13 June 2012

Q & A with Wayne Arthurson

Wayne Arthurson is an aboriginal writer from Edmonton, Alberta. He has worked for newspapers, magazines, advertising companies, and as a freelance writer and ghostwriter. His first crime novel Fall From Grace was published in 2011, and the sequel, A Killing Winter, in Spring 2012. I first met Wayne at Left Coast Crime (2011) in Santa Fe. He's from my hometown, and his books are set there, so of course I had to read them. He graciously answered some questions
for me.

M: Leo is a journalist, as you once were. How difficult is it for you to put yourself in the shoes of a present-day newspaper writer? I’m sure procedures and techniques have changed a lot with technology, even in the past few years.

W: The technological changes have been incredible but the whole industry is completely different and continual flux. No one’s really sure if there will be newspapers, at least the way they used to be, in the next decade. But I have plenty of friends who still work in the industry who not only fill me in on the technical details, such as what app a reporter uses to uploads video but how it feels to work in an industry that seems to be dying.

M: Your novels are set in the relatively unknown (outside of Canada) northern city of Edmonton. I know you had trouble with Canadian publishers due to the setting; why didn’t you change it?

W: Writers should never change something as important as the setting to please a publisher, an editor, an agent or any other outside source. The setting of my Leo Desroches novels is integral to the story. The city of Edmonton, although unknown outside of Canada is such a unique place in geography, climate, socio-economics, etc., that changing it to someplace more known like Toronto, Vancouver, or even Calgary which is just down the road, wouldn’t ring true. And I live in Edmonton and know it so well, there’s no way I could set my novel is another city without it seeming false.

M: I haven’t lived in Edmonton for some time, so I can’t tell how accurate the geography in the book is. As an Edmonton resident, did you go with reality, or did you make anything up? Has anyone commented on it?

W: Because Edmonton is a relatively young city and goes through booms and bust because of the oil and gas industry, things change very fast. For example, there’s a bar in my second novel, A Killing Winter, which hadn’t changed for decades. But after I finished the novel, they knocked it down to build highrise condos. I still kept the bar in the story. I’ve also made some minor changes in the book that are different from the actual city because I really didn’t want people to say something like ‘Oh that’s exact bank where Leo did this” or “that’s the industrial zone where he almost froze to death.” At the same time I wanted to be true to the city and there are many landmarks and neighbourhoods in the novel which are just the way they are in real life. A few folks have complained when I’ve made changes, saying I’ve got it wrong but when I explain why, they understand.

M: Obviously, a hero needs to have flaws. How did you decide on Leo’s particular issues?

W: Since Leo is based on one of my former editors who had a serious gambling problem, that’s one reason why I chose Leo’s addiction. And then that just expanded into other types of risk-taking, most of I made up as I writing the novel. I don’t plan too much in advance so many surprising things happen when I’m writing.

M: How has your life changed since FALL FROM GRACE was published?

W: Overall my life hasn’t changed that much; I still live in the same house with my wife and daughter in the same neighbourhood and pretty much pay the same bills. Nobody recognizes me as the writer of the Leo Desroches novels unless I’m at a literary event. And even then that sometimes doesn’t happen. I still work as a freelance writer while I work on novels and it’s a bit easier to get freelance work (a few people even contact me instead of the other way around). I can also charge more for it. Sometimes people listen to me when I talk about the life of a writer. But the best part is that I once and awhile I get invited to festivals or go to conferences and sit on panels with great writers like Ian Rankin, Denise Mina, Martin Cruz and others. That’s cool.

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