Welcome to the third installment of the 3-part Christian McPherson series. Christian is the author of The Cube People, which I reviewed here and he graciously agreed to a Q&A follow-up with me after I completed the book. I also entered him in my Great Canadian Finds section – read his bio here.
1. How close is The Cube People to your real life? Is Colin MacDonald based on yourself? Would anyone you know recognize themselves in the story? If so, what was/would be their reaction?
There is a lot me in the character of Colin MacDonald. Like Colin, I went through fertility treatment with my wife and I too am a long serving civil servant. We both dreamt of becoming published writers, which we both became and both still work for the government. None of the characters in the book are based on anyone specific but are rather composites of different people. Some people think they know who the characters are but I keep telling them, it’s all fiction.
2. As a public servant, what was the response to the book and its depiction of the government from your co-workers and managers? Any backlash at all?
Really supportive actually. From both my co-workers and upper management, they have all been really kind. I can’t think of anything bad that has happened yet. Most government workers seem to get a kick out of it.
3. You base the story in the Ottawa area, but you fictionalize certain places/titles and not others. What was your reason for doing so?
I fictionalized my work because I wanted to have a job to go back to. I thought if I didn’t fictionalize my work it would be a conflict of interest. So all the work stuff turned into fiction, but I wanted the novel to be still set in Ottawa. There aren’t a lot of books set here and I love the city, so I wanted to do it justice. I toyed with the idea of setting it in a fictional city or in Toronto, but Ottawa kept calling to me and I’m happy I set it there.
4. What was your process in writing The Cube People ? (i.e., Did you follow a writing guide, how long did it take, finding reviewers, etc.)
The idea took form over the course of a few years. I knew I wanted to write a story within a story and I also wanted to write about cubicle culture. Once I figured out how I was going to do that, it was easy. I’m kidding, it wasn’t easy. I’m a very planned writer when it comes to short stories and, as it turns out, novels. I work out the plot chapter by chapter in one line summaries: Chapter one is about this, Chapter two is about that, etc. Once I had laid out the book, I just banged it out, never worried where I was going because I knew. I did make a few course adjustments along the way, but for the most part I stuck to my outline. I wrote the most of it in two chunks when I took a leave from my job. The first one was a five week leave and the other one was just over two months. I put in seven and half hour days and typed like a crazy person while I was on these leaves from work. After it was done, I spent a great deal of time editing it. So it was written over two years, little bit by bit. About four to five months if you add up all the time.
5. Once you had finished your novel, how long before it was actually published and how did you choose/find your publisher?
I actually tried to get an agent but didn’t have any luck, so I sent my manuscript to Nightwood Editions, the publishing house who did my first book of short stories, “Six Ways to Sunday.” They had it for about six months before they said yes. It was another six to eight months after that before the actual book came out. So about a year after, which is typical, I think. I’ve received rejection letters for my books that took over a year to get. Publishing is a slow business.
6. Did you experience as much rejection from the writing community as your lead character Colin MacDonald did? If so, what are your tips for dealing with it?
Yeah, with my first book of short stories, I had tons of rejections. I must have mailed out to at least thirty publishers. A few said yes and I went with Nightwood. My advice, grow a thick skin and keep trying. Oh, and be very patient. It’s a slow business. Your manuscript can languish in a pile for months, if not years before a warm body gets to it, only to send you a form rejection letter.
7. In The Cube People, Colin MacDonald enjoys writing Science Fiction and Horror stories. Do you connect yourself as a writer with a particular genre? Are there certain writers you’ve drawn inspiration from?
I’ve never read a whole lot of science fiction, although I’ve watched a ton of science fiction films. I’ve read Kurt Vonnegut, some Ray Bradbury and a little Stephen King, but mostly I stick to literary fiction or popular fiction such as Elmore Leonard or Carl Hiaasen. Some of my favourite books I’ve read in recent memory are “Lullabies for Little Criminals” by Heather O’Neil, “The Pugilist at Rest,” by Thom Jones, and “Play the Monster Blind” by Lynn Coady. In terms of poetry, Charles Bukowski is my favourite. I also love Al Purdy, Irving Layton, and Richard Brautigan.
8. It has been highlighted in the media that you’ve taken a leave from your government job to focus on your writing. What does your typical day consist of now (in terms of writing, marketing)? Have you found the time off beneficial for your writing career? What is your next novel about?
Well, I also took time to look after my four year son. He goes to daycare two days a week and school every afternoon. So I only have two days a week to write full time and two hours on the three other days. Two hours goes by in a blink. On my full days, I just stick to my outline and type what it is that I’m supposed to be doing. What can I say, I’m organized. It has been great being off. I’ve done tons of promoting, book signings, and e-mailing that I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise. My next novel is a sequel to “The Cube People” with the working title “Cube Squared.” Colin goes through more mid-life crisis. His father dies, he gets promoted at work and he gets an agent for the next book he is writing which is a vampire-zombie novel. There is tons of funny stuff going to happen to poor Colin. At least I hope people find it funny.
9. In the novel, Sarah tells Colin when he is considering keeping the money given to him by Peter Cann, that “good writers will find the time to write” what are your thoughts on this idea? Is it better to be able to focus fully on your craft, or do bursts of inspiration work best for you?
If I had the opportunity to steal three hundred thousand, I would be taking the money. You have to write when you can. I’ve been extremely lucky to have been able to have a year off from work. To be able to work full time on something is definitely better than trying to do it in small bursts. If I could write full time, I would. Reality is that there are bills to pay and I’ve still not written a bestseller. So I do what I can and will continue to do so.
10. You were given financial support by the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts to write The Cube People, was it hard to obtain this financial support and what was the process?
The Ontario Arts Council gave me money through their Writers’ Reserve program. It is a painfully long application process which you need to do multiple times. I’m not sure if I will ever apply again. The Canada Council grant on the other hand was easy to do, and you can even fill out the application online. I know lots of writers who haven’t received funding, so I feel very lucky to have gotten a grant from them. I feel that getting a grant is a little bit like winning the lottery. It’s all so subjective. I wouldn’t want to sit and judge someone else’s work, especially when serious money is on the line.
Thank you to Christian McPherson for his time. Hope you enjoyed this series 🙂
INTERESTED IN THE CUBE PEOPLE? GET IT HERE.