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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

DAY OF THE DOCTOROW, PART II

Continued from yesterday-- Doctorow on inspiration, autobiography, and the strangeness of families...

Hamlet Linden: Some members of the Book Club wonder what inspired Someone Comes to Town. Actually, they wonder what kind of drugs you were on when you came up with it, but I'm guessing they're looking for tips beyond the pharmaceutical kind.

Cory Doctorow: Heh. As befits drugs, I'm pretty dull. I'm a near-teetotaller, I've given up narcotics of all kind, I eschew caffeine, and don't even partake of carbs. However, I am generally massively sleep-deprived and I have a pathological need to be connected to the Internet nearly always.

As to what inspired it, I dunno -- nothing and everything. Writing is how I figure out what's going on in my own head. I started SCTTSLT in a hotel during an Xmas holiday weekend a couple years back. Wrote 10,000 words all in one gulp. Then worked on it for 6 months, took some time off and went back to it. Got right up to the ending and realized I wasn't going to be able to finish it the way I'd planned. So I thought up a different ending and wrote it, thinking I'd have to go back and rewrite the whole book to make the ending work. And when I went back, I discovered that I'd foreshadowed the "new" ending on the very first page, written two years before, in one gush in a hotel-room. It had been there all along, but it had taken me years to find that out.

HL: Related to that, [book club member] Crackorphan Shortbread wonders what autobiographical elements helped spawned the novel.

CD: Well, there are several. I had many friends who lived in group houses in Kensington Market. And my pal Darren Atkinson is a career dumpster diver who really does get all kinds of amazing crap out of suburban Toronto dumpsters.

I had a terrible experience with the WiFi in Geneva [like a Someone character did.]

And my grandfather had nine brothers. I only knew a few of them, and once, one came to visit from Russia, and he really did look like he could nest inside my grandfather like a Matrioshka. He had lost an arm fighting with the partisan guerrillas in Poland. But apart from that, he was basically an XL to my grandfather's XXL.

HL: [Club member] Sean Gorham asks, "What's the deal with the whole 'son of a mountain and a washing machine' bit? Maybe I'm missing something obvious."

CD: It's just a way of making the story more and less real. It sets out a story that is at once absurd and fraught with peril. Plus it's cool.

HL [laughs]: It had meaning to me at the point when the hero is asked by his girlfriend to meet his family, and he's like, "Uh, well, my family is very strange." But then, we all feel that way, even if our dad isn't a mountain etc.

CD: Well sure -- I have a huge, brawling, happy, bizarre family myself. Both of my grandfathers had nine siblings who lived to adulthood. I have a great uncle who committed murder in Palestine and fled to Uruguay and founded a branch of the family in Montevideo that we've had no contact with for decades. My mother's dad grew up in a notoriously toxic part of Toronto and she and her siblings and cousins have all these weird congenital illnesses. And my grandfathers' siblings have these bizarre 1930s Yiddish nicknames that make them sound like the Marx Brothers: Nutsy, Voomy, Schmool.

HL: To me it captures that feeling of loving your family but feeling for certain the outside world will never understand it the way you do.

CD: Yeah, that's for certain. There's enough second and third marriages and so forth in my family that I don't even know which people at the weddings are actually related to me. I usually grab someone who's new to the bunch and drag them around and say, "This is my friend ________" and wait for the possibly-relative to say, "Oh, I'm Cory's third cousin's wife."

Continued tomorrow...

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