“As I grew more and more aware of the way social media can really amplify public gaffes, I began to see a comic story emerge about how a situation could really put this marriage on the ropes” | Q&A with writer Mark Sampson on his new novel “The Slip”

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I don’t think I am alone in stating that the world that is now enveloping us feels a bit too fast-paced and artificial. So it may be time to take a step back and look what that realm is truly like. Writer Mark Sampson has given us a starting point for us readers for pondering and discussing our actions in the era of super-hyped-up mass media in his latest novel The Slip. Sampson was kind enough to answer a few questions for me about the new book.

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1) First off, could you give a bit of an outline of The Slip?

Sure. The novel is about a fictitious University of Toronto philosophy professor and public intellectual named Philip Sharpe who appears in a nationally televised debate with one of his fiercest rivals, a right-wing newspaper columnist named Cheryl Sneed. In the heat of the debate, Philip ends us saying something wildly inappropriate to her as a woman, which gets captured on live TV. His “slip” quickly goes viral on social media, and the fallout becomes a kind of catalyst to expose all the cracks and problems in Philip’s marriage to his much younger, stay-at-home feminist wife, Grace.

There is a somewhat off-kilter constraint on the story that complicates Philip’s situation. He actually says two inappropriate things during the TV debate – the sexist dig at Sneed, but also an earlier comment that is philosophically inconsistent with the beliefs and ideas which Philip has built his entire reputation on as an intellectual. Ever the “absent-minded professor,” Philip spends a large chunk of the novel thinking that the world is in a rage at him over the earlier remarks rather than his misogynous comment at Sneed. It’s a 200+-page obliviousness that is (at least I hope) played for comic effect; but I hope it also points to some heavier ideas about how our words can sometimes cause harm without us realizing it.    

2) Am I correct in assuming that this book is a bit of departure from your previous writing? If yes, how so? Was there anything specific that made you write this book?

It’s a departure insofar that The Slip is a straight-up comic novel in the tradition of, say, P.G. Wodehouse or Evelyn Waugh or Kingsley Amis. It doesn’t have the darker, heavier tones of my previous novel, Sad Peninsula, which was about (among other things) the legacy of sexual violence enacted against Korean girls and young women during World War Two. Still, I think The Slip does touch on some serious matters. It’s about gender dynamics; it’s about the division of labour in a modern-day marriage; it’s about the double-edged sword of social media; it’s a gentle ribbing of academic culture and media culture and Sunday brunch culture of well-off urban yuppies. I like to think that the novel casts a fairly wide satirical net.   

 

3) I know we have talked about The Slip in our last Q&A but how long did it take to write this book? Is there anything you are hoping this book will accomplish?

The characters of Philip and Grace, and their problematic marriage, have been rattling around in my head since at least 2007 or 2008. As I grew more and more aware of the way social media can really amplify public gaffes, I began to see a comic story emerge about how a situation could really put this marriage on the ropes. Once I committed to actually nutting out what happens and sitting down to write it, the book took about two years to complete.  

4) Is there a book/reading tour scheduled for The Slip? If yes, are there any events you are looking forward to participating?

 

Still very much (To Be Discussed) at this point. I do have the Toronto launch booked for the evening of May 31 at Ben McNally Books (come on out, Torontonians, if you’re reading this (Link to the Facebook page for this event)) and one other event planned for my hometown of Charlottetown. Hopefully other events will materialize in the near future.

5) Are you working on any new writing right now or are you taking a break for a bit?

 

Yes, I just finished a very rough first draft of a new book, a kind of a parody of a post-apocalyptic novel. It’s about overpopulation, set in an alternate version of Toronto where the subways are always packed and everyone lives in tiny, overpriced condos. Horrifying, terrifying stuff. I’ve also been working on a new poetry manuscript, as well as a lot of literary criticism. I don’t tend to take too many breaks from writing. I have so many ideas and a finite number of years to get them all out.

 

6) Many of the followers of my blog mention to me that they enjoy interacting with writers over social media. You hinted in the last Q&A you did with me that “The Slip” deals a bit with the darker side of social media but you also mentioned that things like Facebook and Twitter play only a small part in your writing. Do you still believe that?

 

Yes, absolutely – probably more so. There is no doubt that social media has its dark side, with the capacity to bring out the very worst in some people. Can we deny that this is the case, here in this Trumpian age?

7) I am curious about the dynamic that you and writer Rebecca Rosenblum have? I see that you both often post reviews/interviews of each other’s work on social media, but do you both read/discuss/critique each other’s work as well?

 

Indeed. For your readers who don’t know, Rebecca Rosenblum is my wife. (Link to my Q&A with Rebecca Rosenblum  –“(W)e have the privilege of listening to the worst crimes on the news for twenty minutes, then shutting it off and thinking about getting new shoes or what to make for dinner for the next hour. But shouldn’t fiction go deeper, explore the hard parts?” We do take a lot of pride in sharing around each other’s good news on various social media channels. We do read a lot of each other’s work in draft and offer feedback and support whenever we can. It’s pretty great, actually, to have a smart, talented fellow writer living under the same roof to offer a critique on something I’m writing. Sometimes what we can offer each other is a thorough, engaging edit on a story. And sometimes what we can offer is simply the most important thing any author can hear during the writing process: Keep going!    

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Link to Dundurn Press’ website for “The Slip”

Link to Mark Sampson’s Blogger site “Free Range Reading”

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