JUST THE FACTS
Born: Vancouver, May 8, 1974 Lives: In Vancouver with his wife and two daughters
First job: At a resort in Ontario. “It was like Dirty Dancing but without the dancing.”
First story he ever wrote: Involved Superman
Favourite writers: Vladimir Nabokov and Patrick Süskind
If he wasn’t a writer, he’d be: Stalking Catriona Le May Doan
JUST THE ANSWERS
FEATHERTALE: The Last Hiccup is about an eight-year-old Russian boy who can’t stop hiccuping. Where did this idea come from?
CHRISTOPHER MEADES: I read about a sixty-five-year-old man who had the hiccups for about ninety per cent of his life, and I thought it was the most interesting subject, but I didn’t want to focus on an adult. I thought, What if we could terrorize a small child with this and make it funny at the same time? And then somehow it ended up being in 1930s Russia.
FT: How would you describe the book in three words?
CM: Heroic, funny and heartfelt.
FT: What makes something funny to you?
CM: What makes me laugh is when something’s on the edge of being absurd but you still believe it. So you know, Monty Python did that really well. For a book, sketch comedy wouldn’t translate as well, so what I try to do is make these characters as believable as possible and then still throw in a narcoleptic nurse who pilfers her relatives’ glass figurines.
FT: I liked her.
CM: Oh, thank you.
FT: What was your biggest problem when you were eight?
CM: I have trouble remembering anything before age fifteen. Chris Rock, the comedian, says the music that you listen to when you first start to get laid is the music you will like for the rest of your life. I’m not saying I was getting laid at fifteen, but I felt like I came into myself. I remember bits and pieces of when I was three, and a few incidents when I got in big trouble in elementary school later on, but pretty much that big space is a blank.
FT: What did you get in trouble for?
CM: Me and my friend Paul were hanging out in the girls’ washroom trying to meet girls. We got in big trouble. But that was the best place to meet them, I thought.
FT: Did you have any luck before you got caught?
CM: No, we got sent home with a note that my mom had to sign. That was an awkward trip to the orthodontist when I had to break it to my mom that Mrs. Clarke found us hanging out in the girls’ bathroom trying to meet girls. And my mom’s passed on, she passed away about a year ago, but one of my favourite things about her was when I told her that, she just laughed and did not yell at me. She was that kind of mom.
FT: Is that where you got your sense of humour from?
CM: I think so. I have that middle-child syndrome so I think a lot of it came from that. You’re not the baby and you’re not the oldest, chosen one — you really have to use your sense of humour to defend yourself in the house a bit.
FT: Henrik, the protagonist of your first novel, appeared in The Feathertale Review a few times. Can you tell us what inspired the character?
CM: What inspires me in other people is when they’re striving to be something more than they already are. My wife’s an occupational therapist but she’s also a painter who’s had shows in which she sold paintings, not just to her friends but to strangers. I have a few friends who are really active in the business world, and they’re not just doing their 9-to-5 job but they’re trying to grow a company themselves. I have another friend, Bren Simmers, who’s a poet, and she just built her career out of nothing. She’s been in every single journal that you’ve ever read and she’s had a book of poetry published.
Henrik embodied wanting to be unique, wanting to be different, wanting to escape the 9-to-5 life. Roland (another character in The Three Fates of Henrik Nordmark) writes an email to his entire office when he thinks he wins the lottery that reads, “Dear heartless bastards, I’ve won the lottery, I’m rich as fuck and I hope you all rot in hell.” Which we’ve all wanted to do, right?
Not me particularly, and especially not in my new job.
FT: I wanted to ask you about that. You have a day job and you’re actually there right now. What do you do?
CM: I work for the hydro company in BC. I do mostly computer work and I’m more of a team lead. I got my English lit degree back in the late nineties and panicked and went and got a computers diploma because I needed some kind of job — any kind of job — where I wasn’t working for minimum wage. And now I work in an office and surprisingly it’s not so bad. Everybody’s really nice.
FT: When did you start writing seriously?
CM: I’d written a few novels after university, and then I’d kind of been thinking it’s all who you know and I might not be able to do this because everybody has an “in” except for me. And then one day outside of a SkyTrain station my wife yelled at me. She told me, “Listen, if you’re going to be serious about this, be serious about it, and if you’re not, just give it up. Because I believe in you and I think that you can do this.” I was pretty mad at her and then slowly it came to me that I just have to commit one hundred per cent to this. And for about three years all I could think about was getting a book deal. I like to say a writer without a book deal is like an unemployed guy without a girlfriend, only you’re broke and horny.
FT: So how did you get a book deal?
CM: I worked really hard on my manuscript. For the first book I did it as part of the three-day novel competition and I spent the next year after that expanding it and making it as good as it could possibly be. Then I sent it off to ECW (Press) and it was picked out of the slush. It was one out of two thousand, that’s pretty much your odds. Every time I talk to my editor I say, “Thank you for picking it out.” I signed a three-book deal so I have one more to go.
FT: What do you wish you’d known back when your wife yelled at you?
CM: My wife never yells at me. I think at first my stuff wasn’t ready to be sent out, and I was really upset at the rejection. I was trying to do something different than what you read in literary journals. But I’m in the current edition of The Fiddlehead right now, and I was in The Dalhousie Review last summer, with straight-up literary fiction, not funny stuff. I think it took me a while to tailor my work so I could still do it my way but meet the requirements of who would actually print it.
FT: What do you do on those days when you set aside time to write but it’s just not happening?
CM: I end up watching a zombie movie. I’m more of a binge writer. My wife will bake me thirty Smarties cookies or something; I don’t drink caffeine, I don’t drink alcohol, I just sit there and ingest sugar and write. I think some people can write every day but that doesn’t really work for me. When I do set aside that time to write ten thousand words in two days and it doesn’t come out, it’s very upsetting. You watch a zombie movie, you get over it and you try again the next day.
FT: Okay, last question. What do you do to get rid of the hiccups?
CM: What you should really do is drink three sodas and make yourself burp.