The beauty of doing this blog is that it helps me keep track of writers I enjoy. And there are a lot of them whom I have enjoyed reading but whose recent works I haven’t been aware of. (And I will spare you all the lament of me being trapped in suburbia or news about books not being accessible as they once were. ) When I saw that Robert Hough was doing a series of discussion on his book, The Man Who Saved Henry Morgan, I thought “Great, he has a new work out.” Hough promptly corrected my error and informed me about a few other developments in his life as you can read in the following Q&A.
1) First off, can you give an outline of The Man Who Saved Henry Morgan?
A two-bit, low-life, illiterate board game hustler forms an unlikely friendship with a marauding sea captain. Fireworks ensue.
2) Could you also give an outline of Diego’s Crossing? Was writing a novel for young adults different than novels for adults? What inspired your to write Diego’s Crossing?
A seventeen-year-old living in Northern Mexico is forced to smuggle drugs into the United States when his gangster brother is injured in an automobile crash. As for the inspiration, I was approached by a guy named Rick Wilks, who runs a YA press called Annick Press. He’d read my fourth novel, a Mexican tale called Dr. Brinkley’s Tower, and told me that he’d always wanted to do a YA novel that took place amongst the drug wars of Northern Mexico. Up for anything, I agreed, and found it pretty much like writing a novel for adults, albeit with less swearing. That being said, I was surprised what Annick let me get away with: Diego’s Crossing is scary as shit!
3) Your website states this is your fifth novel (including one novel for young adults) Has your writing changed much since you were first published? If yes, how so?
Actually, Henry Morgan is my fifth novel excluding my YA book. (Ie I’ve done six in total). I wouldn’t say my writing has changed that much. Right out of the gate, with The Final Confession of Mabel Stark, I started writing bawdy, picaresque, funny novels that are full of outlandish characters and absurd settings, but that slowly reveal a more sober reality as the novel progresses. (My second novel, The Stowaway, and Diego’s Crossing have been exceptions to the rule.) Which is not to say I found my voice right off the bat: the world doesn’t know about my fiction that was appropriately rejected before Random House took on Mabel Stark. Very few people get their first novels published, and I think it’s rarely helpful if they do.
4) Who are you favourites writers at the moment? What are you reading right now?
I’m often asked that, and usually I freeze up, so I finally made a list of my five favourite novels. In no particular order, they are: The Thought Gang by Tibor Fischer, Memoir from Ant-Proof Case by Mark Helprin, Gould’s Book of Fish by Richard Flanagan, A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz and The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureshi. I just finished reading The Book of Dave by Will Self, which I loved. Recently, I discovered that Irvine Welsh had written a sequel to Trainspotting called Porno, which I’m now just getting into: I’ll read anything with the characters Rent, Sick Boy, Spud and Begbie!
5) Do you have much of a book tour planned for The Man Who Saved Henry Morgan? If yes, are there dates/events that you are excited to be partaking in? Are public readings something that you enjoy doing?
Henry Morgan actually came out a year ago, so a lot of the publicity was done then. That being said, I have a gig in Ottawa on the 13th and one in Toronto on the 17th. (Link for the Toronto gig here) I hardly ever, ever read from my work, as I find literary readings dull. Instead, I usually talk about something, which people seem to prefer. A lot of the event organizers have come to the same conclusion, by the way: these days you’re often told that you’re not allowed to read…
6) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?
There are three questions that authors hate to answer: “Do you make a living?”, “Where do you get your ideas?” and “Are you working on anything?” You see, when you write a novel, for 90 percent of the process it’s not working. It’s only at the very end, when you get a magical synthesis of plot, character, tone and theme that it begins to sound like a real novel. So when you ask a writer what he’s working on, he or she immediately translates the question into, “hey, let’s talk about that huge thing you’re failing at, okay?”
7) You seem to have a bit of presence on both Facebook and Twitter. How do you like using those platforms? Does being on social-media sites like those help or hinder or writing at all?
Ha! A ‘bit’ being the operative word! I know of writers who spend all day on Facebook and Twitter; I’ve made, like, three tweets all year. I honestly don’t think social media helps that much. Yet I do think it’ll hurt you if you DON’T do it, if that makes any sense.
-7a) You have on your profile pictures what appears to be Igor from the television show
Hilarious House of Frankenstein. For many of us that was a iconic show from our childhoods. Was that for you too?
I always put up dummy avatars as well as phony information: for example, I didn’t attend the University of Ouagadougou, as my FB profile states. It’s my own little rebellion against the narcissism fostered by social media.
8) Your biographies have you listed as living in Toronto right now. How do you like living there? Does it’s cultural scene inspire you with your writing at all?
I’m a life-long Torontonian, more or less (I spent some time in the suburbs when I was young). It’s not so much Toronto I like, but I do need a big city. Writing is so completely isolating and lonely that I need to be able to step into a crowded street when I step away from my computer. I really don’t understand writers who need a quiet farmhouse or forest cabin to work in: I’d get so absorbed in my work it would drive me out of my mind.