian content would limit how far it could travel. The language I use is also fairly complex for the 9 to 12 set, and editors were worried my references to older popular culture would alienate or confuse younger readers. But ECW and I solved that issue with a handy glossary in the back that helps readers learn who Robert Smith and what The Craft is.
How do you stay inspired (and motivated) to write?
Everything I read (and to a lesser extent, everything I watch) inspires me. Any time I read a really excellent book or watch a really excellent movie, I’m inspired to just make something. In fact, it’s often the not-as-good books and movies that inspire me most. I distinctly remember watching the Kevin Costner movie The Postman in the theatre (full disclosure: I loved it) and being compelled to make some comics immediately afterward. I know that The Postman will never be recognized as a great film, but I was just so pumped after watching it. (Full disclosure, part II: I watched it three times in the theatre.) It inspired some really good teenaged comic books.
Read the full interview (and others) at Nineteen Questions.
Just after Canada Day (July 1), I handed in a draft of The Dead Kid Detective Agency #3 (tentatively titled Loyalist to a Fault) to the fine people at ECW Press. Or, more specifically, to my editor, Erin Creasey. This book was harder to write than the first two … well, the second one, at least. Instead of a sophomore jinx, I’ve had a junior jinx. But it’s out of my hands for the moment, and now I just wait and worry that it’s completely terrible. (This is very possible.) While working on my final round of edits before submitting it, I wavered between completely despising the book and its author (myself), and thinking it was actually not that bad. I think this is normal for most authors.
The third book is all about Cyril Cooper, the oldest dead friend of October Schwartz and member of a Loyalist family. But it also involves a fair bit of world-building and the continued building of an overarching mystery that, in theory, will snake through the entire Dead Kid Detective Agency series. Some alternate titles I’m considering include United Empire State of Mind, and Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper. You can see from the photo that I write all my books in longhand first, then transcribe them to text file. It’s a laborious process, but I find it helps. And in the transcription, I get a better overview of things and see where continuity problems lie, where I’ve repeated phrases or imagery, where plot threads get dropped, etc. My transcription is really the first edit. And writing the first draft by hand ensures (a) I can do it wherever – the library, the subway, a park, and (b) I don’t get too easily distracted by Twitter or any number of other enticing things on the Internet. I’m just hoping that Erin and I can hammer a halfway decent second sequel out of the fairly raw material I sent in.
You’ll also notice I submitted my manuscript in a very attractive blue manuscript box, adorned with a skull I painted in white ink. Even if the third book is terrible, that’s gotta’ count for something.
I’ve been neglecting this blog as I head into the final laps of writing the third Dead Kid Detective Agency adventure, but I took a quick break from writing to clear my head last night.