Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Dirty Dozen, with Elyse Friedman

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Elyse Friedman

In Elyse Friedman's The Answer to Everything (HarperCollins Canada), everyone is looking for something. When a scam artist decides to pull a Henry Higgins on a small time guru, turning him into a bonafide cult leader, both men — and everyone around them — are swept into an unexpected tide of consequences. Whether it's power, money, enlightenment or otherwise, the characters long for what they want (or think they want) with all the fierceness, humour, complexity and surprises that we've come to expect from one of Canada's most versatile and witty writers.

Today we're speaking to Elyse as part of our Dirty Dozen series, where writers spill to us about twelve unexpected facts or experiences. Elyse tells Open Book about the toughest ping pong player in CanLit, the punishing pace of one rough writing job in her past and her unconventional high school education.

  1. I can beat you at ping pong (unless you’re Robert Hough).

  2. Tony Curtis was my grandmother’s cousin.

  3. I once wrote an annual report for the Four Seasons Hotel chain, a heartfelt wedding speech for a complete stranger, and a slide show about feminine hygiene through the ages (all in the same month).

  4. I can wiggle my ears. I can wiggle them one at a time as well.

  5. When I was in my twenties, I wrote a show for YTV. It was on every afternoon and I was the only writer. I was pumping out five hours of sketch comedy a week on my own, for about 400 bucks a week. I also produced some of the segments and even appeared in them. I wrote 70 episodes before walking out the door after the director screamed at me for spelling ‘nauseous’ incorrectly.

  6. The first concert I ever saw was Gladys Knight and the Pips at Massey hall. The opening act was Jimmy “Dyn-o-mite” Walker. Heaven.

  7. One of my favourite concerts was going with Ben Hamper and Sarah Silverman to see Vic Chesnutt at the Knitting Factory in NYC. We had a drink before the show and Sarah asked me to play a game in which I randomly flipped the pages of a dictionary and pointed at a word (kind of like a finger on a spinning globe). The word that came up was ‘Holocaust’, an amazing coincidence since it is the defining event of my life — my father is a survivor and my existence has been entirely shaped by his childhood experiences during the war.

  8. I quit school in grade ten, bummed around for several years and then, thanks to Ontario’s kooky school rules, went back to grade thirteen and graduated with an honours degree.

  9. Once, when I was hired to photograph a group of sales people at a week-long conference in Spain, I witnessed the president of Pitney Bowes Canada crap his pants, exit the bus on which we were traveling and wander off alone into a field of cork trees in the middle of the countryside with his suit jacket tied around his waist.

  10. I am happiest when bobbing in a warm ocean.

  11. When I was fourteen, one of our neighbours, a pediatric social worker, advised my mom to have me committed. She had a Siamese cat who wouldn’t go near her, but would run to me whenever she saw me.

  12. I think music is the highest art. I like almost all music and will dance around whenever possible.

Elyse Friedman is the Toronto-based author of three previous books of fiction: Long Story Short, Waking Beauty and Then Again. Her fiction has won a Gold National Magazine Award, has been shortlisted for the Trillium Book Award and the Toronto Book Award, and has appeared in Best Canadian Stories, The Journey Prize Anthology and Darwin's Bastards (Zsuzsi Gartner, editor). A graduate of the Canadian Film Centre, she has had two feature films produced and has two films in active development: The Relationship Experiment and A Bright Tragic Thing.

Check out all the Dirty Dozen interviews in our archives.

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