Ten Questions (Trillium Finalists Series) with Charles Wilkins

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Ten Questions (Trillium Finalists Series) with Charles Wilkins

Charles Wilkins's memoir, In the Land of Long Fingernails (Penguin Group Canada, 2008), has been nominated for the 2009 Trillium Book Award. He is the author of eleven books, including The Circus at the Edge of the Earth, which was shortlisted for the Rogers/Viacom Non-Fiction Prize, the bestselling Paddle to the Amazon and A Wilderness Called Home: Dispatches from the Wild Heart of Canada.

Enter Open Book's June contest to win an Ontario Authors Prizepack that includes the nine English-language Trillium-nominated books.

OBT:

First, a huge congrats on being a Finalist for the 22nd Annual Trillium Book Awards! Could you tell us about your nominated book, In the Land of Long Fingernails?

CW:

The book is a slightly twisted (and I’m told kinda funny) memoir about a summer I spent working in a big ugly corporate cemetery in the east end of Toronto in 1969 when I was at U of T... about all the dreamers and misfits and addicts who worked in the place... a little sex and soul here and there... and of course the bizarre goings on... really some pretty wild stuff, much of it illegal... and about my own part in it all.

OBT:

Did you have a specific readership in mind when you wrote In the Land of Long Fingernails?

CW:

No, I just wanted to tell the tale. I knew it was a good one and that it would locate its own readers.

OBT:

What were you doing when you received news of your Trillium nomination?

CW:

I was having a three-way with Jean Harlow and Marilyn Monroe.

OBT:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

CW:

It’s more about the interior of the skull than the quality of the light or latte. No debts would be nice.... Then again, I’ve always figured if I were a billionaire I’d probably never write a thing. I do like a good chair.

OBT:

What was your first publication?

CW:

It was a short story that Howard Engel bought for CBC Anthology in about 1978. I’d been trying so damn hard to be a writer in the shadow of my parents’ skepticism. And finally I had this sale and a national audience, and, dammit, I couldn’t even tell them, because they were strict Baptists, and the story had a little sex scene in it that I couldn’t stand the thought of my mother hearing.

OBT:

If you had to choose three books as a “Welcome to Ontario” gift, what would those books be?

CW:

Because I’m a northerner (sort of a fake one, in that I was born in Toronto) I’d give Joe Fiorito’s novel, The Song Beneath the Ice; and Jake MacDonald’s Houseboat Chronicles about life in the wilds of northwestern Ontario; and poet Mary Frost’s wonderful book, STRAIGHTLINES.

OBT:

What are you reading right now?

CW:

The Ravine by Paul Quarrington and Robert Lannon’s novel, The Return of the Family Idiot, based on his illegal incarceration in the Lakehead Psychiatric Hospital.

OBT:

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received as a writer?

CW:

Leave out the boring parts.

OBT:

What is your next project?

CW:

Philosophically, to be more honest, more personal and more adventurous in my writing... to take more risks. In terms of the work, I have a novel half finished about my family’s catastrophic dealings with the very rich, for whom they made luxury pleasure boats in Muskoka decades ago. And I’d like to write a creepy little memoir about growing up in the strangest, most tortured town in Canada, Deep River, Ontario.

OBT:

What advice do you have for writers who are trying to get published?

CW:

Write something so blazingly good that no agent or editor will be able to put it down. Either that or start a publishing house.



Read more about In the Land of Long Fingernails at the Penguin Canada website.

For more information on the Trillium Book Award, go to the Ontario Media Development Corporation's website.

3 comments

The author is honest and inspiring. This is especially true when he talks about his beginning writings and his parents. casino online

Charles reading at the Trillium event was awesome - and I was one of those people who ran straight for the book. My boyfriend has a reading disability, and I have been helping him learn how to read. He is on his eighth novel now, over a two and a half year period. I am so proud of him. I think this memoir will be a nice change for him - and a new challenge!

Great interview! I especially like the tidbit about not telling his parents when he sold his first publication. My parents love me and, in general, support me. But they hate risk, so any time they seem me adding risk to my life, or making a choice they consider to be risky, the skepticism comes out. Glad Charles battled through that. I'm still working on figuring that out!

Just a note to say I though Charles' reading at the Trillium event was incredible. I know so many people that ran to get his book right afterward.

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