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Interview with Michael Kaan, GG Award nominee for The Water Beetles

As you may know, Goose Lane author Michael Kaan's debut novel The Water Beetles has been recently shortlisted for the Governor General's Literary Award for Adult Fiction.

Michael was nice enough to find time in his busy schedule to answer a few questions for us.

1. What was the impetus behind your book?

I had always wanted to write but for years had just tinkered. I was trying my hand at something else but was unhappy with it and so writing it pretty half-heartedly. One day my mother gave me a copy of my father's memoirs of the war, and I knew at once that it should be my first real writing effort. It isn't usual for people's first novels to be based on family or personal experience, but in this case it featured unknown things about someone I was very close to. 

2. Did your novel change at all once it was accepted for publication? How so?

I had the great fortune to have Bethany Gibson as my editor. She had a great ear and I think understood where I was trying to go with the story, the narrative, the pacing, and so on. Her feedback was very precise and made a huge difference—had I published the original manuscript, I would now be having serious regrets. The main difference is the addition of many more episodes of the main character's later life. Those are essential in providing some lift to the narrative and also deepening the perspective.

3. How do you feel having your debut novel be nominated for The Governor General's Award for Adult Fiction?

Pleasantly surprised. I'm hardly the first person to have a debut work up for a prize, but it was gratifying to get the news.

4. Did you ever think such your work would achieve such an honour?

I never even expected to get published. People like to tell that Margaret Atwood story about how, early in her career, she found herself doing a book signing in the Eaton's sock department—I was thinking I'd be lucky even to get something like that.

5. What has the reaction been to the nomination?

Very warm. Obviously my family was thrilled.

6. In Canada, the big three literary awards are the GG Award, the Giller Prize, and the Writer's Trust Fiction Prize. What do you think of the fact that, for the first time since all three awards have co-existed, not one single book appears in more than one list?

I don't know. The actual number of jurors is very small, and I don't have a sense of how many books were put forward to them. The variety—of topic, tone, career stage—is amazing. I've often heard people complain that it seems to be the same people winning prizes all the time, but that doesn't seem to actually happen.

7. Should you win (if you don't think you'll jinx it), what's the first thing you'll do?

Tell my mom.

8. Can you say what's next for you, or is it a secret?

I'm working on another historical novel set in the nineteenth century, but I have some concurrent projects I'm tinkering with too. I can say for sure I won't be finishing that zombie novel I once started.

Thanks, Michael!
Reminder: Winners of The Governor General's Literary Awards will be announced on November 1, 2017!
Michael Kaan was born in Winnipeg, the second child of a father from Hong Kong and a Canadian mother. The Water Beetles is his first novel.

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