By Theresa Spohn Courier Contributor
Q: Based on your more recent writing, for example, “The Things that Carried Him” and “Animals”, you seem to have an interest in death. Can you tell us more?
A: They make fun at me a bit at Esquire. Every time I pitch a story there’s a body in it, there’s several bodies in it or there’s someone about to be a body in it. I am obsessed about bodies. I am definitely attracted to stories about death. Once you write about life and death everything else becomes kind of pale, what matters more?
Q: How did this interest develop?
A: My dad was a criminologist. A lot of his work was with people who had seen terrible things. He had an office in the basement and I would sit at the top of the back stairs when he would talk to patients. I would just eavesdrop. It freaked me out but I was always interested.
He had a binder with terrible things in it, with bodies. He told me never to look in this binder and of course I did. The picture I remember very clearly was one of one guy who killed himself by putting his neck on a table saw.
Q: Are you interested in life as well as death?
A: Another very important story for me was the one where I spent a month as a paramedic for Esquire. That was a really important story about how I look at things. It taught me a lot about life and death and sickness; about how people get better and chance and fate.
Q: What was it like being a paramedic?
A: There were people we brought back from the dead. I remember that. There was a guy who had a heart attack and came back to life in the back of the ambulance. I was pumping the artificial lung like a plastic football, it’s a manual thing and you just squeeze it every 4 seconds (the paramedics had put the tube down his throat). The guy woke up as I was doing it. His face was this close. He just popped his eyes open and they were this really crystal blue.
Q: Was he actually dead or just comatose?
A: He was dead. You call it Code 4 VSA, vital signs absent. He was particularly bad one. When you get Code 4 VSA early in early in the morning, they are almost always dead. They usually die in the middle of the night and someone finds them when they wake up. We went to that call thinking he was toast. He should have been.
Q: How did this experience impact your writing?
A: I remember going home and my wife asked, “What did you do today?”
“He was dead, his heart was not beating,” I said. “And then he was alive. That is crazy.” It almost made me quit writing. If writing about life and death is the most powerful writing you can you can do, actually administering life and death is the next step. Maybe I should have been a paramedic.
Q: Do you think it is a requirement for journalists to write a book?
A: It’s not a requirement but it definitely helps. I wouldn’t have got my job at Esquire if I hadn’t written my boxing book. That boxing book sold literally 916 copies, but that doesn’t matter; all that matters is that I wrote a book. It shows the ability to hold a thought, it shows discipline, it shows the ability to write at length and it is a physical thing.
Would you prefer to write books versus magazine articles?
A: If I am being honest, magazines are my probably sweet spot. I still have a desire to write a best selling book. I have written two books. The first one did nothing, the second one did okay, but I see guys like John Krakauer writing Into the Wild and Sebestian Junger’s Perfect Storm; these great nonfiction, selling books. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I wouldn’t one of those in my pocket too.
Q: Will your next book be non-fiction too?
A: It would almost have to be non-fiction. I have never written any fiction… I’m lying. Three days ago I started 1000 words of a novel while watching the Scotiabank Giller Prize on TV. It’s the first fiction I have ever written. It’s about small town boys, hockey and a fight. It’s basically a true story about my growing up.