Thursday, December 29, 2022

Elyse Friedman

Elyse Friedman is a critically acclaimed author, screenwriter, poet and playwright. Her work has been short-listed for the Trillium Book Award, Toronto Book Award, ReLit Award and Tom Hendry Award. She has also won a Foreword Book of the Year Award, as well as the 2019 TIFF-CBC Films Screenwriter Jury Prize and the 2020 TIFF-CBC Screenwriter Award.

Friedman's new novel is The Opportunist.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

I think the title is pretty apt, since the story is about exploitation and corruption. I like that it doesn’t identify any character in particular. The titular opportunist may well be the 28- year-old nurse who is marrying her wealthy 76-year-old patient, but it could refer to anyone in the narrative. I did play with a bunch of titles way back when, including Avarice (too boring) and Killing Kelly, which had that hint of fun and danger I was looking for (plus good alliteration), but ultimately it sounded too much like the TV show, Killing Eve.

What's in a name?

I have a bad habit of using the same names over and over again in my fiction. I like names that sound real to me, even if they are a little bland, Andrea, Martin, John, Amy, Allison, Michelle, etc. If I pick up a book that isn’t by Charles Dickens or Kurt Vonnegut, and the names of the main characters are Chasworth Butterly or Antonella Wickdon, I bristle. Having said that, one of my main characters in The Opportunist is named Kelly McNutt, which is not a commonplace surname. But it seemed right for a feisty redhead who is a tough nut to crack.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your novel?

I think my teenage self would be surprised that I had written a murder-y thriller. My teenage self would sneer, take a deep drag of a Player’s Extra Light and ask me why I hadn’t written a book of raw angry poems instead.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more? Endings are a breeze. I almost always envision the ending of a story before I start.

Getting there is the challenge, since I don’t plot things out in advance. I know the destination, but not the route. Beginnings are a little harder, but the toughest part is always the middle, or the muddle as some people call it.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

It depends on the book. My first novel was my most autobiographical. Since then, I’ve had less and less in common with my protagonists. But there are definitely some similarities between me and Alana, the main character in The Opportunist. We both drive decrepit, ancient vehicles, will do almost anything for our children, and will eagerly scrape the hard white icing from the aluminum cinnamon bun pan into our mouths while simultaneously regretting it.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

The news influences my writing, but in a subconscious way. I don’t write about issues, or set out to tackle topics in my fiction, but the zeitgeist seeps into the narratives. Kind of like a base-note in a perfume. It’s there, a part of the thing, but it’s subtle (I hope).
Follow Elyse Friedman on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue