Why did you write your new book?
I was haunted by a bear attack that happened in Algonquin Park in 1991. The problem was that I don’t believe in ghosts, so that ruled out an exorcism. My other choice was to start writing.
Whose sentences are your favourite, and why?
Cormac McCarthy: “Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one than what had gone before.” I could do my PhD on that sentence from The Road alone. He describes a whole world and its history in one sharp, sparse sentence.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
“Always chat up the locals.” That came from my dad, who was from Truro, Nova Scotia, via my uncle, who is wise to remind me of it.
Which historical period do you wish you’d lived through, and why?
I would have liked to be on the streets of Manhattan during 9/11. My working theory is that people are much kinder to each other in times of trauma than we tend to portray in our stories.
Would you rather be successful during your lifetime and then forgotten or legendary after death?
That is like asking me if I’d like to be legendary before I was born. If I was, it did me no good. I’ll settle for successful during my lifetime because at least I can be conscious of the delusion that it means something.
What agreed-upon classic do you despise?
Anna Karenina. I can only allow you to print that with an apology to my very well read mother, Wendy Cameron.
Which fictional character do you wish you’d created?
Grendel from Beowulf, as he is such a conflicted villain. It’s not hard to see things from his side.
Which fictional character do you wish you were?
Grendel from Beowulf. I would get a lot of writing done if I lived in isolation in a cave under a swamp.
What question do you wish people would ask about your work (that they don’t ask)?
“How did you make that up?” I find many people are more focused on what is true.
This interview has been edited and condensed.