Sometimes you just get lucky: that’s how I feel about: a) discovering Evan was a Waterloo English grad; and b) him agreeing to be the first interview of 2014. Enjoy! –JLH
JLH: What made you decide on Waterloo? Had you already started writing then?
EM: Waterloo really fulfilled my need to marry creative efforts with serious practical-mindedness. The university’s rhetoric and professional writing program was what sold me on the school. My main goal at the time was to become a better writer (still is), and the RPW program seemed to promise that, with the bonus real possibility of finding a job in writing (whether that be speech writing or technical writing). But once I arrived and saw students studying and LARPing on the weekend as frequently as they hit the bar or club, I felt like I’d made a wise choice.
At the time, I was writing, but mostly comic books and comic strips. I did a comic strip for the Imprint for several years about a time-travelling man and his monkey.
JLH: You’re the author of the children’s book series, The Dead Kid Detective Agency, published by ECW Press. What is it about detective fiction for children that appeals to you? And why do you think it appeals to them? (Full disclosure: my five-year-old is currently hooked on a 1930s detective series.)
EM: I have no idea. I know it appealed to me as a child reader – I was constantly reading Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries or John Bellairs books – so that’s what appealed to me as a children’s writer. If I had to guess or attempt to psychoanalyze, I’d say it has something to do with a younger person’s need for there to be a right answer or solution to everything. It’s very satisfying to know that a correct answer, whatever it is, will be reached by the detective by the end of the book. Whenever I hold mystery-writing workshops for children, they’re confounded by the idea that there is no ‘right answer’ to the mysteries they write. The solution is whatever they as the writers decide. To some kids, that’s like telling them they can make their own numerical system. But there’s also the limitless appeal (especially to voracious readers) of a protagonist who is able to win the day primarily through his or her smarts.
JLH: Your series is explicitly Canadian, with references to United Empire Loyalists and the Underground Railroad. And yet you’ve managed to evade the earnestness of some earlier children’s literature that takes up Canadian history. Can you talk a bit about that?
EM: One of the main goals of the Dead Kid Detective Agency series was to tackle Canadian history, but in a fairly irreverent way. More ‘Mr. Peabody and Sherman’ and less ‘Heritage Minute’ (though those are amusing in their own way). I’m a dual citizen and did most of my history learnin’ in the United States. One thing the U.S. does better than Canada is mythologize its history. U.S. history isn’t intrinsically more interesting than Canadian history; it’s just that Americans have packaged it better to themselves than Canada has (Heritage Minutes notwithstanding). So, in a very small way, The Dead Kid Detective Agency is an awkward attempt to add some razzle-dazzle to Canadian history. And the best (and maybe most Canadian) way I knew how to do that was to amp up the oddness and humour.
JLH: Do you find your undergraduate English experience manifests itself in your books? Is there any course or Waterloo experience that you find has really proven seminal?
EM: I had a lot of great instructors and took some amazing classes at the University of Waterloo, and everything I learned has found its way into the books. Strangely, my science-fiction film classes with Jan Uhde were just as important to the writing as my creative writing classes with Gary Draper. And one elective that keeps coming in handy (perhaps unsurprisingly) is the criminology course I took in second year.
JLH: Switching gears, you are also the publicist at Coach House. How did you end up in book publishing? Do you have advice for those who might wish to follow your lead?
EM: I was a book publicist long before I was a published author. Following my schooling at the University of Waterloo I immediately enrolled in the book and magazine publishing program at Toronto’s Centennial College, which led to an internship at Cormorant Books, which led to a job at the Literary Press Group of Canada, and then the publicity role at Coach House Books, where I’ve been for the past eight years. My advice to anyone interested in working in book publishing is two-fold. First, get involved in the industry before you start working in it – attend readings and book launches, participate in online discussions of books, participate in whatever way you can (and works best for you). Second, try to pick up some basic design expertise – learn InDesign or Quark and Photoshop. Those two things can put you at a real advantage when seeking work in book publishing.
JLH: Finally, what do you know now that you wish you had known right after graduating?
EM: I still haven’t learned, but I wish I’d known how to drive by the time I graduated. I still haven’t picked up this particular skill and I feel like it would have been really handy over the past ten or so years.
You can follow Evan at @idontlikemunday or his site, www.idontlikemundays.com