Frequently Asked Questions

And now award-winning Canadian author, Richard Scrimger, answers a few questions...

1) Where do you get your ideas?

Think of my head like a garage sale. Inside it is everything I have experienced myself – my past – and also everything I’ve seen and heard from other people – their past. I get ideas by going through the items for sale, and picking the interesting ones.

2) How would you contrast Immanuel Kant’s epistemological phenomenalism with the subjective idealism of George Berkeley? (I get this a lot, usually from a girl in the front row who introduces herself as Alicia.)

In Berkeley’s view, things do not exist except as subjectively perceived bundles of sensations. Kant posits the existence of noumena which are not knowable by experience.

3) Do you put yourself in your books?

All the time. Every single hero is a version of me. Even the girls and babies and old ladies.

3A) You’re an old lady?

I have an old lady inside of me. She’s goofy and puzzled and doesn’t always make sense, just like me. Writing lets you tell your story, which is fun, but it also lets you put yourself in someone who is not quite you, and that can be even more fun.

4) How tall are you?

I used to be five foot ten, but aging shrinks you. (I’m not 35 anymore either.) Also, I slouch a bit, so I might seem even shorter than that.

5) How much money do you make?

When you buy one of my books at a bookstore, I get 10%. The more books you buy, the richer I get. So far, I am not looking at any yachts for sale.

6) Are you always this funny?

No. Sometimes I’m that funny. Seriously, I can’t help looking at things from a slightly off-centre perspective. I believe there is humour in the strangest places. This belief has landed me in trouble. (I was expelled for a week for comparing my high-school principal to Adolf Hitler.)

7) What’s your favorite book?

That I’ve read, or written?

7A) That you’re written yourself.

One answer is: my next one. It’s the one I’m thinking about right now. It’s called Belongingness, and it’s supposed to be out next fall of the following spring. Another answer might be Me & Death, because it did not sell very well. You always have a soft spot for the kid who flunks the test. The thing is, it’s one of my best books. I just don’t get it.

7B) All right then, what’s your favorite book that you didn’t write?

How Tom Beat Captain Njork And His Hired Sportsmen by Russell Hoban.

7C) Really?

Maybe not really. But it is a fantastic story! I like books that are well written, fast-paced, and full of characters. Pride and Prejudice, The Thin Man, and the Frog And Toad books are favorites. One of the best plots I know is in Cue For Treason.

8) Where do you get your ideas?

Think of my head like a sponge. I soak up images and feelings and ideas – my own, and other people’s – and then wring myself out on the printed page. In the fertile wet season, I’ve got lots to say. In dry seasons, it can seem awfully hard to find any interesting moisture, and I have to wring myself pretty hard. Gee, that sounds painful.

9) If you get ideas from other people, isn’t that stealing?

Yes. What’s your point?

9A) Isn’t stealing a bad thing?

No. Of course I don’t steal anyone’s words – that would be plagiarizing, and a very bad thing indeed – but I’m always on the lookout for a good idea. When I come to a really interesting bit in a book or a movie, I wonder how the writer came up with it.Then I try to figure out a way to use the idea myself.

10) Georgette is three times as old as Imre was eight years ago, and their combined ages add up to thirty-two. How old will Georgette be when Imre is the age Georgette is now?

Seven.

10A) Is that really the right answer?

I have no idea.

11) Are you writing something now?

I’m always writing something now. At the moment I’m working on a book about a kid who can’t help telling jokes even when they get him in trouble. That kid is a lot like me.

12) How does Immanuel Kant differentiate between "Transcendental Aesthetic," and "Transcendental Analytic" in his Critique of Pure Reason?

Not now, Alicia.

15) What’s your favorite food?

My mom used to make a stew with chicken and onions. I have her recipe but don’t make it as well as she did. I like spare ribs and rice pudding and sausages – spicy ones – and fried peppers and black licorice. Really, the only foods I don’t like are creamed corn and rice-a-roni. Favorite favorite? When I was a kid, I wanted to eat all the salted peanuts in the world. I still feel a bit like that.

16) If you could have a superpower, what would it be?

I’m cheating here – I don’t get asked it very often. But it’s a great question because everyone has an answer. I’ve thrown the question at a bunch of schools recently, talking about my superpower book. My two favorite answers:

“I would like to be able to tell when someone was feeling bad so I could sit beside them and cheer them up.” (My response: Awwwwwwww!)

“I wish I could open my mouth and have dogs come flying out.” (My response: Whaaaaaaaaaaat?)

17) What advice to you have for someone who wants to become a good writer?

This one is easy. Read well and practice hard. Art is imitation. Every band starts as a cover band and sounds like their influences. As they keep going, they develop their own sound. So it is with writing. When you start out, you should find a story you like and try to write one just like it. It’ll probably stink. But keep on practicing and you’ll get better.

All right, I have time for one more question…..

18) Where do you get your ideas?

Think of my head like a department store. I go through it floor by floor and pick out what I need to furnish my story. 1st floor: painful camp memories, humorous lunch-room episodes, first love, Christmas Eve, going to the beach. 2nd floor: yesterday’s newspaper, last week’s visit to the dentist, favorite books, meals, Simpsons episodes, dance moves. 3rd floor: that weird thing my friend Fuzz found in his attic, my aunt’s memory of the great depression, grandpa’s best birthday ever, and so on. You can do this too. Your selection will be different, but the process of idea collection is the same. Don’t forget the Bargain Basement, where all the really scary stuff is.

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Richard Scrimger | scrimgerr@gmail.com | Toronto, ON, Canada