Five Questions with… Gordon Korman

Gordon Korman, author of The Hypnotists and a participant in this year’s International Festival of Authors, answered our five questions.

Share this article via Facebook or Twitter for your chance to win two tickets to see Gordon on October 26! Don’t forget to tag @IFOA or use #IFOA2013. Good luck!

IFOA: You wrote your first novel in seventh grade. Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?Gordon Korman

Gordon Korman: Not at all. My first book was sort of a happy accident. In my school, the track and field coach had to teach language arts. For creative writing, he just told us to work on whatever we wanted for the rest of the year. I wrote This Can’t Be Happening at Macdonald Hall!, which was published a year and a half later when I was 14.

IFOA: In your new novel, The Hypnotists, you introduce readers to young Jackson Opus, who comes from a long line of hypnotists. What sparked your interest in hypnotism?

Korman: I’ve never been hypnotized, but a good friend of mine is a licensed hypnotherapist in California. He says we’ve all been hypnotized without even knowing it. You know when you’re driving on a familiar route and you zone out and lose track of where you are? That’s the equivalent of a hypnotic state. My friend would induce that to make patients more receptive to, let’s say, a suggestion on how to overcome the fear of flying.

For The Hypnotists, I wanted to up the ante and create a true paranormal ability. But I’ve never written much fantasy, so I didn’t really have the tools. Where I do have a lot of experience is research-based adventure series like Everest and Titanic. So I got the idea to create my own concrete “rules of mesmerism” and substitute them for my research.

IFOA: Where do you look for inspiration when creating the characters in your books?

Korman: Unlike many writers, it’s quite rare for me to base characters on friends or family members. For me, characters are mostly about the choices they make. So I try to immerse myself in the world of my story and face the kinds of choices my people will have to make. For example, for Jackson Opus in The Hypnotists, it was “how would a kid handle the power to make people do whatever he wants them to?” And, of course, just as he’s wrapping his mind around the tasty possibilities, it starts to sink in that nothing less than the fate of the world just might be riding on how he chooses to use his unique gift.

IFOA: What would you say is the best thing about being an author of children’s and young adult books?

Korman: The fans. First of all, you couldn’t ask for a more honest audience. If they like what you’re doing, you know it. If they don’t, you know it even better. They’re also incredibly loyal. On my website, I get a remarkable number of posts from “old” fans of my early novels. They’re now in their thirties and forties, yet they’ve stuck with my books through the decades, even as they’ve grown up, started families and built careers. That’s something I never could have imagined. The Macdonald Hall generation has grown up—and now they’re in charge!

IFOA: Name one thing on your bucket list.

Korman: Mount Everest. When I was writing the Everest trilogy, I got hooked, and now I’m obsessed with the idea of seeing the real thing. I don’t think I’d ever attempt to climb the mountain, but there are treks in the region that take you to base camp, and I’m determined to get there someday.

Gordon Korman is a New York Times-bestselling and award-winning author. He will be reading from and discussing The Hypnotists on October 26 at 11am with Kids’ CBC host Patty Sulliban.

Five Questions with… Grażyna Plebanek

Grażyna Plebanek, author of Illegal Liaisons and a participant in this year’s International Festival of Authors, answered our five questions.

IFOA: The protagonist of Illegal Liaisons, Jonathan, is a stay-at-home dad, while his wife, Megi, is a very ambitious career woman. Why was challenging traditional gender roles so important to this story?

Grażyna Plebanek: It was hard not to notice that this sort of challengingGrażyna Plebanek happens everywhere nowadays. In Brussels, Stockholm, Warsaw, I see more and more fathers pushing strollers. Whether it’s the effect of feminism or the economic crisis, the stay-at-home dad is no longer a rare phenomenon. Men are becoming more involved in the everyday life of their families. In the case of divorce, they share custody, half-half. A society of equality has been born, we are half-men, half-women in our family roles, for better and worse. One can ask if this is really good, but that’s another question.

The exchange of roles in Illegal Liaisons tempted me because I wanted to see if a man “playing the woman’s part” and captured by romance would behave like a woman. How would Anna Karenina behave today if she were a man?

IFOA: The novel is packed with very explicit sex scenes. Did you find them difficult to write?

Plebanek: Surprisingly not. This novel showed its own character from the very beginning. The scenes were almost writing themselves, erotic and otherwise. I was fascinated by the process of finding the language for the body. Most sex scenes in literature are based on words, they come from characters’ minds rather than bodies. I wanted to capture the way the body speaks. The lovers (Jonathan, a Pole who speaks perfect English and French, and Andrea, a Swedish journalist with Czech roots) mix languages, which lets them overcome the inefficiencies of any one language. Before I started to write, I feared that Polish could be too rigid a language to describe the passion, considering the influence of the Catholic religion over centuries. Luckily, I was wrong. Polish was a graceful language for this task.

IFOA: What’s been your most unusual source of inspiration?

Plebanek: Parrots. When I moved to Brussels, I was surprised to see green parrots flying in the parks, even in winter. They shouldn’t have survived  here, seeing as they belong to a much warmer climate. Yet here they are, green, noisy, cheeky birds, who displace kindhearted pigeons and sparrows, flying in squadrons like an attacking army. It reminded me of stray dogs from Moscow, who also form packs. The way they manage to survive shows high intelligence. Animalistic intelligence is something that touches the lives of my characters—their bodies rise in revolt against social rules and restrictions. I was wondering if this wild part of my characters would overcome the social uniforms, whether they would turn into green parrots, wild dogs or stay well-fed pigeons.

IFOA: You received Poland’s Literary Prize Zlote Sowy for your promotion of Poland abroad. What do you love most about the country you’re from?

Plebanek: People. When I go back to Poland I feel something melt inside of me, because the people are warm, hospitable. Nowadays they know how to earn money, but they still remember the communist reality and therefore, they know how to share, to give without counting or asking for something in return. I love this part of our tradition as well as our colorful history—the kings, queens, knights, fat bishops—a thousand years of becoming who we are now with all of our complexity. I also love the literature, especially the great Renaissance poets who playfully used our language. I love the sense of humor typical for Polish intelligentsia. I love the richness of our culture. And I love Vistula, the longest and most unpredictable Polish river, which flows through Warsaw. She has always mesmerized me with her capricious character.

IFOA: Which of your novels would you like to see make it to the big screen?

Plebanek: Illegal Liaisons would be the natural choice as love is universal. It would be interesting to see a film in which Brussels, a great multicultural city, gets a new, passionate face that defies stereotypes—particularly that it is simply the city of EU officials. But my secret dream would be to see another one of my novels filmed: Girls from Portofino. This is a story of a friendship between girls who grew up in communist Poland and became adults in the capitalistic reality after ’89.  Warsaw, my natal city, plays an integral part in this story.

Grażyna Plebanek is a bestselling Polish author and journalist. She will be reading from Illegal Liaisons, her first novel to be translated into English, on October 25 at 8pm alongside authors Kelly Braffet, Aleksandar Hemon and Sam Lipsyte.

Share this article via Facebook or Twitter for your chance to win two tickets to this event! Don’t forget to tag @IFOA or use the hashtag #IFOA2013. Good luck!