I answer Nineteen Questions

Did you guys remember that Tom Petty was in The Postman? As himself?

Did you guys remember that Tom Petty was in The Postman? As himself?

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.

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The Third Dead Kid Book: Progress Made!

The third Dead Kid Detective Agency book, in its raw form.

The third Dead Kid Detective Agency book, in its raw form.


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.

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CanLit Mount Rushmore

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.

I work four days a week at Book City, an independent bookstore chain in Toronto, and at our Bloor West store, the manager, Sarah, organized a display for Canada Day. The display features books by Canadian authors, but more interesting and off-the-beaten path of Canadian books than you might expect. Some of the lesser-known Canadian authors. Taking the subway home the other day, I had a strange idea: behind the display of those titles, a Mount Rushmore image featuring the four heads of some of the icons of Canadian Literature – Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, etc.
So, after midnight, momentarily stalled while writing, I decided to draw that CanLit Mount Rushmore. Deciding on the four writers to draw was difficult. What about Findley? Robertson Davies? Margaret Laurence? And even though they’re less iconic, what about authors like Austin Clarke? Rohinton Mistry? At the very least, maybe the exclusion of some authors will bring people into the store and start a debate of people’s ideal CanLit Mount Rushmore. Here’s hoping you see it in the window of Book City this weekend!


Sadly, the author of Stone Angel didn't get cast in stone.

Sadly, the author of Stone Angel didn’t get cast in stone.





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Open Book Tenure: A Wrap

poutine-brightMy writer-in-residency at Open Book Toronto just wrapped up this weekend, which means I’ll be posting on this site a lot more. That is, once I finish up the third Dead Kid Detective Agency book. (I’m so close I can taste it!)

If you missed the month of interviews I did at Open Book Toronto, you can find them all here. There were some great interviews with comics creators who came to Toronto for the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, there were some delicious (and filling) interviews over poutine with visiting authors and illustrators from other countries, and there were some enlightening (I thought) interviews with people who work some lesser-heralded publishing jobs. There was also an interview with the host of the #diversecanlit Twitter chats about diversity in Canadian books and publishing. So, if you have a moment, and the world of book publishing holds any interest for you, please check some of those interviews out.

And stay tuned to my personal website, as I’ll be posting here once again in no time.

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